Finding Mascot: My Road to Indie-Publishing

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There’s more to publishing a book than writing, editing and printing a manuscript. If that was all, more people would do it. There is the added element of illustrations for a picture book which, if you draw as well as me, will be a talent you will have to find elsewhere for an additional price. Once you get the book into the printers, there is the marketing and distribution, the largest, most time consuming aspect of publishing. Publishing a book can become a massive undertaking.

Distribution of the book takes a lot of leg work especially if it is your first book. Publishing companies usually take care of marketing and distribution. If it is a traditional publishing company in the industry like Simon & Schuster, Candlewick Press, Harcourt, etc. then you will have great distribution (and most likely a literary agent), but make pennies on the individual book sales, which feels like you aren’t being adequately compensated for the original creativity of the work. You may even lose creative control once the book is accepted.

If you self-publish the entire process is up to you, and the task of marketing and distribution can become overwhelming unless you have great talents with social media and web design, a lot of networks, and a team of volunteers. However, there is a third option that I will call indie-publishers.

For an upfront cost, these publishers assist with the task of editing and printing your manuscript as well as marketing and distribution. They make themselves available to help get your book out there where you may not have connections; not at the same level as a traditional publishing company, but they also don’t leave you with pennies for your individual book sales. In fact, you maintain the creative license through the production and keep the majority of the profits from individual book sales.

I’ve searched for a literary agent, but they are difficult to find. I sent in many different manuscripts to many agents who were listed as working with children’s books or picture books. However, most of the responses (and maybe they were just being nice) basically said they liked my stories, but it wasn’t the type of writing with which they usually work. They seem to be very specialized and finding one that would support me and be a voice with the publishing companies proved to be difficult and time consuming. It took a minimum of about 6 weeks for the agents to get back to me, some up to 6 months, and some not at all.

So I looked into other possibilities. My friend, Keri Ems, who was in the process of publishing with Mascot Books, recommended I look into them. After seeing the cost for self-publishing wasn’t much different from indie-publishing, I decided to submit some manuscripts to Mascot. They told me they liked my manuscripts and helped me choose the one they thought would most appeal to readers for my first book. Thus, the process began to publish Speckles and His New Home.

Judge a (Picture) Book by Its Cover

Judge a Cover

It is often said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I would generally agree. However, I don’t think this applies to children’s books. The illustrations are a main aspect of these books which is why they are often called picture books.  

“Pictures are worth a thousand words” is another old adage that comes to mind when thinking about children’s books, but this one seems more applicable since children’s stories are told through words and illustrations. The cover of these books is in a sense the first illustration of the story. The cover is meant to begin the story or engage the reader with the story.

Mo Willems is an author that comes to mind that takes this to another level. His books really do begin with the cover. Often a book begins with a few “extra” pages like the title page and the dedication page, and then the story begins with page one. Willem’s books (the Elephant and Piggie series and the Pigeon series) begin with the cover, “title” page, and “dedication” page telling the story with illustrations and words. The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L Stine and Marc Brown is another example of this. You don’t need to skip through the introductory pages to get to the story; the story begins on the cover.

When thinking about and discussing with the illustrator, Rose Anderson, we both asked the question “what do we want the cover to communicate to the reader about the story?” We both thought about this because we knew the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” wouldn’t be applicable with this picture book. We expect the readers to judge the book by its cover because it’s purpose is to capture the reader’s attention by an illustration and words. I would even say it has the same purpose as the back cover blurb, that is, to tease and entice the reader to open the book.

Now I am no illustrator, but have many thoughts about art and would summarize my opinion in the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

Dialogue: By Their Words You Will Know Them

IMG_3130Telling a story and writing a story, I have found, are very different skills. Some people describe me as a storyteller; it’s true I can spin a good yarn every now and then. I inherited it from my father, who as he always said could make a long story longer.

We all have stories to tell and stories worth telling. Some are true, some are fictional, and some are a little of both. But to make a story worth listening to or reading can be challenging. When you tell a story you always get another chance to modify and change, to add or subtract. You get instant feedback from the listeners. When I tell my boys the stories at night about the fictional characters I make up, the general story stays the same, but the details change partly because I want to try to improve it and partly because I forget how I told it last time.

When I started writing these stories down, I realized I was just writing was I was saying. This makes sense in one way, but it doesn’t always work when you read the story. My storytelling often doesn’t involve much dialogue. Dialogue was the main reason I couldn’t finish writing novels.

Good dialogue is difficult to write. What a character says and how they say it can communicate a lot about them. It reveals what they think and how they think, and, for some characters, it is the only way into their thoughts. Dialogue can make or break a story. Rigid dialogue creates poorly developed characters with whom it’s difficult for the reader to relate. Inconsistent dialogue makes characters wooden and unrealistic. You have to know your characters; their thoughts, their hopes, their personalities. If you don’t know your characters, neither will your readers.

Arnold Lobel, in my humble opinion, is one of the best children’s authors when it comes to dialogue. Frog and Toad, Owl at Home, Uncle Elephant, Mouse Soup, and Grasshopper on the Road are all masterpieces in character dialogue among children’s books. My sons love listening to the recordings we have of Lobel narrating his own works, and having us read his books to them. They repeat the words of the characters from these books – especially Frog and Toad – all the time. Reading Lobel and others like him helps me to understand how to write better dialogue.

Although in my first book there isn’t much dialogue, it was something I edited multiple times. It was never something with which I was completely happy, but I have tried experimenting with dialogue more in stories I tell my sons and in some of the newer manuscripts I have written. Hopefully the old adage, practice makes perfect, proves true.  

My Story

I know all stories have a beginning and an end. But the beginning of my story of becoming a children’s book author was indistinct and vague. I never imagined I would be writing anything let alone stories for children. This was never a dream of mine. I didn’t have the desire to write for a career, a living, or for fun. I have always loved to tell stories just not write them.

The idea of writing stories came to me, oddly enough, while I was in seminary. My time at seminary was one of the worst and best experiences of my life. I started to read like I had never read before, and I’m not referring to the required reading for classes. Honestly, I read books to get lost in the stories of others during some of the darker years. I got lost in the lives of others; in the adventures and the relationships, in the heartbreak and the joy, in the world away from my world. It was escapism, but I couldn’t escape. I decided to write. I wrote because I wanted to tell stories like the ones I read for the purpose of why I read them.

I quickly found out telling stories and writing stories is a very different skill set. However, after marrying and having our first son, I started reading many children’s books. We read to our son (which later became our sons) every day and every night. They love books. They love stories.

Eventually, I started to tell my oldest son stories while lying in bed trying to get him to go to sleep. He loved them. He would talk about them the next day. He would ask me to tell him a story over reading him a book. It was then I decided to write them down and to share them. However, the main reason I had never thought of writing children’s books was because even if I could tell a decent story, I couldn’t then and still can’t draw or illustrate.

In comes the illustrator for my first book. My wife’s sister Rose – the illustrator of Speckles- was in the middle of high school, but showed a great talent for illustrations and art in general. I approached her about illustrating some of my stories and the ride began. Mascot Books picked up my first manuscript which will be published Oct. 4th 2016! My hope is that this is only the first of many after seeing the product of our work. I still tell my sons new stories and even sing them to my middle son to help him go to sleep. My youngest son, I hope, will enjoy them as books. If my sons are the only ones who appreciate my books, then to me it will all be worth it. But I do hope you will enjoy my books. If you want to join the adventure with me, you can pre-order at my site erichshrose.com. Thank you for reading and please follow my blog which  I hope to update with tales from the adventure and general children’s literature information. Live long and read often.

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