Interview with Bethany Barton

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m a kid’s book author and illustrator, with a “day-job” in film & TV. (Because one career isn’t enough, so I decided to have 2? haha) I’ve been fortunate enough to have written and illustrated 5 picture books so far, as well as occasionally illustrating for other authors and commercial clients like Starbucks. 

I’m passionate about creating books that help kids address and discuss fear using superpowers like facts and humor. My 2015 book I’m Trying To Love Spiders won the 2016 Children’s Choice Award 3rd/4th Grade Book of The Year. And my 2017 book Give Bees A Chance was a SCIBA Award finalist, was listed in Scripps National Spelling Bee “Great Words, Great Works,” and was featured in the New York Times. 

But don’t let that stuff fool you—  I still pretty much I have no idea what I’m doing… ha! 

Can you tell me about your new book coming out?

Heck yes I can! My newest non-fiction picture book addresses a subject that terrifies kids (and adults) the world over: MATH! It’s called I’m Trying To Love Math, and it hits stores in July. It’s chock full of space aliens, electric guitars and cookies… you know, math stuff. 

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Do you actually hate math in real life?

You know, writing this book really changed my relationship with math. It all started as a joke with my agent. My husband is getting his masters in physics (!) and keeps writing giant, rambling equations on our sliding glass door with dry-erase markers. I joked that I should write “I’m Trying To Love Math” to understand what the heck he was writing, and then my editor (the talented and wonderfully patient Tracy Gates at Viking) LOVED the idea. In the course of the book, I had a mathematician/friend answering all my stupid questions and explaining concepts to me (a genius named Erich Patrick Enke) — and he was/is so in love with and excited about math that I started to love it as well!  Seriously! Math is so much more creative then I’d ever realized! Great teachers absolutely make the difference, and Erich was/is a fantastic one for how my brain works. 

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Did you always want to be a children's book writer and illustrator?

You know how Pete the Cat was walking down the street… and he just kept stepping in stuff… and then BAM - he had super sweet shoes? That’s basically my publishing career. 

I knew I wanted to be a working artist. I wanted to “Wake Up and Make Stuff” and then be able to trade that stuff I made for goods and services. I had stories to tell, and images to make, and thankfully I also had great mentors in my life. But I wasn’t particularly choosy about which field I ended up in, as long as I was creating things, telling stories, promoting honesty & empathy, and in doing so, was able to pay my bills.

It was actually my agent (big hugs to Stephen Barr at Writers House!) who found my art and stories on a blog I used to have and told me they could be children’s books. He saw it first, and I was overjoyed with the idea. 

It’s like Jim Henson said about working in the arts, “You have to be very very prepared… and very very flexible.” 

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How did you come up with your style of splotchy watercolor backgrounds?

Honestly, I made my first few books with all-white backgrounds because that’s what I find myself drawn to visually. My editor & art director wanted more color for Spiders, but just filling the background with a solid color seemed lifeless and not-in-the-same-world as the messy, gestural, energized artwork of the book. So I made a happy watercolor mess — a bunch of them, really— laid them into the background of the files, and VOILA!  I liked the tone it set; it seemed really happy and full of life.

Can you tell us about the process of creating your books? Do you write the stories and then sketch them out or do the images come to you first?

For me, since I’m making non-fiction books, it starts with research. LOTS of research. There’s so much competing information out there, so getting to the truth is important to me. Then I start typing and doodling. I draw with ink on paper, but I also draw digitally in Photoshop.

I make DOZENS of extra pages — with full-on text and illustration—  that don’t end up in my books. If I try to edit as I go I’ll overthink myself into stasis. So I just create, create, create.  Then I’ll go back and edit. My agent knows about this process, so if he doesn’t like an idea he’ll ask, “Is there something else you made for this part that ended up on the cutting room floor?” and usually there is. There’s probably a more time-saving process out there, but this one seems to work for me. 

Who is your favorite picture book illustrator and why?

Oh man, this changes all the time, there is just so much to love out here. But as of this moment? Everything Oliver Jeffers creates is inspired and filled with the most delicious layers. Kathryn Otoshi is able to evoke so much emotion within such a clean, simple, visual world… I really love what she’s doing. 

Where can we find you online?

www.bethanybarton.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethanybarton/

NEW Daily Art Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethanybartonart/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/awesomebARTon

Thanks so much for joining us, Bethany!!

