Presentation Skills for Introverts: 5 Easy Do’s and 5 Don’ts…plus 6 Bonus Extras

Public Speaking Tips for the Timid, Shy, or Panicked

Γειά Σου Hello GIF by Frances

If you’re an author, odds are you’re going to be giving some sort of presentation, whether it be a book signing or school visit or conference workshop.

And if you’re an author, odds are you’re an introvert.

Maybe you’re an extroverted introvert, the social type who’s often confused for an extrovert.

Heck, maybe you are an extrovert, you rare bird you.

Any way you label it, odds are you hate public speaking. Otherwise you’d be out drinking with your friends and not reading this blog post. Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is said to affect up to 75% of the population, and ranks higher than the fear of death. Over 15 million Americans suffer from some sort of social anxiety.* It’s amazing anyone gets out of bed.

You could study the reasoning behind the fear. You can work on specific exercises to lessen anxiety Watch video tutorials.

Or, stay in bed.

But those speaking engagements are still there. They are going to “get your name out there,” build your brand, and sell your books, remember? You can’t avoid them. Not if you want to sell books, that is.

I’m not trying to scare you off, but hey, people are strikingly more likely to remember HOW you said something compared to WHAT you said. That means you gotta work on your game. Think of a great speaker you saw. Now tell me what he or she said. You probably won’t remember most of the content, but you’ll remember the overall message or feeling they left you with. When it comes to remembering a speaker’s talk, a UCLA study showed that people tend to remember about 7% of what the presenter said (the words). That’s it. The rest, 93%, is the nonverbal impression the speaker made on the attendee.

The good news is 93% of what attendees walk away with is all under your control. Gestures account for 55%, tone 38% of the opinion/memory. You can affect that. Relatively easily (honest–I’ll show you). Another study by Management Science showed people are more likely influenced by the likability of a speaker that the quality of the speaker’s arguments. So…not to add to your stress, but instead of spending all that time on content, you need to spend time on delivery too.

Good thing you’re a peach.

Image from Society6
image from Society6

I’m going to give you some solid ways to make sure your presentation stands out from the crowd, no matter how shy or nervous or a beginner you are. These 5 DOs and 5 DON’Ts will ease your mind and take you from a panicked mess to a well-informed presenter.

I’ve also included 3 extra of each, for the advanced presenter who wants to crank it up to eleven.

If you take it seriously and do your homework, you’re gonna do great. Realistically you might not hit a home run your next time at bat (sorry but IRL there are no shortcuts or instant successes, this isn’t a Hallmark movie), but you’ll get on base at least. You got this. Honest.

Or, you can, if you try.

DON’Ts

  • 1. DON’T Confuse your agenda with theirs

You are there to give a presentation, right? Wrong.

You are there to share information, right? Wrong.

You are there to make them a better speaker/reader/person. You are taking your expertise and sharing it with them so they can implement it and improve their lives/careers and therefore they can improve the lives/careers of others.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Not:“I’m here to talk about…” But: “Today you will learn…”

It may seem like a subtle difference but that change in perspective makes all the difference in the world. (OK, not the world, but big diff.)

Don’t be a writer but instead be writing

Faulkner, 1958
  • 2. DON’T Peddle your wares

No one likes a sales pitch. It’s icky. You’re not starring in an infomercial. Have your book(s) standing up on a table off to the side, and unless someone asks directly or you are quoting from them, don’t even acknowledge your titles. Let them speak for themselves. (It’s perfectly OK to point to them in your intro as you mention you are an author, tho.) If your presentation goes well they will be flocking over to buy or ask about them. Even if you think you’re being cute, the second you start hawking your stuff you lose credibility–as well as your audience. Don’t let them think you are only there to sell your books. Prove you are there to improve their [xxxx].

  • 3. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT NOT REHEARSING. Out loud. Repeatedly.

How do you become a decent presenter? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice practice. While most audiences will decide within seconds whether or not they deem a speaker credible, writer-ly crowds are rooting for you, so don’t sweat it too hard at writing conferences. You still have to practice; just know they aren’t out to judge you harshly–they really want to learn (and for you to succeed). Give them reasons to pay attention to you instead of reasons to doodle or switch sessions midstream.

There is no way around this: you HAVE to practice your talk. Out loud. In front of people. More than once.

Your audience isn’t expecting a TED Talk, but they want to know you didn’t wake up this morning and throw the presentation together as you walked down the conference hall. And they deserve your best efforts. I’ve heard presenters say “When I was working on this on the plane” and “Last night when I wrote the page” and it’s flat out insulting. They just admitted they only worked on this presentation, that I have paid hard-earned dolla-dollas for and have eager expectations on, on the fly. Not cool, man. You’re a professional getting paid to do this. Show it.

