Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Final Celebratory Salute

Thursday, May 31st marks the last day of our National Independent Booksellers Month 2007-- we hope you'll join us in our final fiery fling! Many of you have posted a link to NIBM on your blog or website, and if you'll send us a quick message with the URL, we will enter you in our contest for the $25.00 Book Sense gift certificate. Or, if you've visited an Indie this month, please let us know the name of the bookstore you visited. We want you in our raffle as well.

And, tick-tick-tick--you've still got a number of hours left on 5/31 to send us one or more entries for our contest The Ten Best Reasons to Shop at Independents. We've had some great entries! We'd love to hear yours as well.

We will be posting our winners over the weekend, so do make sure to send us your info and come on back.

Robin and I planned a four day Southern California Indie Tour as part of the month's celebration. Unbeknownest to us, we both were about to suffer an unscheduled visit by a Series of Unfortuitous Events that rendered us both non-ambulatory and a smidge insane. We did, however, did get to spend hours last Sunday in the company of two luffly booksellers as consolation. We are saving our maps, contact sheets and intinerarys for our May 2008 celebration when we will put pedal to the metal. Perhaps by then we will be dripping in the proceeds from juicy new book contracts, and we'll be able to travel all month all over the country. A girl can hope, for god's sake!

We want to thank you all for joining us this month, and for the appreciation, support and goodwill you've put out on behalf of our booksellers. And, if you haven't yet had a chance to thank them, and no time to visit today, take a quick trip to Book Sense website and buy a book.

May your generosity come back to you a hundred-fold. And, do keep shopping!

Mary & Robin

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Last Call for Nominations (Shouldn't it Be Your Favorite Bookseller?)

Just wanted to pop in and give you all a quick reminder that there are just TWO days left for you to nominate your fave candidate for Independent Bookseller of the Year. Robin and I are dying to send one of these deserving souls out to their favorite resturant on us!

In 100 words or less, send us a post letting us know why we should select your nominee. You can even do it by haiku, by jingle, by george-- just do it! Simply add it as a comment to this post, or if you prefer anonymity, send an email to
Top Secret Nominee Collector.

Once all the nominations are in, we'll send the names to a highly sequestered, talented panel of judges. The winner will be announced this Friday, June 1st.

Here's a simple way you can pay it forward to the people that keep your work and children's literature alive, and in the hands of readers.

Thanks, everyone--
Robin and Mary

Sunday, May 27, 2007

We're Still Laughing

We like to think we're two reasonably bright women, but this
one sailed so far over our heads it may have well been in another galaxy. Since launching Shrinking Violets last February, we've been really ThRiLLeD by the number of visitors to our site. And, amazed at the people we've run into at conferences and signings that say they know about us and are regular readers.

So, it gave us pause... if we have the readers, why so few comments from them? Are our links working properly? We fiddled with them. Turned them on, then off, then on. Off/on a few more times for good measure. Seemed okay. Uh-oh! Maybe an evil genie had put a Blog Curse on us!

Or, is our site meter hyperkinetic, and actually only our mothers are reading?

So then the lightbulbs started humming, fizzing, flashing and sending off sparks! And still, yet, we pondered puzzledly until they started exploding in our hands. Ka-BAM!

We're talking to introverts.

:-> Oh, yeah. We kinda sorta forgot. Introverts love blogs. We love the whole anonymity of it. It's like being able to go to a party wearing an invisibility cloak. It's our dream come true!

So, enjoy, everyone! Comment if you like-- we'd love to hear from you. Or, just slip in and out.
You are most welcome here.

Mary & Robin

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why We Love Launching at Independent Bookstores

Dear Friends & Fellow Violets,

Yesterday, Robin and I had the great privilege of launching our new Spring titles with three other seriously cool authors at Adventures for Kids Bookstore in Ventura, California-- superhero Greg Trine, of Melvin Bederman fame, the delightful Barbara Jean Hicks, author of The secret Life of Walter Kitty, and Jody Fickes Shapiro, birth mother to the lovely Family Lullaby.

AFK opened it's doors back in 1979 under the loving and expert ministrations of Jody Fickes Shapiro, one of the 'seriously cool' authors I just mentioned. Jody turned the store over to Barbara O'Grady just over a year ago so that she could devote herself to writing and yodeling full-time. Lucky us. That's Jody pictured below signing her new book:

and also Robin and I standing with Barbara, the new owner:

It was a great event, made all the more exciting by a liter bottle of root beer that missed its calling as a torpedo, and nearly blew me out to the parking lot. Fortunately, my pants were to wet to get airborne. Greg Trine swears he and Melvin had nothing to do with it, but he couldn't promise the McNasty Brothers didn't have a hand in it. I'm sending Walter the Kitty, aka Fang, after them next time. The scoundrels. :->

During our presentation to the audience, a very articulate young girl asked what was the "hardest part" about writing. "Promotion" kept running through my head like an electronic banner, but that hardly seemed like a polite thing to say at an--um, well, promotional event.

