Friday, May 10, 2013

Making the Marakon Ways


My 8 year old son, Griffin, just published a fantasy novel called The Marakon Ways. I helped him with the publishing, but not the writing. In fact, he didn’t even tell me that he was writing a book until he was a few chapters in! According to his teacher, Matt, at the start of the school year Griffin decided he would write a book and asked for help typing it up. Over the next four months, Griffin dictated his story, watching over his teacher's shoulder to make sure everything came out just the way he wanted it to, and learning a lot about patience and politeness. 

The story was inspired by a make-believe game Griffin had been playing for several years with a good friend of his named Maya. In the game he was the king of the wolves, just like Makamom is in the book. Griffin says of the writing process, “When I first started this book, I had a hard time thinking of ideas. As I got closer to the ending it was easier to think of what to say.”

At the end of each chapter Griffin would read what he had written to his classmates and incorporate their feedback into the draft. When the draft was complete, Griffin and his teacher then spent another month reading through the book and correcting any errors before sending it to me. I think the editing process was the most frustrating part for Griffin, since he was impatient to be done. I had told him we’d print it out and get it bound, so he was excited to have a real book-like copy to enjoy.

By April I knew of the book's existence, but I hadn’t yet read any of it. When I received the completed draft, I was somewhat hesitant to undertake the reading such a large chunk of text written by an 8 year old – even if that 8 year old was my own son. To my surprise, however, the book turned out to be really good. As a colleague said when I shared a draft with him, “The book kept me reading it until the end, in one pass. It is a very interesting, clever, and engrossing story.” I also enjoyed watching my husband read the book to our other three children each night before bed. They laughed and gasped at all the right places, and begged their dada to continue reading well after lights out. 

Because the book turned out so well, I decided to help Griffin self-publish it, which was a month-long project in itself. Griffin and I began by taking another copy editing pass together, reading and editing a chapter a night after the other boys had gone to sleep, with a focus on consistency. While editing I saw how rich the Wolf Land world was in his mind, and also struggled with him to figure out how much of that richness we should put on paper. He expected his readers to pay close attention to the story, and to remember names and characters mentioned incidentally when they were brought up later. I convinced him to treat us a little more gently. It was harder, however, for us to agree on what detail should be withheld in the name of mystery. For example, in Chapter 4 the protagonists discover a small blue book that is quickly taken away from them by their Wolf Land host. Why is never revealed. But since Griff promises the answer will be in Book III of the series, I let it stand.

Despite our edits, there remain a number of small unusual details that reveal the world view of an 8-year old. For example, Daniel, one of the protagonists, is a 16 year old who behaves like a bratty little brother to his younger sister Lily. Clearly Griffin admires 16 year olds but has trouble seeing them as anything other than little kids that adults allow to drive. And at a big feast where the children enjoy every type of meat imaginable, Daniel’s favorite meat is oxtail, reflecting the fact that oxtail is mythically delicious in our family because Griffin’s younger brother once tried and loved it on a trip to Germany. I did obfuscate one child-view detail that I thought might make parents uncomfortable, namely that Lily and Daniel sleep naked in the same room. This is an appropriate way for our four little boys to sleep, but not for mixed-gender teenage siblings. In general, the book reflects a refreshing lack of gender roles. Either Lily or Daniel could be a different gender and the story would come across just the same. But it is harder for us adults who read the book to ignore gender as completely.

I told Griffin that I thought we should include artwork in the book. He was strongly against the idea for several reasons, the first being that, “Chapter books don’t have art, just words!” He relented after looking more closely at Roald Dahl’s books and the Harry Potter series. His next concern was that he wasn’t a good enough artist, so he asked if one of his friends could do the artwork instead. We expanded this idea to include all of his classmates, and his art teacher offered to organize the project. This seemed like a great way to create awesome illustrations, and for Griffin to practice adapting a bit of his vision to accommodate other people. He remained somewhat skeptical about quality and consistency, but once he saw the artwork his classmates produced (including an amazing map of Wolf Land) he completely changed his mind.

I encouraged the class artwork, but realized somewhat late in the game that I was making more work for myself in doing so. Because others were contributing to a book we were going to publish and sell, we needed a license from each of them (and, more specifically, from their parents). I drafted a version of a release drawing from the ACM release form, asked several attorney friends for feedback, and shared the resulting form with Griffin’s school. When everyone had signed off on the form, Griffin's teacher sent it out to the parents. I had expected the process of collecting signatures to be long and arduous, but to my surprise it ended up being very easy. Most parents had already heard about Griffin’s book from their children, as his classmates were enthusiastic supporters throughout the whole process, and they were happy for their children to be a part of the book. Within a week all of the necessary forms were returned to me.

To format the book I looked at the books on my bookshelf and borrowed the pieces I liked best. I biased my borrowing towards fantasy elements and things that would take up space without seeming to, since length was clearly an important metric for Griffin. (“Real chapter books are long!”) My default font selections were Times New Roman and Arial, but a graphic designer friend of mine saved me from making that faux pas, and another friend who is the design editor at a fantasy magazine gave the book a stamp of approval.

All books that are sold in the United States need an ISBN number. This number uniquely identifies the specific version of a book so that purchasers know exactly which book they are getting. Most self-publishing outfits will provide a complimentary ISBN number when you publish with them, but this results in the outfit being listed as the publisher. We decided instead to start our own publishing company, Teemeyer Press, and purchase our own ISBN number for the book. We chose the name Teemeyer Press because Teemeyer is a combination of my husband's and my last names. Years ago we flirted with giving our children "Teemeyer" as a last name, but ended up naming some Teevan and some Hehmeyer instead.

Although it is possible to publish a book with almost no cash outlay, we invested about $300 all in ($125 for the ISBN number, $50 for two rounds of proofs, $50 for gift and promotional copies, and $75 to have the book listed by retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble). We chose to set the retail price of a book at $10, which was targeted to allow us to break even if we hit our stretch goal of selling 100 books.

If by some strange happenstance we sell more than 100 copies, we decided to first treat Griffin’s classmates to an ice cream party, and then donate 90% of the proceeds to Griffin’s school, The Little School. Initially we were going to donate 100% of the proceeds, but Griffin (with the help of several of my colleagues) argued effectively that he should have a small cut. Since he seems likely to do the bulk of the advertising, we offered him 10% as an incentive. In his wildest dreams he will make $10, and he thinks that possibility rocks.

Now that the book is published, our next step is to figure out how make people aware of it. We donated several copies to Griffin’s school library, and Griffin’s classmates are all excited to purchase copies, as are many of my friends and colleagues. I also plan to send a few promotional copies to the local newspapers, like the Bellevue Reporter, to see if they would be willing to write a review. If you want to share or review the book, too, he and I would really appreciate it. But we have already had our first purchase! A 9 year old neighbor bought the first copy with her own money, including some change and a few crumpled up dollar bills. She asked Griffin to sign the book, which he did with gusto, even though he’s not sure exactly how to spell his last name.

While working on the book I hadn’t thought about it as an inspiration for other kids, but in talking with his classmates and my parent friends, is clear that it is. A number of my friends have donated copies of the book to their local school library for use as a model, and I am working with the librarian at The Little School to figure out how to best support these efforts. Griff clearly was one step ahead of his mama on this front, though, writing in his Author's Profile, “I think that you should try to write a book too. It is lots of fun, whether it is a book of less than a page or a book that has more than a hundred pages. I hope that my book inspires you.”

The Marakon Ways can be purchased from Lulu or Amazon.

Photograph by Colleen Dishy Wes.

13 comments:

  1. Dear Jaime,

    This is a fantastic and inspiring post. It seems you have a very talented and imaginative 8 year old. It is super that so many people invested their time in supporting his efforts. Congrats to all of you!

    David

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  2. Thanks, David! We're really proud of Griffin, and impressed by all his school did to support him. I just checked, and there are now 67 copies of the book out there in the world. Too cool. :)

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  3. What an excellent adventure! It sounds life Griffin has a budding career ahead, no matter what industry! Well done Team Teemeyer :-)

    Is it available for Kindle?

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    1. Thanks for the nice comment! The book is not currently available for Kindle, but will be at some point. I just haven't had the time to invest to figure it out. (Four kids, a full time job, and the print version have kept me busy lately. :) Maybe by mid-summer? But I recommend the print version, especially for sharing with children -- kids seem to find the physical object of the book really inspiring.

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  4. Amazing story - not just a talented boy but a whole heap of loving support from his family, teacher and friends. I'd love to buy my 12yo fantasy fan a copy of your son's book. Is it available in the UK?

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  5. fantastic. i'd like to purchase a copy for the School i volunteer at in the UK (after i've read it first!) - can you ship to the UK and still make a profit? i feel it's important that you make at least some return for each purchase.
    thanks!

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  6. Thanks for supporting Griffin, Tracey and Atisha. You rock! I think Lulu (the company that prints the book) also operates in the UK. Can you try the following link and let me know if it allows you to purchase a copy?

    http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/teemeyer

    If not, I'll figure something else out. I know several people from Canada have successfully purchased the book from Lulu. Theoretically the book will also be available via http://amazon.co.uk eventually, but don't hold your breath -- the approval process takes two months.

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  7. Lovely story. I don't know where you get your information about approval for Amazon, but it usually takes about 24 hours. I would also consider looking at Smashwords which will distribute to Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc. Contact me off list if you'd like some help.

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    1. I'd love help figuring that out, Mr. Write! Thanks so much. I just did the Lulu.com "Global Reach" program -- it should get listed with Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Ingram, but they say it will take 6 to 8 weeks. If there's a faster way to get it up on Amazon I'd love to hear it. Can't figure out how to contact you offline -- perhaps you could send me an email? press@teemeyer.com Thank you!

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  8. If anyone in the UK is still interested in The Marakon Ways, it looks like it is now available via Amazon.co.uk with free delivery. :)

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-marakon-ways-Griffin-Hehmeyer/dp/0989357201/

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  9. The Marakan Ways is a SUPER book; we got it for my then four year old last Christmas and he has us read it to him over and over. He and his dad just finished it again tonight. So here's my big question: Has Griffin written the sequel? Because I would love to give it to my kid this Christmas! Please tell Griffin from us he has 3 big fans here in Minneapolis.

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    1. Glad you liked the book, Maggie! Griffin is working on Book II, but progress slow since this time around he has to type most of it. Not sure how far along he is, but my guess is the book won't be ready until next summer.

      However, the exciting news in Wolf Land is that there's an audiobook version that will be available soon via Audible -- recorded by an adorable young British actor. The book's level is perfect for children just getting started with chapter books, and they will be able to read along with audio. I'll share a link when that's up.

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  10. The companion audiobook for The Marakon Ways is now available! I'm so happy with how it turned out. The book is a great first chapter book for early readers, and now there's audio to help them make their way through it on their own. :)

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