Sunday, December 9, 2007

Never count your chickens before they actually hatch. Things do not always go as planned, and I'm sure this won't be the last time...the books that were supposedly "in the mail" to my publisher turned out to be not in the mail, not even printed. So then a last minute change of printer resulted in several more weeks of delay and lost opportunities to sell books at an event and on a trip, but they will actually arrive in a couple of days now.

Meanwhile, I have been distributing flyers and bookmarks and talking up my book. I've used my unplanned extra time to get over being sick, visit grandkids, make my Christmas plans, and work on another writing project. I hope to use my two-week vacation from my job at school to resume work on the sequel to The Orange Slipknot, which I haven't touched in months.

When my books arrive this week, I will spend that evening autographing and stuffing books into prepared mailers which I will take to the post office the next day. Hopefully all prepaid orders will arrive by Christmas! Then I will begin my new job of selling books. I have stores to visit and press releases to send out. I will need to devise a way to keep track of my business transactions. Writers must also become small business managers!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity...scores of emails arranging last minute changes and details...many decisions to be made about ordering, printing, shipping, autographing, and delivering books. Every time I thought about updating my blog, I told myself, "...but not until I do this, this and that!" All these must be fit into a life already busy with my daily job, piano students, shopping, projects and responsibilities at home, grandchildren, and weekend activities such as house painting, horse activities, and a three-day trip to California to visit family. But in a few days my first box of books will arrive! I can hardly believe it.

If my box arrives on time, I will be selling books at a local pre-Christmas craft sale next weekend, along with the framed photos and cards I make with Bible verses on local photos I have taken. This week my spare time will be taken up with putting together my photos. The following week I will probably start visiting local stores and calling or emailing other stores and libraries. This weekend I have been printing up bookmarks and flyers I have designed. How could I ever have managed without email, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Photoshop? The computer is surely a marvelous tool, along with home printers, digital cameras, scanners and copy machines. How different things would have been if I had published my book ten or twelve years ago, before I entered the digital world.

One thing I have been trying to show in this blog is that writing books involves much more than just writing a good story. I am very glad that over the years, I have spent many hours reading up on book marketing. I had some idea of what to expect, but actually doing it is a real challenge.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The illustrations are completed and the final editing and proof-reading are in progress. The next step is printing. The Orange Slipknot will be out by Christmas!

As the publication date looms closer, both the publisher and I have started marketing the book. This involves contacting potential buyers as well as making updates to both our websites to facilitate ordering.

Many authors or would-be authors do not realize that writing books requires the author to do a certain amount of publicity and marketing. Even if a large publishing house with a marketing department is handling your book, you need to be as involved as possible, if you want to sell a lot of books.

Writing is only half of being an author. Once you have finished your manuscript, you need to be knowledgeable about how to market your book to publishers. The course I took from the Institute for Children's Literature taught both writing and marketing. Many aspiring authors I have talked to have no idea what to do once they finish their manuscript. There are many books and websites that explain how to find publishers and how to contact them. If you fail to do your homework, randomly select publishers, and do not package your submission in the required manner, you stand very little chance of your manuscript even being looked at, much less published.

Once you have sold your book, you need to help market your book to the public. I have been collecting information on this subject for years and have a file folder of clippings from writers' newsletters and articles. At one point I considered self-publishing through POD (print-on-demand); the author pays anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and publishes without the benefit of the discriminating eye of an editor. There are many such publishers available, and as I researched them, I found that by using them, I would be 100% responsible for publicity and marketing. To prepare myself for that possibility, I began looking for even more information about how to do that. I learned that even a traditionally-published book will benefit from author involvement in the marketing process.

Many writers hope to become famous; I don't. Being a rather quiet, private type of person, I admit I dread the idea of publicizing myself. But I have also learned over the years that I can do many things I didn't think I could do, or even things I don't want to do. Making a website for my book was the first step, which I already knew how to do and which didn't involve face-to-face publicity. Then I designed and printed out bookmarks to give people I talk to. I found a graphic for the top, used some of the text I already had on my webpage, and printed it on orange paper. I designed some flyers which I posted around town on bulletin boards. These projects were time-consuming, but not scary.

I also did a few book talks at the school where I work. I have collected ideas for book talks to schools and to writers' groups ever since I started writing this book, so it wasn't hard to come up with a book talk format. Getting positive feedback from the kids and teachers was encouraging. It was fun to dress up in cowboy hat, chaps, boots, spurs, and wildrag, display some cowboy tack, and talk about cowboys, as well as read from my book and present some writing exercises. This wasn't scary either, but did make me a little nervous. I used to be extremely shy but over the years, through many opportunities, have developed the ability to speak in front of groups. I hope to be able to do some book talks, but since I work five days a week, I'm not sure if or how that might work out.

