Friday, March 06, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Laura Ruby on the release of Bone Gap (Balzer + Bray, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren't surprised. After all, it wasn't the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O'Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That's just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that's not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

See also a Q&A Interview with Laura Ruby About Bone Gap from Epic Reads.

More News & Giveaways 

I Was That Boy from Andrew Harwell. Peek: "...when I read a story like Shannon Hale's, it reminds me how lucky I was to find the books I needed in my life. It reminds me of how panicked I truly felt to hand something like a Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew crossover to my mom to buy, knowing that if she started reading it, she would instantly know it was a romance book, not for boys."

Interlude Press Launches YA Imprint by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Interlude Press, founded in 2014 as a boutique publisher of LGBTQ romantic fiction, is launching Duet, a young adult fiction imprint representing LGBTQ characters."

Call for Submissions WNDB Walter Dean Myers Award for YA 2015 from We Need Diverse Books Peek: "Publishers are invited to submit eligible titles for consideration to the Walter Award Judging committee. One physical book must be provided to each of the thirteen members of the judging committee."

Real Talk: Six-Figure Book Deals by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: "Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000 on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA. I'm talking average - yes, some will be higher, some lower, and no I haven't done an official poll, but I bet I'm right."

The Dangers of Storytelling by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Don’t fall into storytelling about yourself and think that working outside of the establishment paints you an automatic hero; nor does it make you an automatic failure if your query gets not a single nibble."

Character Talents & Skills: Regeneration by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...the ability to restore one’s physical condition to an optimal state, healing wounds and bodily damage at a cellular level."

Diverse ALA YMA Book
The 2015 Youth Media Awards: A Crossover Year for Diversity by Nina Lindsay from School Library Journal. Peek: "The idea that 'diverse books' limit potential readership assumes that the Newbery and Caldecott awards should, by default, reflect a white experience. Perhaps that assumption exists because, for much of their history, they have."

Interview: Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "We really do come in all shapes and sizes with a range of strengths and abilities and with various beliefs and traditions. Let your stories and illustrations reflect that."

How Does Your Novel Grow? The Writing/Gardening Connection by Katrina Kittle from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I don’t have room for every single plant I’d like to grow, so I have to be picky. And just like with an idea for a novel, once I choose, I have to commit."

Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson from the Horn Book. Peek: "What is our mission? In addition to offering trendy titles, aren’t we supposed to do our best to house and preserve wonderful books that aren’t currently popular?" See also Selection Is Privilege by Amy Koester from Lee & Low.

Vulnerability: The Key to Compelling Romantic Relationships by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Because it is our business to create characters who are broken, jaded or struggling in some way. Yet somehow we must show them it’s okay to trust."

The Diversity Gap in Children's Publishing 2015 from Lee & Low. Peek: "Why are Asian/Pacific American creators so much more free to create books without significant cultural content? Perhaps it is because they don’t have the same pressure to create books that will be eligible for certain awards."

Thematic Book List: Biographies of Early Scientists (Through Newton) by Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: "...a list of books on scientists before and including Newton. I've also thrown in a couple of important mathematicians. Titles are roughly arranged in chronological order."

Noir and Horror for Picture Book Readers: Two Works by Jon Klassen from Maggie Tokuda-Hall at boingboing. Peek: "I Want My Hat Back, she explained to me, was noir. This Is Not My Hat, horror."

Editor Stacy Whitman of Tu Books on Diversity in YA Lit, What She's Searching For & Her Favorite Books from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I am looking in particular for books with a strong adventurous streak, whatever the genre, and possibly a strong romance storyline. We’re open to science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction—and I love genre mash-ups." See also Weaving Foreign Language Words Seamlessly Into English Text by Christine Kohler.

Self-Publishing Picture Books: Agents Erin Murphy and Susan Hawk Weigh In by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Peek: "It’s less about page count and more about making a story as tight and illustration-driven as it can be. In fact, a lot of traditionally published picture books right now are 40 pages or even 48 pages—that’s been sneaking under the radar, right?—but they generally don’t feel any more text-heavy despite that."

Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques by Carla Killough McClafferty from Teaching Austhors. Peek: "In my books, the dialogue comes from direct quotes from documented primary sources. Teachers, students and readers can go to source notes in the back matter to see exactly where the quote was found."

SCBWI Golden Kite & Sid Fleischman Awards
See honor books and more information from SCBWI.

LGBT Lambda Literary Award Finalists

Children's-YA Literature Category:

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award 

From the Pennsylvania Center for the Book:


See also SCBWI Announces Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Poetry.

Texas Blast for the Past

Two funny middle grades (and their goofy authors) are taking a Texas road trip!

Jo Whittemore (author of Colonial Madness (Simon & Schuster)) and Cory Putman Oakes (author of Dinosaur Boy (Sourcebooks)) will be visiting four cities on their Blast From The Past Book Tour from March 9 to March 13.

Join them for treats, crafts, and fun!

See full tour schedule and details:


Cynsational Giveaways

See also giveaways of Debbie Michiko's Florence's children's nonfiction books China and Japan from her newly redesigned author website.

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

Congratulations to Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) & Jo Whittemore (Colonial Madness) on last week's launch at BookPeople!
See also Nikki on A Wish Come True: Wish Girl Reviews, Launch Party Pics & More.

My most heartfelt congratulations to Laney Nielson, the 2014 Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award recipient, for signing with literary agent Bethany Buck of Greenburger Associates, and my most heartfelt congrats to Bethany on signing Laney! See more information.

Seed Beads, Indian Camps and Black Indians in Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek:

"Rereading it now--14 years after I first read it--I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone about Rain Is Not My Indian Name. If you don't already have it on your shelves, get a copy and read it. And share it. It is exquisite and has something in it for every reader." 

Note: Debbie is researching depictions of Black Indians in youth literature. She highlights a sampling of related resources.

This week Rain Is Not My Indian Name also is featured among 15 YAs That Get It Right by Dahlia Adler from Barnes & Noble.

Of late, the Austin children's-YA author and illustrator community welcomes YA author Amy Tintera and illustrator Jessica Olien!

My Link of the Week is Your One Wild and Precious Life by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Silence your inner critic, take chances, make mistakes, write whole swaths of material that you wind up having to rip out and write again."

Personal Links

One of THREE books by Patrice Barton releasing in April

Cynsational Events

Now Available
The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Austin SCBWI Mentor Award Winner Laney Nielson Signs with Greenburger Associates

Follow @LaneyNielson
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hooray! Laney Nielson, recipient of the 2014 Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award, has signed with literary agent Bethany Buck of Greenburger Associates.

Laney Nielson is a writer who lives in Plano, Texas.

A former upper elementary school teacher, Laney has taught in both suburban Virginia and inner city Boston. She has her Masters in Education.

Laney is a member of a critique group formed through the North Texas Chapter of SCBWI. She has attended the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop and many regional events, including the Austin SCBWI regional conference for the past three years.

I am delighted that Laney has signed with Bethany. Laney has a lovely sense of story and character, heart and humor. I look forward to many terrific books from them.

Register for the 2015 Con!
Laney says: "I want to thank Austin SCBWI and Cynthia for offering this mentorship. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the best. Cynthia provided me with the guidance and expertise I needed to take my writing to the next level."

(She is so gracious. Laney came in strong, worked hard, and deserves all the credit for her success. Learn more about Laney's experience and the mentorship from Austin SCBWI.)

Bethany says: "I am thrilled to represent Laney Nielson, a great new debut whose writing is smart and sparkly." (Yes, it is!)

From the Greenburger Associates website:

Bethany Buck represents teen fiction, middle-grade fiction, and chapter books, as well as a select list of picture books...

Before becoming an agent, Bethany held editorial positions in children’s book publishing for thirty years. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of the Aladdin and Simon Pulse imprints of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, where she was the editor of Scott Westerfeld’s #1 New York Times best-selling Uglies series, as well as his other teen books. Bethany began her career at Scholastic Inc., where she was a longtime editor of The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and rose to be an editorial director in the trade division.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Brooks Sherman

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.

He represents picture books, fiction for young adult and middle-grade-readers, select literary and commercial adult fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of humor, pop culture, and narrative nonfiction.

He was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

You'll be presenting in Amsterdam about using social media effectively. This is a topic most creators wrestle with at some point in their career.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA...

Does a writer have to be on social media these days?

No. It could be argued that it is more essential for nonfiction writers than for those who write fiction, as nonfiction usually requires author platform.

Here’s the thing: Social media can be useful to a writer, if they are good at it. If you are uncomfortable communicating via social media, it will show, and it will actually have a negative effect. So, if you absolutely loathe using Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, don’t do it!

That said, if you do want to learn how to use it, it can be an invaluable tool for following industry news and trends, as well as networking with other writers and industry professionals.

Do you think the target reader age influences whether a writer needs to be on social media? Is it more important for a writer of young adult fiction to be on social media than say, someone who illustrates picture books?

Again, I don’t think anyone needs to be on social media. I will say that the young adult reading and publishing communities are quite active on social media, so it’s certainly worth considering if you write in that area.

Also, I found my first picture book client, Sam Garton, on Twitter; he had created a Twitter profile for his character Otter that included a link to his website.

Once I clicked onto his site and saw his wonderful humor and amazing artwork, I decided to reach out to him to see if he was working on any picture books.

So if you are an illustrator, keep in mind that social media can be a great way to advertise your artwork and online portfolio.

What's your advice to the writer who has no social media presence at the moment?

I would encourage every writer to at least explore a few social media platforms, to see if any of them hold appeal. Twitter is a different experience from Facebook, as are Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Try them out before you decide you don’t want to use them.

Before I got into publishing, I thought Twitter was a useless, narcissistic tool. Since I’ve become an agent, I’ve found it incredibly useful for keeping up with world news, publishing news, promoting my clients’ work, and building my own professional reputation.

Is there such a thing as too much social media presence?

I think so. While I think it’s great if writers and publishing professionals are active on social media, if you are too active, it can become exhausting for those who are following you, and you might turn people off.

Also, keep in mind that social media should be a tool, not a goal; if you are using it nonstop every day, when are you going to find the time for your real work? (Or your family, friends, and health?)

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see by writers/illustrators using social media?

The biggest mistake I see people make on social media is forgetting that everything they do is public.

Again, social media is a tool; don’t use it when your emotions are running high, or say, after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. Social media is an excellent way to build a public persona, but it is not you — it is the you that you want to share publicly.

Also, no need to overshare: you don’t need to share every single thought that pops into your head!

ON GRIPPING OPENINGS...

Can you give a couple of examples of what you think are gripping openings, and tell us why they work?



Certainly. Here is the opening line from my client Emma Trevayne’s middle-grade fantasy Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times:

“There are doorways, and there are doorways.” 

Right away, this sentence establishes atmosphere and style. There is a classic feel to this narration, and it compels you to keep reading.



There is also the opening line from my client Heidi Schulz’s middle-grade adventure Hook’s Revenge:

“There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.” 

Again, atmosphere and style are immediately apparent. There is some wonderfully wry humor here, and really, who doesn’t love reading about pirates?



The opening lines from my client Becky Albertalli’s young adult contemporary novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

"It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.” 

Here is an example of the story starting right away — as a reader, I definitely want to know what’s happening, because my interest has been piqued with the word “blackmailed.”

Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?

In the submissions you see, what percentage would you say grab you with their openings?

I receive somewhere between 50 to 100 queries (with opening pages) during an average week. Of these, I would say perhaps 10 percent of these intrigue me enough to request the full manuscript.

Do any of those stories with gripping openings lose you later?

Learn more!
Unfortunately, this does happen.

Sometimes it is simply a case of my loving the story’s premise but not connecting with the way the story is told.

Other times, it feels like the writer has worked very hard on the opening pages, but not as much on the rest of the manuscript.

While it is important for you to have a gripping opening, don’t forget to give the same attention to the rest of your story! Make sure your story is as tight and strong as possible before you query agents and editors; you want to put your best foot forward.

Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes


Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Marietta Zacker

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Marietta Zacker is an agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling.

She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.

Some of the books she is championing in 2015 include The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt (Scholastic), Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (Simon & Schuster), Just a Duck? by Carin Bramsen (Random House), The Struggles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell (Simon & Schuster), Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster), Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan (Hyperion).

Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Marietta is active on Twitter under the name @AgentZacker

She is interviewed on Cynsations today by Elisabeth Norton for SCBWI Europolitan conference

At Europolitan, you'll be presenting "Finding Seeds of Gold" and you will present about how to determine if your work is ready to submit. From your point of view as an agent, are most of the submissions you receive "ready?" What would you say is the biggest difference between the submissions you see that are "ready" vs. those that are not?

I believe that most people truly believe that they are ready to submit when they do, but one of the questions I typically suggest writers and artists ask themselves is: “If someone were to offer to publish this text or illustration tomorrow, would I be proud of seeing it ‘as is’ on the pages of a book?”

Since essentially eradicating the need to print submissions in order to take to the post office, many send queries via e-mail to ‘test’ whether or not their work is good enough.

It’s true, the business is subjective and we have all passed on projects that went on to get published, but we read too many queries and can usually see, feel and read right through queries that, even if technically masterful, are missing the heart and the essence of the storytelling. And so we pass.

I highly recommend printing your work and holding it in your hands (whether it’s text or an illustration). It makes it more official, it’s tougher to convince yourself that it’s ready to go when it’s not, it also allows you to see the work in ways you never have before.

Hit PRINT first, review it, let it sit, review it again.

