Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Long, Strange, Wicked Good Trip....

I share the relief of Chicago Cubs fans. No, not because after more than a century their goat-cursed baseball team finally won the World Series. But rather because after telling people over and over during the last few years, "I'm writing my first children's book," I can finally finish that sentence with, "and here's where you can buy it."

I refuse to look back over my emails, documents and copy shop paperwork to see how long ago I started working on this book. Suffice it to say, it's been a wicked long time since I began work on "A Wicked Good Trip!"

I had a draft of a rhyming alphabet book that involved a generic subway system, inspired by my son, Owen, who has loved Boston's subways since he was in kindergarten -- 9 years ago. But once my wife's brother-in-law asked me if I wanted to produce a book about Boston's underground transit system, for his company, Sidetrack Products, I scrapped that idea and got to work on a new concept.

Fairly quickly I arrived at the idea that you'll see in "A Wicked Good Trip!" The book is about a group of elementary school students on a field trip, riding Boston's Green Line subway through the city. The kids learn about the trains and stations, and go above ground to visit landmarks including Faneuil Hall, the Boston Common, Fenway Park and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Once I had the basic story down, I began working with an artist who I knew casually through a friend of my wife's. We met several times to discuss my story and her approach, but after a while we came to a mutual realization that she wasn't right for the book (she had a hard time drawing kids' faces, which is a crucial element of the book). She suggested I post a job on two art college web sites, which I did. I then reviewed a handful of portfolios and found the right person, Martina.

I was very taken by the bold colors she uses in her illustrations. I also liked the fact that she had done art for another children's book, albeit one that never got published. She longed to work on picture books, and I had the basic story for one about riding Boston's Green Line subway, so we set to work.

Honestly, I don't remember all of the steps we took early on, but we had to meet on occasion and email frequently to hash out some wording and ideas for how each page should be illustrated. I had ideas and passed them along, knowing full well that she would have better ideas most of the time. Because my book would be part of the Sidetrack Products line of MBTA-themed toys and apparel, during each stage of the process I needed to meet with the licensing agent for the MBTA, which runs Boston's subway system.

The agent, a really nice and interesting guy named Steven, had ideas about the book, and edits both for content as well as grammar.

The entire process took longer than I thought or hoped it would. Sometimes Martina held things up because she has a full-time job and couldn't get to the illustrations as quickly as I'd like, or she was in Europe for a few weeks during the summer. Other times Steven was the hold-up, as he had to put reviewing the latest draft of the book on the back burner because he has at least one full-time job and is working on a book of his own. Most often, though, I was the reason things got gummed up. I would work on other writing projects -- this blog, my other blog (The Backside of America; check it out!), my road trip memoir -- or was too stressed out with the job of raising two kids or simply forgot about the book, hard as that may be to believe.

There were plenty of times when I was sure the book was done, or nearly so, only to learn that the MBTA wanted some little thing changed, or I had made an editing error or Martina had forgotten or misunderstood some suggestion I had made about an illustration. Once Martina and I had a decent working draft, I printed copies and mailed them to two publishers I had targeted, once because it was a new company starting out in Massachusetts, the other because several years ago the company published a book about riding an MBTA bus.

Both publishers rejected the book. I realized that the best idea was to self-publish "A Wicked Good Trip!" and hope that if the book did well perhaps a traditional publisher might then be interested.

Through Steven, the MBTA's licensing agent, I learned of a printing company that works quite a bit with self-publishing authors. King Printing is based in Lowell, Mass., and they have been wonderful to work with. Helpful at every step, for sure. Once I was sure the book was ready, I had a proof copy made. I expected to give it a once-over and then give them the thumbs-up to publish.

But no. I had to reject it because I had neglected to include a blank page in a crucial spot, and hadn't noticed that some of the kids' faces looked green or gray when they should have been brown or black. So Martina had to go back to her computer and fix that stuff and then I had to review that draft with a microscope to make sure nothing was missing or looked weird.

But persistence has paid off...although there was one last snag. I ordered 500 copies from King Printing and eagerly awaited their delivery. Ten days ago, 492 copies were placed on my porch in small, but heavy, boxes (somehow the print job came up 8 books short; I wasn't charged for them). But I noticed that the books didn't have an ISBN barcode on them. I had discussed buying an ISBN -- the International Standard Book Number that you need in order to sell books to retailers and libraries -- with the printing company early on, and assumed that discussion would follow the print job. But somehow, it didn't.

So after ordering an ISBN and attendant barcodes online, I had to visit Staples to get them printed, and then I slapped them on my books. This week Sidetrack Products has started placing the book with local retailers. Additionally, the book is available through the company's web site.

So that's the long, strange tale of "A Wicked Good Trip!"