The Picture Book Buzz - Two Part Interview with Perfect2020PBs/KidLitCollective Members:
So, you've signed a contract and your debut book is headed into the publication process. Congratulations! Now a new myriad of questions start arising - How soon do you start planning your marketing? Should you join a book group? What type and where do you find them?
Fortunately, I have some members from the former Perfect2020PBs sharing with us about their joys and struggles of creating and belonging to a debut author group.
Part 1 – Creating a Book Release Group
How did Perfect2020PBs get started? And what was your initial goal for the group? Or how and when did you first hear about Perfect2020PBs?
Nanette Heffernan – I love marketing so being in a debut group was a no-brainer for me. The idea of working with a group of like-minded kidlit authors and illustrators all supporting each other was exciting. Knowing debut groups fill up quickly, and that it takes a while to get organized, I decided to start one in fall of 2018 for 2020 releases in order to give all members as much runway as possible to get a head start on their book launch. The goal was simple. Selflessly support each other and make a lot of virtual noise. We accomplished that for the most part.
Norene Paulson - For me, the path to Perfect202PBs began when my application to another debut picture group was rejected. Luckily, the admin for that group told me she had contacted another person (who ended up being Nanette) about starting a new group. Nanette contacted me and I hopped onboard. My initial goal for the group was simply to find other picture book authors willing to band together and support each other as we navigated our debut year.
Skylaar Amann - I think I joined a little later than some of the other members, so a lot of the setup was already done. But I was excited to join both to get support for my debut picture book — and to share my support for the other creators in the group.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - I don’t remember where or when I spotted the notice about a debut group forming, but the group welcomed writers of color, so I was curious and attended a zoom meeting (little did we know then how zoom meetings would become lifelines during a pandemic).
Susan Novich -- I first heard about Perfect2020PBS from another author-illustrator who was an agency sibling of mine and who was also debuting her first book. While we had never met, she was kind enough to reach out, and asked if I was interested in joining a debut group. I feel so fortunate she made the introduction.
What were some of the benefits and limitations that you discovered initially in creating and starting your group? Or Why did you decide to join Perfect2020PBs and what was the process?
Nanette Heffernan – The biggest benefits of being in a debut group is the creativity of the hive-mind and support of the team. It’s much easier to rally when you have 30 fans in your corner all shouting how amazing you and your writing are. And those same people are there when times are tough; if your publication date gets pushed or you get a less than favorable review. Everyone pitched in so the “village” worked, but it can be a challenge when you have one or two members who don’t reciprocate. Nobody likes to make that confrontational call but sometimes it needs to be done for the better of the group.
Norene Paulson - Building a “village” was definitely one of the benefits although not a simple task. Nanette was the momentum behind the group. She’s the one who organized everything, recruited members, handled the application process, and established our social media presence. For me, one of the hardest decisions was how many members we should have. Deciding on a number cap was tough as there’s pros and cons to both small and larger groups.
Skylaar Amann - The benefits were having a group of people to help share in the excitement around my book coming out — and to offer support for the ups and downs behind the scenes. It’s been great having people to share ideas with and ask questions of. It was nice to have a group of people reading, reviewing, and helping promote my book!
Charlotte Watson Sherman - birthing a book into the world can be a scary process and I am grateful to this day I was accepted into this debut group. I didn’t have social media skills and was afraid I might not be a valuable member on that front, but I possess a lot of library cards, so I knew I could be helpful to group members with library purchase requests and reviews.
Susan Novich - I definitely felt a little bit overwhelmed by the “how-to” of book marketing. Like so many people in this business I spend a lot of time on my own. Joining a debut group with others who were going through the same process was like stepping onto the proverbial life raft; I was excited to think that I’d meet a group of people to share the journey with, and who could offer support and also share the joy along the way. Once I told my agency sibling I was interested, Nanette Heffernan reached out and sent off a survey to fill out, and things fell into place. Nanette put together an AMAZING organizational and marketing effort.
