Friday, September 19, 2014

TALES FROM THE BAYOU: Step By Step







It's mornings like today that remind me of walking to school when I was a kid. We only had one car in the family and my mother didn't drive...not because she didn't want to but I think because that was one more responsibility she didn't want to add to her overloaded plate. 

So I walked. Everywhere.

I'd like to say the walk to school was at least a mile from my house and maybe it just seemed that long to a little kid toting a backpack full of books, but every morning I would head out and make my way through town to the elementary school. I never minded the walk because I LOVED to learn and it got me away from the house for a few hours. Despite the fact that I was incredibly shy, had no friends, and was constantly teased because I always managed to become the "teacher's pet", school was a sanctuary for me in those days.

Gueydan is an extremely tiny town, population around 1500...numbers which might actually include residents of the local cemetery...and nothing exciting ever seem to happen there. Except during the fifth grade when my elementary school burned to the ground.

I remember walking with my sister to school that day. Everything seemed normal until we got a couple of blocks away and we heard the siren from the firetruck. We were both shocked to finally get to the school to see smoke billowing out of the building as they tried to put the fire out that actually began in MY homeroom. The entire building was destroyed ad we spent the rest of the school year attending classes on half days. Our high school building was located next door so I ended up going to school from 7:30 until around 11:30 each day and then Janet, being in ninth grade at the time, would have her classes from 11:30 until 3:30. It was a challenging school year until the new elementary building was completed but somehow we made it work.

Walking home the same way every day could become boring so I liked to change it up whenever I could. Mother expected me to get home quickly. If I took the longer route that cut through the park so I could sneak in a couple of twirls on the merry go round, I had to make up for it by running the rest of the way home.  Sometimes I would even start running straight from school to the park because that was where the library was and if I was lucky, I could sneak in and visit the books.

Even then books held a spell over me. I would dash in just to say hi to the librarian and maybe take a quick look at the newest arrivals so I could start dreaming of which book would I check out next. Then it was a mad dash to get home before Mother suspected I hadn't walked straight home like she expected me to.

I wonder what the kids I went to school with would think about me now that I am a children's book author? So many steps taken from those old school days to where I am now and yet I find all those steps STILL lead me to the one thing I've always loved more than anything else...books.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Jennifer Hamburg








Title: A Moose That Says Moooooooooo!
Author: Jennifer Hamburg
Illustrator: Sue Truesdell
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Ages: 4 to 8

Synopsis: Everything starts out fine in the imagination of one young girl when she decides to create her own zoo with a moose that can moo and book reading sharks. But soon things get out of hand as everything from zoo pillow fights to an all-duck jazz band creates havoc in the afternoon. How will she corral those crazy critters and restore order once more to her back yard?

Why you should read it: The illustrations of this book kind of remind me of Shel Silverstein's lovely drawings in THE GIVING TREE. With an ox as a short-order cook and skunks jumping rope, who WOULDN'T want to check out this zany zoo? I enjoyed turning the pages to discover the next what-if in this adorable tale of one girl's imagination gone wild on a lazy summer afternoon.

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!


Monday, September 15, 2014

It Takes A Village To Publish A Picture Book, Part Three








When a book is newly released, the first thing an author might think of is to print up a bunch of bookmarks as a way to advertise their book. If I took a poll, bookmarks would probably be on every new author's list of how to get the word out. 

But that's not the only way.

There are sooo many choices when it comes to marketing ideas that it can become overwhelming for a newer author to decide what will work and what won't. Not only do you have to decide WHAT you want to put your book information on...i.e. swag items...but also WHERE do you want to promote those items.  This week I will be looking at some swag items and other promotional ideas I will consider as I get closer to my release date for my picture book, THE STORY CATCHER. Some of these things my publisher, Anaiah Press, has already told me they would be providing like bookmarks, key chains, book covers, etc. but I'm still listing them because it will be helpful as general knowledge for self-published authors as well as those who might not have access to a marketing or publicity department through their own publisher.

Printing Companies

Vista Print...www.vistaprint.com
U Printing...www.uprinting.com
Print Runner...www.printrunner.com
P S Print...www.psprint.com
Mimeo Printing...www.mimeo.com
4 Imprint...www.4imprint.com
Oriental Trading...www.orientaltrading.com
Marco Promos...www.marcopromos.com

These are just some of the online companies offering ways to advertise my book. Some are quite cheap and others more expensive than my little budget will allow so I will get creative with my promotional ideas. Yes, I'm sure I will get my stack of bookmarks to advertise THE STORY CATCHER but here are some other ideas I might consider too. I will also keep in mind that butterflies and bubbles are central to the story line as well.

