LDS Storymakers wrap-up

I also didn’t get a chance earlier this week to post about my experience at the LDS Storymakers conference, which I attended as a guest editor last Friday and Saturday. I spent much of my days in one-on-ones with authors, and the rest of the time I was out chatting with the conference participants and just talking to everyone in general.

I’d heard of this conference before, but hadn’t really paid attention to it. After all–or so I thought–it was only for authors working in the LDS market, a niche here in Utah. (It’s a worldwide niche through catalog and online sales and independent LDS bookstores that often operate in cities near LDS temples, but the bulk of the market is in the Intermountain West, through the LDS chain bookstores Deseret Book and Seagull Book and Tape.)

What I didn’t know was that in the last few years, the Storymakers have been expanding to include LDS writers in all markets, whether the LDS market or a more national market. Writers like Shannon Hale, Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Dave Wolverton, James Dashner, Jessica Day George, and many others have been honored by the Storymakers with their Whitney Awards recently (as nominees and winners), and the conference itself focuses more on craft than marketing, so the lessons about, well, storymaking, can be applied to whatever niche an author writes for.

While the conference does seem mostly geared for beginning to intermediate writers, I noticed that there’s a lot of networking opportunity for more experienced writers as well–it was great to see the number of published writers who were there giving back by volunteering for the committee, teaching a class, or helping out with the running of the bookstore. There were multiple book signings every day, and the bookstore was packed full of books by LDS authors in a number of markets.

I must say, it was one of the most well-organized, well-staffed conferences that I’ve ever participated in. It ranks right up there with BYU Writing for Young Readers (though Storymakers is for every genre–adult, children’s, LDS, secular, fantasy, realism, nonfiction, and so forth). And they’ve been growing–apparently they had something like 100 more people registered this year than they did last).

And of course, while BYU Writing for Young Readers is for a more general audience of writers, note that Storymakers is very definitely a venue for authors who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m sure they wouldn’t kick you out if you weren’t LDS! By any means! But it’s very much a cultural affair, an event that embraces Mormon culture, prays at sit-down meals, and welcomes references to church, being LDS, and all of the attendant topics that go with that. And I believe the Whitneys are only open to Mormon writers. It’s a safe place for LDS writers to come together with their fellows and discuss that intersection between the arts and religion that can sometimes get misunderstood on both secular and religious sides (just one example pulled from recent headlines would be Deseret Book’s pulling of the Twilight series from their bookstore shelves recently because of “mixed reviews”).

It was great to see how they do a first chapter contest every year too, honoring those who have been working hard at their writing. I’d like to see a “later-chapter” or something like that contest, too, though–sometimes a first chapter, no matter how good, is all that has been written in that book! I’d like to see something to encourage people to not only write the first chapter, but to keep going to the second, third, and so on. (One might argue that the encouragement is all the recognition of people at the conference who have just gotten book deals, and the awards given out by one writers’ group honoring the person with the most rejections from that year, though! The thinking goes that if you’re getting rejected a lot, it’s because you’re getting your work out there. One also hopes that those rejections are coming not because the rejectee just blasted everyone with their work, whether it was a good fit or not, but that comes from the cynical side of this editor who saw way too many picture books even when the submission guidelines said NO PICTURE BOOKS.)

The part that had me choked up the most: the Whitney awards. I never knew that they were named for LDS church apostle Orson F. Whitney, who championed “Mormon” literature and gave one of the best talks I’ve seen on the subject (note to my non-Mormon readers: it’s a talk very much aimed at early Mormons, kind of sexist in its speech compared to modern-day conventions; just remember that it was given in 1888). He said:

Our literature must live and breathe for itself. Our mission is diverse from all others; our literature must also be. . . . We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.

I really appreciated how the Whitneys are set up to honor those “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” It was great to see good friends and some authors I’d just met over the course of the conference be honored for the quality of their writing. Congrats to James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, Heather Moore [edited to fix the right last name–sorry, Heather!], and several others who won Whitney awards in their categories. It’s a little corner of the world, but it’s nice to see how it’s been growing.

Anyway, if you’re LDS and a writer, it’s a great conference. Check it out come next year.

Laurie Halse Anderson at the King’s English, Mar. 26

I’m getting ready to head out the door to the Provo Library for the seminar I’m teaching on writing science fiction and fantasy for children and young adults, but wanted to post this first: One of my favorite writers, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at the last couple of Kindling Words retreats, will be in Salt Lake City next Thursday as part of her Wintergirls tour. That’s right, Laurie Halse Anderson, also known on LJ as [ljuser]halseanderson[/ljuser].

She’ll be at one of our excellent local independents, The King’s English. If you loved Speak or Fever 1793 or Chains or any of her other excellent books, make sure to check out Wintergirls. And if you head to The King’s English to get it signed, maybe I’ll see you there:

Thursday, March 26, 7 p.m.
King’s English Bookstore
1511 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, Utah 84105

LTUE and the undead cold

For the last couple of days I’ve been at BYU’s Life, the Universe, and Everything, sniffling my way through several panels. The zombie cold seems to be lightening up–it was a whole lot worse yesterday than it was today, though my nose still feels like it’s a drippy faucet.

So far I’ve had a great time catching up with local authors and readers who I usually see a few times a year–and hanging out with old friends who I see nowadays a whole lot more often than I have in the past. 🙂 Had some great salmon, etc. etc. Your average small local con (symposium!), but peppered with a high percentage of knowledgable published authors. We were talking about that at dinner tonight, actually–not that it’s news or anything to many people, but Utah really is a hotbed of authorly experience.

Tomorrow I’m on three panels, and if you’re heading to LTUE, I’ll inform you right now that I plan to hijack the noon panel on “the difference between MG/YA and mainstream [sic] books.” Yeah, baby, since we don’t have a moderator, I’ve come up with my own questions, because the four or five other panels we’ve already had in the last two days have already rehashed the definition of children’s books to death. So it will be a panel potpourri. Our first question: the ever-controversial “zombies or unicorns?” Given my cold, I think the zombies have it in for me, so I’m siding with Team Unicorn.

Stay tuned. I think it’ll be the best panel yet.

No, seriously. It’s an important question. Just ask Holly Black or Justine Larbalestier.

Bring wine, not a bullhorn

I’ve found all sorts of new people on Twitter to learn from. One is Chris Webb, Associate Publisher of Technology at John Wiley and Sons. I found his blog through his twitter. This post especially will be of interest to authors and anyone else seeking to reach readers through social media, a topic which of course we’ve discussed here in the past. It’s short and sweet, and I quote the most important part here:

It seems simple and obvious, but the statement is at the heart of what usually goes wrong for those who only view social media as another channel to send the same old messages. Y
ou need to be a part of the community, connecting, contributing and sharing and not just broadcasting about your product or service. If you do this, the opportunities to introduce people to your product or service will present themselves naturally. But you have to listen and watch for them as part of the ongoing conversation.

Note that what he says is actually from a larger webinar which he links to.

More catching up–Writing Excuses

Happy New Year! I’m spending the day doing absolutely nothing. I have so much to do–finish painting one corner of my office so I can reassemble the office and finally unpack all the books, and finally have a working workspace; fold laundry; read submissions; maybe even get some exercise in (boy, do I need some yoga after that snowshoeing the other day! so fun, but wow, does it make you sore!)–but today I’m ignoring it all and spending the day cuddled up with my kitties and catching up on things like Writing Excuses, the podcast about writing run by my friends Brandon, Howard, and Dan. They always have good informative things to say, but I just noticed that in particular they interviewed Brandon Mull way back several months ago about children’s literature.

It’s relatively basic–the things they
talk about are things that most of my readers would consider a given–but I think it’s a great place to point friends who are thinking about writing for children but don’t know the market at all, because they define children’s lit, discuss how content breaks down the age groups, book length, viewpoint, vocabulary needs, characterization, and other essentials to consider for someone new to the market.

If you haven’t listened to Writing Excuses before, check it out. You’ll be able to catch up pretty quickly–each podcast is only 15 minutes long, "because you’re in a hurry, and [they]’re not that smart."

Further back in the not-so-way-back machine…

This link is over a month old, and but Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser speaks directly to what we were discussing a couple weeks ago about reaching our readers through online efforts.

Specifically, Kassia is talking about social networking vs. viral marketing. Our teen readers and their little siblings are as much naturals at the social networking thing as my generation of kids was at picking up Pong and the Apple IIe. It makes sense to them, having these kinds of conversations about whatever strikes their fancy–including books. And they’re savvy enough to know their spam from their real conversations. As she notes, readers don’t want to rehash the cover copy. Despite the seeming shallowness of online communication–it’s rather short and swift, after all–the depth that can come from these short conversations goes far beyond a sound bite.

So how does a publisher or an author start a conversation with teens via
social networking?

