Monday, April 21, 2014

The book club phenomenon

“The first rule of a book club is that nobody
really wants to talk about the book.” 
When my youngest child entered first grade, it was a bittersweet moment for her. She was sad because, as she explained, she wouldn't be able to go to "book club" with mommy anymore. True story.

For the last fifteen years, my book club has not only influenced each one of my children, but it has given me an anchor to the most amazing bunch of women I know. Thank you. I dedicate this short note to you and to your shining examples.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Glossy magazine about MG books without killing trees--FREE subscriptions

While print glossy magazines are dying out like the dodo bird, digital versions are getting better looking than ever. A new e-zine called MIDDLE SHELF is dedicated to those interested in middle grade books. And, here is the best part: SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE FREE! It comes out every other month and it includes author interviews, book reviews, and photo essays. The e-zine would be particularly useful for librarians, teachers, and homeschoolers. 

The middle grade co-op of authors I belong to banded together and put an ad in MIDDLE SHELF for our EMBLAZONERS catalog. The ad looks so pretty I have to brag about it (page 7). For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, the EMBLAZONER catalog was created for a one-stop shopping experience for quality middle grade reads. (It would be good to check out with summer around the corner.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Thing about Thoughts (Self-help Audiobook Giveaway)

Join the rafflecopter below to win one
of three audiobooks for
The Art of Stillness ($19.95 value)
Thoughts make the perfectionist. While there are some perfectionists who look the part, most of us don’t. Instead, the perfection we seek is often found in our heads. We think things should be a certain way, and then we scurry about trying to physically change everything around us to fit that perception. It is when our efforts come up short that our world starts to fall apart.

Thoughts are tied to our beliefs. Every thought we have becomes a part of us, and if we have the same thought long enough, most of us start to believe it regardless of what logic tells us.

Scientists have examined and studied this aspect to human nature time and time again. In one experiment conducted by a Dr. Stephen Cosley, study participants were asked to look at a grid (made up of small squares) in which was drawn the letter A. While the people stared at the letter, a PETscan was taken of their brains. The scans universally showed a certain area of the occipital cortex in the back of the brain lit up. It is in this area that letter recognition is stored in memory. Nothing too fascinating. 

Next, however, the people were asked to look at an empty grid, but they were told to think they were looking at a letter A. Brain scans showed the identical part of the brains lit up in the participants. The conclusion was that thinking about something activated the brain in just the same way as physically seeing something. In other words, thoughts become reality.

So what are we to do if we don’t like our stressful thoughts? How can we change them?

The Art of Stillness, a book about stress and anxiety management for Christians, is available as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook. I co-wrote the book with psychologist Victoria Anderson, and it is a project that evolved over several years.

We're giving away three audiobook copies of The Art of Stillness. Please enter the rafflecopter below to win yours!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure Middle Grade Blog Hop

Today’s post is part of a Choose Your Own Adventure Story written and hosted by T. Isenhoff and M. Isenhoff on their Storyboys blog. T. is in 3rd grade, and M. is in 6th grade. This story was their winter homeschool project. Travel over to their blog to start at the beginning. Have fun!
(Here’s the permalink to the boys’ first post, if it didn’t come through on the hyperlink above:

Ed grabbed a flowerpot and Tony picked up an old ladder back chair. They stood on the other side of the stairway wall with their weapons poised, waiting for whoever or whatever was approaching.
A head immerged, lit by the glow of a cigarette.
“Freeze, moron!” Tony yelled and jumped out from behind the wall. Ed flashed his light in the fellow’s eyes. A pasty face with red and blue spiked hair glowered back at them.
“Meatloaf?” they called together.
Meatloaf was the meanest kid in school. There was a debate as to how he got his nickname. Some kids said it was because he once shoved an entire tray of meatloaf in a kid’s face at lunchtime. Others said it was because he had fists like a side of beef. Either way, he was no honor student.
“What do you want, punks?”
“We saw something in the window this afternoon and thought we’d check it out,” Ed told him.
“Yeah, well now you know what it was. Get lost!”
“Do you come here often?” asked Tony, lowering the chair.
“Only when my parents start screaming and my old man starts swinging.”
“Gosh, that sucks,” said Ed.
Meatloaf grabbed Ed by the front of the shirt and shook him. “Yeah, don’t go telling anyone or I’ll teach you the meaning of pain.” He raised his huge fist. Ed cowered, and Tony grabbed the chair.

