Okay, deep breath, tap the mike. Is this thing on? And...
How many of you remember being ganged up on in middle school? And the sick, pit-of-your-stomach feeling of going to school knowing that girl and her friends would have a fresh round of abuse in store for you? Now picture them with smartphones, iPads, laptops and video.
Kids don't need adults telling them what cyberbullying is. They already know how it happens. What they don't know is how to see it coming or how to deal with it when they are smack in the middle of it.
Ethel is Hot (LOL) came out of my experience working with middle school girls in a math, science, technology and engineering (STEM) environment in the 2000s. As the program administer of a national online girls chat room, I saw the origins of cyberbullying when it first began. I've been researching its various tactics for the last 10 years. And as a fiction writer, I saw very few tween novels on this subject. So instead of trying to "tell" kids what cyberbullying is, I wrote Ethel Is Hot (LOL) portraying four nerdy, likeable characters who fall prey to various tactics—and like most teens, they never see it coming.
Ethel Is Hot (LOL) features Ethel F. Effleby, 12, who goes to the Seaside School for Girls, a science and leadership middle school that encourages high-tech skills and big dreams. After moving in with her Gram, Ethel is just starting to feel comfortable being herself at her new school until a scorned friend creates an imposter website ridiculing her and her family secrets. Then it takes more than Ethel's 'Net skills to protect her reputation as the toxic effects of cyberbullying balloon into a school-wide smear campaign.
See full synopsis below
Though there are serious messages in Ethel, this is not some heavy-handed novel with wooden characters just to jump on the cyberbullying bandwagon. There is a sweet and silly vibe to the book, a kind of tech-geek bond between all of Ethel's friends that makes this novel really attractive to a huge niche of tween girls who are sharp, funny, creative and ambitious.
For example: In the book, Ethel and her friends like making websites from scratch. This is the kind of thing they put on them.
After school, the girls delve into the virtual world of Paperdollz.com, creating custom avatars and trying on identities. Here, the talk in the chat room isn’t about boys or the latest fashion. Ethel and the gals like to talk in Scottish accents, ponder why astronauts wear space diapers, and have virtual disco parties.
The novel was written nearly six years ago. Back then, a literary agent from a premier creative agency had the book under consideration for nearly nine months, and for awhile, it looked like Ethel might find a traditionally published home. But alas, as much as the agent loved the characters, she couldn't find a market for the smart, nerdy, girl. That's just not what was selling, then. Gossip Girl- type of rich girl clique stories were hot then. Today, you've got the mainstream shoving The Kardashians, Miley Cyrus and reality TV down girls' throats--and so, Ethel continues to be decidedly un-mainstream.
Additionally, self-publishing has come a long way since 2008. I'm still experimenting to see which is the best way for a novel to get published, but I think Kindle is the perfect outlet for Ethel.
My primary medium is fiction and my first novel was published traditionally in 2009. It got a couple of small little awards. I'd never tried YA fiction before, but once Ethel Is Hot (LOL) got going, I knew cyberbullying was a niche I could really get into. After all, I'd witnessed so much of it. While Ethel was under consideration, I began the research to co-write my first nonfiction book to go with it. Cyberslammed™, our cyberbullying prevention book for adults was published in 2012. And it won first prize in nonfiction from IndieReader Discovery Awards this year --pretty cool!)
I'm not putting the cart ahead of the horse-but I have a series in mind for Ethel and her friends, Yuki, Weezy and Schreck, all around a techie, cyberbullying theme. This multicultural novel series will delve more into their cultural backgrounds, divorced family situations and Ethel's own struggles with an imprisoned mother. As they grow up, they will inevitably explore new worlds and identities, which sometimes leads to newbie mistakes. But the more you get to know Ethel and her friends, the more you'll see these resilient little chickies are strong and able to retain their senses of humor.
I'm what you call a one-woman microbusiness--very small. I got a financial sponsorship from a corporation in order to publish Cyberslammed™ and now I need the community's help in order to launch Ethel Is Hot (LOL). If I were to try and get this book out as printed copies, the overhead would be much bigger. For now, I intend to sell it through Amazon's Kindle distribution. To that end: I am seeking donations to go toward:
- A professional cover designer (very important) $350-400
- A professional editor (equally just as important) $600
- Marketing expenses (website, press release) $200
Once these pieces are in place, I'll do all the uploading and converting to Kindle myself. I'll also do much of the website myself. There's a lot of DIY in this business, but you don't mess with cover and editing--leave that to the professionals!
If you have any other questions, feel free to email me or post a comment here! Thanks for any support you can give!
"Kay Stephens expertly creates a moving, quirky world full of charm, humor and poignancy. Full of charm and wit, this book is sure to thrill readers." -Carrie Jones YA author of Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape), Girl, Hero and Need.
"I love quirky Ethel and her grandmother. So few stories for girls with such smart and original and loyal characters .and the right level of silliness and brevity...just what I see when I'm a POS (parent over shoulder)..." -Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection among Girls and Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes
"It's hard not to fall in love with confident oddball Ethel, which is what makes this heartbreaking tale of cyberbullying and ultimate redemption so satisfying. Stephens' fictional account of what Ethel experiences as a victim of cyberbullying is incredibly realistic as are the responses of her friends, classmates and school administrators - Ethel Is Hot (LOL) is a must read for tweens and an invaluable teaching tool for adults." - -Anastasia Goodstein, author, Totally Wired: What Teens & Tweens Are Really Doing Online
Risks and challenges
Having already been through the long, involved self-publishing process with a soft cover book, the risks and challenges are lessened with Ethel Is Hot (LOL) and here's why:
1. I am the sole author of this middle grade novel with no illustrators, so there will be no collaborator issues.
2. When I say I'm going to do something, it gets done. (Case in point: Cyberslammed took six years of perseverance, self-motivation and publishing setbacks; but I never let it slip away. It got published with excellent reviews.)
3. It will be a digital book only, on Kindle, which eliminates 80% of the traditional publishing struggles. All it needs is a professional editor, a professional cover and an ISBN and it will be uploaded with ease after that.
4. I have taken on the role of self-publisher over the last year, marketing and promoting Cyberslammed myself. With Ethel, I've already established a built-in platform with educators, teens and parents. This is not a hobby for me. This is both a business and a mission.
My goal, if funded, is to have the novel uploaded and ready for distribution by February 1, 2013. I will keep my backers in the loop as the project progresses.
Thank you for listening to my story.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (35 days)