Friday, September 14, 2007

Charity, Giving and Kids: A Mix That Works!

Note: Today I am featuring a guest blogger, Jewel Sample. This interview underscores the importance of giving for everyone but also (subtly, indeed) how giving can help authors promote. It also features an exciting resource for readers who want to find the best reading material for their children. Here it is:

Literacy Charity Helps Kids Connect with Authors through Book Giving
Opportunities to generate interest in one’s book can come up in the most unexpected places

While cruising the cyber-lanes of our Internet world, I came upon a great literacy organization for families with children called The Reading Tub.

The Reading Tub enhances the world of children through finding the best books for them to read. Grown-ups no longer have to spend hours mulling through book lists, but can now spend more time connecting through reading a great story together. The books listed at The Reading Tub are ones families can count on because each book has been reviewed by one of The Reading Tub’s helpers.

The Reading Tub is run by stay-at-home mom (SAHM), Terry Doherty. I was curious about how Terry came up with the idea to help Kids read more books by reclaiming family book hunting time and if she had any advice for new writers, so I asked Terry for a cyber-chat. This is what Terry had to say:

Hi Terry, thank you so much for agreeing to answer a few questions. I would like to begin by asking how you started The Reading Tub.

Terry:
The Reading Tub® started out as a part-time hobby for a Stay-at-home Mom. I love to read, and when Catherine was born, started sharing that passion with her. I was talking with my sister-in-law about children's books (positives & negatives) and she suggested I start a website for parents and teachers.

I found a do-it-yourself website company in June 2003 and started playing around with ideas. Within a year, it had started to grow, and authors started to find us. So I married my love of books with my passion for literacy and launched The Reading Tub, Inc. as a non-profit.

Jewel:
In having a passion for literacy, are you also a writer with published works?

Terry: In my life BC (before Catherine), I worked as an analyst. The best part of my job was writing. I had some things published … but nothing I can talk about.

Now, most of my writing is related to The Reading Tub®. I have some ideas for books, but most of my "published" stuff is on the Web site or Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, our blog. I still keep a journal, but life seems to get much further ahead. One of these days I want to write a children's book drawing on some of the Catherine-isms we have enjoyed.

Jewel:
What seems to be the most popular themes at The Reading Tub?

Terry:The theme depends on the audience. For the 9 to 12 audience, there are lots of writers who want to be the next J. K. Rowlings. We review every book sent to us that fits our criteria (simply, any book for ages 0 to 12); and all of our books are placed with families. Frankly, they are tired of reading fantasy and wanna-be books. They want original material. There are some authors (including first-time authors) who have some incredibly original stuff. But on the norm, fantasies are becoming formulaic.

For the 5 to 9 audience, you can find books on just about everything. One of the things I love – and I admit I'm biased because I have a daughter – is the number of stories with strong, creative, down-to-earth female protagonists in traditional and non-traditional roles. I just read a terrific fantasy about a young girl who becomes a pirate!

Jewel:
What advice do you have for new children's writers?

Terry:
Don't rush your masterpiece! Write what is in your heart, and then seek help. You need people who can give you honest answers and editing help. Be prepared to accept that not everyone feels what you do about your story.

Think about your goal: is it to share a personal story and share it with some friends? Is it to write a treasure for your family or leave a legacy? Or do you want to be the next "Big Thing." Have a goal, but be honest with yourself … particularly about becoming the IT writer. Then set out your plan.

A simple genre search with a major bookseller's site can tell you how many books are already published on the topic you want to write about and for your target audience. This is your competition. YOU are the person who has principal responsibility for promoting your work, and you will want this information for your plan.

Jewel:
How can your organization be reached for book reviews and donations?

Terry:
The first stop for learning about book reviews is the Website. Just fill out the contact form and we'll send you what you need, usually within 48 hours.

All of the books we review are in turn donated to a non-profit working directly with children. This helps us pay it forward, so to speak, and also gets books to kids who need them. Some of the organizations are helping kids with their reading skills; and some are giving books to kids who would not otherwise have them. When I go through the books, I try to match the books to the organizations' preferences or needs.

We also facilitate book drives. Some of the organizations we have worked with are listed on our Home page.

Jewel:Do you accept any children's book?

Terry:
Yes. The Reading Tub, Inc. has a very simple submission policy: if you send us a book for a child (infant to age 12), we will review it. We do not buy books. Donations keep the website operating for free to the public and underwrite our community projects.

I would like to add that we are a LITERACY organization. Our goal is to get kids excited about reading. We want to introduce the world to undiscovered children's books, and love the opportunity to read yours. But our role is not to help you sell them. We think suggesting people borrow books from the library is an endorsement, too. Not everyone can afford to buy books for a personal library. Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of The How to Do It Frugally book series, has a great observation about this: people who go to the library are there because they like to read. So if they read and like your book, they are likely to tell a friend who, in turn, might just go to the bookstore to buy it.

Jewel:
How do The Reading Tub services help families?

Terry:
The website has two parts. There is what I call the literacy services side: facts about literacy, information about reading with kids, stats, etc. Our goal is to help kids read, but we need to help parents, too. Some parents find reading easy, but what about the parents who don’t? How can we encourage them to teach their kids to love reading when they don't like to read? We can help with that.

The other part of our site is the book bag: our unique profiles that give parents the details they want about books for kids. We built the site so that it is easy to search for books that match your child's interests and reading level. In addition to general keyword searches (like trains, frogs, princesses), you can use phrases like remedial reading to see if there is a book that matches your needs. When you look at the statistics for literacy at the 4th and 8th grade levels, it is more and more evident that we need to reframe books for that 9-to-12-year-old audience. It used to be mostly boys, but now the literacy levels for girls are starting to decline, too. Being able to find good books that are written for an older child but which fall within the remedial reading category is becoming critical for parents, teachers, and librarians.

Jewel:

Before we go, do you have any advice for writers about promoting their published works?

Terry:
First, authors need to understand that a publisher is, essentially, their printer. Once that box of books arrives in your living room, their job is finished. Second, there is no one better than you to promote your book. You have the greatest enthusiasm for it, you are the expert on its history and content.

That said, unless you are a natural salesman, you will definitely want some guidance. Even though I am not promoting a book, I find the information about book promotion valuable, so it's important to be open to others' ideas. Promoting yourself is a real job, and that includes building relationships. Do your research; talk with people; and trust your instincts on a fit that will work for you. You may not want to hire a publicist, but you do need to network, so you will want to present your best, most professional self.

Jewel:
Thank you Terry for chatting with me about helping children connect to books and giving suggestions to new writers. Without a doubt, I learned this week that advertising, book signings or speaking engagements are not the only way to bring awareness of a new book. Giving a book to a literacy charity not only helps a child but helps the author too.
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Literacy Charity Helps Kids Connect with Authors through Book Giving was written by Jewel Sample, award-winning author of Flying Hugs and Kisses (2006), also translated: Besos y abrazos al aire (2006, Spanish edition) and Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book (2007).
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Sharing with Writers and Readers is a blog from Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.
Her other blogs include TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com and AuthorsCoalition.blogspot.com, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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