Monday, October 24, 2016

Staying Afloat -The Writer's LIfe

By Janie Reinart

We are all trying to make a splash in the publishing world. Everyday we 





into our writing. 

Sometimes our strokes are strong. 

Sometimes we tread water.

Sometimes we can't stay afloat.

Staying Afloat

With pen in hand

I take the leap

Words loom above

The glistening sea of my soul

Smooth and calm

As blank white paper

Terrifying and exhilarating

 Like plunging off a sheer cliff alone

I write

This is no swan dive

 Cannon-balling into space

 I hit the surface hard

Eyes squeezed tight

 Holding my breath

 Sinking down, down, down

Into the depths of my emotions

 Cool and dim

  Propelling off the bottom

 Rising toward the brightness

 Fighting resistance

 Lungs bursting,

 I sense forward motion

With every stroke

 This is survival

 My life breath

 Thoughts bubble to the surface

Ideas become clearer

 More vivid

  Kicking, rewriting with all my might

 My pen skims the watery surface

Creating a spray

of hard won phrases, clusters, and clauses

  I gasp

Heart-pounding ripples

 Soak the surface of the page

  Relaxing, I float

Words bobbing gently

Leave me vulnerable


But that will not keep me

Out of the water.  ~Janie Reinart

We can't seem to stay out of the water! So how do we continue to soak the surface of the page with our words?

 1. Reach for a life preserver. Call your writing buddy or a critique group member
 or check out this article for apps that help you float above your writer's block.

2. Stop and look at the colors. Coloring books for adults are in. Think of it as art therapy. The motion and the creativity are relaxing your mind. The ideas will flow.

3. Remember the sea holds treasures. You have a gift. Keep taking that leap. Hold on to your dream. Keep going.

What do you do to stay afloat?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bring on the Swag! Marketing Your Picture Book ~ by Patricia Toht with Hazel Mitchell

The months to the release of my first picture book are ticking away, and the pre-pub panic continues. But of all the things I need to do, I may have the best handle on promotional materials, due in large part to advice from author/illustrator Hazel Mitchell.

Hazel Mitchell with the real Toby

Hazel has visited the GROG before, upon the release of WHERE DO FAIRIES GO WHEN IT SNOWS?, just one of the books she has illustrated. Today she drops by to tell us about TOBY, her first book as author and illustrator. Below, Hazel reveals the promotional efforts that helped propel TOBY's terrific sales. (Read through to the end to discover just how terrific...)

Hazel: TOBY, published by Candlewick Press, is my first book as both author and illustrator. 
I've illustrated many books as collaborator, but the first "solo" gig is pretty special. In this crowded marketplace and with publishers' marketing budgets somewhat limited, I wanted to do my best to give TOBY a good start in life.

I've always tried to do some promotional giveaways with previous books - posters, postcards, bookmarks, stickers. I'd give away a copy of the book and prints of artwork, and I'd make activity sheets and booklets to give at signings. But this time, I wanted to do more.

Toby's 'Hollywood' photo
Toby (the real dog - my book is based on him) already had a good following on social media, mostly Facebook. Several months before the book came out, I started up a Twitter account for him, too, tweeting about his life and his book, in readiness of the pub date. I live way out in the sticks of Northern Maine, so it made sense to utilize social media to spread the net wide.

Encouraging pre-orders was not something I had addressed with previous books. Folks need an incentive to pre-order, and I felt that a poster or something wasn't going to cut it. I wanted something special, but not cost-prohibitive.

So I planned a pre-order "swag bag" and started to think about what I could include that would be appealing, yet within budget. 
How cute is this?!
Here's the thing - for every swag bag I sent out to someone who pre-ordered the book, I knew I could ask them to share a post or photo.  The power of the visual is everything! With the swag bag, I included a note thanking them for pre-ordering and asking politely if they could post a review at Amazon or B&N or Goodreads, too.

