Advice from a Published Children’s Author: Sue Fliess

I’m very excited to introduce Hubber Sue Fliess, also known as AroundTownSue on HubPages.  Sue is a very successful published children’s author having published over 120 articles, with 6 published children’s books and another 8 under contract to come out in the next two years!  Her Tons of Trucks book has sold roughly 40,000 copies since its release in 2012 and her Robots, Robots Everywhere! book, released in August 2013, had a run of 50,000 copies and has already gone back to press!  She does school visits and speaking engagements at conferences as well as book signings at book stores.  Check out her Amazon page or your local book store for her available books! Without further ado, let’s dive into the treasure trove of information that Sue has to offer!

Briefly tell us about yourself.  

I’m a children’s book author of over a dozen books, Senior Copywriter for eBay and whenever I can be, a freelance writer. I live in the Bay Area of Northern California with my husband and two boys and our rescued English Lab, Teddy. My background is in public relations, marketing, and art. Oh, and I love to travel!

Becoming a published author is a goal for many of our Hubbers.  How did you get your start?

First, I’d like to emphasize that getting published should be among many goals, but not the only goal. I just read an excellent book on writing that, if you read only one book on writing this year, let it be this one: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Writing should give you joy whether you get published or not. I was fortunate enough to get published, but I will say that once I sold a book, an author friend pulled me aside and said, “Congratulations! Now remember, you’re only as good as your last book.” So hitting that publishing goal delivers new pressures. Be happy to create work you’re proud of, keep writing and improving your craft, and then if publication happens, you’ll likely be more satisfied with your accomplishment.

When I started out in 2005, I realized my only credential relevant to children’s book editors was that my first job as a publicist for a big publishing house. In an effort to gain more writing credentials for my manuscript submissions, I ventured into other types of writing. So I got a gig writing articles (my first published pieces) for an educational website while working on my children’s stories. I talked with librarians, joined SCBWI, started attending conferences, and formed a writing critique group. And as soon as I submitted one manuscript to publishing houses, I started working on the next one. I had roughly 6 stories out on submission at any given time. Then I finally got an offer from an editor for my first book, Shoes for Me!, illustrated by Mike Laughead. That story had been rejected 24 times. It only takes 1 yes.

Can you briefly describe your process when writing a book? What were your greatest challenges when you first started?  Are they the same today?

I usually get an idea for a book and think about it for a few days before writing anything down. Then if I’m still excited about it, sometimes I will look on Amazon to see if something very similar is already out there. If not, or my idea is different enough from what exists, I’ll start writing the story. Since I mostly write picture books, I just jump right in, no outline or anything. I try to give it a title, but not always. I work in spurts, so I may work on something madly for 3-4 days, then let it simmer, come back to it to polish it enough for my critique group to see, then work on it with their feedback in mind until it’s ready to show my agent. She may have editorial feedback too, and once I’m finished, she starts submitting it to editors.

It’s a challenge to manage all submissions, rejections, follow-ups on my own. I did it for a few years, and then was able to land an agent. I think agents are more open to taking on picture book authors than when I was starting out, so that’s good news. But many more houses are closed to un-agented, or unsolicited manuscripts, so if you can invest the time trying get an agent, I recommend it. Now that I have an agent, my biggest challenge is carving out time to write! But meeting with my crit group once a month is a big motivator. I don’t want to be the one who isn’t bringing anything to the group!

Publishing Information:  How did you find and attract your publisher? Do you recommend authors getting started with ebooks?  Did you go that route at first?  I know you have written a Hub on this; is there anything you would like to add/update?

I am still a firm believer in trying to get your work recognized by traditional publishers before self-publishing. All of my books, with the exception of my touch-and-move novelty trucks book, has an electronic version and the publisher takes care of making that happen. There is less of a stigma associated with self-publishing today, but it’s harder to stand out in that market, as anyone—quality writer or not—can self-publish. You have to fight more for credibility than you do if a publisher pays you to make a book. I am traditionally published and of course, now there is no reason for me to publish my stories on my own.

In re-reading my Hub on my publishing tips, the only thing I would change is that many more editors are accepting email submissions now – likely if you’ve met them at a conference. So the waiting time to hear back is often shorter, and you may not have to wait 3 months to ping them. Still respect their time, but following up is getting easier. Also, the editor I mention in my “Bonus tip” just bought a fairy manuscript from me last year – so I’m finally getting to work with her!

If you could give three pieces of advice for our authors that want to publish a book, what would they be?

  • Do your homework. Starting out in publishing is like starting out in any industry. Learn who the players are (editors, agents, other authors), attend conferences, take workshops, hone your craft. Don’t expect to meet an author and get an introduction to their editor or agent. It’s tacky.

  • Read as many books in the genre you are trying to break into as possible. Use your library! Check out a hundred books to see what they do right, why they got published.

  • Be patient. It took me about 3 years to get an offer, and that was actually surprisingly fast for this industry, so I feel very fortunate. Timing is everything, so don’t rush it. If you are meant to be published, it will happen at the exact time it’s meant to happen. If you are not meant to be published, there is a world of good that can still come from your writing – share it with others. Talk to kids about writing. Teach. Keep writing.

Thanks Sue, for giving us your time and expertise.  I hope our Hubbers have learned from it; I know that I have!

For more information on Sue:

Official Webpage

Facebook Author Page

twitter: @suefliess

And if that’s not enough, Sue also sings.  She has written and performed two writing parodies for buzz marketing! Check them out:

How to Effectively Use Pinterest by Hubber Glimmer Twin Fan

screen-shot-2014-01-16-at-10-16-54-am1I’d love to introduce our Guest Blogger, Glimmer Twin Fan.  She has kindly written this post to educate us on some of the Best Practices of using Pinterest .  She has had over 100 THOUSAND Pins to her Hubs and is a great member of our Community!  Thanks, Glimmer Twin Fan, for taking the time to educate us all! (You can also check out her Pinterest page directly to see how it’s done by a pro.)

A Guide to Using Pinterest by Glimmer Twin Fan

If you write Hubs and haven’t joined Pinterest yet, you should probably think about it.  According to searchenginewatch.com, as of June, 2013, there were approximately 70 million Pinterest users worldwide.  That’s potentially a huge audience for your writing.

In reading the Forums here on HubPages, I sometimes get the impression that many people don’t think that Pinterest is suited to their Hubs.  Granted, some topics are more popular than others, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find that there is something for everyone, and with the right Pinterest board organization, your niche may be a lot more popular than you think.  Just do a search and I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Over the 19 months that I have been writing here on HubPages, and pinning my work, I’ve learned a lot about Pinterest.  Some things are great and some things are not so great.  I’ve also learned a few tricks along the way. Hopefully these tricks will help you, too.

On Pinterest:

1.  Set up individual, topic-specific boards.  If you have Hubs about travel, set up a travel board. If you write about Philosophy, set up a Philosophy board.  You get the idea.  Lumping all of your pins into just a couple of broadly titled boards is confusing to potential followers, and whether we want to admit it or not, we all want more followers on Pinterest. Every follower represents a potential reader.

2.  Set up a group board.  My one group board generates at least 5 new followers a week.  That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up.  Group boards are probably the best way to get your pins and your Pinterest profile out there.  Some group boards have a couple hundred followers, but others have a couple hundred thousand followers.  Pin something to the right group board and chances are good that you’ll get some repins.  You can find more information about group boards in my Hub The Basics of Using Pinterest Group Boards.

3.  Choose a really good cover pin for each of your boards.  By default, the cover pin on your boards is the first pin you put in that board.  It is easily changed.  If someone is searching for a particular topic board, they are usually drawn to an enticing photo.  Let’s face it, that’s really what Pinterest is all about, pretty pictures.  I have often found a cover photo on someone’s board that has intrigued me, gone to take a look, liked the board, and decided to follow that pinner.

4.  Follow people.  I don’t mean to just randomly follow thousands of people, but follow ones who seem to pin things that interest you.  Not only does it sometimes bring you followers, you are exposed to their pins, which you’ll enjoy.

On your end:

1.  Choose a great photo for the beginning of your Hub.  This is the image that shows up on Pinterest when a reader uses the “Pin it” button on the right hand side of a Hub.  I know it’s been said here many times, but I can’t emphasize it enough.  A good photo matters.  If someone is looking for a meatloaf recipe, they’d much rather repin an image of a delicious looking one, than of a grey, out of focus one.  I have been working hard at taking better pictures for my Hubs.  I’ve taken pictures outside and in various parts of the house, on cloudy days and sunny ones.  Sometimes I’ll take 50 to 60 pictures of the same thing.  Then I upload them to my computer and start deleting the ones I don’t like.  I use iPhoto to brighten them up. I have noticed that since I have been working on my photography, my personal Hub pins have become more successful.  Many pinners only pin for the photo and don’t even bother looking at the link. Why not capitalize on that by using an eye­-catching image?

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2.  Use a vertical photo at the beginning of your Hub.  Vertical photos are ones that are taller/longer, not wider.  The bottom line is that they are more visible on Pinterest, so why not tap into that. Take a look at your Pinterest feed and you’ll see what I mean.

