New Voices: Inside Scoop on Debut Author Groups with J.H. Diehl, Lauren Abbey Greenberg, Jonathan Roth & Deborah Schaumberg

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

After years of writing you finally have your very first book deal! Now what? How do you promote your debut novel? I talked to four Maryland debut authors from the Electric Eighteens to get the inside scoop on how debut groups for young adult and middle grade authors work.

Deborah Schaumberg, J.H. Diehl, Lauren Abbey Greenberg, Jonathan Roth
Let’s start with some basic introductions. Tells us about your book and your publishing journey.


J.H. Diehl: Tiny Infinities (Chronicle, 2018) is a contemporary novel for ages 10 and up. It’s about a competitive swimmer whose dedication to her sport, unlikely new friendships, and science experiments with fireflies all combine to help her navigate the tough summer she turns thirteen, when her parents split up and her mom suffers from depression.

I’ve published picture books, leveled readers and short fiction in literary journals. Tiny Infinities is the first novel for young readers. After many revisions, I’m grateful it found a perfect home with Chronicle Books.

Lauren Abbey Greenberg: The Battle of Junk Mountain (Running Press, 2018) is a middle grade contemporary novel that tells the story of a friendship in peril, a grandmother who’s a hoarder, and the danger of trying to hold on too hard to one’s past.

I was a documentary scriptwriter for about ten years before trying my hand at novel writing, and from there, it took another ten years before I got a book deal.

Jonathan Roth: I write and illustrate a humorous chapter book series, set in space school, called Beep and Bob (Aladdin, 2018). Books one and two released (Beep and Bob: Too Much Space! and Beep and Bob: Party Crashers) March 13, book three (Beep and Bob: Take Us To Your Sugar) releases in September.

I wrote many picture books and middle grade novels before discovering that the sweet spot for me seems to be the six-to-nine-year-olds right in the center.

Deborah Schaumberg: The Tombs (Harper Teen, 2018) is a young adult historical fantasy set in 1882 New York. It is about a young aura seer who must free her mother from the Tombs asylum where seers are being experimented on and used against their will.

My publishing journey began many years ago with a middle grade novel. After tons of rejections I started over, writing for young adults, and finally found an agent through a SCBWI conference.

Who are the Electric Eighteens?



Jonathan Roth: The Electric Eighteens are a merry band of international debut middle grade and YA (and some chapter book, like me) authors who support each other online and in person through the highs and lows of the publishing process, through networking, reading advance copies of each other’s books, attending launch events, and dozens of other large and small ways.

Unlike earlier debut groups, we do not have any specific marketing requirements. It is more about helping each other as we are each able.

Deborah Schaumberg: [It] is essentially a support group. It’s like holding hands to jump in the pool!

J.H. Diehl: The group is run by volunteers, who put up and maintain a website, a closed Facebook group, a complicated set of ARC tour spreadsheets and a wonderful series of weekly member interviews.

Smaller sub-groups have organized ‘pods’ on Instagram and meetups at conferences, festivals and launch events.

How did you find out about the Electric Eighteens?

Deborah Schaumberg: Word of mouth. I found out about the Electric Eighteens from someone in a new critique group that participated in the Sweet Sixteens when her book was published.

J.H. Diehl: In August 2017, when my book’s final edits were nearly done, and I allowed myself to think ‘this is really happening’, I did an online search for a 2018 YA/middle grade debut group. I’d seen prior year debut groups and thought it would be great to join one. I didn’t know just how great until I became part of the EEs.

Jonathan Roth: I was a member of the Swanky 17s (rebranded as the 2017 Debut Group) and like many from that group, had my release date bumped to 2018. So I promptly applied and jumped over.

Though having to wait six months longer for what already felt like an eternity was initially a bit of a downer, I find having two groups of new friends has turned out to be a real blessing. Don’t fear the bumper!

Lauren Abbey Greenberg: Jonathan set up a monthly local SCBWI get-together, and it was there where I met him and Deborah and learned about the group.

Deborah invited me in and introduced me and instantly I had tons of people welcoming me, complimenting my book cover – it was an amazing feeling.

How have the Electric Eighteens helped you in promoting your book and how has it help you build a local community?


Lauren Abbey Greenberg: We follow and support each other, not only on Facebook, but on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

The ARC tour is extremely effective because often an EE member will post a picture of your cover with either a shout-out or a full review and you can share that across all your social media platforms for maximum exposure.

I do feel a kinship between us four local authors, all from the same county, and I enjoy seeing them face-to-face once a month.

Jonathan Roth: Beyond the typical online sharing, I have attended many ’17 and ’18 debut book events in the D.C. area, and was thrilled to have a number of debuts attend my launch.

Though I greatly appreciate being able to connect online with other 18s around the country and world, being able to sit around a table or chat at conferences with people is my preferred method of networking.

Also, I suspect most promotion is actually invisible (when I talk up books to fellow teachers and media specialists at the school where I teach, for example).

J.H. Diehl: Some EE members who are bloggers or librarians (or both!) have reached out to the group to offer opportunities to circulate advanced reader copies to teen reading groups or to participate in blog interviews. Likewise, some established book bloggers have reached out to the group to offer guest blog opportunities.

There have been some helpful threads in the Facebook group about book swag.

Thanks to the EEs I found a terrific designer for bookmarks and other items, YA author Kristen Rae, a member of a previous YA-middle grade debut group.

What have you learned about book promotion from being in the Electric Eighteens?

Jonathan Roth: Though we share all sorts of helpful tips with each other, my main take away about promotion is that no one actually knows the proven path, but we’re all stumbling down it together.

Lauren Abbey Greenberg: I’ve learned about a whole community of librarians and teachers that are active on social media and willing to review and share ARCs. They are an awesome resource, especially for middle grade authors, because if they like your book they will shout it from the rooftops!

Deborah Schaumberg: I’ve learned so much from my fellow Electric Eighteens!

As someone that is not particularly tech-savvy, I can watch to see what other people do. As a result, I have created a book trailer, learned what a GIF is, and learned how to post on Instagram. We discuss what is working and what isn’t.

What surprised you about being in the Electric Eighteen group?


Deborah Schaumberg: How close I feel to many of the Electric Eighteens members.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor; we usually don’t have people around us when we write.

And as an introvert, I’ve been to events where I was too shy to talk to people I didn’t know.

At a recent conference I met another EE for the first time. I immediately hugged her hello because I felt like I knew her already from all the online sharing.

Lauren Abbey Greenberg: The flood of information surprised me. Your Facebook newsfeed becomes inundated with advice, questions, musings, good and bad news.

At first, it was overwhelming. I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to like or comment on every single post.

There’s also a tendency to fall into the comparison game. Why didn’t my book didn’t get a starred review? Why am I not booking as many events as so-and-so?

You have to pull back sometimes and remind yourself that each publishing journey is unique.

What advice would you pass on to future groups like the 2019s, 2020s, etc? 


Lauren Abbey Greenberg: Embrace this opportunity. Learn from each other. Share. Support. Cheerlead. It’s a special club, and I’m proud to be a member.

J.H. Diehl: Go into to it knowing you can participate as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, and get ready to be surprised and humbled by the support you’ll experience from the other debut authors in the group.

Go into it knowing it’s a great opportunity to give support to your fellow writers and also to experience tremendous gratitude.

