An Odd Book

An Odd Book: How the First Modern Pop Culture Reporter Conquered New York, by R. Scott Williams; R. Scott Williams, $18.99, 272 pages. 

“Since my earliest recollection, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter and I cannot tell you why.” –Odd McIntyre

At the height of his career, Oscar Odd McIntyre (1884-1938) reached millions of readers across America and Europe through his daily column that chronicled the glittering spectacle that was Manhattan of the early twentieth century. Odd’s “New York Day by Day” was syndicated in over 400 newspapers in the 1920s. His prolific output and widespread popularity more than paid the bills; Odd’s daily columns brought home an estimated $200,000 a year–no small potatoes in 1920 or 2017.

How this shy, high-school dropout from Gallipolis, Ohio, went from scraping by to hob-nobbing with the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin is the captivating topic of a recently published biography by R. Scott Williams.

An Odd Book: How the First Modern Pop Culture Reporter Conquered New York is actually a dual biography: the first chronicles Odd’s hard-fought battle to the top of the newspaper world, aided in no small part by his enterprising wife, Maybelle. The second is a parallel examination of the rise in power and influence of newspapers in the first half of the twentieth century. Media tycoons W.R. Hearst, E.W. Scripps, Joseph Pulitzer and others ushered in the golden years of journalism and the newspaper industry. The fierce competition between various newspaper outlets created the perfect environment to support Odd’s prolific career.


image courtesy of R.W. Williams 

After Odd died in 1938, the man who chronicled many of the major cultural events of the early twentieth century fell quietly into oblivion. Though this is not the first biography of the newsman–the first was written by Odd’s longtime editor and biographer, Charles B. Driscoll–little has been written about Odd until now.

As the chief operating officer of sales and marketing at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., author R. Scott Williams seemed uniquely suited to resurrect Odd’s story for a new generation. “Basically, I liked the way Odd wrote. I also liked the path he took to fame and the struggles he was up against.” (Odd was a notoriously terrible speller, suffered from severe anxiety disorders, depression, and likely undiagnosed pernicious anemia.)

Rather than pursue a traditional publisher, the author chose to create his own imprint (R. Scott Williams) and self-publish. The concept of a midlist author is practically nonexistent these days, with the big publishing houses throwing all of their resources behind established, “blockbuster” names. This leaves little money or interest in cultivating emerging and midlist authors, and some professional writers are giving up the gauntlet and self-publishing to make their books a reality.

Williams turned to self-publishing after learning that his book wouldn’t get much media support or advertising from a publishing house. “I floated the idea with a couple of publisher contacts but they felt like it was going to be a challenge because no one had heard of him. They suggested I write about someone people knew so that it would sell…but that’s no fun.”

So, how did this self-published book stack up against a traditionally published biography? As a journalist by trade, Williams knows how to craft a story, and a detailed bibliography highlights the author’s commitment to getting the facts right. But Williams didn’t just write everything in a Word document and then upload it to a self-publishing website–this sophisticated production was professionally edited, proofread, and designed. Williams put together the press release as well as a landing page for the book, and maintains robust Twitter and Instagram accounts. In short, he and a production team did everything a traditional publisher would have done, the entire package signaling a positive turn in the evolution of self-publishing. It’s not magic; it’s hustle and elbow grease, but the result is proof positive that a self-published book can be worthwhile and enjoyable, perhaps a harbinger of more well-crafted, thoughtful books written outside the mainstream publication route.

Now comes the hard part–getting the word out that An Odd Book is very much worth reading. Like his subject, Williams is tenaciously reaching out to readers through a carefully calibrated media blitz, one that will hopefully pay off. We wish him the very best of luck that An Odd Book finds an appreciative audience eager to read about a man whose words defined an era over a century ago.

Find out more about the book, as well as how to get a copy for yourself, here.

A Guide to Self-Published Books, Part 2 of 3



Our tour of self-published children’s picture books continues this week with Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt and illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis.

Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt, illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis;
Minnesota Historical Society, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

Who’s the publisher?
* The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is a non-profit organization based in St. Paul devoted to preserving and promoting the history and culture of Minnesota. The MNHS was incorporated in 1849 and is one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the U.S.

* The MNHS is a member of the American Association of University Presses, a non-profit that provides marketing assistance to over 130 member presses.

* The book is 10 x 10, fully illustrated, and 32 pages long—all industry standards for children’s picture books.

* The book has been properly formatted with title pages, front and rear flyleaves, and ISBN information.

* The author and illustrator are properly cited for their contributions.

How’s the book?
* Mama Loved to Worry is a tall tale that takes place on a Midwestern farm—Mama is a “world-class worrywart” and there’s plenty to ruffle her feathers on Daisy Dell Farm. When she’s not knitting, sewing, or cooking, Mama saves Baby Eli from loose pigs, popping corn, and even a twister. Mama’s something of a homespun Wonder Woman—even though she’s clad in blue overalls, there’s something decidedly other-worldly about her ability to hold down the fort. Rich in local colloquialism, the book offers a fanciful glimpse of rural life on a farm.

* Author Maryann Weidt is a Minnesota librarian and won the Minnesota Book Award for her previous children’s book, Daddy Played Music for the Cows. (Unlike the Mom’s Choice Awards, which are pay-to-play awards, the Minnesota Book Awards are presented by the Friends of the St. Paul Library System.) Weidt conducted research about Minnesota farms by visiting the Gale Family Library, part of the Minnesota History Center and the MNHS. 

