Monday, January 30, 2006

going and going

And I'm off. This time to Portland where the Chinese Garden is having an exhibition of my art and 5 days of activities centered around me and Chinese New Year. Should be great...if I get off the ground. It's suppose to storm tommorrow!

I'm really looking forward to the event, not only as a promotional but as a solitary working environment. I have my new novel all mapped out in my head and the lonely nights in the hotel should be happily filled with pegging at a typewriter. Or with blank stares at the wall. That is a pretty common event when I am trying to write.

But if that happens, I've decided to try go zen and do some yoga. Hence, the bringing of the Babar's Yoga for Elephants. I've realized that my reading level is juvenile that even "how to" books have to be children oriented. If only there was a Babar's Taxes for Elephants. I'd be so well rounded.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

seeds of self doubt

The limited feedback I have been getting from "Year of the Dog" has made me all a-bloom. The garden of my ego has blossomed to new splendor-- my work might actually be loved, appreciated and respected. Heck, I might even be a successful, well-known author/illustrator.

But, small things, like frost in the night, creep in. A patronizing message on a message board. A tepid review calling my book "comfortable." The disinterest of relatives because it's "kid's things." An innocent e-mail asking where to get my book as it is not stocked anywhere. These small things water the seeds of self-doubt, encouraging them to grow into dominating weeds.

The balance between pride and humbleness is hard to accomplish. As satisfaction fills me and the feeling of self-importance does not seem so unreasonable, the whispers begin. "Who do you think you are?" it scoffs, "You think you're all that? Please don't make me laugh."

For low self-esteem and insecurity has plagued me and pushed me. You'll never get published. You can't make a living on children's books. No one is going to like your books. You're never going to make it. Fear of failure made me want to prove that I could do what was doubted. Yet, the same impetus that pushed me to work harder is the same force that won't allow me to feel peace or pride with my endeavors.

Robert, of course, has been the great equalizer. Whenever the secret demons push me to dejection, he shines a light on them. "When are you going to be as proud of yourself as I am of you?" he says to me and the tears burn in my eyes. And, I realize that the demons are just rabbits sneaking into the garden. I'll probably never get rid of them, but I can't stop trying to grow flowers because they steal a bit of lettuce.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Year of the Dog!

It's the Year of the Dog! Chinese New Year has arrived. Traditionally, a Chinese tray is filled with candy that is eaten on New Year's Eve--the idea being that if the tray is filled with sweet things, the year will also be filled with sweet things.

While I don't have the traditional tray, my New Year's Eve has been quite satisfying. In honor of my starred Booklist review, my editor at Little, Brown sent me some gourmet Chinese New Year-inspired chocolates. These delectable goodies were quite appreciated. (Thanks, Alvina!)

The other sweetie I received is an e-mail from a reader. While it is perhaps not as tasty, it is just as fulfilling:

Our family wishes to send its heartfelt thanks to you
for writing "Year of the Dog." We all loved your
latest book, especially our almost 10-year-old
daughter, Wendy. Wendy and her younger sister,
Sara, 8 yrs., were both born in China and adopted
when they were young. Wendy has already shared the
book with her best friend. I can't truly capture my
daughters' delight in the story -- it has been the
perfect story at a perfect moment in their life.
(Briefly, your book caught us while we were preparing
for the Chinese New Year, completing Science Fair
projects, and discussing life long questions related
to friendship, identity, and transracial adoption

We all remember reading and listening to your Ugly
Vegetable book many times. I hope you can imagine the
delight when my daughters' realized that the book that
Grace wrote in Year of the Dog was this family
favorite. There was much excitement in our family.
"We know that book!!"

Thanks so much. We are looking forward to your future
books and truly love the books that you have written
and illustrated. Sara still loves to look at the
book you illustrated about shapes, especially the last
page with the hong baos on a tree.

Wendy has renewed her enthusiasm to write and draw.
She's a wonderful, creative girl who told me last week
me that "I started as a seed and now I am a seed with
roots waiting to blossom." Your book provided
something special to her. Thanks again, my best
wishes, Mary

I think it's going to be a sweet year!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

and on i go

I have returned. For a week. And then I’m off to Portland, Oregon to continue my attempt at a “Year of the Dog” tour.

And how has it been? Well, as a “Year of the Dog” promotional tour, I’d have to say it leaning towards the failure end. And oddly, not for lack of interest or fans. The schools I visited had ordered their books months ago and since “Year of the Dog” was not scheduled for release until Feb., didn’t order any. And the bookseller at the Chinese New Year event had never had an author come before, so conservatively brought only 25 copies of the book to sell. They were gone in a flash. I was a tiny bit annoyed as I had traveled a LONG way for the event and the attendance was 700+ people. A lot more books could’ve been sold. But the book people knew that and were very nice, so I gave myself a mental slap for being a snot (on the inside). It would've been horrible if none or only some of the books had sold, so even if I wasn’t quite satisfied, best to be grateful.

However, as an exercise in ego gratification, the tour is already phenomenal success. Nothing is more touching or rewarding then seeing hundreds of the cutest Asian girls looking at you with stars in their eyes. And having their parents say, “She LOVES your books. She sleeps with “The Ugly Vegetables” at night and we’ve read “Dim Sum For Everyone!” so many times that the binding is worn out.” And to hear it not once, but a number of times. It’s a heady experience, one that is uplifting and humbling at the same time.

I have grumbled and griped about my lack of success, judging it on coveted awards, promotional budgets and envy of peers. But, in the presence of my youngest devotees, those complaints are disgraceful. Yes, of course this is a business, of course I need to make money. But that’s not the reason I became a children’s book creator. The ability to connect with children is.

So, with those thoughts soothing my irritated soul, the tour will continue…and perhaps (if I am lucky) I’ll get to sell some book on the way!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

surprise success

On the morning of my exhibit opening, both Robert and I had a difficult time getting out of bed. Robert, because of his treatment and me, because of my dread of a tumbleweed opening. But, up we got, though a bit later than planned, and on we went (and arrived late-sorry!).

But what had been giving me cold chills turned out to be one of my most heartwarming experiences. People came. A lot of them. The word had gotten out through the school, libraries and newspaper and had alerted some of my core fans, who came out in packs. The museum (obviously surprised) ran out of books immediately. Good friends, Luke & Ranida, drove from Arlington and brought "Year of the Dog" cookies to take the place of the ones I din't have time to make.

And Robert was disgusted with me. "If you ever put down one of your events ahead of time like you did this one," he said, "I'm going to shake you. You disrespect your venue, your fans, and your work when you do that."

It's true, of course. Confidence in your failure is an insult to those who believe in you. Yet, self-assurance is hard to achieve simply out of good manners.

Friday, January 13, 2006

the motion of promotion

Today, I finally received my author copies of Year of the Dog. Hooray! Now what to do with them...

While I am planning to just give my books away to friends, family,and charitable causes, my new marketing book says, "Resist the temptation to send books to your friends and family. Send to book reviewers, some producers and key bookstore buyers, instead." Hmm, I'm drawing a blank here. I don't know any reviewers, producers or key bookstore buyers. Well, I know some, but I'm uncomfortable thrusting my book upon them in a such an obvious "make people buy my book" way.

And I guess that is my issue with promotion and marketing. The naive part of me wants to believe that if my book is good enough, it'll find its audience and sell well on its own. But the reality is that no one will buy your book if they don't hear about it and it's not the best books that do well, it's the ones that "yell" the loudest. And I care too much about my books to let them slip into the out-of-print graveyard without a good war-cry.

So while I have not exactly embraced marketing, I have decided that we must at least hold hands. With the help (and prodding)of my sister, I've contacted groups and set up events in Seattle, Portland, and possibly San Diego and Arizona to try to push "Year of the Dog." I've sent out some postcards to friends and colleagues (and key bookstore buyers as suggested). I've written an article on why I wrote the book and offered it to publications. To me, this is marketing at full force--going full throttle into battle.

But, a brief perusal through marketing resources show me that my attack is not even a mere fistfight. It seems like if you really want to wrestle, you have to promote with every breath, view every conversation as an opportunity to sell. One resource sites an example of a woman who sold her book to every passenger on her airplane flight. The author wrote this in tones of admiration, but I was horrified. How obnoxious is it to have goods forced upon you when you can't even leave?

I want my books to do well, I want to promote them so they get the attention I feel they deserve. But I don't want to transform the labor of my work to boorish behavior. It's literature, not rock music.

But perhaps that's what my problem is and why I am not as successful as I could be. And really, I have no right to be condescending. Because, even though there is line between being a rat in the rat race and a mouse trying to find your way through the maze, you're still a rodent through and through.