Friday, April 30, 2010


Happy Friday! Like the new look of the blog? Despite the new background colors, I'm going to continue postings on the School & Library Appearance topic. Then, next week, I've got some cool book reviews and new stuff! So, to continue...

One of the best ways to get and/or increase appearance opportunities (volume) is to BE ACCESSIBLE AND RESPONSIVE. Schools and libraries often contact me requesting one of their top three author/illustrator choices. I reach out to these folks in order of the host's preference but, even so, the appearance frequently goes to the author who responds to my inquiry promptly and professionally.

Why is this? When schools and libraries begin to plan an author visit, they often have to consider grant application time lines or PTA budget deadlines for spending funds. They also have limited time windows for special events as their calendars are filled with testing dates, grade-wide field trips, etc. So, they cannot wait indefinitely to find out if an author is available.

For authors who are fielding appearance requests directly, it is also important to realize that it can be difficult for PTA parents, library assistants and classroom teachers to make that first contact with an author. So, if you can be accessible and responsive from start, you generate great goodwill and create an opportunity for positive and possibly ongoing relationship with that host and his or her community.

Another great way to be accessible is to provide information about yourself and your appearances that potential hosts don't have to surf the web to find (especially given the randomness of Internet searches). Don't wait for educators to seek you out. Develop a mailing list for a newsletter. This doesn't have to be fancy or high-tech--just a quarterly one-pager with information about yourself, books, recent praise for your writing or appearances, and a recap of your upcoming travels and availability. Author Deb Lund does a delightful job of this at her website, providing all sorts of ways educators and librarians can connect with her. And I so look forward to receiving her occasional, lovely newsletter updates.

Being responsive can be tricky when you're also juggling writing deadlines and perhaps work and family commitments. So, it is worthwhile to take a few minutes to create an "Accessibility Plan." If you provide a link so folks can contact you via email, set up an auto-reply letting them know when they can expect to hear back. Put basic appearance FAQ answers on your website to help folks along. Mark your calendar with weekly blog-check and email-follow-up dates to be sure you're keeping up with correspondence. And start building that mailing list!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Let's just jump right in to our topic today: How does one generate or increase appearance requests? In response to the question of how he got folks to vote for him, the late Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill said something to the effect of "Well, first, I ask."

ASKING works at several levels. For first-time authors new to appearances asking means reaching out to personal contacts and the local community, and offering presentations to develop credibility and refine presentations. Think beyond your home area by considering all travel (will you be near your old high school or college, visiting a teacher-friend out-of-state, etc.?) an opportunity for book promotion. As your experience increases, ASKING can involve applying to speak at conferences and events. Again, target venues based on your platform and seek out opportunities for places where you will drive interest & book sales. Is affordability an issue for some of the schools interested in booking you? Here's a link to a great tip from Alexis O'Neill courtesy of Tina Nichols Coury's amazing blog. 

Asking also means updating your web presence so that visitors to your sites are aware of your travel plans. Be sure to include an easy, one-click link to your calendar of upcoming appearances so that folks in places you'll be visiting are more inclined to try to reach you. For the tech savvy, holding contests for signed books, Skype visits, and other online promotions can raise awareness of your appearance availability. 

SETTING OPTIMAL PARAMETERS may be more important than you realize in terms of establishing a positive relationship with potential hosts and making sure that all expectations are met. Key parameters are:

-PRICE. In setting your honorarium, consider your level of experience, publishing credits, geographic region and target audience(s). Factor in the hazards of value pricing--the less folks pay, the more they want :) Be consistent and describe WHAT hosts will get for your price. The majority of authors with whom I work, quote an honorarium in terms along the lines of $X per day for UP TO THREE (or four) one-hour presentations.

-AUDIENCE(s) I've made mention of this before but will say it again because I think it's useful. You may be an experienced writing instructor, a former grade school teacher, and/or just be very comfortable speaking to kids of all ages, BUT if you have not published a book for a particular age/grade group you should not offer to speak to this level because you are not the ideal author/illustrator for this host AND they are not going to buy quantities of your book. Similarly, given the amount of time it takes to prepare for an appearance, be honest about what type of presentations you are willing to do and avoid the "specially-designed" offer as so many times hosts aren't really sure what they want and this type of vaguary can result in mutual disappointment.

-AVAILABILITY. It's fine to do appearances only at certain times of year, days of week, geographical areas. Limiting options can actually encourage bookings as it takes some pressure off inexperienced hosts in terms of defining what it is they want you to do. One author with whom I work strongly encourages midweek school visits (no Mondays or Fridays) for optimal energy from student audiences.

