Wednesday, May 16, 2018

FLYING DEEP & Making the Most out of Her Debut: A Chat with Michelle Cusolito by Kathy Halsey

I have been a writer long enough now to enjoy seeing friends' books  and dreams become real. Today I talk with writer friend Michelle Cusolito about her first book, FLYING DEEP: CLIMB INSIDE DEEP-SEA SUBMERSIBLE ALVIN, an engaging science picture book. We also chatted about lessons learned as an author prepares for her first book launch! Michelle has some great ideas to share on this topic, too.
Book Review 
As a former K-12 librarian, I delight in finding nonfiction picture books than bring science alive to a myriad of age groups. Even though the book is aimed at ages 5-9, older elementary students will also be fascinated by the exploration of the deep, dark sea, its environment, and amazing creatures. School Library Journal's review (April, 2018) states, "A captivating story that introduces and encourages scientific study, specifically the field of oceanography. A great addition to STEM collections." Kirkus Reviews concurs, and gives FLYING DEEP a starred review. (See all editorial reviews here). 

Children's writers can use Michelle's book to inform their own craft. In analyzing this book as a mentor text, I found many techniques that make FLYING DEEP unique.

  •  Titles and point of view matter. Michelle uses second person POV to invite the reader into the submersible. She even uses a command to the reader in her title - (You) "climb inside deep-sea submersible Alvin." Who could say no to that?
  • Michelle makes setting and the Alvin crucial to the plot. It's barely big enough for three, you can only stay down in the water so long, and you have a mission. The deep is spooky and strange sea creatures lurk.
  • The author uses questions to entice the reader: "What will you discover?" What type of music will you choose - classical, hip-hop? The reader has choices to make as he/she reads.
  • The use of time adds tension to the story. At 8:00 AM we're sinking, at 9:00 AM we descend and the temperature drops, and finally by 5:00 PM we stretch our stiff legs as our eyes adjust to sunlight. 
  • Lyrical language and carefully chosen onomatopoeia help the  reader explore the unusual world below with his/her senses heightened. 
  • Respect your readers and use appropriate vocabulary. Michelle doesn't shy away from terms such as "bioluminescence." Instead she employs a succinct glossary in back matter. 
  • Make back matter really matter. Michelle's author note really highlights her research, curiosity, and excitement. Illustrator Nicole Wong also emphasizes the research necessary for her to capture how light functions underwater. Savvy educators will dive into the back matter to share with students how meticulous, yet intriguing research can be. 
Q & A - Book Launches & More

K: When did you begin to plan for your debut book's launch? What elements did you feel were most important?
M:I struggled with this. On the one hand, of course, I wanted an event with kids, since this is a book for kids. But I also wanted a party to celebrate my personal accomplishment of getting a book published (I got my first “good rejections” a decade ago. It’s been a long road). I was talking to Sara Hines from Eight Cousins Bookshop about this back in February and she said, “You want a book lunch party AND an author launch party.” She was totally right. 

So, I’m having my book launch party at Eight Cousins and a private author launch party at a local bar and eatery. Having the book launch at Eight Cousins makes sense for several reasons: Its located in Falmouth, MA, just a few miles from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which is Alvin’s home base. I also frequent the shop and I’ve developed a personal relationship with them over my years of being a customer. The bar and eatery I chose makes sense because it’s near my home and it’s also the place where my critique group meets every month. One waitress there watched Flying Deep progress from manuscript to sale. 
K: Do you belong to a debut group that promotes everyone's books, similar to Emu's Debuts? 
M: I’m part of a group called Epic Eighteens which is made up of debut picture book creators. We have a private Facebook group where we share ideas, cheer each other on and celebrate our successes. We also share our frustrations and challenges and offer each other advice. We celebrate each other’s book birthdays and other good news by sharing them on various social media platforms. We also share F and G’s so we can review each other books. (Hard copies are mailed from person to person and we have a secure place where digital ones can be viewed). One important point: we do not automatically give each other good reviews. Before we started, we agreed we would only post honest positive reviews. So, if we say we love a book, we really do love it. I am so thankful for this group.
K: How did you develop buzz for the book? Do agents or publisher help with this?  
M: I’m not sure how much buzz there even really is. It’s hard to know what’s happening outside of my social networks. I’ve taken some specific steps to help get the word out about my book, but I believe the genuine relationships I’ve built with people over time, both on-line and in-person, are responsible for much of the feedback I’ve gotten. 
I want to have genuine interactions with people both in “real life” and on-line. I post about things that I care about or that interest me and I think might also interest others.  When I was living in Ireland, I posted regularly using the hashtags #DublinLife, #DublinDoors and #DublinStreetArt.  I connected with lots of new people during that time.  Once I returned to the U.S., I started posting #RochesterLife so my friends overseas and in other parts of the country could learn about life here. I also facilitate a book discussion group for Picture Book 12x12 and moderate a Facebook Group called Create Engaging School Visits.

