Friday, April 28, 2017

Featured Illustrator Cathy Gendron


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.

 Your present state of mind?

Excited, stressed, hopeful, stressed, happy, stressed.

 What do you do best?

Procrastinate. And because of that, I’m almost always at least 10 minutes late. I’m also a reasonable cook, and pretty competent at drawing and painting.

Where would you like to live?

East coast, north of Baltimore if there were a few more people there. New Hampshire, near the coast if there were less people there.

Your favorite color?

Periwinkle. It was my favorite Crayola color and I still love it. To see it at its best, it needs to live next to dark umber or deep green.

Three of your own illustrations: 

Your music?

Almost everything, but I’m most partial to twangy singer-songwriters.

Your biggest achievement?

Work-wise, I hope it’s yet to come. Personally, being a competent mother. I know it’s not exactly an achievement but at one point, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen.

Your biggest mistake?

Not working harder at my craft when I was younger.

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

I remember Mike Mulligan and the Steams Shovel fondly, and Charlotte’s Web, Curious George and Dr. Seuss. But I’m the oldest in my family. All my early books were handed down to my four younger siblings, and I don’t think any of them survived our childhood. When I was older, I devoured Nancy Drew and anything about horses.

Your main character trait?

Wow, what a question! The good: tenacity. The bad: procrastination (see above).

What do you appreciate most in a friend?


What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Those made in spite of good intentions.

Your favorite children's book hero?

Nancy Drew (see above).

What moves you forward?

I just want to paint.

What holds you back?

There are not enough hours in the day. And of course, the risk of failure and humiliation.

Your dream of happiness?

A perfect day in my studio, window open, sharpened pencils, a good idea, and my favorite music playing.

The painter/illustrator you admire most?

It changes every week. Right now I’m really admiring Lizbeth Zwerger and Julia Sarda, and watercolorist, Keiko Tanabe. All time favorites include, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Max Beckman.

What super power would you like to have?

The skills to move up to USTA 3.5 level tennis. That, and speed-reading.

Your motto?

Do people really have mottos?

Your social media?

I’m really neglectful when it comes to social media and a big part of me prefers it that way. If I had to pick one right now, it would be Instagram.
instagram @cathygendron

Friday, April 21, 2017

Going it Alone: Self-Publishing My Sequel by Sarah Perry aka S.J. Lomas

It isn’t an uncommon story these days. Small, independent publishers pop up, put out some books, and then disappear. I’d watched it happen to an author whose blog I follow. Her first book was well received and while she was working on the sequel, her publisher folded. It was difficult news for her and her readers. Luckily, she’d found a new publishing home for both books. What a relief!

When I was nearing completion of my sequel to DREAM GIRL, I got the unfortunate news from my publisher that they would no longer be publishing fiction. After I worked through my shock and disappointment, I rallied by researching my options. Thinking as a writer, reader, and librarian, here are some of the main things to consider when choosing to self publish.

What is your end goal for your book? In this case, my goal is to tie up the story of my characters for the readers who loved book one. I want to be sure they get a chance to journey with these characters, for the last time, as I originally intended. To accomplish this, I don’t need to have a large print run. My personal preference is to have a print option as well as an ebook option, so I looked for a publishing service that would offer both at an affordable rate. I also wanted a company with a distribution plan, since I didn’t want to be running to the post office all the time or trying to get my readers to come to me to get a copy of the book. Think about what you want to do with your book and how you want to get it to readers. Looking into the various options is the best place to start.

Make a professional product. While the stigma of self-publishing isn’t what it used to be, who hasn’t cringed looking at the amateurish cover of a self-published book, or glaring formatting errors, or terrible editing? Do everything you can to avoid these pitfalls that give self-published books a bad name. While it’s true there are tons of freelance services to authors to handle each of these things, do your research. Look at other books published in your genre. While you don’t want your book to look just like everyone else’s, notice what is standard among them. Think about what makes them look appealing to you. Strive to make your book look at home next to the other books like it. Above all, make sure you feel proud of your final book. You’ll be looking at and talking about this book for a long time. If there’s something about it you don’t like, it’s going to make it that much harder for you to sell. Your own enthusiasm for a book you’re proud of will go a long way.

Get familiar with the business. SCBWI is an incredible resource. If you don’t personally know someone who’s self-published, reach out to your fellow SCBWI members and see who is willing to answer your questions. (Someone definitely will be!) Scour the SCBWI website. Look on the Internet. I learned how to set myself up as an LLC. Initially, the idea terrified me. After talking to author friends who had already done it, and finding this excellent video online, I felt confident filing my own paperwork. You’re not the first to go down this road. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. (For a step-by-step guide of how I’m publishing DREAM FREQUENCY, see my more detailed version of this article on my blog.)

Marketing. We all know we have to be involved in marketing to some degree, but it’s all on you when you self-publish. Don’t feel like you have to do everything possible option. Pick a couple things you’re comfortable with and go with that. If you don’t like talking to people, booking a table at a sales event is probably not the best way for you to get the word out. Think about how you find out about new books. Word-of-mouth? Consider asking your friends and family to help you form a street team and have them tell others about your book. Not a social media whiz but you want to get your book on there? There are many services that provide social media blasts and/or blog tours. Some are more affordable than others. Look around and see what might be the best fit for you.

