When I visited Antarctica more than 10 years ago, I met researchers from Oceanites, a nonprofit foundation founded in 1987 whose main focus is its Antarctic Site Inventory, which has been collecting and compiling data on penguins and their habitat in the Antarctic peninsula for the past two decades. When I wrote the short story “The Ecstatic Cry” and later MY LAST CONTINENT, I had a similar fictional organization in mind for the researchers in these stories.
These penguin counters do amazing work; their data offers important insights into climate change, the state of the oceans, the effects of tourism, and how best to conserve one of the most important areas of the world. For example, this article, “What Are the Penguins Telling Us?” by Steve Forrest, outlines the affects of climate change on the penguins: “the ice-loving Adélies of Petermann [Island] now number fewer than 300 nesting pairs, while the gentoos have risen to 2,400.” This is happening, he writes, at hundreds of sites in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, where the average temperature has risen several degrees centigrade in the past two decades: “Adélies are disappearing from their rookeries while the open-water loving Gentoos prosper.”
This video shows how irresistible these birds are…
…and it goes without saying we need to protect their habitat by taking better care of our planet and the oceans that sustain them.
Write about a favorite plant, flower, or tree. Go beyond writing about the plant itself and write about your first memory of it, then a more recent memory. Create a scene based on one of these memories.
Today I’m delighted to share a writing prompt from author Jennifer Caloyeras, whose YA novel Strays was just released by Ashland Creek Press. Jennifer did a residency at the blog Novel Novice, which included classroom material (i.e., this prompt, as well as a few great action items).
Here is Jennifer’s prompt (and click here for the full post):
Write about a memorable interaction with an animal. (Off the top of my head I can think of a bird’s nest filled with eggs that I claimed and the mother bird came back looking for her babies. Or the time I saw a rattlesnake on a hike and instead of being afraid I was in awe of its beauty.) Describe the animal using all five senses. How did this interaction make you feel? What did you learn from the experience? The more details you can add the better! Why not throw a metaphor or simile in there? What do you think the animal was thinking? In what ways were you similar to that animal? In what ways were you different?
While this may be aimed toward YA readers, I love this prompt, as I think we all should consider our relationship to animals, whether our pets or the wildlife that surrounds us. Just this last week, for example, I saw a bear coming down the driveway toward a major road as I drove by; my husband and I trapped an injured bird and took it to a wildlife rehab center; and I helped care for a range of feral, sick, and adoptable cats at the animal shelter. Such human-animal interactions are becoming more and more inevitable. In fact, for insights into animal life on the urban edge, and to learn about the wonderful people who help rehabilitate animals harmed by life on this edge, check out the series Animal R&R, written and directed by Elliott Kennerson and narrated by Joan Embery, which you can watch online (and click here to follow the series on Facebook).
If you had to move (for a job, for example, or for a partner’s job) but could choose the place, where would you go? Write about what would be similar and different — urban v. rural, big city v. small town, mansion v. condo. Create a scene with yourself and your family living in this new environment.
Click here to learn about last year’s winner, Mary Heather Noble, selected by bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, whose novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award and the 2014 California Book Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Write about the last time you used public transportation. Whether it was your morning commute or a European vacation, be as detailed as possible, noting such things as the weather; the people aboard the train, bus, or ferry; and the passing of time.
With Earth Day coming up on Wednesday, April 22, I wanted to devote today’s writing prompt to Cassie Premo Steele’s new book, Earth Joy Writing.
This is a book not only for writers but for anyone who wishes to reconnect with nature. The readings, meditations, and writing prompts are divided by month and season, and in honor of Earth Day, here’s one from April:
Go outdoors and notice five different things. It could be one bird. One tree. One cloud. One flower. Or one fallen leaf. What five things asked you to pay attention to them?
Start with one image…Write that image down, and then keep writing.
Write about this past winter. Have things in your region been normal — or unusually cold, unseasonably hot, extremely stormy? Write about how the climate has changed over time where you live. (Don’t forget to use all the senses!)
The idea of email marketing may seem a little overly sales-y, but having a mailing list is a great way to keep friends, family, and colleagues in the loop — not to mention new readers and anyone you meet who may be interested in your book. The nice thing about a mailing list is that it’s one more way to reach out; for example, you likely have some Facebook friends who go months without logging in, but you’ll still want to make sure they know about a book giveaway or an upcoming event.
To create your mailing list, you’ll begin with family and close friends; then, begin to ask colleagues and more casual acquaintances whether you may add them to your mailing list. And, whenever you do a reading or any other event, pass around a guest book or a simple sign-up sheet so that readers can sign up to receive your mailings.
