Monday, December 30, 2013

Exercising the Imagination Muscle

By Kim McDougall

Kim McDougall
Everyone is born with an imagination. “Let’s pretend” games such as house, doctor, construction, or space aliens are a natural extension of a child’s burgeoning creativity. Kindergarten and the earlier grades foster these talents, but as a child grows, story time is inevitably replaced by spelling or multiplication tables. The imagination muscle is left to atrophy, and children want less fanciful games to play. Few ten-year-olds would be enthralled with a game of house, but will gladly spend hours in front of the tube with or without video games. The need for imagination never goes away. As an adult, imagination can mean the difference between getting a career with job satisfaction or simply a job. Imagination is also the best resource for building family closeness.

Like any muscle, the imagination can be exercised, and as it gains in strength, it doesn’t take away from other necessary brain activities, like memorizing the multiplication tables. In fact, it enhances learning. An imagination can even make geometry fun. Did you ever wonder what Pythagoras’ life was like? Why are spelling contests called “bees?” Basic history opens up a world of possibilities for a strong imagination.

So how do you foster an imagination in your child?

Start Young

Children begin playacting at about the age of two or three. This is the best time to start fostering the imagination. Of course, reading is one of the most important mental imagery builders. Read to your children every day. When they are old enough to read themselves, read more difficult books aloud, usually one level above their own reading abilities.

Older children should be encouraged to keep a journal. Writing down everyday occurrences may seem mundane at first. Your child’s initial entries may be nothing more than: Got up.
Went to school. Did homework. Went to bed. If your child feels that he has nothing important
to express, encourage him to write just a few lines about something he saw that day, such as the bus driver’s mustache or the pigeons flocking in the park. The writing is less important than the thinking about details of the day.

Younger children can keep a scrapbook journal. Scrap-booking has become an elaborate (and expensive) pastime in recent years, but your child’s journal need not be fancy. A large book of blank pages (you can make your own), some markers and glue should do the trick. Help your child to relate in picture or collage an event in her life. Her first parade. A trip to the woods to see the fall colors. A soccer tournament. Glue in memorabilia such as movie tickets or class photos. Guide your child to focus on one event at a time, but let the memories and artwork be her own.

And Then What Happened?

My daughter’s favorite imagination game is to continue stories that we read at bedtime. At first, she had no idea how to envisage what happened to Cinderella after the royal ball. She liked the game mostly because it allowed her to stay up a bit longer. Now however, she already has her continuation ready when we finish the book. This game takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if you ask “And then what happened?” and your child shrugs and says “I don’t know.” Make up your own story to show her how it’s done. If she still struggles, prompt her with questions, giving a choice of outcomes. “What happened to the fairy god mother?” “Did she go to work for the tooth fairy?” “Did she become the wicked witch of the west?” The sillier the better. Your child will remember this game not only as fun time spent with Mom or Dad, but as a time when you listened to what she had to say.

Keep it Simple

Not every child is a writer or artist. No matter. The best ideas are the simple ones. Wishing on the first star of the evening uses imagination. Hide-and seek too. Play word games: rhyming games or silly sentences for younger children, twenty questions or “I Spy” for older ones. Start a weekly (or monthly) family game night. The classics like charades, pictionary, or Scrabble are all great imagination boosters.

And read. 

Read together. Read everywhere. At the supermarket. On the highway. Tell you child he can stay up an extra half hour if he reads quietly in bed. Start a family book club. Invite some
friends to read a new book every month and then have a get together to discuss it. Put on a favorite DVD with the sound off and the subtitles playing. Take turns reading the captions aloud.
Like any kind of exercise, toning the imagination is not easy. Sometimes it might even seem like work, but a child with an imagination is a child who can keep himself busy during a long car ride or a rainy day. Imagination helps to solve math problems as well as social conflicts. Imagination fosters a love for reading, an element of success for any career or lifestyle. And that makes the effort worthwhile. Imagine it.
Kim McDougall is a writer and video producer with a BA in English literature from Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. She was born in Montreal and has lived in Nice, France, Toronto, Long Island, New York and now beautiful Pennsylvania. She is also a fiber artist and photographer and writes fiction for children under her pen name, Kim Chatel. Though fantasy is her first literary love, Kim writes everything from children's picture books to horror fiction.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at

We’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Refrains of Reviews

By Laura Jennings

Laura Jennings

The whole process of submitting books for reviews reminds me of querying.  You pitch your book, and these people will accept or reject it.  Luckily, most of these guys are not nearly as picky as literary agents.  Good reviews are key to getting book sales.  And really, there’s only two rules in approaching a book reviewer.

