Promoting Your Book

Life as a Professional Children's Writer - the Low Down

This evening I am the guest on #MGiechat on Twitter, run by the wonderful E.R. Murray. To prepare I’ve been thinking about the questions she has set and I have posted some answers below in case they are useful to other writers.

Q1: What’s your definition of a professional writer?

Interesting question. A professional children’s writer is someone who makes their living from writing or activities linked to their writing. Most professional writers do not earn their living solely from advances and royalties. And royalties and advances go up and down, so it’s a good idea to have a second (or third!) income stream.

I’m not sure relying on your creativity to earn you a crust is the best way to encourage and nurture it either. Elizabeth Gilbert is very good on this in her book Big Magic. She explains putting demands on your writing can scare it away.

Personally I cherish my creative life more and more as I get older. I spend 2 to 3 days a week writing, and 3 to 4 days doing other work. Yes, that adds up to 7 days sometimes!

As well as writing I also:

Programme book festivals (ILFD, Dubray StoryFest – 29th Sept in Airfield, Dundrum – do go!).

Write children’s book reviews for the Irish Independent

Mentor Children’s Writers for the Irish Writers Centre and teach adults for them also (writing for children and teenagers)

Give training days for librarians and charity workers who are interested in children and creativity (I recently did one for Trocaire)

Work as a consultant for Dubray Books – at the moment I am working on a new Dubray recommended reading guide for 2019 (and StoryFest)

Run writing clubs and a drawing club for children in Dún Laoghaire

Do some voluntary work – I’m currently helping CBI and Poetry Ireland with a project

Visit schools and libraries and do workshops and events at book festivals (and other creative festivals)

The common thread to all of this – CHILDREN’S BOOKS!

Roughly 1/3 of my income comes from book advances and royalties, 1/3 from teaching, schools visits and other events (I’ll come back to this later as it’s important), 1/3 from programming and other work.

Q2: People believe the holy grail is to be getting paid for just writing - but how realistic is that? How does a professional writer really make a living?

See above! For about 8 years I wrote full time, my income came from advances and royalties. But the books I want to write and work on now are not series books and are not as commercial as my previous books.

My latest two - Blazing a Trail which is out in October and A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea (with Lauren O’Neill and Steve McCarthy) - are books that are mainly for an Irish audience. I have adored working on them both with the team at O'Brien press. But it does mean I need to work on other projects to pay the bills. But that is my choice.  

And the next two are similar – passion projects. I’m lucky to have that choice.

Most of my children’s writer friends are similar – they have some years where they are writing full time, other years when they are doing other work too. That is normal. In my case it suits me, it keeps me engaged and interested. I’m not sure I’d be able to go back to just writing. I’m having too much fun!

Q3: How much should a writer charge for their time? And how do writers go about having this conversation?

Writers should always charge for their time when it comes to events. If you have a new book out your publisher may ask you do to some promotional events, that is of course fine and I always support my publishers in this way. But schools, libraries, festivals – you must charge for your time.

There is an excellent piece on the Words Ireland website about fees for events which includes this from Children’s Books Ireland:

‘For our annual conference, we cover travel, accommodation and meals for speakers and offer a fee of €250 for someone speaking alone, €200 each for a duo, €150 each for a panel unless the author/illustrator in question is including the event in a promotional tour.* For our education work, we pay a €200 fee plus travel and accommodation for a schools workshop, which runs usually for up to 2.5 hours.’

* It is standard practice that writers do promotional events to publicise a book and don’t receive a fee, though they are earning their usual royalty on sales generated by such events. This should occur in the weeks or months ahead of, and just after, publication of that book.

The full piece is here:

http://wordsireland.ie/words-ireland-pay-scale-information-for-writers/

When a school or library approaches you to do an event – quote these recommended fees. Then prepare your event meticulously. Make sure you give your all at the event. Arrive punctually and be professional at all times. I often give the school a copy of one of my books for the school library.

I have also pasted a link below to a blog about approaching or pitching to festivals. The ones I programme are curator led, so I don’t generally take many proposals (1 out of 25 events might come from a proposal and it’s usually a workshop), but some other festivals do.

More on this here: How to Pitch to Book Festivals - Practical Tips for Children's Writers

https://www.sarahwebb.info/blog/2018/3/20/how-to-pitch-to-book-festivals-practical-tips-for-childrens-writers

And here is a piece from The Bookseller about why writers should not do free school visits:

Authors Aloud, an organisation that helps schools to find authors to visit them, said writers should only do “two or three” free events at the start of their career as a learning exercise and ask for feedback from the school in return.

(Clara) Vulliamy said all authors should charge a similar rate because “one of the worst things you can do is offer yourself at a lower price. That muddies the water and makes it harder for the rest of us”.

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/free-school-visits-one-worst-things-author-can-do-306293

Q4: People need practice, but working for free undermines other writers. What advice do you have for writers starting out with events?

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it on a trial basis in creches, schools, libraries, retirement homes. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them. Ask for feedback.

Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them. Or go to events at festivals and see how other writers do it. Learn from them and then come up with your own event.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect. Add  1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 20 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books.

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Q5: You wanted to talk about the reality of book advances @sarahwebbishere – fire away!

At one of the #ProperBook events for writers recently Grainne Clear from Little Island was open and honest about advances:

She explained that advances are paid to a writer based on how many books the publisher thinks they can sell and the price of the book.

Little Island pay a standard advance to all writers, both new and established of e1k this was something I hadn’t realised and useful to know. Authors usually get 7.5% royalty of the recommended retail price of the book. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies Grainne said.

For more on this see this piece:

https://www.sarahwebb.info/blog/when-are-you-going-to-write-a-proper-book-the-lowdown

And finally an article from the Irish Times about Writers’ Pay in Ireland by Martin Doyle and Freya McClements which includes quotes from Donal Ryan and Liz Nugent.

“Maybe now people will stop asking me why I’m driving a 13 year old car,” says Liz Nugent.

The article says: ‘The most recent survey of Irish authors’ incomes – published by the Irish Copyright Licencing Agency in 2010 – found that in 2008-09 over half the writers consulted (58.7 per cent) earned less than €5,000 from writing-related income. Indeed, the commonest response – given by more than a quarter, or 27.9 per cent of respondents – was that they earned less than €500 a year.’

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-500-a-year-career-do-irish-writers-get-paid-enough-1.2965310

BlazingATrail FINAL COVER.jpg

Now go write! Write the book of your heart and enjoy the writing journey!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

How to Pitch to Book Festivals - Practical Tips for Children's Writers

These notes were prepared for Mindshift at Irish Writers Centre March 2018

 Notes by Sarah Webb, Family and Schools’ Curator, ILFD, Literary Advisor to Listowel Writers’ Week

 One of my festival events with Alan Nolan for age 7+ 

One of my festival events with Alan Nolan for age 7+ 

 

Schedule of Programming

Many book festivals start programming six months to a year in advance. Many key names would be in place 6 to 10 months in advance for the children’s programme: ie Francesca Simon, Judith Kerr (or sometimes more).

If you are thinking about approaching a festival (and more on how to do this in a moment), make sure you don’t leave it too late. I would suggest at least 4 months before the festival is on.

What I Am Looking For:

1/ International names who will attract a large audience and fill a theatre (300+ seats) eg Francesca Simon, Eoin Colfer, Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen.

2/ Strong, award-winning names for individual events and panels – esp writers who have written outstanding books (anything from 120 seats to 300+ seats depending on the artist) eg David Almond, Louise O’Neill, Patrick Ness, Katherine Rundell. Most festivals like to vary the writers they invite every year (although in the children’s world, the audience changes every 2 or 3 years – as they grow up!)

3/ Writers who are excellent at performing for school audiences and who have a strong body of work behind them. Experience is key for school events in a theatre (or in any venue). Ex-actors are particularly good, people who can also draw are useful. Eg Guy Bass, Steve Cole, Niamh Sharkey, Marita Conlon McKenna, Oisin McGann, Judi Curtin, Alan Nolan, Nicola Pierce.

4/ Exceptional storytellers eg Dave Rudden and Grainne Clear.

5/ Exceptional workshop leaders eg Dave Lordan, Celine Kiernan, Niamh Sharkey, Claire Hennessy, Sarah Crossan. The best ones engage 100% with the young writers/illustrators and bring something unique to their workshops.

6/ Exceptional new/newish writers for panel events featuring new voices – eg Catherine Doyle (for her MG book, coming in July) would be on my wish list for autumn 2018, Bethan Woollvin, John Kane – new picturebook makers. 

I am lucky to be sent early proofs which I read eagerly. If you have written a brilliant, original and exciting book you have a good chance of being invited to a book festival. FOR ME IT ALL STARTS WITH THE BOOK.

7/ Exceptional picture book makers to give talks/workshops to children and also masterclasses to adults eg Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Niamh Sharkey.

8/ Unusual and original book related events. Esp non-fiction events in fact – history, natural history, science, maths. Come up with a unique and inspiring event and practice, practice, practice.

9/ Artists who are willing to work hard and go the extra mile. Artists who will muck in. Artists who offer to fill in for other artists when there’s a last minute illness or delay. Artists who are fun to work with and above all, professional. I’ll never forget Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve mucking in at one of the festivals I programmed when one of speaker’s children was rushed to hospital. They did his events for him.

10/ Strong local talent – writers, poets, storytellers, illustrators, picture book makers and more. Experienced and debut writers alike.

What I Am Not Looking For:

1/ People with no experience. Get out there. Start with your local school or library and build up your experience. See below for some ideas.

2/ Writers of books I have not read or heard of (if you’re a new writer, ask your publisher to send me your book). If you’ve written an amazing book, you have a great chance of being invited to a festival on that basis alone.

3/ People who think a book event means standing and reading your book for 40 mins and then taking some questions. Unless you are Judy Blume or Jacqueline Wilson, this will not work. Not that Judy or Jackie would ever dream of doing this!

I’m a Self-Published Writer, Can I Apply to Appear at a Festival?

Most festivals are curated festivals. This means the curators select the artists. Yes, you can apply to appear, if you think you can offer something original and exceptional (and your book is professionally produced and an excellent read – children deserve the best literature we can give them). But please note that very few artists who apply directly are selected; most artists are invited. This goes for all writers, not just self-published writers.

What I’d Love to See More Of:

1/ Non-fiction events – science, natural history, history. If your book is fiction, you can still offer a festival a non-fiction event. I have put together an event called ‘Talk Like a Dolphin, Sing Like a Whale’ for festivals/schools – based on whale and dolphin communication. I have some Blazing a Trail events coming in the autumn based around remarkable Irish women.

I’d love to see some interesting suffragette events offered to me, workshops around diversity or equality. Think outside the box.  

2/ Innovative workshops – offer me something different and put time and passion into developing your idea. Again, you need experience. Offer to present your workshop at a local school. Ask the students and teachers for feedback.

For eg I have created a Book of Kells workshop for Hay Festival in Kells, with real vellum and swan quills; a Jane Austen workshop for mothers and daughters and I do a rhyme, song and craft event around A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea. Be inventive! The more prep work you put in, the better a workshop or event will be.

