Fran Cannon Slayton - The Wild Ride To Publication (Children's Book Version!): 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blog Consolidation

Please note that I have consolidated blogs at  

Please check there for updates, since I will no longer be updating on blogger.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Okay, I have to blog about Book Blogger appreciation week, which is September 15-19. Since I don't really read anything else on the internet except book blogs, I figure I have a moral and internetinal obligation to participate. I'm supposed to put a button on my blog to participate, but I am technologically cro-magnon, so here is the link:

Go check it out!

And three cheers for all the kidlit bloggers out there! You make my life interesting (and impossible to keep up with!)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Of Titles and Covers and Things

Well, I have some news! The title of my book is changing to WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS (changed from How To Stop a Moving Train). The cover is being re-designed, too (I'll post it as soon as I get my little paws on it!). While I loved the old title and cover, I am VERY excited about the new one because it is the result of much discussion by the wonderful folks at Philomel Books/Penguin and it feels great to have a title and cover that people care so much about!

Apparently, title changes prior to publication aren't all that uncommon. And I guess that's not surprising when you figure how many people can be involved in the process of choosing a title - the author, editor, editorial assistants, sales and marketing folks, all sometimes in consultation with reviewers, librarians, teachers and others in the publishing industry. Lots of room for variation of opinion. But it makes it all the sweeter when a great decision is made!

More exciting news . . . some preliminary feedback is starting to come back on my book - and it's great!

Which leads me to mention another really cool thing about being a debut author: new and interesting and often very cool things can happen on any given day. For me, that translates into living in a constant state of hope. Sometimes, I know what I am hoping for -- good reviews, for example. But sometimes I don't even know some things are even possible. And so when these previously unknown things happen, it just increases the wonderful feeling of hope. And it starts feeling like anything can happen. At least, that's what I'm choosing to believe!

One more thing before I close - a children's lit blogger is trying to raise awareness of the situation in Darfur. Please check out her website and leave a comment -- she's donating money for every comment she receives on her site during the month of September. Check it out here:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Emily Platz is a Teen Services Librarian at Farmington Library in Farmington, Connecticut. Within the past year she has begun to use Facebook as a method of providing library services to local teens. I thought that was a simply brilliant idea, and asked Emily if she would mind being interviewed about it here on my blog.

Welcome, Emily!

Q: How long have you been a Teen Librarian?

Emily: I have been a Teen Librarian for 9 months.

Q: Why did you decide to use Facebook to promote programs at your library?

Emily: I decided to use Facebook to promote programs at the library for several different reasons. I have my own Facebook account and use it to stay in touch with my friends and family. I use my own facebook account to organize parties and trips with my friends as well. It has always been very easy to create an 'event' on facebook and let all of my friends know what is going on and where. I had also read a lot of literature about different libraries using social networking sites to intercept teens and introduce them to library services. I felt that it would be really easy to create a Library Facebook page, befriend the teens that are in the library already and use that medium to tell them about programs, events and special activities at the library.

Q: When did you start your library Facebook account?

Emily: I created my library facebook page about a month after I started working at the Farmington Library. I spent the first month of my job talking with the teens who use the library everyday and observing which sites they preferred to use. I noticed that the teens who used the library were on facebook and not on the other social networking sites so I decided to create a facebook account. I would have created an account with whatever social networking site they used most.

Q: What were your hopes and goals for your Facebook page?

Emily: My hopes in using Facebook to reach teens has expanded as new applications have become available to use. I started by creating my page and befriending the teens who were always in the library. I then expanded my network by befriending their friends and other teens from the local high school. I believe that many of the teens accepted my friendship because I had introduced myself in class visits and had told them to watch out for a friendship request from the Farmington Library.

Q: Can you describe exactly what you use Facebook for at your library?

Emily: Once I had built a large group of friends, I started using Facebook to post events which would inform the teens of different activities going on at the library. I found that this worked well to let them know when programs would take place and what to expect. As I had more programs and used Facebook more I began posting photos from the programs and events on my facebook page. I found that many of the teens loved to check my page and tagged themselves in the photos.

Through programs and personal interactions with the teens at my library I also let them know that they can Facebook email me any questions they have about the library. After spreading the word about 'Facebooking' me library related questions, I started to get all sorts of reference questions via facebook. I get 2-5 reference questions a day ranging from putting holds on items for teens to questions about homework resources. I was getting so many reference questions, that I installed the 'Social I.M.' application to add instant messaging chat to my Facebook account. Now I open my Facebook account when I am on the reference desk and can chat and provide reference services to teens via their Facebook accounts.

The final thing that I enjoy doing via Facebook is sharing book reviews with other teens. During the school year, I have several teens who enjoy sharing their opinions with others by making 3-5 minute videos about books, movies or cd's. We use Mac computers with built in video cameras to take the videos, we edit them using the Apple iMovie software and upload them to From there I can embed the videos on our teen blog,, on my facebook page and on our website. This has been a really popular way to spread news about great books!

Q: How have the students responded to your Facebook efforts? How have other teachers responded? Has it made your life as a librarian easier?

Emily: It has made my job as a teen librarian much easier! I find that I get the best attendance for events when I post them on Facebook. It has definitely saved me lots of time and effort when trying to let teens know about what is going on in the library. The teens have really responded to my Facebook account. Every time I log on to Facebook and read my notifications, emails, notes, see that I have been tagged in pictures or answer an I.M. I know that I am reaching a segment of the population of Farmington that might not be receiving library services otherwise.

Q: What’s been the best thing so far about using Facebook at your school?
Emily: The best thing about using Facebook at my library is that I am reaching new teens everyday that have never even set foot in the library. I have made many teen friends through facebook that had not ever used the library before I befriended them and after they started receiving news about library programs and other services they started using the library! That is what makes me most excited about using Facebook and other social networking sites, it allows me to reach many people who might not have known about my services otherwise.

Thanks, Emily, and thanks for sharing your innovative way of reaching teen readers!

If you’re interested in seeing Emily’s work firsthand, pop over to Facebook and send Librarian Emily a friend request:

Happy Reading (and Writing!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Okay, here is PART I of my report on what it was like to attend my very first ALA conference. This post answers (or starts to answer) the following question:

Q: For a debut author, is it worth it to attend ALA a whole year before your book even comes out?

A: Absolutely, positively, and without hesitation: OH YEAH!

First off, I was able to spend more time with my editor than I ever expected. (Note: I had contacted her ahead of time to see if coming would be okay, which was an important thing to do. It gave her a heads up that I’d be there and allowed her to find time in her schedule for us to meet. Plus, I was able to ask her opinion on whether going would be a worthwhile thing to do before I made the decision to spend the money to attend.)

Anyway, my editor – Patti Gauch -- was so wonderful. She scheduled time to show me around the Penguin booth, and introduced me to Eve Bunting and several editors, authors and amazing Penguin marketing gurus, all of whose names I immediately forgot because I couldn’t believe that I had just met Eve Bunting! It was quite the out of body experience – looking at myself from the outside, seeing myself meet Eve Bunting, and thinking “wait, is this really happening to ME?”

In my defense, let me say two things about my being a bit star struck: first, I am normally horrible with names, even on a non-EveBunting kind of day. And second, I am normally not a star struck person at all. We see famous folks in my hometown all of the time and they don’t usually make me look twice. They’re just people, right?

So what made this so different for me at ALA? Well, for starters, I don’t really watch TV all that often, so regular “celebrities” just don’t usually push that “wow” button for me. But at ALA, these people were all authors and publishers of BOOKS, and let’s face it, THAT is exciting!

But the real reason (if I’m brave enough to admit it to you) is this: my dear editor said a couple lovely things about my writing. Out loud. To other people. Truly, I was not prepared for the possibility of this. Much less its emotional impact. (I guess I should mention that at times I am still a little star struck by my editor!) It was exciting. It was terrifying. I felt like jumping up on one of the tables and just screaming at the top of my lungs – WoohooWoohooWoohoo! And then I just plain forgot the appropriate way to receive a compliment. I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my hands. Or where I should point my eyes. I feel sure I blushed. Heck, I was lucky I didn’t pass out! It was a little like being in seventh grade again.

So here’s what I learned from that: there is some emotional territory that comes with being a new author that I haven’t really anticipated until now. When my book comes out, it will be reviewed. People will talk about it. People whose opinions I respect. And I’ll read and hear what they are saying. And it may be that they are saying “this is the best thing since sliced organic baguettes.” Or they may say “this is worse than reading the ingredients on the Wonder Bread wrapper.” The emotional and psychological landscape surrounding either response to my writing is fraught with danger as far as I’m concerned. Relying on praise from others is dangerous: besides making a person forget what to do with her hands, it can cause a swelled head, writer’s block, fear of failing, or an unhealthy reliance on the opinions of others. On the other hand, internalizing too much harsh criticism potentially brings on other issues: feelings of defeat, desperation, dejection; anger; depression; angst.

What’s a new author to do?

Here’s the deal, I think: I’ve gotta learn to detach myself from both praise and criticism before the time comes for either. I need to center myself before the emotional storm is upon me when my book is released and reviewed. I need to make a quiet place for myself to be recollected to something greater than both praise and criticism. A place of shelter. A place of reason. A place of peace with my own abilities, weaknesses, hopes, and dreams with regard to my writing.

And here’s the real deal: I can only find that place inside myself.

I’ve found this place before in other areas of my life – when I was a prosecutor and then as a legal publisher. I’ve also done it regarding my personal value system and my own spirituality. But I haven’t done it yet with my writing. I guess the time has come – I need to.

I don’t think I would have ever thought about all this right now, this early, if I had not gone to ALA this year. We go through a lot as authors. ALA helped me see some of the things I’ll be facing in the future. One very good reason to go a year early.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June Carnival of Children's Literature - Fathers in kidlit

This month’s Carnival of Children’s literature is all about fathers. Lately it’s been a subject near and dear to my heart, so I thought I’d chime in.

Sounder, by William H. Armstrong, is one of my top five favorite books of all time. It impacted me deeply as a child by bringing me to a time and a circumstance I’d never known before. And once I entered in, it never let me go.

It’s about a boy and his father who is in prison, their dog, injustice, and education. It is also about love and loss and loyalty and time. On one level it is a very simple story – father goes away, father is loved and missed, father comes home.

