Sunday, April 29, 2007

On Fast Turtles and Friendly Introverts

Since my recent coming out as an unabashed introvert, I've fielded a raised eyebrow or two by a few people that know me socially from writing conferences. They seem surprised by this. “But you're so friendly!" Or, “Geez, you don't seem one bit shy!" And I must admit that when I first met Robin in an Adult Ed class, she didn't seem like an introvert to me. I was guessing she was a major E. She was talkative, friendly and even raised her hand in class the very first night! I was impressed.

Some introverts can be quiet, reticent, withdrawn, and some introverts may be talkative, outgoing and the first to cut up at a party. Or, one may be all those things! Just as I feel certain that there are extroverts who enjoy solitude and silent contemplation. We can be very "bi".

Intros and extros are functional, adaptive beings. Jungian type is a preference that shows itself early on, like right-handedness or left-handedness. But, it doesn't mean that we are completely limited to one style or the other. If I broke my right hand, you can bet dollars to doughuts I'd teach my left hand how to open a diet coke and work my eyeliIner pencil. (Though I might look scary for a while, and trust you all would be too polite to mention it.)

In a social setting, I may be Miss Chatty Pants USA. And, I won't be faking! I like people and I'm curious about them. I enjoy asking questions-- I'm a writer! That said, if I wore a visible battery charge device, at a large gathering you could watch my meter go from five bars to one to “Battery Low” to “Danger! Code Blue!” Much like Cinderella, I need to be home by midnight, or I will end up on the dance floor in the fetal position sucking the toe of my glass slipper.

The true test of introversion is-- what? C'mon, everybody, now! It is in how one gathers their energy. When spent, how do you charge back up? Do you go inside of yourself, or do you look to others to plug in? And this isn't something you can easily observe in others with just casual contact. You have to get to know them.

So, can turtles ride skateboards? You bet! Now and then it feels good to get out there and stick your neck out. But, when we've sailed some rail and blown our wad, for us, at the end of the day-- it feels best to just find a quiet corner and tuck in for a spell.

Your shy and friendly friend,

Mary Hershey

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Coolest Introverts in Children's Literature

Some of you may have heard about a certain blogging librarian who is compiling a list of the “Hottest Men in Children's Literature”. As a huge fan of lists, the whole concept immediately appealed to me. And it got me thinking about introverts, one of my favorite topics of contemplation.

Our Shrinking Violet site seems like the perfect place to start both a list and showcase for some seriously noteworthy introverts. But, “Hottest Introverts” didn't quite seem to nail the appeal and essence of our type.

“Hot” is a look. Case in point. I was walking in Brentwood last night and saw Jimmy Smits. Up close. (In a beauty supply store, for god's sake). Now, he is H-O-T! “ You can see it and touch it. “Cool”, on the other hand, wells up from the inside. You just can't get it from hair product or Abercrombie and Fitch.

So Robin and I are starting our own list-- right now. This very moment. And, you were here from the very beginning. Wow. We'll all reminisce about this one day-- I feel sure of it.

[Music fades in, then swells ] Spot number ONE on our list of “The Coolest Introverts in Children's Literature” goes to Cynthia Rylant, author of more than 100 books, most for children. Hands down. The spot is hers. [Loud cheering and hooting here]

Her very first book out the chute, When I was Young in the Mountains, won a Caldecott Honor Book and ALA Notable Book. A Fine White Dust was a Newberry Honor Book, ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults. And, in 1993 her Missing May won the Newberry Medal. The girl has got some hardware.

Cynthia lives in Oregon, allegedly does all her writing by hand, likes to bake her own bread, and and almost never grants recorded interviews. She loves writing, quiet walks, and being with her animals. She really digs going to the movies in the afternoons and eating popcorn and chocolate. Together. That so works for me. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume she is an introvert, and if she is not, I'm officially granting her honorary privilges.

Cynthia Rylant is not just cool, she's classic cool.

(Pictured: Cynthia and her dog, Martha Jane)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ask Ms.Viola: On Talking Off The Cuff

Hello, kiddoes! I’m back to answer yet another one of your luffly questions. This one comes from Thalia Chaltas. Thalia, dear? You’d best fine tune your coffee grinder because your official mug will be winging its way to you shortly!

