Monday, October 31, 2011

Grave Mercy Cover Art

I find myself in the position of having something exciting to share, but no real blog home from which to share it. My R.L. LaFevers author blog has now become a part of my new middle grade website, and my new YA website is not finished yet.


I have a brand new cover to share, so I'm hoping you will not mind if I take a moment to unveil it here. (Plus? I am sick with a horrid chest cold and have absolutely ZERO ability to write a decent post for today. /whine)

Ta da! This is the cover for my upcoming YA:

As you can see, it is quite a bit different in tone and feel from Theodosia or Nathaniel Fludd...that and the older target audience has necessitated a slightly different author name as well as a new (still-under-construction) website.

 Once again, I am in awe of Houghton Mifflin's art department. ::pinches self::

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lia Keyes: Making Full Use of Goodreads

With more than 3 million members, Goodreads is the largest social network for readers. If you’re an author, and you’re not controlling the content on your automatically generated Goodreads profile, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to reach readers who haven’t yet heard of you, and connect more deeply with those who have.

You may already have a website with a blog. You may be on Facebook and Twitter. You may be thinking you can’t possible deal with another social network/time-suck, but Goodreads should be a vital part of any truly efficient author marketing plan. Why? Because you want to reach as many readers as possible, right? Not all of them are on Twitter. Facebook is fabulous, but it’s not JUST about reading. Goodreads is where you’ll find the deepest concentration of confirmed book addicts looking for the next great read. They go there to catch the gossip, join groups focused on their favorite genres, vote for the best book covers, book titles and myriad other topics. You can get involved in the discussions there, find new friends and fans, and present your best front to readers who don’t visit your website or blog or Twitter or Facebook accounts because they don’t know you exist. Yet.

There are lots of social networks for readers (LibraryThing is another) but GoodReads is far and away the most versatile and interactive place to promote your book. Even before you’ve published you can make friends and build a following by being an active member of the community.

To build an online presence and wait for visitors is naive. Go where the readers are, create a GoodReads profile that drives traffic to your blog. Once they arrive at  your blog you’ll be able to lead them through a customized exploration of your online world, but you’ve got to get them there, first.

Setting up a GoodReads Profile is easy:


Register as an author (if you’re published):

To do this, search for one of your books. Then click on your name. This will take you to an author profile page. At the bottom of that page you’ll find a link that says “Is this you?” Click on that to request admission to the author program. After you’ve been approved you can upload an image of yourself, enter a short biography (make sure you get your website url in the first two sentences, as the rest gets cut off with a “read more” link once you’ve saved it).

Update your Goodreads blog section

From your current blog via RSS so you don’t have to manually add posts. This will save you a lot of time!

Add your book trailer

There’s a section on your newly created profile that says “Videos about Your Name.” Click the link that says “add new”, fill in the form, and upload the video.  It’s important to tag the video appropriately, as Goodreads automatically adds your video to various video lists according to the tags you choose. If in doubt, check the profile of an author working in your genre to see what tags they’ve used. Or browse the video lists to see which ones you’d like to appear on and use the tag that will take readers there. (Click “explore/videos” to see the lists).

Add Your Book to Lists

You can categorize your books into lists HERE. Either create a new list or search the existing lists and add your books there. Your book’s position on the list is dependent on votes, so bring friends and followers over to vote for it and watch it rise closer to the top of the list and gain more exposure.

Join Relevant Groups

Goodreads groups are a great way to make friends with readers interested in your genre or topic, but it’s not an opportunity to spam! Really make friends with others who share your interests and fascinations. Just like your other online presences, this is your chance to participate in a two-way conversation and form a personal connection.

List Your Book for a Give-Away

At the top right of your book’s page there’s a link that says “list this book for a give-away”. Avid readers are always short of money, so give-aways are popular and a great way to garner more exposure for your book.

Add dialog excerpts to the Quotes section

Is snappy dialog your forte? Showcase it by including an excerpt in the Favorite Quotes section of your profile. Cassandra Clare and Neil Gaiman are examples of how this can work to your advantage.

