In Praise of Children’s Booksellers and Librarians

Children confuse me.

When I was a bookseller, I spent a lot of time in the Children’s Section. If I wasn’t actually in the character costume for an event, I was behind the desk, frantically searching for the by-age-and-grade-level cheat sheets the children’s specialist kept.

The character costume part was easy. All you  have to do is fit in the costume, keep your mouth shut, and pretend to be a dog. (Or whatever.)

The book part? Virtually impossible.

In the first place, nothing you read when you were a child is relevant. What was I reading in third grade? Not Captain Underpants. So, for a child-free soul like myself, that’s going to mean rote memorization. A lot of it.

And in the second place, none of the kids you’re talking to are reading at their age/grade level, anyway. Well, I guess those cheat sheets were more a set of guidelines, anyway. Does fifth grade mean fifth grade, or second? Does “gifted” mean the standardized test score shows him at a 4.6 reading level (And only six months into 4th grade!) or does it mean college physics?

Then, on top of that, there are the parents.

Let’s be honest… half the time, what you’re really looking for is something the parents like. Child friendly, with good values, and wholesome adventures. Maybe something where the dog actually survives, or the kid grows up to be an accountant… you know, just like his mom. But nobody’s gonna give you a wish list. Nope. You have to guess.

And if they don’t like what their kid’s reading?

Oh, boy. They’re gonna track you down.

Your name’s on that receipt, and they will find you. Were there talking animals in that book? An abomination. Sex? Violence? Fart jokes? Run!

Oh, no. You will not speak. After all, you should have known the moment an over-21 type adult tried to buy that manga–the shrink-wrapped one with the giant age-rating on the cover–that it was clearly a birthday gift for her eight year old.

So, to all the Kids’ Specialists, Children’s librarians, and **gulp** school teachers…

For all your hard work and dedication…

For all the time and energy you expend trying to expand the minds of the next generation, and for the effort you put into encouraging them…

Thanks for taking the bullet.

So, Here It’s Sunday, Again…

The internet is dead. The RSS feeds on my reader didn’t even hit half a dozen new articles for me. My WordPress reader is just as empty. And Twitter… well, Twitter’s barely a trickle of excitement. A handful of people, and a whole lot of bots.

During the A-to-Z Challenge, the rules were to blog every day except for Sunday.

And that’s the habit I’ve gotten into. Everybody needs a day off, right?

Or, at least, a day off from writing the blog.

I keep going back and forth on that idea. I mean, of all the days in the week to declare your day off, why Sunday? There’s not a whole lot going on. Not too many places I could be doing anything exciting. And a lot of us–particularly writers with shitty day jobs–don’t get Sundays off, anyway, so it’s not like skipping a day writing is an actual day off.

The other idea that I keep toying with–and I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea or not–is that if you have a day when no one else is writing, your ideas and writing have a much bigger share of the eyes.

Of course, it’s Sunday… so there may be a lot fewer eyes.

Gauging Success

So, the basic question here is How do you tell if something you’re doing is a success?

The specific circumstances aren’t all that important, but at the moment, I’m looking at authors doing giveaways on Amazon or other websites.

The Dream is this: Give away a book in the hopes of selling other books on your list, or others at a later date. Building a readership that you can cash in on, the next time around.

From time to time, a friend or acquaintance is generous, and I get to see real numbers. The rest of the time, I have my own Kindle, and a whole lot of speculation. And either way, I have my doubts.

I’m a born skeptic. You should know that, up front. I hated selling stuff I didn’t like, and didn’t believe in, when I was a kid, and in college, I remember coming to the realization–after a long day of “fundraising” that my group could have raised more money by each giving an hour of our income than we did by giving four hours of our time.

In order to call something a success, I want results, and I want measurable results.

And I don’t mean that at the end of the day, I’ll know exactly how many copies of my books I gave away. Or how many copies of my other book I sold.

A million years ago, my grandfather owned a service station. Sold Skelly Gasoline and Armstrong Tires, but when he did a promotion?

He gave away watermelon.

The rule, back then–I can’t say I think the rule ever changed–was that you don’t give away the thing you make your money on.