Interview with Joshua David Bellin

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Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he has published numerous works of fantasy and science fiction, including the two-part Survival Colony series (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls), the deep-space adventure Freefall, and the short story collection Ten Tales of Terror and Terra. The Ecosystem series—Ecosystem, The Devouring Land, and House of Earth, House of Stone—is his latest foray into speculative fiction. In his free time, Josh likes to read, watch movies, and take long nature hikes with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

Can you tell us about your new book?

House of Earth, House of Stone is the final book in the Ecosystem Trilogy, a series set on a future Earth in which the environment has mutated into a collective sentience called the Ecosystem. It doesn't like human beings very much (no big surprise), and it has forced the remnants of humankind to take shelter in small villages of stone that the Ecosystem can't penetrate. Only people with a psychic power known as the Sense, which enables them to read the Ecosystem's "mind," can survive in the wild, so Sensors are responsible for supplying everyone else with food, water, and fuel. My narrator, a seventeen-year-old Sensor named Sarah, holds a special grudge against the Ecosystem--because it killed her mother when Sarah was only two years old. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people but for revenge. But during the course of the series, she discovers truths about the Ecosystem, about her society, and about herself that she never imagined.

What inspired you to write this series?

I've always loved fantasy fiction—I grew up reading Tolkien, Le Guin, and other classic writers—and I've always loved the natural world. But as I've gotten older, I've become aware of how much damage human beings have done to Nature, so my thought turned to the idea of telling a story in which Nature is conscious, intelligent—and angry. This gave me a perfect opportunity to tell a dramatic adventure story, full of mutated creatures and hairbreadth escapes, while also reflecting on our relationship to the natural world

Which character do you relate to the most?

I'd have to say I relate to Sarah, my narrator. She starts out the series angry at what the Ecosystem has done to her family and her people, but she grows to understand the world in ways that make her come to some hard realizations about herself. I feel as if I've undergone a similar growth path myself--from being upset about the state of the world to recognizing my own responsibility and, more important, acting to try to make a change.

I know you love monsters. Which one is your favorite?

There are so many monsters in the Ecosystem series, it's hard for me to choose! In each case, I took a present-day creature and twisted it in some way to make it more threatening. So, for example, snapping turtles become snatching turtles, which pull people into their shells and devour them there. But I love frogs, so I think I would say that my favorite creatures in the series are poison arrow frogs--which are similar to poison dart frogs, except they can spit their venom over fifty feet with the velocity of an arrow. My son helped me come up with this monster when he was younger, so that's another reason I like them.

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If you could meet any character from a book, who would it be?

Definitely Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. The man is just too cool, too wise, and too awesome. If you go to my website, you'll see a picture of me in the homemade Gandalf costume I pull out of the closet every Halloween!


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Where can we find you online?

Website: https://joshuadavidbellin.blogspot.com/

Blog: https://theyaguy.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshuadavidbellin

Thanks for joining us, Josh!

And don’t forget to check out his newly completed Ecosystem trilogy!

Interview with Hannah Holt

Hannah Holt is just your everyday children’s author… with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

First, thanks so much for hosting me! From the time I was little, I enjoyed writing and telling stories. In fourth grade, I wrote forty pages of my first attempted novel. As a teen, I created elaborate bedtime stories for the children I tended. However, my family is full of scientists and engineers. I didn't know the first thing about writing as a career, so I majored in engineering. It wasn't until years later that I submitted my first manuscript to a publisher.


Can you tell me about your new book coming out?

My book, A Father's Love, celebrates animal dads around the world. There's also a secondary layer of exploring colors in different habitats. From the jacket flap:

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Throughout the animal kingdom, in every part of the world, fathers love and care for their babies. This book takes readers around the globe and across the animal kingdom, showcasing the many ways fathers have of demonstrating their love. Whether it's a penguin papa snuggling with his baby in the frosty white snow, a lion dad playing with his cub in a yellow field, or a seahorse father protecting his young inside his pouch in the deep blue ocean, we see that a father's love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Kirkus calls it, "A sweet bedtime book about fathers and how their “love is everywhere.”

I dedicated this book to my husband, but really it's for all dads.

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What were your books inspired by?

As I mentioned earlier, my family is very science-focused. In fact, my first book, The Diamond and the Boy, is a biography of my inventor grandfather, H. Tracy Hall. Maybe science is in my DNA. Maybe I'm just curious about the world, but the manuscripts I write tend to be nonfiction or informational fiction. There's so much to explore about the world, and I want to know it all.



How have the illustrations for your books matched up with what you originally imagined them to be?

I usually don't have a firm vision for what the illustration style should be. My illustration ideas are more like a dream--vague ideas of what could be. I feel very lucky to have been paired with amazing illustrators like Jay Fleck and Yee Von Chan.

Did you always want to be a children's book writer?

No. Despite my love for writing and storytelling, I didn't believe I was very good at it. I applied for honors English almost every year in high school and was rejected a lot. My senior year, I didn't even apply for the program. My handwriting and spelling lagged behind my peers, and my teachers let me know it.

I thought I would spend my life designing bridges. If you told me twenty years ago I would be where I am now, I probably would have laughed. I didn't know "professional children's book writer" was a possibility for me.

What is your favorite picture book?

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Instead, can I tell you about a book that hasn't been released yet? I first heard about A Small World by Ishta Mercurio back when it sold. The book description is lovely, and I can't wait for it be released this summer:

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Where can we find you online?

Twitter: @hannahwholt

Website: https://hannahholt.com/


Thanks for joining us, Hannah!

How to Grow Your Following on Instagram as a Picture Book Author or Illustrator

Okay. You’ve created an Instagram account (Why Instagram? Read this post.) You’ve got a list of what to post (Need more ideas? Read this post.).

Now how do you grow your following?

The first thing to remember is that (for most of us) growing a following is slow going. Don’t get discouraged… stay patient and keep the long view in mind. Unless you get super famous overnight or buy followers (not a good idea), you are just not going to get thousands of followers super fast. But in time, you will get them.

How to Grow Your Following:

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Use hashtags

To be honest, I find hashtags annoying. But they are necessary. If you’re like me, and they bug you, put them in the comments so they aren’t so blatantly in your face. Hashtags allow people with similar interests to find you. If you use hashtag #picturebookauthor, for example, people trying to find picture book authors can find you. Boom. Automatic followers.


Follow people that like posts from accounts similar to yours

It took me awhile to figure this out. One way to get more followers is to follow random people in the hope that they will follow you back. However, tons of followers that don’t engage with your posts won’t do you much good (or feel very fulfilling). So find people that are active on Instagram—people that like and/or comment on posts. These are the people that will actively like your posts if they start following you.

To find these gems, find someone with an account similar to yours. If you’re a picture book author, find an account that posts about picture books. Click on one of the posts, then click on the people who liked that post. Follow those people. There is a much higher chance that active Instagrammers will follow you back, rather than a whole bunch of random people. Not only that, but these are your people. They are interested in the kinds of things you are posting. Cultivate this audience.

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Giveaways

In my experience, giveaways are the fastest way to gain followers. They work even better when someone else hosts the giveaway. I haven’t found that hosting my own giveaways gets me many more followers because it doesn’t give me exposure to new people. But when someone else hosts the giveaway for me, all of their followers see the post, and this can pay off big when it comes to building your following.

That being said, keep in mind that some giveaways will be a flop. I gained 600 new followers in the best giveaway I ever had. Woot woot! But another giveaway only resulted in 12 new followers. There’s no guarantee that giveaways will succeed.. But they are definitely worth trying.

Post consistently

When you post consistently, you retain more of your followers. Despite that, there will always be people that unfollow you. Please don’t let that bother you. It’s just part of the deal. As for frequency, Instagram research has shown that it doesn’t actually matter how often you post, just that you are consistent. When you post consistently and are active on Instagram, Instagram also suggests that people are more likely to follow your account. So there you have it. Research shows that consistent posting can help you get more followers.

Unfollow people that don’t follow you

This doesn’t help you grow your following, but it’s still important. You want to keep your ratio of followers/unfollowers in check. In short, you don’t want to follow thousands more people than are following you. There are apps that will let you know all the people you are following who aren’t following you back. Figure out who they are and unfollow them. It’s a huge pain. Do it anyway. Or make your tech-savvy kid do it for you (I may or may not have used this tactic).

Now you’re set! Good luck, and I wish you thousands of followers overnight! (Or at least the patience to grow your followers into the thousands!)

Interview with Cathy Breisacher

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, attended college at Penn State University and earned my Master’s Degree in School Counseling. I started my career as a high school guidance counselor at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. After enjoying the counseling world for many years, I decided I wanted to devote more time to writing for children. So I obtained my Master in Library Science Degree, made a career switch and became an elementary school librarian. That move enabled me to immerse more of my time in the kid lit world, and now I have two picture books coming out this spring. I live with my husband in Hollidaysburg, and we enjoy traveling, especially to National Parks.

Can you tell me about your books coming out?

