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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is award-winning author, writing teacher, and the sweetest person ever, Susanna Leonard Hill. Thank you Susanna for sharing your story with us.

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?

AND WHO WILL THEY BE?

by Susanna Leonard Hill

Once upon a time, there was a writer (that was me) who wrote stories for children.  Although she dreamed from girlhood of picture books with her name on the cover (and not because she wrote it there with a crayon), she was pretty sure she wasn’t good enough to get published.  (Due to word count limitations we’re going to skip a bit…)  Blah, blah, blah, some other stuff happened and one day in 2002 her dream came true and life was good.

“Now then,” said the Powers-That-Be, “go forth and build a platform!”

Tools

“Uh…,” I said.  “Have you seen me with tools?  This is not a good idea.”

Apparently they weren’t talking about that kind of platform.

“Uh…,” I said.  “Have you seen me with technology?  This is not a good idea.”

Apparently they did not care.

BUILD was the directive, so by golly I had to try.

Let’s just be clear on one thing: I had NO idea what I was doing or how to do it!

To save you from landing in the same predicament, I will share with you Susanna’s Rules for Practically Painless Platform Building.

Rule #1: Eat Something Chocolate 

chocolate

Really.  It’s good for you :)  Construction is hard work.  You must be properly fueled :)

Rule #2: Know what platform is.

It is helpful before you begin construction to have some idea of what it is you are hoping to build.  Otherwise your go-cart might turn out to be a lawn mower… or in our case, your platform might turn out to be a mineshaft. :)

So what is platform, anyway?

Basically, it’s your visibility as an author:

  1. Who you are –

Well, that’s obvious.  You’re you! :) Whether you’re a stay-at-home dad of 7 who loves to bake Lebkuchen and play the tambourine, or a NASA engineer who is consumed by competitive crochet in your down time, it’s you as an individual that people want to know.

  1. Your personal and professional connections –

Friends and family, coworkers, critique partners, your dentist, your son’s trombone teacher, etc.  You might also include people you know through the Internet, but that overlaps into the third category a bit.

  1. Finally, the part people tend to think of more as “platform” – the work you do specifically related to being an author, and your online presence –

Any form of media where your writing is available or where readers can get to know you, including bookstores, newspaper articles, radio interviews, school/library visits, book signings, online booksellers, and anywhere you are active in social media – your website, blog, newsletter, FB, Twitter, etc…

Do not feel that #3 is the only part that matters.  All three of these elements are equally important, and #1 is arguably most important because it colors everything else.  But you likely feel pretty comfortable with #1 and #2, whereas #3 might be the place you feel a little out of your depth. So that’s the focus of the other rules.

Rule #3: Find Your Comfort Zone

Some love to travel.  Some love to stay home.  Some love to dress to the nines.  Some love to loaf in pajamas.  Some like it hot… well, you get the idea.

You’ve got to be comfortable with what you’re building, and not all social media options are created equal.  Scout around.  Sample the choices.  Hold it up and see how it looks before you nail it in place :) Do you love the brevity and variety of Twitter?  Or would you prefer the option to discourse at greater length on a blog?  Or do you like the happy medium of Face Book?  Do you see the world through a camera lens? Then how about Instagram? Pinterest? YouTube?

There are lots of options out there.  Don’t make yourself miserable forcing yourself to participate in something that doesn’t suit your personality and style.

Rule #4:  Don’t Wear Yourself Out!

We are all busy.  We have spouses, and kids, jobs and homes and cars and pets and aging parents and yoga/running/swimming/watching basketball on TV – you know, exercise :), and some of us have to bake Lebkuchen and practice the tambourine…  There are only so many hours in the day!

Cookies

Choose 2 or 3 at most of the social media options and limit time spent on them each day.  That way you can give your best to the options you choose, avoid burnout, and still have time to write, which is, after all, the whole point of all of this!

Rule #5: Figure Out What You Have To Offer (and yes! you have something to offer!) Preferably Before You Start Blogging :)

Okay.  So now we get down to the nitty-gritty.  What’s going to be the focus of your tweets, your FB posts, your blog?  What are you going to put out there for the world?

I tried everything.  I think literally actually everything.

Trial and Error, thy alias is Susanna!

Try to avoid that :)

Platform, platform, platform… We’re supposed to reach our audience of readers.  Well, obviously that’s impossible in the case of picture book writers – our readers are pre-reading listeners.  They tend not to frequent FB, twitter, or phyllis coverblogs of any kind :) The actual readers of our books – the mouthpiece through which our audience hears our stories – are parents, teachers, grandparents, librarians etc.  Those are also the people who buy our books, since most 3-8 year olds are hampered in the cash flow and transportation departments :) So really, our platform efforts should be directed toward these adults.

