Here’s the draft book cover for Patchwork and Ornament:
Some time ago I pondered when and how to let go of a task and allow someone else to do it. I think I’m getting the hang of it! And it only took 50 years! Part of the problem is that I love to learn, and thus sometimes get into the weeds of projects that take me away from my primary purpose.
This time around, I caught myself after viewing a photograph, before and after it had been worked on by a Photoshop guru. Given that Patchwork and Ornament is full of color photographs (images of artwork, travel, and family), this particular photo caught my attention. It was a picture of a little boy next to someone dressed in a bunny suit. In the after photo, some of bunny’s ears were cut off…and the photo looked great. I never would have crossed such a line. This is when I knew I was out of my league.
My husband, Henry, sensing my panic, swooped in and found a guru on Craigslist who, for a reasonable fee, could remove shadows, lighten dark areas, and brighten colors. All the things I don’t know how to do and don’t have any business learning in this lifetime. We met with her, and I felt instant confidence in her abilities. Moreover, she cares about the project, which is important to me.
Henry also re-shot photographs that I had taken. His equipment and skill level are both well beyond mine.
In less than three weeks, I will send all of this to the printer. I’m confident with my layout–I think I’m doing a darn good job. But it feels good to let work go that someone else knows how to do. My job, I remind myself, is to write, edit, and publish. I’ll have to remind myself again and again, I’m sure, but for today I get it.
“Is that all you’re doing?” asked a former co-worker when I explained that I was writing full-time. My French teacher, when teaching the term femme au foyer (housewife), pointed me out as one of the femmes au foyer in the room. “I start writing at 8:00 a.m. and work all day,” I complained. “Well, you’re not making any money, so you still fit in the housewife category,” she suggested. I don’t believe her. I love her dearly, don’t get me wrong, but her attorney husband also writes poetry, so she sees writing as a bit of an indulgence.
Now, I have nothing against housewives, and a creative homemaker deserves a great deal of credit and honor that she often does not get. But that’s not what I do. Right now I am producing one book, getting another ready for reprints, and writing a third. In addition to the writing, I am starting to gear up the marketing machine while I coordinate with cover designers, photo editors, and printers. I am waiting to get my novel back from my editor in preparation to do substantial rewrites. My days are busy and full, and often I work on weekends to keep up.
Yet somehow in my home, no one else is capable of filling the water jug in the refrigerator or restocking the soda. Toilet paper rolls remain empty until I fill them. When it’s time to do dishes after I have cooked a meal, people scatter. I could go on and on. In short, I seem to have become the family servant.
So, like a good femme au foyer who believes that her dreams are also important, I went “en grieve.” Like the French, my strike lasted a specific amount of time (one evening). I refused to cook. Instead, I sat on the sofa and played computer card games with my feet up. My husband decided that the recipe I had chosen for the evening was something he could handle. As dinner wound down, I made my grievances understood. My writing, my work, takes time and effort. I root for everyone else to make their dreams come true, and I want support with mine as well.
We writers sometimes have to get tough with those around us to protect and value the time we need to do our work. It’s all too easy to give away our valuable energy to others, leaving ourselves depleted and unable to create. When that happens, we need to get a healthy dose of indignation. We may need to go en grieve. Our work matters. Our dreams matter. Our creativity brings joy, entertainment, and maybe even hope to others, and we need to see it that way–and make sure we communicate that to others.
As a writer, I know the tools for my job: my computer, notebooks, red pens, writing reference books, informational podcasts, etc. I carry these tools in my writer’s tool belt, and I look for new and better tools so that I gain skill in my craft. I’ve learned that I don’t necessarily need the Snap On tools, but a nice Craftsman makes my life easier. In other words, I may choose to read a book rather than pay for a workshop, or vice versa, depending on the situation. I’m looking for the best value, but I will not sacrifice quality to save a few dollars.
Now I’m learning how to apply this philosophy to book production.
I’ve been getting bids from printers for Patchwork and Ornament. P&O is a different animal from my first book, one with a color interior (we are adding 30-35 color images to go with the text).
Unexpectedly, paper selection has become a Big Deal. We need something more opaque than what comes with a black-and-white book. I must decide between a matte and gloss finish. And, curiously, the paper used most often for color is thinner, so I need paper that will give me enough spine width so that people won’t think the book is absurdly overpriced.
