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Many of my email mentoring clients have so many ideas and projects that when they try to decide what steps to take next, they feel stuck. There are so many actions they could be taking at any one time that they freak out — and do nothing.
I have the same problem, and one day Renegade Writer co-author Diana Burrell said to me, “Pick one thing and do it. It doesn’t matter what you pick — just pick something.”
I created a list of 50 action items that will move your freelance career forward, whether you have 5 minutes…30 minutes…an hour…or a whole day free. I then hired the graphic designer Azita Houshiar to create custom illustrations and design the checklist, so it is a pleasure to look at and use.
To use the checklist: Print it out, or keep it on your computer’s desktop. When you have some time, just go to the section that corresponds with how much time you have, randomly pick an item, and do it.
You’ll be one more step towards your freelance writing goals, and you’ll build forward momentum to help you get the next step done, and the next.
To get your free checklist, fill out the form on this page…it will take about six seconds:
Note: If you are already a member of my mailing list — the one where you get Monday Motivations for Writers emails — I’ll be sending you a copy of the checklist, so you won’t need to fill out the form.
Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her first book, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, won Lee & Low’s New Voices Award. Her new book, Twenty-two Cents, was released this week. In this post, we asked her to share advice on publicizing your first book for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other new authors.
BUT… winning the New Voices contest was just the start. I had to do several revisions of the manuscript based on insightful critiques from my editor Philip Lee. Because this was a biography, I had to do extra research and conduct many more follow-up interviews to make sure all the facts of my manuscript were accurate. And then after all the line edits and copy edits and proof reading checks and balances were completed, I had one more thing to do.
No problem, I thought. All I had to do was answer that huge questionnaire the Lee & Low publicity department sent me. Our publicists were amazing – they were already aggressively sending out press releases and getting me invited to a few national writing conferences for book panels and signings.
But I quickly discovered that a debut author must be willing to pound the pavement, too! So I hired freelance graphic designer friends to create bookmarks and fliers of my book and an official author website. I dropped these off at as many schools, libraries and bookstores I could visit on the weekends. I contacted these same places to see if they would be interested in hosting a signing or school presentation of my book which included fun show-and-tell visuals of how the book was made, a slide show and even a specially-edited CD of historical film footage about my book’s topic.
I contacted local book festivals to be considered for signings and book panels. I not only asked friends and teachers and librarians to spread the word but even people I thought might have a vested interest in the book because they were also professional athletes/coaches and Asian American activists. I always updated our amazing Lee & Low publicists so we both were on the same page. We were a team who supported each other.
I also kept up with the news. Any pop culture trend, breaking news or social issue that was a hot button topic related to my book was an opportunity to see if my book could be mentioned or if I could be interviewed as an “expert.” For example, I pitched my book during the Summer Olympics as a relevant topic.
For my second book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (illustrated by Lin Wang), published in 2009, I created NAPIBOWRIWEE – National Picture Book Writing Week on my website. It was a fun version of the famous National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo”) event that promoted writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. My NaPiBoWriWee encouraged writers to write 7 picture books in 7 days. I advertised my new SHINING STAR book as a contest giveaway drawing prize for those who successfully completed the event with me.
To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went VIRAL. Thousands of aspiring newbie writers AND published veteran authors all across the United States and in countries as far away as Egypt, Korea, France and Australia participated in my NaPiBoWriWee event. Talk about great publicity for my second book! As a result, my NaPiBoWriWee event has become an annual event for the past six years, where I have promoted all my new Lee & Low books! (For more information on NAPIBWORIWEE, please visit my website http://paulayoo.com).
And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I did to promote my first book. Today, not only must debut authors “pound the pavement” for publicity, but they also must navigate the social media waters with blogs tours, breaking news Twitter feeds, Instagram and Tumblr visual posts, and so on. As I write this blog, I’m sure a brand new social media app is being invented that will become tomorrow’s Next Big Social Media Trend.
In the end, it was an honor and privilege to win this contest. I’m grateful for what it has done for my book career.
For my new book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (illustrated by Jamel Akib, 2014), I’ve already participated in several blog Q&A interviews with signed book giveaway contests from established children’s book writing websites. I’ve promoted the book on my website and on social media sites. And I’m also promoting the book in real life by participating in book festival panels, including the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
For new authors, I recommend pounding the pavement like I did. Think outside the box – are there current news/pop culture trends that relate to your book’s topic that you can exploit as a relevant connection? Can you come up with your own fun “viral” website contest like my NAPIBOWRIWEE? Make fast friends with your local librarians, schoolteachers and bookstore owners. Keep up with the latest and most influential kid lit bloggers and see if you can pitch your book as a future blog post on their site. And give yourself a budget – how much are you willing to spend out of your own pocket to promote your book? Find a number you’re comfortable with so you don’t end up shocked by that credit card bill!
Of course, these suggestions are just the beginning. Book publicity is a difficult, time-consuming job that requires much hard work and persistence and creative out-of-the-box problem solving. But trust me, it’s all worth it when you see a child pick your book from the shelf of a bookstore or library with a smile on his or her face.
Thanks for joining us, Paula! The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here. The deadline for submissions this year is September 30, 2014.
We all have a great deal of resources at our disposal most of the time, we look things up on our tablets and phones immediately, and are able to retrieve information on almost any topic at any time, almost anywhere. We’ve never been so connected globally. As a marketer, I’m intrigued and excited by engaging with this global community; working in global online product marketing, I’m keen to embrace new technologies and digital resources so we can fulfill our aim to disseminate content to everyone and anyone who wants and needs it. I think about digital resources a lot, mulling over the best way to use new technologies to tell people that these resources exist, reflect on how I can best show people what they can do, and ponder what they have to offer students, academics, and professionals. (You just haven’t lived the full life of a marketer until you wake up thinking of how to best run a digital advertising campaign.)
This is because I work in the online product marketing department at Oxford University Press and am responsible for the marketing of several online products, including Oxford Scholarship Online and University Press Scholarship Online.
I started my OUP life in the medicine marketing department. It was here that I learnt about how to market a list of books. And not just any old books, but ones that help save lives. I learnt about how to pick out the key features and benefits in order to draw the reader into what the essence of the book is about, I learnt about what makes a good book-jacket design, how to produce creative and engaging material to tell our audience about these books. I traveled abroad to all sorts of conferences to show doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists directly the academic content we had to offer.
In the almost four years I’ve worked at OUP a not insignificant shift has taken place towards an online environment, as more and more people begin their research online (who doesn’t start everything with a Google search?), connect with colleagues and peers through social media, and increasingly use online resources in their teaching to be able to reach students across the globe. As a result of this shift more and more of our books were placed onto various online resources (in medicine this largely took the form of Oxford Medicine Online) and as marketers we relish rolling with the changes, adapting, embracing, and championing this new way of providing content to people.