And, generally, that is very true, but yesterday's event was a great example of how some of that can be mitigated for the introvert. For one, the environment of an indie is about reading, about connections, and much less about how many of your books get run through the scanner. Pressure is off.

Secondly, a multi-author event can create both personal energy and group synergy. It gives you an opportunity to share the spotlight and enjoy yourself, instead of feeling that every orb is trained on you, and that you might need to whip out your accordian and keep everyone happy and entertained.

I want to thank Jody and Barbara for all they did to put on such a great event, and to all the other writers that joined us, published and unpublished. It means the world to us to have you with us! Thank you! Graci! Allegato, all!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We're Looking for the Ten Best Reasons!

And if you can give us one of them, we'll enter you to win our fourth and final contest in celebration of National Independent Bookseller's Month. (Or, NIBM, as those in the know call it.)

We're going to create a list of "The Ten Best Reasons to Shop your Independent Bookstores." And, we need your input! Send us your entry(s) and you'll have a chance to be entered into our raffle for the $25.00 gift certificate.

And, don't forget! You can also get entered into this raffle by--

1. Spreading the word about May being NIBM on your blog, or forwarding our link to another list serve that you're on. Just send us the URL and you're IN.

2. Visiting your local indie this month and giving them a big thank you for the stellar work they do supporting reading and literature. Send us your bookseller's name, and the name of the book or magazine your bought. We'll put you right in the magic raffle box.

And, if you missed Robin's post on Monday, do not pass GO until you check it out. She'll tell you all about how you can nominate your most beloved bookseller for blog fame and a Dinner for Two gift certificate at their favorite restaurant. And, just for nominating the winner, you'll receive one of our very cool Shrinking Violet mugs that are just in! It is certain to become the "IT" accessory of the year.

So, fellow shrinkers, get thy creative juices stirring, mashing and pulsing. Send your entries to the Comment Link on this blog.


10. An independent bookseller would never, ever send a child to "... go check in the Business Technology section" for Charlotte's Web.

Who's got reason number nine for us?

Monday, May 14, 2007

NIBM: Bookseller of the Year Nominations

I know you've all been waiting in breathless anticipation for more information on how to get involved with with National Independent Bookseller, and here it is.

To help celebrate this month devoted to indie bookstores, we thought it would be fun to have people nominate their favorite independent bookseller for the National Independent Bookseller of the Year Award.

We all have stories of that special bookseller who introduced us to our favorite author, or put that amazing book in our child's hand that got them to read, or who was instrumental in promoting our book with their customers--whatever the reason, tell us about it!

In the comments below, in a 100 words or less, tell us why your favorite independent bookseller should be bookseller of the year.

The entries will be judged by an independent panel, and the winning bookseller will have their bio and picture posted, and they'll win dinner at their favorite restaurant!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Announcing our Independent Bookseller Appreciation Month Contest

It is Day Ten of National Independent Bookseller Month and we hope you have had a chance to make a beeline over to your favorite “indie”. We owe them a world of debt for their extraordinary work putting good books in the hands of young (and old) readers everywhere. We focus so much of our time and energy on our relationships with our agents, editors and publisher-- and it is important that we remember that our booksellers are an integral and essential part of that team!

As part of this month’s festivities, and our intention to get as many people everywhere into an independent this month, we are launching this month’s first contest. Robin and I are offering you a chance to win a $25.00 gift certificate to, a very cool place where you can shop on-line at hundreds and hundreds of independents across the nation. gift certificates make such great gifts for family and friends.

Some of you have posted about our celebration on your blogs and websites already—thanks! Or, you’ve forwarded our post about independents to other lists that you are on. If you’ll send us the URL of your blog, or the name of the list you’ve forwarded this info to, we’ll enter you in our contest. Or, when you go to an independent this month, send us the name of the store, the town/city it is in, and the name of the book you bought. All of you will be entered into our contest. We’ll be drawing at the end of the month. We want YOU to win!

Take your part in this Karmic Outreach, won’t you? We want our independent booksellers to be swamped with appreciative customers this month.

Much more to come this month. Please stay tuned!



Monday, May 7, 2007

An Interview with Brent Hartinger - Part Deux

(If you missed Part 1, go here.)

12. Was there a book that you read as a child that helped you feel comfortable with your introverted self?
I loved *The Great Brain* books, about a brilliant, outgoing older brother, told from the POV of the ignored, seemingly "average" younger brother. What do you know? That was basically my story. Go figure.

13. How do you recharge after a big promotional output?
I don't talk to anyone except my partner for a week or more. Seriously. Not even the people in my exercise class at the gym.

14. If you could be any extrovert in the world for a day, who would you like to be?
You know, I love who I am. Extroverts kinda annoy me.

15. How about favorite introverts? Who would you most like to dine with?
All my favorite authors. These are the ones I've met and liked a lot: Ursula le Guin, Charles M. Schultz, Jack Gantos, Judy Blume, and Octavia Butler. I saw Jamie Lee Curtis speak once, and she didn't work for me at all. She was very "charming," but it was all Hollywood glitz, "me, me, me!" Very insincere.

16. What's the best piece of promotional advice you ever got?
I heard a variation on this when I was starting out, but I've honed it into my own promotional advice. I call it My Golden Rule of Publicity. Here it is:

Never "ask" anyone for anything; only offer to "give" people something. Publicity where you *ask* for something does not work (at all--it's wasted energy). Publicity where you *give* someone something, does.

And I don't just mean lip-service: "Oh, I'm going to *give* you the fantastic opportunity to buy my book!" When it comes to publicity, you have to give people something real, something they actually want and need.

Example. When approaching a newspaper or radio show and you say, "Please write about my book event, or have me on your show!" you're *asking* for something. They don't care what *you* want (and why would they? Do we authors care when people email us and ask us to do their homework?). But when you closely study what they do, read or listen to it, and you then give them a perfectly honed newsy angle that is exactly the kind of thing they are desperate to run, and which will be of actual, great interest to their actual readers/listeners, you're *giving* them something, something valuable. That *will* work (not always, but a surprising amount of time).

And by the way, this is how I think you should approach everyone, even your own editor and publicist. For example, when you approach a publicist and say, "Will you buy an ad in *Publishers Weekly* for my book?" or "Will you send me on a book tour?" you're *asking* for something. When you come to them with a clever, fresh, new idea, mostly implemented but not yet paid for, that, incidentally, *they're* going to get
the credit for in-house (especially when it's understood that you're not going to tell anyone that it was your idea, but what the hey, wink, wink), well, then you're *giving* them something. And if it's cheap enough, often they'll go for it, or at least help you implement some of it.

Does this make sense?

17. How do you feel about hired publicists?
If you've got the money, great. But keep in mind that publicity is intense, time-consuming work. Ten hours of publicity is nothing, and yet it will probably cost you $500 or more.

That said, it can be worth hiring a publicist if they have good contacts that you couldn't get on your own: radio and television producers, for example. But always ask for references, and check them out! Googling the publicist is essential, because boy, do people bitch.

Remember: no one cares, or knows, as much about your project as you do. You are *always* the best person to represent it.

18. What promotional advice do you have for writers who are having a hard time coming to grips with their new role as marketers and promoters of their books.
Get over it. It's not that hard. Really. And it gets easier and easier. I now think of it like a game.

I will say this, though. I've seen some authors who are just so uncomfortable and awkward public speaking that they do themselves more harm than good. the Oracle at Delphi said: know thyself.

19. Final thoughts?
Well, if you're not completely sick of me, there's lots more of me at my website:

Oh, and don't forget my books either! Hey, I gave you something right? Some good advice? So now go out and buy one of the books in the Geography Club series (about gay teens), or perhaps my latest book Dreamquest, a fantasy about a girl who wakes up in "Slumberia," the place inside her own brain where they "film" her dreams.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

An Interview with Brent Hartinger

I am very excited to be able to introduce this month’s Shrinking Violet interview with Brent Hartinger! Brent is a YA author whose books have won many honors, and USA Today calls him “the next Judy Blume.” Brent is a co-founder of Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom (or AS IF!), an anti-censorship group, and he’s also on the faculty at Vermont College in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

A confirmed introvert, Brent is nevertheless one of the most savvy marketers I’ve ever met. Not only that, he is extremely generous and patient with his advice, so please help me welcome Brent Hartinger!!!!!

1. Would you consider yourself an introvert?
Oh, God, yes! This cannot be emphasized enough: I hate cocktail parties, "ice-breaker" exercises at events, and I bawled for the whole first month of nursery school.

That said, I've always recognized this as a handicap, so I've fought it my whole life. And I've made a lot of progress in being comfortable around people I don't know.

2. Has being an introvert helped or hindered you in your writing career?
What an interesting question! Frankly, I think you *have* to be an introvert to be a successful writer, because it requires you spend so much of your life alone. I can't imagine that an extrovert could work the way I do, alone every day.

That said, yes, I think that getting out into the world is an almost essential part of being a successful author, so being an introvert is a liability.

It's a real Catch-22, isn't it?

3. How long have you been writing and publishing?
I've been writing for 20 years. I've been publishing, uh, a much shorter time. About six years. But before that, I was a working playwright and screenwriter, so I was still a professional writer...of sorts (meaning: I didn't make much money!).

4. Being an introvert, how were you able to become so very comfortable at marketing and promotion? Did your publisher or agent have to nudge you in this direction?
On the contrary. My first editor discouraged me. He felt it was the publisher's job to promote their authors. It's a nice idea, very Old School, but obviously I disagreed with him. And, frankly, I'm glad I did. I might not have a career otherwise.

5. What do you do to promote yourself and your books?
Ahhhhh, it's easier to say what I haven't done. Honestly, I think I've done everything there is to do: 20+ city author tours, postcards, print and online ads, parties, temporary tattoos, sponsorships, silence auction donations, online and phone chats with classrooms, newspaper editorials, conferences, and my Spectacular Light-Show Extravaganza (seriously...but don't ask).

But here's something I've learned: if a lot of other people are doing it, it probably won't be that effective. The key is to do something *different*, make you and your book stand out somehow. I had a friend who published a western book, and I encouraged him to serve whiskey and hardtack at his readings. Big hit. I got a ton of things that I do like this, but if I told you what they are, I'd have to kill you.

If you do something far-out or silly or wacky, there's a slight chance you'll end up looking ridiculous. But you know what I've learned? Audiences are sooooo grateful when an author does something genuinely different that they almost always respond positively. And humor is *always* appreciated, because--let's face it--way too many authors take themselves way too seriously.

Oh, and none of this has to cost any money. I've done major major campaigns for less than a thousand dollars, some of which is reimbursed by my publisher. Even with ads, you'd be surprised what you can negotiate, especially online (although that's changing as they internet becomes more Big Time, alas).

6. Is there a window of opportunity for book promotion? A length of time after which one’s efforts make little difference?
This is an excellent question. If you find out the answer, let me know.

Joking aside, everyone used to say it was the first three months. Now with the chains taking over and whatnot, they say you have three weeks (and that's assuming the chains buy your book, which they may not!).

But kids' lit is still a little different. I'd say the most important time is three months before publication to three to six months after. How your book does in hardcover, if it's a hardcover release, will determine so much about the success of the book.

But it's definitely true that if you book is not widely available, the best publicity won't make much difference. If people want a book, a few people will move heaven and earth to get it. But most people won't. If a book has been out for a year or more and never really took off, I often counsel people to concentrate on their *next* project.

7. What promotional situations are you the most comfortable in? The least?
Truthfully? I'm getting pretty comfortable in front of crowds. Internet situations are obviously the "easiest," but because they're so easy, I'm not sure they have much affect. With "live" events, on the other hand, it's really possible to get people to sit up and take notice. There's at least the possibility of standing out, which is much harder to do online (although I *try*: check out my website: ).

I'll tell you what I like the least: sitting at a table in a bookstore, trying to entice people to buy my book. I think this makes everyone uncomfortable: me, definitely, but also the people passing by, who are desperate to avoid making eye contact.

Basically, I'm an opt-in kinda guy: I think that people who hear my pitch should *choose* to hear my pitch. I hate anything spam-related or spam-like, any idea where *your* desire to sell your thing inconveniences *me* in any way. Would that the whole world thought the same way!

8. What elements do you consider the bare minimum for promoting a new book?
Well, it's more what you can possibly bring yourself to do, and everyone's answer to that is different. But the very minimum? A website. But be aware that if that's all you choose to do, you are karmically forbidden from bitching when you book doesn't sell very well.

9. What kind of promotional mistakes did you make along the way?
Well, now, the insidious thing about publicity is that you can never be sure what's working and what isn't. Well, okay, if you give an event and no one shows up, you can be pretty sure that didn't work, assuming you also got no press. But if three people show up, who's to say those three people won't make a dramatic difference to your career? I did an event once where, like, 10 people showed up, probably 5 of whom I knew. I'd driven for *hours* to get there, and had to spend the night in a different town.

But you know what? Before I left, I signed a bunch of copies, and the store featured them. A teacher came in, and the bookstore recommended the book. He loved it and started teaching it. He got his district to teach it, and other districts to consider it as well.

