Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Rhonda Gowler Greene

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

Congratulations to Rhonda Gowler Greene on the release of her new book, THE FIRST MEN WHO WENT TO THE MOON!

      1)  How did you come up with the idea for THE FIRST MEN WHO WENT TO THE MOON?

I got the idea because of three of my previous books.  Those books are in a ‘House That Jack Built’ pattern, but I adapted the format to be circular instead of cumulative.  Their topics are Thanksgiving, the nativity, and creation.  A few years ago, I was trying to think of another nonfiction topic that would work well within that same pattern.  That’s when I thought of the first Moon landing.  Many of my books are rhyming and whimsical, but the pattern I used for these nonfiction books is more ‘serious.’  As one reviewer put it, the pattern has a ‘stately structure.’  One day, my editor said the Apollo 11 manuscript felt ‘majestic’ to her.  That was great to hear because that’s exactly how I wanted the text to sound for such an important event as the first Moon landing and walk.

This year is the 50thanniversary of Apollo 11.  I didn’t write the story with the 50thanniversary in mind, but luckily, the manuscript sold in 2017 and the publisher hurried the book along to get it out in time.

   2)  What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

The most difficult part was the research.  Revision deadlines were a close second.  Since the publisher wanted to get the book out quickly, I ended up having to work on revisions right at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

In the first half of the book, I include side notes with facts about the mission, or the Moon.  Also, in the back matter, there’s a two-page spread of lots more facts.  My editor left it up to me regarding what facts to include.  I researched a ton on NASA’s site.  It’s a huge site!  Too, I read First Man, the biography of Neil Armstrong.  I read Buzz Aldrin’s No Dream is Too High.  I read a stack of great children’s books regarding Apollo 11.  I had pages and pages of notes and whittled them down to which facts I thought might be the most interesting to readers.  I feel like I’m an Apollo 11 expert now!  Too, for the back matter, I asked if they could include some NASA photos, which are in the public domain.  I researched photos and sent six.  They’re included in the back of the book.  

And, I just want to add because I think it’s totally cool— I asked my editor if maybe they could get a blurb from an astronaut, and maybe even from an astronaut who walked on the Moon.  (Only four out of twelve who walked on the Moon are still living).  The publisher contacted at least a couple of astronauts, maybe more.  Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt agreed to read over the manuscript to make sure all the facts were correct and also write a blurb for the back cover.  Dr. Schmitt was the Apollo 17 lunar module pilot.  In 1972, he and Eugene Cernan were the last two astronauts to walk on the Moon.  I was so grateful the publisher contacted some astronauts!  And, wow, how nice of Dr. Schmitt!

       3)  What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?

On Sunday, March 24th (2:00-3:30), I have a book launch at Oak Park Library, hosted by Book Beat bookstore.  Everyone is invited!  Denise Brennan-Nelson will also be presenting that day and launching her new book Goodnight, Library.  We’ll have prize drawings!  

I had postcards made of the book cover and sent them out to local schools, libraries, and some U.S. space museums.  I’ve also worked very hard on a new powerpoint program for schools, libraries, etc., which is mostly about the Apollo 11 mission.  I have some school visits coming up where I’ll be presenting this new program.  And, of course, I’ve been promoting the book on social media—Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

On Sunday, July 21st, I’m presenting at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.  It’s in Wapakoneta, Ohio, where Neil Armstrong was born and grew up.  The town and museum are having a weekend celebration regarding the 50thanniversary.  I’m honored to be one of the presenters!  

My book can be found at bookstores and online.

       4)  Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

Cynthia Rylant has always been my favorite children’s author.  Her writing is amazing and all her books have such a warm feel.  I loved her Newbery Award book, Missing May.  I love the Henry and Mudgebooks.  And I absolutely love the Mr. Putter & Tabbyseries.  I have all 25 Mr. Putter books.  Now, my three little grandkids LOVE Mr. Putter, Tabby, Mrs. Teaberry, and Zeke!  I can’t begin to count how many times we’ve read the whole series together!  Have you read Mr. Putter & Tabby Write the Book?  Every writer should.  It’s so funny!

Many years ago, before I was published, I drove five hours to Indianapolis to hear Cynthia Rylant speak.  She was wonderful (and so humble!).  It was very inspiring to hear her speak and get to talk to her afterwards.  I even got a postcard from her (I treasure it!) after that trip.  She wrote—“I have a feeling you are going to be published.”  I don’t know if her writing has actually influenced mine (she’s a waybetter writer than me!), but if it has in any way, I hope it’s a warm feeling that comes through my writing.

5)  As an author who has published over 25 books and has a few more due to come out, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The main advice I’d give is read, read, read children’s books.  Immerse yourself in them.  That’s what I do.  Especially read (and study) the genre/s you want to write in.  And especially read children’s books published within the last few years. 

I highly recommend Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  (Most of my copy is underlined!)  I think it’s the best how-to book regarding writing picture books.  Actually, I think it’s beneficial for whatever genre you write in. I totally agree with her comment—“The key to improving your writing is to learn how to be your own critic, develop ways to pull yourself back from your story, and become an outside reader.”  

Even though I’ve had several picture books published (I feel very lucky!), I still get lots of rejections.  It’s hard to sell a manuscript.  It’s extremely hard.  But it’s not impossible.  I just keep writing and plugging away.  And I keep reading reading reading new children’s books, from picture books to novels. Also, I keep revising new stories of mine over and over, trying to be that ‘outside reader.’  And, oh yes, if you’re writing a picture book manuscript, and if it’s not a picture book biography (they’re usually longer), I’d say cut cut cut to around 500 words or less.   

Good luck to everyone!  And thanks so much for having me!

A little bit about the book: In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation: land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade. The Apollo program was designed by NASA to meet that challenge, and on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin. Apollo 11's prime mission objective: "Perform a manned lunar landing and return." Four days after take-off, the Lunar Module "Eagle," carrying Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the Command Module "Columbia," and descended to the moon. Armstrong reported back to Houston's Command Center, "The Eagle has landed." America and the world watched in wonder and awe as a new chapter in space exploration opened. Through verse and informational text, author Rhonda Gowler Greene celebrates Apollo 11's historic moon landing.

A little bit about the author: Rhonda Gowler Greene is the author of over twenty-five children’s books. A former elementary learning disabilities teacher, Rhonda holds a Master’s in Educational Media. She currently resides in southeast Michigan.

Picture Book Mentorship Competition: Submission Window Opening Soon!

Hello reader, writer, and illustrator friends! One of our Mitten Blog goals for 2019 is to take time for vacations! Instead of scheduling and scrambling, we're simply shutting down for a week or two, here and there. Our blog will be quiet for the rest of March while we spend time with family, travel, work, and play. But, we want to leave you with a very important reminder:

The submission window opens on April 1st for the first of our two SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship Competitions

Here's what you need to know about both of these competitions:

SCBWI-MI is holding TWO picture book text mentorship competitions in 2019.

The PAL mentorship with author Kelly DiPucchio.

This mentorship is open to PAL SCBWI members who live in Michigan.

The submission window is April 1-22, 2019.

The Non-PAL mentorship with author Lisa Wheeler.

This mentorship is open to full and associate SCBWI members who live in Michigan.

The submission window is June 3-24, 2019.


What does PAL stand for? Published And Listed. Defined by SCBWI, these are books published by traditional publishing houses that do not charge money to authors or illustrators.

How do I figure out if I’m a PAL member? That depends on whether you’re published.
If you are pre-published, you are an associate member.
If you are published, it depends on the publisher.
If your publisher is on this list of traditional publishers, you are a PAL member.
If your publisher is not on that list, you are a full member.

What if my membership status listed on the SCBWI website is incorrect? Refer to this page on www.scbwi.orgto determine if you are a PAL member and then contact SCBWI by email and explain the situation.

What will I need to submit? The text of one picture book (not to exceed 600 words).

Where are the details about how to enter? Submission instructions are posted on the SCBWI-MI website. Look for the red lettering that tells you where to click to download a pdf of complete submission and eligibility instructions.

Can I apply if I live in Michigan for only part of the year? Sure.

What if I’m a PAL illustrator? If you’re a PAL member for illustration, but not for writing, apply for the non-PAL mentorship.

