Friday, December 19, 2014

Get Inked! By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

Imagine a room full of writers—heads bowed, pens gliding across paper. These writers understand the importance of networking and learning from other writers. They have given up an entire Saturday to work on their craft. They are writing poetry, memoir, fiction. Some are beginning novels, others revising them. These writers are committed and skilled. These writers are teenagers.

In South Bend, Indiana (just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Stateline) teen writers assemble each November for the Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference at Saint Mary’s College. An all-day event, Get Inked! exposes young authors to the real work of writing. By attending craft lectures and workshops which are modeled after the high caliber writing conferences available to adult writers, area teens learn that writing is hard work but fun.

This year’s conference featured Michigan author Tracy Bilen. Tracy’s young adult novels mix romance and suspense, elements which appeal to teen audiences and make her an authentic role model. Tracy’s keynote address urged teens to have the courage to keep writing. Following the keynote, local writing teacher and National Writing Project site-coordinator Mary Nicolini issued a challenge that required just such courage: A writer’s marathon.

In a writer’s marathon, prompts are solicited from attendees and collected in a box. The prompts are then drawn at random and the writers free-write on each successive topic for increasingly longer periods of time. Between sprints volunteers share their creations.

The highpoint of the conference is always the breakout sessions, which allow attendees to work in small groups under the tutelage of the visiting author. Tracy’s sessions focused on bringing scenes to life. She guided the teens through this process with an activity on building characterization through the layering of description, dialogue, and action.

You would think that a group of kids would be exhausted after writing from 8 am to 4 pm. Yet, when the last session ended, no one wanted to leave. The teens stuck around to chat with Tracy informally in the lobby.

Tracy brought a lot to this year’s Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference-- signed copies of her book (Y/A thriller, What She Left Behind), autographed bookmarks, and handouts for her talk on bringing scenes to life. The teens appreciated Tracy’s wisdom regarding the publishing process and her helpful tips on establishing a writing routine.

Tracy came armed with everything she needed to make the day a success, but ultimately it was what she left behind that made the biggest impact on the writers who attended. Tracy treated these teens like peers. She saw them the same way they see themselves—as real writers working on real projects. Because Tracy took their work seriously, they know it matters. And hopefully in the not-so-distant future, you’ll find their books on the shelves alongside authors like Tracy.

Kathy Higgs-Coulthard is a writer, a faculty member in the Education Department at Saint Mary's College, and Director of the Michiana Writers' Center. The Teen Writing Conference allows her to combine her passion for teaching with her love of writing. Her work appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life, Cleaver Magazine, and Jack and Jill Magazine

BONUS: Tracy Bilen is one of the participating authors in a huge holiday cheer giveaway through Spencer Hill Press. Find out more at her website.

A huge thanks to Kathy for contributing our final guest post in 2014! Enjoy the holidays, and we'll return in the new year. Nina Goebel is preparing to introduce our new Featured Illustrator, and Patti Richards is gathering good news to share in our New Year's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs.

Kristin Lenz

Friday, December 12, 2014

All about MRA: Michigan Reading Association

MRA isn’t just for Educators…

Have you heard of Great Lakes, Great Books? Kaleidoscope? MRJ? News & ViewsGwen Frostic Award? If these sound familiar, then you are probably a Michigan Reading Association Member.

Michigan Reading Association (MRA) is an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, and an organization whose mission is to promote literacy across Michigan. As an educator, I have been familiar with MRA’s publications and conferences for years. Michigan Reading Journal has been a staple in educational institutions since 1967 and News & Views on Reading has kept members current with trends in the field. I love reading the journal to keep informed of research, learn tips for improving my craft, and to read reviews on newly published books. There is a wide spectrum of topics and issues in reading, language arts, and literature, and preschool - adult levels included in publications. MRA also hosts the Kaleidoscope Writing Contest for K-12 students. Nominated students are honored at MRA’s State Conference with a celebration hosted by Michigan authors and illustrators.

But is wasn’t until I entered the world of children’s book writing myself, that I fully understood the benefit of an MRA membership. While I was conducting an author visit, a teacher asked if my publications were on MRA’s Great Lakes, Great Books list. Great Lakes, Great Books is an opportunity for kids in Michigan to vote on their favorite books and many SBCWI members have been nominated.

