Tuesday, July 30, 2019


I tried to think of a different angle for this month's topic, because I know this is really a downer, but this summer, I can't see the phrase "hot dog" and not think about this guy:

This was Jake--my dog who passed away last winter.

I've sort of been thinking of him lately in a kind of bittersweet light--I'll always be so glad I had him, but from here on out, no matter how many other dogs might fill the house, there will always be a little piece that's missing.

But that, in all obviousness, is life.

And it should also be part of fiction.

The thing is, we don't win without losing too. And what we lose is often unrecoverable. But the things we lose also leave marks on our heart--marks we would never want to erase.

In THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, a subplot surrounds the mother of the MC, Auggie. Auggie's town has led her to believe her mother is in California, shining brighter than any of the stars--the ones in the sky or the ones on the big screen. Her wishing spot is even a billboard featuring her mother's face. During the course of the novel, Auggie finds this story is untrue. As a result, she loses any hope that her mother would return. She loses her belief in a safety net she felt could call on should times get bad.

But learning the truth about her mother also pushes Auggie to stand on her own two feet and do her own fighting. In the end, Auggie succeeds in her quest to save her neighborhood. She finds her place as a folk artist, and she even mends a broken friendship. Along the way, Auggie might have lost any hope she ever had for seeing her mother again, but the whole experience surrounding her mother also taught Auggie to be something of a dreamer and a wishful thinker--qualities that help her develop her artistic eye.

Yet again, that's life--we never win without losing something along the way. Sometimes, the loss is a person, sometimes it's a dog, sometimes it's a belief. But there's always a little bit of bitter that accompanies any taste of sweet.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Give Me One With Everything, But Hold the Ketchup

By Charlotte Bennardo

Hot dogs are like books. Some are basic, like Ernest Hemingway's novel Old Man and the Sea. For purists, the simple language allows them to appreciate the story and literary nuances. A plain hot dog allows one to taste the spices of the juicy meat, appreciate the delicate texture of the roll, and with one condiment like mustard or ketchup, get a little flair. Many people like their books like their hot dogs- don't mess with perfection by overloading.

Others are more demanding. Like the person that loads on onions, mustard, relish, and sauerkraut, or chili, beans, hot sauce, and peppers, the more, the better. With writers like George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones, the adjectives and descriptive language are piled on. For some, it's too overpowering, but for others, the long parade of varying flavors and textures simply delights.

Like many, I'm in the middle. I love my hot dogs with spicy brown mustard and relish. I have to put mustard under the dog, then on top, then relish, which has excess water drained out so the roll doesn't get soggy. I'm particular about what I read too. I like what I like, and don't want to mess with perfection. Books that I like have description, but more action that adjectives. I like a little backstory, but am not too fond of extensive flashbacks. Bare bones language books tend to bore me because I need a little kick. I need a balance of bones and extras.

Enjoy your hot dogs and your books- however you like them!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

I Only Want a Hot Dog (Are You Sure?)

I’ll be honest: I’ve been struggling about what to write on the topics of hot dogs or niche marketing. I don’t know much about either. I wasn’t sure I could generate enough enthusiasm for either topic.

But today when I saw this t-shirt advertised, I knew what I could get excited about…and that’s the abuse of the poor little four-letter word “only.”

If we want to communicate effectively, we must know our syntax. Every time I teach a writing class, I go on a rant about “only” and how everyone seems to have forgotten where to put it.

I saw an ad for cable TV the other day, saying, “Only pay for the channels you want.”

If they offer you fries with your hot dog and you don’t want fries, most of us will say, “I only want a hot dog.”

And the t-shirt in the above photo? That poor dog!

No, no, and no.

Pay ONLY for the channels you want. You want ONLY a hot dog. And don’t you think that in addition to talking to your dog today, you should also feed him and play with him? You’re only talking to him? 

And with apologies to Stevie Nicks, let me point out that thunder happens ONLY when it's raining. 

“Only” should go next to (or as closely as possible to) the word or phrase it modifies.

Would I break this rule if my character is a child or a regular Joe who talks like most of the population? Absolutely. Otherwise, as the great James J. Kilpatrick, my hero and author of TheWriter’s Art, would say…

If your only’s lonely, move it!

