Friday, January 27, 2017

Jordan J. Scavone's Tips for a MightE Signing Event

My first book signing wasn’t great. I’m not quite sure when how to do a successful signing really happened. A big part of me thought that just having a signing meant I was going to sell books. This was obviously not the situation, I sat for five to six hours and sold… eight books maybe? With each signing I learned a little bit more, trial and error in the ways I would interact with people, the decision to sit or stand, little things like that. After thirteen Barnes and Noble signings, four convention signings, and a few restaurant signings (all in one-year) I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned what works for me.

1.  Know Your Book
It seems obvious, but if you can’t tell people about your book quickly, then the odds are not in your favor in selling them a book. Almost everyone who approaches me hears almost identical mini-pitches.

“My book is about a four-year-old girl with social anxiety starting school. In order to overcome her fear of going to school, she becomes a superhero.”

Many people who pick up a copy of my book show they're impressed by my quick, simple, yet catching pitch.

2.  Know Who You Are
Some people can talk, some people cannot. My background comes as a competitive speaker, I’m lucky enough to be trained to speak to people. This give me a high level of confidence when it comes to talking to any, and all people. If talking isn’t your strong suit, don’t force conversation. If talking is one of your strong suits, use it, keep a keen eye on people as they pass by. Watch for lingering glances at your table, utilize eye contact, and don’t be afraid to invite people to your table.

3.  Know Your Audience
These points seem obvious, but, having a firm idea of who you are going to your signing event to sell to it key. If you write picture books (as I do) then you have a wide range of audiences. Kids, are the most obvious. If you can get a child interest in your book, then the child will get their parents into your book. When a little one comes to my table I start speaking them, shift my attention to the parent, then finish my pitch/conversation on the child. Kids also want to handle the book, I let them know that they can look at the book, I let them hold the book, and I encourage them to talk and ask questions.

4.  Be You
You wrote a book, and you are doing an event. That’s awesome, remember that. Even if you sell one book. That one book can change the direction of the new owner’s life. At one of my last signings of 2016 I told a seven-year-old aspiring author that “I’d only sign her book, if she would sign one for me at one of her signings one day.” I wrote that in her book, and she left with one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. Remember that you are there to inspire.

 Jordan J. Scavone’s received his M.A. in Children’s Literature from Eastern Michigan University in April of 2016, his debut superhero children’s book Might-E released in December of 2015, and in June of 2016 he married his best friend. It was a good calendar year. Learn more at and Tweet at Jordan @RealJScavone using #BeMightE.

Coming up next on the Mitten blog: It's time for another Writer's Spotlight. Who will it be?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Growing a Thick Skin by Melissa Cunningham

I started writing my novel, The Life-Dividing Days, on a train I was taking from Ann Arbor to my sister’s house in St. Louis. By the time I arrived, the first version of the first chapter was finished. I gave it to my sister, Laura, who was encouraging. I always looked up to my sister, who has a master’s degree in English and worked her tail off to become Dean of Libraries for Webster University. She agreed to be my first reader. I’d send her each chapter as soon as it was finished and would wait for her response. I seriously couldn’t move forward without hearing back from her. Fortunately, she continued to be supportive, coaching me to keep writing.

The very first criticism I received of the book was from my brother (always the pragmatist – lol) who asked why the book had to be about something so depressing. It was such an innocuous comment, really, but I felt completely crushed by it. It’s not as if I’d never had my work revised, either. I was a journalist for 4 years and a communications specialist for two. My writing was constantly being edited and it never bothered me. Writing a novel, though, is like pouring your heart and soul onto a page. For that reason, having it criticized cut to the core.

In the last 15 years, I’ve had countless paid critiques by authors and agents. I’ve been to conferences and joined writing workshops. For five years, I met monthly with a writing group, taking excerpts of novels, short stories, creative essays, poems and even picture book manuscripts and laying myself bare. Our group consisted of two English/creative writing professors and three other talented writers/poets. I valued their opinions and learned an incredible amount from them about craft. They changed my work in in-numerous ways, and they changed how I think of critiques.

Somewhere along the line, a switch flipped. I started looking forward to feedback and became grateful for every bit of constructive criticism they offered. I learned how valuable it can be and saw how much these insights improved my writing – and that’s really the end goal.

I’ve recently started querying literary agents. I won’t lie and say it isn’t nerve-wracking. I know that my chances of getting published, statistically, are slim; only about 3% of unsolicited novels are picked up by literary agents and that’s just the start of the publishing process. I also won’t deny that rejection hurts, but these days the blows don’t connect quite as hard as they once did and the healing comes much quicker.

In that way, I feel like I’ve grown since my brother’s comment. I’ve even come to realize that what he said wasn’t a comment about my writing, but more a comment of how my brother saw me, as a generally upbeat, positive person. I find it sweet, now, that he was concerned about my writing revealing my darker, more complex side.

I guess that’s all part of growing a thick skin, which is vital if you plan on being a writer.

Melissa Olson Cunningham has a degree in communications from the University of Michigan and has written for children's and parenting magazines, weeklies, and online publications in the states and Canada. She has won two awards for her novel, The Life-Dividing Days, which she is currently querying. View her blog, Wordsmithery, at her website

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Melissa, and best of luck with your queries. Speaking of queries and critiques, SCBWI-MI is gearing up for our Written Critique Program:

What do Brianne Johnson, Carrie Howland, Adah Nuchi, Susan Dobinick and Julie Bliven have in common?
1. They are all experts in the children’s literature industry; Brianne, Carrie, and Adah as agents and Susan and Julie as editors.
2. They have all offered to critique manuscripts for our members as part of the SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program.

This program will feature 8 agents and 9 editors offering a total of 294 critiques in February and March. It's an opportunity to make an important connection and receive valuable feedback on your manuscript from the pros.

Are you an author/illustrator? Several of the experts will review illustrated manuscripts, too.
Registration opens on February 1. The deadline for submission of February manuscripts is Feb. 15 and the deadline for March manuscripts is March 15. You will be able to purchase more than one critique -- first come, first served -- until all the slots are full.

So whip that manuscript (or manuscripts) into shape and get ready to submit. You might want to review the following articles as a checklist to make sure your manuscript is submission ready.

Is Your Manuscript Ready to Submit? - Books & Such Literary Management

How Do You Know When Your Manuscript is Ready?

More details to come! SCBWI-MI members will receive an email, and more info will be on our MichKids listserv and Facebook page.

In the meantime, visit KidLit 411's Birthday Bash 2017 for a wealth of resources related to children's writing/publishing and multiple opportunities to win free critiques from literary agents.

Kristin Lenz

Friday, January 13, 2017

Featured Illustrator Brianne Farley


This questionnaire goes back to a popular parlor game in the early 1900s. Marcel Proust filled it out twice. Some of our questions were altered from the original to gain more insight into the hearts and minds of our illustrators. We hope you enjoy this way of getting to know everybody.

1. Your present state of mind?

Kind of sleepy, actually.

2. What do you do best?

Draw expressive characters with odd noses.

3. Where would you like to live?

Near friends in a tiny house on the beach.

4. Your favorite color?

Lavender. And also gray.

5. Three of your own illustrations:

6. Your music?

I’m currently listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas album. It doesn’t even need to be Christmas to enjoy this thing, turns out.

7. Your biggest achievement?

My first picture book, because it opened a door to a lovely career and meeting my closest amazing soulmate friends.

8. Your biggest mistake?

Equating busyness with progress.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

Sneeches, by Dr. Seuss.

10. Your main character trait?

Playfulness. But in, like, a badass way.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

A great, loud sense of humor and a knack for comfortable silences.

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

The ones for which you’re asked forgiveness.

13. Your favorite children's book hero?

Matilda. What a badass.
14. What moves you forward?

