This past weekend I attended a workshop on book promotion. One of the things attendees had a choice to do was either 1) give a pitch to the group and have the facilitator review your performance, or 2) give a reading to the group and have an acting coach give you feedback on your performance. Despite what many of my friends might think (because I hide my introvert tendencies pretty well), both of these choices struck fear in me. However, I came to “play” and since Blackberry Banquet has been out for a few months and the Sylvan Dell publicist is a PR phenomenon, I forewent the pitch session and opted for the reading.
What on earth was I thinking? Really. Why didn’t someone just smack me upside the head with a snow shovel? I know me. I don’t regularly read Shrinking Violets Promotions because of their clever photo selections. It’s because I’m an introvert and I totally get what they say!
Okay, back to the workshop... I watched four other authors go before me and get tortured--I mean, scrutinized in such a way that could only be described as painful. But there I sat. Thinking about times when I’ve let my “introvertedness” kick in and I'd chicken out. I thought about that agent at a conference, who was just standing there, all alone, just waiting for someone to approach him to pitch a story, but I didn’t have the guts. I thought about when that editor and I were the only ones in the restroom washing our hands, and all I could garble out was, “That’s a pretty sweater.” So, I sat there, watching my fellow authors undergo their readings, continually being interrupted by the acting coach, mostly to hear all of the wrong things they were doing, then given suggestions for improvement, then trying again, then being interrupted again...like a news clip of a bad accident shown over and over again (mind you, I applaude their efforts and felt their pain).
But there I sat. Thinking about how a person grows from stepping outside of his/her comfort zone. And when the facilitator asked who would like to be next and all hands shot beneath the tables, I raised mine. Again, what was I thinking? Where was that snow shovel?
Now, I’d like to say that it wasn’t so bad. That I learned a lot. But honestly, I can’t. It was a blur. I was light-headed. I felt my face flushing to a color that would rival Santa’s suit. The acting coach tried giving me advice. And I’d fail. And she’d try again. And I’d fail. I just didn’t understand what she wanted. My head was spinning. She might as well have been speaking to me in Urdu. Perhaps partly because she wasn’t expressing herself clearly. Perhaps because I was not in any condition to follow.
What’s the point of all this? Well, it got me to thinking. I’m always telling my writer friends that you have to step outside your comfort zone. But I think I learned something this weekend. Stepping outside the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean taking off all your clothes and jumping into the Arctic Sea. If you really don’t like cold water but know you need to learn to like it, start with putting in your big toe. In other words, you have to use your head and do what you can manage. Yes, push yourself to go beyond what’s comfortable, but don’t go so far that you’re completely out of your element. That’s just no fun.
When I sat down after my reading, my mind reeling, the writer next to me asked me if I was okay. I said, “No. I need a cookie...and a shot of whiskey.” Luckily, I don’t drink. But the cookie was delicious (okay, I had two!) and I think I learned something. And isn't that what pushing yourself is all about?
Okay, it's time for my annual "stop and relax" post. This has nothing to do with writing--well, maybe except that on top of all our writing responsibilities, we try to do everything under the Christmas Star to make it a wonderful holiday for our family and friends, often at the expense of our own sanity. And we know how stress can affect our writing, right? (see how I'm trying really hard to make this related to writing--even though it really isn't!).
So, here's what I propose you do. Just like I recommended last year (but don't bother going back to that post, for some reason the video link went kablooey), go get yourself a glass of wine. Red or white. Your choice. Go on...I'll wait. Got it? Okay, now hang the "Writer at Work" door hanger on your office door and lock the door behind you. Now, light one of those holiday candles you've got sitting around. Any scent will do, whatever works for you--pine, cinnamon, hollyberry, whatever. Turn on your computer speakers, put your feet up, take a sip of wine, and click HERE. Ahhh...enjoy...
Did that help to relax you a bit? I hope so! Maybe it's because I saw this performance in concert, or maybe it's because the first time I heard "Prelude" (the first part of the video) was shortly after a good friend died of cancer (thus its haunting tone and sadness still sends chills down my spine), but this music has special meaning to me. It always touches that inner part of me, like music and words do to people on a very personal level (see how I related it back to writing--I'm trying here!).
So, don't forget to take these moments during the hectic holiday season and r-e-l-a-x... You'll be so much happier if you do!