More recently, I worked with Jeanette Bradley to conduct a survey about school visits compensation. We’ve been sharing our results on my blog over the last couple of weeks. These are ways I try to give back to the community and learn new things myself.
Now that launch day is so close, I’m posting about the book more often, but I’m also careful to share only when I’m particularly excited about a development or have news to share such as the starred review from Kirkus
When it comes to specifics about my book launch, collaboration is key. I have been working closely with Eight Cousins BooksWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Charlesbridgeto plan my launch and other related events. I literally could not do this without all of them. 
Michelle and  Bruce Strickrott, Alvin Pilot and Manager of the Alvin Group. Cups are part of a great pre-order campaign. (See how to win these later in the post!) Photo credit Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

I have personal relationships with everyone involved. I didn’t develop a relationship with Eight Cousins Books in order to sell my book. I was their customer long before I sold Flying Deep to Charlesbridge. I love books and book stores, so I make sure to give local stores my business. By doing that, I develop relationships.  
My relationship with WHOI started in a more formal way-  I was seeking information and they helped me with my research. But I am genuinely excited about the work they do and want to tell people about their work. I’d like to think they sense that about me, which makes them excited to work with me. 

My agent, Jill Corcoran has been great about signal boosting all of my posts that relate to the book, such as positive reviews, launch party news, and book store appearances. 

Finally, Charlesbridge has been terrific. I email with Mel Schuit regularly to plan book store events, newspaper interviews, podcast appearances, etc. Some days we’ve had 5 different email threads flying back and forth. I think we work well as a team. I try to clearly communicate with Charlesbridge about my plans- both book related plans and personal ones that might help with book plans. For example, my family will be in the Washington DC area in July, so I told Mel and we were able to plan a book store event for July 7thin DC.
Cups and book that went down with Alvin last Saturday Photo credit Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Prize Alert!
Talk about building buzz for a book launch - these finished cups painted by illustrator Nicole Wong and signed by both author and illustrator dove deep on the Alvin. Five lucky folks who pre-order FLYING DEEP from Eight Cousins Books will be randomly selected to get a shrunken cup with their book. 




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25 comments:

  1. Congrats, Michele! I love science-related PBs and am so excited to read this book! I live in the DC area, but sadly, I'll be out of town the weekend you are here! Good luck with your book launch!

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    1. Thanks, Debra.
      Oh, too bad you'll be out of town.

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  2. TY for stopping by, Debra. The test an illustrations work so well in this one.

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  3. Great interview. And I liked the pre-interview mentor-text material, as well.

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    1. TY, Gail. Hope it was lapful. I love to deconstruct picture books.

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  4. great post, Kathy. I agree, it's a fantastic book - thanks for your insights and conversation with Michelle.

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    1. We're a tag team. I read your post yesterday - also great insight on what you recommended and liked as a science enthusiast.

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    2. Oh, hi, Sue! Fancy meeting you over here. :)

      Thanks for stopping by.

      For those who might be interested, here's a link to my interview with Sue that posted last week.

      https://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com/2018/05/flying-deep-with-michelle-cusolito.html

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  5. Thank you, Kathy and Michelle, for this peek inside FLYING DEEP! Congrats Michelle :)

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  6. Great interview. How awesome you have all this collaboration going on!

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  7. Congrats on your first book and all your awesome networking, Michelle!. Love the concept of non-fiction for young readers.

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    1. Hey, Cat, ty for stopping by. We can learn lots from how Michelle sowed deep seeds to her debut.

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  8. Lotsa groovy ALVIN details in this article, along with ideas for splashy launches. I can tell that Michelle's debut p.b. deserves a wide audience. Brava! to her & the illustrator. And to our busy Kathy for bringing this resourceful interview to us. I've gone to one of the links, already.
    Enjoy D.C. in July, Michelle! It's one of our favorite family vacation sites. And it's on the waterfront....

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    1. Ty, Jan for being my GROG cheerleader!

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  9. Thank you, Kathy and Michelle - for the scoop on this exciting new non-fiction PB. Fun to hear from debut authors about the experience to publication!

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    1. We GROGgers stick together! Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  10. Congrats on your book launch, Michelle! You are blessed to have good connections, including Epic Eighteen. I look forward to following you to glean insight for my own book launch in a year. Take care!

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  11. And to think, Jarm, we all met at WOW. Excited for you, too.

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  12. Kathy, this is a terrific and informative review and I love the questions that you asked Michelle. Michell, congratulations on your excellent debut picture book and have a great launch!

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  13. Wow, thank you for the kudos. Michelle is a role model IMO for how to do a debut "right." Can't wait for YOURS.

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  14. Such a great mktg plan, those cups, included! I've pre-ordered two, one for me, one for a nephew. Can't wait to read it! Have fun with the launch!

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    1. Jilanne, we'll have to put our heads together for great marketing plans WHEN our book spinach. WHEN.

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