VOWF--coverI am starting this post today (January 31) to save the spot. Will add to it later when I have more time.

My goal for 2017 is to post a blog once a month — something meaningful and related to writing or publishing, not something related to political opinions.

In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone. May 2017 be the best year ever for your writing career.


Writer’s Conferences

copyright by Sherry Garland 2016

I just returned from a SCBWI Conference in Houston. I met people who were old pros at it, and many who were beginners who had never attended before.

Seeing the excitement and fear in the faces of the uninitiated brought back pleasant memories of my first writers’ conference in 1979. It was sponsored by Rice University in Houston, TX. It happened to fall on my birthday, so myIMG_0249 husband paid for the fee as a gift. I can truly say this conference changed my life. I had been writing a mega “family saga” historical novel and hadn’t a clue how to sell it. I asked questions and spoke to editors and agents without having any notion of how totally awful the questions were.  I cringe when I think of them now.

But I learned so much. And I also found out about a local novelists’ group that I joined. Those folks spurred me to attend another big conference two years later where I met an editor and ended up selling my first novel. Definitely NOT the mega family saga which is still in a drawer being eaten by mildew.

I’m an introverted, shy person by nature, so it has always been difficult for me to just walk up to an editor or agent and talk. At one conference, my husband was attending the welcome party with me. He strolled up to an editor and started singing my praises to her, then he dragged me over to her for introductions. She was with Scholastic, a wonderful, warm person. This encounter resulted in me selling five picture books and two Dear America novels to Scholastic

At one conference I met an editor while waiting for the elevator. She said she would like to see anything I had. A few days later I called her and pitched a manuscript. She asked me to read the manuscript (a picture book) over the phone, then made an instant offer.

If you are considering attending a writers’ conference, I encourage you to do so. Especially if you are a beginner and don’t know where to turn. People at conferences all have something in common — they love writing. They like to talk and answer questions. It could be the best investment you ever make.


copyright 2016 by Sherry Garland

There has been a lot of talk recently on social media regarding authors who write about a culture or ethnic group into which they were not born or raised. The basic premise is that those authors do not have the knowledge or insight to write stories, mainly fictioLotusSeedjpegn, about other cultures.  I.E., they are “appropriating” someone else’s culture. It’s the notion that if an author writes about a culture different from his or her own, that person has “taken” something away from authors in that culture.

If this were a “Rule” think of all the beloved characters that would have never been created: Hemingway’s Cuban Old Man and the Sea, Katherine Patterson’s Japanese characters, Pearl S. Buck’s characters in China.

So, as a middle-aged white female author of many books that focus on non-white cultures, the accusations of “cultural appropriation” are directed at me. Naturally I disagree with this premise. I prefer to call it “Cultural Appreciation.”

I have always loved to learn about other cultures. When I was ten I subscribed to a magazine about other countries. I majored in Foreign Languages during college. I have always lived in culturally mixed neighborhoods. In Houston, I was in the minority. My neighbors were Pakistani, Afghan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, African-American, Cuban, Central American and South American, even one Canadian!! I got along with all of them, even the gangs. I loved learning about their homelands and backgrounds. Being born near the Rio Grande River, I was influenced by the Mexican culture very early.

I write books about people whom I admire, respect or love, no matter what their culture. Seven of my books are about the Vietnamese culture because I had so many Vietnamese friends in Houston. I helped them resettle and came to learn about their experiences. At that time (late 1970s and 1980s) I could find no one else in children’s publishing writing about the Vietnamese experiences, their hardships during the war and resettling in the USA, the cultural shock the teenagers were going through, the pain of the Amerasian children left behind in Vietnam. I felt it was something that needed to be told and no one else was doing it. I admired, respected and loved the people I met and interviewed so much that I even traveled to Vietnam.

shadow-dragonI was fortunate that several of my books won national awards and were used in classrooms across the country, especially in California and Texas. One of my books, Shadow of the Dragon, was used in many ESL classes that contained adult Vietnamese refugees. Many adult Vietnamese sent me letters saying that Danny Vo’s story was so real it seemed to be about their own family. Students in Houston told me the grocery store or the music shop described belonged to their uncle or cousin or parents (they were all fictitious stores based on places I had been). In fact, I know about and identify more with the Vietnamese in that book than the white racist skin-heads in the book. It took me three years to research and write Song of the Buffalo Boy (set in Vietnam) and I would not have been able to do it without the help and input of the Vietnamese community.

pasted1037wrote Indio, which focuses on a now extinct group of American Indians living along the Rio Grande River in Texas, because I wanted to tell their story; tell how their people were wiped out by Spanish diseases, war, slavery and assimilation. They are gone now — who is left to tell their story? Would a modern Native American author be able to talk about a vanished people from the 1500’s any better than I can? Would they want to?

