Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dealing with unethical Cactus Moon Publishing


About five years ago, a small press published my book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  I was on cloud nine.  Nothing could go wrong.  But, well...things did go wrong, and therefore I feel the need to inform my readers. 

For me, the publishing process was daunting, frustrating at times, but overall thrilling.  I even got to audition illustrators for my book.  The best part was knowing my story would have the potential to entertain and educate kids.  Having a book published was a dream come true.  But now it's a bit of a nightmare.  

The publisher stated upfront that she would only do a few things for promotion.  She said she would get an ISBN number, sell it on Amazon, and write a press release.  That's it.  The author is supposed to do everything else:  design and pay for bookmarks, attend book fairs, market on social media (Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram), get newspapers to write an article, persuade libraries to carry the book, arrange book signings and more.  I knew this from the get-go, and was up to the task.  

And even though I knew the publisher would do very little promoting, I wished she would have been more supportive when I informed her of the write-up in a literary magazine, the many positive reviews, and my television appearance and participation in a prestigious book fair.  I was hoping she might pay a small portion of my marketing expenses, or at the very least, promote my book on the company's website.  None of this happened for me. 

In fact, the opposite happened.

My publisher got angry at me for not selling all of the books the organizers had ordered for the Kentucky Book Festival.  She tried to coerce me into paying for the returned books and told me my contract stated that I was responsible for the unsold books.  Actually, it was not in the contract.  And I refused to be intimidated and comply.  

So, a punishment was dealt out to me:  she removed my books from the publishing company's online library and stopped carrying them on Amazon.

Wow.  How can someone be that mean, that childish?  Don't you think she could have found a way to work with me to promote and sell the extra copies?  No, she had to get even.  Revengeful.  

So, you might ask, what can I do now?  Lots.  I can edit my Amazon profile to direct people to my website where they can order a book.  Since I have a pdf of the story, I can upload it to Amazon and print copies.  What else can I do?   I can leave Google reviews.  I can report the company to Editors and Predators and to Writer Beware.  I can warn writers on Facebook and Absolute Write.  I shed light about the company's practices on LinkedIn. 

Don't get me wrong.  I was ecstatic to have a book published.  I only wished the publisher could have been more professional and honest.    

To sum up, when a publisher fails to be supportive, the author loses.  Actually, the publisher and the author lose.  No, the public loses, too, because a children's book has been removed from places where it can be printed and bought.   

I don't know how often a publisher gets vindictive.  But I want to bring this issue to light.  I want to warn others.  If ever you find yourself interested in working with a small press, here's what you need to know:  Research the publisher.  Read what others have to say about them before signing the contract.  Scrutinize the contract and be sure you will not be responsible for books that aren't sold.  Lastly, be sure that the publisher wants to help promote your book.  That she wants to make it successful.   And above all, that she wants to put your book in the hands of a child.   

✌ and 

Friday, April 15, 2022

                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Brooke Cagle


I'll be honest. Being part of a critique group has never been my cup of tea.  I prefer to get critiques from my beta reader, my husband.  He cheers me on and he gives me great advice—I don't need others to weigh in on my work.  However, about five years ago, I got curious about a writing group that met at a library close to my home.    

When I arrived for the meeting, I discovered aspiring picture book writers eager to get published.  They were passionate about the stories they had written, and because they seemed professional, I made a commitment to join them.  It felt good connecting with local writers, helping them on their stories, and getting feedback on my own manuscripts.  We met one day a month to discuss our work and to give constructive critiques.  But before long, the group fell apart as people's schedules got complicated.  I hated seeing this group dissolve.  From what I observed, many members got a lot out of the sessions.   

Since then, several years passed and I never gave any thought to joining another group.  And then I meet a person through Mindy Alyse Weiss' Picture Book Party New Draft Challenge and Critique Train, an online event where writers were paired with critique partners.  By luck, this person invited me to join a critique group called Friday Minds. 

Friday Minds meets twice a month on Friday afternoons via Zoom.  I'm the only writer on the east coast.  Four of the others live in California and another gal lives in western Canada.  Friday Minds is composed of teachers, poets, moms, and of course, picture book writers. 

Before we dive into the manuscripts, we chat about what's going on in our personal lives, what we may have learned through workshops or webinars, writing events we may have participated in or hope to participate in, and what picture books we have read and loved.  Then, we get down to business and one person reads a manuscript aloud.  Next, we all give positive comments on the piece.  Afterward, the members take turns pointing out the parts that are unclear or might need editing.     

