Friday, May 26, 2017

Marketing Boot Camp Musings by Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins

The SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp was a chockfull day of presentations at the MSU Innovation Center last month. Today, we have not just one, but two conference recaps. Read on for reflections from Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins.

The People You Meet 
by Charlie Barshaw

There are five of us winding our way through throngs of student Spartans on the Friday night before finals week in East Lansing.

While the students are looking for release, we’re looking for the MSU Innovation Center, where the Marketing Boot Camp takes place the next day. We find the third floor room, and a night janitor lets us in to scope it out.

And it occurs to me, for not the first time, how fortunate I am to be part of the great community that is SCBWI. This group previewing the room is a microcosm of my new life.

I met Ruth Marie McNally at the Student Book Store, just a block down Grand River, when she came to pick up her roommate on a Friday night just like this. She drew pictures on napkins, we found we had big families and the same birthday, and so love began.

Thirty years later, Ruth had just sold her first book and I had lost my job. For her birthday, I wrote her a rhyming picture book. She kindly suggested I join SCBWI, and so learning began.

Ruth had a good friend in a critique group, Leslie Helakoski. Leslie had written some successful picture books, but she wanted to illustrate them, too. (And she succeeded: Leslie also rose to the position of Regional Advisor in SCBWI-MI, and allowed me to try out for a part in the Advisory Committee.

And so helping to plan conferences began.

Debbie Gonzalez, a Regional Advisor in Texas, relocated to Michigan. The Lone Star State’s loss was the Mitten State’s big gain, and Debbie has been the webmistress extraordinaire, making great things happen seemingly like magic on the SCBWI-MI website  and Facebook Page.

I’m not sure when or where I first met Debbie, though we’ve shared adventures in Detroit, Dexter, and Boyne Highlands. She hosted a before-conference party at her home in honor of illustrator E.B. Lewis, and the conversation spun deep into the wee hours.

And so shared experiences and friendship began.

And Ed Spicer, a recently-retired first grade teacher in Allegan, is a story onto himself. (In fact, here it is.) Again, the first meeting is lost to the fog of memory, but a rousing night at a Mackinac Island saloon with Ed, Matt Faulkner and Kris Remenar is unforgettable.

Ruth and I have become fast friends with Ed. He’s employed our daughter Emily as a party hostess and introduced us to some of his other friends: Candy Fleming and Eric Rohmann, Helen Frost, Rick Lieder, Nikki Grimes, Gary Schmidt (to name just a few).

And so began a different life than when I was a retail middle-manager. These five people, each talented, creative and passionate about children’s literature, have touched my life and made it rich beyond imagination. I’ve shared their struggles and their triumphs, and they’ve shared mine.

I know each of them because of SCBWI, and the dozens, many dozens of kidlit contemporaries. And while I picked up valuable marketing tips the next day, the greatest value of attending conferences is always in the people I meet.

As an added bit of connectivity, a young man stopped by a regional SCBWI-MI meeting when it was still called a “Monthly Meet-Up.” His name was Nick Adkins, and on Saturday, April 29, he and his wife Ashley were prime movers in making the Marketing Boot Camp a reality.

Charlie Barshaw is the lucky guy who has three more chapters to go to finish the first draft of his YA novel. He has a new idea for a gang of ghost-children YA and has more cool friends than he can count. Life is good.

The Competition That Is Not 
by Ashley Adkins

I’m a business person. My husband, Nick, is a creative soul. It’s true, opposites attract. Five years ago Nick self-published his first picture book and we began promoting it on our own. For me, marketing comes easy. It’s even easier when you’re trying to sell your husband’s work – good work you truly believe in. However, when resources are limited, selling is challenging.

Around this same time we met Loren Long at Schuler Books in Okemos. We were lucky enough to chat with Loren and he advised Nick to join SCBWI. Nick joined that day and I later followed. The first SCBWI event I attended was Homegrown Talent in Dexter. It was amazing. The first thing I observed, and something that still remains true with every SCBWI interaction, is that everyone is supportive. This is unusual in my field. Business people tend to size up the competition and craft a plan on how to out sell them. But SCBWI friends truly want one another to succeed and sell books. We are all on the same team!

