~Guest blog by Janet Costa Bates
I call myself a writer, but I’m not sure why. I should call myself a ‘reviser,’ since, like most writers, I spend much more time revising manuscripts than I do writing the first draft. Writing the first draft is exciting, but the real magic happens during the revision process.
My first step in the revision process is to do absolutely nothing. I figuratively put the manuscript into a drawer and then work on something else. When it’s time to look back at it, I can do so with fresh eyes. Are there plot holes and how can they best be fixed? Are the characters true and consistent? If not, does something happen in the story to drive the change in their behavior? Is there fluff to be cut? Cuts can be as small as individual words or as big as characters, sub-plots, or description. I often pick a random number and make myself cut that number of words from a manuscript. There’s safety in knowing I can put any of the words back in, but I rarely do.
I also go through the manuscript for grammar - NOT my favorite part. After all, my rule for commas is ‘random.’ Although I try to get the manuscript into decent shape, I’ve learned not to obsess too much. I now know there are magical people called copy editors who have much more grammatical talent than I do.
Some revisions are routine and fairly quick. Other revisions are not at all routine, not at all quick, but totally worth it. Let me share a few examples with you.
Years ago, I started a manuscript as a picture book, but eventually realized, not only was it too long, it didn't have the visuals a picture book required. After revising, I tried it as a magazine story. It received some interest from a major children’s magazine but, even though I’m pretty good at accepting editorial suggestions, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around some of the changes they were requesting.
At a retreat, someone suggested it would be better as a middle grade, so I stretched it into a novel. With that story, I got an agent. My agent spent years - yes, years - trying to sell it. The phrase ‘raving rejections’ started to make sense to me. Editors gushed over the characters, expressed their love for the voice, but ultimately, they all said no to the story.
At a Whispering Pines Retreat, I had a critique with Christian Trimmer, then a Simon and Schuster editor. Similar to the others who had rejected the manuscript, he said the story had great characters, great voice, but the plot wasn’t working. He followed that up with ‘but you have a great set-up for a chapter book series.’ My then agent still wanted to try it as a middle grade, but eventually, after a friendly parting of the ways with that agent, I went with Christian’s advice. LLAMAS, IGUANAS, AND MY VERY BEST FRIEND, illustrated by Gladys Jose, is the first in the Rica Baptista chapter book series. It will be released by Candlewick Press on October 25 and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. I’m looking forward to its November 9th launch at An Unlikely Story.
A process that took even longer was a picture book manuscript I started in 1999. I went to my first NESCBWI Conference, met an editor, and submitted the manuscript. She gently turned it down with a helpful note explaining why. That was the first of many rejections it received.
I spent a few more years revising it. Again. And again. More rejections. Finally, I put it in a drawer – for about ten years. (I don’t recommend putting a manuscript in a drawer for ten years, but, well, sometimes life happens and you don’t get a chance to open up that drawer for a while.) Eventually, I took that manuscript out, greatly revised it, and sent it to Andrea Tompa of Candlewick, whom I had met with at a conference. She said yes!
TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE, illustrated by AG Ford, was released in 2021 and has received several honors. It was well worth the wait and the revisions. (Side note: That first editor to whom I sent a very early version of TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE, was Mary Lee Donovan of Candlewick. As Andrea’s boss, she gave her the nod to acquire it. Publishing is a small world, my friends.)
So, look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. Find the plot holes, strengthen the characters, and cut the fluff. Putting time and effort into your revisions will make the magic happen.
Janet Costa Bates is the author of LLAMAS, IGUANAS, AND MY VERY BEST FRIEND (Candlewick), the first book in the Rica Baptista chapter book series and a Junior Library Guild selection. TIME FOR BED, OLD HOUSE (Candlewick), received four starred reviews, was listed on several 2021 best books lists, and was an NAACP Image Award nominee. SEASIDE DREAM (Lee and Low), received a Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award. Find her at janetcostabates.com or on Twitter/IG @jcostabates.
~by Amanda Smith
There are few things at 24 Carrot Writing that thrills us as much as celebrating one of our own. Even though Megan is a recent addition to the 24 Carrot team, joining us in 2021 as a regular contributor, she has been “one of our own,” for a long time.
