Getting Creative Work Done During a Time of Uncertainty and Stress

Creative work is hard.

Even in the best of circumstances, it’s hard work translating your imagination and raw emotions and jumbled ideas into something structured and tangible, and then sharing it with the world.

And right now, we’re not in the best of circumstances.

In fact, it’s easy to say that our current circumstances feel downright terrifying. The coronavirus pandemic is inexorably making its way into every corner of the world. The global economy has collapsed. Political views seem to have hardened into vicious polarization.

Scrolling headlines on the internet reminds me of Henny Penny, the little hen who ran screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and soon recruited a host of terrified followers… who all ran breathlessly straight into the fox’s den.

The moral of this story is: the herd mentality is very, very dangerous. It almost never leads to anything positive.

Creative work, on the other hand, almost always leads to positive things.

For you, the creator, it leads to feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and the joy of touching other people’s lives. For your audience, it leads to insight, camaraderie, and the thrill of experience.

Therefore, now more than ever, it is critically important for you to continue creating your work. Because you are a force for good in the world.

But how can you create your work when it feels like the sky is falling?

We all feel overwhelmed when we embark on ambitious projects, but it can feel especially impossible when the TV is blaring bad news and headlines are a non-stop barrage of dire predictions.

I have two simple pieces of advice:

  1. Break your work into manageable chunks
  2. Connect with your peers

1. Break your work into manageable chunks

This advice holds during extraordinary circumstances just as much as it does during normal ones.

If you find yourself thinking, “OMG, I’ve got to finish writing, penciling, inking and coloring this entire graphic novel by the end of the year, and I was so distracted/freaked out I didn’t even finish one page last week!!!”...

Stop. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, “Let’s focus on this week, not this year.”

I recommend that you spend 20 minutes or so every Friday afternoon, Sunday evening, or Monday morning deciding exactly what chunk of creative work you want to finish in the upcoming week.

Be realistic. It’s better to set smaller goals that you can definitely accomplish rather than consistently fall short.

Then, schedule it. Even if you’re on lockdown and have no other meetings and you’re thinking, “I have all the time in the world right now, why in the world do I need a schedule?”...

I’m telling you, make a schedule. Write it in your calendar: from 9 am to 11 am on Monday morning is Creative Work Time (for example). Tell your family or your housemates in advance and gently ask them to be respectful and not interrupt you during that time.

Come Monday at 9 am, you’ve already decided: you know what you need to do. You sit in your chair and start working.

Even if at first you feel distracted or unmotivated or worried about something else, you’ve pre-determined that this is work time, so you don’t even need to think about it. You only have one task: put pencil to paper (or stylus to tablet, or whatever your tools may be!).

If the work you do is crappy, so be it! You did your duty. If you continue to show up and work as planned, day in, day out, you will make progress.

2. Connect With Your Peers

During a time of enforced isolation like we’re experiencing now, it is imperative that you proactively reach out and connect with peers on a regular basis.

Social connection is a basic human need. It is also amazingly important for creative work -- even creative work that we typically think of as a solitary endeavor, like writing or drawing.

Talking with your peers is the gasoline that keeps your engine going. It’s what keeps you motivated and inspired.

And as most of you would probably agree, your mom or significant other or best friend usually isn’t the right type of person (unless you’re unusually lucky). You need to talk to people who understand what you’re trying to do, and who are trying to do similar things themselves.

For instance, when you say, “I’m trying to figure out this shading technique on Clip Studio Paint but having issues with XYZ,” it isn’t helpful if your conversation partner looks at you with a blank expression and says, “Huh?”

Instead, you want someone who leans forward enthusiastically and says, “Oh yeah, I know who you should ask about that!”

So, in addition to scheduling time for your creative work, make sure you schedule some Zoom calls or FaceTime with fellow artists/writers/creators you trust. Every single week.

Keep going. Keep creating your work.

The world needs it.


Looking for a place to meet your peers? Join Me for Office Hours

Office Hour is happening again this Monday, March 30th, and next Monday, April 6th. All are welcome.

Please join us Monday at 11:30 am EST: https://zoom.us/j/846524330


How to Promote Your #Kidlitquarantine Event

The coronavirus pandemic is the first time in history that so many people, and so many children, have been quarantined at home. Millions of families are sheltering in place. That means millions of kids -- most of them normal, healthy schoolchildren -- are forced to sit at home all day long.

We aren’t used to thinking of authors and illustrators as “first responders,” but in this crisis, they have already started playing an important role. The children’s book community has stepped up to the plate in amazing ways, quickly organizing live-streamed readings, workshops, and activities to entertain young people stuck at home. (Search #kidlitquarantine to get a glimpse of the action.)

You can do it, too! Read your book on Facebook Live. Do a drawing demo on YouTube Live. Teach a poetry workshop on Instagram Live.

Do whatever lights you (and the kids) up.

But you want to make sure kids are actually watching, right? 

It’s important to get the word out in advance. Otherwise, you might be alone… and that wouldn’t be fun.

I've created a checklist to help you promote your #kidlitquarantine event effectively. Follow it step-by-step, and I guarantee you’ll have an eager audience waiting for you.

Download the checklist and get started.


Big, Big, VERY BIG News

2020 is going to be a BIG YEAR for three reasons:

Reason #1:

“2020” sounds awesome. It’s alliterative and stands for perfect vision. 