Later that same year, I was invited to speak at the MRA’s Summer Literature Conference as a guest author. Not only did my book get in the hands of more teachers, but I also met great authors like Ryan Hipp, who ironically talked me into an SCBWI membership.

Since that summer weekend, I have enjoyed memberships with two powerhouse reading organizations! I not only attend SCBWI conferences and webinars, but I now participate on the MRA Board. I have learned that being a part of both organizations has expanded my circle of book friends and has helped with my goal of supporting literacy in Michigan! 

Click here to see the poster and conference info.
Many other SCBWI members join me in this dual membership. Take Ruth McNally Barshaw and Matt Faulkner, for example, who were invited to create MRA’s 2015 Annual Conference poster. 

They did an incredible job and now their artwork is highlighted in nearly every school and library in our state! 

MRA is humbled by the work of Michigan authors and illustrators. Each year, MRA recognizes one special individual with the Gwen Frostic Award. This honor recognizes the literacy contributions of a Michigan author or illustrator. Past winners include:

 2009 – Shirley Nietzel - author
 2010 - Patricia Polacco – author/ illustrator
2011 - Margaret Willey - author, folklorist, and novelist
2012 - Ryan Hipp – author/illustrator 
2013 - Gary Schmidt - author
2014 - Kelly DiPucchio – author
2015- TBA – Could this be you?

There are countless reasons why I choose to be involved with both organizations. I love to communicate with those in the education field, as well as professional writers and illustrators! Many SCBWI-MI friends will be joining MRA as speakers and guests at future events and conferences. If you are interested in learning more about MRA, please feel free to visit or contact me at

As a Language Arts Consultant for Macomb Intermediate School District, Dr. Lisa Rivard is passionate about literacy in our state and enjoys reading children’s literature. She tries to carve out time for her own writing adventures but is also busy planning MRA’s 59th Annual Conference in March, 2015 and will lead the MRA organization as President in 2016. She loves to spend spare time walking along the St Clair River where she resides and operates a Little Free Library in her front yard.

Friday, December 5, 2014

School Visit Webinar: So You're Not a Juggler?

Would you love to attend a children's book conference without traveling? Webinars offer an inexpensive and flexible format to interact with speakers and other audience members right from your home computer. Or, if you're unavailable at the scheduled time, you can view the webinar at your leisure on another day.

SCBWI-MI offered a series of webinars this year, and the most recent topic was So You're Not a Juggler: Planning Amazing School Visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams. We asked one of our SCBWI-MI members to tell us about her experience.

Here's Sandy Carlson:

An important take-away I learned from Suzanne’s webinar on school visits is that there is always something more you can be doing as a business person. I look on this advice the same way as I see cleaning my house. There are daily tasks. Each day at home there are dirty dishes, laundry, yard work etc. And there are always big ways you could improve these tasks, like buying a snow blower in addition to your handy, decade-old shovel. In home and house work, there’s always something more I could be doing. So it is with being a writer. Suzanne helped bring out both the details and the big things, for being a writer is so much more than just writing. (Now, wouldn’t that be a fun career? Just writing?)

Another take-away for me from the webinar was Suzanne’s encouragement (guide) to creating an author brochure for school visits. I’ve seen many author brochures. In fact, it has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. Other things always took priority, like shoveling the driveway or raking a forest of leaves from our yard. Besides your business cards, a brochure is a concise way
to present what you’ve written and what you are available to present. Being part of this webinar gave me the confident push to get my own author brochure created and done.

Thank you, Suzanne. And thank you SCBWI-MI RA’s and fellow writers for being always so supportive.

Sandy is a 10 year member of SCBWI. She has spoken at three writers conferences and done many school visits for her MG historical fiction books. A former teacher, she lives in Battle  Creek with her husband. Find out more at

That author brochure that Sandy mentioned? Done. Check out her quality work on her website.

Learn more about Suzanne Morgan Williams, her books and presentations, at her website.

 For more information about any of the 5 webinars SCBWI-MI has hosted this year, visit the Webinar Library. You can still register and view the webinar for up to 3 months after the live date. That gives you until Feb. 12th to learn all about school visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams. Hop to it! 