What if I have a question that isn’t on this list? Contact mentorship coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

The Mitten Blog team will be back with a full schedule of Fridays in April. Coming up: a new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator, a Writer Spotlight, Hugs and Hurrahs, and much more!

Happy spring!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, March 15, 2019

2019 Goal: Enhance Your Online Presence by Lauren Ranalli

“I had been stuck trying to improve for the last year…” – A.N., author and illustrator

Chances are you’ve had a moment (or several moments) of sitting in front of your computer, phone, or notebook thinking: “Okay, I should post something on social media, but….?”  I’ve been there. I’m still there sometimes. So I’m willing to guess that you too might get social media paralysis, have a website that needs updating, or simply don’t have the time or energy to really invest in connecting with your online community in an intentional, organized, consistent way.

Don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be hard… and it can actually be very rewarding. As a self-published author, I knew I needed to create my own brand and find an audience for myself. Over the past year I have committed to intentionally enhancing my online presence. And it has REALLY made a difference! If you’re thinking of doing the same, here are the first few steps I took to get started:

  • I transitioned my Instagram and Facebook account settings from a personal account to a business account. Not only did this help me think through how to better distinguish personal from professional posts, but it also provided me with analytics on my engagement and insight on the best days and times to post in order to reach my followers.
  • I created a “mission." I knew that if I really wanted to engage online then I couldn’t just post about my own books. I would find that redundant and so would my audience. Instead of just being an author page, my online presence focuses on my goal of “sharing content to promote diversity, literacy, and the joy of reading.”
  • I made a plan. I took online social media classes from experts such as Kat Coroy, researched the best tools for helping me create, schedule, and track my posts, and set aside time each week to plan out meaningful content. And I’ve committed myself to learn more and share strategies with others!

When it comes to your online presence, do you need a “booster shot” of ideas?  If you thought, “Hmm” or “Yes!” then let’s chat. I have recently been asked by other authors and illustrators to provide strategies for enhancing their social media style and online engagement. It has been incredibly rewarding! I love hearing from colleagues that our work together has doubled their followers, provided concrete, actionable strategies for posting, or sparked a new sense of motivation. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d love to connect with you. I have put together a super-quick survey to collect some background information and get a better understanding of your social media or website goals. This allows me to create personalized recommendations tailored just for you.  Questions? Feel free to email me at and I’ll be in touch.

Lauren Ranalli is a fully grown adult who still gets excited over the Scholastic book catalog. She is also a children's book author, public health professional, and mother of two highly spirited children. Lauren's books include THE GREAT LATKE COOK OFF and the forthcoming SNOW DAY AT THE ZOO, PLACES WE HAVE NEVER BEEN and TAP DANCE NINJA. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook and learn more about her work at

Thanks for sharing your experience, Lauren! For more ideas about book marketing and promotion, check out these previous Mitten blog posts by Debbie Gonzales and Maria Dismondy:

Friday, March 8, 2019

Scholarship Winner Laura Stewart's SCBWI New York Conference Experience

In addition to regional conferences, SCBWI hosts two national conferences - one in Los Angeles in the summer and one in New York in the winter. Our SCBWI-MI chapter has sent members to the New York conference for several years thanks to a scholarship offered by author Shutta Crum. This year's scholarship winner was Laura Stewart, and we asked her to fill us in on her New York adventure.
Here's Laura:

On the eve of flying out for the 2019 N.Y.C. conference I was a jumble of feelings. A healthy amount of nervousness, excitement and pure exhaustion. I had just returned 52 hours prior from Arizona after seeing my first grandbaby in the NICU born by an emergency c-section. With jet lag alive and active, I conserved my energies over the next day and a half to prepare for
my next adventure.

This experience as an attendee and the fact that I was in N.Y.C., completely pushed me out of my comfort zone. There was a definite feeling of camaraderie in this community of storytellers. I was honored to be part of the SCBWI history this year, from celebrating Jane
Yolen’s 80th birthday to witnessing Elizabeth Acevedo give her first keynote speech. Both truly beautiful people.

One of the threads woven throughout the conference and shared by key speakers, was that no one should eliminate themselves as having the potential to become an author. Even when the voice in our head tells us we really have no clue what we’re doing in this space with such talented individuals. Each of the intensives I attended gave me practical tools to dissect and improve my stories and also polish my queries. I came away feeling more confident in my ability, direction and a renewed perseverance to succeed in publication.

