Periodically, we share stories of WordPress.com users doing awesome things, from blogger David McRaney snagging his second book deal to memoirist Susan Morrison bringing her mother’s World War II-era diaries to life. Today, meet Claire Legrand — a young adult author of fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction worlds — who also makes WordPress.com her online home.
Claire’s new book, The Year of Shadows, is out next Tuesday, August 27. Here, she talks about how the book came about, how she uses her site to promote her work, and offers blogging advice for writers.
How did you develop the story of The Year of Shadows?
When I sold my first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, it was part of a two-book contract. My publisher wanted another spooky middle grade novel, and for a long time I had no idea what to write. Writing under contract is different from writing in that frustrating but glorious time before you sell a book, when you’re writing just for yourself and you don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations. When I began brainstorming for book two, I felt an amount of pressure: What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if my first book was a fluke?
I attended a concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. As I listened to the music, my mind wandered, and before long, an image popped into my head: a young girl, crawling through the backstage passages with a cat by her side, searching for ghosts. I wondered who this girl was, and why she was looking for ghosts, and what she had named her cat. Thus, The Year of Shadows was born.
Tells us about The Year of Shadows.
On its surface, The Year of Shadows is a ghost story that takes place at a haunted symphony hall. But it’s also about family and friendship, music, grief and loss and anger, and working past those difficult emotions to forgiveness.
It’s the story of 12-year-old Olivia Stellatella, who’s having a rough year. Her mom left. Her dad, an obsessive orchestra conductor, has sold their house and most of their possessions, and moved their family into the backstage rooms of his concert hall — all in an effort to save his orchestra, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Olivia isolates herself from everything, and the only friends she allows herself are her trusty sketchbook and a stray cat named Igor.
Then she meets ghosts who haunt the hall. They can’t remember how they died, or even much of who they once were. Olivia strikes a deal with them: she’ll help them move on, and in return, the ghosts will help bring in a bigger audience for the struggling orchestra.
Writing The Year of Shadows was tremendously fun. Being a former musician myself (of the piano and trumpet), I loved being able to draw upon my musical background. I got to program the orchestra’s concerts, poke fun at trumpet players, and relive the exhilaration of performing masterpieces. I hope that kids — and adults — who read it are inspired to check out some of the music mentioned in the book, and even pay their local orchestras a visit.
We love how you’ve customized your site. Can you give us a tour of what we’ll find?
I love the Bueno theme. It has such personality and offers great customizing potential, while still remaining clean and easy to look at. A web designer friend and the immensely talented illustrator of Cavendish, Sarah Watts, helped me customize Bueno with a specific color scheme and custom graphics that fit my aesthetic:
The most important element is the main menu across the top. The Meet Claire tab contains my bio and press kit. Sub-pages for each book are under the Books tab. Each book page has links to reviews and articles, as well as links to online stores like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes, where readers can purchase them.
On my Author Visits page (as well as on the Cavendish page and the sidebar under “Reading Guides”), I provide links to the Cavendish reading guide so teachers and librarians can easily download it. Down the sidebar, you’ll also see images of my book covers and more links to purchase them.
My primary goal is the ease of access. The more access points I can provide for readers, and the easier I can make it for them to find the information they want, the better. I do a lot of cross-posting of important links. I also make sure there are several options for readers who want to contact me and/or follow the blog:
- I offer subscriptions via email or RSS.
- I make sure my email address is prominent on the sidebar.
- I provide links to Twitter, Facebook, etc. on a Contact page.
Using WordPress.com to promote her books — at a glance
- Custom Menu: Main menu with drop-down menus for individual books (and tabs to fun pages, too, like Unicorns).
- Reading Guides: Downloadable guides for The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, in Word doc and PDF formats, accessible in the sidebar and other pages.
- Special Content: The first chapter of Cavendish in her sidebar and on the Cavendish page.
- Book Covers: Image widgets displayed as book covers in her sidebar, which direct readers to her Goodreads book listings.
How do you use your blog to promote your work and connect with your readers?
I started blogging on WordPress.com several years ago, when I was writing and querying my first novel. Although my blog has evolved over the years, it has remained a constant fixture in my online presence. Sometimes I write personal posts that talk about something I’m struggling with, either in writing or my personal life. I also use my blog to post book-related news and announcements, host giveaways of books and other prizes, provide my readers with special content, and spotlight other authors via interviews.
