Friday, March 20, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Reminder: enter to win an autographed hardcover of National Book Award Finalist Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Keturah and Lord Death" in the subject line. Deadline: March 30! All Cynsational readers are eligible! Note: there is a slight uneveness to the cut of the back of the cover and a couple of slightly bent page corners, but it's otherwise in great shape.

More News

Check out the awesome cake (I can tell how it tastes by looking) that Penguin sent Laurie Halse Anderson in celebration of the release of Wintergirls! Attention Austinites: Laurie will be at BookPeople on the evening of March 28!

Here's the book trailer to Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2009). See also the newly launched micro site. Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Getting a Spine by Tiffany Trent from Eudaimonium. Peek: "I've always hated it when people tell me the two basic things about fiction: a character must want and a character must change. Because the rebel in me always says: Why?" Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Barry Goldblatt Literary has added two new agents: Joe Monti and Beth Fleisher. Source: Jo Knowles via Publishers Weekly. Read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Emily Gravett from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I try and make school visits as interactive as possible. The kids I talk to can be quite young, so I get them to do lots of shouting out and joining in. I tell them a little bit about how I became an illustrator, using slides with photos and drawings, and then we write a book together with me doing the drawings. It's fun, nerve-wracking (for me), and sometimes a little chaotic!"

Combine Babies and Bylines by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: "The (survival) skills you need to both write and parent change with each stage of your children's lives. (Sometimes your biggest need is time or energy. Other times your biggest need is keeping your sanity!) So over the next few days, I thought I'd blog about practical ways to combine writing and parenting throughout these stages."

On Conflict from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "A character at peace with their surroundings and the characters they're interacting with is, well, completely boring."

The Last Exit to Normal by by Michael Harmon (Knopf, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "Harmon eschews cliches and portrays each of Ben, his father and stepdad, and the people of Rough Butte as authentic, realistic, and rounded."

"Take a right turn. Or a left." from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "So, as you are working the middle of your novel, you probably are thinking about the conflict and moving your story forward. You probably aren't thinking that your story should just change directions. But it should—that’s what will keep readers turning the page." Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

An Author at Home: Jen Bryant from Kimberly Willis Holt at A Pen and A Nest. Peek: "Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels and poems for readers of all ages. Her biographical picture book: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, received a Caldecott Honor award and her historical novel in verse Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial is an Oprah Recommended Book for ages 12 & up."

Me, Tom by Troy Howell from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "The more time you spend in a character’s shoes—or feet, with one toe wrapped—whether you’re a reader or writer (or an illustrator, for that matter), the deeper the experience, the more natural the representation. You can hear his voice, smell her hands."

The Silence of the Bunnies: the revelation of Horn Book editor Roger Sutton's Kryptonite from Read Roger. Peek: "We've been entrusted with the care of Ruby for a couple of weeks. She may look like a rabbit but behaves more like a Sphinx, her silent inscrutability causing me to project all manner of implacable menace into her unblinking gaze." Note: raises the question of whether Roger is a vengeance demon, but to be sure, this is my Geektastic link description of the day. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

In celebration of the upcoming release of Stargazer (HarperCollins, March 24, 2009), author Claudia Gray is giving ten winners their choice of Evernight Academy T-shirts and other nifty stuff. Learn more here. Note: peek at the Stargazer prologue and chapter one.

More Personally

Thank you to my website designer, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, for my beautiful new page to showcase my book trailers. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Thanks to author Helen Hemphill for reporting a sighting of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) in Cape Town (South Africa). Wow, I can hardly believe a story made it all there way there from that first draft tapped out on the daybed in my sun room. Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from {Insert Book Title Here}. Peek: "I'm pretty happy as a human being. But if I had to pick, I'd rather be an angel. Among other things, I'd get better hair with the deal. Are shape shifters an option? It would be fun to be a werecat!"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Deadly Little Secret

You last visited Cynsations in December 2007 to discuss the release of Project 17 (Hyperion, 2007). Do you have any more recent news to share on that novel or your other books?

Project 17 will be coming out in paperback in June. For its release, I'll be launching a very exciting contest (more details will be available this spring). Also, I was very happy to hear that Project 17 made the ALA Quick Pick List for 2009.

Congratulations on the success of Deadly Little Secret (Hyperion, 2008)! Could you tell us about the novel?

Up until three months ago, everything about sixteen-year-old Camelia's life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at an art studio downtown.

But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, her life becomes far from ordinary.

Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend's accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She's reluctant to believe he's trouble, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. Instead she's inexplicably drawn to him, and to his touch.