Should Ed and Tony fight Meatloaf, or should they run away? If you think they should stand and fight, click here. If you think they should break and run, click here.
Monday, March 10, 2014

Teen Author Boot Camp Hangover

It was a nasty trick to have Teen Author Boot Camp the day before "Daylight Savings." Regardless, I think my TABC hangover is just about over.

Saturday, March 8, was the largest teen writing conference Writers Cubed has attempted. Here are some stats:

  • 472 teens attended
  • 535 t-shirts printed
  • 1,400 cans of pop consumed
  • 21 classes filmed
  • 17 new author friends made
  • 100 Facebook likes clicked
  • Countless of hours volunteered by so many people

Besides all of the wonderful classes and keynotes, my favorite parts were:

  • The introduction movie by Clark Schaffer. (To be posted soon.)
  • Watching my amazing husband clean up puke. (Seriously, I love him.)
  • Listening to the brilliant comments the teens made in my class.
  • Eating a Hickory Kist peanut butter bar.
  • Being with “the cube.” (That’s my writers group who are some of the most amazing people I know.) Thanks you guys!!!!!

Stay tuned for video classes from TABC as well as much better pictures. Here are a few snapped with cell phones. 

Add caption

James Dashner, me, and J. Scott Savage

TABC Drill Sargeant introduction

Kasie West, me, Renee Collins

Bree Despain and me

Friday, February 21, 2014

Last chance to win a $25 Amazon Card

This week is all about Middle Grade: writing it, indie publishing it, and especially marketing it! As you may know, reaching those elusive middle grade readers is tough, doubly so when you're indie published. Plus there are giveaways (see below)! 
Here's the schedule:
Warrior Faeries and Math Magick: How Susan Kaye Quinn is using a Virtual Author Visit video and Teacher's Guide to reach readers with her MG novel, Faery Swap.
Faery, Fairy, Sweet and Scary: a discussion with MG author Kim Batchelor on writing about Faeries in kidlit.
Sci Fi for the Middle Grade Set: a post with MG author Dale Pease about writing SF for kids.
Writing Indie MG: a roundup of indie MG authors (Michelle Isenhoff, Elise Stokes, Lois Brown, Mikey Brooks, Ansha Kotyk) about why they write MG and how to reach readers, including their indie MG author Emblazoner's group catalog.
Marketing Indie Middle Grade - The Hardest Sell - about reaching MG readers as an MG author.

Marketing Indie Middle Grade - The Hardest Sell
by Susan Kaye Quinn
As we've been mentioning all week, reaching middle grade readers isn't easy.
Let's talk first about hurdles, then about ways to overcome them.

Middle Grade Hurdles: Paper Distribution, Reviews, Discovery Paper Distribution is the first obvious hurdle. It's very unlikely you will be on the bookshelves of the B&N, and that is where a lot of middle grade books are discovered. Plus, middle grade readers, even with the proliferation of cheaper-and-cheaper ereaders, still read paper books. A lot of paper books. Add in the price factor (Print On Demand books tend to be more expensive than trad-pub print runs), and it's tough to get those paper books into kids hands. Why this is changing: More people are buying print books online (vs. browsing in the bookstore). As bookshelf space continues to shrink, the bookshelf in the bookstore counts less and less as a discovery tool... even for children's books.

Reviews are always difficult to get, but reviews for middle grade books have been even more important, because major review channels like the School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist  serve as social-proof to parents, teachers, and librarians, that middle grade books are good to pass onto their children. These review channels either exclude indie books (School Library Journal), are indie-unfriendly (Booklist wants paper books months in advance), or charge indie authors a hefty fee to be reviewed in a segregated section that librarians and teachers are much less likely to read (Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus).  Why this is changing: Goodreads and other online media are reaching these gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians), so while the kids themselves are not online, the gatekeepers are. Review services like NetGalley are now open to indie books, providing an end-run around the review channels. I can personally attest that you can use Netgalley to reach teachers and librarians that are otherwise inaccessible. 

Discovery is the constant challenge for all authors everywhere. Adult and young adult authors have an advantage because their audience peruses the online bestseller lists, subscribe to Bookbub, and go on Goodreads to see what their friends are reading. For middle grade, once again, it's the gatekeepers who are doing these activities, and usually not looking in those places for middle grade books. Why this is changing: Libraries are more and more open to stocking indie books - much more so than bookstores, in general. The gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians) are becoming more aware and more open to indie books - each time they have a positive experience with indie books for themselves, they are more willing to take a chance on those with their students and children. Kids themselves are starting to use services like Goodreads in their schools, reviewing books and adding them to their TBR lists. They are slowly bypassing the gatekeepers to discover books on their own.  This all points toward indie middle grade slowly finding its way into kids hands.

How to Market Indie Middle Grade
Reaching Teachers and Librarians School visits put you in direct contact with your audience, but there's a limit to how much of that you can do. More teachers, librarians and booksellers interested in MG can be found on NetGalley - they may not be interested in reviewing as much as finding good reads to recommend to their patrons or stock in their libraries and classrooms. You can entice these "gatekeepers" even more by creating online materials (teacher's guides, games, book trailers) that help them bring your book into the classroom. Teacher's Guides - With the help of a teacher-friend, I created my own activities, games, and Teacher's Guide for Faery Swap. Another MG-author-friend hired Blue Slip media to create hers. Either way, it's important to emphasize the educational component of your story (including linking to Common Core, as that is a requirement for many schools).

I also created a 9 minute Virtual Author Visit video to use in conjunction with the Teacher's Guide, so that any teacher, anywhere on the planet, could share my message about Math Being Magickal with their students.

Book Trailers - teachers and librarians use them to entice kids to read, so having a book trailer is much more useful to MG authors than to most other authors. Book bloggers also like them, and they're a good, quick way to introduce readers to your book. Just make sure they're as exciting to watch as your book is to read (see here about how to make book trailers).

This Faery Swap trailer was made with iMovie, artwork from my book, music from, and an intro from a guy on fiverr who makes them. 
Bookmarks - Teachers and Librarians love to have swag to hand out to kids for prizes, so having high quality bookmarks can be a great way to get your book seen by kids.

Reaching Middle Grade Book Bloggers
They're not as abundant as bloggers for other genres, but they exist.  Direct queries can work, especially if combined with a blog tour/giveaway. I don't actually recommend using a blog tour service for MG, because most people who arrange blog tours are not MG-focused - you're better off arranging your own MG blog tour. For example, the letter I've been sending out to book bloggers, querying them about reviewing, has included an offer to join the blog tour:
Faery Swap Blog Tour (March 3rd – 21st): review copies are available, as well as excerpts and a guest post “Warrior Faeries and Math Magick” about how Faery Swap can be used in the classroom to get kids excited about math and science. GIVEAWAY: paperback copies of Faery Swap, $25 Amazon Gift Card, and TWO Magickal Faery Wands. SIGN UP HERE
That link goes to a dedicate Blog Tour page that includes this (feel free to sign up!)
Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card
Signed Paperbacks of Faery Swap
Two Faery Wands

Advertising Advertising MG works is trickier than other genres. Bookbub has a middle grade list that reaches 170,000+ readers. The ads are pricey, but most people (even MG) seem to make back the money in sales. (Note: Bookbub is difficult to get into and you'll have to discount your book). Putting a book up for giveaway on Goodreads or LibraryThing is much like posting an ad (for the small price of the book giveaway). Joining Forces With Other Authors My indie MG author group, the Emblazoners, is a great resource: we share information on what works (and what doesn't!), we join forces for things like NetGalley subscriptions and buying ads in MG specific sites like Middle Shelf, and we put together our own catalog of works, marketing jointly to build a list of teachers and librarians interested in MG works.
Get our catalog here.
Patience, Reasonable Expectations
The hard truth is that MG books are a small market. This graph pretty much sums it up:

Children's books are simply a small wedge of the ebook pie. Most MG authors will tell you they sell as much (or more) in print as they do in ebook, but it's hard to move large numbers of print copies if you're not in bookstores (and with POD prices high relative to mass market print runs).
When I published Faery Swap, I hoped to break even on the book... eventually. If you publish indie MG books, I think you're doing well if you break even. If you can turn it into a money making venture, you're doing very well. Most other genres are easier to sell - if you want to make a living as a writer, I suggest writing in a genre that sells to pay the bills, then publishing your middle grade because you love it.

Do you have other marketing ideas for MG? Share your knowledge in the comments below and we can all benefit!

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction, and several adult fiction stories. Faery Swap is her foray into middle grade, which is her first writing love. Her business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist" and she always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can subscribe to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or stop by her blog to see what she's up to.
Faery Swap
Kindle | Nook | Print
Fourteen-year-old Finn is tricked into swapping places with a warrior faery prince and has to find his way back home before the dimensional window between their worlds slams shut. Faery Swap is on tour March 3rd - March 21st with a $25 gift card and magick wand giveaways! Sign up here.

Last day to enter!
Thursday, February 20, 2014

Writing Indie MG: a roundup of indie MG authors

This week is all about Middle Grade: writing it, indie publishing it, and especially marketing it! As you may know, reaching those elusive middle grade readers is tough, doubly so when you're indie published. Plus there are giveaways (see below)!

Here's the schedule:


Warrior Faeries and Math Magick: How Susan Kaye Quinn is using a Virtual Author Visit video and Teacher's Guide to reach readers with her MG novel, Faery Swap.


Faery, Fairy, Sweet and Scary: a discussion with MG author Kim Batchelor on writing about Faeries in kidlit.


Sci Fi for the Middle Grade Set: a discussion with MG author Dale Pease about writing SF for kids.


Writing Indie MG: a roundup of indie MG authors (Michelle Isenhoff, Elise Stokes, Lois Brown, Mikey Brooks, Ansha Kotyk) about why they write MG and how to reach readers, including their indie MG author Emblazoner's group catalog.


Marketing Indie Middle Grade - The Hardest Sell - about reaching MG readers as an MG author.

Writing Indie Middle Grade
with Emblazon authors Michelle Isenhoff, Elise Stokes, Lois Brown, Mikey Brooks, Ansha Kotyk
intro by Susan Kaye Quinn

Introduction by Susan Kaye Quinn
Indie publishing is the new cool thing, but there's still a genre where reaching readers with indie works is really tough: middle grade. But children's authors are passionate about what they write, and passionate about reaching their young readers. This passion shows in the Emblazoner's group of 20 indie MG authors (of which I'm a member). We recently went in on an ad in Middle Shelf magazine, an online mag that spotlights cool reads for kids. Here's what the ad will look like:

A wise man once said, "Write your name on the heart of a child."

We hope to emblazon our stories there.

(I just love it.)

As a group, Emblazoners share information about marketing, help promote each other, and generally support each other as we write our books and try to get them in the hands of middle grade readers. One of the innovative things that the Emblazoners have already done is put their works in a catalog, available for download and sent to teachers and librarians twice a year.

Gorgeous, yes?

You can subscribe here.

Today we have a roundup of five Emblazoners (indie MG authors), talking a bit about why they write middle grade, how they reach readers, and a spotlight on one of their books (most of our authors have several).

When Michelle Isenhoff isn’t writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters, big waves, big dogs, high school football games, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. You can find out more at her website.

Why Michelle writes MG: Michelle Isenhoff never outgrew middle grade fiction. She loved the innocence and beauty that characterize classic children's lit so much that she went into elementary education then tried her hand at her own story. She’s now written eight!

How Michelle reaches her readers: Teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers are on the literary frontlines, getting good books into the hands of kids. That’s why Michelle offers free digital copies of her novels and free lesson plan materials to educators on her website.

The Candle Star (Divided Decade Trilogy, 1) - Free everywhere!

Kindle | Nook | Print

Runaways hidden in the barn, slave catchers housed in the hotel, and Emily squeezed between two very different loyalties. 

Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise's understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift, and Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant are the first three books in the series. Book Four, Cassidy Jones and the Luminous, will be released in 2014. You can find more at her website.

Why Elise writes MG: A good adventure story absorbed me during those turbulent years (Come on, the angst, self-doubt, and desire to blend in are still very fresh for you, too. :)). I hope to provide the same escape for other young readers, and ignite their imagination while doing so.

How Elise reaches her readers: Carve out characters that are relatable, facing the emotional challenges they are and managing to triumph. A good sense of humor is a must; quirkiness is a plus, too.

Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula (Cassidy Jones Adventures, Book One)

Kindle | Nook | Print 

Discover how fourteen-year-old Cassidy Jones gains superpowers in her first action-packed adventure.

Lois Brown’s  love of all things fantastical began when her five older brothers made her watch television shows such as “Dr. Who” and “Lost in Space.” (Yes, the originals.) Now she likes to write her own stories that spark the imagination. Her first novel, CYCLES, was a top 5 finalist of The Kindle Book Review’s “Best YA Indie Books of 2012.” You can find more at her website.

Why Lois writes MG: Writing middle grade books is like reliving the best part of your childhood--along with some of the worst. It's a time in life that falls between still being a child but realizing there is more to the world besides your bedroom and elementary school. 

How Lois reaches her readers: Lately, I've been reaching out to my middle grade audience during "enrichment times" at middle and junior high schools. In my area, schools have about 30 to 40 minutes per week when the students (who don't have detentions) get to choose between several educational activities. I arrange my author visits through the school librarians. I sell some paperback books, give out bookmarks to my ebooks, enjoy talking with the teens, and consider my time spent as "undercover" research.

Cycles (Cycles Series)

Kindle | Nook | Print 

When a pair of misfit teens uncover disturbing experiments conducted in the basement of their neighbor's house, they become entangled in medical research that could destroy their lives and forever alter the human aging process.

Mikey Brooks is an author/illustrator, freelance cover designer, daddy of three girls, and a dreamer. He's published several books including the bestselling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures as well as The Dream Keeper Chronicles. You can find more at his website.

Why Mikey writes MG: When I was twelve I fell in love with a middle-grade series and it changed my life. L. Frank Baum opened not only his world of Oz to me, but he planted a seed that later made me the man I am today. I learned from his stories to be brave, to believe in myself, and most importantly—that magic is real. I write middle-grade books because these are the stories I would have loved to read when I was a kid. They are stories that I hope inspire others.

How Mikey reaches his readers: First in order to “reach” middle-grade readers, you need a book that connects with them. The characters have to be real and relatable. Once you have a story that touches their hearts, it only takes time for others to see it.

The Dream Keeper (The Dream Keeper Chronicles, 1)

Kindle | Nook | Print | Audio
Dreams: Dorothy called it Oz, Alice called it Wonderland, but Nightmares call it HOME.

Ansha Kotyk writes upper middle grade and young adult novels that take a reader on a journey to remind them, not only of the importance of imagination, but of the bonds of friends and family. You can find more at her website.

Why Ansha writes MG: I love to write middle grade fiction because the age range for the characters is at a time in life when they are a child working to become an adult. There’s a great deal of tension built on that alone. Another reason is that middle grade readers are full of awesome.

How Ansha reaches her readers: I have found the best way to reach middle grade readers is through school visits.

Gangsterland (Ink Portal Adventure #1)

Kindle | Nook | Print 

Jonathan wishes he could hide from the middle school bully and suddenly finds himself inside his comic book. With a murder to solve and a girl to rescue, can he draw the way out before they both become the next victims?

More Middle Grade Coolness coming up this week! Enter the Giveaway below from all the participating authors!

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I'm a mom and author, among other things. I enjoy writing middle grade and young adult books.