Meet Natasha Yim – Children’s Author (Plus A Giveaway!!!)

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Natasha Yim on the 4th leg of her blog tour for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone.  Let’s jump right into the interview, shall we?  It’s a little long (I apologize – but there are extra cinnamon sugary cider donuts to help sustain you :))  I think you’ll find it very interesting, and I didn’t want to break it in two because it would have required an extra post on a non-posting day.  Your reward?  (Aside from the extra donuts…)  If you read to the end you can have some fun and there’s a chance you could win a signed copy of Natasha’s brand new book!

…which, BREAKING NEWS!!! was just nominated for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project (Feminist Books For Youth List)!!! (which I happen to know about because Punxsutawney Phyllis was on that list, so Sacajawea is in good company :))  Congratulations, Natasha! 🙂

Natasha Yim

       SLH: Welcome, Natasha!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  Can you tell us a little about your writing beginnings?
NY: My love of writing began when a 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment where we had to create our own island and make up names of lakes, mountains, forests, villages etc. and weave a story around it. It was so much fun, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I kept several journals and wrote in them daily. I also kept notebooks where I wrote poems and short stories. My Mom knew of my interest in writing and she was very supportive. She encouraged my creative expression, sometimes reading my stories and offering comments, but mostly just letting me write.
       SLH: What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
NYOtto’s Rainy Day(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000). For some reason, Charlesbridge was the only publisher I sent this manuscript to (maybe it was because they wanted exclusive submissions at that time? I can’t remember), but I sent it out and went on to work on other things. The guidelines said they would respond in 3 months. 3 months went by and nothing happened. At the 6 month mark, I received my SASE back. I could feel my heart dropping thinking this was a rejection letter. It wasn’t. The letter said they were really backlogged and hadn’t gotten to my manuscript yet, and to be patient because they will read it—eventually. I remember thinking how nice that was. Usually, you just don’t hear from publishers unless they reject or accept your work. At the 9 month mark, I received a phone call from the editor. I was soooo excited, thinking this was it. This was THE call. It wasn’t. The editor had called to say they were still really backlogged and were catching up on reading manuscripts and that she promised I’d hear from them soon. After my initial disappointment, I thought “Now, that was really nice of them”. Usually, publishers don’t bother to call unless they want your work. Finally, one year after I submitted the manuscript, I got a call from the editor who told me that they wanted to publish my book! My heart leapt into my throat, I was so excited but I had to limit my exuberance because they had called me at work. I did tell my co-workers and allowed myself a few “woo-hoos”. And I did tell my husband who was my boyfriend at the time. My family lived overseas (my parents in Hong Kong and my sister in Australia) so I had to wait until I got home to tell them.
SLH: How did you go about doing the research for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone? Was there anything different or interesting about getting the art for a historical type book?
NY: There weren’t a whole lot of adult books on Sacajawea. Mostly, she gets a mention in books about Lewis and Clark. However, there were quite a few books about her in the juvenile section of the library, so I read about six books on her and browsed about a dozen websites. I found a really good Shoshone website that gave a very comprehensive overview of Sacajawea’s life plus interesting information like the meaning and spelling of her name.  The internet is great for immediate access but you have to be careful about the information on there as there are a lot of misleading information out there, so I did a lot of cross-referencing with books. The publisher and art director are the ones who are responsible for the visual layout of the book including the illustrations.  It’s one of the unique features of the Goosebottom Books books that they use a combination of real-life photographs and illustrations. For photographs, you have to get permission from the appropriate people and get permission to use the pictures, and all that was handled by the publisher. There is also one illustrator for each series so that the books in that series has a uniform look. The Real Princesses series is illustrated by Albert Nguyen, so when Sacajawea was added, he naturally became the illustrator for this book.


SLH: What surprised you the most when you were writing Sacajawea of the Shoshone?

NY: Though Sacajawea has often been mistakenly labeled as the expedition’s “guide” and her name only comes up about 8 times in the Lewis and Clark journals, her presence on the trip was nonetheless invaluable and without her, the expedition could have failed at several points. Not only was she instrumental in providing food for the Corps of Discovery; she gathered edible plants and roots to supplement the game they hunted or in place of game if it was scarce, she patched up and made new moccasins for the men as they were continuously being ripped up by the rough terrain, she saved most of Lewis and Clark’s important instruments and documents when the boat in which she was riding almost capsized, she prevented other native tribes from attacking them because the presence of a woman and a baby indicated that the Corps was not a war party, and as the only Shoshone language speaker, she successfully negotiated for horses that helped the expedition cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea’s contributions have left an indelible stamp on the history of the American West. Today, there are three mountains, two lakes, and twenty-three monuments named after her, yet her tribe, the Shoshone, are still fighting for Federal recognition. That, to me, is not only incredible, it’s outrageous!

SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
NY: Everything about writing is hard. It’s hard work to make your story as perfect as possible before you send it out. It’s really hard getting the attention of someone who likes your story. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a contract and get your book published, getting it the attention it deserves and the marketing and promotion of it is challenging. But I think for me, the most challenging part was getting over my fear of public speaking and realizing this was something authors had to do. Only this year did I start to agree to assembly-type school visits but having done a few of those, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, although all the ones I’ve done, I’ve done with another author. It might be a whole other level of anxiety if I have to do assemblies alone.

 SLH: Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

NY: I do do school visits. The kind of program and presentation depends on the age groups, the needs of the teacher, and the book I’m promoting. For example, sometimes the teachers have been working very closely with their students on practicing writing and editing their work so they’ll want me to talk about my writing process. I’ll show them my edited manuscripts with all the mark ups so they can see good writing takes work and practice. If I have it, I’ll show them the original manuscript and then the final accepted one, and read passages as a before and after comparison. For larger audiences like assemblies, I like to use power point presentations because kids tend to be more engaged with visuals. I do a little intro of myself and show pictures of me as a kid, my kids, my pèts, my workspace etc. I can also show slides of the page excerpts I’m reading and the illustrations which are easier to see on a large screen. For individual classrooms, I’ll sometimes conduct writing exercises. For the biographies, I’ll have the kids pair up and “interview” each other then write a biography of their partners from their interview notes. For younger kids, I have coloring pages and sometimes the teacher or librarian and I will come up with related activities. For a recent library event, I presented Cixi, The Dragon Empress and we had a Chinese fan making activity. Every age group can be fun but I love the 4th to 6th graders. Not only are they the age group for the Cixi and Sacajawea books but they’re the most engaged and the most engaging. They always ask such great questions. You can access and download my school visit program at: http://www.natashayim.com/file_download/13/School+visit+program.pdf
       SLH: What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
NY: Keep writing and keep trying. Editors and agents have such different tastes. Just because you get rejected by one doesn’ t mean the next one won’t love your work. My upcoming book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) was rejected by several publishers. Author Richard Bach once said, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’ t quit.”
Natasha’s work space (which, incidentally is a LOT neater than mine :))
        
       SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
NY: I have a couple of middle grade/YA projects in the works and a picture book manuscript.
       SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
NY: Yes. I’ m a conference junkie. I  LOVE writing conferences because I always learn so much and I get to network with other writers. I rarely enter contests though just because I don’t really have the time.
SLH: Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
NY: This is in line with a recent question I received on my blog from Amanda J. Harrington who asked, “What is your best marketing strategy for building up a following on line?” I promised to provide a link to whoever posted a question on one of my blog tours. So, here it is: www.thewishatree.com. Please hop over and check out Amanda’s site.
My marketing tip is that every writer has to do some of it. How much or how little will depend on your comfort level and how much time you can afford. I have a blog, Facebook , twitter, Pinterest. I do school visits, book festivals, public speaking engagements. But it’s really difficult to gauge how effective each aspect of marketing is because there is no measurable yard stick that tells you if you do a, b & c, you will sell x amount of books. However, what I do know is that people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. To answer Amanda’s question, in terms of building up a following on line, here’s what I’ve learned:
1)   When I first started my blog, I posted things about my writing life, my home life, how I juggled that with writing, any meagre successes I encountered. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to hear or read about you talking about yourself all of the time. My blog began to feel…well…a little self-absorbed. So, I started incorporating things that I think might be of interest or useful to other people, especially writers, such as interesting writing conferences or retreats, writing tips I’ve gleaned from other sites or articles I’ve read. And now I’ve included a Friday Features segment on my blog that is purely devoted to interviews with other authors. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned so much from the authors I’ve interviewed. Come check out interviews with Deborah Halverson, Linda Joy Singleton, and coming up soon, Gennifer Choldenko (www.writerslife2.blogspot.com).
2)   I see this on Facebook groups all the time: “Come read my new blog post.” or “Check out my new blog.” and my question always is “Why?” Generic announcements like this don’t entice me out of my busy schedule to go look at somebody else’s blog or blog post. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, the lovely hostess of the fabulous blog, Banana Peelin’: Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer (http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com) which features different writers talking about their slips and embarrassing moments on their way to publication, would post upcoming blog posts with teasers such as, “This week we have Cori Doerrfeld, the author/illustrator of one of my family’s favorite reads, LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO! She reveals her experience managing deadlines after the birth of her first child.” So, if I was a writer with young kids at home and struggling with time management, I might be really interested in what Cori had to say about this.” I think this is a very effective way to attract readers to your blog and I do this now. I’ll find something in a blog post that others might find interesting or useful  and mention it in my announcement. For example, for my interview with author and editor Deborah Halverson, I mentioned that she would share tips on the YA market trends and how she started her popular DearEditor.com blog. I’ve had quite a few visitors over to read her interview. The Banana Peelin’ blog will be blog stop #7 for the Sacajawea of the Shoshone blog tour on Oct. 23. Stop on by for my top secret blog post. Shhh…
3)   Comment on other people’s blogs or Facebook postings etc. Don’t make it all about you. Congratulate others on their successes, ‘like’ the posts you enjoyed, exchange information. The key word in social networking is “social”.
4)   I have a Facebook fan page for Cixi, The Dragon Empress and Sacajawea of the Shoshone. In addition to posting events and book information, I’ll post interesting tidbits about the characters—Cixi’s six inch long fingernails, for example, or a video of the Shoshone Love song on Sacajawea’s page. It makes the pages more fun and interesting.
I don’t know how much of a “following” I have, but my blog has seen an increase of about 4,000 page views since January when I focused on making it more interactive and informative.
        SLH: Where can we find you?
      
        NY: You can connect with me on my:
       Website: www.natashayim.com
                  www.facebook.com/cixithedragonempress
                  www.facebook.com/sacajaweaoftheshoshone
       Twitter: www.twitter.com/natashayim

       You can find my books at:
         
       Your local bookstore
       or purchase it at Amazon
       Signed copies can be purchased from Goosebottom Books
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed? Right
Agented or not? Agented: Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Traditionally or self-published? Traditional
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Not
Plotter or pantser? A converted Plotter. I used to be a pantser, but now I like having some sort of road map to go by.
Laptop or desktop? Laptop
Mac or PC? Oh definitely Mac
Day or night worker? Day, 5 am. to be exact
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and early afternoon, tea in late afternoon and evening
Snack or not? Throughout the day, unfortunately
Salty or sweet? Mostly salty unless you offer me Lindt’s Dark Chocolate
Quiet or music? Quiet but I’m trying nature sounds to tune me into writing my book rather than doing other things like social media, email or marketing stuff
Cat or dog? I’m a dog person but right now we have two cats
Currently reading? LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series, my friend Jody Gehrman’s “Babe in Boyland”
If you’d like to read previous stops on Natasha’s tour, please visit:

Oct. 3 — Frolicking Through Cyberspace Blog,www.http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com, guest post on public speaking
Oct. 8 — The Writer’s Block on Raychelle Writes, http://raychelle-writes.blogspot.com, guest post, “The Journey of a Lifetime”
Natasha, thank you so much for joining us and being so helpful with all your answers!
And now!  The moment you’ve all been waiting for – the chance to win a signed copy of Natasha’s gorgeous and informative book (I have it, so I can attest to how interesting it is and how beautiful the art is!)
You know me.  I like to make things fun 🙂  So here’s what you have to do to earn a chance to win Sacajawea Of The Shoshone:
In the comments, please answer the question “If you were Sacajawea, what would you have written an article/advice column about?”
Here are a few examples to get your minds in gear…  🙂
“Dress Up Your Teepee: Creative Decorating With Buffalo Hide”
“365 Recipes For Corn!”
“5 Subtle Ways To Let Your Traveling Companions Know It’s Time For A Bath!”
You get an entry for every article/advice column suggestion 🙂  (And OK, if you want to be boring serious you can :))
But if you’re not feeling creative at this hour on Monday morning I don’t want to penalize you.  If you can’t think up an entertaining article, you can just say why you’d like to win the book 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!  Comments must be entered by Tuesday October 16 at 11:59 PM EDT.  Winner will be drawn at some point on Wednesday or Thursday when I have 5 seconds free by random.org and announced on Friday along with Perfect Picture Books, which, I’m warning you in advance, will be Sacajawea Of The Shoshone, so don’t anyone else plan on doing it 🙂



Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Vivian Kirkfield

Whether you’re a parent or grandparent, a teacher, a writer, or any combination of the above, you guys are in for a treat today!