But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she' in danger, and that he can help, but she's not so sure she can trust him. She knows he's hiding something, and he's not the only one with a secret.

What was the inspiration for writing it?

I wanted to write a story where the main character has to struggle with the idea of falling in love with someone who could potentially be dangerous. I tinkered with this concept in the first three books of my Blue is for Nightmares Series [(Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn, 2003), White is for Magic (Llewellyn, 2004), and Silver is for Secrets (Llewellyn, 2005) as well as in Bleed (Hyperion, 2006)].

In Bleed, in particular, there's a young male character who was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend. His next relationship consists of pen pal letters he exchanges with a young girl while he's in prison. Without giving too much away, the relationship is briefly pursued once he is released, but I wanted to bring this concept to another level.

Additionally, I wanted to continue experimenting with the supernatural (which I also use in my Blue is for Nightmares Series as well as in Project 17), showing how we all have our own inner senses and intuition and how, with work, we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.

I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power of psychometry (the ability to sense things through touch). The concept fascinated me, and so I wanted to bring it out in a character, showing how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

Lastly, I wanted this book to be part of another series because I love the idea of growing a main character over the course of several books. Deadly Little Lies, the second book in the Touch Series, will be released this fall.

What was the timeline between spark and each publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I sold the book based on a detailed synopsis. It came out about a year and a half later. I keep a strict ten-pages-per-week deadline for myself while I'm working on a project. This keeps me right on target, time-wise.

Do you have a vision for your career as an author or take it book-to-book or both? How does that come together in your mind?

I definitely do like to take things book-by-book. I'd like to be able to continue this career for many years to come. I'm having fun with it, I have a generous and devoted fan base, and I'm learning a lot. I'm very lucky and very grateful. For now, that works for me.

Of the ways you reach out to your readers, which do you think are most effective and why?

I'm really enjoying Facebook right now. It's very user-friendly, which is definitely a big plus for me. I like being able to update it so easily, and I've been able to connect with a lot of my readers by using it. I also send out an e-newsletter every couple of months, informing readers about signings, events, new books, and contests.

Do you have a mentor (or did you earlier on)?

Yes, my English professor during my undergraduate time at Merrimack College, Dr. MaryKay Mahoney. I was a business major in college with huge dreams of becoming a writer. It just never occurred to me that I could actually pursue that dream.

I came from a very practical family with not a lot of money, and the idea of becoming a writer was about the equivalent of going to Hollywood and becoming the next Julia Roberts. It just wasn't within the realm of possibility for me.

But MaryKay told me that I owed it to myself to pursue my writing, that I was very talented, and that she knew if I tried I could do it. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. Not so coincidentally, I dedicated Deadly Little Secret to her and to my mother.

Do you work with a critique group, a partner, or exclusively with your editor? Why does that work for you?

For years, I worked in a writers group that I really loved, but then people started doing other things and taking breaks, and so I went back to working on my own.

For Deadly Little Lies, I swapped first draft pages with Stacy DeKeyser, author of Jump the Tracks (Flux, 2008). I really like getting feedback on my work. I think it's important to get that perspective. I get so close to my work and I like having someone there to ask just the right questions along the way.

How has publishing changed since you first entered the field?

It feels as though the young adult market has quadrupled since I first started. It's exciting. There are so many more options for teens to read than when I was a young adult, which makes more opportunities for writers.

I never imagined having the opportunity to write graphic novel, being able to return to my love of screenwriting (I wrote the draft in screenplay format), and having the opportunity to work with an illustrator. But I was able to do just that with Black is for Beginnings, the fifth book in my Blue is for Nightmares Series (Flux, 2009).

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

I think she managed pretty well on her own, though I would tell her to have a bit more confidence. Looking back there are indeed some things I would have changed, but I've learned a lot since then, and I think I'm better for the process.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to Laurie read from the first chapter of Deadly Little Secret.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win an autographed hardcover of National Book Award Finalist Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) from Cynsations. From the promotional copy:

"Keturah follows a legendary hart into the king's forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near. Little does she know that he is a young, handsome lord, melancholy and stern.

"Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve--but only for twenty-four hours She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost.

"Keturah searches desperately while the village prepares for an unexpected visit from the king and Keturah is thrust into a prominent role as mysterious happenings alarm her friends and neighbors. Lord Death's presence hovers over this all until Keturah confronts him one last time in the harrowing climax."

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Keturah and Lord Death" in the subject line. Deadline: March 30! All Cynsational readers are eligible!
Note: there is a slight uneveness to the cut of the back of the cover and a couple of slightly bent page corners, but it's otherwise in great shape.

Congratulations to Martha in Wisconsin, the winner of paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)!

More News

28 & Beyond Kimani Tru from Paula Chase-Hyman at The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...readers are now presented with the trials and tribulations of growing up young in the hood (and this can be an urban hood or a rural/suburban one) or books with a less edgy more wholesome, christian layer to them. What's still missing, in mass quantities anyway, are the portrayals that lie between the two. ...Kimani Tru fills the void..." Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of the Brown Bookshelf.

Below, Elizabeth Scott reads from Something Maybe (Simon Pulse, March 24, 2009).

Kids book author accumulating accolades for first novel by Kayla Slimp from The Eagle of Bryan-College Station, Texas. Peek: "Kathi Appelt said she still feels like she's shaking the glitter out of her hair."

African American Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (AACBWI) will host its first conference on April 25 at the Hilton University Place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Presenters include: Sarah Ketchersid, Senior Editor of Candlewick Press; Eileen Robinson, creator of and former Scholastic Executive Editor and Harcourt Editorial Manager; Eleanora E. Tate, award-winning author; Don Tate, award-winning illustrator. See more information.

Maggie Gets Violent: My Thoughts on Bloodshed in Books by Maggie Stiefvater at Words on Words. Peek: "While I think there's a time and a place for physical pain in a novel (anyone who has read any of my novels will see that I live by these words), I never think that physical pain will have the same affect on the reader that emotional pain does." Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Bethany Hegedus: official site of the author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009). Peek: "I now live in Brooklyn, where I miss the coming of the maganolias but look forward to the blossoms of the cherry trees. I hear 'outtamyway' and 'standclearoftheclosingdoors please' on a daily basis but I still recall the 'howdy’s' and 'hey’s' of the high school hallways. I may have left the south, but it hasn’t left me and Coca-Cola Cake willing, it never will."

what do me, Kate Winslet, and Jamie Lee Curtis have in common? from Sara Zarr. Peek: "I am just really tired of and sad about my friends and random women and girls being so unhappy with themselves because they don’t look like women they see in magazines, who are uber-retouched, limbs lengthened, flesh carved away, etc. And tired of men thinking that's how women look." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Class of 2K10: a cooperative debut author promotional group. If you are: 1. the author of a debut MG or YA novel that will be published in 2010 and; 2. being published by a house listed in the CWIM and in the U.S., you are eligible to apply for membership. Source: Dawn Metcalf.

Hats Off to Mom Writers! by Kristy Holl. Peek: "...last week a friend recommended a book for writer/moms that sounds wonderful called Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz."

Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty (FSG, 2006): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "McClafferty's volume also weaves in the cultural impact of the discovery of radium: its widespread and casual uses as a medical cure-all and the subsequent realization that it is, in fact, highly toxic."

Happy belated blogoversary to April Henry!

Audiobooks with Mary Burkey of Audiobooker from Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: "No, I don't feel that listening to audiobooks is reading - but it isn't cheating either! In today's world, we often overlook the listening component of Language Arts. By integrating audiobooks into a literacy program, students increase vocabulary, gain fluency, hear how phrasing and intonation results from punctuation, and experience authentic accents and dialects."

Book Launch: Jane in Bloom (Dutton, 2009) from Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Doing the research on eating disorders was painful because the first-hand accounts are heart-wrenching. I think the hardest part of writing this story was in making it realistic but also appropriate for younger readers. I wanted parents to be comfortable with their children reading this book."

Check out the book trailer for Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison (Razorbill, 2009). Source: The Compulsive Reader.

Marvelous Marketer - Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children's Book Author. Peek: "On one hand, it is an agent’s job to fight for their author. Yet, on the other hand, I think there are times when an agent has to manage their author's expectations. There will never be limitless funds available to promote every book in the way every author hopes (there is probably a finite overall budget for the whole list and whole year, laid down in advance, to be sliced up by the marketing director)." Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

A Birthing of Sorts: author Kimberly Willis Holt shares her process (including marked manuscript) for writing Skinny Brown Dog. Peek: "Christy always includes positive remarks in her notes. I have to admit when I first receive her editorial letters and notes, I search them out." Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Author R.L. LaFevers of Shrinking Violet Promotions fame will be appearing at 11 a.m. March 22 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with R.L.

Interview: Cyn Balog - Author of the upcoming Fairy Tale (Delacorte, June 23, 2009) from Want My YA. Peek: "Fairy Tale is about a teenage girl who learns her boyfriend is a fairy, and that he's due to leave her and return to Otherworld on his 16th birthday. She decides to fool the fairies and fight to keep him with her." Learn more about Fairy Tale.

