Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Book Events Spin Cycle: Are You a Famous Author or Just the Entertainment? Helpful Hints I Hope

This past Saturday officially marked the end of a book event season that stretched for me from May, when my picture book Duck Sock Hop came out, through National Jewish Book Month and my local town's Holiday Stroll this November. In between I went to schools, libraries, bookstores, and community centers on the multi-pronged mission of promoting my books, developing a career as an author who teaches, and getting kids to love books and be excited by readings and writing.

Mostly, in the big world of books, I feel small. Most people don't know my name, and I don't know that they ever will. I've been lucky to get some great reviews, but nothing so far that has broken that invisible (though context dependent) barrier between known and unknown. And doing events can be a great way to experience the discombobulation of not knowing what your place in the world as a writer IS yet. Sometimes you get greeted like a star, with an excited audience, sometimes no one shows up. Sometimes people show up, but no one seems interested in talking to you, let alone having a book signed. Sometimes you get treated like the babysitter (a hazard of writing for very young children, I think) and sometimes you get treated like a guru. It can really take your self-image for a rough and tumble ride in the spin cycle.

I'd like to be helpful to other writers out there who are getting out and doing book events. What can I tell you that's useful? Here's an eclectic list of things I've learned as a writer/teacher/entertainer.

The role of children's author has changed. Sure you can just write your books. But you might not be able to get any more of them published if you don't do something to boost your sales and get your name out there. I'm an avid reader about the history of children's books, and I've also been lucky enough to hear some of the greats speak about how they got started. There were intimate bonds with editors, and not as much of a role for agents. Tours, if they happened, were arranged by publishers. And when you spoke, it was more like speaking at an adult book signing. You read from your book. You answered questions. That's how our elder statesman still do it. I recently attended a great talk by Lois Lowry about her new novel, Son. She stood on stage, next to poster on an easel, and talked. That's all.

The rest of us, though? We're expected to do much more. We're expected to teach and entertain. Unless we're lucky enough to have a big prize medal on one of our books (and maybe not even then), we need to sell stores and other venues on what else we can do to bring in folks who have so many choices of how to spend their time. What fascinating and fun activities can go along with your book? For Duck Sock Hop, I combed discount stores for wacky socks, made a colorful sock box like the one featured in my book, borrowed my mom's record player and rock and roll records from the 50's and 60's, and held sock hops for the preschool set. I provided white socks and fabric markers for a sock decorating craft. I read my book aloud, but I also became a dance leader and an art teacher. It can be sock boxes of fun, but also exhausting. And, see above, some groups may shower you with praise and others may treat you like the free entertainment. Develop a thick skin.

Preparation Will Take You Far, but You Never Know
Different places are different. Communicate as much as possible with your venue before you go. Make sure they know ahead of time what set-up and materials you need. Give them the details of what you plan to do, and hopefully they'll advertise. Advertise it yourself to the best of your ability. But even if you do all this, you never quite know what you'll find when you arrive. You might be greeted by enthusiastic booksellers or community program organizers ready to run around and get you whatever you need. Maybe you'll get a goody bag and a gift card and an escort to drive you from school to school. Maybe they'll have been talking up your program for weeks. Or maybe there will be one librarian on duty and a crammed room filled with overexcited children and parents who won't even help you get the kids to scoot backward so you have room to stand. Or maybe despite all your emails with the event coordinator, the booksellers on duty when you arrive are barely aware that you were meant to show up. Roll with it. You may still make some great connections with children and parents.

The Dilemma of Grown-ups

That brings me to grown-ups. If you write for children, you're probably a bit kid-centric in your planning. That's as it should be. I've found that my school visits tend to go more smoothly than my family events, in no small part because kids, even toddlers, pay more attention in a school group setting than they do when their parents are around. Did you know that moms and dads? It surprised me. When kids are with their parents they tend to be distracted by their parents as well as shyer about letting go of mom and dad and participating. Some parents are great at getting their kids interested and joining in, but others are more likely to sit in the back, not modeling the kind of involved behavior that their children might emulate. Others talk the entire time, which makes you have to repeatedly ask for quiet, which can really throw off a program. I know parents are stressed and sometimes overwhelmed. I wish that we could work together for a better experience. But how do I better involve the grown-ups? I've tried to bring things that might interest them (and older kids) and leave them where they can take a look. I try, if possible, to invite them to ask questions. But what else? Here I could use some advice.  I'd love a good talk on this topic with other writers, especially those who do preschool presentations.

