Poet, author and teacher Judith Ortiz Cofer died December 30, 2016 at her family home in Louisville, Georgia. A native of Hormiguerros, Puerto Rico, Judith was only 64 when her life ended. She retired as a Regents and Franklin Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Georgia in 2013 and leaves behind, her husband, John, daughter, Tanya, brother, Rolando, grandson, Elias and many extended family members. She also left us with a wealth of poems and stories to cherish.
I had the good fortune to meet Judith in 2005 when I interviewed her and reviewed her third volume of poetry, A Love Story Beginning in Spanish, for Athens Magazine. She brought me several of her books that night and we had a long conversation over pasta at DePalma’s about writing and family, plus living and working in Athens, Georgia, where we both agreed creativity floats in the air. We talked about her literary inspirations that night. Her favorites included Georgia-born writers Flannery O’Connor and Alice Walker, as well as Virginia Woolf and Lillian Hellman. She told me about emigrating with her Puerto Rican family to Paterson, New Jersey as a child and how living in those two very different worlds influenced her life as well as her poetry and prose. Judith also loved living in Georgia. I enjoyed running into her at several literary events after interviewing her that night, including the Decatur Book Festival where I sat in a crowded roomful of festival attendees and savored Judith’s voice as she read her poetry.
Judith Ortiz Cofer was a literary writer who wrote, thought and spoke in both Spanish and English. Her work won many awards, including a 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize for her memoir Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and a Pulitizer Prize nomination for her first novel, The Line of the Sun. In 2010, Judith was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
Writers live in a dual world. There’s the physical world where they go through their days doing many of the same things non-writers do. And there’s the inner world where a writer is always writing, where the words flow but don’t appear to readers until they are displayed on a book page or an e-reader screen. When a writer dies, the heart stops beating and words stop flowing. But what remains, in addition to those who loved the writer as a family member, friend, or reader is the written words. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s published words still float in the air over Athens, Georgia and all over the world, including her beloved Puerto Rico. Judith the person died too young, but her beautiful, lyrical words live on in the hearts and minds of readers. The depth and music and meaning of her words will comfort us in the days and weeks and months and years to come.
I met Fran Cannon Slayton, author of the children’s middle grade novel, When The Whistle Blows, published in 2009 by Philomel Books, at the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) trade show in Greenville, South Carolina in September 2009. My children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, had just been published by Random House’s Delacorte Press. Fran’s When The Whistle Blows had recently been published, too, and our publishing companies had agreed to donate 60 of our books for us to autograph and hand out to SIBA booksellers.
Still giddy from meeting one of my author idols, Patricia Reilly Giff, author of Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods, both Newbery Honor books, at the luncheon earlier that day, I watched as SIBA volunteers brought cartons of my freshly printed novel to the signing table where my traveling companion and assistant, daughter Jenny, and I unpacked them. Inhaling the new book aroma, I admired the cover art that featured Daniel Sartain, the protagonist of my story, standing in a deep, dark, woods scene. In just a few minutes, I would autograph 60 copies and send them out into the literary world where I hoped the recipients , independent booksellers, would promote my book to their bookstore visitors. One of those booksellers was Janet Geddis, who opened her Athens, Georgia Avid Bookshop in October 2011.
Next to me, Fran Cannon Slayton sat empty-handed, watching nervously as more cartons of books were delivered to other authors in the room. When news that her publisher’s book delivery had been delayed and her books would not arrive in time, tears filled her eyes. I felt guilty as I signed and gave away copies of my book while Fran signed bookmarks and promised to send each bookseller at SIBA a copy of When The Whistle Blows. Such bad luck for a newly-published author.
Flash forward to the present, 2016. Author Fran Cannon Slayton is having more bad luck. This mom of 12-year-old Hannah, wife of Marshall for 26 years, and daughter of salt-of-the-earth Jim and Betty, was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer on Sunday, January 17th, 2016. Fran and her family all live together in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her dad also has cancer.
So how can we help this unlucky author and her family? Fran, who actually blogged live from her own brain surgery February 11, 2016, has a website and blog: francannonslayton.com where you can follow her brain cancer journey and read about several ways you can help. One of the best ways to help is to buy Fran’s book, When The Whistle Blows, a gentle, set-back-in-time series of stories about a small town in West Virginia, a boy named Jimmy Cannon and a train. Each purchase helps this gifted author support her family.
