The Power of Positivity

This is NOT one of those name it claim it or Law of Attraction ideas – which are completely false mumbo jumbo (sorry to break it to you!). But there is a great deal to learn regarding positivity and negativity. It’s been said that “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything, but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking.”

There is an epidemic in our world today of depression, low self worth, negative thought life, and suicidal tendencies. From what I’ve experienced, these types of behaviors accompany people who think negatively about themselves, others, and situations. By all means, this does not mean bad things should be viewed through some flower-lined glasses. Instead, it’s important to analyze oneself. It’s important to sit and ponder whether we are in control or being controlled by the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of the day.

Often times, when I’m just feeling rotten, I’ll wonder why. I’ll wonder why I get short tempered and boil inside. I’ll wonder what is making me do that and I almost always come to the conclusion that I am in absolute control of my decision making. I can choose to act or react however I resolve to. The emotional, mental, and even sometimes physical responses we deal with as people happen so quickly we naturally want to accept them as inevitable. But, the opposite is true. The more you consider your decisions, the more you consider your actions, the more power you realize you have over them.

The next time you’re let down, frustrated, irritated, or simply fed up, consider this. Consider that you choose your reaction. You make the decision. You can lash out, withdraw, be silent, be enraged, cry, shout…you can do all sorts of things. Or, you could consider, think over, respond better, be gentler, give mercy or grace, be patient and kind…you can do all sorts of things. Lately, I’ve noticed an increased tendency of stubbing my toe on the kids toys and frankly any object around the house. I don’t know why, maybe I’m getting lazy, but regardless, if you’ve ever stubbed your toe hard, and I mean HARD, you know how easy it is to explode in pain. I’ve taken a different approach. I typically curl over, fall to the floor or nearby furniture, and make some form of animal noise resembling that of a sasquatch or grizzly bear. I let the growl roll gently until the pain subsides.

But you know what, I’ve seen the opposite, and I bet you have too. The husband who curses his wife because maybe she was the one who left the thing out. Or the father who blasts his kids because they were having too much fun and toys weren’t picked up. The soldier who blames his surroundings for learning all those nasty words, or the old man too lazy to change his habits. Listen, and listen well. You have the power to handle adversity. You have the ability to decide your action and reaction.

Being positive won’t make me a world-class surgeon, as the famous speaker Zig Ziglar once said, but it will help me be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better son and citizen than negative thinking will. I’m quite sure it will do the same for you. So when those negative, low self worth, depressive, or angry thoughts and emotions fill your mind with crazy, and I mean crazy ideas, think positive. You are not those things and you don’t need to be those things. You are in control. So control yourself. The world will be much better if we all practice self-control and eliminate the pervasive negativity of our modern culture.

How To Query Correctly

The inevitable journey for authors and maybe illustrators (although I’m not sure illustrator’s follow an identical pattern) is if they want to become traditionally published, or if they want to secure an agent, they must query. You’ll often notice the Twitter hashtag #amquerying in frequent use by the most hopeful among us. What exactly is querying and how do you do it correctly? Well, read on and find out.

If you Google how to query, or how to write a query letter, the results are super saturated. It can feel overwhelming where to even start, even though you already started! Let me shine some light on the entire issue for you in one clear, concise explanation.

As with any endeavor, a little bit of research before action is the gold standard. Too often, eager beaver writers read a couple articles, find a couple prospective agents, and begin blasting out query letters. Let me just save you a bit of regret by imploring you to stand fast, hang on, and relax. Deep breath. Put your best foot forward by taking a little time on this one to gather your thoughts, and your knowledge, before moving to application.

What Querying Is

A literary query is simply a request from you to a prospective agent for representation. As with any industry, decades have gone by that have shaped the current, modern expectations of a query. Every agent, agency, and publisher has different requirements. Many state exactly what they want to see and how they want to see it.

If you Google literary agency, you’ll find companies like Writer’s House, Albert Whitman & Company, Trident Media Group, Bradford Literary Agency, Curtis Brown Ltd., Transatlantic Agency, Upstart Crow Literary, Dystel, Goderich & Bourett LLC., John Hawkins & Associates, The Knight Agency, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Flannery Literary, Ripple Grove Press, and the list goes on and on and on. You’ll come across many literary agents, as part of these agencies, who also maintain profiles and query requirements on website like Publishers Marketplace, Query Tracker, or Agent Query. You’ll also stumble across user managed lists of agents and agencies from other blogs which are wonderful resources if they’re kept up to date.

