Friday, April 21, 2017

Going it Alone: Self-Publishing My Sequel by Sarah Perry aka S.J. Lomas

It isn’t an uncommon story these days. Small, independent publishers pop up, put out some books, and then disappear. I’d watched it happen to an author whose blog I follow. Her first book was well received and while she was working on the sequel, her publisher folded. It was difficult news for her and her readers. Luckily, she’d found a new publishing home for both books. What a relief!

When I was nearing completion of my sequel to DREAM GIRL, I got the unfortunate news from my publisher that they would no longer be publishing fiction. After I worked through my shock and disappointment, I rallied by researching my options. Thinking as a writer, reader, and librarian, here are some of the main things to consider when choosing to self publish.

What is your end goal for your book? In this case, my goal is to tie up the story of my characters for the readers who loved book one. I want to be sure they get a chance to journey with these characters, for the last time, as I originally intended. To accomplish this, I don’t need to have a large print run. My personal preference is to have a print option as well as an ebook option, so I looked for a publishing service that would offer both at an affordable rate. I also wanted a company with a distribution plan, since I didn’t want to be running to the post office all the time or trying to get my readers to come to me to get a copy of the book. Think about what you want to do with your book and how you want to get it to readers. Looking into the various options is the best place to start.

Make a professional product. While the stigma of self-publishing isn’t what it used to be, who hasn’t cringed looking at the amateurish cover of a self-published book, or glaring formatting errors, or terrible editing? Do everything you can to avoid these pitfalls that give self-published books a bad name. While it’s true there are tons of freelance services to authors to handle each of these things, do your research. Look at other books published in your genre. While you don’t want your book to look just like everyone else’s, notice what is standard among them. Think about what makes them look appealing to you. Strive to make your book look at home next to the other books like it. Above all, make sure you feel proud of your final book. You’ll be looking at and talking about this book for a long time. If there’s something about it you don’t like, it’s going to make it that much harder for you to sell. Your own enthusiasm for a book you’re proud of will go a long way.

Get familiar with the business. SCBWI is an incredible resource. If you don’t personally know someone who’s self-published, reach out to your fellow SCBWI members and see who is willing to answer your questions. (Someone definitely will be!) Scour the SCBWI website. Look on the Internet. I learned how to set myself up as an LLC. Initially, the idea terrified me. After talking to author friends who had already done it, and finding this excellent video online, I felt confident filing my own paperwork. You’re not the first to go down this road. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. (For a step-by-step guide of how I’m publishing DREAM FREQUENCY, see my more detailed version of this article on my blog.)

Marketing. We all know we have to be involved in marketing to some degree, but it’s all on you when you self-publish. Don’t feel like you have to do everything possible option. Pick a couple things you’re comfortable with and go with that. If you don’t like talking to people, booking a table at a sales event is probably not the best way for you to get the word out. Think about how you find out about new books. Word-of-mouth? Consider asking your friends and family to help you form a street team and have them tell others about your book. Not a social media whiz but you want to get your book on there? There are many services that provide social media blasts and/or blog tours. Some are more affordable than others. Look around and see what might be the best fit for you.

Enjoy! Don’t forget to celebrate along the way. No matter how you do it, it is hard work to publish a book. The fact that you’re following your dream and working to accomplish your goals is nothing short of outstanding. Enjoy your journey and the amazing network of colleagues and friends available to you through SCBWI. No matter what, keep writing!

Librarian by day, and writer by whatever other time she can find, S.J. is a cheerful Michigan girl who writes strange and somewhat dark YA stories. Dream Frequency is her second novel, but she has many more stories to tell. 

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel unveils our new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator, and Patti Richards returns with another Writer's Spotlight. Plus, SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator Ann Finkelstein will share everything you need to know about the 2017-2018 Illustrator Mentorship with Kirbi Fagan.

