Don’t Swallow That

It’s Wednesday. I should have written a blog on health yesterday, but I was sick (ironic, isn’t it). Today, I should be writing on career tips, so isn’t it appropriate I’m taking a break from writing my presentation for 400 junior-high school kids to write this blog (on my career-what else?).

Dude, where’s my key?

As I’m going to be up there with a guy from the FBI, a columnist, a doctor, and several other professionals, and want my presentation to stand out. I figure a video clip of movies. Items on producing, writing, screenwriting (when of course, all the students are going to want to know is how much people earn and did Brad and Angie really hook up on Mr and Mrs Smith- duh). I was half-way done when I cracked open the example presentation, given my an emergency room doctor.

This dude liked beer

whoa. First, an Xray on his first day on the job. Keys are meant for driving, not dessert.

The next one was clearly a person who should have not been using a hammer

Then it turned into a public service announcement for not drinking and driving.

Tattoos tend to get saggy and nasty as the wearer ages, and tend to be a living diary of your choices.

Cigars are meant for the mouth, not the arms

After seeing these images, I’m not so sure a 13 year old would say-GREAT, so excited to become an ER doctor! But then, I’m presently putting together a movie on zombies, who are going to run around with axes. How’s that for improving the moral fiber of society? Clearly, I didn’t have the right career role model as a junior-higher. Maybe I’ll leave out the zombie movie and go straight for the space adventure.

Verbal backflips, why “no” is great, and other Friday thoughts

The sun is bright. The sky blue (both anomalies in Washington, this time of yr, for it was snowing the last two days, the roads were icy and even the moles went deep underground). Saw a bald eagle on the way to school, which I took as “a sign.” (In Sarah-speak, ‘a-sign’ is a phrase I use when it means- this is a good sign, good things are going to happen). Sure enough, by the time I get home, its come to fruition. Another person is going to invest in the movie that I’m putting together, the puppy kept it in until I arrived to let her out, and the director for Lindsay Lohan’s recently wrapped film, the Canyon’s, came to her defense, doing “verbal backflips,” signing her praises.

That got me thinking (what doesn’t, really? I’m an author. I think. It’s what I do. It’s who I am).

When was the last time I did a verbal backflip? Explosive, effusive, jump-for-joy push-from-the-bottom-of-my-legs triple-gainer. You know, the girly-squeely-I’m freaking out-thing? Well, last yr I got my first bonified publishing deal. Granted, it was from Thailand, a place I’ll infrequently visit and will need to have translator and convert my baht, but whatever. A sound like a piglet in heat was emitting from my mouth, on and off, for about an hour. It was only slightly less-piggy (my Sarah, Don-king-ism for the day), when the publishing paperwork came in from Indonesia, a few days later. Other times? A 70″ tv? yes, I eeked out a backflip. A surprise trip? Check. But it’s not all big things. 5 dollar juicy tubes in my stocking 9(thx mom. Put them in my stocking, as I knew Rog would forget, which he surely did). A friend getting pregnant after a long struggle with infertility. A 19 yr-old young man getting his first acting job. All backflipping-while-squeeling-worthy.

Rog mentions my propensity to get excited over things, large and small (that sounded rather Jane Austin). This begat a discussion on why he doesn’t get all that excited. Pay off the house? He smiles. The end. A new car. He drives it. My mental meandering that goes to the place of a person’s personality (see, I’m that good of a writer. I can double up words in a way that would make my long-dead English teacher (poor man died of a heart attack whilst I was in 8th grade, thus, that’s probably why I’m grammatically stunted))…but back to the personality bit. I’m an optimist by nature. A doer that refuses to take no for an answer.

I fondly recall an instances, 6 yrs ago, 5 months after I’d given birth to my second child. I was cold-calling for a client, out of my trailer, parked in our driveway, because a) I got Internet and b) my infant was sleeping in her crib within the house). I’d called and emailed the VP of Smith (as in, Goggles, helmets etc), about ten times over the period of three months (FYI, the average is 12 points of contact before an actual sales call is made). In any case, he finally got back to me, for he realized I was never, ever going to give up. The first call wasn’t so bad. It was short. He listened. He asked for more information. A week later, I followed up, and continued until we had a second call (total time, 3 wks). He asked more questions that I answered. He said he’d consider it, and get back to me. More time passes. More calls/emails on my side left. Finally, about 3 weeks later, I get him on the phone.

“My answer is no. I’m just not interested. Don’t call me anymore.” I giggled. Seriously. I mean, it was sort of funny. All he had to do was send a quick email that said, no thanks, or not interested, or whatever. But never, EVER, tell a business development professional Not Now. That’s like telling the homely, one-eyed toothless midget that you’ll dance with him later in the evening. He will never go away, and end up stalking you like Lindsay Lohan on a bender. (okay, kidding. She would never…)

Point being, I felt victorious. I got my answer. It was a no. I checked him off the list and never looked back, but I got closure. This brought me full circle back to my outlook on life. A no is just fine, in fact, it’s great. I don’t have to spend another second with someone who doesn’t want me. (Oh, if the rest of life was like a business call).

So now, at 9:48 in the morning, the recollection of that experience with the VP is making me giddy-like-a-schoolgirl all  over again, for it is the very reason–nay-essence– of my twisted Swedish stubborn personality. The girls that said I was too short, bucktooth and stringy hair. They were right. But guess what? I grew. Got braces and the hair turned thick. I waited them out. The English teachers that said my English sucked–well too, were right–but did I let a little thing like that stop me? No. I just kept toiling away in my own personal desert and lo, someone, somewhere, likes my stuff (I know, it’s not in English. Isn’t that the ultimate irony? HAHAHA. I should have been writing in Thai my whole life. Damnit!)

I could go on, but I, like you, have probably got work to do. In fact, I’ve just had a breakthrough. I’m going to turn on the translator for Indonesian and start writing in another language I can’t speak. Maybe then, someone in an English-speaking country will like my stuff. Why didn’t I think of that before? I’m so excited, I’m no squeeling, doing a one-person verbal backflip.

It’s a sign.

Save the lawsuit- use a an author release form


Out of the blue, I was contacted by a former sports star who is writing about about the travails of bad money management, for lack of a better phrase. The story is the same: elite athlete rises to fame, makes loads of dough (American slang for money, dear Russian readers, who come to this site in droves) for a period of time and then poof. It’s gone. The mysteries of why athletes go broke tend to be the same: blown on wine, women and song (well, exotic cars and way too many babies with different wives (the most famous being 9 babies by 9 woman. whoa. that’s a lot of action), but I digress).

It’s not just America. It’s everywhere. Athletic and entertainment money managers don’t do much good if they are ignored or fired or never hired in the first place. So after a career, the athlete inevitably bemoans that reality of poor money management and repossessed cars. The stats are harsh. 78 percent of NFL players go broke within a few TWO years of retirement, and 60 percent on NBA players w/in 6 yrs. But it’s not just athletes. Entertainers follow the same trent.

When I was told of the story, the athlete also indicated he’d lined up lots athletes so speak on the record, as well as coaches and those in the entourage. His own advisor recommended she have those going on record to sign an author release form, ensuring that she does not get sued by a broke athlete or money manager for a share of the profits of the book, should she be so lucky.

Thus, it was my pleasure to contact my own editor, who used this release form for many of her own projects. These are a little hard to come by (most internet searches produce nada), so if you are going to be writing a book, interviewing folks and don’t want to share a piece of the profits (even to Grandma Nila), then use this author release form. And I must give a plug to the filefactory. It’s fast and free. Two things I appreciate.

Shamans, Screenplays & Throwing Fear off the Balcony

No one in their right mind would necessarily put screenplays and shamans in the same sentence. But, to what do I live for, other than to surprise and delight (and sometimes mystify, but that’s another story).

Last Thur, if you recall, I submitted my first crack at a screenplay for Chambers. Upon receipt, the producer could only muster “wow. OK. I’ll see what evil you have wrought.” He was being kind, for, in my idiocy, I submitted Act 3 only, due to the fact that I’d printed that section, and so when I went to PDF the thing, it captured only my latest file. Cue the air in the balloon whizzing out, a long, drawn out sigh of deflation, ending with me on the ground, holding said wilted balloon. Cut to Monday, wherein I’ve passed way too much nervous gas, wondering about his thoughts on my baby, when I’m informed
“well, an Act 1 and 2 would be helpful.”

File:SB - Altay shaman with gong.jpg
Russian Shaman

So it was that I re-saved and sent the entire thing. Note to self (and all other wanna be screenwriters, double check your file). And on a side note, yes, I’ve gone through self-flagellation as I embarrassed the home team.

But, as I am wont to do, I pick myself up, dust off the speckles of shame and sally forth, this time, right in to the proverbial Shaman’s den. Book 2 in the series, you see, has the Native American world as the backdrop. As such, I’ve got all kinds of cool Earth, nature and life spirits that are with us, guiding us (aiding or abetting) as I see fit. Since I’m neither NA or Shaman, I have been writing what I imagine to be the nature of things (pun intended) but have no factual data. (You would not believe the dearth of resources on the NA view of things. History yes. Oral traditions and deeply-held spiritual beliefs, no. Don’t get me wrong. My action adventure book is still just that. It’s the overlay on top of a cool world where things do go bump in the night.

“I just had a vision of you from my Shaman,” said the woman I was with. Her spirit has a name, but I won’t reveal it here. It’s special, and I respect that. But trust me, I love it. I’ve got to come up with something as cool. Now, I know you want to know the vision she had, but I’m not comfortable sharing it, since it has to do with me (sorry, you People-reading-Enquiring-minds-want-to-know). BUT, the good news, is that there were several communicating with her at the same time, and they had other almost-as-cool things to say.

File:Chaman amazonie 5 06.jpg
My Shaman was blond,
and wore cute leggings

I’m now back at the library, classical music playing on my iphone so I can take the themes and parlay then in to something that’s readable.

I won’t leave you empty-handed however (I’d hate that myself). The Spirits had two worlds of wisdom.

1. Stay in your feet.
Translation. Be present. The Shaman liked that I was present, open, vulnerable. I was willing to be completely honest, holding nothing back. She could tell, and evidently, so could the Spirit.

2. Let go of your fear.
The Shaman told me the story of having a fear. Hold out your hands, place the fear inside, walk to the door (or balcony, or window) and let it go. Once you let go of your fear, you are free to explore, embrace and move forward (I actually didn’t know I had any fear that I needed to throw off the balcony, but I’ll save my further enlightenment for another blog).

I was then introduced to another Shaman, which I am incredibly excited to meet in person. I spoke with her on the phone, ever so briefly, and when I got off, Shaman 1 said, “you don’t need to say anything. She probably already knows all about you.” Huh. If only marriage were so easy.

Chasing the dream

As a I careen, sometimes rather uncoordinated-like, along a dirt path known as my personal dream, I wonder if I’m chasing it, like a setting sun on the horizon I can’t quite catch, or if the dream is chasing me, and I haven’t stopped to turn around and grab it.

This comes of course, after nearly ten days of silence in this blog, because I am bent on yet one more aspect of ‘the dream.’ In this case, it’s been writing a screenplay. The producer doesn’t know I’m doing it though, so don’t tell. I’m going to submit it on Friday.

I figured this: I wrote the book. I’ve only been visualizing the scenes for several years, and I’m not a complete idiot. So a month ago, I bought a book on screenplay writing (How to write a screenplay in 21 days), read it, but before I pulled out my pen, I also reviewed a few screenplays from the studio itself (Law Abiding Citizen and some ones that haven’t yet been produced).

Product Details

On vacation (what better time than to have creative juices flowing), I started writing. You want to know the worst part? Those minutes and hours before I started. Once I got going, it was a snap. How crazy is that?

Regular Sassality readers know my simple mantra– just start and make a little progress every day. Eventually, you will get ‘it’ (whatever it is), done. You also get “there,’ wherever there is. Bit by bit, you are getting one step closer to making the dream a reality.

Besides, when the screenplay gets accepted, or rejected, I want to be able to follow-up and talk about it.  I see no downside, btw. Worst case is I can at least say ‘I’ve done it,’ and join the legions of rejected first-time screenwriters, which is a stripe worth earning. In the meantime, I’ve been touring potential filming sites on behalf of the studio, which is extremely cool, but not for this blog.

Stop reading this (for I must stop writing). Go chase that dream.

The email a writer never wants to get

On Tuesday, I’m driving to an appointment and the familiar ‘ding’ of a new email coming through on my phone alerts me. When I’m at a stop light, I look. I panic. The light turns, and it takes every ounce of self-control I possess not to scan the rest of the email before actually dithering about leaving my daughter at school or going back to my computer.

This is what it read.

Hello! I hope this email finds you well. I wonder if the PDF you sent to us in the below email is the final translatable one?
The Indonesian publisher found that there was no Chapter 35 in it, while Chapter 34 was followed by Chapter 36…

Please advise, many thanks! 

 It took three phone calls and an hour of waiting for me to get home, flip open the files and realize that, indeed, the numbers were off. Fortunately, the content was in place, and I can only surmise that it was 100% human error. In numbering the files I pulled off the ebook (it was already published in ebook format when my agent wanted to send it around), I skipped a chapter.

Of course, I lost a year of my life that I’ll never get back over the stress, but worse? The file went out this way to all the US publishers and all 31 foreign publishers. Fabulous. Just what every author wants. My agent is none too happy about it either. She has the unappealing job of going back to the publishers who are in reviews and pointing it out.

Author’s working with a movie studio– A Producer’s Notes

It’s not all fun and games when working with a movie studio. In truth it’s about 90% fun and 10 % seriously hard work. I wake up every day, pinch myself and think how utterly blessed and completely awesome (not to mention other worldy) that I get to have more than a passive role in the book-to-movie process. As such, I feel its my job to pull back the covers on what very few authors have heretofore talked about. What’s it like to get feedback from a producer, what happens to the manuscript and how it impacts the way I write.

First–check out the note to the right. This was given to me by Lucas at a sushi joint in early Feb of 2010. Upon reading the Chambers manuscript (all 550 pages of it), he invited me to LA for a 3 day session. I had no idea what was going to happen during those three days, but I figured he did. I went.

I’m mid-bite of a unagi, and he whips this out and says “I have a few thoughts to share.” I stop chewing when I see the list. Upside down across the table, it looked very messy. I had chopsticks in my hands, not a pen or paper in sight to take notes. “Keep eating,” he advises, “I’ll talk.”

As an author, my role is to create content, provide it for review, have discussions, talk about scenarios (plot and other story elements as it relates to creating a movie), make the changes, have those approved, and then write the next book.

The ‘fun’ part is getting my masters degree in movie making under the tutelage of a brilliant man who has churned out box office hits. Would he call his productions life-changers in the dramatic sense of the word? Nope. Nor would he even hint his films are much more than larger-than-life action-packed blow-em up escapes. However, many of the films have a human element that intrigues Foster, (Man on Fire for instance), where choices are made and the consequences of said choices impact the character. In other words, he’s the perfect product for my Chambers series.

So let’s go through the notes shall we?

Foster’s writing is in black, beside the numbers. His seven points were major changes, all with making a movie in mind. I added my comments in purple, after he was done (and what I could remember when we made it back to the studio).

1. more info about the orb. The orb is a time travel object– an ancient artifact. He didn’t think I’d described it well enough. Backstory– as an author, a major dilemna is when to reveal how much. Too much too soon removes the sense of discovery, while not enough irritates the reader. He wasn’t irritated, but he wasn’t ‘fulfilled.’

2. more of a sense of wonder. (not my scratch/this was after I’d done it, then decided I shouldn’t scratch up the original notes). Foster meant that both lead characters should display much more shock and awe (wonder) about their amazing trip/adventure and not be so pragmatic or immediately believing. It was interesting listening to a grown man (49ish) talk as though HE were one of the characters, living the story and being transported through time. (it’s not just me, a crazy author!)

3. concern for dad/checking in on him. the lead characters, Cage and Mia, have different emotions about their father. Cage blames him for the death of their mother while Mia is her father’s staunchest defender. Foster’s point is that children, particularly teens, invariably have emotional struggles with their parents, often times still caring for a parent if when said parent isn’t all that great. He wanted to see more of this struggle of emotions that are typical for teenagers (e.g. even tho one is anger at him, still not wanting him to die. I was a bit more one-dimensional in the first few passes).

4. more curiosity about history/cause and effect. This is a huge one that required me to go back in multiple sections throughout the book. The first part was more inquisitiveness on the part of Cage, looking, absorbing and engaging with history. For a reader, Foster pointed out more detail on location, scenes, clothing was required. For an eventual movie, I needed to paint a picture for the director so he/she could get it right. I went back, hit the history books (lots of pictures) and did an entire re-write with this in mind. The second part– cause and effect, became a huge theme. In short, we all make decisions, every day, that have consequences in our lives. I agreed with Foster that this should be true in the book…once a choice is made, there is no going back. As such, I had to include the notion that Cage and Mia’s very presence could/would impact history, therefore they had to be careful to leave as little of a footprint on society as possible. Fortunately, this was great for the plot twists, since the real outcomes of the lead characters from China are not even known by historians.

5. More romance or close calls. Foster pointed out that the true ‘romantic’ interaction was page 80. Not good for movies. To address this, I added a few glimpses and heart palpitating situations in the first 20 pages, then a few longer scenes in the 30’s and @page fifty. After that, the romantic line was all set. Lucas told me he had to capture the romantic part in the first five minutes of the movie or it wasn’t going to work. (As a side note, the first 50 pages gets condensed to about the first 5 min of film).

6. More secret admiration from the Emperor (how different he is from Cage and Mia).  Because this book (and all books in the Chambers series) is historical fiction, the Emperor in book one was actually 14 when ruled as the second Ming Emperor. Before Lucas brought it up, I’d never thought about including more information from the Emperor’s point of view. Since the book is first person, this had to be done from Cage’s point of view. The way to address it then, was through the Emperor’s comments and questions, as well as Cage’s interpretation of the Emperor’s mannerisms and actions.

7. Zheng He is famous and beloved in China. Let’s discuss a better set up for him. Years ago, when I was researching volcanoes, and where they resided, I created an entire list of countries/cities. China rose to the top when I found the 14 year old Ming Emperor. While researching the incredible list of historical figures (including the treacherous Minister of War and General Li, who let the invading army in to the Imperial Palace) I came across Zheng He. He is considered by many historians to be the greatest navy admiral to have ever lived (just see the cover story on him that National Geographic did a few years ago). In any case, Zheng He appears in the middle of the book and plays a large role, yet Lucas wanted him introduced much earlier (he is, in fact, one of my favorite characters). I had to create a massive scene for him (e.g. about 20 pages) and then insert him in several other areas. This was a huge rewrite.

**Verbally, Lucas told me I “needed a better balance of good characters.” Apparently, I subconsciously focused so much on creating awesome characters, I didn’t have a good balance. Lucas was concerned the book would be a bit depressing, and not representative of all the great people in China. The thought had never occurred to me, since lots of characters did good things. “But they aren’t main characters,” he pointed out. Ahh. He was right. This meant creating 3 new characters, writing entire sections from scratch and integrating each in to the plot line.

Process….
This process is similar to what an editor will provide…general comments that impact the entire book. In order to address each area of feedback, I went in sequential order, going through the entire manuscript, line by line, page by page, adding and changing throughout. It took me three months, and added 150 pages (approximately) to the book. It was about 625 pages when I was done with it. When I handed it off to the editor, she stripped out about 175 pages or so, but interestingly, not the 150 pages I’d added. She cut out dead weight, dialogue that didn’t keep the pace of the story and non-essential descriptions. That’s the job of an editor. When Lucas read the final, edited version, he pronounced it acceptable and ready to go to final proofreading.

Now that I’m on book 2, and recently got the first 150 pages approved, I’m writing away, and fully expect to go through this same cycle for book 2 (and every one thereafter). The difference is this:

1. I think about the ‘seedlings of ideas’ that need to be included in the first 50 pages
2. the cadence/rhythm of characters (how often they appear)
3. the descriptions (too much/not enough)
4. the balance of good/evil characters
5. when I reveal what. (in the movie world, it’s called ‘the reveal’ or ‘the big reveal’ This is now much more top of mind than it was before book one.

Selling your books to Schools- otherwise known as Cracking the School Market

Attention all writers (and more importantly–wanna be published writers)….So many self-published authors I know have tried and failed to get their books into the school market, and even some authors with books published by the majors have had difficulties. When I started out, I couldn’t find published resources on how to get my book looked at, so I did what I advocate—I cold-called the front desk.

 
 
Inside five minutes, I learned two things. One, front desk receptionists are trained at the district level to flat-out ignore, turn away and turn down cold calls. Two, that most (all?) decisions made for public school libraries are done at the district level, and that in the best case, one should expect a referral to the district office. (I didn’t bother with private schools. Small, not that many books. Very few chains).
The rejection wasn’t so bad, since I actually learned a few things.
Learning point one: “authors charge so much” for coming into speak at schools
Learning point two: “we don’t have a budget” for buying books
Learning point three: “district leaders make the decisions” for what books to buy
Learning point four: “we buy our books at the book fair” in the (spring/fall etc)
Wow. I could write a complete article on each one of these learning points. But let’s face it. I’m a fiction writer and at best, and adequate blogger. Articles aren’t my strength, so I’ll try and keep this short (also not a strong point).
 
 
Learning point one: “authors charge so much” for coming into speak at schools
Did you know authors charge for school events? At the time, I had no idea. When John Grisham retold his story of pushing his first book, he put ads in the paper to draw people to the public library and also he brought donuts and coffee. “Five people showed up,” he said, and he considered himself lucky. By the same token, I would have been happy to show up for free to an interested audience, and that was the way I approached the schools. Only later was I told the average author charges between $500-700 per event. In my area of Seattle, $600 is the average library budget for the entire year. If a librarian really, really wants to bring in an author, the librarian either applies for a grant, or a special fund expenditure, or calls upon the PTA. (do you know any PTA presidents? Hint: look on the website, contact the PTA president directly. The info is almost always listed).

 

Learning point two: “we don’t have a budget” for buying books
The book budget of every library I visited in one year (52) in five months faced a reduction in the book-buying budget. This left the librarians literally starving for interesting books for their students.
Learning point three: “district leaders make the decisions” for what books to buy
The  “librarian hierarchy” was heretofore, an unknown phrase. Thus, the existence of a district leader was a revelation. When I started this adventure, I limited my cold calling to the cities that I could reach in one hour, or roughly fifty miles.  Thanks to the Internet, I tallied over 750 schools within this radius, going city-by-city, district-by-district. However, the district leaders were not listed on a single site, though the librarian for each school was. Once I started asked for the district leader, I discovered the power of the district leader. One made decisions for 24 schools, and another for nearly 50. The district librarians are the aggregators, or the point from which all other decisions are impacted.
Learning point four: “we buy our books at the book fair” in the (spring/fall etc)
Scholastic seems to have a lock on book selling to librarians, at least in this part of the US. The reason is not necessarily the love of the book selection, and saying that might preclude me from ever getting a deal from the firm. But that was straight from the librarians’ mouth. It comes down to simple economics. For every book purchased, 15% at least goes directly back to the school. So parents are “getting a good deal” by purchasing from the Scholastic fair (and bus when it shows up) while the school also profits. Even the well-funded schools appreciate the Scholastic program; who doesn’t need more cash for books?
The second call
Needless to say, for my second round of calls, I decided to take a different approach. First, I started by saying I was a local author and immediately followed this up by saying I had a program to provide 2 free books to each library in my district and a free author event. Of course, by this time, I had two reviews from teachers and librarians, so I was able to reference these individuals and schools by names.Addressing the author event fee and providing 2 free books got me past the receptionist and directly to the librarian. And in a few cases, the receptionist was kind enough to tell me district leaders name.
When leaving a voice mail, I kept it short and sweet, repeating my pitch—I’m a local author, am offering two books to local school libraries and have great peer reviews. I closed by leaving my phone and email, along with my web site. I received 100% callbacks or emails! In 100% of the situations, the librarian had checked out my site and in many cases, had read the first five chapters before they contacted me.

 

Now, I didn’t call all 750. I called about one hundred and fifty schools, and very quickly had to stop. Typically, within two-to-five days, I’d receive a response and a request to receive the books. The librarian took another one to two weeks to read the book and ensure it matched the direction of the school curriculum, and frankly, the tastes of the librarian. This cycle averaged two-three weeks. Once the librarian approved the book, she/he would make a recommendation if it were appropriate for the entire school, or specific grades. Then the librarian validated this with the teacher(s). At this point, an event would be scheduled.
 
 
Timing
Scheduling proved to be the major challenge. The librarian has control over the library and gym, not the student schedule. Some librarians included the entire elementary grades 1-6 or middle school 7-8 or 9, while other schools limited the event to specific grades. In my case, I was very very very (did I say ‘very’ enough?) lucky to learn that my book matched the curriculum for subjects taught in grades four, five and six, depending on the school district. This was completely by accident, I assure you, and was a major blessing. According to librarian feedback, this wasn’t a deciding factor for bringing me in, yet it was an added benefit.
Side note here: if your book includes historical fiction, geology, social studies or another school subject, you might have an advantage. Check into this for your pitch. In my case, Native American history is taught in fourth and fifth, while geology ranges from third to fifth.
 
 
Schedule
I started contacting librarians the middle of January. It took me until the middle of February before the first events were confirmed. But then the floodgates opened. Librarians began confirming dates so quickly and often, I had to limit my events to one a day for four days a week. Further, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that I had such a limited time frame; while the school year until mid-June, the last month was reserved for testing, field trips and other activities planned months in advance. That meant I had a three month window. Between March and May, I visited fifty-two schools, speaking to a total of @16,000 students. I started out with the districts closest to my home, and worked my way out.
 
