I am a huge, huge fan of middle grade author Jonathan Auxier. His debut novel, Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyesis one of my all-time favorites — and his newest, The Night Gardener,is equally delightful as it is chilling. So of course I am thrilled to be hosting an exclusive guest post today from Jonathan, as part of his blog tour series “After the Book Deal.” I’ll let Jonathan explain more:
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AFTER THE BOOK DEAL
Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier
The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!
AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Follow along and please spread the word!
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Day Two – Do I Really Need a Headshot?
Yesterday we discussed how to find a community in the publishing world; Today, we will focus on how to present yourself to that community.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a debut novel must be in want of a “platform.” Writing a good book isn’t good enough—authors also need to have an engaging narrative about themselves. This isn’t a new thing: writers like Byron, Dickens, Twain, and Hemmingway, all had carefully-crafted identities that supplemented the reading experience.
Your Superhero Origin Story – When you get down to it, every book in history pretty much follows the same pattern: author gets an idea, writes it down, re-writes it a bunch, publishes it. But that’s only half the story! The other half is about what makes an author tick—why did they write the story in the first place? Just like every superhero has an origin story, every writer needs to find the story of their inspiration.
Readers love to know the stories behind the stories. Steven King was a frustrated English teacher whose wife rescued his manuscript from the trash. Rowling was a single mother on public assistance who got an idea on a train. EL James wrote Twilight fan fiction that she self-published into a blockbuster. The thing to note in these examples is that they’re all 100% true.
Your job as a new writer is to do some soul-searching and figure out why you started writing in the first place—and what that says about you as a person. Be warned that if you don’t do this yourself, your publishers will do it for you … and you may not like the result. When I was selling my first book, every publisher I talked to wanted to focus on the fact that I wrote screenplays. But I knew I didn’t want that to be part of my author identity (mainly because I didn’t want to write screenplays anymore). And so I instead shifted the conversation to talk about things that were more essential to my identity: my own struggle with literacy and a lifelong passion for the Golden Age of children’s literature. (Also, yo-yos!)
The Adventure Continues – Once you have an “origin story” that is both true and compelling, it’s time to focus on your ongoing mission. Authors have been given a (slightly) more public role in culture—and what they do with that role matters to readers. So do some soul-searching and ask yourself:
“If I could say one thing to every person in the country, what would it be?”
This is usually what people mean by your “platform.” Writers are expected to talk to schools, libraries, bloggers, newspapers. People will ask you about your platform … a lot. So don’t pretend to care about literacy/bullying/fanfiction/religion/etc unless you actually do care! Because you’ll likely be talking about that same topic for the rest of your career.
This may sound obvious, but your public identity should make sense in the context of your books. In my case, I have built a platform that combines my passions for Golden Age children’s books and literacy education—which means I spend a lot of time talking about how to get kids reading the classic books that inspired their favorite contemporary stories. This message is as applicable to my new book (The Night Gardener) as it was to my first.
A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words – This sense of identity goes beyond talking points; it should also be reflected in how you present yourself. I am not saying every author needs a makeover—quite the opposite. What you want is a look that is consistent with your public identity. If you’ve fixed on a self that is authentic, this shouldn’t be too hard. Neil Gaiman always wears black—which I suspect he wore long before he was “Neil Gaiman.” For the last decade, I have almost exclusively worn button-down Oxfords and thrift-store blazers (this made me the subject of constant ridicule in sunny Los Angeles). When I published my first book, I didn’t change up that look. Why would I when it fit so well with my identity as a slightly-absentminded children’s writer? All I did was buy some slightly less wrinkled Oxfords and one or two new blazers.
Another note on this same topic: one of the first things you will be asked to do is provide your publisher with a headshot for the catalog. I would recommend hiring a professional photographer straightaway. Many authors (myself included) start with a homebrewed headshot only to get an “official” headshot later. The problem with that is then you’ve got two pictures of you floating around—one amateur and one professional. And trust me, every time that amateur one crops up, you will cringe.
In my case, my homebrew headshot was so ridiculously bad, that I dedicated a page of my website to mocking it … you should definitely check it out J
Crafting a public self you can life with is complicated but incredibly important. The bigger challenge, however, lies in learning how to conduct yourself online—which is what we’ll talk about tomorrow at Charlotte’s Library. Swing by and spread the word!
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JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores this May. You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children’s books old and new.