Thursday, May 31, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Kathryn Erskine


The last five months, I have been on a fabulous middle grade binge.  I love so many of the titles that have been recommended to me, but I can honestly say I was blown away by Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird and how genius it was. Having had my life touched by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, I was immediately fascinated by the book's protagonist. While faced with the challenge of learning the emotional cues of those around her, the main character is catapulted into an intensely emotional situation with the tragic death of a family member. Winner of the National Book Award, Mockingbird is an essential read in that it will allow its audience a glimpse into the lives of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and those who love them.

I am so honored to host today's featured author, Kathryn Erskine. =)

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Hi, Elizabeth and all!

What a great idea to capture banana peel moments because it’s true that we often learn more from our failures than our successes.  My first book was a litany of lessons because I was relatively new to the writing experience and, honestly, in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s there wasn’t as much information online about craft and publishing as there is now.  So … here’s the list of mistakes:

1.      Publishing with PublishAmerica.  Wow!  They wanted my book and I’d received rejections from some of the major publishers.  It wasn’t a vanity press (it didn’t cost me anything and I did make tiny royalties, probably from my wonderful sister, who bought many copies) but there were drawbacks:  NO editing, NO distribution, and NO publicity.  Nowadays, of course, you can publish your book electronically and, if you have existing readers, a good social media presence, or a lot of bloggers lined up to promote you, you could be successful.

2.      Choosing a title no one could pronounce.  I thought it was cool to use Ibhubesi, a Zulu word for lion, but if people are too embarrassed to ask for it by name because they don’t want to stand there stumbling over “I--boo…?  Ib-hoo…?” it’s better to pick something else.  I did, at least, subtitle it “The Lion,” but still.

3.      Choosing a different name.  Sure, if you want to write in different genres and have a nom de plume for each, that’s fine, but if you’re writing for the same market, think hard about how you’re presenting your name now, and for the future.  I’d heard that my book might be more marketable if it was not gender specific, i.e., boys might be more likely to read it if it wasn’t written by a girl.  I don’t actually believe that but, as I mentioned, I was a newbie.  My initials are “K.D.” but since that could sound like “Katie,” I switched it to D.K.  I’ve spent the past eight years explaining why.  :o)


Generally, I’d say to learn all you can about the craft and business--easy to do with classes, writers’ groups, and online chat and writing sites.  Writers are a friendly community and we love to help each other -- like Elizabeth here!  Thanks, again!

Kathy Erskine

26 comments:

  1. Great pointers, D.K., er, K.D., er, Kathy! Thank you!

    Thanks, Elizabeth, for this super series.

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  2. And thank you for your very kind words, Elizabeth!

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    1. Thank YOU for your contribution to the world of children's literature! :)

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  3. Nicely put, Kathy. Nice post, Elizabeth.

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  4. Thank you for sharing, Kathy. I'm adding your book to my must read list!

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  5. Thanks, Heather! I have one of those lists, too, and a pile of books by my bed ... wish there were more time!

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  6. Thanks for the title tip...very helpful, Kathy! Your book sounds fascinating...

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  7. Thank you, Jarm. Like book jackets, I think titles are significant and do have an influence on whether or not a potential reader will pick up your book.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your banana peel moments, Kathy! I think Ibhubesi is a wonderful title but I see your point :) I've been dying to read Mockingbird for ages - when I went to my local indie bookstore, where I prefer to purchase books, they kept trying to sell me Mockingjay, which was not what i wanted! I'll have try the library or order from Amazon!

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    1. That confusion has happened on Amazon, too -- at least one person said they meant to order Mockingjay but got Mockingbird instead (fortunately, they read it and enjoyed it!). Thanks for continuing to try track it down, Susanna!

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  9. Kathy, thank you for sharing a few slippery slopes - I'm really looking forward to picking up Mockingbird on a book trip soon! And - Susanna,I don't know if it goes all the way to "schaudenfreude" since these are the slopes we are all climbing as authors, but it really is satisfying to find that everyone slips. And we get up, a little gooier, and we stick to the page a little better. (It's a banana metaphor - I love it.) Thanks as always for the encouragement!

    NotAnonymously yours,
    Melissa Kelley

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  10. Whoops! Elizabeth, the thank you for the ongoing encouragement is (of course) yours - the Susanna was mis-placed in a solidarity moment of support for indie bookstores! (banana) :)

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  11. Thanks for the excellent (and very practical) tips, Kathy!

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  12. I also love the name Ibhubesi, but I do see your point. Good advice. And I too, will be reading Mockingbird!

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    1. Maybe if it had the phonetic pronunciation underneath (like the hard cover of Mockingbird!) it would've been OK. :o) Lessons learned....

      Thanks for checking out Mockingbird!

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  13. Yay, I've got Mockingbird on Amazon Italy - it's in the cart! I keep hearing about how touching this book is, and can't wait to read it. Thanks for sharing, Kathryn (and thanks to Elizabeth who keeps bringing us wonderful books and authors).

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    1. Thanks so much Renee for your outstanding contribution to this blog's comment section! :) it wouldn't be the same without you!

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  14. Thanks for the tip on titles, Kathy! I always struggle with titles, so it's helpful to keep this in mind as well while choosing one. However, in my case, my publisher always changes them anyway. Charlesbridge Publishing is changing "Goldy Luck and the Three Chans" (mentioned on this blog in my banana peelin' post) to "Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas" because a) they're having the illustrator draw the three Chans as panda bears and b) they didn't think kids would know what a Chan was and it might make the difference between the book being successful and never quite finding it's market.

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