Monday, June 21, 2010

Violets In Action: KidLit Authors Club

In today’s guest post, long time Shrinking Violet reader, Jennifer R. Hubbard interviews Keri Mikulski and Nancy Viau about the logistics and benefits of forming a marketing and promotion group.

JennHubbard: What is KAC? What kinds of events have you done, and are you willing to do?

Keri Mikulski – KAC is an acronym for the KidLit Authors Club.
We’re a diverse group of children’s authors (picture book, middle grade, and young adult) from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland who have banded together to promote, market, sign, and sell our traditionally published books at bookstores, schools, libraries, conferences, and festivals.

We have done everything from conferences to book signings to events to workshops. We’re willing to discuss any event that promotes literacy, and our party theme fits in just about anywhere.

Nancy Viau – Unless you have an immediate bestseller, it’s a lot tougher than you think to get signings. No one—not a store owner or an author—wants to invest time and marketing for an event where only a few buyers show up. We knew that having many authors who write for a variety of ages was pretty unique, so late in 2009 we sent out letters explaining who we were, and what we would do to draw a crowd. By February, we had a dozen Barnes & Noble managers contacting us to sign, or to present programs for Educators’ Week. Indie stores invited us to be part of their book festivals, and conference directors wanted us for panels and presentations on writing. I don’t think we’ve turned down a single request.

JennHubbard: How did you come up with the idea for KAC?

Keri Mikulski – After I signed my first major book deal, I immediately began thinking of ways to promote the series. Since I was already published with a small press, I had done some marketing and promotion on my own. I recalled one of my favorite signings - an event at an independent bookstore I did with Nancy Viau and Cyn Balog. Then, I thought – wouldn’t it be nice to band together like that all of the time to do publicity? That way if you’re at a bookstore promoting, you have other authors around you for support, guidance, and company.

This idea swirled back to my sporty days and the team approach I so desperately love. What if we created a team of authors? Not only could we do events together; but we could support each other like a team. Then, the mommy portion of my brain spoke up. What if parents could go to one event, meet authors, and buy books for their entire family?

I met with Nancy Viau in December of 2009 (KAC was one of my 2010 resolutions) and we began to brainstorm ideas. Then, Nancy and I contacted other authors and Nancy sent an all out call to local authors to feel out interest. From our contacts, Nancy developed our brand (the party theme) and the group set up a website, Facebook, and Twitter page. Almost immediately, we began booking events.

Nancy Viau - I was a part of the Class of 2k8 and had experienced first hand what a marketing group could accomplish. But debut groups have become more common now, and I loved Keri’s fresh idea about bringing together authors who could reach readers from pre-k to high school.

I thought a party theme would attract the most attention. Who isn’t drawn to bright balloons and the chance to win awesome party bags? We came up with a great tagline that says it all: KidLit Authors Club: Making every event a celebration of children’s books.

JennHubbard: What are the benefits to working with a group that you don't necessarily get from working alone? At first glance it may seem counterintuitive for introverts to join groups. But how can introverted authors, in particular, benefit from such arrangements?

Keri Mikulski – Good question. ☺ First off, it’s a wonderfully supportive small group, which is so helpful if you’re introverted. And a group approach to marketing is great way to tackle promotional events (which can be super scary).

Nancy Viau – One author may be an introvert when it comes to public speaking, but shines when reading to a chaotic group of kindergarteners. Another author may get nervous approaching store managers or writing conference proposals, but loves speaking to an audience of teachers. Each one of us has a strength that adds to the group.

JennHubbard: How can other authors start similar groups in their area?

Keri Mikulski – Like a novel, it starts with an idea. And after that, it just depends on how much you’re willing to do. I would contact a few local authors to gauge interest. If authors are excited about the idea, I would form the group first, then begin setting up the events, Facebook, Twitter, and a website. The most important thing is that everyone has to share responsibilities. What’s great about KAC is so many members have stepped up to help and we work together.

