Saturday, May 18, 2013

Canada’s Forest of Reading Winners

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
 
This week 6000 people attended Canada’s largest children’s literature event, the Forest of Reading, Festival of Trees—two days of award ceremonies, writing workshops, author signings, and other exciting activities that celebrate the shared experience of reading.

Child readers from participating schools across the province of Ontario chose the winning books. The awards in each age category are named for a different Canadian tree, and the winner plaques feature original art by a child reader.

Blue Spruce award winner Martin Springett

2013 Blue Spruce™ Award Winner (K-grade 2): Kate and Pippin by Martin Springett and Isobel Springett (Puffin Canada/Penguin Group)

2013 Silver Birch® Express Award Winner (grades 3-4): Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit Trogen and Kari Trogen (Kids Can Press)


2013 Silver Birch® Fiction Award Winner (grades 5-6): Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic Canada)

2013 Silver Birch® Non-Fiction Award Winner (grades 3-6): No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs by Rob Laidlaw (Pajama Press)


2013 Red Maple™ Fiction Award Winner (grades 7-8): The Vindico by Wesley King (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/ Penguin Group)

Red Maple Non Fiction winner Bill Swan

2013 Red Maple™ Non-Fiction Award Winner (grades 7-8): Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death by Bill Swan (James Lorimer & Company)

 White Pine winner Jeyn Roberts and nominee Lena Coakley

2013 White Pine™ Award Winner (grades 9-12): Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts (Simon & Schuster BFYR)

Le Prix Tamarac 2013 (French language fiction, grades 5-6): Le mystère des jumelles Barnes by Carole Tremblay (Bayard Canada Livres)

Le Prix Tamarac Express 2013 (French language fiction, grades 3-4): Billy Stuart: 1. Les Zintrépides by Alain M. Bergeron and Sampar (Éditions Michel Quintin)

Le Prix Peuplier 2013 (French language fiction, grades K-2): Le zoo de Yayaho by Geneviève Lemieux and Bruno St-Aubin (Bayard Canada Livres)

Cynsational Notes

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

See also New Voice: Lena Coakley on Witchlanders.

Movie Trailer: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Read the novel by Suzanne Collins
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy:

"'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a 'Victor's Tour' of the districts.

Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) - a competition that could change Panem forever.

"'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' is directed by Francis Lawrence, and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. The novel on which the film is based is the second in a trilogy that has over 50 million copies in print in the U.S. alone. 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' opens Nov. 21."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Divya Srinivasan on Octopus Alone: an interview by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "'Loner' seems such a negative word, and so definitive. I liked showing a character who loves her home, but realizes she needs some space, and who then ends up finding a place that feels all her own, like a precious secret."

Finding the Perfect First Sentence by Jessica Brody from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "Sometimes, as a writer, all you get is one page, one paragraph or even one sentence to hook a reader. So it’s crucial to pick the right opening."

Physical Attributes Entry: Butts from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image."

Saying "No" to an Editor by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "You can refuse a contract for any number of reasons. Money, vision for the published manuscript, an unkind word. You never have to sign a contract."

Where Are All the Black Boys? by Varian Johnson from They Call Me Mr. V. Pek: "Either people will think it's not relevant to them because it features a black boy. Or they won't buy it because they'll think it's about slavery or racism. Or people won't buy it because it's not true Black History Month material." Note: don't miss the continuing conversation in the comments. See also 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously People? and Judging Covers by Andrea Davis Pinkey.

Will Konigsberg's "influential" choice
Author Insight: Books with Influence from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "What do you feel is the most widely influential book you’ve read in the last few years?"

An Ongoing Discussion, an Ongoing Question by Charlesbridge editor Julie Ham for CBC Diversity. Peek: "Can authors or illustrators write about or illustrate cultures and races different from their own?" See also Diversity in the Caldecott Winners & Honors (Or Lack Thereof) from Children's Literature Network.

What If? A Method for Developing Ideas by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing is Murder. Peek: "You can brainstorm this way. You can even outline this way. You can get yourself out of plot holes this way."

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in Children's Literature from Colorín Colorado. Peek: "...celebrates family traditions and the rich diversity of Asian and Pacific Americans with books, activities, and a variety of resources and ideas for ELL (English language learners) educators."

