Sunday, June 29, 2008

Jacqueline Woodson: A Voice for Hope

Last night while some of us were refreshing our pedicures-- er, I mean reading Crime and Punishment once again, the lovely and prolific Jacqueline Woodson was being honored by the American Library Association  with a Newberry Honor Book Award for her newest middle grade release entitled Feathers. It is a story of hope, and a mysterious new white boy that comes to the narrator's predominantly black school, causing some speculation that he might be Jesus.  Her main character's best friend, Samantha, says, "If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn't this one be it?"  

This is her second Newberry Honor Book, in fact-- Show Way (2006) also garnered her this award.  Robin and I had the rich and unforgettable pleasure of hearing her read this at a recent SCBWI National Conference.  

Jacqueline will be looking for additional storage space sometime soon for the wealth of hardware she has earned for her eight picture books, six middle grade books, and eleven young adult novels.   (Wow. And, if you'll note the photo above, she's still standing!)

Locomotion was a National Book Award Finalist and won a Coretta Scott King Honor.  Miracle's Boys also won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  It was then made into a mini-series directed by a number of people including Spike Lee.  

Jacqueline received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Associations's (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Association in 2006 for her books I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, Lena, From the Notebook Melanin Sun, If You Come Softly, and Miracle’s Boys. For her book Coming on Home Soon, she won the Caldecott Honor, ALA Notable, Booklist Editor's Choice and Child Magazine Best of 2004.

We feel so honored to have this inspired voice with us today at Shrinking Violets.  

* * * * * * * * *

If the difference between introversion and extraversion is where one goes to gather energy—within, or in the company of others, where do you fall on the continuum?

I think it depends on the time of day -- if it's during my writing time, I'm very introverted and am fed by my work. If it's in the afternoon, when my writing day is done, I need my people -- my family, my friends and lots of talk and laughter around me.

What is your favorite book promotion/marketing activity?

I like a nice party with people I know and don't know so well.  I like it in a nice space with good food and wine and nice lighting.  If it's a book, I'm particularly in love with, I might enjoy reading from it.  But mostly, I like to just hang. If it could turn into a dance party with kicking seventies and eighties disco playing, then I'm way happy.  And if there are enough black folks to get the Electric Slide going or enough young people to do the Soldier Boy Crank, then it's truly a party.  (With a publishing bent of course.)

What marketing activity ranks right up there with--oh, I dunno, a colonoscopy?

Once a publicist had the bright idea to ask writers to describe what is in our pocketbooks, knapsacks, etc.  I thought that was pretty absurd (and didn't do it) but i think anything that messes with the privacy of a writer is off limits.  My friends even call me by a different name than the people I know in the writing world and this is pretty much all about keeping my private life/world separate from my writing life.  When I hear someone call me by my writing name, I automatically know -- they know me via writing and we're most likely not that close.  As you go through the writing life, you meet SO many people and it's hard to keep track and to keep private. I have no interest in opening up my bag or my private life in that way.  I think with the internet and reality tv and all of that stuff, the borders of privacy are shifting and for anybody who is halfway introverted, it can get tricky.  

I have an amazing community of people who keep me sane and whole and who I come 'home' to and let few others into that world. My writing is very open and sometimes painful and sometimes people mistake my writing (both the experiences of the characters and the energy behind it) for Me.  And although there is some part of me on the pages, most of me I keep protected so that I can continue to write.  When a marketing person wants me to bare some private part of myself for public consumption, I am very clear about saying No Way.

Has an editor or publicist ever asked (or expected) you to do something to promote your book that was hard for you?  What was it and how did you handle it?

I can't remember. If it was something I didn't want to do, I'm sure I just said No.

If your publicist had $5,000 budgeted to promote your book, how would you like that money spent?

My ideal is getting books in the hands of people who couldn't otherwise afford them.  So if my publisher said "Here's $5,000 to do with it as you will," I'd buy a whole bunch of my own books in paperback and give them out at underserved schools and community centers, etc.  And while there, I'd do an author visit (also for free). I think through this act, we don't see the immediate sales of books but it does impact our efforts to make lifetime readers out of young people.

As often as you speak in public, do you still get nervous/vaporous/catatonic?

Just when a lot of my friends and my family are there.

 What do you do to recharge your batteries when you’ve blown your wad?

Get myself around the people I love.

Introvert you’d most like to have dinner with?  (Living or deceased, but presumed living during your date.)

James Baldwin. If he's booked, then Carson McCullers.

* * * * * * * * *

Robin and I love (a lot) what Jacqueline would do with $5,000.00 marketing dollars. Which we're pretty sure no Professional Marketing Consultant would support this because it is off the radar screen and doesn't generate buzz or dough.   That's why we like it so much.  We think giving away books to kids that are underserved is a radical act that has a force beyond anything we can see or understand. So, we'd like Jacqueline to be our new BFF. It would help a lot if she would move to California so we could take her with us to CPK.  We have it on good authority that pizza is her fave food.  

In honor of Jacqueline's visit to SVP, we'd like to give a copy of Feathers to your someone's public library. To the first person that can tell us what item Jacqueline would probably would NOT want on her pizza. Good luck!  