With that being said, I knew that even though I am not a writer or illustrator, I could contribute to this group. After all, when you’ve finished with the writing or illustrating, you still have to promote and sell yourself.

After coming across a marketing event SCBWI Texas was hosting, I proposed the idea of doing something similar here in Michigan. Our co-regional advisors Carrie and Leslie let me run with the Marketing Boot Camp idea (thank you!). Thankfully, we were able to bring a variety of professionals to our event, each with expertise in different areas of marketing.

Bob Hoffman, Public Relations Manager at the Wharton Center and Debbie Mikula, Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing began our conference with an introduction to marketing. 

Kristin Bartley Lenz, Alison DeCamp, and Lisa Rose shared their out-of-the-box experiences and how these experiences helped drive their success. 

Emily Galer from Schuler Books shared with us the bookstore’s perspective of marketing, giving insight into how to work with independent bookstores. 

Ruth McNally Barshaw, Sally Langley, Ed Spicer, Bryan Chick, Buffy Silverman, and Leslie Helakoski provided an upbeat discussion of successful and not-so-successful school visits. 

Kirsten Cappy, Curious City book consulting
Kirsten Cappy joined via Skype and gave us distinctive ideas on how to build our own community of advocates. 

Maria Dismondy concluded our day with an information packed discussion about successfully building a marketing platform. 

I cannot thank all of our speakers enough! They were all fabulous and I greatly appreciate their willingness to share. Furthermore, I cannot thank all of our attendees enough! They brought open minds and an enthusiasm to learn.

Several things I took away from the event: 
  • Be the “Purple Cow.”
  • Get creative with marketing! It’s okay to do something that hasn’t been done before.
  • Reach out to independent bookstores and build relationships with them. 
  • Provide videos and photos of yourself doing school visits on your website. 
  • Discovery happens when you give advocates tools to engage readers. 
  • There are lots of awesome marketing podcasts – listen! SCBWI is a warm, supportive group. 
  • I met new SCBWI friends who are part of this community and who I can’t wait to see again.  

Ashley Adkins is an event planner and children's literature advocate. In 2012, she completed her MBA and co-founded Two Monster Books as a platform to promote childhood reading. Ashley enjoys reading bedtime stories with her two boys, Logan and Eli, and traveling and exploring new locations with her husband, Nick.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Writer’s Toolbox by Jacquie Sewell

When is a treasure chest not a treasure chest? When it’s a toolbox - a writer’s toolbox, filled with ideas from my fellow Michkidders to help inspire young writers in their writing journey. During March is Reading Month I was asked to speak to the students at Steele Elementary School in Mason, Michigan. Because I’m a fledgling author, whose book is still at the publisher, (look for MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT this fall!) I chose to focus on the Joy of Story for my presentation. Together the children and I celebrated the joy and power of story through participatory storytelling.

The older students also got a glimpse into my treasure chest (a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox). It was filled with items representing some of the tools writers and illustrators use to discover, create, and refine their stories. Many thanks to my colleagues (who shall be named at the close of this article) for sharing their great ideas. It gave me so much more street ‘cred to be able to say “Several of my writer friends . . .”

In a blind draw, students chose an item from the chest and shared their idea of what tool it represented. That led to interesting discussions on each of the tools in the chest. For those who are curious, here’s a peek into my Writer’s Toolbox:

