Thursday, December 07, 2006

Author-Booking Agent Interview: Susan B. Katz of KatzConnects

Could you give us a brief history of KatzConnects? Who are the players?

My name is Susan B. Katz. I am a National Board Certified Teacher with over 14 years experience as an elementary educator and bilingual consultant. I am also the founder of KatzConnects. We bring prominent children's authors, illustrators and musicians into schools, libraries, conferences, museums and literary events.

On KatzConnects' team are many top-notch educators, with a combined teaching experience of over 70 years! We have a Director of East Coast Marketing, several people marketing on the West Coast and even a Director of International Marketing (based in Spain) who books in American Schools overseas.

KatzConnects represents such prominent authors as Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), Yuyi Morales (Harvesting Hope, Just a Minute), Alma Flor Ada (Pio Peep, Tales Our Abuelitas Told) and many, many more (50 at the present moment).

What was the inspiration for founding the agency?

With one foot in the children's book world through SCBWI (I am also an author/illustrator) and one foot in the education world, I saw the need to bring more authors into schools. The overarching vision of KatzConnects is to find unique funding sources for visits so that they are at no or low cost to schools but the authors are still paid their full fee.

What is the scope of its activities?

On our website, you will find biographies of our 50 authors, illustrators and musicians. Currently, KatzConnects brings children's authors, illustrators and musicians into schools, libraries, conferences and events. We book single author and multi-author events. Please visit our calendar page.

How do you work? Do you field requests, make arrangements, negotiate contracts, follow-up, etc.?

We proactively market to schools, libraries, conferences and events. Our authors also list us as their booking agent on their website with a link to our website. KatzConnects arranges all of the details for the visit: schedule, flights, hotel, contracts, invoices, etc. We work collaboratively with local community leaders throughout the U.S. and abroad to secure visits.

Do you actively seek out speaking opportunities, and if so, how?

Yes, we network in a variety of ways, both through traditional and non traditional marketing strategies. Our collaboration with various community leaders has allowed us to bring many authors into schools at no or low cost to the school.

Recently, we brought 18 authors in (at no cost to the schools) as a part of Reads Week in Stockton, California. All of our authors were paid their full fee. Community leaders and KatzConnects jointly fundraised to make those visits possible.

Could you give us some idea of rates and fee structure?

As a booking agency, we charge the author a 15% commission, just like a literary agent. Either the school pays the author or we help find a funding source to sponsor the visit. We are always on the lookout for large, corporate donations for KatzConnects' author visits. Authors' specific fees vary depending on a variety of factors.

Why is there a need for such services?

Schools, libraries and conference coordinators usually have to seek out individual authors either through the author's website or the publisher. Before KatzConnects came into existence, there was no one "clearinghouse" for authors, particularly in California.

KatzConnects is now a stable of literary talent 50 strong, with many award-winning authors and illustrators on board. There is also a great need for find alternative funding--and we help find it.

Has the need grown over time, and if so, why?

All children need positive role models of literacy in their lives, perhaps now more than ever. As an educator, I know that recent school budget cuts heightened the need for fundraising assistance on author visits.

The goal at KatzConnects is to increase literacy and arts education by bringing children's authors, illustrators and musicians into schools around the world. We work collaboratively with schools, libraries and museums to get authors, illustrators and musicians to children.

What should a prospective speaker consider in hiring a booking agency?

Good question: all the same considerations as for hiring a literary agency: do they charge a fee upfront? A few agencies I know of charge $3,000 plus just to list and be in their brochure. That is free at KatzConnects, part of our services. We only charge a commission when we get you a visit.

Other questions are: How long have they been doing this? Do they actively seek out and secure visits? Most school visit and booking agency websites have you pay a fee to simply be listed with the hope that someone will visit their site. We proactively market to schools, libraries and events on behalf of our authors.

How would you describe your client base? Could you list some of the folks you're working with now?

KatzConnects is proud to present such prominent, award-winning authors as: Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), Alma Flor Ada (Pio Peep), Ashley Wolff (Miss Bindergarten), Yuyi Morales (Harvesting Hope, Just a Minute), Elisa Kleven (Abuela), Mike Graf (Tale of the Scorpion), Michael Elsohn Ross (Snug As A Bug), Belle Yang (My Name is Hanna), Elissa Haden Guest (Iris and Walter) and many, many more. See a complete list of all of our clients at www.katzconnects.com.

What makes KatzConnects unique among event agencies?

Three things:

1) We are run by experienced educators who know the ins and outs of school culture.

2) We have the vision and the chutzpah (that's Yiddish for guts) to believe that one day, every school and every child will have author visits. We trust that there is money for such a worthwhile endeavor and actively seek out unique funding sources. All of KatzConnects' authors are still getting their full fee.

3) We are the largest children's booking agency in California (and one of the largest in the nation). We proactively market for school, library, museum and conference presentations.

You're also a children's author-illustrator. For those new to your work, could you offer a brief introduction to your books?

My books bring color into the lives of children. Most of my books are concept books, many are Spanish bilingual. I use a mosaic- style cut paper collage. I am a contributing author to a forthcoming book with Lectorum, Yo Soy, in which I have one poem in Spanish and another in English. Other books are currently under consideration...fingers crossed. See my author/illustrator website.

For the past seven years, I have been fortunate to be a part of an amazing critique group, The Revisionaries, deemed "a nexus of creativity" by one New York editor and "the hottest critique group in San Francisco" by San Francisco Magazine (June, 2005).

Is there anything you would like to add?

We are extremely interested in any information on grants, sponsors, angel funders and/or philanthropic individuals to help KatzConnects complete our goal of bringing prominent children's authors into schools around the world at no or low cost to the school. At this time, we are only very selectively acquiring additional prominent authors, illustrators and musicians.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Santa Knows Interview! by Debbi Michiko Florence at One Writer's Journey. Greg Leitich Smith and I discuss the story behind the story.

Through the Looking Glass calls Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006): "A funny story with expressive and lively illustrations makes this a perfect just-before-Christmas title." Read the whole review. See other recommended picture books from TTLG.

Toni Buzzeo (author, LMS) says on her Children's Book Reviews page: "Smith and Smith capture an electronic, media-driven age with subtlety and prove that Scrooge can growl and grasp and be redeemed even in the twenty-first century! Bjorkman adds to the fun with his loose cartoon style and expressive faces. If you're in the market for a postmodern Christmas tale for your science nerds and media kids, this one's a winner!"

Thanks to the folks at the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database for featuring the book in their December 2006 newsletter and to author Anjali Banerjee for calling it to my attention!

Thanks to everyone who showed up at my recent signings at Barnes & Noble Round Rock and Barnes & Noble Westlake! Celebrity sightings included: April Lurie (author interview); Anne Bustard (author interview); Austin SCBWI founder Meredith Davis; Jane Peddicord; Frances Hill; and Brian Yansky. Central Texans note that there is also signed stock at BookPeople in Austin, The Twig in San Antonio, Barnes & Noble in College Station, and Jacque's Toys in Bryan.

More News & Links

Best Books of 2006 selected by Trevelyn Jones, Luann Toth, Marlene Charnizon, Daryl Grabarek, and Joy Fleishhacker from School Library Journal. Highlights include: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick); Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum); Endgame by Nancy Garden (Harcourt); St. Iggy by K.L. Going (Harcourt)(author interview); Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins)(author interview); and The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton).

The Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin (2005) has won the American Book Award. Doris and Beverly are well known for their work for Oyate.

The Carnival of Children's Literature from Anne-Marie at A Readable Feast. Note: I'm honored that my interview with Charlesbridge editor Yolanda LeRoy and LizB's Jingle Dancer puppet show were included.

"Flannel and Fleece!" by Don Tate at Devas T. Rants and Raves. Congrats to Don on his new line at David Textiles, which will be appearing soon at "Hancock Fabrics, Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts, Walmart fabric department, and at independent specialty stores." Read a Cynsations interview with Don Tate.

Grace Lin: the acclaimed author-illustrator has launched her own store! Shop for: poster prints; giclee prints; original art; greeting cards; custom portraits; and autographed books. Order by Dec. 18 to ensure Christmas delivery. Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog highlights Good Girls by Laura Ruby (HarperTempest 2006), the Zack Proton series (Aladdin Paperbacks) by Brian Anderson, and True Talents by David Lubar (Starscape, March 2007). Read Cynsations interviews with Greg, Laura, Brian, and David.

"Just Floating an Idea" by Chris Barton on Bartography on a potential untapped market for children's books. Publishers take note!

Jill Max, which is the name Kelly Goldman Bennett and Ronnie Davidson for their co-authored works, has a new book out, Strangers in Black (Fireworks Press, 2006), and a newly designed website by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Thanks to Kim Winters at Kat's Eye for offering her thoughts on my link to Nancy Etchemendy's article on Writers and Depression.