Skate by Michael Harmon (Knopf, 2006): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "...a remarkable novel of responsibility, family, and self-reliance."

Fillers and Drainers by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: 'Was I filler or a drainer today?' Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take?"

The Best Present A Writer Could Ever Want by Siobhan at The Longstockings. Peek: "Mrs. Hetzel has always been my biggest supporter. Even when I was a crazy student who had endless energy (aka: behavioral issues) and probably drove her, and countless other teachers, completely bonkers, Mrs. Hetzel never told me to quiet down or reign it in. She was nothing but completely encouraging of me."

Join author Michelle Knudsen to celebrate the release of The Dragon of Trelian (Candlewick, 2009) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 14 at Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th Street) in New York City! Peek: "A middle-grade fantasy adventure involving a princess, a mage's apprentice, a dragon, a hundred-year war, several secrets, old grudges, new enemies, lots of danger, a little romance, and an evil plot against the kingdom of Trelian that must be stopped at all costs!" Read a sample chapter (PDF file). Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle Press, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: " engaging, heartwarming, and sometimes funny story of growing up, responsibility, and what makes a family. " Read a Cynsations interview with Lynn.

Children's Book Biz from Anastasia Suen. Note: feeling overwhelmed by staff/organizational changes at children's-YA publishers? Anastasia is 100% on top of it for you.

School Visit to Foley, Alabama! from Shana Burg. Peek: "In one workshop, The Power of a Question, we talked about how writers need to ask excellent questions to uncover information from sources. I shared details of the interviews I did when researching my book, and then we practiced what we learned by playing a game that left us all laughing." Note: a former teacher, Austin-based debut author Shana Burg is highly recommended as a speaker. Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

More Personally

Attention MySpace readers: you may want to check out the fan-generated Eternally Tantalizing Role Playing Game and new character page for Sabine on MySpace. In addition, there are now over 400 members of Tantalize Fans Unite! (Thanks, Britmett Bear!).

Attention Facebook readers: you may want to check out my featured author interview at The Ultimate YA Reading Group.

Publishers Weekly says of Eternal: "The confessional style, alternating between Miranda and Zachary's points of view, is intriguing as a diary—readers should be hooked by this fully formed world, up through the action-packed finale."

Gwenda Bond of Shaken & Stirred says of Eternal: "the best kind of sequel--the kind that's even better than the first book... If you never thought guardian angels could be awesome, we have something in common: We were wrong. Dark, witty, fabulous. Read this now."

{Insert Book Title Here} YA Book Blog chimes in: "The whole vampire/guardian angel concept was interesting... I loved how she left us with a glimmer of hope at the end that left me begging. I want the third novel now! I can't wait to see what this author will come out with next."

Thanks to Kim Winters at Kat's Eye for re-reading Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007)!

Thanks to Donna Bowman Bratton for her report on author Lila Guzman's Austin SCBWI presentation (with photos!).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Publicist Interview: Julie Schoerke of JKSCommunications

Founder and Principal of JKSCommunications, Julie Schoerke promotes publishers, authors and books from across the country. She started the company in 2001 as a general public relations company.

Schoerke has built the literary publicity company by being sensitive to the divergent needs of the publishers, the authors, the agents and the media.

She works tirelessly to be sure that every member of the team has what is needed to make a book launch and publicity campaign sparkle and sizzle. She considers it a fluid process and is always on the lookout for the latest marketing opportunities in this fast-paced, dynamic communications world we live in today. Many of the clients Schoerke works with have sought out her work on the recommendation of agents, in-house publicists, and other authors. Most clients come through word of mouth.

Virtual Book Tours, Book and Media Tours (traveling with the author), book trailers and cultivation of independent booksellers for award nominations for books are a few ways that Schoerke promotes her clients.

Books/Authors in the past year that JKSCommunications has promoted:

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press)
Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West (HarperCollins)
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore (Crown Publishing)
The Blue Cotton Gown: A Medical Memoir by Patricia Harman (Beacon Press)
One Fell Swoop by Virginia Boyd (Thomas Nelson)
The Golden Rules for Managers by Frank McNair (Sourcebooks)
Charles Ghigna "Father Goose"

Before specializing in the book industry, Schoerke worked in the public relations for 20 years.

What first inspired you to enter the field of publicity?

I started out in politics and not-for-profit management years ago, became a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, and then found that I needed to go back into the work force.

