By the time our son was in middle school a lot of people had written him off.
He was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in second grade, plus he was ADD. He took tests poorly, he had terrible grammar issues, and he couldn’t tell you the months of the year correctly in order. (Still struggles with it.)
Today that boy, now a man, released his first novel. And (and I’m not just being a mom here, because that wouldn’t be fair to him – or you) that novel is fantastic.
I know it’s grammatically correct because I copy-edited it. Willingly, because it’s such a great story, I read it start to finish four times. And I cried each time.
I have two motives for telling this story.
Motive Number One
If your kid, or a kid in your classroom, or a kid you know is struggling, please don’t write him or her or them off.
As a teacher I saw so many kids struggle with reading or math or social skills or “sit-still” skills or whatever and how our educational system really loves to reward the typical. The kid who does well and toes the line. The kid who doesn’t struggle, because who likes difficult?
But sometimes those kids are hiding something incredibly special. They think outside the box. They may not be able to read, but, like my son, parrot the exact words of a movie they heard when they watched it once – and parrot them years later. They may be gifted in tactile ways but not in auditory. Or in visual ways but not in tactile. They are not average, but they are certainly not below average.
Motive Number Two
I always believed that my son had gifts because – as the person who spent the most time with him IN THE WORLD until he was of age – I saw them. I knew he had auditory gifts. I knew he could think and reason with skill. He had a hard time reading and writing and sitting still, yes, and still struggles with grammar, but I can’t tell you how good his book is.
He understands character. He understands conflict. He totally understands story, as you will see when you read his amazing novel, BALLAD OF BROKEN GLASS.
Recently when I heard Jason Reynolds, he mentioned the support his mother had given him over years of doubters. Teacher doubters, friend doubters, relative doubters. She stuck with him and, well. There he is, best-selling author and National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. Stick with your kiddos, whoever they are to you. They may have rough beginnings but the endings?
Now she’s doing something bold, fresh, and remarkably innovative. She’s building Pin Lit, a boutique Pinterest marketing agency for authors, illustrators, publishers, indie publishers, and their agents. With her daughter Taylor, a talented entrepreneur in her own right, at her side, Deb’s bringing the robust power of Pinterest to our industry.
On the new Pin Lit website, Deb states, “Pinterest management is more than simply posting pretty images to your account. It’s a consistent and steady system of helping your books, content, and promotions get seen by your target audience. Through strategy and SEO, we drive traffic to your website and bring visibility to your online presence.”
I’m intrigued, aren’t you? Let’s find out more.
Tell Us About Pinterest!
Q: How does Pinterest differ from other forms of social media?
A: Pinterest is a visual search engine, on which marketers can strategically establish a platform showcasing books, programs, projects, downloads, and anything they desire to promote through a variety of formats – SEO optimized boards, static pins, video pins, music, audio, stories, and more. Unlike short-lived posts on Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest pins are evergreen. They never go away. This means that the efforts an author, illustrator, publisher, agent, and/or book store owner makes in building a sturdy Pinterest platform can be considered to be an investment in showcasing their creative work. Pinners can predict trends, establish effective pre-launch campaigns, and develop downloadables to enhance lasting relationship-building opportunities with their audience.
Q:How did you get started with Pinterest? What is your Pinterest story?
A: I started using Pinterest in 2015 to showcase Guides by Deb projects. I had taken an online course that guided me through low-level practices of crafting graphics and linking pins to my website. Despite lacking a true understanding of platform optimization or the ability to translate analytic results, I began to see how Pinterest could serve the Kidlit industry. If Pinterest was boosting my teacher guide content so successfully, I wondered what it could do for the rest of us. I suppose this is when my obsession for digital marketing originated.
Later, I relied on Pinterest as a big part of my pre-launch strategy for my nonfiction picture book GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS. Because I believed so strongly in the visibility potential of the platform, I hired a Pinterest marketing specialist to manage my account. I am ever so glad that I did. The presale numbers for the book were quite impressive. I believe that the visibility Pinterest gave to our campaign played a big role in making those numbers come to pass. After working with the specialist for a year as my account manager, I hired her for a second year as my mentor.
