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Every so often, I veer off the pet-focus path to make a point about something else about which I feel passionate. Oftentimes, that means plugging an independent artist like Christopher R. Mihm and his upcoming B-movie, “Attack of the Moon Zombies.” (Premiering May 25 at the Heights Theater and starring moi in the role of Administrator Ripley.)
This time, however, I want to talk (OK, rant) a bit about my own independent artist’s journey. I self-published my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” in 2009 and have been blessed to receive much literary acknowledgment, including three major awards—including having it be named “Book of the Year in the Self-Help Category” by Premier Book Awards, and wonderful feedback from readers on four continents but, despite this and my daily marketing efforts, I am still a couple of thousand dollars away from paying off my initial investment.
I wrote what follow below in response to an editorial included in the current Reader Views newsletter regarding authors’ expectations of reviewers, as well as in response to a recent news article about an overnight success story I allude to in this piece. I find it frustrating that we only hear of people who either fail miserably or achieve wealth and fame unaccountably easily. What about those of us who persevere, despite having been born under an impatient star, trying to get noticed in a business in which 98% of independently published books released each year will sell fewer than 350 copies over their lifetimes? (Thank goodness, I’m well past that threshold.)
I readily acknowledge there’s no glamor in the story of someone who plugs away, diligently marketing to anyone who will listen, who, despite objectively knowing what he or she has created is valid and worthwhile, never seems to be able to break through the glass ceiling to bestseller status. To all of us who devote our whole selves to nonpaying or underpaying artistic endeavors simply because our souls offer us no other choice, I say, we’re the ones who deserve a bit of recognition once in a while. It takes no particular courage or fortitude to suddenly be handed success. We workhorses shouldn’t be made to feel inferior because Oprah hasn’t slated our work to be one of her book club picks…yet, anyway.
But then again, there are those whose personal estimation of the quality of their efforts just might exceed what professional standards dictate necessary to even be in the running. In those cases, it may be wrong to blame the reviewer, society, etc. As an editor as well as an author, I’ve seen both sides of this issue, and this is what I had to say about the topic. — Sid
In response to the current Reader Views’ newsletter:
All new authors need and deserve a dose of reality. I agree that a great many writers hold fast to the fairy tale of instant success and endless royalty checks. They cite an article they read of an author who self-published an ebook, sold copies for $2 apiece and made a million dollars as if it were the norm. Like those “I lost 42 dress sizes in three months” diet ads, such stories should come with the disclaimer, “Results extraordinary. Your results will vary.”
What’s more, any time you submit your work for a review, be it by an earnest lay-reader or a seasoned so-called “pro,” you are vulnerable to the possibility of receiving a less-than-flattering review. Yes, opinions are subjective and a reviewer you’re paired with could be prejudiced somehow or simply having a bad day when your manuscript crosses his or her desk, but often what is submitted has previously only been complimented by well-meaning friends and family members who couldn’t offer objective criticism for fear of making you feel bad. Because you’ve only received accolades, you come crashing down when someone deigns to find any fault whatsoever with your work.
Developing a thick skin and realizing this “biz” is relentless in its ability to devour egos are vital BEFORE one leaps into the fray. I am award-winning author (one of which was the 2010 Reviewers Choice award from Reader Views, thank you very much!—though, ironically, my non-contest-judging Reader Views reviewer gave me one of my only four-star reviews, among dozens of five-star reviews from other sources—not to whine at all, just to show how subjective the process is).
I am also an editor with 20+ years’ experience, and part of my job is to not waste authors’ time and money by giving them false praise and/or hope. I encourage what I believe are their strengths but do not hesitate to point out weaknesses and make suggestions of how to improve those areas. Many times, I’ve had to turn away authors, pointing out that their books are just not at a level of quality at which it will pay to hire a professional for a final edit. (I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve received books from authors who demonstrated no awareness of what a complete, non-run-on sentence looks like or even how to spell CAT, and yet they’re convinced they’re ready for the New York Times Bestseller List.)
Understanding how tight money can be—I’m a starving artist myself—I advise them that they’d be much better off going to a low- or no-cost option like a community ed writing group for lots of people’s feedback as they rework their manuscript before shelling out hundreds of dollars to someone like me. I know I’m being cruel to be kind. I cannot in good conscience cash their checks until I know they have a fighting chance to compete in the marketplace. It’s my reputation on the line as a “pro.” (There’s that word again.)
