One thing we love to read here at BoomerCafé is a success story. Maybe it’s financial success, maybe it’s emotional success. Either way, we like this story from boomer Judy Archibald, whose dog-and-pony show literally inspired a new career.
A journalist for many years, I had been a feature writer and columnist specializing in wildlife and western art for national publications. Then the magazine Wildlife Art, with which I had been associated with for more than twenty-five years, went belly up. I wasn’t too concerned because I still had income from my position as a museum art consultant.
Then one day, while leading my now-26-year-old horse Raven around a pasture with my little dog Kody riding on his back — something we’d been doing every day for the last four years — a light bulb went off in my head. This would make a great kids’ story.
After a month of writing and re-writing, I finally came up with The Mutt & the Mustang, about a little dog who is sad because he fails at tasks his bigger German shepherd buddy can do. But after making friends with Raven, the rescued mustang that lets him ride on his back every day, Kody discovers that just by being himself, he is special.
I considered submitting my story to major publishing houses, but the odds of being accepted are slim and even if they did want my book it would take two years to actually get it in print. I wanted it available while my 11-year-old dog and 26-year-old mustang were still alive.
I also discovered that the authors of most children’s picture books have little or nothing to say about how their stories are illustrated. It was very important to me that the animals in my book resembled my pets: my white cat Cloud, Kody, my poodle mix, Cheyenne, my German shepherd, and both my black mustang Raven and my paint horse Rio.
So even though I am a widow on an extremely tight budget, to keep control of the illustrations in my picture book I started my own publishing company, Pet Pals Publishing, which celebrates the bond between animals and humans. I hired a wonderful illustrator, who captured the personalities of Kody, Raven, Cheyenne, and Rio in delightful illustrations which I believe are classic. At the end, I included a page of photographs showing the real mutt riding “his” mustang.
Then I hired a graphic designer to help lay out The Mutt & the Mustang and then, after editing and re-editing, I had a thousand books printed! From the day I first started writing the story to the beginning of July this year when I had books in hand, it took six months.
Around this same time, my position as a consultant for art shows was turned over to volunteers, so my income disappeared. A good thing my picture books were in print by then, because without a reliable source of income from the museum, I would not have gambled on a story about a little dog who rides a horse.
Now I had plenty of time, so I started marketing books. In the first six weeks of hitting the pavement, I sold more than 500 copies. Today I have books in 26 stores throughout Colorado and three distributors have started to rep them. I’ve gotten local press and The American Dog Magazine is going to review my book in their Fall 2011 issue.
Okay, that doesn’t sound like such a big deal compared to what the big publishing houses do but when you take into consideration that everything was distributed or sold by me alone, a boomer without any experience in publishing or marketing books who lives in a very small community in the Rocky Mountains, you can see why I think it is a big deal. And I’m not going to stop until mutt books are in stores in every state of the union.
Unless Disney or some big publishing house picks up The Mutt & the Mustang, I’m not going to get wealthy. But my picture book is providing another kind of richness: the joy of watching a seven-year-old girl hug my book to her chest, and reading it to 75 kids at a YMCA who now all wish they had a dog like Kody who can ride a horse like Raven. As Kody’s “mom,” I’m suddenly an adopted “grandmom” to lots of little kids who want to watch the mutt ride the mustang.
I have found joy in this new career of writing children’s picture books. Having just discovered which wild herd my mustang Raven came from, I’m already planning the sequel.
The Mutt & the Mustang has its own page on Facebook and is available on Judy Archibald’s website.