Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Awards from the Mitten State by Kristin Bartley Lenz

Earlier this year, I was honored to learn that my YA novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO, was selected for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books state-wide literature program. And I was delighted to see that several of our SCBWI-MI members have books for younger readers on this list. Looking at you, Lisa Wheeler (DINO-RACING), Laurie Keller (WE ARE GROWING), Alison DeCamp (MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES), and many more from previous years!

I had assumed the Great Lakes Great Books (GLGB) program was only for Michigan authors, but I was surprised to see authors from all around the country on the lists. And I soon discovered that booksellers and librarians often confused the program with other similarly named awards, such as Great Lakes Great Reads and the Great Michigan Read. Curious to learn more, I reached out to the GLGB co-chairs from the Michigan Reading Association. They were happy to answer my questions. Introducing Trish Sippola and Lynette Suckow!

Tell us a little about yourself. What and where do you teach and how did you become co-chairs of the Great Lakes Great Books Program?

Trish Sippola - I'm a 3rd Grade Teacher at Birchview Elementary in Ishpeming, MI. This is my second year as co-chair on GLGB. I first came on the GLGB committee 4 years ago and was also involved in the Michigan Reading Association which is how I got involved in the committee.

Lynette Suckow - Even though I now work as a reference librarian at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, MI, my background is in elementary education and children’s literature. I became the GLGB Award committee chair 10 years ago and have been a committee member even longer. Trish, who is also passionate about books, became a co-chair so we could move the committee in a new direction and make it more relevant to new teachers.

There are several award programs with similar names - Great Lakes Great Reads from the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and Great Michigan Read from the Michigan Humanities Council. Tell us about MRA's Great Lakes Great Books program and how it differs.

Great Lakes Great Books has been around for the past 30 years. We are one of two Michigan Reading Association committees to directly involve students in the reading process. Our mission is to share current literature recommendations with classroom educators. The books on the GLGB list provide interesting stories for grades K-12 and have to be less than two years old. The second part of student participation is to allow them to vote on their favorite book from the list. This is where the “award” part comes in, as a winner is chosen in each age category based on popular vote.

The 2017 Michigan Reads title by SCBWI-MI member Lisa Wheeler 
We differ from the Great Michigan Read program from the Michigan Humanities Council, which features an array of programming around a single adult or YA title every other year, and from Michigan Reads! One Book One State Children’s Book Program from the State of Michigan, which chooses a single title annually to be used in schools, libraries, Head Start programs, and Great Start collaboratives.

The Great Lakes Great Reads list from the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association is an excellent, but short list of recommended titles for all ages of readers. Great Lakes Great Books suggests 40 titles in five age levels for reading with students. We hope the similarity of names doesn’t diminish the separate goals of each literacy committee.

SCBWI-MI member Jack Cheng's middle grade novel was chosen for the 2017 Great Lakes Great Reads list.

Do you read all of the nominated titles? How do you choose the final 8 titles in each age category?

We have a committee this year of 11 readers from schools and libraries from across the state who read throughout the year and add our favorites onto a list for each other to read. Some of us specialize in certain grade-levels so we may not all be reading all of the books K-12, but there are a few of us who do.  We hold a meeting in January to go over our list from the year, keeping in mind to choose fiction, non-fiction, illustrated, culturally diverse, well-written books. We bring our top 2 favorites from each grade-level category to the table to discuss, and from there we end up choosing the final 8 for each category.  Since we have members from far and near, some join in electronically.

How do students find out about the selected titles and award winners?

The MRA website has a downloadable packet of election information, along with grade level bookmarks, participation certificate, and a nomination form for suggesting future GLGB titles. We also have beautiful GLGB posters published by PermaBound Books for classrooms and libraries which are available at all MRA conferences and board meetings. We’re working to get an electronic version of that poster on our webpage. The winning book titles are announced in March at the annual MRA Conference. Additionally, when a classroom sends in their votes, we will email them back with the final award winners long before they are publicly announced.

Anything else you'd like us to know about GLGB?

Great Lakes Great Books Award committee work is a labor of love.  Members have a passion for books that blinds them to fact that they spend a whole year reading and evaluating new publications.  The effort pays off when Michigan students are treated to some of the best literature of the year.  It also keeps teachers aware of which books are currently available for enriching their classroom libraries. GLGB is definitely great!

Thanks for your time, Trish and Lynette! There's still time for students in all grades to vote for their favorite book. To see the list of 2016-2017 winners, the nominated titles for 2017-2018, and student ballot forms, go here. Students have until January 25th to submit their vote. And I just realized that today is the last day to nominate a title for the 2018-2019 award! That form is also included in this packet.

The 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books Award winners will be announced at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference, March 17-19, 2018 in Detroit. Will you be there?

And I'm sure there are even more Michigan book awards that I've overlooked in this post. Please let us know in the comments, so we can check them out.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Vacation! Happy holidays from the SCBWI-MI blog team! We'll return in January to kick off the new year with Nina Goebel introducing our new Featured Illustrator. Followed by Patti Richards trumpeting your good news in our Hugs and Hurrahs. Please email Patti your writing/illustrating/publishing good news by Monday, January 8th, to be included. Finally, don't be surprised if you hear from Charlie Barshaw - he's planning our 2018 Writer Spotlights - it could be you!

Our SCBWI-MI chapter volunteers are busy planning 2018 events and more. Here's a sneak peek:

Attention Novelists!
SCBWI-MI is happy to help you with your New Year’s Resolutions

Resolution 1: Figure out your membership status. (This is easier than it sounds.)
If you are pre-published, you are an associate member.
If you are published, it depends on the publisher.
If your publisher is on this list of traditional publishers, you are a PAL member.
If your publisher is not on that list, you are a full member.
To check your official membership status, go to and click the Member Search box at the top right hand corner. Enter your name to look yourself up. If your listed membership status is not correct, contact SCBWI by email and explain the situation.

Resolution 2: Finish a draft of your novel. (This is as difficult as it sounds, but you can do it.)

Resolution 3: Apply for one of the SCBWI-MI Novel Mentorships (This is really easy.)
The submission window for the PAL mentorship with Leslie Connor is in April 2018.
The submission window for the non-PAL mentorship with Kelly Barson is June 2018.
The submission instructions will be posted on the SCBWI-MI website. You’ll need to submit 10 pages and a synopsis.
Make sure you apply for the correct mentorship! SCBWI-MI can do wondrous things, but we cannot yet turn back time – if you miss your submission window.

For questions, contact SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

See you in the new year!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, December 8, 2017

Artistic Evolution: How the Cakeasaurus Picture Book Grew into a Traveling Art Exhibit and More by Marian Short

I first met Cakeasaurus during a latte-fueled afternoon in 2008. I saw an imaginary movie poster with a monster rearing up behind a fully lit birthday cake, upraised claws clutching the "C" and "S" in his name. The caption warned: "No Cake is Safe."

Next, I saw the same monster, leaning against a wall, arms folded; (again) multiple lit birthday candles dangled from his mouth. While the first monster seemed to rule through (confectionary) terror, in his second guise he was smug, a little sassy -- an oddly appealing hooligan. Having a ridiculous sweet tooth myself, I contemplated the potential ramifications of a town struck by widespread cake thievery.

I drank more coffee and jotted down the first draft of a picture book about a town beset by a cake-stealing monster, a pivotal kitchen showdown, and brave child with impressive kitchen skills.

I had already been printmaking for several years and selling prints through local stores, Etsy, and alternative craft fairs, so the ideas of
A.) exploring the Cakeasaurus story by making woodblock prints, and
B.) selling prints of page designs as I went along arose pretty quickly.
Thus, The Cakeasaurus Picture Book Project was born.
An “intro” sign for craft fairs
Now, my savvy readers, I imagine you nodding: “Ohhh, you did a subscription service? Crowd-funded it and sent a new page every x months?” To whom, I say: “Where were you in 2008?” Alas, no. While I wrote the backbone of this picture book quickly, I tweaked many facets over time; and some pages of the story attained clarity before others. I sketched, drew, and carved out of order, around the edges of a full time job and changing life conditions. For a long time when I sat at my dinner table, I faced a wall of taped-up unfinished drawings, which taunted/inspired me, depending on mood.

Gradually, I carved my woodblocks and the number of undrawn pages dwindled. About halfway through -- 15 pages more to design, carve and print! -- impending motherhood galvanized me. First it was a race against flagging energy and a belly that literally came between me and my carving. After my daughter’s birth, it became a race to nail down as much as I could before she learned to walk…

…And I won! Or something like that. I succeeded in carving woodblocks for every page of the book, hundreds of Cakeasauri prints decorate walls around the world, and I got the satisfaction of seeing my whole project laid out as a rollicking exhibit with almost 50 pieces.

This project was quite a journey -- not bad for something that started with doodles scribbled in a cafĂ©. And this is something that I try to remind myself, when I feel lackluster, or cowed by an unwieldy idea. This was most definitely unwieldy – but still worthy. By taking creative “meandering” time, and by breaking its development down into stages, it took me to unexpected places.

Will it find a publisher in traditional book form? Unclear. But what grew clear early on was that different aspects of this project demanded different things from the story. A well defined graphic may sell well on its own, but cause a part of the overall tale to drag; likewise, pages necessary to the story may not lure in the casual consumer; and an ample gallery may inspire you to grow and rethink images previously deemed “done.”

 Woodblock print, with minor digital alterations
A strong seller from the series!...but needs tweaking to fit smoothly into the book
Woodblock print (L); Book version (R), with additional tree, star carvings; digital modifications

Woodblock print (L); Expanded block print with additional carving (R), for exhibit space

One of three process plaques I made for the exhibit 

“Cakeasaurus: Scenes from a Picture Book” was first exhibited through the University of Michigan Hospital’s “Gifts of Art” program (March - June 2017), and a pared down version just closed at the Dexter District Library (August – October 2017). You still have a chance to visit the full exhibit, at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location (multipurpose room, December 1st – January 10th 2018).

What’s next?

Fledgling picture book concepts. The front-running story has a strong plot, but needs a different visual language than this one. Bright, Splashy, and Energetic! I have imagined picture fragments for most pages, but I haven’t seen the faces of the characters yet.

A greater focus on card line development. I have also been selling small batch cards for some time, cards eccentric sometimes problematic – I periodically task myself with creating occasion specific cards like “Thanks!” or “Congratulations!” but what usually happens is an image of a badger who loves kipper snacks. I’m still working on it.

Flying squirrels, elephants, a toddler who negotiates ABOUT EVERYTHING.

Marian Short is a Michigan-based artist and writer, who began printmaking in 1999. Her artwork has been exhibited across the country. Marian originally hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia, where she thrived in an art-filled house (painter/seamstress/calligraphist mother, photographer father and sister); she moved to the mitten in 1994. 

Learn more:

Marian will be selling prints at the Tiny Expo at the downtown library, this Saturday December 9th, one level above the exhibit.

Many SCBWI-MI members will be signing and selling books and artwork at events this weekend -check out the Merry Mitten bookstore events, the Orion Township Library Author Fair, and the Anton Art Center Picture Book Exhibit. Know of another event? Let us know in the comments below and on the SCBWI-MI Facebook page.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Get Noticed, Gain Business, Be Awesome! 5 Tips for Mastering a Magical 2018 Marketing Plan by Maria Dismondy

While the first snowflake has yet to fall (at least in Michigan!), there’s no doubt the New Year is just around the corner. If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to hit the ground running in 2018. Here are my top 5 tips for making your marketing efforts really count.

1. Begin with TWO
Have 100 ideas in your head? Before you get overwhelmed, just pick two 2018 goals for your business and start there.

Maybe it’s to sell 10,000 copies of your latest release or to increase brand visibility by gaining social media followers. Whatever your top two goals may be, check them against the SMART Goal Formula to ensure they are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound.

2. Make it MINI
Now that you have your goals, write them down and hang them somewhere you’ll see them everyday. That’ll help keep the big picture clear in your mind.

But if you look too far ahead you can easily get overwhelmed. That’s why my next tip is to make mini goals. These are things you can do each day to move closer to the big picture end result.

For example, let’s pretend you chose “gain social media followers” as one of your two main goals. A mini goal for the day could be to post old blog posts on Facebook – so simple!

3. Stick with It
You can’t reach your goals with a “set it and forget it” mentality. A great way to stay on track is to ask a colleague or friend to be your Accountability Partner. This is the person who will call you out, build you up and help you bounce back from business ups and downs.

Another great tool is to turn to planners to stay organized. Below are a few of my favorites. You’ll notice they’re all physical planners, not digital apps. That’s because I believe you have to think, feel and see your way toward what you want. (That, and I like to keep it old school!)

The Day Designer – I love that this brand offers space for daily gratitude. I put a mini version in my purse for on-the-go ideas.

Powersheets – So great for seeing the big picture and easily breaking it down into smaller tasks.

The Passion Planner – This one helps you stay on track while reminding you to find joy in your work. Love that!

4. Lean on your team or hire a team member in 2018!
I fought having a team for years because I thought I could do it all, but once I gave in and started hiring people on a freelance/contractual basis, my business took off! Moral of the story? Delegate, delegate, delegate!

Communication is key to delegating successfully. My team uses the Asana workflow system. From one home-base platform I’m able to assign work, set deadlines, store communications and generate deadline reminders.

I also use a phone app called Voxer to check in with a few key team members. It works just like a walkie-talkie and allows me to quickly shoot over a message without planning formal meetings – talk about simple!

5. Grow, stretch, THRIVE 
Growing means stretching and trying new things. And when it comes to professional development, the sky’s the limit!

Consider attending a local conference or virtual summit, listening to a podcast, planning a networking event with other local authors, attending an SCBWI Shop Talk in your area, hiring a business coach, joining a mastermind, reading or listening to audio books on branding and marketing or opting into a group coaching session – phew! There’s so much available to us (and I thought that sentence would never end)! Commit to what sounds fun to you and give it a try.

INSIDER BONUS! Which marketing strategies REALLY worked for me in 2017? Check out my top 10 picks.

1. Video – Facebook live
2. Podcast interviews
3. Guest writing
4. Speaking at schools and conferences
5. Conducting social media contests
6. Participating in local networking events
7. Attending conferences focused on the business side of writing
8. Appearing on the local news
9. Email newsletters
10. Writing and sharing content consistently on my blog

Award-winning author and founder of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy inspires and educates others in the book industry. Her background in early education and research enables her to touch lives the world over while touring as a public speaker in schools, community forums, and at national conferences. When Maria isn’t working, she can be found embarking on adventures throughout southeast Michigan and beyond, where she lives with her husband and three book-loving children. Find out more about Maria’s coaching services:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: An artistic evolution - how a picture book concept turned into a traveling art exhibit, all about the MRA's GLGBs award (yes, we'll tell you what all those letters stand for), and then a two week HOLIDAY VACATION!

SCBWI-MI is already looking ahead to the new year. Attention novelists:

In 2018, SCBWI-MI is offering two novel mentorships. One is open to non-PAL members, and the other is open to PAL members. 
Our non-PAL mentor is Kelly Barson, and our PAL-mentor is Leslie Connor
You can find more information on the SCBWI-MI website
For questions, please email SCBWI-MI mentorship coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

See you next Friday!
Kristin Lenz