Monday, February 28, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Lindsay Gizicki


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors and illustrators. 


 Congratulations to Lindsay Gizicki on the release of To the Moon and Back




How did you come up with the idea for your book?

My family and I were eating breakfast one day and we were discussing how mischievous my son can be. My daughter made a comment about him ending up on the moon one day because he’s so naughty. I told her that even if he did, I would go get him and bring him right back home. My husband replied that it sounded like a cute book idea—and I agreed! 

What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book?

The book revolves around a mother’s love. I hope readers can relate to the power of that love—whether it be with their children or the love they felt from their own mothers. It would be an honor if readers were using my own words to express the magnitude of their love for their children. I hope this book helps families connect during bed or reading time.



What inspires you to write?

My children! One of the most beautiful parts about having children has been watching their little imaginations at work. It’s amazing to me how creative they can be at such a young age. One of the things I started doing with my daughter was to have her tell me a bedtime story every night. Her stories inspire stories of my own. I like to think this book, and every book I write, will have pieces of my children in them. My life these days revolves around my children so it felt very natural to enter the world of children’s books.

You are the Michigan-representative for The Book Fairies Worldwide. How did you find this organization and what is it about?

I stumbled upon The Book Fairies one day while reading an article about Emma Watson. She had just helped The Book Fairies launch in London during Women’s International Month in 2017. I visited London the following July and was disappointed when I couldn’t find one of their hidden books. When I got back to the States, I emailed their CEO to see if I could help with Michigan efforts. She informed me that they didn’t have anyone stationed in Michigan yet and asked if I would like to be the official rep. The Book Fairies are an organization dedicated to promoting reading. We hide free books for readers—brand new or used. We work with many publishers, authors, and bookstores to promote new and upcoming books. We’ve done campaigns with movie production companies as well to celebrate upcoming movies adapted from best-selling novels. Think of it as a revolving Little Free Library, but you can find a book anywhere!

What are your marketing plans for the book?

I’ve been trying to come up with ways to connect with parents and teachers. Members of my mailing list receive free activities every month sent right to their inboxes. These activities promote various motor skills for children ages 2-6. I’ve been trying to grow my subscribers through this. I’ve also been sharing free coloring pages and doing giveaways on our social media. I’ve looked for out-of-the-box ways to get To the Moon and Back to potential readers. I have various collaborations in the works. For example, I have the book lined up to be included in a subscription box service. It’s also going to be sold along with Play-Doh sensory kits (which are space-themed). I have several author events planned at bakeries and craft stores, all while featuring goodies that match characters from the book. I found that reaching out to small businesses has been very successful. If you can sell your product along with someone else’s product you’re both profiting and reaching new customers.

A little bit about the book . . .

Join a mother and her child on an epic adventure through space. Our mischievous child keeps finding themself in space through many wrong doings—their balloon carried them too high, their homemade rocket went too far. Their mother, desperate to bring them home, chases after them by her own silly means. Witness the depth of a mother's love and just how far that love can take you—if you just believe.

A little bit about the author . . .

Lindsay Gizicki graduated from Central Michigan University and pursued her passion for journalism. She is currently the editor of an architecture magazine based in Troy, Michigan. Lindsay is an avid book lover and the Michigan-representative for The Book Fairies Worldwide, leaving hidden books for potential readers all around the state. In her spare time, she can be found on Lake St. Clair with her husband, Cyle, and their 4-year-old daughter, Harper, and 2-year-old son, Henry.  


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Friday, February 25, 2022

Ask the Editor by Katherine Gibson Easter

Hey everyone! A huge thank-you to all the people who sent me their questions! I’ve answered them to the best of my abilities, 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 sincerely hope that no one finishes reading this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.

I’d also like to add 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 opinions 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!

If an established children's author (who’s been traditionally published) had a relationship with an editor, do you think the editor would look at their manuscripts, even if the author was currently without an agent? What if the editor's house was closed to unsolicited manuscripts?