Enjoy! Don’t forget to celebrate along the way. No matter how you do it, it is hard work to publish a book. The fact that you’re following your dream and working to accomplish your goals is nothing short of outstanding. Enjoy your journey and the amazing network of colleagues and friends available to you through SCBWI. No matter what, keep writing!

Librarian by day, and writer by whatever other time she can find, S.J. is a cheerful Michigan girl who writes strange and somewhat dark YA stories. Dream Frequency is her second novel, but she has many more stories to tell. 

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel unveils our new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator, and Patti Richards returns with another Writer's Spotlight. Plus, SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator Ann Finkelstein will share everything you need to know about the 2017-2018 Illustrator Mentorship with Kirbi Fagan.

And finally, don't miss the SCBWI-MI Monthly Shop Talks and the Marketing Boot Camp next weekend. Learn more and register here.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, April 14, 2017

Industry Insider: Tara Lehmann, Publicist

I'm always curious to learn more about the various publishing roles that contribute to launching a book out into the world. I met publicist, Tara Lehmann at an event at Children's Hospital of Michigan. A Little Free Library had been donated to the hospital emergency room, and Tara was distributing books from Sleeping Bear Press, both for the hospital patients and to help stock the new library. 

Pi Beta Phi donated books for their philanthropic Detroit Fraternity Day of Service, and Ann Arbor author Debbie Taylor read her picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem, with a little help (and antics) from Hooper, the mascot of the Detroit Pistons.

The Detroit police even made a brief appearance to help distribute books.
Tara Lehman

Tara is new to Michigan from the West Coast. Please give her a warm welcome, and read on to learn more about her role as a publicist.

What is your job title? Tell us about your responsibilities and describe a typical day.
I'm the Publicist for Sleeping Bear Press and Cherry Lake Publishing. Basically it's my job to promote books at events, at conferences, on social media, and for awards. A typical day for me varies, but it might include answering emails, chatting with upcoming authors about their author platforms, sending books out for review, or planning events. 

What's your favorite part of your job? What is the most challenging?
My favorite part of the job is taking a title and trying to look at it from a different angle. Sometimes the most effective approaches are the ones people don't immediately think of and the responses can amazing. Often times the most challenging is the waiting. Waiting for reviews, waiting for books to come in, waiting to hear back from people about an event opportunity. 

Tell us a story about something funny or magical or something that went terribly awry when you were working with an author or at an event.
Several years ago, I was working for a different publisher and we were attending a comic con. It was so much fun, I love seeing all the costumes. Well, one of our graphic novels featured a Smilodon and we happened to have boxes and boxes of plush Smilodons in our backroom. Intending to sell a handful, I took a box or three with me to the event. Thankfully the con was local because I ended up running back to the office three more times that weekend to get more plushies! Never underestimate the appeal of prehistoric creature plushies when there are kids around.

What are some new or upcoming titles you're especially excited about?
Everyone has a title or two that they're most excited for. One is The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (or you can call him Nick) which is about a colony of beavers in Idaho in the 1940s that were causing problems for the people, so they decided to relocate them. But since they weren't able to drive them to the new location (no roads), one man created a contraption that would allow for the beavers to safely be launched out of a plane! 

The other is Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan. A fantastic biographical picture book by the same author who wrote The Music in George's Head about George Gershwin, Out of School and Into Nature is about Anna B. Comstock, a woman who bucked tradition and became a pioneer in the fields of education, science, and art. She started a movement encouraging schools to host science and nature classes outdoors! And as a fun fact, she's one of four female inductees into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame. 

What advice do you have for authors regarding promotion/publicity/marketing?
If you're a first time author or an old hat at the game, always keep in mind that promotion doesn't need to be expensive. Creating websites, social media content-- that can be free as well as a great way to get the word out! Look for ways to collaborate with other authors, team up for events if you're able, or reach out to people that you know in the community. If you want to spend money, try and make sure it's something that can do double duty, like a bookmark with a QR code or web address so they can find out more about you and the book. And don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your book, that's how people find great new titles!

Outside of work, what do you enjoy? How do you spend your time?
Outside of work I enjoy reading (of course), video games, cooking/baking, and writing YA. When I'm away from the office, I'm just like any other hopeful writer wanting to be published, but with just a little bit extra industry knowledge. 

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day, Tara!
Learn more about Ann Arbor, Michigan-based publisher Sleeping Bear Press at their website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

And while we're talking about marketing, it's time to register for our upcoming SCBWI-MI event:
Marketing Bootcamp: A Day Devoted to the Business of Writing, April 29th

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel is coordinating with our new Featured Illustrator. We'll introduce her and unveil our new blog banner soon. Plus, more Michigan KidLit Advocates, a Writer's Toolbox, creating teacher guides, self-publishing a second novel, and another Writer's Spotlight - it could be you!

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, April 7, 2017

Success Story: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

A few months ago I received a message from Jack Cheng. He found my book at Pages Bookshop in Detroit and wanted to tell me how much the story resonated with him. I was delighted that he took the time to reach out. 

I discovered that he lived nearby in Detroit, grew up in Troy, and his first middle grade novel was about to be published. I loved the premise of the story and wanted to know more. He's had all kinds of interesting experiences like living in a yurt, but I'll save those stories for a time when you meet him in person. He recently joined SCBWI-MI, so hopefully we'll see him at one of our events soon. Until then, here's a brief introduction:

KL: Your middle grade novel, See You in the Cosmos, is off to a great start with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Congrats! Tell us a little about the story and where your ideas came from.

JC: Thanks! The story’s about Alex, an eleven-year-old trying to launch his iPod into space. Alex’s father passed away when he was three, and there’s something mysterious and not quite right about his mother’s role in his life. He also has an older brother living in another state and a dog named Carl Sagan, after his hero—the real-life astronomer. Alex embarks on this mission of his, I think, as a way of trying to understand—and cope with—everything that is happening in his life.

I had the idea for the story when I was back at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving, in 2012. I was hanging out in my younger brother’s room and saw that he had a copy of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, and remembered an episode of the NPR show Radiolab that I’d heard years before, in which Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan talked about how the two fell in love as they worked to gather sounds for the Voyager Golden Record. When I woke up the next morning, the basic premise just popped into my head: A boy and his dog; an iPod bound for space.

See You in the Cosmos is your first novel for kids, but you’ve already had some experience in the adult literary world. Tell us more.

I self-published my first novel, These Days, in 2013. I was living in New York and working in tech at the time (I’ve since moved back to Michigan where I grew up, and currently live in Detroit). These Days originated from a daily journaling practice, and after a couple years working on it in my spare time I found that I enjoyed writing so much that I’d rather do that than stay at my day job. I sent the manuscript around to agents but wasn’t getting much of a response, and I decided, You know what, this is my first novel and I plan to write more; I’m going to self-publish it and treat the whole thing as a learning experience—as a way to understand how to write and publish a novel, from start to finish. I successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign and did a small print run of 650 hardcovers.

Who is your agent and how did you connect with him/her?

My agent is Jessica Craig, and she’s based in Barcelona. We actually connected because of the funding campaign for my first book. These Days was featured in the Kickstarter weekly newsletter and caught Jessica's eye, and she reached out asking to read the manuscript. I interviewed Jessica about it for a podcast I’ve been doing about the making See You in the Cosmos, so if you’re interested, you can hear more of the backstory here.

How have your experiences differed between self-publishing vs traditional publishing, and adult vs children’s writing/publishing?

Self-publishing was a very solitary experience for me, even though I did hire freelance editors and copyeditors for the book. One thing that’s really surprised me about traditional publishing is the sheer number of people involved in making a book and getting it out into the hands of readers. I think, also, everyone at every stage is much more invested in the project; they kind of have to be to want to publish it in the first place. And because of everyone involved, it ends up being a slower process than self-publishing, but there also an intentionality behind all the steps. My friend Robin Sloan, who has also both self-published a book and had one published traditionally, describes the latter as deliberate. I think that’s the perfect word.

As for adult vs children’s, I didn’t start out writing this book as a children’s book. I didn’t even know there was a category called Middle Grade at the time; I was more trying to tell a story about Alex and the other characters. Once the book was acquired (jointly by Dial in the US and Puffin in the UK) a lot of the work I did with my editors was to make it more squarely for young readers, and move some of the adult themes and issues more into the background. That way, the story would work primarily for kids but still retain that depth and richness for adults. 

I found it to be a really interesting challenge because it forced me to know my material and the characters better in some ways—to be able to express these perhaps-more-complex adult concepts in a manner that wouldn’t go over the head of a ten-year-old. It reminds me of what the physicist Richard Feynman said about teaching—that if you can't explain a subject in plain English, then maybe you yourself don't understand it well enough. I think there’s something akin to that happening here, too.

What’s next for you?
In the immediate term I’m visiting schools across the country to talk with students and meet with booksellers and librarians, and after I come back from tour I’m going to begin work in earnest on the next book. A few things I know at this point: it’ll take place in Detroit and its suburbs; it’ll once again be for young readers; and it’ll be more directly about my experience as a Chinese American. 

My identity as a Chinese American is an area of my own life that I’ve just begun to explore recently, and I’ve come to see fiction-writing as one of the best vehicles for this kind of self-examination.

Fun fact: Jack's book launch party at Pages Bookshop was on Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Paczki Day, and he had spaced- themed jelly donuts! This picture does not do them justice; they were quite delectable in person. 😋

Thanks, Jack!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Nina Goebel is coordinating with our new Featured Illustrator. We'll introduce her and unveil our new blog banner soon. Plus, more Michigan KidLit Advocates, a Writer's Toolbox, an interview with a publicist, and another Writer's Spotlight - it could be you!

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz