Chuck Wendig on Self-Promotion

Chuck Wendig did a great post on self-promotion as an author. (All authors should be prepared to do promotion on their own behalf.) He rated the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In this post, I will tackle (with regrettably short shrift) some of the varying THINGS YOU CAN DO AS AN AUTHOR in order to promote yourself and your work. Some of these I’ve used. Some of these I’ve seen only in implementation by other free-range penmonkeys. My thoughts will be imperfect and incomplete. This will not be an exhaustive list. Which is where you come in. Am I missing anything? Do you disagree with some of my shouty assertions? Then slingshot your derriere down into the comments section and say so.

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Random Thoughts on Speaking and a Question

I’m actually going to start with the question. Do you listen to audiobooks? Give me a quick yes/no in the comments and let me know what you like best/hate the most about them.

The thing is, I’ve been thinking of doing short podcasts of my flash fiction. (The ones that are openly available on my blog.) Possibly even doing an audio book of Cherry Blossom Express. (Next year. Maybe. When I finally feel enough distance from it.) I have the equipment.

I’ve even done reading for audiobooks before. (I’m a LibriVox volunteer. LibriVox creates audio books of public domain books. Surprisingly, I have not done a read of Alice in Wonderland yet. Things to put onto my to do list.)

Would people be interested? Do people actually listen to short readings? Would it be better to group them together into flash-story packs? Five different flash stories in one recording? I don’t know, I’m just riffing at this point.

Random thoughts also: haul videos on YouTube. Are you addicted? Fashion Hauls, Toy Hauls, etc? For me, it would probably be random Alice in Wonderland collectables hauls.

Anyway, let me know what your thoughts on the matter are.

What Can We Learn From Elephant Emergencies?

Ashley gave us a really nice post earlier this week, about what it’s like to write your first children’s book. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about the market, and a little bit about what it’s like trying to raise a reader.

Now Market research is, at best, the sort of black hole I should be avoiding. Time is a precious commodity at the best of times, and our schedule at the moment makes my spending more time than strictly necessary on finding actual numbers for things you already know kind of a ridiculous endeavor.

There are more publishers of children’s books than you can shake a half-dead ferret at. If you walk through a bookstore you’ll see all the big names–Penguin, Scholastic, blah blah blah–and then a few dozen names that, with a little research, turn out to be the big names hiding under an imprint they’ve gobbled up at some point in time. This is as true of the rest of the book world, but it’s especially noticeable in the children’s section. People have high hopes for children’s lit, and it shows.

There are, equally, as writers on the internet, a deluge of people who’d like to tell you about the children’s book they’re writing. I encountered this first years ago, when a woman I was in a writers group with always had a new and inventive story about the people she dealt with in the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She was consistently surprised by how much crazy there was among children’s writers. I was not.

They are writers, after all.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this as a writer, who dabbles or exists exclusively in the kid-lit world? What about as a parent?

The first question is a little easier to answer. As a writer, all the same axioms hold true. Do your best work, be patient, keep trying, don’t get discouraged, and don’t listen to the noise. There are a distressingly large number of people in any online writing universe who either write or illustrate children’s books. They all want the big contract. They all want to work for scholastic.

I’m as convinced with kid lit as I am with anything else that that’s probably not the first rung to shoot for. First, illustrating children’s books comes with a big paycheck, but the flip side of that big paycheck is an aversion to risk. If you’re a new artist I suspect it’s better for you, in the long run, to start developing a portfolio that proves you can be trusted to illustrate a book. The same is true for writers. Start working. Keep working. Try not to work for free. Be patient.

So that’s what the market means for writers and illustrators. What does it mean for parents?

Usually, it means book fatigue. My son’s school had a book fair last week. Now, these mean two things, as an adult. 1) I’m going to be guilted into working the event, and I’m going to agree for a chance to get at the books in the possibly five minutes there aren’t sixty children in the room with me. And 2) my husband will have to haul me away before I spend all our disposable income on books we’re not sure our son will like.

There are Minecraft books, and Lego books, there are books that are a little less commercially geared and require actual reading. There are comics, and early readers, and eight million choices. And this is just what Scholastic puts in a box and ships to the school. Going into the actual children’s section at your local bookstore is a million times worse.

So how do I, and most of the parents I know, find books?