Deborah Schaumberg: Also, the way the administrators of the Electric Eighteens structured the group works really well. I think past groups had lots of rules about how many advanced reader copies each member had to read and so on.

We are a support system only, all promotion is voluntary, and we are respectful and inclusive. I never feel pressured to do more than I can handle and I participate as much as I want.

Jonathan Roth: The groups grow to up to 200, so it’s pretty impossible (at least for me) to bond with everyone and/or read all their books. Like so much in life, you get out what you put in, but be selective and realistic. And most of all, be excellent to each other (and party on, debuts)!

Guest Post: Tara Dairman on Making Connections in a New State

By Tara Dairman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


Moving 1,000 miles was not the way I anticipated kicking off 2017, but hey, not much about the last year has been predictable. So when my husband received a new job offer in January, we found ourselves relocating from Colorado to Austin, Texas, in a few short weeks.

Austin has a well-established kidlit community, and I was lucky to have a few friends here already. But still, it was hard for me to leave Colorado, where I had strong bonds with local authors, indie bookstores, and librarians.

Now—and with a brand new middle-grade novel on the way—I needed to start all over again??

Yep. But a few steps I took made the landing much softer than it could have been.

Here’s how I linked up with the writing, bookselling, and library communities in my new hometown—tips that I think would also apply to debut authors looking to get more connected wherever they live.

An Erin Murphy Agency gathering in Austin with authors Dan Richards and Lindsey Lane, along with Tara’s husband and daughter, standing: agent Tricia Lawrence, authors Sean Petrie, Liz Garton Scanlon and Tara.


1. Seek out other local authors.
Kidlit authors are among the friendliest and most supportive colleagues a person could wish for. But how do you find them?

If you’re agented, ask your agent if she has other clients in your area. (I didn’t know a soul when I first moved to Colorado, but quickly made some of my best writer friends through agency connections!)

Take advantage of social media. Someone in your network probably knows someone they can connect you with.

Attend events at your local bookstore. Kidlit authors tend to turn out en masse for each others’ launch parties and panels, making the bookstore a great place to meet folks in person.

Austin authors Samantha Clark, Donna Janell Bowman, Tara & her family
at a BookPeople book launch. (photo by Dave Wilson)



2. Connect with local booksellers. Speaking of bookstores, one of the first things I did upon moving to Austin was reach out to the children’s bookseller at local indie BookPeople.

Along with another author who was also new to town, I set up a coffee meeting at the store–which I’d recommend if you and the bookseller have time, since it’s always nice to get to know each other in person!

In this case, I wanted to make sure that the bookseller knew about both my already-published titles and my upcoming one, and that meeting even led to my partnering with the store for this preorder campaign for The Great Hibernation (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, Sept. 12, 2017).

Sometimes you can even set up a system for signing book orders on demand throughout the year, which is what I did with my local indie where I used to live in Colorado.

But also, remember that it may take some time for a bookstore to warm up to you if you’re new in town or a debut author, and try not to be offended if they’re not suddenly stocking your entire back catalogue the day after you first introduce yourself.

It may not be until after you’ve held a launch event there and brought in a nice crowd that a store will be willing to stock your titles regularly or recommend them.

3. Attend a conference (even if it’s on your own dime). One of the biggest perks of moving to Texas is its statewide network of librarians, who come together each year at the massive Texas Library Association conference.

I sent myself this year so that I could participate in a kidlit “speed-dating” event, where I got to meet lots of librarians—and thanks to that, I’m now on the radar of the organizer for the “What’s New With Texas Authors?” panel, which I hope to participate in at next year’s conference.

And it’s always smart to ask your publisher if they’ll send you; even if they won’t spring for all your travel expenses, they’ll usually at least set you up with a badge so you can attend sessions and wander the exhibit hall for free.

Another conference I made sure to attend soon after moving to Texas was our Austin SCBWI conference. Even though I wasn’t presenting, it was a great way to meet local authors, get my books out in front of members at the bookstore and silent auction, and—most importantly—get inspired by all the amazing craft talks.

If the stress of moving and/or debuting has put you into a writing rut, then attending a local creative conference can be a great way to jumpstart a new project.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal said The Great Hibernation “explores some rather important political ideas about individuality and the need for a balance of powers in governance. A strong selection for most middle grade shelves.”

Tara Dairman is the author of the All Four Stars middle-grade foodie series (Penguin Random House)—the first of which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner.

She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and—thanks to an epic round-the-world honeymoon—has visited more than 90 countries.

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Marketing & Paperback Release of Evidence of Things Not Seen

By Lindsey Lane

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

What are you supposed to do when your debut novel releases in paperback?

a) Nothing

b) Heave a sigh of relief

c) Let everyone know

d) All of the above

Ahhh, the conundrums of marketing.

Guess what? There is no prescribed method for marketing our books. There is no must-do, have-to do, should-do list. There is no recommended amount of time you spend doing marketing.

And guess what else? Marketing is counter-intuitive to every thing we love to do as writers: stay home in comfy attire and create imaginary worlds. Marketing is a little too real world, right?

So of course, I was tempted to let the paperback release of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) slip into its soft cover without much fanfare.

I chose not to do that because I’ve always had this vision of Evidence passing from hand to hand in the hallways of high schools and I always saw it happening in soft cover format. Certainly the paperback price point made that vision more attainable.

So what to do? 

Lindsey & Cyn at the Turkey Trot in Austin

Because I live in Austin, I have the luxury of going out to lunch with friend, mentor, colleague and super kidlit guru Cynthia Leitich Smith.

“Why not reblurb it?” she said.

“Wait?! I can do that?” I asked.

She explained that because Evidence has been out since 2014, lots of other writer pals have read it, liked it and probably want to support it. 

I loved this idea because part of what makes sense about marketing for me is building community. No community is better than the children and young adult literature community. We cheer our releases, our successes and our causes. 
I reached out to three young adult writers Jennifer Matthieu, Conrad Wesselhoeft and J.L. Powers, all of whom had loved Evidence, and asked them to write a few lines.

Here’s what they said:

“This is the kind of book you tuck in with and escape into, and it will stay with you long after you finish the last lines. Haunting and beautiful.” Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Devoted (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), Afterward (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) and the forthcoming Moxie (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

“Ever look at a pearl and notice that its one color is, in fact, many colors? That’s the beauty of Evidence Of Things Not Seen, the stunning debut novel by Lindsey Lane.”Conrad Wesselhoeft, author of Adios Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly (Harcourt Brace, 2014).

“The narrative jiggers between unexpected opposites—joy and fear, love and violence, grief and hope—all the while holding forth the constant idea that the world offers us credible evidence of what seems impossible if we only know where to look.” J.L. Powers, author of Amina (Allen & Unwin, 2015), This Thing Called The Future (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011), and the forthcoming Broken Circle (Black Sheep, October 2017).

What happened after I received those new blurbs was like sprinkling fairy dust on me and my book. I got reinvigorated.

Let me explain. 

When your book debuts in the world, it begins a journey, which is somewhat separate from me (think kid going off to college). People would ask me how Evidence of Things Not Seen was doing. Other than royalty statements, I didn’t know. 

