Thursday, January 24, 2013

How I Published a Board Book

Photo courtesy Jessie Kirk Photography

It was surprising to me how quickly I went from "wannabe" publisher to "accomplished expert" after I published my children's board book: "Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White."

As local author/publisher Dan Deweese told my now-famous friend Laura Stanfill and me at the last Wordstock literary festival in Portland:

"It's only crazy until you do it."

I've now had half-a-dozen people write and ask me for the nuts and bolts of how I published the book, so I've decided to compile this here FAQ. If you have additional public-friendly questions, don't hesitate to put them in the comments and I'll answer them. If you have more private or lengthy questions, then I think you will agree that my expertise is worth something to you! Our interaction would therefore be called "consulting." Write me an e-mail, and I'd love to set up a phone appointment! (Rates are reasonable and barter is often acceptable.)

Why don't you have a literary agent?
It's not as easy as calling up an agency and going: "Hey, mang, gimme one-a-dem agents y'all got." Getting a good agent is just as hard as — if not harder than — getting a good job. Not only do you have to have the right idea and the ability to execute it well, you need to present it to the right person, in the right way and have the right qualifications. This all requires a lot of time, energy and relationships that — because of my need ASAP for cash for Malachi's medical needs — I decided were better spent doing it myself.
That said I would love to have an agent and I hope to one day realize that dream.

Why didn't you publish your books traditionally?
Well, you almost always need an agent to publish a book traditionally, so see above. But also I knew that I wanted the Dark & Light series to be baby-friendly and therefore a board book. As agent Jennifer Laughran mentions here, board books are almost never original stories. They are either smaller, more-durable versions of old classics or concept books (colors, numbers) designed in-house. "Breaking in" to the traditional publishing world with a board book is practically unheard of.

Why did you create a whole publishing company instead of using a POD (publish-on-demand) service?
Again, because it was a board book. I used an POD service for my novella and it was SO MUCH EASIER. I would have loved to just do that instead of making my own company.

What did you have to do to set up a publishing company?
Mostly the same things you'd have to do to set up any business — business license, business accounts, QuickBooks for bookkeeping. I also took a free class through the local Small Business Association, but it was mostly not relevant because I don't have a public "store" and I don't have employees.
I also had to figure out shipping supplies and procedure, and tracking orders received and orders sent. This is actually a lot more difficult than I gave it credit for.
Then there is managing the website. A really nice guy at All Media Bainbridge helped set up the shell and added a shopping cart feature, and I used the skills I've gained from this blog to do the rest.
UPDATE 1/28/13: A few other things I forgot to mention. I had to get ISBNs and barcodes from Bowker and register my lovely work of art with the US Copyright Office.

What printing firm did you use?
I did a lot of research at various stages. I'll save you the details, but I ended up with CM Printing and I was very pleased with both their service and product. They are not fluent in English, but they know their stuff and are perfectly able to convey that knowledge in English. CM Printing has an MOQ (minimum order quantity) of 500 copies and many options. They can let you know how much it will cost to print your product, but they print it exactly as sent to them. No design work. You need to know what terms like grayboard and CMYK mean. They are a printer, not a publisher.
UPDATE 1/28/13: Proceed with great caution with using CM Printing. They seem to be in a legal dispute and it is unclear who the "real" CM Printing is. I have taken down the link to their site pending further investigation.

Why didn't you use an American printer?
I looked into it, but again it's the board book issue. No American printer could make a board book for less than anybody would buy it. The only ones out there are custom board book printers that are, for example, $20 for a single copy of a book with your baby's name in it, etc.
I've also heard there are affordable board book printers in Mexico, but I wasn't able to find them. China was just fine.

How did you raise capital?
I used Kickstarter. You can read my tips about how I managed that fundraiser here.
I think crowd-source funding options are AWESOME for launching a product because you can see if people will actually buy it before you have a massive order sitting in your garage. It also turns sales into more of an "event" with a time limit and lets you offer really cool rewards, like printing their name in the book. I highly recommend it.
However, I do not recommend Kickstarter itself. They have a weird rule that if your product's profits go to a good cause, you are not allowed on their site. They sent me a stern e-mail literally hours before the end of my campaign saying that I was "blatantly violating" their policy. They still let me go through with it, but they never made me a featured product or a "staff pick," even though I was almost constantly in the top-three most-popular products in my category. Since they have a bizarre bias against products that help people, I am planning to use IndieGoGo, which is not only less restrictive but cheaper, for my next book.