And finally, don't miss the SCBWI-MI Monthly Shop Talks and the Marketing Boot Camp next weekend. Learn more and register here.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, April 14, 2017

Industry Insider: Tara Lehmann, Publicist

I'm always curious to learn more about the various publishing roles that contribute to launching a book out into the world. I met publicist, Tara Lehmann at an event at Children's Hospital of Michigan. A Little Free Library had been donated to the hospital emergency room, and Tara was distributing books from Sleeping Bear Press, both for the hospital patients and to help stock the new library. 

Pi Beta Phi donated books for their philanthropic Detroit Fraternity Day of Service, and Ann Arbor author Debbie Taylor read her picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem, with a little help (and antics) from Hooper, the mascot of the Detroit Pistons.

The Detroit police even made a brief appearance to help distribute books.
Tara Lehman

Tara is new to Michigan from the West Coast. Please give her a warm welcome, and read on to learn more about her role as a publicist.

What is your job title? Tell us about your responsibilities and describe a typical day.
I'm the Publicist for Sleeping Bear Press and Cherry Lake Publishing. Basically it's my job to promote books at events, at conferences, on social media, and for awards. A typical day for me varies, but it might include answering emails, chatting with upcoming authors about their author platforms, sending books out for review, or planning events. 

What's your favorite part of your job? What is the most challenging?
My favorite part of the job is taking a title and trying to look at it from a different angle. Sometimes the most effective approaches are the ones people don't immediately think of and the responses can amazing. Often times the most challenging is the waiting. Waiting for reviews, waiting for books to come in, waiting to hear back from people about an event opportunity. 

Tell us a story about something funny or magical or something that went terribly awry when you were working with an author or at an event.
Several years ago, I was working for a different publisher and we were attending a comic con. It was so much fun, I love seeing all the costumes. Well, one of our graphic novels featured a Smilodon and we happened to have boxes and boxes of plush Smilodons in our backroom. Intending to sell a handful, I took a box or three with me to the event. Thankfully the con was local because I ended up running back to the office three more times that weekend to get more plushies! Never underestimate the appeal of prehistoric creature plushies when there are kids around.

What are some new or upcoming titles you're especially excited about?
Everyone has a title or two that they're most excited for. One is The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (or you can call him Nick) which is about a colony of beavers in Idaho in the 1940s that were causing problems for the people, so they decided to relocate them. But since they weren't able to drive them to the new location (no roads), one man created a contraption that would allow for the beavers to safely be launched out of a plane! 

The other is Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan. A fantastic biographical picture book by the same author who wrote The Music in George's Head about George Gershwin, Out of School and Into Nature is about Anna B. Comstock, a woman who bucked tradition and became a pioneer in the fields of education, science, and art. She started a movement encouraging schools to host science and nature classes outdoors! And as a fun fact, she's one of four female inductees into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame. 

What advice do you have for authors regarding promotion/publicity/marketing?
If you're a first time author or an old hat at the game, always keep in mind that promotion doesn't need to be expensive. Creating websites, social media content-- that can be free as well as a great way to get the word out! Look for ways to collaborate with other authors, team up for events if you're able, or reach out to people that you know in the community. If you want to spend money, try and make sure it's something that can do double duty, like a bookmark with a QR code or web address so they can find out more about you and the book. And don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your book, that's how people find great new titles!

Outside of work, what do you enjoy? How do you spend your time?
Outside of work I enjoy reading (of course), video games, cooking/baking, and writing YA. When I'm away from the office, I'm just like any other hopeful writer wanting to be published, but with just a little bit extra industry knowledge. 

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day, Tara!
Learn more about Ann Arbor, Michigan-based publisher Sleeping Bear Press at their website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

And while we're talking about marketing, it's time to register for our upcoming SCBWI-MI event:
Marketing Bootcamp: A Day Devoted to the Business of Writing, April 29th

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel is coordinating with our new Featured Illustrator. We'll introduce her and unveil our new blog banner soon. Plus, more Michigan KidLit Advocates, a Writer's Toolbox, creating teacher guides, self-publishing a second novel, and another Writer's Spotlight - it could be you!

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, April 7, 2017

Success Story: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

A few months ago I received a message from Jack Cheng. He found my book at Pages Bookshop in Detroit and wanted to tell me how much the story resonated with him. I was delighted that he took the time to reach out. 

I discovered that he lived nearby in Detroit, grew up in Troy, and his first middle grade novel was about to be published. I loved the premise of the story and wanted to know more. He's had all kinds of interesting experiences like living in a yurt, but I'll save those stories for a time when you meet him in person. He recently joined SCBWI-MI, so hopefully we'll see him at one of our events soon. Until then, here's a brief introduction:

KL: Your middle grade novel, See You in the Cosmos, is off to a great start with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Congrats! Tell us a little about the story and where your ideas came from.

JC: Thanks! The story’s about Alex, an eleven-year-old trying to launch his iPod into space. Alex’s father passed away when he was three, and there’s something mysterious and not quite right about his mother’s role in his life. He also has an older brother living in another state and a dog named Carl Sagan, after his hero—the real-life astronomer. Alex embarks on this mission of his, I think, as a way of trying to understand—and cope with—everything that is happening in his life.

I had the idea for the story when I was back at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving, in 2012. I was hanging out in my younger brother’s room and saw that he had a copy of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, and remembered an episode of the NPR show Radiolab that I’d heard years before, in which Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan talked about how the two fell in love as they worked to gather sounds for the Voyager Golden Record. When I woke up the next morning, the basic premise just popped into my head: A boy and his dog; an iPod bound for space.

See You in the Cosmos is your first novel for kids, but you’ve already had some experience in the adult literary world. Tell us more.

I self-published my first novel, These Days, in 2013. I was living in New York and working in tech at the time (I’ve since moved back to Michigan where I grew up, and currently live in Detroit). These Days originated from a daily journaling practice, and after a couple years working on it in my spare time I found that I enjoyed writing so much that I’d rather do that than stay at my day job. I sent the manuscript around to agents but wasn’t getting much of a response, and I decided, You know what, this is my first novel and I plan to write more; I’m going to self-publish it and treat the whole thing as a learning experience—as a way to understand how to write and publish a novel, from start to finish. I successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign and did a small print run of 650 hardcovers.

Who is your agent and how did you connect with him/her?

My agent is Jessica Craig, and she’s based in Barcelona. We actually connected because of the funding campaign for my first book. These Days was featured in the Kickstarter weekly newsletter and caught Jessica's eye, and she reached out asking to read the manuscript. I interviewed Jessica about it for a podcast I’ve been doing about the making See You in the Cosmos, so if you’re interested, you can hear more of the backstory here.

How have your experiences differed between self-publishing vs traditional publishing, and adult vs children’s writing/publishing?

Self-publishing was a very solitary experience for me, even though I did hire freelance editors and copyeditors for the book. One thing that’s really surprised me about traditional publishing is the sheer number of people involved in making a book and getting it out into the hands of readers. I think, also, everyone at every stage is much more invested in the project; they kind of have to be to want to publish it in the first place. And because of everyone involved, it ends up being a slower process than self-publishing, but there also an intentionality behind all the steps. My friend Robin Sloan, who has also both self-published a book and had one published traditionally, describes the latter as deliberate. I think that’s the perfect word.

As for adult vs children’s, I didn’t start out writing this book as a children’s book. I didn’t even know there was a category called Middle Grade at the time; I was more trying to tell a story about Alex and the other characters. Once the book was acquired (jointly by Dial in the US and Puffin in the UK) a lot of the work I did with my editors was to make it more squarely for young readers, and move some of the adult themes and issues more into the background. That way, the story would work primarily for kids but still retain that depth and richness for adults. 

I found it to be a really interesting challenge because it forced me to know my material and the characters better in some ways—to be able to express these perhaps-more-complex adult concepts in a manner that wouldn’t go over the head of a ten-year-old. It reminds me of what the physicist Richard Feynman said about teaching—that if you can't explain a subject in plain English, then maybe you yourself don't understand it well enough. I think there’s something akin to that happening here, too.

