Posted in Business Side of Writing, Writing Life

Preparing to Build a Brand-New Author or Illustrator Website

Whether you are hiring a website built or are doing-it-yourself, do your prep work first.

Preparing to Setup Your Site

I’ve recently setup a website for a friend, and I asked her questions such as:

  • What pages do you want to include on your site and what do you want them called? Authors often have a number of the following: About Me, Books, Events, School Visits, Blog, Just for Kids, FAQs, Contacts. Or perhaps you want a page called Appearances with Events and School Visits as subpages. Press Kit could be an option on School Visits or Appearances or be on its own page. Illustrators in addition to the above might have a Portfolio and a Sketch page. Some people have a one-page website. Others have pages such as Writer’s Help or Favorite Links. Decide what works for you.
  • What are your favorite colors? Especially ones that work well together. Choose at least one dark and one light.
  • What backgrounds on websites appeal to you? Black, dark, white, tan, or some other color? Or do you like a colored border with a contrast color for the text? Or do you like a texture or image background? (Can be a border with a complementary color.) Do you like white text or black text? (If using a very dark background, white text is usually easiest to read. Black works well on light colors and white.)
  • What are some websites that appeal to you visually? Choose 4 or 5 and think about what you specifically like on each. Make notes.
  • Do you like simple, whimsical, serious, modern, retro, silly, or ? Here’s a great article analyzing 33 author websites.

Think about Content and Images.

  • Your Home page. What do you want to say? And where do you want to say it? Your Home page is your welcome mat—your invitation into your office. Text might include: a brief introduction or bio, why you write for children, a tag line, how to pronounce your name, and an image of you or book cover(s) or both. Other options include: a video, your recent blog posts a subscribe form or button, social media links, Twitter or Instagram or Goodreads feed, awards, etc. Often these are in a sidebar. If you can dream of it, it can probably be done.
  • Book page. Do you want all books on one page or do you want a main page with the covers and brief descriptions and subpages? What will you include: publisher, year published, awards, excerpts, reviews, buy link(s), background info, other photos or images (place, people, etc.), activities, etc.
  • About page. If you want lots of info here, I suggest you have a short bio first with more info following. Plan for at least one headshot of you. You may also want some photos of you as a child.

If you need ideas for your other pages, look at other websites for inspiration.

This is a lot of prework, but thinking about it first will help you as you go through the next steps.

Look for a new post on Prepping Your Website Content next week.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Updated Me

I have a new headshot! This was chosen out of 20 pictures.

The pictures I was using were from 2015, so it was definitely past time. It’s so great to get an updated picture. I’ve updated all my social media with it and have been getting compliments on this one taken by Adler Boncher Creative. (Of course, if I look at it too long, I can find things to criticize about myself–don’t do that!)

I like what this author says, “It’s also important to have a single consistent headshot across all of your social media profiles, so you are instantly recognizable on each platform and it’s clear to people searching for your social media accounts to follow you that they’ve found the right account.” Read the rest of J.M. Frey’s great article–it has lots of advice on HOW to get a good headshot. And this article, How to Nail Your Author Headshot (with Examples), talks about poses and backgrounds–really interesting.

I recently met someone who did not anymore look like their headshot–it was rather startling. Article “Top 7 Mistakes Writers Make with Their Author Photos” says, “This is not the impression you want to make.”

So, how about you? Are you using an old photo? Or a not great candid? Do you need to update the you you present online? If so, do the work to get a good picture. “If it does nothing else, your profile picture should identify you as someone who takes their work seriously, even if that’s only communicated through you having gone out of your way to get a picture just for this purpose.” – Alex Hemus.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Exciting News for Jasmine and Advice

Guest post on querying.

One of the Facebook groups I enjoy is Sub It Club. I learn from others, help others, and share in the ups and downs. I’m sharing this January 7th post by Jasmine A. Stirling with permission.

Hi everyone! I’m excited to announce that after querying in December, I received ten offers of representation, and am now represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Birch Path Literary, the force behind books like Wonder, The Lovely War, and The Right Word.

Someone asked me on this forum if I have any suggestions for querying. One thing I would suggest is that you mention some recent projects the agent has done which you’ve read and enjoyed, and which fit well with your work, before you begin your pitch. It’s important for agents to know you understand who they are as an individual, and the kinds of projects they are passionate about. To get this information, I use a combination of Publishers Marketplace and Twitter. On Twitter, I get a sense for what projects the agent is enthusiastic about at the moment. 

Many of the projects listed in Publishers Marketplace are not yet out, so you don’t want to laud a book you obviously haven’t read. Sometimes I mention I’m looking forward to a book that has been announced in Publishers Marketplace but is not yet out. This shows the agent that I’m not just looking at Twitter or their website. They get the sense that I am familiar with industry news.

Take extra time and get familiar with the books the agent is publishing. Agents can tell if you are just querying everyone who might be remotely interested in your work.

Composing a good query letter and strategy takes time and research. Think through anyone you know who might be able to make an introduction. Don’t be afraid to network on Facebook. I did get an introduction through a cold request on Facebook to a very successful, closed agent, who subsequently made an offer.