I went back to the printer I wanted to use and asked for a different paper, one with the qualities I wanted but a lower page per inch. They balked. Turns out they don’t stock a lot of different papers, so if I work with them, I am stuck with a paper I don’t want. My rep and I found ourselves at an impasse, and her response to my concerns was to keep steering me toward that which I have rejected.
Tools…paper is an important tool to the job of book production. And, while I am at times accused of being a bit of a control freak, I know what I want, and since I am investing thousands of dollars of family funds to do the job, I feel like I need the tools that will work for me.
In the meantime, I contacted another printer that I found in various resources for small publishers. I saw a book that they had printed, one filled with vivid, clear color images and cool paper. I looked at their website and found a massive paper selection, including the number of pages per inch. This got my attention.
When the rep called me, I felt like I was working with a real guide. We explored a number of options. She offered to send a paper sample book. She made suggestions. She is providing me with a number of different quotes with a variety of scenarios so I can decide what I want to do.
I haven’t seen the quotes yet, but I will tell you this: this company is simply better equipped to do what I need done. Many companies advertise that they do color printing, but this experience feels like I’ve moved from a plumber’s apprentice to a master plumber. The other company has a great reputation, and I hope to use them on some black and white projects that I’m working on for the future…but for Patchwork and Ornament, it was a matter of finding the right tools for the job.
As writers, we are always looking for new ways to describe our characters and their situations. Our first readers often point out the various cliches that manage to slip into our work, despite our best attempts to avoid them.
Sometimes, though, a trite expression, metaphor, or phrase is exactly what we need in a given moment…not in our writing, but in our lives as writers.
Yesterday was a tough day for me. Self-doubt permeated my thoughts. I began to wonder about Patchwork and Ornament: am I overestimating its marketability? Do I have what it takes to get the book in the hands of those who would enjoy it? Am I squandering family money to cover printing and marketing costs? In short, what was I thinking?
Deep in a stereotypical writer’s funk, I went out with my husband Henry to a coffee shop where I could sort out my feelings. We talked for a long time, pouring yet again over my ideas for the book, the progress we’ve made, the layout and cover that are coming together, and all the various places I could market the book. Not to mention that every time I put a draft of the layout into people’s hands, they don’t want to put it down!
We returned home and got ready for bed. As I was falling asleep, I remembered something important about my creative process: it’s always like a birth.
This is where the trite meets the true. Birthing metaphors are as old as, well, the hills. Still, it brings me comfort to understand what’s going on. I’m seven months into this pregnancy. I’m heavy and tired, and my feet hurt. I wonder if I’ll be a good mother. I wonder if my child will be unruly. I worry about a stillbirth.
Years ago, I gave birth to a little girl. She had died in my womb, which is another story for another day, but I went through the full birthing process. I was terrified. I was at seven months, about the same place I am now with Patchwork and Ornament, and I didn’t know how to breathe yet. I had just gotten started with my classes, so I felt helpless and frightened. At one point I looked to my husband at the time and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Yet a few minutes later, I felt her move through me and into the world where I could see and hold her. And oddly, even in a tragic moment, I felt joy. This was my daughter.
The closer I get to completing book production, the more I feel like that frightened, much younger woman, who said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Yet what I learned from my daughter is that yes, I can do this, I will do this, and in the end I will feel joy.
Trite? Maybe. But it works for me, gives me strength, reminds me that hanging on when I don’t think I can always brings a greater reward. Very soon I will hold a brand-new, colorful, vibrant baby in my hands and begin to carry her into the world.
Ten years have passed between the printing of my first book and the upcoming printing of Patchwork and Ornament, and a lot has changed! I’ve had to research independent publishing all over again to make sure I’m up with the technologies and possibilities. This week, I think I found my book printer, and they even have a cool program so you can upload your files and make sure they are compatible with their systems.
But the real excitement came today! In the book, Jenny (my late mother-in-law, for those joining these blogs late) quoted the poet Yehuda Amichai. I had two choices: delete the poetic reference, which wasn’t completely necessary, or get permissions. When I published my first book, I had to get a lot of permissions, and it wasn’t always a pleasant experience. I remember having some rather nasty back and forth with one publisher that wanted control over my entire text before I decided just to drop the reference.
Still, the Amichai lines, while not essential to the story she told, did add some lovely flavor to the essay. I flipped to the back of the book for the publisher’s website and went online. Lo and behold, you can do these things instantly now! I filled out a form, paid $14, and presto, my printer spit out a license for my records. Instead of waiting weeks or months for permissions, mine took about ten minutes.
What a cool time we live in.