Saturday, July 18, 2020

Looking for a counterpoint to Little House on the Prairie?

I have fond memories of reading Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder's other books as a child. Their episodic stories of frontier life fit my third grade attention span perfectly, and the descriptions of ingenuous living off the land were captivating.

Photo via Birchbark Books

When I picked them up (starting with Little House in the Big Woods) again a few decades later to share with my children, I largely found them to be as enjoyable as I recalled. However, when we reached Little House on the Prairie I was startled by the racism Wilder expresses so clearly toward the Native Americans her family encountered.

Jack hated Indians, and Ma said she didn’t blame him. She said, “I declare, Indians are getting so thick around here that I can’t look up without seeing one.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. Little House on the Prairie (p. 214). Kindle Edition. 

Reading aloud to my kids, I addressed this by doing some on-the-fly editing and by encouraging my sons to reflect on the Native Americans' perspective (random white people showing up in their land). However, after we finished 'Little House I decided we needed to try something different.

Googling for alternatives, I came across The Birchbark House by Minnesota author Louise Erdrich. Set in approximately the same time and location as 'Little House, The Birchbark House (and its sequels) meet the standard Wilder set for episodic, child-friendly adventure and provide a fictional Native American (Ojibwa, specifically) point of view on the westward movement of white families.

The ogimaa or the president of all of the chimookomanag had sent a message to the leaders of the Ojibwe. That message was simple. They must leave their homes. The ogimaa said that the government now owned the ground they lived on. It was needed for white settlers. He had issued a removal order. He had decided that land payments would be given out in a new place in the west.

Erdrich, Louise. The Game of Silence (Birchbark House) (p. 23). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Its protagonist, a girl named Omakayas, is of an age with Laura and experiences many similar struggles (e.g., relationships with siblings and parents, rough winters, etc). However, Erdrich addresses the affects of smallpox head on, which is far rougher territory than Wilder ever touches. It was an apt discussion, allowing me to describe the differences and similarities between smallpox and COVID-19.

I highly recommend The Birchbark House.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Board Book Self Publishing FAQ

I've had a handful of people reach out to me asking for advice on self publishing a board book. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but here are my answers to come of the common questions.

Q: Should I Make a Board Book? 

I would not expect to make a profit by self-publishing unless you have an established audience or a strong niche connection. It is very hard to get large retailers to carry self-published books, and self-published books are difficult to market. I have written and self-published four books and only Goodnight Server Room made money.

If you are not confident you can hit the sales needed to cover the cost of board book printing, consider using print on demand services (e.g., Lulu, CreateSpace) as an alternative. They can't do board books at a sustainable margin, but if you don't expect more than 500 sales, using them to print paperback books is likely the only viable path for self-publishing.

Q: If you did your project again, would you still do a board book?

Yes! I would absolutely make it a board book again; I think kids in the 2-3 age range engage better with books with which they can freely interact.

Q: Did KickStarter work as you hoped?

Yes. The things that helped me most were 1) I was speaking to a niche audience and 2) I was filling a space that had few other offerings. KickStarter didn't cover all the manufacturing costs, but it covered a good chunk of them. KickStarter's funding model (only funding your project if you hit your goal) also works well because backers get a safety net on their commitment.

When you do your KickStarter, make *sure* you have catchy, polished artwork.

Q: Are you satisfied with the books you ordered from China?

Yes. The quality is indistinguishable from American-printed books.

Q: Do you sell more books on Amazon or Etsy? 

I sell more on Amazon, but the profit margin is better on Etsy, because Etsy takes a much smaller cut of each sale.

Q: Any guidance you have for me on sales goals (how many books you sold in your first year..)

For Goodnight Server Room, I sold approximately 700 books in the first year and about 500 books over the following two years. If I recall correctly, I broke even about 16 months after starting the project.

For my other book projects, I have not broken even (my other projects haven't found a niche audience, as mentioned above).

Q: Assuming you're storing the books yourself before distribution: could you estimate the volume of 2,000 freshly printed board books?

I received ~20 boxes of 96 books each for a total volume of approximately half a cubic meter. The total weight was about 300Kg.

Q: Can you share any insights on what percentage of your orders came from outside the US?

Approximately 5% of the KickStarter orders were from outside of the U.S., primarily from Canada and Europe. Most of the subsequent orders have been from the U.S., though I got a burst of international orders when @SwiftOnSecurity tweeted about it.

Q: Do I need an ISBN and a barcode?

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for your book. In my experience, most retailers require both an ISBN and a barcode to sell a book. For Goodnight Server Room I purchased both through Bowker.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

LEGO Competition Finale Winners!

We have a bunch of winners this week! You can see all of their submissions here.

Age 0-5: Pepper


Pepper has a knack for out of the box storytelling that shows though in this wonderfully absurd piece.

Age 6-9: Elijah



Elijah was one of our most consistent designers, regularly delivering ambitious, clever creations.



Elijah also had the top score of all of this week's designers.


Age 10-18: Eliza and James



The team of Eliza and James have delivered imaginative and reflective concepts, such as Eliza's gymnast self portrait.

Creativity - Crank it up to 11: Wes (7)



Wes created a beautifully abstract seaside sunset that captured the imaginations of adults and kids alike. 


Style - Crank it up to 11: Linnea (11)



After a few days of woodland exploration scenes, Linnea changed it up (and turned it up!) with this hugely ambitious rock climbing adventure featuring a crew of climbers and a detailed rock wall. 

Story - Crank it up to 11: Thomas and Henry




Thomas and Henry told a classic story of a land lost and reclaimed.

Story - Crank it up to 11: Brooke



Brooke's story made us laugh more than any other. 

Most Consistent: Levi




Levi was the only designer to participate every single day of the competition! Levi's designs featured tons of superheroes in inventive, surprising situations. Levi's total score for the week: 283.5.




Thursday, April 2, 2020

LEGO Contest: Final Day!

LEGO Contest Announcement: Extra prizes tomorrow only!
If you've been out of the contest for a while, this is your chance to jump back in!
Tomorrow is the final day of the competition. In addition to this week's regular three winners, we will also be awarding single-day winners for the most creative, best style, and greatest story entry!
The theme for tomorrow is: Over the Top


We normally judge each entry on a scale of 1-10, but tomorrow the best entry in each of the judging criteria will receive the vaulted score of 11.

LEGO Challenge Week 3 Day 4

Today's theme is: Lost

Tomorrow (April 3rd) will be the final day of the competition. We'll do something special to make it a dramatic finale, stay tuned!


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Week Two Winners!

We had a ton of phenomenal entries this week! The winners are selected from each age group by summing the total of their top three scores. (Side note, Google sheets has a function called LARGE that is super helpful for this). You can review the full rules here.

0-5 Winner: Isaiah

Isaiah submitted lots of action packed scenes with tons of details, such as Tuesday's Ninja Attack! Total score: 71.5




6-9 Winner: Nelson


Nelson large minifig-scale builds builds with lots of story details that made me smile. My biggest grin of the week came when I realized this crane was holding a teddy bear. Total score: 87



10-18 Winner: Anders

Anders consistently turned in polished, LEGO-official caliber designs, such as Tuesday's Green Building. Total score: 80.5



You can see all of this week's entries here.

Next week starts on Monday with theme: Inside Out

Thursday, March 26, 2020

LEGO Competition Week 2 Day 5

First of, as with all of you, my situation is evolving as events unfold. The contest continues, but I've realized I don't have the bandwidth to continue scheduled live judging.

I will continue to post daily topics, judge submissions, and award prizes through the end of next week (April 3rd). I'll post reactions sporadically, I know the kids like hearing what I think :)

Also, tomorrow's theme is: Upside down!

Here's one of my favorites from today's theme, Adventure is out there!


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

LEGO Competition Week 2 Day 4



I ended up doing a late judging session today because the submissions were just too good! Here's one of my favorites, can you guess the book?


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

LEGO Competition Week 2 Day 3

Wednesday's theme is: Scene from a Book!


No live judging on Wednesday, but I'll be back on Thursday!

Here's a gorgeous entry from today's theme: green building. 



Monday, March 23, 2020

LEGO Competition Week 2 Day 2


Tomorrow's theme is green building!

Here are today's top two builds on the theme of Tower!







LEGO Competition Week Two

Hey everybody! Sorry for the late post, today's theme is: Tower
You can join the meeting using this link.

See you at 4:30!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

LEGO Competition: Week One Winners!

I am happy to announce our week one winners! Winners were selected based on the sum of their top two scores from the week. Full scores here.

Ages 0 to 5: Pepper




Pepper consistently packed her builds with stories and details, as shown in Thursday's "Doople Party"
Total score: 49

Ages 6 to 9: Violet



Violet's builds are polished and well thought through. She clearly has a broad LEGO skillset, including automated builds (Wednesday's space Winnebago) and action scenes (Thursday's police station escape).
Total score: 55

Ages 10 to 18: Thomas and Henry

Thomas and Henry were one of a few teams that competed this week (teams are categorized based on the oldest member). On Friday they gave us an unexpected spin on a classic western theme with "Food Wars," a battle of hot dogs versus corn dogs.
Total score: 50.5


Prizes!

Each of our winners gets a $30 gift card to a business of their choice from the list below! If there is another option you would like, let me know and we can do that too! 
  • Izzy's Ice Cream (Minneapolis)
  • Red Balloon Book Store (St Paul)
  • Wild Rumpus Book Store (Minneapolis)
  • Zenith Bookstore (Duluth)
  • J Skylark (Duluth)
  • Books and More (Bemidji)
Parents/guardians of winners, please contact me at smith.d.tyler@gmail.com to claim your child's prize.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

LEGO Competition Day 03: Food!

Today's overall top score was Violet (6) with this awesome flying boat prison break! Violet is this week's current leader (each contestant's top two scores will be counted this week).


In the 0-5 age range, the top score went to Ari (5) with the existential crisis of a girl wishing to go outside.


The top score in the 10-18 age group went to Seth with a Mad Max inspired chase.


Tomorrow theme is Food!


On Saturday (or late tomorrow) I will announce this week's winners and contact their parents to arrange delivery of their prizes. The options announced so far are: Izzy's gift card, Matt's Bar gift card, and Amazon gift card. Prize suggestions are welcome!

Reminder: You can find the full rules here. A $10 entry fee per contestant is requested but not required.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

LEGO Competition Day 02: Escape!

We had our first round of virtual LEGO building submissions today and the results were awesome! The overall highest score went to Louis (6) for his awesome underwater/driving/flying truck!


The theme for tomorrow is: Escape! Build something that tells a story about an escape, is a tool for escape, makes you feel like escaping, or something else entirely! I will try to evaluate video entries, but photos are preferred. 

As with today, you can submit by tagging me in a Facebook post or sending me an email (smith.d.tyler@gmail.com). Any pictures you submit may be posted publicly online. 

Watch the stream at 4:30pm on March 19!

Thank you to everyone who paid the optional entrance fee! We'll have three awards this week (one for each age category). The first award is: A $20 gift card to Izzy's Ice cream! 



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Virtual LEGO Competition Day One: Trucks

I'm running a virtual LEGO building competition for everyone who's stuck at home right now. You can read all of the rules here.

The theme for day one is trucks.

Build something with LEGO bricks (or DUPLO) that involves trucks. You are encouraged to be creative (don't use a stock LEGO set) and to tell a story (you can build a scene around the truck).

I'll post the submissions and scores here starting tomorrow!