And finally, this might not make me popular here, but I would take the advice you receive on groups like this with a grain of salt, even if they come from agented authors or moderators. The truth is, the rules of querying, receiving offers, and making choices, are more flexible than you might think. Everyone wants to make sure you find the right agent for you, including agents who are offering to work with you. 

Be respectful, be communicative about your timeline, be honest, but follow your gut and keep trying if you’re not getting the offers you want. There’s no secret police of agents who are going to kick you out of the club for anything you do. Just be a professional, and things will work out fine.

Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!

Read more about Jasmine and her books on her website. You’ll definitely want to check out her delightful picturebook: A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

How to Submit a Picture Book

Your picture book manuscript is written. You’ve revised it again and again, gotten feedback from other writers, revised yet again, and it’s in the current word count range—which these days is mostly under 500 words. (Nonfiction and informational fiction may be longer.) Now what?

The following is advice aimed specifically at writers.

You can submit directly to some publishers—mainly smaller houses.

First, read some of their books. Look at their online catalogs. Does your manuscript look like it will fit with their other books? Has the topic been already done? Do you have a fresh twist? Don’t submit without making sure your manuscript suits their list—not all publishers publish all kinds of picture books.

You might gain special insights by attending a conference, workshop, or webinar where you can hear an editor speak. (And sometimes get a chance to submit to a house normally closed to unsolicited manuscripts.)

Some publishing houses offer subscription newsletters that talk about their newest books—another chance for you to “get acquainted” with them.

When and how to submit.

Always check to make sure you’re reading a publishing house’s most current submission guidelines. Some publishers have windows of open opportunity. Others are open year-round. At times they’ll be closed to submissions entirely. Some only want a query letter—others may accept full manuscripts. A few still want hard copies by postal mail. Most probably want manuscripts via email. Some will ask for the manuscript to be pasted into the emails—others may accept attachments. Yet others may have a form where you paste in your query or cover letter and manuscript. However, they want it sent, you’ll be ahead by completely following directions.

Here are some links to some house’s submission or writer’s guidelines that are currently open:

Albert Whitman & Company

Charlesbridge

Creston Books

Familius

Flashlight Press

Holiday House

The Innovation Press

Page Street Publishing

Sleeping Bear Press

Sterling Children’s Books

Tilbury House Publishers

Any of these could close tomorrow. Research well before submitting. This list is not an endorsement—I’ve just done some research for you.

You can submit to agents who handle picture books.

Often, it is recommended that you have at least three manuscripts ready when you submit—in case an agent asks to see what else you have.

Here’s a great resource: the Monster List of Picture Book Agents.

Again, with agents there will be specific guidelines. For example, some agencies you may only submit to one agent. Certain agents may be closed to submissions, etc. They usually list clients and you may be able to get an idea of the agent’s likes and dislikes from their titles.

How do you decide where to submit?

Take the time to do your homework. Do you like what you see on their website when you are looking at either agents or publishing houses? Have you read their entries on manuscriptwishlist.com or their blogs? Search for interviews. Check Twitter.

Make sure the editor or agent is legit. If you’re an SCBWI member, you can check to see if a publisher is on their list by going to your member page and act as if you are entering a new book. If the house’s name comes up in the search, you’re good to go. If you’re not finding information elsewhere, ask in groups such as Sub It Club or Kidlit411 if someone is familiar with a specific agency or agent.

What’s next?

Prepare your cover letter* or query letter, proof it, and do the actual submitting.

One useful tip for submitting via email is to paste in your letter, paste or attach manuscript, type in your subject as guidelines specify, proofread, THEN when everything looks good, type in the TO: email address. This will avoid accidental sends before you are ready.

Be ready to keep going despite rejections.

*I like this post on writing cover/query letters.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Backing Up Emails

The horrible thought hit me: what if the email service dies? Like permanently goes away (as yahoo groups did). I’d lose years and years of information.  So, I went to yahoo help and found there is no export of emails provided: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/backup-email-options-yahoo-mail-sln5033.html. These are your options:

  • Forward emails to another email address at another service
  • Print emails (or print to pdf)
  • Copy and paste emails into a document
  • Use a 3rd party app to download your emails

The first three deal with individual emails—talk about time consuming!!! The latter provides a link to more information: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/download-email-yahoo-mail-third-party-sln28681.html. Many creatives don’t have technical skills and may be frustrated following through with this method. I’m fairly technical and find it a bit intimidating. Plus, it has to periodically be redone.

Next, I searched on google for “Yahoo Email Backup Software.” Here are some I found that are rated well. Most work for PCs and Macs.

As yet, I haven’t determined which one I’ll try. I am wary of the free app for such a serious endeavor.

Gmail, I discovered, has a native backup tool. Here’s a how to: https://computer.howstuffworks.com/e-mail-messaging/back-up-gmail.htm. The article says, “Just remember that this method will only back up incoming emails.” The article also mentions third party backup options.

Right now it all seems overwhelming to me. So, I think it’s going on my “to do” list. Meanwhile, if anyone else has experience with this and wants to share, I’d love to hear what you do/have done.