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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.

BIG PUBLISHING HOUSE (BPH)

LotusSeedjpeg

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.

SMALL PUBLISHING HOUSE  (SPH)

VOWF--cover

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

from THE LOTUS SEED

from THE LOTUS SEED

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.

Possum

Possum

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.

Happy Holidays

copyright 2013 by sherry Garland

IMG_0101

Looks Like November slipped by without me posting a blog. November is often the busiest time of the year for children’s authors because that seems to be the month that so many schools are seeking authors to speak to  students. Then, of course, December is a busy month because of holiday activities. These are my excuses and I’m sticking to ’em.

Because I have a manuscript due on February 1, I will not be posting anything informative or enlightening for Decembr, either.  It will be a mad, mad rush to meet that deadline.

So, I’ll just wish everyone Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year. May 2014 be the year when you sell that blockbuster, that award-winner, that will change your life.

A welcome banner

A welcome banner

 

School Visits – Part III

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland                                                            

Once you have agreed to do an author visit (either by phone, letter, or e-mail), now it’s time to work on the “technical” aspects of the project.  

The most important next step is to get the agreement in writing to avoid any misunderstandings.  Send the school a contract right away.  

►CONTRACT or  CONFIRMATION  LETTER should include the follow basic info:

1)         Date of school visit

2)         Number of presentations per day and the title of the presentations

3)         Grade levels of the audience and approximate size

4)         Honorarium fee

4)         Travel arrangements (specify number of nights in hotel; mileage costs if you are driving)

5)         Provision for meals

6)         Your address, phone & fax, e-mail address

7)         A Form W-9 that includes your Social Security number (or Federal ID #)

8)         Total amount due and when payment is due (usually on day of visit)

Your contract can be long and complicated, covering every little possible thing that may go wrong, or it can be very simple. My contract is only one page, but I also include a cover letter and additional information about the programs, the set-up, equipment needed and other “techinical aspects.” of the visit.

Send two signed copies of your contract plus SASE so the school can easily return a signed copy. If the school has its own contract or any other kinds of paperwork, request that these be taken care of well before the day of the school visit. Read the school’s contract carefully.  If there is a clause that says they own the rights to your presentation, strike that clause.

 ►THINGS  TO  REQUEST  FROM  THE  SCHOOL:

1)         Request to approve the final schedule (don’t forget to include set-up time and breaks!!!)

2)         Request telephone numbers of contact (both at school and home)

3)         Request information regarding selling of books and autographing

4)         Request that students prepare by becoming familiar with author’s work

5)         Request accurate directions to school (if you are driving) & where to park

6)         Request that someone meet you at the door & show you to the speaking location

►THINGS  AUTHOR  SHOULD  PROVIDE

1)        List of special equipment needs – AV, chairs, tables, easels, blackboards, microphones

2)         Promotional kit with recent photo, bio, copies of reviews, etc.

3)         List of author’s books, ISBN #s, publisher’s addresses & phone numbers.

4)         Some authors provide a reproducible autographed sheet so librarian can make book marks for students.

5)         List of special food requirements

6)        Home and cell phone numbers

Signing books

Signing books

  ►SELLING  AND  AUTOGRAPHING  OF  YOUR  BOOKS

One of the greatest things about an author visit is the signing of books. Typically, an author does not charge a fee for autographing done in conjunction with a school visit. But do request that the librarian has included time for autographing in the schedule. You should not have to stay until 5 PM autographing books sold at the last-minute. The librarian should provide a sturdy table for signing, preferably in a quiet area of the library.

Here are the three main ways that book sales are handled at an author visit:

1)  Librarian orders books from publisher or book jobber.  Librarian sends a list home with students who bring their money to school and buy books before your arrival. Each book will have a slip of paper inside with the child’s name and desired inscription. Sometimes there is a cut-off date and no books will be sold on the day of the author visit. When you arrive at the school, you autograph the books throughout the day during your various breaks (or in your hotel room). You do not meet the students. Signed books are distributed later.

2)  Same as above, only students wait in line for the author to autograph the purchased books. Sometimes the librarian allows students to purchase books on the day of the author’s visit. With this method, the librarian may set aside an hour for just autographing. This method is more exciting to the students, or for authors who like to meet their audience, but it is hectic and it takes more time.

3)  Author provides books. With methods 1 & 2 above, you do not have to worry about any money transactions yourself.  It is all handled by the librarian or PTO. However, if you are providing your own books you will probably have to do some money-handling. You can ask the librarian to pre-sell them or you can have students buy them directly from you on the day of your visit.  Such sales transactions can become tricky because of state sales taxes and because of the possibility of checks bouncing. Either way, the librarian will need to know the titles & prices of your books. You will need to know the number of copies to bring.

►FOLLOW  UP  AFTER  SCHOOL  VISIT

Donate one of your books to the school library as a gesture of appreciation. Mail a thank you note. If you are in another state, you may want to give the librarian a small souvenir of  your home state. Also, thank any library assistant or parent who helped a lot. If they are students, an autographed card or bookmark is usually appreciated. Promptly answer fan letters from students or teachers. If you feel it was an especially good school visit, ask the librarian to give a quote than can be used on future promotional materials.