I don’t know how that applies to writing. Maybe, if novels are your money maker, you give away short stories. Maybe, if you’re making money on short stories, you give away limericks. Or watermelons. Maybe it doesn’t apply to writing, at all, and I’m clinging to nostalgia.

My grandfather knew the cost of the melon, and the amount of gas he sold that day, and the amount of gas he sold any other day. There’s a lot to be said for assigning value to the thing you’re giving away. Especially if you’re going to try selling that thing later on.

I’m a still a cynic, but a lot of the time, I don’t get the impression that writers, and especially Indie authors, are putting real, live, monetary values on the books they’re giving away.

I know pricing digital goods is tough. But if I give away three thousand books at three or four bucks a piece, that’s a ten thousand dollar promotion! Even if you figure wholesale, and value the books at half of the cover price, that’s five thousand dollars.

Success would be selling the most books possible for the amount of money you’re pouring into it. The most name-recognition. The most sign ups for your email list.

1.) Writers should know, in terms of money, how much they are spending on their giveaways. They should know this in advance. There’s a lot of difference between “I will give away $500 worth of books,” and “I will make my book free for three days.”

2.) They should know BEFORE the promotion, what their average, baseline sales are. If you make ten dollars a day with or without a promotion, the promotion isn’t a success, if you’re making ten dollars a day.

3.) They should know how much the promotion makes them. (Or how much they lose!)

4.) Their goals should have a time limit. At some point, you have to stop to look at what you have.

So, when you do a promotion–for writing, or for your day job, or for a charity, how do you define success?

Signing Up for More Fun

Post A-to-Z Road Trip [2016]

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I signed up for the Post A-to-Z Road Trip more or less the same way I signed up for A-to-Z, this year. At the last moment, and as a whim, because I didn’t know the thing existed until it was almost too late.

I did pretty well with a-to-z. I got a lot of views, and met a lot of people I might not have without it. And it got me into the habit of blogging reasonably regularly. I stayed in that habit, and with everything that’s happened between A-to-Z and now, I happen to be particularly proud of that.

The Road Trip is a lot smaller than A-to-Z. Looks like about a hundred blogs, instead of over a thousand. I’m hoping that means the most active ones. I know I saw a few old friends on the list. **waves**

I haven’t completely decided what to do with the Road Trip. Of course, not. I only got there a few minutes ago! And I want to get this post out, so if anybody misses it, it’s not my fault.

Any ideas about how you’re going to make this work?

More Nature and More Pictures

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I went outside today.

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So, that means it’s time for some more rest-area art.

If you’re wondering why this rest area art is so superlatively better than some of the things I’ve posted before, well… that’s because this is Nebraska rest area art. This one happens to be near the Platte River, and is therefore… uhm… well, it’s supposed to be a Sandhill Crane. Or possibly Two Sandhill cranes. Not really sure.

It isn’t, by the way, anywhere near the Sandhills, or, for that matter, any place I would actually associate with Sandhill Cranes.

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Today was about getting out and getting some sun, so off to Omaha, I go!

Yup. That’s Omaha. You can tell by the poured concrete parking garage behind the bull rushes. And actually, this is in downtown Omaha. I suspect there’s a reason for all this nature-y excitement. Probably has something to do with drainage, or flood control.

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Omaha is a nice balance between urban and rural life. You don’t get bored, but you also don’t have to spend all your time staring at concrete.

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Yes, that water has been dyed. Just a little. It’s only obvious when it goes over the rocks, or… well, there is a fountain. And it looks kool-aid blue against the white rocks.

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And, yes, that’s a gondola. Or two, if you’re willing to define the word loosely. (You may note that one of those things looks slightly more Italian than the other.) $3 a person, or $20 to charter the whole thing. Not a bad price, really.

Mmmm… Italian. And there goes my mind, wandering back to food, as usual.

Same city, different blog post.

Short story salvage

I dug a short story out of my basement. One piece of paper. Single spaced, with handwritten edits and notes all over it. It isn’t a finished story. I don’t have any idea how it ends, much less how it ends in 5,000 words or less. It’s not polished or shiny, and frankly, I may never figure out how it ends.

But, oh, that beginning!

I’ve turned the world upside down, looking for that one piece of paper. I’ve sifted through my hard drive. I’ve found it, and then given up again. I may have retyped it once, or twice.

