How to Build a Following with Uniqueness, Authenticity, and “Getting Crazy.” My Interview with Travis Jonker.

I recently spoke to author, book blogger, and school librarian Travis Jonker about three aspects how he became an author:

  • How he got his literary agent through his blog.
  • How he developed courage to share his creative work by “failing in public” by creating a series of zines that he would mail to friends and colleagues in the book world.
  • A clever idea he had for marketing his new book that riffed off those zines: an illustrated comic that told the behind-the-scenes story of his book.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

Here are a few key takeaways from our chat that are important for every author to hear:

  • Developing a platform is about communication and trust. Travis spent 10 years blogging, developing connections, and collaborating. If you don’t have a platform, that can sound arduous. But it reminds me of the old proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
  • Make your unique voice the center of all that you do. Travis would write a blog post, but then reread it and ask if it would truly grab someone’s attention. If not, he would go back in and “get crazier,” meaning he would be more free, give more of himself, add more humor, maybe make it more in his own voice as if he was talking to someone. If you want to truly connect with someone, do it with your authentic voice.
  • Collaborate with people who love the kinds of writing that you do. If you look at Travis’ blog, his podcast, his book, and so much else, he collaborates with people who are just as passionate about books as he is. Along the way, he has not only developed an amazing series of friends and professional colleagues, but he’s had fun doing it.
  • Don’t follow trends when you want to connect with your audience. Many authors I speak to are overwhelmed with all they are told they must do. I want to encourage you to skip the trends. Toward the end of the interview, Travis shares two wonderfully unique ways that he used his creativity to create paper zines to connect with people. In doing so, he is not only stretching his own creative work, but he is delighting people with things that are unexpected and generous.

Travis’ kidlit book blog, 100 Scope Notes, can be found here, and please check out his upcoming book: The Very Last Castle. Travis also has a podcast where he takes you behind the scenes in children’s literature called The Yarn.

Other things we discuss in the interview:

  • How he started a blog as a way for him to organize his own need to organize his thoughts on books, not to “go viral.”
  • How he consistently posted 15-30 times on his blog every month since 2007.
  • The importance of setting boundaries in what you share online.
  • How being a blogger made him a better librarian.
  • The power of joining a community of people who are doing similar to creative work that you are doing.
  • How he found more time and energy to blog after reading a book about the importance of “saying no.”
  • The value of having a collaborative partner on his podcast, how that makes it more fun, meaningful, and able to stay on track.
  • How he began the process of writing his first book, and the complicated feelings that writers often have about sharing their work with the world.
  • How he got his literary agent through his blog and his network with other bloggers.
  • The fears that he has in approaching how to market this book.