Friday, December 9, 2022

Goodbye to “Hello!” by Isabel Estrada O'Hagin


Our heart-warming It Starts with Hello series began in January 2022 to celebrate community and reaffirm the importance of how we foster relationships within SCBWI-Michigan. Before I sign off with a final good-bye to our Hello stories, I want to thank everyone who shared their personal stories of support this past year. Special kudos to the friendly souls who were acknowledged in these posts. May the thought that you made a difference add some sparkle to your halo.

Perhaps these stories reminded you of the person who made you feel seen when you needed a friendly smile. Like many of you, my list of names would be quite long. Here’s one story I’d like to share. . .

I joined SCBWI after attending an author’s panel held at the Haslett Public Library—listening to that group made me want to become a published author, too. Soon after, I learned about the Midwest Conference being held in Fort Wayne, IN. Yay, my first SCBWI conference! Unfortunately, everyone I’d just met in the Lansing Meet-up group who planned to attend already had their roommate situation set. Ann Finkelstein suggested I post a request on the listserv, and—lo and behold—someone responded! That’s when I met Angie Verges and Cheryl Adams—the three of us roomed together at the 2013 Midwest Conference (side note: We brought so many munchies for late-night snacking, we could’ve opened our own concession stand; - ). As I was still a newbie to SCBWI, Angie shared her knowledge of the who’s who in SCBWI and introduced me to her circle of friends. She took the time to share information about the wide world of children’s lit and her own journey. Angie and I became friends, roomed together at two other conferences, and stayed in touch. We also served on the first Equity & Inclusion team for our region.

Thank you, Angie, for your kindness and support all these years!

Back then I had no idea Angie—so considerate, polite, and kind—was a budding comedian! Need a good laugh? Catch her on Instagram: writermama223

It’s true—our Michigan chapter is a friendly group! It’s also true that walking into a room where you don’t know anyone can be intimidating. As someone expressed to me: “You look to see if anyone else in the room looks like you. You scan the room and hope you’ll be accepted. You want to feel safe.” Let’s continue our good work, Michigan!

This year we welcomed several new members to our Michigan chapter. Do you know the new members in your local community? As Co-Coordinators for our Kalamazoo Area Shop Talks (K.A.S.T.—where everyone’s a star!), Melanie Bryce and I make an effort to reach out to the newbies and make sure they know when we’re meeting.

As we slowly transition to in-person events this coming year, let’s welcome our newest members (from 2020-2022) and continue to support those already in the fold. It starts with “hello!”


Isabel Estrada O’Hagin

SCBWI-Michigan Outreach Coordinator

Friday, December 2, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Shanti Thirumalai


Almost-real elephants, Indian mythology, words and magic, and rain after a drought: Shanti Thirumalai shares her writing journey

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet artist, reader and writer Shanti Thiumalai.

What do you remember about your childhood?
Young Shanti and her father

I grew up in a home full of books in India, with a herd of elephants that were almost real. My father was a writer, mainly of short stories and a journalist, and the sound of his typewriter meant that we had to be quiet. 

Many of his friends were writers, artists, photographers, journalists and poets, writing in Indian languages and in English, and I assumed that all dads were writers. Every night he told us in Tamil a freshly invented bedtime story. I can’t remember his stories because he never repeated them, but his elephants never stopped dancing in my heart. 

Storytelling seemed to be a big part of your upbringing.

My grandfather would tell the six or eight grandchildren gathered at his bedside, stories from Indian mythology, from Lamb’s tales, from Shakespeare, and fairy tales from Grimm and Anderson.  Fortunately, he would repeat them on request. I thought all grandparents were story-tellers.

I listened more than I read, even after I could read, and I loved being read to, which created in my mind an unshakeable association between reading and warmth, books and safety, words and magic.

When did you know you were a writer?

I declared at age six that I was a writer. Wasn’t everyone a writer? My first story at that time was published in my school magazine.  It wasn’t a big deal somehow. I wrote off and on for school and college magazines, and served on editorial boards. 

A short humorous piece I wrote at age 14 was published in the Times of India and I thought I had it made. Every rejection I’ve received since has made it abundantly clear that I had been severely deluded. 

I am still trying to write good sentences while improving pacing and conflict.  The literary fiction I read helps my first goal and hurts the second.  The worlds I create are much too gentle and peaceful for this time and this remains a struggle for me.

What is life like at present?

I now live, in Ann Arbor, in a house full of books. I read literary fiction for choice but I make it a point to read children’s books in all categories, picture books, middle-grade and young adult.  You could say I am always double –booked.

What's next for you?

My middle grade novel, The Elephant’s Child, is still looking for an agent and a publisher to welcome it home. In the meanwhile I read and write and keep the faith.  I make sure to walk, and I paint, draw, sew, knit and play guitar as I keep the well that feeds the writing from running dry. 

Sketches by Shanti

 I don’t write every day. I don’t force myself to write and I don’t punish myself for not writing. I remind myself, as Hemingway did, that I have written before and I will write again. That is not easy to trust though and I try not to get frantic when I’m not writing. 

When, at last, the words do come, it feels like rain after drought and I am at my happiest.


Friday, November 18, 2022

No More Journals! (Better Gifts for Writers) by Shutta Crum


Don’t get me wrong. Journals are lovely, and I have a drawer-full. But there are other, and often better, ideas for gift giving to a writer. If you have a writer stowed away in a closet, dank basement, cramped garret (No lie! Oxford Languages Dict. defines garret as: a top-floor or attic room, especially a small dismal one traditionally inhabited by an artist), or other suitably tight, dank place please consider some of the following ideas for this holiday season.


1.  Memberships & Conferences:  Writers pay a lot of money to belong to groups that support their blood-letting work. These groups host conferences and bring in editors and agents for your writer to meet. Writers need to network—if for no other reason than to kvetch over how tiny our workspaces are. Some suggestions:  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Of course!), The Romance Writers of America, The Science Fiction Writers and Fantasy Writers of America. The list goes on. Take a tremulous journey up to that garret while your writer is passed out from agony and peek at what s/he/they is writing. Then go find a suitable organization to bolster your writer. Create a gift coupon and fund a conference given by that writing organization. Writers need to get out and about! They need vitamin sunshine.

2. Books:  Always, books! Writers not only write books, but they are also voracious readers. Classics in the area they write in are a good bet (but check bookcases first to make sure they don’t already have a particular title). Also, craft books and books of writing inspiration for that 3am slog when your writer is wandering through the kitchen finally having decided that the body needs nourishing. Get your writer something to read while s/he/they has a little nosh. Some recommended titles include: The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser, Story by Robert McKee, The Heroine With a 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar, Picture This by Molly Bang or Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.


3. Tools of the trade:  Does your writer need new technology? A new laptop? A new printer? Small portable projector for presentations? A sound system? Or, perhaps, with all the Zooming we are doing lately, a better computer camera and ring light? Be a spy. Check out how your writer writes, or does group talks and school visits. Is she still using ocher to write on the walls of the basement? For goodness’ sake, get her updated! Here’s a handy little mobile scanner. I bought one and love it. Or maybe, a nice-sized paper shredder? (NOT to cast any aspersions upon those many drafts, mind you!) And this seems to be a thing—for any writer still wandering in the dark ages before computerization: a typewriter keyboard to use with a tablet. Connect with USB or Bluetooth. It even does nifty things like dropping down a line when the carriage returns. Such nineteenth-century magic!


4. Software:  There are some great programs and online subscriptions that ease the burden for your bleary-eyed writer. Here are a few that many writers feel are necessities: Living Writer (at the top of the best writer apps list for a couple of years), Scrivener, Final Draft, (for writers of screenplays), Storyist (for Mac users). Also, there’s Prezi, a presentation software. And Duotrope, a publisher database and submission manager. In addition, consider video-making software for creating trailers.


5. Subscriptions: This should be thought of in conjunction with books. Are there craft or industry journals you know your writer would love? Or can you continue a subscription? Again, check out the writing closet/garret/basement. Snoop around and see what kinds of magazines your writer is reading. And take a quick peek in the loo. If your writer is using magazine pages in place of TP—I’d recommend not resubscribing to that particular publication. (Unless, of course, you want to save the good stuff for the rest of the family.) Here are some to consider: Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, and Poets & Writers.


6.  Book-selling items: If your writer has books out in the world and attends book fairs and festivals, why not provide a box of handy items to help with selling? Easels, sign holders, book holders, markers, card display items, a credit card slide like Square and a handy-dandy cart to tote everything around in. Here’s one like mine, that I love!  Because it’s made for carrying tools, it’s extra sturdy, big wheels, and a taller handle. Also, do throw in a bottle of water and a sandwich—just in case your writer is too weak to stand and talk to hundreds of folks in one day. (And it wouldn’t hurt to include a comb, or some decent clothes.)


7. Fun stuff:  What about getting items personally made that reflects your writer’s book(s), or interests? A coffee cup with the cover design of her/his/their book on it? A necklace or earrings with something pertinent to the book. Just search on “personalized gifts” at the Etsy site. Or what about a personalized face mask, blankie, pillow? (Surely your writer needs a pillow for when s/he/they collapses?) You can get that done here at Printerpix.  And while your writer is passed out on the floor s/he/they might want to glance up and take a gander at a couple of cool charts available from, such as literary insults or proper English usage. (After all s/he/they might could wake from a delirium mumbling about double modal verbs. You wouldn’t want that!)


8. Writer T-shirts. (This is assuming your writer occasionally comes out of the writing lair to change into something clean.) is a fun place to find some. And there are more at Out of Print (including some pretty nice writer/nerd mugs). Or have a t-shirt personalized. I especially like CafĂ© Press’s create your own page where you can put a message to your writer on a T-shirt (and other things) like: Remember to put your pants on today.


9. Wine and a massage/a new experience: Wine and massages are always in season for writers. But I highly recommend getting someone else to do the massage if your writer is just finishing up NaNoWriMo and hasn’t bathed in a month. On the other hand, you could gift your writer with a new experience related to what s/he/they are writing, like swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center. (Then you wouldn’t have to mention the dreaded word: bath.)


10. Time:  The best gift of all. Make up a couple of fun time to yourself coupons to be used at the writer’s discretion. A caveat: don’t give this gift if your writer tends to hide away for weeks at a time, anyway. Instead, give yourself a few we/I want you here coupons and pretend it was a gift from your writer to you. Be sure to squeal, “How thoughtful!” as you take them from your stocking. Your pre-occupied writer won’t remember whether s/he/they gifted them, or not.


11.  Space: I must add this last item. If your writer is hunched over in a closet, or is always banging her/his/their head on the roof rafters, consider creating a bigger space where papyrus can be spread out and your writer can really get down to work. Can you afford a redo/enlargement of a writing area? (I think I’ll circle this item and slip it onto the spacious desk in my husband’s HUGE office.)


Finally, if you must, get a journal from one of those dollar bins by the checkout aisle. You can always insert into it that magazine renewal card you’re paying for, a gift card for wine, or a receipt for some online technology. (Just avoid the journals with pink unicorns. No writer needs more than one of those in a lifetime. To my secret admirer: please, no more!)


Now, excuse me while I climb down from my garret to stretch. Ahh!!! Have a happy gift-giving season.




 Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels and many picture books, poems and magazine articles. THUNDER-BOOMER! was an ALA and a Smithsonian “Notable Book.” MINE! was reviewed by the N.Y. Times as “a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” Her books have made Bank Street College lists as well as state award lists. WHEN YOU GET HERE, a collection of poems for adults, won a gold medal from the Royal Palm Literary Awards, 2020 and 2021 (FL). For more information:




Friday, November 11, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Laura Luptowski Seeley

Horses, "Happy, snappy, juicy apple," MSU publications, and the "Cat Ambassador": Laura Luptowski Seeley

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet editor, writer and animal lover Laura Luptowski Seeley.

Tell us where your fascination with horses came from.

My love of horses began with riding the “real ponies” at the pony rings at the county fairs and festivals when I was probably around seven years old. My two sisters and I would beg my mom to let us ride “just one more time!” I specifically remember  falling in love with the ponies at our church festival one year. Once the carnival company pulled out that Sunday night, I missed those ponies so much that I actually prayed for them by name—Scout, Misty, Midnight, Ringo, and Rex—every night for the rest of the summer. It was the only way I could think of to remain “connected” with them.

Laura and Rango, 1967
From there, I advanced to riding at Bay View Stables in Bay City, Mich., the town where I grew up. In the summer of 1967, my mom took us out to ride nearly every Sunday evening during the summer months; I rode a big bay named Rango.

A couple of years later, my parents bought us a horse—a big red chestnut named Fox. When I was about 11 years old, I got my very own horse—Peppy; he was a beautiful palomino (golden, with a white mane and tail). I showed him at the county fair 4-H horse show for the first time in 1970 (see photo).

Laura  and Peppy

We kept our horses at the farm of a family friend (Mr. Whipple), which was just around the corner from our house. My sisters and I were tiny—but mighty little girls! We took full responsibility for the care of our horses—we pitched manure, hauled water buckets, and tossed heavy bales of hay and straw out of the hayloft without complaint.

My first paying job was working for a horse trainer when I was in high school. My sister and I shared the job cleaning stalls, and feeding and grooming horses at a 16-stall facility.

In the early 1990s, Peppy got sick and I had to have him put down, just a month before his 31st birthday. As his veterinarian said, “He was a grand old horse.”

Since that time, I have missed being around horses. Recently, an opportunity came up for me to get back into the horse world. I now work at a farm two days a week, cleaning horses’ stalls, feeding, and grooming. I also help tend to the 16 emus, several peacocks, and 100 chickens! I enjoy working outdoors, summer or winter. I love the physical labor; it’s a nice break from sitting at a computer.

Who influenced your early reading and writing?

My mom, and my creative writing teacher in high school.

Both of my sisters and I knew how to read before entering kindergarten. I remember sitting on my tiny chair in front of the easel with the four-foot-tall flip chart. Ms. Angeline asked the class to read the list of words on each page. I read all of the words to myself while the rest of the kids were still struggling to sound out the first two or three words. I couldn’t believe my little kindergarten ears that many of these kids did not know how to read!

Before my little sister started school, I taught her how to read out of her favorite book—A Good, Good Morning (written and illustrated by Bonnie and Bill Rutherford). We were lying on our tummies on the living room rug as I turned the pages and read the words out loud to Cindy. “Happy, snappy, juicy apple!” Cindy repeated out loud as I turned one of the pages. I recall running down the hall shouting to my mom that Cindy could read!

Several years ago, I had wanted to purchase that book and present it to my sister on her 50th birthday. I could not find it online, because I didn’t know the title or the author. The only thing I remembered about it was the “. . . happy, snappy juicy apple” line. So I  had asked a book seller to help me find it. About a year later, at one of the book shows I attended, the book seller approached me and asked if the book I was looking for was a Whitman Pillow Book; he handed me the book and the cover was unfamiliar to me. I told him I didn’t think that was the book I was looking for . . . until I flipped through the pages and read the words: “Happy, snappy, juicy apple!”

In elementary school, my sisters and I were always reading, writing, and drawing. We even “produced” our own horse magazines—which included articles, drawings of horses, and even made-up “letters to the editor.”

In high school, I took a creative writing class and wrote short stories, poetry, and plays. My teacher wrote a note on one of my poems that if I continued to improve, he thought I could be published one day. Several years ago, I wrote him a note to tell him about my career path, thanking him for encouraging me as a young writer. He wrote back to say he always wondered if he made any difference in his students’ lives, so he appreciated hearing from me. (If you’ve never thanked a teacher for how they’ve influenced your life, I encourage you to take the time to do it today!)

You retired from Michigan State University in 2013 after more than 25 years. What positions at MSU have you held over the years?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism from MSU. I was hired by MSU in 1986, and worked in various departments and capacities. I wrote news releases as well as articles for campus magazines, newsletters, e-newsletters and websites. I managed the scholarly journals program at MSU Press, and was instrumental in launching their new creative nonfiction journal—Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction—which is still published today, 24 years later. I was the director of publications and media relations at the College of Engineering for 13 years before retiring; one of the accomplishments I am most proud of was overseeing the development of a new alumni publication—Currents Magazine.

Over the years, my work also appeared in several newspapers and magazines outside of MSU—including EQUUS magazine. In addition, I wrote a monthly humor column for the Arabian Horse Express from 1992-1997.

I now work as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader and absolutely love the freedom of setting my own schedule.

Tell us about your latest WIP.

You could say it was a “dream come true.”

Several years ago, I woke up laughing about a dream I’d had about an unusual looking cat. “Where the heck did that come from?” I then realized that the cat in my dream looked like the pattern of my old sofa that I had put out by the dumpster when I’d moved out of my apartment a few months earlier. LOL!

This dream led me to write my first picture book manuscript. I have since attended several writers’ conferences, where I have met with editors and agents who critiqued the manuscript and offered suggestions for improving it. I plan to continue to submit it for publication and hope to see it in print one day.

I also have another picture book manuscript completed, as well as several nonfiction children’s book manuscripts in the works—most of them about animals.

What event do you remember most fondly in SCBWI?

I don’t recall how I first heard about SCBWI, but I knew if I wanted to break into the children’s market I’d need to connect and network with other writers who were writing for children. Soon after I became a member, I attended the 2016 Midwest conference. I attended the pre-conference Picture Book Bootcamp and also submitted a picture book manuscript for critique.

During one of the evening sessions, I met some attendees from the town where I currently live (Haslett, Mich.), and they recommended I join the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST) group. Through LAST, three of us branched off and started a writers’ critique group.

SCBWI, LAST, and my writers’ critique group have provided the valuable information and the support I need to continue working on manuscripts for the children’s market.

You are the founder and president of The Cat Ambassador. What is the goal of your organization?

I have always loved animals. I grew up out in the country, and people often dumped off their unwanted pets in front of our house. As an adult, I began to take in stray and sick cats to have them vetted, spayed/neutered, and adopted into loving homes—using my own money.

In 2013, I officially founded my 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Cat Ambassador. My aim is to provide assistance for cats—and their people—so pets will not be surrendered to a shelter if their owners cannot afford vet care, food, and litter.

In addition to helping indoor pets, I am getting more and more calls to help feral and stray kitties. We have a “cat crisis” across the country right now. We get several calls daily from people desperate for help with sick and injured cats; pregnant cats; kittens thrown out of moving cars; and cats that were put outside after a relative died and no one wanted to take responsibility for the pets. Shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups are at capacity and out of funds. So we have to say “no” to many of the requests for help, and it’s heartbreaking. That’s why we need more people in every community across the country to step up to foster cats and kittens, volunteer to help with the work we do, and donate money.

Animal shelters and rescue groups are also working to put laws into place that prosecute individuals who neglect, abandon, or abuse animals.

What is your most poignant story from your work as The Cat Ambassador?

There are so many stories I could share. Here are two of my favorites.

Six years ago, we received a call on a scorching hot summer day about some newborn kittens that had been abandoned in the middle of someone’s yard. The umbilical cord of one of the kittens was tangled up around the rear leg of another, and a third kitten was caught up in the bundle. We surmised that the mama cat, not knowing what to do with her tangle of kittens, must have abandoned them, along with her three other kittens that we later found under some shrubbery.

Harley feeding Gabby

One of the kittens did not survive, but my husband and I took in the other five and began bottle feeding them. The kitten who had the umbilical cord wrapped around its leg had to have her leg amputated when she was two days old. Amazingly, she survived surgery and was later adopted by our veterinarian, who named her Trinity. A vet tech adopted one kitten; and my husband and I kept the three orange tigers.

A couple of years ago, I got a call about a feral mama Manx cat and four kittens who were living at a highway rest area. One of the cats appeared to have a broken leg. The employees at the rest area noticed that one of the other kittens would jump up into the trash bins and toss food scraps down to the brown tiger kitten with the injured leg who could no longer get his own meals. Over the next week, with several volunteers and multiple traps, we were able to catch all of the kitties and all were vetted and adopted. The brown tiger kitten, now named Ahsa, had to have his right front leg amputated. He  gets along just fine on three legs, and was adopted by a woman who just happens to have her own medical limitations.

Gabby, Rio and Bolt

Stories like these are why I continue doing cat rescue.


Follow Laura on FaceBook: 



Friday, November 4, 2022

BookSmitten Podcast Enters Season Two

We’re excited for the new season of BookSmitten, the podcast dedicated to children’s books. BookSmitten is hosted by four Michigan SCBWI authors: Kelly J. Baptist, Jack Cheng, Patrick Flores-Scott, and Heather Shumaker. We see a hopeful, human world through children’s literature, and hope you’ll join us.

This season: We’re writing picture books!

We’ve launched the Picture Book Challenge. Listeners can learn along with us as we uncover the craft of picture book writing. As novelists, we’re used to writing much longer works. There’s so much to learn about what actually goes in to writing a child-worthy picture book. We hope you’ll take the #booksmittenchallenge and create your own publishable picture book.

It’s quite a challenge for a novelist to distill a story idea into a picture book. It’s all new territory for us. We’re primarily Middle Grade and YA authors, and only Kelly has published a picture book before. To help us out, we’ve invited some wonderful guests to join the show. Guests like:

          Shutta Crum, author

          Darnell Johnson, illustrator

          Yuyi Morales, author and illustrator

          Betsy Bird, from Fuse 8 ‘N Kate, all-star children’s librarian

          Lisa Wheeler, author (check out her episode on rhyme)


We’re using Ann Whitford Paul’s book “Writing Picture Books” to guide us through the process, and even brought Ann on the show to give us extra insights.

Whatever kind of books your write, you can find fun, friendship, and fellowship here with the BookSmitten crew as we learn together and push our creative boundaries.  

We hope you’ll join us! Or if picture books aren’t your focus, delve into past episodes where we cover a wide range of children’s book topics, including BookSmitten interviews with YA authors Angeline Boulley and Paula Yoo.


Interested? Check out the 5-minute Season 2 teaser.

We hope you become BookSmitten! Listen through Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, or Overcast. Find out more at Add a review! Or write to us with ideas for new episodes you’d love to hear

BookSmitten is on Twitter @booksmittenpod. You can use the tag #booksmittenchallenge this season.

Podcast webpage:



Kelly J. Baptist hails from Berrien Springs, MI. She’s the author of three Middle Grade books ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO, ISAIAH DUNN SAVES THE DAY, and THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS, plus the picture book THE ELECTRIC SLIDE AND KAI. Kelly is also the author of a short story in the Middle Grade collection FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES.

Jack Cheng lives in Detroit, MI. He’s the author of the Golden Kite award-winning Middle Grade novel SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS and THE MANY MASKS OF ANDY ZHOU, forthcoming in June 2023.

Patrick Flores-Scott is from Ann Arbor, MI. Patrick is the author of two Young Adult novels: JUMPED IN and AMERICAN ROAD TRIP.

Heather Shumaker lives in Traverse City, MI. She’s the author of three books for adults, plus the Middle Grade adventure THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY.

BookSmitten Producers: 

Josie and Corey Schneider, Kansas City, MO

Music by Duck, Duck Chicken



Friday, October 28, 2022

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): Much More than Writing 50,000 Words in November

In the second of three blogs, author Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw relays her experience writing 50,000+ words in the month of November


Life doesn’t go as planned…

Suzanne's writing space
I thought 2021 was the perfect year to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I was a newly retired teacher and an empty nester. A diligent writing student, I completed my NaNo Prep. I set up my office to inspire and facilitate my writing. Research and mentor texts easily accessible. Inspirational stickers and mementos from the UP, where my novel is set, artistically placed on my notebook and hung on my bulletin board. Lake Superior and pine scented candles to set the mood. “Moon Bear,” an important object in my story and my writing mascot cheering me on. Writing 50,000 words in November (that’s 1,667 words per day) was challenging, but I was ready to roll.

Suzanne with her parents

Days one and two went smoothly. Then came day three. My father was taken to the ER by ambulance. The hospital was still under Covid procedures and only one family member could be with him. My mom asked me to go. Assuming I’d be there a good portion of the night, I somehow had the presence of mind to grab my laptop. Once my dad was settled in and asleep, I wrote 2,000 words. The next day we found out my dad needed surgery and was sent to Henry Ford Detroit. Each day I picked up my mom and drove her to the hospital where we spent the day with my dad. At night I went home, had dinner with my husband, went into my office, lit my candles, and wrote. I soon realized that writing from 7:00 -10:00 each night was therapy for me—an escape. On the weekends, my brother went to the hospital with my mom (only two people allowed in the room due to Covid). I spent the weekends taking advantage of the writing boot camps offered by NaNoWriMo Michigan and made up any missed words.

Eventually, my dad left the hospital under hospice care. We knew his time with us was short. Yet, each day my mom asked me “Did you get your words?” And when my dad had the presence of mind he’d ask, “Did you write yesterday?” This was no longer a solitary goal, and their encouragement kept me going.

Sadly, prior to Thanksgiving, my dad passed. My writing time was spent drafting his eulogy and sitting shiva. The final weekend of NaNo, I did a major writing push. On November 30, I hit 50,836 words and typed “THE END” with only hours to spare. During shiva, one of my friends mentioned how my dad’s eyes always twinkled. When I finished writing, I went outside, looked up at two twinkling stars and said aloud, “I finished Dad.” And I could hear him say, “I knew you would. Love you honey.”




Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is an award-winning nonfiction children’s book author and former elementary special education teacher who is passionate about growing young minds. Suzanne’s first nonfiction picture book, I Campaigned for Ice Cream: A Boy’s Quest for Ice Cream Trucks, debuted in April 2019 from Warren Publishing. Her second book Mighty Mahi launched from Doodle and Peck Publishing in March 2022. Suzanne enjoys speaking to schools about writing, leadership, and how kids can make a difference in our world.

You can visit Suzanne online at:







Friday, October 21, 2022

Ask the Editor with Katherine Gibson Easter

Hello everyone! A big thank-you to everyone who sent in their questions! I’ve answered them to the best of my abilities, and I hope you find this post helpful and informative.

As with my previous Ask the Editor posts, I humbly ask that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful; I sincerely hope that no one finishes reading this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.

I’d also like to add a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of my publisher or the publishing industry in general. I would not be at all surprised to learn that you’ve heard an editor or agent say something that directly conflicts with my perspective. Everyone in publishing has their own opinions and preferences, and I can only be honest about my own.

If you have any questions about writing, editing, querying, or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please reach out to me anytime. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thanks, and happy reading!


Do publishers/agents look at your social media following to determine your marketability?


The short answer: Yes. But how much your platform matters varies quite a bit depending on the publisher/agent. And while your social media stats are an important factor in determining your platform, other things play into it as well: your website, professional connections, e-newsletter subscribers, conferences and speaking engagements—it all counts toward your marketability.


While building a platform isn’t usually a writer’s favorite part of the process, demonstrating that you have a platform (even a small one, as long as it’s growing) can only ever help you when it comes to querying, and more and more it’s becoming the expectation rather than the exception. 


But no matter how big or small your platform is, showing a willingness to market your book is key. It doesn’t matter if you have a million Instagram followers if you never post about your book! Agents and publishers want people who will do the bookstore events, podcast interviews, book club Zoom meetings, etc. A can-do attitude goes a long way!


What leads to a publisher rejecting a book once they have gone through several revisions with you?


Ooh, that’s a tough one. I know on the surface this sentence doesn’t sound encouraging, but there are so many reasons that books get rejected, and most of them don’t have anything to do with the quality of writing. It could be that their list has filled up, someone else just published something similar, the projected numbers aren’t working, the list goes on. 


There is, of course, a chance that even after revisions, the publisher still doesn’t feel like it’s quite working. It’s never fun, but it does happen. The good news is that, regardless of the reason, your manuscript is strong enough to merit their time investment, and that’s no small thing! 


If it were me, I’d put the project away for a couple weeks, then bring it to a critique group, get their honest feedback, then revise as necessary and send it out to someone new. Publishing is maddeningly subjective, so what doesn’t work for one house might be a great fit for another!


What are some ways self-published authors can get recognition for their works without paying to enter contests? 


I’m afraid I’m not a good person to ask about this sort of thing, since I’ve only ever worked in traditional publishing. If you’re hoping to get an award for your book, I do know that there are several book awards that are open to self-published works, though all of the ones I’m aware of do charge a submission fee. 


Of course, there are tons of other marketing tools to help get your self-published book more attention if that’s what you’re looking for. If your budget is limited, start with some things that are little to no cost to you: guest posts on blogs, sending out free review copies, offering bonus materials…I’m going to stop the list there because we could be here all day! Be sure to check out SCBWI’s resources, especially if you’re wondering where to start. There’s a free downloadable Essential Guide to Self-Publishing Books for Children on their website, along with tons of other great info.


What criteria do you use to match the story with the illustrator?


Sometimes you’ll have a particular illustrator in mind when you acquire a manuscript, but usually (in my experience, anyway) the text helps you determine what kind of palette, art style, medium, etc. you’re looking for, and then you find an illustrator whose portfolio suits that. If it’s a bedtime book, for example, you may search for someone who does really adorable animals with a touch of whimsy. If it’s a nonfiction picture book about the Civil Rights Movement, the art style’s going to be very different from that! 


Collaboration between the editor and art director is key—usually there’s a long conversation right after acquisition about the book’s content, what kind of style could work, what comp titles to reference, etc. Then as the editor, I get to sit back and cheer when the art director finds the perfect fit!


I know that in general you are supposed to use comps that are fairly recent in a query letter to an agent or editor. But what if a well-known old comp works best? Is it okay to use it? 


Great question! The strongest comparative titles will always be recent ones, meaning books that have been published within the last five years, ideally within the past two. The purpose of comp titles is to help agents and editors assess whether there’s a felt need in the market for this kind of book, and what kind of book sales they can reasonably expect. So anything older than five years isn’t going to be very useful to them in that respect.


Because of this, I’d say you should use familiar old comps sparingly, and in conjunction with another more recent comp if possible. Few children’s books have true staying power, so if it’s an old title that people remember, it’s most likely an award winner or a classic, in which case an agent or editor will know that they can’t count on that level of success with this new project.


If you are going to compare your book to one that’s withstood the test of time, I’d suggest doing so in terms of conveying your story’s content, rather than its potential performance. For example, you can say your story is moving and poignant like The Giving Tree, or it’s The Giving Tree meets The Rabbit Listened, but avoid saying, “This book will stand up well against books like The Giving Tree.” It’s impossible to compete with Shel Silverstein! 


When an editor emails to tell me that my manuscript "is not right for their house," but includes compliments about the work, is it too pushy to ask to resubmit after reworking?

In my experience, if an editor thinks that a project could work for their list, but the manuscript isn’t quite there, they’ll be upfront about what they’d like to see change and invite you to revise and resubmit. Editors always want to find a great new project, so they’re not shy about asking for an R&R if it’s something they see potential in.

But if they’re saying it’s not right for their house, it’s probably speaking to something fundamental about the project that isn’t easily changed. I’ve gotten manuscripts that I’ve personally loved, but had to pass on, simply because it didn’t match what we published or what we were currently looking for. 

Generally, I’d say that unless an agent or editor invites you to revise and resubmit, it’s best to move on and try them again with another project down the road. You want to find someone who’s as excited about your work as you are! At the very least, I’d wait six months and make substantial changes to the project—along with researching their list to make sure it fits in alongside what they’re currently publishing—before trying again.

Katherine Gibson Easter 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 eight 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.

Thank you, Katherine!
To submit a publishing question, email Mitten blog editor Sarah LoCascio with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.

If you missed any of Katherine's previous Ask the Editor posts, go HERE to browse through all the questions and answers.