Just a reminder: Tomorrow (Monday, 12/8) is the deadline for the photo caption contest (scroll down a bit for more info), so keep those clever posts coming in! Don't let this opportunity to win one of the funniest animal joke books ever written pass you by (hmm...was that a bit over the top?).
MEREDITH MUNDY WASINGER has been a Senior Editor at Sterling Publishing since 2005, following eleven years with Dutton Children’s Books. A Colorado native, she is a big fan of pugs, poetry, and gardening (guerrilla and otherwise). She is currently looking for character-centered picture books; original non-fiction with pizzazz; and unusual activity books for children of all ages. Sterling does not publish original fiction (aside from picture books) or non-fiction that would be geared purely toward schools and libraries.
I had the pleasure of meeting Meredith at our recent Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Writers' Day and am so pleased that she agreed to do an interview for us!
What does your job entail as an editor at Sterling Publishing? It’s a job filled with variety—never a dull moment! I spend much of my day writing and answering emails from authors, illustrators, and agents to keep projects that are already in process moving along. Part of each day is devoted to requesting contracts, reviewing catalog and jacket copy, compiling editorial notes for authors whose manuscripts have been accepted, or reviewing and commenting on sketches/final art that have come in for particular books. Our editorial team has an acquisitions meeting every two weeks to discuss future projects we hope to acquire, and we meet every month or so to read new submissions that have arrived. The mail is very hard to keep up with—so many manuscripts!—but we do everything we can to avoid making authors wait interminably.
Could you give an overview of Sterling's list and its philosophy? Our list is quite eclectic, and reflects the interests of our small staff. Our range is from board books for babies to sophisticated biographies for older readers to puzzle-and-game books to picture books of all kinds. We are publishing our first middle-grade chapter book series next year (The Doyle & Fossey Science Detective series, by Michele Torrey, illustrated by Barbara Johansen Newman), and if that is well received, we may consider acquiring more chapter books. But for now we are not accepting any chapter books or novels.
Our philosophy is simple—we want to publish only the very best books to be read by the widest possible audience. This makes reading submissions pretty easy, really, since we can rule out anything that’s too generic, or too slight, or too specific in terms of its topic, or too much like anything that’s already out there. We look for originality, excellent writing, unforgettable characters, clever twists on familiar themes, and humor.
I'm reading more and more about the economy affecting book sales and the publishing industry. Is the economic downturn affecting Sterling in any significant way? We have been asked to be exceptionally careful with our budgets, as has everyone in publishing. We are cutting costs everywhere possible—from sending out electronic Christmas cards instead of paper ones to avoiding using overnight mail unless absolutely crucial. We know how tough the retail environment is right now, and we are hopeful that next year will bring brighter news to all retailers, not just booksellers. It does seem that the children’s book market has more resiliency than other sectors. People tend to buy for their children (and their pets!) even if they are not buying for themselves.
On the lighter side, what is your favorite children's joke? One morning a traffic cop is directing traffic in a busy intersection. A guy pulls up in a fancy convertible filled with penguins. “Hey, mister!” the cop calls out. “I want you to take those penguins directly to the zoo!” “Sure thing, Officer,” says the driver.
Later that day, the cop sees the same carload of penguins pull up in the intersection. “Hey, mister!” he yells. “I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!” “I did,” says the driver. “We had a great time. Now we’re going to the movies!”
Yesterday I received two nice bits of news from the publicist at Sylvan Dell. First, I'm the featured author this month at Stories for Children online magazine. Click HERE to read the interview (and surf their website--they have tons of great things, all kidlit related).
And, Blackberry Banquet has been listed live on the USA Book News website!
Wow--where did November go? I just realized that I haven't posted anything for a few days now (let's blame it on the tryptophan!).
Well, now that we're into the holiday season, I've decided that it's time for some outright silliness. So, I'm having a photo caption contest. Below, you'll see a picture of my cat---well, sort of. Part of him, at least. I'm giving folks until Dec. 8 to send me a funny caption (please post your entries--yes, multiple entries are welcome--in the "comment" section below). The winner will receive a signed copy of "Pet Jokes That Will Make You Howl!" (makes for a great holiday gift!) So, put on those silly thinking caps and let's see what you can come up with!
Oh--and I suppose that even though I ADORE my cats and have been known to fuss over them in ridiculous ways, I should say that no animals were harmed in the photographing process. In fact, my cat did this of his own accord. I just happened to grab the camera once I stopped laughing.