I would guess that for most editors the answer’s probably yes (I know it would be for me!). Even if the publishing house doesn’t normally accept unsolicited manuscripts, if an editor has a relationship with an author, especially one who’s already been published, then I’d think they’d be happy to look at the author’s manuscripts as long as they’re a fit for what they publish.

If you’re still unsure, it definitely doesn’t hurt to reach out to the particular editor and ask if they’d be willing to take a look at your new project. My guess is that they’ll probably answer in the affirmative.

Is there a way for an author to know how their book is doing? Short of pestering their publisher, is there a place to find out a book's sales totals?

Excellent question, but asking your publisher is actually going to be your best bet for accurate sales numbers. Publishers keep careful track of how well/quickly their books are selling, so they should have that information handy for you. Across the entire book industry, NPD BookScan provides the most comprehensive look at sales data, but it’s still not perfect—it only captures about 85% of print book sales, so your BookScan numbers will almost certainly be lower than your actual copies sold—and a BookScan subscription can be prohibitively expensive.

If you don’t want to keep repeatedly asking your publisher, I’d recommend checking your book’s product details on Amazon. While it doesn’t tell you how many copies you’ve sold, it does show how your book ranks against comparative titles. For example, we just released Kendall Coyne’s book As Fast as Her, and it’s currently #1 in Hockey Books, #1 in Teen & Young Adult Hockey, and #2 in Teen & Young Adult Sports Biographies. (It helps that she just won a silver medal at the Olympics!) Again, this formula isn’t perfect, since it only reflects Amazon sales, but with Amazon being the largest book retailer, it’s a pretty good benchmark, and it’s free! 

I've been hearing since the first of the year that editors are even more backed up than last year, and that often there's not enough time to even read a query/pb manuscript through to the end, unless it piques their interest in the first couple sentences. Would you say that’s accurate? As writers, we'd like to think our manuscripts get read, but as an editor, what's your reality?  


Other editors will probably have different stories, but for me, the first few months of the year are usually busy just because everything seems to ramp up post-holidays. So, the pace is definitely fast these days, but so far it doesn’t feel markedly different from previous years (knock on wood!).


As for how much time we get to dedicate to queries, every single editor is juggling multiple priorities and deadlines, so we all have to be extremely judicious with our time. Editors and agents receive so many submissions, and they can only say yes to a small percentage of the queries that come in. So reading every single word of every single query usually just isn’t feasible.


Personally, I tend to skim through the query letter—gathering the essential details but not lingering over it—and then turn my attention to the manuscript itself. For picture books, I do read the whole manuscript, unless it’s poorly written or clearly wrong for our list. Some editors will change their approach depending on how busy they are—skimming through manuscripts when they’re swamped that they’d normally take their time with—but my approach is usually the same regardless of what else is on my desk. I’m just slower to respond when I’m busy!


The effects of the pandemic seem to be ongoing and never-ending. Can you comment on how things stand currently? It would help to get an insider's viewpoint regarding issues, problems, and silver linings if any.


As far as issues go, publishing’s been hit hard by supply chain issues and the rising cost of product, just like so many other industries. Because books tend to be more price-sensitive than other consumer products (you need bread and eggs, but you don’t need a book), publishers are trying to navigate their way through the extra costs while passing as little of that burden on to the consumer as possible.


But there is a strong silver lining that comes with that: the book industry has actually been seeing record book sales since the pandemic started. After an initial drop in March 2020, book sales started to climb as people remained at home and suddenly had more time on their hands, with noticeable jumps in eBooks and children’s nonfiction (since schools were closed). Sales are starting to plateau across the industry now, but the numbers are still higher than they were pre-pandemic. I like to think it’s because people are rediscovering a love of reading!


Are certain areas of the market oversaturated right now? What are you wishing you'd see more of, if anything?


We’ve seen demand for children’s nonfiction and educational books dropping off since its surge in the early days of the pandemic. Those books are still getting published (and sold), but I don’t think publishers are clamoring for them like they were a year ago.