Q: Dear Ms Viola,

I recently attended a wonderful book launch at Storyopolis for none other than our own Robin LaFevers! I was so impressed by this beautiful, confident introvert as she stood and thanked everyone for being present.

This is a situation that frankly terrifies me! When thanking anyone ‘off the cuff’ like that, I tend to forget even my relatives’ names in the panic! Remember that old pull-out-the-straws-till-all-the-marbles-fall game called Kerplunk?? I feel like I fumble for words and mess up names and go on and on and on…and finish wondering if the group is questioning my mental stability as they watch my marbles roll around their feet. Is there a good formula for that little thanking presentation that every author/illustrator will have to do at some time in front of real people??

Thank you so much (and love your glasses!),
Thalia Chaltas

A: Dahlink, dahlink, dahlink. The trick to off the cuff is to have your notes hidden in the cuff! You think Ms. LaFevers pulled that off herself? Ack, no! I’d been coaching her for days. She’d written out a number of small speeches, and practiced reading them to herself (although she was most uncooperative when I tried to get her to read them out loud!). We worked and worked and even came up with a plan so she wouldn’t have to resort to notes: count how many people she wanted to thank, then as she spoke the names out loud, she’d tick them off by raising a finger (subtly, of course).

However, even with all that preparation the silly goose forgot to thank a couple of people (most notably the illustrator and the bookstore). So this is a faboo lesson in how often one’s mistakes are obvious only to oneself!

Let’s recap, shall we?

Prepare (write out that little speech, even if seems like overkill.)
Prepare (read that little sucker—out loud, preferably—until you know it by rote.)
Prepare (Have a back up system—like counting on your fingers—to help if you should falter, even with all that preparation.)

Because if you’re an introvert, and you get horribly flustered when asked to speak publicly (as so many of my clients do) there really is no such thing as off the cuff. Also keep in mind that you won’t always have a warning that you’ll be expected to speak, so if there is even the slightest possibility, go ahead and prepare something to say. You can always use it next time…

And speaking of next time, ta ta till then!

p.s. My glasses were designed especially for me by a famous designer. Alas, I am forbidden from divulging his name lest everyone begin to pester him for glasses as flattering as mine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Karma Kontinued

I think this topic that Robin posted earlier in the week is so key that I wanted to share some thoughts of my own. And, it is one of the reasons that I love my partnership and friendship with Robin. We both are steeped in a sense of wonder and gratitude that we are working authors. And neither of us loses sight of the fact for an instant that there were many hands that helped carry us forward to the marvelous space we now inhabit.

We don’t want to miss a single opportunity to shine a light for anyone else that is traveling this path. It would be a fascinating exercise sometime to sit down and create a flow chart that tracked all the connections, the leg-ups, the introductions, the moments of synchronicity and serendipity that led to publication.

Some of you have heard my tale of once staying late at a conference to clean-up after others had left… and being the last volunteer on hand. (Feeling hungry, overwhelmed and way past ready to get home to recharge.) Our Regional Advisor came huffing up and asked if I would mind driving Wendy Lamb and Cecil Goyette back to their hotel. Okay, fine, if I must! :-> Wendy later bought my book. And, I did not pitch it to her in the car. Swear.

When I talk about serving the community or “paying it forward”, I don’t just mean doing things that will appear to have a big personal pay-off for you. (As in, “Will someone please take this latte to Arthur Levine’s room, where he is just lounging about wishing he had something to read!”) I’m literally talking about conference clean-up, stuffing envelopes, baking cookies, schlepping supplies, whatever the community needs.

You needn’t wait to be a published author/illustrator, or a CEO, or a lottery winner before you start giving back. Start now! Even if it feels you don’t have much to give yet. You do— you absolutely do. Be patient with others that aren’t as far along as you are. Be encouraging. Be a volunteer. Be grateful. Find ways to recognize and appreciate others in your community that are toiling on the path near you. N-O-W.

When I coach writers/artists, it is such an exciting shift when they recognize that they do not have to constantly be waiting-waiting-waiting with both hands out for a lucky break. Instead, they can be busy creating bounty for others.

