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?”


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.

Tiny Talk Tuesdays With . . . Steven Short

stevenSteven and I met at an LA conference a couple of years ago during the gala. We talked about what we were writing about and I learned about his lovely family. At the time, Steven got nominated for an award for his picture “truck” book. I’m hoping I remembered that right. I missed him at last years conference and somehow reconnected with him through my stack of business cards. I’m so glad we reconnected.

Steven Short is a picture book author, SCBWI member and a 2013 Sue Alexander Award nominee. He found the main ingredient for his writing in an unlikely career change to Stay at Home Dad, the simple fact that children’s lives are as complicated as our own. Steven lives in Fayetteville, Ga. where he competes with his kids for their mother’s attention, on a professional level.

He also saved a group of puppies from an oncoming train. True story.

And now let’s learn more about the hidden secrets of Steven in our Tiny Talk.

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

STEVEN: If you could guarantee my safety I’d go with Frankenstein’s Monster. Forget the movies, the original character is just so innocent and childlike, but then completely rejected. How could you not want to just give him a hug and tell him everything’s going to be ok? Again, I’d need some assurance of safety.

ME: Finish this sentence. A perfect day would involve…

STEVEN: Exploring a place I’ve never been (bucket list thing). More thinking than writing. The whole family would eat whatever I make for dinner. Great horror movie before bed.

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

STEVEN: I would say Stephen King but I heard he’s kind of mean, so Mac Barnett. He’s the best PB writer out there right now as far as I’m concerned and he owns a time travel store. It could only be fun.

ME: I heard him speak at the LA conference one year and he was a hoot.

ME: Are you a pantser or a plotter

STEVEN: I guess at the heart of it I’m a plotter. I haven’t written long enough for a well-structured plot to just reveal itself as I go. I need a direction when I sit down to write. That said, that direction frequently changes as I go.

ME: Do you have a special talent?

STEVEN: After staying at home with the kids for a while I figured I should at least learn something. So I learned how to juggle, nothing fancy just the basics, I’m not bad. And it turns out I’m pretty good at mimicking voices too. Muppets and movie characters mostly. But not on cue. Just has to happen.

Thanks so much Steven for spending a few minutes talking it up. I hope that someday I walk in a bookstore I can say, “I knew him when.” Take care and best of luck. Don’t be a stranger.

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 . . . Lynne Kelly

Hoenig Lynne  8324959699

I’ve had the honor to sit beside Lynne during our monthly meetings with SCBWI Houston group. She’s a sweetheart and an outstanding writer. Lynne says she usually works on only one project at a time, and when she gets a new idea she writes it down for later. One day, during a walk on the beach, a character sort of “showed up” and she heard her voice so well, she had to set aside what she’d been working on so she could write down her story. She’s having fun writing about her new a character that’s been incorporated in a middle-grade mystery with lost pirate treasure and hurricanes.Chained cover hi-res

Her first novel, CHAINED, published in 2012 has been a sensation. The story is about a boy and an elephant who have a friendship stronger than any lock, shackle, or chain. It won the Crystal Kite Award and South Asia Book Award Honor. It’s also on several state book award lists. It’s now available in Indian, French and Japanese.

I can’t wait to see what Lynne has coming out next. And now for our “tiny” talk interview.

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

LYNNE: Playing with my dog,​hanging out with my daughter, ​reading a good book, and writing a good book.

ME: If you took your street name and the name of your first pet (or visa versa), what would your nickname be?

​LYNNE: Spike Gosling, which sounds like a bad boy older brother of Ryan.

ME: A good character for a novel.

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

​LYNNE: Scattered, still learning and growing.

ME: At least now I’m not the only one, lol.

ME: Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

​LYNNE: A pantser who’s found I need to have somewhat of a plot worked out so I don’t get lost.​

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

LYNNE: JK Rowling, in hopes that I could absorb some of her genius.​

Thanks, Lynne, so much for participating. I can’t wait to see this middle grade novel! I’m just guessing, but maybe another Crystal Kite winner coming soon?

Tiny Talk Tuesday with . . . Tracy Barrett

Barretttracyrt-330Tracy has always had a love for books at a young age. Her favorites inlcude Charlotte’s Web; The Phantom Tollbooth; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Return of the Twelves; The Jungle Book; The Princess and the Goblin; Five Children and It; Mrs. Mike; Pippi Longstocking; Hitty, Her First Hundred Years; The Secret Garden; the first half of The Once and Future King; Emily of New Moon, poems by William Blake, Ogden Nash, and especially Don Marquis.
Tracy writes mostly historical fiction for young readers and mostly tweens. She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study medieval women writers led to the writing of her award-winning young-adult novel, Anna of Byzantium. Her most recent publications are Dark of the Moon, a young-adult retelling of the myth of the Minotaur, The Dark of the Moon, and the popular middle-grade series The Sherlock Files. In 2014 Harlequin Teen will publish her 20th book for young readers, the Stepsister’s Tale, a retelling of Cinderella from the point of view of Jane Halsey, the older stepsister. I’m adding this one to my reading list, sounds amazing.stepsister_cover_2-210

From 1999 to 2009 Tracy Barrett was the Regional Advisor for the Midsouth (Tennessee and Kentucky) with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is now SCBWI’s Regional Advisor Coordinator for the United States.

Tracy has taught courses on writing for children and on children’s literature at various institutions and frequently makes presentations to groups of students, librarians, teachers, and others.

She taught Italian, Women’s Studies, English, and Humanities in Nashville, Tennessee for 28 years and resigned in 2012 to devote herself to writing full time.

You can find her and her work at http://www.tracybarrett.com. And now for our “tiny” interview with Tracy.

ME: How do you want to be remembered?

TRACY: As someone who did her best and always kept learning.

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

TRACY: Hitting “the zone” for a long stretch with my writing, then a long walk with the dog, then a nice dinner that someone else cooked.

ME: If you can spend a day with one of your book characters who would it be, and why?

TRACY: Hmm, they’re all so different it’s hard to narrow it down. I guess Jane of THE STEPSISTER’S TALE. She’s smart and enterprising, and speaks her mind.

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

TRACY: perfectionist, curious, impatient, experimental, geeky

ME: Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

TRACY: Absolute pantser. The times I’ve tried to be a plotter have been miserable; it felt like I was doing homework. I like the freedom to have the story develop in unexpected ways. For example, in THE CASE THAT TIME FORGOT (Book 3 of my middle-grade series, The Sherlock Files) I was right near the end when I realized that the guy I had thought committed the crime wasn’t actually the criminal. I think readers are surprised to see who actually did it, because I was surprised myself!

It was my pleasure to interview you, Tracy. May you have many more successes.