We just released our latest cinematic book trailer, for Grinders: Baseball’s Intrepid Infantry. We’ve had a lot of fun partnering with Market Your Industry in creating trailers for several Stoney Creek books, including Wolfe and Being Ninety, Second Lives: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers, and The Big Empty. You can see them all on our YouTube channel.
And keep watching for more. Already in the works is a trailer for Someday Belong to Us, and watch for the true-crime thriller Bound in Silence this fall. Let us know what you think.
Authors come to me with all sorts of demands. I understand, because I’m an author, too. And I grew up with a lot expectations about writing, books, and publishing, much of it built on industry myth.
I had one author say that he always wanted to write a book that was cataloged in the Library of Congress. I wish all author wishes were so easy to grant. But there’s one that more common, and increasingly more difficult to address: the hard cover with a dust jacket.
When I published my novel, The Big Empty,I wanted to bring it out in hardcover. I’d wanted to write a novel since I was eight, and I’d been working on the book on and off for 20 years. I knew what I wanted it to look like, and I was determined to follow the vision I had in my head. The problem is, a lot has changed in publishing since I was eight, starting with the fact that many people don’t want to pay $30 or more for a debut novel.
Hardcovers are expensive, especially for small presses. We can’t get the same deals from printers that, say, Penguin Random House can. We do smaller print runs, which means fewer volume discounts, if any.
And then there’s the dust jackets. They get torn in shipment — frequently. Back when I was eight, printers shrink-wrapped hardcovers in plastic to avoid this problem. But today, that process is too expensive. So as a publisher, we must order 10 percent more dust jackets than books to replace any torn ones. That, of course, adds to the average unit cost of the book.
Many publishers are moving to laminate covers — hardcovers with the images printed directly on them, rather than the traditional cloth binding. But these often look too much like textbooks for some people’s taste. Others are trying what I call fancy paperbacks — softcovers with flaps, sort of combination of hardcovers and paperbacks that say “this is special.”
The bottom line: As a small publisher, hardcovers cost Stoney Creek more than double what paperbacks do to print. Keep in mind I have to offer a 50 percent retail discount (and guarantee full refunds for returns), otherwise most bookstore won’t stock my titles.
On top of these expenses, distribution fees and shipping costs are higher with hardcovers. COVID, of course, made all this worse. The Big Empty was months late in its release because of problems that included labor shortages at the printing plant and a last-minute scramble to find the proper color cloth for the cover after the original choice was unavailable. Surprisingly, the extra dust jackets took even longer to print than the books themselves.
For most hardcovers to have any money left after these expenses for author royalties, they’re going to have to be priced well above $30 to avoid losing money on every book. But at those prices, we’ll sell fewer copies, so the author and Stoney Creek could still lose money. What’s more, the author will likely be disappointed with the sales numbers, too.
In other words, unless the author is willing to contribute to the publishing costs, a third party offers to support the book or guarantees to buy a large number of copies, hardcovers are getting tougher for indie publishers.
As an author, I certainly understand the allure of a hardcover with a shiny dust jacket. Nothing says “I’m a published author” like holding one of those babies in your hand. But as with so much else in the writing business these days, we may need to change our definition of success.
With two of our releases —Someday Belongs to Us and the just-out Second Lives: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers — we tried a compromise. We released both books in paperback simultaneously with a limited-edition hardcover. The paperbacks are competitively priced. The hardcovers are expensive — $39.95 and $49.95 respectively — but both hardcover editions have sold out their initial print runs. The print runs were small, but the hardcovers appeal to a narrow audience — the authors, their friends and family, and others who want to support them.
We also have used these signed hardcovers for giveaways, including one on Goodreads for Second Lives that wrapped up last week.
It’s an experiment in compromise, but one that has been successful so far, and one I hope we get to try again in the future. In the meantime, look for a paperback edition of The Big Empty with additional content this fall.
And let us know how you feel as readers. Do you prefer a hardcover or a paperback? How much are you willing to pay for either? Are you willing to pay more for a limited edition?
Last fall, signing books at the Texas Book Festival, I sat next to Dick Reavis, long-time writer for the San Antonio Express-News and other publications. I asked him to sign a copy of Texas Reporter, Texas Radical, a collection of his writings compiled by Michael Demson and published last year by Texas Review Press.
He wrote: “For Loren, another of our decimated trade.”
He was referring to journalism, but the more I thought about his inscription, the more it seemed to apply to writing in general, and beyond that, all creative trades.
Some may be unfamiliar with the term “writing.” These days it’s often called “content” — a vacuous term, hollow, imprecise, empty. Writing fills the soul. Content simply fills the page.
And it is content — the relegation of writing to the role of filler — that has led to the decimation to which Reavis referred. All that’s left is a reductive, dismissive label. Content has no inherent value. It is simply the lure to draw your eyeballs to a site, perhaps get them to hover there for a moment in hopes that you might — oh, rapture! — click on something. With enough clicks, maybe someone may derive some value — but that someone probably won’t be the writer, or as they’re now known, the content creator.
Many journalists friends cling to the hope that the world will always need good journalism, and writer friends say there will always be a place for good writing. That’s true. But it is a place of diminishing value.
The internet has been a great democratizer, but it has also been a source of devaluation as it strives to make all creativity free. People are insulted if on social media you link to a news story that’s behind a paywall. With Kindle Unlimited, you can read any number of books a month for $10, (soon to be $12). They may not be the books you want, but content is all about volume. Streaming music services make songwriting available for little or no cost. Neflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and their ilk vomit forth a steady stream of shows — some great, some awful, it doesn’t matter — to lure subscribers. Podcasts proliferate faster than flies at a feedlot. Everyone’s ‘casting, (me included) but few are paid.
We wallow in a smorgasbord of “content,” served up from the remnants of our decimated trade.
Some people still buy print newspapers, vinyl records, and cinema tickets, but not enough to justify the cost of producing the “content.” I still do some freelance writing, but the value of my lance has declined to the point that it might as well be free.
As Disney’s quarterly earnings show (sorry, paywall), streaming companies are in a tug-of-war between growth and profit. In the world of content, more subscribers don’t mean more money. The cost of content outpaces the revenue from growth. There’s a reason Hollywood writers are on the picket lines — the economics of content always demand they write more for less.
And publishing? At the indie level at which Stoney Creek operates, every book is a struggle to keep costs from swamping revenue, driving by the belief that the books we publish do, indeed, have value for the people who still appreciate it.
With so many refugees amidst the flotsam of the decimated trade, someone else will always make content for less. And of course, no one will make it for less than the robots. Already, social media feeds are awash with come-ons telling me I shouldn’t bother writing something like this, a chatbot or robowriter could do it for me.
“Don’t waste your time writing social media posts,” they say. They aren’t questioning the value of social media, but in a way, they are. What happens when we value human connection so little that we don’t even care if humans are attempting the connection?
I welcome robots for menial tasks — checking my spelling, transcribing notes, even suggesting prompts for stories. But the actual writing? Sorry, that’s mine. For me, being in the moment, feeling the flow of ideas, finding the words that convey meaning — that is the place of joy. That’s the reason I do everything else.
My books, newspaper columns, and magazine articles often start with a pen and notebook, and written in a comfy chair or, on nice days, a little wooded area on our property — anywhere away from email notifications, text messages, social media alerts, and self-important software updates.
It’s not because I hate technology. In fact, I love it and covered the industry for years. But I know its place. And it is not welcome between me and my words, and between my words and whatever readers haven’t been lost to the robot-generated brain candy of the internet.
The trade has indeed been decimated. The value of what we do continues to decline, but we do it anyway. Let the robots answer the email and let them respond to content generated by their mechanical ilk. Because, really, we don’t write to grow an audience, reach readers, or make lots of money. Those are nice when they happen, but writers will always write. Decimation and robots be damned.
In my book Someday Belongs to Us, I describe the close relationship between my main character, Kate, and her granddaughter, Ellie. Many readers have commented that they particularly enjoyed the way the two inter-acted and how they shared a friendship as well as a deep love for each other.
With Mother’s Day approaching, those comments came flooding back to my mind. There is a special connection between mothers and daughters that is carried down through the generations. My own rapport with my daughter and with my four granddaughters gave me the background to create that special bond between my characters.
The complexities and issues of the mother/daughter relationship have always been a popular subject for authors, especially writers of young adult books and by many of the tell-all books written by the children of celebrity mothers that have contained less than flattering accounts of their childhood.
I am the product of a link of mothers and daughters that goes back for many generations – even centuries. My own relationship with my mother was heavily influenced by my grandmother who lived only a few blocks from our house. As a little girl, I spent many afternoons at her house after school. We had an easy, relaxed kinship and I was usually standing on a chair beside her when she cooked the evening meal.
Many times, my mother would also be there and she and my grandmother would sit at the kitchen table drinking a cup of tea, catching up on all the gossip from the day before while I happily crawled under the stove just lying there, pretending to read a book while I secretly listened to their conversations about “woman stuff.” (Stoves back in the day were built with tall legs.)
I remember the two of them talking about my grandmother’s sister who they described as “breaking early.” After hearing that, every time I saw my great-aunt, I would stare at her, trying to find out what was broken. I never did see any parts that looked like they might fall off, but she did seem to have a lot of wrinkles on her face.
The three of us had a happy, relaxed bond. My grandmother was the one to spoil me and joke with me. She would let me get away with a few more things than my mother. That is normal; mothers have the responsibility of seeing that their daughters grow up to be healthy, successful women, while grandmothers can be the “fun one” and blame any failures of the child on the mother!
I maintained the closeness with my grandmother even as an adult. I cook like her, clean house like her, and love to do yard work – just like her. My daughter was very close to my mother growing up and now that my daughter has children of her own, I can see so much of my own mother in her — she cooks like my mother, cleans like my mother, and hates yard work like my mother. Family traits seem to skip a generation as they are passed down.
With that background, it was easy to write about Kate and Ellie by drawing on the personal narrative of my own life. While my book demonstrated the special bonding of the two on a glamorous cruise ship as opposed to simple kitchen conversations, the love between grandmother and granddaughter is evident. For me, Mother’s Day not only recognizes mothers, but it is also a day for remembrances of the very special grandmothers in our lives.
Margie Seaman is the author of Someday Belong to Us, published by Stoney Creek Publishing.
Meanwhile, Donald Mace Williams continues to do signings of Wolfe and Being Ninety.He had one at the Burrowing Owl Bookstore in his hometown of Canyon and another at the Square House Museum in Panhandle this past weekend. Don continues to hit the road, and he’s likely to have a busy schedule. His next book, The Nectar Dancer, will come out this fall.
Margie Seaman spoke to about 80 people at the Lake Walden Country Club in Atascocita, Texas about her debut romance novel Someday Belongs to Us.
And Robert Locander and Richard Shaw, two of the authors of The Real World of Texas Politicshave also been on the speaking circuit in the Houston area with more to come.
May will be another busy month for Stoney Creek authors. Meanwhile, here in the Word Mines, we’re getting our fall releases ready. In addition to the latest poetry collection from Donald Mace Williams, we have some other exciting projects, including Bound in Silence, a meticulously researched story of unsolved murder in a small Texas town.
For news and updates, watch this space, follow us on social media, or sign up for our newsletter — just mesage us at email@example.com and put “newletter” in the subject line to be added to our mailing list.
In mid-December, my wife and I had an unexpected discussion about puffins. She was scrolling through Netflix or Hulu, and there was a special about the sea birds, and I declared my fascination with them, even though I’ve never seen on in the wild.
She seemed surprised, and I explained it was because of a book my mother bought for me when I was seven. We were living in Cyprus, and we hadn’t brought many books with us from the States. The few she could find in English for kids my age were mostly nightmarish British fairy tales, which tended to end horribly for the children involved. (One was about a girl who finds magic dancing shoes that force her to dance herself to death. Not exactly the nice bedtime fare Mom had in mind.)
One day she came home with a new paperback — my first chapter book. I couldn’t quite read it myself, so she read it to me. And I was captivated by the puffins that featured prominently in the story. I couldn’t remember much else about the plot. As I recounted this to my wife, I couldn’t even recall the name of the book. I’d kept it for years but discarded it at some point as I got older.
I remembered it was about four kids who had an adventure with a family friend. They were supposed to be going on holiday, and they went to some bird-filled islands off the northern Scottish coast that were uninhabited by humans. Mostly I remembered it had details about how puffins nested (or burrowed), how they behaved, and how they were unafraid of humans.
I thought perhaps the book was called Puffin Island. The only other thing I remember was that it was written by a well-known British children’s author that one of my father’s British colleagues was familiar with.
I also vaguely remembered the cover — yellow with a boat. The more I described the book to my wife, the more determined I became to find it.
I searched on British YA authors and puffins but came up empty. I tried “best-known British YA authors.” Nothing. I narrowed the search to books from the late 1960s to early 1970s. Still nothing. Finally, I searched images instead of text, and there it was — The Sea of Adventure by Enid Blyton.
Looking at the cover, I saw the name of the boat on the stern. “That’s right!” I said. “The Lucky Star. And it gets smashed up somehow and one of the kids made a comment about how it wasn’t so lucky.”
My wife looked on, amused that I was spending so much time chasing down an obscure book from my childhood.
Originally written in 1948, I was able to order the 1969 edition, the same one I’d had in Cyprus. Blyton wrote more than 700 books that have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 400 million copies, making her one of the most successful children’s authors of all time. The Sea of Adventure is part of a series of eight books involving the same four kids who get caught up in various forms of intrigue. Not only is The Sea of Adventure still in print, MacMillian is coming out with a new edition later this year.
Over the holidays, I relived my childhood by re-reading the book. Sure enough, there was a lot about puffins. (My recollection of “Puffin Island” wasn’t too far off — it was the name the kids gave to one of the islands they visited.) Two of the birds — Huffin and Puffin — befriend the kids and follow them on their adventure. I had forgotten about the comedy-relief parrot, Kiki, and many other plot points.
Even as an adult, it’s an enjoyable book, and it was all the more delightful because of the memories it conjured of a special time in my childhood. As I turned the pages, those memories came flooding back — my mother and I, sitting on the couch, the Mediterranean breezes blowing in from the balcony, my mind awash in images of these strange seabirds.
I’m sure the islands of northern Scotland aren’t as a remote as they were in 1948, but the book has rekindled my desire to go and see some puffins for myself. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even find Puffin Island.
Stoney Creek’s newest title, Second Lives: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healerscomes out this week. The book describes neurologist Ralph Lilly’s struggle to recover from a brain injury, and how his recovery enabled him to help other brain injured patients. Lilly retrained in the emerging field of behavioral neurology, which focuses on behavior, memory, cognition, and emotion after brain injury. He died from COVID in 2021, and his co-author, Diane F. Kramer, and his widow, Joyce Stamp Lilly finished the book.
Why did Ralph decide to write this book?
Diane F. Kramer: I believe Ralph looked back on his “two lives” and realized what an amazing experience he’d had, personally and professionally, and the importance of giving forward the wisdom he lived.
