Member Monday: Getting the most from Social Media

This weekend I had lunch with some wonderful, experienced NESCBWI writers and illustrators who are, like many in the industry, a little overwhelmed and perplexed by social media. They wonder if they have to do everything– Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Goodreads… They want to know how they are supposed to have time to still do their work if they are busy posting status updates and being cyber-social with everyone on their list. They want to know what their ROI (Return on Investment) will be once they take the time to learn and then use social media platforms.

I’m not a social media expert but here’s what I’ve gleaned from listening to editors, agents, and other writers/illustrators about the subject:

  1. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.
    Social media is at its cyber-heart– social. Whatever platform you adopt should be one that you enjoy and that you will do regularly. If you don’t want to put the time into blogging– don’t blog.  If you don’t enjoy perusing Facebook updates or following others on Twitter, your friends and followers will know. Take some time to be familiar with the various sites out there and make an informed decision. This is one of my favorite explanations:

    Social Media Explained From Geek.com
  2. Once you decide on a social media site, take the time to learn about it. Watch a few tutorial videos, read a few blogs so that you can maximize the time you waste put into it in the future. Most of these sites have ways to make groups so that you can view your close friends, your writer/illustrator friends, and industry professionals separately. Learn how to search for keywords that are important to what you do. There are a bunch of “Third-Party Applications” that you can use to follow more than one social media site at a time. I’m currently using one called Tweetdeck but I hear that Hootsuite is good too. I’ve included a few links here to other blogs that review/discuss these and more. This one has an interesting graph that shows the variety of apps out there: THIRD-PARTY TWITTER APPS STILL THRIVING This one is a review post: 8 of the Best Third-Party Twitter Apps for iOS [App List]
  3. What goes around, comes around. Even if you are doing this to expand your marketing platform, no one will follow/friend you if all you do is toot your own horn. Pass on industry info, help launch other people– in general, be a good neighbor in the kidlitosphere. No one really knows what the ROI is. Does social media really sell books? Maybe not. One thing marketing professionals agree on is that word of mouth is very powerful. I can tell you that if I follow a link to your book and I’m interested, it goes on my Goodreads list which I pull up on my phone every time I go to the library or  bookstore. That’s social media in action.
  4. Set some limits for yourself. You can set time limits. (ex: I will look at Twitter for 15 minutes three times a day.) Or day limits. (ex: I will make Monday and Friday mornings my marketing time.) Or carrot limits. (ex: If I write 1500 words today/ finish the color study on this spread, I will go online.) If you don’t have this kind of self-control, there are productivity programs that you can set to block your own internet. Freedom. Or you can literally unplug your router. Remember, if you don’t DO THE WORK: write, read, draw, paint, focus on craft– there will be nothing to market.
  5. The party goes on without you. I distinctly remember when my parents would have parties (I was about five years old) and I wouldn’t really want to go to bed. I’d sit on the stairs and watch them talk until I got so tired I’d fall asleep on the landing. At some point, Dad would take me up to my bed, but the party went on. In the social media party, you will always miss something. Make your peace with it. Look at whatever is on your screen at the time, set your limits and then move on with your life. Cyber space is vast. Don’t fall into a black hole.


Poetry Friday: Keep surfing, no poetry here folks..

I’ve mentioned
my YA manuscript.
It’s out
and about:
lunching with agents,
riding beside them
on the train.
There has been one decline.

The kindest,
most gracious letter
I’ve ever seen.
It even has a posticom.
Casing, jamb and hinges
constructed from
letters
words
sentences.
A secret reentry door.
A FASTPASS™ at Disney World.
For free!
But nothing is free.
To open the door
I’ll need to find my re-vision glasses
checking all the places
I’ve already looked
bed-side
by the tv
under the papers by the computer
until I realize they have been
perched atop my head
from the very beginning.

I hope
the other wonderful women
(agents all)
are enjoying their summer
and their children
(fur or otherwise).
They should be flying kites
dipping their toes in cool mountain lakes,
getting sand in their swimsuits
after chilling in salty seas.

Truly.

It is summer.

I am busy too.
Packing for Italy
where I will research a book.
An idea that floats
and anchors
and floats again
in the grey matter
behind my eyes.

In Florence
there will be art
and architecture.
In Tuscany
bikes rides,
and wine with my husband
(In the flesh.
First time
since January).

In September
sunny summer days
fade fast.
We gear up for school
syllabi,
and supplies,
and deadlines,
and then,
maybe then

The agents will
breathe deep
open overflowing files
and read.

All in good time.
Click for the Poetry Friday Round-up

Book Review Wednesday: Middle Grade Reading Round-up

It is very possible that these books will not be new to you. Many of them were published last year or before and have already been nominated and listed. Still, these wonderful books finally made it out of my to-be-read pile and are officially read and returned to the library (and other trusting book-loving souls out there.) I found it interesting that each had a bully character. If you’ve read the books, I’d love to discuss how authors portray bullies and how we can make them multi-faceted. I think that the omniscient narrator in TRUE was especially effective for this.


Shop Indie Bookstores

Jeremy has a problem. A big problem. An I-messed-up-my-dad’s-beloved-boat problem. He’s ready to make it right but is going to need a bunch of cash to do the job. Enter– the Windjammer Whirl. A contest to build and race a model boat with $500 to the winner.  New problem? Only Cupcake Cadets (similar to Girl scouts) can enter the race. Jeremy and his good friend Slatter don their skirted uniforms and wigs and hilarity ensues.  Eric Luper does a great job making the book light and readable but injects enough heart and growth for the characters so that the story comes off as more than fluff. If your kiddo liked the Fudge books by Judy Blume, they’ll love this novel. This book is a Maine State Student Book Award nominee.


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Ella and her best friend Z share a fantasy world of knights, princesses and chivalry. Thing is, Ella knows it’s just pretend, but Z seems to want to stay there all the time. Ella understands this. A fantasy world is often easier than the one that Z inhabits. Ella protects Z at the same time she deals with her own difficulties: the death of her father, being biracial in an all-white school, and a skin condition that leaves her with patches of dark and light skin.  When a new kid, another Black kid, comes to school he widens her world. Ella grows through the decisions she makes about friendship, popularity, and responsibility. Kekla Magoon writes beautiful, honest characters. This book is a Maine State Book Award Nominee.


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Katherine Hannigan has a knack for pairing wonderful, plucky heroines with quiet small town worlds to end up with more adventure than you may have originally guessed. I don’t want to give too much away with this one. Delly, the main character has been bad, bad, bad news for as long as anyone can remember. With the help of her little brother, and a new friend, Delly turns around the bad so that everyone (not just the reader) can see her inner goodness. Delly is just the kind of friend we all hope to have. The engaging narrative pulled me along, with threads woven from three or four different subplots. I didn’t want to leave the book at the end. While the ending was realistic, it may come across to some readers as didactic. However, there are some problems that kids just can’t solve on their own.


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I’m not sure how one book can have so much humor and pain in the same story but Gary D. Schmidt managed it in OKAY FOR NOW. When agents and editors say that they are looking for a unique and honest character voice, this is what they are talking about. With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Doug moves to a new town with everything working against him and he manages to rise above his circumstances. I know. I haven’t told you much but I don’t want to print any spoilers. For a better synopsis, an excerpt and a reading by the author (don’t listen if you don’t want a spoiler) check out this page: National Book Award Finalist.  I did have issues with the father’s and Lil’s plot lines, but who am I to criticize Gary D. Schmidt? I’d recommend this for kids 13 an up, but I feel very strongly that kids will self-select material with which they feel comfortable and put down books for which they aren’t ready.

Next week– angsty YA audiobooks…

Member Monday: The importance of the nap…

Sleep. Many Americans get too little of it and use sugar and caffeine to keep going during the day. Just look at the proliferation of caffeinated products including gels, liquid shots, pumped-up water, and on the horizon- caffeine you can inhale.

Sadly, what people really need is just more sleep. The deep stage of NREM2 sleep allows your brain waves to slow, NREM3 allows your endocrine system to release growth hormones, deeper REM sleep consolidates memories and ingrains skills, and solves problems that you were exposed to before sleep.

I’m a huge fan of the nap. When my husband is around, I feel guilty about napping (he has a work ethic that won’t quit). On my own, I’ve found that I really need naps to handle the daily grind and to increase my creativity. If I’ve hit a problem in my manuscript, or I’m incubating on an issue in revision, I will often wake with a new insight or at least renewed energy to see the problem differently and reengage. Twenty minutes is good for a power nap but it is the 90 min to 120 min nap that allows us to visit those deeper REM stages of sleep. Napping also can give you more energy to exercise which in turn produces neurochemicals that affect mood.

Happy napping!

Here’s more from Design Taxi:

“Retreat!!!”

“Retreat!” The command conjures images of troops scurrying away from an onslaught of bullets, bayonets, and cannonballs. Smoke lifts from the battlefield and casualties lay dead and dying.

Last week I felt like a tired soldier– exhausted, bloody and bruised. Truly, the metaphor is a little dramatic but when I arrived at VCFA for the weekend Alumni Mini Residency, I was stressed, and tired, and well… sad. Not only have I been a geographical single parent since January (my husband is deployed with the US Navy) but six weeks ago, I sent my other love, my YA manuscript, out into the world of literary agents and it has been met with an ear-splitting silence. (BTW: No response as a decline is neither courteous nor professional  but that has already been hashed and rehashed. Argh.)

Throughout the weekend, the energy and love of friends helped me shed my sadness. I gave and got plenty of hugs, took copious notes at lectures and workshop, and spent way too much money on dinners. Then came the retreat.

Four days of relaxation and writing at an 1828 farmhouse in Sheffield, Massachusetts. A day in the life? We all woke at our own pace. We flipped open laptops and got to work– some writing, some revising, some emailing, some reading. The work was punctuated with laughter, conversation, and questions: “So in the subjunctive…” or “How would a thirteen year old say…” or “Hey, the stuff I wrote yesterday isn’t half bad!” Writer’s bliss.

