Sunday 30 January 2011

NYC 2011: Sara Zarr gives the speech that she wanted to hear

By Candy Gourlay

Reports from the 2011 Winter Conference of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
I didn't manage to get a good shot of
Sara so here's a nice portrait I found
on several blogs
Note: This post has been abridged extensively since it was first posted. I'm afraid my detailed notes threw up some copyright issues and I have had to scale back my piece. Apologies to all.

The best books I've read are the ones that make me go, "OMG that was me. That book is totally who I am."

That's what I felt about YA author Sara Zarr's keynote speech on the last day of the SCBWI conference.

Sara attended her first New York conference in 2001, after five years of being serious about writing. She was frustrated - even angry.

"I wanted something to happen ... seriously, how much longer did I have to wait? I had an agent, I had finished my book ... I came in part to figure out the system and work out an angle; network the hell out of it ..." She was straining to hear that "magic piece of information" that would finally open the door.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Build Your Own Website: The Trouble With Pictures

I created this for my Twitter profile
after an author friend reminded me
how important it was to keep your
book cover on people's minds.
I now use it on Facebook and other
online profiles such as my profile
image when comment on blogs.
By Candy Gourlay

We're almost at the end of our Build Your Own Website series ... there is of course plenty of stuff we haven't covered, but what we have will pretty much get you up and running.

We've talked about audience, we've debated the pros and cons of blogging,we've learned what platforms are out there, and we've learned about bananas and websites. Now here is one of the biggest headaches of running a website: images.

Every website needs eye-candy - images help draw the eye to the important things, images make people stop and stare, images draw people in.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Build Your Own Website: Designing Your Page With Bananas

By Candy Gourlay
Continuing the Build Your Own Website discussion over at the SCBWI message board. We've already discussed WHO you're doing it for ... and we've had a look at the platforms; AND we've talked about blogging ... or not. Now you've got your blog/website, how do you design it so people do what you want them to do?
When you come upon a new website, how many seconds do you hang around before moving to another site? Why do you stay?

Web guru Seth Godin says (and I paraphrase) people on web pages are like monkeys in search of bananas. If they find no bananas, they don't hang around. They just leave.

Check out the design of one of the internet's most successful start-ups, Amazon. The biggest banana of course is the book cover (yeah, why not sneak in a plug about Tall Story, while I'm at it?). But Amazon makes sure to put a bright yellow button on the top right to make it absolutely clear what you should do about the big banana.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Build Your Own Website: Why you should / should not blog

By Candy Gourlay

Continuing the Build Your Own Website discussion over at the SCBWI message board. We've already discussed WHO you're doing it for ... and we've had a look at the platforms available for an author to build a website with as little expense as possible (this is not for the select few who have marketing budgets). Now comes the question that those of us authors and authors-in-waiting wrestle with: should I or shouldn't I blog? 

In 2007, I gave a talk at a conference entitled Who's Afraid of the World Wide Web. I said I couldn't understand why authors didn't take advantage of the wealth of free tools to promote themselves on the web. Like blogging.

In 2007, blog trackers were claiming between 50 to 112 million blogs and authors were still asking me "So .. you're a web designer, what is this thing called a web blog?" Four years later, it's no longer a question ... more of a lament. "I want to start blogging but I don't know where to start".

In 2007 I might have agreed that it was a good idea. Now, in 2011, with so many author blogs in the blogosphere ... is it still a good way to stand out?

Friday 7 January 2011

Build Your Own Website: Which Site Platform?

By Candy Gourlay
Because of the popularity of this blog post, I will be updating this from time to time, to make sure the info is still up to date. I've closed the comments because this sort of post attracts spammers like a magnet.

Continuing the big  Build Your Own Website discussion over at the British SCBWI message board (this was on 7 Jan 2011!). In case you have come late to this discussion, we are looking at ways by which authors can build their own websites at minimal or no cost. So our big question today is:  which site platform should you use? I am listing the ones I have actually tried out. If you would like to recommend something I haven't listed, do leave a comment ... but if it sounds too much like spam, be warned that I will delete it.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Build Your Own Website: Who is Your Audience?

By Candy Gourlay

Over on the SCBWI Yahoo Group, it's Build Your Own Website Month. One of the first questions faced by any author considering an online profile, blog or website is Who is My Audience?  I thought this list might help ... With one MASSIVE CAVEAT: THE BOOK COMES FIRST. It's all very well getting through to these but have you got something they would want? Our priorities should be: 1. THE BOOK, 2. THE BOOK, 3. THE BOOK, 4. the website. A brilliant website will not get you a book deal.

Blogging agent Nathan Bransford
turned out to be an undercover
children's author
1. Agents - authors-in-waiting: when you send a query to an agent,  the fact that you have 2,000 followers might persuade them that this means 2,000 instant sales. But will they check you out? Well, some agents are more online than others. Some agents even turn out to be children's authors in disguise.  My agent is one of those who isn't at all online. Which means I really ought to spend more time on my book.

2. Commissioning Editors - Commissioning editors are all about the book so they might be interested in something like bonus materials about your story - IF they check out your website at all. They are very busy people. If they do come over, they might also be checking you out to see if you are some kind of weirdo. Commissioning editors are very worried about working with weirdos (this is why it helps top be subtle when you're stalking them; and do avoid sprinkling manuscripts with perfume or golden stars).
Commissioning Editor at work

3. Publishers - we-ell. I have been amazed to discover that most (not all) publishers in general have not in their heart of hearts really joined the digital world yet and are unlikely to be checking you out at first instance. But this is changing as we speak now that digitally with-it publishers like Nosy Crow are in the picture. Even my publisher - who was trotted out to represent dinosaurs at a digital comics panel last year -  has now got a blog. Oh, btw Publishers don't care if you are a weirdo because they don't have to have that much personal contact with you.

4. Other Writers / Illustrators - A brilliant audience - not only do they GET what your passion is about, they also BUY BOOKS. And they comment on everything because they're all there in their garrets, procrastinating. Unlike a lot of visitors to your site who will only drop by when they want to check you out or if they stumble upon you on Google, people like you are likely to read your every essay. And you can't underestimate the value of the friendships that come from meeting people with shared passions via your online profile. These are the people who will retweet your news, who will cheer you on, who care about your daily foibles. Hurrah for other writers and illustrators! This is why a lot of authors blog about writing or getting published. If you are not blogging about writing, you might consider a how-to, or tips on getting published. Not only will this be hugely appreciated, it will be "found" over and over again by other writers in search of publication.

5. Published Authors - I can't speak about published illustrators but in the beginning, I was really keen to get into conversations with my favourite published authors (indeed, any published author). But I noticed that they weren't keen to get into conversation with unpublished me. Fair enough - I guess famous people can't all pay attention to their stalkers. So I haven't really targeted published authors in my blogging. The best friendships I've made with published authors have been via conferences, workshops and face to face. Note: If you blog about books, published authors will come to you, comment and will click the 'follow my blog' button and talk to you on twitter. So if you really want to meet authors, book blogging might be the way to go.

6. Once you get a deal, Your Publishing Chain - by this I mean all the people who are helping make your book happen. The book designer, the reps who take the books to booksellers, the publicists, the marketing department. I think this is the stage when an author might consider bringing in a professional to make the website look its best. These guys SELL YOUR BOOK.

What do you want them to see? You want them to fall in love with your book and with YOU; you want to give them the ammunition to sell you, you are creating a buzz about who you are and the books you write. If they check you out and see a boring template with low-grade content, they will just click on to some other author. The size of your book deal doesn't matter - it's the EMOTIONAL impact you make on the people who go out there and sell your book. The website might be their only chance to have any contact with you. Think about it.

7. Book Bloggers - I only woke up to the wonderful world of book bloggers when I noticed  another author posting the feeds of all the book bloggers who ever mentioned her. Book Bloggers are great because they will support your blog by clicking on the subscription feed - this is because they are deeply embedded in the blog culture where it's all about supporting one another. They are also ardent tweeters and facebookers. Whenever my book is reviewed by a book blogger, my google alert goes crazy. This is because they tweet about their review (if it's a bad review, beware - another reason to write a good book) and post it everywhere on social media. And book bloggers embed the feeds of other bloggers on their websites. So their reviews appear on other blogs too. Here's a cool picture of a book lover

So what do book bloggers need from your online profile? I don't think in the first instance book bloggers might necessarily want to follow your every word on a blog (unless they become fans). But they will want information that might spice up their review, make it stand out amongst the rest. I built my site when I realized that would get too fat to follow if I packed it with all the other things about Tall Story that people might be looking for. On, I have stuff one would consider bonus materials on a DVD. What is my most visited page? Interestingly, it's the page I made about the Philippines, which is where Tall Story is partly set. I also have a review page where I post excerpts of all my (good) reviews - it's like a thank you to the book bloggers. Google ranks according to quality links - and so when I put a quality link to the book blogger's blog on my site, it might help them build their rankings and traffic.

8. Booksellers - I'm not sure that booksellers have the time to check out the internet for every book they sell. What I do know is that I have had to communicate with booksellers and always, always have to send them a link about my book. I don't know what Booksellers would be looking for on an author's website but here's what I want them to think when they come to mine ... I want them to think, hey, this author matters.
I love this horror display at Foyle's in Charing Cross
which featured so many friends: from left to right -
Angel by Cliff McNish, Angel by Lee Weatherly
Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda, Morris the Mankiest Monster (????!!!)
by Giles Andraea and Sarah McIntyre
This might be because the content on my site makes them think. Or because my site has a look about it that's cool, that looks like it was built with care, that looks like you are getting some marketing support (even if you're way off your publisher's marketing budget). How your site is designed will also give them ideas about how they sell your book - on my book's homepage, I've been careful to write a good short, easy to repeat blurb about my book and highlight the key prize nominations and short-listings that might make the bookseller's sell much easier.

9. Librarians - librarians, like editors, are all about the story. Your website might nudge a librarian to read the book. If they like the book, they might return to your website for more material to help them recommend it! I haven't had that much time to work on my website's page targeted at parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers, but it's so important. I am lucky that I am a designer because I can knock out informational downloads easily like discussion sheets, worksheets, questions. What is hard is creating the content for these downloads. I am always checking out other author sites, looking for good ideas and scouting out librarians/teacher sites for clues on what they need.

10. Teachers - like librarians, teachers are all about the story. They are also interested in the writing process (or illustrating, if you are an illustrator). A component about writing is a good idea - I haven't really had the time to do one on my website but at the moment I'm working priority number two: THE BOOK (book two, to be precise). Children's authors often supplement their income with school visit work and so a good school visit page is essential - I really liked how horrror writer Tommy Donbavand created a downloadable flyer on author visits. (Note that his website is a blog with added pages!).

11. Parents and Children - if you write for teenagers then it's almost essential to run a blog - teenagers will expect it! They will want to comment on your thoughts and hang out there (if, that is, you canwrite content that appeals to them... like Scott Westerfeld whose fans sometimes comment in their hundreds).
On my website I have pictures of me as a child, and of my siblings
I would like to think that a child in Manila could look at
these pictures and imagine the possibilities when they grow up
If you write for younger readers, then you will have to juggle your content between parents who buy books and children who read them. Pay particular attention to your About Me page - on my website I have photographs of my brothers and sisters as kids and I talk about how this one became a director, that one is an architect  ... as someone who grew up in the developing world, I'd like to think a kid in Manila looking at my website could imagine that they too could be anything they want to be.

Like teenagers, younger children want to engage with you in some way. But they wouldn't follow a blog. So it's a good idea to have a message board where they can leave messages for you.

That's all for now. I hope to continue blogging as Build Your Own Website month progresses over at the SCBWI talking shop. Till next time! 

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