I’ve been seeing a lot of books (for both children and adults) centered around mental health hitting the shelves, with topics covering anxiety, stress, coping, mindfulness, meditation, self-care, etc. Unfortunately, with the extra burden people are shouldering these days, I think that’s a felt need that’s going to stick around for a while.


Speaking just for myself—and voicing what could very well be an unpopular opinion!—I’m sort of burned out on gritty YA books, especially dystopian and/or fantasy novels. Right now I’d much prefer a contemporary coming-of-age middle grade story, or a clean teen romance, ideally with a charming cast of diverse characters. A couple of recent favorites of mine: The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park.  

If you've written a nonfiction manuscript that's most appropriate for readers ages 8-10, but your topic can be supported with lots of available photos, graphs, maps, drawings, etc., and you see it coming to life in a traditional 32-page picture book format, is it okay to let the editor know what you're imagining, or is it better to let the manuscript stand on its own and hope the editor sees what you see?

Great question! Let’s start by looking at the age range; generally speaking, 8-10 is a bit too narrow for publishing standards. Ages 8-12 is the standard range for middle grade, and though 4-8 is the standard age range for picture books, it’s not uncommon for publishers to use 6-10 as well, especially if it’s nonfiction and extending beyond the usual 32 pages (I’ve published picture books with as many as 48 pages for 6-10 year-olds, like The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, ill. by Don Tate). Of course, middle grade nonfiction often makes use of illustrations and images as well, so I don’t think you’d be forgoing using visuals if you decided this manuscript was more appropriate for older readers.

I’d suggest looking at your word count and subject matter; if the manuscript is text-heavy and can’t really be condensed, or if the subject matter isn’t very kid-friendly (addressing something violent or technical, perhaps), then I’d suggest using a middle grade age range and letting the publisher know that you have visuals that could be included. But usually, nonfiction picture books sell better than middle grade nonfiction, so if you could make your manuscript fit into a picture book that’s appropriate for 6-10 year-olds, it may increase your odds of getting published.

Either way, it’s totally fine to let the editor know how you envision the book in your query letter. I will say though that sometimes an editor will have a different vision for the book, based on what they think will sell, so it’s best to know before you send out your queries how much you’re willing to change things, in case someone asks. Good luck!!

Katherine Gibson Easter 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 eight 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 Sarah LoCascio 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, go HERE to browse through all the questions and answers.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Illustrator Intensive Take-Aways by Kara Marsee

SCBWI-Nevada’s Illustrator Intensive took place virtually in November 2021 with Senior Art Director Mallory Grigg of MacMillan Books for Young Readers. I registered because I wanted to hone character design and visual storytelling skills and to get a feel for what its like to work with an art director.

After registering, in August I received two options for the assignment:

   create a PB dummy with the manuscript provided, or

   design a YA cover for The Great Gatsby.


I chose the PB dummy. The assignment had two deadlines/parts:

-     PART 1) Develop the characters, choose a trim size and create a loose dummy due in 5 weeks. (mid-September)

-     PART 2) After receiving feedback (mid-October) on initial sketches, tighten the dummy and take two spreads to full color, due in November for the Intensive Virtual Workshop.


It was a considerable challenge. What follows are my steps and take-aways.



Consider all possibilities. The manuscript featured robots and dinosaurs. I considered:

1.     literally robots and dinosaurs

2.     kids dressed as robots and dinosaurs

3.     toys

I went with literal robots and dinosaurs because that would be the most fun for me to illustrate, but I kept the “toys” idea as a final reveal because I really liked playing with the story that way.


Mallory’s manuscript left a lot open for illustrators to define. There was a hint at music, putting on a show, creativity, and friendship, so there was plenty to figure out in terms of developing those themes.


Steps and decisions:

1.     Research and sketching a LOT brings the characters to life. Knowing them from all angles & emotions is a huge asset before starting a dummy.

2.     I kept the number of characters to a minimum: 3 robots - square, triangle, and circle-based, and 3 dinosaurs with varying shapes.