Which brings me to my first love: American history. From the ancient peoples before Europeans set foot on the continent up through the Vietnam War, this is my favorite subject. I have little interest in writing about modern teens or children, unless it is something very close to my heart or something from personal experience. When I take on a topic, I typically spend about one year doing research, thevalleym-5n up to one year writing (if it is a novel). In 1998, Scholastic asked me to write a Dear America book about a Mexican Girl living in California before it became a state. I was worried at first, but after long research and with help from many Spanish-speaking friends, I was able to write Valley of the Moon: The Diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros. Rosalia was a mestizo — half-Indian and half-Spanish, the group that gave rise to the majority of the Spanish-speaking people in the Americas. I try to be as accurate as possible, with both history and cultural details. I’m sure I made mistakes but I received reviews from Hispanic teenagers telling me it was the best book they had read. A text-book publisher liked it well enough to include passages (and illustrations) in a textbook that was adopted by the California schools.

shadow-alamoI also wrote In the Shadow of the Alamo, the story of a 16-year-old Mexican boy conscripted into General Santa Anna’s Army. The Mexican side of the Texas Revolution was virtually non-existent in children’s literature. The book won an International Teacher’s Award and was sold at the Alamo. Tejano boys love this book. They are amazed and proud to see a book that makes a Mexican soldier a hero, rather than an enemy. Again, I wrote this book because I wanted students to know the whole story. I wrote it because I appreciate Mexican culture.

In 2002, I began research for a picture book about the African-American soldiers who served in the US Army from 1866 until after WWII. I had first learned about this subject while visiting a restored fort in West Texas that had garrisoned Buffalo Soldiers in the 1800s. That was the first I had ever heard about Buffalo Soldiers (this was in the 1970s). I wondered why I had never heard of this group of soldiers in my many years of schooling, why we never saw themccf12292009_00014 in movies or on TV shows about the West. So after much research and visits to several forts, The Buffalo Soldier was born. It was released in 2004 with gorgeous illustrations by Ronald Himler. The book received wonderful reviews and several honors.

I wrote The Buffalo Soldier because I admire and respect the black soldiers, many of whom were former slaves, who faced so many adversities. I wanted school children to learn about them and see how these black soldiers contributed to American history. And yet, I did encounter resistance from the black community. At a large library conference, one of my friends took my book to a booth being run by a black librarian caucus. A librarian asked if the author was black, then flipped to the blurb to look at my photo. She shook her head “no,” and indicated her doubts that it could be accurate. When I took the F&Gs to a Buffalo Soldier museum, the curator was polite, but I could tell he was skeptical. Luckily, when he saw the finished product, he approved of it and chose to sell it in the museum’s store. That was a true honor for me.

I agree that if the only reason an author puts a diverse character in his story is to meet some kind of quota and he knows nothing about that culture and is not willing to do the research it takes, then it shouldn’t be done. As a Texan I cringe when I see movies or TV shows or read books that are set in Texas and the setting, language, situation, etc. are so totally wrong — mountains on Galveston Island–really? But every now and then someone gets it dead-on right. At that point, I don’t care where the writer or director or whoever came from, if they have it right, then I admire them. It would be unrealistic to have only Texans write stories set in Texas.

There are many cultures or ethnic groups that I would never attempt to write about because I do not feel I could ever get it right. (That includes modern day teens — ha!) That is why I prefer to write historical books, or books set during my childhood or teen years.

I have more to say on this topic, but this blog is already too long. I know it’s been said many times: although there are many differences among diverse groups, we are all brothers and sisters under the skin. Instead of emphasizing differences, I prefer to emphasize the similarities, the things that make all of us human.


copyright 2016 by Sherry Garland

I can’t believe it’s been four months since my last blog! It’s been so long that I can’t remember how to insert photos and use other basic wordpress tools.