Lovely kitchen garden with busy hummingbirds and chipmunk visitors.

Because we all pitched in on meals and clean-up, the place felt like home even though it looked like a high-scale B&B. When things got particularly hot and humid, and the fans weren’t doing their job, we went swimming or took guilt-free naps. (Naps, by the way, are crucial to the creative process. More on this later.)

Coming home, I realized that my shoulders had dropped about four inches of tension. I was happy, relaxed and rejuvenated– ready to face another round of agent submissions and to welcome my children home from sleep-away camp.

Member Monday: Google Me, Baby

Come on, you know you want to….
Everyone is doing it…

Google yourself.

If you haven’t taken the time to type your name (in all its forms including any screen names you use on bulletin boards and listserves) into the massive internet search engine Google, then you are missing a chance to control your brand as an author. Take a look at the web search. Ideally you want your name to result in a top hit for your professional blog, website, twitter, etc. If it isn’t you, you may want to consider adding a middle initial or name or re-titling your blog to something catchy and memorable. Remember to Google those too before you make the change. You want to stand out, be true to the brand you want to project (in tone and content), and be easy to find.

If your web presence is there but below the fold, there are a few things you can do to optimize your place on a search engine but they all take work. By the way, this is called SEO or Search Engine Optimization.

  1. Update content often. Make it well-written and relevant.
  2. Inbound links. When others link to your content or put you on their “blog rolls” that drives traffic to your page, which optimizes the search.
  3. Use key words. Tag your blog posts. Be consistent.

If unprofessional images come up in your image search, click on them to see where they are posted. If it is on your own social media pages, check and tighten your privacy settings and tighten your self-control. Never post what you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times. Contact others and ask them to remove images from their site– especially if you didn’t give them permission to post in the first place.

There are companies that help people with their online reputation, but I have no experience with these. If anyone does, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

FMI check out these resources:

Google article about online identity.

Info about Google dashboard app: Me on the web.

Mashable article: Five ways to clean up your social media identity.

Have a great week, and happy writing & illustrating!

Member Monday: Stages of writing ala L.B. Schulman

This post, Chugging through the Stages of a Writing Career, on EMU’s Debuts is so wonderful and helpful for beginning through PAL authors that I thought I’d post the link here and let you enjoy L. B. Schulman‘s words today.

I will add that there is a mental piece that I’ve found very important that is not addressed in her post. Here’s how it worked for me. After eight years of being active in SCBWI, and following the industry, and researching agents and writing and getting a first agent, and asking questions at workshops, and conferences, and retreats… I felt my writing knowledge had plateaued. I entered Vermont College of Fine Arts in July of 2009 because I no longer knew what questions to ask. Diving deep into craft, forgetting about the industry and rediscovering my love for writing and my love for the craft of writing made me realize that I would be– will always be a writer. I think this happened to me somewhere between my fourth semester at VCFA and my graduate residency. 

Do I want to my book published? Yes, and I’m working at it every day, but if it never happens I will still be a writer. My dear friend Lita Judge calls it “finding your calm.”

Currently, I am finishing my fourth week calmly waiting to hear from agents.
*checks clock, pops cork, drinks wine*

Where are you on L.B. Schulman’s list of stages and how does SCBWI meet or not meet your needs?

Mama Camp in Pictures

You may have noticed (or not) that posts are less regular here at Creative Chaos. That’s because my full time job as Director of Mama Camp (read: parenting) has kicked into full gear. There have been many field trips.

Trips to Hadlock Field to watch the Portland Seadogs.
Number two son kayaking at Sewell Pond.
Number one son climbing the “jumping tree” at Sewell Pond for the first time.
Window shopping in Newburyport with cousins.
Jumping frigid waves at Plum Island.

And lots of time at the best library on Earth, Curtis Memorial Library where we are busy with fun crafts:

Paper bag owls.

the coolest Teen Zone ever:

CML Teen Zone with awesome graphic novel/manga collection and great audio books.

wonderful lifesized animal sculptures (there’s also a whale, a unicorn, and a friendly boar):

Number two son and paper maché giraffe.

and the best of all… Fabulous librarians who care about books and kids:

The best Youth Services librarians ev-er!

You can imagine with all this action that there has been little time to blog, or to write for that matter. Here’s what I’ve been trying to fit in between Mama Camp and sleeping.

  • Rowing (Link for video. I’m in three seat. The camera moves to starboard around 4:44)
  • Running (Sadly I haven’t been biking but I need to change my rear tube.)
  • A work-for-hire editing project that has been an awesome experience.
  • Subbing to agents for the first time in three years. Nothing yet. (BEA, ALA, and 4th of July are now over. I’m on pins and needles.)
  • Working on NESCBWI Illustrator Day. Save the date: September 29th, 2012.

Happily, sleep away camp is a couple weeks away and I’m eager for the break. I’ll take that time to go to the VCFA Alumni Mini Rez and a writing retreat. I’m psyched to see everyone. Cross your fingers that I’ll have good news to share by the time I get there.

Happy summer.