I started my own PR business helping all kinds of companies, organizations, and celebrities. But as my business grew, I got the opportunity to become a little more selective in the clients I worked with.

I found that I loved the intelligence, sense of humor, and integrity of authors and people who worked in the book industry. Authors became my "rock stars," and the real rock stars that I worked with flat out weren't as interesting to be around as the writers.

I've always been a voracious reader, and I don't have a book in me to write, so this was a dream come to true, to find a way to use my skills in publicity to help readers learn about terrific books and authors.

Could you tell us about JSK Communications?

JKSCommunications is a full-service literary publicity and promotion company that has launched books in most genres.

Working with authors is such a personal thing. Authors have a huge stake in their books doing well, and the ones who hire us are driven to push the sales of their books.

As a result, messing up isn't an option. I've never missed a deadline for a client, I try to be as available as possible for authors, especially ones who are being published for the first time and are worried about the business.

I encourage my clients to talk to me when they're worried or trying to think through issues rather than calling their agents or editors on a whim. Agents and editors want to work with authors, but their job doesn’t include daily contact by any stretch!

Even in the down-economy, JKSCommunications has been able to grow! I have an amazing young woman who was a journalist and reporter that has come on board, Marissa DeCuir. She can get terrific television and radio interviews for clients and she is as picky about deadlines and details as I am! It took me seven years to find the right person to help me expand the company, and now I feel so lucky she is helping promote the great books we represent! We also have partnerships with web designers and book trailer producers.

What appeals to you about working with authors specifically?

Authors are thoughtful people--both in intelligence and in their demeanor, I've found. Authors want people to read their work above and beyond all else. That's what motivates them.

I end up working with about 1/3 – 1/2 of the authors who contact me. I have to really love their book and connect with them personally or I can't be enthusiastic in promoting their work.

Every day is an adventure, is fun, sometimes extremely challenging. There is nothing more rewarding than helping engage an audience for an author who has toiled for years to get published, who has put her or his whole heart and soul into it.

I've heard that there are authors who aren't interested in helping other authors--but I've never personally worked with one. Authors and book people by nature seem to be very generous in every sense of the word.

Could you highlight a couple of the children's/YA authors and titles that you've worked with?

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press) launched at the end of 2008 and is a book I'm extremely proud to be associated with.

Helen is talented, bright, and has an intellectual curiosity that has made it possible for her to write critically-acclaimed YA novels that are also widely popular.

This book in particular was great to work on with Helen because it's the story of an African-American cowboy--a story never told in children's literature before as far as we've been able to discover.

The publisher and the publishing team were really behind this book and let us try some innovative and creative publicity things that brought a whole new audience to Helen's work.

Helen worked tirelessly on this project. There were many nights when we were emailing each other at 11 p.m. to get ready for the next day's onslaught of new publicity tactics.

I'm currently working with Charles Ghigna, Father Goose, on a new project that will encompass his entire body of work over the past several decades. He is the most published children's poet alive today and is only behind Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein in published poetry for kids in the United States.

His poetry book for YA/middle school boys, Score!: 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire (Abrams), is just his most recent of scores of books that have sold in the millions and been published by all of the major publishing houses.

Could you give us a case study to illustrate your approach? What were the unique challenges, opportunities, how did you respond to them, and what were your results?

Helen Hemphill

Front Street/Boyds Mills Press did an amazing job of providing all of the advance reader copies (ARCs) we requested--and we requested a lot! But we knew if the book got in the hands of the right people, the buzz would take off.

Helen and I went to the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, SIBA Conference in Mobile, Alabama; just as the book was launching. Every day we carried a stack of ARCs with us and talked to booksellers. We met with the actual foot soldiers who sell the books to bookstores through the distribution company, and we spent time with them.

Even today I've had two bookstores--four months after the book debuted--contacting me to set up book signings with Helen. She's been so sought after that it's been difficult to schedule all the book signings she's been invited to do.

We made sure we touched teachers, librarians, and booksellers at least three times through email, postcard mailings, or other avenues before they got a book.

Helen's books have always sold very well to librarians and teachers, educators. But we wanted to branch out to the retail market. It worked!

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones was chosen as an Indie Next Pick in December, 2008. For a book to be chosen as an Indie Next Pick, it must have been nominated as the best book in that genre by numerous independent bookstores. The bookstore owners and managers take it upon themselves to contact IndieBound--the organization of all independent bookstores across the country--and go to the effort to nominate the book.

It was gratifying to get feedback that the book had been nominated by bookstores in every corner of the United States--Northwest, South, Midwest, even from the East Coast.

Helen "went" on a virtual book tour for about two weeks--"visiting" literary blogs through interviews and contests for her book. The on-line reviewers are delightful and make my job so much fun.

We also came up with two book trailers that are posted on YouTube and have received nearly 1,400 hits between them:

We wanted to do a book talk similar to those funny e-trade commercials with the baby. We dressed a cute little eight-month old boy up as a cowboy. But he kept crawling up to the camera and grabbing it, so we tied a bandanna around my dog, put some peanut butter in her mouth, and she did the book talk:

Helen is a magician on a Mac and she created this book trailer in a matter of hours. We got lots of positive feedback from librarians and others on this:

Helen is a highly sought after speaker at educational conferences, and she sometimes criss-crosses the country three times in a week to make presentations. The woman has as much energy as her teenage fans! And she continues to write while promoting--she has two new amazing books she's working on right now!

[Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.]

In what other ways has your work connected with the youth literature market?

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore (Crown Publishing) was released as adult fiction/southern literature.

We targeted women in our messaging for the launch. Moms talked about how much they loved that book, and their daughters started grabbing the copies from their moms' bookshelves. Pretty soon there was buzz in teen magazines and blogs for teens. The book was picked up as a summer reading project by schools whose librarians loved the book when they read it for their personal enjoyment.

Susan's in-house publicist is just great to work with, loves the book, and has helped our team come up with ways to increase young readership also.

This was Susan's first novel, and she worked endlessly on promoting. We did it through a strategic partnership with Dairy Queen and an exhaustive 30+ city book and media tour (that Susan chose to finance herself, using part of her advance).

The book is in its fourth hard-cover printing and will be coming out this summer in soft cover. And, yes, Susan will be hitting even more cities this summer to promote it.

I travel with her, and my other female authors as often as possible for a couple of reasons. I, as the publicist, can say things about the book (how great it is!) that the author can't (or shouldn't) say, and sometimes there are media opportunities that I can grab at the last minute, those that fall in our laps that authors on their own can't do for various reasons.

Cottonwood Spring by Gary Slaughter (Fletcher House) is launching in March. It's the fourth book in a series of historical fiction about life on the home front in Michigan during World War II.

Although written for adults, Gary's style is accessible to all ages. After concentrating on targeting teachers and librarians, we've just learned that school districts in Michigan have decided to include it in curriculum.

Gary was a very successful businessman before becoming an author. He knew he needed to build his fan base through a grass-roots effort and started five years ago capturing the email of every single fan who wrote, every reader who came to his book talks throughout Tennessee and Michigan, and others until he had a database of more than 1,000 followers. These people have become quite loyal and buy each book in the series as they are published.

Now that the series is complete, we will probably negotiate with a large publishing house to consolidate the series into a shorter version with a goal of national exposure. The series has proven to be highly successful in targeted geographic regions, which is a key for authors in securing bigger publishing deals as they grow.

If you can prove that you are a commercial success in one area of the country, publishers will extrapolate that your book will have wide appeal in other parts of the United States.

Why should a published author consider working with a publicist?

I think the real validation for me came when an inside-publicist sent a published author to me and told her to hire me. The book industry is going through a tough time. Even before the blip in the fourth quarter of 2008, publishers were cutting back their marketing budgets.

Here's a secret that makes most writers' skin crawl: generally a publisher only needs one out of every nine or ten books to be successful in order for the publisher to make money. It's gambling with the highest stakes for the authors. The publishers throw the book out with two weeks allotted for the inside publicist to concentrate on it--they see which books get natural buzz and then they support those books.

Publishers want to see that an author is committed to the success of the book. If an author is willing to make appearances, set up their own website, blog, create book trailers, reach out to their spheres of influence (such as the medical memoir written by a midwife--the midwife hired me, and we reach out to the thousands of midwives and women who have delivered babies through midwives to get buzz going about The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir (Beacon)), then the publisher knows it has a partner in the business.

Some authors are too shy or for some other reason won't do these things. Their books don't generally do so well.

Authors at first are nervous that the publisher or in-house publicist will have their feelings hurt if they hire an outside publicist--quite the contrary!

Many in-house publicists have at least 50 titles a year to launch. They are overworked, young, and doing the best they can with limited resources. To have someone come along and help out with the "heavy lifting" by thinking outside the box to create strategic partnerships, getting in contact personally with the local media during the book tour, and having strong personal ties with bookstore owners across the country is a plus.

Hey, if the book sells well, everybody wins and that's what publishing is about--making money. I know that sounds crass, but publishing is a business.