1. Be polite.  

I can’t stress this enough.  Most of the people on the ebook or indie scene are just everyday folks who happen to like books.  They have lives, and they have time constraints just like everyone else.  Don’t make assumptions of any kind, and that includes sending them stuff unasked.  You ask permission to send them something; don’t just attach your ebook and hurl the email at them saying “Let me know when the review is out!” It’s up to you to make the book sound interesting,
which is where your pitch lines and summaries come in handy.  You can include links to the book and its reviews, but considering the average attention of an Internet user, there’s no guarantee anyone’s going to click on that link.  Keep your emails short.  Treat it like a casual but way shorter and  friendlier query letter, and you’ll probably get a good response.  If you get rejected, DO NOT be pissy about it.  Move on to the next one, and maybe even at least send an email thanking the reviewer for their time.  You never know when you might write something that is to their preference, or that you may have been rejected because these people have a 6 month’s supply of books to read.  And may have accepted your book for review 6 months down the line, but you decided to be a jerk, so …

2. Do your research.  

At the very least, you need to know the name of the person you’re emailing, and their genre interests. I did run into a lot of people who said quite plainly “NO EBOOKS.”  I’d've been
wasting my time trying to cajole them into Highsong.  I also don’t want to send my sci-fi book about dolphins to a chick-lit reader.  It just wouldn’t click. Most book review blogs have a tab that outlines their preferences of how to approach them.  I found I didn’t really need to tailor my letter that much when requesting a review.  Title, word count, publication date, a pitch line, and a link to my book trailer were about it.  (Which is another difference from querying a literary agent; everyone says “Include something personal about the agent!”, which can get kind of tiresome.)   Most of the time, if you flub your attempt, you won’t get a reply.  One of the first requests I sent off (number sixteen, but I don’t count it because I messed up) stated clearly that she only accepted .mobi file types.  I discovered this about three seconds after I’d hit “Send” on an email that said I’d be happy to send her a .pdf.  After figuring that out, I changed the line in my request to “a .pdf or any file you prefer.”  Catering to the crowd never hurt anyone.

Laura Jennings an author and illustrator of YA fantasy, living on the outskirts of the North Austin, TX area. She’s also an avid video gamer and has a lot of background in good-old tabletop RPG, when she’s not editing manuscripts for myself or part of my writing group at the Austin SCBWI.  Laura is the author of Highsong and Risen. Visit her blog at

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
We’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Some of the Most Voracious Readers Can’t See At All!

By Christopher Hawthorne Moss

Most people when hearing the expression “books for the blind” will think of Braille.  This can be a daunting prospect for anyone who might imagine what it would be like to be blind, Braille being a
purely tactile medium and virtually a different alphabet.  The good news is that Braille, though important, is old news.  The misapprehension is based on two misconceptions: that “blind” means entirely unable to see; and that Braille is the only reading technology out there.  The fact is that about 90% of people we call “blind” has some residual vision.  I, one of those people, am here to tell you all about the other technologies feeding the appetite of some of the most voracious readers around.

A term that has been gaining popularity in order to provide inclusion of a range of reading disabilities is “print impaired”.  This means not only totally blind people and people with insufficient vision to read standard print, but also those people with learning disabilities and those with physical impairments precluding holding a print book up to read.  Grouping them together is handy because most of these folks can use the same alternate formats in order to enjoy books and other print material.  A confluence of general consumer preference, e.g., books on tape, and narrow population need has helped broaden the selection, as has the development of computer technology.  Let’s take a look at the many possibilities.

Braille – Yes, Braille still exists and is the preferred method of reading for many blind people.  It is,
in fact, the only specialized medium that requires literacy.  It has been helped by advances in technology, making production of Braille books faster and cheaper, and computers with what is called “refreshable Braille display”, a device that replaces the computer monitor with a row of pins that come up to make the 6-dot Braille cells, makes anything in digital text readable to the Braille user.  This medium has been most important for those people who are both blind and deaf.

Audio recordings - With first LPs called “Talking Books” and later cassette books made available by
libraries for blind and print impaired users, we had a more economical and generally accessible reading option.  The LPs and cassettes are recorded at half normal speed, and in the case of cassettes a 4-track technology used to get twice and even four times the content on a single LP or cassette.  The vast majority of books read by people who are print impaired are presently on cassette.  The trouble with that is that cassettes and the machines that play them are a dying technology.  Other media has been sought for the mass production by libraries for the blind.

Compact discs – Recorded books for the average reader are nothing new.  CDs have largely replaced cassettes in order to have the space needed to record unabridged volumes.  This technology, however,
seems to have fallen by the wayside in producing reading material for people with print impairments.  The search for a new medium to replace cassettes has been so delayed and lengthy that by the time a solution was found, CDs were no longer the optimal choice.  It remains to be seen whether the choice made was the best possible.

Digital audio downloads – It may seem like being able to download a digital file of a book is the obvious and most economical solution to providing books for people who are print impaired.  There are a few flies in that ointment.
One is that the majority of people with severe print disabilities is 60 or over.  Too large a number of that population has not “gone digital”.  The National Library Service has been looking for a way to serve both this and a younger community.  They have settled on a technology that stores narrated books on cartridges not unlike flash drives that are playable on a specific device.  These devices are expensive compared to similar ones available to the general consumer, and the libraries’ supplies for lending are severely limited.  Allowing those who are computer friendly to download the digital files, unlock them with keys for those eligible, and then read the books on any sort of device has for some Byzantine reason been rejected.  So we wait.

Digital text downloads - Happily, this is not the only way, to provide downloads.  An organization called provides downloads of text files that can be read in a number of ways.  They can be read by using the refreshable Braille display mentioned above, and the text can be enlarged using an application on a computer called a screen magnifier or read aloud by the computer using speech output.  There are applications that take this one step further by using music storage devices like mp3 players and the iPod to make all this quite portable.

Kindle2 - One of the most recent developments is the Kindle2 by  Like other Kindles, you can read books using their digital paper technology, but with the Kindle2 a screen reader is
available to read the book aloud.  The average person will find the reading voice tiresome, but it is as good as any such print impaired people are accustomed to.  Thanks to such a device, print impaired people are more and more able to read recently released books, no longer having to wait through the cumbersome selection and production process for library audio books.

Reading devices – And now we come to the be-all and end-all, the electronic book reader.  For instance, I have a Plustek Book Reader, a digital scanner that also converts graphical text to print intelligible to a screen reader.  All I have to do is put a book face down on the device, and it reads it aloud to me.

Far from being forced to use Braille for all my reading, something that would severely limit my choice in reading material, whether for work or pleasure, I can now listen to books on cassette, on CD, on my computer, on my iPod and my Kindle2, and barring all other choices, on my Book Reader.  As a double English major and an author, this is the best news I could have!


Christopher Hawthorne Moss started writing at the tender age of seven, and the stories that went into his first novel, "An Involuntary King," (published under the name Nan Hawthorne,) occupied him for all of his teenage years. After a career as a writer and trainer on nonprofit management issues and disability awareness, he decided it was high time for the characters who were his dearest friends as a teen deserved to get a life of their own.That accomplished, he went on to write two more historical novels with a third in progress. He lives in Western Washington State with his partner and doted upon cats. You can visit Christopher Moss at visit

 The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Often-Ignored Vital 1st Law of Do-It-Yourself Book Marketing

