One Writer’s Journey

December 31, 2018

Book Categorization: How to Do It and Why It Matters

book heart“My new novel is a romantic mystery that takes part in a science fiction universe.”

“I’ve written a creative nonfiction concept picture book.”

Descriptions like these make me cringe.  Sure, some books really do cross over categories.  But most are more one thing than another. It’s important to know what the manuscript is so that you know where to market it.

If an agent represents creative nonfiction, that concept picture book may not be a good match.  You have to take a harder look at the age levels of the books they represent.  No picture books means no picture books even if they like creative nonfiction.

Writer’s Digest contributing editor Elizabeth Sims recently wrote a post, “Shelf Savvy: How Book Categorizations Helps Maximize Sales.”  In this post, she discussed how books by African-American authors sold better at Borders when their books were shelved in an “African American Lit” section.  Scattered among the other titles, whether literature, mystery or essays, they weren’t as easily found by would-be readers and failed to sell as well.

Not that you will have the ultimate say in where it is shelved or how it is marketed (romance or mystery), but you need to know what it is so that you know who to approach.

This follows the fact that you had to know what to call it to write it in the first place.  Picture books follow certain conventions.  Write your story in 500 words with the possibility for 14-16 unique illustrations and you’re going to get the right kind of attention.  Write your story in 6000 words with dialogue, setting instructions and sound effects (SFX) and you better send it to publishers who want graphic novels vs picture books.  Yes, both are illustrated but the conventions are different and you need to know what you’re working on.

Don’t let a category limit your work but know what is typical so that you can creatively push the limits and then market it to the right people.


December 15, 2016

Online Marketing: Who Has Time to Do It All?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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social-media-1233873_1920Its no great secret.  I make my living as a writer.  Like a lot of writers, I find the vast array of possible online markting options overwhelming. I know one writer who edits anthologies, spends scads of time on Facebook.  She hosts events on Twitter as well as book give-aways on Goodreads.  I watch her and wonder “what if you can’t do it all?  Is it worth the bother?”

Imagine my delight when I came across this Digital Book World post by Chris Syme – Why You Only Need to Sell Your Book on One Social Media Channel.  I’m all giddy at the prospect.  I can focus on — one.

Syme’s idea is that it is better to promote via one social media outlet and do a really good job than it is to do a mediocre job over many.  Focus your attention and get results.  The key is to discover which is best for contacting your audience.  If you audience is on Facebook on and off all day, Facebook is the way to go.  If your readers, Tweet, Tweet and Tweet come more, than use Twitter.  Maybe you’ve got photo savvy readers on Snapchat.  Which doesn’t matter as much as knowing that it is where your readers “hang out.”

Not that Syme’s gives you the all clear to ignore the other forms of social media.  The key is to find one to use to market your writing.  You should still update the others on a regular basis.  You need to have an extended presence because it makes you easier to find.  But your selling efforts?  That’s all in one place.

You just have to figure out which place is where your readers hang out.  One vs many.  That sounds much more doable to me.



December 6, 2016

Where Should You Focus: Marketing or Craft?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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focusWhere should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer?  Should you be working on craft or marketing?

I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one.  My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work.  What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript?  How do they focus their rewrites?

For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri.  That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events.  At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire.  What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow?  Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events.  Agents and editors.  They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.

And to a point, I see the logic in this.  Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.

But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway.  Really.  You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.

Read.  Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not.  What do these writers do well?  Study those techniques.  What doesn’t quite work?  Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.

Study how-tos.  Check out some of the best how-tos on writing.  Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books.  Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.

Write.  The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write.  Writing is a practice intensive vocation.  Write, write and write some more.  You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.

Rewrite.  It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another.  Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect.  You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper.  Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.

Rinse, lather, repeat.  That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again.  When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way.  Until then?  You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.


December 1, 2016

Twitter: A Game of Roulette

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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rouletteSocial media and marketing are two book related things that closely resemble roulette.  You know that there’s a small chance that you may win. You have to believe this or you wouldn’t bother to play.  You place your bet, making the pick you think will be a winner, and then you spin.  Where that bouncing silver ball will land is anyone’s guess.

I’ve been fiddling around with Twitter since some time this summer.  I have an account (@SueBEdwards) and for months I would post about once a week.  I knew that wasn’t enough but between blogging and having an author page on Facebook, the thought of finding enough brilliant articles and blog posts to post more often than that was daunting.

Then someone said something that caught my attention.  People view their Twitter feeds on their phones.  They don’t want to do a lot of lengthy reading.  This is the place for quirky quips and visuals.  Thus the escalation of the selfie.

I’ve taken one selfie in my entire life.  One.  Where to point the camera (aka phone), how to angle my big fat head . . . ack!

But I can do visual.  I’m actually getting pretty handy at snapping photos of other things with my phone.  And I can always visuals online that  draw attention — in a good way, people!  In a good way!

I am now ten days into posting daily images.  I’d love to say that I’ve caught the hang of what will be popular and what won’t.

A post about the SCBWI Winter Reading List (no image) brought 426 impressions (seen by) and 12 engagements (took an action).

“What I’m Reading” plus the cover of Anything but Ordinary Addie by Mara Rockliff with a link to my review brought 218 impressions and 6 engagements.

“What I’m Reading” plus a photo of my reading pile and compliment for my local library system complete with their twitter name, 540 impressions and 15 engagements.

These are my three most popular posts to date in spite of the fact that I once strayed into politics (hot button issue? not necessarily) and once posted about professional gaming.  Given the number of people who game, I thought that would be a hit.  Not so much.

Suffice it to say, that although I see trends — post something you can link to an organization — I am definitely still trying to figure out what will be popular and what won’t.




June 24, 2016

How do editors decide what to publish?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:02 am
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wish listsI’ve been wondering a lot lately about how editors decide what to publish. Wondering and discussing it with my fellow writers.  Here are a list of theories I’ve compiled in a non-scientific (these are the ones I remember) way.

  • Editors are influenced by the “wish lists” produced by teachers and librarians.
  • They are out to create the books that they couldn’t find as children.
  • They look at market data — this kind of book is successful while this one isn’t.
  • They create child-friendly versions of their favorite adult books.

When I saw “Are Publishers Influenced by Teacher and Librarian Feedback,” I clicked through to the full story on Publisher’s Weekly.  Here is a smattering of the responses.  For more complete information, see the full article (link above).

Katie Hall, Abordale Associate Editor
Hall goes to trade shows at least once a year so that the can mingle with teachers and librarians.  “If I have a manuscript that I might be on the fence about, but it’s a subject that a teacher has mentioned to me, that can tip it over into the yes pile.”

Carolyn Yoder, senior editor, Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek
Her authors often come up with ideas after talking to a librarian but Yoder does her own research.  “I also check several librarian websites—Kid Lit Frenzy, the Uncommon Corps, Unleashing Readers—where they discuss what’s new and what’s coming up and sometimes what they would like to see more of.”

Alvina Ling, Little, Brown Editor-in-Chief
Feedback during conferences and library-previews.

David Levithan, Scholastic publisher and editorial director
Because of school connections, they get constant feedback from teachers and librarians.  This is part of the reason that they were so happy to aquire George by Alex Gino, teachers and librarians had told Scholastic that they were having to give YA books to children who really weren’t ready for YA content.

Mary Lee Donovan, Candlewick editorial director

“Candlewick is very much a creatively led publishing house. ‘Creatively led’ . . . means that the majority of the books we publish are products of the creator’s particular pursuit or passion.”

Justin Chanda, Simon & Schuster  v-p and publisher

“. . .  part of our editorial-meeting agenda within each of my imprints is to discuss what the editors have been hearing from those on the front lines—teachers and librarians who are sharing books and working with kids. We often hear comments at librarian previews, at conferences, on social media, and on listserves. We hear things directly from folks we have relationships for years, and who will email editors or me directly. Authors will hear feedback when they are going into schools on tour and will bring comments back. It is all very much a part of our discussions. Editorial’s job is to know as much about the market as possible, and educators and librarians are the conduit to one of the largest pieces of that market.”

I’m sure that the information from this article is skewed — they specifically wanted to know how much impact the opinions of teachers and librarians had — but I think it also shows that this market knowledge plays a big part in the selection process at many houses.  Maybe not all, but many.


February 3, 2016

Comparable Books vs Competing Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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comparableWhether you are writing a query or a nonfiction book proposal, you need to know which books are comparable to your own.  Note: Comparable does not mean identical or competing.

You do need to know which books would compete with yours.  This is vital because you need to know that there is space for your book in the market place.  If there are five books on mouse vocalizations for preschoolers, you can’t claim that your book on the same topic for the same audience will have no competition.

But comparable books are a little different.  Or, as my grandmother would have said, they are a skootch different.

When you are trying to determine which books are comparable to yours, consider this sentence.  The audience for my book is the same as the audience for (insert appropriate titles here).  

You can’t give the world another Judy Moody or Stink but the humor in your chapter books might appeal to Megan McDonald’s fans.

You book about a group of princesses who double as secret agents is a bit too stark for Shannon Hale’s reader but might be perfect for those who appreciate Sarah Rees Brennan’s, especially if you include the necessary fantasy element.

If you write nonfiction, the above examples might not seem applicable but maybe you bring the passion to vocal music that Trombone Shorty Andrews brings to New Orleans’ jazz. Or you might have an eye for detail and comparisons like Steve Jenkins.  Or a talent with cryptids and the offbeat like Kelly Milner Hall.

Take the time to analyze your work and come up with someone whose work has a similar flavor.  Do this and you’ll know there’s a market for your type of writing and you can also take a closer look and make sure there is space in those reader’s lives for your work as well.


September 18, 2015

Researching agents and editors

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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Mine the PW rights report for information on agents selling your type of work.

If you don’t read the weekly “Rights Report” by Publisher’s Weekly then you should.  This weekly feature tells which agents have sold manuscripts to which editors.  Don’t shake your head at me.  This is a big deal.  This information isn’t as dated as most market listings.  It isn’t a laundry list of what someone might consider.  This is what they actually bought.

The report for 8/31 includes information about over a dozen editors including: Calista Brill (First Second), Karen Lotz (Candlewick), and Megan Tingley (Little, Brown).  While these editors are from closed houses, this is still important information.  Want to know which agents successully make sales to these editors?  Go to the end of the paragraph and you’ll see who prepresented each piece.

That’s the information that is most important for me right now.  From this single rights report I’ve found the names of five agents to explore.  Three represent narrative nonfiction (whoot!):  Bernadette Baker (Victoria Sanders), Stephen Barr (Writers House), and Eddie Schneider (JABberwocky).  Two more represent picture book authors who don’t also illustrate: Tracy Adams (Adams Literary) and Scott Treimel (Scott Treimel NY).

Yes these are the big names but why not shoot for the stars if they represent your kind of writing?  If they are accepting work and your work is a good fit, it makes sense to give them a try.




March 23, 2015

Social Media: How to use it to market you and your book

Social Media Explained with CoffeeWhen I attended the March 14th Missouri SCBWI workshop on marketing and social media, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’d probably learn something but these events tend to leave me overwhelmed.  There’s just so much to do and I can’t possibley do it all, so why bother?

First things first, Kristi and Casey both explained the “why bother” of various types of social media.  Amazingly, each type of media from Facebook to Youtube is used in a different way.  You know that and I know that, but knowing how they are used is another situation.  Fortunately, Kristi shared the graphic at right.

Kristi also encouraged us to personalise our book marketing.  For Penguin Cha Cha, she takes a penguin photo board to her events.  Readers pose behind the board and have their photo taken as a dancing penguin.  She also taught them how to cha cha complete with lovely Latin dance hands!

Of course, since my book is on the Ancient Maya, this too gave me the giggles.  Get your photo taken as a Mayan king standing on the backs of your foes!   Here is a lovely book mark shaped like an obsidian knife!

Casey went on to reinforce how to create a platfrom that suits your pesonality.  Granted, I got the giggles when he talked about not trying to be cute if your books aren’t cute.  Rest assured, World.  I will NOT try to be cute.

He also emphasized the importance of creating a consistent online personality.  Part of this is using the same photo or image as the profile photo in each and every form of social media.  Not only did I not have a photo in the SCBWI Speakers’ Listing, the photo I had on Facebook doesn’t match the photo on my site.

Perhaps the most important idea was that we shouldn’t try to do it all.  Pick one or two things to do and do them well.  Otherwise, your list will be as long as the coffee graphic and you won’t do any of it.

If you ever have the chance to hear Kristi or Casey speak, do it! They are highly inspirational.  You will note – I may have not have an obsidian knife book mark, but I do have a photo linked to my SCBWI profile.

Special thanks to Marketplace Maven for creating this informative image.






March 16, 2015

Marketing Your Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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how to market your bookBecause I write book reviews, I know when new books come out without even looking at my calendar.

In part, that’s because this is when the e-mails arrive.  “I’ve written a book.”  Or, if someone has a publicist or the publisher does a great deal of marketing, “so-and-so has written a book.”

This is also when the posts show up on Facebook.  “Here’s the cover of my book.”  “Here’s an excerpt from my book.”

The problem is that I see so many of both that you are going to have to do more than that to catch my attention.  You need to let me know why I want to review your book.  Why does it matter to me?  Why is it of interest to my readers?

I know I sound high maintenance but the reality is that it doesn’t matter who you approach with your book.  Unless they are your grandmother or your first grade teacher, you are going to have to sell.

Just how you do this depends on your book, but here are three things that will work for a variety of books:

Show that you know.  Don’t approach a target audience with a hard sell on the book itself.  Instead, tell them what the book will do for them. Will it hold a preschool story time in rapt silence?  Will it help sixth graders understand how plot and character interact?  Explain how they will use and benefit from your book and you will have made it personal.  Face it, everyone likes to feel understood.

Offer a service.  When the time comes, don’t just try to put your book into someone’s hand.  Offer them your book and something more.  “I will come into your classroom and teach your children about fiction vs nonfiction.”  “I will help your class explore writing through inquiry based activities based on Mayan art.”  You aren’t just selling a book, you’re selling an experience.

Summon your minions.  Even before your book comes out, build your blog readership or network on Facebook.  That way when your latest and greatest does come out, your assembled forces will spread the word.  A librarian or book store owner is far more likely to sit up and take notice when a patron or fan requests your work than if you try to peddle it.

People want good books but you have to get their attention in just the right way.



August 7, 2014

Slant: Choosing Your Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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slantA couple of years ago, I pitched a cookbook series to a publisher who utlimately passed on the project.  The books feature fun recipes grouped around a theme — Book 1: Knights,  Book 2: Pirates, and Book 3: Mummies.  The only book that had any overlap with an already published book was pirates and the competitor was more “craft food” than actual recipes.  Still, it was competition so I’ve been noodling over ways I might strengthen it before I send it out into the market place.

At this point, my pitch has a humorous slant.  The knights’ recipes include food to lure in an ogre, what to do with the dragon once you’ve vanquished it, treats for your steed and the like.

Another slant would be historic.  I could give historically accurate information about knights and then recipes that show what they ate.

Is there a right way?  Maybe.  I want to come up with something that will sell.  Humor sells.  But teachers and home schoolers also like fact.

Is there a wrong way.  Again, maybe.  I don’t want to do what’s already been done.  I also don’t want to do what no one will buy.

Silly or historic?  I’ve been bobbling back and forth all summer.  Then I picked up Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Fairy Tale Feasts.  Yolen adapted the fairy tales and Stemple wrote the recipes.  Fairy tales are both silly and historic and Yolen’s sidebars include lots of additional scholarly information.  I was in heaven.  Stemple’s recipes aren’t what I call craft recipes — mix fish-shaped crackers with blue jelly beans and call it mermaid food.  This is real cooking.

So I’m still noodling.  I want the books to be fun.  My son loved making cookies that looked like bones and blue gelatin with Swedish fish suspended in it to look like a fish bowl. That said, I also love the idea of having fun while learning.

Obviously, all I’ve seen is that you can combine to the two.  The answer may be to write about ten pages using several different slants and then see which one I like best.  I’m still thinking . . . thinking . . . thinking . . .



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