Yes, you will feel awkward talking to yourself as you rehearse. But you have to say it out loud before going live. The first “dry run” will give you an idea on timing: how long is it? Do you need more material or do you need to cut some stuff out? The second time you’ll be more likely to notice where you repeat yourself or where things are out of order. The third and fourth time you’ll get more comfortable and more familiar with the material, with what’s coming next, so you can focus more on the HOW you’re presenting instead of the WHAT. (You wrote it, how hard can it be to remember it?) You’ll get more comfortable walking around as you talk. [Repeat after me: I am not sitting or standing in one place the whole time. I am not a boring robot.] The more comfortable you are with the material, the more comfortable you will be onstage presenting it.

  • 4. DON’T START OUT APOLOGIZING. Or apologize mid-talk.

Never start out with an apology. You only get one change to make a first impression, right? Start out strong. If the projector isn’t working, stop and quietly go over to your handler or whoever is in charge to get help. No need to announce “Oh this isn’t working, let me get help.” We know it’s not working. We are in the room. If a table is in the way, walk over and move it, without saying a word. None of this “Let me move this before we get started…” You need to control the room from the second you make eye contact.

When should that be?

Don’t make eye contact with the audience until you have things under control and are ready to go.

That’s not to say you don’t own up to anything if you have made a mistake (“Oh, sorry, I thought you said beaches”). I’m referring to if something technical/mechanical goes wrong before or during your talk.

  • Not: “Oh, wait, this needs to, um, let me fix, er, move this, bum-dee-bum, hi, oh sorry, I hate this, hang on while I juggle some furniture around, doot-de-doot-doo, almost there, one mooooore sec, OK, now we can get started.” Nope. Not: “Wait, that page isn’t supposed to be here, I thought I fixed that, hang on while I–dang it, I paged back too far, now I have to…doot-doot, bear with me here, folks…” No. Shut your trap and make it right. Without a sound. Without eye contact. You might think you’re making it less awkward or being charming by narrating, but what you’re doing is calling attention to the fact something is wrong. Or that you don’t have your act together. No sense announcing it. Fix it. If it’s a dreaded typo, don’t fawn over it, simply state “oh, that’s spelled wrong” and move on. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re human. If you can’t fix what’s wrong on the screen, calmly move on, talk from your notes instead of slides, or jump to Q&A. To me, this is the #1 way to tell a beginner speaker from a seasoned one.
  • Running late? Whether it’s your fault or not, own up to it–the right way. Not: Sorry I’m late But: Thanks for waiting
  • Missing materials? Not: I was going to have handouts but… But: I’m passing around a sign-up sheet; I’ll be emailing you a summary/worksheet/handout tomorrow. Or, The conference coordinators will get you handouts within a week. (Find a solution, stay calm and in control.)
  • Not: Sorry it’s so cold in here But: Thanks for bearing through this arctic room temp

On a related note, never throw anyone under the bus. Even if, say Thomas is to blame for the typo/missing docs/cold temp/etc, never call him out (“Ack, I told Thom to fix that”). You’ll look like a jerk, even if it was Thom’s fault. It’s your presentation. Blame no one.

Silence while you correct it, on the spot, like a boss.

  • 5. DON’T GO LONG

Ending on time proves you rehearsed, are fully aware how much time you were given, and knew how to use it effectively. It also shows you respect the audience’s time.

Again, this is a difference between a seasoned presenter and a newbie.

DOs

  • 1. DO Start BY ANSWERING ‘WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?’

In addition to starting with who you are and why you’re qualified to be speaking either on the topic or at that event, tell the audience what they will learn (not “what I will talk about!”), and how it will make them a better writer/editor/artist/person–i.e., what’s in it for them.

  1. Greeting followed by your name, spoken slowly and clearly
  2. Two or three reference points on why you are the content expert and maybe a fun fact about yourself
  3. Specifics on what people are going to learn/walk away knowing
  4. Why they need this important information, if possible

“Hello! I’m Bitsy Kemper. I’m author of 21 books and have taught presentation skills for years, from beginners up to corporate vice presidents (talk about a tough crowd). Today you’re going to learn how YOU, you sweet introverts, can make your next author visit or book presentation shine, even if you hate giving presentations. How does that sound?”

Or: “By the time you finish reading this blog post, you will learn ways to make your author presentation better, in both content and presentation skills. As introverted as most authors are, these tips will not only ease the stress of future book signings or conference speeches, but give you insight into how to make talks successful regardless of how comfortable you feel in front of a crowd. Your future audiences will walk away with a positive impression of both you and your session.”

