Mill Park Publishing of Eagle, Idaho was created in 2003 by author Elaine Ambrose.
The company facilitates fee-based book publication and marketing for local authors
and organizes writer's retreats.
Recently I was playing with a gaggle of giggling girls. We were telling stories, and they squealed with delight at each silly suggestion in our creative plot as “Once upon a time….” encouraged them to imagine without restriction.
“And then the princess turned into a beautiful butterfly.”
“She waved her magic wand and poof!...there was a purple horse with wings!”
“The little girl fell down a long tunnel and landed in a big meadow. She could understand what the animals were saying.”
Of course, the pretend princesses always survived their adventures and the endings always were happy, except for the conclusion in the Fable of the Farting Princess, but by then it was time to take a break. Such is storytelling with children.
Every day, we are surrounded by potential stories. Those of us who can still remember the 1960s can’t forget the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s song “America” as the couple turns ordinary situations into imaginary stories:
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
I said, “Be careful his bowtie is really a camera.”
If you need inspiration to write, you should go sit in the park. Observe a happy family playing and laughing, and then allow your imagination to wander. Who is that dark stranger slowly driving around the park? Why is the woman yelling into her cell phone? Did you see the lonely custodian laughing as he went down the slide? Is the little boy really talking to a squirrel?
I find story ideas while waiting at stop lights. The obnoxious guys in the noisy car next to me are certain to be smuggling something illegal. The old woman ahead of me must be on her way to her best friend’s funeral. That's why she’s driving so slowly. Her friend's name is Erma, and they used to process jars of pickles together in Erma's farmhouse kitchen. The old woman craves a fresh tomato.
I also use newspaper headlines to create short stories. The Idahoan Who Speaks for U.S. Sheep Industry.” So, what do the sheep have her say? Do they have a meeting in the pasture and discuss issues over bowls of fresh grass and pitchers of water from the canal? N.Y. Pet Cemeteries Told to Stop Taking in Humans. Will Fifi really care? The old dog’s been dead for 20 years. And, what if those really aren’t Fifi’s ashes?
Every day presents an adventure waiting to be told. The real ending can’t be controlled, but with enough creativity and imagination, writers can add some festive, mysterious, tragic, inspirational, and amazing elements to make the journey less mundane. After all, it’s what we do. We are storytellers.
At a recent writing class, a young woman asked if she could be a good writer without reading classic literature. I tried not to gasp out loud as the agitated ghosts of former teachers immediately began to clamor for attention within the musty cobwebs of my cluttered brain.
First came the apparition of the invincible, ruler-wielding Mrs. Kaufmann waving her tattered copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Then feisty Miss Luke appeared, telling me to write why I was Jo in Little Women. She was bumped aside by Mrs. Eaton whose booming voice pleaded to the High Heavens for her class of scraggly farm kids to understand how Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men brought the characters of Lennie and George right there to our humble town of Wendell.
To answer her question, the class instructor eyed the young woman and calmly stated the Great Truth: "If you want to be a good writer, read good writing." My ghosts then retreated, slamming the door behind them.
Decades before the distractions of video games, the Internet and Facebook, young people actually went to libraries and brought home books, every two weeks. I started with the Bobbsey Twins and read through the Nancy Drew Mystery series before finding children's literature that would change my life. I cried the first time I read:
"It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real."
That excerpt from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is the crux of why I read and why I write.
L’Engle joins all my former English teachers and favorite authors who amuse themselves inside my head and emerge sporadically with witty phrases, ticklish ideas, and red-pencil admonitions. Sometimes I talk to them, but never in public.
There are excellent modern writers, and we are fortunate that many of them live in the area. But, they, too, have bookshelves bulging with well-worn volumes of classic literature. To find your voice as a writer, read good books and then write. With that foundation, you'll understand L'Engle's words: "You've been given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."
Exciting Publishing News: In the past two weeks, Amazon.com has ordered 25 copies of Mother Knows Best – Wit and Wisdom from Idaho Moms.
Flunking "Business 101" News: Mill Park Publishing lost $50.75 on the transactions.
Having a book on Amazon.com is great for publicity and national exposure, but it’s punitive for a small publishing company. Mill Park Publishing paid $5.28 per copy to cover the cost of printing, shipping, cover design and layout design. We set the retail price at $8.99 in hopes of making a small profit. Amazon.com pays only 45% of the retail price, so Mill Park Publishing receives $4.05 per book – a loss of $1.23 on each book. As a result, the recent order to Amazon for the 25 books cost us $30.75 plus $20 shipping. That’s a total loss of $50.75. Ouch.
Local book stores pay 60% of the retail price on consignment, so we receive $5.39 per book – a profit of 11 cents. We make our most profitable sales through direct contact and through intimate, local events.