Grace and peace,

Mary Hershey

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Introverted Presenter’s Secret Weapon

First of all, mega apologies for not getting this up yesterday, but Mary and I spent the last week teaching at the fabulous Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, run by the amazingly organized Marcia Meier, and we didn't finish up until very late last night.

Just for the record, this is a fabulous conference with an amazing energy and the opportunity for lots of in-depth teaching. As workshop leaders, we present five days in a row (either morning or afternoon) and while students are encouraged to try many different teachers and workshops, there usually seems to be a constant core that comes back each day, so as a teacher you really get to build on the previous material, which allows you to go a lot deeper than you get to do at many conferences.

Much to our surprise, Mary and I were, if not the only two, then very close to that, who opted to use Power Point presentations in our teachings. An accident? We think not.

You see, having a Power Point presentation projected up on a screen with the important bullet points (me) or a kaleidoscope of color and visuals (Mary) provides a wonderful place for the students to focus—and it isn’t us! As in introvert who loves to teach, this is my personal idea of heaven. I can stand in front of the classroom and teach to my heart’s content, all the while directing people’s focus to the screen, to the important points I want them to grasp, and then their attention is shifted away from me. It allows me (and my raging self-consciousness) to disappear and let the material take front and center stage.

So if, as an introvert, you find yourself in the position of wanting or needing to give a presentation, you might consider giving Power Point a try. It can be an incredibly helpful tool in an introvert’s bag of tricks!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cynthia Leitich Smith: An Interview with an Internet Icon & Legend

Robin and I are nearly apoplectic to have had the opportunity to interview the extraordinary Cynthia Leitch Smith, who is on the top of our personal Childen's Lit Rock Star List. Cynthia is a living, breathing embodiment of the concept of karmic networking. Called a "rising star" by the Multicultural Review, Cynthia seems determined to populate the night skies with the stars of all the other authors for children and young adults. She is tireless promoter and advocate for children's literature, a constant and reliable conduit of industry info, and has become the essential, trusted resource for authors/illustrators, educators, librarians, booksellers.

Cynthia is the author of three titles with Harper Collins--Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain is Not My Indian Name (2001), Indian Shoes (2002), Santa Knows (Dutton 2006)) and her latest title, Tantalize (Candlewick 2007) is her first dark fantasy. Horn Book calls it an "intoxicating romantic thriller" and Booklist notes, "...If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy..."
Tantalize will be followed by a companion novel entitled Eternal in 2009. She is also the author of numerous articles, and her short stories have been featured in a number of anthologies.

In her 'free time' (sound of Mary and Robin choking on their lattes), Cynthia is a faculty member with Vermont College in the MFA Writing for Children program

* * * * *

Robin and I have pegged you for an introvert? Are we right?
Hm. It depends on the situation. If I'm with friends or familiar colleagues or have a specific purpose, I'm generally relaxed. However, tossed into a roomful of strangers, I'm more likely to become shy. I'm also not a hit-and-run kind of networker or, really, a "networker" of any kind. I'd much prefer to have a friendly, even thoughtful chat witha few interesting folks than "work" the room. The exception to this would be if I'm the host, in which case I certainly would want to personally welcome everyone and thank them for coming.

At a big conference, would you rather:

1. Be the keynote
2. Introduce the keynote
3. Be in the front row of the audience with a group of friends
4. Be in the back of the audience sitting alone
5. Be in the Witness Protection Program

Today I'm somewhat stunned to realize that I'd rather do the keynote, but this was a long evolution. I have a clear memory of being assigned an oral report in Mr. Pennington's senior AP European History class, doing my preparation, practicing in front of a mirror, and the moment I was supposed to launch in, losing all ability to speak. It was utterly beyond me. I'll also never forget that the same teacher allowed me to turn in a written version of my report the same day with no penalty. What a great guy. Later, a university-level Speech class was required for my journalism degree. Though I graduated from a big state school, I took that class one summer at my local junior college so I could be in a smaller setting. There, I overcame much of my anxiety and learned to focus onwhat I was saying rather than my own self-consciousness. For me, that has been the key since. It's so easy to do with children's-YA literature because I have such a passion for reading and the body of literature. It's not about me--it's about the process, the books, the readers, and the people who connect them. I'm just one of the many folks supporting that greater effort andthe community behind it.

What is your favorite book promotion/marketing activity?

I recently had great fun putting together a book trailer for TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007). I worked with a seventeen-year-old genius (Shayne Leighton) on it, and I appreciated her expertise and enthusiasm.

Your least favorite?

I'm uncomfortable doing any kind of event that has evolved, without my knowing, since I agreed to participate. I certainly can be flexible, but shifting gears at the last minute from, say, an informal library chat to a keynote on a specific topic is a challenge.

I think most authors/illustrators would now agree that having a website is nearly an imperative. But, what about a blog? Your thoughts on that?

I enjoy the blogs as a way of "pajama outreach"--you don't have to put on dry-clean-only clothes and get in the car/plane to do it. But it's a personal choice. If you feel burdened by the idea of blogging, then you don't have to (and probably shouldn't). Put the energy into something that feeds you instead. On the other hand, if it sounds attractive, I recommend:

(a) choosing aparticular theme/focus and sticking to it;

(b) posting on a regular schedule (I keep hearing that regularity is more important than frequency);

(c) keeping in mind that, even though the exercise feels private (you're at home alone on your laptop/PC), what you're sending out is public. Building on the latter, I have chatted with a few editors and agents who're uncomfortable with their authors' blogs (and may have even been asked to "talk" to them by higher-ups). What you elect to write is up to you, but remember that your author blog is still a view of your professional face to the world. 

I fret that some talented writers maybe losing opportunities to work with certain agents/editors/schools/publishers because of what they're posting. My rule is to never say anything at Cynsations that I wouldn't on the podium or anything at Spookycyn that I wouldn't during lunch after I sat down from the podium. Along the way, I draw heavily on my journalism background. It's a more formal approach than most, and I'm not at all suggesting it should be adopted by anyone else. But do put some thought into process and its reach, both positive and negative.

What is something that you now are comfortable doing that you would have never imagined yourself being able to do?

Everything? Okay, not quite. I always had some sense that I had an aptitude for language and enjoyed playing with it. I wrote a lot of poetry as a child, and later went into school journalism, eventually majoring in it at college. All the surrounding "author" stuff would've been completely beyond me. But writing fiction is a such privilege. If I'd known at age ten that I'd get to do this someday--to be part of this magical, inspirational, sometimes neurotic world of youth literature, that realization would've far exceeded my wildest, most optimistic dreams. It's led the one-time girl who couldn't do a ten-minute oral report to dress like a vampire and throw a launch party for 100.

You have an extraordinary gift of making connections. Where in your past does that come from?

Thank you. I consider myself a community author. When I quit my full-time law job with over a hundred thousand dollars in student debt, it was a decision of the heart, not the head. My commitment wasn't only to my own work, which I take quite seriously, but to the children's-YA literature as a whole. I'm not sure where it comes from. My family background is very working class, though... a world where you don't "make connections," you just have people stop by for coffee and donuts. But maybe that's it. There was somehow always room for one more guest in my grandparents shoe-box-sized 1940s cottage. Part of me tries to honor that.

Complete this sentence: Writing conferences are to extraverts, what ___________ are to introverts.

Tsunamis. But I'd suggest reconsidering it. After all, a conference is a manufactured professional setting designed to deliver to you information and opportunity. Much of the groundwork is done for you. Just keep chanting--this isn't about me, it's about my manuscripts.

If you knew you had just 24 hours left to live, blog or not blog?

I'd definitely blog--briefly. I'd thank everyone who'd read Cynsations over the years. I'd thank everyone who shared their thoughts via interviews or news bulletins. I'd wish them all well in the future and say how much they meant to me that day and in the past. Speaking of which, thank you!

* * * * *
Cynthia, thank YOU so much for taking the time with us here today, and all you do to blaze the trail for us. The Shrinking Violet community is on their feet today, giving you a most deserved standing ovation.

Mary and Robin

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More ARCs

Today we’re going to look at two YA titles.

THE DEVOURING, by Simon Holt, YA horror published by Little Brown. I’ve googled both him and his title and can find very little about either one, except as listed on Alvina Ling’s blog.

The ARC had a very cool little insert that looked like an aged, secret piece of parchment. Very different, very stand out-ish.

Their marketing campaign:
National Print and Online Advertising
National Review Coverage
Review Advertising
Select Author Appearances
Librarian and Educator Outreach
Online Promotions at
Extensive Web Promotions
High Impact Floor Displays
YALSA YA Galley Preview Program

National Print and Online Advertising [They will be investing in national ad buys, both in print and on online sites. While this is always a plum marketing perk and a sure sign the publisher is behind the books, remember that it’s very difficult to gauge whether or not these ads—especially print ads—sell books, whereas an internet ad/paid placement on Amazon does probably affect sales.]

National Review Coverage – Again, we talked about this. Most major publishers do offer all their titles review coverage in the national review journals. I’m guessing this means more aggressively pursuing reviews in major newspapers.

Review Advertising – My understanding of this means that if a publication features a good review, then the publisher will buy an ad in that publication.

Select Author Appearances – This one is wide open to interpretation. It could mean that the author himself is setting up a few appearances, but in this case it more likely means that the publisher will be setting up a few, targeted and focused appearances where sales or reader interest warrants it.

Librarian and Educator Outreach - As we talked about Monday, in it’s simplest form, it can mean a listing in the seasonal newsletter that goes out to schools and libraries, or it could mean a full feature araticle in the same newsletter. It could also mean advertising in periodicals targeted to academia and libraries

Online Promotions at – This means the title will be a featured title on the Little Brown teens website. It looks like they have book trailers and podcasts and video interviews with featured authors.

Extensive Web Promotions – Lots of ARCS going out to high profile bloggers, teen sites, facebook, myspace, in addition to Little Brown’s site. There is also a site, but as of right now, all it has up is a newsletter sign-up. Which is a shame really, because they’re missing following up on any interest generated by the arcs they gave out at BEA.

High Impact Floor Displays – High quality book dump

YALSA YA Galley Preview Program – They will do a big ARC giveaway on the YALSA listserv.