Reason #2:

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 is the year of the metal rat, which is supposed to be a particularly strong, prosperous, and lucky year. It’s an especially good year for new beginnings. (And I’m a rat, so it’s my double lucky year!)

Reason #3:

Today, I'm relaunching Janna Co. as a literary and illustration agency specializing in graphic novels and visual storytelling for kids!

It’s a totally new business and a huge new chapter in my career.

Please browse around my new website here and take a peek at the fabulous artists and authors I’m representing. You can also find me on Instagram (gasp!). Please connect with me there so I’m not all alone!

2020 will be a wild ride filled with lots of new adventures, new clients, new friends, new challenges… and my favorite things in the world, new books! I’m excited to be sharing this journey with you, and will keep you posted as it unfolds.

Happy New Year!

P.S. Special shout out to Abby Denson and Matt Loux for being the people who set the wheels in motion for this to happen.

P.P.S. If you want a copy of the official press release, you can download it here:

Janna Co. Agency Launch press release (1)


Where to find Janna: Anime NYC, Kids Comics meetup, Insider Secrets webinar

Where you can find me

Over the next 3 weeks, I'll be in many public places. I would love it if you could join me!

Anime NYC

Friday, Nov. 15-Sunday, Nov. 17
The Javits Center

Visit me at Table G13 in Artist Alley, where I'll be hanging out with Misako Rocks! Get your tickets here:

http://animenyc.com/

The US versus Japan:

Making Manga in Two Very Different Publishing Environments (panel discussion)

Saturday November 16
3 pm
Room 1E02, The Javits Center

I'll be moderating this panel discussion at Anime NYC with Misako Rocks, Gina Gagliano (Random House Graphic), and Erik Ko (Udon Entertainment). We'll discuss how Japan and the U.S.'s comics publishing industries have evolved differently -- and what best practices we should “steal” from each other!

Insider Secrets LIVE workshop

How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator

Sunday November 17
10:30 am
Room 1E15, The Javits Center

In this workshop, get the scoop on how how agents and editors choose creators to work with. I'll offer lots of tips on how to find mentors, improve your work, and build a following so you have the best chance for success as a published creator.

Kids Comics Meetup NYC

The Influence of Studio Ghibli on Kids Comics Creators

December 4th
7 pm - 9 pm
Resobox East Village, 91 East 3rd Street ($5 cover charge)

Join professionals in kids comics for this presentation and informal networking event. We will start with a short conversation with creator Matt Loux about how Studio Ghibli has influenced his work, and how he sees its influence impacting a younger generation of artists.

Then we’ll hang out and talk comics together while enjoying Resobox’s tea and Japanese snacks. Anyone who works in children’s graphic novel publishing is invited to attend, including artists, writers, editors, librarians, agents, book designers, booksellers, reviewers, etc!

RSVP here: http://bit.ly/kids-comics-meetup-dec-2019

Insider Secrets ONLINE workshop

How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator

Friday December 6th
12:00 pm
online

I'll be repeating this workshop as an online webinar! Yay -- that means you can join me no matter where you live. If you're interested in attending, please register at this link:

http://bit.ly/insider-secrets-workshop-dec-2019

After you register, I'll send an email with login instructions for the webinar.

See you soon!

 


What happened at Baltimore Comic-con with Misako Rocks

What Happened at Baltimore Comic-con

Last week I said I'd be at Baltimore Comic-con, exhibiting with Misako Rocks, and presenting a new workshop.

Here are my takeaways from the show:

1. Community matters.

The explicit purpose of a convention is to sell products and raise awareness about your brand. But for many of the artists and writers at the show, seeing their friends and exchanging ideas with peers is just as important.

I saw lots of old friends and met new people whom I'm sure I'll see again.

It's like fuel in the tank. It keeps you going.

2. People will sign up for your mailing list if you ask them.

Misako and I set up a mailing list signup on her website, and brought a laptop where people could sign up at her table. We also printed out a hard copy sign-up form as a backup.

Misako Rocks at Baltimore Comic-con 2019

Whenever someone would stop at Misako's booth and admire her artwork, we'd explain her upcoming book project and who the target audience is. Then we would ask, "Do you want to join the mailing list?"

I was pretty surprised by how successful we were. Everyone's email inbox is overloaded these days, and we were certainly not a "known quantity" at the show.

But almost everyone we asked said, "Sure!" and cheerfully gave us their name and email address.

This is incredibly valuable. I'll do an article soon explaining how effective your email newsletter list can be.

3. You need to experiment to find the shows that work for you.

Baltimore Comic-con calls itself "America's Greatest Comics Convention!"

Imagine a convention hall jam-packed full of vintage comics dealers and indie "action-adventure" publishers. That's Baltimore.

Translation: it's an awesome show for old-school superhero comics fans.

Misako, on the other hand, specializes in manga art aimed at middle school girls.

Not exactly the same audience.

Middle grade manga art by Misako Rocks versus variant cover by Jim Calefiore, Valiant Comics

The juxtaposition of these two pieces of art makes me smile. A bit of contrast, right?

So I knew Baltimore wouldn't be full of our target audience. But I also knew that Baltimore has a long-running and vibrant kids comics section, and that it has a "family friendly" reputation. When my friend (the ridiculously awesome kids cartoonist) John Gallagher offered us a space at the show, I figured, "Why not give it a try?"

I'd say my expectations were fairly accurate. We weren't inundated with potential fans, but every time a mom or dad passed by with a girl in tow, they invariably tugged at their parent's hand and said, "Hey, look at this!"

In the future, we'll be looking for opportunities at book and comics shows directly aimed at kids, like the Princeton Children's Book Festival or the Comic-con for Kids in Philadelphia.

So when you're picking a show to promote your work, think carefully about your target audience. Choose the shows that are most appealing to the type of people who love what you do.

4. I'm taking the "Insider Secrets: How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator" workshop online!

Baltimore was the first place I presented a new workshop, basically "Getting Started 101" for artists and writers. If it went well, I promised myself, I'd do it again as an online webinar.

One of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of a presentation is by how many people come up to the podium after it's over and hang around to ask questions and keep talking.

By that measure, I'd say the Insider Secrets workshop was a success.

So that means I'm doing an online webinar. Stay tuned!

 


Pssst... want to know some insider secrets?

Before dawn tomorrow morning, I'll be on a train with Misako Rocks, heading to Baltimore Comic-con. This will be the first comics show where she reveals art and merchandise for her upcoming graphic novel, BOUNCE BACK.

And it'll be my first show where I present a new workshop which I'm very excited about, entitled...

Insider Secrets on How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator

Woohoo! It's going to be fun. I'll be explaining things like...

  • the four factors that matter most to agents and editors when they're deciding whether or not they want to work with you
  • the three foundational pieces you need in order to grow a powerful "author platform"
  • my favorite ninja trick on how to research the children's book and graphic novel market
  • why creative work requires greater emotional strength and resilience than other types of professions, and how to build your own emotional strength and resilience

And of course, I'll be answering any and all questions you might have on this topic.

The live workshop is happening at 2:45 pm this Sunday, October 20th, in room 339-342 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

I will see you there!!!! Right?

Right?

Hm, maybe you're not attending Baltimore Comic-con. Sadly! I wish I could see you in person.

If you can't make a special trip to Baltimore on Sunday, but you're still interested in the Insider Secrets workshop, I have good news.

I'd be happy to do the workshop online. For free. But I need to know how many people are interested.

If you'd like to join a live workshop on this topic, could you just email me and let me know?


Nine Things You Need to Break Into Children's Book Publishing as an Author, Illustrator, or Graphic Novelist

9 Things You Need to Break Into Children's Publishing

A little while ago, I read a new picture book, The Dreamer, by Korean artist Il Sung Na. It tells the story of a wistful, inventive pig who loves to watch birds soaring through the air.

The Dreamer by Il Sung Na, a children's book about following your dreams“If only I could fly, too,” he thinks.

Before long, his dream turns into an actual goal: he’s determined to figure out how to fly.

He starts clumsily. His first ramshackle contraptions do nothing but break. He gets discouraged, but some friends come to his aid and give him new ideas.

He tries again. And again. Each time getting better and better.

Then one day, with a crowd of friends watching, he straps himself into his latest invention, a hang glider-like machine with big red wings. This time, he runs down a hill and then ascends magnificently into the air.

And that first flight is just the beginning. He continues perfecting his vision, devising new vehicles of various sorts, and soon inspires other animals to take to the air.

I was just about to close the book when the author bio on the back flap caught my eye:

“As a kid [Il Sung Na] loved to draw, but it wasn’t until he visited a London bookstore in college that he discovered picture books were his calling. The real-life trial-and-error pursuit of that calling was the inspiration behind this book.”

That’s one of the things I love most about kids books and comics -- they offer all the life lessons you’ll ever need, in just a few illustrated pages!

In its own allegorical way, The Dreamer encapsulates many of the necessary elements you need in order to succeed as a writer or artist. Things like a long-term vision; a willingness to fail; a community of friends to keep you going. Although soft skills and mindset might seem secondary to talent and technical skills, they are actually extremely important. 

I talk to a lot of people who are just getting started in their careers, or trying to “relaunch” themselves. A lot of times, their questions for me are about narrow, methodological details like:

  • “How do you land a literary agent?” 
  • “How do you write a good book proposal?” 
  • “How do you promote yourself on social media effectively?”

I’ll let you in on a secret: although I answer those questions as helpfully as possible, I subtly try to steer them toward different questions -- better questions. These are questions like: 

  • “How can I develop a positive mindset?”
  • “How can I be more giving in my interactions with other people, both in person and online?” 
  • “How can I be more focused and intentional in my work?”

Building your dream career as an author or artist is totally possible. But one problem with creative people is that they have very good imaginations… which can lead them to build elaborate castles in the air before they’ve even built a solid foundation. 

It’s not the elaborate daydreams that will help you succeed; it’s the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are like magic; they enable you to turn dreams into reality. 

Here are the 9 foundational elements every author or artist needs to succeed in their publishing careers:

1. Start with baby steps.

Everyone starts as a beginner, just like Il Sung Na’s visionary pig. In the beginning, our ambitions almost always far outstrip our abilities. You may aspire to write a multi-volume epic, but you’ll need to start with something simple. Maybe a mini-comic, a zine, or a short webcomic.

