The insides of book marketing for a new author

November 23rd, 2010

A couple of days ago I completed an interview about my own book marketing efforts. Read the interview to see how sales are so far, what marketing I did on my own (with the help of my friends) and what the publisher contributed to the effort.

Brilliant thoughts from the kids at Bryant Montessori

November 19th, 2010

Yesterday I did an author talk with the kids at Bryant Montessori in Tacoma, Washington. They’d all read my first book, The Tilting House, and were ridiculously excited to have a “real author” (whatever that means) come and talk to them. That’s what I love about kids–if they like something, they show it. No need to be cool. No need to be reserved. If they want an author to sign their arms, they just roll up their sleeves.

These small humans also wrote some lovely letters to me beforehand. Here are a few highlights:

“Dear Mr. Llewellyn, Why did you make Victor Peat and his brother have a black Cadillac? Ws it because they had to look professional?” – Rosemary

“Mr. L, I like the book. I had fun reading the book. I like the way you used the name Josh. From Joshua.”

“Dear Mr. Llewellyn, Some of the book is scary. Did you have these thoughts when you were a kid?” – Eden

And here are a few sample stories created during a writing exercise with the same group of students:

“A famous chef made a cake then a dog came and ate it. Well, the people were inside. The people came out and realized that the cake was gone and they saw the dog standing there with a cake mustache and they chased the dog until they got the dog. The end.”

“Once upon  a time there was a famous chef. So it was his wife’s birthday. So he made a cake for his wife. All of a sudden, Sawman jumped out of the cake and Sawman was cutting everybody’s head off.”

“There once was a ninja who rescued the president, but he was not an ordinary ninja, he was the Great Ninja of the World!!!. The end.”

“Once upon a time there was a cat. The cat jumped on a windowsill. Because the cat liked to look out of the window.”

“The dog is a famous chef who couldn’t resist eating his wedding cakes. Then one day when he was feeling extra awesome he did not eat his wedding cake. He took it to the church where the old man with the canary was getting married. But then the dog felt hungry and ate the whole wedding cake. The he drove back but on the way he fell asleep, crashed into the ocean and drowned. The end.” – Jude

The future of literature is clearly in good hands.


How much money does a bestselling author actually make?

November 18th, 2010

While I wait anxiously for news on the future of my book, I thought I’d keep the conversation going with some related insights into the process. In fact, here’s one now:

I clearly don’t write for the money–based on the fact that I keep writing without making any–but it’s interesting to shine light on the myths of wealthy writers. I’m sure there are a few, but very few novelists can ever quit their day jobs.

Terry Cordingly is the Associate Director of Marketing at Tate Publishing & Enterprises and he blogs about the business side of publishing. Check out this fascinating post from him about just how much cash an official New York Times bestselling author actually brings home:

Aaarrgghh! My publisher is closing its doors!

November 17th, 2010

My book, Letter Off Dead, is being published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Or, should I say, it was being published by them. Late last week, I’m told, Random House informed Tricycle Press that they are closing them down.

I just spent the last three weeks on what I thought was the final push toward getting this book in shape for publishing. I’ve been blogging about it. On Monday, City Arts Magazine even called for an interview about the progress. All good fun, right?

Then, later that day, my editor, the still-esteemed Abigail Samoun called. I said, “How’s it going?”

“Well…” said Abigail, “not so good, really.”

She told me that Tricycle Press is being shut down. Random House, which purchased Tricycle last March as part of their acquisition of Ten Speed Press, ran the numbers and just can’t find a way to keep the imprint going. Abigail is out of a job there at the end of January.

I harbor no ill feelings toward the House of Random. It’s hard out there for a publisher. And while publishing may create these wonderful objects called books, it’s still a business. But this news still sucks.

So what does this mean for Letter Off Dead? It means I’m back in the most common of all publishing statuses: Wait And See.

The Tricycle staff is meeting with RH in early December to pitch my book (and all the others in their fall 2011 catalog). Abigail is optimistic that one of their other imprints will pick it up, because it has the following things going for it:

1. It’s young adult fiction, and YA fiction is hot right now.

2. It’s not a picture book, which means it translates to digital sales pretty well (woe to you, picture book illustrator, as sad as that may be).

3. It’s already got a proven following–10,000 visitors a month on this blog.

4. My first book, The Tilting House, is still selling well. Sold out its first printing in a month and currently sits at over 8,000 copies sold.

5. Most of the work has already been done. It’s ready to go to galleys. The cover illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline is done and by this early December meeting the cover design will be done as well. Abigail–heroic woman that she is– just emailed me and said, “Our designer is working on the cover and I told her to do her absolute-very-best-extra-spectacular job on it.” God bless you, Abi.

