3 S.R. Johannes: Jessica Leader - She's as Nice as they come. I mean it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jessica Leader - She's as Nice as they come. I mean it.

The winner of Forget Her Nots is...

Emily from Emily's Reading Room!

Today, Jessica Leader has stopped by and wants to give away a copy of her newly released book, Nice and Mean.

Nice and Mean appears on the Summer 2010 Kids IndieNext List.

Hi Jessica, tell us about yourself.

I am a young-adult writer, teacher, director, lover of cake and everything pickled.

Tell us about Nice and Mean (only in 140 characters – your twitter pitch!)

NYC seventh-graders, one nice, one mean, face off their high-profile video elective. Deception, unveiling, learning, laughs. You can read an excerpt here.

What inspired the story?

Nice and Mean’s two main characters, Marina and Sachi, were actually supporting characters in the first manuscript I ever wrote. That first story didn’t have enough action to make it work, but I remained intrigued by Marina and Sachi and knew that for my next piece, I wanted to focus on the two of them.

Throughout the first story, I had wondered: Why was Marina so mean and angry? How would she react if she ever came up against a force as strong as herself? And Sachi—the Indian honor-roll student, so nice, so loved, but so secretive—what would make her assert herself? When I realized how much these characters could learn from each other, I knew they belonged in a book together, and to make them interact, I paired them up in a video class they both cared about tremendously. I wanted to show how niceness and meanness (or assertiveness, really) both have their place but need to be tempered with their opposite. I hope I’ve succeeded.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?

I can’t remember if there was any one time, but I do remember a meeting with an editor at an SCBWI conference that left me so incredibly frustrated that I peeled out of the parking lot leaving bitter voicemail messages for everyone I thought would listen. (Sorry, gang.) The editor did like aspects of the story, and some of her suggestions were spot-on, but she also gave me feedback that I just didn’t know how to translate at the time.

As upset as I was, though, I don’t think it occurred to me to give up. Call it confidence, call it arrogance, or call it late for dinner, but I believed that I had the skills to write stories worth telling and the dedication to make them worth reading. So I kept at it, and finally, after approximately five million years, one publisher—Simon and Schuster—said Nice and Mean, you’re on!

What have you learned about promoting books in your publication journey? What worked well for you? 

I quote my friend, writer Varian Johnson: “There are only two things you need to do: set up a website and write your next book.” He added (and now I’m paraphrasing) If you’re doing anything additional, do what you love. If you’re taking on additional promotion efforts and you don’t love them, it will show.

For me, doing what I love meant finding my target audience and forging genuine connections. I like talking about the craft of writing, and as a former middle-school English teacher, I love talking with teachers and librarians. Kidlitchat on Twitter led me to a local English teacher, who in turn led me to the bookseller that—unbeknownst to me—nominated Nice and Mean to the Summer 2010 IndieNext List. I hadn’t schemed to land there, and if I had, it probably wouldn’t have worked. But I did connect with the type of readers I cared about, and it turned out wonderfully well.

What was a waste?

The book hasn’t been out long enough for me to know if anything ended up being a waste, but I have heard from other debut authors that focusing on Amazon rankings is not a good use of time. Amazon represents only a small percentage of your sales, and the rankings are updated so frequently that any ground you might gain will probably be offset by someone else’s efforts. Focus on your next book instead!

What creative promotion ideas do you have for Nice and Mean?

Because the book deals with niceness, meanness, popularity and assertiveness, I’d love to connect with organizations that go into schools and do workshops on these issues. Teaching middle-school, it wasn’t hard to notice the uber-importance of social interactions, and I loved seeing how a good book discussion could affect students’ beliefs. I’m hopeful that Nice and Mean could be a part of such a conversation.

What’s your biggest fear and why?

Airplane turbulence. Just answering this question, in fact, reminds me that I have to send three copies of Nice and Mean to the man from Connecticut who calmed me down during a particularly stressful flight up to New York. (The three books are for his triplets. As kind as he was, I’m not assuming he needs three copies of the book.)

Thanks Jessica!

Thanks for having me on the blog, Shelli! I always come here when I need a boost, and I hope I’ve given something useful in return.

You can follow Jessica on her blog or Twitter.

To be entered in the drawing, tell us. Throughout the book, Marina pushes people to do things they don’t want to, and Sachi does things she doesn’t want to in order to please others.

Name one example of each that you have done in the past.


Kayla :) said...

Great interview! This book looks so interesting.

One time I've pushed someone to do something was when I went with my cousins to an amusement park. I didn't want to ride alone on a rollercoaster so I convinced my cousin to get on with me. She was nervous, but ended up loving it!

And once when I did something I didn't want to please others...Well, there are plenty of times when I've eaten foods that I've never tried before just to be polite. Sometimes it turns it wonderfully, but other times I regret it!

kayla3194 at gmail dot com

Emily said...

Woohoo! Thanks so much for having the contest. I'm so excited that I won!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. I'm inspired to know that if I keep at my manuscript for a zillion years, maybe there's hope it'll get published. Your book sounds great & so timely as kids being mean to each other is really an issue in middle school.

There's been lots of things I've done to please others-do as my husband says to not start an argument, volunteer at school when I didn't really want to, argue positions for clients that really weren't great arguments or facts I didn't really like. But I did them to be nice or because I felt I had to.

Martina Boone said...

I enjoyed the interview. I especially like that Jessica felt so connected to these two characters that she continued to write about them despite a failed first attempt.

Okay, a time I pushed someone to do something they didn't want to? I'm an elementary school teacher. That is my job, LOL.

A time I conceded... learning olympic weightlifting techniques through my husband, though I was very intimidated and embarrassed at first. But I knew it meant a lot to him and I wanted to give it a try.


Danyelle L. said...

Great interview. I really like the point about having a website and writing the next book--everything else needs to be done because you love it. Great advice!

Riv Re said...

I remember when I was younger I had a friend who would never, ever say "no". Basically, she had no spine. So I pushed her to learn to do her own thing sometime.
When I was little, I would sometimes fall for the "give me snack and I'll be your best friend" garbage.


Heather Ayris Burnell said...

I'm going to have to check out this book. I love the concept and the cover. Great interview.
I am constantly pushing my kids to clean up after themselves. Alas, they don't want to. I wonder where they get that from? I loathe...I mean LOVE cleaning up after myself.
Being pushed into doing things I don't want to do? My writer friends are good at that. I have a blog, am on facebook and twitter, and as much as I thought I would never do any of those things, I actually love it. I don't think I ever would have done it without the pushing. Guess that's what friends are for.

Catch My Words said...

Great interview for what sounds like a great book.

When my kids were little, we went to a family function. It was late, kids were cranky, and it took us an hour to get halfway out the door. Just when I thought we'd reached blessed freedom, someone insists we take a family picture. It's probably the WORST picture I've taken in my life and still sits on a table in a den.

I find that if I convince someone to do something they really don't want to do, they end up being no shows, and it comes back to bite me.

Gail said...

Loved the interview, Shelli. You talk to the nicest folks :-)

Let's see... a time I pushed someone to do something they didn't want to do.....about half of my class every time we did a project on a social studies unit!!!

Something I had to do but didn't want to..... taking the initiative to learn using a white cane. One of the hardest things I've done. I didn't have to do it yet (still some sight) but I wanted to get it under my belt before the trauma of no sight.

Jennie Englund said...

I pushed my husband into taking a promotion test at the fire department that he didn't think he was ready for -- and was all kinds of crazy!

And I'll do anything for anyone. Does anybody need anything right now?

Jessie Oliveros said...

Well, everyday I make my son (and my husband) eat vegetables. I'm a mean, mean girl.

And I'm often coerced into playing Thomas or firestation.

It's a hard life.

You are only 44 followers away from 1000! Yea!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Jess is awesome!

Re: the questions. Pushing someone else is easy when you have kids. From getting up to going to bed, forcing them to do what they don't want to do seems to be a parenting specialty.

As for forcing myself to do something I don't want to do...I think exercise pretty much covers it!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks for the awesome interview! I saw Jessica at ALA but didn't get the chance to talk to her. Next time!

Erika Powell said...

great interview, I have never really been someone who does things just to please others but I have occasionally been a pusher. Its not intentional I am just kind of loud and forceful and it sometimes comes across as pushy even if I dont mean to.