So, friends, get busy giving back. You have my guarantee, and Robin’s, that Lady Luck, or Divinity, or Serendipity, the Goddess of All Things Good, will be with you shortly.

We’d love to hear your story of someone that has paid it forward to you. Do tell!

Mary Hershey

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Good Karma Networking Approach

Most writers—and this applies especially to children’s writers—are pretty good at paying it forward. Because of the nature of our business, we tend to be very aware of how serendipity and luck factor in to our success. Most of us have been helped in some way by some writer somewhere who shared a tip, wrote a great how-to book, taught a class, or made an introduction. And while the idea of networking gives me a bad case of the collywobbles, saying thank you to people who have touched my writing life in some way feels very doable. In fact, good manners demands it.

So when I find myself trapped in an elevator or standing in the buffet line with a conference speaker, I realize Fate is giving me a perfect opportunity to say thank you. I shove my aforementioned collywobbles aside and force myself to let them know how fascinating, helpful, or insightful I found their talk. They are usually glad to hear it. Sometimes, more small conversation may ensue, or it may not. But either way I have made the effort to express my appreciation. I have also not asked for anything back, which is my preferred method of networking. Actually, it's about the only way I can deal with it.

I try to use this same approach with any “marketing” I do with my books. I am full of genuine gratitude for every librarian or bookseller that has ever handed one of my books to a child. I have nothing but admiration for those parents who scour bookstore shelves and review sites, looking for books that will delight their young, emerging readers. And I am absolutely beholden to any reader, young or old, who invests a few hours of their life in my books.

So I look for ways to express that gratitude. I am pretty much a sucker for anyone who asks for book donations,* and very rarely worry that it’s a con. People who are con artists have much bigger fish to fry than trying to snag a copy of my midlist title. And even if their intentions aren’t sincere, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they are willing to risk their personal integrity in pursuit of a free book, then I am more than willing to give them that free book. The rest is between them and their conscience. Plus, you just never know where or in whose hands that book will end up.

Not every author will agree with this approach, but I’ve been known to donate the majority of my author’s copies to libraries or schools around the country, as a form of karmic viral marketing. My goal is to attract readers, and I can’t do that if no one has ever heard of the book. And extra copies sitting on my home bookshelf aren’t really helping the cause.

So if you’re staring at your stack of author’s copies, feeling guilty because you haven’t used those to promote yourself effectively, consider donating them to school or public libraries around the country. More than ever, these vital institutions are strapped for funds, and it will be a way to get your name and title in front of those with buying power. Your kind gesture may just garner you a sale when your next book comes out. And if not, you at least know it’s being read, which is the whole point, really.

So think about it, anyway. It’s painless, it’s easy, and it makes you feel good afterwards.

*This confession may rise up and bite me on the backside if I suddenly end up on scammer's lists nationwide.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Ask Ms.Viola: On Talking Up Your Book

Hellllooo, friends, and I do apologize for missing my Thursday deadline. As Robin mentioned, I had to race back to New York to help a client of mine. Mr. Man needed a little jolt from the Ms. Viola defibrillator to get him up for his interview. And a complete wardrobe do-over. You can’t imagine the shoes he planned to wear! And that tie! I took his entire ensemble into immediate custody, and called Housekeeping for a bio-hazard pick-up.

But enough about him. Let’s get down to today’s biz. I had such a time picking our first topic. So many 'licious ones came in, and I do hope to get to all of them in the weeks to come. (Ishmael, I’m consulting some Eastern practitioners on your special dilemma and will be back with you shortly. In the meantime, well—you be careful, honey!)

Jody Shapiro, please light your kettle and whip out your cozy. You will be getting your winning Ms. Viola mug in the mail shortly! The first ever, and sure to be a collector's item.

Here is her question:

Q. Now that I haff published a book, how do I mention it to mine friends (and also mine enemies) vithout seeming too, you know, Gaboorish?

