Monday, February 27, 2012

Michael: Promoting Middle Grade: Tough Calls and Stress Balls

Like most authors, I try hard to help promote and publicize my books. But after two YA novels, I've found myself at a bit of a loss when it comes to promoting my first middle grade novel. The approaches that worked in YA—social media, blog tours, etc.—aren’t much use when it comes to, say, 10-year-old boys. They’re not on Twitter, and the cops tell me I have to stop hanging around schoolyards.

Since it’s my first middle grade, I assumed it was just that I didn’t know what I was doing. Throughout me life, that has been a pretty safe assumption. So I asked around. I live in NYC, I know a lot of authors, SCBWI was in town . . . The result: If anyone knows, they ain’t sayin’. I heard a lot of “No idea,” “I wish I knew,” and “I was about to ask you!”

There were some long-term strategies thrown in: “Do more school visits,” “Go to conventions,” and “Hang around schoolyards.” But none of those are much help in the, let’s see, two days until Plunked officially comes out. Here’s a look at some of the extreme, questionable, and extremely questionable things I’ve tried in the mean time:

1) An animated book trailer (it will surprise no one when I say I made this myself).

Get Plunked!
by: MDNorthrop

2) Here’s Plunky! Say ‘ello to my little friend (the star of my latest blog post):

3) Two words: stress balls. (I'll just pause while we all come up with our own jokes here.... Moving on!) I am seriously considering getting a whole mess of these squeezable mini baseballs made up with the title of my book on the side. I doubt it’s cost-effective (they’re about a buck each), but they might help. And I could definitely use the stress relief.

4) And, as the final act of a desperate man, I even joined Goodreads. I was definitely hesitant—rumor has it the place is littered with the hollowed-out husks of formerly happy authors—but it was necessary in order to list the book for a giveaway. I heard someone tell this other person that they heard from a third person that it might be a good way to promote your book. The conditional tense remains in effect [Update: Or does it? Check out what Yat-Yee has to say in the comments...], but I'll say this for Goodreads: They hide their husks well. My giveaway is up and running, and I'm "14% done" with the new Howard Cosell biography.

5) Which is not to say I have no answers. I do have one reliable, time-tested way of dealing with launch week . . .

Well, maybe not time-tested so much as cask-aged, but still. Cheers, gentle reader. I will not ask you to buy my book—well, I won’t beg—but if you could raise a glass to its success (or untimely demise) this week, I’d appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Erin: The grass is always greener

This is a post that I originally published on my own blog a few days ago. I sat down to write for the Crowe's Nest yesterday and couldn't get any words out because the thoughts discussed in that personal post are still the things I feel most adamantly in this moment. And so I'm sharing that very honest post again, here. Let's get to it:

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.

While drafting book two, all I wanted to do was get my copy edits for book one. Book two wasn’t necessarily being problematic, but gosh, this writing this was hard. I’d forgotten how scary the blank page can be. How you are typing the words for the first time and they are often wrong and messy and awkward and in desperate need of polishing. Even though I’d initially been thrilled to start work on TAKEN’s sequel, I suddenly wanted to dive into something less rough. I wanted to refine. I wanted my copy edits so that I could polish book one instead of slogging my way through a messy first draft of book two.

Then my copy edits arrived.

An hour into them, after reading through notes and queries in the margins, approving comma edits and tweaking word choices, I instantly wanted to go back to drafting. When I was writing book two, everything was up to ME. I was in complete control — over the story, the characters, the words, everything. Copy edits were making my brain hurt. They were making me hate every word I originally wrote in book one.

And then I realized…

Only a writer would have this sort of dilemma.

When you are querying, you just want an agent. When you get an agent, you just want a book deal. Once you have the book deal, you want your editorial letter. You’re anxious to move into revisions, and line edits, and copy edits, and cover art, and ARCs, and marketing, and tours, and reviews, and seeing your book on a store shelf. And then you want to sell the next novel, and the next, and repeat the process all over again.

It’s this endless cycle where you’re always looking ahead, to the upcoming milestone. You pine for it. Long for it. Want to speed up time so that you can complete the current phase faster and get to the next one ASAP.

The next step always looks better, shinier, happier. The grass is always greener.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all steps in this process are full of green grass and I just need to stop staring at the lawn ahead of me and look at the lawn right under my feet. Otherwise I’m going to lose my balance and fall flat on my face.

This journey comes with a lot of firsts. I will only do copy edits on TAKEN for the first time once. I will only draft book two in the trilogy once. I will only go through revisions, and a cover design process, and a marketing phase for each book once.

Every single manuscript is unique, therefore making its journey unique from the manuscripts before. Each and every story only happens once.

I think it’s natural to be excited for the upcoming phases of publication because this is all so new and, well…exciting! I’m always over the moon to enter a new step of this process. But I’m also so anxious to move forward, that I wonder if I’m sometimes missing the beauty of the step I’m in.

So I’m trying to slow down. To enjoy my copy edits even when I’m pulling my hair out over comma placements. To appreciate the quiet down time between phases when I’m waiting to hear back from my editor. To be patient while drafting book two, especially when my main character decides to be difficult, when he refuses to tell me what should happen next or how he’d like to react to a given situation. It will come. It always does. The solutions always materialize. The next step always arrives. The clock keeps ticking and the calendar keeps flipping its pages.