 
Be Prepared
As I mentioned, I’d received two reviews from librarian-teachers and had set aside 200 books from my first allotment to distribute. I recognize this isn’t feasible for everyone. One option is to start out with a smaller run. Word of mouth might spread enough to cover the costs of a larger run. Or, if you are working with a publish-on-demand group then it’s a non-issue.
Advance Sales of Books
Now this final part will strike the experienced authors as oh-so-naïve, but I was what I was, as I like to say. And I was naïve when it came to pre-selling books. I had no idea this opportunity even existed, until a kind librarian asked me to give her a one-paragraph write-up on the book so she could send a note home with the students for pre-orders. The librarian would then ask me if I “worked with” a particular bookstore so they could purchase it directly. At that point, I had enough common sense to ask “what bookstore” they used and I’d get back to them.
Where do bookstores fit in the mix?
 
 
I couldn’t get a return phone call from a bookstore to save my life when the message was “Hi, I’m a local author with a book…” before getting the shut down. Yet, when I called with the message going something like “Hi, I’m a local author and I have a school wanting to purchase 83 books on Friday from you, would you mind if I brought the books by so you could sell them…” the response was quite a bit different. During this process, learned that many of the librarian’s had/have preferences about what bookstores they use. The secondary blessing was that this enabled me to develop relationships with bookstore owners, an impossibility without the endorsement and pull-through from the librarians. Two years later, it was these very bookstore owners who took the time to read the manuscript and provide me reviews. This was an incredible boost that most definitely contributed to accelerated adoption of what later became a YA series.
Quick Recap
  1. Identify the reading level of your book
  2. Create a list of the schools in your area
  3. Contact a couple of school librarians and/or teachers and request a read and review
  4. If you don’t have children, talk to your neighbor’s childen, get the name of the teacher or have the neighbor provide your book to the teacher or librarian. (Of course, it would help if the neighbor’s child(s) read and loved your book!)
  5. Get the reviews in writing along with the approval to use them on your site and in your marketing efforts
  6. Create your pitch for the receptionists and start-cold calling
  7. Be prepared to send your book(s) to the librarians (make sure to gain their email)
  8. Wait one to two weeks before placing follow-up phone calls
  9. Schedule the event, be prepared to provide pre-order information
  10. Ask the librarian for their preferred bookstore, contact the bookstore with the estimated order from the school

Stories from the waiting line…

Once upon a time, my public outtings were free of clutter and pollution, a well of mental purity, unsullied by the unsolicited comments from strangers. Not so anymore. Nowadays, stepping outdoors means being on the receiving end of a one-way flow of information, the kind that a stranger on a plane will give because he (or she) knows you will never again run in to one another, so you are perfectly safe place to dump all sorts of burdensome information. Let me give you an example.

Last Thursday, I’m sitting in a public place, waiting for my name to be called after I have dutifully taken a number. To my left is a large man studiously reading the local paper. To my right is an empty chair that remains vacant for about thirty seconds until a well-dressed woman takes a seat. She’s thin, early sixties, short, blond hair in a v-cut, fashionably touching her brown and gold leopard print shirt. Her left hand is void of a wedding ring, but adorned with the nice, thick metal watch. Her leather shoes are polished and appropriately narrow for the 2011-2012 fashion season. I’m tapping away on my iphone, virtually conversing with my friends who are equally happy to spend their time getting thumb callouses when she begins to speak to me.

“I’ve never been in here,” she half-whispers, embracing me as a temporary confidant. My first time as well, I say, looking up long enough to notice her face is tan, smooth save for a few age-given lines. Divorced mother of two or three grown children, maybe a first time grandma I hypothesize. I continue typing. “My oldest son is getting married soon,” she continues (I inwardly preen), “and I gave him my wedding ring for his second wife.” I have two thoughts. The first is that the woman is determined to tell me her life story. The second is that I might as well listen. People’s lives are far more interesting than my own, and what the heck. I’m a writer. I like to listen.

“It’s worth $25,000,” she tells me. “It has six diamonds scattered in gold metal chunks…” yadee yedee yadaa She’s not worried I’m going to stalk and rob her. . I visualized a ring fit for Liberace. I’m far more interested in whether or not her soon-to-be daughter in law thought it was as ugly as it sounded.

“Did he like it or get offended?” I boldly ask. She enthusiastically tells me she floated the idea to her son, referencing the ring in her vault.

“She told me ‘that’s pure love.'” Sounded more like Mom got pragmatic. I calculated the odds. Second marriage. 30+ yr old fiance. 50-50. “She had it resized and loves it.”

I turn back to my phone, slightly disappointed the story ended at that point. I shouldn’t have worried. She started in again on the next thing. Her recent job offer (to another division of a local company), a promotion from one executive position to another. This woman wasn’t hurting, at least not financially.

“In the middle of it all, I feel this lump in my belly—this big,” holding up her clenched fist in the air. I put down my iphone. Her OB tells her its nothing. “I had a hysterectomy, and everything falls you know.” No, I tell her, trying to hold back the revolting feeling that graduates up my inerds, I didn’t. “Yeah, it all sort of drops since nothing is there to hold it in. Your kidneys, sometimes your liver.” I ask her if it hurt, and if they figured it out. With her hand still raised in the air, she triumphantly annouces that she got to the bottom of it.

“It was my rectum!” she says, “this big!” pointing to her closed fist with her other hand. “It was at the bottom of my vagina.” Did—wait–did she just say that, in the middle of a public place?

At that point, my name was called, which was a good thing. I had no words. I had no air. I had to leave, without hearing the rest of the story. I have no fear the next story I receive from another random stranger will be just as interesting.

Major milestone Tuesday

Vin Diesel, he of the bald-head and triple-X fame (the movie, not the lifestyle), famously said he was the 20 yr overnight success. Sadly, after his major breakthrough in this film, his agent tried to squeeze a $20M fee from the studio and he went back to doing comedies with children. All that aside, he and I have more in common than being the proud owners of big mastiff’s. Today I learned I may finally have my breakout role equivalent, and it all started with great news from my New York based agent.

For the wanna-be writers out there (e.g. unpublished, non-represented), it’s been 7 yrs of fiction writing (and another 3 in the trade/non-fiction world), 3 agents on 2 coasts, and many rejections. Over the years, one gets inured to the dismissal, the silence of the phone, it’s inability to ring a sign of disinterest from the powers that stand between me and my readers. Today, the sun broke through the clouds.

“It a great story,” my agent said today, referring to Chambers. This was an upgrade from last Friday, wherein she told my editor “it didn’t suck.” I guess the 2nd 100 pages really changed her mind. “I really like the strong characters…it’s about time we had another strong female,” she continued, telling me that martial arts in a young adult series is totally new. She had a million questions about the movie end of the business, what it’s like collaborating with a producer, and then we discussed the timeline for publication.

“It’s normally two years if we get a deal in October (which is pushing it)” but she thinks she can get a book out in October of 2012 “with the right motivation.” Motivation equalling the movie goes in to production, the on-line game is ready to come out etc. Interesting news on that front, I’ve been approached now for on-line gaming applications based on the book itself. That’s great. What kills me though is waiting another year for a hard copy. You’d not believe how many people say they’d get the book but don’t want to read it on-line.

I don’t blame them really. I’m a physical book lover, usually reading my ebook on while exercising, though I admit to having it in my purse for quick escapes from the monotony of life.

My agent was surprised I had the 5 book overview written (the studio required it over a year ago) and that I am half-way through the 2nd book (which btw, is due to the producer tomorrow!).

One other bit of news on the book front. The proposal for the Sue Kim book (The Greatest American Story Never Told) was accepted by yet another agent (at the same agency). This may not seem like much but here’s the deal.

The book took me 1.5 years to research (it was supposed to take 6 months). It was another 1.5 years to write. The agent took a read through the manuscript and wasn’t that interested. Why? My proposal sucked (that’s a technical term for us authors). Not to be stopped by such a small thing as this, I promptly threw away my 25 page piece of crap, and collaborated with a professional who does nothing but write professional book proposals (don’t ask about the $ please. it’s depressing). That started in April. Five months later, the proposal was accepted (yesterday).

“I think I can sell this,” said the agent for the bio. “This is a really great story.” Yup. Sadly, my marketing writing failed to convey how truly cool the Kim story is. Today, the proposal went out to publishers.

All this may be completely boring to you, and for that, I’m sorry. I just didn’t get enough satisfaction from skipping through the house, and my 6 yr old failed to catch the excitement. I celebrated this little milestone by washing my hair. It was a big day at the Gerdes household.

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