Waiting for the program

Waiting for the program to start

EXAMPLE OF A GREAT SCHOOL VISIT

 1.   School contacts author at least three months in advance.

2.   Author mails contract within a week. Author also sends a list of books, promotional materials, photograph

3.   School returns the signed copy of contract, plus any required paperwork

4.   Librarian notifies teachers of author visit

5.   Teachers assign author’s book or at least read parts of it to the students

6.   Students do projects related to the author visit – banners, posters, artwork

7.   Librarian orders books to be sold well in advance

8.   School makes arrangements for hotel and pays in advance

9.   Librarian and teachers make displays related to author’s books. Students put out a welcome banner

10.  Librarian decides eating arrangements ahead of time

11.  If you are driving, librarian sends you accurate, easy to follow directions

12.  Librarian sends letter to parents with price list for books

13.  Custodians are informed of what needs to be done; AV equipment is located

14.  Teachers explain the etiquette of being a good listener to students

15.  Students bring money for books. Order slips with desired inscriptions are placed inside books. An autographing area is designated.

16.  Author arrives in town.  Hotel room is reserved and paid for. It is clean and quiet.

17.  Author arrives at school on time (either picked up or driving)

18.  Author is greeted by librarian or assistants. Students help author carry in materials, if need be. The speaking area is clean and available.

19.  Speaking room has the equipment, tables, etc. that author requested

20.  Author sets up table and tests equipment – everything works!!!

21.  Librarian provides the author with beverage and shows her the wash room

22.  Students and teachers assemble on time in an orderly manner.

23.  Librarian makes a brief introduction of 1-2 minutes.

24.  Author presents an appealing program that keeps students interested

25.  Students pay attention. They do not talk, shout out of turn, fight, pass notes, punch each other, throw things, or make inappropriate comments. Any student misbehaving is removed from the room unobtrusively. Teachers do not interrupt the program to yell at students.

26.  Teachers pay attention. They do not talk among themselves, grade papers, or fall asleep. They keep a watchful eye on trouble-makers.

27.  No parent or teacher stands in the aisle videotaping author presentation  (still shots are usually okay)

28.  Students ask pertinent questions, not personal ones like “how old are you?

29.  Students do not swarm author afterwards asking for autographs on hands, shirts, casts, or bits of paper. Students, parents, teachers do not thrust a manuscript into author’s hands and ask for a critique

30.  If author is taken out to lunch, party returns in plenty of time for next program

31.  Time is allowed between each presentation for author to catch her breath, use restroom, get a drink, etc.

32.  Autographing is smooth and orderly

33.  Author is paid in full before she leaves

34.  Everyone is happy.

There are many other kinds of speaking engagements, for example, giving a speech at a conference, at a public library, or at a writer’s conference. Fees vary, but the basic rules still apply.  Good luck and happy visiting!!

 

Students Love Interesting Props

School Visits — Part 2

copyright 2013 by Sherry Garland

There are basically two types of author presentations: those that entertain and those that inform.  The best programs have a good mix of both.

ENTERTAINMENT: Entertainment programs include things like musical instruments and singing, puppets, tall tales, dressing in costume, telling jokes, reading funny poetry or funny stories, and doing various antics that keep the kids laughing. This type of program is most often geared toward the younger audiences preK-2 and often includes a lot of student participation.

INFORMATIVE: An informative program will teach students something, either about a certain subject or about writing. This kind of program includes props, slide shows (PowerPoint), explanations and answering questions. A program about American history or a writing workshop falls under this category. These programs are geared toward older students, grades 3-12, and adult. Programs for high school and adult audiences usually have less student participation.

COMBINATION: The best programs are both informative and entertaining. There will be enough entertainment to keep the kids interested, yet they will be learning something at the same time. For example, I do a program about Texas History that includes many props and artifacts and dressing up of students in historical costumes as I talk about the topic. For my LOTUS SEED program, I bring lots of props from Vietnam, have several demonstrations, show slides, and talk about immigrants.

1.   SUBJECTS FOR AUTHOR PROGRAMS: Typical Presentations:

“What It’s Like to be an Author” (or illustrator) — slides of your office, research sites, etc.

“A Program about Writing/ Making Books” — steps author goes through to create a book from idea to finished product

“Program about the subject matter of your book”

“Writing Workshops” (smaller group, with writing exercises)

2.  LENGTH OF PROGRAM:

pre-K-2 lasts about 20-30 minutes + Q&A; grades 3 and up lasts about 45-50 minutes + Q&A.

3. IN A NUTSHELL

A Typical School visit Set-up

–Don’t just stand there and read your book – anyone can do that

–Use visual aids – slides, artifacts, props, puppets, funny hats, art work

–Involve students – have demonstrations; use volunteers; ask the audience some questions

–End program with questions from the audience

HOW MUCH TO CHARGE

An author’s fees will include the honorarium, lodging (if required) and transportation cost (airplane, automobile). Honorarium fees vary widely. Typically the more famous the author, the higher the fee because that person’s time is considered more valuable. However, this is not always the case. Also, fees vary depending on how bad the author wants the gig.  For example, if you have relatives in Chicago, you might decide to accept an author visit there even though the honorarium is below what you normally charge. On the other hand, you may decide you really don’t want to go to Chicago, so you raise the fee to compensate. Lastly, most authors give the schools a multi-visit discount.  for example, if you speak at only one school, you may charge $800, but if you are speaking to five schools, you may drop that fee to $700. You have to weigh your desire for income against your lack of desire to speak to a room full of twisty kids.

If you are a beginner with only one book (unless it is a Newbery winner!!!), you usually start out low and gradually raise your fees as you publish more books and become more famous. Test your presentations on a couple of schools for free so you will have a good feel for what happens.

Some authors charge a set fee for each presentation, for example $250 for one, $500 for two, $750 for three and $1000 for four. Others charge one price for a half-day and one price for a full day, no matter how many presentations are given. I personally do not give more than four presentations per day because my voice goes out and my feet hurt too much.

In Part 3, I will talk about the technical aspects of the author visit, equipment, schedules, selling books, craziness and some examples of memorable school visits.

 

 

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