Would You Invite A Magician

My career as an author kicked off January 2016 when my first book, Step One, Step Two Step Three and Four was born.

I found myself hungry. To do anything to get my name out there. For children to hold one of my books. I applied for everything. I booked myself for my first gig at the Louisiana Book Festival. I thought a hundred dollars for a table was cheap. I’ll make it back, easy. I traveled alone for two and a half hours. I was in a great mood and could feel my box of books being emptied in a few hours.

When I got there the school seemed a bit small but no biggie. The area was active with people. I was set up across from a woman who could sell a stinky sock. She was good. Too good. Reeling them in like a fish. She had crowns and dolls and gift bags. The gal to the left of me was from the area. She had a handful of books. I sat there with my one soft cover. So in four hours I sold three. I was devastated. The gal to the left saw the look on my face. She said, “Don’t let this get you down.” How could I not? I drove 2.5 hours one way. Not to mention my time.

Did I learn my lesson? No. I wanted more. I split a booth with some writers for the TLA conference. I didn’t think it was bad since it was a double split. I could make it up. I sold enough to pay for my booth. It didn’t cover parking, lunch, tolls and gas. I made connections but didn’t get school visits out of it. I did find my publisher through it though!

I signed with a publisher for My Big Tree. Now I had two books to sell. I went to events where I was lucky I was covering my gas. Some instances I made 2.00 and hour. My 19 yo daughter was making more than me waiting tables. Did I learn my lesson? Nope not yet.

I had a gig that offered free booth space. Did I say free? That was my ticket. I’ll score big. Thirty minutes into my three hour drive I thought, what am I doing.  Next exit I was turning back. Then I realized I was speaking at this event. No, not paid. They got me for free. I arrived. The scenery was beautiful in the hill country. I set up my two books. Texas Authors set up their display across from me. It looked like they opened up a book store. I thought this wouldn’t be so bad. It would draw customers in. People listened to my plug on my books. I sold 15. It would’ve been a good day if I was in my territory not three hours away from home. I cursed myself on the drive home. What was I thinking?

I’m working weekends now which I said I’d never do. My family says i’m never home. Something had to change. I felt I was doing this all wrong. Then I started thinking. My time is valuable. It’s worth something. I decided I had to be VERY selective on my choices where and when I promoted my books.

I recently gave up a gig I enjoyed but it killed two hours of my day, without pay and some days without a sale. It didn’t make good business sense. The business had me for free and I had to work to sell a book which wasn’t happening often. Also, a friend of a friend asked me to entertain children with my books. I could’ve done the gig with the chance I’d sell a book. A Saturday night, away from my family and the possibility of selling my books. I had follow through with change.  I gave my fees for my time. She was surprised I’d be asking for a fee. I wanted to write back, “Would you invite a magician to a party and not pay them for their time?”

Book Store Visits, You Never Know

I love them!

I arrived to find my picture poster plastered in the children’s section of the store. I couldn’t believe it. Me, in Barnes & Noble.I felt like a movie star with the red carpet and all. My books displayed across the table. The manager had a plate of cookies at the corner for my little guests.

The store manager greeted me. Chris spoiled me and bought me my morning latte. Hey, it didn’t hurt that my gig had a Starbucks attached to it. And it wasn’t just any old Starbucks. It was the gourmet ones that carry cannolis!

The children started to arrive. Barnes & Noble was my opening act. They are required to read a book from their shelf before you go on. Then it was my turn. A dad helped me bring my supplies to the stage.

I wasn’t nervous and dived right into my book My Big Tree. My teaching background kicked in and it felt like second nature. I was addicted. I read my second book, Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four and got a chuckle from the audience. That made my day. Afterwards my second love kicked it up a notch and I was in craft mode. I wanted to stay and do more with the kids. But in a blink, it was over.

Afterwards, I stationed myself behind the table and waited for my first signing. The dad, from earlier, came to my table with his wife and two boys. He said, “I was very impressed and loved the books.” I thanked him.  He then introduced himself. “I’m an elementary school principal and my wife is a junior high teacher. Do you do school visits? I’d really love to see you in my school and get the other surrounding schools to book you.” I thought, Can this really be happening? Internally, I thought, Wow, you never know who you might be talking to. So I learned to always be on my “A” game, be polite and open for anything. Who knows, next time it could be a film agent. Ha!