Book signings and media interviews are the kinds of things I dread. Instead, I prefer collecting business cards from vendors at horse activities who are interested in carrying my book, or searching the web for contact information for schools and homeschoolers. I will gladly drop by stores and gift shops, locally or wherever I happen to travel, or call librarians, to see if they might like to carry my book. I am glad that my publisher already has an established clientele that is interested in her books. I am glad she knows about marketing and distribution. I'm glad I did not choose to self-publish, taking on the financial risk and the huge burden of selling my book.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On August 18 I wrote some comments about how many Americans don't see the relationship between ranching and our food supply. I recently came across this quote in Range Magazine, from the article "Healing the Land with Livestock":

"About 98.5% of Americans are city or suburban based and have no connection with the production of the food they consume. Only 1.5% of the American population has anything to do with producing food."

This is one of my motivations for writing about ranching and Nevada. Our nation's roots are in agriculture, but in the last several generations, most lifestyles have become distant from farming or ranching. Food comes from the grocery store, not outside the back door.

I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California. When I first met my husband, I remember asking him what was in that little building behind his barn. He said that was his pumphouse. I said, "You have your own WELL?" He laughed and asked where I thought water came from? I said, "From pipes under the street!" That really made him laugh! I had a college education and I knew that water came from underground, but I had never known anyone who actually had a well. Everyone had "city water" and got a water bill from the city. I was surprised to learn that people with wells don't get water bills; electric pumps pump the water to their homes, so instead of a water bill, they just have a bigger electricity bill.

Because few families raise animals for food, few kids see animals killed to provide their meat. At the same time this trend was developing, kids began watching cartoons with cute talking animals. The thought of killing "cute" animals and eating them horrifies many kids. Farm and ranch kids see, accept and understand this fact of life. Many city kids grow up with an unrealistic view of our food supply, then fall prey to the propaganda of the environmentalists who paint ranchers as enemies of the land. I hope that as I show city kids the ranching lifestyle in a fictional setting, they will come to understand not only our American agricultural heritage, but the need for ranching today.

As far as the progress of The Orange Slipknot, I finally finished the curriculum unit. I am so excited about the thought of classrooms full of kids reading this book and learning about Nevada, ranching, and cowboys! The curriculum unit provides teachers with many questions, activities and writing assignments. It was also very exciting to contact all my friends and announce that the book is now on sale! Many people are already placing their orders.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Yesterday we drove the two hours to the Elko County Fair to watch the finals of the cowhorse competition and the team branding competition. We have always loved the Elko area, and driving through that country reminded me of the actual incidents that became the seeds of Chapter 1. Maggie Creek Ranch, just outside Carlin, 20 miles west of Elko, was the location of the fence-crashing (which I believe I have on videotape), and is the ranch I saw in my mind as I started writing the story, although I'm sure I've changed it quite a bit.

The ground squirrel escapade is a combination of two events. One was very similar to the scene in the book. Another originated on a family outing to our favorite fishing and canoeing spot, Angel Lake, 12 miles south of Wells, a scenic little pocket at an elevation of 8500 in the Ruby Mountains. Chipmunks abound there and are bold enough to sneak right into your picnic lunch. Our boys would lay down and let the chipmunks scamper over their bodies, trying to not laugh from the tickling, as the chipmunks retrieved strategically placed potato chips.

One day a chipmunk darted right into the potato chip bag, and our son snatched up the bag, holding it tightly closed. My husband grabbed a piece of fishing line, tied a slipknot in the end, and held it over the mouth of the bag while our son slowly opened the bag. When the chipmunk emerged, he found himself caught in the noose, which quickly tightened around his neck and one front leg.

Hitting the ground, he leaped and somersaulted, squeaking indignantly--I could swear he jumped two or three feet in the air. Meanwhile my silly husband carried on like he had a wild horse on the end of a halter rope. "Whoa there, big boy! Easy, fella!" We all laughed so hard we were crying. What I wouldn't give to have THAT on videotape, but wouldn't you know it, that was the ONE day I'd left my camera in the pickup on the other side of the lake.

