writing a book

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Ann Shayne’s life-affirming, fully realized page-turner of a novel, Bowling Avenue, is available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. Ann and Kay have been blogging at Mason Dixon Knitting since 2003.

Yesterday, a friend showed up at my front door with a box of chocolates and a note attached to the advance proof of my novel I had given her a week ago: “You must have had such fun writing this. And I had such fun reading it.”

Chocolate and a smile: it doesn’t get any better than that. You make something—a sweater, a scarf, a story—and when somebody tells you she likes it, you feel great.

I’ve been thinking about the creative life, and how connecting is such a powerful urge. We all want to connect. Whether you are making jewelry, handknits, music, or pots, there is something intoxicating about the moment when you share something you have made, and somebody likes it.

Intoxicating. Addicting. The fact that words of compulsion come to mind should be a clue about the nature of connecting. That craving for approval, once you get a taste, can quickly become trouble. Excruciating is the next word that comes to mind.

There’s a scene in my upcoming novel, Bowling Avenue, where the main character, Delia, tries to persuade a handsome real estate agent that she does not want him to help her. “This is my house to sell, and I’m going to sell it,” she says stubbornly, quoting the book she has been reading like the Bible, Beverly d’Angeleno’s How to Sell Your House in Two Weeks. After finishing my novel a few months ago, I had a moment when I realized that I didn’t want to go down that long, dusty road of traditional publishing. I was in the kitchen staring at the coffeemaker when I heard Delia say to me: “This is your book to sell, and you’re going to sell it.”

Oh, man. So easy, and so not.

Easy: The mechanics of publishing a book myself. We live in a new, golden age of self-publishing. I could publish a book a day if only I could come up with the words. If you’re considering self-publishing, I say go for it. Trust me: unless you have a very particular sort of book, you will save yourself a lot of time and heartache by publishing it yourself. You may well make more money by publishing yourself. It’s hard to make less, in almost every case.

Hard: Everything but the mechanics of publishing a book myself. In my cooler moments, I tell myself that it’s all good, that it’s slow publishing, that the control I have over my book is worth it. Having not had control over previous books, I think this may be the single most important aspect of my decision. I do, however, miss the publisher’s mojo machine, the validation that comes when a publisher’s vast resources are activated. It’s wonderful to have people who are paid by somebody else to work on my book. The staff at my current publishing conglomerate is slack at best—trust me, I know them all too well. My marketing manager is notorious for spending too much time on Twitter. My publicist is damn lazy about going to the post office. And the webmaster is flat-out unqualified.

It is all quite different from the experience of Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitter’s Guide, a book I wrote with my co-bloggette, Kay Gardiner. That book had so much luck tied to it. It was the lead title on a new craft book imprint at the largest publisher in the country. It rode the wave of knitting insanity that was cresting in 2006. And a lot of people worked hard to make that book succeed.


I’m starting to see why writers drink. It’s all sort of unbearable, this connecting stuff. It becomes even trickier when the story I want to share is also the story that I am publishing myself. It would help to have that publicist rattling on about how compelling/engrossing/heart-wrenching/life-affirming my book is. How it’s “fully realized,” whatever that means. Instead, it’s just me, here in my lair, lobbing my book up into the ether and hoping somebody catches it.

Yesterday, after my friend left, I sat down in the kitchen with those chocolates. She said she was bringing back my proof so that someone else could have an early chance to read it. So kind. But as I bit into that truffle, I wondered, insecurity billowing: If she’d really liked it, wouldn’t she have kept it?

There’s a new website for the book, annshayne.com. You can read the first chapter there and order your copy..

And a Note on the Cover

About 30 seconds after deciding to publish BOWLING AVENUE myself, I knew I wanted to see if I could talk Bryce McCloud into doing my cover art. His letterpress shop in Nashville, Isle of Printing, has been on my radar for a while. Bryce’s aesthetic of joy combined with peculiarity is exactly what I aim for in all things, so I was thrilled when he agreed to take on this small project amid his slate of cool, high-profile work.

I didn’t want to write a big block of drippy sell copy, and I didn’t want to give away the story. Because a lot of the sales would be online, it wasn’t necessary to have sell copy on the book anyway. We talked about the idea of a book as a small work of art, and the cover being an integral part of that. We quickly zeroed in on silhouettes, one of his favorite ideas, to introduce the characters on the back of the book. Bryce used a 21st-century laser cutter to create the wood blocks to run on his letterpress–a 15th-century technology. He also used a piece of fabric as a plate for the background. He then scanned all his handmade imagery into his computer and cooked up a cheerfully loony cover that makes me smile every time I see it.

The next three images are courtesy Bryce McCloud from the making of the cover.