I tried writing posts on dogs, gift-wrapping, song-writing, Mondays, book drives, how useless I’d be as a pioneer… all topics that should appeal to parents, teachers and librarians, don’t you think?

Alas, they apparently appealed to no one!  Just go back and look at my early posts… and how there are no comments on almost all of them!

So I stumbled along, trying this and that, until one day I hit on the idea of Would You Read It Wednesday (primarily for writers, but with hopes of attracting teacher and librarian feedback), and then Perfect Picture Book Friday (intended as a resource for parents, teachers and homeschoolers…but which seems to appeal to writers seeking mentor texts), then contests for writers (an opportunity for writers (of all ages) to write stories for kids that could be read by parents, kids, teachers, etc.), Short & Sweets (for writers but hopefully also for teachers and kids), Oh, Susanna! (intended for writers, teachers and parents… but writers were the only ones who ever seemed to have questions), with a few author and illustrator interviews and a mini-series on self-publishing thrown in for good measure.

And by gum! 4 years down the road it appears I’ve got a nice little platform of people I adore, who make my blog a wonderful community where I’m grateful to spend time. Can't Sleep

And yeah… if you noticed that the platform I intended to build for parents, teachers, librarians and such turned out to be a platform for writers, well, maybe that’s because I am a writer and that’s the way I think.

I choose to believe that many of the writers who make my blog and FB page and twitter…area…whatever you call it :) … such a great place to hang out are also parents, teachers and librarians.

As Gilda Radnor said on Saturday Night Live, it’s a dessert topping AND a floor wax :)

Happy Platform Building! :)

Thank you so much for having me, Alayne.

Note from Alayne: Pardon my intrusion. Because I am interrupting, I want to say make sure you scroll to the bottom of this post for Susanna’s bio and links to her website, blog and more. Now for my reason for the intrusion. . . .

I had no idea what Lebkuchen is, so I looked it up. For those of you who also don’t know, Lebkuchen is a centuries-old German gingerbread specialty that is traditionally baked during the winter holiday season.

Also for those of you who don’t know Susanna and all the wonderful things she does for the writing community, I want to give a basic description of some of the things she mentioned in this post.

Oh Susanna is the children’s literature world’s version of Dear Abby, except not about relationships (well, not yours – character relationships would be OK). It is an advice column/question forum for those of us in the children’s book world, as it were :) People can ask Susanna questions about writing, reading, teaching writing and so on.

Short & Sweets was started as a way for writers to keep their writing oars in during the happy, busy, outdoor fun summer months. Susanna offered fun exercises that writers could do together.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Is a group effort. Using a set format, bloggers share picture books they want to recommend to others. Susanna then shares that link on her blog in her extensive list of picture books, categorized by theme.

Would You Read It Wednesday? This is a weekly feature that offers a chance for writers to try out pitches for their Picture Books, Early Readers, Middle Grade, or Young Adult Works-In-Progress.

Contests and Picture Book Writing Course Susanna also has Holiday writing contests with excellent prizes. And then there is her Making Picture Book Magic writing course, which, as a graduate of the course, I can personally recommend. You can find more information on all of the above on her website – links follow Susanna’s bio.

slh wyomingAbout Susanna

Susanna is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.)  Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean.  Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Summer 2016.  She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.

Links:

Website: http://www.susannahill.com/HOME.html

Blog: http://susannahill.blogspot.com

Face Book Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannaLHill

Making Picture Book Magic (online picture book writing course): http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is the one and only Julie Hedlund. Thank you, Julie, for taking the time to share your thoughts on platform building.

Before I move on, I want to mention that registration for Julie’s 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge begins next month. If you don’t know about this wonderful writing community and challenge, it would be worthwhile to give the 12 x 12 page a look.

12-x-12-new-banner

Now, here’s Julie. . . .

BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BY Julie Hedlund

Thanks Alayne for hosting me today! I’m a big fan of your blog, so it’s an honor.

Never has a word inspired so much fear and angst into the heart of an author. Part of that fear, IMHO, is based on myths about platform that I want to bust for you today. My goal is that by the end of this post, you’ll feel a LOT better about what author platform is (and isn’t) so you can embrace it as part of your journey as a writer.

The first big myth about author platform is that it is primarily about online activities, particularly social media and, to a lesser extent, websites and blogging.

But since we are writers, let’s take a look at a couple of definitions in the dictionary for the word platform:

“A place, means, or opportunity for public expression of opinion.”

Another definition: “A formal declaration of the principles on which a group
makes its appeal to the public.” We could change that to say: “A formal declaration
of the principles on which a writer makes his or her appeal to the audience/readers.”

Under these definitions, platform is not a set of tasks or tactics. Platform is an opportunity for you to establish your identity as an author and communicate that identity, that worldview, to your audience.

As Tara Lazar aptly explained in her post, everything you do that you intend your potential readers and audience to see is part of your platform. Everything. School visits, presentations, book signings, mailings and newsletters, promotional materials such as business cards and book swag – even conversations at conferences.

And yes, your website and/or blog and social media presence is a part of your platform, but only one part. Choose which aspects of online platform you enjoy and leave the rest behind. It’s okay. Really. Because if being on Twitter is anathema to who you are, that will come out in your participation anyway. Luckily, there are many options for online platforms, but we don’t have to be tied to them all.

The second platform myth I’d like to bust is that it’s all about promotion, and you establish it for the primary purpose of being able to sell your books.

Wrong.

Your platform should not be used to blast your message out to a bunch of people in one direction but rather, to create a conversation and a two-way dialog that will help you build relationships and make connections with people (as Miranda Paul pointed out in her post).

Your platform should be a means by which you help others. Sometimes that takes the form of a helpful blog post, sharing a resource on social media, or giving a workshop on writing. Sometimes it takes the form of making people aware of a book you’ve written that you think they will enjoy and/or will enrich their lives. You wrote the book for people to enjoy, so promoting it in that way is a just another way of helping others.

Helping people is not only rewarding all by itself, but it also builds awareness of you and your work in an organic way. Like Tara is well known for her picture book idea month challenge, I am best known as the founder of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge. I embrace that role because I LOVE helping other writers, and it’s a huge part of who I am. I get a great deal of support (and yes, some book sales) through that community because they already know me and are therefore likely to enjoy my books.

The last myth I am going to bust today is that platform is a drain on time and creativity. That it “takes away” from your writing. If you approach your platform in the right way, holistically and as an extension of yourself, it can actually be a huge part of your creative journey AND fun!

Connecting with readers and fellow writers is a big part of why we write, is it not? Platform provides the means to make those connections and reap those rewards by giving of yourself and receiving from others. How great is that?

Julie Hedlund - Headshot

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Hedlund is an award-winning children’s book author, founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, monthly contributor to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books Podcast, and a frequent speaker at industry events such as SCBWI conferences.

Her picture book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, first published as an interactive storybook app, was the recipient of the 2014 Independent Book Publisher’s Association Benjamin Franklin Digital Gold Award. TROOP-Cover-300x283Her storybook app, A SHIVER OF SHARKS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, was a 2014 Digital Book Award winner. MLFY_coverHer latest book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, released in September 2014 from Little Bahalia.

Julie is passionate about helping fellow writers achieve success. With her friend and colleague Emma Walton Hamilton, she created The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions – a soup-to-nuts resource for crafting a winning query and landing an agent or book deal. As a single mother of two young children who earns a complete living as an author-entrepreneur, Julie also created a course called How to Make Money as a Writer to help other authors build their careers and support themselves financially.
Julie lives in beautiful Boulder with her two children, ages 12 and 9, and a large and terribly misbehaved hound dog. When she is not writing or entrepreneuring, she loves reading (duh!), hiking, skiing, cooking, movie and game nights with the kids, and sipping red wine at sunset in the company of good friends and family.

Other guest posts on platform building:

Breaking the Fourth Wall: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

You are your Platform by Tara Lazar

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

Today’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is the lovely and talented children’s book author Miranda Paul. Thank you for sharing your platform-building strategy with us, Miranda. You have definitely given us something to think about. Before I move on, I want to mention that the Rate Your Story membership registration is now open, and they are offering discounts and bonuses until December 15, 2015.

button trademarkAlso, the We Need Diverse Books fund drive ends December 10, so if you haven’t had a chance to visit the page, there’s still time.

 

Now, here’s Miranda. . . .

 

Breaking the Fourth Wall: My Platform-Building Strategy

By Miranda Paul

Confession: Platform building is rarely intentional for me. I don’t sit in my office brainstorming ways to get more Facebook followers or YouTube subscribers. Never have, probably never will.

Back in high school, I was an avid concert-goer. My favorite moments were when the lead singers reached their hands down to touch the crowd or when the guitarists stepped down from stage to play among the audience. A few times, I got to hang out with band members after their show. Those memories are vivid nearly two decades later.

Speaking directly to or otherwise acknowledging the audience is referred to in theatre terms as breaking the fourth wall. The effect of turning spectators into participants, or bringing the performance closer to the audience, is engaging and powerful.

Instead of speaking to people, why not speak among them?

Picture1

I’ve seen social media advisers try to formulate equations—for example, “make four posts about someone/something else for every one self-promotional post.” I’m admittedly no expert when it comes to social media, but those kind of guidelines sound fake or prescribed to me. And that’s not what I mean by “breaking the fourth wall.”

If I had to put my platform-building strategy into stage directions, it would be this:

1. Begin your platform building with a foundation that matters

I’m very passionate and invested in the books and projects I’ve taken on—from writing about grassroots activists in the Gambia to the life-giving element of water to all the career possibilities that a child can explore. Whether its diversity in literature or stewardship for the earth, the roots of my outreach efforts are strong and genuine.

Don’t build a platform so you can sell more books. Build a platform so you can share your love of XYZ or make an impact that goes way beyond a $15 story.

2. Invite others to come up on stage with you, or bring the show down to audience level

Giving others a voice has an emotional component to it. The We Need Diverse Books campaign built its initial platform by inviting others to participate with signs stating why they felt we needed diverse books. For oneplasticbag.com, a new website dedicated to my debut title, there are several ways in which kids and teachers can share their recycling efforts with me and be highlighted on the site.

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Since I write for young children, I recognize that my platform building must extend beyond social media. Kids and teachers aren’t hanging out online all day, people! School visits and community involvement are musts, and what better way to mingle with the audience is there than to crowd surf? (Figuratively, of course.)

3. Allow your personality and opportune moments to control the choreography

Sticking to a scheduled plan 100% of the time isn’t real for me. My routines change daily. I’m not wandering aimlessly in my career, but I try and look up from my script every now and then to see who’s out there, listening. I’m a casual person, an approachable person, a generous person. I allow these parts of my personality to guide how I market myself and my books. I can’t tell you how many casual interactions I’ve made online or after a live presentation that later on turned into new opportunities.

Releases February 2015.

Releases February 2015.

Author Meg Medina’s presentation on author marketing is one of the best I’ve ever attended. Rather than focus on “Do I need to be Tweeting?” she encourages authors to craft a vision statement and focus on their own legacy and impact instead of numbers, accolades, or which social media are the best avenues for driving sales. A shining example of how she melds blog content with her personal vision of being active in the Latina community was recently posted after her workshop for kids with Duncan Tonatuih. The fourth graders created a poem far more powerful than any Tweet Meg might have put out there about the visit. (Click here to watch the multi-voice poem reading at Meg’s blog and decide for yourself.)

Releases May 2015.

Releases May 2015.

If you’re in the early stages of compiling your career’s set list, focus on the big picture theme of your soundtrack. If the music is meaningful and catchy and DISTINCTLY YOURS, the fans will come out to hear you play. Just make sure to turn the microphone toward the audience every now and then and let them sing the words.

Now go out and break a leg—and the fourth wall.

headshot_new_mirandapaul

 ABOUT MIRANDA

Miranda Paul is a children’s writer who is passionate about creating stories for young readers that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. In addition to more than 50 short stories for magazines and digital markets, Miranda is the author of four forthcoming picture book titles from imprints of Lerner, Macmillan, and Random House. She is an Executive Vice President of Outreach for We Need Diverse Books™ (www.diversebooks.org) and the administrator of RateYourStory.org, a site for aspiring writers. Miranda believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING SERIES guest blogger is the sensational and talented Tara Lazar. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, Tara. Just a quick note about Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). PiBoIdMo is a free November writing challenge for picture book writers and illustrators. The object is to jot down one picture book concept daily. By the end of the month you’ll have at least 30 bright & shiny new ideas! You can then refer to these ideas throughout the year to jumpstart your creativity and write new manuscripts. Registration begins October 25 and ends November 4.

YOU ARE YOUR PLATFORM

by Tara Lazar

An author platform cannot live by social media alone.

You already know this, right? While it’s great to have a popular blog, witty Facebook page or oft-followed Twitter feed, social media does not equal your author platform.

Author Brook Warner outlined this so well for SheWrites.com last month—reminding those of us who remain slave to our blog that we need not be so post-obsessed. Your social media presence, while increasingly important, especially to sales and marketing professionals at publishers, is not your entire author platform. It’s only a small piece of it.

Remember, YOU are your platform. Your books. Your personality. Your message. For what do you want to be known? It should be shared through a variety of outlets, not just via an animated-gif Tumblr.

