Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Searching for the Title

(This is the seventh article in a series recounting my experiences in publishing my next book. You can find the rest under the "Publishing a Book Series" tag.)

Just about all my book titles have two things in common: there was another “working title” before it and I came up with the final title while in my bed. So often they come to me in the night and even now, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the lack of outer stimulation when my mind is finally quiet enough that the right words have the space to come into my conscious awareness. Whatever it is, it’s developed into a rather mystical habit.

This book has been without a title of any kind thus far. Two or three months ago, there was a title I’d thought of (not in my bed) that I bounced off my editors and a close friend. None of them liked it. Frankly, I was disappointed as I thought it was a good title but I decided to listen to the people I trust and wait for the right title to come along. Then, last night as I was praying beside my bed and talking to God about what I had been learning at a workshop this weekend, the title appeared in my head. There is no other way to explain it – it was just suddenly there and it clicked: Finding Love’s Way. The words encapsulate so much of what I’ve been learning while writing this book and it’s a title I feel I can flesh out with the words inside. The book and title seem to belong together.

When considering a title, I always go on Amazon first and search for it so I know what kinds of books have the same or a similar title. Not a lot came up relating to Finding Love’s Way and certainly no direct matches. I also Googled the title and the only match was an event in California advertised on Facebook that took place last week. I took this as a great sign.

My next step was to ask my editors what they thought and this is what I received back: “I really like that title!” and “Love it! Beautiful wording!” I’ll be asking my close friend about it, too, when I get a chance.

Finding Love’s Way has been, and continues to be, an incredible journey of discovery and growth. Through all the angst and joy in every line of every poem I’m learning what it means to love with no limits and no expectations. It’s a book with a message, even more so than the first three were. It’s a book full of questions and the answer doesn’t come until the end where everything is thrown up into the air and the one truth remains: to learn to love yourself and God unconditionally and to then love others unconditionally: this is the truest, most real, and the greatest beauty ever known.

There is a deep part of me now at peace. With this title. I not only have a book, but I have a purpose as well. I’d had the sense while writing the book that the theme, the story, would become apparent as it came together and I’d find it at some point, hopefully, before publication. And now that I have, I can go back to all I’ve written and refine it, polish it up with its part of the story in mind. I feel like the book has just burst open and a whole new level of enthusiasm has ignited my writer’s and publisher’s heart. I’m now excited to write the last parts and to bring it all together.

One of the things I’ve learned through this process is I oughtn’t be afraid to wait for the right title to come along. Like naming a child, the title is going to be around for a very long time so I want to make sure it suits the material well.  However, even now, I don’t know if this is the final title. This could, in the end, turn out to be the working title. I may yet come up with an even better title as the book comes together and I get to know the overarching story. Time will tell.

It will be exciting to see how things come together in the coming months!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Where's the Focus? - Publishing a Book Series

For this book thus far, I’ve been writing whatever comes to mind, whatever message has to get out at the time. I know the book is about love and there are a lot of water references in it (a theme my editors pointed out to me) but it was all mixed together with no conclusion. The words weren’t going anywhere. Something was still missing.
It was at this point I met with a friend, not about the book but to just talk about life and God – not that the two can, in truth, be separated.  Before we left, she told me this: “If you’re upset, lower your expectations.” At first I laughed because it sounds so funny and also because I had recently reread a favorite book of mine, The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, who says the same exact thing, albeit in different words. The idea is to know there is unconditional love within yourself – all the love you need – and thus you don’t have requirements on the love of others. You then learn to love yourself and others unconditionally without expectations. It’s a beautiful and freeing way to live. And I’m still working on it. So when my friend shared this wisdom with me, it was a shock to my system to realize I had the focus for my book all along: learning to love unconditionally. That was the answer, that’s the conclusion. 