I am thankful to Shutta for offering this scholarship and to SCBWI MI for offering the
stipend. I have enjoyed being part of this community of writers and am grateful to be a part of
your story. Thank you for being a part of mine.

Laura lives just a short stroll from the banks of the peaceful River Raisin, where she has gleaned many of her story ideas while canoeing, kayaking and daydreaming. While raising her family, Laura has continued to write stories, songs and prayers. Learn more at

Go to the Official SCBWI Winter Conference Blog for plenty of photos and takeaways.

Find more inspirational highlights here:

If you weren't able to attend the New York conference, SCBWI has more opportunities in the coming months.

The SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles will be August 9-12th.

Closer to home and coming up soon is the SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Multi-Region Conference May 3-5th in Chicago.

Don't miss our special SCBWI-MI Features and Programs, here on the Mitten Blog and on the SCBWI-MI website:

  • Read our first Ask the Editor post where editor Katherine Gibson answers your questions about children's publishing. Do you have a question for her? Email your questions to Mitten blog editor Kristin Lenz.

  • Introducing The Teacher's Corner, a new resource on the SCBWI-MI website where connecting with a local children’s book author or illustrator is made easier.

  • 75 new books were donated to students at Burton Elementary through the SCBWI-MI ABC program! Thanks to PAL Coordinator Jodi McKay for coordinating the program and collecting the books, thanks to Nick and Ashley Adkins for delivering the books, and thanks to all the authors who donated copies of their books!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Heather Shumaker

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

Congratulations to Heather Shumaker on the release of her debut MG book, THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY!

Q#1: The Griffins of Castle Caryis your debut middle grade novel, but certainly not your first book. What made you decide to switch gears and write this particular story?

Oh, I’ve always wanted to write for children. Ever since I was four years old and decided to grow up and become an author. Children’s book authors were my heroes growing up, and it’s quite an amazing thing to become one. 

I sort of slipped into publishing backwards and eased my way into fiction. In retrospect, that was smart because fiction can be much harder to sell than nonfiction. I started off writing nonfiction for adults,but knew in my heart that I would someday write children’s fiction. When I got my agent, I remember quizzing her: “Do you represent children’s middle grade, too? Because that’s the direction I’m going.”

Q#2: This is the exact type of story that I loved reading when I was growing up. What do you hope kids will experience when reading about the Griffin kids?

That’s funny. This is the kind of book I loved reading as a child, too. That’s why I wrote it. I want kids to experience the suspense and excitement of the story, plus the courage and ingenuity of the Griffin children so much that they’ll fall deeply in love with reading. I loved page-turning adventures about a group of siblings who encounter mysteries and magic when I was a kid. Where everything ratchets up to incredible tension, and then everything turns out all right in the end, and you’re left yearning for ‘more.’

Q#3: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

Like most avid readers and authors, I have so many. But for this book, the most direct influences are probably E. Nesbit and Ruth M. Arthur. These British authors bring magic into ordinary life and delight in the chaos that results. There’s no disappearing into a fantasy world in these stories, the fantasy mixes with the familiar, every day world to create humor and mishap.

Q#4: Do you mind sharing some writing advice for those who are just starting out or maybe need a little inspiration?

Sure, that’s my favorite thing to do (besides writing books). Write from your heart. Souls write books, logical minds revise them. When you write from your heart, readers will respond. Successful writing is a tricky combination of complete confidence and open humility. You need both to get better and write a decent story. Have confidence that you can tell this story, then be humble when outsiders tell you how you can make it better. 

And, practically speaking, find a time of day to write and stick to it. Remember: there is never a convenient time to write a novel. There will always be jobs, bills, children, health issues and aging parents. Now you are alive. Now you are passionate. Go forward.

Q#5: What are your future writing/book goals?

I could write middle grade books forever. This is where I feel at home. I’m already on chapter 16 of my next book for kids. This one is historical fiction, which takes more research, but I find every book takes vast amounts of research to create an authentic story.

A little bit about the book:

A charming, adventure-filled novel full of non-stop action and escalating suspense.

Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin are off on an adventure! They can’t wait to visit their eccentric aunt and her giant, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog in England. But when they arrive, they discover this town has a bit of a ghost problem. 
Add in some peculiar lights, strange new friends, a police chase and some stampeding sheep, and the Griffin kids are in over their heads—literally. The children must race to solve the mystery before the ghosts take something that doesn’t belong to them.

A rollicking mystery about the yearnings to be seen, and the love and empathy required to see. It kept me, like the Griffin children, guessing until the very end. I loved it.
            ~ Jack Cheng, Golden Kite Award winner, See You in the Cosmos

A little bit about the author:

Heather Shumaker is the author of books for children and adults, including two “renegade parenting” books, It’s OK Not to Share, and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.Her books have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Romanian, and Russian, and she’s a frequent speaker about her books. This spring, Heather will keynote at the Michigan Library Association’s Spring Institute, an annual conference for the state’s children’s librarians.

How people can find you and your book?

Heather Shumaker’s website:
Blog, podcast and author newsletter

The Griffins of Castle Cary comes out March 5, 2019, available in bookstores everywhere.
Simon & Schuster page
Ages 8-12. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

SCBWI-MI Mentorship Contest: An Interview with PAL Mentor, Kelly DiPucchio

SCBWI-MI is holding two mentorship competitions this year! Both are for picture book text.
The difference between the two mentorships is the eligibility. The mentorship with Kelly
DiPucchio is for Published And Listed (PAL) members, and the mentorship with Lisa Wheeler is
for Associate and Full Members (non-PAL).

The submission window for the PAL mentorship is April 1-22, 2019.
The submission window for the non-PAL mentorship is June 3-24, 2019.

Complete submission instructions can be found on the SCBWI-MI website. On that page, click
the link (after the red words “click here” to download a pdf that explains membership status,
eligibility and submission instructions).

Both mentorships are going to be fantastic. For questions about eligibility or submissions please
contact SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

Kelly DiPuccio is the author of numerous picture books with PAL publishers. Check her website for more information about her books. Kelly is a New York Times best-selling author for GRACE FOR PRESIDENT and THE SANDWICH SWAP. GRACE FOR PRESIDENT and GASTON were IRA Teachers’ Choices Reading List awardees. The Association for Library Service to Children chose GASTON as a Notable Children’s Book in 2015. Kelly has also been the recipient of the Gwen Frostic Award from the MRA, the NAPPA Gold Award and the 2010 Parents Choice Award. The SANDWICH SWAP was co-written with Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan.

What do you like best about writing picture books? 
There are countless “bests” but I think I most enjoy that brief honeymoon phase when I’m hopelessly in love with a new idea and the writing feels effortless.

What do you like least?
When the honeymoon phase is over.

Describe a typical writing day. 
A typical writing day for me includes meditation, coffee, a glut of social media distractions, and a fair amount of self-doubt.

Which of your books was the most fun to write? Why? 
EVERYONE LOVES BACON was probably the most fun I had writing a book because I wrote it as sort of a tongue in cheek story that I had no serious intentions of ever publishing. That allowed for greater freedom and completely pacified my inner critic.

When you’re reading for pleasure, what features of a book typically impress you the
A strong voice and a solid ending.

What brings you joy? 
Feeding wild birds, dogs, babies, beach-combing, visiting new places, funny, brilliant friends, my never-ending search for esoteric knowledge, spending time with my family, having more than 30 books.

What inspires you? 
I feel the best inspiration is the kind I don’t go looking for. It finds me.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I have an impossibly long bucket list of places I want to visit. At the top of my list would be Italy
for a second time, followed by Ireland, Hawaii and Egypt to see the pyramids.

If you could have dinner with any person throughout history who would it be?
What would you discuss?
I’d love to have dinner with my grandma again. I’d ask her loads of questions about the afterlife and if we could find more players, we’d play pinochle and eat tapioca pudding for dessert.

What aspects of being a picture book mentor are you most looking forward to? 
I’m looking forward to paying it forward! I would not be where I am today without the
wonderful people I met through SCBWI when I started down this path 20 years ago.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? 
I’d love to! In April, I have a rhyming picture book coming out with Farrar, Straus, Giroux called WE'RE GOING ON A TREASURE HUNT. It’s illustrated by Jay Fleck who created the most adorable animal crewmates you will ever see. And the long-awaited follow-up to my 2008 bestseller, GRACE FOR PRESIDENT, will come out in September. GRACE GOES TO WASHINGTON, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and published by Disney-Hyperion tells a story about true leadership and how our government makes decisions for our country and its citizens. I’m really excited for Grace to meet a brand-new batch of young readers!

Ann Finkelstein is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. She coordinates the SCBWI-MI mentorship program and helps Charlie Barshaw host Lansing Area Shop Talks.

Stay tuned for additional reminders about the upcoming SCBWI-MI Picture Book Text Mentorship Competitions. Ann will be back later this spring for an interview with Lisa Wheeler, the mentor for associate and full (non-PAL) members.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Ask the Editor with Katherine Gibson

Introducing our new Ask the Editor feature! Katherine Gibson is an editor at Zonderkidz and was previously at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She collected a diverse batch of questions from SCBWI-MI members and compiled her answers to share with our community. What a wonderful gift!

Here's Katherine:

Hello everyone! First of all, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to send me their questions about publishing. It was very exciting to get such a great variety of questions. I hope all of you, whether you sent in a question or not, find this post helpful and informative.

Just a few notes before we dive into your questions. First, I humbly request that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended; the advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful, and I sincerely hope that no one finishes this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged. We’re all in the process of growing and changing as writers, and while we all have areas we could improve upon, we all have wonderful strengths too.

Second, please keep in mind that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of all publishing. If I say something that you really don’t agree with, or you’ve received comments from an editor or agent that directly conflict with my own perspective, that’s okay! You can disregard my comments; I won’t be offended (mostly because I won’t know). I do think that after being in the business for a while, my fellow children’s editors and I agree more often than we disagree when it comes to writing, so I do believe my advice is valuable. But it remains solely one woman’s perspective.

Lastly, I’ve adjusted the wording in many of the questions that were sent in, eliminating specific details to protect the person’s privacy, or combining several similar questions into one. So while you may not see your exact question below, I have done my best to respond to every question that was sent in. If you feel like I haven’t adequately answered your question, or you find the answer just prompts a new question, please feel free to email me. I could always use material for my next post!

Thanks so much, and happy reading (and writing)!

What makes a manuscript stand out? What do you most love to see? What’s the biggest turnoff? What signals to you that a manuscript is ready (or not ready) for publication?

You could probably ask a dozen editors this question and get twelve different responses, but for me, voice is probably the biggest determining factor in deciding whether or not to keep reading. A strong voice is essential to establishing a connection between the book and the reader; it’s the thing I most love to see in a manuscript, because without it, the text just falls flat (which is one of the biggest turnoffs I can think of). A manuscript’s voice should have a spark — it should draw you in, compel you to keep reading — it should make you feel something. If a manuscript doesn’t do those things, it’s not ready to be published.

How can I recognize when my manuscript is really, truly ready for submission?
Every writer knows that manuscripts are never finished, only abandoned. So how do you know it’s time to abandon your manuscript/masterpiece? Short answer: after you’ve drafted it, put it away for a while, come back fresh and revised it, then revised it again, then showed it to a critique group, revised it again, brought it back to critique, and revised it one more time (or fifty more times. Who’s counting at this point?).

I think the most important thing to do before submitting your manuscript is to have someone else read it and provide honest feedback. Meaning the person reading it should not be related to you. What you’re looking for is a friendly acquaintance who happens to be a top-notch reader. Ask them to be brutally honest with you. Be okay with it when they are brutally honest with you. Take their brutally honest feedback and use it to make your piece better. Do this with as many bookish friendly acquaintances as you possibly can. Eventually, the issues they find will be small and inconsequential, more a matter of taste than actual problems. When you reach that point, submit your manuscript. You’re ready.

Should a writer have a predetermined reader age and genre in mind before attempting a first draft, or should a writer dive into the story and figure out what it is and who's it's for after the story is on the page? Or should a writer simply submit a manuscript and let the editor figure out what he or she wants it to be? How important is it for a writer to be mindful of probable reader age when crafting a story (especially in regards to vocabulary choices, sentence length and structure, etc.)? Should the writer try to adapt to the reader or vice versa?

