Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Uma Krishnaswami's THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC: Interview & Giveaway

Uma Krishnaswami is one of my favorite people, not to mention one of my favorite authors, not to mention a true talent, crafting delightful middle grade books. Like her newest - The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic, a sequel to her charming The Grand Plan to Fix Everything - rich with humor, cultural interest, and fabulous characters. (Full disclosure: Uma was my advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts during my critical thesis semester, and she Made. It. Happen.)

At my urging (okay, I had to beg...okay, I had to promise the Chef my own grandmother's secret granache recipe) Uma was able to persuade the one and only Chef Armend Latifi (yes, people, "Cooking With the Stars" Chef Armend!) to join me on the blog for an interview.

But before we go too far, we do have a giveaway!! There's a giveaway copy of The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic (U.S. addresses, please), so check out the Rafflecopter at the bottom!

Now, here we go into the Chef's inner sanctum...

Chef Armend, please forgive the intrusion into your busy schedule. I hope you don’t mind my stepping into your kitchen to ask you a few questions.

WHO are you? Blogs? What is a blog? Never heard of you. Young lady, listen to me. If your business is not haute cuisine, I have no time for it.

Um—can we talk…[looks around for inspiration] pastry crust? [Steps inside the door]. Please. Pretty please?

Whatwhat? You’re interested in pastry crust? Why didn’t you say so? Sit. Here. Take a look at that. Fine, yes? Look at that surface, that texture! That is a divine crust, you hear, divine. It is a symphony made with flour and butter and a delicate sprinkling of sea salt. [Stands there for a moment, lost in admiration of his own handiwork].

[Interviewer happens to think her pastry crust is pretty darn good, thank you very much...um, sorry.] Chef, what is your opinion of rose petal milk shakes? Of rose petal chocolate cake? Of rose petals in general?

Rose petals? Rose petals? [Kisses his fingertips.] I am a connoisseur of rose petals. There are rumors flying around that I used to be allergic to them. [Mutters] That is all nonsense. You be sure and tell your readers—all fabrication and lies. I am a sensitive soul, that’s all, and roses are a vital part of my family history. As for rose petal chocolate cake, let me tell you that MY cake is to be entered in the next Great British Bake-off. They’re taking bets on it, I’m told—what do you think about that?

Most impressive, Chef. On another subject, how do you feel about your first meeting with Dolly Singh?

Whowhowho? Oh, Dolly. We have a good working relationship now, don’t get me wrong. But she—she’s a bit touchy. [Shudders.] All that jewelry she throws around. Touchy and unpredictable, and we will not even talk about that first meeting, nonoNO. [Slams hand down on counter, then shrugs.] Well what do you expect? From a movie star? Hey, they’re all like that. Try this dressing for my six-fruit compote. Is that a wondrous flavor? Tastetastetaste!

[Yum. Yumyumyum. Wipes lips.] I know you were very fond of your grandmother. Can you tell us a bit about her?

My Nona? My NONA! [Wipes eyes.] She was a SAINT. A saint, but could anyone win an argument with her? ANYONE? NO, I tell you, no. My Nona was the cleverest woman in the world and the bravest and the kindest, the sweetest, the best. She used to read poetry to me—about love, suffering, solitude, death. The thorns that plague all rose bushes. Beautiful, simply beautiful! Do you have a grandmother? DO you? Grandmothers. They are all saints!

[See intro re ganache, which recipe interviewer politely and slyly slides across the table...] Maybe you could give me some culinary advice. I have this recipe for chocolate-cucumber-mint….

Cucumber? Chocolate-cucumber-mint? [Shakes head violently.] In a word…NO! And now thank you very much but I have work to do, WORK! Unlike some people who spend their time writing in blogs. Ha! [Takes notes as interviewer leaves and can be heard murmuring]. Chocolate. Cucumber. Huh. Mint? Hmmm.

Want more from the Chef? I do!! Here you go:

Uma Krishnaswami is the author of several books for children, including the first story featuring Dini, Maddie, and Dolly, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. She is also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Ms. Krishnaswami was born in New Delhi, India, and now lives in Aztec, New Mexico. To learn more, visit her website: http://www.umakrishnaswami.com/.

Follow all of the unforgettable characters from The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic on Uma Krishnaswami’s blog tour!

Mon, Aug 19
Tues, Aug 20
There's a Book
Wed, Aug 21
Once Upon a Story
Soli Dustup
Thurs, Aug 22
The Compulsive Reader
Dini's father
Fri, Aug 23
Chickoo Uncle
Sat, Aug 24
Booking Mama
Mon, Aug 26
Read Now, Sleep later
Tues, Aug 27
I Read Banned Books
Wed, Aug 28
Through the Wardrobe
Chef Armend Latifi
Thurs, Aug 29
The Book Monsters
Fri, Aug 30
The Brain Lair

Friday, August 23, 2013

Creating Little Videos

I've been taking Katie Davis's Video Idiot Boot Camp and learning a ton of fun stuff about making videos. The lessons are comprehensive and I've only begun to scratch the surface, but here's my first little creation, made through an awesome app called Powtoon:

The plan is I'll put it somewhere on my website, perhaps as part of a larger piece. Stay tuned!! (Or Tooned......)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Publishing the E-Book: Ten Things to Think About If You Are Thinking About Going Independent

In the past three years we’ve all watched the e-book market move from non-existent to a significant percentage of sales. That revolution has resulted in a change in publishing that I would never have imagined when I started writing for children over ten years ago.

Authors are moving to independent electronic publishing with astonishing results.

No longer is independent publishing “self-publishing” or “vanity publishing” with negative connotations. It’s a little hard for a traditionally-pubbed author to feel superior to someone who sells 5000 e-book copies a month, reaches the Times bestseller lists, and/or makes over a million dollars a year.

Yes, I’ve met or corresponded with more than one of these successful authors.

After listening to any number of tales from trenches, I’ve got a few thoughts on the new world order. If you are considering taking the plunge into publishing your book electronically, here are some things to ponder.

  1. Write a great story. Regardless of anything else I say, this is the only way to be truly successful. That means writing a story that captivates the reader with worthy characters and a strong plot, a story that doesn’t bewilder or bore, a story with an arc and a satisfying ending. And the writing needs to be grammatically correct and error-free.
  2. Consider your readership. Some genres are more successful as e-books than others. Romance, in particular, has a vast audience of readers willing to read quickly and often, who are used to purchasing an inexpensive book every few days, and are loyal to authors and sub-genres. Mystery readers are right behind romance readers in appetite. Science fiction and fantasy for YA and older is good. Literary fiction? Middle grade? Not quite there yet. Resources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5NRfjnOAu8
  3. Hire an editor. Even if you think your book is perfect it pays to hire a freelance editor to give you holistic plot advice, and/or to copyedit your text for grammar, punctuation, etc. Resources: http://www.the-efa.org/ , http://www.free-expressions.com/service-overview/
  4. Create a fabulous cover. Most of us are visual, and most readers choose their reads based in large part upon the cover. For your book to find an audience, it must have an attractive cover and one that translates to thumbnail size. If you’re not an artist, or are not facile with Photoshop, pay someone to make you the perfect cover. Resources: http://www.bookcoverpro.com/, http://www.earthlycharms.com/home.htm
  5. Hire a formatter. For books to be uploaded onto Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the other e-book vendors it must be formatted correctly. Yes, you can do it yourself, but unless you are gifted in formatting I suggest hiring someone to do that bit for you. Resources: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2MB3WT2D0PTNK, http://mcwriting.com/MC/eBooks_ePubs.html
  6. Consider these costs. Editing costs range from the hundreds to the thousands. If you are already a strong writer, you could hire a grad student from your regional college to copyedit. Cover costs run in the mid to high hundreds. Formatting costs in the few hundreds of dollars. The writers I’ve heard from have paid between $500 and $1000 to get their books ready to market. Resources: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/05/the-real-costs-of-self-publishing-book (I do think the numbers in this article are on the high side, based on personal feedback I’ve had with successful authors.)
  7. Tag for your audience. Metatags for your book should be correct and targeted. That’s the only way for readers to find your book among the millions of e-books. Consider genre, sub-genre, regional flavor, age range, and character hobbies among other things. Be truthful, or you’ll turn readers away. You should check your “subject keywords” as you upload content. Amazon only allows for two categories per book. Resources: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/help?ie=UTF8&topicID=201231280
  8. Consider a low starting price. One best-selling author I’ve met launched her first e-book on Amazon for $0.99, with a royalty rate of 35%. Within a couple of months she was selling 5000 copies a month. A year later, when she launched her second book, she’d gained enough of an audience to give book two a $2.99 price point and still sell at the same rate. With an Amazon author royalty rate of 70% for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, you do the math. Caveat: the vast majority of authors don’t even make back their expenses. Resources: http://www.authorems.com/money-matters/tracking-sale/  
  9. Grow your audience. The best way to grow your audience is by writing your next book. The second-best way is to participate in social media. That means having a website, Facebook author page, and a Twitter account, at the very least. And keep it all current without driving yourself insane. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/02/guy-kawasakis-10-social-media-tips-for-authors045
  10. Keep up with changes. The publishing industry is experiencing a revolution. What I say today (except for the part about writing a great book!) won’t be relevant tomorrow. Be aware of industry developments. Join a group like Romance Writers of America, SCBWI, or Mystery Writers of America

If you decide to go for independent publishing, please share your experiences, and if I can I’ll feature you in a follow-up post.