Friday, February 24, 2017

Between the Covers: An Indie Bookstore Interview by Kate Bassett and Alison DeCamp

Today's indie bookstore interview is a collaborative effort from the staff at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs, Michigan. Katie Capaldi has owned the store for less than four years, but she's already moved it to a better location, brought in world-class authors to both the town and schools, and had a baby!

Kate Bassett
Kate Bassett is the editor of the local paper, The Harbor Light, and the author of the YA novel Words and Their Meanings.

Alison DeCamp
Alison DeCamp has two middle grade novels under her belt, a third in progress, and she's part of the anthology, Funny Girl, that comes out in May.

Kate interviewed Alison for this special feature. Enjoy!

What's unique about Between the Covers? 
The owner, Katie Capaldi, is a bookseller. She's not a frustrated writer or a hobbyist, she LOVES books and loves finding the right book for every reader. She has created a store that feels curated--there are books we all love, books some of us love, books none of us love but we know a customer who will love it--all hand picked with people in mind.

How does this impact your role as a bookseller there? 
It's a fun and exciting place to work because it's such a good feeling to pair a book and a reader.

What's it like to both write books and sell them? Writing books has ruined reading for me. Ha! Just kidding. Kind of. ;)  Before becoming published it was a lot easier to simply read and enjoy a book. Now I'm constantly tearing a book apart to see how it works, thinking about techniques an author might use, and either wishing I had thought of an idea myself or baffled at how a book got published at all.

What are the most memorable author events you've experienced there...and why?
We had Andy Griffiths all the way from Australia as part of his U.S. tour and that was so fun. He's very professional, great with kids, and did not find me funny whatsoever. Regardless, it was fun having him and his publicist around for a couple of days.

What advice would you give authors before, during and after bookstore appearances?
I would first advise authors to create a relationship with a store (if possible) prior to asking for an event to be held. And, preferably, the bookstore asks you to come there rather than the other way around. Never, ever, ever act like you're doing the store a great favor by "letting" them sell your books/host an event/follow you around while you spill wine everywhere. During the event just be yourself. Also don't worry about the amount of people who may or may not show. I have found that even connecting with booksellers or a couple of attendees can be valuable--I've personally had events where two people showed up, but I got to know other authors or one of the people was a teacher or librarian. After an appearance it's always nice to get a thank you note, especially if the store has really gone all out.

What's the benefit of authors cultivating relationships with independent booksellers? Independent booksellers are an author's best friend. They know their customers, they know their books, and they know how to get the right book to the right reader. They also love to support authors they know and like.

As a successful middle grade author yourself, what's the best (and worst) advice you've been given when it comes to writing or publishing? 
The best advice came from my editor, Phoebe Yeh. She keeps reminding me that when it comes to middle grade, it's more of a slow burn. I had it in my mind that everything was going to be fast and furious. It's not. And my agent, Sarah Davies, always reminds me (and all of her clients, to be honest) to not "over egg the pudding." I think of that all of the time while I'm writing. And over egging the pudding. I don't know that I got bad advice, but I do think it's a good idea to only do the things that work for you--if you're comfortable on Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat/Instagram/Periscope/Doohickey (<---I made that one up, but something should be named that), go for it! But don't be someone you're not.

Any bookstore events you are especially looking forward to?
We, of course, are peripherally involved in the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book which takes place at the end of September, beginning of October. Last year's event was so much better than I even thought it would be, I'm even more excited for this year. And while it's not technically a bookstore event, it involves books and authors and that's always fun.

Thank you, Kate and Alison for sharing your insider's view! Please visit their author websites (Kate Bassett, Alison DeCamp) to learn more about their books, and like/follow the Between the Covers Facebook page to learn about their upcoming events.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Takeaways, photos, awards, and special honors from the annual SCBWI New York conference.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, February 17, 2017

Writing Through a Slump by Nick Adkins

If a draft is written in a hotel lobby, and nobody is around to read it, does it really exist? 

I have been working on a chapter book since February 2015. The current iteration is "New Revisions 34." I don't know how many "Old Revisions" there were, but I do know that the new revisions started after I had named a file "August Adelaide's How to Make a Friend FINAL FINAL." Clearly it was not. 

