Today, just before the end of the holiday weekend, I got a big reason to celebrate: my new book, Where All the Little Things Live reached 100% funding on Kickstarter, which means I will be spending the next several months bringing this book to reality.
This is why I turned to Kickstarter in the first place: it has allowed my readers to help me bring my books to life, the way I hope they would be. And as an independent author, one who honestly has never considered this something of a serious career it has proven to be the best way to do it.
For now, it’s time to get some sleep, and set a course for the end of this year… there’s still much work to be done, but I’m so grateful and excited to be able to do it.
I recently was gifted a review by another indie author, Elizabeth Weigandt. She wrote Queen Bee, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. We were acquainted at a local SCBWI event, and I was immediately taken with the subject matter — the title Watership Down was invoked more than once. And to me, Queen Bee is a spiritual sister to that, albeit without much of the backstory and history. While all that certainly has it’s merits — and Ms. Weigandt did a fair amount of research into bees to approach this book — one of the many things Queen Bee does wonderfully is jump right into the action.
My review of Queen Bee:
“Queen bee doesn’t waste any time introducing the central conflict and from that moment on compels you through an epic story that weaves together a collection of delightful and memorable characters. Ms. Weigandt crafts scenes of intense action and imagery throughout, from the vast majestic interiors of the bee hives to the regal garb of its inhabitants.
A story of friendship, self discovery and adventure, intertwined with an elegant mythology of the bees and their origins makes this debut an engaging first what I hope will be a longer running series.”
Sales is not the only metric for your writing. Lack of sales isn’t attack on your writing skills.
No one is buying my self-published book, can you help?
Marketing is by far the hardest part of the book industry at present. This isn’t because of any failings on the part of the author, agent or publisher but simply because of how unbearably saturated the book market has become. The rise of self-publishing has been both a blessing and a curse. The positive side is that it has allowed authors to publish themselves and allowed small presses to survive by making use of print-on-demand services. The negative side is that this means millions of authors have simply published themselves and the possible profit margins grow slimmer each year as a result. The regrettable truth is that this has left many authors and publishers with completely unrealistic expectations of how well their books will sell. Some even take the shrinking market and the lack of sales and engagement their book attracts as an attack on their writing capability. Think of a sandwich shop, you could make the best sandwiches in town but if there are 6 million other sandwich shops on your street it’s going to be difficult to convince customers your product is the one that is worth their time and money.
There is no magic wand to solve this issue unfortunately, and if there was we’d all be doing it. Standard methods of promotion include social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram); engaging and connecting with literary magazines, book bloggers and reviewers and encouraging our authors to support and each other. We use a percentage of our profits to advertise our books and but ultimately it comes down to Return on Investment (ROI). It would be financial suicide to promote a book for £1000 and only make £50 in book sales as a result. This isn’t to say it’s not worth trying, all advertising is a risk, but authors and publishers must live within their means. This is why there are sadly so many despondent self-published authors who are essentially begging people to read their titles for free. Many publishers are also folding as their profits disappear. We have seen and heard horror stories of authors and publishers spending thousands on advertising, with next to no profit, and downward spirals of even more money being wasted as they try to recoup their losses. As a general rule, we allocate 20% of our net profits back into promotion – slow and steady wins the race!
We understand this is likely to be disappointing news to many new and established writers, but it would be pointless to say differently and mislead self-published authors. We would not want to establish a professional relationship with someone we had filled with false promises and expectations. The book industry is what it is; and for those who blame Amazon, it’s worthwhile to remember that Amazon (or similar print-on-demand companies) are also the reason they are able to exist and sell their books in the first place.
I thought about approaching publishing companies about Zōsan and Tamaishi. I still debate about this internally — the idea that you’re not a “real” writer until you get to that point. Before that, it’s just a hobby. It’s not serious.
Even before I read my friend Diana’s take on this subject, I realized why I do this: it’s not that serious. It’s about enjoying the process, not deadlines, contracts and paychecks. I don’t condemn anyone who wants to make a living writing; I just gather it entails compromises to my creative process, family life (among other things) that I’m not willing to make.
Self publishing is not a “shortcut”, or simply a means to bypass the traditional publishing world. That world is just not what I want.