Friday, November 28, 2014


Black Friday
Small Business Saturday (shop at your local indie bookstore!)
Cyber Monday
And a new tradition: 
#Giving Tuesday

Two years ago, a movement was born to kick off the holiday giving season. December 2, 2014 is #Giving Tuesday, an initiative that celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. 

Giving can be as simple as dropping coins in a can or donating a toy, but to have a bigger impact, it helps to do your research. Charity Navigator is one place to start. For tips on giving, read their guide.

Prefer to give a hand up over a handout?
Microloans are one way you can have an impact. You choose an endeavor to support, you make a loan, you get updates on the progress, you get paid back, and you repeat the process again with a new project.  Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty, and you can lend as little as $25. If you're a YA reader/writer, you can guess which super-star author created the Nerdfighters team on Kiva. “We loan because…we aim to decrease world suck.” 

Want to lend a hand?   
Volunteer Match helps individuals and groups find local non-profits who need your time. 

Charitable giving is something we tend to keep quiet about. 
It doesn’t feel right to say, “Look what I did!” 
But the more people know about your efforts, the more likely they are to join you or support another cause that's important to them. So please, shout out, so others can jump on board.  

The SCBWI community has been rallying around a campaign to increase diversity in children's books. Find out more at:

SCBWI-MI member, Shutta Crum, gives back by giving a scholarship to the annual SCBWI winter conference in NY. The December 10th application deadline is fast approaching. Find out more here.

Since this is a blog about reading and writing for children, I'm shouting out for InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit. IO's Mission and Vision:

"By immersing students in the joy and power of poetry and literary self-expression, InsideOut inspires them to think broadly, create bravely and share their voices with the wider world. Guided by professional writers and celebrated by publications and performances, youth learn that their stories and ideas matter and that their pens can launch them off the page into extraordinary lives."
Now it's your turn. Leave a comment below and shout out for a charity/non-profit organization. Local, national, international, relating to reading, writing, the arts, or any other need you feel passionate about, please share.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Fond Farewell and an Introduction

You may have noticed some new names under our Meet the Editors heading. Before I make the introductions, please join me in sending a huge thank you to Jodie Fletcher who co-edited the SCBWI-MI newsletter for two years and helped with the transition to this blog. 

Jodie is devoting more time to her freelance writing career and is in the midst of a big move downstate to the metro-Detroit area. I heard there's quite a bit of home renovating going on, too - she's digging into all kinds of new projects. I'll miss our monthly editorial phone calls/inspirational chats, but now she'll live close enough to meet up in person! 

Jodie and I found ways to amuse ourselves whenever inevitable newsletter frustrations arose. My favorite was sneaking photos of Jodie's Little Dog into the newsletter stories, because who can resist that cute sweet face?!

Follow Jodie on Twitter @jodellafletch to keep up with her furry friends, writing projects, and much more.

Moving forward, I'm thrilled to introduce two new members to The Mitten blog team: Nina Goebel and Patti Richards!

Nina Goebel is an illustrator and will coordinate our Featured Illustrator content. She has great ideas, and I can't wait to see how the blog design evolves in her artistic hands. Learn more about Nina and see her artwork at her website.

Patti Richards is a children's author and will coordinate our Hugs and Hurrahs and Meet a Member spotlights. Patti and I have cheered for each other through our publishing highs and lows over the years, and I'm looking forward to blogging with her. Learn more about Patti and her various writing projects at her website.

Nina and Patti will share more about themselves in the weeks ahead, and we'll be brainstorming ways to make this blog beneficial to as many of you as possible. As always, we welcome your contributions, and we want to hear your ideas. See the Submissions tab above for information about writing guest posts or email me at

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and check in with us the following day on Friday, Nov. 28th. We'll have a special post to gear up for #Giving Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 14, 2014

THE BIRTH OF BLOBS by Amy Nielander

Back in May, I began the journey of redesigning my website. With the help of an incredible web designer, my task was almost complete, until I was asked, “Do I want a Blog?”

