Cornelia Funke on creativity vs ticking boxes

With just four days to go before the second Barnes Children’s Literature Festival I have had the pleasure of interviewing award-winning children’s and YA writer and illustrator Cornelia Funke. Cornelia is travelling to the UK for the event where she will be talking about her books from 3-4 pm this Saturday 14th May.

For anyone not familiar with Cornelia’s work I start with a little background context for what turned out to be a truly fascinating interview about writing and creativity  – which in Cornelia’s case appears to know no bounds!

Headshot of Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke

About Cornelia

Cornelia is from Germany and has lived in LA since 2005. She enjoys a worldwide fan base for her bestselling fantasy and adventure titles that include, but are by no means limited to: The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, the Inkheart trilogy (Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath – adapted for film in 2008) and, most recently, her MirrorWorld series. She also writes and illustrates picture books and collaborates extensively with creative teams on a range of multi-media projects connected with her story worlds. MirrorWorld’s breathtaking Reckless App is a stunning early example.

Cornelia set up her own publishing company Breathing Books in 2015 after an editorial disagreement with her US and UK publishers over the upcoming third book in her MirrorWorlds series (Reckless and Fearless being the first two with Heartless the intended third). She took back the UK and US rights to all three and Breathing Books published the third book under its European name The Golden Yarn in December 2015 as a limited edition hardback and on audio. Funke has recently signed with Pushkin Press (UK and Commonwealth rights) who will republish the full MirrorWorld trilogy in paperback later this year under their European subtitles The Petrified Flesh, The Living Shadows and The Golden Yarn.

Breathing Books, in the meantime, certainly isn’t taking any breathers and has more of its own creative publishing projects underway.

Interview

You hit the headlines late last year when you announced that you would publish the third book in your MirrorWorld series The Golden Yarn yourself rather than make changes to it for the UK and American markets. Retaining creative control is something that indie authors feel passionate about. For the benefit of readers not familiar with your story, can you briefly explain the background to what happened and why it was so important for you to stand your ground?

With MirrorWorld there was from the beginning one problem for some of my publishers: the series appealed to an older age group than my other books. So there were attempts, especially in the US, to make the series somehow younger or at least market it for a younger audience – which of course can be a vast problem for a story.

I tried to correct this several times, but when the edit suggestions for Book 3 arrived I felt that the intention was once again to try to tailor the book for a certain market – sadly something considered quite normal by now. In my case it was especially worrying as the book had been edited and published already in Germany, with great success and a passionate reader reaction. This is another problem I’ve encountered quite often over the years: UK and US publishers are so used to working with English texts that they find it very hard to accept that a book has already been edited in another language. German editors take far longer and do very elaborate and detailed edits so I am usually very happy with the result – and for sure no author wants to go through two editing processes? 🙂

I find it also very bewildering that in the English language world of writing, agents do some of the editing. For me an editor and an agent are two every different professions with very different skill sets.

I still love to collaborate with publishers. I cherish many of them very very much. But I won’t allow a book to be changed just to tick certain boxes.

Front cover of The Golden Yarn

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Your new imprint is Breathing Books. This is an enchanting and evocative imprint name. Was it your idea – and what was the inspiration behind it? 

Originally Breathing Books was intended to be a brand under which we could do projects like the MirrorWorld Reckless App.

I always believed that books only begin to breathe when they are read – and even better read aloud – and that music, art and other forms of creative work can further help them to come alive.

As I am an illustrator myself I want to find ways to tell stories with both words and illustrations, through collaboration with other artists. In short: I am a writer who loves to explore every book as an adventure…something that doesn’t really work well in our very commercialised publishing world. Luckily I have found wonderful collaborators here in LA who have made it possible to go on this adventure.

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Can you tell us a little bit more about your partner in Breathing Books, Mathew Cullen? How did you come to work with him?

I met Mathew Cullen through a film director friend, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

Mathew has won two Grammies for his music videos so we come from quite different worlds, which I think is part of the creative magic 🙂

When I came to visit Matt at his studio Mirada (which he owns with three other brilliant minds) I felt as if I were walking into my own head. All the art I saw – the way worlds were explored with a combination of sculpture, sketch and digital techniques – felt as if they could offer an interesting way to interpret my stories visually without my needing to sell rights to a movie company, something I have done far too often and mostly with quite sobering results. Matt was the creative director for the Reckless App – still the most inspiring creative project I have worked on so far – and we decided to continue the collaboration. [Note from Karen – visit Mirada’s website above for a taste of this amazing project.]

We had been discussing creating Breathing Books for quite a while when the situation with The Golden Yarn occurred. This forced us to create the company faster than anticipated – and, as I had promised my readers that the third book of the Reckless series would be published in English in 2015,  I suddenly had to be a traditional publisher on paper too.

We first considered just publishing electronically but both Matt and I are too much in love with paper and print and books you can hold and touch. So we faced the challenge to get a book into the US bookstores within half a year.

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How involved were you in the day-to-day production side of things for the hardback copy of The Golden Yarn? Did you act as ‘project manager’ or did you hand over that aspect to someone else? 

Most of the production was overseen by Andy Merkin, whom we call the ‘Tamer of Magical Beasts’ at Breathing Books 🙂 It was Andy’s idea to do the text layout based on 19th century texts. Matt was of course also very involved, especially in the cover design, as was JIng Zeng, our brilliant Chinese American illustrator who works on most of our designs.

How did it feel to have full creative control of your project for the first time? 

So so so so good! The illustrator in me was especially thrilled.

Was it a challenge to balance the time this new project took with your other writing goals or commitments?

No – actually I feel this adventure has made me even more creative. Suddenly I know that I can make every book idea a reality without discussing how commercial it is, or for what age group. Both Matt and I also agreed from the beginning, that Breathing Books will enrich our creative lives instead of making them more stressful. We both work on so many projects that this is a very important rule to keep our sanity.

What about marketing? Did you find that more challenging for this title without the support of a publisher?

We will only start marketing seriously once the whole [hardback] series is out with the new design, so in autumn this year. We have just hired someone to communicate with booksellers, librarians, festivals etc.

I never was a touring author. I prefer to write and illustrate. That’s my profession. And as I am published in so many countries all my publishers know that I can only make myself available for a few days. This year I have book launches in France, Spain, the UK, Sweden, the US and in Germany (and I am sure in a few more countries that I’ve forgotten!). All of these countries are of equal importance to me, whether they sell 500 or 50,000 books and I try my best to support them all.

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I read a wonderful quote where you described large publishers as “…like ocean liners that can only go to certain places,” and that through Breathing Books you want to “be a sailboat so I can fit into other places.” You’ve already produced The Golden Yarn as a limited edition hardback and as an audio book. What else can we expect to see in the future from the imprint? 

Breathing Books home page

Breathing Books website

I have just finished my first picture book – the first I have written in English and the first I have illustrated myself. It will be called The Book That No One Ever Read and it will be a lovesong to many writers and books I love. One could call it my Inkheart for kindergarten kids 🙂 Matt is working on the design and layout currently and we hope to publish in summer 2017.

We are also working on a Book of Treasure as we call it, containing short stories, maps, illustrations and whatever else we come up with from MirrorWorld. We want it to be a lush storybook, similar to the old fairy tale books that so many of us treasured as children.

We will also publish hardcover versions of the first two Reckless books this year, with Matt’s new design and a revised text for Book 1. I know so much more about this world by now, that I loved going back to the beginning and adding everything I have learned along the way – about characters and places.

We are also working on a graphic novel adventure from my Dragonrider world, both on paper and in digital. The story is ready and JIng has made beautiful visual recreations of all of my characters.

O yes- one more thing:) we are currently creating passports for Mirrorworld. They look quite stunning!

[Ed: I’m not sure if this is a Breathing Books project but will check when Cornelia’s back online!]

Image of book text and illustrations laid out on a long table

Cornelia at work on layouts – I’ve been there and done that!

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As with all great stories, this one has a twist and you have now signed a new deal for UK and Commonwealth Rights for the MirrorWorld series with Pushkin Press. How did that come about? Was it an easy decision having just embarked on your own project?

I never intended to self publish in Europe. It would have been impossible to do it in the UK at the same time [as in the US]. Which luckily gave Pushkin Press the chance to approach us.

My experiences with most European publishers are very good, as they are mostly not as ‘corporate’ as US publishers. Even in the US I have had very good experiences – for example with Random House (quite an ‘ocean liner’) and Pegasus Press (a smaller and very beautiful boat). So I still very much appreciate working with inspired publishers.