Most of those drafts have never been read by anyone other than me. I don't like people seeing my work until I've read through it without making any edits. Then they mark it up in red and I start over. It’s crazy and endless. It's write and rewrite and think about it in the shower and in the car, and then start it all over again. 

But why so many rewrites? What is missing? Why have I deemed the 33 previous versions not good enough? Why haven’t I written “FINAL FINAL FINAL” yet? When I realized I didn’t have the answer, I sort of broke down. I stopped attending local writing groups. I stopped participating in the online writing community. After a couple weeks, I stopped writing.

I’ve heard this comparison that writers are like sharks. It’s thought that if a shark stops swimming, it will die. Likewise, if a writer stops writing, he or she will die. But it felt more like losing a friend. Like someone you’ve come to expect to be there day in and day out and then suddenly they aren’t. 

Fast forward. I dragged myself to a writing conference—Write on the Red Cedar. It was great last year, I knew it was going to be great this year, but I hadn’t written more than a few words in a few months. Did I really belong at a writing conference? A voice told me that I did not. I recognized it as the same voice that tells me I’ll never make it. But then I saw people I hadn’t seen in months. I conversed with them and it drowned that other voice out. Sure I sat at the table in the back of the room, but I was surrounded by writers. I was surrounded by my people.

And Michael Hauge was there. He taught us about emotion and conflict and structure. About a journey of transformation and inner motivation. I’ve heard of these things. I’m familiar with the hero’s journey. But I had always assumed it was better suited for an epic storyline like Star Wars. Then Michael showed us clips from Pixar’s Up and outlined Carl’s journey. That’s when I realized that part of August’s journey was missing. I left the talk. I sat down in the hotel lobby and I wrote. “How to Make a Friend FINAL Revision 1” was born.

If a draft is written in a hotel lobby, and nobody is around to read it, does it really exist? Will the first 20 minutes of Up have you crying like a baby? The answer to both questions is yes. Each draft lives on in its successor, getting better and better and better if only a little bit at a time. Anybody who works persistently at something knows this. Sometimes it takes a conversation with a friend to remind us. Sometimes it takes an 8 hour workshop with a Hollywood screenplay consultant. Whatever it takes, find it.

Nick is an author and an illustrator who has self-published two picture books. He illustrated The Great Big Scary Monster (by Saraya Evenson) and wrote and illustrated Sloth VS Turtle. Nick is currently working on a chapter book about an introvert, a robot, and the struggle of making a friend. Learn more at

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Interviews, interviews, interviews: a Michigan indie bookstore and a superstar librarian, teacher, and blogger. Plus, takeaways and congrats from the annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.

Happy creating,
Kristin Lenz

Friday, February 10, 2017

SUCCESS STORY: Patti Richards and Work-For-Hire Writing Projects

You all know Patti Richards as one of our Mitten blog editors. She trumpets the good news and hard work of our SCBWI-MI members in two quarterly features, Hugs and Hurrahs and Writer Spotlights. It's been awhile since we've shared a Success Story interview, and Patti is the perfect candidate. It's her turn to shine! Patti kicked-off the new year with the release of her newest non-fiction book, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING.

Tell us a little about your book.
ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING (Red Line/North Star Editions, January 2017) is part of the Cutting-Edge Technology series produced by North Star Editions. There are eight books in all that cover everything from apps and coding to drones and social media. They had two titles for me to choose from and I took the social networking title because that’s an area where I’m very comfortable. Specifically, my book is written for kids age 9 to 13 and defines social networking, how instant messaging works, the social media choices that are out there for kids, how to stay safe while online and future trends in social networking.

This book was a work-for-hire project. What does that mean?  
Work-for-hire writing is a bit different from the usual way writers submit a manuscript and wait to hear from a publisher or agent. With work-for-hire, the publisher determines the titles they wish to publish during their editorial year. Then they reach out to writers who have submitted resumes and writing samples or who have been recommended by another writer. If the writer is interested in taking on the project, the company sends a contract that outlines the terms of the agreement and payment.

