As writers we spend so many months and years in our little bubbles writing that we're often clueless when it comes to marketing and promoting our books. This was the primary reason KidLit in Color was started a year ago. Many of our members had limited social media and marketing experience, and the group was a great way to support each other. Even though 2020 was a tough year to release a book, we learned a lot this past year that we hope helps you on your publication journey in 2021.
"Writers love doing the work of writing, but there's a business side to it as well. Spend a couple of hours a week networking, looking for publishing opportunities, attending face to face or virtual conferences, and spending time on social media promoting your own work and that of others!" Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of the Farah Rocks series.
"Do what works best for you to promote your book (connecting with bloggers and podcasters, doing events, building your social media presence, or updating your website and adding a newsletter). Most of all all, adhere to self-care measures, and enjoy the journey!" Valerie Bolling, author of Let's Dance.
"Make connections and engage with book bloggers, authors, and Instagram book reviewers before your book comes out! Engage with them and share their content. They’ll most likely share your book when it comes out plus you’ll make new friends!" Aya Khalil, author of The Arabic Quilt.
"It's impossible to do everything so make achievable goals and work toward them. Instead of spreading yourself thin on all social media platforms, choose one or two you enjoy and focus on them. Find what works for you and do that unapologetically."
Kirstie Myvett, author of Praline Lady.
2020 was your debut year. How was it?
My debut year started off strong, with From the Desk of Zoe Washington releasing on January 14. I had a couple of in-person launch events at local bookstores, and was able to attend Winter Institute, ALA Midwinter, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival. And then the pandemic shut everything down. Despite that, it’s still been a mostly positive debut year for me. Readers are discovering and enjoying Zoe’s story. Now, From the Desk of Zoe Washington is appearing on several “Best of 2020” book lists. I’m so grateful!
With the pandemic many authors were unable to do the school and in-person bookstore visits they had planned. How did you navigate that?
One disappointing moment this year was when the book tour my publisher had planned was canceled due to the pandemic. I had been looking forward to visiting those bookstores and meeting readers in person! I had no choice but to pivot. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do a lot of virtual panels and school visits. Also, three of my middle grade debut friends (Shannon Doleski, Lorien Lawrence, and Tanya Guerrero) and I planned an online book festival called Middle Ground Book Fest. It was a great opportunity to connect with other middle grade authors and help them reach teachers, librarians and readers during a difficult year. We had a lot of fun with it! The video recordings are still available on our YouTube channel.
What does your writing schedule look like?
Before the pandemic, I had a schedule. I woke up early a few times a week to write. (I could never quite make it to #5amWritersClub, but I’d write from 6 - 7:30 am). My day job is three days a week, so on the other two days, I’d write while my daughter was in school. I also wrote a lot on the weekends. But now that my daughter is doing remote learning, I don’t have those quiet days to write anymore! Now, I have to try to squeeze in writing whenever I can.
What are you currently working on?
I recently completed copy edits for my second book, A Soft Place to Land, which comes out on September 14. Now, I’m getting to work on what I hope will be my next published book - another standalone contemporary middle grade.
Do you plan on venturing into YA? (I know your debut initially started out as YA if I’m not mistaken?)
I did start out writing young adult books! The three (unpublished) manuscripts I wrote before From the Desk of Zoe Washington were YA, and I even thought Zoe’s story would be at first. I started out with her as sixteen years old instead of twelve. But a critique partner who read pages early on helped me realize that the book would be stronger as a middle grade. It was an adjustment to make the shift from writing YA to MG, but I’m so happy writing MG now! I do want to venture back to YA at some point, if I find the right idea.
What are some free or inexpensive resources you use that help you as a writer?
One free website that I like to use to track my progress when I’m drafting or revising is www.pacemaker.press. I like all the ways it lets you customize your plan, and it adjusts if you miss a day. Also, some authors and publishing professionals share fantastic writing tips for free on their website and newsletters: Susan Dennard, Patrice Caldwell, and Erin Bowman, to name a few. Finally, I love listening to writing podcasts like First Draft with Sarah Enni, 88 Cups of Tea, and Deadline City.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
What is your favorite quote?
One of my favorites is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” - Maya Angelou. I even incorporated it into From the Desk of Zoe Washington!
What are you hoping for in 2021?
I really hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will allow life to return to “normal” sooner rather than later!
Last but certainly not least, how is Zoe doing?
I don’t want to spoil the book by saying too much, but if Zoe were in this pandemic, she’d absolutely use all her extra time at home to bake. In addition to cupcakes and other sweet treats, she’d join in on the bread-baking trend!
Janae Marks is the author of the critically acclaimed novel From the Desk of Zoe Washington and A Soft Place to Land (9/14/21). She grew up in the New York City suburbs, and now lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter. She has an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School.
Visit Janae online at http://janaemarks.com.
The first time I’d ever heard of the praline ladies was in reading your book. What inspired you to write this story? Do you have a personal connection to it?
I was inspired by the actual praline ladies who sold pralines in New Orleans once upon a time. When I look at the black and white photos of them, I feel a connection that I can’t explain. Sadly, they’re often overlooked in the telling of NOLA praline history. My maternal grandmother was also an inspiration. She owned a shotgun house like the Praline Lady and she also made pralines for me when I was a child.
How long did it take you to write Praline Lady? (Btw, is it PRAY-leen or PRAH-leen?)
In New Orleans we say prah-leen, but in other regions they say pray-leen. I have a friend that calls it pecan candy.
I wrote Praline Lady over a decade ago, but life got in the way and I put it to the side. I would occasionally revisit it and do some edits, but it wasn’t until 2016 I was determined to finish it once and for all.
How difficult was it to distill all your research down into such spare text? What was your process for doing so?
I certainly collected more research than I would ever be able to use, but most importantly, the research helped me to gain a better understanding of what life was like in New Orleans during the 19th century. Once I was able to comfortably inhabit that place, I was confident in telling the story.
You employ literary devices like onomatopoeia masterfully and your text engages all five of the senses throughout the entire story. Would you say this is a hallmark of your writing style?
I do aim to engage all of the senses when writing especially for children so yes, you could say it is a hallmark of my writing style. When the Praline Lady plop, plop, plops the mixture onto the pan, I vividly remember seeing and hearing my Grandmother doing the same, except hers was on wax paper laid out on the counter. That was the best way for me to convey that memory and those sounds. By the way, I still stumble saying “onomatopoeia” sometimes, whereas my fifteen year-old says it effortlessly.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned in your research?
The most surprising thing I learned was that some of these women were able to self-purchase their own freedom or that of their loved ones. That was profound to me. Pralines meant liberty for some of them.
Was there something you had to cut from the text that you really wish you could’ve been able to keep?
I wish we could have included a recipe or some of the black and white photos of the Praline Ladies.
What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
I hope readers understand that these Black women were entrepreneurs at a time when the odds were stacked against them. They weren’t educated and they didn’t have much, but they’re the reason pralines are interwoven in the fabric of New Orleans food history. This is their legacy and they deserve recognition.
What are you working on next?
I’m revising a middle grade novel and researching a biography picture book topic.
Do you have advice for aspiring authors?
Your talent will make room for you so don’t give up!
Finally—the most important question of the interview: Who makes the best Pralines in New Orleans and how far do they ship?
Well that is a tough question. I always like when friends or colleagues make pralines and share at holiday parties, but for those who aren’t as fortunate I’d recommend Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. Her pralines and especially her beignet pralines are DELICIOUS.
Kirstie resides in the rich cultural city of New Orleans with her family. She enjoys foreign films, visits to the beach, and playing board games. Her debut picture book, PRALINE LADY, was published in November 2020 by Pelican Publishing. Her work has also been featured in Country Roads Magazine.
If you’d like to learn more about Kirstie Myvett please visit her website at kirstiemyvett.com