Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Marketing: It's About Giving

Ruthy here! I invited Stephanie Morrill to hang with us today because I love how her blog reflects what the Seekers wanted for Seekerville: A place to help, to hang, to talk, to laugh, to cry and learn. From that totally giving attitude sprang a wonderful inter-active blog for Stephanie with Go Teen Writers! and for Seekerville with an ever-growing presence in the publishing world. And why?

Stephanie said it in her title: It's About Giving. Love it, Steph, and welcome to Seekerville!

From first grade on, I knew I wanted to write stories. When people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always told them, “A writer.”

You know what I did not tell people I wanted to do? I didn’t say I wanted to be in sales or marketing, nor did I say I wanted to start my own business. But as you savvy Seekerville readers know, being a modern-day novelist means embracing those two roles.

When my first YA book was about to come out (Me, Just Different, Revell, 2009) I knew I needed to do some marketing stuff. So I started a blog (I posted five days a week, mostly about diapers and trips to Costco) and hired a local publicist to help me here in Kansas City. She got me on the local Fox morning show, on the radio, in my town’s free newspaper, and on the front page of the Kansas City Star. And because of those things, several area schools asked me to please come talk to their students about what a big deal I was and how I did it.

You know what happened before too long? I got so stinkin’ sick of talking about myself. (And, honestly, teenagers didn’t think it was too impressive that I was published at age 24. To their ears that seemed to sound like, “I had to wait a whole 6 years after high school before I could get my book published.”)

But something beautiful came out of one of those school visits. A very sweet girl wrote to me and said she also dreamed of being a novelist one day. She had been encouraged to hear me say that I had written as a teen and wondered if she could ask me some questions.

She asked me two. And I wrote her an 828 word response.

I couldn’t help myself! It felt so good to be talking to someone—a potential reader/buyer, even—about something besides me and my books!

And as this girl and I exchanged emails, I thought, “I would have loved this as a teen writer.” As I did the dishes that night (where all good ideas strike, I’m convinced) I thought Wouldn’t it be great if there were a place for teen writers to hang out? A place where they could learn the things they needed to know, but didn’t know they needed to know? A place where they could meet other teens who loved writing?

And then it hit me: Maybe I could make that place.

At the time I had a two-year-old daughter and was puking my way through the first trimester of baby number two. The timing was less than ideal, but I had that thing going on inside me. That thing where you’re like, “This isn’t just a good idea. I think I was made to do this.”

So in January of 2010, I started Go Teen Writers and my perspective of marketing completely changed. Until then, I thought being a great marketer was about selling to people, but marketing became much less stressful when I realized I could market by giving. The blog was not an overnight success, but the readership swelled as I began to give away whatever I could think to. I gave away not just my books, but also everything I knew about writing a novel. I gave away 100-word critiques through our 100-word contests. And through the contests, I gave away a year-long mentorship.

And the funny part was it didn’t feel like marketing, but it was. Go Teen Writers has had more impact on my sales than anything else I’ve done.

You have lots that you could give away too, and it’s a great time of year to give something away to your readers (and fellow writers) without expecting anything in return. Here are a couple ideas just to get you started:

·         You have readers ask you all the time about that secondary character in a book you wrote a few years ago. What about writing a novella that carries on that character’s story and making it available for free on your website?

·         NaNoWriMo just ended. Do you know any writers who might appreciate a critique of their first chapter or two?

·         You just read a great book and you think your blog readers would really connect with it. Buy a copy or two to give away—you’ll bless your readers AND that author.

·         You’re an excellent scrap-booker. Give away how-to tutorials on your blog.

·         When someone emails you to say how much they loved one of your books, offer to send them another book (the sequel or a different series, whatever makes sense) for free.

Today I’m giving away your choice of the Ellie Sweet e-books and an e-book of Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, which I co-wrote with Christy award-winning author Jill Williamson. And you don’t have to do anything but say hello to me in the comments section to get entered to win.

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out www.StephanieMorrill.com


  1. What wonderful book publicity ideas! I am excited to try them out. Thank you.

  2. Yep, people want to know what's in it for them.

  3. Welcome, Stephanie! I think it's fantastic that you're helping young writers. I've taken part in career fairs at our local middle school, and quite a few kids have shown an interest in writing. I love talking with them or having them email me later with questions.

  4. Welcome, Stephanie.

    Okay, here's a secret. Every time I see your picture I am stunned that you are old enough to have kids.

