Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Promotion: The Foundation

Every author has it, said it, and heard it: promotion is the roll-up-your-sleeves, and dig-in part of writing. It’s the much more difficult and time consuming aspect of writing that every author needs to become involved with . . . if he wants to sell his books.

To actually sell a book, you need to have a quality product. This is the bare-bottom, first rung of book promotion . . . the foundation.

The Foundation

Create a Quality Product

The very first step in book promotion is to create a quality product. Hopefully, you noticed I said create a quality product, not just a good story. What this means is that all aspects of your book need to be top notch.

A. The Story

To start at the very beginning, the first factor to be dealt with is to be sure your story has all the essential elements. According to Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, there are five major elements of a story: characters, setting, plot, point of view, and theme.

All the elements of a story should complement each other, should move each other forward, draw the reader in, and end with a satisfying conclusion. They should work together to create a story that will be remembered.

Suppose your story is action packed and plot driven, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, it will fall short. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement. Again, it will be lacking. As with all things in life balance is necessary, the same holds true when writing a story.

B. Join a Critique Group

Yes, this is part of creating a quality story. Even experienced authors depend on the unique perspective and extra eyes that each critique member provides. They will help find: grammatical errors, holes in your story, unclear sentences and paragraphs, overuse of particular words, and weak verbs, among other elements.

They will also provide guidance and suggestions.

C. Editing

Yes, again, this is a necessary step to take to ensure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before it becomes a book. Look for an experienced and qualified editor to help tweak your manuscript. But, before you send it off to be edited, self-edit it first. There are a number of articles out there in cyberspace on self-editing. Take the time and read a few, then go over your manuscript.

D. Cover and Design

This step is more relevant to those who decide to self-publish, or use a Print-on-Demand (POD). The cover is the first impression a reader will usually have of your book, next is the interior design. These aspects are just as important as the story itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression that you only get one shot at making a good first impression. Well, you can relate that to your book cover.

Don’t skimp on time, effort, or money when coming up with your book’s cover and design.

Tip: If you are writing a children’s book, do not do your own illustrations unless you’re a professional illustrator.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter/ rewriter. For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact me at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

And, you can follow Karen at:



SEO for Authors Series: The Basics

Preparing for Your Book Signing

Book Marketing - Use Internet Radio Shows and Podcasts

Building Scenes with Renee Hand

Renee Hand is an award-winning author, educator, tennis coach and various other things. Hand has been writing for over twenty years and has six publications. She also writes for various chronicles and newsletters, as well as reviews for various authors of children´s books on her blog,

Renee Hand's love for reading and writing started when she was a child. Renee always had a passion for it and remembers frequently wearing out the stone steps to the local library. When in a bookstore, she would sit in the middle of an aisle perusing a novel that she was eagerly going to purchase, but couldn’t wait to read. Often, when Renee has extra time, she will write stories that pop into her head...locking herself in her room for hours. Now that Renee is older, her love for reading and writing has not diminished. In fact, it has only become a bigger part of her. It is because of this that Renee chose to share her interests with other readers who love books as much as she does.

Building Scenes
I build scenes for all my books in similar ways— yet differently. My Crypto-Capers Series is more in depth, with much more history and suspense for the older readers, so I develop the scenes differently, keeping the readers interest well throughout the book to the very end, adding in more detail. Characters are more dynamic, problems more complicated, with various scenes, and so on. 

But for my Joe-Joe Nut series, because the audience is younger, I make things just as interesting and suspenseful, but much simpler. My chapters/scenes are separated by suspects, making it easier for the reader or teacher to stop and make predictions about what is going to happen next, or to discuss what has already happened.   

The beginning, of course, sets the stage for what the story is about, relaying the problem of the story to the reader. When I create a scene, I think about where I want the characters to go and what sends them there, or what I need them to do, or in this case—collect. 

In Mineral Mischief, someone steals Maple Moo’s rare mineral. All of the suspects collect a specific type of rock and mineral, plus they were all over at Maple Moo’s house before the crime was committed. It is Joe-Joe and Biscuits turn from there to talk to each suspect to determine who committed the crime and discover why they did it. Looking for clues, analyzing evidence, and so on.   

