Guest Bloggers: Mary Hershey & Robin LaFevers from SVP

Shrinking Violet Promotions is one of my favorite blogs. I discovered it soon after I started blogging, and I’ve been a regular reader since. Mary & Robin are encouraging, enthusiastic, and seriously GET how tough it can be for writers to get out there and market themselves and their books. So, obviously, I was very happy when they accepted my invitation to guest blog here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, pull up a chair, get out your notebooks, and listen up!

PRE-Marketing: Seven Important Things You Can Do Before You Sell Your Book, by the Shrinking Violets, Robin LaFevers & Mary Hershey.

Is it ever too early to start marketing? We’re betting the answer to this question depends on who you ask. Editors, agents, and authors will likely all have different perspectives. And, of those groups, it is likely that it depends on whether you ask an introvert or extrovert.

Robin and I have thought long and hard about this question as it has pertained to our own writing path, and the path of our readers at Shrinking Violets. As a generalization, introverts are more likely to want to remain in the wings until show-time. (Some of us would prefer to stay in the wings beyond that!) 🙂

One of the things to remember about marketing is that it’s really about connecting; connecting to a community of readers or writers or booksellers. As a pre-published author, one of the best things you can do is to begin to build those community relationships. The cool thing about starting before publication is that you will comfortably know these people by the time your first book sale is made, and it won’t feel stiff and in-your-face to mention it to them, it will make sense. The good news is, it’s never been easier. Between blogging and all the social network sites, it’s easy to begin tapping into those communities and building connections.

If it feels more comfortable, start off in those communities identifying yourself as a reader; most writers are avid readers first and foremost, and that can feel like a safer place to start from. Follow librarians’ blogs, “friend” indie bookstores and your favorite authors on MySpace, join book discussions with others about your favorite books. Follow your favorite authors’ blogs and comment, fer gawd’s sake. (They will not know you are there if you don’t comment!) Begin your own blog. At first, you can simply talk about your writing struggles or what you read or the authors and librarians you meet, however, at some point, it can be really smart to create a blogging niche for yourself. Something that guarantees a source of topics for you to talk about and get people coming back to your site.

Cyber Niches can be based on so many different things: Genres, Plotting, Marketing, The Industry, Gossip, Situational (ie: SAHM, writers who are actual teens, etc.), Personal Quirks, “The Call” stories, Rejection Letters, Interviews. Yes, there are lots of blogs with author interviews, but how about one that showcases booksellers or librarians. How about Reporting New Deals, or Six Degrees of Separation in publishing. (For example, did you know that Betty Groban of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is related to Josh Groban? Or that Jake and Maggie Gyllenthal’s aunt has just published a book?)

The point is to find something that interests you and begin building a community or connections around that. But don’t rely on that alone, be a good community member by participating in other communities as well. Again, the internet makes this easier than ever–and you’ll learn tons while doing it. Promise.

As a community of writing introverts, we also want to be smart and savvy about our work. We want to make sure that we take advantage of every possible opportunity, and we also want to conserve our energy for those activities that give us the biggest bang. We want to make sure that the major proportion of our personal resources goes directly to the work–to creating the best possible book we can. I believe strongly that this in itself is the most powerful marketing activity of all…writing a kick-ass book. Once that has been done, then absolutely–do whatever you can to create buzz–that enigmatic and intangible magic that gets your book into all the right hands and right places.

In the last five years, we’ve all born witness, or heard the tales of unpublished writers that have sold their work based on their mega-blogebrity status. Agents and editors have shopped them from their blog or website and offered contracts. Exciting stuff, for sure, but rare, in our opinion. The bottom line is that agents and editors are not going to come find you. You need to write a book that will find them, and grab them by their editorial lapels.

All right, all right! We promised a list–and here it is! 🙂 🙂


  1. Meet your tribe. Get out there and start connecting with other writers. You can find them on-line and at conferences, critiques, schmoozes–follow the trail of writer bread crumbs!
  2. Join a professional writing organization like the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Romance Writers of America (RWA), or the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Let the world know that you are serious.
  3. Start doing some karmic networking NOW. Become a volunteer in some reading/writing arena. DO something besides focus on getting yourself published.
  4. Dive into the classics. Read the Newbery, Caldecott, Cybil, Indie Bound award winners. Taste and savor the cream. Know exactly what you are up against. Know what the market buys. Then ignore it and go deep into your own  secret, crazy, unique place and write from there–that’s where YOUR best stuff hides.
  5. Write a fan letter to an author, or editor, or librarian or teacher or bookseller. For no purpose than to celebrate their work and thank them for their contribution to children’s literature. This is not a pitch, but an expression of appreciation with NO hook.
  6. Start designing a website or a blog if you haven’t already. Before you’ve sold something? Yep! Step into the frame of your future. Try it on for size. What would you like it to look like? Have some fun! Use this as a vision for your future. It will draw you there.
  7. Choose one thing slightly outside your comfort zone in the writing field and move toward it. Examples: finding opportunities for public speaking, doing a storytime with children, introducing yourself to the local booksellers, etc.

No matter how many dozens upon dozens of books an author or illustrator may have out–don’t ever forget that we ALL start unpublished. Remember to enjoy the whole of your journey. It’s all rich!


  1. P. J. Hoover says:

    Great post! I love it! And the best thing about building that community before publication is it makes you realize you aren’t alone in your journey!


  2. beckylevine says:

    P.J.–Yes, that’s right! It reminds you that other people are doing this, too, and that it’s definitely what you want to be doing!


  3. Vivian says:

    Love the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog. They give smart advice and break it down so it is all less intimidating. Thanks for sharing this!


    • beckylevine says:

      They do, Vivian. I always feel like I’ve gotten the best combination of pep talk & hug when I show up there! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


  4. tanita says:

    Great advice from the Violet Duo as usual — I’m slowly but surely working on that last little “out of my comfort zone” thing they described. Here’s hoping I get there, too!


    • beckylevine says:

      The comfort zone is such a nice place to hang out, but I think M & R are right. We have to push the limits.


  5. itsybitsyblogsy says:

    Thanks! This is a great post–and it unites two of my favorite blogs. The timing is interesting, too, as I just started my own blog today. But since I’m doing it anonymously, do I only get half credit? 😉


    • beckylevine says:

      I’ll give you FULL Credit if you come back & post the link to your blog! 🙂

      And thanks so much for saying this blog is one of your favorites–that’s so great!


  6. Yep, noticed that as soon as my comment went through. I thought it would automatically link since I have a WordPress blog, but I guess not. (And now everyone knows just how new I am!)

    Crossing fingers that it works this time…


  7. Luci says:

    Hello, first time here and first time reading SV. Love it. Your advice was practical and spot on. I do have a blog, its a fun outlet, and in between submissions, allows me to flex my writing muscles a bit. Looking forward to reading more here! Thank you.


    • beckylevine says:

      Luci–thanks for coming by! I’m glad you liked the guest post. I’m heading over to check out your blog. 🙂


  8. Shari says:

    Great post, Mary and Robin! And thanks for hosting them here, Becky. 🙂


  9. beckylevine says:

    Thanks for coming by, Shari.


  10. Patty Palmer says:

    Robin and Mary are so right. It’s never to early to start promoting yourself. Although, it does feel a bit awkward when you have nothing but idealism to promote!
    Great post. Thanks!


  11. beckylevine says:

    Oh, man, there are so many of us writers who need a dose of that idealism–keep sharing! I think (hope!) we can all contribute to the discussion and to lessening the feeling of isolation that writing can bring. 🙂


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