Life is not fair. But when bad things happen to great authors, like Fran Cannon Slayton, we can help.
Welcome to the 2013 WIK Blog Tour. I’m honored today to share a recent conversation with writer, poet and artist Robyn Hood Black. Robyn is a member of the outstanding faculty for the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, which will take place October 12, 2013, in Birmingham, AL. Michelle Poploff, who edited my children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, is another member of the faculty, along with Lou Anders, Doraine Bennett, Amanda Cockrell, Heather Montgomery, Nancy Raines Day, Jennifer Echols, Dianne Hamilton, Janice Hardy, Sarah Frances Hardy, Sally Apokedak, and Chris Rumble. Be sure to check out the end of this post for links to each stop on the tour.
WIK is one of the best places to get inspired, gather tips on the craft of writing, and to learn about the business of publishing fiction and nonfiction for children. The conference also offers an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. This annual conference is hosted by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and llustrators (SCBWI). To find out more or to register, visit https://southern-breeze.net/
Now, here’s my conversation with WIK 2013 faculty member Robyn Hood Black.
D: Welcome to my blog, Robyn. Tell me how you became a writer, poet and artist. What/who were your early influences — the people and experiences that led you to your present career?
R: Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Donny! Great question.
I was blessed to come from a family which highly valued creativity. My mom spent endless hours nurturing whatever projects my brother, Mike, and I wanted to make. For me these included entire villages of pipe-cleaner people with handmade clothes, or paintings, or countless “books” and cards. My father was very creative and praised originality. Imagination was always encouraged, and books and music and art were readily available.
D: You have a business called artsyletters. Tell me more about this. Is it all online or do you also do shows and festivals?
R: My artsyletters business is turning a year old! Nowadays I guess I’d be called an “artist entrepreneur” – there’s a strong “makers” movement out there for creative folks with a bit of a business bent. But I remember my mom taking me around to local gift shops when I was a kid to sell my little painted birds (stones) affixed to shellacked pieces of pine bark! And I did some art shows and such in my life B. C. (Before Children).
Now I create “literary art with a vintage vibe” – note cards, bookmarks, collages, altered books, some calligraphy – my favorite media include printmaking, pen and ink, and mixed media with all kinds of vintage treasures (including stuff I pick up off the ground…). If it’s rusty or dusty and especially if it has writing on it, it’s probably not safe around me. I sell my work online through my Etsy shop – https://www.etsy.com/shop/artsyletters – and also at art shows and book festivals. I’ll have a booth at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta this weekend!
D: Robyn, how do you balance writing and art? Do you consider these separate parts of your creative life?
R: Still working on the balance… and I’ve never been able to completely abandon one for the other. I remember struggling in college at Furman about whether to major in English or Art. I picked English, and I do consider myself a writer first. Now that I’m also making and selling art which celebrates reading and writing, I couldn’t be happier. At my first art show last year, a college English teacher bought bookmarks to give to her school’s first class of English majors (a rare declaration these days – sigh.). This week I had two Etsy sales– one from a West Coast poet, and one from a history professor in the Midwest. I feel honored to be reaching a literary target market with my art!
D: I first met you at a SCBWI conference and I know you’ve been heavily involved in coordinating conferences for the Southern Breeze Region for many years. How have your experiences attending, planning and coordinating conferences helped you as a writer?
R: I could never say enough good things about getting involved in SCBWI and volunteering. What an amazing, talented, knowledgeable, generous group of folks. It’s important to spend time with your “tribe,” to interrupt the busy days of your life to do that. My years coordinating conferences gave me confidence dealing with all kinds of publishing professionals, as well as offering helpful peeks inside the industry. Also, I absolutely treasure the life-long friends I’ve met through Southern Breeze.
D: You’ve published books for children and also write for magazines and a blog. Which format is harder/more challenging? Which do you prefer?
R: Tough one. Books have been the biggest thrill (and though it’s been a while, I still have ambitions for more books with my name on the spine!), but I love writing for periodicals and anthologies, too. I started actively blogging on Poetry Friday each week a few years ago on my author blog, http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog, and that’s been a wonderful way to connect with other poets as well as teachers, librarians, and poetry enthusiasts. It’s offered an outlet to interview some amazing folks as well as occasionally share my own writing. I started my (weekly for now) art blog http://artsyletters.com a year ago. No lie – two blogs, even if posting just once or twice a week, is work. I just took a little hiatus in August – we were busy getting both kids settled into colleges in different states and my husband settled in a new job. But I look forward to getting back in the swing of those blog deadlines and to connecting with folks from around the world who share similar passions.
