Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Staying Sane, Good Vibes & Author Platforms

Today, I am sharing my conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.  Cynthia is the author of the YA TANTALIZE series, the FERAL NIGHTS series, several YA short stories and books for younger kids as well as the popular Cynsations blog. 

Debby: Cynthia, thank you so much for spending some time with me today.  I wanted to ask you about writer's platforms.   My agent talks about the importance of a writer building his or her platform with blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr.  I reached out to you because your platform is so well-established, and you have given me wonderful advice.  Can you share some of the ways an author can build a platform?

Cynthia: Authors should begin by setting up home base on an official website. This will be the foundation and launching point for everything that follows. It should look professional and remain up to date with regard to new releases.
Then check out what's available in terms of social networks and think about your goals and what appeals to you. You don't have to be everywhere, do everything. You probably don't have that much time, and you'll burn out if you try. Do what you do well rather than going scatter-shot all over the Web.

A blog is like a puppy. It's always hungry. If you blog, think about your reasons why, your content focus, and most importantly, your blogging schedule. At the risk of sounding vaguely gastrointestinal, it's better to be regular than frequent. Most other options are a lower commitment, and keep in mind you can always guest blog for someone else (and probably should do that on occasion regardless). 
As for the social networks, teens may be migrating from Facebook, but at this point they have too much real estate on the site to abandon it completely. It also hosts a terrific community of dedicated children's-YA book professionals, making it a preferred spot for industry networking.
Twitter is a blessing to the attention-challenged. It's the ultimate short form, and more young adults appreciate the lower-drama vibe. It's also a natural for pointing followers to your site or blog. Consequently, Facebook and Twitter are my top recommendations. But if you enjoy visual learning, try Pinterest. Or whatever speaks to you.
Not every expedition will be a long-term success. I had a significant fan following on MySpace, back when teens were on MySpace, but it's fallen by the wayside. Google+ seems to be struggling to get a foothold, but the Hangout video feature offers wonderful opportunities for online author events. It's okay to pivot. If you abandon a blog or network, just make sure it's clear you're gone and let folks know where to find you from there.
Debby: The hardest part for me is thinking of things to say-do you recommend that an author have a strategy or theme to their posts? 

Cynthia: Start with Author You. Who is your audience? What kind of books call to you? What topics? What are you passionate about?

If you are a YA fantasy novelist, write about the craft of creating that kind of book. Invite fellow authors in that arena to chime in with their thoughts. Highlight those books that you love. Post photos of dragons.

If you're a nonfiction writer, highlight articles and breaking news related to your topics. Interview experts in those respective fields and authors coming to those subjects from another angle. Include photographs of your research trips. Do you write about bees? Give away a jar of honey!

If you're a Writer Mom, offer tips to parents who're likewise trying to balance childcare and the creative life. Share the occasional book tie-in activity or recipe or décor coup or article on gender and toys.
Mitali Perkins is passionate about India settings, multicultural children's-YA literature, and social justice related awareness-raising as it impacts young readers. You can glean all of that from visiting her site, Tweet deck, etc.

My husband, Greg Leitich Smith, writes adventure stories-most recently on about three young Texas teens that travel back to the Cretaceous to rescue their sister and solve a family mystery. He has an ongoing feature wherein children's-YA book pros send him photos of themselves with images of dinosaurs - museum displays, stuffed toys, Sinclair signs, whatever. He did a Dino-A-Day T-shirt celebration, modeling dinosaur T-shirts at various Austin settings.
Libba Bray's blog, like everything she does, is a tour de force. An exercise in her awesomeness. You can do that -- just rock on with Amazing You and share it, so long as you have the confidence.

You could also combine forces with a team blog or promotional group. Just keep in mind that the branding often goes to the team at the expense of all of the individual contributors.
Debby: How do you balance the time you spend writing with building of your relationships?

Cynthia: Setting aside travel/event days, on average I'm on the computer at 8 a.m. as Author Cyn.
Then I work out for an hour or two between 10 a.m. and noon, and then Writer Cyn takes over for the afternoon. The two Cyns vie for dominance in the evening. The winner is typically contingent on what's going on in terms of my global workflow.

Debby: Writing is such an isolated career, yet we are expected to have connections.  I have found other writers, even really successful ones to be extremely accessible and helpful.  I have also made many writer friends through SCBWI, can you share some of the ways an author can network? 

Cynthia: First, I'd say that community is crucial. Words on the page are most important. But community can keep you going in both great and challenging times.
You mentioned SCBWI, and it's wonderful. There may also be additional writing organizations in your area. Here in Austin, I'm likewise active in The Writers' League of Texas.

I strongly recommend attending local book events, including launch parties. Support your colleagues and learn from them how to do marketing and public speaking.
You can take the incentive to organize a private workshop or get together. I've made some of the best friends of my life by simply inviting them to (bring food and) write around my dining room table.
Or simply say "howdy" on Facebook (or wherever) and strike up a conversation there. 
Debby: One thing I have to ask you about social media and building a following-should one pay attention to their numbers-and what do they really mean?

Cynthia: Pay attention but don't obsess. If you're losing followers in droves, you might want to take a look at your recent content and ask why. If you're not building steadily, you may want to amp things up a bit. But don't make yourself crazy. Networking is a long-haul proposition. Building quality relationships, offering solid takeaway to friends, followers and visitors is the priority. 

Debby: I also wondered about changing your photo tag.  I see some people changing their photo often, and others never change them.  Do you have an opinion about this?
Cynthia: Ideally for branding, it should be consistent and standardized. But that's a bit stagnant. Go for something appropriate, so long as it's a recognizable photo of you (not your cat, not you and someone else, not your latest book cover-the latter being a bit too on the nose these days).
Debby: If you had to give authors one piece of advice about building their platform, what would it be?

Cynthia: People buy what you sell them. Think about how you want to be viewed. What you want to say. How you can lift up your audience. In the end, that's what it's all about--not just work but life--having the courage to share the best of yourself and doing it in such a way that it empowers others.

Debby: Cynthia, your words are encouraging and hopeful, and you have broken down the building of the writer’s platform into understandable tasks.  Thank you for sharing your experience and your talent with us today!  For more information about Cynthia, visit her website, Twitter @CynLeitichSmith or her blog, Cynsations


  1. What a great interview chock full of terrific advice. Thanks, Debby for hosting Cyn!

  2. Thanks for an interview with good information. The author platform can be so intimidating when I start to fear that the success of my book depends on it. It's very important, but I am trying to keep it in perspective. I enjoyed knowing how Cyn divides her work day. It's actually similar to mine, except I run out of energy well before evening. :)

  3. Cyn inspires me with her ability to do it all. I think she gave us all wonderful advice that we can use to take steps every day. Thanks for reading!

  4. I love this post - some good reminders there!! Thanks for hosting, Debby, and thanks for being Amazing You, Cyn!! XOXOXO

  5. Thanks for this. I needed all, ALL, of Cyn's sage advice.

  6. Thank you, Dianne, Krissi, Deborah and Linda!

    Mary, no platform will make or break your publishing success. It's just one of many ways to market your book(s), to make it easier for your readers to follow your work. But the best way to continue selling a terrific book is to follow it up with an even better book!