Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Publicists Interview: Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy on Blue Slip Media

From the website: "At Blue Slip Media, we specialize in publicity and marketing services for the trade children’s book industry.

"In a business climate where publicity and marketing resources at major publishing houses are stretched thin, we offer expertise in crafting effective press releases, targeted mailing lists, niche and local market outreach, and event planning to create comprehensive campaigns for print and online media.

"With over 20 years experience (each!) in the industry, we know the market well and enjoy working in tandem with authors, artists, and publishers to maximize a book’s reach."

Could you give us a brief history of Blue Slip Media? Who are the players?

Barbara Fisch: Blue Slip Media is still fairly new. Sarah Shealy and I decided to jump into the fray in March 2009, a few months after we left Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We explain the name on our website, a bit tongue-in-cheek, really, but silliness aside, we have always prided ourselves on our integrity and the belief that good business practices generate good publicity. So the name fit our philosophy (and it doesn't hurt that our initials match as well).

What was the inspiration for founding the firm?

Sarah Shealy: I've worked my entire career in children's book marketing and publicity. I absolutely adore and value children's and young adult literature. Barb and I job-shared the Associate Director of Publicity position at Harcourt Children's Books for 15 years--it's practically impossible for me to imagine doing any other type of work and doing it solo!

When Houghton Mifflin bought Harcourt and decided to close down the San Diego office, we thought about the next stage for us, and it seemed natural and logical to hang up a shingle and continue doing what we love to do--and to continue doing it together.

BF: Sarah and I had been through a number of mergers in our time with Harcourt, so we always had the idea of an independent firm in the back of our minds.

Our experience mirrors what so many others in publishing are going through today--you must adapt and change and be willing to think creatively. In our case, it meant re-thinking the structure of the workplace and creating a virtual office so we could continue to collaborate as seamlessly as possible.

What prior experience did you bring to the job?

BF: Like Sarah, the majority of my career has been in children's publishing. I spent several years in subsidiary rights at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (as it was then known), which was enormously valuable for learning about contracts, basic marketing, and building relationships.

The rest of my time with Harcourt was in marketing--first as marketing director, which gave me a good sense of the various communities involved in children's books, and for the next 15 plus years, as part of the job-share publicity team with Sarah.

SS: I've always worked in children's marketing. I started at Houghton Mifflin in Boston and then moved to San Diego and HBJ, which changed to Harcourt Brace & Company, and then Harcourt, Inc, and then, for me kind of ironically, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Over that 20+ year span I've done just about every job in marketing, from planning to execution--author school visits, conferences, catalogs, promo pieces, displays, curriculum guides, bookstore tours, and, my favorite, publicity campaigns. It's been an amazing experience!

Why children's-YA books specifically? What fueled your passion to support books for young readers?

SS: I have absolutely adored reading for as long as I can remember. I love the way books feel and smell and can remember checking out Are You My Mother? and Go Dog, Go!, both by P.D. Eastman (Random House, 1960 and 1961), from my school library over and over again when I was in first grade. That love of reading as a child carried me all the way through high school, college, and graduate school.

My first "real" job was working as the marketing assistant at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children when I was getting my Masters in English Lit, and I couldn't believe my good fortune. Here was an opportunity to tell the world about fantastic books for children and young adults. What could be more important than putting exceptional books into children's and teens' hands? I think that developing a love for reading early on makes for smarter, more well-rounded, and articulate decision-making adults.

BF: People in children's books are much nicer, besides.

Do you work with publishers, authors, illustrators, etc.? What kinds of services do you provide to them?

BF: Yes, all of them! We've been working on everything, from full campaigns to niche or regional publicity outreach, to writing press releases and tour scheduling.

SS: We're also enjoying targeting the educational media market with books that really lend themselves to classroom use.

Why is there a need for such services? Has the need grown over time?

SS: When we were at Harcourt there was always so much more that we wanted to do for a book than we had time for. We'd be responsible for 30-40 books per season, and as much as we tried to do it all, we always felt like there were more avenues to pursue.

We're hopeful that Blue Slip Media can help fill those gaps that publicists at publishing houses just can't get to--like niche outreach to groups uniquely interested in a book's subject matter, be it baseball, fantasy, pirate aficionados, or whatever.

Authors today are very savvy and really want full outreach for their books--often more than the publisher can provide with limited personnel and resources. Because we've been house publicists, we're very comfortable collaborating with them and sympathetic to their heavy work loads. We can also help interpret publishing house marketing speak for authors who might be newer to the business and help them to determine if they really need to hire us or if their publisher is pulling out all the stops for their book.

BF: As traditional review outlets continue to change and contract--newspapers and magazines have less space than ever devoted to books--niche-interest areas have steadily grown. Finding these niche areas is hugely time-consuming, and it's rather daunting for many authors to tackle alone.

Also, and this goes with Sarah's earlier point, an independent publicist can give focused attention to a book. We're not under the same pressure as in-house publicists to consolidate mailings or spend the bulk of our time on a small group of lead titles.

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

SS: We like to quote on a project basis, so it's hard to give an idea of rates without knowing what the author or publisher is looking for. But I do think it's safe to say that we can work with just about any budget. The best advice is to contact us to discuss your particular goals.