But it is much deeper than that – it is about the passage of time; the permanence of the bond between a father and his child; and the ache – and even the painful growth - that can happen when they are separated. Ultimately, fatherhood creates a relationship that can never be broken, no matter the time that goes by, no matter the lost years, no matter the pain.

Another of my all-time top five books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Strangely enough, here too the father is missing and his daughter desperately longs for him to return.

Hmmm, two out of five of my all-time favorite books are about absent fathers. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why my own first book is about the grandfather that I never knew. My grandfather died when my dad was only 16 years old, and the fact of his death early in my father’s life has always been a tender spot for me. My father has been so important in my own life, it is hard for me to imagine how hard it must have been for my dad to lose his father so early.

It’s also been a source of sadness to me that I never got the chance to meet my grandfather. All my life, I’ve seen the love in my father’s eyes whenever he mentions his dad. I think my grandfather must have been quite a person. Maybe he’s where I got my nose, or my hair, or some of my, um, more mischievous qualities!

But in writing How To Stop a Moving Train, I think I was able to bridge the sadness of not knowing my grandfather by “meeting” him, in a sense, as I created the character – W.P. -- that bears so many of the qualities I imagine he had. And in getting to know him, I’ve found that I not only miss him – I love him, too.

Pretty cool.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Children's Book News Email

The mid-June edition of my Children's Book News Email is now available. Click here for a peek.

If you'd like for a copy to be delivered automatically to your inbox, you can sign up at my website.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

FL SCBWI Orlando Conference

Well, school is out and vacation time is upon us. Last weekend I broke out of Virginia with mi familia to attend the FL SCBWI Conference in sunny (and HOT!) Orlando. It was fantastic! I got to meet Nancy Springer (a fella Philomel Books author) and Michael Stearns (Firebrand Literary) who both sat with me at the writers intensive: a day-long opportunity for critiquing fun.

I have to admit that on the long drive down to FL I began to wonder if it could be possible that I'm "outgrowing" writers intensives. After all, I have two great critique groups and a wonderful agent - what more do I need? But when I arrived in Florida my wonderings ceased. I got so much out of hearing fresh critiques - different viewpoints are so, well . . . different! And hearing those different views helped reenforce how very subjective this whole publishing business is. This is good, encouraging news, methinks. Subjectivity means that even though 20 editors passed on that piece you love, the 21st just might snatch from your dreams and make it real. All you need is one, baby! Sorta like true love.

Plus, at the writers intensive I was able to try out a rhyming picture book of mine that I have a soft spot in my heart for, and I am happy to be able to report that there really IS something of a poet in me! I got rhythm! I got music! (Who could ask for anything. . . well, it might need a little more plot. Or heart. Or something. But hey, I got plot and heart and all kinds of different somethings coming out of several of the various holes in my head . . . it'll get there.)

But even more than getting feedback for my own work, what was really great for me about the writers intensive was hearing other people read their work. There are some really, really awesome authors out there in SCBWI, who just haven't been discovered yet. But they will be one day, and it's fun for me to think that I might have been there "at the beginning," as they say.

That sort of happened with me and Ellen Hopkins (author of Crank, Burned, Glass and the upcoming Identical, which is going to just rock the book world when it's released!). Ellen was there in early 2005 when I ventured up to NYC to my very first SCBWI conference ever. She heard me read my work out loud at a critique table for the very first time. I mean to ANYONE. I was pretty sure I was going to faint! Anyway . . . fast forward three years and last weekend, she was in Orlando with me at the FL SCBWI Conference, rooting for me (as always - thank you, Ellen) with the knowledge that my first book (the one she heard me read in 2005) is coming out next year with Philomel. Things have a way of coming full circle, sometimes. Pretty dang cool.

And all that was just the writers intensive day! Saturday was the actual conference. If you ever have the chance to go to the FL Orlando conference - do it! They break down into separate tracks for picture book, middle grade, YA, mystery and humor. I chose the middle grade track, which had an author (Bruce Hale), an editor (Andrea Tompa, Candlewick), and an agent (Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary). The other tracks were equally star-studded. Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, Florida's RA, and her wonderful crew of volunteers really outdid themselves.

And finally, I had the great opportunity to meet two writers I'd only previously known online: Mindy Alyse Weiss and my fella Class of 2k9 debut author, Danielle Joseph. Mindy is a friend from Verla Kay, and a really nice person to boot! The first page of her novel got some seriously great feedback at the conference! Danielle's novel, Shrinking Violet, is coming out in 2009 and after meeting her I can't wait to read it! Mindy and Danielle and their SCBWI friends were so warm and welcoming to me while I was in Florida, it was almost like coming home.

Actually "coming home" is a phrase I might use to describe my whole writing journey thus far. It is warm and wonderful, like falling into the embrace of someone I love. It feels like it's where I'm meant to be.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Virginia Festival of the Book Panel - Audio Version!

Well, I have my 15 minutes of fame! I spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book last month, and the discussion was captured on audiotape and is now available on the Virginia Festival of the Book's website: ! (It's under the "Listen To Events" section of the website).

The topic of the panel was "Opening the Vein: Pouring Life into Writing," and I am the first speaker after the initial introduction.