I throw in some misleads here and there. At the end, of course, the problem is solved, but never the way you think it might be. I like to throw a wrench in there to make things more exciting for my readers. All and all, though not entirely, this is how I build my scenes.

Stories for Children Publishing will be touring Renee Hand’s latest children’s book, “The Adventures of Joe-Joe Nut and Biscuit Bill Case #2 Mineral Mischief” all month long in April 2011. 

In Case #2 Mineral Mischief, Joe-Joe Nut and Biscuit Bill find themselves in a dark and dreary cave, and in front of them, sitting on an ornately carved stone pedestal, was Maple’s mineral. To reach out and take it would be so easy. It glistened like stars in a midnight sky, attracting their attention, luring them. However, there had to be a catch somewhere. Something didn’t feel right. Then he saw it. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Back Story to Monkey Made Dream

I don’t know about you, but I love learning the back story to why a book was written or published. I always feel the story behind the story is just as important as the book itself. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many authors and learn these stories and this month, I was inspired by an author team. What makes this author partnership so unique is the fact it is a father and daughter who wrote the book together. However, the story doesn’t just stop there and it’s one that I hope inspires other parents with young or older children.

The Back Story to Monkey Made Dream. What Inspired The Book.

When my daughter was around 7 or 8 years old, we decided to make up a song one afternoon.  I picked up my guitar and together we wrote a song entitled Monkey Made Dream. 

Monkey Made Dream is a children’s song I have sang at coffee houses for years.  I knew  the words to this song would work for a children’s book and we had talked about turning it into a book for a long time. Last year, I found an illustrator and we spent a year working together on making this story come to life in book form. 

One of the reasons I decided to turn the song into a book was because my daughter Heather got married this summer.  It seemed like a good time to work on the project. So last Christmas, I surprised her with the first copy of the book Monkey Made Dream that she helped me write years ago.

I want to thank you Tom and Heather for being my guest and sharing the back story to your debut children’s book, Monkey Made Dream. Can you also share with us what inspired you both to start writing?

Tom: I started writing just as an outlet to express myself through story telling.  Song writing is the same way for me. I enjoy telling a story that takes a person somewhere that they can relate to.

Heather: I enjoy writing as a way to escape to a different place and look at ideas in different ways. It is fun to see where a story can go.

Can you share with us a little about your current book, Monkey Made Dream?

Tom: This is a story about a little girl who wakes up for school one morning and finds that her little brother has been replaced by a monkey in his bed.  The story takes you through their day as the little girl tries to explain to everyone about the monkey wearing her brother’s clothes. There is a twist at the end of the story when the truth of the story is revealed.

We are a book marketing group here at VBT. Can you share with us what type of book promotion has worked for you and any special strategies you’d like to share?

Tom & Heather: Well, this is our first children’s book that we have written, so we are just enjoying the whole process.  We self published this book ourselves and our publishing company has been helpful.  The book is on several web sites – Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Book World and others.  We are looking into a marketing plan that will feature this book in many avenues.  On the local side, we are having a book signing day in two local communities near us.  We will also use Facebook to get our children’s book out to the public.

How do you see the future of book publishing, both traditional, electronic, and print on demand?

Heather: It seems that self-publishing will grow, because there is an outlet for new writers through the Internet.  Electronic books seem to be growing if looking around at an airport is any indication.

Tom: But there is still something about holding a hard cover book and a cup of coffee.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Tom: Just keep writing every day.

Heather: Enjoy the process!

I thank you for taking the time to share with us the back story of Monkey Made Dream and answering a few questions. We wish you much success.

About the Authors:
Tom Listul wrote Monkey Made Dream with his daughter, Heather Listul Hewitt, when she was eight years old. A farmer from southwest Minnesota, he is also a singer/songwriter. Listul made Monkey Made Dream into a children’s song and has sang it at numerous coffee houses and children’s classrooms. Hewitt is now a speech-language pathologist, who works for a school district with students of all ages. She enjoys helping children develop literacy skills and a love for reading. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rewriting a Folktale

When a writer’s muse seems to be on vacation, she may be at a loss for story ideas. While there are a number of sites and tools online to help get the creative juices flowing, one tool that writers might overlook is studying folktales.

