Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lessons Learned from My First Goodreads Giveaway

I sponsored my first Goodreads giveaway last week, and it exceeded my wildest expectations (and trust me, my expectations can get pretty wild). The giveaway drew 772 entries, and at the same time, 379 people* added the book to their shelves. Goodreads doesn't track entries by day (or at least I couldn't find where they track entries by day), but I was able to follow the adds over the course of the giveaway:


And for those of you who like pictures, here's the same information in a handy-dandy graph:


Considering that only 179 people had added the book in the seven-plus months leading up to last week, these numbers are kind of amazing. I also had a few observations that I thought I'd share:

As you've probably heard, beginnings and endings are super important. As you can see from my table, I got the most adds by far on the first and last days of the giveaway. It really does make a difference to be at or very close to the top of the "Ending Soon" and "Recently Listed" lists.

So how do you maximize your exposure? I noticed that lots of people were still using arbitrary beginning and ending dates: the starts or ends of months, of weeks, etc. Heck, I fell prey to this tendency and started and ended my giveaway at the end of a week. Next time, I'll aim to start and end in the middle. Or maybe I'll start my giveaway on the last day of the month. The possibilities are endless!

The length of your giveaway will determine exactly where it falls on those lists. I can't say this with certainty, but I'm pretty sure that the top slots on the "Ending Soon" list go to the longest-running giveaways while the top slots on the "Recently Listed" list go to the shortest-running giveaways. In other words, A LONG-RUNNING GIVEAWAY IS GOING TO GET MORE EXPOSURE AT THE END OF ITS CYCLE, AND A SHORT-RUNNING GIVEAWAY IS GOING TO GET MORE EXPOSURE UPFRONT.

Case in point: on the first day of my giveaway, it appeared about halfway down the first "Recently Listed" page, but on the last day, it was only as high as the third. Plenty of users still found it--as you can see above, it was my best day for adds--but it's something to be aware of.

If this number-crunching has seriously stressed you out, throw it all out the window--but still sponsor a Goodreads giveaway. I don't know how influential Goodreads actually is, but having 500 people wake up on the day my book comes out to an e-mail from Goodreads reminding them about it can't hurt.

I should also add that I found Catherine Ryan Howard's excellent post on Goodreads giveaways extremely helpful, but what about you? Have you sponsored a Goodreads giveaway, and if so, what have YOU learned?

*I pulled these numbers from my book stats on Goodreads, but they don't quite add up. My total adds peaked at 520 on the last day of the giveaway, but 179 plus 379 doesn't equal 520. Also, several people have un-added my book in the last several days, but that's to be expected.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Recommendation: THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE by Julie Berry

Longtime critique partner Jeni and I have been trading book recommendations lately, and THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE was her latest suggestion. The cover perfectly captures the tone of the book, so feel free to stare at it for a while before you read on.

When the odious headmistress of St. Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies and her oily brother keel over dead after Sunday dinner, the young ladies of the aforementioned school know that, if they sound the alarm, they'll be investigated for murder (or, worse, sent home). So they do the only thing a group of somewhat well-bred young ladies might do: they bury the victims in the vegetable garden and try to convince the townsfolk that their headmistress and her brother are still very much alive. If they're to succeed, they'll have to fool the doctor, their domestic, and their headmistress's elderly beau--and pray that her heir, the fabled Julius Godding, doesn't show up.

Is it irreverent? Uh-huh. Is it implausible? Yes. Did it make me smile and laugh out loud more than once? You bet it did. Ms. Berry was clearly less interested in developing the characters in her ensemble cast than in plunging them into the most absurd situations imaginable and watching them fib, grease, and connive their way out. And I enjoyed every second.

THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE totally reminded me of Arsenic and Old Lace, so if you like your comedy dark and your farces Victorian, definitely check this one out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Dream Eclipsed

A week or two ago, an amazing thing happened: I held a finished book in my hands, and it had my name on it. The first copies of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING are hot off the press, and the always gracious Shauna was kind enough to send one to me.

It was definitely a cool moment (or even a stupendous one), but in the ensuing days and weeks, that high has tapered off, and I've gone back to feeling mostly ambivalent about the upcoming release. I'm about to fulfill a lifelong dream--and after holding that book in my hands, I've kind of already fulfilled it--and the most that I can drum up is ho-hum ambivalence?

What in the heck is wrong with me?

I've thought long and hard about why I'm so indifferent, and the realization I've come to is that I've been letting the noise, both good and bad, get under my skin. Reviews have been coming in for the last couple of months, and if they haven't been awful, they've just been all right. (And by "all right," I mean they haven't been starred. Are starred reviews the only ones worth mentioning? I have no idea.) But before I got those reviews, I let other people's dreams for this book go to my head. I started thinking of them less as dreams and more as certainties. Of course my book was great. Of course everyone was going to love it.

I don't know when I stopped caring about the book itself and only about what other people thought of it, but somewhere along the way, it happened. You can survive when other people think it's awesome, but you won't really be content. And when someone bursts your bubble, you'll crash back down to earth. To insulate yourself from future heartbreak, you'll convince yourself that you don't care, and then you really won't.

I don't know how to reverse this process, but I want to figure it out. Once upon a time, I was confident enough that both the praise and the scorn rolled right off my back. I want to find that girl again. I know she's in here somewhere.

For those of you who are reading this post in your inboxes or feed readers, you should know that I'm giving away two signed ARCs of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING on Goodreads. Also, I just added an "Educators" page to the blog, so if you want to learn more about my school and library visits, definitely check it out!

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Five Ways to Bring Place and Time Alive" on the NaNoWriMo Blog

In case you missed it last week, The NaNoWriMo Blog featured my guest post on Friday as part of their "Choose Your Camp" series. I shared a few tips on beefing up your setting, so feel free to check those out.

Also, a seventh-grader from Connecticut recently asked me a few questions about THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING for the Fearless Fifteeners blog. She came up with some insightful questions that really made me think, so definitely check those out.

Finally, today is the last day to enter to win one of three signed ARCs of DON'T VOTE FOR ME over at Kidliterati. It looks like the odds are pretty good, so get your name into that drawing! The giveaway is over now, but you can still pre-order DON'T VOTE FOR ME from all the usual suspects, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview with an Art Director: John Aardema on DON'T VOTE FOR ME's Cover

I'm so pleased to welcome John Aardema, art director at Sourcebooks, for a much-anticipated interview (or at least I've been anticipating it for the last couple of weeks). When I asked the great folks over at Kidliterati to reveal DON'T VOTE FOR ME's cover, I knew I wanted to offer some bonus content. I immediately thought of interviewing the cover designer, and Mr. Aardema was kind enough to agree. So check out the cover reveal (where I'm giving away THREE SIGNED ARCS), then pop back over here to get the behind-the-scenes scoop!

KV: Tell us a bit about the initial design meeting. Did you have a clear vision for this cover, or did it develop as you went?

JA: This was actually one of the very first covers I worked on when I started at Sourcebooks last summer. The initial meeting was interesting as the very first question we had to address was “what are we going to sell on the cover of this book?” Which is a very important question for an art director to have answers to. In this instance, we had a lot of back and forth around the idea of selling school elections--are kids really interested in that? Would they rather read about the band since both kids play instruments? But when we looked at other books in the middle grade space, and what other books have similar themes, it was clear that kids actually find election stories interesting. The numbers don’t lie. 

The second biggest point of discussion for us was "who should be on the cover?"  This is a story for both boys and girls, and as much as you want every book to sell to both boys and girls, just putting one or the other on the cover doesn’t really represent the content and could limit your audience. So again, we looked at the other titles in the category and what stories that they told. In the end, though, we are telling our story--telling Krista’s story, and telling Veronica and David’s story--and when we had all our questions answered, from there I did my part: sketches that brought to life the elements we all agreed belonged on the cover, the elements that were going to speak to the consumer and tell them what this book was about.

KV: It seems like MG covers tend to be illustrated, but Sourcebooks has had success with MG covers that feature photographs (like the ones in Anna Staniszewski's Dirt Diary series). Why do you think that is, and why did you decide to go with a photographic cover in DON'T VOTE FOR ME's case?

JA: The middle grade space covers a wide age range and reading level. You get second graders who read at fourth and fifth grade levels and want to be challenged, and you get fourth and fifth graders who can’t wait to read what their friends in junior high and even high school are reading. We believe that the cover treatment helps create a visual cue to the reader and to the parent as to how appropriate the content is for kids at various ages in the middle grade space.

You tend to see illustrated covers on what we call “lower middle grade” and then photographic or photo-realistic covers on “upper middle grade.” Stories that may take place in fourth and fifth grade will still have illustrated covers, but once a story or a character hits sixth to eighth or even that wonderful “freshman year,” the covers tend to feel a bit more sophisticated, while the content remains appropriate for younger readers.

And believe it or not, these covers are actually “photo illustrated”--they start with two people being photographed in a studio, but the rest of the design is composited from stock, from illustrations, etc. And the final art is sometimes given a painterly effect. And in this case, the kids on the cover are really only about forty to fifty percent of the total cover experience. The rest is in the illustration, the title type, the layout. The end result is a slightly older, but appropriately aged, middle grade book. 


KV: Once you came up with the initial concept, how did things progress from there?