Create a “Q & A with (Your Name)” Group

I’ve seen this used really effectively, especially around book launch time, notably by Cassandra Clare. You can set a date for when you’ll be available to answer questions, perhaps a window of three days. Promote it heavily for a week or so before, inviting questions in advance. Then prepare to spend a busy three days answering them all. But with a pre-advertised end to your involvement, this is not something that will continue to eat up your time. Set a moderator to watch the group in your absence to alert you to any unpleasant or inaccurate chatter, and check in once a month to see what’s being said. This is a great market research opportunity for your next book! When you next want to conduct a limited time Q & A session you can edit the group description with the new dates. Find out more HERE.

Events, Quizzes, Trivia Questions, and More

Add your book signing engagements and author appearance events HERE. If you have a short story or excerpt you’d like to share as a teaser, you can add it to your author profile. You’ll want to add the right tags to it before saving. Once it’s tagged, readers will either find it on your profile, or search on the Stories and Writing page HERE. Visit the page and you’ll understand why tags are important. Create a quiz HERE or ask a Trivia Question HERE to get people interacting with each other and talking about your book.

Advertise Your Book

While most of the strategies I share here are free social media options, this is one time where spending some money might not be a bad idea. After all, this site is full of readers, right? Check out the rates and info HERE.

Link Everything Up!

At the top of your profile page you’ll see two tabs – Apps and Widgets. These two pages have everything you need to seamlessly link up your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, iPhone, and blog. Without links, your Goodreads profile is only half as effective as it might otherwise be. I’ve added the Goodreads Facebook app to my Facebook Fan page, for instance, which creates a tab on my Facebook Fan page that shows FB users who ‘like’ me a mini-Goodreads profile page, right there on Facebook, effectively exploding the potential number of people who get to see it. You can also add your Twitter account so that you can automatically let Twitter followers know what you’re reading every time you update your book list. There’s quite a variety of widgets you can add to your blog’s sidebar or your website, too. I particularly like the “Favorite Quotes” one, but there are also widgets for showcasing the books you’ve read, your TBR pile, your favorites, or your own books.

Are You Convinced Yet?

You should be. As the largest social network for readers on the net, you need to be there. And if you set up a page and want to show it off, feel free to leave a link to your page in the comments here so we can friend you!

Lia Keyes is a British expat writer of speculative fiction for young adults, represented by Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. 

Thank you so much Lia, for this MOST comprehensive explanation of all Goodreads  has to offer!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Long, Slow Slog Toward Mastery

I started reading Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS this week, and I thought it would be interesting to look at the number of hours we've spent writing. Gladwell talks about how it takes around 10,000 for a person to achieve mastery, in any field. It made me curious to see where I fell on that spectrum.

One of the things that Gladwell also talks about is that any person’s success isn’t only about passion or talent or hard work. More nebulous things like opportunity and access also come into play. Looking over my numbers I see a couple of glaring advantages I’ve had. One, the luxury of having a supportive spouse with excellent health care benefits which allowed me the time to accumulate some of those hours. Also, a job that allowed me to write on the job, and thus practice my craft AND get paid for it as well.

Hours Spent Writing

1994      500 
1995      500 
1996      200 (went back to school for a year)
1997      750 (got a PT job, but one for which writing was a part of what I did)
1998      750
1999      750
2000      600
2001      600
2002      700
2003      1500 (quit to write full time)
2004      1500
2005      1500
2006      1500 (reached my first 10,000 hour mark this year! W00t!!)
2007      1500
2008      1500
2009      1500
2010      1500 (Year end total = 17,350 hours!)

So how about you? How far along are you on your first 10,000 hours of writing?

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Sells Middle Grade Books?

A long time ago in a blogosphere far away, I promised I’d talk about what sells middle grade books.

Then promptly got swept up in writing and revising my YA trilogy. Oh the irony! But today I am finally pulling this topic out of my hat. Since so many of the components of MG sales are teachers, librarians, and school visits, it seems an especially appropriate time to discuss this, now that school is back in session and fall is in the air.

One of the kind of funny things about MG is that when you talk to publishing houses and editors, they all bemoan the lack of MG and talk about how they are on the hunt for great MG books.


