Friday, June 24, 2022

Ask the Editor with Katherine Gibson Easter

Hello everyone! BIG thanks 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, querying, or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please reach out to me anytime. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thanks, and happy reading!

How pushy is too pushy when it comes to nudging an editor to respond? For example, if I put a timeframe on a languishing proposal—my submission will remain exclusive for the next 4 weeks, after which time I will share it with other publishing houses—is that good form? Where's the line between being assertive and being demanding?

Excellent question! I’ll address the specific example in a moment, but I thought I’d also talk about this more broadly since I think a lot of writers have this question. You send your project out, time passes, and…crickets. What do you do? Do you follow up? If so, how long do you wait? 

There aren’t any hard or fast rules for this, unfortunately, but speaking for myself, I try to respond to projects (both the yays and the nays) within 6-8 weeks. That probably sounds like a long time, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes during that time—researching the author/project/market, pitching it to the team, getting the necessary approvals, etc. Based purely on my own experience, I’d recommend waiting at least a month before checking in on a submission, unless you’ve received an offer from someone else and need to follow up. 

For this particular example, it’s a bit different. I think most publishing houses assume that any submission they get is a simultaneous one, unless it’s specifically noted that it’s exclusive. So I do think it’s fair to put a timeframe on the exclusivity if that’s something you’re offering them (I’m assuming this isn’t a contractual first-option kind of situation). 

If you’re ever worried that you may be coming across as demanding or aggressive, I would say that as long as you’re keeping your correspondences friendly and professional, you’re probably fine. To put it another way, it’s less about whether or not you follow up on a project and more about how you go about it. Remember the end goal: ideally, you want to be working with this person, so show them how great you are to work with by being kind and courteous in your responses.

What is the reasonable rate for agents to charge a writer? Is there a range?


Typically, a literary agent gets 15% of their authors’ earnings (that includes flat fees, advances, royalties, etc.). So for easy math, if your agent secures you a book deal with a $10,000 advance, your take-home amount would be $8,500, and the agent would get $1,500. Maybe surprisingly, it tends to be 15% across the board for literary agents; I’m sure there are some exceptions out there, but I’d say 15% is definitely the industry standard. 

I’ve heard that Mondays and Tuesdays are days that editors concentrate on their new releases. Friday, of course, is pretty much the weekend. So that leaves Wednesday and Thursday to submit your manuscript to the editor. Does it really make a difference which day the manuscript arrives on the editor's desk? Certainly, time of year can have an impact, as summer and December seem to be dead zones. But day of the week?

I can only speak for myself here, but the day of the week I receive a manuscript really doesn’t make a substantial difference. If pressed, I’d say for my own personal schedule, I actually prefer to receive submissions on a Friday or a Monday—by Friday, I’ve usually tackled the big items for the week and have more time to dig into new projects, and on Mondays I build my schedule for the week, so I can easily slot in time to review submissions. But I could very easily see Wednesdays or Thursdays being ideal for other editors, so I’d say there’s really no “good” or “bad” day of the week to send in your manuscript. 

That said, you do bring up a good point: there are some times of the year when I’m slower to respond to projects, usually because it’s a high vacation season (as you mention, December and summer) or because I’m swamped with current projects (which could honestly be anytime. If anyone comes up with a way of predicting when a busy season will hit, I will pay top dollar for the technology!). But honestly, one of the most common reasons I turn down a good project is because I just recently signed something similar, so I do think there’s something to be said for just sending out your manuscript as soon as it’s ready, rather than trying to “time” the submission process. But in the end, you have to decide what feels right to you. 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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

On the Shelf by Tara Michener: Say It Out Loud by Allison Varnes

Speak up. Use your words. Express yourself. 

These suggestions might sound easier than they are. This is especially true if you are a middle school student who has been bullied because the bullies believe that you told on them. This might be even harder if you try your best not to use your words very often because you stutter. 

Allison Varnes does a delightful job of taking us on a journey of a young girl, giving readers an inside look at what it is like when speech does not come easy. 

When we talk about the concept of windows and mirrors, we don’t always talk about talk. Talking is sometimes a privilege that is assumed. This book gives a really good glimpse of the pressure that a student can face when they are caught off guard and expected to speak or the shame that can threaten when there is a need for a teacher to assist. 

Say It Out Loud (Random House, 2021) covers the value in speaking up for others as well as understanding that we don’t all speak the same, but our words make the biggest difference. I implore you to not only get it for a person who loves middle grade lit but also for an educator who works with children. 

Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Juneteenth by Tara Michener

Imagine a life of being enslaved, brutalized, pained and oppressed. 

Did you take a moment to do that? If you did not...I ask you to take a moment-really-right now. 

What images did you see? What did you feel? How would you describe this to someone who could not understand? 