Once the writer signs and returns the contract, she receives instructions on how to proceed. For me, this included an outline, suggested subheadings, submission formatting and those all-important deadlines! I got all my instructions in late May and had two weeks to complete the first draft. I waited about a week after submitting the first draft for my editorial notes (which required a complete rewrite because I’d miss some important style-guide points…ugh), and then the final draft was due about two weeks later. So the entire process from start to finish took approximately six weeks. That was last summer, and the book was released a few weeks ago. For most picture books the entire process can take two years or more from the day the contract is signed.

Are there pros and cons for this type of writing?
I really don’t see a downside because work-for-hire projects accomplish some important things.
First, it’s a paying gig, and those can be few and far between in this business. There’s nothing like knowing the work you’re doing is work you’re actually getting paid for as a writer. It’s a confidence builder in an industry where “atta girls” can be scarce!

Second, it forces you to work to a style guide and deadlines. It’s very common for those new to the business side of writing to chafe under deadlines. For me, deadlines are a part of daily life, and basically, if you don’t get it turned in on time, you don’t get paid. Learning to write under this kind of pressure sharpens your writing and editing skills in a way nothing else can.

Third, you get a hold-in-your-hand book at the end of the process and a new credit for your resume. It might not be the next Newbery Award or an idea that was born in your writer soul, but seeing a project like this through to completion and getting to open the box with your author copies inside- well, there’s just nothing like it!

As far as cons go, it’s difficult to find any. You’ve done the work (maybe faster than you would otherwise), it’s a substantial credit for your resume, and you have a book out. Some might shy away from this type of work because there are no royalties involved in work-for-hire projects. Once you get paid you don’t earn any more money and you have no rights to the content you’ve provided. I would say, sometimes you have to be willing to do things that look a little different than your dream in order to realize that dream in the long run. Writing is a business and making smart business decisions as you go along will serve you well in the end.

How did this opportunity come about for you?
I’m constantly looking for sources of paying work since I write for a living as well as working to get my children’s books published. As I’m working on writing web copy for clients, I’m researching places that do work-for-hire projects, whether they’re in the children’s market or other markets. I submitted my resume to Red Line Editorial the first time in October of 2014. I never heard back from them, so I resubmitted my resume in March of 2016, and this time, within 24 hours I was asked to send writing samples. Once I sent those and they liked them, I was put on their contributing writer list. That means if they come across a title for which they think a writer would be well suited, based on experience and the writing samples, they reach out. That happened for me just a couple of months later.

Do you have a responsibility for marketing/promoting these type of books?
No, work-for-hire projects are usually for schools and libraries and are marketed to teachers and librarians directly by the company. I can certainly promote the book through social media and my website/blog, but there’s no official book release party or that kind of thing for these projects; although there’s no rule that says an author can’t do that.

Do you have any research tips? And what about organizing all of this information (and on a tight deadline!)? Do you use a program like Scrivener?
Research for me has to go pretty fast, so I don’t use a program like Scrivener. I stay organized by simply cutting and pasting the URL from my sources into a Word document so I can keep a running list. Then from there I use a free bibliography generator like Citation Machine to produce a bibliography in whatever the style the publisher wants- MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

This project required footnotes/endnotes, and for that I simply used the reference option in Word. I cut and past the URL while I’m writing into the endnote and then go back later and format the note correctly. For me, it’s better than stopping and starting all the time.

I also had to produce a glossary of terms and provide additional reading options for the “To Learn More,” section at the back of the book. So for these types of projects it’s pretty old school when it comes to research and sourcing, although internet resources make the entire process much, much easier!

Do you have any advice for others who would like to find work-for-hire writing projects?
As with other types of writing, researching the kinds of titles companies like this produce can help you craft samples that show you can do the work. One of the first things I did when I got this contract was to order a book written by a friend of mine for this same company so I could get a vision for what the final product would look like. I needed to see it before I started on my own title. Learning to write to a particular style may seem restrictive, but being able to adapt at a moment’s notice lets editors know you are a professional and someone they want to work with again and again.

As far as finding this type of work, Google is your best friend. Use keywords like “work-for-hire writing,” “work-for-hire writing for children,” “educational publishers,” and “educational book publishers,” and you’ll get lots of hits. From there, the submission guidelines, FAQ’s, Contact Us or About Us pages will tell you how to submit or where to send your resume and writing samples.