Promotional Ideas

Hats
Tshirts
Ink pens
Pencils
Car Door Magnets
Foam Butterfly Stickers
Adhesive Labels
Silicone Bracelets
Business Card Magnets
Regular Business Cards
Full Color Badge Ribbons
Display Table Runners
Handle Bags
Butterfly Necklaces
Small Plush Butterflies
Small Bottles of Bubbles
Butterfly Shaped Foldable Fans
Water Bottle Labels
Mini Flying Discs
Hi-Density Pulpboard Coasters
Corrugated Plastic Yard Sign
Indoor/Outdoor Banner
Emery Boards
Wooden Nickels
Temporary Tattoos
Balloons
Bumper Stickers
Hand Fans

As you can see the options are nearly endless when it comes to advertising my book. Will I be able to afford 500 tshirts with  THE STORY CATCHER printed brightly on each one? Probably not. But it's my job as the author to lead the charge to promote my book and the future readers of my story probably don't care that my budget is tiny. I'll check what other authors are doing and make sure I give my book the best chance to succeed!

What have YOU used to advertise your books? What worked? What didn't? Let me know in the comments below...



Friday, September 12, 2014

TALES FROM THE BAYOU: Summer Time Jobs






There are some kids who do nothing all summer long but hang out with their friends, chug glasses of coke or iced tea, and watch the days drag by. Hot sunny days stacking up on top of each other, one by one, until it's time to head back to school.

I was never one of those kids. I loved to read and spent every waking second pouring through books whenever Mother let me.  Thankfully she was a voracious reader as well but her tastes ran mainly to westerns written by Zane Grey while I was into everything else.

But it was the variety of jobs done around the house as well as offered around the neighborhood for pocket change which occupied the bulk of my summer days.

One of the first jobs I can remember doing...and it was probably just to help my brother out...was rolling up tons of newspapers and putting rubber bands around them before stuffing all of it into his carrier. I think my sister, Janet, went on some of his routes with him but I definitely remember my blackened hands from all that ink and a few sore fingers from broken rubber bands.

We also used to cut a few of the neighborhood yards and I can remember actually cutting the grass but don't remember being able to keep much of the money afterwards. Unfortunately my mother had a rather large cigarette habit and I have a feeling a good portion of the yard money was used on tobacco products.

Jobs around the house included literally scrubbing all the walls down in each room, shucking corn that sometimes nearly reached the ceiling of our enclosed porch, climbing mulberry trees at our neighbors to have canned or frozen berries during the winter, pulling weeds from the vegetable garden or harvesting the crops, cutting back the bamboo that grew between our house and our next door neighbor's (THAT job earned me five massive hornet stings on my head and more over my body when Mother unexpectedly stirred up their nest), and babysitting my next door neighbor's young son. 

As I got a little bit older I had the chance to work at the local cafe but that only lasted a short while because the owner quickly realized my sister and I made a better team than their own children. We were way more popular with their customers and they couldn't have that so I was let go and my sister quit shortly afterwards.

All those summer time jobs taught me a number of things...

1) The important things in life usually come with a price whether it's actually dollars or sweat equity.
2) A hard day's work never killed anybody but sometimes it really FELT like I was gonna die.
3) Cherish the down time because you never know when someone's gonna yell at you to get back to work.
4) Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today cuz Mother still has more plans for you tomorrow!
5) Do the job you hate the most first. That way the rest of the work will seem like fun.
6) Even the most demanding job will eventually come to an end and when it does, there is always iced tea and a good book to read!

My summers these days are crammed full of work and kiddies and not as much reading as I've done in my youth but at least I'm not running from hornets any more and I still get the chance to sneak in a book or two when my boss isn't looking...;~)


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Arree Chung







Title: Ninja!
Authors/Illustrators: Arree Chung
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Ages: 4 to 8

Synopsis: A ninja must be strong, courageous, and silent! He creeps through the house on a secret mission. There may be obstacles! But have no fear...a true ninja can overcome all challenges.

Why you should read it: With only 137 words to the entire manuscript, you would think this would be an illustration driven book, but author-illustrator Arree Chung has managed to blend emotion and art into a delightful debut picture book. While reading this book I can just see a younger version of my own son donning sticky ninja gloves and silent ninja footwear before setting out on some fantastical adventure known only to the most fearless of ninjas.  After reading Mr. Chung's own story of how NINJA came to be, I can only be grateful this author was as courageous as his main character in persevering in his goal of becoming a children's book author!

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!

Monday, September 8, 2014

It Takes A Village To Publish A Picture Book, Part Two




***Last week I talked about how long it takes a book to go from concept to publication and with picture books you have to add time in for illustrations to be included. If you didn't get a chance to read last week's post, you can check it out by clicking here.***

Once you know your book's release date you can start working on what you will do as an author promoting your own work. In my case I started improving my connections and planning for the day I will have a book in hand to promote. I wanted to start gathering information on what to do, when to do it, and most importantly...how to do it well.

I started by watching my writing heros and mentors to see how they promoted their own books. Studying powerhouse authors like Susanna Leonard Hill, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, and Tammi Sauer gave me the chance to get some ideas on what might work for me. Newer authors like Tara Lazar, Corey Rosen Schwartz, and Elizabeth Rose Stanton are trying new things I might use as well. I'm so proud to call these authors and many others my friends as they always inspire me to do my best in this challenging writing community.

Book marketing is all about getting information out to potential readers. I don't profess to be an expert but I am smart so the first place I went was my local bookstore to pick up some books on successful marketing. Here are some titles which have found a permanent spot on my reference shelf at home.

GUERRILLA PUBLICITY by Jay Conrad Levinso, Rick Frishman, and Jill Lublin
CAUSE MARKETING FOR DUMMIES by Joe Waters and Joanna MacDonald
GUERRILLA MAREKTING FOR WRITERS by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen, and Davie L Hancock

There are other ways to pick up ideas for marketing you books. Over the years I've had different subscriptions to publications aimed at writers and all of them have focussed on marketing at one time or another.

SOCIETY OF CHILDREN'S BOOK WRITERS & ILLUSTRATORS (www.scbwi.org)...probably THE best organization to join if you are serious about your writing career. They have an extensive library of articles on their website and members also receive bi-monthly magazines crammed full of the latest industry news.

THE WRITER (www.writermag.com) ...stuffed full of writing articles, market news, agent updates and more.

WRITERS DIGEST (www.writersdigest.com) ...much like THE WRITER with lots of great articles, interviews, industry news, conferences & contests and access to their craft books from their online bookstore.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (www.publishersweekly.com) ...this celebrated publication shines the light on all areas of writing and includes extensive reviews on all genres of books. 

There are also many, many marketing blogs and twitter accounts out there offering tips on how to be the best marketer out there. I have a folder on my desktop crammed full of free ebooks offered by some of those blogs just by becoming a follower of their blogs and twitter accounts. Some tips may not work for my picture book but I am alway open to any ideas to support my efforts to tell potential readers about my book, THE STORY CATCHER.

Sometimes, however, the BEST way to generate some marketing plans is to simply "hit the bricks" and visit some of the people who might be willing to support your marketing efforts. I did that very thing three weeks ago during my mini vacation and the feedback was nothing short of amazing to me.

Crossing my fingers, I now have a number of potential upcoming events being worked on including...

1) Possible author visit in early December at a local Barnes & Noble to tie in with local elementary school library's annual fundraiser event. I have donated craft items and worked their booth for the past three years so now the librarian is speaking to the B & N event coordinator to arrange it.

2) Launch party and book signing at Books A Million. I just walked into a BAM store during my vacation and got a chance to talk to the manager. I told her about THE STORY CATCHER and was lucky enough to discover my CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US edition was on their shelf. She put me in touch with their event co-ordinator who was VERY receptive when I pitched the launch party idea. He immediately sent me the paperwork for my publisher, Anaiah Press, to become a distributor and then we can work on the party details.

3.) My contact at the Children's Festival of Reading was excited to learn about my debut picture book as well, and immediately did two things for me. Not only did she talk about adding me to their local author panel at next year's festival, she also wrote a wonderful letter of introduction on my behalf to the head of the Children's Book Acquisitions Committee suggesting they seriously consider adding THE STORY CATCHER to their collection catalog which covers 18 branches in the Knoxville area alone. This individual can also put me in contact with all the branch librarians for possible author visits.

It truly does take a village to publish a picture book and right now I feel mighty blessed to have so many wonderful people pulling for my book.

What marketing ideas have worked for you in the past? If you are a debut author, what are you planning to do to help promote your own book? Please share your ideas and success stories in the comments below...


