Monday, July 27, 2020

Launching a Book During a Pandemic

To be honest, launching my two upcoming middle grade titles has been the least of my concerns this past month. Like most of us, I've been carrying around a ball of stress that has been growing a little each day since the start of the pandemic. I've had it easier than many. My health has been good. I have the luxury of writing from home, so my work life hasn't really changed. I also benefit from white privelege in general and in regard to health outcomes. That said, the stress snowball as of late has still been massive. I was super chill at first, but add in identity theft, my apartment flooding and, the major blow, my dog getting sick (she's fine btw, thank the gods!), and my book launches could not be farther off my radar.

Still, I have been writing. Delving into the imaginary worlds I create has been the one thing keeping me steady during this turbulent time. I've finished two books so far (with many revisions still to go), and I'm diving directly into a new project. Why? Because I need stories to steady this ship.

My first tip for launching a book during the pandemic? Keep writing new stories. If you're like me, it will save your mental health, and it's the one aspect of the publishing game you control. 

Beyond that, focus on the aspects of marketing and promotion that bring you joy, and forget the rest. I remember meeting with my editor at Scholastic before the launch of my first book, Skeleton Tree. She said in no uncertain terms that nothing I do as an author will move the needle when it comes to promotion. Her point was for me to stop stressing and leave it up to the publisher. Now, we all know that, even in the best of times, publishers rarely do as much as authors would like when it comes to promotion. And now? Um...even less. However, I think one part of her advice was super important, i.e. the don't stress out part. Yes, writing is my livelihood, but why stress about aspects of the business you can't control?

So why bother promoting at all? Do it if it makes you happy. For example, I adore making graphics. It's something I've done since high school, for fun, never professionally, but I actively enjoy making graphics, especially when I need a break from the real work of writing.

You can check out a nice selection of the graphics I've made on my Instagram account. Have they pushed the needle? Nope. Did making them benefit my life by giving me a necessary break from writing? Absolutely!

My tip for writers looking to create their own graphics: Experiment and have fun! Every graphic is not going to be super stunning, but you will learn a little more every time you try.
I love Canva because it's so, so easy! Start with a template, but don't stop there. Canva lets you modify their templates as much as you want, so play around and make the designs your own. Another benefit is that you can tailor graphics specifically for each social media outlet. No more awkward sizes that don't show up properly on Twitter or Instagram. If you're looking to create 3D mockups of your books, DIY Book Design has an easy, free tool to do just that. I like to combine 3D mockup images with Canva to create cool promos that can stand the test of time.

I made the above images in Canva (I have a Pro account), by selecting the background image from Canva's photo offerings, adding 3D mockups of my books, overlays and additional images (i.e. the skull, Orange Crush, lures, cookies, etc.) to represent items from the stories. These kinds of promos aren't connected to any specific event, so you can use them throughout the years.

What about school visits and other types of promotion?

Apart from graphics, I'm doing the requisite blog interviews and giveaways. I actually sent physical mailers to nearby indie bookstores offering to partner with them on virtual events. I've had fun hosting Facebook Live interviews with some author friends. My series is called, Talking to Real Live Human People, because that literally is the point :P It's not so much for promotion as it is for human contact.

Before the stress of everyday life set in, I had also contacted school librarians via email to discuss fall author visits. Since we're in pandemic times and nothing for fall is certain, I did not finalize dates, but instead gathered a list of schools interested in scheduling some sort of visit. I let them know that I have options for both virtual and in-person sessions, but time will tell how that all pans out. Either way, it's a great idea to at least connect and let educators know you're available and flexible.

What about the actual launch party?

I'm partnering with a local indie, Best of Books, to host a virtual launch party via Zoom. The store created a Facebook event to promote, adding me as a co-host, and participants need to pre-order my book to receive the Zoom link. During the virtual party, I'll do an interview-style Q&A with a bookseller and give away some cool prizes. I'm also planning to collaborate with fellow authors on some similar panel-style events, and will be doing another virtual launch for my fall release.

The bottom line? There's way too much important and often dire stuff going on in the world right now to let a book launch stress you out. Do what you enjoy. Do what you need to do to feel productive...and, as always, keep writing.


KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review: The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray by B.A. Williamson

Thank you to Jolly Fish Press for the review copy of
exchange for an honest review. 

OK, to be clear, Jolly Fish Press actually sent me two Gwendolyn Gray books;
the more recent one having come out in April. But ever since I graduated from
The Babysitters’ Club, reading a series out of order has never been good to me.  

So book one it is. 

Redhead, imaginative Gwendolyn Gray is a black sheep in her dystopian City
because she has pizazz and personality. But when characters from her
imagination and a mysterious book she finds start manifesting, Gwendolyn
finds herself pursued across universes by pirates, a giant octopus, and
nefarious government agents, the Mister Men.

The omniscient narrator (AKA the death of so many kidlit manuscripts) adds
comic relief and wisdom to the story simultaneously. 

Easter eggs from myriad iconic fantasy stories - Alice in Wonderland,
Neverending Story, Wizard of Oz, and The Matrix most prominently - are
sprinkled throughout, with a dash of kid-friendly multiverse physics, a twist of
first love, mind-bending gotchas, and a bittersweet tearjerker ending. 

But this isn’t a spoof book, or even intended to be funny: This sci-fi adventure
story has a strong message of confidence and self-love that really sucks the
reader in. I’d gone through 100 pages before I realized I’d done so. 

In other words, the premise is awesome and B.A. Williamson totally delivers. 

While it sounds like Williamson is an educator, his descriptions of corporate
life had this Corporate America cog ROFL. 

There are a couple scenes of bullying toward the front of the book, including
one where Gwendolyn is threatened and has a chunk of her hair cut out. 

At 325 pages, this book is the poster child for the “we need to distinguish
Upper MG from MG” chatter floating around on writing Twitter. In other words,
read this book TO a reluctant reader, but don’t give it to them. 

Give to: 
  • Fans of Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart series and Tin by Padraig Kenney.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Hone Your Craft With Flash Fiction - Exercises Included!

We all love when inspiration strikes. Flash fiction can feel much like that. It's a story in micro, a focus on a compelling moment in a character's life. 

Reading flash can help stir ideas for your own long or short writing. When you practice writing flash fiction, there's even better payoffs in your own work.

Improve Your Focus

Flash fiction gets a lot done in a very short amount of time. Big emotions and major change must coexist in a tiny, little writing space. Flash fiction word counts can range from just a few words to the more typical 1000. 

As you practice creating flash fiction, consider how tightly focused you can be on the main aspects of your story. What can you cut and still keep clarity? 

Exercise: Write a sentence summarizing your story using ten words or less.

Tighten Your Prose

When a story must be crafted to fit the short requirements of flash fiction, you learn to say a lot with few words. This habit will carry over into your other works, making them more concise and compelling. 

Exercise: Go through a current work-in-progress and see if you can cut the entire thing by 25% or even 50%. Alternatively, try replacing three words with one. Are there whole sentences or paragraphs you could cut while retaining or enhancing the impact of the story?

Experiment With Form

Flash Fiction is a fun, low-risk way to try new structure. If you want to try a story in texting or email form, this would be a great format to experiment with it. And you have nothing to lose but a little time and maybe 1000 words. Low-risk, high-return. 

Exercise: Experiment with something new in a piece of flash fiction. Maybe write the entire thing in iambic pentameter. Or starting every sentence with the next letter in the alphabet. The options are endless. You're creative; I'm sure you'll come up with something new to try!

Amp the Tension

Conflict and change are essential in any story, even flash fiction. Sometimes we might trick ourselves into thinking that because flash focuses on a moment in time that it is static, but that is a mistake. Static is boring. Nothing is happening. 

Try starting your flash fiction pieces close to a character's life-changing event or realization. It can be dramatic - the loss of a loved one, or subtle - the realization that their best friend is capable of lying to them. Whatever it is should change the main character's world and/or worldview. 

Conflict and change are things we grapple with regularly. They are essential to every story. As you learn to incorporate them in the small world of flash fiction, you will find it easier to build the needed conflict and change in your other works.

Exercise: Determine what life-changing moment will rock your character's world. Start the story right before or just after that moment. What's next? What suspense can you build that will keep the reader hooked all the way to the end?