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Maybe Goldilocks Doesn’t Need a Chair At All: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

 Whenever I’m stuck making an either/or creative choice—I know my imagination is on vacation. Imagination is a land of both/and. Don’t get me wrong. Either/or does have its place. But it’s not always generative and often negative because it doesn’t allow for possibility.

The struggle to hold a both/and place, at least for a while, often allows a third thing—a new solution—to arise. This is hard to do, of course. We want to know the answer and want to know it now. Rational brain is a necessity for writers, but relied on too much, it can limit options.

Both/and is not a simple formulation such as: this chair is too soft, this chair is too hard, so this chair in the middle must be just right. In a choice between a hard chair and a soft chair, the solution might not be a chair at all. It might be a swing. A hammock. A hot air balloon. The writer must allow herself to dwell in the discomfort of not knowing in order to give imagination time to create that third thing. I call this creative drift.

Trust process. In your creative life, make process goals like time for creative drift as important as outcome goals (generating a certain number of words or pages). If you do, your work will be easier in the long run, better, and much more imaginative.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ketchup Please!

Anyone who lives in Chicago, as I do, knows you’re not supposed to squeeze one of kids’ favorite condiments on your hotdog. Once past a certain age, putting ketchup on a Chicago dog, as some people call them, is kind of like sacrilege. But, whether I’m getting one of these Chicago favorites from one of my Chicago favorites like Portillo’s or Buona Beef, I still love to drench my dog in ketchup. What can I say? Maybe I’m only grown up on the outside. Even so, alongside my ketchup, I do enjoy some “grown-up” things on my hotdogs too, like cucumbers, pickles, tomatoes, and celery salt, but what I don’t love is what most might say is a hotdog necessity – mustard. I just don’t like the stuff. On hotdogs. On sandwiches. Even on big salty pretzels.

Maybe you’re wondering, even during National Hotdog Month, what my love of ketchup on hotdogs has to do with anything. For National Hotdog Month, I decided I’d use the example of my personal preference when it comes to my hotdog condiment choice to say a few words about character. Many writers fall in love with a story they want to tell because of a character. Many readers fall in love with a book they read because of a character. But what does that have to do with hotdogs and ketchup? More than you might think.

It’s the myriad of tiny details about a person that make them who they are – their likes, their dislikes, their opinions, their strengths, their weaknesses, their faults, and so on. By themselves, each detail may not seem to be important, but when authors intentionally put specific details together, they create a character, and some might argue, even breathe life into that character. Maybe a character to love; maybe one to hate; but regardless, if an author does it well, the characters they create will evoke emotion of some kind in their reader.

So, whether I like ketchup or mustard on my hotdog, doesn’t make much difference, but what the characters we read and write about like, and dislike, makes all the difference in the world because it’s those details that tell us who they are. And, once we know enough about them, whether we hate them or love them, they become real to us, giving them the power to tell us their stories. The very stories they’ve inspired their authors to tell.

Happy Reading & Writing,


Friday, July 19, 2019

Hot Dog...Hot Cat Month? Popular Cat Titles in Literature

Hot Dog...Hot Cat Month? Popular Cat Titles in Literature

Upon noticing this month's options for topics for our blog, I couldn't help but entertain the opposite of "Hot Dog Month." As a writer from the point of view of a cat, I couldn't help but grab onto the play on words. 

Also, I'm a cat person. 

So, here are some popular titles of favorite "hot" cats in literature to revisit or discover for the first time for the rest of your summer reading list. 

1) The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss: Always a classic, Dr. Seuss delivers yet another fun and light quick read for kids (and kids at heart). Written during the 1950s, Dr. Seuss engaged a huge generation of young readers as well as their children and grandchildren who would pass along the tradition of reading these books to the young. The Cat in the Hat is the original curious cat into everything!

2) Dewey The Small-Town Library Cat by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter: Dewey was shared with me when my grandmother passed along this book to me. As a dedicated cat-rescuer and believer adopt-don't-shop, I was entranced by this tale of one cat - dropped off by another - who worked his way into hearts of so many librarians, patrons and eventually all his readers. It's a victory story for any stray cat, and shows the power of humanity and love for creatures who need a helping hand (or paw). 

3) James Herriot Cats by James Herriot: Growing up, at two different points in my life, both my mother and my father would gift me this book of short cat stories. I always found it that touching that they both knew me so well. James Herriot was someone we would watch on PBS with his variety of animals, kittens and cats being no exception. Herriot is a hero to many animals, and a celebrated vet that brought so many great stories to pet fanciers around the world. 

