Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Faculty Voices with Emily Jenkins: Book Launch

All my Inkpot posts are Writing Life posts, for lack of a better phrase. This one is about the kind of stuff I find myself doing for the launch of a picture book — in this case, A Fine Dessert, which was published by Random/Schwartz & Wade and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The subtitle is “Four centuries, four families, and one delicious treat” — and the book shows four different families in four different time periods, all making and sharing one of the oldest desserts in western culture — a blackberry fool. Picture book launches are tricky little things. You don’t go on a glamorous tour, there’s usually not a party, and you wrote the book so long ago (given the lag time for illustration) that you hardly remember what’s inside! So I am going to chat a little about what I did on this one, and how it worked. 

First, what I should have done before the book launch: I should have updated my website with the book jacket and flap copy and maybe some interior art. It should have happened a couple months ago, when the F&Gs (early copies) started circulating. But I never got to it. That is just lame. Anyway, my web design guy is on it now, and the new pages should be up soon. In the case of A Fine Dessert, the publisher also made some school activities for the book, so those will go on my website, too — in the teacher resources section. 

Second, what I did do: Before publication I talked to my editor about the school connections for this book. I wrote an author’s note about the ways it might be used in the classroom. Thinking about curriculum uses is helpful for certain types of books, and in this case the publisher responded by creating activities that are online and on the back of the book’s poster — so teachers can easily use the book at school. I was glad I had thought that stuff through, and glad they created such good materials with the info. 

Sophie's drawing from the store event
Also, I pulled together two kinds of presentations for the book. Just thought them through at home, really. One is the bookstore presentation, which I do with Sophie, my illustrator. I read the book, and she brings the twig whisk she built and some cards that show all the dining room scenes for the book — so we do an activity where the kids notice the differences from scene to scene. Then Sophie paints a character from the book and talks about her techniques, and I take questions from the crowd while she’s illustrating. Then we sign books and serve Blackberry Fool to everyone. It’s always easy when there’s book-related food to share! 

The other presentation is a school visit. That visit is for younger grades and I talk about “noticing” things as an important skill for a storyteller or poet. I get kids to notice things in their own classroom, and invite them to notice things in both my older picture book Water in the Park and this new one, A Fine Dessert. I praise their noticing and point out they have a skill that makes them strong readers and will make them even stronger writers. They really do have excellent insights once they focus their attention. 

A picture book doesn’t get a tour. I mean, maybe if you’re Mo Willems, it does. But I have never toured for one. I did attend the National Convention for Teachers of English and did a presentation there about picture books with classroom connections, and Sophie did a panel somewhere on picture book illustration and research. Those were both pre-publication, and useful to get teachers and librarians on the look-out for the book. Then our publisher set up events at local bookshops — just three different stores. There, we will do our planned bookstore presentation. For myself, I set up a few volunteer schools — public NYC area schools. We didn’t sell books, but I got a chance to hone my school material. Then when I do paid school visits, I have a K-2 intimate-group presentation I know is strong. I have yet to incorporate this book into my auditorium slide show — but that’s something to work on in the next couple months. 

Press: there usually isn’t much for picture books. The publicist arranged an interview with a local paper, which was nice. The interviewer had not even googled the book, much less read its 32 pages, though. She asked me what the dessert was. It’s not uncommon for interviewers to be under-prepped or uninterested in the topic, so …. deep breath. On the brighter side, we had a lovely interview on conference call, me and Sophie with Publishers Weekly. That was totally great and the interviewer was on top of everything. There was one tricky subject we discussed, and I asked the journalist to send me the transcript of my quote on the subject — so I could make sure I’d said what I intended to say. She did this graciously — and I wouldn’t have known earlier in my career that I might ask for that — but it’s pretty usual, I’ve learned. 

Social media: Again, with picture books there’s not so much to do. We do have a hashtag: #AFineDessert, and I made the dessert and posted pictures on Twitter and Facebook, using the tag. But probably only four people have ever used it besides me. Still, it allowed an illustrator friend who came to our first event to post his photos, and allowed me to announce the book in a way that was more fun for my readers than just a plain announcement. I am hoping families and school groups will make the dessert and use the hashtag — but I don’t know if that will work! 

I used to find publication days anticlimactic, because nothing much would happen after all that time working and waiting. Arranging the volunteer events really helps me stay buoyant, because it reminds me that KIDS and BOOKS are what this is all about. 


  1. Emily, thanks for this how-to on launching a book.

  2. Emily, you are just so dang smart and savvy about all this. We are so blessed to have you on the faculty. I learned some things from your post about the differences in promoting and launch picture books as opposed to novels. Thank you. Your book contains awesome research presenting in such an innovative way. Congrats.