Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Sara Fujimura. She is the author of TANABATA WISH. Sara writes Young Adult novels. Also, she is a Literacy Advocate and conducts several different workshops, some writing and some not.
YA, Romance, Multicultural
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Sara Fujimura is the American half of her Japanese-American family. Every summer she spends about a month in Japan at her in-laws’ house with her now teenaged children. Sara loves cooking and eating Japanese food, so you can often find her working at Arizona anime cons as her alter ego, The Obento Lady.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
Congratulations on your book: TANABATA WISH. Rumor has it that you have another book on the horizon called BREATHE. Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
Thank you! I am so excited to finally bring this book to life. It hits shelves on July 4, 2018, which also happens to be the main character Virginia’s birthday. BREATHE is a young adult historical novel set in Philadelphia. After being pressed into service as a nurse, seventeen-year-old Virginia Jackson discovers her innate talent, begins a clandestine romance with her father’s Italian assistant, and learns what it truly means to be a modern woman during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. If you like TITANIC, DOWNTON ABBEY, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, costume dramas, cute Italian boys, and/or girls changing the world, this book might be for you!
You have a good following on twitter. How important have your social media relationships been? How did you build your following in your niche? Do you see a carry over to your writing success?
I am on Facebook (personal and author page), Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, though I use the first three the most. They have some overlap in content, but I use each one differently. Though I definitely use social media for marketing and branding, I see it more as a giant watercooler for me since I work out of my home. It also lets me keep up with friends from all over the world. I built my following by mostly posting what is genuinely interesting to me (travel, cooking, books, movies, bullet journaling), not just “buy my book” over and over. It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think social media has helped me sell a lot of books to the general public. It has sent people to my table at book festivals and anime cons though, and that often leads to book sales.
What writer support groups do you belong to? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
I have been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for twenty years. I am very active with my local Arizona chapter, and I link up with the Japan chapter in the summer when I can. By far, SCBWI’s events and conferences have been a game-changer when it comes to the art of writing. I have also been a member of the Romance Writers of America for the last six years and am active with my local chapter. Though I have learned writing craft from RWA too, they have been instrumental in my business and marketing education. And finally, I also belong to a group of middle grade and young adult authors in the Phoenix area. Almost all of us are published (indie and traditional) or are very close to it. I am proud to call these people my friends, as well as, colleagues. Though we only officially meet once a quarter, I see them frequently at book festivals, book launches, and local events.
What is your primary genre? What has been your best marketing approach to this group?
I don’t have one, because I write a bunch of different things, including nonfiction and screenplays. I usually write for teens, but some of my work is for younger kids and adults. For TANABATA WISH which is set in Japan, I already had a built-in audience. I’ve been working in the AZ anime con circuit for six years now. The teens and young adults who come to the cons are already interested in Japanese language and culture, aspire to visit Japan, and are looking for stories with Japanese heroes. They have heard me speak and teach many times over the years, so we already have a connection. Though this works great for TANABATA WISH, it isn’t going to help me much with BREATHE. I am building out a completely different marketing plan for BREATHE that targets the educational market. I am currently working with two high school teachers to create a program that connects into their core curriculum.
Between your book writing, writing workshops, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do you sort of play it by ear?
I don’t keep regular hours or have a set schedule. Because there are so many moving parts to my writing business (creating, editing, promotion, teaching, etc.), I make a general plan for the quarter then distill it down to the month, then the week, and the day. I just made the jump to full-time writing, so I’m still trying to figure out the work-life balance.
What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
I don’t want to be a starving artist, so I try not to give away my books and services for free. I haven’t done any of the free/deep discount online marketing deals offered to authors. I do donate my books and time to my favorite literacy organizations (like Kids Need to Read) and literacy events (like Drop Everything and Write Day), but they are the exception more than the rule. Yes, I’m sure it is good PR and builds brand, but I’ve been volunteering with KNTR and doing events like Drop Everything and Write Day long before TANABATA WISH came out. I genuinely enjoy doing them, and they fill my creative well at the same time.
Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?
I have been actively studying book marketing for the last few years and yet have pretty much ignored most of the advice. It is easy to let marketing suck up all your writing time. There definitely needs to be a balance between promoting your current project and writing the next one. I do have a tiny email list and create content for social media regularly, but the thing that moves books the most for me is in-person events. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, but I enjoy book festivals, anime cons, school visits, and other community events. I also carry bookmarks around in my purse.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
Again, going against what the marketing books say, I chose not to send ARCs out for my first two books. I want(ed) organic reviews. I have given out Dropcards with free e-book versions of TANABATA WISH at professional events to librarians though. Also, I don’t leave reviews for books on Goodreads or Amazon either. If I love your book, I am going to tell everybody about it and suggest it when someone asks for recommendations. My third YA novel is going to be traditionally published, so there are going to be ARCs in my future.
Besides being a published writer, you are a creative writing teacher and a literacy advocate. Does changing hats create any problems? Any tricks you can share with us? Does moving from one to the other give you some breathing room? How can other authors find out more about your writing workshops?
The upside: My writing life is never boring because it is always changing. The downside: Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I schedule events and deadlines too close together. I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that the To-Do list is never going to get completely done and that I can’t say yes to every opportunity and event even if it would be fun and good for business. Using a bullet journal to filter down my goals into a semi-realistic To-Do list has been the biggest help. If you want to find out where I am speaking or teaching, you can check my website:
I keep a running list of where I’m going to be, what I’m teaching, and all the basic details.
The Tucson Festival of Books 2018 was a great event, enjoyed by thousands. A Book festival is a unique selling situation. How did you prepare for the festival? Did it meet your goals? If you had to do something different next year, what would that be?
It honestly wasn’t that much different than preparing for an anime con. I set up my table at home first and took a picture of it. It is easy to get visual overload at a book festival, so I wanted something with different levels and colors and textures. I have a very specific audience, so I included things (like my daruma) that visually cued Japan. I practiced a couple of sales pitches ahead of time. I also had an interactive component to get people to stop and talk to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book festival of this size, so I came in with the mentality that everything was a giant practice test for next year. It passed with flying colors. I have already signed up again for next year and requested a bigger booth space! That’s the only thing I would change (because I can’t do anything about the pollen levels).
Author's Book List
Phoenix-native Skyler Doucet’s plans with her BFF are ruined when her mom and Japanese stepfather move the entire family to Nagoya, Japan for the summer before her senior year. But when David Takamatsu, a biracial Japanese-American boy, invades Skyler’s space (and her heart), this fish out of water in Japan starts to wonder if it’s the pond back home that might be too small.
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