I imagined my book toddling around the world perched on book shelves, cradled in someone’s lap or passed to a friend with, hopefully, an urgent recommendation. Yes, I had school visits, speaking engagements and signings but really after your book is out in the world, it has its own experience with readers.

After receiving those blurbs, I researched advertising and book tours. 

Advertising is a bit of a gamble. One time in Publishers Weekly or Booklist is hugely expensive. But Facebook is doable. It’s cheaper, effective and targeted. If there is one reason to have an Author page, it is being able to run these kinds of ads.

As for blog tours, I decided to try out LoneStar Literary.

I’d been receiving their newsletter for a few months and noticed that their content and readership was growing. It was also Texas-based and helmed by women (always a plus).

Because Evidence is set around Blanco alongside US 281, I decided LoneStar Literary would be a great fit. For a very affordable price, I had a 10-stop tour, which included four new reviews and a giveaway.

It was a blast. Great exposure. A lot of fun. Terrific support on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, it
was a successful tour because Evidence had the most giveaway entries so far for a LoneStar Book Blog Tour. Here is a link to the complete tour.

Promoting the paperback release of Evidence was like taking a honeymoon trip with my book. Even though I am currently engrossed in a new world and its characters, I remembered why I wrote Evidence and why I loved that world and its characters.

Putting together a little hoopla for the paperback release was unexpectedly fun. Highly recommended.

Book Trailer

Cynsational Notes

Lindsey Lane is the author of the young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) and the award-winning picture book and iTunes app Snuggle Mountain (Clarion/PicPocket Books). She is represented by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Before she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010, Lindsey was a features journalist (Austin Chronicle and Austin American Statesman) and an award-winning playwright (The Miracle of Washing Dishes).

Lindsey is a featured presenter at schools and conferences and universities and also teaches writing at Austin Community College, Writers League of Texas, and the Writing Barn.

She lives in Austin, Texas but loves to travel, especially to the ocean. She loves books, films, good food and her cadre of dear friends. Her idea of a perfect evening is having a dinner party at her home with friends from around the world and discussing everything under the sun while eating, drinking, and laughing.

Guest Post: Carole Lindstrom on Writing on Two Continents

By Carole Lindstrom
for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations

I recently returned to live in the Washington D.C. area after a three-year stint living in Durban, South Africa.

Why Durban, you ask? Most people do. That is definitely a story I will be writing one day – so you’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

My first picture book, Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, illustrated by Kimberly McKay (Pemmican Publications, 2013), was published three months after I moved to Durban.

Don’t get me wrong – I was thrilled to have this be my first published book, since it is based on my Metis culture.

But traditional promotion proved difficult.

I talked to editors, agents and many authors prior to our move, to get their thoughts on living abroad while publishing in the United States. The majority of them said it was not a big deal because of the internet. While I do believe the internet and emails have certainly made it easier, that didn’t help when it came to meeting and greeting readers.

I wasn’t able to share Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle with children in South Africa as it was very difficult for them to obtain the book there. So the usual routine of contacting local schools and libraries wouldn’t work.

I had to be creative and I had to reach out. As most of you know, the writing community is an amazing group of people who are only too glad to help. And they didn’t disappoint. They took the time to Skype with me to offer their guidance and wisdom. That’s how great they are!

Nancy Viau and Kathy Erskine gave me great insight about Skype school visits. I would have really felt lost without them.

They were helpful in terms of how the Skype visit should go, how long it should last and what I should discuss.

They also suggested I offer a free 30-minute Skype visit and if they wanted longer, then I would charge a fee.

Before long, I was talking to fifth graders in Mexico about dancing and fiddling.

Illustration by Kimberly McKay

I made a point of staying connected to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators while living in South Africa. Luckily, they have a Cape Town chapter.

I also journeyed back to the states for the New Jersey SCBWI conference, which is one of my favorites. I met so many friends there prior to my move and I wanted to keep that connection, so I made a point to come back every year. I think I even got a prize for traveling the farthest! The prize is really why I did it, shhhhh – don’t tell.

But the thing that really sustained me was social media. Seeing my writer and illustrator friends every day on Facebook helped me stay connected and feel a part of the writing community even though I was 10,000 miles away.

I also had a critique partner that I met through SCBWI, Kenda Henthorn, who really was a lifeline for me while living there. She read a lot of my manuscripts and just helped lift me up on days when writing felt overwhelming and I didn’t feel worthy of my craft. I would have really felt lonely without her. I can’t say enough about the SCBWI and what it has done for me.

In addition, I taught writing classes at bookstores and coffee shops in Durban. Teaching informed my own writing and also helped me learn more about the local culture first hand from my students.

Again, here are quick tips for writing and marketing internationally:

  • Seek advice from established authors in target countries.
  • Offer online author events to schools, libraries, writing groups.
  • Maintain local ties through SCBWI international and its local chapters.
  • Stay connected in craft through online critique exchanges.
  • Teach writing classes in local venues.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

I’m happy to be living back in the D.C. area again – and doing school visits across town, instead of across the ocean.

Although, I do miss South Africa and the monkeys that frolicked in my yard, I have so many stories and kernels of stories yet to take root that South Africa will always be with me and I get the fun part of bringing it to my readers.

Cynsational Notes

Carole Lindstrom is Metis/Ojibwe and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Inspiration for Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle came from her grandfather, a fiddler who could play a mean jig.

Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature highly recommended Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, praising its contemporary setting and inclusion of Metis culture. “I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig.”

Alison Schroeder of University of Manitoba’s CM magazine also recommended the book. “This book teaches kids that they don’t need to follow what they are told they should be interested in or good at based on gender, but that they should pursue what they are passionate about.”

Author Interview: P.J. Hoover on Creating Promotional Tie-In Extras For Your Book

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I first read P.J. Hoover‘s Cynsations post that mentioned video games related to Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape, 2014), I thought, “She’s an electrical engineer. That’s not something someone like me could actually do.”

Still, it’s  a very intriguing idea.

We hear all the time about kids playing video games instead of reading books. What if the video games could actually make them want to read?

When I heard there would be a sequel to Tut, I decided it was time to learn more about the intersection of books and gaming to share with Cynsations readers.

Tell us about the extras you created to go along with Tut. 

Thanks so much for having me here! I’m thrilled to talk about the extras to Tut! I’ll split them into traditional and non-traditional.

For traditional extras, it started when my editor asked for a “bonus chapter” to put at the end of the actual printed book.

I didn’t love the idea of a bonus chapter because I didn’t see it as a big selling point for middle grade. So instead, I sat down at my computer, put together some extras, and sent them off to her. These included:

• A glossary
• A note to readers about King Tut
King Tut’s Guide to immortality
A Tomb-Builders Guide

The short story is that she loved them! She loved them so much, that for the sequel, she asked for more. So I sat down at my computer again and came up with:

King Tut’s Most Excellent Guide to all Things Shabti
Caring for your Sumerian Monster
Henry’s Phrontistery

(Note that these make a bunch of sense once you’ve read the book.) Again, she loved the extras!

But these still all fell in the range of traditional extras, and being the tech-savvy person that I am, I decided to come up with some more not-quite-as-traditional extras.

The first of these was a game I developed in Scratch (a website developed by MIT that teaches kids to program by having them design games).

