Friday, August 19, 2016

Guest TeachingAuthor Interview and Book Giveaway with A.J. Cattapan

Today I’m pleased to share a guest TeachingAuthor interview with my friend Amy Cattapan, who writes middle-grade and young-adult fiction as A.J. Cattapan. Amy has generously agreed to provide us with an autographed copy of her latest release, the middle-grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere (Vinspire Publishing), for a book giveaway. (Details are at the end of this post.)

I first “met” Amy when I attended her talk on “Pinterest for Authors” at the Catholic Writers Guild online conference last spring. I had no idea then that Amy was a fellow SCBWI–Illinois member. Since that conference, we’ve met in person several times and I am happy to now call her a friend. If you don’t know Amy, here’s a brief bio:

A.J. Cattapan is a bestselling author, speaker, and middle school English teacher living in the Chicago area. Her debut young-adult novel Angelhood (Vinspire Publishing) won a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and an Honorable Mention from Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. Her newest novel, the middle-grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere, releases from Vinspire August 31, and tells the story of a boy trying to save his school from closing. She has also been published in numerous children’s magazines and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her goal in both writing and teaching is to empower young people so that they may live extraordinary lives filled with heart and hope.

Welcome, Amy. Would you start by telling our readers how you became a TeachingAuthor? How do you balance teaching and writing?

Through my grade school and high school years, I wavered back and forth between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a teacher. At Marquette University (where I went for undergrad), I had a choice between being an English Education major and an English Writing Intensive Career. My dad convinced me there was no money in writing, so I went for the teacher track!

That did not diminish my desire to write, though. About eight years into my teaching career, I decided it was finally time to dust off my writing ambitions, so I took a correspondence course in writing for children through the Institute for Children’s Literature (ICL). That got me started on writing for magazines for children. It was a long slow process, but I finally got a few pieces published and then decided it was time to try novel writing. I took another course through ICL . . . and well, several manuscripts later, I finally found a publisher!

Because I teach middle school English and write middle grade and YA, the two careers actually go really well together. I’m always improving my own writing through teaching my sixth graders, and I’m always discovering more about what they like to read through our discussions about books.

What's a common problem/issue that your students have and how do you address it?

Run-on sentences! I don’t know why this is so hard, but they write comma splices all the time. I repeatedly go through examples of the proper ways to join two sentences (comma and a conjunction OR a semicolon but NOT just a comma). Oy, if I had a dime for every time they wrote a comma splice, I could retire from teaching and write full time!

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Seven Riddles from Nowhere (Vinspire Publishing), and how you came to write it?

Seven Riddles to Nowhere was my fourth book manuscript to be completed, even though I’d started it before my young-adult novel Angelhood, which was manuscript #3. I wrote it because I’d taught at a school that closed, and as an author, I like being able to “right the wrongs” from the past. I’ve always wondered, “What if I had done something more to keep that school from closing?”

Seven Riddles is the story of a seventh-grade boy named Kam, who suffers from selective mutism. He can’t speak to adults outside his home. After finally finding a school where he feels comfortable, he learns his little Catholic school might close due to financial problems. Kam’s devastated because the closing means he’d be separated from his friends, but then he learns that he’s the potential heir to a fortune, one big enough to end his school’s financial woes. All he has to do is be the first potential heir to solve all the riddles left by the deceased. The riddles take Kam and his friends on a scavenger hunt through Chicago that will test their wit and their courage.

It sounds like a really fun book, Amy! And, like your first novel, Seven Riddles is published by Vinspire Publishing, a small independent publisher. How did you first come to be published with Vinspire? How has the experience been?

I belong to a number of writing groups, which I find extremely helpful as an author. Each of them has its own benefits. One of those groups is Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and like many of the writing groups, we have an email loop where people can ask questions. One day, a woman posted a question to the MWA loop asking for a niche publisher who publishes children’s books and would be okay with some religious (but not preachy) themes. Since Angelhood has angels and demons in it, you can bet I paid attention when another writer in the group replied and said to try her publisher, Vinspire. I looked up their website and found that they were accepting YA manuscripts at the time, so I followed the guidelines and submitted my book. I heard back less than two months later.

I’ve had a very good experience with Vinspire so far. Unfortunately, many of my author friends have had horrible experiences with a few other small presses. Some never send royalty statements. Some sign authors to a three-book contract and then refuse to print the second book, forcing authors to “buy back” the rights to their first book. I’ve heard some really horrible stories! And don’t get me started on the poor newbies who actually pay to have their books published. Never, never pay to have your book published.

That’s great advice! And I’m happy to know you’ve had a good experience with Vinspire. Nowadays, whether we're published with a small or large press, it can help sales if authors are active on social media, which I know you are. Which social media channels do you think have been the most effective for you? 

It’s hard to tell which social media is working the best. From my website stats, I can tell you that most of my website visitors come to me through my Pinterest pins. However, it’s hard to tell how many sales that has translated into. It’s definitely gotten people to sign up for my newsletter, which is key to sales.

I can also say that I have far more young readers following me on Instagram than on any other social media. I do know that has translated into some people buying my book because they tell me right on Instagram. They’ve commented on my Instagram posts or tagged me in their own post about my book. I can also tell you that I was asked to speak at a technology conference because of my success on Instagram, and who knows how many more sales will come because of that?

I recently started Snapchat, which led to being contacted by Jennifer Fulwiler who hosts a daily radio show in Sirius XM’s Channel 129. She followed me on Snapchat, and after just two days, she sent me a private message asking me to be on her show. Again, I’ll have no idea how many sales this gets me, but Snapchat definitely opened the door for that radio interview me.

