Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Agent-Author Interview: Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Ammi-Joan Paquette is known as a bit of a globe-trotter. She spent much of her early years in France, then traveled throughout Europe and to Japan before settling down with her family just outside of Boston.

Her first published picture book is The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, illustrated by Christa Unzner (Tanglewood Press, 2009).

She is also an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, where she represents all forms of children's and young adult projects. She only accepts queries via referral or from people she has met at conferences.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I'm definitely one of those people who has been scribbling stories ever since I can remember. What really started me writing seriously with an eye to get published, though, was when my mom passed away in 2003. She'd always loved writing and had talked about pursuing publication, but never seemed to get to that point where she was ready to take the plunge.

After her death, I started writing about her--words poured out of me, more emotion than substance, very raw and stark, but so shockingly real. This was the kick-start that got my writing engine roaring again.

The other thing that inspired me to take my writing to the next level was the birth and growth of my daughters. They've been my inspiration, a source of ideas, the ones I measure everything against. They are my reason for doing what I do and a perpetual yardstick for checking my progress.

I can't say how many times I've been exchanging silliness with one of them and have had to stop and scribble down a picture book idea or how often one of our storytimes has sparked the plot for a new novel. I can't imagine what my writing would be without their inspiration!

Now that they are getting older, it's very satisfying to see their reactions to what I write. They're both my greatest encouragement and my toughest critics!

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

Oh, yes. I've had bumps and stumbles galore. No easy, paved road for me!

On the other hand, I've been blessed to have enough small successes on the way to keep me striving for the bigger goals that always seem just out of reach.

The road to publication is long and winding, and while it's different for each person, I think at some point every writer has to just resolve to enjoy the ride, no matter how long or crazy the road gets.

I've definitely had my share of rejections, and one of the biggest things I'm still learning is to make every project really stand out. I must have rewritten every one of my manuscripts at least half a dozen times.

And then, just when I think it's really "there," I have to go back and rewrite it again. Trim, tighten, clarify. Every project is a work in progress, right up until it goes off to the printer.

I think that is what defines, in the end, the truly successful authors: they are willing to keep chipping away for as long as it takes until that project is right.

Congratulations on The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies (Tanglewood, 2009)! In your own words, could you tell us about the book?

This is a very special book to mark my debut as a children's author because it has a personal significance for me. It was inspired by a real event with my then five- and seven-year-old daughters. They were not big nature walkers, so I would often make up stories or activities to pass the time while we were out.

One day, I was inspired by this idea of going on a fairy-tracking adventure. We went for a walk in our nearby nature preserve, and I carried along a notepad where I scribbled down ideas of things we saw, and we spontaneously talked about all the "clues" we were seeing. That was when the idea for the book started to take root.

When I got home, I typed up my notes, which were the core of what would become The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies. It was fun to recently come across the photos I took on that first nature walk and to see many of the same scenes that are now illustrated in the book reflected in my pictures!

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

The original fairy-tracking adventure took place in the summer of 2004. I revised and rewrote the manuscript off and on throughout the next year, then began sending out a few submissions.

In the summer of 2005, I read an article about Tanglewood Press. Though they are a small publisher, they have a great, widespread distribution system, and their books are top-quality. I decided to give them a try. I sent my baby off and didn't hear anything for a long time.

About a year later, after nearly forgetting about this submission, I suddenly received a phone call: Was "Tracking Fairies" still available?

And so the process began. From there, it took many months to work out the contract details, and still longer for me to get it through my head that: Yes! This was real!

But now that I'm holding the wonderful finished product in my hands, I can truthfully say--it was the best journey I ever undertook.

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

From the start this was a very conceptual book. At one session with my critique group, before hearing back from Tanglewood, we discussed my manuscript. There were a lot of differing opinions about it and suggested directions I could take to improve it.

One person felt I should add more detail and make it more of a "real field guide." Another person thought it would do best as a chapter book with more of a main character and specific events happening, and so on.

In the end, I decided to wait to hear back before taking any further action, and of course, the best revisions are ones you do hand-in-hand with your editor, because you know you're working toward a specific goal and that the person who shares your vision is also the one who is going to bring it to life as a Real Book. And in this case, my editor ended up loving it much as it was. But I was impressed by this experience to realize that any given book can be spun off in any number of ways and has the potential to become many different creations.

The magic comes in discovering what we truly want this story to be and coaxing that dream out of the words we are crafting.

When I spoke with my editor about revisions after signing the contract, she summarized her main points and then told me, "You know, what really hooked me was that line in your query letter where you talked about 'seeing the world through fairy-tinted glasses.'"

In the end, despite any lacks or needs in my manuscript, the core idea--a line in my query letter, no less!--had struck magic with her. She shared my vision of a book that would bring the natural world alive for children in a completely unique and magical way. All the rest was negotiable.

You also wear another hat--you're a new literary agent! How did this evolve?

Yes, this is a new venture for me, and I'm very excited about it!

I signed with my own agent, Erin Murphy, in 2008. I've always been the kind of person who accomplishes more when I have a lot of different things going on. I had been working a day job in educational publishing, and when my company got downsized early this year, I started thinking about other ways to fill my time.

Agenting was something I had long considered but without a viable plan of how I might actually do it. Through one thing and another, I started discussing the idea with Erin, and before I knew it, things were in motion.

It's now been about three months since I officially began working as an agent. I have a small core of fabulous clients, and a couple weeks ago, I was very excited to make my first sale, a three-book deal for a hilarious middle grade fantasy series. Look out for Elliot and the Goblin War by Jennifer Nielsen from Sourcebooks in 2010!

Why did you want to become an agent specifically?

To me, being an agent is like conducting a perpetual treasure hunt. My clients send me their wonderful manuscripts. My job is to look at all aspects of their projects and the market, follow the clues of concept, style and interest, and match each project up with the right editor who will fall madly in love.

It's exciting, it's busy, there's tons going on every second, and my to-do list changes every day. I absolutely adore it, and I'm so grateful to all the wonderful folks who have made my transition so smooth and easy!

What sort of manuscripts are you looking for?