* Illustrator Rachael Balsaitis is also a Minnesota native and has illustrated other state-themed books like Annie’s Plaid Shirt and Love is Forever. The artwork appears to be rendered in watercolor, though a quick note explaining the medium would be helpful.

* This charming book offers a look at how one woman deals with life’s worries while also offering a glimpse of family farms, a way of life that’s all but disappeared from the American landscape.

Final Thoughts:
* The author and illustrator conducted research at the MNHS to create this book, and their knowledge is demonstrated throughout.

* This book will appeal to Midwesterners proud of their heritage as well as travelers to the state in search of a sweet memento for their children.

* Mama Loved to Worry is one in a series of picture books celebrating the state of Minnesota that have been recently published by MNHS Press, meeting the Society’s overriding mission of educational initiatives geared towards children.

As a side note, many institutions in Minnesota are dedicated to enriching the lives of children through storytelling—the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is another vibrant nonprofit advancing the book as a form of contemporary art and expression, while also teaching and preserving the craft of bookmaking. (See my article “The Young Illuminators” in the Winter 2015 issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine where I discuss the MCBA and other institutions fighting back against the decline of arts funding for children.)

The final installment of this series will examine a book written by a former model-turned animal activist.

Tweet me your experiences with self-published children’s books @B_Basbanes

Self-Published Children’s Books: What to Look for (Part 1 of 3)

Self-published books have made great strides towards legitimacy in recent years, with scores of companies ready to help anyone (at any budget) put their ideas to paper and ink. The genre once completely dedicated to catering to vanity publications–and much of the industry still does–can confidently claim itself capable of producing professional-quality titles outside the traditional publishing sphere.

In fact, many traditional, “legacy” publishing houses operate vanity imprints–Archway is a division of Simon & Schuster, Partridge India and BookCountry are partners with Penguin, and Westbow Press is owned HarperCollins. Until recently, Author Solutions and iUniverse were divisions of Penguin Random House as well. These outlets provide sorely-needed revenue for an industry still negotiating this brave new world of on-demand publishing.

Still, when everything on Amazon is slapped with an ISBN, published
by a fancy-sounding company, promoted by publicists, and endorsed by award-bestowing entities, buying a self-published book is nothing
less than caveat lector.

All that being said, it seems timely now to offer examples of independently and self-published books, and explain what sets them apart from a sea of titles created purely for self-validation. Many children’s picture books have come a long way from being amateur attempts at authorship to items savvy consumers might actually want to purchase and read.

This is the first of three posts that will discuss various examples of children’s picture books offered by the self-publishing industry, and what smart consumers should look for before buying.

First up:

What does a family look like?, created by Christine Burger; Purposeful Goods, $12.95, 26 pages, ages 3-5.

First, let’s look at the packaging:

  • Though emblazoned with a gold “Mom’s Choice Award Honoring Excellence,” this is a pay-to-play award, where a base fee of $500 nets an applicant 250 award seals (to be affixed to books), an MCA-sponsored media release, and a dedicated winner’s page with links to the book’s website, among other goodies. $1,500 gets a written endorsement from the award company’s executive director, which the Buddy Boodles series also displays.
  • Physically, the laminate-wrapped hardcover looks and feels like any other picture book. The art too, looks professionally rendered, though no credit is given to the illustrator.
  • The page count is a giveaway that this was manufactured by a vanity press–32 pages is the typical picture-book standard, What does a family look like? runs 30 pages and lacks end sheets.
  • The title does not follow basic capitalization conventions, offering further evidence that the book was not copy-edited by a professional. 

Next, the publishing house:

  • Purposeful Goods is a San-Jose, California-based subsidiary of Noodle and Boo, a high-end “natural” skin-care company along the lines of Jessica Alba’s Honest Company. Boodles, the trademarked cuddly monkey (whose likeness is also available for purchase in plush format through the company website) appears in all three of the inaugural Purposeful Goods titles.
  • There is an altruistic element to Purposeful Goods, where a portion of sales go towards charitable endeavors.

Now, to the content itself:

  • In What does a family look like? Boodles introduces readers to all the different kinds of family dynamics–families with one mother, families with two daddies, and so on. The subject matter, though instructive, is, unfortunately, uninspiring.
  • The illustrations are equally insipid yet completely
    inoffensive–a perfect combination sure to appeal to well-intentioned
    folks looking to complete a swanky baby-shower gift basket or birthday

  • This is the kind of book that might find turn up in the office of a elementary school counselor or social worker.

Final thoughts:

  • The Mom’s Choice Awards are fancy product endorsement, and consumers would be smart to do their own research first. However, for  readers who don’t mind the blatant product placement, this title is an unobjectionable, perfectly PC choice.

Next time, we’ll look at a picture book published by a Midwestern historical society.

(Children’s) BookNotes, May 31, 2016

@PolisBooks @Redwood_Digital  @PublishersWkly @nzbookcouncil

@BFGMovie @roald_dahl @vanityfair

A children’s book author admits to using a ghostwriter, a banned book in New Zealand makes its debut stateside, and moviegoers prepare for the film adaptation of the BFG, this week in children’s book news.

Six-time Olympic gold medalist Chris Hoy admits using a ghostwriter for his children’s book, pointing to a larger trend of celebrities cashing in on their fame by authoring books for kids. (See last week’s story about Simon Cowell here)

Self-published author Ted Dawe’s Into the River will be released in North America on June 14 by Polis Books. Originally published in 2012 in New Zealand, the book was banned due to racy sex scenes and obscene language. Publisher’s Weekly traces the book’s story here.

Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG will hit theaters in July. Read Richard Lawson’s review in Vanity Fair.