This definitely sounds like a monumental and worthwhile endeavor. Did you find belonging to Perfect2020PBs helpful? How? Were there any downsides?
Nanette Heffernan – Belonging to Perfect2020PBs was the best part of my debut year. The collective support goes without saying, and the lifelong book marketing partners were a huge bonus. Many of us are still together as our second and third books are coming out. The only downside was the amount of time, which in hindsight wasn’t actually a downside at all. It would have taken me triple the time I put into the group to get the same results on my own.
Norene Paulson - Immensely helpful. I’m not sure how I would have navigated my debut year alone especially when it came to social media. I’m far more tech savvy now than I was before joining the group. I had social media accounts but wasn’t very confident when using them. I remember Nanette continually urging us to take on social media admin responsibilities particularly if we were NOT comfortable doing so. She always said that’s the best way to learn...just dive in. So I did with Twitter and she was right. The only downside is if you actively participate in a debut or any promo group it consumes some of your time and energy but the sense of family that develops is well-worth the time investment.
Skylaar Amann - It was definitely helpful to have a group to share ideas, ask for help promoting things on social media, and chatting about publishing stuff. The only downside I think is that everyone was going in different directions, which meant we all had different amounts of time and availability. It worked out pretty well, but I think it’s a good idea to keep in mind what others can contribute (in time and skills) and to do a realistic assessment for yourself about what you can also contribute. Make sure you have the time to support your group. (Of course life happens to us all sometimes -- and that’s when it’s so great to have a supportive group behind you who understands!)
Charlotte Watson Sherman - I can’t imagine going through a debut release without a group like Perfect2020PBs. Nanette is a marketing expert and encouraged us every step of the way, provided feedback/suggestions re: marketing strategies/materials. Then, when I was facing zero Amazon, Goodreads and other reviews, the numbers started to rise due to my Perfect2020PBs members. It made all the difference, especially debuting during a year of multiple pandemics.
Susan Novich - Belonging to Perfect2020PS was incredibly helpful. Launching a book has a big learning curve, and with the limitations this past year it was even more challenging. I found it very helpful to learn from everyone in the group and to be able to ask for help, whether it was for sharing something on social media, or simply asking if others were experiencing the same things with publishers, etc. It was and is a safe place to share and feel as though people have your back. The support on social media was and continues to be phenomenal. Being part of the group gave me the ability to be able to share and celebrate everyone’s work. If there is a downside, I would say it is the feeling that I’m sometimes disappearing down the rabbit hole of social media, taking time away from creating. But even if you’re doing this on your own, you will likely still experience that!
As the saying goes - "many hands make light work." Were there any rules, or specified responsibilities, that you found exceptionally helpful throughout your debut year? Any that you adjusted? Why?
Nanette Heffernan – I kept a spreadsheet on what everyone was contributing to the group and when. It really helped to keep things fair. As expected there were a handful of folks that always volunteered and a few that were less eager but not for lack of interest. Life gets busy during a debut year so a simple nudge was usually all that was needed to keep everyone on track. The expectation was everyone donated time when they had it and skills to benefit the group. That’s what happened so I see it as a success.
Norene Paulson - Although it wasn’t a rule, the expectation that we would review each other's books on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble was exceptionally helpful. As for specified responsibilities, as KidLit Collective, we are more organized. From our debut year, we learned that the group runs more smoothly when we are divided into teams...social media teams, graphic design team, coordination team, and promo team.
Skylaar Amann - Having folks leave reviews was really nice because it’s so easy to feel like no one will read your book — or like it! I also really appreciated having members retweet my posts, as individuals and from our group account. Things get lost so fast on social media that having posts appear frequently through shares, likes, and comments, really helps.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - I don’t know if it was a rule, but it was definitely an expectation that we support each other’s books in the form of reviews, social media posts, etc. I was hesitant to jump into social media activity because I wasn’t that knowledgeable about it or comfortable with it, but Nanette encouraged us to try especially if we weren’t comfortable, so that helped me try.
Susan Novich - The understanding is that everyone will pitch in and Nanette and others were great about putting together a team system. There was an expectation that we would try to review one another’s books – which as Skylaar mentioned, is enormously helpful. I feel a bit shy about asking people to do reviews, but knowing that I can reciprocate for others makes it that much easier.
So, how soon would you recommend an author or illustrator start looking for a group to join or create?
Nanette Heffernan – As soon as possible. Two year ahead of your launch date if you can. Every group is on Twitter so you can do a simple Twitter search to look for groups and reach out.
Norene Paulson - The minute you sign your contract I’d recommend looking at options. Perfect 2020PBs was formed in late 2018, I believe, and our first books debuted in January 2020. Never too early to find your people.
Skylaar Amann - I agree with Norene! Look as soon as your deal is official. It’s better to have more time than not enough, and you may want to look around for the group that’s the right fit for you. Plus, if you’re not familiar or comfortable with social media or marketing stuff, having that extra time to learn is probably useful. I also felt like there was a lot I didn’t know as a debut author and having a group to ask questions to or to talk about things you’re all dealing with is helpful.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - ASAP, I joined the group summerish 2019 and discovered I was already over a year behind in getting an ideal marketing plan off the ground. It can also be helpful to share whatever’s going on with your publication process, or any questions or concerns you might have, with folks going through similar issues.
Susan Novich - I’m on board with everyone here – go for it early on. I wasn’t actively looking for a group, as I wasn’t sure how to engage – but if you’re reading this now, you’re already ahead of where I was, and I would say to jump in right away, take the time to understand what the group involves, what you would like to get out of it, and also what you can offer. You will learn a ton.
This is a great way to stretch and occupy yourself as your book crawls toward publication. Do you think it’s beneficial to belong to or create a ‘debut group’ specifically?
Nanette Heffernan – Debut groups are nice because you are all going through the same thing. I would recommend reaching out to a few “upper-classmen” groups though and ask them if they would be willing to join your team on Zoom for a Q&A. Make sure to give back though. Simple things go a long way like promoting them on social media or reviewing their books.
Norene Paulson - I believe as a debut author it’s good to join a debut group where everyone is at the same starting line. I know I enjoyed figuring it all out with people who were in the same place as me. Having said that, my second promo group is a mixture of debut authors and established published authors. Those of us who have already debuted can definitely be a valuable resource for those on their debut journey. Whether it’s a debut group or a mixed group, it’s important to find your village.
Skylaar Amann - Both can be beneficial. The energy, excitement, and milestones of a debut group are fun (and informative) to be part of. But a mixed group or a non-debut group could be great too — in fact, I think the most important thing is to find folks you gel with and offer a mix of skills you can all benefit from. I’ve found my second book experience to differ in some ways from my debut (and not just because of the pandemic!), so as time goes on, I’m finding more common ground with writers who are beyond the debut stage. But I also love debut authors and their books — and their unmatched zeal.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - I think it’s helpful to learn the ropes by participating in a debut group, there are issues/challenges/concerns specific to debuting a book and your group can help you navigate through the ups and downs.
Susan Novich - I think either can work. For a debut author, if you want that particular camaraderie, look for or form your own group. If you have a specific sense of what you are looking for/or have particular needs you would like to address, you can help mold the group into those specifics. On the other hand, I think if the group is mixed that offers a lot as well – you have a lot of different skill sets and experience to fall back on.
Very good points. The biggest thing seems to be working with people you are comfortable with. What tools (organizational or social) did you find particularly helpful?
Nanette Heffernan – We met on Zoom monthly in the beginning and eventually moved to every other month and finally once a quarter. We also used Google Docs and sheets. And finally a private Facebook group to communicate back and forth.
Norene Paulson - Particularly in the beginning, Zoom meetings were very helpful as far as member discussions when we were first putting the group together. A lot of important directional decisions were made via Zoom. Of course, our Twitter and Instagram accounts were amazing ways to grow our social media presence. Also helpful was our private Facebook group. It became the main way we communicated with each other.
Skylaar Amann - It was great to have a spreadsheet where everyone could link their books, files, shop links, etc. for posting reviews.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - The spreadsheets where all the member info was kept were extremely helpful with staying on top of release dates, especially when books started arriving and there were sometimes multiple debuts in one month.
Susan Novich - I found using a FB group to be very easy and helpful in terms of communicating with one another. It is a great way to touch base, ask questions, and keep tabs on what is happening with the group. Using spreadsheets to categorize and organize things is also very useful.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about creating or belonging to a debut or collaborative writers group?
Nanette Heffernan – Have a positive mindset and plan to give more than you get. Don’t keep a scorecard and everything will come back to you. I’m often asked to participate in special events or promotions with other authors because they were so thankful for all of the support.
Norene Paulson - The one thing I’d like people to know is if you apply or show interest in joining an already established group but are not asked to join, don’t take it as a personal rejection. Different groups have different membership caps or criteria. Form your own group. That’s what Nanette and I did. There’s always people looking for groups to join. If you’re unsure how to get started, reach out. The writing community is so supportive, I know you’ll find others happy to guide you through the nuts and bolts of starting a new promo group.
Skylaar Amann - Make sure you’ve got time to review others’ books and to help promote on social media. Don’t disappear once your book is out — support the group like they supported you. And if you’re looking for a group, asking around on Twitter or various writing Facebook groups is an easy way to find others in the same boat.
Charlotte Watson Sherman - Everyone is busy and has life stuff going on, and if you can, find a way to overextend yourself in some way - with reviews, library purchase requests, posts on social media, etc. - to make up for when you can’t be as visible with your support (i.e. attending meetings) as others.
Susan Novich - Being part of a debut group has been amazing. I learned so much about social media -- like how to participate in a Twitter chat – things that were all new to me. It forced me to put myself out there in ways that were often out of my comfort zone, but which helped me to grow. The best part, however, was meeting a group of people who have all been incredibly kind and supportive, which in a profession where you spend a lot of alone time, is pretty special. I feel fortunate to be a member of this group, to have people cheering me on, and to also have the opportunity to learn about and celebrate the books of others.
Last chance, anything else you want us to know about debut support groups?
Nanette Heffernan – Even if you are marketing savvy I highly suggest a promotion group. You’ll make friends, have a team behind you through good and bad, and it makes you accountable to keep chipping away at your book launch and not leave everything until the last minute.
Norene Paulson - Debut support groups are not “must-haves”. Many people debut on their own and do so wonderfully, but if you are an introvert, like me, it’s sure nice to have a group of like-minded writers in your corner cheering you on.
Skylaar Amann - Marketing and promotion are important, but the real value is making friends and building camaraderie in the industry. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Charlotte Watson Sherman - what I enjoyed most, besides marketing help, was feeling like my tiny efforts helped other members’ books launch into the world in a joyful way.
Susan Novich - Being part of a debut support group creates a wonderful opportunity to learn about and promote the books of others that you might not come across otherwise -- with a personal and meaningful connection -- and then share them with the special little ones in your life.
Best of all it comes down to the joy created by a group of supportive writers and illustrators. Thank you all for sharing these insights and hard-earned advice with us.
Thank you, Maria, for featuring us!
Contributors and their books:
Nanette Heffernan – Earth Hour: A Lights-out Event For Our Planet (2020)
Norene Paulson - What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? (2021) and Benny’s True Colors (2020) www.norenepaulson.com
Skylaar Amann - Lloyd Finds His Whalesong (2020) and Smile, Sophia (coming in May 2022)www.skylaaramann.com
Charlotte Watson Sherman – Brown Sugar Babe (2020), Mermaid Kenzie: Protector of the Deeps (coming January 2022). www.charlottewatsonsherman.com
Susan S. Novich -- Guess Who is Behind the Door (2020) and Hello, Hanukkah! (coming October 1, 2021) www.susabean.com
Be sure to come back on June 30th for Perfect2020PBs/KidLitCollective joint interview Part 2.
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