It is YA that gets all the sparkly attention—higher advances, bigger publicity push, and often higher sales numbers. In fact, it is rare for a publisher to put a big publicity push behind an MG title unless it is part of a series and already a proven big seller. With YA there is a better chance of hitting the publicity lottery because there are simply more opportunities. If you look at PW’s list of Bestsellers for 2010 which lists 546 titles, only 108 of those were middle grade books. 2009 was had similar numbers, with only 96 middle grade bestsellers out of a list of 500 titles.

Part of that is because YA has a huge crossover potential to adult readers. There are huge numbers of adults who very happily read YA, but not MG. Also, marketing to YA readers is more of a cause and an effect. It’s easier to reach them because they’re older, online, and the role of the gatekeeper is not as much of a driving force in getting the word out about the book.

Also, in general, there are generally lower sales expectations for MG titles and (slightly) more willingness to wait for the slow build that happens as MG filters through the system. Many of the things listed below don’t even happen until a year or so after a book has been out. That means having enough publisher support to keep it in print long enough to find its audience, as well as accruing small sales milestones and accomplishments along the way. It means keeping the book out there long enough for the right people to stumble upon it and begin taking notice. It often means smaller advances, so the publisher has less capital invested upfront and can allow for that slower build.

Tools In The Middle Grade Sales Arsenal:

Write an amazing book. No, seriously. This cannot be said enough. Write a book impossible to ignore, or one that people cannot wait to press into eager readers’ hands.

Good Industry Reviews. Once upon a time, they only had to be good reviews, but a star or two never hurts. Especially with more and more library budgets being cut, they must radically prioritize their purchases and often will rely on starred reviews to do that. (However, do not panic if your book does not garner a star—many don’t and as long as the reviews are good, some sales will follow.) And how does one get starred reviews, boys and girls? That’s right—by writing an amazing book.

Attention from Book Bloggers. More and more, these book loving bloggers are having an impact on spreading the word about great books. There are fewer opportunities for MG out there than there are for YA, but there ARE opportunities.

Gatekeepers. Adults falling in love with your book and hand selling it to young readers. These gatekeepers can be indie booksellers, teachers, librarians, or parents. Even that Aunt who always gives books for birthday presents. I would also include the Junior Library Guild under this category, because they are in essence a gatekeeper for librarians and if they select your book, that recognition is an honor.

Foreign and Subsidiary Rights sales. (audio, movie, foreign rights) Nothing builds demand like perceived success (hence the huge smoke and mirror component to marketing.)

Bookclubs and book fairs. Again, this is a bit like hitting the lottery since there is only one game in town as far as these are concerned, but if your book is picked, it can really go. The downside is, especially with book fairs, it can also sit in relative obscurity as kids flock to the movie and media tie-ins and chotske toys and merchandise bookfairs also offer.

School visits, school visits, school visits. This is key and probably one of the biggest things a middle grade author can do to move books. However, these have to be set up properly. The author can’t just appear at the school, do their gig, and expect books to move. The book sales need to be an integral part of the visit. Usually the easiest way to do this is through presales arranged by the librarian, either through a local indie or a distributor or the publisher itself. I know a number of authors who have kept their MG books in print simply through their school visit sales.

Skype visits: These are happening more and more and possibly taking the place of school visits in some cases. They have a disadvantage in that you can’t (usually) set up presales of books. They can be especially effective for making sure readers know about subsequent books, however. (If any of you out there doing Skype visits do have a way you bring book sales into the picture, please let us know in the comments!)

Mass Market Bingo. No doubt about it, having your book selected to be featured at Target or Costco or any of the big wholesale outlets can have a huge jump in your sales.

State library and school readings lists. This is partly tied to the gatekeepers, but still deserves an entry of its own because it usually comes later in a books’ life, and it can be huge. A state list generates word of mouth in a way that few single librarians or teachers can. The other thing about state lists is that they are compiled by librarians and often have more breadth than starred reviews or literary favorites. Many are chosen for kid appeal or to reach certain reluctant reader niches. These aren't really something you can personally control, but they make a big difference in your sales numbers.

