Coming in 2017: Writing Goals

zhu3These are my Author/Artist goals and plan for 2017. I’m a little unsure, where to start and what to prioritize but I am very excited to be working…and I plan to both submit my work to traditional publishers and self-publish. I am most excited about writing and illustrating my own stories, however I am interested in illustrating others stories as a means to support myself…or rather my writing and drawing habit.

– [ ] Set Up Studio
– [ ] Keep Regular Hours

– [ ] Blue Bee Dummy
– [ ] Perfect Portfolio
– [ ] Make Postcards
– [ ] Send Postcards to Publishers

– [ ] Finish Prodigal Son (Party with Zhu)
– [ ] Illustrations
– [ ] Family Guide
– [ ] Formatting
– [ ] Publish

– [ ] Release second Edition of Keep Watch Sam (Hopefully with Create Space)

– [ ] Easter Story
– [ ] Edit
– [ ] Create Dummy
– [ ] Submit to publishers
– [ ] Complete
– [ ] Publish

– [ ] Christmas Story
– [ ] Rough Draft
– [ ] Create Dummy
– [ ] Submit to Publishers
– [ ] Complete
– [ ] Publish

On Love…

So our February read for my book group was “Lilac Days.” With Lincoln so sick he could barely sit up for a whole week–I read it in a week. It’s not my usual favorite–a true story. But I loved it. It was a love story that spanned over fifty years and over both world wars the historical context made it very interesting.

And, being Valentines Day last week, it had me thinking a lot about love. This story was about a man and woman who loved each other for over fifty years, but were never able to be together. In the end it came down to class and station in life. She was a lower middle class American divorcee when they first met and he was a wealthy British-American bachelor Aristocrat. Then she got married again while she was mad at him, and then he got married to a proper-choice-wife. Then her husband died. They had a string of physical affairs with one another but mostly their affair was over pen and paper.

In some ways it was a beautiful story. In some ways, tragically sad. In some ways he regretted not giving up everything to be with her, but he always felt very bound by duty.

But my cynical self says, of course they were able to stay in love over fifty years–they never had to live together! I would be head over heels madly in love with T.D.H. if we were only able to be together for short romantic stretches. I mean he is Tall Dark and Handsome after all.

But it is in living together and really loving (and sometimes hating) one another that our love is real. Literally clean up our kids shit, laughing, crying, coughing, cooking, cleaning, eating together–exposes our love for what it is, real.

Do we always feel like it? No. Do we have real issues? Yes. May there be times we need breaks from one another, we need counseling, we feel like giving up? Yes. But we choose to stay together. We choose to love one another. We choose to continue to romance one another–to try to steal away for a date or a trip or at least time between the sheets after the kid is in bed and before I’m asleep. This is love, my love.


Self-Publishing a Children’s Book: 9 Things I Know Now

IMG_0496Have you seen my children’s book Keep Watch Sam? Sign up for my mailing list and I will send you a free e-book!

Self-publishing or indie publishing is growing very fast. It is now easier and cheaper to self-publish than ever before. This is true for every genre but children’s picture books are a little different.

First the digital market is growing slower for picture books, than other genres. People still want to hold their kids on their laps and read them a book. Second, while Print on Demand services (POD) now makes self-publishing print copies affordable for the average person (you only pay for what you buy or sell), quality color printing is more expensive than black and white paper backs, therefore your POD book must usually be priced higher than the large Publishing house equivalents.

Over the last few months I have learned so much about self-publishing, marketing, growing “your platform”, and so on. Unfortunately I learned most of what I have learned after I hit the “publish” button and published through, so I did things a little backwards. Knowing what I know now this is what I wish I would have done and this is what I suggest you do if you want to create a children’s book.

1. Write the Story, a 32 page book.

The classic children’s book is 32 pages long. If you want a shorter length like I did there needs to not only be a good reason but you might also consider a parent/teacher’s companion to fill in the 32 pages. If you want a longer book, just do some editing and make it 32 pages. Trust me. Dr. Seuss wrote longer books but he was Dr. Seuss you are not. Books that do not fit the standard are more expensive and a bigger hassle to reproduce.

2. Draw the illustrations (or higher someone to draw them)

Draw 32 portrait formatted pictures or 16 two page spread landscape format (or a combination of the two that equal 32). Landscape books are rare and expensive to reproduce, don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

3. Research Book Marketing and Building Your Platform. 

Unlike me, do not wait until you have the finished project. There is something called “launching your book” and you have to build up to that launch, so learn about it now. Get on Tim Grahl’s email list, and read as much as possible about what he puts out. Also read as many of his recommended reading on his Best Book Marketing Books list. Don’t be in a hurry to publish, you not only want to publish a high quality book. You also want to publish it in such a way that it will sell, so that at the very least you can afford to make more books.

4. Have Your Book Edited. Have the Illustrations reviewed by an Artist.

Most places you will read that you must have your book professionally edited and your book cover professionally designed. I agree and I disagree. I did not higher anyone to help me complete and fine tune my book. I did however ask people with a level of professional perfection to review, edit, and critique it. This is very important.

