3 S.R. Johannes: Special Edition: The Cynsational Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Special Edition: The Cynsational Cynthia Leitich Smith

Marvelous Marketer: Cynthia Leitich Smith

(Author of Eternal and Tantalize)

Hi Cynthia. Thank you for joining us today. Before we get into marketing, tell me a little about yourself.

I’m the author of three contemporary Native American children’s books— Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)—as well as two humorous picture books - Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) and Holler Loudly (Dutton, TBA) and numerous short stories.

However, I’m best known for my young adult Gothic fantasies — Tantalize
(Candlewick, 2007), Eternal which hits stores next week (Candlewick, 2009), and Blessed (Candlewick, TBA). I also have a graphic novel adaptation of Tantalize under contract.

Beyond that, I’m agented by the brilliant and gracious Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown in New York, and I’m a member of the distinguished faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

More personally, I count myself lucky to be part of sunny Austin, Texas’s booming youth writing community. I live near downtown with my husband and sometimes co-author Greg and our four dedicated writer cats.

Tell me a little more about Eternal. I know it is releasing next week! Congratulations!

In alternating points of view, Miranda and Zachary navigate a cut-throat eternal aristocracy as they play out a dangerous and darkly hilarious love story for the ages.
With diabolical wit, the author of Tantalize revisits a deliciously dark world where vampires vie with angels — and girls just want to have fangs. Eternal is set in the same universe as Tantalize , so you can look forward to a more direct re-entry into the Dracul tradition--and more global insights into its vampyric society. To find out more, you can check out the reader's guide on my web site .or read an interview posted at Not Your Mother's Book Club.

Can't wait. Now let's get into Marketing. Do you have a website/blog? When did you start it and who manages it?

I have a main web site features links to my Cynsations and Spookycyn blogs (which I started in November 2004). My site launched in 1998. Last year, it attracted more than 2 million unique visitors. Its focus is not only my own work, but also children’s-YA adult literature as a whole, including resources for writers and related to publishing.

In your opinion, how important is social networking? Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GoodReads)

For outreach to teen readers, it’s a great idea because the Internet is so much a part of their lives. My one caution is to keep in mind that you’re joining a community of thoughtful readers, not simply advertising at them. Think of it more as a way to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation of books and to encourage reading.

Did you think about marketing before your book was published? Did you start prior to getting an agent or selling your book? If so, when and what did you do?

I have undergraduate degrees in news/editorial and public relations, so my academic and young professional background had already prepared me to dive in.

But no, I didn’t worry about that aspect of the book until the manuscript was under contract and the book in production.

My first sale was Jingle Dancer, a children’s picture book. At the time, it was unusual to find a contemporary Native girl and community featured in youth literature. My publisher, HarperCollins, handled the big stuff—the catalog, major reviewers, teacher/librarian conferences, etc. So I focused on niche marketing, getting the word out to the Native community and our friends. I sent copies to Native media and museum gift stores and those with an interest in Native and/or girl-powered stories. I also wrote a few articles about contemporary Native themes that appeared in institutional market magazines, and before long, that led to speaking opportunities.

My approach has also been big picture. I care about my books, and I make every effort to champion them. But kids need to read a lot of books. Since Jingle Dancer was published, I’ve made an ongoing effort to raise awareness of multicultural children’s literature.

More recently, with my YA Gothic fantasies, I’ve made an extra effort to feature author interviews with folks whose work will appeal to my own YA readers. If time allows, I also book talk related new releases when I speak to, say, public library groups. I hand out bibliographies and keep a Web page celebrating such books regularly updated.

Do you feel it is beneficial for authors to team up and promote books as a group? Why?

It depends on the group. On one hand, cross-promotional efforts can create a sense of community between the authors and allow for a trade off of skills that’s beneficial to all. Multiple voices may be able to attract more attention than one. On the other, it’s important that everyone be on the same page in terms of expectations—the most important of which being public behavior. If you brand yourself together, for better and worse, what reflects on one to some degree reflects on all.

What other advice do you have for authors/writers regarding marketing?

When I started, author Jane Kurtz gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard. She said to do at least one thing a week, no matter how small, in support of your books. It could be something small like a blog post or stopping to say hi to a newly hired librarian. Or something huge, like throwing a launch party with a couple of hundred guests.

Consistency is more important than an all-out blitz. Sure, you’ll probably want to shout it from the rooftops when you finally hold that new novel in your hands. But in the long run, it’s more important to look for regular ways to highlight it as long as it’s in print.

What creative things have you done to promote a book?

Probably my most successful, out-of-the box thing was the giveaways of the Sanguini’s T-shirts (Sanguini’s is the fictional vampire restaurant in Tantalize). They were designed by graphic designer/artist Gene Brenek and tie in beautifully to the book. The YAs and YA librarians loved them. I sent them out with bat finger puppets from Folkmanis, which were equally popular.

Thank you for sharing your marketing strategies with us. We wish you the best with your new book.

Remember to join us Monday for Krista Marino (Editor, Delacorte)


Kristin Tubb said...

Cynthia's marketing model benefits so many MG and YA authors - she's a gift to the kid lit community! Thanks, Shelli and Cynthia!

BookChook said...

Marketing for writers is a lot like getting the word out about the importance of children's literacy - one step at a time.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

thanks kristin :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

boo chook - you are so right.

Casey Something said...

Another great interview and more books I need to read. Thanks Shelli!

Carrie Harris said...

Tantalize was such a fabulous book, and I think we've all got something to learn from Cynthia when it comes to marketing. I'm in awe. Thanks for the fabulous interview!

Anonymous said...

Need to read Tantalize. Interesting to note that she never thought about marketing until the book was in production...what does it all mean? VS

Anonymous said...

I dream of having a book cover as beautiful...