And of course, it’s always important to have a website that can be your home base where you can refer everyone. (Readers, you can also connect with Amy on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and Google+ . And, thanks to Amy's presentation, I'm now on Pinterest, too. )

One thing I wish I had started sooner in my writing career is a writing newsletter. Use a service like MailChimp and get people to sign up for your newsletter by offering them something free in exchange, like a free chapter or short story. Your newsletter is your direct marketing technique. It’s how you turn people into repeat customers.

Thanks for that tip, Amy. Do you have a humorous writing-related story you can share to close out the interview?

I’ve already mentioned that I received my first contract from Vinspire, but the way it happened was a little funny. For years and years (and I mean, about ten years here), I sent out manuscripts and got rejected. Yes, I had the occasional piece accepted for a magazine, but the book contract took a lot longer coming. As I joined writing organizations and researched the writing industry online, I learned about how other people got “the call.” Usually, they had a literary agent, and that agent would call them up excitedly to say they’d sold the book. There’d be squeals of joy and tears from the author.

Although I didn’t have a literary agent, I assumed my experience would be similar. One day, an editor would call me up and say she LOVED my manuscript and wanted to publish it. While I dreamed about this happy phone call that would change my life, I sent out more queries and received more rejections. As we moved into the digital age, these rejection letters (like my query letters) were sent via email. The rejection emails would always start out the same: “Thank you for sending us your manuscript. We’re so pleased you considered us. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept your manuscript at this time . . .”

Often these rejections came fairly quickly after my submission. It was often considered a good thing if they didn’t respond too quickly since it gave the impression they were considering my material seriously.

So you can imagine how I felt when I heard back from Vinspire a little too quickly, and the email started off with “Thank you for sending us your manuscript. We’re so pleased you considered us.” I almost didn’t finish reading the email. I was ready to chuck it into the “rejection” folder of my email system. Thankfully, I kept reading, but the words didn’t seem right. Were they offering me a contract? I thought they always called when offering a contract. How can I squeal with delight and break the poor editor’s eardrums if she’s not calling me to tell me the good news?

I was so baffled I had to read the email three times. Then I sent it to three published writing friends, and asked, “Is this saying what I think it’s saying? Are they offering to publish my book?” I was in that much shock!

I guess you just never know what that next submission and response is going to be! So keep plugging on, writing friends!

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Amy. And good luck with your new release. Readers, I hope you’ll be encouraged by Amy’s comments. As promised, below you’ll find information on how to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Amy new book, Seven Riddles to Nowhere (Vinspire Publishing). I also encourage to attend Amy’s Facebook Launch Party for additional chances to win her book as well as other fun prizes (including a copy of my own book, Rosa, Sola.)

And now, for the giveaway info:

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win an autographed copy of Amy Cattapan's middle-grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere (Vinspire Publishing). You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook pageIf you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! 

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends August 31. That happens to also be the day of Amy’s Facebook Launch Party, where you can win lots of other great prizes, including a copy of my own book, Rosa, Sola.

After you've entered, don't forget to head over to Dori Reads for this week's Poetry Friday round-up!

Good luck and happy writing!

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Bobbi Miller said...

Such an interesting discussion, and excellent advice for writers! I'll have to check out your books, for sure!

A.J. Cattapan said...

Thanks for stopping by, Bobbi Miller!

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Amy, I teach sixth grade also and I'm so excited to read your new book and share with my class!

Sheila said...

Hello! Thanks for asking such interesting questions, Carmela. I really enjoyed this informative interview. A.J., your books sound as though they'll be fun to read. Congratulations for winning the Moonbeam Award. I'm looking forward to reading your work.

Rosi said...

The book sounds terrific. Thanks for all the tips. Just curious -- you said you are unagented, but Vinspire's website says they only accepted agented submissions. How did you get around that?

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for sharing your TeachingAuthor Smarts, Amy!
I love the cover of your newest book and look forward to reading it.
I also look forward to meeting you in person since we're fellow SCBWI-Illinois Kin.

Pam said...

How wonderful does this book sound? Sharing this with the 5th graders at my school is going to be the best. Can't wait to tell their teacher about this intriguing book. This was such a great interview.

Pam said...

How wonderful does this book sound? Sharing this with the 5th graders at my school is going to be the best. Can't wait to tell their teacher about this intriguing book. This was such a great interview.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. Rosa, I'll leave it to Amy to answer your question. Good luck to those of you who've entered the drawing!

A.J. Cattapan said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and leaving comments! I'm so pleased many of you are interested in sharing this book with students.

Rosa had asked about how I got into Vinspire without an agent.

I first submitted Angelhood to them at the beginning of 2014. At that point, they were taking unagented work. However, they've been growing rapidly, and they no longer take open submissions from unagented authors.

House of Brungardt said...

Your new book sounds interesting. I'd love to win and share with my 3 middle schoolers!

House of Brungardt said...

Your new book sounds interesting. I'd love to win and share with my 3 middle schoolers!

Unknown said...

Great discussion. I already pre-ordered your book Amy. If I win then I'll donate one copy to my library.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the informative interview, Carmela! I look forward to reading the book.

A.J. Cattapan said...

Thanks, Nina Johnson! Hope you enjoy the book!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for stopping by House of Brungardt, Nancy, and Nina. Glad you enjoyed the interview. :-)