Toenails For Sale

Someone congratulated my husband recently on my successes as a writer. He said, “You can quit your job and go fishing all day now.” My husband laughed it off and thought, If he only knew. And my book ledger proves his thought. My husband shakes his head at my career choice. Last night he said, “You’d make more money selling your toe nails on the street corner.” I laughed. I probably could. I could make a caboodle amount of money with the amount of hours I put in to a real paying job. I think about the countless hours I spend on my laptop. But I’m not a unique writer. All writers go beyond the Monday through Friday 9-5 work week.  We spend many hours behind our desk. Typing on the couch. Writing on the train. Taking our laptop on vacations. Using our weekends for book signings and book festivals. Somedays I feel like one of thse kiosk people with the cart at the mall you try to run away from. “No, thank, I’m good,” I tell them.

Mack Collier  states, “The amount of your advance will not come close to covering the amount of time it will take you to write the book.”  Let’s assume that you spend just 10 hours a week on writing your book, and that it takes you a total of 8 months to finish it.  That’s 320 hours you have invested in writing this book.  Assuming you get a $5,000 advance, that means your hourly rate for writing the book was $15.63.  This doesn’t count for the time we put into marketing and promotion.

Then why do we write?

Authors create books for many reasons. Here in the chart you can see a writer’s greatest reason is to entertain. The least reason is for fame. why-writers-write2Where on the chart does it say to become rich? Well, I’m going to let you know if you’re not a big named author chances are slim. Authors are usually supplementing their income with school visits, speaking engagements and whatever other creative ways to make a buck. Yet, one would think, you’re an author, you’re banking. Truth be told. You are broker than broke. When they say, “Don’t give up your day job,” they mean it.

You make a decision at some point in your writing career which route you plan to take. First to agent or not to agent. That’s a choice. Do you need to have an agent to be published? No. Why did I? I threw my fishing line into the pond and caught the fish. I had an agent for two years. While I enjoyed sitting back and waiting on a yes or no from editors. I waited. And waited. And waited. Two years of no control. Not knowing what was happening day to day. While I found having an agent very prestigious, the waiting game for me gave me ants in the pants. Don’t get me wrong. I loved saying I had an agent.I loved my agent. It made me feel someone other than myself believed in my work. But I hated the wait. Did I say hated? Also, you need to come to terms when you land a book deal your agent gets 15% right off the top.

If you are accepted by a publisher you feel you’ve hit the jackpot. Big house, advance. Small house, likely no advance. But you have a contract.When we are accepted by a publishing house we’re offered an advance between 1,000-10,000. The advance will vary. Don’t be fooled though. The advance must be paid back through book sales. Yes, an author doesn’t get a dime (royalties) until you’ve acquired sales to pay back or earn your entire advance. Meaning your advance is 1,000 you must acquire 1,000 dollar in book sales. Now stick with me here. When a book sells in the store for $16.00 the author doesn’t get the entire $16.00 toward their advance. They get a very small percentage. After the advance is paid either as a percentage of the price of the book or as a percentage of publishers net receipts which vary from publisher to publisher then you earn a royalty. There are numerous different types of royalties that may be paid at different rates. So for example, if an novel book is listed at $25.00, that means that if your contract says you get 10% royalties off list, then you will get $2.50 per book.  If you are getting 10% of net profits, common practice with a small press, then you’d get around $1.25 per book.  Let’s say you get a $3,000 advance for your book and you get 10% royalties net profit, and the book’s list price is $16.00. That means you are making $1.25 per book, and that you will need to sell 4,000 copies of your book just to break even.  It can take a lifetime of the book to sell that many books. The average US non-fiction book sells about 250 copies a year and around 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Some will never earn a royalty because their book has not earned out. Then we haven’t even talked about those bins where the book has been discounted to half-price. Eek! So if you’re making $1.25 or $2.50 off a book think about how many books it would take to pay back a 3,000 advance. If you built a good following than you might get it paid off a lot quicker.

Now the picture book market is crazy competitive. Are we making a Jimmy Fallon salary? Nada. Wait did he even write that twenty word book? A picture book author makes 3-6% off retail with big name publishers. If the book sells for $16.00 you will get the 3-6% off the selling price. With a small press it’s usually the average offer is 10-15% off net profit. So it’s not off of the $16.00. It’s the profit after the expenses are paid and its what’s left. Have you figured out the numbers yet? So if you the reader goes into the store and pick up a picture book for $16.00. That author is making somewhere between .16-.85 cents. Maybe slightly more. Yes, the author is making that much off your purchase. Someone’s making the money. It’s just not the author. Sad but true. This might help.


Image result for bug eyed monkey picGeez, then why are we in this career? Why do we write? Why do we put so much time in doing this? Like the pie chart you looked at earlier. To educate. To express. To help. Do we want to get rich off this gig? Heck yes. Is it possible? Double heck. But is it realistic to believe it’ll happen? We can only hope.

My husband is supportive and proud of my writing successes but some days I really think he rather me sells my toenails.

*Disclaimer: I’m dissecting my own experiences and research. I have tried to get the facts correct. I’d love to hear some feedback.

Finding My Illustrator

Where did it all begin? Or should I say how?

I had the story, Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four, so all I needed was the illustrations. Where did I look? I solicited local artists. I was knocked over when I found out price per page. And if you’re going to pay that type of money you better love it. Well I didn’t love them. So I waited. I researched. One of my writer friends had her book totally done by Createspace. It’s when they had an illustrator team. They did away with it.

I found dragonpencil. You could do everything there in one spot. The illustrators were priced low to high. You could tell why they were priced that way. But nonetheless, there was some good ones in there. Still I wasn’t satisfied with the price. I kept looking. I heard a lot about freelancer.com. Some people having great luck and some did not. I thought I’d give it a try. I plugged my book in and in seconds had a good handful of offers. Most or shall I say all were from other countries. I checked their turnaround time, their star rating and reviews. Some were relentless and wanted a chance at illustrating your book. I requested an illustration. Some will agree for no fee. I took those seriously. I felt they wanted to work. One gal caught my eye after she illustrated a sketch the way I had envisioned. She was from Romania and wrote clear emails. She knew english quite well. I created an illustrator contract on my own and we both signed and were off and running. The book took four months to complete. Way longer than the contract anticipated. We had a difficult time getting the measurements right for Createspace. I’m not sure if measurements are different there. We were both frustrated. The time change was a killer. One message went between us each day which dragged this out.

Would I have used freelancer.com again, yes. Was it economical? I got to say it was a price I could live with. I definitely would be thinking more around the same time zones. Nbearot soon after, I was seeking another illustrator for My Big Tree since it had it rounds with the agent. We exhausted the industry and I didn’t want to shelve it for five years. I thought it had a multi-premise and saw big things for it. But, this time I didn’t use freelancer.com. I chose a different route.

I heard a lot about fivver.com. I was curious. How could people do stuff for five dollars? Well not everything is five dollars. That’s just to get you to check them out. I thought it couldn’t hurt to take a look. I researched children’s illustrators and went through screens and screens of candidates. I found a gal from THE STATES who could draw a pretty fine looking dog. I fell in love with him. I wanted him but I didn’t have a dog in my book. I messaged her and asked if she could draw me a bird. Boom! Amazing and adorable. We signed the contract. The relationship was flawless. I assumed from her handwriting she was a senior citizen with a slew of grandchildren who lived on a farm and raised chickens. Boy was I wrong. Fresh out of high school and into her first year of college. In three months the the illustrations were completed (even with adding a dog last minute) No problems with the cover or set up. If I did she was very accommodating. Would I do fivver.com again? Yes, best experience. Did I pay five dollars per illustration, no. It goes by how many characters per page, etc. Was the price fair? YES! Be careful because some want you to pay a fancy rights fee which I didn’t think they should charge. If you have a contract to buy all rights you shouldn’t need it. Only drawback is you cannot contact them off the site. The website won’t let you trade information.

I had it set up My Big Tree with Createspace. I was waiting to get the cover uploaded. In the meantime, I went to the Texas Library Association in Houston. I met a publisher who said he’d mention my name to another publisher and three days later I received a call. We chatted about my work and My Big Tree found its home.

Hey, look at me, I’m an Indie author!



Tiny Talk Tuesday with . . . George Slaughter

1743742_10202172137759197_1880829946_nI met George through one of my friends in my critique group.  A fun and interesting person to talk to.

Native Texan, grew up in Houston…former journalist, published author of several articles in the Handbook of Texas Online, sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association, of which he’s a member (http://www.tshaonline.org)…also reviewed books for TSHA’s scholarly journal, the Southwestern Historical Quarterly…senior member of Society for Technical Communication; served as president of the Houston chapter…author of Spring Branch (Arcadia Publishing, 2011), a pictorial history of the West Houston suburb…web site: http://www.georgeslaughter.com.51QxUqPdIWL__UY250_

And now let’s have a Tiny Talk to learn more about George.

ME: If you could spend a day with a book character who would it be and why?

GEORGE: Since I write non-fiction, I’ll say Warren Buffett. I’m reading Alice Schroeder’s book The Snowball, which is a really well-done biography of him. Among other things, he and I both like American dishes such as hamburgers and Cokes. Perhaps he could offer some good investment advice!

ME: Finish this sentence. A perfect day would be . . .

GEORGE: Get my writing assignment (whatever it is) off my desk by day’s end. (After so many years writing, that’s how I’ve come to judge whether I’ve had a good day or not—did I get it off my desk, whether to the reviewers, the editor, or to production). Have a nice dinner with my wife, Kathy. A pleasant evening reading. If I’m watching television, either a good documentary, or watching my favorite sports teams, or sometimes even something on HGTV. Kathy and I have been watching classic movies such as Rear Window and The African Queen.

ME: Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

GEORGE: Historical writers tend to be plotters, because your writing follows a chronology. With a biography, for example, your character is born, grows up, does his or her thing, and then dies. Experience teaches that you can have a general idea of where things should go and that you can write by the seat of your pants without too much trouble. But the structure must first be there.

ME: If you could sit and have dinner with a famous author who would it be and why?

GEORGE: Just one? Let’s see…H.W. Brands, Robert A. Caro, David McCullough, or Alice Schroeder, to name four. Their work is thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written. Read McCullough’s book about Harry Truman, for example, and you’re there at that terrible moment when Eleanor Roosevelt tells Vice President Truman that President Franklin Roosevelt is dead. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Truman asked. “Is there anything we can do for you?” Mrs. Roosevelt replied. “For you are the one in trouble now.”

ME: What is your greatest accomplishment?

GEORGE: While I’ve had many blessings about which I’m thankful, I agree with Frank Sinatra: the best is yet to come.

Tiny Talk Tuesday With . . . Toby Haberkorn

A1g2F86M2cL__UX250_I met Toby at an SCBWI Houston meeting. She stopped to talk about some publishing questions. Then I got to hear all about her passion for writing about Dementia.toby

Toby Haberkorn is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and has lived in the metropolitan Houston area for many years.  Her varied career includes working as an industrial newsletter editor as well as a movie reviewer and retained search consultant.

Toby’s favorite authors are Jeffrey Eugenides, Ruth Rendell, Cynthia Ozick, Donna Tartt, Abraham Verghese, and Adam Johnson.

Her favorite children’s authors include Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendek, H. A. Rey and Margret Rey, JK Rowling, Madeleine L’Engel, and Roald Dahl.

She is currently working on a novel.

Toby has recently published two children’s books which are available on Amazon.com, When My Grammy Forgets, I Remember: A Child’s Perspective on Dementia. Toby’s mother’s and family’s experience with dementia became the basis for her book.

With the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions, more families and children will experience the sadness and challenges of this disease. Sometimes parents assume that children do not notice when something is wrong with a family member suffering from dementia. They may be unsure how to explain this disease or the deterioration, and limit visits.