I admire the work of Pushkin Press, the sublime list of authors and titles, the international approach, the design…. When Pushkin Press approached us I was therefore thrilled as it wouldn’t have been easy to print and distribute in the UK and Commonwealth as well.

I feel my books will have the freedom to be what they are without having to fit into tailored categories.

As Matt likes to say: Breathing Books should be a laboratory, where books are perceived and created. How they get into the world is the next step. We will continue to publish ourselves but we also welcome deals with publishers, if they allow us to work in the way we set out to do.

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Finally, as if you don’t have enough to do already,  you have set up your own German audio book company Atmende Buecher to publish your future novels. Where you are in the production process just now?

As everyone knows since Inkheart I am in love with the spoken word. So I was always tempted to do my own audio productions. I recorded several books in the US myself and luckily people like the recordings despite my German accent.

In Germany I have worked for the last few years with Eduardo Garcia and German Wahnsinn on all my stage events and they wrote truly enchanting music for Reckless. I have regularly attended their sound studios and one day Eduardo and I made the decision to start a company that publishes classical readings, adding sound design and music.

We started off by playing with a few short stories that I wrote about Inkworld and loved the result. The first publication will be A Griffin’s Feather, my sequel to Dragonrider and I can’t wait to hear what Eduardo will do with it.I have been working for almost twenty years with a German actor, Rainer Strecker, as my audio silver tongue and partner in crime on stage, so he’ll for sure be one of the readers.

My huge thanks to Cornelia for taking the time out to answer my questions so thoroughly and eloquently in between her projects and travels. If you’re within reach of London don’t miss her at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival this Saturday 14 May at 3pm – it will be £5 extremely well spent. I’ve booked my ticket and am certainly looking forward to hearing her speak 🙂 

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Posted in Children's Books, Self-publishing | 6 Comments

Children’s picture book marketing – case study interview

When I occasionally host interviews my aim (as with the rest of my blog) is to share best practice and know-how that I think will help fellow children’s authors. Today is no exception and without further ado I’d like to introduce London-based picture book children’s author Shweta Aggarwal.

Headshot of Shweta Aggarwal

Shweta Aggarwal

Shweta first came to my attention when she contacted me through the Alliance of Independent Authors to ask advice about approaching schools with her new book, Dev and Ollie – Kite Crazy.

Front Cover_page_25.02.15

As well as referring her to my more general children’s book marketing posts and to my Indie Recon video presentation on Self-publishing and marketing children’s picture books, I asked Shweta to email me a PDF of the story to enable me to take a look through.

I was immediately taken with her delightfully colourful adventure in which young Dev is given a new kite for his birthday but doesn’t know how to fly it and is whisked off to India overnight by his bedtime magical owl, Ollie. Here he gets to join in the Gujarat Kite Festival — one of the largest kite festivals in the world and is returned home an expert kite flyer! The combination of the magical trip to India, the kite flying and multi-cultural festival themes, not to mention the vibrant illustrations made offering suggestions as to how Shweta might break out a session for little ones – and what props she might take – extremely easy! Variety is key and there is plenty of it in this story to draw on.

Shweta not only ran a very successful school session, but went on to host two events during October half term that led to many sales and lots of very satisfied young customers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she was lucky enough to be selected by Amazon to be featured as part of their Black Friday deals!

Below I find out more about the story behind the story and how Shweta has gone about marketing her picture book.

Karen:

Dev and Ollie’s Kite Crazy adventure is a wonderful tale and the tradition of kite flying is something children everywhere will be fascinated to learn about. What gave you the idea to write the story?

Shweta: 

The idea of writing about festivals came to me whilst attending a festival in Watford a couple of years ago. Indian by origin and having grown up in Japan, I now live in England with my family. My upbringing has been that of a global citizen. And after having children, I am keen for my children to be global citizens while also to be proud of their own culture and heritage. Also, adding variety to their bookshelf is something I actively work on. In fact, my mission is for ALL children not just to be reading well, but to be well read.

So I created the characters Dev and Ollie with a universal appeal. And as my mission is to impart cultural knowledge, I believe festivals are the best subject for the stories. Festivals evoke the best of any culture! Colour, noise, excitement, family, laughter – all are perfect ingredients for children’s stories.