What nobody tells you (several of my clients have asked me to write a book about this, but I think it would be a bit boring and self-serving!) is that the advance money you get, after working so hard to create this wonderful book, also needs to be stretched and partly spent on marketing and publicity. If you don't want to be a one-book-wonder, you have to prove that your first book can sell through and you deserve a shot at having your second book published.

Another thing nobody tells you, the best promotional campaigns start at least three months before the launch (that's when reviewers see it and many books are nominated for literary awards). So you want your publisher to provide plenty of advance reader copies (ARCs) three months in advance, and you want to have a professional publicist with an action plan so that both of you can hit the ground running.

I have a client who is an author of business books. He hired me nearly a year in advance of his next book to position him by getting him guest author columns in business and management publications and getting him on editorial boards of trade organizations and publications so that he'll have a bigger fan base when his book is available.

What should an author consider in choosing a publicist? What are the questions to ask? How else can the author make the best possible choice?

My clients generally come to me through word of mouth. Ask your successful author friends who they use and what their experience has been. Check with your agent and see if he or she has a suggestion. Do a web search using key words for what you want in a publicist or in a publicity campaign, and see what comes up. If there is a book that is similar to yours and has done well, research why it has done well and set out to have the same kind of campaign. Go to conferences and lectures when publicists are speaking, and see if what they say resonates with you and makes sense. If so, check them out, and then call them up to talk.

If they're a good publicist, they won't agree to work with you until they've gotten a copy of your book (or manuscript) for review. Make sure that the chemistry is good. Like all other kinds of work, you want to be sure the person you'll be in contact with a lot is somebody that you feel comfortable with and like.

What advice do you have for writers trying to handle their own publicity/media relations?

There are so many things you can do! Understand that in today's economic atmosphere, publishing companies aren't sending authors on limousine and caviar book tours any more. That advance you got is for you to use in part to market and promote your own book.

Easy, painless ways to promote:

• Ask your local bookstore (preferably an independent store – they tend to hand-sell books they like) to have a "launch party" for you where you read from your book and answer questions.

• Invite all your friends, colleagues, and neighbors to come help you celebrate the launch of your book at the reading. Send postcards, email--mail invitations if you like. If your book has a hook, use it! Susan Gregg Gilmore and I have eaten our weight in Dilly Bars from Dairy Queen in the past year promoting her book! Serve food that goes with your book.

• Be sure to let the local media know ahead of time that you're doing this.

• Have somebody take photos that night and send them to the newspaper if nobody from the paper shows up. Put them on your blog and/or website. Yes, you do need a website to promote no matter what!

• Find out what local literary festivals are within driving range and apply to them (if you have a book trailer, email that to the head of the festival as an entertaining way to introduce yourself and your book).

• Whenever you travel anywhere, check out the bookstores before you go, call and let them know you'll be in the area and would love to stop by and sign copies of your book while you're there--that ensures better placement of your book in the store and that the bookstores will order your books.

• If you belong to Jacketflap, Facebook, LinkedIn, or another social networking site, be sure to promote the launch of your book there and give updates periodically.

• Know that the day after your book comes out it is "old" news to reviewers. Reviewers want to get an advance copy before it's available in stores.

• Be nice, be friendly, have patience, do all you can to make it easy, fun, and pleasant for booksellers you meet to sell your book! Booksellers who hand-sell your book (tell customers how much they like the book and you) are your best friends!

Are you interested in speaking to writer groups?

Absolutely! I love to talk to writer groups. I find that writers often get inspired realizing that there is a whole, fun, exciting phase beyond the day they see their book in print for the first time. Ron Hogan, who is one of the geniuses behind Media Bistro: GalleyCat, and I will be doing some presentations together later this year.

How can people get in touch with you?

I can be reached at or by calling 615.476.1367.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

A warning: Understand completely the difference between being published by a small independent or major publishing house and a self-publishing or vanity press and what some of the challenges with self-publishing are.

I'm always saddened when people come to me after they've self-published, not realizing how that will affect their ability to get their books in bookstores and how it will affect their ability to promote their books.

The lines are blurring, but there are advantages by holding out, doing the editing an agent tells you to do and getting published by a publisher that offers you a contract that pays you. You don't pay the publisher.

If you're reading this blog, this means you're already a fan of Cynthia's. But, know that she is the gold standard of what a person in the business of books should be. She's generous in helping others, she works endlessly, and is beloved by her fans of all ages because of her generous spirit. So, if you get published, pay attention to what Cynthia does to mentor others, and give writers behind you the same kind of hand to climb up the ladder too.