I remember the first time I saw Raina Telgemeier’s work. It was a 12-page comic in a group show sponsored by Friends of Lulu. It hinted at the elements that eventually helped make Raina a blockbuster success: the emotional sincerity; the down-to-earth, wry sense of humor; the simple and inviting visual style with obvious inspiration from Lynn Johnstone’s For Better or Worse.

And yet, it was just a 12-page comic. Raina didn’t start by writing Smile; she started with little xeroxed mini-comics.

2. Be part of a creative community.

The Dreamer begins with a lone pig staring into the sky, but it doesn’t take long before the pig has enlisted a whole group of animals to help him gain traction with his flying project.

That’s no accident. It’s absolutely essential that you make connections with fellow writers and artists. Trying to figure out everything on your own is a dead end street.

After all, being a creative is already a lonely endeavor -- in order to create, you must spend many hours alone with your thoughts, doing the hard work of translating your imagination onto the page. Spending time with other people who understand what you’re trying to do is critical to keeping yourself motivated and inspired.

Just as important, connecting with your peers is also a way to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Perhaps you’re struggling with a particular plot twist in your script; or figuring out how to promote yourself with limited time and money. By talking these sorts of problems over with other artists, you’ll get fresh ideas and learn from people who’ve already done what you’re trying to do.

3. Put yourself out there.

The first few times The Dreamer’s pig attempts to build a flying machine, he does it by himself -- and always ends in a heap of twisted mechanical parts. It’s only after he starts showing his work to a few friendly observers that he starts making progress.

When you’re just getting started, sharing your work publicly can be scary. That’s because your brain instinctively tries to protect you from unknown situations, which it interprets as “dangerous.” And it easily comes up with rationalizations that seem totally logical. Things like:

  • “I’m not ready. My work isn’t polished enough to share publicly yet.”
  • “I don’t want someone to steal my ideas. People can take your idea off the internet and sell it as their own.”
  • “If I post my work online, publishers aren’t going to be interested in publishing it as a book.”

All of these reasons for keeping your work under wraps until “the right time” are elaborate justifications to avoid the real reason to avoid sharing it: FEAR.

Putting your work out there, inviting public scrutiny and critiques, is undeniably scary. Your creative work is a reflection of your innermost thoughts, your imagination, your artistic talent. Who wouldn’t feel vulnerable offering that up to the world?

However, your biggest challenge, when you’re getting started, is not your amateurishness, or getting your ideas poached, or ruining your chances for a publishing deal.

Your biggest problem is being invisible.

You’ve got to make yourself part of the conversation, to invite feedback, to share your creative journey.

4. Build your online presence.

OK, I’ll admit we never see the pig in Il Sung Na’s book build a website or open a social media account. But in the case of breaking into kids comics publishing today, you absolutely must have some sort of online presence.

As Austin Kleon says, “It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”

That doesn’t mean you must have a fancy website and thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, DeviantArt, and Pinterest. A simple website and one social media account is enough to get started.

Here’s what you need, at a minimum:

  • A website.
    It can be simple, but you must have this “homebase” on the Internet. It’s your own little piece of real estate over which you have total and complete control. (Never forget, you have NO control over Instagram or Twitter or any other social media platforms! If they change their algorithms and suddenly you can’t reach 95% of your followers, that's your problem, not theirs.)
  • A “keep in touch” strategy.
    You must have a way that you’re keeping in touch with the people who already know and support you. In the beginning, this might be a simple email to 20 friends and family members. It doesn’t matter; what does matter is that you have a consistent routine of sharing your ideas, your work-in-progress, and your inspiration with people who care.
  • An “outreach” strategy.
    This means you’ve thought about how to find and reach MORE people who might like your work. I’m a big fan of the “slow and steady” approach ("The Tortoise and the Hare" is my favorite Aesop’s fable for a reason!). Maybe you have a table at a local comics festival every year, and slowly add to your mailing list. Maybe you organize a happy hour for artists, and grow your own circle by helping others. Maybe you teach comics in schools, and grow a fan base of teachers and librarians through word of mouth.

Any of these strategies is legitimate and effective. Notice that they all involve one-to-one, personal, genuine connections. These are the connections that make a difference when you’re running a Kickstarter campaign or launching your first book.

5. Understand your audience.

This is a truism in any industry: in order to succeed, you must have a very clear, specific, visceral sense of the audience you’re speaking to.

But in the case of creating work for children -- whether it’s a toy or a book or a comic -- you’re not only creating for a specific audience (ie, kids who like scatalogical humor, or dark fantasy, or monster trucks, or anything with the color pink, etc.), you’re also creating for a specific age level.

This is a huge difference between the adult book market and the kids market. Because, when it comes to children's books, there is no such thing as All Ages.

As adults, our brains are fully developed. Children, on the other hand, have brains that are still developing. This means that their cognition, reading level, vocabulary, experiences, and sensibilities are constantly evolving. A book that is enthralling for a 5 year old will not be enthralling to that same child when she is 14 -- or even when she is 8 or 9!

Most good children’s book and kids comics creators have a deep empathy for the kids they’re writing for. Mo Willems can get on the level of 4 and 5 year olds who are just beginning to grasp the mechanics of reading (and making jokes). Dav Pilkey can still inhabit the world from the perspective of a 7 year old boy. And Raina Telgemeier definitely remembers in vivid detail what it feels like to be a middle school girl.

So when you’re writing books for kids, some part of your brain has to be accessing your story from a specific stage of development, and relating it in a verbal and visual language that is ideal for that age level. For many writers and artists, that comes intuitively.

Regardless of whether it’s intuitive or a skill that you have to work at, the following tip will help you hone that ability even better.

6. Know the market.

Read widely and deeply, as much as you can. Just like the pig who studies blueprints and equations and the latest in aeronautical engineering, you’ve got to become an expert in what’s currently being published in the genres and age levels that you’re most interested in writing for.

Once you’re ready to look for an agent or publisher, having a strong knowledge of recently published books will help you pinpoint the specific agents and specific editors who might be most likely to appreciate your work. You can narrow down a shortlist of books you like, and then google the author and title with the word “editor” or “agent.” You’ll almost always be able to find who edited and agented those books.

That way, when you approach those agents and editors, you won’t be one of the dreaded “spray and pray” creators who send their proposals indiscriminately to every industry email they can scrape up. Instead, you can write an intelligent query letter that explains why you are interested in that particular agent or editor.

As an added bonus, once you have a meeting with an editor or publisher -- or further along in your career, once you’re appearing on panels and podcasts -- having a solid understanding of how your work fits into the wider publishing landscape will help you contribute more meaningfully to the conversation. Which, in turn, makes you a more credible, appealing candidate for publishing, and a more sought-after panelist or podcast guest.

7. Invest in yourself.

Most children's book creators don’t have a degree in “Children's Book Creatorship,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t invested in learning as much as they can about the field.

If you want to build a long-term career as a kids comics creator, it isn’t any different than any other profession: spending money is often the fastest and most effective way to make progress and increase your opportunities. You’ve got to develop your skills, attend networking events, promote your work, and get professional feedback and advice.

Here are some of the specific ways you should be investing in yourself:

Or, if you really want to, get an advanced degree! Get your MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies, or an art school like SVA, CalArts, or SCAD, or a creative writing program like the Vermont College of Fine Arts or Simmons University Writing for Children.

8. Learn to Handle Rejection.

The publishing industry is crammed with best-selling authors who experienced years of discouragement and rejection before finally getting their work published. I remember hearing a keynote speech by Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Bryan Collier at an SCBWI conference a few years ago, where he recounted having spent SEVEN YEARS carting his portfolio to every publishing house in NYC, over and over again, before finally getting his first book deal.

Publishing is competitive and it is highly likely that you’ll face your share of rejection. Rather than hope for the best, I think it’s wise to prepare yourself for it, and develop conscious, deliberate ways to recover from it.

Most importantly, remember that one agent’s or editor’s rejection is not a final reckoning on your talent. It could be that they didn’t have room on their list for another book in your specific genre. Or they don’t have time to offer you the developmental editing that your project requires (sadly, this is the norm nowadays.) Or they simply don’t see your vision.

Facing rejection is another reason why having a community of peers is so important -- you need friends to cheer you up when external forces get you down.

Finally, remind yourself that it takes time to succeed in any craft. You’ve got to put in the hours, get critiqued, confront rejection, and just keep going back to the drawing board again and again.

In fact, you really only need to do one thing….

9. Persist.

When I was young, I thought that the most important factor in success was talent. Many battle-scarred years later, I now understand that the most important factor in success is definitely not talent.

It is PERSISTENCE.

Keep writing, keep drawing, keep imagining, keep sharing, again and again. It’s a simple recipe, but it isn’t easy.

As Dr. Seuss said,

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!)”

And he should know….

After all, his first book was rejected 28 times before being published by Random House.


Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

How to get noticed at a gigantic publishing conference

How to Get Noticed at a Gigantic Publishing Conference

On Wednesday morning I walked into the Javits Center on New York City's West Side -- touted as "one of the largest convention centers in the U.S." -- to attend Book Expo America. BEA is the largest publishing trade show in the U.S.

One of my goals in attending BEA was to get new book marketing ideas. After all, what better place to get ideas than a convention gathering most of the major publishers in the industry? I planned to wander the show floor, checking out publishers' displays and giveaways, to see if I could borrow any particularly creative ideas.

As I stood in line at registration in the cavernous glass-topped lobby, eventually, I looked upwards and started contemplating the enormous banners hanging from the ceiling.

via GIPHY

  • "New from Sarah Dessen!" screamed a banner nearby.
  • "A new series from #1 bestselling author Chris Colfer!" shouted another banner in the distance.
  • "The highly anticipated adult debut by #1 NY Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo," announced a dramatic black banner to my right.
  • "Bestselling magic," proclaimed a tall, skinny banner right over my head, "Rainbow Rowell with Faith Erin Hicks -- on sale 8/27/2019."

Standing there in line, waiting for my badge, I had plenty of time to gaze at those banners. I hadn't even entered the show and I already had plenty of publisher promotions to look at. I started wondering how much they cost. They certainly cost thousands of dollars; perhaps tens of thousands of dollars.

But they weren't particularly creative. And my biggest question was, do they really help sell books?

My conclusion was... not really. Though I didn't necessarily think the publishers intended them to sell books. They were probably designed to reinforce "brand awareness." To emblazon an already popular author's new book even more firmly in the minds of the booksellers, librarians, rights and literary agents, and journalists attending the show.

What if you don't have the budget for gigantic trade show banners?

So what would a low-budget, under-the-radar, guerrilla publisher like me be able to accomplish at a show dominated by big-budget, publicly traded conglomerates like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Although trade shows have traditionally been a place where new products are unveiled and hyped, that raison d'etre is being eroded by the Internet. You don't necessarily need an expensive in-person display to spread the word about a new product anymore.

While one of the primary purposes of a major trade show has been usurped by the Internet, however, the other major purpose has not: convening a large group of people from across the country or the world in one place at one time to discuss a common interest.

That's the major opportunity that conferences still provide. It's easier than ever to connect with people via video or webinars or online conferences, but there's still something different about meeting individual people face to face.

For a guerrilla marketer -- or author or publisher -- a single conversation with one person might be vastly more effective than a gigantic banner that thousands of people see. Because that conversation opens a new door or provides entree to a new community or potential partnership.

Let me tell you another story that illustrates how powerful this can be.

The Artist at the Wednesday Night Party

On Wednesday evening, I attended a comics industry shindig at a hip "drinking establishment" in a converted 19th century warehouse on 11th Avenue. (Are all hipster bars located in converted warehouses?)

As I made the rounds, chatting with little groups of people I knew from various stages of my publishing career, a librarian friend of mine came up to me and said, "You've got to meet my friend! She's the artist I told you about, who works at my school."

I remembered that she had told me about this young woman, an aspiring graphic novelist, who had attended art school and was now working as a para-professional at a junior high school. I looked across the room and saw the artist sitting on a low settee near a couch and a few armchairs overflowing with people.

The artist wasn't looking at anyone. She was holding a sketchbook and sitting there drawing, in the midst of the party. People all around her were guzzling cocktails and gossiping, while she worked on a piece of art.

"Cool!" I told my librarian friend. "I'll come over in a minute to say hello."

It took me more than half an hour to extricate myself from various conversations before I could make my way to the other side of the room. And within that half hour I already overheard someone whispering to a colleague, "Check out that girl over there. She's really talented."

By the time I finally made it over to her and introduced myself, I knew I was at least the third or fourth person to be purposely seeking her out.

"Hi!" I said. "Margie told me I should meet you!"

"Nice to meet you," she responded with a shy smile. "I'm kinda introverted, so I've just been drawing."

I asked her about what she was working on, and she explained the storyline of her current project. It sounded interesting. I was pretty sure there were publishers in that room who would be intrigued.

After speaking with me for a few minutes, she said again, "I'm not that good at schmoozing, so I'll just keep drawing." And with that, she put her head down as if to say, "Thanks for the chat -- I'm done talking now!"

I smiled. She was doing her job. She showed up and put herself in the middle of a bar filled with publishing bigwigs, then proceeded to ignore them and draw in her sketchbook.

In a room of people who love art and storytelling, an artist drawing pictures is like a lightbulb surrounded by moths.

Put Yourself in the Middle of the Action

Conferences bring together movers and shakers. And attending a conference usually has almost no barrier to entry, other than the registration fee. You pay the entrance fee, and then you can literally put yourself in front of those movers and shakers.

Simply by being in the middle of the action, you become part of the action.

The same thing happened for me. Although I had intended to examine publishers' marketing collateral and go to panels to get some good ideas for my clients' projects, it didn't take long for me to realize that the marketing collateral wasn't that important.

It was the chance conversations that mattered.

Over the course of two days at the conference, I had at least seven or eight pivotal encounters.

  • I spoke in person with several different distributors and came away with the desired result: "Let's continue the conversation."
  • I told a journalist from a leading trade journal about what I'm doing, and he asked me to follow up and tell him more.
  • I met a blogger from a key industry website, told her about Bounce Back, and she also asked me to follow up after the show.
  • I reconnected with a Hollywood licensing agent whom I knew years ago.
  • I ran into a highly regarded publicist who has extensive experience on Kickstarter campaigns (just the sort of expertise I need!)
  • I chatted with an organizer of a number of major comics festivals who perked up when he heard about Misako Rocks's manga teaching experience; he's interested in finding out more.

So, How Do You Get Noticed at a Gigantic Publishing Conference?

It doesn't start with banners or ads or a fancy booth. You just need the right person (or handful of people) to hear what you have to say.

A single conversation can move you forward leaps and bounds.

 

 

 

 


Seeking beta readers: how to find beta readers for your children's book manuscript

Seeking Beta Readers for a Middle Grade Graphic Novel

I am working on publishing a graphic novel with my friend-client-crazy collaborator Misako Rocks! (Just so you know, I didn't put an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence -- it's part of Misako's name.)

The process of publishing a graphic novel is loooooooong. First you come up with the idea, then you outline it, then you write the first draft, then you edit the first draft, then you revise and edit many more times, then you draw it (and maybe edit and revise the drawings a few more times), then you ink it, then you color it, then you design it, then you print it, ship it from printer to warehouse and from warehouse to retail -- and all along the way, you've got to be figuring out how to market and sell it and executing said marketing and sales plans.

Right now, we are at the beginning of that loooooong process.

But not the very beginning -- we have an edited first draft! Hip, hip, hooray!

So that means, we're ready to find BETA READERS.

You might be nodding and saying, "Way to go, Misako and Janna! You're on the cutting edge of 21st century publishing best practices!"

Or you might be scratching your head and wondering, "Huh? Beta readers? What's she talking about?"

How to find beta readers step by step

The Hoopla About Beta Readers

This whole hoopla about beta readers comes from the world of software development. All forward-thinking progress comes from Silicon Valley, right?

Right?

OK, never mind. But a few forward-thinking good ideas do come from Silicon Valley.

This concept of beta readers is one of them.

Basically, a beta reader is someone you ask to read an early version of your book and give you honest feedback on what's working and what isn't, and what they like and don't like about it.

It's the same idea in the software industry. You give a "beta user" an early version of your software and instruct them to go to town with it. You ask them to tell you what they like and don't like, and where they found the "bugs."

Obviously, the benefit of having a group of people "test-drive" your writing early in the process is that you'll find out what you need to fix/refine/improve -- and you'll also find out exactly what's resonating with people.

But there's another benefit, as well. The type of people who volunteer as beta users in the software world tend to be the more engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable software users. They are the early adopters who latch onto cool new things and start spreading the word about just how awesome they are.

This is true with beta readers too. There's a whole "beta reader community" out there in all the different literary genres -- romance, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, etc. -- and you can bet those people are the people who like to talk about books.

When you reach out to find beta readers and a group of people raises their hands and says, "I would love to read your 200 page manuscript for free and tell you everything I think about it!" -- congratulations! You have started to build your tribe. Those same people who give you useful early feedback will also, more than likely, cheer you on when you're further down the road and have a publication date and a book cover and a marketing plan.

Those people are your advance guard. You keep them apprised of how the book is going, and they'll help spread the word.

So remember, your beta readers are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT PEOPLE. Treat them with care. Invite them into your inner circle and give them lots of love. (Never forget to say thank you!!)

How do you find beta readers?

The first and most crucial step to finding beta readers is to identify your target audience.

Your target audience is the type of people who would really enjoy your book. They are the book's ideal readers.

In the world of children's books, it's important to note that you're almost always going to have two target audiences: 1) the type of kids who'd love your book; and 2) the "gatekeepers" who would give your book to those children. The gatekeeper could be a parent, librarian, teacher, or some other grown-up with a close relationship to the child.

So when you're looking for beta readers for a children's book, it's a good idea to get feedback from:

  1. actual kids with your ideal reader profile
  2. parents, librarians, teachers, and other people connected to those kids

Back to where I started!

Misako and I are on the hunt for beta readers for BOUNCE BACK.

Bounce Back is a middle grade graphic novel about a Japanese girl who unexpectedly moves to the U.S. with her family and finds herself torn between two very different groups of friends at her new middle school in Brooklyn.

The target audience for Bounce Back is 5th through 8th grade girls who like reading graphic novels with tons of "middle school drama."

Are YOU interested in being a beta reader?

We're interested in anybody who is:

  1. a 5th through 8th grade girl who likes reading graphic novels with tons of "middle school drama" (DUH!)
  2. a grown up who likes kids graphic novels
  3. a teen who likes graphic novels and remembers being in 5th through 8th grade and what if felt like
  4. a grown up who has ever interacted with 5th through 8th grade girls and has a good sense of what they like

Basically, if you volunteer, we're going to assume you have some affinity for this project. It doesn't matter to us what it is... if you want to join our team, we're thrilled to have you!

Click here to fill out our beta reader application.

We are accepting applications until May 23, 2019.

And if you become one of our beta readers, you get many wonderful perks!! You will receive:

  1. our undying gratitude!
  2. your name listed in the Acknowledgements of the book!
  3. the inside scoop on our publishing journey!
  4. special Q&As with us as we continue on this adventure!
  5. an invitation to the book launch (aka rockin' party!)!

By the way...

If YOU are an author, comics creator, or publisher and you'd like to use our beta reader application as a template for your own venture, you are in luck! I created a beta reader application template in Google Forms which is FREE FOR ALL.

Onward and upward, people! Let's go publish awesome books!

 

 

 


How your mindset can sabotage your marketing

4 Ways Your Mindset Might Be Sabotaging Your Marketing

Do you ever feel like marketing your work is exhausting, overwhelming, confusing, and a giant pain in the butt?

Do you wish you could just do your thing and leave the marketing to someone else?

Do the words “marketing” and “self-promotion” simply make you feel icky?

Well, I’m afraid I gotta give you some tough love.

Almost all the creative people you admire are also good marketers. It might not seem like “marketing” (especially if they’re outside-the-box types), but trust me, every successful creative person has spent a lot of time learning how to sell themselves and their work effectively.

The key is that they’ve learned how to think about marketing in constructive, creative ways.

You could spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars learning how to leverage social media or master SEO, but if your heart isn’t in it and you’re fundamentally not as enthusiastic about social media and SEO as you are about your own creative work, stop right now.

There is no magic social media formula or secret Google code that is going to solve your marketing problems for you.

There are, however, some simple mindset shifts that will make a HUGE difference in the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

If you are trying to figure out social media or SEO or any other marketing tactics without tackling these mindset shifts first, you will just waste a lot of time and money.

Let’s take a look at four of the biggest mindset problems when it comes to promoting yourself, and how to solve them.

Mindset Problem #1: Marketing takes too much time and if I do it as much as I’m supposed to, I won’t be able to work on my creative stuff.

“I don’t have enough time” is one of the most common mindset blocks that I hear. We all feel like we don’t have enough time. We all suffer from information overload and digital overwhelm.

This mental block arises from fear.

You might wonder, what the heck does fear have to do with my lack of time?

Our brains are clever. The part of our brain that is responsible for emotion and knee-jerk responses to situations, that acts out of habit and not out of rational thought, is your limbic system. Your limbic system’s number one priority is keeping you safe.

Promoting yourself effectively requires a) learning a bunch of new skills; and b) putting yourself and your work into the public realm and inviting attention. Neither of which keeps you safe. On the contrary, they make you exposed and vulnerable.

So your limbic system kicks into high gear and floods your brain with thoughts that will keep you from moving in that dangerous direction. And guess which thought is often the first one to pop up?

“I don’t have enough time.”

Why? Because it’s usually true! You ARE busy! You do have a lot of things on your plate.

It seems like the most rational, inarguable statement in the world. But it’s actually an emotional, habitual type of thought.

You do have control over your time. You do have the ability to decide what is most important to you, and what isn’t.

If building an audience for your creative work and making more money as a creator is important to you, you must take control over your time. You must consciously decide how to allocate it, and you must consciously devote a significant portion of time to things that take you out of your comfort zone.

Mindset Problem #2: I have no idea how to find my audience.

Actually, you probably already have an audience. Who likes your work? To whom do you show your stuff? Who are your favorite customers, if you have any? Who are your strongest connections on social media?

Maybe you’ll retort, “Well, Janna, of everything you just said, that’s about 15 people!”

Great! Your audience is 15 people. That is perfectly OK.

Your existing audience should be your priority. Those 15 people are super important!

They have already raised their hands to say they’re interested. By paying close attention to them and figuring out what they want from you and what they like about your work, you are setting the stage that will allow you to grow your audience much faster in the future.

Be a detective. What do they ask you about? Why are they interested in your work?

Really good marketing starts with really good listening.

The next step is to combine what your audience is interested in, with what you love to talk about. Maybe your audience wants to be inspired by dreamy, evocative stories. You love talking about the technical details of creating your work.

So you create a plan to consistently post your best work online, and tell stories about how you created it.

The next step is old-fashioned hustle. You must go out and actively grow your audience from 15 people to 16, then 18, then 23, and so on… it doesn’t happen automatically.

Maybe you start a meetup. Or host an open studio at home. Or post a weekly tutorial on YouTube.

There are countless ways to reach out and introduce new people to your work. What’s important is that you take the initiative to decide what feels right to you, and then do it — consistently.

Mindset Problem #3: Promoting yourself is annoying and drives people away.

This is the extremely prevalent “used car salesman” fallacy of self-promotion. When people think about promoting themselves, they often envision a pushy, self-important dude yelling, “Hey guys, check out my stuff! It is AWESOME!”

But this is a false stereotype. The most effective marketing is usually invisible.

You know you’ve encountered creative, thoughtful marketing when you find out about a person or a company and something they do makes you exclaim to yourself, “Wow, the stuff they’re doing is really cool!”

They’ve connected with you on an emotional level. Maybe they’re telling an inspiring story about their work; or they’re creating something valuable that makes your life or the world a better place; or they’re just entertaining you in a really engaging way.

You need to adopt the exact same approach to your marketing as you do to your actual creative work. Start by asking yourself:

  • What am I passionate about? How can I share that?
  • What do I know that other people want to learn? How can I teach it?
  • How can I use my work to make a positive difference in people’s lives, even if they never buy anything from me?

If you promote yourself in this way, you will never drive people away. You will steadily attract people toward you.

Mindset Problem #4: I get overwhelmed by social media and can’t figure out the best place to promote myself.

That feeling of “overwhelm” happens because you don’t have a strategy and a plan. When you’re trying things willy-nilly, you feel scattered and unsure about whether your actions are effective.

These days, people tend to equate “marketing” with “social media” — but no, social media does not equal marketing!

Social media is just one marketing tool in a huge arsenal of possibilities.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan. Every person and every business is unique, and the path to effective marketing starts with uncovering exactly what makes you unique.

Once you’ve figured that out, you can then decide which social media platform makes the most sense for you, and how to use it. Or you might decide to forego social media altogether and use other tactics instead.

That’s right — I believe it is possible to design an effective 21st century self-promotion plan without using any social media at all.

This isn’t necessarily what I would recommend for most people, but sometimes it’s the right choice. I mention it here because I want to emphasize that social media is just one piece of the puzzle, and not necessarily the most important piece. It all depends on you and your audience.

Conclusion

The single best way to succeed in promoting yourself is to apply the same passion, genuineness, creativity, drive, and care into your marketing as you do to your creative work.

Doing this requires that you think of marketing not as some sort of tactic that a certain breed of people do well, or that only people with a specific skill set can handle. You have to think of marketing as an integral component of your creative work itself.

Over the next few months, on this blog, I’m going to focus on how to do this, step by step. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, please let me know in the comments, does your mindset ever get in the way of you promoting your work effectively? How?