Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hello everyone, I'm new and trying to figure out how the site works.  It may take me a while to settle in.  Thanks in advance for your patience!  Sheila Turnage

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Theme: Promoting Your Middle-Grade Book by Christine Brodien-Jones

1992: my first novel THE DREAMKEEPERS is published by Macmillan.  I send out press releases, give newspaper and radio interviews, and appear at schools, libraries and bookstores.  My editor clips out reviews from magazines and sends them to me in the mail.

2010: my second novel THE OWL KEEPER is published by Random House.  Suddenly there are seemingly endless opportunities to promote my book, especially online, and the choices are overwhelming.  I try lots of different marketing ideas. Here's a sampling of some (but not all) of my promotional efforts for THE OWL KEEPER:

*  create a website and blog
*  work with my publicist at Random House
*  make up business cards, postcards and bookmarks to give away
*  join Facebook and Twitter/set up a Facebook page for my book
*  have a book trailer made
*  join a group of online bloggers
*  connect with promotion sites; write a guest post for Cynthia Leitich Smith's site Cynsations 
*  visit classrooms via Skype an Author Network
*  appear at SCBWI conferences, bookstore signings, libraries and children's book festivals
*  hire publicists to promote my book to teachers, booksellers, book clubs and librarians
*  give away books on Goodreads and other sites; give away my book to local libraries

2012: my third book, THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR, is published by Random House.  More opportunities, more dizzying online options.  But this time I'm up against a deadline for my next book, so I winnow down the promo options to just a few - the ones that are easiest for me.  Because it just isn't possible to do it all.  Nor is doing everything necessarily productive!  

To quote blogger/author Nathan Bransford: "Don't make yourself miserable doing what you think you should be doing, do what you enjoy doing."  Bransford recommends that every author have some sort of Googlable web presence (such as a website, blog or Facebook page) and that way when someone hears about you or reads your book they can contact you.  Utilize your time well, he says, because "at the end of the day the whims of fate and word of mouth are more powerful than any marketer." 

A word about resources.  SCBWI conferences are a great place to take a workshop on publicity and online book marketing.  You can also get insightful marketing tips from bloggers: try Nathan Bransford, Cynthia Leitich Smith and SR Johannes.  As for books, my favorite is Jeff Vandermeer's BOOKLIFE: STRATEGIES AND SURVIVAL TIPS FOR THE 21ST-CENTURY WRITER.  

My advice on promoting your book is do what you're passionate about, do what you think is you, but keep in mind that every moment you spend on marketing efforts takes you away from your writing.  Find your balance!  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An interview: The World of Self-Publishing and Promotion (Jen Cervantes)

I have several author friends who have decided to self-publish--some in addition to traditional publishing-- and found their journeys fascinating and their reasons intriguing. I decided to interview the very talented (she writes AND designs--just look at these gorgeous covers!) Lena Goldfinch. I know you'll find this as transparent and thoughtful and eye-opening as I did. thanks, Lena!

Self publishing has really changed over the last few years. What methods are available for writers who want to take this route?

I went directly through Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) and Kobo Writing Life, but I also used Smashwords, an aggregator as well as a bookseller, to distribute to the iPad iBookstore, Nook, Sony Reader Store, Diesel, among other retailers. I use them to distribute to iBookstore because I don’t have a Mac (you need a Mac to run Apple’s publishing software iProducer). And I’ll likely go directly through PubIt at some point. (Note: I'm still very new to this myself, so can only speak from my own experience!)

You can hire out certain tasks to flat-rate freelancers (ex. editors, cover designers, and book formatters). For that, I’d ask within your writers’ sphere for recommendations. (I don’t recommend going with any service that’s going to take a permanent percentage cut of your royalties.)

For print-on-demand books, I've been happy with CreateSpace. I like their quality. I also like the fact that the resulting book isn’t so prohibitively expensive that no one can afford it, not even my mom. ;) With CreateSpace, your book will be distributed via and can be linked to your ebook version (so reviews are cross-populated). For an additional 25 dollars, you can get Expanded Distribution, which means your print book will be available on Barnes & Noble online and for libraries to order, etc...

If your heart is set on hardcover or the format demands it (ex. a photo book or a children’s picture book) then I’d look into Lulu or search around.

There are companies with publishing packages popping up all over the place. For example, seems to have a good vibe, for writers who want more assistance.

Why did you choose this route?

It was sort of like the perfect storm, in a good way.

I’d published a fantasy novella, The Language of Souls, through a small press and my contract was coming up for renewal. I’d evolved as a writer and wanted to rewrite the story as YA. Although I’d had a positive experience with my small press, they don’t publish YA. So it seemed appropriate, career-wise to part ways.

I’d been watching self-publishing for some time. I saw the big stories of Amanda Hocking and others. I saw attitudes shifting toward self-publishing, but even then I wasn’t ready. Then I saw some of my writer friends were having good success self-publishing, enjoying it even, and that encouraged me to think about it. It wasn’t something I jumped into lightly.

Other factors:

My background is in software engineering and web design, so I felt comfortable (well, at least “relatively optimistic about” :)) tackling formatting an ebook/print book and uploading it. Honestly, you really only need MS Word, a can-do attitude, and time.

I had an artistic bent in high school and have been creating mock covers for my works-in-progress for years. Because of my web design work, I had the tools to do my own cover design (primarily Photoshop). Design is something I enjoy, so I wanted—really wanted—to take a stab at creating book covers.

