Friday, February 26, 2016

YA Success Story: An Interview with Author Patrick Flores-Scott

At the back of your novel Jumped In, your bio says you live in Seattle. What brought you to Ann Arbor? 
My wife got a job at the University of Michigan in the Rackham Graduate School, and I went from being a public school teacher to being a stay-at-home dad to our two toddlers. 

Tell us about your book and your journey to publication. 
I started writing in 2005. I got my agent in 2009. The book sold in 2011 and came out in the summer of 2013. It was a long process. My agent believed in me as a writer, but he wasn't sure about my draft. He decided to just send it out to a couple editors at a time. When the rejections came in, we'd look at the feedback and he'd say, "Whattaya think?" I'd tell him what I thought I should work on next and then I'd go do rewrites. It was a slow, but positive way of dealing with rejections. When Christy Ottaviano bought the book, it was way better than it had been after that first round of rejections. 

How did you get your agent? 
When I thought my draft was ready, I went to the library in search of a book that looked and felt like Jumped In. I thought, "If an agent liked this, they might be into my book." I picked up S.A. Harazin's Blood Brothers, and found out that her agent was Steven Chudney. I sent him a query letter and pages of the novel. He liked it. It happened really fast and I consider myself extremely lucky. 

What has been surprising or challenging about your experience? 
I think the most challenging thing has been how long everything takes. In terms of surprises, I'd say just selling the book and the smoothness of the editorial process and the fact that the final product has been pretty well received... a series of happy surprises.

What's next for you?
I just had a short story published in the MacMillan collection, I See Reality, Twelve Short Stories About Real Life. And my second novel, (tentatively titled) American Road Trip, which I started in 2009 (!), is finally scheduled to be released January of 2017. 

Patrick is a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer. His short story, The Good Brother, appears in I See Reality (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and his second YA novel (Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books) is scheduled for a 2017 release.

Patrick kept his answers short at my request, but here's a little more: he was a theater major in college, his debut YA novel Jumped In is full of poetry, and when he says he's an early morning writer, he means he sets his alarm for 4:30am!

Jumped In was named to the 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, a Walden Award finalist, a Washington Book Award winner, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies, and a Bank Street College Best Books of 2014. Learn more at:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: On the Scene in 2016 - support for debut picture book authors and illustrators, take-aways from the SCBWI New York conference, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. To be included, please send your good news to Patti Richards at by March 20th.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Commissioning a Book Cover For Self-Published Authors by Kirbi Fagan

You wrote the book, you're planning your big splash, but what you need is a cover!

The Fairy Tale Series written by Shanna Swendson
Find a great illustrator.
Checking out SCBWI portfolio’s is great place to start. Look for an artist who has done self-published at book fairs, try hiring a super star illustration major at the local art school. Avoid agented portfolio websites as those illustrators may not be interested in self-published commissions. 

Drop the Pitch!
You do not need to “pitch” your story to an illustrator. Illustrators don’t need to be sold a story, they need to be compensated. This is YOUR dream project. Check out this example of how to approach an illustrator.

Dear Kirbi,
I saw your work on SCBWI and I thought you would be a good fit for my book cover! It’s a middle grade story about a witch and a panda! I’m in need of artwork for the front cover (6x9). I'm looking to spend about X. I’m hoping to have the book out in April. Can you also do the type for the front and back? 

Eager Self-Pubber

Get it in writing!
If an artist does not provide or mention a contract after agreeing to collaborate with you it’s a bad sign. Understand their working process and have a detailed schedule to keep you on track. Here is a look at my collaboration process:

Contract. Deposit. Concept sketch. Sketch revisions. Written approval of sketch. Create final art. Delivery of final art. Final payment.

Provide the Facts.
Make sure you include crucial elements of your story. Visual details can take hours to find in the book. Help your illustrator by providing them with basic visuals. If your story does not have visual details, don’t make it up! Let their creativity surprise you. 

Don’t Take it Personally… 
if your illustrator doesn’t read your book; their time should be spent on the artwork. Illustrators are not editors or writing critics, asking them for their opinion puts them in a difficult spot. In addition, reading a long manuscript from a computer can be very uncomfortable. Consider sending the manuscript in print. 

Damsel in Distress written by Lee French
Hit your Budget.
A great cover is an investment and it is a crucial part of marketing your book competitively. Check out Graphic Artist’s Guild, “Pricing and Ethical Guidelines” to see industry pricing. Many authors fear they will offend an illustrator when they tell them their budget. An illustrator may be able to offer limited complexity at a lower rate. 

Don’t Bribe.
Chances are if you are self-publishing your social media following is small. DO feature the illustrator on your blog and give them free copies of the book, but DON'T consider it compensation. 

Know your numbers. 
DPI, bleeds, spines and trims! Talk to your printer and get your measurements right! It is your responsibly to provide these details. If not, you could end up dishing out more money to fix your problem, or worse poorly printed books. Yikes!

Trust the professionals.
Writers sometimes provide very specific directions about their cover. An illustrator is more than just a hired hand, they are a creative problem solver! By providing specific directions you could miss out on many creative options.

About that Type…
Breaking typography “rules” could make a designer cringe and make your book scream “self published.” Use a graphic designer or graphic design student. If you are doing it yourself, ask your illustrator where they would recommend placing type. Unless your name is "Nicholas Sparks" or "George R.R. Martin" your name shouldn't be HUGE. Don’t forget there are legal issues when it comes to type. You must have permission. Many “free” websites include stolen designs. Learn the difference between font and typeface. Here is a great article on the subject. 

Give credit and team up!
Schedule your cover reveal with your illustrator and invite them to spread the news! Always include the name of the artist whenever the art is used. Learn about some of the setbacks illustrators face in the industry on Sarah McIntyre’s website.

Kirbi Fagan is an award-winning, Detroit based book cover illustrator who specializes in creating art for young readers. Her illustrations are known for their magic themes, nostalgic mood, bright colors, and powerful characters. Recent clients include, Capstone Publishing, Marvel Comics and The Book Smugglers.

Kirbi's artwork is amazing! See more on her website.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: On the Scene in 2016 - support for debut picture book authors and illustrators, a YA Success Story, take-aways from the SCBWI New York conference, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. 

Never miss a post: enter your email at the top of the right sidebar to follow the Mitten blog.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Literary Rambles: Behind the Scenes with Natalie Aguirre

Literary Rambles is one of the best known blogs in the kidlit publishing community, but did you know it's managed by one of our own SCBWI-MI members, Natalie Aguirre? Casey McCormick created the blog in 2008 and began the popular Agent Spotlight series the following year, but Natalie has become the engine behind the weekly features to-date. She took time out of her busy schedule to give us the backstory and how the blog continues to be an award-winning, go-to source for writers.

Natalie Aquirre
How did you get started with Literary Rambles?

I knew I wanted to start or join a blog in 2010 and secretly wanted to be Casey McCormick’s blog partner, but was too scared to ask her about it. When she put a call out for a blog partner, I jumped at the chance. I’ll have been on the blog for five years on March 7th.

How has the blog grown and changed over the years?

Casey made a name for the blog with her fantastic agent spotlights that have helped many aspiring authors find an agent. When I joined the blog, I knew I wanted to spotlight mostly debut middle grade and young adult authors with book giveaways. That has really grown, and I am able to offer a spot to many fantastic debut authors each year. I’m glad we’re getting known for this as well as the spotlights.

The focus on debut authors has really helped the blog grow. Since I’ve been on the blog, I’ve mostly been the one blogging, and we’ve grown from about 1000 followers to over 5000 and have many more comments by followers on the blog posts.

I’ve also started to offer a regular feature where authors and their agents do a guest post, often with a query critique by the agent as well as a book giveaway. Casey just went on sabbatical—maybe permanently—and I am also taking over the agent spotlights because they are such a great service to writers. I’m starting to do them in an interview with the agent with a query critique giveaway instead of Casey’s format.

What are your hopes for the blog down the road?

I hope to maintain what I’m doing—the Monday debut author series, a book giveaway hop with book blogs most months, agent and author guest posts, and the agent spotlights. For me, my hope is to keep some sense of balance where I don’t blog too much. It already takes quite a bit of time each week to do what I’m doing, and I don’t want it to take up more of my free time. I know it could grow into a big book review blog where I would work with more authors and publishers like from Penguin and Harper Collins, but I really do not want the work. I want to provide a good service while maintaining a good balance in my personal life.

I love how you share just a little bit of personal information at the beginning of your posts before getting down to business. Regular readers have learned about joyful times with your daughter as well as difficult times such as the loss of your longtime legal job and your husband passing away last year. In addition to this sharing, you've also grown many relationships by regularly visiting and commenting on other blogs. How do you manage your time to accomplish all of this on top of full-time employment and parenting?