You don’t want to include background on yourself that isn’t relevant to that particular setting. In the first example above I stated I’m an author because I’m talking to authors. If it was a corporate setting, I know they are a tougher sell so would have started with “I spent 13 years in the computer industry, then consulted on marketing and branding for small businesses, have been on CNN/movies/TV, and as author of 21 books giving presentations across the country, now focus on helping others–like you–write and present. Today you’re going to learn how to take your presentations to the next level, whether you hate giving presentations or think you’re already pretty darn good. Who’s ready to start learning some secret intel?” In that case I gave some corporate experience so they know we have a common thread, gave quick acting nod as that always helps a presenter’s cred, and used being an author as my most relevant experience explaining why/how I know about giving presentations.

No humble brags. More of a brief resume recap that’s targeted to the audience. And speaking of audience…

  • 2. DO Know your audience!

Who are you talking to? Are they fifth graders? PreK? PreK all the way through 5th grade? Teaching staff? Just like you wouldn’t write a book for fifth graders in the same way you’d write it for four year olds, you need to know who you’re talking to and adjust accordingly.

Your message won’t change, but how you get it across will.

There are times you won’t know in advance–whether the people that hired you never told you, or they don’t know themselves (hello, book tour!). There are times the info changes (“…there was a K/1 field trip today so we’re sending you to third grade instead”). I mean, how many of you have ever signed up for a session at a conference and then switched once you got there? It happens.

Even if you were told who they are–CONFIRM. After that great intro you just gave–ask some questions to get a feel for the room. Start with a questions they can answer yes to. It gets buy-in from the get-go. “We’ve got writers in the crowd, yes?” Then narrow things down. “How many are published? YA writers? Picture book? Any illustrators?” Don’t spend too much time here, though, or you’ll come off as unprepared. View this as confirmation of who you think is there, not a panicked blank stare. You know everyone there is there to hear what you have to say on the topic, so it’s not like a random crowd rounded up from the street. A few clarifying Qs should handle it.

  • 3. DO Spend time on content

As much as you’ll want to practice HOW you’re saying it, you need to make sure WHAT you’re saying is a) factually correct, b) what they hired you to talk about c) WHAT WAS ADVERTISED (if you are at a conference, triple check this; almost nothing upsets a crowd more than a speaker talking about a subject that differs from the title or program summary. They will blame you, not the conference coordinators.)

  • 4. DO Radiate

Be confident knowing you are a content expert. You are up there presenting because you know what you are talking about. Everyone has felt the pangs of Imposter Syndrome; don’t let it get to you. Sure, there will always be someone who knows more than you on the subject. Does mean that you don’t know enough, or are unqualified? Not at all. You were asked to present (or in some cases, did the asking) because you know what you are talking about. So let that shine through. Remember that statistic on importance of being likable?

If you’re not a confident person in general, pretend, just for today, that you are, and act like one. That’s why you are there. That’s why they booked YOU. They could have asked anyone, and they chose you. Own it.

I’m not asking you to put on airs or suddenly become someone you’re not. We don’t want to see fakers. We still want the see the real you. Just a confident version of you. I mean, if you don’t believe in yourself or your material, why should I as an audience member? I want you to use your same voice, chose the same vocabulary, dress the same way (OK maybe a little nicer, please–see #5 below). And the only way to get that confidence level up is to practice, practice, practice. (See Don’t #3, above)

  • 5. DO Dress nicely

To use an industry expression, people DO judge books by their covers. Dressing up shows you are respecting the audience. Doesn’t have to be a three-piece suit. Doesn’t have to be high-heeled shoes. But it needs to be something that makes you stand out from the crowd, just a little bit. You’re not an attendee, you’re a guest of honor. Don something that shows you put effort into this. And be consistent, as it builds your brand. (“Oh, the guy in the bow ties” or “You know, the speaker who always wears polka dots”)

Let me caution away from three things. Please, nothing 1. way too low cut or 2. wildly LOOK AT THIS distracting. We want to look at your sweet face as you’re talking, not at your clothes (will there be a wardrobe malfunction?) or platform shoes (will she trip out of them at any second?). Also, 3. nothing brand new. You need to know how something feels and moves before you try it out in front of a crowd for the first time. You don’t want the itchies or to split a seam reaching for a visual aid. (I can, um, neither confirm nor deny any of the above things happening to me…)

Is that all? you’re asking yourself.

Image result for that was easy gif

If you’ve got all that down pat and are ready for more refinement, here are 3 bonus DOs and 3 bonus DON’Ts.

BONUS TIME

  • BONUS DON’T #7: DON’T TALK TO “EVERYBODY.” Be specific. Talk to ME.

Think of this as a one on one conversation. With every member of the crowd. If you start out with “Hi, everyone!” it feels impersonal. Cold. Corporate. Like I’m one of many. If you say “Hello Cherry Avenue fifth graders!” you’ve made every fifth grader at that school feel special. Plus their teacher <shout out to Mrs. Fox!>. The crowd knows you are there for THEM, not for any ol’ group of kids. It feels personal. There’s a reason the crowd goes wild every time a rock star says “Hello, [insert your hometown]!” We feel special. Seen.

