Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Trailers - Why and How

by Hazel Buys

It has been argued that making a trailer for a book is an oxymoron. A trailer, after all, is a staple of the film industry and films are moving pictures. A book is, well, not moving. But the most cursory review of marketing advice for writers includes the caveat, when announcing your book launch, include social media. And there is no better way to engage social media than a video on YouTube.

How on earth do I go about creating a book trailer, you ask? What do I need? How do I get what I need? There are many resources to help you on the web. Just google ‘how to make a book trailer.’ You’ll be amazed!

Here is a summary of the main points to consider. First, take a pass on ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ (See above.)

1. You’ll want to keep it simple – that’s encouraging isn’t it?
2. Decide on the software you want to use (again, see above).
3. Look at lots of book trailers to get ideas. There are bunches on YouTube and other sites.
4. Write a script; this includes deciding on how long you want your video to be. The best book trailers are short, a minute or less. Good news, right? Writing the script is probably the hardest part, honest.
5. Decide on images and sound you want to use. There are many places to get free and/or inexpensive image and sound files to use. Your software will allow you to import these files and place them in your video wherever you choose.
6. Match your images/sound to your script and play around with the sequence and special effects.
7. Don’t forget to include all important information, e.g., your title, name, ISBN, etc. After all, it’s supposed to make viewers want to buy your book. Include a link to a point-of-sale location if you can, for example, your page on Amazon.
8. Preview your book trailer with friends and family. It’s easier to correct things at this point than after it’s already playing on the internet.

When you’re ready to go, upload it to any site that hosts videos consistent with your subject matter or genre, add it to your email signature, put it on your web site, tweet about it, feature it on your blog, use it wherever and whenever you can. It’s a wonderful advertising tool and you created it!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writers Are Readers Too!

Here's a sample of what we've been reading lately:

Hazel: The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty, is a book brimming with quirky characters and difficult adult themes, treated with a lightness of tone that is absurd except in the world of the Zings. Their response to problems that are as old as mankind is twisted but inventive and novel. If you haven’t discovered the Zing family, take a look!

Lana: Horton Halfpott: Or, the Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or the Loosenling of M'lady Luggertuck's Corset is the newest title by Tom Angleberger, who brought us The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. From the very first sentence, this book enchants the reader with pseudo-Victorian goofiness. Fans of Lemony Snicket will love this.

Brian: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems

In addition to writing children's stories and writing for the blog, I have a full time job, so my reading time is severly limited EXCEPT for reading time with my daughter. This is one of our favorites. Mo Willems creates a comic, emotional tug of war between two birds of different feathers. The duel of wits is funny for both children and adults; and the simple text allows young readers to particpate in the silliness. I never grow tired of hearing my daughter read the Pigeon's "Can you believe this guy?" line with her impeccable Brooklyn accent (Don't blame me, after seeing the movie Bolt, all piegeons have Brooklyn accents!)

What are you reading now (besides our blog, that is)?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Funniest Thing About...

The funniest thing about writer’s block is that so much has been written about it. A quick Google search for the term yielded 10,700,000 articles. That’s a lot of words to describe a lack of words! 

Although some of the articles simply describe the wretched condition, the overwhelming majority of them offer advice on how to overcome writer’s block. Like cures for hiccups, there are many remedies that are varied and creative. But, also like cures for hiccups, their effectiveness is debatable. Some suggest writing grocery lists to get the creative juices flowing, some suggest drawing pictures to tempt the muses, others recommend getting up and going for a hike to clear those mental cobwebs.

 My personal favorite remedy is to just tackle the problem head on. Just sit and write, “I have writer’s block because…” and let it all out. Exorcise those demons of self doubt, mental fatigue, work or family pressures, etc. The very things that are causing you writer’s block may actually be a good source of material for the characters you create. Of course, if none of these strategies work for you, you can always go to Barnes and Noble and buy one of the 124 titles they have on the subject – or one of the 357 titles available on Amazon. 

And if all else fails, take comfort in this bit of wisdom that American poet William Stafford offered his students: “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask An Author: Where do you write?

Today we have exclusive, untouched, never-before-seen photos of real writing spaces. Have a gander . . .

Here's where Brian writes. He calls it the Fortress of Squalitude.

Hazel takes advantage of the view from her window, perfect for day-dreaming and asking herself "what if?" While she most often writes at her computer, she also likes to keep old-fashioned paper and pen handy for thoughts on the go.

Over the years, Stephanie's writing place has moved from room to room. Here’s the spot where she’s settled for now – all freshly neatened up for its blog debut! Her desk fits snugly between two windows. She like to have LOTS of light! Stephanie's fantasy writing place would be a glass tower in the back yard.

Here's where Lana does most of her writing, although she has been known to frequent Panera when a change of venue is necessary.

Tell us about your writing space . . . or your fantasy writing space.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Location, Location, Location!

by Pat Tabb

I once heard a writing instructor mention that writing is about fluency.  And fluency finds its impetus in momentum.  “The secret,” she said, “is to keep your work moving, even if you have to try something quirky to fool yourself into staying with it.”
This advice came to mind much later, when I switched from writing shorter works to middle-grade novels.  As with any writing project, I began well.  The keys just seemed to tap away for me.  Then, somewhere in the long middle of it, I was in a writing rut.  I needed to shake things up, “fool” myself into seeing it to its finish, but how? 
A writer friend of mine mentioned that she changes location regularly to keep herself interested and involved in her projects.  Really?  I never considered that I had to move myself just to keep my story moving.  In fact, I thought that my study, set up for writing, was the best place to stick to my routine.  “Even if I can’t get out,” she said, “I’ll change rooms during the day.”  Maybe she had a point.  Was I slowing down from just staying in the same place too long? 
I tried changing rooms, but I was still stuck.  Then I picked up my writing and “took a hike.”  A brief writing session at a Starbuck’s, where folks were obviously on the go, seemed to kick up the verve in my story.  A quiet spot in the library where others were reading, studying, and writing, worked wonders.  Encouraged by their industriousness, I set to work.  Oddly, even while driving out and back, I found my mind clicking with scenes and dialogue.  Any outing provided the impetus I needed, whether writing in a new spot or back at home, too.  Who would have thought it?  (Other writers, it seems; for example, Emily Bronte, who wandered the moors of Yorkshire and Joseph Addison, who trudged a footpath along the River Charwell in Oxford.)  So now when I’m stuck, I change to another location to move the writing along.    
How about you?  What kind of writing atmosphere or location works best for you when you need writing momentum?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Light Bulb Lab: Trust your cluster!

I love writing poetry for children. I love the way an unexpected rhyme can take a linear story and turn it on its ear. And the best way I’ve found to tap into my poetic muse is with a strategy called clustering, as developed by Dr. Gabriele Lusser Rico. To cluster, you write a single word in the center of a blank page and circle it. Then as fast as possible you draw lines outward from that word and write as many related or rhyming words as you can think of, circling each one. After a minute or two of brainstorming, stop and assess your page. See if you can make connections between the numerous circled words in seemingly random array on your page. For instance, my poem “Fishful Thinking” began with the single word fish. From that word I “clustered” the related words ocean, shark, fishing pole, and swim. I also clustered the rhyming words dish, wish, swish, fishes, delicious. Looking at my clusters, the finished poem practically leapt off the page! Dr. Rico explains the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain as the key to clustering. Her book, WRITING THE NATURAL WAY explains the process in greater detail and I recommend it heartily for anyone seeking to channel their poetic muse.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bits and Bytes

6 Things You Should Know about Publishing:
Writer's Digest has a quick list of things you should know about publishing. Although it's by adult author Karin Slaughter, the list applies equally to children's publishing. Point number six is especially relevant: "Publishing is an uphill battle, so enjoy what you're doing." So just forget about sales and marketing and six figure book deals and simply lose yourself in a good story.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Author Spotlight: Rhonda Lucas Donald

Today we are shining the local author spotlight on Rhonda Lucas Donald. Rhonda has written more than a dozen books for children and teachers including her most recent title: Deep in the Desert. Her articles and stories about science and animals have appeared in "Ranger Rick" and "Your Big Backyard" magazines. As a kid, Rhonda fell in love with science. Now she writes about science, weaving it into verses and songs as a way to make it fun. We'll be giving away a copy of Deep in the Desert this week to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on any of the posts this week. On Monday, we'll choose a random winner.

Rhonda, tell us where the idea for Deep in the Desert came from. Was it something from your imagination or did it come from your life experience?

I always loved music as a child and sang along with nursery rhymes and all the familiar kiddy tunes. This paid off later when I wrote the parent pages for Your Big Backyard. Every month, I wrote new lyrics to familiar tunes about one of the animals in that issue. I really enjoyed it, and the songs were quite popular with the readers. When I was searching for a new book idea, I found that Sylvan Dell Publishing was looking for books about deserts. I thought it would be fun to write about different desert plants and animals in song. Luckily, they agreed!

What about the illustrations? Did you have any input there?

I had no direct contact with the illustrator, Sherry Neidigh, but did see several iterations of the spreads. I saw sketches first, then full-color paintings. Sherry did a tremendous amount of research to make sure every plant, bug, and bird was native to the desert environment she was illustrating. I had a chance to make suggestions or corrections, but I found absolutely nothing to change! She did a fantastic job, and I was truly fortunate to have her illustrate the book. I was terrific to work with the editor at Sylvan Dell, Donna German. She always kept me in the loop. 

What was your biggest challenge with writing this book?

The hardest part was organizing the sheet music to go with the songs. Donna (the Sylvan Dell editor) felt that it was important to have the sheet music available online for each song. So I became a composer for a couple of weeks! I know how to read music, but I was rusty and had never really done anything like this before. Thankfully, I have a friend, Laura Scoble, who is a musical genius. She went over all of it with me to make sure it was pitch perfect!

Tell us a little about your next writing project.

I have several books in various stages of completion. A few are circulating, which can take many months. A few are percolating, which can also take many months. One is a picture book, Lop-Eared Lily, about a funny, lovable dog with a penchant for licking. I also have a couple of dinosaur books, which will be nonfiction. I'm always up for writing more songs!

What do you like to read for fun?

I like to read novels, particularly by English authors. Right now, I'm reading The Red House Mystery by Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. It's a great period piece. One of my favorite books of all time is The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Of course, I'm also a huge Harry Potter fan, and am mourning the end of the series. Can't wait for the final movie!

Thanks so much, Rhonda! Later this week, we'll have a review of Rhonda's book. Please leave a comment for a chance to win a copy for your bookshelf. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Bookish Fourth

by Stephanie McPherson

          My husband, Dick, and I were determined to enjoy Independence Day in high style with fireworks and fun in an historic location. Despite predictions of rain, we headed optimistically to Williamsburg. What’s a little bad weather when it comes to a patriotic extravaganza, right? We set out our blanket and plunked down on the grassy mall in front of the Governor’s Palace.

Long before sunset, the sky began to darken. “Do you think…” I began. – “They’ll shoot off the fireworks between showers,” promised Dick.

The first raindrops splattered us. “Did you feel that?”– “Feel what?” asked Dick.

Moments later I suggested we open the umbrella. – “Couldn’t hurt,” agreed my husband.

And it was about then that the sky really opened up. The rain came down in those proverbial bucketfuls. Thunder crashed, and sheets of lightning lit the sky eerily. Wind blew the rain sidewise under our umbrella. Our blanket was soaked. “Maybe it will stop soon,” I offered. My husband didn’t deign to reply.

The only thing that kept us in place was the prospect of getting even more drenched as we scrambled to get away. The rain had to stop sometime. Or so we thought. When the hoped-for lull didn’t come, we found ourselves sloshing down Duke of Gloucester Street back to the hotel. Soon we came to Barnes and Noble. “You want to buy books NOW,” gasped my husband as I dragged him toward the door.”

“Just want to dry off.”

It was hard to push our way inside because so many other people had had the same idea. They jammed the aisles and blocked the bookshelves. Some even camped out in the stacks. They took up all the seats in the cafĂ© and surrounded the visiting author. An easy camaraderie flowed between everyone, strangers sharing the same plight. We were all eager to salvage what pleasure we could from the Fourth. And that pleasure was books and each other’s company.

My husband disappeared into the music section while I squeezed my way into the children’s department. Parents sat on the floor reading to their children. Older kids foraged for books on their own. Maneuvering through the crowd, I greedily scanned the shelves. Hogsheads to Blockheads by Barry Varela, a lively and informative kids’ guide to Williamsburg especially caught my eye. Full of fascinating facts and humorous illustrations Bentley Boyd, I decided it was a great guide for grown-ups too.

Of course, I had to buy it – and maybe one or two other books as well. But who’s counting? And so our day ended on a delightfully bookish note.  My husband and I had braved the elements and found refuge with some soggy, but cheerful book-lovers-by-default. Along the way, I picked up a few ideas for stories. All in all, not such a bad Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Illuminations from the Illustrator

Is the Message in the Medium? by Hazel Buys

When planning illustrations for a children’s book, how important is the decision the artist makes to use watercolor, pastel, pen and ink, graphite (pencil) or any other medium?

A brief examination of several picture books suggests that how an image is made is just as important as what is depicted in the image.

Last Night, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, is a wordless picture book illustrated with linocuts. The flat character of the images is softened through the use of complementary colors resulting in figures that appear more 3-dimensional. The irregularity of registration as the different colors are applied adds visual interest and suggests the fluid nature of dreams. Although the colors are subdued, consistent with the night-time setting, the colors are fresh and evocative. The absence of detail matches the dream state of the story.

Shaun Tan’s memorable presentation of an immigrant’s experience in The Arrival is executed in pencil (graphite) resulting in a monochromatic color scheme that moves through all values of white to black, with hints of sepia. The soft washes and careful drawings of characters and strange objects are visually evocative of the story of an immigrant’s difficult journey to a new life. Tan’s technique suggests cherished family photographs, distance, time passing and the strangeness of a new culture that is consistent the subject of this wordless picture book.

Collage is the medium Ed Young chose for his picture book, Seven Blind Mice, which he uses to great effect, placing the color assemblages against a black background. Sometimes the paper is uniform in color, sometimes it has texture and splashes of additional colors. The piece-over-piece structure of collage mirrors the text of the story as the mice examine the elephant bit by bit, imagining a variety of possibilities from the “piece” each considers in turn.

The Three Questions, written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, shows us yet a different approach. The loose, expressive watercolor paintings are full of light and quiet energy. The color effect is soft and ethereal, punctuated by the red of a kite or dark green of a forest floor. The images are spare and economical but at the same time are layered with visual interest, just like the deceptively simple, but ultimately profound, answers to the three questions.

Common to all these books is a superb match between image-making and story. As is true with the best of picture books, these illustrations move the story to another level, adding a depth of experience that makes each book memorable.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Kids into Books: Literary Freedom

One of the best ways to get kids interested in reading is to let them choose their own books. Nothing kills enthusiasm for reading like criticism of reading choices. I once overheard an interesting exchange in the book section of a department store. It went something like this . . .

Kid (about 6 yrs old): Dad, can I buy a book?
Dad: Okay, let's see if they have anything good.
Kid: I like this one about sharks. Sharks are way cool.
Dad: Oh, I see a good one--The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. There's a book you need.
Kid: Never mind.

My heart went out to that kid. I wish I could have figured out a way to buy him the shark book. Take care not to criticize the books that speak to your child. It's okay to read the same book more than once. It's okay to read comic books and magazines. It's okay to stop reading a book if you don't like it.

We have a ten-percent policy at our house. If you read ten percent of a book and you don't connect with it, you can choose to set it aside and try something else. Trying to slog through a book that doesn't speak to you is another way to take the fun out of reading. Just move on to something else and keep reading.

What about you? Any ideas for maximizing reading fun? We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Writers' Round Table: Why do you write for children?

This is a question that comes up frequently. Many people are under the impression that writing for children is a starting point and when you get good enough, you can write for adults. Today, we are dispelling that idea by discussing why we choose to write for children.

Hazel:I began to write for children when I wanted to tell a story about our family dog. I wanted to tell it in a way that our young son would enjoy. Working on this story generated more stories, and the rest, as they say, is history. But more fundamentally, I write for children because the stories that come to me whisper with the voices of children. I write what I hear.

Brian: Why write for children? Because it’s fun! I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was about six years old. I got A’s on my creative writing assignments in school. I also got lots of laughs from my classmates when I read my work out loud. I loved both of those rewards for my efforts. In college, I took “serious” writing classes that stressed conflict and despair as hallmarks of great writing. For the first time in my life, writing was no longer fun for me. After a few years, I decided to fire my professors and go back to writing what I loved – fun stories that make children smile. And performing readings for today’s schoolchildren brings back that same joy I felt when I first started writing.

Stephanie: My senior year in college, a drama professor asked me if I’d ever considered writing stories for children. Something clicked. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” I told him, even though the thought had never occurred to me. That split-second decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. I didn’t know what I was getting into, of course. But for me, the joy and excitement of writing far outweighs the frustrations. I love the adventure of writing for kids, and although, you wouldn’t know it to look at me, inside I’m a bit of a kid too! Personally, I write for children because I just can’t help it. I suspect many other writers feel the same way.

Lana: Once I took a fiction writing class at a university. When the professor realized I was a children's writer, he was less than thrilled. His reasoning went something like this: Good writing must have compelling conflict which requires accountability on the part of the main character and since children are not accountable for their actions, any story with a child as the main character will not have compelling conflict. I argued the opposite, that decisions young children make are very important. This formative period that we each experience fascinates me. Which parts of childhood are universal and which are unique? How do events and people and places shape us into who we are? How do we shape ourselves and our environment?  I never tire of exploring these ideas through story.