Scratch is widely used in schools which is where I first learned about it. Over the course of the next few months, I coded Escape From King Tut’s Tomb, a 10-level video game to go along with the book. It’s actually really hard to get through all 10 levels, so on my website, I included “cheats” to go along with the game.

After the Scratch game, I latched onto the Minecraft craze.

One of P.J.’s Minecraft
Tomb Builders

Minecraft popularity has died down a bit in the last couple years, but at the time of the release of Tut: The Story of my Immortal Life, it was the hottest thing.

So I hired some Minecraft developers (in the form of my kids and their friends), rented server space, and we created the Minecraft Tut world.

I was so excited at this point, and so into creating extras to go along with Tut (since they were so much fun), that I sat down and wrote out a Choose Your Own Adventure inspired game to go along with my book.

It’s called Pick Your Own Quest, and in it, you play the role of King Tut. The choices you make determine if you save Egypt from an awful threat, or if you make the wrong choice, you die some horribly grizzly death instead.

I think there are about forty-two different ways to die.

When it was time for book 2, I knew I wanted to write another Scratch game.

Here’s the thing. King Tut himself was a gamer.

Yes, it’s true! In his tomb they found many copies of a very popular ancient Egyptian board game called Senet.

This game is featured in the sequel, Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World (Starscape, 2017). So I coded up Senet in Scratch to go along with book two. Kids can play against a friend or against King Tut himself.

Warning: King Tut is very hard to beat. He also taunts you the entire time you play. For those who don’t know how to play Senet, there is an easy mode and a hard mode. There are also downloadable instructions on my website and information in the back of the published book.

What has the response been from teachers and students?
Both teachers and students love these extras!

I have gotten such great response, from seeing librarians at conferences eyes light up when they hear me mention Scratch, to kids cheering when they find out about the video games.

They love that I’ve taken the world of reading and crossed it over in these unique ways to combine technology.

Kids adore playing video games, and when they hear about how they’re related to a book, it’s like they feel like they’ve been given permission to play. Also it gets them very excited to read the books. I’ll see hundreds and hundreds of hits on my website for the extras, and it just makes smile.

Have the extras led to more school visits?
One hundred percent yes!

In addition to my standard author presentation, I also offer a breakout “Coding Chat” where I’ll talk to kids in technology classes or coding clubs about ways I use technology in my job as an author. I’ll also focus on Scratch and help them get started. I have some “starter” projects that kids can take and easily modify. 

So many schools these days have coding clubs, and the program they almost all start out using is Scratch. So I offer them not only the ability to talk about books and writing, but the vision in seeing how they can take their love of a book and express it creatively.
In addition, and it’s so hard to believe this is still the case, we are still seeing a huge drop in females in technical classes and careers. Lots of schools love that I provide the role model of a strong technical female to their students. I’ve been invited to specifically visit girls-only schools for this reason.
I have information about in-person and Skype author visits on my website.
Have the extras help boost sales? Have you heard from readers who discovered the book because they found one of the games first?
Though it’s hard to determine this exactly, I believe the extras have helped the Tut books gain visibility and stand out in the market when otherwise they might not have.

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life was chosen for both the Texas Lone Star List and the Spirit of Texas Middle School list.

In addition, I’ve also seem my game being used as an example in computer science classes around the country, both at the high school and college levels. 

Scratch also provides a way for me to connect with kids directly.

It’s like its own social networking site. Kids can comment on my games, like them, favorite them. I can chat back with them about the games. Overall, it’s a win.

Which of the games you created is the most popular?
P.J.’s original Artificial Intelligence project

Of the Scratch games, Escape From King Tut’s Tomb is by far the most popular. It’s the main one connected to the book, and the first one kids will find on my Scratch page and my website. 

Of the non-Scratch extras, the Pick Your Own Quest adventure is hugely popular. Kids will go through the paths, trying to find a safe way to save Egypt over and over again. They probably go through seeing how many ways they can die also.
My personal favorite is a game I coded in Scratch.

Back when I was in college, I took a class called Artificial Intelligence, and in the class, we had a project assigned. I wrote a game called Castle Of Doom.

I loved the game! Of course that was back in 1991 and the game was on a (most likely defunct) floppy disk for DOS.

I recoded the game in Scratch, and now I can play whenever I want!

P.J.’s game, recoded in Scratch

Tell me about the timeline of creating the extras. Did you do it all at once? Or is it something you are continually growing?

I tend to do my extras in batches, before the release of the books. That way, when possible, I can get information on the extras into the printed books themselves.

For example, the Pick Your Own Quest game is featured in the print books with a QR that links directly to the website page for it. 

The Scratch games take a while to write. I’ll try to spread this out over the course of a couple months, taking my time, so I don’t rush through anything and make mistakes (through I’m sure there are still some bugs in there somewhere!). It’s nice when I do Scratch, because I can hang out with my kids at the kitchen table with my laptop, and it encourages them to create games of their own at the same time. 
If an author wants to make a game, what are the basic steps for getting started? (is one platform more user friendly? have better graphics or sound effects?)

There are two different ways to approach this. 
PJ Hoover with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Texas Book Festival

If an author just wants a kick-butt video game to go along with their book, there is no reason to use Scratch.

In fact, there may be many reasons to not use it. The graphics are not the best (they don’t scale up great). It can be slow loading. It does not have all the functionality a skilled programmer would want.

If the goal is to just have a game that kids can play, any platform can be used.

My reasons for having a game were a bit different.

In addition to giving kids a game to play, I really wanted to tie into the technology curriculum at schools and allow educators to combine the use of my games and my books.

I was really trying to hook those kids who loved math and science but didn’t love reading and writing quite as much. For this reason, I went with Scratch. Almost every single educator out there has heard of it. Many schools have required Technology classes or lessons. Scratch is the number one go-to when teaching kids to code. 

As for getting started, having a programming background helps. But anything is possible if there is a vision and the motivation to make that vision become a reality. 
Are there costs associated with creating the extra content?
My cost was only my time. But it was fun time, time well spent, and I loved every minute of it! Also, now I have some really fun games that even I love to play.
Tell us about Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World.
I’m so excited for this book! It feels like it’s been forever since book 1, Tut: The Story Of My Immortal Life, came out. And it has been two-and-a-half years! The story picks up a few months after the end of the first book. And because they did such a great job of summarizing it, I’ll go with my publishers blurb:
Meet Tut! He used to rule Egypt. Now he’s stuck in middle school.

Having defeated his evil uncle and the Cult of Set, who tried to send him to the afterlife, the perpetually fourteen-year-old King Tut is looking forward to a relaxing summer vacation. But then Tut discovers that his brother Gilgamesh has been captured by the Egyptian god Apep, Lord of Chaos. Gil helped to vanquish Apep thousands of years ago, and now Apep is back for vengeance.

It’s up to Tut and his friends, Tia and Henry, to find Gil and stop Apep before he succeeds in his scheme to swallow the sun and plunge the world into darkness forever….

Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World will appeal to fans of fast and funny mythological fantasy. Don’t miss Tut’s first epic adventure, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life.
Thank you so much for having me here! It is such an honor!

Cynsational Notes

P.J. with Nefertorti. Her other
tortoise is named King Tort.

P.J. Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After 15 years of designing computer chips, she decided to start creating worlds of her own.

Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World, her sixth book, releases today.

When not writing, P.J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik’s cubes, watching “Star Trek” and playing too many video games.