  • BONUS DON’T 7: DON’T DISMISS Qs

“As seen on page 10…” or “As I mentioned earlier…” are not great ways to answer a question. If they knew the answer was on page 10, if they remembered what you said earlier, or if the answers given were clear, they wouldn’t be asking. Don’t be an arrogant jerk. Answer as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. [Caveat: if the 4th first-grader in a row asks the same question, recognize they might not be capable of coming up with other/new questions and just want to be called on to make you happy. State the answer and end with “Are there questions not related to [xx]?” or simply end the Q&A. With a smile.]

On the flip side, there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” to a Q. If you truly can’t bring yourself to say those words, a) get some professional help and b) pause and answer with a genuine “Let me look into that. Other questions?”

  • BONUS DON’T #8 DON’T BRAG

State facts. Sure, tell us what went right. But include failure in your success story. We want to share in your humanness.

  • BONUS DO #6: DO ADD VISUALS

We like you. But we don’t wanna spend the entire time staring at your mug while you yammer on. Or listen to you read your slides word for word. Personally, I feel if a speaker doesn’t have a powerpoint-type presentation it means they didn’t take it seriously or didn’t put in enough effort. I really do. That’s my corporate background talking and I can’t shake it. If computer-generated presentations really aren’t your bag, baby, at least give me a few other things to look at. Think of it as Show & Tell. Any sort of visual will go a long way. Sprinkle them in, don’t give me one in your entire 90-minute session. Include, say, a prop. A sample product. Photos. A large flip chart. An audio or video clip. Artwork. Don’t pass anything around, though. If people are looking at something in their hands, or distracted by the rumble of it getting passed around, it means they aren’t listening to you. Speaking of passing it around…

  • BONUS DO #7: DO Bring a handout or giveaway of some sort

Yes, total suck-up move. But it works. People LOVE handouts–it’s like a follow up session with tangible information. It should have your name/logo/website on it, whether it’s a bookmark or session summary. Great branding opportunity! Wait until your talk is over before handing them out to keep the focus on you instead of the paper/trinket.

An example of an exception here is conferences or workshops for grown-ups. Maybe teenagers. To keep it interactive, often times I’ll bring a bag of candy (usually M&M Halloween-sized) and keep it hidden. The first time someone interrupts with a question, after I answer it I toss them a bag, thanking them for being bold enough to ask a question. I say it’s an incentive for the crowd to keep asking Qs, and toss one each time a Q is asked. They love it!

All handouts leave attendees with a positive impression, and a tangible piece of you. Win win.

  • BONUS DO #8: DO Ask your audience (yes) questions

Asking questions keeps them involved. It keeps them on their toes (“whoops, I wasn’t listening, what did she say? I need to focus back”). By asking questions they agree with, it gets them on your side. And it gets them invested in the outcome of the session. You can take it a step further by getting them active: “By a round of applause, who wants to get published?” [Ask a Q everyone will answer yes to, and therefore all applaud.] Applauding effects the brain. Happy people applaud. Happy people smile. When even one person smiles it makes everyone in the room feel better because they, consciously or unconsciously, are smiling with that smile-er. Smiling people set a positive tone for your presentation. A happy tone is a great start. Wouldn’t you say that’s worth clapping for? <—see what I did there? 🙂

I hope implementing these tips will help your next presentation be the best one yet. The links give a ton more help, in much more depth than one blog can offer, and are worth a quick click. There are plenty of tried-and-true classic books to review as well, by well-respected experts like Dale Carnegie and Decker Communications. Check back with me in a little bit. Let me know what you’ve improved on most.

*Yes, I did quote my own book. In this/that link you can find my (award-winning!) TEENS AND PHOBIAS book for as little as $5.95. I don’t profit from sales, so I’m not actually asking you to buy it. But it’s honestly very helpful for anyone, not just teens, with social anxiety or a phobia of any kind, especially ones they may be reluctant to admit.

Author Platform: Maximizing Social Media

Social Media

slick image from jsums.edu

Last post we defined Author Platforms. So tell me, what is an Author Platform, do you remember? It’s how you show your unique qualities that “brand” you as a writer or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales. It’s a long term goal, not a RIGHT NOW CLICK HERE goal. No one likes the CLICK HERE RIGHT NOW guy, amiright?

Social media is one of the main ways you create your brand. Since most of your readers will never meet you in person, it’s how most of your readers get to know you. This post is gonna look at ways to maximize social media so you can give yourself the best platform. We’ll talk through some real examples, screenshotted below.

If you need to take a step back and get a basic primer on Twitter, check out https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/twitter-101-the-basics-for-writers/

General social media tips to support your Author Platform:

  1. Be you, all the time.
  2. Have fun! Every tweet/post doesn’t have to have something to do with writing or illustrating, but each one should still reflect who you are and what you stand for. Remember the part about the real you needing to shine through?
  3. Sorry to say this, but people are people. And by that, I mean selfish. I’m not judging. It’s fact. We are always asking ourselves WIIFM? As in, What’s In It For Me? No one has time, and we make decisions in a snap. You need to do whatever you can to convince me, quickly, that what you have to say will benefit me. And then come through. So don’t just tell me your book trailer is finished and give me a link. Tell me what the trailer is about, what I’ll see, why it’s worth watching. I need to know WIIFM or I’m not going to click. Even if I like you. I just don’t have time.
  4. Other people are selfish–but you need to be giving. Stop talking about how great your product is. Let us figure that out on our own. Your book really should be able to speak for itself…or at least let others do the talking. A tweet like”Another great review, my work is profiled yet again! Click to see the latest url.2937y5/iji…” gives me no incentive to click. It’s blatant bragging. But what about “What an honor to be included in this roundup, check out the other Best 2016 Reads by Buzzfeed at url.8724r34r/…” or “Thanks for the kind review, Donna, it was nice being your guest blogger this month. I bet no one can guess how many puppies were harmed in the making of that video! [link to Donna’s website].” Do you see the difference? One is “Look at me!!” Another–the preferred method–is “There’s something in this for you, have a look.” You want to be of service. Your book or link or review just happens to be one way to help. [See #6, below.] Continue reading

Pay to Enter a Writing Contest?

Van-Price-is-Right

There are some sneaky things going on in the writing world that you might not find sneaky. But I do. And I’m calling it out.

Writing contests. Mostly the kinds where you send in unpublished works.

It seems everyone and their mother, literally their mother, has some sort of reader’s or writer’s choice award. All you have to do is pay a small fee, say $19 to enter your manuscript or book into the contest. WHY ARE YOU PAYING MONEY TO ENTER A WRITING CONTEST? At least at the state fair you get a free fair pass in exchange for your peach pie entry fee. If it’s for charity, of course, yes yes pony up. But otherwise NO. As in NO.

What do you win? Let’s dissect a bit.

It might be bragging rights that you won a writing contest. That’s OK. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Sweden to accept the award.

leo

Maybe it’s simple a ribbon or actual award/plaque. Fine. Still not a reason to cough up dough. Don’t tell me they are charging you to cover the cost of the actual award. Oh please.

Why would you pay money to say someone liked your unpublished story? Will it help you move forward, professionally, in some way? Really? Don’t fork over cash just to have your ego massaged. Volunteer somewhere if you feel the need for that kind of ego boost. Or I can tell you: You are a good person. You have value. Your writing is great. I think you’ll amount to something someday. Really. I believe in you. Please don’t waste your money.

Ask yourself these questions:

Continue reading

Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

Image result for image person asking help

Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Are you one of the over 200 peeps headed to the SCBWI CA North/Central 2015 Spring Spirit writer’s conference? (wow, that was a mouthful) Are you looking for some beginner’s tip? Take a look here…”8 Writers Tips for Beginner Picture Book Writers” (uh,yeah, that was a mouthful too…don’t that that sway you on my mad writing skillz)

 

Hope to see you Saturday!

Current Status of Children’s Book Market, according to SCBWI NY 2015

Image result for clip art importance

Ah, so much went on at the international conference that I’m still basking in the fruitfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s not an expression, but you know what I mean. I’ve tweeted out much of the greatness. I’ve culled some more juicy tidbits to share, in random order:

1. Webinars are popular and great for those farther away from the masses. Expect to see more.

2. Webinars are NOT a replacement of in-person conferences, workshops, or gatherings. They are in addition to them. Nothing beats face to face contact.

3. Editors and agents find/book authors and illustrators at conferences, people they wouldn’t otherwise hear from. Repeatedly. Attend roundtables, submit your work for critique. The additional cost is worth it.

4.  With the field so crowded, editors and agents are looking for something that “blows them away.” Really good no longer cuts it.

Image result for clip art importance

5. There’s no award for speed in this industry. Give your work the time it deserves.

6. Hardcovers, after a bit of a slump, are on the rise!

7. Picture books are getting shorter, funnier…”an economy of text.”

and, my favorite takeaway from the enter conference:

8. “The importance of what we’re doing will never go away”

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Thoughts? Comments? Bring ’em.

Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

Twitter 101 for Writers Part One

The past few writers’ conference presentations I’ve given about Author Platforms have prompted many of the same questions. Most surround social media. I’m gonna tackle one biggie here: Twitter. Let’s look at the very basic concept of Twitter in this post, for the true beginner. How to use it effectively will be a different post, so be sure to keep looking around on my site if you need more help or detail.