I first met Megan at a critique group organized through the Writers’ Loft. Soon after, I ran into her at the NESCBWI Spring Conference, and later that year we both attended a picture book workshop together. Somehow, during that time frame, each one of the original 24 Carrot founders’ paths crossed with Megan’s at different events, and the following year we all carpooled together to the Spring Conference. Those daily drives back and forth were filled with engaging conversations about writing, and workshops, and dreams. Megan had just signed with her agent, Lindsay Davis Auld from Writers House, and we were excitedly crossing all our fingers and toes for her. And here we are – four years later, celebrating the bright light of Megan’s debut picture book Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night (Clarion Books) illustrated by Nneka Myers!
Over the years we have learned many lessons from Megan's approach to writing and her work philosophy. We'd love to share some of those with you.
LESSONS WE'VE LEAREND FROM MEGAN:
At that very first critique group, one of those serendipitous, hive-mind, similarly-themed-story flukes popped up. In the past, I’ve witnessed these kinds of situations ruin writerly relationships, but Megan responded with so much grace and this-is-the-business professionalism that it was hardly a blip on the radar. Over the years we’ve witnessed her kind support to the writing community, her willingness to jump in and help at book events, her praise and appreciation for other writers, and as a critique partner, her thoughtful insight and cheerleading of our writing – always with a generous dose of Megan sparkle.
Follow Your Passions:
Before focusing on writing, Megan was a classroom teacher and reading interventionist. Literacy accessibility is one of her biggest passions. She doesn’t just love writing. She loves books, and reading, and kids reading books, and reading books to kids, and making reading available to all. This passion is sprinkled, like star-dust, onto everything she does, her audience always in her mind. Not only does it drive her to write beautifully lyrical picture books, but also to explore other ways of breaking open the written word to children, such as writing for the educational market, classroom poetry, and early readers. As a matter of fact, Megan has the first two books of an early reader series Dirt and Bugsy launching in February and June 2023. Following her passion has led her to all kinds of exhilarating opportunities.
Trust the Process:
The publishing process is long. Very long. Excruciatingly long. Megan signed with her agent in June 2018, and went out on submission later that same month. With a different manuscript. Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night was actually her second submission, and between the two, there were two years of ups and downs, very close-calls, and plenty of rejection before signing that contract in 2020. There are so many anxiety-causing stepping stones on the path to publishing, yet Megan trusted her team and her talent, and stayed the course, one step at a time.
Own Your Style:
When we browse bookstores or share library finds, often one of us will pull a book and announce, “This is a Megan-book.” Megan-books feature lovely language, read-aloud-ability, solid rhythm, winks of humor, and oodles of heart. While the style might be recognizable, her voice is uniquely hers. When it comes to writing picture books, Megan is a lyrical writer. She knows it. She owns it. And she excels at it.
We are so excited that we can now pull an actual, very real, totally authentic Megan-book from the shelves. One with her name on the cover! Readers, you and your little ones will fall in love with Megan’s tight writing, her poetic phrasing, and her lilting diction in Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night!
Dear Megan, we are so excited for you! Shine bright!
Megan Litwin is a children’s book author, a former classroom teacher, and a forever believer in book magic. She holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons University and lives in Massachusetts with her family.
She will launch Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night Friday, September 23 at 6 pm under the twinkly lights of The Unlikely Story. Click here for more information on this event and other upcoming bookstore visits.
Ask for Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night at your local bookstore or order here.
Guest Blog by Nancy Tandon
Nancy Tandon launched two middle grade novels, including her debut, in 2022.
24 Carrot Writing is excited to have Nancy guest blog for us today. She is sharing the details behind the creative events she hosted and how she pulled off two very different book launches.
Speaking at an NESCBWI conference years ago, Jarrett Krosoczka imparted this sage advice to the gathered kidlit writers: “You get one book launch.”
He was talking about the fact that your first book launch usually ends up looking very much like an episode of “This Is Your Life,” with friends and family turning out in large numbers to support the culmination of your hard work. My takeaway was: enjoy the heck out of it, and don’t expect to get the same reaction with subsequent launches.
That day in the audience, I never imagined that I’d be launching two debut middle grade novels in one year! Like many aspiring authors, I’d been dreaming for a long time about hosting my own book event. But when things became real, I felt a bit overwhelmed about the particulars such as location and what the heck I was actually supposed to do and say if people showed up. Spoiler alert: they did! And people are going to show up for you, too. So, here are a few tips to consider when you are headed into your own countdown.
