Early Readers: A Short Phase

In a young reader’s development, early readers come immediately after start-to-read primers, but before early chapter books. Dr. Seuss’s books, such as The Cat in the Hat, are easy to read because of their emphasis on phonics and simple words, but they’re not early readers. I consider them more of a start-to-read book. Or, if anything, they are unique books in that parents read them to children as picture books, children memorize them, and then children read them at the beginning of their reading lives.

For decades early readers were orphans in the world of children’s books, seldom receiving consideration for either the Caldecott (which usually went to picture books for illustration) or the Newbery (which usually went to Middle Grades books for story). Then, in 2006 the American Library Association, which awards both the Caldecott and the Newbery, instituted the Geisel Award, named after Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who pioneered beginning readers during the 1950s.

Early readers most often have chapters. Or, they sometimes consist of two, three, or four separate stories. A chapter or story runs 300-600 words long. The length of the book is usually 48 pages, but can be as short as 32 pages or as long as 64 pages. Early readers contain illustrations: usually “spot” illustrations which are smaller than picture-book-sized illustrations.

UnknownThe size of early readers is different from the size of picture books — they have a slightly smaller trim size, making them feel less like “baby” books and more like “real” books to the child selecting them. The trim size of Alien & Possum, for example, is 6.25”x9.25”.

Not all children’s book publishers are interested in publishing early readers, perhaps because early readers appeal to a child for only a short time in that child’s life: 6 months, maybe a year. Reading abilities and reading comprehension grow in leaps and bounds, and a child who’s reading an early reader at the beginning of second grade might be ready for an early chapter book of 80-100 pages by the end of second grade.

Picture books, on the other hand, are suitable for children aged 2-8 years, and early chapter books are read by ages 8-10, or even older. Parents are more willing to buy picture books and early chapter books than they are to buy early readers, which their children might outgrow very quickly.

Children, on the other hand, often develop a fierce loyalty to early readers, and this loyalty can last into adulthood. I’ve heard many adults speak passionately about early readers such as Frog and Toad, or Henry and Mudge.

003124As far as I know, early readers of the Frog and Toad variety didn’t exist when I was a child. In fact, I read the Frog and Toad stories as an adult and fell in love with them. Written and illustrated b y Arnold Lobel, the first book in the series, Frog and Toad Are Friends, was published in 1972.

People who write early readers are aware that they must use somewhat simple sentence structure and a somewhat restricted vocabulary. But I think that writers of early readers make up for these restrictions by finding a beautiful rhythm of sentences. Here are the first five sentences of “Down the Hill,” the first story in Frog and Toad All Year:

Frog knocked at Toad’s door.
“Toad, wake up,” he cried.
“Come out and see
how wonderful the winter is!”
“I will not,” said Toad.
“I am in my warm bed.”

One of the very popular early readers series is the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant, first published in 1987. Henry is an only child and Mudge is his dog, who grows from a puppy into a 180-pound canine. Rylant won the very first Geisel Award in 2006 for Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas.

Another early reader series is the Fox series, written and illustrated by James Marshall (of George and Martha fame). Like Arnold Lobel, Marshall wrote with a beautiful rhythm, economy of words, and great humor. The first Fox title, Fox All Week, was published in 1984.

Because I love reading early readers, it should come as no surprise that I sometimes write early readers. The first of these, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories, was 64 pages long. It contained three stories and came to 64 pages mainly because the publisher divided each of the three small stories into four small chapters. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review. Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center all liked it, the latter making it a Choice 2007 book.

Unknown-1For the sequel, Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner and Other Stories, the publisher left each of the three stories intact (instead of breaking them into chapters). The book then came out to 48 pages, a much more economical arrangement, considering the cost of color printing. Booklist thought the stories contained “deliciously sticky, comical situations.”

If you have never read an early reader, or did but have forgotten the wonderful way in which it tells a story, look at one of the books I’ve mentioned the next time you’re in a bookstore. Try any of Arnold Lobel’s Toad and Frog books, or James Marshall’s Fox books, or Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge books, or her Poppleton books. You just might get hooked on the rhythm of the story.

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When she isn’t writing early readers, Barbara Gregorich writes books such as Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog.

Ridge and Furrow

One of my early memories is of riding behind my uncle as he drove the tractor, plowing the fields. I loved to see the earth turn over on itself, forming ridges.I wrote this poem as a tribute to farmers and the farming life.