Also, I had the novella coming back to me. It had already been published and professionally edited, which was a huge plus. And it was a nice manageable 30k words, which seemed perfect for learning the process.

So, I had the novella.
I had the Big Idea to revise it as YA.
There was really no viable market to submit a 30k romantic YA fantasy novella to.
I was becoming intrigued by self-publishing.
I had an itch to do cover design.
I had my toolkit of skills.
I wasn’t getting any younger. ;)
And I had time.

With that, I was primed.

Then I made two connections that brought it all together:

1. I connected with my wonderful proofreader/copyeditor, Thyra. This was key. I’m of the strong opinion that writers can’t always see their own errors, because their brains substitute what’s supposed to be there. Or maybe that’s just me? ;)

2. I also connected with YA author Lisa Amowitz on a group blog we belong to (The Enchanted Inkpot). In addition to being an author, Lisa is a graphic design professor and book cover designer. At some point, we discovered we both loved cover design and she (amazingly, very generously) offered to mentor me. (That’s still kind of overwhelming and I’m so grateful and blown away by her generosity.)

Do you think there is room for a hybrid of traditional and self publishing?

Absolutely. But it could be tricky. You’d have to keep an eagle eye on your contracts (especially non-compete clauses). For more on this, I’d advise checking out Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog and reading her series The Business Rusch, on the business of writing. This series is very informative, accessible, and interesting.

I’d also scout the web for articles on how others have successfully combined traditional and self-publishing.

What steps does a writer take to begin this process?

Determine if you’re in a good, can-do emotional place.

This is more about emotional preparedness, but spend a little time meditating—by that I mean deep concentrated thought, with paper, and maybe fun colored markers—and explore your feelings on self-publishing and traditional publishing. Think about the project (or projects) you want to self-publish and why. Make little bubbles with the pros & cons and best & worst case scenarios of both sides. (If you self-publish and find it’s an “epic fail,” as my teenage son would say, will you be able to accept that?) Be realistic. Be open. Be honest. This paper is just for you. (And can be burned later if you wish. ;))

In this, write down how much money you’re willing and able to spend. Write down the skills you bring to the table. Write down what tasks you’d have to hire out. So, do a kitchen-table feasibility study right there.

If, at the end of this, you feel a little effervescent and hopeful, then this is an awesome place to be. Nerves are okay, but a sick, bad feeling is not a good sign.

The most important thing is to have a polished manuscript that has promise. One you love and have faith in. One you’ve work-shopped with critique partners and have gotten great feedback on. Objectively, you also need to have some idea that there’s a potential readership for it.

Then, dive into research. I’ve read tons about self-publishing and continue to follow about a dozen blogs. The industry is changing so rapidly it’s amazing. Books about self-publishing can be out of date the moment they’re published. Even ebooks. It’s crazy. But it’s also fun and exciting. I find it all fascinating too, so research isn’t a chore. I’d suggest reading a few books. Maybe download a sample, check out the authors’ blogs, and look for voices and attitudes that resonate with you.

What are some of the pitfalls?

Self-publishing can be a grand time suck, especially early on. Ramping up, formatting, uploading, re-uploading, designing covers, designing print book covers & interiors (a related-but-different thing from ebook formatting), locating good business partners and hiring out tasks all take time away from writing. It’s a juggling act. You’re now a small publishing company: Me, Inc.

There’s an even bigger pitfall:

The Reality of Self-Publishing—of any publication, really, because traditionally published books are not immune—which is the problem of obscurity vs. discoverability. How do you connect with readers? Thankfully, there are ways to do this online (that are, serendipitously, free). For example: You can participate in  Read & Review requests in Goodreads groups, which means you offer up free copies of your book in exchange for fair and honest reviews. The best groups are genre/age specific. You can use your own blog, become a member of a group blog, do guest posts on other people’s blogs, connect with book bloggers, etc...

I started out contacting a couple of bloggers who’d reviewed and loved The Language of Souls when it first came out through my small press. I went back to them and asked if they’d like to host a giveaway. That was universally well-received. (If a sample of two qualifies as universal? ;)) I also did a couple of Goodreads Read & Review requests to get started.

At a certain point, you start getting reviews from people you’ve never heard of. I remember seeing my first sales to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and England. Which was beyond cool. I had no idea how they discovered my book. (I know my mom didn’t call them. ;)) So did they simply bump into my book on an online bookstore? Did they see a review on Goodreads or read a blog review?) That was a rush. It’s also humbling, amazing, and mind-boggling. This is a global publishing world, people.

I also plan to do Goodreads Giveaways and to contact more book bloggers.

Going “indie” is fun, but it can also be anxiety inducing. Say, you’re the type of person who has a low-threshold for the unknown, for not really knowing what you’re doing. Or maybe the inability to predict your success drives you crazy. Hypothetically. My suggestion is to get over it. Lighten up. (Someone please repeat this to me in the spring when I release my next book, Aire, a romantic YA fantasy—shameless plug).

Or maybe you’re afraid of the (inevitable) negative reviews, which can feel like another form of rejection. (I say inevitable, because not everyone is going to like your book. I know, crazy talk! But do you like every book you pick up? Remembering that helps. So, that girl who gives your book a 1 or 2... Maybe she’s really into Vampire/ Shapeshifter/ Urban Fantasy, with love triangles—and you don’t write that. That’s okay.)

What are some realistic expectations for a writer who chooses this?

You need to go in with your eyes wide open. So re-read, understand, and accept the pitfalls. Be aware that self-publishing will consume a chunk of your time and energy.

And here’s a random list I came up with:
  • You can spend almost no money or you can spend a lot of money. There's really quite a spectrum. It depends how much you can do yourself and how much time you have to invest.
  • You may not make money right away (if ever). How can you possibly predict this? You can’t. But you can accept it, whatever happens.
  • Your sales (i.e. readership growth) will very likely build slowly. Maybe glacially. ;)
  • So, don’t watch your sales daily. (I mean, after the first month, of course, when the novelty begins to wear off. ;))
  • If you want it done well, self-publishing will take time and effort. Don’t rush the process of getting your book ready. Think of it as lovingly crafting your book. I love the term "artisanal publishing" (from APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur). I’ve come to embrace the label “indie author” too. (Plus, it sounds cool, like an indie recording artist. :)) 
  • Predicting how long it takes to release a book is hard. (Soft dates are your friends, for example, Spring 2013 or, say, Coming 2014 ;))
  • Don’t pin all your hopes on one book striking gold. And don’t promo it to death and in so doing neglect creating new works. Keep writing. Work on a slow steady stream of new books (not rushing). Each new book, theoretically, can drive sales to your other books, but only if you have other books. So, I’d take a long view at 5 years down the road. 10 years. Where do you want to be?
  • Taking the Long View: think of your first year of self-publishing as a time of discovery and trial & error. Think of it as an adventure. Like joining the circus for a year, maybe. A career is not made in a year. Possible? Perhaps. Likely? No.
  • A traditional publisher may offer for your self-published book. Or not. You may have other projects out on sub that get picked up. It’s not all or nothing. There’s always the possibility of mixing it up. Just watch those contract clauses.
  • You can only do so much (to ensure the success of your book). Some of this is luck. You do not have permission to beat yourself up—or to allow anyone else to—if you have to revise your goals/expectations.
  • You need to make some effort to connect with readers, whether that's on Goodreads or blogs. Don’t let that part of the plan consumed you, but enjoy connecting with readers.
  • I’ll repeat that thing about “you are a small business”. It’s going to be on you, 100%, to track your expenses and income, to plan release dates, to select your cover, to find and pay a freelance editor. All. On. You. (Embrace Excel. :))
  • You may love having all this control. You may not.
  • You will gain a great appreciation for all that publishers do. Seriously.

Why do you think self-publication has become so popular?

I think because self-publishing has become so accessible. It’s also become more mainstream and there is so much information online about people who have done it. These mavericks very generously have shared their experiences either on their blogs or have written books. On the flip side, because it’s easy, the ebook market is supersaturated. How are you & your books going to stand out?

I also think there are many rewards and people are finding out it’s fun and really not that hard:

If you wanted, you could polish your novel, create a simple but attractive cover, do some relatively simple formatting, and upload it via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing as an ebook only and be done with it (or via Kobo Writing Life or Nook or...). You could publish it to only that one outlet. And you could do that in a very short time. You click & then your book is available to an international market.

That’s a reality.

That’s amazing!

There’s another thing I’d like to say about rewards. One big moment for me was showing my freshly-printed proofs to my kids. It was so meaningful and fun too. They know I write and that I've been writing for years. They were excited when I had an ebook published with a small press, but it was different for them to see a paperback book and hold it, for them to participate in my writing in a more tangible way.

I could see their kind of stunned pride in having a mom who wrote a book, something they could share with their friends. Seeing that, it really meant a lot to me.

Are there resources a writer can turn to?

Tons! There’s a wealth of info out there. As I said before, browse around and find voices and attitudes that resonate with you. I don’t think there’s any one definitive guide. You have to find what works for you, maybe combine and modify.

One book I read recently was Guy Kawasaki's APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. A lot of what he says is just good stuff for any writer and some applies to launching a self-published non-fiction title, but it’s all worth reading.

I love what he says about self-publishing as “artisanal publishing”:

"Self-publishing could change from stigma to bragging point—maybe we should change the term to 'artisanal publishing' and foster the image of authors lovingly crafting their books with total control over the process."
Guy Kawasaki, in APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch)

My own personal how-to Bible when I was going through the process was Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, by Catherine Ryan Howard. (Billed as: everything you need to know to successfully self-publish your own POD paperback and e-book in a how-to guide that doesn’t sound like anti-Big Publishing propaganda produced by the Ministry of Truth…) I found the author’s realistic, non-bitter attitude refreshing. Plus, she’s super funny.

She also blogs about “self-printing” at Catherine, Caffeinated

Let’s Get Digital, by David Gaughran was also super helpful and very accessible to read.

The Book Designer (This blog contains must read info on designing books inside and out, with special attention to what makes an effective ebook cover.)

The Passive Voice (I use Google Reader to keep track of my blogs and when “Passive Guy” posts something new, I always click there first. He collects snippets of articles on publishing and may or may not comment on them, but he always links to the original article, sort of like a collective digest of interesting stuff you might want to read about publishing. Here you’ll find fantastic leads to great articles and possibly new blogs to follow, without having to search for them yourself.)

Creativ-Indie (Helpful advice, tips, and Zen-like perspective on being an author/artist and how to make a living at it, without losing yourself or all of your friends)

Dean Wesley Smith for articles on self-publishing and indie publisher (as in becoming your own small press with multiple authors) publishing. Ex. advice on how to price your ebooks.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s series The Business Rusch on the business of writing for consistently great articles on publishing (Another blog that I click on first when it pops up on my Google Reader).

Smashwords Blog (All their self-publishing guides are great and are free.)

Indie Author Lindsay Buroker who posts articles on self-publishing

The Creative Penn another indie author who also posts on self-publishing

Karen McQuestion (hers is one of the early success stories and her collection of past articles on her experience are worth reading)

The Book Deal: A Publishing Blog for Writers and Book People

The Writing Bomb: Navigating Through the Indie Publishing Universe

Freelance Editing: Amber Stokes is a freelance editor for (mostly) YA and Christian Fiction. She's recently started her business, and I can highly recommend her.  She's a pleasure to work with. (And she's currently running a proofreading special for indie authors.)

Where can we find your work?

My novella, The Language of Souls, is available (almost) everywhere books are sold (at least online :)).

To find out more about my books and future projects visit my author page on Goodreads or my website at

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Promotion and Community

Like so many of us authors, the idea of promoting myself and my work makes me all wriggly and barely-coherent. But in my conversations with other authors, I'm comforted by the fact that I'm not alone.

And the fact that I'm not alone is what I've come to love about publicity and promotion. Because to me it means building community. I know well the power of story, and as a writer, I love "finding the story", which brings a whole new meaning to the concept of promotion to me. I know that when I put myself "out there", when I take risks, I'm expanding on my story. I'm sharing my story, and being welcomed into others' stories -- other writers, other educators, other readers of all shapes and sizes. I'm offered new opportunities to engage and grow. 

The experience of being a part of group sites like The Brown Bookshelf, The 2009 DebutantesThe Tenners, and now Smack Dab, has been about much more than simply promoting my work. I'm so grateful for the generous spirit of the kidlit community -- I've made friends, learned and re-learned a countless number of lessons, been inspired, and have been surprised by so much. Even my craft blog has been an opportunity to build relationships with readers and writers around creative processes and inspiration. (And of course, the books! I get to find out about new and new-to-me books! MY TBR pile is skyscraper-high and that is a very, very good thing.) 

By challenging myself to expand my concept of community, I get opportunities to go deeper with readers and writers of all ages -- it enhances my life, and my work, and that's been a wonderful and unexpected part of "promotion."

Looking forward to getting to know you here!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January Theme: Promo Queen

by Stephanie J. Blake

I've just survived the first month of my debut. The Marble Queen came out December 18, 2012. Here's some of the promotional stuff I did on my own.

First, I bought a spiral notebook specifically for TMQ promo work. It has three dividers and pockets for business cards, etc. On the first pages I wrote all of the ideas I had for ways to promote the book. As the months went on, it became my go-to for planning, addresses, to-do's, etc.

I reserved my domain name early in 2011: It's cheap and easy at For months there was one page with the blurb for the book.

I asked for blurbs from my favorite authors and had my manuscript bound in a spiral for each of them.

As soon as I had final cover art, an ISBN and a firm release date, I had 500 bookmarks printed by Next Day Flyers. I have given these bookmarks out by the handful to everyone, short of leaving them on windshields in parking lots, they've been passed over the counter to to the ladies at the post office, librarians, teachers, my dentist, my doctor, my allergy nurse, my attorney, etc. I have put them on community bulletin boards at restaurants like Village Inn. I have even dropped bookmarks in fishbowls-- the ones where you put in a business card to win a free meal. My kids gave them to all of their classmates.

Everyone who buys the book gets a bookmark. So, if you need one, email me!

By August 2012, I was out of those early bookmarks and ordered 3000 more long with 300 postcards, 250 stickers. I wrote a press release.

I mailed out a personalized postcard to every address in my personal address book, to each elementary school in our district, to every library district in the Denver metro area, to every bookstore, every television station, every newspaper, including my hometown, and to some libraries and bookstores in Idaho (where the book is set), and New Jersey (where the National Marble Tournament is held), and two marble factories.

I designed a simple five-page website using GoDaddy's website tonight app. I also made a book trailer on my computer with software I already had (Windows Moviemaker).

I decided what to charge for school visits and appearances. I wrote up a contract and an info packet. I put together a mother-daughter book club kit.

When I got my carton of 25 ARC's from my publisher, before I gave a single one away, I made a list of where they would be best used.

In September, October, and November I did ARC giveaways on Goodreads. I sent an ARC and a press release to the local television stations, and the newspapers in my area. I did some other giveaways, as well.

When I got my 20 author copies, I made another list of where they would be best used. Two of them went to Book Train, three went to my gracious blurbers, two went to a local reviewer, and the rest I've been reselling. If you are going to sell books and have a smartphone, you need a Square. It's the coolest device that allows you to take credit card payments.

I had a casual launch party at a nice bar & grille with family and friends. We did some fun giveaways there. Everyone got a candy necklace and a little goody bag. Sold 19 books--enough to pay the food tab.

I was interviewed for a local library show called "Off the Page." I've also been asked to speak at a library fundraiser in my hometown, all because of the postcards I sent.

In February, I'll be featured in the "Breaking In" column in Writer's Digest magazine.

I've tweeted my reviews and have shared tweets from people who have said nice things about the book.