My first novel, THE WAY I SAY IT, arrived on the scene in January 2022. Because the threat of Covid spread was still high, I knew I’d have to get creative with both the location and ways for people to access the event. I wanted attendees to feel safe, but I also desperately wanted to celebrate this long-delayed moment. My local indie bookstore (River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, CT) is an amazing but very small space. A winter event in an adorable house-sized bookstore was not going to work.
or example, since you may have folks that cannot attend in person, consider asking the bookstore if they can add a virtual component to your launch. That way you'll be sure even Aunt Sally in Idaho can be there for your big moment. For my hybrid launch, River Bend staff were key in setting up a way for guests to join the event virtually. They created an Eventbrite link, handled the registrations, and on the day of the launch ran all the tech for me. All I had to do was remember to turn to the webcam and smile! And even if technology is not a terrifying black hole for you, let the bookstore staff (or some other competent friend) take the lead on any virtual/high-tech components. That way you can concentrate on being fabulous!
If for any reason your local bookstore’s space isn’t the best setting for you, don’t be afraid to speak to them about partnering at a different venue. Maybe a park, ballfield or a community center would better fit the mood of your book and be more appealing to your launch audience. Libraries are another great (and low-cost) idea, and you may pick up audience members just by centering your event in a book-loving space. Get creative! But do also think about logistics such as bathrooms, acoustics, and seating. Remember, you are hosting guests.
For people showing up in-person at my January launch, I wanted to make leaving their homes on a cold winter day worth it. I had snacks (individually packaged), games, prizes, and a photo booth. Games and prizes were themed to scenes from the book (such as a magnetic dart board because that’s what the main character plays during speech therapy and a “Guess how many M & M’s jar” because those are another character’s favorite candy).
I enlisted members of my book club and critique group to run the activity stations for me. Everyone was so helpful! I really could not have done it without them.
I recommend you earmark a book launch “maid of honor” who knows how you want things to run. And, of course, thank all your assistants with cards and/or small gifts afterward.
In the end, I signed a ton of books, enjoyed friends and family, and truly felt like the book had a proper birthday celebration.
Again, I relied on local bookstore staff to help with book ordering and sales, and this time used the nearby library’s gorgeous event space. I spread the word to the middle grade-minded audience in the area through my family and friend connections.
I like to think of a launch from a guest’s point of view, striving to make it more about them and their experience than about selling books. You will want to practice (and time) your presentation, making sure to keep the pace clicking along. I began by thanking my hosts and particular audience members, then read an excerpt from chapter one. After that, we played “Ghost-story Mad Libs” as a group, which was a huge hit. I would encourage you to think of an all-play game you can offer your launch crowd. This gets the audience involved and having fun.
Next was another brief reading where I let the audience in on a “family secret” which had made it into the book. Afterwards, many people told me that learning "insider information" was one of their favorite parts. You may want to share or at least hint at some of the hidden gems in your novel as an exclusive treat for the people who came to your event.
Finally, I showed examples of the crafts we’d set up at the back of the room and pointed out where I’d be sitting to sign books. This time, family members helped me run my activity stations, which included making ghost bookmarks, building cairn photo holders, and decorating cookies.
That evening, I got to have the “post-launch” party I had to forgo with the first book. The most exciting thing was that we were able to host a dinner at the exact inn that the book’s fictional Home Away Inn is based on. Afterwards, we had a bonfire and told ghost stories. It was a magical, fantastical day.
Writers, your book will have its own life and celebrations in the weeks and months (and hopefully decades!) to follow the launch. That day is for you to celebrate and share. So, gather the people you love, in a place you love, and do things that will be fun for everyone. I wish you an exciting launch and wonderful memories for years to come!
~by Megan Litwin
Hello! Thank you to 24 Carrot Writing for hosting me here as I share the cover of my debut picture book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night! I am absolutely over the moon about the cover art by Nneka Myers. I love the dreamy color palette, and the way Nneka captures the peaceful beauty of the winter world…yet with a hint of festive sparkle in the distance. I can’t wait for the rest of her brilliant work to be seen!
