While cutting my teeth in the Children’s Book Writing Industry, I absorbed a strongly held belief that (and I beg forgiveness for using—and mixing—this repulsive adage), “those who can do, those who can’t self-publish.” But I mean really, without the skills of a talented editor, many self-pubbed books scream, “Edit me! Please?” The adage seemed and seems honest.
So why did I, a published writer, e-publish my middle-grade novel, SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son?
I’d taken the usual path to publication in the kid lit world–years writing and participating in critique groups and attending workshops and conferences. I earned an MFA in Writing for Children from The Vermont College of Fine Arts to up the level of my knowledge of craft. And just as I’d begun to submit manuscripts, my life suddenly changed.
I’ve already written about my “live the dream” opportunity to navigate the seas. And so what? Could I have continued to submit and remain on the traditional path toward a publishing contract? Absolutely.
Here’s the black and white of why I didn’t.
Like some writers, I tend to live in my imagination. I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking, analyzing, what-iffing and seeing life from too many angles. I’m equally buzzed by intuitions. I’ve been advised to get out of my head and into the moment, to Be Here Now.
Clearly, without the ups and downs of submitting manuscripts, I might pay more attention to my immediate surroundings and life on the water.
I enlisted early readers before I e-published and “released” SPANKY. Some loved it. Others felt elements would benefit from a massage. My submission experiences had both frustrated me and sharpened my sense of humor. “If you kill the mom, I’d like to see this again,” said one agent. “The story is truly about the mother and son’s relationship. Develop the mom,” said another. But they made sense. Story and reactions to story have as much to do about craft as they do about a given reader’s idiosyncrasies. Still, I took all the critical feedback to bed, slept on it and made adjustments to ideas that felt right.
SPANKY is a terrific story that still whispers “edit me,” and would benefit from a talented editor. But I would venture to guess that many authors—traditionally edited and published or not—would love to have another go at their printed book. That is the joy of e-publishing—revision is forever. (That fact, by the way, feels right AND wrong on many levels and might be a good topic for another post.)
Once I’d e-published and after we’d cast off lines, reactions filtered in from different camps. Few of my significant teachers or mentors took notice or acknowledged the release. Some friends and peers were genuinely happy for me and for the path I had taken. Some congratulated me privately but still do not acknowledge the book in public or social media.
Had I become the
red-headed stepchild of my writing family?
Truth be told, my professional sensibilities expected this and accepted it as an inevitable result of my decision. My tendency to be a bit neurotic suffered. So much for living in the moment.
But ironically, other reactions surprised me. A few of those for whom the book was written—the hundreds of thousands of families navigating life with a deployed family member—took notice. A Psychologist who also served in the Air Force as a Captain and who is now in private practice wrote that the emotions Spanky exhibited were authentic and that the book was insightful. Spanky is now a recommended resource by websites that support military families, to help children talk about their confusing feelings. I’ve been interviewed twice and have been invited to do a live interview on a radio program for the Army Wife network as their Resource of the Week.
More recently, I received a letter from a military wife who was reading the story with her daughter. She wrote that I was reaching an overlooked age range of books for military children. And in another letter, a soldier currently serving in Afghanistan thanked me for writing SPANKY. He said his kids needed more books like it.
Then today, high winds kept us moored in a little coastal town. We dinghyed ashore and in one of the local shops, I saw a sign.
“When asked what to do next, swimming or sandcastles? The Sea replied, ‘Simply Be.’” That sign and those two letters have changed my perception. Had e-publishing made me the red-headed stepchild of my writing family? Sure it did. To some.
But I began to feel a little more Pink. I returned to our ship to “raise my glass for being wrong in all the right ways.”
Or is that right in all the wrong ways?
SPANKY grappled with the same questions–
and about what to do in challenging situations.
There simply is no black and white.