Mayra Calvani is an award-winning multi-genre author — and frequent Blogcritics contributor — for children and adults. Her work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. She’s had over 300 reviews, interviews, articles and stories published online and in print. How to Turn Your Book Club into a Spectacular Event is her first nonfiction title for middle graders. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Children’s Writers Coaching Club.
What got you into writing for children?
Ten years ago, I’d never have guessed that I would be writing children’s books today. I was into horror and the supernatural. I think my love for children’s literature began when I had children of my own and read to them at night. I wanted to make reading a priority for my children so I read to them every night… and I fell in love with picture books. I don’t remember the moment when I thought, “I want to try writing one of these,” but I guess the thought came one day and I just sat down and decided to give it a try. I also read all I could about the craft and joined a picture book critique group. I learned tons in the critique group. I think a good critique group is vital for a writer, especially one who is just starting. I also began reviewing lots of children’s books, and this also helped me improve my craft.
Tell us a little about your latest book, How to Turn Your Book Club into a Spectacular Event?
How to Turn Your Book Club into a Spectacular Event is a 50-page chapbook for girls ages 9 to 12 on how to start and manage a book club from start to end. It also includes an explanation of the various genres and a resource section with a list of popular authors who write for young readers, including the titles of one of their books and website links. The book encourages a love of books and reading and also social and leadership skills.
To find out more about it, readers can visit my website at: http://mayrassecretbookcase.com/Middle_Grade.html
The second edition of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing was released this last August. Why should an aspiring reviewer read your book?
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing offers practical, specific guidelines on how to write a thoughtful, intelligently written review. It also discusses the value of reviews within a wider spectrum as to how they relate to librarians, booksellers, publicists, authors, and publishers. Some of the book’s topics include the five most important keys of a book reviewer, the basic elements of a review, how to rate a book, how to start a book review site, how to differentiate the various types of reviews, and how to prevent amateurish mistakes, among others. The book also has a resource section that lists dozens of sites (by genre/paying/nonpaying) and publications where reviewers may submit their reviews.
What do you do to market your books?
I spend a lot of time on marketing. I’d say about 7 to 10 hours a week. Naturally, I do the basic things, such as updating my websites and blogs regularly, posting fresh content on my Facebook and Twitter pages (news & announcements of my books, reviews, interviews, articles, etc). I also post links to interesting writing and publishing related content I discover on other sites and blogs.
For my book club book, which is for middle graders, I’ve been doing various things:
I requested reviews from top mom bloggers and I got a great response from that. Some of these mom bloggers have an amazing following. All in all, I think I’ve sent about 50 requests to mom bloggers and other reviewers combined. I’m also doing the one-month Children’s Author Showcase at your National Writing for Children Center — which I think it’s an awesome opportunity for children’s authors. I’ve also booked several radio shows and I’ll go on a virtual book tour this October. Eventually I plan to contact teacher and librarian bloggers.
It’s a never-ending process and authors should keep up their promotional efforts month after month. I really think this is the secret to successful promoting.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Writer’s block is an elusive and even controversial term. Some writers swear by it; others claim such a thing doesn’t exist. I have suffered from writer’s block in the past, but over time I’ve learned to control it. Every time I face the blank page, I experience a little of writer’s block. I know because I’ll immediately become nervous and feel the urge to get up and inspect the fridge. It’s a bit like a dog turning this way, then that way, trying to find the perfect spot to sit down. I have learned that there’s no such a thing as a perfect moment to write. I just have to dive into it, like closing my eyes and jumping over a cliff. I tell myself, “Jump and the net will appear.” Most of the times, it’s true. But you can’t expect to feel the net right away, after a sentence or two. You have to insist and persist and keep writing for a little sustained period of time. That’s when everything starts getting easier, when the waters start to calm down. It’s like first diving in a feral sea, then, as you keep swimming, you reach a place where the waters are calm and peaceful. You just keep swimming, one lap after another.
It’s at times like these when I reach the ‘zone,’ that marvelous place where you lose sense of place and time and you’re totally immersed in the world of your characters. That’s the best place to be as a writer.
How do you approach the blank page?
I say a writer’s affirmation each time I sit down to write. I close my eyes and say the affirmation out loud, meaning each and every word. Then I start writing. This is one of the tricks I use to make my mind do whatever I want it to do. It works wonders!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
That you can’t write only when inspiration strikes. Writing is a job like any other. You may not always feel like getting up and going to work, but you have to do it, no matter how you feel. If I had been fully aware of this back then, I would have been a hundred times more productive.
What advice would you like to convey to aspiring writers?
If you have a dream, never give up, no matter what other people say. If you don’t keep going in spite of obstacles, you may reach the age of 70 and ask yourself ‘Why didn’t I try?’ If you don’t make it, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of having done your best. Chances are you’ll make it if you keep at it, though.
And of course, read as much as you can in the genres you enjoy writing; keep submitting; join a good critique group.
Above all, write, write, write.