PETLITZER PRIZE COMMERCIAL TEXT: 40 SECONDS
Whether you’re a Schnauzer’s Shakespeare or a Hound Dog’s Hemmingway in the making, perk up your ears. DogWorks radio is teaming up with animal chaplain Sid Korpi, author of the award-winning book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” in presenting the Petlitzer Prize contest—the pet-related-writer’s Pulitzer. Animal lovers can showcase their creative writing abilities for nifty awards and for the chance to have their works read live on DogWorks radio. Categories range from poetry to short stories to persuasive essays, and more. For more information, visit the blog page at http://www.goodgriefpetloss.com and click on the Petlitzer Prize link.
Fun-loving Spirit Guides Put Their Seal of Approval on the B-Movie Project
Last night, Sept. 7, 2010, my husband Anthony and I went to the director’s house to do a fitting for our costumes. Anthony has to wear a lab coat in one scene, and Chris was digging through a ginormous box of donated coats to find one that fit Anthony. He pulled out one that was buried in the middle of the pile and had Anthony try it on. It was a perfect fit.
I took one look at it, got goosebumps and literally screamed.
Embroidered above one breast pocket was the name “Jenny Pavlovic.“
Ms. Pavlovic is the award-winning author of “8 State Hurricane Kate” and “Not Without My Dog Resource and Record Book,” and she and I are both going to be guests on Nadia Giordana’s Blog Talk Radio show on the 14th and sharing a booth at the Goldzilla fund-raiser for RAGOM (Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota) rescue organization on the 18th in Shoreview, Minn.! We met shortly after my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” came out last fall at a fund-raiser for the Minnesota Pet Project and have been friends, allies, and colleagues ever since!
I knew she had a scientific/technical background by profession, but to see that her retired lab coat had found its way into that director’s basement and onto my hubby was too uncanny to pass off as mere coincidence. (We have a couple photos of the lab coat in question, but Chris has forbidden us to post them yet.)
But that wasn’t all that happened that night to give us signs that this movie is going to be phenomenal. Anthony and I had to hurry to the Rosedale JCPenney’s 15 minutes before it closed to buy some classic-looking men’s pajamas for Anthony’s second scene. When we were checking out, I burbled to the teen-aged cashier that these PJs would be in a 1950s-drive-in-style B-movie, and she wanted information about it.
She said she was genuinely interested because her grandfather had written a horror movie script in the late ’50s—a little thing called “Carnival of Souls“!!!!! A CLASSIC among B-movies!!! It’s one of the first ones I’d watched on my DVD collection of classic horror films and have read glowing things about it in film magazines and books!
I raced home and called Chris immediately. I knew he’d be familiar with the movie, and when I told him about it, he appropriately gasped and said, “Oh my God!”
I said, “I KNOW, right?”
He said, “Did you get her contact information?”
I said, “No, but I gave her yours. … Can you even stand how cool this is?!!!! First the lab coat with Jenny Pavlovic’s name on it and now ‘Carnival of Souls’!!”
I also reminded him: “It’s like that time (last June) I woke up in the morning and simply knew I had to go to Ricky’s Embers restaurant in Fridley (which is about 15 miles from my house; not exactly convenient) and when I sat down next to a pile of previously read newspapers to wait for my to-go order, I looked down and found your (Chris’s) face staring up at me!”
I had been trying to get a hold of the issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that had featured him and the Heights Theatre premiere of his movie “Destination: Outer Space,” but because it was specific to the northern suburbs and I live in South Minneapolis, I didn’t think I’d find it. I pitched such a spazzy fit over the sheer grooviness of this supernormal occurrence, I got permission from the waiter to steal this copy if I’d just take my food and leave!
I said, “You hire me for a project and it’s going to have a bunch of Spirit Guides supporting it.”
He said, “That’s certainly true!” or something affirmative to that effect. I am paraphrasing a teensy bit. Give me a break. I was and am über excited!
Now, if all this evidence of the magical, mystical sanctioning of this movie doesn’t convince you to become an associate producer and get screen credit for super cheap, I don’t know what will!
Among other great screening events, Saturday, Oct. 30, there will be a five-Mihm-movie marathon at the Grand Little Theater in Eau Claire, Wis. and he will be showing the first-ever sneak peek at a scene from “Attack of the Moon Zombies.” Come in costume and make a day trip of it if you can. Half of the proceeds will go directly to fund the production of the movie.
One of the things I receive rave reviews on about my book is the cover art, so beautifully rendered by the talented artist Alicia Schwab. From my babbled description of what my intent was with my book, she created my touching, poignant cover:
So I thought I’d show her my appreciation for her abilities by sharing with you all a sampling of her wonderful pieces. Should you ever have a children’s book you need illustrated, please contact her. She’s beyond awesome to work with!