Monday, August 3, 2009

Shrinking Violet Profile: Maggie Stiefvater

Buzz. Every author wants it, and now one of Shrinking Violet’s own, Maggie Stiefvater, has it in spades for her newest book, SHIVER. Since she’s a raging introvert, I’ve invited her to speak to us all about how she managed to generate all this buzz, what it feels like, how she deals with it as an introvert. Not only does it give us all a vicarious peek into a Major Authorial Fantasy, but she was hugely generous with her time and gave us some wonderful tips.

SVP: We talk a lot here on Shrinking Violet Promotions about how writing a kick @ss book is one of the best marketing strategies out there. Do you feel that strategy applies to SHIVER? Do you feel it stands out significantly from LAMENT in some way in terms of your writing skill? Did you know it was a “breakout” book when you wrote it? Or was it more a convergence of subject matter/trends/luck that sometimes gets publishers excited?

Maggie: As far as breakout book stuff, yes. While I was writing SHIVER, it was just for me, but the further along I got, the more I thought . . . something is happening here. By the time I got to the end, I was . . . well, I was pretty much crawling out of my skin with excitement, thinking it was a huge jump forward for me in character-building in particular. And my agent definitely agreed. It was definitely helped out by the end of the TWILIGHT series and people looking for another paranormal teen romance, but I don’t think it would have been sucked in to fill that role if it hadn't been a big jump forward from LAMENT.

I will say that when I thought it might be big, I had no idea just how big that big would end up being. I mean, my first novel was with a very small imprint and had sold for a low four figure advance.

SVP: You mention writing SHIVER “just for you.” Can you talk a little more about that? I’m beginning to think there is an important lesson in that angle for writers as my most successful book so far is one I wrote “just for me” as well.

Maggie: I think it’s a bad idea to write purely for the market. I don’t think it’s impossible, certainly, and I think you can turn out a quite tidy book written with a close eye on what editors and agents would like. But I don’t think you’ll ever write a “big” book that way. I think you have to have that passion that only comes from writing something for you. When I was writing LINGER, the sequel to SHIVER, I was crippled for the first few weeks by the idea of what my imaginary SHIVER readers would want from the sequel. I just kept starting and stopping. Writing scenes and deleting them. Finally, I put on my most melodramatic music, really idealistic stuff that I loved and was guilty about sharing, turned off the inner critic, and just wrote LINGER as if the only person who would ever read it was me.

SVP: Were you ready for this big publicity push? Was it part of the deal when you signed with your publisher or did it evolve later?

Maggie: I saw a marketing plan when my book when to auction, but marketing plans are notorious for being hopeful promises rather than set in stone. And it was pretty amorphous, though it looked fab. There wasn’t really any definite plans for author appearances. I’d read that it was a good idea to meet your editors and marketing team, however, so I flew to NYC on my own nickel (after asking my editors when the best time would be), and they set up a meet and greet in the company. Something that I didn’t realize, coming from a smaller house, was that at the big houses, is that it’s pretty rare for an author to have been read by the majority of the house. But it makes a ripple effect. Strong editor support leads to stronger house push which leads to a stronger bookseller push which leads to better placement . . . etc. So the more people you have excited at the ground level, the better you are.

I knew that I was going to be speaking in NYC, and I knew that this was my chance to show them I was ready to get out there and talk up by book. So I wrote a very conversation 15 minute speech and I practiced the hell out of it for two weeks beforehand. I gave it in the shower, in the car, driving the kids to school -- I wanted it to be memorized but natural, so that I could just sound like I was chatting instead of reciting. (I used the loci method of speech memorization, if anyone’s interested.)

It was a big deal. It showed them that I could talk in front of an audience. Also, I’ve been working my butt off on my blog presence. And the great thing about marketing yourself is that if you keep your publisher in the loop, they will do their best to match your efforts.

SVP: Wow, so how did an introvert like yourself get comfortable with speaking in front of a group of NY publishing professionals?? What’s your secret? :-)

Maggie: Heh. I guess I sort of answered that. I had to do some public speaking in college as a history major, but I was never great at it. I mean, I got good grades but I was definitely not comfortable. I could fake being comfortable. I’m an introvert, after all. Being the center of attention? Gah. But I did learn some good speaking tips in college. And I’ve learned more along the way. Here’s some good ones:

~When writing your speech, tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, then tell it to them, then tell them what you’ve told them, and tell them you’re done. It sounds silly and over-the-top, but an audience that knows what to expect is a happier audience. No squirming. Because you’ve said, “I’m going to talk about A, B, and finally C. Now, A. Also, B. In conclusion, C. This was AB and C, wasn’t that hot!? Whoo!”

~Be yourself. If you aren’t formal, don’t try to be. If you aren’t funny, don’t try to be.

~Prepare. The more prepared you are, the more powerful you’ll be. Bring index cards if you need to, but I find I feel better if I’m prepared enough that I don’t need them. I don’t have to panic that I’ll miss one or leave them in the hotel room then.

~Try visual aids if you’re nervous. It gives you a chance to turn away from those staring eyeballs to point at the funny poster you’ve brought, or whatever.

~Establish a rapport with audience before you pour info into their heads. I think of it like a date. Before you try to reach into their blouses, sweet talk them. I always leave two minutes of my speech unplanned and come up with something the day of the event. That way I can tell a funny anecdote about my travel on the way there or gush about the city that I’ve never seen before.

~Remember that for most publicity events, your goal is to entertain, not to inform.

~Better to tell constant anecdotes with info slipped in amongst it.

~Speak slowly and stop between sentences if you feel an um coming on. No one will notice a pause, promise.

~Orange juice. This one is from my agent. She recommended drinking orange juice before an event to calm you down and give you a little burst of sugar. I prefer apple juice, and it has another benefit: I sometimes get an upset stomach when I travel, especially if I’m sleep deprived. Especially if I’m going to have to speak to a bunch of bigwigs. Drinking a juice and nothing else for breakfast gives my introverted, tired stomach an easy intro the day.

~Arrive early. Shake hands. Joke around. The better you know your audience, the less terrifying it will be to get up in front of them later and speak.

~Remember, events always look scarier on your itinerary. I promise.

SVP: I’ve also noticed your doing a ton of extra promotional stuff, like your SHIVER book trailer. Is this something your publisher expected of you? How much do you think it helps the overall marketing efforts?

Well, this is a tough question to answer. Scholastic never sat down and said “we’d like you to do x number of contests, x number of giveaways, a book trailer, and a blog tour.” But one of the big reasons they offered such a big advance (as well as the other publishers in the auction) is because of my blog presence. I already had my well-read conversational blog as a sort of “platform,” as much as a fiction author can have a platform. So it wasn’t so much that they had definite ideas of what I would do for promo, but I know they expected me to do something with the blog, if that makes sense. And what I said before about matching marketing efforts? I would do a giveaway, it would do amazingly well, and I would find a box of ten more advanced review copies on my doorstep a week later. I just got a box of audiobooks from Scholastic Audio to do giveaways with.

The book trailer, however, was insanity. It was something I wanted to do for myself, just to see if I could do it. I mentioned it to Scholastic, who was already doing a book trailer, and they said “great!” I also mentioned that I’d written a tune for SHIVER and they talked to Borders, who asked if I’d write an exclusive track for them. I did and now Borders is doing a huge push. I don’t think it’s purely because of that track, but it doesn’t hurt.

SVP: How did you go about building such a huge blog presence?

Well, I now have two blogs with the same content, one on Livejournal, and now, because I wanted to see if some people preferred to read/ follow/ comment on blogger, I mirror that content on Blogger.

Anyway, on the livejournal blog, I've gotten between 24,000-35,000 overall hits a month and 14,000-20,000 unique hits for the last six months. I only started mirroring the blogger blog three months ago, and it's up to 700 unique hits a month. Not insane numbers, but it's very new, and that's 700 who I wouldn't have had just on LJ.

First of all, it takes time. I've been blogging for a long time now -- years on livejournal, and before that, I blogged for two years while I was a full-time artist. You need to post regularly, comment on other people's blogs, and generally work on being a legitimate part of the blogosphere instead of just a ME ME ME person. Shrinking Violets is a great example of that!

You don't have to post about writing -- I often don't -- but you should be interesting. By interesting I mean Seinfeld level of interesting. You don't have to talk about anything in particular, just be entertaining about nothing.