A blog. That means I need to... open my world up. Share thoughts and comments
with people I can’t even see, don’t even know, and may... not like my work. 
This was already tough to do - with an actual person.

Writing in an unedited kind of way, under a cyber-spotlight, felt out of my comfort zone. It was just not easy -  due mostly to a design background that earned me a highly critical eye, a music background that rewarded me with a highly critical ear, and a brain that doesn’t know any better but… to follow suit with general criticalness in everything else. This art for fine tuning serves my picture book drafts very well, but pains any off-the-cuff kind of writing that comes out of me (you’re reading the 8th version of this piece).  

How do I warm up to being a blogger? For a person who is wired to DO versus have to TALK about what I'm doing, I decided maybe I need to put a spin on the traditional blog. Get to know my audience, just as they are getting to know me. Then I can ease into the-sharing-thoughts-with-strangers platform better.

As word play often happens with us crafty book people, I started dallying around with the word, BLOG. BLOB BLOG struck a chord. Then, more questions. What IS that? What could a BLOB be?

Fast forward to some idea testing, my website launch, then making the final decision to use BLOBS as a tool. They would help me accomplish what my hopes as an author/illustrator were: 

Encourage and support creativity
Provide an activity families could enjoy together (a little like…reading?)
Set the stage for laughter    
And even go beyond what a picture book could do -
Build confidence in kids to problem solve on their feet

All of these wrapped up had the power to deliver a child or family, JOY.

BLOBS would be a playground for building and extending imaginations. Giving those far-fetched ideas, a place to live, for the simple fun of it. But, how? Tapping back into my memories of SCBWI conferences, the common request from editors and agents sprung to mind. Give me VOICE. Give me CHARACTER. 

There was my challenge. Turn a BLOB into a character.

So how does THE BLOB BLOG work? I create 4 random shapes on an activity sheet every Monday. Families/kids can download them and share their designs with me over the week (the first person to do so – will get posted!), or just check results on Friday. I post my own designs along with my kids.  As THE BLOB BLOG extends its audience, various artists/designers will be featured.

After getting excellent support and interest from a couple of our very own Michigan author/illustrators, Heidi Woodward Sheffield and Virginia Rinkel (plus family!), I received confirmation. BLOBS work - YES! We weren’t the only ones having fun. 

What have I learned so far?  

#1  BLOBS challenge me too! Turning nothing into something every week, and then sharing (even if I don’t LOVE what I did) is tough. The self-imposed posting schedule holds me accountable.  Sometimes I don’t even get to finishing them until late on Thursday nights (when I’d rather be bundled under covers) but have to deliver on my word. Not knowing if anyone is planning on checking in, I still push myself to stick to my creative duties.

#2  I have loosened up. Because of the tight turnaround and producing separate work at the same time, I can’t get hung up on details. The big picture has to reign. This is not about perfection, only ideas.

#3  BLOBS create connections. The room booms with laughter when my kids and I are designing characters together. We have a blast every Monday morning doing these after breakfast. It’s a routine we look forward to now. BLOBS have that MadLibs kind of effect. They are unexpected and silly.  They open doors to communicating with one another in a different way. After our sheets are finished, we share and talk about what our characters are, how we were inspired, where they came from and names. BLOBS are quick, but rich on return.

Here are a few of my favorites from us…

What are the future of BLOBS? Keep doing them and create occasional product! I gave it a try with HUNGRY HALLOWEEN BLOB cards for kids in October:

I opened an Etsy shop (lean - but filled with love) and have a Holiday line in the works. Here’s a rough glimpse of a deer inspired BLOB…

While story making is still first and foremost (THE LADYBUG RACE will be released 2015, PomegranateKids), BLOBS are a great exercise in character/story building and creativity. 

Check in at on Mondays and Fridays to test The BLOB BLOG out for yourself!  You can also find me on Facebook for other news and work.

Thanks so much for having me SCBWI-MICHIGAN!  I am honored to be part of The Mitten! Wishing everyone warm and wonderful holidays! Thanks for reading : ) 

Thanks for sharing your fun project with us, Amy! We hope your Blob Blog gets shared far and wide with children, parents, writers, artists, and teachers joining you in creating new Blob characters. (Try saying Blob Blog fast three times!)