During my time in India from 1995 to 1999 for my undergraduate degree in computer science, I travelled extensively within India. That’s when I experienced an array of amazing festivals. Kite Crazy is about one such cherished experience, the annual kite festival in Gujarat, India where I flew kites on the rooftop with cousins from dawn till dusk. Food, drinks, piles of kites, everything would be planned for. We’d fight to have a go (because we had fewer kites remaining than the number of cousins!). Then seconds later, we’d be ganging up and competing against others on neighbouring roof terraces.

“I realised that if I still remember kite flying so vividly, then children would love to read about it too.”

You recently organised an event to promote Kite Crazy. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What did it entail?

I organised two book readings and kite making competitions; one in Central London at the Indian High Commission cultural wing and the other at Harrow Arts Centre. Both launches went really well. The highlight of both events was children making their kites…they absolutely loved it! In the end I gave a little prize for the best kite and Ollie stickers to all other children for participating. I decorated the rooms with simple handmade kites. A little personal touch of asking all children to bring along their cuddly toy as they sit and listen to the story worked wonders too.

Children watching author reading from picture book - kites pinned to the backgound wall

Shweta’s event at the Indian High Commission cultural wing

How did you get your audience along?

I have to say that Facebook is the best medium for me personally as there’s no better way of connecting with mothers’ network groups. I posted the invite on various groups and that was it! Printed leaflets didn’t even get me 5% of the traction I received on Facebook. Perhaps what also helped was that the book reading was a free event over half term and parents are always looking for activities then to fill the day. Almost everyone who came also bought a copy. Some even bought five copies — for Diwali and Xmas presents!

How is the story going down with school children? Do they enjoy meeting Ollie?

Children love Ollie! A cuddly toy is a great way to break the ice. I start by asking children about their toys and all the wonderful magical things their toys do…some very entertaining stories unfold there! So far I’ve had a phenomenal response from children, teachers and parents! I believe Kite Crazy is a story any child can enjoy because it’s a cultural, festival experience without any religious context. And my hidden mission behind this book is also for children to enjoy gadget free activities. Kite flying is a very refreshing experience.

How did you find your illustrator? Where is he based?

As I have no prior experience or contacts in the publishing world, finding the right illustrator was like searching for a needle in a haystack. So I did just that…I searched on Freelance.com. I asked eight illustrators to submit character sketches of Dev and Ollie. Some were British, some from Eastern Europe and a couple from India. Somnath Chatterjee, based in Calcutta, India, was the first person who came back to me and in fact also turned out to be the only illustrator who translated my vision perfectly.

Do you brief him tightly or let him come up with the illustrations based on the story?

I would say it’s a combination of both. I start with very brief bullet points for every illustration and ask him for his ideas too based on the manuscript. Then after receiving the initial sketches, I go through it thoroughly looking for any details to be added that will bring the illustration alive.

Tell us about the Amazon 40% deal you were offered – were you surprised? And were you able to make the most of it?

I was very surprised! As it’s still early days, Kite Crazy hasn’t reached thousands of readers yet. But it’s been receiving amazing reviews and I think that’s what must have mattered because a few days after the initial deal, I was offered another deal again! The flash deals on Amazon help tremendously in reaching out to a wider & new audience. I see it as an entirely positive thing even though your book value is drastically reduced. It’s the best marketing because I’ve seen sales go up significantly even after the flash deal ended.

Who did you use to print the book and what does it retail at? Are you happy with the finished product?

The book is available using using print on demand (POD) on Amazon via CreateSpace and via Ingram Spark for wider distribution. The cover is glossy and of great quality. The colours are just right. The only minor setback I had when I first received a physical copy of the book is the internal paper quality with POD. For a children’s picture book particularly the quality and thickness of paper is extremely important. I decided to stick with CreateSpace POD and drop the price the book to £4.99 instead of asking for £5.99. I do have some copies printed from a traditional printer — Oxted Printers with much thicker paper. I sell those books in schools at £5.99 explaining the difference and parents are happy with that.

This is exactly the approach I took with Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, as you know. It’s certainly unnerving ordering stock up front but on the upside I’ve found that I can make a better margin on sales from my short-run books. I assume you’ve found likewise?

My profit margin is three times that of what I receive via CS. It’s a tricky one because we all know, the larger the print run, the greater the profit. But then stocking a large number of books becomes a problem. I do plan on selling books on my website too and giving customers the option of purchasing directly on Amazon or the website (with extra added perks such as a free key ring etc).

You have a very nice ‘Facts For Curious Minds’ educational section at the end of your story — with facts and figures. Has that proven popular with children/parents/teachers?

Thank you! I was told by some publishers that this is overtly educational and that in fact the whole book is! However I disagreed and went with my gut instinct. And now many parents and teachers comment on how they find the section at the end very useful. Some even say it’s the one of the highlights of the book!

Image of kites, map and text about kite facts

Kite Facts for Curious Minds

Are there annual kite flying events in the UK that our children should know about?

The Kite Society of Great Britain is a fantastic resource for information on kite festivals and events taking place around the country. Portsmouth International Kite Festival, which takes place in August every year, is a perfect day out by the sea and it’s free!  And for those living in London, there’s nothing like flying a kite in Primrose Hill Park on a beautiful sunny summer day. The views are spectacular and the winds are just right for kite flying. I took my kids there this summer and they just didn’t want to leave! We spent hours just flying a kite (before and after lunch).

Can you make a kite? 🙂

I learnt how to make one recently since I started with the book readings. It’s surprisingly easy to make and a perfect activity for little as it doesn’t take too long either. The only tricky bit is getting the right type of paper and string if you want your kite to actually fly! I tend to use a heavier paper because children can rip thinner paper easily. But they are more than happy anyway just to be able to make one!

More books coming soon…

Shweta says she has further books planned, including Colour Carnival, about India’s festival of colours called Holi and Camel Chase about the world’s largest camel fair in Rajasthan, India. She says:

All stories will have a universal appeal even though they take place in India. I’m also researching other unique festivals around the world. For example, I’m certainly going to write about the Snow & ice Festival in China and that book title is Winter Wonderland.”

With many thanks to Shweta for sharing her book marketing experience with us.  If you’ve children aged 4-6 who you think would like to know more about kite festivals you can order a copy of Dev and Ollie’s Kite Crazy adventure on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blog Update, Children's Books, Marketing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Using crossword puzzles to promote your children’s book

If you’re looking for additional marketing inspiration for your children’s book – or indeed for a YA or adult book – below I share how I’ve used crossword puzzles to help promote my books in recent years. (If you caught this post on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ website recently, skip to the end of the page where I talk about new software I’ve just tried out for converting graphic novels: a full post on this coming soon!)

Crosswords as a simple book marketing tool

It struck me early on when taking my time travel mystery, The Secret Lake, into shop signings that having a free ‘interactive’ activity sheet to accompany it would make sound marketing sense – not only to attract parents and children to my signing table but also to help market the book after a sale, or indeed after a non-sale!)

Solving puzzles is ‘fun’ and without a doubt appeals to children’s detective-like curiosity and often to their naturally competitive instinct. (And let’s face it, as adults we all know the sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes with solving the simplest of crossword clues, not to mention a whole puzzle!)

Image of two crossword puzzles with book cover and spaceship design included

I’ll talk in a moment about the software I used (which is fun in itself) but first here are a couple of case studies.

Case study 1– ‘The Secret Lake’

My crossword for The Secret Lake takes the form of a general knowledge quiz about the story. When wording the questions or ‘clues’ I took care to bring out exciting plot points (without giving anything away) and to allude to characters in a way that would intrigue and tempt the reader of the crossword – ie the child or parent picking it up in a bookshop – to want to find out more. Of course I could have created a simple ‘quiz’ sheet but I’m not sure it would have appealed; the crossword format somehow adds a fresher and more fun dimension.

While the software I used offers various background images that you can lay the puzzle onto (at various levels of transparency from 10%-90%) I chose a blank sheet and then added a large image of The Secret Lake book cover in one corner instead, as seen below. I could have been more adventurous, but this was my first go at it and I wanted to make it as easy as possible for children to read the clues.

As well as offering the crossword with every face-to-face book sale, I also offer it as a freebie to take away where I don’t make a sale – on the pretext that the book’s details are on the sheet should the parent, grandparent or child want to track it down at a later date  🙂

Image of a crossword puzzle and The Secret Lake book cover

Use clues to tempt new readers who may only take the hand-out

The answers are available to download or view on the book’s website, and this, of course, offers a further marketing opportunity as that site includes info and links to my main author site and other books. The crossword sheet itself is also available to download and print or share from my site which offers a further marketing / social media opportunity.