    Did we card you yet? MARY, DID YOU CARD STEPHANIE??

  5. Hi Stephanie, today happened to be the day that I decided to check here and it surprised me to see you are so close to me. I live in Belton just a hop skip and a jump away. It always surprises me when authors are so close.

  6. Stephanie, good morning!!!! So nice to have you here, and I love Go Teen Writers! Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!

    Hey, I brought coffee!!!! and eggnog and juice... because it's Merry Christmas to you time!!!!

    Huzzah! Hooray!!!! Huzzah!!!!!

    Stephanie, I love that you and Melissa and other young mothers have jumped in on this career at such a wonderful YOUNG AGE!!!! That rocks! And I wish you all the best because I know that's not easy....

    So what kind of fun things do you have going on at Go Teen with your youthful buddies???? I do visits at the local schools sometimes and I love having fun exercises for them to jump in on... Got any ideas?

  7. Hi Stephanie! Wow, you've done so much and you're still in your 20's! That's incredible!...Thank you for a great post :)

  8. Hi Stephanie,

    It's great to have you at Seekerville today. I'm so impressed that you always knew you wanted to be a writer and weren't afraid to admit it. What a great and encouraging thing for you to do with your blog also. Your are touching lives in such a positive way. Way to go!

  9. Hi Stephanie,

    I love the idea of Go Teen Writers and am rather amazed at how you (and Jill) manage to coordinate it all. Seems wonderful that you have such a supportive group of teens that you're helping. :-D

  10. Oh yes, I want to know all about the school exercise, from both Ruthy and Stephanie.

    And Ruthy, it's nice to see I'm excluded from that group of budding young authors . . . even though I'm younger than Melissa!

  11. Good marketing ideas, Stephanie! Young writers are blessed to have you as an advocate—blessings in your work. :-)

    Put my name in the drawing please... :-)

  12. “…the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards are designed to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to support childhood literacy and life-long reading.”

    Hi, Stephanie
    Visited your website as you can tell. Congratulations on your win. What an accomplishment.

    Appreciate today’s take on marketing by giving. I’m much more drawn to authors when their sites aren't geared exclusively toward sell, sell, sell-- although I know sales are important. To me an author sells herself by her approach to anything and everything but, “Here’s my newest book for you to buy.” I need more than that.

  13. Morning STEPHANIE and welcome to Seekerville. Loved your story and am so glad to know about your site. I meet teen writers all the time and it will be great to have a place to send them. Great going.

    Congrats on your accomplishments. Have fun today.

  14. Stephanie, welcome! What great ideas for marketing!

    I love how the dreaded marketing aspect of promoting your books changed when you took the emphasis off yourself and placed it on others.

    Absolutely love it!

    I hate talking about myself. Why would others care? You opened up such a great gathering place for teenagers to come and learn and share. They need that safe encouragement.

    You go, girl!

  15. So Ruthy brought coffee and eggnog to the party. She always brings what the adult crave, but what about the teens that will drop in?

    I've set up a pot of decadent hot chocolate with real whipped cream and chocolate curls right there beside the awesome smelling coffee.

    Help yourself to chocolate while I pour a mug of coffee with a splash of eggnog...

  16. Welcome to Seekerville, Stephanie! I'm impressed with your blog and what you're doing for young writers. Like you, I would've loved that kind of support when I first wanted to write novels at the age of twelve. Of course this was eons before computers. LOL Your suggestions for giving are excellent. And I must add that I'm very impressed you sold your debut at 24!


  17. I love this, Stephanie! Your heart for teens is so wonderful to see. I have a couple of young friends who are teen writers. I need to refer them to your site.

    I have a small following on my own blog, and it's not writing-related at all. I only have a few commenters, so I'll have to think about what might be good giveaways. Your ideas are great!


    I did bring fresh whipped cream, too. So delightful on both!

    Naomi, I should have thought of you and Clari and Annie.... eee gads, this is why Tina tells me DON'T LIST... because we always forget someone, but you and I get to work in the early morning together at 1K1HR so your MATURITY in getting up early (earning points, earning points!!!) made me list you with the establishment, LOL!

    I've done a few things with high schoolers... One is to give them an opening paragraph... and let them go from there. I usually make it a fantasy or science fiction to spur their brains.

    Another is to have them throw out plot ideas and I use the blackboard or computer to show how to balance conflict in a novel.... or short story. If they're visual learners like most of us, the balance of seeing lines drawn across the board from topic to topic helps create the memory of how to do it on paper.

  19. Stephanie doesn't need to be carded, Tina. The stretch marks can get her past the bouncer.

  20. I guess that marketing is what Seekerville is, but in many ways we don't think of it like that.

    What we really think is, that we are all just so stinking HILARIOUS that it would be WRONG not to share all our wit with the world.

    So we started a blog.


  21. I'm truly impressed, Stephanie. Thanks for sharing.

    Now to find a way to apply all this inside stuff.

    Here's a fresh pot of coffee.

  22. We did think we were funny... I blame Mary for that.

    And I did recruit my family and friends to come on in the early days and PRETEND THEY LOVED ME!


    I "pimped" the blog.

    But I only paid in cookies!!!!

  23. Hi, Steph!!! You are such a great writer, and I am in awe of all you do to give back and help the young writers who connect with you online! You are Jill are my heroes! I know I would go into overwhelm mode if I even did half what you do! So thank you! :-)

  24. Cara G! You're so right. And it's a tricky balance. I think the key is patience... patience in building a readership, building a business, building a following....

    And that's hard because you know folks are watching to see what you're doing/saying/tweeting/tooting to sell the book they bought from you.

    Balance, balance, balance. And thank you so much for stopping by Jenny's blog yesterday!!! That was so fun to meet you down under!!! G'day, mate!!! :)

    I truly believe that if you just keep writing.... and touching hearts.... the rest will come. Day by day, move by move, step by step.

    And cookies!!! I have been known to bribe folks to like me with COOKIES!!!!

  25. And I wish I'd gone after my writing dreams a whole lot sooner and had not waited until I was in the my 30's! You were smart and brave and blessed. You have a long future ahead of you, and anything (amazing) can happen with God on your side!!!

  26. It is really important to share what we know and encourage new/young/unpubbed/discouraged writers. I want my critique partner to sell as much as I want it for myself. We can only benefit by being generous. In the current publishing climate and economy, a victory for one of us is a victory for all of us.
    Also, we are Christian writers, and we have a whole different layer to deal with. We need to Be Generous.
    Thank you for a good post.
    Kathy Bailey
    Pre-pubbed in New Hampshire

  27. Love this, Stephanie. Mentoring teen writers IS what you were meant for!


    PS. The cover of Go Teen Writers is adorable.



    They just pretended to care that you had a blog.

  29. Uh oh. my website might be geared just toward sell sell sell.

    (mary...worrying...fretting...not sure what to do)

    It's a conundrum because .......................... I can't get into my website because my website has decided I am an evil SPAMMER.

    Which is so rude of it.

    Isn't this how 2001 a Space Odyssey started?

    I think I just heard a pod door open.

    I'm now floating away in space!!!


    Great music though



    Or, no, that's what they needed to do about my cloths and hair. Not sure how they should have handled my writing.

    It's all a blur.

  31. Helen thank heaven's you showed up with coffee, yours is so much better than Ruthy's.


  32. Audra, hot chocolate with whipped cream???

    I don't care how old I am....

    Hand it over and nobody will get hurt!

  33. I think I've mentioned it before, but when my 20 yo was in 5th grade, I did a one day class with the 5th grade English classes at his school.

    I made a poster and explained the basics of GMC, then we used The Writers Brainstorming Kit. We drew cards and loosely set the character, plot, GMC, internal and external conflict, and the black moment.

    Then they all had to write a short story based on the cards. It was so cool. 50 completely different stories stemmed from the same cards, and some of those kids could really put together a good story even at that age.

    Even the ones who bah-humbugged the whole exercise put forth a really good effort, and seemed to have fun with it.

  34. Stephanie, so good to have you with us in Seekerville today!

    I doubt there's a writer among us who had "marketing and sales" on their wannabe list. Who knew?????

    But I LOVE what you're doing to encourage teen writers! As Mary said, that's a lot like what we do in Seekerville, and marketing is WAY down the list of reasons why we do this!

  35. MELANIE, I so relate.

    Sort of.

    I was in my 30s when I started seriously pursing a writing career.

    I was in my 50s when my first novel sold.

    So that's as far as my sympathy goes, girlfriend. ;-)

  36. I wanted to be a PE teacher in school. Got older and married, started shopping for a mobile. Then I really wanted to sell mobile homes.

    Never did become a PE teacher or a seller of lovely homes. :)

    Stephanie, I love the way you give back to your readers. Great lesson for us all.

  37. PURSING a writing career????

    I meant PURSUING!!!

  38. ooo, ooo... hot chocolate next to the coffee. MOCHA TIME!!!

    Tis better to give than receive.
    This post demonstrates the adage so, so well. I know I learn much more about my craft when I give someone else info about what I've learned via experience. Of course, the whole Seekerville community is (as Ruthy would say), a stinkin' good example of giving at its finest.

    I must text my husband's daughter with your blog info, Stephanie, she's seventeen and has told me since I met her at seven that she wants to be a writer. She doesn't live with us, but I know she will love your site (even tho' I haven't wandered over for a gander yet), because she loves to learn.

    Hmmm, Christmas gift idea just popped into mind. Your book would be perfect!

    wow, this giving thing is pretty cool...

    I LOVE Seekerville. I know I write that at least once every week, but it bears repeating.

  39. p.s. Mary
    I don't get the sell, sell, sell vibe off your blog... more like cowboys, cool historical info, and humor.

    but that's just me. i'm no stranger and i like you already.

  40. Pursing is more entertaining, Myra. :)

    But I know how you feel. Earlier in the week I used advise for advice.

  41. @Tina Radcliffe, oh you're so funny :) I just turned 30 but I definitely get skeptical looks when I'm out with my kids. It doesn't help that I'm pretty short too!

    Thanks so much for having me on Seekerville!

  42. @Hilleary Oh, Belton is so close! Hooray for Kansas City writers!

  43. @Ruth how wonderful that you do that! One of the things we've had fun with are 100 word contests. I give a prompt and then they write the next 100 words as if it's the beginning of a story. It's a really great exercise in writing tight, and when I post the winners, everyone is always really surprised by how easy it is to tell quality writing in so few words. Here's a link to one of my favorite ones we did: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/05/teen-writing-contest-waking-up.html

  44. @CaraG Thank you! We felt really honored to have been selected.

    It's a really tough balance for authors, I think. We can't ignore that sales are important (or that reaching our audience is important) but we also don't want to be pushy sales people either. I'm still trying to figure it all out :-/

  45. @Audra Thanks for bringing the hot chocolate! Would you mind if I copy and have a splash of eggnog in my coffee too?

  46. @Ruth Just saw the exercises you listed that you do with high schoolers. Those are great! Makes me want to come sit in :)

  47. Oh, Mary: "What we really think is, that we are all just so stinking HILARIOUS that it would be WRONG not to share all our wit with the world."

    And I'm SO glad you did. I adore Seekerville. Even before Writer's Digest told me I should :)

    (And, indeed, my stretch marks could validate my mommy status.)

  48. @Melanie Dickerson, you remain one of our most popular judges for the contests we run. You've been a big part of our growth!

  49. Pam Hillman, you had great ideas too! Where does one get one of these writers brainstorming kits?

  50. So true! How can I serve my readers--that's the question I should be asking myself all the time. Thanks for the reminder.

  51. Thank you, DebH. No doubt I have no idea what I'm doing, so I probably forget to sell, along with everything else.

    Currently on Facebook I'm talking about parachuting mice. That certainly has nothing to do with selling my books, now does it????????????

    In fact, no doubt, it is a deterrent.

  52. Hi Stephanie. Thanks for being on Seekerville, today.

  53. Hi Stephanie,

    I'm so glad you shared your story. I think one of the best ways to grow new readers is through the teen market.

    I'm blessed to have three gifted grandchildren, two of whom are excellent writers, even taking into consideration the obvious grandmother bias. My thirteen year old granddaughter made a perfect score on the state wide writing test recently. They're also avaricious readers, and I've tried to encourage them to start a blog to review books they and their friends read.

    But I don't know that they have the people skills yet. Just yesterday my grandson told me he'd read my Christmas story. When I asked how he liked it, he coughed several times and said, "I expected better from you, Nonna, it was pretty awful and way too short."
    I told him I hadn't even written it yet, that was the outline. He just grinned and said, "Then you have time to fix it."

    Talk about brats. But I may have to depend of these people to take care of me in my old age.

  54. Elaine, that's an absolutely precious story! What an inspiration you must be to those kids.

  55. Tell no one your age. I refuse to age. My kids cringe when I say the word DUDE.

    I live to embarrass them. Well, not really. It just happens spontaneously.

  56. Gosh, and let Seekerville know if you ever need judges, Stephanie.

    Once a year we do 'be kind critiques'-Ruth and Mary both put away the machetes, and we certainly could plan to do it around your contest.

  57. "Be Kind Critiques"? What are you talking about, Tina?

    Why would we need a special day for that? I have never been anything other than kind. AND I'LL SLAP ANYBODY WHO SAYS I'M NOT!!!!!

  58. Stephanie,
    What a great reminder that it's better to give than to receive...even when talking about marketing and blogspots!

    BTW, I stopped by yours today. Awesome info for writers of all ages.

    I host a small writing group at my church and often younger folks join the class. Now, I have a wonderful blog to tell them about that's tailor-made for teens. Thank you!!!

  59. Hello. I love your heroine's name. It's also my oldest's daughter's name. She's finished NaNoWriMo and is a teen writer. I'll have to check out your website to give her some advice. Merry Christmas.

  60. Let's not compare notes on juvenilla. Mine was pretty awful and wacky. I still remember the story details, yikes. I ran up large phone bills for my poor parents in the name of doing "research." It's a wonder they didn't throw me in the street. So, Stephanie,it is wonderful that you are doing this blog. I wish I had a touchstone like that way, way, back in the day when I was young.

    And Elaine, those grandkids are surely something else! Lol.


    Whose hare-brained idea is that?????

    Put away the machete!!!! TINA!!! You know not what you ask!!!! :)

    Hey, I figure if it don't kill 'em, it'll only serve to put hair on their chest.

    Wait, again. I might have mixed that up, slightly.

    My high school writings were DRAMATIC!!!!! (Tell me you're not surprised. ;) Wry grin inserted here for effect!) Tragedy abounded.... and there were life lessons everywhere.....

    GRAB THE TISSUES!!!!!! :)

    But somewhere in that mess of emotion and hormones was the beginning of what I do now, and I'm having more fun than kindergartners on a playground in June, so I'm pretty happy.

    Steph, I actually love working with kids. Around here we call it torture, but a job by any other name is still a job, right????


  62. I'm stopping by late in the day, but I'm glad I did. What a positive, upbeat post! And I love your teen blog. I work in a school library so I'll pass the link on to the junior high and high school librarians. Awesome stuff!

  63. What a great idea to work with teens!They are so creative. I'll be sure to check out your website!

  64. Tina, it would be an honor to have any of the Seekers judge one of our contests. I love the idea of kind-hearted critiques :)

  65. KAV what a great idea!

    I don't think I know any teenagers.

    At least none who let me get close to them.

    They are rather like feral cats, don't you think? Sometimes you see them flitting around the tall grass of your life, but they never let you get really close.

    And I like that temperament, in cats and teenagers.

  66. Kav, glad you stopped by! I think the coffee is always perking over here :)

  67. You maybe don't want me to judge a contest. Not sure why you wouldn't though. :(

    Just guessing.

  68. Stephanie, I so wish there'd been someone like you around when I was writing as a teenager. Look at all that wonderful info you share!

    I really like your ideas about giving. Thanks for an upbeat, encouraging post.

    Nancy C

  69. Okay, so Ruth, Mary, and their machetes are banned from Go Teen Writers contests. Anyone else is welcome to judge, though ;)

  70. This is such a great post! Wish your site was around when I was a teen! I know a couple girls who I think will really like your site. I'll send them over.
    Thanks for sharing!

  71. What a wonderful post, Stephanie! I so wish a place like Go Teen Writers had existed when I was a teen--but of course neither computers nor the internet existed then! : ) One of my favorite things to do is to encourage young writers. Those school and library visits are much more fun than talking about my own books. God bless you!

  72. STEPH!!! I am SO sorry I am late to the party, but my two grandbabies are in town and staying with us, so there's not been much time for blogs or writing or anything computer related.

    LOVE your blog, my friend, especially your "take" on "giving" -- AWESOME!!!

    Laughed out loud at this: "You know what I did not tell people I wanted to do? I didn’t say I wanted to be in sales or marketing, nor did I say I wanted to start my own business."

    HOLY COW, did you nail it or what?? I would say that 99 percent of authors would rather write than promote, but unfortunately, the two are joined at the hip in this biz, it seems. Which is why I am taking a break in 2014 to just write, write, write, scaling WAY back on the promo. Love of God and writing got me into this biz in the first place, and love of God and writing will get me out again into what's REALLY important: giving to others, starting with family first.

    Your take on promo is a breath of fresh air, my friend, and I think I will need to incorporate some of those points in the new year, so THANK YOU!!