I rewrote the story three or four times and had a few artist friends give me feedback. They also challenged me to bring my drawings to a higher level of professionalism. When I thought I was done. I again asked my artist friend to review the story and the drawings. She pointed out where I was getting lazy or was in a rush and I went back to the drawing board. The image that I ended up using on the cover was one that I had rushed over and had to redo–after I thought I was done. I am so glad I did.

Then I had a group of moms who care about teaching their kids bible stories read the electronic version of the book to their kids and give me feedback. This was great. Without them, I wouldn’t have had dialog say “Keep Watch, Sam!” And I might not have included the questions at the end, even though I wanted a didactic component.

Finally I had two different people that I know are sticklers for spelling and grammatical editing review my draft. The one who apologized for being a grammar nazi was exactly what I needed!

5. Publish Electronically. 

But people want hardcopies! You want hardcopies, I want hardcopies! Yes. If you are dying as I was to see it in print, order yourself a few copies to be printed at FedEx Office or Office Max. If you want them to look more professional for a gift you can use a sight like, but don’t rush to release them for sale.

You have so much to do still. You want to get at least 25 reviewers on Amazon the day you release your book (it would be best if you got them the day you release your e-book actually). You want to plan a launch party (virtual or live), and, much much more.

And in my case I should have waited because once I published it I sent an e-copy to a friend of mine “in the industry,” he runs a small publishing company that publishes most of the material that Vineyard authors produce (Ampelon Publishing). While he had been unsure about the proposal I sent him before I completed the project. He really liked the “final product.” I now have the opportunity to partner with him and release a second edition. I will pay for the print run (which I would not have access to without him), but he will handle major distribution.

Printing with Blurb did not ruin this opportunity, but it would have been better marketing to build up to the print copy rather than have two editions running around. Also, while you might not have the connection that I did, if you want to try to get an agent and a traditional publisher an e-version will not deter them while a print-copy will.

6. Give Your Book Away.

This might seem counter intuitive but building buzz and building your email mailing list seems to be the most important part of becoming an successful author. Giving away your e-copy is a great way to do that.

7. Have Your Book Printed.

Once you have promoted your book, given it away, and created a buzz that sounds like, “When will the print copy be released?” Then have it printed. did a great job for me. It is a beautiful little book. I don’t like the price. If you want to sell more copies you might do a print test with CreateSpace though I have read mixed reviews on quality for color printing and they don’t do hard-cover.   

8. Make Your Next Book! 

Make your next book because its fun and you love it. And, make your next book because authors with more than one book, sell more books.

9. Market Your Book

Do Readings, Signings, Speaking Engagements, Blog, Build Your Email List and Stay-in Touch, Make Videos, and Much more.







Kids get hurt. All. The. Time. Most of the time its no big deal, sometimes it is more but each time as caregivers we have an opportunity to teach something.

My initial reaction to a bumped head or a skinned knee was to kiss it. And kissing it to make it better is a kind and compassionate response, but I was with a friend of mine who is a nanny and I noticed when her little one got hurt her response was “I hurt–Pray!”

IMG_3192My friend very genuinely asked Jesus to send the pain away, and the little girl would get up and run off. I like this because it not only shows compassion and concern like the kissing, but it also shows that Jesus cares.

Once I prayed for Lincoln a few times, he started demanding “I hurt—Pray!” Then he would say, “no hurt.” I didn’t teach him to say that and I’m sure there is a placebo affect like when we kiss an “ouwie” but it also teaches an expectation that prayer will change things—an expectation for healing.



sleepingsamThe other day a neighbor and I had a playdate with our kids. Her daughter spotted coloring paper right away and pretty soon she was creating a book.

That was how I was as a child. I had a piece of paper and pencil with me at all times. I drew at home, I drew at school, I drew where ever my parents brought me.

In high school I was an art room kid. We were sometimes lumped together with other “freaks.” Charcoal, marker, or ink smudges decorated our hands at all times. My art room crush even carried an old fashion pencil behind his ear.

I honored my parents wish that I go to college (not art school). I painted in college and I even tried to learn to throw (pottery on a wheel), but I learned that just because you can draw and paint does’t mean you have any gift in regards to pottery.

And, I learned that school (outside of the art studio) could actually be great too. I fell in love with theology.

Pursuing theology brought me further away from my artist identity. Sure I still played guitar some, dressed creative, and every once in a while picked up a pencil or paint brush. But what did art have to do with theology?

In Michael Angelo’s day the artist was considered close to God by his very creative nature, but thanks to the iconoclasts of the Reformation, American Christianity is fairly void of art. But its coming back, at least for me. For Catholics it was never lost

Last May I started working on a children’s picture book called, “Keep Watch Sam.” This has been an amazing adventure of discovering how my various gifts, talents, and interests can be brought together. Its some of the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done.

The image shown here is one of the ones I am most happy about the outcome. Both are done with Prismacolor illustrator markers.

If you are interested in seeing the final product, I am offering a free digital copy of Keep Watch Sam if you subscribe to my newsletter.