The Signing/Sales Table
Sometimes you're not giving a presentation, you're sitting at a table full of your books as people walk through the store or festival. People are shy. Most will glance at you and walk past. Unless you make eye contact, smile, say hello, and, if they look at all interested, give a brief line about who you are. So many times people will look surprised and say, "Really? You wrote those books? How wonderful!" and they'll come take a look. Why did they think I was sitting at a table full of books? I'm not sure. I think my "Meet the Author" board with information about my books has helped, but, frankly, most people don't look at your signs. But if you reach out in a friendly way, they are often happy to have a brief chat and, if you're having a good day, buy lots of books. (Grandmothers, by the way, are your dream customers.) I'm an introvert, so this has never come completely naturally to me. I'm grateful for my years of working in a bookstore for helping me get comfortable talking to strangers.

What Makes It Worth It
A couple of days ago I received an envelope in the mail. It was full of letters from students at a school I had visited. The students wrote extremely well (great use of commas by 4th and 5th graders is very impressive), and I could tell from their letters that they had really listened to what I'd said and taken from it what I hoped they would. They talked about a new resolve to write despite feeling discouraged sometimes. One girl, inspired by my "never give up" mantra, thought she could be a doctor after all. Ultimately, this is what it's all for. So take that ride in the spin cycle. You might come out dizzy, but you'll also feel renewed.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interview with Nancy Conescu, Executive Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers

Working with my editor Nancy Conescu on the text of Duck Sock Hop was a wonderful experience. She made clear suggestions that made the text stronger, was easy to have a positive back and forth with, had a great overall vision for the book, and has been very supportive of the book post-publication as well. She agreed to answer some questions here: 

1. What qualities make you love a picture book manuscript when you receive it for consideration? What qualities do you look for in an illustrator's work that makes you want to work with him or her?

When I’m considering picture book manuscripts it’s the voice and read-aloud quality that I’m drawn to immediately.  I look for stories that I think will inspire repeated readings and characters I think have breakout potential.  (I’ll confess that I tend to favor well-intentioned but ill-behaved characters--the Pig Won’t’s of the world!)  I also look for humor and consider the illustration potential a manuscript has.  Oftentimes we’ll receive strong texts that seem more targeted to parents than to kids, and those are never for me.  I like books with genuine kid-appeal. As for seeking out illustrators, I look for artists with unique styles, memorable characters, kid- appeal, and the ability to convey movement and expression. 

2. Do you ever have to turn down manuscripts you want? If so, why?

I do sometimes have to turn down manuscripts that I wish I could pursue, and it’s always a little heartbreaking.  It takes a whole team to publish a book successfully though, and if there’s not enough collective enthusiasm for a project, I feel I’d be doing the author a disservice if I took on his or her work.  That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to me and to the author though. 

3. What drew you to Duck Sock Hop when you first saw the text?

Duck Sock Hop is the kind of text you can’t possibly read without smiling.  It’s very Sandra Boynton-esque in its read-aloud quality, and I felt that kids and parents would truly enjoy reading it and sharing it.  I also imagined it with Jane Porter’s illustrations.  I felt that her bright colors and bold lines would be a perfect match for Jane Kohuth’s joyful text, and indeed it turned out to be a wonderful pairing. 

4. What kinds of books do you like to read for pleasure? What are some of your favorites?

I always wish I had more time to read for pleasure, but a great deal of my reading time is devoted to submissions.  I did just finish Jenny Lawson’s memoir Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, which I absolutely loved, and I’m in the midst of an adult non-fiction book right now.  I sometimes find adult memoirs and non-fiction to be an interesting change of pace, but more often than not, my reading for pleasure is focused on middle-grade and YA.  I recently read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and I have Trent Stewart’s latest Mysterious Benedict book and Kelly Barnhill’s The Iron Hearted Giant on my to-read list along with lots and lots of other books I’ve stacked up at home and at work. 

5. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I feel very lucky to have a job that I love so much and that gives me the opportunity to work with so many inspiring people.  It’s incredibly gratifying to help authors and illustrators execute their vision, deliver their best work, and ultimately see the books that results from the process.  I realize how much trust it requires authors and artists to put in me and in us, and I’m beyond grateful for their willingness to share their work.        

6. What would your perfect day be like?

Hmmm….my perfect day?  I’m not sure there’s just one kind.  I love finding new manuscripts and new artists, but I also love the moment when an author delivers a revision or an artist delivers their sketches or final art.  Then, of course, there’s the moment when finished books arrive, which never loses its magic.  And, on a more basic level, it’s always really rewarding when an author or artist connects with the notes you’ve sent and is excited and inspired to revise.  So, I guess it’s nice to have so many different things that can make my day.  That’s not to say that every day is perfect—we work very hard—but I think that when you’re passionate about what you do, you’re able to appreciate a great deal of the process.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dance Party this Saturday!

Today's Booklist says about Duck Sock Hop, "The rhymes here are rollicking, alliterative, webbed-foot-tapping fun, and debut illustrator Porter’s heavily lined, brightly patterned art extends the ducks’ sheer joy. The funniest thing about the art? Giant socks housing skinny duck legs. This begs for a shoes-off storytime with toddlers doing some wiggling of their own."  

Well, they read my mind. I'll be holding a shoes off storytime and dance party launch for Dock Sock Hop this Saturday at 3 pm at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, MA. This event is free and open to everyone. We'll have a wacky socks storytime, rock & roll on a real record player, sock crafts, and, snacks (because ducks love snacks).

And the NEXT sock hop will be just a week after that:
Saturday, May 26th, 11-1, Eight Cousins Bookstore, Falmouth, MA

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview with Duck Sock Hop Illustrator, Jane Porter

Duck Sock Hop is officially out in the world! Today I talk to illustrator Jane Porter about her background, influences, artistic process, and what she'd do on her perfect day. To see more of her work, visit her blog.
A spread from Duck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter

When did you discover that you loved creating visual art? What kind of art did you do as a child?

I always loved drawing and painting and making things generally. I can remember painting dozens of tigers at playschool, and later I used to like making cartoons about our pet guinea pigs. I also made a series of concertina books for my sister - they were comedy guidebooks to our house, garden and neighbourhood generally.

What drew you to illustration and picture book illustration in particular?

I grew up loving picture books - particularly funny ones like Richard Scarry's. So the idea of helping to create one is a dream come true.

Can you describe your training as an illustrator? 

I had a previous career as a magazine journalist/editor specialising in landscape architecture, horticulture and garden design. But later I felt a strong urge to do something more directly creative. I went and did an art foundation part-time at Wimbledon School of Art while still doing freelance writing, then went on to do a part-time MA in illustration at Kingston University.

How did you get your start working as an illustrator? How did you enter the children's book world?

After I finished the MA it was quite a while before I sent any work to publishers - I felt I needed to develop a little bit more, and at the time I was also doing a lot of art projects in schools which took a lot of time and energy. You can see some of them in the archive of my blog at http://www.maxwellandmyrtle.co.uk/whatsnew/ . But after exhibiting my work in two different shows at The Old Sweet Shop gallery and selling a lot of prints, I felt confident enough to send samples to publishers. I designed a concertina-fold flier, had some printed and did a big mail-out which resulted in getting an agent and a deal for two books with Hodder, as well as the chance to illustrate the wonderful Duck Sock Hop!

Alongside my picture book work I still do some work in schools which I enjoy very much, and I work with organisations such as the National Trust and Historic Royal Palaces producing family guides and trails - great fun and takes me back to those guidebooks I used to make for my sister all those years ago.

How did you develop your unique style?

There's an online interview in which I show some pages from a book which had a great influence on me as a child and still does - Modern Tales and Fables illustrated by the Czech illustrator Vaclav Sivko.

 A spread from Modern Tales and Fables

I also like to watch animals and how they move, and fill books with drawings to help get a sense of that movement.

Here's Jane Porter's Video Interview
The opening sequence has some wonderful examples of her artwork

Can you talk a bit about how you develop characters? 

I always have an ideas notebook on the go, and try to remember how the world seemed to me as a child. I also think back to when my own children were little, and what sort of  things they did and said.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I love using pen and ink in quite a loose way, and then layering it with unusual textures that I've photographed - anything from nested pastry cutters to an aerial view of Berlin. In Duck Sock Hop the sun is the gills of a mushroom. I keep a small camera with me all the time just in case I see something special.