When I publish a post, WordPress.com automatically posts to my Facebook author page, my Twitter account, and my Tumblr. It allows my followers various access points around the web. Some readers are addicted to Twitter, and others to Facebook, so it’s important I reach out to them in as many ways as I can.
Tell us about your path to becoming a young adult novelist.
My goal during music school was to someday perform with the New York Philharmonic. But I had all these stories and characters raging about in my head, desperate for attention. I changed my major, started taking graduate courses in library science, and began writing in my spare time.
The first novel I wrote was a young adult fantasy. I made a lot of mistakes that first time out, querying agents with a manuscript that wasn’t ready to be sent out. But I kept working and researching, and several years later, I finished writing my second novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I started sending out queries around the time I completed my graduate degree. Over the next couple of months, I signed with an agent, made some minor revisions, and sold the book to Simon & Schuster.
A couple of years later, I’ve sold five books: two middle grade novels, two young adult novels, and an anthology of short stories I’m co-authoring with three others. I’d like to say writing becomes easier once you’ve sold that first book, but instead it becomes challenging in a different way.
It’s tricky to balance promotion and outreach, social media, speaking events, and, you know, the actual writing — and I’m still working to find that balance! Luckily, the children’s literature community is a rich and supportive one, and I’ve made many friends who help me navigate the rough spots.
The WordPress.com community is full of writers. Can you offer some blogging advice?
My advice is much the same for all writers, published or not-yet-published: use your blog to a) connect with your readers and b) hone your writing. Blog posts are great ways to practice telling brief, engaging stories that showcase your personality and writing style.
Find a healthy balance of personal stories and professional information. Not every post should be about writing, and not every post should be something about your personal life. The best posts — and the best blogs — represent both the person and the writer in equal measure. Your readers will feel closer to you (and more likely to be interested in what you write) if they feel like they know you.
On the other side of that coin, however, you should always be wary of sharing too much. Agents, publishers, and other authors will look at your blog as an indication of who you are as a professional, so when in doubt, err on the side of impersonal, just to be safe.
Something I’ve noticed about myself since becoming a published author is that I blog less frequently than I used to. When I do blog these days, my posts tend to be informative (communicating news and announcements to my readers), or promotional (hosting a giveaway, interview, or some kind of contest). That’s just how it is sometimes; you get busy, and that affects your blogging schedule.
The most important thing about blogging is to have fun. If you find yourself frequently stressing about how often you should post and how often you actually do post, or agonizing over whether or not your post is smart, funny, or interesting enough, you’re missing the point. It’s supposed to be a personable online home base for your readers, and a fun way for you as a writer to connect with an audience. It’s not supposed to be stressful!
Previous WordPress.com profiles you might enjoy:
- You Are Now Less Dumb: Blogger David McRaney on Scoring the Second Book Deal
- Blogger Profile: Ex-Expat Author Jack Scott
- A Blog-to-Book Success: Catching Up with WordPresser-Turned-Bestseller Jared Gulian
- War and Life Afterwards: An Interview with Brian Castner
Thanks for sharing!!
So many great tips! Thank you!
“It’s not supposed to be stressful!”
I very much agree with this! 🙂
At the end you have mentioned that blogging shouldn’t be stressful, one should love blogging — I liked this. I prefer to write quality content and share my ideas for which sometimes it might take 1 to 2 weeks to work on it. Your tips on sharing and connecting to the audience are good.
I am encouraged after reading your blog. I hope I can measure up.
This is really encouraging for all the aspiring authors.
I’d love to read and review the new book! I am brand new to wordpress, the focus of my blog is adolescents and adolescent lit books.
Thanks for posting this awesome information.
Great blogging advice…..thanks for sharing.
I wish I lived in a world of whimsical dreams…I imagine flying in colors.
Great interview! I can’t wait to read The Year of Shadows.
nice read, thx:)
Good information! Thanks so much.
Reblogged this on heatherzhutchinswrites and commented:
Hey Fiction Fans:
Check out the blog entry from Claire LeGrand. She does a fabulous job of explaining what life is like once you’ve published your first book.
As I tell my students, it’s kind of like mountain climbing–there’s always another one right in front of you.
PS: Claire is great at creating her writer’s platform, too!