Monday, January 30, 2012

Marketing & Publicity for Authors: Part 1

The time is long past when authors – with the exception of megastars – can rely on their publishers to help with marketing and publicity. Most authors I know do a significant amount of marketing; I know I do. For the next several weeks I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned since the publication of my first book, and I invite you all to chime in and share your own experiences.

In particular I’d like to talk about the advantages of online tools, including some of the newer venues (like Klout and Tumblr). From the social networking sites to contact media like Skype, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways you could spend your time. Let’s see if we can demystify even a few of the options available today.

For this week: what are the must-have or maybe-have online tools for every author?

1.     A website. This is truly the only absolute in publishing today. I do believe a personal website is essential to every author. I’d go so far as to suggest that even before your first sale, you should secure a domain name and hosting. GoDaddy offers both for reasonable fees. The most versatile platform is a content management system like the one offered by Wordpress, which allows even the most non-web-savvy user to update and edit their content. Note: editors and agents are saying it frequently – they look for an author’s web presence (website) before ever signing a contract. Your website doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to be easy to find (your name as URL, for example) and easy to read.
my Facebook Author page
2.     Facebook. Love it or leave it, Facebook is an important place for you to connect with your audience and other authors, with publishers and editors. I have created an author page that is separate from my personal page, which allows me to separate content for those two audiences (anyone can “like” your author page – they don’t have to be a friend.) I post on my author page maybe three times a week, and on my personal page maybe once a week – but I often find links, learn news, or discover valuable information by scanning Facebook. You can configure your author page to feed directly to Twitter and your personal page, or vice versa.
3.     Twitter. Easy-peasy and actually fun, I tweet a couple of times a day and try to re-tweet and/or reply when I find tweets that grab me in some way. I like a combination of personal and professional, though my personal tweets I hope never stray into the negative, ugly, or icky.
4.     A blog. Really, a blog is nothing more than a platform for you to discuss issues you find meaningful or important – and gather an audience along the way. It’s not essential; but it is kind of fun. Here are the important things to note: be regular (I try to blog once a week); be generous (try to host others on your blog, and comment on/visit fellow author blogs); know your audience (are you blogging to teachers? teen readers? fellow authors? it’s hard to do it all); find your own voice (stay inside your comfort zone.) Blogger is an easy platform, and Wordpress has the advantage of a combined blog/website platform (caution: is the website platform; is the blogging platform.)

Now, some basic tips.

1.     SEO. This means “search engine optimization.” Links, keywords, blog titles, META tags, hyperlinks – all of these lead to search engines finding you, your website, and your books. And, baby, it’s all about getting readers to find your book when they google keywords. As an example, my first novel is set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904. My keywords might include Yellowstone, American history, geysers, bears, plus newer keys like Kindle young adult fiction or Nook young adult fiction.
2.     Branding. Basically this yourself. Find out who you are and let your readers know about you. Really, they want to connect with you. By connecting with you, they connect with a “real author”. In addition, you can play off something key to you – for example, I used my name by creating a fox logo and plastering it everywhere.
3.     Be nice. Your mom was right. Once you're out there, people do see you.

Next week - some of the more obscure platforms. Please do chime in and add your own discoveries!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Debut Authors of the Class of 2k12: Megan Bostic

I'm pleased today to bring you a second interview with a debut author from my sister class of 2k12. Megan Bostic's novel, Never Eighteen, sounds like a really wonderful and important read, and I'm very excited to introduce you to Megan. I know you'll enjoy her thoughtful answers.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, Never Eighteen. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Never Eighteen is a story about love, loss, and letting go.  The protagonist, Austin, is facing an uncertain future.  So many people around him are plagued by abuse, addiction, or loss that they’ve quit living life, their one shot at existence.  Austin decides that he needs to go on a crusade to try to fix the things that have broken and make those people realize that their one chance to live should not be wasted.
While on the journey Austin realizes that his own life isn’t exactly in order and that maybe he should also tie up his own loose ends before it’s too late.
As for inspiration, it goes back to November of 2001, when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.  By the time they found it, it was all over her body.  In March of 2002 I closed down my day care and my husband and I took her into our home to do hospice rather than have her put into a nursing home.  So I was witness, first hand, at how a cancer patient is affected by chemo, and medications such as morphine, and how fast the disease can take you when not treated.  When my mother-in-law was no longer conscious, the hospice nurse explained how her body was shutting down from the cancer.  She was in our home less than three weeks.

