New Voice: Leah Cypess on Mistwood

Leah Cypess is the first-time author of Mistwood (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2010). From the promotional copy:

The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwood. But when she is needed she always comes.

Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have.

Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty–because without it, she may be his greatest threat.

Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can’t help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court…until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.

Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart…and everything she thought she knew.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I am definitely a plunger. It depends on the book, but I often start with only the vaguest idea of how the plot will come together. With Mistwood, all I had when I first put pen to paper was that first scene – a misty forest in which a supernatural creature was being hunted by men on horseback. I had no clue what would happen in chapter two.

This approach appeals to me because it’s fun. I love that creative rush when the ideas flow from my mind to my pen; I love it when my characters surprise me by taking the story in new directions. I love it when a random line of dialogue turns out to hold an important plot twist – one I didn’t know was coming when I wrote that dialogue.

I have to say that this approach isn’t terribly efficient – I often end up throwing out pages of writing that were leading me down dead ends, and I go through a lot of revision. But when I try to start with an outline, I find that once the outline is done I have no real urge to write the book.

My advice to beginning writers would be to do what works for you. I like my method (using the term “method” criminally loosely), but a lot of other writers are probably shuddering as they read it.

Experiment. Read about how other authors write – I once read in an interview with
Diana Gabaldon that she writes parts of her book out of order, and experimenting with that technique really freed up my creativity.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or to “waste” writing on plot threads you’re sure you’ll have to delete. You may surprise yourself. And even if you don’t, what you learn will help you write scenes you don’t have to delete.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I wrote most of Mistwood before I had kids; but I started its companion book, which will be published in 2011, when my oldest daughter was about six months old.

She’s now three years old, with a baby sister; and, obviously, the career building is mostly happening now.

So it’s been a bit of a challenge, though it’s a challenge I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Last summer, my toddler could be occupied for hours at the playground, my infant was still happy to lie in the stroller, and I could’ve written a perky, little post about how I took my kids to the park and sat and wrote.

But last winter, when it was below freezing outside, my younger daughter was mobile, and so my writing for the day became…sporadic.

The main thing I try to do is make sure that when my kids are asleep (by hook and crook, I can usually get an hour’s overlap between their naps), that’s writing time.

Many of my other tasks – shopping, cooking, laundry – can be done together with my kids.

The tasks might take twice as long. They might involve more frustration. But they can get done. Which means that while my kids are asleep, I can concentrate on writing.

This doesn’t always work, of course, but I try to make it my goal.

Cynsational Notes

Leah Cypess has been writing since the fourth grade, but before becoming a full-time writer, she earned her law degree from Columbia Law School. She worked for two years at a large New York City law firm, then moved to Boston, where she now lives with her husband and two young children. Mistwood is her first novel.

Guest Post: Patricia Reilly Giff on Zigzag Kids

By Patricia Reilly Giff

I love to hear my daughter Laura laugh. We’re at Mario’s Restaurant on a Friday night, all of us, and she’s talking about teaching at the school’s afternoon center.

I’m smiling, more because of the sound of her laughter than what she says.

My grandson Jimmy also works at the center, and the two of them tell one story after another. There’s the ballroom dancing contest with a boy wearing a tie over his tee shirt. There’s a choir, a bus for swimming, string cheese snacks, and—

I sit up straight, dinner forgotten. There’s that sudden recognition: this belongs to me.

I reach for my napkin, for Laura’s, for my husband Jim’s. I scrawl words that I may not even be able to read later. But it doesn’t make any difference.

George Nicholson, my agent, suggests, “Call it the Zigzag Afternoon Center.”

I stop in at Laura’s school to see where it all happens. Nothing’s changed since my teaching days. Not the look of the school, not the kids, not even the smell of leftover lunch.

And so I begin. No plot, no plan. Just a few words: Mitchell McCabe looked up at the classroom clock. Were the hands moving? Maybe not. School would never be over.

It’s almost a return to my Polk Street School series (Random House). The difference is that Polk Street centered on the school day; Zigzag takes place after school where so much is going on at once.

The vocabulary is easy; the sentences are short. Writing for this age is like wrapping myself in my warm robe on a winter day.

It’s different from writing one of my novels where the character development and plot are more involved, more intricate. Here, I just have to meet my characters, Mitchell and Destiny, Yolanda, Charlie, and the others.

They’re transparent. I just have to follow them along wherever they go. It’s almost as if they’re telling me, “Hey, over here. Take a look at what we’re doing.”

Really, I could write about the Zigzag Afternoon Center forever.

ZigZag Kids Blog Tour

Aug. 10 Cynsations

Aug. 11 Random Acts of Reading

Aug. 12 Where the Best Books Are!

Aug. 13 Shelf Elf

Aug. 14 Mundie Moms

Aug. 15 The Children’s Book Review

Aug. 16 Chicken Spaghetti

Aug. 17 Patricia Reilly Giff

(two additional dates outside of the tour):

Aug. 25

Sept. 7

Cynsational Notes

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of the Polk Street School books and the Polka Dot Private Eye books, and a two-time recipient of the Newbery Honor for Lily’s Crossing (Delacorte, 1997) and Pictures of Hollis Woods (Wendy Lamb, 2002).

New Voice: Jacqueline Houtman on The Reinvention of Edison Thomas

Jacqueline Houtman is the first-time author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Science geek Eddy Thomas can invent useful devices to do anything, except solve his bully problem.

Eddy Thomas can read a college physics book, but he can’t read the emotions on the faces of his classmates at Drayton Middle School.

He can spend hours tinkering with an invention, but he can’t stand more than a few minutes in a noisy crowd, like the crowd at the science fair, which Eddy fails to win.

When the local school crossing guard is laid off, Eddy is haunted by thoughts of the potentially disastrous consequences and invents a traffic-calming device, using parts he has scavenged from discarded machines. Eddy also discovers new friends, who appreciate his abilities and respect his unique view of the world.

By trusting his real friends, Eddy uses his talents to help others and rethinks his purely mechanical definition of success.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

One of the first—and most important—decisions I made was to write the book in the third person. I never really considered first person, which would make Eddy more self-aware and eloquent than I wanted him to be.

Also, I wanted there to be things that Eddy didn’t notice or find important, things that the reader would notice, but Eddy wouldn’t. Eddy’s naïveté and lack of social awareness would be reflected in the fact that the reader would perceive more about what was going on in Eddy’s world than Eddy did.

It was also important that the narration be strictly from Eddy’s point of view. Even without a first person narration, I wanted the reader to know what was going on in Eddy’s head, to understand why he did things that would seem very weird to an outsider, but made perfect sense to Eddy. But I didn’t want Eddy to have to tell the reader about it, I wanted him to show it. And I didn’t want the reader’s reaction to Eddy to be filtered through any other characters.

By using third person (limited) I hoped to be able to show both what was going on in Eddy’s head and what he was missing.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

I first saw Joy Neaves speak at the 2007 Fall Retreat of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI (A great event, with a legendary snack table).

I had been working on The Reinvention of Edison Thomas and struggling with the two storylines–one technical and one emotional.

Joy gave this amazing talk about how the main character’s inner and outer journeys are interconnected. She drew a diagram that crystallized the relationship between these two storylines for me. In fact, her whole talk seemed to be addressing the very problems I was having with my manuscript. I remember standing there after the talk, staring at the diagram.

I spoke with Joy briefly, but not much beyond, “Hello, I enjoyed your talk. Would you like another piece of chocolate? How about some cheese curds? Have you tried the kringle?”

I was so energized after that retreat, so many ideas. (So much food.)

Over the next few months, in between freelance gigs, I made major revisions in the manuscript. I beefed up a conflict and added two chapters, referring back frequently to the notes I had taken during Joy’s talk.

Joy had said that she was looking for strong characters with their own way of looking at the world. Eddy certainly has his own way of looking at the world, so on June 19, 2008, I emailed a query and three chapters to Joy. On July 1, she requested the full manuscript. She made an offer two days later.

Joy had already had a huge editorial influence on the manuscript before she had even seen it, so it was almost too perfect that she be the one to acquire it.

It was a delight to work with her. She would ask questions that made me look at the manuscript in new ways, to think about different ways to communicate ideas and information that would move the plot along more effectively. She asked for big-picture changes, but gave me specific ideas of how to accomplish those changes.

I think the revision process was my favorite part of the whole “path to publication.” And that’s my “Ode to Joy.”

Cynsational Notes

From Boyds Mills: “Jacqueline Houtman holds a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She writes about a variety of biomedical topics, including asthma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.”

Sciency Fiction: Jacqueline Houtman’s Writing Blog.

Holler Loudly Book Trailer

It’s my pleasure today to debut the book trailer for my upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010).

Holler Loudly has a voice as big as the Southwestern sky, and everywhere he goes people tell him to “Hush!” From math class to the movies and even the state fair, Holler’s LOUD voice just keeps getting on people’s nerves. But Holler can’t help himself–being loud is who he is!

Will Holler ever find a way to let loose his voice–without getting into trouble?

Holler Loudly is dedicated to the Austin Public Library and Mid-Continent Public Library.

Cynsational Notes

Thank you to P.J. “Tricia” Hoover for creating this book trailer! Tricia is the author of The Forgotten Worlds trilogy (Blooming Tree); book three–The Necropolis–will be available this fall! Hooray, Tricia!

Thank you to Tim Crow for lending his rich, southwestern voice to the narration. Tim is a teacher, a former regional advisor of Austin SCBWI, and it’s well worth checking out the video just to hear his amazing voice! Bravo, Tim!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win an author-signed copy of Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth (Knopf, 2010). From the promotional copy:

This powerful and tender story of desegregation busing in the 1970s introduces readers to the brave young heroes who helped to build a new world.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Busing Brewster” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post). I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Aug. 31. Sponsored by the author; U.S. entries only.

Enter to win Vampire High: Sophomore Year by Douglas Reese (Delacorte, 2010)(author interview). From the promotional copy:

In the satiric and funny sequel to the witty Vampire High, Cody’s hopes for a great sophomore year at Vlad Dracul are dashed when his train wreck of a cousin, Turk Stone, moves in and messes with his life.

Turk’s a brilliant teen artist and goth with a sky-high ego . Her attitude infuriates the vampire (jenti) students, especially the dark, brooding Gregor. But something changes in Turk when she stumbles on the abandoned nineteenth-century mill in the forgotten district of Crossfield and immediately claims it as her new arts center project.

Though Cody resents his cousin at first, he has his own reasons for helping make Turk’s dream come true. But Crossfield has many secrets, and a mysterious vampire army called the Mercians will do anything to make sure they stay hidden. And when he takes on the Mercians, everything Cody has learned about courage and determination his freshman year at Vampire High will be tested.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Vampire High: Sophomore Year” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post). I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Aug. 31. Publisher review copy; U.S. entries only.

The winner of How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2010) was Nancy in Houston.

More News

Congratulations to Gita Wolf, author of Monkey Photo, illustrated by Swarna Chitrakar (Tara Books, 2010) “in the brilliant Patua folk style from Bengal.” Read a Cynsations interview with Gita.

Prime Real Estate by Mary Kole from Peek: “The more descriptive (and scene) space you give something, the more characters think and talk about it, the more important it will become in the reader’s mind.” See also Mary on Writing Woes. Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

Writing Between Diapers: Tips for Writer Moms by Mayra Calvani from The National Writing for Children Center. Opens with this quote: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” –C. G. Jung Source: Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid.

Dealing with Bad Reviews from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “It takes an exceedingly thick skin to be an author these days, perhaps moreso than at any time in the past.” See also An Open Love Note to Debut Authors about Hurtful Online Reviews from Cynsations. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

A Peach of an Agent from Sarah Davies’s Blog at Greenhouse Literary Agency. Peek: “With ever more agents on the children’s/YA scene (I can count 10 new ones in the past year without even trying), the most standout new writers will increasingly experience the thrilling, bewildering fluster of The Agent Battle.” Note: on how to pick between multiple offers of representation. Source: Elizabeth S. Craig. Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

Food in Fantasy: opening thoughts from and an interview with Cindy Pon from Lisa Mantchev from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “Food is such an important part of the Chinese culture, always bringing to mind time with family and friends as well as festivities. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that celebrated food as much as the Chinese culture does.” Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy.

Nonfiction and Fiction Picture Books – Illustrations from Donna Bowman Bratton at Simply Donna. Peek: “As much as possible, we must limit visual details from our text and allow illustrators to work their magic.”

Manipulation by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog – Writer Talk. Peek: “In revision, you need to keep getting to that place in you, the dream zone place, to revise at the scene level…but you also need to step back and analyze how the various aspects of story are working in your manuscript.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

We Begin Again. And Again. by Lindsey Lane from This and That. Peek: “Whenever I finish something, whether it is my newly minted MFA degree or a book or a play or an article, the inevitable question people ask is: ‘What’s next?'” Read a Cynsations interview with Lindsey.

Choose Your Friends Wisely by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Sabotage from non-artist friends has more to do with your lack of availability. These friends may not understand your need to set aside time to work.”

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Gianna Marino by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I am both an author and illustrator. My first two children’s books are wordless, though ‘written’ by me. Yet my first job as a writer came from travel-writing. I think in pictures, so illustration is my first love and easier for me. I tend to write very descriptively. Great for travel-writing. A challenge for picture books.”