So that bookstore visit where I only sold 6 or 7 copies? It really sold more like 300 copies (that I know of!).

I got a hundred stories like this, I gotta say.

10. How does your time break down between writing and promotion?
When I'm writing, I'm writing full-time (except for answering fan email or the occasional online chat or interview). When I'm promoting, I'm promoting full-time. If you include school visits and keynote address, I'd say I split my time 50-50.

11. How much impact do you think an author's efforts can actually have on sales?
For 99% of us, these are the things affect a book's success, and how much control you have over them:

(1) In-house enthusiasm. Your editor plays a role here, but it's mostly organic. You have no control here.

(2) Publisher promotional efforts. Unless you're a big name and a lead title, it's all about the same. Some people will get a few ads or a small tour, but I can't believe this makes or breaks a book. You have no control here either.

(3) Reviews and awards/the reception of librarians, industry bigmouths, etc. Yup, you have no control (although meeting these people at conferences, and not being a jerk, helps).

(4) Bookstore awareness/enthusiasm. You have a little tiny bit of control here, at least with the independents or local stores, in getting them aware of your book. With the chains, you have no control whatever. Even the manager at the local chain has almost no control! (This is one of the many reasons we should all hate the chains.)

(5) Reader awareness/enthusiasm. This is where the author *can* make a difference, a *big* one. But this is undercut if bookstores don't stock you. So for your control to kick in, other things that you have no control over must be in synch. So you have control...and you don't.

(6) Zeitgeist issues/karmic balance/pure random f**king chance. You have less than no control. And if you try to control destiny, you'll end up with some screwy, ironic reverse ending, like a Steinbeck novel, or an episode of *Star Trek*.

Every book has its audience; a book release is simply finding out exactly how big that audience is.

It sounds scary and ominous, I know, but it's really not (that much). But being a published writer means accepting that, yup, a lot of it is completely out of your control. People who write those self-help books saying the opposite, that you just have to "believe" and it will come true? Basically, they're idiots.

to be continued...

(Technical note: Brent has given us so much great information, so this interview is tres long. Because of that, I've decided to post it in two parts so it doesn't knock everything else off the front page. Unless any of you techno-superior introverts out there know how to cut an entry so only a part of it shows on the home page. If so, please email me ( I've spent hours this week trying to figure that out, with no success!)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Celebrating National Independent Bookseller Month

Here at Shrinking Violets, we have decided to set aside the month of May to honor and celebrate the phenomenal work of independent bookstores and booksellers around the country.

And, if that's news to you, don't feel bad-- this is the first official announcement of the event!

Robin and I are claiming the month of May to bring recognition and appreciation to independent booksellers' extraordinary work supporting reading and literature. We’ve checked the Chase Calendar of Days, and there’s not yet a designated celebration of them, which is just plain wrong. (Though there is a whole week set aside for appreciating dental plaque removal and jumprope-- not to worry, those two events don't occur together.)

Starting today, May 1, 2007, we are launching a parade of overdue recognition, and hope that our celebrations during 2007 and 2008 will land independent booksellers an official place in the Chase’s Calendar 2009.

Robin and I are taking ourselves on an Independent Bookseller Appreciation Tour for four days during the middle of May to visit as many sites as we can between Santa Barbara and San Diego. We plan to buy a book at each site--maybe yours--drop off a treat, and say a big thanks to their staff. We’ll finish our tour at one of our local incredible bookstores, Adventures for Kids, on Sunday, May 20th for a book signing.

But as much as Robin and I love books, we can’t do it alone. We need your help! Can you find some time in your busy month to visit an independent bookstore near you? Consider making it an Artist’s Date—what better way to fill the creative well than immersing yourself in a store full of books?

We also recognize that many of us are held to budgets, but perhaps skipping a Starbucks run will allow you to afford a paperback? Or a magazine? Or what about a birthday card for Aunt Nellie, whose 74th birthday is just around the corner? Or if you’re feeling very flush, and are interested in experiencing the Good Literacy Karma we talked about last week, consider buying a children’s book to donate to your school or public library.

We hope you'll consider taking a moment to tell the staff just how much you appreciate their efforts.* (If that feels hard, or outside your comfort zone, we understand. A smile works, too!)

Because we want everyone to be able to join in the fun, we have a number of activities planned! Check back soon for more ways you can become a part of this month-long celebration.

And, feel free to pass this announcement onto other lists or forums you might belong to, or other fellow book lovers. Let's get the word out. We love independent booksellers!

Thanks for joining us--
Mary and Robin

*Just a side note for any extroverted, book promoters out there—this is not the time to promote either yourself or your book, but rather just a simple thank you.