Friday, February 26, 2021

Three SCBWI Regions and Various Ventures: Catching up with Author/Editor Diane Telgen

Diane Telgen lived in Canton, Michigan, for many years and volunteered for SCBWI-MI in numerous capacities, including webmistress. After spending a few years in Chicago, she now lives in Nashville and has ventured in several exciting new directions. We invited her back on our Mitten blog to fill us in. Let’s catch up!

You’ve been away from Michigan for how many years now? Are you involved with your new regional SCBWI chapter?

My husband and I moved to Chicago in 2013, and within a year I took over as listserv coordinator for the Illinois chapter of SCBWI. I also contributed several articles to their newsletter, the Prairie Wind. When his job took us to Nashville in 2018, I quickly made contact with the MidSouth regional advisor and she invited me to join their conference planning committee. I’ve been so lucky to land in regions with very active and welcoming SCBWI chapters!

You graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. How has your degree guided and shaped your writing career?

Before VCFA I was confident in my skills as a writer, but working with the faculty helped me become a better storyteller—I learned so much about structure, character building, and revision that it ramped up my ability to fully develop an idea into a complete story. My critique partners noticed a big difference! Plus, all the writer friends I made there have become a lifeline.

Tell us about your work with Angelella Editorial.

Former Simon & Schuster editor Kate Angelella is one of those good writer friends I made at VCFA. When she decided to expand her freelance editing business, she invited me to join the staff. Through AE I’ve done everything from helping polish verse in picture books to developing chapter books and novels to copy editing adult works for indie publication. I love working with clients to make their writing shine!

I recently read Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA. Tell us about your involvement in this project and how it came about.

I served as slush queen, then managing editor, of the Foreshadow online serial anthology. I’d met Nova Ren Suma in a VCFA workshop, and when she and coeditor-in-chief Emily X. R. Pan announced plans for a new outlet for YA short stories, I wanted to help out. I coordinated the reading of some 1000 submissions to find the 20 or so that we published along with stories we solicited from more established writers. As managing editor, I kept our editorial process on schedule so we could release three stories each month. I loved seeing those 13 New Voices stories published in the print anthology, along with Emily and Nova’s wise words about craft. It’s both a lovely collection to read and a useful resource for writers.

Congrats on your recent and upcoming books! Tell us about them.

Nova Ren Suma knew the editor of the new Arcadia Children’s Books imprint, and she thought I might be a good match for their first series, “Spooky America.” She put me in touch, and my background—MFA in writing for kids plus experience writing historical nonfiction—proved just right. For The Ghostly Tales of Michigan’s West Coast and The Ghostly Tales of Pittsburgh (both 2020), I took a collection Arcadia had previously published for adults and chose the best stories for a young audience. Then I completely rewrote them to suit a kid’s sensibility. I had so much fun that I took on another volume in the series. It’s tentatively titled The Ghostly Tales of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses and will come out later this year. I loved sneaking fun facts about my home state into the ghost stories!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve been a member of SCBWI for more than twenty years, and only recently made it to PAL status. It took a combination of hard work, persistence, and being open to trying new things. SCBWI always has something to offer, whether it’s a business webinar or just the simple gift of connection. You never know who might have something to teach you, so don’t be afraid to participate!

You can order autographed copies of Diane’s Ghostly Tales books from her website; find out more about her editorial services here

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

A new kidlit podcast, a Writer Spotlight with a behind the scenes look at virtual conference planning, SCBWI Winter Conference takeaways, children's books in the classroom, writing action scenes, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs! 

