Guest Post: Don Tate on Proactive Promotion & Strong As Sandow

By Don Tate
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My newest book babe, Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017), published earlier this fall.

To welcome “Sandow” into the world and to provide my new book babe with tools needed to flourish, I planned a full marketing blitz.

Marketing a new book is a shared effort between a book’s creators and its publisher. My publisher supported our book in many ways. For instance, they sent me to various conferences to promote and sign “Sandow.” But I want to be sure I do my part, too.

Here is a look at how I launched Strong As Sandow into the world:

Stand-alone Website: StrongmanSandow.com

Sources for telling Sandow’s story were like a gold mine of visual gems.

There were books, photographs, collectible items, old-time physical culture magazines. Unlike previous subjects I’d written about—Bill Traylor, George Moses Horton, people who were enslaved and therefore few records and/or photographs available— there was a good deal of visual information out there on Eugen Sandow.

In the end, however, much of the research got chopped out, left on the cutting board. With a stand-alone website, I could include some of those resources that didn’t make the book. What a great tool for teachers and librarians.

Strongman Sandow website

Friend Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio, created the site using WordPress. Basically, he created a shell of a site that I could easily personalize and update. Adding new information is as simple as creating a new blog post.

On the site, I celebrate receiving author copies of Strong As Sandow. I talk about other picture books on the topic of strongmen . I discuss the process of creating the book’s cover. And I include many of the photos and videos that I used to bring the story to life.

The site is linked from my main website, and I advertise it on my bookmark swag.

In addition to the website, I created a Pinterest page with even more visual references.

Curriculum Guide

My publisher had a very nice discussion guide created as a free download. It is aligned to the Common Core, nationwide academic standards used in classrooms. Having a Common Core-aligned guide adds value to your book.

I loved the guide, but I also hired Debbie Gonzales of  Guides by Debbie to create a second educator’s guide. It is Common Core aligned, too, but also incorporates a lot of what I’ve offered on the stand-alone site—making the site and the guide an extra nice pairing with the book.

My favorite part of Debbie’s guide is the fitness plan, where kids can log their weekly exercise goals and accomplishments. We made the guide available on Sandow’s launch day and promoted it heavily.

Educator’s guide from Guides by Debbie

Book Teaser & Trailer

By far, the fitness video was the most fun aspect of my Sandow marketing efforts. I’d already created a short teaser for the book using iMovie. For that video, I used the original art, panning and zooming, in what is called the “Ken Burns effect.” For drama, I used royalty free music found on the web. And I recruited my friend, Maggie Gallant, to record a voiceover.

We released the the teaser several months ahead of publication day to create anticipation.

The trailer turned out nice, but I also wanted a longer video where I could go deeper into Sandow’s story, emphasize the importance of exercise, while highlighting my own fitness journey—especially since I participated in natural bodybuilding myself many years ago!

For this, I commissioned Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She and her husband, Mark Mattos, flew to Austin where I live. They spent an entire day interviewing and videotaping me at my local YMCA, while I exercised in the weight room, swam laps in the pool, and practiced yoga.

Needless to say, I was all nerves. It’s one thing to work out in busy weight room. It’s another thing to work out with a cameraman following me around, with a huge microphone, an interviewer, and the director of the YMCA.

We caused such a stir that some teenagers tried to sneak into our filming, thinking we were shooting some kind of celebrity reality TV show. (Watch until the end; don’t miss the after-credits scene!)

We debuted our “Nothing In Moderation” physical fitness video along with an interview at “Watch. Connect. Read.” a blog hosted by John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu).

The video has been uploaded to YouTube and TeacherTube, and will sit on the internet indefinitely, serving two purposes. For one, it will continue to promote my book well into the future. Two, it will support future author visits, offering students a glimpse into the life of the author-illustrator who will visit their school.

At a recent visit, many students had watched the video, and they had all sorts of questions about Strong As Sandow, physical fitness, and—how much could I bench press!

Check out the site, but don’t forget to see the bloopers and outtakes!

Social Media Blitz

On the week leading up to book release day, I posted interesting and inspirational tidbits of information about historic, little-known physical fitness figures, like Professor K.V. Iyer and Mlle LeZetora —bodybuilders, weightlifters, strongwomen, with the hashtag #Strong_As_Sandow.

I also had a drawing where I gave away copies of of the book to those who shared my social media posts.

The idea was that while people may not remember the name of my book, they might remember that Don Tate has a new book out on the subject of a bodybuilder, health, fitness.

Launch Party

During the year leading up to my book’s release, I’d made arrangements to have a launch party at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in Austin.

It features classical statues and paintings of Greek and Roman athletes. It also features the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture. The Stark Center has what is probably the largest collection of Eugen Sandow artifacts in the country. This research and sports museum was the perfect place to launch a book like Sandow.

But there were hurdles. Many hurdles. And a hurricane.

The Stark Center is on the campus of the University of Texas—it’s a huge bureaucracy! There were parking issues. There were book-selling restrictions. Since the book would publish during football season, there were more challenges.

Thankfully, the librarian there came to my rescue. She jumped all the hurdles—even kicking some down. She made sure the event could happen  . . well, except that two days before my launch party, the “hurricane of Biblical proportions” caused me to have to cancel.

Bummer.

Two weeks later at BookPeople, though, we launched Strong As Sandow with a cake, topped with “The Sandow” statuette. We partied with raw food and health guru (and strongman) Andrew Perlot. We gave out healthy treats and played games designed to get the kiddos moving their bodies.

Akiko White, cake illustrator

While the party was meant to celebrate the birth of my new book, it also served as promotion and book buzz. I had a lot of photos taken, which were captioned and sent to “Publishers Weekly”—who then publicized my party in their “In-Brief” section.

Andrew Perlot lifts author Lindsey Lane during book launch.
Standing-room only crowd at book launch.

On her blog, Debbie Gonzales described me as a “master marketer.”

I’m not. I just do my best to support my book babes.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal gave Strong as Sandow a starred review, calling it “An excellent introduction to a historical figure that will appeal not only to children already interested in sports and fitness but also to those in need of encouragement.”

In The Horn Book‘s starred review, Patrick Gall wrote, “Tate’s chronological narrative depicts an ambitious, hardworking showman with a drive for excellence — from ‘feeble’ boy to acrobat, strongman, fitness guru, and creator of the first organized bodybuilding contest.”

Don Tate is the author of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree,2015); It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2102), both books are Ezra Jack Keats award winners.

He is also an award-winning illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, including Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2016) The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton (Eerdmans, 2015); The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting (Charlesbridge, 2013); Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons (Penguin, 2012), many others.

Don is a founding host of the The Brown Bookshelf –a blog dedicated to books for African American young readers; and a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

New Voice & Giveaway: Maria Gianferrari on Penny & Jelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her
sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog Becca as her
muse.

Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (2015) led to Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016)(both HMH Books). 

Maria
has seven picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin
Books for Young Readers, GP Putnam’s Sons and Boyds Mills Press in the
coming years.

Could you tell us about your writing community–your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional, craft and/or professional support?

In the spirit of my main character, Penny, an avid list maker, here are my top five answers:

1. Ammi-Joan Paquette:

I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.

She’s made my writing dream come true!!

2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):

I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.

Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!

We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!

3. Emu’s Debuts:

Like many other writers, I’m quite a shy and introverted person. If you’ve seen that classic hamster ball cartoon about introverts, that’s me! Having a book debut is extremely intimidating.

I was so lucky to have joined the ranks of Emu’s Debuts, so named for clients and debut authors affiliated with Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA).

The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus.

4. Tara Lazar:

Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), throughout the year.

When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.

5. Kirsten Cappy of Curious City:

Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.

Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.

I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

1. Write What You Love:

Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.

My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for “Highlights.”

Well, “Highlights” rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.

The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.

Several revisions later, it won a Letter of Commendation for a Barbara Karlin grant from SCBWI; many more revisions later, it was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press. And I am so in love Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations. They are absolutely stunning!

2. Read. Read. Read:

Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.

One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.

Consider joining founder Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo, where picture books are studied as mentor texts. Get ready to dig deep!

3. Don’t Give Up!

Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.

Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.

And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!

(See #1 again)

4. Play and Experiment:

To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.

Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?

I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!

5. Reach Out:

Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.

There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns and Sylvia Liu. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen’s title, above all, Take Joy!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone’s socks off, Penny’s having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that’s unlike any other.

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