“I know what Twitter is, but I don’t know how to use it like I should. Is there a specific process?” “Why do I want to use Twitter in the first place?” “What is Twitter anyway?” Let’s start with the very basics. Here are some definitions of Twitter:

  • Twitter is the best way to connect with people, express yourself and discover what’s happening. – Twitter

That’s kinda broad. Let’s look at a different definition:

  • Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short update posts called tweets. –WhatIs.com

Okay, that’s not really helpful at all. Let’s give it one more try:

  • A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a sh*t what they’re doing at any given time. –UrbanDictionary.com

Haha well that sure is one way to look at it! I view Twitter as a huge cocktail party. You interact as much as you want, you come in and out of conversations as you see fit, you listen to other people rant or rave, you observe trends and popular topics, you initiate some conversations and contribute to others, you walk around to see what’s happening over in that side of the room, and yes maybe you enjoy a few people so much that you follow them around a little bit.

Looking at some statistics, it’s clear that social media is here to stay.

  • Facebook: 1.23 Billion users as of Dec 2013, 81% outside of U.S. (Facebook.com), 57% American adults, 73% 12-17 year olds (Pew Research)
  • LinkedIn: 277 million users as of Feb 2014 (Digital Marketing Ramblings)
  • Instagram (where you share photos and up to 15-second videos, image filters are offered): 150 million active users, 1.2 Billion likes/day (DMR, Feb 2014)
  • Vine (users share 6-second videos) : 40 million users (Vine)
  • Twitter: As of Aug 2013, Twitter reports

    280 Million users

    500 Million tweets/day

    Average 5,700 tweets PER SECOND

    135,000 new users/day

A tweet, or Twitter post, gives you 140 spaces, called characters, to say whatever you want. “Happy birthday” is 14 characters (without the quote marks), and “Happy birthday!” (without quotes) is 15. With quotes, they’d 16 and 17 characters. Anything that takes up a space, even a blank space, counts as one. The good news is you are forced to be brief. The bad news is it takes practice to get your point across succinctly.

Once you’ve got the hang of 140 characters, why keep going? What’s in it for you? Plenty. When used effectively, Twitter can:

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Thinking of writing a children’s book? Have you written one but not sure what to do with it? Well a-looky here, I’ve got some slick tips for you, dear beginner. It’ll be the best eight minutes of your day! (Unless you won the lottery, in which case may I say how beautiful you look today?)

Feel free to share the video on your own blog or website. Just please give a link back to me here, okay? Thanks, doll.

If you have tips or tricks that you’d like to share with fellow newbies, please let me know! You may be featured in a future video 🙂

Exceptions to Top 12 Tips for Writing a (Good) Picture Book

Writing a picture book is easy.

Writing a good picture book is hard.

Exceptions to the top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*

(which okay technically makes it 13 but who’s counting?)

A refute to “The top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*” which was also written by Bitsy Kemper and posted just moments before this one–so read that one first, then this one

By Bitsy Kemper

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There are plenty of exceptions to the rules mentioned in my last post. (If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now, or this post won’t make any sense)

(Seriously, scroll down and read that last post to put this one in perspective)

(I am not warning you again)