Alas, publishing is not free. Hence the Kickstarter: I turn to my prospective readers to offset the costs beforehand, rather than try and recoup it all after the fact. While I agree that would be a highly rational business-minded approach, that’s not how I’m wired.
I considering a blessing that I’m able to this at all. And a blessing from all of you, my readers and backers, that believe in what I’m creating. I am grateful that you have helped me bring my creative work to life.
I don’t believe at all that someday I’ll be a “real” writer by doing anything different. I may not ever make a living doing this, but I’m definitely a writer, and more importantly, I’m happy with what I’m doing. Judging by the waves of support that come in through Kickstarter, I gather that others are happy with what I’m doing too — and I couldn’t ask for more than that.
/TLDR: Offset printing has aesthetic that I prefer and quality advantages of color and paper quality.
Why would I pursue offset printing when it’s more expensive than digital? The short answer is: offset looks and feels better. I don’t expect to convince everyone, but everyone has different ideals.
Digital printing has its advantages, but it’s always going to be toner fused to the surface of the paper, rather than ink within the paper… and that just doesn’t look or feel as good. It’s not as archival. So sure, it may be cheaper, but it can sometimes that toner can fuse pages together over time! I’m not knocking digital, it has it’s place, and it’s just not what I want, at least for a first edition.
Cheaper offset printing options do exist, but they a) get those low prices by outsourcing overseas, and b) still require large orders of 5000 or more. I have met and spent time with both my printers: I met the printers I’m working with in their shops, interviewed them, watched the presses print for Zōsan. While I don’t make any immediate judgements of others, Clare Carpenter and Charles Overbook put their hearts and souls into every proof and print. They’re here in the US. That means something to me. The quality of their work is impeccable.
I don’t reject digital printing entirely. I am already preparing to reprint Zōsan, and already have Tamaishi on Amazon, which is printed on demand, digitally. They look pretty good. But I still prefer to have this offset method for the first edition.
Offset vs. Digital: Whatchoo talkin’ bout?
Offset is a traditional method of printing used for decades. Inked text and images “transferred (or ‘offset’) from a plate … to a printing surface” (1) As with most improvements in printing techniques, it was created to make things cheaper and faster. It’s still widely appreciated that offset printing “produces sharp and clean images and type” (1) better than most alternative printing methods, because of the way the ink permeates the paper.
The downside of offset is that it’s more expensive and labor intensive for smaller print jobs like mine compared to digital. There are plates and rollers and those have to be inked and cleaned. Digital printing was created as a faster, cheaper alternative to offset and the many other printing methods that preceded it.
Without getting into too much detail, full color images are printed by a 4-color process using Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K). These four colors along with a process called “half toning” (printing with tiny patterns of dots) can produce colors outside of the original four. It’s an illusion, actually, just like this picture below:
Digital printing has clear advantages: it doesn’t use plates, is cheaper, less labor intensive, and has faster turnaround times. You can print as little as one print — though most commercial printers have minimum orders on things like books. Most digital methods, however, “forms a thin layer on the surface that may be additional adhered to the substrate by using a fuser fluid” (1) In other words, digital printing uses toner — a fine plastic powder, melted and fused onto the surface of paper with heat. This process dictates the kinds of paper you can use — not all papers can be used on a digital process.
Toner on paper has a kind of dull, flat and lifeless look to it to me. It covers the paper stock so you can no longer see and appreciate it. Ink in the paper bleeds a bit through absorption, has a quality akin to the sound of an analog recording vs. digital. The texture of the paper is retained.
Paper quality. Think of a “pulp fiction” book you may have read. Or maybe you have an old book on yourself where the pages are brown and brittle. If you can, think of newspaper and how the ink smears and the paper is super thin. These are are design choice with a purpose, so they’re not “bad” or “wrong” choices. I want to make something with beautiful paper (I love Mohawk Superfine Eggshell). It has a wonderful tactile quality and warm white color to it.
My illustrations currently don’t have full color — they’re digital pen and ink drawings, so I can use a printing method call spot color printing. Rather than use 4-color process, spot color chooses a single can of ink, not produced with this illusion. This results in a color that can be much more vibrant than one produced by the 4-color process. So on top of the fact that it’s ink, it’s a bit like reaching for exactly the marker you want. It is true that to get this particular can of ink, the printer has to mix other colors together — but those colors can come directly from some pigment, whereas 4-color printing has to rely on CMYK.