 

Deep_Furrows_-_geograph.org.uk_-_20348

 

Ridge and Furrow

Spring is the starting season. Tractor tows,
plow plunges into earth, cuts the trench
and folds deeper dirt bottom-side up. Earthworms
glisten in the rich, ready soil. Ridge and furrow,
furrow and ridge roll across the land.

Next comes the harrow, its sharp spikes
crushing heavy clods of dirt into smaller clumps,
smoothing the land, grooming the earth.

The farmer rises at dew-filled dawn to
drive the tractor true; sits dry and dusty
under the welcome shade of a solitary tree,
chews his lunch and drinks lemonade; works
through cricket dusk, dreaming of golden grain.

Behind the tractor the chattering, row-straddling
drill pokes the dirt, depositing seeds. Tucked into rich
ready furrows, the seeds will sprout, the sprouts
will shoot up into crops — wheat, rye, corn, soy.

Summer is the growing season. Rubber-hoofed
tractor pulls the cultivator, uprooting weeds.
When crop tops tickle the tractor bottom,
the farmer knows: time to rest the machines.

Bees buzz acres of grain; butterflies flutter;
quail and pheasants nest. Rabbits hop
among the ridges and deer browse,
hidden behind abundant stalks.

Autumn is the reaping season. Mighty machines
snort. Combines, balers, pickers —the farmer
rides them hard, racing against the weather.
No time to lose, act quickly or lose the crops.

Everybody jumps to at harvest. Bale the hay,
thresh the wheat — gather, gather the crops.
Make hay while the sun shines because tomorrow
threatens to damage the entire yield.

At last the reaping is complete and farm families
celebrate: hay rides, apple cider and potluck
suppers. Rejoice, for the farmers’ crops
can feed the world.

In the satisfied fields crickets chirp and crows
caw over solitary seeds of grain. Low and full,
the harvest moon shines on stubble.

Winter is the sleeping season. Bare furrows
and ridges ripple around hills and along
creeks. Dusted with snow, they adorn Earth’s face.
Winter’s weight flattens furrow and ridge as
Earth collapses inward for a long sleep.

Finally the snow melts, though frost remains.
Days grow longer and warmer.
The farmer checks the tractor and plow.

Spring is the starting season. Plow
plunges and turns the soil. Earth
embraces herself row after row.
Furrow and ridge, ridge and furrow,
the farming life.

 

 

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Barbara Gregorich has published one book of poetry: Crossing the Skyway.

Book Review: Charlie Chan Carries On

 

When I was sixteen years old and first read Earl Derr Biggers’ six Charlie Chan novels, I loved each and every one, but my favorite was the fifth book, Charlie Chan Carries On. However, I couldn’t really say why.

What was it about this book that made it my favorite? Was it the fact that the story took place on an around-the-world cruise, and that this setting appealed to me? Or perhaps I loved the novelty of having one detective be the protagonist for the first half of the book, and another detective take over for the second half of the story.

Back in the 1990s, after I had already read each book twice, and was about to embark on reading each a third time, I did a lot of research on Earl Derr Biggers. This included reading all the correspondence between Biggers and his editor, David Laurance Chambers of Bobbs-Merrill. From these letters I learned many things I hadn’t known — including something about Biggers’ attitude toward writing Charlie Chan Carries On.

Specifically, I learned that Biggers complained to Chambers about the fact that so many of his fans were telling him he should write a Chan mystery in which Charlie goes to London and meets up with Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard (introduced in Behind That Curtain), and the two of them solve a case together.

Which part of these suggestions repelled Biggers more, I don’t know: that he take his character to London, that Chan co-star with Duff . . . or that the fans felt they could tell Biggers where to set his books. Disregarding all these suggestions, Biggers wrote a fourth Chan novel, The Black Camel, in which he took Charlie home to Hawaii. Inspector Duff was not present in the novel.

Still . . . there was something about the London suggestion, or the meeting-Duff-again suggestion that appealed to Biggers. And so he plotted that Duff and Chan would work together — but not in the way the fans had suggested. In Charlie Chan Carries On Biggers turned the first part of the story over to Inspector Duff in London, then, in the second half, had Duff meet Chan in Honolulu (not London!). Charlie takes charge in the second half of the story and solves the mystery that Duff hadn’t yet solved.

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As I read the correspondence between Biggers and his editor and recalled the plot of Charlie Chan Carries On, I chuckled. Biggers managed to both give the fans what they wanted (another meeting between Duff and Chan) and not give them what they wanted (Chan in London). I think that in writing this book he was showing mystery readers who is in charge of the novel: the author.

Still, learning this about Biggers and his fans’ suggestions didn’t reveal to me why Carries On is my favorite of the six novels. So this time around, for my fourth reading of the novel, I decided to pay very close attention to the question of why I like this book the most.

It’s a very well constructed mystery, as are all six of the Chan novels. The story starts out in London, where Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard investigates a murder that occurs at Broome’s Hotel. The murdered man, Hugh Drake, was a member of Doctor Lofton’s Around the World tour. Duff questions all seventeen members of the tour, but gets nowhere. He wants to keep the tour from leaving, but the British legal system will not let him do so because he has no evidence with which to charge anybody with murder.

In Nice a second member of the tour is murdered. Duff, who has arrived in Nice, learns that somebody in San Remo, Italy, is in danger, even though she’s not part of the tour. Duff travels with the tour to San Remo, but the person he means to protect is murdered. Neither Duff nor the Italian police can solve the crime, and so the tour continues eastward while Duff returns to London — after asking Pamela Potter, a tour member, to keep him informed by letter, and to cable him if anybody else is murdered.

Back at Scotland Yard Duff and his superior decide to put an undercover Yard man on the case: he will join the tour in Calcutta, working on the ship’s crew. But this undercover operator does not make it past Japan.

As the tour boat makes its way to Hawaii, Duff is sent to the US to investigate safe deposit boxes (which play a role in the murder) and, eventually, to meet the tour ship when it arrives in Honolulu.

There the long-awaited reunion between Chan and Duff takes place, with Chan and Duff treating each other to lunches and Chan inviting Duff to his home for dinner.

And then, the night that Duff is to sail to the States with the remaining tour members, he is shot while in Charlie’s office at the Honolulu Police Station. Before he passes out Duff whispers, “Carry on, Charlie.” Duff’s life is saved, but he cannot leave the hospital.

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At this point Chan takes over, stating that his honor has been assailed and that he will solve the case for his friend. The last seven chapters of the book take place aboard the President Arthur as it steams its way toward San Francisco. Chan has Duff’s case notes with him and proceeds to question the tour members.

In my fourth reading, I was able to determine the identify of the killer by Chapter 18 (of 23) — with the same method that Chan was able to determine his identity. (Of course, unlike Chan, I had been here three times before!)

There are three things I noticed during my fourth reading that I hadn’t noticed in my first three. First, I observed that in this book Biggers’ does an amazing — and very funny — job of spoofing both Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and her Miss Marple. I’m amazed that I never noticed this before.

Second, I think Biggers’ depictions of Americans abroad is hilarious. Earl and Eleanor made several trips abroad, and they must have encountered many Americans tourists such as the always-taking-pictures Mr. Benbow. Or the crude but good-at-heart gangster, Max Minchin. Perhaps one of the reasons I love this book so much is that the writing is so funny.

Third, I observed that although there are seventeen suspects, it was always very easy to know which character was which. I’ve read books in which there are six or seven suspects . . . and I can’t identify who is who when they next appear in the book. We’ve all had similar experiences. So how did Biggers manage to do this?

Although Duff had to question all the suspects, Biggers broke them into small groups. First we meet Doctor Lofton, who is in charge of the tour. That’s one character. Then we meet Pamela Potter and her mother. That’s three. Pamela is distinct because Mr. Drake was her grandfather and also because she is the youngest woman on the tour, perhaps twenty years old. The mother goes back to the States, so seventeen are down to sixteen. We then meet Mrs Spicer, who had the room next to Mr. Drake. We also meet Mr. Honywood, whose room is on the other side of Drake’s. We now have four characters to know (Lofton, Pamela Potter, Spicer, and Honywood). They are very distinct from one another. So far, an admirable job by Biggers.

Duff asks Doctor Lofton to assemble the tour members in a lounge. But five of them aren’t back from their London jaunt yet, so they will be questioned later. One of the seven new characters, Mr. Tait, faints the moment he enters the lounge. His young assistant, Mr. Kennaway, helps him into another room.

Now we have five people left to concentrate on: Mr. Ross, a timber merchant; Captain Keane, who isn’t a captain and who seems to lie about everything; Mr. Vivian, who seems to be the paramour of Mrs. Spicer; Norman and Laura Fenwick, brother and sister. We learn about these five, and it’s easy to keep them distinct because of their different ages, different origins, and different attitudes. The Fenwicks want to leave the tour and eventually do, narrowing the number from sixteen to fourteen.

Finally Duff meets the five people who weren’t there at the beginning of the questioning. Mr. and Mrs. Benbow are distinct because Mr. Benbow records each step of the world tour on film and is thus always with his camera; Max Minchin is a gangster from Chicago, with a very distinct way of speaking, and his wife Sadie buys jewelry everywhere they go. Mrs. Luce (the Miss Marple Spoof) is a 72-year-old sharply observant world traveler who has stories to tell about every port she has visited, and who draws lessons from her life’s experiences. As I said, these five characters are easy to keep straight, making this round-the-world story a real pleasure.

There is much I admire about Charlie Chan Carries On, but even now, after reading it a fourth time, I can’t pinpoint the reason why it’s my favorite. So let’s just say that the sheer scope of the book is what appeals to me.

 

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Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies contains suggestions on how authors can keep characters distinct to readers.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 6

Early in 2017 I was asked to give presentations on “How to Self-Publish on CreateSpace at No Cost.” This is a program I’ve been giving since 2010, and I update it each year, mainly because CreateSpace makes changes each year and I want the program to reflect those changes.

Each time I give the program, I use screenshots from my own books, so that people can see the decisions I had to make on CreateSpace. But in 2017 I decided I would do something different — something that might benefit those attending the presentation even more.

Self-Pub copy

Instead of showing how I use my own template (which I prefer), and instead of showing them the beautiful covers that Robin Koontz created for my books, I decided I would actually publish a book using the CreateSpace template. And I would make my own cover using CreateSpace’s Cover Creator.

This would more closely approximate the experience that most people who use CreateSpace encounter: they use the CreateSpace template, and they use Cover Creator.

There was just one problem.

I had no manuscript to publish.

What, oh what, could I do?

The answer came to me suddenly. I could take 20 or 30 of my blogs, format them, and publish a book.

It took me not quite two weeks to decide which of my 60-some blogs I would select, to put them in order, and then to write an introduction to the book. I titled the book almost instantly, based on a reference to one of my blogs.

Because my “blog book” wouldn’t be a large one, I chose a smaller sized template than I had been using. Instead of 6”x9”, I went with the 5”x8” size. Instead of creating my own 5”x8” template, I downloaded that size from CreateSpace. Then I pasted my manuscript into the template.

I inserted a header and also a footer, and I wrote the front matter and inserted a table of contents. This took me perhaps one full day, mainly because I spent some time experimenting with type size and page breaks and such.

Once my book was ready, I uploaded it to CreateSpace, which informed me that I could proceed to Cover Creator while the CS automated system checked my manuscript for errors.

Cover Creator offers 30 different cover choices. I picked one, and I searched through the CreateSpace data base for a photo of a boat, to go with my title, Xenia Steered the Boat. I found absolutely no photos of boats.

So I asked my friend Sandy Katz if I could use part of one of her paintings. Sandy generously said yes, and she sent me a JPEG of the boat painting I wanted. I uploaded her art to Cover Creator and was very pleased with the results.

But I wasn’t all that happy with the five choices of font Cover Creator gave me for the book title and author name. In fact, I outright rejected three of the five choices. Then I had to decide which of the two remaining ones was less objectionable. The font I really wanted had poor leading: the second line of the title ran into the first line of the title. I called CreateSpace and spoke to a customer service person about changing the leading on the typeface I wanted, but she informed me that this was not possible. So I opted for my second choice, which was an all-capitals title. Not my fave, but definitely acceptable.

Xenia

I took screenshots of the entire process and made a huge update to my presentation.

After I “approved” the cover I had created, CreateSpace asked me to look at my book online. Which I did, catching no mistakes. But I also ordered a softcover copy of the book before publication, and I’m glad I did, because when the book arrived, something I hadn’t noticed in the online copy leaped out at me on the physical copy — my left-hand margins were a quarter-inch larger than my right-hand margins!

How this happened, I have No. Idea. Something makes me think the error was somehow related to the CreateSpace template I downloaded. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I went back into the template and made the left-hand and right-hand margins equal. Then for good measure I proofread the book one more time. And then I uploaded again. And proofread online. And ordered one more physical copy.