Setting parameters also helps you clarify the type of school and library appearances you truly want to do.  This can contribute greatly to another critical objective: BALANCING promotion, commitments, and writing goals.

From asking, we move on to ways to make yourself accessible to potential school and library hosts--that'll be Friday's post.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Interview with Kim Norman of Author Visits by State

Another hectic week.  Hoping things will calm down soon and I can finish editing my SCBWI Conference notes for posting here.  But, by way of apology, here is something I know you'll find useful.  I recently discovered author-illustrator Kim Norman's blog, Author Visits By State, and was delighted by the practical, straightforward organization as well as the entertaining and useful content of such postings as her 12/6/09 answer to the question, "Why do authors charge fees for school presentations?" So, I just had to get in touch with Kim and learn more.

SWK: When did you start your AUTHORS VISITS BY STATE blog, and what inspired you to do so?

KIM NORMAN: I kept hearing from educators at the schools I visited who said they wished there were some sort of quick resource for perusing a list of authors. If it were based on the author's region, that would be helpful information, too. I looked around and didn't find anyone else doing it exactly that way, (authors who specifically visit schools, listed by region or state), so I decided to compile my own list. I started the list by seeding it with about 40 or 50 authors with whom I am acquainted, and emailed a few others asking their permission to add them. Then it just sort of took off on its own. It seemed to go viral in the writing community for the first few months; I could hardly keep up with all the requests! I'm now approaching 700 links on the site.

SWK: What is the most typical way that authors or illustrators find you?

KIM: I think there are a variety of ways they find me. For the first couple hundred links, I asked folks to link back to the Author Visits blog, which quickly built its Google rankings, since the more links that lead to a site, the higher it ranks. (That's just ONE way that Google ranks sites, of course.) I didn't demand a reciprocal link; but did ask for one if it was possible.

SWK: What is the most typical way that educators and librarians find your blog? And do you publicize your site for educators in any way?

KIM: Hard to say. Sometimes it's from a "tweet;" sometimes from a link they've found on a state reading association site; often from those links I asked listed authors to add to their own sites. 

SWK: Have you received any interesting feedback about the author visit experience from teachers or librarians via your blog?

KIM: Not directly to the blog. After my own school visits, I always send a feedback form along with a thank you note for both the coordinator of the visit and for the students, (which I assume is often shared with the students during morning announcements. Educators seem to appreciate a teaching opportunity about thank you notes.) My feedback form asks the recipient of I can use their comments on promotional items, such as my website and brochures, and most people are fine with that.

SWK: What do you think is the most important thing an author or illustrator can do to develop the school and library appearance aspect of his or her promotional platform? 

KIM: I still believe the strongest promotion is word-of-mouth. So I think it's important for authors to apply to do presentations at educator conferences. Sometimes it can take a couple of years for someone to hire you after they've seen you at a conference, but they do seem to hang onto those brochures for a long time; they also share them with their colleagues. Another idea is for authors to promote each OTHER. I have occasionally swapped brochures with other authors, offering them to visit coordinators after my visit as someone they might want to consider for the following year. My friends do the same for me. 

SWK: I think it is amazing that you provide this listing service free of charge to members of the children's book writing community. Can you share a few thoughts on how this project has impacted you as a writer and as a member of this community? 

KIM: It has been fun receiving emails from authors & illustrators whom I revere, asking me to add them to my site. Also, I've gotten a bit of a reputation (deserved or not!) for knowing a lot about the school visit "biz." For instance, my agent directed one of her colleagues--an agent who has written some books of her own--to email me for advice about pricing her own visits...Regardless of my reputation as an "expert," I continue to evolve as a presenter myself. I'm always striving to add educational value to my presentations. I hope this makes me more attractive as a presenter, since educators can show administrators that I offer information students can apply to their own writing and testing skills. At the same time, I strive to make sure that my presentations are as entertaining as they are educational. A presentation that's chockfull of information is of no value if students sleep through it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making School & Library Appearances a Strong Part of Your Promotional Platform, Part I

Thanks to all who have asked for information from my April 11 presentation at SCBWI Western Washington. As I began editing my notes into manageable form, I came to the conclusion that the easiest way to convey this information is by posting it here at the blog in a few parts. So, let's begin with two ways to consider school & library appearances:

1. From a book promotion perspective, school & library appearances should satisfy one primary goal: To drive readers to your current books, past and future books, and to you as an author.

2. However, many authors have another important goal for School & Library Appearances: Income. For some authors, school visit honoraria payments make a significant impact on their balance sheets.

This is an important difference to realize as you make decisions about many elements of your promotional platform, including School & Library appearances. While not mutually exclusive, it may be useful to decide whether you are doing appearances primarily to generate maximum income OR for optimal book promotion and to lay groundwork for future books.  Though the nuances can be different, for both of these objectives, most authors and illustrators with whom I discuss this question have 3 concerns:

1. VOLUME: Scheduling more appearances and/or getting the right type of appearances (more, better "gigs").

2. QUALITY: Making scheduled appearances worthwhile for school or library host, students, and themselves and moving books and/or generating interest in future appearances (e.g., an enjoyable, mutually beneficial experience that does not end when the author leaves the assembly hall).

3. BALANCE: Maintaining a balance between handling self-promotion efforts, maintaining publicity commitments for your publisher, and managing editorial deadlines & new writing projects (having a writing life--and a life!).

These concerns are inter-related. By optimizing quality, for example, you can increase volume. By setting some parameters to create balance in your promotion-writing-living life, you are able to narrow marketing targets and more efficiently increase volume. And, an established, quality appearance program tends to organically generate interest and additional requests, diminishing the need to work on the issue of volume and helping the writer maintain balance.

Friday's post will cover concern #1: VOLUME.

Meanwhile, just finished reading the arc of Holly Black's WHITE CAT, due out next month. This is an amazing story about a teenage boy, Cassel Sharpe, his clan of conning "curse workers," and the complex relationships between memory, truth and dreams. Working his way through the twisting magical-mystery plot and settings ranging from an elite prep school to a pack-rat's chaotic house to Atlantic City, Cassel is a fascinating unreliable narrator--a liar who loves to lie yet at the same time may not realize the truth of his own identity. Keep your eye out for this one in bookstores May 4th!

Friday, April 16, 2010

On hectic weeks, Batman, and attending conferences as a writer

Since returning from the SCBWI Western WA conference this past Sunday, things have been pretty hectic. Good hectic, mind you, but still rather overwhelming. It seems like everything is on the front burner right now--freelance work, author appearance gigs, interest in my own writing and, oh yes, things at home. Here are a few personal tips: When you have a big family, you must make summer airline and hotel reservations early! Your fifteen-year-old will not be happy if you fail to sign him up for driver's ed. Two track-and-fielders plus one lacrosse player equals about 3 hours/day of carpool driving. And, oh, never neglect...

That, said, in lieu of completing my conference wrap-up (instead I'll direct you to some writer-bloggers who've done a great job of this: Holly Cupala, Dawn SimonJolie Stekly and Molly Hall), I am going to give you a professional tip about conference-going. It's going to seem a little counter-intuitive but, having left many a conference quite dejected and now much more often returning home with a sense of excitement and opportunity, I really think I'm right about this one.

Here's the tip: Don't go with a big plan...some kind of self-imposed deadline...A PUBLISHING GOAL. Instead, before you get to the registration desk, take a serious look at your work. Do you have something ready to submit? Or is this not the book, not the time? Let that be okay! If you do have what you feel is a hot manuscript, understand that your dream editor may not be sitting at the faculty table and, even if he/she is, you may not have the opportunity to connect (or you may just be shy). Also fine! In sum, don't attend conferences with some kind of label hanging over you like "aspiring published writer," instead...

Attend as a writer...a person who loves words and books and sitting like a mole in a dark room tapping on computer keys (okay, yes, my family sometimes does refer to me as "the mole"). Skip over a couple of those mortifying "First Pages" sessions. Don't attend every agent and editor's "What I Want to Read" presentation. Hit a few, but make sure to leave some time for listening to writers talk about their craft. Even if you can't draw a stick figure, spend a session with an illustrator and learn about that creative process. Ask questions. Buy some books by your idols and stand in line to have them signed. Look around the room at the wonderful people who populate your writing community and be grateful for their company on this difficult journey. Let the conference wash over you like rain, making you feel refreshed and renewed (and letting all the dirt of discouragement just dribble away).

This attitude has yielded me more joy, more friendships and, frankly, more success than the eager-beaver approach ever did. I think I began attending conferences in this way about the same time that I stopped caring if my book would ever be published (save that for after you write those glorious words "the end") and started writing my stories just the way I wanted to--so passionately that, as I type, my breath comes faster and my bones kind of ache. I like to think the novels are better, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bad Blogger!

I missed posting yesterday so I admit, I was a bad blogger BUT I was a pretty good writer and marketer.  After an amazing weekend at the always fantastic SCBWI Western Washington Annual Conference, I got home excited and inspired in a million ways--to work on my new manuscript, to submit to agents, and to share with the many authors with whom I work some new ideas about promoting their books.  So, unfortunately, the blog wound up in last on the "To Do" list.

So, a day late, here are some thoughts on the conference.  The first observation I must make is that EVERY KEYNOTE was amazing.  This is quite an achievement and a tribute to the conference planners.  From Laini Taylor's delightful examination of her writing life to Jay Asher's heartwarming, encouraging story of his twelve-year journey to publication, and from Mitali Perkins' impassioned advocacy for having a mission statement to keep your writing life on track to Peter Brown's hilarious yet thoughtful approach to his writing and illustrating career, I felt happy and grateful to have been there to hear each one one of these addresses.

Really enjoyed hearing the passionate, professional Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media.  In separate presentations, agents Edward Necarsulmer IV and Paul Rodeen shared their love for literature and their busines savvy.  Wonderful authors, including Lisa Graff, Deborah Hopkinson and Sundee Frazier provided great observations about the craft of writing.  Frankly, the toughest thing about the conference was that I couldn't attend all of the sessions--I missed Sara Crowe, Suzanne Selfors, Jordan Brown...  Too many opportunities, too little time!

On that note, I've received several emails from folks who attended (or missed) my presentation on School & Library Appearances.  As previously mentioned, I'm happy to share my notes.  Just fixing up the grammar a bit and will have them available next week.

Again, a wonderful weekend and a testament to the value of the SCBWI for writers and illustrators at all stages.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's SCBWI Western Washington Annual Conference Weekend!

Fresh from the ski slopes of beautiful British Columbia (welll, actually I didn't ski because I worked all week but at least I had a spectacular view of snowy mountain peaks from my desk), I am stopping at home for ninety minutes this Friday evening before heading to the conference kickoff KidLit Cocktail event.

I'm looking forward to learning from many wonderful writers, editors and agents; to sharing food and conversation from a lively, accomplished and very warm writing community; and to presenting my insights about School and Library Author/Illustrator Appearances at my session on Sunday. 

Full report next week :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Last week, I wrote about finding Kim Norman's blog (her interview should be up next week). Today, I'll share another journey. First, I want to recommend three key sites for those in search of a good weekly short-course on the state of the children's book publishing industry (versus sites about writing, agents, book reviews, submissions, etc.). If you haven't signed up already, take advantage of free online subscriptions to:

Publishers Weekly (esp. for their weekly newsletters and blogs, including Shelf Talker)

Publishers Lunch (there's a fee for premium subscriptions but here's the sign-up page for the free newsletter)

School Library Journal (you can select your "Extra Helping" specialty updates based on your interests)

So what's my web-travel story of the week?

While visiting Peter D. Sieruta's blog, Collecting Children's Books, I found a hilarious August 2008 post, "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS," noting the numerous headless kids featured on recent book covers. While visiting PLA, I mentioned this to a few sales reps who (after rueful laughter) pointed out a problem with the many headless covers: It makes it very hard to tell these books apart--there's a certain sameness to the aesthetic. Then, at Shelf Talker, a PW blog (link, above), I discovered a couple of posts by Elizabeth Bluemle (co-owner of The Flying Pig bookstore, author of three children's books and incoming president of the Association of Booksellers for Children), which pointed out some interesting thoughts booksellers, authors, and publishing folks had about the aesthetic of book SPINES. If your book is in the production at this time and you're involved in the cover conversation, this cyber-journey would certainly be worth taking.

I'll close today by suggesting that you keep a log of interesting website and blog postings (and, by the way, has anybody invented a feature that can record/recount your web travels for you?).  Then, later on, you can connect-the-dots to research topics that may help as you work to publish and promote your own books. And, definitely check out the three sites above for some great starting points.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Today's post will be brief as I am focusing much energy on preparing for my presentation at the SCBWI Western Washington Chapter's annual conference next weekend. My presentation is entitled "Making School & Library Appearances a Strong Part of Your Promotional Platform." Meanwhile, I have a question for you that came up when I contacted Kim Norman, author-illustrator and founder of the very useful blog Author Visits by State (my interview with Kim will be posted next week). Kim asked me how I'd found her site.

Here was my reply: I came by your site via a typically convoluted blog journey. I follow, and there I found a post about the Library-Loving-Blog-Challenge, which led me to for a list of participating authors. There, I spotted Michelle Knudsen and, being a fan of THE LIBRARY LION, I switched on over to her blog where I found you listed in the sidebar.

Trust me, I cannot always be this specific! However, my dialogue with Kim made me wonder about research and exploration via blog links. Which leads me to THREE QUESTIONS for readers here:

1. Can you retrace your steps to a favorite blog or website?

2. Can you describe the most common way(s) people find your blog or website on the Internet?

3. How did you find this blog?

I'd be grateful for your replies!