D: I once read that for a prose writer, studying poetry is like a football player studying ballet. (Sounds like I could use a little poetry makeover in that last sentence!) Can you give workshop attendees an idea of what they might learn at your wik13 workshop, “Poetry Tips for Prose Writers?” Why should they sign up for your session?
R: Interesting analogy! I’m not coordinated enough to play football or do ballet. ;0) But I do have a good bit of experience writing in all kinds of genres – fiction, nonfiction, and my first love, poetry. I hope attendees will leave our workshop with neurons sparking away with ideas to liven up their fiction and nonfiction projects. We’ll explore examples of how successful authors have employed poetic devices to enrich passages, and we’ll try out some techniques. (Works-in-progress welcome!)
D: Your workshop sounds very interesting. Tell me, what makes a poem sing for you? Is it the sound of the words? The way the poem is constructed? The emotion conveyed? The originality?
R: It could be any or all of those things! When the elements of a poem work together – the ideas, the sound of the words, rhythm, structure, appearance even – to create an image that both surprises and registers as truth, I’m hooked.
D: As you know, every word in a poem is important and there is no room for any words that don’t “fit.” Is there any word (that we can mention in this blog post) that you feel should never be in a poem?
R: Ha! Well, I’d never say “never,” especially to another writer. After taking a workshop years ago with renowned poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, I am far less free with the words “and” and “the” in a poem. Only if there’s no way around it will I include them now, and only if they seem absolutely necessary. If you’re ever fortunate enough to have a critique with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, as I’ve been, you’ll find that behind that warm and friendly demeanor she’s an absolute stickler about making EACH and EVERY word in a poem carry its weight and then some. No lazy writing.
While I think writing a long piece of prose is a different thing from writing a poem, applying that same kind of poetic precision in select passages can make them sparkle. Or sizzle – depending on which effect you’re going for!
D: I agree. Who are your favorite poets? What makes them your favorites? Do you have a favorite poem? If so, why do you like this poem best?
R: Many incredibly talented poets are writing for children today; I’d hesitate to start naming names because 1.) this blog post would be very, very long and 2.) the moment I hit “send,” I’d think of someone else whose work I love. I join many other poets in unabashed praise for the work of the late Valerie Worth. I do think her short poems are just magical – they invite the reader to see something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Our own Irene Latham has recently featured many of Worth’s poems on her blog, “Live Your Poem.” Here are the last couple of stanzas of one of my favorite Valerie Worth poems, which Irene posted Friday and which I’ve shared before, too:
– from “cat”
She settles slight neat muscles Smoothly down within Her comfortable fur,
Slips in the ends, front paws, Tail, until she is readied, Arranged, shaped for sleep.
Classic poets I love include Blake, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Dickinson, Williams. I’m also inspired by many contemporary haiku writers, as well as the “old masters” – Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni.
One of my favorite pieces of writing ever is the first essay in Nancy Willard’s TELLING TIME. It’s called, “How Poetry Came into the World and Why God Doesn’t Write It.” She’s just brilliant.
D: What are you working on now? Any new books in the publication pipeline? Poems, prose, articles?
R: I have some poetry in the publication pipeline – contributions to a couple of projects I’m not at liberty to share yet. But I also have one I think I can share, because Lee Bennett Hopkins shared it himself in an interview! He’s doing a collection for the very youngest readers and listeners for Abrams, and I’m thrilled that a poem of mine is scheduled to be included.
I regularly submit haiku to journals such as Modern Haiku,Frogpond, and Acorn and am always honored when a poem makes it in an issue. (I’ll be on a panel at the upcoming Haiku Society of America/southeast Region Haikufest in Atlanta at the end of October, which should be a fantastic weekend.) https://www.facebook.com/events/418063954956424/
Now that my husband and I are brand-new empty nesters, I plan to return to book projects I’ve had in the works a while. Some have had helpful formal feedback at previous wik and Springmingle conferences, and they are waiting for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work!
Thanks again for the interview – here’s to a terrific wik conference!