4) The Cat Who Mystery books by Lillian Jackson Braun: A series of twenty-nine mystery novels, it's hard not to be drawn into the world of a reporter and his two Siamese cats, who manage to solve a horde of difficult and story-worthy cases in their time together. An unlikely mystery-solving bunch, the novels are cozy yet entertaining reads any time of the year.

5) The Chuck Book by Cody VandeZande: A stunningly illustrated, ABC-style Children’s storybook about Instagram feline phenom, Chuck the Duck! @Chuck.the.duck’s human, Cody, is one of my favorite fellow cat writers. Clever and creative, this one belongs on every shelf, of every age reader. 

6) The Great Cat Nap by AM Bostwick: I'd be remiss not to mention my own literary cat, Ace, in my current two-part series of middle grade mysteries. Ace is a reluctant detective, working out of a newspaper office with his feline and canine friends (I’m a dog person, too), solving crimes and righting wrongs. He's smart-talking and often in over his tail, but hopefully always keeps readers on their toes (and paws). 

Happy reading! =^^=

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Having Fun with Your Niche by Claudia Mills

I have always declared that I HATE MARKETING. I whined and complained about the need for writers (nowadays) to market their books, when once upon a time, we weren't expected to do this, it was enough for us just to write the best book we could and leave the rest to ... well, to someone else.

But now I've decided that whining and complaining isn't the best strategy for selling books. Or for living one's life generally.

The best strategy for selling books, and for living life, is to have FUN doing it. And analyzing your book to find its niche in the market can point you to all kinds of way to make marketing FUN.

My newest book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, is set in an after-school cooking camp.
So what fun cooking-themed ideas could I come up with to celebrate my book?

In line with my general aversion to marketing and desire to grouse incessantly about it, I had mocked authors who wear costumes. How silly of me! Because costumes are . . . fun! So here I am at the book launch for Nixie at Denver's delightful indie children's bookstore, Second Star to the Right, looking a bit sheepish but jolly, too.
As I tested recipes for inclusion in the book, I made sure to take photos, particularly cherishing photos of my failures. Here are my failed dog biscuits.
Even a dog wouldn't eat those! Well, my dog would. But they are definitely unappetizing.

Here are the vastly improved dog biscuits.

So: as you work on your book, take photos of anything you do along the way that connects with the setting, theme, or activities of the story. You will be glad later!

And if you can come up with a fitting costume, go for it!

Why not make marketing just plain FUN?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hot Diggity Dog, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Our July blog topics are niche marketing and National Hot Dog month. No contest for me as to which one to write about -- marketing is definitely not the favorite part of my job but I'd happily eat a hot dog anywhere, anytime, as long as it has mustard, onion, and pickles.

I'm in good company. On the Fourth of July, more than 150 million hot dogs are consumed in the U.S., and between Memorial Day and Labor Day, more than 7 billion hot dogs are eaten! Millions of people tune in on the Fourth to watch Nathan's Famous hot dog eating competition live from Coney Island. Joey Chestnut won again this year, eating 71 hot dogs in ten minutes.

I'm in good author company too. Mo Willems included a tale of this tasty treat in his picture book series with "The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog," and Tom Watson did too, with "Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog." What a great title.

Growing up in a north suburb of Chicago, the best place to get a classic dog was Poochies. As the years passed, I've frequented such notable establishments as Weiner Take All, Frank 'n Fries, Frankly Yours, Portillo's, Irving's, Weiner's Circle, Super Dawg, Fluky's, and Wolfy's. Wolfy's even gave out little hot dog shaped gum with each order.

Just writing those names for this post brings back delicious, mouth-watering memories.

So what is it about hot dogs that Americans love? Food historian Bruce Kraig says that hot dogs are one of the most humble foods and a symbol of America. You can find them at baseball games, carnivals, beachfront concessions, and picnics. New Yorkers eat the most hot dogs, more than any other U.S. city. Mustard is the most popular topping.

Rachael Ray offers up some new twists on the old favorite with these 20 recipes. Check out her buffalo onion dog, taco dog, and hot dog flautas. And here are some fun hot dog party recipes, including hot dog sliders with mango-pineapple salsa and cheddar corn dog muffins.

In fact, a hot dog can actually be a metaphor for good writing! Just go with me here.