I think I have a little practicing to do for any Oscar acceptance speeches that might be in my future, but overall I'm pretty happy with how things went. Although I do have to say that having my words memorialized online for anyone to hear is, well . . . weird.

Anyway, if anyone wants to take the time to listen, I'd love to hear what you think!!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Meeting Jon Scieszka

I had the fantastic opportunity to meet our new Ambassador for Children’s Literature, Jon Scieszka, at my friend Joan Kindig’s house yesterday. What a fun time! Joan was kind enough to tell him that I had a book coming out, so we talked shop a bit and I got his opinion on my current burning question: should I go to ALA this year when my book doesn’t even come out until 2009? He said GO!

Now, I’ve been asking a lot of people this question lately, and I’ve heard a wide variety of answers. Some say go for sure. Some say nah, probably not worth it. And some fall somewhere in between. The huge bonus for me about Jon Scieszka saying “go” without qualification is that now I have a HUGE tool to rationalize going in my back pocket. No matter the benefit, no matter the cost – an AMBASSADOR has said that going is worth it. And how, my friends, can I argue with that?

Besides getting all chatty with Jon, I was able to get The Stinky Cheese Man (no, I didn’t already have it, and yes I am embarrassed about that fact) and his new Trucktown book. Both signed, My daughter was THRILLED with Trucktown. She was even able to read the words “smash” and “crash” throughout the book, which was huge fun for both of us.

By the way, can you say “Trucktown” 50 times fast? Jon is going to be doing 50 books in this series over the next 3 years! WOW! And there’s also going to be a Webkinz-like product for at least some of the characters in the book.

I tried to imagine some of the characters in my MG novel as Webkinz, but stopped when I got to the corpse in my first chapter. Maybe not such a good idea.

I think the biggest thrill of meeting our new Ambassador was this: he’s truly got a great sense of humor (hey, he laughed at some of my jokes so IMHO the guy’s a freaking laugh riot – or was he just being polite?), and we need humor to reach kids in the literacy arena. Kids will want to read when they connect reading with fun. And I sure had fun yesterday, which reminded me that not only should kids have fun reading, but authors should have fun writing, too. And that was a fun thing to remember.

So thank you, Mr. Ambassador – I salute you! [Insert raspberry here]

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Freaked Out on Book Marketing: Balance Regained!

So, I promised to tell you how I moved through my recent “freaked out” feelings about book marketing.

Well, a big chunk of it was going to my friends on Verla Kay’s website. The writers there are extremely generous, and they shared lots of wonderful insights about how they keep it all balanced. At least sometimes!

The three biggies that helped me were these:

1) Have a schedule.
2) Do the book marketing tasks that you enjoy. (And don’t do what you don’t!)
3) Realize that some books get lots of publicity and tank anyway, and some books get no publicity and go on to greatness. And often it doesn’t have much – if anything – to do with the author’s marketing efforts.

That last one really got to me, in a good way. It made me realize that while I want to do my best – to give my first book my very best shot – in the long run it really isn’t all about me. In some ways, it’s just about my book – it’s written, and it’s going out in the world and hopefully some kid will love it the same way that I loved Sounder or Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, or A Wrinkle in Time. It’s the fact that I wrote it that is the most important thing. And in other ways, it’s not even about that much – it’s just gonna be what it’s gonna be. And that’s okay.

This new attitude of mine doesn’t mean that I’m going to let up on publicizing my book

– I do feel my efforts are important on some level. But realizing again that it’s not “all about me” lets me take myself less seriously. It will be okay. No matter what happens.

So I’m pleased to report to you that I’ve re-gained my sense of humor on the other side of all the angst.

(Now, will someone please remind me about all this the next time I get all freaked out?!)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Editing, Marketing, and Freaking Out!

Well, I told you I learned my lesson that I should post a blog entry on a regular basis – remember? But I guess I really didn’t learn my lesson, because it’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry. So what have I been doing?

Doing Edits. And Freaking Out.

Let’s start with the fun stuff – the edits. I really, really enjoyed doing them. They were what I call “substantive edits,” although I’m not sure that’s exactly the term the publishing industry might use. I was doing some cutting, working on the pacing, fixing the language here and there, and reading the whole thing out loud, which to me is a joy! I love reading out loud – not just my own work, but anything. There are things about language and pacing that you can only understand when you read the words out loud. I have to admit I especially like doing it with my own work, because the rewards are instantaneous. It’s like fixing wrong notes in a piece of music – you can hear the difference.

A Word on Cutting When Editing.
I feel like this go around, I finally was able to cut some slow parts – some of my “little darlings” – and finally get rid of them. It’s a hard thing to do, to lay the ax to that turn of phrase that’s just so fun but really irrelevant to moving the plot forward, and in fact slows it down. I don’t think I’m perfect at it, but I felt like this time around something clicked in me that allowed me to do it better than I have before. At least, I hope so!

The Freaking Out Part.
Okay, now the freaking out part. I was freaking out about marketing my book. I’ve been doing a good bit of talking to other authors lately, and at some point the whole marketing thang just overwhelmed me.

There Are So Many Things You Can Do To Promote Your Book:
blog, have a newsletter, have a website, join a co-marketing group, do MySpace, do Facebook, join Twitter, read other people’s blogs, join innumerable listserves (those for writers in general, for your genre, and for your niche markets), join Jacketflap, join Shelfari, figure out all the social websites like Diggs, Technorati, etc., make postcards, figure out who to send them to, make bookmarks, figure out where to store them, make business cards, and hope someone will want one someday, do school visits, learn more about literacy, read Hornbook, read Publisher’s Weekly, go to ALA, go to BEA, figure out all of the other librarian, teacher, bookseller and writer conventions you can possibly go to, wonder how to contact booksellers, figure out your blog tour, wonder how to approach online kidlit reviewers without making a fool of yourself, consider bribing all your friends for fantastic Amazon reviews, realizing said bribes don’t work but not understanding quite why, not to mention learning about search engine optimization, book trailers, and how to use online videos in a way that flatters (ha!). . . oh, and try to remember people’s names as you do all this.

Are you crazy with me yet? I can go on. But I won’t bore you. (Or at least I won’t continue to bore you!]

I’ll just tell you I’ve found a little peace in the storm. And I promise to tell you about it . . . next time! (Hmmm, let’s see – does it have to do with drawing boundaries? Setting limits on, say, how much time I spend on all my marketing efforts?! As Bugs Bunny would say, "Could be, Wabbit!")

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Contract!

Well, I’m signing my first book contract today! Hooray!

One thing I was surprised to find out about the publishing business is that contracts don’t always come in the mail the day after the BIG phone call. It can take weeks or even months for them to come. Who would’ve thunk?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Highlights Foundation "Life in the Spotlight" Workshop: Installment #1

Okay, as promised, here is installment 1 from the Highlights Foundation’s "Life in the Spotlight" workshop led by Indiana Professor of Journalism Peter Jacobi.

First, let me say that if you have a chance to go to a Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop – GO! Do not pass go, do not collect $200 – just get yourself there. Set in the Pocono Mountains, Honesdale, PA is an oasis of children’s book and magazine publishing just about 2 ½ hours from the hustle bustle of New York City. It’s a place to get away from it all in your own little cottage – a lovely place to read, write, learn and make friends. Simply top notch in every way.

And the FOOD! My goodness, the food is unbelievably wonderful. Don’t even get me started! Suffice it to say that meals are prepared by Marcia, who won the highest award at the Culinary Institute of America at the time she was graduated. WOW. I’ve really been missing Marcia since I came back home . . .

Anyway, the workshop, oh yes. It was great! We started with a tour of Boyds Mills Press and Front Street. There we met a number of the editors on the Highlights magazine staff as well – a sort of "nice to get to know you" kind of tour. The next morning SCBWI NJ Regional Advisor Kathy Temean presented just about everything you’d ever want to know about websites and web marketing. Kathy has her own web consulting business – Temean Consulting, - for those of you looking for a web designer. I took about a jillion notes and came away with my head spinning as to the number of things I can do to promote my book on the internet.

First and foremost – have a website! You should register your domain name and possibly other sub-domains to help people more easily find you. You’ll also need to determine your web host. I looked around a lot before I committed. If you google "best web hosts" you’ll find lists where several organizations have rated web hosts based upon various criteria. I use IX Web Hosting because they have 24/7 help and because if it doesn’t work out I could get my money back. (But hey, it’s working out!) Another thing you might want to consider when deciding on a web host is whether you’ll be using their template to design your site, whether you’ll be using a web designer, or whether you’ll be using third-party software to create your site. If you are planning to your web host’s template, be sure you check it out first and feel comfortable that it will give you what you want. Many web hosts allow you to test drive their templates before you sign up.

One bit of important information Kathy Temean passed on to us is to develop a signature for your emails that helps promote your book and your website. Sign your name, but also add your book title and website link so that every email you send helps people find you (and your book). I developed a new signature as soon as I got home. It’s taking a little getting used to, I have to admit – makes me feel like a bit of a "self-promoter." I’m not sure that it’s perceived that way, though. And I’m certain it’s helpful, because I always love being able to link to another person’s site when I’m interested. I’d love to hear what others think about it.

One benefit of using a web designer is that a good one also understands how to market your website once it is online. They know mystical things like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), meta tags, meta robots, meta keywords, and how and where to submit your site to search engines. Of course, you can always do a little reading and learn something about these things on your own!

Another thing Kathy had us consider is print promotional materials. Once my final artwork is done for my book cover, I plan to talk to Kathy about designing a school visit brochure. This kind of brochure can be invaluable when you go to conferences where lots of teachers may be gathering.

And of course, new authors (and gee, old ones too!) should have a business card to pass out, containing at the very least your name and website information. I also plan to have the cover art and title of my book as well.

A lot to do? Sure seems that way! But it’s kind of fun, too. And definitely a learning experience!

6:43 AM - 0 Comments - 0 Kudos - Add Comment - Edit - Remove

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Editing When You're Sick: Part II

You might remember from Monday that my answer to "What do you do when you're sick, but your edits are due?" was this:  

Just Edit.

Well, yesterday I found out that sometimes that just isn't possible.  

Yesterday my head was so gunky that no thoughts could swim their way through the bacteria to the surface of my brain, much less make their way down through my fingers, through the keyboard and up onto the computer screen.