Was it worth it? You know, like, monetarily?
Hmm... to be determined?
Unequivocally, yes, it was worth it to me for a wide variety of reasons both personal and professional.
However, we have yet to turn a huge profit on the book. Most of our momentum came from Kickstarter and after Christmas, sales stopped dead. We have plans for more marketing and you never know what tomorrow will bring, so I have hope and am taking the long view. But if my time were worth anything on my balance sheets, then, no, I don't think I can say it has penciled out yet.

Hey, what are your qualifications/experience anyway?
I was a reporter and editor at small community newspapers for three years before the complications with my pregnancy led me to resign. During that time, and in college as a journalism major, I learned a lot about creating and selling print products, including writing and visual design, not to mention media relations. While this hardly made me an expert in the book publishing world, it did mean that I wasn't exactly a fish out of water.
Does this mean you can't do it if you have zero experience in publishing? No, but don't expect to be able to dive into the deep end right away. And if at all possible, you should hook up with someone who does have experience.

I hope you found this informative! Feel free to share using the icon buttons below and if you haven't subscribed to my RSS feed, liked me on Facebook or followed me on Twitter, there's no time like the present! Oh, and Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White is available here and all profits go towards my son's medical needs. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Want to Feel Amazing? Start Giving.

Our family has received so much this year through our fundraiser for Malachi. But one of the best gifts we've gotten is the resultant deep and personal knowledge of how great and powerful it is to give.

A few months ago, I was walking through a Target parking lot and saw a very beat-up-looking car with soap paint on the windows declaring: "Just married!" and "California or BUST!"

With it's hood up, it looked very much like a bust. 

My heart went out to the young couple but figured there was nothing I could do. Then I reached into my pocket and found a $20 bill. I almost never have cash on me so I took it as a sign. I took it out of my pocket and as discreetly as possible, tucked it under their windshield wiper. 

My heart was soaring the rest of the day and I wanted to tell everybody how great it felt to do that for strangers. But I stopped myself. How could I talk about it without sounding like I wanted a pat on the back? How could I genuinely convey that this selfless act was in fact really selfish because of the enormous boost in personal power I felt for the rest of the day?

Then, about a week ago, my husband and I were going home after a date night in downtown Portland. As we approached an intersection near the Steel Bridge, the light turned green... and a man with a garbage bag stumbled into the road. The car next to me and I slowed to allow him to pass unfettered even though it was clearly our turn. 

I'm not proud that my first thought was that he had pretty nice shoes for a drunk homeless guy. 

But as the man reached the middle of the road, he stumbled and fell. And he didn't get up. 

I inched forward and asked my husband, Matt, to get out and help him up, which he did. The man from the car next to us had already gotten out of his car.

The lights cycled through and cars backed up as my husband called 9-1-1 and the other driver helped the man get up and cross to the other side. No one honked. 

The homeless man refused further help and we went on our way. 

As we left, I asked Matt what happened. He said the man had had his toes amputated that day — frostbite? diabetes? — and that was why he was having difficulty walking. We were sad and quiet for a long while. Then I said I wish I carried cash to give to him and my husband wondered if we should have bought him a hotel room for the night. 

I think before this year, we would have just thought: "Crazy drunk" and tried to extricate ourselves from the situation as soon as possible. Instead, we left strategizing how we might better help the next person who comes across our path. 

Because of the kindnesses shown to us this year on a person-to-person level, we now realize how much more meaningful giving is between individuals. Giving to charities (or, c'mon, let's be honest, intending to give to charities) feels safer, but there is an enormous power is simply seeing a need and answering it. 

There are lots of big, ubiquitous charities out there — ones for disabled children, children's hospitals, premature babies, etc., etc. — and despite being very much the type of people those organizations profess to help, as far as I can tell my family has yet to see a dime from them. I think in some ways we've gotten lured into the belief that the small tax boost you get from nonprofit status is worth more than simply giving money directly to people you see hurting. 

But maybe that belief is starting to change for others, just as it has for me in the past few months. A few days ago, as I was leaving my bank where I was depositing a check from Malachi's children's book fundraiser, I discovered that someone had stuffed $2 into my driver's side door. 

You know how when something bad happens, like your car gets vandalized, and you think with fear and sadness: "Why me? Did the vandal know me personally? Did I do something to piss them off? Or was it just totally random?"

This person's $2 might not seem like much, but the rest of the day I had the same thoughts with joy and love in my heart: "Why me? Did this person know me personally? Did I do something to make them think I was awesome or in need of help? Or was it just completely random?"

Spending the day pondering all of the reasons why I might be worthy of someone's random act of kindness was well worth those $2. 

So, sorry, random person. I'm sure you wanted me to spend those $2 on a latte treat or to buy my kids something fun, but I'm gonna blow it on my new addiction:

Giving it to the very next person I see who could use it. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

How Seeing Others' Problems
Helped Me See Past My Own

Something my husband said to me has been floating around in my head for weeks:

People's problems fill up their whole lives.

By this he meant that no matter what an individual's problems are, they have a tendency to take up all of his or her time, money and energy — no matter how much of these things he or she has been blessed with. Isn't it strange how that happens? That whether you are single and free, or married with children, or caregiving a child in need of 24-hour medical care, you still have problems and they are massively important to you, take everything you've got and leave you feeling inadequate to the task?

Living in the special needs world, I've been exposed to a dimension of parenthood that most people would like to pretend doesn't exist. I've met parents who have discovered after the death of their developmentally delayed first child at age 11 that their third has the same rare disorder. I've read testimonials of parents who've had to fend off "it's better this way" sentiments while grieving the loss of a severely disabled — yet no less beloved — child with total care needs. I've rejoiced with parents who consider it a miracle that their 6-year-old son can simply lift his head.

Malachi not particularly enjoying what was supposed to be
a fun New Year's Day trip to the snow.

I know that many people look at the subject matter of this blog and recoil. That's not for me, they say and click through. They don't want to come to grips with the reality that brain-injured children are in the realm of possibilities. They don't want to get to know children like my son.

I know I didn't and, in some cases, still don't.

Even two years in to this world, I still catch myself recoiling when I hear particularly horrific stories from elsewhere in Special Needs Land. But I still force myself to look, to watch the videos and do the mental acrobatics needed to see what is the child IS doing rather than what he isn't. It's getting much easier, but regrettably it still isn't automatic.

Part of me looks at those children and says "Thank God." Thank God Malachi is doing as well as he is, and maybe I had something to do with him being on this higher road?

But then I feel guilty about that. It is human nature to compare. It's how the brain works. And it's good — in fact, essential — to be able to see everything your disabled child has going for him. But I try to resist the urge to look at other people's situations and be relieved that it's them and not me. Because I know there are people out there who think the same of me, and I hate it. I know there are friends who use me as a cautionary tale. I know there are people who think their children are doing better than Malachi because they're doing it right and I'm doing it wrong.

Having survived the first two years of extreme uncertainty around the extent and quality of Malachi's brain injury, I know in my bones that I'm no different from those parents. Malachi could have very easily had cognitive impairments, or been a vegetable, or died. Nothing prevented that except the random seepage pattern of blood in his tiny newborn brain.

People's problems fill up their whole lives.

And what about the people I know who don't really have anything glaringly wrong in their lives? Do they seem any less stressed, any more happy? No, not really. This might be crass, but I can't help but notice that these mass shooters are almost always privileged middle-class white men who, by comparison to the rest of society, have everything going for them yet still blame the world for their lives not turning out the way they expected.

I'm sure every father who has held a dead baby in his arms has wanted to firebomb a mall. But they never do, do they? People who have real, serious problems — like whether or not they will eat that day — never seem to be the source of these rampages.

People's problems fill up their whole lives.