Nearly two weeks later, I found out Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., an author in his own right who is carrying on the Toltec wisdom writings his father began, was giving a workshop that very weekend an hour away from where I live. It was as if a huge sign was in front of my face proclaiming in blinking lights, “This is where you need to be.” I have found when God wants you to go somewhere, it’s really hard to ignore. But in this case, I didn’t need to be told twice. These books have made a huge difference in my life and I was enthusiastic to learn more.  The truths he spoke of were also ones I’ve really needed to hear lately and he spoke to precisely where I’ve been at. It was like water to my parched throat after months in the desert. I came away from that time with a lot of truths to think about and soak in along with new tools to use in living my life. I also came away with a much better handle on what my book is all about and where I want to take it at the end.
Every book needs a focus. Every book should be able to be summed up in a sentence or two. Find it, shape the book around it, and your writing will be far better for having a point. Unconditional love is my point.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Questioning Author - Publishing a Book Series

Do all authors think the book they’re working on is crap at some point in the writing stage? I’m beginning to suspect most authors struggle with this at some point and I have recently been finding my place among them. Are these ideas worth following, worth exploring? Are these words worth writing down? And what’s more, how are these struggles of my own ever going to help someone else?

I look at the collection of poems I have thus far – 106 of them – and shake my head in disbelief. The lines laying across the pages are filled to overflowing with my heartache, with my longing for God, conversations we have, with the love I feel for the people around me which is so much bigger than myself that it leaves me staggering to my knees, and with unanswered questions and hungers still hanging out there with my arms open wide. How is this mess of myself ever going to be a mosaic of deeper truths?

I learned a couple of books ago that I am not the best judge of my own work. While I have my own personal favorites, those poems usually aren’t the ones that resonate most widely with other people. In fact, it’s usually the poems I just had to get off my chest, the ones I spilled out between tears and pink eraser bits, the words I howled to the wind as I stood on my soapbox crying out to the wilderness, people tell me they find incredibly meaningful. These are usually the same poems I come close to not including in a book as they are just too personal. Luckily for those who read my books, my editors play defense around the trash can, convincing me to keep those words in the collection. Though I well know by now they are right, every time I get to this stage of putting a book together, I am right back there trying to find a gem among those 106 poems and wondering if it even exists. My editors tell me, indeed, these words are absolutely worth publishing but I just don’t see it right now.

My lack of self-grandiosity, of not thinking my work is a gift to the world, is, I believe, needed for any author about to publish and is thus why I’m not too concerned about my own opinion but am trusting my editors instead. I’ve opened my heart and shared what’s in it. It get’s riskier every time I do it. But writing and sharing thusly is vital to the core of who I am so I keep coming back and laying it all out there hoping someone will come along, hear the words, and find something worth holding onto. Robert Hughes understood this when he said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” If we were always confident about our writing, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. A true artist is always pushing themselves to be better at what they do, more creative and more daring. They question their work and it’s that push, that questioning journey that helps others ask questions of their own.

So I stand here with a question for myself: would I ever want to know the full effect my words have? And the answer quickly comes – I don’t – at least not in this expression of life. I love feedback as most any author does. It feels incredible to know the seeds I planted in the ground have born fruit of their own and it inspires me to keep going. But would I want to know the full effect of where all those seeds have traveled? I don’t think so. I want to continue questioning my work. I want to keep asking myself if it’s worth publishing. I want editors who will push back and tell me to do it anyway even when I want to hold back. I want to take the risk of vulnerability, of being real. If I wasn’t, if I hid away and never said what is bursting inside me to be said, I think I would explode. I have to say it. I have to share it. And if I have to get over myself to do it, then so be it. The words were never ultimately meant for me anyway.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Place to Play - Publishing a Book Series

As writers, we usually don’t get to see into each other’s creative process. We see the final product or perhaps a semi-polished version read aloud in a writer’s group, but rarely do we get a peek at the raw material.

My rough drafts come out of my writing notebook. To make it, I decorated a composition book with a collage of pictures meaningful to me and covered it all with contact paper to protect it. There are pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Amsterdam, an elephant, and a forest covered in snow. They remind me of places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. There are also words pasted on: “Places to play,” “Let your voice be heard,” and “Forever Art” to inspire me.

Ever since I made it, it’s been the notebook I pick up whenever I want to write a new poem or when I long to explore an idea. The edges are now dog-eared and worn. The notebook has gone wherever I’ve traveled and is often in my workbag when I go about my day. Many of the poems from my third poetry book can be found here as well as many going into the fourth. Some of them are easy to read while others are covered with arrows, words crossed out, and writing on the side to the point only I can decipher the final lines. My editors, when looking at the notebook, commented on how my writing is shockingly small. There are bits of phrases scattered here and there in the margins – phrases I heard on the radio, read in a book, or thought of myself that I wanted to use as ideas for later. It’s my continual source of inspiration.

