There are many reasons to start a website. Some do it to sell products or to promote themselves, while others do it because they want to provide a needed resource for a given market. Tracy Grand falls into this category. Her story is something that many writers have experienced, but Tracy took her frustrations and turned them into an invaluable resource for children’s writers: jacketflap.com.
Two years ago, Tracy wrote a series of children’s books with a niche focus. She found a directory of children’s book publishers and mailed out her queries and manuscripts without much success. Either the subject of her book was not consistent with the material the publisher was interested in at the moment, or the publisher had decided they weren’t taking on new authors. Even worse, the address and contact information from the directory was out-of-date, or the directory failed to mention that the publisher didn’t receive unagented submissions. This miscommunication and inaccuracy made it difficult to get her book into the right hands, at the right time. We’ve all experienced this at one point, haven’t we?
Tracy wondered if she was alone in her frustrations, so she discussed the topic at local meetings with other children’s book writers, and found they had been through the same thing. And like Tracy, they were desperate for a better solution.
Publishers and editors revealed a similar plight. Their specifications changed far too often—many of them going through periods where they weren’t accepting unsolicited materials or submissions from unpublished authors—and yet the calls, queries, and manuscripts kept piling up. As we know, these “slush piles” are the bane of every writer. But they’re also the bane of every publisher, editor, and staff member. This lack of efficiency is what can turn an enjoyable job into a real nightmare—and as an editor and publisher, I know! And I can personally say, turning down writers is not fun at all—it’s what I dislike most about the job. At times the pieces are super, but when there are so many and only a limited space to fill, it goes without saying that most will receive rejections. It seems the missing resource applies to both ends of the process.
Tracy Grand formed jacketflap.com to solve these problems. The site is a social networking community and database for children’s book authors, illustrators, and publishers. JacketFlap makes the submission process more productive on either side. Tracy says, “We can work together to make sure the next great children’s book doesn’t wind up in the slush pile.” Kudos to Tracy! I love her vision, so let’s chat with Tracy and find out more.
WOW: Welcome, Tracy! Can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your mission?
Tracy: I am passionate about the Children’s/YA book industry, knowing that one great book can change a child’s life forever. I built JacketFlap because I know that there are thousands and thousands of writers and illustrators that hold that key to making a difference in a child’s life, if given the opportunity to have their work exposed and published.
From my interactions with many writers, illustrators, and others in the business, I learned that they often worked alone and felt disconnected. By sharing ideas, dreams, and works through JacketFlap, this community is intended to help all people in the children’s literature world spread their wings, and to ultimately reach one child’s heart and mind.
As a parent of 3 young kids, I look forward to their works making a difference in my children’s lives.
WOW: I love your personal mission—what a wonderful gift to give your children! And your reason for starting JacketFlap is very similar to how WOW! was formed—I was working on a novel and wanted to meet editors, agents, and publishers in the industry, as well as provide jobs and resources to women writers. But after the site launched I found I barely had any time to write for myself, outside the publication. Is this the same for you? Or have you managed to juggle both writing and your business?
Tracy: JacketFlap is a full-time gig for me. With my three girls, ages 4 months, 7, and 10 years old, 2 dogs, 1 gecko, 75 fish, and my amazing husband, something had to give, and that was my writing. My unofficial slogan for JacketFlap is, “those who can write do, those who cannot, create databases for those who can,” and that’s me!
WOW: (laughs) Well, we have some things in common. I also have geckos, a cat, and an amazing hubby, but no children yet—even though he’s asking at the moment! Okay, let’s quickly change gears before I get myself into trouble... Before you started JacketFlap you had an internet PR company, which was later acquired. How did your internet know-how play a part in building your site? Did you actually build it yourself? It seems like such a monumental project!
Tracy: My company, BJF (before JacketFlap), was called Word of Net, and it promoted many websites including some for Mattel, Sega, Universal, MGM, and even a casino. I started the company in 1995 when the majority of people were still confused about the meaning of “URL”. I began Word of Net because I noticed there were websites being built but no means of letting other people know about these sites. That was where Word of Net would take over, and it spread the word about these wonderful creations on the web.
In many ways, I feel my know-how from that internet PR experience is the same purpose I have for JacketFlap. That is, to help spread the word about the wonderful books and the writers & illustrators in the Children’s Literature community (both published and unpublished). There is a wonderful programming team that has helped me to develop the technology behind JacketFlap, and I supply much of the content.
WOW: Wow, Tracy, you’re quite the entrepreneur! I admire your accomplishments as well as JacketFlap. One of the things I love most about your site is the blog-reader because it allows users to read all their favorite blogs in one place. It’s much like bloglines, but a lot more personable and geared toward children’s writers and illustrators. How did this idea come about?
Tracy: Before we added the Blog Reader to JacketFlap, I used to visit 30 or more different blogs in a single day. It took me hours, and I often forgot to check in with some of the blogs for weeks at a time. I also often missed out on the conversations going on in the blogs' comments, which are often as interesting or more than the original blog posts. Using JacketFlap’s Blog Reader, I can now keep up with posts on hundreds of blogs and their latest comments in a few minutes time throughout the day with no trouble.
If you’re not a registered member, the blog reader displays the most recent posts from 500+ industry-related blogs. When you join JacketFlap as a member, you can customize the Blog Reader so that it contains only posts from the specific blogs that interest you most. It will also allow you to click a link to see only the new posts since your last visit to JacketFlap as well as those posts that have new comments since your last visit.
WOW: That’s fascinating, and it’s one of my favorite tools of the site. Another thing I love is that you’re always adding various resources for the end-user. I’ve been a member for a while now, but I don’t think I’ve fully explored all the capabilities of the site! Can you tell our readers what resources you offer for children’s book writers?
Tracy: I am constantly listening to feedback from our members. If someone emails me and says they wish I had such and such feature on the JacketFlap, and I think it will be useful and interesting to others in the industry, I typically try to find a way to incorporate it into the site.
Whether you are in the business or are a Children's/YA book lover, you can find loads of information on JacketFlap about almost every Children's book that has ever been published and the people and companies that helped to create those books.
If you are looking to get published or are researching book publishers, you can try searching our database of more than 20,000 children's book publishers.
If you want to keep up-to-date on the latest news, reviews, and people in the Children's book business, then you'll love our Children's Publishing blog reader, which includes up-to-date postings from 500+ industry blogs.
If you're looking to connect with other people in the Children's publishing world, then try browsing through our People section. We have thousands of members and more than 800 of them have been published. You can also search through or browse our book credits database, which contains pages for 200,000+ people that have been involved in the creation of children’s books. It’s really fun because you can see how everyone in the children’s literature community is related to each other, similar to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
If you're looking to see other books that people are reading and discuss books, please try our Books section. Among other features in the Books section, you can browse and search our database of 870,000+ books, and there is a page that lists books that have been newly published.
WOW: That’s amazing Tracy, and almost overwhelming! And I love that concept of the Kevin Bacon game—how fun! I guess our readers should just take a test drive of JacketFlap to explore all the services and resources you offer. You’ve built such a great community, and I applaud you for all your efforts and success! So, what’s your favorite part of the job?
Tracy: I love watching people make connections with other people and companies through JacketFlap that they might never have had a chance to make otherwise. And it’s always wonderful receiving an email from someone that says their book or illustrations are being published because of someone they met or found through JacketFlap.
WOW: Oh, doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? I love it when readers/subscribers succeed—it’s what makes the ‘job’ worthwhile. So, tell us, what are your big plans for this coming year?
Tracy: I think JacketFlap has an opportunity to be one of the best ways available for people to achieve their goals of being published and also to promote the works of people that have already been published. We’re working on features now to help deliver on that opportunity!
WOW: That’s a goal well worth striving for. Congratulations on all your success! And thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. I’m sure all of our readers will want to check out jacketflap.com and get involved! See you all over there!
Visit Tracy Grand’s profile: http://www.jacketflap.com/tracy
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