NB I now have a catch-all author website – I don’t recommend setting up separate websites for each book as there is too much to maintain and it doesn’t offer a smooth cross-marketing journey! I will in due course move the crosswords over to The Secret Lake section of kareninglisauthor.com  – this has been on the ‘to-do’ list for a while!

Case Study 2 – ‘Eeek! The Runaway Alien’

For Eeek! The Runaway Alien – in which a football-mad alien runs away from space to Earth for the World Cup – I used a crossword to pick up on the buzz of the 2014 World Cup. Thus most of the clues focused on simple general knowledge to do with the World Cup teams, matches and players. For the background images I chose an alien spaceship from the puzzle maker site’s library of images rather than one of my own graphic novel images. I then tweeted links to the crossword (which can be downloaded in Word or as a PDF from my website) using #WorldCup2014 and other relevant hashtags being used for specific matches – targeting mainly soccer-loving dads! Because #WordCup2014 was trending at the time, this led to over 50 downloads over a short period. (This may not sound like much but in children’s publishing terms it really isn’t that bad – and all helps to spread the word about the book!) During that period I also I provided handouts of the crossword with books to my local bookshop, which stocks all of my books.

Image of alien holding up a pair of football boots

You can view Eeek’s crossword download puzzle here. If you keep scrolling you’ll also see links to the answers sheet – shown as a screenshot above. (As this was a more recent marketing exercise my author site was up and running and you can clearly see how easy it is to cross market to my other books from there.)

Puzzle-maker.com software

I used Puzzle-maker.com to create my crosswords. I can’t say they have the most fabulous looking website (!) and the user interface could do with improving, but bear with it. It’s great fun creating the puzzles and you have the option to play around, preview and then rearrange the shape of the puzzle as many times as you wish if you don’t like the initial shape it comes up with. You start by entering the answer to your clue and then the question – and the program does the rest for you.

There are three levels of puzzle: ‘good,’ which comes free; or ‘better’ or ‘best’ puzzles for which there is a small charge: either a one-off cost for one puzzle or an annual subscription which allows unlimited puzzles. The free puzzles come in HTML type format for printing and may contain advertising – I wouldn’t recommend this. By contrast, ‘better’ or ‘best’ allow you to create downloadable PDFs that you can email out, print or share on your blog or website. The paid option also offers a range of background images that you can use to ‘theme’ your crossword if you wish, as I did with Eeek! and the spaceship. All three levels offer the blank crossword with clues underneath plus an answers page.

Having done a quick Google I can see that there are lots of sites that offer free crossword making facilities so do check them out and leave a note below of any that you rate! This one worked for me and I’m signed up to its annual subscription service, which at under $15 didn’t feel too onerous!

Please do leave links to other sites in the comments box if you’d like to recommend them!

One reader on the ALLi blog suggested The Teacher’s Corner website which I shall be trying in due course. Other suggestions gratefully received below for everyone’s benefit 🙂 And of course please do share ideas of other hand-outs that have worked for you.

Stop Press – formatting software for graphic novels…

I have recently discovered software that has enabled me to very easily convert my graphic novel, Henry Haynes and the Great Escape, to Kindle and ePub. I had avoided doing this until now due to the formatting costs and headaches associated with converting black and white illustrations. But using my CS files it was a breeze!

I shall be blogging about this soon. In the meantime below are links to the ebooks if you’d like to see what can be done! This is a fun story about a boy who falls inside his library book and is aimed at ages 6-8. Please do share and leave a review if you enjoy :-). If you’re based in the USA do check out the UK reviews of which there are more – also Henry Haynes is in USA Amazon.com’s Matchbook scheme, which means you get the Kindle version for free if you buy the print book over there.  Enjoy! Karen

Image of boy chasing a snake and a gorilla staring out of a cage at them

Buy me on Kindle

Boy chasing a snake with gorilla looking on - book cover of Henry Haynes and the Great Escape

Buy me in the iBooks Store

 

Posted in Children's Books, Marketing | Tagged | 1 Comment

How to support bricks & mortar bookshops with IndieBound links

As is the case with most children’s authors, my books sales are predominantly in print, with many being at school events. But I’ve also sold very respectable numbers (running into the 100s) in local bricks and mortar stores, including several branches of Waterstones in southwest London, and smaller independent bookshops such as The Barnes Bookshop (I’ve sold more than 100 here), Sheen Bookshop, Wimbledon Books and The Notting Hill Bookshop.