Most often, you’ll find these basic similarities in query requirements:

  1. Instruction on whether the query should be by mail, electronic form, or email.
  2. What content should be included in the query
    1. Often an introduction of why you’re querying a particular agent or agency, a catchy summary of the manuscript, reasons why the agent, agency, and/or publisher would find your manuscript valuable to their portfolio, and then a brief description of yourself.
    2. For children’s books, the query letter is often followed by the entire manuscript whether in the email or as an attachment depending on the query requirements, or for larger books and other genre’s a section of the manuscript may be included. Some select agents or agencies will ask you not to send in manuscript content until after they’ve read and accepted the query letter. But most often, all or a section of the manuscript content accompanies the query letter.
  3. Who you should send the query letter too and whether they or the agency is even open to queries.

Some Query Particulars

You may think to yourself, as most authors have, with thousands of literary agents available they should be jumping at the chance to represent MY work. Well, that would indeed be nice if it was the case. Instead, the thousands of literary agents are inundated by tens and hundreds of thousands of queries, some solicited and most unsolicited.

Unsolicited queries are unexpected queries. They’re coming without referral by someone they know, which means they are likely the lowest priority to review. You may think that in this modern age of immediate communication, agents wait all day at their computers for that next query letter so they may read and respond promptly. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever received hundreds of emails a day, you would realize a pile of unread information immediately begins growing. This pile, called a slush pile, not only grows one day, it continues to grow and grow and grow. Most new authors find themselves quickly at the bottom of a very daunting slush pile, waiting for an agent’s response who really does have the best of intentions.

Solicited queries are a different animal and thus carry a different level of weight with an agent or agency. If you can move from unsolicited to solicited, you’re already ahead of the game. This might mean you meet an agent at a conference, speak with them about your manuscript, and they like the idea, asking for you to send them a query. If this wonderful phenomena happens, this is the information you include at the very top of a query letter.

Dear So and So,

It was wonderful meeting you at Such and Such Conference and learning about you and Company’s literary interests. As you requested, below is a query for my 200-word children’s book, Goo Goo Ga Ga.

This type of information immediately gets you near the top of the slush pile, focuses the agents attention, and possibly gets you past any agent assistant gatekeeper. Another way to skip over some slush pile people is a referral from a represented author. Let’s say you just happen to be friends with published Author A, who has been working with super Agent B for a number of years. During casual conversation, Author A asks you what you’ve been up to, and you mention your personal interest of writing. Because remember, we NEVER try to sell and convince our friends or family with ulterior motives. Focus on the friendship first, and if they’re interested in knowing more about something, they’ll ask. Well, it just so happens that Author A loves your story concept and, based off what they know about Agent B, they really think the agent would consider representing your work too. Again, this is top of the letter information.

Dear Agent B,

One of your represented authors, Author A, firmly believes you may be interested in representing my 200 word length children’s book, Goo Goo Ga Ga. Based on your profile at Company XYZ, especially your previous experience as an Elementary School teacher and your personal hobby as a bug collector, I couldn’t agree more.

Now, most folks simply aren’t running into their agent of choice nor do they have an inside track to friendship. So, the unsolicited query letter really is the path for you. Don’t be afraid though. This is still a way to turn your publishing dreams into reality.

A great resource in improving your ability to select and query is researching agents and agencies. Many, many agents have done interviews regarding their query wishlist, books they love, what they look for in a new author for representation, a history of their current represented authors, personal hobbies, locations, important conferences, etc. This information is INVALUABLE to the querying author. Do not bother an agent, or yourself, querying content they are clearly uninterested in. Focus your efforts the strong likelihoods instead.

One such incredible resource readily available is Query Shark. Eventually, everyone new to querying comes across The Sharks with their incredible insight and in-depth critiques of real people’s queries. It’s spoken of just about everywhere that no one should send their first query until reading the entire Query Shark archive. It’s a daunting task and everyone skims it their first time, or two, until realizing most answers really are there if you dig for them. If you’ve truly read the archives and have a new question, the Sharks just might read and review your query.