Nancy Viau – Organizers need to decide upon guidelines before beginning. Keri and I created an application and had a couple of requirements: 1. authors had to be traditionally published with a major children’s book publisher, 2. authors had to be from NJ, PA, DE, or MD and be willing to travel, 3. authors had to have some experience in marketing (bookmarks, website, social networking, etc.).

Also, it’s a good idea to make it clear that members are responsible for helping to acquire and coordinate events. It’s not just the organizers who do this. For us, once an event is presented to the group, whoever can go, goes! Normally, at least 3 or 4 or more authors can attend, and that’s enough to create a KAC party atmosphere that sells books.

JennHubbard: Any fun or funny stories from KAC so far?

Keri Mikulski – Hmm… We always have a blast, but I’m drawing a blank with a specific story at least one we can share… ☺ I’m sure Nancy has a goodie.

Nancy Viau – When we’re together, there’s a feeling of excitement in the air that only happens when you get adults who love kids’ books in the same room with kids who love books. It could be that I come with silly rock collection-making kits, or that Lee Harper shows up with sheep faces the size of small billboards. Or that Irene Breznak has sneezy puppets she pulls out of a trashcan, or that Alison Formento comes prepared to dress kids as trees. We read, laugh, draw, and do crafts. We’ve also been known to break out in song and bust a few dance moves. (Broadway, here we come?) Now that’s fun!

Thanks so much, Shrinking Violets, for having us! ☺

Kidlit Authors Club Sites:

KERI MIKULSKI is the author of the upcoming Pretty Tough series 3-6 (Penguin/Razorbill), Screwball and Change Up. An athlete her entire life (back in the day when softballs were white), Keri teaches writing at Stockton College and resides at "situation free" Jersey Shore with her family.

NANCY VIAU is a former teacher and the author of Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head (Amulet Books), a novel for kids 8-12, and It's Not Easy (Abrams), a picture book (forthcoming). When not glued to her computer or running defense for her children, she skips out of rural NJ in search of adventure.

JENNIFER R. HUBBARD lives and writes near Philadelphia, PA. She is a night person who believes that mornings were meant to be slept through, a chocolate lover, and a hiker. She has written short fiction as well as the contemporary young adult novel The Secret Year (Viking).


Becky Levine said...

Great post--and a wonderful idea!

tanita✿davis said...

What an absolutely fab idea -- saving authors from having to sit alone and be that lone person in the bookstore, and giving kids and adults who read the joy of knowing that more of their tribe is out there. YES.

Anonymous said...

And guess what? We'll soon be adding a few new members to our group. Email us through our website and ask for an application if you're interested.
PS: Thanks for interviewing us! Shrinking Violets ROCK!

Keri Mikulski said...

Thanks for the interview!! What an amazing site and resource for writers. :)

Joanna said...

Great interview! It's so important to support each other and work together for marketing like this.


Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great idea. I'd be a lot braver at a book signing with a few other fellow authors. Thanks for sharing it.

Carrie Harris said...

I need to move to one of those states.

I followed Keri over here today and am so glad that I did! Thanks for the fab interview!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Wonderful--thanks for a great interview!

In 1995, 12 California children's authors had the same idea--teamwork!--and the Children's Authors Network (CAN!) was born.

You're so right about how much more fun it is to work together...and we've learned SO MUCH from each other--wowza!

Jan Markley said...

That's a great idea. I did an book launch event with another writer - around the theme of a comedy/mystery smack down - and it went well. I like your idea of the group marketing/branding. Way to go!

Mary Hershey said...

Jennifer, Keri, Nancy, thank you for this fabulous interview and for all that you are doing to support the indies, introverts and connecting children with good books.

Much success to you ALL!
Mary Hershey

Lori Degman said...

What a fantastic idea! I'm in a critique group with two other writers and, as soon as I press 'enter', I'm off to talk to them about starting our own group. Thanks so much for sharing!


TerryLynnJohnson said...

This sounds wonderful. What an enthusiastic group! Love the idea of dressing up as trees. thanks for posting this.