Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: December 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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