Now, I want you to imagine finding out that you are considered are informed that actually you were free two years ago but "technical difficulties" prevented you from learning this. 

What you might learn as you imagine this is that the pain of the last two years did not have to happen but it did. You know that it is June 19th because the person who read the words to you that proclaimed freedom also proclaimed the date of your independence. You now get to imagine what freedom looks like. You get to imagine it...upon hearing that it is yours.  

Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom of Black Americans that were the last to be notified in Galveston, Texas that they no longer were enslaved. 

What books would you read to tell the story of this milestone and historical event? 

Let me ask you this...what book would you write? As you imagined yourself in that situation what imagery do you feel like would stand out in a children's book? What would those pages do to inspire triumph? 

It is very vital to tell history as history happened. Children can be educated by books, yet it is important that they are not misled about true history. Juneteenth is not new in any way, yet there are not a plethora of books about it. 

I am hoping that with the addition of the federal holiday there are more opportunities for kids to be engaged by kid lit that reflects many compelling stories both fiction and non-fiction. These stories need to be shared...if you cannot be the one that writes them, be the one who finds the books about this important day and donate them. The people of Galveston had their future withheld for an additional two years. Let's make sure that the stories of their history are no longer delayed. 

Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Hugs and Hurrahs

Welcome to this quarter's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs! This is my first time writing the series, and I'm delighted to celebrate all of the following authors!  Thank you to Sarah Prusoff LoCascio and Kristin Lenz for all your help getting me up and running. 

Heidi Woodward Sheffield’s  BRICK BY BRICK has been chosen for the Dolly Parton  Imagination Library. It will also be a Scholastic book and is being translated for the Korean market as well! 




ICE CREAM FACE (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin/Random House), is a picture book about
the anxiety and elation involved in waiting in line to get ice cream. Written and illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield, it debuts 6/21/22, and is available through your local bookstore, Indiebound or Amazon.

Publisher’s Weekly called ICE CREAM FACE an "amiable meditation on the joys of a rich emotional life starring a funny, self-aware protagonist who wears their ice-cream-loving heart on their sleeve.”

Multiple congrats, Heidi!


On August 2 Lisa Wheeler will be welcoming the birth of Baby Shower. (Dial/Penguin Random House) This picture book, illustrated by Charlie Adler,  is a celebration of babies and the people who anticipate their arrival.


Congratulations, Lisa!



Kristin Lenz signed with agent Sera Rivers at Martin Literary Management, and this was a direct

result of the SCBWI-MI Critique Carousel last fall. Thanks to our chapter Leadership Team, Anita Pazner, and Dave Stricklen for coordinating that event!

The Michigan Reading Journal published Kristin's article, "Sweet Romance and a Ticking-Clock-Plot: Two Novels for Exploring Identity and Intersectionality".


Way to go, Kristin!



Jean Alicia Elster’s latest book HOW IT HAPPENS (Wayne State University Press 2021) won the  2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) Bronze Medal for Young Adult Fiction. In addition, Jean was the featured author in a Black Her Stories podcast that focused on how her life experiences and philosophies have affected her body of published work.

We’re so proud of you, Jean Alicia!



Congratulations, everyone! Our next Hugs and Hurrahs will be in the fall. Please send your good news in the meantime to I hope you all have a refreshing and productive summer!


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

It Starts with Hello with Charlie Barshaw

My first SCBWI conference was a weekend stay at the Yarrow Golf Course and Conference Resort in 2010. I had a roommate who was not my wife, and a freshly-written novel about Friday the 13th.

Charlie Barshaw

As I stepped nervously up to the registration table, I was greeted with genuine warmth by Rachel Anderson, who seemed positively happy to see me, a complete stranger. I would later that weekend share a critique session with her and others, and it would be there that I’d hear an initial draft of what would become The Puppy Predicament.

Rachel’s warm smile and welcoming attitude got me started on what was soon to become a learning experience. I learned, for instance, that I snored so badly that my roommate packed up and stayed at a friend’s house Saturday night.

I also learned that my perfectly polished novel was not, in fact, polished or perfect, and I remember stewing in a miserable funk during the final session Sunday morning, counting the minutes until I could scurry from this place and give up writing for good.

Which, thank the Muse, I didn’t.

Mostly I learned that writing for kids is not for the lazy or thin-of-skin. On the flip-side, I learned that children’s book creators are some of the friendliest, sharing-est, best commiserators anywhere.

That first encounter (and I doubt she even remembers it) led to hundreds, thousands of heartfelt hugs and handshakes over the years since, and I embrace my SCBWI experience as a joyous journey of discovery.

Thanks, Rachel.