3.     Character lineups help define size and color relationships.

4.     Simplifying characters avoids burnout, but do season with interesting detail.



I tried a very primary color palette for the robots, and secondary palette for the dinos to begin with. The character line-up also showed me that these colors together were similar in value –something I hadn’t noticed when drawing them separately.




Characters/topic will help define page size. I based my trim size on a PB by Steve Light - I wanted a large landscape to hold large dinosaurs. The size defined my thumbnail ratios, and I created a template for the dummy thumbnails using InDesign. I have a few different thumbnail templates on my website’s resources page for anyone to download.


The text provided wouldve fit neatly into 32 pages, but considering uneven sections, and a wordless spread/pause gave me the ability to add more interest and an end reveal.


Overall, the feedback I received was positive. Mallory liked my perspectives and wanted me to push the characters a little more, such as adding expressive eyebrows to robots, and to explore a completely different color story. She suggested 80’s neon for the robots, and I loved that idea. It was fantastic to have Mallory’s input to move forward.


In order for my characters to work well in the composition, I did some value studies, and then tried new colors for the characters. The values didn’t always translate, but it did help me see shape placement.


Images should flow from left to right to guide the reader to the next page. I know this, yet my characters don’t always want to go in the direction of the page turn. Mallory pointed out the following page, which needed to flip, and I made that change.


The following spread was also recommended to be flipped. But after trying it, my gut told me to keep it this way, so that the readers land on those sad robots before the page turn.


I love characters, and backgrounds have been a challenge for me. Thinking of the background as a character sometimes helps, but in this case, I used the backgrounds as design elements and composition footholds. I removed a drawing of a shrub with hibiscus flowers on it because it was too interesting and detracted from the characters, especially in this character relationship story.


I learned not to get too far finished with a drawing until I knew that compositionally it worked with the amount of text for that page. I did my own text layout in InDesign, and some pages needed illustration edits to make room for text.

Mallory told us that gutter size depends on trim size and page count, but to plan on a half inch to an inch for the gutter.


While knee-deep in final art, adding details like checkerboard teeth kept it FUN! 

The day of the virtual intensive itself Mallory critiqued all of our dummies on the spot. There was a lot to learn.

 It’s so inspiring to see the work of my illustrator friends - shout out to Rebekah Start of Michigan, Anne Awh of Illinois, and Hannah Krueger of New York. I also was inspired by artists new to me, Cynthia Cliff, Tim Hantula and Denise Taranov. Seeing their work reminds me that truly the possibilities are endless! I loved seeing all the different takes on the same manuscript. Also having “the village” of fellow kids’ book creators is so helpful when you need to bounce something off of someone who understands the challenge of creative work. And dinosaurs and robots are great content for portfolios!

My two biggest take-aways:

 - Do what brings you JOY! A book project is extremely time intensive and if you don’t love what you’re working on, it will be even more difficult.

- Books are a collaborative creation. Listening to feedback, trying new things, and communication are essential. What can you bring to the story to add dimension?


Thanks to SCBWI Nebraska’s Illustrator Coordinator Chloe Burgett who did a ton of work  organizing this productive event, and to Mallory Grigg for her insights and critiques.

Kara Marsee is an author/illustrator living in Ann Arbor with her family and house rabbit. She serves SCBWI-MI as one of the Communications Co-Coordinators, and she works in the office of a public elementary school. Kara loves the challenge of creating dummies, as well as drawing personalities and animals. When shes not drawing, writing, or reading, you can find Kara volunteering for a literacy program, practicing yoga, hiking, or enjoying a warm cup of tea and sudoku/colorku.

Website:         IG, Twitter, FB: @karamarsee

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Black Men Read by John Rodriguez

Kayden and I sit behind our computer and read to an unseen audience the colorful words of One Day in the Eucalyptus, the Eucalyptus Tree (by Daniel Bernstrom, ill. by Brendan Wenzel, HarperCollins, 2016). That day, 7 year-old Kayden does most of the reading while I support him with color commentary and questions about his thoughts on the characters and situations. We are bonding over our love of clever stories. In this case, we are also fulfilling the mission of supporting Black Men Read (BMR) where we read books and stories from across the African diaspora by highlighting literature from Black authors or books with illustrations featuring Black and Brown characters. 

