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Monday, July 14, 2014

Diversity in Children’s and Young Adult Novels: Making a Difference and Taking a Stand

This post is dedicated to Walter Dean Myers who inspired and guided me through his writing. As a writer, I’ve always seen it as my responsibility to infuse my work with diversity. After all, we live in a world of color and diversity, a world of many peoples, beliefs and religions – and writing, especially children’s writing, should mirror, reflect and embrace this diversity. Sometimes my embrace of race, religion and belief systems has made my work controversial, but controversy hasn’t changed my views or my writing.

A few months before his death, Walter wrote a blistering essay about the lack of diversity in children’s books, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” And I wanted to reply to my old friend: That there are many diverse books in print. That there are many books that present diversity honestly and compassionately. Though clearly, not enough, and perhaps not in ways some expected, and yet perhaps also because books that embrace diversity can come in many forms.

Can a contemporary fiction or nonfiction story embrace diversity? Yes, it can—but so can other types of writing from children’s picture books featuring cute little critters to fantasy, dystopian and science fiction novels.

Anyone who has visited Bugville, the BIG little place where my more than 100 Bugville Critters, Bugville Jr and Bugville Learning picture books take place, knows Bugville is as diverse as our own world. Not only is Bugville a place where the real problems of our world exist, it is a place where light shines on darkness, a place that invites children and their parents to discuss important issues and our natural world.

The critter friends are of many races, religions and beliefs and come from all levels of socioeconomic standing. There are many different types of bugs in Bugville, which do in fact honestly and compassionately reflect the peoples of our world:

* The Ladybug family is upper class, with a mom who is the CEO of her own company, a dad of color who is the mayor, and children who are from different marriages.

* The Bee family is working-class, with a blue-color dad who is a factory worker, a stay at home mom, and three children.

* The Dragonfly family has an unemployed working-class dad, a mom and two children.

* The Caterpillar family has a single mom who works at the Post Office and a special needs daughter.

* The Silkworm family, who recently emigrated from Japan, has a daughter who is having trouble adapting to the cultural changes of her new home and difficulty learning English as a second language.

Anyone who has visited the Magic Lands, where my Ruin Mist: Magic Lands stories take place, knows that underlying themes relate to race, color and the rights of indigenous peoples. Ray and his people are people of color. Their lands, beliefs and rights are being encroached upon by outsiders. Ray faces difficult decisions when his spirit journey takes him into the outsider’s world and cultures clash.

The themes in Magic Lands aren’t overt, rather they are subtle, integral parts of the story that reflect the challenges of a diverse world. A world that is just like our own, whether you are on the inside looking out or the outside looking in.

The world of Ruin Mist is in fact a very diverse place. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches and In the Service of Dragons books, peoples of many different backgrounds, religions, beliefs and nationalities are central to the story. The characters thoughts and actions reflect their heritages, belief systems and religions. The people's of the southern kingdoms are peoples of color. The elves of Greye are as well, as is Uver, the father of modern elves.

There often are racial and other prejudices at work.The ancient hatred between the Men of the Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches. The banning and burning of books. The purges to cleanse the world of all that is magical, be it creature, man or device. The clashes between beliefs and religions.

Though a character’s prejudices and preconceptions can shape his or her thoughts and actions, preconceptions and prejudices can and do give way to understanding and tolerance. Again, these themes aren’t overt, but they are integral parts of the story that reflect the challenges of a diverse world. A world that is just like our own, whether you are on the inside looking out or the outside looking in.

After reading this, I hope you’ll look at Walter’s works. Read Monster, Hoops, Dope Sick or my personal favorites, Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Until next time,

Robert Stanek

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ruin Mist Movie Option Expires. 6th Time Wasn’t the Lucky Charm After All.


Well, Ruin Mist fans, I’m terribly disappointed to say the movie option expired today. As principle filming has not begun, it means the 6th time wasn’t the lucky charm for Ruin Mist after all. Those who have been following along know I’ve been in this crazy business for a few decades now, and am not quite ready to give up the Hollywood dream just yet. The silver lining, as ever: I get to keep the option money. This is, of course, an update from my post from way back in October 2012.

Still, like I said back then, you know you’re doing something right when Hollywood comes knocking six times in a row. Way back in 2002, the first two times Hollywood came knocking, I was  awestruck. Now I’m fine with whatever may and may not happen, so no more dancing on clouds. :-(

BTW, this most recent flirt with Hollywood was thanks to the Ruin Mist prequel and the Ruin Mist graphic novel.

If you’re new to the world of Ruin Mist, books set in the world include:

Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #1, 2, 3, 4:
Winds of Change
Seeds of Dissent
Pawn of Dragons
Tower of Destiny

In the Service of Dragons #1, 2, 3, 4:
A Clash of Heroes
A Dance of Swords
A Storm of Shields
A Reign of Dragons

Guardians of the Dragon Realms #1, 2:
The Dragon, the Wizard & the Great Door
A Legacy of Dragons

Dragons of the Hundred Worlds #1, 2:
Breath of Fire
Living Fire

A Daughter of Kings #1, 2, 3, 4:
Betrayal
Deliverance
Rebirth
Discord

Magic Lands #1, #2
Journey Beyond
Into the Stone Land

As ever, thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Big Books, Big Contracts: The Road to Success is Paved With Potholes (Or Alternately What It’s Like to Write 150 Books & Still Have to Give 150% Every Single Day.)

I'm Robert Stanek. Last year, I signed an 8-book six-figure contract with my long-time publisher. In the past, I’ve had contracts for $70,000 and up for 3 or 4 books, but nothing so substantial. It was a wonderful confirmation of my commitment to the written word and it felt great to have a publisher back my work so strongly, especially in the uncertain landscape of today’s publishing reality.

Since I’ve been talking about the contract and the books lately, I often hear from people who congratulate me on “my quick success” and “my rapid rise to acclaim.” I am, of course, a critically and commercially acclaimed author of more than 150 books. I also am one of the world’s leading authorities in the subjects I write about and the more than $200,000,000 in retail earnings for my books easily put me in a class of the top 1% of authors in the world. I am, however, anything but an overnight success. I’ve been a writer for 30 years and only 20 as a published professional.

I earned my stripes in this crazy business when I wrote for many years for the simple pleasure of writing itself. It wasn’t until 1994 that I signed my first contract. It wasn’t until 1995 that my first book was published. It wasn’t until 1996 that I was able to write full-time.

My full-time work as a writer is as a technology journalist and nonfiction writer. In those early days, I wrote articles for leading publications like PC Magazine and Dr. Dobbs. I also wrote books for leading publishers like Macmillan, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, and O’Reilly Media. For articles, I often received $1 or more a word. For books, I often received solid five-figure advances. That was, of course, success, and I did in fact rise quickly, becoming a recognized world leader in my field in only a few short years.

Success, however, can be short lived. In publishing, a writer’s last success doesn’t necessarily pave the road to the future. A writer’s future is determined by his or her next book and often also by factors the writer cannot control. The world changes every day. Trends and tastes shift. Yesterday’s media darling can be tomorrow’s nobody.

I’ve lived the change firsthand. Between 1995 and 1998, I signed more than a dozen contracts, wrote books as fast as I could write them for readers who couldn’t get my books fast enough. I was on fire. In those few short years, my books earned over $50,000,000 at retail. I thought the ride would never end, until it did.

The market changed. Trends and tastes shifted. The hot topics of the day were flooded with a smorgasbord of offerings. There weren’t just 10 or 20 books on that hot topic, there were a hundred. Eventually, this oversaturation cannibalized sales of all similar books. Thus, even as my success and career were hitting new highs, I was left scrambling.

But unlike many of my contemporaries at the time, I saw the light of that oncoming freight train. I knew my options. I knew what I had to do.

I could continue to write books in an oversaturated market, try to live with sales that were a tiny fraction of what they had been, or I could look to new opportunities. I chose plan b—the new opportunities. I risked everything, left my old publishers who weren’t interested in my new ideas, and went out looking for publishers who were interested in my new ideas.

The change meant I had to rejoin the working world. I took a job with a tech company in Seattle and joined the ranks of the marathon commuters, driving 140 miles round trip every working day. I continued writing in the evenings and on weekends. I continued to pitch my new ideas to new publishers.

Days and weeks passed. Months too. By the sixth month, my wife and I were seriously considering our options and wishing we’d sold the family home and moved to Seattle months ago.

But I didn’t give up. Instead, I polished my ideas yet again and sent them out via my agent to a new publisher who I heard was looking to do something different. I just hoped that the “something different” they wanted would be my radical idea for a new series of books.

The wait to hear back from the publisher was agony because at this point it was make or break. If I heard back from the publisher and it wasn’t good news, my writing career likely was over. If I heard back from the publisher and it was good news, there was hope, but no certainty.

Thankfully, I heard back from my agent within a few days and the news was good. The publisher wanted to meet with me. The publisher wanted to discuss my ideas.

During the meeting, it was clear that the publisher liked my ideas but I’d need to provide sample chapters, expand the series details, have more face-to-face meetings, and generally do more to convince them. The hard part that followed required a leap of faith. I couldn’t do all that was required of me, in the time that was required of me, and keep working full-time elsewhere. I had to quit the day job and proceed, or keep the day job and let the dream die.

I chose the dream. I gave notice, worked my last two weeks while I continued developing the materials needed. A few weeks in, I learned the publisher had one idea for the series and I had another. Worse, the concepts were radically different.

I thought for sure disaster was ahead. Thankfully, the publisher did eventually sign me to a two-book contract. A contract to do things their way—and not my way. 

However, the sample chapters I’d written over the past weeks were for my series concept and not theirs, so I kept writing the books my way. For this publisher, it was something unheard of for any writer to go outside the standard or to deviate from fixed standards. But my editors loved the final chapters I submitted, and I completed the work in its entirety ahead of schedule—so many weeks ahead of schedule they didn't quite know what to do, and this also was something else that was unheard of.

In fact, I was so far ahead of schedule, that the book’s publication dates were moved back several months. Those several months proved critical, as they allowed the publisher to showcase the books at a major industry event when the publisher otherwise would not have been able to. And the books done my way were smash hits at the event. 

The rest as they say is history. Those contracts were followed by two other contracts from other publishers that I’d contacted previously. Suddenly, I was back in the publishing business.

That little series I started? That series would eventually go on to become one of the biggest blockbuster series for the publisher, with $100,000,000 in worldwide retail sales—and counting.

Those first books I wrote in that series? They set the foundation for the entire series and became critically-acclaimed, award-winning bestsellers.

Not too shabby for ideas nobody wanted and no one but me believed in. Sometimes in life you must take that leap of faith. Sometimes you must believe in yourself when no one else does. Sometimes you must follow the wrong path to find the right one.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, December 23, 2013

$200 Million-Dollar Man in 2014: What It’s Like to be Wildly Successful as an Author (Or Alternatively Is a Top 1% Author a 1 Percenter After 20 Years in This Crazy Business?)

Selling over $100,000,000 in books is something few authors achieve. Selling over $200,000,000 in books is something even fewer authors achieve—and it’s something I will be writing about during 2014 as the new year marks my 20th year in the crazy business of publishing. People have asked me if all the success changed my life and I’d like to think that it has in many ways. But it’s been a long, long road and a road that never started with me trying to get published.

In fact, I wrote novels for years before I ever tried to get published. For me, writing was never about getting published. It was always about doing what I loved. And doing what I love full-time for 20 years has given me great perspective on writing, on success, and on life.

I got my start as a professional writer in the early ‘90s. My first book, published in 1995, was a major bestseller, and so was the sequel, published in 1996. It was wondrous times to see my works in bookstores and in enormous stacks that were sometimes chest-high. These were of course 1,000-page tomes, so a chest-high stack was easily achieved and yet tremendous to see all the same.

By 2005, my books had sold millions and millions of copies and had earned well over $100,000,000 in retail sales, putting me easily in a class of the top 1% of authors in the world. The fact that I have remained there in the top 1% of authors in the world for a decade is no small feat. Yet there I am, and I cannot but wonder at the marvelous road I’ve traveled. (For more background, read: How I Made This Crazy Thing Called Writing a 20-year Career...).

I’ve been around the world, lived around the world. I’ve made fortunes, lost fortunes, and given away fortunes. Along the way millions of people have bought and read my works and millions more have checked my works out of libraries.

The path traveled hasn’t been all roses, cavalcades, and unicorns. The publishing business can be an ugly business; the world can be an ugly place. And yet, I’ve never lost belief in my words or my ability to instruct, to entertain, to tell a story. I love the craft. I’ve not only written in literary genres from action/adventure, mystery and suspense to science fiction and fantasy, in subject areas from computer technology to military memoir, and in children's picture books for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school readers—but I’ve been successful in all.

Now that’s the stuff of Willy Wonka’s wondrously wonderful dreams. The books, the ideas, they live large in my thoughts and in my pages. And yet there are still many places I’d like to travel to with my words. Irrespective of whether I get to travel those roads, it will have been a wondrous journey and one I will be writing much about in 2014. I may even answer the question as to whether a Top 1% author is a 1 percenter after 20 years in this crazy business.

Thanks for reading! My new book “Two Million Books a Trickle at a Time. Selling More Books, Finding Success & Making Writing a Career. Inspiration, Essays & How To” tells part of the story of my journey and gets its title courtesy of my indie author endeavors. I do, of course, write as William Stanek and Robert Stanek

Monday, November 11, 2013

Holiday Shopping, Dragons, Independents, Oh My!

I write as William Stanek and Robert Stanek. My story may help you understand writers and independents a little better. As a technology journalist, I've written for PC Magazine, Dr. Dobbs, TechNet Magazine and a variety of other leading magazines. As a technology writer, I've written for Simon & Schuster, Random House, Macmillan, Pearson, Microsoft, O'Reilly and other publishers. My many technical articles and technical books have helped millions of readers learn essential job skills and stay competitive. That's important, especially in these troubling economic times.

While working on the William Stanek books, I also worked on my Robert Stanek books, including the Ruin Mist books, the Magic Lands books, and the Bugville Critters books. The Ruin Mist books have been fairly popular. In the spring of 2002, Keeper Martin's Tale and Elf Queen's Quest became instant bestsellers, spending a combined 26 weeks on the Amazon.com Sci-Fi/Fantasy Top 50 list. The name "Ruin Mist" is the common language translation of an elvish word, which means "the lost ages" which is what ruinmistmovie.com is all about. The stories of Ruin Mist are set in a fictional past of our world.

Ruin Mist has three distinct realms of existence: Over-Earth, Under-Earth, and Middle-Earth. Over-Earth is the home of dragons, titans, and eagle lords, the great peoples of the past. Under-Earth is an otherworldly realm that has blood-red skies, and no sun or moon. Middle-Earth is the home of elves of the reaches and the men of the kingdoms. The history of Ruin Mist is divided into four ages: The First Age - The Age of Titans; The Second Age - The Age of Men, Elves, and Dwarves; The Third Age - The Age of Men and Elves; and The Fourth Age - The Age of Men.

The popularity of the Ruin Mist books built up through the release of the subsequent Ruin Mist books. Readers enjoyed the magical realms, the grand adventures, and the combination of classic fantasy elements with a fresh, highly imaginative approach. In the spring of 2005, the Ruin Mist books were first published in audio and became instant audio bestsellers, spending more than 52 weeks on Audible.com's bestseller lists. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches eventually became one of the Top 100 all-time fiction bestsellers on Audible.com and was so popular, it was featured on the Audible.com home page throughout July and August 2005.



In 2005, the Ruin Mist books also were featured in several printed books, including The Ancient Art of Faery Magick, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elves and Fairies, and Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference). In 2007, the books were featured and highly recommended by VOYA, the top library journal for youth librarians.

"[A] complex tale...sure to attract fans of graphic novels and classic Tolkien alike....Stanek will likely draw a cult following....This cliffhanger guarantees fans, and those fans will be ready to wield their swords against the Dark Lord in Stanek's next installment." (VOYA)
I've also written an account of my experiences in the Persian Gulf War. That book, Stormjammers, was featured in the Journal of Electronic Defense and highly recommended. 
"Hard to put down....It is impossible not to share the relief and pride of the individual crew members when the attack missions they protect exit Iraq safely....Another side of the book lets the reader ride along when Stanek's EC-130H has two engines quit in the war zone." (The Journal of Electronic Defense)

The Bugville Critters have always had a special place in my life. For 15 years, I was satisfied with only the gleeful cheers, laughs and giggles of my children who delighted to hear my tales of Bugville and a little bug called Buster. My children urged me for years to get the books published so other children could read the stories too. Since I started that long journey in 2004, the Bugville Critters books have been featured by Parenting Magazine, written about by the Wall Street Journal, and welcomed by teachers around the U.S. These stories are about life and our world. I wrote the stories to instruct and entertain.



Because the books are independently published, you won't always find them in print in the Big Box stores. Big Box stores don't understand independent books or independent authors (and sadly, you can say the same about most independent bookstores). Sure, Big Box stores may stock "The Elf on the Shelf" at Christmas time, they may stock a few local indies from time to time, but they normally don't otherwise. Fortunately, there are many places you can find my books and the books of other independents, especially online. Further, you have only to ask at the Big Box stores to order my books or any other book that's independently published and they will order the books.

Thank you for reading! When you're out shopping this year, I hope you'll support independents, along with the big boys, too. You can learn more about me at robertstanek.com or at reagentpress.com.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Some people are the dog. Others, the tail on the dog. Or alternatively why I’m celebrating my 1000th+ title in active worldwide distribution.


Celebrating my 1000th title in active distribution isn’t about numbers. It’s more about helping others understand today’s publishing reality. The reality of today’s working-class writers. In publishing today, a writer who sells a million copies of 1 or a few books is a superstar while a writer who sells millions of copies of many books over many years may not even be considered by some to be successful. That’s because the publishing industry is designed to recognize racing rabbits—those thoroughbred superstars who knock the covers off the ball and sell, sell, sell copies of a single book or a few books by the boatload. The publishing industry isn’t designed for the working-class writer—those tortoises who barely get in a few steps toward first base while the superstars are sliding in to home.

But this tortoise has news. You can be a tortoise and reach home plate too. It takes much longer, requires much more dedication, but it can be done.

Although I don’t have any single book that has sold a million copies, I do have many books that have collectively sold millions and have collectively been checked out of libraries millions of times as well. In fact, earlier this year, I celebrated the publication of my 150th book. Well, at least the 150th book I counted amongst a much larger number of books of mine that have been published since 1995. For you see, the working-class writer doesn’t have the luxury of writing a book a year or a book every 2 or 3 years. A working-class writer must write 3, 4, 5, or 10 books a year to pay the mortgage, to put the kids through college, to feed the beast.

Many books written for many years help to give tremendous breadth and depth to any working-class writer’s body of work. All those books released in various editions, as audio books and ebooks, as sets and compilations, and as translations into many languages over many years create mountains of active titles in distribution. When those mountains of titles begin to wag the tail on the dog, it no longer matters whether you are the dog or the tail on the dog because at that point you are the whole enchilada. You are the dog, the tail, the dog wagging the tail, and the tail wagging the dog.

My numbers would in fact make most publisher’s drool. I’ve never had a book that failed to sell. My books earn back their advances. My books have long legs and typically have steady sales year after year after year. And by sales I mean all purchases, downloads, check outs, etc that result in a reader getting a book to read. But my books sell collectively in a relative trickle.

When you look at all the various editions, formats, sets, compilations, and translations of my books and track those as individual titles, you find that I’ve had many thousands of titles published over the years. There are in fact over 1,000 active William Robert Stanek titles available right now today (and not including an additional 400 or so of my titles in the English language that don’t even have my name on them as they are sold under brand names). Online bookstores, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, carry over 600 of my English language titles and there are over 900 of my English language titles in library distribution. You can check these numbers yourself by counting all the William Stanek, William R. Stanek, William Robert Stanek, and Robert Stanek English-language titles.

None of these titles individually is a blockbuster, but all of these titles sell. They sell in that relative trickle I spoke of a moment ago. (For a complete list of my books, read: Books by William Robert Stanek.)

A trickle that turns individual snowflakes into snowballs coming done a mountainside and snowballs into an avalanche that brings the mountain down and levels the playing field with the superstars of publishing. My publishers don’t like it when I give exact numbers, but consider this: if you count only 1,000 of my active titles and say those titles sell only a miniscule 1 copy a day on average, that’s still 365,000 books sold a year.

Being the tail on the dog’s not looking so bad after all. Is it?

Thanks for reading! For more about my 20-year career as a writer, read "How I Made This Crazy Thing Called Writing a 20-year Career."


Robert Stanek