At this point, I'm really interested in projects that go all across the board. There's no genre that I'm specifically closed to.

Because I am balancing my time as an agent with my own writing, however, I'm most concerned about keeping a very small and select list. So I find myself being particularly picky and only signing with a client if I feel utterly passionate about his or her work.

Believe it or not, this is one of the hardest parts of my job! I love books and stories, and I tend to see potential in many things I read. It's excruciatingly hard to turn some projects down.

This has been an interesting experience for me, being on the other side of the rejection letter and seeing that it is absolutely no easier from this angle.

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today's challenging economic market?

In this time, as in any, I firmly believe that great works rise. There is always a need for great literature, and while the challenges might multiply in this sort of economic climate, I think, if anything, it is just a call to all writers to keep crafting and produce your best work.

Write your passion, and it will find its own home.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues?

I think it depends entirely on the project. I've worked with some of my clients quite extensively on their manuscripts. With others, I haven't found any changes necessary at all.

My goal is to have a manuscript that is complete, well-constructed, and able to snare the emotions of the readers. When a project does all those things, it's ready to fly out into the world.

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim, and/or both?

I know "voice" is something that is frequently brought up for questions such as these, but I really don't know of any better answer. If there is one thing that makes a submission stand out from the rest for me, it's that elusive, larger-than-life quality that we define as "voice."

It's sometimes flowing and beautiful, sometimes quirky, sometimes biting and snarky, but always interesting, original, unique. It's a way of stringing words together that moves them beyond printed words: it puts a face behind the text. It paints a real character in your mind. It brings your words to life.

Beyond that, for commercial success, for literary acclaim--who can say? There are as many formulas and "right" ways of doing things as there are successful and critically-acclaimed writers in the world.

For me the key, above all else, is to find your own magic. When you flip that switch that brings your work to life, it's like the difference in Pinocchio before and after the visit of the Blue Fairy. You just know that all of a sudden, you're no longer talking to a puppet but a real boy. That's magic--that's passion--that's voice.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

I really wish I could open my doors to all the wonderful submissions I know are out there--but for me, taking it slow is just a necessity.

I'm very happy to receive submissions from anyone I've met at a conference or referrals from friends of my existing clients or people I know. Beyond that, I'm closed to queries at this time.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I've been surprised at how many people who attach sample chapters from novels send portions from within the text. Always, always send the first chapters in a project rather than some other part. When I get middle chapters, I don't even read them. How can I possibly hope to be interested, when I don't have any idea who the characters are, where they are, or what's going on?

My ideal query is succinct, professional, and has the first 10 pages or so pasted after it in the email. I also like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

How much contact will you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs?

The bulk of my communication takes place by email, but my clients are free to contact me by phone as needed, and I call them occasionally, too.

We have a listserv for the whole Erin Murphy Literary Agency client list, which is a great way to exchange information and get to know others in the agency. Recently, we have also begun to organize a yearly retreat.

What are your some of your favorite recent children's/YA books and why?

Oh, there are so many good ones!

I loved the characters and their interactions in The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas (FSG, 2008)(author interview). Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta (Harper Teen, 2008) drew me in with its structure and mystery. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008) was dark and riveting. I couldn't put it down.

The voice and wacky premise of Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman (Dutton, 2008) kept me laughing to the last page. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (Razorbill, 2008) was funny and sweet and a great read.

And the language in The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview) was beautiful and evocative and made me want to hold each word in my mind as long as possible.

What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I'm looking for a close professional relationship of mutual respect and admiration. It's my privilege to already have signed some fabulously talented authors, and it's my goal to see each of them published with the right editor, in the right house, and holding their finished books.

I'm looking to be part of my authors' careers over the long-term, to be there when they have questions or need advice, anything I can do to help them be the best they can be. It's an honor to be in this position, and I'm loving every minute of it.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to an interview with Ammi-Joan from Suzanne Lieurance at Book Bites for Kids on Blog Talk Radio. Peek: "Children's author Ammi-Joan Paquette talks with host Suzanne Lieurance about her new book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies."

Read a Cynsations interview with Erin Murphy on Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New Voice: Sydney Salter on My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters

Sydney Salter is the debut author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters (HM Harcourt/Graphia, 2009). From the promotional copy:

It's the end of junior year, and summer is about to begin. The Summer of Passion, to be exact, when Jory Michaels plans to explore all the possibilities of the future--and, with any luck, score a boyfriend in the process.

But Jory has a problem. A big problem. A curvy, honking, bumpy, problem in the form of her Super Schnozz, the one thing standing between Jory and happiness.

And now, with the Summer of Passion stretched before her like an open road, she's determined for Super Schnozz to disappear. Jory takes a job delivering wedding cakes to save up for a nose job at the end of the summer; she even keeps a book filled with magazine cutouts of perfect noses to show the doctor.

But nothing is ever easy for accident-prone Jory--and before she knows it, her Summer of Passion falls apart faster than the delivery van she crashes.

In her hilarious and heartbreaking debut novel, Sydney Salter delivers a story about broadening your horizons, accepting yourself, and finding love right under your nose.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Usually, I write at a table in my living room near my bookshelves with a view of my neighborhood. I love all the light and open space.

My workday follows my daughters' school day. That's the ideal.

The reality is that I’ve learned to write anywhere and everywhere.

Last summer I finished a draft of a novel, one chapter a day, by taking my daughters to the bookstore, buying them each a frappuccino, shooing them into the children's section, and asking them not to talk to me for an hour while I wrote in the café.

I have revised in airports and mall food courts. I have written chapters on ferry boats, numerous Starbucks locations, and in my car while waiting for my daughter to finish her guitar lesson.

I have discovered that sometimes a change in scenery—one in which I don't have to look at my dirty dishes while pouring a cup of tea—helps motivate me.

When I'm writing a first draft, I keep track of my daily word count as well as my writing location (just for fun).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book?

I don't really feel qualified to answer this question, but that's how most of book promotion has felt to me: absolutely daunting.

Realizing that I had a lot to learn about virtual marketing, I joined online debut author groups. The Class of 2k9 focuses on promoting books to booksellers, librarians, and teachers, but we've become a support group as well. The 2009 Debutantes offers support, but those authors also generously share their marketing savvy. Authors Now is a website that provides visibility for authors and information for the reading community.

I wish I'd gotten involved in online writing communities earlier. Sites like www.verlakay.com are a great networking resource for pre-published and published authors.

I've started blogging (www.mybignose.blogspot.com), but I'm struggling to find the time to post while keeping up with writing, revisions, and promotion.

I wish I'd developed the habit earlier; I might also have developed a larger blog following. And, of course, I'm also busy friending everyone on various social networking sites.

The personal networking I've done over the years has helped tremendously with book promotion. For years I've belonged to local writing groups, and I'm a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (Utah/So. Idaho).

Knowing that speaking is an important part of a writing career, I've always pushed myself out of my comfort zone to accept public speaking opportunities. I worked as a library storytime reader, taught writing at my daughter's school, spoke to local writing groups, and created conference workshops (sometimes researching topics I didn't know much about). Not only did these appearances help me become comfortable with speaking, I've made connections with people who are excited about my upcoming books.

I've found support from so many people. My family members have rallied, sending out email blasts to pre-order my books. My brother has given me pep-talks as well as contacted his friends who have media ties. My sister-in-law has used her teaching connections to help me get speaking engagements in my hometown. My husband is encouraging me to speak at an out-of-state SCBWI conference on his birthday. No one in my family is going to let me ignore book promotion!

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fantasy Fix

Check out this book trailer for Fortune's Magic Farm, written by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown, 2009).

This past week's new releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teenagers from Charolotte's Library.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Booklists. Links to bibliographies compiled by librarians across the U.S.

Children's & YA Fantasy Novels highlighted by CynthiaLeitichSmith.com. A selection of recommendations and related resources, including links to author interviews. See also Gothic Fantasy & Suspense for Teens & Tweens. Note: it's really more like Gothic fantasy, suspense, urban fantasy, horror generally, and paranormal romance, but who's counting?

Harry Potter giveaway from Sheila Ruth at Wands and Worlds: Fantasy and science fiction for children and teens. Peek: "Now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will finally be released in paperback on July 7, and I've been given four copies of a Harry Potter prize pack to give away here!" Deadline: July 6. See more information.

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.: "SFWA is a non-profit organization of professional writers of science fiction, fantasy, and related genres. Esteemed past and present members include Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, and Andre Norton."

Why Does Cover Art Change? by Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle: Authors talk about writing speculative fiction for teens and pre-teens. Peek: "The original artwork for a book cover, however awesome it may be, is sometimes scrapped before the book hits stores. There are a number of reasons for this."

Take a peek at excerpts of A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn and Hunger by Michael Grant, both 2009 releases at HarperTeen. Read a Cynsations interview with Alex about her new release.

Fantasy and Reality by Laurence Yep from the April 1978 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Peek: "I don't mean to suggest that having a sense of reality is bad. The error lies in treating our sense of reality as absolute rather than relative. Or in assuming that our imagination is inferior to our sense of reality in dealing with our external world."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Q&A With Lee Bantle, Author of David Inside Out (Henry Holt, 2009) from BookKids. Peek: "The voters in California took away the right to gay marriage. In the military, saying you are gay brings on discharge proceedings. We can get married in Dubuque. But not in New York or LA. The world is mixed up. So is David." See also Fab YA Authors on their Favorite Queer-Themed Books (don't miss part two).

Borders Books Supports Gay-Themed Novels by Jeff Rivera at GalleyCat. Peek: "Levithan says surprisingly that 'there is not as much resistance in schools to having gay-themed novels in school libraries.'"

Beach Bag Books from the Horn Book Podcast. Peek: "Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano talk with Kitty Flynn about twelve great new books for summer." See also Preview: July/August 2009 Horn Book Magazine from The Horn Book. Peek: "Our annual ALA Awards issue honors the 2009 winners." Note: the most-read issue of the year includes the ALA winners' speeches. Here's information on subscriptions. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

Top 10 Biographies for Youth: 2009 by Ilene Cooper for Booklist. Peek: "This year's top 10 biographies for youth could have been comprised almost entirely of books about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, but we had to make room for some of the other excellent biographies that were reviewed in Booklist during the past 12 months."

Congratulations to Texas author Bill Cochran and illustrator Steve Bjorkman on the release of My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me (HarperCollins, 2009)! Peek: "Ted's parents are divorced, but that's just one fact about him. The fact that he has named his elbows Clyde and Carl? Or that Ted walks around with soap in his hair and likes to squawk like a chicken on the phone? Now, that's definitely weird. As shown in this lighthearted yet heartfelt account, life with divorced parents isn't always easy, but above all Ted knows he's loved—and there's nothing weird about that at all." Read a Cynsations interview with Bill. Note: Steve was the illustrator for Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith (Dutton/Scholastic Book Club).

Beyond the Basics of Historical Fiction Picture Books by Verla Kay from Verla Kay's Blog. Peek: "Accuracy of all facts is vitally important because children believe what they read in books." Read a Cynsations interview with Verla Kay.

Sense of Place, Sense of Self compiled by Tessa Michaelson from the Cooperative Children's Book Center. Peek: "This bibliography explores fiction for older elementary through high school readers in which the modern-day setting plays a critical role."

The Time Gobbler by Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "'A good rule of thumb is to spend one hour of Net time for every two hours spent writing. After all, you can't call yourself a writer if you don't write,'" quoting Some Writers Deserve To Starve! by Elaura Niles (Writer's Digest, 2005). See also The Downside of Goal-Setting.

You Know You're a Debut Author When... by Joy Prebel at Class of 2K9: Debut Middle Grade and Young Adult Authors: Serving up Fresh Fiction. Peek: "You get so good at the Google-stalking thing that you feel a little frightened." A very cute post from a new voice I'm especially excited about. Joy is originally from Chicago and now makes her home in Texas. Learn more about Joy Prebel. Note: for what it's worth, my recommendation is always to focus on writing your next book. A remarkable amount of "noise" out there doesn't matter.

