Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Barbara O'Connor

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barbara O’Connor grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English, she headed to Southern California. An interest in writing for children led her to take classes at UCLA to learn the basics.

Since publication of her first children’s biography in 1993, Barbara has gone on to publish fifteen more books, including middle grade novels.

Drawing on her South Carolina roots, Barbara’s novels are known for their strong Southern settings and quirky characters. In addition to five Parents Choice Awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. Her books have been nominated for children’s choice awards in thirty-five states.

Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

How do you define success?

I've been writing for publication for 22 years. Those years have showed me two areas of success for a children's writer: critical success (e.g., awards, recognitions by organizations, peer recognition, etc.) and child-pleasing success (i.e, children love your work).

For some authors, these are intertwined. But often, authors find themselves enjoying one and not necessarily the other. We've all heard discussions about Newbery winners that children don't like and vice versa, the beloved and popular books that children clamor for that are not recognized by awards and such.

Barbara in the Smoky Mountains -- setting that often appears in her books.
I'd be lying if I said that writing books that children love is enough for me. I am honored to have received quite a few awards and recognitions from well-respected children's book organizations (e.g., Parents Choice, ALA, etc.).

But since I'm in schools a lot, I will say that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing children reading and enjoying my books. And when the mail carrier brings me a letter from a gushing fan, well, that feels like success.

Barbara connects with young readers.
How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

With each book, I'm reminded that less is more. I try to say a lot with as few words as possible. That's my style. I work hard on showing and not telling and that's improved over time. I've learned, also, to listen to my writing voice and to follow my instincts when I hear it getting off track. That's a skill that is vital but, I think, comes with experience.

To reach new levels, I see that my later work has become more upbeat and humorous than earlier works. I enjoy writing humor and try to keep my storylines lighter than they used to be. 

What still flummoxes me at times?

Plot, plot, plot. I hate plot. I love character and setting. But, alas, a book needs a plot. So I plow through.

My plots are usually quite simple, but they work.

How have you built an audience over time?

The best way to build an audience is to keep writing. I've been fortunate to have published one book that is particularly popular (How to Steal a Dog (FSG, 2007)), which has kept children on the lookout for more. Also, I maintain a specific style and voice that readers have come to expect and look for (e.g., small Southern town settings).

How have your marketing strategies changed over the years? Could you tell us about one strategy that worked and why you think it was a boon to you?

By Barbara at age 12
The internet has been my marketing salvation. I'm an introvert. Book tours and travel for marketing and even some conferences are sometimes outside my comfort zone. So being able to sit home in my jammies and market my book has been a godsend.

My blog was the first internet marketing I did, and it really helped me get the word out about book news. Students and teachers use it as preparation or followup to visits. I'm able to link to items on my website, post news and pictures about conferences I attend, etc.

I've also been trying to be more active on Twitter (@barbaraoconnor). That's a great venue to get news out quickly to a lot of people.

Cynsational Notes

Barbara's books include: Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia (2003); How to Steal a Dog (2007); Greetings from Nowhere (2008); The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (2009); The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester (2010); and On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (2012), all published by FSG.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Barbara's latest release, On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (FSG, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Summer days drift by slowly in Meadville, South Carolina--that is, until Sherman the one-legged pigeon flies into town and causes a ruckus.

First Stella, who's been begging for a dog, spots him on top of a garage roof and decides she wants him for a pet. Then there's Ethel and Amos, an old couple who sees the pigeon in their barn keeping company with a little brown dog that barks all night. The pigeon lands smack in the middle of Mutt Raynard's head, but he's the town liar, so no one believes him. And when Stella's brother Levi and his scabby-kneed, germ-infested friends notice the pigeon, they join the chase, too.

Meanwhile, across town, Mr. Mineo has one less homing pigeon than he used to...

Barbara O'Connor has delivered another ingeniously crafted story full of southern charm, kid-sized adventures, and quirky, unforgettable characters.
Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

11 comments:

LinWash said...

Barbara is an absolute delight. Loved reading her comments about what success means to her.

Xena's Mom said...

I certainly enjoyed Barbara's comments about her writing process. I would never have known she is an introvert. Her tweets are hilarious.
I am looking forward to reading her newest title.

Heidi Grange said...

Such fun books does Barbara O'Connor write.

Dawn Malone said...

Thanks for this interview. Barbara is so right with her comments about award-winning books vs. child-pleasing books. I always find those comparisons interesting. How to Steal a Dog is one of my favorite books. Love her!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Barbara is one of my favorite people and favorite writers. I loved reading this! And I love the pictures.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Ditto on the comment above. Barbara, you're grand.

Carl said...

Thank you for the interview. Barbara is such a down to earth person and so honest. It was refreshing to read all her comments. I'd love to win a copy of Sherman's story.

Holly Mueller said...

I'm going to keep entering On the Road to Mr. Mineo's giveaway contests until I win one!!

Irene Latham said...

I'm a big fan of Barbara's books and enjoyed this post very much. Yay for character-driven books!

Danette Haworth said...

Cynthia, I'm out of town and on my iPhone! I tried to enter, don't knot if it took. Would you please enter me if not? I'm in it to win it! I love Barbara's books!

Danette Haworth
dhaworthbooks@yahoo.com

Thank you!

Gene Harmon said...

This is a a wonderful method of promotion !

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