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A WHOLE NUTHER THING:
"A wonderfully imaginative adventure involving a missing toy."
Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016.

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What is This?

Above are my books. Click them for info, or to buy.
On this page are pluckings from my stream of consciousness, unpolished.

For more, click here. Thank you for visiting.

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After Orwell

Sunday, February 10, 2019

How'd I get out here by the interstate
in the land where the Jumblies live.
Found a half-bottle under the bridge,
not a bad place.

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Friday Lunch

Friday, January 25, 2019

ONE PIZZA

One pizza, save my life.
One pizza, Lord.

One smile, save my life.
One smile, Lord.

One truth, save my life.
One truth, Lord.

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Friday Lunch

Friday, January 18, 2019

BAD SALAD

Three-bean salad,
two-bean salad,
one-bean salad,
and here comes a salad
to take all your beans away.

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SLAMMY SANDWICH

I want a slammy sandwich.
I don't want a salami sandwich.
I want a slammy sandwich.
Slam slam slam slam slam
slam slam slam slam.

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NOT A POEM

This is a pome.
I am at home with my pome.
My pome is my home.

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Free Range Taxi

Monday, May 14, 2018

In a dream I hailed a cab and got in and the cab peeled out. No ordinary ride. Ninety miles per hour through town, getting huge air, up on two wheels around corners—but somehow I had complete trust in the driver, who was pulling it off in perfect style. Then I noticed the driver was a chicken. No problem. Anybody who can drive like that is a hero.

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Carefree in the Garden

Friday, April 13, 2018

A songsterish gardener named Zuhning
Was less gifted at pruning than crooning.
He sang as he hacked,
And when he came back,
He looked like a Willem de Kooning.

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Peace

Thursday, February 8, 2018

On the cold peak of Pigne d'Arreau
sits a fellow named Paul Thibodeaux.
Perhaps you might think
he needs warming or drink.
Worry not—for he froze long ago.

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Tautologies for Tots

Sunday, January 28, 2018

If you’re asleep, you’re not awake.
If it feels good it doesn’t ache.
A silent Duckie makes no quack.
If you’re up front you’re not in back.
Haven’t finished? You’re not done.
Feeling awful isn’t fun.
Way up high, you’re not down low.
Won't move? Well then, you can’t go.

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Simple Charm

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Polly put the kettle on,
Polly put the kettle on,
Polly put the kettle on,
We'll all have tea.

Sukey take it off again,
Sukey take it off again,
Sukey take it off again,
They've all gone away.

I have the childish taste of a simpleton—for that I am grateful. This verse relaxes me, and God knows I need relaxation. The look of the words; the sound of the words; a mantra. All benevolent. Themes of sustenance, hospitality, teamwork, friendship. Pleasant things coming and going. Something to look forward to. Something to be thankful for.

Fire. Without flame the whole thing couldn’t happen; the kettle won’t boil. Fire is an ancient beloved ally and a connection, right in front of our eyes, between us and the odd atomic magic.

I hear the kettle's whistle, and see the steam, little shafts of sunlight in the steam. The sun's fire grew the wood that burns in the stove that boils the kettle. It's all together every which way, and together we'll all have tea.

"Thank you, Sun," says the whistling steam.

This verse holds pure depths. And if it weren't widely beloved since the 1700s, if it had been written yesterday, I wonder if even one current editor or agent would give it a second look.

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A Bowlful of Jelly

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas! The Nuther sends good-hearted wishes—but keep an eye on your gifts when that Nuther is in the neighborhood!

And Happy Holidays to my friend Jade Fang who made this image...

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Woof

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Writing you've already done, however rough, gives you something to expand or revise when you’re uninspired. The more you've written, the more likely you’ll find something in there that sparks you anew.

Write when you can. When you can't, rummage through your unfinished manuscripts, outlines, concepts, titles, interesting names, bits of dialogue, odd phrases, anything.

Get up early with your coffee or tea, relax, and browse. No pressure to come up with a new idea; no pressure to write anything. Just look. There’s a good chance you’ll see something that will now strike you in a different way, and you’ll say ‘Hey, I can change this word or add one concept or one character and the whole thing jumps up to a new level. Why didn’t I think of that before?’

It happens when you look. And please remember: it's more likely to happen when you have a lot to look at. When you see something you’d forgotten you wrote, you’re on the right track.

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Bow Wow

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Are you a writer? If you’re talking with someone about writing and they ask to read something you’ve written, do you have something to show ? If yes, you’re a writer. Good writer, bad writer? That’s a separate question, endlessly debatable.

If writing brings you peace or inspiration or useful self-knowledge or money, or puts a smile on your face, you are a successful writer. In this context, good and bad mean nothing.

More writing gives you valuable practice, but only if you care about thinking well and writing well. Some writers, with a good effort, can think and write well on their own. Most need quality critique partners who have the experience and insight to define ‘writing well’ in some real-world meaningful way. If you want to get published, good and bad mean a lot.

Practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write.

More writing grows your body of work. Body Of Work. BOW. Does your body of work inspire a WOW from yourself or from others? If so, BOW WOW!

Please do your best to make that happen. You won’t regret it. What your dog might think, who knows.

Nor can I guess what David Elliott's dog might think:

Photo by David Elliott

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Still, We Smile

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy Fall! Here's a note of optimism, of sorts, from Bertrand Russell:

"All's well that ends well; which is the epitaph I should put on my tombstone if I were the last person left alive."

Better that sort of optimism than none at all.

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On rare occasions, spam does more good than harm. I recently got this email: 'Pancake Rocket, the All-in-One Pancake Batter Blaster'. I wasn't dumb enough to open it. That subject line put a smile on my face so I quit while I was ahead.

But I'm curious about the 'All-in-One' part. How many different ways are there to blast pancake batter? And do we really need to blast it?

Or maybe this is supposed to be better than their competitor's 'All-in-Two' blaster. Or does it do something more than mere blasting? Can it launch pancakes into orbit? That would be nice, in case stranded astronauts get hungry. Or for hungry rambling aliens, or in case any dogs get stuck up there. Dogs like pancakes.