I also love printmaking methods like monoprint, silkscreen and etching when I have time.

What is your studio like? 

A bit messy! Here is a picture. I stick ongoing work on the wall and now there are lots of layers like an onion skin.

What would you do on your perfect day?

It would involve taking out a rowing boat for the day and having a picnic with my family, ideally on an island with a swim after lunch!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Being able to spend all day drawing and making things, and calling it work. I also really like doing projects with children and find their ideas inspiring.

We were also interviewed together on the blog Literary Friendships, where you can hear about what we thought when we first encountered each other's work, why socks are the clothing equivalent of ducks, what our favorite books as children were, and see photos of our matching kitties.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hold Your Own (Duck) Sock Hop with the Duck Sock Hop DIY Kit

Want to hold your own (duck) sock hop? Illustrator Jane Porter and I have created a Do-It-Yourself Kit with instructions, socks to cut out, and ducks to color! It will be available to download and print soon from my website, but take a sneak peek here!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Webby Web Tour OR Children's Book Week Is Duck Sock Hop Week!

It seems auspicious that Duck Sock Hop launches during Children's Book Week. And this week the ducks are on the move.

On May 1st (a little before this week, okay) we visited the blog Pajama Mommy, where I talk about connecting with kids' books by talking with children's booksellers and even children's authors.

On May 6th we visited Seven Impossible Things along with Duck Sock Hop illustrator Jane Porter, who reveals how she created the ducks. She uses a stick for the ink lines! I happen to love dipping sticks in ink for drawing, so this makes me so happy. She also reveals what kind of ducks the Duck Sock Hop ducks are. I need to look them up now, so I can see photos.  There's lots of art work from the book, for a great sneak peek.

On May 7th (today!) we are visiting children's writer Amitha Knight on her blog Monkey Poop: A Literary Weblog of Unparalleled Eloquence, where I count down all my other favorite duck books. Amitha also has a signed copy of Duck Sock Hop to give away!

On May 10th (Duck Sock Hop launch day!) we will be hanging out with children's author Audrey Vernick at Literary Friendships, where Jane Porter and I talk about how Duck Sock Hop came to be. Audrey, too, will be giving away a signed copy of the book.

On May 12th we'll be heading over to 5 Minutes for Books, where I talk about how working as a children's bookseller helped me on my path to becoming a published picture book author.

And on dates TBA we will be dancing over to the blogs of writer Peter Adam Solomon and the fabulous Jane Porter!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Groovy Giveaways

Duck Sock Hop comes out next week and as part of the celebration, I'll be giving away signed copies of the book on Goodreads, Cynsations, Monkey Poop (May 7th), and Literary Friendships (May 10th). A link to the Goodreads giveaway is below! Stay-tuned for links to the other giveaways.


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Duck Sock Hop by Jane Kohuth



          Duck Sock Hop


          by Jane Kohuth



            Giveaway ends May 31, 2012.


            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Friday, April 27, 2012

GETTING IN THE RHYTHM: Marketing & Events

GETTING IN THE RHYTHM: Marketing & Events

I'm now getting ready for my third (!) book to come out in the space of a little over a year. Sometimes the world of writing and publishing seems interminably slow and the process of learning what one needs to know, daunting.  But when I look back over the past couple of years, I realize how much I've learned not only about the publishing and editing process, but about the marketing of children's books.  

I have to be honest and say that marketing and publicity is not my favorite thing.  But I've been dogged, if not particularly talented, about trying out advice (Facebook page, Facebook ads, Twitter, blog tour, bookstore events, school visits!), and now I feel I have a bit of a rhythm down.  Maybe I know what I'm doing.  Maybe not, but at least I don't feel completely lost. 

My job organizing children's author events for an indie bookstore was invaluable in helping me understand what an author event even IS and in seeing how authors went about scheduling them. Here's some wisdom I've gleaned:

1. If you have a publicist helping you set up events, that's fantastic. If not, you can reach out to stores, schools, and libraries on your own. If you know local children's librarians, ask if you can be a guest at story time or hold a full-fledged book event at the library. If you don't know children's librarians, get to know children's librarians. It's also great to know the folks at bookstores in your area. Connect with the events coordinator via email, phone, or a face-to-face chat. Bookstores have events on site and often can also provide books for you to sell at off-site events.

2. I was lucky to have been a bookseller at two stores, which in turn have helped me set up events at local schools where they have ties. But they do that for non-former-employees, too. Let the children's buyers and/or events coordinators at bookstores know you're interested in doing school visits. If you go through a store, though, those visits will generally be free to the school in exchange for them offering your books for sale to their students. The store will coordinate the sales. I'm still working on making more connections at schools, though. I'm going to try emailing school librarians and sending them my author visit brochure as a PDF.

3. Attend other author events. I got to see lots as an events coordinator, but I still try to go to support other authors, because I'm a fangirl, and because it helps me get ideas.

4. Plan your presentations well ahead of time, so you can pitch them!  Have school versions and store versions, since the venues are a bit different.  You'll want your school visits to be more lesson-like (but still FUN). Have a page on your website that describes your various presentations. Have a brochure to give out, too.

5. Communicate with the place where you'll be having your event! (Or communicate with your publicist so she can communicate with them for you.) Make sure they'll have the technology, set-up, and supplies you'll need. Find out when they would like you to arrive. If you want to bring food, make sure food is okay with them . . . .

6. Everyone has their own stye, but I find it very helpful to write up my presentations (especially the school visits) in detail. I write them up lesson plan style, which comes from my teaching days. And I practice. I really want to feel comfortable with my material.  I find that if I know it, I can be looser, maybe improvise if I see a good opportunity come up, tailor to my audience.

7. Deep breaths. Maybe some soothing medication. When you get up there, and the kids are engaged with YOUR book, you'll feel great.

I've been so very pleased that with my third book, Duck Sock Hop, I have a publicist helping me to set up some of my events. It feels odd, though, to let someone else be my go-between after being used to doing it all myself. It makes me feel important, but a little out of control. I think I need a lesson from my own ducks.  Let go now and then and dance. Don't be afraid to look silly. I don't think it's gonna happen, ducks. But at least I get to spend some time with you.

My Upcoming Event Dates:
Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA: Saturday, May 19, 3 PM
Eight Cousins, Falmouth, MA: Saturday, May 26, 11 AM - 1 PM 
The Blue Bunny, Dedham, MA: Thursday, June 7, 6:30 PM
Tatnuck Booksellers, Westborough MA: Saturday, June 16, 10 AM
Wellesley Free Library, Wellesley, MA: Monday, June 18, 10:30 AM
Holliston Public Library, Holliston, MA: Tuesday, July 17, 11 AM
Westwinds Bookshop, Duxbury, MA: Wednesday, August 22, 10:30 AM

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Put on Your Dancing Socks . . .

I have to confess that I had the idea for my Duck Sock Hop events before the book was even sold.  Make a sock box (like the ducks in the book), fill it with crazy socks (like the ducks in the book), and hold a sock hop (like the ducks in the book), of course!  And decorate some crazy socks, too. And now those events I imagined are almost here.  Here's the first few:

Wellesley Books, Wellesley MA: Saturday, May 19, 3 PM
Eight Cousins, Falmouth MA: Saturday, May 26, 11 AM - 1 PM 
The Blue Bunny, Dedham MA: Thursday, June 7, 6:30 PM

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Big Sock Box for Duck Sock Hop!

Ducks pull sock from a big sock box,
Socks with stripes and socks with spots,
socks with squares and socks with dots.
Socks with cars and socks with spoons,
socks with cars and socks with moons.
Recently I received a present in the mail -- a finished copy of my new picture book, Duck Sock Hop (Dial, May 10, 2012). We decided to greet the book in style, with a fancy sock box and some nifty sock to nestle in:

Then our cat Ruby proved that ducks aren't the only one who love warm fuzzy socks:

This spring will be all about ducks, socks, and rock & roll, as I take Duck Sock Hop on the road.  I hope you'll be able to join me for a real live sock hop at a bookstore near you.  Will you be heading to the Cape for Memorial Day Weekend? Here's a date to start you off.  

Saturday May 26th, 11-1, Eight Cousins Children's Bookstore, Falmouth MA