In April 2014, I watched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag take over my Twitter Feed. I remember watching it and reading all the tweets, and trying to understand the urgency that was clearly evident in everything that was being said.
I didn’t join in.
Perhaps some of you are criticizing me now, but there you are. I didn’t join in. I didn’t feel qualified to join in.
Instead, I listened. I examined my own self and worked to figure out what I really thought about all this.
I thought back on my childhood reading. I remembered books like Mildred Taylor’s “Roar of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” and “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and perhaps there had been some “Dear America” books with diverse main characters . . . and that’s where my memory failed me.
And I was horrified.
Though l grew up in a very un-diverse neighborhood, I always craved to know more about other cultures and people. As a child, I grew up with 2 Tiawanese exchange students who I now consider to be my brother and sister. Before 2014, I lived in a Melanesian country for a year-and-a-half. I learned French and Spanish. I lived in South America for 3 months. I got a Master’s degree in French that focused on the French works from Africa and Haiti and Tahiti and anywhere else French was spoken outside of France. I LOVE other cultures . . .
. . . but I still hadn’t seen the lack of diversity in children’s literature. I hadn’t see it. Even when an editor told me my Ecuador book would have no place in American publishing, I didn’t question that.
I was blinded by privilege that I hadn’t even realized I had.
It is a no-brainer to me that all people deserve respect. That skin color means nothing. I never saw myself as racist, but I also never acknowledged the inherent racism that permeates the world we live in.
I remember the night I first understood. I was out with my dear friend and neighbor. She grew up in Nigeria, but came to the USA for university. She is beautiful and intelligent, and compassionate. When I first met her she’d recently finished her family medicine residency. We were almost home when we noticed our neighbor’s garage door was open. It was late, so we stopped to let them know. Since I was driving, my friend ran to the door, then immediately ran back. She didn’t dare knock at the door for fear of their reaction to her skin color. And it wasn’t a silly fear. Because I was afraid for her, too.
No one deserves to feel that way.
Which is why diverse books are so important. Books and stories bring empathy, compassion, and comfort. They help us understand the Other and the Unknown. They eradicate the fear that leads to hatred and racism and bigotry.
We have all heard that everyone deserves to read about people like themselves. But diverse books are not just for them. We all need these books. All of us. We need to read about characters from all over the world, from all walks of life, living through all sorts of experiences. Because understanding and sympathizing and empathizing with an Other makes us better humans.
We. Need. Diversity.
It has taken me nearly two years of listening to understand just how much I have to learn. Just how much I wasn’t seeing. So I will be continuing to listen.
To those of you know who are speaking out, your voices are being heard. You are making a difference.
But please don’t forget how important it is to still listen. Because it takes both speaking and listening for the world to change.
When I tell people I went on a book tour, I get that look that says they are impressed. That if I’m going on tour, I must have “made it” as an author. A few people dare to dig a little deeper and ask, “So who pays for the tour? You or your publisher?”
And this is where I smile.
So much of what it’s like to be an author is shrouded in mystery. We have old school views of how things work, and when we think “author,” we tend to think Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, who are anything but typical.
Today I’m going to share what it’s like being a mid-list author. Because the reality is very different than what I always imagined. So below I’m going to answer some of the more common questions I get:
Yes! I most definitely get paid. Buuut, it’s not very much. Numbers vary widely depending on who the author is as well as who the publisher is. 12% of net profits for hardback books, and 25% for ebooks, is pretty common. Especially for a debut author such as myself.
Basically what that means is I get paid less than a dollar per book. So can I retire all my other jobs now that I’ve been published? I really can’t. Maybe if I had enough books out, but “enough” is a questionable number, and it’s higher than you would guess.
This is a bit of an awkward question. Because honestly, I really don’t know. You would think that as an author I should know. But I don’t. Twice yearly (and for some, this is quarterly), I get what is called a “Royalty Statement.” This statement tells me how many of my books sold (and in what format – hardback vs. ebook) during the 6 months of the reporting period.
So if you caught me at just the right time of year, I could tell you how many of my books have sold (though I probably still wouldn’t), but even that is not an answer to how my book is doing. There are just so many things at play, it’s not an easy answer.
This really depends on who you are. For me, as a mid-list author of a smaller publisher, I pay for my tours. This is why I have chosen to do tours in places that I have a connection to . . . whether I was already planning to go there, so I set up some book events because I could. Or I used to live there and know there will be people interested in my book. Or maybe I have a friend who lives there and so that gives me a reason to want to go. But in any case, the cost of a book tour is a big deal, because it is all coming from me.