Then, the pandemic hit and Pinterest exploded. The isolation people experienced at that time coupled with a growing disenchantment for Facebook and Twitter brought people flocking to the platform worldwide. I wanted my Kidlit community to be part of the action. That’s when I began working with authors to establish their presence on Pinterest. Now, three years later, I’m establishing Pin Lit: A Pinterest marketing agency for book creators and book sellers. Pretty exciting stuff, right?
Benefits For Authors
Q:You say that quality content enhances visibility. How does that work on Pinterest?
A: Everything boils down to understanding what your audience is looking for. Pinterest users, of which there are over 400 million daily, are in search of inspiration. They need something specific. Our job is to offer a solution with our content. For example, a teacher might be looking for creative activities to teach story structure. All they have to do is drop the phrase “lessons about story structure” into the search bar and a screen-full of options will immediately appear before them – pins featuring books, lessons, and free printables galore. If they scroll down a little bit, they just might find this Guides by Deb story structure activity for DOGGONE FEET posted back in 2017!
This scenario illustrates two remarkable benefits of marketing on Pinterest – the unbranded search and evergreen content. Because that five-year-old pin for DOGGONE FEET has been optimized by pertinent subject matter, the Pinterest algorithm continues to prioritize the content by ranking it high in the search. Note that, instead of a book title in the search bar, our teacher typed a literary term in the search bar. This is an example of an unbranded search. It’s been reported that 97% of Pinterest searches are unbranded. This means that, if you have something of quality to offer, pinners will find you! It’s anybody’s game. So cool, right?
Benefits For Publishers
Q:You mentioned that publishers and indie-bookstores would benefit from building a presence on Pinterest. How so?
A: Oh, gosh…Pinterest is going all out to become THE online shopping platform. Publishers and indie-bookstores can become what is known as a verified merchant, which permits them to feature their catalogs as online shops on the platform. These marketers can even feature video in their merchant catalogs. Can you say book trailers? Customers have the option to purchase directly through the marketer’s platform via the Shop Tab. There is a process required to make this happen, but the efforts are well worth it!
Q:What fuels your passion for Pinterest?
A: I love the collaboration and strategy required to establish substantive, creative campaigns. The process we follow is similar to what I do with Guides by Deb projects. My goal with the teacher guides is to use the literary and academic principles offered in the story to build a creative, entertaining, and solidly educational playground with the book. We’re doing the same thing with Pinterest platforms and having a ball doing so!
More About Deb
Debbie Gonzales is an author, a career educator, a certified Pinterest Marketing Specialist and founder of Pin Lit: A Pinterest marketing agency for book sellers and book creators. She’s published six transitional readers a New Zealand publisher, the nonfiction picture book GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS, and the host of Guides by Deb, a website consisting of over 300 standards-aligned educator guides for all genres. A former SCBWI Regional Advisor, Deb currently serves as a member of the SCBWI-MI Leadership Team and the Michigan Reading Association board. She earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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Every character enters your story in the middle of their life. Your story is focused on something happening in the character’s “now”, but that doesn’t mean that they are a blank slate up until that moment. They have a past, a history, a backstory.
Motivation is desire. It’s fueled by a longing or lack that the character may not even be able to fully articulate; she just knows something is missing in her life. She is then motivated to act in response to this longing, and motivation propels her through the story.
With your character’s story arc, she has an external problem to deal with, and an internal problem. One of my favorite examples to illustrate this is The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s external problem is dealing with the Wicked Witch/trying to get to the Wizard. Her internal problem is that she feels unloved by those around her after Miss Gulch takes Toto away with Auntie Em’s approval. Dorothy is searching for a happy place and thinks it’s “somewhere over the rainbow”.
Dorothy, pondering. Photo by Mgm/Kobal/Shutterstock (5886294em) Judy Garland
Notice that these external and internal problems provide conflict at both macro and micro scales.
External and Internal Motivation
Here’s Dorothy’s motivation related to her problems:
Dorothy’s external motivation: she’s motivated to battle the Witch by the threats against her friends in Oz.
Her internal motivation: she has to understand that running away is not the way to find your happy place; that she had a happy place all along and it’s inside her. And she realizes that with her loving family and friends, “there’s no place like home”.
Dorothy’s longing for a place over the rainbow, a safe and loving place, motivates her to run away, leading to her story of discovering who she really is and what she really has. The story satisfies her “lack” by bringing her to full awareness.