Our guest has a lot of knowledge, information, and advice to share, so make sure you’ve got a snack (I’m offering homemade blueberry muffins today if anyone would like one… or two… :))

and your cup of coffee/tea and get comfy!

And now please join me in giving a warm welcome to the lovely Vivian Kirkfield!

First, a few words about Vivian for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting her.

Vivian Kirkfield is a mother of three and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs and shares tips and tactics for building self-esteem and literacy in her parenting workshops. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit herPositive Parental Participation blog or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com.

Vivian adds: for almost 50 years, I’ve been involved with the care and education of young children…teaching kindergarten and Head Start and operating a successful home daycare while raising three amazing children.   Throughout my life, I’ve had a passion for picture books…I’ve always loved to listen to them, look at them and read them…and I’ve always wanted to write them.  When my childen were young, I entertained them with stories I made up in my head…often scribbling little stick figures and pictures to accompany the tales.  Several years ago, my daughter-in-law drew illustrations for one of those stories.  Perhaps, one day, The Balloon Man, will be published.  Thanks to Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge and Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’ve had one of the most joyous years of my life, giving free rein to the picture book ideas that tumble around in my head and connecting with an amazing kidlit community.

Now, on to the educational, informational, inspirational, so-sensational interview 🙂  (I almost said the Muppet Show – where did that come from? :))

SLH:  Good Morning, Vivian!  Thank you so much for joining us today.  Let’s jump right in with the first question, shall we? Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