3/ Innovative pairings – dancers, musicians, artists, puppeteers, other writers. For eg  in 2016 I teamed up with Judi Curtin and we talked about our friendship at lots of the major festivals. It was our ‘Friendship Tour’. Previously we have toured with Oisin McGann (The Ideas Shop) and Sophia Bennett (Your Wildest Dreams Tour). Team up with someone interesting and put together a cracking event. It’s also a lot of fun!

4/ Events for children with special needs. In previous years I put together a How to Catch a Star workshop with Deirdre Sullivan for children on the autistic spectrum.

5/ Early years events and workshops – age 0 to 5. There is a growing demand for quality, creative events for very young children and their associated grown up/s.

How to Apply to a Book Festival:

Before you do – research the festival and make sure it actually programmes the kind of event you are thinking of offering. Start local.

1/ It’s best to apply thorough your publisher. Tell your publisher you are interested in appearing at (X) festival and ask them for their opinion. They will either a/ say yes, great idea or b/ suggest you might need a little more experience. If their answer is b – go off and get that experience and go back to them.

2/ Be a festival supporter - it’s important to attend and support festivals if you’d like to appear at them. You also learn a lot by watching and listening to other artists doing events. Take a notebook along and jot down things that work and things that don’t work.

3/ Make a demo video of yourself in action and upload it to You Tube. Nothing fancy – you can take it on your phone. Let programmers see you in action.

4/ If you don’t have a publisher, you can apply yourself. Email the children’s curator/programmer - outlining your book, the events you’ve done and what you can offer them: workshops, events etc.

It is vital to have a professional photo to send festivals for their brochure. It must be high res, clear and should show something of your personality. No frowns, please. Ask someone to come along to one of your events and take an in-action photo if possible.

The blurb for your event and your biog should be short, well written and relevant. I rarely get sent interesting titles for events – be the one who sends me something unusual and clever!

If the programmer says no, do not hound them under any circumstances. That is not going to make them change their mind.

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it (yes, free) in creches, schools, libraries, retirement homes. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them.

Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them. Or go to events at festivals and see how other writers do it. Learn from them and then come up with your own event.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect. Add  1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 20 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books.

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Growth Areas:

Events for the under 7s

Family events that the parents will enjoy as much as the children – eg Monster Doodles, innovative storytelling, book-related puppet shows

Events that combine yoga/fitness with books; music with books; dance with books

Events for children on the autistic spectrum

Drama workshops for children; screen writing workshops for children; animation workshops for children – also the same for teens.

What the Festivals Are Looking For:

Writers’ Week, Listowel:

We would love any writers to contact us either through their publisher or directly themselves, but we would like a brief biog about themselves and their writing included.

The events that we are looking for are fun, interactive events, and creative writing workshops.

Aoife Murray, Children’s Books Ireland

How to approach a festival: For me I don’t mind if it’s via agent/publisher or on your own bat as long as the contact is respectful, informative and useful to my purposes eg: I want to know what age you do events for, what type of events you prefer and how much you want to charge. I feel it’s essential to research the festival to see if you suit it, otherwise you are banging on a closed door and it’s important to remember that the programmer has a vision and if you don’t fit it, that’s unfortunately just how it is on this occasion.

Events we’re looking for: Something more than the standard reading and signing, as this doesn’t generally work for younger audiences. In demand at the moment are events for 0-2 and 5-8.

Sample Pitch

1/ A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea:  Family Rhyme and Art Fun with Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy                   Age 5+ and the whole family    30 minutes

 Join writer, Sarah Webb and illustrator, Steve McCarthy for this interactive event for the whole family. Revisit favourite childhood rhymes and songs such as She’ll Be Coming ‘round the Mountain (an American song with a very interesting Irish link), A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea and The Owl and the Pussycat, and discover new ones from Ireland and beyond. Join in the skipping (jump rope). Watch Steve draw owls, pussycats, boats and sailors, and draw along; and create your own colourful sailing ship. Sea-filled fun for everyone!

Workshop Details:

This workshop is designed to give children a playful and engaging creative experience. Songs, rhymes and poems are part of every child’s literary heritage and we will share them with the audience in a novel, interactive way. Most importantly we aim to make the event dynamic, playful and inspiring for the audience.

Step by Step Guide to the Workshop:

Sarah and Steve will welcome the children and associated adults as they arrive and give each of them a personalised name sticker. When all the participants have arrived Sarah will share some favourite rhymes and songs from A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea with the audience and Steve will draw along.

Steve will then show the audience how to a sea creature and the audience will draw along.

Sarah will then turn a skipping rope and encourage the children and adults to join in some Irish skipping games – including Cross the Crocodile River and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.

Finally they will help the children create their own sailing ship using collage materials – felt, coloured card, scraps of material, metallic paper, lollypop sticks and straws.

Watch the experts in action:

Sarah McIntyre and Philip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jGKikDb4QU

Katherine Rundell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rwqp5uSIYQ

Michael Rosen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wckNoTA5r-4

Eoin Colfer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrV1kguaHEs

Writers: How to Pitch Yourself to Book Festivals by Sarah Webb

These notes were prepared for the International Literature Festival Dublin’s Mindshift Event: The Connected Writer – Getting the Gig, Doing It Well in association with the Irish Writers Centre and Words Ireland The panel for that event were: Sarah Webb, Family and Schools’ Curator, Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival,

 Keith Acheson,

 Belfast Book Festival and Martin Colthorpe, International Literature Festival, Dublin

All notes by Sarah Webb with thanks to the contributors who provided information and quotes.

Schedule of Programming

Most book festivals start programming six months to a year in advance. For example, the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (I am the Children's Curator of the festival) takes place in March and programming closes towards the end of the previous year (mid December). Key names would be in place 8 to 10 months in advance for the children’s programme: ie Francesca Simon, David Almond.

Francesca Simon
Francesca Simon

If you are thinking about approaching a festival (and more on how to do this in a moment), make sure you don’t leave it too late. I would suggest at least 4 months in advance. See below for details of when to pitch to other Irish literary festivals.

Martin from ILFD suggests you pitch at least 4/5 months ahead and Keith fro the Belfast Book Festival agrees.

Both say you can pitch directly to them via email with a well written proposal detailing your event idea.

Martin says roughly 20% of his events came from pitches (the others are commissioned or come via publishers). Keith says around 40% of his events come from pitches. For the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival, roughly 20% come from pitches.

They both suggest that writers should say if they are happy to be included on a panel.

We all agree that it’s important for writers to be seen at festivals, supporting festivals as an audience member. I suggest volunteering at a festival to get an idea of how a festival is run and what festivals are looking for from writers.

Anniversaries are very important. All festivals are looking to celebrate anniversaries. 150 years of Alice in Wonderland is a good example.

The average fee for a writer appearing at an Irish book/arts festival is from e150 to e300 depending on the venue. For the Belfast Book Festival it’s £200 to £250.

What I’m Looking For (Children’s Events)

1/ International names who will attract a large audience and fill a theatre (300+ seats) eg Francesca Simon, Derek Landy, Eoin Colfer, Michael Grant, Julia Donaldson, Philip Ardagh (2016).

2/ Strong, award-winning names for individual events and panels – especially writers who have written outstanding books (anything from 120 seats to 300+ seats depending on the artist) eg David Almond, Meg Rosoff, Patrick Ness. This year we had new writers Shane Hegarty and Holly Smale along with Derek Landy in the Pavilion.

3/ Writers who are excellent at performing for school audiences and who have a strong body of work behind them. Experience is key for school events in a theatre (or in any venue). Ex-actors are particularly good. Eg Guy Bass, Steve Cole, Niamh Sharkey, Marita Conlon McKenna, Oisin McGann, Judi Curtin.

4/ Exceptional storytellers and spoken word poets eg Dave Rudden and Grainne Clear.

5/ Exceptional workshop leaders eg Dave Lordan, Celine Kiernan, Niamh Sharkey, Claire Hennessy, Sarah Crossan. The best ones engage 100% with the young writers/illustrators and bring something unique to their workshops.

6/ Exceptional new/newish writers for panel events featuring emerging voices – eg Louise O’Neill, Phil Earle (2016), Dave Rudden (for 2016). I am lucky to be sent early proofs which I read eagerly. If you have written a brilliant, original and exciting book you have a good chance of being invited to a book festival.

7/ Exceptional picture book makers to give talks/workshops to children and also masterclasses to adults eg Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Judge, Chris Haughton, Niamh Sharkey, Steve Simpson, Sarah McIntyre.

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve
Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

8/ Unusual and original book related events. Esp non-fiction events in fact – history, natural history, science, maths. Come up with a unique and inspiring event and practice, practice, practice.

9/ Artists who are willing to work hard and go the extra mile. Artists who will muck in. Artists who offer to fill in for other artists when there’s a last minute illness or delay. Artists who are fun to work with and above all, professional.

10/ Strong local talent – writers, poets, storytellers, illustrators, picture book makers and more. Experienced and debut writers alike eg children’s poet, Lucinda Jacob.

I’m a Self-Published Writer, Can I Apply to Appear at a Festival?

The Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival is a curated festival. This means the curators select the artists. Yes, you can apply to appear, if you think you can offer something original and exceptional (and your book is professionally produced and an excellent read – children deserve the best literature we can give them). But please note that very few artists who apply directly are selected; most artists are invited. This goes for all writers, not just self-published writers.

What I’d Love to See More Of

1/ Non-fiction events – science, natural history, history (think 1916 for next year for eg – not 1 writer has offered me an innovative 1916 event yet). If your book is fiction, you can still offer a festival a non-fiction event. I have put together an event called ‘Talk Like a Dolphin, Sing Like a Whale’ for festivals/schools – based on whale and dolphin communication (my latest series for children is set on a small island).

2/ Innovative workshops – offer me something different and put time and passion into developing your idea. Again, you need experience. Offer to present your workshop at a local school. Ask the students and teachers for feedback.

For eg I have created a Book of Kells workshop for Hay Festival in Kells, with real vellum and swan quills; a Jane Austen workshop for mothers and daughters; and I’m now presenting a ‘Create Your Own Fantasy Island’ workshop for festivals. Be inventive!

3/ Innovative pairings – dancers, musicians, artists, puppeteers, other writers. For eg this year I have teamed up with Judi Curtin and we are talking about our friendship at all the major festivals. It’s our ‘Friendship Tour’. Previously we have toured with Oisin McGann (The Ideas Shop) and Sophia Bennett (Your Wildest Dreams Tour). Team up with someone interesting and put together a cracking event. It’s a lot of fun!

Me and Judi Curtin (by Sarah McIntyre)
Me and Judi Curtin (by Sarah McIntyre)

4/ Events for children with special needs. This year I put together a How to Catch a Star workshop with Deirdre Sullivan for children on the autistic spectrum based on Oliver Jeffers’ book.

How to Apply to a Book Festival

1/ It’s best to apply thorough your publisher. Tell your publisher you are interested in appearing at X festival and ask them for their opinion. They will either a/ say yes, great idea or b/ suggest you might need a little more experience. If their answer is b – go off and get that experience and go back to them.