As you can tell, I’m not much of a blogger. In fact I took off about two years to “flip a house.” That’s two years of hard manual work seven days a week, six to ten hours per day. And my husband did even more work than me. After completion, the fixer-upper was beautiful and sold after only seven days on the market. However, when you divide the profit by the hours, it came to about $2.00 per hour. My husband was sooo depressed and discouraged. All that work and very little money to show for it.  How could he justify ever trying that venture again?

I just laughed and said:”Welcome to my world. Remember that novel I wrote in 1978, 1979 and 1980? Well, after three years of research, and sweating over the plot and characters, and everything else, it never sold. Hundreds of hours; zero income.  And that YA novel I worked on for two years and never sold. Or that drawer full of unsold picture books and MG novels?” I’m not a slow writer, but I do a lot of research.  Song of the Buffalo Boy (right) took three years to research, but I used that research for several other books, so it was worthwhile.

Sometimes all the research I do and the research books I buy seem to be in vain, but authors are, for better or worse, perpetual optimists. [Or maybe a better word is unrealist, if there was such a word].We seem to keep pushing the boulder up the cliff, no matter how many times it keeps rolling back down. Even the tiniest bit of reward keeps most writers going.  If I see that a publisher bought a book similar to the one I wrote ten years ago, I think, yeah, see I did have a great idea. Now I’m going to pull it out and make it a best seller. So up the cliff I start pushing the boulder again. one time a reviewer called my MG book “harmless.”  I was elated and started working on a sequel.

Well, this has been a blog about nothing.  What I really wanted to write about was how biased some reviewers can be, but that will have to wait for another day.

Happy writing to you all.







copyright 2016 by Sherry Garland

As an author who has written for many different sizes of children’s book publishers, from the largest in the USA to one of the smallest, writers often ask me about the differences among the various publishers.

To be honest, there are pros and cons for both sides of the coin.  Each writer has to consider what he (no, I’m not going to use the singular they) wants in his career.



Pros: Typically you get larger advances and a larger royalty percentage. The BPH has more funds to hire a great, maybe even famous, illustrator for a picture book or for the cover of a novel. The BPH has a copyeditor to check for mistakes, not only in grammar, but in content. If necessary, they sometimes hire a fact checker. The BPH has more funds for promoting you and advertising your book. Typically, the new author gets some hype to help get them launched. Lastly, the BPH has larger copy runs, therefore the potential for making more income is there.

Cons: The BPH is more difficult to breach.  Some require you to have an agent. Once your book is acquired, the BPH will no doubt have many more famous authors than you in the stable, for whom they will dedicate more effort. The BPH will have thousands of books in the inventory, and yours can easily get lost. The BPH  is less forgiving of low sales statistics. If your book does not sell a certain number, the book will go out of print fast and you will not be the darling any longer. They may not acquire any other books from you.



Pros: They are easier to approach and rarely require you to have an agent. Nearly everyone, from sales reps to company president, will know you and your book(s). The print runs are smaller, but the books stay in print for a very long time. To the SPH, sales of 2000, may be considered good, while for a big publisher, sales may have to reach 15,000 or more to be considered good. If your first book doesn’t have record-breaking sales, the SPH is usually still willing to give your next book a chance.

Cons: You will not make much money. Advances are lower, from zero to $2,000, as compared to $5,000 and up for the big publisher. The contract often stipulates that the royalty is on the net price, not list price, making your royalties about half as much as the big publishers offer. The SPH does not have a lot of funds for promotion and advertising.  They expect you to do a lot of that yourself. They do not have funds to hire famous illustrators for picture books and book covers.

Mid-Sized publishers fall between the two above,

Which to Choose?

It depends on what you need at the time.  My first children’s book was a non-fiction book written for a small publisher. I received zero advance, and over the years that it was in print, the total royalties came to about $2,000.  Yet, I jumped at the chance to write it because it became a great credential on my writing resume.  It was the book that allowed me to break into the children’s writing industry. Once you have sold a couple of books for a small press, it becomes easier to obtain an agent or to sell to the larger publishers, if that is what you want to do.

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

I am currently writing a historical series for a small to mid-sized publisher. I don’t make as much money as I did when writing for the big houses, but I enjoy writing historical creative non-fiction, and as I get older, money itself is no longer the most important thing to me, although it is still very nice to have.

Not everyone wants to be rich and famous; some writers want the satisfaction and pride that comes with seeing their name on a book cover. I know an author who has a very wealthy husband. She has written about 100 non-fiction books, and says she doesn’t care much about the money.  She just loves the research and the writing process. And she is happy!