She is also the assistant regional adviser for Austin SCBWI

New Voice: JoAnne Stewart Wetzel on Playing Juliet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

JoAnne Stewart Wetzel is the first-time novelist of Playing Juliet (Sky Pony, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Beth Sondquist, 12 1/2, secretly dreams of playing William Shakespeare’s Juliet. 

When she learns the children’s theatre in her town is threatened with closure, she and her best friend, Zandy Russell, do everything they can to save it. 

But since Beth keeps breaking one theatre superstition after another in the process, she may never get onstage again.



Quotes from Shakespeare bookmark each chapter and foreshadow the next plot twist as a multicultural cast of kids fights to keep their theatre open.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

I love to revise. When I started my first novel, Playing Juliet, I worked on the first chapter for months. It was polished and perfect before I went on to the second chapter.

But by the time I had finished the first draft, the characters had changed, the plot had changed and I had to throw the whole first chapter out.

When the draft was finished, a New York editor read the first ten pages at a SCBWI conference. Of course I was expecting her to offer to buy it on the spot (don’t we all) or at least to ask to see the full. Instead, she said she didn’t find my main character, Beth, charming.

Charming? A 12-and-a-half-year-old narrator focused on getting onstage while her costume was falling apart had other things to worry about besides being charming. But I read over the chapter carefully. While Beth’s focus was appropriate, was she a little self-centered? What if I had her do something for someone else?

Inspiration! Just So Stories, Palo Alto (CA) Children’s Theater

I added exactly six sentences to an early scene that showed the cast waiting in the wings to go on. Beth notices that a younger actor playing a mouse is nervous, remembers that it’s the Mouse’s first play and that she’d seen her reapply her make-up in the dressing room at least four times.

Though they have to be very quiet backstage, Beth whispers, “Great nose.” and outlines a circle on her own.

Sometimes it only takes six sentences. When the book was published, the review in the School Library Journal began “In this charming story featuring a relatable narrator and action-driven plot…” A blurb by the author Miriam Spitzer Franklin ended by saying the book “introduces a protagonist who will steal your heart as she chases after her dreams.”

Another reader pointed out that while Playing Juliet started with lots of references to the superstitions around MacBeth and ended with a production of Romeo and Juliet, a few of the earlier chapters had almost no reference to Shakespeare. Was there a way to weave him into the rest of the book?

There was no room to introduce another play into this middle-grade story but I’d always loved reading books with epigraphs. Could I find enough quotes from Shakespeare’s writings to serve as appropriate epigraphs before each chapter?

 I used the Open Source Shakespeare search engine, typed in a word like “jewel” or “duchess” and got a list of all the appearances of these words in his works. The perfect epigraph kept jumping out at me.

For the chapter in which the kids are looking for a lost diamond bracelet, I quoted “Search for a jewel that too casually Hath left mine arm” from “Cymbeline.”

“What think you of a duchess? have you limbs to bear that load of title?” from “Henry VIII” made the perfect epigraph for the chapter in which Beth is asked if she can cover the part of a Duchess for an actor down with the flu during the run of “Cinderella!”

Joanne & daughter seeing Royal Shakespeare Co.

I was excited when an editor told me she’d brought the manuscript to committee, even when she added that they’d like to see a rewrite. They were uncomfortable with a scene in which Beth and two of her friends sneak out at night to break into the Children’s Theatre.

I loved that scene. It was scary and exciting and the kids had the best of intentions. But I could make the plot work without it, so I took it out.

That editor didn’t take the book. The next two editors it was sent to both commented that they felt the story was too quiet.

I put the scene back in. It wasn’t necessary to the plot but it was vital to the development of the characters, for it showed what they would sacrifice to save their theater. The book sold right after that scene was restored.

I’ve brought all of the lessons I learned writing my first novel to the next one I’m currently working on. I’m going to finish the whole manuscript before I start to revise.

I will honor each critique I get, and find a way to solve any problem that’s been identified. It could lead to a much richer book and may only take six sentences. But I will also evaluate how the changes have affected the story and if they don’t help, I’ll change it back.

Post-contract Revision Process

Sis-in-law, Elephant Cafe, Edinburgh

When Julie Matysic at Sky Pony Press acquired the manuscript, she sent her editorial comments to me in a Word document. I had the chance to approve, change or comment on the suggested changes. Most of the revision was copy edits and most of the time I couldn’t believe I’d let such a glaring grammatical error slip through.

But one set of edits I disagreed with. I had capitalized the names of all the characters in the two plays that are performed in the book. The copy editor kept all the proper names—Juliet, Romeo, Cinderella— as I wrote them, but changed all the animal characters—the cat, horse, mice—to lower case.

I decided to email Julie to ask if I could change them back. She said yes, and suggested that since many of the parts were names that would not normally be capitalized, I make up a list of all the characters for the copy editor to work with. I’m so glad I asked for clarification.

Remember that you and your editor are working toward the same goal: to make your manuscript great. And you know she has impeccable taste: she picked your manuscript to publish.

Post-contract Bonus

Julie suggested I do a mood board for the cover. I’d never heard of this but she explained that all I had to do was open a PowerPoint file and create a collage using the covers of books that I like then include a second page with a written explanation of why I had chosen the images. It might be the font, the color, the mood or a combination of all three. When it was done, she would send the collage to the artist creating the design to use for inspiration.

It was so much fun to search through online bookstores to find covers I liked. Beth, my 12-year-old heroine, is threatened with losing the children’s theater she has been performing in for years, but I didn’t want the cover to be sad.

I wanted it to be a reminder of what Beth loves about theater, about being on stage and what she will lose if her theater closes.

The mood I wanted was joy, the joy of acting, of being onstage. The covers that showed images of flying, fairies, a figure with fantastically long fingers, captured the unlimited world the stage offers.

Because so much of the story takes place in a theater, I was drawn to covers that featured theater curtains opening. Three of the twelve covers I chose had a frame of red theater curtains and two others repeated that shape and color in the clothing of the women depicted: a partially open red coat, billowing red bell bottoms. That rich red set the color pallet that dominated my collage.

When Julie sent me the final cover, I opened the attachment with some trepidation. Up popped a design with a frame of rich red curtains opening onto a dark background that showcased the title of the book. And my name was in lights, just like on a Broadway marquee.

I loved my cover. And the Children’s Books manager at Keplers, my local independent bookstore, told me the cover was so effective, the book was jumping off the shelves. My mood board had worked.



How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Shakespeare puppets & stamp for JoAnne’s signing

When the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it was devoting 2016, the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, to celebrating him and his work, I knew I had a great tie-in with Playing Juliet.

When I was in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer, I took a lot of pictures of the buildings that were standing when Shakespeare lived there to use on my web site and in my talks.

I also bought three Shakespeare puppets: a regular hand-puppet for most of my presentations, an elegant figure in a cloth-of-gold costume to use with a sophisticated audience and a finger puppet, because sometimes a smaller figure will just work better.

When I got home, I ordered a Shakespeare stamp to use at my book signings. After all, the Bard wrote all of my epigraphs.

I’ve struggled to get my web pages up. I have now checked off a web page for myself, with all of my books on it, and a web page for Playing Juliet with links to 13 Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know as well as links to photos of Shakespearian sites at Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’ve got an author’s page on Amazon and Goodreads and SCBWI. I did a Launch Page on the new SCBWI web program. This all took a very long time.

