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Monday, March 5, 2012

A Jolt of Scottimism

Illustration by RH Lazzell

Update: Scott & Lazzell's debut book will arrive in 2014 by Dial Books for Young Readers.  Yay:!)
Scott McCormick has a daughter who attends the same preschool as JaeLynn.  After dismissal a group of us sometimes head down to a nearby park.  It was here where I soon found out that Scott too was an aspiring author.  After pelting him with a few soft questions regarding his children's book, The Other Side of the Story I became intrigued enough to want to profile him here on my little blog.  But as the weeks mounted and more conversations ensued it became harder for me to pinpoint an angle.  It was not until I was laying around one Sunday gorging myself on, "Sex and the City" reruns, avoiding my latest manuscript, when something Ms. Bradshaw said struck a chord with me.  It was one of those episodes where cynicism towards love was nipping at Carrie impeding her writing while Charlotte, despite also having been unlucky in love, remained optimistic towards the subject which baffled Carrie.  As the episode ran I saw my dilemma with the Scott post mirrored there.  Scott is like that Charlotte character.  Even when I bombarded him with questions that brought to mind the possibility that he would never receive the phone call (you know that one where a dream agent is on the other end) Scott remained optimistic, always with a casual shrug of the shoulders offering up a plan B type of answer.  So for those of you out there feeling the spindly legs of cynicism crawling upon your shoulders keep reading to get your jolt of  Scottimism:-)
Scott McCormick is the author of, The Other Side of the Story a children’s book with illustrations by RH Lazzell  

Tanya Yvonne:  How did the concept for your book come about?
Scott McCormick:  The book is based on a cat I used to have named Mr Pants.  He was a very precocious animal who used to have all sorts of adventures in my old neighborhood in Philadelphia. He seemed like an obvious inspiration for a children's book; however, when I tried to write one based on his real-life adventures, he suddenly didn't seem very interesting. After all, in kid's books, animals do all sorts of wild and crazy things.  Snoopy gets into dogfights with the Red Baron... Mr Pants once got on a Septa bus. Not very interesting.  So I shelved it.
Years later I was reading a book to my daughter that had dinosaur colors on one side and then you flipped the book over and it had dinosaur numbers on the other side.  It occurred to me that, while this type of book format (which I now know is called TĂȘte-bĂȘche) was interesting, this particular book didn't take the concept all the way.  After all, they just stuck two books together.  So I had a flash of inspiration that you could use this format to tell one story from two different perspectives and I even came up with the title in the same breath.  It took me a few days to realize that this would be the perfect vehicle for Mr Pants, cast as a stand-in for my kids.
His antagonist, Foot Foot, was another cat of mine.

TY:  Have you considered a non-traditional route to publishing?
SM:  I have.  Still am.  My illustrator and I are trying the traditional route first, but if we fail we'll self-publish.  Self-publishing today is very different from what it was even just five years ago.  It's now very easy to get your book sold on Amazon, iTunes, etc.  Getting people to find your book and buy it is another matter, but that doesn't seem like a huge obstacle to me.  At least then you're in control.  Plus self-publishing is faster and the royalties are better.  Wait, why am I trying to get a publishing deal again?

TY:  Are those around you supportive, understand what you are trying to accomplish with your writing?
SM:  My family has been unbelievably supportive.  Especially my kids, who are my main editors.  If they don't laugh, then I know I've missed the mark.

TY:  Are you working on any other book ideas?
SM:  Well, I'm always writing new Mr Pants books.  I have ten or so written and ideas for more.  I'm also working on something totally different but that's not developed enough to discuss.

TY:  Have you attended any writers conferences?  How was this experience for you? 
SM:  I attended SCBWI (a conference specifically for children's book authors and illustrators) in NYC this past January.  I enjoyed the show very much and learned quite a lot.  I'm not the most outgoing person in the world so I probably didn't meet as many people as I could have but I did wind up making some good contacts, both other writers and people in the business.