Until next time, keep writing.

Learning Lessons

copyright 2014 by Sherry Garland



I have now officially been a published author for thirty-two years — books that include novels for adults, picture books, YA and MG novels, some non-fiction for both adults and children and a couple of magazine stories. I am the first to admit that I have made many mistakes over the years. Hopefully I’ve learned from the mistakes and haven’t repeated them, although only time will tell. Here are the lessons I’ve learned in three categories: submitting, editing and publication.

Lessons Learned – Submitting:

1) Publishing is a business. Do not get insulted when the editor refers to your beloved book as a “project.” You may be emotionally attached to your work, but the editor has to look at it as something that will make the company money. Today, the sales/marketing department has tremendous influence. For example, if the company already has five books about possums on their list, chances are they will not acquire your possum book no matter how good it is or how much the editor loves it. That is why it’s important to study a publishing company’s list before you submit.



2) Be cool headed when negotiating. When an editor makes you an offer, you may be so excited that you are tempted to say “yes” to anything. Be cool. Take your time. Consult with other authors before you make your decision. Be happy, but also be realistic. You may read about six-figure advances in trade magazines and on the Internet, but most first time authors don’t get paid huge advances. It is staggering how small some of the advances are, and for smaller publishers and some educational presses the advances are tiny or non-existent. This is a true story: a guy who knew nothing about the publishing industry asked me to help him get his novel published because he “was in deep debt and needed to get $50,000 by the end of the year.”

Lessons Learned – Editing/Revising:

1) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like any relationship, there will be give and take between you and the editor. If you have an editor who loves your work totally and agrees with every word written, consider yourself in the Twilight Zone. Of course, the editor is going to make change; that is his/her job. But sometimes you are tempted to argue over things that really aren’t significant. Choose your battles. Fight for that quirky character that the editor wants to cut out, but don’t fight over the color of her socks.

Voices of Dust Bowl

Voices of the Dust Bowl

2) Roll with the punches. Oh yes, there will be lots of punches to the gut in this business. One of the hardest to take is when an editor you adore leaves the publishing company. Here are some  of the reasons my editors have left the publishing houses they were with: got pregnant, decided to become a school teacher, decided to become a children’s author, company went bankrupt, company laid off half its employees, decided to edit only adult literature, moved to another publisher that didn’t like my work, disappeared from the face of the earth and hasn’t resurfaced yet.  All you can do is move on. If you had a good relationship, you can keep in touch in hopes that one day the editor will be looking for the kind of work you write.

Lessons Learned – After Publishing:

1) Re realistic. Unless your book is another Harry Potter, your sales will probably be “acceptable.” The company will earn enough money to make a profit, but it won’t be a blockbuster. You probably won’t be able to quit your day job for awhile. There are exceptions, and it is perfectly okay to think your book is the exception. But in case it isn’t, realize that you are in the same boat with the majority of children’s authors. In fact, many children’s author make more money from school visits that they do with actual book sales.

from Children of the Dragon

Postcard for Children of the Dragon

2) Think twice about advertising. I’ve done the bookmarks, postcards, mail-outs, booth rentals, and so forth. When I purchase postcards, they typically cost about .20 cents each (sometime .12 cents depending on the quantity). My royalty for the book is .45 cents. So, if my handing out ten post cards @ .20 cents each causes the sell of one book, I have a loss of $1.45. Math doesn’t lie. I know some self-published authors who spend lots of money on promotional materials and never get back what they put into it. I will continue making postcards and flyers to hand out, but for the purpose of getting school visits, not for the purpose of selling books.

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Last Lesson: Love it or leave it. There is nothing more gratifying that making a good living at being an author, writing what you love and knowing that a publisher will buy it and people will enjoy reading it. On the flip side of the coin, there is nothing more miserable than working days on end, writing your heart out and never being able to make a decent living at the trade. At some point you have to decide if the joy of writing and being an author outweighs all the bad stuff. I’ve had some fantastic years and some heart-rending years. I’m at the point and age now that I’m not qualified to do anything else, an old dog that only knows one trick, so guess I will keep hanging on and hope for better days. Wishing everyone reading this blog (all three of you!) wonderful success with your writing careers.