Exciting changes are brewing here at The Mitten. You may have noticed some new names under the Meet the Editors section on the sidebar. I'll fill you in next Friday.

Have a great weekend,

Friday, November 7, 2014

Got Indie Bookstore?

The We Need Diverse Books campaign continues to build steam, and last month Lisa Rose introduced our blog readers to The Missing Voice project to promote diversity in children's literature. Now she's discovered a wonderful gem of a bookstore in her hometown of Farmington, Michigan. The owner hopes to connect with the kid-lit community and expand her children's section. Lisa gives us the scoop:

Ever since Salathiel Palland saw the movie The Neverending Story she wanted to own a bookstore. But then life happened, and Palland studied teaching, musical theater, worked for Detroit Energy and General Motors. Finally, in 2010, she made a New Year’s Resolution to live her childhood dream.  By 2012, she was one of only 200 independent African-American owned bookstores in the United States. By 2014, that number dwindled to just over 50.

Her bookstore is called Off the Beaten Path Books and lives up to its name. It specializes in Steampunk which Palland describes as “Victorian Sci-Fi.” It's an area of literature with very few African-American writers and readers. It’s like the hockey game of literature for people of color, but Palland doesn’t mind. “I always did what interested me. I liked sci-fi, Harry Potter, and all that nerdy stuff. Diversity is about having the freedom to do what you want without judgment or stereotypes. Why can’t a black woman own a Steampunk Bookstore?”

Palland explained how she had all the stigma of growing up as a black woman, but because of the way she spoke and her interests, she was told she was “not black enough.” Her community thought she was “too white.” However, she was also told by black men she was “too dark” to date. Palland explained how sometimes it is our own community that “confines people of color.” Palland explained, “We must stop our own racism before we can expect others to stop theirs.”

Off the Beaten Path Books is much more than a bookstore. It also has a little café counter, Steampunk costumes, and room in the back for gatherings with a stage. Palland hosts anything from 80’s dance parties, to Harry Potter Night, to a Steampunk band concert.  The intention is to use this space for people to connect, create, and explore.

Even though Palland has young children, she admits she has a lot to learn when it comes to children’s literature. However, she can’t wait to meet the kid-lit community and is eager to expand her children’s section. The space in the back is ideal for author events with children’s crafts. Also, unlike the large chain bookstores, the store is very cozy and self-contained. A parent feels his/her child is very safe in this store. So MI authors if you are interested in holding an event at her amazing store, please contact her.

Salathiel Palland
33314 Grand River Ave, Farmington, MI 48336
(248) 987-6055

Lisa Rose lives near Detroit, Michigan with her husband and daughter. She likes to swim, practice yoga, and eat ice cream, but not at the same time.

She has two e-books published with MeeGenius OH NO! THE EASTER BUNNY IS ALLERGIC TO EGGS! and THE TOOTH FAIRY BROKE HER WING!

In 2016, the picture books SHUMLIK PAINTS THE TOWN and THE HUNGRY LATKE MONSTER will be published by Kar-Ben Publishing.

You can learn more about her and her work by following Lisa’s blog and follow her on twitter @lisarosewrites.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SCBWI-MI Fall Conference Wrap-up: Christy Ottaviano, Candace Fleming, and Eric Rohmann

The conference on Mackinac Island last month featured a stellar line-up of speakers. Yesterday, Charlie Barshaw gave us an overview from his perspective as conference co-chair. We continue today with a sampling of a few of the sessions. Thanks to Lisa Healy, Catherine Bieberich, and Diana Magnuson for sharing their experiences.


I was a shadow. Well, not really. I didn't cast a gray pool on the carpeting behind Christy Ottaviano but I did assist the editor of Christy Ottaviano Books at the fall conference. Imagine what it must be like to have your own imprint! Until then, I’ll commit her submission guidelines to memory and prepare to submit, grabbing the reins of my work as the title of her Saturday session so aptly suggested.

Christy Ottaviano
Ottaviano is looking for a well-written manuscript with a strong voice. “I look at things faster when they have a familiar hook,” she said. “Are you telling me your book is To Kill a Mockingbird meets Charlie & the Chocolate Factory?”