My husband actually came up with the idea for the book, and I ran with it.  I think people take life for granted, thinking it will always be there until we're old.  But what if it isn't?  What if you knew you only had a short time left?  What would you do?  Where would you go? Who would you see?  Whose life would you try and touch before your time was up? 

This story is twofold though.  Not only was I a witness to my mother-in-law's cancer, but after she passed, I didn't go back, to work.  I was grieving with loads of time on my hands and needed a distraction.  That's when I wrote my first novel.

What a beautiful story, and what a great inspiration. And how terrific that you turned your grief into art. How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort? 

I have a total of about seven novels finished, though not edited.  My first effort was a series of middle grade novels about a teenage super hero.  I finished that first book about four years ago, unfortunately agents and publishers weren’t as excited about it as I was. I complete three books in that series and I have three YA manuscripts finished, one of them being my debut, Never Eighteen.

Can you describe your path to the publication of Never Eighteen?

I wrote Never Eighteen back in 2008.  It began life as a NaNoWriMo novel titled Mending Fences.  After numerous, extensive revisions (13 to be exact, but who’s counting, right?) I started querying it out to agents.  I’d queried about twenty five, with no luck, so was about to give up, when a friend gave me another agent’s name.  I told myself last one, once I’m rejected more revisions.  But this agent wanted to see ten pages, then fifty, then the full manuscript.  Then she wanted to sign me.  I thought I was in some cruel nightmare and I was going to wake up at any second.  But no, it was real.  She sent it out to five publishers and two weeks after I signed with her, I had a book deal.  I know mine is a bit of a Cinderella story, things don’t usually happen that fast in this business, but I didn’t work outside the home at the time so I could edit full time, and my agent obviously knows the editors she works with well.    

It's the perfect story! Actually, your persistence is what got you to that place. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

I would tell beginning writers to never stop trying to improve their craft and take criticism gracefully.  As writers, we will never be perfect and there is always room for improvement.  If you surround yourself with other writers, you will probably be able to find people willing to give you feedback. Also, learn patience.  This is a very slow business, in all aspects.  Agents take a while to get back to you, same with publishers.  Even if you get a deal, things happen at a very slow-almost-to-a-stop pace.  Just to give you an idea, I was offered my deal in April, and I wasn't slated to debut until Fall 2011(changed to early 2012). Lastly I would tell beginning writers to never give up on their dreams.  Even if it seems impossible, it’s not.  I’m living proof.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I have many inspirations.  The people that surround me inspire all the time, my children, my writing friends, my non-writing friends.  And life inspires me every day.   I would say life itself is my muse and I often draw from real life experiences and emotions when I write.

Plans for the future are not as clear cut for me.  Here is what I know: I want to continue writing, to be a good mother, sister, daughter, and friend.  I want to make good choices, but also mistakes so I can continue learning and growing as a human being.  Mostly I want to live life to its full potential so I don’t have too many regrets.  You only have one chance at life, and I want to make the most of it.

That's such a lovely sentiment. Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I ALWAYS have new writing ventures underway, and old ones that need editing, lol.  My current favorite projects however, are two YA novels, one titled Withered about issues that arise around eating disorders, and the other is called Taking Zoey, which will be a very introspective story from the viewpoint of a kidnapping victim.  I also have an adult dystopic project I’m very excited about.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about Never Eighteen?  

Coming to a server near you: 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Holly Cupala: Don't Breathe a Word

My friend Holly Cupala's debut Tell Me a Secret is one of my favorite all-time reads. I'm really excited about her new release, Don't Breathe a Word. So when she asked me to be a part of a video that she put together on the power of words, I was thrilled.

Okay, so I feel a little embarrassed by my own serious take on the subject in the midst of such a clever batch of responses; but nonetheless feel that Holly's message is the important part of her vlog. Words do have power, and we girls need to empower our younger tribe, male and female, to use their words for good.

I'm super-proud to be in the company of these writers: Justina Chen, Melissa Walker, Stephanie Kuehnert, Sarah Stevenson, Denise Jaden, Lish McBride, Beth Kephart, Lisa Schroeder, Cynthia Jaynes, Tara Kelly, Joelle Anthony, Stasia Ward Kehoe, Tina Ferraro, and Janet Lee Carey.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Guest Post: "What's Wrong With Me? - Reflections of an Indie Pubber"

This week I'm hosting Daree Allen, who is self-publishing a book for teen girls on issues of self-esteem: What's Wrong With Me?. She's written a wonderful post about her process and the need for books like hers - and how indie publishing is, frankly, helping to fill a big hole in the book world.

There is a girl... she's trying to make sense of her life.
She's ashamed of her looks (why am I so flat-chested?) and compares herself to other girls--especially the popular ones.
She doesn't feel the love at home, doesn't see her value, and gets depressed because girls don't like her.
She wants attention.
She needs direction.
She asks over and over again... What's wrong with me?

That girl was me, and it's millions of kids and teens all over this country who identify with those same issues. My debut memoir/self-help offering, "What's Wrong With Me?," launches on Valentine's Day 2012. But it's been a challenge publishing it myself, and I admit that I made the decision was made with a lot of forethought and reluctancy.

After months of struggling in 2009, I talked to a successful literary agent about my book's concept of self-esteem and self-help from a Christian perspective. She told me that no agent would touch it. She told me it's difficult to convince the houses to publish people with a decent platform and following. They want to have a guarantee of sales.

YA fiction is a big deal, but not non-fiction. And I let my progress stunt in the beginning of my book project by focusing on these kinds of underwhelming responses from literary agents and traditional publishing houses. 

Despite the overwhelming response I get from adults of the desperate need for self-esteem and empowerment resources for teens and young adults, I let this information depress me and doubt my ability to produce a book that could be used to not only share my story, but mentor teens through the problems and discouragements they face today. When girls finish reading my book, I want them to understand themselves better, feel more assertive, make better choices, and be on their way to discovering and living in their purposes and destinies. They will realize that they're not alone in the way they feel, that they don't need approval from others to validate their worth, and the importance of a personal relationship God.

It took me a long time to realize that my book sales would not be for publishing houses or large chain bookstores, but for organizations, companies, and my own speaking engagements. I started to build my confidence by thinking about the lives that would be touched, the parents I could help, and the girls for which I could become a source of hope. While still finishing "What's Wrong With Me?" the book, I also created and completed the "What's Wrong With Me? Reflections Journal," which is a hybrid journal/workbook that digs deeper into the reader's personal thoughts about the topics in the book.  

I created Kharacter Distinction Books in 2011 and began hiring my staff of editors, graphic designers, web developers, and a project manager. I found some of these contractors through referrals, and hired a few people from Elance. The experience of managing other people's work for my book project was very disheartening and frustrating for me. Self-discipline is one thing, but in dealing with a lack of accountability and responsibility in others is quite another. I've had several quitters (one proofreader, one designer, and one web developer), and a couple of flakes. I'm a self-described goal-getter and somewhat ambitious, but I know my limits. However, many people get in over their head with work tasks and didn't fill me in until it was too late.  I've learned a lot about time management, people management, and interpersonal communication, and I'm still learning.

But look--here I am, with not one, but two books ready to go. And I won't stop now.

Daree Allen is an authorpreneur, young adult esteem advocate, speaker, and goal-getter in Atlanta, GA. She has published articles on a variety of topics as a freelance writer and blogger, and is the author of the new teen mentoring book entitled, "What's Wrong With Me?" in which she discusses her own childhood dealing with self-esteem, premarital sex, family and personal relationships. Find out more about her work at and

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Debut Writers of the Class of 2k12: Caroline Starr Rose

Welcome to 2012! 

I'm delighted to be able to introduce readers to authors from my sister Class of 2k12, just as I did for previous 2k classes. I continue to be impressed by how many of our class members have crafted novels that have won awards, garnered fabulous reviews, and won devoted readers to their great books.