Coming up this spring:

Registration is now open for the SCBWI-MI spring conference! An all virtual weekend event for you to attend when it suits YOU. Intensives, workshops, socials, plus a limited number of manuscript critiques and portfolio reviews. Don't delay, register today! Discounted fee for SCBWI members and scholarships available.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Starting a Writer’s Newsletter: A Neophyte’s Journey

What do you do with twenty years’ worth of articles about writing, presentation handouts, charts, etc.? You could start an author’s newsletter. Which, one day in a fit of boredom, I decided would be just the thing to do. I’d been getting Jane Friedman’s newsletter for years as well as a few others. They were wonderful and full of useful information. Some of the same sort I had sitting in my files. It hurt to see all of the work I’d put into creating those files go to waste. So now, that info is being shared. 

Here are some of the things I did/learned:

Step 1.  Get someone to help you. I hired Debbie Gonzales who has worked with social platforms and newsletters.

Step 2.  Decide on a software. Constant Contact and MailChimp are two of the most common
ones. Mailchimp allows you to use their software free for up to 2,000 contacts in one
audience. I decided on MailChimp and used one of their free templates to get started.

Step 3.  While playing with the design, I had to think about my audience. Who was I going to
send my newsletter to? How was I to get their subscriptions? Mailchimp has a form that
is easily embedded on a website/landing page. So I created a static page on my website
for that at:

Step 4.  Then I rooted through the more than 600 personal emails I had to sort out the folks that I
thought might be interested. I downloaded 220+ of those and sent an invitation to
subscribe through my website via MailChimp.

Step 5.  Once the invitees had clicked on the subscribe page and entered very basic info, I was
able to mail out the first monthly edition in early January of 2021.

There were some glitches:

Once I got used to finding where things were in the MailChimp dashboard, most of what I had to do was pretty easy. (Plus, I had Debbie G. to hold my hand and guide me!) There is a preview screen so you can see how your newsletter looks on a desktop or mobile. And you can send a test mailing to your own email first. One caveat: you can’t control the settings folks have for their email providers. So it may not always arrive as neatly as you see in the preview! For ex.: I had three columns across the middle of my first month’s newsletter. However, because of settings, a few friends only had room for two columns across and the third appeared below the others. Next month I may play around with only two columns and see how that looks.

The most difficulty I had was with my audience (my contact list). I soon sorted that out. MailChimp does not have a preliminary kind of designation for a first contact like “invited,” or some such. So, when I downloaded more than 220 contacts they were all listed as “subscribed”—though they really were not. However, MailChimp keeps all kinds of statistics and it told me which ones had clicked through and actually subscribed. Then I used MailChimp’s tagging ability and tagged those folks as actual subscribers. When you mail out a “campaign” (their term for a mailing/newsletter/other) you designate who you want that to go to. So I simply sent my newsletters out to the tagged “actual subscribers.” But I was left with this large contact list—which was only partially correct. I didn’t want to erase all of the others who had not clicked though, in case I want to send another invite at a later date. However, it turns out that MailChimp has an archiving ability. So, I archived those contacts that had initially been invited and who were not yet subscribers. That cleaned up my contact list.

In essence, it just took a bit of fiddling with things. Now, I only check once a week, or so, for new folks (and send them the most recent newsletter), as well as continue to use my template for each month’s news. In addition, I will advertise the newsletter a couple of times on Facebook and at any programs I do. Now that it is set up, it shouldn’t be a huge drain on my time. 

One last thing:

Content is king, as they say. I would not have considered doing a newsletter without all the content I already have. You need something of value to offer. You can, of course, start from scratch writing, interviewing, and creating all new material. If you decide to do that, be sure to study other newsletters already out there so you won’t simply be duplicating what’s available.

Here’s to wishing you all, the best!

Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels and many picture books, poems and magazine articles. THUNDER-BOOMER! was an ALA and a Smithsonian “Notable Book.” MINE! was reviewed by the N.Y. Times as “a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” Her books have made Bank Street College lists as well as state award lists. WHEN YOU GET HERE, a collection of poems for adults, won a gold medal from the Royal Palm Literary Awards, 2020 (FL). For more information:

To subscribe to Shutta's newsletter:

To reach Deb Gonzales: 

To learn more about MailChimp:

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Writer Spotlights, podcast lessons, conference takeaways, Book Birthday interviews, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs.