Genre Bending/Blending by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "There's something inherently rebellious about writing fiction. And there are writers who find themselves, even if they begin writing in a certain genre they love to read, wandering."

Guest Editor Danny Fingeroth on Submitting Graphic Novels from DearEditor.com. Peek: "...having pages of the story drawn and lettered to include with the proposal is generally a good idea, although there is the chance that some editors may not like the look of the art, and so may reject the story even if they like the writing, and even if you make it clear you would be willing to work with another artist."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Amanda in London, and the winner of Eternal: Zachary's Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle, was Brandon in Florida.

See also Interview with Joy Preble & Giveaway of The Sweet Dead Life from Cari's Book Blog.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Here's a peek at my comings-and-goings last week in the Austin children's-YA lit scene.

At the YAB Fest reception with Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover & Danny Woodfill of The Book Spot in Round Rock.

Julie Dinkel Woodfill of The Book Spot & author-editor Madeline Smoot

Author E. Kristin Anderson & librarian Jen Bigheart
Authors Cory Putnam Oakes & Krissi Dallas

Jen & author Lindsey Scheibe

Authors Lindsey Lane & Shana Burg at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting

With authors Susie Kralovansky & Bethany Hegedus

Author-speaker Lynne Kelly

As for this weekend, Joy Preble will speak and sign The Sweet Dead Life at 3 p.m. May 18 and Lindsey Scheibe will speak and sign Riptide at 2 p.m. May 19 at BookPeople in Austin.

See also Cynthia Leitich Smith on Eric Gransworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 6:30 p.m. May 25 at Round Rock Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress." Special guests: Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

New Voice: Kit Grindstaff on The Flame in the Mist

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kit Grindstaff is the first-time author of The Flame in the Mist (Delacorte, 2013). From the promotional copy:

The sun never shines in the land of Anglavia. Its people live within a sinister mist created by their rulers, the cruel Agromond family. 

The Agromonds' control is absolute; no one dares defy them. But things are about to change, for the youngest of them is not like the others...

Fiery-headed Jemma has always felt like the family misfit, and is increasingly disturbed by the dark goings-on at Agromond Castle. The night before her thirteenth birthday, Jemma discovers the terrifying reason why: She is not who she thinks she is, and the Agromonds have a dreadful ritual planned for her birthday—a ritual that could kill her.

But saving her skin is just the first of Jemma's ordeals. Ghosts and outcasts, a pair of crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient Prophecy—all these gradually reveal the truth about her past, and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than any she could imagine.

With her trusted friend, Digby, and her two telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, Jemma faces enemies both human and supernatural. But in the end, she and her untapped powers might be the only hope for a kingdom in peril.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?


I first came across the seed of my main character, Jemma, at a workshop where we were each asked to summarize the essence of our childhood as a fairy tale—quickly, without too much thinking—in one paragraph.

What leapt to my mind was the isolation I’d felt as a small child living in a large house outside a village and having very little daily contact with non-family kids until I went to school.

So the Once Upon a Time that splurged onto my page was about this castle on a hill miles from anywhere and the girl who dreamed of escaping…

Fast forward several years, and that castle morphed into Agromond Castle, the opening setting of The Flame in the Mist, where Jemma is effectively held prisoner—isolated, and longing to see the world beyond its walls. To flesh her out, I used an exercise learned in my first ever writing class (with Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City): scribbling down a list of characteristics as quickly as possible, with no forethought or editing. A lot of that list became part of who Jemma is, including: headstrong, stubborn, loves anagrams, loves food, has prophetic dreams, can communicate with animals, has pet rats. A mix of myself (I adore playing word games, and food…), and some not. (Rats? I hated them—that is, until I created Noodle and Pie.)

Later, it amazed me how much that list also fed the book’s themes. Jemma’s prophetic dreams, for example, became central. A more obscure one was her love of anagrams. At first, it was a quirk that offered some fun opportunities for foreshadowing (at one point, seeing her family’s motto, Agromondus Supremus, her head spins out the words grand, groan, mouse, demons . . . ), but I had no idea how important it would become until toward the very end, when an idea emerged about solving anagrams being vital to her mission—and survival.