TY:  What was the take away?
SM:  One take away for me is that I got in touch with an agent thanks to my having attended this show and this has been very productive so far.  I hear this from lots of people, btw.  Agents and editors who say they're not open to submissions will often make an exception for conference attendees.

TY:  Would you advise others to attend such conferences?
SM:  Well, it certainly couldn't hurt.

TY:  What has this whole process taught you about yourself?  And has it changed how you approach writing?
SM:  Not sure how to answer either question.  I've been trying to "make it" for years now.  By "make it" I mean get accepted by the establishment.  This started back when I was in a band and we tried to get signed.  Then I tried writing and selling screenplays.  And now it's children's books. This is the first time where I feel like I really have a hit on my hands.  We'll see, of course.  But in the past people would say "oh that's nice" but I could tell they were just being polite.  But people have gone out of their way to tell me how much they dig Mr Pants.  We've even had people steal copies of the book off the print shop floor, which I see as a great compliment.  After all, I couldn't give away copies of my CD.

TY:  Have you started thinking of your book as a product yet?  Do you get why it is important to do so?
SM:  Yes, and I think, if we ever get a publishing deal, it will be because of that.  In my query letters I've been focusing on what makes my book different, who it appeals to, how easily it can be scaled for other media, merchandising possibilities, etc.  I work in marketing, so this is right up my alley.  Perhaps that's why self-publishing doesn't seem that intimidating to me.

TY:  Do you belong to any writing groups?
SM:  No. Maybe I should?  That doesn't appeal to me but maybe it's because I've never done it.

TY:  Describe your book using only one sentence. 
SM:  THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY tells the tale of two cats’ struggle to play with the same toy: Read Mr Pants’ version of events then flip the book over to get his sister Foot Foot’s side of the story.

TY:  How hard was it for you to do that?
SM:  Very hard.  I cheated through use of a colon.

TY:  Knowing what you know now pass along what you feel is a key piece of advice.
SM:  Well seeing as I've sold a total of three copies of my book, I don't know that I can give advice to anyone.  But something I've learned from other people who have been successful is that you should write the book you're dying to read.

TY:  How do you deal with rejection? 
SM:  I don't know how I deal with it. So when I started sending out query letters at first all I got was a lot of nothing.  No response at all.  This was far worse than rejection.  After all, I didn't know if the people even got my query, or what, if anything they didn't like about it.  Nothing.  That was maddening.  So when I got my first rejection letter I was actually pretty psyched.  I've gotten a few since then and been much less psyched about it.  But not disheartened.  Mostly mystified.  Why can't these people see how awesome this thing is?  I'm only half joking when I say that.  I mean, the illustrations and the format alone are worth at least saying "close but no cigar. show me something else."  Finally an agent did say that to me and we're going back and forth a bit with some ideas.  Nothing's settled yet so it's too early to really say anything but we'll see.

TY:  Is there an up side to a rebuff?
SM:  So the upside to rejection is: At least it's a response!  Maybe it builds character, too.  I don't know.

TY:  Give me a fun or interesting tidbit about you.  Mine is that I am obsessed with reruns of,  “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” 
SM:  Love that show even though I normally hate comedy based on uncomfortable situations. Like Ben Stiller movies.  Not that I have a problem with him but "Meet the Parents" physically hurt me.  I couldn't watch it.
Interesting tidbit about me: I love bad horror movies.

TY:  If you had to start this process over again, how would you do it differently?
SM:  I don't know that I'd change anything.  Yet.  Check back with me in a few years when I'm old and bitter.

TY:  What is next for you?
SM:  World domination.

TY:  Is your work available for purchase anywhere?
SM:  Not yet.  But soon it'll be required reading.  You know, after I take over the world.  Kind of like Mao's little red book.  But it'll be Scott's Little Pants Book.

TY:  Do you have an end game?  How long before you come to the conclusion that this is just not going to happen and you stop querying your current manuscript(s)?
SM:  Well that won't happen because we'll just self-publish.  And then we'll publish the next one and the next one after that until we get tired of it.
Now that’s Scottimism:!)  
Happy reading, writing or whatever:)
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