And now that the cover is out, I’ve been thinking…
It is ironic that a finished book cover is the result of months or years of work, because at the same time, it also represents a new beginning…the beginning of this last stretch until the book is out in the world. And the “Six-Month Stretch” (as I’ve begun calling it) brings new work to light.
There is a lot of talk about all the things an author can do to promote a book pre-launch, and to be honest, it can be pretty overwhelming. So I’m taking the advice of veteran writer friends who have shared some wisdom about how to use this time. The underlying theme is “do what feels right to you.” I’m going to couple that with one of my own favorite mantras: “keep it simple.” And in the spirit of 24 Carrot Writing’s goal-setting mission, I have formed a plan.
Here are the five main things I’m going to focus on in my “Six Month Stretch”:
Thank you, 24 Carrot readers and writers, for sharing this exciting moment with me!
Shimmer, glimmer, glowing light.
Twinkle, twinkle, winter night.
Celebrate winter with this magical twist on a beloved nursery rhyme that brings
the shimmering season of lights to life.
To learn more about Megan or to subscribe to her newsletter, visit her online at www.meganlitwinbooks.com.
To learn more about Nneka Myers and her art, visit her online at www.nnekamyers.com.
Guest Blog by Nancy Tandon
Hello and thank you to everyone at 24 Carrot Writing for hosting me on your blog during a very exciting time for me! After eleven years and close to 200 combined rejections across multiple manuscripts, my very first middle grade novel will be published tomorrow! This is especially rewarding for me since I thought I would be celebrating this accomplishment in the fall of 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. My book launch was delayed by five years.
Most 24 Carrot readers will be familiar with the concept of publishing being slow. But even insiders agree mine was one of the more slothy paths. What happened? How did I keep going? And how will you stay motivated on your journey?
I sent my first query letter, on 3/9/2010. I know the exact date because it was my 40th birthday. It was an underbaked picture book manuscript, and I addressed the letter To Whom It May Concern. Spoiler: I never heard back. But the important thing is that I was signaling to myself and the universe that I was ready to pursue publication in earnest.
Over the next several years, I did all the things. I joined SCBWI, became active in critique groups, went to conferences, read books in my genre, read literary blogs, and of course…even wrote from time to time. I was focused on learning the craft of writing picture books, while also plugging away at a longer piece that began to take the shape of a middle grade novel.
During this time, I continued to submit to agents, editors, magazines, and contests. As my little baby rejection pile grew, my belief that I would find success shrank. Then, in 2014, I learned that a selection from my middle grade novel had been awarded the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship from NESCBWI. It was just enough encouragement to bolster my drive to keep working.
With the help of my critique group, I completed and revised that novel and in 2016, submitted it to a small publishing house. A few months later, things seemed to happen very quickly: an offer, a phone call, a book contract! I was thrilled! Still un-agented, I used the services of a lawyer who was familiar with literary contracts, and also educated myself using a book called The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford before signing. (I highly recommend this book whether you are agented or not.)
Everything looked great. Publication was set for fall 2017. I joined a debut group. This was happening!
There was a wrinkle. The small press had been acquired by a larger publisher. They were willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.
Publication was moved to 2018. I joined and became active in another debut group. This was happening!
After a year of working to negotiate a new contract (I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide to know the first offer was not favorable to me), I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. I found out that the second publisher had decided they were not moving forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.
Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together.
Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.
After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.
The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group (which again I was now no longer a part of – cue tears). That friend, Samantha Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow), alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the heads up about my manuscript’s twisty past.
That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, Rachel passed my work to a new agent at Prospect and I was agented at last!!
Ready for another plot twist? Meanwhile…
Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, had gotten my query and read my fist chapters. She asked to read the full manuscript. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. I hoped for the best and braced for the worst.
Then in September 2018, it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…
This time, I didn’t have to negotiate on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.
Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening!
Due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022.
I’m not embarrassed to tell you I cried. However, my disappointment was strongly tempered by the fact that in fall 2019, my agent sold my second novel (The Ghost of Spruce Point, coming from Aladdin in fall 2022) within a week of being on submission!
And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web (Prospect Agency).
And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. And tomorrow, it will wing out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m revising my second and have seen amazing cover art.
Friends, it was a long road from desperation to celebration. And if you have read this far, you might be a person who is in the exact position I was in. One breath and one keystroke away from giving up. Please consider this a sign from the universe for you to keep going.
Give it time.
Give it space.
Don’t give up!
Nancy Tandon is a former speech/language pathologist and author of two middle grade novels, The Way I Say It (Charlesbridge, 1/18/22) and The Ghost of Spruce Point (Aladdin, 8/2/22). Her short story, Finders Keepers, was published with Heinemann for the educational market. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her family and is a fan of popcorn, reading, and literacy outreach programs of all kinds. To find out more, or to get in touch with Nancy go to www.nancytandon.com, Twitter @NancyTandon , Instagram @_NancyTandon_, or Goodreads.
Order a signed copy of THE WAY I SAY IT.
By Kelly Carey
If you are reading this blog, then you already know the benefits of perusing great blogs as a reader, but blogs can also be a tremendous help when you are trying to market your book. Two of my writing friends are launching amazing books soon and they asked me for advice on setting up a blog tour. I’m going to share that advice with you too!
Don’t have a book contract yet? That’s okay. Read the tips and advice and learn how you can position yourself now to be ready to send your book out on an amazing blog tour when you do have a publishing date!
#1 Your KidLit Community Is Flush with Wonderful Bloggers
The authentic time and energy you have put into building your KidLit community likely means you know a few KidLit bloggers. Have you met authors at conferences who have blogs? Have you met bloggers at book signings? At retreats? Those relationships are the best place to start when deciding to reach out to bloggers for spots. Your KidLit friends are going to be excited about your upcoming success and if they have a blog, they will be happy to boost your news on their site.
Don’t have any blogging contacts? Don’t worry, it’s okay. Ask your critique partners if they have any connections. Reach out to the relationships you have in the KidLit community and ask if anyone could introduce you to bloggers they know.
For those of you who are pre-published, work on building relationships now so that you will have a long and comfortable list of bloggers ready to trumpet out news of your debut!
#2 Offer Relevant Content to the Blog
If you are asking for space on a blog, you need to honor the theme, format, and audience of the blog. The blogs that will host you are those that see you offering good content. Make sure you have read the blog and that you have a clear idea of how you and your book fit the blog’s structure and how you and your book could be featured.
For example, does the blog routinely run interviews with debut authors, like Lindsay Ward’s CritterLit blog? Offer an interview. Does the blog feature authors with a unique hook, like Nancy Tupper Ling’s Author Acrostic blogs? Offer to write a poem. If, like 24 Carrot Writing, the blog offers tips and advice to writers, offer to write a helpful post on a relevant topic as Cathy Ballou Mealy did for 24 Carrot Writing here.
Know how the blog handles guest authors, debut books, and cover reveals and be specific in your request. A straight ask to “please review my book,” is not the best method. Leave that type of request to the publicist at your publishing house. At 24 Carrot we never review books on request. That’s not our format.
The best way to know how you can fit into a particular blog is to be a regular subscriber of the blogs you love and might want to see yourself on someday. If you are pre-published, be a patron of your favorite blogs. Comment, retweet and repost your dream blogs and you’ll be ready to fit into their format when the time comes.
#3 Be an Easy Guest
Many bloggers are busy wearing multiple hats and love finding guest bloggers who provide everything needed to assemble a great guest spot.
Make sure your request to be featured on the blog is easy.
In your initial email offer up the following:
Once you have a spot make sure you:
Even if the blogger hasn’t asked for these things, make it easy for them to pop this information into a post. If you have provided it and it is readily available, chances are you’ll see it in the post.
#4 Timing Can be Flexible
If you are setting up a blog tour for your launch, you’ll want blogs to post ideally the month prior to your launch and the month of your launch. This will create that wonderful buzz you want to generate and hopefully drive preorders as well as post launch purchases. Many blogs schedule their posts three to six months out, so it’s a good idea to start asking for spots four to seven months before your launch month.
Worried you’re too late? You’re not. Bloggers are always looking for great content and sometimes have spots in their schedule to fill. They might love a last-minute booking. And remember, if the only spots left are months after your launch, a post at any time can still help readers find your book. Suggest a date tied to the theme of your book, even if it is a year after your launch, it will still help readers find your book.
#5 Don’t Rely Just on the Publicists at Your Publishing House
The publicists at your publishing house will reach out to bloggers and reviewers on your behalf. But publicists are busy folks and if you have personal contacts, they will be happy that you reached out. If your publicist sees you working hard to promote your book, they will be happy to work hard alongside you.
Your publicity team is never going to be upset if you have already secured spots on blogs - go for it!
#6 Don’t Worry About Over Saturation
Marketing stats say a person will need to encounter your book 7-10 times before they decide to purchase it. That means they need to hear a friend talk about it, see it on social media, read about it in a blog, and/or spot it in a bookstore a handful of times before a purchase might be made.
Every blog about your book is a chance for a reader to find and hopefully purchase your book. Every blog gives you a reason to repost and retweet things on social media that will keep your book news buzzing.
Remember, not every reader will see every blog you appear on. You want to maximize your visibility. When it comes to a blog tour, you want lots of venues.
#7 Asking for Group Spots
If you are in a Marketing Group that’s wonderful! If you are not check out this post about the benefits of group marketing and how to find a group here.
I reached out to bloggers that I knew for my Soaring 20s Picture Book marketing group, and I have to say, asking on behalf of others was a bit easier than asking just for myself. Other members of our group did the same. Many bloggers, offered to let members of our group contact them individually while others opted to host us as a group. Either way, we were grateful for the opportunity. Make sure you take advantage of these offers when they come your way.
All of these tips are made easier if you are already a follower of the blog. While you are awaiting your first or next contract, spend time connecting with the KidLit community and be a regular reader of your favorite blogs.
When you ask them to support your marketing efforts, you will be glad you did!
~ Guest post by Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted
Hold onto your hats, folks, this will be a long post. But our goal is to give you a blueprint for following your dreams of holding your book in your hands!
It’s Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted here, publishers and editors at Writers’ Loft Press and Pocket Moon Press. Not only do we indie-publish our own stuff, but we publish anthologies and mentor other writers to publish their own work. Check out our previously published anthologies: Firsts, An Assortment of Animals, Friends & Anemones, and Heather’s workbook to help you get the writing done, Jumpstart Your Writing in 30 Days.
Today we’re going to take you on a journey to publication using Tom Franklin’s brand new steampunk Middle-Grade adventure story, The Pterrible Pteranodon, as a guide.
Tom started with a very clean draft that had been critiqued and edited.
Pro Tip: Throw your manuscript into Pro-Writing Aid for a final polish!
We recommend hiring freelance editors and copy editors at places like ALLi—the Alliance of Indie Publishers, Reedsy, or other indie-friendly forums.
Next, Tom hired Robert Thibeault to create a genre-specific cover. Tom did his research by checking out his genre bucket at Amazon. Make sure to check out your genre-bucket best-sellers at Amazon before you choose a type of cover.
For example, here are the best sellers of middle-grade steampunk at Amazon:
Robert Thibeault designed an amazing and genre-specific cover:
Hopefully, you can see how it would not only fit alongside the books in its genre but also stand out. It looks great as a thumbnail. Very important in this digital age!
Pro Tip: Choose a type of cover that sells well in the genre. What you love as a book cover might not be what your reader loves. Sometimes as authors, we have to put our personal preferences aside!
Here’s a closer look at Tom’s cover, so you can see the details:
You can see here how an artist and book designer make a cover—it wraps around. Isn’t that cool?
REACHING YOUR READERS:
While Tom was waiting for his cover art masterpiece, he put up a freebie so people would sign up for his mailing list.
Having an email list—direct contact with fans—is the most important piece of the publishing puzzle.
Without this, every time you publish a new book, you start from scratch looking for fans.
Tom gave away the first few chapters of his book and audio files of his book to entice people onto his list. Check it out here. Go ahead and sign up—Tom is going to KICKSTART this book, and you get to walk through the steps with him! (See the countdown page here!)
Don’t just hide your freebie and the sign-up to your list on your personal website—plug it into one of the sharing sites that go directly to fans. Right now, two of the biggest sites are BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. Using sites like these, Tom doubled the number of fans he had on his list!
Pro Tip: Story Origin is still in beta, so it’s currently FREE to use! Nothing beats free!
Once you have fans, interact with them on a weekly or regular basis. Use email companies like MailChimp or mailerlite to do this professionally.