Author/illustrator guest book, New York Public Library

Kepler’s Bookstore, has been a great help. They invited me to have my book launch party there, which, on their advice, was held a week after the pub date because every now and then, books are delayed. The copies of Playing Juliet arrived on time but I was happy to have the extra week to prepare for the talk.

Kepler’s is still supporting me. Want a signed or inscribed copy of my book? Just order it online from them.

I worked with my publicist at Sky Pony Press to have her send copies of the books to the winner of the giveaways I ran on Goodreads and to my alumni connections.

This resulted in a featured review, with a color picture of the cover of the book, in the ASU magazine, which is sent to 340,000 people.

So far I’ve spoken at an event at our local library, at my grandsons’ school in Ghana, and sold copies at our regional SCBWI conference. I’ll be talking at other schools in the fall. When I was in New York City recently, I introduced myself to the librarians at the Children’s Room at the New York Public Library, and was invited to sign the guest book they keep for visiting authors and illustrators.

And online I’ve been invited to do an interview on Library Lions and Cynsations.

I’ve been enjoying the process, but it takes a lot of time and I’m impatient to dive into my next middle grade.

the Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana

What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Start early. Well before your pub date, get your author’s pages up on SCBWI, Amazon and Goodreads. Figure out how the book giveaways on Goodreads work, and think about posting one before your book is out. Don’t wait until your book comes out to publicize any good news about it.

Jane Yolen wrote the most incredible blurb for Playing Juliet, saying “I couldn’t stop reading,” but I waited until the book came out to share it with everyone. I’m not making that mistake again.

My next book, My First Day at Mermaid School, is a picture book that will be coming out from Knopf in the summer of 2018 and Julianna Swaney is bringing her amazing talent to the illustrations.

Cynsational Notes

Waylon, writer cat

JoAnne’s other publications include:

  • Onstage/Backstage, with Caryn Huberman (Carolrhoda, 1987); 
  • The Christmas Box (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); 
  • and My First Day at Mermaid School, illustrated by Julianna Swaney, (Alfred A. Knopf, Summer, 2018).

In Playing Juliet, Beth continually quotes the web page, “13
Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know,” which can be found on www.playingjuliet.com.
This site also includes photos of Shakespearian sites in
Stratford-upon-Avon (see below). 

Cynsational Gallery

View more research photos from JoAnne.

Shakespeare’s Childhood Home
Shakespeare’s Childhood Bedroom

Guest Post: Joy Preble on Life as an Author-Bookseller…or Bookseller-Author?

Joy’s first full day at Brazos Bookstore

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Last month, I became the new Children’s Specialist at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. I hadn’t planned on it, but when you stumble into your dream job, well, you take it!

It’s a balancing act: Selling books and buying books and merchandising and creating store events, while also writing and promoting my own novels. I’m not just an author anymore, but I’m not just a bookseller either, and this hybrid from means I’ve seen behind one curtain, and now I’m peeking behind another.

What have I learned in the past few weeks the job? Lots of things, and not so much that they are new but that I’m seeing them through a different prism.

And so the responsibility of hand-selling books I love by authors whose work I admire weighs heavy—and heavier because we are a small, highly curated independent store and space is a premium, especially so in the children’s area.

Our buyer’s philosophy is: “if two copies is good, then one is better.” If I order three copies or four, then I better not only adore this book, but have made it clear to my co-workers why I love it, made sure they’re reading advanced copies and come up with a plan to sell it big. If I put a book face out or make it part of a special display or grace it with a shelf-talker that choice is mine. Already, I’ve seen how store love and hand-selling can quickly turn a small book from a small press into a bestseller.

It makes me all the more appreciative for the booksellers and librarians who’ve supported my career and talked up my books and kept copies on hand. Because I know now what happens when I see that a book hasn’t sold any copies in a month or two. I purge all or most of the copies from the shelves and replace it with something new.

Booksellers channeling Dorothy Parker

Of course I knew this before… in theory. But while the author part of me—the part that knows what it takes to write a book and bring it into the world—struggles with the idea, the bookseller part of me either has to come up with a plan or put it on the return shelf.

We return a lot of books each week. Stacks and stacks of them. The author part of me will probably always feel sad about this. But that is how it works.

On the other hand, one of the grand things about working at an independent bookstore is that while we respect the Kirkus Reviews recs and the Indie Next List and all the rest of it, we are under no obligation to promote only the books that the reps have pushed when we take meetings.

Oh, we want to predict the big titles as much as the next guy, but we also revel in finding that hidden gem of a book and giving it its due. But I know now that this takes more than just keeping it on the shelf. It means moving it around the store, making it visible, putting it in customers’ hands, crowing about why we love and why they should read it.

My new job has revived and broadened my reading tastes because of this and colleagues who put translated Latin American novels in my hands or find themselves shocked that I had not read Kelly Link’s latest short story collection.

I could go on and on and tell you how our particular store is owned by a co-op or how the reps often bring pizza. Or how I still have a weird series of reactions each time I see my own books in the store. Should I write a shelf-talker? Put them face out? Force my colleagues to read the latest?

Am I author/bookseller? Or bookseller/author?

Ringing up your own book for a random customer is, well, strange.

But this is enough for now.

Cynsational Notes

Joy Preble is the author of several young adult novels including the Dreaming Anastasia series (Sourcebooks), the first book of which was named an ABC Best Book in 2009; the quirky/humorous Sweet Dead Life series (Soho Press); a contemporary road trip/family drama, Finding Paris (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins), which School Library Journal called, “An intricate guessing game of sisterly devotion, romance, and quiet desperatio.”

Her latest release is It Wasn’t Always Like This (Soho Teen), which Kirkus Reviews called “a modern Tuck Everlasting with a thriller twist.”

Joy lives in Texas with her family, including a sweet but slightly unhinged basset/boxer. In between writing and working at Brazos Bookstore as bookseller/Children’s Specialist, she teaches and lectures widely on writing and literacy and is currently on faculty at Writespace Houston.

Summer Children’s-YA Lit Diversity Conversations

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Over the summer, the children’s-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.

Mirrors? Windows? How about Prisms? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “…cultural content in children’s books needs to be woven into the story so the authors intention is not stamped all over it.” See also Uma on Tolstoy Was Not Writing for Me.

Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The “Other” and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: “Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma.”

Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too by Jean Ho from NPR. Peek: “For past projects, she has researched segmented audiences ranging from retired African-American women’s books clubs, South Asian soccer organizations, Trinidadian-interest media outlets both stateside and abroad, to extracurricular programs geared toward South Bronx teens.”

Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “…that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others.”

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: “We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?”

Children’s Books and the Color of Characters by Kwame Alexander from The New York Times. Peek: “They all believe I am writing about them. Why is this so much harder for the grown-ups? Is race the only lens through which we can read the world?”

On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: “…we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we’re invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they’re not majority white.”

When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses from NPR. Peek: “Here is a not uncommon experience. Writer Emily X.R. Pan was told by the white writers in her workshop that the racism in her story could never happen — though every incident had happened to her.”

There Is No Secret to Writing About People Who Don’t Look Like You: The Importance of Empathy as Craft by Brandon Taylor from LitHub. Peek: “The best writing, the writing most alive with possibilities, is the writing that at once familiarizes and estranges; it’s writing that divorces us from our same-old contexts and shifts our thinking about ourselves and the world around us.”

How Canada Publishes So Much Diverse Children’s Literature by Ken Setterington from School Library Journal. Peek: “Considering that the entire Canadian market is about the size of the market in California alone (roughly 36 million), publishers must rely on sales
outside of the country.”

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Related Links

Guest Post: P.J. Hoover on The Awesomeness of School Visits

By P.J. Hoover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

OMG an author visit! It’s a huge, exciting time for students, teachers, and the author. We, the authors, are honored to be visiting your school.

Aside from the fact that it gives us an opportunity to get out of the house (and change out of our pajamas), there is nothing better than connecting with our target audience about a subject we love: books.

About the Visit

I like to start my school visits off with a story from Greek mythology. It’s a great way to not only engage the audience right from the beginning, but it provides a nice framework for the entire presentation.

And my story . . . it’s filled with adventure. It’s filled with suspense. It’s short. It’s sweet. And it concludes with a satisfying ending. But disguised underneath it, it talks about the Hero’s Journey.

The hero in the story sets out with one goal in mind. One thing he must accomplish. It’s the thing that drives him forward and keeps him from giving up, even when faced with unspeakable perils.

It’s a lot like life.

With author Cory Putnam Oakes

I’ve learned a ton in the last decade or so, in my transition from electrical engineer to author, much like the hero in my story learns as he travels from one end of his adventure to the other. But the big difference between my hero and me is that he reaches his destination. His perils are left in the past, and he reaches his goal.

My perils? They continue on, day after day after day.

Perils as an author? Sure, I face a ton of them, but lucky for me, everything I’ve learned so far on my hero’s journey has helped me deal with these perils.

It’s made me better, stronger, faster. And I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than being able to share my journey with today’s kids.

School visits are a tricky business. There’s this very fine line that we, as authors, must walk. We need to entertain the kids, to keep them hanging on our every word, while also making the educators in the audience happy. We want the teachers to shake our hand afterward and tell us how they can’t wait to use what we’ve shared in the classroom. And the kids . . . we want them asking for our Instagram usernames so they can follow us and continue the connection.

Because that’s what it all comes down to: the connection.

Take this. I adore playing video games. From the time I got my very first computer (hello, Commodore 64) to my brand new table-top Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga gaming machine (complete with 410 retro arcade games), video games are a great way to relax, spend time with my kids, and—hey, look at that—they’re also a great way to connect with kids during school visits.

I’ll talk about Fallout 4 and Minecraft after the presentation with the kids for hours. But underneath, talking about video games isn’t enough. It needs to relate to books, to writing, and to my hero’ journey. And you know what? It does.

When I was younger, I would have much rather played video games than spent time writing. I didn’t love writing, mostly because I thought it was very subjective and that you were either born a writer or you were not. While some of my author friends spent their youth writing stories, I learned to program in BASIC. I wrote video games on my computer. And I went on to become an electrical engineer.

Now, I love writing, too, and I’ve learned that there is a beautiful cross section between books and the world of technology (including Scratch, Minecraft, and other fun STEM related ideas). It’s this cross section that kids don’t expect. And it’s this cross section that I believe it is important for kids to see.

The same thing goes for “Star Wars.” Kids laugh when I tell them that when I was little, I wanted to be a Jedi. You know why? Because they wanted to be Jedis, too. (They probably still do. I do; that’s for sure.) And the thing is that though my dreams of being a Jedi didn’t work out (yet), it’s totally played a part in my life and getting me to where I am today.

The thing about Jedis is that they don’t give up. They don’t walk away from fear. And we, as authors, can’t either.

When I have the kids guess how many rejections I’ve received, they at first say really high numbers because they think it will be funny and get a laugh out of their friends. And then, when I tell them that they’re right, they’re floored.

But, as I tell them, if I don’t face these rejections, day after day, I will never publish another book. It’s a way to show them—yes, show, not tell—that we all face failure. And we all fail. And that’s okay. But it’s what we do after that failure that makes the difference.

If I had to list five (covert) messages I try to get across in school visits, they’d be: 

  1. You don’t have to be born an author to be an author when you grow up. (You can, in fact, be an electrical engineer, just like me.) 
  2. Many things in life are a lot harder to do than you think they’ll be (like, hey, writing a book! I thought it would be easy).
  3. Never give up (even though lots and lots of times you may want to).
  4. Face your fears and do it anyway (this is also a fun time to mention that I’m a third degree black belt in kung fu)
    And perhaps the most important . . . .
  5. It’s going to be a long journey while you work toward whatever it is you want in life, so you better learn to enjoy it.

Prepare (but don’t stress) about the Visit:

My dream author visit is this. I drive up to the school. My name is on the marquee out front. There is a parking spot reserved for me (and bonus points if it has streamers and balloons). The office staff greets me by name when I walk through the front door, because guess what?

They’ve been expecting me! They know I am coming. They sign me in and have a student escort me to the library. Other students point as I walk to the library and whisper things like, “There’s the author!” or “It’s really her!” I feel kind of like a superstar at this point.

Outside the library is a huge banner with my name. A display of my books sits in a glass case along with fan art created by the students.

Inside the library waits a Starbucks for me (venti Americano, no room). The librarian warmly tells me how the students can’t wait for my visit. She lets me know that every student has read my book.

Things are going great. The technology works without a hitch. There is water. A microphone. Lots and lots of pre-orders.

Like I said, it’s a dream author visit, but we don’t live in this dream world, and I completely realize that this is not always the way author visits go.

As much as I would love every student to have read my book ahead of time, I get that this is not realistic. But there are some simple ways to get the kids excited about an upcoming author visit. Things that can go a long way.

  1. Booktalk the author’s books ahead of time. Display them in the library, print out covers, talk about them during library time. 
  2. Enlist the help of your Language Arts teachers. If budget permits, consider purchasing a copy for each classroom, and encourage them to read a chapter aloud. 
  3. Have students visit the author’s website. For schools hosting me, have the students complete my Author Scavenger Hunt ahead of time. If possible, reward the completion with extra credit. 
  4. Publicize the upcoming author visit during the morning announcements. Announcements are also a great place to remind students about pre-order book deadlines.
    And finally . . . 
  5. Think about back to the connection. Do you have a kid that can solve the Rubik’s Cube? I’m happy to do a challenge. Someone who can beat box? I’ll rap Alphabet Aerobics. Ask me to sing The Element Song. Challenge me in a kung fu sparring match! (okay, maybe not this, but I do love showing my kung fu video). Whatever it is, make the kids feel like they are a part of it. That this event is special for them.

Continuing the Connection

I admit I got tears in my eye when I read this email I received after an author visit.

“After that talk about your journey to being an author you have inspired me . . . I thought that I couldn’t do military, become an engineer, and become a successful author, but now you’ve changed that. You have shown me that you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t give up and keep striving towards your dream.

“My parents always say never give up because you might achieve your goal, but I always thought that was something that parents said because it was a requirement for being a good parent or something. Then I heard about your stories and how you achieved all you goals and dreams using perseverance, patience, and persistence.

“You are one of my heroes and inspirations to chase after my goals . . . You are an inspiration to me showing that nothing is impossible no matter how hard . . . Thank you so much for presenting to us and inspiring me.”

This.
This is what it all comes down to.

Everyone should (and can) benefit from an author visit. I want each kid to walk out of there with something. Some little tidbit that they’ll think on, that they will use in their life. I want them to believe that anything is possible. That they can accomplish their dreams and goals, even when those dreams seem impossible.

And most of all, I want them to enjoy their journey in life.

Cynsational Notes

For information on author visits with P. J. Hoover, contact Carmen Oliver at The Booking Biz.

P. J. (Tricia) Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. decided to start creating worlds of her own. She’s the author of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life and the forthcoming Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World (Feb. 2017), featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school, and Solstice, a super-hot twist on the Hades/Persephone myth.

When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik’s cubes, watching “Star Trek,” and playing too many video games.

Guest Post: Linda Covella on Going Indie: Tips & Advice on Self-Publishing in the YA Book Market

By Linda Covella
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Thinking of going indie?

Self-publishing can be a fun, exciting, and rewarding endeavor. But get ready for an eclectic collection of hats, because you’ll be wearing many. It’s important to realize you’re selling a product that should be of the highest quality.

Here are some tips and resources to help you through the process.

Editing

By the time you’re ready to publish, you should have already gone through developmental editing of concept, character, and plot issues. Now, you need a proofreader/copy editor.

Don’t rely on a random friend or relative. Keep self-published books a strong and respected force in the market by having your manuscripts edited professionally or by a trusted, experienced critique partner. (Whenever you hire an outside service, be sure to have a contract.) See my list of editors from author recommendations.

Tip: Other indie authors can be a great resource for any self-publishing questions.

Cover Design

Your cover should be unique while blending with other books in your genre (a fine line to walk).

There are three cover options:

DIY: Royalty-free images are available online, such as this site, which you can use to design your cover.

Pre-made covers. Google “pre-made book covers,” and you’ll find quite a few.

Custom cover design. I’ve compiled a list of recommended cover designers. Bibliocrunch and Girl Friday Productions offer editing, cover design, and other help for indies on a budget.

ISBN

Do you need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)?

Not necessarily, but most retailers and publishers require one. (Amazon.com does not.)

With an ISBN, your book will be more discover-able by readers, bookstores, and libraries.

Currently the price for an ISBN (purchased through Bowker) is $125—not cheap. And you need one for the ebook and paperback of each title. If you plan to publish several books, you can buy them in bulk at greatly reduced prices; they never expire. Some businesses buy ISBNs in large quantities so they can then sell them at reduced cost.

There’s some controversy about the validity of these or “free” ISBNs, so obtain one from a reputable source. See Joel Friedlander’s article on ISBNs and the ISBN website.

Formatting and Publishing

Depending on where you decide to publish your book, you may need help formatting your manuscript. It’s free and easy to publish ebooks through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and they accept Word docs. Amazon’s print service, Createspace, is free and requires only a PDF. They also offer professional publishing services.

Smashwords is an ebook publisher, accepts Word docs, but has a style guide that must be followed.

Smashwords has distribution agreements with all major online retailers and with Baker&Taylor, which libraries use to purchase books.

Draft2Digital publishes ebook and print books. They accept simple Word docs with no style guide to follow. They offer editing and cover design as well, and distribution agreements.

Smashwords or Draft2Digital? Here’s one blogger’s analysis.

IngramSpark is a print and ebook publisher with distribution agreements. They have a style guide to follow, and you may need a professional formatter. See blogger Linda Austin on IngramSpark vs. Createspace (book doctor Stacey Aaronson says it’s beneficial to use both)!

Pricing

To price your book, check other books in your genre. A common price for ebooks is $3.99.

The freebie can be a good marketing tool when you have a series: offer the first book for free in the hope that the reader will buy the other books in the series.

Experiment with pricing; see where that “sweet point” is. Just remember, you’ve worked hard and deserve to be paid a reasonable price.

Marketing and Promotion

Once you’ve published your book, the real work begins. As an indie book publisher, marketing and promoting is a never-ending job! Here are some tips and resources:

Local schools, libraries, and bookstores. Ask if libraries and bookstores will carry your book. Contact schools to do author visits. Author Alexis O’Neill’s blog is a great resource on school visits.

Subscribe to newsletters for publishing news, tips, classes, freebies, and generally “knowing your industry.” Some good ones are:

Follow blogs, including those of your favorite YA authors. If you use WordPress, you can follow tags in your reader to find others with similar interests. Good blogs for self-publishing include:

  • Chris McMullen. Lots of info on Amazon, other self-publishing tips.
  • Bookbaby (another ebook and print book publisher). They had a recent Twitter chat with YA author Lauren Lynne.
  • IngramSpark has a blog on their website with self-publishing information.
  • Of course, Cynthia’s blog, Cynsations!

Guest blog on YA authors’ blogs. Most bloggers love having guest posts. Come up with an interesting topic and ask!

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), check the website for resources, sign up for their newsletter, and get involved in your local chapter (you can join forces with other authors for book signings, etc.).

Use Social Media

  • Get your books noticed through accounts on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media sites.
  • Join some young adult author and reader groups on Facebook and Goodreads to meet and learn from other YA authors, and to expose your books to readers.
  • Create a website. Pay someone or DIY with sites such as WordPress.com and Wix. This article showcases some “stellar” author websites.

Reviews

It’s tough for indie authors to get reviews. Ask for reviews on your website and social media. Put a request at the end of your books. Here’s one list of bloggers who review books. Though the title says middle grade literature, most will also review YA books.

Ginger

Do a blog tour (usually done when your book is newly published), and many of the bloggers will review your book. These businesses, among others, handle blog tours. Some specifically target YA audiences, but be sure to pick a blog tour company that lines your book up with YA bloggers.

Enter contests. Prizes can add credibility to and exposure for your books. There are many free contests and others, such as RONE, Chanticleer, and Literary Classics, have entrance fees. These three all have YA categories. And, of course, there are the biggies from ALA. See which awards accept indie books.

Advertise. Occasionally having a sale on your book and advertising can help boost visibility. Advertising prices and results vary. Most, if not all, of these promotional sites have YA categories. Missing from the list, but popular with authors, are The Fussy Librarian and Bookbub (expensive, but results can be worth it).

Self-publishing has lost its earlier stigma of “vanity publishing,” and readers are embracing indie authors and their books. Indies have discovered the advantages of self-publishing: control over content and cover design, higher royalties, and quicker time to market.

Do the research, put out a quality product, work on marketing, and you can find success and satisfaction as an indie author.

Cynsational Notes

Linda Covella’s varied background and education (an AA degrees in art, an AS degree in mechanical drafting & design, and a BS degree in Manufacturing Management) have led her down many paths and enriched her life experiences. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing.

Her first official publication was a restaurant review column for a local newspaper. But when she published articles for various children’s magazines, she realized she’d found her niche: writing for children. She hopes to bring to kids and teens the feelings books gave her when she was a child: the worlds they opened, the things they taught, the feelings they expressed.

She is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband, Charlie, and dog, Ginger.

No matter what new paths Linda may travel down, she sees her writing as a lifelong joy and commitment.
Find Linda at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest and YouTube.