  1. “How do you find an illustrator?” The answer to this was “YOU DON’T.” But if you are a professional artist and happen to also be a stellar writer, oh how lucky you are. (Also: I hate you. It’s so hard to master both skill sets. Sooo jealous.) If you are a member of this very small minority, you might consider submitting your manuscript complete with illustrations. But know the editor might love the art and not the words, or love the text and not the illustrations. I still suggest you pick one, especially early on, and work repeatedly to hone that chosen skill. You can dabble (or excel) in the other one once your foot is in the door. The DON’T answer still applies to having your niece illustrate, hiring an artist, submitting with clip art or photos, overdoing it with art notes, etc. You only have one chance to make a first impression! Show the editor or agent that you’ve done your homework and know enough not to submit artwork with text.
  2. “A story has a beginning, middle, and end. A series of anecdotes, no matter how charming, isn’t a book.” The exceptions here are concept books: something that teaches a certain skill such as ABCs, counting, or colors. In those cases you’ll still want to make it unique and compelling as you’re competing against hundreds and hundreds of these long-shelf-life books already in stores. What makes yours different or better? (If you find a way to create a beginning, middle, and end with a concept book, you get bonus points but also I hate you because that’s pretty hard to do well too.)
  3. “Good writing is rewriting.”  No exception to this one. Sorry.
  4.  “Do your homework.” There is no exception to this one, either. Sorry.
  5.  “Take it out of rhyme.” If you’re a learned poet and know what you’re doing, and others can give a cold reading of your manuscript aloud without a single falter, yes of course I hate you. YOU, my friend, are allowed to keep your manuscript as written. If your rhyme works, stick with it. Just make sure the story doesn’t suffer because of it…that you’re not rewriting sentences to force a rhyme or using obscure words to make the meter work (only Yoda can get away with that), or that the plotline jumps all over the place.
  6. “NO alliteration and anthropomorphisms (giving human qualities to something non living, like a talking mop).” Peter picking a peck of pickled peppers might work as a nursery rhyme, but not as a title or when constant within the text of a picture book. First off: you may think your alliteration is clever and cute, but most editors find it annoying as heck. It shows a newbie is at work, because so many new writers think if you use alliteration, kids will be drawn to the story. Not so. The story needs to stand on its own. Alliterations sprinkled in here and there, sure. But not in the title and not every three words. Friends don’t let friends use alliteration.                                                                                                                                                                   There are a ton of exceptions to the no talking objects rule too. Talking animals you can usually get away with. But talking objects just doesn’t work. Exceptions include Veggie Tales and Cars and very few other others—but remember they are cartoons, not books. It’s not that your story about a talking flying carpet will never get picked up. It’s just that kind of story has to fall WAY to the extreme thumbs-up end of the lame-to-awesome scale. If a kid can’t find a universal truth or common ground with the main characters, you’ve lost them by page one. The easier you make it for them to find themselves somewhere in the main character and story, the faster you’ve found an enthusiastic reader.
  7. “Speaking of editors/agents, they DON’T CARE if it’s a true story, or if your grandkids love it, or if getting a book published is something you’ve always wanted to do. All they care about is the story.” Exceptions here fall ONLY under “true story.” Non-fiction stories, biographies of famous people, or an average person overcoming a huge obstacle in a unique way are good ideas. But writing about the swell dog you had when you were a kid, well, not so much. Everyone has a great pet story from childhood. You have to tell a good story, nay, a greater-than-life story that’s well written. It being true doesn’t tip the scale, and may work against you because newbies assume true stories are better jut because they’re true. It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. As for mentioning how much your grandkids like it, well, of COURSE your grandkids love it! They love everything you do. Same goes for neighbors/friends. Let the editor/agent decide if THEY like it. They have years of experience in spotting talent. Your posse doesn’t count. Sorry.
  8. “Don’t moralize. No one wants to be talked down to or lectured.” No exceptions here. Kids enjoy coming to conclusions on their own.
  9. “Join SCBWI!”  No exceptions here either. In fact, I’ll even add to it. Join a critique group. Take a class. Attend a workshop. Read blogs by other children authors. Come join our tribe! You’re gonna love us.
  10. “You don’t have to have an agent—but it usually helps.” I don’t have one. Many kidlit writers/illustrators don’t. Surprised? It can be just as hard to land an agent as it is to land a contract deal with an editor/publisher. Where do you want to spend your time? Many writers get an agent AFTER they’ve had publishing success. Many prolific authors don’t have or want and agent at all. I have a friend that’s authored >25 children’s books; not one of them was sold by her agent. That’s not to say her agent isn’t working hard; but my friend is working harder. She trusts her agent and they work well together. But it hasn’t resulted in sales yet. You can put your future in the hands of someone else, or you can boldly storm some doors on your own. This is one of the few industries that give you a choice.
  11. “Plan on getting rich? AHHAHAHAHAHAH! Contracts can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.” The only exception here comes with experience and popularity. The more books you sell or have sold in the past, the higher the contract amount will probably be…it’s akin to paying extra for the master hair cutter vs someone that started yesterday. Experience is respected for a reason! Some publishers shy away from new writers, or offer them a lower amount to start, because new writers have no track record. One hit wonders can prove expensive.
  12. “If you don’t have patience, find some.” The only exception here is ebooks—which are not to be confused with book apps. An ebook is formatted for instant download, bypassing the long time spent at the printers and the transportation and set up time it takes to get on store shelves. An ebook has minimal illustrations so it’s rare to find a new ebook; most take what’s already out there and format it for a computer or handheld screen without any additional features. Book apps need to not only be illustrated but enhanced for reader interaction, which if done right, can take many many man hours of work. Book apps might take just as long as if it was sent to the printers, or even longer to perfect and beta test, but they skip the time-to-store-shelf line. Nothing worth it is ever easy, kid.
  13. “The good news? Even if you never get published, I bet you’ll enjoy the process.” The exception here is a person that whines and complains and only does the minimal amount of effort, with the thinking that the end justifies the means. “I’m only doing this crud to get published.” Don’t be that guy. Enjoy yourself as much as you can. Sure, there’ll be times when you’re bombarded with tedium and distractions and all kinds of unexpected stuff flying at you that you can’t control. Please see earlier reference to nothing worth it being easy. Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun at the same time. Lighten up, have some fun, sneak in a glass of champagne now and again. You’re the only one who can make you happy.