So you see how a writer can take various unrelated true-life incidents, combine or change them a little or a lot, and create a fictional incident. I'm sure some writers can create characters and incidents completely from their own imaginations, but I am not that imaginative. Most of my characters and incidents originated from real people and events, which helps me to write about them in a detailed and believable way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lately I have been working on the Nevada pages of the curriculum unit. I wrote The Orange Slipknot because I wanted to share my love of Nevada--not the glitz of Las Vegas, but the beauty and uniqueness of buckaroo country. I grew up in California, so Nevada is my adopted state. I was a town girl, not a country girl. I never imagined I would grow up to marry a cowboy and raise my kids 50 miles from a town. Life here was so different from what I had known. My letters home to family and friends were filled with adventures and anecdotes that had them shaking their heads. More than once I was told I should write a book. Those letters contained the seeds of stories to come.

When I started my journey into writing, I began by reading books about writing for children. They all advised, "Write about what you know and feel passionately about." I knew I would write about kids growing up in Nevada. My first piece of writing was called "The Best Thing About Nevada," in which a boy tells about all the things he loves about living in Nevada and cowboying with his dad. I didn't know it then, but it was "Ben" in disguise! So many elements from that essay found their way into The Orange Slipknot years later.

Not too long after that I took a course on writing for children. Several of my assignments became Nevada pieces of one sort or another. The first piece that I sold was a magazine article about kids and horses. It would be a few years before I came up with a story that I thought I could develop into a book, but this book was destined to be about growing up in Nevada's cowboy country.

Cowboy country is ranching country, and ranching means beef cattle. As I got more and more interested in sharing my ideas with kids unfamiliar with this lifestyle, I began to realize that many kids don't even know where hamburger comes from. I got involved with Ag in the Classroom and started reading Range magazine. I began to think about how I could use stories to help educate kids about agriculture while entertaining them with cowboy tales.

Agricultural roots were once strong in this country, but now most people are so far from that lifestyle that they have little concept of the relationship between ranching and our food supply. Much of what people do hear about ranching is filtered through the environmentalist view that ranching on public lands is evil and that ranchers are rich free-loaders. Many people probably associate cowboys with either the past or with rodeos, not realizing that this lifestyle is still alive and well in the contemporary West.

I was fairly sure that few juvenile publishers were interested in my topic, preferring urban and multi-cultural settings. When I found Raven Publishing's website and read that the publisher was from a ranching background, my hopes rose. Finally I found a publisher who shared my values!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Besides the technology challenge, another roadblock to writing is just "life." A couple recent events that have kept me from writing as much as I would like: a six-day wildfire that was almost in our backyard at one point (with the possibility of evacuation), and a three-day horsemanship clinic we put on in Truckee, CA. I tried to post some photos in another blog format but it "ate" several of my fire pictures, so I got discouraged and gave up on that idea.

Today I finished the vocabulary lists and exercises for each chapter. After the frustrations of computer hassles, it was so fun to get back to just playing with words! I have always enjoyed words--writing, crossword puzzles, Scrabble and Boggle. Working crosswords gave me the thesaurus and dictionary habit. I love books that give the history and origin of words and phrases. I have a rudimentary knowledge of German, and even less of Spanish and Italian (musical terms are usually noted in Italian). I find it interesting to see the similarities of those language to English. I enjoy the sounds of interesting words.

Now that the chapter section of the curriculum unit is done, I will organize the many notes and rough drafts I have made on book analysis and cross-curricular activities.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why a blog?

This blog will be the story of how my middle-grade novel, "The Orange Slipknot," is published, and what I as an author am working on.

I am home for the summer, since I work in a school. My main summer writing project is to finish the Curriculum Unit for the book. But the last few days, I have been spending several hours a day creating my author website and letting people know about it. I have already created two other websites (Jack Young Clinics and Jan's Bible Notes), so this part was not new to me. But I have had to spend alot of time learning my way around my new web hosting service, LunarPages. I even had to call Customer Support a couple of times.

It was VERY exciting when I finally clicked on my website and saw it appear on the Internet, for everyone to see! Every few hours I think of some little thing to add or change, so I fiddle with it and tweak it often. This past year, I have visited many children's author websites to get ideas about what I want on my site.

I can't wait to add more pages, but I must also spend time working on the lit unit. I have been working on a possible sequel to "The Orange Slipknot" this past year, and hope I can fit that back in later this summer. Some authors write all day, every day--I don't. I have a job and many other activities--piano students, housework, yardwork, special summer projects, grandchildren, and horses. I am just as busy now as I was during the school year!

I hope you enjoy reading about the progression of events as a children's book is published, and how one author goes about her writing.