2/ Be a festival supporter - it’s important to attend and support festivals if you’d like to appear at them. You also learn a lot by watching and listening to other artists doing events. Take a notebook along and jot down things that work and things that don’t work.

3/ Make a demo video of yourself in action and upload it to You Tube. Nothing fancy – you can take it on your phone. Let programmers see you in action.

4/ If you don’t have a publisher or they don’t have the staff to contact festivals on your behalf, you can apply yourself. Email the children’s curator/programmer - outlining your book, the events you’ve done previously and what you can offer them: workshops, events etc.

It is vital to have a professional photo to send festivals for their brochure. It must be high res, clear and should show something of your personality. Ask someone to come along to one of your events and take an in-action photo if possible.

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

The blurb for your event and your biog should be short, well written and relevant. I rarely get sent interesting titles for events – be the one who sends me something unusual and clever!

If the programmer says no, do not hound them under any circumstances. That is not going to make them change their mind. They may simply not have a slot for you that year, but do try again the following year.

Tips for Events

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it (free) in creches, schools, libraries. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them. Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them and watch them in action.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect for age 9+. Add 1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 10/15 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books. You are there to entertain and inspire the audience, not to sell your book (although if they like your event, this is often a much appreciated by product!).

Sinead Connolly, from the ILFD puts it beautifully when she says: ‘Festivals, I feel , are not a vehicle to sell books ( though of course that will be and should be facilitated), but rather are an opportunity to engage with an audience/potential or existing readership in a very immediate way.’

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Growth Areas

Events for the under 7s (Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland also sees this as a big growth area for the events she programmes)

Family events that the parents will enjoy as much as the children – eg the CBI Monster Doodles, innovative storytelling, book-related puppet shows

Events that combine yoga/fitness with books; music with books; dance with books (see ILFD notes below for more on this)

Events for children on the autistic spectrum

Drama workshops for children; screen writing workshops for children; animation workshops for children – also the same for teens.

How to Approach Other Festivals and What They Are Looking For

Writers’ Week, Listowel

We would love any writers to contact us either through their publisher or directly themselves, but we would like a brief biog about themselves and their writing included.

The events that we are looking for are fun, interactive events, and creative writing workshops.

Aoife Murray, Children’s Books Ireland

How to approach a festival: For me I don’t mind if it’s via agent/publisher or on your own bat as long as the contact is respectful, informative and useful to my purposes eg: I want to know what age you do events for, what type of events you prefer and how much you want to charge. I feel it’s essential to research the festival to see if you suit it, otherwise you are banging on a closed door and it’s important to remember that the programmer has a vision and if you don’t fit it, that’s unfortunately just how it is on this occasion.

Events we’re looking for: Something more than the standard reading and signing, as this doesn’t generally work for younger audiences. In demand at the moment are events for 0-2 and 5-8.

Sinead Connolly, International Literary Festival Dublin

How to approach: Sinead welcomes approaches from authors, but says it can be easier to talk via a publisher initially to sort out the practicalities.

She is looking for:

1. One/two person events with key authors

2. Panels of authors and others on a particular theme

3. Outdoor events that engage families (see their 2015 festival brochure for some excellent outdoor family events)

4. Newly commissioned work that can imaginatively engage with a wider public conceptually

5. Sectorial events aimed at programmers, education, library, publishing etc.

And she notes that strong author photographs are very important for the festival website and brochure.

Vanessa O’Loughlin, Waterford Writers’ Festival

I prefer direct approach (less links in the chain, less likely to go wrong), always looking for original innovative events that are more about entertainment than just about books. With kids events I like to get an element of the educational in there so it's a learning experience as well, however subliminal.

Eimear O’Herlihy, West Cork Literary Festival

I am very happy to hear directly from authors or from their publishers. An initial pitch by email is best and this can be sent to the WCLF festival office. We'd need a pitch 8 months to a year in advance of the festival - esp for the workshops. Our festival's in July - our workshop programme goes out in December and the full programme in April.

The more detail that the writer can give me in the pitch email the better. I would like a synopsis of the book, the ideal age range for the book, whether the book is of most interest to boys or girls or of equal interest to both - please be honest about age and gender suitability as we all want the event to be attended by the right audience who will really enjoy it. Details of the type of events that the author has done in the past - or new events that the writer thinks would work - would also be welcome as they know their target audience better than I ever could. I would also like to see a copy of the book and I much prefer a hard copy - I appreciate that this can be expensive but in many instances the publicist should be able to send it on and I will of course look at an electronic copy if necessary.

For WCLF I am looking for a wide variety of events across all age groups and for both boys and girls. I am particularly open to events that are non-gender specific. My budget and number of programming slots are both limited so if I don't select an event it may simply be because I already have an event for "boys 7-9" and writers should feel free to re-pitch in subsequent years.

Sian Smyth, Director, Dalkey Book Festival

Sian suggests applying by email to the festival website. She says a press release is ideal as it will outline the book / genre / area of interest . It is also a good idea to offer to post a copy of the book and if this offer is accepted, to send it promptly.

She likes to see a video clip of the writer speaking if possible. The best time to apply for her next festival (June 2016) is December 2015 to February 2016.

Sian likes strong writing. She says ‘We look for new writing as well as well-known, established writers. If a writer is unheard of we often work to put them with someone better known to give them a new audience and of course the audience (hopefully) an unexpected pleasure.’

Bert Wright, Primary Curator, Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival

There are so many Irish literary festivals now that I always feel the need to develop a distinct identity for Mountains to Sea. We're fortunate in having so many writers living locally and to have the traditions of Joyce, Beckett and Flann O'Brien relevant to the area so that helps. In the past we've been fiction-dominant but non-fiction draws in more general readers so we're planning more biography, memoir, politics and history where possible.

I'm conscious of the trap whereby your festival becomes shaped by touring UK or US authors with new books. These have their place but they can breed complacency and it's good to generate your own event ideas and then source relevant authors to the theme. We like to add a theatrical or musical dimension to the programme also and these have proved popular. It's all about good ideas, well executed. We get loads of proposals for events and are always willing to entertain suggestions but you're looking for things you think will work, things that will appeal to your core audience.

A Day in the Life - the CBI Conference and Thoughts for Writers

eoin-colfer.jpg

Right, because I love you all and I know many of you could not make the Children’s Books Ireland Conference today in the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire, here are some notes and thoughts on the day. The title was: A Day in the Life

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer and Friends
Eoin Colfer and Friends

Eoin Colfer kicked off the proceedings in a lively manner with a funny and thought provoking talk about writing, his love of Ireland, how ‘place’ informs writers’ books and how his Laureate-ship is shaping up so far.

On writing he said: ‘It starts with character for me. My criminal mastermind, Artemis is based on my brother, Donal.’

‘People often say don’t write a local story. I think write a local story with universal themes.’

He said for him, having a new book out never gets old and he never takes it for granted:

‘It’s amazing to be published – to hold a new book in your hands – it’s always fantastic. Whatever else happens in your life, you’ll always have that.’

His aim with the Laureate events is to visit ‘tiny schools on remote islands who don’t normally get author visits… As a child I didn’t realise that writers were real people.’

He said: ‘Reaching that one kid, planting the seed of story in their head, that’s what the Laureate’s all about.’

On why Irish people are such good storytellers and writers:

Eoin explained that it’s in our blood. We grow up hearing stories.

‘Myths and legends are on the curriculum in Ireland. I was surprised to find this wasn’t the case in other countries.’

Alan Nolan

Next up was Alan Nolan who talked about the books he had written and the comics that had influenced him as a child.

‘The way to get children reading is to get them hooked on a series,’ he said. His job as Illustrator in Residence in the Church of Ireland College of Education is to ‘remind trainee teachers how much fun children’s books are.’

Monster Doodle

During lunch there was a wonderful Monster Doodle for adults – where everyone got stuck in.

Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan

Next up was Sarah Crossan in conversation with the wonderful Colm Keegan, Writer in Residence at dlr Libraries.

She spoke passionately about engaging teens with poetry and why she writes novels in verse for teens. Her new novel in verse, One (and not Won as she pointed out) will be published in August and is about conjoined twins. It sounds great.

Next up where the New Writers – many new writers took to the stage to share their books with the audience in 5 minute sessions.

This was an interesting insight into the way people approached being asked to do this. Some gave some background to the book, others gave a straight reading without any intro. The ones that worked the best I think did a little of both. The ones that stood out for me were Dave Rudden who is an excellent reader of his own work and gave a short intro which set the scene well and Moira Fowley-Doyle. She read with a lot of passion and it’s my kind of book – a family/friendship drama with a clever and fresh premise. It’s called The Accident Season and it’s about a family who for one month a year are horribly and tragically accident prone. She read the perfect section (from the start of the book so it didn’t need an intro) and I really enjoyed her reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them all (other writers included Patricia Forde, Kim Hood, Shane Hegarty and a lovely picture book guy), but it did make me ponder the importance of professional development for writers and how new writers need help preparing for readings and events. I am going to write a series of blogs on events/readings and how to write and deliver them when I get a chance as I think it might be helpful to newer writers.

I was a nervous wreck when I started out doing events! I love doing them now, as long as I am well prepared. You can throw me in front of any age group from babies and toddlers to teens and I'll have something to say, but it wasn't always the case. It's taken me years to be confident in front of an audience. I would have loved to shadow a writer before I started doing events. And I would have loved some guidance on how to put a good talk together. So I'll share what I can soon, I promise!

I'll also post some publicity and marketing tips and interviews with publishing pr people this year - remind me if I forget!

Julia Eccleshare

Julia Eccleshare
Julia Eccleshare

Finally after a very nice coffee break – with biscuits – was the inspiring Julia Eccleshare, Children’s Books Editor for the Guardian. I thought she was FANTASTIC and spoke such sense. Of course, she did say that writers made extra-good reviewers as they understood things like a writer’s intent and theme, so I may be slightly biased.

She spoke lyrically about her job – how she has to sift through over 10k children’s books a year to select the 45 books she can review in the Guardian.

She is passionate about books and stories. She said ‘I never go anywhere without thinking about a story.’

And ‘Everything in my life is coloured by the stories I read.’

She explained how these days writers have to be advocates for their books. Gone are the days where you could write a book and sit back on your laurels. You have to get out there and do events. ‘You cannot sit at home and be shy.’

She told us how JK Rowling’s books were game changers – how after the Harry Potter series, children’s books became cool and people started talking about stories and children’s books like never before. She mentioned Philip Pullman winning the overall Whitbread Award with The Amber Spyglass and quoted him: ‘Children’s books are the home of the story.’

She spoke about the importance of children’s books: ‘Children learn things from children’s books that their parents don’t want them to know… There is no serendipity for children anymore. They are the most watched children ever. How do they learn that things go wrong (if they are always being watched)?’

Books help them explore dangerous worlds and allow them have adventures and decide what kind of people they would like to be, she explained.

It was a wonderful talk and she’s a powerhouse.

The day ended with a drinks reception where I talked to Julia and many writers and readers and ate some very fine finger food.

