Monday, July 5, 2010

Interview with Twizard Mitali Perkins

If you're very lucky, when you first begin flailing around on Twitter you will stumble upon the gracious and generous Mitali Perkins. If our experience is anything to go by, she will be all that is helpful and kind as you struggle to decipher this new world you've decided to enter.

Even better, she is an amazing example of how to be on Twitter. She does a fabulous job of making her Twitter presence be a natural, intuitive extension of who she is as an author. (She even has a mission statement!) So sit back, get comfortable, and learn from a master. 

SVP: So Mitali, did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine yourself as a social media expert? Why is this form of communication such a perfect fit for you?

Like most introverts, I hate the phone and prefer reading and writing notes. Social media puts me in charge of when and how and with whom to interact. I was an R.A. in college and am now a pastor’s wife, so it’s not surprising that when I do come out of my cave I enjoy schmoozing and community building – two essentials of social media.

SVP: How did you first dip your toe into the social media stream? Did you know then it was going to bring you to the attention of thousands of people?

I got on Facebook a couple of years ago to commune with my teens on their turf—it’s been a lovely way to stay connected through their adolescence as long as I respect their space and privacy. As for Twitter, one of my school librarian buddies, Linda Griset, told me she thought I was going to love it. I had no idea the tools were going to serve me so well professionally.

SVP: I saw once that you confessed on Twitter that you had tweeted 50,000 words that year. Do you feel that took those words away from your novel writing? If not, why not?


I write novels, but my broader vision statement is to get good stories to young people. Twitter serves that wider purpose. I write full-time and my kids are teenagers so I have more time than most writers—I’m still writing fiction, I promise. I also type and Tweet at furious speeds.

Last but not least, my practice of dividing my vocational year into four quarters helps to keep things in balance. During spring and fall I come into the public eye more with social media and author visits. Then, during summer and winter, I retreat to write and dream and think and pray. Of course, this summer’s a bit different because Bamboo People (bamboopeople.org) launches July 1, so I have to be more present.

SVP: I also heard you say (on Twitter) that none of your books have been picked up by the big chains. Do you think your connections through social media have helped fill in the sales gap left by those chains?

I have no idea about the actual effect on sales, but I’ve made some dear connections with indie booksellers, teachers, parents, and librarians. Twitter has helped me join and build a team of likeminded adults who share my vision statement as described above. I know it’s helped me get speaking gigs, like the BookExpo children’s breakfast and the CSLA convention where I met you face to face, Ms. Robin.

SVP: Does it ever feel like a chore? Like you have to live up to your own reputation?

It’s fun. That’s why I do it. I’m using my writing voice to promote what I love – great stories for kids and young adults. I don’t think I have any reputation to maintain. I’m being myself out there and if people don’t like it, it’s their choice to tune out. I never cared much about being popular in high school, either.

SVP: On your website, you talk about enjoying discussing “books between cultures” and the life-changing power of story, and your Twitter presence totally affirms that. What do you recommend for someone who doesn’t have such a clear delineated passion or niche?

If you’re a writer, you have a voice, right? And social media provides a venue to express that voice--humor, interests, heart, and mind. It’s tailor-made for writers; our predecessors would have envied our ability to connect with readers and showcase our talents.

SVP: I’ve heard it said that twitter and other social media is about connections. How is connecting through twitter different that connecting through your writing?

Twitter allows us to connect writing and stories to audiences outside our typical SCBWI Kid Lit world. As Bamboo People releases, I’ve met people who care deeply about child soldiers, refugees, Burma, and justice.

A novel has a life apart from me and by definition must be shared. I have to step back and let the reader own it. My twitter stream belongs more to me than any novel I write—that could be why it’s such a powerful promotional tool for marginalized voices.

SVP: What advice do you have for those authors who are unsure how to begin tweeting, or not even sure they want to?

Jump in, the water’s great. Don’t worry about making mistakes. It’s the only way to learn. On the other hand, watch your spelling and grammar – we’re professionals, remember? Skip the “hip” abbreviations and sloppy shortcuts. Social media works best if you’re good at composing pithy captions and headlines.

Here’s a post I wrote to get you started. Lastly, if it’s not fun, don’t make yourself do it. You can have a vibrant, successful career as a children’s book writer without social media.

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So there you have it, folks. I have to say, listen to Mitali talk about Twitter gives me a whole new way to look at it. Hope it does the same for you! You can find out more about Mitali on her website, her facebook page, and, of course, on Twitter.

11 comments:

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you for this great visit with Mitali!

Cuppa Jolie said...

Great interview! Mitali is amazing, and I love the word twizard. :)

Jessie Mac said...

Enjoyed the interview and checked out her advice on Twitter. Thanks for the post.

Becky Levine said...

Great interview--and congrats on the release, Mitali!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great advice Mitali. I like marketing through the Internet too because I'm better at writing out my answers rather than doing something like talking on the phone or in person. You seem good at doing both.

Mitali Perkins said...

Thanks, everybody! When I lived in a Muslim country, women would try to explain to me that a burka could be liberating because people can't judge you by how you look. That's actually another one of the reasons why I enjoy social media. When it comes to Twitter, I don't have to wonder, "Do I look fat in this?" :)

Mitali Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Excellent interview!

Jenn Hubbard

MissAttitude said...

Mitali really is one of the best authors to follow on Twitter (by that I mean following her on Twitter and following her example :)

@Mitali-LOL I love it! Plus you can do it in pajamas or just sweats :)

As a blogger I love Twitter for a similar reason, I can connect with fellow readers, people who read my blog (especially replying to their comments), and authors whose books I love (I think most authors would be envious of how connected authors of today can be, except for Emily Dickinson, J.d. Salinger and Harper Lee. haha).

It's interesting that you're friends with your children on Twitter. I'm not sure I would want that from my parents but I could see its advantages (just send an IM saying dinner's ready or 'get off Facebook and do homework.' lol)

Great interview, thanks for sharing words from the wise Twizard!

Robin L said...

It's great to know Mitali has so many fans!

Natalie, you make a great point about online interviews versus phone or in-person interviews. I did one of those a couple of weeks ago and was appalled at how much I babbled!

LOL Mitali. Trust you to find yet another reason to love twitter.

Welcome Miss Attitude! I think you add an interesting perspective; that many earlier authors would have envied us our ability to connect with our readers without leaving home. Excellent point. And attitude check. :-)

tanita davis said...

I very much appreciate Mitali's energetic attitude toward Twitter. She makes me think I might be able to try it someday. Maybe. :)