With the development of new technologies and marketing methods, children’s book authors are finding new ways to publish quickly rather than wait years for a traditional agent or publisher. These days, with a plethora of juvenile books on store shelves already, competitive agents gravitate toward the sure thing. So what’s the newbie to do?
Four writers connected to this area shared their methods: Nick Zwirblia, author of “The Bramford Chronicles, Book 1: Johnny and Baby Jumbo;” Susan Lubner, author of “Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl;” Rebecca Boucher, author of “The Adventures of Mist;” and J. Anthony Garreffi, author of “I Caught Santa.” Each uses publishing methods unique to their talents: partnerships, informed self-publishing, e-books or traditional representation.
Susan Lubner lives in Southboro and was raised in Maine, the setting for her middle-grade book (MG, aimed at readers 8 to 12), published Nov. 6. Her heroine, Lizzy, is 12. Lizzy searches for good luck symbols everywhere. They lead her to hide a runaway girl at home, probably not the best decision to make solo. But life is complicated.
Lubner has traditional representation: a literary agent and a publisher. This setup opens the door to professional marketing assistance, editing and guaranteed publishing quality for the book.
The author of three previous books for children and another novel, “The Upside of Ordinary,” she is published by Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books/Hachette Book Group. Its MG designation removes the book from the more mature topics found in teen books (YA: young adult). That’s not to say MG doesn’t get real.
“Kids that age do face difficulties — death, divorce, sometimes alcohol abuse,” she said. “The issues are serious, but the book is very different from YA, in terms of language and social issues. Every child wants to feel safe and protected. When your foundation is turned upside down by death or divorce, you look for a safe haven.”
She has had more than one agent, having changed agents when one didn’t produce results. She also submitted to publishers independently, selling her first four books without agent representation. Now she has linked up with Linda Epstein, her agent for the past several years. “I adore her,” Lubner said. “It’s hard to get an agent, you have to be persistent, go to conferences, write a good query letter. You meet agents at conferences. I met Linda because one of my critique (group) buddies had seen in her blog that she was looking for funny picture books, and I had one. She thought it was hilarious and asked to see more of my writing.”
This route may not be easiest. “It’s a very difficult business to break into — be persistent, hone your skills,” Lubner said. “Just never give up. I’ve been very lucky. There are so many writers who deserve an agent but don’t have one, and it may just be a matter of timing, or the market when they submit. Just polish a novel, get it in the best shape possible and network.”
Lubner also works hard to promote her books, although publishers are very helpful. “I do what I can to help it sell,” she said. “There are a lot of great books out there, and you only have a certain amount of shelf time.” There is so much competition for shelf space that books can disappear within months. She finds independents such as Tatnuck Bookseller in Westboro very willing to shelve her books and counts on libraries for a chance to meet with readers. She’s making the rounds and mentioned upcoming events at Southboro Public Library’s Middle Group readers book club. She’s also working on a group tour with other authors. Innovative marketing is key.
One thing she asks of readers: “Leave reviews on Good Reads or Amazon. They’re so, so important and helpful.”
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Edward “Nick” Zwirblia
Edward “Nick” Zwirblia’s long-held dream of telling a story about Depression-era Vermonters has been realized through self-publishing on Amazon. His first book of a planned series, “The Bramford Chronicles: Johnny & Baby Jumbo,” is about Johnny Edes, 9, who rescues an elephant from a train wreck and hides him in the family barn. The chronicles are a planned four-part series to recreate times now fading from memory.
Zwirblia, 56, raised in poverty in Worcester and living in Vermont, has written in a unique voice because he learns by ear. His dialogue reflects the rural speaking habits he learned from locals, and the learning habits he adopted from a lifelong battle with dyslexia. Altogether, it gives the characters a lively presence and adds rapid motion to the story. Sentences are short, direct.
The book highlights the difficulties of people living in a rural, Depression-era Vermont town.
“I also wanted to write about discrimination and racism. These three boys became best friends, and the African-American boy teaches two poor local boys whose fathers are farmers and bootleggers about what life is really like for him in the 1930s,” he said.
He captures the times with camera-like precision, and the book reflects the flow of a kid’s thoughts, much of it stream of consciousness. It’s set in rural Bramford, Vermont, a small, fictional town near White River Junction.
Dyslexia gave Zwirblia limits (“I never read a book in school”). He relied on narrative voices from the past, especially an 86-year-old Vermont friend, Claude Thurston, whom he credits with much of the dialect assistance. “I gave the first copy to Claude.”
Like many a novice, Zwirblia connected with people willing to take his money without helping him out much. He battled early editors to retain language he knew was right for the place and times.
“I figure I spent about $26,000 trying to write this book for publication,” he says. That’s far more than most self-published authors will spend. The money went for typing, photo art, editing and publication details, and the cost of books donated to libraries and others. “There are a lot of marketing scams out there,” he warned. “I listened and believed everything they said.”
It wasn’t until he met Donald Unger in Worcester that he found an editor who understood his book and stuck by his side in getting it ready to publish. He credits Unger for helping him arrange and prioritize his story’s facts. “I couldn’t have done it without him. I have to write from A to Z because of my dyslexia. I can’t start in the middle.”
“Having an editor is a key step, as most beginners don’t know what to do to successfully complete a book and make it publishable,” he said. The book is available as a Kindle e-book and in softcover. Now he’s ready to complete part two, “Lost, One Elephant.” He plans for his series to advance into World War II.
Nostalgia factors into the series. His dyslexia has influenced his scrappy writing, a communicative style that may appeal to readers as young as 10 as much as his intended audience, adults. “Donald (Unger) feels it will appeal to a younger audience as well, but I have tried to reach out to people in their 40s and above. There’s no vulgarity, no horror or blood and guts. They can read it to their grandchildren. For some of them, it brings back childhood.”