5 Reasons To Hire Pro Children’s Book Illustrators

Children's Book Illustrators

Photo by Stephanie Watson

I speak with children’s picture book authors almost daily here at MindStir Media. The question that arises most often is probably some variation of: “Should I create my own children’s book illustrations or should I hire a professional children’s book illustrator?” My initial answer is usually incredibly simple and to the point. Here it is: If you aren’t a pro children’s book illustrator, you should definitely hire one! I usually go on to explain the reasons why hiring children’s book illustrators is so important….

  1. Your self-published children’s picture book will be competing with traditionally published books. Nearly every traditionally published picture book I’ve seen has been illustrated by a pro. If you want your book to have a fighting chance in the market, it needs to be of the highest quality! This means biting the bullet and hiring a pro. I know sometimes it’s tough to part with the money, but investing in a pro illustrator could pay off over time. This leads to my next reason…
  2. I’ve examined the MindStir Media book sales numbers for professionally illustrated books vs. books illustrated by amateurs. Guess which books sold more copies… Professionally illustrated, by over 200%.  So if you want your book to have a better chance at selling more copies, make sure it’s illustrated by a pro.
  3. It’s been my experience that most reviewers are selective and will only give focus to books that catch their attention — books that look professional! Don’t be that picture book author who sends a reviewer a lackluster book. It’ll probably get tossed or donated, not reviewed.
  4. The previous reason segues nicely into your credibility. An amazingly illustrated book will only add credibility to your writing career. It will show readers, reviewers and booksellers that you’re serious enough about your career to team up with a professional. This builds trust and opens doors for you that might otherwise have been closed.
  5. Finally, hiring a pro children’s book illustrator, one with extensive experience, will help you feel more confident about your book. Confidence means a lot for an author. It means that you don’t need to hide. You can get out there and promote, promote, promote and know that many people are going to perceive your book as a high-quality product.

A final note: There are many different definitions out there for “professional children’s book illustrators.” Mine is rather straightforward and it is the definition I generally use when hiring illustrators to work on MindStir Media books: A pro children’s book illustrator has an extensive portfolio, including at least 10 published books under his/her belt, and he/she makes a living creating children’s book illustrations. I realize that definition is rather strict, but I only want to see authors work with the best!

J.J. Hebert, the author of this article, is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He has personally helped thousands of writers nationwide, through consultations and self-publishing services, and regularly blogs on writing and self-publishing. He is also the president and owner of MindStir Media, a top self-publishing company that offers services such as mentoring from a bestselling author, book design, childrens book illustrations, editing, printing, ebook conversion, distribution and marketing.

Is Caffeine A Writer’s Friend…Or Enemy?

Photo by "trophygeek" @ Flickr

Photo by “trophygeek” @ Flickr

Consuming caffeine (e.g. drinking coffee) seems to go hand in hand with writing, but have you ever stopped to think why? I mean, other than temporarily relieving sleepiness and increasing alertness, do writers actually notice any improvements in writing ability while consuming caffeine? I personally haven’t found that caffeine enhances my writing skills in any way. I sometimes write a bit faster if I’ve consumed large amounts of caffeine, but there’s never any noticeable difference in writing quality.

Obviously I’m not a scientist. I haven’t tested caffeine on numerous writers to track their responses. I’m not sure anyone has, really–but there have been many broad, less targeted studies performed throughout the world. Some studies suggest that:

In conclusion, a cup of Joe each day shouldn’t negatively impact your writing, but it probably won’t enhance your writing, either. So is caffeine a writer’s friend or enemy? Probably a little bit of both. Maybe you should try getting some extra sleep before grabbing for that extra cup (or two) tomorrow!

J.J. Hebert, the author of this article, is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He has personally helped thousands of writers nationwide, through consultations and publishing services, and regularly blogs on writing and self-publishing. He is also the president and owner of MindStir Media, a leading self-publishing company that offers services such as mentoring from a bestselling author, book design, illustration, editing, printing, ebook conversion, distribution and marketing.

 

Authors Need to Provide Exceptional Customer Service

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Photo by Silicon Prairie News, Flickr

Whether you want to believe it or not, writing is a business. It’s a lot of fun but you should always remember that you need to make a profit in order to stay in the writing business. What do all successful businesses have in common? Exceptional customer service. Great customer service creates happy and loyal customers. Make them happy and they’ll keep coming back for more of your books. These sales generate profits. Treat your customers badly and you’ll ultimately go out of business.

Here are some ways to provide exceptional customer service as an author:

  • Use social media, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with current and potential customers. Be polite, always. Don’t talk to them; talk with them. Engage in a conversation. That means replying to comments and tweets. Don’t post and disappear.
  • I know I’ve said before that replying to negative reviews isn’t a good idea, but there are always exceptions. Take Gary Vaynerchuk’s approach, for instance: Respond to negative reviews (on Amazon.com, for example) with an apology and offer to refund. I know this may sound radical, but you’d be surprised how much respect you will earn. Read this. WARNING: Never respond negatively to a negative review. 
  • Throw in a bookmark or some complimentary item with every book sold at your website. Sign the book and also the bookmark. Include a short note with your email address. Sign the note as well. Ask the customer to get in touch with you after they’re done reading. Let them know you’d love to hear from them. This is all about going above and beyond and winning customers for life.
  • Respond to your fan mail! When your readers email you, make sure to respond. This type of personal customer service will gain you many repeat “customers!” I’ve never understood authors who decide to use autoresponders or ignore fan mail. If someone took the time to send you a personal email, you should take the time to provide a personal response.
  • Book signings are perfect opportunities to display your exceptional customer service. You should always show up on time (early, actually, to help with setup). Authors who show up late to their signings are disrespecting their customers. You should make solid eye contact with each person who approaches your table. Also offer a hand shake. Finally, thank every single person for stopping by and supporting you!

J.J. Hebert, the author of this article, is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He has personally helped thousands of writers nationwide, through consultations and publishing services, and regularly blogs on writing and self-publishing. He is also the president and owner of MindStir Media, a leading self-publishing company that offers services such as mentoring from a bestselling author, book design, illustration, editing, printing, ebook conversion, distribution and marketing.

 

10 Ways to Get Your Book Reviewed

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From Amazon.com

As the president and owner of self-publishing company MindStir Media, book reviews is a topic that comes up often when speaking with my authors. To get MindStir Media books reviewed I usually recommend the following options to my clients (this is a partial yet powerful list):

  1. NetGalley: This site puts a digital version of your book in front of 145,000+ reviewers, who can download the PDF. Whenever a reviewer downloads your book, he/she MUST review the book before downloading any other books from the website. MindStir Media authors have the option to get reviewed via this service.
  2. GoodReads: Use this website to give away copies of your book in exchange for honest reviews. MindStir authors are encouraged to signup for a Goodreads account and then use the Author Program to participate in the giveaway program. Here’s a link that I usually give out to MindStir Media authors: http://www.slideshare.net/GoodreadsPresentations/your-guide-to-giveaways-on-goodreads-15194819
  3. LibraryThing: This site is a lot like Goodreads in that you can give away print copies of your book. On LibraryThing, though, you can give away copies of your ebook in exchange for reviews as well. MindStir Media authors have found this very beneficial.
  4. Contact reviewers directly: Sites like The Indie View show lists of book reviewers. Look through the list of reviewers and follow their submission guidelines, etc. Also perform a search on any of the major search engines for something along the lines of “book blog reviewer list” or “book blog directory” and you’ll find a wide array of book reviewers for you to contact.
  5. Turn fan mail into reviews: You might receive fan mail from time to time. Instead of sending back a dull response, why not send a genuine “thank you” and then ask them if they’d kindly post a book review on Amazon.com? Tell the fan that you appreciate their kind note and would really appreciate their continued support by posting an honest review. You’ll be surprised by the response!
  6. Run a “Free Book Promo” for your Kindle book: As part of their Select program, Amazon allows authors and publishers to offer their Kindle books for free for up to 5 days during each 90-day period. Readers worldwide will download your ebook for free during that period and many of them will review the book on Amazon. MindStir Media authors have seen great success with this book review tactic.
  7. Create bookmarks/business cards with a call-to-action: Make your bookmarks/business cards unique and add a call-to-action, a line that states: “Support my writing career by posting a review at Amazon.com” or something like that.
  8. Include a page in your book to ask for reviews: There’s almost always room on a final page in the book to add a few lines requesting reviews. You could add: “If you’ve enjoyed my book, please consider writing and posting a customer review at Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, and/or LibraryThing.com. I would really appreciate the support!”
  9. Take advantage of special review programs: I highly recommend sending your book to Kirkus Reviews,  Foreword ReviewsMidwest Book Review, and/or BlueInk Review. They provide professional honest book reviews.
  10. Develop an email newsletter and contact your list to ask for honest reviews: If you have a website, you should sign up with an email marketing company such as Constant Contact, Aweber or MailChimp. Use one of those companies to add a sign up form to your website. Visitors to your website will complete your form and over time you’ll have a healthy, loyal list of newsletter subscribers. You can feel free to contact your subscribers to ask for honest reviews. Maybe offer something of value in exchange for the review. Some authors give out signed bookmarks. Get creative!
J.J. Hebert, the author of this article, is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He has personally helped thousands of writers nationwide, through consultations and publishing services, and regularly blogs on writing and self-publishing. He is also the president and owner of MindStir Media, a leading self-publishing company that offers services such as mentoring from a bestselling author, book design, illustration, editing, printing, ebook conversion, distribution and marketing.