The grass is green here and there.

I’m trying to see that. I’m trying to breathe, and pause, and reflect. I’m trying to savor each moment.

Because when I bend down and examine the ground, really, really closely, it’s impossible to ignore the truth: This is pretty freaking awesome. The blades of grass beneath my feet are nothing but the most brilliant shade of lime green: fresh and new. Like Spring and growth and amazing things to come.

I am more grateful than words can accurately express.

Originally posted here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Conversation Hearts We Really Want

Ahh, Valentine's Day. The holiday cool enough to breed candy hearts capable of carrying on an entire conversation.

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, valentines always came in those little white envelopes. Which was pretty handy, because you could tell darn near instantly if they contained conversation hearts (which, let's face it, made you about 100 times more likely to care about the contents of the envelope).

The night before Valentines, my siblings and I would sit around in our living room, writing our classmates names on the envelopes, and choosing VERY CAREFULLY which hearts to put in the envelopes. Because that kid that always bugged you at recess? You did NOT want to accidentally put a "True Love" heart in his envelope! After giving them to all our classmates,we made more to take around to neighborhood kids, friends, and secret crushes. We'd run them up to their door, knock, and run. And then we'd rush to our own door to see if we could catch anyone ding-dong-ditching us. I'm not the only one, right?

And then we'd look very carefully at the conversation hearts in the envelopes, because as you know, they say loads. I mean those things are like fortune cookies! Whatever they say is bound to come true.

To bring back childhood wonder and excitement at getting a really good conversation heart, I custom made some for you and your writing heart. 

If someone ding-dong-ditched a valentine on your doorstep tonight, what does your writer-self hope it says?

Have a wonderful Valentine's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mary: The In Between Time

I have good writing habits. I read a lot. I write almost every day. I set aside good chunks of time to do so. I make manageable writing goals for myself and usually reach them. Yup, I’ve got great discipline! First drafts, revisions—I’m all about butt in chair. Unless, that is, I’m in between projects.

I’ve come to see that there’s a pattern to my in between time. Here’s what happens. Several weeks ago I sent Sara my latest middle grade novel, Boomerang. This time, she gives it the thumbs-up. It’s ready to send out.

Terrific! I breathe a sigh of relief, pat myself on my back for finishing another novel, and cross all fingers and toes.

But now what?

Phase 1.

I go on a house-cleaning rampage. I have my car’s oil changed. I get caught up with all the facebooking, blogging, and twittering world. I clean my office.

I exercise more. I spend more time at the piano. I get my hair cut, buy another pair of black pants. Actually, I’m feeling pretty damn good. Fit, energetic, musical.

I look into classes at Cambridge Adult Ed. Jewelry making, Italian, Intro to Astronomy. Hey, maybe I’ll start a new career. Volunteer. Take a trip. Viet Nam. I’ve always wanted to see Viet Nam.

Time passes. I start to feel dizzy, unbalanced. Creepy crawlies skitter across my skin. What are those spasms in the pit of my stomach? Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I should see a doctor.

No. Maybe I should get another dog. Puppies are so cute! Or a cat. A pair of Maine Coon kitties chasing each other around the kitchen.

Errr, ummm, maybe you should start writing again? a little voice says.

Phase 2.

There must be something in my file cabinet I can resurrect. What about that novel I once wrote about the girl who builds stone walls because her father’s sick. All it needed was a plot. Surely I can insert a plot now. I have an MFA, after all.

What about that poem that wants to be a picture book? Or that picture book that wants to be a chapter book?

Looking back at old projects, some finished, others not, is also part of my in between time. I always find much to admire in these pieces. What beautiful writing! Such talent! What a great premise! What a touching ending! What an unforgettable character! With a little work, I could easily turn these into publishable pieces.

But the truth is, I’m not the person who I was then. Whatever I was working out in that book, story, or poem, I’ve worked out. I have other things on my mind now.

So, Mary, little voice asks, what are you going to work on now?

Phase 3.

Bring on the craft books. Pile ‘em on. Old ones, new ones. From the library, bookstore, my shelves, my friends’ shelves.

Another week passes.

Reading about writing ≠ writing.

I call my writing friends and complain about the fact that I’m not writing. They’re friendly and understanding but they can’t talk long. They’re deep into revisions, doing copyedits, or struggling through the middle of a first draft.

I go out for coffee, lunch, drinks with non-writing friends. I throw a dinner party!

Really, a second dog would be nice. Someone to keep Maisie company.

No, Mary, little voice says.You know what to do. It always works. It’s time. Just do it!

Phase 4.

So here’s what works for me, but only after I go through all that mishugas above: Take out the journal. Put on the timer (I’ve moved from ladybug wind-up to microwave timer to iPhone app). Commit to write 20 minutes for 30 consecutive days. (For me, the 30-consecutive-day commitment is key.) Trust that during this time a new story will emerge.

In my journal I grumble about writing and not writing. I describe the fringe on my rug in intricate detail. I ponder the art of time in fiction. I make a list of words I love. I recall an event from my childhood. Days pass. Trust the process, I tell myself.

And soon a character appears out of nowhere. I interview her. Who are you? What do you want? What’s the problem? A new story idea begins to take shape.

I’m writing again!