That being said, I suppose you’re wondering how I built my blog to reach over 4,000 followers?

It was all a lucky accident. I founded a writing event that touched a nerve with those passionate about picture books. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s PiBoIdMo—or Picture Book Idea Month.

piboidmo2014

The popularity of this 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge has grown steadily from 100 participants in 2009 to nearly 1200 in 2013. This year? It’s anybody’s guess, but I’m planning on welcoming 1500 folks to the fun.

But it’s not like I planned all this carefully. When I founded PiBoIdMo, I wasn’t thinking about throngs of people clicking on my blog. There was no plan for writing-world dominance. I was just jealous of NaNoWriMo participants and wanted something to do in November! I thought maybe a dozen people would join me! I had no idea it would become what it has. Listen, it’s not my fault. I was just being ME.

And that’s really what your platform is all about. As an author, you’re a personality. Why should people read your books? Why should they invite you to speak? What do you stand for? (The band Fun. asks this question repeatedly on my radio.) You should have a message and certain je-ne-sais-qua that engages an audience.

So I’ve built an event for writers, attracted writers, and therefore continue to serve this audience via social media.

But is this the right audience for me? Truth be told, as a picture book author, my desired audience is comprised of librarians, school teachers, and parents/family/caregivers of young children. A writing event doesn’t appeal to this group. I’m like Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom: “You’re doing it wrong.”

However, PiBoIdMo has become part of who I am as an author and a person. I enjoy inspiring writers to create great literature for children. I share this message on my blog but also via appearances at conferences and literacy events. I donate PiBoIdMo proceeds to Reading is Fundamental. monstorecover800Bear Book final coverAnd I write books that I hope children will love—quirky, off-beat, laugh-out-loud books. Books that I wish I had when I was a kid.

Let’s go back to the platform question: For what do I want to be known? Primarily, I want to be known for writing great books for kids. But if you look at my platform, I’m probably more well-known for PiBoIdMo than anything else. So platform is a tricky thing. Be sure you are creating something that really reflects you and what you ultimately want to accomplish.

PiBoIdMo really is who I am, though. I like making other people happy. Perhaps that’s my message, my legacy as an author. Whether it’s a child reading my book, a parent enjoying time with their child, or a writer getting a burst of inspiration, I hope what I do spreads joy.

Joy!

What better platform is there?

taranewblogpic2014ABOUT TARA

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that adults never find. Her debut THE MONSTORE was released in June 2013, with I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD to follow in 2015. She’s the founder of PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, an annual November writing challenge. Tara lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and far too many stuffed animals.

To learn more about Tara, her books, and Picture Book Idea Month, visit her blog.

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been away regrouping in preparation for my upcoming blog series on platform building. I’ve also been busy with my critique service. I’ve added many more testimonials to my website, and I’m working on some new ideas and services. I continue to plug away at my picture book and chapter book writing and edits with my fingers crossed that some of them will soon meet with Erzsi’s approval, and the submission fun will begin.

Speaking of submissions, before I move on with my DON’T BE AFRAID TO FALL post and my announcement about my new blog series, I want to thank the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS team for sharing so much of themselves during the series. Thank you: Cindy Williams Schrauben, Elaine Kiely Kearns, Heather Ayris Burnell, Julie Falatko, Kirsti Call, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Sophia Mallonée, Sylvia Liu, Teresa Robeson. Your posts continue to help writers who visit my blog.

When it comes to submissions or the business of writing, it can sometimes seem much easier to get discouraged than encouraged. Today, I offer some food for thought about discouragement, or perceived failure. I’ve had the following piece in my collection for many, many years. I’m guessing since the early seventies. You can tell it’s old because of the people and events mentioned. I’m sure we could find some remarkable statistics on more current people. But what really matters is the message. I’ve modified the piece slightly and interjected a little in parenthesis.

FALLINGDON’T BE AFRAID TO FALL

Author unknown

 You’ve failed many times, although you may not remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim, didn’t you?

Did you hit the ball the first time you swung a bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strike out a lot. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 homeruns.

R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. (Macy’s now has 800 stores. They are in every major geographic market in the United States plus their Macy’s.com website.) English novelist, John Creasey, got 752 rejection slips before he published 564 books. (I’ve read elsewhere that it took him 14 years to sell his first story, and he wrote 600 books, using 28 pseudonyms.)

Don’t worry about failure. Worry about THE CHANCES YOU MISS WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN TRY.

ANNOUNCING MY NEW BLOG SERIES 

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING

In the ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series, ten awe-inspiring social media mavens will share their key lessons or tips for building strong, engaging, and of course, successful social media platforms. I’m excited about this series because I think it will be a great service to the writing community. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to work with each of these phenomenal women. I am so proud to be able to feature them on my blog. One of the many things that I love about this series is each team member has developed a unique platform. I believe that the guest posts will be as unique as each of these talented people and their successful platforms. I expect that their posts will show others that ingenuity and the thing that all writers have, creativity, is the key to a strong platform.

piboidmo2014In celebration of the quickly approaching Sixth Annual Picture Book Idea Month and her upcoming picture books I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the one and only Tara Lazar will kick off the series on October 25.

It is also my pleasure to introduce the rest of the team:

Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu – Children’s Book Authors, Founders of KIDLIT411, and more

Heather Ayris Burnell – Children’s Book Author, Founder of Sub It Club, and more

Julie Hedlund – Children’s Book Author and Founder of the 12 x 12 Writing, and more

Katie Davis – Author, Founder of Brain Burps about Books, Video Boot Camp, Author, and more

Marcie Flinchum Atkins – Children’s Book Author, Queen of Teaching about Mentor Texts for Writers and Teachers

Michelle Lynn Senters – Children’s Writer and Founder of Kids are Writers

Miranda Paul – Children’s Book Author, Founder of Rate Your Story, and more

Susanna Leonard Hill – Children’s Book Author and Founder of Making Picture Book Magic, and more

See you in a few weeks.

sub six series 2

The ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series is winding down. Only two more posts before we move on. The final guest bloggers will be Emma Walton Hamilton and Julie Hedlund. They will be joining together to talk about submissions. Beginning in the fall, a team of platform building, awe inspiring, social media mavens will share their knowledge and tips in a Platform Building series as guest bloggers. I will be sharing their names next month. Also in the fall, I will be adding more testimonials and some new advanced plans to my critique service, so keep an eye out for announcements.

Today, author and creator of Sub It Club, Heather Ayris Burnell, shares her tips on writing query and cover letters. A big thank you to Heather for her words of wisdom and for taking the time to write this post.

 

SubItClub Badge (175x88)

 

CREATE A GREAT INTRODUCTION: QUERY AND COVER LETTERS

By Heather Ayris Burnell

 

Query and cover letters—lots of writers dread them, but I say embrace those words! Your letter is your chance to talk about the manuscript you’ve worked so hard on. It’s time to think like a sales team and feature your work, and yourself, in the best light possible. Nope, no bragging is necessary, or even advisable.

Don’t stress out! Remember, query and cover letters are business letters. Your one-page letter is an introduction to your manuscript and you. Whether you’re sending in an unsolicited submission, submitting after a conference, or following up on a request, you’re going to need one. Make your letter easy to read and to the point. Agents and editors don’t have time to wade through a bunch of fluff to get to what they need to know.

Let’s get down to business!

COVER LETTER OR QUERY LETTER, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

These two letters can be very similar, but at the most basic:

A QUERY LETTER asks if you can send the work for consideration. It hooks the reader in a clear, concise manner, ideally making the reader want to request the manuscript.

The COVER LETTER is sent with the manuscript. It teases, making the reader want to move on and read those manuscript pages.

THE BASIC PARTS

HOOK – Sell your story in one short paragraph. (My hook is usually 1-3 sentences long.)

SUMMARY – Give your genre and word count. Expound on your story if needed. This is a great place to show what makes your manuscript unique.

BIO – This is about you. Publication credits, memberships to writing organizations, or work in an area that has to do with books can be great things to put in your bio. Unique experience or qualifications that have to do with the subject of your manuscript can be of interest as well.

If you don’t have anything, it’s okay! Don’t force it. Saying your kids love the story or simply talking about yourself in general isn’t likely to help sell you as a writer. A bio is not a 100% requirement in your letter. If you wow someone with your hook, it won’t matter much what your bio says.

I have read of agents who like to see all sorts of things in bios from the fact that you belong to a critique group to clueing them in on your online presence. But, there are definitely preferences on this. It is always a must to research whomever you are querying! Often times, you’ll discover partialities. If not, go with your gut.

Just be sure to keep your bio short and to the point!

PERSONALIZATION – Why did you choose to send this particular letter about this particular manuscript to this particular person? From something you learned via Twitter that made you choose to submit to comparable books you found while doing research, personalization can be tough, but it can go a long way and shows you are dedicated and educated in your craft.

Again, don’t force it. Personalization is not a 100% requirement. A factitious reason for submitting your work is worse than none at all.

CLOSING – Thank the person reading the letter for their time. Tell them what’s enclosed (cover letter) or ask if you can send the manuscript (query letter).