Struggling Artists

copyright 2014 by Sherry Garland

I just turned in my completed manuscript for my next historical picture book, VOICES OF THE AMERICAN WEST. One of the people I researched was George Catlin, an American painter who traveled among American Indian tribes in the 1830s and part of the 1840s, painting people and places that 99% of white men had never seen. His contribution to understanding early Native American customs, clothing and living styles is irreplaceable.

However, like so many other artists that are famous today, Catlin had a very hard time making a living. He tried several times to get the Smithsonian to purchase his paintings, but they always declined. You see, although Catlin was doing something that few other artists had done, he was considered a “B” artist because his style was not the accepted one of the day. He went to Europe to sell his paintings and drew great crowds — not to buy his work but to see the Indians he had brought with him. He finally became so poor that he was put in debtors prison and had no money to get back to America. A wealthy American capitalist finally bought Catlin’s paintings. A few years later, after the wealthy patron died, his wife donated the paintings to the Smithsonian. And the Smithsonian gave Catlin a studio to repaint some works that had been destroyed in a fire.

George Catlin  - Buffalo Hunt

George Catlin – Buffalo Hunt

What has this got to do with being an author, you ask. Well, lately it seems like a lot of authors are posting their incomes and bemoaning the fact that it is a struggle to make a living at this craft. I agree with most of what everyone says, but I also add that some of those people posting are receiving advances and incomes a lot higher than the average children’s author does.

So, here’s my advice (for what it’s worth), coming from an author of 31 books who has been published since 1982:

1) Don’t quit your day job until you have enough in savings to last for one year.

2) Be prepared to go back to work when things don’t work out, but don’t give up.

3) Don’t spend all your money when you get it. Your income will fluctuate.

4) Marry someone who has a good paying, steady job with a pension plan and health insurance.

5) Recognize that this job is one of the most insecure in the world; there are no guarantees.

How do I know all this: because I did not do any of the above and my career took a lot of kicks.

1) I quit my day job in 1983 after I had two published  romance novels. We had nothing in savings. I thought I had it made and was on my way to a prosperous career (even though I only received $5,000 advance each, that was the standard of the time). Then my editor quit and the next one didn’t like anything I did. I never sold another romance.

2) Even though I wasn’t selling adult books anymore, I didn’t want to give up my writing career. I became depressed; I piddled around, became involved with helping refugees, and basically didn’t write. Then a huge recession hit Houston and my husband got laid off. Neither one of us could find work, but I clung to wanting to make it as a writer. As a results we lost our house and had to move into a one bedroom apartment.

3) Losing the house was a wake-up call. We both finally found jobs. Instead of moving into a larger place, we stayed in the tiny apartment for seven years, putting everything we could in savings. I decided that my writing career had to be put on the back burner until we could get back on our feet financially. It wasn’t until 1988 that I started writing again, this time for the children’s market. This time I didn’t quit my day job until I had several books under contract.

4. Okay, I admit this one is a bit cynical. My husband had a good job with good insurance but at age 50 he decided to become self-employed like me. He had no pension. And there went the cheap health insurance. Self-employed health insurance for both of us became the single highest monthly expense we had.

5. If anyone tells you being a writer is an easy way to become rich, they are either lying, ignorant, or very lucky. For every J.K. Rowling, there are thousands of authors who make $1000 or less per year. Talent alone is no guarantee that you will make it. And, for those youngsters out there, being rich and even semi-famous is no guarantee that you will continue being that way.

Voices of Gettysburg

Voices of Gettysburg

Voices of the Dust Bowl

Voices of the Dust Bowl

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

I made a great income for many years, not just from book royalties but from author visits. My earnings peaked in 1999, so much so that we were able to move and pay for our house in cash. This was due mainly to my Dear America series books. Once again, I thought  I had it made and once again I was wrong. The Dear America series and historical novels in general bottomed out because of over saturation of the market. New writing genres (supernatural and fantasy) took the place of historical and realistic fiction. Since those are genres that I do not care to write, I went for several years without selling a single book. Each year my income dropped until today it is about the same it was that first year I went into the children’s publishing business in 1989.

And let me tell you this tidbit: editors and agents do not care about how successful you were twenty years ago. They only care about the book you are writing today. However, I am not going to give up. I have been writing a historical picture book series and I’ve noticed that more historical novels are on the market. And you shouldn’t give up either. Just be realistic and realize that there will be many bumps in the road.