Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Shrinking Violets 'Out' YA Author Cecil Castelluci

Welcome to our new feature at Shrinking Violets! We're going to be interviewing some people whose placement on the I/E-Vert Scale may really surprise you. We're outing some innies here! (With their permission, of course.)

Our first guest is the luminous and electric Cecil Castelluci who blew onto the YA scene in 2005 and hasn't stopped moving yet! She is the author of Boy Proof (2005) , Queen of Cool (2006), Beige, (2007) and The Plain Janes (2007). She has a number of new projects under contract.

In 2005 she was named a Flying Start by Publisher's Weekly, and also recieved an Honorable Mention in PW's annual cuffie awards as Most Promising New Author.

Cecil is also a film writer/director, dancer, actor, and indie rock performer. She has two CDs out and has traveled on tour across the US and Canada.

* * *
MARY: Robin and I think we're pretty darn good at spotting other introverts. You got by us! When we've seen you in social settings, your EQ (energy quotient) is high, you are extremely quick-witted, and you seem to thrive in the company of others. But you consider yourself an introvert? Can you help us understand that?

CECIL: I suppose that it's because I always feel as though I am very small and so I'm easy to miss or overlook. So, I have to really make my presence known. I feel as though I have to overcompensate. Also, I think it's one of those things where it's like I just have to do it really big or I won't do it at all. I get very shy and need the smelling salts in certain areas. Like when people tell me to stand up in a room when they call my name. I don't like it when they point me out. But I guess I don't mind when I am pointing myself out. Then I feel as though I'm in some kind of control, and can retreat, when necessary. Also, being on stage is like not real at all. It's me on stage. It's as though there is a wall in front of me.

MARY: Was there a time in your life when you were more typically introverted in your interactions with others? (Quieter, more reclusive, etc.) What led to the change?

CECIL: I think I never was introverted in the way that you typically think. I get very shy and embarassed and am convinced that I am always doing / saying the wrong thing. But really, if I wanted anything, I had to speak up or be left out, because I was so small. Speaking up is more of a survival skill. Like, yes, teacher, I would like another cookie!

MARY: As a writer, does being an introvert tend to affect the voice of your main characters? Or, are you able to as easily write from the voice of an extravert, i.e., are you bi-vertal? :-)

CECIL: I may actually be bi-vertal. Maybe that's what I am. I get very shy in very strange situations and moments. That said, Egg in Boy Proof and Katy in Beige are both introverts. Even though it seems as though Egg is an extrovert because she walks around wearing a costume everyday, it's really a way for her to shield her very soft self. Katy is very internal. She thinks a lot about doing and saying daring and outrageous things, but she doesn't. It's all in her head. She's very self-conscious and uncomfortable.

MARY: In addition to being a writer, you've worked as an actor, a musician and even danced in music videos. Has that been a stretch for you, or is performing comfortable? How did that evolve for you? Any tips for introverts that you can share about getting more comfortable in the spotlight?

CECIL: Like I said earlier, performing is very comfortable. Sometimes I'll even talk in voices and stuff. I think it's a way of distancing myself and keeping my inner shy girl all protected. I say, stare at the spotlight! All you can see is the veins behind your eyes and it's not like anyone else is there at all!

Also, I always remind myself that no one else is going to go out there and be the best me. Only I can do that, if that makes any sense. So, if I want to have / do/ be out in the fabulous literary glitterati world, I have to go out and have / do / be out there.

MARY: Do you have a favorite fictional introvert character? (books or film)

CECIL: The brother in (the film) Little Miss Sunshine.

MARY: If you had to be stranded on a desert island for a year, would you rather be stranded with an introvert or an extravert?

CECIL: I'd rather be stranded with a person that knew how to build a fire and make a house and split a coconut. I wouldn't really care if they were an introvert or an extravert as long as they enjoyed alone time. 'Cause I really like and need my alone time.

MARY: What do you like best about being an introvert? The least?

CECIL: I like the fact that I can spend a lot of time alone and I am perfectly happy about it and that I can amuse myself and that I am comfortable with that. What I hate about being an introvert is the panic and dread that comes days, sometimes weeks, before I have to go somewhere and know that I have to be "on." I am a nervous wreck before hand, convinced that no one will talk to me. That I will say and do everything wrong and make a terrible fool of myself and that everyone will hate me.

For the record, I always end up having a lot of fun, and mostly it is usually totally fine.

MARY: If you could have dinner with any extravert in the world, who would it be?

CECIL: Carol Channing or Phyllis Diller.

MARY: What's your favorite way to recharge your battery when you've blown your wad?

CECIL: Baths. Baths. Baths. With aromatherapy stress reducing smelly bath stuff, a great book to read and a glass of wine.

* * *
Thanks, Cecil, for this great interview-- and on behalf of Robin and all our readers, a very happy birthday to you!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Miss Viola on Promotional Double Life

Hello dahlinks! Miss Viola here.

I’ve just returned from a week at the most marvelous spa in Sedona with one of my best friends (you all know her as the famous hostess of a hugely popular TV show and magazine) only to find my inbox heating up faster than the last episode of Desperate Housewives.

I currently write YA fiction novels but would like to delve into writing erotica/adult romance in the future. I know I'll need a pseudonym for this venture (and have come up with a name already), but how can I promote books from opposite genres? Sign me Steamy in Stanton

Dear Steamy,

Just as you will spend twice as much time writing, you will now have to spend twice as much time marketing. And unfortunately, in this case, one genre cannot build upon the other.

No, no, just like a Michael Jackson before and after photo, you will need to create two completely separate personas for yourself and your books. And really, you might even consider using two separate computers, so that the two will never come into contact with each other, rather like Madonna’s bre@$ts when she wears those leather brassieres.

No, no. I jest. It’s all this talk of erotica. (Is it hot in here or is it just moi?)

Sometimes when authors write for different genres, their pseudonym is an open secret. For example, when a NYT bestselling author began writing dark mystery thrillers in addition to romance, her publishing team came to me and I advised her to write the mysteries under a pseudonym, then let everyone know that it was her in a wink::wink sort of way. Unfortunately, this won’t work in your case.

Logistically, you will need to do everything that you are currently doing for your YA books, then turn around and do just as much work under a different name and targeted to different marketing contacts for your erotica.

One thing that will save this from feeling like a frustrating duplication of effort is that they have significantly different distribution channels. For example (other than in California) school libraries buy very little erotica, so your marketing efforts for that genre will be much more consumer oriented—a website, online contests and giveaways, that sort of thing. Also, many erotica authors keep a low public profile, preferring to connect with their readers over the web in order to maintain their personal privacy, so oftentimes booksignings and readings are less of a factor for this genre than YA.

However, children’s book writers who also write erotica are not uncommon. One famous NY agent I know told me that half his stable of children’s authors were writing or had written erotica at one point in time. For example, no one knows that Dr. Seuss and Henry Miller were one and the same, do they?* Or that the woman who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries also wrote under the name Anais Nin.* If they can keep them separate, so can you.

And that’s all I have time for today, my dears! I’m off to give poor Marie Osmond a brush up on her dancing lessons!

*[Robin here. After a number of emails this morning, Miss Viola wanted me to put in a post script for her. She says: (and I quote) Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew was a joke, darlings. Call off The National Enquirer!]

Monday, October 22, 2007


Dear Friends,

Welcome to the new Milestone Monday feature dedicated to sharing important posts and passings in your journey. The trek to publication and success of any kind can be a long, arid haul. This is our opportunity to give you a hoot, a holler and some cyber-confetti to cheer you on along the way. And, to remind you that you are not alone in this!

Robin and I want to throw out the first handful of e-confetti to Milestoners, Farida Dowler, Tony Dowler and Kimberly Lynn. (Insert sound of blowing horns and near-deafening cheers here.)

Farida, aka Alkelda the Gleeful, reports that she lined up three storytelling gigs all at once! Strong work! Robin and I think we'd need both CPR and an IV (introvertous fluids) if we attempted that. Good on you, Alkelda! May your storytelling talents and prowess become legendary.

Tony Dowler is working on a game about the Renaissance with wicked cool ray guns and robots. He's been talking about it on message boards and unveiling rough drafts for a few buds. Just last week someone Tony doesn't even know “name-dropped” his game as an influence on their own work. Sweet! You can check out Tony's work at

Kimberly Lynn shared a great story that I think is best told in her voice.

“Three years ago, I attended my very first SCBWI conference. I was signed up for a manuscript and portfolio critique with Gaby Triana and Frank Remkiewicz. No one other than my family and a couple of friends had ever read my writing up until that point, so I was utterly terrified of hearing 'the truth.' I was so afraid in fact, that I actually considered getting back into the elevator, but then I thought about how rude it would be to leave them sitting there waiting with no explanation. (I can be so silly!) When I walked toward Gaby Triana, she said, “Are you Kimberly?” I smiled and shook her hand. She said, “Wow! Great writing! Do you have an agent?” Totally not what I had expected to hear! She recommended her agent but when I checked his submission guidelines later, he didn't rep fantasy - which I love writing! Rats. Anyway, it was a moment I will never, never forget. My portfolio review with Frank Remkiewicz went really well too. He said I needed to get it “out there” to publishers. Did I get it “out there” after that? Nope. Let's just take this one baby step at a time.”

Kimberly Lynn also reports that she was asked by her SCBWI Regional advisor to write the Illustrator Intensive article for the newsletter. It's her first published work! You can take a peek at it at and scroll down.

Robin and I have a milestone of our own to report. Over the weekend we attended the 55th Annual Santa Barbara Author Breakfast, which was a fun event. And they had quiche AND scones which is like heaven in a Prada bag. The event organizer put us at the same table, and it was the FIRST time Robin and I ever sat together, and didn't pass notes. <-“

Kimberly, Tony, Farida, thank you for sharing all your great accomplishments, and being the first to march in our Milestone Parade. We are raising out Diet Cokes, iced teas, mocha lattes, V-8 and mountain spring water in a happy toast to you each!

And be sure and keep those milestones coming for next month!


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stop and Smell the Violets

I was supposed to post today, but I ended up watching my two-year-old nephew all afternoon (too cute--but a busy little guy!) then played visiting author at a local book fair this evening. The truth is, I’m a social flatline at the moment.

So instead, I’m going to invite you to take the few minutes you would normally spend reading this post and use it to recharge. Maybe…

…take a moment and remember the most tranquil place you’ve ever been, and let the peace of that memory fill you.

…think of something you’re grateful for, really and truly grateful for.

…think of the happiest thing that’s happened in the last twenty four hours and let yourself enjoy it one more time.

…give yourself the gift of doing nothing for the next few minutes, absolutely nothing—just be still, and breathe.

I hope this recharging moment brings peace to your busy day! Until next week…

Monday, October 15, 2007

Author Seeking Quiet Spaces

I had a perfectly balanced day planned-- an early morning stop at my favorite sacred space, followed by a cup of Earl Grey with bergamont, a sensible multi-grain scone (not chocolate chip), and some Anne Lamott to feed the mind and spirit. And absolutely no more than ten minutes on email. Swear!

Then on to the day's writing project, a piece in desperate need of resuscitation and revision. In the throes of deep rigormortis, if the truth be told of it. Partner was sleeping off a a long hospital shift, and rapscallion cats were entwined and down for the count.

Oh, baby, I had it made in the shade.

Enter the jackhammers.

An entire marching brigade of them outside my window in the hands what appeared to be three or twelve shouting, spitting, snorting, hawking, potty-mouthed gentlemen who spent the next few hours breaking up our neighbor's tile floor.

I think I might have survived the ear-rattling whirring, buzzing and blasting of their work. It really was the constant talking that nearly drove me to rush over and take a jackhammer to my own head. Put the poor girl out of her misery! Was there not a single introvert in the bunch?

Which led me to consider later, after throwing up my hands and going to the gym, what it might be like to live in an entire community of introverts, who most always would use their inside voices.

I found this short essay from a fun site called The Introvertz Coach. It's entitled "A Planned Community -- for Introverts!" Check it out! Call it Nirvana, Shangrila, or ecstasy. Just be sure and call me.

In the meantime, I'm back to work on my manuscript tomorrow, but earlier, way, way earlier. Off to bed. I'm up at 4:30!

Don't forget we have our first Milestone Mondays feature coming up! We'd love to post your news.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Visibility Quotient

While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, sometimes calling something by a new name can help it smell a whole lot sweeter. And help us find a whole new way of looking at things.

Visibility quotient, for example.

I first heard this term used by Roxyanne Young of Smart Writers at the SCBWI National Conference this summer. Instead of talking about promoting, she talked about upping one’s visibility quotient. Basically, just get your name and the title of your book out there, even if it’s not in an active selling way. Just getting your name in front of people increases your visibility. And the more often you are visible, the better chance you have of someone becoming curious about you or your books.

Raising one’s visibility quotient can be as simple as being sure to have a signature line featuring your name and the title of your book, and using it every time you post on a listserv, forum, bulletin board, or send an email.

Roxyanne had a lot of other great ideas for upping your visibility quotient, and we're going to see if we can get her over here to talk about some more of them. But for now, I wanted to just introduce the concept to you because it's a very gentle way to help make people aware of you and your book.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Having a Marketing Plan

When you get a group of authors together and give them all a drink, one of the first topics to come up will be marketing. Specifically, the difficulty of getting marketing commitments from their publisher. With over 5,000 books published every year, clearly something needs to happen to make any given book stand out—thus marketing.

But to be fair, publishers have a limited amount of time, manpower, and marketing dollars to go around. With anywhere from ten to fifty books on each season’s list, prioritizing and budgeting are key. So what can a new author, or any author, do to help ensure their book gets a piece of the publishers marketing pie?

I think one of the most important steps an author can take is to demonstrate to the publisher that they are willing to be a partner in the marketing of their book. That they understand that both author and publisher have to work together to get this book into the hands of readers, that it must be a joint effort.

However, this can be really hard for introverts, as the mere thought of promotion tends to send us running for a bottle of antacid.

But we’ve demonstrated over the last few months that there are a number of things introverts can do that don’t require extroverted behavior or bold marketing moves but can still be effective in getting the word out to about their book. Armed with all the information you’ve learned here (and other places) I highly suggest you put together a marketing plan for your book.

In you marketing plan, you list the things you’re comfortable doing, you play to your strengths, and demonstrate your commitment. It’s a great opportunity to show how much you are willing to do to make this new partnership between you and your publisher a success.

Understand that a marketing plan is NOT a demand letter with the author stating all the things they want/expect the publisher to do for them.

It’s a statement of everything the author is planning to do to market their book, along with a few suggestions for joint promotion or marketing opportunities with your publisher.

So one of your tasks is to sit down and think what a brand spanking new (introverted) author like yourself brings to the table.

Your writing, which they’ve already shown they believe in. Your willingness to succeed, your enthusiasm and hopefully a small army of enthusiastic supporters—friends, family, fellow authors, the librarian you chatted up while doing your research, your child’s third grade teacher who found out you were writing a children’s book, your cousins, your local indie bookseller, where you’ve bought your books for years and are friendly with the staff, your small town newspaper or alumni newsletter, or church bulletin that’s always looking for bits of news to publish. (Remember, no book is as highly celebrated as a first book. It’s a momentous occasion and people will love celebrating that moment with you.)

Or perhaps you already have a couple of books out. In that case, you have a few more contacts to build upon.

An introverted marketing plan might include the following:

Create author website*
Feature contests and giveaways on author blog
Arrange blog tour with following popular blogs (then list them)
Print and mail 500 post cards to local schools, libraries, independent booksellers, and personal acquaintances.
Press kit mailing to local print media
Have promotional items made (this would be something that could tie in with your book in a clever way, like temporary tattoos, personalized pencils with the book title on it, magnets, etc.)

*Ideally you should have this up and running a few months before the publication date. It’s the #1 most important marketing tool you can have.

Not sure what else to put on the plan? Check back here to remind yourself which tasks you’re comfortable with.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Something New Coming Your Way: Milestone Mondays

Dear Violets and Vinnies,

Robin and I had a marvelously productive lunch last week at Chateau La Belle talking all about YOU, and how much we love this growing community of introverts. We've evolved into a virtual iPod--oh, fine, that's already taken. iCommunity? Anyway, we want to stay fresh, inventive, relevant and responsive. We've got some new things coming down the pike! We invite (read beg) and welcome your feedback.

For those of you that haven't sold your work yet-- but you will-- marketing begins now, not after your first sale. It starts with your recognition of yourself as a writer . . . not a future one, a wannabe one, an unpublished one, but a bonafide professional writer.

You MAY and should call yourself a writer without cringing, blushing, or losing hold of your bladder, if you write regularly, take classes, read craft books/blogs/mags, attend conferences, participate in a crititque group, read others' work. Face it, you are a writer! Stand in front of a mirror. Rehearse it. Swirl that imaginary martini (or diet coke) around in its glass. "Me? What do I do? I'm a writer." Claim it!

Now, being a writer that hasn't yet been published can be a lo-oo-ng trek . . . lots of work without praise or payday. That's where our new feature Milestone Mondays come in.

We want to give you a chance to feel a bit of the limelight on your skin now, in easy, supportive doses. We want to herald and trumpet some of your accomplishments along the way. Time for you to let the world now that you are up and coming, baby!

We want to hear about a promising rejection letter, or the completion of your discovery draft, or a writing class, or your article in the Trader Joes flyer, or the time that Arthur Levine/Wendy Lamb/Jodi Reamer told you that s/he'd like to see your whole manuscript. Let's start the celebrating of you now, huh?

Ready to get 'yer feet wet? What do you say? Send your milestones to me at News for Milestone Monday. We'll run them once a month. If you have a website or a blog, make sure you let me know so we can post a link. Look forward to hearing all about you!

Ars longa, vita brevis--
(Art is long, life is short)
Mary Hershey

Monday, October 1, 2007


For a lot of introverts, the absolute hardest part of marketing is trying to get the gig itself, the school visit, speaking engagement, newspaper article, whatever. It’s trying to talk people into booking you that’s the really hard part. The selling of oneself.

So here’s a suggestion: Don’t sell yourself, sell your buddies. And have your buddies sell you.

It’s called a co-op, and for introverts, it can be a wonderful way to operate in the promotional world.

Now, being introverts, you may be thinking, but I’m a solitary writer, how can I form a co-op?

The truth is, there are a number of natural groupings you fall into that might work.

Do you have a critique group?
A local chapter of SCBWI?
Perhaps you could pool together with other authors that write for your publisher?
Or other clients of your agent?

Maybe you just have three or four scattered writer friends, but hey, that’s enough to start an informal co-op.

It works especially well if the different member have different strengths and comfort zones. Perhaps one of the group is very comfortable around kids and enjoys school visits. Maybe another one is really comfortable teaching writing workshops, and a third is quite internet savvy, and the fourth was an administrative assistant in a marketing department a long time ago in a land far away.

So you pool your resources and talents. When the rest of you get school visit requests that you don’t want to act on, hand them over to the member of our group who does. Or maybe one of you is a picture book writer, who’s been asked to speak at a middle school—not natural pairing, so refer the school to the tween author in your group. There’s all sorts of natural divisions of labor promotion than can be handled by a group that are too intimidating when faced all alone. Consider:

  • Posting online reviews for each others books on Amazon and B&
  • If you have a blog, make sure and blog about your co-op members new books when they come out.
  • If you’re approached for a booksigning, suggest to the store a group signing, which is more fun for the author and the store.
  • If one of the co-op has a new book, consider writing a press release for them, or taking a copy of their new book to your local librarian.

I’m sure you guys can think of other ways to do promote books you love. (Feel free to add them in the comments!)

Another way to form a group is through a secondary interest. Maybe you know a handful of other humor writers, or fantasy writers, or historical fiction authors. Consider forming a group blog where you can all participate in building a community based on that secondary interest.

And here's one of the beauties of the co-op system. If you’re in a critique group or local writers group together, or clients of the same agent or publisher, chances are there will be genuine admiration for each others work, so everything that you do to promote your fellow member will flow from a genuine place.

And it won't be about you.