Self Publish A Kids Book? Am I Crazy?

Last week I talked about my desire to self publish a fully illustrated 32-page (standard) kids book.

What the hell was I thinking? So, I went over to Kickstarter and searched around though all of the projects similar to this in scope and came to the conclusion that I can’t do it.

All of the projects were asking for $4,000-$8,000. That alone I can’t do. I’ve run three crowd funding projects for modest amounts, the largest almost reaching $1,200. If I had a social media savvy artist on board and if I turned out everyone I knew who wanted to spend, say, $35 on a book co-written by my awesome 5yr old son, maybe, maybe, I would try for $3,000. But that wouldn’t be enough.

New plan. Ah, hmmm. Well, the story is about 5k words. Let’s say that we write two more stories about the same length following the continuing adventures of these cats. Ah! That could be a modest little reader with some cool art. That seems like a thing.

Let me see what I can do about that.

How To Self Publish A Kids Book

No, really. How?

You guys remember that I co-wrote a story with my 5-year old son about two cats that go to the moon? Well, it was officially not accepted into an upcoming anthology about cats in space. It doesn’t fit their needs, and that is totally cool.

Rather than shop it around and try to get an agent, blah blah blah, I think I’m going to try to self publish a full color kids book. I say that knowing nothing about this process.

Hey! Now I know what my DarkCargo columns will be about for a while! I have to look up price and process and, uh, other stuff. I’ll take what I learn and report back here to you.

So help me out. What do you know about kids publishing? Should I not try to self publish this? Is their a small press that does scifi kids books?

In the meantime, here is the opening scene of the story.

 

Rimp and Lucile and The Moon

 

On a mountain in a monastery during a hurricane, the cats were born.

This was not just any mountain. This was the tallest mountain on the planet. So tall that many people thought it almost touched the moon. And this was not just any monastery. This monastery was run by the order of the Space Monks. And this was not a regular hurricane. This was a cosmic hurricane that came from space to the mountain on the occasion of Rimp and Lucile’s birth.

Two weeks after Rimp was born he opened his eyes for the first time, and the first thing he saw was the moon.  He walked cautiously to the window sill and looked up into the sky. It was at just this moment that Lucile opened her eyes for the first time, and the first thing that she saw was a saucer of milk. She poked at it cautiously with her toe and stared at the ripples that spread across the surface.

At first Rimp and Lucile only said “Meep,” for they were just babies. But then they learned to speak.

Rimp said, “Mommy, I want to go to the moon.”

Mommy Kitty said, “Silly baby, kitties don’t go to the moon.

And Lucile said, “Mommy, I want more milk.”

Mommy Kitty said, “Silly baby, you can’t have all of the milk.” And she told them of all the things that kitties could not do because she loved them so.

 

Like A Punch In The Face

This in an MMA video.

I am posting it here on a book blog with a story.

The guy in the orange trunks is Julio Zayas. When we worked together 8 or 9 years ago, he was not training to become a fighter. To the best of my memory, he was a fan but was not planning to actually do it. He was not planning to get punched in the face for fun.

On June 30, he had this match. His first official fight. He trained and studied and worked for I don’t even know how long. He broke into the business, got an actual booking.

And you know what? *Spoiler* He lost.

And you know what else? Today on Facebook he wrote that he was back in the gym. Getting punched in the face and choked out was not enough to make him quit. Not enough to break his passion. I don’t know if it will be his new career or if he’ll make a bunch of money from it or if he’ll hold some other job in the industry. I do know that I am super proud of a guy that I kind of know.

And whenever I think that writing a story or recording a song is hard, well, now I have this video.

Children’s SF

Recently, I co-wrote a short sf story with my son. This week we officially submitted it to a quirky, space themed anthology. If it is accepted, my son will have his first professional writing credit at age 5. Think on that for a second.

Congruently, we have been doing a summer reading program through the library with the goal of reading for 600 minutes. Adding to that, we’ve been going through the Mensa reading list for grades K-3. We’ve been reading a lot and although we have found fairy tales, dragons, and even some space stories, the experience reminded me of an observation I made three years ago: there is virtually no kids merch at SF conventions.

When I go to a con, I always walk through the dealer room looking for a little something for my boy. From over 20 conventions I have found 1) a dinosaur on a stick, 2) used Dragonball Z figures, 3) a pirate eye patch and, 4) wearable horns. That’s it! Yes, there are plush dragons and geeky t-shirts and funny hats, but he doesn’t care about that stuff.

So, I will wait to hear about the story submission. Following that, we will begin to adapt the story into a fully illustrated children’s book. We will probably do a kickstarter to pay for the print run and the art. Once the book is done, I will work to bring my son to conventions as an author guest (mostly to amuse me and annoy serious writers). More importantly, I will have a legitimate, high quality product for kids at cons.

Co-write With A Kid

Last weekend at Balticon I got into a conversation with an editor friend. As we were chatting, another author came up to the table and my editor friend told her about a new anthology she is shepherding. The description of the antho was a little nutty. I can’t really speak about it, but the collection will either be awesome or ridiculous or both. The author listened to the description, laughed nervously, and said something like, “well, if I have any ideas, I’ll let you know.”

Let me say, the author had no ideas. It’s a crazy anthology.

I guess I sort of started staring off into space with an odd look in my eye because, after the author ran away, the editor said that it looked like I had an idea and would I care to submit. I said, of course, and started talking about Ax Cop!

Ax Cop, if you don’t know, is a comic series written by a 5 year old and drawn by his adult brother. It’s crazy. It makes no sense. It was recently picked up to be a cartoon on FOX.

So I told the editor that I was going to co-write my submission with my 5 year old son.

Milo and I have begun outlining. He has told me the idea for our story, started filling in details, and I’ll tell you what: it’s crazy. I kind of love it and I hope that my prose can do it justice. If it doesn’t make the anthology, I’ll post it here later this summer.

Author’s Rep Strikes Again!

There I was in my local used bookstore perusing the vaguely alphabetized SF/F section when I came across a book by Michael Stackpole and here follows the conversation I had with myself.

“Hey, Michael Stackpole. I haven’t read any of his stuff. Hey, this is the first in a series, I should get this. People like him, right? Wait. Do people like him? Didn’t he say something that pissed people off a while ago? What was that? Is he the guy who hates gays? Or women! Does he hate women? Maybe he said something about immigration or guns or politics or religion that I disagree with. I can’t buy this.” And so, I put the book back.

It occurred to me on the way home that the Michael Stackpole hullabaloo was not about any of that stuff. It was this House Slaves blog post he made last year. Not about racial ethnic whatever, it was about old publishing vs. new publishing.  You probably remember this because you’re the sort of person who reads a book blog. And I remembered it, too.

Sort of.

I remembered that Stackpole said something controversial that some people got pissed about. A year latter, I saw his name and my only recall was that this guy was controversial. So I didn’t buy the book. No sale.

But here’s the thing. The only reason I picked up the book was because I recognized his name. In these tall, cramped isles with stacks of books on the floor, all I’m looking for is name recognition. There were tons of books and I bought none because I don’t want to read more Heinlein, Asimov, and Harrison.

There is a piece of advice given to musicians that goes like this: If your audience doesn’t know you, say your name (band name) seven time during the course of the show. If it’s less than seven, people won’t remember. In trying to remember a causal thing from a year ago, I have thought more about Michael Stackpole in a day than all last year. And it turns out, I agree with some of his controversial statements.

I’ll probably go back and buy that book.

 

Lou Anders Is My Best Imaginary Friend

Lou Anders is the Editorial Director of Pyr Books. He is super smart and has Pyr into a fantastic publisher of wonderful speculative fiction. I am a huge podcast fan and Mr. Anders is frequently popping up as a guest on shows like Adventures In SciFi Publishing, Functional Nerds, and, for purposes of this blog post, The Roundtable Podcast.

I was listening to The Roundtable Podcast episode 36 wherein Mr. Anders said the following about what, for him, makes a good story.