3.  Use images with text on them.  You may not want to use them for all of your Hubs, but in many cases they are well worth it.  I have found a lot of success with these types of images, especially on my recipe Hubs.  They are useful if you don’t have a great picture, or any picture at all.  They also help prevent people from taking your photo.  Most people who are using someone else’s photo aren’t going to waste time trying to clean up a lot of text, they will just move on to the next one that suits their needs.  There is all sorts of software available to help you add text to your photos.  This software can also add various effects, like borders or shading.  It’s fun to play around with the various options, in fact, it can be a little addictive.  I use Fotor.  It’s free, and it’s easy.

4.  Pin your own things and pin other things as well.  Don’t just pin your own articles.  If you are interested in the Macabre, search on the Macabre and if a pin interests you, pin it.  The more you pin, the more your name gets out there, especially on very specific topics. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by a pin.  I pinned someone’s Hub that still gets repinned at least 20 – 30 times a day.  As of the day I wrote this blog, it was up to about 2,500 repins.  It’s too bad it wasn’t one of my Hubs, but I know I have received a few new followers because of it.

5.  Pin popular pins.  There’s a reason most of these pins are popular.  If you like one, repin it.  On the top left of your Pinterest feed is an icon with three horizontal bars.  Click on it and choose “Popular” and see what you can find.  Many times, I’ll get a few repins when I pin a popular pin and sometimes even a new follower.

6.  Pin at the right time of the day and week.  This is a tough one, it’s different for various topics, and it’s certainly not an exact science.  After a lot of trial and error, I have found that for the majority of topics that I write about, recipes and crafts, the best time for me to pin is between 8pm and 10pm east coast time on Tuesdays through Thursdays.  Pinned to the right group board, I’ve had some pins get a couple hundred repins.  Not too shabby.  I’ve read that Saturdays are good times to pin, but I’ve never had much luck with that.  Play around with your pins and eventually you’ll start to see a trend.  Of course, pinning at the right time of the year helps too.  Seasonal topics are just that, seasonal.  If you go on Pinterest right now not only will you see lots of Valentine’s day pins, you’ll see more and more Easter pins creeping in.

A few Pinterest Don’ts:

Pinterest has many critics, and rightly so.  Since its inception there have been a number of lawsuits brought against them for copyright infringement.  Professional photographers, artists, writers, and others, all have issues with Pinterest.  Once an image is on Pinterest, it’s on there for good, and if a person earns their living from said images, they may be losing income.

Pinterest is becoming more vigilant about copyright infringement.  A few months ago I got a friendly email from Pinterest saying that they had removed a pin I had repinned.  Apparently the original pinner did not have permission to pin that image and the creator had taken action.

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1.  Make sure you are using your own photos, or photos that you have permission to use, before you pin one of your Hubs to Pinterest.  Also understand that once your image is out there, it’s out there for good.  Much to my chagrin, I have one recipe photo that I have found in many, many places, and I have never given anyone permission to use it.  It’s very difficult to get it removed.

2.  Pin from the source!  There are many websites out there, especially for recipes, that copy text and photos and take traffic from the original source.  These “middle man” websites, as I like to refer to them, get the income from the site visit.  Rarely do they have permission to use the photos.  Some will, every once in a while, include a link to the source, but that doesn’t get looked at very often.

3.  Another way to tell if a pin is not from the original source is if the photo has a watermark on it with a website that does not match the website listed below it.

4.  One type of pin, that I’ve been seeing more and more of on Pinterest, is a long photo that is made up of a number of step by step photos, maybe six or seven.  It’s usually a DIY project or a recipe.  Chances are good that someone has just used someone else’s photos and come up with a montage.  They are nice to look at, and give you the information you need, but they rarely provide a link to the source.

5.  Many pins link to an article that is a compilation of photos.  The pin photo may say “30 great ways to…..” or something like that. They have photos from various sites and encourage the reader to go to the links for more details.  I like pins like this.  They are not providing any details or instructions, they are just leading you to the source.  These pins provide a nice backlink to an article, and are a handy reference.

6.  If you see a lovely picture or a beautiful poem on a website, make sure you have permission before you pin it.  Many sites now have specific language on them that prohibit pinning their images and content.  You may love that poem, but don’t pin it or you could get in trouble.

7.  Don’t just repin an image without clicking on it and going to the link.

  • Sometimes you’ll get a warning from Pinterest that the link is suspicious.  Please don’t repin that, no matter how much you love the photo.
  • As noted above in #2, it may not be going to the original source.
  • As noted above in #6, you may not have permission to pin the image.
  • Don’t pin offensive images.  You could lose your account.

I realize that Pinterest is not for everyone, but it is well worth a try, no matter what you write about.  You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.