Janet Tashjian, author of My Life as a Book, worked with Ottaviano to produce the series that was a reflection of Tashjian’s son who struggled with attention and reading issues. He used to illustrate his vocabulary words as a visual learning tool, and channeled his talents into the My Life as a Book series. Ottaviano was drawn to the author’s fictional translation of a real world issue.

Elise Broach, another client of Ottaviano’s, is the creator of Masterpiece, a modern day version of The Littles, one of the editor’s childhood favorites. “This book, coming out as a movie in 2016, introduces James, a loner who befriends a beetle,” said Ottaviano, a fan of the arts. “His mother is a socialite and never has time for him. The boy and the beetle get involved in an art heist at the museum.”

This session was further reinforcement that learning more about the person you plan to submit to is a good idea before you send off your manuscript. Does the agent or editor have special interests that are evident in the type of books on his or her list? At the end of the day, I walked away excited to read a wealth of new titles.

Lisa Healy is a writer who has worn many hats, including those of news reporter, newspaper columnist, author, and vineyard owner.  She enjoys Michigan lake life with her husband and daughter, and takes every opportunity to visit her two college sons in Grand Rapids or spoil them with home cooking on their breaks.  She is currently volunteering on the SCBWI-MI advisory committee.  Her writing has been published in numerous local and regional newspapers, A Century of Voices, BLUE Magazine, and MANITOU, and she's photographed both local and national celebrities, including Alan Mulally and Betty White, for TIME Magazine's TIME for Kids. 

CANDACE FLEMING by Catherine Bieberich

Candace Fleming
Candace Fleming was not only brilliant and informative, she was easily one of the most charming presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of shadowing. Although she knew how to kick back and have fun, she was very serious about history. She made it very clear that, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, accuracy is the most important element. Too often, authors will sacrifice accuracy for the sake of story. Candace stressed that any text dealing with history should be well researched and documented. As authors, we are the caretakers of our nation’s stories, as well as our nation’s children. Both fiction and nonfiction consist of telling a good tale, but there is no reason to fill our tales with fallacies. After all, truth is more often than not stranger than fiction.

Catherine Bieberich lives in Battle Creek, Michigan with her husband, Kent, and her mutt dog, Chloe. She teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade at a local charter school during the fall and uses her summers to work on Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction novels.

Cathy also coordinated the SCBWI-MI Mentorship competition, and the winners and finalists were announced at the fall conference:

Thanks to everyone who entered the 2014-15 Novel Mentorship competition. It was very exciting to have our mentor, Edie Hemingway, on Mackinac Island with us. She traveled from Frederick, Maryland to enjoy the fudge and our wonderful company. She was glad to meet everyone, especially the contestants who were in attendance.
This year's winners were:
1st place (and a mentorship with Edie Hemingway): Wendy Sherrill "Playing Dead"
2nd place: Ann Finkelstein "The Wind Djin"
3nd place: Magdalena Roddy "Certain Exceptions"

ERIC ROHMANN by Diana Magnuson

Message: STORY is all that matters. Create your illustrations to form a sequence that makes sense all together. Finished art shows how your brain works during the creating process.

Eric Rohman
Eric’s steps to achieve STORY:

1.  He stands, using his whole body to work up big, very, very rough sketches on his ‘least precious materials’ creating up to forty 18” by 24” ‘thumbnails’.

2.  A SKETCHBOOK of drawings, notes, references and color sketches is produced for each book. These first two steps take 95% of his time. “95% of everything we do on a project is ‘crap’.”

3.  Next, a STORYBOARD is created.

4.  Lastly: a BOOK DUMMY to show the ‘page turns’ (to get the reader to want to turn each page).

 Diana Magnuson: 97 books, MFA, now working on her own books and very involved in environment art and writing. She was much relieved to hear about the 95% and the process.

SCBWI-MI website
For more information on upcoming conferences including webinars, go to the SCBWI-MI website. And if you've been dreaming about attending one of the SCBWI international conferences, see yesterday's post for information about Shutta's Scholarship to the 2015 winter conference in New York.