One thing I’ve found is that as I network on Facebook and Livejournal, this very blog, with adults who are social-networking savvy, the word of mouth of something that is of genuine interest to those I talk to gets passed on. We all know how fast a meme can spread, how linkage gets passed from one blog to the next. Right now there’s a list of science fiction and fantasy reviewers that’s being passed from blog to blog so one blogger can index all the reviewers out there, and it spread like wildfire–I’ve seen it on Wands and Worlds (I think?), Gwenda Bond (maybe? aw, it was somebody on my friends’ list feeds!), and several other blogs, who saw it on blogs I’ve probably never seen, etc.

Those adults will be read by the teens they know, who, if they find the conversation interesting, will share with their friends. Obvious, I know, but my point being that I think it starts there–friending libraries on MySpace and making sure they know about local booksignings through social networking, friending libraries on Facebook if they’ve gotten that far (I haven’t started looking for libraries on Facebook, so if you know if they’ve gotten into that the way they have MySpace, let me know; personally, I find MySpace annoying and rarely check in on it). Teen librarians are great at passing the word on to their teens about events and information that is interesting and useful to their particular community.

Also, I find that often authors themselves have more interesting conversation starters than publishers do, because they have a personal connection to the material that the on-message publishers don’t. This isn’t a bad thing! It’s just that it demonstrates the importance of the author’s efforts in reaching readers via social networking, because they can do what a publisher or even individual editor often can’t: offer that personal perspective, the behind-the-scenes look into the head of the creator that readers will find fascinating. It’s like seeing the making-of video, all those extras on the Lord of the Rings DVDs.

Anyway, just go read the post, because she has a lot more to say on it than I do. Go!

More on marketing

I’m afraid that even before I left Mirrorstone, I wasn’t reading my friends page daily, because there are just so many things to keep track of, and if even half of my 73 friends were to post daily, that’d be a lot of reading. But I really want to know what everyone is up to, so I’ve been going back into the archives to play a little catch-up.
Almost a good week ago now, Agent Kristin posted about the book launch party of a client of hers, who happens to also be a TV producer in New York City. Marianne Mancusi then lists several really great tips for authors for their own book launch parties. Remember our discussion about marketing your book? She has some great tips for announcing your launch with an email blast inviting pretty much everyone you know, whether they’d be able to make it or not, to your book launch. Not to mention a
whole pageful of other great tips. Here’s a small taste:

Consider co-hosting the party with another author. One, it’s more fun to plan a party with a partner and two it takes off some of the hosting pressure the night of. You can also potentially double the guest list, increase networking opportunities, and introduce a whole new audience for your books and theirs.

Follow up. Over the next week, email your guests and thank them for coming. Especially the new people you met at the party. If you have a photo with them in it, send it with the email. And speaking of photos – upload them right away and put them on your blog, MySpace, Facebook, whatever. People who attended want to see themselves and people who didn’t get to go want to live vicariously. But you lose your momentum if you wait a few days.

Her tips on venues, invitations, gift bags, working the room, and so on are spot on, and she’s got some really creative suggestions that could bring the price of a launch party down for authors, who usually don’t have piles of cash sitting around.
I would also add that if you’re publishing a book for teens or kids, to think about adapting her tips to a kid-friendly environment and to invite readers in your target age group–even if it’s just all the kids you know. Or perhaps to do an adult-centric launch plus a teen-friendly launch. The goodie bag idea could be targeted for teens with just a little tweaking: items like free introductory yoga classes and self-tanning lotion would transfer well. You could probably get local sports and recreation outlets to include a coupon, not to mention local teen-centric outlets at the mall. You could also think about offering up a gift card to a local shop for a nominal amount as a drawing for those who attend (and might be able to get that local shop to sponsor it). By focusing on teen readers, getting teens (or kids) to read, and combining that with any local appeal your book might have, or topical interest, you’ll be able to create a fun, unique event with some media appeal. I’m thinking particularly of the Percy Jackson parties that were thrown at local bookstores before the Percy Jackson books were really big–I saw news reports of the author getting kids involved because of their interest in Greek myths.
So go check out her post, and see if you can find ways to adapt her tips to your own book!