VK:  I started writing Show Me How! in 2005 and sent out several dozen one page letter and email queries to literary agents who, from looking at various lists (in books and online), seemed to be involved in parenting/activity books.  I got back many nice no’s…and five or six positive responses.  Each wanted to see a book proposal.  I picked a husband and wife team with a small literary agency in Massachusetts…she said that was the type of book she specialized in.  I won’t say our relationship was of no benefit to me…however, she did nothing by computer and so everything was a slow, snail-mail process.  She had a specific book proposal format in mind and I spent 3 years, honing the proposal until it was “perfect” in her eyes. My husband wanted me to go elsewhere with the proposal…but I was so timid, I was unable to push myself to change…even though I was not happy with how the process was going.  When the proposal was “perfect” she began “shopping it around”…again all communication was through the mail, although she was always available to me for phone calls…but because of my shyness, I wasn’t really comfortable talking to her on the phone.  After a year of submitting the proposal to many publishers with no success, I decided to self-publish, a route my husband had pursued to do a second edition in 1999 of his book that had been published by Stackpole Press in 1986.  In 2003, he also self-published a small paperback on a different topic, so we felt we had, at least, a little experience and some good contacts.  When I sent the agent a letter, informing her of my decision, she replied that she thought that would be a great path for me to take.  A WORD OF ADVICE: If you opt to have a literary agent represent you, make sure you feel very comfortable with the way he or she goes through the process and ask questions of anything you are unsure of.
SLH:   What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?
VK:  Well, part of that answer can be found in #1.  In addition, traditional publishing these days is different from the way it used to be…now the author is expected to do his or her own marketing and promotion…unless of course your name is Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or Madonna.  Also, there is the financial side to consider…when a traditional house publishes your book, you might get a small advance (unless you are Sarah Palin, Barack Obama or Madonna) and then a tiny piece of each book sold…after the advance amount is deducted from the first profits.  When you self-publish, the book is yours and the profits are yours…after deducting your expenses to publish…and these can vary quite a bit, depending on whether you publish electronically or by print…and that can vary depending on who prints it and how many copies you have printed and the type of paper, whether color or black and white, binding, etc. A WORD OF ADVICE: Before making the decision to self-publish, find out how much it might cost and think about how much time you have to devote to the marketing and promoting of your book and also how you will market and promote it.
SLH:   How did you go about self-publishing?
VK:  As I mentioned in #1, my husband had already self-published two books, so we felt we had a relationship with the printer he had used. We had already set up a company (MoneyPenny Press, Ltd.) as an LLC (for that we had to get a lawyer to draw up papers…but a person could do it more easily and cheaply by being a sole proprietor…but that gets into legal issues which I am not qualified to say anything about) and so all we basically needed was the company that would print the books.  I did go online to check out some of the ones that were available at that time and we felt that Jostens (the company that had done his books) offered the best prices…and we already trusted them.  They are a nationwide company that does the class rings and class yearbooks…but they also have a small press business printing section.  I called and they assigned me an account rep and she fielded the questions and concerns and would email me the answers.  They were also very easy to speak with on the phone and were great to work with.
In addition, I got copies of John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, as well as several other self-publishing books from the library…and read them cover to cover.  There is also a wealth of knowledge and info available on the Internet now.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and then ask others who have self-published before you make the final decisions about who will print your book or where you will electronically publish it…the choices are overwhelming…advice and info from someone who’s been there is priceless.
SLH:   Did you hire an editor?
VK:  I did not. 🙂  My husband, son and sister all read the manuscript several times…my husband for technical corrections, my son for technical and word usage and word flow corrections (looking at it from the point of view of the age group of parents I was targeting) and my sister for technical, word usage, word flow and functionality corrections (looking at it from a mom’s point of view…she, by the way, suggested having pictures of the completed crafts and/or recipes…but it was too late for that…the next book in the series will definitely be much shorter and will include pictures, even if they are black and white photos for cost reasons).  Then my daughter took on the job of formatting the manuscript with some input and advice from a friend who is VP and website guru at a small publishing company. His help was amazing…I should have taken him up on his offer to help me with my book website.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Decide what you can do on your own…and what you can’t…and find the dollars to pay for what you can’t because it is so very important to put out a professional piece of work…especially something that is self-published.
SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  If you hired an illustrator did you have a contract?  Did you have a lot of back and forth discussions?
VK:  I was very lucky…my daughter-in-law is a fashion designer and she is very artistic.  Andrea had already done some charming illustrations for a picture book I had written many years ago. (We never went ahead with publishing it…although I did send it to Random House…my niece had worked there years before but still knew someone who walked it over to one of the editors…I received a lovely personal letter that said it was a sweet book and encouraged me to pursue other publishing houses…however, I was involved with Show Me How at that time, so it sits in a drawer…maybe it’s time to dust it off. 🙂)  My daughter-in-law drew the cover and also the images that appear on every page…so I didn’t have to worry about image rights.
SLH:  Did you hire a cover designer?
VK:  No, as I explained in #5, my daughter-in-law did the cover.  The book recommends three activities that can help build self-esteem…reading, crafting and cooking.  She borrowed photos of my own children when they were in the two to five-year old age range and she drew them in the cover picture…so Jason, the oldest who was always book-crazy, is the one reading the book, Peter (her husband), who loves to cook and is an amazing amateur chef, is stirring up the bowl of veggies and Caroline, my youngest who loves to craft and makes beautiful framed scrapbook-like pictures to give as gifts, is sitting with a bouquet of construction paper flowers.  So for me, the cover is extremely meaningful.  Because of Andrea’s artistic eye, it is also balanced and eye-catching.  A WORD OF ADVICE: They say the cover is one of the most important elements of your book…and I believe it.  If you have your book traditionally published, you have nothing to say about it.  But, if you self-publish, your input should be important to whomever you hire…make sure it is a cover that would compel you to take the book off the shelf.
SLH:  What formats is your book available in?  Hardcover?  Paperback?  E-book?  Print-on-demand?  How did you get it into each format (e.g. if it’s available on Kindle and Smashwords did you need different formats and were you able to get the book into those formats yourself or did you hire someone?)
VK:  Show Me How is available in paperback.  We did not do print-on-demand…Jostens is a traditional off-set printer…so the printing quality is great and their staff have quite a lot of experience.   That said, even though I specified early on that I wanted the pages of the book to stay open when someone opened it and put it on the table, they used the wrong type of paper (short as opposed to long…or the other way around) and so the book snaps shut.  They sent the first copy of the book in advance of the delivery of the order…and when I saw the problem, I called and they were amenable to giving me a discount…and free shipping.  There is also a Kindle edition of the book which was converted from the word/pdf file into the Kindle format by the publishing friend of my daughter…for a reasonable fee…that was an area I was not willing to try myself.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and know what you want and make it clear and put it in writing when contracting with anyone concerning your book.
SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?
VK:  If only I had known…how often do we hear that?  I took a “Build Book Buzz” course with Sandra Beckwith in the summer of 2010 and learned about the whole new world of book marketing and promotion.  That course was one of the smartest things I did in this book journey…it helped me focus on what I needed to do and gave me many of the tools I would need to do it.  But it couldn’t do it for me.
My book was published in September of 2010…I started my website and blog and Twitter and Facebook (personal page…still have not completed the page for Show Me How..why the resistance, I don’t know…I guess I’m not sure I am doing it correctly) in August of 2010. The internet can be an extremely valuable marketing tool…but you need to be established and have a following.  If only I had known…I would have started years before.  In addition, I believe it would have been better had I hired a professional web designer who understood the complexities of SEO optimization, keywords and the other elements that are important in having a successful website.  Again, I opted for my daughter and daughter-in-law…both did a fantastic job…but neither was an expert in that…and both have full-time jobs…so after they set everything up, I took over and maintain everything myself.  Although I’ve learned a great deal, I still have a long way to go.
As soon as my books were delivered:
·       I put out a press release through PRWeb…this did get some buzz going…but I know that a press release program consists of multiple releases…at least one a month if one wants to get good publicity results and I was not able to fund a program like that.
·       I began sending out copies to everyone who had done an endorsement.  (I got quite a few wonderful endorsements by contacting authors and illustrators of the picture books recommended in Show Me How…they read the book and loved it…never be shy about asking for a testimonial if you are proud of what you wrote). 
·       I also began to connect with mom bloggers and others who I thought might be willing to read the book and review it.  Over the last year and a half, there have been over three dozen reviews and guest posts.
·       My attempt to connect with the media (local reporters, parenting section of the local newspaper) has had limited success.
·       I contacted the volunteer department of our local school district and arranged to do a Show-Me-How Story-time with Miss Vivian program of reading and crafting in the kindergartens and Pre-K’s on a bi-weekly basis. 
·       I also contacted the local children’s librarian and have done several library story and craft programs.
·       I walked into a few local bookstores (really hard for me because of my shyness) and was able to place my book in them.  I also connected with a children’s boutique in Chicago (where my son lives) and was able to place the book there (and have done an event there as well).
·       I contacted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and was lucky enough to have them endorse the book and recommend it to their chapters as a great resource for families who have children with diabetes (one of the chapters bought 15 copies…but I never heard from any of the other chapters). 
·       I took part in several local events, paying for a booth in two of them (Fun Fest where I partnered with PBS and Festival of Trees where I partnered with the Ecumenical Social Ministries) where I crafted with children…at the PBS Kids Fun Fest last summer, over 200 children did crafts at the Show Me How table.
·       I was interviewed on two blog radio programs.
·       I entered Show Me How in the Indie Awards for Excellence in Books…and was a finalist in the Parenting/Family category.
