Janet Sumner Johnson
About Author Visits Blog Books Events Contact PB&J Society

Book Trailer!

Jul 29, 2016 Books, PB&J Society, Writing 1 comment

Summers are always so full. Kids out of school. Vacations. Running through the sprinklers. Backyard barbecues. Friends. Fun. . . . and then of course you have to add in the work stuff that adults never really get out of, but that’s not nearly as fun to talk about.

At the beginning of every summer, my husband and I sit down with our kids and write out a summer bucket list. We started several years ago when a friend of mine posted a picture of theirs on Facebook. That was all the incentive I needed. A list (Who doesn’t love those?)??? Fun things to do? A get-out-of-jail free card for when the kids are bored? I was SOLD.

Hot dogs on grillAnyway, it’s been a favorite tradition ever since. This year, we had a BBQ with friends on our list. So last week, each child got to invite over one friend, and we barbecued hotdogs, ran through sprinklers, had epic video game battles, and yeah. Best. Day. Ever. (at least according to my kids)

And here is where I am finally leading you to the title of this whole thing. The day before, I had discovered the iMovies app on my phone, and their fill-in-the-blank movie trailer videos. And they had the perfect template for my book! So while the kids wore themselves out, I planned out all the scenes I would need.

Book Trailer MapI even made some COOL props. Like, I could have totally been a map-maker in another life, right? (heehee) And when I pulled out the lighter to burn the edges and make it look super cool and super old, all the kids gathered around and BEGGED to have a turn. But yeah. I’m not THAT cool of a mom. Even I have my limits. 😉 But I sure had fun.

So I borrowed one of the visiting kids (with permission from the mom) and used one of my own and I made this epic book trailer! Woot! Seriously, it was one of the funnest things I’ve done this summer (and I’ve done some FUN things!). I forgot how good it can feel to stretch your creative self with new and different activities.

Since it’s Friday, and Friday is all about having fun and exciting things to come, I thought it was the perfect day to present you with my homemade book trailer extraordinaire for THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY!!

Hope you enjoyed it! And now, please tell me about your Epic Summer Adventures in the comments (because we need more ideas for next years list). 😉


The Art of Listening

Jul 01, 2016 Books, Uncategorized Comment

In April 2014, I watched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag take over my Twitter Feed. I remember watching it and reading all the tweets, and trying to understand the urgency that was clearly evident in everything that was being said.

I didn’t join in.

Perhaps some of you are criticizing me now, but there you are. I didn’t join in. I didn’t feel qualified to join in.

Instead, I listened. I examined my own self and worked to figure out what I really thought about all this.

I thought back on my childhood reading. I remembered books like Mildred Taylor’s “Roar of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” and “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and perhaps there had been some “Dear America” books with diverse main characters . . . and that’s where my memory failed me.

And I was horrified.

Sumner Girls.Jane.WritingThough l grew up in a very un-diverse neighborhood, I always craved to know more about other cultures and people. As a child, I grew up with 2 Tiawanese exchange students who I now consider to be my brother and sister. Before 2014, I lived in a Melanesian country for a year-and-a-half. I learned French and Spanish. I lived in South America for 3 months. I got a Master’s degree in French that focused on the French works from Africa and Haiti and Tahiti and anywhere else French was spoken outside of France. I LOVE other cultures . . .

NewCal

. . . but I still hadn’t seen the lack of diversity in children’s literature. I hadn’t see it. Even when an editor told me my Ecuador book would have no place in American publishing, I didn’t question that.

I was blinded by privilege that I hadn’t even realized I had.

It is a no-brainer to me that all people deserve respect. That skin color means nothing. I never saw myself as racist, but I also never acknowledged the inherent racism that permeates the world we live in.

I remember the night I first understood. I was out with my dear friend and neighbor. She grew up in Nigeria, but came to the USA for university. She is beautiful and intelligent, and compassionate. When I first met her she’d recently finished her family medicine residency. We were almost home when we noticed our neighbor’s garage door was open. It was late, so we stopped to let them know. Since I was driving, my friend ran to the door, then immediately ran back. She didn’t dare knock at the door for fear of their reaction to her skin color. And it wasn’t a silly fear. Because I was afraid for her, too.

No one deserves to feel that way.

