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.)