Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, September 12, 2008


I know this isn't Monday (although I could swear it is Tuesday at the latest) and I know you, I, and everyone else is enjoying the latest Julie post and looking forward to the next Kerry post. But since I missed Monday, and since I have promised a lot of people I would keep them up to date on the ups and downs of this whole national publishing gig, I wanted to give you the update I just posted on the Farworld blog. So if you don't care about this stuff. Feel free to scroll past it and read Julie's fun post on Brandon Mull's "Candy Shop Wars," or wait a few minutes and Kerry's next great post will appear. But if you what to see how things are going, and what I'm learning the hard way, feel free to read on.

I have been the most absentee blogger of all time lately. And considering how much I like to blog and keep you all updated, this tells you how crazy busy things have been. I keep saying, “Things will calm down a little once . . .” Once I get my ARCs sent out, once I get my interviews done, one I get my school presentation done, once my launch party is over.

You get the idea. I’ve got so much I want to talk about, but it just seems like I never have time to sit down and type, and when I do, it’s usually trying to meet the deadline on Land Keep.

But I really want to tell you what’s been going on, and I promised I’d give you a glimpse inside launching a new series. So here goes.

First of all, the books have hit store shelves pretty much everywhere. I have reports from Barnes and Nobles in several states, pretty much all the local stores, and even a Costco here in Utah that had an entire shelf of Farworld books. Here’s a picture I took in a local bookstore. Even people who have ordered from Amazon have reported receiving their books in the mail. If you have read water Keep and haven’t posted a review yet. Jump over and post if you have a chance.

Also as most of you have probably seen, the new website is up There are several things we need to get added and fixed, but the designer had gallstones or kidney stones. Anyway, some kind of stones. So that got slowed down a little. But I love the look and feel they gave it, and I’m excited we could get elements like the forum, the blog, the teacher section, etc.

One of the things I feel very strongly about is that a web site should be community oriented. It’s cool to have the first chapters of the book, the map, the characters, etc. But it’s even cooler to have a site that is updated regularly. A place where I can talk with other readers and writers about books, publishing, school visits or whatever. I can’t stand static web sites. So I really appreciated all the support I got from Patrick, Chris, and the rest of the SM marketing team.

The next thing we went to work on was the PP slides and the overall school presentation. This was a very tricky thing to nail just right, because we wanted to create a presentation that would keep kids as young as Kindergarten entertained, but would also be educational for kids as old as sixth grade. Not an easy task. I wanted to focus on three main areas: encouraging kids to read, teaching the basics of plotting a story, and reminding the students that they all have magic inside them, and even though they are young, they can accomplish great things. Of course I wanted to sell some books along the way, since my publisher is providing bookmarks and paying for travel expenses. But I didn’t want it to feel like a commercial for Farworld.

I think we succeeded in creating the right presentation. But then it was up to me to take it on the road. And the day to start visiting schools came up much faster than I expected. In fact today was day one. So let me give you a recap of how may first day of school visits went.

Wednesday night, I went over my presentation what seemed like a dozen times. I checked the props for my magic trick and printed out my maps. I went to bed late, but figured I was all set—especially considering that my first assembly wasn’t until 9:30. Of course this morning I woke up and instantly realized all the things I had forgotten. I needed three 8 ½ by 11 cards for my plotting game. Where was the poster board? I couldn’t find the memory card for the camera. I needed to make a couple of last minute changes to the power point slides. Suddenly it was 9:00 and I hadn’t even loaded everything into the car. Fortunately it was a short drive to the school but I got there only a few minutes before 9:30. Fortunately they had everything set up. Unfortunately it takes a long time to get 900+ kids into a gym.

That’s right 900+! What an exciting way to start out my school presentation career. And let me just say the students of Spanish Oaks Elementary are awesome. They were doing this handclapping singing thing that could have landed them a gig on Letterman. And all the kids took part while the rest filed in. The younger kids were on the floor in the first 2/3rds of gym and the older kids brought their chairs in and sat in the back.

Unfortunately the wireless mouse I thought would let me remotely change slides wouldn’t work more than like two feet from the computer. Fortunately, my lovely and talented wife Jennifer was there to help me out. Doing the presentation was amazing. You can’t imagine how cool it is to have 900 kids laughing their heads off and taking part in all the games.

One thing I quickly realized however was that some parts of my presentation were taking too long, and others needed a little more detail. Also, since Jen didn’t know the PP slides, we were a little out of sync. I also need to buy myself a wireless hand microphone so I can get to the back of a large group of students when asking or taking questions. But I had a ball, and hopefully the students did too.

The second thing I learned was that you should never schedule two schools fifteen minutes apart no matter how close they are. That does NOT work. Because I showed up only a few minutes before 9:30, and because it took about fifteen minutes to get all the kids in the gym and get started, I finished my presentation just about the time that I had to start the next one.

Again, much thanks to Mrs. Savage who helped me shove everything in the car and race to the next school. Canyon Elementary was especially fun because it is just around the corner from my house, so I know many of the kids. It was a slightly smaller group because it was just the 3rd through 6th grade. Also, my wife and I were much more in sync. The kids and I had a lot of fun making up a story about a magical giant boy who was ugly but quite friendly. Everyone was very nice and one boy even asked me to sign his forehead. I had to decline on the basis that I thought his mother would kill me. He suggested the back of his hand, but I set a firm rule of not signing any body parts.

From 11:15 to 1:20 we had a slight break. I was hoping it would be a relaxing hour and a half. But another emergency jumped up to bite us. Along with bookmarks, we were handing out invitations to my launch party which is Saturday at the Spanish Fork Library. (More about that later in the post.) But when we checked the box, we realized we’d given out nearly all of them. Quickly we called FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinkos) and begged them to make more invitations by 1:00. They came through like champs.

Breathing a sigh of relief, we e-mailed them our file (Thanks for sending it to me, Keith!), and headed to lunch at a local restaurant called Magelbys Fresh. Blacked chicken-stuffed breadsticks were exactly what we needed. Then we rushed off to pick up the invitations and head to East Meadows Elementary. One other thing I learned (are you sensing a trend here?) is in setting up the tour, we didn’t pass along the information that we needed a screen, power cord, etc, clearly enough—or it didn’t get to the right people. Everyone was great about getting things set up, but most weren’t expecting a projector. This was especially an issue because the last two presentations were only 30 and 35 minutes long, and again only twenty minutes between assemblies.

We had a ball though. Part of the presentation is a game where the kids try to guess the elements of a story by asking yes and no questions. What they don’t realize until later is that they aren’t guessing the story at all, but actually making it up. This can have some pretty funny consequences. In this case, we came up with the story of a fifteen-year-old girl with a goatee who was saving animals from a bunch of bad guys.

Again, we had a great time but ended up late to the next school, Larson Elementary. And now there was no wiggle room, because we were right up against the end of the school day. Let me tell you, that was the fastest school presentation I have ever done. But we got through everything—including the story of an orphan boy fighting an evil magician. Afterward, I had tons of kids come up and ask me questions. These kids knew their authors. One was very impressed that I knew Brandon Mull. An aspiring author told me that K.L Fogg had told her about a book that you needed to buy to get an agent or a publisher, but she couldn’t remember the name of the book.

“Writers Market?” I suggested.

Her whole face lit up. “Yes, that’s exactly it!”

She promised to come by my forum and ask lots of writing questions. I even know what her user name will be, so I am looking forward to hearing from her. Lots of students thanked me. And many promised to come to the launch party on Saturday. And let me tell you, talk about polite kids. As Jen and I were starting to carry our things out the back door, several students came up at the same time. The oldest boy held open the door, and said to the other kids. “Stand back, let the grown ups come through.”

What a great time we had! I have to give a huge shout out to the students, teachers, and staff of Spanish Oaks, Canyon, East Meadows, and Larson. You were all great. Thanks for putting up with this neophyte and making my first day such an incredible experience!

Finally the day was over. We picked up our own boys from their school, (I go there tomorrow), and headed to my parents’ house for sub sandwiches, swimming, and games. A great way to end the day. (Okay, actually I’m ending the day by writing this blog and then putting each of the schools stories on my forum like I promised, but that’s beside the point.)

What did I learn today?

1) Schedule each school at least 30 minutes apart minimum. You need some wiggle room.
2) Call the schools in advance and make sure they are aware of what you need.
3) On the way to my parents, I bought a good Targus clicker, since Jen won’t be with me tomorrow.
4) I couldn’t do it today, but before the two week tour I will buy a hand held cordless microphone. It is essential if you are going to interact with the older kids who are generally sitting in the back of the gym.
5) Kids love to laugh. I am keeping track of what parts of the presentation made them laugh the most and making sure I keep those parts in.
6) Tell things in your own words. As soon as you start to read your presentation, kids start to squirm. I’m not saying kids don’t like to be read to, but if you try to read a book or even a section of a book to 900+ kids, you will start to lose them.
7) However kids love to hear about your story. You should have seen their eyes light up when I told them about the bad guy who captures Marcus and turns into a giant black snake. They ate that up.
8) If you are going to do school presentations, start close to home. I can’t imagine how much more stressful this would have been if I’d been trying to pull this whole thing off by myself on the road.
9) Finally, kids are awesome! They tell it like it is, but they are so willing to take part in any activity. It made my heart swell to hear a whole gym full of kids shout, “The most powerful magic is inside ME!!!” Let me just say that despite what you might hear, our country is going to be in good hands in the future.
10) And that is a huge credit to the great teachers we have. These students were so sharp and creative. There is no doubt in my mind that their teachers are doing an incredible job in panting great seeds in these fertile little heads.

So that’s it for day one. Tomorrow I hit three more schools. Brockbank, American Leadership Academy, and Riverview. I think I’ll have things more under control. Of course at the same time, my wife and I are finalizing everything for the big launch party on Saturday. Which brings me to my last point.

If you are anywhere near Utah County, COME!!!!! It’s going to be a great party. We have a local barbeque place serving free barbeque sandwiches. We have four Farworld cakes that are actually made of cupcakes. We’ve got free posters, free sodas and chips, drawings. We’re selling and signing books. And twenty percent of the proceeds go to the Spanish Fork library.

Here are the details.

Where: Spanish Fork Library
49 S Main StSpanish Fork, UT 84660(801) 798-5010

When: Saturday, September 13th 12:00-3:00

We’ve advertised this like crazy. We’ve sent out notices in all the Spanish Fork utility bills for the last month. I’m inviting something like 5,000 kids from eight schools. I’ve got family inviting everyone they know. And yet I still have nightmares of no one showing up. So come if you can. And cross your fingers if you can’t. Now I need to update my forum. Then get some rest.

More tomorrow.


At 9/12/2008 10:40 AM, Blogger Pat said...

The newspaper write up on this was tremendous - I can't imagine it not going well. I'll be out of town that day, but best of luck to you!

(Magleby's stuffed breadsticks, Mmmm)

At 9/12/2008 10:43 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Hurray! A guest blog! No possible way could I top this. No possible way am I going to try! Way to go, J. Scott! I simply can't wait until you get to Phoenix!

At 9/12/2008 4:16 PM, Blogger Melanie J said...

Wow! That's an incredible personal commitment to promoting your book! It's inspired me to think big in case I get published. I'm sending my manuscript off (my very first one) today so I'm crossing my fingers that I even get the chance to try something like you're doing.

At 9/12/2008 7:31 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Jeff, I want to be you.

At 9/12/2008 10:45 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Funny, I want to be Rob Wells. But with a better haircut. :)

At 9/13/2008 2:23 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Jeff, wow! I am just blown away by how totally awesome this is. Congrats, and remember us when you're rich and famous, which sounds like it's going to be very soon!

At 9/15/2008 12:50 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Congrats! I can just envision how great your school presentations are. You need to come to Eaglecrest Elementary . . . how do I get you here?

At 9/17/2008 3:17 PM, Blogger Marcia Mickelson said...

What a supportive wife you have. I remember her at the LDStorymakers Conference pouring cups of water for the participants. That's great to have such support and it's wonderful that it's gone so well.


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