The irony of this is that spot color printing used to be the “cheap” option. Before digital color, it was a lot less labor intensive to deal with two color plates — one for the black ink, the other for the color. Some books were even tricky with spot colors, mixing two of them to get a third color, much like 4-color process can produce a wide range of colors. Just as the Gutenberg press was widely regarded as an advantage over hand writing books (yes, monks used to make copies of books by hand writing them) and the vandercook press was a mechanical advantage over the Gutenburg press — speed and price have always been a factor when producing for a broad market.
The drawings are made digitally, though…
All this hype and preference for the offset printing method, but my drawings are done digitally.…you got me, I guess?
Seriously, though, there’s a real reason why I use an iPad for illustration. I admire the artists who can doogle perfect renderings in their moleskin notebooks, and post perfect pointillistic drawings posed next to their pens.
The main reason is that digital is more forgiving: I can make mistakes and undo. I can try things that I’m not sure if they work and revert if I need to — experiment and get it wrong, without having to whiteout, or start over.
If I tried to make some of of my illustrations with micron pens — and I still doodle in copies of my pens this way — they would have taken three times as long. My frustration would have outweighed the enjoyment of the process. Although it’s important to point out that for Cloudia’s Rage, I spent almost 20 hours and made 84,817 pen strokes to finish it. And although tools like “drawing assist” exist to help with perspective line (kind of like a digital ruler) I instead drew all those lines by hand, because I prefer the human imperfection of the lines, rather than perfectly drawn mechanical ones.
The day I realized the Procreate (the software I use) could tell me that, I no longer cared if I was using pens or not. It’s a means to an end. My medium is digital, but I’m using it in an analog manner.
Thankfully, I’m not in in a commercial, pressured environment where I’m expected produce artwork quickly. I’ve found some tools that speed things up — (a halftone shading brush, for example — that I use because it really improves the definition of my surfaces, but I still prefer to draw everything whenever possible. I wish I had that tool, in fact, for Tamaishi, it would have made my spot color channels look better.
Put it all together: a preference for the quality of offset printing quality + the fact that I’m not trying to pursue a professional writing career, the way that I’m approaching this makes sense. Digital printing exists for a purpose: to allow less expensive, shorter run production, but at a compromise I don’t want to accept. My tradeoff is that I end up with far fewer books, but I don’t need 10,000 copies because I’m not trying to make a living from this.
I have been grateful that Kickstarter has allowed me to achieve these ideals, by letting my readers help me bring it to life. It often seems like lofty goals for something that’s a hobby. It also often feels presumptuous: how are my words worth all this trouble? But I’ve left that up to my readers, and they seem to agree.
Making these books is not — and I have no intention of it ever being — purely a business-oriented endeavor. Maybe it means I won’t write a fourth book, I don’t know yet. Writing, illustrating and recording the first three has brought me great joy, joy that isn’t tied to profits. It has never been about how much money I can make from these books, it’s been about how can I make it the thing I want it to be. It has been for the act of creation, the act of doing, and of making a beautiful piece of art.
So while I am printing on demand via amazon a part of me thinks that going that route presumes that somehow I’ll command some broader audience. I’m proud of what I write, but I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen quickly or perhaps ever. I’ve gathered that much of that kind of success relies on your marketing and social media savvy, and currently I don’t have much of either.
So instead I choose to print a book that maintains my aesthetic ideals — and the result has been books I am truly proud of and love to hold, and one that I hope my great-great grandkids will hold as well.
Fulfilling a couple of orders this morning I realized that I’m down to about 33 copies of Zōsan. That’s good and bad news — great because I initially had 400 copies. But sad as well, because I don’t know if and how I’d be able to reprint it. Such is the catch-22 of my situation. I don’t end up with 10,000 books, but I also will eventually, realistically, run out.
And while a book like Tamaishi, being more “standard” is fairly easy to convert to Amazon for print on demand, Zōsan is not. I haven’t checked in a while, but KDP doesn’t support a wide horizontal format. Not to mention it wouldn’t be made in the same way.
So those of you out there holding a copy of Zōsan — realize you’ve got one of the few in existence.
But I will be reaching out to see about a digital reprint in the near future. It won’t be like the first edition, of course, but it will still be beautiful in its own right. The fact that I’ve sold almost all of the 400 copies I initially had is a sign that it’s a story that people want to read.