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White Space

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Matter creates space and bends it.
Without white space

there is no art.
Cover the white;
still it was here.

Without black there is no white.
Cover the black;
still it was here.

It's all here.
It all bends.

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'Nuther' makes Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Whole Nuther Thing has been named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016. This makes me super happy, because Kirkus is a tough and significant reviewer. Illustrator Jade Fang deserves huge credit—she is an amazing artist and person.

A little indie like me, struggling on the edge of the publishing universe, feels encouraged by such affirmations, whatever they mean.

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Let it Roll

Friday, December 30, 2016

“Soon Earth will cover us all. Then in time Earth, too, will change; later, what issues from this change will itself in turn incessantly change, and so again will all that takes its place, even unto the world’s end. To let the mind dwell on these swiftly rolling billows of change and transformation is to know a contempt for all things mortal.”
88Marcus Aurelius Meditations IX/28. (translated by Maxwell Staniforth)

The “swiftly rolling billows” bring to mind Darwin, who so clearly envisioned our planet’s geological heavings as if they were happening in seconds rather than eons. And change might be considered a more fundamental essence than matter and energy. Matter and energy may seem mortal when they take one form, but only the form is mortal. The same matter and energy soon scatter and join other forms. Such is the stream of consciousness of our universe.

Aurelius’ “contempt for all things mortal” helped him dismiss the horrors of humanity, and keep a clear mind with no fear of death. I've heard it said that he wasn't a fun guy. Fun or not, he's my friend.

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For a Fellow Climber, with Love

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Altitude

Up high—the ice, the snow, the sky,
That placid soul that loves you while you die.
Big gentle smile, big raging gentleness,
Big life, big death, and everything so small.

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Easily Amused

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I like plain soap. No oils, lotions, perfumes, oatmeal, corn flakes, creams, dyes, speckles, caffeine, or laudanum. I buy simple soap at our local hardware store just around the corner. It comes in a block of just the right size and proportions and color so when I cut it into two pieces—one for the sink; one for the shower—each piece looks like one-half of a stick of butter.

When I look at my soap dish every day and see an apparent stick of butter, I think, “Ha, ha, ha! That’s funny!” And this entertainment never gets old. Nine years from now it will amuse me just as much.

That’s the sort of child I am.

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Spew the Books, Please

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I now have a new partner—Midpoint Trade Books—to handle marketing, sales, and distribution of A Whole Nuther Thing.

In a couple weeks I’ll be able to announce some good news about A Whole Nuther Thing, and the good news will give the book some great marketing leverage. Midpoint’s sales reps know how to use that leverage to give my book a boost. Nothing would make me happier than to see this book shipped to new readers far and wide.

Of course I’ll have to work hard on my end at the same time, tweaking my website, and approaching every suitable independent bookstore in my area, and appealing to my friends on social media.

No matter how you do it, selling books is very hard. But hope springs eternal. Having Midpoint on my team makes my hope a bit more rational.

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Puddle Day

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Yesterday morning in the park it had rained, and there were puddles here and there on the walkways. As I sat on a bench with my coffee I watched a three-year-old noodle along. She encountered a perfect little puddle, and stopped, and studied the puddle for a moment. Then she hopped up and stomped the center of the puddle.

All the best talent in Hollywood couldn’t have produced this scene half as well. I don’t know where peewees get the wisdom that inspires them to jump in puddles. But if the day comes when toddlers stop doing that, we’ll know we’re in trouble.

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Arting in Babylon

Friday, November 25, 2016

It feels awkward, trying to be a writer/artist while the populace all around us happily splashes in a deluge of pop schlock. Doing it alone is tough. I struggled solo for a year and then found the Writers Loft, miraculously close to home. The people at the Loft have been priceless supports and catalysts for many good things that have happened for me as an indie publisher.

In hindsight it’s not so bad that I worked alone for a while. I learned a lot during that year, so I had something to offer my new colleagues when I met them. If you can’t find a good group right away, just keep learning as much as you can, and keep reading and writing and thinking about what you read and write, so you’ll be ready. Luck favors the well-prepared.

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The Echo Test

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”
88
Lao Tzu

What’s a blog? It can be almost anything. Every day each of us holds a vast churning universe in our hearts and souls. What shall we pluck from the maelstrom, to write about? Where to aim the Hubble telescope?

I’m a writer and publisher. Conventional wisdom would say that I should craft my blog as a marketing tool. I have friends who are great marketers. Not me. I don’t lack the work ethic; I just don’t have the right sensibilities or skills or inspiration. “You can learn,” they might say. Yes, I could learn, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. And if my heart’s not in it, why do it? Some great musician said, “If you don’t feel it, don’t play it.” To play it without feeling would be an insult to yourself, to your fellow musicians, and to your Muses.

So this blog will continue to be random and unpolished, because that’s me. I’ll just post here some things I think and feel. Part of me feels embarrassed to present such an unkempt pile of words and thoughts. But my brain and soul are incurably unkempt. So be it! There’s music in there, and when the universe hears it, I hear an echo. When my art passes the Echo Test I know I’m on the right track—the track that’s right for me—and I feel happy.

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A Whole Nuther Thing

Friday, September 2, 2016

A new children’s picture book, by myself and illustrator Jade Fang, is now part of this world among the thousands of other books springing into existence every day. A Whole Nuther Thing is the title. You may buy it from Brookline Booksmith or from Amazon. Here’s the riff:

What's going on in Dingledong Dell? A favorite toy truck has disappeared. But things are WAY stranger than they seem! The loss of the truck launches a quest which reveals a far bigger quest. Or is it all just a dream? A simple story. Also a quantum-state yarn. Is it this, that, or the other? It's all of them, and they all live in the realms of kindergartners and grownups alike.

Artist Alan McCormick lives in two universes at once, each more real than the other. He struck the spark for this book way back in 1998. At that time I had a website with an advice column. The column accepted and answered questions of all sorts, mostly spoofish but sometimes serious. Mr. McCormick sent in this question:

I've noticed that most people say, "a whole nother..." rather than "an whole other..." or "another whole..." Do you think that editors should include the word "nother" in their dictionaries or make people stop saying "a whole nother...?" I foresee enforcement difficulties with the latter. What is your opinion?

