Stephan Pastis has two separate professional lives, and they both keep him very busy. His syndicated comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, which pokes fun at the human condition through the characters of four anthropomorphic animals, appears seven days a week in more than 600 American newspapers. And Candlewick is publishing books two and three in Pastis’s Timmy Failure series in 2014: Now Look What You’ve Done on February 25 and We Meet Again on October 28.
The publisher has a yearlong marketing campaign in the works to support the two hardcovers, underscoring its expectation that Timmy Failure – a comically clueless boy who runs the Total Failure detective agency with a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total – will do anything but fail in his second and third outings. With good reason: the series’ 2012 debut title, Mistakes Were Made, spent more than 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has 350,000 copies in print in North America. Here’s a look at how Pastis keeps his two creative plates spinning simultaneously, as well as a preview of Candlewick’s promotional push for the new novels.
According to Liz Bicknell, Candlewick editorial director and associate publisher, and Pastis’s editor, the key to the author’s productivity is his organizational skills. She called him “one of the best-organized, most deadline-conscious authors I have ever worked with,” and observed that he meticulously plans his schedule weeks ahead of time, and sticks to it. “I generally try to act as if this is normal behavior for an author, so he won’t get the idea he can deliver manuscripts late. So don’t mention that, okay?”
Pastis laughed when that request was ignored, and noted that he has a very strong incentive to keep on track creatively. “I was a lawyer for 10 years, and when you’re in law things really have to get done or somebody sues you. It’s a great trick,” he said. “My legal job not only disciplined me, but I disliked it so much that the fear – which is always in the back of my head – that I might have to go back to the law keeps me very motivated to keep writing and drawing.”
Musing that this was the “philosophical answer” to the question of how he balances his workload, the author offered a “practical answer” that is rooted in his carefully structured creative regimen. Each week, Pastis creates 10 Pearls Before Swine comic strips between Monday and Thursday, thereby producing three extra strips per week, or more than 150 a year. “That’s buying me five months when I can do all the other things – write the novels, do the tours and other promotion for the books and strip, and have a life,” he explained. “That’s really the key.” In addition to all of that, the author works on compilations and larger treasuries of Pearls Before Swine, which are published regularly by Andrews McMeel.
Minding the Gap
Pastis’s success at switching mindsets between Pearls and Timmy Failure depends on just that: for him, it’s a total switch. The endeavors are so different from each other, the author said, that he “totally separates them out,” writing his novels full-time in six or seven weeks. “I write the books in one run and then return totally to Pearls,” he said. “When you do anything creative, you really have to live entirely in that world. I think my ability to do that is what makes me such a bad dinner guest. I’m always looking over someone’s shoulder, taking in stuff around the room, immersed in the world of whatever I’m writing about, and keeping the characters completely in my head.”
Characterization seems to come naturally to Pastis, observed Bicknell, who praised the author’s skill at capturing the essence of real people in his characters, as well as his aptitude for identifying with kids. “Stephan observes human behavior with laser-like intensity, and uses his observations to make his characters come alive,” she said. “He’s also on Team Kid, not Team Grownup, and empathizes with the frustrations of school, and tests, and rules – and he provides an ally in Timmy Failure, the kid whose name says it all.”
Does Pastis agree that he’s firmly on Team Kid? “Oh man, I totally am!” he said. “I’m 12 years old in my head. With the Timmy Failure books, I write what makes me laugh, and as it turns out, what I find funny, 12-year-olds find funny. And the other thing is, though I didn’t set out to do it, when I step back and look at my books, I realize that in many ways Timmy is really me as a kid. I didn’t do that on purpose. When I began the first book I just sat down and wrote, and decided I’d figure it out later.”
Pastis remains committed to both Timmy Failure and Pearls. “I feel that they are in my blood, and I’d do both even if nobody paid me,” he said. “I never feel burdened or overwhelmed by my work. People tell you to find something you love for a career, and I have. That makes me feel very lucky.”
Putting Timmy Failure in the Spotlight
Walker Books Group (of which Candlewick is the U.S. publishing division) plans global laydowns for both Now Look What You’ve Done and We Meet Again, both of which will be published simultaneously by Candlewick in North America and by Walker’s U.K. and Australian arms. Candlewick has a 350,000-copy first printing on order for both novels, and will support the series with a far-reaching marketing initiative. Here are some highlights of the campaign:
- 10-city national author tour, beginning February 25, including visits to 25 schools.
- Retail floor displays, in-store signage, and counter standees; trade advertising; consumer online advertising; and social media promotion for Now Look What You’ve Done.
- Author Facebook promotion to 40,000 fans to coincide with book release and signing events.
- “Be Fair to Bears” Twitter campaign on February 27 in conjunction with International Polar Bear Day.
- Author events and school visits in early March include appearances in Atlanta, Miami, and Fort Myers, Fla., and Grand Cayman Island.
- March launch of Pastis’s online doodle tutorial video, “How to Draw Timmy and Total.”
- Consumer media and Web site cover reveal for We Meet Again.
- Launch of authorless “Total Takeover” events series with CBC to coincide with Children’s Book Week, May 12–18. Selected stores will host Timmy Failure parties, with activities and giveaways, and an inflatable Total for display and photo opps.
- Author satellite radio tour in conjunction with Children’s Book Week.
- Kickoff summer reading events at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., June 4–5. Promotion includes reluctant reader outreach via Library of Congress and all State Centers of the Book nationally, with Timmy Failure-branded programming, live and recorded author events, poster distribution, and activity downloads for parents, librarians, and educators.
- September online ads and social media promotion for “Timmy Failure’s Back to School Survival Tips” online slideshow.
- November author tour to the U.K. and Ireland to promote We Meet Again.
- December holiday consumer advertising using Timmy holiday in-store signage.
Pastis is especially looking forward to his upcoming tour for Now Look What You’ve Done, after which he’ll embark on a second 10-city tour to promote his latest anthology, Pearls Falls Fast: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury. Unlike many authors, Pastis views his time on the road as a welcome break. “I know touring is hectic for most people,” he said. “But busy as I am when on tour, oddly enough it’s the most free time I have. Most days I have from 4:00 in the afternoon on to myself, and don’t have the usual obligations at home. It’s sort of freeing.”
Not surprisingly, one of his March promotional events for Timmy Failure holds particular appeal for Pastis. “I get to go to Grand Cayman!” he said. “I didn’t even ask why that stop is on the schedule, I just said ‘yes’ as fast as I could.”