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Creating a Successful Virtual Picture Book Launch by Molly Ruttan

-AN INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN-

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF THE STRAY,

ON LAUNCHING A PICTURE BOOK DURING A PANDEMIC

 

06 Molly holding THE STRAY
Molly Ruttan and her book, THE STRAY (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse).

 

The traditional children’s book launch is typically at a bookstore, someone’s home, or occasionally at a venue related to the subject matter. Prior to the pandemic I attended several book birthday parties and launches every month, but since being stuck at home, I’ve begun watching them on Facebook and Instagram or via Zoom. I was so impressed with Molly Ruttan’s Instagram launch in May that I asked her if we could discuss the ins and outs of creating a virtual book launch.  As a special bonus, Molly’s kindly offered to share her Instagram Live launch today so please scroll down to watch. Please note that due to copyright protections Molly’s book reading of The Stray has been edited out. You can also read my review of the picture book here.

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GoodReadsWithRonna: What made you choose to do your virtual launch on Instagram rather than on another platform like Facebook?

Molly Ruttan: First I want to say thank you, Ronna, for having me on your excellent blog. It is truly an honor to be featured here.

As I watched the world closing down because of the pandemic, I realized I needed to start planning a virtual book launch for my debut author/illustrator book THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse). The idea was extremely intimidating—I struggle with keeping up with social media, and I had no experience with live social media events, at all. On top of that I am terrified of public speaking and don’t feel terribly photogenic! But a good friend from my book critique group, April Zufelt, met with me several times (virtually) and provided such an ongoing and positive pep talk that she convinced me into thinking I might be able to pull it off! We chose Instagram Live because she was most familiar with it and so could teach me how it would work

GRWR: Did you make an outline for the presentation? Tell us about how you came up with the program.

01 Off camera bulletin boards
This was the view from where I sat at my desk, during the filming. Even with all this help I still left things out!!

MR: I tend to get like a deer in headlights when I’m put in front of a camera—winging it would not be a good idea—so I knew I would need an outline of the itinerary posted where I could see it, to help me keep on track. I put it on a bulletin board, and then while I rehearsed I kept adding notes and reminders to the point where I needed a second bulletin board! Then with my nerves rattling I decided to keep the whole display up during the live show. I didn’t end up using it that much, but it was nice to know it was there.

Outlines and lists were also crucial for my preparation. I made lists every step of the way. I had a vision that I wanted the launch to be like a birthday party, and I wanted it to be interesting for kids. I had previously made a hat of my main character Grub, for Halloween, so I knew right away I would wear it, and it also gave me the idea for the craft.

02 IG post
I created a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest and to have a fun way of ending my party by announcing all the winners. This IG post was the last day before the event. I gave away sticker sheets, tote bags, pins, art prints and books.

I proceeded by brainstorming other things I might do at a birthday party/live presentation with kids present. Once I got a good idea of what I wanted to include, I wrote out a schedule for myself to keep track of what I needed to make time for each day. In the months before, I had started making swag, but I had stopped when things started to shut down. With April’s encouragement I decided to proceed with ordering it and using it for a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest.

I also created several short animations as invitations and reminders. (I had previously animated my own book trailer). It was additionally tricky because at the time, we were in lockdown. But fortunately a few days before the event the lockdown lifted, so my (grown) daughter Sydney offered to come over and help me. That was a godsend. (We were still very careful not to get too close to each other, though!) Sydney helped me adjust the flow of the presentation and organize the props so that everything would be at hand at the right time. She arranged the background and framed the scene. I rehearsed virtually in front of her and April, and we refined. My book launch day happened to fall on my Dad’s birthday, so the day before the event I baked cupcakes and decorated one of them to match the book, so I could light a candle and blow it out, to celebrate both of them.

 

03 Stills from Molly Book Launch.
Two frames from the recording where I am doing a draw-along demo of my main character, Grub, and showing how to make a Grub hat.

 

GRWR: Which type of online launch do you think best highlights an author or author/illustrator’s picture book: Q+A, talking head, combination of both, or something else?

MR: I think this is something that really depends on the type of book you’ve written, and who your audience is. It also depends if you are the writer, the illustrator, or both. I had trouble finding any launches to view in preparation— this was still pretty early on. I viewed one that was done in a Q+A format, and although I found that format interesting, it didn’t have quite the energy I wanted. Since my launch I’ve seen some interesting power-point type presentations, and/or pre-recorded video demos within a Q+A, which I thought worked well. I think it also depends on the tech you have available. I work on a desktop MacPro that doesn’t have a camera on the monitor, so doing a Zoom-type presentation where I could share my screen wasn’t an option. In the end I think any format can work as long as you keep your audience in mind and speak to them. I got through it by imagining that I was talking to kids.

My sister Linda Moldawsky created three beautiful activity sheets to go along with the book. They are available and free to download from my website, www.mollyruttan.com, along with directions for the craft and a coloring sheet.

GRWR: How much time should someone expect to prep for their launch?

MR: Again, I imagine it depends on the type of book you’ve written, and what you plan to do. I gave myself a month, which wasn’t a lot of time, especially since in addition to preparing for the launch activities, I was also ordering the swag & creating the animated announcements. Plus I was busy with work. I would advise giving yourself more than a month! Write out what you want to do way ahead of time and create a schedule. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!

GRWR: How long a program should it be?

MR: Regarding the length of the event, as I mentioned before, I rehearsed and then revised places that went too long or could be expanded. My launch took about 45 minutes because that was how long it took to get through everything. It was longer at first because the craft took forever! I realized I needed to make some of the craft pieces before-hand and have them ready, like in a cooking show, and that worked much better. I’ve seen some launches that are simply an introduction and then a reading; their launches are much shorter than mine was. I think short & sweet is great; longer is great too if you have a presentation that is engaging. (The launch video I’ve posted on You Tube is much shorter because I took out the book reading.) 

GRWR: Do you recommend including a giveaway to viewers during the launch?

MR: I would recommend it! I believe people truly enjoy winning things, and I get a lot of joy giving presents to people. Announcing the winners was a fun way to end the “party” and having a winner to announce the next day (from the giveaway during the event) was a great way to follow up on social media. I also ended the “party” by showing the beautiful activity sheets that my sister had made. It felt a little like handing out party favors– something for everyone!

GRWR: What was the hardest thing you encountered when creating your presentation? For example, looking at camera, not having a live audience to gauge interest, keeping on schedule, figuring out the tech, etc.?

MR: Aside from getting over my stage fright, and trying to remember everything without squinting at my notes that were pinned up everywhere, the hardest thing for me was the social media tech. I had decided early on that I wanted to “film” the event at my table in my studio, so that I could have all my art supplies and craft materials in view. I thought it would be as simple as attaching my phone to an old lamp stand, but it wasn’t. Among other things, like lighting and sound, Sydney figured out how to connect her phone feed to her laptop so I could see what I was doing—something that would have caused me to have a meltdown! She also helped me with Instagram afterwards. Good tech people are invaluable!

GRWR: In terms of feedback from viewers, was there a particular part of your talk that was most popular?

For the giveaway during the event I requested people send in the drawings they did during my draw-along Demo. This is the IG post I created to announce the winner.

MR: Because of the way that I was filming, I was unable to see comments as they came in during the event. When I watched the recording afterwards I was truly awed and touched by the enthusiasm of my audience. It’s hard to pinpoint if any one thing stood out—there was a lot of response all the way through it. One of the things I had done was a draw-along demo, with a giveaway attached to it. I was delighted to see so many pictures flooding in after the event! All in all it was well attended, topping out at about 70 people logging on, with between 30-40 at any one time.

GRWR: Was there a call to action, so to speak, when you do an IG live event so that people watching will buy the book and get it signed like they do at an in person event? How do you and other people launching handle that aspect?

Book Plate photo
This Book Belongs To: Book Plate for The Stray by Molly Ruttan.

MR: In terms of making the book available to buy, I put a message in my Instagram bio, with the link to my page on the Penguiun/Random House site, which has many different choices of venues. At the end of the party I instructed people to the link. Unfortunately there was no way of signing the books, using that method. I did make book plates, some of which I had signed and sent to a local bookstore, but I didn’t mention that; I had only sent a handful. Of course I signed the books that were in my giveaway, but I have been thinking about how to honor the people who bought my book at the launch … maybe I will do another IG “call to action”, so I can send out the rest of my name plates! I am honestly not sure what other people do. Launching a book during a pandemic is definitely a work in progress!

GRWR: What was the one most useful pieces of advice you were given about doing a virtual book launch during the pandemic?

MR: I was pretty stressed out getting all of this together—I almost lost sight of the fun and joy in it. April kept telling me not to worry so much about it, and to enjoy the time and the process. It was really good advice, and it made a huge difference. It kept me in touch with how much I live in eternal gratitude for having a book that I have created, in my hands. I have tried to keep her advice in mind ever since, for my life!

In the end, I really don’t know how my launch compares or if it was even successful!  But I did it. I pushed through fear and stress, I had a great time, and I learned to laugh at myself, to boot. Thank you so much for your time and interest in my book birthday party, Ronna!

And thanks Molly for your honest and helpful insights into putting a virtual launch together. This info is going to come in handy for a lot of authors and illustrators over the next few months.

 

FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE:

Check out her website! www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Stray by Molly Ruttan

THE STRAY

Written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, in The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.

In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on. In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.

 

 

Ruttan TheStray p04-05 We-found-a-stray fin
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.

 

Ruttan TheStray p09 We-named-him-Grub fin
Interior art from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others. Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.

 

Stray Neighborhood AFTER
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.

NOTEWORTHY FACT: Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space. 

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about The Stray in my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Molly here.

Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Stray here.

 

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Cover Reveal for The Stray by Molly Ruttan

IT’S A COVER REVEAL GUEST POST!

BY MOLLY RUTTAN

 


From Good Reads With Ronna:
Today we’re thrilled to share this special cover reveal guest post to get you as psyched as we are for Molly Ruttan’s picture book debut as author/illustrator this spring.

From Molly:
I am so excited to reveal the cover for my upcoming book THE STRAY, written and illustrated by me, Molly Ruttan, and published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House.

 

TheStray Book Cover
Book cover of THE STRAY, written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. © Molly Ruttan 2020, Nancy Paulsen Books

 

In stores on May 19, 2020

Available now for pre-order at

Amazon, IndieBound Barnes & Noble

 

SUMMARY:

Molly Ruttan The Stray p9
Interior page from THE STRAY, written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, © Molly Ruttan 2020, Nancy Paulsen Books

Adopting an extraterrestrial leads to hilariously mixed results!

When a family goes for a stroll one morning and encounters an adorable little creature with no collar or tag (who just happens to be sitting in the wreckage of an unidentified crash-landed object), they happily adopt the lovable stray. They name him Grub and set about training him, but that works surprisingly . . . poorly. Taking him for a walk is an unexpected adventure, too. As hard as they try to make Grub feel at home, it’s just not working. Could he already have a family of his own? Maybe he isn’t really a stray, after all–just lost. But how on earth will they be able to find his family when he seems to come from somewhere . . . out of this world?


FROM THE AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR:

This book was so much fun for me to create, and combines three of the many things I love: family, animals, and science fiction! The family in the story is modeled after my own close-knit family. They stick together from the start to the finish. Grub, the stray, is found destitute and alone, and like many of the strays I have personally cared for, enthusiastically accepts the family’s invitation to take him in. Putting this story into the context of UFOs and visitors from space was pure joy for me; I have spent many an hour with binoculars, gazing at the night sky and wondering who might be out there! Plus, hasn’t everyone sometimes wondered if their pet has come from somewhere unearthly?

 

Author/illustrator Molly Ruttan in Roswell with The Stray.

ABOUT THE COVER:

To create the art for the cover, I again combined things I love. First I got messy with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. Then I composed the final art with digital media. The final result is very similar to the original comp, shown here with a visitor at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico. They approved!

FIND ME ONLINE:

Check out my website! www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

GRUB’ll GRAB YOU!

A huge thank you to Molly for giving us a special insider’s look at both the cover and the main character of THE STRAY available to enjoy this May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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