It was a big shift and involved a change in the way we thought about our lists and marketing. But the skills and aims at the heart of what we do remained the same: how can we best engage with you, our audience?
This has led to our ways of working continually changing with this shift to digital (and this is true of all marketing departments and companies everywhere). We are now able to reach and interact with a global audience through our digital campaigns, no longer having to solely rely on printing and mailing thousands of leaflets without knowing if anyone ever read them. We now tweet, post on Facebook and Tumblr, create podcasts, videos, write blog posts, and encourage authors, contributors, librarians (the wonderfully named Tumblrians spring to mind) to join our communities and get involved. The way we relate to our audience has changed; there is an increased desire for a dialogue between publishers and users of our content. We want to talk and listen to our community — we are closer to people than we’ve ever been before. In this brave new world people can tell you what they think in hardly any time at all via a Facebook post or tweet — a scary, but exciting prospect.
As for what the future holds for marketing, I think the communities that continue to grow and evolve are vital. It is the people who use and value what we make who are going to be sharing, commenting, contributing, and making us better.
I can’t wait to see how we’ll be communicating in another ten years’ time!
I have just had the second book of my second series for children published. It feels like a bit of a milestone.
It's called Dragon Amber, and it's part of a multiple worlds adventure trilogy that started with Deep Amber last March. The cover's lovely, as all of them have been (thanks to David Wyatt), and there's nothing quite like holding the physical copy of your new book in your hands (or even clutching it to yourself as you do a little dance...!!) But it being the second book of the second series made me stop and think. It's my sixth book to be published. While I'm far from being 'established' (whatever that means), it certainly means I'm no longer a total newbie.
Which feels ever so slightly weird, as I still think of myself as a novice, pretending to be an author.
This business of feeling as if you're pretending seems to be something quite a few children's authors suffer from. (It may be related to the fact that very few of us are actually making enough money to feel writing is a 'proper' job, but that's another story...)
Anyway, I thought I'd take this opportunity - as someone who can no longer consider herself a novice - to try and sum up what I have learnt over the last three years of being part of the world of children's publishing.
1. First and foremost: other children's authors - whether well known, just published or still hopeful - are almost all lovely, warm, friendly and modest (and there are not many professions you'd be able to say that of.) Getting together with them, at festivals, conferences, retreats or book launches is a wonderfully affirming thing to do - and helps quite a lot with that feeling of being a bit of a fraud (I AM a children's writer - because I am accepted by all those other lovely children's writers!!)
2. I have almost no control over whether my books do well or not - so I should just relax and maybe cross my fingers occasionally! Being open to opportunities like school visit invites or festivals is fun and part of getting to know the publishing business - tweeting and face booking have been similarly good for getting to know other writer friends. And sometimes opportunities have come from that. But none of it has turned my book into a best-seller, and I don't think there's any magic way of doing so!
3. If I don't want to become mad and bitter, I have to try not to compare my book sales/prize nominations and festival invites with others - and must remember NOT to check the Amazon ranking of my books more than once a week! There is a great deal of luck and randomness in this business and then there are the unfathomable whims of publishers, reviewers and the reading public (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?). Generally (but not always: see aforementioned Fifty Shades) it's Very Good Books that get attention and prizes - equally there are thousands of Very Good Books that don't, and which category mine end up in (even if they were to be considered Very Good!) is mostly down to serendipity.
Oh - and marketing spend.
Which brings me to no. 4.
4. Publishers put serious time, energy and money behind only a select few of the books they publish. These books are plastered all over websites, magazines, 'hot new trends' lists, twitter, reviews, front window billing at Waterstones and W.H. Smiths.
In the absence of this push, you are lucky if your book ends up in a select few Waterstones branches, or garners an online review from a kind blogger. This is no reflection on the quality of your book - I've met too many other brilliant people with fabulous books who can't get them noticed to think it's entirely a meritocracy. Publishers are scrabbling to find the next Wimpy Kid or Hunger Games, and even they don't know what will trigger that response. Often it's something they have all roundly rejected as too dire to waste ink on (cough, Fifty Shades...) So they put money behind a few, and publish a hundred others in a kind of scattergun approach, in case any of them builds a following by chance. I've learned to treat having a book out as a bit like having bought a lottery ticket - whether it does well or not is as random as whether I win the jackpot or a £10 prize for three numbers.
5. So, finally, after a few years of trying to find the 'magic key' to making a go of this publishing lark, I've learned to just enjoy the moment: to hold my new book in my hands, and do a little jig at having pulled it off one more time. In the book I'm currently reading (The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie) one of the characters is a Northman, hard, battle-scarred, always getting into more impossible fights. At the end of each one, he repeats, as a kind of mantra: 'Still alive, still alive...' I think I feel a bit like that about writing - 'Still there, still there...'
C.J. Busby writes funny fantasy adventures for ages 7 upwards. Her first book, Frogspell, was a Richard and Judy Children's Book Cub choice for 2012. The series is published in Canada by Scholastic and the UK by Templar and has been translated into German and Turkish. Deep Amber, the first of a new trilogy, was published in March 2014. The second instalment, Dragon Amber, came out on 1st September.
"A rift-hopping romp with great charm, wit and pace" Frances Hardinge.
Who do you consider your literary influences? It's something I've been thinking about lately as I get ready to market my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Although I still have about 60 pages left to edit, I'm giving serious thought to my query letters, synopses, and anything else I can put together that can describe both my book and who I am as a writer.
Last night I made a list of all the authors I believe have had the most influence on my own work. In no particular order, they are:
Daphne Du Maurier
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Edgar Allen Poe
After making my list, I wanted to know what it was these particular authors had in common and/or why they appealed to me so much. I narrowed it down to these categories:
Language. Rich, lush, yet also straightforward in meaning. Strong sentences that when read alone could almost be mistaken for poetry.
Gothic suspense. Characters and plot lines filled with a sense of foreboding and the darker side of human nature.
Details. Dress fabrics, tea ceremony rituals, the dust on Mars--I love experiencing every little nuance transporting me into a world I can see, hear, taste, smell, and until the oven timer rings and I have to choose between burning dinner or finishing "just one more page."
A brooding sense of melancholy. Although I enjoy a good conclusion to a story, I've never insisted any book I read end with "happily ever after." I'm just as comfortable with open endings, characters who end up wiser but not necessarily happier, and anything that leaves me on a philosophical note regarding human nature.
International and historical settings and culture. One of my favorite things about reading is the chance to travel through both space and time without leaving home. From medieval Sweden to modern-day Japan, I've gone there just on the strength of my library card.