The Mitten Blog welcomes submissions from SCBWI-MI members. We want to connect, learn from each other, and share experiences. Read our Submission Guidelines to learn more. 
That sounds like a lot of work.
I don't know, I'm really busy...
What's in it for me? 

Registration is now open for the SCBWI-MI (Virtual) Spring Conference! Sessions will be recorded and available for viewing for 30 days post conference. Critique slots fill-up quickly, so don't delay! 

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Merze Tate Explorers: Young Writers Experience the World

Equity and inclusion continues to be at the forefront of our minds – in our reading, writing, and daily lives. One underlying thought is: who gets to tell your story and who decides. This blog post is the second of a two-part series for our Equity and Inclusion Corner that addresses the issue of access. As in part one, this interview aligns with RAWK’s (Read and Write Kalamazoo) mission to “celebrate and amplify youth voices…through creativity, equity, and access.”

While a reporter at the Kalamazoo Gazette, Sonya Bernard-Hollins wrote a story on African American firsts of Western Michigan University. What she discovered was that Merze Tate was an African American with many “first“ accomplishments. She was the first African American female to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University, and the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science from Radcliffe at Harvard University. 

Sonya Bernard-Hollins
Learn more about Merze Tate from a previous Mitten blog post:
Tate’s legacy led Sonya to found the Merze Tate Travel Club (now Merze Tate Explorers) in 2008 to expose girls in 5th-12th grades to the community around them, and beyond. Engaged in nonfiction writing about their experiences, the young journalists have navigated a ship on Lake Michigan, flown small aircraft, floated in gondolas in Venice, climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, and more to discover their world and passions, much as Tate did with her students decades earlier.  

Grab your favorite beverage and enjoy a chat with Sonya.
~ Angela Verges

Can you tell our readers a little about Dr. Merze Tate and how you discovered her work?

I was amazed that a Michigan woman I’d never heard of had done so many great things in the area of education, international politics, government, technology, and the arts. It was her “first” at WMU that really got the ball rolling in my desire to share her story. When she graduated from WMU in 1927, she had the highest academic record in the school’s history. However, African Americans were not hired to teach secondary school in Michigan because of Jim Crow segregation. With the help of Dr. Waldo, the president of WMU, she received a job at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. This all-black school was founded in 1927 by leaders in that city’s Ku Klux Klan, to keep schools segregated. She was their first history teacher and started a Travel Club at the school for students to expose them to a world beyond their community. 

How did you begin the Merze Tate Travel Club?

My goal was to write a book about Merze Tate. The actual club began through a challenge from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. They offered a $500 grant to anyone with ideas on how to provide a unique learning experience for youth. I applied for a chance to take girls on an Amtrak from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek to learn about the Underground Railroad. I received the funds, and the rest is history. Because of my background in journalism, I wanted girls to not simply be observers, but reporters to learn how to share what they learn with those in their families and community. What good was it to simply meet someone if you can’t share what you learned? The hook to provide a travel experience and writing made our program unique. And, the fact that it was based on a Michigan woman made it even more unique. 

After I wrote the book Small Beginnings, Merze Tate’s life grew into something bigger for me. The girls who participated in our travel club became an extension of Merze Tate’s story, continuing her legacy. They learned to become writers. Seeing the things Merze Tate did inspired the girls. They didn’t have some of the barriers Merze did.

How are the girls selected to participate in the Travel Club and how many participate?

Auditions are held at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The girls pull an exhibit title from a hat. They have 15 minutes to research the exhibit and record their findings in a newscast format. They participate in fun games about landmarks around the world. The entire process takes about an hour. In the early days of the Travel Club, we’ve had up to 70-80 girls. Over the years this has been scaled down to 25 girls due to COVID-19 and the need to have a more focused group of girls who work best virtually.

Is there a cost for the girls to participate?

The is a $25 fee which covers the cost of a Polo shirt. The girls do a lot of fundraising so all can participate in study abroad, the summer college academy, and more without the fee being a barrier.

What type of things are the girls involved in?

Over the years, the program has evolved. What began as a Saturday program to expose girls to things such as ice skating, plays, and historic landmarks has become so much more. They participate in community service projects, fundraisers, and take trips to apply for study abroad that are learning experiences. They vote on the service projects and how they will use their funds. 

Study abroad experiences have included visits to places such as Hawaii, Japan, and Europe.  Each trip has a themed focus, usually arts or STEM-related. They have met and interviewed women vice presidents of Fortune 500 companies and history makers such as Mae Jemison and Ruth Carter, the first African American to win an Oscar for Costume Design. Their work as journalists is highlighted each year in their Girls Can! Magazine. 

An annual Summer College Academy allows girls to live on a college campus for a week while meeting college students, administrators and visiting museums or corporations in that area. This experience is often the first time away from home for many and the first time in a college dorm. 

You mentioned a partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College. What does that entail?

When the girls interviewed Dr. Marshall Washington, the first African American president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, he was impressed. That led to a partnership to provide students the opportunity to take a college course on Saturdays for credit. Students ages 14 and older qualified while younger students took part in interactive career exploration. It was the first time the college ever provided such a partnership and has since opened the doors for other organizations serving youth. 

Any closing thoughts?

The book! It’s funny because the original purpose was to write a book about Merze Tate. In the meantime, the research I have conducted on her has led to a traveling exhibition of her own photographs that debuted in 2012 at the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame (of which Tate is an inductee). As I continue to work on her biography, I have written, Small Beginnings: A Photographic Journey Through the Life of Merze Tate in the same rhythmic pattern as the poem she wrote on her way to Oxford. It includes many of her own photographs to tell her life story. 

So, Tate’s life continues to inspire as girls find their passion and careers through the exposure of
a travel club based on one she founded in 1928. While she has left millions to universities for
scholarships, it is her determination as a woman of color who defied the odds that allows her
story to live on far after her death in 1996. 

Learn more about Sonya Bernard-Hollins and the Merze Tate Travel Club by visiting

Thank you Sonya for bringing the Merze Tate Girls Club to life for us. May the girls continue to experience all the world has to offer, through your guidance.

Angela Verges is an award-winning humorist (in training, waiting to be discovered). She has shared humor through blogging, women’s retreats, and other venues. Angela is a graduate of Michigan State University and mother of two. She encourages the use of humor for healing and believes you can relieve tension, one laugh at a time.
Angela is also the author of Menopause Ain’t No Joke – Blending Faith and Humor in Perfectly Imperfect Situations.

Contact Angela Verges for speaking engagements, comedy, or to share comments.

Read more posts from the SCBWI-MI Equity and Inclusion team here:

Friday, February 5, 2021

Ask the Editor with Katherine Gibson

Welcome to our quarterly Ask the Editor feature! Katherine Gibson is an editor at Zonderkidz and was previously at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She's collecting questions from SCBWI-MI members and sharing her answers with our community. Did you miss her other Q&As? See the links at the end of this post.

Here's Katherine:

Hi there! A huge THANK YOU to everyone who sent in their questions! I’ve answered them the best I could, and I hope you find this post helpful and informative.

As with my previous Ask the Editor posts, I humbly ask that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful; I don’t want anyone to finish this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.

Also, a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of my publisher or the publishing industry in general. I would not be at all surprised to learn that you’ve heard an editor or agent say something that directly conflicts with my perspective. Everyone in publishing has their own views and preferences, and I can only be honest about my own.

If you have any questions about writing, editing, or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please reach out to me. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thank you, and happy reading!

How important is the pitch and query letter? If you love the story, but not the pitch, then what? Is it still a determining factor in your final decision on a manuscript? What is your ideal query letter like? Is there a preferred order of information, or is it more about the content? And what about comps? I've heard it's optimal to give three, but what if you don't furnish any? Does it hurt your overall chances if you don’t provide them? 

Lots of great questions here! Speaking for myself, the manuscript is the determining factor in my decision, not the query letter. If I love a manuscript, it doesn’t much matter if the query letter isn’t very good. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever been impressed by a manuscript that wasn’t accompanied by a solid query letter. I think most people who are serious about writing a children’s book are also serious about presenting it well.

As for the preferred order of information, this can vary depending on the agent/editor, but typically the letter starts with the hook (usually a fun, quick summary of what happens), then moves into the specifics (themes, selling points, age range, word count, comp titles, etc.), and finally includes a paragraph about the author and their credentials. 

You’ll notice I included comp titles in the list of things to outline in the second paragraph. Of all the information that goes into a query letter, I think comps are pretty far down on the list in terms of importance. If you know of a similar title or two (honestly, three feels like a bit much to me!) that have done well in the market, it definitely helps to include them, partly because it helps to place it in the agent’s or editor’s mind, but also because it shows you know the market and have done your homework. But if you can’t find any solid comp titles, or the ones you know of are obscure and/or performed badly, I’d just leave off mentioning them altogether. It’s not the sort of thing that makes or breaks a pitch.

And finally, I’d say my ideal query letter is one that piques my interest in both the project and the author. That probably sounds lofty, but there are really just three pieces of information I’m looking for: What’s the story? Who wrote it? And, most importantly, why should people read it? I love when I read a thoughtful, professional query letter, because it tells me that the author takes the submission process seriously. They’ve done their research and put in the time to make a good first impression, and knowing that, I’m much more eager to turn the page and read their story.

When webinar presenters give participants a chance to submit a manuscript, should you use the same format for the query letter that you use for agents?

Unless the presenter has expressed a preference in regard to the query letter format, I think the typical format you’d use for an agent or editor (which I described in the previous question) should be just fine. And, good luck! 

I submitted a project to a publisher I’ve worked with before, and in the past even when they’ve rejected a manuscript they’ve always been good about sending me a personal response. But it’s been five months since I sent them the project, and I still haven’t heard anything. Should I try to call or email them, or just let it go?

It's totally understandable to be confused by five months of silence from a publisher you've had a good relationship with up until now. I’m not sure if you sent a physical submission or an emailed query, but if it was the former, I can tell you that all the publishing houses I know of have had people working from home since the start of the pandemic, so it's possible that no one's collected the mail since you submitted it! 

In either case, though, I think it would make sense to reach out via email. Maybe you could tell them that since they haven't responded in the past several months, you're going to start submitting the manuscript elsewhere, but that you'd still be happy to hear from them if they decide they want to pursue it. I wouldn't advise calling them unless you've talked to them on the phone before, as that can sometimes feel a bit pushy, especially if the publisher states in their guidelines that they can't respond to every submission. But hopefully an email will prompt them to respond to you.

I received a personal rejection from an editor that seems to leave the option of resubmitting open, but I’m not sure. When do you know if an editor’s response allows for the author to ask to revise and resubmit?

It's often tricky to assess whether or not it's appropriate to rework and resend a manuscript to an agent or editor, but in my experience, unless they directly invite you to make adjustments and send it back, it's probably not an R&R (Revise and Resubmit). I think you can and should send another manuscript to the editor, perhaps something specially tailored to their list, but generally speaking I wouldn't advise revising and resubmitting a manuscript unless the editor directly asks you to.

That being said, I do think there are some exceptions to the rule. If you make significant revisions to the manuscript (enough that it reads like a completely different story), and if it seems like a better fit for their list now, you could probably resend it, explain the changes you’ve made, and ask if they’re willing to take another look. Ultimately though, it’s important to remember that you want to work with someone who’s passionate about your book and your vision. The right editor will love your book almost as much as you do!

While putting together my bibliography, I noticed a spelling error in the title of the article I was using (from a credible source). Do I correct the misspelled word in the bibliography or just credit the article the way it is?

Good question! I’d say the best (or at least, the most common) way to address that issue is to list the source exactly as it’s spelled, with [sic] inserted after the misspelled word. That should communicate to the person reading your bibliography that the typo has been noted and is part of the original source material. When it comes to sources, the most important thing is to ensure that anyone who goes looking for your source will be able to find the correct one, so using [sic] allows you to list the source exactly as it appears while assuring the reader that the typo didn’t originate on your end. 

If I wanted to donate the royalties from my book to a non-profit organization, would the publisher set that up for me? Is it possible to do it in such a way that I don't have any tax obligation because no money would come to me? 

If you would like to donate the royalties from a book, I would recommend establishing that in your book contract with the publisher. It should be relatively easy to set up; just make sure that the contract stipulates that all monies should be wired directly to your chosen non-profit, and that the publisher is able to procure the non-profit’s current tax documents for payment processing. 

If you already have a signed book contract with the money going to you, contact your editor and ask if they can draw up an addendum to change the beneficiary for royalties. It can take some time to update a contract, but the process shouldn’t be too laborious on your part.

When corresponding with an editor, agent, or publisher through email, is it best to continue on an email strand after it has ping-ponged back and forth a few times, even if it’s been a while since you corresponded? Or should you begin a totally new email with a reminder of who you are and what your project is about?

I think if it’s been a while, or if you’re emailing them about a fresh topic or question, it probably makes sense to start a new email thread. Maybe this is just my own idiosyncrasy, but I don’t like it when an email chain gets too long and I have to scroll through months of correspondence to find the one piece of info I’m looking for. Then again, if you’re referencing things in this new email that have already been discussed in the thread, then I’d keep it in the same email strand for consistency’s sake. 

What factors does an editor consider when determining whether or not a standalone manuscript has series potential? Are there things an author can do in advance of publication, to better their odds of their story piquing an editor's interest for a series? 

In my experience, the editor usually knows from the get-go whether a book will be part of a series or a standalone, as that will factor into both the acquisition and the contract. Some publishers get excited by the prospect of a series (it helps them build their future book lists and promises reliable revenue if it’s popular), and some are wary of picking up a series (if the first book doesn’t do well and they’ve signed a multi-book contract, they’re suddenly in a bind). So if you know you want the book you’re submitting to be part of a series, I would recommend stating that in your query, pitching both the individual book and the overall series. The publisher may want to take it a book at a time, or they might want to sign the series all at once.

Otherwise, I think the most important factor in determining whether a standalone book becomes a series is how well it sells. If you write a book that sells like hotcakes, you can bet that your editor or agent will come back asking for more, even if you’ve never talked about turning it into a series before. Look at Hatchet for example. That was supposed to be a standalone book, but it became so popular that fans kept writing to Gary Paulsen asking what happened next, until he finally wrote more books. (I thought there were three books in the set, but it turns out there’s five?? I guess that proves my point!)

Katherine Gibson is an editor for Zonderkidz, having previously worked for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 2013 and has spent the last five years editing and publishing award-winning children’s books, including Sibert Medal and Caldecott Honor book
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Plume, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

Thank you, Katherine!

To submit a publishing question, email Mitten blog editor Kristin Lenz with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.

If you missed any of Katherine's previous Ask the Editor posts, click on these links:

Coming up on The Mitten Blog:

More posts from our Equity and Inclusion Team, Tips for Creating an Author Newsletter, Book Birthdays, Writer Spotlights, Hugs and Hurrahs, and more!

Our SCBWI-MI regional Shop Talks have been virtual during the pandemic which means anyone can participate regardless of where you live. Reminders and Zoom links are announced on our MichKids listerv. The listserv is one of the best ways to be involved and stay informed! If you're not already signed up, learn more about MichKids here: 

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