BEST DAY EVER by Michael J. Armstrong, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans (Sterling Children’s Books, 6.2.2020) showcases main character William’s escapades as he tries to make the last day of summer fun and memorable. However, with the best-laid plans, lists, and his trusty self-created fun-o-meter, he still misses the mark. While Williams pursues math camp, learning Spanish, and mastering the scooter, his annoying neighbor Anna, tries to ruin his fun with imaginative, messy play! In a poignant, sweet ending, William finally realizes who is REALLY having the most fun, and a new friendship begins.
Debut author Armstrong sets up two disparate characters who are the perfect foil for each other. Readers will be rooting for William to venture out of his safe, predictable ways as he reaches for adventure beyond his comfort zone. Illustrator Ceulemans creates rollicking scenes that add to the fun. Librarians and teachers will appreciate this book for its light-hearted celebration of imagination, friendship, and appreciating others for their differences
Craft Chat With Mike Armstrong
1. What prompted you to write a book about summer? How did you make a popular subject like “summer” unique for the market?
Thanks for having me on the GROG! To be honest, my intent wasn’t to write a book about summer. I had this story idea, but I needed two things: 1) a setting where two kids might unintentionally interact, and 2) a sense of urgency. As a kid, I remember trying to cram as much fun as possible into the last day of summer vacation in an attempt to stave off the inevitable disappointment of having to go back to school. So, it was a perfect fit for my story idea.
Best Day Ever is really more about the characters themselves. Anna and Will are polar opposites who think in very different ways, but find common ground in their desire to have fun. I really love them both, and have written a second book with them which, coincidentally, is set in the middle of winter.
Also, the book is also dialogue-only, so I couldn’t employ many literary devices (alliteration, rhyming wordplay, etc.) because then their voices wouldn’t ring true. But I think – I hope – that their interactions are both unique and fun.
2. Tell us about your publishing journey. Ups, downs, how you persevered…
I think my journey was a bit different than most. I met the editor who acquired my book at a small SCBWI conference. It’s kind of funny because I had intended to show him a different manuscript. But the night before, the speaker asked anyone who was open to it to come up and read two minutes of their manuscript. I went up and for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was a hoarse, cracking voice – just butchered my story. My rhyming story. It. Was. Ugly.
Anyway, when I got my chance to sit down with this editor, I decided to show him something new instead. When he read it, his exact words were, “I can fix this.” Six months and several revisions later, he acquired it.
But then...he left the publisher. I was immediately worried that my book would get shelved, so I flew to New York to meet with my new editor. Then she left. Then two more left. I’m now on my fifth editor. Each time I was convinced that they would drop my book (thanks, imposter syndrome). Fortunately, despite a short publishing delay due to COVID-19, we’re now at the point of no return. I think. Honestly, I probably won’t believe it until I’m actually holding a hard copy.
|Here's what fun for Will looks like with a friend.|
3. What craft advice do you have for pre-published writers?
Write. Emotionally detach. Get feedback from honest critique partners. Rewrite. Repeat.
I’ve never had a story get worse because of a rewrite. Mine always get better. But I’m a task-driven person, so I’m always in a hurry to get things done. I’m sure other people hang on to stories too long, continually tweaking things that don’t need to be tweaked. That’s not a problem that I have.
|Will and Anna come to terms!|
4. I know you’ve been working on how best to market books. Share some tips with us, please.
First thing, do NOT expect your publisher to do all the marketing, especially if it is your first book. You need to be actively involved in this process. Accept that fact.
Second, don’t release your book during a COVID-19 pandemic. I spent a year developing a comprehensive marketing plan for my book (I like marketing. And yes, I know, I’m a nerd). Now everything has changed. I had 15 reading/signing events scheduled during the month my book is being released alone. All have been canceled or postponed. Everything is virtual now. Fortunately, parents are desperately searching for educational content for their at-home kids. I’m trying to find a way to create longer-form virtual content (readings, Q&As, etc.) that will hold a kid’s attention so their parents can work for 15 minutes in peace.
Third, like it or not, Amazon is everything. Make sure you optimize your Amazon page. Hustle reviews (or at least “thumbs up”). Add video content. Populate your Author Central page. Before COVID-19, Amazon was responsible for over 50% of all books sold. I’m sure that percentage has jumped significantly
Finally, don’t just try to do what everyone else is doing. Think about who buys books, how they buy them, where they buy them, and where they go for recommendations. Get creative. And if it works, be sure to tell me. But only me.
5. What are you working on now?
Sorry if this is TMI, but I had an upheaval in my life (in addition to COVID) a few months ago, and I haven’t written anything since then. I’ve been consumed with trying to rebuild and do whatever I can to market my book. I know those writing muscles are atrophying.
That said, I do have an idea that I think has promise. I need to find the right character for the story and pare down the plot (I sometimes have a problem with my plotlines running amok). Hopefully I will finally put a pen back onto paper in the next couple of weeks.
More About Mike
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