Things I Would Tell My Younger Self

            I published my debut novel before I could legally have a beer. One of the side effects of being young is having the opportunity to learn through experience. Sometimes experience feels about as pleasant as stepping on a rake. Sometimes experience feels like riding a singing narwhal through a music video #Awesome. Here are the things I would tell my younger self if I got the opportunity:

This be the younger Helen.
  • They are coming. Light the beacon in the watch tower. There is still time. (We could’ve saved the citadel, but alas, it has fallen.)
  • Brush your friggin’ hair, ragamuffin… Oh, oh, you just brushed it. It just does that. My bad, dude.
  • If make-up is itchy and uncomfortable don’t wear it. If make-up makes you feel pretty like a Viking about to go into battle, then wear it. Don’t wear it, or not wear it, to impress other people.
  • You look cute, stop fretting. (Yes, I know this is my third comment about my appearance but I’m looking at photos.)
  • I literally do not know how you did it. You fought off poverty and mental illness with one hand, then threw on a smile and some fake nails from the dollar store, and sold books with the other hand. Are you homeless right now? I guess by some standards you are. Eh, you always find a safe place to sleep at night, and food to eat in the morning. That in itself is impressive.
  • It’s okay if you don’t feel like a woman 100% of the time. The world sees you as a woman 100% of the time, and knowing what that feels like is the reason you decided to make a feminist brand centered on helping teenage girls find their power.
  • Take more pictures.
  • Quit hating on social media. That’s your future bread and butter.
  • Quit being so snobby! Jeesh! This is a projection of your insecurity. You’re afraid you’ll never be anything more than a dirty little kid from Cow Town. Who cares if you’re not! When you’re old (me) you’re going to wish life was simple.
  • You have so many reasons to be proud though.
  • Please, please, please, start trusting people to show up and show out for you. I know exactly why you don’t, and how and where you got hurt, but I promise, the ones who showed up are your ride or dies.
  • Seeing your name in lights will get you higher than any substance you could ever abuse. Grind.
  • Stop caring what people think so much… I know I did. *Profuse sweating*
  • *Heavy sigh* I know you’re poor but you should’ve really hired a line editor. Yes, you. Not the publisher. You still did your best though. I’ll fix it later…
  • Okay, seriously, that mean thought you’re having about yourself? No one else is thinking it… Except that one guy in the corner, but he can suck a lemon. Do you know how hard it is to make people care about something? I do it for money now (marketing) and I can tell ya, no one’s paying that much attention.
  • Consider a pen name. You get stalked multiple times. (You know I keep that thang on me! *Opens coat to reveal a loaf of French bread*)
  • There’s nothing wrong with staying single while you focus on your career. [Probably.] Men is too headache.
  • Say thank you. I know you already did but just say it one more time to be certain.
  • Frick, I am so proud of you. You saw what you wanted and you went after it. You didn’t compromise. Traditionally publishing a book before you can shoot whiskey is quite the feat! …Bruh, they don’t let kids smoke until 21 these days! Weird, huh?
  • You’re not a bad person for sewing some wild oats. Just minimalize casualties.
  • Stop being embarrassed of your Goshen County accent. It’s part of who you are.
  • While you should not be embarrassed by your accent, code switching is a thing. And there is a time, and place, and season, for everything under heaven.
  • I know you’re doing that weird thing young people do where they look for somewhere to belong. I promise you, it’s not where you think it is, and you and your people have next to nothing in common. Ya’ll just get together and make magic though!
  • Write every day. Even if it’s just a sentence.
  • You have pretty eyes. *Bats eyelashes*
  • Stop working to impress your enemies. You will never be good enough for them. Just kick some dirt over that poop and keep walking.
  • I’m serious about the pen name. You could’ve been Wait. Helen Wait.
  • It is a privilege to be yeeted from the presence of your haters.
  • That speech you made out of nowhere? That was hecka impressive. I don’t know that I could do that today. That was dope.
  • Not compromising your dreams, and being flexible are two different things. I like your moxie though.
  • Hug the cat again for me, would you?
  • That thing you’re worried about. Yeah, it turns out okay.
  • The master sword sleeps in the crypt. They will probably never guess the riddle to find the crypt. Do not find it. They will torture you for information. Let what was once the citadel rest in peace.