The good news is that about eighty-five percent of the books I’ve bought in the last seven years were suggested to me by an actual person. A book blogger, or a friend, or another parent at school. Even more than any other segment of the book-buying world I’ve seen, kid-lit thrives on word of mouth. If you’ve written a children’s book the best thing you can do is get it in front of a segment of your population and make them like it. Offer to read at a local library. Go to a local children’s festival. Call the school librarian and ask her if she’s allowed to purchase books for the school and if she’d like a free copy of yours.

What about that other fifteen percent?

One was suggested by David Tennant. By “suggested” I mean he read it aloud on Youtube and I very nearly ordered it freight shipped from England. Emily Brown’s Elephant EmergencyGo watch that. You can thank me later. And that’s an idea. If you happen to have an in with someone famous, British, and…um…interesting, do pass it along.

Edit: Yes, I know David Tennant isn’t British. If you know another Scottish person who is actually understandable when they speak then do send that along as well.

Guest Post: Avoiding DOOOOOOM, by Ashley K Voris

This week we get to introduce the world to Abby the Labby! Ashley K Voris’ early reader book about puppies and the quest to find a place to belong is officially live and available to purchase from our website (when the cog-monkeys at Amazon finish it’ll be available there too).

In honor of this auspicious occasion, we asked Ashley to come tell us a little about what it’s like to write your first children’s book.


Procrastination…how I love thee…

I was asked by Jules to write a blog post this week about what it was like to write a children’s book. I’m glad she gave me so much time to actually write this post. I mean, it’s not like she would spring it on me at 7pm Monday night and tell me she wants it before Tuesday afternoon or anything like that. (Squinty eyes).  This is my first time doing a guest post anywhere so bear with me. I will try not to ramble.

I first had the idea for the Abby the Labby series a few years ago. My husband and I moved to Northern Virginia with our puppy, Abigail. We moseyed into the local pet supply store and there was a dog rescue holding an adoption event. I spoke to the volunteer and told her that one of my dreams is the have my very own animal sanctuary where dogs, cats, horses, pigs, sheep, and furry creatures of all kinds can be rehabilitated and put up for adoption. The volunteer introduced me to the concept of fostering. During my years of being involved in animal rescue, I found myself more in the educational role than anything else. I felt it was important to educate the entire family on the importance of dog care. For the adults, there are several resources, but there was nothing geared towards children. That was a bit of a problem in my eyes. So I planned a series, but I had no outlet. I didn’t know how to go about getting my story out there so it sat on the back burner for years.

Enter Golden Fleece Press.

When Kate and Jules were talking about putting together Golden Fleece, I happened to be sitting next to them. They were talking about possible children’s books and I mentioned my idea. Had I known I was pitching an actual real thing, I would have done it a bit better. They seemed to like the idea because the next thing I know, I have a submission date and was asked if I knew any illustrators. My response was golden.

“Wait…what?”

I was sent the contract and I signed it. I jumped around my living room like an idiot, as one does when they sign their first publishing contract. I have always wanted to write this series and I have always wanted to be an author. Now I had the chance. This was going to be great! This was going to be awesome! There was only one teensy, tiny, infinitesimal problem.

I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies, Ms. Scarlet.

I was an advanced reader. My siblings are all advanced readers. I had no idea how to write a children’s book since I had never really been exposed to them. Once I realized that, I had a mild panic attack. By mild I mean I texted my editor, Jules, in a right state, freaking out because I had no clue what I was doing. None. Everything I have written has been adult themed and I don’t think parents would enjoy gratuitous sex and violence in a puppy book.

I had time. I signed my contract in July and my submission date wasn’t until November. I sat down and tried to write. I knew what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know how to say it. I wrote, I kid you not, seventeen different versions of book one. I hated all of them. Every single one ended up in the trash. Every. Single. One. I just couldn’t get the language. I either sounded too adult or like I was being a condescending wench. Even meeting with Jules at the local bookstore and looking at the different children’s books did nothing to calm my nerves. I had several moments of soul crushing self-doubt. What the heck was I thinking? I can’t write a children’s book! I mean, seriously? It should not be this hard. I was going to fail. I just knew it. I was a big dummy. If I couldn’t write a 700-word book in simple language, how was I supposed to write an actual novel in the future?

Then Kate said something that made everything fall into place for me and made me realize that I probably needed to be on medication for my anxiety. Not really, but it made me realize how needlessly difficult I was making things for myself. “You are over thinking it. Stop it. You write your story and we, the editors, will fix the language later. That is what editors are for. Write your story.”

So I did. And it came out great. I submitted it well before my turn in date. Jules edited right there in front of me (after she pried it from my shaking hands). It was my first time submitting anything to anyone. It was pretty terrifying. But I’m glad I took that leap. I felt like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusades when he has to “take a leap of faith” to get to the other side of the chasm and he’s freaking out because he can’t jump because he will fall to his death, but he needs to go on because the stupid greedy American guy who sided with the Nazis shot his father, the great Sean Connery, who is actually named Henry Jones, but I call him James Bond, and he closes his eyes and he steps down and, lo and behold!, there is a stone bridge connecting the two caves, but you can’t see it because it blends in with the Pit of Despair. So he goes across and then he tosses rocks on the Bridge of Death so ‘ere the other side the others can see without answering their questions three, which is stupid in my opinion because there are no railings and a slip on a tiny rock will cause you to fall to your doom. Doom, I tell you. Dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom………

Oh. Sorry. Anyhow, the months progressed and my illustrator seemed to read my mind as to how I wanted the book to look. Her artwork is absolutely amazing and she really brought my story to life. I then had to go through the process of creating social media accounts and a website and all that fun stuff. Really it was fun. Especially my website. The launch date started to approach and the panic/excitement started to build again. Was the book going to be ready on time? Were people going to like my story? Where the heck were my proofs??!! But everything worked out fine and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

This has been an amazing experience for me. As a first-time author, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, everything I read stated that it is really hard to get a children’s book published because it is hard to break into the market. There are authors that have inspired me to write, create, and share my world. How could I ever compete with that? The answer is, I can’t, but, my story is still out there. If one child picks up my book and loves it, that is enough for me.


Thanks Ashley! We’re pretty fond of procrastination here, too.

You can find links to Ashley’s social media universe down below.

And come back Thursday, where I’ll talk about the consumer side of children’s books, and what it’s like trying to raise a reader.

Ashley’s Twitter: @theashwa
Abby the Labby’s Facebook page: abbythelabby123
Abby the Labby’s Twitter: @AbbytheLabbyDog
Ashley/Abby’s website: http://www.ashleykvoris.com/

So you want to see the cherry blossoms

The cherry blossoms in the Nation’s Capital are famous. They’re an intense tourist draw and signal the start of our tourist season.

They’re also a symbol of friendship between the US and Japan from the 20’s. That’s right. The trees are almost 100 years old. That’s pretty impressive for a country that loves *new* more than anything.

You can find more information here on activities and directions.

But, I will tell you, one of the best ways to get around in DC is the DC Metro system. (That’s our subway.) Unlike the New York Subways, the DC Metro system is somewhat logical. It’s even fairly well signed. There are a few things you should know as a tourist though.

1. This is one of the most important: Stand Right, Walk Left. If I could make that blink, I would. If you do not want to walk while you are on the escalator, stand to the right and leave enough room for someone to walk by you, if possible. That means put the kid on the step in front of you. Hold your bag out of the way. And be aware that there will likely be someone running or jogging by you while you’re on the escalator. This is true anywhere in the capitol that has an escalator.

2. You will want walking shoes or sneakers. There is a lot of ground to cover and you will need to walk. Even if you drive and attempt to find a parking place. (Seriously, don’t unless it is completely necessary. Public transportation is your friend.) You will need to walk.

3. The museums have pretty good food. If you’re looking for someplace to eat along the Mall, look for a museum. Many of them have cafes. I especially recommend the Natural History and Native American museums for food.

4. Bring something to read on the bus or the Metro. The Metro is a bastion of readers — newspapers, e-readers, books — it doesn’t matter. In fact… you could bring along our great new journal Deep Waters.  It’s got short stories, fits on your phone, and only costs 5.99. How can you go wrong?  (Subtle eh?)

5. Have fun, but don’t be a dick. Pick up your trash and put it in the bin. Don’t stand at the top of the elevator or in the doors. Don’t pick the cherry blossoms off of the 100 year old trees. Be respectful of the people around you and we’ll be pretty nice.

Bonus: 6. Don’t wear white socks with your sandals. Don’t wear black socks with your sandals. In fact, if you need to wear socks, don’t wear sandals. 

Tourists, Time, and Terror

It’s that time of year again in the nation’s capital. There’s a profusion of Mennonites on the Metro, and gawking pedestrians who don’t realize they’re crossing the street near a highway entrance. There’s crowded streets and a kick-off to the high season of tourism and allergies.

A swirl of white and pink and purple flowers is bursting out along the boulevards. The air is filled with the delicate snow-storm of petals each time the wind blows. It’s beautiful.

And the pollen turns my black car caterpillar green. (We will not discuss Code Red pollen days.)

But as I was watching the petals trace across the hood of my car, I started thinking about the symbolism of cherry blossoms. It varies greatly from country to country. And it has its own particular meaning here in the DC Metro area.

In DC, the cherry trees mean friendship. And commerce. And tourists.

To me personally, the cherry blossoms are the first steps of Spring. It’s the time when I choose a different route to work for a few weeks to enjoy a tree-lined  snowstorm of petals and smile during my commute. It means that it’s time to hop on the Metro and head for the museums. It’s the Cherry Blossom Festival and the embassy food tours. There’s film festivals coming and new exhibits. There are people from all over the world coming to my backyard to see something that is ours. A purely positive, non-partisan, non-political explosion of joy and a celebration of two nations choosing friendship. But I’ll talk about the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms later this week.

Instead, let’s talk about a few more traditional ideas of cherry blossoms.

Buddhism references the cherry blossom as a symbol of wisdom. It is the wise person who chooses to embrace each day and celebrate our short time on earth.

The book on tattoos I was perusing the other day pointed out that the Chinese use cherry blossoms to emphasize the power of the feminine. It is youth and beauty and female power. This is sexual power and female authority; passion and love.

The Japanese, however, see the ephemeral nature of life in the quickly blooming and fragile blossoms. It refers to mortality. It’s the fragility of hope and innocence. It is humility and new beginnings.

In Cherry Blossom Express, I chose the Japanese idea. I internalized a lot of Japanese culture over the years. My mother’s research, my father’s movies, my own interest in the artwork and language, have obviously seeped into my subconscious. My main character is half-Japanese, and so it make sense that the mythology and symbols that run through the book are Japanese. It’s not the only mythology and symbology referenced in the book either. There’s Hindu, and Greek, and a touch of Celtic, but they’re blended together because I am an American and the blending of cultures and mythology is where I thrive.

On Friday, I’ll talk about the history of the trees in the Tidal Basin, what not to do on the Metro, and announce an exciting  new reading option.

In the meantime you can order Cherry Blossom Express.

Or pre-order our sci-fi thriller Codes.

Or look at the absolutely adorable Abby the Labby and pre-order that as well.

Now with 50% more Zombies!

This is my week to run the Art of Procrastination (if you want to be technical last week was, but let me sing you a song of how not relaxing spring break is as a parent) and we’re still in that space where I’m not trying to write five blog posts a week. So this post can also be found on my blog.

So Kate and I had idea made of awesome the other night. I’m not going to give you big details yet because we’re not in the big details phase yet. I am going to give you a teaser (more than the post title) and a call to action.

One of my absolute favorite books is Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll. I honestly almost like it better than Pride and Prejudice. Or, if you’re more into cozies, there’s the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris. Some of the things people have started to do with public domain classic literature (I bet the zombie comment makes sense now) just utterly amaze me. The places people can go, and the things they can come up with, off of a story that’s been around for ages speaks to my fanfiction loving soul.
Now obviously given what I said about the super secret project you can probably come up with some idea of where Kate and I are going. Well, shush. Right now all we want from you is your favorite classic. The pint of blood and written transaction promising your first born will come later.
The Rules:
1) Whatever you drop in the box (either here, or on the facebook page) needs to be in the public domain. There are a few ways to check this, but the easiest one is probably just a google search.
 
2) We would prefer short stories, but if you’re going to suggest us a book it’ll have to be a specific scene or a chapter. For instance, don’t give me the entire Children of Mars. Contain yourself to John Carter leaping around on the face of a far distant planet like a doofus.
 
3) You don’t have to want to be involved in the super secret project to drop us a thing. We’d love to see the thing even if you’re not a writer, or not comfortable with adaptation, or currently trekking your way by long-horned cryptid toward Valhalla. It’s all good. 
So. There’s your assignment, America (I possibly watched like fifty-seven episodes of Americas Funniest Home Videos over spring break).
On a totally unrelated side note, cryptid was not the word I was looking for there, but then when I went to check the spelling and found what I’d actually said I decided it needed to stay. You’re welcome.