Former UMass professor Julius Lester's collection of photos to be exhibited in Southampton by Diane Lederman from Massachusetts Local News: Breaking News from Western Massachusetts. The exhibit will be at the Robert Floyd Gallery, 2 East St., Southampton through June 30. Hours are from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. June 27 to June 28 and by appointment. Peek: "When asked about his prolific output, Lester said, 'I look back, and I wonder myself.'" But, he said, 'I didn't socialize. I'm very disciplined.' When his children were young, he wrote when they played on the floor by his feet and later mostly at night." Source: Debbie Reese.

10 Ways Twitter Can Help Writers by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from MiG Writers. Peek: "One of the reasons I decided to take Twitter seriously was because I kept hearing about various editors and publishers who were Twittering. And they weren’t just posting promo items; they were also reading posts by other Twitterers and sometimes replying to them."

Post-Conference Follow-Up from Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "How do you make good use of the notes and information gleaned at a writer’s workshop or conference?"

Cover Stories: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams from Melissa Walker. Peek: "I was in New York, visiting everyone at St Martin's Press, when my editor and Michael brought what they thought might be the cover for me to see." Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

Children's Author Toni Buzzeo tours this week at A Patchwork of Books, Katie's Literature Lounge, The Children's Book Review, and Kid Lit. Read a Cynsations interview with Toni.

Why Write? by Carrie Jones at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Yet, I think one of the tools at becoming a better writer is understanding the why of why we write. It's not always a simple reason or easy to discover. It's not a set of reasons that applies to everyone." Note: first post in a week-long series. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Does Listening to an Audio Book Count as Reading? Vote at Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Congratulations to Heather Brewer on the launch of Tenth Grade Bleeds (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Book 3)(Dutton, 2009)! Peek: "High school can be so draining when you're half-human, half-vampire It's another sucky year at Bathory High for Vladimir Tod. The evil vampire D'Ablo is hunting for the ritual that could steal Vlad's powers. His best friend Henry doesn't want to be his drudge anymore. And as if all that weren't enough, it's getting harder for Vlad to resist feeding on the people around him. When months go by with no word from Uncle Otis and D'Ablo shows up demanding Vlad's father's journal, Vlad realizes that having a normal high school year is the least of his concerns. Vlad needs to act fast, and even his status as the Pravus won't save him this time..."

Projects, Patterns, and Personalities by editor Cheryl Klein at Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "I was looking over the list of my past and upcoming projects, and I realized that a very good chunk of them fit into at least one and sometimes more of these subject categories..." Source: Sara Lewis Holmes at Read, Write, Believe.

Sequel Anxiety -- Can We Ever Give Readers What They Really Want? by Denise Vega from Teenreads.com Blog. Peek: "My readers love my book! My readers want more! But then the fear creeps in because we know that we can never replicate the experience the reader had, and that’s what they are looking for."

Truth, Interpretation, and the Goals of Nonfiction by Marc Aronson from Nonfiction Matters at School Library Journal. Peek: "Now there is a special challenge with young people. We have to train them in scholarship -- teach them how to separate fact and opinion, how to be creatively suspicious, how to dig deeper, how to find earlier ideas so you don't think you are inventing the new when you are merely repeating the known." Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

You, Represented By You from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "...you can submit the work your agent isn't interested in on your own."

What Backstory Can Do for Your Story by Jessica Morrell from Writer's Digest. Peek: "When deciding when and where to use backstory in your work, it can help to think about what you're trying to accomplish within a given scene. To do this, however, you need to understand the many functions of backstory." Source: Children's Book Biz News.

Marvelous Marketer: Tracy Marchini (Literary Assistant, Curtis Brown) from Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: "Networking online is the same as networking in person, so whether you're online or offline, it's important to be a gracious host and an appreciative guest." Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

The 2009 Annual Conference of the American Library Association will take place in Chicago from July 9 to July 15, 2009 at McCormick Place West. Highlights will include: "Nonfiction Book Blast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers" from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. July 12 at Convention Center Room W181. Peek: "Despite the emphasis on fiction for leisure reading in schools, many reluctant readers are often more drawn to reading nonfiction. Expand your nonfiction repertoire as 17 authors booktalk their latest work." Moderator: Sharon Mitchell, Library Media Specialist. Speakers: Lisa Rondinelli Albert; Mary Bowman-Kruhm; Laura Crawford; Jeri Chase Ferris; Kelly Milner Halls; Amy S. Hansen; Gwendolyn Hooks; Katherine L. House; Patricia K. Kummer; Suzanne Lieurance; JoAnn Early Macken; Carla Killough McClafferty; Wendie Old; April Pulley Sayre; Anastasia Suen; Christine Taylor-Butler; Rebecca Hogue Wojahn and Donald Wojahn.

Promotional Emails: Do's & Don'ts by Elizabeth Bluemle from Shelftalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog. Peek: "Do not compare your own book to Harry Potter, The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, or any other published title, for that matter — especially to claim that it's that book's equal or better."

My Editor and Revision by Brian Yansky at Brian's Blog. Peek: "Even experienced writers, after they have rewritten and rewritten and rewritten a manuscript, will have an editor who makes, often, very good points about how to improve the manuscript. This makes me happy." See also My Fiction Is Stranger Than Truth. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Writing in the Woods: A Retreat for Writers of Children's and Young Adult Literature. Phyllis Root, Marsha Wilson Chall, and Jane Resh Thomas will be teaching a workshop from Oct. 19 to Oct. 25 at Good Earth Village in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Enrollment limited to 10. Application deadline: Aug. 19. See more information. Read a Cynsations interview with Phyllis.

Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow by John Scalzi from Whatever: Someday Your Tears Will Turn to Diamonds. Peek: "Whenever I hear about a 'new' novelist, they turn out to be in their 30s. Why is that? It seems like you hear about new musicians and actors and other creative people in when they are in their 20s." Source: Children's Book Biz News. Note: The article is centered on the adult market but is still of interest. It used to be that children's-YA authors generally debuted in middle age, but younger writers are now regularly breaking in.

Episode 1: Teens "Speak" Up with Laurie Halse Anderson: a video from the Screening Room at YA Central from Penguin Group USA. Peek: "New York Times bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson talks about the 10th anniversary of Speak, her latest book Wintergirls (Viking, 2009) and chats with teen readers from the Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City in this episode of YA Central." See also episodes featuring John Green and Lauren Myracle. Source: Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

Announcing One Shot Southeast Asia from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Peek: "or those of you not familiar with the One Shot idea, a group of bloggers (and its open to everybody with a blog) all agree to read a book by an author from a certain region or a book set in that region and then blog about it on a specified day."

Book Launch: The Gifted Series by Marilyn Kaye from Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Almost all my characters are based on an aspect of people I've known, and sometimes on aspects of myself. Then, I let them evolve in my imagination--they take on characteristics that just seem to emerge naturally from their personalities and situations." Read a Cynsations interview with Janet.

Writing Links from my main website. An extensive listing of links to interviews, articles, and other information about agents, book design & art direction, editors & publishers, education, illustration, promotion, publishing, and writing.

Highlight of the Week

I've already blogged about last Saturday's Austin SCBWI meeting with BookPeople events coordinators Mandy Brooks (in the BP T-shirt) and Alison Nihlean (in glasses). Here's just another peek at our speakers with RA Tim Crow. Note: you can find books--many autographed--by local Austin authors at the store. Look in the BookKids department, behind and to the side of the information desk. Or you can call toll-free 800.853.9757; autographed copies of my own Gothic fantasies are available.

More Personally

Fellow Austin author Shana Burg highlights Tantalize (Candlewick) at Walmart in Greenville, Mississippi. Check out part one and two of Shana's report on her recent trip to the Mississippi Delta, the setting for A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Congratulations to Horn Book editor Roger Sutton on the birth of his grandson, Miles Henkels Asch, and congratulations to Blooming Tree editor and children's author Madeline Smoot on the birth of her son, also named Miles! Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

Everything I Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons by Brent Hartinger from TheTorchOnline.com. Peek: "Dungeons & Dragons isn't a dangerous, evil force in the world, nor is it just harmless fun; it's actually one of the most worthwhile activities ever created, and there is literally nothing better for turning a kid into a thoughtful, creative, passionate, open-minded adult." Note: I've never been a D&D player, but I've spent a lot of quality time in comic book shops with people who are. Read a Cynsations interview with Brent.

Giveaway Updates

Enter to win a copy of Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker (Harper, 2009)! To enter, simply email me (scroll and click the envelope) with your snail mail address and include "Lovestruck Summer" in the subject line. To be entered twice, ask me any question about Cynsations or my main website. Deadline: June 30. Read an interview with Melissa by Emily at BookKids Recommends: From the Crazy Folks at Bookpeople. Note: the story is set in Austin.

Enter to win a bookplate-autographed copy of the new release, Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009), and traditionally autographed copies of both Secret of the Three Treasures (Holiday House, 2006)(hard copy) and Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2006)(paperback) from Cynsations. Note: Gothic includes Janni's short story "Stone Tower." To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Janni Lee Simner" in the subject line. Deadline: June 30! Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

Enter to win your choice of an Eternal T-shirt, hat, or mug from Cynsations! Note: various designs and colors are available. See all of the choices!

You may also win an ARC of one of three YA paranormal books: Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008); Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008); or Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, 2008)!

Here's how to enter:

(1) visit this link: Eternal Book Trailer by Naomi Bates at YA Books and More. Watch the trailer!

(2) (a) Email me (scroll to click envelope); (b) Type "Eternal trailer giveaway" in the subject line; (c) Offer your cheers about the trailer! What do you love about it? What questions does it raise in your mind? (d) Indicate your preferred T-shirt style, size, and color; (e) Rank the ARCs in the order of preference. Note: if you already have one or more of the books, you can mention that too. You are also encouraged to share your cheers in a comment at this post on Naomi's blog, though this is not required to enter. It's just friendly.

Deadline: midnight central time June 30!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Author Appearances without the Trains, Planes and Automobiles

by Catherine Balkin

It has become apparent from recent conversations I've had with teachers, librarians, authors, and artists, that the economy is taking its toll on author appearances. Schools don't have as much money to spend on author visits and are trying to find ways to cut costs.

Authors and artists are also looking for ways to help them out, and some of you just don't want to travel anymore. The solution: online chats.

School Library Journal ran an article about online chats in their June 2009 issue, and I'd highly recommend it for the useful information it contained. Unlike this article, however, the School Library Journal piece was directed at schools interested in setting up virtual visits. This article is directed at you--the authors and artists trying to figure out the virtual world of online chats. So if you are an author and/or artist, here is what you need to know:

* First of all, your computer will need a camera (one embedded in your computer, or you can buy a fairly inexpensive webcam that connects via a USB; I think you can get one for only about $50). A webcam that connects via a USB has more flexibility. Moving your computer around to display your studio, for example, would be difficult; with a webcam it would be pretty easy. The same goes for those times when you want to show your audience your artwork, jackets, research materials, etc. In fact, the more lively you can make your presentation (that is, the more you can move the camera around to show your environment), the more likely you are to hold your audience's attention. Also, the more interactive you can make your program, the more you and your audience will get out of it and the more everyone will enjoy it. For this reason, you might want to consider a couple of Q&A sessions during the presentation and have lots of visual aids on hand.

* Secondly, your computer will also need a microphone and speakers (these are usually provided with the computer, but be sure to check that they are in good working order).

* Finally, you'll need an account with either iChat (mostly used with Macs) or Skype (mostly used with PCs); you might also want to check out Google Mail Video Chat.

Before you do an online chat with a school--or for any professional reason--you probably ought to consider doing at least one run-through with a family member or friend, and preferably more than one. If you do live author appearances, you're already a seasoned performer. But for online chats, rehearsing will not only help familiarize you with the technology, it will teach you what, if any, changes might be needed in your program.

This is new territory for all of us, but I have been getting a sense of what kind of fees the schools seem to be able to afford, and here is a very basic breakdown:

$500 – for 3 one-hour long chats over the course of a day
$350 – for 2 one-hour long chats over the course of a day
$175 – for 1 one-hour long chat

Keep in mind that chats can be very flexible. They don't all necessarily have to be done in one day. And they can be shorter than an hour. For instance, you could charge by 30 minute increments, or establish a set fee for a full day visit, but take bathroom breaks and lunch hours, as needed. The honorariums I'm providing are just to give you a jumping off point. Revise them however you wish to fit the demands of your everyday life and schedule.

To encourage book sales, you might also ask the school to send you bookplates to autograph well before the chat so the students will have an autographed book the day you meet them online.

At BalkinBuddies.com, we spend a good deal of time promoting author visits at library and educational conferences, online, and among our educational contacts. From time to time, I also give talks about author appearances as well as other subjects at various events. As some of you may know, I spent many years setting up author appearances at HarperCollins and, since leaving there in 2004, I have continued to do so through Balkin Buddies. My long experience in arranging visits has provided me with a large network of teachers and librarians. So if you are interested in having BalkinBuddies.com work to get you online chats, feel free to contact me at catherine@balkinbuddies.com, and I'll be happy to provide more information on how we work.

Online chats may not be for everyone. If you live on a mountain in Montana, for instance, it is probably impossible for you to use Skype or iChat. Or you might prefer the one-on-one contact with students that only a real life visit can provide.

But online chats can offer you closer contact with your fans than you think, plus you might meet students you might never have met because of lack of funding.

So before you say, "I'll never be able to figure out the technology for online visits," think it over. The technology isn't as hard as you think and the programs (Skype and iChat, at least) are free! And the rewards from reaching readers online--reluctant and avid alike--can be just as satisfying as reaching them in person, except without the traffic jams, flight delays, and fatigue from crossing time zones. With the recent inroads made in telecommunications technology, online chats may very well be the author appearances of the future.

Cynsational Notes

Catherine says of Balkin Buddies: "Our aim is to provide the best speaker who are also fabulous authors and illustrators." Author/illustrators represented include: Avi, Jennifer Armstrong, Alex Flinn, Bobbi Katz, M.E. Kerr, Mary Lankford, Anna Myers, Darcy Pattison, Elaine Scott, Neal Shusterman, Diane Stanley, Joyce Carol Thomas, Terry Trueman, and Lara M. Zeises.

You Are There: No budget for travel? Try video chat. by Eric Langhorst from School Library Journal. Peek: "First you'll need a webcam. While there are many to choose from, my personal favorite is the Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks ($40–50; Windows only). It’s small—about the size of a pack of gum—with a quality internal microphone that effectively picks up audio throughout a room."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley on North of Beautiful

You last visited Cynsations in January 2006 to discuss the release of Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies)(Little, Brown, 2006). Do you have any more recent news to share on that novel or your other books?

I was so thrilled that Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) (Little, Brown, 2006) won the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature in 2007, and then it was listed as an ALA Popular Paperback.

How about any other new developments?

Girl Overboard (Little, Brown, 2008) is now available in paperback and was selected as a Junior Library Guild Premier Selection.

North of Beautiful has received three starred reviews. I'm super excited and touched by the reception the book is getting from reviewers, bloggers, and most of all readers.

Congratulations on the release of North of Beautiful (Little, Brown, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

North of Beautiful is my very humble homage to my favorite poem, Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman." (In fact, I made a video homage to that effect)[see below].

I've wanted to write an ode to true beauty for girls and women--this is it!

Meet Terra who is everyone's idea of a dream girl with her long, blonde hair and a body models would die for. Who notices any of that when there's a palm-sized birthmark on her face?

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

As a woman, writer, and mother, I've wanted to tackle our society's super-narrow definition of beauty. You know, a friend just mentioned Kate Winslet's weight loss and how sad it was since she looked like any other starlet now. It's true!

But how do you translate that sentiment into a novel? I wasn't sure what my entry point would or should be.

It wasn't until I was telling an acquaintance of mine what a great mothering job she was doing with her son: Mr. Cool and Popular at school...who was also born with a port wine stain on his cheek.

She stopped me mid-accolade and said, "That's because he's a boy."

With that one comment, the story was born and Terra sprang to life in my imagination like Athena from Zeus.

What was the timeline between spark and each publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Each novel has taken progressively longer to write--from four months to 12 months to 18 months. For a while, I attributed the lengthening timeline to aging brain cells, but now I chalk it up to juggling multiple projects.

As working writers know, you're essentially writing one book, copy editing another, and then touring for the last. I took a small break after writing North of Beautiful since three novels in three years was a bit taxing for me, but now I've got two different novels going. The madness is beginning again!

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

North of Beautiful required an insane amount of research. I knew nothing about cartography, and the more I immersed myself in the history of map-making, the culture of those adventurer-scientists who made maps in the past, the technology in today's mapping, I knew that I had found the framework for the story.

Then, of course, while I create collages for every book that I write, I'm not a trained artist. So I had to learn all about that world, too!

And finally, there was a ton of in situ research, entailing travel to China.

What do you want YA readers to take away from your story?

I consider my first three novels as a complete arc in teens getting comfortable with their own identity--accepting themselves, defining themselves, loving themselves. Think about it: we get judged for our outward appearances, whether it's racial identity, socioeconomics, or our physical appearance.

My stories--all three--are about moving beyond those initial, knee-jerk assessments, those damning and often inaccurate first impressions.

Instead, I ask readers to look deeper. The girl who struggles with where she fits in racially is the same girl who struggles with being accepted for who she is, not her last name. And aren't those the same girl who wants to be "normal"?

Do you have a vision for your career as an author or take it book-to-book or both?

I definitely have a vision for my career. I want to write books that matter, and at the same time, I want to empower my readers to use their words to create change that matters.

So I will always tie some kind of community service that helps teens to all of my work--whether it's a college scholarship, a challenge grant, or a video essay contest.

Of the ways you reach out to your readers, which do you think are most effective and why?

I think my community service work with teens is the most authentic expression of how much I adore, esteem, and respect this group of readers.

It's my hope that endeavors, such as my Find Beauty Challenge in honor of North of Beautiful, give teens a way to express themselves based on what they've read in my work. In this challenge, I'm asking people to tell the world in 90 seconds what True Beauty means to them. I'm donating $10 for every uploaded video (up to $1,000) to fund reconstructive surgery on kids with cleft lips in third world countries. Plus, the winning video essay gets in iPod Touch. The videos that have been made so far are phenomenal.

