Author Interview: Cate Berry on Making Connections

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Feiwel & Friends

Today we’re chatting with Austin author and Vermont College MFA alumnx Cate Berry about her new picture book Chicken Break, illustrated by Charlotte Alder (Feiwel & Friends, 2019) and her creative marketing efforts to promote the book.

Congratulations on the release of Chicken Break! It’s an adorable bedtime counting book. Before we talk about all your eggscelent marketing efforts, tell us about the inspiration for this book and its journey to publication.

I usually make up absurd, imaginary stories but this little nugget was ripped from the headlines of real life!

Our family ordered baby chicks from and they provided gleeful entertainment for many months— until they grew up. Our chickens wanted to live inside with us! They would line up and watch TV through the window on our back door!

Our neighbor had politely asked us not to let the chickens near her beautiful yard until one day, they escaped. I drove up, and they had de-headed her freshly planted begonias and dug a three-foot hole in her mulch. Needless-to-say, it looked like a Chicken Spa Day. That night a rerun of “Ocean’s 11” (2001) was showing and—voila!—the whole things blended into a picture book.

I’ve seen some really cool marketing efforts you’ve done, both on social media and in person. Can you tell us about how you hatched these plans?

I decided this time around I wanted to have fun and celebrate my book release in connection as much as possible. I spend a lot of time alone, writing. When I launched this book I wanted to use it as an opportunity to build community.

My publisher was wonderful with getting me into events and conferences. But I don’t think that’s enough these days. I didn’t have any illusions that I could move the needle very far regarding sales, but I could widen my audience and develop deeper relationships with booksellers, schools and libraries. That’s what matters to me the most anyway: connection (See above! It’s my theme!).

Cate’s launch party at BookPeople included a readers theater performance of Chicken Break, which got a mention on the Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker blog.

So I invited several writer friends over for wine and cheese. And team Team Bock Bock was born. We had a lot of fun brainstorming outside-the-box, grassroots marketing ideas. For example, we came up with the idea of #CoopTroop where I asked other authors with chicken related books to band together and market our books. Another great idea that surfaced was making a Chicken Carpool Karaoke video. We had lots of ideas, some I’ll be rolling out over the next few months.

Team Bock Bock was also particularly helpful in narrowing down my focus. You can’t do everything. And friends help other friends prioritize.

I loved your carpool karaoke video! Can you share how you did that? And are those your chickens in the backseat?

Ha! I’m a huge James Corden fan. When we thought of Chicken Carpool Karaoke, I really worked hard to make that a reality. I hired Diem Korsgaard to film and edit the video. She mounted several cameras to our windshield for close up action shots. A Team Bock Bock member had a friend who volunteered her chickens.

As the filming day approached, I’ll admit I was nervous. The reality of all that chicken poop in my van, the thought of them going crazy inside the vehicle while I was driving, the sheer mayhem of it all, had everyone on edge. I know my husband, who played ukulele in the video, was sweating it. But amazingly, they were very chill! And there was hardly any poop.

I will say, we had some hilarious out takes getting the chickens out of the car. Perhaps I’ll post those one day.

They really wanted to break out for a spin! (See Cate’s video)

Although I was tied up on your pub day, I know you had an open house to celebrate. What did you do and how did it go?

Yes! I invited friends and family over for an open house on the actual publication date, Oct. 29, 2019. It was an all-day affair from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. I wanted a slow steady stream of guests, so I’d have time to sit down and really talk with people. And thank them for all their support.

Sometimes your release date can come and go and it feels a little anti-climactic. But this was very special, having people drop by all day long and celebrate in a very real way.

I also set up a Review Table. Friends and family could log onto Amazon, Goodreads and other retailers offering customer reviews, and leave a quick review for the book, right there! As we all know, reviews are so important for a book, especially during the first week of sales. It was a fun way to connect with folks, especially those who couldn’t make the official launch at BookPeople.

Oh! And my kids took initiative and wrote several “ready-made” reviews which we cut up and put in a jar in case anyone got stuck composing a review on the spot. Most of them were silly but it added to the fun.

Amazon did block quite a few reviews (they are very particular about who they verify!) but that didn’t matter. The spirit of the idea made the day a success.

Tell me about the #CoopTroop.

I reached out to several women authors (we love funny female authors!) who released chicken books this year (2019). Everyone was game to join forces, boost our books and shake a tail feather on social media.

#CoopTroup consists of Tammi Sauer (Tammi Bawk Bawk), Martha Brockenbrough (Party Fowl) and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Her Egg-cellency) and myself (Hen Solo).

Watch for giveaways, chicken boost and general fowl play on social media. I’m hoping we’re all at a conference soon so the whole coop can peck and play together—in costume!

Your debut book, Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime!, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Balzer + Bray, 2018) was recently honored as a 2018 picture book finalist by the Writers’ League of Texas. Can you share with us a few things you learned during your year as a debut and how that influenced what you’re doing to promote Chicken Break?

Your debut year is crazy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks otherwise. You don’t know anything, you’re worried, you’re excited, you’re a mess.

I made a point to do as much as I could to promote my book. I didn’t want to feel any regrets the following year. I can honestly say I’m very proud of my accomplishments. I did in-store signings locally, statewide and in bigger cities out of state. I rocked a lot of school visits. I made a promo video with HarperCollins. I presented at the Texas Book Festival and other conferences. I was on faculty for the Austin SCBWI annual conference.

I also think I ran the risk of burnout and overspending (I confess to both of these).

I think the thing I’d love to share with other debuts is that mistakes are unavoidable. How can you know what you don’t know? Don’t try and be perfect, try and connect.

Books come and go but the people you meet—booksellers, authors, librarians, teachers—are a delight. Don’t forget to enjoy your book with others. Let others help and thank them for their support.

Austin Writers’ League of Texas Finalists Bethany Hegedus, Susan Kralovansky, Donna Janell Bowman, Cate Berry, Laurie Filipelli (poetry for adults) and Chris Barton.

Also keep an open mind. I never dreamed I’d find a deep love for teaching, both online and privately. My book gave me this opportunity, along with finishing my MFA in children’s writing, and I’m forever grateful for this unexpected love affair with my students and their work.

Writing, marketing, teaching and promoting is challenging. But the small moments, especially sharing your book with kids, is worth everything.

Just keep going.

Cynsational Notes

Author Cate Berry, photo by Diem Korsgaard

Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime!, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins, 2018). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publishers Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive anti-bedtime book.”

Her second book, Chicken Break! A Counting Book (Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan) illustrated by Charlotte Adler was praised by School Library Journal as, “Full of wordplay and an extra dose of cuteness, this is a definite first purchase for all children’s collections.”

Cate holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches private students as well as classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. She was a featured author at the Texas Book Festival, West Texas Book Fest, Austin SCBWI Conference (faculty) and the Literacy Library Round-up (Victoria). She speaks at schools, libraries, book stores and conferences year-round.

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is a former Writing Barn Fellow. She’s worked with Cynthia Leitich Smith as a Cynsations intern since 2016 and also serves as assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. Gayleen is represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency.