Go Ask Alice–Real or Fake?

I finally got an audio version of Go Ask Alice and have been listening to it every free second I’ve had in my car. I’ve heard Go Ask Alice pegged often as one of the first modern YA books and, I guess, in a lot of ways maybe it is.

The book is advertised as based on the real diary of a teenage girl growing up in the early 70s. The diary follows the worsening drug addiction of the unnamed narrator, highlighting the problems of middle class drug use. The narrator becomes homeless, engages in prostitution, and pushes drugs to elementary school kids. It’s a total train wreck.

But the book (and its subsequent TV movie) have become a bit of an urban legend. The book was supposedly penned by “anonymous.” But, listening to the book, I started to wonder if this was a true story at all. I knew that the diary would have been edited, but honestly, I started having a hard time believing that the teenage narrator would have written this at all. I started to do a little research and, yeah, I’m not the only one questioning.

Expert  Barbara Mikkelson points out that, for a teenage girl’s diary, there is way too much space dedicated to long descriptive passages about how drugs feel and not nearly enough to personal relationships, boys, gossip, etc. For me, the narrator’s repetitive odes to marijuana were what set me on edge. Others have commented that specific details were mixed up that the author of the diary would not have mixed up. For instance, the narrator talks about the Psychedelic Shop and Diggers’ Free Store while living in Coos Bay, Oregon when both those stores are in San Fransisco. It’s possible, I guess, that the narrator could have been confused enough from the drug use to mix up her time spent in San Fran versus Coos Bay, but I don’t know…

Apparently skeptics have gone digging and the Copyright Office shows Beatrice Sparks, the diary’s editor as the copyright holder and she is actually listed as the diary’s author. Normally for posthumous diaries I guess the editor would be listed as the compiler, executor, or editor–not the author. Sparks was a psychologist and a Mormon youth counselor. She claims that Go Ask Alice was based on the diary of a patient. She went on to “edit” several more diaries based on those of her patient’s. One such work was Jay’s Journal, about a boy that committed suicide after becoming involved in the occult. After its publication, the alleged boy’s family came forward and said that the book had been based on only a couple real diary entries and that the entire occult angle was imagined. Interestingly, no one has ever come forward as being related to the narrator of Go Ask Alice.

In 1998, Mark Oppenheimer wrote a NYT article entitled, “Just Say Uh-Oh” in which he claimed that Linda Glovach was a co-author of Go Ask Alice, unkindly calling her one of the “forgers” of the book.

Another Go Ask Alice misconception exists regarding the narrator’s name. It’s not Alice, which is exactly what I had thought, too. Go Ask Alice comes from the lyrics of a Jefferson Airplane song called “White Rabbit.” At one point, the narrator meets a homeless drug addict sitting on the curb named Alice, but this encounter is very brief. The narrator also references Alice in Wonderland, musing that perhaps Lewis Carroll was on drugs when he wrote it. For a moment, I thought perhaps the narrator’s name was Carla, as she references a little boy walking in on her prostituting herself for drugs and says (more or less) that his father can’t come to the door because of Carla. But I haven’t found any support for that and there may have been another girl in the room at the time.

In any case, I guess Go Ask Alice will remain one of those literary mysteries. Have you read it? Do you think it’s real?

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The Hopefuls: Day 1

Hi, friends!

Today, is Day 1 of The Hopefuls blog series. I’m kicking us off today and tomorrow and will be posting periodically in between guest posts.

But before we get into it, I first want to backtrack to my last post. I mentioned I had a new man. Yes, it’s true. Sorry, Nate. I have a new man…uscript. Oh, okay, fine. Not as juicy. But I’m excited about it. So I wanted to share. I have delved into the world of middle grade fiction and am slugging my way through. Any MG writers or authors out there, who think they can help me out, shoot me an email. I’m happy to critique back!

Onward!

The Hopefuls is an agented support group, for those of us whose journey from signing with agent to publication hasn’t exactly zipped right along. The message is: Look, this happens to a lot of people, it’s just not *talked* about by a lot of people.

We’ll have posts on all sorts of topics: how hard it is to work on something else while obsessing over submissions, concern over disappointing your agent, knowing when to start something new, tips on not going insane, perseverance and more.

If you are a writer and author with a post you’d like to share or even just a quick word of encouragement or advice, email me and I’ll include you. Feel free to remain anonymous.

As always, I can be reached at chandler1986 (at) gmail (dot) com.

You can follow posts in The Hopefuls series by clicking on the relevant category on the righthand sidebar.

Prizes:

Oh yes, I’ll be giving away prizes, of course.

1.)   I’ll give away one book or ARC that I think has a hopeful message for every 50 comments I get. The first book I’ll be giving away is Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. Each comment gives you an entry to win. I’ll use a random number generator to pick.

2.)   Because I don’t want to leave out the un-agented among us, I have something for y’all, too. I’ll be doing 2 query critiques for the commenters w/ the most points. You get 1 point per comment (of substance, please), 2 points for tweeting about The Hopefuls, and 3 for linking via your blog or website.

3.)   Other prizes will be announced as we go. But expect more critiques from other great writers as well. Points from #2 will count toward the new prizes as well.

Last logistical bit: If you would like to be included in The Hopefuls Support Group, email me or comment and I’ll email you. I’ll be setting up a group for agented writers to vent about the process and to help each other to ensure that the first offer does come sooner, rather than later.  This will probably be in the form of a listserv because I think that’s the easiest to keep up with, but suggestions are welcome.

The Hopefuls Day 1: My Story

I always, always loved the idea of being an author. That was about it, though. The idea of being an author. Beginning when I was 12 or so, I started a random array of books. I’d be surprised if I ever wrote more than 10 pages. Around 18-years-old, I realized that there may be a difference between loving books and wanting to write them. I decided I would stick to loving them, reading them, the end.

Then, my junior year of college, I started dating someone. We had known each other for a bit, were on the same sports team, and so had pretty much all the same friends. He was the captain of our team and I was just on it. I had this weird need to have something that was only mine. There was that and I had just heard about this thing called Nanowrimo. So, I’m not sure which came first—the wanting something of my own or hearing about Nano—maybe Nano was first and that’s how I justified. Anyway, with Nano you are expected to write 50k in a month. I thought it’d be one of those great stories, do it once in a lifetime, you’re only young once sort of thing. I did it and finished the 50k. Go me!

The writing bug went away for a bit, but I started feeling like I wanted to dabble. So, I wrote some short stuff the next semester. I started subbing at the end of the summer. Got a few little acceptances here and there.

I started reading Miss Snark. That’s when I decided I wanted to go all in. The writing community was just so cool. Publishing is one of those opaque, mysterious industries from the outside, I think. And I felt cool knowing a lot of insider info, through research, etc.

So, I decided to graduate college a semester early and write something. I wrote a book. I queried it too early. I got rejections. I started this blog. I got more rejections. Lots of requests, though. I was happy about that! I realized I actually really liked writing queries. Totally bizarre.

I got an idea for another book. I started writing it. Oops! This book should be a comic book, I realized. How cool was that? I researched comic books. I talked to comic book writers and artists. I did some random work with graphic novel organizations, etc. Wrote for a few people when I could for free. I then wrote my story idea as a graphic novel and found an artist.

In my head, I already knew that this idea was a winner. It had a great twist. I felt so much better about this idea. I queried about 16 agents. Meanwhile, I got an offer of representation on the first book. That agent wanted to rep the new book, too. Yay! But then I got 2 more offers of representation from two great agents.

I ended up going with an agent who wanted to represent the graphic novel. It was Dan Lazar at Writers House. Having him call me up when I wasn’t expecting was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. Ever! I signed with him, finished the script, and we started subbing in November.

We made it to acquisitions at a couple places, but lots of editors said: I love this story, but can we see it as a regular book maybe?

I wrote 80 pages of the story for Dan in a traditional novel format. He’d never seen my “prose” (for lack of a better word), but thankfully, he loved it! This was incredibly validating for me and I was thrilled.

We officially retired the graphic novel project in March. It was hard to realize that my first project didn’t make the cut, but ultimately, I feel like it is going to work out better in the long run.

Now, I’m writing my story in a whole new format. Many things have changed. The mythology, the setting, the character names. Graphic novels and traditional ones are two very different mediums and you can’t just translate one to the other in a lockstep approach. So, I’m trying to be flexible as I go, realizing it is the same story, but I also need to allow it to evolve. As I said earlier, I’ve also started a new book, a middle grade. Because when you’ve been working on the same story for a year, sometimes it’s good to let your brain cut its teeth on something new. To create again. So that’s where I’m at.

I thought agents were the gatekeepers and that after I tricked (just kidding) one in to signing me, everything would be downhill. Now, don’t get me wrong, the whole journey has been fantastic. I’m thrilled to have my agent as an advocate and I know it really hasn’t been that long. But, that’s why I need a support group and I seriously doubt I’m the only one.

Here’s A Question For Ya–Houses Doing Teen Covers Right

FLUX

Vamped           AX31WP     BlueIsFor

RAZORBILL (PENGUIN)  

13RW_HC_SPECIAL_FINAL.indd        Devilish       BreatheMyName

 

ST. MARTINS 

CrackedUpToBe         UnTamed            Evermore

 

Cover envy. I have it. I love browsing through books online or in bookstores and looking at covers. It’s fun to think about which covers work and why. But I realized recently that I rarely look at covers by imprint or by publishing house. So, I’ve spent a few days going through the covers at different imprints to see if I noticed any trends or if any house’s covers particularly stood out to me. I only looked at YA imprints so keep that in mind. In fact, I started thinking about this in the first place when I notice how amazingly awesome all Flux’s covers are. So big round of applause for Flux on the cover front! Anyway, these are the imprints that I think are creating particularly standout covers for teens. Lucky authors and lucky readers who get to have these fab novels gracing their bookshelves.

 

How about y’all? Are their any houses whose covers you consistently love?

 

 

5 Reasons

 

Preface:

I think challenging yourself (univeral “you”) to write outside your preferred genre is great. I know that you just might find out that you have strengths beyond those of which you knew, so please don’t construe this list as a way of saying, “Don’t write YA if you’re not already writing it.” 

But here are some things that you might want to keep in mind.

1. Don’t write YA if you consider it a stepping stone to writing adult fiction. YA is a refined category in its own right. There is a sophisticated body of YA literature and that body of work keeps growing. So if you think that YA is some sort of dilapidated halfway house towards your career in the adult fic market, you best get your snooty patooty on up outta here. 

2. Don’t write YA if you don’t love reading it.  Seriously. The vast, vast majority of the books I read are YA and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, if you are just writing it, but not wanting to read than this probably isn’t the “genre” (read: age group) for you. More importantly, if the last piece of YA lit you read was Ender’s Game, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that you need a refresher course. YA lit isn’t all Harry Potter these days. A lot of the titles doing well are quite edgy and certainly not all rated PG. 

3. Don’t write YA if the reason you’re writing it is because it’s “hot” right now. First of all, writing to the market is generally not that great an idea. Trends change faster than you can write ’em and just because YA is getting some publicity, doesn’t mean that a great book won’t succeed in another genre…which leads me to my next point…

4. Don’t write YA if you don’t enjoy writing it. If you are bored as a writer or, perhaps less dramatically, not as passionate about the category as you would be in writing a different genre, it will show in your writing. You have a much better chance of writing a book that will sell, if you write a book that you love, a book with that little extra bit of magic that only a writer’s unbridled enthusiasm for the content can create. 

5. Don’t write YA because you think it is easier to write. I have heard way too often on message boards “YAs have simplistic plot lines,” “teeny-bopper voices,” “one-dimensional characters,” and “preachy messages.” Again, these misconceptions can be fixed by reading recent YA. 

 

So, here’s what I’m trying to say. YA is awesome. If you are interested, by all means, I suggest everyone check out what’s out there. I hope you love it as much as I do and will want to contribute to the YA litosphere. But, let’s face it, not everyone loves the same books. Not everyone loves the same types of books. That’s ok. Just because YA is a growing market, doesn’t mean that if you don’t write it, you’ll somehow lose out on your golden opportunity or be left off the bandwagon. It’ll be ok.

Review In Questions: Waiting to Score

Quirky, smart, and good looking, Zack Chase is a book-loving, talented hockey player. But he doesn’t want to turn pro like his late dad, despite his mom’s hopes. New in town, Zack’s pitted against obnoxious Mac, the hockey team captain with something against Jane, the alluring Goth-girl who’s caught Zack’s eye. As incidents on the ice and off force Zack to decide what he really wants, he copes with sore losers, other people’s drinking problems, and the consequences of making out with too many girls. As Zack focuses even less on hockey, he discovers other ways he wants to score in life, especially as a 15-year-old guy with spiking hormones. He’s being chased by hot little Mona; his best friend Sheila has curves that make him sweat; and he’d like to show Jane that he’s not another typical hockey player. Soon Zack finds out the hard way that people have secrets and burdens all their own, and that some actions have tragic, far-reaching consequences. 

 

waitingtoscore2

 

 

Favorite thing about the book?

Character development. I felt like I knew SO MANY of the characters in the book. It’ss not always common to feel that way about even the minor players.

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

How quickly things turned around for Zack. He went from being unsure to Yoda in no time. At times, the resolutions were a bit too “pat.”

What was most surprising about the book?

Same as my least favorite thing about the book. J.E. McElrod had developed a character with many issues, some that were serious, and some that Zack and any other teenager would think were serious. But, then the book rushed to the finish a bit, which left me feeling, well, a bit surprised. 

 

Favorite Character?

Zack Chase, the main character, not because he was perfect or always loveable, but because he represented a lot of what it was to be a teenager. He was insecure while being cocky, friendly while being angry, confident while being confused. He was great.

Underlying themes?

There is the obvious coming of age, but I guess less obvious is dealing with depression, love, teenage lust, team chemistry/leadership.

After this book you felt…?

Slightly frustrated.

Who would you recommend this book to?

boys and girls teenage years/young adult–Ok, that is sort of obvious. But I’m always a big fan of finding the YA “boy books.” And this was definitely a gem in that field. I feel like this is sort of Twisted-esque by Laurie Halse Anderson. You’ll love Zack like you loved Tyler. 

Moreover, while I find team/sports books in the Middle Grade section, I find fewer in YA. And aren’t sports a huge part of high school for a lot of people? So, if you are looking for that type of read, check this out for sure. 

 

Finally, how long did it take you to read? 

The book only took me the afternoon to read. It’s a short, sweet page turner.

 

 

 

**I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile, but WestSide Books is a cool new publishing house. Check out some of their other books as well. 

Review in Questions: The Hunger Games

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one by and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteeen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

suzanne-collins1

 

  On Amazon

 

 

Favorite thing about the book?

This is probably my favorite YA read in a couple years at least, so naturally, there are a lot of highlights. But I’d have to say my favorite thing about the book was how much it scared the pants off me! Now, I’m a girl that hates the feeling of being chased during tag, but honestly, I think the feeling of being hunted would just be the most terrifying thing ever. 

Make a book out of that feeling and you have a novel that literally won’t let you stop turning the pages. 

What makes this work so well is the humanness of the characters’ reaction. The concept may be *hopefully* quite unrealistic, but the authors offers the gamut of true, honest, human reactions in an extraordinary situation that make the book come to life. 

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

In the climax, the author offered an element that I thought was unnecessary for how naturally she’d woven the story. If you’ve read I bet you know what I’m talking about. Feel free to comment, but make sure you place a spoiler warning at the top of your post. 

What was most surprising about the book?

Gender role reversal. 

Favorite Character?

Rue, I think. Katniss, the narrator, is great, too, though. I was so impressed with how Suzanne Collins laid the groundwork for her character in the beginning, knowing how it needed to pay off down the road. 

Underlying themes?

The overwhelming instinct for humans to survive

Oppression–maybe some throwbacks to slavery in the US, the futility of revolt

A bit of Girl Power, but perhaps more gender equality

Definitely social commentary on American Idol and reality shows in general

After this book you felt…?

Mostly sad when I thought about it.

Who would you recommend this book to?

Everyone? 

More seriously, I think this is a great book for boys looking to read more YA that is not slanted so heavily geared toward teen girls. Don’t let the female narrator scare you away. 

Lovers of action and social lottery books. 

Adults that want to see what YA is all about.

If you love horror, but want to get away from zombies, etc., try this. It’s a different kind of scary.

Finally, how long did it take you to read? 

My sweet friend had heard me talking about this book. She’s not a YA reader or a writer, but she remembered and knew I’d had a tough weekend so she ran out an bought it for me. She gave it to me Saturday night. I had to break for homework, etc. but finished it Sunday. 


Review in Questions: I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a fairly typical all-girls schools–that is, it would be if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses, but it’s really a school for spies.

 

ityily


Cammie Morgan is a second-generation Gallagher Girl, and by her sophomore year she’s already fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (one of which involves a piece of uncooked spaghetti). But the one thing the Gallagher Academy hasn’t prepared her for is what to do when she falls for a boy who think’s she’s an ordinary girl.

 

Favorite thing about the book?

The voice is great. Not annoying, but still very teenager. Cammie is clever and likable. However, my favorite part was definitely the format of the book. We talked last week about first person POV and, one of my favorite things to see in a first person narrative is a creative format, a creative reason why the narrator is telling his or her story. 

In this book, the narrative is couched in a Covert Operations Report, which Cammie has been encouraged to write in order to detail her involvement in the events of the semester before. 

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

Not sure what happened with one of the main characters. She didn’t really play a part in the end, which was really too bad. Although, I assume she’ll play a major role in the later books. 

What was most surprising about the book?

The last page–sorry, no spoilers here. There’s a quick little sentence, though, that surprised me. 

Favorite Character?

Macey McHenry

Underlying themes?

Girl Power. I think the reader gets hammered on the head with this one. 

After this book you felt…?

Amused and happy. 

Who would you recommend this book to?

Folks that like the teenagery YA voice, but with less angst. 

Fans of Harry Potter or House of Night that are craving the boarding school-set series. 

Readers who enjoy the girl power messages of E. Lockhart. 

Finally, how long did it take you to read?

This is sort of embarrassing, but I started reading this in July of ’08! Honestly, this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Nate read it in a day. But, I would describe it not so much as a can’t-put-it-down type book, but a happy read. I kept picking up this book when I wanted a laugh or feel amused. It’s a nice book for the nightstand and always put me in a good mood. It’s just so darn cute. 

Actually, though, my timing is good because Gallagher Girls #3 comes out soon, so y’all are just in time to read the first two if you so desire and then pick up Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover

 

Review in Questions: Forest of Hands And Teeth

In Mary’s world, there are simple truths. 
The Sisterhood always knows best. 
The Guardians will protect and serve. 
The Unconsecrated will never relent. 
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village.

 

forest_home1

But slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?


 

Favorite thing about the book?

The writing is beautiful, which you might not expect with a horror/zombie book. But, it really is lovely. The imagery is delightful and I appreciate the voice of Mary, which is not a typical teen, YA-type voice, yet still sounds age-appropriate. 

I would tell readers that the title (which I think is brilliant), is representative of the writing in the rest of the book. 

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

The ending. That’s all I will say without spoilers. 

What was most surprising about the book?

The importance of romance. The romantic relationships in this book amounted to much more than subplot. Although, upon further reflection, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by the infusion of romance because love, of course, really ups the stakes. 

Also, surprising was how unsympathetic the main character, Mary, could be. At times, I found her incredibly selfish. I think this is surprising in a good way, though. Mary is a multi-faceted character, fully formed on the page. We feel her restlessness, her disappointment with herself, and her inner-wrestling. Still, you might want to slap her upside the head a few times. 

Favorite Character?

Hmmm…tough one. I think, by the end, Travis. 

Underlying themes?

Besides the death and destruction of the zombie apocalypse? Just kidding. Honestly, one might not think zombie books would be heavy on the literary messages, but Forest of Hands and Teeth surprised me with nice insight into the collective memory of human beings. How stories are passed down. The importance of remembering. 

I know there was supposed to be an undercurrent of Hope in the book, but I didn’t feel a whole heckuvalot of hope throughout the book. Maybe that’s just me. 

After this book you felt…?

Pensive, sad, tired

Who would you recommend this book to?

Lovers of zombie movies. I think this book definitely has its place in the ranks of pop-culture phenomenons like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and I Am Legend. 

Folks tired of books with horror-creatures like vampires that aren’t actually scary will appreciate Forest of Hands and Teeth’s turn toward more traditional horror. 

Of course, I recommend this to almost any teen fantasy lover–boys, too. However, adults, I wouldn’t write this off even if you do not typically read YA. 

Finally, how long did it take you to read?

I bought this book yesterday around 2pm. Sat down, read until dinner. Had a date with Nate. Finished around 2am. So, 12ish hours, minus however long I was out.

 

**I’d love to discuss this book with folks that have read it already. Spoilers and all. So, if there are enough people who have read it–I know it just came out a week ago–then, I’ll set up a post and ask questions and we can discuss away**

 

I interviewed Carrie awhile back. You can check out the interview here.

2009 Debutante Author Interview Series: C. Lee McKenzie

It’s not a heart-grabbing noise like when somebody jiggles the doorknob to see if it’s locked. It’s not a bitter smell like the electrical short we had last month, when all the breakers popped. No. It’s something in the air, something like a ghost making its way through the room. And it can’t be Monster, not after last night.

sliding_cover_small1

C. Lee McKenzie’s here! She has her debut novel, Sliding on the Edge, coming out from WestSide Books in April and she was kind enough to answer all the questions I had about her road to publication. Thanks, C. Lee!

Sliding on the Edge is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, years?
I had to dig into my archives to answer this one. I’ve written two Middle Grade stories that are gathering moss on my C drive. Sliding is my first YA and I think I sent queries and sample chapters to about six publishers who either didn’t think it suited their mix or didn’t respond. As to how long this book has been in the pre-birthing phase: I started thinking about it in 2006. I wrote some of the ideas down in my notebook (something I consider an additional appendage) through the first part of 2007; then I started actually putting those ideas into scenes and chapters. I hauled what I now refer to as the first draft to a conference and was asked, “What made you write about something like this?” It wasn’t a nice question, BTW, and I was thoroughly discouraged for about half an hour. I finally sold the book in January of 2008. So . . . three books, seven rejections, two years to sale, three years and three months to publication.
Seven rejections! That’s it? Pretty amazing! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal?
Wish I had a comparison to offer, but I don’t have an agent. I’m flying solo without any pre-flight instruction. But talking to my editor is an all-time high, so as life moments go, I’d rank our discussions right up there at the top. The first time we spoke the conversation was pretty one-sided with her doing most of the talking. I was working on breathing while I searched for the part of my brain that knew words. I guess you’d describe the moment as “exciting,” but that’s such an inadequate word.

I’m so impressed by authors who can go it alone. Congrats on making that sale. I know you also write Middle Grade fiction. How do you switch gears when writing between two different age groups? Are there certain things you need to keep in mind for each?
I guess my head just goes into another place when I’m writing and if I’m into MG, I sort of nestle into my pre-teen self. It’s still in there, waiting to be noticed and enjoyed again. My angsty YA is pretty demanding. It has a lot to say, so when I’m there things kind of pour out, like sweat after a run. I’m not really “in” my usual mind when I write. I can’t explain it very well, except to say that I kind of slip into my character(s) and they tell me stuff. So I guess my answer is I don’t have any problems about keeping the two genres separate.

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
Only one? I hope I’m allowed more than that because I’m way over my quota if I’m not. My biggest oops is probably sending a query addressed to one publisher to another. That was super embarrassing, but the publisher was kind and returned the letter to me with something like “oops!” (and not dodo bird) written across the top. She also included a short note saying she liked my idea, but it wouldn’t work for her house. Sigh.
Hey, we’ve all been there. Or at least I have! You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
I’d be very happy to see another book of mine on the shelves and in the hands of readers. I’ve completed (loosely speaking) another YA novel and am working on a third, so I guess I’m thinking continued publication would please me greatly.

Tell us a little about receiving your first rejection. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

My first one? Oh not that! It was horrible. They actually rejected my book (one of my Middle Grades). How could they? That book was positively brilliant. It was the next Harry Potter of the publishing world. Of course, after a few years I came to recognize that the brilliance was more in my head than on the page.

Well, hopefully your upcoming book will be the next Harry Potter, right? Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
This is not only the last, but also the most difficult question, Chandler. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Only one? I seem to be asking that question a lot in this interview. Well, I’ve been re-reading S.E. Hinton lately, and I really love the way she captures the young male adults in her books. So I guess I’d choose my favorite among her publications and say I wish I could have written Rumble Fish.

Tips from a Marketing Maven

shelli1b3

Today, I’ve got something a little different planned: Shelli Johannes-Wells is here to share a bit about her experience managing the Children’s Department at a Barnes and Noble and her take on marketing. She’s worked for clients like Spanx, SCBWI, and Boys and Girls Club in addition to helping to promote books. She’s got a world of expertise to let us in on. Not to mention, she had a dream the other night that my book sold, so I’m going to–with an obvious err on the side of optimism–add psychic to her list of accomplishments, k?

Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions, Shelli!

First, I want to talk a little about your experience managing the Children’s Department at Barnes and Noble. 
 
After I left Auburn with my MBA in Marketing, Accenture (which used to be called Anderson Consulting) hired me right out of school but didn’t have a start date available for months.  I moved back home and got a job at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t realize then that I wanted to be a writer – I just loved books and was an avid reader of children’s books as well as adult mystery. I got a supervisor role in the Children’s department at Barnes and Noble. This was a great because I got to handle/schedule author signings, shelved books which gave me an idea of the market, got previews/galleys of new books, and did story time a couple times a week. I loved everything about it except when I got the dreaded monthly assignment for “bathroom duty”. To this day, in bookstores, I still get flashbacks and will forever have a phobia of bookstore bathrooms. 🙂
 
Too funny! Slash-I don’t blame you. How about specific titles? Did you push certain titles? Were the titles you advocated dictated by the bookstore chain or your own personal preferences?  And did kids tend to pick the books out or did parents?
 
No one ever asked me to push certain titles. I was never even told what displays or books to put on display. I was only told what topics to do a display on. I created my own displays and put books out that I loved. I read a lot of books but customers always had different needs so I stayed up on the market so I knew what I could recommend. I knew what was new, what was good based on reviews, and what other customers were telling me. I loved talking to kids and recommending books. I never got parents asking me much for younger kids. But the kids 8 & up would talk to me a lot about different books. Maybe that is why I write for MG and YA.
 

On to marketing– What made you leave your corporate job and go into marketing and writing?
 
I left Accenture in 2000 and started my own marketing business. I’d been traveling for years and wanted to be home more and have control over my career. I just up and quit my corporate job and started cold calling clients. I was also helping a friend do their book marketing promotions which I loved!
 
I’ve always loved to write, which is probably why I started doing copywriting for businesses. When I was young, I wrote poems and short stories. I even won a state contest for a Nutrition essay named “Be a Smart Cookie.” I still have that story. In 2004, when I had my daughter and was on paid leave for 5 months, for some reason, I got an idea and just started writing. 6 months later I finished my first novel . I’ve been writing ever since.
 
Good for you! How can an author get started marketing their book?   
 
1) first of all you MUST know your target audience. How they speak, where they go, everything. You also need to know what segments of the target audience your book appeals to. You can’t just focus on ages 13-18 for YA. It is too broad. You need to dive deeper into the market and break your readers into segments. Think about each segment and the best way to reach them and come up with an intricate plan to reach segment individually.
 
2) Second, authors need to learn about marketing like they learn about writing. I come across so many authors with great books that know nothing about their audiences or how to market. It’s really a shame. Publishing the book is only 1/2 of it. We get so focused on that as an end goal – we forget there is life beyond the contract. Most publishers EXPECT you to do most if not all of your own marketing. If you do not take ownership for creating a buzz around your book, no one will. And if you don’t market, you may not get another print run or even another deal.  I would say if you are not spending 20% of your time on marketing, you are missing key opportunities for your book.
 
3) Use creative methods. Today, emarketing, social networking, and using technology are critical to any author’s success. Signings, school visits, business cards with your photo on it, and book markers are a step but are not enough anymore. You must learn your way around the net and you must build a network of relationships. I personally think that is important to doing when you are trying to be a published author as well.
emarketing – use the internet for interviews, ezines, blogs. Learn how to put together a professional, simple web site. I would say 80% of the sites I go to are confusing and appear amateurish. There is so much out there to help you.
social networking – you need to get out there where you audience is. You would be surprised how many authors tell me – “I just don’t like the computer”. That is where the kids are! Twitter, Facebook or MySpace. That’s like me saying I don’t like the publishing world, but I want an agent and  book deal. You need to hang out where your audience hangs out. Blogging is also important in getting your name out as well as meeting people. When I started my blog, within 3 months I had over 1,000 visitors. That’s 1,000 people I’ve touched that I may not have. Not to mention, I ‘ve met some great blogger friends, like you Chandler! 🙂
technology – I mentioned a few in the social networking. You can also create book trailers, podcasts, vlogs, and doing virtual signings. Be creative.

Aww, thanks Shelli! Has your background in marketing caused you to approach your own writing career differently? If so, how?
 
I think my marketing experience will help a lot once I get and agent and get published. My marketing doesn’t affect the way I write but if affects other aspects. Like how I query. Or how I network and meet people. Even how I come up with ideas that I feel will appeal to kids. Just hanging out with my best friend’s 12 year old opens my eyes.
 
I am also very aware of how I can market my book once I get published. I have to help people sell complex projects in a simple, succinct way. So it is easy for me to get to the root of what the book is about and describe that in a few sentences.  I have marketing plans for my books already drafted. It just comes natural for me to think through those things so it’s easy for me to do.
 
Marketing is also something I can offer authors and writers. It is my way of giving back. There are so many people that have helped me learn about the publishing business, learn about writing and who have just given me hope and encouragement. It is something I can offer them ad I feel good knowing I can have a small part in helping them be successful. Because of that, I am the PR/Marketing person for the Southern Breeze Region. I do all their PR to drive up membership, I redesigned their logo, and speak at their conferences. All for free. It’s important to give back.
 
Are there currently published authors that readers could look to that you think are getting their marketing and publicity right?
This is a tough question. No one asks authors what they do so you never know. I think its a great question for people to ask authors at their meetings or signings. We can learn a lot from each other.
 
Actually, this year I am adding a new feature to my blog. I will be interviewing authors and getting them to discuss how they market their books. I plan to start that in the next few weeks.
 
Looking forward to that. For authors that want to think or talk about marketing their books before its time for the book to hit shelves or to plan a school visit a school visit, how can they learn more?

On my blog, Market My Words (www.faeriality.blogspot.com) – I give daily tips to authors and offer “Marketing Mondays” where I go into depth on a marketing topics for authors as well as discuss marketing books/resources that are valuable to authors. I try to focus on helping published authors as well as “pre-published” authors because I believe you can start your marketing efforts now. By the time you get published, you turn in your edits, and your books hits the shelf, it is too late. The sooner you have your foundation built, the easier it is to launch your plan when it is time. You should start 6-9 months BEFORE your book comes out. Not during or after.

 

Thanks, Shelli. Good to hear that effort spent blogging etc., is time well spent because we’re building foundations now so we won’t have to cram it all into the last 6 months before publication, right? I appreciate you coming by to share your hard-won wisdom. Keep us updated!