Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things I Learned This Year About Getting a Book Published

2008 will always stand out for me as the year my first book, Fouling Out, was published. The editing and final decisions that involved me were completed in 2007. Still, it was fascinating to experience the unveiling of a new book. I did not know what to expect and treated the process as a learning experience. That said, here are the most important things I learned:

1) A publisher is not a pseudo-agent. The fact that someone holds a position related to marketing does not mean an author can sit back and let the publicity stumble upon him.

2) A publication date is only an estimate. People kept asking me when the book was coming out and all I could say was, "Spring 2008." Then, through some online ego-surfing, I discovered that Target and Amazon had projected a March 1 release date. It turns out they jumped the gun. Fouling Out hit shelves during the first week of April.

3) Ask for help when throwing a book launch. I pride myself in being independent and I find it difficult to ask anyone for help since I do not want to be a burden. On the day of my launch, I put in a regular day at work and gave myself a little over an hour to get from work to the launch site to set up. I would not have managed without my cousin and a family friend who surprised me by showing up. They quickly took control of the food and the setup while I greeted early arrivals. (Imagine, early arrivals. I'd wondered if anyone would show up at all!)

4) A launch can be big news in a small town. An article made the front page of Community Arts section of the local paper, complete with a color photo of me at the launch. Too bad small newspapers don't have the budget to airbrush photos like they do in Vanity Fair.

5) There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to which libraries will carry your book. Fouling Out is on the shelves in Salisbury, Australia and there are seventeen copies within the Brooklyn library system. (If the Canucks do not go far in the playoffs, I'll cheer for the Rangers. Heck, they've got Naslund anyway!) There's a copy in Ypsilanti, Michigan and four in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Regina carries seven and Calgary surfaced early on with five copies. Quite a while later, the first copies appeared in Vancouver and there are still no copies in Richmond, B.C. despite the fact that the entire novel is set there. That's my biggest disappointment. I think it's extra special for readers to get their hands on a novel that takes place in their hometown.

6) Podcasting is a way to generate a little press and, perhaps, a little buzz. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mark and Andrea of Just One More Book while on a visit to Ottawa. (Just One More Book is my website find of the year. This industrious couple posts 3-4 podcasts a week, promoting children's books for people of all ages.) I also had a live phone interview which aired as a podcast on Book Bites for Kids, based in Kansas. Before getting my book published, I knew as much about podcasts as I know about Olympic rifle shooting. My greenness is wearing off (at least with respect to the podcasting).

7) Blog away to promote your book and to chronicle your current writing. I am really not sure if anyone reads my posts (comment anyone?), but blogging presents a periodic distraction when the creative writing isn't flowing (or when vacuuming doesn't seem that exciting).

8) Don't quit your day job (unless you win the lottery or come into wealth by some other means). "He must be rich," one student at my school commented. By my calculations, I have earned a couple of pennies per hour in writing and editing my first book. I think I treated myself and bought a new t-shirt.

9) Celebrity fades fast. I had my fifteen--no, five--minutes of fame and now it's back to being special only in the eyes of my dogs. (Thank you, Lincoln and Hoover! You were there before all the fame.)

10) I am still on the outside looking in. A month after Fouling Out hit stores, I took a group of students to the Red Cedar Book Awards ceremony. I saw eager readers line up for autographs from the nominated authors. I heard the enthusiastic applause as accomplished writers like Richard Scrimger and Irene Watt paraded into the gymnasium for the award presentations. I was just as excited to see and hear these authors. In August, I attended the Festival of the Written Arts on the Sunshine Coast and spotted greats like Elizabeth Hay and Michael Ondaatje. I listened to a humble, yet charismatic new writer, David Chariandy, talk about his delightful Soucouyant and rushed to buy a copy for signing (even though I'd read a library copy). To be feted like these amazing author remains but a dream. When you work away for months--okay, years--on a book, it's rewarding to witness genuine appreciation. I've had a small taste. I am driven to continue writing. Maybe bigger things are ahead of me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Mother's Actions - Believable or Not?

Reading a review of one's work requires a thick skin. Over the years, I have read many articles spotlighting actors and musicians wherein the celebrity states that he/she never reads reviews. I always thought that was astonishing. You put something out there and hope that people will like it, but you shield yourself from critical feedback?! It hardly seems plausible. Curiosity gets the better of me. I have read many complimentary reviews, but I also have come across ones by (female) adult readers who were not impressed. They typically comment on one of the female characters, Craig's mother.

