August 5 (P Minus 27): It’s time to kick these diaries into gear!

I made an important decision a couple of days ago to publish Oscar’s Gift as both a print book (via Amazon’s CreateSpace) and an ebook, so I’ve been happily busy formatting the text for the print version and creating a new cover:

Oscar's Gift Book Cover

The story takes place in 1904-1905, and the photograph on the cover of the boy plowing (a public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons) is circa 1900, from Manitoba, Canada, directly north of South Dakota.  One of my goals with this book is to take historical fiction to the next level for young readers by including original photographs of the time period and explanatory notes that, while offering further information and resources, can be readily skipped by those readers who choose to do so.

Fiction for Young Historians. I like that title for a series.

I should probably give some background into this project before going much further.

A few years ago, while doing some research for family diaries that I am (ever so slowly) transcribing, I ran across a reference to Oscar Micheaux’s filming of a black-and-white film, The Homesteader, in Winner, South Dakota, about 30 miles from where I grew up. I wondered, Who is this Oscar Micheaux? I also was surprised that I’d never heard of him before. When I learned that he not only made several films but also was a novelist and had a homestead in the same county where my grandparents had lived, there was no going back. I was hooked, and I knew I had to write about this fascinating man. How, exactly, I did not know.

Then, a little over two years ago, my teenage son gave me as a birthday present the instructions to write at least 250 words every day. He knew I’d been skirting around several ideas for writing projects, and he knows not only how important it is for me to write but that I need to break big tasks into small chunks. What may very well have been a last-minute, creative way for him to dodge having forgotten to buy a present turned out to be just what I needed. We agreed that I would email him my word output every day for a month, to keep me honest.

It wasn’t until about half-way through the month that I began Oscar’s story, and, thanks to my bad email hoarding habit, I am able to retrieve exactly how I began:

Oscar’s Gift

Oscar knew he was different. His teachers had often complained that he talked too much and he was too curious. His classmates had nicknamed him “oddball.” He read more than they did, learned faster, worked harder, and dreamed bigger.

Even in his family he was different. He could talk more than all of his fourteen brothers and sisters combined and could sell almost anything just using words. He wasn’t afraid to question authority or to tell his elders that they should stop complaining about wrongs done to them. He couldn’t abide a lack of ambition.

Oscar was also used to being looked at. So when Oscar stepped off the train in the middle of South Dakota on a hot summer day in 1904, he wasn’t surprised that most people stopped in their tracks and stared. Their stares didn’t bother him. In fact, he liked to be noticed, just as he like to observe other people. He was over six feet tall, and he carried himself to use every inch to his advantage, both to see and to be seen. He knew that many of them had probably never seen a black man before, much less one that was a head taller than everyone else.

He was looking at the people around him with more than curiosity. He had fifteen hundred dollars in his pocket, and he needed a locator.

The rows of cottonwood trees stood proud against the river banks, their branches reaching one hundred feet into the sky. The diamond-shaped leaves fluttered in the wind and glistened like glass trinkets in the midday sun.

Snips and snails. Random thoughts based on biographical information (much of which was gleaned from his autobiographical novels). The very clear image of Oscar’s getting off a train and being the object of everyone’s attention. I hadn’t yet decided to tell his story for children rather than for adults, so only later did the eleven-year-old character of Tomas come on the scene.

After a few months, I had the draft of a middle-grade chapter book. The rest of the story I will save for another day…

Your Questions

Q: How much does it cost to self-publish?

The cost can range from almost nothing to several thousand dollars, depending on your goals (there’s that “beginning with the end in mind” thing again), level of comfort and skill with technology, and willingness to part with cash. Joanna Penn has an excellent post on the topic.

I haven’t set a firm budget for myself, but I’m hoping to keep costs at about $200-$300, most of which is going toward an ISBN and the rest for incidental costs, ordering one or two proofs from CreateSpace, a couple of good books on formatting for the Kindle and iPad, and so on. I already have a website, and I’m not counting costs that are an investment in my writing career as a whole and not specific to this project, such as SCBWI membership. I’ll be sure to tally the costs along the way and give a reckoning at the end, for anyone who is interested.

I do think that spending more money for a cover design or professional editing or promotion can be worth it, especially for writers at the beginning of their professional careers. For print-on-demand books, for example, CreateSpace has a wide range of services, from the almost-free level that I am using to ones that cost a few thousand dollars. However, because I have some practice and experience in editing and formatting and am learning more about marketing every day, I feel comfortable taking on these tasks. Also, to be honest, part of the thrill is doing it myself. I love all aspects of working on Oscar’s Gift and wouldn’t want to farm it out (pun emphatically intended) to anyone else.