Genre description: literary fiction.I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, but I always seem to come back to what I call "literary page-turners," books that don't necessarily follow strict (or any) genre guidelines, break a lot of the "writing rules," and yet manage to hook me in so I never want to stop reading. All of the authors I've listed above fit the bill perfectly.
I'm sure there are many more connections I could make between my authors-of-influence, but for now that seems to be a good start to understanding why I write the way I do. And speaking of writing, it's time to get back to work--hoping to turn those 60 pages into a nice round zero before the end of the month!
Tip of the Day: Making a list of "where you came from" is a great exercise for developing your personal brand and marketing materials. For extra credit, why not share some or all of your list under "Post a Comment"? Inquiring minds would love to know! Happy memories, everyone--looking forward to reading your findings.Add a Comment
(Kate Wilson of the wonderful Nosy Crow asked me to write a guest post for her on my experiences of self-publishing as a published author. For your info, she didn't know what those experiences were, so there was no direction or expectation. I have re-posted it here, with permission. Note that this is personal experience, not advice.)
Many writers, previously published or not, talk excitedly about why they enjoy self-publishing. Let me tell you why I don’t.
I’ve self-published (only as ebooks) three of my previously published YA novels and three adult non-fiction titles which hadn’t been published before. From these books I make a welcome income of around £250 a month – a figure that is remarkably constant. So, why have I not enjoyed it and why won’t I do it again?
It’s damned hard to sell fiction! (Over 90% of that £250 is from the non-fiction titles.) Publishers know this. They also know that high sales are not always about “quality”, which is precisely why very good novels can be rejected over and over. Non-fiction is easier because it’s easy to find your readers and for them to find your book. Take my book about writing a synopsis, for example; anyone looking for a book on writing a synopsis will Google “books on writing a synopsis” and, hey presto, Write a Great Synopsis appears. But if someone wants a novel, the chances of finding mine out of the available eleventy million are slim. This despite the fact that they had fab reviews and a few awards from their former lives.
But some novels do sell well. So why don’t mine? Because I do absolutely nothing to sell them. Why not? Well, this is the point. Several points.
First, time. I am too busy with other writing and public-speaking but, even if I weren’t, the necessary marketing takes far too long (for me) and goes on for too long after publication: the very time when I want to be writing another one. This is precisely why publishers tend only to work on publicity for a short while after publication: they have other books to work on. We may moan but it has to be like that – unless a book does phenomenally well at first, you have to keep working at selling it.
Second, I dislike the stuff I’d have to do to sell more books. Now, this is where you start leaping up and down saying, “But published authors have to do that, too!” Yes, and I do, but it’s different. When a publisher has invested money because they believe in your book, you obviously want to help them sell it. But when the only person who has actually committed any money is you, the selling part feels different. It’s a case of “I love my book so much that I published it – now you need to believe in me enough to buy it.” I can’t do it. Maybe I don’t believe in myself enough. Fine. I think books need more than the author believing in them. The author might be right and the book be fabulous, but I tend to be distrustful of strangers telling me they are wonderful so why should I expect others to believe me if I say I am? And I don’t want to spend time on forums just to sell more books.
Third, I love being part of a team. Yes, I’ve had my share of frustrating experiences in the course of 100 or so published books, but I enjoy the teamwork – even though I’m an introvert who loves working alone in a shed; I love the fact that other people put money and time and passion into selling my book. It gives me confidence and support. They won’t make money if they don’t sell my book and I still like and trust that model.
And I especially love that once I’ve written it and done my bit for the publicity machine and done the best I can for my book, I can let it go and write another.
See, I’m a writer, not a publisher. I may love control – the usual reason given for self-publishing – but I mostly want control over my words, not the rest. (That control, by the way, is never lost to a good editor, and I’ve been lucky with genius editors.) So, yes, I am pleased with the money I’ve earned from self-publishing and I love what I’ve learnt about the whole process, but now I’m going back to where I am happy to do battle for real control: my keyboard.
It’s all I want to do.
Nicola Morgan has written about 100 books, with half a dozen "traditional" publishers of various sizes from tiny to huge. She is a former chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland and advises hard-working writers on becoming and staying published, and on the marketing/publicity/events/behaviour that goes along with that. She has also just created BRAIN STICKS™, an original and huuuuuuge set of teaching resources about the brain and mental health.
From time to time, we try to give you a glimpse into work in our offices around the globe, so we are excited to bring you an interview with Erin Hathaway, a Marketing and Exhibits Coordinator at Oxford University Press. We spoke to Erin about her life here at OUP — which includes organizing over 250 conferences that our marketers attend each year.
When did you start working at OUP?
I started working at OUP in May 2012.
What is your typical day like at OUP?
I spend most of my day working with our Exhibits Management System (EMS), our database that helps us coordinate and prepare for the over 250 conferences that our team manages each year. Our work also involves closely monitoring conference budgets and making sure we’ve covered all the bases in regards to our booth set up, attendance, AV needs and book lists. In those few months out of each year when the conference load lightens up, I do some fiscal analysis and create training documentation to help our conference stakeholders.
What is the strangest thing currently on or in your desk?
It’s a three-way tie between a Transformer, a painted skull, and a Wonder Woman metal poster.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?
Read my email to check for any conference emergencies or time sensitive deadlines. Then I go get a cup of tea.
What’s your favorite book? The Black Company by Glenn Cook.
What is the most exciting project you have been part of while working at OUP?
We recently transitioned the storage of our journals from a third party warehouse into our warehouse in Cary, North Carolina. While difficult at times, the move has saved us both financially and logistically by allowing us to combine our books and journals onto one pallet for a given conference. This project allowed me to work closely with people from different areas of OUP, from the Journals Production team to the Cary warehouse staff. Everyone was extremely helpful in getting this transition underway and it was exciting to see a project long imagined come to fruition.
What is your favorite word?
I like the word “tactile.”
What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?
I love strategy meetings with the Exhibits team where we dream up ways to make our systems more efficient.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
A Kindle filled with many books, my chainmail jewelry kit (a side business of mine), and a comfortable pillow. I’m assuming basic necessities have been covered, otherwise my choices are not very smart.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found about working at OUP?
After working here for over six years, I’m constantly amazed by how much things have changed. In the moment, it feels like change comes so slowly. Yet, when I look back on how OUP was organized and the systems we were using when I started in 2008, I’m amazed by how committed OUP is to making our company more efficient and incorporating new technology.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk on the traditional vs. self-published experience for writers. I discussed covers, but had to stick to those with new art created by artists, since I had no experience with photo covers. If only I'd been quicker about reading the May/June 2014 SCBWI Bulletin, I would have had some good info I could have included.
In that issue, author Chris Eboch had a great article called Photo Cover Design for Self-Published Novels. She uses a case study of an author who found the main photo for her cover herself and still needed a photo artist and a designer (that's two different people, folks) to finish her cover. I mention this to make sure everyone understands how involved creating a cover is.