            Anyway, that was a strange and beautiful time where I learned a lot. Mostly about marketing and salesmanship! Also the value of friendship, and I don’t mean monetary. I’m excited to publish again because Drakarium Publishing saw potential in me, and I’m excited to do book signings again because The Wyoming Arts Council saw potential in me! I am grateful I got to learn all these lessons myself though because the cup of tea I was just drinking told me “One thorn of experience is worth a whole forest of warning” -James Russell Lowell

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No One Is Going to Do It For You

            A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, and not in the future because I can’t see that direction, I was in the chow line. There happened to be to writers behind me and I started eves dropping in on their conversation. One writer was a sweet lady who looked like she could make a mean pineapple upside-down cake, trying to write children’s books about dogs, the other was a gentleman about the same age as her who had written an action thriller of some sort.

            The guy looks down at her with these big ol’ puppy dog eyes and says “If I submit your book to publishers will you submit mine?”

            “I uh…”

            “We can trade?” He twists his cap in his hands and tries to look cute.

            I know this woman with the kind face is not going to say “No.” which is a complete sentence, by the way, and I so want to step in and be like “UH-UH!” She finally says “Uh-okay, I guess…” and they swap emails.

            I knew this dude was about to let her work her butt off to get his book published while he switched up on her and “Oooooh, I’ve been too busy!” That’s reason number one you shouldn’t do that with other writers. The second is that they were working in two very different genres. Chances are he reads action thrillers, and she reads kid lit. Because that’s what they enjoy. So there’s very little chance a fellow writer, who is not an agent, will have read any of the books that press makes. Sometimes when I really get heavy on submitting to publishers I wind up with some of my new favorite books coming in the mail. The two that come to mind are Eat Knucklehead, and Three Sailors and A Hermit. Third, there are so many kinds of different publishing houses out there you need to know what you want to find the right one. I’ve been offered multiple contracts for Tales from the Gishlan Wood but the fits weren’t right so we parted ways.

            I’ve had it happen to me too. Friends have asked me to write their books, I’ve dated men who want me to make their career finally get up off the ground (the first step is put down the whiskey bottle, Benjamin. You’re not Hemingway. Make it happen and clear you head so you can function!) And I’ve met people who want me to “help” them find a publisher. I.e. do all the heavy lifting and research.

            I’m happy to cheerlead! I’m happy to text you and hold you accountable! I’m happy to drop you a link that may or may not work for your purposes. But ain’t nobody gunna do it for you. Rachel Hollis told me “No one cares about your dreams as much as you do.” Meaning, out of all those cheerleaders you have no one is going to cry and hurt as much as you will if your dreams don’t come true. Your friends will be sad but it’s not their battle. It’s yours. So stop trying to get others to do your work for you.

            And I mean, I’ve done it too. The last time I was 14 and just wrote War and Chess. We didn’t consistently have a computer and internet at my house because Dad used to take the computer and it’s hotspot with him to work his nightshift as a security guard. So I asked him if he’d research publishers for me while he was at work. Both my parents just laughed and said “Do it yourself, kid.” So I wound up doing it at school a lot, and whenever my father wasn’t working. Gosh, I do not miss explaining to grumpy teachers why I only had internet sometimes. Or a word processor. I used to write my essays in cursive in red ink and count the words by hand. Let’s all stop for a minute and count our blessings.

            The biggest thing in your way is you. I have a friend who writes too. She’s a journalist. She writes and edits on her phone. Ladies, gentleman, and those in-between, that is dedication. I admire her so much. So what’s stopping  you? One of my teachers made us all memorize the mantra “adapt, improvise, overcome”. At the very least you have internet some of the time or you wouldn’t be reading this.

            Setbacks happen. Believe me, I know. I’ve been rereading some old blog posts and they’re hurting my feelings because I really emphasize taking the time to do it right. K, cool, me. That was before I felt like giving up! Guess I just can’t now! You have to power through them, be like water, and find a way around the problem.

            No one cares about your career as much as you do. Make it happen and stop expecting others to do it for you. Do your homework, do your research, keep on keeping on, don’t give up.

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Characters Are Not Built in a Day

            I love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yes, I am fully aware they’re cornier than Nebraska. My dream wedding is also on a ship while I fight zombies, in international waters, with our captain acting as justice of the peace. Knowing this my mother made me learn multiple marriage traditions so I wouldn’t come home accidently married before I ran off to sail the world with my boyfriend. (Notice what I did there?) One scene that drives me to the brink of insanity, right from the very first time I saw the movie (here there be spoilers) is in the fifth one when Jack becomes Captain Jack Sparrow in one fell swoop. He fought one bad guy, got his name, most of his jewelry, his compass, and maybe even his hat. It was a transformation scene that gave the audience whiplash.

            I just assume you’re sitting down, giving this piece your undivided attention, stroking my already massive ego. Take stock of all you’re wearing. What’s in your pockets? Your backpack? Your purse? Why did you get that tattoo? We’ll pick on me for now. I’ve got one ring on my hand, and a ton of bracelets on my left arm, a bright pink sweater, and a knife, a lighter, and a ton of keys. The ring I got as a gift when I was 15; the tons of bracelets I collect. One of the bracelets is a hair tie that is also a friendship bracelet, another is one I picked up at a writing conference. My sweater came from a coworker who liked me because I was nice to her son. It’s not something I would’ve picked for myself but I love it because she got it for me. She was a small woman and she just happened to have a designer XL neon sweater in the back of her closet she never wore. Her sister chewed her out in English so that means I was meant to hear the sister say “That’s expensive!”. The knife I carry every day is more utility than sentiment. It also just so happens to be a gift from the ex I tried to sail the world with. The lighter was a gift from my father. The design on it is mountains with a crescent moon. Looking on scenes like that make me feel like I came home. As well as utility, it is a good luck charm. I used to wonder off into the woods frequently and you don’t want to do that without a reliable way to start a fire. I am 100% endorsing Zippo here. A good windproof lighter can save your life. As for the keys: I’m obviously one of the nine pirate lords and there’s a chest we have to unlock together in the 6th movie. I just keep it on me for when Hollywood calls. They certainly don’t go to my diary! Or my house for that matter! But all of these things, hanging off my sorry corpse and in my pockets, are little pieces of bigger stories. Not, I just came out of the sea like Aphrodite and there I was! A whole Helen M. Pugsley. Characters take years to become who they are.

            No, I don’t mean you should spend years building Bob the tomato vendor. I’m just saying, maybe Bob has a bullet scar on his chest from when he was a younger and wilder man. That can be cannon but that event could’ve [would’ve and should’ve] happened well before your story’s timeline begins. I mean, really, scars aren’t scars the day you get them. Maybe that’s why Bob hates fireworks but told that punk who tried to rob him to “go home and love your girlfriend and your child before I snap you like a dried twig.” People need time to become people. People need their spicy memories, battle scars, weird jewelry, tattoos, favorite sweaters, favorite flavor of ice cream that actually tastes like their cousin beating cancer for the 3rd time, good luck charms, and sentimental crap they pack around for no real reason.

            Ogres have layers, onions have layers, characters have layers. And lest we forget parfait! Layers take time to develop. (Except parfait. You can get that at McDonalds. Literally fast food.) Build your character with multiple dimensions, let them go through stupid phases, lose their father’s pocket watch and purchase its replacement at a swap-meet, fall in love and have it go wrong, tattoo the best day of their life in Roman numerals on their arm, and be just as complex as any of us! You’ll concoct a cool human.

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Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings

            Trigger warnings and content warnings. Do they belong in books yet? I don’t really know. Will I continue to put them in every review I write because the material brought back “a spicy memory”? You bet your sweet bippy.

            So. What is a trigger warning? A trigger warning is something you put before material you created where you know there is something that is a common trigger for a lot of people. Triggers are things that bring someone great emotional distress because of things they have experienced in their lives. (Loss, sexual assault, prejudice, violence.) You know how your veteran friend hates fireworks? That’s a trigger.

            Well then, what is a content warning? A content warning is for things that generally make people uncomfortable. Things like fetish play, graphic violence, assorted phobias. Generally, just things you know someone in your following will be bothered by so you want to make sure they have time to mentally prepare themselves for it before they enjoy your creations to the fullest.

            I got really into making memes on Facebook during the apocalypse, and there, where 50K people are telling jokes to pass the time and cheer each  other up, trigger warnings and content warnings are very important. You want people to enjoy the things you make to their fullest extent. Not spend their evening reliving the worst times of their life. That will not win you positive feedback or great reviews.

            Another place I’ve seen trigger warnings and content warnings used heavily in web comics. I like horror. But I also like “Content Warning: Hey Helen, here’s one of your weirder phobias and this is going to be a reoccurring theme for a while.” It makes me stop and ask “Do I actually have the energy to read this right now or is it going to ruin my evening and then I won’t sleep?” I got to choose whether the media I was consuming was right for me. It was actually “CW: Being trapped underground.” I’m adventurous but caves make me uneasy. I took a breath and enjoyed not one, but three episodes of that web comic where our main character was stuck in an ever shifting tunnel. Without knowing that that was going to happen there is a chance I would have stopped reading the comic and not picked it back up.

