When is a bowl not a bowl?

I love helping kids make thing, but do kids need as much help as I think? I’m not going to be doing Maker Team this year, but I look back on the years I spent helping kids learn how to make, and I wonder how much of what we made was their vision, and how much was mine? It’s so hard to get out of the way and let kids be kids. It’s so hard to teach someone by letting them make mistakes you know how to avoid. The best teachers know how to do it. The best parents get there before their kids grow up. I’m not there yet.

I’ve got a sculpture that came home from school with my daughter years ago. I’ve treasured it and used it as a candle holder. This year she rediscovered it as we were moving things around to make room for Christmas decorations, and she surprised me with a passionate outburst.

“I hate that—throw it away.”

“But I love it! It’s so pretty!”

“It’s not what I meant it to be at all.”

“Honey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You were like, 7 years old.”

“No, I mean it’s really not what I meant it to be. It was supposed to be a bowl. And it came out of the kiln like that—my teacher changed it.” Vitriol dripping from her voice like blood from a vampire’s fangs.

Not a bowl

Not a bowl

I don’t know what this looked like before it went into the kiln. You can kind of see the hints of a curved rim—maybe it got squished by another kid, or dropped, or maybe the teacher (and she was a great teacher) thought she was trying to help. Who knows. The one thing she didn’t do was ask my daughter what she wanted before she fixed it.

So now I keep this proudly displayed, but not because it is a beautiful candle holder, and not just to spite my daughter, who still hates it and wants me to throw it away. I keep it to remind me that to some kids, it’s more important to have a lumpy bowl than a beautiful candle holder.


Less than a week–publication date June 12th!

Less than a week until Timber Howligan’s publication date (June 12th! June 12th!)! You may wonder what the penultimate week in a self-published author’s life looks like. This is my basement, where I set up shop…


Screenprinting t-shirts.

Yes, that’s right. My kids just finished their last week of school, so one batch of t-shirts was for the Maker Team. Another was a class gift for my son’s fourth grade teacher. Home screenprinting is lots of fun—it’s messy and creative and full of hours of nitpicky frustration, just like writing except it ruins your favorite clothes.

For those who are interested, here’s a more useful description of the self-publishing process. This list might reveal my naiveté, especially when it comes to marketing—a social media hound I am not. But these are the general steps I’ve gone through. Keep in mind this list is out there in more generic forms in other venues, and this particular list reflects my goals: to have fun, and to create a product I’m proud of.

1. Write book/edit book. I hired professional editors—one for content, and another for copy editing at a later stage. You can find editors through professional associations (e.g. SCBWI), word of mouth, and I can’t say enough good things about selfpublishingreview.com—they have so many good resources for the independent publisher, including a version of this checklist.

2. Book cover design. I used friends, but there are many professional resources, for example at selfpublishingreview.com. I also hired an illustrator, because this was a children’s novel. The cover was worth all the money I spent–I could not have come up with something this cool on my own:

Front Cover (final)

3. ISBN number from Bowker. As far as I can tell, the consensus is that you should splurge for 10 (1 costs $125, 10 cost $295). The print and ebook versions each need their own ISBN, so you’re already in it for two if you plan to publish both. Don’t bother to pay for the barcode, because there are plenty of barcode generators out there (including CreateSpace, who will generate one for you).

4. Register book title with http://www.bowkerlink.com after assigning ISBN—you should know things like when your book is being published, the list price, etc. This is a later step.

5. Not every independent publisher does this, but I registered my own Sole Proprietorship with my home county’s Register of Deeds. I am Lionheart Press. I did this so I could legitimately put a publishing company on the title page and back cover of my book. Also, once you register a business name, you get cool things in the mail—like an offer for a free “Square” doodad, so I can take credit card sales. How cool is that?

6. Pick an interior design—I bought a template from BookDesignTemplates.com and found it very easy to use; worth the ~$30. The separate ebook template was only $10. Splurging for a professional interior design template sets things like margins, headers, page numbers, blank pages, etc. You can customize it as desired. This is what it ended up looking like:

Screenshot 2015-06-06 15.15.43

7. Format book, format ebook—very very different processes. Much more to it than slapping text in a template. I spent one day fixing ellipses, because they didn’t come over the right way from Scrivener. You can hire people to do this for you too.

8. Marketing….On this I am not an expert, as anyone who follows me on Twitter can tell. But my son’s friends bug me every time they see me about when the book is coming out, so I must be doing something right. The most important thing is, don’t skip this step. Know what your book is about and be able to rattle off the blurb in your sleep. Have the one sentence cocktail party summary flow smoothly from your lips whenever anyone asks “So what’s your book about?” And don’t call it “My book.” Plug it by its title relentlessly. “Timber Howligan is about a cat who always wanted to be a secret agent, but when he finally gets a chance, everything goes wrong…it’s kind of like James Bond meets Garfield.”

9. Redesign my website: I made www.timberhowligan.com a static page, where the ebook will be available for free, because I believe that once you’ve paid for the text, you deserve it in electronic format also. These are the kinds of things I have the power to do as an independent author. I also had to change the name of this website to http://www.hjfrederick.com, because I promised Heather Vogel Frederick, author of Spy Mice, that I wouldn’t use my full name when I published Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat. What are the odds that two Heather Frederick’s would write about the secret world of spy mammals?