Finding this article will be worth the effort for anyone thinking about creating their own book cover.
Guest post by Sean D'Souza'
Is a sum of $229 expensive?
It really depends, doesn’t it?
What’s the $229 for?
Is it for a book?
A half day event?
An online workshop?
A set of 8 DVDs?
What always matters isn’t the content itself, but the packaging
So, for instance, let’s say you took a book and positioned it at $229, you’re actually getting your audience to compare your
I know that everyone has their own method of choosing books. Some go by the cover, others by the back copy. Some people get a good feel for the book by reading the first (or last) page or chapter. For me, it’s all about the book blurb—that two-paragraph snippet on the back cover or the inside of the dust jacket. If I don’t get a good vibe from a book after reading its blurb, back on the shelf it goes.
As an author in charge of writing my own blurbs, this creates a fair amount of anxiety; with the bajillions of books out there vying for our reader’s attention, it’s critical that we nail the book blurb. But how? What do I include? How long should it be? WHAT, IN THE NAME OF CHOCOLATE, MAKES A GOOD BLURB?
Enter Michaelbrent Collings, who’s got some seriously good advice on how to write the awesomest book blurb ever…
There seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about the back cover copy—the “blurbs” that so many writers have to put on the back of their books.
In Ye Olden Tymes, some person who was paid to do stuff like that—meaning, a fellow who probably looked like a dumpier version of a Mad Men character—would take care of the blurb as part of the deal a writer got when they were published.
Now, with more and more writers turning to self-publishing, and with more and more publishing houses relying on the writers to provide copy, advertising, marketing, and more…it’s likely going to be something the writer does.
And that’s great! Because, well, who understands the story like the person who wrote it?
But it also sucks. Because, well, who less understands how to sell the story than the person who wrote it?
Wait, lemme ‘splain. No. Is too long. Lemme summarize. (And because the summary is this long, you should understand how important this subject is.)
Watching most writers tell others about their books is like watching parents show baby pictures: it’s a passionate, energizing, fascinating process for everyone… except for everyone who isn’t the parent. Sorry, but (and I say this as a parent myself) very few people really care about Tommy’s new tooth, about Lucy’s skinned knee, the nanosecond-by-nanosecond details of Charlie’s first step.
There. I said it. If I’m gone tomorrow it’s because The Angry Parents League finally dragged me away to an underground oubliette filled with binkies and used diapers, there to die in madness induced by never-ending Teletubbies reruns.
Back to my point: we don’t care about the everyday details of other people’s kids. At least, not until we are thoroughly invested in the child. And you don’t get a stranger thoroughly invested in anything by spewing mundane crapola.
So why, if that’s the case, do so many writers try to “suck in” complete strangers with the boring, banal details of their story?
It’s because those writers a) don’t care to be professionals, or b) just don’t understand the purpose of the blurb. I will ignore group a) because, to be honest, they irritate me and I hope they suffer embarrassing diarrhea at a fancy dinner party. No help for them.
As to group b), here is the purpose of the blurb, and this is the only purpose of the blurb. I will put it in big bold letters so’s y’all know I’m serious-like.
The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.
That is IT, people. The outside of your book—the cover design, the spine, the lettering, EVERYTHING—is for one purpose: to separate readers from their money. Your blurb is part of that. And its part of the job is (again):
The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.
So how do you do that? A few clues. First, leave out the details. No one cares about Eugene’s first skinned knee. Lead with that and it’s a buzzkill at the Christmas party. But if you say, “So, Number Three almost died today,” all conversation STOPS.
Those who know that “Number Three” is your third kid will think, “Holy crap, died?!”
Those who don’t know what “Number Three” is will think, “Who died?” or “Who’s number three?” or “I thought you could only go up to Number Two!” (this is a Christmas party after all, so some of your people probably aren’t thinking straight at this point).
But everyone’s interested. Because you haven’t given details. You’ve raised questions. If you walked out of the room at this point, you’d get angry phone calls from “concerned” (i.e. ragingly curious) friends and family.
This is a good start for your blurb. Raise that question!
Also implicit in the above are a few other things that good blurbs tend to include: the genre of the piece (romance? Western? sci-fi?), the mood (funny? scary? Melodramatic?), and the HOOK. This last merits a bit of discussion here.
The hook is that gimmick, the setup, that grabs you in just a sentence or two. The core idea that sets it apart from all the others out there. It’s what you’d see on the movie poster—The Shining is about a family trapped in a malevolently haunted hotel, The Hunger Games is about a girl who competes in a battle to the death with other teens, etc. Note this, again, is not the story. Neither description told you who would live, who would die, what their lives were like outside the bare description of a setup. But the setup…interesting!
Look at the following examples.
When Sharlene wakes up after a five-year coma to discover that she has a ring on her finger and a three-year old baby named Kumbaya, she has no memory of how she got the ring or where the baby came from. Doctors assure her that Kumbaya is hers, and their tears assure her that the story behind the little half-Liechtensteinian babe is a heartrending one. But for some reason, no one will speak to her. They will not explain the ring, the baby, or the two million dollars in smuggled African conflict diamonds she also finds in the baby’s bassinet.
Now Sharlene is on a mission. To find the father of the child, to find the owner of the diamonds, and, hopefully, to find the man she somehow knows in her heart that she loves. She will travel across the world, from Australia to France to Indonesia on a globe-trotting trip that will take her everywhere and bring her into contact with people like the deaf-mute man who somehow plays harp music that makes her heart sing. She will travel everywhere…and then return to find that answers, and love, were right at her side all along.
And my thoughts after reading this, of course: HO. LEE. CRAP.
There’s no reason to read the book. Sounds like I’ve just read it, actually. I got the beginning, the middle, and even the end (she’ll find her answers when she comes home, and at this point I’m so sick of reading about it I don’t care anymore).
The saddest part is there’s a good blurb hidden in there. Think of this:
Sharlene wakes from a five-year coma with no memory of her accident. Or how she got the wedding ring that sparkles on her finger, the $2 million in illegal diamonds…or the three-year-old baby that doctors insist is hers.
Now Sharlene is on a mission for answers. Led by clues she finds, led by a need to know. And most of all…led by a feeling that love waits at the end of her journey.
Now I ain’t sayin’ this is art. But it is 1) shorter (which is almost always better on blurbs, since you have maybe ten seconds to grab someone and twenty seconds total if you DO grab them), 2) leads with the “hook,” and 3) SETS UP THE QUESTIONS THAT CAN ONLY BE ANSWERED BY READING THE BOOK (Who gave the ring? Where did the diamonds come from? A three-year-old baby?)
