Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hugs and Hurrahs

Happy summer everyone! It’s time for another edition of Hugs and Hurrahs, and as usual, our Michkidlets have lots to cheer about. So put down that sunscreen and let’s get this party started!

Claudia Whitsitt has a lot to celebrate! In March 2016 her middle grade historical fiction novel, Between the Lines, received an Honorable Mention in the 21st Annual Writers Digest Self-Published Awards in the Middle Grade/Young Adult category. Following this award, Between the Lines, then received the Silver Medal in the 2016 IPPY awards for Middle Grade Multicultural Fiction Juv/YA. Claudia attended the awards ceremony at the Willis Tower in Chicago on May 10th. We’re happy dancing with you Claudia! 

Kathy Higgs-Coulthard is super excited about her debut middle grade novel, HANGING WITH MY PEEPS. Her book was released in April through CleanReads and is available in print and e-book formats through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. So happy for you Kathy!

Neal Levin is excited to announce that The Poetry Foundation has renewed its lease of his poem "Baby Ate a Microchip" for another 10 years, and reprint rights were also purchased by Oxford University Press-India.

In more good news, Neal’s short story "The True Meaning of Hannah Berger" won an Honorable Mention in the 84th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. In addition, his poem "Wam Welcome" was published in the March 2016 issue of Highlights. So excited for you Neal!

Laura Wolfe is thrilled that her YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Fire and Ice YA, 2015), was recently named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the First Novel (under 80,000 words) category. Also, Laura’s long-awaited picture book, Henrietta's Hoof Polish, (illustrated by Eugene Ruble) was also recently released by Guardian Angel Publishing. Congratulations Laura!

A standing ovation goes to Monica Harris for selling 3 pieces to the Data RecognitionCorp-Nebraska and 3 additional pieces to DRC-Wisconsin. That’s awesome Monica!

Three cheers for Rebecca Grabill who recently earned a Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award for her middle grade novel in verse, ONE SUMMER. The Sustainable Arts Foundation awards grants to parents of children 18 and under who are pursuing creative work. Congratulations Rebecca!

To learn more about the Sustainable Arts Foundation, visit

Lori McElrath-Eslick is the proud recipient of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award forher illustration that accompanied the poem, “A Strip of Blue,” by Lucy Larcom. The story and illustration appeared in Cricket Magazine. Way to go Lori!  

Our fearless Mitten editor, Kristin Lenz, has something to celebrate! Kristin’s forthcoming YA novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was chosen as a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection. So proud of you Kristin!

We’re giving a big round of applause to Alison DeCamp since her first middle grade
book, set in the UP in 1895, MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% True) was named as a Michigan Notable book for this year and was on the shortlist for the New-York Historical Society Children’s History Book Prize. The second book in the series, MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES: I Almost Died. Again. releases on July 5th. Alison will be having a release party in the Harbor Springs area on that date at Between the Covers bookstore. All are welcome, but space is limited. Contact the store at 231-526-6658 to sign up. Way to go Alison!

Hats off to MattFaulkner! Matt illustrated the picture book, ELIZABETH STARTED ALL THE TROUBLE by Doreen Rappaport, which is now is a nominee on the ALA Summer Notable books list. So happy for you Matt!

Lindsey Moore of Ann Arbor recently signed with agent Jill Corcoran at the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency as a picture book writer and illustrator. That’s amazing Lindsey! 

Erin M. Brown recently had two nonfiction texts come out. Simplified Writing 101: Top Secrets for College Success, and
EB Conroy's Simplified Vocabulary Guide are used in high school writing courses, AP English Language and Composition courses, and college freshman composition courses. Way to go Erin!

Deborah Marcero has lots to celebrate! Her debut picture book, Ursa’s Light released April 15, 2016 with Peter Pauper Press and received a starred review from ALA Booklist. Deborah’s second book in the Backyard Witch series, Jess’s Story, will release with Greenwillow, Harper Collins on July 12, 2016. Deborah is the illustrator and the series is co-written by Christine Hepperman and Ron Koertge. And last but not least, Deborah sold the picture book, ROSIE AND CRAYON to Mara Conlon at Peter Pauper Press. The deal was announced on May 5th, 2016; the book is set to release in Spring 2017. You make us proud Deborah!

Shhh! Lisa Rose has sold two stories, WORM VS. EARLY BIRD, and THE VENUS FLYTRAP AND THE BEE to Amazon. Shhh! Lisa is involved in a super secret app which will launch later this summer. Shhh! More details coming soon.

KirbiFagan is currently working on a unique project with the writer of Fight Club & Dark Horse that has just been announced! "Bait" is a collection of short stories by Chuck Palah​niuk, which is illustrated with colorable illustrations. Kirbi and 8 other illustrators are included. ​

Kirbi also just signed with Plum Pudding Illustration Agency for UK exclusive representation, and her work was chosen to be​ featured at the Society ofIllustrators in NYC this month. The show is called "Point of Vision-Celebrating Women Artists in Fantasy and Science Fiction," ​was curated by some of the top art directors currently working in science fiction/fantasy and will be there until August. Such fabulous news Kirbi!

And one more bit of good news from me (Patti Richards:)! I recently signed a contract with Red Line Editorial for a book in their upcoming series on technology for kids. My title is, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING, and the series is scheduled for a spring 2017 release. You many now commence happy dancing with me!

Well, that’s all for this issue, and isn’t that quite a list? We have so much to be proud of here in our great big Mitten. Congratulations everyone!  

Send all of your happy publishing news to Patti Richards at ​

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ask Frida Pennabook: Hibernating in Haslett

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear Frida,

The more I am on social media, the more I hear about writers getting scammed. Just recently, I heard about a group of writers who were scammed out of hundreds of dollars after they signed up for a fake conference. Seriously?? How does something like that happen? I don’t know whether I should feel sorry for these people because they were naive and got what they deserved, or nervous because there’s such a thing as a fake conference. Makes me think of what my Grandma used to say: You can’t lose your money if you never gamble. Maybe I should stay in my cozy little writing cave and never leave.

Hibernating in Haslett

Dear Hibernating,

The sad truth is that yes, Virginia, there are fake conferences out there, just as there are fake agents, editors, and publishers. Their prey tend to be writers who are relatively new to the industry. For example, one conference I read about promised that everyone who attended would leave with a publishable manuscript. Experienced writers know that you can’t buy a publishable manuscript. Only hard work and lots of time can yield one.

One of the worst examples I’ve seen in recent years involves an author event that was cancelled due to “terrorist threats.” Even though the event organizer promised refunds, she has now disappeared, along with thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Another scammer (a woman pretending to be a publisher) faked her own death.

While it may sound like the plot of a poorly written thriller, these kinds of scams are real. But they can be avoided, if you know what to look for.

Is the organization reputable?
Anyone can buy a domain name and create a website for an event, agency, or publisher. Do your due diligence. Is the conference sponsored by a legitimate organization? Does the agency share clients that you can contact without having to go through their website? Is the event verifiable through the location, that is, if you call the conference venue, can they confirm that the event organizer has signed a contract and paid a deposit?

Is the event sponsor an individual?
This should be a big red flag. Individuals don’t usually carry the kind of clout necessary to attract big names to an event. Nor do they usually have insurance to cover costs of a cancellation.

Have you checked the guest speakers’ credentials?
Take a look at their websites. If it’s a well-known speaker, then the event should appear on his or her website under upcoming appearances (or something similar to that). If in doubt, send an email and ask.

Does the write up for the event make big promises?
If you are guaranteed that attendance at a conference will result in a publishable manuscript, or agent representation, be wary. Legitimate conference organizers don’t make promises like this.  

Has the agent asked for an upfront fee?
Real agents don’t ask for an upfront reading fee, make promises of publication, or offer fee-based editing services. Check out for a list of agents who are registered with the Association of Authors’ Representatives. The member agents agree to operate under strict ethical guidelines. Note that there are plenty of legitimate agents who do not belong to AAR, so this is not the end all be all. But it’s a good place to start.

Has the editor clarified his or her role in your manuscript?
Whether you are hiring a freelance editor to help you with your manuscript before you start submitting, or you have been approached by an editor who wants to publish your manuscript, be sure you understand exactly what the editor’s role will be. Don’t do anything without a contract, and read it very carefully. Consider hiring an agent who simply works with you on ironing out contract details. There are agents who will do this for a flat fee. Avoid a potential conflict of interest by not using an agent suggested to you by the publisher.

Well now, describing these shenanigans has left me a bit hot under the collar. I hope I didn't frighten you. I believe this calls for a pleasant stroll around the lake, and you, my dear, must come out of hibernation. What lake you ask? Take your pick, big or small, this is Michigan after all. Simply follow the resources below to find your way to a safe shore.


Resources for Finding Reputable Events, Agents, Editors, and/or Publishers

Editorial Freelancers Association (Search their list of vetted freelance editors, designers, and ghostwriters)
Writer Beware (This is one of my favorites for researching scams)

Many larger publications (such as Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, Association of Writing Programs, and others) regularly post articles about upcoming events, manuscript wish lists, contests, etc., and are good places to research legitimate events, agents, editors, and publishers.

A few of the reputable conferences in Michigan:
Capital City Writers
Rally of Writers
Detroit Working Writers
Rochester Writers
Michigan Reading Association

Thanks to Frida Pennabook for sharing her wisdom! If you have additional resources, please share in the comments below.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! Patti Richards is gathering your good news so we can celebrate! Email Patti by June 21st to be included.

Friday, June 10, 2016

SCBWI-MI Picture Book Text Mentorship

In just two weeks, submissions open for the 2016-2017 Picture Book Text Mentorship.

Really? Who’s the mentor?
Deborah Diesen. Did you miss the Mitten interview with Debbie last week? Go here to read it, and check out her website, too.

Has SCBWI-MI done this before?
SCBWI-MI has been offering mentorships since 2000. Here’s what some previous winners have to say.

Shanda Trent (2004, picture book text with Rhonda Gowler Greene)I strongly encourage any picture book writing Mich-kidders to write, edit, rewrite, share with your peers, edit, rewrite and polish your best work and submit it for this amazing mentorship opportunity. I did, several years ago. My manuscript was selected; I was very lucky to work with Rhonda Gowler-Greene, another magnificent Mich-kidder. I learned so much in the mentorship. My writing improved, and (cue happy ending) I am now a published author.”

Tracy Bilen (2009, novel with Shutta Crum) “My mentorship with the amazing Shutta Crum helped me to really slow down and dig deep into the revisions of my YA novel. Shutta’s perfect blend of editorial notes, articles to study, and in-person craft/pep-talk sessions led to a much stronger book…and a sale to Simon Pulse!”

Jeff Morrissey (2015, illustration with E.B. Lewis) “Working with EB Lewis helped me realize that a children's book illustration isn't just a depiction of action--it's storytelling!” 

Daniel Burns (2015, diverse books with Patricia Hruby Powell) “I've greatly appreciated the time Patricia Hruby Powell has already invested. Her comments are always well constructed and push me to step back and look anew at what I've written. She clearly has an amazing ability to teach, and I'm honored to have the chance to learn from her.”

Leslie Helakoski (2003, illustration with Lori McElrath-Eslick) “Working with a local illustrator, who treated me as a peer, gave me much needed confidence about my artwork…and gave me a dear friend."

Cool. But what about this mentorship? Where can I find out the details?
Everything is on the website.

Okay. So, what’s Event Brite?
It’s an easy way for applicants to register and for SCBWI-MI to electronically count submissions and collect the registration fee. Before you ask, the fee is $15 and nonrefundable.

Right. How do I find this event on Event Brite?
Click or tap here.

I’m on it. This bit about uploading a manuscript sounds difficult.
No special computer skills are required. The link leads you to an email address. All you need to do is send an email with your manuscript attached as a word document. Please check the instructions before you send.

What should I title the attachment?
Use the title of your manuscript. Don’t put your name anywhere on the manuscript.

Remind me when I can submit.
The submission window is June 24-July15, 2016.

There’s no need to shout.
I’m really excited about this mentorship.

Whatever. Do you have any other advice?
We expect the mentorship to fill up quickly. Pop on over to the website now and review the application instructions. Then you’ll be ready to submit your manuscript on June 24 or soon after.

What if I think of another question?
Contact SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

Thanks for your hard work coordinating the mentorship competition, Ann! The mentorship winner will be announced during the fall retreat:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Ask Frida Pennabook, the Making of a Book Cover, an Indie Bookseller Interview, MFA Q&As, and more!

Nina Goebel is preparing to announce our new Featured Illustrator on July 1st, and Patti Richards is gathering your good news for another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. To be included, email Patti by June 19th.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, June 3, 2016

SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship and Interview with Mentor, Deborah Diesen

SCBWI-MI is offering a twelve month picture book text mentorship with the amazing Deborah Diesen. Submission guidelines, eligibility rules, and FAQs can be found on the SCBWI-MI websiteThe submission window is June 24-July 15, 2016.

Ann Finkelstein, Mentorship Coordinator, is here to tell you all about author/mentor Debbie Diesen. Here's Ann:

Debbie has a way with words, a brilliant rhyming mind and tells fantastic stories. Her manuscript critiques are both insightful and empowering. She is the author of the New York Times best-selling picture book, THE POUT-POUT FISH and its three companion books: 

She has also written three Pout-Pout Fish mini-adventures for babies and young toddlers: 

Debbie’s other picture books include: 

Two additional Pout-Pout Fish mini-adventures will come out next year, and we can look forward to three more hardcovers in 2017-2018, all published by Farrar Straus Giroux.

I asked my friends, including Debbie, to help me think of interview questions.

