EVENT REPORT: SCBWI Bootcamp for Debut Authors 2017

Sophie Anderson reports back on the SCBWI bootcamp for debut authors, which focused on helping both writers and illustrators prepare for the exciting publishing ride ahead.

The SCWBI 2017 Debut Bootcamp was a day-long event aimed at preparing both debut indie and traditionally published SCWBI authors or illustrators for the opportunities and challenges of being published.

Drill sergeants for the day were SCBWI authors Sara Grant (Chasing Danger), Candy Gourlay (Tall Story) and Mo O’Hara (My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish). Sara, a former PR guru, spoke on marketing strategy. Candy, a former web-designer, spoke on social media. Mo O’Hara, a professional stand-up comic, spoke on school visits. Goldsmiths University kindly provided the venue. Over twenty debut SCBWI debut authors attended the event, eager to make connections and learn from the experts.

Sara Grant with author merchandise. Image Credit: Candy Gourlay

Sara led the first session on planning for publication. She emphasised the importance of authors developing a marketing plan that utilises their strengths and the resources at their disposal. There was excellent advice on defining your brand as an author by considering your book’s unique selling proposition and the themes and ideas it contains. Sara explained that a good marketing plan will reinforce and promote an author’s brand.

Sara suggested looking at what other authors in your genre are doing to promote themselves and their books, to get inspiration for your own plan. She also talked about making your plan time-linked. Even six months prior to publication there are plenty of things authors can do: build a website, plan presentations for author visits, and research issues relating to literacy and the children’s book industry.

Debut author Sif Sigmarsdóttir (I am Traitor, Hodder, Sept 2017) said “I think this advice from Sara was spot on: don’t forget to enjoy the process. I think a lot of us forget. The first weeks after publication, I was running around like a headless chicken trying to do everything, managing nothing and becoming completely stressed out. As with Sara, it was my husband who told me to take a deep breath and don’t forget to enjoy the ride.”

Candy's selfie photo from the event included debut authors in the background, so it couldn't be included. Here is a lovely one of her on her own instead.

Candy led the next session on social media. She recommended that authors make themselves easy to find online by having a profile on multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, GoodReads, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest). However this doesn’t mean you have to be active on all these platforms! Your profiles can simply link to your website or a platform on which you are active.

The importance of building a good website was emphasised. Social media posts are ephemeral, whilst your website should contain “well thought out articles that stand the test of time and build a picture of who you are”. Author websites should also offer bonus book content for teachers and librarians, e.g. Q & A pieces, information on school visits, discussion guides, PowerPoint presentations and media information packs.

Candy also talked about how authors can control their online persona and present their ‘best selves’. Authors can use social media to promote reading and the book industry in general, and to build relationships with other writers, teachers and librarians.

Debut author Anita Lehmann (The Red Hot Fireball, 2017) said “Having a profile on all social media platforms (without having to be active on all of them), is a fantastic piece of advice, and actually doable, even for someone like me who feels totally out of depth with all things tech.”

Mo O Hara using a Duplo tower to explain how to structure an author visit. Image Credit: Candy Gourlay

The last session of the day was led by Mo, and covered how to plan and structure a school visit. Mo explained how her presentation is planned in ‘chunks’, so that chunks can be removed to create presentations of different lengths while still retaining flow.

The first chunk should ideally be a warm-up activity, to get pupils comfortable and introduce ground rules. Subsequent chunks should include activities that alternate between participating and listening. Group story creation activities can work well. A short book reading should be included, from an exciting part of your book that ends on a cliff-hanger. And the last chunk should be a call to action, e.g. for children to send you their stories or pictures.

Good planning and preparation are clearly essential for successful school visits, and Mo gave us lots of tips to help us plan effectively.

Finally we were treated to a performance by Mo, which was outstanding and certainly gave us something to aspire to!

What Mo O Hara does on a school visit. Image Credit: Candy Gourlay

Debut author Fiona Barker (who has a picture book publishing with Tiny Tree in 2018) said “I found the school event with Mo really inspiring and have come home with lots of ideas for how to make my own visits successful. The examples of information given to schools was also really helpful and I thought it was really generous of the speakers to share it all.”

The entire bootcamp was brilliant, packed with useful advice for debut authors. Elaine Wickson (Planet Stan, OUP, April 2018) said “I made pages and pages of notes. Sara, Candy and Mo had brilliant advice on author brand, techy secrets, and how to prepare and present school events. And what a great way to meet fellow debut authors.”

If you liked reading about this year’s bootcamp, check out the write-up for last year’s bootcamp here.
I particularly like Candy’s comment at the end:
“Our number one priority should be: WRITE ANOTHER GOOD BOOK!”

Sophie Anderson
is a member of SCBWI Cumbria and the author of The House With Chicken Legs, a middle-grade Baba Yaga reimagining publishing with Usborne in April 2018. Sophie has an international family and loves to write stories inspired by different folklores, cultures, and landscapes. Her dream is to create books that help children explore the world and fall in love with its beautiful diversity. You can visit her website www.sophieandersonauthor.com or find her on twitter @sophieinspace.


A. M. Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team. She manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at events@britishscbwi.org

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.