A willingness to fail big.

15. What holds you back?


16. Your dream of happiness?

Being present. Another version involves swimming in Lake Michigan with someone I love and also there’s pie.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

Quentin Blake? That is a tough question. This could be a 400-person list.

18. What super power would you like to have?


19. Your motto?

We Are No Longer Impostors And We’re Good At What We Do

20. Your social media?

twitter: @briannefarley
instagram: @briannehfarley

Friday, January 6, 2017

Is It Time You Tried a Residency for Writers? by Jean Alicia Elster

I don’t think there is a writer alive who has not, at one time or another, looked up from their computer screen, gazed wistfully out of a nearby window and sighed, “Oh, if I could only get away and just focus on my writing!”  Well, I’m here to tell you that you can—you can get away and do just that. And the vehicle that makes it all possible is what is known as a residency for writers or artists.

I was introduced to the benefits of a residency by my then-mentor at another writers organization. She was glowing in her effusive praise about her recent residency at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. Armed with the conviction that if my mentor, who was actually at the same point in her fiction-writing career as I was, could make it into one of the coveted residency spots then so could I—as well as the fact that Lake Forest was only a five-hour drive from metro Detroit—I went to and downloaded the application materials. The rest is history: I was accepted into a residency for the following year, 2001, and then via subsequent applications for the years 2003 and 2005.

Because each residency program is different and offers its own perks and limitations, pick one that is right for you and your personality. Do you crave just a cabin in the woods where you prepare your own food and live off the grid? Do you want meals prepared by a chef and served on a dining room buffet?  Do you want to be close to home or is a plane ride away to one of the coasts no big deal for you? Do you want the company of writers only or are you interested in sharing time with creative types of other disciplines? Is cost a major factor? The cost at Ragdale is generously subsidized by the organization. Some residencies require writers to foot the entire bill. Go online and do your research. Also, Poets and Writers magazine periodically devotes a portion of an issue to various residencies and retreats.

As I reflect upon my three residencies at Ragdale, the following thoughts stand out and explain why those times were so helpful to my life as a writer and to my fiction-writing career:

·      The daily contact with other professionals pursuing creative endeavors was invigorating beyond words. To be able to have regular conversations and interactions, particularly during communal meals, with others who shared a similar commitment to an artistic or literary endeavor provided a validation of purpose that invigorated and confirmed my creative processes.

·      As a writer, to be freed from routine daily tasks (such as cooking, housekeeping, attendance at a day job and, yes, parenting) in order to concentrate exclusively on a creative task allowed me to focus my complete thought processes and the unencumbered will of my muse on my manuscript. Such single-minded devotion meant that I could complete more work in a two-week residency than I could have completed in six months at my desk at home. (I do not exaggerate—other writers-in-residence have concurred with that statement).

·      Preparing for the residency and actually leaving home (at the time of my first residency, my husband asked me, “Why are you abandoning us?”) helped the significant people in my life—namely my husband and children—understand how important my identity as a writer is to me and that I needed a span of time to give that part of my life the same level of devotion that I give to them.

Even though it has been over a decade since my last residency at Ragdale, I still cherish the benefits of those three sessions. And I heartily encourage you, at some point in your literary career, to seek your own time away to focus solely on your writing. If I can do it, so, indeed, can you!

Jean Alicia Elster is the author of several books of children’s, middle grade and young adult fiction. Her two most recent books—Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car (both published by Wayne State University Press)—were selected as Michigan Notable Books by the Library of Michigan. She recently submitted the trilogy’s third volume, Blood Journey, to her WSU Press editor and is eager to begin the process of editing the manuscript. Keep up with her at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Our blog banner changes every quarter thanks to our Featured Illustrators, and Nina Goebel is preparing to unveil our newest banner. Nina created our Happy Holidays banner and will introduce our new Featured Illustrator next Friday!

Happy New Year!
Kristin Lenz