3 S.R. Johannes: March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Successful Writer's Journeys - You can do it too!

Elana Johnson has organized some interviews of writers who've traveled down this long and winding road toward publication. Some have agents. Some of them have book deals.

They've "made" it.

I will be featured on Beth Revis blog this Friday!

Here are some other blogs participating:

Click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura Roecker, Leah Clifford, Victoria Schwab, Kirsten Hubbard, Susan Adrian, Dawn Metcalf, Kim Harrington, Carrie Harris, Amy Holder, Kathy McCullough, Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, Gretchen McNeil and Tiffany Schmidt.

As Elana says, "Everyone involved is hoping this series will inspire you, provide a beam of hope along your way, and really prove that you CAN succeed in this crazy business. You CAN go from slush-pile-nothing to agented writer to published author."

Yes YOU!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My thoughts on book publicity!

Since it is Spring Break around the country, the normal Monday marketing interviews will start up again on Monday, April 12th.

I thought I would answer some of the questions I have gotten offline about book marketing and publicity. A few have asked about me and my "day job" of running my own marketing and publicity business.

What exactly do you do?

Besides write....I own my own marketing and publicity business (bilaninc.com) where I help companies market their business. I also help small businesses develop marketing materials and publicity campaigns.

Do you help authors with their marketing?

Yes. I've done just about every job in marketing, from planning to execution--author school visits, booking conferences, swag and promo pieces, curriculum/learner guides, bookstore tours, online marketing and book publicity campaigns.

Because I love to read and write children's books, my favorite is working with children's authors in their marketing or book publicity needs. So much so, that I give 30% off my standard prices to SCBWI members and 20% off to other authors. I can do any of the following:
  • Designing and creating swag packages, such as bookmarkers, postcards, posters, bookplates, stickers
  • Planning and executing online publicity campaigns, including blog tours
  • Creating a marketing strategy/plan for authors/book releases
  • Identifying niche outlets for publicity and marketing
  • Creating supplemental materials, such as discussion guides, curriculum guides, and event kits
  • Coordinating book release parties, bookstore signings, and tours
  • Writing press releases and pitch letters, bios and background materials
  • Customized backgrounds for twitter, blogs, and web sites
  • Manuscript and query critiques
If you need any help on deciding if you need help with marketing or book publicity, you can email me at sjohannes@bilaninc.com to schedule a free 30 minute consultation!

What should authors look for when hiring marketing or publicity professionals?

There are so many people doing marketing these days especially with the amount of layoffs.
  • Know what you want and what you are getting.
  • Always ask for references and samples of their work.
  • Get written quotes and compare.
  • Be sure to read the fine print.
  • Do your research.
  • The publicity potential of your book.
  • Good communication.
  • Reasonable prices.
What things are best done by a publicist? By an author?

This really depends on the person. There are some people who want to hire a book publicist to handle everything because they can't be bothered. There are others who only want certain things done.

If you want a publicist - prioritize your needs and your budget. Use a publicist for things you can't do yourself. For example, I find most authors need:
  • Professional consulting to get ideas on how to best market your book
  • Someone to get them started by creating a marketing and book publicity plan
  • Custom designed materials such as web sites, business cards, online templates and swag packages
  • Creating formal and professional media kits
  • Organizing book tours/speaking appearances
Does every author need a publicist?

It all depends on how good you are at marketing yourself. I usually like to see what a publisher is doing for an author FIRST before I take on a project. Sometimes it may not be the best expense if the publisher is already doing a lot for the author.

How can an author prepare to work with a publicist?

First, you need to know exactly your goal? What do you need the most help with? How much to you want to spend? What can you do on your own?

Once you know your goals, know what your publisher is going to do and then really evaluate whether you need outside help.

If you do, it is critical for your publicist to work with the house's publicity department to ensure a seamless plan.

Is book publicity expensive?

Like anything, book publicity can get expensive.

However, every author should know their strengths and what they may need help with. It does not all have to be done at once and authors should ask about smaller projects that they can afford.

It does not have to be all or none!

What is one piece of advice that you want people to take away?

Start now! It is better to start your marketing and publicity campaign at least 6 months PRIOR to your publication date. I can do more for you if you are early. If you come to me 6 months after your book has released, you have lost critical time.

Hope that helps you guys understand book publicity more.

What other questions do you have?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Five/Marketing Round Up (3/26)

The Magic of Books

My daughter had her first book signing this week. Mary Pope Osborne was in town and my daughter just started reading them in Kindergarden this year.

She was so excited and Mary was funny getting all the kids engaged. Over 500 people showed up in a VERY small bookstore.

Watching her made me smile.

What about you? Do you remember your first signing?

Marketing Favs

Marketing for a good cause - Christy's Critter. Sometimes doing something for a good cause helps you feel better about yourself and extends your platform.

Eight steps to marketing yourself online - There are a few things that need to be considered before jumping headlong into an online campaign.

Agent Uses YouTube to Get a Book Deal - The agent included links to a five-minute clip posted on MySpace and YouTube in the final pitch to nail a bg deal.

Literary Promotion Campaigns
- The generosity with review copies of books leads to the literary publicity opportunities you want and need.

Why Amazon Rankings can be misleading - For most books, it does not take many orders to increase rankings.

Ideas for marketing your books - an ebook that discusses creating an online media kit, blogging tips, getting traffic to your site, virtual book tours, social media and networking, using video for book promotion, getting author interviews, and the benefits of podcasting.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Marketing To Teen - Teen Panel (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of our Teen Panel Q&A.

Click here to read Part 1


What fantasy authors do you read and enjoy?

(Austyn) Rick Riorden, Cornelia Funke, Erin Hunter

(Morgan) Oh gosh..there are so many! Hmm..a few? Holly Black,Suzanne Collins, Libba Bray, Michelle Zink,& Lisa Mantchev!

(Viviane) (Not listed in any order) Neil Gaiman, Libba Bray, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, Michelle Zink, and others I can't Quite think of at the moment :)

(Anon) Any really. I jump around a lot.

(Yan) Stephanie Meyer--as much as the YA blogger community is divided when regarding this author I love her work, both YA and adult. Cassandra Clare--took a while to get into her series, but loved it in the end. Lisa McMann--simple writing but still thought provoking. Richelle Mead, Kristin Cashore, Maria V. Snyder, Alexandra Bracken (a '10 debut author that I plan to stalk for new releases already!), R.J. Anderson, Diana Peterfreund, Kelley Armstrong, Jackson Pearce, Alyxandra Harvey, Gail Carriger (an adult steampunk writer but she has the most captivating narration). Oh gosh this is such a huge answer; I'm going to stop right here before I fill an entire page up with authors.

(Chelsea) It isn't YA, but I really like the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I really like fantasy books that build an entirely new world for you, and I think that series accomplishes that. For YA, I really, really enjoyed The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. In it, she mixed history with fantasy, which could be hit or miss, but it ended up being a very engaging read. I'm really excited to read the sequel! I'm always looking for new high-fantasy books. I consider paranormal and fantasy to be very different (while some readers group them together), and it's a lot harder to find good YA fantasy.

(Tirzah) Tamora Pierce is my number-one, all time favorite fantasy author. I started reading her books when I was young, and I've read every single one of them. They are, in my opinion, the epitome of YA fantasy. I also enjoy Shannon Hale's fantasy books, and both of Kristin Cashore's books have really impressed me. Maria V. Snyder's Study series has great YA/Adult crossover appeal. I am also a major sucker for fairy tale retellings, so I love Simon Pulse's Once Upon a Time... series. Those are written primarily by Cameron Dokey, Debbie Viguie, and Nancy Holder.

(Khy) Does Scott Westerfeld count as fantasy? He's closeish? And I lovelovelove Richelle Mead and Vampire Academy. The series is AMAZING and Rose, the main character, is super awesome. Or do you mean like, high fantasy stuff? Because that I don't like as much, unless it's written by JK Rowling.

How do you find out about new authors?

Browsing the library.

(Morgan) Luckily, my best friend is an avid reader, such as myself. Sometimes I get lucky in a bookstore with a really good find, but most of the time, my friend guides me to amazing new authors!

(Viviane) Mainly through browsing the bookstore or if I hear anything through the grapevine about new books

(Anon) Book club, browsing the web, and blogs from other authors. Recommendations from readers also help a lot.

(Yan) Word of mouth, debut author LiveJournal communities, blogging communities, publishers (i.e. catalogs/recommendations/surprise review books).

(Chelsea) Mostly from sites like The Tenners or the Class of 2k10. And from debut author challenges, like the one Kristi from The Story Siren is hosting. If new debut authors reach out to online blogs, etc, it's very easy to find them. They just have to be approachable. If I've talked to a new author, I'll always want to buy their book when it comes out!

(Tirzah) Mainly through Twitter! Occasionally some will email me, or drop me a comment on my website (which I love!), but I hear about a lot of them through other authors on Twitter, retweets, and sometimes on Publisher's Weekly announcements.

(Khy) From other people's blogs, twitter, stuff like that. The Internet in general.

What attracts you to a new author/book?

(Austyn) The cover and the title art, actually, have a lot to do it for me. If that got be hooked and looks like something I might like, I read the summary on the back/inside cover and decide if I want to read it.

(Morgan) Honestly, so many things are important to my interest. A) Do I know the author? B) Is the book's cover appealing? Sometimes, I'll admit, there are GREAT stories that aren't portrayed in their covers, but still.. C) Who's reviewed it, what do they normally like, and what did they think? D) Are there any vampires/werewolves/weird and odd relationships in it? ( If so, it goes back on the shelf.)

(Viviane) Covers, firstly, then title, then summary. I mean, covers are what you first see. I always keep an open mind though, so even if the cover's not great, I keep in mind the title. Lastly, the summary. If it's intriguing enough, I'll give it a go.

(Anon) The summary on the back of the book plays a huge part- if it makes sense, is exciting, and still allows me to ponder a bit on the actual contents of the book, I'm willing to give it a try. My choices for what I read aren't dominated by the cover on the book, but it definitely plays a part in getting me to pick the book up and read the back

(Yan) Cover and summary mostly. Sometimes their personality plays a part as well. If they're friendly, easy to talk to, understanding of the blogging community it just appeals better to me that I feel their book might appeal to me as well.

(Chelsea) Like in the above question, when an author is approachable, I'm more likely to buy their book. Whether it's through blog tours or Twitter or email, I'm always happy to hear about and from a new writer. If they reach out to readers, readers will reach out to them.

(Tirzah) Well, on a very shallow level, usually a cover is the first thing I see, and if it's a good one, I'm hooked. More often than not though, it will be the title, or blurb I find on other websites. However, if the synopsis is well written, that usually sells me on a book. Author buzz also works as well--if I see more than two or three authors talking about a book on Twitter, then I really sit up, pay attention, and get the book!

(Khy) An intriguing premise is always the best, but I have been known to see a pretty cover first and then hunt for more info on the book. (:

Our Panel will be back again in April! Feel free to leave additional questions!

Marketing To Teens - Teen Panel (Part 1)

Winner of the Free Query Critique......

Christina Lee!

Congrads and please email me at sjohannes@bilaninc.com

March's Teen Panel

Here are some facts about our teen panel - 1/2 are big bloggers (BB) and 1/2 are non bloggers (NB). All are teens - 13 - 18

Today we have:
Austyn, 13, GA (NB)
Morgan, 15, NY (NB)
Viviane, 16, NY (NB)
Anonymous, 15, NY (NB)
Yan, 17, PA
Chelsea, 18, OH
Tirzah, 17, MI
Khy, 15, CA

This week they are answering questions regarding what authors they love and why.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Rick Roirden- his writing style is simply wonderful, and the ideas behind his books are creative.

(Morgan) Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black. Those two books are part of who I am, to put it simply. Janet Fitch weaves words like magic, and leaves the reader amazed,awestruck, and forever changed. You'll think about those two books every day, after having read them. Ellen Hopkins is another amazing author I love, with so many books...Impulse, Tricks, Crank, Burned, Glass, Identical...the books ever teenager should read even though some parents don't agree. Ellen's rawness and realness is what makes her a genius, along with the fact that she writes in verse!

(Viviane) Janet Fitch, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and others, depending on the reading mood I'm in! However, the first two will always remain my two favorite; their writing is so.... enchanting. Ms. Fitch's books, White Oleander and Paint it Black, have stayed with me mainly because of the characters. They are three-dimensional, full, and very real. Mr. Zafon's books, Shadow of the Wind and the Angel's Game, were intriguing stories; he is (to me) the most masterful storyteller I know of.

(Anon) Ellen Hopkins & Suzanne Collins- Both women are amazing authors, in my opinion, because their books draw you in, capture you in the words of the page. They're the types of books that you never want to lay down- just read from cover to cover in one shot. The characters, who are usually deep, 3-dimensional beings really help the stories along. But even more importantly, each have specific qualities that make their books unique. Hopkins writes about topics that should be addressed- that people need to hear. Raw things that some people don't have the spine to write about. Collins makes her books fast paced without leaving out big chunks of important detail. I think really making a book to-the-point without cutting a bunch of important stuff must be hard. So both are very talented authors in my opinion.

(Yan) It's hard to pick favorite authors. It's like asking me what my mood is--they change daily! On the top of my head Maria V. Snyder. I've been stressing her book whenever I can because her Study series (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study) was simply fabulous, amazing, addictive, grossly captivating, well characterized and well plotted. (Edited to add: my fantasy author lists include some favorite authors as well along with Courtney Summers and Justina Chen-Headly and Elizabeth Scott for contemporary novels (which, by the way, is a small fraction of authors I enjoy because I cannot seem to think at the moment!).

(Chelsea) I love Laurie Halse Anderson because she manages to create books with controversial subjects and write them artistically while simultaneously making them accessible. She really lets you get inside her character's minds. I also love Meg Cabot because all of her books are enjoyable and fun. A favorite author, to me, is one whose books are ones I continuously love, and who never fail to publish a book that I enjoy reading. Elizabeth Scott has created enjoyable book after enjoyable book, so she, too, is one of my favorites.

