Books by Melissa Bowersock

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Create Space is the Place!

I know I’ve mentioned here and there that I self-publish with CreateSpace, Amazon’s publishing arm, but so far I have not really talked much about the company itself. It’s time to do that. I’m guessing it would be self-evident that I love the company, since I have now self-published 15 books through them (10 of my own, 5 by and about my parents) in just over three years. I’m currently awaiting the proof for my new book about my father’s artwork (see last blog), which precipitated a surprising back-and-forth with customer service.

The book of my father’s art needed to be in landscape mode, since most of his paintings are done that way. This is one of the few areas where Create Space and other self-publishers are limited; the traditional portrait-style book sizes are plentiful, but the landscape-style sizes are few. I get it; the vast majority of books published are portrait mode, but it would be nice to have more choices. At any rate, I chose the largest landscape mode available, 8.5” wide by 6” high. I also chose to do this book in full color so as to show off my dad’s artwork in the best possible way. I knew color would be more expensive, but in this case it was necessary and justified.

In choosing the distribution channels, I saw that because the book is not a “standard” size, it was not eligible for all expanded distribution channels (EDC) like bookstores and other online retailers. Ok, that’s fine. I’m not expecting this book to go viral or be a NYTBS; I just want my dad’s artwork out in the world where it can be seen and appreciated. But some of the extended distribution channels were available for my size book, like libraries and academic institutions. I purchased the $25 extended distribution option to take advantage of those, going for the broadest distribution possible, even if it wasn’t everything in the whole wide world. (I have always bought the EDC for every other one of my books and thought it was well worth the price.)

After I’d processed that order, I went to the pricing page and realized that, because I had selected the EDC, the base cost of the book had gone up sharply and I would have to increase my retail price more than I wanted. This is a small book; it’s slightly over 100 pages and just over half the size of a sheet of paper. I could not see charging $20 or more for it. In order to keep the costs down as much as I could (without sacrificing the color), I unselected the EDC options.

Then I realized that I had just paid $25 for something that I was not going to use. Ok, where’s the cancel button? I looked at my order and could not see any way to cancel it. Hoping against hope, not at all sure Create Space would humor me, I sent off a note via their customer service interface explaining the issue, asking for a refund. After all, there really was no way to see how the EDC option would affect the price of the book before I purchased it.

Any time I send in a question via the customer service interface, I immediately get back an automatic response just to let me know they have received my note. While this isn’t terribly personal, it does at least confirm that my note was received and will be dealt with. I knew I’d have an answer back within 24 hours from a real person.

And I did. To my pleasant surprise, I got an e-mail from a woman the next day. She was polite, friendly and to the point.

As a courtesy, I processed a full refund of order xxxx in the amount of $25.00. This accounts for your purchase of Expanded Distribution on July 20. You should see the refund credited to your card within approximately one to two weeks.

All well and good; glad my request didn’t fall on deaf ears. However, she went on.

We really appreciate your business here at CreateSpace, and we strive to make your experience with us as seamless and helpful as possible. As always, please feel free to contact us with any additional questions or concerns you might have.

I decided then that, because she had taken the time to be so pleasant and so helpful, I needed to take a few minutes and give some positive feedback. I sent back just a short note about how easy they were to do business with, how much I appreciated not only the services they offered (the self-publishing) but the services they provided as well—the quick responses, the quick resolutions, the willingness to correct whatever it was without grilling me or treating me like I was making stupid mistakes or asking for outlandish favors. I told her I absolutely loved Create Space, but they could probably tell that by the amount of books I’d published through them.

The next day I got another response back.

It is because of comments like yours that we strive to be the very best. Thank you for your very kind feedback! Without customers like you, we could not continue to provide the service you have come to expect from us. Your comments are greatly appreciated, and I sincerely thank you for choosing us for your self-publishing needs.

Made my day! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that people like to be appreciated, yours truly included. How often, instead, do we get a dry, impersonal response to an inadvertent error, i.e.: Dear customer, we were unable to comply ...,  our policy clearly states …, blah, blah, blah. Create Space, obviously, understands that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, something many other companies should take to heart. These days it seems as if most places are more willing to lose a customer than rectify an inexpensive error, winning the battle perhaps, but losing the war.

In all my earlier dealings with Create Space over the years, I have only run into two small glitches that were immediately resolved. One time I ordered some books and received one that had the pages completely out of order. It looked like someone had dropped all the pages on the floor, picked them up and bound them without putting them back in order. The other problem was when I received a proof copy of another book; the top of the book had been trimmed about a half inch more than it should have. I knew it was a mistake and was not worried about it happening en masse, but when I sent off a note to Create Space about these two issues, I was gratified to have them immediately send me replacement copies of both books (which I had not requested) —no questions asked. They didn’t ask me to send back the bad copies, just replaced them, shipping the same day as my note. That’s pretty darn good service.

So when people ask me why I self-publish with Create Space, it’s not just about the ease of the process, the affordable pricing, the quality product (although all of those things are there); it’s about the spirit of the company.

I love Create Space!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creativity on Both Sides of the Brain

I’m always working on something. Sometimes I’m working on one book, sometimes two books, maybe even three books at a time. I’ve found that kind of variety to be helpful in keeping my mind fresh and keeping me interested. Were I to sit down and force myself to write straight through until the last word on the last page, I think I would be sick to death of the story and I know my writing would not be my best. I’ve found that any time I get stymied by a plot point or transition, anytime I feel the inspiration dry up and blow away, the best thing I can do is get away from the story and occupy myself elsewhere. Jumping from one story to another may not be for every writer, but it works for me and gives me a fresh start anytime I need it.

I’m currently bouncing back and forth between two stories, one a ghost story and one about a past-life regression, but when neither of them is calling me (as now), I have other projects that I can work on. One of these is a collection of the art of my father, Howard Munns.

My father was a prolific and self-taught artist. He worked as a commercial artist at an architectural firm all his life, but in his spare time he turned his talent to his great passion, the natural world and the wildlife within it. Over the years of his life (1911-2002) I cannot even attempt to estimate how many paintings and sketches he did, how many wood carvings, how many charcoals and pastels and inks and oils. While not comfortable with self-promotion, he did in his later years have a few galleries across the country that exhibited and sold his work, and he sold probably thousands of paintings to an elite circle of people who knew of him and prized his work. Since his death, I have been publishing bits and pieces of his work in ways that I think would honor and please him.

My first project was a collection of sketches that he did of animals. I happened to come across a prototype book he had planned sometime in his life, complete with a title, an introduction and a collection of sketches to be included. I even found a letter he had written to a publisher about the book, but since no book was ever created, he obviously never found a willing publisher. I determined to do it, and with the aid of self-publishing (unheard of during my father’s lifetime), created the book that I thought my father would have wanted.
My next project, a year or two later, was a similar collection of sketches but of landscapes this time. I don’t know if my father ever planned to put together such a companion book, but I had oodles of sketches to choose from so the hardest part was narrowing it down and selecting the very best from the many on hand. Both of these books were done in simple black and white, befitting the stark nature of sketches, but I have often thought about doing a full color book of his best works, and now seems to be the time to do that.

 I’ve pulled out approximately 80 works that I believe are the best representations of his art throughout his life and coupled those with short commentaries that I have gleaned from his writings. Luckily for me my father wrote his autobiography over the last 20 years of his life, a treasure trove of stories and information that I go back to again and again. He also published several articles on art processes in American Artist magazine, so I have those to draw on as well. Now it’s just a matter of formatting, showing off both the artwork and the commentary to best advantage.

What I have found interesting is the fact that, although I am creating a new book, it is not my book per se, and the creation process is very different.

Most of my books are novels, which means I get to create the characters, the story, the world, the action—I get to do it all, however I want. I work by watching a “movie” in my head and then describe what I see. By tweaking the movie, I can gently push the emotional feeling of the scene one way or another, or I can nudge the characters in a certain direction, moving them toward a satisfying conclusion. I immerse myself into it, sink down into it and struggle mightily to clearly tell the story that permeates my brain. It’s extremely personal and in an effort to tell the story in the best way possible, I will often agonize over each word.

Doing my father’s book, I do none of that. I feel as though I am using a different part of my brain, as if the pure creativity of a novel uses the right side of the brain and the more analytical, editorial job of compiling my father’s art is using the left side of the brain. It has a very different feel to it, and I find that curious. Doing my father’s book, I can hold this book at arm’s length, look at it critically and analyze it. Since this is a visual art book, there is nothing for me to visualize—my work is only to organize, format and present in the way that shows off the art in the best possible light. I am still creating in that I am presenting images in a coherent way and coupling them with the commentaries, but it’s much more of a mechanical process than an artistic one.

When I wrote the biography of my aunt, Marcia Gates, I realize now that the process was a blending of the two above. I had the facts of her life, so there was no creation going on there, but my job was to present those facts in a clear and interesting manner. My process there was to write in such a way that the facts were unaltered, neither downplayed nor puffed up, yet the description of the facts was compelling enough to carry the reader along. It was a constant balancing act between artistic style and truthful reporting.

I’d always heard, of course, about the differences between left brain and right brain activity, but had never thought about it as it applied to my writing. I found it interesting to notice how the different types of writing called on one or the other methods of creation.

That’s using the old noodle!