A sympathetic protagonist overcomes a series of increasingly difficult obstacles in pursuit of a compelling goal.

He also gave an easy to understand MadLib for putting together your story.

When a ______  ______ encounters a _______ ______ they are forced to ______ in order to ______.

I am near the end of third draft revisions on my novel which is either the best or worse time to get this kind of formula. I listened to the episode last night and lay away trying to plug my characters into this.

My first dilemma is that I have always thought of the three sisters at the heart of the story as being co-leads, and while they are all important, lovely people, there can be only one. Let’s face it, my protagonist is Victoria. So, let’s see if I can do this.

When a frustrated inventor (banned from practicing science due to her gender)  encounters a series of devastating crises (zombie plague, dueling mad scientists, invading confederate soldiers) she is forced to break the law (building illegal scientific devices) in order to save her city and free herself from oppressive scientific regulations.

Man, that took 15 minutes of staring at the screen to finish. Can I do this with the other two sisters?

-20 minutes later-

No, I can’t.

The other two sisters have personalities and goals and arcs but their actions do not drive the story. How about that? I do not think that this means that I should cut down on the scenes with the other two, nor does it mean that they are less important. Perhaps it does mean that I should do a polish that makes some of Victoria’s actions and choices a bit crisper. Perhaps she is the one who articulates the overall goals and determines how and where the novel ends. I’ve been thinking of this book as the first of three so perhaps in book 2 it is sister 2 who is the protagonist and in book 3 it is sister 3. Victoria is no less important but, the others may need time to shine.

Lou Anders is a smart guy. Every time I hear him speak I learn something about story. Luckily for me, he is one of my best friends that I’ve never met.

It’s All About The Venue

I recently played a club concert as a part of a Star Wars Day/Free Comic Book Day evening of geek music and I came away with this: venue is key.

When I play at a convention, the room may be a dull, hotel cube but, it is intimate and everyone in the room wants to be there. At a club, the room may look cool but, the people in the room are not necessarily there to see me. They are there to drink and hang out. That’s cool, but I don’t like it. This is why I don’t play bars, wineries, or coffee shops unless I have a good reason.

A few years ago, before the ghost, my goal was to play at least four shows a month and for a year, I did. In order to hit my four show goal, I accepted shows where I knew that no one would show up. There was one particular coffee shop/gelato stand that kept trying to have music, but nobody – NOBODY – ever came. I accepted the show because I only had three booked that month. They said I could have a free gelato but after two hours of a public rehearsal in an empty shop, I just wanted out.

I feel much better about playing one or two concerts a month for conventions and odd events than I did playing twice as often for inappropriate venues.

Which brings me to authors.

Authors have a similar dilemma for book signings and readings. Much like unfocused musicians, unfocused authors sometimes scramble about looking for anyone with a room and a chair. Like aimless musicians, aimless authors, after having a disappointing show, will go back to that venue with little to no adjustment in their approach.  Sometimes the poor experience has to do with the author not getting the word out, not telling friends, not doing a facebook/twitter/meetup event thing. But sometimes the venue just sucks for you. If the regulars at a club expect a rockin’ band and they find an acoustic guy (granted, a pretty awesome acoustic guy),  right away it’s a fight. If the shoppers in a book megamart just want a coffee and a quiet browse and they find an author staring at them with a “buy my book” look in their eyes, it hurts everyone.

Now that your event has failed, how do you change your strategy?

 

ComicCons Are So Boring!

What makes a good convention? Better yet, what is the one thing you must accomplish at your convention for people to think it was awesome? I think that it comes down to one basic thing: everyone has to have an awesome time and want to come back. That’s it, right? Sounds easy.

But wait! Problem number one is that different people like different things. Is there a single event/type of programming/awesome thing that would please all of the people? No. So that means you need a variety of programming. Something for everyone? No, you need more than something. You need to have so much stuff that at any given time there is almost always something for almost always everyone. So much stuff that it would be impossible for one person to do everything that they want. This makes them want to come back so they can try to do everything next year. This, in my opinion, is what makes a good con.

But wait again! Should Fear The Con con try to be equal parts gaming, literary, art, and My Little Pony? No. They are gaming focused. I’m guessing though, that will try to have board games, D&D, indie games, miniatures, and maybe some card games. Enough gaming opportunities for all of the projected attendees to play something cool at any given time all weekend long. And you know what, they probably will.

The reason that ComicCons are so freaking boring (San Diego is an exception) is because they are typically designed from the ground up with just two areas of focus: 1) Buy stuff from the massive vendor room and 2) get an autograph/picture with a celebrity. There are usually costume contests and some panels or a concert or gaming or something, but these are often presented as an after thought. I have seen ComicCon program books that don’t list all of the programming, don’t list all of the rooms, don’t include much at all except info on the celebrities and a map of the vendor room.

Let me put it another way. There are two reasons for you to go to a con of any type. Either you are there to get awesome stuff or you are there to discover awesome stuff. If your goal as an attendee is to consume more of what you are already a fan of (Firefly, Star Wars, Magic: the Gathering) chances are good that you’re not going to accidentally wander into one of my concerts. On the other hand, if you are there to discover, you might test a new game from a new game designer or you might go to a panel about something you don’t know much about.

ComicCons do not promote discovery. They promote the siloing of your own fandom and encourage convention day trippers. If you want to spend your weekend discovering and growing, I humbly suggest you do not plan to do so at a traditional ComicCon. However, if all you want is Rowdy Roddy Pipers autograph and picture for Facebook, have at it.

Self Music Publisher

As an indie musician I have two options when it comes to recording. Record it myself or get someone else. It’s a simple choice that has been driving me crazy for years.

Every time I do home recordings they turn out inferior to studio recordings. Studio engineering, mixing, and mastering are all separate skills that are unrelated to being able to perform. I have used three different methods to record and release music. Here they are. This all assumes that the musician/author is not experienced at any of the technical stuff.

4. Last year, I wrote and home recorded three songs for an author friend and then put them up on bandcamp as digital downloads. The poor quality of those recordings drove me nuts and I took them down after two weeks. This is like writing a book, editing and formatting it yourself with no previous experience, and then putting it up on Amazon. It’s probably has some good moments but you should expect two star reviews.

3. I recorded the Nobody Gets The Girl EP at home on the same poor equipment as in #4 but afterwards I brought it to a studio for the post-recording treatment. This is like doing a draft after beta readers give you notes and then getting your techie friend to do you a favor and format it. You’ll probably catch most of the obvious glitches and it’ll look fine, but if the core idea and presentation don’t work, it’s too late to fix it.

2. With most of my albums I went into a studio and recorded songs with a hands-on engineer who suggest instruments and then did all of the post-recording stuff himself. This is like hiring a good editor who then volunteers to format the book because, well, it’s cheaper. This is a solid representation of your vision with some rough edges.

1. Get a producer/editor before you record/write. Go over outlines and demos. Collaborate and evolve. This is super expensive and is typically only done with a someone else covering costs. (I have not done this.)

4-poor

3-okay

2-good

1-great

Three thoughts on this.

First.

  • 95% of people will notice the difference between poor and okay.
  • 75% will notice the difference between okay and good.
  • 10% will notice the difference between good and great.

Second. These scenarios change drastically if the writer worked as a professional editor or if the musician worked as a professional engineer. Or if the writer/musician has been doing this for a long time or if they are a natural. With chops, okay becomes good. Good will never become great without a team of people working on it.

Third. I spent around $2,500 to record my last album, Another Creepy Christmas. How much would it cost to buy acceptable hardware and software to do it myself? Probably around $2,000. Right now I have almost all of the material prepared for my next four albums. Some quick math tells me that if I record the next four albums myself, the rough cost will be $2,000. If I do them the way I have been, it’ll be between $7,000-$10,000. The first thing I record this way would dip in quality from good to okay. With work + time, it could become consistently good.

If I do this, if I learn a new skill set, my next album will take a hit. It will drive me crazy. Raise my blood pressure. Create self-doubt. And then it will get better and I will move on.