IF AT FIRST
I have always been a storyteller. The smell of a campfire conjures up a ghost story in my mind. The chatter of children gives me thoughts of enchantment. I think in pictures, sometimes it seems like I have another eye outside of my body watching my world from a different perspective. It’s always been that way, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Throughout my school years, teachers gave me encouragement and support. They took the time to write notes on my work, telling me that I had a good imagination and that I’d be a good writer some day. I still smile when I think of a creative writing class in college. One day the professor chose to read a paper to the class. I was shocked when she read mine. More surprising, my words had somehow moved her to tears. It was then that I decided that I just might have what it takes to be a writer.
After college, I took up work in the communications field, writing a wide variety of advertising and marketing materials. While my work was that of a writer, it wasn’t exactly the kind of writing I needed. After work I penned stories in my spare time. Unfortunately, there was no instant acclaim or acceptance.
Twenty eight years after my first submission, one of my stories was selected for publication. Lands’ End chose my Christmas story, ‘Helpers’, for inclusion in its October catalogue. A second story was sold to Lands’ End the following year. I thought I could parlay the sale of two stories into a book contract or more stories. Unfortunately, I hit a dry patch and couldn’t get a publisher or editor to seriously consider my writing.
In 2004 my wife and I took a big risk. She has always been my greatest supporter and most helpful critic. Along with the kind and generous help of Don Rutt (photographer), Mark Bush (designer), and Ty Smith (illustrator), we self-published our first book, The Bird in Santa’s Beard. If we could succeed with our self-publishing effort, we might be able to attract the interest of a publishing house.
My wife traveled the Midwest in a VW Cabriolet for months. Its trunk was loaded down with books. After a lot of work, she sold nearly 10,000 copies in six months. We were on our way.
The success of The Bird in Santa’s Beard led to a book deal with Mitten Press of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since that time, I’ve written and published an average of one book a year.
SHIFTING INTO NEW DIRECTIONS
In recent days I’ve changed the direction of my writing. While I still enjoy creating picture books, I started to expand into chapter books for young people. So far there are three chapter books focusing on Michigan/Midwestern history. Our part of the country has a rich past, filled with stories of mighty wars and great achievements. These books are fascinating to research and fun to write.
My future writing hinges largely on developing my writing skills and filling needs in the reading world. Soon I will submit a story to Michigan History Magazine for their consideration. I have plans to write a book on the Western Route of the Underground Railroad in the Professor Tuesday Series. I also want to write another book on the Civilian Conservations Corps. Then, I’ve got a strong desire to work on a murder mystery set in the Traverse City area of Michigan. Who knows where it will end. I will keep writing no matter what. It’s what I do.
As you might suspect, many people have the same question of me. “How do I get a book published?”
My advice is simple. First, you have to love writing. Write for the sake of your own enjoyment. If your book or story is published, it is icing on the cake. Persistence is also important. After all, it only took 34 years to get my first book published. Though the route I took to get noticed by publishers was through self-publishing, that route isn’t for the timid. It is a tremendous amount of work. Plus, it isn’t cheap.
Being an author requires a good deal of discipline and focus, especially if you are going to write ‘The Great American Novel.’ If you write a great book, you also have to spend a lot of time promoting and selling it. That means traveling to bookstores and places that carry your books. If you like meeting people and sharing your love of ideas, it’s wonderful. If you enjoy the solitude of your own company and don’t care to mix with people, you may want to reconsider that whole author thing altogether.
I’ve also gotten the question, “What’s it like to have a book published?”
Having a book published offers a full gamut of emotions -- excitement, fear, joy, and (sometimes) disappointment. I still get a rush of pride whenever I see one of my books on the shelf at a bookstore. That rush peaks when I see someone purchase a copy and want me to sign it. Fear and disappointment come from the uncertainty of the whole business of publishing. Some will tell you that the economy and a lack of interest in reading are driving down book sales. Plus, there is no telling how a book will be received in the marketplace. And, there are a lot of people along the way who determine whether or not a book will get shelf space. All an author can do is to deliver the best product he or she can. And, that comes from a lot of practice and desire.
There are ups and downs associated with having books published. But, for me, the ups far outweigh the downs. The enjoyment of writing and creating is a powerful force. I’ve got seven books in publication at the moment. I’ve written about 30 or so thus far. Some will never be printed in book form. I will continue to write whether or not another book is sold. Again, it’s what I do.