So ended the CBI Day – thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes who provided the wonderful venue and to the girls at CBI, Elaina, Jenny and Aoife for a cracking event.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

PS If you read my blog and find it useful, do let me know via the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. :)

sarah crossan book cover
sarah crossan book cover

How to Get Your Self-Published Book into Bookshops - 10 Tips

I’ve worked in the book trade for over twenty years now – as a bookseller, a marketing manager and a buyer. As a children’s buyer I’ve looked at thousands of covers a year, read thousands of blurbs, dealt with hundreds of different authors – at shop signings, events and festivals (a blog for another day).  Recently I’ve been asked for advice from self self-published writers: how do I get my book into bookshops?

 I thought I’d give the self-published writers out there some advice with the help of experienced bookseller, Josie.  

Top 10 Tips for Self-Published Writers

 1/ Make sure your book is professionally designed, typeset and printed. A badly designed book will not sell to the public. A bookshop buyer (like Josie) will only consider a book that looks professional and will sell in their bookshop. Make sure it is professionally edited, copy-edited and proof read.

 Josie adds – make sure the type is the correct size and you use good paper stock.

 2/ If it’s a picture book, use a professional illustrator – don’t do the illustrations yourself, don't ask a friend to do them. Try www.writing.ie for information on this. Companies like www.kazoo.ie provide a professional design, editing, illustration and printing service. (A good friend of mine, Vanessa O’Loughlin is involved in this company and it's worth talking to her about your book - she's great.)

 3/ Make sure your price your book correctly. Do not over price or under price your book. Ask a bookseller for advice on the price.

 Josie adds – make sure your book has a spine so it can be found on the bookshelves.

 4/ Offer the correct discount. This is generally between 40 and 50%. It can be higher for wholesales like Eason. If you only offer 20 or 30% the buyer may not take your book as the margin is too low. (40% discount means 40% off the cover price of the book.)

 5/ Provide a valid ISBN and barcode. Print the price on the back of your book, just over the barcode. Again, check other books to see how this is done.

 6/ A good cover is vital – put as much time and thought into getting this right as you can.

 7/ Behave like a professional at all times. Josie suggests making up bookseller packs with information on the book and the press you have arranged. Print out professional order forms and invoices. Make sure you leave a phone number and an email address so the buyer can contact you with orders or returns.

 8/ Offer to do events or workshops in the shop. Practice these beforehand and make sure they are professional.

 9/ Be polite – if the buyer says no, don’t get angry. They may buy your next book. It’s not personal, it’s business. A buyer’s job is to select the titles that will sell in their shop. They only buy 10 to 20% of the titles they are shown.

 Josie adds - don’t have high expectations of quantities. The orders will be small but if the book sells we will reorder quickly. The average order might be for 3 to 5 copies.

 10/ Help with the marketing and publicity. Let people know which booksellers are stocking your book. Provide bookmarks or postcards (posters can be difficult as not many bookshops have wall space for them).

 Promote your book in an interesting way on Facebook and Twitter – try to be inventive. Set up a blog or website for your book. Offer to do a piece for the local newspaper.

 When in doubt, ask a bookseller for advice. They need good writers just as much as writers need good bookshops – it’s a team effort! You just need to give them the right books to sell.

Good luck! And thanks to Josie for her time and expertise.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Book an Appointment with The Writing Doctors - 4th April

east coast fm balloon
east coast fm balloon

Exclusive Slots with with The Writing Doctors, Vanessa O'Loughlin and Sarah Webb at East Coast FM's Coffee Morning in Aid of Wicklow Cancer Support Services The Beach House, Greystones Friday 4th April 10am to 12pm e10 for a 15 minute session with Vanessa or Sarah (e20 for 30 minutes) - please pay at the door (all money will be donated to cancer support services in Co Wicklow)

Writing a book and want to know how to get it published? Looking for the right literary agent? Or just need some writing help? Join publishing and writing experts, Vanessa and Sarah for some expert advice.

Vanessa runs the highly successful writing website, writing.ie and is also a literary scout for several UK and Irish agents; Sarah is an experienced writer and writing teacher. Together they are the Writing Doctors. If they can't fix your book, no-one can!

To book a time slot with Sarah or Vanessa (4th April, 10-12, The Beach House, Greystones) please email Sarah before 3rd April - sarah at sarahwebb dot ie - stating which Writing Doctor you'd like to see and your ideal time – 10.00, 10.30, 11.00, 11.30 etc Places are limited, please book asap

(Last year over e46,000 was raised for cancer support services in the Wicklow area – please help this year by attending one of the coffee mornings or our clinic and bring your friends. PS There will be a certain Irish X Factor singer entertaining the troops in Greystones - so come early!)

Tips for Writers - How To Approach Venues With Event Ideas

Sarah at the West Cork Literary Festival
Sarah at the West Cork Literary Festival

I was at a very interesting day for professional writers recently - Mindset. It was programmed by Children's Books Ireland in association with the Irish Writers' Centre. I've already blogged about Mary Byrne's great talk about marketing yourself and your work (children's writers) and here are notes from another of the talks.

Linda Geraghty from the Riverbank Theatre and Arts Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare (a wonderful venue that I've had the pleasure of working with in the past) told us how to approach venues with event ideas.

At Riverbank they have a theatre and also workshop spaces and a gallery space and they are always looking for great events to fill those spaces.

Here are some of her suggestions:

Illustrators - approach venues and offer to design their brochures or programmes - it's a great showcase for your work. You could also offer workshops for children - make them fun and original.

We like off the wall ideas - talk to the venues about your ideas, however whacky.

Schools - it's harder to get them into venues these days - think about how you could work with the venue to bring the event/talk/workshop out to the school. Links with libraries and schools are vital for venues.

Take out the mobile library on tour - a simple idea that sounds great fun.

Shortworks - there are theatres in Ireland who are very interested in new work for children:

Linenhall in Castlebar

Driocht in Blanchardstown

Riverbank

The Ark

Think about approaching these first - or maybe putting together a tour that covers several of these venues. This way the budget, expenses and pr are all stronger.

Target your proposal - what age is it for?

How to approach venues:

1/ Send in a strong proposal.

2/ Email and ring for feedback.

3/ Ask for work - venues have to programme.

4/ Consider the time of year - we tend to programme in 4 month blocks - Jan to April and so on. Spring and autumn are best for school events. Also the summer holidays and half terms for family events and workshops.

5/ Think about summer workshops - children have more time in the summer.

6/ Give the venue lots of time to consider and work with you on your proposal.

Think about events for special needs children - there is a demand for them.

Give the children something to take away - a bookmark, a recommended reading list.

Thank you, Linda for sharing your time and expertise with us.

Yours in books,

Sarah

Take Risks. Get a Haircut. How to Do Brilliant Events for Kids

Steve Simpson
Steve Simpson

I was at a day for professional children's writers recently (Mindshift, run by the Irish Writers' Centre with Children's Books Ireland) and the speakers had a lot of useful things to say about events for children.

I thought I'd share some of the best tips with you. And see my previous blog for tips on marketing and promoting your book.

Jane O'Hanlon from the Writers in Schools scheme said 'Writing is not considered an art form, which is why it is underpaid'. She explained that the rate for a 2 1/2 hour school session is e200 (plus travel expenses). 'If you undercut the rate, you undercut it for everyone,' she said.

She explained that classrooms are complex places and that writers need to be aware of this. From this year on, writers will need to be Garda vetted if they would like to visit a school. Poetry Ireland (who run the scheme) can Garda vet any writer in Ireland, even if they are not in the scheme - useful to know.

Designer and children's book illustrator, Steve Simpson also gave some fantastic advice.

Irish language picture books are better paid as they get grants and funding, he explained.

If you want to do events - being able to work with younger children (age 5 to 7 and younger) is a huge advantage. Develop different workshops for different age groups. Get them drawing - children love to draw.

Be yourself. Go to talks and workshops and see how others do it.

Get the kids involved - make it fun.

Have lots of interaction from the start. Always be prepared.

Try to get some photos of the event and use them on social media and on your blog/website. Build your platform.

Take risks.

Get a haircut.

Be passionate.

Be genuine and real.

Be prepared for the unexpected.

All great advice! Thanks, Steve and Jane. More on how to promote your workshops/events to theatres and arts centres next week.

Yours in writing,

Sarah

Brilliant PR Tips - Help Promote Your Children's Book

Mary Byrne
Mary Byrne

Have you written a children's book?

Do you want to promote it but have no idea where to start?

Never fear - Mary Byrne, pr guru from HarperCollins Children's Books gave a cracking workshop on PR for children's writers.

Here are some notes from that day. The workshop was very detailed and comprehensive, thanks to Mary for giving such great advice. Any mistakes are my own.

PR is all about communicating and managing reputation - managing what people (and the media) say about you.

When it comes to PR, planning is everything but don't worry about changing your plan as you go along.

First - decide your pr objectives pre publication - these could be:

1/ Social media - To have 500 followers on Twitter; to have 500 likes on Facebook.

2/ To have 3 pre-publication reviews - get early endorsements - you can use child reviewers. (The reviews are to use as content for social media etc when the book comes out.)

3/ To reach the gatekeepers - influential reviewers, teachers, librarians, bloggers.

4/ To talk to your local bookshop and library - and ask what you can do for them - a workshop/ fun event - something original.

5/ To create good, original content to use online. Content is vital - before your book comes out, write and produce lots of content for your website, blog and social media pages.

6/ To bank tweetable and Facebookable photos to use online.

7/ To set up 3 events where you can talk about your book.

With social media, decide your own boundaries - make your message relevant. Don't share personal information on your pets, children etc.

Make a good impression. Watch out for # (hashtags) on different subjects that you are interested in on Twitter and join the conversation.

Work out your PR strategy well in advance. Ask for a meeting with the PR person in your publishing house and talk through your and their plans. See how you can work together to get your book out there.

Who is your target audience? Decide. Parents/teachers/librarians or children themselves?

Work out how to reach them. What tools to use. What your PR message is.

Every writer must have online visibility. But think of yourself as a brand - and decide how you want to engage with your audience.

Don't react to online critics. Don't say anything that you wouldn't say in front of a guard/policeman.

Twitter competitions work very well - use these to drum up interest in your book once it's out.

Sign up for Good Reads and create your own writer's page. Write a blog and generate a band of followers on Good Reads. Mary showed us Steve 'Polarbear' Camden's Good Reads page - Steve is one of Mary's authors.

Netgalley - for industry professionals - ask your publisher to put your book up here. www.netgalley.com

Bloggers - make contact with them and offer them reading copies of your book.

How much time should you spend on social media? Mary suggested that writers should tweet at least 3/4 times a day and use Facebook a couple of times a week.

Events and Workshops: Create an original workshop for schools and approach schools with your idea.

Podcasts/You Tube clips: You could do a Q and A with your target audience - age 12+ for eg.

Print Material: give the readers something to bring home after events.

Blog: Set up a blog and blog about things that mean something to you. Again, content is king. You can then tweet/Facebook your blog posts.

Local media: Local newspapers often cover new books by local writers - ditto local radio stations.

But be disciplined, don't waste time you could be writing on social media.

And finally remember to tell your publisher/pr person about all your plans.

So there you go, words of wisdom from one of the best in the business. Hope it's helpful.

Yours in writing,

Sarah