Online Promotion: Designing an Author or Illustrator Website


By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys: Creative Encouragement, Copy Editing, Web Design specializes in the design of children’s and young adult book author sites.

What do you think makes a good author site? What elements are essential?

Perhaps the most important thing is something the average site visitor never sees—the underlying markup and coding. (The most engaging content in the world won’t be appreciated if it shows up mangled or not at all.)

Second, the purpose of the site should be clear from the first glance. It’s about a person, an author, and that author’s work. It should look particular and unique, and it should suit the person it’s about.

Third, a site shouldn’t be too fancy for its own good. Links should look like links, and sections of the site should have clear labels. Think of it this way: as a writer you work hard to make your meanings clear and valuable. Your website should reflect the same kind of care.

What considerations do you recommend to authors in selecting a designer?

Start with personal preference: Do you like the designer’s other work? (Check for credits on sites you like to locate designers). Sound out the designer. Do you feel comfortable describing what you want and asking questions about how things are done? Hire someone you can talk to, whose taste and judgment you trust.

Look to hire someone who is at ease with HTML and CSS and who can tell the difference between the “golden section: (a design principle) and the “golden arches” (the ugly but well-known branding of a fast food chain).

Consider the practical: what can you afford? Think about this carefully. What’s cheapest up front might not be best. A poorly-made, cookie-cutter site won’t serve you well. Budget carefully, but avoid stinting on costs. Fees vary widely, but a professional will give you an estimate up front.

What mistakes do you see in author sites as you’re surfing the Web?

A lot of author sites fall into this tricky abyss where the site looks both mass-produced and amateurish—certainly not what you want.

Pitfalls include:

● Problems with type: text that’s too large or too small for comfortable reading; too many different font styles; large blocks of italic or all-capped text.

● Problems with color and/or graphics: jaggy images; jarring color combinations; busy backgrounds; unnecessary or distracting animated effects; “school picture”-ish author head shots.

● Problems with performance: slow-loading pages; confusing navigation; content that’s inaccessible to visitors with disabilities.

● Problems with copy: gross spelling or grammatical errors; or key information falls “below the fold” (the first span of the screen before it becomes necessary to scroll down).

What advice do you have for do-it-yourself-ers?

Take your time and keep it simple. If you’re not intimidated by technology, it can be fun. Invest in a few good tools and references and learn to use them.

Cynsational Notes

This article was originally published in the The (21rst Annual Edition) 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008). Don’t miss the previous two related posts, Market Yourself as a Speaker to Schools and Making Your Author/Illustrator Website Educator-Friendly.

The (22nd Annual Edition) 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008) is now available. From the promotional copy: “The 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children’s publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives. It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on www.WritersMarket.com.”

Craft, Career & Cheer: Bonny Becker

Bonny Becker is the award-winning author of 12 children’s books, including picture books and novels. Her book A Visitor for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, 2008) was a New York Times Bestseller, Amazon’s Best Picture Book of 2008, and winner of the Golden Kite Award and the E.B. White Read Aloud Award.

She has two new books out: A Birthday for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, (Candlewick, 2009), and a middle-grade novel The Magical Ms. Plum, illustrated by Amy Portnoy (Knopf, 2009).

She’s also an instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing Program for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.

What were you like as a young reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite books?

I was the kind of reader who didn’t hear the call to dinner or notice the visitor who’d come in the door or the fading evening light. I loved anything to do with magic and fantasy: Mary Poppins [by P.L. Travers (Harcourt, Brace, 1934-1988)], the Oz books [by L. Frank Baum (George M. Hill, 1900), The Chronicles of Narnia [by C.S. Lewis (HarperTrophy, 1950-1956)], Doctor Doolittle [by Hugh Lofting (1920-1952)], the Edward Eager books, The Good American Witch (very obscure book by Peggy Bacon [Macmillan, 1959])… I have to confess that I didn’t really have favorite authors because I didn’t pay attention to that. I just knew the books.


What first inspired you to write for children?

I always wanted to be a writer, but at first I kind of stumbled around in the adult world, especially with short stories. But most of those were rather angsty slices of life capped with a little epiphany. I felt phony writing that way. I could do it readily enough, but I didn’t feel authentic.

Then I remembered that the books I’d read as a kid had always been my idea of a “real” book. Kids books have to commit to some view of the world and tell a complete story. They were much harder to write, but a lot more fun.

Could you tell us about your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?

One of my early books was The Christmas Crocodile, illustrated by David Small (Simon & Schuster, 1998). My book illustrated by David Small! How great is that?

And it got a big, fat review in the New York Time’s Holiday Book review and was read on National Public Radio and it sold out in the stores and, instead of being duly humble and all that, I thought, “Well, of course. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?” That’s the life of an author, right? So that was my sprint.

But then came a number of books that quickly went out of print. And a long dry spell of about four years when I couldn’t sell anything. Somehow I slogged through that, but I did wonder at times if I should just give up.

Now, I feel I’m almost into a second career with the success of the Bear books and The Magical Ms. Plum just coming out.

Looking back, in terms of craft, what was the single best decision you made in terms of advancing your writing apprenticeship and why?

It was the realization and acceptance of how hard you have to work. I’ve always been a good writer—one of those kids who got lots of praise in school, worked on my high school newspaper, etc. Writing always came pretty easily to me, but it was hard to discover that what came easily for me wasn’t going to be enough.

I had to do what wasn’t so easy. I had to listen to people tell me what was wrong with my story. And I couldn’t argue back. It was going to take many drafts. Millions and billions and trillions of drafts! Some of my stories, a lot of my stories, were going into the file drawer to stay—so disturbingly like one of those body drawers at the morgue.

If only it were as easy as sitting down and “opening a vein” as a writer* once said. At least it would flow! To me, writing is like pushing a rock up hill.

*There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. –Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Congratulations on the release of The Magical Ms. Plum, illustrated by Amy Portnoy (Knopf, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thank you! I’m really excited about it. It’s the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid. In other words, lots of magic.

It’s about a third grade schoolteacher with a magical supply closet. I like the way Kirkus Reviews described it: “Ms. Plum sends one student per chapter into her magical supply closet, which smells of ‘chalk and chocolate and something lovely no one could ever quite name,’ and that student comes out with a miniature version of an animal that behaves in a way that adds to the students’ understanding.”

It’s sort of a mix between Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1947) with maybe a touch of Sideways Stories from Wayside School [by Louis Sachar]. I hope anyway!

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

Well, I do live just a few blocks from the high school that Betty MacDonald (author of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle) went to, so maybe that was it.

Actually, I’m not sure. It’s such a mix of things. But I guess it started with trying to figure out a story involving just one miniature animal. It was going to be a picture book, and all I knew was that this little animal goes on a rampage in a classroom. And how it morphed into this—a teacher with a supply closet and a bunch of different little animals and different kids with different hopes and fears and problems—I really don’t know!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

I wanted the animal “familiar” that each child finds to make sense for their particular dilemma. Matching that up was fun, but tricky, too. What animal would make sense for a kid who always wore black and said “woe is me.”? Or a girl who sees everything through rose-colored glasses? Was the animal appealing? What kind of things could that animal plausibly do?

Now I know why mice are so popular in kid lit. They have paws. They can do things.

Probably one of the bigger craft problems was how to keep the book from feeling too repetitive, so part of my solution was to weave in a story of one boy who spends most of the book trying to get asked to go into the closet. He seems to be the only one who never gets asked, so there’s an overall story arc for him.

Congratulations also on the release of A Birthday for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Bear is his usual fastidious, grumpy self on his birthday—even denying that it is his birthday! Mouse disguises himself as the deliveryman, the postman, even as Santa Claus, trying to get Bear to admit it’s his birthday and enjoy the day.

It’s an early reader—four short chapters. My biggest worry was that I’d have to restrain Bear’s over-the-top vocabulary, but that wasn’t a problem. The Mouse and Bear books are in Candlewick’s Sparks line, which are “early readers” but not really “easy” or “learn-to-read” books. The idea is that advanced first grade and second grade readers who can handle bigger words and more complex syntax, still need content that appeals to someone that young.

By the way, Candlewick created a Birthday card based on A Birthday for Bear that can be send electronically or downloaded. Here’s a link if anyone would like one: Birthday Card.

It’s a sequel to A Visitor for Bear (Candlewick, 2008). Picture book sequels are rare. How did this one evolve?

After I sold A Visitor for Bear, I realized how much I loved these characters and I had more stories to tell about them. I started working on another book, but before I even finished it, my editor at Candlewick, Sarah Ketchersid, asked if I’d consider doing another Mouse and Bear book. We were on the same wavelength and fortunately, Kady MacDonald Denton, the illustrator, was happy to do more with these characters, too.

People say that the picture book market is depressed, but look at you! What’s your secret to success?

Luck! And a series that seems to be a great sharing experience for kids and adults. There’s a lot of interaction and spontaneous play that seems to come out with these books.

Allyn Johnston, formerly editor in chief of Harcourt Children’s Books and now with her own San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, said something great about what she looks for in a picture book manuscript: she said she pictures an adult curled up in a chair with a child on his or her lap, reading together. And she’s looking for that moment, that strong emotional moment that she hopes the adult and child will share reading this book.

And I can’t tell you how much the charm of these books is due to my editor Sarah and Kady. For example, Sarah and the art director at Candlewick had the guts and vision to expand A Visitor for Bear from a standard 32-page picture book into a 52-page book, just to take full advantage of the comedic timing. And the charm of Kady’s work… well, let’s just say that I was almost literally dancing a jig when I saw her first early sketches.

What, if anything, do you wish you could change about publishing (as a business) and why?

I wish it were more about creating quality books rather than making money. I cringe when I see kids’ books that feel as if they were written, designed, and promoted as nothing more than “product.”

I don’t mind so much when a good book inspires merchandise. But when merchandise inspires the stories….

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

Exercise more and start an IRA. Oh, you mean about writing. I’d say, don’t worry so much. Most of this is out of your control. Just write the best that you can, and then write better than that and keep doing that. The rest will follow.

What do you do outside the world of writing?

Is there one? Hmmmm, I seem to be on a roll here with the one-liners.

Okay, when I do look up from my computer, I hike, bike, I keep trying to learn French, I get together with family a lot, read…

I love books and articles about physics, astronomy, and cosmology. Not so much the stuff about what makes a star—but where and when and how did the universe start and where is it going?

What can your fans look forward to next?

A Bedtime for Bear comes out next fall. Mouse goes over for Bear’s first-ever sleep over and, much to Bear’s frustration, is not as quiet as a mouse at all.

And in 2011, The Sniffles for Bear comes out. Mouse is a tender attentive nurse for patient, stoic Bear (reverse all that and you’ll have it.) Then another early Mouse and Bear reader is in the works. And A Christmas for Bear is coming.

I’m also working on an older age novel—maybe a 12-14-age range. It’s quite a change to have so much room!

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Online Promotion: Market Yourself as an Author-Speaker to Schools


By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Your website can help sell you as a speaker to school groups.

Publicist Susan Raab of Raab Associates says, “For many authors and illustrators, schools have a significant impact on their careers because they offer opportunities for doing school visits, workshops, and other events that provide substantial income separate from the revenue any given book brings in.”

You may want to create a separate “events” page, which includes information on your school visits and young author workshops. School visits are made up of one-to-five classroom or auditorium presentations during the regular class schedule. Young author workshops may be distinguished in that they take place on weekends or after school and the students involved are participating by choice.

In each case, include information on the types of programs you offer.

According to Anne Irza-Leggat, educational marketing supervisor at Candlewick Press, it’s important to include: (a) whether you do donation events; (b) your rates; (c) the number of programs you’re willing to do in a day; and (d) any preferences when it comes to student age range and audience size.

Author Tanya Lee Stone provides an “About Tanya” section, which includes three different lengths of biographies, links to interviews with her, links to articles and reviews she’s written, speaking information, and downloadable photos. “These things have really helped people access the information they need,” she says, “especially when inviting me as a speaker or having students learn more about an author.”

But not all author/illustrator visits occur in “real space.” Chat technology has made it possible for speakers to participate in an online question-and-answer session with classroom groups. Supply the same information to planners as you would for an in-person visit as well as any specific technological requirements.

Finally, the page should include information on ordering your books. Many publishers offer related pages on their own sites that can be easily linked for a complete overview.

Cynsational Notes

This article was originally published in the The (21rst Annual Edition) 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008).

The (22nd Annual Edition) 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008) is now available. From the promotional copy: “The 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children’s publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives. It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on www.WritersMarket.com.”

Candlewick Press to Publish a New Prose Novel in the Tantalize Series and a Graphic Novel Adaptation of Eternal

I’m pleased to announce that editor Deborah Wayshak at Candlewick Press will publish both a new prose novel and a new graphic novel adaptation in the Tantalize young adult Gothic fantasy series.

The untitled prose novel will feature pre-existing characters in the series and some new ones too.

The graphic novel will be an adaptation of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).

The series is set in a multi-creature-verse, populated by angels, ghosts, shape-shifters (of various kinds), vampires, and some nifty human beings. The stories have strong elements of romance, some humor, and nod to various classics, most notably Bram Stoker‘s Dracula (1897).

I’m extremely excited to be writing additional books set in a spooky world that I first began to envision in 2001!

Thank you to Deborah, my agent Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd., everyone at Candlewick Press, my writing pals, and most of all, my readers for your continued support and enthusiasm!

Here’s the complete series to date:

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(a prose novel)

*Tantalize (Candlewick, 2011)(a graphic novel)

Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)(a prose novel)

*Eternal (Candlewick, TBA)(a graphic novel)

Blessed (Candlewick, 2011)(a prose novel, which crosses over the casts of Tantalize and Eternal and picks up where Tantalize leaves off)

Untitled (Candlewick, TBA)(a prose novel to directly follow Blessed)

Cynsational Notes

Two short stories–both with original characters–also are set in the Tantalize universe:

“Cat Calls” appears in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009). Notes from the Horn Book says: “These stories reveal the stranger truths the audience is never meant to see and offer touches of humor and pathos among the thrills.”

“Haunted Love” appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008, 2009). Note: after a limited release in 2008, exclusive to Borders/Waldenbooks, this anthology is now available nationwide. Read an excerpt.

In other news, avid Cynsations readers may recall that my Candlewick editor Deborah Wayshak is also a children’s-YA author, publishing under the name “Deborah Noyes” (see Sideshow anthologist above). Learn more about her in this recent interview.

Eternal Trailer

OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS | MySpace Video

Craft, Career & Cheer: Kimberley Griffiths Little

Learn about Kimberley Griffiths Little.

In the photo, she signs a three-book contract for The Healing Spell (Scholastic, July 2010), Secret Rites of the Goddess (Scholastic, fall 2010), and The Traiteur’s Daughter (Scholastic, summer 2011)!

Visit Kimberley’s Wanderings: Thoughts, Musings, and the Writing Life of YA Author Kimberley Griffiths Little.

What is the one craft book that you refer to again and again? Why?

I’ve got shelves full of writing books, probably 50 of them, but one book that I read over and over again is The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success by Donald Maass [now available as a free download].

Maass is an author of a dozen books as well as a top agent in New York. He knows the business inside and out. The Career Novelist is not a book geared particularly for children’s/YA writers, but it’s chock-full of writing and publishing experience and advice that fits any kind of writer, no matter what genre of novelist you aspire to be.

Because we’re seeing in this new 21st century a change in the way that children’s books are being bought, published, and marketed – much more like the way adult novels have traditionally been published, Maass’ books become even more relevant, not less, for us children’s literature lovers.

The Career Novelist is a book I read for fun. Once you dive in, you can’t stop. Maass backs up his advice with personal experience and anecdotes that are fascinating as well as delicious.

The first chapter is called “The Dream” – how can you resist that? Every writer starts out dreaming of publishing a book and wonders/hopes she can and will have success. Maass gives you the realities of the hard work and the disappointments and the opportunities, how to choose an agent, what “the market” means, how to write in different genres and the reality of the numbers game – AKA $$$.

But the magic of this book is that Donald Maass gives you the information and tools you need to carve out your own career and make it work. It’s like a shot of optimism, and he makes you believe that you really can become a novelist if you want to. Every time I read this book, I get excited all over again about the career I’ve chosen—or the career that’s chosen me.

I’m currently reading his newest book, The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great (Writer’s Digest, 2009). The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. He asks the provocative question: Are you a status seeker or a storyteller?

So far, what’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

“On Location in Egypt: How I Met The Queen of Sheba During Spring Break” all began one morning with two writer friends, Carolee Dean and Jana Striegel, around a meet-up for breakfast. All three of us had had books published, but were struggling, trying to sell our next projects (of which we had many in various stages) and getting more and more discouraged.

At the time, chick lit and romance were selling like hot cakes, and unfortunately, none of us had one written. Yet.

We started comparing notes on the books coming out from New York, our own extremely varied research (desert tribal people, a 16th century queen of France, and the chocolate-eating habits of the ancient Mayan people).

Giggling over eggs Benedict and jumbo muffins, we started throwing out wild and crazy ideas about a story told from three different 13 year-old girls’ point of view, and soon Kimmie, Jenna, and Lena emerged from the ashes of our own projects.

Kimmie’s father was an Egyptian movie director, Jenna was a dancer hired for his latest B film being shot “on location” in the Middle East, and Lena was visiting her mother, the makeup artist, for spring break–throwing all three girls together for the first time. It’s hate at first sight.

Then the girls discover that they each own a mysterious medallion given to them from a fortune teller in Venice Beach, and when the medallions come together–watch out! The girls soon find themselves a thousand years in the past, trying not to get killed by tribal raiders and with Kimmie being married off to the sheik’s son.

We smartly planned three books in our series, each book featuring one of us–I mean our characters!–in the lead role and jetting around the world to various movie locations.

Many more hilarious breakfasts were scheduled over the next few months, complete with laptops and notes and ideas flying.

We wrote a proposal of 60 pages, many version of a hilarious synopsis, but then we all were in the process of changing agents and the project got shelved for a long time.

“On Location in Egypt” was further shelved when Jana Striegel’s breast cancer came back after twelve years, reappearing in her brain.

After fighting it for another two years, the cancer took Jana’s life, but through her medical procedures and declining health, we continued to meet and write and encourage one another.

Jana was a professional ballet dancer before she donned the writer hat, and you can read her novel, Homeroom Exercise (Holiday House, 2002), about a ballet dancer with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Writing “On Location in Egypt” changed my life in many ways. Carolee, Jana, and I were able to help each other through some enormously discouraging times, not only in our careers but in our personal lives. Writing together also brought back the fun and pure enjoyment of story and creation into our lives and work, something all three of us had been greatly missing.

How do you reach out to teachers and librarians?

With two other authors, I launched a brand new newsletter this past September. It’s directly geared toward teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, and parents, and called “Spellbinders: A Newsletter for Teachers and Librarians to Help Create Lifelong Readers.”

The newsletter features interviews with well-known authors as well as librarians and teachers, along with regular columns about curriculum connections, literacy in the community, and book buzz.

I also do author visits at schools and libraries and conferences. Please visit my Author Visit page on my website for details! I have a fantastic hands-on writing workshop that has proven very successful and loads of fun for grades 3-8. Don’t hesitate to email me! kglittle@msn.com

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

My upcoming middle-grade novel–The Healing Spell (Scholastic Press)–is about eleven-year-old Livie Mouton who is hiding the biggest secret of her life when Mamma comes home from the hospital in a coma. Her daddy is determined that Mamma will only get better surrounded by the people who love her best, but Livie is terrified of her mother’s lifeless condition—and some sins are so dangerous they’re better left hidden.

Summoning her courage, Livie travels into the forbidden recesses of the swamp to seek out the mysterious traiteur, hoping that if she buys a healing spell, she can bring her mother back to life. Then Livie discovers that her mamma is hiding a secret of her own…

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m currently writing The Traiteur’s Daughter (Scholastic), which is also set in the Louisiana bayous, about a girl who gets involved in a dangerous clash between the traiteur folk healers and hoodoo magic through a secret circle of girls at school.

And Secret Rites of the Goddess (Scholastic) is a sexy YA romance about the roots of belly dance and the ancient goddess temples of the Middle East. It’s the YA version of The Red Tent [by Anita Diamant (Scribner, 1998)]!

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Online Promotion: Making Your Author/Illustrator Website Educator-Friendly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Who will visit your author or illustrator website?

Young readers may be your ultimate target audience, but educators—teachers, university professors of youth literature, and school librarians—are on the forefront of efforts to connect books and kids. What’s more, they’re using the Internet more than ever to help them make purchasing decisions.

“It is professional librarians and educators who are most likely to specifically seek out information about authors and illustrators and ways to use children’s books in educational and group settings,” says author and former school librarian Toni Buzzeo. “Teachers and librarians continue to discover and value books, even when the books are no longer on the front list. They look for books that connect with writing and literature topics. They value books long after they’ve appeared in the publisher’s catalog or a review source.”

Buzzeo adds that librarians are likewise interested in paperbacks and that teachers sometimes seek paperbacks that can be purchased for full class study.

Many teachers build their own classroom libraries. Some use their own money. Others apply grants or donations from parents and other community members.

“We’ve heard reports that many media specialists can only buy books for the media center if these books are requested by teachers,” says publicist Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak, an agency offering promotional services to authors and illustrators. “This puts a lot of book-buying power in the hands of teachers.”

Organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), and the American Library Association (ALA), as well as their state and district affiliates, are highly influential.

Each publishes journals and websites that highlight authors, illustrators, and youth literature. In addition, they sponsor prestigious award programs, a few of which can prompt thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of sales.

Publicist Susan Raab of Raab Associates emphasizes a website is one way that authors and illustrators can raise their awareness in this market so their books have a better chance of being considered for awards.

As librarian Sharron L. McElmeel noted, “What could be more credible than the author’s own site providing information about a book?”

So, how do you make your website educator-friendly?

First, cover the basics. It’s better to start with a small, well-designed site and build thoughtfully over time than to upload several unorganized and incomplete pages.

Remember that this is your “professional face” to prospective readers. Kid-friendly and colorful may work. Cutesy and homemade won’t. When in doubt, err on the side of easy navigation, clean lines, and a limited color pallet.

Wait until the site is ready before uploading. “Under construction” signs suggest a lack of commitment. On the flip side, think twice before adding cutting edge technology. Freezing your visitors’ computer screens won’t help you (or your book) win any new readers.

One question is whether the focus of the site should be you or your debut book itself. Your byline is your brand. In today’s crowded market, it will be enough of a challenge for readers to learn your name. When it comes to awareness-raising, you don’t want to have to start over with each new title. If you’re planning a long-term career, first launch an author/illustrator site and then consider a book-specific site as a supplemental marketing tool.

For example, although we both have official author sites, my co-author Greg Leitich Smith and I decided to launch www.santa-knows.com to promote our picture book, Santa Knows (Scholastic Book Club). “The real marketing window for a holiday book is only open for a couple of months,” he explains. “You have to look for any opportunity to maximize outreach.”

One exception to the author-site-first guideline would be in the case of a book series. Before you take on the job of launching a series tie-in site, however, check first to see if your publisher is willing to provide one for you.

Ideally, your site should launch at about the same time review copies are sent, usually six months prior to publication. Each new book listing should be added to the site on the same schedule. But it’s never too late to promote a book in print.

If budget allows, research the possibility of hiring a Web designer. The time saved and professional results may well be worth the money. A handful of designers even specialize in children’s-YA book creator sites. Ask established published authors and illustrators in your local writing community or on listservs for recommendations.

In the alternative, investigate pre-formatted options. The Authors Guild, for example, offers such sites to members for nominal fees.

“I chose the Authors Guild as host because they’re inexpensive, it’s a good organization, and they use a convenient template without bells and whistles that a simple-minded person such as I can update in seconds,” says author Leda Schubert.

At a minimum, include a brief biography and your photograph along with basic publication information (cover art, title, author, illustrator, publisher, publication date, target audience age range, and ISBN). The cover art should be large enough to see clearly and, if possible, include a link to a larger, high-resolution image. Clear titles for each page, emphasizing the title and author/illustrator names, will help facilitate search engines. So will choosing your name as the URL.

“A name like supercoolwriter.com is not going to be as easily discovered by someone looking for you as cynthialeitichsmith.com,” says Anne Irza-Leggat, educational marketing supervisor at Candlewick Press.

Links to your publisher’s website and/or the sites of your co-creators also are helpful and courteous.

Children’s-YA author Tanya Lee Stone offers a printer-friendly, comprehensible title list (PDF) of her books. She explains, “This was a suggestion I got from a librarian who commented that she’s surprised more authors don’t have their own complete list somewhere.”

Beyond the basics, offer visitors a taste of each book. Consider including an excerpt or interior illustration or link to these on your publisher’s site, if provided.

Keep in mind that copyright law applies to the Internet. Authors should request permission from illustrators to highlight an example of their interior art. Illustrators should request authors’ permission to feature text excerpts.

Include award listings and review excerpts as they arise. Those from established print journals and/or blurbs from well-known authors or youth literature experts tend to be the most persuasive. Moreover, reviews, too, are subject to copyright and may not be wholly reproduced without permission. Use short quotes, and link to the source website.

Keeping this information up-to-date is critical. Interior links should always be in working order. The occasional exterior link may be unavoidable, but do your best to keep these current. New books should be added promptly. Such maintenance will preserve the site’s credibility and effectiveness as a promotional tool.

Offer teachers and school librarians reasons to share your book with students.

“If your book has good curricular tie-ins,” children’s author-poet Hope Vestergaard begins, “it pays to make that obvious on your site.”

Curriculum guides and related activities are especially sought after. These may include discussion questions and links to curriculum-related sites.

“I was a teacher,” explains young adult author Gail Giles, “and I know I’d pick up a book that has a teacher’s guide before a book that didn’t—if the books were essentially equal.”

Buzzeo adds, “Content standard based curriculum activities are much appreciated. Teachers do not have time to teach things simply for the fun of it anymore, in this age of standardized testing. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with national and state content standards before writing support material.” She recommends hiring a member of the educational, library, and children’s writing community to write guides.

Children’s author and reading expert Tracie Vaughn Zimmer not only is available for hire, she also posts the guides she writes to her own site, offering a “directory” that attracts visitors.

“Since most of my visitors are teachers,” Vaughn explains, “I decided to appeal directly to them. Teachers are visual people (think bulletin boards and their wonderful, bright classrooms) so my directory is like a bulletin board with all the beautiful book covers speaking for themselves. I can feature new guides this way too.”

She adds that dividing the books into age categories (along with one for poetry) makes the directory easier to navigate.

“I also don’t add a lot of design to the guides themselves,” Vaughn says, “so that teachers can use as little ink and paper necessary and just dive into activities and lessons with their students.”

Teacher guides may be augmented by background on the crafting of the book.

“If authors and illustrators will provide information about process, research, and revision that applies to specific titles, they will help educators adopt them more readily,” Palmquist says.

Question-and-answer interviews might touch on such subjects as the author’s and/or illustrator’s background in the field, inspiration behind the book, required research, challenges in bringing the story to life, the revision process, and themes.

This same information could also be shared in a story-behind-the-story article.

“I think the ‘How I Wrote It’ section is part of the educator’s extended experience for the class or reader,” says Giles. “I put it there to enhance the reading experience and make it really easy for the teacher to use the book in the classroom.”

Such Q&A interviews and articles may be further supplemented with bibliographies of books or other resources used for research in writing the story.

McElmeel encourages a global approach—making your focus wider than just yourself and your own book(s). “The ‘online presence’ should not be merely a sales site but rather should give more than take. The idea is to introduce you as an author/illustrator to more educators, and educators will find your site more often if you are gracious and include the titles and authors of other books that might be collaborative reading material.”

Consider the author’s/illustrator’s expertise and each book for special opportunities. These are limited only by the site creator’s imagination.

Children’s non-fiction author Fred Bortz offers a set of “Ask Dr. Fred” questions that includes suggestions for asking good science questions. He says, “I get an average of 30 to 50 visitors per day who are wondering why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.”

Author Rebecca Stead’s novel First Light (Wendy Lamb, 2007) takes place in Greenland. One character’s father researches climate change. Another character lives in an imagined world within the ice cap. “I wrote a Q&A fact sheet with input from scientists, interviewed a guy about what it’s really like to dig snow pits (and why), and posted links to educational sites,” Stead says. “I also put in some bits of history/science that inspired me—about sled dogs, Volkswagen’s secret testing ground in Greenland, oak trees, etc.”

Readers’ theater adaptations of picture books, short stories, and chapters are popular with classroom groups. These work best with dialogue-heavy texts.

Coloring pages also are an option for illustrated books. Again, authors should obtain permission from illustrators before making art available for this purpose.

Children’s author-illustrator Katie Davis’ site includes activity sheets and games made with a program called Puzzlemaker. She says, “I can input specific words from my books, and they’ll get imported into a crossword puzzle.”


Recipes tend to attract traffic from teachers and parents alike.

“My ‘Hairy Toe Cookies’ recipe (PDF) is one of the biggest entry pages to my site…a lot from teachers at Halloween time,” says Shutta Crum, author of Who Took My Hairy Toe? (Albert Whitman, 2001).

Ultimately, your author site should be a reflection of your creative and professional self, a place to celebrate books and writing, and a way of reaching young readers and their champions. Educators are such heroes. Design and maintain your site to offer them all the encouragement and support they need to integrate your books into their schools.

Cynsational Notes

This article was originally published in the The (21rst Annual Edition) 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008).

The (22nd Annual Edition) 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2008) is now available. From the promotional copy: “The 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children’s publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives. It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on www.WritersMarket.com.”

New Voice: Donna St. Cyr on The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate

Donna St. Cyr is the debut author of The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate (Blooming Tree/CBAY Books, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Robert Montasio didn’t think his day could get any worse until his sister drinks a bizarre soda that causes her to start shrinking. Robert’s only hope is a mysterious organization known as the Secret Cheese Syndicate. Unfortunately, they can’t help without a special cheese that has been lost for years.

Now, with a tiny little sister in his pocket, Robert has to travel the world to find the Mystic Cheese of Eliki and, perhaps, discover secrets from his family’s past.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Revision is my friend. I didn’t think this at first, but I believe it now. I have been a teacher for over twenty years, and one of the things I watch students struggle with is the revision process. Mostly, they want to turn in the first draft and be done with it.

Even though I know better, I like to think my work is ready after the first pass. Mostly, I attribute this to laziness, a character flaw I’m trying to eliminate.

So, how about the revision process for “the cheese story” (my critique group’s nickname for the novel)? I suppose the first revision came after I outlined the story. I developed the plot, created the characters, and outlined the chapters. As I wrote, the majority of that outline got tossed in the trash.

The second revision included what I call the “rewrite while you write” exercise. I have a habit of rewriting a paragraph several times while I’m trying to get the words down. I don’t think this is the most productive form of revision, and it probably slows my writing down, but I do it anyway.

The third revision came through my critique group, usually two or three chapters at a time. My group is very supportive and we use the TOT – Take or Toss – method of critiquing. If the criticism rings true, take it and use it; if not, toss it out.

I can not stress enough how important my critique group was in developing the continuity of the story, fleshing out the characters, and giving me fresh ideas. In a way, this story belongs to them as much as it does to me. The fourth revision was a second complete run through by my critique group. Let’s see, we’re up to about two years by now.

The next revisions came post-contract. So, revision number five was the first revision request by my editor. Aside from plot and character points that she wanted cleared up, she wanted a longer book. So I added another 10,000 or so words, which meant developing all sorts of new adventures. At first, I didn’t think I could do what she asked. I thought the story was finished, but she was right. The new characters I created have become some of my favorites.

Revision number six was the second go round with the editor. I was grateful she agreed with my rewrite, and this time there were only minor edits, mostly line-edit types of things and a few more continuity issues.

Finally came copy edits, which are not so much revisions as spell and grammar checks. I was amazed, however, after so many eyes had seen the story, how many typos still existed. The copy edits put the post-contract revisions at three and the total number of revisions at seven!

The entire process took about four years. I don’t know if my process was particularly slow, but it’s taught me a great deal of patience.

Revision advice? Get a critique group. Don’t be offended by the advice. Step away from the story for awhile before revising. Be patient, it’s a multi-step process.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

I love my job as a librarian. In many ways, my experience in the library is what prompted me to become an author. I’ve had writing aspirations since high school, but never acted on them. Life always seemed to get in the way. Going to work everyday and reading to children reignited that desire and gave me the courage to give it a try.

Being in the library has made it much easier to see what good fiction is out there. I have worked in school libraries, and because my programs have always been small, I was responsible for all purchases. What power! What responsibility!

Using a selection process and stretching my limited dollars to purchase what I considered to be the best fiction each year gave me the opportunity to read some fantastic books that I might have otherwise missed. Exposure to good writing is an important factor in developing your own writing style.

On the commercial side, dealing with publishers and book vendors every day helped me to see what types of things were making it to market. That’s not to say that as a writer I should pay too much attention to market trends for specific stories, however, I could see first hand which types of books different publishers were promoting. During the submission process, it was helpful to walk over to my shelves and pull books from a specific publisher and check out its work.

After I began to write, I started sharing the writing process with my students. I began increasing their awareness of authors and their own stories. I started to look for every opportunity to promote author awareness and pumped up the number of author visits to our school. Nothing sparks their interest like a real, live author in front of them.

Librarian and author are naturally complementary careers. I have been blessed to work in both of these arenas and am grateful for the opportunities that each vocation has provided.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Author Interview: K.L. Going on Writing & Selling the YA Novel

From Writer’s Digest: “K.L. Going is a full-time writer and award-winning YA author; former assistant to literary agents at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York; and former manager of an independent bookstore…” Her debut novel, Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003), was a 2004 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Read her previous Cynsations interview.

What’s new?

Since I last visited with you, Saint Iggy (Harcourt, 2006) has been published, along with a second middle grade novel called The Garden of Eve (Harcourt, 2007). I’ve had two short stories published in anthologies, and I also have a new teen novel out called King of the Screwups (Harcourt, 2009) about a drop-dead gorgeous guy who desperately wants to be a nerd. The book is full of fashion, glam rock, and mayhem. What could be more fun than that?

Congratulations on the success of Writing & Selling the YA Novel (Writer’s Digest, 2008)(excerpt)! In your own words, could you tell us what readers might expect from the book?

Writing & Selling the YA Novel is a primer for those who want to publish novels for teens. The book covers all the basics of good writing and also delves into issues that are specific to the young adult field such as the history of YA, tips for targeting the teen audience, and dealing with hot-button issues like bad language, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Okay, I just added rock and roll for fun, but the rest is all in there!

What makes it different from other craft and/or manuscript marketing resource books?

First, it’s YA specific. Most craft books are more general, lumping YA into the category of children’s book writing, which is very broad.

Second, this is the only craft book I know of that includes a teen panel where writers have a chance to hear from actual teens about what they like and dislike about YA books and what they want to read more about.

How did you come to write the book?

I was approached by Writer’s Digest. My editor, Alice Pope, was familiar with my writing for teens and knew that I had worked for five years at a literary agency.

Since I’ve also managed an independent bookstore, taught adult literacy, and grew up as the daughter of a librarian, I truly know books from every angle. This gave me a unique platform to approach the writing of this book.

What were the challenges?

My biggest challenge was convincing myself it was okay to take a chance and try my hand at writing non-fiction. It’s so different!

What did you love about it?

I loved having the opportunity to use a different part of my brain. It was such a varied writing process from the one I was used to that it was refreshing. I also loved the fact that my editor gave me license to make the book fun. I don’t think a book has to be stodgy just because it’s non-fiction, so it was great to be able to be a little whimsical about the topic.

The book is arranged like a school schedule so that each chapter represents a different period in the school day. I also loved gathering the information for the teen panel. It was so much fun to draw up the questionnaire and then see what kids had to say.

More than anything, what do you want your readers to take away?

I hope there’s something different for every writer. For the beginner, I hope they take away the basic tips about writing that can improve their work. For the more advanced student, I hope they enjoy the chapters that shed light on what they may not know as much about, such as the history of YA or the business/marketing aspects of getting published.

What are you doing when you’re not writing?

I just had a baby boy, so I am ultra busy being in love and not sleeping.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m working on a new middle grade novel that I hope to have edited soon, and I’ve also got a couple picture books in the works. They won’t be out for a while yet, but they should make it onto the market in time for my son’s toddler years.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I hope readers will check out my website— specifically two features that I love to highlight. The GiveitAwayNow page has ideas for how you can give back to your community, and the Very Cool Person of the Month page highlights some special people who have excelled at doing that very thing. I love to receive new nominations, so please visit the site, and then send me an e-mail about someone you know who is just plain awesome.

Cynsational Notes

Watch a book trailer for The Garden of Eve:

Cynsational News & Giveaways

National Book Awards Report by finalist Laini Taylor from Grow Wings. Peek: “It’s nice, in the Young Person’s category of the NBAs, there are extra events so we get to know each other a little. I don’t think the ‘grownup’ finalists do this–and that kind of exemplifies what it’s like writing for young readers. There really is a community–a community of the kinds of people I want to be friends with. It rocks.” See also a recent report on the event by [Laini’s fellow finalist] Rita Williams-Garcia from Cynsations.

Agenting Picture Books v. Agenting Novels: Part One of Two by Michael Stearns from Upstart Crow Literary. Peek: “I look for writers who put their strongest stuff forward first. If she feels her picture books are her strongest material, then she should start there. If she feels she is primarily a novelist, then she should start with a novel.” Source: Lynne Kelly. Note: see an opportunity to bid on a critique by Michael at the Bridget Zinn auction, listed below!

What Can I Expect of My Agent? by Moonrat from Editorial Ass. Peek: “You are an author whose property is making your agent money (however much or little it may be). That means that if you ask for a financial record of your account–how much your royalties have earned out, what fees have been deducted from your earnings–your agent should furnish said account with little to no dilly-dallying.” See also What Do You Expect? by KT Literary.

Q&A Literary Agent Ginger Clark by Maria Schneider from Editor Unleashed. Peek: “On the children’s side of my list, I represent middle grade and YA fiction, all kinds.”

The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford from The Writer’s [Inner] Journey. Peek: “…particularly when the traditional selling tools at publishers’ disposal (such as front bookstore placement, reviews, marketing, etc.) are waning in effectiveness, there’s even more of a premium for the authors who are able to deliver an audience.”

Why do authors charge fees to visit schools? by children’s author Kim Norman. Peek: “Except for the rare bestseller or ‘living legend,’ children’s book writing is not known to be a lucrative profession…. Speaking fees help keep us solvent so we can do the thing we truly love: writing books for children.” Note: authors may want to feature this link on the speaker-information pages of their websites. Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.

Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Library or Librarian by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #144: Featuring Neil Numberman and Aaron Reynolds from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Numberman uses blues, sepia tones, and some yellow to illustrate this noir-tale spoof of a fly detective, living in a city of insects, and his new assistant, a rather clumsy scorpion named Sammy Stingtail. A beautiful butterfly, named Delilah, hires them to solve a crime involving a magic pencil box, friendship, and a little bit of jealousy.” Read a recent Cynsations interview with Aaron and Neil.

Reminder: Bridget Zinn Kicks Cancer Auction! Bid to Win Art, Signed Books, Editor/Agent/Author Critiques & More! Peek: “Bridget is a 32-year-old YA author and librarian who is currently being treated for stage 4 colon cancer – and her ‘healthy young person between jobs’ health insurance does not cover many of her expenses. Read Bridget’s blog for more information.” See more information. Auction I.D.: bridget Password: rules Auction closes Dec. 11. Hot new items include One Critique of a Query Plus the first Ten Pages of Your Middle-Grade or Young Adult Novel by Michael Stearns, Upstart Crow Literary, LLC.!

A Visit to DayGlo Color Corporation with Chris Barton, author of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009). Peek: “…as much fun as it had been getting to know the Switzer brothers on paper, through their original notes on their early experiments, there’s a lot to be said for getting a firsthand look at what continues to this day to result from that experimentation.” Read a related Cynsations interview with Chris.

Free Agents: Libraries have a place in a gift economy by Christopher Harris from School Library Journal. Peek: “Though we should not mistake libraries themselves as being free—the cost of which is deferred as taxes—we can still create our own gift economies. Some school libraries in my system, for example, hold book swaps at year’s end, where students bring in books to exchange with each other for new summer reading material.”

E-Books Made E-asy by H.L. Dyer, M.D. from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “Don’t get me wrong, I love a flesh-and-blood book as much as the next bibliophile. But this is pretty durned [sic] cool, too.”

Writers and Rejection: Don’t Give Up! by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com: Daily Diversions for Writers. Peek: “Ellen Jackson‘s Cinder Edna [illustrated by Kevin O’Malley] (HarperCollins, 1998) was rejected more than 40 times before it was accepted for publication. Since then, it has won many awards and sold more than 150,000 hardcover copies.” Source: Jill Cocoran.

Marvelous Marketer: Author Maggie Stiefvater by Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “I have a handful of blogs in my blog reader that I read all the time. They’re all either: a) intensely informative on the industry, b) extremely hilarious, c) extremely snarky about the industry, d) involve strange photographs of animals doing strange things to tourists, or e) all of these things.”

The 6th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of the Fine Arts in Montpelier will be March 19-2. Faculty include author Uma Krishnaswami, author E. Lockhart, and Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press. For more information, email Sarah Aronson at sarah@saraharonson.com. Source: Through the Tollbooth. Read Cynsations interviews with Uma, E., Nancy, and Sarah.

Interview with Steven L. Layne by Diane Chen from School Library Journal. Peek: “I’m going to lead kids in studying an author–I’m going for whole thing. I’m going to pick someone with a wide range of books to explore. There’s nothing wrong with selecting an author who write basically the same genre, same age group all the time, but I find Candace Fleming’s (for example) range to be inspiring and I’d want kids to see that.”

Building Your Author Platform Even If You’re Not Published Yet (part one and two) by Justine Lee Musk from Tribal Writer. Peek: “It’s not about push: pushing your book in front of as many readers as possible. It’s about pull: pulling the right readers to you.” Source: Elizabeth Scott.

31 Blogs You May Not Know: recommendations from children’s author Susan Taylor Brown. Note: I especially second her recommendations of Devas Rants and Raves from author-illustrator Don Tate, Simple Saturday from author-educator Debbie Gonzales, jamma rattigan’s alphabet soup from author Jamma Rattigan, Anneographies from author-educator Anne Bustard, Gotta Book from author-librarian-screenwriter Greg Pincus and more.

Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children? by Carrie Ryan at Carrie’s Procrastinatory Outlet. Peek: “…not talking about the difficult issues in this world doesn’t make them not exist. Not letting teens read about them doesn’t mean teens are somehow not going to face them.” Note: authors may want to feature this link on certain book-information pages of their websites.

How To Interview an Agent by Cynthea Liu from Writing for Children and Teens. Peek: “An agent has let you know they would like to speak with you further about your work. You talk to them, answer his questions, and he offers representation.” See also Going On An Agent Hunt by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth and Literary Agent Offers: Don’t Settle! by Sarah Ockler at Sarah Ockler: Making Stuff Up. Writing It Down. Source: Alison Dellenbaugh.

IndeDebut2010: “Inde-Debut 2010 books are being published by a spectrum of Small Presses across America and range from Picture Books to Middle Grade to Young Adult. Inde-Debut 2010 is proud to support these small presses that are championing new voices, focusing on niche markets, creating whole businesses by reissuing out-of-print classics, and maintaining the tradition of printing literary fiction.”

Soup’s On: Ellen Potter in the Kitchen Interview! by Jama Rattigan from jama rattigan’s alphabet soup: a children’s writer offers food for thought & fine whining. Peek: “…I would love my readers to entertain the possibility of Audrey’s unusual situation. One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare is ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ I say it to my son all the time and it really annoys him.”

Be Bold by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog. Peek: “Everything that goes into a first draft will have to be scrutinized in later drafts, but I think it’s better to push on many times and just be aware that you worried about the scene a little in the first draft. It’s better to make those bold choices and see where they take you.”

Erin Murphy Literary Agency: “…a leading U.S. children’s book agency headquartered in Flagstaff, Arizona. We focus on connections—between writer and editor, story and reader—as well as on helping our clients build their careers and grow as artists.”

Envisioning the Coming Year by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Today…we’re going to talk about a different kind of activity—a highly inward-facing one: collages and vision boards. Now before you roll your eyes and think you left all that back in grade school, let me gently point out that collages and vision boards are a highly effective tool in helping focus your creative energies—either in a personal direction or in a project-related one.”

Reminder: bid to win manuscript critiques with authors, editors, and agents as well as limited edition, signed letterpress broadsides from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Hunger Mountain Holiday Fundraising Auction. The auction features a 250-page manuscript critique with editor Stephen Roxburgh (interview); a 250-page manuscript critique with author Tim Wynne-Jones (interview); and the chance to name a character in Nancy Werlin’s next novel. Items also include partial critiques by author Susan Fletcher and Micol Ostow (interview) as well as full-manuscript middle grade or young adult novel critiques by authors Carrie Jones (interview) and An Na (interview). In addition, a 50-page critique or full picture-book critique is offered by agent-author Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (interview). All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain’s non-profit mission to cultivate engagement with and conversation about the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for interactivity and discourse. Visit The Hunger Mountain Store. Bidding ends at noon EST Dec. 12.

Screening Room

The Multicultural Minute: Holidays from Around the World by Renee Ting at Shen’s Books.

More Personally

Kyra Interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith by Kyra from Throwing Up Words: Sometimes It’s Your Only Option. Peek: “Once you have a whole draft, all of the answers to the novel are already hinted at in your manuscript. Your subconscious is always a step ahead of your conscious mind, so it’s important to learn how to read your own writing carefully. Over the years, I’ve heard any number of folks say this in different ways, most recently author Tim Wynne-Jones.” Note: Throwing Up Words is a new team blog from Kyra and authors Ann Dee Ellis and Carol Lynch Williams. Please surf by and welcome them to the kidlitosphere!

What are your favorite authors giving this holiday season? by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Emily at The BookKids Blog from the Crazy Folks at BookPeople. Peek: “Of course, Cyn sent me a very comprehensive list of great gifts for all your holiday shopping needs…” Note: check out my shopping suggestions! Recommended authors/illustrators include: Ellen Jensen Abbott (interview); Marla Frazee; Robin Friedman; Michael Hemphill (interview); David Lubar (interview); John Abbott Nez (interview); Neil Numberman (interview); Aaron Reynolds (interview); Sam Riddleburger (interview); Liz Garton Scanlon; Anita Silvey (interview); and Carol Lynch Williams (interview).

Favorite Middle Grade, Tween & YA Books of 2009: a list from Greg Leitich Smith. Recommended authors include: Eduardo F. Calcines (interview); David Macinnis Gill (interview); Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger (see above); Eric Luper; Jenny Moss (interview); Micol and David Ostow (interview); Carol Lynch Williams (see above); Suzanne Morgan Williams (interview); and Rita Williams-Garcia (interview).

