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Thursday, August 16, 2007

My MySpace Article in the SCBWI Bulletin

In case you missed the SCBWI Bulletin, here is the article just printed in the July/August 2007 issue. Hope somebody out there finds it useful!

A Space of One's Own: Teen Lit, MySpace, and You

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about MySpace?
Internet predators? Viruses? Runaway teens? Rampant, mysterious mayhem? How about a terrific opportunity to network with other YA authors (published and pre-published), industry professionals, and a limitless audience of teen readers?

Lisa Yee, veteran author of Sid Fleischman Humor Award-winning Millicent Min, Girl Genius and ALA Notable Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time (both from Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic), confesses, “I was scared of MySpace because I had heard so many bad things about it. But I realized that it was a vehicle that lots of kids were using to communicate, and because that's who I write for, I needed to be up on these things.”

Lisa communicates with her hundreds of MySpace friends with witty blogs (many of them involving candy peeps), bulletins, and sneak peeks into the future of her next two books. “For me,” she says, “there's a year-and-a-half between books. This is a way to keep in view during that time.”

Sara Shepard, whose first teen book, Pretty Little Liars (HarperCollins), was released in October 2006, already had a MySpace page, but she redesigned it to coincide with her book launch. She has capitalized on her connections by seeking out teens reading books similar to hers and inviting them to become friends. “I can talk to readers personally, and they can ask me questions,” she says. “I would have killed to do that with authors I loved when I was younger!”

Stephanie Hale’s first novel, Revenge of the Homecoming Queen (Berkeley Jam), didn't hit the shelves until July 2007, but she generated buzz on MySpace long before: “I'm using my page mostly to develop a fan base that will hopefully pay off with additional sales when my book is released next July.” She communicates regularly with fans and other authors, and now hundreds are commenting, “I can’t wait for your book to come out!”

What if I’m not a published author, you ask? Even without a book contract, a MySpace page can help you establish a presence among your peers and future fans, increase your internet savvy, and show industry professionals you are serious and willing to market yourself. I started my own MySpace page after receiving an SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant and have since made friends at all levels of writing and publishing. I was surprised to discover how many people I knew were already there – and how many people are now friending me.

“Friending” is easy in the MySpace world – almost too easy. “A huge mistake I made once,” says Shepard, “was requesting friends from another author's page without reading their profiles first. I got a couple of irate responses, like ‘Why would I want to read your book? Didn't you see I like Proust?’ I felt horrible.” Avoid MySpace blunders by carefully researching potential friends. Although time consuming, Shepard now thoroughly reads profiles and writes each friend request personally.

Etiquette is especially important. Says Hale, “Always make sure to thank your new friend for friending you and comment on their page or interests, find a common ground. It's a chance to really connect, and who knows how far one teen buying your book could go with word of mouth.”

It’s not a relationship to be entered into lightly, Hale further cautions. “Teens take their pages very seriously, and some expect to have regular contact with you. If they feel that you are only interested in selling them something and not really being their friend, it won't work. It is definitely a time commitment.” Keep up with your friends by sending mail, posting bulletins, and commenting on their pages, blogs, and photos. The rewards are worth the effort in gaining admirers who truly care about your work. “It's so satisfying to get a message from a reader that says, ‘I really liked your book!’” says Shepard. “That means so much more than random Amazon reviews.”

MySpace does have its dark side, and it pays to be cautious. As Lisa Yee notes, “It seems like the same people who email me with ads about enlarging body parts are on MySpace, too. Who knew they got around so much?”

Never make your location, address, password, or other personal data available on your profile, and always check the url (http://www.myspace.com) when logging on to prevent account theft. Keep yourself informed about viruses, as MySpace and its hundred million users are always an attractive target for viruses and other malicious software.

Friend requests are another potential hazard zone. It’s easy to delete the “Hot Women of MySpace” group invitations, but it’s also easy to get caught up in the excitement of so many potential fans. “I always check out who wants to friend me, and why,” says Yee. “If anything is suspect, or the person seems creepy, I don't allow them on my friends list.” Hale says, “Since I've started using my book cover as an icon, I get lots of requests from young boys telling me how hot I am, which is pretty funny. I just ignore them, and eventually they give up!” As her protagonist Aspen Brooks might say, there are worse ways of making friends.

Here are some other clever ways to go about it:
  • Blogging: Lisa Yee entertains her readers with interviews (John Green!), literary goofiness (photo caption contests!), and the occasional peep duel.
  • Quizzes: Stephanie Hale has a “Which Revenge Character Are You?” link. (I’m Aspen!)
  • Contests: Justina Chen Headley, author of Nothing But The Truth (and a few white lies), held a $5000 scholarship essay contest and received over 400 entries.
  • Novel characters with their own MySpaces: Some examples are Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie, and Simon Haynes’ Hal Spacejock.
  • “Bookcasts”: British author Jason Ellis uploads videos of himself reading book chapters. See Sara Easterly’s article in the previous issue for more info on how to create your own vidcasts and podcasts.
  • Video: Increasingly, we will see “book trailers” – think the video version of a jacket blurb – the next generation of teen-centric marketing.
  • Bulletins: Great for sending announcements, book launch invitations, and more to all of your friends at once. Caution: these can easily get out of hand. Save the “name four jobs you’ve had, place you’d like to vacation, and what you ate for breakfast” posts for your email friends.
  • Groups: Readergirlz (a group dedicated to gutsy girls in YA lit) is hot, hot, hot! There are a number of other happening groups, like “Teen Lit,” facilitated by author Sarah Mlynowski, and the “YA/Teen Books Discussion Group,” worth checking out.
  • Libraries and Teen Organizations: More and more libraries and other teen-centered groups maintain MySpace pages and are gateways for teens. Seek them out and make friends!
  • A Well-Designed Page: If you can’t do it yourself, bribe a technomancer friend to do it (they can usually be bought with cupcakes or cash). Be sure to put a link to your MySpace page from your website.

Above all, say Yee, Hale, and Shepard, have fun! Make friends, and turn friends into readers. Don’t be afraid of MySpace. Make it your own.

Visit Us On MySpace!
Stephanie Hale: http://www.myspace.com/stephhale
Sara Shepard: http://www.myspace.com/sara_shepard
Lisa Yee: http://www.myspace.com/lisayeeblog
Holly Cupala: http://www.myspace.com/brimstonesoup

MySpace Lingo
MySpace Friend: Another MySpace user, who, by mutual agreement, is added to your friend space, and vice versa.
“Adding” or “Friending”: Inviting or being invited by another MySpace user to become friends. E.g. Thanks for the add!
Commenting: Leaving a comment on a friend’s MySpace page, usually on a public page.

Setting Up A MySpace Account
The MySpace user interface is a bit tricky, but with Google skills and a little patience, you can have your page up and running in no time.

Sign up at www.myspace.com, upload a photo, invite friends, then click on the “Edit Profile” link to enter information on your profile page. Under “Account Settings,” you can change passwords, privacy preferences, and more.

To add a design to your page, seek out one of the many free code generators on the web by googling “MySpace design” or visiting one of the following:
About.com also has an excellent guide to customizing your MySpace page at http://personalweb.about.com/od/myspacecom/.

After you set up your page, search for friends, colleagues, and readers to add to your friend space. You can search by name, occupation, book titles, and other keywords. Send a message or add to friends by clicking on the links below the profile photo. With a personalized page and a few friends, you’re on your way!

Holly Cupala writes for teens and plays with her husband and toddler in soggy but beautiful Seattle, Washington. Find out more about her novel, Brimstone Soup, on her MySpace page, www.myspace.com/brimstonesoup.


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