JA: After the sketch stage, I needed to find the right photo-illustrator, pick clothing for the models, and art direct the illustrator to get the final image we wanted. The expression on the kids' faces was very important. Too much expression in the wrong direction and the girl would look like a bully! And you wanted to believe these kids are in the scene at school even though they are being photographed in a studio. It’s actually a lot more difficult than you’d imagine it to be--getting the right kids with the right expressions to feel like they are in the moment.

Once the photo is taken, then the real work begins. The “illustrator” who creates the full cover layout needs to know how we plan to set the type on the cover so he knows how to position the art. The two have to work together. I worked with the in-house design team--as I mentioned before this was my first cover for Sourcebooks middle grade, so the team here was great in offering suggestions on how to bring the whole package together. I’ve attached a couple of sketches you might find helpful. One is the initial pencil sketch back when we thought we were calling the book RULE THE SCHOOL. The second attachment is a more comprehensive sketch based on a photo test the illustrator sent to me.

KV: I have to admit that I find the whole concept of a photo-illustrated cover fascinating. I'd never heard of this technique, so these last few responses have been especially informative (and it's kind of thrilling to think about real, live kids posing in a real, live photo shoot, but I digress).

My favorite element is definitely the title treatment. Where did that idea come from?

JA: Will Riley, one of the senior designers at Sourcebooks, does a phenomenal job with middle grade and has a great eye for type. He really helped build this cover from the raw images into the final package, and that type had a lot to do with the final direction ending up where it did.

KV: Talk to us about the color palette. The patriotic reds, whites, and blues are especially appropriate for this story. Was that intentional?

JA: Again, as we discussed how to position the cover, and the focus on elections, it only seemed natural to go with a red, white, and blue color palette. Any kid running for school election is probably going to paint his or her own campaign posters in red, white, and blue--most politicians do too! It’s a natural choice and helps really keep the focus on the package as a whole. 

KV: Last but certainly not least, I'm handing the mike over to you. Any final thoughts about DON'T VOTE FOR ME or its cover?

JA: I’m glad you liked the cover for DON'T VOTE FOR ME. It was a great first project for me at Sourcebooks. It was definitely a team effort on our part, and a number of departments all had a hand in making sure the cover we ultimately put on the book is the very best we could put forth in terms of design, marketing potential, and quality. Best of luck on your cover reveal!

Thank you, Mr. Aardema! And thank you for these insightful responses. The more I learn about this industry, the more I realize I don't know much, so I appreciate your taking the time to fill us in on this part of the process.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

And the Winner Is...

Valerie Bodden!

Congratulations, Valerie! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address and the person or persons you'd like the title page addressed to.

If you didn't win, you can still pre-order a copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookstore. And if you want it signed, you can pre-order a copy from The King's English Bookshop, and I'll sign it while I'm there!

Monday, March 2, 2015

When You Don't Look Like Your Dead People

My maternal grandparents, Jose Junius Ramos and Elsie Marie Sorenson, are two of my heroes. They met in 1950 at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was stationed as a special agent with the Counter Intelligence Corps and she worked as a secretary. They eloped a year later (to Nevada, no less--woo!).


In many ways, they were polar opposites. He was the oldest of nine children; she was an only child. He was raised in a staunch Catholic home; she was brought up in an inactive Mormon one. He was born in the Philippines and traveled around the world during the war; she was born in Utah and, as far as I know, never left it until after they were married. But they had a strong marriage and spent many happy years together until she died in 1980.


I know they must have faced more than a little prejudice, but I, for one, am grateful for their courage and sacrifice. Their example has taught me so many things--in fact, I owe one of the subplots in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING to their story--and I've always been proud of the racial and cultural heritage I inherited from both of them.

As I kid, I loved filling in the bubbles for the demographic section on standardized tests. They let you fill in as many as you wanted, so I'd happily mark "White," "Asian," and "Pacific Islander." My adoptive grandfather was Filipino (and my birth father was part Filipino and part Hawaiian), so I didn't think twice about calling myself all three.

But as I got older, I gradually stopped marking "Asian" and "Pacific Islander." It wasn't that I was ashamed--that couldn't have been further from the truth. It was that I didn't feel like I could claim those pieces of myself because I didn't LOOK Asian or Pacific Islander. Sure, I had brown hair and brown eyes, and my skin tone was somewhere between white and olive, but many of my classmates could have said the same thing. Though I was technically Asian and Pacific Islander, I didn't feel Asian and Pacific Islander enough.

The truth is, I still don't. I was filling out an author questionnaire for Putnam the other day, and like those old standardized tests, it asked if I was of African American, Hispanic, or Asian heritage. At first, I just answered "No." But as I was reading back over my answers, I changed it to "Sort of. My biological father was part Filipino, and my adoptive mother's father was full Filipino." Then I realized how ridiculous that sounded and changed my "Sort of" to "Yes."

If there's one thing I've learned from my grandparents, it's to be true to yourself.