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Yes!
CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and published by Charlesbridge, will come out on March 5, 2019.  In the story, Caveboy and Cavegirl are best friends and do all kinds of cavekid activities together. They also share the same birthday! So, with their birthday approaching, each one decides to get something special for the other. They both have something valuable that they can take to Caveman’s Collectibles to trade, but when it’s time to exchange gifts, they are in for a big surprise. However, these Cavekids are resourceful, so they use their imagination and creativity to come up with a way to have a satisfying and very happy birthday.

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CHIP AND CURLY, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz and published by Sleeping Bear Press, will release on May 15, 2019. It is a story about two potatoes, Chip and Curly, who compete against each other in Spud City’s Annual sack race. Chip has his heart set on winning the Golden Bushel Award, but when Curly shows up with a spring in his step, Chip is worried. He practices and gains admiration from the other taters in town, but he wonders if he will be able to get this win in the bag or if his dreams of winning will be mashed.

Where did you get the ideas specifically for these books?

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY was initially inspired by a clipart picture of a caveboy and a cavegirl. I started thinking of a story that I could write using cavekids as my characters. At one point, I decided to mash the cavekids with Christmas, and I started writing. It didn’t take long before the idea of doing a twist on the Gift of the Magi popped into my head. I have always loved O. Henry’s story about the husband and wife who each take their most treasured possession and sell it to buy a perfect gift for the other one.  So I decided to take that premise and have it take place during prehistoric time with cavekids. After many rounds of revision, the Christmas theme changed to a Birthday, and the rest of the story flowed from there. I kept the Gift of the Magi theme, so each of the cavekids ends up trading something they value in order to get the perfect birthday present for their friend. But there is a twist in the end!

CHIP AND CURLY – THE GREAT POTATO RACE was inspired by an annual potato festival near my town.  Every fall in Ebensburg, PA, there is a Potato Festival with large crowds of people, delicious potato food, crafts and games. While at the Potato Festival one year, I felt inspired to write a book with potatoes as the characters. I wanted to have fun with this story and fill it with potato puns to make both adults and kids chuckle. I had a great time thinking of ways to add potato-related words and puns to the story.

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What is your all-time favorite picture book?

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds. It is told so well. It is fun, clever, imaginative…everything great storytelling should be. There are many books that tie for my second favorite picture book, but CREEPY CARROTS tops the chart. I also love SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett– the page turns are brilliant. MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan Higgins is hysterical. THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Swartz shows rhyme at its best. THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is another favorite, and I also adore all of Kelly DiPucchio’s books.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

I love coming up with a fun idea that I think will make readers smile and laugh. I let my mind think of silly things: What if a hippopotamus went to the moon? What if a bear gets a new haircut? What if a moose tries to play hide-and-seek? I think of something and ask myself: what if, what if, what if? My mind does this every day until something takes up residence in my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. My favorite part of writing is when I get a complete draft written and then I can delve into revising. Revising is my favorite part of writing.

If you could be any book character, who would you be?

I’d probably pick Clementine by Sara Pennypacker or Ramona by Beverly Cleary for their spunk and imagination.   They both make me laugh. I also wouldn’t mind being Hermione Granger for her intelligence, bravery, and loyalty to her friends.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me online at the following places:

Twitter:  @CathyBreisacher

Facebook:  Cathy Breisacher

website:  www.cathybreisacher.com


Thanks so much for joining us, Cathy!!

What to post on Instagram as a Picture Book Author or Illustrator

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For all you picture book authors or illustrators who read last month’s post (find it HERE), I hope I convinced you that Instagram is a must! But what to post? How often? These are great questions, and I wish I had the magic answer.

The truth is, the answer is different for everyone.

That being said, there are some basic guidelines that can help you get started.

First of all, don’t wait until you are published to build your brand. Start now. You can’t gain thousands of followers overnight. It takes a long time and patience. So the sooner you create your author platform, the better.

Once you are published, go ahead and post about your books, but make sure to vary it up with other topics as well. One of the fastest ways to lose followers is to “sell” your book with every post. Ugh. Instead, decide now how you want your brand to look. Are you the crafty writer who writes and loves teddy bears? The snarky writer who loves popsicles? The writer-teacher? Obviously, you are more than your brand, so do some trial and error. Post about things you love, see what people respond to, and adjust. Your “brand” will naturally change over time, and that’s okay.

This leads to the biggest question of all: what to post? There’s no right answer about what to post or what not to post. Some people are extremely personal on Instagram and post pictures of their kids and all of their inner thoughts. Other people are very private and only post information about their books or events they are participating in. And then there’s a whole mixture of in-between folks. This is what I mean about trial and error. Post what you love. You get to decide what you are comfortable with. There are no rules here. Just pay attention to the posts people are responding to. See what they like to see, and let your brand emerge from there.

