My Writing Life: 11

During the period from 2016 through 2020, I did more self-publishing, though not at the same rate as I had done in the first five years. In the first half of the decade I published nine books. In the second half, I published six books: three originals, and three compilations of already printed materials.

I published no books in 2016: a welcome rest. That is the year that I decided to write my first YA novel, The F Words. I wouldn’t start on it until late 2017, but I definitely conceived it in 2016.

In 2017 I published two books. One of these came out in April. That was Xenia Steered the Boat: Thoughts on Writing. This was a small (96 pages) book I put together from some of the blogs I had written. I published this book for two reasons: (1) I wanted to have a small, inexpensive book that I could sell at my public presentations, for those who wanted to buy something, but didn’t necessarily want to spend the $14 that most of my books sold for. (2) I wanted this small, inexpensive book to work as promotional material for my actual books (that is, books that were not collections of my blogs), so that if a person bought the small book, she or he would be entertained by the writing advice and the humor, and would be reading about my other books (because many of my blogs are about my books). And, thus, I hoped, the reader would be intrigued and would investigate my other books.

As far as I can tell, this works. I certainly sell copies of Xenia Steered the Boat at my public presentations (my talks on mountain passes, women in baseball, and so on). And I suspect, but can’t really verify, that this book helps sell my other books.

The second book that I published in 2017 was a digital edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. This book had long been out of print (since 1998 or so), and when people bought used copies I never made any money. (As is the case with all authors, who do not benefit from sales of used copies of their books.) So I decided I wanted to keep the book in print, at least digitally, and also wanted to earn royalties. The book came out in late December of 2017, so that it would be available on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Women at Play (March, 1993).

Early in 2018 (February, to be exact) I published a book that, it seems, I was not only destined to write, but one that I had been thinking about since 1999. That book is Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers. This is the only biography of this important mystery writer and it sells well abroad, as well as in the US. I’m especially pleased with the sales abroad. I think that Charlie Chan’s Poppa is my best-selling book abroad.

And then, toward the end of 2018 I published a second of those small, inexpensive collections of blog articles. This one was titled Scrape, Rattle, and Roll: Reflections on This and That

In 2019 I published no books. Small wonder: I was spending all my time writing,, rewriting, and then again rewriting The F Words.

I also began writing an adult novel titled Exit Velocity.

And, I worked intermittently on a Middle Grades book about a mule.

Everyone knows what happened in 2020: COVID. Before it began to close down cities, I published a third title in my “small books” series. That was

Adventures in Self-Publishing: And Other Escapades, which came out in February. I had decided, after publishing the second of these titles, Scrape, Rattle, and Roll, that I didn’t need more than two such books to sell at events. 

But then I realized that I had almost a dozen different blogs on my experiences with self-publishing from 2010 to 2020, and that people interested in self-publishing might want to read these in book form (as opposed to finding them scattered among my 200 blogs). Adventures was my final book in this experiment. These books do sell at events, but they seldom sell anywhere else. They were fun to put together, but now I’m done with them.

During 2018 and 2019 I was working on a middle grades book at the same time I was rewriting my YA novel, The F Words. That book was Cookie the Cockatoo: Everything Changes, the story of Cookie, the longest-lived resident of the Brookfield (Illinois) Zoo. Cookie came to the Zoo in 1934 and died in 2016. The book looks at some of the many, many world changes that occurred during Cookie’s lifetime, and explores what Cookie’s attitude toward them might have been.

Because I had this book ready, and because I had encountered the same kind of rejects on it as I had with Jack and Larry, I decided I would go ahead and self-publish it. It came out in April 2020.

This turned out to be a mistake, to publish during the first year of COVID. I’ve talked to other authors who had books come out in the February-September 2020 period, and most of us feel as if our books fell into a black hole. Despite the things we did to publicize the books, it’s as if they don’t exist. As if they never existed. 

I’ve never had this experience with any other book I’ve ever published, and we’re talking about forty years of publishing, from the 1980s to the 2020s. Books are published and they are reviewed. There are autographings, or newspaper articles. There are social media comments. Not so with Cookie the Cockatoo, even though I contacted all kinds of zoos, cockatoo and parrot societies, middle grades teachers, librarians. No responses of any kind. As I said, it’s as if the book fell into a black hole. I do realize that this is due to the worldwide crisis and shock.

But on a positive note, the very month that I published Cookie, I received an offer from City of Light Publishing for The F Words. I was thrilled. I signed the contract, and then began about eighteen months of pre-publication work. But that’s information for another blog.


You can read all about Biggers and his six Charle Chan novels in Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers. And don’t forget Cookie the Cockatoo.

2 responses to “My Writing Life: 11”

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