And two years ago when the book-making bug bit me, this Nother thing popped back up and squawked for attention. (The phonetic spelling, Nuther, better suits my own aesthetic, and I'm the publisher, so there it is!)

Big thanks to the brilliant Jade Fang and her ace agent Wendy Mays. And to Brookline Booksmith for giving A Whole Nuther Thing a bit of precious shelf space.

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by Alan McCormick

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Jiggering Along

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

“O the consolation of being able to cast aside every tiresome intrusive impression, and in a trice be utterly at peace!”
88
Marcus Aurelius

Stultified. Tired of my command performance in the hollow comedy of human idiocy. Too tired to write. Almost too tired to think and feel. That’s all I can write, right now.

Except I’m reading Marcus Aurelius/Meditations, so I can steal something from him:

“You have no real love for yourself; if you had, you would love your nature, and your nature’s will. Craftsmen who love their trade will spend themselves to the limit in labouring at it, even going unwashed and unfed…”

That love of one’s trade might be mistaken for a work ethic. Really it’s love of one’s nature; it’s love of the course set by one’s nature; it’s the wisdom to see that course and recognize it as the only course toward something resembling satisfaction and peace of mind.

Most of the time for most of my life I have ignored my nature’s will, which is to follow my artistic inspirations toward like-minded collaborators and fruitful teamwork. I have limited energy. So now, I must ignore everything except my nature. Will this save me? It's worth a try.

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The Library

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ages five through thirteen I lived in Hampstead, New Hampshire, where our wonderful librarian Mrs. Whitehead enhanced my life. Recently I went back to the Hampstead library to offer them my first two books as a gift. The person at the desk said she’d give the books to the librarian. A week later came a friendly phone message which said thanks, but the library was not able to accept the books, and said:

“We tried and it was difficult to catalog them. They were not quite children’s books and not quite adult books, so we were not able to add them to our collection.”

This inspired me to conceive a book project maybe entitled Kafka in Wonderland. I might write myself into this book as The Jeep, that old Popeye the Sailor cartoon character, blithe yet somehow sagacious, who rambles around smiling and disappearing and reappearing and walking through walls.

Anyway, once again I find myself flummoxed by The Real World, or whatever it is. That’s OK. As Yvon Chouinard said, if nothing goes wrong, it’s not an adventure.

p.s. I wonder what Mrs. Whitehead would have said. I'll never know.

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A Small Irony

Monday, March 28, 2016

Two nights ago my friend Art Illman shot this photo as I inscribed a copy of Red Boots for him outside Wellesley Books, my lovable neighborhood bookstore. I told him, “There are things in this book most people won’t notice, but I expect you’ll notice.” I meant sub-themes of death and rebirth, chaos and creation. Only today when I saw the photo did I notice that the handy writing-desk I had chosen was a trash can. So this new copy of Red Boots started its new life with a new friend in contact with the waystation to its eventual death and rebirth as a looser and looser assemblage of atoms spreading farther and farther, like a little re-expanding universe.

And I guess that’s the sort of thinking that inspired one reviewer to say about this book, “…it sounded like something a middle schooler on drugs would write…”.

Bonus feature: My facial expression resembles the facial expression of the Box image on the trash can. I wonder what that means.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Book Reviews — Yikes!

Last week I offered my not-yet-released hardcover picture book, Red Boots and Assorted Things, on LibraryThing as a Member Giveaway. One hundred LibraryThing members requested a free copy of the book, and twenty-five winners were selected by an algorithm. I mailed out the free books and requested reviews in exchange.

The first review awarded one star (worst possible), and concluded thusly: “After reading this novel [sic] to my granfather [sic], he said it sounded like something a middle schooler on drugs would write and I quite agree. I did not enjoy this book, sadly, and would never read it to my children.”

I thank this reviewer for honesty and straight talk. "I'd rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I'm not," said Kurt Cobain. My books are not mainstream. Many people won't like them. That's OK.

On the same day as that review, the same book was enthusiastically accepted by a bookstore that won the Best Bookstore in Boston award in 2015 and in many previous years. And the second and third LibraryThing reviewers both awarded five stars (best possible) in GoodReads.

Pros say that negative reviews can be helpful. Now I know how. That honest one-star review helped me improve my Amazon Product Description, to give folks better clues about what to expect from the book. Also, I figure the “middle schooler on drugs” bit will inspire some sales for sure.

p.s. For self-publishers who consider paying Kirkus or anyone else for reviews: my research suggests that it’s probably best not to pay for reviews. You might feel differently, or things might change.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Teams

In most enterprises, a good team is a joy. A bad team is a curse, and no team is nowhere. The four posts below this post focus on some of my teammates. Without them I could not have launched my young publishing enterprise.

Finding an Illustrator / Victoria Usova

While I was scouring online illustrator portfolios for an artist for A Whole Nuther Thing, I stumbled onto Victoria Usova. My lucky day! Her magical work wouldn’t fit A Whole Nuther Thing, but instantly inspired a completely different book concept. My Muse jumped up and danced. Overnight I slapped together a sample PDF for the concept and cold-emailed Victoria. She loved it, and we were off and running. Just like that. Natural teammates! Victoria’s art is the heart and soul of the book: Teapots and Assorted Things. And now we’ve finished a second book together, Red Boots and Assorted Things. It’ll be delivered from the printer soon. Thanks Victoria!

Finding a Printer / PrintNinja

As of today, I have done three print runs with PrintNinja, an Illinois-based offset printing broker whose production is in Shenzhen, China. Their website provides more helpful info about making books than any other dozen websites I could find all put together. Templates for all kinds of book interiors, endpapers, covers, and dust jackets. Simple fast pricing calculators. Great pre-press advice. And I could not find one single bad word about PrintNinja anywhere. So I jumped in, and I’m glad I did. Disclaimer: none necessary. I have no relationship with them except as a happy client.

Timely concise communication. Friendly attitude. High quality product. All put together, this is a competent, honest, open-arms crew who will make sure your book comes out well, and will do it for a fantastic price. The process feels good, like at least one thing is right in this world of hideous customer service.

If you’d prefer to work with a printer in your own part of the world, good luck. I tried that first here in New England, and I got nowhere. Every local printer I contacted turned me down, because I was a rookie self-publisher. I don’t blame them. A rookie in any industry is a pain to work with. But as self-publishing spreads, maybe these printers will realize too late that they have lost a growing market segment to others who are willing to put in the hard work to nurture new people in the industry.

PrintNinja does an astounding job supporting quality oriented self-publishers. They have made me, a newbie, feel like a real publisher. They care about me. I can feel it. And I can feel good about presenting my beautiful books to the world.

Artists’ Agent / WendyLynn Agency

My third book, A Whole Nuther Thing, is illustrated by Jade Fang, represented by Wendy Mays of the WendyLynn Agency. These two pros agreed to work with me, a new self-publisher. That was a risk for them — as I said above, rookies in any industry often make things difficult because they don’t understand the process. But Wendy and Jade have been patient, helpful, jolly, and relentlessly professional.

As the book approaches completion, I understand more and more the amazing benefits of working with these good people. Because of their talent and knowledge, team spirit, love of books, imagination, and concern for quality, my book will be a good one. Did I say ‘my book’? In fact this book is Jade’s book just as much as mine. That’s a fact, not a polite tribute. And I believe I would not have found Jade without WendyLynn. Thanks Wendy!

Finding an Illustrator / Jade Fang

Jade Fang has nearly finished the art for my third picture book, A Whole Nuther Thing. How did Jade and I end up working together? I was a rookie self-publisher with no network. I looked at hundreds of online illustrator portfolios. I bookmarked the ones I liked, and emailed the artists one by one, with my book manuscript in the email. The artists all referred me to their agents, and their agents politely said they were not interested in working with me. They worked only with well-established publishing companies.

Finally, one of the artists, Mark Meyers, referred me to his agent but also said he liked the book and would like to illustrate it. I contacted his agent, Wendy Mays, and she told me they would be glad to work with me, but that Mark was booked for the next two and a half years. Could I wait that long? While I mulled that over, Wendy suggested another of her artists: Jade Fang. I had a good look at Jade’s portfolio, and decided to work with her, and now months later here we are almost ready for the printer. I have learned in real life something I had read about: a good illustrator is not just an artist, but a conceptual collaborator who enhances the book in ways you would never guess, and makes it a far better book than it would have been. Thanks Jade!

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Between the Brushstrokes / A Wormhole to the Words

If inspirations pop into your head out of nowhere, it might be smart to consider them divine gifts.

I have no storytelling talent for novels or even short stories. Thus my decision to make picture books. My first picture book exists because I found Victoria Usova, an artist whose paintings peppered my brain with fusillades of words. I immediately wrote down those words. Ninety percent of the words in Teapots and Assorted Things were written in less than ten minutes total. When I say ‘written’ I mean literally written, keyed into my computer. Transcribed as I heard them in my head. I did not create those words, and I don’t know where they came from, so I’ll say they came from my Muse.

But it’s not that simple. The words were already in the paintings, between the brushstrokes, or something in the paintings was a wormhole to the words. Maybe Victoria’s Muse and mine have breakfast at the same café. Anyway, now that the book is out in the world, it is clear that a lot of people like the paintings and like the words and like the chemistry of the paintings and words together. Not just my friends like them. Some of the most respected booksellers in New England like them.

If you like my books, you may thank my Muse, and Victoria’s. Victoria makes those paintings like a child skipping down the sidewalk, with no forethought and no commercial intent. That’s one of the things I love about her.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

My Friend the Universe30862

"Life goes on within you and without you."
88George Harrison

My thoughts:

We are members of an ultimate community, as are all animals and plants, matter and energy, life and spirit, galaxies, all of space, and other things we don’t know about.

For solace in sad times, I think of this community of everything. It’s with us always and everywhere. It never goes away. It's infinitely tiny and vast, with destruction and rebirth every which way. In this context, are my problems really so bad?

Everything goes on within me and without me. Inside me and outside me. I’m part of it, and it’s part of me. This is true even when I forget it. But I feel better when I remember it.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Dreams of Riches

Edison's big one: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." Edison himself provided the inspiration and the perspiration. How about somebody who has one inspiration and then, for the rest of his life, gets richer and richer not by his own sweat, but by the sweat of others who can barely put food on the table? That’s no genius — that’s a self-complacent shallow thinker. A genius would have the brains to see that it’s wrong. A genius would see that such an approach ends up steering the whole world straight down a path to misery.

A lot of these non-sweaters think they’re sweating. They spend all their time with people like themselves, inventing new ways to fiddle more money out of those who really sweat. They tell each other they’re heroes, and they believe it.

Thus is perpetuated the clan of One-Percenters, inspired to get richer. As Leonardo said, "I know there are many who to satisfy a whim would destroy God and the universe."

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Amazon

Amazon takes a lot of business away from brick-and-mortar bookstores, so it’s no surprise that bookstores don’t like Amazon. But as Joe Konrath says, “Amazon offers authors unprecedented opportunity to reach readers, and offers readers the widest selection at the lowest possible prices coupled with good customer service.” That’s why Amazon has huge market share.

Amazon has done more than twenty years of hard work, and they have not gotten soft. They keep working hard every day. Thanks to them, now almost anyone can publish almost anything at low cost or no cost, with instant access to a worldwide market. And authors get a high percentage of sale proceeds. Very few sane self-publishers would scorn Amazon, unless they’re rich enough to throw away a lot of effort and money with virtually no chance of ever getting enough exposure to break even. And of course more sales mean more readers. For most authors, the most important things are readers and payment.

Is Amazon evil? Not much, yet, though I’d love to see them pay all employees better as more revenue comes in, rather than wasting vast sums on ludicrous mistakes like drone deliveries. Anyway, human nature makes it likely that Amazon will sooner or later sleaze out, like Google did after a highly respectable start.

Right now Amazon has one brick-and-mortar bookstore, in Seattle. I don't know its purpose. I don't know what good purpose it would serve for Bezos to build more. If anyone can explain it, please email me. I don't blame Bezos for supporting Uber, because for decades American cabs have been filthy stinking rattletraps, the worst taxis I've ever seen in any country. But why on earth would he further undermine independent bookstores, some of our greatest cultural treasures? Is he after all just another smiling megalomaniac?

I offer big thanks to the independent bookstores who have accepted my first book. It lifts my spirits to think of my book in those beautiful shops, being watched over by such good-hearted people. They work hard with no hope of getting rich, just to make the world a better place. If those folks aren’t heroes, no one is. Let's help them as much as we possibly can, because they do so much for our communities and for the human spirit. And if they can't supply what we need, we can get it on Amazon or somewhere else. That way, everyone wins.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Nudged by the Company you Keep

I'm learning. A lot has happened since July 17, when Teapots and Assorted Things found its first bookstore. The book is now in several more fine bookstores, and one gift shop, and would be in a lot more if I had the time to visit them. Hand-selling books does take a lot of time, but can be a wonderful experience, especially when you start to get a feel for your niche.

Making children's books, and trying to sell them, seems to bring me in touch with people I like. I was an artsy kid but my parents had other ideas for me and hobbled my artistic energies. Only now decades later am I finally beginning to settle into something resembling an artistic life. Is this saving my soul? Yes!

I must acknowledge the fine people of the Writers' Loft in Sherborn, Massachusetts, who were kind enough to drag me, a raw rookie, into their bustling Bookapalooza and goose me along in a good direction. Likewise the New England chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). These folks are selfless dynamos, and great fun too.

And big thanks to some long-lost and now found artsy college friends. Super people. Our reconnection is sunshine and more.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Turtles All the Way Down

This morning I feel inclined to discuss things other than my rookie publishing struggles. Warning: I am no scholar. Just an honest dilettante.

Stephen Jay Gould and others suggested that variation, rather than matter or energy, might be the primary essence of our universe. Recent research suggests that our brain neurons have independent spirits. And Einstein said something about artists creating their own bearable world within an unbearable one.

If human consciousness is one expression of fundamental variation, it makes sense that the mechanisms of consciousness promote thought variation. Sub-consciousness too. Fractals plus chaos. Out of this elegant mess comes art, which is often an elegant mess itself. Or just elegant, or just a mess.

What is human despair? Does such sadness live in the essence of our whole universe? Probably yes, in some sense. Maybe that's why music touches our souls. Music expresses that sadness. In that expression is something like relief. Maybe like phase cancellation. Our expression of sadness cancels the fundamental sadness. Blues is an antidote to the blues, said Wynton Marsalis and others.

Of course there's a lot more to art than just sadness; sadness cannot exist without other feelings. Like a chef mixes unexpectedly successful stew ingredients, art can mix feelings into one better feeling, or into a worse feeling that somehow helps us feel better. And if something like happiness lives in our whole universe, our human expressions of happiness might align with that for extra happiness.

It doesn't matter how it works. B. F. Skinner would say that if art dissolves sadness or enhances happiness, of course we'll keep making art.

Thus art, the funnest expression of variation, makes a more bearable world.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau.

"Not me!" I always said... until I got Lyme disease and couldn't get rid of it. I got it when it wasn't taken seriously, and I wasn't treated soon enough. It was like aging forty years in four weeks, and I've lived with it for eighteen years. Pre-Lyme my mental landscape was like midtown Manhattan. Post-Lyme it's ten miles offshore in a pea-soup fog. I'm partly paralyzed and always exhausted. I'm a knackered blockhead spaz, devoid of joie de vivre, spirit crushed but still twitching.

On the brighter side, I don't lack entertainment. Every heartbeat shakes my eyeballs and slaps my brain with a cricket bat, and my teeth vibrate, and my ears constantly blast the sounds of every sort of cicada, cricket, and tree frog I ever heard, except my favorite: the coqui.

I have plenty of time to enjoy this circus, because I can't rock climb anymore or play tennis or even golf. But I can still do moderate backcountry skiing—you can do that with little more than cardio, core, quads, and good technique. Walk up, ski down.

Otherwise what do I do? Make books! Everything takes me twenty times as long as it used to, but that's OK because I work at home, with no one looking over my shoulder, and no deadlines. I can make a hundred forty-seven mistakes every day and fix them all, and then fix the mistakes I make when I'm fixing the first mistakes, and in the end I can still do a pretty good job.

"Hey Ho, Let's Go!" So said the Ramones.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Trains and Tickets

Last weekend my wife and I went to my nephew's wedding on Cape Cod. At the reception dinner, we had a table by the window. Across the street sat an independent bookstore of Dickensian splendor, staring straight at me. "Hey you with the book," it seemed to say, "Are you going to try me or not?" In my car were a bunch of copies of Teapots. I would never forgive myself if I didn't cold-crash the place and try to sell them my book.

So I immediately trotted across the street to Parnassus Books and presented Teapots to Sarah, the owner, who struck me as someone I'd like to have as a friend. This shop was even better than it looked, if such a thing was possible, with a ludicrous variety of material and a super pleasant atmosphere. I found three unusual books to buy and looked no further, to avoid blowing my book budget for the whole decade. After talking a bit more with Sarah, I went back across the street to the reception with no expectation that I would ever hear back about my book.

Today out of the blue I got an email from Sarah requesting five more copies. I nearly sprained my spleen in my rush to get them packed and shipped. Not only will my book be in a bookstore, but it will be in THAT bookstore—exactly the type I love best. This is the Second Good Omen for Teapots, the First Good Omen having been Isabel on the New York Train (below). My happiness is beyond description. Thanks Sarah!

And: thanks to Victoria, the Teapots artist, whose art is impossibly fun and fascinating, and much more. THAT's the ticket.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to Be the Best Proofreader in the World

Sometimes the mountains are difficult. Focus or die. Sometimes you have to move one foot to just the right spot and then put all your weight on just one part of that foot. Or change your balance at the right instant to put more weight on the other ski, or to lift one ski. Or keep going when you're injured and exhausted. Or a lot of other little things.