  • The colorful cards with words represent the brainstorming tool of “What If”. I had the children call out 4 nouns and 4 verbs which I wrote on cards. Then we randomly paired nouns and verbs to jumpstart ideas for stories. What if a Dragon played tag with an author?
  • The squishy brain represents our imagination. Need I say more?
  • The eyeball represents being observant: watching people; studying nature; reading books. Observing people helps make our writing more realistic, our dialog more natural. Ideas come from all around us, sometimes from another author who mentions, in passing, a cat who rescued a firefighter. . .  A good writer is always on the lookout.
  • The heart-shaped tin filled with words represents. . .  Words! Have fun with words! Learn a new word each week. Find a fun-to-say word and use it as often as you can. Would you like a pamplemouse with your breakfast, mon petite pamplemousse? Play with words.
  • The pen and notepad sparked a lot of ideas from the kids. Writers could use them to write their story; to record their research. . .  And, as several of my writer friends said, “To capture those elusive ideas that strike when you least expect them (while jogging, drifting off to sleep, waiting in traffic).”
  • The crumpled piece of paper represents revision - Not that you should ever throw away your early versions. You never know what nuggets you might mine from them later. But, (as I explained to the kids) do you think The Sorcerer’s Stone you’re reading is the same as the first version J.K. Rowling wrote? Good authors seek input on their work and then they work to make it even better. Revise, revise and then revise again.
  • Magnetic Man represents movement. Several of my writer/illustrator friends told me they get their best ideas when they are jogging or using the treadmill or biking. Physical activity gets blood flowing to the brain which brings oxygen to the brain. Brains on oxygen think deeper thoughts. Brains on oxygen think more creative thoughts. So oxygenate your brain!
  • I also had a thesaurus in my toolbox and most of the kids knew what is was and how to use it!
I was nervous about speaking to such a large group of children but they were great and it was fun! I think they enjoyed it and hopefully came away encouraged to use their writer’s tools and find joy in creating their own stories.

And now my heartfelt thanks to Ann Finkelstein, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Nancy Frederixon, Nick Adkins, Lori McElrath Eslick, Sandy Carlson, Mary Zychowicz, Kevin Kammeraad, Isabel O’Hagin, Kristin Lenz, Elizabeth McBride, Elizabeth Westra, and Shirley Neitzel for sharing their favorite tools with me.

Keep your tools sharp and write on!

Jacquie Sewell's passion is connecting kids with the amazing world we live in. As a children's librarian she was privileged to do this by introducing children to good books. Her goal as an author is to create books that kids will love to read and that will get them excited to learn more about nature, science, and the arts. Her debut picture book, MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT, is coming out this fall.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, May 12, 2017

Introducing Kirbi Fagan, the SCBWI-MI 2017-2018 Illustrator Mentor

SCBWI-MI’s 2017-2018 Mentorship is for illustrators, and the submission window is fast-approaching. The grand prize is a one-year mentorship with acclaimed illustrator, Kirbi Fagan.

Kirbi is a Metro Detroit based illustrator who specializes in creating art for book covers and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magical themes, nostalgic mood, and feminine heroines. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design and currently teaches at College for Creative Studies in Downtown Detroit. Kirbi's work has been acknowledged by organizations such as Spectrum, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and New York, ImagineFX and the International Writers & Illustrators of the Future. Recent clients include, Orbit Books, Marvel, Stone Arch Book, and Dark Horse Comics.

SCBWI-MI is so excited to offer this opportunity, and Mentorship Coordinator Ann Finkelstein is here with an introduction and interview. Read on to learn more about Kirbi and what to expect during her mentorship.

Ann: What do you like best about illustrating?

Kirbi: I love being a problem solver! Each project puts me in a box, an art director needs this and that with the look of this and the feel of that! I love the challenge of making these needs come together in a beautiful way.

How do you know when an illustration is both good and done?

That's a hard question that is asked often. The romance of "spontaneous" art making is not in my vocabulary. Illustration is planned, calculated and created for a specific client's needs. The truth is, I'm an artist that enjoys the process of making art not necessary for the joy of the final product. My "favorite" piece of art is always the one that I'm currently working on.

You can labor on something forever, eventually it must be abandoned to serve the client and for the artist to move on and grow. I had a professor once, Jon Mcdonald who said "you'll learn more from finishing it then starting over," and I tell my students that now.

What is a typical illustrating day like for you?

My studio-mates in college always knew I was already there in the morning by the empty diet cherry Pepsi can in the recycling bin at the door. Not much has changed, I like to paint in the early mornings when my brain in fresh and everything is quiet. With so much sitting I often hit the gym for class or two before noon. Then on to more drawing. The late afternoons I can't seem to focus on anything so I often walk the dog and answer email. On to another burst of whatever I'm working on and usually my husband, my 5 o'clock hero comes home just in time to catch me napping. Hey, creating is exhausting work. My husband is an engineer by day and musician by night, his studio is in the room next to mine so we often tinker away in the evenings.