The Importance of Tracking Queries

This is an area many authors and illustrator’s don’t do well. It’s not because they’re incapable of it, it’s just not always second nature. Part of the querying process is growing in your ability to manage a business. Yes, writing and illustrating is your business! Unless you don’t care about succeeding or making any money, it’s time to enhance your skills.

With my engineering background, spreadsheets came second nature, so I suppose here I can really shed some light. From the very beginning of my author journey, I created and managed a spreadsheet. I called it a Publishing Activity Matrix. With so many agents, agencies, and publishers out there, the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally lose track of who received what, when, and how. So, I created a very simple spreadsheet to track the following information. Each numbered point is a different column in the spreadsheet and I encourage you to do the same.

  1. Date (the date at which you submit the query)
  2. Destination (agency or publisher company name)
  3. Sub-Destination 1 (the website or main source of the destination above)
  4. Sub-Destination 2 (the agent, assistant, or coordinator name you submitted to)
  5. Description (a bit of information about your query, such as Email query with pasted manuscript, Online electronic form, or Query letter and manuscript by mail).
  6. Sub-Description 1 (here I typically enter the name of the manuscript I sent)
  7. Sub-Description 2 (perhaps a second manuscript sent at the same time)
  8. Sub-Description 3 (perhaps a third manuscript sent at the same time)
  9. Status (this is the final kicker column – it’ll either be blank [Waiting for response] or filled out [Rejected Month Day, Year] or [Offered Representation Month Day, Year] and so on and so forth

This spreadsheet can become your best friend! You may think, gosh, I’ll only send a few queries, why have a spreadsheet? Well, sorry to break it to you, but if you are average, and most of you are, especially if you’re reading this post, you’ll be sending in a LOT of queries. Many folks, even after having representation, leave an agent and enter the querying world again! So, don’t forgo the spreadsheet!

The spreadsheet can also help you know when it’s OK to request an update. Most agents and agencies post timelines for review on their websites, which range from 2 weeks to 6 months. Some agents and agencies say if you don’t hear from them, it’s a rejection while others say if you don’t hear from them in X amount of time, that it’s OK to request an update. I’ve found some agents respond well to the request for update while others ignore those as well.

What Querying Isn’t

Let’s end on this subject. Querying is not easy, for the vast majority of the population. It’s not quick nor is it an exact science. Agencies are run by people. Agents are people. People are interesting at best and unexplainable at worst. You may think someone will love your work but the reality is it may not even garner a response or a personal rejection letter. Querying is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t handle rejection, don’t bother querying. Maybe self-publishing is more your style (which, unfortunately, is often just delayed rejection).

Querying also isn’t a sure thing. It can frustrate the calmest of people and stupefy the most intellectual because it all boils down to two people, considering each other, for a long term relationship.

So, consider all of this as you query. Be selective of who you really would want to have a long term relationship with, then do your research, track your progress, and improve your craft while you wait. Don’t wait passively, but always improve, grow, and continue working on your projects.

Have questions or comments? Track me down on Twitter – @Rhys_Keller.


New Year New You

What a cheesy slogan. “New Year New You” cascades from every motivational speaker this time of the year. You know what the problem is with this phrase? It’s true.

I’ve never come across anyone who wouldn’t do things differently if given an opportunity to step back in time. Why be that person? You don’t need to live like that. Human nature often settles into comfortable habit and those comfortable habits are often the things we most regret when looking back over the course of time.

Allow yourself to be different this time. Allow yourself to pop your own comfort bubble. Stretch yourself into areas of growth, parts of your life that desperately need your focus. For many, it’s their health. All year long, maybe all life long, they’ve let their body and mind slip into a pattern of regret. How’s your health? Would you change anything? Would you exercise more? Maybe eat a little less fat and sugar?

For others, it’s often neglecting opportunities. They come in many forms, whether it be business ideas or untapped skills. Maybe there’s something you’ve been considering pursuing but you simply haven’t put time to growing it. Well, this is your chance. This is your season. It’s time to just do it. It’s time to get it going.

Take a step in the right direction and pursue the opportunities. If you need encouragement or support, maybe help along the way, send me a note. Send someone a note. We all want you to succeed! Here’s to a New Year and a new you!

The Journey of Self-Publishing a Children’s Book

Many of you know of my writing exploits. Recently, I wrapped up the illustration phase of self-publishing a children’s book. It required a surprising amount of effort that was largely based on my naivety. After writing the manuscript, I researched and interviewed freelance illustrators on a freelancer online platform. After finding one I thought would be a perfect fit for my manuscript material, we began working together under contract.

Going into the process, I supposed I would hand off the text, sit back, and wait for the final product. What really happened was a multi-month long process of discussing ideas, trading concepts, and critiquing rough drafts. So much goes into communicating an idea.

Thankfully, I really did select a wonderful illustrator and will elaborate on who they are and the book as a whole in another blog post. If you plan to self-publish and, like me, have zero artistic talent, you’ll go down a similar path.

I encourage you in the upmost to be very selective with your illustrator. Don’t settle for lowest price. You want someone who is passionate about their work, respectful of your time and message, and someone who treats their commitments with professionalism. You’ll likely come across people who “seem” to charge a lot of money for the work. Unlike a self-publishing author, illustrators typically receive little to none of the future commissions on a book. So, without this hope of future reward, they typically expect the money upfront. For someone with a small amount of capital, this can seem daunting. Start off small, take some calculated risk, and enjoy the process.

Publishing anything is a journey, not a sprint. You know what they say…if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Join me on the journey of publishing a story and let’s enrich the world together.

Endings Are Beginnings

The end of a year always catches me by surprise, just like Christmas. Even though we have so much time to look forward to it and prepare, time simply moves too quickly. My wife and I have two boys and at this point one is a bit over 4 and the other a bit over 1. Whether you’ve got children or not, or are married or not, your life is likely filled to the brim. And that issue takes us full-circle to the end of the year.

But while the end of the year is no where near as climactic as the end of a movie, it’s a powerful reminder. It reminds us that just around the corner is a New Year, a fresh start, a new beginning. Have you considered what you would like to focus on most in the New Year?

I recently tweeted my New Year’s goals, so I won’t write about them here. I encourage you to spend time developing your goals. Really developing. Don’t be vague about it! Seriously consider an attainable, measurable goal in the following areas:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Relationship
  3. Personal
  4. Physical
  5. Mental
  6. Financial

You’ve got all year to pursue these goals. Remember, those who have a plan are far more likely to reach a level of success than those without a plan. Don’t let the next 365 days fly by.

On Making Time

If you ask anyone why they aren’t progressing further on their goals, time is often the answer. “I just don’t have the time.” I’ve said it. You’ve said it. Time is unfortunately one of the clearest, most finite resources available. Interestingly enough, we all have the same amount.

There are times when this excuse is reasonable and times when, even when offered a generous amount of merit, is completely off base. The famed Olympian, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes aim at the excuse when he told a group to just sleep faster.

Our bodies and minds are incredibly adaptive. We can form habits. Break habits. Live on more. Live on less. We can adjust wonderfully to a wide variety of circumstances. I used to be a late night person. I would go to the gym at 9:00pm. I did that for a couple years. Then, I switched to early morning. I would exercise at 5:00am. I did that for a couple years. Then, after getting married and having kids, I found the best time for me to spend time on myself (goals, hobbies, etc.) was while my family slept. I started getting up at 4:00am, then 3:30am, then next thing you know I’m getting up at 3:00am. Every now and then I’ll be up at 2:00am!

You may be thinking I must go to sleep while the sun is still up. But you’d be wrong. My body adapts as needed and yours can too. Sleep is great and I’m a big promoter of sleep and taking naps whenever and however you can get it. Unfortunately though, I’ve found we often use sleep as an excuse to not get stuff done. If you haven’t really been working that hard, you may have slipped into a pattern of excess sleep. What you feel is a necessity is really just a formed habit. Best thing in the world though, is our ability to form new habits!

Habit forming works best when you have a passionate goal. No one likes crawling out of bed for something they are so-so about. However, if you begin spending time on your passions, you’ll find crawling out of bed turns into jumping out of bed. I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I look forward to it. Why? Because it’s my time. I get to do everything I wanted to do for myself that I wasn’t able to do all day. I long for my alarm to go off – although once it’s a habit, you’ll wake up before your alarm!

Lately, I’ve found myself taking vehicles to the shop more frequently than every before. At least it feels that way. I used to sit around waiting for the car to get serviced, sipping on some coffee, watching the TV, etc. The last few times, I’ve brought my laptop, found a corner to hole up in, still got the coffee, and spent a few hours writing. It’s been an incredible use of time that up until recently I wasted horribly. Now, I look forward to car appointments because I know it’ll be my time to get some writing done with little to no distraction. I love it!

You see, we have so much time. Social media, although it has its place when building a platform, is often used to waste time. We need to continually ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now contributing towards my future success, my satisfaction in life, my mission, my goal, anything?” We need to be real about it. Time is all around us, and each person has the same amount.

What you’ll find in people who are considerably successful in any area of their life, they make time. They find time. They look for time. They plan time. They annihilate time wasting. They get rid of distractions. They get rid of the slow, dripping effect of losing time. It’s been said that if you want to know what a person will become 5 years down the road, 10 years or even 20 years, simply look at their current daily schedule. What do they spend time doing? What do you spend time doing?

If you logged every minute of the day, how much of it is spent achieving your dreams and goals? Is a third or more of it sleeping? Good luck achieving a great deal of success. If you’re making time work, if you’re living with a sense of true grit, you will achieve a great deal of success when compared to your life now. If you want to be a successful author, how much time are you devoting to writing? If you want to become a better business owner, spouse, parent, etc., how much time are you spending mastering the craft?

Our abilities are directly related to the time spent honing them. You have time. Lots of it. You simply need to trade your time doing one thing to doing another. Find it. It’ll be well worth it down the road.

Just Share Your Story

It’s been said every sentence is a persuasive argument that succeeds or fails in convincing the reader to read the next. Agree or disagree?

Frankly, I don’t agree (completely) because the reader is complex, having a multi-dimensional purpose for reading. One aspect may be truly that each good sentence does cause the reader to continue on. But at the same time, the reader, once personally invested through time, money, promise, or any other act of will may continue reading not for that purposes alone. I listen to audio books during my commute. I have literally finished books only to be able to say I finished them, not because they provided some revolutionary insight or emotional experience. I simply wanted to finish what I started.

I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. She often ended a chapter right in the middle of incredible action and suspense, only to take us to view another part of her world and see what a different character was doing. I often thought about skipping ahead just to get back to the scene at hand. But what did I do? I read on, abiding by the author’s desire to take me somewhere else and trusting that in time, I would return to where I had been so captivated. Was it persuasion that propelled me through the subsequent chapter as I longed for a different scene? No, although none can content her sentences were not more than persuasive. I simply read on because the book, in its entirety, was masterfully crafted. Her story was full and the world she built multi-dimensional (not only in the time-space variety but in eliciting emotional response). I was committed to read every word, persuasive or not, through to the end.

An author, especially those aspiring to improve their craft, can find themselves working to exhaustion in order to craft one persuasive sentence after another. In the end, that tactic simply doesn’t win the race long term. It’s quite visible in the art of world building. In order to strengthen plot, background is often given to include people groups, cities, planets, past experiences and the like. If we put too much stock in convincing argument, we’ll find no room for the story welling up inside.

What’s the answer, then, as we pour out word after word, sentence after sentence? Simply this. Share the story. Share it all. Build the sentences and paragraphs, filling page upon page with your story. Will it be good? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Will each sentence make the reader say “Yes, I will read the next”? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Is the grammar just right or have all the spell checks been corrected? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story.

And why, you may ask, is it most important to simply share the story and leave so many good, important things behind? Frankly this…writing a book is a long, arduous endeavor. At every turn, distraction, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, and author depression are waiting for you. If you allow yourself to be caught up in anything other than a resolved grit-filled focus to share your story, it may never be shared. Thousands upon thousands of books fill libraries, schools and stores. Millions more fill personal notepads, computer files, and thoughts.

Share your story. Once complete, once there is no more story to share, take out that bitter knife, that dear friend of a weapon and hack away at your words, sentences, paragraphs and pages. Leave no thought untouched, carve your work like a butcher, revealing the choicest words and most succulent sentences.

Then, not only do you have a story, you have a book. Let persuasion come in the right season, when you can focus on the desire and expectation of the reader. For now, focus on sharing your story, telling it your way by your words and your abilities.

Overcoming Author-Illustrator Depression

Depression is a very real, very damaging, very painful experience that can be short term or long term and have long lasting consequences. This perspective of author depression in no way is intended to come across flippantly as if to compare on the same level as chronic or acute depression. An author, however, can learn a great deal about how to process the feelings and thoughts encountered during the road to publication by examining depressive symptoms.

Life as an aspiring author or budding illustrator often begins with a spark of passion. Passion is coupled with excitement and soon enough the seed of starting something new blossoms into a beautiful flower of hope. As the flower grows in beauty and complexity it brings forth a very nasty thorn. This thorn is expectation.

The thorn of expectation multiplies into many, many thorns, some large and others small. One thorn may be the idea that your writing or illustrations will, by themselves, land you an agent on the first query. Another thorn may be your ability to write or illustrate a certain volume of work by a given deadline. Another, your social platform growth. Another, ample time to devote to your craft. And still more in the likes of success, fame, fortune, mass market appeal, style, ideas, understanding, etc. The thorns are many and, if not frequently maintained, can choke the beautiful flower that has blossomed.

Your work, your writing or your illustrations, are wonderful in their own right. Likely, they are unique and original. They are a creative expression of your own mind and heart. No doubt, without first being brought to life through you, they would never live through anyone else. Your works are your children, in a sense, that depend on you to be grown to maturity. You would never expect a toddler to be the financial backbone of a family. Yet, the thorn of financial expectation can bring you and me to a place of reliance that, if unmet, brings about a painful demise.

You see, with every thorn of expectation that covers your writing or illustrating, there is a nasty little consequence that can result. If you expect your toddler-age writing to captivate an agent, you can experience frustration when it’s rejected or worse, ignored. If you expect your first draft to appeal to a wide variety of people online, you may experience pain when it’s instead trampled and trolled. Our expectations, or lack of accurately viewing our craft, is an enabling force for author depression.

You may be wondering, how do I know if I have author depression? Well, read these questions very carefully and decide if the statements describe you.

  1. I don’t enjoy writing/illustrating as much as I used to.
  2. I really don’t feel like writing/illustrating any more.
  3. There is no point submitting my work for consideration/representation.
  4. No one important appreciates my work.
  5. I don’t have any more ideas to write about or illustrate.
  6. I don’t fit in with the writing/illustrating community.
  7. I feel like I’ll never be a successful writer/illustrator.
  8. The system is rigged. Someone like me can never make it as an author/illustrator.
  9. Those authors/illustrators being published are not as good as me.
  10. The book publishing business just isn’t fair. It’s only about who you know.
  11. My writing/illustrating is no good.
  12. I am no good.
  13. Maybe so-and-so is right. I should find a different hobby.
  14. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right.
  15. I don’t care how far I’ve come. It’s not good enough now and it never will be.
  16. Traditional publishing isn’t for me because no one likes me or my work.
  17. Self-publishing isn’t for me because it’s too complicated.

Did any of those negative thoughts sound familiar? Most likely, they did. Lots of writers and illustrators experience negative thoughts. These thorns that choke our dreams and goals are not relegated to the book industry. Every person on the planet who desires to become something more than who they are currently will experience negativity, self-doubt, de-motivation, and pain.

Although the thorns of life do sprout, they don’t need to become powerful. They can be resisted and overcome. It’s been said that as a man thinks, so he is. Our mental capacity is more powerful than we give it credit. This is most readily seen if we resolve to accomplish something. The act of resolving, or committing to make a resolution, means we are preparing in advance to triumph over adversity. It’s a mindset. As an aspiring author or illustrator, one of your mindsets must be to resolve that you will push through rejection. Rejection will come and it is outside your control. But, it doesn’t need to be a stepping stone towards author depression.

Any brief research will guide you to countless examples of great, wonderful authors and illustrators who worked so hard yet were faced with rejection after rejection after rejection. In October of 1912, Tarzan of the Apes was rejected by Rand McNally & Co. after being described as something that wouldn’t fit into the publishing company’s current plans. Two years later, Tarzan became a cultural sensation that went on to sell over 50 million copies and a multitude of adaptations.

Apart from mental preparedness, an author or illustrator must be emotionally, spiritually, and physically ready to deal with the inevitable onslaught of difficulties that lie ahead. Prepare yourself to wait in silence, longer than you deem reasonable. Prepare to be hurt by the words used to describe your work. Pray in advance to remain focused on your goal, that Christ would strengthen you and bring His plan to fruition through you. Resolve that you will continue in your craft, regardless of despair in a sense of lack of progress. Realize that you have grown and matured in your craft. Remind yourself that although there is nothing new under the sun, there is something unique. That something is you. Your stories, your ideas, your art is unique to you and never done before the way you do it. Expect others to not see things your way, to not understand your point of view, to not appreciate your hard work. Expect it, and plan to help them see the beauty that unfolds through you.

In humility, we must accept and admit that there are better people among us, better ones who have gone before us. They have worked hard, sometimes for a lifetime, and faced rejection and despair. The best have wanted to give up. The best, kept going. The best submitted their manuscript again. The best refined their art. The best honed their craft. Be among the best. Don’t give up. Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Don’t let your mind and heart take you that place. Instead, set fire to your passion. Set fire to your dreams. Set fire to your goals.

Resolve to take the road less traveled. Resolve to try again where others give up. Resolve to forge ahead when it’s hard, when it’s dark, when it’s cold and lonely. Resolve to stand out from the crowd by your…resolve. And then, as you release yourself from the thorns, enjoy, truly enjoy the flower of your passion that blossoms before your eyes.

It’s beautiful, even if no one else sees it. It’s beautiful. Nurture it. Water it. Feed it. And when it’s grown, you can snip off flowers here and there to give away. Some will appreciate them. Some won’t. But you’ll have a flower that continues to bloom and in time, like so many before you, your passion, honed through resolve, will find its place where satisfaction and joy reside.

The Book Business of Writing

Every step in the book publishing process is an aspect of business. Let’s take the author’s role for a moment. Authors provide both a product and a service. The product being obvious, a written book, and the service a bit more subtle, the reader’s reaction.

The product of a book can be easily measured by volume of sales or acquisition of rights. If an author is simply desiring to move product, then the requirement is simple. More units of books need to reach more willing purchasers or the book itself needs to appeal to a wide variety of rights acquisition strategists. The reaction a reader experiences, as a service from the author, is a bit more complex.

The best books, the classics, from picture books to easy readers, MG to YA, high fantasy to non-fiction memoir, provide a service to the reader. These wonderful books birth an emotional, mental, spiritual, and often times physical response. Need an example? Crying. Laughing. Staying awake all night to finish Harry Potter as fast as humanly possible. Camping in front of stores to be first in line to purchase a sequel. Books that sway opinion on politics, religion, child rearing, marital growth, health, fitness, and the like. These effects are much more than a transfer of product. These are services provided by an author. The best services often are supported by others, an illustrator for children’s books, an agent for pushing the story beyond the reach of a traditional author, a publisher who has the pockets to get the story to the consumer, marketers, editors, planners, lawyers, etc.

Writing books is far more than baking a pie and hoping someone will purchase it and consume it. Writing books is a complex business. It’s an infinite argument through the written word that continually aims to provide not just a product but a service to every reader. Readers want this service, nearly always more than they want the product. Readers want to feel something, anything. Readers want to be lifted emotionally, carried physically, challenged mentally, and enlightened spiritually. A book is so much more than a product.

Some authors stop at product, however. They aim to create, market, and distribute lots and lots of product. And often times, they find some level of success through enough hard work and advertisement. Unfortunately, the outcomes are typically the same. They aren’t really remembered. Sure, a handful of greenbacks found their way over to them, but not enough to make a life altering difference. On the flip side, the authors who’s passion for books manifested itself into a service to readers have found tremendous success not only financially but through deep satisfaction in their craft.

I encourage and challenge you to focus your best efforts on the service of a book. Let everything you have, everything you are, be poured into the effect it will have on a reader. Let it fill a family’s home with laughter. Let it bring forth a rush of tears from the single reader. Let it spur someone on to make life changing decisions. Let your book make someone sit back, close the cover, nod their head and say to themselves, “Wow. That was a good book.”

Writing as a Passion

Have you ever had a passion that began as a teeny, tiny seed deep inside your heart? The more you thought about it, the more it grew from your heart into your mind. Once it became lodged in your mind, you turned it over and over, thinking about the details, the what if scenarios, and began doing research. After a while, as if the secret well inside of you was so big it was about to burst, you told someone. Not just anyone, of course, but a close friend or a family member. You knew the passion, the dream, was so delicate, you couldn’t entrust it to just anyone.

Eventually, as you let that dream flourish, as you fostered your inner passion, it became strong enough to withstand the rejection and onslaught of other people. You could be told no, and remain steadfast. You could have your dream trampled, and press on anyways. A passion for writing or illustrating often begins like this. At least it did for me.

I wrote poetry and simple stories for years growing up. My mother, especially, encouraged me to draw and paint. I still remember those days we would sit down together to paint. As I entered High School, my artistic expression went in random directions, never really finding a home. Even though I was never sure what I was really passionate about, I naturally began blogging on a variety of subjects after college. My background in website design, search engine optimization, and programming helped me create successful blogs rather quickly. Even though these projects were always exciting to pour myself into, the types of writing I was doing didn’t give me the sense of fulfillment I was looking for.

In October of 2015, my older brother Thane Keller self-published science fiction novel, Trials. I hadn’t known he was even writing a book and it took me a while to get around to read it. Once I did read it, I was filled with ideas and concepts that could help propel the world he built and reinforce the plot he created. In January of 2016, we agreed I would write a prequel novel for his series. I immediately got to work and it became an incredibly satisfying passion in my life.

As I wrote, I began doing deliberate research on how to write. My first edit feedback was humbling, to say the least. I thought I was naturally a great writer…don’t we all? But writing professionally was so much more complex than I gave it credit for. So, I hunkered down, and researched like crazy. Every day I learned something new, whether it was a better understanding of point-of-views, sentence structure, or simple tips, I began incorporating everything I was learning.

I wrote and re-vised. Wrote and revised. It wasn’t until later I could take to heart a definition of what revision really is, which is to view the work in a different way, to re-vision it. I began writing and then trying to view it differently, from different angles. Writing was truly satisfying.

Then something unexpected happened. About 30,000 words into the Trials prequel, I had a thought. A very, very different thought. It was a concept for a new science fiction novel. My mind was flooded with ideas and plots, the introduction, the ending. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every day my brain would keep filling out details and so every morning between 3:00am and 6:00am (my usual writing time), I was torn between two wonderful books. Two wonderful but very different worlds that needed to be written.

At this point, I had been learning so much and spent my commute to and from work listening to classic books on audio, books on how to write, books on how to present ideas and techniques to captivate readers. It was like an artesian well that sprang forth from all around me that I just couldn’t get enough of. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about writing, editing, publishing, self-publishing, querying, everything.

But would you know what happened next? In the midst of trying to manage two science fiction novels, another idea flooded my mind. I couldn’t push it away. It was a children’s picture book story. I immediately wrote the outline down and polished it over a few more days. Then, another children’s book idea came. And another. And another. I was being bombarded by unique, original concepts that would enrich and enliven families everywhere.

Maybe it was the thousands of children’s books my wife and I have read to our two boys over the years. Maybe it was a love of reading that had been developed since I was young. Maybe it was the empty library shelves I would always see in children’s sections. I’m not sure. All I know is children’s books are on a whole different level of satisfaction for me. So much so, that although I am currently seeking literary agent representation, I couldn’t resist commissioning an illustrator for my first children’s book. The artwork is beautiful and I know you’ll love it. I’m hoping to have it out by 2018. But don’t worry, I have many children’s book manuscripts polished and ready to go.

Technically, that makes me a hybrid author – someone who’s friendly to traditional and self-publishing avenues. The reality is much simpler though. Writing is a passion. It can’t be stopped. The ideas come and they must be written. Some will appeal to one crowd while some will appeal to other crowds. The stories need to be told or else they’ll never live. There are people out there who’s life will be incredibly enriched by my stories. They’ll be enriched by yours, too.

I know this post is long but over a decade in SEO shows it doesn’t really matter. What matters, is you. If you’re an aspiring author or illustrator, please don’t give up. Live your passion. Fit it into your day, somehow, someway. If you have a different role in literature (editor, agent, publisher, lawyer, assistant, etc.), your role is vital. Bookshelves are empty. Children need more beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written books. Parents need fun books to share with their children, new stories to choose from. Educators need tools to help in the classroom explain complex concepts in simple ways. The world simply needs more books.

Is writing your passion? Is your passion something else? I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can help each other along the way and leave this world a little lot better than when we found it.