What’s next for you?
In the immediate term I’m visiting schools across the country to talk with students and meet with booksellers and librarians, and after I come back from tour I’m going to begin work in earnest on the next book. A few things I know at this point: it’ll take place in Detroit and its suburbs; it’ll once again be for young readers; and it’ll be more directly about my experience as a Chinese American. 

My identity as a Chinese American is an area of my own life that I’ve just begun to explore recently, and I’ve come to see fiction-writing as one of the best vehicles for this kind of self-examination.

Fun fact: Jack's book launch party at Pages Bookshop was on Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Paczki Day, and he had spaced- themed jelly donuts! This picture does not do them justice; they were quite delectable in person. 😋

Thanks, Jack!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel is coordinating with our new Featured Illustrator. We'll introduce her and unveil our new blog banner soon. Plus, more Michigan KidLit Advocates, a Writer's Toolbox, an interview with a publicist, and another Writer's Spotlight - it could be you!

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hugs and Hurrahs

Happy Spring to one and all! It’s time once again for everyone’s favorite blog post, Hugs and Hurrahs! Our SCBWI Mitten-folk had lots to shout about since we turned our calendars to 2017, so let’s warm up our hands and give a hearty standing ovation to the following:  

Congratulations to Neal Levin! His short story "Where's My Shadow?" was published in the February 2017 issue of Highlights For Children. Neal also sold three stories to the website "Super Teacher Worksheets." They are:

"Bear and Hare Warm Up"
"Jezzabelle's Old School"

Way to go Neal!

Janet Ruth Heller’s short play, Pledging, will be performed at the Tritonysia Play Festival at Triton College on May 5-7 and May 12-14, 2017.  Pledging concerns two college freshmen in the 1960’s who are longtime best friends and is based on historical discrimination against people of color by many sororities and fraternities.

Congratulations Janet!

Sandy Carlson’s latest MG Michigan historical fiction (10 years in the making) with a paraplegic MC, time traveling, genealogy, and the fabulous Mackinac Island as a backdrop, The Powder Horn of Mackinac Island will be published on March 3, 2017.

So happy for you Sandy!

Brynne Barnes recently sold her picture book, GIRL IN BLOOM, to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle Books. Girl in Bloom, written in verse, is a read-aloud tribute to African-American women who have paved the way for generations, reminding girls they should never fear climbing too high or shining too brightly. Publication is slated for spring 2019.  

Lisa Rose has sold another story, MYSTERY VALENTINE, to the Amazon Rapids story app. This is Lisa’s fourth title for Amazon. 

Way to go Lisa!

Lisa Wheeler’s new book, EVEN MONSTERS NEED TO SLEEP (illustrated by Chris Van Dusen) released on March 14, 2017. This very young book is Lisa’s first with Balzer&Bray/HarperCollins! Lisa also sold her rhyming picture book, A HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME, to Abrams Appleseed Books.

And if that’s not enough, the amazing Lisa just won the prestigious Golden Kite award for picture book text in 2016! This is an award judged by leaders in the industry. The starred review picture book, The Christmas Boot, is the winning text. Lisa will be invited to accept this award at a special recognition banquet at the international conference in Los Angeles this July.

What an honor! We’re so proud of you Lisa!

Laura Wolfe’s new book, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse Book Two), was released on March 14, 2017 by Fire and Ice Books. It is the second book in her YA mystery series.

Happy dancing for you Laura!

Danielle Hammelef is happy to announce the release of three new books published in January by Capstone Press. They are:

Congratulations Danielle!

Mars Missions: A Space Discovery Guide is Buffy Silverman's newest title with Lerner Publishing. The Space Discovery Guide series blasted off with a starred review from Booklist!

Three cheers for Buffy!   

Debbie Diesen’s newest picture book, BLOOM, AN ODE TO SPRING, released on March 7 to a starred review in Kirkus. You can read the entire review here.

Congratulations Debbie!

Kristin Bartley Lenz's YA novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, has been chosen by the Michigan Reading Association for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books state-wide literature program.

So excited for you Kristin!