Come back next Friday to learn about an indie bookstore gem in suburban Detroit. Hope you're having a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, October 31, 2014

Behind the Scenes at the SCBWI-MI Mackinac Island Conference, and a New York scholarship!

Behind the Scenes at the Mackinac Island Conference
by Charlie Barshaw

I thought I’d check my notes, but aside from the excellent Friday afternoon intensive with Candy Fleming, I’ve got nothing but crumpled receipts, scraps of paper whose messages have bled together, and a whirlwind of memories. As one of the co-chairs, I got a taste--no, make that a a four course meal--of the conference organizer’s busy life.

But it wasn't all missing projectors and phantom cheese trays. The perks involved working with a dedicated bunch of intelligent and resourceful people, meeting some first-class human beings who also happen to be talented editors, agents, authors and illustrators, and being privy to the kind of interactions few outside the circle have seen.

Here're a few scenes from behind the curtain of the Fall 2014 SCBWI-MI conference:

Anita Pazner has a fantastic cabin near Boyne City. Cabin hardly does it justice. A few of us made the trip a day early on Wednesday, so that we'd have an easy drive to Mackinac City on Thursday morning. As bedtime approached, editor Arthur Levine messaged the group and asked if it would be possible for him to arrive at the island a day earlier than scheduled. 

Droopy eyelids popped open, and the four people with smart phones began filling the night with texts, tweets and messages. I stood with my dumb phone and watched in awe.

Rides were pieced together, an extra night for the hotel room reserved, and Arthur arrived at Mackinac on Thursday.

One of the topics at dinner with Arthur on Thursday night happened to be the dual spellings of Mackinac and Mackinaw. (The consensus opinion being that the former was the French spelling, the latter the British.)

On the way back to the hotel, Arthur regaled the group with his fine tenor rendition of “Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles” from The Fiddler on the Roof and a selection from Pippin.

And one more Arthur story: Friday morning, Arthur rented a bike and toured the island. A group of us had been in town, where Anita and I posed in old-fashioned garb, and on the way back we met agent Jodell Sadler at the dock. 

Arthur rode by one of the streets, and stopped to chat. He wondered why the bike rental place didn’t have helmets. Was their reasoning that, since there were no cars, the risk of bike crashes was negligible? Luckily, he said, his head fit into a child’s helmet.

Arthur Levine with Heidi Sheffield, the lucky winner of a free manuscript critique from the silent auction.

Laszlo Slomovits, one half of the Ann Arbor music duo Gemini, attended the conference, and actually brought along one of his stringed instruments. On Saturday evening, as the book signing wound down in the the hotel lobby, Candy Fleming, Eric Rohmann, Laurie Keller, and Ed Spicer joined him around one of the fireplaces. He reportedly put the words of Oh No (Candy and Eric’s jointly produced picture book) to music and sang it for them.

There’s more, much more, but you’ll have to purchase my memoirs.

Charlie Barshaw just finished the most challenging and rewarding weekend of his literary life when he co-chaired the SCBWI-MI Fall 2014 Mackinac Island Conference. Now he's wading through revisions on his MG squirrel invasion adventure. The zombie versions of other not-quite-dead manuscripts beckon him from the vault.

Come back tomorrow for a recap of conference sessions by Candace Fleming, Eric Rohman, and editor Christy Ottaviano. 

Have you dreamed of attending the SCBWI international conference in New York? If you are a member of SCBWI-MI, don't forget about the wonderful scholarship opportunity from Shutta Crum:

Shutta’s Scholarship Solution to the Winter Doldrums is Here Again!

If you are interested in attending the 2015 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, but feel you can’t afford it—think again! With member Shutta Crum’s help you might find yourself at the Grand Hyatt in NY on a blustery winter weekend.

Shutta is renewing her offer to pay the full early-bird registration fee for a Michigan SCBWI member to attend. ($415.00) The qualifying rules are listed on the application form which will be posted on the SCBWI-MI website and at Shutta’s site. (Deadline to apply for the scholarship is by midnight, Dec. 10, 2014.)

The conference is Feb. 6 - 8, 2014. Early bird registration is through December 15, 2014. See the national SCBWI website for conference details as they unfold. You never know what magical thing might happen to you there!