This is a very good, very complicated question that I will do my best to unpack. The first part of the question — whether you should write with an audience in mind or just write the story and let the audience work itself out — is a question that minds far greater than mine still can’t seem to agree on. I’d say while you’re crafting the story, do what works for you. But by the time you’re done revising and ready to submit it to an editor, you should have a good idea of the genre and target reader; I would mention one if not both of those things in a query letter. Editors like to know how a book will fit into their list, and it’s also nice to know that the writer has given some thought as to the book’s marketability.

As for the vocab, sentence structure, etc., my biggest rule is NEVER talk down to your readers. Don’t make the text cutesy, sing-songy, or overly simple in an attempt to appeal to kids. Just be real with them. If you’re writing a picture book and the best word to convey your meaning has fourteen letters in it, use the fourteen-letter word. Books are practically made for building vocab. But don’t fill a picture book with sentences that would be better suited to a novel either. If you’re feeling stuck, find some books in the library that have the same target audience as your manuscript and see how they approach the language.

Are there any children's publishers who are willing to take a look at our self-published books, either as a pdf or hard copy?

The short answer is yes! There are certainly plenty of examples of a traditional publisher acquiring the rights to something that was previously self-published. In my personal experience, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve seen writers get offered contracts because their self-published work sold like hotcakes, and I’ve seen publishers decline self-published books because they were already sold into the target market, thus diminishing the potential future sales. It really depends on the individual publisher you’re interested in; some will specify whether or not they’ll accept self-published books in their submission guidelines. If they don’t, it’s a fair question to write to them about.

Do you think it's worth it to hire a "book tour" company (such as Artisan Books) to connect with bloggers who will review our books and mention them in their blogs?  Do you know of any marketing companies that you feel are worth doing a book tour with?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about book tour companies; the publishers I’ve worked with have had an in-house marketing team to handle review copies, author events, etc. In general, it’s worth it to promote your book however you can, and hiring a book marketing company can get you a boost in sales while taking some of the publicity pressure off of you. But I’m afraid I don’t know enough about them to say definitively whether or not they’re worth the expense or which ones you should approach. I’d suggest doing a lot of research and getting some testimonials from people who have used them before approaching a book tour company.

I write stories featuring Latino characters and southwestern culture, and often add Spanish for more authenticity. What tips do you have for finding an agent or publisher that is looking for this type of manuscript? Do I need to look for persons/companies based in West Coast/East Coast states where one might find a stronger connection to Latino cultures in the U.S.?

You’re in luck! Pretty much every children’s publisher and agent is on the lookout for a great book featuring diverse characters. But if you want to try and find an agent/publisher who specializes in books that feature Latino culture, look at the agents and publishers who have been behind any of the recent Pura Belpré award winners. That’s a great place to start.

I write old-fashioned (warm, fuzzy, not high tech) children's books. Is my style out of date, or is there a place for my style of writing?

I think the best way to figure out whether or not your writing style is appropriate for the current market is to study the current market. Make a list of every children’s book in your genre (picture books, middle grade, YA) that has been published in the last three years that has received an ALA award or a starred review. Go to the library, check out those books, and read them in their entirety. Pay attention to the writing style; ask yourself why it works, and then compare it to your own. If it’s pretty similar to your own writing, then great! If it’s not, you may want to spend some more time studying current trends and figuring out how to keep your voice authentic while also matching what’s getting published these days.

Are postcards the best way to advertise illustrations to publishers? If so, should they be addressed to editors or art directors?

I don’t know that there’s a “best” way, but postcards are certainly a way to get your art samples in front of publishers! Typically those are sent to the art directors, but if you can’t find one listed for the company and you’ve been searching the internet for hours, just send it to the editor. It’s also a good idea to show off your art on social media; I know art directors who have signed illustrators after finding their work on Instagram or Twitter.

Is 800 words too long for a picture book aimed at second–fourth graders?

It totally depends! Is it a picture book? Early reader? Fiction? Nonfiction? For a standard picture book aimed at ages 4-8, I’d say 800 words is pretty typical for nonfiction, a bit higher than average for fiction. But that doesn’t automatically mean it’s too long. When in doubt, head to the library. Find books that are similar to the one you’re writing and look at the word count, how they crafted the story, what they included and — more importantly — what they left out. Your manuscript certainly doesn’t have to match theirs on those points, but it’s helpful to see what’s been done and what’s been successful if your worried your manuscript won’t hit the target audience.

How much does a publishing company worry about an author’s age in terms of signing them?

When it comes to signing with an author, it’s the author’s platform that matters (plus the manuscript itself, of course) rather than his/her age. Publishers want authors who are tech-savvy, who have a presence on social media, who are willing to go out and hustle and do book signings, readings, conferences, etc. As long as you check those boxes, I wouldn’t think there’d be an issue — there are plenty of older writers out there who are slaying it!

I am submitting a manuscript to a publisher; their submission guidelines state that they want to know if it is a simultaneous submission.  They also state that their turnaround time is three months, fairly lengthy if I am hoping to get a story moving. I would at least like to submit to two houses at a time or stagger it with a month in between. Is this acceptable submission etiquette?

I hate to say it, but from my experience, three months is a pretty standard — even quick — turnaround time for an unagented manuscript. As you say, it’s a good chunk of time, which is why most publishers are perfectly fine with authors sending out simultaneous submissions; the ones that aren’t will explicitly say so in their submission guidelines. So cast your net as wide as you’d like (though keep in mind that your odds of getting published are much higher if you research each publisher ahead of time and know how your book would fit into their list). Just be sure to note in your query letter that it’s a simultaneous submission, and if one of the publishers does make you an offer, it’s polite to reach out to the others you submitted to, let them know you’ve received an offer, and give them a week or two to make a counteroffer if they wish to.

When evaluating a picture book manuscript that is driven by the illustrations/page turns, how would you prefer to see that manuscript presented? I am a writer and am NOT gifted in the art of illustration. Is a manuscript with illustration notes and page turns a turnoff? Is a dummy book with stick figures preferred?

This is one of those areas where different editors will have different preferences. Personally, I like it when writers separate the manuscript into page breaks; it shows me that they’ve thought about the length of their book, whether it fits into a signature, whether there’s enough illustration content on each spread, etc. That being said, I tend to view those page breaks as suggestions; it’s important that the illustrator has creative license to interpret and illustrate the text the way they choose. Very often, the page breaks that were in the original manuscript will change before the book goes to print.

On that same vein, a bunch of art notes from the author can inhibit the artist’s creativity. I’d say if there’s an illustration you have in your head that’s critical to the story, put an art note in the manuscript. Otherwise, it’s best not to dictate the illustration too much; after all, you want the artist to engage with the book as much as you do.

What’s the best way for an illustrator/author to present their picture books to an agent or editor that they are querying for representation or publication? I have heard from one source that one only has to to present the manuscript with a couple of completed illustrations, while another told me that one must submit a fully completed dummy. Is there one way that is preferred over another?

As the question notes, preferences are going to vary depending on the particular editor/art director/publishing house. I’d say the first step is to check the publisher’s submission guidelines; if they stipulate how they want a dummy presented, follow those instructions exactly. If they don’t provide guidelines, I’d actually suggest a combination of what your two sources recommended: I’d suggest putting together a full dummy and having at least two pages of it be completed illustrations. From a publisher’s perspective, unpublished illustrators are a lot riskier to sign than published illustrators, because when an illustrator has previous titles, you can look at those books and get a very clear idea of their art style and their level of expertise. If an illustrator’s unpublished, the only thing the editor has to go on is what’s being presented. So personally, I think it’s a good idea to show the idea sketched out in its entirety (the dummy), while also providing some samples of what the final art would look like.

Katherine Gibson is an editor for Zonderkidz, having previously worked for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 2013 and has spent the last five years editing and publishing award-winning children’s books, including Sibert Medal and Caldecott Honor book The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Plume, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

Ask the Editor is a new quarterly feature on the Mitten blog. Do you have a question about publishing? Email Mitten blog editor Kristin Lenz with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Interviews with the mentors for the 2019-2020 SCBWI-MI Picture Book Text Mentorship Competition and a recap of the SCBWI Winter Conference in NY from Shutta's Scholarship winner.