Crapshoot

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omething that has an unpredictable outcome – crapshoot is in my vocabulary again. Early in 2012, I signed a contract to have my novel An Odyssey of Illusions published by Black Rose Writers . I had great expectations but never for its being on anyone’s best seller list. I believed that the cover alone would attract readers at any bookstore.

I need to say that I do not intend this post to be a negative statement about Black Rose Writers . Publishers are in business to make a profit and I find nothing wrong with that. My having been naive about publishing practices is the real focus.
I thought Black Rose Writers was a real publisher until two experiences led me to believe that the book fell into the self-published category. When Several bookstores I contacted told me that they did not purchase and shelve self-published books unless there was a real potential for resale my beliefs were confirmed. They may have sold the gift copies I sent to them, but I have no confirmation of that.

I also contacted some reviewers but found that they would only review self-published work for a fee; thus, I had a second confirmation.
Real statistics on self-published novels are difficult to analyze and even more difficult to find. One alleged statistic caught my attention a number of years ago. It would be easier to remember the exact data if I could remember by whom it was said or in what it was written.
What I read or heard went something like this: Statistically, self-published authors sell an average of eight more copies than they self-purchase to give to friends and family.

I beat that statistic for Odyssey of Illusions – fourteen paperbacks and eight e-versions of the book were sold and I had one direct sale from my personal shelf. Oh, I bought 60 copies directly from the publisher (AKA printing facilitator now imbed in my mind). Six copies were donated and sold at charity auction and I gave copies to friends and family. The balance of my collection is my ‘free from the publisher’ copy and two others.

I earned a whopping $46.70 in royalties and my total cost, including shipping, was $1,270.49. Thus, I was published at the cost of $1,223.79. Black Rose Writers got that amount plus $252.57 for the sales ($1,476.36 total). Well, the publisher did pay something to have the book printed and converted to e-book, so its profit wasn’t very much either.
Would I do a for fee publication again? No!

The price for the gifts and donations is not out of line in the great scheme of things. And, there have been times when I learned a lot less at a much greater cost.

If you’ve read any of my recent blogs, you’d know I’ve done no fee self-publishing through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Now I’m faced with a dilemma and believe my next effort will be a crapshoot. I’ve made significant changes to what was An Odyssey of Illusions and have retitled it Iniquities of the Fathers.

The search for a ‘real’ publisher started last year and I was encouraged by a publisher via e-mail for six months. After that I quired some agents but got no replies. I found some publishers that had published similar work but did not take over-the-transom (unsolicited) submissions. One publisher suggested an alternate route for submission – if you guessed a fee was involved, you’d be right.

Well, I’ve taken a crapshoot and sent the manuscript to two publishers that weren’t specific about taking only agented work. Based on their web sites, I’ll be waiting as long as 30 days before acknowledgement of receipt.

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elf publishing is still an option, but I’d really like it to appear on shelves as a hardback for those who still like to browse a bookstore or Library.

Change

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hange is difficult. Change will wear a hole in your pocket if you have too much. However, change in the pocket is good unless it’s the only funds one has. It would be especially good if the change in your pocket is a hand full of 1907-P 10 Dollar Gold Indian NGC/PCGS MS64s. I get off track easily – that’s not the change I mean.

For many years, I was fastidious about keeping track of finances – even balancing the check book to the penny. That included entering every receipt into Quick Books, so I’d have an exact sales tax expense and other details to tell IRS. “Yada – yada -yada!” I’m off track again!

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emember carbon paper? I failed to use it for a major paper in college and the prof lost my 20 pages. I became a backup junkie after doing a re-write from an incomplete set of notes. My stack of 5 ¼ floppies copied onto an external drive from my Apple II were backed up with stacks of self-carboning paper from my tractor feed dot-matrix printer. Then there was the tray of 3 ½ diskettes and …

Then someone developed Cloud technology. That’s the change I’ve made. I worked from cloud files on my laptop and when I returned from a trip, my experimentally changed files were available on my desktop.

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hange is good.

PS: I just donated one of my external terabyte hard drives to a fundraiser garage sale.

Sarah

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arah is my granddaughter. She has a very long relationship with Adventures in Odyssey at several levels. One of our early Christmas presents to her was an audio tape with several episodes. Later she became involved in an unofficial podcast and met several of the involved voice actors.


AIO is an award-winning audio drama series created for kids ages 8-12 and enjoyed by the whole family. Episodes last an average of twenty-five minutes and are perfect for car rides. The episodes teach lasting truths and bring biblical principles to life, with just the right balance of fun, faith and imagination. The stories are brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience and teach kids how to deepen their relationship with Jesus.
Episodes often start with the grandfatherly Mr. Whittaker (“Whit”), who runs an ice cream shop called Whit’s End. Young friends from all over town come to Whit for advice, and his employees (perky Connie Kendall and genius Eugene Meltsner) often learn as much as the kids! And Wooton Bassett, the zany, fun loving mail man, helps the kids in his own unique way.

A little over a year ago Sarah was contacted by Phil Lollar, whom she’d only met through Facebook, about doing an episode based on her eye story cited on my home page. Sarah flew from Virginia and I from Washington to Burbank, CA, a year ago to witness the recording process and meet the voice actors.


Sarah just posted: It’s finally here!!! For those waiting to hear the Adventures in Odyssey episode partially inspired by my eye story, today is the day! Catch “Rightly Dividing” on your local Christian station, or stream it on https://www.whitsend.org/OnTheRadio.aspx.