Among those who should be included on your mailing list are (and note that you should always get permission from the recipient before adding anyone to your list):
immediate and extended family
classmates and former classmates, from grade school through grad school
writer friends or members of your writers’ group
parents of your kids’ friends and friends of family who may be interested
colleagues, past and present
If your list is long, you’ll want to be sure to send out emails in small batches (twenty recipients or so) to avoid being targeted for spamming. As your list grows, you should consider signing up for an email service (I like Mail Chimp, which has free options and plenty of easy-to-use templates; Mad Mimi and Campaign Monitor are also popular). These programs allow you to design nice announcements about your book launch and other events; you can also do more lengthy e-newsletters if you have a lot to share.
A few pointers for email marketing:
Be clear about what you’ll be sending. When people sign up for something, they like to know what it is, so don’t hide the fact that you’ll be sending out updates on your book; even if it sounds promotional, you need to manage expectations (and see below for how to do more than simply promote yourself). Also, be sure to let subscribers know that you won’t be sharing their email addresses with anyone else; maintaining the privacy of those who trust you with their email addresses is important.
Don’t send e-mails too frequently. If, for example, you’re a teacher and hold frequent events, you might send out a regular e-newsletter, as long as the information is relevant to its recipients. But if you’re simply sending out announcements about the occasional event or new review, be a little more restrained; if you send out too many e-mails with too little content (or content that is simply self-promotional), people may stop reading them or they may unsubscribe. Also, these email campaigns take valuable time to create, so you’ll want to use this time wisely. I recommend sending out monthly emails if you have a lot of news to share; otherwise, I recommend quarterly updates (or even fewer). Either way, try to be consistent, so that no one hears from you too often but so they don’t think you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, either.
Create different lists. This can take a lot of time initially, but it’s very valuable in the end. For example, if you’re a New York City writer with an email list of 1,000 recipients all over the country, and you’re doing a series of events in New York, not everyone needs to receive an email about these events. When you pass out a guest book or sign-up sheet, ask people to add their locations so that you can better target your audience.
Offer a little more than promotion. While the purpose of the email may be to promote your book, offer a little something more as well — recipients may tire of the content if it’s always the same and always about you. For my own newsletter for writers (which I send out four to six times a year), I include a writing tip and a writing prompt, so that among any promotional stuff there will always be something for writers in there. I also try to add things that may be helpful for writers, from writerly resources I like to writing software I’ve discovered. You can also include links to other writers, blogs, and websites that you think your audience will enjoy — and consider offering book giveaways or other bonuses to your subscribers.
Be friendly and personal. One mistake I made when I first started sending out e-newsletters was aiming to sound extremely professional. Then I noticed, having received a number of such emails myself, that this is a little boring and impersonal. So now I try to be casual and accessible, and I keep mailings short and to the point. You should always show how readers can unsubscribe if they’d like to, and it’s a great idea to invite feedback and comments. And always proofread your email before sending it. Typos happen, but I usually create a campaign at least a week in advance so I can look at it again with fresh eyes before scheduling it.
Use pictures. Visuals are great for email campaigns; no one wants to wade through a ton of text, and most people simply skim through email announcements or newsletters anyway, so you’ll want a mix of text and images to help keep readers’ attention. You must, of course, own the rights to any photo you use — an exception is your book cover, which you’ll be allowed to use for marketing purposes, so you might consider having a banner highlighting the title and/or some of the cover design; think of it as your logo. (If you have more than one book, you can use the most recent one, or use something from your website that will familiarize readers with you as an author.) Choose a template that is easy on the eyes, with plenty of white space to make it skimmable and reader friendly.
Don’t over-design. While you want to be visually appealing, don’t make the mistake of going crazy with too many images (which could be distracting) or fancy fonts (which could be hard to read). Strive for simple and engaging.
Make use of the tools. If you use an email marketing service, check out the tools it offers for tracking who opens your emails, which links are most popular, etc. You can also experiment with sending your news out at different times of day and different times of the week to see what the best results are. Nowadays, email services allow you to connect your campaigns with social media, so you can link your enews with Twitter or Facebook if you’d like. It’s worth spending a little time on these to gauge the effects of your marketing efforts.
Don’t worry about the “unsubscribes.” One thing I love about Mail Chimp is the little line that comes along with a notification that someone has just unsubscribed from my list; it reads: “Maybe they’re just not into you?” This always makes me smile, which is important when someone has just unsubscribed from my list. I find myself worrying about all sorts of things: Was my email too boring? Was it something I said? Did they read my book and hate it? The fact is, people are overwhelmed with email and it’s likely not personal (and if it is, there’s not much you can do about it anyway, so it’s best not to fret over it). Most often, I suspect, people unsubscribe for reasons having more to do with their own lives than with the content of your email.