Deborah Marcero just sold her picture book, IN A JAR, to Jennifer Besser at Putnam. Deborah’s book isabout a young bunny named Llewellyn, a collector of things big, small, and even the intangible, who embarks on a journey of magical realism and friendship. Publication is planned for spring 2019.

So happy for you Deborah!

Monica Harris has sold three pieces to DRC Pennsylvania! Monica writes, “One of the stories I sold to DRC was written in 2012. It won second place in the Southwest Writer's Writing Contest in 2013.  Then, it sat and sat waiting for anyone to see its 'heart'. Lesson? Don't give up on your stories!  It will happen but it might take time and vision.”

Thanks so much for the encouragement Monica. We’re so happy for you!

Rhonda Gowler Greene’s lastest picture book, Baa! Oink! Moo!, was released by Zonderkidz in January.

That’s awesome Rhonda!

Congratulations to Heidi Woodward Sheffield for winning Honors in the 2017 Winter Conference Portfolio Showcase. There were about 200 portfolios in all, each with 10-15 images of an artist’s best work. (If you’re equating it to a writer’s experience, that’s like 10-15 different polished stories). Each year, five different publishing professionals judge the portfolios. The images that are the most well-received are narrative in nature and tell a story. 

Grand prize went to Melissa Crowton. Heidi shared honors with Victoria Tentler-Krylov and Luke Flowers. Heidi’s prize includes a phone call with an art director. (Used to be $100 for supplies, but the call with the art director is so much more meaningful!)

Happy Dancing with you Heidi!

And finally, I celebrated the release of my first nonfiction picture book, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING (Red Line Editorial/North Star Editions) in January and recently sold another story, THE GATEKEEPER, to Amazon Rapids. And I’m happy dancing about both!

See? I told you we had lots to celebrate in 2017, and it’s only the end of March. Keep up the amazing work my fellow Michkids! You never know when the manuscript you submit will be the ONE!

Send all of your happy publishing news to me, Patti Richards at

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Michigan KidLit Advocate: Ed Spicer

SCBWI-MI author Charlie Barshaw is here to present our second Michigan KidLit Advocate interview. (If you missed the first interview in our series, go here.) Introducing southwest Michigan educator, Ed Spicer. Enjoy their funny banter! 

I was tempted to subtitle this “An Improbable Journey”. It’s melodramatic but appropriate. You were a homeless teen, lived secretly in a church, and were on your own by the age of fifteen. What would you care to share about your early years?

ES: Well, I was homeless, lived secretly in a church, and was on my own by age fifteen and still managed to make it to 62! Other than that?

In an interview, you mentioned going to the local Federated Department Store. There you’d lose yourself for hours in the books of Beverly Cleary and the Nancy Drew series. What other books helped to shape the voracious reader and huge reading champion you are today?

I have mentioned A Wrinkle In Time before, but I do not think that I mentioned works by Diane Wakoski. I took a class from Wakoski. It was, perhaps obvious, a poetry writing class, but I learned a deeper appreciation for reading poetry too. This class prompted me to attend poetry readings and I can remember going to listen to Galway Kinnell and many others. It was around this time that I began reading Audre Lorde, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, and many others. I had already fallen in love with Emily Dickenson, Shakespeare, and the romantic poets, going so far as to memorize hundreds of poems, many that I can still recite today more than forty years later.

You own a whole closetful of fish shirts. Can you tell us the significance?

I worked at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in its Aquarium Museum. One of my jobs there was to design clothing. I worked on hundreds of fish shirts, mostly T-shirts and I never gave up collecting them. They make me happy and make me suck my face up into fish faces, which usually gets folks to laugh. I count that as a win.

Tell us about your relationship with Pam Munoz Ryan.

I love Pam! At one time I was even (sort of) her boss. Pam was the director of our Episcopal Church preschool and I was on the Vestry that served as the Board of Directors. Pam did a ton of work to create a preschool that worked closely with the Helen Woodward Senior Center. The State was initially convinced that these small children would infect the seniors with all sorts of diseases and bump them off. When Pam actually documented the health benefit derived from mixing preschoolers and seniors, we were all pleased (but not really surprised). 