(Tirzah) I love Tamora Pierce. I started reading her books when I was really young, and her epic fantasy books are just amazing. I'm also a huge fan of Meg Cabot, and hers were the first YA books I started reading. Ellen Hopkins is an excellent poet, and her books never cease to grab you right away. Julia Hoban had me enthralled with her book Willow, and I love her smart style. And I've really admired Daphne du Maurier's stories and novels for a long time--they're the ultimate Gothic suspense/romance books.

(Khy) David Levithan because everything he writes is pure amazing GOLD. Maureen Johnson because she is hilario and also created the character of Spencer Martin. E. Lockhart, because she everything she writes is fun and original. Courtney Summers because she is so nice, yet her books are full of the meanest people that are still enjoyable to read about.

Do you look for known authors to read or do you just look for books that interest you?

(Austyn) Books that interest me, unless the author's style really interested me or if I finished one of their series.

(Morgan) It's a mix of both. If I LOVE an author, I will definitely look for more works by them,and if a random, lesser known book sounds really good, I'll read it- no matter who the author.

(Viviane) Both. If I really enjoyed reading an author's work, I'll be on the lookout for their next item. But finding a new author is always nice, especially when the writing's great!

(Anon) Half and half. If I know of a very good author and I've read their books before, I'll look for one of them. But if I don't have any specific author in mind I'd probably just look for something that sounds interesting and off-the-beaten-path.

(Yan) Both. I'm more tempted to pick up new books by authors I have already read and loved. For new authors, I'm more cautious especially when publishes and bloggers over hype them. Of course, I'll be extremely curious but the hype can have a backlash when the book fails to impress. I'll be more tempted to grade the book harsher because my expectations were so far in the sky. I will typically pick up any fantasy novel whether it may be a debut author or a well established author--it's just a preference of mine. But that idea goes both ways; if a book is being released with elements such as religion I'll step back away from them may it be written by a debut author a New York Times bestseller.

(Chelsea) If I see a book by an author I like, I'll get it. But if I see a book that has a good summary, I'll get it, too, regardless of whether I've ever heard their name.

(Tirzah) I'm always on the lookout for new books by authors I've read and enjoyed in the past, but for the most part, it's the books themselves that interest me. A known author might pique my interest, but its the synopsis of the book that will really sell it to me.

(Khy) Books that interest me, but if a book/author is crazy popular and I haven't read it/them, I will probably seek it out to see what all the buzz is about.

Are you likely to remain loyal to an author if they do a series or another book?

(Austyn) If they're good, yes.

(Morgan) I always give a sequel a fair chance. Sometimes, though, the author disappoints. Some books should just be stand alone novels..As well as for companion books, I'm always up for another ride down that author's lane, as long as it sounds intriguing.

If it's an author I love, than yes, definitely. Even if it's completely different from what they've written in the past.

(Anon) Yes, if an author does a series and I liked the first book, I would almost definitely read the following books. The same goes for their other books- if they make a good first impression, I'm willing to stick with them.

Yes, but that does always guarantee that I'll enjoy it. If a favorite author of mine writes a new series I'll read the first book without question (except if it involves some iffy topics of mine) but if it doesn't work for me I'll just stop reading that series.

Definitely. If I liked their first book (or second or third, etc), there's a very high chance I'll be checking out their next one. But even if I've read previous books by an author that I didn't really care for, I'll give another of the author's books a try if the premise intrigues me enough. It's always nice to see familiar names and to compare what they've written.

If I enjoyed their previous works, yes. There are only a handful of times that I can remember not really going on with a series after reading the first or second book, but that was because the series or book wasn't very interesting to me, but for the most part, I like to see series through. It may be hard for me at times due to time constraints (most of the time I like to re-read the prequel beforehand to re-familiarize myself with the story again), so it's a matter of really making time to do so.

(Khy) If I liked their other books, yes. If I didn't like their other book or series, I will probably stay away.

Part 2 will be on Wed.

Our Teen Panel will join us again in April! Feel free to leave additional questions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Surprise/Friday's Marketing RoundUp (3/19)

OK, I'm a slacker.

Since the week of prizes, I've spent all my time mailing out prizes.

I'm so sorry.

To make it up to you all, I have a surprise (bribe) so you forgive my Slackitude.

At midnight Sunday night (EST), I will draw a name and offer a free query critique.

As some of you know, a query critique is a marketing tool. How you market your book to agents or editors. So it's right up my alley.

A query needs to be gripping, summarize the story, and show voice. It must be one page.

Now, here are my favorite posts for the week:

Promoting others - Some work hard to promote the books of other authors because it's the right thing to do.