AF: What do you like best about writing picture books?
DD: My favorite aspect of writing picture book stories is that the requirements of the format inspire my creative side. A picture book story has to appeal to both children and adults; has to be told in a way that lends itself to being repeatedly read aloud; and has to be told in about 500 words or fewer.  Limitations are a writer’s friend: in learning and embracing the requirements of a particular writing genre, one’s writing becomes freer and fuller.
Plus, in what other genre can you write about a talking fish and still be taken seriously? I’d pout-pout if I were writing anything else.

KG: How long did it take from when you started writing to getting published?
DD: I’ve always loved writing, but I didn’t try my hand at writing picture book stories until my kids (now 17 and 14) came along. After dabbling a bit, I began to write more seriously by around 2000, and I started submitting stories in 2001. Spread across multiple stories, I received 99 rejections before I received my first contract in 2005. That book, The Pout-Pout Fish, was published in 2008. An eight-year timeline from start to book is not atypical in this industry. Holding tight to the right combination of persistence and patience (call it persipatience, perhaps?) is a real necessity.

KG: How many drafts or revisions do you typically do before you submit?
DD: I go through a lot of drafts and revisions. I start my stories longhand on paper, and then when I feel I have enough clay to throw on the potter’s wheel, I enter my chicken-scratches into a word processing document. I prefer to have a pen or pencil in my hand when I’m revising, so I print the story out and then sit down with it, away from the computer, to read it out loud to myself numerous times and to mark up my changes. I then head back to the computer to enter my changes and reprint, then back to my Barcalounger to revise. Some revisions are of the Start Over nature; others are micro adjustments. By the time a story is “done” (anywhere from the rare case of a month or so after I began it, to the more likely case of a year or five or more), I’ll usually have two to four inches of drafts of it in my file.
(Note that I don’t actually have a Barcalounger, but it’s a fun word to say, so let’s pretend.)

RMB: How do you know when a manuscript is both good and done?
DD: In fact, I’m never certain of either good or done; but I’ve learned how to triangulate the position of a manuscript by taking multiple measurements. The first is an internal measure. I keep revising until a story has a certain resonance or vibration within me when I read it. When I’ve gotten a story to that point, or when I’m stuck because I can’t find a way to get it to that point, I bring the story to my critique group for a reality check. Their collective wisdom and their individual perspectives help me assess whether the story is good and/or done.

TG: How much money is in this gig?
DD: The field of children’s book writing and illustrating is populated with tens of thousands of hard-working, devoted, and talented individuals, some of whom are able to make a living at it; some of whom have hit-or-miss income from it; and some of whom will never make a dime, despite having great stories and doing everything they can to get published. Money can happen, but it’s impossible to predict or guarantee. It’s best to enter the field for the love of it rather than for its lucrativity (which is not really a word, but when you’re sitting in an imaginary chair, you get to be Queen of the Dictionary).

BS: I know the plot and characters are supposed to drive the story. How often does the rhyme change the story?
DD: Writing in rhyme tends to bring out my playful side, so typically for me rhyme has a positive impact on my exploration of a story’s plot and characters. It makes more things possible. It also makes me more likely to try out and experiment with word choice and wordplay. But a story has to want to be in rhyme, or it’s no good to impose rhythm and rhyme on it. If it’s not meant to be in rhyme, writing in rhyme will limit the story’s characters, plot, and potential. Forcing a story to fit into a garment that doesn’t suit it is not going to work, no matter how many times you try on or accessorize the stanzas.

AH: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing picture books?
DD: The most important thing I’ve learned from my writing experience is that I’ve still got a lot to learn! Every story I write teaches me something new about writing (and I usually learn it the hard way).

AH: What will the mentor expect of the mentee?
DD: I don’t have any particular expectations, other than that the mentee have an enthusiasm for writing, a willingness to learn, and enough of a sense of humor to put up with my quirkiness.  (Barcalounger not required.)

DD: What have I gotten myself into?
DD: I’m actually looking forward to serving as a mentor. But since I’ve never been a mentor before, I’m a bit nervous at the prospect! The stereotype of a mentor is guru-like and wise; but I can’t rock the guru-robe look, and I’m definitely still working on the wisdom thing.

That said, I guess I’ve learned a few things along the way, and so I look forward to sharing what I know and learning some more. It’ll be an enjoyable growth experience for both of us!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Mentorship coordinator Ann Finkelstein will be back next week with explanations, endorsements, and enthusiasm. Until then, read the guidelines on the SCBWI-MI website, or email Ann directly.

Nina Goebel is preparing to announce our new Featured Illustrator on July 1st, and Patti Richards is gathering your good news for another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. To be included, email Patti by June 19th.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz