Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blackberry Banquet Off to the Printer!

Blackberry Banquet was sent to the printer today. Yea! Now that the writing is complete, the illustrations finished, and the design and layout all done, it's in the hands of the printer. Now, one might think this is when a writer can lean back, sigh and take a rest, but au contraire. Now is when a whole different kind of work begins--promotional marketing!

Just yesterday I assembled my 3-ring binder to organize all of my notes and ideas for marketing Blackberry Banquet. I have to set up book signings, design promotional materials, make announcements, make changes in my school presentations, determine appropriate book awards , make website changes, develop some interesting ideas and contests for my blog, create a list of reviewers and business professionals to inform, and of course, keep in touch with Sylvan Dell's fabulous publicist to that we can work together on our strategy.

It doesn't sound too glamorous, does it? Well, it isn't. But it's a big part of what every author needs to do if they want their book release to be successful. That's the part "they" don't tell you about when you're dreaming of becoming a published children's author ;-).

Oops--just thought of a great idea--hmm...I wonder how much a Blimp would cost?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Writing Retreats: Get Outside of Your Box!

This past weekend I attended a fabulous writers' retreat through the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI chapter. I spent Thursday and Friday packing my book bag (loaded with 13 critiqued mss for my fellow group members, my notebooks, first pages, complete mss in case my dream miracle occurred and an editor asked me if I had the complete ms on me so she'd have reading material on the plane) and my personal belongings (still managed to forget my robe--nighttime sprints to the bathroom way down at the end of the hall were interesting, to say the least).

We spent two days together--40 attendees and 3 editors. We read, discussed, mentally cheered for each other, felt each other's disappointments, joined in each other's hopes, helped each other to resolve our story glitches, all as we reviewed our precious works. Sunday morning, as I was in my room readying myself for the final push, I-Pod a blazing, I was dancing. Yup, dancing. Right there in my tiny little dorm room. I couldn't help it. I LOVE being with other writers and kidlit industry folks! It's so uplifting (and exhausting!). There's an energy that children's writers share that I've never experienced anywhere else. It's another reminder of why I love what I do. And why it's worth the 3.5 hour drive I have to make to these kinds of things (yes, I do officially live in the middle of nowhere).

Why do I bring this up? Because all too often it's easy to just stay home. It's comfortable, easy and cheap not to participate. I know. Been there, done that. But as I was driving home from this weekend's retreat, it occurred to me that five years ago I made a resolution to step outside of my comfort zone. I took that first courageous step and signed up for a writer's retreat. I didn't know a soul there, other than my regional advisor. I'll admit, I was nervous. Okay, scared to death. I'm basically an introvert, so I was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone. Like stepping off the Titanic--before it hit the iceberg.

But guess what? I survived. I learned that attending writing events was a good thing. I made connections and improved myself as a writer. Five years later, ironically at the same location as the first retreat I attended, I could walk into a room and feel like it was a high school reunion (no, better than that--none of us had gotten bald or fat since we last saw each other). I connected with my old friends, met new ones and could easily chat with our guest editors (a big difference from the time I almost sprouted a second tongue just trying to say hello to Arthur Levine :-}.

So, the next time you get one of those retreat fliers in the mail, don't sluff it off in the trash. Think about stepping outside of your comfort zone. Stop dreaming about moving your writing career forward and do it!

Onward ho!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

I first met Bruce Hale a few years ago, when he had trekked from his beachside community of Santa Barbara all the way to the high desert (where I live) to do school visits. He is a delightful and informative speaker to both adults and children. Bruce has written and illustrated nearly 20 books for kids. His Chet Gecko Mysteries series includes: The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, The Big Nap, Farewell, My Lunchbag, The Malted Falcon and others.

You could say Bruce has a thing for lizards. He also has created five Hawaii children's books, including Legend of the Laughing Gecko, Moki and the Magic Surfboard, and Moki the Gecko's Best Christmas Ever -- all starring Moki the Gecko. He’s taught writing workshops at colleges and universities, and spoken at national conferences of writing, publishing, and literacy organizations. On top of that, Bruce has visited elementary schools across the country, from Hawaii, to Kansas, to Pennsylvania.

Mystery plots involve so many factors--the main plot, subplots, clues, misdirections, red herrings, etc.--how do you organize all of these elements for a particular story (do you plot everything out in advance or determine things as you go along)?
One time, I tried to write a mystery the Steven King way -- just put two characters in a room and let them talk. 100 pages of rambling story later, I realized that Uncle Stevie's way was not for me. I work best from at least a rough plot outline. Here's how I do it:

First, I figure out the crime, then whodunit, then how Chet Gecko will discover/blunder across that. Then, I come up with the clues, red herrings, and obstacles. Once I have the ending planned and the rest of it loosely organized -- I usually leave the last quarter of the book unplanned, to leave room for happy discoveries -- then I write a fast and sloppy first draft. And after that, it's revise, revise, revise -- until all plot holes are plugged and the story is finished.

Other than reading a lot of mysteries (because we all know that reading the genre you want to write is key), what advice would you give to someone who wants to write a mystery novel for children?
Cultivate a curious state of mind. When you're out in the world, observe human behavior and construct their back-stories and motivation. Is that kindly old gentleman at the Starbucks secretly smuggling people into the country? Is the kindergarten teacher plotting a take-over of the school? Muse and wonder and daydream. From that comes mystery.

What's your favorite children's joke?

Q: Why are a gorilla's nostrils so big?

A: Because his fingers are so big.

Thanks, Bruce (I know some 4th grade boys who will love that one!)

Monday, January 21, 2008


I have a few good things to post. The first, my Snoopy Dance news is that I found out yesterday from my publisher at Sylvan Dell that I will be participating at Book Expo America this year at the LA Convention Center! They weren’t sure if Blackberry Banquet (click here for a sneak preview) would be available by then, but despite its July 10 release date, it will. They’ll have advanced copies available for me to sign, so mark your calendars for the last weekend in May.

I’ve never attended BEA and I’m very excited. It's such a huge event with so many publishers and authors—and to be a signing author is a thrill. My already overactive imagination is running amuck with thoughts of whom I’ll be seated near. I mean, isn’t it every children’s writers dream to get to rub elbows with Jane Yolen or Richard Peck (even if it’s from a distance and a line of people separates our elbows).

The other good news is that I recently heard from Roxyanne Young of She has decided to run the WIN competition (Write It Now) again this year. It will be open for entries beginning in August 2008, so mark your calendars and watch the SmartWriters website for updates.

One last bit of cool information. Author Bruce Hale, of Chet Gecko and Underwhere fame, is offering a 39% discount on the first four CDs in his Teleseminar series on writing and publishing (targeted toward beginning and lower-intermediate writers). Each recording addresses a different aspect of the process. You'll find insider tips from editors and agents, plus time-tested information on how to write, edit, and sell your story. Click here for more info.

Happy Writing to All!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Kids Talk About the Future

Out of the mouth of babes...
Enjoy (and keep in mind when you go to vote!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Properly Formatting Your Manuscript: Your First Impression

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? And you want it to be a good one, right? You might think that your cover letter is what an editor reads first (well, besides the outside of your envelope), but that’s not always true. In the course of attending many SCBWI writing events, I’ve often heard editors say that they go straight to the manuscript then read the cover letter if they’re intrigued—which means that your first page is your first impression.

This is why properly formatting your manuscript is so important. Before reading a single word, an editor will get a first impression of you; will see your level of professionalism. You want to conform to industry standards because you want your writing to stand out, not your formatting. Editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a week and frankly, it can be annoying to read one that is not in accordance with what their trained eyes are accustomed to reading. Improper formatting screams “amateur/inexperience/newbie.” It might also scream, “Run, editor, run!”

So, what are you to do? Well, once again, the fabulous SCBWI has done the legwork. Go to their website and read their article called, “From Keyboard to Printed Page: Facts You Should Know.” When I first began writing for publication, I had no clue what to do, until I read this article. Trust me, it's a gem!

What are some things to avoid when formatting your manuscript? How could you make a bad first impression? Here are a few things that I came up with:
1. use any other paper than plain white (no colors, scents, textures)
2. use cute, fancy fonts or clip art
3. use anything other than double-spacing for the body of your work
4. don't give a word count
5. don't number your pages
6. “cheat” with the margins so you can fit more text on a single page
7. send your envelope certified mail or any way that requires a signature

Please add a comment if you can think of anything else! I welcome funny or serious ;-)

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Erin Murphy got her start in publishing at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers, where she was Editor-in-Chief; she still lives and works in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she founded her agency, Erin Murphy Literary Agency, in 1999. She loves knitting with a cat in her lap, walking through the woods with her dogs, traveling in the off season when the destination is quiet, watching DVDs (especially whole TV series in marathon sessions), kayaking, eating dark chocolate, and of course, reading. Her favorite genre to read in her downtime is fantasy. She works with more than sixty authors and author-illustrators. See a list of her most recent sales and her clients' new releases by clicking here.

What advice would you give to a writer who feels that he/she is ready to get an agent?
Know what you want from an agent. Be aware of agents working in your genre--new ones coming along, established ones expanding their list, assistants beginning to sign their own authors--by reading blogs, being active on the boards online, watching deal announcements on Publishers Lunch, talking with other writers, and so on. Choose a targeted few and go after them with confidence, but keep other emotions out of the picture the best you can so that it is a professional approach. Submit multiply, but let everybody know you are doing so, and don't blow all the options on the first try. Keep everybody informed as you receive any interest--interest from one often leads to quicker responses, and more interest, from others. Be brief in all follow-ups, just keeping people informed, rather than expecting a conversation to develop. Above all, keep writing, even as you wait.

We often hear of agents turning down manuscripts because they just didn’t “fall in love” with it. Out of the manuscripts that you do reject, what percentage of these do you feel are actually good, marketable manuscripts that just didn’t fit your taste or needs?
I'd say about 95% for me--but this is because I don't read unsolicited submissions. *All* of the manuscripts I get are from people who have been referred my way, or who I met at a conference, and I generally ask to see a writing sample before I ask for a full manuscript--so by the time I sit down to read a manuscript, I'm already fairly sure of the writer's experience, professionalism, subject matter, grasp on the market, and so on.

At this point, for me, I only sign someone new if it makes my stomach hurt to think of them working with someone else. Their work has to be so wonderful and so unlike anything else I've ever read that I just can't pass it up. This means I turn away a lot of people I really believe will get published--just, with the help of someone else, or on their own. When possible, I try to refer them to another agent who might be a better match for their style.

I know that's a terribly hard reality. I definitely don't share it in order to be discouraging. I just encourage people to push themselves beyond their comfort zones and to write the best material they can possibly write. Publishing is a business of love. Those who write fearlessly, who really put themselves out there in their work (with a strong foundation of craft and knowledge) are most likely to connect with an agent or editor.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Q: How much did the pirate's earrings cost?

A: A buccaneer! (Buck an ear.)

Thanks so much, Erin!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Picture Books, Glaciers & Blackberry Banquet

In January 2007, I received an acceptance call from Sylvan Dell for Blackberry Banquet. Last week, I received a preview of the finished artwork for the entire story (publication date July 2008). Sorry folks, no sneak previews here, under strict orders from my publisher. However, I can say that the artwork is adorable. Dare I say it? Okay, I will—it’s CUTE! Very cute! I think preschoolers will love this book.

Seeing the artwork made me think about the time involved in creating this book. Consider this—I wrote the first draft of the story in the summer of 2002 and began subbing it to publishers in late 2003. Sylvan Dell accepted it in January ’07 and a year later I'm now viewing the finished artwork. It will take seven more months for the finishing design (editing, text layout, etc.) and printing. That’s six years from when my pencil touched the paper until the publication date. Yes, it takes time all right!

Once, three months after I’d stopped teaching and had begun writing, someone asked me if my first book was out yet. Heck, I was still learning how to format a manuscript! But herein lies the “problem.” I think it’s a common misconception that picture books are easy to write, easy to draw and easy to publish. Uh...pardon me while I go pound my head against the wall.

I often say that this business works in glacial time. During a recent visit to Yosemite National Park, I pondered the glacially carved granite walls of Yosemite Valley and thought about the publishing business--how it too involves great amounts of time in the creation of something amazing. It takes months to years to write a picture book and sell it to a publisher. The average time from acceptance to published book can range from one year (which is very fast) to three years or more, in some cases (I currently have an easy reader that is now at four years after acceptance with no pub-date in sight).

Why such a long production period? A few reasons, actually. First, how long it takes the publisher to determine the right illustrator for the project (matching art style to story is key). Second, how quickly the illustrator can get to the project (successful/popular illustrators might be booked with other projects for months or years). Third, how quickly the illustrator can finish the project (creativity takes time). Fourth, how fast the publishing company itself works. Fifth, the baseball factor (whether the sun gets in your eyes, the grass is too tall or your mitt is too tight)—meaning, all of the other extraneous things that can happen to slow things down.

But the good news is, approximately five thousand children’s books are published annually, so despite global warming, the kid-lit glacier is still inching forward. And with that movement is the hope that your story will become one of them. It may take some time, but it can happen!

Good luck in 2008 for finding your publishing successes!