Do you work with a critique group, a partner, or exclusively with your editor?

I trade full or partial manuscripts with some very trusted writers, among them Janet Lee Carey, Lorie Ann Grover, and Holly Cupala. They are my first readers, and then I share my revised work with my agent, Steven Malk. Steve has such an incredible sense of what needs help in my manuscripts and he's not afraid to tell me. I love that. After I get his notes back, I revise again and only then does it go to my editor.

Alvina Ling, my editor, and Connie Hsu, her assistant editor, make a formidable, astute, and beautiful editing team. I trust and value them.

So far, what's your favorite YA novel of 2009 and why?

I am absolutely besotted with Beth Kephart's books. I was supposed to speak with her on a panel at NCTE earlier this year, but personal circumstances prevented that from happening.

My amazing library marketer at Little, Brown Books sent me a copy of Beth's Undercover (HarperCollins, 2007), and I was profoundly moved by this writer's supple and lyrical language. She is an author who needs to be read much more widely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Phyllis Root

Learn more about Phyllis Root. Watch for the upcoming launch of Phyllisroot.com. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Phyllis.

What do you love most about your creative life?

What I love most about my writing life is also what I struggle with most: the combination of freedom and discipline.

Most days I am free to write whatever I want to write, to play with story, with words with sounds, to make something, not out of nothing but of what I know and have lived and imagine. And the hard part of that is making myself sit down and do it.

I know I am a nicer person when I write. Whenever I find myself overly cranky, I realize it's because I haven't been writing lately. It doesn't matter whether I'm writing something I hope to publish someday or something that is just me mucking around with sound and story; it's the act of writing itself that makes me a better person to be around.

Often I will set myself daily exercises just to get going. My favorite for a long time was writing each day about how I love the world. Of course some days I don't love anything about the world or myself, and I write about that, too. Either way, it's a great exercise in observation and specific detail.

Once, during a writing retreat on an island, a fellow writer set us all the task of writing something that incorporated the injunction printed in the island's composting toilet: Resist the urge to level the pile.

I wrote about the seduction of piles of dirty laundry (which was also about being willing to write about the things we keep buried), and that piece is still one of my favorites.

Another of my favorite pieces came out of writing about loving (or not loving) the world and is also about laundry, about each piece flapping its story on the line, the jeans frayed at the knees, the socks that don't match, the hole in the sheet.

Story is everywhere, and on my better days, I love looking for those stories.

When I am writing, I am not afraid. Writing keeps back the fear of never writing anything good again, never selling anything again, the fear of ending up living in my beater car and pushing my books out through the window at passersby. "Psst, hey mister, wanna buy a picture book? Cheap?"

And almost nothing is more satisfying than writing (and rewriting) my way into a story that is working, that feels right, feels satisfying, a story about which I could say for myself, as Big Momma says of her creation, "That's good. That's real good."

So far, what has been the highlight of your professional career?

The highlight of my professional career so far has been the London book launch of Big Momma Makes the World (Candlewick, 2002), or, translated into British English, Big Mama Makes the World (Walker, 2002).

I had the chance to fly to London at the last minute to be part of the launch, and I took that chance and went.

Even the hotel I stayed in was right out of a story, all elegant old marble and wood with a fireplace, two bedrooms and bathrooms (with a phone in each), a living room, and a kitchen.

When I looked for soap to wash the dishes, there wasn't any because the maid who came in and washed them brought soap along with her.

The night of the launch, 300 parents and children had been invited to the London Planetarium, where a face painter painted faces (I got glittery stars painted on mine to match the stars on my dress), a juggler juggled bowling pins, and a balloon sculptor twisted swords and hats and animals out of balloons for the children.

Helen Oxenbury, Big Momma's fabulous artist, and I signed books during the festivities, and the juggler, as part of his act, frequently let his bowling pins bounce up off a drum, usually just at the moment when I had asked a child's name and the child's whispered answer was lost in the BOOM.

When the time came for the reading of the book, we all trooped into the planetarium itself. The lights went down. Helen's wonderful art was projected on the ceiling of the planetarium while a voice read the words of the story.

When Big Mama says, "Dark," all the lights went off, and gasps arose from the darkness.

Then the sky of the planetarium lit up all over with stars, and the gasps became one great "Ahhhhh."

At the end of the story, the London Gospel Choir came on stage and sang, and from the back of the planetarium, I watched all the balloon swords waving in time to the singing. Every moment was magical. And still is.

One other moment stands out especially. That same year I drove out to Arizona to pick up my daughter, who was volunteering in a school there, and to do a school visit.

In each class I read Rattletrap Car (Candlewick, 2004), and as I always do, I invited anyone who wanted to join in on the Bing Bang Pop of the refrain.

Later, when I was helping my daughter pack, one of the younger children from the school opened the door of where she was staying, looking for her.

When he saw me, he grinned, shouted, "Bing Bang Pop," laughed, and ran out again.

It was one of the best critiques I've ever had.

Would you tell us about your latest book?

My latest book is Paula Bunyan, published by Farrar Strauss & Giroux with art by Kevin O'Malley (2009). It's a tall tale begun when my children were young and we were on an apple-picking outing. Wagons piled with bales of hay and pulled by tractors took the pickers out to the apple trees, the tractor driver calling out each kind of apple as we passed the rows where it grew.

As we bounced along on the bales of hay waiting to hear "Haralson," the only kind of apple we ever picked, I began to make up a story about Paula Bunyan, Paul's little sister.

"You should write that one down," my older daughter said. And so I did.

The story eventually made its way into Wesley Adams's hands at Farrar Straus & Giroux and came out this spring. One of the most exciting things that has happened since was that the book was reviewed by Jerry Griswold in The New York Times.

I have also have two other books for young children out this spring, Toot Toot Zoom!, with art by Matthew Cordell, and Flip Flap Fly!, with art by David Walker, both published by Candlewick Press.

