— spartanlynne (@spartanlynne) April 15, 2016
Sometimes I meet characters in books who feel like friends. And other times I meet characters I’m sure would be friends with my characters, if only they’d had a chance to meet somehow.
Mimi Yoshiko Oliver from Marilyn Hilton’s beautiful verse novel, Full Cicada Moon, reminds me of my Kimi and Alis. It’s Mimi’s passion and her “raindrops are stronger than hammers” approach to the world that feels familiar and true.
In case you’re curious, here are some characters I know would be friends with Mavis Betterly:
Part of my month-long writing-free vacation was spent with these lovelies.* Like I did with May B., I collected addresses in dribs and drabs over the last year, waiting until I had a stretch of time to devote to stamping, labeling, and writing.
On 699 postcards. For real.
While it isn’t the 1,662 I sent out for May B., it was still a pretty big commitment, one that I found surprisingly satisfying.
You’ve probably heard the rate of return on direct mailings falls somewhere between 1/2 and 2 percent. Pretty dismal and probably not worth the effort, right? For me, the process has become a ritual where I can exert the tiniest bit of control over the unwieldy and unpredictable experience of releasing a book into the world.
Because the books I write are largely sold to the school and library market, that’s where I focus. I had graphic designer Sierra Fong create two postcards for my mailings this time around, one meant to introduce Over in the Wetlands to the schools and libraries of the Gulf Coast, and another to share both Wetlands and Blue Birds with New Mexico schools and libraries.
Here’s what’s happened since the postcards went out: I have had a handful of teachers email me after receiving the card. My sales for both of these books have increased slightly in the last few weeks.** I’ve gotten more website hits from the areas I’ve targeted. And I’ve been invited to speak at Mosquero Elementary School, a K-6 school of 22 students in Mosquero, NM (population 93). Seeing young readers in corners of my state I’ve never visited is pretty much the best thing out there.
While I’ll never know the actual results of the mailing, every postcard was a chance to directly tell a teacher or librarian about something I believe in, and in this age of quick and impersonal blasts of information, it felt significant, important even. However small the return, my efforts to match books with readers has left a mark, perhaps in ways I’ll never know.
Which is exactly how this publication thing works, anyway.
*Points to the person who catches the typo. My son spotted it immediately!
**Penguin Random House has a website called Author Portal where sales can be tracked, using numbers from Nieslen BookScan. Many, many bookstores don’t report sales, and few, if any, schools or libraries do. Until statements come in months from now, it’s really impossible to know true numbers, but the BookScan stats are a start.
One of the best parts about speaking to young readers is the totally goofy, fun, original things they say. This is one of the many things I miss about teaching. Good thing every author visit offers a couple gems.
Last week while I was in Chicago, a boy told me he’s building a sod house in his backyard (!). I’m not so sure his parents are aware of this fact. I got him to agree to send me a picture.
A brother and sister team decided they wanted me to write my favorite line from May B. in their copy of the book. My line is pretty weird and kinda foolish on May’s part, but oh so very brave. They still wanted it when I told them, right above my signature. Those two went home with a book that says “Wolf, show your face.”
(This isn’t the oddest thing a child has asked me to write. Last year a boy here in Albuquerque wanted me to sign the front of his notebook not as Caroline but as…King Kong. You better believe I did it.)
Another Illinois kid asked if I could sign my name and also leave her a message in secret code. She didn’t seem concerned that I don’t know any sort of codes, let alone secret ones. In the end, I used my typical May B. tagline with an special twist — Courage and hope and “secret code”.
On a more serious note, a lovely young lady told me she could relate to May because she’s been an outsider, too. She’s new to the US, having grown up in Korea, and says like May, she’s struggled with reading because she’s working with a new language. And guess what? Her mom is using May as a way to learn English herself.
What an absolute privilege (and a hoot!) it is to work with kids.