I am reading J.K. Rowling's new adult novel A Casual Vacancy. She's an excellent tale-weaver but it's no Harry Potter, that's for sure. I've spent most of the novel trying to figure out what the freaking point is.

But I think I've finally figured it out. The characters' problems fill up their whole lives. One character is even debilitated by imaginary problems that are entirely of his own invention. Externally, the parents have done everything to ensure their children are happy — gotten them into the best schools, made plenty of money, living in an idyllic English village that they are striving to keep "pure." But their children still hate them and hate the village and crave the "authenticity" of crime, drugs and sex.

The political drama at the heart of the novel consumes the lives and thoughts of the main characters. Though, Rowling occasionally shows glimpses of the fact that few people outside of the main characters know or care what's going on in their tiny little town council.

Perhaps I like the book because I reported on many heated small-town conflicts in my journalist days. It was always amazing to me both how little people outside the councils would understand how much power the council had and how important the councilors thought themselves when everybody else couldn't care less.

People's problems fill up their whole lives.

Rather than being depressed that people with objectively "better" or "worse" lives are just as unsatisfied as I am, I feel a little liberated. It means that even if I could change the external things that I so bitterly can't change — my family members' health, my financial situation, my perpetual lack of "enough" time — I still wouldn't be happy.

The very few people I see who are happy are happy from the inside, no matter what their personal circumstances. They make the conscious, daily choice not to be consumed by problems. They see and celebrate the corners of their lives that problems do not occupy. They stop themselves from turning hobbies into chores, from turning family outings into errands. They spend their energy not on the black-hole-like pursuit of "success" but on taking care of themselves, loving people, and helping others with their problems.

This does not seem like an easy task to me. I imagine it takes the same amount of effort, time and focus as any other life-changing goal. But becoming aware of the fact that we are — each of us — already making a choice as to how we see our lives might make it easier to choose the positive instead of the negative.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Unusual Ways Disability Affects a Non-Disabled Twin

I'm beginning to wonder at what age JJ will realize that the rest of the world sees his brother as less-than.

And I wonder how he'll feel about that.

I was six years younger than both my brother and sister and continue to carry a rather large chip on my shoulder about it. Even though I am acutely aware of this failing, I can't help but despise when anyone questions my abilities or treats me as less-than. Being underestimated, and resenting it, is deep in my psyche.

So one might think that I would empathize with Malachi, and in many ways, I do. Malachi is functionally "younger" than his twin because of his greatly delayed physical abilities. I can see a dynamic emerging in which Malachi follows along with whatever JJ chooses to do.

But often I think of JJ as the younger one. To the rest of the world, Malachi is deficient, but to JJ he must seem The Chosen One.

Malachi still gets to have bottles, often loaded with fancy sugary stuff like Pediasure, while every day JJ has to cry bitterly into his cup of regular cow milk. Malachi gets to ride in the stroller or get carried around, while JJ is often forced to walk. Malachi gets praised enthusiastically for every 10th bite of food (counting bites has been the only way to keep his interest in eating real food), while JJ eats impressive quantities and varieties of foods, unnoticed, occasionally yelling out his own numbers in an attempt to capture his mother's attention.

JJ (left) pretending to fall asleep in his food, like Malachi did. 

Capturing my attention comes in many unusual forms in this house. Jaden will often lean very far over in his high chair until I ask him to sit up straight, like I do to his brother when his poor balance causes him to topple over. Lately, when upset, JJ will fall on the floor and then watch me from his back with calm eyes. If I don't react, he'll say: "JJ fall down. Pick-er up, please. Mama, pick up."

I do. I don't like that he mimics Malachi's helplessness but I understand that he is trying out ways to get the love and attention he wants. And haven't we all felt like we just wanted someone to pick us up off the floor some days?

But it breaks my heart. So many things about Malachi's cerebral palsy is unfair, but the way it impacts his twin is one of the worst for me. His parents are so exhausted from taking care of Malachi's myriad needs, that they never have enough time or energy for him. In fact, when I was in high school, I remember always trying to say "When I have a kid" instead of "When I have kids" because I felt like it would be impossible to try to accommodate more than one child's emotional and physical needs.