For example, it’s been proven that pictures with people get more likes and comments than posts without people. There are lots of statistics about this kind of thing. Go ahead and research it, or just watch your feed. You’ll figure it out.

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For those of you still scratching your head and/or watching your heart beat through your chest, I’ve compiled a list of ideas to get you started. Keep in mind—people love getting new ideas, being inspired, and laughing. Creating content that feeds into those desires will automatically add value to what you post. So with that said, here you go.

My “What to Post” list:

·      Memes

·      Inspirational quotes

·      Projects you are working on

·      If you are an illustrator – your art!

·      Things that inspire you

·      Photos of your daily life

·      Books you love

·      Anything book-related (did you eat a muffin that looked like Harry Potter’s head? Take a picture and post about it!)

·      Things that have to do with what you like to write about (You write about cute, fluffy animals? Then you’d better take pics of your neighbors’ new kittens and post it, stat!)

·      Your books

·      Events


Building your Instagram brand takes time and effort, but it’s worth it! Even if you just post once a week to start, it’s still a start! Every little bit helps. There are also a lot of tools like Later, Buffer, or Hootsuite where you can schedule posts to make keeping up with Instagram easier. Feel free to message me with questions.

And good luck!



The Power of Instagram for Picture Book Authors and Illustrators

A lot of new authors ask me if they have to be on social media. The answer is YES. And for most of us, it takes a LONG time to build a following, so the sooner you start, the better.

But which social media platforms are most important for a writer?

For most writers, the answer would be Twitter. The publishing world is very present on Twitter – it’s the social media platform that agents and publishers most often emphasize for new writers.

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However, for you picture book authors/illustrators out there, I would (gasp!) disagree with the general Twitter consensus.

For us, Instagram is the way to go.

But why? You ask. Let me count the ways.

First, that’s where your audience is. As a picture book writer/illustrator, your primary audience is parents or teachers of babies and preschoolers, most of whom are people in their late twenties to early forties. According to the article, “Social Media Demographics to Inform a Better Segmentation Strategy,” 59% of 18-29 year olds and 33% of 30-49 year olds use Instagram.  In comparison, only 36% of 18-29 year olds and 23% of 30-49 year olds use Twitter. A higher percentage of your audience is checking their Instagram feeds than scrolling through the latest tweets.

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Second, picture books are very visual, and Instagram is all about images. Give people images of your book, and they will remember it that much more easily!

Finally, one of the best marketing tools for picture book writers/illustrators is the plethora of Instagram moms who love books. There are loads of Instagram accounts dedicated purely to picture books. Bookstagram is a thing. And this is the kind of community you want to be part of. You need all those picture-book-loving moms  (and dads, though they are admittedly fewer and farther between on social media) talking and posting about your book. Find them. Follow them. Make comments on their posts. Then, message them and ask them if they’d like a free copy of your book. If they love it, would they be willing to post about it? Some will say no. But most will say yes! And mailing a free copy of your book from home? That’s about the cheapest marketing out there. And when someone else posts about your book, boom. All of their followers see it, and the word spreads.

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So yes, jump on Twitter and Facebook, but consider turning your focus to Instagram. Even if you aren’t published, you can start growing a community of book-loving people. In fact, it’s actually best to get started before you’re published.

Which leads to the inevitable question: What to post? Looks like you better come back for next month’s blog post!

Number One Tip for Authors about Social Media from a Bookseller

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If there’s any advice I can give writers, it’s make yourself easy to find on social media!  Your handle should be your name. The same name that is on your books. Simple as that. If your name is taken, put author or writer or books or whatever after your name! Not in front of your name!!

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I have worked at Penguin Bookshop as a Storytime leader and bookseller for three years now. I love to post about the books we use during Storytime as well as events and other new books I love in the store.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to tag an author when I post about their book, but I can’t find them. And we all know time is limited. So when I post about a book on Instagram or Twitter, I type in the @ symbol and the author’s name as it appears on their book. If it doesn’t pop up immediately or isn’t clear which social media handle is theirs, I don’t have time to search for them. So they don’t get tagged.

Why does this matter? Because the business of writing is all about relationships. And if you know who is posting about you, you can thank them, chat with them, form a relationship. Not to mention it’s super easy marketing to retweet or repost an unsolicited post about your book from someone else. It not only makes them feel good, but it also helps get the word out about your book.

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So save booksellers the trouble of trying to track you down. Make yourself easy to find. If you already have an account with a confusing handle, it’s easy to change! Remember, booksellers want to help promote the authors they love. So make it as easy as possible to do so!