On buying books: hardcover vs. paperback

Cherie Priest posted today about her new release–happy book birthday, ! Her post relates to several things I’ve been hearing lately, so I thought I’d put them all together in one goulash of a post.
Laurie Halse Anderson () and other authors are encouraging people to give books for Christmas and other holiday gifts. As their graphic says, books are "Longer lasting than a fruitcake, cheaper than a flat screen, and more fun than a partridge in a pear tree." Consider in your holiday gift-giving to give books.
As you’re considering this, I’d also like to point out that a lot of authors are having a hard time this time of year. Sales dropping off directly affects their income, and many authors have to cut back on things like health insurance, home repairs, and other vital necessities. Scalzi has posted a fundraiser for one such author who was in danger of losing her house–thankfully, people banded together and raised enough money not only for her mortgage payment, but also to help fix her sewer system, which was badly in need of repair. (People are so good to each other in hard times! I recognize that’s not always the case, but when it is, it’s amazing.)
So when you go off to buy a book, seriously consider whether you can fit a hardcover book (or two or three or more) into your budget. Hardcovers are often the place that publishers judge an author’s sales, not to mention that sales within the first few week’s of a hardcover book’s lifetime will determine whether that book stays on chain bookstores’ shelves–which determines whether that author will earn out their advance, be able to pay the bills, etc. etc.
If all you can afford is a paperback or checking the book out from the library, that’s okay. Most authors I talk to would rather have someone read their book than not! But if you do have the money in your budget and would like to support the author being able to write more books, think about getting the hardcover.
For more information on how a hardcover vs. a paperback affects an author’s bottom line, see Brandon Sanderson’s post on the subject. A small sampling:

Well, lets look at the 20,000 people up above who bought that paperback book. If half of them checked it out at the library, and the other half bought the book from Amazon in hardback, the hardback would sell 10,000 copies. (And libraries would order more, but that’s another story.)
Anyway, assuming the royalty for that hardback jumps up at 5000, those same twenty thousand readers have spent roughly the same amount of money as they otherwise would have, yet they would have paid the author $28,000 instead of $10,000. Plus, instead of two worn paperbacks, they have a very nice hardback that will last them for a while. 28k isn’t a huge amount of money, particularly once agent fees and taxes come out, but it’s the beginning of a livable income. Add on some foreign sales, and things start to look bright–particularly for a writer, who is likely doing what he or she loves to do.

Note that Brandon uses some simplified numbers, and doesn’t take into account that publishers *do* give bulk purchasers like Amazon a discount (though they still pay the author the same royalty)–oftentimes, independents can buy a book off Amazon for cheaper than they can get it from the publisher–but he makes some good points. This is where Indiebound comes in–getting a hardcover
from the independents supports a much more sustainable business model, in stores where you can find salespeople who actually know the books they’re selling. But that’s another discussion altogether, and I digress.
Anyway, just some food for thought about possibly making our money stretch further and supporting the artists who make the books we love at the same time.

Let’s talk about marketing your book online

I was at an SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago at which they had a panel of newly published authors do a panel chat about how they got published, and the subject came up of websites and blogs. This is something that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about in the children’s book blogosphere, and the discussion that day brought up the same question for me with these authors.

After all of the authors answered the question about marketing their books online with some version of "I have a web page," and perhaps an "I have a Facebook," I raised my hand and asked, "I’ve heard it said that the children’s book online community can be a little . . . in-bred. That is, authors friend authors on LJ and Facebook, comment on each other’s blogs and do blog tours, do interviews with reviewer bloggers, but who is the audience that these blogs reach? How do your directly reach your readers online?"

(I admit, it was a loaded question, because I’ve seen authors use the web in some very innovative ways to reach their teen readers, especially, and part of the answer to that for younger readers isn’t a direct answer because gatekeepers are involved.)

But I’d like to open up the question to you guys. Let’s brainstorm and really think about how to use these new technologies in a way that reaches teens. And how do you go beyond the message of "buy, buy, buy" (which is good for paying your bills, but there is something very commercial about that which I don’t think we really aspire to openly in the book world), and make it a more general message, yet still reach them about your book?

There are already some great examples of authors doing things that reach their readers directly–I’ll name a few off the top of my head: Readergirlz, Scott Westerfeld’s blog, Shannon Hale’s blog, several communities on Facebook. How do these accomplish what they do, and is there a way of extending their reach or following their example? How did Scott and Shannon attract so many readers–do teens look up their favorite author and see if he or she has a blog, or did the blog attract the teen first and then they became a reader of the books?

And what’s up with Twitter? I haven’t really had a chance to check it out yet. How might Twitter be used to reach teen readers?

Those are just a few questions I have, and I’m hoping to open up a discussion here and on Facebook, where this blog is imported as a note. I’ve seen these questions asked again and again on listservs I’ve been on, but usually in the context of librarianship, and I’m wondering how authors specifically can use these tools to reach readers.