It’s one thing to tell you how special this little book is. It’s another to show you. So here I am in a one-take video, reading my book out loud and explaining it as well as showing you the pictures as best I could.
I have a new book coming out on May 28. Did I mention that? I scheduled that release date myself. I wrote the book, too. And edited it. And proofread it. Again and again and again… (I’m actually in the last round of proofreading right now.) And hired a book cover guru (Farah Evers Designs). I did all this on my own without consulting anyone (except Farah because she has a skill set I do not). No editors, no agents, no publishers.
This is my book.
Why don’t I get an agent and sell my book to a real publisher? I guess the short answer to that is I have no patience. I used to think that was the only way to publish legitimately. But over and over I kept hearing “You’re a good writer, but it’s not what we’re looking for.” Well, I heard that when I could get any response at all. And that was usually after six months to a year of anguished waiting and checking my email and wishing and hoping and praying…
Self-publishing, though. Wow, that’s freedom. You can finish a book today and put it out tomorrow. Well, almost. It does have to pass a vetting process through Amazon or Smashwords or whatever. Still, it’s really easy comparatively. When I realized this (after my first self-published book, Weeds and Flowers), it didn’t take long or many rejections to decide my next one would be self-published.
It also didn’t take me long to realize the universal truth behind Uncle Ben’s immortal words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I have spent the past decade perfecting my skills, not only in writing, but also book designing, editing, even a little cover design (though I still prefer Farah), and everything else that is involved in creating a beautiful book for my readers. I’ve studied and read articles, trying my best to learn to craft a perfect sentence or just to learn the difference between lie and lay (that one is my kryptonite, but don’t get me started on who and whom).
Am I there yet? Hell, no. Why do you think I’ve been reading and re-reading my book? I have not the slightest doubt there are mistakes in it, but tell me, when was the last time you read a 70,000-word book (whether it was professionally or self published) that didn’t? Most 700-word magazine articles have typos. Hell, CNN makes mistakes routinely in seven-word headlines. So, yeah, in spite of my best efforts, you may find a typo. But you’ll find fewer mistakes in Magic at Sea than you’d probably find in Secrets of the Lotus (my first novel published by Kensington Press).
(It’s worth mentioning, too, that any traditional publisher would probably have put off publishing Magic at Sea indefinitely considering the bad press that the cruise industry has received recently. Is that going to stop me? Oh no. I wrote this book based on a cruise to Alaska that my family and I took that is still one of my favorite vacations ever. I would do it again in a heartbeat.)
I often wonder what I would do if a professional publisher offered to publish my books. Purchase my whole backlist, professionally edit it, and put it out in paperback. It’s no doubt a pipe dream because, as I’ve been told often enough, I don’t write what they want to publish, but what would I do if someone made that offer after the love and care I know I’ve put into every one of my books? Sign or no?
Who am I kidding? I’d sign.
In the meantime, however, here are approximately 700 of my words that I’ve pored over (yes, pored, not poured, I looked that one up a while back) to entice you to buy Magic at Sea. Hopefully with no mistakes!
As they sat to partake of the drinks and snacks he’d arranged, Galen found himself settling into the unintentional role of Frankie’s escort. Yet it felt natural when Connor and Carole sat together with Kate and Alex next to them for Galen to hold a chair for Frankie.
“So you really get to live on this ship?” Kate looked around with appreciation, then back to Frankie. She sighed. “Just imagine the amount of writing I could get done.”
Frankie smiled. “For six months, as long as I behave myself.” She batted her eyelashes at Galen. “I wasn’t everyone’s first choice for onboard entertainment, though.”
Galen felt the full force of the little group’s curious gazes. How could he not adore Frankie? How could he not be certain she would be an asset to the cruise—not just this ship but the entire line? He shook his head inwardly. Though from what he’d gathered Frankie had only met Connor once before, she was already a part of the group. Maybe it was some sort of magicians’ code. More likely it stemmed from her association with their friends. Any friend of mine…
“You don’t approve of escape magic, then?” Connor’s good humor didn’t falter. “I’ve never tried any of it myself, mainly because it’s a whole different skill set that takes years to learn, and if you don’t know what you’re doing…” He shrugged and looked back to Frankie. “But I’m looking forward to seeing your show. Lydia and Tony speak very highly of you.”
“Thank you.” Frankie took a little sip of her champagne and glanced at Galen. Her eyes sparkled. Your turn.
He accepted the unspoken challenge. “Frankie’s show marks a bit of change in our focus as far as entertainment goes. The magic shows have always been more kid-centric.”
“I can do kid magic.” Frankie spoke up.
“Can you?” He shot back.
“Of course I can. I got my start as a kid, after all. I know the rings and the scarves and the cup and ball routine. Why don’t you let me prove it?” She leaned forward. “If you think the kids will be missing the magic show because you’ve made it the ten o’clock show, let me go to the kids’ clubs.”
“What happens when they want to come to your show that evening?” He raised his eyebrows.
She shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of my show. You’re the one who decided it needed a parental guidance rating.”
“I—” He hesitated. It sounded silly now. He hadn’t even seen the whole show, after all.
Alex looked amused. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you slap a parental warning on a show, the kids immediately want to get in even more. What’s wrong with the show?”
“It’s…” He couldn’t complete the sentence satisfactorily in spite of the polite silence that stretched uncomfortably.
Frankie appeared to take pity on him. “In his defense, it is a little edgy. And some of the effects might be a bit scary. Tense.”
“Has nothing to do with what you look like, then?” Connor’s voice had taken on an edge of its own now. He leaned forward, his eyes on Galen’s. “Because that wouldn’t exactly be the best standard to base a decision on, would it?”
Carole put a hand over her fiancé’s and he glanced at her, then returned to his original position. She gave Galen a curiously sympathetic look. “Not everyone judges women based on how they look.”
Feeling strangely as if he’d been given a rare compliment he didn’t really deserve, Galen cleared his throat. “At any rate, I did make the decision that Frankie’s show would do best in the ten o’clock slot. But if she’s popular enough, she’ll get an encore show as well.”
“And now I can do the kids’ shows, too.” She smiled happily.
“I didn’t agree to that.”
“I believe you did.” She looked around the table and the others nodded agreement.
He groaned. “Fine. But I need to see what you’re hoping to perform first.” His phone dinged and he realized he must have been there for more than an hour. The first day at sea had a lot of programs to run, and though they mostly ran themselves, he needed to make the rounds. He rose. “Sorry. Duty calls.”
Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved reading. She loved reading more than anything else. She would wake, pick up a book and start reading. She read as she ate, as she brushed her teeth, as she walked… She even found a way to prop her book up on the bedside table so she could read while she dressed.
Eventually, reading wasn’t enough, so the girl began to write the words she loved. Slowly, she came to the point where she was writing instead of reading. Maybe not as constantly because somewhere in there she’d grown up and had more responsibilities. Kids must be fed and cared for, house must be cleaned, laundry laundered, jobs attended to. Still, she found as much time as possible for writing. She even wrote several novels and that’s how the girl became the author.
The author found a little bookstore—a friendly, charming place that welcomed local authors and sold their books for them. The owner of the bookstore was a lovely lady who enjoyed meeting new people and liked selling their books for them. But eventually the lady wanted to retire. She told the author the store would have to close, but the author was very sad about that. “Oh, you can’t do that!” She thought of all the books in the store that would no longer have a place on a shelf in a warm, cozy bookstore. Including her books.
“I wish I could keep doing this forever,” the owner said, “but it’s just time for me to let go. Of course, if I could find someone to take over for me, that person could keep the bookstore open. Would you be interested?”
The author had never considered such a thing. She wasn’t a businesswoman. She was a mother, a wife, a reader, a writer. She had two dogs and two cats to take care of. She had carpools and volunteer work and housework and laundry. Being a bookstore owner wasn’t something she could do.
But maybe it was.
And so the author took over the bookstore and found she loved it. The bookstore was even more charming and peaceful when she went into it every day. It slowly became hers, and she felt as if “work” was not a chore there. “Work” was love, and the bookstore gave it freely to its new owner, the author.
Author’s Note: All this is to say that I am the proud new owner of a bookstore that I really do love. The Next Chapter Books and Art in New Bern, N.C. It happened very suddenly and much as I wrote above. I’m still in the transition stage with limited hours while I get my kids used to me not being the stay-at-home writer/mom that I’ve always been, but come in and feel the good vibes there. The positive energy that soaks the place is worth the trip.
As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?
Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?
Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:
And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.
Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.
So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.
Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.
(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)
But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.
A children’s book can give you a glimpse into your deepest soul. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye.
I remember the first time my son brought home Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems from the school library. I loved reading to my kids, but I really never connected with Pigeon. Why he was so popular with my kids, I never really knew. I loved the Frances books, anything by Rosemary Wells, and when they started bringing home little beginning readers like Henry and Mudge, I was in seventh heaven!
But the Pigeon? Every time one of my kids brought one of those home, I just rolled my eyes.
