Need a sales boost? Try Career Days (at school)

On a whim, I looked at the comments of this blog and was embarrassed that quite a few had been posted from July and prior that I’d never seen. eek. One very good question was about getting into schools, and while the comment was from an author, Cyndy Etler, I know that other professionals have seriously benefitted from spending an hour or two at a career day. It may work for you, your sales/revenue and your career. Here’s how.

What is it?
prgrsvimghttp://ts1.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4898256714665288&w=207&h=207&c=8&pid=3.1&qlt=90&rm=2Career Day is a one-day event common in most elementary, junior, senior high schools and colleges around the world. Pre-college, the teachers and administrator’s, but also members of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) reach out to the parents of students that can spare some time to educate students on possible career choices. Activities included in the day vary from school to school. The youngest I’ve seen is 5th grade (10 year olds) and it goes up from there. Sessions are typically 40 minutes.

Who does it?
Doctors, authors, pilots, firefighters–you name it. Individuals who appear to have interesting careers. Admittedly, I’ve not run into any accountants, but hey, accounting is a serious profession, so why not?

Does it pay?
Nope. Free.

Why do it?
A few reasons.

  • Networking. You get to meet all the other administrators, parents and other speakers (who prob use accountants).
  • Sales. Dentists need new referrals. See above. For an author (like one of my alter egos), kids regularly purchase my books after I speak, but I am very careful not to “pitch” my book– rather– I keep it to the business of writing and what being an author is all about. That said, if I’m asked to talk about being a movie producer, then it’s all film clips and talking about living in the LA world- which is weird anyway.
  • Pride. This means for your kid(s) who think you have a cool profession. This gets serious points on the home front.
  • Referrals– and by this I mean-inter-school referrals. The kids are usually asked to “rate the speaker” and if you are good, then you will get referrals to other schools. I suppose one could eventually make a living from doing this, and it sure beats the heck out of cold-calling.

Fall–now–is the time. Career days are usually organized in the fall.

Music for Writing

I’ve recently started using our sound system which we spent way too much money and time on 10 yrs ago to install, and to be honest, didn’t get hooked up for a decade due to a little, ah, shall we say, “marital dispute.” In other words, after all the thousands it took, Rog flamed out at the ten-yard line, which I figured was going to be less than $1,500 to finish up.

Of course, he knew better, and I fought him for a decade (a long time of worthless arguing that a) I was wrong about and b) I’ll never get back). But let’s not dwell on my issues. Let’s move on to the salient points.

Where, might you ask, did this need to be spent? (I know I’m digressing, but for my male readers who generally relate with Roger, and the female readers who share my pain, I’m exposing more of the bloody guts of our relationship).
1- he was afraid of the cost of the panels, which we have in most rooms of every floor
2- he was convinced we needed another receiver, and a stack of electronics, so avoidance was the best policy in his mind and
3- he simply couldn’t justify spending money on a ‘discretionary expense.’

Well, in the end, he was right. The panels are $400 a pop that Rog got for $325 through smart Internet shopping. We compromised. Well, actually, I compromised. I gave up a panel in one bathroom, but stood firm on having one in the two bathrooms where I soak my bones in the tubs. The stack of components was painful- about $10K, which Rog was able to cut down to about $8K thanks to his diligent shopping ways, so he was right all along. (By the way, have I ever told you that Roger’s nickname for me is “rainman,” because he says I think money rains from above. Rude isn’t he?)

One of the beautiful things that all that money bought was a type of component that allows every sort of media known at this time. It’s wide and flat, and can stream, play and store it all, from my SD card which takes me seconds to load songs, or switch to my iphone or whatever else I have going on. But the very best part, hands down, is the Internet radio feature.

Internet radio means thousands of channels in all genres. I point the remote, select a genre, then up comes a list of hundreds or thousands of channels. I’m not really down with bluegrass, but up with dance, and quite a few sub genres. It’s crazy when I find a Paris-based country station, when a DJ is talking in a language I can’t understand, then proceeds to play Taylor Switch. Likewise, I’m grooving out DJ Krush, and then a German-speaking DJ hops on and the only words I understand is the name of the group and the song. The upside is that I feel like I’m getting language lessons while I get grooving music.

All this backstory to tell you that I’ve zoned in on 6 channels (for now) and one in particular is writing, and it’s Ambient. The other words for this are Chillout, and I’m telling you what, about a quarter of the songs I have on CDs already, the others are new. When I hear a song I don’t have I Shazam it on my iphone and bam, a click of a credit card later, I have it on my system.

My favorite of all 202 Ambient stations is this one 1.FM Chillout Lounge. You can listen on any system you have.

A few of the songs I love are as follows (I should create another tab, but I have to give something up on my home page until then..)

updated 4/28/13
Come a Little Closer- Ambassadeurs
Central Reservation- Beth Orton (remix)
What the sun sees- people like you and me- Gloria
Turbulence- radio edit (ft lil john)- Turbulence
Inside your mind- Color in Rhythm Stimulate Mind Freedom
Steamworks- by the Presents- Beams
Take me Away- Chill Central
You are the One- Chill Central
Blood of Eden- US remastered- Peter Gabriel
Walk Tall- Sugar Tax- OMD
Sun Goes Down- no Silence- ATB
Scaffold- Coyote Remix) Chillout Lounge 3, Downtempo grooves
Rupture (Hylton Mix), Bedroom Escapades, Vol 1- Harry Vincent
Always (Ashley Beedle’s) Best of Bent- BEnt
Jumiera Drive- Dubai Chill Lounge Vol. 2
Flipside- Chill Out Experience- Paradise Found
Girl and the Sea- by the presets- Beams
Miami Sunset- (feat Duality) by Invisible Sounds (Sunn Jellie Remix)

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
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