Top 5 Writing Lessons from Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling

I’ve been meaning to blog about J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, for a long time now… The other day I replayed my Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Blu-ray. Definitely the best of all the Potter movies, in my opinion. But I’m not here to blog about the movie itself. No, I’m here to discuss A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe, a special feature that revealed the answers to some big Harry Potter questions and also indirectly offered fantastic writing lessons for writers. Here are the top 5 writing lessons that I discovered while watching that special feature:

  1. Persist: Here’s where some aspiring authors fail. They get caught up in a get-rich-quick mindset and expect overnight success. They hear stories about how the idea of a spectacled wizard boy popped up into J.K.’s mind…and then they hear jk rowling (2)about the billion dollars she’s made and see her name all over the media. According to her own words, writing the complete story of Harry Potter was a 20-year process! 20 years! Maybe you’re struggling with writer’s block at the moment or you’ve developed some doubts. Please, don’t give up. Persist. Don’t give up after 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, a decade, two decades, three … If you love writing, write and persist. Don’t expect overnight success. It’s a marathon, not a race, right?
  2. Treat your characters as real people: J.K. Rowling said this of her characters: ”They’re in your life the way real people are … I love writing dialogue … I miss Dumbledore the most … He was telling me things I needed to hear sometimes …” Notice the connection J.K. Rowling has with Dumbledore. She apparently misses hearing from him like she would a far-away friend. As a writer, you need to form a special connection with your characters. Let yourself go and allow each character to speak without interruption. Don’t get in the way of your characters.
  3. Know where the story’s headed [SPOILER ALERT]: “Within the first year of writing, I wrote a sketch for what I thought the final chapter would be… I knew we were always working towards the final battle at Hogwarts. I knew that Harry would walk to his death…”
  4. Stay true to the story and yourself: “I went where my pen took me, and bad though it may seem to some people, I never really considered my readership in that way… I wrote what I wanted to write…” Rowling didn’t allow critics or readers to influence her writing. She wrote the story that was meant to be told.
  5. Focus only on relevant backstories: Many writers, especially newbies, get lost in backstory. They write as though the reader needs to know everyone’s backstory in excruciating detail … Now, many of us heard through the media that Dumbledore is gay. Rowling never mentioned his sexual preference in the Potter books, but did confirm that he’s gay. She said, “The relationship he [Dumbledore] has with Grindlewald – he fell really hard for this boy… His [Dumbledore's] one great experience of love was utterly tragic. It was with someone who was dangerous and demonic [Grindlewald]…so that was my idea of Dumbledore’s tragic backstory…” But why didn’t she add this backstory to the books? Because it wasn’t relevant to the story, she implied. I also gathered from Rowling’s conversation with Radcliffe that Professor McGonagall had a somewhat tragic backstory as well, but Rowling ultimately felt that that backstory wasn’t relevant to the story either…
J.J. Hebert, the author of this article, is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Unconventional and Weepy the Dragon. He has personally helped thousands of writers nationwide, through consultations and publishing services, and regularly blogs on writing and self-publishing. He is also the president and owner of MindStir Media, a leading self-publishing company that offers services such as mentoring from a bestselling author, book design, illustration, editing, printing, ebook conversion, distribution and marketing.
J.K. Rowling image via Daniel Ogren
*Disclaimer: MindStir Media is in no way affiliated with Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling or Warner Bros.

