SCBWI Whispering Pines

SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat

SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat

Whispering Pines gals, are you here??  Hello!

First, here is the handout that I gravely ran short of…
View & Download Discovering Your Readers

And to your questions…

How important is it to have a blog or website pre-publication?
Quite important.  Part of what a publisher may look at is your presence in the online world.  Are you professional?  Engaging? Do you have a following that will immediately translate into sales once your book is released?

Which is better to have, blog or website?
Your blog and website should be one in the same.  You should not take on a website that does not have blog functionality.  For interactivity, ease of use, and flexibility, I recommend WordPress most adamantly.  WordPress is a blogging platform that allows you to add all the pages and design needed for your unique web presence.

Is Blogger as good as WordPress in the search engines?
There seems to be differing opinions on this.  Surprised?  Personally, I have found the discovery aspect of my WordPress sites astounding. ( I moved from Blogger to WordPress and have never looked back.)  Analytics on WordPress allow me to see exactly where my traffic is linking from and (this is cool) what search engine terms people used that led them to my site.  For illustrators, I find that WordPress is more open to allowing you to tag, caption, and otherwise claim your images.  Don’t rely just on me, however.  Google “WordPress vs. Blogger” for comparisons.

Can you recommend a favorite website/Blog as a model?
Hands-down, one of my favorite creator websites is by author, illustrator, Jamie Hogan.  She manages to capture her creative life and how it influences her books, beautifully.  She snaps pictures at every turn and blogs frequently and generously.  Someone asked about a middle grade model, I will keep thinking on that…

How much in advance should I start marketing a book scheduled for publication?
That is a question best answered on a case-by-case basis, BUT keep in mind you do not want to use your marketing time or dollars to introduce the book BEFORE people have an opportunity to buy it.  People have short attention spans.  If you get their attention about your forthcoming book, will they remember at publication time or will you have the access to remind them??

What you CAN be doing is working on a list of people you plan to contact at publication, working on a reader engagement tool which might make it easier for a school or library to use your book, and blogging CONTENT of the book (research process, research discoveries that informed the book, but were cut, and so on) that will help the search engines point new readers to you.  (Yes, you can choose to keep posts about content Private in many blog formats until you are ready to let them go out into the world.)

How do I present myself online when I write for many different ages and genres or am afraid of being branded for one thing?  How can I integrate the other things I do on my life into a web presence?
Gosh, my answer is always to blog.  On WordPress.  Tell stories about all your projects and give people the means to follow what path interests them.  If they want to know about your cuddly picture books, give them that path.  If they want to see see your thriller YA side, give them that path.  If you are a toy maker, give them that path.   WordPress offers a sweet, unique service—the ability to INDEX your own blog posts.  You can read about what this means and how it is done here.  (With apologies to Tolkien).

SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat

SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat

Agents and editors seems to think my chosen YA genre is “so last year.”  How do I keep their eyes from glazing over?
Maybe you should be looking at your query letter and seeing what language you are choosing that seems dated.  Should you lead with say, “a friendship tested by the most extreme of circumstances.”  I mean, don’t use THAT awful sentence, but see where you can use the common story of teen struggle rather than genre-speak they seem to be shying away from.  Agents and editors are still accepting EVERY genre if the story and voice is something they want.

Is there a time when it is too late to market a book?
Gosh, no.  Listen to how people (not in our trade) talk about books.  You will hear, “I just discovered this new author…”  That author is most likely not “new,” but they are new to the speaker.  Discovery can happen anytime in the lifetime of a book.

Is there any way to judge how the creation of Activities for your books translates into sales?
No, not really.  But then there are ALMOST NO ways to connect marketing to sales figures.  I DO know that creating reader engagement tools for novels and picture books allows me access to book buyers in an unprecedented fashion.  For me, access is discovery and discovery is sales.  You can explore reader engagement tool examples on my Curious City DPW website.