Charlie Barshaw is a published author of seven middle grade short stories on Amazon Rapids , pre-published author of several MG and YA novels, and an interviewer for the Writer Spotlight feature on The Mitten. Check out his website


Thank you, Charlie, for sharing your Hello story and relating your aha moment with a good dose of honesty—a necessary trait for any writer/illustrator who desires to grow and deepen their understanding of the art form. I love hearing these stories and it makes me think of both sides of the hello—the greeter and recipient. While it takes courage to attend that first event or an event where you don’t know anyone or only a few people, it also takes confidence on the part of the greeter to reach out, to break the ice, to move us from being strangers toward becoming professional colleagues and perhaps friends. May Charlie’s Hello story inspire you to take that first step!  

Has anyone made you feel welcomed to an SCBWI-MI event and made you feel like you mattered? Share your Hello story with the rest of us by sending a three-hundred word or less post to Outreach Coordinator, Isabel Estrada O’Hagin at

Friday, June 10, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Amanda Esch-Cormier

 Public love ballads, Nashville, doulas, an illustrator in Istanbul, and moving to frigid Michigan: Amanda Esch-Cormier

 Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet musician, doula and author Amanda Esch-Cormier.

What do you remember about your early life? Who or what got you writing?

My mother really got me into books. I have very vivid memories of reading with her and time spent at the library. I think she still has remnants of little stories I wrote as a kid. I know that I really enjoyed it but music is really what got me writing as a child. I would sit in my room and rewind cassettes over and over again and write down lyrics just to study them. I started writing my own lyrics probably around 11 or 12 years old.


Your biography says you wrote poems and songs as a tweenand performed them around town? Tell us about Tween Amanda.

Tween Amanda was a very passionate kid, for better or worse. I sometime cringe at the love ballads I wrote and sang in public back then. Ha! I had journals full of half written songs everywhere in my room. But I was also really into sports and musicals and sang competitively around the state.


You taught songwriting in Nashville, in Grand Ole Opry territory. Were you influenced and intimidated to practice the art in the shadow of so many greats? 

YES! I cant emphasize that enough. Moving to Nashville at 21 was one of my greatest adventures but although I learned so much through those years, I do really think working around some of the best in the business right away was paralyzing for my own creativity. Which was a bit ironic because most of our songwriting class sessions started with the sentiment of write anything, even if its bad!But I had a hard time taking that advice myself.


You became a teacher for students with special needs. How and why did you decide to teach that challenging subset of pupils? 

When I was in high school, one of my classes my junior and senior year was to volunteer in an elementary school music classroom each day. One of the classes was a special education classroom and I fell in love with the work. Even when I first moved to Nashville, I was always the person on staff at the museum called to give tours for groups with disabilities and I was regularly finding ways to advocate for how we could provide more inclusive services. So when my husband was offered a job in New York, we moved there for three years while he worked and I went back to school to get my masters in Special Education. Ive also come to learn in adulthood that I am neurodiverse myself, so Im sure I had a sense of empathy from a young age for others who saw the world in a different way.


What is a doula?

The technical definition is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.  

I was the first woman in my circle of friends to have a child and I’m generally an open book so during the entire pregnancy and afterward, I was teaching all of my friends everything I was going through. When the next friend in the group got pregnant, she asked if I’d consider becoming a doula to support her and I didn’t think twice. I love having an opportunity to support other people through a really vulnerable time that the world doesn’t really prepare you for.   You can learn more here:



You wrote and published a picture book, Wild and Beautiful.What was your inspiration? 

The inspiration for Wild and Beautiful was my daughters. It started as a short poem I wrote for them and then grew from there. I wanted them to see a book where both the mom and child dreams of what their life could hold. In so many books the mom is just a blank character and although I agree with most people that the child needs to be the center of childrens lit, children, especially little girls also see how adult women are perceived in media and if that woman doesnt have depth or thoughts and feelings of her own, she might not know she can also dream and be those things past her childhood.


Can you get a little into the weedsabout the publishing challenges for your debut book?

Self publishing is no joke. I thought since I had created websites, marketing strategies, and lots of social media in the past that Id have a good handle on it but I was not prepared for the amount of time it would take. Wild and Beautiful had a lot of technical issues with Ingram Spark too, so that probably added about 2-3 months of work I just could not have predicted. Im learning more every day about the process but I also wasnt willing to let this manuscript be changed by a publishing house so Im happy I went the self publishing route.


Your illustrator, Naya Kirenchenko, lives in Istanbul. How did you find her, and how did you work with her? 

I found her on Fiverr and we mainly worked through there and chatted a lot on Instagram. She was really, really great to work with. I think she has a few new ones coming out soon. You can find her at @naya.illustrates on instagram for her next one.


Your book was featured in MaiStoryBook, a YouTube interactive Read-Aloud. How did that come to be? Did you get a positive response from viewers? 

I just reached out to her and asked and sent her a copy. I actually havent gotten any feedback from this route.


You moved from Nashville to central Michigan. What are the pros and cons so far?