When that copy arrived, I went through it page by page. And then I hit the Publish button and my tenth self-published book entered the world.

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Xenia Steered the Boat: Thoughts on Writing is a collection of Barbara Gregorich’s blogs on writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 5

After publishing my first volume of poetry, I turned to the exacting task of constructing Volume 2 of Research Notes for Women at Play. Just as with Volume 1, I first created a template and then typed my book into that template. (For all my other books, I wrote the book first and then pasted the manuscript into a blank template.)

There was so much formatting involved with all three volumes of Research Notes that I just felt more comfortable doing everything in the template itself, thus decreasing the chance that I would create some inadvertent error if I were to transfer the manuscript to the template.

GregorichRNNotesIIKindleCoverI published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2, in July of 2013. It was my second self-published book of that year, and my seventh self-published book since early 2010.

Not long after publishing Volume 2, I was hit with a desire to write a book on how to write a mystery novel. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was eleven years old, and mysteries account for perhaps 50% of all the books I read. As an avid reader, I find that over the years I’ve developed annoyances at certain things I encounter in some mystery novels — and if I encounter them, I do not continue to read that author’s books.

I’ve published two mystery novels, and while writing my second one, Sound Proof, I created charts and graphs. These allowed me to track the appearance of minor characters, track their motives, and always be aware of where all the characters were within the setting. I drew a diagram of the farm and buildings where the action took place. I made certain that the minor-character villain was present often enough to register on the reader’s consciousness. I tracked all the elements important to developing plot, character, tension, and resolution.

One day (who knows why) I was struck by a desire to explain some of the things a mystery writer should consider in order to write a mystery that doesn’t cheat, doesn’t sound improbable, and doesn’t annoy the reader. So, pulling out all my saved materials for Sound Proof, I wrote a 25-chapter outline for my to-be nonfiction book and then, week by week, wrote the manuscript. And, because most of the books I’ve written are not mysteries, the guide contains a lot of information on writing in general. (Reviews have pointed this out.)

Let me digress a moment to say that one of the truly wonderful things about self-publishing (and there are many) is that it allows writers to publish books that, because they have a small market, are unlikely to be picked up by a traditional publisher. All three volumes of Research Notes serve as an example. Th existence of high-quality self-publishing also allows writers to self-publish books that are unlikely to sell to a traditional publisher because the author isn’t a big enough name. My how-to serves as an example. I felt that traditional publishers might like my manuscript, but wouldn’t take a chance on publishing it. I love that I was able to publish it myself.

COVER-WITH-TEMPLATE

And now back to the process of self-publishing my how-to. With this how-to, which would become my eight self-published book, I ran into a word-processing roadblock. Fitting all the charts and graphs into my 6”x9” template proved impossible: there was something about Apple’s Pages program that didn’t allow a long chart (three pages long, say) to flow from one page to another. Instead, I had to chop the chart into pieces that would fit on each page. And even then, I couldn’t make it work. So, as before, I asked friend Robin Koontz if I could hire her to format the document. Robin agreed, producing a publication-ready template — but even she thought it was difficult to do.

Of all the titles I’ve come up with for my self-published books, this one is my favorite: Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. The title promises information, lots of examples, and humor. The book, I think, delivers those things.

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, was published in October of 2014. It soon became my best-selling self-published book. To this day, Guide battles with Jack and Larry for the number one position in my monthly sales.

After I published Guide in 2014, I dove into the work of publishing the final volume of Research Notes to Women at Play. I self-published the first volume in 2010, and the third in October of 2015.

BookCoverNotesCoverIII-FINALIf you’ve been reading these posts on my self-publishing adventures, you may remember that I intended to donate my thousands of pages of research notes to the Baseball Hall of Fame . . . but then I got the brilliant idea of self-publishing a portion of the notes.

So, after the third volume was finally published, I began to organize my notes, so that I could deliver them to the BHOF in a neat order. I began in November, 2015, and I finished in July, 2016. The project was a big one. I delivered the notes in August, 2016. And then I spent the rest of the year catching up on what I had neglected while organizing the notes. So I did no self-publishing in 2016.

In fact, I thought it was unlikely that I’d self-publish anything for two or three years. But such was not the case.

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Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies vies with Jack and Larry for best-selling of Barbara Gregorich’s self-published books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 4

After I self-published two books in 2010 and another two in 2011, I planned to make Volume 2 of Research Notes my fifth self-published book, to come out in 2012. It was still my intention to donate all my research notes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but I couldn’t do that until I finished publishing all three volumes.

As it turned out, I realized that instead of publishing Volume 2, I would end up self-publishing a totally different kind of book, though a baseball-related one. Jack and Larry is a nonfiction crossover (Ages 10 – Adult) book I had hoped a traditional publisher would offer me a contract on. I had been trying to get Jack and Larry published for more than three years. Editors told me they liked it . . . but they didn’t offer to publish it. Based on the personalized rejection letters I received, editors didn’t want to take a chance on a story set in Cleveland, Ohio: they didn’t consider that as exciting or as big a market as New York or Los Angeles. And some felt that the story should center on either Jack Graney or on Larry, his bull terrier — but not on both.

February 2012 would mark the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland major league baseball team, then called the Cleveland Naps. By late summer of 2011 I realized that if I wanted the book out for that 100th anniversary, I would have to self-publish it.

And so I did.

BookCover5_5x8_5_Jack and Larry-FINAL-FINAL

Somewhere around late 2011 CreateSpace developed templates for all of its book sizes. (Lulu had had such templates all along.) So now it was possible for a user to download a template and paste her manuscript into it. In other words, she didn’t have to create her own template. I downloaded a CS template — but I wasn’t happy with either their default margins or their default typeface. Rather than change the CS template, I figured it would be easier to use my own 6″x9” template.

What I didn’t figure on was how difficult it would be for me to create the screened sidebars that appeared on some of the pages. Jack and Larry is written in free verse (also called lined prose), but some pieces of information appear in prose sidebars. Either because I couldn’t master Pages back in late 2011, or because it wasn’t possible to create pages of free verse with screened sidebars back in 2011, I asked Robin Koontz if she would like to design the book interior. Robin was willing to try, and she designed a beautiful looking interior — as well as an attention-grabbing, heart-warming cover.

J&LPg2

This page contains both a free-verse poem and a screened sidebar.

I published Jack and Larry early in 2012, so that it was out for the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland Naps. The book received numerous reviews in baseball publications and bull terrier publications and became my best-selling self-published book. I have spoken on Jack and Larry in Ohio, Illinois, and Canada, and presented the story to middle-grade and junior-high school students. Even now, more than five years after its publication, I am still asked to give presentations on the story. Had I not self-published this book on the 100th anniversary of the event, I think it would never have been published. Timeliness of publication is a very strong argument for much self-publishing.

Because I spent all of 2012 giving talks on Jack and Larry, traveling, and publicizing the book in many different ways, it was the only book I self-published that year.

So, then: would I self-publish a sixth book in 2013? And would it be Volume 2 of Research Notes?

Yes. And No.

Either because I enjoyed writing the free verse in Jack and Larry, or because I loved the 6″x9” format, or for some reason still unknown to me — I decided to start 2013 by self-publishing my first collection of poetry.

Cover-with-Template

Because this book contained only poetry (no sidebars, as in Jack and Larry), I was able to format it myself. And even though CreateSpace now offered templates, I still continued to create my own, rather than download and modify theirs. (This would change when I self-published my tenth book.) Once again I duplicated my trusty 6″x9” template and pasted the pages of my manuscript within.

For this book, unlike any of the others, I wanted no header or footer information except for the page numbers. That is, I didn’t want my name or the title of the book to appear on the pages. My reasoning was that such information would, in one way or another, interfere with the lines of poetry. In addition to not wanting headers or footers to interfere with the poems, I also didn’t want the page numbers to interfere. So I made certain that the page numbers were in much smaller type, and that they appeared in the far-right corner of each page: where the lines of poetry were least likely to run into them.

Crossing the Skyway was my sixth self-published book. By this time I was thoroughly enjoying not only the writing of the books, but also designing and publishing them. I was finding (and continue to find) self-publishing rewarding on many different levels: immediacy; control of design; control of pricing; higher royalties; and, especially, collaboration between writer and designer. I enjoyed going through the cover design process with Robin Koontz, who not only was interested in how I “saw” the cover, but who also (because she read each manuscript), had her own ideas from a reader’s and designer’s perspective. From the very beginning, I found self-publishing to be a very rewarding process.

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In Jack and Larry the Cleveland Indians win the World Series.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 3

After successfully publishing two books in 2010, I went for a third in 2011. My first self-published book was a reprint, my second was an original. Sound Proof, my third, was also an original. It’s a mystery novel, the sequel to my 1988 mystery, Dirty Proof. This is a novel that I could have submitted to publishers for traditional publication, but I really wanted to see how an original mystery would fare as a self-published book. So I published it myself.

This was an easy, enjoyable process. I simply took the 6″x9” template I had created for She’s on First, duplicated it, titled the template Sound Proof, and deleted the interior — while keeping the formatting. I got rid of the New Peninum font and replaced it with Palatino, an elegant, readable typeface. In less than a day I was able to insert my manuscript pages into the existing template, choose a font for the chapter numbers, write the copyright information, write the dedication, and write an About the Author page.

Had I gone ahead and published, I could have said that I formatted and self-published a book in a 24-hour period. But I didn’t go ahead and self-publish. What I did was go hunting for widows and orphans, and that added four or five additional days to my schedule. And a lot of woe.

As one who has read books since the age of five, as one who has observed what the pages of typographically beautiful books like like, and as one who is a former typesetter, I was determined to avoid pages that started with “widows” — a word or a few words which end a paragraph but start at the top of a new page. A widow is separated from the rest of its paragraph and kind of hangs at the top of a new page, all alone. In typesetting, widows are considered undesirable elements: sentences or paragraphs are rewritten so that the widow disappears. If the writing is made shorter, the widow ends up on the same page as the beginning of the paragraph. If the writing is made longer, at least one additional line of type moves to the top of the next page, so that there are two lines of type at the top. No widows.

SOUNDPROOF-CoverAn orphan, on the other hand, is the first line of a paragraph that is the last line on a page. That is, the first line of the paragraph starts at the very bottom of a page, and then the rest of the paragraph continues on the next page. Orphans are also considered undesirable in typesetting. No orphans.

In the process of eliminating widows and orphans, I found myself rewriting two or three times per chapter (there are 28 chapters in Sound Proof), just to change the page layout. What I was rewriting were lines in the final, thrice-proofread, formatted manuscript. My brain was in an eliminate-widows frame of mind — not in a look-for-typos frame of mind. And definitely not in a send-this-out-for-more-proofreading frame of mind. As far as I was concerned, the typos had all been eliminated. But in rewriting on the spot, I ended up making typos that I didn’t catch. Or, worse, I typed proper names that were correct for the characters in Sound Proof, but Spellcheck changed the spelling.

As a result, readers told me that Sound Proof contained noticeable typos: about fifteen of them. That is a lot of typos. Several months after the novel came out, I corrected each typo and resubmitted the manuscript to CreateSpace, and within a day my new, corrected manuscript was published.

No other book that I’ve self-published has contained so many typos. Most of my books have contained no typos: before I publish, I make certain the manuscript is read, re-read, read by outsiders, and spellchecked several times. Because of my experience with Sound Proof, I have, ever since, disregarded widows and orphans — because I associate them with a blunder on my part. If they occur, I let them occur. I find this preferable to trying to rewrite paragraphs and creating inadvertent errors that show up in print. And also preferable to sending out a thrice-proofread manuscript for a fourth proofreading.

After I self-published Sound Proof, I realized that it would be very easy (as well as very wise) of me to republish its predecessor, Dirty Proof. As with She’s on First, my agent made sure that the rights had reverted to me.

DIRTYPROOF-FINALCOVER-2So once again I duplicated my 6″x9” template, deleted the contents, and pasted in new content. Having made up my mind to ignore widows and orphans, I self-published Dirty Proof in less than 48 hours. The template was the same one I used for Sound Proof, as was the typeface and leading, and as were the margins and chapter headings. Robin Koontz designed both covers, and she made certain that the covers indicated the books were part of a set. A set which would become a series after I wrote a third Proof novel.

I’m happy that I self-published Dirty Proof, both because it was so easy to do, and also because many mystery readers insist on reading a series in sequence — so I wanted the first book available along with the second. As to my experiment to see how well a self-published mystery did, I was happy with Sound Proof’s first year of sales, and for two years it was the best-selling of my self-published books.

In 2010 I self-published two books, one a reprint and one an original. In 2011 I also self-published two books, one a reprint and one an original. That exhausted my supply of books to reprint: from here on, I thought, anything I self-published would be an original.
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Dirty Proof and Sound Proof are available as softcover books and as ebooks.