            Do trigger/content warnings belong in books? I don’t really know. This is the first time creators, especially authors, have had this much control over what we get to show the public. What we get to keep making. You get to decide if what you created will upset your audience enough that you want to gently warn them before they start reading. It’s the same as “Oh, by the way, there’s a giant spider next to the faucet in the barn. She’s fairly harmless. Just don’t let her scare you.” You’re the creator. You get to decide.

            Either way, for social media, here’s how I taught the groups I moderate to tag their posts with questionable content. TW stands for Trigger Warning, and CW stands for Content Warning:

TW/CW: Example
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This is where you post most of the questionable content. There may be some in the accompanying image, but it is largely frowned upon. Adding all those dots allows people to scroll past quickly without looking at your post. This will keep you from getting kicked out of a lot of groups for being inconsiderate. It is the kind thing to do.

            All in all, it’s ultimately your decision. But now you have a general idea of what’s going on and why it’s important. Now you won’t accidently hurt someone with what you created.

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Go On An Adventure to Increase Your Creativity [Once You are Fully Vaccinated]

Oooooh, I’m so excited to finally be able to post this one!

No really. Don’t just hate-like other people’s trips on Instagram. Go on your own [once you are fully vaccinated]! I know what you’re thinking: “Helen, not everyone can afford a vacation!” I know! And that’s why I said “Go on an adventure.” I’m not telling you to go take some bazillion dollar vacation for 1,000 days and 1,000 nights, live in a cabana, and shirk your responsibilities so you can write. I’m telling you, leave the house once in a while and go explore [once you are fully vaccinated]. Then you’ll have some extra writing juice.

Here’s me at Guernsey Lake in February of 2020, before the freaking pandemic. 

Photo by Grace Nadeau

It was winter. It was the off season of the park. I was unemployed, and so was my buddy. Guernsey is practically in our back yard, it was a nice day so we just went. That, my dear, is what I mean by “adventure”. And honestly, it was a cheap adventure. I needed to top off my tank for $20, and since it was the off season it costed $6 to get in to the park. Really, you can’t go wrong with a cheap day trip. Just go [if at all possible because everyone’s life is different]. Take pictures and use all the #Travelgram hashtags like a cool kid!

“But Helen, whyyyy must I leave my cave?” Because you are a plant with feelings. I will not be citing my sources. But sitting indoors looking at the same walls cannot be good for you, as most of us found out during the pandemic. Go get some sun, look at a different town, go to a different McDonalds, the one on the other side of town, go off your particular beaten path. We all know the epic tale of Stephen King and his giant desk. King told us that tale out of caution. Doing nothing but making yourself hate the craft by pushing yourself too hard will not help you in the long run. One day you will quit and everyone will ask why. You’ll have to pause and say “I guess I got burnt out.” Ask me about music. I dare ya.

“But how do day trips make me write gooder?” (Hehe, you know you love me.) I’m sure you don’t write books that read like Saw movies. (The first saw film was made by some college film students on a tight budget. They wanted to see if they could make a movie with one room. They could.) Your characters are probably traveling across the land, searching far and wide, watching the sun set, riding horses, standing next to the ocean, meeting new people etc, etc. Sometimes you just need to go outside and listen to how snow crunches under your boots, or remember what a pool smells like, maybe go actually ride a horse. From the journal I was using back in spring, I have a bunch of scraps I call “studies”. One is me sitting on the trunk of my car, parked next to a lake in Utah, another me staring up at the stars on my lawn, and then there’s when I went to the Oregon Coast. The ocean and I have a long standing love affair. Chances are you’re not writing something where your main character is trapped, chained to a desk, stuck in a routine. Break free! Once you are fully vaccinated.

Kids, there’s more to life than writing. There’s more to writing than actually writing. Get living! As soon as it is safe for you to travel, do so. Don’t just hate-like other people’s adventures. Go get vaccinated and have your own! It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.

I had written this article shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began and had to pull it before I told people to endanger their lives and others. (Bet you didn’t know I scheduled these months in advance, huh?) Now I’m asking “How many near death experiences do you need before you start tryna live?” We were all kind of trapped and in survival mode for over a year. Help yourself to healing and a dose of vaccine. Go get vaccinated and go party!

Please note, I will not be arguing with anti-vaccination comments. You know your own situation, and you know it’s your civic duty to protect your friends and neighbors by getting vaccinated if you are healthy enough to do so. Thank you for your continued support of my work.

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Let Your Hair Down Once In A While

            This year, I got awarded a scholarship to attend the WyoPoets conference. (Thank you, thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!) I showed up wearing my trademark Gibson roll, but by the end of the conference I literally let my hair down.

            Day two, I was having lunch with a nice lady who admitted it was her first outing since Christmas time. Covid changed a lot of things for all of us. I told her “Everyone is so kind and open here! I love it!” and I confessed “I showed up with my hair in a roll because I’ve trained myself not to swear when I can’t feel hair on the back of my neck… But someone dropped the F-bomb the first evening here in a poem!”

            She looks at me and says “So you literally let your hair down?”

            I had to laugh! Yes! In a literal and figurative sense, yes.

            You’d never know it, but my grandma raised me to have good manners. That, and I was super into princess books. *Coughs in Gishlan books* My thought process when I walk across the room is “Heel, toe, heel toe, you just made eye contact with someone so smile sweetly. Time to sit in a chair. Only use the edge. Never let your back touch the back of the chair. That is just there for decoration.” God help me if we’re eating. That’s probably why I need a six hour nap after “peopling”. Sometimes being prim and proper can be rather restrictive.

            Thankfully, the people at WyoPoets, while all polite and lovely, weren’t stuffy. It was just a bunch of people trying to write poetry, and often times that means talking about your childhood, or your family, or that nightmare you had last week. One poem that really struck me was about how the author had learned to play organ from her grandmother under a photograph of a stillborn baby. Another, the author prefaced with “I still have trouble talking about this”, and another made me laugh because it was “Kid, don’t climb into my tree house. It’s not safe.” The one with the F-Bomb was a rip on Robert Frost. Also hilarious!

            There was a load of poetry read there that weekend. But the ones that were my favorite were the ones that were the most honest. And, uh, yeah, I had to give back into that and share some deeply personal things in verse too. I feel like I connected with my new friends on a really deep level. Less chit chat about the weather and more “Where do we go now that there’s a vaccine? How do we carry on without our loved ones?”

            That’s my advice. Once in a while, keep it real. Do something that makes you uncomfortable because it’s honest. I usually buy myself a bracelet on trips like those, but this time it was a pair of hair clips.

The Self Publishing Industry is Not A Bad Thing

            It’s no secret, I have made some deprecating remarks on self-publishing in the past. I don’t try to hide it, I’ve said what I’ve said. The industry has changed a lot since I started out in 2010. It’s incredible to see the rises and the falls of all the trends in how books are published. Self-publishing used to be janky. Like, it was literally some stranger you hardly knew from the internet with a printing press in their basement. Which, hey, if that’s what works for you, more power to ya! I know people who’ve done it! Now, largely Amazon, has turned self-publishing in to an easy to navigate, user friendly, industry, that gives you equal publicity to traditionally published authors right out of the gate. That’s incredible.

            The self-publishing industry has given voice to the voiceless. Women, people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, and those who fall under all three labels have often said it’s harder for them to get published, or as readers find books they actually want to read. Full disclosure, I would totally read a high fantasy novel with non-binary, butch, lesbian, warrior princesses who are not white. You see how edgy that sentence felt? That’s because books like that aren’t mainstream yet. Yes, even in the sphere of fantasy. Now because of self-publishing you can actually find books like that for sale online. Now because of self-publishing, larger presses (I’m talking Harper Collins) are actually looking at books like that. Now books like that are making their ways into libraries and getting in to the hands of people who need them.

            The self-publishing industry is breaking creative boundaries. You know what the self-publishing industry gave us? New adult fiction! Love it or hate it, having a new genre is cool as all heck! If it weren’t for people self-publishing books about college-age kids I wouldn’t have ever thought to say to myself “What if a 26 year old dentist finds out she’s a changeling?” and thus, The Tooth Fairy was born.

            One of the coolest things I’ve watched is tropes come over from fan-fiction, to the self-publishing industry, into the mainstream. Unfortunately most of my examples have to do with sex, and I am not comfortable with having that discussion on this blog.

