Monday, August 22, 2016

The Force Be With You (and Your Book Marketing) ~ by Patricia Toht

I like to gather ideas and brainstorm. I like first drafts. I even like revising. But the thought of marketing?
But authors are discovering ways to combine efforts to maximize the force of marketing. A new group, MGGetsReal, unites its members in marketing their books, which all share a common thread of tackling tough topics.

Before we talk about this power in numbers, let's meet #MGGetsReal member, Shannon Hitchcock:
Shannon's novel, RUBY LEE & ME, is the story of 12-year-old Sarah Beth Willis who has moved in with her grandparents after her sister's tragic accident. Sarah and her neighbor, Ruby Lee, will be in sixth grade together. But racial tensions are high in Shady Creek in the fall of 1969; Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black. Race relations and personal guilt about her sister's accident could make for a rough year for Sarah...

Q: Hi Shannon! RUBY LEE & ME is loosely based on your childhood. Which parts of your youth did you draw upon for Sarah Beth, and which parts did you alter or make up?

A: The true part is the emotions. When Sarah Beth said she had always loved her sister, but before the accident she didn't know how much - that's exactly how I felt. [Shannon's sister Robin died tragically in a car crash when only 34.]
When Sarah Beth feels guilty about race relations in her town, I had those same feelings. When writing historical fiction, I have a motto to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I made up characters and embellished what really happened.

July 20, 1969
Q: What additional research did you need to do for RUBY LEE & ME?

A: Not an awful lot because this is based on a time period I actually lived through. Mostly I was fact-checking my memories, but I did read quite a bit about the first moonwalk.

Q: A reviewer on Goodreads applauds you for "...[weaving] fictional fact and factual fiction." What challenges did you find in weaving fact and fiction together?

A: My editor had to push me to make the racial issues more prominent. I was really uncomfortable when Sarah called Ruby a hateful name, but I think it sends an important message. Kids often get angry and call each other names without fully realizing how much words matter. There is a scene later in the book when Sarah finds out just how much hatred is behind the racial slur she uttered.

Q: There's been a call for more diverse books for children. Did this weigh heavily on you while writing, or did you find it inspiring?

To support We Need Diverse Books,
click here.
A: It weighed heavily on me, but if we're not writing books that matter, then it's a waste of time. I knew some white people would be offended I was dredging up the past. I also knew there would be African-Americans who might feel I didn't go far enough.

Q: How did it feel to get a Booklist starred review?

A: I cried! My first novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, garnered positive reviews, but no stars, so this was a special honor.

Q: Let's talk marketing! You're part of #MGGetsReal. How did you find each other? And is there power in numbers?

A: Author Shannon Wiersbitzky [who has written a book about Alzheimer's] emailed me about a group marketing effort and asked if I knew other writers that might be interested in participating. I suggested Kerry O'Malley Cerra, who has written a book about 9/11 and Joyce Moyer Hostetter, who has written a book about war trauma. Joyce recommended Kathleen Burkinshaw, who has a brand new book about Hiroshima. What we all have in common is that we've written about tough topics in a way appropriate for a middle grade audience. 

YES! There is power in group marketing!

• Shannon Wiersbitzky is the architect behind the whole thing. Without her #MGGetsReal wouldn't even exist. She made really cool group ads for Twitter.

• Joyce Hostetter and her daughter made a video about our books:

• Kerry O'Malley Cerra compiled a comprehensive list of middle grade books that tackle tough topics. Find all 164 books here.

• Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote for the NCTE blog, hosting a giveaway of all five books that will run through the end of August.

• The contribution that I am most proud of is my post for the Nerdy Book Club.

Thanks for joining us, Shannon. WOW! There truly is power in numbers. Best of luck to you and the #MGGetsReal group.

If you fear marketing, GROG readers, consider joining forces with fellow authors to share the load!

For more information on Shannon, visit her website and blog here.

Or follow Shannon on Twitter, @ShannonHitchcock.


  1. RUBY LEE & ME is one of my personal favorites. I enjoyed hearing how the team approach works for marketing! I am happy, too, to have a list of issue books. Great post, Patty.

    1. Thanks, Kathy! And I believe you're working on a book with similar themes?

    2. So glad we've brought one of your favorites to the GROG, Kathy!

  2. I know this team marketing works because I now want to read EVERY one of these books!

  3. Thanks for the insight, Patricia - and great questions to ask Shannon. What a great idea for marketing!

    1. It's the only way to go for marketing. I would have never done all of this on my own. Check out our Facebook page #MGGetsReal. We've tried to keep it updated with all of our marketing efforts.

    2. I think it's a terrific strategy, Sue. And I'm so happy that Shannon gave us an insight into how it works.

  4. Thank you, Patty, for sharing an outstanding example of teamwork that equals success. Your success, Shannon, with this team work approach is appreciated. I look forward to reading each of these titles.
    ~Suzy Leopold

    1. Thanks, Suzy! I really think a similar marketing approach would work for any group of writers with a common theme.

    2. Thanks, Suzy! We GROGgers know all about teamwork, don't we? ;)

  5. It's mighty wonderful to know about these Middle Grade authors of weighty topics -the two Shannons, Joyce, Kathleen & Kerry (hope I haven't missed anyone) . I like the model of how they are massing together for a gre8t marketing assist. Some of the novels in the gre8t video are new to me, thanks for the alert. I visited Shannon Hitchcock's webpage, added her to my twitter friends & I look forward to finding Ruby Lee when it is out. PLUS it is so cool this is all brought to us by our forthcoming London bus picture book soon-to-be marketing maven, Patty Toht.

    1. RUBY LEE & ME was published in January 2016. All the books in #MGGetsReal are already out in the wild!

    2. Thanks for the kind words, Jan! Glad to learn about group marketing from Shannon because it all seems so overwhelming...

  6. A great interview and I am glad to have some middle grade titles to check out. Thanks, Patty, for the post and the great idea to share marketing tips.

    1. Please do check out our titles and follow the hashtag #MGGetsReal on Twitter.

    2. Always more books to read, Sherri!

  7. Thank you for sharing this! I'll keep it in mind for the future!