I first met Nancy Viau at a workshop she presented for the NJ chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in 2011. Her middle grade book SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD (Amulet 2008) had been published. She, along with some fellow authors, were talking about their books and the group they’d formed called the Kid Lit Authors Club. Here’s Nancy:
First give me some of your own background and how you came to be a children’s book author.
I started writing down ideas and creating silly rhymes when my youngest was about three. I wasn’t sure what to do with the picture books (I use that term loosely because they weren’t even close to being picture books!) that rolled out of my head onto paper, so I joined SCBWI and sat in many, many sessions where I soaked up info on how to write, what to write, and where to send manuscripts. Early on I had success with Highlights, Highlights High Five, Babybug, Ladybug, etc. but no picture book acceptances. A friend encouraged me to write for an older audience so for a while I wrote Op-Ed articles for the Philly Inquirer, popular anthologies, and a mish-mash of parenting magazines. An idea for an older character lead to my middle-grade novel, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head, and even after that was published, I never let go of the dream to be a picture book author.
Where and when did the idea for KIDLIT AUTHORS CLUB originate? What’s the philosophy/premise behind the group?
A year after my middle-grade novel came out (2009), I came to the realization that it’s not easy to promote a book and get author gigs. Publishers do not do a lot (*sigh), especially if your book is not a best-seller. Another author, Keri Mikulski, and I thought it might be a good idea to band together with a diverse group of picture book, middle-grade, and young adult authors to help spread the word about our titles. We wanted a book-signing or a general visit to be fun and interactive, an event the entire family could enjoy, and that we could enjoy, too. We wanted to make an irresistible buzz for our books, and never again find ourselves sitting alone at a book signing.
How many members and from what genres?
Membership fluctuates every year, but we try to keep a balance between PB, MG, and YA. Some years we have 20; sometimes we have as many as 26. We try not to go over 25 or 26 because what happens then is that people step back and let a select few do the work. We all work to find opportunities for signings and presentations by reaching out to librarians, booksellers, teachers, conference directors, festival organizers, and others.
How has being a member of the group changed the way you present and promote your books? What are the advantages of such a group?
I feel like I have a marketing team behind me. Whereas I am one individual who may find a way to promote my books, with the KidLit Authors Club behind me, I have 20+ others who are also promoting my books. Sure, I still do events by myself, but at those events I talk up members’ books, and hand out the club’s bookmarks and marketing materials. We share the love. Big time. A picture book author may come across an event suitable for YA authors and will pass it along. A middle-grade author may find an opportunity to appear on a panel, but picture book authors are needed as well. Voila, we’ve got that! We provide a multi-author resource for bookstore owners and conference or festival organizers looking to fill program spots.
What advice would you give other writers looking to collaborate and form a similar club?
Find others who enjoy getting the word out about their own books, but would be open to helping others do the same. Get together and hash out a plan of action. A marketing group made up of authors can take many forms. Look at groups such as the Liars Club or the “Class of” groups that started with the Class of 2k7 and continued on with the Tenners, Elevensies, and so on. I saw how successful my class was–the Class of 2k8, but felt that limiting a group to authors of novels was not in our best interest. Members of our club all benefit when seasoned authors mentor debut authors, older titles are mentioned in the same breath as current ones, and new titles are celebrated and given a presence.
Any final thoughts?
Working with a group of wonderful people who have the same passion and vision as you is priceless. (I sound like a MasterCard commercial…) It’s really hard being an author—harder than most people think, but it’s much more enjoyable when you don’t have to go it alone.
Making every event a celebration of children’s books!
Nancy Viau is the author of City Street Beat, Storm Song, and Look What I Can Do! (nominated for the 2014-2015 Keystone to Reading Book Award). Her middle-grade title, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head, was published in 2008. Viau enjoys presenting assembly programs and writing workshops, and along with the young writers she meets, she finds inspiration in nature, travel, and her job as a librarian assistant.
Facebook: Nancy Viau