Helena Harper on the importance of research

Posted on Jan 14 2010

Don’t neglect that research!

by Helena Harper

Last year, I participated in an online Children’s Author Academy course, run by New York Times bestselling author, Laura Duksta, who originally self-published her bestselling children’s picture book I Love You More and was then taken up by a traditional publisher.

Laura talked about the pros and cons of both self-publishing and traditional publishing and said that whichever way you go – and that has to be your own personal decision based on what you want to do with your book – make sure you do your research regarding editors, printing houses and publishers. At the time I was interested in two publishers in the UK who offered combined publishing/marketing packages for authors who financed the publication of their own book. I had asked both to send me information regarding their publishing packages. One sent me a very informative booklet which gave me a good idea of the kind of books they had helped authors to publish, their approach to marketing, and the successes they had had. I still had a few questions and when I sent them an email, they were more than happy to answer them.

The other publisher sent me a glossy catalogue of their current books and lots of newspaper cuttings with articles about mainly non-fiction books they had published. Having participated in Laura’s course, I proceeded to contact this publisher to ask them what percentage of their books were children’s books, particularly picture books? What kind of results had they achieved with children’s books written by new authors, particularly picture books? And what was the average number of books sold? Laura had said that every author is entitled to know these things, particularly if the author is paying out a large sum of money (and this publisher wanted a very large sum of money!). After several enquiries, I finally got a response. They told me that they did not think these questions relevant when authors were financing the publication of their book themselves and some books did well and some didn’t. What they advised was that the author should think of the whole thing as an exciting adventure, like a special holiday, and they should not be concerned about the return on their investment – they should just enjoy the process!!!!  Needless to say, I crossed that publisher off my list. Thank you, Laura!

So, don’t forget that research – it most definitely is the key!


HelenaHelena Harper is a native of England, but she grew up in a household that did things somewhat differently to other English households, because her mother was German (her mother had met her father in Hamburg at the end of WWII, when as a British soldier he had been stationed there). This mixed background has had a profound influence on Helena and her understanding of so-called national divisions and whom we call an ‘enemy’ and whom we call a ‘friend’.

From an early age she loved to read and write, particularly fantasy stories, and later she enjoyed studying foreign languages. At Surrey University she studied German, Russian and International Relations and spent considerable periods of time in Germany, Austria and Russia as part of the course. After university she went into banking, but soon realised that was a big mistake. “I felt like I was being suffocated,” she says of the experience. 

She then spent a year teaching languages at a private school in London, and enjoyed it so much she decided she would get properly trained. She did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Exeter University and then started her career as a modern languages teacher, a career which has lasted twenty years. During that time she has continued to write, concentrating primarily on fantasy stories for young children. However, in the past few years she has also discovered the joys of writing poetry for adults, and her first two books are poetry collections: It’s a Teacher’s Life…! and Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which have been inspired by her professional and personal life.

Helena is now a private tutor and translator. She is continuing to write children’s stories, and illustrations for her first children’s picture book are now being done. Her aim is to see the book in print before the year is out. Many people ask Helena why she likes to write. She feels she can best express it like this:

The blank page calls,

the heart responds,

imagination spreads wide its wings

and launches into infinity…

Fingers dance,

words flow,

the page fills,

the soul takes flight

and the spirit sings.


Copyright © Helena Harper

Introducing Dana Donovan

Posted on Dec 01 2009

danaDana Donovan grew up in New England where folklore and superstitions can mold a town’s history as much as its people. Since December is often such a busy month, I’m going to focus on Dana’s book of short stories, Death and Other Inconveniences. First off, let’s have Dana tell you about a few of them:

My inspiration for Bi’Dahji was a simple line that popped into my head: “It moved.” Just two simple words and I thought they would make a great first line for a story. Of course, the problem with coming up with the first two words of a short story is that you need another five-to-fifteen thousand deathwords to follow. With little more than a first sentence to go by, it is no wonder that Bi’Dahji took almost as long to write, as did all the other short stories in this collection together, but that’s the truth. Before those words, there was no such thing as a tewechi, peeket, subit or troller.

(Just a side note: Bi’Dahji is a real word. It is Navajo, and means , on the rim, as in mesa).

Although some stories barely seep from pinpricks in the brain, others bleed, indeed hemorrhage onto the page as quickly as I can write them. That was the case with Murder at the Depot, and unlike Bi’Dahji, I had nearly every element of the story in my head long before I sat down to write it. In fact, I probably walked around almost two years waiting to put it down on paper.


The Gemini Effect came to me just as I was starting to fall asleep one night. Oddly, I get many of my ideas at that time. I guess it is the time when my brain starts to shut down for the night and my dream engine starts to purr. Gemini came to me then and in a matter of minutes, I had the entire storyline down in my head. I did not even worry that I might forget it in the morning. It was just that clear to me. The names, of course, came later. Often, a character starts out with one name in a story, but then it changes later. Nearly all the character’s names in Bi’Dahji did that. Oh, and a trivia tidbit for you: the magic words spoken to start the Gemini effect (Nimige ceteff neithso) is simply a scrambled version of

Gemini effect this one. Ooh, spooky.

You can read some of the above-mentioned short stories and find links to Dana’s other books at www.DanaDonovan.com.


Angeline Jellybean by Crystalee Calderwood

Posted on Oct 03 2009

angeline jellybeanAngeline wants to eat nothing but jellybeans. Year round, from Easter to Christmas, she asks for her favorite treat. But a strange event teaches Angeline that there’s such thing as too much of a good thing!

With colorful, delightful illustrations by Stephen Macquignon, Angeline is sure to win over hearts of young picky eaters everywhere.

Gayle: Crystalee, where did you get your inspiration to write Angeline Jellybean?

Crystalee: I don’t even remember how I came up with the story. I was taking a picture book writing class back in 2007. Our assignment was to write a picture book under 500 words, and that’s what I did. I wrote it in rhyme because I wanted to see if I could write a rhyming picture book. I didn’t even really expect to like it. That’s how Angeline was born. A few rounds of revisions and a submission later, here it is!

Gayle: You’ve never had a food obsession of your own, have you? 🙂

Crystalee: Oh yes. *laughs* Angeline loves jellybeans almost as much as I love chocolate. Of course, I have learned to limit my chocolate intake, and I didn’t have to go through the nasty side effects that Angeline did! Angeline is also very strong-willed and has a bit of a temper, which reminds me of a certain little redheaded girl I once knew.

Gayle: Sounds like a terrific book, Crystalee. Thank you for joining us today. To buy your copy of Angeline Jellybean, visit one of these online booksellers 




or ask a your local bookseller to order it for you.

Karen Cioffi’s thoughts on online opportunities

Posted on Sep 01 2009

Today our special guest is Karen Cioffi, of the Virtual Book Tour. Karen, take it away!

Online Career Opportunities and Opportunity Costs

By Karen Cioffi


The list of online marketing gurus is growing every day. Every time I turn around I find another site full of valuable marketing resources and the site owner is willing to email additional information, and I get a how-to ebook, free. How do you say no to that? The only catch is that you have to subscribe to their site. Well, okay, that’s not so horrible. The information certainly has to be worth a subscription, so you’d think.

The deal with this is that each of those subscriptions (site owners), along with some useful informational emails, will offer products or services of their own and from affiliates they promote. According to each of these emails, every product or service offered will be a must have…a real deal. Which do you choose, if any?

In cost accounting there is a term:  Opportunity Costs. What this term means is that if you choose one path or alternative, it is at the sake of other options and benefits. Another way of putting this is: I have $147 and can buy either 10 books about writing and marketing in an effort to teach myself, or purchase an e-course with instructor guidance and bonus cds. The option I don’t choose is an opportunity cost. So, the bottom line is to choose the option that will give you the most benefit for the money and time involved. You want your opportunity costs to be low and of little consequence.

After I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time gathering information form various sites and marketing gurus, and spent a fair amount of money (fair amount for me anyway) on strategies, programs, ebooks, cds and so on, I’ve come to a couple of realizations that you should consider before you venture into this bottomless pit of opportunities.

Four Tips on Choosing an Online Product or Service:

1.    You need to research any strategy, program, or service you are thinking of investing in. Though, you need to be careful here because once you Google the company or site name, you will undoubtedly come upon some of their affiliates who are eager to proclaim the value of the product or service. The affiliates are partnered with the company. They get a pre-arranged percentage for every visitor they send over or visitor who makes a purchase, or some other call-to-action.

2.    Ask friends, writers and marketers you know and trust about the company or entrepreneur you’re thinking of investing time or money or both in. If no one you know can provide some input, be certain to use tip number ONE.

3.    Once you’ve made your decision and purchase that product or service, STOP looking for others until you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of your first investment. Or, at least stop until you’ve reviewed and worked on the first purchase. What I mean here is: Early on, I fell into the trap of buying one program and before I even looked at it, I bought another one. This is a huge mistake and waste of time and money. If I involved myself with the first project, I may have realized I didn’t need the second or third purchase.

4.    Always evaluate your opportunity cost when thinking of spending time or money.

Incorporating these tips into your writing and/or marketing journey should help you reap the benefits of your investments and save you time and money.


About Karen:

Karen is married and has two grown daughters and two grandsons. She devotes most of her time now freelance writing, writing children’s picture books and MG chapter books. She is the creator and manager of VBT – Writers on the Move, a Yahoo group of authors and writers who help promote one another through various marketing strategies. She also co-moderates a children’s books critique group. In addition to writing, she has composed two songs. She’s a member of the SCBWI and Children’s Writer’s Coaching Club. In addition, she offers a number of writing services under DKV Writing 4 U.

My children’s bedtime book, Day’s End Lullaby is available through Amazon. I am currently working on two chapter books and one picture book.

Karen Cioffi