Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hug An Extrovert aka A Case of Blogger's Remorse

This is going to be a quickie, drive-by posting since I'm stuck smack in the middle of Deadline Hell and Mary is presently riding a west bound hurricane and praying it will drop her off in Texas.

Energy Sucking Aliens.
Oops! Did I say that out loud?
Sorry about that.

The thing is, some of my very best friends are extroverts. Honest!

In fact, one of my sons is an extrovert and--here's a twist--was born into a family of introverts. Poor guy. He's all about getting energy from connecting with people and feeling revitalized that way and the rest of us are all about trying to eke out as much private space as possible. Someone was playing a mean karmic joke on that boy.

But our point here at SVP is not to demonize extroverts, but to try and help articulate what it feels like to live in a world where the prevailing social preferences aren't necessarily one's own. And obviously we'll be focusing on the introvert's perspective in that regard.

So it's not that we think extroverts are Energy Sucking Aliens, it's just that they feel that way sometimes. But really, we love us our extroverts!

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Word about Self Care for Introverts

Robin's last blog entry was a veritable feast of fabulous promotion and marketing info-- wow! Graci, Robin, and thank you, Cynthia Leitich Smith. You girls got it going on!

While we are digesting it all, I thought you might indulge me in a a few words slightly off-topic. Not so much about promoting your work, but very important to your well-being, and as such, our collective survival as introverted creativists, writers, artists.

If you haven't yet gotten your 2008 edition of The Introvert's Guide to Self-Care & Sanity in a World at Maximum Volume, allow me to share some intel from mine. (Okay, I just made this whole book up, but someone should write it, for god's sake.)

So, we're just going to continue and pretend I got all these tips from The Introvert's Guide, okay?

Tip #1: If you work in an office with others, and have an empty chair near your desk, get rid of it! Or, stack it high with papers or projects. It discourages others from hanging around your desk too long. Introverts work better without a lot of interruptions. If you work at home and have family and friends that can't seem to respect your work time, keep a basket of unfolded laundry next to you, or maybe an errand list. When your interrupters arrive, give them work to do. They'll stop dropping buy as often. This one comes with my personal guarantee.

Tip #2: You absolutely don't have to say yes to every social invitation you get. Truly. If you do, you are begging for a melt-down, and that's just never pretty. Pick the kind of events that work best for you-- time-limited ones during the day vs. night, or maybe ones centered around an activity like bowling, movies or mud wrestling, and not just endless hours of the dreaded Small Talk.

Tip #3: If you ever end up being held hostage on an airplane next to an rabid extravert who won't stop talking, and they don't seem put off by you putting on headphones, how about trying this? Start talking non-stop to them about any senseless thing that comes to your mind. If you run out of things to say, make them listen to you read out loud long excerpts from a fascinating article from the in-flight magazine. Some extraverts are looking for introverts to charge upon-- if they mistake you for another Chatzilla, chances are they'll be pulling their little pillow out and closing their eyes soon.

Tip #4: Honor and celebrate the quiet, low volume, solitary activities that you love and need. They aren't non-activities, and they aren't a sign of your stunted social development. Sitting by yourself listening to quiet music or no music and just watching the shadows move across the walls is as valid an activity as a Dodger's Game with your entire family. It's even cheaper, easier on the environment, and kinder on your HDL, too.

Tip #5: Be or find this kind of party host: The B-E-S-T party I ever went to was given by this marvelous, madly extraverted woman. The party was spread out over several rooms at a club and included a talent show (I know! I almost fled screaming), wild dancing and a lot of talking/drinking/people talking really LOUDLY. At this point you're wondering why this was the best party I ever went to? This amazing host had set aside an Introverts Room! It was a quiet, slightly darkened room with a fireplace, snacks set out, softer music, and reading material. There were several of us that were in there. I loved it.

Got tips? If you'd like to see one of your survival tips published in my made-up 2008 Introvert's Guide send them on to Hey, Mary, I've got a good one!. There will be prizes, of course!

Later, friends! I'm off to re-charge my battery. :-)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Internet: An Introvert’s Best Friend

And if you ever doubted that, just look at how close those two words are: INTRovErT/INTeRnET.

At the recent SCBWI National Conference, children’s author and Blog Guru Extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith gave a HUGELY instructive, information packed workshop on Using the Web to Build Craft and Career. Cynthia, truly one of the most generous people EVER, has graciously posted the reference list from her workshop here, so if any of you are interested, you can check it out.

But as I was listening to her talk, I was struck by the fact that, for an introverted author, working in the age of the Internet is a huge blessing. There are just so many ways available for us to connect with our readers, without having to venture into the Real World of Energy Sucking Aliens (aka extroverts). Cynthia’s workshop highlighted so many of these options! If you’re not taking advantage of them, perhaps it’s a good time to reconsider.

In addition to the basics of your author website, here are some other ways to consider reaching out to your readers, both the kids themselves and the gatekeepers who help guide kids to books that might be of interest to them. Note that very few of these suggestions fall into the category of networking or schmoozing or even marketing. But they are all ways you can connect with your readers, which is the whole purpose of networking and marketing in the end.

  • Featuring teachers’ or readers’ guides for your book on your website
  • A short readers theater
  • Research Bibliographies, especially for books that feature elements that kids might want to explore more on their own
  • Interior Illustrations – to help pull readers into the world of your book
  • A Media Kit – have a small variety of bios and pictures that can be downloaded when the media is interested in knowing more about you
  • Secondary Resource Info – Perhaps, like Cynthia, you want to highlight other authors in your state (Cynthia focuses on Texas children’s authors) or you’d like to highlight writer’s tips that help pre-published writers work toward their dreams, or perhaps you’d like to include a resource for Asian literature for kids, or historical novels, or graphic novels.
Whatever interest calls to you, there will be some of your readers who share that interest. Use that to build a connection, which in turn helps you build a community based on interests you and your audience share. It’s not about shoving your book down their throat, but about coming together over your common interest in Egyptology or Challenged Athletes or, you know, Introverts.

(And yes, profuse apologies for being a day late with my post but I'm on a deadline and here at SVP, deadlines take precedence over blogging. Sad but true.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

On Finding Your Own Way to Success

Ask a hundred writers or illustrators or inventors or Olympians how one can achieve success, and you'll get that many different, enthusiastic and evangelical responses. It is a condition of our humanity that we each are enamored with our own hardwon path, and want to share it with EVERYONE. And everyone should follow it-- because we do love to be right and we do love to help.

Author John Green and his brother have devoted themselves to a noble mission of decreasing World Suck, and, man, I am grateful to them both for that important work. If Robin and I have a calling at Shrinking Violets, it would be to decrease World Insistence That There is Only One Way to Publication, Marketing & Success. Okay, that just isn't nearly as catchy as decreasing World Suck, so we're going to have to work on it.

Elizabeth Gilbert , author of the transforming Eat Pray Love, has a terrific essay on writing that you really ought to read. The whole thing. It's marvelous. It has much to say about living, and not just writing. And just fyi, she and Anne Lamott are going to do a gig together at UCLA next Spring. I'm upgrading my dream to have lunch with Anne. Now I want to have dinner with Anne and Liz together after the show. Liz/Anne, click here to RSVP with me. I know all the best places to park near the university. :-]

Okay, but I digress. Here is an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert's provocative essay.

"Nobody can tell you how to succeed at writing (even if they write a book called “How To Succeed At Writing”) because there is no WAY; there are, instead, many ways. Everyone I know who managed to become a writer did it differently – sometimes radically differently. Try all the ways, I guess. Becoming a published writer is sort of like trying to find a cheap apartment in New York City: it’s impossible. And yet…every single day, somebody manages to find a cheap apartment in New York City. I can’t tell you how to do it. I’m still not even entirely sure how I did it. I can only tell you – through my own example – that it can be done. I once found a cheap apartment in Manhattan. And I also became a writer."

In writing, selling for publication, and marketing your work, we invite you to honor-- heck, celebrate-- the unique artist that you are. When you created your work, you used your own voice. Why in the name of heaven would you abandon it in marketing?

This, from another writer, to further illuminate our way. "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." (Cool, thanks, Will.)

Here's to your inimatable voice and style-- trust it to take you exactly where you need to go.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Marketing to Bookstores

There were a couple of session on promotion that I attended at the SCBWI Conference that I wanted to talk about, but I think I’ll save that for next week as a recent link on our So Cal SCBWI listserv directed me to this booksellers blog post that I thought I’d like to discuss today.

It has some very good news for fellow Violets…

Here’s the link to the blog post entitled: The Cookie Theory: Author’s Secret Weapon or Crummy Mess?

I think every author and pre-published author should read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that an incredible amount of helpful information on how to approach booksellers? The whole article was helpful, but there are a few things I’d like to discuss in terms of how they work well for us Shrinking Vis.

In rare moments of quiet, booksellers on the front lines share their war stories about off-putting cold calls, misguided interruptions, unpublished manuscripts about pets and grandchildren, and frustration at the number of would-be authors who want stores to carry their self-published books on consignment.

Here is a good example of one of the many benefits of being an introvert. We are very unlikely to do any of those things, preferring in fact, to have our wisdom teeth pulled.

ABC fields hundreds of calls from authors and publishers every year about who we are, and whether or not we can help them promote their books. (We can’t, other than providing a great network should they want to join.)
I think that last part is really important. Even an association of booksellers can’t really help us promote our books. Doesn’t that take the pressure off? I don’t need to come up with a scheme/trick/schtick/gimmick to get their attention, because they can’t help me with promotion anyway!