Social Media. Social media doesn’t have the same direct sales impact on MG that it does on YA. HOWEVER, it is still an important tool. Many of the above elements are initiated by one person loving your book; whether it is a librarian, the bookfair selection committee, the book buyer at Target, or a book blogger with a wide reach. And THAT is why it’s important to have some sort of social media/web presence—because it gives you a larger opportunity to connect with those people. In one of my favorite books, DRUID, by Morgan Llewellyn, the main character talks about needing to put yourself in the path of the gods in order for things to happen to you, and that’s how I view social media for MG books—you are putting yourself in the paths of the gods, widening your circle of acquaintances, being a part of the conversation.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Guest Blogger Audrey Vernick: The Rodent Brain Approach

I’ve been known to say I’m figuring all this book-publicity stuff out as I go, but I think that might a little optimistic. I have no idea if I’m figuring it out. But I am definitely going.

In the beginning, I mostly had a stomach ache about all the things I knew I should be doing but wasn’t. Then I started to do some things—mailings, building an online presence, commissioning a book trailer, planning big events—and the source of my stomach ache shifted a bit. I was still worried about all I wasn’t doing, but now I was able to spread the worry out, as I had no idea if there was any worth to what I was doing. My picture books were all over the map—two nonfiction and two about a buffalo—heading to kindergarten and learning to play drums.

And now I’m in the funny position of trying to take the things that may or may not be working to help promote my picture books and applying them to my brand-spanking-new-to-the-world novel.

Oh! The Stomach Aches You’ll Suffer!

I know that for picture books, I need to appeal to the parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers who help match books with children. The same is still largely true with middle grade, but in a different way that I haven’t been able to wholly figure out yet. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about this.

Allow me, if I may, to draw your attention for just one moment to the psychological theorist Jean Piaget, who studied his own children as the basis for his child-development theories.

I have a twelve-year-old girl, a reader, right here in my house!

What attracts the twelve-year-old Vernick to a particular book?

The cover. Definitely. And the recommendation of a trusted friend. (Two factors that have strong effects on adult-reader-me, too.) And two factors that writer-me has no control over.
This is why I try not to think too much. But I have the kind of brain that gnaws at things: a rodent brain.

All this is a dizzying roundabout way of saying that though my path here has been heavily weighted and full of rodent-think, I ultimately arrived at a philosophy akin to the Shrinking Violets message: for now, until I figure out more, I’m doing the things that come naturally.
For a long time, blogging was not on that list. I was repeatedly told I had to start a blog. I started one in conjunction with my nonfiction baseball picture book and quickly learned that the world really doesn’t care how much I hate Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett. Also: I am passionate about baseball, but I didn’t really enjoy blogging about it.

I was disheartened.

I was encouraged to try again. It’s possible I was a little bullied, too—pushed to try again even though I didn’t want to.

Still, I jumped in, reluctantly. I started a blog about literary friendships—real-life writer-friends and the friends people find in children’s books. I figured until I found my footing, I’d interview other writer and illustrator friends and shine a light on them.

I discovered some things that delighted me: a shocking number of children’s writers wanted to be young Laura Ingalls; Roald Dahl, a writer whose books were not on my childhood radar, had a profound impact on many of the writers and illustrators whose work I admire; and everyone, like me, seems to love James Marshall’s George and Martha.
My rodent brain, ever-gnawing, doubts there’s a direct connection between my blog and finding readers for my books. Unfortunately, I think my rodent brain is right.

I think the knowledge comes, but it comes slowly, more on a year-by-year basis than the week-by-week schedule I’d prefer. So I’ll keep gnawing and doing what feels right. And worrying about the things I’m not yet doing. And the efficacy of the things I am.

But I’m also taking pleasure in the connections I’m forging with authors and illustrators through my blog. By learning how inspired they were by the authors and illustrators who came before them—authors and illustrators who probably didn’t worry about social media expectations and effective platforms.

And really, this whole game, at its heart, is about connection. Chew on that, rodent brain.

~  ~  ~

In addition to writing for children, Audrey Vernick has published more than a dozen short stories for adults in a variety of magazines and literary journals. She receive an mfa from Sarah Lawrence College and has been honored twice by the New Jersey State Council of the Arts with its prestigious fiction fellowship. She also blogs about literary friendships.