How do you do those things right, so you don't die? Hear nothing but what you need to hear to do what you must do. See nothing but what you need to see to do what you must do. Feel nothing but what you need to feel to do what you must do. Think nothing but what you need to think to do what you must do.

To be the best proofreader in the world, empty your brain. Hear nothing. Feel nothing. Think nothing. Look at every letter and every space, and every bit of punctuation, as if your life depends on it.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

A Word to Agents and Editors

Bless you all! Thanks for doing what you do!

Please keep an eye on the publishing industry as it changes, and think about your place in the industry. The whole industry, not just the Big Five. Maybe now or later it might feel appropriate for you to try something you couldn't try before. Or maybe you might walk away from the office and create your own team. You know so much. As the big picture morphs, you can repaint part of it and make something happen. Something that couldn't happen without you.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

We Don't Need No Stinking Rules

"Critics are too apt to forget that rules are but means to an end; consequently where the ends are different the rules must be likewise so. We must have ascertained what the end is, before we can determine what the rules ought to be."
88SaSamuel Taylor Coleridge

As I begin to learn about children's picture books, I hear of more and more rules that we must follow to have any chance at marketability. And I try hard to remember my own rules for picture books when I was four years old. I'm one of those people with tons of clear memories from my early life. And I know that those memories are mostly accurate, because I astounded my parents and friends hundreds of times in later years.

I remember being four years old. I don't recall having book rules. Books were around, and I looked at them. I didn't care how many or how few words they had. I didn't care if the words were big or small. I didn't care if the story had an arc. I didn't care if the book had a story at all. I didn't care if the book had one character or a hundred forty-seven characters. It never occurred to me that anything in particular was supposed to be going on, in the book. I didn't need to be told what was going on, or to be told what I was supposed to learn from it. I liked looking at the pictures and words. I could feel things going on somehow in mysterious ways, maybe like what dogs feel when they watch TV or stick their heads out the car window and look around. It was engaging and inspiring and I always wanted to do it again.

Sort of like our universe, hey? How many adults can say THEY know what's really going on? The ones who claim they know are the ones to watch out for.

Also when I was four my room featured a rocking chair with a cushion. The cushion was a faded quince-blossom red, with a repetitive pattern depicting the interior of a cottage, with a rocking chair and a hooked rug on the cottage floor. That scene was endlessly fascinating to me, like a portal to Creation and every dream since. No story. No characters—not even a cat on the rug. No lesson, no moral, no humor. Zero educational value in the Gradgrind-McChoakumchild sense or in any mainstream religious sense. You could argue that the rocking chair depicted on the cushion of the rocking chair might work as a springboard into philosophy, but to me that wasn't important then, at least not consciously. For me, the point is this: the image on the cushion loaded my brain, imagination, and heart with a sublime something that defies description. Figure out how that works, and you'll win a Nobel Prize or get thrown in an asylum, or both.

SO my first self-published book, Teapots and Assorted Things, presents an artist who gives me that same sublime feeling. This book breaks almost every rule I have found.

Maybe it's best to first know all the rules so well that we get sick of them, so it doesn't bother us to break them when necessary. If we're not sure exactly what we're trying to do, maybe we could start a project and follow no rule—then after a few drafts, rewrite the same project following every rule. Or the other way around. Then compare the two versions, pluck the best words from each, and consolidate them into a new draft. We might end up inventing some new rules that keep us true to ourselves. That way lies uniqueness.

Rules have an important place in art. Keep the rules in their place. Your imagination is a party, and rules can be party poopers.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Preparing to Sell my First Book

"I try to think, but nothin' happens!"

88
Curly Howard

My brain goes blank when I remind myself that now is the time to fire up my sales plan for Teapots and Assorted Things. Do I really have to do this logistical stuff? Why can't the Distribution Fairy show up and spread the books over the river and through the woods to every grandmother's house in the world?

A few copies have arrived, air-FedExed from China. The rest will arrive by container vessel and then UPS from Long Beach, California. Some morning soon, before they arrive, I'll grit my teeth and open an Amazon Seller Account. I already have the shipping materials. When I have the big shipment of books in hand, will I activate the Amazon account and then, like most self-pubbers, watch my sales soar to maybe 27 books per year?

This book will do better than that, with its not-so-secret weapon: the artist, Victoria Usova, whose work contributes 87.3 percent of the soul of the book. For years she has poured out beautiful paintings the way a child skips down the sidewalk. Spontaneous, straight from the heart and imagination. A lot of people have responded to that spirit on Victoria's merchant sites, and on her blog. A lot of people pre-ordered the book the instant she mentioned it. Bless you Victoria, for shaking loose my brain with this happy news! Thanks to you, our book is already finding new homes. I'll do my best to help it find more.

How does it feel, preparing to sell this first book? It feels good because I believe it's a good book, and because the artist is such a fine colleague. When I started self-publishing as a hobby, perhaps my biggest hope was to find new friends in the Arts world. By that standard this book is already a success.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Isabel on the New York Train

Three days ago I drove to my local FedEx warehouse to pick up fifty expedited air-shipped copies of my first book, fresh from the printer. An hour later my wife and I were on the Amtrak train to NYC, and in my bag were a few of my books, as gifts for NY friends. As the train started moving we could hear a little girl behind us, reading a book aloud, and it struck me that I should offer her one of my books. So I stood up, and said, "Please pardon my interruption—you are a good reader, and I have just published a book, and I'd like to give you a copy as a gift. And you will be the first person in the world to read it." The little girl, Isabel, and her mother were impossibly gracious and charming and appreciative. As soon as I gave Isabel the book she read it out loud twice, and laughed, and said, "This is a cool book." She talked with her mother, and a few minutes later asked me to autograph the book. I wrote, "To Isabel, the first person in the world to read this book, and a very nice young lady. Best regards, Warren Ross." This episode felt like a wonderful start for the book. The very best possible start. Thanks Isabel!

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Monday, April 6, 2015

I'd Rather be a Fool than a Bore

Recently in the middle of the night, I lay awake thinking what a fool I am to spend so much time and money on this new hobby of self-publishing. Then I thought "I'd rather be a fool than a bore." Then I wondered how many other people felt that way, and so I got up to google that sentence. Before I googled it, I thought for a moment and figured a lot of people must feel that way, and I guessed that I would get eight thousand hits. I got ONE hit—in song lyrics from a Canadian musician named Valdy.

Now if someone googles that sentence they'll get two hits because it's here too, in this blog. I feel like I've killed something rare. Anyway, just one hit? I still can't believe it. But I'd still rather be a fool than a bore, even if there's only one other person in the world who feels that way.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bad Good better than Good Bad

I intend to make books I like. I'd rather not skew myself toward someone's idea of market trends, unless my Muse happens to lead me there. My hope is to make books that little kids like, and to find people of all ages whose likes overlap mine, because those people could be my friends or colleagues, and we could help each other grow our work. And that way I'll be a real artist, even if I'm a bad artist. I'd rather be a bad real artist than a good phony artist.

Of course the phrase 'real artist' either has seven billion definitions or has no definition. But inside myself, I know what's real and what isn't. Sometimes it takes a little work to figure it out.

Kurt Cobain said he'd rather be hated for what he was than loved for something he wasn't. And I recall Elmore Leonard saying that he wrote his books for money, and did not consider himself a serious writer. I liked him better after he said that. I got the impression that he would have been embarrassed by his books if he looked at himself as more than a commercial writer.

p.s. In this blog I'll write what's on my mind, for better or worse. I hope this approach helps people know me better, if they're interested in knowing me. Writing promotes thinking; thinking clarifies writing. Thinking and writing help focus each other, and can help us focus our art. If just one person likes something in this blog, then I call this blog a success.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

An Illustrator is Not Just an Illustrator

Many sources say that illustrators can improve picture book stories in ways the author or editor would never guess. I am blessed with an illustrator, Jade Fang, who is doing that with my second book, which I expect to release in early 2016. Jade added a few inobtrusive fun details here and there in the book, and then added an extra illustration as the book's final illustration on a page of its own. These seemingly simple additions give the book a whole new parallel plot that presents an extra puzzle too, in addition to the primary mystery.

When it was time to write the text for the book's back cover and dust jacket flaps, my first drafts flowed out in three minutes. This text provides tantalizing clues that tell the reader there's a mystery AND an extra puzzle, and also helps solve that puzzle, if help is needed.

The parallel plot and extra puzzle allow the promo text to be far more enticing than it would have been. And the whole story has more dimension than before. Thanks Jade!

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Art Hurts

My Muse came skipping by today,
tossed me a flower on her way.
'I love you but I just can't stay,'
she seemed to say. And that's OK.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fun Grenades

"Fun is good."
88Dr. Seuss

How about little throwaway picture books sort of like flash fiction? Ebook only. Minimalist art. Sketchy even. Super low illustration budget. You could sell these for 99 cents or give them away as promo nuggets. You might want an artist like Peter Reynolds who can say a lot with few lines and do it fast. The story and text would have to make it easy for the artist. Maybe fifteen pages, or fewer, whatever the concept requires.

Call these things Flashies, Twinklies, Firecrackers, Peebees, Dinglebookies, Fun Grenades, or who knows what. Take a wild guess which name I like.

Maybe some good artists would do this if they like the story and text, and if the rights are right. Or maybe it's been done nine hundred times already and I don't know it because I'm new to the game.

Just a thought.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kerning Title Text

"All nature is but art, unknown to thee..."
88Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

Have you noticed that some logos or book titles or words in a magazine ad have a definitive look like a perfect creation of nature? Some designer spent a lot of time fiddling with those letters. Kerning—increasing or decreasing space between adjacent characters—is one step in this process. But with some designs and some typefaces that's just the beginning.

Warning: I'm not a very good designer, but I don't let that stop me. Anyway... I put each letter of my title in a separate Illustrator layer. Then I set them all up next to each other like toy soldiers and check their formation. I move each one individually in its layer to adjust the space between each pair of adjacent letters; increase or decrease the point size of individual letters; rotate individual letters clockwise or counterclockwise; erase protruding bits of letters that seem intrusive; add bits sometimes; increase or decrease the width of individual letters; increase or decrease the width of the whole title.

This process can morph into Whack-a-Mole. But it's a good way to train your eye, if you have one, which reminds me of a line from some F. Scott Fitzgerald story: "He looked at her with an eye as keen as the eye of a potato." You have to stare at the letters a lot more keenly than that, as if your life depended on it. And then you have to get up and view it askance. Look at it from across the room. Then think about your dog and look at it. Look at it when you're drunk, when you're sober, when you're high or happy or sad. Keep doing that and keep fiddling the letters until they look good together every time. And then look at them every day for at least three more days to see if they still look right.

Yesterday I finished adjusting the title text for the revised dust jacket of my first book, Teapots and Assorted Things. Four words. I had worked on that title for about ten hours, in spurts, a few weeks ago. Sometimes I thought it was perfect, but I'd get up the next day and see one or more inelegancies and tweak it some more. When is it really done? No such thing, maybe. Art is process. A physical book is one moment of process.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Eating Chicken Vindaloo

I wish Dee Dee Ramone could be here to help me write this thing.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

About This Website

"I try my best to be just like I am,
But everybody wants you to be just like them."
88 Bob Dylan, Maggie's Farm

My first website took flight in 1997—wallytown.com, still going—on a server that I rented from two great guys I met rock climbing. They were just then starting a web hosting business. Wallytown.com is a relic. Some would call it a wreck. But there it is, just like it was a long time ago, for better or worse. I made it with Adobe GoLive, which I chose over Dreamweaver because the Adobe documentation was superior, and because I thought it might work more smoothly with my Photoshop and Illustrator. Of course soon after that Dreamweaver became the standard. Anyway I stuck with GoLive because I was used to it and had learned to work around its infelicities, and I was busy and didn't want to have to learn another app, and didn't want to pay for another app.

Now on the brink of 2015 I still rent a server from the same people. I'm still running GoLive 7.0.2, Illustrator 11.0.0, Photoshop 8.0, and Acrobat 6.0 on my old MacBook 2.4GHz, OS 10.6.3. If someone calls me a dinosaur, I don't mind.

Forms have their place, but generally I don't like them—they seem inhospitable and institutional, and I would rather contact a person than a database. Anyway I prefer minimal back end. Back end costs time and trouble.

I want my website text to be easily zoomable for people with bad eyesight, like me, and I want the text to fit comfortably on the screen when it's zoomed, so it's still easy to read without sideways scrolling.


My website content: During 2015 this site will present at least two new books self-published by me. Right now the site is just this blog. A blog can be a lot of things. I'm thinking about trying to present useful information for other self-publishers, and also help people understand me, if they're interested. I have no interest in social media, so this is my only outlet, aside from the online forum of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. If you want to be involved with children's books, anything from picture books to Young Adult, you'd be crazy not to join that excellent bunch of people.

My website graphic (at the top of this page): I made it quickly and without much thought because the harder I try to make impressive graphics the worse they look.

Peace and Bacon to you! But maybe you don't eat bacon. So peace and figs, or peace and plums. Or a cup of coffee.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

It Takes a Lot of Loafing to Write a Book

Gertrude Stein's famous words seem more and more true, as I learn about making children's picture books. When I first started this hobby, experienced writers' blogs told me to rewrite and rewrite, and let the manuscript rest for a few weeks and then rewrite again. And I tried it, and found that good revisions popped into my head at random times, with no effort or thought on my part, after my most painstaking text inspections had inspired no such improvements.

The Muses could explain this, if they had time to sit down with us and talk. If there are only three Muses, or four, or nine, depending on which history you favor, how can a mere handful of Muses find the time to inspire a growing multitude of artists? We need to be patient and let them visit when they can, and recognize their unique knock on our door when we hear it, and drop everything and let them in. They can never stay long enough to help us finish a whole project in good style all at once. So we must loaf for a while, and wait for their occasional suggestions.

Do the Muses ever make bad suggestions? Probably the questionable revisions that appear in our heads come instead from our subconscious concern with conventions, or something a teacher said long ago, or some editor's pronouncement of what we must or must not do to be taken seriously in the children's book industry.

Someday maybe science will explain the Muses as sub-dimensional currents of the great fundamental intelligence that we all share. In that case, I suppose we must loaf until the ever-shifting currents wander our way enough times to nourish a nice round piece of work, a ripe peach ready to fall.

Or something. Who knows? Not me.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Not In It for the Money

My research makes it clear that I'll be fantastically lucky to break even in this self-publishing enterprise. And luck alone can't do it. As my more-experienced peers always say, the hard work begins after the book is published. They also say it helps to have a good book at a low price. What a concept! No joke, though, it has taken me ten months to reach this strategy. A good book at a low price. Of course goodness of content and design is partly in the eye of the beholder, but that's not worth worrying about after you've sent your book files to the printer. I'll just pay the printer for high-quality paper and binding, which are things I can control. If I'm going to lose a lot of money, at least I'll have a nicely-produced book to show for it.

If my goal is to break even, the low price won't work unless I handle the shipping myself. Book distributors would pay me less than half the cover price and then add fees also. I'd end up netting a few cents per book, and I'd have to sell maybe a hundred thousand books to cover my costs. So for now, a distributor is out of the picture, unless my whole philosophy changes, which might happen, considering how I'm bumbling my way willy-nilly through this long expedition and changing my mind all the time. Anyway I figure the hassle of shipping will be somewhat offset by the happy feeling of sending my book to someone who considers it worth buying.

Teapots and Assorted Things will be my first book to the printer. It will be a 32-page picture book, offset printed, 5.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches high, hard cover with dust jacket, full color inside and out. I plan an initial print run of one thousand books. If I sell every one of them on Amazon at $12.95, I'll still be way in the red. To break even I'd have to print and sell another nine thousand books.


I have not counted my time as a cost. I've handled all image processing, design, cover design, writing, editing, proofreading, etc. myself. Anyway, this is a hobby, not a business. If I try really hard to sell the books, and if I'm lucky, maybe this hobby won't cost any more than some other hobbies like gambling or polo.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

PCIP and ISBN Bar Codes

First post. I have three books in process, with three different artists. Why three? Because I'm scrambling to obscure the inobscurable pains of life, or nurture my spirit, or have fun, or make something to leave behind. I wish I could find the Albert Einstein quote about artists being sad about the world and trying to make a world they like better. And maybe that effort might help artists find new friends, and then enjoying the new friends might help them feel better about the world they were sad about in the first place.

I have no books in print, yet. I'm very happy that one of my books, Teapots and Assorted Things, is almost ready for the printer. One of my final prepress tasks is to confirm that the bar code/ISBN I bought from Bowker will print clearly on the cover. Here is one of many rookie conundrums! This little graphic seems to come loaded with more software than a satellite. I wish they could just make a simple image to size and place. I suppose if they did that, half of self-publishers would somehow screw it up so their books wouldn't scan. I wouldn't screw that up because I have some Adobe Illustrator experience—but I have screwed up other things. A picture book looks simple. It's not. [update: I took the cover file to my local small printshop; they printed the cover in its proper full size, and the bar code came out super clear. I guess when my home printer resized the image to fit 8 1/2 x 11 paper, something went awry.]

The other factor holding up Teapots is a PCIP text block. This arcane character-assemblage goes on the book's title page and tells librarians where to put the book and how to find it. I just recently learned about this, and ordered it from an online service. Maybe I could have done some research and made this thing myself; I don't know. It seems wise to include it. I'm not crazy enough to expect libraries to buy a self-published book—I just don't want to suffer the pain of being rebuffed when I offer libraries my book free of charge. [update: I have learned that most libraries will not accept a book that has not been favorably reviewed by a major reviewer.]

After the bar code is safe to print and I put the PCIP bit on my title page, it'll be time to send this book to the printer. A big day! Unless I discover some new important prepress factor I never knew about. I seem to be making a lot of those discoveries.

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