I prefer to speak to groups rather than blog.  Is my speaking worthwhile?
You should, of course, do what you feel most comfortable with.  Consider, though, that speaking does not reach much beyond the group in front of you and it ends the minute you say, “thank you.”  A blog post represents you nationally and is present indefinitely.  Look at your talks.  Can you excerpt (and possibly expand upon) sections of those talks?  Try it.  If you like to write talks, you should like to write posts.

Would you suggest hiring a marketing consultant before a book is under contract?
I, myself, do not have anything to offer on the marketability of a manuscript, query letter, or the like.  That is the job of an agent.  I have held brief consultations with pre-published authors on web presence, however.

What do you think of Tumblr?
I don’t have a lot of experience with Tumblr.  As a user of Tumblr sites, I find that the provence of images is often irrevocably lost.  It is an amazing tool for sharing images, but are artists always credited in the mass sharing?  I don’t know the answer to that, but you should explore that aspect deeply before signing on.

I work full time and don’t have a lot of time to market my books, what is the most important marketing task?
I wish I has ONE answer for you for the ONE most important task, but my answers are so book specific.  I hate to sound like a broken record, but I guess if you have very limited time and have to focus on one thing, it would be blogging deeper into the content and themes of your book.  Those blog posts will continue to work for you as time passes rather than  an event or such that is a flash in the marketing pan.

How do I develop a presence on Twitter?
Making Twitter work for you involves careful attention  and networking.  I recommend author/illustrator/clever one Katie Davis’ tutorial “The I Hate Twitter and 9 Other Stupid Things to Stop Saying and Enhance Your Career Using Social Media.”  The $32.00 investment is well worth it.

Can I skip book signings (as I truly hate them)?
Book signings are often not productive and there is no reason to pursue them if you dislike them.  IF you are asked, though, it may be hard to say no.  Think about how to maximize them.  The “hate” part often comes from the discomfort of sitting at a table while people walk by.  Think of how to engage people in a way that you feel comfortable with.  Your books and a free takeaway should not be JUST at your table, but off at a  distance so people can explore your book without you staring at them.  If you are an illustrator bring an easel and sketch.  If you are an author, explore something thematic that people can “do” at your table that allows them to experience your book.

When in the publication process do you like to get involved with a project and how does that process work?
I can get involved at any point, but prefer to get involved as soon as a book is under contract and I can read an edited version of the manuscript.

Curious City always start with the book itself.  Our marketing concepts flow from your unique content.  After contacting us, creators send us their book (or F&G, galley, or PDF).  We devour the book couchside (at no fee) and schedule a phone call with the creator.

During that phone call, Curious City presents ideas specific to the book and offers up some examples of where that approach has worked in the past.  That phone call is 30-45 minutes and is billed at $60.  If the ideas sound good and the creator wants to work with us, we flesh out the idea with estimates attached.  If the creator does not like the ideas, little is lost.  If the ideas are a match, but the creator wants to use them on their own, Curious City simply bills for the time to create the idea.

Do you work with self-published creators?
I deeply admire the fortitude that it takes to publish a book on your own.  Marketing a self-published title involves handling many issues of distribution that are not inherent to a traditionally published book.  Because of the number of current projects Curious City has and because we do not feel well-versed in all of the challenges of self-publication distribution, we do not (sadly) work with self-publsihed creators at this time.

Can you play a musical instrument?
Ha!  No.  I played flute (poorly) as a student.  I am known to get lyrics stuck in my head and sing them off-tune repeatedly causing people to slink away. 

Explore Other Q&A’s
If you have not had enough, here are some other Q&A’s with like-minded, mild-mannered children’s authors and illustrators:

All Hat & No Cattle Q&A
Clone My Brain: Part 1
Clone My Brain: Part 2







  1. Kirsten!!!! These answers are fabulous–thank you so very much. Thanks for your wisdom over the weekend. And your wit and warmth and wonderfulness! We are so grateful that you were able to join us. YOU are such a *gift* on so many levels!

    • Lynda, it is SUCH a strong conference. SO focused on craft, SO supportive of writers, and SUCH a welcoming environment. It was a joy to be there.