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Posts Tagged ‘platform building’

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2Our guest bloggers for the final ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series are Sylvia Lui and Elaine Kiely Kearns. I’m proud to call these two smart, talented, and lovely women my friends and critique partners. In this post, they share what they learned from planting a seed of an idea and nurturing it into a successful platform. Thanks Sylvia and Elaine for sharing your experience and wisdom.

 Top Ten Signs That You’re Building a Successful Platform

By Sylvia Liu & Elaine Kiely Kearns

A year and a half ago, we created a kid lit resource website, www.Kidlit411.com. The idea was simple – a website where children’s writers and illustrators can learn about the world of kid lit – from writing and illustration tips, to finding an agent, to listings of conferences, classes, contests, and more. kidlit 411

We soon added weekly interviews with authors, illustrators, agents, and editors, a weekly update email, a Facebook page to connect with our community, and a manuscript swap group. Earlier this year, we were named by Writer’s Digest as one of The 101 Best Websites for Writers, as well as one of The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015 (The Write Life) and The Top 50 Writing Blogs for 2015 (Positive Writer).

A side effect of Kidlit411 was that we created a nice platform for ourselves as children’s authors and illustrators. (What exactly is a platform? Jane Friedman defines platform as having visibility, authority, and a proven reach to a given audience). We didn’t set out to do so, but we learned the following about building a successful platform:

  1. You grow naturally and organically.

No, we are not talking about free-range chickens. We have found that platform building is an organic and slow process. When you do something you love and share your passion, like-minded people will find and join you. Instead of having a grand plan, you let things evolve over time.

  1. You’re filling a need.

A great way to build a platform is to identify a need for something (a service, a community, a challenge) and meet it. For Kidlit411, I (Elaine) found myself gathering links to good articles and resources on writing for children. I (Sylvia) joined her, designing a site and adding my illustration perspective. We now have a convenient, organized, and curated site for all things kid lit. Other excellent resources are available, but many require a membership fee, such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

  1. You’re building a community.

Our Facebook page is a great way to connect with old and new online friends in the kid lit community. Through the group, we are able to keep people up to date on our new postings. Better yet, our group has become a place for people to ask questions, share tips, and connect with one another.

  1. You’re not doing it alone.

Having two of us work on the site, with the help of many others who send us links, makes the task easier. We can back each other up when other life and work obligations come up and two minds are generally better than one.

  1. You’re thinking outside the box.

You do something new that excites people, or you do something that’s been done, but with a new twist.

About seven years ago, the kid lit world was a lot less connected. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) had piboidmo2014started in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Tara Lazar created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and Paula Yoo started NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) that the picture book community found a way to connect and encourage each other to develop ideas and write picture books. What a great idea – spur people to create stories, while providing prizes and expert advice.

Other successful platforms also harness individuals’ creative impulses while creating a community. Tania McCarthy’s 52-week illustration challenge (an illustration a week) and Jake Parker’s Inktober challenge (31 drawings in 31 days) are illustration challenges that have grown tremendously.

Other kid lit people also thought outside of the box to create great platforms. Katie Davis has been the mastermind of over 200 Brain Burps podcasts over the past five and a half years. 12-x-12-new-bannerJulie Hedlund leads the enormously successful 12×12 picture book challenge (write 12 picture book manuscripts in a year).

When we started Kidlit411, we didn’t re-invent the wheel. But we like to think we provide a visually appealing and user-friendly wheel.

  1. You are building on your areas of strength and expertise.

Part of building a platform is knowing yourself. Are you a people person who loves to socialize? Do you love information and technology? Are you an artist at heart? All of these characteristics will steer you naturally to the platform that best suits you. We figured out that we both enjoy seeking, organizing, and sharing information. We are curious about the career paths of other creative people, which led us to our weekly interviews of authors and illustrators.

  1. Your project is self-sustaining without enormous amounts of work.

If you find yourself spending more time working on your platform than doing your creative work then you are not using your time wisely. For Kidlit411, we read and keep up with kid lit, so adding the links to our website does not take much additional time. Our weekly interviews involve finding people, asking questions, and formatting their answers, also not time consuming.

If you do find that your platform has grown beyond your individual capabilities, you hire or outsource your work. For example, NaNoWriMo is now a professionally run nonprofit organization. 

  1. Your project has grown beyond your initial expectations.

The great thing about many successful platforms is that most times, the creator didn’t expect or imagine what it would turn out to be. For example, an artist begins a personal creative challenge and invites a few friends, and before he or she knows it, it becomes a widespread challenge. 

  1. You’re not in it for yourself.

You didn’t build the platform just to sell your wares. You provide meaningful content, or a meaningful experience that attracts others to fill a need. We found that providing easy access to good information is an idea that sold itself. 

  1. You are having FUN.

Life is short. Don’t start or continue a platform-building project because someone said you had to. Only work on things that you enjoy and are having fun doing. If the side effect is that you are bringing other like-minded people along, all the better.

Sylvia New

SYLVIA LIU is a former environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. Her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (Lee & Low Books) is scheduled for publication Spring 2016. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and two daughters. She is inspired by aliens, cephalopods, bunnies, and pigs who want to fly.  Her portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com and blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is currently chasing the dream as a published author. Armed with a master’s degree in Education Elaineand working from her home office, she spends her time creating picture book and middle grade stories. She lives in New York with her husband, two beautiful daughters and three furry babies. When she isn’t writing, she can be found doing yoga and eating chocolate but not usually at the same time. She is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer Di Chiara Literary Agency in New York.

Following are the links to the other guest posts in the ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series:

THE PUSH AND PULL OF PLATFORM by Heather Ayris Burnell

A CASE OF THE WHY NOTS: How I Built (and am still building) My Platform by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? AND WHO WILL THEY BE? by Susanna Leonard Hill

JULIE HEDLUND BUSTS MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

YOU ARE YOUR PLATFORM by TARA LAZAR

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is author, librarian, and children’s writing community friend, Heather Ayris Burnell. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story with us.

The Push and Pull of Platform

by Heather Ayris Burnell

PUSH PULL

“You need a platform.” Those words can make a writer freeze. If they make you even a bit nervous, relax and take a deep breath. Honestly, what you need first is a good manuscript. Excellent even. But, when the time comes that you’re ready to start sending your work out on submission, having some sort of platform is a good idea.

It’s Okay to Start Small – You may feel pushed to have a huge platform but the truth is, it’s best to start with something manageable. You’ll be learning and growing along the way. Way back when I first started considering submitting manuscripts, the thought of anyone even knowing that I was a writer terrified me. With the nudging of my critique partners I managed to get myself online. Despite my natural instinct to pull back, I created a blog under the guise that it would help the writers in my critique group get to know me better. And guess what? It worked. Having some support at the beginning really pushed me to give platform a try. There are so many great writer’s communities you’re sure to find support if you need it. Having a blog not only gave me practice in putting myself “out there”, it gave me a place to be found if someone was interested in finding out about me. It made me Google-able!

Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone. You don’t have to create your platform all at once. Little by little is just fine. After I got the hang of blogging, and didn’t feel like I was going to die of embarrassment every time I put something online, I decided to push myself. If I could do a blog I could do Facebook, right? The truth that I’ve found is that although things may feel uncomfortable, scary, and confusing at first, the more you do something the more comfortable you get with it. I now have two blogs, blab away on Twitter way too often, and moderate a group of over 1,000 people on Facebook. The thing I never would have guessed back when I was pushing myself just to start a blog? I love doing it.

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Pull back if you need to. Don’t make yourself do things you don’t enjoy. Of course, feeling things out and giving different platform tools a try might take you out of your comfort zone but that’s the only real way you’re going to learn what you like doing. If you give something an honest try and really don’t like it, it’s okay to give it up. There are plenty of other platforms.

Give Yourself a Good Chance. Consider how you like to interact with others. What might you enjoy talking about or showing your readers? Maybe you simply want to have the chance to take part in conversations. These factors can help you choose the platform pieces that may work best for you. There are many different avenues you can try:

Social Media – Picking one or two you like and being good at them is better than trying to be on them all and doing a spotty job. Me? I use Twitter and Facebook a lot. I’ve tried Pinterest and Instagram but they just don’t seem to be my thing.

Forums – Chat boards where you can share information give you an opportunity to interact with a multitude of different writers. The SCBWI Blueboards and Absolute Write are two popular writer’s forums. There are many Facebook groups as well that are basically used as forums such as Alayne’s Sub Six, Kidlit411, and Sub It Club.

SubItClub Badge (175x88)kidlit 411Join Sub Six and Submit Six Picture Book Manuscripts in 2013

Newsletters and Online Newspapers – These might work well for you if you enjoy the gathering and sharing of information. Just do your best to define your angle. Sure it may evolve over time but having a good idea will make it easier for you to figure out what information to share and help you define and build an audience.

Video – Formats like YouTube make it possible for everyone to share themselves via video. It can be a fun way to get yourself out there.

Offline Life – Are you a librarian? (I am!) A teacher? Work at a bookstore? Knowing people in any part of the book business is a big plus. If you enjoy doing presentations, teaching, doing readings, and interacting with others who love books; participate in the plethora of ways there are to share literature and build the community of book lovers you know.

What Should You Choose?  You don’t want to have yourself pulled in too many directions!

A website or blog will give you a place to be found. It’s a good idea to have a page where an agent or editor can look you up and learn basic information about you if they are interested. Every writer sending their work out on submission should at the very least have a static bio page that includes contact information. I have a bio page on my blog.

You can interact on many platforms. Twitter is an especially helpful place for writers to be. So many agents, editors, and writers tweet. If you hop on Twitter and tweet as well, it’s a good way for you to get to know others and for others to get to know you.

If you choose to do something such as a newsletter, online newspaper or video, using social media channels such as Twitter can be an effective way to let others know about what you have. Some social media can be supplemental to your main platform. Just be sure to not be all promo all the time.

If you are more comfortable participating in a forum, that’s great too. Many forums offer the opportunity to put your information in your signature. Be sure to take advantage of this and link it to your online bio page. You have one of those, right?

Make it real. Creating and maintaining a platform takes time and energy. You want the time you spend on it to be enjoyable. You want your platform to be something you like. You want it to fit you!

Monster List Logo 2 by Dana Carey

Logo by Dana Carey

After I started my personal blog to push myself into the online world, I was able to push myself even more and talk about things I really like to talk about. I now give picture book writing advice and curate the Monster List of Picture Book Agents to pull readers in.

Because I pushed myself, I learned that I love to talk to writers and was dying to talk to others about submissions. So, I went on to start Sub It Club as a place for writers and illustrators to talk about submitting their work. Of course, managing Sub It Club’s forums and pages, blog, and Twitter feed in addition to my personal social media and offline work does take time. It’s a good thing I love doing it. And voila! I have a platform that has grown organically over time, one that I am comfortable with and enjoy immensely. If I didn’t love talking about submissions and picture books I think that might be a different story.

There are lots of ways to build a platform. There is no one size fits all formula. There will be push and pull but as long as you stick with it, you’ll figure out what works for you. Be brave. Be unique. Be you. And have fun!

Heather Ayris Burnell

ABOUT 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 BedtimeMonsterand 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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