That is certainly true of the first of the 2k12 novels, MAY B. Rave reviews have accompanied the launch of this wonderful story. I'm so pleased that Caroline Starr Rose is here today.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, MAY B. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

MAY B. is the story of twelve-year-old May Betterly, who must survive a blizzard -- alone -- on the Kansas frontier.

I’ve always had an interest in the women of the frontier, stemming from my love for The Little House on the Prairie collection. As a child, I’d talk about Laura as if she were someone I personally knew. I’d devote a lot of time wondering about her world: how she’d never seen a town until she was five, how she didn’t go to school until she was seven, how a penny in her Christmas stocking was such a big deal.

Looking back, it seems inevitable I’d develop my own strong prairie girl.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I started writing in 1998, during summer vacation (I was teaching at the time). By the time MAY B. sold, I’d written four novels and seven picture books.

Four novels! That just shows the importance of experience. Can you describe your path to the publication of MAY B?

I made the crazy decision to stop teaching at the end of the 2008-2009 school year and write full time (crazy because I had no agent, no book offer, and no real prospects). MAY B. had just won first place for a novel excerpt at a local writing conference, and I decided it was the time to take a chance.

I queried frantically and signed with my agent, Michelle Humphrey of ICM, at the end of September 2009. MAY B. sold at auction in March 2010. Lest this journey sounds easy, here are my stats:

200+ direct rejections from editors over 11 years
75+ agent rejections
10 or so more rejections once on submission with my agent
3 bids
1 sale

I love those stats, because they show the value of persistence. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Read broadly, remember you have something unique to say, be willing to fail.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I’ve just started running again after many injuries in the last few years. I’m not fast, and I can’t cover more than a few miles, but it feels so wonderful to be able to come back to something I love. Hopefully I have a race or two in my future.

Since Caroline sent me her interview answers, she added this: "I've run three half marathons since then -- slow and steady, but my gosh, 13.1 miles is nothing to sneeze at."  Clearly Caroline knows about persistence.

My family has just moved back to my hometown, Albuquerque, NM, so my husband can start a new Presbyterian Church (PCA). I’d love to see this beautiful city loved on and bolstered by this future congregation.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

My picture book, OVER IN THE WETLANDS, focuses on the animals and plants of Southern Louisiana. If it sells, I’d like to donate a portion of sales to wetlands restoration.

I’m in the process of researching for an eventual verse novel about a Gitano (Spanish Gypsy) girl.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about MAY B? 

Please stop by!

Thanks, Caroline!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to Guest Doris Fisher

To kick off the New Year I invited picture book author and puzzle mistress Doris Fisher to write a guest post, and she has chosen to talk about humor - which we all know is the best way to engage readers, especially beginning readers - most especially when those books attempt to teach concepts, which as you can see is Doris's special gift.

I love humor in picture books for beginning readers. Learning to read is hard work. There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet to recognize. And each one makes a different sound when pronounced. On top of that there are five vowels that each has a long and short sound. 

Now throw in punctuation marks to know…periods, commas, colons, apostrophes, question marks and exclamation marks! Not to mention the dreaded semi-colon that stops readers in their tracks, scratching their heads. What the heck does that dot and comma mean? Really, it should be outlawed. Just create two sentences.

Humor encourages the new reader and promises a few laughs along the way. Like Mary Poppins sang, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” If I can amuse a child and sneak in a bit of information in the text, I think my writing is worthwhile. In Happy Birthday to Whooo??? the animal birth announcements I created relay all kinds of details about baby animals, each written with a touch of wordplay to attract the reader.

Likewise I call my other three picture books, math with a laugh. One Odd Day, My Even Day, and My Half Day all introduce number concepts, but in a way that engrosses the reader. Along with great illustrations by Karen Lee, these books contain a “seek and find” element for the number concept detailed in each book.

A puzzle creator to the max, my word puzzles, mazes and codes also contain humor, tongue-in cheek references and funny clip art to decorate the pages. I was fortunate enough to speak about creating work for magazines at the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference in November. I had a great time remembering all my magazine articles and puzzles to include in a power point presentation.

My website has puzzles on it to print and solve. And I always have a monthly book giveaway on my website. So click on over, enter and become a winner of one of my books in paperback. And remember, laughter is the best medicine, so they say.

Doris Fisher