Pro Tip: Make sure to consider who your fans are and give them what they are looking for! Remember that the people who sign up for your list are readers of your genre (or parents of the readers) and not just other writers or your friends.
Formatting/Book Design: Use a program like Vellum (only for Macs) to format the inside of your book, or use the free program at Reedsy. Reedsy is a great one-stop-shop for finding indie-publishing support in general.
While growing his email list, Tom finished all the production pieces.
Here’s a list you can use:
Upload all the pieces (formatted correctly) along with the final cover artwork to Ingram Spark.
Pro Tip: if you pay to be a member at ALLi you get a code for free uploads and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP has free uploads.
Upload your ebook to KDP and choose to either have your book in Kindle Unlimited or use a distributor to go wide (like Draft2Digital)
Pro Tip: Sites like Ingram Spark and KDP are often wonky, so make sure to save all your keywords and descriptions and bios elsewhere and paste them in. We have had some tense moments in the past!
Pro Tip: You can purchase keywords that work in your genre at K-lytics, KPD Spy, or Publisher Rocket, to attract the right online buyers. Oftentimes as authors, it’s hard for us to think about what search words readers use! These keywords help people find your book when they search for it.
If this seems like it’s a costly process, it can be. We generally budget $1,000 for a novel. (For an original cover like Tom’s from an artist, it’s much more!) But you can publish on a shoestring budget, by buying your cover premade (there are so many sites to use--just search for ‘premade book cover’) or by bartering. If you know someone who is a cover designer, and you are a great editor, trade those skills!
Pro Tip: It’s okay to publish with the budget you have and then upgrade things as you go!
FIND YOUR "WHY?"
One of the most important questions to ask, before you start this process, is, “Why?”
Why are you indie-publishing?
If you want to see your book in your local bookstores:
If you want to make the most money you can:
Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. Some of the best resources for authors starting out on the Indie-pub path are Joanna Penn’s podcasts, the Facebook Group 20 Books to 50K, and joining an indie pubbing group. We have a virtual one at the Writers’ Loft if you’d like to join (email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the email list). It’s run by Dave Pasquantonio who is also a freelance editor and knows a ton about book promotion. We promise, once you get going, things get easier, because you keep running into the same people, the same sites, and most of the people you run into are very supportive! So that’s another part of the job—be supportive of your fellow writers.
Pro Tip: Don’t shortchange your readers—oftentimes the beautiful things that we love about books are simple enough for indie-publishers to achieve. See the gears that Tom added to each page number, the way his cover artist put the Pocket Moon Press logo into a gear, and how Tom invites his reader to read on into the next adventure!
Phew, we covered a lot, right? Thanks to 24 Carrot Writing!
Feel free to leave us questions in the comments! Just out of curiosity, did we make you open up a billion tabs? We might just give a prize for the person who fesses up to opening a ton of tabs! Heather generally has at least 25,000 tabs open on her screen on any given day. (Let us know in the comments and we’ll pick someone at random.) Did you sign up for Tom’s email list so you can follow his further adventures in Kickstarting? We can’t wait for that process. (That’s another blog post)!
Guest post by Francine Puckly
A little over a year ago I made the very difficult but necessary decision to retire from 24 Carrot Writing after five wonderful years. I have missed the camaraderie with my friends and co-founders, and I’m excited to be invited back this week to talk about what I hold near and dear — reimagining creative visions, establishing long-term plans, and setting tangible, immediate goals.
Each new year I take several hours (or sometimes a luxurious whole day!) to celebrate the concluding year’s accomplishments and reassess my goals for the year ahead. In the summer of 2019, I saw a large gap in my September calendar approaching — my kids would both be departing for college while at the same time my husband was heading out of town on business. Rather than pack the days and evenings with hikes and dinners with friends (oh, so tempting!), I trusted my gut to take that time for some extensive reflection. I spent four solid days at home — all to myself — to reexamine my writing vision. What I realized during that block of time was that I had become a little too comfortable with my routine and wasn’t exactly thrilled with how I was spending my writing time.
I gathered the nerve to make several pronounced changes to my commitments. While it was scary to be unmoored from what was comfortable and familiar, I created an avenue for new opportunities to seep in. And seep they did! I had additional novel-writing time and took on a freelance editing gig in June that led to a full-time writer/editor position in December, but the biggest shift was that I found myself hired by a publisher to write and submit an entire manuscript in seventeen days!
