The Art of the Interview

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Being asked to give interviews is flattering and exciting: it’s a testament to your acceptance and importance in the field. For new authors and illustrators, it represents a milestone of achieving hard earned recognition now that you are published.

To interview well is an art. Depending on who you are and what your books are about, interviews can feel like easy, comfortable chats or can be complex or challenging. The good news is that being in the entertainment and education business, you’re much less likely to face hardcore investigative or hostile questions. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to be interviewed should be taken lightly. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you should put a process in place to go into each interview well prepared.

Start by recognizing that each interview will be different in format, length, tone, and the dynamic that exists between you and the interviewer.

Print and online interviews are often the easiest because you have a set of written questions provided and can take the time you need to give thorough and thoughtful answers. The key here is to be prompt in responding, ideally no more than a few days. If you can’t, let the reporter know how soon you will be able to reply and make sure to do so. Also, if you have one or two additional questions you’d like to answer, or anything you don’t want to discuss, let the reporter know. Remember to provide supplementary material – photos, links, contact information – when you send in your answers so everything’s at hand when the story gets compiled.

Radio interviews, which can be done by phone or in-studio, provide an opportunity for comfortable conversation. Still, the casualness of the format can lead to sloppiness if you’re not mindful of time length and what information you want to make sure to cover. Start by making sure to provide the producer or host with your book and biographical information, as well as website links, book trailer and cover art jpegs that can be used to feature you on their show’s website. Then make sure you ask for information about format: the length of the segment, who will interview you and, if it’s live, whether there will be call-ins or anyone else on with you during the segment. If you’re calling in, find out whether you should call at the stated time or if they want you on the line a few minutes ahead. Prepare a bulleted cheat sheet that you can glance at to make sure you have any key reference information and reminders on what you want to discuss. At the same time, make sure you’re giving your full attention to the interviewer and responding comfortably to questions you’re asked.

TV and other face-to-face interviews take more preparation because you need to think about how you look as well as what you’re saying. If you’re doing the interview remotely, you also need to consider what’s behind you that viewers can see and make sure that the lighting’s flattering and nothing’s distracting or odd seeming in the background. With audio and video broadcast, it’s very important to keep a close eye on the time and with that in mind, say your piece succinctly and then stop, so the interviewer knows you’re ready to move on. Know too that it’s often good to pause before answering, particularly if you’re nervous, to give yourself a chance to compose your answer and to avoid run-on answers that can result from being uncomfortable in the spotlight. With television, it’s also important to maintain good eye contact with the interviewer and avoid looking at the camera or monitors.

That said, be aware that there will be times that you’ll be caught off-guard in an interview. It’s useful, particularly when preparing for a live interview, to having someone do a mock one in advance with you asking a mix of easy and hard questions, so you know what may come up and can think ahead how you want to answer. If you’re dealing with a difficult or controversial subject, you should acknowledge the question asked and reply to the degree you’re comfortable, but also have a way to segue to something valuable that you want to impart.

Overall, the key to interviewing well is preparing ahead and gaining experience – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

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What Type of Marketer Are You?

16 Marketing

As with most things there’s no need to speculate – just ask Google that question and you’ll find numerous quizzes happy to walk you through to let you know where you stand. I was pleased to be named Chief Marketing Officer by t-shirt company Printsome after taking their quiz, which among other questions asked me to choose between a picture of a pencil, a pair of work boots and a pile of money.

Being loyal to the publishing industry, I chose the pencil, of course. How this helped them decide to elevate me to the top of their company, I have no idea, but in some ways it reinforced how I often feel when trying to put a fine point on the vagaries of marketing, which is both a science and an art.

There are a lot of cold hard facts in marketing – and our increasing ability to analyze customer data as it relates to buying timing, frequency, influences and incentives – is causing a sea change in how we think about our relationship with customers and prospects.

At the same time, consumers are becoming both more demanding about the kind of engagement they want and increasingly fatigued at being pitched products and services morning to night.

In a particularly surprising statement in January, Steve Howard, IKEA’s head of sustainability announced at a live business forum hosted by The Guardian that “if we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff….”

