Friday, February 28, 2014

Meet Monica Odom, associate agent from Liza Dawson Associates!

by Tammy Burke 




Hi Monica,

We are delighted you will be joining us at this year's GLVWG "Write Stuff" Conference!  Looking over your information, I can't help but think what a well-rounded and fascinating background you have. Not only a firm education (English, Publishing, Film Studies and Journalism) but a wide range of practical experiences including finance, social media, websites, community development and editorial matters along with being backed by a prestigious agency.  

I understand you came to be an agent a little differently than most and, in fact, (based on an earlier interview I stumbled on) had an earlier goal to become an editor.  Could you share a little of your story about how you became an agent? Was there a deciding moment?

Monica Odom: As I was about to graduate with my Bachelor’s, a professor whom I’d met with for career advice forwarded me an internship listing for a literary agency. I must admit, until that point I did not know literary agenting was a thing (and the same goes for a lot of people, I’ve realized). I just knew I wanted to work with books outside of the academic realm. I graduated, got the (unpaid) internship, and worked with them for about six months before I was referred to my current company. I started at LDA as an assistant, and imagined that I would stay there until I was able to find something in editorial at a house somewhere (mainly because that’s what I had heard was the apprenticeship process for getting into publishing). It wasn’t until a couple of years in that I began to entertain the idea of me getting more involved editorially at LDA (since I’d been hired for finance and admin, and not editorial). Since I’d done a good job of managing my other responsibilities, and since I had expressed such a passion for agenting (especially after learning a ton about the business with my hands-on position), Liza was happy to let me start accepting queries and taking on clients. The deciding moment was probably when I took The Role of the Literary Agent class with Gail Hochman during my NYU program, and heard her describing all of the things I’ve ever wanted in a career.

Out of curiosity, what was it like to intern at the MTV Networks' Public Affairs department? Do you find similarities between a public affairs department like MTV's and what writers should be doing regarding press and marketing media platforms?

Monica Odom: I interned at MTV in 2009 and it was my first internship (and my first in the big city!). I loved going into the Viacom/MTV building and feeling like something magical was happening behind all of those closed doors. But actually, a lot of my time there was spent doing research and building communities (and this was before businesses were on the social media bandwagon). I was also responsible for the Obama report during our weekly meetings, where I described how Obama’s new presidency was affecting young Americans. So the department was very politically minded. One of my best memories from MTV is a buzz-building marketing stunt a group of interns and I did on the Today Show. A group of us had to wear t-shirts with a cryptic message written on them, and our mission was to get on camera. We ended up meeting Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer, and got a great plug for the mystery campaign. I love this story, because it was such a cheap yet effective and organic way to build buzz, and in publishing we are always looking for affordable buzz-building!  

I know as an agent you have to be reading practically all the time. Do you ever get a chance to read for just pleasure and if yes, what types of things do you read?

Monica Odom: I do get some time to read for pleasure! I’m in a book club (we call ourselves the Lovely Ladies), and we try to do a book a month. Right now we’re reading Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (my selection!), and we use Google+ and Google hangout to talk about the book if we can’t all meet in person that month. I think it is super important to keep your personal tastes fresh and to keep reaffirming or challenging those tastes, being an agent. I occasionally try to sneak an extra “for pleasure” book in between book club books, but my grad school readings usually prevent me from that! Still, I consider myself very lucky for having a job that demands a lot of reading.

One of the descriptions you used for what you are seeking (and which I found quite attention-grabbing) are "writers with big ideas that push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms." Could you give us an example of this?

Monica Odom: I took the class New Fiction Formats in grad school with Jacob Lewis, who was working for Figment at the time. In the class, we discussed a bunch of different projects that were so amazing, yet so different from traditional formats. For example, a man created a fake Twitter account named @mayoremanuel, and would tweet as the mayor who was currently running for office in Chicago. He basically assumed this alter ego, and there were enough tweets to eventually put them together as a book, called The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel. The thing is, these tweets actually tell a story about a fictional character. I think this is so original, and so fun, and I want to be an agent who helps interesting projects like this come to market. I think I am well positioned as a younger agent to be a bit more open to new and interesting projects like this, and I’m hoping to let creative people feel more able to think outside-the-box (or outside-the-book!).

Do you think women's fiction is growing as a genre...either in popularity or in subject matter?

Monica Odom: I do think women’s fiction is a growing genre, and I also think the topic areas that constitute women’s fiction are changing. In popularity, yes, because women are ever more a growing group with purchasing power. I also think ebooks have given women’s fiction a good push, with the boost in romance and thriller titles. A major shift that is happening lately, I think, is the backlash caused by the lack of women writers on bestseller lists. Women’s fiction is a popular genre, and women can’t always accept a book about women written by a man. I think the real shift that is happening is a growing support for women writers, writing about and for women, because that’s what many readers (many women) want to see more of. And I’m all for it!

Do you have any pet peeves regarding story? Do you have any instant likes?

Monica Odom: I’m not really crazy about romance, or female characters who are driven solely by a love interest. I’m also not into things like eating disorders or body issues, really. I’m really drawn to stories about family, especially siblings. I love magical realism (I’d love to find the next NIGHT CIRCUS) and literary fiction. I’m a sucker for a great voice, too. My first client’s MS was signed based on her high concept and her amazing voice, so that’s definitely something I am looking for.

You are open to some nonfiction such as history. Being a history buff myself I can't help but wonder, is there a time period which you draws you the most?

Monica Odom: I’ve always been drawn to post-Civil War U.S. history. I do love WWII stuff, but it’s a bit overcrowded of a market and tough to differentiate (but I’d still take a look!). The Mad Men era is a time period that I’d love to see an MS based in. I’m also very into Civil Rights era things and African American history.  And I swear I should’ve been alive during the 70s (think American Hustle), because the period from 1960-1980s fills me with wonder. Probably because I’m a 90s kid. My interest in world history would just depend on the topic area, and less so the time period.

Since you prefer authors who have strong social media platforms, would you consider anyone who is still in the learning curve of social media?

Monica Odom: Of course! I’m the social media manager for our agency, and I work very closely with our authors on their social media. I’ve found that most authors have some knowledge about social media, but many have varying degrees of experience. So it’s less helpful to send out an informational packet, and more helpful to do a social media audit and to sit down and talk to the author about what terrifies them about social media. I’m a believer that agents and agencies need to be more involved nowadays than ever before with their authors’ marketing campaigns, especially since helping an author navigate and build their social media followings may help sell their book to publishers. Also, I would rather be the one, as the agent, guiding my author through the process and answering their questions, than say, a marketing person at a publishing house who may not have time for that author once the book is out for awhile. So, yes, I think everyone can use some social media help, and writers shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not super savvy online.

And last question.... Based on your experiences, if you were to give three "pearls of wisdom" on what you should do, or better yet, what you should NOT do when giving a pitch, what would they be?