Pastor Knox (Greg Jbara) becomes concerned about Camilla’s fiery prayer for her soccer team’s victory and Declan consults Lou for advice on dealing with a bully at school.


The album, “More than Meets the Eye” should be available for purchase on CD or digital download soon if it isn’t already. (The album contains a special six and a half minute behind the scenes interview with myself (Sarah) and Phil Lollar about the story behind the episode.)
Sarah also posted, “There’s one more surprise to come, so stay tuned in the next couple of weeks!”

Chicken Soup

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hicken Soup for the Soul: The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard included my contribution “Good, Very Good, Best”.


High school was difficult for me in the mid-1950s. My high school counselor told me that college wasn’t in my future. I would graduate in the middle of my class. And we were poor—my widowed mother often stretched a half-pound of hamburger to feed seven kids. He concluded our pre-graduation meeting with, “Benson, I believe the military would be a good fit for you.”

I did well in the Army, and my electronics training was a foundation for later things. The counselor’s advice was good, but it wasn’t the best advice I’ve ever heard.

My work in the Army qualified me for a manufacturing job with a small company in Minnesota. It was a low-paying position, but any job to support my wife and three kids during a Midwest winter was a good job.

The agency I’d been with in the Army recruited me to return to Virginia for an unposted civilian job. The government salary wasn’t significantly higher, but health benefits and other perks gave me the incentive to accept the offer. However, I still needed a part-time job to support my family once we settled in.

So, I worked evenings and some weekends as a clerk at one of the stores in a rapidly expanding drugstore chain. After less than a year, I was recruited into the company’s management program. Compensation in the training program was equal to government employment, so with the expectation of advancement, I changed jobs. Leadership skills I’d learned in the Army were a personal asset in my new occupation.

The day I was promoted from trainee to assistant manager, my district manager said, “You’re moving up faster than most, but remember this—while climbing the ladder of success, you might have to climb back down someday. In other words, always treat those you supervise with respect and fairness.” His advice was very good, but still not the best advice I’ve ever heard.

We were spending a summer afternoon with friends from church, and our conversation turned to our work and the future. Our friends were preparing to move back to their home state, where they were both certified to teach. My friend Lyle asked about my own work and what might be ahead for me.

I told Lyle that my previous boss, who had recruited and promoted me to manager, was moving up to the corporate office. He told me I was on the fast track for supervising one of the new districts. The increased pay and responsibility seemed like a good incentive to accept the position, but I lamented that the working hours and traveling time would increase.

When Lyle asked what I’d really like to do, I told him, “Teach.” I explained that my favorite job had been teaching operation and field maintenance of communications equipment to U.S. embassy personnel when I was in the Army.

He asked if I had a teaching degree, and I told him I had taken only a few college classes. When he suggested that I could enroll and maybe transfer my previously earned credits, I said, “I’m nearly thirty-three, with house payments and a family to support. Do you know how old I’d be if I went to college now?”

He countered, “How old will you be if you don’t go?” That was the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Three years later, I graduated with a teaching degree and started a satisfying thirty-five-year career as an education professional. I retired from teaching with an advanced degree, and now I can afford hamburger.

My high school counselor’s good advice was helpful. My district manager’s very good advice was practical. But the best advice I’ve ever heard, my friend’s question, was life changing.


Building a Bird House

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riting a story could be very much like building a bird house. A bird house, like many other enclosed boxes has six sides, but it might use seven pieces of wood. I usually like them to have a peaked roof for water runoff, etc.

I start by cutting seven pieces the same length – my personal preference is 12 inches. What about waste? It doesn’t matter most of my bird houses are made from 5 ½ x 5/8 inch used, weathered fence boards.
So, you ask, how does this apply to writing a story. The working title – Bird House describes the general concept and perhaps the goal.
So, there will be at least one character with a name – in this case Bird House.
With a name there must (should) be body specifics. In a person story, man, woman, boy, girl, etc. is too general for depth. So, it is with the parts of a bird house. The base starts as one of the 12-inches pieces of wood and must be modified for a good fit. The roof is a pair of nearly identical parts as are the front/back and the two sides. But the front is different from the back – it has the opening for birds. Getting the picture?
Does each of the bird house parts have body language? Consider what a bird sees. Hole too large or too small – not a good fit. Would a bird land on the back side? Consider a character in a people story known as a wimp standing hands on hips with a stony glare. Not the right body language.
The sides, like right and left guards or tackles on a football line, they hold provide physical protection for the occupants and keep the other parts from collapsing. Front and back, as previously mentioned are nearly the same, but each has its role in the story. The back is visually rejected by birds, but the front has an attraction. The hole gives a promise of shelter and security for the bird family.
Perhaps my attempt at using a bird house is too simplistic. Bird houses are inanimate, and characters in a story must never be. However, bird houses don’t start fully formed (natural openings in trees, etc. excepted). My bird house did start as a tree of some kind (but other materials are used by some), so some of its features represent its background. Weathering characteristics of oak are different from cedar. But aging characteristics of Western Red Cedar are different from Cedar of Lebanon, yet they’re both cedars. It is such with people in stories.

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ell, as I look at what I just wrote trying to explain something that I read recently, I cannot even say, “Nice try,” to myself.
So what did I read?
Someone wrote, “Wooden characters in stories are individuals who the writer doesn’t fully understand.” That writer said that characters in a story must have a name, body specifics, body language, a background, a psyche and strengths & weaknesses. The writer also said the character should have a unique presentation of himself or herself and have a motivation for actions in the story.

Just as the bird house is built from raw materials, the writer has to build each character and keep those traits true to the absolutes that make him or her who he or she from start to finish in the story.