But they do have a network we can join. That doesn’t mean quick, drop by postings or massive promotional emails. What it does mean is feeling that independent booksellers selling childrens’ books is of passionate interest to you. Enough so that you’re willing to add one more organization to your busy life in order to support that cause.

More and more, authors in the current publishing climate think that a little guerrilla marketing might help them get ahead.
(I would be willing to bet dollars for donuts that an extrovert coined this phrase!)

They recognize that building relationships with booksellers is important. And they are right, but how to do it? What’s most effective?

One of their answers? WRITE A TRULY EXCELLENT BOOK.
Which relates back to Favorite Marketing Advice #1! Write the most amazing book you can. Spend extra time on it, push yourself and your craft. This is something all introverts can do!

But I’m adding some others, and hope other booksellers might chime in.

* Offer a day’s gift-wrapping backup during the holiday season.
* Put up posters for bookstore events.
* Help staff an out-of-store event.
* Help read and evaluate galleys.

Wow! Aren’t those some great ideas!! And those feel very doable to me; I’m offering to do something helpful and useful, the focus is no longer about me, but supporting stores I believe in! As an introvert, doesn’t that feel more doable to you?

And here’s some more good news listed under the five LEAST effective things you can do to work with independent bookstores:

* Mail a single flyer and then follow up with a hard sell either by phone or in person
* Make a cold call to a bookseller, and then monopolize their precious time with a lengthy sales pitch
Look at that! They hate when people do that! Which means we can permanently cross that off our I-Don’t-Want-To-But-I-Feel-Like-I-Have-To List. Oh, the freedom!

At the most basic level, creating successful and long-lasting relationships in the children’s book business is really about understanding and helping booksellers do their jobs better.
Which really, goes back to one of the introverts strengths that we discussed earlier: making deep, personal connections.

She then goes on to list five ways to make friends with booksellers (where again, she reiterates that written communication trumps a cold call—YES!!) and help them build their business, and I recommend you commit those to memory.

After all, if you’re a writer, chances are books are your passion, and you and the independent booksellers have much in common. And a much better introvert strategy than cold calling or hard selling is building on existing common passions.

And a big, fat THANK YOU to Kristen McLean and Carol Chittenden for telling us exactly what we needed (and wanted!) to hear!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mary's Take: More Pearls from SCBWI National

It's been great fun visting blogs this week and reading about other people's experiences at Nationals. Though we all attended the same conference, we each left with such different things.

In conference years past, I've taken reams of notes and handouts and freebies and business cards and lengthy lists of all the books I want to read the first hot second I get home. I've literally sucked the marrow from the bone, then earnestly picked my teeth so as not to miss a mini-morsel.

This year, while I wanted to immerse, I also wanted to be more discerning and intentional. I planned to pace myself, rebalance from the demands of my day job, and sit in a quiet place of observation and gratitude. Oh, yeah, and try to breathe and not freak out that I was going to do my first workshop at Nationals. Like in front of people and everything, for god's sake.

Here are the pearls that I've brought home with me:

From "Self Branding for Writers & Illustrators" with Priscilla Burns and Marilyn Scott-Waters. "If you try to be everything, you end of being nothing." Also memorable from this session was a bizarre snafu with their Power Point, so the following slide would not stop coming up. It is imprinted on my mind. It's attributed to Ray Bradbury. "Dream yourself bigger than you have been dreaming yourself." Wow, you know? How many of us do that? Let's start now. G-O.

I loved the "Writing the GLBTQ (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Questioning) Book" session with Ellen Wittinger, who I now have on my list of People I Truly Adore. I went into the session questioning whether the hets (aka "straight" folk) should/could be writing books with GLBTQ characters. I left convinced. Uh, yes! Ellen spoke passionately about starting with the universal core of the character, and adding the layers that include gender, preferences, family, culture, etc. And doing the necessary research so that you can create as authentic voice as possible. I'm going to write her a very sappy fan letter when I finish this blog tonight.

John Green is probably feeling like the Most Popular Boy at the Conference judging by the number of odes sung to him in various blogs. I'll add mine because he deserves it. This nugget got me in the solar plexus. "Writing is as much translation as creation." And, "... the truth does not lie in the facts. It lies in the people." Finally, he referenced the concept of "radical hope" a number of times, and I'll just leave that with you. The combination of those two words makes me feel a bit breathless. There is a combustible quality to them. John, if you're reading this, could you tell me where this comes from? I'll send you one of our nifty Shrinking Violet mugs if you click here. I'm quite certain you don't have one yet. :-]

Finally, here are just a few other things that I loved about Summer Conference. And, topping the list are my gorgeous writing group buds my Fairy Godmother Lee Wardlaw and Thalia Chaltas, author of the soon to be released YA novel in poems, Furniture, Viking, 2008.