In the United States where Black Americans make up 14% of the population and Black males represent 2% of the teaching community, experiencing Black men in teaching and leadership roles is a rarity, which is a disservice for all communities. The BMR impact is not only limited to  Black children, but instead aims to inspire, entertain, and educate all children who wish to participate at our reading sessions. BMR normalizes the contributions of Black writers and illustrators when young readers join us at the local recreation centers, parks, or by video on Facebook (@BMRKIDSCLUB)

Everyday that I read to my sons, I help them to develop self-appreciation by being an example  of a Black man who recognizes the value of the literary experience. This expands their imaginations about who they might one day become and how they actively perceive their own worth. As they experience representation through the characters, they now write their own creative stories where the primary characters look and think as they do. Through the efforts of BMR, I and other Black men are able to continue that type of impact for our entire community of young readers.

John Rodriguez is a multimedia creator and illustrator. Professionally, John serves as the Marketing and Communications Lead with the Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) at the University of Michigan. John's goal is to tell stories to build community awareness and challenge stereotypical narratives that can be harmful. He is a member of the SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team.

Friday, February 11, 2022

It Starts with Hello with Jean Alicia Elster


Three years ago, one of the initial tasks I undertook as the first Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair for SCBWI-MI was to get a sense of the interests and needs among our members through informal interviews. I contacted a few people and asked them to identify and share their perspective on what they thought were key issues. The importance of being made to feel welcomed as a new SCBWI member came to the forefront. Jean shared her thoughts on how she felt when someone took the time to say, “Hello,” at the first two SCBWI-MI conferences she attended. Today, she shares a poignant personal story with us.

New members may often feel like strangers and left to wonder if they really belong. Fortunately, as Jean relates and so many other members will attest, our SCBWI-Michigan members can and do take steps to welcome all to our community.

Jean’s broaching of this topic a few years back and subsequent conversations with others inspired me to start this series. We can learn to do better when we walk a mile in someone’s shoes through story and Jean has given us all a gift with hers. 

We’ll continue to share these personal stories of support with your help. Send your “It Starts with Hello,” submission, 300-words or less, to Isabel Estrada O’Hagin at: I look forward to receiving them!

Thank you, Jean, for sharing your story!


Isabel Estrada O’Hagin

Outreach Coordinator 

Let me begin by saying that there are now many members of the SCBWI Michigan chapter that I consider my dear author buddies. However almost 20 years ago, as a new member, I could not have imagined making that statement.

Yes, it was just under two decades ago that I attended my first Michigan chapter conferences. They were one-day events. Both times, when I arrived, I began to do what I normally do when I am at an event and I don’t know anyone: I walked around, smiled, and tried to make eye-contact. Folks just looked away. I said, "Hello," to people at the coffee table who were not engaged with others in conversations.  Nothing happened. I couldn’t connect with anyone. The vibe was decidedly cold and unwelcoming.  

At lunchtime, everyone rushed off to their tables. I looked around for an empty chair at a table and could not find one. There was an empty table so I sat down, ready to enjoy my lunch and keep myself company.

Then someone came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Shutta Crum. Will you join us at my table?”  I was stunned. I looked over to where she gestured, and her table was full. I mentioned that fact. She grabbed my chair and asked one of the attendees to scoot over. “Now there’s room,” she said.

At the second event, something similar happened when Nancy Shaw saw me sitting by myself in the auditorium and sat next to me. She introduced herself and struck up a conversation.

Both of these SCBWI-MI members went out of their way to make a stranger to the organization feel welcome. And it is because of them that I stayed connected to this chapter. I am grateful for their kindness and count them as friends to this day.


You can follow Jean online:

Instagram: @jeanaliciaelster

Twitter: @j_a_elster 

Facebook: Jean Alicia Elster Books

Pinterest: @jelsterwrites