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Results 1 - 25 of 84
1. A Very Special House

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1953)

School’s been back in the swing of things for a couple weeks, and it has been bananas. But I’ve got this beautiful new space and some read-in-me-for-hours lounge chairs and the kids named our bright new sitting area The Birdhouse. This week: shelves and books. The heart and soul.

The Birdhouse

That’s why I needed to visit a book that is about all of those things: comfort and wonder and imagination and a very special place.

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

I love this little dancer-dreamer: dee dee dee oh-h-h.A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

This book is the hope of yellow and the broken-in-ness of blue overalls and the loose lines of childhood. This book started with two masters but belongs to the rest of us. It’s root in the moodle of our head head heads.

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

And this is what I want for anyone who finds a story in our very special place: A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

They and I are making secrets 

and we’re falling over laughing

and we’re running in and out

and we hooie hooie hooie

then we think we are some chickens

then we’re singing in the opera then

we’re going going going going ooie ooie ooie.

The view

ch


Tagged: color, libraries, maurice sendak, ruth krauss, stories

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2. Fox’s Garden

Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

by Princesse Camcam (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

It’s hot in Los Angeles. Like, super really really hot. That’s why this book is an especially welcome reprieve. A book with snow in it? Please. A book with cool blues and winter scenes? Yes.

This is Fox’s Garden.

It’s a lovely little book.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

A lone fox, stark red against the white forest. A house in the distance, swirling with the colors of home and twilight. Frightened grownups chase him away. A boy cloaked in red, watching and waiting and caring. Fox's Garden by Princesse CamcamFox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

This boy loves animals. They are in sketches, framed on his wall. They are in mobiles and stuffed friends, in bookshelves and toy chests. Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

This fox, followed by her brood, leaves blossoms of kindness right back for the boy. It’s a tale of sharing and growth and unlikely accomplices. No words, all heart.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

And the pictures. My French is un peu rusty, but according to Princesse Camcam’s blog, these have got to be cut paper illustrations, lit and photographed. They are intricate and textured, perfect layers for this story of a fox and his friend.

Remember when we talked about complementary colors setting the tone and mood? The rich red of the fox is set apart so dramatically from the snowy scene and the stark greenhouse. It’s a mood, and it’s a strong one. It’s so pretty, too.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

Keep an eye on Enchanted Lion, folks. They are in the business of making beautiful books.

Be kind to a chased-away stranger today.

ch

Review copy provided by the publisher.

 


Tagged: color theory, complementary colors, cut paper, enchanted lion books, princesse camcam

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3. Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

IMG_9253breakerHomer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

ch

 

 


Tagged: adam rex, color, creative editions, pattern, repetition, zack rock

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4. Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThe contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéBut he always stood out.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThen comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéWhen the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéRoddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéSometimes things get back to normal.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéI won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it.IMG_1250 copy

And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

ch


Tagged: color, contrast, Jean-Jacques Sempé, line, Martin Pebble, Phaidon, shape, size

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5. Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breakerGreg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof.Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom).Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book?Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg PizzolibreakerAnd now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.)Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

ch

 


Tagged: book trailers, CMYK, disney-hyperion, greg pizzoli, illustration, spot color

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6. Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure

published 2014 by Abrams Books (reissue)

Every soul who has seen Nikki McClure’s art has loved it. I’m sure there are studies and statistics on that, trust me. It looks as elegant on an iPhone case as it does on a gift tag or greeting card.

But then there are books, and thank goodness she makes them.Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThis edition of Collect Raindrops has been reissued in an expanded form and a new format. It’s based on her ongoing calendar series, and begs to take up permanent residence on your coffee or bedside table. Don’t just stick it on the shelf. You’ll want this one at easy reach. It’s gorgeous to touch, to see, and to behold.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureHere, her pictures are gathered by their season, each introduced with love letters to their very time and place.

“Some people just need help to see the obvious. And that’s what artists are for.”

That sentiment comes from this short film that demystifies her process but reveals a lot of magic. She calls it corny, but I call it lovely:

breakerShe says her paper cuts are like lace, and everything is connected. Before it’s in a book, can’t you picture what that art looks like held up against a light? Physically, the paper that remains envelops the paper that is gone. Like knots, or filaments, or branches. How beautiful then, that her subject is often community. Shared memories and experiences.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThe contrast is what connects us. As much story lives in what’s been carved away as what sticks behind. But by simple definition, contrast means difference, and in design, your brain is searching for dominant elements. This art contrasts light and dark, filled and white space, and in those separations paints a portrait of community.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureAnd then there’s the case cover itself. A web, a symbol itself of creativity and connection, binds the pages together.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureIsn’t that remarkable?

ch


Tagged: abrams, collect raindrops, contrast, light, negative space, nikki mcclure, paper cut

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7. Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

ch

Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Tagged: etsy, kit chase, oliver's tree, penguin

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8. Getting Over the Need To Be Polite

You’ll just have to trust me that there’s a story behind this. Mine isn’t as interesting as the one that taught me this lesson:

One of my favorite women adventurers is Helen Thayer. She’s a New Zealander by birth, now living in Washington State, and I first heard of her when I read her book Polar Dream.  Here’s the description:

In 1988, at the age of 50, Helen Thayer became the first woman in the world to travel on foot to the magnetic North Pole, one of the world’s most remote and dangerous regions. Her only companion was Charlie, her loyal husky, who was integral to her survival. Polar Dream is the story of their heroic trek and extraordinary relationship as they faced polar bears, unimaginable cold, and a storm that destroyed most of their supplies and food.

So yeah, super burly. I’ve referenced that adventure in a few books of mine–Doggirl and Parallelogram 3: Seize the Parallel–because I remain so thoroughly inspired and impressed by what Ms. Thayer accomplished despite the incredible danger and hardships. And that wasn’t her only big adventure. She and her husband and the dog from Polar Dream lived among wolves for a year (see her book Three Among the Wolves) and later, when she was in her 60s and her husband was in his 70s, they both trekked across the Gobi Desert, just the two of them and a few camels (see Walking the Gobi: A 1600 Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair). You can understand why she’s a hero of mine.

And one of her lessons that has always stuck with me is the one about being too polite.

Here’s the situation: On her last morning in civilization before Helen set off for the magnetic North Pole, the Inuit villagers who had graciously hosted her the night before took their hospitality one step further by helping Helen pack up her sled for the journey. Helen had a particular packing system in mind, but she didn’t have the heart to tell the villagers she didn’t want their help. They were so happy and enthusiastic about it, she didn’t want to hurt their feelings. So she just smiled and said thank you as she watched them stuff her gear and clothing every which way into various pockets and pouches. She figured she’d fix it all later once she was alone in camp that night.

Big mistake.

Because when she finally stopped skiing across the ice that first night and began setting up her camp, she could feel the cold beginning to affect her fingers. She understood the dangers of frostbite. She needed to put on her pair of heavy, insulated mittens, but where were they? As she frantically searched for them, she could feel the dry cold and the wind chill of minus 100 quickly taking their toll. By the time she finally found the mittens, her fingers already felt like hard wooden blocks. The damage was done.

When she woke up the next morning, her hands were swollen and covered with blisters. And they felt incredibly, horribly painful. They stayed that way for the whole first week, making everything so much harder: lighting her stove, dressing herself, setting up and breaking down her camp–anything that required manual dexterity and ended up leaving her fingers throbbing with agonizing pain.

All because she’d been afraid to say, “No. No, thank you. I need to do this myself.”

What’s amazing is you’d think someone as brave as Helen Thayer would have no trouble telling people no. But it just shows you hard it can be sometimes to retrain ourselves to do what might seem impolite.

Years ago I saw an Oprah episode where she interviewed Gavin de Becker, the guy who wrote The Gift of Fear. Does anybody else remember that episode? He talked about how predators sometimes test their prey by insisting on “helping.” “Oh, here, let me bring this to your car. You dropped this, I’ll just bring it upstairs for you.” And when you say, “No,” the predator still insists. Because he’s testing whether he can dominate you.

De Becker and Oprah discussed how it wasn’t just dangerous criminals doing that, it could also be friends or family members. De Becker said, “Anyone who won’t hear your ‘no’ is trying to control you.” When you think of it that way, you can probably see it all around you: in your bossy co-worker, your critical mother-in-law, even your well-meaning sister or friend. Here you are taking a stand and actually using your “no,” and the person refuses to accept it.

Annoying, and, as de Becker points out, also potentially dangerous. People practice on us. We need to practice, too.

This is all a way of saying the same thing someone once told me: “It’s only fair if it’s fair to you, too.” How’s that again? You get a vote. If it’s nice for someone else, is it also nice for you? Or are you going to end up exhausted/broke/angry/resentful/out of time to watch your favorite show if you do “just this one more” favor?

Don’t get me wrong–it feels good to be nice. No doubt about it. But it feels less good to always be the one giving and giving, while your own store of personal energy and good will feels like it’s slowly draining away. Then, if you’re like me, one day it’s finally enough, and the answer for everybody is “No, no, and NO,” even if a few of those would have been yesses if they’d caught you on a better day. And maybe that grumpy, surly no-ness lasts for a lot longer than you meant it to–*cough* three years–and you realize when you come out of it that you could have had a much easier life and been much happier if you’d only moderated your yesses one by one instead of letting them all pile up in such an unbalanced way.

See where I’m going with this?

As my best friend sometimes has to remind us both, “We don’t have to act nice, we are nice.” And if you look closely at your own behavior, you can see the times when you’re just performing–wanting to appear nice–as opposed to genuinely wanting to do something out of love or friendship or simple human kindness. There is a difference. One of them drains you, the other fills you up. It’s very noticeable once you really start looking at it.

Sometimes you need to work the problem backwards. How will you feel afterward if you say no here versus yes? Forget how hard it might feel in the moment to tell someone no–think about how you want to feel afterward. If you really, really want to go home tonight and slip into something slouchy and treat yourself to an evening of quiet and Call the Midwife, then why are you saying yes to anything else? Don’t you get a vote, too? Don’t you ever get the yes?

Or, like I’m doing today, you work out a balance: ten nice things for other people, ten nice things for yourself. That seems like the best recipe for me lately to be able to handle all of my obligations cheerfully. I know at the end of a long stream of yesses today I’ll get to sit down and binge watch season 2 of The Mindy Project.

Now that’s my kind of balance.

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9. Off the Grid Benefits

It’s been awhile since my last post. Hope everything is OK with everyone!

I’ve slowly managed my way back to civilization and “real world” life. Last month, I spent a week in the Caribbean and I must say it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

I was off the grid too. No access to my phone. No access to social media. It forced me to enjoy right what was in front of me.

I also didn’t do any writing. Usually when I take off and travel, it usually involves some type of writing – working or revising a current WIP but this time I literally did nothing but relax, read, and enjoyed the ocean, the sun, and the sand.

Being of the off the grid has benefits. Here were some of mine:

  • You can bring focus back to yourself. Self-care is something we don’t do enough of and having limited access to the outside world allowed me to access and remember all the simple things I love that bring me joy.
  • You can get back in touch with nature’s beauty. Just the simple things like the frosted wave caps of the ocean, the melody of a tropical bird, or even the sun baked warmth of the sand was a natural endorphin that gave me calm and peace.
  • You can practice the art of doing nothing. Everyone has a “to-do” list. It’s always “Go, Go, Go!” Sitting and doing nothing usually makes me feel guilty. But in reality it was a small gift that I gave to myself.

I know that not everyone can take off for a week and chill in the Caribbean but there are some small things everyone can do to take time off the grid. Maybe take a day and not use any smartphones or social media. Take pleasure in staying in your pajamas and sleeping in for as long as you want. Reserve a day to have a binge-watch party or read that book you’ve been trying to complete in snippets. Go to the park and have a picnic with no timeline of how long you stay.

Or make it a daily practice. Get up an hour early when the house is quiet or stay up a little later at night when everyone is asleep. Or for the busy person whose schedule is overflowing, how about just 10 minutes in nature? Put your bare feet in grass, close your eyes to the sun, and take a deep breath?

Have any of you been off the grid? Do any of you incorporate it in your life as a practice? I would love to hear about it!

3 Comments on Off the Grid Benefits, last added: 4/10/2014
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10. Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.)Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.

ch

P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.


Tagged: black and white, color, line, mark allen stamaty, pattern, repetition, rhythm, texture, who needs donuts?

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11. Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele Youngby Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood BooksOut the Window by Cybele YoungDon’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungBut the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungAnd just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon!Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele YoungThanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

ch

P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!


Tagged: board book, cybele young, groundwood books

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12. Big and Small // Fast and Slow

by Britta Teckentrup

{published 2013, by Barefoot Books}

I just lost myself on Britta Teckentrup’s portfolio. Entirely charmed and swept away by every single piece. She’s new to me, and I’m happy to have flailed around in her brain for a bit. And it looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

I have an unusual affinity or board books. Proof: here and here and here. And that’s just a select smattering! But everything that is perfect about a picture book is even more so in a board book.

Smushier, sweeter, chewier.

And these are especially delicious.Fast and Slow shows those opposites side by side. Directly in contrast, varying by speed. The comparison is limited to that spread only, which is a detail that I love. One of the later spreads shows a train and a bus, which of course is double decker and European and fancy. But isn’t a bus faster than even that motorbike up above? Sure, but one spread isn’t competing with others. Little brains noodling that out? Smart.

And speaking of the motorbike page – total favorite. That scarf!The colors are saturated and leap into your eyes.

The type! It’s that perfect teacher-handwritten-style.

But it’s the texture that I love the most. Clean shapes, easy lines, and the slightest bit of grit. Smooth, flat color might have been an easy choice to match those shapes and lines. But in a book about contrast, splashing in some texture is smart.

And it looks awesome.Big and Small’s pairs are tightly knitted. Inside a giant apple is an itty-bitty seed. On top of a vast mountain are individual snowflakes. Those connections are beautiful, and the cat-lion standoff might be my very favorite spread.A perfect addition to your baby-shower rotation, your art class, your tiny one’s library, or just the ever-growing stack surrounding you.

ch

Review copy provided by Barefoot Books.


Tagged: barefoot books, britta teckentrup, color, comparison, contrast, texture

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13. Cleaning house

Literally. Today I have to clean my house because I cannot stand it another minute. This seems to be my current M.O. I wait until I can't bear it, then I clean. And I clean everything. Today I started by cleaning up my website. Go check it out: www.sandradehelen.com
As soon as I return from picking up my granddaughter from school, I will start at the top of my place (sleeping loft) and keep going until I have shoveled out the hovel. This time all clutter has to go. It's fall cleaning with a vengeance. Tomorrow I will pack for my 3 week trip. So, yes, my place will be dirty when I come back home. Cat hair, litter, and dust will be everywhere again. But no clutter (there isn't that much now, truthfully). But all the extra clothes, bric-a brac, magazines, and so on will be gone. Books delivered to the library. Things I thought might come in handy delivered to Goodwill along with clothes I didn't wear this summer.
I feel 10 pounds lighter already! I did not walk yesterday, nor did I eat my allotment of fruit and veggies. I was groggy all day yesterday because I got a migraine at 11pm the night before and took my meds. I wasn't able to just sleep off the headache because I had my handyguy coming at 9am. So I had to get up, and then of course I just stayed up, loggerheaded, all day. Back to semi-normal today, and I will meet my commitments today. Remember, my commitment is to walking FIVE days a week, so I'm allowed one more day of not walking this week. Veggies should be SEVEN days. So, I have missed one day. I will try to make it today for sure. You? How's your day going? How is your commitment to health coming along? And what about your balance between health and creativity? How you doing? Eh?

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14. (Pro)crastination

First off, I would like to send good luck to all of my writer friends who are participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I’m not doing it this year but I’ll cheer the rest of you on. 50K in 30 days. Whew. Makes me tired just thinking about it. :)

So…procrastination. Yeah.

For the last few weeks, I’ve had a valid excuse to not work so much on my novel revision because of my day job craziness. But now that’s slowing down and I’m still finding other ways to avoid what needs to be done — scene rewrites, logic fixes, character mishaps.

It’s amazing how other tasks can seem so pressing. More pressing than sitting in front of the computer or blank page. Could there be any “pros” in procrastination? Any type of benefit?

Let’s look at some of the “pressing” tasks that I’ve completed:

  • Reorganized my tupperware.
  • Washed all the baseboards in the house.
  • Changed my air filter and dusted out my vents.
  • Cleaned and sealed my bathroom tile grout.
  • Reorganized my closet and donated items to Goodwill.

This past weekend, I finished an epic procrastination task: I decided that I would redesign my blog.

The software geek in me really loved this. It was on my list for things to do in 2012, but why put off something for tomorrow when you can do it today — insert irony here — so for my RSS and email readers, take a looksy and let me know what you think.

It’s still in the tweaking stages. For those of you who need custom blog headers or other promotional material design such as bookmarks, writer friend Heather McCorkle has started CP Design that you should definitely check out.

But seriously, I need to start back work on the novel revisions. Maybe some of you NaNoWriMo writers can rub off on me. I need to regain my focus!

So how about you writer friends? Procrastinated lately? Do you get any “pros” out of it?

5 Comments on (Pro)crastination, last added: 11/1/2011
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15. Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?

It’s drilled into us by the Publishing Powers That Be: platform, platform, platform.

Embrace Social Media. Blog. Get on twitter. Engage. Network. Connect. Start early, think ahead, get a platform in place before the deal.

And because we want to give ourselves the best chance of being noticed, we do it. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and more. We participate in blog hops, help promo new books, run contests, join writing list-serves and organizations, post on forums, interact through writing support circles and groups. We host giveaways, we retweet, we #FF & #MM, we review books and we critique. We learn about SEO and back-linking and stress about Klout scores. We Follow. We Like. We+1. After all, this is what we were told to do, right?

For writers, putting time and energy into an online presence is the new norm. Time, hard work and luck all factor in on how successful a platform becomes. And some writers are very successful at building their platform. That's good...right? Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, except for the but.

Hold it...there's a  BUT in this scenario? Yes, and here it is:
  
Sometimes instead driving your platform, your platform drives you.

A great platform is every writer’s end game...but the cold, hard fact is that it comes at a price: TIME. It takes a lot of time to manage a successful online presence.

When it starts to chew up too much, we get hit with a fish-slap of reality: there's no time to read. The research we need to do for our WIP is always on the back burner. Our family rarely sees us without a laptop or wireless device in our hand. And, the death blow? We're spending all our time blogging and networking instead of writing.

Eventually, a writer in this situation will become fed up, especially if they aren't seeing dividends as a result of platform building (an agent's attention, the editor's interest, the deal to celebrate). They begin to resent their blogs, or twitter, or whatever else is murdering their writing time. They also may resent those who preach that writers ‘must have’ a platform. Social Media Fatigue sets in, and as the pressure to keep everything going builds, a writer flirts with the idea of just...walking...away.

Running yourself ragged is not the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not the solution. Change is. So if you are finding all your time is spent trying to gain online visibility instead of writing, you need a SOCIAL MEDIA INTERVENTION.

Consider this your therapy session.

Experiencing Social Media Fatigue? Look at what you’re doing for platform and what is draining your passion and time. What avenues can you cut back on? What can you do more efficiently? Here are some common TIME EATERS and POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

SYMPTOM: Blogging Burn Out
Blogging can be a big chore if you aren't into it. Do you struggle to come up with topics? Are you always writing posts? Do you like blogging but it takes up too much of your time?

CURE:
--Blog less. Cut back on your blogging schedule.
--J

60 Comments on Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?, last added: 1/26/2012
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16. Finding Balance

by Deren Hansen

Sandra Tayler, speaking at the 2011 Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) conference, addressed the perennial question of finding balance. She said you can balance your life by paying attention (as in at least 10 minutes a day) to the five things that are most important to you.

I've amplified Sandra's five things to illustrate the technique.

Source of Inspiration

The word inspire comes from Latin root that mean, "to breath into." Many creation stories have God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Amorphous Essence of the Universe breathing life into creation.

What is it that breaths life into your writing, your work, and your very existence?

What fills you with joy in being?

Whatever it may be, take time each day to reconnect with your source of inspiration.

Important Relationships

For good or ill, humans are social animals. Much of our sense of who we are is a function of those with whom we are close. Put another way, much of what we do is motivated by the people with whom we have the most important relationships. Some have pursued their art at the expense of those relationships and wound up with no one to share it with when they won the prize.

Take time each day to acknowledge and nurture your important relationships. Not only will you have more support right now, you'll likely have someone to appreciate it when you succeed.

Health and Welfare

As Count Rugen, in the Princess Bride, says, "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything."

Take time to take care of yourself.

Writing

If you are serious about writing it should have a high priority. While writing every day is an important habit, the point here is that you ought to do something related to writing each day to keep in touch with your passion.

"Something only I care about."

Sherry Wachter, writing on The Blood Red Pencil, talked about the importance of a room of one's own. That is, how having a project of your own makes it easier to compromise when you're working on someone else's project. Taking time each day to do something only you care about is essential if you don't want to lose track of yourself amid all the demands placed upon you.
 
Balance = The Things that Matter

You can think of this as the plate-spinner approach to personal balance. Like the performer who runs back and forth spinning up the plates that are slowing down, taking time each day to at least touch the five most important things in your life will go a long way to helping you find balance.

And don't think of it as balancing your life. The job of balancing an entire life is overwhelming. Sandra Tayler said, "Balance the day and the year will take care of itself."


Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

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17. Dear Novel

Dear Novel,

First, I owe you an apology. Over the last couple of months, I know that we haven’t spent much quality time together. I’ve been so busy at work and I’m sorry if you felt that I was neglecting you.

I really appreciate your patience. I know that we’ve talked about our future and exciting plans. I haven’t forgotten. Sometimes it’s the only thing that has kept me going over these last few crazy weeks. Please know that you’ve been close in my heart all this time.

I’m excited about our upcoming vacation together. My hope for us is that we can rekindle the creativity and passion again in Hawaii. I look forward to spending quality time with you on the beach in the shade of palm trees. You will have the full attention you deserve and I will listen to you and we can move forward.

I want you to know that I haven’t given up on us and please know that you are a very important part of my life.

Love always,
Karen

If you could write a letter to your novel, what would you say?

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18. Letter S

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19. Read to Feed

photo credit
First of all, the winner of the first chapter critique (as chosen by Randomizer.org) is C. Lee McKenzie!! 


I've been busy lately. Life has gotten crazy and I've been practicing my mad juggling skills between kids, volunteer work, and writing. Oh and I'm pregnant, which I didn't announce publicly until now, but what the hey! Three times is the charm. :D 


What's my point? Through everything, I've been bound and determined to keep at it. To keep writing because it means - YOU ALL MEAN - so much to me. I can't imagine my life without it now. But something was missing. When I did find a precious few minutes, and I forced myself to work, I was still having a lot more trouble than usual expressing myself the way I'm used to. 


I figured it out, folks. So I have to share it with all of you. The problem was that I had let something important go in favor of writing time. READING time. I've been in book withdrawal and I hate it! Reading is just as important to writers as writing. Let me repeat that because it's so important.


READING IS JUST AS IMPORTANT TO WRITERS AS WRITING.