·       I respond to HARO queries (Help A Reporter Out) and Reporter Connection queries.  These are free services (of course, their parent companies are each selling publicity packages) that send you an email every day or several times a day.  In each email you will find queries from journalists, reporters, authors and others who are looking for experts in different fields.  If you see a query that speaks to your expertise, you can answer it and hopefully, the journalist will want to use something you said.  This, I have found, is great free publicity, especially for a non-fiction book like mine.  Last December, I answered a query from a writer for Parenting Magazine.  I was quoted in the lead article of the February issue and my book was mentioned. Before February, I had only sold a few copies of my book on Amazon.  During the month of February, 65 copies sold on Amazon. I’ll be quoted again in an article in the September issue and also in Parents Magazine…not sure which month yet.  This avenue of marketing does take a lot of time…and you have to be willing to write something of value to people who may not want it or need it…however, I’ve seen that it can work really well.
·       I connected with Lexie Lane who runs www.Wikimommy.com, a site like Wikipedia, but specifically for moms.  I’m the Portal Mom for the Children’s Portal and have contributed a dozen or more articles. Again, it’s a lot of writing…but hopefully, the exposure will pay off.  At the very least, I know I am contributing articles that will be of value to parents who can easily access the website.
I’ve definitely tried a bunch of marketing avenues…probably too many!  For me, the school/library programs, event booths, blog reviews and giveaways, books in bookstores, bookstore events and media coverage (a few articles in a small local paper) have provided a very poor sales result.  The article in Parenting Magazine was by far the leading sales getter.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Each of us has a particular comfort zone…some people love speaking in front of groups…others love social media.  Check out the various ways you can market your book and pick the ones that you enjoy…and make sure you leave time in your day for your family and yourself…the blogging/social networking/school visits/etc. can wear you down…and the whole idea of it all is, after all, to enjoy what you are doing!
SLH:  Do you do school/library visits or library/bookstore readings/signings?  How have sales been in relation to those visits?
VK:  As I mentioned in #8, I have done school visits (21 classroom presentations this school year and 24 last year and 3 PTA programs this year) plus 3 library programs and 6 bookstore events (and I work four days a week…now you know why I sometimes miss commenting on some of the PPBF posts).  At every presentation and event, all the children and/or parents receive a printed flyer that has a short bio and contact info along with a sample book summary, craft project and recipe from the book and a bookmark that has a picture of my book cover, two endorsements from famous picture book authors (Clifford the Big Red Dog and Angelina Ballerina) and my contact info.  I’m sorry to say that all those school presentations only resulted in less than half a dozen books sold…at one PTA meeting I sold 4 books, none at the library programs and only a few at the bookstore events, which are usually poorly attended.  They say it is not the book…but the hook…that gets people to buy a copy.  To be fair, I think when parents come to a library, school or kid’s event, they are not coming with the thought of buying a book…they are coming with the intention of enjoying a story or craft with their children.   And I think that if the bookstore does not do a good job of getting the word out, the author needs to…the question is how?  Before a story and craft event in August (geared to kids who would be starting school for the first time) at a local Family Christian Bookstore, I put up posters at the local Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods and Sunflower Market (after obtaining permission from the managers of each store…another difficult hill to summit for a shy person) and tweeted about it and posted it in the online parenting calendar of the local newspaper…one person showed up from a town 40 miles away because she had seen it in that online calendar and had a daughter who was hesitant about going to kindergarten.  I was thrilled to do the program for this child…and there were a few other kids who wandered over and took part…their parents were shopping in the store and made their way over when they were ready to leave…but I have to be honest and say the turnout was disappointing.  If someone has the secret of how to publicize this type of event, I hope they will share it. 🙂  A WORD OF ADVICE: They say it is important to plant the seed.  If you want to get your book out there, you have to get out there with your book.
SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?
VK:  Self-publishing takes effort…and patience…and determination…and motivation…you need to do your homework…it takes some outlay of money…but the rewards can be wonderful.  A WORD OF ADVICE: A support group is a necessary resource…whether it is family, friends and/or an online community.
SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?
VK:  As I said in the answers above, know what you want as far as type of book format…get recommendations for printers, PR companies, etc. from people who have done it already…put everything in writing (if you are paying out your money, you want to make sure you get what you pay for)…make sure your manuscript is word perfect (because there will only be a few mistakes instead of many when it has been checked over and over and over again and is word perfect).  A WORD OF ADVICE: Before you sign anything, read it several times…and have someone you trust read it also.  Don’t rush into anything…but don’t procrastinate either…your book won’t get out there unless you take a leap of faith!
SLH:  Anything else you’d like to add?
VK:  Authors who self-publish need to think about how they will price their book…you need to be competitive…but you need to make a profit.  There are various formulas and templates you can find online and in printed material to guide you.  From experience, I would say it is important not to overprice your book…the potential buyer who takes it off the shelf may experience sticker-shock.  Unfortunately, I did that…but lowered the price as time went on and I got a better sense of what people were willing to pay.  That said, it’s also important not to underprice the book, as when you place the book in bookstores or other venues, they will want between 30% and 50% of the final sales price.  When you list your book on Amazon, they also take a cut (I think it is 20%)…if you have your book listed on Amazon through their Fulfillment Program (they keep copies in their warehouse and they ship it out), their take is 55%.  If you sell your book on your own website, using PayPal to enable purchasers to easily buy it, PayPal takes a small cut…a little more than 5%, I think.