THE FORMAT

Letters should be one page or less, usually consisting of 3-4 paragraphs, the shorter and more concise the better, of course.

What is the #1 most important thing that the person you’re sending your letter to should read? That is what you want at the top, first paragraph.

If you have a connection from a conference or contest, a manuscript request, or just a really great reason for asking for your work to be considered, putting it front and center can grab the reader’s attention and keep them reading on.

Just have a regular reason for submitting, such as thinking your book might fit their style? Starting off with your hook right from the beginning is a great way to go.

Either way, get to the point. You have seconds to grab a busy agent or editor’s attention with your letter.

DO:

Show not tell. Just like in your manuscript. Create a visual for the reader.

Keep your letter to one page.

Learn the correct format for both paper and email queries.

Address your letter to an actual person. There is a rare .001% of the time, usually at publishing houses, where you cannot find a name of any actual person or are even told to sub to “The Editors”. It’s okay to do this if you absolutely have to.

Have someone else look over your letter. The person you’re submitting to won’t know your story. You want it to be clear to someone who doesn’t know it like you do. Getting your letter critiqued will help you make a strong presentation.

Proofread your query more than once before sending. Reading out loud helps catch mistakes.

Submit to more than one agent or publisher at a time (unless an exclusive is specified in the guidelines). Hearing back on submissions can take a very long time. Keep moving forward!

DON’T:

Write your query as your character.

Worry about the type of paper you use for mailed submissions. Clean, white printer paper is fine. If you want to spend more on high quality paper that’s fine too, just don’t use colored or patterned paper. It’s your letter you want them to take note of!

Resend your query because of a tiny mistake you didn’t catch before you sent it.

Waffle. Know your story. Your genre. For example, don’t offer to change your picture book to a chapter book. If changes are wanted, they will be asked for.

Put sticky notes, photos, or any other sort of extra to “personalize” your query. Everything the reader needs to know to make a decision should be in your letter.

REMEMBER

Creating your letter takes time. Most likely more time than you feel it should! Personalizing each submission takes time. Don’t rush it. You only have one chance to submit your work to someone; you want to make the best presentation possible.

Studying letters that worked is helpful when creating a great query or cover. There are many variations, but one thing stays true, the letter serves to sell the story. Check out the Query Letters That Worked at Sub It Club for some examples of letters that sold manuscripts.

You’ve worked hard to create the best manuscript you can. You need to work just as hard on your query letter. You can do it, you are a writer!

Heather Ayris BurnellABOUT HEATHER

Heather Ayris Burnell loves writing query letters and she loves helping others with them, that’s why she created Sub It Club where they talk about all things subbing and share cover and query letter critiques in their private Facebook group. She also does query and picture book critiques, as well as private consulting with writers to help them figure out the ins and outs of publishing, submitting in particular. She is the author of BEDTIME MONSTER published by Raven Tree Press and is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

BedtimeMonster

You can find Heather on her blog,  where she curates the Monster List of Picture Book Agents, on Twitter @heatherayris, and on Facebook.

BONUS LINKS FROM ALAYNE

Note: These days,  many people use the term “query letter” for both a “true” query letter and a cover letter. As Heather pointed out, technically, there is a difference. Make sure when you read the following posts that you are researching the one you really need for your submission.

Heather’s blog post on Picture Book  Manuscript Formatting

Harold Underdown Query Letters That Worked and Cover Letters and Query Letters

Writing Picture Books for Children Writing a Cover Letter and Sample Cover Letter

Rob Sanders Hovering Over Cover Letters

Query Shark Revising Query Letters so the Actually Work

Kathleen Temean Successful Query Letters and Writing Examples

Children’s Atheneum Query Letter Woes or Writing an Honest Query Letter

Carol Brendler (Emu’s Debuts) The Only Way to Write a Query Letter

Writer Unboxed, Chuck Sambuchino, Query Letter FAQs

Jessica Schmeider Query Workshop part 2 of 5 –  Find Links to the whole query workshop here

KIDLIT411.com Submissions: Agents and Editors

 

 

sub six series 2

 

A big thank you to Vivian Kirkfield for sharing her thoughts on manuscript submissions with us today.

 

 

TRYING BACK DOORS: A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT SUBMITTING TO

SMALL PRESS PUBLISHERS

by Vivian Kirkfield

 

Did you ever lock yourself out of your house? Back in 1996, we arrived at our new home in Colorado Springs, having driven 2000 miles from Connecticut. We climbed out of the car, walked up to the front door of our new house, and quickly realized we had packed the keys in one of the many boxes that were being transported by the moving company. They would not arrive for several days.