Could you highlight a couple of the children's/YA authors and titles that you've worked with?

BF: We worked with Jacqueline Kelly on her debut novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009); Jillian Cantor, author of The September Sisters (HarperTeen, 2009); and Jenny Meyerhoff and her picture book, Third Grade Baby, illustrated by Jill Weber (FSG, 2008).

SS: We're also looking forward to upcoming projects with Anne Rockwell and Bobbi Katz.

Could you give us a case study to illustrate your approach? What were the unique challenges, opportunities, how did you respond to them, and what were your results?

BF: Jenny Meyerhoff's book is a good example. Third Grade Baby had strong reviews when it was published in fall 2008. Jenny had also done quite a bit on her own--she created a curriculum guide and a website, and even put together a contest where teachers could win some freebies for their classroom.

But she wanted to get the word out to more teachers. We put together a campaign to teacher and educational journals where they'd list the free curriculum guide and giveaways in their magazines. Those listings will run in August and September issues and we're expecting a lot of exposure for Jenny's book and a huge jump in traffic to her website.

What should a writer or illustrator consider in hiring a publicist to promote his or her work?

SS: I think they need to have a clear idea of what it is they're looking for. Do they want more exposure to teachers? Do they want to see coverage of their book in their local media? Are they looking for "buzz" in the online world? Coverage in the national media? All of the above?

Once they've determined their goals, they need to look at what they can do to achieve them, what their publisher can do, and think about if they need to go to an outside publicist for help.

BF: For many authors and illustrators, the first question that comes to mind is, "How much will it cost?" And that is hugely important, for obvious reasons, but it shouldn't prevent them from asking about smaller or more targeted projects if the fee for a full-blown campaign is too high.

What are the questions to ask?

SS: If I were an author hiring a publicist, I'd want to know about her/his experience in the industry, what type of feedback/reporting structure I could expect, her/his general "take" on my book and what its publicity potential might be, if they would be talking with my publisher about my book, and how long they believe the campaign would last.

BF: As an author, I'd also want to know what questions the publicist has for me. If they don't seem curious about my work or what I can bring to the overall campaign, then I might doubt how effective they might as collaborators.

How else can the client make the best possible choice?

BF: Like any workplace relationship, authors and their publicists need to have similar communication styles. Authors should feel like they can ask questions and contribute ideas freely, but at the same time be ready to hear a contrary opinion from their publicist. That's an intangible--some people make a connection instantly.

How can he/she best help their publicist do a great job?

SS: Be sure to talk about any interesting back stories that might help the publicist pitch a unique angle on your book. Publicity campaigns can take on a life of their own, so it's impossible to cover all the bases before a campaign begins. Be prepared to field questions from your publicist well into a campaign and beyond! Keep the lines of communication open throughout the process.

BF: It's better to run the risk of over-informing your publicist than the reverse. You may think a small booktalk at your local school or library is inconsequential, but it just may help you and your publicist generate ideas for future events. You may have a talent or skill that can translate to larger groups or a bookstore setting.

What advice do you have for writers trying to handle their own publicity?

BF: First, be realistic with your goals. Start small, using your network of friends, family, colleagues, and associates to help you spread the word about your book. Make sure to send copies to your local paper and your alumni magazine. You need to build a campaign in the same way you put together any structure, beginning with a strong foundation.

Second, be cognizant of any news hooks or anniversaries that might make your book timely. Is the book based on a true story? Is there a major movie being released with similar types of events or characters, indicating a possible trend? Does the book lend itself to seasonal themes or holidays? This might be the edge you need to get the attention of the media.

Third, use technology if it's comfortable for you. Aside from websites, which are extremely important, I recommend you only use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media if you can keep it current.

Fourth, be patient. Children's books, in general, tend to have a slower build than adult titles; it's not uncommon to see reviews a few months after publication.

Finally, be willing to roll up your sleeves. Make time to go out and meet your local bookseller and librarian, attend conferences, and make connections. Think of yourself as a valuable resource for your publisher; let them know you're ready to help and show initiative in providing ideas. If your publisher is willing to send books on your behalf, develop mailing lists for them, with complete names and addresses.

What noteworthy changes in children's book promotion have you seen over the years? What are your predictions for the future?

SS: Marketing dollars are shrinking, so there's been a huge movement away from printed pieces (posters, bookmarks, etc) to downloadables and other web-based pieces that can live forever online.

Technology is opening up ever more promotional opportunities so I think we'll see more and more innovative campaigns with an online component, like Scholastic's The 39 Clues.

BF: Even though there's been a move to online publicity and promotion, I do think that connecting with one's audience will still be an important way to promote children's books.

Bookstores are still open to author events, though sometimes they're group events (such as a gathering of local authors) or themed events (teen novelists), rather than a single author. Judging by their success, I don't foresee these kinds of things going away soon.

As long as we're talking about books, are there any new titles you'd like to highlight?

BF: We're working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on a series of books about ghost-hunting teens--The Ghost Huntress series--with a nonfiction companion book due out in September titled The Other Side: A Teen's Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.

