Friday, September 29, 2017

Hugs and Hurrahs

Happy fall everyone! It’s time for apple picking, pumpkin carving AND Hugs and Hurrahs! Our members have been more than busy over the last three months raking up mounds of happy publishing news. So settle in with your favorite cup of tea and celebrate with these amazing Michigan SCBWI members: 

Heidi Sheffield was recently awarded the 2017 LA Mentorship Award during the summer SCBWI conference! Heidi also just signed with Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. We are so proud of you, Heidi!

Deb Gonzales is thrilled to announce that she sold her nonfiction picture book, PLAY LIKE A GIRL: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS, to Julie Bliven at Charlesbridge Publishing. The book is slated for a spring 2019 release. We’re giving you a standing ovation Deb!

 Rhonda Gowler Greene sold two picture books this summer! The first book, THE FIRST MEN WHO WENT TO THE MOON, went to Sleeping Bear Press and is scheduled for release in 2019, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Rhonda sold the second book, HERE WE COME, CONSTRUCTION FUN! To Zonderkidz. Rhonda is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of her first two books— BARNYARD SONG (Atheneum) and WHEN A LINE BENDS…A SHAPE BEGINS (Houghton Mifflin), this month. Both books are still in print. We’re doing a big happy dance for you Rhonda!

Congratulations to Sara Kendall, the winner of SCBWI- Michigan’s 2017-2018 Illustration Mentorship 2017-2018! Sara will spend the year learning from the fabulous Kirbi Fagan. And congratulations to this year’s runner-up, Basya Cohen! We’re so proud of both of you. Thanks to everyone who entered this year’s contest.

Lori McElrath Eslick recently participated in the National Assessment of Education Progress Grade 4 Writing ALS and was selected for one of the Nov. 2017 group. Way to go, Lori!

Hats off to Lindsey McDivitt who recently sold a picture book biography about Michigan nature artist and environmentalist, Gwen Frostic to Sleeping Bear Press. The book is scheduled for release in 2018. Lindsey also sold a second picture book biography to Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers about Nelson Mandela and his fight to free South Africa from Apartheid. So happy for you, Lindsey!

Congratulations to Rebecca Brockington who recently won 3rd place for her chapter book manuscript in the Kidlit College contest. Way to go Rebecca!

Cathy Gendron is happy to announce that she’ll be illustrating author Paul Czajak’s upcoming picture book, TREES MAKE PERFECT PETS. Sourcebooks is the publisher and the book is set for a spring 2019 release. So proud of you, Cathy!

Buffy Silverman won the 2017 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in nonfiction for her photo-essay, "Magical Monarchs." The article, which was inspired by her experience raising monarchs, appeared in the October, 2016 issue of Ask. That’s awesome, Buffy!

Lisa Rose is excited to announce she’ll be writing a chapter book serried for Rourke Educational Media. The series has a total of six books. So proud of you, Lisa!  

Danielle Hammelef’s puzzle "How Do You Live?" was published in Pockets July 2017 issue, and her poem "School Starts Soon" was published in Pockets September 2017 issue. Danielle’s short story "Sharing Berry" will appear in Pockets October 2017 issue. The story is dedicated to her own soon to be 13 year-old golden retriever named Berry. Danielle writes, “His birthday is 10/16 so the timing of publication couldn't have been any better.” Way to go, Danielle!

Neal Levin just published his 25th "10 Facts" feature for Fun For Kidz. This is a regular two-page color cartoon he creates for each issue of the magazine, providing ten fun illustrated facts relating to the issue's theme. You’re awesome, Neal!

Kristi Gatchel is happy to announce that she’ll be blogging about her new Independent Study project on translated picture books. Kristi, a Children's Lit major at Eastern Michigan, will be blogging about the translated books she’s found, the need for translated books for children, and the industry. You can follow her journey here: Thanks so much for sharing this, Kristi!

Amy Leskowski recently won an Honorable Mention in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Contest in the Children’s/YA Category for her picture book, TRAFFIC JAM. Amy also won a First Place Georgia Peach Award from the CAG – for the same manuscript. Way to go, Amy!

Our amazing RA, Carrie Pearson, recently sold her picture book, STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH, to Yolanda Scott at Charlesbridge publishing. The book is scheduled for a fall 2018 release. You’re awesome, Carrie!

And I’m (Patti Richards) doing my own happy dance because my picture book manuscript, CUPINE’S PERFECT DANCE PARTNER, won an Honorable Mention in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Contest in the Children’s/YA category! Woo Hoo!

That’s it for this edition of Hugs and Hurrahs. What an amazing group of talented writers you all are. You make our Mitten proud!  

Send all your happy publishing news to Patti Richards,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Behind the Scenes with your host, Jodi McKay

Picture this: There’s a marketing event coming up. Tons of people will be there, looking to buy books and have them signed by the author. You will be that author and you can’t wait to connect with the readers.

But, wait. How did this amazing opportunity come to be?

Cue your friendly SCBWI regional advisors and PAL coordinator!

We work hard to find ways for you to market your books and art and thought you might want a glimpse at what it takes to set up an event. Let’s use the Kerrytown BookFest!


·      May 2nd- Hey, the Kerrytown BookFest looks like the place to be! We think this will be a great way to market our authors and illustrators.


·      A little web surfing to read about the festival.

·      Email event coordinators to get the details.


·      Create a snazzy invitation document to send to SCBWI-MI authors and illustrators.

·      Create a sign-up sheet for shifts.

·      Register for booths.

·      Coordinate with local book store for book sales. Send author list.

·      Collect display books and bio cards. I might have read a few.

·      Create super cool giveaways- pins and book packages!


·      Emails between Carrie, Leslie and myself.

·      Emails with Kerrytown event coordinator.

·      Emails with Nicola’s event coordinator.

·      Email pictures of sloths to friends to mix it up a bit.

·      Emails with all PALs.

·      Emails addressing author/illustrator participant’s questions or concerns.

·      New info. and reminder emails.

·      Books received emails.

·      Who was tired of receiving emails from me???


·      Tweets about each author, their books, and when they will be signing

·      FB event page created

Jeff Jantz, Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, Mary J. Grant, and Peggy House
Day of

·      Sept. 10th- Coffee in hand, not enough warm clothes on, register at 8:00.

Jodi McKay and Jack Cheng
·      Create an eye pleasing set up with the help of friendly volunteers.

·      It’s 10:00, time to rock! Our first shift meets the book fest’s first guests.

·      Switching shifts with a few hiccups, but nothing we can’t handle!

·      Missing books? Nicola’s to the rescue!

·      Book giveaway #1! Happy winners receive awesome books- woo hoo!!

·      Eat? Nah! There’s too much fun to be had with authors and readers.

Shutta Crum and Leslie Helakoski
·      Sit down for a moment and listen in on a great YA panel.

·      Book giveaway #2! No one wants to answer my phone call. Keep trying. Found 2 winners!

·      The bell tolls, 5:00pm. Time to tear down.

·      More fabulous volunteers toss items into the big SUV.

And that was that. It was a wonderful, bright, sunshiny day. We laughed, we signed, and we connected with fellow readers and writers. All of the hard work was well worth it, and I have to say that I am looking forward to the next event. Until then!

Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, and a couple of furry friends. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi is the author of the picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? published by Albert Whitman & Co. Learn more at her website (look for the teacher's guide!), and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: In October, Nina Goebel will unveil our new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator! But first, we're celebrating our members' good news. Please email your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Patti Richards by Monday, Sept 25th, to be included in our Hugs and Hurrahs next week. We'll also have a recap of our fall conference, A Gathering on the Grand, which took place last weekend. Here's a sneak peek:

Thanks to Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein, and congrats to Sara Kendall!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Nine Tips for a Successful Book Signing Event by Janet Ruth Heller

Kathie Allen and Rhonda Gowler Green at Book Beat
August was a busy month for our SCBWI-MI authors and illustrators. Book Beat's 35th Anniversary Party was a day long event featuring authors and books of all genres for children through adults. PAL coordinator, Jodi McKay, organized two events at Barnes & Noble, one for younger readers and one for teens, and then moved on to planning a full day at the Kerrytown Book Festival.

Jodi will be here next week to share more about what goes on behind the scenes to plan these events, using Kerrytown as an example, but today, Janet Ruth Heller is here with tips for a successful book signing event. She's been doing signings since 2006 when her first book for children was published, and she participated in the Barnes & Noble event for young readers last month. Here are her tips:

1) Advance Planning
Because most organizers plan signing events months or years in advance, we writers and artists need to start early, doing research about local events and contacting venues to ask whether the staff members want us to participate. For example, many places have pre-Christmas/Chanukah book fairs and signings. Libraries and bookstores often present authors and illustrators reading their work to children on Saturday mornings or afternoons. We need to find out who coordinates these events and ask to be included.

2) Work Closely with the People Who Staff the Venue
If we are selected for a speaking engagement, we should find out all of the details. Here are some questions to ask:
How old are the children who come?
How long will I have to read my book and/or talk about it?
Am I the only visiting writer/artist, or are there others coming?
Will I have a microphone?
Will you announce the reading/signing over your public address system?
Is this event indoors or outdoors or both?
Will you provide a table and chairs for me, or do I need to bring these myself?

3) Practice How to Read Your Book Creatively
Although authors and artists are busy people, we need to find time to practice reading our work aloud in a way that gets the attention of children. Youngsters have trouble focusing and sitting still, so we should offer them a very entertaining presentation to keep their attention. If we get invited to participate on a panel discussion for adults, we need to prepare at least an outline of our major ideas and to practice our talk. We should make eye contact with every member of our audience and speak loudly enough to be heard.

Art activity from Shmulik Paints the Town by Lisa Rose
4) Bring a Craft or Other Activity for Children
Some writers bring an illustrated page from their books without any color so that youngsters can use crayons to fill in the picture. Because my book How the Moon Regained Her Shape has a scene in which the characters exchange gifts, including a beaded necklace, I often bring beads and nice strings for the children to make their own necklaces or bracelets. At some events, I have led the audience in singing some funny songs.

5) Cooperate with Other Authors or Illustrators at the Event
Group signing events can often draw a larger audience than an event featuring one person. For example, Jodi McKay of the SCBWI-Michigan chapter organized a signing at the Barnes & Noble in Brighton, Michigan, on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Kathie Allen, Deborah Aronson, Jack Cheng, Kim Childress, Jodi McKay, Amy Nielander, Jordan Scavone, Maria Dismondy, J. A. Eaton, and I participated. Of course, all eight of us told our friends and relatives about this event, which increased the number of people who came to the bookstore. Many customers stopped to look at one book and wound up purchasing books from the other writers and artists at the same table. Also, we SCBWI-MI members bought books from one another. I purchased six books for my great-nieces and -nephews from my colleagues.

6) Proudly Hawk Your Merchandise
My father was a businessman, and he taught me to be proud of good merchandise and to hawk it to potential customers. So when I go to signings, I boast, “I/ We have great books for children here!” Or I proclaim, “I’ve got an award-winning book about bullying!” These verbal appeals bring curious people over to a table to look at books.

Jordan J. Scavone
7) Make a Display Attractive
Authors and artists can draw people to their book tables by dressing up like characters in their books, bringing a large poster of the book cover, and using stands and other devices that display books attractively.

8) Bring Promotional Materials
I recommend that writers and artists also bring fliers, business cards, or bookmarks about their books to signings. Some people are not ready to purchase a book immediately, but they often order it later, using the information on my fliers. My handouts also have details about how to contact me for school visits and other speaking events. So one speaking event may result in several more engagements.

9) Personalize Your Autograph
Customers like writers and artists who find a way to personalize autographs. For example, Ruth McNally Barshaw draws sketches next to her autographs. I don’t have her artistic talent, but I try to write something about the child or adult who is purchasing my book, such as “I enjoyed meeting you and visiting your class at Amberly School today.” Such autographs make people feel special.

Janet Ruth Heller has taught literature, linguistics, creative writing, and women’s studies at various colleges. She has published the poetry books EXODUS, FOLK CONCERT, and TRAFFIC STOP; the scholarly book COLERIDGE, LAMB, HAZLITT AND THE READER OF DRAMA. Fictive Press published her middle-grade chapter book about sibling rivalry, THE PASSOVER SURPRISE (2015).  Her picture book about bullying, HOW THE MOON REGAINED HER SHAPE (Arbordale, 2006), has won four national awards.. Learn more at

For more tips for successful author events, see these posts from SCBWI-MI members:
Breaking Out of Your Circle by Melanie Hooyenga
Jordan J. Scavone's Tips for a MightE Signing Event

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success. Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing good news to Patti Richards by September 25th to be included. Plus, take-aways from our fall conference, and a new Featured Illustrator!

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Grown-Up Version of What I Did This Summer, or How I Rediscovered My Writing Mojo

My first novel was published a year ago, and what followed was a whirlwind of interviews, blog posts, and multiple events every week, near and far - book signings, panel presentations, school and library visits, book clubs, conferences, and workshops. I appreciated every invitation and opportunity, and it was wonderful to connect with readers of all ages, librarians, teachers, and other authors. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, learned new skills, and expanded my circles. At the same time, I worked on freelance social work/writing jobs and revised another novel. My agent submitted it, we got feedback from editors, I revised again, my agent submitted again, and the rejections rolled in. Spring morphed into summer, and I completely ran out of steam. I had book marketing ideas that I had no desire to implement, and worst of all, I had lost my motivation to begin a new novel. The business of writing had sapped the joy from writing, and I needed to find a way to get it back. 

Here are three ways I reconnected with the joy of writing and refocused in the midst of continuing distractions. 

1. I took a one-day workshop.

On a lavender farm! Detroit Working Writers held a flash fiction workshop at Yule Love It Lavender Farm in Leonard, MI, about an hour north of Detroit. About 20 writers toured the gardens and gathered for lunch under a flowering arbor. Author Dorene O'Brien led the writing workshop, reading selections of flash fiction and guiding us through exercises. I'd been focused on novels for so many years, it was invigorating to experiment with these super short stories.

2. I took an online writing class. 

I signed up for a ten week online writing class with author Peter Markus. I met Peter last year through Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit where he's the senior writer-in-residence. He also teaches at Oakland University, but his summer class was informal and consisted of weekly writing assignments, readings, and email discussions. The pressure of publication was removed, and I gave myself permission to simply see what happened. Maybe this would lead me into a new novel, maybe not. At the very least, my writing repertoire would expand, and I'd have weekly deadlines to keep me focused. 

Lo and behold, it worked! Peter introduced me to short stories and authors that I never would have found on my own. He gave assignments, and I explored and took risks in my writing, stretching beyond my usual YA coming-of-age stories. I wrote poetry, random scenes, short stories, and even a weird and wild reimagined fairy tale that Peter suggested I submit to a literary journal. Ultimately, this was the writing that led to a breakthrough in my novel-in-progress which finally happened when I gave myself some time away. Which leads me to…

3. I took a writing retreat.

I had been talking about a writing retreat with my critique group ever since Ann Finkelstein wrote this post two years ago about her annual retreat. I finally chose a date in August, emailed my writing partners, and received an immediate YES from everyone. We stayed in a cottage in northern Michigan, and the weekend was a complete success. Here's why:

*Peer pressure 
Tracy and Susannah are teachers, and school was about to start. They both had novels well under way and very limited time to finish. Dawne was nearing completion of a new novel with the ending mapped out and in sight. These ladies were motivated to work. I was the only one floundering, trying to start a new novel. If I’d been away by myself, I'm sure I would have spent hours reading in the hammock.

We spent most of our time apart, working on our own projects in different areas of the house, inside and outside. (My daughter said, “So you’re really all up there in the same house, not talking to each other?” Yup.) Meals together were optional (if someone was on a writing roll, please keep going), but we found ourselves gathering in the kitchen at the same times, and we planned one dinner out at a restaurant. We discovered that these were helpful breaks to brainstorm about each of our stories, from titles to plot points to character goals and motivation. 

There’s something about leaving home, away from responsibilities and spending time in nature, that frees up space to think and dream and imagine and create. We took a walk every evening (and geeked out as we passed Hemingway’s Windemere cottage), but our minds were roaming too. I tend to write in my head on the road, so I chose to drive by myself to be on my own schedule. Sure enough, an hour into my drive home, the brainstorming gelled in my brain, and I solved the biggest stumbling block in the plot of my new novel! 

So, here we are at the start of a new school year and all kinds of busyness. You don’t have to escape out of town for a writing retreat - you could meet a friend for a writing date at a coffee shop or take a neighborhood walk. You don’t need to pay for a writing class - you could read a book on craft and do the recommend exercises, or attend the free monthly SCBWI-MI Shop Talks. I’m kicking off the fall season with a new commitment to balance the business and joy in my writing career. I'm glad we're on this journey together.

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker from metro-Detroit and co-edits the Mitten blog for SCBWI-MI. Her first young adult novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO, was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Learn more at

Read another post about Writing Through a Slump by SCBWI-MI member Nick Atkins:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success! Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing good news to Patti Richards by September 25th to be included.

Happening this weekend:

Saturday, Sept. 9, 10-12:00. SE Mitten Shop TalkDeb Gonzales presents "Building a Publishing Platform from the Ground Up."

Sunday, Sept. 10, 10-5:00. Kerrytown BookFest. 31 children's authors and illustrators signing books throughout the day at the SCBWI-MI booth #59-60, plus a panel of YA authors at 2:15.

Follow the SCBWI-MI Facebook page for the latest news about events and happenings around the state.