Thank you so much for that wealth of information, Vivian!  I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say we have all learned so much!

If you’d like to find, visit, follow, like Vivian, you can find her here:

And now, you all have the opportunity to be the lucky person who wins a signed copy of Show Me How, a book that any teacher or parent will find invaluable, and that writers can use as a resource for great picture books!  Just leave a comment telling why you’d like the book!

Thank you all for joining us for today’s interview.  I know it was long, but I hope you all found it as enlightening as I did

A Few Words About Postcards…

So it turns out marketing is a hotter topic than I realized.  People are pretty interested.

In response to a question about postcards, I promised to post pictures of my most recent ones, so here they are:

Here’s the front of the April Fool, Phyllis postcard…
… and here’s the back

I really like how Jeff was able to put the Punxsutawney Phyllis cover on the front, since April Fool is a sequel.

And here’s the front of the Can’t Sleep Without Sheep postcard…
… and here’s the back.

(It’s hard to see that the back of the Can’t Sleep postcard does actually extend to the right so there’s room for the address and stamp, but it’s there!)

I am so lucky to have talented illustrators to work with!  The basic information on the postcards is just the book cover, a review or two, website, and school visit information.

I hope that helps answer the questions about the postcards.  These two were both made on Vista Print (not by me! – one by Mike Wohnoutka and the other by Jeff Ebbeler – I’m still learning how to upload templates to Vista Print…) but I’ve also heard good things about GotPrint and I personally have used Zazzle a number of times because it’s so easy to work with for the non-computer savvy such as yours truly 🙂

In answer to another question about supplemental materials, I have made a lot of them myself – the classroom guides to the early books, madlibs, library activities, word searches etc., but my wonderful illustrators have been terrific abut making coloring and activity pages to go along with the books – fun things that teachers can use in school, or that parents can download for fun at home.  They are all on the School Visit page of my website, along with the new fancy classroom guides for April Fool, Phyllis! (and coming soon for Can’t Sleep Without Sheep.)  I just asked Jeff, Nicole, and Mike for what I wanted, and they put their own creative spin on it.  Then we can all post the activities on our websites.

I hope that answers some of the questions, but please feel free to ask more, and also share things that have worked for you!

I’m A Guest! – Let’s Talk Marketing

So guess what?

Alison Stevens invited me to guest post on her blog this morning for Marketing Monday!  I’m so excited, because this is my first guest post ever!  I feel so sought after 🙂
Please pop over to her blog here and read about what I have done in the wide, wide world of marketing (about which I knew absolutely nothing and had to figure out everything the hard way – by trial and lots of error.)  You can also look back in her posts for marketing advice from other authors – very interesting and helpful.
I’ve also already thought of a couple things I left out when I was writing the post for her.  One of them is Amazon.  Amazon ratings and reviews are very helpful (as long as they’re mostly good :)) but it’s surprisingly hard to get them.  If you aren’t famous enough that everyone already knows about you – in which case you probably don’t need the ratings and reviews so much – you’re not likely to get too many.
So, if it should happen that someone tells me they like one of my books, I usually ask them, if they have a minute,  if they would be so kind as to quickly write a sentence or two that sums up what they just said on Amazon.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.  I also seek out Top 10, 100, or 500 Reviewers and ask if they’d be willing to read and review my books.  I can’t afford to send out billions of copies, so I usually just ask two or three.  So far I’ve been lucky – most have said they’d be willing to read the books, and they’ve given me nice reviews – but that is a risk you take.  If they don’t like the book, you could find you’ve gone out of your way to ask someone for what turns out to be a negative review with extra weight because it’s from a Top Reviewer.  I can’t say whether the Top Reviewer reviews have actually helped sales or not, but I figure they’re not hurting them…
If any of you have writer friends with books on Amazon though, you can help them by posting nice reviews with good ratings (if you honestly feel the book deserves it.)
The other thing I forgot to mention was bookmarks… which I am just in the process of making now, thanks to my daughter who is a lot more computer savvy than I am.  When they’re all done, I’ll post a picture on the blog so you can see them 🙂
I think I also forgot to mention that I am on JacketFlap and GoodReads.  I think it’s helpful (hopefully) to be part of the reading community.  I love to read and discuss books, I usually post giveaways when I have a new book coming out, and it’s fun to see what friends and colleagues are reading and liking.
A lot of this blog’s followers are writers – what do you do for marketing?  Do you belong to JacketFlap?  GoodReads?  Other similar groups?  Do you have marketing tips that you have found especially helpful?  Please share!  And don’t forget to check out the rest of my experience in marketing, such as it is :), on Alison’s blog!