Any questions, feel free to contact Shutta Crum, or coRA Leslie Helakoski at: leslie AT helakoskibooks DOT com.

Past winners have included: Amy Nielander, Kelly Barson, Vicky Lorencen, and Elizabeth McBride. Of last year’s conference Beth said, “I met such wonderful people and heard great presentations, thought and re-thought my efforts and intentions, and shared hopes and dreams with new friends and old.”

Good luck and Happy Halloween!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, October 24, 2014

Are You Social-Media Savvy?

Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Google+. Instagram. Pinterest. Ello. Tumblr. Reddit. Blogger. Good Reads.

If you are confused by all the social media, join the club. No, really—join at least one. Or two or three. As a writer or illustrator, it’s essential that you have a social media presence if you want an agent or editor to take you seriously.

But there are so many that it’s hard to figure out how to keep up and which ones are relevant to you and where you are in your career. Fear not. Here are some pointers.

Why do I need social media?

Social media is how we generate buzz, whether about an upcoming title, public appearances, classroom visits, or any aspect of your public persona.

It helps you stay connected to your SCBWI chapter, other writers, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, etc.

For example, you can follow SCBWI-MI on Facebook, Twitter, our email listserv, our website, and our new blog. (For more information about any of these, visit the website’s “On-Line Community” page here:

More importantly, agents and editors are inundated with submissions. Say you submit a stellar manuscript. It’s edgy, tight, and sure to be a best seller. But Agent Martha Moneymaker has twelve such manuscripts on her desk. Which to choose? She’s likely to choose the author with the strongest social media presence. Why? Most publishers expect the author to be an active participant in marketing the finished product. If you have this established network, you won’t spend the first few months post-release building it. You can spend your time marketing instead.

I get it. But how do I choose?

Figure out the best social media connections for your goals:
·      Do you plan to blog regularly? Think about a website with an integrated blog (or just a blog). Encourage followers to subscribe so that they automatically receive notices when you update.
·      Are you an illustrator? You may want a Tumblr account, which is more visually based, and is easier for followers to repost, further increasing your reach. Or try Instagram, another visual sharing platform. ( )
·      Do you want to network with other professionals? LinkedIn allows you to network with other writers, illustrators, and even agents and editors. It’s like having your résumé online so that everyone can see what you’ve published, your background, etc. Plus, if you freelance, you may be able to find those opportunities here. (
·      Do you experience flashes of inspiration multiple times a day? Twitter keeps your name in front of your audience on a daily basis. When you update your blog, or post something on another platform, you can tweet a link to it. Plus, you can follow editors and agents to learn about what makes them tick. Keep in mind that it’s not a substitute for in-depth research, but merely gives you a starting point. (
·      Are you an avid reader? Good Reads is a wealth of information and networking. Find recommendations based on your reading preferences, post reviews of books you’ve read, connect with other readers, follow authors you like. This is a good adjunct to having your own blog or website. (

Now that I know my goals, how do I get started?

Take the time to research these sites. Spend a few hours on each one (not all in one day or your head may implode). Compare the type of audience each caters to, and choose your best match. If you need a website, spend time doing it right. You don’t want to revamp everything after a few months (trust me on this one). Bookmark author/illustrator sites that you like and figure out why they work. Design your site with these things in mind. Hire a pro, if you need it. Remember—this is a reflection of who you are and your level of professionalism.

Plan your marketing strategy by combining your main social media presence (website, blog, Facebook page, etc.) and tie in complementary platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. But keep it simple. Don’t join every platform or you’ll never be able to keep up with your online presence and work on your writing or illustrating. Whichever platforms you choose, try to have a similar visual theme. You want followers to know they are visiting your page, feed, or website. Make your business cards fit the theme as well.

In short, think of yourself as a brand. If you do it well, editors and agents will see you as a brand, too. However, no media platform or branding strategy, no matter how well executed, can substitute for good writing, engaging illustrations, and the research to find your perfect match.

Jennifer Whistler has been a member of SCBWI for 10 years and is pre-published. In the meantime, she’s building her social media presence, and plans to knock it out of the park with her marketing prowess. You can follow her on Twitter @SwissWhis. She begs you not to visit her website yet.