Whew. It's time to start writing another book, but you can bet I'll have a bookmark in my purse if you want one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Too Beautiful to be Believable: January Theme by Dia Calhoun

A reviewer of my book Eva of the Farm commented that Eva’s poems in the book were too beautiful to be believable. Usually, I don’t respond publicly to reviews, but I do need to respond to this comment because I don’t understand it. Gentle Readers, perhaps you can help me understand.

What does it mean--too beautiful to be believable? Really. THINK about it. Consider the following:

Michelangelo’s David
This is the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen. Does its incredible beauty mean it cannot possibly be real? Perhaps it is an illusion, perhaps it was made by Martians, perhaps it doesn’t even exist. It is too beautiful to be believable.

Victoria Soto
A teacher puts herself in front of a madman to try to protect her students, sacrificing her life. What an act of astonishing beauty. Does that mean it did not happen? Is it too beautiful to be believable?

Sunset over the Grand Canyon.
This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. The color, light, and shadows on the rock and in the sky were more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen before at that age. I guess, though, because it was so beautiful, it could not have been real. Was I having a hallucination?

Now I suspect, Gentle Reader, you may say something like this. “The reviewer meant that Eva’s poems were too beautiful to believe they were written by a child.” But I find that baffling, too. Has anyone heard twelve-year-old Jackie Evancho sing? (If you have not, click here right now) Why can’t we expect  works of astonishing beauty from children?

Do we really only believe in beauty that is within our realm of understanding the world? Isn’t good art SUPPOSED to take us to a new level of appreciation for or understanding  of beauty? All I know is that I love to be astonished by beauty.

What about you, Gentle Reader?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


When I got my master’s, my mom invited me to stay home and devote full-time attention to my writing.  It was my lifelong dream, after all—she offered me a roof, rent-free, and all the time I needed to get started.  (Very ROOM OF ONE’S OWN, I know…)

I cleaned out the guest bedroom, turning it into my office.  At the time, my office equipment included a pre-Internet modem-less computer from the Paleolithic Era, a Mailstation where I could send and receive emails (no attachments), and a coffee machine. 

In about ’07, I upgraded the computer, and finally got Internet access in my home.  Two years later, I signed my first book deal, for a YA novel…and my editor started talking to me about blogging.

One of my first uploaded photos, taken for one of my first blog interviews.
I was, in a word, hesitant.  I didn’t have a single profile online.  Not a Myspace or Facebook page.  I’d never uploaded a picture of myself.  I was grateful for all the time Id had with a computer that offered no distractions, that allowed me hour after hour to write, to have a kind of tunnel vision in which I saw only my work and nothing else…And to be completely honest, I just wasn’t sure about putting myself out there online. 

But that was when I discovered the book blogging community.  And I fell absolutely in love.

My first novel, A BLUE SO DARK.
I’m so grateful for the YA book blogging community, which helped spread word-of-mouth regarding my books and allowed me to interact directly with my readers.  Since discovering the blogosphere, I’ve been on blog tours that have included both print and video interviews.  I’ve done live chats, which have been advertised or hosted by those bloggers.  I found that the more I did online to promote my work, the more I wanted to do online to promote my work. 

At heart, I’m still pretty low-tech.  My cell doesn’t take pictures.  I’ve never sent a single person a text in my life.  But there’s just something about promoting my work online that I really enjoy—maybe because it feels like another creative outlet.  It just seems to fit.

I think that’s one of the keys to marketing, actually.  When an author has something new to offer—whether it’s a first novel, a novel in a new genre, etc.—I think the best thing you can do is try everything.  When you find a marketing strategy that truly fits for your personality, it won’t feel like drudgework.  It’ll be as enjoyable as writing.

My debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, is still in development—and I know that marketing a MG will be quite different from publicizing a YA, simply because I won’t be talking directly to my readership.  Instead, I’ll be talking to teachers, librarians, parents.  But I’m excited by the prospect of brainstorming new possibilities, finding new techniques that fit…


Monday, January 21, 2013


In 2003, when author websites were a relatively new phenomenon, one of my generous and ambitious graduate students offered to create a website for me.  With my second adult novel Where No Gods Came newly in the world, my former student convinced me of the value of the website, and in the end I was delighted to have her do it.  She purchased, gave me my password, designed the website, and sent it live into the world.  If anyone was looking for me, I could be found; there was a link to my email, information about my two novels, my work as a teacher, a brief biography.  This was long before Facebook and Twitter, before authors were expected to keep a constant pubic presence on the web, and I was grateful for the gift. 

In truth, I forgot about that website.  When I visited it a number of years later, I saw my public presence was the sort of site you’d see at an antique shop, if such a thing existed for the web: quaint; rudimentary, my author photo as outdated as my site.  This wasn’t the fault of my former student; in 2003 she was a maverick, but she’d created a website for the time, and that time was gone.  I was a writer in a new world, a world where the internet was the central source of information, a world where a writer’s website was now standard, and if a new one was to be created, this time I’d have to hire an expert to get the job done right.    

In the early stages of that project, I immersed myself in research.  I visited countless author websites and tried to track the trail to their designers. If there was a website I admired, I emailed the author, asked them who they hired, and if they’d be willing to tell me what it cost.  Surfing through a host of possibilities, I began to identify the kind of site I wanted, and at last landed on a company, Carbon Creative, that could take it from my hands and make it happen. 