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Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut are the authors of the new book Improv Sewing. They also blog together at Improv Diary. Debra is a writer, magazine editor, and content packager who loves sewing and crafting, even when her creations turns out just a little bit awkwardly. She grew up in the Washington, DC, area and now lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and son. Nicole is a freelance crafter and stylist, clothing designer, blogger and obsessed sewist. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she also works at her family’s hard cider business together with her husband and two children.

Once upon a time, there were two women who loved to make the stuff and write the stories of their lives. They met at work and one day in the summer of 2009 they decided to go on a bit of a walk…

As an editor at a magazine for kids and families, Debra was surrounded by a lot of incredibly creative people crafting cool things out of toilet paper tubes and dreaming up backyard games. She loved to make things, but what she wanted most of all was to make a book. She’d been in love with words her whole life — and got an MFA, published short fiction, and made a career working with words. But in the last few years, something was pulling her toward visuals too… color, line, design, texture—these things preoccupied her more and more. What she really wanted to do was bust loose and create something gorgeous and inspiring that combined words and pictures.
Then, on this summer day, Nicole arrived, as she often did, toting a box of very cool kid crafts, and wearing fantastically hip and pretty clothes. “Made it myself — so easy!” she’d always say.
Now, Nicole wasn’t always a sewist. It wasn’t until the fateful day when she unexpectedly turned in her cranky old sewing machine for a solid, new, fully functioning, non-swear-inducing machine that her obsession for sewing blossomed full size. Her love of pretty things and her lean purse and her DIY sensibilities all came together, and a strong desire to make clothing took hold. Turned off by conventional patterns — feeling they were fussy and complicated and maybe a little crazy-making — she decided to try her hand at designing her own. There were mistakes made. There were lovely things made. There were Craft Fairs that gave her obsession purpose – how many skirts and dresses can a girl justify making for herself without getting paid just a bit?
So they went on this walk, and Debra turned to Nicole and said:  ”Hey, would you ever be interested in working on a book project together….Sewing stuff, maybe?”. ”Uh…hell yeah!” replied Nicole. Or something to that effect.
And that’s how it began. Stealing time from kids and spouses and paid work, we styled up some photographs, shooting most of them ourselves on a little point-and-shoot Fuji. Because our book would be (we hoped) a very beautiful visual experience, we really wanted to make our proposal into a pretty package. Because we were pitching 25 jersey-knit projects (the scope would later grow… and GROW… to encompass 101 projects using many different fabrics), we gave it the snappy title “Jersey Girl.” Perfect, because we both have family roots in Jersey.
In August 2009, we sent the proposal off to a large New York publishing house. We were about to learn what just about any author out there — successful or thwarted — already knows: the publishing biz can be completely random…some might say flaky…or even cruel. (Which publishing house did we send it to? Hint:  ”the publishing biz can be completely random”).
Amazing! – we heard back pretty quickly. They asked us to send an exhaustively complete proposal package, to be presented it at an editorial meeting in early September. Oh, what a sweaty time! We canceled Labor Day vacation plans. We sewed, shot more photos, wrote more copy, assembled more info… all in a week or so, in order to meet the deadline. And then…silence. Eventually, sometime in October, the editor called to say that she’d presented the package, they all loved it, and we were in business. The big-deal New York publisher wanted to buy our book!
HOORAY!!
We waited for the contracts… and they didn’t come. The holidays loomed. Editors at big publishers get even more distracted around the holidays. Gin-soaked office parties? Year-end budget meetings? Who knows… in any case, we waited and waited for the contracts to come. In early January 2010, we finally got the editor on the phone. There was a sad note in her voice. “My boss thinks the book’s focus is too narrow, and she doesn’t want it after all. I’m so sorry.” Can we say that we were pretty crushed? Very crushed!
But then we realized… that was only one publisher — the very first one we tried — and we had almost made a sale. We knew what we had to do… get back out there, and fast. We decided to go local. We sent the proposal package to Storey Publishing, based in Western Massachusetts, where we both live. About six weeks from the day we sent the proposal to them, we have a done deal. Of course, they asked us to expand our original concept (which they also thought was too narrow) to encompass 101 projects.
Daunting, yes, but fantastic too. Because as we set out to build this monster of a book from scratch, we discovered that our ideas about creating ARE big, and needed a big canvas. We decided that we didn’t just want to teach the world to sew a pretty skirt or tablecloth. We wanted to convince experienced sewists to loosen up and have fun. We wanted to convince people who consider themselves “not crafty” to realize that EVERYONE is crafty. We realized how important making mistakes is to our creative process, because we made a ton of them along the way.
We ended up with a book that celebrates the perfectly imperfect. And that fits so well with us. Our lives are far from perfect. But, somehow, by some great grace, by simply improvising and learning along the way, we’ve been lucky enough to channel our creative energy, our love of beautiful words, and our desire to make beautiful things into a business, a book, and a new chapter in our lives.

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