There are a bunch of things that will quickly submarine your blog though. Blogging bad behavior includes posts that:

1) say "wow, I guess no one is reading me, because no one commented." or "I feel I'm shouting into the void." You might get a handful of people commenting and saying "oh no, we really do love you," but it will get you nowhere, audience-wise.
2) include only word count meters. We're all very glad you're writing and making progress and that you wrote 70000000 words on a project we know nothing about!woo! But we don't care. I'm sorry. We don't. No one's going to follow a blog that's got a ton of those posts.
3) go on forever about what you did over the weekend. Again, we're happy you have a life. But unless you're hilarious, our attention span only lasts for about 500 words. With punctuation. And, like, paragraphs.
4) smear other author's books. Just wait until you're sitting next to them on a con panel and they look at you funny because yes, we all have google alerts. If you're an author, you can have opinions on books that suck so badly that universes disappear into them. But you can also keep them to yourself thankyouverymuch.
5) say "sorry I haven't posted in two months, I'll make up for it I swear." First of all, you won't. Second of all, all of your readers you worked so hard to build up have already left you. promise.

Basically, the rules for being a good blogger are the same as being a good writer. To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. To be a good blogger, read the big blogs out there to learn how to do it and to not reinvent the wheel.

SVP: A few weeks ago on your blog you were talking about confidence, and how you just simply need to decide to be confident, or to act confident at the very least. Sort of like John Cage’s Smile Therapy from the old Ally McBeal show. This echoes something Cecil Castelucci said in an interview here on the blog about choosing to step into the life that you want. Could you elaborate a little on that for us? It sounds like a huge but critical step. Any suggestions on how to take that leap?

Maggie: It really is a huge step. I should reiterate here, for the shrinking violets who are doubting me: I am an introvert. A huge introvert. In college, I was such an introvert that when my now husband took me to places like Dave & Busters, I would get so overwhelmed by the sheer number of people that I would go into the bathroom after about a half hour and just try to get myself back together.

But I was also a bagpiper. I was a professional musician. And I used to get the whole sweaty palms shaky limbs nerves thing going on when I was sixteen, seventeen. But I found out something really quickly: you get in front of an audience with your instrument and you fake the smile and the confidence, they can’t tell the difference. And one day, I went out there, and I realized my palms were dry. I just threw my pipes on my shoulder and busted out my tunes and I could do it all day in front of the Pope and throngs of millions. It took a bit of time before I didn’t need an instrument in my hand to be brave, but by then, I knew the secret. It’s pretending to be the person you want to be. And I promise you, if you do it long enough, you will be that person.

But it’s a double-edged sword. If you tell yourself that you’re nervous, that you’ll be sick, that you’re insecure, that you can’t do it, that no one will like you -- you’ll be those. The human mind is hugely powerful, especially the subconscious.

The difference between weird and quirky is what you tell people you are. Project quirky. Trust me.

SVP: How do you stay sane with all these demands and manage to write the next book? What are your recharging strategies?

I’ve figured out really fast that Maggies and all-nighters do not work. Maggies and less than eight hours of sleep don’t work. That goes for both travel and meeting deadlines at home. I heard somewhere that the first part of your subconscious to shut down when you’re sleep deprived is the creative part, and that seems to be true. Because I cannot rough draft when I’m exhausted. I just can’t.

I also give myself every Sunday off. It doesn’t have to be Sunday, but it is for me. I won’t let myself work on writing or promotion. I read a book, play with my kids, go someplace with my husband. Watch Harry Potter 6.

Also, I don’t know if this is true for all introverts, but I’ve discovered that music has a profound ability to change my mood. I figured this out when I got back from my first long publicity trip. I got into my car at the airport parking lot and one of my favorite CDs was on. I let out this huge sigh of relief as it played and that was when I realized how much stress I was used to letting off through listening to music. Now I make sure I have my music with me always.

SVP: What three pieces of advice do you have for fellow introverts wanting to reach for that publishing brass ring?

1. You can do it. You can find the time to write; you can find the strength to get in front of people; you can juggle promo and writing. It’s not a question of if you have it in you. It’s just a question of if you’re willing to say “Yes, I can do it” and really believe it.

2. Find yourself some excellent critique partners who are willing to rip off your skin and put it back on again. People who read the same thing as you read, who are the same writing level as you, who are enthusiastic about your writing and not just critical. I still rely so heavily on my two crit partners, even with my agent and editors giving me lots of attention.

3. Be patient. Sometimes “no” really means “not yet.” And sometimes a closed door is the best thing for the moment. LAMENT came so close to publication a year before it really got published, and the best thing in the world is that no one took a chance on it then. Because I wasn’t good enough then. I was almost good enough -- but not quite. I would not be where I was today if I had gotten my yes then.


Maggie: Oh yes. OH YES. As other introverts can probably attest, sleep is our fuel. I get eight hours every night, no matter what, because I can't function otherwise. And more after a social event.

However, I rarely watch television.

And never go shoe shopping.


Thank you, Maggie, for all that amazingly helpful information! I feel like I've just had a master class in public speaking and building a better blog!

In celebration of Maggie's newest book, we're going to have a drawing for an ARC of SHIVER. Everyone who commented last week on our inspirational authors post is already entered and their name is already in the hat. But for the rest of you, all you have to do is answer this one trivia question, and you're name will be in the hat too! (Hint: You might be able to find the answer somewhere on Maggie's website...)

And the question is: What is the name of Maggie's car?

(If you're too shy to post the answer in the comments, you know the drill. Email me with your entry.)


Sabrina said...

This was a really interesting interview, especially the advice about blogs. I've been on LJ for years, friended a few writers, but it's mostly a private blog. I've been on blogger for about two years now, specifically as my writing presence, and I do worry a lot when I don't post for a while (sometimes I feel like I turn around and a month is gone). I'm also working hard to have posts that aren't all about me and my progress, but discuss other issues too.

I think my hardest obstacle is commenting on other people's blogs. I'm an introverted lurker. For the most part. But I'm working on speaking up when I read a post about something that resonates with me. Like this one.

Great interview Maggie and SVP. I think I need to find those books now. :)

Pam Bachorz said...

Thanks, I really enjoyed this interview. And I'm a huge fan of Maggie's stop-motion trailer. Gorgeous! All of us bloggers ought to read Maggie's comments twice. And then go work on building up our blog presence.

I feel kind of cheaty posting the answer here. But it's "Loki", which makes me think Maggie's car might be a bit... troublesome. :)

Mary Hershey said...

Robin and Maggie, seriously sensational interview! Thanks so much. It's a keeper!

LOVED the comments about keeping the blogging professional, and also the extremely useful tips for public speaking. Veritable gold mine here. Grazie!

Congrats, Maggie, on all your success! NEW fan here who can't wait to read your work.

Mary Hershey

Yat-Yee said...

So much good advice! Thanks. As a fellow musician, I know the whole performing anxiety thing. It's interesting how the things we learn from one career can inform us on another.


(mine was Gertrude, may she rust in peace.)

Angie Frazier said...

I've learned so much from this interview. Thank you! I think her license plate says SHIVER, right? I remember that picture from her hubby LOVED the car :-) But I will admit to cheating and reading the other comments that it is Loki :-) Hey, at least I'm honest.

EmilyR said...

Enjoyed this interview very much! Thanks for including such detail. I'd love to read her speech from her NYC appearance.

Oh, and I found Maggie's '73 Loki on her beautiful website!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words! Slowly us introverts will take over the world and the extroverts will be the weirdos . . . ;p

Heather Jeanne said...


Thank you for posting this interview! It was so interesting and inspirational.

Irene Latham said...

I've never named a car, but Maggie's Loki works for me. :) I've heard the speech advice before, and yes, it really does work! And it helps the speaker too.... thanks so much for this post!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Shonna Slayton said...

Okay, I'm printing this off for future reference. (One day I will be the introvert with shaking knees standing in front of an audience...visualize...uh oh, still throwing up. Must work harder to visualize confidence.) Thanks for all the great tips! I hopped over to Maggie's blog and may be there for awhile. I just found her pic of the car Loki :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

What a great interview! Thanks for all the great info on blogs and marketing, Maggie. And congrats on getting air and a paint job for Loki =) not to mention the outstanding success of Shiver! Can't wait to read it!

Stella said...

Great interview! I love the public speaking tips and will have to jot them down because I have to stand in front of our entire staff sometime this school year and do a talk about picture books. I love pbs, but hate public speaking. Congratulations on the publication of Shiver. I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

Also love the name of your car, Loki. My car's name is Mandy.

Therese Walsh said...

Thanks for this interview, and the fab public speaking tips; I'm printing them out for later reference!

JenniferJ said...

Great interview!

The car's name is Loki. Mine's name is Lurch.

Thomma Lyn said...

This is the best interview I've read in a long time. I'm bookmarking it to read for future reference, tips, and just plain inspiration! Thank you, Maggie and Shrinking Violets. :)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments! It's fun to see everyone's car names. ;)

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