Yesterday I received this ad in my email: Get an agent and start your publishing career! The fact is, you could seek out an agent, (for 12 months.) Then you can wait (another 12 months) for said agent to pitch your work to a publisher. And then, if the publisher accepts your work, you will wait (2-3 years) before your work is presented as a book. This is the traditional path of the author-to-be in the dog-eat-dog world of the publishing industry.
By the time I was 10, I had written, illustrated, and produced my first booklet, Adventures in the Lost World. At 14, I rode my motorcycle out to the country, started a fire beneath the old Stephen’s Creek bridge, and burned 900 pages of Wings Like Eagles, a massive book about bikers, chopped Harleys, and mixed-up kids. By the time I was 17, my constant prayer was, “Help me to become a full-time writer. And oh yeah, God? Could you make sure millions of people read what I write?”
After spending 10 years doing youth work and being involved in dozens of crisis interventions with mixed-up kids who used far too many drugs, my first book, Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball was published by an educational publisher here in Lincoln. He printed 5,000 copies of 8-Ball, and managed to sell it in nine different states. It sold the best, however, in Havelock, the place I had started my youth working career at. I had just turned 26, and my constant prayer remained the same, “God? Help me to become a full-time writer and let millions read my work!”
In 1992, I went to the Havelock Business Men and asked them to invest $7,000 in a reprint of 8-Ball and the printing of its sequel, The Kid, the Cop and the Con. By speaking in all the area high schools and selling books on site, I was able to pay my investors back within 6 weeks! This same year, (still praying to become a full-time author) I continued to run my anti-drug outdoor adventure program Kastleland for the YMCA’s Camp Kitaki. While doing so, I sold 3,000 copies of 8-Ball and The Kid, 1,000 copies of The Jewel Folk, and 5,000 copies of Carry On, 1o original songs on cassette tapes.
In 1994, Alan Peterson of American Tool (which he sold to Rubbermaid for 450 million) had his non-profit company Life Boat Foundation invest in Signals from the Corner, my book about a 7-year-old with ADHD. The catch was for me to donate 10% of the print run to Nebraska agencies that helped youth. And so I did, and my best response came from a 16-year-old unwed mother confined in solitary at Geneva. She thanked me for writing such a book, and later down the line, she became a teacher.
In 1996, I self-published two of my children’s books, Jason the Fear-Slayer and Squeaker the Country Mouse. In 2000, Stag-Heart Onewas released (self-published). In 2002, after submitting to agents, editors, publishers, and 12 different game developers (one which first offered me an $85,000 advance, but did not follow through) I finally attempted the traditional approach to publishing. I submitted a fact-based story about a young gay boy I had worked with who died of AIDS complications in the 90’s. I told him before he did that I would write a book about him one day.
Five rejections later, Haworth Press published Beyond the Wind, sold hard-bound rights to Insight/Out, and by 2005, the book sold 10,000 copies. Two years later, both companies folded and so the book rights came back to me. Since then, I have self-published Beyond and it sequel, Out of the Storm.
John Lennon, (one of the Beatles) once said, “Life is what happens while we are making other plans.”
And so, although my constant prayers were never answered, I have spent the past 35 years working with hard-core kids, managed to self-publish 12 of my books, and I’ve been to Federal court twice (won the first time, lost the second). 10 years ago, I had my youth-work career derailed by a false allegation, and despite the fact that I would have like to become a recluse and hide under a rock (like the guy in the new Geico commercial) I presented the 8-Ball play at the Joyo Theater to 400 folks just before Christmas last year. My constant strength came from a quote by Mark Twain: “What other people say about me, is none of my damned business!”
When my avid readers see me in person, they have this preconceived notion that though I dress in faded blue jeans and flannel shirts, that I am a well-paid author. I simply smile at them and ask, “Do you know what the difference is between an author and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four!”
And now today, I sit here writing this article, knowing in two hours I will be on the road at my job. I could try to glorify it and say I am a “courier” for a local printer. But fact is, I am just a delivery driver who delivers printed goods to the printer’s clients. But hey, in the past 5 years, with the help of this printer and his staff, I have presented 9 more books to the world.
So I now say to God, “It’s not too late to answer my prayer, but then again if you don’t, I will just continue to do what I’ve been doing for the past 35 years.”
Who knows? I may never write full-time for a living, but my goal of millions of readers is slowly climbing. Because fact is, for every one book that ever gets published at least 5 people have read that one copy. So with my tally of the 30,000 books I have self-published that means 150,000 folks have read what I wrote.
Not bad for a bad kid who grew up on the mean streets of Havelock. Perhaps, God knows what He’s doing after all.