This is why authors who do school visits outside of their home area require travel fees. Because tours take a lot of time and energy and money! And even though I want to promote my book, I also want to spend time with my family and be there for them (not to mention spending time on writing the next book!).
Again, depending on who you are, how big your publisher thinks your book will be, or even the business model of your publisher, your publisher might set up some of these things. For me (and for most other mid-list authors that I know), I set these up.
For the first leg of my tour, I joined a group of authors, and they set up our panels and visits (since I was coming from out of town). But it was up to me to find the group and help with planning for discussion topics, etc. Group author visits are wonderful because you not only share the work load, but you can pull in a larger audience and have someone to talk to in case you don’t have an audience (and yes, that really happens).
The last two legs of my tour, it was up to me to contact schools, teachers, librarians, and bookstores to find those who were interested in having me come. I contacted people I already knew, and this worked great for my first tour, but this won’t always be the case. The art of cold-contacting is something I am learning.
For blog interviews, I have been fortunate enough to be contacted by the bloggers to ask if I was interested in participating. Also, I have a publicist (hired by my publisher) who works to get my book in front of the right readers who can best help spread the word, including to industry reviewers (School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.).
Promoting a book is a lot of work! And since this is not my area of expertise, it has been a steep learning curve. But for me, the reward really comes when I’ve gotten to meet my readers and see the excitement in their faces at meeting a “real, live author.” (Which I still can’t believe means me!)
So wow, this post went a lot longer than I intended, but I hope you have a little bit better idea about what it means to be an author. It’s hard work. It’s a lot more than just writing. The pay isn’t great. But I love what I do so much, and that’s why I keep doing it!
If you have other questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask!
Of course, once I knew about it, I had big plans to use it on launch day and get all kinds of crazy. I planned to video myself and my family dancing to it. Then I decided that we needed a choreographed dance. But between moving, the book tour, and life, none of that ever happened.
During that trip, we got up to some crazy shenanigans. We spoke at panels, we signed books, and we spent like 87 hours driving in Maryland traffic. In short, we had an amazing time! So when I told them of my plans for Peanut Butter Jelly Time, they jumped aboard the good ship PB&J without a second thought. After a late night of pizza and s’mores, we got out our sharpies, created Harry Potter dancing bananas in homage to THIS awesome Peanut Butter Jelly Time video, and went for it! We even tweeted this teaser picture:
Alas, when I got back from that tour, I upgraded my failing phone, left 2 days later for the next leg of the tour, and totally spaced posting the AWESOME video that we’d made.
Today I am going to rectify that oversight. And so, without further ado, I present the debut of the Beyond the Pages Book Tour Peanut Butter Jelly Time Video!
Have an awesome day, and good luck getting that song out of your head! It’s pretty much permanently stuck in mine.
My mind is boggling, and I hope you can forgive me if I wax a bit nostalgic . . . because I am in awe that this story – one I started on a whim – is going to find its way to readers throughout the world.
Almost exactly twenty-one years ago, I wrote the very first chapter of this book. Another six years passed before I admitted to myself I wanted to be an author, and I spit out a first draft in a mere three weeks.
It only took one rejection to realize I had a lot to learn.
And so another eight years passed while I studied books on writing, attended writing conferences, acquired critique partners, and wrote and wrote and wrote. That’s when I stumbled on that early draft.
It needed a lot of work. Like an actual plot and stuff. And honestly, it was painful to read because it was a testament to just how ignorant I’d been on the craft of writing. But oh the characters! They jumped off the page and I fell in love with them all over again.
Two more years of writing and revising before I found an agent, and another two to find a publisher.
The road has been so much longer than I ever imagined. But oh my heart! To hold in my hands a thing that I created in my head . . . simply indescribable.
Once upon a time there was a girl. And this girl had a dream.
The dream was so big, it leaked from her thoughts and colored everything in her life. It made her food tastier when she drew closer to it, but drained all the flavor when she stumbled in her efforts. It made the sun shine brighter on the best of days, but hid it away in gloomy clouds on the worst. It drew people to her when she succeeded in even the smallest of ways, but made her a hermit when she failed.
She began to wonder if this dream was really what she wanted.
But it had become such a part of her life, she couldn’t let go. She didn’t want to let go.
And then it happened.
She reached her dream! And everything was sunshine and roses.
Until it wasn’t.
Because reaching her dream was not an ending. It was simply a new beginning.
And she embraced it.
The End. (Or rather . . . The Beginning)
P.S. Today starts the first Goodreads giveaway for THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY. It runs through January 19th and is open internationally. Go forth and enter! And may your lucky socks be dirty enough, and your clovers all have four leafs.
I love lists.
The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to rely on them. Just sitting at my desk and glancing at the plethora of sticky notes that surround me, I can find 8 lists. And those are just the ones that aren’t buried under other lists.
To do lists, grocery lists, lists of people to send things to, lists of keyboard shortcuts (the ones I use just seldom enough that I forget between uses), lists of authors, lists of swag to make . . . SO MANY LISTS!
So today, I am making my TOP FIVE reasons for lists. (Yes, a list about lists! I love it!)
Books! Glorious books! (And yes, I’m totally singing that in my head).
Over the last couple of weeks, packages of books have been trickling in for our Kiribati Library Project. Boxes crammed full of books. Books signed to the students in Kiribati by authors. Recent releases. Old classics. It has been beautiful to see!
And it’s not done yet. Capstone (my publisher) contacted me, and they’re sending a box, too! I am so thrilled, I just can’t even express it.
Last Tuesday, an unexpected delivery from Amazon arrived on our doorstep. Someone who had already sent us a big box of books had the entire Harry Potter series sent.
“The idea that we can introduce kids to these character and the worlds created on the page is pretty much my happy place.”
And I think she pretty much captured why I’m doing this. What an amazing thought! The Harry Potter series has given me countless hours of joy. And she will be giving that to these kids.
This will be my last call for donations (so back to regular programing starting next week). For those interested, you can either donate money at our GoFundMe account, or you can donate books. Just use the Contact Me tab for information on where to send them.
Since that first post, I have received a wish list of books from the library. We have received a few on the list, but I wanted to post it in case it inspires anyone out there to join in our cause.
That said, if you have books to donate that are not on this list, that is great, too! But this gives a good picture of the types of things they are looking for.
Thank you again for reading this post and for all the sharing and donations and well-wishes we’ve received on this project. Imagining these books in the hands of these students makes me so happy. Thank you!
Hardy Boys Series Franklin W. Dixon
Nancy Drew Series Carolyn Keene
The Littles Series John Peterson
Ramona Series Beverly Cleary
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Patricia C. Wrede
Betsy-Tacy Books Maud Hart Lovelace
The Princess in Black and the
Perfect Princess Party Shannon Hale
Matilda Roald Dahl
Are You There God? It’s Me Judy Blume
Harriet the Spy Louise Fitshugh
The Chocolate War Robert Cormier
The Hunger Game Series Suzanne Collins
(Need Hunger Games and Mockingjay)
The Giver Series Lois Lowry
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adam
Anne of Green Gable Series L.M. Montgomery
Graceling Series Christine Cashore
The Sisterhood of TravelingPants Series Ann Brashares
Uglies Series Scott Westerfeld
Twilight Series Stephenie Meyer
The Princess Diary Series Meg Cabot
Song of the Lioness series Tamora Pierce
Vampire Academy Richelle Mead
Fable Haven Brandon Mull
The Goose Girl series Shannon Hale
The Princess Academy series Shannon Hale
(Need book 2 and 3)
Ever After High Shannon Hale
Daughter of the Lioness / Tricksters series Tamora Pierce
Percy Jackson series Rick Riordan
The Red Pyramid Series Rick Riordan
The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
Leviathan series Scott Westerfeld
His Dark Material Series Philip Pullman
The Mortal Instruments series Cassandra Clare
Fallen series Lauren Kate
Septimus Heap Series Angie Sage
The Maze Runner series James Dashner
Crank series Ellen Hopkins
Matched series Ally Condie
Discworld / Tiffany Aching series Terry Pratchett
Chaos Walking series Patrick Ness
Circle of Magic series Tamora Pierce
Wrinkle in Time Series Madeleine L’Engle
Roll of Mildred Taylor
Thunder Hear my Cry Series
(Need Let the Circle Be unbroken, and The Road to Memphis)
Looking for Alaska John
The Hobbit J.R.R.
The Catcher in the Rye J.D.
