A Fly on the WallWinter 2011

Besty Bird on How Authors and Bloggers Can Send Children’s Literature Soaring

By Deborah Topolski

A little bird told me…

It was not so much a little bird, but rather the Betsy Bird—New York City public librarian and blogger extraordinaire—who drew a flock of admirers to the September 29 Hyde Park Network meeting. Bird spends her commutes reading, her days working with, and her nights blogging about children’s literature. (Visit the blog at http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production.) Determined to make “good friends” of bloggers and children’s authors and illustrators, Bird outlined the following points about how blogs can be powerful tools in promoting you and your work.

Birds of a feather…

Chirpy, blithe, and with an eagle eye for what is current, Bird has become “the most powerful blogger in kids’ books,” according to Dirk Smillie of Forbes magazine. Bird is a prolific blogger and reviews at least two books per week, typically starting with a picture book, next a chapter book, and then rotating among nonfiction, graphic novels, and poetry. Bird insists that writers and illustrators need bloggers—we need to let bloggers know that we exist so they can introduce us to the wider children’s book world.

A bird in the hand…

If you’ve already been “discovered” by a blogger, consider yourself lucky! Bird says that it is good cyber-manners to acknowledge the blogger who mentioned you and to say thank you. In addition, make sure that you become a follower of that blog. Furthermore, ask the blogger if there is any project on which you two might collaborate. Reaching out to bloggers allows you to take your own publicity “in hand.”

As a crow flies…

Bird outlined how a good relationship with a blogger can be a direct path to success. After reviewing your book, a blogger like Bird may “tweet” that she’s posted a review, potentially reaching hundreds of online followers and Facebook friends. Your book is now in the collective consciousness of a gaggle of readers, writers, librarians, editors, agents, book buyers, other bloggers, and enthusiasts who may not otherwise have heard of you or your book. Some of these folks, particularly librarians, may serve on award committees and potentially recommend your book for consideration. All this publicity can be yours with just a few keystrokes from your blogging admirer, so becoming friends with a blogger is a good way to fly.

Getting your ducks in a row…

How do you join the migration? Bird suggested getting familiar with kidlit bloggers, naming Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings) and ShelfTalker (http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker) as two of her favorites. (See A Fuse #8 Production for a comprehensive list.) Just as we must research the best fits for our manuscripts among agents or editors, Bird urged the same attention to detail when seeking out bloggers who may be interested in our books—whether published, soon-to-be-published, or just manuscripts needing feedback. A well-crafted, even low-budget-but-creative book trailer posted to YouTube is a good way to get your book noticed. You can also “cold-call” bloggers (using e-mail, of course), asking them to review your published work. Bird emphasized that any books sent to her by an editor or agent with a personal note get special attention. Last year, she got about ten books accompanied by such a note. Like any other influential player, Bird has a slush pile of books, sent to her by hopefuls every day, waiting to be read and reviewed. Obviously you believe in your work, but it’s a feather in your cap if your agent or editor believes in it enough to sing its praises to a blogger like Bird.

A murder of crows…

Could all of this work against you as well? Bird stated that she’ll never post a critical review of a book by a first-time author or illustrator—unless the book has a HUGE debut and therefore can withstand criticism better.

Counting your chickens…

Bird pointed out what she feels is a hole in the recognition of great writing because the American Library Association has no award categories to honor graphic novels or poetry. A few recent titles that she considers worthy of an honor are Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze (Alan Silberberg), Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (Barry Deutsch), One Crazy Summer (Rita Williams-Garcia), Keeper (Kathi Appelt), and A Tale Dark and Grimm (Adam Gidwitz). Bird has heard a bit of squawking about potential Caldecott nods for Art & Max (David Wiesner), Here Comes the Garbage Barge (written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio), and Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) (written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat).

Putting all your eggs in one basket…

Bird mentioned popular trends like steampunk but urged content creators to seek out topics not yet covered by current titles. She cited librarians as terrific sources for ideas for “kids’ books that don’t yet exist.”

Feathering your nest…

Blogs are a terrific place to find daily news, reviews, opinions, inspiration, and resources. They also create a dialogue with—and help us stay connected to—the children’s literature market. While following a blogger can appear like another item on a seemingly endless to-do list, partnering with your local, cyberspace kidlit blogger might be just the thing to help you build your brand—or nest egg, so to speak. Bloggers like Betsy Bird who are committed to our craft will ensure that our fledgling books fly!

Deborah Topolski is grateful to fellow chapter member and blogger-author Susan Kaye Quinn for featuring her in her September 28 blog post! Visit Quinn at http://ink-spells.blogspot.com. Topolski is currently pecking out another revision of her story Baker’s Dozen, to be sent out on a wing and a prayer for critique at the Lisa Wheeler Picture Book Boot Camp this winter.

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