In 2015, I was part of the Plymouth Local Author fair with my first book, Zōsan. There was a power outage at the library that weekend, but the library didn’t miss a beat and held the event in the nearby PARC public recreation facility.
I’m in the Plymouth Local Author Fair again in 2020. They require a new book each time you participate, and thankfully Tamaishi was still eligible! But as fate would have it, the pandemic has caused everything to shut down… but again the library was fazed. They moved everything online — even introducing a chance for a giveaway and an online quiz!
Barry D. Levine
Gary James Erwi
Ian Tadashi Moore
Laura E Morrison
Marietta Mills Jones
Chef Valerie Wilson
They are still far and few in between, but I occasionally get reading opportunities. R&B used books was the latest, and it is just what you might think it is: stacks of books to the ceiling. The owner, Beth, knows where just about any books you’re looking for is, but even as I walked in a customer surprised her by finding something she didn’t even know she had.
There’s a resident cat and he’s loud mouthed and cute and has the two owners on a string — but she seems just fine, thankyou very much with only the occasional footstep and page flip emanating over the buzz of the fluorescent lights.
People meander in and out and talk at length with the bookstore owner Beth. They all know her well and have been coming to place for a while. She’s been here 16 years and that’s a feat — Borders shuttered only 8 years ago. She’s a proud and knowledgeable independent bookstore owner, and her savvy shows in that’s she’s survived this long.
I got to read a couple of chapters and talk with some of the folks that came in specifically to see me based on her social media posts. That’s such a treat—to know someone showed up just for you. I played the audiobook for them, something I don’t often get the chance to do. Despite the rain and limited foot traffic, I sold some books and audiobooks.
It might come as a surprise to know that sales aren’t really why I do this. Of course I want folks to read, listen and enjoy. Selling books and artwork also helps facilitate whatever next creative endeavor I have up may sleeve. But ultimately this is just a means to an end: I just want to do this stuff.
Looking forward to doing this again, either with my existing books, or certainly with my new book Where All the Little Things Live.
Every day she contemplates the same question: why is she here, where did she come from, and why isn’t there anyone like her? Caught up in her own thoughts, she is oblivious to a raging storm approaching, until a twist of fate changes her world.
I found the sketch from the 18th of October, 2018, shortly after Tamaishi rolled off the presses and into my hands. I had started to think about creating a story about Naio the Feather, because she seemed like she had a potential for something more interesting.
The story centers on Naio, before she meets Tama, and she’s quite a bit different than in Tamaishi. A little less self assured and a lot more nervous, she doesn’t quite know how she fits in. But a mysterious storm that overtakes the valley sweeps her up into a place where she discovers more about the sky and more about herself.
Fast forward a year later. I have a completed draft and two short stories to go along with it, already sent and edited. It’s still not quite there, but I feel really good about it, good enough to shelve the text and move on to focus on illustration. I remember when I got to that point with Tamaishi — it was liberating.
Tentatively the book is called Where All the Little Things Live, but the more I think about it, the more I might save that title for a fourth book of only short stories that I hope to complete in 2021. But for now, it’ll do.
Of course, there’s an audiobook coming!
I’m lining up talent for the audiobook. It will include Christine, of course, reprising her role at Naio. I’m planning on having Eliot be Tama this time, and of course have Marcel participate wherever he can. I’m ecstatic know that the incomparable Michael Kuzmanovski will be joining me again, having sincerely rocked the part of the digruntled butterfly in Zōsan. I had high hopes he’d be back to play Kani in Tamaishi, but alas, it was not to be. Also returning will be my friend Stefanie Goodell — I had just the part in mind for her — and one of Eliot’s childhood friends Calise. I’m looking to have Jon Reed come back to play a part as well, but he’s now in Middle school and far busier than when he was only 10 (when he played Zochi!)
Last year, I participated in the annual Christmas in Clawson event at Clawson High school. It’s a huge even that’s been going on since 1984! It’s one of the best attended and well organized events I’ve ever been a part of.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already. But it’s the best place to come get books directly from me. There is an admission cost of only $3, but it’s more than worth it.
I’ll have books and a prints on hand — including freshly printed Zōsan letterpress prints!