The more I feed that part of my brain with delicious, nutritious books, the better I'm able to write with confidence. Do I copy authors I love? No. Certainly not consciously. But I let them INSPIRE me. I try to note what I love and find what's missing in my work so that I can round it out. Example? I just finished Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. OMG I devoured it. If you don't read her work, go fix that RIGHT NOW. I have four more books bought and ready to be gobbled up as well. And it's pumping up my writing brain. I can't explain how it works exactly, I can only tell you that it does. 


You need to read anyway. You need to know your genre and others. But if you don't get joy from reading you're probably in the wrong profession. So do me a favor and join me, will you? Go read a good book. Give up TV time or something else. But squeeze it in. 


I posted today on Enchanted Inkpot about what makes a fantasy classic. I'd love it if you visit me there too!
20. Balance

by Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid.com

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21. The Path To 10K In Sales: Strategy, Luck & Mistakes


I’ll admit my mind is blown knowing there are over 10, 000 Emotion Thesaurus books out there in the world. Becca and I are thrilled, and so appreciative to all the writers and teachers who took a chance on it. As aspiring novelists, we know just how hard it is to write and the perseverance it takes to create a book. Providing a tool to help other writers with emotion is nothing short of an honor (sappy, I know, but true. Writers rule and we love you guys!)

In that same spirit of wanting to contribute, we thought it might be beneficial to share our focus as we sent The Emotion Thesaurus into the world. We realize this is a non-fiction book, not fiction. Novels are a harder sell--instead of dealing primarily with what a audience NEEDS like NF, it is more about what they WANT, and personal reading tastes are unpredictable. However, much of the strategy we used with the ET can be adapted for fiction, so hopefully novelists will find value here regardless.  

A Bit of History...

As many of you know, The Emotion Thesaurus started on the blog as a 'set' of lists focusing on how to show a character’s feelings. Becca and I struggled with emotion, and when we could not find a good resource to help us, we created one. As it grew in popularity, readers asked us to turn it into an enhanced book version. 

We chose self publishing for a few reasons, the most important being TIME. It can take years for a book to find a publisher and then be available to purchase, and writers and teachers needed it NOW. We also discovered someone pirating our content for profit, so waiting any longer to create the book would be foolhardy. We launched The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression on May 14th, 2012.

What We Had Going For Us

PLATFORM. Becca and I have worked since 2008 to build a place within the Writing Community, providing resources through this blog and forging genuine relationships with our audience. Our attitude has always been to contribute and do what we can to add value. It was our hope that our readers would be willing to help raise awareness for The Emotion Thesaurus book. 

NICHE. Our book tackled a topic that writers struggle with, yet few resources were available to help. As writers, we knew exactly what type of tool was needed to help with emotion and body language.  

What Stood Against Us

LACK OF CREDIBILITY. Becca and I were not authors (yet), nor accredited editors, and certainly not psychologists or experts on emotion. We had a platform, but no ‘book world’ clout. How could we possibly compete with the biggies in the Writing Resource field, names like Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, James N. Frey, The Plot Whisperer, or the dozens of other incredible, best-selling authors/experts? 

SELF PUBLISHING. While the stigma is lessening, we all know bias remains. In some ways, creating a how-to writing resource and then choosing self publishing over traditional acted as a strike against us, meaning we would have to really prove ourselves with readers.

CONFIDENCE. This business is often a murky pool of feeling not worthy, not good enough.  Without a book deal in place for our fiction to give us credibility or a degree/subject-specific education to hold up, we felt naked. Putting ourselves out there and donning the hat of authority that comes with writing any sort of how-to guide was terrifying. 

The Scale Tipper

PASSION, BELIEF & TEAMWORK. As writers, we knew people needed this book. Heck, we needed it! We decided to create the best brainstorming tool we could and put all our effort into making it discoverable to those who might benefit from it. Working as a team allowed us to play off each others' strengths and aided in decision-making.

READYING FOR LAUNCH 

  • Set up a business
  • Paid for a professional edit
  • Hired a cover designer
  • Outsourced formatting to a HTML goddess because the book is full of links and redirects
  • Test-marketed it with a select group of writers & used feedback to strengthen

MISTAKE:  choosing a launch date and under-estimating the time it would take for setting up the business (two authors in different countries is a pain), uploading, formatting challenges, fixing last minute typos (again, our formatter Heather is worth her weight in gold!)  This created lots of down-to-the-wire stress. Test marketing the book (while super valuable) also meant enabling changes late in the game. 

First Hurdle: Launching A Book Without Feeling Like A Timeshare Salesman

For two writers who hate promoting, this was a massive challenge. Look at me! I have a book! Buy it! <---our personal nightmare. We needed a way to let people know about the ET but not be eye-bulging, book-waving maniacs about it. After many facetimes, we realized that to do this in a way that felt right, we needed to return to our AUTHOR BRAND: writers helping & supporting other writers. 

“Random Acts of Kindness for Writers” became our secret plan: instead of making our release date about us, we would do something to celebrate & thank writers. This was risky in the sense that to do it authentically, we had to steer attention AWAY from our book’s release. However, we felt the reward was twofold--traffic to our site, and it allowed us a way to pour our flag-waving passion into celebrating people who really deserve recognition and yet rarely get it. This event aligned perfectly with our pay-it-forward beliefs, driving us to do all we could to make it a success.

For brevity's sake, I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how we set up the RAOK Blitz (but if enough people wish it, I can expand on this in a future post). Suffice to say it drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of writers participated, becoming a huge ‘feel good’ week for everyone that showcased the generous spirits of our Writing Community. :) 

Marketing Boost:  Becca and I gave away a free PDF called ‘Emotion Amplifiers’ as our RAOK gift to writers. This PDF booklet is a companion to The Emotion Thesaurus and has a similar layout. Our hope was that if a writer found it helpful, they might check the ET as well. (It’s still in our sidebar if you want a copy and helps with describing conditions like pain, exhaustion, stress, inebriation, etc.)

Second Hurdle: Reviews

A self-published book that is also non-fiction? Rough. Many professional reviewers will not take on SP books, and those that do usually only read fiction. So, instead of seeking out review sites, we put out a  call out to Bookshelf Muse readers and asked if any of them were  interested in reviewing the book. After all, the ET is BY writers FOR writers. Who better to review it? :)

We could not accommodate all the requests that came in, so we chose some reviewers strategically for their audience reach, and others through a random draw. 

MISTAKE:  We should have arranged for reviews much sooner. Due to not leaving ourselves enough time to get the book ready to go, we were unable to get a decent version out to reviewers until close to launch or after.

LUCK! Many people, after buying and using the ET, were so happy with it they wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

MORE LUCK! These reviews swayed even MORE people to take a chance on the book, and they in turn became avid word-of-mouth spreaders, telling writing friends and critique partners all about The Emotion Thesaurus. This led to better sales, top 20 ranking in several (paid) writing categories for print & kindle, a strong Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and placement on the Top Rated, Best Selling & Most Wished For lists (writing).
 
Marketing Tactics - Swag

We chose to invest in a postcard-sized bookmark that doubles as a Revision Tool.  Many bookmarks lie forgotten in a drawer, or they end up being recycled. We wanted ours to stay right beside the computer during revisions, so we printed a ‘Crutch Word List’ on one side--words we commonly overuse and need to weed out. Our hope was that by making our swag useful, writers would hang onto it!

Spreading the word about a book can be difficult, so we put out a call (again utilizing our blog readers) and asked if people would be willing to take our bookmarks and hand them out to critique groups, or give them out at conferences and workshops. This allowed us to reach out beyond our own circle and hopefully reach new readers. 

MISTAKE (?) This was a bit pricey considering the postage involved (some were sent worldwide), and took time to get addresses and mail out. We had no way to track the effectiveness. And while I have heard from people who said they saw them at conferences or were given one by another writer, we are not sure if the ‘mail out’ idea brought a significant return. But, the postcards are super handy to have at events where Becca and I are presenting, and we can pass them out afterward to keep the ET in people’s minds. So overall, this swag was worth it!

Marketing Tactics - Discoverability

The bulk of our marketing energy went into discoverability. Because we have such an amazingly supportive audience at The Bookshelf Muse, we chose a 'grassroots' approach rather than solicit big bloggers/sites for exposure. In our initial blog post asking for assistance from readers, we utilized a sign up form so the people who wanted to help us could, and in a manner that most appealed to them. The results of this was amazing--so many people offered to help get the word out! 

One of our biggest needs was bloggers willing to host us for a visit. We were overwhelmed with gratitude to see how many people were willing to do this (have I mentioned how great you all are?) and we actually had to change how our form was worded to include offering book excerpts and reblogging previous TBM posts to accommodate the response. We ended up with over 115 hosts all told.

Attempting so many guest posts caused panic attacks, obsessive chocolate binging, feelings of inadequacy *coughs* was daunting. But Becca organized everything (SHE IS AMAZING!) and put us on an aggressive schedule that would allow us to finish them all within a 4 month window. We created a master list of topics, most centered directly on content that would tie into Emotion & Body Language, so that each post was a planned, quality post. The best thank you to those who offered to help us was to write content that would bring them strong traffic, not just exposure for us.  

GUEST POST TIP: We did our best to thank personally every person who hosted and helped. We also shared all links on our social networks to bring new people to their blogs.  We truly appreciated their time and energy, and their desire to see us succeed.

MISTAKE #1: biting off more than we could chew. This was an enormous amount of guest posts (with more requests coming in as a result of this visibility) and so it meant we were both unable to write anything but blog content for a good 4 months. We managed to get them done and we have no regrets because of the great exposure, but it also meant other things slipped. There were a few blogging relationships and opportunities we were unable to stay on top of because we were so busy posting elsewhere. We also had a tough time commenting on blogs and getting email written. With such a strict timeline to adhere to, I worried about messing up and forgetting something vital, letting a host down.

MISTAKE #2: not thinking enough about how to keep up with our own blog AND everyone else’s. Luckily as we met new people at different blogs, we found folks who wanted to guest post for us. We were able to give them exposure in return and bring some good content to the blog (LUCK!) So while we made a mistake about over committing, it worked out. 

MORE LUCK! These ‘seed’ guest posts led to some writing communities and bigger organizations contacting us. This resulted in book reviews and giveaways that were included in newsletters and offered exposure with bigger audiences. The Discoverability Tour worked!

Marketing Tactics: Giveaways

We utilized giveaways to generate interest in our book and bring attention to some of the blogs we visited. We purposefully did not host book giveaways during the month of May to encourage people to buy, not wait to win. We had a few giveaways in June and then more in July, August and September. Some were bigger exposure opportunities like being featured in a banner at the Writer’s Knowledge Base and as a prize at Ink Pageant (thanks guys--you rock!) We tried to go where our readers would be, and took advantage of opportunities that allowed us to reach beyond the Kidlit & YA writer’s network we know best in order to create inroads with Christian and other Adult genres who might not know us or The Bookshelf Muse. 

Marketing Tactics: Distribution Channels 

Becca and I talked about going KDP Select but neither of us could see the benefit to doing so right out the gate. In our minds, we wanted to ask a fair price for the books and have it available across as many channels as possible to reach readers where they are, not where we ‘chose’ to be. We distributed widely and included a PDF option for those who did not have ereaders or who felt more comfortable with PDF format. For those who like numbers, here’s the breakdown to 10,000 which we hit in September: 




SW
iTunes
CS-Amazon.com
(PRINT)
B&N
Kindle (Amazon.com)
Kindle 
(Amazon Euro)
Kobo
PDF
Total

May
17
10
243
62
412
25

102
871

June
13
19
503
66
905
50

89
1645

July
13
22
887
78
1334
77

76
2487

August
13
33
893
56
1297
103

60
2455

September
10
32
1036
53
1282
151
21*
47
2632


































Total: 
66
116
3562
315
5230
406
21
374
10090


*Prior to September, Kobo sales were bundled with Smashwords. Once Kobo created their own distribution, we uploaded direct. Sony sales are under the Smashwords umbrella.

You will notice that Print is quite strong. We believe this is partly because many writers like 'craft' books in paperback. We also have had feedback that some original digital buyers were so pleased with the ET, they later decided to invest in a print version, too.

Pricing: We chose the 4.99 price point for digital, and 14.99 for print. We have not changed the price nor offered the book for free. In the future we may change our pricing, but for now it works well with Extended Distribution, which we sell enough through to make it important to keep.

MISTAKE: not enabling Extended Distribution right from the start. Originally we didn’t think it would do us much good, until we realized without it, we could not get onto Amazon.ca. Seeing as I live in Canada, it is important that the people I meet at events or at my workshops have a way to get the book. Not doing this before May meant a six week lag of fielding emails from Canadians unable to buy the book. 

Marketing Tactics: Paid Advertizing

We opted to not invest in any paid advertising. I think this was the right decision for us, but do see us choosing a few select ads in the future. 

Where We Got Extra Lucky

  • Winning Top 20 Best Blogs For Writers with Write To Done a few months before The Emotion Thesaurus released. This raised our profile significantly, and at a critical time.
  • Once sales started climbing, Amazon would send out mailers to people who purchased writing related books, and sometimes The Emotion Thesaurus was listed as a ‘Those that purchased X might also like’ pick.
  • A price war between B & N and Amazon. For the last week of September, the two duked it out, lowering the book’s price daily until the discount put it under 10 bucks. Average sales nearly doubled for print (although sales dipped that week for Kindle).

A Few Extraneous Mistakes

  • Not soliciting endorsements. We didn’t do this in advance of publishing the ET because we were worried about being turned down, worried about getting the cold shoulder because we were newcomers and new authors. Now more than ever we are seeing an acceptance of SP, and of Traditional authors making the leap. Endorsements probably would have helped us greatly and so moving forward we’ll be seeking them out.
  • Not believing in ourselves enough at the start. I think we wasted a lot of energy on doubt because we hadn’t published before (except in magazines) and we were afraid that while we felt The Emotion Thesaurus added value, others would not. The response to The Emotion Thesaurus has been nothing short of phenomenal and knowing that Illinois State University is using it in their Creative Writing curriculum makes us incredibly proud. A self published book going to University...who would have thought?

Thoughts to Leave You With

Looking back, I believe we did two things right that led to everything else:

First, we created a book that readers are very happy with, and it fulfills a need in a way that they are excited to share it with people they know. (We are so, so, SO grateful to this word-of-mouth. Thank you all for doing this!)

Second, we live our brand: writers who help and support other writers. This is who we are! We love writers and have forged genuine relationships with our readers. When we needed help to spread the word, people responded, and more than that, became our advocates. There are not enough thank yous in the world for me to say what this means to us.

If I can encourage writers planning to publish to do one thing beyond the above, it’s to be authentic in whatever you do. When you build your platform, start in advance and think very hard about what your brand will be. Be yourself, be likable, do what feels right and resonates with who you are. Understand your audience, their likes and dislikes, and search them out. Use keywords to find blogs, forum discussions and hashtags that will help you discover people who might be interested in a book like yours. Interact, be genuine and think about how you can add value, not how you can market to them. Focus on giving, not getting. Trust that the rest will come. :)   

Do you have any questions about what we did or why? Becca and I are happy to answer if we are able. And again, the biggest, squishiest, bacon-filled thank you for all your support of us and the ET. Your word-of-mouth has allowed writers and teachers everywhere to discover this book! 

38 Comments on The Path To 10K In Sales: Strategy, Luck & Mistakes, last added: 10/17/2012
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22. Time Management Tuesday: A Balance Scheme

Last week I caught the tail end of a Twitter chat at #kidlitchat. The discussion topic was "Work/life/family/job/other. How do you balance it all?" I immediately recognized a subject for Time Management Tuesday because balancing activities has a great deal to do with managing time. Over the last year and a half, we've hit upon a couple of topics here at Original Content, as part of the Time Management Tuesday project or not,  that definitely deal with the getting everything done issue.

Balance Is Easier When You're Trying To Juggle Fewer Things


Really think of the balancing metaphor. Think in terms of  carrying a number of things and having to carefully balance them in order to do so. There will always come a tipping point, when you have one item too many and the whole load ends on the ground. Yes, dealing with work and a personal life is like that.

Back in June, I addressed Shannon Hale's post on caregiving and writing. She has cut her life down to work and raising her kids. Only  two things. There are, of course, multitudes of tasks within those two activities, but she is limiting where her time and energy goes to two major efforts.

Balance for all of us is easier to approach (notice I'm not using the word  "achieve") if we consciously cut back on the number of things we're trying to balance. That could mean cutting back on professional projects as well as personal interests. There's been talk for years about housework not being a valuable use of time. But as a general rule accepting that we'll never have clean windows or a kitchen linoleum without holes (is that just me?) often doesn't begin to offset all the other things we need to do/balance. Therefore, we may have to assess how  much we're really getting professionally from the writers' group we attend and let that go, as well as putting away the hobbies that have nothing to do with our work. We may not be able to justify the weekly author visit  to a local school any more than we can justify the monthly hike with a local walking group.

Remember the old clutter advice about only buying something new if you throw something out? Trying for balance could mean only taking on a new project if we give another one up. If we want to volunteer with a writers' organization, maybe we'll have to sacrifice community volunteer work. 

There really isn't much hope of achieving anything like balance if we keep trying to carry more and more activities. What's more, we can give a better effort in terms of time and energy when we have fewer things to work on.

Situational Balance


Balancing activities in our lives is like managing time. We can't expect to come up with one way to balance things and be done with it for the rest of our lives, just as we can't expect to come up with a schedule that we can work with forever. Everything is situational.  We have to rebalance everything in our lives depending on our ever changing life situation, just as we have to change our schedules when our lives change.

I'm not talking different balances during different life phases, as in we have one kind of balance while we're writing as single working people, another balance if we're writing and  raising a family, another balance if we're writing, raising a family, and holding down a day job. I'm talking weekly, if not daily adjustments.

We have to keep juggling our tasks not just because all personal lives appear to exist in chaos but because our work situations are constantly changing, too. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with reactive work--responding to inquiries for appearances or RFPs for conferences or submission deadlines. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with marketing or research or study. We may be working on more than one creative project at a time and trying to balance that.

And then we have to factor in the personal chaos.

What we're talking about here is creating balance around situation instead of looking for a permanent, all-purpose solution. Situational balance means we are only able to create anything like balance by planning what's going to happen for the next month or the next week or even, sometimes, the next couple of days.

A Zenny Balance Scheme


There is a zenny aspect to the balance scheme I'm describing because it involves recognizing:

  1. the desire to keep adding more and more professional and personal tasks to our workload may not lead to true unhappiness but it certainly won't lead to balance;
  2. our situation at the present moment and planning to deal just with that.

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23. Waterloo & Trafalgar

Tonight was for writing this post and watching some football and thinking about orange and blue. And then this commercial comes on TV. (Well, this one is a few years old. Same flavor, though.)

breakerRemember this. It means something in a bit. I promise I don’t care where you buy your life insurance.breakerWaterloo and Trafalgar

by Olivier Tallec

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

Waterloo & Trafalgar is at once spare and very much not. It’s a book about unnecessary fighting and the two stubborn sides who forget why they are even at odds. They are suspicious, bored, but always staid. Until. A snail, a bird, a different perspective. Different looks a little bit the same after all.Waterloo and TrafalgarTallec’s goofy little men end up as a charming shout for peace. They are absurd. They are us.

Waterloo. Blue. Trafalgar. Orange. Opposites. Enemies.Waterloo and TrafalgarcolorwheelThere they are, as far from one another on the color wheel as possible. Direct opposites. Complementary colors.

Orange and blue are a combination of dominance, because each is competing for the attention of your eye. One cool, one warm, constant attention-grabbers. Because of their stark contrast, each truly shouts.Waterloo and TrafalgarThat’s why it’s a duo you see in a lot of advertising for banks, credit cards, and other Important Things. Would that Northwestern Mutual commercial be as strong if it were in a different color palette? Probably not. They want to imply strength, power, and – well, life.

And, ahem. I’m a fan of these two colors. Note my blog header and the rest of this thing’s design. Those design decisions were intentional, and since you are reading this and hanging out here with me, it might just be working.Waterloo and TrafalgarPerfect choices for Waterloo and Trafalgar, right? It wouldn’t make sense for those two ridiculous little men to be represented by closer together hues. Their orange and blues are a tenuous balance.

Besides a color scheme that works, that sings, and that smacks you in the gut, this is just a darn beautiful book. The paper is thick and rich to the touch, and some split pages inside extend the stories and heighten the division at hand.Waterloo and TrafalgarI love the die cuts on the cover – those clever windows reveal these two nuts and their telescopes at the ready. And the endpapers’ narrative is subtle as it holds the story in place. The carved out holes close up by the end, and the stream of blue and orange smash right up against each other.Waterloo and TrafalgarStill different, still far apart on that wheel. Transformed into something lovely together.chMoreToRead

Ok, ok. One more orange and blue moment I love is the opening title sequence to the James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

breaker(These titles are created by a studio whose motion design work is just spectacular, MK12. They are the creative minds behind the visuals in Stranger Than Fiction and the gorgeous end titles of The Kite Runner. By the way, notice the colors in the first minute of that one!)

breakerAnd! A whole slew of orange and blue on movie posters. You won’t un-see this color palette once you start noticing it. That’s a promise prefaced with a slight apology! Here’s just one:Hugo_FilmPosters


Tagged: balance, color palette, color theory, complementary colors, movie posters, olivier tallec, orange and blue, trailers, waterloo and trafalgar

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24. Sparkle and Spin

sparkleandspin_cover

By Ann and Paul Rand

{originally published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, and World. Reprinted 2006 by Chronicle Books.}Sometimes pictures are just that: eye-catching and whimsical, without being packed with meaning or message. That spirit dances across the page in Sparkle and Spin, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by her husband Paul.

Paul Rand is an iconic American graphic designer. A problem solver. A storyteller. A communicator.

He said this about design:

“Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold.”breakerHis biographer, Steven Heller, said this:

“Paul Rand did not set out to create classic children’s books, he simply wanted to make pictures that were playful. Like the alchemist of old, he transformed unlikely abstract forms into icons that inspired children and adults and laid the foundation for two books that have indeed become children’s classics.”

Maybe he didn’t intend to be a creator of legendary books for kids, but his love for beautiful work shines in this one. That’s the magic of Sparkle and Spin: harmony, wit, and playfulness.And Ann’s words are a delightful match to Paul’s pictures. There’s a rhythm, song, and honor to these words that represent the joy of learning. Harmony, captured perfectly.

In graphic design, harmony is the magic that happens when all of the individual elements complement one another. It’s when small parts of pretty make up a more lovely whole.breakericeCreamHere’s a detail I really love. This bold, graphic ice cream cone comes at the beginning, and with the inscription: To all children who like ice cream. And at The End, that scoop’s been slurped, chomped, and devoured. That’s what the experience of this book is. Tasty.

The book sparkles and spins. You’ll see what I mean.

ch


Tagged: ann rand, chronicle, color, harmony, pattern, paul rand, shape, sparkle and spin, wordplay

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25. Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!)In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has. And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways.Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.

and

Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark.Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising.When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures. The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!

ch


Tagged: color, paul thurlby, texture

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