Monica Odom: My pitch pearls of wisdom are:
1) Don’t mention that your mom or your friend loved the book. It’s silly.
2) Currently, I generally do not accept queries for books that have already been self-published. I really do work closely with my clients editorially, and I think the agent is an important layer of the editorial process. By already self-publishing a book and then querying, the text is already out in the marketplace, and I’m not able to provide any editorial feedback.
3) Don’t compare yourself to some huge prolific author (yes, such as Tolkien). I understand that you’re trying to position yourself, but it suggests you’ve done little research if the only comparable author you can come up with is a legend. It’d be great if you instead listed a couple of midlist or debut authors similar to yourself who had done well and who you consider comparable to your writing.
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Associate Agent Monica Odom joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2010. She is also the agency's manager of finance and social media. Monica graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Montclair State University, and is now a candidate for her Masters in Publishing from New York University. Prior to joining LDA, Monica interned at Joelle Delbourgo Associates, New Jersey Business Magazine, and MTV Networks' Public Affairs department.

Interested in representing: Monica is building her client list with a focus on literary fiction, women's fiction and voice-driven memoir, as well as a focus on nonfiction in the areas of pop culture, food and cooking, history, politics, and current affairs. Monica is looking for writers with big ideas who push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms. She is especially interested in writers with strong social media platforms who have something original to say.
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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meet Mary Shafer the Indie Navigator, Indie Publisher, Award-WinningAuthor, and More!

by Tammy Burke




Hi Mary,

Can I just say wow! How impressive the number of "hats you've worn!" From award-winning author to marketing consultant to indie publisher and professional speaker (and illustrator, freelance graphic designer, art director, etc.) ...everything in the publishing industry from what I understand except distribution. I'm so glad you are taking part in this year's conference!

Mary Shafer: Wow, thank you! I  think in another point of view, the only thing impressive about my background is apparent. ADD. Truth is, I'm a true Gemini and I get bored very easily. Also always afraid of missing out on something if I don't learn and try everything that catches my interest. Up till now, that has always kind of hurt me in a world where specialization is most rewarded, at least financially. But with the weird turn the publishing industry has taken in the past decade, having this diverse skill set has actually helped, and that's one reason I launched Indie Navigator -- because I remember what it feels like to be in that place where you know what you want to do, but have no idea where to start or how to get there.

I would imagine those taking your pre-conference workshop Indie Publishing Intensive better bring a notebook so they can capture all this excellent information you have listed. I was wondering if we could get a bit of a teaser on some of the things you're covering? 

Mary Shafer: Sure. Actually, I do encourage those who learn better by writing things down (as I do) to take notes. But for others, it's not necessary. I always prepare very thorough handouts for each of my presentations, as well as making my Powerpoint decks available as PDF downloads for all attendees. I just post the download URL at the bottom of each slide so people can copy that down and that's about all they really need, because I put any handouts, examples, etc. in the same folder they access for the slide deck download.

That said, here's a bit of what they can look forward to in my Indie Publishing Intensive, which I'm really excited about. I've presented all the elements before, but never all together in one time and place. So this will truly be intensive -- I'm thinking of it as more of an Indie Publishing Bootcamp, with the exception that we're not actually going to go through any hands-on workshops. It's just going to be an insane amount of real-world information -- not hype or vaguely disguised wishfulness -- shared in a four-hour afternoon. But I guarantee that anyone who's been on the fence about whether or not to become an indie publisher won't feel that way when it's over. They will know what to truly expect as an indie/self-publisher, and will either feel energized and excited by the challenge, or will save themselves a lot of time, effort, money and heartache by resolving to seek a traditional publishing deal because they realize they're just not cut out to be a publisher themselves.

What I'm going to cover includes content from several of my more popular narrated slide presentations. I've broken out the process into three steps: Possibilities, Publishing and Promotion.

Possibilities will explore in detail what to expect if you decide to take the traditional publishing route and, alternatively, if you decide to self-publish. This is the amalgamation of these presentations I currently give to writing and indie publishing groups:
  • I Finally Finished My Book…Now What? – Options for modern authors
  • 21st Century Books: What Is A Publisher, and Should I Become One? – Telling it like it is; the good, the bad and the ugly
Publishing will outline the very real considerations of what it means to actually be a publisher: setting up your business structure; choosing whether to publish only your own work or that of others, as well; apps and other technology that can help you manage day-to-day operations; sourcing vendors, etc. It encompasses some of the content of my presentation.
  • Digility: Digital Agility in Publishing – bit technical, laying out important considerations for someone building a modern publishing house from scratch
Promotion offers guidance in the nitty-gritty of publicizing and marketing your publication products and authors – arguably as important as offering a quality product in potential for success. It includes content from these presentations I often give at writer's conferences:
  • Getting Published Ain’t For Sissies – Marketing for Nonfiction Authors: Finding your niche, building your author’s platform, effectively employing guerilla promotion tactics, creating a killer press kit, mastering modern technology to serve as your 24/7 personal publicity agent, and anticipating, identifying and leveraging trends.    
  • Takin’ It to the Tweeps: Twitter for Authors and Independent Publishers
  • Your Book’s Website: Separate or Connected – Explores the advantages and disadvantages of single author/book sites and separate sites for each title inside a whole publishing web presence strategy
  • Online Newsrooms: What You Need and How To Build It – A step-by-step tutorial on this most important yet often neglected element of any successful author and publisher website
As you can see, it's truly an exhaustive amount of material, but that's what an intensive is about. Attendees may leave feeling a bit overwhelmed, but they will no longer face the dizzying confusion of wondering what they should be paying attention to and what lies ahead of them depending on the route they choose. Plus, they'll be able to refer back to my handouts and slide downloads again and again. I tried hard to formulate a way to share the hard-won knowledge I wish I'd had when I faced the need to become an indie publisher. I don't want anyone to have to struggle that way.

One the things you mentioned in your bio is that you share what you know so other authors and indie publishers don't have to learn the hard way too. (And thank you for that, by the way) I am curious...what do you typically find as the top three most common mistakes? 

Mary Shafer: Among authors and would-be authors seeking publishing deals, the top three mistakes I see are:
  1. Failing to invest themselves and perhaps a bit of money in making their manuscript as polished and fully edited as possible before turning it in to the publisher or publishing it themselves. (I consider this a cardinal sin, frankly. There's no excuse for turning in or publishing shoddy work other than laziness or lack of caring, both of which reflect not just on that author but on all authors and indie publishers.)
  2. Failing to build a promotional platform for themselves as an author "brand" before ever approaching a publisher.
  3. Not understanding the publishing process, resulting in their having unrealistic expectations of the experience.
For indie publishers, I think the top three errors I see would be:
  1. The same as #3 above: lacking an understanding of what to realistically expect from being a publisher because they don't really comprehend the entirety of what's entailed in present-day book publishing. Far too many would-be publishers are still stuck in the last century when it comes to grasping how drastically this industry has changed in the past 10-20 years.
  2. Overestimating their own knowledge, skill sets and capacity to get the work done. There are few fields in which it's so critical to know what you can do well on your own, and what parts of each project you'd be better off delegating to someone with the right mix of skill and experience.
  3. Underestimating the start-up costs in money, time and energy it takes to become a truly successful publisher.
I'm certainly not pointing any fingers—I'm as guilty as the next person in not having really known what I was doing when I first got started as an indie publisher almost 10 years ago. But I have a rather unique background that provided me with the exact mix of diverse skills that allowed me to survive all my dumb decisions.

It is both fascinating and inspiring to hear tales of the "blissfully unaware" overcoming the odds -- like the success you had marketing your first book when, at the time, it wasn't expected to earn out. What did you do that perhaps others haven't or didn't do?

Mary Shafer: In addition to the relatively unusual skill set I just referenced, I'm also lucky to be a quick study. When I'm in focused mode, I can take in a great deal of information at once, process it quickly and almost immediately integrate it into current projects and apply it in place of less-than-effective activities I would previously have used to get a job done. Not unsurprisingly, this typifies why indie publishers are able to be successful in today's ever-evolving book industry: we're small, and so much more agile. Our lack of overhead and the structural inflexibility that plagues larger organizations allows us to adapt quickly to the rapid changes that have characterized book publishing for decades now. Other advantages I had were that I am a proactive seeker of new information, and I have the courage of my convictions. If I know I am capable of doing something, I just don't listen to the naysayers. 

In the case of my first book, though, I must admit that I wasn't up against that -- I simply didn't know the prevailing conventional wisdom was (and still is) that first-time authors are pretty much expected to fail. This isn't nastiness on anyone's part, it's simply an acknowledgment of how much work it is to create, publish and market a book. Happily, there are many first-time authors not just succeeding, but doing so at a level unprecedented before the rise of digital technology. My entire reason for doing the presentations I do is to dispel that myth. Yes, odds are against the first-time author, but that's mostly because the majority of them are woefully ignorant, unprepared, arrogant, lazy or all of the above. Anyone who doesn't fit that stereotype in fact has a good chance of succeeding not only with their first book, but also in the long term!

You mentioned a new "Wild West" of publishing. I like that term. Could you tell us some of the opportunity that's available?

Mary Shafer: I call it that because, just as on America's frontier in the mid-1800s through the turn of the 20th century, the industry is without most of the "laws" that governed it for centuries. There are no longer any hard-and-fast gatekeepers and exclusionary forces that served for so long to keep people out of publishing. The Internet has largely democratized access with a still-proliferating array of publication/distribution platforms, marketing and promotion services and tools, and apps to handle almost any business operations function. Provided people are willing to self-police against inadvisable business practices, poor production values and bad customer service, there's no reason they can't create and sell books very successfully to an international audience of repeat buyers.

Is it easy to determine if someone should consider self or indie publishing? 

Mary Shafer: If it were, GLVWG would not have had to hire me to give this intensive. :)

I understand being in a Category 3 storm as a child along with having two tornadoes (yikes!) pass by either side of your house during the early 1990s left you with a bit of a weather obsession. How much do you think these experiences led you to the writing and publishing of your award-winning "Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955?" Also, I'm curious, what does a Skywarn Weather Spotter do?

Mary Shafer: Just to be clear, I was not in the main circulation of Hurricane Alma as a child, only in the outer bands -- so I never experienced true Cat 3 storm conditions. But what I did was certainly bad enough to have made a lifelong impression. And yes, I do absolutely believe these brushes with Nature's most violent forces played a large part in forming my weather obsession. SkyWarn is a program of the National Weather Service that trains volunteers from age 14-100 to recognize conditions amendable to severe weather and to use established criteria to spot and report actual severe weather conditions to local NWS offices. This is far easier and more immediate to do today, with smartphones that allow us to call in our observations or to report via a mobile Internet interface. You can learn more at SkyWarn.org.

I understand there is a story behind how "Word Forge Books" came into existence. Could you tell us a little bit about when, and maybe more importantly, how you decided to create it?

Mary Shafer: I had begun writing my book under contract with a new indie publisher in Doylestown in 2003, with guidance from a trusted colleague and friend who was, at the time, affiliated with the non-profit organization. Two years later, as I was in the final revisions of the manuscript, I was informed that the publisher had been forced to go out of business, leaving me with no publisher and no rights to my own work, since I'd already been paid a partial advance. Two wonderful friends/business clients of mine who supported my project graciously donated the $2,500 for me to buy back my rights, for which I'll be eternally grateful. However, by that time it was far too late to find another publisher if I were to make my goal of publishing in time for the mid-August, 2005, anniversary of the flood, which I was going to use as the publicity "hook" on which to hang the launch of the book. Realizing that I had most of the experience and know-how I needed to get the book published, I decided that rather than throw away the three years I'd invested in the project, I'd just publish it myself. And so Word Forge Books was born. I named it as a division of The Word Forge, my freelance copywriting and marketing consultancy business.

It's worth noting that in 2005, Facebook was just being born, most folks didn't yet even have a website or know what a blog was, many weren't yet even fluent on email, and Amazon.com was just getting on its feet. There was no Kobo, Smashwords, GoodReads or any of the other online tools that now make getting a book into the hands of readers such a relatively easy process. As has happened more than once in my career, my needs were ahead of the market, so I plowed ahead using the tools I had at hand. I try not to think now of all the money I poured into that pioneering effort and just try to be happy for my colleagues who won't have to go through that now, when they try to do the same.

Less than a year ago, you started "The Indie Navigator" so you could focus on the consulting work on publishing...presumably one of your favorite parts. Could you tell us about that deciding moment and what you envision for its future? 

Mary Shafer: It wasn't any earth-shaking thing, really. I just finally realized that the majority of my new consulting clients in 2011-12 were authors and indie publishers, and that it would be far easier for me to brand myself that way. After all, one must take one's own advice, no? So I found my market niche and am now working on building the Indie Navigator brand among those professionals. As for the future, I'm trying more to envision simply success, without too much detail around what that means. I'm learning, albeit slowly, that even though creative visualization (my way of manifesting what I want from my life) usually works best when it's very detailed, sometimes those details can be limiting when they're taking place in an industry changing as rapidly as publishing is. SO I'm just remaining open to following the needs of my market right now. I don't need to lead the market -- that's an expensive and exhausting place to be, I've discovered. I'm happy simply helping people not make the same mistakes I did, and hopefully making their publishing experiences as rewarding and enjoyable as possible.

Last question, with as many "hats on your head" do you still have time to write? And if yes, what are you currently working on?

Mary Shafer: Sadly, I don't have much time to write anymore, and that's one thing with which I struggle these days. Still, I have had some success the last two years using NaNoWriMo as the disciplined framework upon which to work up to nearly 26,000 words on my novel-in-progress, "Lonely Cottage Road." It's a Civil War-era historical romance with a slight paranormal twist, whose theme is the importance of honoring the creative urge. How's that for vague? It's my first novel, and I'm looking forward to having more time to work on it as I consolidate some of my other obligations in the near future. I've recently finished some rather large volunteer commitments that had become tremendously time- and energy-consuming, and I'm also re-tooling how I make my living to produce more income in less time. We'll see how that goes. 

Meanwhile, as I do all that, I'm also laying the groundwork for a novel series called "The Storm Diaries." It features the adventures of forensic meteorologist Stephanie "Stormy" McLeod, her special needs dog Oogie, and her best pal, metal detectorist T.J. Tanner in solving cold-case mysteries around severe weather events. This series will allow me to combine my three great passions -- severe weather, treasure hunting and animal rescue -- into what I hope will be a long-running novel series that will allow me to make a living while writing off as a business expense my research trips to the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and my own storm chasing tours. You can learn more at StormDiaries.com, and follow me on Twitter at @stormdiaries, where I often live-tweet severe weather events all over the US. You might wonder why I'm doing all that so long before the first novel even comes out. I'm taking my own advice and building my author platform ahead of time so that when it's time for the book to come out, not only will I have a ready-made market to promote to, I'll even be able to fund the first printing with pre-orders!

Thank you again, Mary, for taking the time for this interview! I look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Mary Shafer: Tammy, thank YOU for the good questions and your willingness to write up the interview. I hope I've been helpful and not too overwhelming. Also looking forward to meeting you at The Write Stuff!


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Mary Shafer. The Indie Navigator, is an award-winning author, indie publisher, marketing consultant and professional speaker.  She shares what she learned the hard way with other authors and indie publishers, so they don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Entering book publishing in 1990 as an art director, Mary developed experience in most facets of the industry, including editing and marketing. By 1993, her first book was published by a mid-sized indie publisher. As a first-time author, her book wasn't even expected to earn out. Blissfully unaware the odds were stacked against her, she used what she knew about marketing to tirelessly promote her book. It eventually went into three printings, selling 15,000 hardcover and earning her some attractive royalties. Her second hardcover came out in 1995, and her first self-published book sold out its entire first run of 2,500 copies in 42 days. Now in its second, updated edition and sixth printing, it has sold more than 6,000 print copies to date and is about to come out as an eBook.

In 2013, she launched The Indie Navigator brand to allow her to concentrate her consulting work on the market she knows best, publishing. She doesn't want other authors to have to make all the painful mistakes she’s made, but believes that despite all the upheaval, this is the most exciting time to be a small, independent publisher and self-published author. In addition to her consulting work, she presents at writers conferences, to writers groups, publishing organizations and online to help authors and small publishers recognize the great potential for success in the new “wild west” of publishing brought on by technological innovation and the resulting changes in the marketplace.

Mary brings her knowledge and experience to every project she works on with her Indie Navigator clients (IndieNavigator.com).



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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Meet Melba Tolliver, GLVWG president & Founders Panel moderator!

by Tammy Burke

Pictures from November 2013 GLVWG morning program "Founders Panel"


GLVWG "Write Stuff" Conference always offers so many varied choices. It's sometimes hard to pick which thing to do and this year is no different. One of the new items on this year's docket is Friday night's Founders Panel hosted by GLVWG President Melba Tolliver. 

Not only will you "meet the catalysts behind the dynamic group we call GLVWG" but you're likely to get a personalized look at how changes in the writing world affects how a group evolves in response. 

And that is a great way to get ideas percolating on an individual basis along with the obvious exposure to really fascinating stuff! President Melba Tolliver joins us today to give a glimpse behind the Founders Panel.   

Hi Melba,

What a fascinating topic this year's GLVWG "Write Stuff" Conference has for Friday night with the Founders Panel. I'm sure many will love getting a real look at how our dynamic history unfolded.

First of all, who's brain-child was it adding this to the conference docket? Will it be anything like GLVWG's November program? Who is slated to be on the panel? Could you share a teaser of some of the things we might learn?  

Melba Tolliver: The circumstances of GLVWG's beginnings is a fabulous story and the telling of it in a panel discussion at our November meeting inspired Brenda Havens, WS co-chair and me to reprise it as one of the Friday evening events.

Hard to believe now, given the size of GLVWG's current membership, but the group's first meeting was called to order in  a living room. Two good friends and very determined writers, Lorraine Stanton and Annie Kelleher, had spent a lot of time researching writers groups, and  decided to start one of their own after cherry picking what was best about other organizations. Annie told me that she and Lorraine conceived GLVWG in the fall of 1992 and birthed it in Lorraine's living room with 3 other writers the following spring. A month later, as word spread, they had a dozen members and it was clear that Annie and Lorraine had tapped into the hopes and aspirations of folks like themselves in the Lehigh Valley who loved writing.

At our November meeting, four of the very earliest GLVWG members, Deb Maher, Peggy Adamczyk, Joan Zachary and Jill Peters entertained us with tales of those early meetings, describing some of the concerns on the minds of the personalities who set the tone for the group early on. They also remembered some of the first Write Stuff conferences---really luncheons---at the Bethlehem Club. 

GLVWG has had its ups and downs over the years suffering growing pains and overcoming what  Annie calls "Founder's Disease", a malady that strikes when people who start an organization are reluctant to see it change. The November panelists shared their various insights on how GLVWG dealt with challenges in the past and how it might meet new and different ones going forward. One issue raised during the Q&A involved the fiction and non-fiction factions within GLVWG, whether both are equally served in a group whose members write across many genres. 

Time was way too short and we could have spent the entire 90 minutes on changes in the book and publishing worlds never anticipated by the early GLVWGers. We'll get into more of this, allowing more time for Q&A in what is sure to be a lively conversation. Deb Maher, GLVWG's first president, and Peggy Adamczyk, who's bringing her remarkable archive of GLVWG newsletters, will be back for the WS panel. Kathleen Coddington, former GLVWG VP, treasurer and librarian, and a writer with a passion for history, myth and magic, will join them.  

I understand you are moderating the panel. Can you tell us a bit of your history with GLVWG? How did you discover the group? What drew you in?

Melba Tolliver: The late Bill Marley introduced me to GLVWG, suggesting I sign up for the WS conference in 2009. That did it. I joined the group and made my conference experience the first post on my new blog. I wrote about chatting with keynoter,  Matt Birbeck, an award-winning investigative journalist and author, whose book on Sammy Davis, Jr. had brought him a movie deal.   

When GLVWG librarian Rachel Thompson went on the road and and asked for a volunteer to take over for her I was happy to do it. I later moved on to be secretary and now president of the group.

What do you believe is the greatest thing a writer can get out of GLVWG?

Melba Tolliver: Support. Support. Support. Whether it's a critique group or the Writers Cafe, you can get and give feedback on works-in-progress. In our morning programs or afternoon workshops members can educate themselves on any number of relevant topics and even serve as presenters themselves if they have expertise in a given area. A lot of networking happens in our group when members pick each others brains, exchange skills, or find a writing partner. If someone wants to volunteer to fill a leadership role, they can go for it and find benefits for themselves while helping the group. I like it that GLVWG provides so many opportunities to get and to give what's needed.  

With being a member for five years, holding offices such as librarian, secretary and president, you have had an eagle's eye view of how the organization has grown and changed. What do you think are some of the biggest or most profound evolutions? 

Melba Tolliver: I'm especially pleased that GLVWG has stepped up efforts to educate members about the  tremendous changes in the book and publishing worlds. The late Bill Marley, Bart Palamaro and David Miller deserve much of the credit for keeping us current about  independent author publishing. The technology has changed everything, even the way we in GLVWG communicate. Email, sharing through our blogs and social media was stuff not available to our founders. Not that I think we're well served by everything available to us in this digital age. For instance, our library became obsolete when members quit borrowing books, turning instead to blogs and other resources for help with craft and research. So we reluctantly sold off most of our books (they found good new homes) and closed the library. 
   
Thank you for undertaking the office of president this term at GLVWG. What do you think is the most important part of the office? How would you like to see GLVWG evolve?

Melba Tolliver: Keeping track of the various tasks of the board and making sure everyone knows in a timely manner what's going on is what I find most demanding as president. I'd like to see us developing more partnerships with other entities. For instance, I recently attended an evening at East Stroudsburg University as it closed out its One Book One Campus year.  They had chosen as their book "The Other Wes Moore" by the author of the same name who gave a wonderful, inspiring talk. The audience---ESU students and an entire HS class--put aside their cell phones and other devices to pay attention. I sat there amazed and wishing there was a way GLVWG could help support a program such as this.

We have so much talent in GLVWG, I'd like to come up with more ways to share it.   

If memory serves me, wasn't there recently a Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group Day in Easton? 

Melba Tolliver: Last fall I made requests of the Easton mayor and Northampton County supervisor. Both responded and created proclamations for each of five GLVWG founders or early members (Stanton, Kelleher, Maher, Adamczyk and Barbara Haines Howett)  acknowledging them and noting the work of GLVWG on its 20th anniversary. Additionally, and to my pleasant surprise, Mayor Salvatore Panto proclaimed November 23, 2013 Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group Day in Easton.

One thing my years of reporting taught me:  it pays to ask (about and for nearly anything) the worst that can happen is you get a "no" and sometimes no response. So I've become pretty practiced in my asking skills.   

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Melba. GLVWG is such a diverse, dynamic and growing entity. It is going to be a real treat for our conferees to interact with our Founders Panel! 

(And FYI - the conference is now less than a month away. Have you registered yet?)



Ladies of the Borobudur 
by one of GLVWG's earliest member - 
Barbara Haines Howett

__________________________________

Melba Tolliver.  Her writing has appeared in the newspapers Akron Beacon Journal, Amsterdam News, USA Today; the magazines Black Sports World, Good Housekeeping, Unique NY, Networking.  A longtime broadcast journalist she has written news and features for  ABC, WABC, WNBC, News 12 Long Island and the Food Channel.  She has served as writer-in-residence at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY; Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; journalism teacher, College of Old Westbury, NY. Her honors include NEH Fellowship, University of Michigan; NY Urban League's John B. Russwurm award; NY Association of Black Journalists' Lifetime Achievement award; NY Women in Communication's Matrix award; Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Molloy College, NY.

___________________________________

Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Meet Don Lafferty, Chief Marketing Officer of Mingl Marketing Group andsocial media guru!

by Tammy Burke


Hi Don,

I am delighted to hear you will teaching a pre-conference workshop THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF EVERY AUTHOR’S ONLINE MARKETING STRATEGY. Our attendees are sure to gain so much insight! I remember leaving one of the monthly Liars Club Coffeehouse for Writers meetings with my head spinning with the wealth of good information after hearing you talk about the optimal ways to use Twitter for marketing.  And I see that social media isn't the only thing listed which you will be covering during this workshop. I hope everyone brings a notebook!
  
I was wondering if you might whet our appetites even more by giving us an example or two about the workshop.  

Don Lafferty: Facebook is the eight hundred pound gorilla of social media. Seventy-five percent of Americans are logging into Facebook for on average, more than fifteen minutes a day. So it makes perfect sense to start your social media strategy with a Facebook author page to build community in much the same spirit that we build an email list.

But Facebook has stacked the deck against us, depressing the number of people who see our posts to somewhere between one and three percent of the communities we’ve all worked so hard to build.
So how does an author reach the people who have made a deliberate decision to connect with their Facebook page without breaking the bank on Facebook ads?

I’ll cover that in my seminar.

With the dizzying, ever-growing plethora of choices in social media networks, how does an author know in which ones to invest their most valuable possession – Time?

I’ll go through a step-by-step evaluation to help you determine which social media channels are best for your writing goals and the most efficient, effective ways to manage the time you spend tending to them.

Have you ever changed someone mind's from believing social media and time management shouldn't belong in the same sentence to understanding its value? 

Don Lafferty: It’s always prudent to weigh the value of the investments we make in the goals we want to accomplish, in fact, it would be foolish not to. I don’t see that I’m changing anyone’s mind as much as giving them the facts they need to make a decision within their comfort zone. Time management is essential to every part of our careers, but information is the key to setting this balance in everything we do.

Changing direction for just a moment...The Liars Club is a wonderful group of Philly-area writers who pay it forward in the writing community by offering advice and free events. How did you become a part of this? What do you like best?  

Don Lafferty: I became part of the Liars Club when my good friend, Jonathan Maberry, invited me to join. That’s the short answer. The long answer starts just like every other writer’s journey – with a passion for storytelling and a knack for stringing words together. Eventually those two things brought me to The Writer’s Corner in Doylestown where I met Maberry. Within three years, using Jonathan’s platform as my test lab for MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, we were among the pioneers of the use of social media for writers.

When the original eight Liars decided to invite more people to join, Maberry – who’s always on the lookout for a win-win – brought me in as a way to elevate the overall social media savvy of the group.

Being part of the Liars Club has opened so many doors for me as a writer, a speaker and a marketing consultant, but, at the risk of sounding corny and trite, the friendships I’ve made through my association with the Liars Club trump every other awesome thing about it. Being a part of the community of support for aspiring writers that has grown around our activities is something I could have only dreamed of when I walked into the Writer’s Corner back in the spring of 2005.

We've seen social media grow and change. For one, the teenage crowd seem to be moving away from FaceBook and are using Snapchat. What are your thoughts about the evolution of social media? How important is it to know what is likely to be trending as you're trying to reach your optimal audience? What do you believe are today's most advantageous social media sites? 

Don Lafferty: Tammy, I’m surprised all the time by the innovative ideas people are coming up with to slice and dice the social media landscape into new and innovative ways for people to connect, share and collaborate. The evolution of social media is going to continue to drive toward a more seamless user experience, where the boundaries of a media channel will no longer be an impediment to sharing and discovering new things right where you are in the palm of your hand, or using a wearable device like Google Glass.

The importance of keeping pace with the changes in social media is critical to people who do what I do, but it’s not easy.  My clients depend on me to have a solid understanding of the various social media channels, and in turn I depend on specialized experts to sift through all the latest and greatest shiny objects so I can figure out if and how to incorporate them into a client’s strategy.

For writers, there are a few social media channels that are no-brainers, like Facebook, Goodreads, Google Plus and maybe Twitter. After that, it all depends on what the writer writes, and where their target connections are playing in social media.

For example, a cookbook author should be on Pinterest. Maybe even Instagram. But a creative nonfiction author probably wouldn’t get much traction for their work in a community like that.

A writer’s content will dictate the social media channels into which they should jump.

You have an interesting blurb on your company's website about how in 2005 you realized the marketing potential of social media after having daughter-assistance creating your own MySpace page. Presumably, this was one of the first steps which led you to becoming a social media guru. Could you tell us a bit about this? Also, I was wondering if there was a particular catalyst which inspired you to become the Chief Marketing Officer of the digital marketing agency, Mingl Marketing Group? 

Don Lafferty: You’re absolutely right, Tammy. About a year after I became a regular attendee of what would become the Coffeehouse for Writers, Maberry orchestrated a competition designed to pit two groups of writers against each other to see who could successfully pitch and sell a nonfiction book first.

In the end, I wound up on a team with Kerry Gans, Jerry Waxler, Keith Strunk, Jeanette Juryea and Carron Morris. We decided to pitch a book about all the ways the Internet had changed how people were able to connect.

We decided to write about business, medicine, romance, and sex among other things, so when we divided up the research, I drew the research on Virtual Communities, which at the time, was Myspace, Xanga, LiveJournal, listserves and Yahoo groups. I went home from that meeting and asked my then, ten and twelve year old daughters, to show me how to get on Myspace. Once I started to play around with it, my marketing brain exploded with ideas for authors and small businesses to connect to the people in their target demographics at a level never seen before.

This was 2006, before the term “social media” had even been coined. Back then, writers didn’t build platform by blogging, but by working in the field and writing magazine articles, so I set about querying all types of markets to write about the uses of Myspace for marketing. By 2008 I was in business and the next year I left my full time job to pursue a full time career as a freelance social media marketing consultant. As the business grew I eventually had to form a company to scale up, and Mingl Marketing was born with the help of my partners, Ron Musser and Mike Gospodarek.

Do you find more differences than similarities between what small businesses should use with social media versus a writer looking to increase his or her readership and book sales? 

Don Lafferty: Huge differences. [Most] writers are people. [Most] brands are not. The relationships people have with authors are very different from their relationships to brands. Although both types of relationship can be quite passionate, an author is the brand and rarely has professional branding consultants, PR consultants and marketing and communications professionals vetting their content. Consequently, an author can make connections in social media channels that will foster loyalty in readers in a way that brands can rarely accomplish.

But there is a dark side to this, and we’ve all seen it. An author whose core message is “Look at me! I’m so cool! Buy my book! Look at me! Buy my book! Oh, and politics! Come to my book signing! And bring your whole family! Oh and religion! And buy my book! Did you buy my book yet? Because I have a new one coming out in 9 months, so hurry!”

You get the picture.

Just out of curiosity, how does one go from testing guidance systems for the B-1 bomber program in the 1980s to being described as “one of the strongest technical communicators in the business?” 

Don Lafferty: Because I have always been a writer and I’ve always sought out adventure. These have been the main themes of my life since I was a teenager.

I joined the Air Force to see the world, and it was one of the single most important and beneficial decisions I’ve ever made, but even in the Air Force, I wrote for the base newspaper, wrote almost every piece of important correspondence for almost every one of my superiors and became responsible for narratively documenting many of our test protocols and internal manuals. So even though I spent my days flying, I spent my time on the ground writing about the work we were doing.

Upon my discharge from military service, the best paying jobs I had offered to be were sales and marketing positions where I spent most of my time telling stories. By the age of twenty-six I was routinely speaking to large audiences and wherever I worked, I was the guy that had to craft important written correspondence.

So my time in the military gave me a solid background in technical writing, but I was already a writer before I got there.

Could you tell us more about your fiction writing? 

Don Lafferty: I am all over the place with this. I love to read genre; horror, crime, and noir specifically, and I love to write that too, but the past couple of years I’ve taken a turn toward what I know – family life, relationships and the tangled web in which so many people live their lives.

I prefer short form at this time in my life because I know what it takes to write long form and I’m just not ready to make that commitment, but I have that to look forward to. I hope.

And last question...is there was one solid piece of advice you tend to share when asked "How do I become successful?" 

Don Lafferty: Seek the company of successful, positive people in the field where you endeavor, and when you find them, listen carefully. Contribute. Support, don’t hate. And be kind.

Do not expect success to find you. You need to chase it as if your very life depends on it, because it does.

_______________________________

Don Lafferty’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE MAGAZINE, CRIME FACTORY MAGAZINE, SHOTGUN HONEY and a number of other markets and anthologies. He’s written corporate communication, marketing and advertising copy, and feature magazine articles.
Don is a regular speaker, teacher and the Chief Marketing Officer of the digital marketing agency, Mingl Marketing Group. He’s a member of the Liars Club, the social media director of the Wild River Review, and serves on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.
___________________________________

Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 300 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Meet Sally Apokedak, Associate Agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency!

by Tammy Burke



Hi Sally,


We are so excited to have you as one of this year's conference faculty! Not only do we get to benefit from your intriguing pre-conference workshop Making Your Plodding Prose Prance and Your Plot Dance and your expertise as an agent but we also get to interact with someone who has spent years helping children's literature reach happy readers and (based on some of your blog posts) has a tongue-in-cheek whimsical sense of humor.  I want to say thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.


Sally Apokedak: Well, thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.


What an interesting childhood you must have had...staying at campgrounds, driving through Europe, living East, West, North and South in the United States and Taiwan. I'm curious, do you think moving around and adventuring with your family influenced your love of reading and the story genres you prefer?

 

Sally Apokedak: I come from a family of readers. That is the first reason I love to read, probably. Both of my parents read and so did all my older brothers and sisters. We didn't have videos or video games when I was a kid. So we played outside or we read.

 

But, yes, my travels did have an influence on my love for reading, I think. I've always loved to travel and to study new cultures. And in books you can travel all over the world without spending a lot of time and money. Not quite as good as going in real life, but a nice way to learn about new people and cultures if you can't afford to go in person.


You mentioned on your website the first book to "ravish" you was Treasure Island which then led you to a plethora of other stories. Do you remember what made you pick 
Treasure Island first? And what captivated you most about the story?

 

Sally Apokedak: A condensed version of Treasure Island is what I first fell in love with, actually. It was the summer I turned eight years old. My mother had a collection of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, called Best Loved Books for Young Readers. She told us she'd pay us fifty dollars if we could read all 48 books over the summer. I didn't get the fifty dollars, but I got something worth much more than money. I still have these books. They're prominently displayed in my living room.

 

Treasure Island was the first one I read, and I loved it so much I forgot all about the monetary motivation. I loved the danger, I loved Jim, I loved the ship and the sea, and I loved the treasure. Who doesn't want to find a treasure? What kid has ever lived and not wanted to find a treasure?

You mention you love children's books--from PB to YA--with your favorite being fantasy (and a liking of dystopia and fairy tales). Do you think these types of stories convey a different message than stories targeted for adults?

 

Sally Apokedak: Hmm. Interesting question. I think what I love about children's books is that they usually end with hope. I'm not sure adult books do. I have had times in my life where I've read only adult books, including when I was a teen, but even then I was much more of a genre reader than a literary reader. I liked mysteries and sci-fi and fantasy. And I think those books all end with hope. Adult literary books, it seems to me, often end in a confused way or with no hope offered.

 

I think sci-fi and fantasy for all ages, allows the author to look at real world problems in fresh and non-threatening ways. You can see human nature in fantasy, you can face danger in sci-fi, but you don't have to worry about it being real. It can be more dangerous and still feel healthier and safer, I think.


I know these three questions you must get all the time but... What made you decide to be an agent? If your dream submission was delivered today, what would it look like? And what is your biggest no-no in a pitch session?

 

Sally Apokedak: 


1) I've always wanted to be an agent. What finally made me decide to do it was that my life got to the place where I could do it. My husband was a quadriplegic and I was his caregiver. He died in 2007 of colon cancer, and I moved over close to my parents so I could care for my father, who was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from a stroke. He died in 2009 and the day after his 
funeral, my mother fell and broke her pelvis in three places. So I moved in with her and cared for her until she died in 2012. So in 2012, I found myself with two grown kids and no more disabled people to care for. I was free to travel and I had a lot of free time to fill. I met Les Stobbe that year and asked him to teach me how to be an agent, and, happily for me, he agreed to take me on.

 

2) Dream submission? I have signed several clients who have sent me dream submissions. If a manuscript keeps me up reading late so I can finish, it is a dream submission. What I want is a character who needs something, who is actively seeking to gain something despite the roadblocks in his way, and who has an interesting voice. If he's funny and self-sacrificing, and a little na├»ve, or honest to a fault, so much the better. And if he's an orphan, well, then you've hit all my sweet spots.


3) Biggest "no no" in pitch session? I hate to list them, because sensitive writers will immediately think they've broken the rules and all the agents are laughing at them. I think if writers just act like they do when they meet anyone for the first time, things will be fine. Be pleasant. Be polite.

 

Probably the one thing that is really hard for me to deal with is a person who sits across from me and starts telling about eight or ten or twelve books she's written. I immediately shut down. I can't hear anything. I see the person's lips moving but it all sounds like, "This-this-this-this-this-this-that. And this-this-this-this-this-this-that. And then there was that and that and that and that." None of it means anything to me. It just all blurs together like food that went down in separate helpings of greens and fruits and meats, but came back up in a swirly mess. So don't regurgitate ten projects in fifteen minutes. I simply can't pick through that kind of mess looking for gems. My brain isn't fast enough to handle that kind of info overload.

 

Think of it this way—you have fifteen minutes to make me fall in love with you and your work. Will you do that best giving me a fifteen-minute video on fast-forward that tells your whole life story? Or will you do that be telling me one story about yourself that makes me cry? Move me. Tell me one story. Make me laugh or make me cry. If you do that, I'll ask for more. Trust that.


What a wonderful experience getting to work with Jeanne DuPrau, Ingrid Law and Shannon Hale. (I have to admit I really enjoyed the Books of Ember)  How did you become involved with Kidz Book Buzz blog tour and can you share one of your favorite experiences with it?

 

Sally Apokedak: The Books of Ember were great!

 

I founded Kidz Book Buzz blog tour. I love children's books and I wanted to promote them. The perks were getting to work with a bunch of really cool authors. Some of those authors we toured have become friends and I value that above all.


Being a present YA contributor of Novel Rocket, you advised in one of your blog posts to "take your passion and put it into a form that will sell." What advice would give a writer who is hoping to do that?

 

Study the market. You don't have to be a sellout. You don't have to compromise. Write what you love, but put it into a package that is selling. So if you love poetry, fine. Write eight four-line poems for toddlers and sell them as a board book. Or write sixteen eight-line poems around the theme of Halloween or Summer or School or Food and sell them as a picture book for the K-3 crowd. Look at what that age group is studying in science and write poems about health. If you love books with unicorns and you can't stand vampires, that's fine. Write a story with unicorns. But make sure it's a story that speaks to children today and not a story that would have spoken to children fifty years ago. If you want to write fantasy but romance is what's selling, make your fantasy a romance. If you want to write mysteries but fantasy is selling set your mystery in a fantasy landTake you passion and fashion it to fit the market.


I like the description of spotting the snoozing passages in manuscripts and poking them with a stick to get them moving with your pre-conference workshop 
Making Your Plodding Prose Prance and Your Plot Dance. I was wondering if we might, maybe, get a bigger teaser on what we'll learn?

 

Sally Apokedak: I have to admit, I cringe a little every time I see that title. I'm not sure why we called it that. I think what happened is that I was offering two classes—one on making the plot dance and one on how to wake up slumbering prose. Because of the way the classes needed to be set up for the conference we combined the classes and somehow the title came out as it did.

 

So how's this for a teaser: In the part of the class on prose, I'll discuss why we shouldn't use so many figures of speech in one title. Alliteration is great, but a little dab'll do ya.

 

The part of the class that is about plot will cover plot from beginning to end. I map out a plot that works—one that is common in best-selling children's books.

 

Please, if anyone reading here is coming to my workshop, bring your first chapters. We're going to be working on them in class.

 

Last question...I really enjoyed reading about your calendar method of getting tasks done. What a wonderful way to not stress about the work load and still get everything done. How did this tool come about?

 

Sally Apokedak: Desperation. Actually, one of my clients, Lisa Fowler, sent me a lovely, fancy-schmancy appointment book for a Christmas present. I immediately began filling in the days. It was apparent right away that this was the perfect tool for relieving stress, because I didn't have to waste energy trying to remember things. The minute a project came in, it went on the calendar and then I didn't have to remember it or worry about itIt also made me more productive because I never had to spend time thinking about what I should work on next. At the start of the day I checked my projects and off I wentThen, at the end of the day, I moved any that I didn't get to. I plugged them into another spot.

 

Again, we are looking forward to having you!

 

Sally Apokedak: Thanks. I'm looking forward to being there.


_________________________________________


Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency.
She’s been studying, reviewing, and marketing children’s books, as well as giving writing instruction for a dozen years. As the manager of the Kidz Book Buzz blog tour she was privileged to work with best-selling and award-winning authors such as Jeanne DuPrau, Ingrid Law, and Shannon Hale. She is presently the YA contributor to Novel Rocket and she teaches at general market and Christian Writers’ conferences across the country.
She is interested in children’s books from picture books to young adult (Christian or general market), nonfiction for all ages (Christian or general market), and women’s novels (Christian market).  Find out more at sally-apokedak.com  Submit to Sally at submissions@sally-apokedak


Looking for:
Picture Books: I’m looking for quirky, fun, characters and delightful language, with lines that roll and rhymes that rock. Conflict and growth for characters always helps.
Middle Grade Books: I’d love some funny boy books. Boy scientists and boy geniuses are great. I love fantasies, but really want anything with a strong voice.
YA Books: Fantasy is my favorite, and if there’s romance, I love it even more. I still like dystopian, and fairy tales. I love mysteries.
Nonfiction For All Ages: I’m interested in devotional books, Christian living, science for young children, and biography. But you may try me on anything.
Adult Inspirational: I’m looking for adult books for the Christian market, particularly fantasy and romantic suspense.
Any picture books that rhyme where all the rhyming words are one or two syllables, are not going to be right for me, I’m pretty sure.
Not looking for: I am also not a huge fan of issue books and preachy stories. Supernatural books, with angels, demons, or any mix thereof, will probably not catch my fancy. I’m not salivating for werewolves, vampires, ghosts, fairies, or zombies. I’m not into dark and angsty books. I like endings that are full of hope.

___________________________________________


Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 300 newspaper and regional magazine articles and over 200 photographs. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Meet Jennifer R. Hubbard, YA author!

by Tammy Burke

Hi Jennifer,

It is such a pleasure having you join us as one of our conference faculty this year. With three YA novels, submissions in Willow Review and North American Review, and a short story in the 2011 anthology Truth & Dare under your belt, our conferees are sure to gain wonderful insight from you. 

Jennifer R. Hubbard: Thank you! I’m looking forward to being there.



I am curious, your first two novels, The Secret Year and Try Not To Breathe, are written in a male point-of-view...did you find that challenging? Is a female POV easier? Or doesn't it make a difference? Also, do you come up with your protagonists first or the story idea? 

Jennifer R. Hubbard: I grew up around men and boys. I have male relatives, friends, coworkers, and a husband. I grew up reading the work of male writers. So I have many models for a male voice. Besides, all characters are people first. 

I have both male and female characters in my head. In the short stories I published before I started publishing novels, about half my main characters were male and half female. The protagonists and story ideas show up together; each story seems to have its natural main character.
With the Young Adult market being so popular I have to say what a brilliant idea to offer two sessions, Part 1 and Part 2 of Teen Voices: Writing YA at the conference. Can you give us a teaser on how one finds an authentic YA voice? 

Jennifer R. Hubbard: One advantage most of us have is that we’ve been teenagers. We’ve lived those years. While external fashions and technologies change over the generations, emotions and watershed experiences don’t; we can tap into that.



I like that your protagonist, Maggie, in Until It Hurts To Stop has the same hobby, hiking, that you do.  (I peeked on your website). Does any of Maggie's hiking experiences coincide with yours? Have you ever known any one like Raleigh Barringer, the ringleader bully from your story? 


Jennifer R. Hubbard: I did borrow some of my own hiking experiences for the book, such as the rattlesnake encounter, and a very windy mountain summit where I resorted to crawling. 

Raleigh isn’t based on any single, real-life person. But I think we’ve all known bullies. Raleigh doesn’t have much patience with people, and she feels better about herself when she’s asserting her own superiority, cutting other people down. She has had problems of her own, but unfortunately it hasn’t led to her being very empathetic, so far.
I'm also curious, does hiking help you when working on story ideas?  


Jennifer R. Hubbard: Absolutely. I try to take a walk, even a short one, every day. Often my mind will solve a writing problem while I’m walking, but it’s good to get exercise in any case. 
I like that you tackle real issues teens face such as bullying and suicide. What has been the inspiration to write on these topics? 


Jennifer R. Hubbard: They’re important issues, and they are things that people really face. But I don’t write about a topic unless I think I have something to say about it, and something that’s maybe a little new or unusual take on the subject. For example, in Try Not to Breathe, I wanted to focus on what it’s like for a character to put his life back together after a suicide attempt. In Until It Hurts to Stop, I wanted to focus on the long-term effects of bullying, the way it can affect people’s thinking and their relationships for years afterward.
I understand that you've been writing since you could hold a crayon. Can you remember the gist of any of your early creations? Also, what were some of the first stories which captivated you and which ones have stayed with you? 

Jennifer R. Hubbard: I think I wrote one about Christmas, and I was so young that I had no sense then what time of year Christmas was. I set it in July and had people eating corn on the cob. I used to illustrate my stories with crayons and staple them together.

I read everything I could get my hands on. In addition to the children’s books my parents gave me, and that I found in the library, I raided the family bookshelf in our living room. It contained, among other things, a first-aid manual, a book of photographs, a book of poetry, and my mother’s nursing-school textbooks. I read everything even if I couldn’t understand it. I still have the poetry book. It was produced in 1969, and has this psychedelic neon cover.



Could you tell us a little bit of KidLit Authors Club and YA Novelists Pushing the Boundaries of the Genre? What are your thoughts about synergy among writers? 


Jennifer R. Hubbard: The Kidlit Authors Club (www.kidlitauthorsclub.com) is a group of authors from the mid-Atlantic region who work together to promote, market, sign, and sell our books at stores, schools, libraries, conferences, and festivals throughout our region. Doing book signings can be such a lonely business; through the club, we can do group events instead. It’s more fun, and it offers book shoppers a wider variety of books. Because there are so many of us, we can almost always muster some writers to do any event we’re invited to. Our authors write for kids of all ages, picture books through young adult, so we can do events for many different age levels. Teaming up together this way has given us more opportunities, as well as giving more flexibility to the stores and libraries and schools. It has enabled us to support one another in many ways, personal and professional.

YA Outside the Lines (http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/),  subtitled “YA Novelists Pushing the Boundaries of the Genre and Writing from the Heart,” is a group of YA authors who do a joint blog. (I also have my own individual blog at http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/). Holly Schindler coordinates YA Outside the Lines. We have a topic each month, and we each have a certain day of the month to blog on that topic. I like it because it only takes a one-day-a-month commitment, and readers get to see so many different takes on each topic. 

I highly recommend authors finding other authors: whether for critique groups, swapping professional tips and information, doing promotional events together, or just giving emotional support and mentorship. This is a tough profession, full of uncertainty and rejection. It is immensely helpful to find other writers to share the journey with.

What advice do you think is most important for writers to know? 

Jennifer R. Hubbard: Read a lot. Write a lot. 



Last question...What is next on the horizon for you?

Jennifer Hubbard: I have three books out there right now, and my works in progress are at various stages of completion. 

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Jennifer R. Hubbard lives and writes in the Philadelphia area. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines including Flashquake, Willow Review, and the North American Review, and children's magazines including Cricket. In 2010, Viking/Penguin began publishing her contemporary young-adult novels.

The Secret Year, a story of a boy coping with the tragic end of a secret relationship, was on YALSA's Quick Picks List and the Indie Next list. Try Not to Breathe, in which a boy recovering from a suicide attempt befriends a girl with many questions and many secrets, received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Media Connection. Jennifer's most recent novel is Until It Hurts to Stop, about a formerly-bullied girl whose nemesis moves back to town.

When not writing, Jennifer is usually hiking, reading, or at the library. Online, she can be found at www.jenniferhubbard.com.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 300 newspaper and regional magazine articles and has interviewed government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).