I remember the anticipation the most; I had spent weeks working on the project and I was 99.9% sure that the fruit of my labors was waiting for me in my PO Box. I leaned down to open my box; it’s only three rows up from the bottom. I took a deep breath and turned the key.
It was waiting for me. A non-descript brown cardboard package, deceptively lightweight. My mom was waiting for me in the truck; we were just about to head to town for a grocery shopping trip.
Do I open it here, in the Post Office, alone, or wait until I was in the truck, with an audience? I was sure I was going to cry. That decided it for me; if I was going to cry I wanted it to be with only my mom watching and not the whole of a small town Post Office. I didn’t bother to pick up the mail in the four other PO boxes I checked daily but walked quickly out into the late summer sunshine and back to the truck.
My hands were trembling as I pulled back the cardboard zipper. That surprised me. It wasn’t the first time, exactly. I had been here before, almost.
The package opened in my lap. I was glad I was sitting down.
When I was in college, I decided that I should treat my writing like a business. I had a very small portfolio of work – mostly poems since my major was Creative Writing but my emphasis was poetry. Still, I knew that I had enough work to start sending out submissions and begin collecting rejection letters.
One of the first rules of submission is to carefully study the magazine or journal you’re submitting to. Then, you submit a piece (or write a piece) that meets the tone, style, and subject matter of where you want to be published. You could buy a copy of most literary journals for $20. And then submit three poems, no longer than a page, for another $20.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I had a three hour break between classes. I designated this time “Submission Time”. Tuesdays I found places to submit, Thursdays I stuffed envelopes with poems. And checks.
I realized quickly that it added up. Fast. So I skipped the step that said study the publication and just started submitting to every contest, call for submission, and open reading period I could find.
One afternoon I was in the hallway of the English building and I saw a flier for a literary journal that was specifically for undergrads. More specifically, you had to be 1. an honors student; 2. attending a college with an honors program; and 3. the college’s honors program had to be in a certain nation-wide network. Amazingly, I met all the qualifications. I’d never heard of the journal but decided I’d give it a go. I popped a poem in an envelope and sent it off.
Weeks later, I got an answer: my very first publication for a poem called “Ode to a Tuna Fish Sandwich.” My dad sent flowers; my whole family got copies of the journal for Christmas. I was a published author – one little poem among thirty other undergrads who had also been published in that year’s edition.
How could this moment in my truck be so different than back in college with my first ever publication? Why was I shaking? Wasn’t this old hat? After all, I’d been published in journals, anthologies, trade publications, and travel magazines.
But it was different. Very different.
In my hands I held my book. MY book. With my name on the cover in yellow print in my favorite font that I called the Butter-Bear font even though the real name is butterbrotpapier.
I handed it to my mom. She opened it and saw the simple, two word dedication: For mom. We both cried, sitting in the truck, flipping through the pages, admiring the word PROOF across the last page. I knew I still had work to do: the title on the cover wasn’t centered, there was a typo in the first sentence of chapter three. I needed to carefully go over every word and scan for typos, mistakes, bad grammar, and clunky sentences.
I was surprised to realize that my self-published book didn’t feel at all like a cop-out or like a lesser-quality book than any other book I’d been published in before. I was stunned to realize how REAL it felt. To be a published author with a solo book. To know I had done it, finally. There was the dream of being a published author that I never realized hadn’t been completely fulfilled as a one-among-many author.
And yes, I gave out copies of my book for Christmas to my parents and grandparents and aunts. But the real gift was the one I gave myself when I realized my dream in publishing the book in the first place. Every time I publish a new book and hold it in my hands for the first time I get the same feeling – the whoosh in my stomach, my hands tremble, and I cry to hold the book in my hands with my name on the cover.
If I could, I’d bottle this feeling and serve it in little glasses to anyone who has ever wanted to publish a book. Just a little taste, a sample in a tiny crystal sherry glass. Just enough to feel the magic of having the book published; the gift to yourself. Then I’d help you realize the publishing dream. And take a photo of your face when you pull back the cardboard zipper and see your book sitting there with your name on the cover.
