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.

King of Nebraska in 3-D

Remember this post a while back from David Belt about thinking of art in three dimensions? I have been pondering that since reading (and re-reading) his post, and I wanted to share a cool thing I experienced this weekend at RavenCon in relation to thinking about  a third dimension in art.

If you are new to DarkCargo, our Wednesday author is Jonah Knight, a singer/songwriter whose music is about ghosts and mad scientists and time machines. But Jonah is not just about writing songs. His music has a performance dimension to it that is both necessary and inspiring. He has a song, King of Nebraska, with which he has been trying to accomplish a unique event. I have been in attendance for several concerts where he delivered this different ending to the song and could see what he was trying to do.

It really worked this time.

King of Nebraska is the story of a jilted lover who has plans to take over the world by raising an army of clones.  Yes, you read that right.

The crowd was about 50 people in a fairly small room, and about half of the audience were signed members of the Jonah Knight Fan Club, therefore, like me, having seen this before and prepared to accomplish this third dimension.

At the end of the song, we are all singing along to the chorus, Jonah raises his arms and stops singing, allowing this audience-choir to sing praises to the newly crowned King of Nebraska.


How is this three dimensions?

When he finishes the song this way, some transformations take place.

The singer/performer transforms into the character in the story. The audience has become his army of clones, and now the song is performed as a collaborative effort. He is not giving us a song any longer (2-D): we are the song (3-D). Way cool!

Besides which, the acoustics in the little room was rolling and full.

Totally! It was a sculpture made of sound. It was really exciting and it amazed me how well it worked.

I didn’t video that one, but here is a video of The Dead Crawl From the Earth Alive! Enjoy!

Interview With A Five Year Old

I couldn’t think of anything to write about this week so I decided to interview my five year old son about books.


Me: What makes a good story?

Son: I’m thinking.

Me: Well, what kind of books do you like?

Son: I have no idea.

Me: What is your favorite book?

Son: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Me: Why is that your favorite?

Son: Cuz they go on a big adventure.

Me: What makes a good adventure and what makes a bad adventure?

Son: (slapping his head) I have no idea.

Me: What kind of books do you like?

Son: Baby animals.

Me: Why do you like baby animal books?

Son: Cuz animals are so cute.

Me: Do you like baby animal books with a story or just with pictures?

Son: Story.

Me: What kind of story should be in a book about baby animals?

Son: About what sounds they make.

Me: Anything else?

Son: No.

Me: Is there a book you have not read yet that you want to read?

Son: I’m missing a book that I can’t find.

Me: What is the book?

Son: I have no idea. I can’t even remember the name.

Me: Are there any books you don’t have that you want to get?

Son: (shrug) I don’t know.

Me: How do you hear about new books?

Son: I have no idea.

Me: Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed.

Son: Thank you, daddy.

How Many Drafts Can I Take?

A few weeks ago I lost my voice while performing at Madicon. The timing worked out well, I suppose. Rather than begin my next recording project, I’ve fully committed myself to wrapping up the next (third) draft of my book.  I’ve gotten good beta reader feedback and have worked out many new bits and pieces that I’m having fun sewing into the story.

It seems to me that three drafts and a polish should be the goal. The first draft  was me telling myself the story, the second was figuring out what that really story was, and now the third is telling it to everyone else. After that, a polish sounds good but I can’t see doing another full draft unless someone wants to pay me.

Back when I used to run a theatre company, I was frequently working with new playwrights. Someone would come in for script work shopping and we could tell right away if we would ever hear from them again. A playwright would either double-down on rewriting and rewriting until the thing was perfect or they would grock the flaws and start talking about how to apply the lessons to the next play.

With theatre in particular there is never an obtainable perfect. There are too many people involved in a production, too many technical variables. Damn good is the goal. You must write a bunch of bad stuff before you figure out how to write the good. Write your bad first novel, do a second draft, and then put it aside and write the next one.

I’ve been listening to The Self Publishing Podcast lately, and these guys seems to live by three drafts, polish, and publish. On the downside; a fourth draft might make it tighter (or maybe not). On the upside; speed, reliability, more finished books, more sales, living the dream.  Two of the three hosts of the show have become full-time writers supporting their families based on three drafts, polish, and publish.  Maybe all the changes you want to do with the fourth draft should be the sequel. Just a thought.



Launch This Book

How important is a convention book launch? I have no idea at all.

Certainly, a party is great idea. It is a celebration of a legitimate milestone. You wrote the book. The book got published. That’s a big deal. Let’s have some beer-cake and love that you wrote a book. You’re going to be at a convention? Great! Let’s have that beer-cake party in public and ask people to join us. Maybe you’ll sell a few more books.

A celebration is important but, I suspect that the majority of convention book launches are secretly just parties for everyone that helped (put up with) the writer/publisher.

A launch, it seems to me, marks the transition between creation and sales push. The book is done. Here it is. Now we sell it. And that’s cool, too. Presumably, the book is good. People are out there interested in reading it that don’t even know they are interested. A big launch party is a fine way to make a blip on the radar. And sell a few more books.

But let’s say you launch your book at an awesome party at AwesomeCon in April. You sell some books. Everyone eats tasty beer-cake. Come June, you go to SuperCon in a different state. Does the AwesomeCon book launch provide momentum for SuperCon? Or for CoolCon the month after that? I’m not sure.

It seems like there is something else that can be done. Some way to continue and build upon the momentum for those of us who go from con to con. Marketing, publicity, passionate advocates, sure. But having attended book readings, panels, launches, and parties, I have a vague sense that we haven’t happened upon the ideal way to use conventions.

What do you think? Am I off? Am I asking the wrong questions?


How I Screwed Up My First Author Reading

Last weekend at Farpoint I did my very first author reading. It was… Well, it was like, ah…

I was scheduled to share a 30-minute slot on Sunday morning with another new author, Kate Mason. She recently published her first novel and, after an awkward “no, you go first,” “no, I insist,” she began and did a fine job.

I had misread the schedule a bit and thought that I had been assigned the full 30-minutes so, as Kate read, most of my brain was trying to figure out how to adjust. I had assumed that I would just start at the beginning of my 5k word short story and end wherever. Maybe read the whole thing, I don’t know. After all, I didn’t practice ahead of time.

I decided to skip the opening scene (about a page) and start with the heroine, Hanna. I read two scenes (about 4+ pages) where Hanna, suspicious of a possible murder, breaks into a compartment on a train to investigate. She uses a few gadgets (it’s steampunk), utters a few witty quips, and gets started on the adventure. It all went fine for me, although there are a few things I’d like to share.

First, I used the words compartment and corridor an awful lot in that section. I like those words but, too much of a good thing does not make it a better thing.

Second, two people showed up. One was a con friend who I don’t think knew that I was a secret writer. The second was Kate, the other author. Perhaps I should include Kate’s husband and kids but I suspect they wouldn’t have stayed if she hadn’t insisted.

Third, what made me think I didn’t need to rehearse? I practice performing my songs for hours and yet, I thought I could just print out the story and read it cold.

I don’t go to a lot of author reading because the first few I attended were crap. Good writers (maybe) but bad performers. They show up not knowing what they were going to read, not having read it aloud before, and machine gun out a monotone. I know this. I complain about this. I did this.

Also, it’s a well-worn writing tip but, before I send in the revision to my editor, I am going to read the entire story out loud and do a smoothing.

Proper Author Behavior

Back in September, I wrote a post about a short story that I had written and some very kind DarkCargoites volunteered to be beta readers. I found out this week that it was officially purchased for an upcoming anthology(many details unannounced) . This will be my first published story.

I am certain that this will be the first step to massive literary stardom and so, now I have to figure out proper online author behavior. From watching published authors behave on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, I feel like I have an understanding of some of the basics. Correct me if I am wrong but, I think that these are five good rules.

1) It’s okay to tell people that you have a story coming out. After all, the reason I am following your posts is because, presumably, I like you/what you do and would like to know more.

2) It is not okay to be a hype machine. Remind me once in a while but, come on! I’ll get to it when I get to it. Maybe that’s today, maybe that’s next year. I have a life!

3) It’s okay to talk about what you’re working on. I liked that last thing you did. What’s the next thing? Maybe I’ll like that, too. If I really like you, tease me, baby. Time traveling superhero monkey? Oh, yeah. Looking forward to that.

4) It’s not okay to ONLY talk about what you’re working on. I care about how many words you wrote today the same as I care about your breakfast: sometimes. Was it new and interesting or was it just breakfast?

5) All of this is to say, be a human. There is a rule of thumb floating around for creatives: one out of every five posts/tweets/updates can be about the thing you’re selling. The other four must be about you being human. What do you like besides yourself? What are you reading/watching/listening to? That makes you a human. I like humans.

Next up: How to convince someone that they should buy an anthology because it has one of your stories in it. Bleh. Being an author is hard.

I Expect Story

So, there I am, reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless (the first in her Parasol Protectorate series, a nice complement to season three of Downton Abbey, by the way).

I’m about 40 or so pages from the end, and I’m getting tired so I check to see how many pages to the end of the chapter. And God Damn it! The last 20 pages are an interview with the author and the beginning of the next book. Plus, 13 pages are an Epilogue.

Now, okay, the Epilogue is part of the story, but there were only three pages left in the story proper. I’m holding 40 pages in my hand! I’m expecting a plot twist. I’m expecting additional fine wit. More interesting character moments. More well-built world. Instead of finishing the book with a desire to go buy the next (and I have a Barns & Noble gift card right here), instead of propelling me out the door, I feel gypped. I want my 40 pages!

You know what else is a stupid hold over from an unwilling-to-change publishing industry? Adding on the first chapter of the next book.

I am all for bonus content. I love it. But it does not belong here. Where does bonus book content belong? In an eBook on a clickable link. In an app. As a separate track in an audio book. As a downloadable pdf. On a website.

To be clear, all artists and companies should strive to provide more than what is expected. When I buy a book, however, I expect that the last 40 pages will be story. Perhaps I shouldn’t.


Do What You Love. Then Stop.

In the mid 2000’s I had the great honor to spend three years studying in the Kennedy Center’s playwright training program. One of the instructors, a Pulitzer winner, dropped a great factoid: in the United States there are zero playwrights who make their full-time living as playwrights. This includes the a fore mentioned Pulitzer winner and the Tony winners that came in to run workshops.

Well wait, you say. What about David Mamet?  Tony Kushner? Neil Simon?

In order, movies/TV, movies/TV, and movies/TV.

In the world of theatre, once you build a resume and gain some notoriety, you jump ship. You go to Hollywood and make some money. Or, if you are the ain’t-gonna-sell-out type, you can also act, direct, build sets, or work the box office. If you can do that, you are living the dream.

Here’s my point: what ever you love doing- writing, singing, painting, programming- is not the end goal. The end goal is not to die in a Baltimore gutter with ravens pecking on your ear. The goal is to get amazingly good at your art, your passion, your craft. And then someone else will pay you to do something for them. That probably means either a full on career change or creating a diverse portfolio.

This is awesome news! This means, if you are a creative type, things won’t be boring. You will get unpredictable opportunities. You will live a life your children will be proud of. Chances are, you’ll even make a little money.

But first, you have to get amazingly good.


Pseudonyms Are Stupid

Did you know that your most favorite author ever has written and published secret books that they don’t want you to know about?

This last weekend at MarsCon I had conversations with three authors where the use of pseudonyms came up. Two of them used pseudonyms and the other was considering it. These three were all professionally published multiple times and all three lamented sales numbers that were less than their ultimate goals. To boost their sales and to make a little more money, they mused, writing under a pseudonym was a good avenue to explore.

This is old thinking. A holdover from an industry in flux, flailing about in a mud puddle.

The difference between an amateur/hobbyist and a professional is simple: is this where you make your full-time living. It’s not quality of work, length of your reach, impact of your art. Is this where you make your living. By this definition, I am an amateur/hobbyist working towards becoming a professional.

As an independent, I will never have a random hit single and you, my dear favorite author, you will never have a #1 New York Times Best Seller. We will not make a fortune off of a fluke stroke of good luck. I will never make $50,000 in a year from one album but, what about ten albums? How about fifteen albums plus cool T-shirts, a novel or two, and some soundtracks? Maybe. Maybe then I’ll have a shot. One novel will probably not cover the cost you put into it but, what about two trilogies, a bunch of short stories, a How-to-write ebook, and some comic projects?

What would happen, though, if some of my albums were released under a pseudonym, and my books under a pen name, and the T-shirts were just random T-shirts? What if you like one of my albums but you can’t find the others with a Google search? What if I’m uncredited for that soundtrack? If your favorite author is publishing secret books, how will you buy them? How can you help your favorite author make a living as a writer if they won’t let you?

But, you might ask, what if the author wants to write something really different from their last four books? That’s totally awesome! I want to know how versatile they are. Should I release my South Dakota concept album under a pseudonym because folks who like my ghost songs might get mad and stop liking me all together? No. I will say, “This album is about South Dakota. There are no ghost songs on it.” They will either buy it or they wont. It will sell or it wont. As long as I am honest and clear about what I am doing, there is no danger. Low sales numbers do not mean a loss of fans. There are folks who said that they didn’t want to buy my steampunk album because they don’t like steampunk. But you know what? They bought the Christmas album because that sounded like something they would want.

I can think of only one real reason to use a pseudonym. You don’t what your friends/family/church/co-workers to know that you write erotica or some other material that would offend soft minds. If this is the case, so be it. Just make sure that you stick with whatever pseudonym you choose.

Pseudonyms are stupid. If you’re proud of it, put your name on it.