Book Promotion Tips from the Pros - Allison Winn Scotch has had two novels on the New York Times Bestseller's List

Kody Keplinger's ARC cover design for The Duff (yay Kody!)

Literary Twitter Census -
GalleyCat has compiled a year-end census of the literaryTwittersphere.

The Blahgs of Blogging - The feeling you get when you lack the desire to keep on blogging.

10 Things I want to see in TweetDeck
- While TweetDeck is a great tool that does so many things so well (the Love), it doesn’t do everything we want or need.

How to Market and Sell Your book - A unique business-oriented webinar for authors who have self-published books out, authors who have traditional published books out, and authors who have books coming out soon.

Don't forget to come back Monday for our first Teen Panel discussion!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Calling all bloggers and authors - show the love for Libraries!

April 11-17 is National Library Week

I'd like to dedicate my blog that week to celebrate libraries and do some interviews about what they look for in books. Therefore I was thinking I could get people involved to participate.

If you would like to participate in the "Bloggers Love Libraries" - Library Appreciation week. Please let me know.

Here are some ways you can participate:
  1. Interview your local library and post the interview that week. Send me the link by April 9th and I will link to any interviews on my site that week so we can celebrate all the libraries around the country.
  2. Dedicate your blog to do posts that relate to libraries.
  3. Donate books for my book basket(s) that will be given away to a library that participates in the interview. (If we get enough books, we may be able, to do more than just one basket)
  4. Donate any other items to the baskets - pens, pencils, swag, skype tours, etc
I will collect all the items and create book baskets.

At the end of the week there will be a drawing for the book basket. (Followers who fill out the form can be eligible to win the book baskets for their local library)

Please email me at sjohannes@bilaninc.com if you would like to participate. :)

Marvelous Marketer: Suzanne Young (author of The Naughty List)

Today, we have Suzanne Young, author of The Naughty List.

I asked her to share with us a little about her marketing and how her great blog has helped her in this industry.

Take a look!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Five/Marketing Round Up (3/12)

Hi guys!

Here are my favorite marketing posts for the week:

Audience Development - Many people say focus on your craft first. This view can set up writers for disappointment and failure if/when they do get published. Here are some myths to consider.

Sell Ideas - Why should you learn how to sell ideas? Can’t you just write and let the ideas sell themselves? It’d be nice, but in most cases you can’t.

Marketing Your Writing series - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Marketing your writing is essential if you want your work to be read by a wide audience.

The Texas Sweethearts -
P.J., Jessica, and Jo are reporting in with Shrinking Violet readers on their newest venture, a group blog.

Connecting to Young Readers in Social Media - Since 93 percent of teens are accessing the Internet, getting the word out online is key to obtaining bestselling readership numbers. There’s only one problem: unless you’re already a well-known YA author, teens aren’t going to come to you.

7 Reasons why writers need to use video
- Here’s why you should seriously consider getting your face, and your books on screen.

Have great weekend :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Winners of The Amanda Project Books

The 2 random drawing winners of The Amanda Project Book 1 - Invisible 1 are:


Lisa Nowak!!

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Please email me your address at sjohannes@bilaninc.com.

Congrads! :)

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Amanda Project (Part 2 of 2)

Here is part 2 of the The Amanda Project with Marketing Director, Ariel Aberg-Riger. Y0u can also review Part 1.

Note: This is a 2 part series. Comment on Part 1 or 2 to be entered into a random drawing for one of two books of Invisible 1 (book 1 of The Amanda Project). You must be a follower and in the US to win. The book drawing for both books will be tonight so you must comment by 12 PM EST

What was it like for the author to allow the shaping a story left
to the readers? Do you find the storylines completely different or similar?

Well, our authors did what they do best which is create compelling characters and a riveting story. We just created a framework that allows our community to supplement their vision. Each book is written by each author in a fairly traditional manner, and the authors all worked together to establish an overarching plot structure for the eight books (a HUGE hat tip to our amazingly talented editorial director for keeping track of everything!). It is the details of Amanda's world that are flexible, and ever-growing, as our community of readers and writers adds to what the authors have created.

How has The Amanda Project evolved over time?

We're still really young! The site only officially launched last August, and Invisible I came out in October. We've definitely responded to our community's wants (the addition of the Zine section on the site came out of our beta testers' comments), and we are developing some additional features which we hope to launch this summer, but overall we are still in our infancy!

How did you draw in your initial readers? What marketing did you use to get the project started?