Marley Gibson, the author, has teamed up with two experts in the field of paranormal research, Patrick Burns, the star of TruTV's "Haunting Evidence," and Dave Schrader, host of KTLK FM's "Darkness Radio." It's a fascinating project.

SS: We're also working on a series for tweens called Gifted by Marilyn Kaye (Kingfisher, 2009). It's lots of fun. And a new book by Carolyn Crimi called Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates (Candlewick, 2009) that allows me to tap into my pet media hook for publicity: Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept 19!).

As for my personal reading, I love YA fiction and am halfway through Suzanne Collins' new book Catching Fire (Scholastic, 2009). I am so completely consumed by the story that I have to force myself to put it down and go to work! I adore Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Harcourt, 2007) and think her new book, Fire (Dial, 2009), is even more amazing.

How can prospective clients get in touch?

BF & SS: E-mail us both simultaneously at barbara@blueslipmedia.com and sarah@blueslipmedia.com or give us a call at 619.938.3193.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Zetta Elliott

Learn more about Zetta Elliott, and visit her blog. Her books include Bird (Lee & Low, 2008) and A Wish After Midnight (CreateSpace, 2008).

Could you tell us about your writing community—your critique group or critique partner or other sources of creative support?

I don't belong to a critique group, but I still rely quite heavily on my artistic community.

Most of my closest friends are writers who have branched out into other fields: performance art, fine art, film, theater. That means a lot to me, because I’m surrounded by women who are truly daring, and because we work in different fields, there tends to be very little competition.

I'm a solitary person and not very social, so my friends also draw me out--they get me "out of my head" (and out of my house!), yet they never stop me from sharing ideas. I never feel silenced or censored around them. I come from a family where open communication isn't really valued, so having that with my artist friends is extremely valuable.

Also, because many of my friends are scholars, they understand the struggle to balance those professional demands with our personal ambition as artists. They're sympathetic yet savvy about how to create opportunities for our art to flourish--often against all odds!

I see my friends as coaches, in a way—they're more outgoing, more courageous, and they push me in ways I’d never push myself.

I've recently started to build an online community as well--women I've never actually met, but with whom I share a love of literature and an investment in youth literacy.

These women (who can be found online at Color Online, Crazy Quilts, A Wrung Sponge, and The Happy Nappy Bookseller) have worked tirelessly to promote my self-published young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight.

It's not easy finding people who are open-minded enough to try something new, and most people instantly dismiss self-published books. But these women agreed to review the novel, and then used all their connections to spread the word.

Through one blogger I met Colleen Mondor who reviews YA novels for Bookslut; the day that review was published online, a senior editor at a major press contacted me about acquiring the rights to my self-published novel.

Whatever happens, I owe a huge debt to these amazing women. Together we've proven that ordinary people do have the power to stand up against a publishing industry that doesn't always meet our needs.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

First and foremost, I love to write. That's the one constant since I've become a published children's book author. I once heard Toni Morrison say that you don't need anyone's permission to be a writer, but you do need someone's permission to be an author. That really resonated with me, because I was writing furiously and had had only a few poems accepted for publication at the time. I wasn't sure I even had the right to call myself a writer!

Now, with an award-winning book, I feel somewhat vindicated, even though I still cringe at the idea of legitimacy coming from outside myself and outside my community.

What I love most about being an author is the opportunity to embody possibility. I love working with children again, which is very different than teaching college students, and I really enjoy hearing the children talk about my book--what the story means to them and how it relates to their own life.

It bothers me that so many children believe authors are these quasi-magical beings who exist somewhere else and only occasionally drop in to visit them at their school. It matters to me that the kids I work with know that a writer is a member of their community. Every community produces writers because everyone has a story to tell. Everyone!

I don't think I ever met an author when I was a child, and I certainly didn't know there were so many authors of color in the world! I didn't have a diverse selection of books to choose from as a child, and that has changed somewhat for today's youth. But they still need to know that their own stories matter and their own stories have value, even if they're not published in a book.

It's hard to explain the politics of publishing to children, but I can still spend an hour helping them to craft poems about whatever they've witnessed in their world. I can tell them about my life, and at times I know they look at me and there's recognition--I'm no longer the distant author, I'm like a neighbor or a family member.

I'm often struck by the number of children who tell me I look like their relative or I sound like their cousin or guess what? I have asthma, too!

We connect on so many different levels, and I hope that that demystifies art and those of us who are determined to create it.

Principals often stress that I'm "Dr. Elliott," and I understand why they want the children to know that I have a PhD.

But with or without an advanced degree, you can write. With or without anyone else's permission, you can put your life in words. That's the message I try to share as an author.

What can your fans look forward to next?

This summer I plan to finish the sequel to my YA novel, A Wish After Midnight. It's called Judah's Tale, and it's set in Weeksville, a 19th-century African American community in (what was then) the city of Brooklyn.

I'm currently working on a story called "Munecas," and I'm hoping to collaborate once more with Shadra Strickland (award-winning illustrator of Bird).

I also write plays, and after speaking with a class of ELA student-teachers, I've been thinking about self-publishing a collection of ten-minute plays for teens.

The beauty of self-publishing is that I can write something and make it available almost immediately. I think there are many issues our youth need to address now, but the publishing industry doesn't seem to share that sense of urgency.

I'm hoping that the current economic crisis will lead to reform within the industry, and will reveal opportunities for more people to have their voices heard--we need more stories from more communities!

Cynsational Notes

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

Austin Public Library Foundation Seeks Book Donations for Fundraiser

from Diane Hernandez

The mission of the Austin Public Library Foundation is to support and strengthen Austin's public libraries.

To accomplish this goal, the Foundation works to increase awareness about the Library and its importance to the community and to raise funds through individual gifts, corporate sponsorships, and foundation grants. These funds are used to provide programs, equipment, and holdings in the Austin Public Library.

One way funds are raised is through the APLF annual fundraising event and silent auction that will be held on Sept. 12. Authors interested in donating an autographed book(s) or item for the silent auction should contact Diane Hernandez--no later than the second week in August--to arrange for shipping and/or for her to pick up your donated item and form.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways of Sideshow (YA) & The Day-Glo Brothers (PB)

Enter to win one of three copies of Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 14, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

Molly is a bearded girl who joins the circus, only to find that her former tormentor faces a far hairier plight. Tia claims that her lamented mom is a three-thousand-year-old mummy, but is it really an act? Cody sets out to foil a pop psychic, but the shocking result is not what he planned for. And Tiffany’s grandma sees something wild in her future, but is the girl prepared for the powerful shape it will take?

Whether the sideshow touts a two-headed rat or a turn-of-the-century American jargo, whether the subject discovers an odd kind of miracle or learns that the real freaks are outside the tent, these stories and graphic tales are by turns humorous and insightful, edgy and eerie, but always compulsively entertaining. Freaks, magicians, psychics, and the passing strange take center stage in ten original tales by top YA authors and graphic novelists.

Note: the collection includes my short story, "Cat Calls," which is set in the Tantalize/Eternal universe and features new characters!

Here's the whole list of contributors:
One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and the other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Sideshow" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries! Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

Joe and Bob Switzer were very different brothers. Bob was a studious planner who wanted to grow up to be a doctor. Joe dreamed of making his fortune in show business and loved magic tricks and problem-solving. When an accident left Bob recovering in a darkened basement, the brothers began experimenting with ultraviolet light and fluorescent paints. Together they invented a whole new kind of color, one that glows with an extra-special intensity—Day-Glo.

Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and/or university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries! Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Cynsations Giveaway Winners

The winner of Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker (Harper, 2009) is Olivia in Connecticut.

Brent in Maine won an ARC of Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008). Mary in Illinois won an ARC of Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, 2008). Kelly in California won an ARC of Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008). Read Cynsations interviews with Lisa, Lesley, and Laurie.

The winner of the Eternal T-shirt is Beth in Oklahoma. She chose the "I HEART My Guardian Angel" design in blue. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene Brenek on the Tantalize and Eternal designs.

The Janni Lee Simner Prize Package included 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). Note: Gothic includes Janni's short story "Stone Tower." The winner was Katie in Washington. Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

More News

R.A. Nelson Books: official site of the author of Teach Me (Razorbill, 2005), Breathe My Name (Razorbill, 2007), and Days of Little Texas (Knopf, July 2009). Peek: "Before becoming a writer, I wanted to be an astronaut, an NBA star, a time traveler, a colonist on the N. American continent somewhere between the years 1589-1720, and a general all-around explorer." See also his blog, R.A. Nelson Books. Read a Cynsations interview with R.A. Nelson.

Polite Communication from BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "It amazes me sometimes how often I'll have to call or email a single editor to get an answer to one question or how often I wonder if an editor has died and maybe, just maybe no one told me." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Number of times so far an author this year has, in all sincerity, asked if I knew whether his/her editor had died: twice.

Should You Self-Publish? from J.A. Konrath at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Peek: "I would avoid print self-pubbing if you someday want a traditional book deal, because numbers follow you. If you get an ISBN, that number is trackable, and so are the sales associated with it." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent.

Power of Writing Things Down by Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The days I keep track and write down what I accomplish are days when I write more and accomplish more."

Working in Children's Books and the Recession of 2008-09 (January 2009/Revised June 2009) by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon Blog. Peek: "In spite of all their growth, sales of ebooks in 2008 amounted to about 1/3 of the sales of audiobooks—something over $100 million compared to something over $300 million." Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Reminder: 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.

Delacorte authors offer crash course in writing for a young audience by Katherine Tanney from the Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "At BookPeople on June 13, the quintet known as the Delacorte Dames and Dude gave a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Bird. The DDD — Shana Burg, April Lurie, Varian Johnson, Jennifer Ziegler and Margo Rabb — write novels for the young adult market (all for the same publisher) and also meet monthly to share information and writerly support."

VCFA Symposium on Good & Evil will be on July 18. Guests will be Deborah Noyes, Nancy Werlin, and editor Stephen Roxburgh. Nancy Werlin will lecture and read from Impossible (Dial, 2008) and Deborah Noyes will lecture and read from The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick, 2008). "Other events will include a writing challenge, breakout groups, book signings, and a reception. All are welcome to join faculty, students, and alumni for this day-long conference." See more information. Read Cynsations interviews with Deborah, Nancy, and Stephen.

Coincidence by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: "Avoiding coincidence completely because you're trying to make your story 'real' sacrifices too many possibilities." See also Sheepdog and Writing. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Fab YA Authors on Their Favorite Queer-Themed Books from Emily at BookKids (see parts three and four).

Top 10 Ways to Fight Writer's Block by Stephanie Burgis from 2010: A Book Odyssey. Peek: "Julia Cameron is one of the best writers on creativity I know, and she suggests that every artist (of any type) should take time once a week to go out for an hour by themselves and do something that they find personally stimulating, whether that means visiting an art gallery or a stationery shop or a football game."

Doctor! Doctor! from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "This week I want to talk about the role of the freelance editor, or book doctor. Is there a difference?" Note: the first in a week-long series that includes interviews with freelance editor Deborah Brodie and agents Emily van Beek of Pippin Properties and Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Note: congratulations to Helen on signing with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin on signing with Helen!

Pre-Editing (Or, My Thoughts on Hiring Freelance Developmental Editors Pre-Submission) by Moonrat at Editorial Ass. Peek: "My esteemed interlocutor, however, did not realize I was bragging! Instead, she said something that shook me from buttons to boots: 'Oh wow, you guys edit over there? That's nice--I always used to enjoy editing. We don't have time, so we can only really buy books that are pretty much ready for production.'"

Crit Groups: Face to Face, or Online, Which is Best? by Kate Fall from Author2Author. Peek: "I have two crit groups: one in person and one online. Which is better? Well, it depends."

Marvelous Marketer: Mary Kate Castellani (an associated editor at Walker Books for Young Readers) from Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: "It's not essential that a writer has a web site at the time of acquisition, but it's always a bonus to be able to say that an author has already created a web site—especially because it's a tool we'd want them to have at their disposal in the future."

Ask the Author from Melissa Stewart at I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. The question from Melody is: "How closely do you need to connect with your subject matter to write about it? Do you need to be female to write about amazing women? An environmentalist to write about Rachel Carson? Do you lose all your credibility if you're writing about African-Americans and you're not African-American?" Responding authors are Susan E. Goodman, Gretchen Wolfe, and Rosalyn Schanzer. See also More Ask the Author from Melissa as AMD asks: "What advice do you have for writers interested in breaking into this field?" Includes answers from Barbara Kerley and Vicki Cobb.

Beyond the Book: Confetti Girl by Diana Lόpez by editor Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "As soon as I finished reading the first draft of Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), I knew I wanted to marry it. Sure, I wanted to work with the author to make the novel even better, but the great thing about marrying a novel as opposed to a person is that you truly can make changes (a person might not be as open to changing!)." Read a Cynsations interview with Diana.

Finding My Character's Character by Jennifer Brown from Kidlit Central News. Peek: "Of all the pre-writing I do before starting a new big project, character sketching is one of the most important for me. I just can't sit down to write my character's story until I feel a really know who my character is. But I've found that filling out the same tried-and-true character questionnaire gets old..."

Robin Hood - Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood: Allen W. Wright's educational site features articles on Robin Hood, including interviews with children's authors such as Jane Yolen, Theresa Tomlinson, and Michael Cadnum.

Interview - Literary Agent Anna Webman from Suzette Saxton at QueryTracker.net. Peek: "Yes! I do absolutely think great YA can be done without being edgy." See also Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do).

Check out this sneak peek book trailer for My Papa Diego and Me / Mi papá Diego y yo by Guadalupe Rivera Marín and featuring artwork by her father, Diego Rivera, coming in Sept. 2009 from Children's Book Press. Note: trailer also features Dana Goldberg, executive editor of Children's Book Press; Susan McConnell, director of children's sales for PGW, and David Ouimet, national accounts director for PGW.

KT the Magnificent: An Interview with Kathleen T. Horning: Kathleen T. Horning is is one of the most influential librarians you'll ever meet—and one of the kindest by Nina Lindsay from School Library Journal. Peek: "We estimated there were about 2,500 new books published for children that year—and of those, only 18 were by African-American authors and illustrators. We were so shocked by that number that we published it in the introduction to CCBC Choices for that year. That had a real impact..."

Alex Flinn, Young Adult Author: a totally newly revamped website from the author of such recent books as Beastly (HarperCollins, 2007) and A Kiss in Time (HarperCollins, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

2k9 Celebrate Summer Giveaway: enter to win a prize package of 12 middle grade and YA novels from Class of 2K9. To enter, comment here by midnight July 14. Source: Megan Crewe.

NRT: Suzanne Crowley Interview + Contest by Lauren from Shooting Stars Mag. Peek: "I would say The Stolen One (Greenwillow, 2009) is a young adult historical romance with a bit of intrigue and mystery. The romance is not dominant as in a traditional romance. In fact, Kat has three love interests to choose from." Note: U.S. and Canadian readers may enter to win a copy of The Stolen One and a box of Godiva Chocolate by commenting by July 13. Read a Cynsations interview with Suzanne about the novel.