Friday Minds is a good fit for me. I was unsure at first, but the more I got to know everyone, the more I wanted to be part of this group.  Everyone is talented, fun to hang out with, and offers great advice and insight.  Now, I'm aware that other writers may feel differently about joining a critique group.  Some writers simply like to work alone.  Hey, I did that for years.  However, if you're curious (or tired of rejections) sit in on a meeting and consider these questions:     

  • Does the group give positive feedback, discuss what works, and address the strengths? 
  • Do they give constructive criticism on the areas that need improvement?
  • Do they give detailed comments on plot, character, word choice, pacing and page-turns? 
  • How do the members handle criticism?  
  • Is there chemistry and respect among members?

I'm thrilled to be part of this critique group.  We brainstorm and offer new ideas to improve each other's stories.  We help each other navigate the waters of publication.   We commiserate over rejection and rejoice in our successes.  

Being a writer is a hard, lonely profession.  Now, my supporters have grown.  I have five more people who want to hear my stories.  I never thought I'd stick with a critique group, but Friday Minds encourages me.  They give me confidence in my writing.  They want to see me succeed.  Like my husband, Friday Minds is always there to cheer me on.          

✌ and 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022


                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo by Marco Testi


One would think that after submitting to agents for over four years, I would hear some good news.  It shouldn't take this long.  Or be this hard.  

I make every effort to match an agent's needs.  And it's not easy to nail.  It would almost be better to learn how to read minds.   

Luckily, I can peek into an agent's mind by doing google searches.  Some agents express their tastes in interviews, on their agency's website, or on The Manuscript Wish List.  They give clues by spelling out what they are looking for in a manuscript:  the topics, character, settings, and genre.  While that information is helpful, it is in truth somewhat vague.  

Say for instance an agent is looking for a humorous character-driven story about a cat and you send her a hilarious piece starring a funny feline.  That doesn't necessarily mean you're a shoo-in and she's going to offer representation.  The agent must fall in love with the story and feel that she can sell it.  

Let me tell you how I know this.  I queried an agent who was looking for a book that could be used in the classroom for beginning discussion for social-emotional learning.  I had just the manuscript:  a narrative about a child who is kind to a person living on the streets.  Handled delicately, this book has the potential to bring sensitivity to homelessness.  However, the agent rejected it saying, she wasn't enthusiastic in her experience to sell it.  

There are days when I feel I will never crack the code, that I will continue to read I'm not the right agent for this work.  Recently, I felt defeated having received two rejections in one day.  Ouch!

I had the opportunity to ask an agent why she rejected a manuscript.  She said, "That's not your fault!  We can only guess what other readers will connect with on that deep level.  Same is true when I send books to publishers."  I interpret her comment to mean the manuscript is good and she likes it, but she's not sure if the publisher would feel it's a good fit for their readers.  So, it's a balancing act.  You've written something you love and an agent is trying to figure out if that book will sell.   

In the past few years, I've sent out (in my opinion) some damn good manuscripts.  And I'm still looking for an agent who will love them as much as I do.  At times, I'm optimistic even after receiving rejections.  Some of them say I like the concept or your manuscript has much to offer.  

There will always be rejections.  But I try hard to focus on the positive:  one agent tells me my manuscript is nearly there while another has requested my picture book.  I believe in my work and I visualize success.  I only have to be patient and persevere.  But wouldn't you agree that after four years, it's time to hear good news?      

 ✌ and  


















Tuesday, February 15, 2022

<img src=”rejection.png” alt=”how to handle rejection”>
                                                                                                                                                      Photo:  Ben White


I can probably tell you how many times my hopes of finding an agent have been dashed.  I keep very good records of my submissions.  And of my rejections. 

I try my best to limit rejection by visiting the Manuscript Wish List. On this website, I can match my work to the kind of manuscripts agents are craving.  Even still, that doesn't guarantee the agent will say yes.  Crazy, huh?   

A rejection is usually polite and may read as follows (pick one):
  • This is not a good fit for my list
  • I am not connecting with the voice
  • I'm not the right agent for this project
  • I have no vision where to pitch this
  • I can't see where this would sit in the market
  • It's not in my wheelhouse
How do you interpret any of this when you've sent the agent (in your opinion) exactly what she hopes to find?  Here's what I discovered after years of submitting:  a rejection indicates that your story just didn't resonate with the agent.  It means she didn't fall in love with it or feel confident enough to sell it to a publisher.  

So, what do you do when you've received nothing but rejections and you've exhausted your list of agents?  It may be time to put your manuscript aside for a while. 

In the meantime, work on other writing projects.  Learn about publishing from BookEnds Literary Agency.  Read recently published picture books—these could even spark new ideas for you!  

When the time feels right, dust off the story that has been put on hold.  Read it over and revise.  Have your first reader, critique partners, or a consultant take a look.  Revise the piece again based on the critiques and then target the agents who are wanting something similar to what you've written.  

That's what happened with my book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.

After 50 rejections, I shelved Maggie and worked on other pieces.  But five years later, there was an opportunity to have a manuscript critique by a highly respected editorial consultant.  I revised Maggie because I hadn't seen it in years and then submitted it for a professional critique.  When I received the consultant's notes, I revised the story again and sent it out again to five more agents.  

One of them sent me a message:  I like your book! 

It's difficult to stay positive when you receive rejections.  But remember that the whole submitting process is subjective.  If you believe in every aspect of it of your story—the main character, the plot, the voice, and the takeaway message—then don't give up.  Assume and persist.  Imagine the wish fulfilled.  All things are possible.  Don't think about what could go wrong.  Think about what could go right.  It only takes one agent to say yes.

✌ and 

When the world says, "Give up," hope whispers, "Try it one more time." 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

                                                                                                                                  Courtesy: Gabrielle Henderson


How do you feel when someone gives you writing advice?  Are you open to all of the suggestions and revise your entire manuscript?  Do you accept a few ideas and edit those parts?  Or do you shun all ideas that aren't your own? 

I usually resist making changes to my work.  (Some might call this being stubborn.)  But if my first reader or critique partners feel something is not working, I will consider the advice.  I'll look at the section in question, rewrite it, and weigh both versions.  There's a chance the revision could work.  However, if there's a portion of my story I deeply love and others have issues with, it's unlikely that part will be rewritten.  When the original version represents my vision, change is not going to happen. 

Usually, I know in advance when I'll get advice.  I either hand my work to my first reader or schedule a critique with my writing group.  Knowing ahead of time prepares me for the criticism.  But one time, a piece of advice came my way out of the blue.  Recently, my physical therapist asked about one of my manuscripts and I gave him the gist of it.  Andrew, who is also a writer, said, "Let me play devil's advocate."  

I braced myself.  He was going to challenge me.  And I wasn't prepared.  

"While this subject matter is important, you still have to handle it sensitively.  Otherwise, parents may not want to read it to their kids.  It has the potential to be scary and send an unsafe message."  

It was good advice.  I never thought about it that way and I agreed with his analysis.  What surprised me was how blind I had been to this part of the story, taking for granted that others would perceive the climax as innocuous as I did.  This turning point could be perceived as a dangerous.    

After speaking with Andrew, I examined the story again. The problem was, this part was critical to the plot.  It could not be cut.  When I looked at the scene from his perspective however, I could see how it might make parents feel uneasy—a child interacts with a homeless person.  I had to figure out how to retain this part of the story.  Realizing the scene needed to be handled more delicately, I made a slight adjustment by reinforcing the fact that the child was safe and with her mother.     

Andrew expressed interest in another story I was writing.  When I told him my picture book was an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning usually political or moral, he thought children wouldn't understand.  Naturally, I got a little defensive.  And as we chatted, I began to have some doubts about this piece.  I wondered if it would be suitable as a children's book.  

But as we talked about the messages of children's books, in particular those written by Dr. Seuss, my fears quickly evaporated.  Seuss had intertwined messages flawlessly in his stories.  Though I could never compare my work to Seuss', my book subtly conveys a powerful message.  Basically, the plot of the story embraces truthfulness and bravery, and on a deeper level, it tackles politics, religion, and antisemitism.  Heavy topics.   

I remembered what author and Medium contributing writer Brooke Meredith  had to say about difficult subjects:  "We need stories that make us uncomfortable because reading stories about topics with which you are unfamiliar, which unsettle or even upset, which challenge your beliefs or make you think, can be the most important things you read." 

Meredith's words restored my confidence and faith in my story.   

On the whole, I love hearing what other people have to say about my work.  It helps me think about it differently, to step into their shoes, and understand what it is they may be interpreting.  It helps me to work out problems with my manuscripts.  I may not incorporate all or even some of the suggestions from others, but I'll consider new ideas and be open to sound advice.   

✌ and 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

                                                                                                                                                Photo by: Monica Melton

Guest Post by: Geary Smith

Mentoring 101: 

The Importance of Having a Mentor for Writing Success

     “The mediocre mentor tells.

The good mentor explains. 

      The superior mentor demonstrates.

The greatest mentors inspire!”

–Lucia Ballas Traynor


As I think about this quote, I think of my mentor. She explained and demonstrated to help me to become a better writer. She inspired me to become a successful writer.

I was truly at a time in my writing career when I despondent and unsure about my skills and abilities due to receiving so many rejection letters from editors. 

However, when I was about to give up on my dreams of being a writer, serendipitously, my mentor entered into my life and things began to change.

Why is having a mentor so very important for your writing success? 

I believe there are a myriad of qualities to look for in having a mentor for your writing, but here are a few to examine and ponder. 

First, a mentor must be willing to squeeze your project into her busy schedule.  It takes time for a mentor to read, edit and comment on your writing projects.

Secondly, a mentor will give honest feedback and comments on your writing.  Criticism can be tough to hear, but I was never offended by my mentor’s suggestions, red marks, and corrections, because I knew she was trying to help me become a better writer. 

Finally, a mentor will motivate you to keep writing. They believe in you even when you may not believe in yourself.

In conclusion, I am truly fortunate and blessed to find a mentor that came into my life and helped me become a successful writer.  In fact, we still stay in touch. Today, I smile and have a sense of purpose, joy and fulfillment about my writing career, seeing my work being published and actually getting paid for something I love to do. 

I want to leave you with a thought to never give up on your dreams of being a writer.  You just have to find the right mentor that will help guide, lead and inspire you in the right direction.

Geary Smith has been writing for children and young adults for over 35 years. His work has been published in Highlights for Children, Child Life, McGraw-Hill, ProQuest, Kids Imagination Train and many other publications. He has won the Pewter Plate Award by Highlights for Children. Geary Smith is the current Mayor of the city of Mexia, Texas and a member of the Executive Board of the Heart of Texas Council of Governments.  Geary Smith has a B.S. in Psychology from Morehouse College and M.Ed. from Stephen F. Austin University.

Monday, November 15, 2021

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In the past five years, I've queried a lot of agents.  That boils down to a lot of waiting.  It can take up to 12 weeks to hear back.  That's a long time, but it's part of the submission process.  Writers have to be patient.  And we know this, but the problem ends up being some agents never respond.  You have to submit and see if the agent will reply.  

For instance, several months ago, I've queried someone for the first time.  I received an automatic email confirmation saying she received my submission.  But it's been 28 weeks and I've yet to hear back.  Even after I sent a polite follow-up. 

Most agents use the Query Manager form for submissions and writers will receive a decision within two months.  But some agents avoid answering these queries.  This puzzles me.  Why would an agent set up a Query Manager account and ignore the submissions?  Like this one:

This is sad and disappointing.  I follow many agents on Twitter and find that they tweet multiple times a day.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But come on.  If they have time to tweet, wouldn't they have time to respond to a few queries? 

Like most writers, I put a lot of thought, time, and research into selecting an agent.  I compose a professional query and submit a manuscript that might be a good match for their manuscript wish list.  At the very least, I expect some kind of a reply.  

But there are a few agents don't feel the need to inform a writer of their decision.  What's that all about?  How hard can it be?   Are they too arrogant to reply?  Overworked?  Are they disorganized or simply don't care?  It seems like some have forgotten that at the end of a query is a diligent, hard-working writer. 

My writer friends say don't take it personally (I don't) and it happens because they're swamped (yeah, I'll remember that when I see agents tweeting what they're deciding to have for dinner or posting pictures of their pets.)

I'm over sending polished manuscripts and filling out detailed query forms only not to hear back.  So, when I encounter agents who keep me waiting and never respond, I cross them off of my list.  They are not the agents for me.  

Now you may think this situation, this not hearing back sounds discouraging, but in truth, it can be avoidable.  

Here's my plan:  I can keep good records of the agents who have replied to my queries versus the ones who haven't.  I can go to Query Tracker to learn what other writers have said about the response time from agents.  I can check in with other writers to find out what their experience has been in submitting to a specific agent. It's up to me to pinpoint the ones who are trustworthy, the ones who are professional, the ones who are compassionate.  There will always be agents who will not respond.  But I can choose agents who recognize writers are earnest and are waiting to hear back.       

✌ and