IT IS SO COLD! Haha! We moved in October and although I was technically prepared it has been very hard to deal with the cold and lack of sun. Its sunny almost everyday in Nashville and we spent hours outside even in the winter so its been a major adjustment. My kids are still not sold on it either. We moved to be closer to our families though so that has been nice so far. We still havent seen many because of everyones varying comfort level with covid but hopefully this summer we will get to see more people. I do love to go out and meet new people though and moving to a new place always forces you out of your comfort zone to find a new community so although its a lonely process, I do enjoy it.


How did you find the Lansing Area Shop Talks? 

The SCBWI-Michigan Instagram page. I think I had actually just followed and saw them post about the Lansing one the day before it happened and I made sure I could make it out. The Midsouth region hadnt had any since Covid started so I was excited at the opportunity to meet other writers.


What is your current Work In Progress? What are you excited about for 2022?

I have 3 PBs Im currently sending out to agents and Im planning out a MG novel. I also joined 12x12 so Im hoping that inspires me to start many more PB manuscripts.

Im excited to dig deeper into the community here. Hoping to get more opportunities to meet and collaborate with others.


You can follow Amanda here:




Saturday, June 4, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Ann Dallman


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Ann Dallman on the release

 of Cady and the Birchbark Box



This is the second book in the Cady Whirlwind Thunder series. Tell us a little bit about the series, and how you came up with the idea for your second book?

The idea for my second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, came to me the same way the idea for my first book, Cady and the Bear Necklace, did—via a gift. I was inspired by a birchbark “basket” given to me by a friend and member of the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa tribe. It’s bound with sweetgrass and has tiny acorns attached. And shipwrecks! My father was a boat builder by profession, and I set out in boats with him before I learned to walk. I’m fascinated with sailing history and the bravery of the people who venture forth on the Great Lakes for a living.

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

I hope readers will want to explore some of the topics I’ve introduced—birchbark, a respect for the land, and Great Lakes shipping history. Perhaps they’ll visit their local landmarks and those throughout this great state of Michigan. 

What inspires you to write?

Writing is something I’ve wanted to pursue since eighth grade when I won an essay contest awarding me a week at camp; in high school I won a gift card to a local department store. I was the oldest of five children and these prizes/awards made life so much sweeter. I was elected editor of our high school newspaper and we went on to achieve Quill & Scroll awards. I majored in Journalism Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for several years in the newsroom of a small daily newspaper. Since then, I’ve done curriculum writing, corporate writing and worked freelance for several national magazines. Turning to novel writing for a primarily middle grade audience was a natural progression after I retired from teaching. 

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

The most difficult part is remaining true to my character’s native culture. I am always cognizant of honoring her traditions in a respectful manner. With this book, a major portion of my research involved interviews with men who had sailed on the Great Lakes. They were invaluable in exploring shipwrecks, how they could occur, and the feelings experienced by the sailors on board. 

What are your marketing plans for the book?

Marketing for an author is such an important part of writing, something I wasn’t aware of to the extent I am now. Interviews on our local radio station have helped a lot with area sales. I also reach out to librarians and teachers and scour the internet for low-cost or free methods of promotion. Also, SCBWI websites—Michigan’s and the national’s—provide a wealth of ideas and suggestions.

Reviews like this one are very gratifying!
Critique: A thoroughly original, charming deftly written and entertaining work of fiction for young readers ages 8-12, "Cady and the Bear Necklace" is the winner of the Historical Society of Michigan's book award for children and youth for 2020; the Midwest Book Award for young adult fiction for 2020; and the winner of the Upper Peninsula Notable Books award for 2020. While also available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781615996483, $15.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.95), "Cady and the Bear Necklace" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to elementary school, middle school, and community library fiction collections for young reader. Children's Bookwatch: May 2022 

A little bit about the book . . .

In Cady and the Birchbark Box, Cady Whirlwind Thunder solves the mystery behind a weathered journal found inside a very old birchbark box. Why was the box buried behind a deserted garage? This is the question her friend and "crush," John Ray Chicaung, asks her after the two of them find it. And, what meaning do the notes in the book have? Cady's grandma and her ever-present companion, a noisy blue jay, encourage her as she puts together the pieces and ultimately restores the reputation of a deceased elder. Cady does so while navigating through another school year, earning a place on the school's soccer team, and continues to calm down her temper and adjust to life with a new stepmother and baby brother.

Cady and the Birchbark Box is now available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A little bit about the author . . .

Ann has lifelong roots in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after more than 20 years teaching middle and high school English and Title 1 Reading. She loves delving into "the story behind the story." Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received: Historical Society of Michigan State History Award, Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and was a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist and UP Notable Book. Her second book in the series, Cady and the Birchbark Box, will be published the first week in June by Modern History Press, an imprint of Loving Healing Press of Ann Arbor, MI. It is currently available on Kindle Vella.