Friday, September 5, 2014

TALES FROM THE BAYOU: Before The Age Of Technology






Before Xbox and IPads...before smartphones and even smarter televisions there was a time to live a simpler life where neighbors actually knew each other's name and children could play outside without supervision while doors were left unlocked at night.

I grew up in an age before technology. When I started to think about it there was a long list of things my own son had access to during his childhood that either wasn't even invented when I was a kid or only families far wealthier than ours could afford it.

Color TV...not only were all the shows in black and white at our house, there was no such thing as Cable TV and aluminum foil wrapped around the rabbit ears of the antennae sitting on top of that small TV helped bring in better reception. Oh yeah, TV shows didn't run all night long either so if I was lucky enough to be allowed to stay up later then I could watch my favorite channel (only about 4 or 5 to choose from) go off the air while playing "Look Away Dixieland" or some upbeat song I wished I could remember as a horse and buggy trotted off into the sunset.

Refrigerator...there was no such thing as a refrigerator at my house when I was little. We had an icebox where you literally had to place a 50 pound block of ice in the top compartment so things in the bottom compartment could stay cool. Once a week we would ride in the back of an old black truck to the ice plant where a man with huge ice picks would throw that block of ice onto a blanket laid out in the back of the truck and we would rush home to get it in the icebox before it started to melt in the muggy hot summer sun.

Washer & Dryer...nothing electronic there. My poor mother's hands were rubbed raw as she used an old washtub with scrubbing board for years where she had to squeeze the water out of the clothes herself. We finally graduated to a wringer washing machine. Mother still used the scrubbing board to wash the clothes but she could now push the clothes through the two rollers while I turned the crank and out the clothes came flat as a pancake and ready to hang outside on the clothesline.

Air Conditioner...I never even knew what an air conditioner was growing up. We had one window fan to try and cool the entire house and we had open windows at night to hopefully catch a breeze. I would go to sleep on a muggy summer night fanning myself with a piece of cardboard or a homemade paper fan until either I was too tired to fan myself any more or I finally fell asleep.

Cell Phones...these things weren't even invented yet when I was little. Every house that could afford a telephone had one large, hard-wired black monstrosity that has a ring on it loud enough to wake the dead. Black was the only color and the handle was so heavy you probably could kill somebody with it if you hit them hard enough. You were out of luck if you were away from home and wanted to call somebody if there wasn't somebody willing to let you use theirs.

FM Radio...the only stations available was AM because FM wasn't even invented yet. And just like TV, the stations would sign off around midnight and come back on around six the next morning. Song choices were monitored in my house and for the longest time I thought the only singers out there were Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Roy Clark, The Oak Ridge Boys, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. In other words, the Grand Ol' Opry and western music was basically the ONLY music allowed in the house when I was a child. We didn't even have access to a portable radio until I was in high school when my father brought a small boombox home just so we could hear Charlie Pride on the radio. Oh yeah, eight tracks were the thing to buy and reel to reel tape players...no such thing as CDs back then...they weren't invented yet!

Computers...those were things that filled up a room at large college universities or government offices. You would never find one in a private home. Laptops and wireless connections weren't even invented yet. Nether was the internet so if you wanted to look something up you could grab the Encyclopedia Britannica if you were lucky enough to have a set at your house (we had a really old set) or get yourself down to the local library and ask the librarian to help you out!

Online Games...there was no Atari, no Nintendo, no Xbox, no Playstation, no Gameboy, or any other gaming systems. I was an older teenager before even the simplest games like Pacman or Joust was even invented and the only place you could find them was in a larger city at an arcade usually near the movie theater. Games were actually played outdoors with the other kids in the neighborhood or was a product of one's imagination. No batteries required.

Kindle...Tablets and Ereaders like the Kindle or Nook hadn't been invented yet. Libraries were the place to discover a good book and to a voracious reader like myself, I would blow through at least 100 books every summer beginning at age 5 and quite literally counted the days until the annual summer reading program at my local library. I can't imagine fostering such a love for the written word without being able to touch, smell, and almost taste a good book held in one's hands.

Those are just some of the things I did without growing up before the age of technology. I didn't feel I missed out not having those things around and quite honestly I KNOW my own son didn't have nearly the strong memories of his own childhood as I have. Without technology I was forced to actively be a part of the world around me instead of passively sitting back and watching the world come to you. I was the master of my own destiny instead of being at the mercy of a battery held device. And I became a better, stronger me because of it.

What things did YOU do without when you were growing up? Share your non-technology stories in the comments...