by John Klawitter

Copyright © 2009 John Klawitter
Originally published by 1st Turning Point, 2009

There are some strict Laws of Marketing that apply to selling your work, and they are all as true as
John Klawitter
Hammurabis Code or the Ten Commandments from the Bible, and if you don’t follow them you will be a lost child in the wilderness.  But there’s one law that’s more important than all the rest, and yet book marketeers rarely talk about that one--not because they’re keeping it a secret, but because it’s in your hands, not theirs.
Marketing follows writing as surely as you have to have a box of frosted flakes before somebody invents a tiger to tell you they’re great.  We accept this is the same for books, but the most successful writers know it isn’t! Most young authors don’t even think about the annoying and difficult task of marketing their work until after it’s written.  Yet, shouldn’t it be obvious that’s not the right way to do it?
Here’s this writer named, let us say, Lavonia, who has slaved night after night, for over six months, and now she has 86,793 words.  She takes a well-deserved sip of Dry Sack sherry, leans back in her chair and panics as she considers, for the first time, the hoard of uncivilized, untamed, unkempt barbarians--those other writers whom she will be competing against.  “My lovely muse, help me!” she cries out.  But her faithful muse, ever at her side before, is now struck dumb as a brick.  Marketing is not in her job description, you see.
And yet the marketing of the book should have been part of the process all along.  Poor Lavonia
would have been well advised to take a few reflective minutes before each scribble-session.  She should have asked herself dozens of hard questions like: “Am I still talking to my readers?”  “Who are my readers, anyway?”  “Is it still the story I started out to tell?”
As writers, we know that stories are either classic in structure or they are organic.  It’s a basic they teach in Writing 101.  But nobody ever tells you how important it is to weigh the marketing difficulty of your project even before you first type in the title, and to constantly worry about whether you’re still on target as you scribble along..
A more useful fork in today’s book marketplace might be genre or non-genre.  This ultimately is the key decision an ambitious writer must make before getting in bed with the muse.  Sure, you’re going to have an affair, but it is wise to have it on your own terms.  And the best and only way to do that is to be honest with yourself before you start, and to stay true all along the way:
Kristin Hannah author of Angel Falls
Are you going to write the next Angel Falls or the next The Bridges of Madison County?  The one, as you well know, will be a beautifully written genre romance, and the other, a classic love story, deceptive in its seeming simplicity.
A couple of weeks in, reaching the first turning point, say when Robert Kincaid drives up Francesca Johnson’s gravel road that first time seeking directions, are you still talking with the same clarity to the same readers you engaged on page one?
Or, if you’re writing the next novel to take on Nora Roberts, is your Reese Gilmore believable in her terror, and yet steady on with the grit that makes your readers want to turn the pages?
Robert James Waller author The Bridges of Madison County
What I’m saying is simple in the telling, but I promise you it is a most difficult discipline to master.  You can groom your style and you can learn structures that will leave your readers gasping, laughing or weeping.  But the artistry that defines the difference between a craftsperson and a writing wonder is the mastery over your own inner inclinations, your discipline to be the boss rather than allowing your story to sweep you along.
Yes, give your muse her due, but in a balanced relationship that’s 50% fancy and 50% genius.  Use that genius half--what we’ll call the thinking writer’s fifty percent--from the very first key stroke to work as a writer-marketeer, to shape your novel so it firmly captivates your audience and holds them in orbit like planets around your sun.


John Klawitter is a Hollywood writer, producer and director who writes fiction and non-fiction books.  He often adapts his novels to screenplays that he then peddles around town.   (So far, a few fat options, but no brass ring.) His novels are based on his years surviving as a creative person in the ad biz and in show biz.  It is an interesting life.
He has worked as the Creative Director of Disney Studios in Burbank, and as an independent creative resource for Warner Bros, Universal Studios, Paramount and the Disney Channel, as well as for many indy production companies including Hanna Barbera, Franke Films, Pink Planet Productions, Eyeline Films and Zoiyu Productions.  His films and television specials have appeared on NBC, the BBC, and the Disney Channel, and he has written many memorable song lyrics, advertising jingles and television show openings, including “Disney’s Wonderful World”, “Now & Then”, and “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show”.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
We’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

So What the Heck is a Book Trailer Anyway?

By Kim McDougall

 Book trailers hit the scene in about 2007 and quickly become a one of the most popular
Kim MCDougall
tools in an author’s book marketing kit. But what is a book trailer, you might ask, and why would anybody want one? Well, a book trailer is much like a movie trailer. It’s a short commercial with images, music, voice-over, sound effects and text that promotes a book. These videos can then be posted on websites, blogs and video sharing sites. They can be fun, genre-bending and little works of art in their own right, but in the end, they are commercials and are all about name branding. In a multimedia world, video is integral to your marketing platform. Just browse any journal or social media site online and compare how many articles are presented in a video format instead of the traditional on-screen text. A trailer makes buying your book a visual experience for the customer. Because most books don’t have images to go along with them, we use stock photos and video clips to represent characters and scenes from the book. In essence, your potential readers can watch a book jacket blurb rather than read one. 

