Kim Norman’s debut picture book Jack of All Tails is just out from Dutton, and the first-time author/long-time performer came up with a unique idea to up the traffic to her website: She sang! Kim’s recently posted her second children’s writing-related song parody to her site (more on that below). Her next offering which will be online soon is a parody of “Send in the Clowns” (written by author Rick Walton) about two lonely authors at an under-attended booksigning. “It's a hoot,” she say. Click here to listen to her latest song, "You Won't Accept No!" Read on for her story.
What made you break into children's publishing-related song--and post the music on your website?
I've been a singer and performer for years, but haven't had as much chance to record as I'd like. Now, with all this fun, new technology, anybody can feel like a star with a minimal investment in equipment. I've written song parodies for years, especially at closing night cast parties. It was a natural outlet for me to take some beloved tunes and tweak them for lampoons of our own writing biz.
What kind of response have you gotten to your songs? Will there be more?
Oh you betcha! And not only written by me. Rick Walton, a prolific children's book author from Utah, has been sending me some hilarious stuff. As for response, it's hard to tell, since I don't have counters on my blog and I certainly can't tell who leaves my blog and runs out to buy my book. (That would be some great information, wouldn't it!?) I hope it will also make me memorable to the occasional editor as well, since my book writing is rather eclectic and will probably never fit at just one publisher or imprint. I've heard from a few editors who said they enjoyed the songs.
What's trickier? Writing a song parody or writing a picture book?
Oh definitely books. I can knock out a parody in a day or two if I'm on a roll and have the time. Books take me dozens of revisions over many months. Sigh. I wish I could speed up that process!
Any plans to take the show on the road? I think they'd love you at, say, the upcoming SCBWI conference?
People keep telling me that. I may just make a pitch for myself sometime soon! I'm definitely open to performing at conferences. I love singing on stage, although singing in character, in a play, is my favorite type of performing. Somehow, when I'm in character, I don't get nervous. It's not really me up there, you know what I mean?
Has your music helped in promoting your debut picture book Jack of All Tales? Has it driven more traffic to your website?
Yes, it definitely has. When I released the first song, "A Writer's Wish List"-- a parody of "Santa Baby," I got 6 times my usual number of hits that month and collected about 200 external links to my site. That has been the highest response so far, but I think that's partly because it was a holiday tune, which folks were really in the mood for, and had a little extra time to enjoy during the holidays.
Would you like to tell me about how you got your first book contract?
Love to. I met my editor at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference in the fall of '02. She liked the manuscript I submitted for review and gave me a revision letter at our meeting. I revised 2 or 3 more times, (I've forgotten because I had revised it so many times already before she ever saw it!!), and in April of '03 she emailed an offer. They chose David Clark as the illustrator. I'm to-the-moon thrilled with his work! It makes the book more than twice as funny. (If you can quantify such a thing.) June of '07, Jack of All Tails was released, and I could finally finally call myself a published author!
Big sloppy kisses and hugs to my critique group for seeing me thru all those revisions. They made some brilliant suggestions! I really appreciate Dutton taking a chance on a first-timer like me. I hope my marketing efforts, such as these songs, pay off with added sales so they'll feel it was a worthwhile investment.
You've spent a lot of time on stage. Have your done book-related events for an audience of kids? How have those gone?
I have actually done quite a few school gigs at this point, as well as some educator & librarian conferences. I got started early, wanting to establish a name for myself, so there would be some momentum once the book was finally released. I figured, what I lacked in publication credits, I made up for in stage experience.
I love doing those school visits. The kids are so enthusiastic; they make you feel like a rock star. And their energy and creativity are amazing. There's nothing like interacting with kids to rev my creative juices. I find myself playing with words in the way young children do, before they have a lot of preconceptions about what certain words and phrases mean. Much like the way my son, at three, woke up from a nap one day and told me his hand was "sparkling." I knew immediately that he meant his hand had "fallen asleep" from lack of circulation. But "sparkling" was such a perfect word for that feeling. Exactly the kind of fresh word a child would choose if he wasn't familiar with the more mundane and obvious word choice, "tingling."
Any suggestions for authors who suffer from a bit of stage fright?
The best advice I can give is to just fake it. Pretend you're not scared, and your body will obey, reacting with fewer physical nervous reactions like sweaty palms or butterflies. (Note I say "fewer." You'll still have them, but they'll lessen as you become engrossed in your topic.) Don't avoid public speaking because of nervousness. The more times you do it, the more comfortable you'll become. Practice deep breathing and calm visualizations, too. That always helps me if I'm feeling a little jittery and under-rehearsed.
Also, don't over-prepare. Leave yourself room to speak off the cuff. Nothing bores me more quickly than being read to by a speaker. I'm sure kids feel the same way. A great way to prepare for a talk, if facilities allow, is to line up your various props & visual aids behind you on the raised stage. (I prefer to stand on the floor, not the stage.) The stage is like a long desk behind me. I move from one prop to the next and never have to refer to notes that way.
What do you have any upcoming non-song project to talk about?
Look for my next book in '09! (Fingers crossed, that is.) I sold my second book to Sterling in May of 06. It's called The Crocodaddy, a rhyming (Yes! Rhyming!) picture book about an imaginative little boy and his dad playing in a Maine lake. I wrote a strong revision of that story while on vacation in Maine a couple of years ago. Heading for Maine again early tomorrow morning. Here's hoping I'll find gold in one of the next batch of unrevised manuscripts I'm bringing along!