Posts Tagged Carol Gorman

Revised and Updated

Peachtree Publishers is putting new covers on my companion novels Do You Know the Monkey Man and Yes, I Know the Monkey Man! What do you think? Here are the original covers:








And here are the new ones:

Do You Know the Monkey Man was published in 2005. I signed a contract for it in 2003 and I wrote the first draft before 2000. My main character listened to her music on a Walkman in my first draft. (That was changed to “MP3 player” before publication. “MP3 player” rather than iPod, because who knew how long these iPod things would even be around?)

As soon as I saw these new covers, I asked my editor, Kathy Landwehr, if I could revise and update the books. She agreed that I could, so I marked the deadline on my calendar and noted I also had a MUF post due right around the same time. Suddenly I had a topic for this post: revised and updated middle grade novels!

I knew Lauren Myracle revised and updated her Internet Girls series ten years after they were published. I just saw this article on the Nerdy Bookclub blog and learned that James Preller recently revised and updated his Jigsaw Jones books. But when I started talking about this with people in my various writing circles, I had a hard time finding anyone else who had revised and updated a book. I wondered why that was. Were books simply not staying in print long enough to warrant an update?

Peachtree tends to keep their books in print for many years, so I asked Kathy if she could put me in touch with any of their other authors who have revised and updated one of their books. She couldn’t. Because she didn’t know of any other authors who had done it!

She said, “We’ve revised a series that began publishing in the nineties to update some references in the early titles, so they’d be consistent with the more recently published books. The editorial staff reviewed the books and had the author approve all of the changes. Some of our backlist is historical and doesn’t require updates. Many contemporary titles are set in the outdoors and the content, which doesn’t involve much technology, doesn’t require updating. And then there are some titles in which dated references are so thoroughly integrated into the plot that updating them would require a major overhaul. We haven’t felt that this sort of update would improve the reading experience; kids are perfectly capable of understanding older references and technologies, just as they understand them in historical fiction.”

Okay, once I got in to my own revision I understood what she meant by “references so thoroughly integrated into the plot.” Some of the things I wanted to fix weren’t as easy to fix as I had hoped they’d be. It was like dominoes. As soon as I changed one thing, that change affected something else.

Was this really worth it? This whole thing was my idea. Nobody told me I had to revise or update my book.

I talked to my friend Carol Gorman, who has gotten rights back to many of her previously published middle grade novels and released them under her own publishing imprint, Skylark Lane Press. I wondered whether she had done and revising or updating. She said, “I revised and updated all of them, including my first novel, published in 1985! The characters now have cell phones and they like Harry Styles instead of Leonardo DiCaprio. Although Harry Styles is now probably out of date!”

I asked how she felt about the revision and she said, “I think the improvement is mostly that the books will appeal more to today’s kids than if they felt ‘old-fashioned.’ I learned when I taught at Coe College that today’s kids think that anything, say 8-10 years old, is ‘back in the day’ and really ‘old’!”

I also talked to Robyn Gioia, who published a children’s mystery entitled Miss President with a traditional publisher years ago. Like Gorman, she revised it after it went out of print and self-published a new edition. She said, “Self-publishing was just becoming big and many authors were doing it, so I fleshed it out more, made it stronger in several parts but basically kept the story the same.”

But then after a couple of years, she decided to revisit the story. She decided she wanted to turn it into a fantasy! Talk about a major revision! She said, “I had just read the Rats of Nimh to my class and thought it would be fun to work in a different style. I drastically changed the story.  The Ghost, The Rat and Me is totally different than the original and I love this version the best.”

I did decide to go forward with my revision, too. But wasn’t just technology that I updated. The speed limit in Iowa has changed since I first published Do You Know the Monkey Man. (You’d be surprised how many kids wrote to tell me that the speed limit was 70 on the freeway. Not 65 as my characters said.) I also realized psychics probably charge more today than they did in 2000. And teenagers are paid more for babysitting now than they were then.

I ended up changing quite a few things. Things I didn’t necessarily intend to change. Things that had nothing to do with technology. I’m a better writer now than I was in 2000, when I wrote the first draft of this book, so once I got in there, I just couldn’t stop myself from fixing EVERYTHING. I didn’t make any plot changes, but I did a lot of work at the sentence level. And I changed one very big scene that I had never been happy with. I had a different editor at Peachtree when I first published this book. This was one of my early books, and at that time in my career I tended to do whatever my editor said, whether I agreed with her or not. Most of the time I did agree, but there was one scene in this book that I strongly disagreed with my editor on. But I rewrote it her way anyway. And I’ve always regretted it.

Well, now I have a new editor. And a chance to rewrite this book. So I rewrote that scene the way I wished I could have written it in the first place. And I didn’t tell my new editor what I did. If she finds it (and I suppose she could find it if she turns on track changes) and she misses the dialogue I took out, we can talk about it. But I don’t think she’ll find it unless she does turn on track changes.

Working on this revision reminded me of something Elizabeth Gilbert said when she was in Seattle a year ago. She was talking about reviews and how she doesn’t let them get her down. She said, “Do they think I don’t know that’s there? I wrote the best book I could at the time.”

That last sentence really resonated with me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist. (I can hear every editor I’ve ever worked: “A bit???”) The truth is no book is ever going to be perfect. We do the best we can at the time and then we let the book go.

But sometimes we get a chance to take another stab at a book. Under the guise of “updating the technology.”

Now that my “update” is done, I’m glad I took the time. I can’t say it’s a perfect book. But it’s better than it was.

And I can’t say that it’s totally modern. But again, it’s better than it was. And I really appreciated the opportunity to go back and make it better.

When Traditionally Published Authors Make the Leap to Indie Publishing

CarolI’d like you all to meet my friend and mentor, Carol Gorman. She’s the author of more than 40 books for young readers. Dork in Disguise, originally published by HarperCollins, was nominated for 10 state children’s choice awards and was the winner in 5 of those states. Her books have sold to various book fairs and audiobook companies in the U.S. and to publishers in England, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

I first met Carol when I moved from Minnesota to Iowa in 1994. She was what I wanted to be: a published author! I’d published a few magazine stories at that point, but nothing else. I could hardly believe that such an accomplished author would be interested in me. But that’s Carol!

She taught me about Three Act Structure, how to audition for and work with book packagers (which started me on my own career), what to look for in an agent, what to look for in a contract, how to put together a good school visit presentation. Much of what I know about writing and publishing, I can trace back to some conversation I had with Carol.

And now she’s set up shop as an indie publisher. I’m so impressed by all she’s learned and accomplished. So here’s a peak at what it’s like for a successful, traditionally published author to make the leap to indie publishing.

You’ve published many books with traditional publishers. What got you interested in indie publishing?

The experience with my 40 traditionally published books was very stressful for me. I’d hope and pray that an editor would like my manuscript, that I’d get a great cover, that the book would come out when it could get noticed, and that it would stay in print for a long time. So the idea of actually getting some control over these things was very appealing. I could choose and hire my editor, approve the cover art, design or approve the interior, publish the book when it would work in my life, manage my own book launch, and maybe best of all, make sure the book is available as long as I’m alive and interested!

Was it hard to learn how to do this?

Yes. I’m still a novice; I have so much more to learn! Business and sales are not in my natural skill sets. But I hooked up with online and onsite courses in Lincoln City, Oregon taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. They taught me the basics and are still teaching me, as I am ready to learn more.

What was the hardest part?

It would have been designing my cover. But I’m realistic and know that I don’t have the talent for that. I’ve seen so many covers that, frankly, look self-published: the 6 x 9-inch cover using a generic photo, no author or book blurbs on the front, amateurish copy, etc. So I’m using a smaller trim size, which is more expensive—printing costs are determined by number of pages—but looks more professional, I think. And I’m hiring artists for the cover illustration and book designs. Claudia McGehee designed the logo for my publishing company, Skylark Lane Press, and I love it. I’m also absolutely thrilled with the illustrations and designs from artist Candace Camling for my Dork novels. She’s interested in doing a lot more of my books, and I’m so happy about that!

Carol's logo

dork cover

I took an online course on interior book design with Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira which was the best course of any kind I’ve ever taken. I learned enough about InDesign that I can do my book interiors. I know that Joel Friedlander has very reasonably priced print and ebook design templates that many writers use and like. But I didn’t want to be limited to his designs.

What was the easiest?

I don’t think any part of this is easy. But I love it so far! It’s hard work and frustrating, but it’s so gratifying when the book is ready and It looks very good, and I feel confident about the story.

Were there any surprises along the way?

I can’t think of any. I knew I’d have a steep learning curve—or mountain—to climb. I think many people learn these things more easily than I do. People with business acumen, people who have design talent, people who are good at detail work, these people will grasp the minutiae more easily than I have.

Do you think you’ll return to traditional publishing?

No. I don’t want to go back to feeling so helpless. I’ve decided that I’d rather earn less money but have control over the publishing process. I do think, though, that if I learn how to do this right, I should be able to earn a very good living. I’ve started very slowly because of the strain of my husband’s 14-year battle with bone cancer and the grief of losing my sister to breast cancer last summer. It’s hard to focus and learn new things when these crucial life events take over. But over time, I’ll get more books out, I’ll know the steps to take, and I expect the process to become smoother.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for other traditionally published authors who might be considering indie publishing?

Yes. I recommend that you start your own publishing company so that the company name is listed on the copyright page. You want to be an indie publisher, not a “self-published writer.” If you have your own publishing company, it demonstrates that you’re take your writing and your business seriously. You’re going to write and put out a lot of books, not just one or two. (That said, I have to admit that Skylark Lane Press doesn’t yet have a website. That’s the next thing to tackle.) The publisher website can be a part of your website or a separate entity.

Also, take classes from Dean, Kris, and Allyson, and learn everything you can. They hold an on-site 8-day workshop once a year for experienced writers who want to become publishers of their own work. The workshops are tremendously helpful and inspiring. Dean and Kris have written best-selling novels. They’ve had a wealth of experience writing, publishing, and in distribution and promotion, and they like sharing what they’ve learned.

Thanks, Carol, for answering my questions. Please visit Carol’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series and many other books for middle grade readers. For more information visit her website or look for her on Facebook or Twitter.