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but I remember an initial sunny meeting full of warm air and wide screen windows at a neighborhood office in South Minneapolis.  I remember lots of conversation about what I had in mind, what I liked, my history, and finally we came around to the subject of my books.   At that time, I was publishing Sparrow Road, my first novel for middle-grade readers, and the challenge-- as I saw it-- was the creation of a website that reflected my sensibilities as an artist, as well as the range of my literary work past and present.  Michele, my designer for the project, told me to send her everything I had (teaching, writing, biographical information, photographs, blurbs, reviews, etc.) and then she asked for copies of my novels. 

The day the site was ready for reveal (there had been many exchanges, perhaps a couple meetings), I brought my husband with me.   This time, we walked on icy sidewalks to the office, the city transformed by winter.  My heart was full of fear: What if I hated it?  What if they’d taken it in a direction that didn’t suit me or my work?  “It’ll be okay,” my husband said.  But when we sat down at the table and the monitor lit up, it was more than okay—it was its own work of art: a site that captured my sensibility as a writer, a site that reflected the intention of my books, a site that captured the spirit of Sparrow Road, and most of all a site that welcomed readers of all ages.   This was the work of an expert, a designer with talent, experience and vision.  And she’d brought all that to bear in the creation of her own original work of art.  It was akin to the way I’d felt when I’d been sent the cover for Sparrow Road—admiration for another artist’s creation, gratitude for the care that artist took to honor mine.

“It’s not meant to be forever,” Michele said gently.  “A good website’s redesigned every few years.” 

Secretly, I hoped that would never happen—I’d spent the money; I’d gotten everything what I wanted and much more.  Another site seemed as far from me as this one would have back in 2003.  But a few years down the road, with Keeping Safe the Stars newly in the world, I see now she was right; just as she was right about it all.  In the not too distant future, I’ll need a fresh design; I can’t let this site grow old the way the last one did.  But the good news is I have my expert now; I don’t have to do this by myself.  I can rely on someone else’s experience and talent, and in the meantime, I’m free to write my books. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Marketing: So Much To Do, So Little Time (January Theme)

When my first book, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, was released in 2009, I was almost nine months pregnant with my second child.  I already had a three year old at home.  I could barely find time to invite my family and friends to my book launch, much less attend conferences, do book visits or post online.  I knew the next few months of my life were going to be consumed by taking care of a newborn.  How was I ever going to market my book? 
 In despair I asked my agent, the wonderful Kathy Green, and my editor, the fabulous Stacey Barney, for their advice.  What are the most important marketing tasks I should focus on? I asked them.  They both said they same thing: Write another book.
I have to admit I was sort of surprised by their advice.  How was writing another book going to help, when I didn't even have time to market the one I had now?  But I decided to listen to them.  The first year, I did almost nothing to promote my first book, but plugged away, working on my second. 
By the time my second daughter was 18 months old, I had enough of a manuscript pulled together to get a contract to write The Lions of Little Rock.  And by the time my second book was published in 2012, I had realized my agent and my editor were right.  Here are just a few of the ways writing another book will help you to promote the first:
1. Pretty much every review you get for your new book will at least mention the old one.  Some even say, I can't wait to go back and check out her first book.
2. You know that page you get in the publisher's catalogue?  When you publish a second book, it will include a picture of your first book as well.
3.  At every school or library visit you do, you can pretty much count on someone asking, "What else have you written?"  It's nice to have something to say.
4. The art department might put "by the author of [title of your first book]" on the cover of your second.
5. The first chapter of your first book might be included at the end of your second. 
6. At book events, I often find people interested in my work, but not willing (or able) to pay for a copy of my most recent book in hardback.  It's nice to have a paperback of my first book ready to offer instead. 
I think it's even MORE beneficial for an unpublished writer to go ahead and start a second book.  What if that agent finally responds to your first manuscript and likes it - but not enough to represent it.  Don't you want to have something else to show them?  I've got a whole completed manuscript that's stuffed in a drawer somewhere that's never seen the light of day.  Nor should it.  It was a good experience, a learning experience, but if I'd devoted all my energies into marketing that book, I'm not sure I ever would have been published. 
I finally realized what my agent and editor were trying to tell me was that being a writer - and marketing your book - is a marathon, not a sprint.  Instead of trying to do it all at once, feeling overwhelmed and guilty, it's okay to pick and choose what you can do at that moment.  And if all else fails - just write another book.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Marketing Your Writing . . . By Writing (January Theme by Claudia Mills)

One reason many of us resist doing more to market our books is that marketing efforts take our time away from doing the thing we love best, which is writing itself. “But I don’t want to drive two hours each way to a bookstore event where nobody will even come!” we wail. “I don’t want to go at my own expense to set up a deserted booth at some book festival where I’ll look like a monument to pitifulness!” we moan. “I want to be at home writing!”

So I’ve tried to find ways that I can promote my books by doing exactly that: staying at home, in my nightgown, cup of Swiss Miss hot chocolate at the ready, and writing.

Example number one:

Some years ago a sixth-grader named Erika wrote a fan letter to me, and I sent her back a standard form letter that I have on my computer, which I personalized for each child. Erika wrote back thanking me for my letter but telling me that her friend Sarah had told her that the letter I sent was just a form letter from my computer, and could I send her a real handwritten letter so that she could show it to Sarah? I did. Erika wrote back, sending me a woven bracelet she had made and asking for a photo. I sent the photo with another handwritten note. Then Erika wrote to me, “Can you come to my school?” I replied, “I love to go to schools! Check to see if your school would like to host an author visit.” Erika wrote back: her school would love for me to come. She then wrote, “You can stay at my house! It’s much nicer and cheaper than a motel!” Well, apparently now it was time to get in touch with Erika’s mother, which I did. The rest of the story is that I flew to Burlington, Vermont, stayed at Erika’s house, had the loveliest school visit of my career, and keep in touch with Erika to this day.

What does this have to do with promoting our books, you may ask?  Well, I wrote a short article about my visit to Erika, sent it off to SCBWI, and they published it in Kite Tales. As a result of that article, I was invited to speak at an SCBWI conference in Oklahoma.

Example number two:

Two other authors in my Boulder writing group, Ann Whitehead Nagda and Phyllis Perry, were chatting in line with me at a movie theater one day when it occurred to us that we had all written books that resonated in some way with math or science (mine was a chapter book about a third grader struggling with multiplication, 7 x 9 = Trouble!, followed by the sequel Fractions = Trouble!). We hit upon the idea of asking the Colorado Communicator, newsletter of the CC-IRA, the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association, if they would like an article co-authored by the three of us about using fiction to make connections across the curriculum. And, indeed, they would. As a result of that article, I was invited to give a talk to a literacy conference at a university in southern Utah.

So be alert to the ways that you can promote your writing by doing just that: writing! (I’m promoting my writing right now by writing this blog post!). Best case scenario: it will lead to more sales and recognition for your books, or to rewarding connections with others in the field. Worst case scenario: at least you are spending time doing what you love: writing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Going to the Market (January Theme by Sarah Dooley)

Market. A word which, to me, evokes pleasant mental images of brown paper shopping bags and fat, ripe tomatoes and the loaves of fresh bread I buy down at the little grocery by the park.
Marketing. A word which has always made my blood pressure increase – particularly once I realized it was part of my job as a writer!
When you start trying to get a book published, you hear a lot about marketing. You hear that you need to develop a platform, create an online presence, and turn your very name into a brand that consumers will want to buy. It was a foreign, scary world to me when I started out, and in many ways it continues to be.
So let me share with you the best marketing decision I've made, and it's an easy one for writers – Go to the library.
Over two years ago, shortly after Livvie Owen Lived Here was released, I was browsing the shelves at my local library and I thought to pop up to the youth floor. I wasn't thinking about marketing, or connecting with librarians, or finding readers for my novel. I was thinking about the approach of November, and with it NaNoWriMo, and how this was the first year I wouldn't be teaching public school – and, as such, wouldn't have a class of captive NaNo-Novelists writing alongside me. I figured there had to be children hanging out at the library who would like to participate in a writing project, so I asked the librarian whether she would mind if I led a NaNo group during the month of November.
Two and a quarter years later, my little class of four writers – except we've grown to eleven and counting – continues to meet once a week. We write novels and short stories, poems and songs. We read, critique, revise. We set goals and enter contests. We name each others' characters. We laugh and throw paper and generally make entirely too much noise to belong in a library. It's the brightest part of my week. Even when I'm in the worst  kind of writing slump, the kids can snap me out of it, inspiring me to return to my desk, to continue to create.
The thing I didn't realize about starting the class, though, was that in connecting with the library, I was connecting to a great source of publicity for my novels. The wonderful staff at the library recommend my books to readers and parents. They put me in touch with teachers who need speakers for their classrooms. They host launch events for my novels. They schedule me to give presentations during area literary events. They spread the word.
And the best part? It's all just as easy and as pleasant as buying tomatoes at the local market. After all, I'm a writer. Where else would I rather be but in the library?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kid Lit vs. Adult Lit Marketing (February Theme) by Bob Krech

I got together with three of my old friends from college this past weekend. We met our freshman year and we are having our 35th reunion this May. (Please don't do the math!) We had dinner Saturday night, then went to a basketball game and watched our alma mater lose badly, shooting only 10% in the first half from the field.

All night we reminisced about all the crazy things that went on during those four years and one of my friends asked me, "So when are you going to write the book about that?" I had to confess to him that I've been working on that book for a couple of years now and I hope to finish it this year. It's my first fiction book written for adults.

As I've been working on it and talking to my old buddies about it, I've been getting excited about spreading the word about it. I have all kinds of ideas on how to market it. I think it's going to be great. I can't wait to do it.

To be honest, I have yet to feel that way about marketing the books I've written for kids. Even though I love the books I've written for kids, I have this hesitancy to recommend them to kids. I love telling adults about great books I like and think they will enjoy. I also don't hesitate to recommend other books I've written for adults (non-fiction teaching books) to adults. I don't even mind recommending other author's books to kids. But with my own books, I've never felt very comfortable doing it in a wholesale way. There are individual kids I just knew would really benefit from reading one of my books, and I've done it then, but generally, it's not something I look forward to.

I still do a lot of the marketing things that should be done, but not as much as I know I should. Partly because of this hesitancy, partly because of prioritizing (ie; family first, day job, etc), and partly because of laziness. But I still always find time to write and like I said, I can't wait to market the adult book. Does anyone else feel this same hesitancy about marketing to kids?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Confessions of a Twitterphobe (January Theme by Tamera Will Wissinger)

Four months ago if someone had told me that today I would be writing an article to inspire reluctant writers to consider joining Twitter, I would have said they didn't know me one bit. I had no interest in Twitter. None. I had already jumped four major online hurdles in 2012: I had developed a website, made a Facebook Author page, become a Goodreads author, and learned how to post an article on Blogger and Wordpress. Enough, I thought. I don't need to be on Twitter.