10. Pick a platform—CreateSpace versus LightningSource? Draft2Digital? Smashwords? All will get you where you want to go. I picked CreateSpace for print, and I’m still evaluating options for the ebook. I’m strongly considering Draft2Digital based on what I’ve read and heard. Kind of have to make that decision…today.

11. Print proof—do not skip this step if you are doing a print version of your book. Nothing substitutes for seeing what the reader will see. I printed extras to hand out to beta readers, because maybe they will catch something I didn’t. Also, my son didn’t want to wait until June 12th–he’s been reading the proof copy, and he’s figured out I’ll let him stay up waaaaay past his bedtime if he’s reading Timber Howligan.

12. Publish! Celebrate! Tell yourself this is fun. Now it’s time to go write the next book.

Coming soon to a butcher shop, library, or pet store near you: Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat!

Coming soon to a butcher shop, library, or pet store near you:

Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat!

What kind of cat needs a grappling gun? Find out in Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat

What kind of cat needs a grappling gun? Find out in Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat

That’s right, my debut novel will soon be available. I finished it two years ago. Since then, it’s been through many revisions and one professional edit. I’ve hired an illustrator, and the final artwork is almost done. It needs proofreading, a cover, and interior design. By the end of 2015 (hopefully sooner), Timber Howligan will be out in the world.

The decision to self-publish my first novel is not one that I’ve made lightly. The pros and cons between DIY and traditional publishing are as easy to find as cute cat pictures on the Internet. Here’s why the self-publishing model is the right choice for this book, for this author, at this time:

1. My health. Being an author is a full-time job, and with chronic headaches, I’m not ready for that. I need to do this at my own pace. Working for a publisher would mean having deadlines—someone else’s. Not to mention the diligence and effort it takes to pursue first getting an agent and then finding a publisher to begin with. All worthy goals. Just not for me, not now.

2. I think I can do it right. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it. There are so many resources available to educate and assist the author intent on publishing her own book, it’s silly not to take advantage of them. There’s no excuse for putting out an inferior product, and I don’t plan to.

3. My goals are…untraditional. I plan to donate any proceeds (notice I didn’t say profits—I realize there might not be any) to the American Humane Society. That’s right: Every book purchased will help an animal in need.

I might make more money publishing with a traditional publisher, but the risk is at this point that I might not ever FIND a traditional publisher. Also…my goal is not to make money. Timber’s quest is to save animals. Mine is to help them. That’s what this book is all about.

If you can sense a hint of my take-control personality leaking through, that’s fair. That’s also influencing my decision, and that’s definitely one of the advantages of self-publishing. But I’m not rushing into this—by the time this book hits the virtual shelves, it will be edited, formatted, and polished. It will be backed by a business plan and my best attempts at marketing. I LOVE this book, and I want to share it with the world. Like all the best things in life, it will be worth waiting for.

Stay tuned!

Introducing SF to the Next Generation

I went to my first “Con” this weekend, IllogiCon IV in Cary, NC. This Science Fiction and Fantasy Con had much more to offer than I was able to partake. (Including belly dancing! So sad I missed that.)

After four hours, I was home in bed sleeping off a headache. But Saturday morning I was able to attend a fabulous session about introducing Science Fiction and Fantasy to the next generation. This is a topic of great interest to me, since I not only A) write speculative fiction, but B) occasionally write it for the younger generation, but C) read it passionately, and D) can’t figure out why my children don’t want anything to do with my stellar collection of books.

I learned many things. Not only from the panelists, but especially from the lone teenage audience member. Who spent half the session browsing her father’s smart phone.

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro

One of the things she said that I took note of, as a parent: “I like science fiction, but I’d rather watch it on TV.” To be fair, many of the adults present admitted they preferred some stories in visual format (Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s name was mentioned in this context, creator of fantastic animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro). Many others admitted to a secret love of fan fiction (Twilight) or accessory novels in a well-known universe (Star Wars or Star Trek). Certainly if the goal is simply to introduce the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy to a younger generation, the television and movie industry is doing it remarkably successfully.

As a sci-fi fan, that’s great. As I writer…part of me died when this girl said next, “I don’t like to read. There’s too many distractions now. Why is it that important to read anyway?” She admitted that if she does read at all, she prefers comic books.

For the next five minutes, a room full of writers tried to answer that question diplomatically. “Reading stimulates the imagination.” “You can take a book anywhere.” “You could be reading right now, and none of us would mind.”

I doubt we convinced her.

But then one of the panelists convinced me, comic books and graphic novels are under-valued as a reading resource. They are a great way to ramp up reading skills—some have just a few words, some have full paragraphs of text. I’ve seen this with own daughter, who is reading “Chi’s Sweet Home”, a Japanese comic about an adopted kitten. At first she wanted me to read it to her, but the text is literally, “Whattizzit? Meow? Oh look, Chi’s hungry!” Sure enough, she’s figured out this is one book she can read on her own—a huge boost in her reading confidence.

There are Chi's Sweet Home videos, too. I'm not telling my daughter.

There are Chi’s Sweet Home videos, too. I’m not telling my daughter.

So when the panel ended, I went straight to the table selling used books. Sadly, no comic books. But I did pick up Captain Underpants, Bunnicula, and three Star Wars chapter books.

My kids might never love the same books I do. That’s okay. For the first time last night we had to say to my daughter, “Seriously, put down that book and come to dinner. We mean it! You HAVE TO STOP READING!” For that alone, Captain Underpants is MY hero.