Thank you so much, Cynthia for giving me this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned with all of your fans! It has been a real honor!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Author Interview: Heather Henson on That Book Woman

Learn more about Heather Henson.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer, but I hadn't really thought about writing children's books until after I graduated from college. I began temping to make ends meet in New York City, and one of the first temp jobs was at HarperCollins Children's Books.

During that time, I rediscovered all the books I'd loved as a child, books my mother had read to me. I enjoyed working on children's books so much that I decided to stay, and luckily the job became permanent.

Eventually I became an editor. I kept on writing in my spare time, though, and slowly my own work started to shift over to the world of young adults and children. Now I can't imagine writing for "older" readers.

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I was incredibly lucky because I was an editor before I was an author, and so I knew something about the business of publishing. But even so, there are always hurdles.

My first novel for young adults was published right away, but it's taken about eight years for my second novel to come out. The revision process for that novel took a lot longer, and it changed editors' hands a couple of times.

Also, the editor who published my novel didn't connect with my first picture book manuscript, but I sent it to another editor, and she loved it.

You just have to keep sending stuff out to see what connects.

Could you update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Making the Run, my first novel for young adults, was published by Joanna Cotler Books/HarperCollins Publishers in 2002. It was featured in Publisher's Weekly's Flying Starts and was chosen as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

Angel Coming, my first picture book, illustrated by Susan Gaber, was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2005. It received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Congratulations on the success of That Book Woman, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

The book is about a young boy named Cal who lives high in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky where there are no schools or libraries because it is so remote.

One day a woman arrives on horseback with a saddlebag full of books. She is a Pack Horse Librarian, and she will return every two weeks to "swap" books.

Cal's sister is overjoyed, but Cal is suspicious of the stranger. Why does she keep coming up the mountain in all kinds of weather? What's so important about books? Why are they "free as air?"

Eventually we learn that Cal's distrust is rooted in his shame over not being able to read. But because of the book woman's bravery and perseverance, Cal comes to see the wonder of books, and he is able to overcome his stubborn pride and ask his sister to teach him to read.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A photograph. While researching my fist picture book, Angel Coming, which celebrates the work of the Frontier Nursing Service of eastern Kentucky, I came across a photograph of a woman on horseback bringing books to a family in Appalachia. The woman was part of the Pack Horse Library Project, kind of a book mobile on horseback. There were more photographs and stories about these brave, remarkable women, and I was just hooked.

I knew immediately I'd found a great nugget of history for a picture book, I just wasn't sure at first how to approach it. It took at least a year to really "find" the story. But once Cal started to "speak" to me, I just felt that I was on the right path.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

It took about a year to write the manuscript. I finished it just before my twins were born!

When they were about four months old, I was able to focus enough to begin revisions. The manuscript went back and forth between me and my editor for nearly another year!

Finally, my editor felt it was perfect (she's tough!), and she sent it to David Small. Lucky for me, he liked it and decided to make time in his busy schedule.

It came out earlier than I expected, which was a thrill, but still it was almost four years from start to finish.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Having twins! I honestly don't remember the first year of their life, it's such a blur, and so I'm not sure how I actually was able to work at all!

What did David's art bring to your text?

Where do I begin? David is brilliant, so of course he brought his vast experience and unique vision. But one incredibly important thing: originally Cal was younger than his sister, Lark. But David made the choice to make him older, and this was a brilliant decision because it made the fact that he can't read more poignant.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Write, write, write! Don’t stop!

What were your favorite books of 2008 and why?

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster, 2008) because the story and writing are so powerful.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview) because the writing is exquisite.

What do you do when you're not reading or writing?

Being a mom. My twins are four now, and my son is 8.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It's tricky. I'm too new at being an author to have a great solution. I've traveled much more for That Book Woman, because when Angel Coming was first published, the twins were only about ten months old. I've loved going to book fairs and libraries and schools and bookstores this past fall because the response to That Book Woman has just been so wonderful. But traveling to promote one book definitely takes you away from what you're working on next.

I need to write every day, so getting off schedule is hard. I'm behind on a novel now in fact. But I hate to complain because I’m so lucky to have a reason to travel!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My novel for middle grade readers comes out Spring 2009. It's called Here's How I See It/Here's How It Is, and it's about a girl growing up in a summer stock theater, dreaming of being a famous actress.

Another picture book will be published Summer 2009. It's called Grumpy Grandpa, and is illustrated by Ross MacDonald. It was inspired by my son's relationship with his sometimes grumpy grandpa.
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