Janet Sumner Johnson
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My First Podcast

Apr

10, 2017 |

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Books,Inspiration,Interview,Podcast

Hi all! I haven’t been around much with all the fun stuff I’ve been doing lately (conference presentations, school visits, family fun, etc.), but in all of that, I had a chance to visit with Mindy McGinnis for her podcast series, Writer Writer Pants on Fire. It is out today!

So while I collect myself and work on getting a better post written, you can enjoy listening to a conversation between Mindy McGinnis and I on querying, agents, books, writing middle grade, and humor HERE.

Writer Writer Pants on Fire Podcast

Have a fabulous day, and I hope you enjoy it!

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The Truth About Authoring

May

23, 2016 |

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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.

KC Friends

Book tour shenanigans – Kansas City

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:

  1. Do you get paid for writing a book?

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.

  1. How is your book doing?

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.

  1. Who pays for the tour? You or your publisher?
PB&J Society, Fan Art

Fan Art for PB&J Society

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!).

  1. Who sets up your school visits, library panels, and other promotional events?

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).

Handley Library, Author Panel

Library Panel in Winchester, VA

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.

Author Launch Party

Launch Party – Klamath Falls, OR

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!

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My Year in Review

Jan

04, 2016 |

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Writing

Happy New Year!

With all the Christmas rush, I have been absentee the last couple of weeks, but I didn’t want to miss again. Because this is the time of year where I hold myself accountable for the goals I set at the beginning of last year. And if I don’t hold myself accountable, who will?

So here we go. My goals from last year and my assessment:

1. Write 5 days a week.
I started out well with this, then wow. A big fail on this goal. BUT, if you consider all the non-book-writing things I wrote, perhaps I didn’t do so terribly. That said, I hope to do better this coming year. But I realize that for me, this type of goal will always be a fail, because I hate being tied down. I do much better when I assign myself a project to accomplish, as you’ll see in the next goal . . .

One page of my crazy edits

One page of my crazy edits

2. Finish revising my 2 WIPS (Works in Progress).
WOOT! TOTAL WIN! Granted, I now have more revising to do on WIP #2, BUT I finished 2 other rounds of revisions on it (2 other MAJOR rounds of revision), and this next round won’t be so terrible. WIP #1 is now on submission. *curls up in fetal position*

3. Finish a first draft of a new book.
Okay. Total fail. I just started yesterday. But in my defense, I didn’t expect the majorness of the revisions for WIP #2. Plus I wrote a bonus story for PB&J SOCIETY (hoping you will all love it!), and a bunch of other PB&J-related things. The next book just didn’t happen. However, it is STARTED, so finishing the first draft at the very least is this year’s goal.

4. Write at least two picture books.
Sigh. Nope. I did take a PB class, but I was so busy, I mostly skimmed through it. Turns out that when you have a book contract (which I didn’t have when I made these goals), you suddenly become much busier. While I would like to do this again, I realize debut year will be full of too many other things.

5. Attend at least one writing conference.
And Hooray!! Another accomplished goal! I will definitely be keeping this goal. I am attending LDStorymakers again as an attendee (my husband will be presenting!), and I will be presenting at the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference in April. So check and check! It really is good to plan a goal that you have already facilitated the accomplishment of.

And there you have it. Not a great showing, to be sure. However, life sometimes mixes things up for you. It is somewhat surreal to realize that last year at this time, I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea I was on the verge of signing my first book contract . . . which changed the course of my whole year.

So while I didn’t accomplish all the specific goals I set for myself, I DID accomplish some pretty major things. And I am a firm believer in being flexible. Yes, I could have killed myself to accomplish every one of these goals above, but I feel pretty proud of all I accomplished this past year.

Now it’s your turn. Please tell me what you accomplished this past year so I can celebrate with you! 🙂

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Top Five: Reasons for Lists

Dec

07, 2015 |

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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!)

  1. They make me feel accomplished. Sometimes, I put things like “shower” or “eat breakfast” on my To Do list just so I can feel more accomplished by crossing it off. Seriously, you should try it because crossing things off feels AWESOME!
  2. They take away my stress. For me, lists are better than a back massage. I get immediate results without actually doing anything! Plus, lists cost pennies (a bit of ink and a piece of paper) unlike back massages. And there goes some more stress as I think of all the $$$ I just saved!
  3. I forget less. Before I had kids, I rarely made lists or wrote things down. I could just remember. Not so anymore. And this is stressful (see #2)! I hate forgetting things. Feel HORRIBLE when I forget things. But with lists, the paper does all the remembering for me! Perfect.
  4. They are visual evidence to OTHERS of what I’ve accomplished. So my husband is really good about not asking “WHAT did you DO all day?” when he gets home and sees the mess that is our house (except right now. It’s clean. Really. Well not my office, but the rest. For sure.). But if he did, I could just pull out my list and boom! Evidence. I did work. See how long that list is? . . . Hey! Honey! Yo. You don’t need to read what’s on the list.
  5. Legit procrastination tool. Sometimes I just don’t want to do something. I don’t! But I might feel guilty just doing nothing. So I make a list instead. It’s brilliant! Not only am I doing something productive, but I’m finding reasons to put off that one thing that I really don’t want to do. Clean the bathrooms, you say? Oh dear. My list tells me I need to read this book first. Sorry. It’s on the list! 
So there you have it. My top five. Now, why do you love lists?

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Top 5 Writing Things I learned from the Royals

Nov

02, 2015 |

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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!!!

The Kansas City Royals!!!!



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??

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The Learning Curve of Publishing

Oct

26, 2015 |

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It’s no secret that I’ve been on this ride of wanting to be
published for a long time. And the longer you are in something, the more you
learn about it. Bit by bit you gather information and before long you are no
longer a newbie.

By the time I found my agent, I was quite expert at drafting
query letters. I knew the best places to track the query letters I sent to
agents (querytracker.net in case anyone was wondering). I knew what writing conferences
I liked best. I knew what to expect timing wise, and I was the one answering
questions for those newbies who had just joined the fray.

Now that I’m on the next step of the publishing journey, I
am horrified to discover that I have to start over as a newbie. Only this time,
the learning curve is much, MUCH steeper since there is an actual deadline for
things (oh the forgotten joy of not having a deadline!).

My head is spinning as
I try to figure out marketing, and how to get my name out there and get on
panels and accepted as a presenter at conferences. And let’s not forget school
visits, and swag, and websites. Writing tag lines. Writing author bios. Writing discussion questions. Figuring out author pictures and poses. And of course navigating the world of
communicating with my publisher and editor and all the people involved there
(who are fortunately very lovely people!).

 
The things is, I’d read so many blog posts from debut
authors as they navigated the publishing world, and I’d learned so much about school
visits and marketing, etc. And I had notes from conference presentations on
such topics. I felt so prepared. I was SO ready for the next step! I just knew
I would make it through with ease.

So I’m left scratching my head about what went wrong.
 
And the only thing I can come up with is that having a book
published is a bit like becoming a parent for the first time. You can read all
kinds of books to prepare yourself. People will tell you all kinds of truths
and horror stories about “what it’s really like.” But it doesn’t matter.
The only thing that really helps you understand what it’s like to be a parent
is to actually BE A PARENT. And then suddenly you get it!
 
Not that it’s suddenly easy or that you suddenly know everything.
But you get it. You get how hard and
complicated and unpredictable it all is. And all you can do is your best. You
keep trying every day, and you learn new things. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never be as
good as those other parents you see at PTA meetings and stuff, and sometimes it
feels like you’re failing miserably.
 
But you aren’t.
 
Because HEY! You’re doing
it! And none of that other stuff matters. What matters is that you’re trying.
 
Because despite what Yoda says, there really is such a
thing.
 
(And yes, this is absolutely what I tell myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all . . . which is at least once a month . . . okay, weekly . . . fine! I meant daily. DAILY. Okay?? Satisfied?!) 😉

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Gems from LDStorymakers Conference

May

25, 2015 |

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Last weekend I went to LDStorymakers writing conference. I went with a critique partner and I got to meet my agent which was pretty awesome (!!!). And I should totally have a picture of this momentous occasion, but I don’t. I’m like the worst ever at remembering to take pictures. In fact, I didn’t even take one picture during the whole conference. I know, right??? I guess I was just too busy soaking in all the writerly Karma of the place. 🙂

The thing I love best about writing conferences is that they help me remember why I love writing in the first place. And they help me remember all those things that make my writing better.

I don’t want to re-hash everything I learned because one, that would be boring, and two, that would be copyright infringement. However, I did want to share a couple of gems.

FIRST: You may laugh at this one, but I said a big AMEN!  Peggy Eddleman gave a class on getting your writing mojo back. One point she made is that as writers, we seem to think we earn the writer’s badge by missing sleep. We stay up late. Work off of two hours sleep. And somehow this is a bragging point. Well it’s not. WE NEED SLEEP TO FUNCTION. Obviously everyone is different and we all need different amounts of sleep. But skipping sleep is not doing ourselves any favors!

So, don’t be afraid to go to bed on-time to get a full night’s sleep. Then you will be refreshed and ready to tackle a new day and fresh ideas. [And no, we won’t talk about the irony of the fact that I am staying up late to write this.]

SECOND: I attended a class by Chad Morris and Brandon Mull about the 3 parts that make an awesome story idea. While there was lots of good stuff, the gem I got was that every trouble needs a payoff. That may sound obvious. But I needed the reminder. I can’t just make my characters go through hard things and expect my readers to enjoy that. There has to be a moment that makes it all worth it. Both to the character and the reader.

And THIRD: This one came from a class on Description by Sarah Eden. We talked about all kinds of things, but one piece of advice that stuck out was this: Never interrupt your own story! Well, duh. Except I do this! Description should be organic, and if it disrupts the flow, then you’ve done it wrong.

I know. None of this stuff is new and exciting. But amazingly, what I need from conferences is not new and exciting info. What I need is a reminder (preferably in a not boring way) of all the things I know, but have forgotten.

When’s the last time you went to a conference? And what do you get out of them?

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When Fortunes Come True

May

18, 2015 |

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My family and I really like Chinese food. Our favorite part (okay, maybe tied with eating all the yummy food) is opening our fortune cookies.

I always get the best fortune.

Seriously. Like, even my kids want my fortune.

I’m just lucky that way.

Here is my latest.

*All your hard work will soon pay off*

So to understand how great this fortune is, you need to know why we were eating Chinese.

Why, you ask?  Because I’d just spent a week packing and cleaning to get our house ready to sell–solid days of doing nothing but that–and I didn’t want to dirty my newly immaculate kitchen.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled with this fortune! Because who wants to do a bunch of hard work and not have it pay off, right?

And happy for me, this fortune cookie really was all-knowing. Our house sold, and we are feeling all kinds of relieved.

The thing is, since that time, I’ve had an epiphany. This fortune came true not because of some omniscient cookie. This fortune came true because hard work ALWAYS pays off.

It just doesn’t always pay off in the way we would like.

For example:
Remember that manuscript you wrote and edited, then finally tucked away in a drawer? Remember that laundry you folded that your toddler then unfolded? Remember that bed you made that you then unmade later that SAME DAY??

Every one of those situations included pay-off. Think of the practice and skills that were gained in writing that manuscript. Think of the work ethic your toddler gained by watching your example. Think of the peace that made-up bed exuded in your room all day long (and peace exuding is totally a thing).

Hard work always pays off.

So don’t you go fearing that your efforts will be a waste. They won’t. Even if you don’t get what you want, they. are. not. wasted.

Peace out and work on my friends.

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Finding Our Own Path

May

11, 2015 |

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I have this daughter.

I love her for so many reasons that I couldn’t possibly tell you about all of them. But one thing I will tell you about is her individuality. I love this chica because she is her own self. And she is not afraid of being her own self.

For example. This is her at her last soccer game:

I’ll be honest, I am so used to her being her, that I didn’t even think twice about her skirt until everyone commented on it.

And then there was this Word Find that came home in her folder:

I kind of really love that with the top one, if she had gone straight, she had the word. But that’s not how she saw things. Why make a straight line when you can jump over a letter and get something far more interesting?

She is such an example to me. An example of being true to yourself. An example of finding your own path, even when the world would send you another direction.

As writers, sometimes we forget that. We try to write what everyone else is writing. We try to imitate another author’s style. We focus on what might be big (according to the world) instead of staying true to ourselves. Our own ideas. Our own passions.

It’s easy to get caught up. But it’s better to be ourselves. It’s better to let our individual uniqueness shine like a pink tulle skirt in a soccer game.

Because seriously, who doesn’t secretly envy that girl? Wish they were brave enough to do it, too.

So how are you letting your personality shine? I’d love to hear. 🙂

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Quiet Success

Mar

23, 2015 |

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“Everyone wants to be successful until they see what it actually takes.”

I saw this quote on facebook this week. I don’t know who said it, but it was accompanied with a picture of a ballerina’s bleeding and bandaged feet. Success looked pretty painful.

And I bet you saw the picture of the physician after losing a 19-year-old patient that went viral last week. A moment of “failure” . . . probably after doing everything he was humanly capable of doing.

As I consider these two images, thoughts are swirling in my brain. Success is such an interesting concept. One word, but defined so differently from person to person. Are we only a success when we’ve reached the point of being a “prima ballerina”?

I once ran a half marathon. It was hard. It left my feet a mess, and gave me aches I still deal with. Am I a failure since I now choose to run shorter distances? I don’t see it that way. I see it as a success that I still run.

A person who writes a book, but never gets an agent or sells it . . . are they a failure? I don’t see it that way. I think they are a success for finishing the book.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe very strongly in working hard to achieve something. And I don’t think we should hand out awards just for showing up (I really hate the trophies they give to everyone for just playing rec soccer or whatever). But as we celebrate the small successes, they can keep us moving forward when everything else would tell us to stop. Give up.

Work hard. Do your best. Don’t give in. And when you reach a milestone, celebrate! Don’t be afraid to recognize the quiet successes that litter our lives.

What is your most recent quiet success? I’d love to celebrate with you!

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