Friday, December 21, 2007

Looking Behind & Looking Ahead

As another the year comes to the end, I once more think about the things that have happened in the past and what might come in the future. I've got so much to be thankful for, but I'll keep it writing-related :-) (you're welcome!).

Last year couldn't have begun any better, with Sylvan Dell's acquisition of Blackberry Banquet. January also brought the release of my award-winning picture book series, Mother Goose Rhymes. I also found out that my easy reader, Tae Kwon Do! was named on the Bank Street College Best Children's Books of 2007. For the first time ever, I was receiving "outside" validation for my writing (something that I believe all writers need, no matter where we are in the process). That same month, I also attended a fabulous Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Retreat on cyber-promotion, which led to my blog.

I was also able to do some school visits, which I loved. I attended many educational and enlightening SCBWI events and did some other fun speaking engagements. I was surprised in July when I found out that Sterling Publishing was using jokes from Greatest Goofiest Jokes as part of a compilation joke book, Laughin' Jammin' Slammin' Jokefest. And I finally *finished* my first novel, Out of the Storm (of course, we all know that a novel isn't really finished until it's acquired and your editor says its finished). Yes, it's been a very good year.

Looking ahead, I now get to shop my novel around, along with a handful of other picture book and easy reader manuscripts that I've toiled over for quite some time. I look forward to doing more school visits, book signings and discovering those seeds of stories that are still hidden deep in my mind. I'm eagerly anticipating the release of Blackberry Banquet in July and looking forward to working with Sylvan Dell in promoting it. And I'm looking forward to continuing with my blog, hopefully reaching my goal of helping other authors, sharing some of my experiences and contributing to the writing community that has helped me so much.

I'm going to take a little "winter vacation" from blogging, from Dec. 21 - Jan. 7. Please check back in with me in January.

I wish you the happiest of holidays and a very prosperous new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sylvan Dell Follow-Up from Donna German

Donna German offers a great explanation of what's currently happening at Sylvan Dell Publishing and what they look for when acquiring manuscripts. Click here (and scroll down) to visit her post on the Verla Kay Discussion Board.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Donna German is the editor of Sylvan Dell Publishing, a small press that specializes in animals, nature, science and the environment. She’s the author of two children’s books (Carolina’s Story and Octavia) plus 16 cookbooks, four of which were New York Times best-sellers including The Bread Machine Cookbook Series, which have sold more than 3 million copies. She’s worn many hats in her life, including homeschooling her three children while her family took a sabbatical and lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas, and then traveled cross-country visiting our National Parks. It was the NPS’s Junior Ranger Program that ultimately led to the “For Creative Minds” educational section in the back of each Sylvan Dell book. Though she admits that she doesn’t have time to write anymore, she feels that her author background gives her an interesting insight into the editorial process. “I hate writing rejections because I vividly remember receiving all 27 rejections prior to my first cookbook being accepted.”

I'm so pleased that Donna agreed to answer my questions and give us some insight into the small press side of our business.

What advantages does a small press have to offer for an author (as opposed to large publishing house)?
This is such an interesting question and I’m going to refer to something from my “former life” as a cookbook author. I was at an annual conference for cookbook authors and a table mate at one of the meals was talking about his Christmas Cookbook that had been released the year before by a LARGE printing house. Unfortunately, the books themselves were misplaced somewhere in the warehouse and orders were being “back-ordered.” The books finally showed up in February and orders filled (?) but, of course, they were all returned because it was after Christmas. Since many large publishing houses have a “six month” survival rule, his books were remaindered because they didn’t sell. His agent explained that because this book had flopped, no other publishing house would touch him…

My observation is that small houses keep books active longer than larger houses. We continue to market all books, not just the new releases. We must rely on EVERY book being a success because we can’t afford to publish books that won’t sell.

How does a small press compete in such a highly competitive business; how much do they rely on their authors’ involvement in book promotion?
I would say that small publishing houses must rely on every angle for marketing. We truly need our authors and illustrators to participate in marketing their books – through signings, library readings, and school visits. We can honestly see a difference in the bottom line of the titles that have that support versus those that don’t. I don’t know about other companies but at Sylvan Dell, every single title is selected to fit our precise niche and marketing plan. Unfortunately, we have had to turn down some really cute stories because we didn’t think we could market them.

We use technology to our advantage. Not just on the editorial end (accepting e-submissions), but in marketing too. We have just introduced a “referral rewards” program for people who are excited about our books and share the information with others. Once someone is signed onto our website, they get a special link to forward to friends. If the friends order books through our website, the original person gets credit towards their purchase or a cash reward. Independent bookstores and bloggers can sign up for an affiliate program so that they get credit – similar to Amazon.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

To hide in strawberry patches!

Note: Sylvan Dell is not affiliated in any way with either Sylvan Learning Centers or any “Dell” company. The name itself is Latin, meaning “wooded valley.” Donna German had the business name picked out years ago — long before the business itself was determined. Her father grew up in Delaware in an old farmhouse that is actually older than the United States! When her grandfather died, Donna moved from Massachusetts into the house so they could keep it in the family. While cleaning out an old shed, Donna found a wooden, hand-carved sign that simply said “Sylvan Dell.” When she questioned her father about it, he remembered the sign nailed to a tree at the end of the driveway when he was a young boy. Donna’s grandfather apparently referred to the property as “Sylvan Dell.” Donna determined that if she ever owned her own business that she wanted to name it after the family property (which is, in fact, a wooded valley). Yes, the home is still in Donna’s family — her sister lives in it. Continuing with the wooded valley theme, the logo uses leaves falling into an open book (valley theme) to signify “fall into reading.”

