I first met Danielle (though not immediately in person) when I signed up for my initial blog tour. The book was Jumpstart the World, and Danielle was one of the bloggers who signed on to host a tour stop. I made it a point to follow all the tour bloggers on Twitter. That’s how I learned “the big coincidence,” though I don’t remember when, or how it first came out. In the international setting of the online book world, Danielle lives less than 45 minutes from me, a couple of towns down the road. So she joined me in one of my workshops, and we’ve met a couple of times to exchange information, books, etc.
When it comes to helping get the word out about my novels and other news, or even standing up for me online when I faced opposition, I couldn’t ask for a more supportive friend.
Her blog There’s a Book has won awards and garnered a great deal of respect. If you’re not familiar with it, this is your chance.
Now. Danielle. Your blog is devoted to juvenile literature, but that’s a wide field. You review books that are appropriate for your own pre-schoolers, and also books like Jumpstart, that are geared toward the mature high school age—or older—reader. Is it ever hard to bridge this gap? Do you ever have doubts or fears that a cutting edge YA review might seem discordant to someone who came to the site to read about picture books? Or do your readers seem able to appreciate the full range?
Danielle: Wow. Way to hit on a tough topic right off the bat! No really, it’s okay, but you’re completely right. When I started, and even now a bit, I struggled to find where exactly I “fit” in the book blogging community. A number of my close blogging friends review primarily YA and even adult literature, but not quite as many in the picture book area. That’s changed a bit over the last three years, but my readers are still varied.
I’ve never felt like my readers have been surprised by anything I’ve reviewed or shared, but in some ways I feel as though I’ve been opening up new reading paths for others where they may not have normally gone. Most of my long time readers have mentioned they generally prefer one or the other (picture books or YA), but as time has gone on I’ve seen quite a few of them shifting into areas of reading they didn’t previously seek after. A few started out reading only for the YA books and now have children of their own.
I still feel like I straddle a precarious fence, but at the same time I review and read what I love which I think shows in the writing on my blog.
Me: It’s clear that your own two children, who you call Turkeybird and Littlebug (I understand wanting to guard their anonymity), are a big part of your blog. How old were they when you started the blog? Or did you even have two children at the time? What does their participation mean to them, and to you? How do you see their roles changing as they get older?
Danielle: When I started There’s A Book Littlebug was just under a year old and Turkeybird was almost three. I had actually blogged previously, but it wasn’t a book blog and through that experience I learned it was best if I kept their identities somewhat guarded. I’d love for them to one day decide to be involved directly with the blog by either writing their own reviews, vlogging or even revealing their names, but I’d like that to be their choice and not something I force on them.
For now, their participation in the blog is limited to my interpretation of their interactions with the books we read as well as the interviews I work on with the Turkeybird. I’m really trivializing things with that one sentence because honestly they’re the entire reason I started the blog. My children have just as much, if not more passion for reading and books. When the Turkeybird was very little he devoured books the same way I do with chocolate when I’m stressed. It was this drive to find more books for him to enjoy that led me to start There’s A Book and it continues as they progress into more advanced reading. They both inspire me with their love of reading and it’s exciting to me that I have the opportunity to share that with so many people who read my blog.
Me: Now let’s say your kids are grown and out on their own, or even school-aged. You certainly have the background and the reputation to launch a full-time paid career in a book-related field. Would you? If so, what does that look like in your plans?
Danielle: This is actually something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently! The Turkeybird starts kindergarten this year and Littlebug will be in pre-school as early as January. There’s a very high likelihood that I’ll be looking to start a career again, if not full-time at least part-time until they’re a bit older.
I’d love to work in a book-related position! Where we are currently I’m not sure that working for a major publisher is really an option, but you never know. With technology being what it is the possibilities are endless. I’m so passionate about books and promoting the authors & publishers I love that I’d love the opportunity to work closely with one or both. I’m currently looking at the possibility of becoming an agent, but I’m also open to working in marketing within the book industry, including literacy promotion. All of that said, I may end up staying home and focusing on writing. So, we shall see!
Me: It’s an obvious one, but I’ll ask it anyway. Where on earth do you find the time?
Danielle: I’m currently answering this interview at nearly midnight, if that gives you any hint as to how it all works. I’m a terrible insomniac. More often than not you can find me typing away or reading until one or two (sometimes three) in the morning, but I also have a secret weapon that I use to get extra sleep when I need it, my husband. He’s amazingly patient and supportive with my bookish obsessions and helps out with the kiddos so much. Most of the online events I do I’m only able to have time because he helps with the kiddos while I juggle at least eight different email accounts, five different twitter accounts and a myriad of other online media sources I use. He’s my key to success, time management and happiness.
Me: Five-year-old Turkeybird does his own interviews with your blog guests. How long has he been doing this? Can you give us an example of some of his better questions? Any stories about guests who particularly did or did not get along with this unique interview format?
Danielle: This is one of my absolute favorite aspects of my blog! We started working together on what we call the “20 Question Interviews” about a year and a half ago and it’s been a blast. It all started when he began that stage where kids ask really silly questions about books. I thought, why not ask the authors/illustrators who wrote the books he loves? It’s turned out to be a fantastic feature on the site and one of the things I most look forward to when being with him.
We’ve had a lot of really great authors we’ve interviewed, but like you said, not all of them “get” the concept of a four/five year old asking them questions. Which in all honesty seemed strange to me, considering most of them were writing books for kids in this very age group. We had one poet (I won’t say who, because he’s still a very talented author) who simply didn’t get it and in fact found some of the questions like, “Crayons or Markers?”, hardly worth answering. In fact, the response given was “neither.”
On the other hand we’ve interviewed amazing authors like Jon Scieszka, Annie Barrows, and Deborah Underwood. One of our favorite interviews was with author/illustrator Jon Klassen who wrote I Want My Hat Back. His answer to a popular set of questions, “Slides or swings? Why?”, was one of the best to date, “Swings. Slides don’t swing.” Also a recent interview with the author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, Christopher Healy was most definitely our favorite interview to date. Christopher is a dad of a boy about the Turkeybird’s age and I believe that really helped him connect with the questions, making his answers absolutely hilarious! It’s those types of interviews that are really fun for both of us, because we do actually sit down together and read over all the answers together.
Me: So much has been said about negative reviews in the blogosphere. How to do them, whether to do them. Whether there will be a backlash from the author and/or the world of publishing. Where do you fall in this debate? Are you comfortable doing both negative and positive reviews?
Danielle: Funny you should ask this. I’m conducting a survey on my site right now and received a comment stating that this particular person “hadn’t ever seen a negative review on my site which makes them question how honest the reviews are.” At first I was a bit taken back by the comment because yes, I absolutely believe in doing negative and positive reviews.
My most recent negative review was only a couple of months ago and it was one of the most agonizing experiences I’ve had writing reviews. I was actually physically sick during and after writing it. It’s completely the opposite of writing a review for a book I fell in love with, because I consider writing reviews a very personal thing. It’s personal not only for me and how I involve my feelings within the review, but also for the author of the book. Who wouldn’t rather make another person happy over stomping all over something they worked hard on and likely dedicated a great deal of time & emotion to? Unfortunately, a book doesn’t always work out the way I’d hoped.
I’ve spent a number of years being trained as a classical flutist and it taught me a lot about reviewing. Be constructive, honest and always try to be positive about some aspect of the book. Like music, no one likes the same things, but honesty is important to help us grow in our chosen fields. A lot of those negative critiques I received on my performances were tough, but they always forced me to grow and examine things from a different angle no matter whether I agreed. But it’s also those experiences that shaped the approach I take to writing negative reviews; always professional and courteous of the author’s feelings. Fortunately though, as I’ve read more and more I’ve gotten better about selecting the books I read and I don’t have to write too many negative reviews.
Me: Have you had bad experiences with authors after reviewing their books? Or unusually good ones?
Danielle: So so so so many good experiences! I know I’ve had a couple of bad experiences, but I’ve had so many good ones that it’s hard to remember the ones I didn’t like. From little comments on my reviews thanking me to tweets to full length emails saying how much they appreciated what I wrote. It’s all been amazing and makes staying up late completely worth it!
Me: Can you tell us a little about your own writing, and your writing goals?
Danielle: Yes, believe it or not I write as well. Maybe I need to reevaluate that “finding the time” question. Ha!
For the past few years I’ve had quite a few stories come to mind and have felt compelled to write them down. I’m currently wrapping up a middle grade novel and have two young adult novels (one sci-fi and the other paranormal) each about half way completed. My primary goal at this point is to focus on the middle grade novel and have it published. In my dream world I’d love to have it published by Walden Pond Press, but I may be reaching with that particular goal. I’m also working on a book with my mom featuring picture books that we’re hoping will be coming out in the next year, but I can’t talk much about it at this point. Beyond that, who knows? The sky’s the limit!
Me: I’m interested in stories about the query process. What are some examples of the best and worst ways you’ve been approached as a reviewer? What would you caution new authors to avoid? Do you have a pet peeve?
Danielle: My current greatest pet peeve is being pitched to via Twitter. It’s not really the place to sell a book to someone. Almost always it turns me away from the person completely. So definitely, new authors, avoid Twitter pitches!
As far as best and worst approaches…the worst was a recent bad email. The author said this basically, “Hi, I’m a recent first time author with X book coming out in August. I’m hoping you’ll review it. It’s on NetGalley and I have a tour. Thanks.” Seriously, that was it. No link to the book or the author’s website, no book cover, nothing. Not very inspiring.
A really great approach was with the first book Susan Kaye Quinn self-published. I typically avoid self-published books, but Susan was someone who had taken a long time (around a year) to get to know me via comments on my blog and chatting on twitter here and there (not about her book). When she emailed me I immediately recognized her and took the time to read over her short intro and then the book synopsis. Immediately after I said yes and ended up loving the book, Open Minds.
Also, I recently did an interview with Anne R. Allen about my full list of tips on how to query a book blogger. It was a lot of fun and I’d highly recommend checking it out! [Me, note: I did an interview with Anne the author in my Author friday series, and will do an interview with Anne the blogger in June.)
Me: Tell me about the online name you use, “The 1st Daughter.” I sense there must be a story behind why that feels significant.
Danielle: My mom is actually very active in the food blogging world and when I decided to start a blog she strongly recommended using nicknames. After a lot of thought I finally came up with “The1stdaughter” because I’m really not that creative with things like this. It just so happens that I’m the first daughter in a family of three daughters and my husband is the first son in a family of four sons. Now, whether or not he picks up “The1stSon” when he starts blogging is still completely up in the air.
Me: Will you brag on yourself a little, and tell my readers the honors and recognition you and your blog have received?
Danielle: My blog has received awards from Book Blogger Appreciation Week including Best Kidlit Book Blog and as a finalist for Best Author Interviews. I’ve also served as a judge for the Cybils Awards for the last two years and for the INSPYs awards this last year. I’m also a co-founder of the online book blogging event Armchair BEA which has also received honors for being the best book blogging event out there.
Beyond the blog are primarily music related honors including playing my flute in both the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and Carnegie Hall. I’ve also recorded a full length classical CD comprised of my own arrangements for flute and piano. [Me, note: See, this is why I love to interview bloggers. There's always more to them then you might see on their web pages.]
Me: Will you recommend a few other book blogs that you think are worth visiting?
Danielle: I’d love to!
Gina from Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers because she’s one of the most hard working, amazing and loyal people I’ve ever known.
Juju’s site Tales of Whimsy because not only do I love her reviews (and her), but she’s one of the most interactive non-twitter using book bloggers out there.
Amy from My Friend Amy because she was the first book blog I fell in love with and she’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Tif from Tif Talks Books because of her generosity and love of books.
Carissa’s site Digital Storytime because I love her book app reviews and her enthusiasm.
Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Danielle: How did you feel about your experience the first time you met Catherine in person?
I was so unbelievably nervous! Meeting Catherine was like visiting a rock star at their home. Who does that? Then, on top of it she was going to read my writing out loud to a group of other writers! It was one of the most nerve wracking experiences I’ve had in a long time, but one that changed everything about how I write and how I feel about my writing.
Catherine’s critique and words of advice helped me not only with my writing but how I view my potential to do good in the world. It was an unforgettable experience and I truly think it’s one that propelled so much good in my life that I’ll never be able to say thank you enough.
Thank you Catherine! For everything.
Thank you, Danielle. Especially for that last question and answer. People will start to think "ask your own question and answer it" is self-serving on my part, but I swear I never expected questions and answers about me. Honest.
Next week on Blogger Wednesday I'll be hosting Adam of Roof Beam Reader. Pretty sure you'll like Adam, so please do visit again.