One day, however, Pam handed us her resignation because she wanted to go write books. We thought, “Good luck with that.” Pam did not need our luck, it turns out, because she has a ton of talent. It is interesting that it took me sometime to realize that this Pam Munoz Ryan from the Encinitas area is the same Pam Ryan I knew from Church. And when I did confirm the identity, it took me even longer to read Esperanza Rising because I was worried that I might not like my friend’s book (I ADORE IT). Since that title, Pam has written many great books. I was predicting she would win Newbery recognition for at least two books before Echo. Not only is Pam one of the nicest and kindest people I know, she is a great writer!

You left sunny California to reverse-migrate to Michigan. You had an unusual business plan in mind. Care to tell us about it?

This plan very much ties into Pam’s preschool, because I wanted to do something in Allegan very similar to what Pam did in Encinitas. I wanted to open a preschool that mixed seniors and very young children. I knew exactly where I wanted the preschool. Knew who I would have to get to donate the land and more.

You also had a goal: you wanted to be on the Newberry committee. Why, oh why would that be on your bucket list? And what did you do to try to make this goal a reality?

I was sitting on the Seventh floor of the GVSU Library madly trying to finish Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson before children’s lit class began that night. I needed to take this class to get my teachable major so I could enroll in the GVSU teacher education program. And there I was sobbing as I finished that book moments before class. I loved this book and was so happy it was an award winner. Ann, my librarian wife, asked me about class and I told her about Bridge to Terabithia and my new goal to be on the Newbery committee. I have been on the Caldecott Committee, the Printz Committee, the Morris Committee, the Margaret Edwards Committee, the Schneider Family Committee, Best Books for Young Adults, Notable Children’s Books, and others. I have NOT (yet?) been on the Newbery Committee.

Almost by accident you ended up being assigned to the first grade. It’s certainly a role that plays against type. But you excelled at it for how many years?  What did you find so satisfying in teaching the youngest of students?

I have always stated that we make a huge mistake when we argue, say, that early education should have a higher priority than middle school or high school. All are important. All have different needs and different challenges. This argument is like one part of the body feasting on another part—cannibalistic at best. However, it may well be true that we see the most visible academic growth with these young minds, just learning to assume responsibility for themselves. I love that! (See student letter to Ed below in the comments.)

You taught first grade, so you’re obviously familiar with all things picture book. Yet you review YA novels for SLJ, Hornbook, and the Michigan Reading Journal.  How does that jibe?

I have said before that we do not spend all that time working with young children just to see them give up on reading as a teen. A reading life should be a connected life through the grades.

You worked for decades with high school students to produce an annual compilation of writing called “Tiger Tales.” What got you started in that, and what kept you going?

Readers read writing and writers write reading. You cannot extricate the reading from the writing. Writing is thinking. I like first graders who grow up to think. This contest gave cash prizes, published a book with student writing, motivated thousands of students over the years. How could I not be involved?

You have a blog with the unfortunate name of Spicy Reads. Apparently, some visitors expected a different form of entertainment. The latest entries seem to be from 2012. Have you moved on from this format, or might you revive it at some point?

Look for a SpicyReads revision this year! AND the title, I beg your pardon, is JUST FINE! I cannot help what SNL does in response to certain unfortunately named press secretaries.

You are good friends with a huge list of children’s book creators: Gary Schmidt, Candy Fleming and Eric Rhoman, Lynn Rae Perkins, Nikki Grimes… the list goes on.
Each friendship, of course, is unique. But, how did you come to meet all of these kidlit stars?

I love people who care about kindness and care about words and art. My friends care about many of the same things. That, more than anything, explains any friendship. Each one has a uniquely personal story that typically revolves around words, kindness, art, and thinking.

You’ve taught college students at GVSU, presented at TLA about the homeless reader, presented at MRA and the Youth Literature Conference at Kalamazoo. I’m sure there’s a question lurking somewhere in there. 

Yes I have and let me know when you find the question.

Then you appeared at the SCBWI-MI conference at Mackinac Island. You closed the conference with a poignant story about Brycen and Snowman Magic. What was the takeaway for a bunch of children’s writers?

I think the most important take away is to stop working for awards and reviews and continue working for all the Brycens out there. They are more important anyway.

You've worked on the Printz and Caldecott committees, among others. Lots of anonymous donated work for no recognition. What’s the reward?

It is in bringing that magic book, like Snowman Magic, home to all the Brycens and all the Briannas in my area.

You say that your ideal vacation is the annual American Library Association meeting. What’s the attraction?

Smart, kind, funny, talented people and lots of books! What’s not to love!

I interviewed Travis Jonker and didn’t ask this question, and missed the scoop that he had just sold his first picture book. So, what are you working on now?

I am working on this interview!

Finally, tell me about your work on curriculum guides.

I have written curriculum guides for older teens, such as Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why (soon to be a movie?). I have also written guides for much younger students, such as Il Song Na’s Welcome Home, Bear or the most recent guide I just finished for member, Leslie Helakoski’s Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Fall Asleep. I’ve written guides for The Dark Is Rising and The Grey King by Susan Cooper. I wrote a guide for the American Heritage Illustrated Children’s Dictionary! Most of my guides have been for the phenomenal series by Houghton Mifflin, Scientists In the Field. I have four more coming down the pipe soon. When I submitted Leslie’s that was my 47th or 48th paid guide for me. Soon I will have done more than 50! This both delights and scares me: I love thinking of possibilities for encouraging creativity, but I live in terror of that student with a big stick in hand who finds me late one night in a dark alley and accuses me of ruining his life: “My teacher mades us do every one of your stupid activities and now I hate reading! WHACK!"

Keep up with Ed Spicer's adventures on Facebook and Twitter, and stay tuned for his updated
Spicy Reads website.

Want to learn more? Check out these blog posts/interviews and videos:

Charlie Barshaw has four MG and YA novels-in-progress, three stories published by Amazon Rapids, two dogs and a gifted, supportive and encouraging wife. Ruth and I have traveled to dozens of schools during Reading Month. We are exhausted and fulfilled.

Coming up on the SCBWI-MI blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success. Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Patti Richards by March 28th to be included.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Michigan KidLit Advocate Interview: Colby Sharp

If you've spent any amount of time in the KidLitosphere, you've likely noticed certain bloggers popping up time and again. They're passionate about bringing quality literature to kids and deeply involved in the overlapping communities of writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians. And maybe, like me, you're curious to know more about their lives beyond their blogs, especially the ones that live in Michigan. So, today we have the first of our Michigan KidLit Advocate Interviews. Introducing Colby Sharp!

Tell us a little about yourself and describe a typical day or week.
I teach third grade in Parma, Michigan. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I go straight from school to my daughters' gymnastics class. On those days we get home around 9:45. I coach a fourth grade Destination Imagination team that meats Thursday after school. I am blessed to have days filled with things I love to do. 

My wife and I had our fifth kid in February, so right now we are just trying to survive.

Yes, dear readers, I've already apologized to Colby for unknowingly asking for an interview as he was expecting his fifth child! He was very gracious. Onward. You're involved in some special projects that have grown and attracted a passionate following. Tell us more about the Nerdy Book Club and Nerd Camp.
The Nerdy Book Club is a blog that I co-founded with Donalyn Miller. We started it because we were hoping to create a list of book awards filled with books that our students would love. People seemed excited, so we decided to keep it going. We asked our community what they wanted on the site, and we developed a weekly schedule around their feedback.

Nerd Camp is an extension of Nerdy Book Club. It is sort of like our annual meeting. Last year we had people from more than 35 states come to Parma for camp.

Authors and illustrators can contribute by writing a post for Nerdy Book Club (You can find a link on the site to sign up). Everyone is welcome to come to Nerd Camp, and we'd love to have anyone that cares about reading and books to join us. 

You also manage your own blog, Sharpread. What are your time management secrets?  How do you keep up with all of this wonderful work on top of full-time teaching?
I try to only do things I enjoy doing. Lately, I've been following the work of The Minimalists. They've helped me see the importance of only having things in your life that bring you joy. Life is too short to do things that don't make you smile. 

What are you looking forward to?
I'm really looking forward to publishing my first book: The Creativity Project (Little Brown, 2018). It is almost done, and I can't wait to hold it in my arms, and share it with kids. 

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for us, Colby, and congrats on your two new babies - your first book baby and your fifth child. :)

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Join us next Friday for another Michigan KidLit Advocate Interview. Who will it be? And then we'll wrap up the month with another dose of inspiration from our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs. We want to trumpet your success! Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing good news to Patti Richards by March 28th.

Kristin Lenz

Friday, March 10, 2017

The SCBWI Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant by Joan Donaldson

In 1992, when Tasha Tudor illustrated my first picture book, it sold well. I believed that with hard work and attention to craft, editors would want my manuscripts, and I would develop a career as a children’s author. But instead, seven years passed before I signed another book contract. Editors often told me that I was a good writer, but they weren’t sure that there was a market for my stories. Like a car sputtering along on low fuel, I decided to invest in a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing so that I could hone my skills.

Earning a MFA at Spalding University was life changing.  I minored in writing for young people and majored in creative nonfiction. Mentors and fellow students encouraged my talents and suggested ways to improve my manuscripts. During the four falls that I attended Spalding, I sold a picture book manuscript, The Secret of the Red Shoes, and my young adult novel, On Viney’s Mountain. At last, my writing career was cruising!

When On Viney’s Mountain won the 2010 Friends of American Writer’s YA Award, became a finalist for the 2011 Bronte Prize for Romantic Literature, appeared on the Bank Street List of the Best Books of 2010, and represented the State of Tennessee at the 2010 National Book Festival. But even after promoting the novel, the book didn’t sell well. The publisher chose not to reprint it and my career at that publishing house ended.

When I read about the Jane Yolen Mid-list Author’s Grant, the description fit my writing career, especially the sentence about not selling a book manuscript in the past five years. Ms. Yolen created the grant not only to provide authors with a monetary sum that could be spent on hiring an editor or perhaps on marking, but also to encourage authors not to cease writing. I filled out an application that included a career summary and brief summary of my latest project, Mooey Bien, a middle grade novel about a friendship between a white girl and a Latino migrant girl.

When SCBWI informed me that Jane Yolen had awarded me an honor prize, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Jane had affirmed my writing. On the stage with Jane at the New York SCBWI conference, I promised her that no matter what, I will continue to write.

For any Michigan SCBWI member who is discouraged because she or he hasn’t sold a manuscript in several years, consider filling out an application for the 2018 grant. Ponder how you would use the funds to fuel your career, and most of all, keep writing, dreaming and hoping that the next email will state that a publisher wants your book.

Joan Donaldson receives a hug onstage
from Jane Yolen at the SCBWI
Annual Winter Conference
Joan Donaldson writes from her organic blueberry farm near Saugatuck, Michigan. In the past, she has served on the SCBWI-MI board and as a judge for the mentorship contest. After earning her MFA in creative nonfiction, she has facilitated writing workshops at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Learn more at

Congrats again on this wonderful honor, Joan, and thank you for sharing your inspiring story. To learn more about the many SCBWI grants and awards, go here. Writers and illustrators who are looking for an extra dose of inspiration this spring or opportunities to network and grow your craft, check out these upcoming events from SCBWI-MI and more:

March 15th: final deadline for the SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program. Receive feedback on your manuscript from your choice of agents and editors.

March 25th: The Michigan Writing Workshop, Novi, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 1st: Rochester Writer's Spring Conference, Writing for Children and Young Adults, Oakland University, Rochester, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 29th: SCBWI-MI Marketing Bootcamp in East Lansing, more info soon

September 15-16th: SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat, Grand Rapids, more info to come

SCBWI-MI Shop Talks meet monthly. Click here to find a location near you.
Special Opportunity: The Lansing Area Shop Talk will meet at the Charlotte Library, March 25, 11am, to see award-winning Michigan author Gary D. Schmidt.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz