Friday, May 26, 2017

Marketing Boot Camp Musings by Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins

The SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp was a chockfull day of presentations at the MSU Innovation Center last month. Today, we have not just one, but two conference recaps. Read on for reflections from Charlie Barshaw and Ashley Adkins.

The People You Meet 
by Charlie Barshaw

There are five of us winding our way through throngs of student Spartans on the Friday night before finals week in East Lansing.

While the students are looking for release, we’re looking for the MSU Innovation Center, where the Marketing Boot Camp takes place the next day. We find the third floor room, and a night janitor lets us in to scope it out.

And it occurs to me, for not the first time, how fortunate I am to be part of the great community that is SCBWI. This group previewing the room is a microcosm of my new life.

I met Ruth Marie McNally at the Student Book Store, just a block down Grand River, when she came to pick up her roommate on a Friday night just like this. She drew pictures on napkins, we found we had big families and the same birthday, and so love began.

Thirty years later, Ruth had just sold her first book and I had lost my job. For her birthday, I wrote her a rhyming picture book. She kindly suggested I join SCBWI, and so learning began.

Ruth had a good friend in a critique group, Leslie Helakoski. Leslie had written some successful picture books, but she wanted to illustrate them, too. (And she succeeded: Leslie also rose to the position of Regional Advisor in SCBWI-MI, and allowed me to try out for a part in the Advisory Committee.

And so helping to plan conferences began.

Debbie Gonzalez, a Regional Advisor in Texas, relocated to Michigan. The Lone Star State’s loss was the Mitten State’s big gain, and Debbie has been the webmistress extraordinaire, making great things happen seemingly like magic on the SCBWI-MI website  and Facebook Page.

I’m not sure when or where I first met Debbie, though we’ve shared adventures in Detroit, Dexter, and Boyne Highlands. She hosted a before-conference party at her home in honor of illustrator E.B. Lewis, and the conversation spun deep into the wee hours.

And so shared experiences and friendship began.

And Ed Spicer, a recently-retired first grade teacher in Allegan, is a story onto himself. (In fact, here it is.) Again, the first meeting is lost to the fog of memory, but a rousing night at a Mackinac Island saloon with Ed, Matt Faulkner and Kris Remenar is unforgettable.

Ruth and I have become fast friends with Ed. He’s employed our daughter Emily as a party hostess and introduced us to some of his other friends: Candy Fleming and Eric Rohmann, Helen Frost, Rick Lieder, Nikki Grimes, Gary Schmidt (to name just a few).

And so began a different life than when I was a retail middle-manager. These five people, each talented, creative and passionate about children’s literature, have touched my life and made it rich beyond imagination. I’ve shared their struggles and their triumphs, and they’ve shared mine.

I know each of them because of SCBWI, and the dozens, many dozens of kidlit contemporaries. And while I picked up valuable marketing tips the next day, the greatest value of attending conferences is always in the people I meet.

As an added bit of connectivity, a young man stopped by a regional SCBWI-MI meeting when it was still called a “Monthly Meet-Up.” His name was Nick Adkins, and on Saturday, April 29, he and his wife Ashley were prime movers in making the Marketing Boot Camp a reality.

Charlie Barshaw is the lucky guy who has three more chapters to go to finish the first draft of his YA novel. He has a new idea for a gang of ghost-children YA and has more cool friends than he can count. Life is good.

The Competition That Is Not 
by Ashley Adkins

I’m a business person. My husband, Nick, is a creative soul. It’s true, opposites attract. Five years ago Nick self-published his first picture book and we began promoting it on our own. For me, marketing comes easy. It’s even easier when you’re trying to sell your husband’s work – good work you truly believe in. However, when resources are limited, selling is challenging.

Around this same time we met Loren Long at Schuler Books in Okemos. We were lucky enough to chat with Loren and he advised Nick to join SCBWI. Nick joined that day and I later followed. The first SCBWI event I attended was Homegrown Talent in Dexter. It was amazing. The first thing I observed, and something that still remains true with every SCBWI interaction, is that everyone is supportive. This is unusual in my field. Business people tend to size up the competition and craft a plan on how to out sell them. But SCBWI friends truly want one another to succeed and sell books. We are all on the same team!

With that being said, I knew that even though I am not a writer or illustrator, I could contribute to this group. After all, when you’ve finished with the writing or illustrating, you still have to promote and sell yourself.

After coming across a marketing event SCBWI Texas was hosting, I proposed the idea of doing something similar here in Michigan. Our co-regional advisors Carrie and Leslie let me run with the Marketing Boot Camp idea (thank you!). Thankfully, we were able to bring a variety of professionals to our event, each with expertise in different areas of marketing.

Bob Hoffman, Public Relations Manager at the Wharton Center and Debbie Mikula, Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing began our conference with an introduction to marketing. 

Kristin Bartley Lenz, Alison DeCamp, and Lisa Rose shared their out-of-the-box experiences and how these experiences helped drive their success. 

Emily Galer from Schuler Books shared with us the bookstore’s perspective of marketing, giving insight into how to work with independent bookstores. 

Ruth McNally Barshaw, Sally Langley, Ed Spicer, Bryan Chick, Buffy Silverman, and Leslie Helakoski provided an upbeat discussion of successful and not-so-successful school visits. 

Kirsten Cappy, Curious City book consulting
Kirsten Cappy joined via Skype and gave us distinctive ideas on how to build our own community of advocates. 

Maria Dismondy concluded our day with an information packed discussion about successfully building a marketing platform. 

I cannot thank all of our speakers enough! They were all fabulous and I greatly appreciate their willingness to share. Furthermore, I cannot thank all of our attendees enough! They brought open minds and an enthusiasm to learn.

Several things I took away from the event: 
  • Be the “Purple Cow.”
  • Get creative with marketing! It’s okay to do something that hasn’t been done before.
  • Reach out to independent bookstores and build relationships with them. 
  • Provide videos and photos of yourself doing school visits on your website. 
  • Discovery happens when you give advocates tools to engage readers. 
  • There are lots of awesome marketing podcasts – listen! SCBWI is a warm, supportive group. 
  • I met new SCBWI friends who are part of this community and who I can’t wait to see again.  

Ashley Adkins is an event planner and children's literature advocate. In 2012, she completed her MBA and co-founded Two Monster Books as a platform to promote childhood reading. Ashley enjoys reading bedtime stories with her two boys, Logan and Eli, and traveling and exploring new locations with her husband, Nick.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Writer’s Toolbox by Jacquie Sewell

When is a treasure chest not a treasure chest? When it’s a toolbox - a writer’s toolbox, filled with ideas from my fellow Michkidders to help inspire young writers in their writing journey. During March is Reading Month I was asked to speak to the students at Steele Elementary School in Mason, Michigan. Because I’m a fledgling author, whose book is still at the publisher, (look for MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT this fall!) I chose to focus on the Joy of Story for my presentation. Together the children and I celebrated the joy and power of story through participatory storytelling.

The older students also got a glimpse into my treasure chest (a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox). It was filled with items representing some of the tools writers and illustrators use to discover, create, and refine their stories. Many thanks to my colleagues (who shall be named at the close of this article) for sharing their great ideas. It gave me so much more street ‘cred to be able to say “Several of my writer friends . . .”

In a blind draw, students chose an item from the chest and shared their idea of what tool it represented. That led to interesting discussions on each of the tools in the chest. For those who are curious, here’s a peek into my Writer’s Toolbox:

  • The colorful cards with words represent the brainstorming tool of “What If”. I had the children call out 4 nouns and 4 verbs which I wrote on cards. Then we randomly paired nouns and verbs to jumpstart ideas for stories. What if a Dragon played tag with an author?
  • The squishy brain represents our imagination. Need I say more?
  • The eyeball represents being observant: watching people; studying nature; reading books. Observing people helps make our writing more realistic, our dialog more natural. Ideas come from all around us, sometimes from another author who mentions, in passing, a cat who rescued a firefighter. . .  A good writer is always on the lookout.
  • The heart-shaped tin filled with words represents. . .  Words! Have fun with words! Learn a new word each week. Find a fun-to-say word and use it as often as you can. Would you like a pamplemouse with your breakfast, mon petite pamplemousse? Play with words.
  • The pen and notepad sparked a lot of ideas from the kids. Writers could use them to write their story; to record their research. . .  And, as several of my writer friends said, “To capture those elusive ideas that strike when you least expect them (while jogging, drifting off to sleep, waiting in traffic).”
  • The crumpled piece of paper represents revision - Not that you should ever throw away your early versions. You never know what nuggets you might mine from them later. But, (as I explained to the kids) do you think The Sorcerer’s Stone you’re reading is the same as the first version J.K. Rowling wrote? Good authors seek input on their work and then they work to make it even better. Revise, revise and then revise again.
  • Magnetic Man represents movement. Several of my writer/illustrator friends told me they get their best ideas when they are jogging or using the treadmill or biking. Physical activity gets blood flowing to the brain which brings oxygen to the brain. Brains on oxygen think deeper thoughts. Brains on oxygen think more creative thoughts. So oxygenate your brain!
  • I also had a thesaurus in my toolbox and most of the kids knew what is was and how to use it!
I was nervous about speaking to such a large group of children but they were great and it was fun! I think they enjoyed it and hopefully came away encouraged to use their writer’s tools and find joy in creating their own stories.

And now my heartfelt thanks to Ann Finkelstein, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Nancy Frederixon, Nick Adkins, Lori McElrath Eslick, Sandy Carlson, Mary Zychowicz, Kevin Kammeraad, Isabel O’Hagin, Kristin Lenz, Elizabeth McBride, Elizabeth Westra, and Shirley Neitzel for sharing their favorite tools with me.

Keep your tools sharp and write on!

Jacquie Sewell's passion is connecting kids with the amazing world we live in. As a children's librarian she was privileged to do this by introducing children to good books. Her goal as an author is to create books that kids will love to read and that will get them excited to learn more about nature, science, and the arts. Her debut picture book, MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT, is coming out this fall.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, May 12, 2017

Introducing Kirbi Fagan, the SCBWI-MI 2017-2018 Illustrator Mentor

SCBWI-MI’s 2017-2018 Mentorship is for illustrators, and the submission window is fast-approaching. The grand prize is a one-year mentorship with acclaimed illustrator, Kirbi Fagan.

Kirbi is a Metro Detroit based illustrator who specializes in creating art for book covers and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magical themes, nostalgic mood, and feminine heroines. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design and currently teaches at College for Creative Studies in Downtown Detroit. Kirbi's work has been acknowledged by organizations such as Spectrum, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and New York, ImagineFX and the International Writers & Illustrators of the Future. Recent clients include, Orbit Books, Marvel, Stone Arch Book, and Dark Horse Comics.

SCBWI-MI is so excited to offer this opportunity, and Mentorship Coordinator Ann Finkelstein is here with an introduction and interview. Read on to learn more about Kirbi and what to expect during her mentorship.

Ann: What do you like best about illustrating?

Kirbi: I love being a problem solver! Each project puts me in a box, an art director needs this and that with the look of this and the feel of that! I love the challenge of making these needs come together in a beautiful way.

How do you know when an illustration is both good and done?

That's a hard question that is asked often. The romance of "spontaneous" art making is not in my vocabulary. Illustration is planned, calculated and created for a specific client's needs. The truth is, I'm an artist that enjoys the process of making art not necessary for the joy of the final product. My "favorite" piece of art is always the one that I'm currently working on.

You can labor on something forever, eventually it must be abandoned to serve the client and for the artist to move on and grow. I had a professor once, Jon Mcdonald who said "you'll learn more from finishing it then starting over," and I tell my students that now.

What is a typical illustrating day like for you?

My studio-mates in college always knew I was already there in the morning by the empty diet cherry Pepsi can in the recycling bin at the door. Not much has changed, I like to paint in the early mornings when my brain in fresh and everything is quiet. With so much sitting I often hit the gym for class or two before noon. Then on to more drawing. The late afternoons I can't seem to focus on anything so I often walk the dog and answer email. On to another burst of whatever I'm working on and usually my husband, my 5 o'clock hero comes home just in time to catch me napping. Hey, creating is exhausting work. My husband is an engineer by day and musician by night, his studio is in the room next to mine so we often tinker away in the evenings.

How much of an illustration is art? How much is craft? How much is creativity?

To me, illustration is simply image making for commercial purposes. Some types of illustration is certainly more creative and artful than others. Call me crass but being able to "draw or paint well" is the most basic requirement of working in this industry. It's the illustrator who can match unique original ideas with masterful painting techniques who will find the most success.

Where do you search for inspiration for your art?

Just simple moments of life. Riding in the car seems to always bring on ideas. A walk in the woods with my dogs. Good YA fiction. A solid nap. The hard part about being an illustrator is that not everything you are paid to illustrate is something that you like. The challenge is finding a way to connect to it anyways. I keep a working list of things that I like visually, things that ignite narratives in my head. When I'm faced with a story that doesn't inspire me, I go to this list and see what I can incorporate to make it me.

What will the mentor expect of the mentee?

I wasn't able to really grow in my art until I was able to look at my art critically with the willingness to try anything and everything to make the piece work. A nothing is precious mentality is not easy but the results are worth the fight. As creatives we can feel "panic-y" about where we would LIKE to be in our work, I challenge them to be where they are and put in the time they need to jump to their next level.

Thank you, Ann and Kirbi! Illustrators, get ready to submit your best work, and go here for the complete mentorship application instructions. The submission window will be open June 5th-26th.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: a School Visit Toolbox, take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, May 5, 2017

Writer Spotlight! Meet Janice Broyles

Today we’re shining the Writer Spotlight on Michigan author Janice Broyles. Janice was born in Royal Oak, raised in Madison Heights and spent her childhood and teen years in the downstate area. Janice married and received her bachelor’s degree and was then offered a teaching position in Gaylord. She was surprised by the snowy, cold winters compared to the southeastern part of the Mitten! After 13 years in Gaylord, Janice got hired by Baker College in Cadillac, so she and her husband decided to make the move, and they’ve been in Cadillac ever since. Janice dreams of moving south someday (trust me Janice, it’s way too hot down there:), because she hasn’t learned to like winter yet. But she still thinks Michigan is beautiful- April through November! So happy to have you here today Janice. Now let’s get started on your writer story. . . 

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

Janice: Interestingly enough, I started writing a middle grade book when I was teaching at Gaylord Middle School. I couldn’t get the boys to read, and I realized there weren’t a lot of “boy” books. That started me on my writing journey. It wasn’t long before writing became a necessity. When I transferred up to the high school, I started writing young adult novels. It is my passion. My first novel to be published is coming out next year. It’s titled, The Secret Heir, and is an upper YA/New Adult depiction of the story of David. Writing Biblical fiction was a daunting task because I wanted it to stay true to Scripture. I studied and researched that time period, and completely fell in love with the characters. I am so excited that The Secret Heir will be my first published novel.

One more thing, last year I had an inspirational nonfiction book published, and that is a whole other story! That book, called No Longer Rejected, started as my testimony to how I overcame the rejection in my life. I never expected it to be picked up as fast as it was.

So, I guess I’m trying to say, that I love writing: be it fiction or nonfiction.

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

Janice: I joined SCBWI in 2005, and I discovered it from Writer’s Digest magazine. I had finished that middle-grade novel, and I wanted to learn the tricks of the trade. WD had some article about children’s books and mentioned it. That was it. I paid my dues and went to my first SCBWI-Michigan conference. I was hooked.

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

Janice: I write everything, but I love young adult fiction and new adult fiction. I even read it more than anything else (maybe I’m young at heart). With that said, I love middle-grade fiction, and I could see myself writing nonfiction. Hey, I’m eclectic! J

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

Janice: I could write a book on my publishing journey (lol). I wrote a little about it in another section, but I will say this: I’ve always been a writer. I didn’t take it seriously until 2004/2005. From there, I have had three literary agents, have written a total of SEVEN middle grade or young adult fiction novels, and stopped counting rejections when I hit 200 (it was depressing).  Then last year, I pitched a nonfiction idea about overcoming rejection to a Christian publishing editor, and that was it. No Longer Rejected came out a year later.

This past January, my agent and I pitched The Secret Heir to Heritage Beacon Press (of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), and I signed a contract for my first novel to be published. Am I making tons of money? Nope. But my books are becoming available to readers, and that makes me SO happy!

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

Janice: I teach English and Communications at Baker College.

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Janice: I am surrounded by reading and writing and editing. Yes, I am surrounded by words, words, and more words. And I love it!

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?

Janice: Everyday life. Everywhere. An idea usually hits me out of the blue. Then I will hurry and type out some brief thoughts and usually a tentative page or two (to find the voice for the piece).

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

Janice: Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Her voice in that book is flawless. Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Her gift for words and the lyrical quality to them is delightful. I also have mad respect for classic authors: Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, and John Steinbeck for very different reasons. Austen’s characterization of her heroines is a perfect concoction for the female reader. Poe’s use of language and mood is second to none. And Steinbeck’s symbolism, theme, and dialogue, like in Of Mice and Men, are excellent.

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

Janice: Don’t talk down to the reader. Write, read, write, repeat. Never give up. It’s a tough business, but if you truly are a writer, you’re going to write. And that applies to any genre or age group.

Thanks so much for stopping by Janice, and congratulations on your new books! No matter how cold it gets, we’re glad you’re part of our Mitten family. You can learn more about Janice at

And remember to watch your email. You never know when the Writer Spotlight will shine on you!