Reading folktales is a great way to spin a new yarn, especially for children’s writing. I recently did a review of a children’s picture book published by Sylvan Dell that was based on an American Indian folktale. This shows they are publishable.

Folktales, also known as tall tales, and folklore, are stories specific to a country or region. They are usually short stories dealing with everyday life that come from oral tradition that is passed from generation to generation. Most often these tales involve animals, heavenly objects, and other non-human entities that possess human characteristics.

There is Mexican folklore, Irish folklore, Chinese folklore, as well as folklore from many other countries that have tales unique to their area. There is also American folklore that encompasses stories from each of the 50 states. There is a huge supply of stories to spin and weave.

In addition to reviewing a couple of published children’s books that were based on folktales, I wrote a children’s fantasy story based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Interestingly, prior to receiving an outline of the tale from a Chinese nonfiction writer acquaintance, I never thought of rewriting folktales. But, once given the outline I loved the story and the message it presented. The outline itself was very rough and written with an adult as the main character (MC), which is often the case with ancient folktales.

After reading the story I knew the MC would need to become a child. Every children’s writer is aware that children want to read about children, not adults. And, the MC needs to be a couple of years older than the target audience the author is writing for.

Based on this, the MC became a 12-year-old boy. And, since the ancient Chinese flavor of the story seemed perfect, I kept it and made the story take place in the 16th century China. After this was set, a title and the MC’s name needed to be created.

When choosing a title for your book, it’s important to keep it in line with the story and make it something that will be marketable to the age group you’re targeting. I chose Walking Through Walls.

As far as the character’s name, you will need to base it on the time period and geographic location of the story, unless the character is out of his element. Since my story takes place in China, the MC needed a Chinese name.

To keep the flavor of your story consistent, you will also need to give it a feeling of authenticity. This will involve some research:

How did the people dress during the time of your story? What names were used? What did they eat? What type of work or schooling was available? What locations might you mention? What type of crops and vegetation would be present? What types of homes did they live in?

There are many aspects of the story that you will want to make as authentic as possible. And, it does matter, even in fiction stories; it will add richness to your story.

The next time you’re in the library, ask the librarian to show you a few folktales. Then imagine how you might rewrite one or more of them for today’s children’s book market.

Get Your Copy of Walking Through Walls: 

OR, the better choice is to get it directly it directly from the publisher:

Need a children's ghostwriter / Rewriter? Check out
Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?
By Sherry Ellis

There are many factors that go into the making of a good children’s book.

The first is the story itself.  It must have a plot that appeals to the age of the child it is written for.  It has to be something a child can understand.  It has to be told in such a way that the child falls in love with it.  The best stories are ones that are timeless; where the plot is something that could appeal to a child fifty years from now.

Illustrations are another important factor in the making of a good children’s book.  Brightly-colored illustrations really grab a child’s attention.  The illustrations should accurately portray what is going on in the story.  Really well-done illustrations may even tell a story of their own.  Kids should want to sit down with a book and pour over the pictures.

A book’s cover should be attractive.  There’s an old mantra, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the truth is, we do judge a book by its cover.  If the cover looks appealing, we are more likely to want to read what’s inside.  The same holds true with children’s books.  Children are naturally attracted to books with interesting covers. 

Finally, there’s the language itself.  Descriptive words are important in painting a picture of what’s going on in the story.  Care must be taken to use words that can be understood by the age of the children the story is written for.

Good children’s book writers have the ability to view the world through the eyes of a child.  They are able to remember the feelings and emotions they had as a child.  All of these factors put together help an author create a book that is not only enchanting to children, but also to the adults who read it. 

About Sherry Ellis: Sherry Ellis is a freelance writer who writes articles for parenting magazines and children’s publications.  Her first book, That Baby Woke Me Up, AGAIN, was published in 2005.  Her second, That Mama is a Grouch, was published in May of 2010.  It was honored as a finalist in the Parenting/Family category of the 2010 USA Book News Awards. 

Sherry is also a professional musician who plays and teaches violin, viola, and piano.  Ms. Ellis lives in Loveland, Ohio with her husband and two children.

Author Website:

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