MindStir Christian Book Publishers Releases New FAITHWRITERS book

Trials and Triumphs published by MINDSTIR Christian Book PublishersFaithWriters.com is the #1 website for Christian writers, with over 64,000 members worldwide and growing. It’s been helping Christian writers and spreading the Gospel for around a decade. It’s known as an “encouraging community of Christian writers … A great place to learn and grow in a safe, caring environment…”

Christian book publisher MindStir Media recently partnered with Faithwriters.com to create an inspirational book, Trials and Triumphs: Hope Beyond Circumstances: 40 Life-Changing Testimonies, through which Faithwriters intends to share the hope of Jesus. The stories included in the book come from the winners of a recent contest hosted at Faithwriters.com. The top 40 stories were chosen for inclusion in the book. Christian book publishing is MindStir’s specialty, so this publishing partnership is a perfect fit …

In early March 2014, the paperback became Amazon’s #17 Christian Evangelism Bestseller. The Kindle edition spent time as the #1 Christian Evangelism Bestseller and #2 Christian Inspiration Bestseller!

Buy TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS by Faithwriters (2014, MindStir Media Christian Publishers)

Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million
Published by MindStir Media, top Christian book publishers, USA
$14.99 (softcover), $6.99 (ebook)

Read the MindStir Media press release (3/25/14)

Interested in publishing with one of the best Christian publishers in USA?

Give us a call at 800-767-0531 or email us at authors@mindstirmedia.com

Reading as a Writer

what do you read
It’s the start of a new year and no doubt you’re thinking about and setting your writing goals for 2014. In the midst of that, let me suggest you set your reading goals as well. One thing I know about writers is that we are readers. I’m no different. I typically have at least 4 books on my “currently reading” Goodreads shelf. In 2014, I want to be more purposeful in my reading, so I’ve come up with three key categories of books I want to be sure and read this year.

Writing Craft books
We continue to learn and grow as writers, so I picked out the 5 writing books listed. Now I’ll be reading these in small chunks, giving myself time to absorb and put the new information into practice. (You’ll notice I also threw in a couple on business and professional side of writing. I can always use help there).

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
  • The Power of Point of View by Alicia Maisley
  • Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton
  • Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan
  • APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch
  • Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

Fiction
I don’t read enough fiction. Period. Reading good fiction, in your genre and outside of it, provides a case study in character development, story construction, description and dialogue with each and every book. So I have four good solid books on my list – not including the one I’m reading right now – and any number of lighter ones when pool season arrives.

Research
I need a good handle on the issues my characters struggle with, so I read a stack of psychology and counseling type books, and memoirs each year. These types of books help me build deep, realistic characters. And I admit, they are my favorites. Usually the trouble I have with these is having far more books than time to read them.

As a writer, what do you read?

Paula Wiseman is an award-winning, bestselling author. Paula has published six books with book publisher MindStir Media. Her sixth published book, Sanction, was released earlier this month. She also had the honor of appearing on Lifetime TV’s “The Balancing Act,” where she discussed her books. Learn more about Paula Wiseman at her website/blog: www.paulawiseman.com

MindStir Media Facebook Page Reaches Millions in 2013

book publishing company MindStir Media on Facebook

As the president and founder of book publisher MindStir Media, I have access to Facebook Insights for the MindStir Media Facebook page. It’s been a lot of fun watching the page grow throughout the years. I’m so incredibly pleased to announce — both here and on Facebook (as a milestone) — that the page saw a ‘total reach’ of over 9 million Facebook users in 2013.