I love this notebook. I can pour into it my thoughts and feelings and only type out on my computer what is worth developing. As a writer, this notebook is where my heart is. It’s become like a highly valued friend and I know when I open it, I am completely free to be myself. I can experiment, try new ideas, and write about whatever themes I want.

This raw creativity is where a writer should start: a place where you are free to be yourself and express what is inside. Jack London once said: “Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”

For some reason, writing a poem in my notebook is easier than on a computer. I love refining a poem as I type it up in Word but the raw material always feels better to me written in pencil between my mosaic of pictures. Every writer has their own way of doing things. They find what works for them. Having a notebook in which to spill it all out as if to a friend is mine.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lessons Learned from Printing My Books - Publishing a Book Series

As great an experience as publishing is, I learn a lot every time I go to print, lessons I put into practice with subsequent books. I thought these lessons would be for myself alone until a high school student approached me asking if I would mentor her for her senior project. She reminded me a bit of myself at that age except even brighter and more put together. So I took what I learned and shared those lessons with her. It was a gift to pass them on to such a gifted artist in her own right and her book came out beautifully. Here is some of what I told her in relation to the physical printing of books:

  • Find  a good printer specializing in books. For my first and second printings of my first book, I used a local print shop that specialized in making copies. I did this because it’s what a fellow author did and I was so green behind the ears, I didn’t think to look at my options. This shop, not being very familiar with books, put the first page as the last page and though they gave me a discount for the mistake, I was quite disappointed. Not quite learning this lesson, I used a different print shop for the second title but wasn’t really satisfied with that resulting book either. Though it was an improvement with a color cover, I realized later they hadn’t told me about some of the other printing options – options I would have gone with had I known. By the time I was working on redesigning the first two books, I knew I needed something far better than what I’d found thus far. That is how I came across Gorham Printing and I’ve loved their company every since. They are small, family run, relatively local, and they have gone out of their way to help me out time and time again. I really appreciate the quality of their work, they know the business, and so I recommended them to the young woman I mentored. They have handled all my printing since. They key here is to shop around and find a company you like – not just the product but the people as well.

  • Design a full color cover. My first cover was a cardstock cover with black ink. Though self-publishing was still very much on the sidelines at the time, I could have done a lot better than that. Again, I just didn’t question what else could be done. I made that change with the second book and couldn’t wait to go back and redesign a new cover for the first. I would now recommend having a cover professionally designed because I’ve seen so many unprofessional covers that just look awful. Though I now have some of the needed skills to design a cover myself, I hire a graphic designer as she comes up with ideas I would have never thought of that look fantastic.

  • Always check the final proofs. I know first-hand how tired you are of looking at your book by the time it’s ready to go to the printer. You have to look at it again anyway with a detached eye. In my first book’s first printing, there were some lines of a poem missing because I only saw what I expected to see or I didn’t look closely enough. You have to check it again. You will regret it if you don’t. Doing this before the book was reprinted the second time, I caught the same printer’s mistake. Thinking I had made a mistake, they put that first page in the back of the book again. To this day, I do not know why they thought a title page should be in the back but I am sure glad I checked. Gorham has done this right every time.

  • Leave room in your deadlines. I know it’s tempting to work down to the very last possible moment but I urge you not to do it. Gorham has been great when I’ve designed a book for someone who needs it back fast but, in general, leave lots of time. When I printed In His Eyes, the local print shop’s copier for the covers had broken down and they had already put off the job to the last moment. I was supposed to have a book release party either that night or the next day and I had no books. Being stubborn and determined, I drove the paper to another location of theirs forty-five minutes away, had them print the covers there, and drove them back to have everything bound. I still shake my head at this experience and will never repeat it. Now, when I’m getting a book ready to go to print, I call Gorham and ask them about their current lead time so I can add some extra time just in case.

  • Always get printed proofs from the printer. Whether or not you have artwork in the book, this is a vital step. You will notice things you did not see before and if you have pictures in grayscale or color, this is especially important. The original proofs for my third poetry book were too dark and I was glad I saw those proofs before they were all printed. You also want to take a look at color to make sure you like how the ink turns out on the printed page.

  • Always be gracious and polite with whomever you’re working. Yes, that first printer made a mistake but I still needed to be kind – yet firm. More people will want to help you when you’re nice to them. Once you find a printer you like, value the relationship. It will pay dividends down the road.

I haven’t yet made the printing decisions for this book. Those choices will be made later on after I figure out what this book needs. As the first three poetry books were a trilogy, I stayed with the same style and printing choices. This next one, though, stands on it’s own and so it can look different from the others. I’m excited to see what that look will be.

Check out the first two posts in this series:
Behind the Scenes
Delving into Publishing
These posts can be originally found at Stories to Tell.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Diving Into Publishing - Publishing a Book Series

You’ve been working on some writing and are considering the possibility of self-publishing down the road, but it looks like a large, unmanageable jungle. You’re not sure where to even start and thus ask a question I often hear, “How did you start publishing?”

This is a story that goes back to when I started writing in junior high school as a way to express the feelings I didn’t have the courage to say aloud. I wrote pages to God to share all the angst in my heart and poems about the world and those I loved within it. It was a way to get things out and to process my thoughts. These habits of journaling and writing poetry stayed with me through high school and on into college. When I was particularly proud of a poem I wrote, I would share it with those around me.

After graduation, friends told me they wanted to read more of my poetry so I collected it all and made three copies to circulate around. It was not enough and I was looking for a solution when I met another poet at the Salem, Oregon Art Fair’s Author Table. We hit it off and she extended an invitation to visit her and find out more about self-publishing. At her house, she told me about ISBN numbers, editing, illustrators, copyright, and obtaining a Library of Congress Number. She told me where she had her books printed and showed me more of her own work.

Being poor, I didn’t have much money to pay for such a project so I asked the people who wanted me to publish if they would be willing to buy the book before it was printed. They were. I added some of my own money, hired an artist friend for the illustrations, and recruited another friend who designed a church newsletter to help me layout the pages. We spent hours and hours in a small room figuring out all the little and not so little problems of laying out a book and when we were finally done, I took the files to a copy shop to have the books printed.

It was a fantastic feeling to hold a book in my hands that I wrote and I am still immensely proud of my much younger self for opening up her writing to the world and for having the courage and determination to see the project through at a remarkably young age. People liked the book and with the extra copies I sold, I had enough money to reprint a second edition. With the money earned from that printing, I printed the second book and so on. Each time I print a new book, whether it’s one I wrote or someone else’s work, I learn something new. I would, of course, make some different choices if I went back to do it again, but I would never tell myself not to publish the book. Even as amateurish as that first book looked, I would still give myself the go ahead for it has meant something to the people who read it – far more than I would have ever thought possible when I first wrote it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Behind the Scenes - Publishing a Book Series

Note: As part of my work with Stories to Tell, I'm starting a series of blog posts about the writing and publishing of my next book. I'll still be posting about other topics as well, but this will be an ongoing story over the next year. This is a new kind of writing for me as writing and publishing is usually a behind-the-scenes effort but here I'll be bringing it out to center stage. You will be able to find all the posts under the label "Publishing a Book Series." If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will respond to them. I'm looking forward to sharing this with you!

The original blog post can be found here on the Stories to Tell website.

It’s the question so many people ask. As writers, I’m sure you know what it is. It’s the question that brings both great delight and great discomfort. It’s the question that makes us smile with pride yet also makes us suddenly shy. It’s the coaxing out of information we tend to clutch tightly to our chests. The one we are secretly longing to be asked.

“So how’s the book going?”

There it is. What do we say? Do we tell them what we’re writing about, what stage the book is in, what we want it to become? I’ve been asked this question recently by my editors, by the baristas at my favorite coffee shop, and by a friend while I was visiting her house. I actually love to be asked this question as it keeps me accountable to keep writing and it gives me opportunity to share about a topic I love.

Here at “Stories to Tell,” we know many of you are going through the same process of writing, editing, and publishing your book so we thought it would be fun and informative if we created a blog series around the process of me putting my book together. You’ll get to come along on the journey as I figure out what writing I want to include, what to do about illustrations, printing, working with editors, and just how this thing is going to come together. As this is my fifth book, I’ll also be going back and talking about other things I’ve learned while publishing the first four.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll respond to them in the next post!

Welcome aboard!