A hot dog has to be juicy and pop when you first bite into it, like the hook that grabs a reader. Condiments and toppings add personal flavor, and each one can be different, like your characters. And the bun holds everything together, tucked in neatly like a well-written plot with a strong beginning, hearty middle, and satisfying end.

And don't forget the fries -- a salty and essential subplot.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels. Her fifth will publish next year from Penguin Random House. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Making History

This month we are exploring Hot Dog Month. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of hot dogs. But I am a big fan of summer adventures! This week I learned that my MG, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, 2014), is now featured through the Gettysburg Foundation!  Am I ever excited to see the ongoing support this book continues to receive. Everyone should at least once in their lives visit the Gettysburg National Park, considered a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee's second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion", Gettysburg was the Civil War's bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln's immortal "Gettysburg Address". From June through August, many family programs explore the sights and sounds of this defining point in the American story.

My interpretation of the battle featured three perspectives that are rare in these historical fiction depictions: the daughter of a free black living seven miles north from the Mason-Dixon line, the daughter of the well-to-do local merchant, and a girl disguised as a Confederate soldier. The plot weaves together the fates of these girls, a tapestry that reflects their humanity, heartache and heroism in a battle that ultimately defined a nation.

The book began when I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.

When I tackled the battle of Gettysburg, I had to first get the facts right. This was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. I read A LOT to get these facts right. And then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts.
Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. 
If I didn’t get that right, creating characters true to their time and place, the readers wouldn’t care about the facts. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago. I traveled to Gettysburg four times, walking the battlefield and talking to re-enactors and the park rangers.

As I pieced the story together, I took notes. I am a great fan of purple and pink post-its. I also like anything neon colored! I outlined everything. I wrote my first drafts in longhand. I find the relationship between pen and paper much more intimate, and demands me to go deeper into the character. Then, I transferred the story to the computer. But even as I edited the manuscript, I had to print the story out, and work with pen and paper again. I use recycled paper, to be sure!

But as we know, stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines, research, and all the "great plans of mice and men" need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I tag along for the ride. Even in historical fiction, with its challenging blend of story and fact, It’s as much about story-building as it is about story-creating. Mollie Hunter explores this process in her book Talent is Not Enough in which she offers:
  "The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book that can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.”

History isn’t dull or dry, as textbooks would have us believe. It isn’t a list of dates and names, like a shopping list that no one remembers once the task is complete. History is real and relevant. The study of history, in essence, is a way of making sense of the present. As David McCullough once said, in one of my favorite quotes, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate. [But] there is literature in history.” History enlarges our understanding of the human experience, suggests Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and as such, it needs to include the “stories that dismay as well as inspire.”

And there is no more powerful story to tell than that of the American Civil War.

When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow'rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and pathways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there…

-- Paul Laurence Dunbar, In Summer. Public Domain. See complete poem here. Paul Laurence Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872 to freed slaves from Kentucky. He became one of the first influential Black poets in American literature. 

I hope you are making history this summer!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, July 12, 2019

Great MG Titles For Summer Reading

With another school year over and a long stretch of summer ahead, we all want our kids to enjoy some fun and relaxation away from the demands of school. But, we also want our kids to be occupied in activities that encourage growth and engage the imagination. Why not head to the library for some great summer reading?
This post features some of the recent MIDDLE GRADE books I’ve had the pleasure of reading and want to recommend for kids. Each one is accompanied with my review. 

Bob by [Mass, Wendy, Stead, Rebecca]  BOB by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
A magical and whimsical tale full of hope, friendship, and finding your way back home. Put on a chicken suit, grab a flashlight and some licorice and prepare to be transported to a place of wonder, courage, and kindness. A delightful read for the young, and young at heart.

GRANTED by John David Anderson Granted
Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy in the Haven. She, and the rest of the fairies have one purpose in life – to grant wishes. As Ophelia embarks on her first mission as a Granter – a fairy who makes a wish come true – a simple wish turns into anything but. Everything about this story delighted me: the clever names of the fairies, the descriptions of their world, how wishes get granted, Ophelia’s struggles to make the wish come true, the relatable characters, and Ophelia’s new-found friendship with an unlikely critter named Sam – also known as a dog. It’s funny, heartfelt, original, hard to put down, and one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. I hope we get to hear from Ophelia Fidgets and her Haven friends again.