Thanks for helping us learn from your experience, Patti, and congrats again on your new book! You can learn more about Patti by visiting her blog, Sensibility and Sense, A Perfect Blog for Imperfect Writers. Patti offers paid critiques, resources for writers and insight into the world of writing for children.
The annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York begins today! Safe traveling to everyone attending, and we'll share some reports from our MI attendees when they return.

The SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program is underway and going strong! Learn more here.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, February 3, 2017

Writer Spotlight!

It’s time for another Writer Spotlight on this edition of The Mitten!

Today I’m happy to welcome one of my friends (and critique partners), Wendy BooydeGraaff. Wendy was born and raised in Canada, on a fruit farm in Southern Ontario (which, she says, is almost a full degree latitude south of Grand Rapids where she lives now). She’s been in Michigan for over twenty years and is still shocked by all the snow.

Wendy writes, “Where I grew up, close to Lake Ontario, the lake effect kept us in a little warm bubble and the other side of the lake (Buffalo) got all the snow. Here in Grand Rapids, lake effect means SNOW, and lots of it. I looked it up because I thought maybe my childhood memory was wrong, but guess what? Grand Rapids receives an average of 20 more inches of snow per year than my hometown.”

Let’s dive right in, Wendy!

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

Wendy: I started writing fiction in earnest my first year out of college when I was teaching fifth and sixth-grade students with learning disabilities. I had long been an avid reader but it had never occurred to me to write for publication until then. I latched onto the idea and have never let go.

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

Wendy: Though I don’t remember exactly how I found out about SCBWI, I’d guess it was through an author’s blog, I’ve been enjoying membership since 2009.

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

Wendy: I write fiction, mostly picture books, middle grade and YA. I read a lot of fiction (picture books through adult) and nonfiction, though lately nonfiction has been particularly inspiring for my writing life.

Mitten: Tell us about your publishing journey. Are you pre-published or published, and if so where?

Wendy: I have a picture book out with Ripple Grove Press called, SALAD PIE, illustrated by Bryan Langdo. The two best events that helped (and are still helping) me on my way toward publication were the Nevada SCBWI mentorship program and Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Plus Conference. Also, I received a first runner-up prize from Michigan’s SCBWI for a picture book manuscript.

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

Wendy: I contract for an educational research foundation, which puts me in schools and working with children on a regular basis. I also work for an international company, providing settling-in services to professionals who move from various countries around the world to the Grand Rapids area for work assignments.

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Wendy: Writing is solitary, so my jobs get me out and working with a wide variety of people. This gives me balance, and also, income. Also, both jobs are detail-oriented, and so I’ve developed skills of organization and checking things over from all angles, which are great skills for writing fiction. It’s also nice to meet a steady stream of new people, because they remind me how unique every individual is.

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?

Wendy: All of my writing ideas come from my imagination. I’ve always had a vivid inner life. While people, places, stories might spark an idea, it’s imagination that runs away with it and pushes the spark into a story.

I usually write down ideas on a scrap of paper. I have file folders both on my computer and in my cabinet, full of half-baked ideas. The ideas that really won’t let go, I spend more time with. I spend a lot of time thinking before I begin writing, especially for novels and I never talk about what I’m writing until it’s ready to be seen.

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

Rather than pick writers, I’m going to pick books. THE DARK, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen is one of my favourite picture books because it’s so good at setting the creepy tone we are all taught to believe about the dark, and then, the book shows us that the dark isn’t so bad after all. You can read more about some of my favourite picture books on this post and this other post for Nerdy Book Club.

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

There is so much great advice out there about writing and revising, but in writing for
children, it is most important to remember what it was like being a child. Writing as a parent, teacher or adult tends to make the writing a little manipulative, and I think kids deserve better than that. For instance, if I had made sure there was a parent at the park with Maggie and Herbert, the characters in SALAD PIE, the whole story would have changed. A parent would have made sure they played together right away. But for them to figure it out on their own, that’s priceless.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Wendy! It’s always fun to get to know our Michigan SCBWI family members better. You can find out more about Wendy at her website, and you can read about many other debut picture books at On the Scene in 2016. Wendy would also love to connect with you on Pinterest or Goodreads.

And remember, you never know when the Writer Spotlight will shine on you!

Happy writing, 

Patti Richards