How much of an illustration is art? How much is craft? How much is creativity?

To me, illustration is simply image making for commercial purposes. Some types of illustration is certainly more creative and artful than others. Call me crass but being able to "draw or paint well" is the most basic requirement of working in this industry. It's the illustrator who can match unique original ideas with masterful painting techniques who will find the most success.

Where do you search for inspiration for your art?

Just simple moments of life. Riding in the car seems to always bring on ideas. A walk in the woods with my dogs. Good YA fiction. A solid nap. The hard part about being an illustrator is that not everything you are paid to illustrate is something that you like. The challenge is finding a way to connect to it anyways. I keep a working list of things that I like visually, things that ignite narratives in my head. When I'm faced with a story that doesn't inspire me, I go to this list and see what I can incorporate to make it me.

What will the mentor expect of the mentee?

I wasn't able to really grow in my art until I was able to look at my art critically with the willingness to try anything and everything to make the piece work. A nothing is precious mentality is not easy but the results are worth the fight. As creatives we can feel "panic-y" about where we would LIKE to be in our work, I challenge them to be where they are and put in the time they need to jump to their next level.

Thank you, Ann and Kirbi! Illustrators, get ready to submit your best work, and go here for the complete mentorship application instructions. The submission window will be open June 5th-26th.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: a School Visit Toolbox, take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, May 5, 2017

Writer Spotlight! Meet Janice Broyles

Today we’re shining the Writer Spotlight on Michigan author Janice Broyles. Janice was born in Royal Oak, raised in Madison Heights and spent her childhood and teen years in the downstate area. Janice married and received her bachelor’s degree and was then offered a teaching position in Gaylord. She was surprised by the snowy, cold winters compared to the southeastern part of the Mitten! After 13 years in Gaylord, Janice got hired by Baker College in Cadillac, so she and her husband decided to make the move, and they’ve been in Cadillac ever since. Janice dreams of moving south someday (trust me Janice, it’s way too hot down there:), because she hasn’t learned to like winter yet. But she still thinks Michigan is beautiful- April through November! So happy to have you here today Janice. Now let’s get started on your writer story. . . 

Mitten: When did you start writing for children or otherwise, and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?

Janice: Interestingly enough, I started writing a middle grade book when I was teaching at Gaylord Middle School. I couldn’t get the boys to read, and I realized there weren’t a lot of “boy” books. That started me on my writing journey. It wasn’t long before writing became a necessity. When I transferred up to the high school, I started writing young adult novels. It is my passion. My first novel to be published is coming out next year. It’s titled, The Secret Heir, and is an upper YA/New Adult depiction of the story of David. Writing Biblical fiction was a daunting task because I wanted it to stay true to Scripture. I studied and researched that time period, and completely fell in love with the characters. I am so excited that The Secret Heir will be my first published novel.

One more thing, last year I had an inspirational nonfiction book published, and that is a whole other story! That book, called No Longer Rejected, started as my testimony to how I overcame the rejection in my life. I never expected it to be picked up as fast as it was.

So, I guess I’m trying to say, that I love writing: be it fiction or nonfiction.

Mitten: How did you find out about SCBWI and how long have you been a member?

Janice: I joined SCBWI in 2005, and I discovered it from Writer’s Digest magazine. I had finished that middle-grade novel, and I wanted to learn the tricks of the trade. WD had some article about children’s books and mentioned it. That was it. I paid my dues and went to my first SCBWI-Michigan conference. I was hooked.

Mitten: What genres are you most interested in and why? Picture books, middle grade, YA, chapter books, poetry, nonfiction?

Janice: I write everything, but I love young adult fiction and new adult fiction. I even read it more than anything else (maybe I’m young at heart). With that said, I love middle-grade fiction, and I could see myself writing nonfiction. Hey, I’m eclectic! J

Mitten: Tell us about your publishing journey. Are you pre-published or published, and if so where?

Janice: I could write a book on my publishing journey (lol). I wrote a little about it in another section, but I will say this: I’ve always been a writer. I didn’t take it seriously until 2004/2005. From there, I have had three literary agents, have written a total of SEVEN middle grade or young adult fiction novels, and stopped counting rejections when I hit 200 (it was depressing).  Then last year, I pitched a nonfiction idea about overcoming rejection to a Christian publishing editor, and that was it. No Longer Rejected came out a year later.

This past January, my agent and I pitched The Secret Heir to Heritage Beacon Press (of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), and I signed a contract for my first novel to be published. Am I making tons of money? Nope. But my books are becoming available to readers, and that makes me SO happy!

Mitten: Many of us have a job other than writing for children. Tell us something about what you do outside of writing.

Janice: I teach English and Communications at Baker College.

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Janice: I am surrounded by reading and writing and editing. Yes, I am surrounded by words, words, and more words. And I love it!

Mitten: Where do you get most of your writing ideas? Do you write them down, keep them in a computer file or just store them in your memory?

Janice: Everyday life. Everywhere. An idea usually hits me out of the blue. Then I will hurry and type out some brief thoughts and usually a tentative page or two (to find the voice for the piece).

Mitten: We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name two of yours and why you like them.

Janice: Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Her voice in that book is flawless. Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Her gift for words and the lyrical quality to them is delightful. I also have mad respect for classic authors: Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, and John Steinbeck for very different reasons. Austen’s characterization of her heroines is a perfect concoction for the female reader. Poe’s use of language and mood is second to none. And Steinbeck’s symbolism, theme, and dialogue, like in Of Mice and Men, are excellent.

Mitten: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer for children? Why?

Janice: Don’t talk down to the reader. Write, read, write, repeat. Never give up. It’s a tough business, but if you truly are a writer, you’re going to write. And that applies to any genre or age group.

Thanks so much for stopping by Janice, and congratulations on your new books! No matter how cold it gets, we’re glad you’re part of our Mitten family. You can learn more about Janice at

And remember to watch your email. You never know when the Writer Spotlight will shine on you! 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Featured Illustrator Cathy Gendron


This questionnaire goes back to a popular parlor game in the early 1900s. Marcel Proust filled it out twice. Some of our questions were altered from the original to gain more insight into the hearts and minds of our illustrators. We hope you enjoy this way of getting to know everybody.

 Your present state of mind?

Excited, stressed, hopeful, stressed, happy, stressed.

 What do you do best?

Procrastinate. And because of that, I’m almost always at least 10 minutes late. I’m also a reasonable cook, and pretty competent at drawing and painting.

Where would you like to live?

East coast, north of Baltimore if there were a few more people there. New Hampshire, near the coast if there were less people there.

Your favorite color?

Periwinkle. It was my favorite Crayola color and I still love it. To see it at its best, it needs to live next to dark umber or deep green.

Three of your own illustrations: 

Your music?

Almost everything, but I’m most partial to twangy singer-songwriters.

Your biggest achievement?

Work-wise, I hope it’s yet to come. Personally, being a competent mother. I know it’s not exactly an achievement but at one point, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen.

Your biggest mistake?

Not working harder at my craft when I was younger.

Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

I remember Mike Mulligan and the Steams Shovel fondly, and Charlotte’s Web, Curious George and Dr. Seuss. But I’m the oldest in my family. All my early books were handed down to my four younger siblings, and I don’t think any of them survived our childhood. When I was older, I devoured Nancy Drew and anything about horses.

Your main character trait?

Wow, what a question! The good: tenacity. The bad: procrastination (see above).

What do you appreciate most in a friend?


What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Those made in spite of good intentions.

Your favorite children's book hero?

Nancy Drew (see above).

What moves you forward?

I just want to paint.

What holds you back?

There are not enough hours in the day. And of course, the risk of failure and humiliation.

Your dream of happiness?

A perfect day in my studio, window open, sharpened pencils, a good idea, and my favorite music playing.

The painter/illustrator you admire most?

It changes every week. Right now I’m really admiring Lizbeth Zwerger and Julia Sarda, and watercolorist, Keiko Tanabe. All time favorites include, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Max Beckman.

What super power would you like to have?

The skills to move up to USTA 3.5 level tennis. That, and speed-reading.

Your motto?

Do people really have mottos?

Your social media?

I’m really neglectful when it comes to social media and a big part of me prefers it that way. If I had to pick one right now, it would be Instagram.
instagram @cathygendron

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