How can an author use a trailer for promotion? 

I had one author ask me why some trailers on YouTube get more viewers than others. I told him that’s because some authors promote their trailers better than others. He said, “What? I have to promote my trailer too? I thought the trailer was supposed to promote me!” He’s right in one way, but wrong in another. 
YouTube is a huge site. You need to tell people how to find you in that din. You wouldn’t create a great TV commercial and then put it on at 3am when no one’s watching! The advantage to a video sharing site (YouTube is only one example, but there are many others), is that strangers surfing the net will stumble across your trailer. People who might never otherwise see your website or your book will get a glimpse of it. And it may only be a  glimpse if your trailer doesn’t catch their attention. But the real power of a video trailer is in
the social media world. If you have an active Facebook page or an email newsletter, this is the place to promote your trailer. Get viewers to see it; then get them to repost to their friends and friends of friends. Soon, the snowball effect will kick in and your video will take off. Another way to use trailers is at book signings. You can bring a computer and have a series of trailers running. CD’s are relatively inexpensive. If you have a lot of trailers, you can put them all on one CD or DVD and hand them out like video business cards. I like to show my trailers for my children’s books before library and school presentations. This gives the kids something to focus on while we’re waiting to start and makes a good starting point for the presentation. 

Do trailers sell books? 

Much of the success I’ve seen with trailers is anecdotal. I’ve had several niche stores contact me to say they saw my trailer on YouTube and asked how they could stock my book. Reviewers can find books through trailers too. Author, Mary Deal
Mary Deal
(, commented that after I posted each of her trailers to YouTube and other sites, she noticed a jump in her Amazon rankings (which comes from sales). She writes: "I watch my Amazon

stats faithfully and can tell when my books are being sold. Although we may never know the exact meanings of those fluctuations, after Kim's trailer for "River Bones" posted on the net and on my Web site, I saw my Amazon numbers go up and down quite often. I was thankful for the sales. "Then she made a trailer for "The Ka."
I again saw a spike in my Amazon statistics. I also checked Barnes and Noble and saw sales registering there. The second time my Amazon statistics showed excessive activity happened right after the trailer for "The Ka" was made public. I also checked the statistics for the number of visitors to my Web site.

On both days that each trailer went public and for a few days thereafter, my Web site received quite a number of new visitors. "That was confirmation enough for me that it was Kim's trailers that caused a surge in my book sales and Web site visitors. In addition to the books that had trailers made for them, increased activity showed on the hard cover of "River Bones" and on my older novel, "The Tropics." Kim's trailers not only brought attention to all my books, but to my Web site and to who I am. Considering the relatively low cost of making a trailer compared to other online promotions, I think it’s a good risk to take. Not all promotion is about sales. As authors we need to think of name branding too. Just as Sony, Nike or McDonalds use different promotions to familiarize buyers with their brand so should authors work to get name recognition. Buyers are more likely to buy a book from an author who’s name they recognize. And since Publishers’ advertising budgets have shrunk to nearly nothing, authors need to look at new and creative ways to promote. 

 The missing link

Geoff Nelder
Geoff Nelder, author of EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEE, writes: “To me a video trailer is more than an advertising tool for a novel, it is an extension of the imaginative artistic creation. The trailer is not a two-minute synopsis but an insight into the pull of the story. A writer has to hook the reader early in their novel, but the trailer is a multimedia hook taking the art into another dimension.” I have to agree with him.

Really good trailers are more than just commercials. They are works of art unto themselves. I believe that book trailers are the link between literature and a multimedia revolution that will produce creations we can only dream about right now. I imagine ‘graphic’ novels of the best kind reproduced with video, artwork and music. I’m not talking about comic books, but novels recited in the old-fashioned oral tradition combined with video and audio. As both online video streaming improves and audio podcasts become more popular maybe this is not such a farfetched dream. 

Check out Castelane trailers at: If you would like a trailer for your book please visit our site at

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
We’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.