Click here for the Sylvan Dell's submission guidelines.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Stress? Take 9:26 and Relax!

Are the holidays starting to get to you? All that online shopping (if you’re an introvert) or commando shopping at the mall (if you’re an extrovert); the decorating, baking, planning, and all that ho-ho-ho-ing, while of course, still trying to keep up with your family and your job, whether it be clinging to your creative writing soul or heading out into the “real” world every day. It’s just about enough to make a person go crazy, isn’t it?

Well, here’s my hot little tip for all of you kid-lit folks who need to take a 9-minute and 26-second break from the world. First, go pour yourself a glass of wine (red or white, it doesn’t matter to me) or whatever beverage gives you an “Ahhh...” moment. While you’re in the kitchen, raid your hidden stash of chocolate (you know, the good stuff that you hide from your kids). Go ahead--grab a couple of pieces and your glass of wine, then take them to your computer. Lock your office door or hang the “Do Not Disturb: Writer at Work” sign. Make sure you turn on the computer speakers (not too loud, just enough for clarity and a soothing sensation). Now, click here.

Put your feet up, take a sip of wine and nibble on your chocolate. Let it melt in your mouth as the music pours over your weary soul and your eyes come to rest on a sampling of beautiful images that are all about what we strive to do.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Donna German, my fabulous editor at Sylvan Dell, recently sent me the finished cover of BLACKBERRY BANQUET. I love the way it turned out! Lisa Downey, the illustrator, did such a great job. The bear is adorable; the cover is colorful and inviting. I can’t wait to see it on bookshelves in bookstores or better yet, in the hands of small children!

Another piece of unexpected news that I received this week from Sylvan Dell is that they’re in the process of selecting a plush toy to accompany the book. What would it be? A bear, of course! As soon as I get a picture of what it looks like, I’ll post it too.

Finally, I found out that they plan to release my book in early July, which makes perfect sense as July is Blackberry Month. Mmm...I think the berries will be a little sweeter this summer!

This is an exciting time during the birth of a book. You see, once the acquisition is made and the ink has dried on the contracts, the author often goes into a sort of hibernation period, where he isn't involved much. At this time, the illustrator is extremely busy doing the art and the editorial staff are making final text reviews and marketing decisions. Then, after a few long months, the author begins to hear about his/her book again. The cover is out, marketing decisions have been made, publication dates are skillfully determined. To me, as the author, it's like my book has come out of hibernation! It's very exciting to see.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pet Book Signing: One Step Closer

Yesterday was my fundraiser book signing for D & S Loving Animal Rescue. I'd like to thank the folks who came out to support D & S, and those of you who couldn't make it but called in to order books. It was great meeting fellow animal-lovers (like Dawn Watchus, the manager of the center featured in the photo with me).

The signing went very well, as we raised approximately $150 in profits for the center, but as you can see from the photo (unfinished floors and no doors, not to mention the unfinished ceiling), funds are still needed to complete the facility (doors alone cost $100 each!).

If you'd still like to help homeless animals by purchasing a copy of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! or would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please contact Pet Integrity Pet Supplies:

(760) 375-3217
925 East Ridgecrest Blvd.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pet Jokes Fundraiser: Time Is Running Out!

Hey All You Fellow Writerly Folks,

I just wanted to remind you that this Saturday, December 8 is when I’ll be signing copies of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! as a fundraiser for D & S Loving Animal Rescue, a non-profit, no-kill rescue center. I’m sure you’re more stressed out than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs over whether it’s too late to order books. Well, guess what? It isn’t!

You can still call Pet Integrity Pet Supplies at (760) 375-0140 to order your copies ($4.95 each plus $2.00 for shipping). Order now while supplies last. Pet Jokes would make a great holiday gift for anyone who loves animals plus you’ll be helping hundreds of homeless cats and dogs.

Can't wait 'til you get your paws on a copy of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL!, then check out this videoclip.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Anastasia Suen learned to read with Dick and Jane in 1962. Five years later, she wrote her first book. She was eleven years old. She’s have been writing ever since. She wrote hundreds of manuscripts and collected rejection letters for years. And then it happened. On her fortieth birthday, the phone rang. After writing for twenty-nine years, she sold her first book! Today she’s sold 105 manuscripts board books, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books (including a book for adults about how to write children's books). She’s also written articles for textbooks and magazines.

I first got to know Anastasia by taking her Easy Reader Workshop online. I learned so much that I later took her Poetry Workshop as well. She manages three blogs , teaches, consults and writes full-time. I was so pleased when she agreed to do a Mini-View for me.

What advice would you give to someone who is just learning the craft of writing?
Read, read, read! You have to read if you're going to write! I always do - and I find answers to MY manuscript problems as I read. Reading while I'm writing gives me the answers I need - AND - it helps me keep up with the competition. Win-win!
(That's why I make all of my students read FIVE books a lesson - yes, even chapter books! It's the only way I know how write - first you read and then you write and then you read and then you write...)

What do you feel is the best way for a busy writer to keep abreast of what's happening in the world of children's literature?
I *LOVE* blogs! I read writer's blogs (including this one!) and children's lit blogs so I know what the new books are and I read agent, editor, and industry blogs so I know what's happening in the business. (I have a list of blogs at Blog Central).

What's your favorite children's joke?
Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side!
(If you want to get something done, just do it!)

Thanks so much, Anastasia!