Now we’re going to compare that to THE SUMMONING, another YA paranormal, that happens to be written by a highly popular adult paranormal author, Kelley Armstrong.

Marketing Campaign
Online consumer advertising at
Extensive online promotion
Promotion on
Cross promotion on Harper Teen MySpace Profile
Cross promotion on
First Look reader review program
Featured in HipLit e-newsletter
Featured on romance blogs

Clearly there are a lot of similarities between the two. But one thing that stands out with THE SUMMONING is that they are trying to tap into Armstrong’s existing popularity with adult paranormal readers. I think it’s interesting that that this plan does not mention a library or educator outreach on this title. Does that mean they view it as more of a “direct to teens” sort of book?

But what immediately springs out at me is how extensively this book is being promoted using online venues. is a very sophisticated site with lots of bells and whistles. Furthermore, it directs you to for THE DEVOURING, which is a character-centric website using the main character of THE DEVOURING. Clearly book promotion has fully entered the Age of the Internet. Which suits us introverts just fine, and is good news besides!

And while some might choose to get discouraged because of the difference between marketing plans from book to book (and I have in the past, believe me), I think we can also take heart in the fact that sometimes there really isn't that big a divide. We can duplicate a large portion of these efforts. Most publishers do feature all their titles on their website in some way. And I would think the same would apply to their publisher myspace page. Any savvy author knows to have a website, and it’s within all of our abilities to put up a myspace account of our own, and link to other authors and librarians and book lovers. And for me, it's helpful knowing what exactly the publisher do when they pull out the big guns, because it helps me better understand where I should focus my marketing efforts.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BEA ARCs: A Marketing Study

One of fascinating things about attending BEA is seeing which books publishers are promoting. ARC giveaways are a huge component of this, and one of the fun bennies of attending: bags-full of free books!

But here’s a tip: Not only are those ARCs fabulous reading material months ahead of anyone else getting their hot little hands on them, but they tell a lot about what sort of Big Marketing Support publishers dole out.

It’s interesting to read the marketing plans listed on backs of these books because it’s clear when you do that publishers are trying to show booksellers what they’ll do to drive up demand for the title and drive book buyers into their stores.

Let’s decode a few, shall we? The first two are books where the publishers have clearly pulled out the big guns, but they are different in that one is a debut author and the second is a book from a well-known, highly beloved and respected author.

The first one I picked up is GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson, published by Doubleday. It’s a debut author and right away you can tell they are behind this guy in a big way: even his arc has a step back cover with a die cut cutout. Very classy package, especially for an arc. He also has some great author quotes on the back. In fact, a little Googling reveals that his agent initially turned down a $1 million dollar offer for the book, and that it's being published concurrently in the US and Canada. So. Big deal, big buzz, right from the get go.

Doubleday's marketing plan, as taken from the back of the ARC:

Major National Print Advertising Campaign
Major Online Adv and Promotion Campaign
Major Viral Marketing Campaign
Video Book Trailer
POS for Supporting Accounts
Targeted Mailings
Promotion to Academic and Library markets

Now really, when you look at each of these things individually, they are a little bit vague, so we’re left to guess what sort of physical and financial support they will actually translate into. Here’s my best guess, based on both my years as an author and my years as a managing editor at a small, non-fiction publisher.

Major National Print Advertising Campaign [This is pretty clear: They’re going to spend hard dollars on print advertising in magazines and newspapers. Definitely a marketing plum.]

Major Online Adv and Promotion Campaign [Ditto this—it means they will be running banner ads and paying for promotional features on various high traffic internet sites. I'm guessing a myspace account, last night's googling revealed he has a profile set up on, basically he'll probably be everyone one can be on the inernet.]

Major Viral Marketing Campaign [Not exactly sure what this translates into except they’re trying to generate lots of buzz. They’ve started this by generating a ton of great author quotes and doing a major BEA promotion, but how they continue that I’m not certain …definitely having him set up on the interactive social networking sites will help this, but if anyone has any other ideas of how a publisher starts a viral marketing campaign, feel free to talk about it in the comments.]

Video Book Trailer [This is a professionally produced book trailer, which we’ve discussed before and will hopefully be widely viewed on YouTube as well as featured on blogs.]

POS for Supporting Accounts [POS is Point of Sale, so that means there is going to be some sort of book dump or paid placement for accounts who buy the book in sufficient quantities.]

Targeted Mailings [In addition to all the above they’re going to do mailings featuring the book because they know it takes multiple impressions for name recognition to sink in.]

Promotion to Academic and Library markets [This one can mean a variety of things. In it’s simplest form, it can mean a listing in the seasonal newsletter that goes out to schools and libraries, or it could mean a full feature article in the same newsletter. It could also mean advertising in periodicals targeted to academia and libraries.]

Now the truth is, a committed energetic author could duplicate a number of these efforts on the behalf of their own book. A major viral marketing campaign, for example. Viral means small efforts that ripple out, and catch on in unexpected ways. However there is no way to actually predict how well that will catch on. We've talked before about doing one's own book trailers, so that's also something to put in our bag of tricks. Targeted mailings, too, although they would no doubt be slightly smaller in scope than what a publisher did. And lastly, online promotion is very open to us authors...

Now for his publicity plans.

National Author Promotion [They're going to promote the hell out of the author, but whether or not the media will bite is anyone's guess.]

National Media Attention [The author will be actively pitched to National media, but again, whether he's actually featured is out of their control.]

National Review Attention [Really, this is true of most books--most major publishers send the books out to national review publications. I tend to wonder if this means that they'll be sending review copies to more consumer based newspapers and magazines than they normally would.]

Meet the Author at BEA [They're behind him enough to fly him out and put him up in LA so the booksellers and other industry professionals attending can meet him. Definitely a big sign of support.]

I want to compare that to the marketing plan listed on the back of the ARC of Toni Morrison's new novel, A MERCY, published by Alfred A. Knopf and scheduled for November of 2008.

First Printing 300,000 copies
National Media Appearances
National Print Features
4 city author tour
National Print Advertising Campaign – including the NYT and NYT Book Review
Online Promotional Campaign
12 copy floor display
reading group guide
jacket blowups available

Clearly this is an established, important author and the publisher knows it will be a literary event and is confident that the book will be featured in a major, major way.

In fact, it’s very interesting to see what different tools are used for an established author versus a debut author, even a big dollar, big buzz debut author.

Contrast the National Media Appearances with National Media Attention in the first example. Because of her literary gravitas, it’s a surety that Morrison will be featured in the media, whereas the debut author’s publisher uses the word “attention” because they simply can't know if the media will act on their pitches.

Also, a name like Morrison will support an author tour. People will leave their homes and come out to hear her read and speak. No matter how excited a publisher is about a new book, it is very, very rare for people to come out in large numbers for a debut author.

As for bookstore support, they are providing a major book dump (book display) as well as jacket blow-ups for the walls. Again, a Toni Morrison book is a literary event and with the right tools, bookstores can really pull buyers into their stores which will then translate into sales.

Thursday we'll look at two more books, YA books, one a series the publisher is very excited about and the other the first YA by a very successful paranormal romance/urban fantasy author.

* * *

And to further whet your appetites, stay tuned for some fabulous interviews we have coming up, including Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jacqueline Woodson, and a Real Life Publishing House Publicist!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dedication and Drive with Capital D's!

Anatomy of a Dream Job: Serve as bookstore host for the First Lady (and the Secret Service), JK Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marla Frazee, Marlee Matlin, Julie Andrews, Kevin Henkes, Darren Shan, Frank McCourt; receive thousands of advance reader copies and assorted publishing house schwag in the mail every week (FREE!); research catalogs, books reviews, websites and blogs looking for great new talent; talk about books all day long with other people that love books as much as you do; continue this for seven days a week for months on end.

Could life be any sweeter?? According to Alex Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe in Irvine, California --- NOT!

Oh, yeah, maybe a little sweeeter. . . serve a one-year term at Shrinking Violet Promotions as Independent Bookseller of the Year!!

And without further ado, Robin and I are thrilled to *officially* crown Alex Uhl, generous community leader, literary activist, owner and lover of books as our new reigning Queen for 2008!!! (Insert sound of trumpets and beating flutter of hundreds of doves' wings.)

Our new Queen is legendary among industry booksellers, educators, editors, publicists, patrons, authors and illustrators, as someone who has what it takes to drive business to her door, despite competition from the chains. Her unique formula of community outreach, a big, busy event calendar, and a dedicated team of bibiliophiles has put A Whale of a Tale right smack dead center on the industry’s map. It was her passion for children’s books that inspired her as a young mother of an infant son to start growing this remarkable dream. In 1989, having done her homework and market research, she launched her first business. The rocket with her name on it is still making its amazing trajectory.

When we featured her shoppe back in May, Robin shared Alex’s commitment to “karmic marketing” as evidenced by her $40,000 contribution to her community during the past year. But beyond the financial support, Alex is committed to helping authors get their books in the hands of the public. She recognizes that it is the big name authors that bring customers out of the malls to her store. "Celebrities are the icing on the cake. We really want to bring up new people and help them when we can." And it's that very notoriety that gives her the opportunity and influence to give the rest of us a leg up when she can.

Which is not to say that we should all give her a call Monday to set up a signing, and could we please have the pretty tea service that she used for the First Lady? Events are expensive to host, and Alex is a savvy business person. She says it doesn’t serve anyone to host a signing that no one attends. She notes that even being a celebrated author isn’t a shoe-in for a successful events. She was gracious enough not to divulge the names of authors she has had to babysit when no one showed up for their signing. (I say give them a dust rag and put them to work!)

As a parent and business owner, she knows too well the many demands on families’ time these days, even during the weekends with parents racing their children off to sports, parties, and various family committments. A succesful signing is hard work and requires a great deal of planning and coordination.

Alex keeps her rolodex is full of authors she has met and is constantly looking for connections and opportunities to promote us. (God, I love this woman!) She genuinely likes having authors stop by to introduce themselves and chat about their work. “… I just got a lovely note and book in the mail from an author. I love that. Doesn’t mean I can stock the book, but I will file the info away and perhaps sometime I’ll find a place/space or tie-in for it.”

