Lessons From a Book Signing

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My daughter, Robin, and I had our first combined book signing on Sunday.  We read all three of the picture books that we have out: Oh No, Woolly Bear, written by me, illustrated by Michele Coxon, and published by Starbright Books; The Solstice Badger, written and illustrated by Robin and Curious Carmelita, written by me and illustrated by Robin.  We published both these books ourselves, using Createspace, which you can read more about in my earlier post.

The venue was on the patio of a bookstore/cafe (Poor Richard’s Downtown, for those of you who are familiar with Colorado Springs).  The weather was warm and sunny until about five minutes after the event ended, at which point it poured–the book gods were clearly smiling on us.

Most things went great; some were a learning experience for next time.  Here’s a list of both:

What went well:

  • The people at Poor Richard’s were wonderful to work with!
  • We had plenty of “value added” give-aways (coloring pages, balloon animals, bookmarks) that were very popular.
  • There were enough people and enough book sales to make the book store (and us) happy.
  • We used various props–a puppet show to go with Oh No, Woolly Bear, a display of the original illustrations for The Solstice Badger, balloon coatimundis for Curious Carmelita–which kept things interesting.
  • We manage to draw in a nice cross-section of people from old friends to curious strangers.

What we learned:

  • It was a mistake to present the first of the three books we were featuring then take a break as some people thought it was the end of the reading and left.
  • Some people found it confusing to have to go into the book store to buy books and then bring them back out for us to sign.  I think we might have sold more if we’d had them available where we were reading.
  • We should have publicized it a bit more aggressively.  Though we did a pretty good job of getting the word out, we didn’t take advantage of all the avenues for publicity that were available.
  • Since people were eating on the patio when we arrived, we didn’t have a lot of time to get set-up.
  • In general, we were a little more disorganized than I wish we’d been.

Taken all-in-all, however, I think we did a great job for our first effort.  Do we want to do it again?  You bet!  There is nothing better than reading your story aloud to a group of youngsters who laugh and gasp in all the places you hoped they would.  Nothing.

 

 

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Wild About Wired for Story

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I have a whole shelf full of books about writing,from the Chicago Manual of Style to Stephen King’s On Writing. All of them are helpful, to one extent or another, and I often pull one out when I need some inspiration, or just a reminder that I’m not the only person who wrestled with the perennial issues of character, plot, story arc, pacing, etcetera, etcetera and so forth. Some of them have good advice, some of them are a bit off-the-wall and many of them tend to contradict each other. Like dieting, writing is a subject to which certain objective rules can be applied but the outcome of which is always subjective.

Most writers of writing books either expound on well-established truisms such as “show, don’t tell” or talk about what works for them, be it outlining or word-webbing or writing with a No.2 pencil on a Big Chief tablet. I prefer the second kind of book about writing because I love to know what makes people tick (which explains why I like to write), but neither type of advice is all that helpful for figuring out what the heck went awry between the story in my head and the one that ended up on paper.

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron, is a horse of a different color. Drawing on her many years as an editor and writing instructor, she goes over familiar territory—the hook, plotting, character development, foreshadowing, etc.—in a refreshingly useful way. As she advocates that writers do in their stories, she not only gives good advice for how to improve a story, but also explains why to do so in terms of the way our brains work.

Did you know that humans are “hard-wired” for reading/listening to stories?  And a good story activates the same region of the brain that process input from our senses. In fact, to the brain, there’s not much difference between what we really experience and what we read.  Provided, that is, that the story not only grabs our attention but keeps us engaged by avoiding all kinds of pitfalls we writers are prone to—such as assuming the reader knows as much about our story as we do or wandering off on lovely, but surplus to requirements, tangents. A bad story is bad precisely because the necessary brain activation either doesn’t happen or isn’t sustained.

