Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime with Author Mike Armstrong by Kathy Halsey

Could you pack an entire summer into one day? Debut author Mike Armstrong's main character Will tries to manage the feat in this picture book debut BEST DAY EVER. Wouldn't that be fun? But for poor Will, nothing seems as much fun as it did when he made that list full of promise until he finds a friend.
Book Review
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
After beginning his career as a marketing professional, Michael Armstrong changed course and joined the nonprofit world. He served as the Executive Director of The ALS AssociationThe Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and other nonprofit organizations.

When his daughter was born, Mike left his job to become a stay-at-home dad. Soon after, he began writing children’s books (and rekindled his love affair with Play-Doh). Today he is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and is represented by Curtis Brown, Ltd. Mike also rehabs old houses, has an unhealthy obsession with sports trading cards, and ignores the fact that his 80-pound dog desperately needs a bath. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Contact and follow Mike here: 
Web site: https://www.michaeljarmstrongbooks.com/
Twitter  @wrongarmstrong
Instagram @wrongarmstrong 

21 comments:

  1. I helped coordinate that "small SCBWI conference" and shared a roundtable critique group with Mike. His manuscript stood out as a book waiting to happen and guess what? Here we are! Kudos to Mike's willingness to roll with it. Congratulations, Mike!

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    1. Oh, I missed that convo, Carrie. Another friend of mine at that very table also was picked up by Sterling.

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    2. Thanks, Carrie. Still the best conference ever, and not only for the most obvious reason.

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  2. great post, Kathy and Mike! And now I am looking forward to a much messier summer (mudpies and lemonade)

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  3. This was a fun interview, Kathy. It just goes to show you how important it is to attend conferences, get professional critiques, and persevere when the going gets rough. I think kids will really like this book.

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  4. Great interview Kathy. It's fun to learn that magic can happen at a conference!

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    1. Yes, we always can have hope that happnens. Thank you for stopping by.

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  5. Thank you, Kathy and Mike, for some positivity! Congrats Mike. I look forward to reading your book.

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    1. Glad you stopped by. It is a fun read.

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    2. Thanks, Charlotte. I hope it doesn't disappoint!

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  6. I'm so glad you made it through all those editor changes, Mike! I've heard several editors say that if they like a MS AND thing they can FIX whatever they think needs fixing, they will acquire a MS. But if they don't know how to fix it, they'll pass. Sounds like you found the right editor with the right MS. Congrats on your debut!

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    1. Hey, Jilanne, as always great to see u here. What can be fixed is key.

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    2. Thanks, Julianne. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

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  7. Such a great interview! Thank you Kathy, and Mike. And congrats on the book. Happy marketing, too! It sounds as if you're well on your way.

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    1. Thanks for your support. YOU know how debuts go...

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  8. Thanks, Christy. We will see. Strange time, indeed.

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  9. I really enjoyed this interview. Good luck, Mike--and thanks for the tips.

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