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper
The Book Thief Markus
The Outsiders S.E. Hinton
The Princess Bride William Goldman
Thirteen Reasons Why Jay Asher
The Curious Incident of a Dog in the
Nighttime Mark Haddon
Stargirl Jerry Spinelli
The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros
The Truth About Forever Sarah Dessen
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane Kate
Tuck Everlasting Natalie Babbitt
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
13 Little Blue Envelopes Maureen Johnson
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Ned Vizzini
Just Listen Sarah Dessen
A Ring of Endless Light Madeleine L’Engle
Before I Fall Lauren Oliver
Unwind Neal Shusterman
The Last Unicorn Peter S. Beagle
If I Stay Gayle Forman
The Blue Sword Robin McKinley
The Hero and the Crown Robin
I Am the Messenger Markus Zusak
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous Beatrice
Daughter of Smoke & Bone Laini Taylor
The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer
Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson
Lafayette in the Somewhat
United States Sarah
The Phantom Tollbooth Norton
The Diary of Anne Frank Otto
Out of My Mind Sharon
Bridge to Terabithia Katherine
Jacob Have I loved Katherine
A Separate Peace John
Princess Bride William
The Westing Game Ellen
Number the Stars Lois
Boxers and Saints Gene
The Lost Conspiracy Francise
Esperanza Rising Pam
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of
The invention of Hugo Cabret Brian
With all the terrible things that have happened throughout the world over the past few days, it can be easy to forget that there is good in the world, too. While I know it doesn’t change what happened, or fix things for those who are suffering right now, I want to tell you about a little of that goodness.
Last week I reached out to you–to the world of social media. I didn’t know what to expect, but you all blew me away between the sharing of my post, the offers to send books, and the monetary donations. I haven’t received the books yet, so I can’t show you a picture of that, but here’s a peek at the GoFundMe page:
People are good and kind and generous. They reach out to strangers. They offer help in the ways they can. People I didn’t even know donated money. People I’ve never met are shipping off books.
Thank you! Thank you so much for being you. For being generous humans who spread good in the world. Thank you! I can’t express how touched I’ve been at your support.
For any who would still like to participate, we will be collecting books and donations over the next couple of months. For more information, please visit the original post that explains it all.
Now, one more thing. My 11-yo wanted to write in support of the cause, and I promised I would post it for him:
To you readers, I ask you this, how would you feel if you had almost no books to read? I would feel devastated, it would make me less curious, although that
might not sound bad to you, take some time to imagine what that amounts to: . .
. now that you have thought about it, I hope you realize the full gravity of
helping those children on Kiribati.Imagine
how thankful they’ll feel to have such a great gift to enjoy and share. I hope
you know to expect nothing but an unseen and unheard thank you along with the
knowledge that you helped someone besides yourself.I
sincerely hope now that you will help those children.Signed,11-yo. J.
Before I leave you, I want to give a heard and seen THANK YOU for your help.
Those of you who know me well know that my parents left on a religious mission just over a year ago about a month after they retired.
Before retirement, my Mom was an elementary school principal and my dad was a high school engineering and science teacher. So it was only fitting that in their service, they went to work in a high school on a tiny island in the Pacific called Kiribati.
While their main purpose is to train the teachers and help them pass the certification testing (Mom and Dad, correct me if I’m wrong!), they also do all kinds of other things such as helping students fill out applications for college, judging school competition events, overseeing the computer lab, and most recently evaluating the school library to determine its needs.
This last duty is what I wanted to talk about to you today.
You see, the state of that school library makes me sad. They sent pictures, and I want to share those with you. This first one is a picture of their fiction book shelves:
Oh my goodness, just so much emptiness.
And not only are the shelves empty, but many of the books they have aren’t age appropriate and are falling apart.
Now, I love the Berenstain Bears, and I love Madeline, but they are not the books I would choose to put in a high school library.
This is not something I could let go. I read their blog post early Sunday morning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this library.
It didn’t take long to decide that my family and I would work together to collect some books and send a package. But you saw that picture. The package we could send would make nary a dent in the library’s needs.
And then I got to thinking that maybe others would like to help, too. Because you are my people. You understand how important books are. You understand their power and influence. You understand the impact a book can have on a teen. You understand how important it is to offer a wide variety of books to get our youth on that path of reading. You understand the satisfaction that comes from finding that book . . . the one that speaks to you and changes your life.
And that is why I’m asking for your help today. There are several ways you can help:
I recently moved from Kansas City. If you’re not into baseball, you may not have heard, but this little thing called the World Series just took place, and GUESS WHO WON!!!
|KC Union Station’s Celebratory Facebook Post: Link here|
So I know, I know. Many of you writing types may not really care that the Royals won the World Series. And that’s okay. I still love you. In fact, I haven’t always been a baseball fan myself – but last year’s team converted me.