            The self-publishing industry empowers authors. Self-published authors amaze me. To be perfectly honest with you, ISBNs are a little mysterious to me. Yes, I know they’re the 13 digit name for a book, like a social security number, but you have to buy them? Cancel them? Who da what now?  I don’t know everything (shocker!) and what I don’t know, self-published authors usually seem to out of necessity.

            I gotta be honest, I love talking marketing with them because that’s one of my quirky special interests. Particularly social media! I’ve nearly ruined Christmas by chattering about how Facebook algorithms work. I am resisting making a Parler account. Resist!

            But what’s not empowering about choosing who gets to do your cover art, your editing, your marketing (it could be me), and setting your own prices for books?! You’re in control every step of the way! And when you need or want to pull your books you can. I saw an author publish a book, realize everyone was out of work due to Covid-19, and then drop prices the lowest they could on Amazon! Tell me that’s not empowering!

            You can do well if you choose to do well. Off the top of my head Diary of an Oxygen Theif, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, and Fifty Shades of Grey, are all books that were originally self published but are now a big deal. Googling it now, I just learned Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of poetry, started out self published! I am so glad artist Joss Hellman told me to go read it.

            Anyway, what I mean by “you can do well if you choose to” is this: If you choose to hire a copy editor, if you choose to invest in good cover art, if you choose to get your friends involved as beta and sensitivity readers, if you choose to learn what you can about marketing, if you choose to put in the work you can go far. I, Helen M. Pugsley, crusher of dreams will not promise you that you will go far. I’m saying you have a much better chance. At the very least, you will produce a quality book. Most likely, you will end up with a tiny, but ultra dedicated fandom.

            All in all, self-publishing as a whole is a good thing. But at the end of the day you have to do what’s right for you and your particular pieces of work. I don’t want to self-publish the Gishlan series. That is not my dream, it never was. I want to traditionally publish that. I would self-publish The Tooth Fairy, because I wrote it as a break from Gishlan, and I don’t feel like watering down some of the more explicit content for the sake of a publisher’s comfort. This is your life. Choose your own path. But, hating on the self-publishing industry is cancelled.

You Don’t Need Money to Become a Published Author

            I have been in this industry for a decade. I have seen every type of scam, scheme, and actual honest help. There are scores of people out there ready to take your money so you can achieve your dreams. (Trust me. I have poetry about it written in glitter pens from a decade ago.) So let’s talk about what you think you need and what you actually need.

Scam: “Give me $1,000 and I’ll give you a book.” and sometimes they promise fame and fortune too. These people do a really crappy job doing exactly what you could accomplish all by yourself but often give you an inferior product. It used to be a guy with a printing press in their basement, now I’m sure it’s more of a guy who knows how Lulu dot com works. It’s basically vanity publishing, and often, because of that, your books won’t even be available on Amazon. Sometimes they just take your money and run. Don’t give them money.
(I’ll let you guys know of a few of the “publishing houses” that have approached me climb into my inbox. Tehe!)

Scheme: I have seen smallish companies that offer to do things like take over the production of your book from start to finish. Which, I mean, if you wanna throw $1,000 at someone to do that for you go for it! Just do your homework and make sure they’ll actually do the job right. They’re usually upfront with their practices. “We’ll do all the work it takes to get your book self-published on Amazon. Editing, cover art, listing it,” etc. They have different tears of help they can give. They’re not necessarily bad. They just do things you could easily do yourself.

Actual honest help: Okay. This is what I do. It’s still not ideal, but it’s what’s working for me. Over the years I have accumulated a team of freelancers to do everything I can’t do well myself. Poor Richard does my cover art, and sometimes gets memes about how crazy I drive him made about him, even though he assures me I’m not that bad; Caren Speckner is an awesome human who edits my stuff so I don’t look like an idiot in public while allowing me to keep my Goshen County accent. (Most people cry “That’s not grammatically correct!” but that’s how I talk…) Cierra does my logos in that traditional American tattoo art I’m so fond of and allows me to pay her in bones and bottles, because I’m a cowgirl who likes booze. In Tales from the Gishlan Wood she’ll be doing the flags.
If you choose this rout Pay. Your. People. That street runs both ways and I’ve seen authors walk off with 35+ hours of work without paying their freelancers. Not a “I’ll pay you $5 a month until it’s done.” just poof! Not cool.
The reason I say this is not ideal is because these people’s services are something a traditional publisher should be paying for. The reason they should be paying for them is because traditional publishers know more about making books than you or I. At least they’re supposed to. Poor Richard’s cover art might not fit current marketing trends! Accent or no, it’s still grammatically incorrect. And traditional American tattoo art? Not in my good Christian suburbs. The price you pay for a good traditional publisher is less creative control. But. I am confident that if I got a wild hair and started self-publishing my books, say, next week, it’d be the best quality product I could offer the public. Perhaps, one day, I will find a traditional publisher that shares my vision.

            Like many things in life, you don’t need money but it sure as Heck makes things run smoother. Jeeze. My biggest expense when I published War and Chess was buying copies to resell. I’d buy them 50 at a time, so that costed about $300.  I remember I would save my money $20 bill by $20 bill at a time in a ceramic pig I made in middle school that sat in the corner of my parent’s house. (Obviously, I have no money hidden there now.) It was a big investment but I made the money back by selling copies at book signings. Those were some treasured and adventurous times.

            Not having money doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. It means you have to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing. You can publish a book without spending a dime (especially if you self-publish on Amazon). If you’re sleeping on your own career because “YoU cAn’T aFfOrD iT.” I’m here to tell you it’s bullsh*t. You can do anything you set your mind to.

That’s My Friggin’ Name

            I dated a guy named Michael* once. Then I found out his name was Miguel*. It kind of ticked me off. So I asked him what he liked to be called and after a little himmin’ and hawin’ it came out to be that he liked being called Miguel more. And then I got confrontational. “Miguel, promise me something?”

            “What?”

            “Never Americanize yours or anyone else’s name in my presence again.”

            The dude was even more enamored with me, for the record.

            Anyway, I feel the same way as the famous Tweet by @kirkobainz “If white people know how to say Daenerys Targaryen, they can learn to pronounce your name correctly.”

            Now me, a white lady whose ancestors hail from Caucasia, doesn’t have much trouble with my name being mispronounced, often. But I do have people shorten my name to Helen Pugsley, rather than Helen M. Pugsley. (I’ll come back to that one and why it’s a problem.) I’ve been Hellen, I’ve been Helen S. Pugsley, Helen Pierce, and Helen Puglsey. (That last one I do a lot.) The point I’m trying to get across to you is that: There is nothing wrong with correcting people about your name. It’s your friggin’ name! You need to make sure people get it right. Spelling, pronunciation, that weird 3 you added in middle school… That’s basic respect everyone owes you. Even if they have to practice saying your name several times.

            So, back to why Helen M. Pugsley, not Helen Pugsley is my friggin’ name: I am Helen M. Pugsley. I have been since I was in high school when I read “Thanks for turning the mousy Steph into Stephanie Meyer” in the back of a Twilight novel. That’s when I decided “I need a cool name for all these short stories I keep posting to Teenink.” My father taught me anonymity is cowardice so I beefed up my own moniker. Helen to Helen M. Pugsley. What a courageous change! (Sarcasm works so well in print.)

            I never used to worry much about the M. I used to use it to see if the people or organizations I was working with had an eye for detail. I heard a story once about a band who, in their contract, would ask for a bowl of M&M’s with all the blue ones removed. They got to a venue and had a perfectly normal bowl of M&M’s. Because the M&M’s weren’t done right they knew they’d have to check the sound equipment. When they checked the sound equipment it was done in such a way that something could have come loose during the performance and seriously injured or killed someone. The M. was always my canary until recently.

            There is a perfectly lovely Welsh woman named Helen Pugsley whose career as a classical singer is gaining momentum. I am here for it! That is probably my cousin! You remember where I said my ancestors came from? But unfortunately, I’ve let people call me Helen Pugsley rather than Helen M. Pugsley so many times Google can’t tell us apart. Now my Helen M. Pugsley knowledge panel is a picture of her and a link to her Twitter account, and her Helen Pugsley knowledge panel announces that she wrote War and Chess. I’m sure Helen would rather be known for her music. While I love music, I don’t have a desire to try to make a living off of it again. (*Cough* Link drop to previous blog post.)

            Helen, if you’re reading this, we have to duet this song. You’re a blonde, I’m a brunette. I’m also an operatic soprano, but I think my status as a brunette is more relevant here. It could happen. It needs to happen. We owe it to the world, Helen.

            Anyway, because of Helen, I recently had to grow guts and actually tell people I am Helen M. Pugsley not Helen Pugsley we’re two different people. Desiree Goodtimes and I on the other hand?… I am definitely not the one who’s been churning out mass amounts of pirate smut! Who does that!?

            I’ve been on the other side of the name thing too. When I worked for the library I did most if not all of the advertising. I can tell you from experience, as a venue, I get more ticked off when I find out you let me get your name wrong  than when you shoot me an email and tell me I got it wrong. Shoot the email. It’s your friggin’ name.

            Anyway, here is permission to advocate for yourself no matter your situation. It’s your friggin’ name. People need to get that right. Even if it used to be your name, you need to correct people. (I’m looking at you, trans community!) Don’t settle, make people pronounce it right, spell it right, and remember it right. It’s your friggin’ name.

*Indicates name change

How To Donate Your Book to a Library

            Having worked for James Bond’s library I have up close and personal experience with the subject. But every library is different so I turned to the Library Think Tank – #ALATT on Facebook. One of the biggest groups of librarians online. I asked them what’s their process for accepting donations from indie authors. (You’re not James Patterson. I promise.)

            The short answer: Don’t.

            If you’re afraid to have your feelings hurt you can stop reading right here. Otherwise, I’m going to hurt your feelings.

  • Build a connection with your library.

The library you visited on vacation and casually decided to gift them a copy of your book is more likely to put it in the book sale rather than on the shelves. Your local library, where people know you, and actually like you are more likely to support you. People in your hometown want to read your book but some folks just don’t have the cash to get their own copy. Your local librarians understand this. If they think there’s patrons that want to read your book they will be twice as likely to actually put it in the connection.

DO NOT just buy a copy of your own book from Amazon and ship it to the library without a note. It’s a sure fire way to make a librarian go “What’s this? Hmm. Weird.” Then toss it in the cart that runs over to the book sale without a second thought. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

  • Get reviews.

Yes. Even if you and the librarian have matching friendship bracelets you need to get reviews. Preferably from people who don’t like you. Or just don’t know you! Embracing the stranger danger is probably best in this case!

Why? Because librarians have a lot to do and don’t feel like reading your book in their personal time. (I told you I’d hurt your feelings.) Personal time is when you can read Chuck Tingle if you want to! Or fan fiction! They want to read the reviews at work and see if it’s a good fit for the library’s collection. Also, the librarian you’re friends with might not be the librarian in charge of acquisitions.  The folks in cataloging get the final say. That’s their entire job. And if they can’t quickly discern if your book fits the collection they’re going to set it aside with every intention of cataloging it later. Later could very well mean never.

  • You gave a gift. Don’t pester them.

You remember that time your aunt gave you that weird bowl with cats painted all over it, and she got mad you didn’t fill it with Orange Fluff and bring it to Christmas? But you still had it. It was just in your house holding out of season fruits you paid too much money for? And then because she made a big deal out of it you started resenting it and now it sits in your cupboard holding other bowls? Yeah. That’s what happens if you call them up twice a week and ask if your book is on the shelf yet. That’s the trickiest part of gifts. When you give someone a gift they’re under no obligation to use it. Hopefully they like it. Don’t be your mean aunt.

  • Build a quality book.

First, turn to page 101 in War and Chess. Now click this link. This is why I don’t deserve a PS5. Out of all the book signings I’ve had, and all the places I’ve been to, there are five places in the world that have my book. All of them are in Wyoming.

Get yourself a good copy editor, an ISBN, and there are a lot of libraries that absolutely require your book be translated in English. America has no official language but English seems to be the most common tongue. If your book has type-os, ugly cover art that doesn’t match the story, disturbing imagery for the target audience─ There was one librarian who told me a story about reading a book about the tooth fairy to her story time kids. It was written by a local author. But what made it memorable was the tooth fairy ripping off her face in the end. That story time group is in middle school now but they still pop in and complain about their shared trauma.─ all of these little things will prevent your book from entering a public library’s collection.

            Last of all, you need to understand that your book might not make it in. Every library is different. Some libraries have an acquisitions board! Some libraries are prepared for you and have instructions on their websites! But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The real trick to getting your book in a library is putting in the time and work, and making a good book. There’s more to books than plot. If you do make it in understand you’re lucky and always say thank you.

Join me next year for a whole new bundle of blog posts! Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss a thing. Thank you for all your support. You reading this means you helped me achieve my goals of keeping a monthly blog for one year! Thank you! As always, if you’ve got questions, something I didn’t address yet, or you just want to say “Hi” go visit that Contact tab off to the left. I practically live on social media! Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Happy Hanukkah, and New Years! (We survived!) Be blessed.