Which is why diverse books are so important. Books and stories bring empathy, compassion, and comfort. They help us understand the Other and the Unknown. They eradicate the fear that leads to hatred and racism and bigotry.

We have all heard that everyone deserves to read about people like themselves. But diverse books are not just for them. We all need these books. All of us. We need to read about characters from all over the world, from all walks of life, living through all sorts of experiences. Because understanding and sympathizing and empathizing with an Other makes us better humans.

We. Need. Diversity.

It has taken me nearly two years of listening to understand just how much I have to learn. Just how much I wasn’t seeing. So I will be continuing to listen.

To those of you know who are speaking out, your voices are being heard. You are making a difference.

But please don’t forget how important it is to still listen. Because it takes both speaking and listening for the world to change.


The Truth About Authoring

May 23, 2016 Uncategorized Comment

When I tell people I went on a book tour, I get that look that says they are impressed. That if I’m going on tour, I must have “made it” as an author. A few people dare to dig a little deeper and ask, “So who pays for the tour? You or your publisher?”

And this is where I smile.

KC Friends

Book tour shenanigans – Kansas City

So much of what it’s like to be an author is shrouded in mystery. We have old school views of how things work, and when we think “author,” we tend to think Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, who are anything but typical.

Today I’m going to share what it’s like being a mid-list author. Because the reality is very different than what I always imagined. So below I’m going to answer some of the more common questions I get:

  1. Do you get paid for writing a book?

Yes! I most definitely get paid. Buuut, it’s not very much. Numbers vary widely depending on who the author is as well as who the publisher is. 12% of net profits for hardback books, and 25% for ebooks, is pretty common. Especially for a debut author such as myself.

Basically what that means is I get paid less than a dollar per book. So can I retire all my other jobs now that I’ve been published? I really can’t. Maybe if I had enough books out, but “enough” is a questionable number, and it’s higher than you would guess.

  1. How is your book doing?

This is a bit of an awkward question. Because honestly, I really don’t know. You would think that as an author I should know. But I don’t. Twice yearly (and for some, this is quarterly), I get what is called a “Royalty Statement.” This statement tells me how many of my books sold (and in what format – hardback vs. ebook) during the 6 months of the reporting period.

So if you caught me at just the right time of year, I could tell you how many of my books have sold (though I probably still wouldn’t), but even that is not an answer to how my book is doing. There are just so many things at play, it’s not an easy answer.

  1. Who pays for the tour? You or your publisher?
PB&J Society, Fan Art

Fan Art for PB&J Society

This really depends on who you are. For me, as a mid-list author of a smaller publisher, I pay for my tours. This is why I have chosen to do tours in places that I have a connection to . . . whether I was already planning to go there, so I set up some book events because I could. Or I used to live there and know there will be people interested in my book. Or maybe I have a friend who lives there and so that gives me a reason to want to go. But in any case, the cost of a book tour is a big deal, because it is all coming from me.

This is why authors who do school visits outside of their home area require travel fees. Because tours take a lot of time and energy and money! And even though I want to promote my book, I also want to spend time with my family and be there for them (not to mention spending time on writing the next book!).

  1. Who sets up your school visits, library panels, and other promotional events?

Again, depending on who you are, how big your publisher thinks your book will be, or even the business model of your publisher, your publisher might set up some of these things. For me (and for most other mid-list authors that I know), I set these up.

For the first leg of my tour, I joined a group of authors, and they set up our panels and visits (since I was coming from out of town). But it was up to me to find the group and help with planning for discussion topics, etc. Group author visits are wonderful because you not only share the work load, but you can pull in a larger audience and have someone to talk to in case you don’t have an audience (and yes, that really happens).

Handley Library, Author Panel

Library Panel in Winchester, VA

The last two legs of my tour, it was up to me to contact schools, teachers, librarians, and bookstores to find those who were interested in having me come. I contacted people I already knew, and this worked great for my first tour, but this won’t always be the case. The art of cold-contacting is something I am learning.

Author Launch Party

Launch Party – Klamath Falls, OR

For blog interviews, I have been fortunate enough to be contacted by the bloggers to ask if I was interested in participating. Also, I have a publicist (hired by my publisher) who works to get my book in front of the right readers who can best help spread the word, including to industry reviewers (School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.).

Promoting a book is a lot of work! And since this is not my area of expertise, it has been a steep learning curve. But for me, the reward really comes when I’ve gotten to meet my readers and see the excitement in their faces at meeting a “real, live author.” (Which I still can’t believe means me!)

So wow, this post went a lot longer than I intended, but I hope you have a little bit better idea about what it means to be an author. It’s hard work. It’s a lot more than just writing. The pay isn’t great. But I love what I do so much, and that’s why I keep doing it!

If you have other questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask!


Book Tour Shenanigans & Failed Plans

Apr 25, 2016 Uncategorized Comment

About a month before the release of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, Brenda Drake introduced me to the song “Peanut Butter Jelly Time!” Before that, I had no clue it existed. Like zero.

Of course, once I knew about it, I had big plans to use it on launch day and get all kinds of crazy. I planned to video myself and my family dancing to it. Then I decided that we needed a choreographed dance. But between moving, the book tour, and life, none of that ever happened.

Then I travelled to Maryland as part of the Beyond the Pages Book Tour, and spent all kinds of time with authors Laura Shovan, Ava Jae, and Kathy MacMillan.

Book Tour Shenanigans

During that trip, we got up to some crazy shenanigans. We spoke at panels, we signed books, and we spent like 87 hours driving in Maryland traffic. In short, we had an amazing time! So when I told them of my plans for Peanut Butter Jelly Time, they jumped aboard the good ship PB&J without a second thought. After a late night of pizza and s’mores, we got out our sharpies, created Harry Potter dancing bananas in homage to THIS awesome Peanut Butter Jelly Time video, and went for it! We even tweeted this teaser picture:

Harry Potter Dancing Bananas

Alas, when I got back from that tour, I upgraded my failing phone, left 2 days later for the next leg of the tour, and totally spaced posting the AWESOME video that we’d made.

Today I am going to rectify that oversight. And so, without further ado, I present the debut of the Beyond the Pages Book Tour Peanut Butter Jelly Time Video!

Have an awesome day, and good luck getting that song out of your head! It’s pretty much permanently stuck in mine.


My Launch in Review

Apr 04, 2016 Books, PB&J Society 3 comments

My head is still buzzing over all the excitement of the last few days. On Friday, my book headed out to the world! My twitter feed went wild, and I conducted a couple of polls on two very important topics:

Team Grape vs. Team Strawberry (Team Grape: 25% vs. Team Strawberry: 75%)

&

Chunky Peanut Butter vs. Creamy Peanut Butter (Chunky: 27% vs. Creamy: 73%)

I’m still in shock over the tragic defeat of Team Grape!

On Saturday I had a wonderful launch party at The King’s English Bookshop, so today I wanted to share the excitement of the party with a few pictures:

I couldn’t have open food, so we had PEANUT BUTTER  cups and JELLY beans.

IMG_1504

My parents and sister surprised me with a beautiful framed picture of my cover. It was just perfect to display at the signing.

IMG_1506

I brought my very first ever rejection from 21 years ago. (Isn’t that amazing?!) As a teen I sent a story idea to Disney, and that envelope contains their polite refusal to even look at it.

IMG_1537

I told some stories. I read a few passages from my book . . .

IMG_1572

We drew winners for some Pirate Prize Packs and a PB&J Prize Pack.

IMG_1624

IMG_1625

And I couldn’t resist throwing in a booby prize (or should I say Gooby prize?)!

IMG_1628

And the whole thing concluded with the signing of lots and lots of books.

IMG_1635

IMG_1655

Thank you so much to everyone who came both in body and spirit! You’ve made me feel so special, and I’m grateful to have shared this amazing moment in my life with so many people I care about.

I wish you all a wonderful week, and much happiness!

 


Launch Day: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society

Apr 01, 2016 Books, PB&J Society, Vlog 4 comments

It’s official!!! The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is out in the world!! Huzzah!!!

To celebrate, I wrangled my dad (a.k.a. the PB&J guru) into doing a vlog with me. Because everyone should know how to make a PB&J the RIGHT way. Enjoy!

And for anyone who happens to be in the Salt Lake City, UT area, you are all invited to my launch party! It will be tomorrow, April 2nd, at 4:00 pm at The King’s English Bookshop (1511 S. 1500 E.).

Have a wonderful day! And don’t forget to comment with your vote for Team Grape or Team Strawberry!! 🙂


The Book Countdown: 4 days!

Mar 28, 2016 Uncategorized Comment

FOUR DAYS!!!

My bookA mere four days until The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is launched into the world!!

My mind is boggling, and I hope you can forgive me if I wax a bit nostalgic . . . because I am in awe that this story – one I started on a whim – is going to find its way to readers throughout the world.

Almost exactly twenty-one years ago, I wrote the very first chapter of this book. Another six years passed before I admitted to myself I wanted to be an author, and I spit out a first draft in a mere three weeks.

It only took one rejection to realize I had a lot to learn.

And so another eight years passed while I studied books on writing, attended writing conferences, acquired critique partners, and wrote and wrote and wrote. That’s when I stumbled on that early draft.

It needed a lot of work. Like an actual plot and stuff. And honestly, it was painful to read because it was a testament to just how ignorant I’d been on the craft of writing. But oh the characters! They jumped off the page and I fell in love with them all over again.

Two more years of writing and revising before I found an agent, and another two to find a publisher.

The road has been so much longer than I ever imagined. But oh my heart! To hold in my hands a thing that I created in my head . . . simply indescribable.


The Sledding Hill

Feb 22, 2016 Writing Comment

“Come sledding,” they said.

IMG_6090

“You HAVE to try this hill at least once!” he said.

IMG_6102

I watched my boys slide down the hill one by one. Screaming when the sled didn’t go where they wanted. Scrabbling to pull themselves back on course before the inevitable . . . WHOOSH . . . disappearing down the cliff face.

IMG_6190

IMG_6195

They pushed the sled into my hands. “Your turn.”

“I don’t know about this,” I said. But I sat on it anyway. I stared down the sledding path a long time before my sons got tired of waiting and helped me along with a big push.

“You’re welcome!” they called as I screamed down the hill and scrabbled to get back on course.

And then WHOOSH! I was speeding down a cliff face and hurtling towards the road, and then it was over. I came to a stop and all that remained was to hike back up.

“Ready to go again?” They grinned. It wasn’t really a question.

But I didn’t. I watched them sliding and screaming and hurtling down the cliff. I snapped picture after picture. And I was content.

IMG_6213

Because sometimes, it’s okay to leave the crazy to others.

 


PB&J Society Bonus Story!

Feb 15, 2016 Books, PB&J Society 2 comments

Today’s the day, guys! *throws confetti*

The PB&J Society Bonus Story, “Annie’s Bet,” is now live on the PB&J Society page and free to download!

Title.Image for blog

I’m so excited for you all to meet Annie and Jason!

Also, I bet you’ve been wondering what a PB&J Society is exactly. So while you’re checking out the story, you can read up on the PB&J Society Rules, which are also now posted and downloadable (in a super cute poster format!).

PB&J_Rules.Title.Image for blog

So go on! Go check them out!

And enjoy!

 


Great Middle Grade Books

Feb 08, 2016 Books Comment

One of my favorite parts of becoming an author has been learning about all the other great books that are coming out soon. And even better, I’ve gotten to read a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). My son has also been taking advantage of this, and he’s gotten to read a lot of them, too. I think I’m going to have him post some reviews in the near future.

But in the mean time, I wanted to share with you some of the amazing middle grade novels that have been and will be released this year.

.
MGflyer1-web-wide-singleMGflyer2-web-normal-single

 

Of these 19 books listed above, I have read 16 of them (including my own). You can check out my Goodreads reviews to see what I had to say. But honestly, I have been so impressed! Science Fiction. Fantasy. Mystery. Magical Realism. Historical. Contemporary. Books dealing with loss. Books dealing with change. Books dealing with mysteries. I found kids facing their fears and learning to find their voice.  I found kids trying new things and making hard choices. I could go on and on (for your sakes, I won’t).

There is truly a book for every reader on these posters above! And although we say that middle grade is for kids ages 8 – 12, I disagree. These books are for people of all ages. I have learned so much about myself and about the world around me as I’ve read these stories. They truly are for everyone. I hope you’ll look some of these up and share the ones you love.

So tell me . . . which ones are you most excited for? Or, if you are looking for a book on a certain topic or of a certain genre, please tell me, and I’ll make a recommendation. I just love, love, love hooking up books and readers!