And then, on October 2, 2012, as members of one of my debut author groups, The Class of 2k13, planned to go live with our website, I received an email from Demitria Lunetta, one of the class's social media leaders. At the bottom of her very nice memo about setting up the class Twitter account, there was a very nice note directed to me:

“Tamera...sorry to call you out, but you're the only one without twitter. Let me know if you need any help, otherwise when you set up your account I'll add you to the list."

Notice it doesn’t say, “Tamera, are you going to be on Twitter?” or “Tamera, if you decide to jump into Twitter…” but “when you set up your account.” That’s pretty definitive. GULP. And yet, I did not want to do it. Panicked, I wrote to another classmate, Polly Holyoke, who had helped me out of other jams I’d gotten myself into.

In a series of emails between October 2 and 3, Polly calmly and patiently walked me through the benefits of at least trying Twitter while I put up every barrier I could think of. Some of my best arguments: What good would Twitter do me? I'm an author with no books out yet. Who would follow me, who would I possibly follow? Wasn't it a social network that would steal my time? What would I tweet? What about privacy? I stopped short of whimpering; “but I don’t want to,” although I did think it. Emotionally, this felt like the eve of my first day of junior high – I was petrified and in uncertain-intimidated-afraid-lock-down-passive-resister mode. Recognizing this, here is what Polly told me:

“My gut feeling (which you can totally ignore- of course!) is that you should probably sign up (which takes five minutes), play with twitter, see if it has any value for you, and then stop in a year if it doesn't. It's hard to judge something objectively until you've really used it and understand how it works/who it reaches.”


Why didn’t I think of that? With this one simple paragraph, Polly simultaneous took all the wind of fear and uncertainty out of my sail and floated a gentle breeze of encouragement and control to lift my sail from another direction.

I did as my friend suggested. I poked around. And within a day, here was my reaction in a response to Polly:

“…as I looked around I realized that twitter works because of the network effect of all of us connecting in a small way to make a big impact. So I got over my issues and dove in. Thanks for helping me work through it...”

I had spent gobs more energy worrying and wondering about Twitter than it took to just sign up, look around, and educate myself. That’s what happens when preconceived notions go unchecked.

I sent my first tweet on Friday, October 5, 2012. Here’s what it said: “Poetry Friday is here: ‪  Enjoy!”

Image courtesy of
Simple, painless, interesting to me, and something that other readers and writers might be interested in. I began to follow a few writers. Kit Grindstaf, a fellow author from my other debut group, The Lucky 13s, was the first to say "hello" and follow me. Soon after, others began to follow me, and my network has slowly grown from there. Among the activities that I’ve participated in on Twitter: 
  • Celebrated book releases and good news of friends and acquaintances
  • Interacted with authors whose books I love 
  • Connected with people who have enjoyed reading advanced copies of my book
  • Linked people to events, articles, and information that I find fascinating, noteworthy, or amusing 
Most of my tweets are reading and writing related, but some aren’t. I have initiated tweets about my upcoming debut novel, but only on occasions when I have something truly newsworthy to say. I control what/when I’m willing to tweet, so none of it feels like a privacy invasion or takes up too much of my time. I do still have a lot to learn, but I am learning, and I’m having fun and I’m no longer afraid.

As far as the impact on marketing: I don’t know if there will be a payoff and I may never know. One of the wonders of networking in this way is that for every tweet I send, there is the possibility that one of my followers will retweet or respond, activities that, if I react, reach their followers and mine. In this way it's possible to make connections far beyond my own network.

The marketing possibilities don't stop there. In addition to readers and writers, also on twitter are booksellers, librarians, and teachers, publishers, editors, and agents. In a way, Twitter is like an ongoing virtual industry conference, and I have a small billboard and a backstage pass. This alone is a very compelling argument for why any author – well published, newly published, or pre published – might want to consider Twitter.  Beyond the possible reward of drawing attention to myself or my writing, though, I simply like feeling connected to people and information that I wouldn’t have been aware of before.

If you are a reluctant tweeter, I invite you to look around. You don’t even have to have an account to read tweets – you just need to know a person's Twitter handle. (Mine is @TameraWissinger) And if you sign up for an account, as Demitria recently suggested to me:

“…you don’t have to tweet at first. You can just follow people that interest you and see how it’s done, then jump in when you feel more confident.”

I’ll share one more gem from Polly, too:

“Tweeting is easier and much less scary than lots of other stuff you've learned this past year.”

So true. Thank goodness for the sound advice of writing friends who took my concerns seriously and helped me when I needed it! And I agree with them – Twitter isn’t something to fear or shun, but something to consider as one resource of many in our common quest to write as well as we can, share what we know, and to connect with others equally committed to placing wonderful stories into the hands of children.


There are good resources online to help if you’re contemplating opening a Twitter account. Here’s a link to an article by Molly Greene that is specific to authors and that I’ve found useful:  

0-4,000 In A Snap: How to Build a Quality Twitter Following Fast


Tamera Wissinger is the debut author of GONE FISHING: A Novel In Verse, arriving from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children on March 5, 2013. A graduate of Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Tamera shares her time between Chicago and Florida.

In addition to locating her on Twitter, online you can find Tamera on her websiteGoodreads, or Facebook.