Image of 5 bookshop windows

Some local bookshops that stock my books…

Supporting bookshop stockists with links and mentions

Until now I’ve made an effort to promote my bricks and mortar bookshops stockists by including mentions and website links in relevant book page blog posts or ‘How to order’ paragraphs. However, I’ve long been conscious that plastered down the right-hand side of every page have been book thumbnails that link out only to Amazon.

Adding sidebar links to IndieBound search pages

IndieBound logo

Connects readers with local bookshops

Spurred on after the camaraderie of this weekend’s Barnes Children’s Literature Festival — where my book sales passed through The Barnes Bookshop – and by the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ fantastic and inspired #Authors4Bookstores campaign, I have finally put extra sidebar links in place to enable UK and US readers coming to my site to order my books locally if they prefer. Below I share how I did this to save you time if you have a WordPress site and aren’t sure where to start or, like me, don’t really understand HTML beyond the basics 🙂

Since it’s a well-know fact that web users are in a hurry I wanted the links to sit in context close to each book jacket, and not to confuse matters by adding any extra logos. However, you can of course also use the IndieBound logo above in a generic spot on your blog or website and link to the relevant UK or US search page from it. I plan to do this.

Following this route presupposes that bookshops can order your book in. I own my ISBNs and my distributor is Lightning Source, which supplies the main book wholesalers in the UK, USA and beyond. The wholesalers in turn supply the bricks and mortar bookshops who can see and order my books in their systems. If you have an ISBN that you own and are with Lightning Source or Ingram Spark I believe that most US/UK bookshops located through IndieBound should be able to order your book.

Steps to add sidebar text links to Indiebound

The HTML coding provided below will, I am sure, work for any site. The process I describe is for WordPress blogs ( I use the free one).

1/ In the dashboard choose Appearance > Widgets

2/ Select the ‘Text’ widget and drag it to the area on the page you want it to appear (I use the Primary Widget Area on the right hand side)

Image of Widgets inside WordPress Dashboard

Drag the text widget to your preferred area

3/ Click on the ‘Text’ tab in its new location to open it up (see screenshot below) and then:

  • add the title of your book in the first text field
  • type the code shown in the screenshot below* into the next larger field – or you can of course save yourself time by looking out the IndieBound URL and pasting that in. [I tried to include all of the coding as body text to enable you to select and copy/paste it, but WordPress stripped it out!]
  • (optional) edit the text the reader will see if necessary (eg instead of ‘UK Bookshops’ it could say ‘Order from you local UK bookshop’. I had this to start with, but felt it was taking up too much room).
  • *note that the last part of the coding shows how I have also provided contextual links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble – this is for info only and for you to omit or adapt for your own book as necessary.

The Secret Lake text widget (2nd one down)

Image of text widget & example coding in WordPress

Adding code & links to with the text widget

  • The above coding translates into this at the front end:Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 13.26.54If you have inserted a picture below in the widget area, the overall look is as below and as seen on the right-hand side of this blog page. (I choose to add a ‘Buy from Amazon’ caption on each image and this goes to the relevant Amazon page based on the reader’s location). While I still feel a little bad adding the Amazon link, the reality is that many customers will be looking for this – and I’m in business just like everyone else is to sell books  – so it feels madness not to provide it!Image of The Secret Lake book cover and links to where to buy it

Top Tip: Once you’ve tested the coding, copy and paste it all into a Word document to use or edit in the future if you need to change anything.

Read more about the Author4Bookstores Campaign here

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Barnes Children’s Literature Festival Sat 25 April ~ what goes around comes around

Since the The Secret Lake first came out back in 2011 it’s been heartwarming to see just how far industry attitudes towards self-publishing have evolved. We’re now entering a period where the lines are truly beginning to blur in the minds of booksellers, the press, event organisers and publishers when it comes to deciding what makes a good read, and where the next big thing readers will want might come from. This change in perceptions from the people who help introduce readers to new authors and put books in readers’ hands is undoubtedly good news for all involved.

It’s therefore with perhaps less surprise than I might once have anticipated that I’m thrilled to announce my inclusion in the inaugural Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, which takes place on Saturday 25 April in southwest London.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 19.09.32

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – click to visit the website

As you may be able to see from above, this festival – organised by book publicist and local mum of two girls, Amanda Brettargh – is thinking big. It includes a fantastic line-up of award-winning authors for children of all ages – so if you’re within reach of southwest London and have children aged from 3-12  I’d highly recommend coming along.

