Continuing To Write For Yourself... Seven Years After Publication: Jodi Meadows

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

 Today’s guest is Jodi Meadows, who debuted in 2012 with Incarnate. She wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She has also authored the Orphan Queen Duology, and the Fallen Isles Trilogy, and is a coauthor of My Lady Jane.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Definitely!  

Over the years, my perspective on writing and publishing has absolutely changed. It’s had to. I’ve had books my publisher has gotten behind and supported . . . and books they have not. I’ve said good-bye to editors and publicists, and gotten to know and appreciate new ones. I’ve written books I thought would be my next book, only to find out they would not, and later found myself writing books I hadn’t imagined would be on my Also By page. 

The seven years since my first book came out haven’t killed my hopefulness, nor my love of writing, but some days it takes more of an effort to find my optimism. I have a lot better sense of things that can go wrong (and right!).

Now, the way I talk about writing and publishing is still hopeful, but tempered with carefully measured reality.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

 Both. Can I choose both?

When I have multiple ideas I’m excited about, I often consider which one will be easier to sell—which one might be the best next move for my career.  

There’s a book I’ve been working on off and on for years, but I won’t dig into it and finish it until I don’t need money anymore; the book is unlikely to bring me riches . . . or even pay a few bills. I joke about it, but it’s also not a joke.  

When I decide what to work on, I follow the characters as I’m writing and editing, but I also keep in mind what I want the book to be. It’s my job to find a balance between those two things.

In a way, I learned this lesson pretty early on in my career. Incarnate was my first published book, but it was the seventeenth novel I finished writing. I’d spent a lot of time before that writing to trends, following whims, and trying to produce what I thought other people wanted – instead of writing what is the most me. And I always, always remember that when I’m making choices. Ultimately, I am my own target audience. If I’m not happy with the book, no one else will be either.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut? 

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career so far, and because of those, I’ve had to learn how to do a lot more than just write a book; I’ve had to learn how to sell it, too.

In some ways, I like feeling as though I have even a crumb of control over how my book performs, but it’s also upsetting to realize that I have to do so much of my own promotion and marketing, or it just won’t happen. (Most authors are in the same boat.) It’s also made me aware of just how limited my reach is. 

Sometimes, I think about that time our debut group had a chat with the group ahead of us. It struck me how disheartened – how world weary – the other group sounded when they talked about the business, and I couldn’t understand it. They had books out! Their dreams had been realized! But even just a few months after my first book released, I completely understood how the shine rubbed off the dream.

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

Travel and public appearances.

I’ve always been a shy introvert, much more comfortable at home than anywhere else. But over the years I’ve overcome a lot of travel anxiety (I do not miss those sleepless, panic-filled nights before the airport) and figured out how to speak in front of people without wanting to curl up and die. I’ve learned how to fake being an extrovert for a little while (and how long I need to recover).  

All that was not easy for me, but absolutely worth the effort. I still get nervous, but the reward is seeing readers and other authors. That is truly one of the coolest parts of being an author. 

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life? 

Before I got published, I believed having a book or nine out in the world would make my life different. Maybe even better in some ways. But so far, my life is relatively unchanged. I do travel more, people read my books, and when I’m anxious it’s pretty easy to trace it back to publishing now (thanks, publishing!), but as I answer these questions, I’m still in my pajamas (they have holes in them), I want more coffee, and the cat box needs to be cleaned. My life did not spontaneously morph into movie deals and people who are paid to clean the cat box for me.

 And really, I’m glad about that. It keeps me grounded. 

Shauna Holyoak On Creating Swag That Attracts Middle Graders... Hint: Have A Prize Wheel

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

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Today's guest for the SHIT is Shauna Holyoak. She writes for kids and teens and thinks it’s kinda the best job ever. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut novel.

First of all, thanks so much, Mindy, for having me on your blog! I think topics like these are helpful to debut authors (like me!) who often need help navigating self-promotion!

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

I’m an MG author, so I think there’s some tried and true swag that appeals to kids. Buttons, bookmarks, posters, stickers. As I try to schedule school visits pre-release, I’m hoping the lure of free signed posters at my signings helps draw kids out. And I just ordered some stickers to hand out after assemblies, etc. that will remind kids where and when to drag their parents for my books.

On my website I also offer some swag that I hope readers enjoy. I’ve written a short story about my characters that anyone can download and read. In addition to that, I’ve created a mystery packet that presents The Case of the Misplaced Tiara with puzzles and clues readers can use to solve the mystery. I’m hoping teachers and families might find it fun and educational, while also introducing kids to my characters.

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

I live in Shadow Mountain country. Shadow Mountain is a Utah-based publisher that has worked on quite a few successful middle-grade books, and they do a lot of promotion in my area. They follow a model that seems to work well in promoting their MG novels. They send their authors on a book tour that includes multiple school visits per location, following which they hold a signing at the local bookstore. They send the kids home with reminders and usually hand out fun swag like free signed posters and bookmarks at the event. I’ve had a couple of my own children beg me to attend signings for Shadow-Mountain authors after an engaging school visit, so I know they work.

I say all this to explain how I decided to spend my money on book swag, because I was hoping to apply the Shadow-Mountain model to my own attempts at self-promotion.

Here’s the breakdown:

Posters: $265

  • $230 of this covered 1K 11x17in posters of my cover from uprinting.com. This is the most I’ve paid on any one item. I plan on handing them out to everyone who comes to a signing.

  • $35 on a 16x20in mounted (on foam board) poster of my cover to display at signings and other events (also, uprinting.com).

Reminder stickers: $80

I have two local events I’m hoping to invite kids to, one bigger than the other (the second is for my launch party).

  • $34 covered 200 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

  • $47 covered 1K 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

Bookmarks: $70 (just ordered)

This went toward 2500 2x8 double-sided bookmarks (from gotprint.com)

Buttons: $45

Okay, so this was the first item of swag I ever bought, and I may have just been a little too excited at the prospect of being able to order something, anything! But the buttons are cute, and I’m hoping kids will like them. Although I think once they’re gone, they’re gone—not sure if I’ll invest in them again. (Although I may change my mind depending on how kids respond.)

  • $24 for 100 1.25in round buttons of my MC’s face (purebuttons.com)

  • $30 for 50 1.75x2.75in buttons of my cover (also, purebuttons.com)

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I’ll have to get back to you on that, since my first event is in a few weeks. But I’m hoping it does!

One thing I’m going to try, that *fingers crossed* draws kids to my table at cons and other table-events, is a prize wheel. Kids spin that wheel and leave with their prize. Whatever they win will be promo for my book, so win, win, right? And who doesn’t like a prize wheel?!

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

I think more expensive swag might work with YA audiences, but I’m not sure it’s worth it for middle-grade readers, who tend to be hard on things anyway.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

Personally, I adore customized enamel pins. *swoon* Character cards are cool and other types of artwork commissioned by the author. I have a friend who’s currently painting/customizing funko pops for each of the characters in her debut for her preorder campaign, so she probably wins!

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

Honestly, no. I think people who purchase a book are planning to buy it anyway, regardless of swag. There may be a small margin of potential readers swayed by swag, but I don’t think it’s enough to justify investing loads on money on it (especially, if like most authors, your publisher isn’t paying for it).

Haha! And here I just told you about the near $500 I’ve spent on swag hoping to draw kids out to signings. We’ll see if it works. But, in the end, I guess I offer swag to let readers and potential readers know I care and appreciate them taking a chance on my books.