Joyce Stamp Lilly: Ralph always believed brain injury does not get the coverage it should. In the medical profession, it does not generate good cash flow like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or cancer. He especially believed that those whose injuries may not be apparent — the “walking wounded”— are often bypassed or ignored in healthcare and in life. Since he spoke from his own experience, he tried every day to help people understand that “all roads lead to the brain,” and that every one of us knows someone who is affected by a brain issue — perhaps not trauma but something that may alter behavior in some way.
What was the biggest challenge for him?
JSL: Helping others realize that a person may have a brain injury but still look OK. The thinking often is that they’re walking and talking so they are just exaggerating for some kind of secondary gain. This was especially so for patients of his who were involved in lawsuits trying to recover damages for their injuries that were caused by another person or corporation.
If Ralph was an expert in a lawsuit, he was often in the position of explaining, when asked by the defense lawyers, how he could have had a bad brain injury and then recovered so well, while this person, this plaintiff, is so damaged that they can never work again and need to be compensated. He would patiently explain that every person, every injury is different and effects different areas of the brain, and so has different effects on the person and their behavior and their abilities. He was very successful in these explanations because he knew what he was talking about and was not afraid to take the time to explain his reasoning as well as the science.
Like many people who have something important to say, I think Ralph was challenged to uncover exactly what it was he wanted to convey. Writing is thinking. Often a writer discovers what they’re really trying to say after they begin to put words on paper. That mysterious space between mind and pen gives rise to a transformation of ideas the writer wasn’t conscious of.
What about the writing process itself? Did his brain injury pose any special challenges?
DFK: The first time I heard Ralph read an early draft of the first chapter of his “book,” he was focused on his two lives. This morphed into exploring his curiosity about the spiritual aspects of the survivor and healer’s experience by using the famous case study of Phineas Gage as a disembodied narrator. Our writer’s group politely suggested this supernatural tack wasn’t one we could relate to.
When Ralph asked me to be his co-author, he’d settled on the role of healers in the survivor’s journey, ultimately the focus for the published book. However, he was reluctant to tell it as his story and named the narrator “Mark.” I told him I would be happy to co-author, but “Mark” had to go. I suggested first-person point-of-view with him as the narrator. He agreed—whew!
Why did he feel writing about healers was important?
DFK: He knew that healers were critical to the long-term recovery of brain-injury survivors and their participation in life again. As he used to say, “discharged from the hospital just means you’re not dead.” Recovery was not an event, but a journey by the survivor and loved ones, often lifelong.
JSL: Ralph knew that many times behaviors seen in survivors cause them to have very difficult interpersonal relationships created by post-injury anger, violence, depression, or inappropriate sexual acting out. This constellation of behavior often lands them in legal trouble.
If a person with difficult, dangerous, or criminal behaviors has a healer, they are more likely to follow up with therapies, vocational interventions, behavior or cognitive therapies, or residential treatment that can help them maintain a pathway that is free of criminal legal intervention. Ralph had many patients whose behaviors led them to trouble, some are in jail currently, but many, many survivors who have healers standing by them avoid that. More than 60% of the U.S. prison population has had some type of brain injury. That is a telling statistic.
Collaborations can be difficult. How did it work among the three of you?
DFK: It was a collaboration by trial and error and re-invention! Ralph and I were co-authors initially. From the outset, we agreed that he would write the first draft relying on his medical records and the survivor’s or healer’s written accounts. I also interviewed them by phone and incorporated any new information into the draft. As the second pair of eyes, I was best positioned to clean up Ralph’s first attempt and clarify what the reader may have difficulty with. I also offered suggestions relating to creative non-fiction, such as establishing scene, use of dialogue, etc.
When the time came to discuss re-writes of each chapter, Ralph and I tried several strategies before settling on what worked best for us. For example, Ralph’s raspy voice was too difficult to understand on the phone for anything other than short check-ins. Email exchanges alone weren’t fruitful, nor much fun for either of us. He couldn’t find his way to drive to my house, so instead of alternating houses, I went to his. We sat across from each other at his dining table, viewing each chapter line by line, discussing, agreeing, sometimes arguing! His compromised memory was an occasional issue, but all was working well, until it wasn’t.
Ten months and seven chapters into working together, Ralph wanted to change course from our initial plan. We were in profound disagreement over how to proceed. Multiple conversations weren’t producing any progress. Then I heard him ask, “How was it we wrote those first seven chapters?” I realized then that his memory and cognition had been declining. At that point I called Joyce.
So Joyce played an increasingly important role?
JSL: I stayed to the side for the most part until a few of months before Ralph got Covid in July 2021. For the years he and Diane worked together on this book, I initially drove him several times to Diane’s home, then that changed and she came to the ranch. I was usually there for those visits when Diane would come to the house. But I did not really take part in their meetings, except for once when I heard her frustration in communicating with Ralph in early 2021. I empathized with her difficulties and after that I hung around more and chimed in when she would come visit. I think she appreciated that.
How did you keep the project going after Ralph’s passing?
JSL: After Ralph died, I drafted my portions of the book and edited some portions regarding some of the timelines and people involved in our lives. I wrote about being a healer for Ralph and described his final days. Diane and I worked well together on refining and editing (and more editing) until we had a final book.
DFK: Joyce and I began anew. I still had the list of all the survivors and healers, medical records, and a general outline that Ralph and I had compiled. This time, I had to write the first draft of the remaining chapters. When working with Ralph, I had been most worried about losing his unique voice. Joyce’s help was immeasurable. Despite her grief, she pored over Ralph’s records, emails, even birthday and anniversary cards he’d given her—all to find words that were Ralph’s. She wrote her own account of being Ralph’s healer during their life together and his eventual death.
Joyce and I fell into a collaborative rhythm with phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings. She scoured her memory for details about timeline, persons involved, etc. She gathered information from healers and survivors. We exchanged rewrites. We discussed. We came to agreement on a full draft manuscript and passed it along to a handful of readers for feedback. We incorporated changes. And we re-wrote. Finally, through Joyce’s efforts we landed a publishing contract, and the book was on its way.
What lessons can brain-injured people and their healers learn from the book?
DFK: That the experiences of brain-injured people and their healers are similar but never the same. I hope they take to heart seeing how others have made this journey successfully. And how important it is to find an experienced and compassionate neurologist and other health care practitioners and therapists.
JSL: All of these healers surround their loved one with love. They spent the time and used endless empathy and patience, which is necessary for any recovery. It is a long, long process. It is a long journey on the road to the second life, a journey that never ends but is always rewarding.
What does the fact that so many people were willing to share their stories in the book tell us about Ralph and what he accomplished?
JSL: Ralph literally helped thousands of people — survivors, healers, families — from the time he first came to Butler in 1982 until his death in 2021. He listened, he worked hard to hear the families, the healers, and of course the survivors. More than once, one of his patients told him that if he had not been there for them, they would be dead or in jail. The healers and families know this, and they all were so willing and so thrilled to be included in this work. They all loved Ralph, without exception.
DFK: I think they wanted to help others understand brain injury by way of sharing their personal story; and that only an exceptional neurologist like Ralph can help survivors participate in life again. Their gratitude for Ralph’s caring approach was unbounded.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
DFK: I hope they’re enlightened by the survivors’ and healers’ experiences and inspired by their love and courage.
JSL: I hope that people see that it really matters who treats the survivors, and that those treaters listen to the healer, to the family, about issues, problems, and behaviors that they find difficult.
I hope that people realize that a person may have a serious injury and look just fine, but often they are not.
I hope that people realize that if someone has had a brain injury, they need time, understanding, and an appreciation for the severe difficulties, the endless questioning, confusion, and the pit of despair that often accompanies waking up after your brain has been impacted by trauma or some kind of injury.
I hope people realize that “all roads lead to the brain.”