Toby feels the reality is that children are very observant and they worry when a loved one’s behavior changes or disappears from their lives. This book sensitively explores the bittersweet changing relationship between a granddaughter and her adored Grammy who has dementia.

Dementia is an adult topic but this story is written in a simple manner that children can grasp. Toby’s book stimulates discussion between parents and children about compassion and this debilitating disease.

And now let’s learn a bit more about Toby in our Tiny Talk. 

ME:  Tell us something that has been in the vault. Something hardly anyone knows about you.  

TOBY:  I can be satisfied with eating only one tablespoon of ice cream and not taking another bite or slurp.

ME: That’s the most devastating thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t leave a pint around. I’d demolish it in one sitting.

ME:  How do you want to be remembered?

TOBY:  I would like to be remembered as someone who cheerfully motivated others to take their ideas from inception to absolute completion and thereby gained satisfaction from their own efforts.


ME:  Tell us five words that describes you as a writer.

TOBY:  Creative, optimistic, flexible, and constantly learning.


ME:  If you could sit and have a drink with famous author dead or alive who would it be, and why?

TOBY: That’s a hard decision to make, but I would choose Donna Tartt who writes such robust, complex novels. I’m in awe of her storytelling ability.


ME:  Who influenced your writing career/passion?

TOBY:  Every time I read a wonderful book, I’m inspired to continue writing.

ME: That’s what we readers want to hear.

Thanks so much Toby for participating in my Tiny Talk. I wish you much success.

Tiny Talk Tuesday With . . . Kelly Bennett

kelly Kelly and I go way back to when we worked side by side on the Friends Board for the Maud Marks Library in Katy, Texas. I moved on at that time from the library due to a wrench in my life. Later, Kelly got bigger and better with her writing career and moved away from the area. We finally met up again after some time and she still remembers the little people like me. Kelly is full of life and a bunch of fun. I look forward to meeting up with her again sometime soon.vampire

Kelly Bennett is the award-winning author of books for children—mostly picture books. Her stories, such as Vampire Baby; Not Norman, A Goldfish Story; Your Daddy Was Just Like You, Your Mommy Was Just Like You; Dad and Pop; Dance, Y’all, Dance; and One Day I Went Rambling, celebrate imagination, families, friends, pets… all that goes into being a kid!

A native of California, Kelly has rambled through all 50 states, 6 continents and 27 countries on all kinds of transportation from tuk-tuks to tricycles, bajai to bicycles, ojeks, rickshaw and rafts, trains and planes, helicopters and horses, dogs, elephants, camels—cars and feet, too! She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Kelly divides her time between Trinidad & Tobago, New York & Texas; visit her at www.kellybennett.com.

And now let’s learn a Tiny bit more about my friend, Kelly.

ME: Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.

KELLY: “Kelly” is not my real name. My girlfriends and I renamed me in high school.

ME: What is your greatest accomplishment?

KELLY: Being a Mom. Nothing I’m prouder of than my children, Max and Alexis.

ME: I feel the same way.

ME: Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

KELLY: Non-Fiction writing: Total Plotter. I create a formal 3 part outline.

Fiction writing: I’m a Half & Halfer. Before I start writing, I have to know the ending and the major plot point, so I do create a basic armature to build the story around. You might say my writing style epitomizes that Doctorow quote. I know what car I’m driving, and I follow my headlights to the end.

ME: Describe your writing style.

KELLY: I aim for a humorous conversational style. I visualize whomever I think would appreciate that particular story and write it with sole purpose of entertaining that one reader.

ME: I think being humorous in writing is a born talent. But I think I’m going to try one day.

ME: If you could hang with one of your characters for a day who would it be and why?

KELLY: Zane, from One Day I Went Rambling. Zane finds his fun via everyday castoff objects and a huge imagination. My kind of friend!

ME: Love that book.

Kelly, I appreciate you taking the time to answer these few questions. I can’t wait to read your next success. I hope someday soon we can meet up again.

P.S.-By the way, I love your haircut. I’m next.