Writing a book, publishing, becoming an author; all terms that sound glamorous and enriching. Oftentimes the reality is that great creativity is often born of struggles, heartache, and life lessons. Greater still is the burden on said creative minds to then learn the BUSINESS side of book publishing which is counter to the same creative nature that born the book the begin with. And publishing....well publishing is a field fraught with charlatans and one must move forward with eyes wide open. Now let's try doing that when English isn't your native tongue. Add in a publisher with predatory practices and shady ethics and you can be left wanting.
So what do you do when that happens? As a writer, what do you do with your gift, your talent, your passion, when you hit such shady dealings despite all your diligence to choose wisely? Such is the focus of a series of articles I’m doing in the hopes of bringing about a sense of commonality and brotherhood. Stories of other writers, like me, that fell on the sword of a bad publisher who, to coin a phrase, done them wrong. Beautiful souls, amazing talents, huge hearts, and naively scammed by the same scheme's that ensnared me. My hope is that by sharing our stories, we can be a cautionary tale to help new writers avoid the traps we fell into. More than that though, I hope to ENCOURAGE other authors who have found themselves in this same spot to see the successes of those around me. To rise above. To never quit. This brings me to the indomitable Guido Kees.
Author, Screenwriter, Playwright, Guido Kees began his creative journey a bit differently than the other 25 author's I have interviewed in this series. He wasn't writing from childhood days with early creations during college years and the like. In fact, Guido had already found a measure of success in the corporate environment working in Genk for the Belgium plant of Ford Motor Co. And no, he was not in creative marketing or even advertising. Guido worked in the Accounting department. About as far removed from his currently creative life as you can get! Guido had toyed with the idea of writing but it never came to fruition until fate decided to deal him a hand he couldn't ignore.
"Six years ago, my wife Jacky was diagnosed with breast cancer. The first week Jacky was in the hospital, she promised to cycle to Lourdes if she survived this mess. Lourdes is a pilgrimage site in France. A place all European Christians want to visit to pray and thank for healing or health. Jacky's cancer was a heavy battle, but she won the fight! Immediately after the chemo and radiation we started our cycling trip to Lourdes. It took nearly three weeks to ride across Belgium and France."
A trip that had many family and friends understandably worried. Worried for how Jacky could endure such a physical strain so soon after such a life changing battle. But The Kees were determined to start checking items off their bucket list so Guido got creative on a way to ease family concerns. "I promised to write a blog so they could follow our adventures every day. During the bike tour, every night, I wrote my thoughts. Not just about how far we biked or what we experienced, but also my thoughts on the fight against cancer and the impact it had on our life. This blog was widely read. Not only friends, but also strangers. People we did not know followed us through the blog." And thus Guido Kees' writing career was sparked.
They made it safely to Lourdes and by the time they returned home they realized the blog was followed by thousands. Emails came pouring in from people inspired by Jacky's journey and Guido's inspirational writing. His intent was never to have such a following, so he wasn't quite sure what to do.
"When we came back from that trip, we were even more convinced to do what we love to do. Life is too precious to waste. Jacky convinced me to fulfill my own dream: to write a real book. I wrote a story and sent the manuscript to one publisher. Within a week, I had an answer. They wanted to publish it!" In 2014, his first book, a children's book entitled No Trace of Kevin (only available in the original Flemish as GEEN SPOOR VAN KEVIN) was published.
After that, Guido Kees was hooked. His writing seemed to take off and with his next project he decided to try and jump the pond, as it were, and launch in the United States. A BIG GOAL for a new writer. But if his wife Jacky had taught him anything it was that life was too short to not pursue our goals with gusto! Of course, publishing his next work, The Pencil would require not only his European publisher, but also a new American one. "I sent my translated manuscript to a lot of publishers in America. We found them on the internet. A few publishers responded positively, including Tate Publishing. ‘The Pencil’ found its home with Tate in Oklahoma." In 2015, nearly simultaneously, Guido's book launched both in Europe and America.