Barnes village lies a mile or so south of Hammersmith Bridge. It’s a lovely place to spend the day – we have our very own duck pond and village green, plenty of cafes, delis, family-friendly pubs and restaurants, the river Thames at the top of the high street and one of the coolest cinemas in London – on which more below!

Barnes pond, Barnes, London SW13

Barnes Pond – Barnes village is a five-minute bus ride south of Hammersmith Bridge

 So who will be there …?

Well, here are just a few tasters… (you’ll find a link to the full programme below)

  • Multi-award-winning picture-book author, Chris Haughton – not only will he be bringing his fabulous picture books to life at his own session, there’s also the UK  premiere of the stage production of his award-winning picture book  ‘A Bit Lost’
  • Picture book illustrator Alex Scheffler – of Gruffalo fame – say no more!
  • Abbie Longstaff – author of The Fairytale Hairdresser series
  • Sally Gardner –award winning author of ‘Maggot Moon’ – at the festival she’ll be talking about what makes a good detective and her fairy detective series ‘Wings & Co’
  • Author-illustrator David Mackintosh – who’ll be drawing as well as reading from his latest book ‘Lucky’
  • Marcia Williams – author of the acclaimed  ‘Archie’s War’ – a child’s scrapbook of the First World War
  • Jim Smith – author of ‘I am not a loser’ series
  • Piers Torday – introducing his new novel ‘The Wild Beyond’ – the final in his trilogy
  • Horrible Histories® illustrator Martin Brown
  • Britain’s favourite poet and local resident Roger McGough who has even penned a poem for the festival!

There will also be book-to-film cinema events curated by Guardian film critic, Danny Leigh, at the ultra cool Olympic Studios. And Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor of The Guardian, will be interviewing teenage author Helena Coggan.

For my own part, I’ll be introducing 7-10 year-olds to my popular graphic novel Eeek! The Runaway Alien – you can find out more about my session here

The above really is just a samplesee the full programme and book tickets here. (All ticket sale proceeds go to charity.)

Making the cut: thanks to my local bookshops & schools

Needless to say I’m both proud and honoured to be part of the festival. And while being a local author clearly helped, I am in no doubt that this alone was by no means enough. I earned my place through my track record, which in turn is inextricably linked to the support I’ve had locally.

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I regularly take my books into schools in southwest London and have hosted many signing events in local bookshops and Waterstones (one of the UK’s main bookshop chains) – all of whom have been incredibly receptive and have stocked my books from the outset, often placing them face-out with shelf-talkers that I supply.

The success of my signing events and school visits, coupled with strong sales more widely – especially for The Secret Lake – speak for themselves. Without this track record and all the hard work it has entailed over the last few years I am in no doubt that entry to the festival would not have been possible.

So I’d like to say thank you to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – and to southwest London yet again – for giving me this next opportunity. And thank you to my local bookshops, notably The Barnes Bookshop (through which my festival sales will pass), Sheen Books, Wimbledon Books and seven branches of Waterstones in southwest London. Also thanks to so many local schools for having me in and to the local press for so often sharing my stories. But most of all, thank you to my young readers, both near and far!

Barnes Bookshop

The Barnes Bookshop – with Eeek! poster in the window during the World Cup 🙂

Festivals and book fairs of the future

With Foyles Bookshop hosting the Indie Author Fair at their flagship store in Charing Cross on 17 April as part of London Book and Screen Week and Debbie Young hosting the inaugural Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival on World Book Night 23 April  we are already seeing a shift in the nature and landscape of literature festivals. (Not forgetting, of course, the Indie Author Fringe Festival that ran alongside the Chorleywood Literary Festival last November).

So here’s to bookshops, litfest organisers and authors themselves for helping reshape the future of book selling in this brave new world. I’m sure we all agree that these changes are for everyone’s benefit – author, reader and bookseller alike.

Getting to Barnes

If you’re on public transport it’s a five-minute bus ride or 20-minute walk from Hammersmith Tube, or a five-minute walk from Barnes or Barnes Bridge over-ground stations. If you’re driving you’ll find parking in the streets a few minutes walk away from the immediate central village area.

Click here to view the full programme and book tickets to the
Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

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