If you can clearly and simply define your protagonist’s internal and external motivations, you’ll have a much stronger story. Brainstorm your protagonist’s longing or lack through backstory (you can read more about that here) remembering that she may not be entirely aware of her longing herself.
If you have only one book under your belt and you haven’t sold it, should you keep going?
I’ve met far too many writers who write the same book over and over and over and over…revising again and again…in the hopes that this book they’ve been working on, sometimes for years, is “the” one. That if they can just get that one book right, an agent will sign them, a publisher will publish, and readers will come flocking.
That almost never happens, and here’s why. This one book hasn’t really taught you how to be a writer.
The Instant Success Theory
We’ve all seen writers who seem to come out of nowhere, get seven figure deals, and become NYT best sellers. Or………….did they?
Lots of drafts of lots of books
Most of those “instant successes” are actually writers who have been trying for a long time, written many books, studied the craft carefully either on their own or in classes, and then they finally wrote a great book. But it didn’t happen overnight, as it may appear.
Of course you must write your best book. Your first draft is never going to be perfect, so you must revise. But if you’ve taken revision to a new level – that is, if you revise the same work for years and years – you are doing yourself no good as an artist.
Publishing today is in flux. Things are changing throughout the industry. But for the writer, it’s all about waiting. It can take months – many months – to hear back about a submission. It can take many, many submissions to find an agent who is even remotely interested. And that agent, even if they sign you and your book, may not be able to sell it. Years can go by.
What are you doing with all that time?
You should be writing your next book. Not only because that will keep you sane, but because it’s truly the only way you’ll succeed. With each book you write, you learn. With each book you write, you come closer to success. With each book you write, you are closer to being the artist that you aspire to be.
This should be your goal. Not to keep writing the same book over and over, but to try something new. Get your book in the best shape possible, send it out, then get on with your next book. You may get a lot of rejections on the first one; it may never sell. But as you press forward, and keep learning, one day you will sell a novel. One day you will be published. But only if you keep writing new things.
What are you waiting for? Write something new, right now.
“Pigeon and Cat don’t have much, but what they do have matters more to them than any material possessions. Friendship. Creativity. Love.”
I have the luck to know Eddie Hemingway, author and illustrator, who lives in Bozeman MT, my home town. And the luck to see F&Gs of his newest picture book, PIGEON & CAT (Christy Ottaviano Books at Little, Brown Young Readers) out as of 6/21/22! I asked Eddie to give readers answers to a few questions, and I do hope you’ll run right out and find this gorgeous, fun new read.
Can you give readers a quick synopsis of Pigeon & Cat?
I’d love to. It’s the story of a scared and lonely stray cat that rescues a tiny egg and befriends the pigeon who hatches out of it. Cat’s small act of kindness ultimately opens up his life to the world around him, and together the unlikely duo transforms the community in which they live into a better place for everyone.
I love that this story addresses friendship between two unlikely characters. Tell us about their relationship and what it means to you.
It probably goes without saying that Pigeon and Cat’s relationship is at the core of “Pigeon & Cat”. I feel it represents a certain kind of friendship that we’ve all experienced- that of two opposites who compliment each other and make each other better beings. They also don’t speak the exact same language, but nonetheless understand each other implicitly.
Houselessness is a very real problem for many in this world. I know how lucky and privileged I’ve been to always have had a roof over my head, but I also know that many have not been as fortunate.
It’s so important for me in my work to give kids stories to read that open up their minds and hearts and gently show them things that perhaps they haven’t been exposed to. “Pigeon & Cat” shows kids that houseless strays are ultimately deep down like everyone else, and that they have just as much value and potential within any given community as everyone else in that community. And in the case of these two unlikely friends, their friendship is what moves them forward on such a positive trajectory. Pigeon and Cat don’t have much, but what they do have matters more to them than any material possessions. Friendship. Creativity. Love. I aspire to live my life in a similar fashion.
I love that SO much. And I’m with you. The illustrations are just fabulous. You used to live in the city, right? Is this an ode to city life?
The book is definitely an ode to city life! Although the city depicted in the book is not New York specifically, it is inspired by my time in Brooklyn and is also the first picture book I’ve done that takes place in a very urban environment. I’m delighted you like the illustrations. I had a lot of fun making all the artwork for the book. I experimented with dripping paint and creating textures with sponges, rollers, and different brushes. And since I love cut paper, I made the silhouette images from hand cut black paper which I then adhered onto the painted panels. When all the paintings were done, I scanned them into photoshop and would often make little adjustments in order to achieve the perfect image that I wanted.
And now you live here in Bozeman! Has that been a good place for you to settle?
Absolutely! My husband and I love it here. There is so much physical beauty in Montana. And I never get tired of the mountains and big sky.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just THANKS SO MUCH for sharing my book birthday with your readers, Janet! I really appreciate it.
I was having a conversation with some fellow book coaches recently when one of them described a client who was struggling. But the struggle wasn’t with plot or character or voice. It was with the idea that writing is a slow process, taking as long as it needs to take and sometimes a lot longer than we writers would like.
This writer thought it was time to hurry-the-heck-up, already.
So I thought it might be instructive to give you a couple of answers to my titular question.
December 2012: The idea for the story comes in the form of an image. After some brainstorming, I begin to draft a synopsis
January – April 2013: I begin writing drafts. The numbers of drafts written during that time: 15
Remainder of 2013: More drafts: 14 total
Winter/spring of 2014: My agent, after sending me revision notes and having me revise and return to her, sends the manuscript out on submission. Kendra Levin at Viking buys the book summer 2014. She sends me her first set of notes in mid-fall 2014.
All of 2014: More drafts and revisions both before and after book is sold to Kendra: 22 total
All of 2015: More revisions with Kendra: 5 total. The book goes through copyedits: 4 total rounds, ending in April 2015.
The book is published in March 2016.
So, let’s recap. The number of drafts and revisions in total: 60. The length of time it took me to write and revise before the book was sold: 18 months. The length of time between the book’s sale to Kendra and its pub date: 18 months.
That’s a lot of drafts.
Total time from idea to book on shelf: 36 months. Three years.
How Short Is Short?
Some books take longer, some take shorter. For example, the book I’m writing right now has been in my head and my working life since the fall of 2010. That’s 12 years, and I may (may, mind you) now have a “final” draft. I didn’t bother to count the number of drafts because it clearly is well over 60. And FYI: I actually sold this book in an earlier form to Kendra, but it fell apart and we had to abandon the novel. Notice that I have not abandoned it – the idea won’t leave me alone. So, I’ve kept revising.
On the other hand, my most recent book, CARRY ME HOME, took almost no time for me to write. I wrote the first draft in August 2019, and I logged 4 drafts. It sold in December 2019 to Krista Vitola at Simon Kids, and we had the final copyedits finished by summer 2020. The book published in August 2021.
That’s only two years from idea to publication, and with fewer than 10 drafts/revisions/edits.
BUT…………I’d been thinking about the idea behind CARRY ME HOME for at least 5 years before I sat down to write. I was carrying the concept of a homeless family around in my head and didn’t write it until I knew how to express what I was feeling about it.
So really, instead of taking a month to write, the book took me 5 years to write. Just many fewer revisions, fewer drafts than usual.
Add to that, CARRY ME HOME is a relatively short contemporary story. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, and my work in progress are both long fantasies with complicated plots.
So, How Long?
Writing a book takes as long as it takes. Let yourself be inspired and don’t think you will do it all at once. It will take months. More likely it will take years. And even when you think you’re done, you’re almost always not.
A book coach can help you see your way through, and a good book coach will not tell you your book is ready to submit until it is.
Not long ago I had the fantastic opportunity to listen to and then meet Jason Reynolds. Jason is the current US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and he was in Bozeman as part of a tour in this capacity and heading out to small, rural schools, three of which he visited in Montana. He’s also an award-winning author of multiple books for young readers. Because it was a last-minute gathering at our hometown Country Bookshelf, the turnout was intimate.
Jason Reynolds, Super-Guy
Jason is thoughtful and articulate, especially when it comes to kids and their difficulties, partly because he was a kid with difficulties. He admitted that he hated reading – until he was 17 (“and a half”). He credits his mother with just about everything, but also nods to a singular teacher/mentor who turned him onto books by introducing him to “not-boring” books.
Meeting Jason Reynolds was a thrill – hearing him speak was inspiring.
He also spoke passionately about the need for books to help kids through trauma. And yes, I believe that this is why I write, this is why we need books, this is what kids need.
I wrote CARRY ME HOME because the difficult topic of homelessness and my own feelings of helplessness wouldn’t let me alone. Chris Barton wrote ALL OF A SUDDEN AND FOREVER about the Oklahoma City Bombing to bring a feeling of hope to a traumatic event. Kevan Atteberry wrote GHOST CAT because he was dealing with personal loss and wanted to relate what he was feeling for kids.
Jason Reynolds has written about racism, gang violence, and difficult childhoods because he understands that many kids need to be able to process these stories, stories that he knows only to well, in their own lives.
This is what writers do – we write to help ourselves process the traumas but also to give to readers an example of dealing with trauma. I call this “writing with empathy”.
Write With Empathy
Your writing is important. Readers need your words. Remember that what you reflect on the page can help someone process, and especially when you write for young readers you have an obligation to make your themes, your ideas, your subtext resonate with empathy and compassion.
I suggest that you do the following:
Reflect on a personal experience. Use the emotions of that experience to fuel your stories.
Do not shy away from difficult subjects, but treat them with care, especially when you write for kids.
This week I thought I’d give you a few links to older content regarding plot that still may be helpful for whatever you’re struggling with. Next week, I’ll link to the tons of content on building characters.
One of my most popular craft links is to this plot paradigm. It’s available for you to download.
As a “working writer”, I’m learning that it isn’t always about the craft. It isn’t always about the joy of creativity, much as we’d like it to be.
Sometimes it’s about how to manage being creative in the face of all those other things on the to-do list.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned after opening my coaching business in 2020, it’s that I have to have systems and processes. Things to keep me organized. Ways to keep my writing hours sacrosanct, and ways to keep my clients happy and moving forward, and ways to balance those things with family, down time, daily life chores. Plus…in these times, there’s a heavy load of marketing that goes with both the writing and the coaching.
By the way, systems do work for creativity too – and I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post.
Systems That Work for Everything
I think the number one thing that is essential, whether you have another business/job besides writing, or not, is a calendar.
My image made with Canva
I happen to use iCal – I like that I can color-code it, I like that it syncs easily with my other systems, I like that I can easily print it out. Google calendar is another option. And of course there’s always good old paper or whiteboard.
I’ve learned to sort out my “marketing” on my calendar – noting what I want to create on this blog, or in my newsletter, and when; what to post on social media and when. Suddenly marketing seems more manageable.
In addition to iCal, I could not do without my Acuity scheduling app. For my business, this allows me to set up boundaries, such as only meeting with clients Tuesday through Thursday, and blocking 30 minutes before and after meetings. Then I can send clients a link (it automatically links to my Zoom account and my iCal) and they can choose from my available times, and it reminds them again before we meet.
And of course, Zoom. How brilliant that Zoom came along just when we really needed it. I use it for personal as well as business, for friendly chats and book club meets, and watch untold numbers of webinars, make school visits, etc.
See my list below for more of my favorite systems.
Processes That Help with Creativity
It’s really hard to be creative when a thousand little things are yammering in your brain. Here’s what I’m doing to give myself creative space.
Every Sunday evening I look at the week ahead. I make sure that if something has changed or popped up, I know it. I make notes. I check the calendar. I print it out. I plan when I’m going to write and when I’m going to do marketing and when I’m going to spend time on life.
At the end of every month, I do the same thing but with that monthly overview. What’s coming up? Do I have a book coming out in six months and if so, what can I do about that now? What I do doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be planned. Do I have a vacation with some free time, when I could visit a bookstore and sign stock, or slip in a school visit?
And thinking 3 months ahead, too, helps with a quarterly overview. Do I want to get that manuscript to my agent by a certain date? If so, how much do I need to work on it each week? Do I have the room to take on another coaching client? If so, when?
My Favorite “Office” Tools
Here’s a list of tools, some of which I couldn’t live without. (In a future post, I’ll talk about some tools for the right side of your brain – the creative tools.)
For small business organization: 17Hats, a customer service management system that automatically organizes my clients, sends bills and receipts, catalogues everything I need from calendar to emails to bookkeeping. Dubsado is another CSM people like.