December 24, 2019

2019 Year-End Post and Holiday Greetings

As I've mentioned before, although it seems fewer and fewer people send annual holiday greetings, I treasure this tradition each year--both the receiving of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family near and far, and the preparation of my own annual update.

Dawn, Katia, Nikko, and Sam, 2019

Each year I try to provide a relevant update embedded in some creative format. In most cases, I've also published a year-end blog post that incorporates the holiday greeting for that year. Here is a link to a summary of past years' greetings.

Reports and redactions factored heavily into 2019, and so the same have been incorporated into this year’s annual missive:

As I wrote, read, re-read, and reflected on this year’s update, what struck me most is that details matter—and when key details are blocked from view, the story feels decidedly incomplete.

May the coming year bring the details that are important in our stories, our lives, and our world into clearer view.

Warm wishes

December 11, 2019

Have Swag Will Travel: CHICKEN BREAK! A Counting Book, by Cate Berry

I'm so EGGcited about today's guest post with Cate Berry, author of two hilarious picture books. Today we'll focus on Cate's latest release CHICKEN BREAK! A Counting Book (illustrated by Charlotte Alder, Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan, 2019). Cate's post will crack you up AND bring you a dozen or so unique promotional ideas.

Take it away, Cate:

Have Swag, Will Travel
by Cate Berry

Bawk Squawk!

Thanks so much for having me, Dawn, on your fab kidlit blog! I launched my debut picture book last year, Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! [Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins] illustrated by Charles Santoso. It was a wild and crazy and packed year. I learned so much which is why I wanted to chat today about some grassroots marketing ideas I took out for a spin with my second book, Chicken Break! A Counting Book [Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan] which just released October 29, 2019.

But first! People always ask me about how I get my ideas. And Chicken Break had an especially fun backstory.

I usually make up absurd, imaginary stories but this little nugget was ripped from the headlines of my real life!

Our family ordered baby chicks from and they provided gleeful entertainment for many months— until they grew up. Our chickens wanted to live inside the house with us! They would line up and watch TV through the window on our back door! This really made me fall in love with chickens and their hilarious personalities.

Our neighbor had politely asked us not to let the chickens near her beautiful yard until one day, they escaped. I drove up and they had de-headed her freshly planted begonias and dug a three-foot hole in her mulch. Needless-to-say it looked like a Chicken Spa Day. That night a rerun of Ocean’s 11 was showing and—voila!—the whole things blended into a picture book.

Now that you know how this whole book was hatched, let’s talk about marketing. Or in my case, how to not think about marketing but rather, have fun…

I decided this time around I wanted to celebrate my book release in connection as much as possible. I spend a lot of time alone, writing. When I launched this book, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to build community, and yes, have fun!

My publisher was wonderful with getting me into events and conferences. But I don’t think that’s enough these days. I didn’t have any illusions that I, personally, could move the needle very far regarding sales, but I could widen my audience and develop deeper relationships with book sellers, schools and libraries. That’s what matters to me the most anyway: connection (See above! It’s my theme!).

So I invited several writer friends over, that lived near me, for wine and cheese. And Team Bock Bock was born. We had a lot of fun brainstorming outside-the-box, grassroots marketing ideas. For example, we came up with the idea of #CoopTroop, where I asked other authors with chicken-related books to band together and bond with our books. Another great idea that surfaced was making a Chicken Carpool Karaoke video. We had lots of ideas, some I’ll be rolling out over the next few months. Team Bock Bock was also particularly helpful in narrowing down my focus. You can’t do everything. And friends help other friends prioritize.

Now about that video…

I’m a huge James Corden fan. When we thought of Chicken Carpool Karaoke, I really worked hard to make that a reality. I hired Diem Korsgaard to film and edit the video. She mounted several cameras to our windshield for close up action shots. A Team Bock Bock member had a friend who volunteered her chickens. As the filming day approached, I’ll admit I was nervous. The reality of all that chicken poop in my van, the thought of them going crazy inside the vehicle while I was driving, the sheer mayhem of it all, had everyone on edge. I know my husband, who played ukulele in the video, was sweating it. But amazingly, they were very chill! And there was hardly any poop.

I will say, we had some hilarious out takes getting the chickens out of the car. Perhaps I’ll post those one day.

They really wanted to break out for a spin!

Another thing I did this time around was to host a Pub Day Party.

I invited friends and family over for an open house on the actual publication date, Oct. 29, 2019. It was an all-day affair from 8 AM until 6 PM. I wanted a slow steady stream of guests, so I’d have time to sit down and really talk with people. And thank them for all their support.

Sometimes your release date can come and go and it feels a little anti-climactic. But this was very special, having people drop by all day long and celebrate in a very real way.

I also set up a Review Table. Friends and family could log onto Amazon, Goodreads, Indiebound and other retailers offering customer reviews, and leave a quick review for the book, right there! As we all know, reviews are so important for a book, especially during the first week of sales. It was a fun way to connect with folks, especially those who wanted to buy but couldn’t make the official launch at Book People.

Oh! And my kids took initiative and wrote several “ready-made” reviews which we cut up and put in a jar in case anyone got stuck composing a review on the spot. Most of them were silly but it added to the fun.

Some sites did block a few reviews (they are very particular about who they verify!) but that didn’t matter. The spirit of the idea made the day a success.

And then came… #CoopTroop.

I reached out to several women authors (I love funny female authors!) who released chicken books this year (2019). Everyone was game to join forces, boost our books and shake a tail feather on social media.

#CoopTroup consists of Tammi Sauer (Tammi Bawk Bawk), Martha Brockenbrough (Party Fowl) and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Her Egg-cellency) and myself (Hen Solo).

Watch for giveaways, chicken boost and general fowl play on social media. I’m hoping we’re all at a conference soon so the whole coop can peck and play together—in costume!

So how has all this been received?

So far, so good! I’m getting quite a few requests for school visits already, as well as speaking engagements, and I’m on several panels at Texas Library Association conference in March. I also just found out that Chicken Break is listed on the NBC (Today Show) Holiday Gift Guide website!

I guess this second book really did feel different release than my debut book, Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! that pubbed in 2018.

Debut years are crazy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks otherwise. You don’t know anything, you’re worried, you’re excited, you’re a mess.

I made a point to do as much as I could to promote my debut. I didn’t want to feel any regrets the following year. I can honestly say I’m very proud of my accomplishments. I did in-store signings locally, statewide and in bigger cities out of state. I rocked a lot of school visits. I made a promo video with Harper Collins. I presented at the Texas Book Festival and other conferences. I was on faculty for the Austin SCBWI annual conference.

I also think I ran the risk of burnout and overspending (I confess to both of these). I think the thing I’d love to share with other debuts is that mistakes are unavoidable. How can you know what you don’t know? Don’t try and be perfect, try and connect.

Books come and go but the people you meet: booksellers, authors, librarians, teachers are a delight. Don’t forget to enjoy your book with others. Let others help and thank them for their support.

Also keep an open mind. I never dreamed I’d find a deep love for teaching, both online and privately. My book gave me this opportunity, along with finishing my MFA in Children’s Writing, and I’m forever grateful for this unexpected love affair with my students and their work.

Writing, marketing, teaching and promoting is challenging. But the small moments, especially sharing your book with kids, is worth everything.

Just keep going.

There are so many EGGcellent ideas in this post, Cate (and I can't believe how scrumptious those launch coop-cakes look!) Congratulations on your latest book, and thank you for sharing your "bag of chicks" with us! I especially love the idea of hosting an all-day open house on Pub Day, including a Review Table. I will definitely incorporate something similar for my next launch, which is about 18 months out. I also agree that the best part of this business is the people you meet along the way. I'm so grateful we've had the opportunity to connect through our mutual affection for humorous kids books. Thanks again for stopping by!

Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins) illustrated by Charles Santoso. It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, "A buoyantly subversive anti-bedtime book.” Her second book, Chicken Break! A Counting Book (Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan) illustrated by Charlotte Adler was praised by School Library Journal as, “Full of wordplay and an extra dose of cuteness, this is a definite first purchase for all children’s collections.” Cate holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches private students as well as classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. She was a featured author at the Texas Book Festival, West Texas Book Fest, Austin SCBWI Conference (faculty) and the Literacy Library Round-up (Victoria). She speaks at schools, libraries, book stores and conferences year-round. Visit her at to learn more.

Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at