*There are probably exceptions to these exceptions. There may be reasons why none of this applies to you. Take it all into consideration regardless. Hit the road untraveled if you feel so inclined, but do so with your eyes open. Knowing what challenges await will prepare you for that bumpy road ahead.

Now get out there and start creating something wonderful! (Unless you want to hang out for a minute and comment on this blog, which is a great idea, I’m so glad you thought of it…go ahead…hit the comment button…)

Top 12 Tips for Writing a (Good) Picture Book

DON'T BE A NEWBIE

DON’T BE A NEWBIE

Writing a picture book is easy.

Writing a good picture book is hard.

But how, you ask?

Top twelve newbie tips for writing a picture book, plus one bonus thought*

(so okay technically that makes it 13 but who’s counting?)

By Bitsy Kemper

  1. You’ve written a great story, and formatted it into standard picture book manuscript form. You’re getting ready to submit it to an editor or agent. How do you find an illustrator? TRICK QUESTION. You DON’T. [You don’t submit your manuscript with images or photos. Respectable publishers don’t want you to find an illustrator. Your job is to write so beautifully that it opens up illustration possibilities. Leave the actual artwork to professionals, just as they leave the writing to you.]
  2. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. A series of anecdotes, no matter how charming, isn’t a book.
  3. Pop quiz: Who said good writing is rewriting? It doesn’t matter. Just know that what you have now will go through MANY rounds of edits/changes before it’s ready for prime time. It’s not a sign of weakness to edit, change, rearrange, repeat. Working on your manuscript shows dedication and commitment to perfection. Don’t your readers deserve that?
  4. Do your homework. Research and study as many great picture books as you can. Why do they work? How? Notice how the book’s illustrations wouldn’t work without the words, or how the words wouldn’t come across without illustrations. You’ll soon see why both words and images are equally important. In picture books, you can’t have one without the other. The nomenclature “picture book” makes it clear: images (picture) and words/story (book) together. Read a hundred picture books, literally. Don’t just spend an hour in the kid section of the library. Spend days, weeks, months. The more you read from a content and format perspective, the more you’ll see  why good books work, and, odds are, the better your book will be.
  5. Take it out of rhyme. I haven’t read your manuscript, but I can assure you it’s not working. Sorry. Rhyme has to be PERFECT, not “close enough.” Perfection takes lots and lots of practice. (Pls see earlier reference to homework!)
  6.  “Fiona the Floormop”? “Becky’s BFF Bakes Biscuits”? NO. Alliteration and anthropomorphisms (giving human qualities to something non living, like a talking mop) are at the top of the DON’T list for most editors/agents.
  7. Speaking of editors/agents, they DON’T CARE if it’s a true story, or if your grandkids love it, or if getting a book published is something you’ve always wanted to do. All they care about is the story. Is it good? Different? Compelling? Will an audience want to read it again and again?
  8. Don’t moralize. No one wants to be talked down to or lectured. (In a well-written book, the reader figures out the moral of the story without being told pointblank what it is. If you have to call it out, your story’s not written well enough.)
  9. Join SCBWI! Attend a conference – as many as you can in fact. The more you understand the industry, the better you’ll be able to serve it. Imagine wanting to gold medal in luge but you never watched a game or met any fellow and/or award-winning lugers. Your desire to succeed will be stalled by your lack of involvement, interaction, and experience. Conferences are a great way to make writer friends, too. We’re good peeps! (Well, for the most part—there’s always that one guy…)
  10. You don’t have to have an agent—but it usually helps.
  11. Plan on getting rich? AHHAHAHAHAHAH Contracts can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. To top it off, you split your +/- 10% cut of book sale price with the illustrator. You might only get 25¢ per book sold! You’d need to sell quite a few books before you even earn lunch money. And since books tend to go out of print in roughly two years, those books need to sell quickly.
  12. If you don’t have patience, find some. It can take YEARS for a manuscript to get accepted, and then another year—two or three isn’t unheard of—before it’s on the store shelf.
  13. The good news? Even if you never get published, I bet you’ll enjoy the process. My husband still plays soccer every Mon/Weds/Fri. Will he get drafted by a pro team? No. That’s not why he plays. He straps on his cleats and hits the field because he loves the game. If writing doesn’t make your heart sing, consider another career or hobby. You’re the only one who can make you happy.

*There are always exceptions to the rule. But not many. Swimming upstream is best left for after you’ve had several successful books under your belt. That’s not to say take the easy path. Know what you’re up against and arm yourself accordingly. Then the road won’t be as bumpy.