23.6.17


I feel a rant coming on.

Designing a book cover is frustrating.
Because who the heck am I designing it for anyway?

Here's the problem arising for cover artists everywhere...

Do you make a book cover for the ten year old reader...or the ten year old's mother, who has the money?



You've all seen this scenario (perhaps even lived it):
Mom takes kid to bookshop. Kid gravitates immediately to the cartoonish/anime/graphic novel looking cover art. But mom favors the trendy kinda retro/magazine worthy/ graphic designy cover art. Mom says, "This one sounds good, honey," as she studies the beautiful font and adorable character design, having barely skimmed the description on the back. Kid holds up book with comic inspired cover. "I like this one," he says. "But you have lots of books just like that at home," mom replies. "Let's get this one! It looks interesting." Kid shakes his head and moves on but Mom doesn't put the book back on the shelf. Oh no. She carries it around with her as if it's a done deal. This conversation is repeated several times. Finally the kid has to make a decision: fight mom and leave the store empty handed, or just let her buy him the damned book she picked out.

Or perhaps you recall the library version:
Mom follows behind kids as they peruse the library shelves and surreptitiously sorts through their picks, putting back the ones with old-school or comic covers, and slipping in ones with trendily designed covers she likes best. I admit, I'm guilty of this one.

Here's the thing...it's a gnarly temptation for parents to control their kid's style. You don't want your kids to be all about popularity, but you've all had visions of raising truly "cool" kids. So you want them to like the cool music, the cool clothes, the cool bike, the cool hobbies, and the cool books.

Cool according to whom?
Yeah, you know the answer.
And you remember kids in your grade who were cool by "parent standards".

I have this argument with my brother who hates some of the movies his young daughters watch and tries to steer them toward the stuff he prefers. But here's the truth - in what universe does a grown man and a six year old girl have the same taste?

How can any reasonable adult expect a nine year old to have the same design preferences as a thirty five year old?

They'll like some of the stuff you like - but not all of it. Never all of it.

When I was redesigning the cover for my first book, Spark, I sketched out a few ideas and showed them to my test group which consists of nieces, nephews, and cousins of varying ages. The ones that are over twelve like the trendier graphic design. The younger kids honestly prefer the stuff that's more narrative. They want to see the story - not a clever, artsy representation of it.

So as an author who designs her own covers, what am I to do?
Market to my actual reader?
Or to the grownup who's paying for, and most likely ultimately choosing, the book?
The mainstream publishers are going all in on the graphic design lately and moms everywhere are just eating it up. But as an independent, I don't want to just sell books. I want to reach kids in the world where they live. I don't yet have the ability to create the covers I envision, but I get closer the more I practise and the more I interact with middle graders.


Yeah, I think I'll keep doing what I feel is right for me and for my readers,
and work toward having the artistic skill to match...

...and hope that there are some parents out there who actually let their kid pick the book.

31.3.17

Kids understand technology...so let them use it to create!

My nephew Ty is writing a zombie book. Awesome, right?

When I was his age (10), I loved writing stories, although all I had for writing tools was a pencil and the left-over blank pages of last year's language arts scribbler. If you had given me access to a computer, I wouldn't have had the skills to do anything with it. Not so with today's youngsters. 

They know how to do stuff.

So here is Ty using my laptop to learn the basics of Word. It took me all of ten minutes to show him how to set up a new document, do some basic formatting, and save his story so he can work on it whenever he wants. So he can create his own art rather than spend all his time consuming other people's creations.


Easy peasy. Lemon squeezy. Can't wait to read the finished tale.





3.3.17

To redesign or not to redesign...that is the question.

It's the dilemma that faces every person with a brand - and that means you too. Every author/illustrator is a brand unto him or her self. And the honest truth is that if you don't know how to market your personal brand, you are not going to get noticed.

The other honest truth I'm laying down here is that kids are more design savvy now than they have ever  been and they are as drawn to a clever use of color or an appealing font as their parents and teachers.

So the answer is yes. Always be tweaking that website. Always be improving your presentation. Don't be afraid to change things up once in a while. Keep your personal style. Keep the vibe of your brand. But give your readers new visual stimulation. Stay current and stay interesting.

Sure, there are elements that must remain static in order to become recognizable. A brand like Nike certainly couldn't suddenly forego its famous swoop - but darlin', you aren't Nike. You are in the perfect position to be tweaking.

I routinely make changes to my website graphics - but always maintain my slightly grungy style. I use a lot of black. I keep my warm colors bright and my cool colors on the smoky side. I love fonts that are distressed or a little bit scribbly. I love big, bold sidebar buttons. But within those parameters, there is a lot of room to have a little fun.

Like so...






One of the greatest tips I could give authors/illustrators who market their own work (and if you aren't marketing your own work, who the heck is marketing it?) is to learn those little tech skills that will allow you to freely change colors, add graphics, and shift things around on your online pages. If I can learn how, anyone can.

You just google.

As they say...learners are earners.
If you want to sell books, or anything else for that matter, never stop learning.

Take a good hard look at your online presence now and determine where you need to redesign.

13.1.17

Has anybody else been waiting around for a certain spy novel to be completed? 

Because I feel like I've been waiting an eternity...
But here it is:
Agent Apple

The story that had me all tangled up for the last year.
Tangled up, because it became a book that means a lot to me and when a book  means a lot to you, it's somehow much more difficult to write. As much as I adore my Nathan Christopher Coville, writing Truly Daniels has been a true journey for me. A tough one, but a good one.

You see, Truly Daniels is shy.
And I mean really shy.
And I was very nearly as shy as she.
I once mispelled words on a spelling test on purpose because I was the best speller in the class and I didn't want to be noticed for it. How's that for shy?

Now that I'm practically an old lady...well not quite yet...I've learned how to be visible rather than invisible. And I love that Truly has to learn the same life lessons I did.

Except her life lessons involve spies and terrorists, and mine did not.

I really hope y'all enjoy Agent Apple. I hope you love Truly.
I loved writing her for you.

Click HERE or on the Agent Apple link to your right and explore. Check out my character portraits and a very special travelogue where you get to see some of the amazing places Truly and her best friend, Ty, travel to in the book.

Happy reading!


2.1.17

It's a brand new year and that means it's a great time to discover new books. But while it's fun to peruse the stacks in your local bookstore for new releases, I wanted to recommend my two favourite established book series that you may not have seen - or perhaps you passed them by, not knowing how fabulous they are. Both are unique, exciting, and have great heroes. And both are far enough along in the series that you won't have to read the first book and then wait a whole excruciating year for the next book to come out - and by then you've forgotten half of the first book and have to read it again.

I hate that.

Anyway, there are three books in each series so far, so you can really sink your teeth into them. I'd say both series are for boys and girls aged 10 and up - both have some complexity to the plot that might be difficult for younger readers. Also, both have intense situations where the hero is in grave danger.


Itch - by Simon Mayo
First we have the brilliantly different story of a boy who collects the elements of the periodic table. Like zinc, boron, and magnesium. I know right? Such a good idea...and it's filled with science geekiness than anyone can get into. I'm more of an artist than a scientist, and yet I was fascinated by the could-actually-be-real science parts of the series. When Itchingham Lofte discovers a new, highly radio-active element, he becomes its unwilling protector as bad guys seek to harness its explosive power. You know I love stories about kids saving the world. And the fact that the hero of the books is called "Itch" makes me very happy. My name is Ginger, so as you can imagine, I like to read about people with odd names. It's smart, fun, and definitely one of my top recommendations for any middle grader.





the Eight Day - by Dianne K. Salerni
Secondly, I have to suggest y'all read this highly entertaining adventure about the modern day heirs of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. It begins when Jax Aubrey discovers the existence of a completely unknown and invisible eighth day of the week. As if that isn't strange enough, he learns that he is part of a magical order that created the eighth day to imprison some very nasty wizards - who would do anything to escape. The characters are fascinating and it is, in my opinion, the perfect mixture of our known world and one that is completely made up. I don't often buy an entire series of books, but this is definitely one that I'm collecting. Ooh, and the characters have tattoos. I don't know why that should appeal to me, but it does.

I kinda want a tattoo...





When shopping for new books this year, don't just head for the new releases - check out the book series that have been around a while. The ones you saw on the book shelf and for whatever reason, walked away from. There are gems everywhere. And that one you just put back on the shelf could be your new favorite.

9.11.16

Last week I had the thrilling privilege of visiting Mrs. Lenz's 2/3 grade class at the Coalhurst Elementary School. Here they are...all bright and shiny.



I say it was "thrilling" and I do not exaggerate. For a writer, sitting amidst a group of readers and talking about the importance of writing stories is like skydiving to an adrenaline junkie. It made me terrifically happy. My stomach even did a few flip-flops.

