Monday, August 22, 2016

#MGGetsReal: Behind the Scenes with Joyce Hostetter

Next week I'll return to my posts on Highlights Summer Camp, but today I wanted to share an intriguing marketing initiative.

You may have seen #MGGetsReal floating around the Internet this past month. And you may know that it involves five dynamite middle grade authors: Shannon Wiersbitzky, Shannon Hitchcock, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, and Kerry O'Malley Cerra. 

But do you know how it came about? In this exclusive interview with Joyce, you're going to see how this marketing effort was formulated and how this team carried it out.

How did you all decide to form the #MGGetsReal group? Who was behind it? How did you choose the title? 

Let’s blame this on Shannon Wiersbitzky. I think she’d participated in joint marketing initiatives before. But anyway, I received an email inquiring if I’d be interested in joining a few authors in a concentrated promotional campaign for one month.  Of course, I said, YES even though it was going to jolt me out of my comfortable blogging lethargy.

We five authors brainstormed via emails. Shannon envisioned a hashtag that could be used via social media.  We tried out a few, keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate, how visually clear we could make it in a hashtag, and what would be punchy and memorable.  #MGGetsReal emerged. Of course we did other brainstorming too, to establish the criteria for this effort.

Are you particularly targeting middle grade teachers? If so, how? Have you had any response to this?

We hope to reach Middle Grade teachers and school librarians, although we adore readers of all ages and professions!  We chose the month of August because educators would be gearing up for a new school year. We wrote articles and blog posts and offered to guest blog for a variety of teacher and librarian groups that we have connections with. 

Shannon W. assembled images of our books covers that we all could use and I (with help from my daughter) developed a video that introduced our books. 

Kathy landed a blogging slot at Literacy and NCTE and Shannon H. introduced our video at Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read

Shannon also cranked out terrific blog posts and articles that inspired the rest of us to get to work. 

Kerry compiled an astounding list of Middle Grade Books About Tough Topics.  

I used our Talking Story platform to create a newsletter to send to educators. 

We all blogged more than usual and reviewed each other books.  And we’re Facebooking and Tweeting a lot too!

I would love to tell you that our book sales spiked as a result and that teachers across America are choosing to use our books in their classroom. But of course, we have no idea just yet how the campaign will play itself out.  However, we believe the awareness of our titles is spreading and we’ve certainly fallen in love with each other’s books. Perhaps, best of all, we’ve built a small community of cooperation among ourselves as authors.  That’s worth a whole lot. We also know that this is likely the beginning of a movement that other authors will pick up and continue.  Our effort is simply the first wave. 

Please share the common threads between the books and tell us how COMFORT fits into the mix?

Tough topics—that’s the common thread.  Hard things happen in life and we want middle graders to discover characters who face difficulties with courage and creativity.

In WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky, Delia is especially resourceful when her surrogate grandfather develops Alzheimer’s, finding a way to help him remember his life experiences. She does this by drawing the whole town into retelling stories of his life. It’s such a beautiful novel with themes of legacy and flowers and memory and love.  How is that similar to COMFORT?  An adult family member has mental struggles and the protagonist helps him to connect with community. 

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw tells the story of Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. And yes, it describes the bombing and its aftermath.  This is such a profound story and I think Ann Fay feels the profundity of that devastation in COMFORT when her family hears the announcement of the Hiroshima bombing on the radio. This is the moment when Daddy’s post war trauma really begins to manifest itself. Both are books about war and how it changes a character’s world.

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Two boys, one Christian and one Muslim find their world and their friendship grinds to a halt in the aftermath of the attacks.  Jake the protagonist may be misguided in the ways he sticks up for his friend but his loyalty is always there. He is persistent too and those characteristics remind me of Ann Fay in COMFORT. 

In Shannon Hitchcock’s RUBY LEE AND ME, Sara Beth Mills lives in racially segregated North Carolina.  Ann Fay in COMFORT, does too. The difference is that Sara Beth has an African-American friendship that is actually threatened by school integration. Ann Fay has experienced a brief friendship with a black girl at an integrated hospital but is now separated from her. She is unable to reestablish that friendship. Both girls have family members they desperately want to be well.

Each of these books is about character and the human spirit and how it responds during really tough times. We trust that our protagonists will give readers the confidence that they can face  real life challenges.

To enter the giveaway of all five books (open to teachers and librarians), please visit our #MGGetsReal website and scroll to the bottom of the page.


Tracy Campbell said...

Just shared on Google+, Carol. :-)

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for sharing, Tracy!

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Kudos to all five of you ladies, and your wonderful books. I'm impressed with your marketing skills, and the real-life messages each of you has to offer in your great books! And thanks, Carol, for showcasing these books and authors!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. Impressive effort, isn't it?

Young Authors Program said...

What a great concept and idea! Nice work, ladies!

Carol Baldwin said...

Something for the rest of us to consider,Dorothy!

Vijaya said...

Wow, that's a lot of work. I'm so glad that you have built a deeper friendship with one another no matter the outcome.

Carol Baldwin said...

It'll be interesting to hear their results, don't you think?

Clara Gillow Clark said...

Fascinating look at how authors working together can make ripples through social media. Thanks for sharing this close up look, Carol! You can count on me to tweet!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Clara. I want to hear how the ripples' effect several months down the line. Don't you? Thanks for tweeting!

sheri levy said...

Enjoyed reading about teamwork marketing. Great idea! Each of these stories do discuss real life situations. Readers not only enjoy the story, but learn a lot about compassion and perseverance.

Carol Baldwin said...

YEs, Sheri, good points. The protagonists all model great character traits!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks for sharing how these authors of important serious subjects worked together to market their books. It is amazing how writers work and share together!

Celebrate you and all you do to share about yourself and the writing journey of other authors you meet on your life's journey.

Never Give Up

Carol Baldwin said...

Yeah, pretty cool, Joan!

LeGette Franklin said...

What a wonderful idea! I love the way this group of talented authors connected their very different books with a common theme, and I wish all of you the best of luck with this approach. I've already read and loved JUST A DROP OF WATER, Kathleen's book is on order, and I look forward to reading the rest as well!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for stopping by, LaGette!

miriam said...

LeGette Franklin was supposed to be Miriam Spitzer Franklin- somehow it showed up under my husband's name!!

Sandra Warren said...

Authors helping authors! Marketing is so tough, this is a WONDERFUL idea. I'm guessing long-term you ALL will see a spike in sales or at least a spike in school visit requests.

Great job!

Carol Baldwin said...

Stay tuned, Sandra. I plan to run a follow-up post in 6 months or so to see how everyone did.

Shannon Hitchcock said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks for helping spread the word about #MGGetsReal! I look forward to your followup and hope we have some good results to show for it.

Carol Baldwin said...

You're welcome, Shannon. I'm already looking forward to that Part II!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Thanks, Carol for sharing and to all of you for your feedback. This is definitely something that can be duplicated by any grouping of authors. Have at it, author friends!

kathleenburkinshaw said...

Carol, thank you so much for this post on #MGGetsReal and Joyce. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and support! Hope that it gets the ball rolling for any other authors out there wondering about a different way to market their books. :)

Carol Baldwin said...

My pleasure, Kathleen!