Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Christy Allen: Guest Instructor #3 and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Wendy Hostetter Davis who won an autographed copy of Tameka Brown's picture book, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood. Wendy is not only the daughter of one of my close writing friends, Joyce Hostetter, but she is a "closet singer-songwriter." I love having such talented people as my blog readers!

Christy was my third guest instructor at my CPCC Writing for Children class. I met Christy through the Charlotte WNBA and when I heard her experiences with self-publishing I knew she had a lot to share with my writing students.

Christy Allen is a self-published author who has worked hard at writing and publishing her first middle grade book and is now  working hard at marketing it. In this blog she responds to questions my students and I posed. 

Q: Do you have general advice for new writers?
AWhen the writing starts, listen. Close the door when you write. Initially, the only voice in your head should be your own. As Stephen King wisely suggests in his book, On Writing, open the door and share your work only after your first draft is complete—and only then with your "first reader . . . someone who believes in you." Take advantage of opportunities to receive professional feedback on your work (e.g. writing contests, courses that offer agent feedback, etc.)

Q: Can you tell us a little about your self-publishing journey?
A: When I self-published, I was well aware of the stigmas of self-published work—primarily that the work product doesn't look professional. And I knew that marketing would be an even steeper uphill battle that I’d be going alone. Thus, after an initial stint with the self-publishing company Lulu (Pros: No upfront costs. Cons: High print-on-demand costs and limited distribution), I selected Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace, to create an eye-catching, professional product—virtually indistinguishable from traditionally published books—and offer it at a competitive price across multiple channels.

For me, self-publishing has been a safe playground and a way to explore the industry.  It's given me the chance to see if I enjoy all aspects of being a writer, including the business and marketing demands—and the answer is "Yes!"

Q: Is there any thing a writer who wants to self-publish should be aware of?
A: You will get out of the process what you put into it. It takes time and money to create a quality product. Do not skimp on professional editing, cover illustration/design, or interior layout.  And, if you decide to use CreateSpace, as I did, understand that you are one of many customers—you must be your own advocate and stay on top of every process detail to prevent time delays and added costs.

Q: I see where one of your Amazon reviewers received a book "free of charge." Is this a way to entice reviewers to write a review, i.e. get some press? Every Amazon reviewer gave the book high marks.
A: Yes, like many reviewers out there, the children's book blogger whom I enlisted (Savannah Mae) offers to post an honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble in exchange for a free book. Amazon has strict guidelines regarding reviews and requires that such arrangements be plainly stated. Be selective when soliciting reviews. Whenever possible, choose an established, credible reviewer in your genre. An honest, balanced review is worth much more than a fluffy "this book is great for anyone who likes to read." 

Less than half of my reviews are from family members and friends. The rest are the result of readers and parents who discovered me via Amazon, Kindle campaigns, Twitter marketing, and local school events/workshops/fairs. I also purchased a Kirkus review: as a reputable reviewer in the publishing industry, Kirkus now offers reviews to self-published authors (a tremendous benefit for those wanting industry street cred), promising an unbiased review that authors can choose to use/publish or not.

Lastly, you don't want every review to be five-star ratings. Four- star ratings and a sprinkling of three-star help your credibility. 

Q: What's an Indie Author? Mike Coker says that Indie Authors will capture 50% of the eBook market by 2020. Your thoughts? 
A: Definitions vary, but in its purest form, an Indie Author is independent, one who represents him or herself, not published by one of the "big five." With regard to Mike Coker's article, his logic and assumptions are in synch with everything I've read and heard over the past two years on the topic. Today's consumers care more about quality content than they do about the source. My personal belief is that traditional publishers will ultimately recognize that self-publishing is here to stay, and that the publishers who will endure will be those who incorporate self-publishing into their model, perhaps by offering resources, establishing standards, and promoting strong Indie work under a new imprint or as a feeder pool to existing.

Q: How are you marketing your eBooks? Recently I read where Amazon Publishing is no longer looking for new submissions. Is this a different venue than what you use?
A: I don't necessarily market my paperback and digital book any differently from one another, but Amazon's KDP program (Kindle Direct Publishing) has been valuable to me. (In return for 90-day cycles of exclusivity on Kindle and pricing my digital book at $2.99 or less, I keep 70% of my royalties.) The ability to offer free promotions or Kindle Countown Deals, as well as the existence of the Kindle Lending Library (where Amazon Prime customers can borrow my digital book for free) all increase my book's exposure. Twitter has also been a viable marketing avenue for promoting these types of campaigns.

Regarding Amazon Publishing, this is Amazon's own version of traditional publishing, which is different than self-publishing through CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing arm, like I did.

Q: Do you set writing goals, e.g. X pages a day, etc?
A. I target Stephen King's "1000 words" recommendation for newbie writers in his indispensable book, On Writing. I don't sweat the word count, however. My goal is to write something/anything every day, with the goal being to work on my novel(s) five days out of seven, even if somedays all that I have time for is fifteen minutes of revision or outlining.

Check out this well-done video for more information about the inspiration for Christy's book and her fun events for children.

I am giving away an autographed copy of Book #1 in the Samantha Green Mysteries series. Leave me a comment by May 3 (U.S. addresses only) and I'll enter your name. If you are new to my blog, please make sure I have your email address also. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Guest Instructor #2: Tameka Brown and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Barbara Younger who was last week's winner of Emily Pearce's book, Isabel and the Miracle Baby. By the way, for those of you who are in the middle of that interesting/challenging/unavoidable time of your life called menopause, Barbara runs a fun and informative blog on the subject!

In this second blog featuring my guest instructors, Tameka Brown shares some advice with my Writing for Children class at Central Piedmont Community College.
Tameka is a FTM (full time mother) who started writing picture books because she enjoyed reading them with her three daughters. She studied the craft, joined SCBWI, and published her first book Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day in 2010.  That was followed by My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood in 2013 which received the prestigious Charlotte Zolotow Honor award. Read more about how Tameka developed this book which shows a day's worth of emotions, in my previous blog about her.  She currently has another picture book out on submission and is mulling around other projects. 

  • For picture book writers, sometimes getting an agent is tougher than getting a publisher. She and her agent, Jennifer Rofe at Andrea Brown Literary, sent out Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day for a year before it was purchased by Abrams.
  • Bed time stories allow children to use their imagination as they come up with the pictures which accompany the stories.
  • Young children practice pre-reading and fine motor skills as they pinch, grasp, and turn pages. 
  • Publishers want books that children will pick up on their own-not just because their parents have picked it. 
  • A good illustrator will dovetail his work with the author's. They'll add another layer of meaning to the book. For example, Shane Evans added gray swirls that showed Jamie's emotions when his mood turns black. (see sample illustrations by clicking on "Look Inside" here.)
  • Many picture books are character driven (like the Fancy Nancy series) but so far, Tameka's books have been more literary, focusing on language and using free verse to tell her stories. 
  • A moral should be written into a story so that the child draws it out herself. Stories should have a takeaway which shows the character's solving a problem herself and/or her growth. 
  • Even if your book is first in a series, market it as an individual title. It needs to be able to stand alone. 
  • As writers we need to make personal connections to our story. More than including details of real events from our lives, we want to insert the emotions we've experienced that may be universal to our readers.
  • When you're asked if you are willing to revise, the answer should always be "Yes!" Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day started out as an ABC book--but didn't end up that way! 

To win an autographed copy of My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood, please leave me a comment by April 25. Open to U.S. addresses only. Share this on your social media of choice or become a new follower and I'll enter your name twice!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guest Instructor: Emily Smith Pearce and a Giveaway!

For the last three weeks in my "Writing for Children" class at Central Piedmont Community College, my students were treated to visits from authors I know through SCBWI Carolinas and WNBA: Emily Smith Pearce, Tameka Brown, and Christy Allen. In the next three blog posts I'll share some of the highlights of their talks plus give you a chance to win some fabulous books.

Emily Smith Pearce is the author of two children's books, mother of two busy elementary school children, crafter, and blogger. In January, 1999 she was in the second class to graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with her Master's Degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is currently working on a young adult novel and a nonfiction middle grade book on fashion history. She credits hanging out at the library where her mother, a children's librarian worked, as one of the things that influenced her the most in becoming a writer. 

Here are some nuggets from Emily's presentation:
  • Get a boring day job so that you have brain space left over to write after work.
  • Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. "It took several years and plenty of setbacks to get my first book published."
  • In response to, "How were writing your novel and your early reader different experiences?" Emily said, "Isabel and the Miracle Baby was written over a period of time with my mentor, Carolyn Coman at VCFA, and was inspired by someone I knew. Slowpoke, which is autobiographical, started out as a writing exercise. I took a picture book and studied its structure, and then I plugged it into a story. I also had one editor for Isabel and three different editors for Slowpoke because of the fast changing nature of the publishing industry.  Eden Edwards suggested it would work better as an early reader than a picture book."
    Boyds Mills Press, 2010

  • You should use social media for networking in addition to promoting your own work. Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen are good examples. "You should share more about others' work than your own or people will quickly grow bored."
  • The most rewarding thing are school visits when kids read your book. "One boy told me he had paid for the book out of his own money." 
  • Discouragement happens. One first grader asked, "Do you ever worry if you'll never write another book?"
  • She still reads. A lot. While cooking supper or drying her hair. Her daughter once said to her, "Mommy, please don't read while you're driving!" Emily never said if she put the book down…
Here's your opportunity to win an autographed copy of Isabel and the Miracle Baby
Front Street Books, 2007
“The tantrum-prone protagonist of this multi-layered debut novel seems a smidge spoiled at first glance, but underneath eight-year-old Isabel’s fits-and-starts temper lies a very ordinary need for attention. [T]he novel . . . becomes more noteworthy for Pearce’s graceful weaving of a larger and more difficult subject into the narrative: Isabel’s mother has had cancer . . . Pearce stays true to Isabel’s young perspective even as she conveys the character’s complicated discoveries about growing up.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • Leave me a comment by the evening of  April 19. 
  • If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that too.
  • Open only to residents of the continental United States.
  • Become a follower of this blog or share this on social media and I'll enter your name twice!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Introducing Sheri Levy and Seven Days to Goodbye

Thanks to the many folks who left comments on last week's blog and entered the giveaway. Sandra Warren, a fellow SCBWI-Carolinas writer, won the copy of Chris Woodworth's book, Ivy in the Shadows. Look for more giveaways in the upcoming weeks. Today I welcome Sheri Levy, another SCBWI-Carolinas member. Sheri talks about her forthcoming debut young adult novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, which will be released in late summer.

Carol Can you tell us about your book? I know you love all things canine, so I suspect there is a dog in the story!
Sheri with Slater and Mulligan

Sheri You are right. My dog journey began in 1977 with adopting a neighbor’s German Shepherd and then moved on to other breeds. Each new dog brought real life situations for my writing. Sydney, the dog character in my first novel, was our first Australian Shepherd and my soul mate.

Carol In what ways have your experiences with dogs influenced your writing?

Sheri Every morning I walked Sydney and Jake, an adopted black Lab. I focused on their facial expressions, body language, and goofy traits and knew them inside and out. They traveled with us to Edisto Beach and around the US for a month. My first draft actually included both dogs, but after a fabulous critique from Kirby Larson, she showed me how Jake took away from the emotional plot.

Carol  I'm a big Kirby Larson fan! I'm sure her critique was very helpful. Please share more about Seven Days to Goodbye.

Sheri The book is aimed towards fourth to eighth grade readers and takes place over a week-long vacation on Edisto Beach. My characters Trina and Sarah meet Chase and Peyton, and their seven-year-old autistic brother, Logan. Trina, a Puppy Raiser, has seven days before she must return her first service dog to the kennel to be matched with his forever companion. Themes in the book include watching friends change before your eyes, dreams, meeting guys, overcoming fears, and wanting to become independent. The beach environment creates adventures with Loggerhead turtles, birds, and boating.

Carol That’s a lot in one book! I can see why it got snapped up! Please share some of your writing journey.

Sheri After retiring as a special education teacher, writing was at the top of my “To Do” list, along with traveling. Learning to write a novel required a lot of time and more education. I attended SCBWI conferences, took classes, joined critique groups, and read many books. After numerous years of working and reworking on my first novel, I put it in a drawer, and began another. 

Having an article published with Clubhouse Magazine in 2010, "Scent with Love," and winning The Special Interest Award with the Dog Writers Association encouraged me to keep writing. The story is on my website. I started a second novel and after many revisions, began getting positive feedback from critiques, queries, and contests. I made it into the top 25 contestants in one Pitch Contest, and was a runner up for another Pitch & First 250 Word Contest, winning a five page agent critique. With each success, I gained confidence and began querying agents and publishers.

Carol How did you find your publisher?

Sheri I read online that Barking Rain Press was taking submissions for for two more days. After researching it, I spent hours readying my query and putting together a marketing plan. I hit "send" minutes before midnight of the closing day. It wasn’t long before BRP requested the whole manuscript, and then I waited. In September of 2013, a long, over-due response came in an email. My eyes hit the name of Barking Rain Press and my stomach lurched to my throat. I scanned the email again, not believing what I had read. The publisher, Sheri Gormely had said she loved my wonderful story and wanted to offer me a contract! I caught my breath, read the email to my husband, Murphy, who broke out into a giant grin. Then I re-read the email.

Carol Then what happened?

Sberi After rewriting the novel for the eighth time with the changes Sheri G. wanted, I began work with my editor, Cindy Koepp in November. I knew the novel needed a new name. Many friends sent great ideas on Facebook, but Murphy came up with the final name, Seven Days to Goodbye.
Sheri and Murphy on one of their traveling adventures.
Destination: Antigua Island

Carol What a great name for your book! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Sheri I always share my first experience of not knowing anything about writing and being convinced I had the perfect picture book! I even had it critiqued at my first conference. Blonnie Wyche was so kind. She encouraged me to read writing books, take classes and most of all, keep writing. If I had given up with the many rejections I received as a beginner, I wouldn’t be writing this post and starting a new life adventure.

Carol Blonnie was also a great encouragement to me. What was in your marketing plan? Did your publisher give you feedback on what she liked about it?

Sheri My feedback was the contract offer. The plan may have helped sell the book, but primarily I think she wanted to see if I had plans to promote the book. A big part of publishing, is promoting and creating interest in the book.

Sheri lives with her husband Murphy and her two Australian Shepherds, Slater and Mulligan in South Carolina. She has done agility and training with her dogs and mentors students in reading and writing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Day in the Life of Adams Literary PLUS a Giveaway!

Writers often wonder what agents really do all day long.

Here is your opportunity to find out.

Several months ago I picked up several books from Adams Literary that they were donating for giveaways to Talking Story. I was intrigued with the painted chalkboard wall where Josh, Tracey, Quinlan Lee; their assistant, Sam; and their intern, Ann; keep track of editors, publishers and imprints. I immediately wanted to blog about the board and asked Tracey that along with a picture of the board, if she'd share a "typical" day in the life of Adams Literary. I hope you'll enjoy this peek into their agency and a chance to win a copy of one of their clients' books.

Josh and Tracey, co-founders of Adams Literary
 7 AM: Check email while getting kids to schools. Korea has a publisher interested in a middle-grade series, would we please mail a bunch of books overseas? Forward this to Assistant Extraordinaire Samantha, while crossing fingers we have enough copies in our supply closet. Our UK co-agent wonders if signed contracts have been received yet. A client suggests a time we can have a catch-up chat later today. And in the Adams Literary submissions box, there are 200 new subs to consider. 

The Editor Chalkboard Wall in the Adams Literary loft
9 AM: Upstairs to Adams Literary (downstairs is the house).  Josh, Quinlan and Tracey start replying to emails, checking Facebook/Twitter, posting updates. This afternoon, we have a project going to an Acquisition Meeting, so we're hopeful for good news. Work keeps our minds off waiting. We remind editors of a deadline to hear from them on a submission. We plan a new manuscript submission: write the pitch, decide on the sub list with help from our Editor Chalkboard Wall. Run it all by the group for opinions/ideas. Hit send along with good vibes. A few passes come in: disagree with them, forward to clients, and move on to find the right match. Chat via email or phone with several clients about plans. 
Agent Quinlan Lee and colleague Kamikaze

12:30: aLit heads downstairs for lunch, checks progress on our neighborhood-in-process while dog walking and avoiding bulldozers and cement trucks. 

1 PM: Daily run by Josh to our business address (a UPS Store) for mail. There are unsolicited submissions (including one for Tracey from an inmate with a 57-page picture book.) There's a box of really cool German editions of a YA! The advance we've been expecting for a new project has finally arrived, so there's a stop at the bank before heading back to work. 
Sam taking a break at the Star Wars pinball machine
3 PM: One of us always has travel plans and conference details to work out. SCBWI, BEA, ALA... Assistant Sam and Intern Ann are busily reading manuscripts and emailing reports to Tracey, Quinlan and Josh. Suddenly, a contract pops into an in-box, and either Sam or Ann will read over carefully to compare it to the deal memo and the last contract with that publisher before Josh or Tracey dive in. We go over changes needed, and work with the publisher until we have a version we're happy to send the client to sign. 
Intern Ann working on a contract. With support from Kamikaze and Samurai.
3:40 PM: Middle-schooler is home and starts homework. Elementary-school kid is having fun at her after-school program until we can grab her. 

4 PM: Call we recognize as Publisher comes in...and we know that their Acquisition Meeting has probably just ended... "There was tons of enthusiasm all around, so I'm thrilled to say that I'm emailing you an offer shortly." Hooray! Tell client to stand by. The offer comes in and we begin negotiations. This will be continued tomorrow, and hopefully we'll announce a new deal soon.

5:15 PM: Gather uniforms, etc, pick up little kid - we have black belt class tonight. HIYA!

7 PM and on: This is when we hear from the other side of the world: Dear Client in Australia, co-agents in Asia... We'll answer a few things, but it's family time, manuscript-reading time, and time to binge-watch Haven on Netflix. Before bed, an email comes in from China - an offer on a picture book published years ago. Surprise! We love our work. There is never a dull moment, and there is never a typical day. 

11:30: Good night!

Thanks, Tracey, for providing this insight into an agent's life!

Courtesy of Adams Literary, I'm giving away a copy of Chris Woodworth's lovely middle grade book, Ivy in the Shadows. Here are the giveaway rules:

1. Please leave me a comment. If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that also.
2. Subscribe to my blog for an additional chance--but make sure you tell me that you have done that!
3. Post on your social media of choice for another chance and let me know what you do  (or tag me on Facebook. Sorry, I haven't joined the twitter world.)
4. Do this by Saturday morning, April 5. Winner's name will be drawn by noon.  


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