~*~ Meeting Cynthia Leitich Smith in the flesh! She is as remarkable and generous as I guessed and hoped she would be.

~*~ Seeing a pal that didn't think she was going to get to come, but at the last minute her Fairy Godmother gifted her the trip and she was ever so happy and it was the coolest thing EVER!(Yes, I have had a lot of diet coke this afternoon! You can tell by the number of !!!! points I'm using.)

~*~ Seeing a woman in a T-shirt that read "I Prefer to Consider Myself Pre-Published". Awesome.

~*~ Having the One and Only Sue Alexander in my class. Wow. Signing a book for her. Wow to the n-thiest power.

And, bringing us all the way back around to Marketing for Introverts, a-hem, a final thought. In the gestalt kind of place that I worked to inhabit during the conference, I was struck by the absolute diversity of speakers and styles. I'm sure that Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser select their faculty with that in mind.

And yet, we tend to think that there is only ONE WAY to promote yourself and your work. How can that be?? How can you take this great diverse mix of people and expect that they should all do it the same way? Makes not sense whatsoever. That's all I'm saying. Least for now. :->

Later, friends--


Thursday, August 9, 2007

SCBWI National - An Overview

Every time I sign up for a conference, I inevitably get cold feet as the departure date approaches. But not this time. I was so ready to get away and fill my creative well, and I was willing to brave the madding crowd to do it.

I was not disappointed. That Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser really know how to show a girl a good time!

As always, I was struck by the amazing people we have working in this industry, all who care so passionately about the books they write, illustrate, acquire, and bring to market. Young readers are very lucky to have these professionals on their side.

Walter Dean Myers started the conference off with a bang in his inspiring speech, A Passion for Detail. The takeaways I got from that speech were:

1. We need to not simply inform, but to evoke the experience in the readers’ mind, and
2. Look for the details that give the experience the ring of truth, the clicking of heels on the wooden floor, or the sticky juice of the peach running down her chin.

I also got to hear the amazing Tamora Pierce speak. Her latest book Beka Cooper: Terrier is one of my faves. (I’ll have complete notes up on her workshop over at my blog in a day or two.)

Also, John Green was especially inspiring, another one of those people in the industry that you can’t help but feel will touch a number of kids lives in a positive way. I’m also feeling very affectionate toward him because he came out as an introvert during the conference, which put him on Mary and my Introverts We’d Love to Interview list. (John, if you happen to be googling yourself, click here to contact us for an interview.) One of the things that was so fascinating about John’s presentations was how completely relaxed his speaking style was. That’s not to say he wasn’t nervous, according to him, he was. But his style was so devoid of artifice or airs, completely a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach. That’s my approach as well, but it works much better on him, so it was inspiring to watch a master.

Our own Shrinking Violet Mary Hershey gave an amazing workshop on excavating your funnybone and finding one’s own approach to writing humor. It was informative and funny and felt like deep therapy work, but oh-so-important. None of our deepest selves get out of this writing gig untapped, and Mary gave us some amazing help on how to do just that.

At an editor panel that included Arthur Levine, Mark McVeigh, Krista Marino, and art director Elizabeth Parisi, they all stressed how, in their mind, manuscript critiques and revision letters were the beginning of a dialog. They have no expectation that all their suggestions will be utilized by their authors, but they do except them to be addressed in some way. I thought that was heartening.

There was another editor panel toward the end of the conference featuring Emma Dryden of Atheneum, Dinah Stevenson of Clarion, Rachel Griffiths of Scholastic, Allyn Johnston of Harcourt, and Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton. They all talked about their perfect book. The interesting thing was, none of them really wanted to find the perfect book, the joy was in pursuing it.

I also thought it interesting that they expected to have editorial feedback, and didn't want to just be a copy editor. Which is funny because I always thought that was the author's goal: to get the book so right, that the editor wouldn't have to fix anything. But according to these women, that would make them very unhappy. It was such a startling perspective! And one I needed to know about.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Shrinking Violets are at SCBWI Nationals

Dear Friends,

Hellloooooo from the 37th Annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators National Conference in Los Angeles! We arrived last Thursday and are having such a marvelous time filling our wells, and well, trying not to drown in the process. (glub-glub!)

There are 964 writers, illustrators, agents, editors, and assorted creative industry personnel here with us. We've pretty much taken over the gorgeous Century Plaza Hotel near Beverly Hills. Great, exhausting fun! Raquel Welch was in the booth behind us at dinner last night-- so very LA!

It's been great fun catching up with old friends, making new ones and putting faces to buds from different on-line groups. We've been working at pacing ourselves and giving ourselves permission to climb under the covers as needed. We, um, skipped Saturday night's Gala Silvery Moon Ball, and spent the evening instead with Harry Potter at the flicks. Just what we both needed.

We'll be back soon, and we've got much to share!

Mary & Robin