When Twilight author Stephenie Meyer visited my class; Why Edward Cullen & other vampires attract readers; What the next big thing is in adolescent lit by James Blasingame at The Answer Sheet: A School Survival Guide for Parents (and Everyone Else) from The Washington Post. Regarding Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), he writes: “My favorite read of the past year has been Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Eternal, which revolves around 18-year-old Miranda, and her guardian angel, Zachary. …Cynthia has paid homage not only to various vampire classics, from Bram Stoker to ‘Nosferatu,’ but also to Chicago lore (Dracula is a Cubs fan, and Zachary comments in ‘Blues Brothers’ fashion that he is ‘on a mission from God’).” Note: James is an associate professor of English Education at Arizona State University, and the 2010 president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.

December Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), one of three copies of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009), and/or one of three signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Watersmeet” and/or “The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein” and/or “Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; those eligible in these categories should indicate their affiliations in the body of their entry messages. The other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 31.

New Voice: K.A. Holt on Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel

K.A. Holt is the debut author of Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Blast off to deep-space adventure and hijinks!

Things are not so stellar for Mike Stellar. He is stunned when his parents inform him that he has only eight hours to pack before they move to Mars.

Despite the fact that he suspects his parents are involved in a major sabotage plot; that the only person who believes him is a girl who won’t shut up; and that his mother’s assistant seems to be spying on Mike’s every move, Mike is dealing with the same things that every eleven-year-old deals with: bad cafeteria food, a strict limitation on his electronic use, and a teacher who is so old-fashioned she must be from the year 2099.

With great humor and lots of action, K. A. Holt’s first novel is set to give summer reading an out-of-this-world blast of fun.

K.A. makes her home in Austin. Check out K.A. Holt’s Online Disaster.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

As a youngster, I was a voracious reader. I rushed through schoolwork so that I could read at my desk. I stole my parents’ books so that I could test out “reading like a grown-up” (verdict: boring, if not interestingly racy at times).

I volunteered in the library while I was in elementary school so that I could get dibs on the new books that came in.

And though I didn’t read under the covers with a flashlight, I would perch myself at the foot of my bed so that, even though my room was dark, I could catch the shine of the hall light to facilitate late-night reading. This was my biggest coup because, if I could do it and not get caught, I could read almost all night long.

My dad is a newspaper editor, and at that time he worked until 2 or 3 in the morning. The hall light stayed on until he was home and getting ready for bed. If I could last until Daddy got home, I could get in some serious reading.

I’ve never been a particularly fast reader, and I found this really vexing as a child. I like to loll the words around in my mouth, stop and imagine scenes, replay conversations in my head, marvel at vocabulary. But because I read all the time, I felt like I should be faster.

Even now, I worry that being a slow reader is a fault, though I know that being a careful reader who glories in the details shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed about.

The types of books I enjoyed as a youngster varied a great deal. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I devoured Paula Danziger and early Lois Lowry (three cheers for Anastasia Krupnik (Yearling))!.

I read all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books (Bantam, 1979-1998), and puzzled over Encyclopedia Brown (1963-). I fully stole my dad’s book of collected Ogden Nash poems, and I broke the spines of my Shel Silverstein books by reading them so much.

For some reason, I resisted a lot of prize-winning literature, and this is something I’m still trying to remedy. At the time, I was pretty sure that if a book had a metallic medal on the front, it was either going to be boring or sad, and I didn’t want to read anything like that. This means–even though I probably shouldn’t admit it–I’m still catching up on the classics.

My all-time favorite books, though, out of everything I read, were written by Roald Dahl. The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983), The Twits (1980), James and the Giant Peach (1961). They were adventurous and scary. They took place in the real world–but not.


Would you categorize Roald Dahl as fantasy? Maybe so. I loved how they introduced me to a kind of alternate reality–a world that I was absolutely convinced existed in real life; I just hadn’t been able to find it yet.

Surely there was a place somewhere where frobscottle was real. Right?

And so I think Roald Dahl is one of my biggest influences. He didn’t write sci-fi or speculative fiction really. No spaceships or aliens. But his worlds had that fantastical quality to them, and that’s what I love. That’s what I try to write.

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel may take place mostly on a spaceship, but, to me, it’s about a regular kid, with regular problems, trying to figure things out in a not-quite-regular world.

When I was writing Mike Stellar, I tried to be careful to not make his world too alien, too futuristic. I wanted the future to seem attainable, organic, like something that would seem familiar, but fascinating.

I also tried to add a lot of “easter eggs”–little surprises for the careful reader. I absolutely loved to make discoveries when I read as a child, and I still do.

For example, Mike’s teacher is named after a comet. The two major spaceships in the book are named after real ships sent to (or roving on) Mars. And so much more.

I love the idea of a kiddo accidentally coming across something while he or she is studying science or space or NASA or whatever that makes him or her sit up and say, “Hey! I know that name!” or “Hey! I read about plasma propulsion in that book!”

Those kinds of connections are amazing. They’re educational without being didactic. I’m not sure kids get enough of that these days.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I have three children. My oldest son is seven, my daughter is three, and my youngest son just turned one. I know it sounds impossible to get any writing done with a house full of children, and some days, believe me, it is. But the crazy thing is that I have done my best writing and my most organized writing after having children.

Is it because I’m more mature now? More focused? Maybe.

I think a lot of it, though, is that I have learned, for me, writing is a basic tenet of life.

Food, water, love, writing.

So it’s not that I have to make time for writing, it’s that I have to allow myself to not feel guilty because I have to write.

The kids might have to watch more TV one day while I’m meeting a deadline. They might get some “just a minute’s” and “I’ll be right there’s” while I hammer out a scene that has just come to me. And, as a mom, I have to be okay with that. Or okay-ish.

I try to be careful to not write much while I’m with the kids, though. For me, writing can be very all-encompassing; I lose track of time and space. I have been known to forget to eat or forget to sleep. So I try to take notes when I’m with the kids, but do most of my writing when they’re asleep.

Writing at night has always been my style, though. It makes early mornings difficult, for sure, but those mornings are pretty satisfying when I wake up knowing that I got several chapters written the night before.

I think if you’re the primary caregiver in your house and you’re trying to make a go of it as a writer, you have to pick your battles. It’s just like everything else.

Is it okay to let the kids watch an extra round of TV shows so that you can finish writing out a conversation between your two main characters? Are you able to sneak away for a few hours when your partner comes home from work? Will finding a mother’s helper or a part-time pre-school help you be more productive? Will you sacrifice sleep for chapters?

The answers to these questions all depend on who you are as a mama and who you are as a writer.

The great thing about being a writer is that you can write anywhere on anything. I have been known to take notes on my arm while I wait in the car to pick my son up at school.

You just have to find what works. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s true.

Only you know how you write best.

Cynsational Notes

Watch the book trailer for Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel:

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.