I asked Alex what authors and illustrators can do to help a bookseller host a signing. “Word of mouth—tell your friends! Use your mailing list, and your email contacts. Let everyone know about the event. “

She finds print ads expensive and don’t necessarily do the trick. But getting the word out to everyone you know and the people that they know can be powerful.

I wondered if there was any book that she really pined to have written or illustrated herself. She laughed and says she is a better critic/editor than writer. But, she does get some really great ideas for books when she is the shower. But by the time she gets to work and submerged in her day, they evaporate like the shower's steam.

“I really love what I do—it’s an extension of who I really, really am. I don’t take it for granted.”

And does she look great in a crown or what??

The official receving line for our new Queen starts here--please queue up, and say hellloooo! Curtsies optional. (Don't worry-- she's an introvert, too!) And while you're here, the first person to tell us what pretty-darn-famous illustrator has Alex as an illustrated character in the book will win a copy of said book, and just maybe we'll be able to get it autrographed for you. Good luck!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We are Wheels Down!

Our newest royalty to the Independent Bookseller of the Year crown has just landed! (Ms. Viola was kind enough to lend us a client's jet.) The ever-lovely Alex Uhl will be "in the house" shortly. It is nearly more excitement than Robin and I can handle. We're off to buff our nails and practice all our royal protocols for our interview with Alex tomorrow.

In the meantime, let's get an enormous, international, stadium-sized cyber-WAAAVVVE going to welcome our new Queen to her inaugural red carpet promenade--- here she comes!


Your Shrinking Violets

Monday, June 9, 2008

Katherine Applegate: A Marketing Journey

We have a real treat for you today. A few months ago, Mary and I were shocked and thrilled to discover that K. A. Applegate was an SVP reader! Surely someone such as Katherine, who had written hundreds of books that included such successful series as ANIMORPHS, EVERWORLD, MAKING OUT, and REMNANTS already knew everything she needed to know about marketing and promotion! We were also fascinated by her recent switch from series fiction to her most recent book, HOME OF THE BRAVE, which is the Golden Kite Winner this year. We managed to catch up with her in Italy, where she and her family are staving off a midlife crisis. She was gracious enough to share her marketing and promotional journey with us.

Some of your previous series have been wildly successful; Animorphs, Remnants, Everworld. How actively did you have to get involved in the marketing and promotion of these books?

Well, “wildly” might be overstating it a bit, but Animorphs did surprise us with its success. And here’s what’s interesting: we didn’t do any – I mean ANY – promo for it. I mention this not to encourage my fellow introverts to avoid marketing, because I think the Animorphs experience was atypical!

My husband, Michael, and I worked on that series, and several others, together, but when Animorphs came out, we’d just had our first child and we were writing a book a month. These were middle readers, roughly 150 ms. pages each. We were exhausted and a bit overwhelmed by life (having a child will do that to you.) And as a confirmed introvert -- not a recluse, mind you, just a pathological introvert -- the idea of even meeting with my editors in New York seemed overwhelming. My husband would have done it (he is, in fact, a pathological extrovert, but I try to focus on his good points), but at that point he was writing other things as well, and not really interested in pursuing children’s fiction. (He eventually came to his senses and has just launched a YA series called “Gone” with Harpercollins.)

Fortunately, Scholastic did a wonderful job marketing Animorphs. They did all the usual promo, along with some bells and whistles, like a PW cover. And middle readers (ages 8-12) can be a powerful marketing force all on their own. Once they commit to a series, they devour it. They’re a terrifically loyal readership.

Home of the Brave seems like a big departure from some of your earlier books. How did this story come to be written?

Eventually, after dozens of Animorphs and other books, I took a break from my writing to focus on parenting. Parenting, as many of you know first-hand, is terrifying and exhilarating and exhausting, all at the same time. It’s like military basic training, I suppose, except that the drill sergeant is two years old and smells like poop.

So when I’d finally caught up on my five-year sleep deficit, I knew I was ready to write what I’d begun to refer to has my “Real Book.” Nothing scared me anymore. I had survived toddler birthday parties.

By my definition, my real book would include words chosen with great care (and without deadline pressure.) It would include luxuries not always afforded to series writers: a beginning, a middle and an end. And it would have a character I could love wholeheartedly. Someone with problems even more compelling than dateless prom nights or incomplete grizzly bear morphs.

But who was that character? I lived in Minneapolis for a time and while I was there, refugees from sub-Saharan Africa were being settled in the city.

Every time I stepped into that exquisite, dangerous Minnesota cold, it seemed unimaginable to me that people could move to such an impossibly different place, a place where words are new and the food was new and the culture was new. And the icicles were most definitely new.

That’s how Kek, a refugee from Sudan, was born. And as he evolved, I did grow to love him. For his courage. And his good humor. And his essential optimism.

Was the reaction to this book different, right from the get-go?

I do think that people were surprised to hear such a different tone and cadence, not to mention format. Their surprise surprised me a bit, because I’ve written so many different kinds of books over the years – everything from adult romances to Little Mermaid books to horse books to Sweet Valley Twins (I ghosted 17 of those!). Still, to the extent that HOTB is more poetic in style and more serious in tone, I can see why it seems like such a departure. I have a picture book, The Buffalo Storm (Clarion) that came out at the same time as HOTB. It’s similar in tone – another experiment with poetry – and one reviewer in a lovely review, noting “It’s by the Animorphs author – gasp!!!”.

I’m actually doing a workshop at the SCBWI conference in August about genre-shifting, branding, and all the complexities involved when you’re trying to define a “career.” (Home of the Brave won the Golden Kite Award this year from SCBWI, and it took me about three weeks to come down off my cloud.)

You said in a comment here on the bog that in order to ensure this book got the attention it deserved, you'd have to be more active in promoting it. How did you come up with a plan/strategy?

Uh . . . plan? Strategy? That sounds so, well, logical. And organized. Labels that generally don’t apply to me. I did send the book to as many bloggers as I could find. And I had the best of intentions for doing much more. But it’s amazing how time-consuming the promo end of things can be, if you’re trying to continue to write new books. And get the kids to their soccer games before they end. And clean the litter box every two weeks, whether it needs it or not.

I can see why some people turn to publicity and marketing specialists to promote their books. It can be very labor-intensive. Writing a charming cover letter. Ensuring an address is current. Labeling and mailing. And then doing it all over again. And again.

And how you have another new series out, Roscoe Riley Rules. Can you tell us a
little about it?

Roscoe Riley Rules is a new book series targeted for beginning readers. I’d been
looking for a fun easy-to-read series that would appeal to my six-year-old son, and when I couldn’t find something that quite fit the bill, I decided to try my hand at writing one.

Roscoe is an irrepressible first-grader who, despite always trying to do the right thing, inevitably finds himself breaking the rules. In the first book, that rule turns out to be “We Do Not Glue Our Friends to Chairs. And no, it is not a tale generated by first-hand experience. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What promotional plans do you have for this new series, if any? How do they differ from your promotional plans for Home of the Brave? In your experience, do publishers get more involved in promoting series?

I’m hoping to do a lot of web stuff (interviews, chats, etc.) this year, because I’m living in Italy for a year in an attempt to have a stylish mid-life crisis. Yes, I know you don’t feel sorry for me. But pasta goes straight to the thighs. And it’s hot, what with that whole Tuscan sun thing.

The timing works out pretty well, because series tend to have a slow build. I think doing school visits and bookstore signings will be more efficacious (and possible) when I return to the U.S. next spring.

Certainly publishers have a vested interest In seeing series flourish, but the allocation of resources varies tremendously, depending on what else in on a list in a given season, how a publisher is doing financially, how committed a publisher is to a certain genre. Many things enter into the marketing equation. Harpercollins has been great about putting marketing muscle behind Roscoe. They’re releasing three books at once to “hook” readers.

What challenges did you face with Roscoe Riley Rules. I have to tell you, I just finished writing a chapter book, and I found writing short very challenging!

This reading level looks deceptively easy, but I’ve discovered it’s tough to juggle the need for accessible vocabulary, short sentences, and kid-friendly humor!
I think chapter books and picture books often surprise writers. They look so easy. And they’re so damn hard!

What’s your writing schedule like?

I want to write every morning for 2 to 3 hours, but I rarely pull that off. I do feel that getting your butt into that chair, laptop at the ready, is 90% of the battle. It’s so easy to lose precious momentum and have to backtrack. It’s like exercise: you don’t have to want to do it. You just have to do it. (Forgive me, all. I believe I may have just quoted Dr. Phil.)

How do you, a self-confessed extreme introvert, do to recharge?

I am a devout believer in naps. Anywhere. Anytime.

Any last words of wisdom for SVP readers?

Actually, it’s more of a thank-you. I discovered SVP as I faced the unwelcome fact that receiving an award means you actually may have to deliver a speech. It’s a harsh quid pro quo, if you ask me (they can’t just MAIL it to you?). But when Home of the Brave received the Josette Frank award for best children’s fiction of the year from Bank Street College, I had to face the fact that writing is not always just about the lovely part where you sit around and make things up. It’s a job, like any job, and sometimes that means sucking it up and overcoming your introversion.

SVP helped me realize how many writers are introverts by nature, and how many of us struggle to find a comfortable balance in an extroverted world. My biggest epiphany: it is a huge equalizer when you just TELL people you’re an introvert. “I don’t do cocktail parties; I’m an introvert” is wonderfully liberating. As is, it turns out, “This speech will probably suck, but hey, I’m an introvert, so cut me some slack.” I paraphrase, but only slightly.

In the end, the best part of writing is still the making-things-up part. And the promo and parties and people? That’s just a small price to pay. Sometimes it’s even fun, believe it or not.

Thank you, SVP, for helping me through some tough moments. If I weren’t such an introvert, I’d say we should get together for coffee.

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And in honor of Katherine's appearance here on the blog this week, we'll be giving away a CD of her recent Golden Kite Winner Home of the Brave to the first person who can guess what the "A" Stands for in K. A. Applegate. (No Googling!!)

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And lastly, we'd like to announce the winner of the Fairy Godsisters Ink Grant:
LinDa LOddiNg, who lives in the Netherlands and has been actively working to set up a SCBWI Chapter there. She will be dusting the ashes off the tattered hem of her skirt and flying to Century City to attend the SCBWI National Conference, where she will not only fill her own well, but gather lots of information on how to launch a SCBWI chapter. Congratulations, Linda!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Passing the Baton

The time has come to bid a fond adieu to our 
2007 Independent Bookseller of the Year, Kris Vreeland, and welcome in our new 2008 Independent Bookseller of the Year, Alex Uhl. However, before Kris gets away, she agreed to share a few last words with us on her tenure as reigning Indie Bookseller.
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1. You've been reigning Bookseller of the Year for the past twelve months. Have you found that people treat you differently? Any problems with paparazzi at the store trying to photograph you?Autograph hounds?

Part 1: As bookselling royalty, I've noticed that wearing a robe and crown every day in the department does make people tend to gaze at me with what I'm sure is awed amazement and respect. I admit that the fact that I don't have a royal robe with an imitation ermine collar and had to substitute my well-worn bath robe might have diminished the effect slightly, but I think everyone was still impressed.

Part 2: As far as the paparazzi goes, well I have tried to respect their need to earn a living by photographing the rich and famous, preferably in embarrassing or private moments. I therefore I consented to let all of them who came into the store take as many pictures as they needed and I am never in embarrassing or private moments so that was never a problem--though probably does explain why I didn't show up on the cover of most magazines as frequently as one might have thought.

Part 3: We have had many autograph hounds in the store, but for some reason they consistently prefer to have the authors sign their books instead of me--go figure.

2. Any advice for the soon to be crowned 2008 Indie Bookseller of the Year?

I would suggest getting a royal robe with an imitation ermine collar and leaving a stack of signed glamour photos on the desk so people can help themselves when they are too shy to approach you directly.

3. On the list of Important Events in Kris Vreeland's Life where would you place being selected as Bookseller of the Year? Second place or third, or fifth, or FIRST?

First, obviously would have to be being born because clearly without that nothing else could have happened. That would naturally be followed by being selected by the Shrinking Violets as Indie Bookseller of the Year as a very close second. After those to events, all else seems to pale by comparison, however, marrying my husband 27 years ago and giving birth to two beautiful daughters (they resemble their mom) have been very significant as well. Being hired at Vroman's and meeting famous authors (especially famous authors who attend ABA luncheons during BEA, even when they are sitting at a different table is particularly high in this category) are every bit as wonderful as they seem. I suppose next would be the acquisition of our dogs and cats (and rabbits and guinea pigs and hamsters and assorted fish and squirrel monkey and boa constrictor and flying suirrel and assorted lizards, baby alligator, chickens, etc--but I digress). Because I never attended pre-school and dropped out of kindergarten starting my education career on a shaky path from the beginning and being a rather painful area I prefer not to discuss, I think I will substitute living in Brazil for a year and meeting Jeremy Irons (though not in Brazil) in this last prioritized category of life changing events.

Perhaps I should mention in parting, however, that this last year of recognition has lifted me from my humble beginnings and shy demeanor to a strong recognition of who I am as a respected and influential citizen of the world. I can only hope the next bookseller elevated to this esteemed position and recognition will have as rewarding an experience.
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And let's give one last, hearty round of applause to Our Most Excellent Kris Vreeland!  Thanks for being the inaugural Independent Bookseller of the Year, Kris!

Coming soon, an interview with Alex Uhle! Stay tuned!

Monday, June 2, 2008

And the WINNER of the 2008 Independent Bookseller of the Year is . . .

. . . ALEX UHL of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe in Irvine, California. Let the confetti fly! Congratulations, Alex! From all that we have heard and seen of you, we can't think of anyone more deserving to be next in line for this title.

Alex's extraordinary shoppe was featured last week on our blog, and if you didn't get a chance then, please do swim on over to their website and take a look. I can't think when I've seen such a line-up of celebrated authors and dignitaries.

We'll be interviewing Alex later during the next week or two, as she needs time for her **crown fitting** before the coronation. And, we'll have a few last words from our beloved outgoing queen, Kris Vreeland of Vroman's in Pasadena!

I can tell you that when I made the call to Alex today, she said she was "terribly appreciative and overwhelmed!" We are so delighted to be arranging a special dinner out for her and a date of her choice. This dedicated bookseller has not had a single-day-off since last December! She works seven days a week. Omigod. She considered her trip to BEA this weekend a "vacation".

So, stay tuned for more about Alex . .

Speaking of winners! Hope you saved some confetti because it is time to let 'er rip for SUSAN SCHMID who is our READER WINNER in the drawing for those that nominated indies this month. All of you that made nominations were put in the drawing, not just those that were picked for features. We really appreciated everyone's input! Susan nominated the Learning Post in Urbandale, Iowa, which we blogged about on May 14th. Susan will be the recipient of our biggest prize ever-- ten children's books, a Shrinking Violet mug, and assorted book bag fun! So happy for you, Susan! I'll email you privately to get your address.

And, yes, we absolutely will post the SCBWI Summer Nationals fAiRy gOdsIsTeRs Grant recipient here, too. We are finalizing the details of that now. What an exciting month this has been!

Speaking of Cinderellas and footwear, no one yet has correctly put the Converse sneaker or strappy sandal on the right person. (See BEA post) I'm just saying-- there could be a prize out there waiting to be had.


Mary Hershey