4 Things to Look for in an Early Reader

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Last post we looked at how having a small group of readers can help fine tune your work. I have an amazing group of early readers who let me bounce ideas off them, who act as guinea pigs for my stories and who share in every milestone. I wouldn’t want to write without them. They freely offer encouragement and priceless feedback on each project. If you’d like to assemble or add to your group, here are some things to consider.

Experience – They read, and have read, a lot. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the genre you’re writing, although that’s helpful, but they have well-developed instincts about what makes a good and bad story.

Candor - They can be truthful with you about your baby. If it’s ugly they need to say so, and you need to hear it. I told one of my early readers, “If you don’t tell me when things are bad, I won’t believe you when you say they’re good.”

Investment – They are sold on the story and its underlying message and want to see it in the hands of other readers.

Commitment - They are willing to stick with you through the whole process. Granted, they aren’t committing raising your kids for you, but for a writer, it’s close. They need to be available for emails or some face to face time over a period of months, maybe even years.

So go through your list of family, friends, and writing buddies, choose 2 or 3 and test the waters. “Hey I’ve been working on this story in my spare time. It’s about … Would you care to take a look at it for me?” It’s that simple.

Your early readers will help turn your solitary pursuit into a team sport. Trust me, there are few things as enduring as the bonds forged during the creation of a story.

Paula Wiseman is an award-winning, bestselling author. Paula has published six books with book publisher MindStir Media. Her sixth published book, Sanction, was released earlier this month. She also had the honor of appearing on Lifetime TV’s “The Balancing Act,” where she discussed her books. Learn more about Paula Wiseman at her website/blog: www.paulawiseman.com

3 Types of Early Readers and How They Can Help You Write a Stronger Story

My-early-readers-keep-me
Writers need feedback almost as much as we need sharp pencils. Early readers can give you that precious information while your work is in progress. Their comments can rescue an errant plot, rehabilitate a wimpy protagonist or even reveal the true core of your story.

Now first off, let me say I’m making a distinction between reader and editors/proofreaders who are looking for mechanical mistakes as well as critiquers, other writers who are looking at the craft aspects of your work.

My first early reader works with me on a scene by scene basis (sometimes sentence by sentence). She helps me smooth out the language and dialogue and ensures I’m not leaving out any key details or giving characters sudden ESP. We’ve worked together enough that she has a great feel for my characters and story and shares my desire to communicate those elements. She lets me know when my characters need to reveal their thought processes so their actions make sense. She’ll tip me off when things are moving ahead too quickly and when she’s having trouble “seeing” the scene.

My next group of readers, and by group, I mean 2 or 3, get the chapters as I’m finished with them. Their feedback lets me know if I’m building tension or suspense, if my characters are hitting the right emotional buttons and if my plot is compelling. If a plot point or a money line doesn’t resonate with them, then I know I have some work to do.

My last group of readers, again 2 or 3, get the last draft. They read the whole thing at a natural pace. I want them to tell me if the story flows. If there are rough places or slow spots, I want to fix them before the editor gets the manuscript. I want to know how they respond to the characters. I’ll ask them a series of questions like … are there threads hanging? Is the ending satisfactory? Did the surprises work or did I leave too many clues? Did you identify with the protagonist? Did his or her course of action seem reasonable? And my favorite question– was there a point when you had to finish the book, when you could not put it down again?

My early readers keep me honest. They won’t let me write lazy or shallow. They constantly challenge me and keep me focused on delivering the best end product I can.

Next post will be on what to look for in an early reader.

Paula Wiseman is an award-winning, bestselling author. Paula has published six books with MindStir Media book publishers. Her sixth published book, Sanction, was released earlier this month. She also had the honor of appearing on Lifetime TV’s “The Balancing Act,” where she discussed her books. Learn more about Paula Wiseman at her website/blog: www.paulawiseman.com