If so, convincing consumers they need what we’re selling will be very difficult. The key questions to consider are: What will capture a prospective customer’s attention? What will make my book or brand stand out from its competition? And, what will foster and sustain brand loyalty (which can be to a book, character, series, author/illustrator, or publisher) over time? Behavioral targeting, using analytics, computer tracking, browsing and search history, to create profiles of consumers is the preferred route for those who have access to enough data.

But there are other important ways you can focus as a marketer. List service company, IDG, makes four other common distinctions:

Multichannel Master -someone who looks to many channels to engage with customers – you may well be doing this by engaging in social media, going to schools and events to speak, networking at conferences, and publishing news about your books and outreach

Madison Avenue Creative -a marketer who focuses on brand building – this is particularly important when promoting a series, when engaging with a YA audience and when you intend to focus on a particular genre or niche market

SoMoLo Marketers -the focus here is on social, mobile and local market outreach – this will have a lot to do with the age and inclination of your target audience, both in terms of how best to engage and what platforms are most effective

Old School Direct Marketers -this is where engagement is more traditional – and, typically, more labor intensive because it involves direct meet and greet and one-to-one selling. It is most beneficial when significant sales volume may result – so would make sense when trying to find licensing or special sales opportunities.

Effective marketing depends on your particular circumstances and will likely evolve over time. It’s also important to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and the resources you have to draw from to help you determine where to put your emphasis – and when to get help.

Ask yourself: Which of the IDG types do I find most appealing? What are my competitors doing? Is my publisher particularly strong in one area, and how can I best supplement what they’re doing? What is my audience likely to be most receptive to? What are the costs both in time and money of pursuing a particular direction? And what tools and resources are available to help me engage with my audience? Know that it’s okay to start with a narrow focus at first, and then expand gradually as you have working mechanisms in place.

The point is to recognize that customer engagement is a long-term proposition and the objective is to gain more traction and better knowledge of your customers with each book or product. Not that each has to reach the same audience or achieve the same sales results, but your sophistication as a marketer and your ability to recognize and adapt to market changes should grow over time.

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Introducing Modern Art to Preschoolers: “Mousterpiece”

Jane Breskin Zalben. Author/Artist

1. How can your books be used to teach a love of art (Mousterpiece) and performing (Four Seasons)?

I have been told that both are perfect venues to teach the love of art and music. All I can say is that if you do something that it meaningful, write about it, and it comes through to the reader, then in essence, it teaches a lesson and shows without telling in a heavy-handed way what it means to be an artist, to do what has meaning in life, to make a life of art. Art was always my life since I was little. I think that comes through in Mousterpiece. It is who I am. It is who the little mouse, Janson, is. She discovers what it is to be a true artist. I also played the piano as a child. In the same vein, Ally, the main character in Four Seasons: A novel in four movements based on the seasons of Vivaldi’s sonata, is a child piano prodigy at Julliard in New York City and learns to discover, like Janson, (I just realized this link!) what it means to be a true artist for herself. I was not a child prodigy, but my younger son went to Juilliard as a violinist and composer for nine years as a child so I knew my “material” to say the least.

2. What do you see as connecting threads in your work?

The common thread is emotion. I do not avoid inner feelings and how people interact or relate to each other, whether it is for young children or young adults. We are complex human beings whether we are three or eighty-three. Some of us just choose to forget or deny the inner workings of who we are. I like to tap into and remember those feelings of separation anxiety or fear or heartbreak, and of course, empathy and love.

3. How does your work as an artist inform your book publishing?

Well, I am an artist – a painter – who happens to do books and am passionate about the form and structure of a book as an art object. I loved slip-cased books, books tied with silk ribbons, ragged thick paper on the trim, marbleized endpapers, embossed cloth bindings, vellum over a title page – that is why I originally fell in love with bookmaking. Of course books look different now, and that challenge I appreciate as well. Every detail down to the spacing of the typography on the page. Now, I like experimenting more in a book. With both the ideas and the materials used. I have done work on the computer, overlays like an animation, mixed media, collage, but in the end for me there is nothing like the water color on a gorgeous piece of paper painting with a triple zero brush taking my time with my nose to the surface for hours hunched over a drafting table! I consider it “serious business” and don’t take lightly the years spent on creating a book. I have done around 50 books – all kinds – and I like to push myself as an artist and a person to experiment and challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before. To grow.

4. Do you cross-promote the two?

I try, but it is almost like two different fields with different editors with their own passions. Some are better at novels, while others at a shorter form. I love music. Many people have mentioned it enters a lot of my work, in timing, space and intensity. I have used it in both age groups – novels and picture books. Sometimes people know me as a young adult / middle-grade author, and most know me as a picture book author/artist. I began my life as an artist, but felt I needed to say more so I began to write novels when my children were little and napped. I had stopped doing picture books for a few years to get away from all that! They no longer are small; I feel even more intense now about writing novels. The link between the two is that in a novel you are there visually with the characters, and in a way, it is like doing art. I disappear into another place that feels real in that fictional world. I love being in it and feel consumed by writing the story when I am working on a novel, like Four Seasons (Knopf 2011) which took about 3 or so years, and Leap (Knopf) before that, which I developed into a screenplay – another visual form with dialogue. I have had eight published between doing the picture books.

5. Is there an art technique you’ve learned recently that you’d be willing to share tips on?

I have experimented so much in these last ten years with so many different techniques that I find it actually interesting. I get bored when I look at some illustration work and the style is the same again and again. For me, it personally shows no growth. I know people often want the same old thing from an artist, but for an artist, that is not always exciting.

What is exciting is the journey, the process of working, revising, and knowing there is never an end because even when the book is done, it could always be redone in another way. There is a time though, you have to say, move on to the next one.

As a former art director, teacher at the School of Visual Arts, chair of the Society of Illustrators, I can say I have seen a lot of techniques, and in the final analysis the tip is what works for the individual. There are no rules. The key is to wake up and do what you love and keep trying to make it better. I think that is the plight of the artist. The process. The work. The time alone in a room to create.

Jane Breskin Zalben the author/artist of more than 50 children’s books. She’s just published “Mousterpiece: a mouse-sized guide to modern art,” which is receiving starred reviews. Her young adult novel, “Four Seasons” had jacket blurbs from Judy Blume and Gordan Korman and fan e-mails from Bunnicula author, James Howe. She travels around the U.S. and abroad to talk about her children’s books.

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Art success do’s and don’ts: Steve Light

Steve Light, Illustrator/Author Storyteller

Don’t give up and certainly don’t give up too early. I’ve seen better artists than me give up on their art within a year of graduating. That’s too early! Be very tenacious and be very determined and you will succeed. This has paid off for me. I have some real momentum now. I enjoy telling stories and there’s a lot of opportunity out there. My career and work just keeps getting better. I feel really blessed. –Steve Light

What made the most difference in your career and what do you advise newcomers?

When I just started doing the work for me. Doing the work that I love, knowing someone else will love it also. I stopped chasing work and started producing work I love and then showing it to people.

Never, ever, ever, ever give up. Do what you love and do not listen to the naysayers.

 Do it because it is your passion.
 Don’t do it because you want to get rich over night.

 Do be kind to everyone you meet.
 Don’t underestimate anyone.

Do surround yourself with people that can help you.
Don’t stay around anyone that is negative or brings you down or does not share your passion or vision.

Do work hard—draw EVERY DAY!
Don’t get lazy or think it will be handed to you.

Do the art, if you are good at the business then do the business part—if you are not good at the business part, then let someone else do it for you.
Don’t spend all your time promoting or running the business part—your time should be spent doing the art!

I think Facebook, Twitter, a blog and a website are invaluable tools. A hand written note is also very powerful. Special interest forums can really help spread the word.

Steve Light grew up in an enchanted place known as New Jersey. He went on to study Illustration at Pratt Institute, he also studied with Dave Passalacqua. Upon graduating he did some corporate illustrations for companies such as: AT&T, Sony Films, and the New York Times Book Review. Steve Light then went on to design buttons that were acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

He has published 12 children’s books by Abrams, Candlewick Press and Chronicle Books. Steve’s books include: I am Happy, Puss in Boots, The Shoemaker Extraordinaire, Uncle Sam, Trucks Go, Trains Go and The Christmas Giant. As well as 2 Hello Kitty books that he engineered. “Zephyr Takes Flight” will be out in October as well as Diggers Go soon after. Steve Light has also had his Steve Light Storyboxes produced by Guidecraft. Teachers, Parents and Children can use the props in a storybox to tell a story. Steve loves to draw and sharing his art and stories with children.

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