Fortunately, I was able to get in the back door. Well, sort of. There was a dog door at the back of the house. I’m pretty small, so I scrambled through the flap and ran around to unlock the front door for the rest of the family.

There are a couple of ‘back doors’ in the publishing world as well, and writers can sometimes find success using them. I’d like to share a couple of thoughts that might be helpful to all of you.

SMALL PRESSES

A small press publisher can be a good place to start your climb to the top of the publishing pile. There are thousands of small press publishers in North America alone. Of course, you still need to do your homework: check their reputation, check their submission guidelines, research their book list to target your submission, and only send your work when it is the best it can be.

What are the advantages of working with a small press publisher?

  1. You may get much more personal attention because a small-press editor works with fewer writers and can afford to take a personal interest in each book.
  2. Small presses are less numbers-driven and more interested in quality.
  3. Many small presses specialize in a niche market. Your queries can be focused much more precisely, and you can often find a publisher who is a perfect fit for your book.
  4. A small press may be able to afford to keep a relatively large backlist. Your book will stay in print longer, maybe even for years, providing a lot more time for word-of-mouth to take effect.

What are the disadvantages of working with a small press publisher?

  1. Small presses only publish a limited number of new titles each year, some only one or two.
  2. Small presses cannot afford to market your book the way a larger publisher can. They list it in their catalog, but tours, signings, and any other marketing will probably be up to you, the author. However, these days, even major publishing houses do not spend very much in marketing dollars for unknown authors. If you want your book out there, you will have to hustle it yourself.
  3. Small presses do not have the distribution capability of major houses. The large book wholesalers, like Baker and Taylor or Ingram, don’t carry many small press titles and the superstores usually only buy from these major distributors.
  4. Most small presses operate on very tight budgets and unforeseen problems can sometimes push a small press into bankruptcy. If you decide to sign with a small publisher, make sure you have a contract provision that allows you to reclaim the rights to your manuscript.

How to Approach a Small Press Publisher

I had an interesting experience with a small press this past year. One of my manuscripts seemed to be a good fit for a small niche publisher. I did some research and found them on Facebook and left a comment about how I was going to submit something to them. There was an immediate response and an invitation to submit, which I did. About two months later, I received a lovely email from the acquisitions editor, encouraging me to revise the story and resubmit it. Unfortunately, by the time I revised and resubmitted it, the editorial staff had been reorganized, my contact was no longer there, and they were no longer interested in the manuscript. But I’ve sent it on to several other places. I won’t cross my fingers because I am too busy writing and revising more manuscripts.

Here are a couple of submission tips for small presses and niche publishers:

  1. Know what they publish.  Don’t query a regional nature manuscript to a press that publishes stories about military families.
  2. Read and follow their submission guidelines to the letter and prepare your submission package carefully.
  3. Be patient. Be courteous. Be considerate.
  4. If you don’t have an agent to represent you, make sure you know what you are signing away and what you are getting.

And here are some online resources to get you started:

Fantastic article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association for EVERY writer who is submitting to agents or to editors. It includes important links to check out both publishers and agents: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/small/

Agent Query — http://www.agentquery.com/publishing_ip.aspx

Literary Market Place — http://www.literarymarketplace.com/lmp/us/index_us.asp (free registration required)

Bonus link from Alayne: From Writer’s Digest – THE PROS AND CONS OF PUBLISHING WITH A SMALL PUBLISHER by Brian Klems —  http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-pros-and-cons-of-publishing-with-a-small-publisher

 

I wish you all the best of luck with whatever submissions you bravely put out there this year.

I’d like to thank Alayne for the opportunity to participate in the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series.

 

About VivPicture 054 Bian

Vivian Kirkfield loves being surrounded by picture books and children. A former kindergarten teacher, she has a master’s in early childhood education…and when she isn’t scribbling stories, she is hiking and fly-fishing with her hubby, reading, crafting, cooking with kids, and sharing self-esteem and literacy tips with parents. Although she is not a fan of heights and was always a rather timid child, Vivian is constantly taking leaps of faith. In 2010, she self-published her award-winning parenting resource, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. Three years ago, she went skydiving with her son. In May of 2013, she flew half-way around the globe to speak at the 2013AFCC/SCBWI conference in Singapore, and she is amassing a respectable pile of picture book manuscript rejections. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a lover of books and reading, you can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on Facebook, like her Show Me How page on Facebook, visit her blog at Picture Books Help Kids Soar or contact her by email.

book pic from wordpress blog

 

 

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