Turns out I missed the point. Pigeon is much deeper and much more shallow at the same time. He’s a philosopher and a spoiled child wrapped into one, which is kind of how I see myself. Maybe I just didn’t like seeing myself on the pages of a children’s book?
How do I know all this about Pigeon? I read an interview with his creator. Check it out here: Mo Willems Interview. (My thanks to my friend Liz for referring me to this article!)
Mo Willems’s admittedly incredible ability to look into my soul and pull a pigeon out of it notwithstanding, he says some very insightful things about the nature of art and creativity and writing. “Books are sculptures” is indeed one of them. What took me most by surprise, though, was the revelation that he’s not just writing to inspire kids. He’s writing to inspire the parents to do and say and live the way they want their kids to do and say and live.
Consider this: “[W}e constantly hear, ‘Our children are the future,’ but we seldom say, ‘Hey we’re the present and it’s incumbent on us to be present.’ So there’s this silliness, but there’s also a, ‘You can do it, too.'”
Thank you, Mo Willems!
I’m 49 years old. I’ve just published my first children’s book (Jessica Entirely by Shelley Gee). I also privately published my first collection of poetry Times and Ties. I’m taking singing lessons and auditioning for plays. I’m inspired by my kids, and my only regret right now is that I’ve never done any of these things before. I didn’t model my life by living my dreams. If anything, they’ve modeled for me by bringing home books for me to read that I wouldn’t normally have read, and introducing me to movies and television and a slew of pets I never would have chosen to bring into my life.
So I’ll presume to add a little to Mr. Willems’s statements. Be inspiring to your children, but don’t be afraid to be inspired by them, too. A family circle is beneficial to all.
Something I wrote:
Jessica smiled in spite of her worries about her friends. They all had friends in town and friends who evacuated and friends who might have lost their homes in the storm. But she had her family right there with her and the idea of helping made her feel much better about things in general. She took a deep breath and followed her family to the kitchen, happier than she ever had been at the prospect of spending an hour or two with them at the table.
If anything has caught me off-guard about today’s political climate, it’s the rising dislike of celebrities and intellectuals. Once upon a time, these were the heroes. Movie stars like James Dean smoked, so everyone had a pack of cigarettes tucked in their rolled up t-shirt sleeve. Jane Fonda said we need more exercise so everyone started aerobics. Remember those “The More You Know” PSAs? They featured everyone from Tom Brokaw to Matthew Perry speaking out about issues like conservation and education. Stars trying to use their star status to make a difference in the world.
In 2016, it felt like all that changed. All of a sudden, conservatives wondered out loud where athletes and movie stars and, God forbid, writers got off having political opinions. And why should they be allowed to speak out about the every day world of politics? Movie stars should just act, singers should just sing, athletes just play their sports (and stand for the National Anthem). The other day, Rob Thomas tweeted that he was shocked to see a reporter’s White House press credentials taken away because he asked the president a question the president didn’t want to be asked. The response Thomas got from fans was less than encouraging in many cases.
But the worst of this is that suddenly writers aren’t supposed to have an opinion. Writers aren’t supposed to speak out against what looks like certain doom. Writers shouldn’t remind the public of what has come before and what it wrought. The press is “fake news” because they are trying to report what’s happening to us. This seems a particularly dangerous attitude, honestly. To prove my point, I’ve compiled a partial list of things writers (mostly in science fiction, but not all) predicted, for want of a better word, in their fiction.
And after reading this, maybe you can understand why I say, listen to the poets. Otherwise, you may live to regret it.
1726 (Jonathan Swift) Gulliver’s Travels predicted the discovery of Mars’s two moons.
1818 (Mary Shelley) Frankenstein predicted organ transplants.
1865 (Jules Verne) From the Earth to the Moon predicted solar sails and lunar modules that launch from Florida and return to earth as splashdown capsules.
1990 (David Brin) Earth predicted broken levees in the Deep South and the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant.
1994 (Tom Clancy) Debt of Honor predicted the use of hijacked jet planes to crash into U.S. government buildings.
Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has been predicted by everyone from The Simpsons to Philip Roth. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, her presidential candidate even used the slogan “Make America Great Again”.
Are these all coincidence? Life imitating art? Possibly, though Stand on Zanzibar and The Wreck of the Titan sound like blatant fortune-telling to me, and how Jonathan Swift could know Mars had two moons in 1726 is beyond me. But what is my point here, anyway? Should Stephen King and J.K. Rowling be allowed to say whatever they want about Donald Trump and the fools who voted for him?
Yeah. Probably. Because true poets have a knack for looking at things a little closer, opening themselves up to the universe a little more, feeling things a little deeper…and seeing things a little clearer than others do. I’m not saying me. I try, but I haven’t gotten there yet. But I do believe we are given poets and prophets and visionaries by a God who wants to help guide us.
And if the overwhelming majority of those poets and prophets and visionaries are saying don’t go there, I suggest we listen.
How to convince a reader to take that leap of faith into your book? Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com
I get it. I’m old enough to remember vanity presses. I remember the indie-publishing phenomenon of The Christmas Box. Remember how quickly indie publishing grew after Richard Paul Evans’s little treasure was discovered by mainstream publishing? Vanity presses became independent presses and developed into KDP and Smashwords, providing a voice for authors who either can’t make it through the gatekeepers of traditional presses or, like me (I like to think, anyway), lost patience with the hoops you must jump through.
I’ve had three books published by two different traditional publishers. In all three cases, I enjoyed the experience of having professional cover designers, editors and book designers. It was invigorating working on a deadline. But at both publishers, my editors eventually left, putting me back at square one of trying to sell my book to another editor.
I’d rather sell it to you, my readers. But finding you is another process. Gaining your faith is yet another. I’ve been doing this for eight years now. My first book, Secrets of the Lotus, was published by Lyrical Press (now the digital first arm of Kensington Press) on July 5, 2010. I started this blog around then, too. Eight years, fourteen books, and countless blog posts later, I’ve got a few devoted readers. They’re the ones who’ll take the plunge no matter what I put out.
So I better make it good.
I think I’ve managed to improve both my writing and my publishing skills. I edit my own work now, but I have worked with enough professional editors so I have pretty good idea of how to find the holes in my own plots. I put all my manuscripts through a thorough proofreading at least twice by me and I have some beta readers who’ll look over drafts for me, too. I’ve learned a lot about the formatting of both ebooks and print. My self-published books look good now. Clean and pretty with clearly delineated breaks and chapters. And my covers are almost always professionally designed.
Now, I’m working on the marketing. That’s the really tough part. That’s the final push every author—traditional or self—must somehow summon to convince a reader that their book is worth reading. That’s why we query book reviewers and write blogs, why we spend hours writing guest posts for online book tours and tend to all our social media sites from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Goodreads.
It’s all to push you, dear reader, over the edge of a cliff and into the world of our writing.
Go ahead. Jump. If you don’t, you might miss out on the next self-publishing phenomenon.
And yet…the truth of the matter is, I don’t really write for readers. I write for me. I even publish for me because I like seeing my writing in book form. It’s satisfying in a weird, probably narcissistic way. But it’d be great to have more readers. It’d even be great to make a living at this thing. To be a best-selling author with Hollywood fighting to turn my books into movies. To be able to donate money to charities and take care of my family and set my parents up in a nice house, preferably closer or at least be able to get to see them more—all that is the dream.
However, as I close out my seventh year as a novelist with thirteen romance novels under my belt, I am faced with the near certainty that that’s not likely to happen.
Let’s face it, the days of the reclusive novelist who can sit at home and write and send their work out to the publishing world to sell are over. Everyone writes books these days. Actors, politicians, psychiatrists, musicians, librarians, bloggers, YouTubers—I could go on, but you get the picture.
The pipes are literally clogged with all the books all these non-writers are writing. How on earth is little ol’ non-flashy me gonna attract attention to my independently published romances with all those flashy covers “written” by all the flashy personalities taking up all that shelf space?
So, I’m turning over a new leaf in the new year. I’m working out an actual marketing plan and exploring other avenues for publishing. I’m looking at what’s worked and what hasn’t and what I’ve never tried before. And I’m kicking it all off with a newsletter that launches on January 1. If you want to keep up with what’s happening with me, you might want to sign up. Here’s a link to do that: Email list sign up.
Oh, and even if you don’t really care what’s happening with me and my career, you might want to sign up anyway since I’m giving away a $50 Amazon gift card to one lucky subscriber. Want that sign up link again? Here you go.
It’s October 31, and that means the launch of my new book, Movie Magic. I so enjoyed writing this one, and I’m so hoping you will enjoy reading it.
Today, we celebrate. At the end of the day (about 5 p.m.), I’ll draw names from all my commenters for prizes. Everything from signed copies of Movie Magic to Amazon gift cards. Every comment is eligible, and multiple entries are encouraged.
By the way, Ann Marie was the winner of the special edition Sleight of Hand perfume from Waft.com. I’ll be in touch with her to arrange delivery!
I leave you with this. It’s me, reading from chapter one of Movie Magic. I’m not big on public performances, but I really believe in this book.