"Beating the Jealous Bug" by Jan Fields from Writer's Support Room - Work Habits from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "The first time the Jealous Bug bit me was when I saw writers who I knew had fewer years in their craft landing book contracts while my picture book was making it to acquisition meetings but no further. Part of me wanted to roar, 'Why not me?'"

Journal Through the Summer by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "For a variety of reasons, writers often have difficulty writing during the summer. Your children may be out of school and underfoot, or you may have a house full of company. You may have trips and vacations planned."

When to Query, that is the question... from Emily Marshall at Author2Author. Peek: "What is Querying Fever, you ask. if medical dictionaries (or even Urban Dictionary) were cool enough to recognize this disease, it would be described as 'the constant itch and desire to send query letters too early'."

Meet Chris Eboch

Interview with Haunted's Chris Eboch by Joni Sensel from The Spectacle. Peek: "I try to be an open-minded skeptic, and that comes through in the books. My message is: don't believe everything you are told, but don’t assume things can't be true. Investigate, and make decisions for yourself."

"The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme" with National SCBWI Speaker Chris Eboch sponsored by Austin SCBWI is scheduled for Oct. 10. Registration information will be posted on the Austin SCBWI website this week. Attendees will receive a $10 discount when registering for the local January 2010 conference. Seating is limited. Registration opens July 6. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out. From the author site: Chris has a new series, Haunted, debuting August 2009 [from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin] with two books: The Ghost on the Stairs and The Riverboat Phantom.

Highlights of the Week

The Writer's League of Texas hosted is 2009 Agents Conference from June 26 to June 20 at the Austin Sheraton Hotel.

YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie chat with attendees after their panel. Read Cynsations interviews with Varian and April.

Greg and I didn't officially participate in this year's conference, but we stopped by to meet Julie Schoerke of JSK Communications and Keen Literary. Note: sorry, the light at the hotel was a bit funky. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Julie first came onto our radar when she did an enormously successful publicity campaign for author Helen Hemphill (above). Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Austin YA author Jessica Lee Anderson and children's author Debbie Gonzales. Read Cynsations interviews with Jessica and Debbie.

Later, we went to dinner at Threadgill's South Austin with YA author Jennifer Ziegler, tween author Shana Burg, and Varian. Shana had brought a copy of the most recent Random House catalog. Read Cynsations interviews with Jennifer and Shana.

Varian shows off the page for his upcoming YA novel, Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010).

Jennifer shows off the page for her upcoming paperback release of How Not To Be Popular (Delacorte, 2010).

In other news, I recently had the honor of judging the Ann Arbor District Library 2009 IT'S ALL WRITE! Short Story Contest for middle/high school students!

The contest is held in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Book Festival, and awards and publication "were made possible through a grant from the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library. Judges also included Janet Lee Carey, John Coy, S.A. Harazin, Michael Harmon, Tanya Lee Stone, and Laura Wiess. Gary D. Schmidt was the awards ceremony speaker.

Congratulations to the young writers! Thanks to contest coordinators Vicki Browne and Shirley Coleman!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Author Interview: Chris Barton on The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors

Chris Barton on Chris Barton: "Of all the cities where I could have stumbled into the world of children's literature, I couldn't have done it in a better place than Austin, Texas.

"A native Texan who gravitated to Austin for college and have been here most of the time ever since, I'm surrounded by a freakishly talented local bunch of children's authors and illustrators. I'm glad they've let me hang around.

"I alternate between writing fiction and nonfiction -- when doing the former, I often long for the certainty and structure that come with established fact, and when doing the latter, I sometimes wish for the freedom to just make stuff up.

"As for established facts that may seem made up but are, indeed, true, I would like to add that the first concert I attended featured both The Oak Ridge Boys and the Commodores, I once interned for Sassy magazine, and I had the experience of losing two wheels while driving a moving truck down I-20 just west of Pelahatchie, Mississippi. You may proceed with your questions."

What led you to write for young readers?

Fire safety. When my older son was a toddler, I installed a smoke detector, and he asked me to tell him over and over the story of how I'd done that, complete with drill sounds and alarm sounds. One day, it hit me that if I could make him happy with that story, there were probably other stories I could tell, and more kids that I could share them with.

Up until then, I'd spent several years adrift as a writer, not knowing what I wanted to write or for which audience or in which medium. That smoke detector was a great investment.

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

I started writing stories for children around the end of 2000 and almost immediately began shopping these lousy manuscripts to agents. Obviously, I was impatient, but I've learned a whole lot about patience in the years since. Real life has intervened along the way in ways both positive and negative, both for me and for some of the people I've worked with--births, deaths, moves, layoffs.

Some of the more significant milestones have been joining the Austin chapter of SCBWI in 2001, selling The Day-Glo Brothers in 2004, starting my blog [Bartography] and signing with my agent in 2005, selling three books in the spring of 2007, and enjoying what's happening right now--at long last--with the publication of my first book.

Looking back on your apprenticeship, what was most helpful to you in developing your craft?

