Wallabies in the Bathroom

How many people have a wallaby toilet paper holder? Not many. They are cute animals. So why don't more of us have them?

Recently my husband and I rented a house for a few days in northern Michigan. We saw photos on the Internet of the family's big game hunting exploits. Stuffed heads (and complete animals—more than 70) hung on the walls. They were above eye level, and I could ignore most of them. I didn't look up much. My daughter is a vegetarian. Enough said.

In two of the bathrooms taxidermied wallabies held the toilet paper like a servant from bygone times. That gave me paws.

Once I got over the shock of a wallaby's adorable face, furry ears and vacant eyes—and avoided the little paws—I thought it might be an opportunity for inspiration.

I recently revised and finished a picture book for my four-year-old granddaughter I wrote and illustrated a long time ago. The illustrations were crayon drawings. The story had little plot, no conflict and no satisfying ending. I rewrote the story with a plot, conflict and an ending. With Photoshop Elements I turned the illustrations into a cute little story about a frog who escapes from an octopus. I know frogs and octopi live in mutually exclusive environments, but my granddaughter loved it.

Inspiration can come anytime, anywhere. A story began gestating in my mind. I have a vague idea of a picture book about a wallaby. But I'm not an artist. I'm a digital scrapbooker. I don't have a clue how to draw a wallaby. If I figure that out I can use Photoshop to separate the drawing into its disparate parts, then cobble them together in different poses. The wallaby in my story will never encounter a hunter, because that's too scary for little children. He will have an adventure, escape some difficulty and live happily ever after.

My granddaughter is enamored of princesses. How about a wallaby princess who wants to have adventures instead of being rescued by the handsome wallaby prince? Princesses can do anything: have adventures, slay dragons, rescue princes. A tale of star crossed lovers whose wallaby clans have been feuding forever? Or the wallaby princess who rescues the wallaby prince from the big bag wolf.

Right now I'm in Vermont on a mountain with my son's in-laws. No wallabies here. Last night while we slept I think the forest crept closer to the house. I'm going to pace it off to see if it really did. There's a premise for a creepy horror story: what happens when the trees encroach on the house? Hopefully, I won't be around when that happens. I'm leaving in the morning.

The point is that inspiration comes in many forms. We just need to look and truly see, and listen with our hearts.

Wait. There is so much wilderness here in the Green Mountains. What if a woman's car breaks down on a country road, and, when she goes for help, she meets a seemingly ordinary family who conceals a horrible secret. There's a creepy story there somewhere. Beware, this won't be a child's cautionary tale about a wallaby. You won't want to go outside in the dark after you read this one....


In February, The Quill offered our members a free subscription to a service called AUTHOR SALON, a 24/7 writer’s conference complete with online critique groups AND a slew of big time agents and editors who regulary shop member's work. Michael Neff, the gracious brainchild behind AS told me he was disappointed that there was no response from our membership besides me.

Granted the signup process is hard for folks who hadn’t been to one of his pitch conferences.  It forces you to think of your work on a marketing level that often times reveals the flaws in your story. But the good news is, AS also requires that you be in an AS online critique group made up of members who write in your genre, and with four other sets of eyes, the flaws are easy to fix.

Does it require a lot of time? YES. But each month, dozens of projects written by aspiring authors on Author Salon have been requested by New York publishers and literary agents on both coasts--all part of Author Salon's ongoing "Literary Showcase" initiative. Genres represented include mystery, young adult fantasy, upmarket and general fiction, women's fiction, adult fantasy and SF, historical fiction, and more.

Which is where the gift horse comes in. If you looked at AS http://authorsalon.com and found the FREE lifetime membership daunting, but you’re still  in this to publish, look again.  You may have to pay a few dollars a month for the service, but it’s worth it if for no other reason than you’ll know IF your idea is marketable, and you’ll have a clear understanding of HOW to sell your work at The South Carolina Writers' Workshop Conference in October. And, most importantly, you’ll have a polished first 50 pages and a great pitch, which makes a dandy query letter.

Adventures in Book Publishing, Part 1

To hell with New York publishers. I’ll do it myself. 

No, that’s not quite the reason I printed my own book. To echo M. J. Rose’s article in last month’s Quill, I decided upon a unique way to market my book on the Internet by appealing to my niche market.

What’s my niche? My protagonist is Penelope, my 9th great grandmother who was shipwrecked in 1648 on her first day in America and scalped on her third day. She survived to have 10 children and 502 descendents when she died at age 110 (as the legend says). This tale fascinates every genealogist who stumbles across it (like I did), and obviously Penelope had a lot of descendents. Genealogists tend to flock together on the Internet to share information about common ancestors and to share email addresses.

The e-book route might appear to be the logical companion to email marketing, but my daughter owns a real bookstore, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, and e-books are her enemy. Furthermore, genealogists will want to possess and display a printed copy of a book about their ancestors. I know I do—even if I had to write it myself. And you can’t autograph an e-book.

To start the process, I looked at book selling from the bookstore’s perspective. The retail price of historical novels of 300 to 400 pages in trade paperback is about $15. The bookstore expects a discount of 40% off the list price, free delivery, the option to return unsold books, and a long time to pay for them.

Many “self-publishers,” such as iUniverse, set the retail price but they set it too high—$20 for a book equivalent to mine. Furthermore, many self-publishers concentrate on selling “author packages,” not books.  And they offer none of the terms a bookstore expects. The author can’t even buy them cheaply enough to sell to a bookstore. Thus iUniverse books are seldom found in a bookstore simply because of economics, regardless of the quality of the writing.

Other publishers, such as Lightning Source and CreateSpace, let the author set the price and provide options to get your book into the book distribution system. But those expensive distribution options consume almost all the revenue from selling the book.

Many unpublished writers operate under the fallacy that if a book is printed, every bookstore in the country will carry it. The truth is that it’s a pull system, not a push system. Your book only gets into a bookstore or the hands of a reader if someone asks for it. If the Barnes&Noble corporate buyer asks for it, then all right! Otherwise, someone (that is, you) has to persuade each individual bookstore owner or each individual reader to ask for it. Marketing is the beginning and end.

The third option is to print a bunch of copies, that is, to become a traditional publisher. I found that I could get 250 copies printed and shipped to me for less than $5.00 a copy. At least my economics are reasonable: a bookstore will sell my book for $15 and pay me $9 for something that cost me $5. I once hauled 1400 Nicholas Sparks hardcover copies to a book signing, so 250 paperbacks sounded manageable. Indeed, my stack of seven boxes occupied less space than my body.

Next question: How do I get my book into lots of bookstores?
The answer: I only need my book in one bookstore.
Why: My marketing scheme involves email and the Internet. The Law of Instant Gratification says that if I interest a person in my book, I need to provide a convenient way for her to order it immediately. Most websites have a link to Amazon or B&N. My link is to my daughter’s bookstore; her inventory is also on Amazon Marketplace and B&N Marketplace.

What are the advantages of a real bookstore? The website looks legitimate; they handle credit cards online, collect sales tax, wrap and ship; track shipments; and are in business every day.

Make this offer to your favorite bookstore (assuming it already does a significant volume of on-line business): here’s a box of my signed books; I will direct traffic to your website; you sell and ship the books; quarterly you pay me 60% of the selling price; call me if you sell out and I’ll bring more. 

Pick a nearby bookstore if you agree to personalize the signings because you’ll drive there often, especially if most of your customers are your 10th cousins.

Next time--the details of preparing a manuscript for the book printer.

Jim McFarlane
Author of Penelope: A Novel of New Amsterdam
Available at www.fiction-addiction.com/si/9780061804199N.html