Here’s another blurb. This one from my book Strangers, which has been a top seller on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc.
You wake up in the morning to discover that you have been sealed into your home. The doors are locked, the windows are barred. THERE’S NO WAY OUT.
A madman is playing a deadly game with you and your family. A game with no rules, only consequences. So what do you do? Do you run? Do you hide?
OR DO YOU DIE?
This is 100% about the hook (waking up completely sealed in a family home), and about the QUESTIONS: will the protagonists make it out? Who is the madman behind it? What are the motives? How is such a thing possible to be carried out? And, hopefully, more questions that can only be answered by clicking that little “Purchase” button.
I also did the tricky move of putting the reader “in” the story. Instead of being “A family wakes up” (Strangers is about a family), I said “You wake up,” “you and your family,” “what do you do?” etc. It personalizes the story and makes the moving question even stronger sometimes (though of course this doesn’t always work). For instance:
You wake up from a coma. Five years gone. Illegal diamonds next to you, no memory of them or the sleeping three-year-old that the doctors insist is yours.
The only way to find answers is to follow the clues left by a mysterious man. A man whom you sense will lead you not only to your past, but to your future. Not only to understanding, but to love.
Okay, hopefully you get the point. And, regardless, I’ve blathered enough.
Remember, though (if you remember anything), this single thing. The point of blurbs. The fact that no one cares about your babies…not right away. You have to get them invested in the questions and the big stories before they will be interested in the details. And remember…
The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.
Good luck. Go forth and sell your babies.
Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter, one of the top selling horror novelists on Amazon for over two years straight, and has been a bestselling novelist on various ebook lists in over forty countries. His newest novel is This Darkness Light.Join his mailing list to be notified of new releases, sales, and freebies.
The other day I was chatting with my Renegade Writer co-author, Diana Burrell, and she mentioned something that horrified me.
Diana teaches the fabulous Become an Idea Machine workshop that’s helped students land in the New York Times, Parenting, Success and other publications. She told me that more frequently than you would expect, she’ll suggest a student read through some magazines to help spur ideas, and they’ll reply:
“Oh, I don’t read magazines.”
Or, even worse:
“I hate magazines!”
I know this is not an uncommon scenario because when I do query critiques, sometimes it’s clear to me that the writer has not cracked open a magazine. Believe me, you can tell! For example, they’ll be pitching an edgy men’s publication and their query sounds like a government report, complete with 5-dollar words, passive case overdrive, and footnotes.
I’m not even sure how to respond to what I’m seeing out there. Why would anyone think that magazine writing is the only job in the known universe where you don’t need to know anything about the medium you hope to make money from, your clients’ products, or the marketplace?
It’s like if you were applying for a job as an accountant and you told your interviewer, “Well, I don’t know what accountants do and I don’t much like numbers, but will you give me a job?”
Of if you wanted to work at McDonald’s and you told your interviewer, “Oh, I’m a vegan and I’m morally against eating meat. I refuse to learn about your menu or serve burgers, but I want you to give me a job.”
This sounds ridiculous in all contexts — except, for some people, when talking about a freelance writing career.
I think there are a lot of Internet-famous business “gurus” out there who like to plug writing as an easy work-at-home gig where all you need is a laptop and the ability to string sentences together. After all, it’s FREElance, as in FREE to do whatever you want.
And that’s true IF you want to write $10 articles for the content mills.
But if you want to earn some decent money writing for top-notch trade, custom, and consumer magazines, for the love of all that is good and holy, you need to actually familiarize yourself with the magazine market.
When you want to become a magazine writer, reading magazines becomes a full-time job for you.
You read magazines you want to write for from cover to cover and study the writing, the departments, how articles are structured, and even the ads.
You read magazines you don’t want to write for, just for the hell of it.
You become known as the crazy person who carts away stacks of outdated magazines from your hairdresser’s and doctor’s waiting rooms. (Yes, I have done this!)
You ask your neighbors to put their old to-be-recycled magazines on your porch. (Yep…done that too.)
When you go to the effort required to get to know the market, eventually it becomes ingrained in your brain. It becomes part of you.
So, for example…
When your kid’s school bus driver mentions she’d like to get into writing, you say, “Oh, you should try School Bus Fleet magazine.”
When you have an article idea about how to handle your tween’s hormonal temper tantrums, you know Family Circle may be a good market, but Parents is not.
Your article ideas become sharper and more focused because you’ve read hundreds of magazine articles and know what’s been done and how you can do it differently.
You’ll know that Inc. magazine ran an article two issues ago on a topic you want to pitch, so you’ll need to come up with a fresher slant if you want to query them.
This is not optional, folks. If you want to write for magazines, you need to read them. No, you need to study them. Lots of them.
Here’s your challenge: Today, right now if you can, read a magazine from cover to cover, studying every part. Or, if you have a copy or are near a bookstore or library, start browsing through Writer’s Market and read all the magazine guidelines.
How about you: Do you love magazines? Do you read them? Why or why not? (Hey, does this sound like a high school essay question?)
Emily Romero is the vice president of marketing for the Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House, where she has spent over fourteen years working on a wide range of children's literature, from picture books to young adult novels.
Children's books are permeating entertainment, TV, movies, etc. Emily thinks Stephen Colbert said it best.
"A young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read." -Stephen Colbert Most book buyers actively discover books by asking friends, browsing in bookstores, and reading reviews online. This is the seed of what the marketing team does; they take word-of-mouth and build it.
Building support with booksellers is key.
Penguin still prints catalogs, they create F&Gs/ARCs, as well as create a catalog of their backlog. They do trade advertising, as well as special mailings.
Penguin attends Book Expo America (BEA), which give them a chance to put their best foot forward. "We represent our books and get support." Face-to-face opportunities where they as the publisher get to represent their books.
On getting their books notice: People have to find your book. Penguin works with their sales reps and get promotions (displays, posters, etc.) so that the book is noticed.
The teacher and librarian market is powerful because it gets books in the hands of readers. Penguin is sure to get their books on state list. They also attend conferences that teachers and librarians attend (like ALA), as well as provide teachers with material they need to use their books in the classroom.
Reaching consumers is now heavily done through social and digital means. They've invested in all the platforms to be certain they have a reach and build the many communities who might buy their books.
Advertising is done through print, digital/search, broadcast.
Sale. Marketing. Publicity. They all work together.
The two writers taking on the question of the necessity of book promotion in The Demands of Book Promotion: Frivolous or Necessary? are pretty much in agreement that it definitely isn't frivolous. They just don't/can't get into the subject much beyond that. The comments are a little more nitty gritty.
But, you know, it's rare to find a promotional essay that offers a whole lot of help and hope to writers.
The power of successful-minded habits is amazing. But, it takes work to create those habits.
The good news is that simply changes can see huge results. One little change can be to start your day reading a positive statement. It might be: My Efforts Will See Positive Results.
Put on your thinking cap and see what simple changes you can make. And, doing the changes daily will result in
Change is the overriding theme of this novel. Discuss good vs. bad change and how the characters accepted or rejected change. CCSS RL 4.9
How did Emily’s ideas about change evolve throughout the story? CCSS RL 3.3
What does the horseshoe symbolize? Do you think it really had power? Explain. CCSS RL 5.4
Do you think Beatrice’s personality and behavior are her own or as result of trying to please her mother? CCSS RL 3.3
What characteristics made Charlie a good friend for Emily? Vice versa. CCSS RL 3.3
What do you think of Emily’s reaction to Mrs. Peabody’s comments at the tea? Was Emily justified in dumping tea in Mrs. Peabody’s lap? Explain why or why not. What would you have done? CCSS RL 4.3
1908-09 was a time in history when segregation was common. Do you think Mr. Soper was courageous in employing an African-American? Explain. CCSS RL 3.3
Was life easier or harder in 1909? What did you like about the time period?
The roles of males and females were more sharply divided in the early 20th Century. Do you think Emily’s resistance to learning proper lady-like behavior was typical for girls her age? Why or why not? CCSS RL 4.3
How did Emily’s relationship with Mama change? CCSS RL 5.2
The story takes place when there were fewer luxuries in everyday life – especially regarding entertainment. What would you do if you had no radio, television, telephone, electricity or car, like most of the people in the story? CCSS RL 4.9
Learning skills and being self-sufficient was important during this time in history. Why? Do you think these values are still important today? Explain.
Emily and Charlie were expected to help the family by doing daily chores. If they weren’t completed, the household and family suffered. Does your family depend on you to do certain jobs? What would happen if you didn’t do them? CCSS RL 4.9
What did Emily expect President Roosevelt to do for Papa? CCSS RL 4.3
What did you think of Emily’s suggestions for changing Papa’s business? What might you have done to help? CCSS RL 4.9
Do you think it was foolish or brave of Emily to stay in the barn during the fire? What would you have done? CCSS RL 3.3
There were limited opportunities for women at the turn of the 20th Century. Single women who were not from wealthy families could teach, work long hours in a factory under awful conditions, or work as maids, governesses, or servants to wealthy families. Once married, they were expected to stay home and care for their husband and children. Do the opportunities enjoyed by women today make their lives easier or more difficult? Explain. CCSS RL 4.9
When Mama first meets Mrs. Jackson, they seem ill as ease with one another. Why? CCSS RL 5.2
Do you think it was unusual for Emily’s best friend to be a boy? Why or why not?
If the story took place today, do you think it would be easy for a girl to become a blacksmith? Explain.
Hope this gives you some ideas of how proceed when you publish your book.
It’s Author Thursday and I’d like to welcome you to my blog today. We have a gentleman from Bulgaria who was introduced to me by former AIT special guest Stuart Land. His primary language is Bulgarian and he employs the services of a translator to make his books accessible to an English speaking audience. I love the fact that he has not allowed this to hinder him and he reaches out to fellow authors and readers outside the four walls of his country. He also produces book trailers and an all-round nice guy. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Alex Tomov.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and that first moment when you knew you could write?
I write post – apocalyptic, alternative, speculative fiction and absurdity fiction. I also write short stories. I wrote my first book when I was 16 or 17. It was a poetry book, inspired from my literary education. My parents are writers too. And my first book with short stories was “Future Gone”, written when I was 21/22 years old.
What can a reader expect when they pick up an Alexander Tomov book?
The reader can see in my work many different realities and strange and absurd viewpoints about human nature, mind and imagination, strange visions from future and deep journey into the subconscious. Also in some of my stories, there are grotesque themes about society and politic. So in my work there is no strict logic. I write by intuition.
You’ve written several books that some would classify as science fiction with strong psychological themes present in all of them. What is your major inspiration for writing books in this genre?
My strange visions from the future and my deep fascination about human existence. Also my desire to change the face of world literature with my stories.
You’re a native of Bulgaria with English as a second language. Can you tell us some of the unique challenges of translating your books from Bulgarian to English and how you attempt to overcome them?
Unfortunately my English is not good enough to speak about this in detail, but my new translator Ekaterina Petrova is really good and I think that my ideas in my work can be expressed very well in the English language.
You’re a film director and I’ve seen some of the book trailers you’ve done. Can you let us know the key ingredients of a good book trailer?
I create book trailers for other writers. Most part of the book trailer creation process is technical, but some creativity is also required to make it good too. This is no problem for me, because I’m a writer and film director and have many ideas about many kinds of book trailers in all genres. I have already made 8 book trailers for other writers, outside my country, created only by text description from the author via emails. You can see all videos and some more information, about my book trailers creating services in link below:
What have you found to be a successful way to market your books?
I haven’t found a way at this time. I’m self – published author from small country – Bulgaria, work alone and search realisation abroad. In this aspect, promotion of my books is really hard and difficult. But I don’t give up and don’t stop trying to realise my dreams and to show the world my ideas.
What book or film has the best dialogue that inspires you to be a better writer and why?
I can write a book about this question. There are too many short pieces from books, stories, and movies in my mind, which I use for ideas and inspiration. But also I would say that some modern and classic authors inspire my writing, too – writers like Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, Jorge Luis Borges, and Chekhov. However, someone who always amazes me is Antoine de Saint – Exupéry with “The Little Prince”. Simply written book in which is the whole world.
What is your definition of success as an author?
Author who can express original ideas in a very accessible way for the reader.
What is your favourite science fiction movie and why?
There are too many. I like science fiction movies with philosophical point like “Equilibrium”, “1984″ and “Artificial Intelligence: AI”.
What three things should a first time visitor to Bulgaria do?
To visit Bulgarian mountains. The nature in Bulgaria is very beautiful. To visit the Bulgarian attractions and try Bulgarian cuisine.
What can we expect from Alexander Tomov in the next 12 months?
My new book is ready in Bulgarian and is in undergoing translation into English. The title is “Beyond the Absurd“. I have already 10 translated short stories from “Beyond the Absurd” and I’ve given the stories for reviews. For everyone, who is interested about deep soul horizons and grotesque abyss of Absurd, You can download free e-book from here:
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the industry?
About the industry, sometimes it is really hard, but the industry in not absolute criteria for true literature. Unfortunately this area is often greedy and too materialistic. About new authors, my advice is to stand against their fears and try to transform everything in their minds into literature.
Thanks for being with us today Alex. I love the fact that you’re striving to share your stories with an international audience. I agree with you that we have to overcome the fears that stop us sometimes from sharing the stories that burn within our souls and just write. Alex and I would love to hear your comments and questions, so please drop a line or two below. You can check out Alex’s books at the link below.
The food pyramid shows fruits and vegetables as the second most important group of foods in terms of the amount to be eaten each day: 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit. This, and the associated public health message to consume at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, is based on many years of nutritional research. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as many other potentially protective compounds, and low in fat (and especially saturated fat). There is excellent evidence from a great many epidemiological studies that people who consume 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day are less likely to suffer from atherosclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many cancers.
Things have changed in my local supermarket now, but until a year or so ago, the “five a day” message appeared above the aisles containing exotic (and expensive) fruits such as mangoes and papaya, but not those containing apples and pears, carrots and parsnips. Now, however, I find a more disturbing difference. If I buy a packet of tomatoes, there is nutritional information on the package, telling me what nutrients are present, and what percentage of my daily requirement a serving contains. Some packages also tell me how much of the produce will provide one of my five servings a day. By contrast, if I buy loose tomatoes there is no nutritional information available. Similarly, when I bought a pineapple last week there was a label around the neck of the fruit, not only telling me it was a pineapple (which I knew), but where it was grown and what nutrients it contained. The next shelf contained mangoes. These had only a small bar code label that would be decoded into a price at the checkout. Three onions in a string bag were labelled with nutrition information; loose onions were not.
All this suggests that I might be misled into believing that while packaged fruits and vegetables are a source of nutrients, loose produce that I select myself from the trays is free from nutrients. Of course, this is not so, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many consumers do indeed believe that unpackaged fresh produce (and indeed unpackaged meat and fish from the counter) are not nutritious, since there is no associated labelling.
It is difficult to know what to do about this. It is not likely that shoppers would read a list of nutrition information on a poster above the loose produce – indeed, it would be very annoying if people were standing reading the posters above the produce that I wanted to select. It is annoying enough when someone blocks my access to the shelves by phoning home to ask whether we should have this or that for dinner tonight. One answer might be to expand the labels on loose fruits and vegetables to include a QR code that can be read into a smart phone. I notice that my pineapple label contains a QR code that will download recipes to use pineapple to my smart phone. Perhaps QR codes could be printed on the supermarket receipt – but that is long enough already, listing every item, how much I have saved by buying special offers and “twofers”, how many loyalty points I have earned to date, how many points I have donated to charity by using my own bags, etc.
Another trend is the marketing of some fruits and vegetables as superfoods, implying that they are in some way more nutritious than other produce. Of course, different fruits and vegetables do indeed differ in their nutrient content. Blackcurrants and acerola cherries are extremely rich sources of vitamin C, containing very much more than strawberries or apricots. However, this does not imbue them with “super” status as part of a mixed diet.
The concept of superfoods was developed in the USA in 2003-4 and was introduced in Britain by an article in the Daily Mailon 22 December 2005. Superfoods are just ordinary foods that are especially rich in nutrients or antioxidants and other potentially protective compounds, including polyunsaturated fatty acids and dietary fibre.
Scanning through a handful of websites thrown up by a Google search for “superfoods” gives the following list almonds, apples, avocado, baked beans, bananas, beetroot, blueberries, Brazil nuts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cocoa, cranberries, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, kiwi, mango, olive oil, onions, oranges, peppers, pineapple, pumpkin, red grapes, salmon, soy, spinach, strawberries, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, tea, tomatoes, watercress, whole grain seeded bread, whole grains, wine, yoghurt.
There are very few surprises in this list (apart perhaps from the inclusion of wine as a superfood, although red wine is a rich source of antioxidants, and there is some, limited, evidence that modest alcohol consumption is beneficial). Most of these are foods that nutritionists and dietitians have talked about for years as being nutrient dense – i.e. they have a high content of vitamins and minerals. The nuts, seeds, and olive oil are an exception, but they are all good sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The labelling and marketing of the foods as superfoods seems disingenuous (or a clever marketing strategy), but if such marketing leads people to eat more fruit and vegetables and reduce their saturated fat, salt and sugar intake then it can only help to reinforce the message that the nutrition and public health communities have been preaching for more than a quarter of a century.
David Bender graduated in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham in 1968 and gained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of London in 1971. From 1968 until his retirement in 2010 he was a member of academic staff of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and then, following a merger, of University College London, teaching nutrition and biochemistry, mainly to medical students. He is Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at University College London. He is the author of Nutrition: A Very Short Introduction.
Ok. I think every author concerned with reaching out with their readers, networking with other authors and selling more books is either engaged on social media or has at least thought about it. The two (in my opinion) heavy weight entities with regards to social media are Facebook and Twitter. These two networks have their fans.
I have to admit that I used to be a big fan of Facebook as it was easy to migrate from having a personal account to a fan page. I understood how it worked and I could apply what I was doing on an almost daily basis on my Facebook Personal account to my Fan page. On the other hand, this Monster called Twitter, just didn’t make sense. I mean wasn’t the whole concept of Twitter similar to shouting in a market place?
Now it has to be said that the amount of your followers does not determine how influential a person is on any social network. I have seen Facebook fan pages with thousands of fans but only a handful currently engaged with the posts on that page. An effective social media network should do at least one of the following:
Help you to easily find people interested in your passions and interests.
Facilitate easy connection with people who share your passions and interests.
Enable a conversation with people that share your passions and interests.
Now with the algorithm changes at Facebook, it has become almost nigh on impossible to do any of the above. Can you think of a painless way to get discovered by people on Facebook who like the books you like? Most authors (and I’m one of them) no longer see the same traction Facebook once provided.
However, Twitter provides the three benefits I highlighted above. Central to the ease of seeing and being seen on the Twitterverse are little things known as hashtags. If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen someone leave a message like this
‘Can’t wait to read the latest #mystery #novel by Harlan Coben.’
The symbol ‘#’ before the words mystery and novel render them as hashtags. Anyone on Twitter who is interested in mystery novels can search for those hashtags, find your tweet and either retweet (that is broadcast your tweet to their followers), favourite (similar to liking a post on Facebook) and/or reply to your post. As an author, I usually use the hashtags below:
I’ve found it humbling and exciting when people who don’t even follow me either retweet, favourite or reply to my tweets simply because I have included a hashtag that relates to something they’re interested in. I have made many new friends and acquaintances this way. I have had the parent of a student at a school where I did a reading reach out to me on Twitter. I’ve had a few New York Times Best-selling authors retweet, favourite and/or like my tweets. This week, I had a lovely lady reach out to me on Twitter and share a picture of her grandson with one of my books. The possibilities for connecting with your fans and other book lovers really is bountiful on Twitter. I’d like to encourage you to join Twitter today and join the conversation. There’s a certain group of people who are speaking your language and will gladly welcome you into their fold as to share with you and have you share with them.
I’ll still keep using Facebook but my main stop when I think of social media is Twitter.
I’d highly recommend Denice Shaw’s book as it contains many useful tips, etiquette, resources to help you understand and use Twitter well. Get it at the link below
Are you still finding joy on Facebook? Or perhaps Twitter still doesn’t make sense to you. Or maybe you use LinkedIn or some other social media network that you’d highly recommend. I really would like to hear your thoughts and comments, so drop a line or two in the comment box below and you can follow me on Twitter @davidchuka
What is Writers Rumpus? Marianne Knowles, who runs the writers critique groups I belong to, started a blog for children’s book writers and illustrators that is chock full of great information in twice weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays) by our crit group members and guest posters. I’ve written a few of these articles myself. One, titled […]
Earlier this week, I received this e-mail from a good friend of mine, Maggie Suisman, asking how to balance marketing work with making work. I think this is a question that many of us ask ourselves, so I thought I would share a bit of my own experience.
I just saw your article on your blog “Just Keep Working”. You were so honest — and how helpful to be reminded that I am doing this first and foremost because I love making art. My summer break from teaching has begun and I am diving into the submission process for my dummy, Aysa Reads and my general portfolio. I have a few questions I thought I might send your way in case you might have a moment to share your thoughts. One is when a creative art director or other people at publishing companies say they are interested in looking at artwork (such as Chad Beckerman does in the 2014 SCBWI list of publishers) should I send in tear sheets or should I print the whole dummy and send it to people who do not provide an email address?
Secondly, how do you divide your time between marketing and creating new work? I feel like I could spend all of my time trying to find a publisher but perhaps it’s better to move on to the next project and keep updating my portfolio and making a new dummy.
Though everyone will have a different answer to this question, here are my thoughts:
It’s great hearing from you!
In my experience when a creative director says they are interested in looking at artwork, that primarily means tear sheets. You can send a query letter along for the dummy. I would clearly label the samples from your dummy so that they know you write as well as illustrate. Art directors are typically not interested in seeing dummies because they are not the ones who would work on a story with you. In a smaller house, however, you may find art directors with a bit more say on the editorial side as well.
I would save your dummy for editors.
I wish I could say I don’t market anymore now that I have an agent, but that is only partly true. Lori, my agent, handles the promotion at this point, but I still do a ton of marketing for the books. I spend time mostly sending postcards to schools, libraries, and bookstores. I try to that type of work in the evenings after my studio day is complete. Labeling and stamping postcards is a great activity to do in front of the television (or in bed). As far as new work goes, since I am working on books, I do spend most of my days making new work. I keep a mandatory eight-hour studio schedule, typically 9-5, but in some cases, the time gets broken up from 11-7, 10-6, etc. and most days, I work well past my 8 hour schedule, especially in the summer when I am not using so much energy for teaching. I also work on my writing alongside illustrating other people’s stories. The most frustrating part of it all is having many ideas bubble to the surface but not being able to work on them immediately because of other projects and work. I still keep notes on those ideas and try to revisit them later.
I don’t get to do much personal work these days, but I do try to sneak in at least one piece of my own in between book projects…just to stay sane.
Yes, you should absolutely work on more projects instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket. I submitted four or five stories before I sold a manuscript. Looking back on those first attempts, there are a few ideas that I do want to revisit, but in some cases, I don’t have the energy to deconstruct and approach them from a fresh perspective and before they can be published, I can honestly say they need more work.
I would also just make more images for fun. I didn’t get my “big break” until I abandoned the idea of making “sellable” work. I became more playful in the images I was making and I stop putting so much pressure on myself to make perfect art. Doing so opened up a whole new vocabulary for me and helped me tap into the fun of art again. Those images were the ones that excited publishers and helped me get my first book.
Even my first sold manuscript came from playing. I watched a commercial that I loved and wrote a story in response to it. It wasn’t highly personal at the time but I think that’s what made it successful. I wasn’t taking myself so seriously.
Any writer who has been through the launch of a new book will tell you, the process can be all-consuming. Sometimes it feels as though it's impossible to write and market your writing at the same time. Whether you're a well-known author on book tour with a top tier release, or a newly published writer managing the logistics of marketing mostly on your own, it takes tremendous effort and energy to send a new book out into the world.
For my first two picture books, I didn't really do much for the launches. Both times I had small children at home—for the second book I was pregnant and my mom was very sick—so, beyond a book signing at my local bookstore attended by mostly close friends and family, the books went into the world quietly, despite some lovely reviews.
This time around is different. While I do still have little kids at home, the youngest of whom is only three, I am a more experienced parent, far better at multitasking and juggling work tasks with mom tasks. And with the help of my publicist at Penguin, and the incomparable marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, I have a plan. A full-fledged marketing plan complete with book trailer, blog tour, giveaways, story hour kits, social media campaign, launch party, holiday tie-ins... heck, I even started my own hashtag (#BakingDay).
I explained this to a family member recently, who very candidly (and not unkindly) asked, "Do you think it's worth it?" Translated, this person was asking, will all the work and investment amount to significantly more book sales? And the honest answer to that question is, "I don't know, yet." I believe it will. But I can't say for sure until the book is out there and our promotions get rolling. And even then, some books pick up steam over time vs. having breakthrough sales out of the gate.
The question made me ponder the small miracle of getting a book published—one picture book's path to publication. Books have hurdles (many!) before they reach store and library shelves. First, you, author-person, must get an inspired idea. That idea then needs to morph to paper in first draft form. You re-read it, revise it, put it aside and re-read and revise again (multiple times). Perhaps at this point, you share it with your critique group. You absorb their feedback and revise again.
Then, if you have an agent and feel it's in good shape to share, you send it along. (You wait, wait, wait.) Your agent likes it! (Huzzah!) She sends it to a handful of editors. (You wait, wait, wait some more.) The editor likes it! (Huzzah, again!) But hold on, the editor must take into an editorial meeting.
And here's where it really gets perilous.
Your little manuscript is read aloud and discussed at a roundtable of editors, editorial assistants, art directors, marketing and sales. (Eeeps!) If the group doesn't like it, or it's too similar to something they've already acquired, it gets passed over.
(Insert more waiting, here.) They like it! Eureka!
Think your story is home free? Not necessarily. It then goes to an acquisitions meeting (yet more waiting) where the final vote is made to acquire your book and offer you a contract. (Shoo.)
The good news is, books surmount these hurdles every day at publishing houses all over the world. But it's still a miraculous moment when someone offers to publish your story.
Think of all the hard work your little book did to get here!
That's what I've been doing as I approach the launch of Baking Day At Grandma's. It's like a baby—my book baby—and I want to give it the very best chance to thrive in the marketplace, and all the love and support it deserves.