Mother Knows Best by author Patti Murphy enjoyed a fun debut on May 6 at Berryhill & Co. Many factors contributed to the successful sale of 100 books: The book is a creative compilation of interesting tidbits, the cover is attractive, the debut was right before Mother’s Day, and Patti is a dynamite promoter as well as an excellent writer. We sold the book at the full retail price of $8.99 plus Idaho sales tax, so Mill Park Publishing was able to cover the costs of the books, the food, the room rental, and have money to apply toward the production costs.
Though it’s a definite thrill to produce and introduce a quality book, it’s a sobering fact to realize that neither the author nor the publisher has earned one penny from the sales of this book. We still haven’t recovered the total printing costs, but that is a goal to reach by September. And, after all the books are sold, it is our intention to have a small profit and still be able to make a donation to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.
To end on a positive note, we can rejoice in the astounding success of The Backyard Chicken Fight. Author Gretchen Anderson has sold enough books to pay for the printing costs in record time because she is everywhere! She teaches classes, organizes book signing events, and creatively generates her own publicity. She’s in Costco, which is a huge accomplishment in the publishing business. Gretchen is proof that with excellent writing talent and powerful promotion ability, a writer actually can make a profit. It's a great story!
We know the thrill of plucking words from our brain and scattering them onto the page or computer screen and then repeating this process until we have created amazing sentences, paragraphs and pages that, in our opinion, reflect awesome talent, enlightenment, or validation that we can call ourselves writers.
The raw reality of writing comes when we expect or need someone else to appreciate our efforts.
More than 120,000 books are published every year in the United States. According to industry experts, more than 70 percent of those books don’t earn back their advances paid to the authors. And, 80 percent of families in this country did not buy or read a book last year so they won't even see your work.
More discouraging statistics: a literary agent receives approximately 6,000 queries a year. Less than one percent of those authors receive requests for more chapters, and less than one percent of them are chosen to be represented by the agent who then needs to sell the book to a publisher. After all that, it can take more than two years for the book to be released. And then you're on your own to market it.
Even with those daunting odds, 65 people attended last weekend’s All About Agents workshop sponsored by the Idaho Writers Guild. The participants had ten minutes to present their book ideas to one of four agents. Some of the new and naive writers expected to be offered a contract that day; the experienced writers knew they would be fortunate to be asked to send a few chapters for the agent to review later. When we present next year’s conference, it will be interesting to learn if any of our eager and talented writers are working with an agent. I’m convinced that some will go onto the next round.
There are ways to avoid the publishing circus: self-publish, start your own publishing company, or just keep writing with no expectation or desire to publish. The key phrase is: keep writing. If your goal is to be nationally published, take comfort in knowing that you have one in 10,000 chances to sign the contract with an agent which is a lot better than having one in a million chances of winning the state lottery.
What do these acclaimed authors have in common? Tony Doerr. Alan Heathcock. Lance Olsen. Jennifer Basye Sander. Answer: Each one has been a guest speaker at the “Write by the River” Writer’s Retreat at my cabin in the Southfork Landing development in Garden Valley.
Joanne Pence, Gretchen Anderson, and Amanda Turner are three more notable writers who have presented workshops at the retreat. We’ve also learned from a web designer, an agent, a self-publisher, and a cowboy poet. Attendance is limited to 24, so participants experience personal attention from successful writers and publishing experts. Participants also read from their own work as they enjoy the inspirational location in a custom cabin near the south fork of the Payette River in Garden Valley. And, the day always ends with a glass of wine and some robust conversations on the porch. Just watch out for the wild critters.
You really should be a part of the fourth annual retreat scheduled for August 12-14. Guest speakers include author Kim Barnes who is the recipient of several national literary awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Robert Wrigley, a poet who has received several prestigious awards including six Pushcart Prizes. This year’s retreat also includes Doug Copsey, Gretchen Anderson and Amanda Turner.
The cost for the retreat is $150 to cover expenses for the speakers, all materials, the Friday evening reception, a light breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, and lunch, dinner and snacks on Saturday. ($125 for members of the Idaho Writer’s Guild.) You can commute the one-hour scenic drive from Boise or find a place in Garden Valley. The rustic Garden Valley Inn is within hollering distance from the retreat. The registration form is included on this web site under the cleverly titled “Writers Retreats” button. We’re already receiving reservations, so complete and mail the form soon.
We’d love to include you in this year’s retreat, and we promise that there WILL be learning, laughter, and literary largesse. (Sorry for the gratuitous alliteration, but it’s my blog.)
What was I thinking? In hindsight, it appeared to be a grand idea to start a television talk show in the Boise area. After all, Oprah is ending her afternoon show, so why not step in and offer the on-air talents of three fun and feisty local women? That should be easy!
Unfortunately, our program is turning into our own reality show combination of Boston Legal, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Survivor.
Last December, Gretchen Anderson, Amanda Turner and I started a series of meetings to organize the talk show. We titled our program Morning Blend and created perky segments: “Extra Bold” featured prominent, successful women in the area, “Market Spice” included advice on issues that impact women’s lives, such as budgeting and parenting, “The Buzz” focused on social media, networking, and all the “hip” realities of the day, and the “Percolator” segment showcased emerging talent or included a call to action for a particular project. (See the “Television” tab on this web site to read about our first guests.)
Though insanely busy with our jobs, families, and other commitments, we dedicated time and talent to work with Peppershock Media in Nampa and Idaho Cinematic Equipment in Garden City to plan and videotape two pilot 30-minute programs and produce several promotional videos. With the assistance of Peppershock Media, we developed a logo, a web site, a Facebook page, and placed advertisements in the Idaho Woman’s Journal and in the Eagle Magazine. By February, we were all ready to launch!
And then the lawyers descended, somewhat like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. On behalf of Milwaukee Morning Blend, they threatened harsh legal action if we didn’t immediately cease and desist using the name Morning Blend. Far be it from us to destroy the Milwaukee market, so we started over.
We had to redo several videotapes, immediately change one print ad, edit the web site, cancel the Facebook page, and design a new logo. It was too late to change the full-page ad in the Eagle Magazine. I hired a lawyer to search and register our new name, Perk Up Idaho. Mill Park Publishing is the main sponsor of the show, and I cringe at the loss of money invested and wasted. If we learn from our mistakes, I should be granted a triple Ph.D .
But, we’re still brewing. To get Perk Up Idaho on air, we’re organizing an event to show the first two pilot programs and to entice potential sponsors to help defray the costs of production and air time. If you’re interested in learning how to get involved, come to our Sponsorship Kick-Off Party on Thursday, May 19, 2011 from 8:30 AM until 10:00 AM at Idaho Cinematic Equipment in Garden City. (Location: 5140 Sawyer, Suite F. From Chinden, turn east on E. 52nd St., right on N. Sawyer, and it’s on the left.)
Gretchen, Amanda and I will wear our best tap dance shoes and can promise a fun time. We can’t let the monkeys win!
Mill Park Publishing will celebrate the release of two new books this week. The Premiere Party for Mother Knows Best – Wit and Wisdom from Idaho Moms by Patti Murphy will be Friday, May 6 at Berryhill & Co. in Boise, beginning at 5:30 p.m. A combined Premiere Party for the Momisms book and for The Backyard Chicken Fight by local author Gretchen Anderson will be Saturday, May 7 at Seasons Bistro in Eagle, also beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Gretchen, Patti and their books have been featured on local television news reports, in radio interviews, with newspaper articles, and in magazine advertisements. They successfully use social media to promote their book signings and publishing activities. And, they are ready and willing to tote their books to local stores and arrange publicity events. Ask about raising chickens or momisms, and people respond, “Oh, I’ve heard about that book!” That’s because Gretchen and Patti have the extraordinary talents of being excellent writers and professional marketers.
Self-promotion is not easy, and many writers are uncomfortable with the process. However, the inexperienced writers who aren’t willing to aggressively market their books often languish unknown behind the professional peddlers. It’s an important part of being published. When I submitted my book proposal for Menopause Sucks, I included a complete section detailing how I would market the book, even though it was published nationally by Adams Media.
Alan Heathcock is a local author, and his new book VOLT, published by Graywolf Press, is receiving international acclaim. The New York Times, National Public Radio, and other major media contact him for interviews. Yet Alan continues to use social media, a personal web site, and appearances at local events to promote his book.
The publishing experience can be grueling, but it’s exciting to realize that people are standing in line waiting for your autographed book. And for that, most authors will organize the media kit, prepare their speech, and make the necessary rounds. After all, your book is as excellent as you believe it to be.
I recently saw the movie Limitless.
(Side note #1: I went to various online sites to learn how to punctuate movie titles and found several different answers that instructed to use italics, or underline, or capitalize, or use quotations, so I reached for The Chicago Manual of Style and it stated to use italics, so that’s what I did. Professor Burt Cross would be so proud.)
But, I digress. The movie was about a loser writer named Eddie Morra, played by actor Bradley Cooper.
(Side note #2: You have to forget about the hilarious part he played in “Hangover” because this is an action thriller with no tigers, babies or tighty whities.)
Anyway, poor Eddie is suffering from writer’s block, but he’s under deadline to finish his novel. He sits at his laptop and nothing happens. (Been there, done that.) Then he runs into an ex-brother-in-law who gives him the magic smart pill that sets his brain on fire. (Never been there nor done that.) Eureka! In just a few days he writes an amazing novel and triumphantly drops the finished manuscript on his publisher's desk.
(Side note #3: I emailed the manuscript for Menopause Sucks one chapter at a time, so I didn’t get to march in and dramatically deliver the finished work.)
Suddenly Eddie knows everything and can do everything, thanks to the wonders of pharmaceutical enhancements. Success and mayhem ensue, and his talent and potential are, indeed, without limits.
As a writer, you probably have experienced both ends of the writing spectrum – a frustrating dry spell that makes you wonder how you dare call yourself a writer – or a sudden, uncontrollable creative urge so intense that your fingers can’t keep up with your brain. That’s all part of the gig, and it’s why writing is so unpredictable, maddening and magical. It’s just you and your brain, and that can be an amazing combination.
(Side note #4: Though I don’t advocate taking drugs to improve your writing skills, it never hurts to coax the creative juices with a glass of wine and/or plate of warm cookies. Add some interpretive music and then watch those brilliant words leap to the page and energetically scramble into intriguing sentences. Limitless, of course.)
Some of my ancestors traveled west from Missouri in covered wagons and on foot. Many wrote about their hopes and hardships during the journey, and today those diaries are important family treasures. I can’t complain about being stuck in traffic on Eagle Road after I read about my great-great-aunt who drove a team of horses across the Snake River while her husband and children pushed on the back of the wagon.
I started a journal in 1978 when I was pregnant with my first child. Although it wasn’t exactly like walking 2,000 miles across deserts and mountains in a long dress and high-top boots, the journey before me was full of hopes and fears. So, I wrote in my journal.
Now, it’s interesting to look back over the past 33 years. My fears were unfounded, my dreams came true in various ways, and through my journal I can see myself evolving as a person and a writer.
January, 1980: Emily is 22 months old, potty trained, and can count to ten. She is a genius, of course, and so funny! I think I want another baby.
March, 1983: I’m going back to work full-time. Emily is five and Adam is two. How will I do everything?
July, 2003: I saw Adam 48 hours ago. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He’s being sent to South Korea with the Army Military Police. I can’t stop crying.
August, 2008: Emily and Adam helped with my book signing premiere party for Menopause Sucks. I love those kids!
January, 2011: How’d I get this old?
My journal also chronicles my travels and all my wins and losses. So far, the positives far outnumber the negatives. I intend to keep it that way.
I encourage everyone to write a journal. It can be a paragraph every day or several pages just once a year. You’re a writer, and your life influences how and what you write. And, sometimes it’s good to go back and appreciate your younger self.
I’ll never forget when the box arrived with my copies of Menopause Sucks. I ripped apart the box and held my “baby” – the results of my first national book publishing contract. The front cover featured a woman with her head in the freezer – perfect! Then I turned it over and my exuberance turned into irritation because my biography was all wrong. The publisher listed my correct information on the inside back page but not on the back cover. And, there was nothing I could do about it because the writer has no control over a book’s cover when it’s published by a national publisher.
A book’s cover provides the first and most important way to attract attention to a book. The cover also indicates the content’s credibility. We’ve all seen self-published books that look like a school project and have no hope of gaining respect from readers. Stapled bindings, amateur artwork, sloppy editing, and untrained writing often indicate that the book only will be appreciated by family members and then languish in boxes in the writer’s garage.
Prior to writing Menopause Sucks, I had written and published four other books through my publishing company, Mill Park Publishing. This allowed me to control what was on the cover, and I wanted a professional appearance. For Gators & Taters, I hired Ernie Monroe, an artist who worked for a local advertising agency. His illustrations were professional and delightful. For The Magic Potato, I hired Heidi Winchel, an artist from McCall, and gave her the formidable task to draw a flying potato.
For The Red Tease, I wrote to Jill Neal, the artist whose “wild women” pieces have been popular at the local Arts in the Park event. She allowed me to use one of her prints on the cover. We then arranged several book signing events at her gallery in Bend, Oregon. Recently we collaborated on another marketing venture as I used a piece of her art for the label on Menopause Merlot from Bitner Vineyards.
The cover of Daily Erotica was designed by one of the co-authors, Liza Walton. She created an elegant, romantic appearance. We gave the book an edgy title, mainly because Daily Poems just wouldn’t sell!
Mill Park Publishing is releasing two new books this spring, and the covers are wonderful. Author Gretchen Anderson enlisted the assistance of a high school friend and successful designer for her cover on The Backyard Chicken Fight. Author Patti Murphy asked local designer Sally Stevens to create the retro-looking cover of Mother Knows Best. Both covers are perfect for the books.
If you’re considering self-publishing a book, it’s not enough to just write the text. I recommend getting professional design assistance and/or taking some design classes and reading books about self-publishing. I used two main recourses: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross and The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. Then when your books arrive, you go from writer and designer to marketer. It’s an exciting process.