A few years ago when we moved to our lovely little Ohio town, my son, then in 8th grade, went out for the lacrosse team. The sport is a big deal around here, and although my son had never seen a game played before, he borrowed a stick and a ball and a big net, and started practicing in the backyard. It's a hard sport, apparently, to pick up in a couple of months, and he didn't make the team.
In ninth grade he tried out again. No cuts for freshmen, the coaches assured the kids, but they would have to participate in a team bonding activity before the try-outs: sell 200 bags of mulch at 4 bucks a pop within one week. This directive came down in January when it happened to be 10 degrees outside.
Let me say here that I HATE fundraisers. Wrapping paper, cookie dough, candy bars, magazines, whatever. I sympathize with schools and clubs having to raise money, but I hate that kids (and parents) get roped into being salespeople for overpriced products. I was never the mom pushing my kid out the door to hawk that stuff to the neighbors, and my husband never schlepped the packets to his office to hit up his co-workers. We either wrote a check and ate the freaking candy bars ourselves or donated the money they expected our kid to raise.
But that day in January, I could see there was no way we could afford 800+ dollars worth of mulch. Never mind that we had nowhere to put 200 bags of the stuff. I pushed my son out the door.
Most of the neighbors turned out to be pretty cool about it. The lacrosse mulch sale is a known tradition around here, and they must've felt bad for the lanky kid shivering on their doorstop. He sold his quota and my husband and I resolved to buy every kid on the street's candy bars until the end of time.
The next year when he tried out for the team, I shoved him out the door again. He sold his quota, and then he got cut. That was pretty devastating for him and it wasn't much consolation when the kids who made the team delivered the over-priced mulch to all our neighbors.
Year three, I was proud of my son for trying out again and sympathetic when he brought home that damn mulch packet for a third time, but geez! How much mulch did our poor neighbors need? And what kind of team bonding activity is it when you're not actually on the team?
He got cut again. Which was really cruddy but a good learning experience--blah blah resiliency and hard work and pursuing a dream and living through rejection, yadda yadda, but I must admit that every spring when I see those mulch trucks zooming around town, I feel a surge of yucky feelings.
It's hard to put yourself out there and ask for something--something that's kind of a big deal--something that makes another person feel obligated to say yes, or worse, no to you.
I didn't mean to spend so much time writing about mulch. What I really want to talk about is how I felt asking authors I respect and admire if they would read my forthcoming book Thin Space and possibly write a blurb about it.
My publisher suggested I do this many months ago but it took me a long while to gear myself up to ask anyone. I didn't want to put people on the spot. Asking someone to take the time to read my book is a big enough imposition but then asking them to put their name on an endorsement is even bigger. And what if they didn't like my book? Would they feel weird telling me?
When I finally pushed myself out that metaphorical door, I was shivering and clinging to my mulch packet--I mean, my book. But like my kind neighbors, the writers I asked were cool. More than cool. They seemed flattered that I asked them. They were prompt in their responses. Only one person said no, and he was sweet and apologetic about it. The others said yes. They promised to be honest. One told me, "Hey, if I love it, I'll blurb it, and if I don't, I'll keep my mouth shut!"
There's a lesson in here. Sometimes you've got to swallow your pride and put yourself out there. People are kind. They like to help when asked. And things have a way of working out well in the end.
My son never made the lacrosse team after ninth grade, but he did parlay that experience into a kick-butt college essay that caught the eye of the admission counselors at the college of his dreams. Our neighbors have stunning flower beds filled with the highest quality mulch. And I got three endorsements for my book from writers I love. Please check out their books:
Jennifer Castle's moving and beautifully written The Beginning of After and her soon-to-be released You Look Different in Real Life.
The absorbing and heartbreaking debut What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton.
Mike Mullin's edge-of-your-seat page turner Ashfall and the riveting sequel Ashen Winter.
And if you want to see these awesome writers' blurbs of Thin Space, click here.
Actually, due to a clerical error on my part, I only sold 199 bags of mulch that year, remember? That was disappointingReplyDelete
Yeah, so I glossed over a few things. IE: how you refused to sell mulch junior year. And how we bought FORTY bags... It's that time of year again. Don't you sorta miss it?ReplyDelete
Your son is a hero! Selling girl scout cookies was awful enough... I cannot even imagine how miserable it must be to be a door-to-door mulch salesman. (And congrats on those blurbs!)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Caroline. I just hopped over to your blog and I love it! And looks like we are fellow Sept. debuts! Very coolDelete
I agree with Caroline...hero! And you're pretty cool, too, Jody!ReplyDelete
Aww, shucks. Thanks, Jennifer.Delete
And there is the comfort that a book is ever so much better than mulch. Mulch! What are those lacrossians thinking? And then to cut the kid who sold dirt for the team. Yipes. There's probably a story idea tucked in there about the cruelties of team organizers.ReplyDelete
I loved the blurbs. Much better than mulch.
I know, right? I love this little town. Nobody else seems to think the mulch thing is strange. And thanks about the blurbs. I don't know why I keep being surprised about how awesome the YA writing community is. Coolest, most generous and supportive people I know.Delete
This is probably the most interesting post that's largely about mulch I've ever read (we sold wrapping paper at weird times of year for our orchestra way back when).ReplyDelete
Still, I was wondering, as an aspiring writer – who's admittedly getting ahead of herself – how did you choose which authors to contact and how did you contact them? Did you simply reach out through their public sites?
Thanks, Aria. And good question--something I really struggled with. The authors I asked were all people I had had some kind of correspondence with already. I'd read and reviewed books of theirs long before I got my deal and they'd been very gracious to me. Still, it was hard to ask! My advice to you, if you are just starting out, is to link up with people in the writing community now. Review books. Follow writers on Twitter. Like their Facebook author pages. Comment on their websites, etc. Go to conferences and book signings. (I met Mike Mullin at a signing and he was ridiculously nice.)Delete
Thanks for the advice! Are there any great conferences you went to that you'd recommend?Delete
& thanks for 'liking' my page on Facebook! :)
Look into joining the organization for your genre and going to their events. I belong to SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They have regional chapters and lots of resources for writers, and I imagine that other groups do too. One of my writing friends belongs to a Fantasy group and another is in a Romance writers' group. I'm always toying with the idea of going to another retreat. I went to one put on by the Highlights Foundation years ago and it was a big turning point for me.Delete
Okay. Thanks again!Delete
I'm glad you and your son are so upbeat about it, but I have to say it's rather unfair of the team to hold their fundraiser BEFORE they make the cuts and finalize the team! But it's true that in writing we pay plenty of dues long before we get called off the bench.ReplyDelete
Yes. We're upbeat, now. It took a while, though. But like everything else that's kinda crummy--there's always a good story to tell laterDelete