It’s one of the short stories that sticks in my head for some reason. It’s sci fi, and it’s from a time when I wasn’t really writing a whole lot of that.

And I love the first line. Hell, I love the whole first paragraph, but it’s the first line I actually have memorized: Not all STDs are created equal.

Yeah, it’s a strange little story.

Doesn’t have much plot.

But it begins with one of those weird personal relationships, and that’s usually what ropes me in.

I just don’t know what happens next.

I Want to Help

Sometimes, it seems like I’m a magnet for the negativity in the world. This is one of those weeks. Every hotline in the world should be on speed dial on my phone. I’m hearing from the abused woman, the abused elder, the assorted phone scams and email schemes that every other person in my world is getting.

Did you know you can call domestic violence shelters collect? You can.

And, you should. You really, really should. Get on the phone, find yourself a safe place, maybe in another state.

She explained why she stays. I didn’t understand a word of it.

And then, there’s that moment where other people jump in. Where suddenly, women are telling their stories, and everyone seems to have a story. Bonding over traumas, rapes, abuse… You’re not alone.

I don’t have a story. Not really. Not a story of my own. I’ve always been treated well by the men in my life. Never been treated badly, even by strangers.

Maybe not having a story is my story.

If everyone else is talking about being abused… About boyfriends turned rapists, and threats, and violence, and being afraid for your life… Maybe not having a story is worth mentioning. Maybe, after all the others run together… someone will remember that having something better is possible.

Distraction and Discipline

I am screwing up my day-job, mostly by being half asleep while I’m there. And, let’s be honest. Day job isn’t really a personal priority. It’s a financially motivated priority. My heart isn’t in it on the best of days, and today… Well, never mind.

I did manage to get a little bit of real work done over my lunch hour, and that would be a personal coup. I’m creeping closer to having something presentable. The pace is never fast enough.

I always wind up back at a place where I see the problem as a matter of organization in my rough drafts. If I could just do a smoother, cleaner, more linear rough draft, I could edit faster, better, stronger than before…

But I don’t really do linear. It just isn’t a part of the process. My software lets me move stuff around, and that gives me some semblance of chronological… an imitation of organization. And then, eventually, I do fill in the spaces between this thing happening and the next.

Oh, well.

In Lieu of Saturday’s Post

I bring you this slightly melted squirrel. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer, so this took me three tries, and still came out a little blurry, but this is what the heat looks like these days.

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Apparently, this is the chosen sunbathing position for squirrels. They do it all the time.

As soon as he noticed me, he ran off.

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Hello, Family. Good news! You’re My Blog Topic for the Day.

I’ve been keeping score. The number of times one particular aunt asks how I am vs the number of times she asks how some material possession is. Not exactly a nail biter here. Material possessions are slaughtering me. If this were a football game, the fans would have packed it in and gone home at half time. My current score? Zero. Aunt has not asked how I am once. Not when she was talking to me. Not when she was talking to anyone else.

I’m having one of those lives where I tend to wonder how long it’s worth trying to salvage relationships with people just because we happen to share a few alleles.

This is a woman who is so loud, and so outgoing, that she gave me panic attacks when I was a child, and she never noticed.

I don’t have a lot in common with my family. I’m incredibly guarded when I’m around them. I don’t know whether that helps or hurts the situation. Maybe they’d be impressed that I’ve written n novels, or that I’m looking to publish. Maybe they wouldn’t. Either way, I’m sure they’d feel entitled to read and comment, and probably get out the red pen. **shudder** Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Take credit for what they think I’m doing right.

So, what’s new? Lately, I’ve been looking at this more and more as a zero-sum game. I don’t want my creative space invaded. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else in order to be accepted in their space. I definitely don’t want to become someone else.

And my family wants me to be someone else.

I want out. And in a strange way, I think I’ve always wanted out.

The first time I can remember not wanting them around was fifth grade. Wanting them NOT to be there, I mean. There was a banquet for an award I had won, and I didn’t want to invite them. Didn’t invite them.

I want belonging, but all I get is tolerance. And after a while, the difference adds up to a lot of weight.

So, here’s the question, for all you writers and creatives with meaningless day jobs, while you work toward your real goals… How do you get along with the people who think you’re just your day job? How do you strike the balance?