Just showing up. Showing up at my desk most days at 5 a.m. to write or do writing-related work, and spending most of my lunch hours the same way, and often my evenings, too. Showing up for critique group meetings, whether in person or online, so that my writing can benefit directly from what my partners have to say and indirectly from what I learn by considering their work. Showing up for conferences and workshops, in equal parts for what I learn about writing and publishing and for the camaraderie with the friends I make and catch up with there. And showing up at the library to swap out another stack of books.

Congratulations on the publication of your debut book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! Could you tell us about it?

Well, you know those fluorescent oranges and yellows and greens that you see every day on traffic cones, safety vests, highlighters, and so on?

Until about 70 years ago, those colors didn't even exist. The Day-Glo Brothers is the story of the guys who invented those colors while they were in their teens and 20s back during the Depression and World War II.

It all started with a magic act and an accident at the ketchup factory...

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In August 1997, I saw The New York Times obituary for "Robert Switzer, Co-Inventor Of Day-Glo Paint." Up until that moment, I had never wondered where those fluorescent oranges, yellows, and greens came from, even though I had seen them my entire life. It hadn't occurred to me that those colors had been invented or that there had been a time when they didn't exist or that there was a particular name for the glow they give off: daylight fluorescence.

But once I read that obituary, I couldn't stop thinking about Day-Glo colors and their origins and the brothers who created them. The Switzers' story stuck with me.

And it's a good thing that it did, because at that time, I wasn't thinking about writing their story or any other story for young readers.

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

It occurred to me in the spring of 2001 that a picture book about the invention of Day-Glo colors, using those actual colors in the art, could be really, really cool. So, I got in touch with members of the Switzer family and began my research, and that fall, I began shopping a ridiculously long version of the manuscript around to publishing houses.

Robbie Mayes, then an editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux, helpfully suggested that it would be tough sledding for a 6,000-plus-word picture book, but even after I cut the length by about two-thirds, even after 23 submissions, I still couldn't find an editor who saw what I saw in this story.

Austin librarian extraordinaire Jeanette Larson could see it, though, and she put me in touch with Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Leroy (editor interview) in early 2004. Yolanda got it immediately. Charlesbridge bought the book that year.

And the single best thing that happened was art director Susan Sherman getting Tony Persiani to illustrate the book. Tony's style is perfect for the period when the story takes place, and for humorously balancing out a text that includes phrases like "uranine or anthracene," and for allowing the spot placement of those Day-Glo colors that do indeed look really, really cool.

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

There were four big ones.

First, Bob and Joe Switzer were true collaborators, but Bob lived a long life and recorded a lot of his recollections of their work while Joe died relatively young without documenting his contributions in a way that would have been helpful to folks like me. So, one challenge was making sure that the story I told didn't reflect that imbalance in the source material. My interviews with Joe's first wife and with Bob and Joe's younger brother helped me get a clear sense of who Joe was and what he had brought to the partnership.

Another problem was that I liked Bob and Joe so much and found them so fascinating that I wanted to include everything about them--that's how a picture book gets to be 6,200 words long. It took some doing to narrow my focus down to just the fascinating parts of their story that relate most directly to their development of Day-Glo colors.

Then there was the science--I had managed to stop the narrative cold, not once but twice, with explanations of how regular fluorescence and daylight fluorescence work. Yolanda and I whittled the main text down to what was absolutely essential and moved the more detailed explanations to the back of the book, and Charlesbridge put together a terrific online animation to reinforce that.

Finally, there was the use of color itself. In four-color printing, if your three non-black colors are daylight fluorescent orange, yellow and green, and those colors weren't invented until the latter part of the story, what do you show in the pages that come before?

The folks at Charlesbridge came up with a fantastic solution--start the story in black and white, and then start using those Day-Glo colors sparingly and at partial strength, and increase their strength and presence as the story moves toward its climax.

One of the best experiences I had with this project was sitting with Yolanda and Susan at the Charlesbridge office, with the pages for this book spread all over a big table as we plotted out, "Okay, we'll try 10% yellow here, and 25% orange here..."

What about children's nonfiction appeals to you?

The wide-openness of possible subjects. There's an endless supply of topics begging to be explored, and an audience that's intensely curious about specific parts of the real world that adults may take for granted.

I also like the challenge of distilling a subject down to what fits into a 32- or 48-page book--it's not a matter of just limiting the word count, but of framing a story in a way that makes sense, of both giving a sense of a complete take on a subject while sparking a reader's interest in seeking out more knowledge about it.

What advice do you have for those interested in writing a picture book biography?

Look at the things that you're already unusually interested in and ask yourself, who was a pioneer in that realm? Who was the best it? Who had a unique approach to it?

That's a person that you're already in a great position to write about.

Also, pick a person that you think can hold your interest for a long time--for eight years, even, because you never know...

What is it like, being a debut author in 2009?

It's satisfying. I'm sure it would have been satisfying for me to have debuted in 2005, or in 2007, but having waited and persevered for so long does make this whole experience a little sweeter, I think. And it's given me time to accumulate more friends and supporters in the world of children's books--editors, bloggers, librarians, other authors, parents of young readers--who are sharing in the excitement with me, and that's making for a fun time.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Be patient. Before you send a manuscript out there to make an impression on your behalf, take all the time you need to get it into great shape. And then cut it some more.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I've got two sons, ages 10 and 5, a wife who, among other things, is very active in Austin's impressive belly-dancing community, and five hens in my back yard--all of whom I enjoy spending time with.

I'm good for occasionally making a massive batch of chili or red beans and rice or Hopkins County Stew.

And ever since my younger son expressed his concern a few years ago that "all the musicians are dying" because of my fondness for performers who had long since unplugged from this mortal coil, I've been making a concerted effort to expand my musical tastes and keep current with recordings being made today by artists who are, in fact, not dead.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite children's/YA book of the year and why?

Instead of a favorite individual book, how about my favorite cumulative output by one particular writer? Already this year, Jonah Winter has published picture book biographies of Sandy Koufax, Gertrude Stein, and Gilbert & Sullivan.

[You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?, illustrated by Andre Carrilho (Random House, 2009); Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude, illustrated by Calef Brown (Atheneum, 2009); The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan, illustrated by Richard Egielski (Scholastic, 2009).]

What was that I was saying about the wide-openness of possible subjects?

What can your fans look forward to next?

My second book, the thoroughly un-non-fiction Shark Vs. Train, will be coming out from Little, Brown next April. My illustrator for that is Tom Lichtenheld (Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle, 2009)), and Tom and I had so much fun collaborating on Shark Vs. Train that I almost hated to see that process come to an end. Almost.
Anyway, just as many readers have wondered (I hope) what makes Day-Glo work, I'm sure that many others have wondered who would win in a competition between a shark and a train, and I'm glad that Tom and I have been able to shed some light on that.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss the Charlesbridge supplemental online animation about Day-Glo! See also an interior illustration of the book.

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31!

Attention Central Texans: join Chris for his launch party at 1 p.m. July 11 at BookPeople in Austin!

7-Imp's 7 Kicks #121: Featuring Chris Barton and Tony Persiani from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I like to think that writing The Day-Glo Brothers—delving into this esoteric topic that I'd never given any thought to, getting more and more fascinated with the subject throughout the process, and then seeing the appeal the story has had for my editor, reviewers, and the kids down the street—makes up for a 20-year-old episode that still gnaws at me."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Grace Lin

How do you define artistic success?

In the past, artistic success for me has been work that I am proud of and know that I have done my absolute best with.

But that has been an attitude fraught with dissatisfaction and frustration. There are more times than I like to admit that I look at my past work with twinges of regret.

While flaws due to talent, or rather lack of, are disheartening, they are in a way more acceptable than the ones that cause me to shake my head. If I had only been less distracted, had more time, I think to myself, that book would've have been so much better.

So, always, the goal has been to make a book that epitomizes the best I could possibly do. However, over the years, I have gotten a bit gentler with my ambitions.

I have realized that greatness is not perfection, and in many cases, it is the imperfections that make work great. That, perhaps, the achievement to be proud of is how well the work connects to people.

What makes work wonderful and great is its ability to touch a person, not its ability to impress them. But I also realize that you must still offer your best to do that.

So now, for me, artistic success is work that is the best I could do at the time and has true meaning to both me and the reader.

How do you define professional success?

The short answer to this is: the ability to pay my bills! And, really, that is something that I am most proud of. Even at art school, I had teachers tell me that "you can't make a living on children's books." Well, you can--and I am proof.

That has always been my number one goal, to be able to do what I love for a living; and doing that is a grand professional success for me.

This has always been something I've felt torn about--that sometimes children's book authors/illustrators seem to feel guilty or apologize for earning any money. I suppose it is because the books are for children and our work is seen as either fun or cute. Making books for children is a wonderful job, but it is a job; and we all deserve to be paid for the work we create, as well as be respected.

I'd love to have the admiration of my peers--bestseller lists and awards--of course. But "earning my keep" will always be the first gauge of success for me.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

My latest book is the middle-grade novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown, 2009). It is an Asian-themed folktale-inspired fantasy where a brave young girl named Minli journeys to change her family's fortune, traveling farther than she ever imagined.

It's a fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore and is printed in full color (unusual for a novel). There are ten full-page illustrations scattered throughout the story [see sample image here] as well as two-color chapter headers.

This book means a lot to me, I think it is the best book I have written and illustrated so far.

It's definitely my best reviewed--so far it has gotten three stars (Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist) and a Parents' Choice Gold Award! I hope that is a good sign!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book will be Ling and Ting (Little, Brown, 2010). It is an early reader (which is a format I have been wanted to try for a while) about Chinese-American twins. It is almost the reverse theme of The Year of the Dog (Little, Brown, 2006); using twins, I am trying to show, how even when people look the same, they can be different.

After that, I have a picture book on the Moon Festival and a picture book set in Beijing.

In the meantime, I have starting preliminary drafts for a novel that may become Summer of the Pig to take place in between my past novels The Year of the Dog (Little, Brown, 2006) and the Year of the Rat (Little, Brown, 2008). That may or may not end up working out, but I will hope!

Cynsational Notes

Stop by Grace's launch party today at the official website for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and at facebook!

Every month, one of Grace's original paintings goes on auction for charity at www.smallgrace.org.
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