If you would be proud to see it published ‘as is’ the very next day, then go ahead and click SEND.

You'll also be leading a session about "How and Why Characters Bloom" with a discussion of "character-driven" projects. Does "character-driven" mean "not action packed?" Would you say that "character-driven" projects are "quiet" projects? Where do "character-driven" projects fit in to today's market landscape?

You’ll have to come to Amsterdam to get most of these answers.

In all seriousness, though, the key to remember is that there is no magic bullet. One description does not negate the other, nor should anyone feel that their work must be described in one singular way.

Ideally, there are multiple layers within each project and a variety of ways to describe any story. I firmly believe that the stories that resonate most with readers are ones that are as complex, as diverse and as multi-layered as the children and young adults who made the choice to keep the book open and continue to read and explore.

The theme of Europolitan 2015 is "Creativity in Bloom: Growing Beyond Boundaries," and we will be exploring the topic of diversity in children's literature. Some authors express reservations about writing diverse characters because they themselves are not a member of the same community or group that their character is. They fear backlash if, despite their best attempts at research and having proof-readers from the represented community, they get something "wrong."

Do you have any thoughts as an agent for writers who may be anxious about getting diversity "wrong" in their project? 

You have to be humble, you have to be willing to learn, you have to be empathetic. You wouldn’t want someone writing an account of your life without getting to know you very well first, understanding the depth of the life you’ve lived, attempting to walk in your shoes and comprehending how you felt during key moments.

The same applies when writing about someone or a group of people whose life or lives you have not lived.

It’s not about getting the facts right (or certainly, what you believe to be the facts). It’s about scratching deep beneath the surface and understanding the things that links us as beings on this planet – the feelings and emotions that make us each individuals, the way we are affected by being de facto members of any one group.

Understanding that this world is diverse and believing that this makes the world a better place is simply not enough to include characters whose experiences are different from yours.

Being willing to empathize with others is the first step.

 Again, we’ll talk more in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Guest Post: Cecilia Galante on Where to Start Your Story?

Cecilia Galante
By Cecilia Galante
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the things I’ve noticed my graduate creative writing students struggling with is where exactly to start in a book.

I’ve had two students fill up the first 40 pages of their novels with excruciating back-story details involving family history, blood-lines, place of birth, and so on.

Another one began her book with a five-year-old protagonist relaying her ideas on life, which might have worked if any of her musings had eventually found their way into her adult life. (They did not.)

The truth is, it is a very difficult process to figure out where in your character’s life you should start telling his or her story. But it’s not impossible.

Here are a few pointers that have helped me navigate this process in my own writing:

1. Don’t ever start at the beginning. Unless you’re writing a memoir, starting out with your character as a kid and then following them up through the teen years and into adulthood is not only boring, it’s missing the point of writing good fiction.

(Random House, April 28)
Most people don’t read books to learn how other people navigate their entire lives; they read books to learn how others navigate a certain part of their lives. The hell of eighth grade perhaps, or a loveless marriage. Don’t cheat your readers by weighing down enormous life experiences such as these other unnecessary ones.

Start right at the crux of things, where the details are the ugliest. The truest. Your readers will trust you right away.

2. Back off the back-story. Even if writers don’t start at the beginning of their characters lives, a lot of them still seem to think that they have to get into all their messy histories, as if apologizing beforehand for all the coming mistakes he or she is going to make.

Don’t fall into that sandpit. Not only will your reader get bored by all the unnecessary details, your story will stop dead in its tracks, which is certain death for both the reader and the writer.

That’s not to say of course, that you don’t need some back-story. Every character needs a little fleshing out when it comes to their pasts. But insert that kind of information sporadically, here and there in little fits and starts, especially when things come up in the present that remind the character of the past.

3. Write big. Right away.

All I knew, when I sat down to write my first book, The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2009), was that I had a scene in my head that had to be put on paper. The scene involved a little boy whose finger was accidentally amputated in a door.

I could see this scene in my head. I could feel it. Taste it. I wrote it out in two days, flush with detail, pulsing with life. And from that scene, the next one came. And then the next, until, a year or so later, the book was finished.

But the finger amputation scene did not end up being the beginning of the book. In fact, it ended up being somewhere in the middle. But because I’d pulled up the anchor and started somewhere, the ship had been allowed to set sail.

Don’t get bogged down by the details of starting. Just start. And if you’re like me, start with something big. Something exciting. Something that makes you want to get back into the chair every morning and keep writing.

And one day, maybe much sooner than you think, you might find yourself climbing up on that deck to see something that looks very much like the end in the not so distant shore.



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