If Mrs. Trilosky were inspired by any real person, I suppose my own mother comes to mind. Mrs. T is a do-gooder, a volunteer extraordinaire. A few adult readers have felt that her actions at the end of the book are not believable. (One reviewer further insulted young readers, flippantly saying that readers will overlook this aspect.)

I designed the characters and the plot to make the reader think for himself? Would I hang out with Tom? After (Because of) all they've gone through, should Craig do anything for Tom? Both mothers in the story are also faced with dilemmas that relate to the ending of Fouling Out. Because the book is told from Craig's point of view, the conflicts the mothers face are only alluded to; however, they are intended to be characters that generate further thought and discussion. Because Mrs. T's actions represent a shift in character, they should surprise the reader. Nonetheless, I believe her decisions are entirely plausible, if not what the majority of parents would choose. She acts in a way that is consistent with her strong feelings of hope and of the possibility that positive change can occur, especially if supported by brave, committed members of society.

Of course, that is the nature of reviews and of reader reactions. We can agree to disagree. We can form wholly different feelings about a work. If you have read Fouling Out and care to post a comment reflecting on Mrs. Trilosky (or Mrs. Hanrahan), please do!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Books for Boys for Christmas: Lump of Coal or Treasured Gem?

Okay, I have a confession. When I was a boy, I hated getting books as a birthday or Christmas present. It was like getting a rake or a dust cloth; books were work. I don't recall getting many books as presents. I am sure the sour, can't-fake-a-smile expression was more telling than the niceties of a follow-up thank you note.

I will admit that, while in grade two, I loved receiving Thornton W. Burgess books like The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack and The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel, but that's when the excitement stopped. Like many boys, I failed to find books that resonated with me. I was not into science fiction or fantasy and the Hardy Boys seemed entirely old-fashioned. Frank and Joe Hardy seemed a little stiff as characters and I could not connect them to people I knew.

I do think there is more choice for boy readers now. (Of course, I still hear boys say the same thing I did when I was their age: "There's nothing in the library I like.") When I wrote Fouling Out, I was intent on creating realistic characters, flaws and all, that boys might identify with. I knew that I could possibly sell more copies if I made Craig a wizard or had the boys living inside a secret society within a dormant (or active!) volcano. Just think of the ways Mr. Hanrahan might face his comeuppance in either scenario! Easy entertainment, but not the discussion springboard I was attempting to achieve.

I do hope that boys will receive one or two books as gifts this Christmas. (Obviously, I would feel all the merrier if Fouling Out ended up in a few stockings.) However, I hope the gift givers make picks based on what the boy will read, not what he should read. While many adults would find no joy in reading about Captain Underpants, a Wimpy Kid or even Craig Trilosky, these characters may help boys see life in books again. The right book in the hands of the right boy can lead to a treasured experience! (If you are interested, I do have a few book recommendations if you scroll down to the end of my blog.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fouling Out Gets Endorsement of the Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium

Throughout the time that I worked on Fouling Out, I envisioned the novel being used as a springboard for discussion in classrooms and as a key resource for reluctant readers. "Every author thinks his book would be perfect for schools," a colleague of mine said, not meaning to offend. The comment nonetheless caught me off guard. Maybe I was too close to the work to have any objectivity.

I received word last week that ERAC (the Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium), comprised of British Columbia teachers who review novels to determine if they are suitable for use in classrooms, was recommending my book for grades six and seven. Today I was able to read the review online at the ERAC website. As I have consulted this site in the past before selecting novels for class study, I knew that some of the recommended books do not always receive glowing reviews. Thus, I paused and played with my dogs for a few minutes before reading ERAC's analysis of Fouling Out.

I am thrilled with the review! At last, a teacher review committee has confirmed what I'd hoped all along. You can read the entire review by clicking the ERAC Review link in the Book Review section at right. What follows is a portion of the review:

Recommended for Grade(s): 6, 7

Estimated readability: At Grade

Plot / Reasons for Recommendation:
Craig is an intelligent, but isolated grade seven student whose long
time friend, Tom, is the bad boy of the classroom. Tom comes from
a dysfunctional family. He is fun to be with but can also be
annoying, violent and cruel. Craig is at a stage in his life where he
is finding the friendship more of a hindrance than a help but he
can't seem to break way. When a crisis occurs and Tom runs away
from home, Craig is forced to really look at his relationship with
Tom and decide what friendship really means.

The main character in this book is funny and engaging, yet gives
the reader insights into the isolation and confusion that often
plagues adolescence. The book is especially good at portraying
the dynamics involved in cliques and groupings in classrooms.
The plot is simple, but keeps the reader's interest. The short
chapters and humourous writing make it an easy read that could
work for reluctant readers. While the main characters are young
men, the character driven nature of the book means that it may
appeal to girls as well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tune in to Book Bites for Kids!

Thank goodness for the Internet! Earlier this month I participated in a podcast interview with www.JustOneMoreBook.com. On Thursday, August 28, I will chat about Fouling Out with Suzanne Lieurance of Book Bites for Kids on Blog Talk Radio. Suzanne's show provides a terrific forum for children's authors to discuss their books. I enjoy listening in to gain insights from other authors and to feel part of a virtual community of writers. You can tune in for the live airing at 2 p.m. Central Time (3 p.m. Eastern; noon Pacific) at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bookbitesforkids or check out the site at your convenience after the half-hour show wraps up. As well, you can link to the interview through Suzanne Lieurance's website at http://suzannelieurance.com/category/author-interview/.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Virtual Power

I recently sat down for an interview at the Wild Oat Bakery in Ottawa with Mark and Andrea of Just One More Book!!, a website devoted to children's books. What a pleasure! The site regularly posts book conversations between Mark and Andrea, parents of two young girls. They take picture books (and some novels) that have been field tested in their own home. If the book is a hit with the girls, Mark and Andrea talk about the book as they sit down for a morning coffee. The background noise of other patrons at the coffeehouse only adds to the ambience. I have often said that one under-celebrated aspect of reading in schools is the social conversation that can arise. When we see a good movie or hear a great song, there is an urge to tell someone about it. The same with books. That is why book clubs have become so popular. (Okay, Oprah may have something to do with book club fever as well.)

While Fouling Out is for older readers (ages 10-14) than the books featured on justonemorebook.com I really wanted to feel the process of the making of Mark and Andrea's podcasts. We talked about my roles as teacher, principal and author and how I promote and teach reading and writing with children. Check out the site. If you want, you can go to http://www.justonemorebook.com/2008/08/page/2/, scroll down and find my interview, posted August 11, 2008. (I love the fact that I am on the same page as the podcast on Dirty Dog Boogie. Lincoln and Hoover think I'm cool.) Of course, there is so much more to explore. The site is well archived with author and illustrator interviews and book chats that can keep a browser entertained.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finding an Audience

I have been very fortunate to get so much positive feedback from readers of Fouling Out. As it is summer and I am not working with children at the moment, the current batch of praise is coming from adults, particularly people ranging in age from their thirties to their eighties. One person from Colorado emailed me to say, "I guess I've finally found the right reading level."

When I wrote Fouling Out, I intended for it to be a quick read. The short chapters provided ample opportunities for reading breaks to stop and think about the characters and plot or to wolf down a bag of barbecue potato chips. (Hopefully readers remember to wash their hands before returning to the book. Orange-colored smudges in the margins create an unexpected mystery for the next reader. People who solve the mystery find it a little bit gross.) The thrill for me is that so many people keep on reading. When someone says, "I couldn't put it down", that is high praise.

Adults, keep reading the book and recommending it to others. I am so grateful! As well, I would love to hear more reactions from readers between the ages of 10 and 14. Are the characters realistic? Can you make connections with them or with events in the book?

I believe Fouling Out makes a wonderful summertime read. Read a chapter while in the car en route to the pool. Read another while waiting for a friend to come over. Talk about it. (I think talking about books adds to the pleasure of reading. I am referring to casual conversations, not stilted talks based on teacher questions.)

As teachers get ready for a new school year, I also hope they will consider using
Fouling Out as a novel study or a read aloud in grade six, seven or eight. I would love to share my email for students and teachers to send questions and comments. Of course, any reader is welcome to post a comment here on the blog.

Read on!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Getting the Word Out

Step 1: Write
Step 2: Submit
Step 3: Publish

As anyone who has ever dabbled in creative writing knows, the above steps are an atrocious oversimplification. I have left out such memorable stages as Yell at Laptop and Eat Tub of Ice Cream While Figuring Out How to Rescue Character's Dog. (A temporarily satisfying process that required double time on the treadmill. Must not repeat.)

Initially, my goal in writing was to complete a novel. It was a (usually) pleasurable hobby. The goal evolved and I dreamed of getting published. I thought I'd be satisfied. Truth is, while I know I'm fortunate, I want more. I'd like to sell more than a few copies. I've tapped the shoulder of every friend and acquaintance, but I want others to read my book. Buying it would be nice, but checking it out of the library would be a good thing too.

I have discovered that I love writing. I enjoy my summers of getting into a focused, productive writing routine. Unfortunately, I can't make a living off a novel that sells a few hundred copies and I fear that publishers may not give a second chance to an author whose debut generates lukewarm (or cold) sales.

It is difficult to promote myself. I was raised to be modest. What's more, calling or talking to bookstore owners is awkward and a bit humiliating. Seems they'd be happy to promote your book and create a lovely window display if you're J.K. Rowling or Jerry Spinelli, but when you're Gregory Walters,...not so much. I have sent off many emails and received a little press in free community papers in a couple of areas in British Columbia. Last week I had a phone interview with a reporter in Texas who writes for TCU Magazine. However, most of my shot-in-the-dark efforts generate nothing.

I would love a decent review in a publication with a significant circulation. I believe many readers will enjoy following the struggles of Tom and Craig, but I fear too few people will ever know about these characters. There is strong word of mouth from the people who have read the book, but I wonder how far that word can reach.

This summer I'd love to try some creative ways to promote Fouling Out and I welcome any suggestions. Feel free to post a comment.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My First Book Signing

My first children's novel, Fouling Out (Orca Book Publishers, 2008), has been on the market for two months. I had a successful book launch in Sechelt, British Columbia on May 1. That was a relatively controlled event with a list of invited guests. Nothing like a familiar audience to give you a false sense of importance.

A book signing is an entirely different beast. It's basically a table in a bookstore. If you're lucky, the manager puts you near the entrance. If you're really lucky, the manager will even remember that you're coming and will have the table set up. The awkward part is sitting and looking happy as people take sweeping detours to avoid anything close to eye contact. Perhaps having a book to sell (and autograph) is a greater annoyance than offering a trial newspaper subscription or having people fill out an instant credit application for a store credit card. At any rate, two hours can pass quickly. It's only one hundred twenty minutes of smiling and staring at random objects.

My book signing turned out to be better than anticipated. (Sometimes there are benefits to being a fatalist.) The site was the large Chapters store in Richmond, B.C. Since the setting of my novel is in Richmond, it only took two requests to get a manager to okay the event. I'm not sure what I'd have to do to have an event in Victoria or Seattle or Half Moon Bay, California.

Yes, I was lucky. Really lucky. A table was set up with several copies of Fouling Out nicely displayed. And they had me at the entrance--right beside the table with two guys offering newspaper subscriptions. No kidding! The guys even tried to get me to sign up, but I already receive the Vancouver Sun, thank you very much.

Thank goodness for friends! Three former colleagues were waiting for my arrival. Before the official beginning of the book signing. My fans, my groupies! Okay, just some friends will lots of other things to do on a Saturday afternoon.

For over two hours, people stopped by. Former students whose names I, thankfully, remembered. Teachers and staff members from three schools where I'd worked in Richmond. Yes, I remembered all their names, too. Friends who came by as they waited for a load to finish in the dryer cycle so they could change into something more fashionable and go somewhere else. I autographed books, exchanged hugs and handshakes and got caught up.

It was completely painless. Pleasant even. As I packed up, I realized I'd only sold one book to a complete stranger. It was a mother who stopped by with her fifth grade son. We talked about the boy's school, his reading interests and his teacher. When Mom asked if the boy wanted a copy of my book, he said no without the slightest bit of hesitation. He was here to get the second book in a fantasy series. Grrr to all those fantasy writers who can't shake off their popular characters to leave a little shelf room for the rest of us! The mother awkwardly picked up a copy of my book and asked me to sign it for the boy's teacher. At the end of the year, he'd give her the real present: chocolate. Mom would unload a copy of Fouling Out.

Hey, it's a sale.

And as part my first book signing, I'll take it.