It’s a great feeling.
First published in Happier Healthier Women magazine.
Have you ever written one of those stories that just sticks with you? Back in 2007, I got a wild hair and decided to take an Italian class at my local community college. I am already fluent in Spanish as well as my native English and thought, what the heck! I’ll learn Italian too.
(Ok, ok, so there was a guy involved… The dating didn’t work out but I had fun learning Italian!)
For a little class at the local college, it was a lot of fun. There was a great mix of for-enrichment students, going to Italy on a vacation students, and 18 year old college kids. All was fun and games until one day, our professor, Mario, announced that he’d be missing a class. We could either make it up (no fun) or do a writing project.
I’ll bet you can guess that I was one of the few who thought the writing project would be fun!
It could be about ANYTHING. It had to be two pages, written in your best Italian. Which, at the time, consisted of very limited vocabulary and verbs in the present tense only. Hey! It was eight weeks into an Italian 101 class, what do you expect!
Beyond the writing assignment, each student also had to give an oral presentation. Eek! Well, actually, with my background in Spanish, the grammar wasn’t scary and I knew my way around a dictionary and a 501 Italian Verb book like riding the Madrid Metro. But to actually SPEAK Italian. Well, I speak Italian to this day like an American with a Mexican-Spanish accent butchering the language. Sorry!
From that assignment was born:
What better use of beginning language than to write a children’s story, geared towards beginning readers. For the presentation, I sat on the desk with a HUGE picture book I’d illustrated myself and “published” by turning brown paper grocery sacks inside out. It was just like the books we used to read as a class in Kindergarten. For a “snack” I gave out little baggies of farfalle (bowtie) pasta which features in the story.
It was a hoot! A great story. Everybody was laughing. The pictures were engaging. I took home an A+.
And then he sat. Poor, poor Pastarelli. He had his ten minutes of glory in a college Italian class and then sat in his picture book in my closet. I’d always told myself that I’d brush him off someday and get him published.
But if I thought getting a children’s book (or any book) published was a headache, imagine the daunting task of convincing an editor or publishing house to take on a children’s story in Italian. That wasn’t a bi-lingual story. Nope, just Italian. And I have a lot of art training so I was VERY particular about how I wanted the illustrations created.
So Pastarelli sat some more.
Then, I realized what a hypocrite I was being. Come on, Kim! If you’ll indie publish all your other stories and your cookbooks and your how-tos, why WHY would you sell out and try “traditional” for Pastarelli?!
Is the story cute?
Do you have all the tools to draw and scan in the illustrations?
Can you find somebody to help you edit the Italian?
- Thank you Facebook for introducing me to Simona Wright, a friend’s grandma who’s a native Italian speaker AND an Italian professor.
So what are you waiting for?
It was tax season. I work in my family’s tax practice 60+ hours a week. And I discovered that I really enjoyed kicking back each evening with my oil pastels and my chamomile tea to draw Pastarelli. It took all tax season, working on it just an hour an evening, three nights a week. Pastarelli has over 20 all original illustrations plus a few that were “composites” that I drew the pieces and then layered it together in Photoshop.
I also translated Pastarelli from the original Italian and into English and Spanish. I figured, why not?
Then, in early May, I was able to fulfill another life-long publishing dream:
I’d written, illustrated, and PUBLISHED my very own children’s book.
I also realized that there were other stories I had sitting on the shelf just waiting like Pastarelli & Pesto (Italian) and El Grifo (Spanish).
The moral of the story:
Dead Tree Publishing isn’t going to come knocking. Navigating that publishing process won’t get any easier. And at the end of the day, indie publishing isn’t a cop-out. It’s the ONLY way to get the stories out of the drawer in into the hands of readers.
Get Pastarelli and his Princess from Amazon.com now:
- Pastarelli e la sua Principessa (Italian Edition)
- Pastarelli and his Princess
- Pastarelli y su Princesa (Spanish Edition)