So I finally hauled my sorry self to the doctor and got an antibiotic and a special squirtie thing for my nose.

Not that it helped immediately.  Yesterday nothing got done.  Nada.  Zilch.  

But today I woke up and . . . I'm still sick!

But at least today the thoughts (so far) appear to be able to swim their way through all the junkie stuff and cough themselves up onto my computer screen.  Progress!  I'll take it!

So after a little breakfast smoothie, I'm taking up the mantra again:  Just Edit!

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Editing When You're Sick?

Okay, I know I promised the lowdown on the Highlights Foundation workshop I attended two weeks ago - and I will do it, I promise!

But here's the deal.  I'm sick.  As a dog.  As a big dawg.

And here's the other deal.  My editor called Friday and I need to do edits for my book.  As in now.

So, um, I guess I'm learning what an author does when she has to do edits while she's sick.  The answer?  Well, last night and the night before the answer was "go to bed early and pray to feel better in the morning."  That didn't happen exactly the way I'd envisioned - I'm still sick.

So today the answer is tending toward the Nike:  Just edit!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Class of 2k9, Here I Come!!

I am VERY excited to tell you that I will be a member of the Class of 2k9!  

You may have heard of the Classes of 2k7 and 2k8 - two groups of debut middle grade and young adult children's book novelists who banded together to promote themselves in the past two years.  They proved there is power in cooperative book marketing - I know for a fact that I became aware of many of their books by virtue of their participation in their "Class."  

What are the benefits of being in the Class?  Well, I'm sure I don't know all of them yet, since I'm only at the beginning of the whole process.  But I have followed the other classes a bit, and I know one of the benefits is friendship - we'll all be experiencing the ups and downs of having a book published for the first time, so we'll all be able to share and learn from each other's experiences.  As I've learned from hanging out on Verla Kay's website, there is nothing like being able to celebrate - and commiserate - with people who are going through the same thing you are!

Another benefit is that automatically, my message will be amplified by 29 (or by however many people are ultimately in the Class).  29 other blogs connecting to my blog; 29 other websites connecting to my website; 29 other Myspace sites connected to mine . . . and vice versa.  Plus a separate Class of 2k9 Website, Blog, and MySpace Site . . . as you can see, suddenly my cyber world has just expanded by about a jillion!

Another benefit is diversity.  You know how the financial advisors say to diversify your portfolio?  Well, being in the Class of 2k9 has done that for me on a professional level.  I'm not a librarian, but now I know one.  I'm not a teacher, but one of my Classmates is.  I'm not a professional web designer or PR person either - but now I'm banded together with some!  And I can contribute my own experience as a former legal publisher, lawyer, and avid reader of book marketing books.  Pretty cool, eh?

Plus, the whole thing is pretty dang fun to boot!  What more could a first-time author want?!  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I have been at a Highlights Foundation workshop (yes, it's put on by the Highlights Magazine folks) for the past week.  Almost phoneless.  Almost email-less.  I've realized how addicted I am to the internet!

Here's one thing (among many) that I learned this week.  If you are a writer who is going to have a blog, you need to update it regularly. People depend on you, and when you disappoint them it is not good for many reasons.  It lowers expectations.  It makes you less of a "go to" source.  It makes your readers wonder if you've spontaneously combusted.  (The answer is no to that last one, in case you were wondering).

So, my dear cyberfriends, I offer you a hearty apology for leaving you for almost two weeks without a post.  And without forewarning.  Please forgive me.

Lesson learned!

More on the zillions of things I learned at the Highlights Workshop next time . . .

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Author Websites: Useful, Changing Content is King

What brings you back to an author's website?  More importantly, what will bring readers back to YOUR website?

Lately, I've been looking at author websites with the express intention of finding what works and what doesn't work as I designed my own website.  There's lots of cool stuff out there, but 
the more I look around the more I realize that "content is king."  How do you get someone to come back to your website over and over and over again?  The answer is simple:  change your content.  And make it USEFUL!

But when you change your content, you also have to ask yourself this question:  who am I changing the content for?  Who's gonna find this information useful?  I think these questions are crucial with regard to blogging as well: who is my audience?  And what do they need?

For example, in this blog (and on the "For Writers" page of my website), my stated audience is children's book writers.  But writers go to websites (and blogs) for different reasons than readers do.  Readers go to websites to find out about authors and their books, to read reviews, and maybe to learn something on a particular topic.  Kid readers might go back sometimes to enjoy a game on the site, too, or perhaps to contact the author.  Writers go to websites not only for these reasons, but also to see what other writers are doing, to check out what's working for them (and what's not), to feel like part of a writing community, to learn about book marketing and writing techniques, to find out about conferences and seminars, to watch book video trailers, and to encourage others in the same profession.

In order to get writers to return to websites or blogs, many authors provide author interviews.  This is a GREAT idea.  Everyone wins - the interviewer because she is gaining content that will draw people to her site; and the interviewee because she is gaining publicity for her book.

Editor Harold Underdown has a great site that has lots of articles on writing, as well as a "Who's Moving Where" page which outlines various moves by editors and agents in the children's book publishing industry.  It's a fantastic resource for authors, and a fantastic idea for getting authors to come back to his site!  Definitely check out his site if you haven't already.

