3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Sara Lewis Holmes (Operation Yes)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Marvelous Marketer: Sara Lewis Holmes (Operation Yes)

Hi Sara, thanks for stopping by. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Shelli, I'm the author of two middle grade novels, LETTERS FROM RAPUNZEL, which is about a real girl who writes letters as if she were Rapunzel locked in a tower, and OPERATION YES, which was released last fall from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

OPERATION YES has little green army men on the cover, and yes, it's about military families, but it was also recently named as one of Booklist's Top Ten Arts Books for 2009. I'm tickled that I managed to write a book about two important influences in my life: being part of an Air Force family and my secret history as a high school theater geek.

A lot of authors do blogs but your blog seems to focuses more on Poetry, which is a great blog niche. Was that a conscious decision or did it just evolve?

I jumped into the blog world on a Poetry Friday with a post called Enter (in which I confessed to my fear of that awful exam word: "begin.") Poetry continues to be one of my favorite ways to enter into and connect with the larger online community. Anyone can play! Poetry is a language; when we speak it, it's hard to stay solitary.

On a related note, I was surprised to learn that my Poetry Friday posts helped confirm my editor's interest in acquiring Operation Yes---even though the book is not poetry. She wrote about the decision process at Scholastic's On Our Minds blog; it's a fantastic window into how editors might look at an author's online presence.

Speaking of online, a coupe months ago, you and your editor, Cheryl Klein, did a live twitter chat together. How did you come up with the idea ?

Cheryl was active on Twitter before I was. She inspired me to open an account and try the crazy thing, and then to go one step further and attempt a chat in real time. Both of us thought the improvisational theater angle of Operation Yes was a great fit for the medium---emphasizing the creative back-and-forth of a live, on-going conversation with audience participation.

Of course, once I agree to chat, I had to learn how to do it! I listened in on several Twitter conversations, then begged Gregory Pincus for help. He made me wise to hashtags and the TweetChat application and Twitter transcripts and generally how not to mess it up. Thank you, Greg!

After the chat, I used some of the material to write several more blog posts, on The Emotional Argument for the Arts in Schools and Spine and Form in Structuring a Novel.

One thing I tend to forget about marketing/publicity efforts: there's ALWAYS follow-up. Sometimes, you create your own, as in those subsequent blog posts and in archiving the Twitter Chat transcript and in hosting a book give-away. Sometimes, if your marketing is successful, there are external responses: emails to answer, and offers to visit a school or teach a class, or even interviews (like this one!) So budget time for follow up; don't be surprised by the amount of "afterwards" to a marketing effort.

Cheryl interviewed here about marketing and is very active in social networking with her blog and Twitter. How important do you think it is to have an editor/agent that is actively involved in social networking? Does it help your book marketing?

Cheryl's blog is her personality in digital form: passionate, well-spoken, and packed with an inordinate amount of practical and inspiring advice for writers. She has a huge following, both at Brooklyn Arden and on Twitter, so that exposure naturally spills over to the books she edits, like my Operation Yes.

Her post on writing the flap copy for Operation Yes, for instance, was terrifically informative in its own right, but in reading it, a person would also get a clear picture of my book and why they might want to read it. I think the combination of a peek into publishing's inner secrets matched organically with a specific writer's work is marketing magic. The how and the why and the what of a book combine to tell the story of why you should care. That's marketing to me.

In addition to the chat and Skype tours, what are a few creative things you have done to market your books?

Do push-ups count? I do them at signings and school visits. Not just because I can :) but because I love reading the scene in Operation Yes when Miss Loupe surprises her class by getting down and "giving them ten."

I also built a website dedicated to Operation Yes and held a jody call contest for the book launch. That was awesome, especially when one teacher told me you could hear her class out in the hallway, practicing the jody call she wrote!

In addition, I hired a teacher (and former military kid), Natalie Lorenzi, to write a book guide for me. She included improv theater activities for every chapter, which is incredibly fun. I offer it as a free download at my blog and website.

As an author, what book publicity advice can you offer for upcoming authors?

First? Listen to your publishing house's marketing geniuses. They do know what they're doing, and they work best when kept in the loop. (Thank you, Becky at Scholastic, for everything you do and the enthusiasm and grace with which you do it.)

Second, turn the question of marketing around. Ask not what the world can do for your book, but what your book can do for the world. (Apologies to President Kennedy.) I'm impressed by authors who tie their book launches to the larger community. See Mitali Perkins "Celebrating Girl Power" posts for the paperback release of The Secret Keeper for a great example.

I would add that it's enlightening to discover what makes your own heart pause and take a second look at an ad, a book cover, a blog post, a Twitter chat, or an interview. People ignore marketing campaigns every single day. Paying attention is the exception, so if you're engaged by someone's book promotion, ask yourself why. Plan and improvise from there.

Thanks Sara!

Thanks Shelli!


Marissa Burt said...

Great interview, Shelli! Thanks for the tips, Sara - Operation Yes is now on my to-read list.

Anonymous said...

I love how Sara and Cheryl Klein have taken their author/editor relationship "public". It's been fascinating to follow, on their blogs and on Twitter.

Faith E. Hough said...

Thanks--this was very informational and helpful. I loved Operation Yes!, by the way!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Wow. Great interview. She and her work sound so interesting.

Hardygirl said...

Great interview! Sara is wonderful--and my daughter is one of her biggest fangirls.


M Pax said...

More great info. Thanks to Shelli & Sara. :)

Virginia S Grenier said...

Great interview. I've hear about both books, but now I feel I know a bit more about the author as well.

The Writing Mama

Karen Lange said...

Good interview, thanks for sharing with us:)

Jemi Fraser said...

Great interview - lots of interesting stuff! thanks :)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Operation Yes was already on my list, but this interview makes me want to read it even more. Great marketing tips in here too.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

Superb tips and marketing advice from an exceptionally organised Lady!

THANK YOU BOTH for the great interview!

laurasalas said...

Yay, Sara! I love your point about how much we ignore. So pay attention to whatever marketing thing catches our own eyes. Great advice!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Sara is a class act. Thanks for this interview!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the advice Sara. I follow Cheryl Klein's blog and met her at at SCBWI conference. She is a great editor and brilliant on the craft of writing. I'd love to have her as my editor.

sruble said...

Great interview, thanks! It was interesting to read about the marketing behind Operation Yes!

Mrs. Pilkington said...

Great interview! Sara makes the scary stuff seem easy. Love the reminder to think over the marketing techniques that caught our attention.

Anonymous said...

"People ignore marketing campaigns every day. Paying attention is the exception" is a brilliant summation of what happens in life. I'm happy to say that I've always paid attention to Operation Yes!

Great interview, ladies!

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent interview! I loved Sara's book and occasionally pop in on her blog for Poetry Fridays too!!

Alex Warn said...

I'm tickled that I managed to write a book about New Trends two important influences in my life.