Well, I’m a total work in progress with all of my life changes. I have had to be really purposeful and hard-working to accomplish everything I’ve done, especially when I worked full-time as an attorney, was a swim mom and almost single mom, and a caregiver to my husband before he died. Basically as soon as I get up in the morning, I start my computer and coffee. I read many blogs before I start my work day. I squeeze in reading more blogs when I can and work on the blog after work and on weekends. I have cut back my reading of blogs to mostly Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays because I wanted more of a limit on how much blogging overtakes my life.

Since the fall, 2015, my daughter is in college at University of Michigan, and I live alone and work part-time. For the first time in over 40 years, I have free time and less stress. I’m slowly trying to figure out how I want to use this extra time.

You do such a wonderful job supporting authors, tell us more about your own writing. What are you working on?

I have a part-time job writing non-fiction articles for attorney websites and write 15 to 20 articles a week. Like any writing job, it takes more time than it should. Between that and my blog, it takes all of my writing time. I haven’t written creatively since my husband died, and I’m not sure if I will. 

I like providing the service I do through the blog. I don’t want a second job and more writing deadlines with all the writing deadlines I have every week. Plus I’m going through the challenges of working at home alone that any writer has with the added challenge of living home alone after the heartbreak of losing a spouse. I’m thinking of doing some volunteer work where I work with people on a regular basis may be a better use of time than writing a manuscript, especially with all the other writing I do daily. I’ll have to see what I decide to do as I go through this changing journey of my life.

Thank you for sharing your time with us, Natalie. You have a large team of appreciative supporters cheering you on!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Illustrating Book Covers, a YA Success Story, and much more! To be included in our next Hugs and Hurrahs feature, please send your good news to Patti Richards at by March 20th.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Writer Spotlight!

Introducing Tracy Bilen! 

Happy Friday everyone! It’s time for another Writer Spotlight here on the Mitten. And today I'm excited to welcome YA author Tracy Bilen. Tracy is the author of the book, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (Simon Pulse May 2012). When she’s not writing novels for young adults, Tracy teaches French and Spanish at Detroit County Day school in Beverly Hills (Michigan, not California:). So let’s give a big Mitten welcome to Tracy!  

Mitten: Tell us a little bit about you. Where you’re from and your history in our great big Mitten! 

Tracy: I was born near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but also lived in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania before moving to Michigan as a freshman in high school. We lived in Onsted, a town with one blinking red light, which is about an hour south of Ann Arbor. My first novel is set in a fictional version of this town. I went to Adrian College (in Adrian, Michigan) and Penn State. After working at a boarding school in Vermont, I moved back to the metro-Detroit area.

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

Tracy: I started writing novels soon after leaving high school, so a young adult perspective was my mind-set at the time and today it still seems to be the right fit for me.

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

Tracy: I’ve been a member for about eight years. I found out about SCBWI just by cruising the internet looking for local writing events. At my first conference, I met a fantastic critique partner. After that I won the SCBWI-Michigan YA mentorship competition with the awesome Shutta Crum, which led to the sale of my debut novel.

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

Tracy: YA fiction all the way! Because the teen years are such an emotional part of our lives and I love the rich and varied voices you find in YA literature.

Mitten: Tell us about your publishing journey. 

Tracy: My debut novel, What She Left Behind, was published by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster in 2012 and also sold to Germany and Taiwan. It’s a YA romantic thriller about a girl whose mom disappears…and her dad is the most-likely suspect.

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

Tracy: I teach high school French and Spanish at Detroit Country Day School. I studied/taught for two years in France, and once took students to Quebec in 50 below zero weather. Okay, that might have been the wind-chill, but in any case, my boots were no match for the frigid temperatures!

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Tracy: Teaching keeps me in touch with young adults, my target audience, and keeps me constantly involved in working with language. I run a World Language Week contest and the creativity of the students (in writing, art, and singing) awes and inspires me.

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?

Tracy: I could walk around for days or even years and never think of a single idea! So I have to sit at the computer and tell myself to write something, anything! And I think it’s my subconscious that then takes over and does the work.

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

Lauren Oliver, because I love her mastery of both plot and prose in Before I fall, and Stephanie Oakes, because of the lyrical quality of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

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

Once you start querying agents, start working on your next project. I followed that advice after I finished a manuscript that I was querying. That one never sold…but the one that I wrote while I was waiting to hear back from agents? It ended up being my debut novel!

Thanks so much for stopping by Tracy! Wow, Quebec in 50-below-zero temps! You are officially my hero. Tracy's website is currently down for maintenance, but you can follow her at or on Facebook at