Young Adult Books Central will feature author Tanya Lee Stone in a live chat tonight in the YABC Chat room. YABC A note: "you will need a Delphi ID to participate in the chat, so be proactive and sign up for one ahead of time (it's free)! As a bonus, this will also give you access to participate in the forum where you can earn free books just by posting!" See Chat Room and Forum. Read a Cynsations interview with Tanya; read Tanya's LJ.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Author Interview: Cynthia Cotten on This Is The Stable

Cynthia Cotten on Cynthia Cotten: "I was born and raised in the small city of Lockport, New York, on the banks of the Erie Canal. My dad was a high school art teacher and a painter. My mother started out as a stay-home mom, but over the years, her love of needlework led her to open a shop and become a teacher, judge and designer. I'm the oldest of three kids--my brother is an attorney, which involves writing and--kind of--acting, and my sister is an opera singer. So you can see there was a lot of creativity swirling around our house.

"Books have always been a big part of my life. I was sick a lot when I was young, and my mother believed that a sick kid should stay in bed, which I did--with a stack of books. My idea of the perfect summer vacation was to ride my bike to the library once a week, take out as many books as my bike basket could hold, then spend the rest of the week reading, usually in a cool, out-of-the-way place such as under the piano in the living room. I studied music from an early age, too, and play several instruments.

"I have two children, a daughter and a son. While neither of them has pursued a career in the arts, the creative gene was passed on to them: my daughter is a bagpiper, and my son was involved in band and theater all through school. And I was blessed with a husband who (a) was able to help with science and math homework, and (b) was not only able to support the family, but was willing to, so that I could stay home with the kids and pursue my writing."

What about the writing life first called to you?

I was a tall, skinny, big-footed band geek, completely lacking in self-confidence. I always loved reading, but never gave much thought to writing. Then, in eighth grade, I had a half-year course called "English Composition." Stories came bubbling up--and when it was my turn to read my work out loud, the other kids--even the popular ones--noticed me. I could actually make them say, "wow." And I liked that. Today, more years later than I want to count, I think there's still a bit of that geeky kid lurking inside me--and she still likes it when people say "wow."

What made you decide to write for young readers?

My husband and I were living in a small college town near Utica, New York in the early 1980's. I was constantly reading to our daughter, who was two at the time, and the more I read to her, the more I began to read critically, discovering what I liked, what I didn't, what worked for me, and what didn't. As the holidays approached that year, I was looking for a picture book retelling of the Christmas story. The town's library was tiny, and the only nearby bookstore was one of the small chains, about ten miles away. I couldn't find anything I liked. Finally, in exasperation, I uttered those fateful words: "I could do that." (However, it took a long time for that Christmas book to materialize.)

For those new to your work, could you briefly summarize your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

So far, all my published books have been picture books. The first one, Snow Ponies, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft (Henry Holt, 2001), is about Old Man Winter going out to the barn and letting the ponies out to play. After six years, it's still going strong--it was a wonderful way to come out of the starting gate. At The Edge of the Woods: A Counting Book, illustrated by Reg Cartwright (Holt, 2002) was next. Then, in 2006, two came out: Abbie in Stitches, illustrated by Beth Peck (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), about a girl in the 1820's working her first sampler and hating every minute of it--she wants books; and This Is The Stable, illustrated by Delana Bettoli.

Congratulations on the publication of This Is The Stable, illustrated by Delana Bettoli (Henry Holt, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thank you.

Sometimes I get a phrase in my head, and it plays itself over and over until I do something about it. In this case, it was "the stable, dusty and brown"--I was packing away the creche we set up on our piano every Christmas. The figures are from eastern Europe, made of corn husks, and Steve and I made a three-sided stable out of wild grapevine. It's very rustic, very dusty and brown-looking.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The initial spark was probably that "I could do that" moment when my daughter was two--and she just turned 27! But that phrase came to me (I think) in 2003. The words came to me fairly quickly--I had a final draft in about three weeks. My editor at Holt, Reka Simonsen, is great about keeping me in the loop as things progress. I love getting things in the mail from Reka. In this book's case, the first envelope had a note saying something on the order of, "This is the illustrator we've chosen, and a couple of examples of her work." Later, she sent me photocopies of Delana's sketches, then the first pictures in color, then the color proofs, and--finally--a finished book. I think the whole process took not quite three years.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Since it's in rhymed verse, one of the biggest challenges is getting that right--the rhythm, the scanning, making the rhyme fresh. One of the members of my writers' group at the time tossed me a challenge, wondering if I really wanted to keep bringing the reader's focus back to that dusty stable rather than the baby. I thought about that for a bit, and realized that, for me, an important part of this story is the idea of something great coming from something very humble.

What did Delana Bettoli's art bring to your text?

As someone who has found success in writing picture books, I find it strange that, when I write, I don't see pictures in my head. (I don't even dream in pictures--my dreams are like running narrations.) So I'm always amazed by what an illustrator sees when s/he reads my words.

Delana brought 'oh, wow' moments in every spread--from big things (I was delighted that the people look as if they're from that part of the world, and I never would have thought that one of the wise men might have ridden an elephant!) to small details (the mouse in the stable, and--at the bottom of each page--an accent taken from the main illustration. What I love most, though, is how she's hidden wings in almost every illustration--it's as if she knew I've collected angels for almost twenty years.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Read picture books--stacks of them. Take some you like and type their texts out--it gives a feel for the rhythm and flow. Do a word count on the ones you've typed--you'll probably find they're a lot shorter than you thought. Then go read some more.

How about those building a career?

In addition to "read, read, read!", I think I would pass along three quotes I have over my desk. From Jane Yolen: "Write the damn book." From Graham Salisbury: "...revise, revise, revise -- until the words sing to you." From Phyllis Root, "What is the emotional heart of your story?"

What do you do when you're not writing?

I spend time with my husband of 31 years. I read. I curl up with a good movie--I think that Turner Classic Movies and Netflix are two of the greatest things going. I love traditional Irish music, and play tin whistle and a round, flat drum called a bodhran. And I play with, and do obedience work with, my three year old Glen of Imaal terrier.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a lullaby-type of picture book, Some Babies Sleep, coming from Philomel in January 2007. And my first novel, a middle-grade titled Fair Has Nothing to Do With It, will be out from Farrar Straus in April 2007.

Cynsational News & Links

Read Cynsational interviews with Jane Yolen, Graham Salisbury, and Phyllis Root.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Author Interview: John Green on An Abundance of Katherines

John Green on John Green: "To quote Holden: 'If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I really don't feel like getting into it, if you want to know the truth.' (I'm 29, and I now live in New York but grew up in Florida and Alabama. After college, I worked for a few months at a children's hospital and then decided once and for all that I wanted to be a writer, and then I got a job at Booklist Magazine, which led to everything else. I just got married. And my lousy childhood was actually pretty idyllic. Just like Holden's.)"

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

In spite of having a tight-knit family who loved and supported me, I was very awkward socially and I didn't have a lot of friends. By the time I started ninth grade at my public school, I felt a lot of existential despair--nothing was really that wrong with my life in particular, but it seemed to me that something was very wrong with life in general. Then I decided to go to boarding school, where I met close friends and put the despair to rest (well, to an extent) and started enjoying the thrill of being close to people. I became kind of the court jester of my school, I guess, which was a role I relished.

What first led you to write for young adults?

I mentioned earlier that I worked for a few months at a children's hospital (I was a student chaplain). That's really when the idea of "Alaska" first came to me as a book, and it's also when I started to think I wanted to write for teenagers.

I didn't know then that YA literature even existed, really. When I was a kid, YA books were mostly for middle-schoolers, and I knew the books I wanted to write were definitely for high school students. I was thinking of authors like Vonnegut and Salinger, and books like The Virgin Suicides.

When I started working at Booklist in 2000, I became acquainted with what had happened in the world of YA, and that's when I realized that my book was a YA novel also. But I very much wrote both my books with a teen readership in mind--although I'm flattered adults have liked them.

Could you tell us about your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I was very fortunate to have a mentor in Ilene Cooper. Ilene is a children's book author and editor at Booklist, and when I told her I was writing a YA novel, she really supported me tremendously. She gave me deadlines, worked with me on revisions, and everything else. I think Ilene helped me avoid many of the traditional stumbling blocks aspiring authors face, although it did take more than two years of writing and rewriting to get the book publishable.

Once Ilene was happy with the book, I sent it to publishers, and Penguin called me after 5 months and 17 days and said they wanted to publish it, and then I immediately called all of my ex-girlfriends. But it wasn't over then.

With my (brilliant) editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, I spent two more years revising "Alaska," and between when I sold the book and when it was published, about 80% of the words changed. It was a very long process, but quite fun.

As we all know, Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005) was a grand-slam hit. Looking back, how would you describe that initial ride? Is there anything about it you wish you could change, and if so, why?

No, I wouldn't change anything. Maybe I wouldn't have had the flu on the day I accepted the Printz Award, but other than that, everything has been a lot of fun.

I had such low expectations for "Alaska," because after five years of reviewing books for Booklist, I knew that books come and go. I remember telling my editor, "I just hope this makes it to paperback." So everything really did come as a great surprise to me--the foreign editions and the movie stuff and the awards--but it didn't really change much about the way I see myself as a writer, or the way I see "Alaska" as a book.

Honestly, the only thing that has felt good in a deep and lasting way is the emails and letters I receive from readers who've found in the book something they needed, and who have read the book with the kind of depth and thoughtfulness that all authors hope and pray for.

How did you find out that you'd won the Printz Award, and what was your initial reaction? How did you celebrate?

My parents were visiting us in New York, and we'd just left the American Folk Art Museum (which is one of the best museums in New York, incidentally). So Sarah and I were dragging my parents to Macy's, because we had to register for wedding gifts.

We were walking down sixth avenue, and my cell phone rang, and I answered it, and someone said something about the Michael L. Printz Award Committee, and then the phone stopped working.

During the thirty seconds of silence that followed, my dad took out his camera, so he got all these shots of me right as I was finding out.

Anyway, Michael Cart said, "You are the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award," and then I said, "Are you sure?" and he said, "Yes, I'm sure," and then I said, "I didn't get an honor?" and he said, "No, you won." And I said, "I won?" and he said, "You won," and I said, "Really?" And he, kind of exasperated at that point, said, "Yes, really." And then I said, "Holy crap."

And then we had a really, really, really good time registering for wine glasses. It was pretty great. I felt so blessed to have my parents and Sarah with me.

Does earning such critical acclaim early on cast off those worries that seem to plague so many writers? (I have this theory that, as a rule, writers are among the world's greatest worriers due to our oft exercised imaginations).

Um, no, not at all. There are a lot of writers who write one good book and never do anything worthwhile ever again. I don't want to be one of them. I worry a lot, but I agree with you that it's just part of being a writer. I mean, part of what we do profesionally is imagine the worst things that can happen. I suspect it will never go away.

Congratulations on the publication of An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton, 2006). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I think my initial inspiration is always that I think up characters I'd like to write about, and I started with two characters: a washed-up child prodigy and his charmingly apathetic best friend. The book spiralled from there.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I happen to know the precise day I thought up those characters, because it was the same day this girl broke up with me. I'd have to look it up to be sure, but I think it was April 24, 2003. So it took about three and a half years from spark to publication.

I started writing it in earnest in the spring of 2004, and then completed an initial draft (my first drafts never bear much of a resemblance to my finished books) right around the time "Alaska" came out in March, 2005.

The next year was spent revising the manuscript over and over again with Julie. She was pretty heroic about editing "Katherines." For instance, she literally was editing it while she was in labor with her first child. I mean, she called me from the hospital and was like, "Hey, I want you to think more deeply about Hollis' relationship with Lindsey."

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Well, I don't know anything about what it's like to be a child prodigy, since I wasn't all that smart and wasn't a very good student, either. So I did have to read a lot of books about child prodigies. Also, there is some math in the book (note: you don't have to like math to like "Katherines"), and I am really bad at math, so that was tremendously difficult. Also, Colin speaks 11 languages, and I speak one, so that was time-consuming.

The biggest challenge is that "Katherines" is very different from my first novel--it's a much more comic novel, and it has less of a built-in structure, and it is third-person instead of first-person. I wanted to do something radically different, partly because I want to have a long career and don't want to repeat myself, and partly because I wanted to push myself a little.

Other than your own, what would you say are the three must-read YA novels of the year and why?

It's tough to choose just three, but okay! First, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2006). In my opinion, it's the most ambitious novel for teenagers published in the last decade. It's important for writers because it has the potential to change what it means to publish for teenagers. But it's also just a wonderful book by an immensely talented writer who clealy gave this book everything he had.

Second, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview). It's a fun reworking of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and it also upends a lot of the ways we think about teens and gender. I really loved this book.

Third, Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, 2006)(excerpt). There's a lot to celebrate about this book, but I just think the writing is fantastic.

What advice do you have for beginning YA novelists?

I think the best advice I ever received was to trust that when people give you constructive criticism, they are usually right. I think the hardest part of writing is learning how to revise and revise effectively. And in a publishing climate where books are often edited very lightly, it falls to authors to do a lot of revision themselves. So it's very important to listen closely to what people think isn't working.

Also, I would say read a lot. Reading is the only apprenticeship writers have.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm writing a book now. I always sound like an idiot when I talk about what I'm currently writing, though. Whenever people asked me about "Alaska," I would say, "Um, it's a book about a boy. And a girl. At a boarding school." So I guess this new book is about a boy. And a girl. At a public school. I know! It sounds so good! You can't wait to read it! (I swear I'll try to make it good.)

Cynsational Notes

Looking for Alaska will be available in paperback from Puffin in December 2006.

An Abundance of Katherines has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and the Horn Book.
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