It was a very casual affair and did not require a parachute. The students had written a list of questions for me to answer and asked me to read a few pages of my book. Following my presentation, Mrs. Lenz acted as our stenographer as we wrote the first paragraph of a story together as a group. Then the students had some time to continue the story on their own. 

I was glad we got a chance to do some writing, but the real focus of my classroom visit is to discuss the importance of intellectual diversity - or the fact that storytelling is a way of sharing diverse ideas and viewpoints. Too many adults these days get hung up on our physical differences, but it's really our ideas that shape the world, no matter what we look like or what group we "identify" with. I tell younger students this sweet and silly story that perfectly illustrates how we see the world differently from others. The book I use is called "Bread and Honey" by Frank Asch, only I tell it in my own words, using a chalkboard - you'll understand if you read the book. You can find it here. Trust me, it works like a charm. 

The children laughed. I almost cried. It was a good time.

But while that's all very wholesome and instructive, the key to a truly successful classroom visit is to just chat and laugh with the kids. If all else falls apart, this connection will save you. They need to know that grownups care. They need to know that their ideas matter. And they need to know that there are opportunities out there for creative work, because not all of them will grow up to be contractors and dental hygienists.

And you need to enjoy yourself. Like, really enjoy yourself.

Basically, if you can't sit in a roomful of wiggly eight years olds and feel inspired, you should be writing for someone else. 

Like...for grownups. Ewwww. 



For those of you who have yet to delve into the wonders of classroom visits, here are a few tips, all to be taken very seriously. 


1. Communicate with the teacher beforehand. You don't know what wonderful things he or she has already been discussing with the class and how you can work together to promote the good work that's already in progress. Swapping a few ideas ahead of time will make it easier for you both to make it a positive classroom experience. Remember, you are a visitor and a resource, not a celebrity.

2. Let the children ask their own questions - even though they're likely to repeat a version of "how do you get your ideas?" several times, insert lengthy descriptions of their own story ideas, and never fail to enquire "are you married?" That last one is my favorite.

3. Whatever you plan, keep it short and simple. If the kids are interested in prolonging the discussion, they'll let you know. Don't try to make them sit too long if they're not paying attention. Their teacher will know how best to follow up your presentation with other dialogue and activities. 

4. Know your audience. This group was at the youngest end of the appropriate age range for my books, which means many of them are still reading beginner chapter books less than a hundred pages long. My presentation for this age group focuses on the aforementioned humorous story told in pictures, while for older children I use a drawing/perception game that requires their participation. 

5. If appropriate, take the opportunity to interact with the children as they continue with their classroom activities. In this case, I was invited to hang out for a short while as the students worked on writing their own stories. They were eager to bring me their pages so I could make suggestions and praise their creativity.

6. Don't underestimate the power of visual aides. Bring your books. Bring bookmarks if you can. Nothing gets a fidgety child's attention better than pulling a heretofore hidden object out of a giant handbag, or sketching a bear with rabbit ears before their eyes. 

7. Always ask permission before taking photos. Some children will not be allowed to appear in photos that will be published online. 

8. Follow up! Make sure the teacher knows you are available for further communication or perhaps another visit. Kids in the middle grades are not surfing the web for new books, so teachers and librarians are our main connection to new readers. Your relationship with school staff and administration is key, both to your success, and also to your fulfilment as a writer!

9. Never assume a lack of opportunities in your area. If there are schools, they are guaranteed to be looking for people within their community to act as resources. They want you to come. All it takes is a phone call to the office, a quick conversation or meeting in which you humbly offer your time, and you're a creative writing mentor. Don't wait to be invited. Get involved!

10. Be sincere. Kids don't care how many copies you've sold. A classroom visit is not about the author. It's about the students. Book sales are not your mission here - the children are, and you have a chance to contribute to their future. This is the reason you wrote that book in the first place. Isn't it?

Isn't it?

18.7.16

Another year, another book drop. The Middle Grade Book Bomb is becoming a milestone, like a birthday or anniversary. For me, it marks another year of living my dream.

You see, not everyone gets to do what they love, and although self publishing is more difficult than I ever imagined, it's also the best thing I've ever done. 

So happy third anniversary to me! And a very happy week of reading to this year's lucky book finders! I hope you all love the books you found and are eager for more. Because books are like chocolate chip cookies - you can't have just one. So hit your local library and check out a stack. Read them all. Read everything. Read the world! 

This year, the book bomb was in peril at almost every step. Seriously, if something could possibly go wrong, it did. My posters got put up late thanks to transportation troubles. The blogs and websites that usually help promote the event...didn't. Then it stormed - and I mean car dinging, crop smashing, hail and rain and thunder and lightning. Finally, my own books were delayed in the mail and I had to scramble to give away even a single copy of Spark and Blaze.

Jeez Louise! 

But we rallied, my team of assistants and I. And we had a wonderful morning giving away books under dark skies that threatened, but decided not to soak us after all. 

I had the help of the lovely Bella and Mckenna, my adventurous nieces, who are aged 8 and 9, and happy to officially be middle graders.



Our target: the sweet, slightly sleepy, town of Raymond, Alberta. A prairie town much like the towns saved by Nathan and his band of angel warriors in Spark and Blaze. We decorated the books we were dropping with paper straws and swirly yellow ribbons to make sure they got noticed - and because we're just crafty like that. I also included a Kindled bookmark in each. Because everyone needs a new bookmark.








We chose tucked away corners on the main street of town to hide the books and once they were "dropped" we boogied home to post some picture clues on facebook for those Raymond tweens who were planning on doing some book hunting. 

It made me wish that I was doing the hunting instead of the hiding. What could be more awesome than hunting for free books? Unless maybe it's eating onion rings and clothes shopping while hunting for free books...in New York City...

Anyway, four kids found the books we dropped and all four were pleased as punch. One gal even snuck away from her swim meet to snag a book before hurrying back to hit the water. This brings me an enormous amount of happiness. Bella and Mckenna felt pretty good about it too.



The moral of the story is...giving away books is a sure way to make the world a better place. You don't need an event like the Middle Grade Book Bomb to be a book champion. You can donate books in your own community, volunteer at the public library, participate in community literacy events and help your school's librarian. But never fear, the MG Book Bomb will also be back next summer and maybe you could get in on the book hiding too. 

It's a great way to spend a saturday morning.



If you're just stumbling onto my website and have never heard of the Middle Grade Book Bomb, then click here for the details. 

If you'd like to see my previous book drops, click here and here.


20.6.16

Mad Skills

One of the best parts of being an author is hearing other people exclaim how envious they are because I can sit at home all day doing nothing but write books. 

Hah!

Double Ha Hah!!!

If only it were that easy. We writers, particularly we self published writers, have much to do that has absolutely nothing to do with putting pen to the page, or fingers to the keys. 

There are many steps to publishing a book that involve formatting, editing, art and design...
And then the marketing begins.
Don't even get me started on the marketing.

The point of this mini tirade is that the more skills we have, the more we are empowered to do for our books. We don't get the editor and agent, the book launch, the tour. We get only what we ourselves can scrounge together. And that seems woefully meager at times.

All the things you can do - the skills you have other than writing - become just as important as the manuscript itself. So I am about to share with you my magic formula for becoming adept at web design, cover illustration, social media wrangling, and event planning.

I google.

I kid you not. I have no money for hiring knowledgeable people so I have had to become one. And every time I conquer some tiny skill through far too many hours of frustrated web searching, I build myself as an author. You don't need to take classes in this or that or become some other person who can write html code. You just need to be patient and determined...and willing to feel like a complete dunce.

One of my greatest achievements thus far was to discover digital painting. I have drawn almost nothing in the past twenty years, so my skills as an artist have been sadly neglected. But I needed art quite desperately and my fairy godmother seems to have gone on vacation. I invested in a tablet, found a brilliant free open source painting program online, and started practising. I've been learning by watching demos on youtube. That's how classy I am. It's going slowly, but it's moving in the right direction. And by the time I'm ready, I will be able to create any cover, poster, web button, or promotional material I need.

Freedom!

Observe the new Kindled art I'm working on...

 


You can do more than you think you can, even if you're sitting there reading this and arguing, "But Ginger, I can't draw!". If you have a camera, learn to take great promo pictures and video so you can make the best book trailers. If you are slightly tech savvy, learn to design a website and maximize a twitter account. If you're more social, focus on planning school presentations, workshops, and meet-the-author events. If you love to talk, learn how to make a podcast. Collect skills like I collected stickers in the 80's and soon you will have the ability to put any idea in motion.

That is power.
And that will get your book noticed.