I had a wonderful experience this past weekend and want to share some great information I got with everybody. Debut novelist Jill S. Alexander and her agent Michael Bourret gave a fantastic sendoff to the educational part of this summer’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Century City.
They spoke about all of the ins-and-outs of getting ready for publication, pointed up pitfalls, and gave tips for best-practices.
Jill’s story is a lot like her writing – warm, funny and charming. If she wasn’t from out there in Texas, I might think she and I had something in common. But as Jill pointed up in one of her first tips, it’s important to be specific about your name when establishing a presence on the internet. That’s why she’s “Jill S. Alexander,” because there’s another author with a similar name who writes “erotic poetry.”
I did see the book cover for this poetry book that Jill described as “I thought she was embracing a flower stem . . .” It just goes to show that everybody interprets artwork differently. When I saw it, I thought it was a gnome standing next to a mushroom.
It’s a challenge to convey the charm of Jill and Michael’s panel, because both are absolutely charming. Their advice was focused on the preparation needs and concerns of children’s book authors.
So, from the top, advice from both Jill and Michael – here is what authors need to do to be ready for the release of their book:
1) Develop a web presence in some sort of way – Facebook, website or blog.
2) The blog or other site should have regularly updated content, providing people with a reason to come back to that site. – By the time book revisions hit and the art comes out, authors don’t have time to get that together, so it’s best to start early.
4) By the time the advance reading copies come out, librarians and book buyers need a way to contact the author – you need to have everything in place so they can contact you. Web presence provides the best way for people to contact you. Jill advised a plan and policy for web contact. For example, she doesn’t friend minors on Facebook – but there is a page for her book, and minors can join that, and she has email on the web.
5) Set up office hours, get a routine started whether you have an agent or not.
6) Use a calendar system to set up school visits and other appointments.
7) Get a business mindset – for example, how will you keep and organize your receipts for taxes?
8) Once you have sold your book, that’s when the real work starts – work that isn’t writing. One of the things that people don’t think about is that people will be talking to media and audiences – and people ask strange questions – like what was the inspiration for this book? What was the inspiration for this character? Jill said that “In a lot of situations, maybe you are under pressure – somebody might ask you a question you don’t have the answer to, and it’s best to be prepared.”
Michael spoke to the editorial process, and said it’s often a lot longer than thought, with a lot of little steps instead of one big editing step. He mentioned the editorial letter first, and then said “you will often get big notes and smaller notes from editor, and then start the copyediting process.”
Jill’s advice was to go ahead and review the copy edit symbols so that when you get the manuscript back from the copy editor, you will be familiar. Michael said that authors can expect to read their manuscript over again at least 8 to 10 times. “I don’t care who you are, but there will be a lot of copy edits,” Michael said. “You do need to learn to read your manuscript differently, and look at those smaller things when you read through at different times.”
They both explained the copy editing process, and Jill gave the example of how she’d referred to the famous Western suit-maker Nudie as “Newtie” through the whole manuscript. When she explained this, I realized that she really was the same person as the “erotic poet” after all . . .
Jill described the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) that goes to reviewers, bloggers and librarians. When the ARC’s come out, she said, the author will be automatically asked “What’s next?” Hopefully, she said, “by the time that ARC comes out you will have an answer to what comes next. It’s career-long, what’s the plan? That next book is important.”
Jill then discussed the author’s need to protect their quiet, creative think time. Jill said she used to have the home computer in her office, but that is also the room she writes in, so she moved the home computer that included Facebook and Twitter to her kitchen. “That’s when I gained 10 pounds,” she said.
She also said she’s learned to use her Dictaphone and iPhone on long drives. She reiterated that writers need their “butt in chair time,” and that it was important to set office hours.
Jill and Michael closed by talking about publication day and reminding everyone that while to the author, it feels like the most important day ever, life still goes on, families need attention, and the whole thing needs to be put into perspective. And then – it all begins again!