And, this is the real kicker for me, Cron gives useful advice for how to use this knowledge of brain science to deal with writing pitfalls both while planning a story and during revision. I am gearing up to tackle a major rewrite on my YA novel but have been dragging my feet because I have a pretty good sense of what its problems are but didn’t have a clear-cut idea of how to fix them. Now, thanks to Cron’s book, I have a much better idea of where to go from here.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. In the meantime, please check out her book and website at wiredforstory.com.

River Writing–Going With the Writing Flow

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I’m in the midst of rewriting a YA novel and was explaining how I was doing this to a friend of mine.

“I’m adding a new character to the first chapter, moving the last scene to the fourth chapter, ratcheting up my main character’s angst another notch or two and shifting the focus more solidly onto her throughout the story.”

My friend said she’d never realized what a fluid medium fiction writing is, which is very true.  Plotting a story is all about keeping the right flow going.  Just like taking a trip on a river raft, what readers want when they sit down to read a story is a memorable ride.

Here are four “River Writing” rules I use to improve my writing:

  • Start at the right place. A story starts when the raft slides into the water, not when the characters are home packing their wet sacks.  All good stories have a point-of-no-return, if not at the very beginning, then very near to it.  Start there.
  • Vary the scenes. A river ride is boring if it’s all placid water and exhausting  if it’s all rapids.  Both rafters and readers need a chance to catch their breath every so often and go “Wow, that was really something!” before the next stretch of white water hits them.
  • Avoid whirlpools. Learn to recognize and avoid those points in a story where the plot is going around and around and getting nowhere fast.  The way to handle a whirlpool is to get rid of the scene or chapter, hard as that may be to do.  If trashing it feels too harsh, save it in a folder.
  • End at the right place. This is as soon as the ride is over after many close calls.  A few pats on the back are fine, but don’t drag out the goodbyes.  If there are plans for a sequel, stop when a temporary dock has been reached but make sure there are ominous rumblings of more whitewater–or perhaps even a waterfall–ahead.

Happy river writing!

Self-Publishing on CreateSpace

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Curious Carmelita

Curious Carmelita courtesy of CreateSpace

We’ve been busy setting up business systems and filling book orders this past month.  S o-o-o-o the internet tasks, like updating this blog, fell between the cracks for a while.  Between the two of us, we only have four hands, after all, and my daughter’s hands are not only incredibly talented but also the hands of a mother of two and step-mother of three.  I am in awe of all she gets done. (Yay, Robin!)

One of the things Robin took on, besides doing Curious Carmelita’s gorgeous illustrations, was formatting the book on Photoshop.  This saved us a ton of money since we didn’t have to pay a third party to do the set-up.  I’m not going to go into the technical aspects here because, hey, I don’t know them.  I do the writing and handle the business stuff, she’s in charge of the creative and technical end of things.  Between us, we cover all the bases.  This division of labor is what makes our fledgling enterprise possible.  That, and CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is the print-on-demand program owned by Amazon.  I love, love, LOVE CreateSpace.  If, like us, you can do your own file set up and have your own ISBN number(s) (I had a bunch left over from my first, less-than-successful, attempt at indy publishing in 2002), you can upload your book file onto the site for free and start ordering books as soon as you’ve approved the proof.  For us, that meant that all we paid for Curious Carmelita to be a reality was  $7.00 for the printing and shipping of the proof–plus what it cost to set up the business, of course, but that’s another blog topic.

We pay a very reasonable price per book and can order as many or as few at a time as we need.  Even selling them wholesale, we make as much per copy as we’d earn in royalties from a traditional publisher.  When we sell them direct, we make much more. AND everything CreateSpace prints is automatically listed on Amazon. AND we retain all our rights.  AND it took three weeks from when we sent the file in to when we had books to sell.  THREE WEEKS.  Considering that it takes anywhere from about eighteen months to three or four YEARS for a traditional publisher to print a book after they acquire it, this is up there with the parting of the Red Sea in terms of miraculous.

Self-publishing is still a risky venture.  But, with CreateSpace, that risk is reduced, and that can make all the difference between success and failure.

Teaching Writing–Taming the Fidgets

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Okay. That was kind of a misleading title.  Why? Because taming the fidgets, at least the way most people do it–by telling the fidgeter to sit still, for god’s sake!–is a really bad idea.  Fidgeting is the body’s way of trying to establish better equilibrium.  This post at http://www.balancedandbarefoot.com/blog/the-real-reason-why-children-fidget explains why better than I can.  Read it now or read it later, but do, please, read it.  It’s important.

As the balanced and barefoot post infers, fidgeting is actually a good thing–if you pay attention.  It is the signal to stop trying to teach kids whose bodies need to move and DO SOMETHING PHYSICAL.  Get outside if you can.  If you can’t, at least have everyone stand up and march around the room.  Push all the desks to the walls and see who can do the best cartwheel.  Put on jazzy music and have a dance contest.  Do this FIRST, for at least fifteen or twenty minutes and THEN teach a lesson, give a writing prompt, etc.  I can pretty much guarantee students will have better concentration, more creativity and sharper writing skills if you do this one simple thing.  Why?  Because our brains aren’t in jars on a table, they’re in BODIES.  As the old Latin saying goes, Mens sana in corpore sano (A sound mind in a sound body). Therefore, reading, writing or anything else we do with our brains is a FULL BODY experience.  If the body is not “sana” from lack of exercise, the brain simply can’t function–can’t, not won’t.  Which is why ordering a student to stop fidgeting is worse than useless.   

And, that goes for us so-called grown-ups, too.  I’ve taken to setting a  timer to  remind myself to get up and move around at least five minutes every hour.  And, I make a point of going for a walk or bike ride (or, if the weather’s really crappy, putting on some fast music and shaking my booty) for at least a half hour a day.  Not always at the same time, and not always the same thing.  I’m not good at that kind of consistency.  I may take my grandson in his stroller to the park or I may ride my bike to the store, or I may go for a ramble with a friend.  But, I do something physical.  If I don’t, my writing is, frankly, crap.  If I’ve really been hitting the keyboard hard, I’ll take a whole day off and go for a hike in the mountains to balance the scales. The point is, it’s important to do something nice for your body on a regular basis, and what bodies like best is to MOVE. 

I just noticed that my foot is tapping as I type.  Time to go for a walk.  How about you?

What are some of your favorite ways to tame your own and/or your students’ fidgets?

 

We’re Launched!

Guess what?  Our website is now LIVE!  Yup, just pushed the “publish” button.  WHOO HOO!!!  Now all I have to do is . . .everything else it takes to make a business successful.  But, first, I’m going to get a good night’s sleep because it is now 12:41 a.m.  and I’m a little crossed eyed from staring at the computer screen for the past five hours.  But it was worth it.  There’s something about deciding to do something and then actually figuring out how to do it that’s very satisfying.  It’s not the most elaborate website in the world, but it’s got everything on it that you need on a site–the links all work, there’s a shopping cart, and it even has a slide show on the home page.  In case you can’t tell, I’m pretty proud of it.  Check it out at http://greenturtlearts.com and let me know what you think!

 

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Welcome to Green Turtle Ramblin’s!

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Hi There, Welcome to our new blog.  We’ll be writing about writing for children, self-publishing, teaching creative writing and inspiring young authors, among other topics.

I’m still working on our new website, which should be up and running in another week or so. Right now, Robin and I are in the throes of getting our first picture book, Curious Carmelita, finished and onto Createspace–an amazing service I wish had been available 13 years ago when I first started self-publishing.  It would have made a HUGE difference to my business success.  If you have a book you’re trying to get published and are not having much luck, you might want to look into this program.

Luckily, my daughter, Robin McFadden is a whiz on Photoshop and had been able to not only do the illustrations but also create the POD files, and I already had ISBN numbers left from before, so our cost to get set up again has been minimal.

So far, it’s been a real kick getting back into the publishing business.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Patricia McFadden