It is impossible. And I know that everybody feels like the grass is always greener, but I becoming convinced that JJ is much more difficult than the average kid — perhaps because he doesn't get enough attention and his brother gets too much, perhaps because he was a preemie and has his own special issues laying in wait for a school-age evaluator to reveal, or perhaps just because he's got a lot of pretty difficult people in his gene pool.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be getting worse. Yesterday, for example, we went to the Children's Museum and had to wait in line with lots of other children and their caregivers. JJ was the only kid running around and around, oblivious and uncaring as to how far away his mother was nor how many times she insisted that he stay close. Other people's kids seem psychologically tethered to them in a way that Jaden never has been. They seem to accept corrections in behavior with relative equanimity while JJ falls to absolute pieces the second he feels like someone is impinging on his God-given freedom to touch anything he pleases and go anywhere his feet take him.

He is fearless and fiercely independent.

A near polar opposite of his twin in that respect.

So I have one 2-year-old who wants to do as much physical activity as possible — without pesky supervision because "I know exactly how pens and electronics and glass containers and cars work, thankyouverymuch" — and the other who would love it if someone would just sit and read him books all day long and hand-feed him bottles and never require him to use any of his hard-fought physical skills.

Why didn't I just have one again?

Oh yeah.

One of the many things I didn't get to choose on this journey of motherhood.

Hopefully JJ won't become as bitter about it as I am.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Moving into a New Year: Mobility Options for Moderate Cerebral Palsy (Videos)

We are finally looking into assisted mobility options for Malachi. This is a little late, I think, as he is two and a half years old, but in following the Anat Baniel Method, we have been wary of devices (like standers, walkers, etc.) that put him into positions he can't get into himself.

But after a visit with a very impressive and knowledgable ABM practitioner in early December, she told us that Malachi could use some practice with his legs. She recommended a KidWalk walker and we were lucky enough to find a local family willing to let us borrow one for a few weeks.

Malachi didn't really do much in the KidWalk, but when I took it in to our PT to see if he could adjust it, he suggested a Mulholland Walkabout. Wow! What a difference! Malachi was walking all over the place!

Here's me trying to act like this is no big deal that he is WALKING TOWARDS ME all while jumping for joy on the inside. (Never mind that he is actually just interested in playing a puzzle on the iPhone that I'm recording him with)

One thing that has encouraged me on our journey is that every time we do put him into these sorts of devices he does much better than he did before. This proves to me that you don't have to use these devices in order to learn the motor control needed to operate them.

But is the converse true? Would he learn the control faster if he did use them?

I don't know. And it haunts me.

But I have decided to trust in several sources that have led me to believe that in using this equipment he will learn bad habits and a fear of falling that will inhibit further growth. I have always struggled with this ABM injunction from using equipment. But after being able to take the Walkabout home over the Christmas weekend, I wonder if maybe I understand a little better why it's better for me not to have the walker around.

I would put him in it, and he would just stand there. Or cry. Or ask me to get him out. It was so irritating to me that he wouldn't just walk around like I had seen him do at the hospital. So, I would push him and turn it into something that wasn't fun and self-empowering. Malachi is really sensitive to being "pushed" to do things — probably because he has a very pushy mother. The second it would seem like I was asking him to walk, he would recoil and do even less.

So I think for now we need time to grow together. Malachi will need to feel a little more confident in it and I will need to feel a little more relaxed about it. (Considering the months-long waiting periods for obtaining devices like this from insurance companies, I don't think this will be a problem.)

I do have hope for this mobility option though. Our other PT suggested it as a way to have a power wheelchair without the stigma of a power wheelchair. He found a kit online of a way to convert these regular (and relatively inexpensive) toy cars to have push-button controls that Malachi could use and a harness so he won't fall out. I took the boys to Toys R Us to try a few out and was surprised at how well Malachi could sit up in (an unmoving) one.

Of course, this will be little more than a toy. Soon we will have to get a fully functional option that he will use in school and out in the world. And maybe I can hope that one day he'll look as confident and independent as this one day:


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