A Box of Bones by [Cohen, Marina] A BOX OF BONES by Marina Cohen
Twelve-year-old Kallie is a strong protagonist who confronts life with logic, order, and no nonsense.  Stories are lies, and magic and make-believe have no place in the ordered life she and her father have carved out after Kallie’s mother’s death. This ordered life turns upside down when Kallie receives a puzzle box. By solving the puzzle and opening the box, Kallie discovers a set of intricately carved bones.  Something else escapes from the box, something that defies logic and order. This fast-paced page turner alternates between Kallie and Liah – a young bone carver from back in the time when the box’s contents were carved. As Liah’s life begins to intertwine with Kallie’s, everything Kallie knows and believes is shattered. For the first time in her life, logic and order are of no use to her. How will she solve the mystery of the box that is messing up her life?
This is a story of suspense, secrets, and lies that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh JAGGER JONES AND THE MUMMY’S ANKH by Malayna Evans
Although 13 year old Jagger Jones loves ancient history, he’d rather learn about it from the comfort of his own bedroom than the constant globe-trotting to which his mother subjects him and his younger sister Aria. The trio are on their way to Jagger’s favorite place – Egypt. When they check into their hotel Jagger is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of someone calling his name, telling him to “Come”. Unable to stifle his curiosity, Jagger and Aria go outside into the Egyptian night to investigate. They discover an underground tomb and begin the adventure of a lifetime. Inside the tomb Jagger discovers the source of the voice – an Egyptian ankh – the symbol of life. When Aria touches the amulet, they are swept 3000 years back in time to Ancient Egypt.
            If Jagger doesn’t find some mysterious gemstones with magical properties, Mek, the sister of an Egyptian princess, will lose her soul and her chance at the afterlife. Jagger, Aria, and their entire family will also die and be wiped away from history as if they never existed. How can Jagger save the ancient princess and his own family? Why can’t he and Aria just go home?  Readers will enjoy the action and details of ancient Egyptian history as they are swept up in the intrigue and magic of the Pharoahs and Egyptain Gods. They will also marvel at how the author mixes ancient magic with modern technology to affect the story’s outcome in clever and surprising ways. A quick, enjoyable read for any adventure loving kid.

These are all fast-paced and exciting stories that should interest even reluctant kids.
Remember, if you and your children enjoy a book, one of the best ways to show the author your love is to write a review about the book on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s a wonderful way to spread the word about great literature for children.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Happy(?) Hot Dog Month

by Jody Feldman

It’s Hot Dog Month! Who knew?

When I was kid, playing at my friends’ houses, often – maybe not often, but it felt that way – the moms would give us hot dogs for lunch. I’d smile, chew mine down, swallow, and reach for the chips to get a different taste in my mouth. I tried ketchup. Nope. Mustard. Nope. Nothing helped.

I think it’s like that with books sometimes. We avoid a genre because it’s not our taste. If you’d asked me years ago about reading historical nonfiction, I might have said, “Historical what?” and laughed. But suddenly, I’ve found myself not only reading nonfiction, but adult nonfiction. Already this summer I've read Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy, but I also just checked out Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel. (Suddenly a WWII theme? Again, who knew?) Sure, I prefer fiction. And I prefer MG and YA. But tastes change...in reading and writing.

I happen to write contemporary middle grade novels. If someone, as recently as last year, had asked, “Would you ever consider writing a YA thriller?” I would have smiled, swallowed down the thought, and said, “It’s probably not my taste.” But tastes change. I am still writing MG, but there may just be a YA thriller in the offing. Maybe two. Or more.

As for hot dogs? How am I now? Offer me a big, fat, juicy Hebrew National quarter pounder with mustard, or toss in some sauerkraut and dill pickles, and I’m there, plate in hand.
Like I said, tastes change.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Fill That Niche -- by Jane Kelley

Last summer, we were in Italy overdosing on art. Every plaza had an elaborate fountain. Every church was full of sculptures and mosaics. Walking from one miracle to another in Rome, we passed the Palazzo Barberini, which wasn’t even on our list. As we explored the grounds, we came upon an empty niche.

I have no idea what sculpture was intended for that plinth. The Barberini brothers were merchants who amassed enough wealth and power to have one of their relatives elected as pope. In 17th Century Rome, they were great patrons of the arts. Their palace is now a museum full of masterpieces by such artists as El Greco, Bernini, and Caravaggio.

But outside? A space cried out to be filled.
So I scrambled up and stood on the plinth.

I remembered the photo when we were asked to blog about niche marketing for our books. Knowing our books' niches is an important tool for getting them out in the world. It can also be helpful during the creative process.

I would never write to fill a niche in the way I climbed on the plinth. There's no guaranty that space would stay empty. But an awareness of how niches function can be very useful. In the art world, a niche focuses us on the object. Being mindful of theme can help keep our stories from wandering off.

A niche can also provide something to play against. I like this photo because it upends our expectations. The niche leads us to expect an antique statue made of cool marble. What a surprise to find a woman in rumpled khakis and old sneakers, doing her imitation of "art."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Niche Marketing (and My #1 Guerilla Marketing Tool)

Every book has a niche. And it can really make a difference in sales and opportunities to promote the book if you spend some time thinking about what/who that niche might be. Some questions to ask:

1. Does my book's setting create a niche?

My first middle grade novel 
LEAVING GEE'S BEND is set in a real Alabama town. Obviously residents of Alabama will be interested! My poetry collection DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST is set at a Kenyan water hole. Tourists who have gone on safaris is a niche for that book. My forthcoming dystopian middle grade novel at its heart is about a girl and her mother – and how they each interpret love and freedom. Mother-Daughter book clubs might be a niche (as they were for LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

2. Do the characters' main hobbies/interests represent a niche?
In LEAVING GEE'S BEND, the main character tells her story by making a quilt out of fabric pieces she collects on her adventure. So I marketed myself to quilting groups, and have enjoyed sharing the book with avid quilters. My book of farmers' market poems FRESH
DELICIOUS sent me to farmers' markets and county fairs. My LOVE, AGNES sent me on a Great Southeastern Octopus Tour (of southeastern aquariums). My middle grade novel
DON'T FEED THE BOY features a homeschooler, so I've enjoyed sharing it with homeschool groups.

3. Does the author's inspiration and/or process indicate a niche?

Charles Waters and I were inspired to write CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? after the book of poems for adults CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, which addresses systemic racism. Our niche audience has been people interested in having conversations about race and mistakes. MEET MISS FANCY is historical fiction set in 1913 Birmingham, and I wrote the book after finding a tiny piece of history that no one had explored before – making it particularly attractive to Birmingham residents and historical societies.

And when you're done determining niches, blast it open by thinking guerilla marketing. This is wild-card marketing. For me it means identifying high-profile individuals who might especially connect with the book. I sent zoo-loving Betty White a copy of DON'T FEED THE BOY (set at a zoo). I sent LEAVING GEE'S BEND to Oprah Winfrey. I sent FRESH DELICIOUS to a healthy eating organization. I sent a copy of MEET MISS FANCY to the new superintendent of a local school district because I know he's interested in Alabama history and particularly interested in creating a "dream big" climate in his schools.

Truly, the best advertisement for your book is... your book. After nearly ten years in this business I find sending a copy of the book to select individuals one of my most valuable marketing tools. If nothing else, it creates a lot of good will. And who knows where it might lead? 

Good luck to you as you deliver your book to the world!
IreneLatham lives on a lake in rural Alabama. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books from publishers including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Lerner, Boyds Mills, and Charlesbridge. Her books have been recognized on state lists and honored by NEA, ALA, NCTE, SIBA, Bank Street College and other organizations.

Monday, July 1, 2019


I am thrilled and excited to reveal the cover for my new historical MG written in verse. Drum roll please...


Eleven year old Jack misses his Dad who is MIA in Vietnam. It’s been months since he and his family had word of his whereabouts. The last thing Jack wants to do is spend summer with his grandparents. Mom believes it will be good for them all – Jack, his sister Katy, Mom, Gran and Pops – to be together while they wait for word about Dad. Keeping busy will keep them out of trouble and help them think of other things.

Jack expects the worst summer of his life. The first summer without. Without Dad, without friends, without his room and all the things that remind him of Dad. When Jack meets a girl named Jill - a girl with a brother who makes trouble for both of them – things they believe are turned upside down. Welcome to a summer of fishing, camping, bullies, and a fish who grants wishes. A fish that could be the answer to Jack’s problem. But when Jill makes wishes of her own, things don’t turn out the way they expected.  Every wish has a consequence.

Will the fish grant Jack’s biggest wish?  Will Jack be brave enough to ask?