We started testing the website in beta about six months before the first book in the series - Invisible I - hit stores. Our initial beta testers came from a call we put out via the Fourth Story Media website, along with a number of teens from HarperCollins/HarperTeen' ARC early reviewers lists. We knew even before we started that our most hardcore members would be girls who loved to read and write, so we went after voracious readers to test the site. We used the beta testing period to really talk to our testers and find out what they loved and what they wanted more of. Before the site went live (last August - about a month before the first book came out), we made a number of changes based on our beta's feedback.

After building and energizing a small core of super Amanda enthusiasts during beta, we then equipped them with the tools to go out and bring their friends onto the site (creating a street team, incentivizing the process, offering them cool ads and buddy icons to post, etc.). In addition we built our social media pages and outreach through targeted ads on Facebook and Myspace, and followed relevant Twitter users who in turn followed us back. In addition, there was of course all of the standard promotion and press surrounding the book launch that drove users to the site, and we've continued to build our base with cool cross promotions like the Modcloth contest I mentioned.

What other creative marketing techniques are you planning on using to promote the book?

Well, we are always looking for collaborations with other websites, publications, retailers, etc. that make sense and are mutually beneficial to all parties involved. For instance, we partnered with I Heart Daily in September to create week-long clue hunt that was a huge success. Every day a puzzle ran in the IHD newsletter, and solving the puzzle led you to a secret URL where you got a word of the day. At the end of the week if you put together all of the words, you unlocked another secret URL where you discovered how the objects were connected, and were rewarded with an exclusive, previously unpublished, piece of Callie's (the narrator of Invisible I) story (as well as a free book and gift certificate to Fred Flare).

We also did a really fun partnership with Modcloth recently where we invited girls to create collages of Amanda's perfect outfit using Modcloth clothing on the fashion site Polyvore. The girls LOVED it, and were amazingly creative as always.

Currently, we're working on a week-long clue hunt with Just So You Know (JSYK) (AOL’s teen site) and a six-week long puzzle hunt with What If? a Canadian magazine that features teen writing and artwork.

What are the top 3 reasons The Amanda Project interactive model works for readers?
  1. Most importantly, it's an amazing, well-written story. We have fantastic, bestselling YA authors like Melissa Kantor and Laurie Stolarz working collaboratively to create a rich narrative core and to build Amanda's world. It's only with such a strong base that we are able to extend the story and invite our readers in to collaborate and interact as well. If they weren't hooked in the first place, they wouldn't care!)
  2. It's a structured creative environment. We find that although the sky really is the limit in terms of what you can invent and who you can be on The Amanda Project, our readers and writers create most readily when we actually impose certain constraints. For example, every Friday we publish a new story on the site, and each week's story ends with a call to action that asks a very specific question (e.g. Have you ever lied to make people like you? Is this Amanda's purple ink?) which we find both lowers the barrier to entry for participation (aka the blank page effect), as well as creates a much more cohesive direction for the continuation of the story.
  3. It's universal. The Amanda Project deals with issues all teen girls (and anyone, really) can relate to - identity, friendship, difficult decisions, loyalties, secrets, the drama of high school life - so it's easy to lose yourself in the character you create, and really immerse yourself in Amanda's world.
Thank you Ariel for taking the time to answer (in a wonderful amount of detail) all these questions!

Thanks Shelli!

The Amanda Project - Marketing an Interactive Story (Part 1)

Note: This will be a 2 part series. Comment on Part 1 or 2 to be entered into a random drawing for one of two books of Invisible 1 (book 1 of The Amanda Project). You must be a follower and in the US to win.

Today, we have Ariel Aberg-Riger, the Creative Development & Marketing Director at Fourth Story Media to discuss The Amanda Project.

The Amanda Project is the first collaborative, interactive fiction series for girls aged 13 and up. The story unfolds across an interactive website and is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

Hi Ariel. Will you tell us idea for an online story series come to play?

The Amanda Project came out of a bunch of different, seemingly disparate threads. We were interested in inviting talented authors to collaborate on an ongoing narrative; we wanted to see if we could publish a story that would allow interactivity and reader participation, and we were thinking about how girls use technology to express themselves.

How did the idea of creating an online interactive story start?

Well, we all know that the publishing landscape is changing. It’s evolving to incorporate aspects of the inevitable move to new forms of media, and we wanted to embrace that by giving our readers a way to harness all of the resources and possibilities that are offered by the Internet, ever-increasing connectivity, social networks, etc. The Amanda Project appeals to all different kinds of readers. It's, at heart, a fantastic story with appealing narrators, mystery, suspense–even some romance. So, it was our hope that any girl or boy who loves to read would devour it. At the same time, we know that our core audience is online all the time, and there is also the draw of the interactive nature of the project - we don't just create a story and tell it, we invite our readers to come in and create the story with us.

What was the most fun and most challenging aspect of doing interactive books online?

Some of the most fun aspects of working on The Amanda Project are also some of the greatest challenges. The creative process of working on an ongoing, transmedia narrative is an amazing experience because it is ever evolving. Each week we get to unravel more of the story bit by bit, and there is always something to explore - building off of their responses, digging deeper into the text of the book, learning what they are most drawn to and what they find less engaging.

The most challenging part was building a structure that would allow a fantastic story to be both told by our gifted authors, and be flexible enough to be reactive to the incredibly creative ideas and directions our readers developed. We spent a lot of time exploring various frameworks that would allow such interaction to take place. As we said before, the story itself is every evolving, but we're confident now that we have a model in place that can handle the deep, layered creation.

Readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda. How does that work?

Well, after a user creates their account, they are encouraged to start filling out their profile as a character - the barista at the downtown Orion coffee shop Just Desserts, a kid that sat behind Amanda in trig class, etc. We assign each new member a "guide" (much as Amanda asks Hal, Callie, and Nia to be her Guides when she comes to Endeavor High) - someone they can email with any questions they have about the story, or how the site works, or anything at all. We emphasize that although the site operates in the framework of the story (the main characters "build" it at the end of Invisible I), it is all fictional, and we encourage them to think creatively about their “experiences” with Amanda.

There are a number of places and ways that members can interact on the site. The core of the site is the Our Stories section where we post weekly stories written by the main characters. The stories are structured as mini mystery arcs - each anywhere from 2-5 weeks long - and each story ends in a specific question. We've found this specific call to action is an extremely important part in both encouraging and focusing the conversation in a way that is most conducive to moving the story forward. We are highly reactive and responsive in Our Stories - constantly following leads and details the girls submit, and using their ideas to build the next week's story.

In addition to Our Stories, there are the individual member profiles (where everything they contribute on the site is aggregated and linked so they can watch their character develop in real time), the Debate Club (where readers are invited to participate in discussing everything from which classes they had with Amanda, to what her favorite outfits were, to picking apart various details in Invisible I), to the Zine where they can submit their own original fiction, to the Gallery where they can upload photography and artwork. Like any community, we have some incredibly active members who write intricate fictional accounts every week. Others are quieter, but as we look at the analytics of the site, we can see that they’re there reading and observing.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 and learn why The Amanda Project is so successful with teens.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Friday Marketing Round Up (3/5)

Hi guys. I miss you all. I've been so slammed since the contest trying to catch up on deadlines and get everything out. I guess you could say I've had a bad case of the blogger hangover. The Mardi Gras was a huge success (and took more time than I thought). It was so worth every moment since I gotta make so many new blogger buddies. I appreciate you all participating!!!!

Here are my top marketing posts for the week:

Strong Book Spines - While spines seem less important than front covers, they are in fact often a reader’s first visual impression of a book. (This was interesting to me because usually we think of covers as being critical)

Candlewick's new Marketing Campaign
- Candlewick Press launched a new marketing program aimed specifically at frontline indie booksellers, CHIRP. In a bit of double entendre, "CHIRP," short for Candlewick's Handselling Indie Recognition Program. (aren't they so cool! I love the program. Brilliant!)

HarperTeen goes online for Marketing - This campaign included a calendar spotlighting a different young adult novel each day, links to Twitter and to YA blogs featuring Q&As with authors, games, a widget, a browse-inside-the books option, and a sweepstakes offering a chance to win a signed copy of a book and one of five iPod Touch prizes. (Again, brilliant - they had over 62000 entries!)

Do authors really need to promote their books?
Is it worth the constant struggle between using time to market or to write. (I say yes. :)

Their So called Life - Fact and Fiction behind the fickle girl teen dynamic. Truth be told, they’re much more preoccupied with their own social activities than marketing messages. (This gave me some interesting thoughts. Can't wait to see what our panel thinks!)

Getting Your Book Noticed on Amazon - As the world's #1 online bookseller, Amazon is pretty much the top dog in terms of places where potential customers search for books, so the higher up in the search that your book lands, the better off you are.

Blog the Right Way - Is there a correct way to blog? Much like asking if there’s a right way to write. Actually, any form or action of writing is a form of expression that satisfies the writer and communicates with their audience is a win-win process. (This applies if your goal for blogging is generate traffic to spotlight you or your books.)

What should you tweet about? Twitter is a great way to meet people, develop relationships, and promote your book, yourself and your business. But it's important to avoid being seen as someone who just promotes themselves. Most of your tweets should be about helping others and help people get to know you.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rejection Lessons from "American Idol"

Update: all prizes have been shipped. next week, I look forward to getting back into reading your blogs. This has been a crazy few weeks!

Top 10 things we can learn about Rejection from American Idol:

1. Not everyone likes the same thing. No agent or editor likes the same thing. We as writers or readers don't like the same thing. It's not personal.

2. Criticism can make you better, if you're open to it. Take any suggestion for improvement and see if it can work. It make help you take a step forward.

3. Everyone needs to improve on something. No one is perfect. Some of us are good at voice, others at plot. It's about growing.

4. Believe in your talent. If you don't believe in yourself, how can your agent or editor? Trust in your ability and do your best to make it work. Sometimes it is out of your control.

5. Talent isn't the only factor. The best singer doesn't always win. The best writers don't always get the book deals. There are so many other factors that go into moving through this journey successfully: the market, the agent, the editor, the need, persistance, patience, timing.

6. Sometimes, it boils down to an X factor. Some just seem to have it. Others have to fight for it. But there has to be some connection between your book and an 'editor/agent that you can't force. It just is or isn't.

7. Know your strengths. Don't be something you are not. Know what you're good at and stick to it until you establish a place for yourself. Your genre, voice, and story.

8. Don't make excuses for your weaknesses. Just do something about it and work to get better.

9. Expect a Simon in every crowd. There will always be a critic that doesn't like your work. Apply the parts that make sense and leave the rest behind.

10. Have faith that this is your time. Its the only thing you can really control in this process.

The Magic of a Southern Breeze

NOTE: Fabulous Follower Winner Prizes went out today. I'm working packaging up the Mardi Gras Prizes tomorrow and will email you when it goes out!

This past weekend I went to the Spring Mingle for the Southern Breeze Region (SCBWI). It was here in Atlanta.

I must say at first I was not sure if I was going to go. I had alot of things I needed to do and I did not know if I could handle a weekend of writing. In a way, I felt like I needed a weekend - away from writing.

Not to mention, my "normal" possee was not going. I was going this one alone. Don't get me wrong, I knew people there and love everyone in my Region. But having the comfort of a few girls that know me, my journey, and my deepest fears and dreams is nice when you enter a room of 150 people.

I'm not very good in a large room. I'm a bit shy, definitely an introvert, and I really stink at small talk. I usually resort to bad jokes and probably put my foot in my mouth at least twice.

I'll even tell you all a secret.

Part of me kinda wondered if I would learn much. I mean, I have an agent so the agent talk would probably not apply to me and wondered if the sessions would help me at the stage I'm at in my writing process. (this embarressing because I have so much to learn! I dont' know what I was thinking~)

Anyway, I went to Springmingle.

And am so glad I did.

I think the BEST thing about the conference was hanging out and getting to know Jennifer Jabaley and Kristin O'Donnell Tubb. These girls are definately soul sisters of mine (I hope they thin so :). I adore them and can't wait to see them again. They made me laugh, listened as I cried, and gave me advice and words of encouragement that I needed at this stage in my writing journey. I felt like I had known them for years and found myself sharing things that I NEVER share with anyone outside my normal friend circle. (and most of my friends have known me for at least 10 years.) If I'd hung out with my normal "crew" - I would have missed kicking off these great friendships. And that would have been a true loss. Check out Kristin (author of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different) at her blog/twitter and Jennifer (author of Lipstick Apology) at her blog!

I also hung some other great people. Karen Strong, Sheri Dillard, and Heather Montgomery (who knows everything there is to know about how to be safe during a earthquake!!)

The next thing that was Sooooo worth it was meeting and hearing Josh Adams from Adams Literary. He was funny and open and shared some secrets to agenting that helped me feel even more confident in my agent and her process. It also gave me critical insight into the submission/agenting/publishing world that we writers don't get to see very often. If any of you are looking for an agent, be sure to read what he is looking for and query him because he rocks!!! (from what I can tell, he also kicks ass and takes names for his clients).

Another highlight was seeing Cheryl Klein again. I was on faculty with her at MidSouth in the fall and had dinner/drinks with her. For those who don't know who she is...she is the continuity editor at Arthur Levine for Harry Potter. Not only is she the sweetest but she is BRILLIANT! She talked on the 22 steps to revising that gave so many great suggestions (and a few crazy ones :) - that my head was spinning. I had to skip the next session because I was going through my book in my head and figuring out more things I wanted to start working on. She also did an amazing discussion on character development. Check out her amazing talks and blog!

And then of course, Jane Yolen, bestselling author of Owl Moon and How Do Dinosaur Say Good Night? She is funny and brilliant and honest. But most of all, she is real and tells it how it is. She had ridiculous insight into the industry and a perspective that only someone who has been in the industry over 30 years could, which I guess is why her blog is called Telling The Truth.

For those of you who have not joined SCBWI, you are truly missing out on a great experience, on great friends, on learning more than you can imagine, and on finding a place where you truly belong. With writers. Writers at every stage. Writers that care about you. Writers that love books. When you walk into an SCBWI conference, it is a pool of magic.