Saturday, August 23, 2008

Write For Your Audience

As the book publishing world becomes increasingly competitive, it is more important than ever for authors and publishers to understand and address their target markets. In some genres, such as children’s books, the person purchasing the book may not be the one who will be reading the book. Have you addressed them both? Will your book attract them both?

It is very wise to share your ideas and first draft with the people in your subject area who you hope will be the ones to choose your book from a crowded bookstore shelf. I have spoken to several children’s authors who said that they didn’t share their ideas beforehand because they were actually afraid of the results. The thought of receiving negative comments was more than they could bear. All the more reason to do it! One author told me that he didn’t show his book to anyone because he wanted the story to be a surprise. He also said that he “just knew” that everyone would love it. Some authors find out too late that it isn’t enough to simply feel sure that your audience will love your book.

While I was working on my first children’s book, The Knot Fairy, I organized several decidedly unorganized focus groups consisting of all of the children in my daughter’s neighborhood. I can now tell you from experience that children are honest – maybe brutally so. What did I learn? I learned that the ending to my book (an ending that I thought made perfect sense) didn’t make sense to the ones who would be reading it. Luckily, these little Einsteins had wonderful ideas for what the ending should have been. I can now say with pride that the last line in The Knot Fairy was actually written by a seven-year old! A few revisions later, I read the book to the same group, this time receiving an enthusiastic “thumbs up”. Five book awards later, I think they were right on target.

While working on my second book, I almost made the dreadful mistake of sending it to the illustrator without doing my research. After all, I thought I now knew how to please children. I thank my lucky stars that I came to my senses and called my group together. My story was a perky, rhyming account of The Button Fairy – you know, the one who is responsible for missing buttons. The children hated it! Why? Not one of the children in my group had ever lost a button. They didn’t know what I was talking about. In fact, there were fourteen children in the group and not one of them even had a single button on their clothes. Zippers, yes. Velcro, yes. Buttons, no! My research had shown that, sadly (for me), the book will spend its life in my file cabinet and will probably never see the light of day. Thank you, kids.

The Sock Fairy was next on my to-do list. Fortunately it passed the kid-test with flying colors. The book was released in June 2008 and is being embraced by both children and adults. In fact, adults are even more keenly aware than children of the frustration of missing socks.

The message learned is simple. Do your research. Find out what the audience you would like to capture is actually reading. Talk to bookstore employees. Be sure to also ask them what is NOT selling. Talk to librarians. What are the most popular books in your category? Check Amazon. What are their bestsellers? Find out what the people interested in your genre want to read. Find out what the best selling books all have in common? Then make yours better.

Please visit the Just For Fun page on my website for printable coloring pages for the kids.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Fairy Tale is Born

My first cookbook was published in 1980, launching an exciting career in the world of food. I taught cooking classes and traveled all over as a featured speaker and guest on radio and TV shows. I even appeared on the Regis Philbin show. (That’s really my biggest claim to fame.) The result was a total of seven successful cookbooks and a totally burned-out author. So, I decided it was time to slow down and enjoy the wonderful time of life I fondly refer to as “grandmotherhood”.

All was peaceful, until three years ago…

My new career started on an ordinary day, in an ordinary way. I was simply brushing my twin granddaughters’ hair. One of the girls was distressed about the mass of knots and tangles in her beautiful, but very curly tresses. I found myself doing something that having ten grandchildren has taught me to do well - making up stories to divert the girls’ attention. I told the twins about a tiny fairy who flies into children’s rooms at night and delights in tangling their hair. It worked! No more tears and no more tangles. Later that day the girls and I sat down together, wrote the entire story and decided to call it The Knot Fairy. I never imagined that this was the beginning of a new and very exciting adventure. The adventure actually catapulted into a career a few days later when I innocently said to the girls, “Why don’t we turn this story into a book?” Oops, that just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say it. Now what? I couldn’t back out. I could never disappoint my grandkids. And so, a fairy tale was born.

Anyway, this seemed like the perfect time to re-invent my career. My bachelor’s degree in education and my minor in children’s literature were calling to me to re-enter the book world. As I fast-forward to today, three years later, and only one year after the release of The Knot Fairy, I am happy to report that the book has been the recipient of two children’s book awards and a selection on the esteemed BookSense Childrens’ Pick List. In addition, the book is now a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. It seems that the mystery of tangled hair is a popular dilemma that crosses all ages and ethnic boundaries.

Now, in keeping with my theme of explaining some of the deeper mysteries of life, I am pleased to announce that my second book., The Sock Fairy will be arriving this Spring. Yes, everyone has been visited by this mischievous little sprite. He’s the one (yes, a little boy fairy) who is responsible for missing socks, mismatched socks, and the occasional hole in the toe.

So, just remember - when life’s little mysteries have you baffled – who better to blame it on than a fairy?