Friday, June 23, 2017

Behind the Scenes with SCBWI-MI Co-Regional Advisors, Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson

Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson share the Regional Advisor (RA) job for the Michigan Chapter of SCBWI. They devote countless hours of work on our behalf, creating and coordinating opportunities for writers and illustrators around the state with the support of AdCom (Advisory Committee). Some of us have known them for years, but newer members may have yet to meet them in person. Here's an introduction and a glimpse behind the scenes. Take it away, Leslie and Carrie!

LESLIE: When Carrie and I teamed up four years ago, one of our goals was to focus on building a strong community in our region. Since writing and illustrating are solitary endeavors much of the time, having a support network is invaluable -- and fun! To that end, we set up free regional meet ups for members known as Shop Talks that have been running for the last few years. At this point, we have four regular Shop Talks around the state -- Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Farmington Hills. 

CARRIE: Yes, there's no doubt our Community (with a capital "C") keeps us all moving forward during the times when we wonder if we should have become racehorse jockeys instead of professional creators. Since I live in Marquette and can't physically attend Shop Talks, book launches, and other fun social events downstate, I understand how it feels to be on the periphery. So I've been excited to build our networks. We hope our social connections on Facebook, Twitter, and the Michkids listserv keep us informed and engaged and that the Mitten blog and the SCBWI-MI website act as home-base for our region. All of these pieces connect us between events and strengthen our bonds as friends, comrades, and members. And isn't it the just the best to have many ways to toot horns when there's happy news?  

LESLIE: It takes a lot of volunteer hours to keep our region vibrant and growing.  And of course, Carrie and I both need time to work on our own projects. Thankfully, we get lots of help. Our  Advisory Committee (AdCom) is a huge source of talent and support, and volunteers across the state help in many ways. There are always more offers of help than we can accommodate but we appreciate each one— from stacking chairs at events to writing a blog post. Carrie, do you have a strategy for balancing your SCBWI work and your own creative work, not to mention family and business?

CARRIE: Strategy and practice are sometimes different beasts, right? My strategy is not very technologically advanced...I’ve blogged about it’s an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper divided into 6 blocks. I handwrite a title for each block (SCBWI, Freelance, Home, My Books—they get two blocks—Volunteering) and then make bullet points and a deadline for each to-do item. It is so satisfying to cross them off! When a block is done, or there’s no more room, I start a new sheet. Soon, I’ll have a new dedicated block called “Children’s Book Connections” which is my new consulting business to help writers position their work for an agent and/or editor and to help them find the right agent and editorial match. I hope to launch by the end of the summer.

So that’s the strategy. In practice, the deadlines get pushed back, unexpected to-dos are intervenes. What about you, Leslie? How do you manage the various pieces of your to-do list?

LESLIE: Here’s what my schedule is like when I am at home. 1. Creative work for a couple of hours. 2. Go to the gym. 3. Answer emails and follow up on SCBWI business and personal business.

Do you believe me? Well, I do follow that expectation some days but I often find myself answering emails first. I tell myself I’ll just peek to see if there is exciting news there. (It’s possible!) But if I’m not careful, the mail sucks me in. I am always proud of myself when I resist that temptation and work on creative stuff first.

If I am illustrating a project, that means a hard deadline which makes me jump into creative work and stay there most of the day.

My own business of critiquing picture book manuscripts (info at my websiteis something I tend to do in the evening. I try to answer critique requests within a week of receiving them.

I keep an ever-present long messy list of things I don’t want to forget to do. And that includes calls to Carrie—we talk a few times a week especially if a conference is brewing.

Once a week I think about marketing. Notice I said THINK. I ask myself, do I need to work on my website, guest blog post, or plan an owl visit with the local nature center? Usually the answer is yes, so I make myself do at least one of those things. Sometimes it is just to make myself post on Twitter. My favorite way to market is to watch what my SCBWI friends do for their books. And copy. Speaking of which...Carrie, your newest book will be released in 2018 and knowing you, you are already making plans to market that book. Can you let us know any of your plans or strategies?

CARRIE: As we often see in our industry, production on my new book (about the world’s tallest tree) has been slower than anticipated so the release date will be pushed back. Hopefully it will be in 2018 because that year lines up with a big marketing advantage but there’s a good chance that won’t happen. The silver lining for this new schedule isn’t showing up yet but I believe it will! When I have a date, I’ll work backward with my own marketing plans (blog posts, guest blog posts, video of the making of the book, school visits, and hopefully a launch at Redwood National Park). I’ll tie my efforts in with those of my publisher and connect them to bigger happenings like Earth Day, Arbor Day, Love a Tree Day, etc. Since we just had a stellar Marketing Boot Camp (that sadly, I could not attend), can you share one new marketing tip you will apply, Leslie?

LESLIE: I have a few.
From Kirstin Cappy: Create an interactive activity for your book. I have a teacher guide for my book already but Kirstin inspired me to make a game for teachers and librarians that can be promoted easily. I’ve come up with a great game to play with my newest book, Hoot and Honk. It involves hiding eggs with facts about owls and geese inside them. Kids have to guess which facts are about geese and which ones are about owls. What fun!

From Sally Langley at Okemos Public Montessori: Post a video clip of yourself on your website. I want librarians and educators to see that I can connect to kids and put on a good strong program when visiting schools. I’m working on a clip that I’m creating with the program Animoto.

Being part of SCBWI is my most important marketing tip. I am always getting advice from other members and learning from their experiences. It is such an amazing supportive network. And I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have stuck around this long without it.

CARRIE: I second that! Cheers to our creative community!

Carrie Pearson lives on the shore of Lake Superior in Marquette. She has been an SCBWI member since 2005 when she decided she'd better learn more about writing for children if she was going to spend so much time doing it. Carrie is the PAL author of three science/nature picture books, has won the SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship Award, and received an SCBWI Works of Outstanding Promise research grant. She loves helping people in the children's book community learn about the business and improve their craft. Visit Carrie's website and connect on Twitter at @carrieapearson. Plus, here's a sneak peak at her new consulting business website which will launch later this summer: Children's Book Connections.

With a degree in illustration and advertising, Leslie joined SCBWI in 1998 with a plan to illustrate books, not write them. Now, after writing ten picture books, including Big Chickens (the Michigan Reads Picture Book for 2007, Great Lakes Great Books Award) and Woolbur (a Book Sense pick, and nominee for state book awards in 11 states) she has illustrated her most recent four. Fair Cow, Doggone Feet!, Big Pigs, and Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep. Her books are filled with word play, fun language, and humor. Learn more at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success. Do you have an upcoming book release? Did you sign with an agent? Did you publish a children's story or poem in a magazine? Did you win a contest? We want to know! Please send your good news to Kristin Lenz by June 26th to be included.
* June 26th is also the submission deadline for the SCBWI-MI Illustrator Mentorship with Kirbi Fagan. Learn more here.

* June 26th is also my birthday! Make my day by submitting an idea for a blog post! The Mitten blog is always looking for contributors. See our Submissions page for suggestions and guidelines.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Thank you, Leslie and Carrie for all the work you do for our chapter. And also, thank you for caring so deeply about us. Your time management tips are fantastic.

    1. Thanks, Ann. Wrangling time is an ongoing goal!

  2. Thank you for all that you do for SCBWI-MI! :-)

    1. You're welcome, Dana! Thanks for being an important part of the community.

  3. Thanks for all your hard work, Leslie and Carrie. I love the shop talk meetings and all the other changes, especially this year with the manuscript queries and other ways to connect with agents.

  4. You're welcome, Natalie. You are helping so much, too, with your website, Literary Rambles! I refer people there all the time. It's a great place to start researching agents.

  5. Thanks, Mitten peeps, for the interview. It was fun! And as an aside, Leslie is a great co!

  6. Ditto to Carrie. And we are so buoyed by our members--what an amazing region we have.