PR Notes: Book Trailer Software Demonstrated by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “So, here are my trailers. I used the same stock images for all of these, just experimented with different programs. There’s a slide show from Photobucket, a short trailer using, and a trailer made with Vegas Movie Studio HD.” See also Time Line Helps You Plot.

The comic book steps up as an aid to literacy by Wendy Martin from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: “For the reluctant reader, they are absorbing and entertaining. For a struggling reader or the reader learning English as a second language, they offer a bridge with pictures for context, and hopefully a different path into classroom discussions for higher-level texts.”

Overpromotion from Scott Tracey. Peek: “Build a fan base by being interesting – you’ll sell more books that way. Otherwise, you’re just trolling for bodies – and bodies don’t buy books.” Source: Elizabeth Scott.

The Mechanics of Novel Writing for Children and Young Adults: online class taught by Jill Santopolo (pictured)(Oct. 26 to Dec. 15) through McDaniel College. Jill is the author of the Alec Flint mystery series, including Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and The Vanishing Treasure (2008) and The Ransom Note Blues: An Alec Flint Mystery (2009). She also is an executive editor at Philomel. See also a spring 2011 class, Reading Like a Writer, taught by Lisa Graff. Lisa is the author of Umbrella Summer (HarperCollins, 2009) and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower (HarperCollins, 2008). She’s also a former associate editor at FSG. Note: Lisa’s class appears to be on campus in Westminster, Maryland. Read Cynsations interviews with Jill and Lisa.

Supportive Writer Friends by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Supportive writer friends pump you up to do your best work, and even act as cattle prods. (‘Quit stalling. Sign up for that conference.’)”

Dead or Alive: Top Ten Children’s Writer Collaborations I’d Love to See by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: “M. T. Anderson and Judy Blume: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Octavian.”

Congratulations, Keith Graves

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Keith Graves on the release of Chicken Big (Chronicle, 2010). From the promotional copy:

On a teeny little farm, in an itty-bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big, giant egg. And out of this egg came one big, humongous . . . something.

“It’s big!” clucked the little rooster. “It’s enormous!” clucked the small chicken. “It’s an elephant!” peeped the smallest chicken. “Run for your lives!” they cried.

No matter how they try, these clueless chickens can’t make sense of the gigantic new member of their family—until he saves the day. With wacky, laugh-out-loud humor and silliness to spare, this big twist on the classic Chicken Little story lends a whole new perspective to what it means to be chicken.

Read a Cynsations interview with Keith.

Congratulations, Y.S. Lee

Congratulations to Y.S. Lee on the release of The Agency: The Body at the Tower (Candlewick, 2010), a companion to The Agency: A Spy in the House (Candlewick, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Mary Quinn is back, now a trusted member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.

Her new assignment sends her into the grimy underbelly of Victorian London dressed as a poor boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing –or losing –her identity.

Mary’s adventure, which takes place on the building site of the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, offers a fictional window into a fascinating historical time and place.

Highest recommendation. Read a Cynsations interview with Y.S.

Cynsational Screening Room

Celebrating Arthur Slade‘s The Hunchback Assignments — book 2 is now out in Canada and Australia; it’ll be released Sept. 14 in the U.S.; see an interview with Arthur.

Don’t miss book one:

In the video below, Kathi Appelt talks to Uma Krishnaswami about Out of the Way! Out of the Way! illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy (Tulika Books, 2010)(Groundwood, forthcoming).

YA author Holly Cupala hosts several of her author pals, spilling their secrets:

az-ang talks to author Paula Yoo:

Helen Frost discusses and reads from Diamond Willow (FSG, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, given by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.

M.T. Anderson sings the Delaware state anthem at SCBWI Nationals. Don’t miss Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Beach Lane, 2009).

See also What’s Hot? a report by Chris Eboch from SCBWI Nationals on what kind of manuscripts are selling well to national children’s-YA book publishers. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

More Personally is now featuring a short author audio introduction and reading of my chapter book collection of short stories, Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002).

Surf over to listen to it here.

Learn more about Indian Shoes; check out the free Indian Shoes readers theater, reading group guide, and teacher’s guides (pre-reading, comprehension, multiple intelligence, mathematical/logical) .

Also, my upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010) is now available for pre-order from IndieBound.

Even More Personally

Last weekend, Greg and I had the pleasure of meeting children’s author Kerry Madden and her husband (AKA eye candy) for brunch at Maudie’s Tex-Mex on South Lamar.

I first fell in love with Kerry’s writing in her Maggie Valley books (Gentle’s Holler (2005), Louisiana’s Song (2007), Jessie’s Mountain (2008)(all Viking) and, more recently, was wowed by her new biography Up Close: Harper Lee (Viking, 2009).

We chatted over migas and breakfast tacos, and believe me, Kerry sparkles every bit as much as her books. What a delight!

Then on Wednesday, I was joined around the dining room table by fellow Austin authors P.J. Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson for a day of writing and some visiting and much laughter.

P.J. is the author of The Forgotten Worlds trilogy (Blooming Tree); book three–The Necropolis–will be available this fall!

Jessica is the author of Trudy (2005), Border Crossing (2009)(both Mikweed) and books for younger readers.

It’s an honor to be pals with such talented and inspiring writers! Can you see the smoke rising from their fingertips?

Featuring Greg

Interview with Greg Leitich Smith by Melissa Buron from Book Addict. Peek: “Attorney by day, author by night, Greg Leitich Smith is a special brand of Texan super-hero. Recently, Greg took a minute to visit about what enticed him to make Texas his home, how he became an award-winning author and what new projects the Austin-based Superman is working on now.”

Cynsational Events

The Austin SCBWI Diversity in Kid Lit Panel Discussion will feature author-illustrator Don Tate, illustrator Mike Benny, author Varian Johnson, author Lila Guzman, author/librarian Jeanette Larson and take place at 11 a.m. Aug. 14 at at BookPeople in Austin.

Author Pamela Ellen Ferguson will be presenting and signing Sunshine Picklelime, illustrated by Christian Slade (Random House, 2010) at 2 p.m. Aug. 15 at BookPeople in Austin.

Publicist Interview: Deborah Sloan of Deborah Sloan and Company

From her official website: “For more than twenty years, Deborah Sloan has led authors and illustrators through the world of publishing and book selling, establishing a reputation for inspired and compelling marketing and promotion for books in every category, with a special focus on children’s books. She is considered a trusted source of insight and information on bookselling by national media.

“As the director of marketing, promotion, advertising and publicity for Candlewick Press, Abbeville Press and Trafalgar Square, and a founding member of Candlewick’s executive management team, Deborah successfully evaluated marketplace opportunities and delivered solutions for book trade, library, school and consumer markets.

“She places special emphasis on fostering strong relationships between publishing houses and their authors and illustrators.

“She has been a featured speaker at national conventions, including BookExpo America, the American Library Association, and the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Children’s Book Council.”

You have a distinguished history working in marketing for trade publishers. Do you have a favorite memory or two to share?

Just one or two? How do I choose?

It’s hard to beat working with the authors and illustrators of Candlewick’s first list as Fall 1992 was one for the memory books: touring the country with Iona Opie and Maurice Sendak for their collection of “rhymes you never heard at grandma’s knee” (NYT), I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book showed me how loyal children’s booksellers, librarians, reviewers and fans are and how they will pack an auditorium to hear a good story.

Traveling to bookstores and libraries with Helen Oxenbury to share Martin Waddell’s story of an overworked duck “who had the bad luck to live with a lazy old farmer,” Farmer Duck, gave me my first real understanding of how good picture books – those with just the perfect marriage of words and art – work with kids in ways that I had never imagined. Martin talks about how each of his picture books “is about a very big emotion in a very small person” and no doubt he gets it right: “How goes the work? Quack! ” is permanently embedded in my brain thanks to the thousands of children we met. These kids got it.

One of the most fascinating books I ever worked on was It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley. I will never forget meeting that dynamic duo and hearing how they went about talking and meeting with parents, health educators, scientists, pediatricians, social works, child development specialists, clergy, teachers, and librarians to be sure to present the information in the most accurate, up-to-date, clear, kid-friendly way possible. I was in!

Long before we had F&Gs, I schlepped copies of the designed pages to as many librarians and booksellers and reviewers and teachers as I could (until my family begged me to stay home for a bit), and the conversations that resulted–honest, complicated, charged and passionate–helped build a buzz for this book that’s still going strong today.

The people I showed those early pages to felt a part of the process…I think they felt It’s Perfectly Normal was their book too. Because of those meetings, they were personally invested in seeing that It’s Perfectly Normal reached its readers. FYI, the book has sold more than one million copies.

Okay, one more (but really, I could do one a day for the next year and not cover all the stories I’ve heard and shared): It was sometime in the late ’90s when I was asked to read a manuscript by a first-time author the editors were pretty jazzed about. It began “My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

What?! I wanted to know more about this Buloni kid and her family–and her dog!–and I knew that kids would too. But how to promote this book by a newbie author and get the booksellers and librarians and teachers and reviewers to be its ambassador and share it with kids?

An author tour didn’t seem the way to go – the author had no track record, so who would book an event with her? Advertising? I wasn’t sure that we could capture the heart of the book in an ad. Remember, too, the Internet wasn’t really big then (most publishers didn’t even have websites at that time!), so how to spread the word?

Pure and simple: reading is believing. So we created a down-and-dirty first chapter excerpt and inserted it into Candlewick’s Spring catalog. As I said, simple marketing plan. Let readers read the book. If they like it, they’ll champion it. They did.

I wonder how many of you read that first chapter and told a friend about that novel for kids ages 9 and up called Because of Winn-Dixie by a writer from Minnesota named Kate DiCamillo.

What inspired you to found your own company?

I think I didn’t know it, but I was working up to going it on my own for a while. One late afternoon, just as the rush hour commute was to begin, I got a call at Candlewick: “Everything’s okay, but…” said my son’s friend’s mother. Dread.

My son was okay (nothing a few stitches couldn’t fix), but that call – and that way-too-long drive home to my family–got me thinking that as much as I adored my job (and really, I felt I had the best job in the world), I just didn’t want to commute anymore; it was time, after 11 years, to be closer to my family.

So I took the first step to seeing what it would be like to work for a publisher but to do so outside of the buzz center, and went to work for Trafalgar Square, the largest distributor of British books in the US. Trafalgar’s offices were on a gorgeous farm in North Pomfret, Vermont, but I wasn’t going to commute there(!), so they set up me to work in my home town, Andover. A perfect way to be part of a company and yet be on my own.

When Trafalgar was sold to Independent Publishers Group, I was faced with that decision of what to do next. Do I go back to an office environment? Could I go back?

I relished the flexibility that a home office provided. And this too: I was starting to feel that promoting an entire publisher’s list was just too much for me. I didn’t know that I could really do a good service for every one of the books.

It was my husband who got me thinking about running my own company. It was a terrifying (no regular paycheck!) move but absolutely the right one.

Could you give us an overview of your mission?

As I say on my website, I love words, stories, and wonderful art. I care about the people who create them and work to help clients and their books to reach their readers. And that’s the truth! It’s all about sharing those stories.

What sort of folks make up your client list, and in brief, what services do you provide to each?

Oh, anyone and everyone involved with children’s books: publishers, authors and illustrators, associations, booksellers… I help them to connect with readers via marketing consultations and general publishing thinking, social media consultations and brainstorming, networking with industry colleagues, branding, tour booking and coordination, media campaigns, development and design of promotional materials.

Could you tell us more about KidsBuzz?

When I work on a book, I think about every tool possible to build buzz. PR outreach and getting coverage in the media is certainly an important part of a campaign, but I was growing concerned with the shrinking space given to book coverage, with magazines and newspapers folding, and whether the reviews/features were really selling books.

I’ve always been so taken with the behind-the-scenes of a book and hearing it straight from the author. And wouldn’t it be great if not just me, but lots of people could hear directly from the author, not catalog copy, not marketing speak, but the author speaking straight about why they wrote a particular book, who it’s for, etc.?

I thought that if I could just share that, share an author’s story and do so with hundreds of thousands of people, then I’d be providing a great service to all involved. Thus, KidsBuzz.

For authors and illustrators, KidsBuzz puts you directly in touch with readers, reading groups, booksellers, librarians and teachers, allowing them to offer trailers and videos, excerpts, phone chats or visits, curriculum tie-ins, material for newsletters, info about contests and freebies, mentions of new reviews and awards—anything and everything you want to buzz directly to the people who buy, read and sell your books.


KidsBuzz partners with successful online publications that target these markets by distributing notes from the authors via Shelf Awareness, (both running twice in a week so double exposure here), and Teacher magazine’s e-newsletter, Teacher Update.

It’s your chance to tell your readers why your book is special–in your own words. Your readers want to hear from you. Personal relationships last longer than any marketing speak.

Plus, we also run either individual title or group title blog ad campaigns. Our campaigns are in the top 10% of effectiveness because we don’t just put the book up in the ad but actually craft a headline and visuals that will make people stop.

The beauty of blog ad campaigns is that you’re guaranteed placement with millions of impressions–and they create one-click-thru to a variety of online retailers. That’s what we’re after–sales. And, if I don’t already sound like a salesman, here’s one more point: We don’t buy ads just on blogs about books: we find the subject matter in each book that someone cares about and find blogs on those subjects.

For booksellers, reading groups, librarians, teachers, general readers, KidsBuzz lets you hear from the source–the books’ creators–and gives you the stories behind the stories. You can use the authors’ notes in your newsletters, on your websites, in your stores/sections.

Why do you recommend it to teachers and librarians and booksellers?

If you’re looking for a book for your book group or for your collection, find out what your favorite (and some new) kids and teen authors and illustrators have to say, learn about contests, tours, trailers, virtual visits, autographed books–and more!

I’ve heard from teachers and librarians and booksellers who say that this gives them a chance to “meet” authors and hear about books that they might read reviews on or might have been presented with by their sales reps. But it’s a crowded publishing world, and the more first-hand info we can share from the authors, the better.

“I really do love KidsBuzz,” says Allison Santos, Youth Services Librarian and Princeton Children’s Book Festival Coordinator from Princeton, NJ. “It’s great to be able to get all the latest scoop on brand new titles and read interesting interviews with authors and illustrators. Did I mention the great raffles and book giveaways? Where else can you go to get all this fabulous information in one place. KidsBuzz really lets me feel connected to everything that is exciting in the children and teen’s literary world.”

Jacque Peterson, School Library Coordinator from the Alaska State Library adds: “I’ll be watching for KidsBuzz each week and will highlight your author information and contests in my weekly electronic newsletter that’s sent to school and youth librarians across the state of Alaska.”

“The books that were spotlighted [from] are all books that I can’t wait to get my hands on to read myself. Please include me in any newsletters, emails, and other announcements so I can keep the families in my community up-to-date on the latest reads for kids. Thank you!” — Lisa Moore, Allen/Soddy Daisy Family Resource Center, TN.

To keep up with what’s happening, either subscribe to the individual e-newsletters or visit the KidsBuzz Facebook page and/or follow @KidsAuthorBuzz Twitter stream.

In what ways is KidsBuzz helping gatekeepers connect books to readers?

A bookseller reader described KidsBuzz as having a one-minute conversation with an author and walking away with a handle on the book that helps them to present it to the right customer. I think that says it all.

What are the benefits to authors?

“Within a week of my first KidsBuzz mailing, I received invitations to do events at three bookstores. My Life With the Lincolns (Henry Holt, 2010) is my first book for young readers, and KidsBuzz helped me break into this new audience with ease. I’m very grateful.”

— author Gayle Brandeis

“KidsBuzz is an easy way to have direct contact with the folks you are trying to reach out to…. the response to a simple book giveaway is off the hook! My email in box is flooded! So if you are looking to expand your book awareness, check this out.”

— Award-winning author G. Neri

“Wow! This looks fabulous! Somebody finally got it right. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

— NYT bestselling author Amy Hest

Why should authors seek out publicity opportunities outside their publishers’ efforts?

I don’t know that “should” is the word. Personally, I feel that authors should do what they do best: write; give us stories. Illustrators should do what they do best: tell those stories through art. And publishers should do the publishing, which includes the marketing and selling.

That said, no one loves a book more than its author and no one knows a book better than its author. I don’t say this to scare anyone, but with over 5,000 children’s books published each year, I don’t think there’s ever enough one can do to buzz a book.

What makes KidsBuzz stand above other options available to them?

I’m not sure what those other options are (ha!), but the point of KidsBuzz is it’s personal–written from the author, it’s guaranteed (unlike PR campaigns where we hope to get coverage, this is certain: your notes will absolutely appear in the issues you request), it covers all the major markets (booksellers, librarians, teachers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, book groups) and it’s an affordable way to reach over 650,000 readers of all types.

Could you share with us a success story or two?

I’ve heard from publishers and authors that:

– Authors and illustrators have booked gigs at children’s literature conferences and book festivals.

– Buzz = sales: one author was corresponding with a reader who had written in about her Kidsbookclubbing note; the reader turned out to be the head of a high school English department and ordered 120 copies of her book.

– A book that was published in 2008 went back to press a month after it was KidsBuzzed in 2009. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.

– Four of our recent blog ad campaign titles hit the New York Times Bestseller List!

– After day two of a three-week blog campaign, one title brought in over 2,000 click-throughs to online retailers.

You’re also a blogger! Tell us about The Picnic Basket! Who is your readership? What is your focus?

I started The Picnic Basket after talking with librarians and teachers who weren’t going to the American Library Association convention and were quite jealous of those who got to meet authors and hear their stories–and get those coveted freebie books!

So I got to thinking that there are lots of school and library professionals who aren’t on publishers’ review copy mailing lists but who are the ones who introduce books to kids and make a difference.

The idea behind the Picnic Basket is “we send you free books. You (librarians and teachers) tell us what you think!” It’s a chance for school and library professionals to taste new and forthcoming children’s books with first-come, first-serve sample copies of books for kids of all ages. They read the books, then post reviews on the blog for colleagues to read.

I didn’t even think that many of those who received books would also post the reviews on their blogs and websites and wikis and include them in their newsletters and tweet about them.

All of a sudden, one post about a title has long legs and staying power. I was looking at my blog analytics recently and was surprised to see that the eight of the 10 most popular pages visited so far this year were for books featured and published in 2008 and 2009. Here, teachers and librarians aren’t concerned about publication dates–long live backlist!

What do you enjoy about blogging?

I love getting the feedback from readers. It’s so amazing to think that I can sit in my office in Andover, Massachusetts, and hear from people from all over the country. Really amazing and so helpful.

I learn from my readers every day. Because I’m not in the classrooms, I don’t know what makes a teacher consider adding a book to her library or to his curriculum. I’m not the librarian who’s got to manage a budget and determine which books to add to the collection. But a few weeks after the books are sent to the teachers and librarians, the reviews start getting posted, and then we all get to read what teachers and librarians think about when making their decisions.

Plus, because of the nature of this blog, I’ve learned about publishers I’d never heard of (Cinco Puntos Press–new to Twitter at @5puntosbooks–and Tara Books–definitely worth checking out), I get to keep up with new books, and I really enjoy getting the stories-behind-the-story from the authors and illustrators.

What is it like to be a publicist? Can you describe a typical work day?

I’m an answer-the-email-now-and-don’t-leave-it-hanging-in-your-inbox kind of gal, so I start work around 6 a.m. to spend the first few hours of the day brainstorming (writing proposals for new projects takes a big think, and a big uninterrupted think) or writing about-the-author pieces and media pitches. Then it’s on to the business of the day, which recently included:

– Reviewing an author’s website and making suggestions to brand him as a writer of a certain kind of books.

– Talking with a publisher about a fall author tour: are we hitting enough cities in the country? Are we missing a region? If we only have a day in city X, should we focus on bookstores, libraries (should we do events with the public, bring in a class, meet with regional librarians?), a tweet-up, meeting with reviewers, a children’s literature class, school visits–or the whole shebang?

– Talking with the author about that fall author tour: how much is too much to do in one day? any special requests? Should we add a few states where the author’s been on state reading/award lists (thus, we know that there’s already an awareness for the author)? What about the author’s backlist… could we tie-in discussion/sales of books that are for a slightly younger audience?

– Revising a media pitch: what is it about this author that makes her media-worthy? Would I want to her a story about/with this author if I were listening (and if so, what would I want to hear?)?

– Answering a few queries about KidsBuzz and sharing basic info and costs.

– Out for a run to clear my head.

– Checking in on Twitter and Facebook (throughout the day) and finding some “outside of the comfort zone” people/groups to follow

– Arranging for an IndieNext Children’s White Box mailing (and then sharing details with the publisher of what we might want to include with that mailing).

– Inviting librarians to visit a client’s booth at ALA (and pitching who the client is and why they should take the time to drop by).

– Suggesting programs for a publishing client to sit in on while at ALA (worthwhile dropping in on the Notables committee, and others, to get a sense of how it works).

– Suggesting area bookstores for that publisher to visit while in DC.

– Reviewing three author’s KidsBuzz and TeacherBuzz notes.

– Sharing click-through and impressions results with last week’s KidsBuzz clients.

– Selecting media and library contacts for an upcoming review copy mailing.

– Select blogs, both niche and big readership, for teen fiction blog ad campaign.

– Making appointments for a trip to NYC as well as a few area bookstores.

– Thinking about a new book to feature on The Picnic Basket – and shelving the writing until tomorrow.

Business-wise, what do you look forward to in the future?

This August, I’m launching TeacherBuzz which shares authors’ notes with over 250,000 educators who read Teacher magazine’s Teacher Update e-newsletter. The first two issues are already sold out, which speaks to publishers’ and authors’ interest in reaching educators.

Plus, believe it or not, I’m already starting to think about our HolidayBuzz blog ad campaign where we promote 25 titles on top blogs for a whole month before the winter holidays–each title receives over 24 million impressions!

What do you do outside of the world of books?

Run, read, chauffeur my children, do crossword puzzles, take my black Lab for hikes, cook, go to the beach (and I’m trying a new sport: SUP, stand-up paddleboarding), hang out with my family.

New Voice: Irene Latham on Leaving Gee’s Bend

Irene Latham is the first-time author of Leaving Gee’s Bend (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Ludelphia Bennett may be blind in one eye, but that doesn’t mean she can’t put in a good stitch. In fact, Ludelphia sews all the time, especially when things are going wrong.

But when Mama gets deathly ill, it doesn’t seem like even quilting will help. Mama needs medicine badly – medicine that can only be found in Camden, over forty miles away.

That’s when Ludelphia decides to do something drastic – leave Gee’s Bend.

Beyond the log cabins, orange dirt, and cotton fields of her small sharecropping community, Ludelphia discovers a world she could never have imagined. Fancy houses, cars, and even soda pop! But there’s also danger lurking for a young girl on her own, and Ludelphia begins to wonder if she’ll ever see Gee’s Bend or her Mama again.

Despite the twists and turns, Ludelphia weathers each challenge in a way that would make her mama proud, and may even save the day not just for Mama, but her entire town.

Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, Leaving Gee’s Bend is a heart-touching tale of a young girl’s unexpected adventure.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book you are debuting this year?

When I was ten years old, which is the age of my protagonist Ludelphia Bennett, I was quiet and thoughtful and secretly aching for adventure. I spent a lot of time reading: reading in bed, reading in the bathtub, reading on the back of horse, reading in the branches of a tree. And the books I chose were big and thick, full of action and emotion.

I loved the Little House series [by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-2006)] most of all, loved the celebration of family, and how I learned things right along with Laura. I also loved that Pa called Laura “Half-Pint,” when my papa called me Harriet. Laura is one of four children; I am one of five. Her mother was loving and kind and set a fine example; my mother was (and is) loving and kind and set a fine example.

Other books that stand out in my memory are The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (Random House, 1941), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien (Athenum, 1971) and anything with a dog: Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Harper & Row, 1969), Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (HarperCollins, 1956) and later Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Maxwell Macmillan, 1991).

So, from the get-go, my reading life has been about those early, powerful experiences of love. In fact, I’m still drawn to stories like that – classic stories, simple stories, before life gets complicated by sexual relationships and responsibilities and the pressures and demands of early adulthood. So, it really is no mystery where Leaving Gee’s Bend comes from. What I’ve written is my favorite kind of story.

However, in 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama, it’s unlikely that anyone in that community would have been an avid reader. So, Ludelphia doesn’t read for fun, as I did – she quilts. But she most certainly is quiet and thoughtful and secretly aching for adventure.

At its most basic, Ludelphia’s story is one of love – love for her mother. Her whole adventure is motivated by her desire to save her mother. And this, too, is a reflection of ten-year-old me. Because when I was that age, no one meant more to me than my mama. Family legend has it that my first pieces of writing were love poems – for my mother. And this book is also a love poem for my mother.

But, like Ludelphia, I also experienced an opposing force to that love. A force that’s natural and absolutely essential to growing up: the desire to be one’s own person, to go your own way. So while Ludelphia wants to please her mother, she also needs to exert her independence, can’t not make her own decisions. And so this becomes the primary struggle and results in a little girl being quietly disobedient. She does things she’s not supposed to do. But because she does them in the name of love, we root for her all the way.

I, too, was quietly disobedient. When my mother made homemade clothes for me that I didn’t want to wear, I didn’t scream and throw things. I just borrowed clothes from a friend and changed into them on the bus ride to school. And when my mother found out (as mothers do), it crushed me to know how I had hurt her feelings. But I still wasn’t wearing those clothes to school.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first–character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Even though I live just 120 miles from Gee’s Bend, Alabama; this book started with a trip to New York City.

My husband and I arrived on the last day of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and we waited in line for two hours to see the show.

Before I even saw a single quilt, I heard voices of the quiltmakers, singing and talking, as recorded on a movie they were showing in the gallery. I was immediately drawn to those voices that, having grown up in the south, were so familiar to me, but were also talking about life experiences completely foreign to me: poverty, field work, isolation.

And then when I saw the quilts, I was completely overwhelmed by the bold colors and geometric designs and textures like corduroy and burlap and cotton, how these quilts were not art for art’s sake, but art created to keep families warm and given as an expression of love. It was an emotional experience for me, one I can’t adequately describe. All I knew was, I wanted to know more. So I began feeding my obsession.

As I read and learned and listened back home in Alabama, there were two events that really stood out to me in the history of Gee’s Bend: the 1932 raid on Gee’s Bend and the subsequent Red Cross rescue. I knew those were the events I wanted to write about, because they spoke of hardship and love and survival, which, ultimately, are the essential elements of all the stories found in the quilts of Gee’s Bend.

In terms of world building, the challenges of writing across time and culture are intimidating. As much I could rely on facts as found in research – and I must say, that thanks to Tinwood Media, the organization that created the materials for the art exhibit, finding information was not a problem at all – I worried a lot about getting it right. I was an outsider to Gee’s Bend with no personal connections, save my intense emotional reaction to the quilts. So it became it an exercise first in imagination, then in empathy.

What did twenty-first-century, middle-class, thirty-something, Caucasian me have in common with a ten-year-old sharecropper’s daughter in 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama? I used poetry to put me in touch with our many commonalities: how our mamas taught us how to stitch, how we loved our families and pets, how we questioned things, how we were people of action, how we loved to create. Empathy became the key to it all.

Before I could write an authentic story, I had to find Ludelphia (and all the other characters) inside of me.

Then, to capture those voices, I immersed myself in the auditory experience. I listened for hours and hours to recordings of the quiltmakers talking about their lives.

And what I learned is that we have the power as writers to create a more compassionate world. We can awaken mercy in our readers by first awakening mercy within ourselves.

And that’s why there will always be a place in the market for historical fiction books. We need them. Our children need them. Our world needs them.

Author Interview: Micol Ostow on Balancing Marketing Within the Writing Life

Micol Ostow has written over 40 published works for readers of all ages.

Her novel, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa (Razorbill, 2006), was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and the recently-launched Bradford novels (Simon Pulse, 2009-) are breaking new ground in interactive media and young adult lit.

Her latest release, So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)(Flux, 2009) features rockin’ (literally) illustrations by Micol’s brother, David, and was chosen as a Booklist Top Ten Arts Books for Youth and Religion Books for Youth Selection for 2009.

Micol received her MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in January, 2009, and currently teaches a popular young adult writing workshop through Media Bistro.

What do you expect of yourself in terms of time and effort devoted to marketing your books?

I definitely consider marketing to be part of the job as an author — with marketing budgets so stretched at publishing houses, I really do think it’s somewhat irresponsible as an author not to do what we can to promote our own books.

As far as carving out the time, it varies depending on where I am at with a book project. When writing or revising, the deadline is generally my primary focus. But anywhere from three-to-six months out from a release date, I’ll take an afternoon to brainstorm publicity efforts, and follow up (the follow-up then extending over a period of a few weeks).

Though I’m not an avid blogger, I also consider social networking and related media to be part of the job, too. I try (and often fail) to blog at least once a week, and I’m usually on Facebook or Twitter at least once a day, trying to balance posting about promotional info and General Life Stuff, so as not to sound too much like a used car salesman.

How are your marketing efforts impacted by competing issues such as day jobs, child care, personal/family crisis, other professional demands (keeping up with the industry), or, say, actually writing the books? Or even having a personal life?

I’m lucky in that currently I’m a full-time writer, and I don’t (yet) have children (though I do think a lot about what life will be like when that changes!).

My time is split among writing, promoting, and teaching, as well as occasional conferences, retreats, etc.

During a teaching season, two days a week are dedicated to reading my students’ manuscripts. That leaves me the rest of the week to write.

I’m also lucky in that teaching schedule aside, I can adjust my workload in response to deadlines.

Do you feel like you expect enough or too much of yourself?

Speaking only for myself, I try to have very modest (but optimistic!) expectations from my publishers — to keep in mind how limited their budgets are and to appreciate what they do do to help me promote my books.

Maybe I could be more demanding, but as a former editor, I relate to where my own editors are coming from and prefer to approach them from a “we’re all in this together” perspective rather than “what have you done for me lately,” where I can.

As for my expectations of myself, I’m always putting pressure on myself, feeling like I haven’t done “enough” on a given day. The perils of being my own boss (and probably one of the reasons I’m a pretty good employee.)

How does income, other sources of financial support, or a lack thereof have an impact on your choices?

I personally wouldn’t be able to do what I do (without seeking a supplementary form of income) if it weren’t for my husband’s income. Bottom line. Which is part of why I’m determined to make the most of this time before children, when our expenses (and lifestyle) are more flexible.

How much do you spend on promoting your books and/or your byline/platform more generally?

I spend on the sort of things that seem like necessities or no-brainers: business cards, a website, the occasional swag or some such to give away at an event.

(These are also things that tend to cost in the low three-figures at most, which is an amount I’m comfortable with spending.)

I’m more cautious about things like conferences. If it’s not local and my publisher isn’t putting me up, I’ll think hard before spending the money to attend.

I know fellow authors who’ve poured big bucks into freelance publicists and large-scale ad campaigns, and I’m still not convinced that one gets enough of a return on the investment to make that worthwhile. I’m happy to hear of examples of otherwise, though!

The cool thing about being a creative type in NYC, too, is that I have a great community of creative people and we support each other. Though I currently pay a web designer to maintain my author site, my original version was created by my husband, who does film production and online development. He also created a book trailer for me. And my first author photos were taken by a fellow author who is also a photographer. There are lots of people around with viable skills who are looking to barter.

One somewhat major cost that I was willing to let go of this year was the cost of a desk at a collective writers’ space. Though places like Paragraph are a fantastic resource, I realized that now that my husband has his own external office, and I have comfortably reorganized my own workspace, I much prefer to work from home and am quite productive here as well.

How do allocate time to spent on promoting your books and/or your byline/platform more generally?

Again, I do what needs to be done on a per-book basis.

Obviously, a bigger push and more concentrated time commitment goes toward a new release. I will take whole days off of writing for conferences, school visits, to compose interviews, etc. And I’m doing the social networking thing at the very least a few times a week.

I know of authors who are much more aggressive online, and some of those have definitely had more success in building a following, that then becomes a readership.

Maybe I should be more like those authors. But for me, it’s a question of preserving my own sanity, as well. I don’t know that I have the energy right now to be more aggressive online. Maybe in the future. Who knows.

How do you weigh marketing/business versus writing?

I generally break down my tasks on a day-to-day basis. When I’m under deadline, maybe a day’s work is to hit a word count goal, or to write X number of scenes. But a day’s goal can just as easily be to write a blog post or put together a list of web updates for my webmaster, or to prepare for an author event.

It really depends on what the priority is at any given time.

If I have an event coming up, I’m going to spend more time in the weeks before blogging and reaching out online, drumming up enthusiasm.

If I have a deadline coming up, all bets are off, and I’m basically at my desk in my sweats until the manuscript goes in.

Do you plan ahead, and if so, how?

I have a general sense of which manuscript deadlines fall when, so that there isn’t too much overlap, and I try to be aware of things like copyedits or last minute revises that need to be worked into the schedule.

I plan ahead in the sense that I try not to schedule deadlines unreasonably, and I also make a point of looking at my calendar from week to week and determining how I think the workload will fall.

That said, I’ll move things around as I need to once the work week gets under way.

What do you take into account in forming a plan that works for you?

For me, the busier the better, and in the past, I’ve definitely bitten off more than I could chew and committed to too much, writing-wise. So these days I try to strike a balance between being busy enough, but not so insane that I’m having trouble meeting my deadlines.

How you know when it’s time to rethink your plan?

It was time to rethink my plan when I was taking on too much and having trouble meeting my deadlines! I don’t like disappointing editors — or myself.

And I’m certain I’ll have to rethink things again when there are (hopefully!) children in the picture.

How do you decide what to let go of? At what cost(s)?

I had to let go of the supplementary income that came from chasing down every work-for-hire project that crossed my path, but fortunately, the actual dollars lost were nothing compared to the sanity gained and the sense of ownership of my own workload. Not to mention my agent’s and editors’ renewed confidence in my ability to deliver.

Have you hired an outside professional (a publicist, event coordinator, web designer/master)? Why or why not? To what effect?

I hired a professional web designer when it was time to step up the look of my website. She did an amazing job, and the cost was reasonable.

At this point, I could probably learn to make the updates myself, but since the cost is, as I say, reasonable, I try to outsource updates once a month (though I’m currently behind).

If and when I’m in a time crunch, I can impose on my husband to help out in a pinch (see above re: surrounding oneself with creative people!).

Have you engaged in cooperative marketing efforts and/or trades? Why or why not? To what effect?

I have just joined an online group of authors releasing contemporary (as opposed to horror/sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal) fiction in the year 2011. It seems like it could be a great way to unify efforts to get our books noticed and build buzz. But I’ll have to let you know!

Do you have additional strategies or tips for those struggling with balancing marketing tasks against their creative lives?

Cut yourself some slack. It’s not easy. No one that I know thinks they have it all figured out. Be willing to work hard, but be willing to adapt — and be kind to yourself!

New Voice: Ann Finnin on The Sorcerer of Sainte Felice

Ann Finnin is the first-time YA author of The Sorcerer of Sainte Felice (Flux, 2010). From the promotional copy:

“I was only an apprentice. I swear it. By all the angels in Heaven.”

Condemned to death by the Holy Office for sorcery, fifteen-year-old Michael de Lorraine is rescued from the flames by Abbot Francis and granted refuge at Sainte Felice, a Benedictine monastery in fifteenth-century France.

Michael learns that this strange and wonderful place, famous for its healing wine, harbors renegade monk-sorcerers, enchanted gargoyles, and a closely guarded secret that could spell violent death for the Abbot.

As the church intensifies its cruel pursuit of Michael, Abbot Francis and the wizard monks find themselves in grave danger.

Michael will do anything to protect his mentor, but are his own magical powers great enough to save the monastery from the merciless, bloodthirsty Inquisition?

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2010, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Mine was a long, long journey – over thirty years. And while my debut didn’t seem inevitable, I have to admit there was a certain “well, it’s about darned time” feel to it.

The first draft of this book was originally completed in 1978. Obviously, it went through many revisions since then. The version that actually sold was completed in 1991. But the idea of the book, the characters, the setting and the basic storyline remained the same from one version to the next.

In the meantime, I completed several other novels in a variety of different genres, from adult fantasy to romance, gradually honing my skills, so when I drafted the final version of this book, I was able to craft a much better story than I did in the original version (I still have it, and I cringe to read it).

None of the other books have sold–yet. I have had some serious nibbles over the years, and once you are published in one genre, it is easier to publish in another. So, there is hope that some of my other stories will appear in print before too long.

Sometimes a story has to wait for the right time for an editor to want to publish it. If you continue to keep improving it and sending it out, eventually, it will find its home.

As for keeping the faith, I never really lost it. When I was a teenager, my mother gave me a book that still sits on my shelf. The title is: A Writer is Someone Who Writes.

I am a writer. I write. I love to write. I can’t go for too many months without writing something, an article, a short story, a novel, anything. I’ve published articles and a short story or two over the years. But even if I hadn’t, I would still write. Because I’m a writer. I can’t not write.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? How did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

I chose my time and place (France, 1480) with considerable care. There were things that I wanted to have happen that couldn’t have happened if the time period were fifty years earlier or fifty years later.

In any good historical novel, the time period is just as much of a character as the flesh-and-blood people. It determines how the characters think, what they worry about, what’s important to them and how they react to events that happen around them. It determines how they grow up, how they earn their livings and how they relate to authority. It shapes the characters and makes them what they are.

My main character, 15-year-old Michael de Lorraine, is a child of his time. He would not have had the conflicts and the character arc that he has if he had been born a century earlier or later.

The biggest challenge in writing a story set in another time is liberating your mindset from the assumptions of the modern era that we think are so self-evident but which didn’t exist in other centuries. This includes allowing sympathetic characters to have attitudes about sex, gender, race, religion or social class that we find repulsive.

This isn’t easy to do, and the inability to do it convincingly results in “historical” fiction which is simply a contemporary story featuring contemporary conflicts in which all the characters wear the costumes of another era.

When I was active in Renaissance Faires and other historical reenactment groups, there were always the people who dressed in elaborate and historically accurate costumes sitting in a pavilion in which all modern items were carefully expunged, chatting about their computers.

Part of this was because it was difficult to know enough about what a sixteenth century noblewoman would chat about to be able to carry on a convincing conversation without a script. But it was also because few people, even reenactors, were willing to voice politically incorrect opinions, even if such opinions were as much a part of their chosen historical period as their clothing and accessories.

What has to happen is that the author has to peel away the generalities of the historical era and get to the basic humanity of the characters.

The hero of a story set in nineteenth century England might genuinely think that a woman’s proper place in the kitchen, but would treat the women he encounters with kindness and consideration whereas the villain in the same story would have the same attitude towards women but would treat the individual women of his acquaintance with harshness and disrespect. In this case, the attitude towards a woman’s proper place is part of the historical era in which these two characters grow up, but the treatment of this woman or that would distinguish the hero from the villain.