I've seen other authors provide other sorts of content on their sites - everything from political commentary, to listings on publisher's lunch.  

I've recently added content to my site in a different way.  I've created a Children's Book News Email that goes out bi-weekly and provides a summary of the latest topics of interest in the kidlit world.  Things like books that are being censored, literacy initiatives, and unique (and copy-able!) ways authors are promoting their books.  I also provide links to full articles for further reading.  (If you are interested in signing up, you can visit the "For Writers" page of my website).    
Have you seen authors provide other kinds of useful content on their websites or blogs?  If so, leave a comment and tell us about it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Website Ballet.  As promised, here's a little information on website design.  Folks in the business (a big thanks to SCBWI member Seth Wood!) say that readers viewing websites unconsciously prioritize what they see on a website in a Z pattern.   That is, they see top left first, then top right, then bottom left, then bottom right.  As so:


Websites should therefore be designed to take advantage of this by putting the most important information in "first" position, the next most important info in "second" position, etc.  (The "website ballet," if you will.  And yes, that is my own phrase.  And yes, I am daggone proud of it!).  Have a look at my website home page for one example of how to do this.  In first position is a little introduction and welcome to the various groups of people who might be interested in my site.  In second position is my book cover.  In third position are directions for where to go on my site for more info on various topics like trains, children's writers, my book, school visits, etc.  

Make Finding Things Simple.  Many people say that your website, or at least your home page, should all - or almost all - fit on one page without scrolling down.  Although scrolling usually doesn't deter me, it does some people.  If you have to scroll to get to your most important information, then it's not in the right place.

Simplicity reigns.  Cool sites can be, well, cool.  But if you have too many bells and whistles the reader doesn't know where to begin, so sometimes they just don't.  In my opinion, Go Daddy's site is guilty of this.  There was so much stuff on the site I found it overwhelming.  So I went to IX Web Hosting instead.  Besides driving people away, having too many things going on - especially flash stuff - can make a website load slowly.  And sometimes your reader won't wait.

Content is King.  When you're designing your website, you've got to figure out what information you want to include.  This is a huge decision, because content is what will keep your reader coming back.  Or not.  Your site has to do more than scream "hey, I've got a book - lookie, lookie!"  

In order to figure out what to include, you have to first determine your readership - your website's as well as your book's.  Who do you want to be attracted to your site?  What do you want them to get out of it?  What can you give them to keep them coming back?  Whatever it is, it's got to be changing.  Who's going to come back to the same content again and again?  Not as many people as who will come back if they know they're going to get something new that they can use. 

The Cool Factor:  Age of Reader.  Will the reader of your book also be the reader of your website? Maybe, but maybe not.  If you've got a board book for infants, your website should probably be targeting parents not kids.  Design your site accordingly.  For elementary, middle grade and YA books, do you want your site to be a place for kids to hang out, or for adults to get information on you and your book?  Maybe it should be both.  My book is a middle grade novel that I believe will also appeal to YA.  So I knew I needed a pretty cool looking site with some interesting content if kids were going to visit.  But then when I started designing my site I realized kids weren't the only ones I wanted as visitors.  

Website Readers of Multiple Ages; Website Pages with Multiple Foci.  Websites need to direct each visitor, no matter her age or focus, to the part of the website that will be most interesting to her.  My book is about the railroad and trains, so I knew I wanted a train page that would appeal not only to kids, but also to rail fans who might be interested in my book as a way of sharing their interest in trains with kids or grandkids. I also wanted a page where I could address the needs of teachers and librarians, especially with regard to school visits.  And I knew I wanted a page that would be helpful to writers.  Thus, my writer's page was born along with this blog.  And since I plan to do interviews to promote my book, I also knew that I'd need a "press page" full of information for the media.  Mine includes a light-hearted bio, a Frequently Asked Questions section, and downloadable pictures of my book cover and myself.   As soon as I get some reviews (any reviewers out there?!) I'll put up a link to my reviews.  Ditto for my press releases.  I also hope to figure out how to put a form up to gather email addresses so I can send emails to people when I'm in the news, etc.  And of course, I have a "contact me" page for (hopefully!) people who like my book and media (again, hopefully!) to be able to reach me. 

The Most Helpful Thing.  The thing I found most helpful in designing my website was going to other authors' websites and noting the things I felt worked and didn't work.  Usually authors sites (and blogs even more so) will have links to other authors' sites, and so it's easy to find a whole slew of websites to study and take notes on.  

All and all, I found the whole process of designing my website extremely entertaining.  It was fun to see other sites, fun to read books on the subject, and really fun to finally see the thing up and running!  It took a lot of time and effort, but hey, so did writing the book.  And I figure if I took all that time to write the book - a book that I love dearly - I oughta take the time to put it out there in the world with the best (and most cost-effective) website possible!

Happy designing!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Author Websites

I can't believe it, but I finally have a website!  I've only been working on it since, oh, the beginning of November so it's pretty exciting to finally have something out there actually breathing in the cyber world!

For those of you who are thinking about a website, I'll share the process I went through. First, I had to decide whether to have a website or a blog or both.  I opted for both because everything I've read about book marketing says you absolutely, positively need a website if you've got a book coming out.  It's the very best way to let people know about you and your book and having one is not negotiable these days.  But if you're pre-published, having only a blog might be the way to go.  It gives you a web presence, helps you become part of the kidlit community, and best of all it's free!

Once I realized I needed a website I had to figure out how to go about it.  And more importantly, how much it would cost.  I figured I had three primary options:   1) hire a web designer, 2) find a really good friend with web knowledge, or 3) design it myself.  I didn't want to impose upon friends, so #2 was out.  I didn't mind putting money into a web designer because my website was going to be a pretty important part of my marketing efforts.  When I researched cost, I found they could run from perhaps $500 to $20,000.00!  Of course, when I priced my "dream site" it turned out to be on the high side.  As in more than my advance.  And at the same time I realized that if another person designs your site you often, if not always, have to pay them when you want to change it.  I wanted my website to be dynamic - as in changing - and I didn't want to have to go back to someone else over and over again every time I wanted to make a change.

So I began to think about option #3, designing it myself.  At first I looked into learning HTML, but the learning curve was seriously high and I really wasn't interested.  I knew there were simple website templates available on various web hosting services, and I'd even used one called Website in a Box for another organization I belong to.  Website in a Box certainly is easy and it's cheap (around $60 or $80 per year), and it allows you to control your own content 24/7.  But for all the great things about it, it just wasn't as polished and professional as I wanted for my author site.  I was about to embark upon a search for the best templates available when to my delight, my problem was unexpectedly solved!
I bought a Mac.  Little did I know at the time it would be the solution to my website woes.  When I got it home I found out it had this great program called iWeb.  iWeb's templates were amazingly professional and extremely versatile.  Long story short, it's how I made my website. It lets me add my own pictures, video, and podcasts pretty much where ever I want, and I can change the content at any time.  It took some effort, but it was not nearly as complicated as learning HTML.  I absolutely love it!  

But there are a few drawbacks to iWeb.  From a programmer's viewpoint, I understand that the program is rather cumbersome and the files become very large.  That makes the site load a little on the slow side, especially if you have video.  To combat this I decided not to use my dotMac (.Mac) account to host my site because the Mac servers are said to be slow.  I opted to pay for a web host - I used IX Web Hosting because it had unlimited storage and transfers per month and they had a money back guarantee.  Granted, it's not been 24 hours since I uploaded, but so far so good.  My site uploads a little slowly - not because of IX, but because of iWeb - but I don't think it's so slow that it will be a problem.  Hopefully some of you will take a look at it and let me know if it's too slow for you.  I've noticed that the pages with less background "stuff" load quicker, so I can always change over to them if quicker loading becomes necessary.

More on website design next time . . .

Saturday, February 16, 2008

They always say you have to start somewhere, so I guess I'll start at the beginning.  July, 2006. I was unrepresented by an agent; I was about 70 pages into my book; I'd never finished writing a novel before; and I was enrolled in the Sierra Nevada SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) mentorship program with the amazing Ellen Hopkins as my mentor and the wonderful Suzy Williams as Regional Advisor.

And then it happened: I met Patti Gauch at the stupendiforous Highlights Foundation's children's book writing conference at the Chautauqua Institute.  And my life has never been the same!  At the urging of a couple members of the faculty (and ONLY because they gave me permission to do so) I asked Patti to read the first 10 pages of my manuscript.  And she did.  Right there at a table in front of me.  It was a milk of magnesia moment.  My palms started to sweat as I stared at the back of her head.  I had to sit down, sure I was going to pass out.  After two eternities passed, she called me over.  She liked it!  She wanted to read more!  And in a few weeks she'd read all 70 unfinished pages.  And she still liked it enough to offer a gift.  The gift was her time.  Her encouragement to finish it.  Herself.  It was one of the best gifts I've ever received.  So I put my nose to the grindstone and I started writing!

In this blog, I'm going to go ahead and lay out some of the writerly lessons I've learned, and am learning, during my journey to being a published author.  Not because I think I know so very much, but because I hope it might help someone else out along the way.  It takes a village to get a book published, or at least it did for me.  I hope whatever I write here might become part of the village that helps you achieve your dreams.

Lesson #1:  Invest in your dreams. 
With both your time and your money.  If I hadn't gone to the Highlights Chautauqua workshop, I would have never met Patti Gauch.  And if I hadn't applied for a scholarship to the workshop I could never have afforded to go.  Take the time to research good conferences.  Start with the less expensive one-day seminars.  Apply for scholarships.  Use those frequent flier miles if you have them.  Save your money.  Make a conference part of your family vacation.  But however you get there, GET THERE!

Lesson #2:  Network.
Conferences are where you meet people who can help you learn more about your craft, people who can publish your work, and people who share your interest in writing.  I used to think networking was a dirty word, the implication being that if you are networking, you are merely using people as rungs on your personal career ladder.  I've seen it be that way, and it's ugly.  But it doesn't have to be.  Networking can also be a great way to meet new friends who share a common interest.  It's all in how you look at it.  And how you do it.  I can't tell you how fun it's been for me to see friends I've made at conferences go on to amazing successes.  It's a joy.  And they cheered for me when I sold my book, too.