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An Interview with Author James Deem:
Part 2: Promoting Children's Books on the Web
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JH: You have created and maintain two high highly recommended and popular web sites. Your author site supplies study guides, background information, and many stories for teachers and students to read. This site has about 50,000 hits from 10,000 visitors a month. Your mummy site has about 50,000 visitors a month accounting for 600,000 to 700,000 hits. What were your goals in designing the web sites?
DEEM: I designed my author website first (back in 1997) simply to do a little publicity. I knew from my publishing experience that I would have to take charge of publicity; I also knew that I had to do it in a nonintrusive way, because I didn't have a great deal of time to devote to PR. Since the internet seemed to offer many possibilities for PR, I decided to invest some time and money in creating a website. It was a trial and error process, helped tremendously by FrontPage software. I didn't have to become a brain surgeon to carve out a website. What was nice about my author website was that it gave me a place both to publicize my work and to offer children real stories to read (that is, I posted many stories from some of my out-of-print books). The mummy website came about a year later. By then I had published two books on mummies and realized I knew too much about mummies to simply let the subject go. I decided to create the Mummy Tombs as an educational tool for students and teachers. Of course, I did use the site to publicize my two mummy books, but that wasn't my overall intent. Over the years it has grown to the largest mummy website on the internet.
I have found the internet experience to be a valuable one. Even in dark months, when no publisher seemed interested in my work (because marketing departments said that it wouldn't sell in Walmart), the internet provided a wonderful creative outlet that was unconstrained by the politics and vagaries of publishing. Plus it put me in touch with people of all ages from around the world. Of course, this positive experience led to The Mystery Club of Luna Drive, which I hope is another avenue that publishers (traditional and nontraditional alike) will pursue in the future.
JH: What have you learned from, or about, readers of your books who visit your web sites?
DEEM: Actually, neither website has led to a great deal of correspondence from readers of my books, unless a child is doing an author report and has chosen me. People (mostly adults) write more in response to certain books, especially Bodies from the Bog, or to certain topics that the Mummy Tombs covers (such as Otzi the Alpine Iceman).
JH: You mentioned that you were looking for a nonintrusive way to do PR. Have your web sites met your expectations for PR? How many hours a week do you devote to your web sites?
DEEM: The web sites have fulfilled my expectations and then some, but what I would also add is that doesn't necessarily equal book sales. I see my web sites as resources for students and teachers, rather than as stores; I write and otherwise supply material for the sites accordingly. The Mummy Tombs has allowed me to make a contribution as a clearinghouse of mummy information that is difficult to find, without doing a lot of research. My author website supplies study guides, background information, and many stories to read for teachers and students. It is also my main way of booking school visits. Most weeks I spend about an hour between the two web sites, unless I have some major updating to do.
JH: In addition to writing a chapter a month for your online mystery, what other projects are you working on?
DEEM: I've been researching Pompeii for a book (really a photo essay) that I will be writing soon, called Bodies from the Ash. In fact, the deadline for the Pompeii manuscript comes at about the same time as I will be working on the last two chapters of The Mystery Club. The Pompeii research has been fascinating because I have had to visit photo archives to find vintage photos of Pompeii in the late 1800s. I've discovered some photos that most people will never have seen, let alone imagined. I can't wait to see them in print (which will happen Fall 2005 when Houghton Mifflin publishes the book).
At the same time that I wrote The Mystery Club, I also completed two other nonfiction books for Enslow: The Vikings (Civilizations of the Ancient World) and El Salvador (Top Ten Countries of Recent Immigrants). What can I say except that it's been a busy and productive year.
JH: Since 1984 when you began writing books for children and young adults, you have seen significant changes in publishing. Is there any advice you would have given writers twenty years ago that still holds true today?
DEEM: The advice I would give to an aspiring writer today is still the advice that I follow myself: Write what you want (and need) to write. Then persevere, no matter what. You will always feel better at the end of the day than if you write things that don't matter.
Update (as of May, 2005): JH: "Now that you've completed The Mystery Club, what other projects have you been working on?
DEEM: I am doing two primary source books for Enslow, one on the Mexican-American War and one on the Revolutionary War. When those are done, I will be starting the research for a new nonfiction book. I will also be finishing a long-interrupted young adult novel."
James Deem Bibliography:
This is current as of late 2004
Millard Fillmore (Enslow 2003)
Zachary Taylor (Enslow 2002)
Bodies from the Bog (Houghton Mifflin 1998)
How to Read Your Mother's Mind (Houghton Mifflin 1994)
How to Travel through Time (Houghton Mifflin 1993)
How to Make a Mummy Talk (Houghton Mifflin 1992)
How to Hunt Buried Treasure (Houghton Mifflin 1992}
Ghost Hunters (Houghton Mifflin 1992)
How to Catch a Flying Saucer (Houghton Mifflin 1991)
How to Find a Ghost (Houghton Mifflin 1988)
The Mystery Club of Luna Drive (online novel Maricopa County Library 2004)
The Very Real Ghost of Christina Rose (Houghton Mifflin 1996)
3 Nbs of Julian Drew (Houghton Mifflin 1994; republished by Graphia imprint, 2004)
Frog Eyes Loves Pig (Crosswinds 1988)
Bio note for interviewer Juanita Havill:
Juanita Havill has published nearly forty titles for young readers, including the popular "Jamaica" series of picture books. She has written chapter books, middle grade novels, and a collection of poetry I Heard It from Alice Zucchini (Chronicle books, spring 2006). Her historical novel Eyes Like Willy's was recently published by HarperCollins.
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