Who’d have thought….anagrams, as integral to the plot? Not me.

In creating Jemma’s antagonists, the Agromonds—parents Nox and Nocturna and their twins Shade and Feo—I also used the list exercise.

To begin with, though, they were too one-dimensionally evil, so my editor suggested I write back stories for them. Each was like a mini-novella of about 10 pages long, written much like those first lists of traits, with no forethought, no editing. I did, however, start with the question “What ghosts haunt this character?”—literally, and/or psychologically. (Not my idea, but I’m afraid I don’t remember where I got it from, so can’t credit its origin.)

That gave the stories a sharp and delicious focus, and the details that surged up from my subconscious surprised and thrilled me. I’d literally gasp and say things like, “So that’s why Nox has such a soft spot for Jemma!” and “That’s why Shade is afraid of rats!” Until then, I’d had no idea—though evidently the dark corners of my mind did.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I’ve been putting more effort into connecting with local bookstores and libraries and applying for book festivals. The personal side of things always felt more tangible and straightforward to me. But the Internet as promotional tool was a huge unknown.

Around January of last year, my book deal was signed and I knew it was time to get my online chops together. I had a personal profile on Facebook, but that was about it. I didn’t get Twitter at all. So, where to begin?

Fortunately for me, last year’s New York SCBWI conference offered a one-day marketing workshop. Thank you, SCBWI! That workshop truly kick-started my efforts.

I turned up knowing practically nothing. By the end of the day, my head was bulging with new concepts. It would take time and patience to absorb what I’d learned, but I’d made a start.

The workshop covered a number of aspects: social media—mainly Twitter (@kitgrindstaff) and Facebook—as well as blogging, branding, making book trailers (I’d never heard of them, but now have one on YouTube (see below)), and the importance of a killer website—for middle grade authors, the most important hub of online presence.

The latter was easiest to wrap my head around. One of the workshop presenters was a website designer whose work I loved: Maddee James of Xuni.com. I already knew I wanted to work with her, so I introduced myself. Step one, taken. Not so bad.

About social media and blogging, every presenter stressed only to take it on if you enjoy it—a duff online presence being worse than none at all. That was comforting. I immediately let myself off the blogging hook for the moment; but I loved Facebook, so could easily conceive of creating a page for my author presence in addition to my personal profile—a distinction I hadn’t yet made.

Twitter was still mind-boggling to me: more narcissistic garbage and tiresome self-promotion polluting the cyber-waves, I thought. But the Twitter presenter reframed it completely. Self-promotion should be the least of it, she said. We should follow people who genuinely interested us, and engage in conversations. Be authentic. Promote others, who would in turn promote us.

Et voila! The crux of Twitter’s potential: a community of like-minded individuals reaching out to connect with each other, rather than a cacophonous, competitive squabble. I loved that idea.

After that, I took to it like a bird to the sky. Honing to 140 characters was awkward at first, but that soon came. Not knowing what to tweet, I signed up for Google feeds about kidlit, posting links to articles I enjoyed reading—which, evidently, others did too, as that always brought new followers. I soon grasped how many people out there are ready and willing to help.

I love supporting others, and receiving it back. Book bloggers, fellow writers, readers…we’re a community. And for me, community is key.

Once I was out there, things began to happen.

For example, about a month into tweeting, I received a tweet from an author belonging to a group called The Lucky 13s—kidlit authors debuting in 2013. She’d come across my profile, and saw that I was also debuting in ’13.

“Hop on over to the blog and join us!” she said.

So I did.

That one tweet changed my life. The sense of companionship and support in the Luckies is terrific. We share concerns and excitement, and our (private) proboards are a fabulous resource for ideas—swag, cover reveals, attending conferences and fairs, you name it. There’s a Luckies blog, with group blogs—perfect for a not-quite-blogging-yet person like me. I can’t imagine what navigating the road to publication would have been like without them. More scary, for sure, and not nearly as much fun, with a fraction of the opportunities.

So to new and upcoming authors, I’d say, Connect, connect, connect. If you need to learn the ropes, go to workshops, or research online. With social media, there’s many to choose from: Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads are other options.

Go with what feels right; if you don’t enjoy it, it’s hard to put the time in. But if something feels a little awkward or difficult at first, at least try it, stay with it for a while and see what happens. Take it slowly, find a way to approach it playfully. “The web” is a great image to keep in mind, with its mass of interconnections. You never know where following one thread can lead.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guest Post: Shirley Reva Vernick on Defining Success

By Shirley Reva Vernick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Funny how we writers shoot ourselves in the foot. I’m talking about the merciless way we pressure ourselves to be successful.

Actually, I’m talking about the way we define success, and how that definition can cripple our creativity.

"Sell more copies!" we command ourselves. "Boost that amazon.com rank!"

How can the creative juices flow on our next project when we’re so worried about the numbers on our current publication?

Clearly, sales figures are important for those of us who are trying to make a living. But obsessing about our stats can trigger productivity-quashing anxiety.

I think we need to expand our definition of success in a way that stimulates a more fertile mindset. A mindset where we give ourselves the freedom, the personal permission, to write from the heart and feel good about it, bestseller list or not.

Here is my new definition of personal success. Aside from the sales reports, I am succeeding if:
  • I’m enjoying my work—writing with enthusiasm and honing my craft. 
  • My teenaged daughters are seeing me working hard in pursuit of my goals. 
  • I’m getting positive reviews. 
  • People are visiting my website and Facebook author page. 
  • I’m receiving speaking invitations.

A word about the first point—enjoying my work. I know the old adage “do what you love and success will follow” can sound Pollyannaish, but it has worked for me.

Take my first book, The Blood Lie, a YA novel based on a real anti-Semitic hate crime that happened in the 1920s. When I first got the idea for the book, some people in my circle tried to warn me off. “Historical Jewish-America—it’s too narrow a subject of interest,” they advised. “No one will buy it.” I, however, saw a broader theme, one with immediate contemporary relevance: intolerance. The book was published and went on to win several awards, including the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon a World Book Award.

My second book, Remember Dippy (Cinco Puntos Press, May 2013), is also a story from the heart. In this novel, 12-year-old Johnny is dreading summer vacation because he has to help out with his autistic cousin, Remember.

Remember is fanatical about Twinkies. He’s awkward. He watches the weather channel for fun. So Johnny is sure the summer is going to be a bust. But when some jewels go missing...and the local jock gets stuck in the lake during a storm...and a lonely new girl comes to town...things get more exciting than either boy could have imagined.

The story was inspired by the people in my life (some of whom are relatives) who have cognitively-based behavioral differences. I felt I had to write this story, and I think the book’s writing reflects that commitment.

Moving on to the point about positive book reviews. Does this mean that any less-than-stellar review constitutes a failure? No! This is a lesson I’m still learning. I have to remind myself that, no matter the inherent value of my work, there are going to be people who don’t love it and rave about it.

Just as there are professors who never give A’s, just as there are people who like us but don’t want to be our best friend, there are going to be reviewers who criticize. That’s just life.

Shirley's window view
I encourage every writer to develop a kinder, gentler definition of success. The way I see it, if we’re going to do the hard work of writing, and if our sales figures are never going to be as high as we’d fantasized, we should do whatever we can to keep ourselves motivated, productive and sane.

Twinkles, the muse
Jiffy, the distraction

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Guest Post: Sharron L. McElmeel on Creating an Author/Illustrator Site That Appeals to Teachers & Librarians

Follow @sharronmcelmeel
By Sharron L. McElmeel
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For several decades I’ve worked with books for children and young adults and with the authors/illustrators that create them.

I’ve written about the books and their creators, taught educators to enjoy and use the books in classrooms and libraries, built webpages to showcase the books and the authors and illustrators, and in general become an avid promoter of literacy.

Along the way, I’ve watched young readers utilize websites, and I’ve observed educators navigating the World Wide Web, seeking information useful to their work. I’ve developed some opinions about books, and periodicals, and websites.

Often I’m asked about the ins and outs of building a website.

Here are my answers to the most frequently asked questions.

FAQs About Websites for Authors and Illustrators — And What Teachers and Librarians Want to See
  1. Do I really need a website?
  2. What domain name should I register?
  3. What information does a visitor to a site want?
  4. Will my site help increase the opportunities for school/library appearances?
  5. Isn’t there enough on the web about me without me creating a website, or a blog, or anything for that matter?
  6. Should I have something that moves?
  7. When I list my books, what information do librarians and teachers really want?
  8. Should I sell my books on my site?
  9. How do I get people to come to my site?
  10. Are there any other hints authors or illustrators should know?
1. Do I really need a website? It seems like a Facebook account or a blog would be as effective — and it is much easier for me to deal with myself. Maybe it would be more effective.

More about this book
Maybe, but one must remember that a Facebook account is only accessible to those who are your friends or who know your page exists—and to those who do have a Facebook account. Some are making efforts to avoid Facebook as intrusive and time-consuming.

Use of Facebook still is not as universal as Facebook promoters would like the public to think – and it is still a “social” network. (Many schools block Facebook and other social networks, making that venue completely inaccessible to teachers and students during the day; some block blog sites as well).

No doubt, Facebook and blogs are much easier for individuals to upload pictures. A web creator is often needed for a webpage.

Major search engines do search blog entries just as they do conventional websites—a major plus for both websites and blogs. Some people have constructed their blogs to mimic the informational status of a website – meaning that there are “book” pages, “about me” types of information, and blogs are able to have the rolling updates posted periodically.

The most effective combination seems to be a website that provides the information that is more strategically organized: background information about the author/illustrator, pages providing the background of a book, contact information and so forth.

A link to a blog from the webpage will allow the author/illustrator to keep her/his fans up-to-date on writing projects or just daily/weekly happenings. The nature of a blog is that the most current information appears on the screen and older entries roll down and are automatically archived on the blog in case someone wishes to access earlier posts.

A webpage encourages an author or illustrator to put their best foot forward on their webpage — to develop a strategically planned virtual home and then to take advantage of the more informal aspects of a blog. A link from the website to the blog will direct visitors to the up-dates.

Visit Jane Kurtz
This plan allows the webpage to be worded in language that does not demand frequent up dates. “Fall 2013 Release” rather than “Coming this Fall” type of language. The blog, since it is the nature of a blog, can be used to provide more frequent and timely up-to-date comments about a body of work.

Jane Kurtz’s website is an example of a site that provides the archival type of structured information while her blog (linked from her website) provides information about her daily/weekly activities in the world of world of literacy. No one thinks that older blog posts are “out-of-date,” those entries are just viewed as earlier posts.

2. What domain name should I register?

I think the very best names mark your “brand” – you, your name. I would avoid cutesy phrases and titles that make me always “think” about the location of your site. But if you insist, try to register your name as a domain and provide a referring page that takes visitors to your domain.

For example, Laurie Halse Anderson’s site is at www.madwomanintheforest.com, and there is no referral from the expected lauriehalseanderson.com. Dori Hillestad Butler’s site is at http://www.kidswriter.com - easy enough to remember if you visit often but she also provides a referral from her “name” domain at http://www.doributler.com.

Some authors find that their “names” are common enough or taken by domain squatters so the author must devise other names for their sites. Avi, a writer of many genres of books for all ages, found his “name” taken by a vision product company. So his website is www.avi-writer.com - an appropriate solution.

Michelle Edwards is a gifted author and illustrator. However, a different Michelle Edwards is a realtor and has claimed the domain so Michelle Edwards the writer cleverly morphed her name into one by using the final “e” in Michelle as the initial “e” in Edwards, making her site www.michelledwards.com . The only problem is that, unless you are alert, you might miss that nuance. I might have preferred www.michelle-edwards.com, but alas that was claimed by a business person who sporadically posts on her site.

Strangely enough, in May of 2013, the business-woman Michelle Edwards has her domain redirected to a blog – her most recent post features Neil Gaiman. Those who might happen upon this post might assume it is the writer Michelle Edwards that hosts the site.

It is very essential one clearly identifies themselves as a writer or illustrator of books for young readers on their home page. If visitors cannot determine who you are within the first six seconds on your site, you haven’t done enough to identify yourself.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has claimed, this site, www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, as her virtual home. Her blog is at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com and she also has a Facebook page, a Twitter account (@CynLeitichSmith), as well as a YouTube channel. Clearly her presence promotes her brand – her name.

According to several website experts, it is estimated that 40 percent to 50 percent of website visits are the result of direct navigation (meaning the URL is typed directly into the navigation bar); thus, it makes sense to have the URL for your site as intuitive as possible.

3. What information does a visitor to a site want?

There is most likely a different list of wants for every individual visitor. However, in general, visitors to an author or illustrator’s site want something they can’t find elsewhere.

If your site does not offer something unique to the mix, let your publisher or general sites do the job.

A visit to an author’s/illustrator’s site should offer background to a book, bits and pieces of the author’s/illustrator’s life that impacted the book’s creation, or in general comments only available on the book creator’s site.

Teachers particularly appreciate extension ideas and ties to curriculum pieces. The ideas need not be elaborate – just plant the seed such as those ideas accompanying Laurie Lawlor’s book Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World on her site.

4. Will my site help increase the opportunities for school/library appearances?

Possibly. Offer to speak at conferences, libraries, anywhere that those who have funds to invite you are at. Your presentation will be the major selling point as word of mouth is the most effective advertisement. Your website alone will not be a major factor, but it can make contacting you easier. Put as few roadblocks in the way as possible.

Forms always turn me off – just because I am never sure that the message is going to the author or illustrator that I want to contact. And I don’t know what e-mail address to whitelist in my mail program. The forms just don’t seem friendly.

Protect your personal e-mail with a dedicated e-mail for author visit contacts but visitors appreciate the “direct contact.”

Regardless of whether you decide to use forms or an e-mail address or an author visit coordinator, make sure e-mails are answered promptly. Gracious responses will be the key.

Accessibility is often a key, too – check out the experience of Dori Butler who was brought to a school by a sixth grader.

5. Isn’t there enough on the web about me without me creating a website, or a blog, or anything for that matter?

Perhaps, only you can be the judge of that. However, when I am searching for an author for a conference appearance, or searching for information about a new book, I most frequently head to a dedicated website expecting to find the most information, links to reviews, interviews etc. Such a site saves me an immense amount of time. A well constructed website serves as a gateway to other information about the author/illustrator and his/her books.

6. Should I have something that moves?

Yes, but if it is gratuitous then forget it. Make sure it adds something your audience actually might want, not just what you want. Example: "No" to animated flash pages that force visitors to wait through cutesy animations before moving into your site. "Yes" to book trailers that introduce your books or share an interview with you. But even then offer but don’t automatically start the video.

7. When I list my books, what information do librarians and teachers really want?

Title, publisher, and date of publication. Users need to know if the book is new, or published long enough ago to warrant a look in the library for copies purchased previously.

Images from the jacket covers are always helpful. Full citation information makes it convenient for writers of articles/blogs to cite a book.

Actually, as a writer of reference materials about authors/illustrators, I like best those sites that provide a citation such as those on Jim Aylesworth’s site. Example: Aylesworth, Jim. The Mitten. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, 2009 32 pages. ISBN-10: 0-439-92544-4; ISBN-13: 978-0439925440. $16.99.

I don’t think the ISBN number is crucial, but some do like to have those so if you can include information as appropriate. Definitely include publication date. Don’t make visitors hunt for the details.

8. Should I sell my books on my site?

You can and offering to autograph purchased copies (and perhaps free shipping or a good discount) might give you the edge. Unless you offer something special you will not compete with the local brick-and-mortar store which can offer immediate delivery; or the online stores that offer free shipping and convenience (often one-step shopping).

9. How do I get people to come to my site? 

Visit McBookWords
Promote your website address on your business cards, book jackets, anyplace that you are able to put the address in front of readers. It is a vehicle that stretches your other promotional efforts.

At conferences when papers mount up and are too cumbersome to carry – a bookmark or card with your web address will provide all the information I need – provided your website is well developed. Makes following up on your presentation easy and informative.

And in the content mention your colleagues, popular books that your books connect to, anything that legitimately mentions other content that searchers might use and stumble across your site – and be impressed by what you have to say.

And this is a perfect opportunity to use your Twitter account and your Facebook account to keep readers aware of new pages, new books, and other information about your writing.

10. Are there any other hints authors or illustrators should know? 

There is much more for the actual developer, but the ideas are more technical than content per se. For example:

Search engines do not like frames as they have difficulties indexing framed pages; and those who want to return to a specific page on your site have difficulty since the address bar no longer indicates the actual page. One should make sure intuitive keywords are used in the site’s meta-tags to make the page as easy to find as possible.

Visitors prefer to click rather than scroll, so make the pages shorter with links for more information. Pay particular attention to resolution and readability especially if you are using dark backgrounds.

But above all else – remember that first impressions are still the most important.

Good luck. If you thought these 10 tips were helpful or informative but have other questions you’d like to ask, send them to sharron@mcbookwords.com - use the subject heading “Website Question.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Voice: Tamera Will Wissinger on Gone Fishing: A Novel In Verse

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tamera Will Wissinger is the first-time author of Gone Fishing: A Novel In Verse (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). From the promotional copy:

For fishing tomorrow

it’s just us two.

Not Mom, not Grandpa,

not Lucy.

It’ll be like playing catch or

Painting the garage.

Just Dad and Me.

Fishing.


Using a wide variety of poetic forms – quatrains, ballads, iambic meter, rhyming lists, concrete poetry, tercets and free verse – this debut author tells the story of a nine-year-old boy’s day of fishing. 

Sibling rivalry, the bond between father and son, the excitement – and difficulty – of fishing all add up to a day of adventure any child would want to experience.

Matthew Cordell illuminates this novel-in-verse throughout with his energetic black-and-white line drawings.

While each poem can be read and enjoyed on its own, the poems work together to create a story arc with conflict, crisis, resolution and character growth.

The back matter of this book equips the reader with a Poet’s Tackle Box of tools and definitions for understanding the various poetic forms the author uses in this story.  

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

There is a nonfiction section in Gone Fishing called “The Poet’s Tackle Box,” which includes information about the poetic forms that I used when I wrote the poems for the book.

To develop that end matter section, I read a pyramid of poetry and reference books. I wanted to make sure that the poems and the details about them were accurate. It was challenging because each book was structured a little differently and included or excluded some forms.

Finally, in the front of one of my rhyming dictionaries, I found a section that outlined rhyme, rhythm, and stanza patterns. That information was my key. From there, I developed more detail about each of these poetry components, added in poetry techniques, and elaborated on the different poetic forms. It not only helped shape that section of the manuscript, but it changed how I think about poetry.

As a poet, how did you achieve this level in your craft? What advice do you have for beginner poets interested in writing for young readers?

The first book Tamera recalls singing along to as a child
I’d love to tell you that I was born a poet, but it wouldn’t be true. I can say that I’ve always had a natural interest in poetry – the sounds of words when they rhyme and the rhythm and beat of well-constructed lines have always drawn me in.

Even before I could read, I loved to sing and chant nursery rhymes. I guess I’ve been practicing for a very long time. And up until a few years ago I wrote a lot of bad poetry, and then it started to be mediocre, and finally after more practice, it got better.

The best advice I could offer someone interested in writing poetry for young readers is:
  1. Read a lot of poetry, both rhyming and unrhymed. Seek out contemporary poetry for a variety of age levels (from babies to adult) and think about content and structure as you read. Include classic poetry; that’s a great way to tune your ear to the basic elements of poetry and to see how those poets used form and technique.
  2. Study rhyme, rhythm, stanza patterns, poetry techniques, and poetic forms. Understand the tools you’re working with so that you can control your poetry. (I think this is what people mean when they say, “know the rules before you break them.”)
  3. Write and revise. Practice and make it better and better.
  4. Work with other poets. Read your poetry and theirs out loud. Tune your ear to what sounds good and what sounds off. Writing for children is meant to be read out loud – I think this is especially true of poetry. Make sure your poetry sounds natural and is effortless to read out loud, and more importantly, make sure anyone else reading it will have that same level of success.
  5. Several years ago Heidi Bee Roemer, a poet whose work I admire, suggested that I consider submitting to the magazine market. Once my poetry was polished enough, I took that advice and eventually sold my first poems and received my first publishing credits from children’s magazines. That boosted my confidence, added to my resume, and gave me the encouragement to keep trying. I happily pass along Heidi’s good advice.
Tamera's temporary desk (during a home remodel)
Thank you for hosting me on Cynsations today, Cynthia! I appreciate being here.

What inspires Tamera.

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