Monday, October 21, 2013

Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors

I usually write on this blog when the words build up and I need to hit the release valve. Most of the time I just tap away, trying to get my thoughts down before they disappear. But this time I had a shift, one of those changes-of-angle that I love to feel come over me, even before I began to write.

I have written before about the huge changes in the publishing world. I know I've said, "the gates are down" several times. We writers now have access to routes of publishing that no one has had before. The gatekeepers, those agents and editors and publishers who in the past have given us permission, or not, to get our words out are no longer the final word. There are hybrid publishers who will do much of the same work as a traditional publisher, but require an "author investment". Some of those publishers will publish anything, and lack of selection does affect the marketplace. I have to say, there was a lot of not-so-great writing on shelves before that change in business practices. There is also the mysterious process of self publishing, allowing writers launch their works on Amazon, among other distributors.

A year ago I decided that I am too old to wait for the rejection letters to change their spots. I got some really encouraging help from some big name industry editors, and decided that my picture book was good enough to publish. I felt rebellious and secretly powerful that I could take an alternate route to publishing. I went with a small outfit, one that has a mixed reputation, because I believed the promises they made about what they would do for me. By and large, I like the way the book turned out. The illustrations are cute. And my words are on the amazing gift. I can hold it in my hand.

I've had really good response from teachers and librarians, a book store owner and many friends. But the most affirming reactions have been from children. 

So, what I am writing about? Well, it started to be about the snobbishness that still remains in the industry. I want to shout, "Judge the book! Tell me if you like the book!" when I come up against people who still think a book needs a New York address to be good.  The gates may be down, but that pesky underground electric fence is still zapping writers.  Then, that little voice that reminds me of stuff spoke to me during a Jazzercise routine (some of my best thoughts happen that way) this morning.

I was the one who was rebellious and went with a small publisher. I decided that getting my book out there while I'm still able to drive myself to book signings was worth bucking the system. So, how can I rail against the slings and arrows of people who still believe there is no use reading a book not cut from the Agented Author cloth? Do I care if bookstores turn up their noses at a signing request? Of course I do. Does that mean I'll give up? Of course not. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The really nice owner of a great independent bookstore in Salt Lake City, Weller Book Works, gave me some great advice. She said that the success of my book depends on getting it into the hands of families. However that happens, whatever roads I take to make it happen, that is the point of writing a picture book. Anything that falls into place as a result of children hearing this book is gravy.  Ms Weller's advice is very important to me because it is an affirmation. She took a chance on me and Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane. And she liked us.

I am not writing to complain, I'm writing to remind myself that there are certain things about this book business that I can control. Like being willing to put myself and my book out there when possible. The rest of the stuff, like anyone else's agenda, I can let go of. Weight off my mind, believe me. Wouldn't it be a burden to believe that I was actually in control of another person's thoughts?

Whether you have a book you want to write, or whether you have other dreams and goals that seem fenced in by rules of engagement, I hope you will brave that little zap you feel stepping over the electric fence. Believing in yourself is still the only requirement for taking the next step. And, it truly could be that getting a little zap now and then keeps us alert and alive. Courage, my fence jumpers. Courage.

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