Toot Toot Zoom, about a trip over the mountains in a little red car in search of a friend, got its start on a wild drive over a mountain in Spain.

My younger daughter, who had been living in Spain, was driving and explained that even though the road was only one car wide and corkscrewed around, drivers simply honked their horns as they raced around blind curves to warn any oncoming cars.

So we tore up the mountain and down again, and at every curve she honked, toot toot, and zoomed ahead. We had only one close call and one stop for carsickness (mine).

I told the story to people so often after the trip that when my daughter said, "That’s beginning to sound like a book," I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote) the story, and now it is a book. I love the wild, madcap feeling of the art.

Flip Flap Fly began when my older daughter left to study in South Africa. I was teaching in Vermont and couldn't be home to see her off. Feeling bereft, I scribbled down a simple little poem that began, "Fly!" said the Momma Bird, "way up high."

The poem grew into a story, and in revision, the baby bird and all the other baby animals became the ones to initiate the action. And the art is lovely--who knew snakes could look so tender?

All three books are very different, and I love them all.

I have a middle grade novel coming out with Front Street/Boyds Mills, tentatively called Lilly and the Scurrilous Pirates, with wonderful art by Rob Shepperson. The book was a very long time in the writing--each chapter is about the length of a picture book manuscript. I can imagine writing 700 or 800 words much more easily than I can imagine writing 25,000.

Pirates, buried treasure, homing seagulls, and shipwreck--the story was great fun to write, and I used a lot of my own experiences, including horrific seasickness and overwhelming anxiety about just about everything.

I also have a picture book with Candlewick coming out soon, called Creak! said the Bed with hilarious illustrations by Regan Dunnick.

It's been a spring rich in books, and I feel very blessed. Which doesn't mean I don't put my butt in chair and keep working on whatever the next story is. Because it makes me happy, I write.

Cynsational Notes

Writing in the Woods: A Retreat for Writers of Children's and Young Adult Literature. Phyllis Root will join fellow authors Marsha Wilson Chall and Jane Resh Thomas in teaching a workshop from Oct. 19 to Oct. 25 at Good Earth Village in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Enrollment limited to 10. Application deadline: Aug. 19. See more information.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Austin SCBWI @ BookPeople: Working with Your Independent Bookseller

Austin, TX -- BookPeople events coordinators Mandy Brooks (in the BP T-shirt) and Alison Nihlean (in glasses) led a wonderful and informative question-and-answer session about "Promotions & Events" Saturday at the Austin SCBWI meeting at the store.

Mandy's specialty is books published for children and young adults, and Alison's specialty is books published for adults.


The store receives 1,000 to 1,200 requests for potential events and hosts 200 to 300 each year.

In deciding which events to select, considerations include: (a) a local connection; (b) the author's history; (c) the book's subject matter; (d) the quality of the book.

Fall--September through November--is the high season for events. If a book is coming out then, it's best to approach them well in advance. Note: due to the holiday shopping rush, most bookstores try not to schedule events in December.

Make an appointment. They're always happy to say a quick "hi" informally in the store. But if you're interested in getting on their schedule, write first and set up a meeting so that everyone involved has time to thoughtfully prepare.

[Cyn Note: Respect that booksellers are busy people].

An optimal time for launch parties is within the first two weeks of a book's release date, perhaps a week later so that there is an opportunity to create floor displays.

Launch parties should be special and fun!

An example of a book with a lot of neat tie-in potential--light sticks, bright T-shirts, glowing punch--is The Day-Glo Brothers by debut author Chris Barton, which will launch at 1 p.m. July 11 at BookPeople.

Mandy also mentioned YA author Jennifer Zeigler's dress-up contest for the How Not To Be Popular (Delacorte, 2008) launch, Brian Anderson's amazing custom-made piñata for the Zack Proton graphic chapter book series (Aladdin) launch, and debut author Shana Burg's hiring of musicians from The Continental Club for the launch of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008).

They emphasized: "You want things that will make people stop, pause, and watch."

Another great idea--if the book is a good fit--is to partner with a local non-profit organization (to, say, raise money for an animal shelter or for cancer research).

Throughout the discussion, Alison and Mandy were entertaining and upbeat. It was clear how hard they work and how they make a special effort to both support local authors and offer the warmest possible welcome to those visiting from out of town.

Here's a peek behind the scenes at the meeting:

YA author Jessica Lee Anderson and debut picture book author Chris Barton climb the stairs to the third-floor meeting room. Jessica's next release will be Border Crossing, coming this fall from Milkweed.

Here, Austin SCBWI founder and VCFA MFA student Meredith Davis meets debut author Jacqueline Kelly, modeling her new release, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, 2009).

Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell says "howdy" to RA Tim Crow. Don't miss Mark's blog, How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator.

Authors Greg Leitich Smith and Jo Whittemore mug a "serious literary discussion" for the camera. This summer look for "The Wrath of Dawn," a short story that Greg and I co-authored, which will appear in Geektastic: Stories of the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009). And if you're going to SCBWI Nationals this summer in Los Angeles, be sure to ask Jo to show you her new business card. It's the best author business card ever!

Here's Brian Anderson AKA Piñata Boy with Jessica. Seriously, check out this photo gallery of his piñatas.

And here's VCFA MFA graduate and illustrator Gene Brenek with Random House author-illustrator Emma Virjan. Some of you may remember Gene as the genius behind the Tantalize and Eternal T-shirts, available from CafePress. And if you haven't already, check out Emma's video of Nacho!

Afterward, it's lunch at Waterloo Ice House with Greg, Meredith, Brian, VCFA MFA student and YA author Varian Johnson (who was showing off an early copy of his upcoming novel Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2009)), Jo, Jessica, YA authors April Lurie and Margo Rabb, Tim, Emma, and Chris.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss BookKids Recommends: From the Crazy Folks at BookPeople.

Any errors in my reporting are entirely my fault.

Highlights of the day also included meeting Catherine Stier, the San Antonio based author of If I Ran for President, illustrated by Lynne Avril (2007); If I Were President, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan (2004); and Bugs in My Hair?! (2008), all published by Albert Whitman. Her 2009 book is Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club (Albert Whitman).