From there, Guido's story takes an all too familiar twist. Though his Dutch publisher released 'The Pencil' to positive reviews and even a potential movie deal, the American launch happened quietly, very much without Guido's presence really. Despite nearly weekly attempts, he couldn't seem to get firm answers on the progress or publicity of his work. Guido was still working at his job for Ford and had not braved the commitment to full-time author. The writing bug wasn't done with him yet though, and through a series of life circumstances he was given an opportunity to create both a movie script for this European-released 'Pencil' AND a play based on the the closing of his Ford plant entitled SCRAP that received rave reviews. As time ticked on, however, his communication with Tate publishing had all but stopped. "By now, it was 2016. I knew from friends, acquaintances and former colleagues of Ford that "The Pencil" was purchased by them. Yet I heard no news from Tate about royalties or sales. I contacted Tate almost weekly. No answer. What I got was a lot of emails with new bids to buy my own books. The former contacts disappeared and the communication was, at first, impersonal and then completely non-existent. Meanwhile, Overseas, the movie rights were sold. I informed Tate so that promotion could be done but I got no response back. When I asked again for information about sales, about the promised marketing and promotion, everything remained silent. Very quiet. And then one day, I opened their website and I discovered that Tate Publishing stopped."
And just like that, as quickly as his American book launch began, it had stopped. If success of a writer is judged by momentum than Guido Kees was a winning ticket! Published TWICE, once abroad, and his second book turned movie. And yet, his USA based publisher couldn't pay him royalties or even acknowledge his communication. The frustration was suffocating. Upon researching Tate further, Guido happened upon a group of other authors within a private facebook group who had been engulfed in the same business dealings as he had been. "I discovered the sad stories of the writers and artists who were at Tate. I read stories of people who took out loans, or received money from family, people who spent their last penny just to be able to publish their book at Tate. And suddenly, they too remained with empty hands. No book, no music, no money. I read
that nobody ever got royalties. I learned that despite the closing, the books were still being sold." Guido's anger turned productive when he began reaching out and trying to help other authors.
"I wanted to help those people, even though I'm on the other side of the world. I could not just stand by and do nothing. I felt the need to shout out that they weren’t alone."
His time in the Facebook groups helped him too. The commonality and bond between authors was healing. Everyone reaching to not only support one another, but CHEER one another on! A rag-tag bunch of authors who might not have ever had a chance to connect otherwise...had been brought together and were SOUNDING PRAISES for each other as they strived to republish their works. It helped Guido re-focus. To all of them, Guido had THESE words of inspiration as he looked back on his short time with Tate Publishing:
"I see my experience with Tate Publishing as a life lesson. I learned that I must do more research into new publishers. I was lucky that my other books landed with traditional publishers. I'm a writer. I want to spend my energy on searching words, writing stories....there are other good publishers out there, it's up to me to find them."
Those wise words from a man who is LEARNING English as his second language, folks! Guido was bitten by the writing bug and to that end he has dauntlessly pursued his craft. When his efforts to launch in American were sidelined by a predator editor, he picked himself up, dusted off his plans, and re-launched. His book, The Pencil, is available right now on Amazon and he is currently entertaining offers from other publishers. In the meantime he has crafted two additional childrens books availably overseas (for now), and can safely tuck playwright and screenwriter under his belt. Maybe a little wiser in the years, but never deterred from his goal, Guido Kees is clearly going to be okay. His time with his wife as she endured Cancer treatments left their mark and he has become unstoppable. He is the very EMBODIMENT of my singular advice to would be authors who ask me 'how'? My motto, my go-to. JUST KEEP WRITING.
To follow Guido Kees' writing as he works on the next book or his movie based on The Pencil, check out the following:
Facebook: Guido Kees, Author
If you wish to read more stories about the AMAZING Author's from Tate Publishing's roster that I was privileged to interview. please visit this compilation page. It's filled with inspiring and educational tales to motivate you to move towards YOUR goals wisely and with ferocity!