So right now it’s Wait And See time. Feel free to send up a prayer for the future of this book. And tell your friends about this blog so the numbers stay strong.


Check out the City Arts online article about blog-to-book

November 16th, 2010

I talked to Mark Baumgarten at City Arts yesterday about turning this blog into a book. Here are the results. By the way, the illustration on his post is by our own James Stowe.

Made the edits. Submitted the draft.

November 15th, 2010

After a four-day sprint to the finish, I managed to make some pretty massive changes to LOD, based on smart recommendations from my editor, the esteemed Abigail Samoun. I put all the changes in place with one day to go, then had to do another final read-through and edit on the last day. Whew.

I’m feeling good about these changes. The story is tighter. The rearrangements – like moving the boxing scene farther back, moving the girlfriend section after the fight, and removing a few minor storylines (no more dog, for example) makes for a more logical and natural-feeling story arc.

Here’s what happens now: Abigail has to go over all my changes this coming week. She’ll get the manuscript back to me by next weekend. Then I need to make more changes, do a “final” read and get it back to Abigail by Thanksgiving. From there it goes to copy edits, which is like a really thorough proofreading. A good copy editor checks all the grammar, spelling and obvious stuff like that. But she will also make sure the logic holds up. If Trevor says he has a basketball game on Friday, the copy editor makes sure the game happens on Friday and not on Thursday. If Aunty Iola’s favorite color on page 45 is blue, on page 122 it can’t be yellow unless she’s taken color-wheel classes.The copy editor will even make some stylistic suggestions. Then I make those changes (assuming I agree with them). the manuscript gets one more careful read by somebody at the publisher, and then it goes to galleys by Christmas.

What’s a galley? A galley is a bound draft of the book, usually complete with cover. It’s not the final version. Illustrations may be placeholder only. Minor changes will still occur. But publishers like Tricycle Press use galley proofs as advance reading copies, providing them to reviewers, magazines, and libraries in advance of final publication.

Anyway, I’m tired, but excited where this thing is going.


Only a few more days until final draft deadline and still so far to go

November 12th, 2010

I took a vacation day today, because I simply cannot get Letter Off Dead back to my editor, the esteemed Abigal Samoun, by the agreed-upon Monday deadline if I don’t.

I’ve made most of the big structural changes–and they really are pretty substantial. No more dog. Moved boxing lessons around. Switched the order of the girlfriend and the fight. But this is so much more complicated than just cut and paste. It’s like having a completed house and then having the city inspector tell you that all the load-bearing walls have to be rearranged. “Keep it in perspective,” they remind you. “You still can keep the ceiling and floor right where they were.”

I might have mentioned this before, but editing an epistolary is much more challenging than editing standard fiction. There are two story lines and two voices dancing with each other. When I change the order of one, it necessarily changes the order of the other.

One other thing that’s different this time around: When I was working with Abigail on The Tilting House, we did all the edits within MS Word, using the Track Changes tool. I complained. After three or four rounds of edits, the margins were so crammed with tracks and comments that it became impossible to tell what was what. So this time, Abigail printed out the manuscript and made corrections and comments the old-fashioned way, in blue pencil.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss Track Changes. The combination of Abi’s handwriting and the blue pencil makes the comments hard to read. And lugging around nearly 300 pages of paper on the bus is giving me a  backache. And if I agreed with her change, I could just click “accept” and make it so. Saved a bunch of time, even if it was occasionally confusing.

Enough chit-chat. I’m on deadline.



    Letter Off Dead is an actual transcript of letters sent between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. It covers the subjects of life and death, faith and doubt, fathers and sons.

    The textual transcript has been edited and presented here by Tom Llewellyn, a writer from Tacoma, Washington. The illustrations have been edited and presented by artist James Stowe, also from Tacoma. None of the content has anything to do with Tom's or James' beloved and very separate employers.

    • Amish Robot Amishrobot is a website by my friend Josh Penrod, a User Experience Manager of substantial talent, with a wacky view of the world.
    • ART by Stowe Featuring the illustrations of the masterful, ahem, illustration editor of Letter Off Dead, Mr. James Stowe.
    • Beautiful Angle Beautiful Angle, a letterpress poster project by Tom Llewellyn and Lance Kagey.
    • Feed Tacoma Tacoma blogs, all in one place.
    • The Angsty Writer Tacoma writer Megan Bostic sharing her angst in her distinct, sassy voice. Check her out.