I have learned so many things from the Royals and everything that came from both last year’s World Series and this year’s. And the really great thing? It ALL APPLIES TO WRITING (goodness, it applies to LIFE). So here is my top 5 list of things I learned from the Royals:
1. It’s not over till it’s over (aka NEVER GIVE UP).
I may be beating a dead horse here, because I feel like I talk about this All. The Time. But it’s true! The Royals set all kinds of records this postseason with this mentality. Take Game 5. Down by 2 going into the ninth. They come back to tie and send the game to extra innings (where they WIN)!
Or take Game 4. Down by 1 in the top of the 8th. They score 3 runs!
Or take this stat: In the post season alone, the Royals scored 51 runs in the 7th inning or later. 51!! The last time a team even came close to that was back in 2002 (the Anaheim Angels with 36).
DON’T GIVE UP, my friends! Just don’t.
2. You can lose and still win (I know! doesn’t sound possible, does it?).
This is circa last year’s World Series. It was so hard to make it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series and then come away with a loss. (So Mets fans, we feel your pain! We really do). But despite that loss, that team – just a bunch a young guys who no one expected to even get to the play-offs, let alone the World Series, whose game and efforts were all heart – that team brought a whole city together.
It’s really hard to describe if you aren’t there. But everyone was united in their love for the Royals. Everyone. People who had never watched baseball before, watched baseball. We were high-fiving strangers in the streets, chatting up the amazing plays, comparing notes and plans for where to watch the next one. And wait did I say “strangers”? It was like the word “strangers” didn’t even exist!) All extra-curricular activities that got in the way of a game was cancelled, which everyone was happy about. It. Was. Awesome.
We may have lost the World Series last year, but we gained so much more. And the same is true for writing. You may have gotten a rejection. But that rejection will push you to be better (if you let it). You are that much closer to a YES, and all the while, your writing is improving. You win, because you are still trying.
3. A series of small successes (plays) can lead to HUGE THINGS.
This Royals team is not about huge plays and homeruns and star players. Nope. It was about teamwork. About getting a guy on base and then getting another guy on base until someone made it home. It was about sacrificing yourself to get your teammate across the plate.
Of course, Perez (who is awesome!) got the MVP, because an MVP has to be given. But that MVP could have gone to any of them. And did you know that every single player on the team contributed? They all played. Every last one player on that post-season roster. And that is not always the case.
The point is, you don’t need to be writing best-sellers or getting the million dollar advances to succeed. Every single little success along the way adds us. Sell an article to a magazine? Celebrate your success! Get a request from an agent? Celebrate your success! Slow and steady wins the race.
4. Sometimes, you have to take a risk.
Just one word. Hosmer. Holy cow, that baserunning!! What guts! And if you missed it. Ninth inning of Game 5. We are down by two. Hosmer gets a double RBI then gets to third on a groundout. Perez is up to bat and hits one straight to the Wright, the 3rd baseman, who stares down Hosmer before throwing an out to 1st.
But oh no. Hosmer was NOT stared down. As soon as Wright turns to throw, Hosmer is off! And the 1st baseman is caught off guard and guess who scores to tie the game??? Ninth inning, two outs. Hosmer takes the risk!
I have read plenty of critiques of that play: Hosmer’s lucky the throw was bad. He shouldn’t have done it, but I guess it worked out. Haha! Life is sometimes a risk. Let me tell you a quick story about the guy who didn’t take the risk in Game 7 of last year’s World Series. Ninth inning, down by one, two outs. SO. MANY. PARALLELS. The guy stayed on 3rd and guess what? We lost.
Writing is a risk. Putting yourself out there is a risk. But it is worth it. Be fearless, my friends!
5. Niceness is always a thing. Everyone roots for the nice guys.
One of the reasons I have loved watching the Royals so much is because the players, the team . . . they are straight up nice. Even people who weren’t Royal’s fans were rooting for them. And it was because they were nice. And because their fans were nice. (And yes, there are always exceptions, in case you know that one not nice fan. But you get my point.)
Be nice. Treat people nicely. Editors. Agents. Other Writers. Fans. Not fans. Everyone. You will always come out the better for it.
If you made it this far, thanks for letting me rave about my Royals! Do you watch baseball? Did I miss any lessons in there??