In return for these favors, I wanted people to feel excited about the Toby swag. As an illustrator with a graphic design background, I could design many items myself and print them at home. I'd already decided on some items that I wanted for future book signings, so I ordered larger quantities which dropped the overall cost per item. 

Collector's edition TOBY stamps
I also wanted to include a few higher cost items that the recipient wouldn't be able to get at any other event. I decided on a 'collector's edition' USPS first class stamp of Toby and a fridge magnet.

Here's what I included in the package:

• Read to a friend poster (made/printed by me)
• Toby Treats recipe sheet (designed by Elle Jauffret/printed by me)
• How to draw Toby sheet (made/printed by me)

• Coloring sheet (made/printed by me)
• Toby bio sheet (made/printed by me)
• Postcard (7¢ each)
• Bookmark (7¢ each)
• 4 stickers (44¢ for the four)
• Button (23¢ each)
• Temporary tattoo (11¢ each)
• Fridge magnet (40¢ each)
• Collector's edition 1st class stamp ($1 each via Zazzle)
• Signed bookplate (made/printed by me)
• 'Hollywood' signed Toby postcard (made/printed by me)
• Postage ($1.52)

I put everything in a good quality polythene baggie, sealed with a paw sticker, and mailed it in a good quality envelope (with a Toby sticker and rubber stamp paw print on the front).

I estimate the cost of each to me was $4.50, including S&H.

Oliver with his Toby button
I had NO IDEA how many people might pre-order! But I knew from experience that only a small percentage of people who saw my post about it would actually order. But many more would read about TOBY. I could also have limited the deal to 'the first 50 people' or similar. I also had no idea if it would make a difference! 

I posted the swag bag deal online about 6 weeks prior to publication and people started ordering before I had even posted what would be in it! 

It may seem like a lot of money to spend on a giveaway that is in no way covered by royalties per book. But that's not the point. Here's what it did for me:
It made lots of people instantly aware 
that TOBY was on the way, 
and they shared their photos on social media. 

Ava and Toby postcard
I sent the swag bags out a couple weeks before the book published. People were already sharing their pictures online and helping to raise awareness of the book (dogs wearing buttons, children with swag, etc.) More people pre-ordered! When the books arrived, another slew of photographs were posted. It was wonderful to see!

In all, I sent out about 80 swag bags. It was a lot of work for sure - time spent stuffing bags, making envelopes, mailing. But I loved sending something to people who would be excited to receive and save the goodies.

The pre-order excitement really did help with the visibility of the book - with bloggers, librarians, bookstores, and media. I invested time and effort, and roughly the cost of a small advertisement in the press, and in return increased TOBY's visibility exponentially. I will never know the number of people the pre-order promo reached, or how many it influenced to buy TOBY. But here's a concrete computation: TOBY went into 2nd printing after only 2.5 weeks of publication! I like to think that all of the hard work I've done on promotion helped toward that, and I know my publisher thinks so.

Hazel's six quick tips on swag:
1) Decide on a budget.
2) Tie it in with your book. Is there a special hook or theme?
3) If you're not an artist, find a friend who is and barter with them.
4) Search for the best deals on printing and items. Look for vouchers on coupon sites.
5) Whatever your budget, try to find a meaningful item that the reader will covet. (It could even be something homemade!)
6) Google "swag bag" online or on Pinterest for lots of great ideas.

Thank you, Hazel! What a brilliant marketing effort!

Readers, you can find Hazel's website here.
Find her "website-within-a-website" for TOBY here.
Connect with Hazel on Facebook.
Follow Hazel on Twitter.
To see the Toby Treats recipe sheet, click here.

I'll leave you with a final photo of the Toby fan in our house:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

An Author's Note By ~Suzy Leopold

I’ve been thinking about the importance of Back Matter and how it adds another layer to a story. Back matter may include a bibliography, a glossary, a timeline, even additional facts and information serve as a resource to supplement the text. 

One element that is sometimes included is an author’s note. I want to acquire more information on how and why to compose an author’s note.
  • What is an author’s note? 
  • What is the purpose of an author’s note?
  • What should be considered when including an author’s note in the back matter of a manuscript? 
Believing in the value of learning and growing, I began researching this particular element and discovered it is a meaningful addition to back matter. 

I began my research by reading author’s notes written in a stack of currently published picture books. I used these books as mentor texts and began seeking answers to the questions about writing an author’s note.
Time to learn and grow. 

You’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Write the numbers one through twelve and answer the following statements as true or false.

An author’s note is:

1.  A brief explanation about the creation of the book.

2.  A statement of purpose.

3.  The inspiration and insights behind the story.

4.  Sharing the journey of research and discovery about the manuscript.

5.  The story behind the written tale.

6.  Not limited to the genre of nonfiction.

7.  May be surprising, compelling and/or revealing.

8.  Adding layers of meaning and a bigger picture to the subject matter.

9.  A sneak peak into the creative process.

10. Enhancing the reading experience for the audience.

11. The last chance to make an impression on a reader.

12. An element that every reader should try.

Did you answer TRUE to all twelve statements? If you did, you are correct. 

Excellent! Super! Good job! Great! High five!

The four picture books that I read and studied the author's notes are:

By Pat Miller
Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016

By Pat Mora & Libby Martinez
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Alfred A. Knopf 2014

By Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by John O'Brien
Calkins Creek 2013

Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers 2014
Let’s continue to learn and grow together. Share your knowledge and understanding of an author’s note. Perhaps you have some additional thoughts and tips. Post what you know in the comments below.

Writers know that words are fundamental to writing. Choosing the just right word is essential. Selecting the just right vocabulary is important when writing a story that draws and engages readers.

The German word for vocabulary is wortschatz. Translated it means “treasure of words”. May you choose words selected from your treasure box of words and write the right words for your manuscript and for an author’s note.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pamela Turner Gets Organized

by Sue Heavenrich

Pamela S. Turner has written a whole bunch of books, from picture books to biographies and science for middle-grade readers and older. Her most recent book in the Scientists in the Field series is Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird. A few months earlier her book, Samurai Rising hit the shelves.

Whether it’s a tale about samurai or science, Pam loves to delve in and dig up cool facts – especially when it means getting out into the field to do research (she talks about that here). Then she works her word-magic, creating page-turning nonfiction that’s hard to put down (she reveals her secrets here).

Having two books hit the shelves in one year must take a lot of organization. How does she do it?

I try to work on one primary project,” says Pam. “I might have three or four projects in various stages. For example, I’ll be doing background research for a picture book manuscript while writing a fiction story.”

Pam also keeps an ongoing list of “interesting” topics. It’s not very long, she says – maybe ten ideas that she reviews periodically whenever she adds a new topic. “If I see an idea it as a picture book, I’ll do enough research to decide whether I want to go whole hog.”

Pam does outlines. Extensive outlines. Detailed outlines. For Crow Smarts, she wrote a narrative outline prior to heading to New Caledonia to join the scientists in the field. “But…” and you can hear the shrug in her voice, “when you’re in the field, nothing goes as planned.” So out came the pencil and Pam got busy scribbling notes for a different narrative.

“Organization,” she says, “has to be tempered with flexibility.”

With all this wonderful advice, is there anything Pam wishes she’d known when she began writing?

Absolutely, she says. “If there’s a certain thing you want to do, but you’re afraid you won’t be good at it – try it anyway. At the very least you’ll learn something and it’s a good way to explore your voice. You don’t want to have regrets.”

In the normal life of a nonfiction manuscript, the author submits a proposal and then, when the book is accepted, finishes the research and the writing. Samurai Rising took a more circuitous route. Pam had written two sample chapters and a proposal, but couldn’t sell the idea. One editor even asked her why people would be interested. (Ahem! Samurai!)

This is the point at which many writers file the incomplete story in the bottom desk drawer. But not Pam. She decided to write the whole book. Then she sent it back to an editor she’d worked with before. They had rejected the proposal but loved the completed book.

“Sometimes,” says Pam, “you have to commit to something you believe in.” You can find out more about Pam and her books over at her website.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

YOUR Writer Website - First Steps and My Big Reveal by Kathy Halsey

Being a lefty, I think a bit differently. It seems I attack projects backwards, but it works for me. I've been contemplating the idea of a website and I took the plunge this summer with the help of an excellent author/ web designer, Lisa Amstutz. I create content and Lisa is the tech wizard. (Shameless plug from me - Lisa has two forthcoming books, APPLESAUCE DAY and COUNTING ON CHRISTMAS from Albert Whitman & Company in 2017. She has also written more than 50 books for the educational market. Visit her here.) 
Kathy and Lisa, a dynamic pair at the SCBWI Northern Ohio Conference

There are many considerations for creating a site, beyond it being a place for editors/agents to find you in cyberspace. Opinions vary  about how important a web presence is at the pre-published stage, but I am glad to have this piece of my writer puzzle close to completion. For me, the thought process of who I am as a writer, and what I can offer readers makes this a crucial step in my career.

Who Are YOU?
The Who asked this question back in 1978 and it resonates today. Before we even debated platform: Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Lisa led me through a series of questions. her questions and my answers follow. Perhaps Lisa's questions will help you, too.

1. What author sites you like for their look and feel? This could be an other entire post, but I looked for writers who had a similar background as I did (teacher, librarian, writer, newbie.) Pat Miller, Miranda Paul, Marcie Atkins and Chris Mihlay's sites fit my specifications. I consider them  online "mentor texts."

2. What colors/themes come to mind? What is unique to YOU? Here's a question that teases out how you'll present yourself to your targeted audience.  I'm an optimist, therefore I gravitate to cheerful vibrant colors such as orange, yellow, blue, and green. I am a Corgi nut and a former librarian, so Wiley Corgi is helping me do book reviews on the blog section of my site.

3. Who is your target audience? What can you offer them? My audience is parents/caregivers, writers, and educators, as well as agents/editors. My reader advisory role as a K-12 school librarian for 15 years indicates I know books and how to make that kid connection. Finally, I have spoken at many conferences, and my ability to instruct those seeking professional development has been honed over the years. Lisa stressed that I should also have a 'call action" for my readers. What do I want them to do once they peruse my page.

4. What pages should you include on your site? I looked to my mentor author sites (see #1) and took inventory of my skill set and decided on home page, bio page, pursuing educational publishers page with my topics of interest & my background, blog for book reviews,  a writing page and workshop/speaker page.

Taking Another Step
Even if you feel you aren't ready to commit to a web site, you will need content that you can be developing and saving now to mine for a later date. I've collected evidence of my writing/speaking career over the years. Start collecting the needed elements for your platform now. Here's a list to get you started.

1. Photos of you in action: I culled 10 photos of me teaching, presenting, and writing, and others of Wiley Corgi. Keep them all in one folder and keep adding. Always have your camera at the ready and ask folks you know to document you in action.

2. Testimonials: Whenever you present at a workshop, make sure you have evaluations for attendees to fill out. Some conferences do this for speakers automatically and some may not. Authentic feedback is crucial for growth and web site fodder. When I teach a class for students, I also ask them to fill out a five point evaluation sheet and give them the option to give their name or remain anonymous. Include an open-ended question such as, "What did you enjoy most?" or "What did you learn?" 

3. Web site "mentor texts:"Begin now to start a list of your favorite author/writer web sites and evaluate what drew you to them. What elements of their site could you use as a template of sorts? 

4. Join a community: Facebook groups such as Platform Building for Children's Authors  can provide advice, resources, and assistance. Don't be afraid to ask for help because others may be in the same predicament as you! 

So today is... wait for big reveal. May I introduce to you, Kathy Halsey's website here. I get by with a lot of help from Lisa Amstutz.