D: Thank you for stopping by, Robyn. I think conference attendees are in for a treat at your workshop. I hope they all bring works in progress.
If you’re interested in learning more about other members of the conference faculty, follow the WIK blog tour links below:
Today I have the pleasure of hosting Jill Corcoran, a literary agent with the Herman Agency and a speaker at the SCBWI Southern Breeze Region’s SpringMingle conference in Atlanta Feb. 22-24, 2013.
Jill Corcoran primarily represents children’s books. She has sold over 60 books and recently signed her first movie deal. Her clients include Robin Mellom, Janet Gurtler, Martha Brokenbrough, Kelly Milner Halls, Ralph Fletcher and Jen Arena. Jill also is the editor of DARE TO DREAM…CHANGE THE WORLD (KANE MILLER, 2012), a poetry anthology which includes Ellen Hopkins, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, and Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Recently, I talked to Jill about her work and her upcoming sessions at SpringMingle. Below are highlights of our conversation.
Q. Jill, you were an author before you were
an agent and (correct me if I’m wrong) you presently wear both hats. How
do you balance these two careers?
mostly agent. I have slowed down on my writing quite a bit. It is hard
to do it all as I also have 3 children. What I do love is creating
poetry anthologies like DARE TO DREAM…CHANGE THE WORLD (Kane Miller,
Fall 2012). I hope to come up with another great theme and create that
anthology some time in the future.
Q. I read online that you are a member of SCBWI. How has SCBWI helped you as a writer and an agent?
love SCBWI. I have met all of my writer friends though SCBWI and many
of my clients through SCBWI conferences. I have learned so much, and
continue to learn from every conference I go to.
Q. Tell me a little about what to expect in your Spring Mingle general session, “Great Expections.”
McDowell and I will be talking about what expectations are on both
sides of the author/agent relationship. What expectations are
reasonable? What are unreasonable? How do you work out those
differences? Plus all the ways an agent and author work together to grow
an author’s career.
Q. Your split session is “What
Makes a Manuscript Sale-able.” Is there one thing above everything else
that makes a manuscript salable? If so, what is that one thing? Can you tell us a little more about this session?
“What makes a book sell to a publisher, and sell-through to readers?
is NOT how fabulous your website or blog is. It is NOT how many
facebook or twitter friends you have, how many publishing links you
forward or put on said website, blog, facebook and twitter. It is not
how much editors and agents like you, though being a pain in the arse
will NOT help you in any way, shape or form.
What sells a book is THE WRITING coupled with an ORIGINAL, COMPELLING CONCEPT!”
Q. I see you take email queries only. What triggers a “yes, send me the rest of the manuscript,” response from you?
A. When I can’t put those first 10 pages down and I have to find out what happens next. That = a YES!
Q. On the agency website, you say you’re interested in high
concept Young Adult Middle Grade Thrillers, Mystery, Romance, Romantic
Comedies, and Adventure manuscripts. Do you have a favorite from this
list? Is there a particular kind of manuscript that you’d really like to
A. I am
looking for original voices and concepts. There is no favorite. Simply, I
am looking for a book I cannot put down. A character I want to carry in
my head. Writing that blows me away.
Q. What are you absolutely not
looking for at this time? Is there a particular type of manuscript (or
first 10 pages) that you see over and over and wish you never had to see
A. I am not looking for poetry, plays,
screenplays, dystopia, vampires, devils and angels (I represent Martha
Brockenbrough’s DEVINE INTERVENTION, Arthur Levine/Scholastic 2012 and
the SWEET EVIL TRILOGY, HarperCollins, 2012, 21013, 2014), and
historical fiction for which the author has not done a great deal of research
Q. You are the editor of DARE TO
DREAM. . . CHANGE THE WORLD (Kane Miller, 2012), a poetry anthology
which includes Ellen Hopkins, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, & Lee
Bennett Hopkins. Tell me about this book.
inspiration for DARE TO DREAM…CHANGE THE WORLD came during a car
ride, listening to NPR cover the uprising of the Egyptian people against
their oppressive government. I have been to Egypt twice and remember
the extreme riches, and poverty, as well as needing to be escorted by
gunman with assault rifles to keep safe. I was overcome by the courage
of the Egyptian people and amazed by the role of social networking to
bring their dreams and actions instantly to the rest of the world.
To me, the tweets were like poetry, capturing the essence of
the people’s hopes, fears, strength and determination.
of this collection sprung into being during that car ride as well as
the dream of a collection of poems by the best children’s poets living
today to share the spirit of dreaming + action = change and that each
one of us can make the world just a little better.
Dare to Dream
… Change the World pairs biographical and inspirational poems focusing
on people who invented something, stood for something, said something,
who defied the naysayers and not only changed their own lives, but the
lives of people all over the world.
The poets included were
chosen because they too have informed, inspired and engaged young
people throughout their careers with both their actions and their words.
My hope is that the Dare to Dream…Change the World can spark a paradigm shift from resigned to inspired.
Please see my website www.daretodreamchangetheworld.com for
a free 30 page Common Core State Standards Curriculum Guide, bios of
the contributing poets, and information about the Annual Dare to
Dream Poetry Contest for Kids with prizes of donation of $1,500 worth of
Kane Miller and Usborne books to the winner’s school library or a
library of their choice plus an ebook to be published by Kane Miller of
the top 30 poems.
Q. There are many changes going
on in publishing. What are your feelings and predictions on the future
of writing, publishing, children’s book publishing, in 2013 and beyond?
Do you see e-books taking over? Do you see the rolls of agent, editor,
author changing? How do you feel about authors who self-publish?
need to read good books, plain and simple. An unedited, poorly
illustrated home-spun book is not going to cut it. BUT, for me
DISCOVERABILITY is the key to publishers survival. Publishers already
know how to publish great books. They do it better than most
self-published books. But, they need to hone their marketing and
publicity skills and develop new ways of reaching readers.
do not believe e-books will take over as much as they are another means
to share intellectual property with readers. The story, the words, the
characters, setting, plot, etc=the book. How we read it does not
determine the quality of that book.
Q. On the same note, tell me about new books on the horizon for your current clients.
can’t discuss all of them because some of them are hush,
hush….strange, right? But some ideas we keep under wraps to make a big
splash when they hit bookshelves and e-readers. Here are some books
coming in 2013:
Gurtler’s HOW I LOST YOU about two girls who have been best fiends
forever coming to terms with a change in their relationship and learning
when it’s best to hold on and when it’s best to let go, Sourcebooks
Fire, Spring 2013. This is Janet’s 5 YA book of 7 that she is writing
Mellom’s THE CLASSROOM, book 2, Hyperion-Disney. This is book 2 of a 4
book deal, and Robin also has her YA DITCHED plus a new YA coming out
from Hyperion soon.
Higgins’s SWEET PERIL and SWEET RECKONING, books 2 and 3 of the SWEET
EVIL trilogy, in which a half-angel/half-demon is our last hope to rid
the earth of demons and must choose between her love for Kaidan (son of
the demon of Lust) and her angelic destiny, HarperCollins 2013 &
FLIRTING WITH MAYBE, in which a tenth-grade baseball star falls hard
for a senior girl but finds himself benched in the friend zone until one
drunken night changes everything, Harper Teen Impulse (this is a YA
Patrick’s LIFE GETS TWISTED pitched as the THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET
twisted with the Southern African-American experience unearthing the raw
reality of prejudice, courage, perseverance and love, Carolrhoda Lab.
Urey’s debut SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL, when a corporation
pollutes his school, a boy with a massive nose transforms into Super
Schnoz, a nostril-flaring, booger-blasting, crime-fighting superhero and
works with his friends to defeat evil, and save their summer vacation,
Milner Halls’ COURAGEOUS CANINE, featuring a pitbull who lost her leg
when she saved her owner from an oncoming train; a pod of dolphins who
saved a surfer from a great white shark, and a gorilla who saved a
three-year old boy after he fell into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo,
National Geographic Children’s
Kenn Nesbitt’s KISS, KISS, GOOD NIGHT in which baby animals snuggle in tight with their mothers to say good night, Scholastic.
Reid’s LITTLE GREY, in which a baby elephant dreams of growing big
while spending a playful day in the forest with his mother, Random House
And of course Beck
McDowell has more books coming! IMMORTELLE, in which mysterious
mementoes in a New Orleans cemetery lure a girl into a terrifying
journey that leaves her wrapped in the arms of one boy and longing for
another, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin will be coming to you in 2014.
There are so many more but the above is a sampling of what I rep.
Q. Have you ever been to Georgia?
A. Nope and I am so looking forward to it.
Q. Anything else on the horizon that you can tell us about?
am starting a new educational venture to give writers the opportunity
to learn more about traditional publishing, publishers and agents. I am
just now creating these workshops so the topics and dates are still up
in the air. Workshops will be live, 9pm EST.
workshop will consist of 3 presenters plus a moderator. I will either
be on screen as facilitator…and in some workshops I will participate
as a presenter too.
Thanks, Jill. We’re looking forward to your SpringMingle visit and sessions. Here is more information on Jill’s sessions.
General Session: Great Expectations: what are the expectations on both sides of the author/agent relationship? What expectations are reasonable? What are unreasonable, and how do you work out those differences? This session will feature Jill with her author Beck McDowell.
Split Session: What Makes a Manuscript Sale-able? Providing examples of books from many genres, Jill will talk about what has sold as well as some which, while well written, were not contracted.
Junk is beautiful. And so is the new book, American Pickers Guide to Picking, written by Libby Callaway with Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and Danielle Colby, the stars of one of my favorite TV shows, American Pickers, which comes on Monday nights on the History Channel. Libby, a freelance writer with publication credits that include the New York Post, where she worked as a writer and editor, and Glamour, where she penned a fashion advice column, is also a native of Cleveland, TN, which is home to my mom, Faye Bailey, and my sister Leanne Benson and family. A little over 30 years ago, my late dad, Don Bailey, a native of Athens, Georgia, reported to the Cleveland, TN post office to take over as postmaster. The retiring postmaster my dad replaced was Libby’s granddad, Robert Easterly.
Mike received many questions from young pickers at his Cleveland museum talk and says there is a “Kid Picker” show in the works. The current American Pickers show was the most successful reality show introduced on TV in 2010. I’m sure, judging from all the excited junior pickers at the museum, a young picker show would be a big hit.
Mike also talked about his partner in rusty gold on the show, Frank Fritz and their assistant, Danielle Colby. Frank joined Mike as a full time picker after being downsized from a long time job. Mike met Danielle at a yard sale several years ago when he bought something she had her eye on. Their disagreement quickly turned to friendship and when Mike succeeded in selling the American Pickers show to the History channel and needed an assistant to run the shop and help scout out picks, he thought of Danielle. Producers at first weren’t enthusiastic about the tattooed burlesque dancer. But after seeing her and watching her interact with Mike and Frank, they quickly agreed that she was a perfect addition to the show.
“If you can think of a purpose for something, it’s not junk,” Mike said, near the end of his talk. “It becomes a part of you.”
Mike’s show has already become a part of our family on Monday nights. His book is now in a treasured place on our bookshelf and we’re savoring every page of reading about hunting and picking “rusty gold.” Coming soon: a full review of American Pickers Guide to Picking, if I can stop picking long enough to write it!
For more information on the American Pickers show, go here. To read more about Libby Callaway and her new book, visit her website.
My guest on Winterville Writer today is Darcy Pattison, author of 19 Girls and Me; Searching for Oliver K. Woodman; The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman; The Wayfinder; and The River Dragon. Darcy also is the author of one of the books I most often recommend to aspiring and published writers: Novel Metamorphsis. I first encountered this book in an earlier, not-yet-published, version while attending Darcy’s popular novel rewriting workshop in Hoover, Alabama several years ago. That weekend in “novel rewriting bootcamp” changed my life. After those two days spent with Darcy and 24 other writers in Joan Broerman’s basement, I developed a more serious attitude toward my writing, and approximately five years later, I sold my first book, Gone From These Woods.
Today I am excited to tell you about a new Darcy Pattison book: The Book Trailer Manual. Darcy is offering this book only in a digital format, which you can download by following this link. (Disclosure: If you follow the link, I will receive a commission.) Darcy says she is making her book available this way because the art of creating book trailers is still so new that this digital format allows her to easily make changes and keep the book updated. Darcy and I recently did a question and answer session. My questions and her answers are below.
Donny: Darcy, welcome to Winterville Writer. I’m so glad you’re here to tell us about The Book Trailer Manual. What made you decide to write this book?
Darcy: Everywhere I turn these days, there are conversations about how authors can market their books, specifically how can they market online; and even more specifically, do book trailers work? I set out to find some answers and it grew into this book.
Donny: What’s the number one reason an author should make a book trailer?
Darcy: To reach an audience you believe likes to watch videos.
Donny: In the book, you admit that book trailers aren’t for everyone. What kind of book would not benefit from a book trailer?
Darcy: If you want to use a book trailer, you should first find out if your audience is online somewhere. On the sites where they congregate, do they watch videos? If the answer is that you can’t find that audience online and/or the audience doesn’t watch videos, then a trailer won’t help you reach that audience.
Donny: You advise authors to begin early. Tell us why an early start on our book trailers is important.
Darcy: The process of making a book trailer can be extensive, especially if you’re a beginner. You’ll need to get up to speed on the software and hardware; you’ll need to walk through the process of buying images and sound. You’ll need to create a YouTube channel and customize it. It takes time to create a great trailer and distribute it well. Do yourself a favor by starting early and having the time to do it right. At the same time, there may be times when you need to get something up quickly. I think one of the most important tips is to be flexible and nimble. Take time at first to learn the software and how to create a video. Then, when the book is released, be ready to do something quickly if you need to. For example, if you get a great review, you should (of course) post it everywhere. But it’s also worth probably a quick video. These types of videos can be informal and stick with the YouTube aesthetic of authentic, but not necessarily polished to the nth degree.
Donny: On page 12, you say that YouTube has proven that audiences respond to great content, regardless of the production quality. Could you talk about that?
Darcy: This is the YouTube aesthetic. If you look at the front page of YouTube at Videos Being Watched Now or Most Popular videos (not the Featured Videos because those are paid-placement videos), you’ll see a wide range of aesthetics, from polished to informal. The most popular, those with hundreds of thousands of views, are short, authentic, and have something funny going on that is fun to pass along. If you can appeal to that aesthetic, it works. For example, look at this video from Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read program. It’s just a bunch of authors telling a joke; the video spliced in a bunch of authors, each telling a short section of the joke. It’s informal and fun. It’s also too long, using the last full minute to identify each author and show the book’s cover. But that aside, the joke is more of the YouTube aesthetic.
Donny: You say that we must decide what call of action we want viewers of our book trailer to take and you list these possible actions. What is the most beneficial choice for most authors?
Darcy: It depends. Some authors have strong email newsletters and the most logical choice is to ask people to sign up for their newsletters. Others want to send readers to an independent bookstore site. The most beneficial choice will be determined by the book, your audience, and your goals for your trailer.
Donny: I intended to make a book trailer for Gone From These Woods. I even bought a Flip video camera (one of the items you talk about in your book). But somehow, I never did actually make the trailer. I think I felt a little intimidated by the process. Do you advise authors whose book are already out and have maybe even been out awhile to make a book trailer? Are they still helpful if your book is not new?
Donny: Is there a trailer for The Book Trailer Book?
Darcy: I created a Book Trailer Manual channel on YouTube.com and have several playlists of videos I discuss in the manual. Also on the channel are trailers for my teen fantasy novel, The Wayfinder, demonstrating different software.
Donny: Have you noticed an increase in sales for your books that have trailers?
Darcy: I have trailers for The Wayfinder, my teen novel which is now available for Kindle, Nook, iPad and other digital readers. Yes, I’ve seen some sales coming in from the trailer, but it’s too early to say how much it will help.
Donny: What makes you stop watching a book trailer?
Darcy: Boring concept. Bad music. Static images.
Donny: Do you have any particular favorite book trailers? You’ve included some examples in your book. Are those your favorites?
Darcy: The trailers mentioned in The Book Trailer Manual represent something that I’m trying to point out. Some are just great examples that make a point; others are truly my favorites. My all time favorite is The Book of SPAM’s Toastvertising and the accompanying video which shows how the trailer was made. For me, it’s the first entry in the Book Trailer Hall of Fame. I’m also starting to distinguish between two types of trailers. In some ways, the moniker “book trailer” is unfortunate because it evokes the aesthetic of the movie trailer. Yet the trailers I like best tend to be those with the “YouTube” aesthetic.
Donny: Thanks, Darcy! I feel like I’ve just had a mini-class in making a book trailer and I can’t wait to begin shooting. Readers who would like to learn more about book trailers might want to join The Book Trailer Manual newsletter and receive a free Special Report: 43 Sites to Upload Your Trailer. For more information about author Darcy Pattison, visit her website./
Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Aug. 30 2010.