The work-for-hire pursuit would not have come about if I hadn’t cleared ample space for it. I was e-introduced to the editor in May, and after an initial video interview, she asked me to submit several writing samples for a couple of different book ideas. We went back and forth several times, during which time I submitted additional samples, incorporated editorial feedback and provided revisions. The editor pitched the project to the editorial team, they authorized it, and we set off on our own version of Operation Warp Speed. (For more details of that process and my takeaways, see Lessons from a Seventeen-Day Book Sprint.) Because I redirected my efforts and reset my long-term goals, The Word-a-Day Vocabulary Workbook, not even a thought seven months ago, hits bookstores today!
The poet, Wendell Berry, said it best. “The life we want is not merely the one we have chosen and made. It is the one we must be choosing and making.” What life will you be choosing and making in 2021?
Here’s what I wish for all creatives this year (beyond health and well-being): Before you set your goals, may you have plenty of time for self-reflection. May you have the courage to make the necessary changes in your life that will bring joy, surprise, and authenticity to your creative endeavors. And may you trust yourself — always — because, deep down, you know what’s best for you.
Warmest best wishes for a joyful writing year!
Francine Puckly’s debut book, The Word-a-Day Vocabulary Workbook (Adams Media), is an entertaining nonfiction blend of 365 obscure words, amusing word trivia, and thought-provoking daily writing prompts, perfect for writers who need to get their creative juices flowing each day. It hits stores near you Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
You can find Francine online at francinepuckly.com, on Facebook at Francine Puckly, Author, and on Twitter and Instagram @francinepuckly.
~by Amanda Smith
About the Cover Art:
~ by artist Jodie Apeseche
When Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly surprised me with the cover assignment, I felt both excitement and fear. I loved the theme. (My background is in biology, including a stint on a research vessel.) But I’d never done a cover and it would be the face of our anthology. Could I make my fellow contributors proud?
Picking the design elements - the friends and anemones - was easy. I had to have an octopus because everyone should be curious about these highly intelligent creatures. They also morph dramatically, giving me free range in depicting them. The sharks’ striking lines made them visually appealing. And the crabs are my make-believe pets, Bernie and Marlow.
The cover art started as a watercolor and was collaged with parts of my shell collection, sand, and silk-screened papers. The image was then enhanced digitally. For example, the fabric on the octopus was inserted as an image through a clipping mask. This way the fabric didn't fray, as it originally did when I tried to apply it manually.
I hope every reader finds a favorite poem (or many) that they feel attached to and want to learn more about. Hey, maybe our anthology will inspire some future scientists!
~by Audrey Day Williams
First, there was FIRSTS, then came AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS—an illustrated anthology of poems for children. And now, with editors Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted at the helm of the ship, the Writers’ Loft authors and illustrators are back with FRIENDS AND ANEMONES a fresh bounty of ocean poems for children.
This November, set sail on an epic, page-by-page ocean voyage with Peter Reynolds, Jane Yolen, Kip Wilson, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Josh Funk, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and 61 other well-loved and emerging New England authors and illustrators.
Dive under the enchanting cover—illustrated by esteemed local artist Jodie Apeseche—into a whimsical, watery world where you’ll rendezvous with petty penguins, little fish with big dreams, party-planning turtles, as well as anemones and crabs in the intertidal zone, and elusive sharks and jellies that call the deep sea home.
With a smorgasbord of poetic types, dozens of captivating sea creatures, and fascinating facts, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES will feel as at home clinging to your bookshelf as it will floating in a school library.
Every story has a villain; in this case, it’s plastic and trash which you’ll see skulking in and around the poems. But, every story has a hero too, and that’s you! The Writers’ Loft has teamed up with the Rozalia Project—a non-profit dedicated to protecting our oceans—to empower readers of all ages to become ocean heroes with a simple message: A lot of little actions can make a big impact on the oceans. All profits from the first month's sales will be donated to Rozalia. To learn more, visit http://rozaliaproject.org.
"We want to highlight the beauty of the ocean and show children that they can be ocean protectors through their actions and sustainable consumer choices."
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