Your admiring almost vithered author.
Jody Shapiro

A. Boorish! Schmoorish! God, yes, the Gabors are a bore! Certainly! But memorable? Absolutely. So how does one strike a balance? You do yourself no favor by keeping your book under the proverbial bushel. Since you are in the publishing industry, Jody, I want you to consider how many authors you’ve met, and how many times you’ve been thrilled to hear about their books. 500? 1000? More?

Then tell me, my good woman, how many have you met that have told you about their book, and you just wanted to slap them silly? Or maybe even reach in and rip out their tonsils-- especially if this is the 6th time they've told you. Honestly now, how many true bores? 1? 4? Even 8?

This turns out to be a simple math problem, love. Chances are that if you tell everyone in the Continental USA—let’s see, that’s how many billion? Wait, I’m running my figures here. Ah, here we are. Yes! There is a good chance that if you shout your book from the rooftops, you will seriously annoy just .000000743 % of the population.

I say those are pretty fine odds, and that it's in your career's very best interest to just sing it out, Baby!

Now, as part of my comprehensive coaching services, I’ve run a deep background check on you, Ms. Shapiro. I'm happy to report that I couldn’t find a single soul in your entire constellation that believed there was even a minute chance of you EVER being a bore. (Though you owe your 2nd grade teacher milk money for the month of May, 19-yada-yada.)

And that’s a wrap! Now for the rest of you, keep your queries coming. I desperately need the loose change.

Ms. Viola Van Der Solv It

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Slight Delay

Viola Van Der Solv It was scheduled to be here today to answer some questions for our readers. Unfortunately, she was called away at the last moment for an emergency coaching session for one of her extremely high profile clients who is making an appearance on one of the big morning news shows.

When we last heard from her, her plane was circling La Guardia, waiting for permission to land. She told us she'd be here sometime tomorrow, unless by some unlucky chance another coaching emergency should arise.

We told you she was in demand!

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Few Housekeeping Things...

1. Tom-A-to, Tom-ah-to

Or in our case, extrAvert, extrOvert
But don’t worry. We won’t be calling the whole thing off…

While Myers Briggs refers to it as extravert, Wikipedia and 1,700,000 other Googled sites refer to it as extrovert. In an effort to be all-inclusive, Mary will be using one spelling, while I will be using the other. So no, we’re not mixed up or confused, we’re just covering all the bases.

2. Our blogging is settling down into a weekly routine, and it is our goal to have new posts up on Monday and Thursday. I tell you this to save you unnecessary cyber surfing and procrastination. I fully believe that if one is going to procrastinate, one should do so efficiently.

3. You may have noticed we’ve posted a new link to a new Myers Briggs Test. This one will give you your full letters (INFJ) rather than a designated personality type (The Idealist).

4. We’re also posting the names of who we’ll be featuring in upcoming interviews. If you have any specific questions you’d like us to ask, please email us with the questions! We’d love to have your input!

5. Which brings me to the last issue; we want this blog to be helpful to YOU. If you have questions or concerns or subjects you’d like to see covered, please email Mary or I. We’d love to talk about them here on the blog!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Author Bios

Everybody wants one, from your publisher to the local newspaper to the school librarian. And for many of us who can pound out a 30,000 word manuscript with abandon, the 100 word bio sends us into a severe case of writer’s block. But a great bio can really establish a connection between an author and the reader. And sometimes, a cleverly written bio can motivate an indecisive reader to give the author’s book a try.

After stumbling through many versions of bios, from lackluster to somewhat satisfactory, here are some tips I’ve learned.

~Every author should have a complete wardrobe of bios, the 50 word bio, the 100 word bio, and the 300 word bio. These word lengths seem to be the industry standards. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea.

~There is some basic info you need to get in there, your name, your gender, a general sense of where you live (note: This doesn’t have to be so specific that someone could look you up in a phone book, it can be general like, southern California.)

~Also list your book titles, it can be the most recent one or the most recent two or three. If your books have been nominated for or received any awards or been placed on state reading lists, include that as well.

~Then it’s time for the entertainment factor. If you have a funny, quirky bit of information that you acquired while writing the book, or a funny tidbit about you as a writer, or just a funny incident that gave you 15 minutes of fame, use it. A friend of mine who writes humorous women’s fiction talks about the time she once touched Michael Landon’s pants.

~Know your audience. In my website bio, which was directed at kids, I tried to make it very kid-friendly, answering the sorts of questions they might have, about siblings, pets, etc. On the jacket flap bio (when I’ve had input) I tried to show the connection between me and my characters or story. Bios for a workshops you want to give would skew one way, while a bio for the Junior Library Guild skews another.

Mary Hershey is a master of bios. Here’s her current 100 word one that I just love:

Mary Hershey is the author of the middle grade novel, MY BIG SISTER IS SO BOSSY SHE SAYS YOU CAN'T READ THIS BOOK, Wendy Lamb Books, 2005. Her second novel entitled THE ONE WHERE THE KID NEARLY JUMPS TO HIS DEATH AND LANDS IN CALIFORNIA was released by Razorbill/Penguin in March 2007. Publisher's Weekly describes it as a "...poignant novel populated with complex, memorable characters." She is currently completing her third novel for Random House, which will be out in Spring 2008. Mary holds a Master's degree in Counseling & Guidance and is a certified Personal and Executive Coach. She works part-time for the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the rest of her hours are spent chasing down a recalcitrant muse who is moonlighting in North Hollywood.

See how she gets her titles in there, and also a bit about her credentials, and then a great quirky humorous bit that leaves them laughing.

Here is the one I used for my recent jacket flap. Tying it into the book gave me something to focus on.

R. L. LaFevers (Robin Lorraine when she’s in really big trouble) has been fascinated by libraries and museums ever since she first set foot in one. She’s pretty sure it’s because of all the ancient mysteries, sitting there on the shelves, just waiting to be discovered. She has also spent a large portion of her life being told she was making up things that weren’t there, which only proves she was destined to write fiction. When she’s not gazing longingly at ancient artifacts or wallowing in old forgotten texts, she’s busy trying to keep one step ahead of her two teenaged sons. She lives with the aforementioned sons, her husband, and a demonic cat in Southern California. This is her first book with Houghton Mifflin Company.

Mary, do you want to share some of your tips for creating bios?

And is anyone out there struggling with their author bio? Have any questions? Is there any interest in workshopping your bios, trying to find ways to beef them up or make them more entertaining? We’re game if you are….

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Ask Ms. Viola

Robin and I are delighted to be able to announce today that we've just finished extensive contract negotiations with Ms. Viola Van Der Solvit, a renowned life coach who specializes in helping introverts navigate their social matrix. She has years of experience working with celebrities, sports figures, authors and artists. It was Ms. Viola who suggested to Jack Nicholsen that he wear sunglasses indoors to free him from his fear of Hollywood events.

Ms. Viola has agreed to an exclusive featured column with us addressing your questions and concerns. You'll find a new link in the right column of our blog site for you to send in your questions. If your entry is selected for her column, you will win a Shrinking Violet coffee/tea mug, and enduring fame among our readers.

Robin has graciously allowed me the privilege of being the first to seek the sage counsel of Ms. Viola.

Dear Ms. Viola,

I love signing books for people, but I often get very sweaty-palmed and nervous. Especially when they stand over me talking and watching what I write. I always try to hurry then, and I really don't want to do that. What can I do so that I'm more relaxed?

Mary Hershey

Dear Mary,

Poor JK Rowling had the same problem! It's common, so don't fret. A judicial gag order prevents me from discussing my work with her, but if you ever have the chance to attend one of her signings, look at what she is holding-- oh, honestly, Vi, stop! Naughty me. I almost spilled the beans.

Let's get back to you, Mary. Here is something you can try. While your customer is waiting for your inscription, have them write one for you! Set aside one of your books dedicated to guest entries. That way, both of you are signing for each other at the same time. It levels the energy exchange and softens the focus. And, this "guest book" will become a marvelous keepsake for you to have.

A book signing can be a whirlwind of faces and emotions, exciting but overwhelming for many of us. After the signing is over, you'll be able to go home, whip up your favorite relaxing elixir, and enjoy all the nice messages people have shared. It will be as fun as reading your high school yearbook, minus the acne and squeaky voice.

All best,
Ms. Viola