Guest Post: N.L. Sharp on A Novel Journey: Three Retreats for MG & YA Writers

By N. L. Sharp

“When will you take your novel retreats on the road?”

I laugh every time someone asks me that question. Since my current set of retreats is entitled “A Novel Journey,” I suppose it would make sense. And perhaps, some day, I will, when my own writing dictates it’s time.

But I’m not ready for that yet. After all, I am not a conference organizer. I am a writer, working on a series of novels I hope to see published soon. And the retreats are just one of the tools I use to motivate me when my writing is in a slump and I’m ready to quit.

I organized my first set of retreats several years ago after I had spent some time playing the “What if?” game in regard to the perfect writing workshop—for me.

What if I could find a class where everyone in attendance was working on a middle grade or YA novel, and we all agreed to meet a couple times a year to share our drafts and to study the craft of writing for children.

Then, after a year or so, we would sit down with someone in the industry (an agent or an editor) to discuss our W-I-P; someone who could really help us move toward our ultimate goal of publication.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. And when I shared the idea with a few of my writing friends, they all said they couldn’t wait to sign up for such a class, as soon as I had it organized! Therefore, my first set of novel retreats was born.

The retreats were a huge success, with a total of twenty-three other writers from ten different states joining me to learn the “secrets of success” from our talented and knowledgeable speakers. And several of us continue, to this day, to meet on a regular basis to share our writing.

But lately, I have been feeling a bit restless and in need of that additional emotional writing charge that I received from my participation in the first set of retreats. And when a few of the other participants asked me if I would repeat them, I knew the time was right to organize a new series of retreats.

The purpose for the first set of retreats was to prove to each and every one of us in attendance that yes—we could actually write a novel in a year’s time, with the support of a strong writing community. The focus of this new set of retreats is to answer the question “Where? Where does our work fit in the literary world and where will it find a home?”

Therefore, in this set of retreats, there will be a strong emphasis on what is being published in middle grade and YA and how do we, as writers, select an agent to represent our work to this market.

Every journey begins with a single step. I know that. But I have discovered that those steps are much easier to take if I am traveling with companions who share my passion and interest in writing for children. For me, that’s the only way to travel!

Cynsational Notes

N. L. Sharp is the author of three picture books and the coordinator for A Novel Journey, a series of three retreats for middle grade and YA writers.

Retreat # 1: Writing for Today’s Market is scheduled for June 22 to June 24, 2011.

Retreat # 2: Revision, Revision, Revision is scheduled for Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, 2012.

Retreat #3: Marketing to Agents is scheduled for June 20 to June 22, 2012.

Featured agents will be Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. Learn more about Ammi-Joan and Marietta.

The retreats will be held at St. Benedict Retreat Center on Highway 15 north of Schuyler, Nebraska.

Texas Library Association & Writers’ League of Texas YA A to Z Conferences

Wow! What a week it’s been here in Austin, Texas!

The festivities kicked off Tuesday night at a swanky cocktail party in celebration of the release of Blessed, hosted by Candlewick Press, at Truluck’s Seafood, Steak & Crab House. Appetizers included Blue Crab and Gulf Shrimp Rangoons as well as Creamy Blue Crab Dip.

Thank you to Candlewick and everyone who joined in on the festivities!

Thanks also to CP and librarian guests at lovely dinner Thursday night at Eddie V’s!

Additional thanks go to the TLA Young Adult Round Table for–well, too much to list–but especially for coordinating the teens/YA reader-author program and the super fun dinner Wednesday night at Hickory Street Bar & Grill.

On Wednesday morning, I signed books at the Texas Library Association annual conference. Thank you to everyone who attended my signing in the Author Signing Area!

Here’s a shot of my Tantalize series books on display at the Candlewick booth along with Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2010).

Nikki Loftin and Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales at the Texas SCBWI Booth.

HarperCollins editor Rosemary Brosnan at the Harper booth.

Author-librarian Debbie Leland.

Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver and children’s author Kelly Bennett.

Author Chris Barton signs at the Charlesbridge booth.

Illustrator Don Tate and author Audrey Vernick show off their picture book, She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins, 2010).

Austinites gather before the Joint Publisher Party in the lobby lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

Authors Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover set up for their signing.

Agent Erin Murphy. Clients of Erin Murphy Literary Agency gathered the following weekend in Austin for a writing retreat and hosted a wine social at BookPeople.

Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books.

On Friday afternoon, the YA writing scene shifted to the YA A to Z conference, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas. Here’s a peek out the window at the Hyatt Regency.

My personal highlights included interviewing Gail Giles and speaking on a graphic novel panel with Hope Larson.

Author Mari Mancusi, Delacorte editor Françoise Bui, and author April Lurie.

Authors Jeanette Larson, Jessica, and Sarah Bird.

WestSide editor Evelyn Fazio and author Beth Felbaum.

Authors Tim Wynne-Jones and Uma Krishnaswami.

Thank you to the Writers’ League staff, faculty, and attendees for a terrific weekend!

Guest Post: Greg Pincus on Alternate Funding Options for Author Visits

By Gregory K AKA Greg Pincus

It’s an exciting time to be an author or illustrator.

Sure, with bookstores closing, budget woes at schools and libraries, and flux at publishers, it can be an unsettling time to think about making a living in our field, but the good news is that change always means opportunity.

In fact, many of the same technologies that are roiling the business have made it so that it’s never been easier to get your work seen, to connect with your readers, and to interact with gatekeepers.

It’s in this ability to connect that I think authors and artists are going to be able to find new sources of money to help us do what we want to do most: create.

I just recently launched a project, Poetry: Spread the Word, which I view as an early experiment in trying to figure out how those of us writing or illustrating for kids/teens and our fans and supporters can work together.

One of the things that excites me a lot about this project is that it’s replicable by any artist with a platform, so I hope what I share here will inspire you to try something new, too.

My goal with Poetry: Spread the Word is to raise $5,000.

If I succeed, I’ll do 40 school visits over the next year, either virtually or in person. The visits will be free to the schools, because I’ll already have been paid. I also wanted to “buy” myself some time to write poems and keep them coming out for free on my blog.

I chose school visits for four reasons… and all of them are really about “value” – a word which I think will be at the heart of a lot of alternative financing.

First, I think kids gain a lot from having creative artists come into their classrooms, so it’s valuable for them. I also think that authors gain a lot from the experience (both from the interactions and from the fact that we often gain new fans), so there’s value in it for us.

I also know that times are getting tougher for teachers and librarians. While many schools still have budgets for traditional visits, when I was getting feedback about my project, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of alternative funding for visits. This means that the idea has value for that community, too.

Finally, I believe that if I’m going to ask people for money, I should offer something of value to them in return. For me, this works two ways: I’m giving different items (poetry in many forms, recognition, critiques) to everyone who backs the project, and I hope that the act of providing kids with an author and poetry in the classroom will have value by itself.

Because I have built a platform online, I have the ability to make contact with the people I’m going to need for this project to work: my fans and supporters.

These are people who like my work or, in some cases I suppose, maybe just like me. In many cases, I have developed genuine relationships with them, online or off.

Regardless, they are folks who will support me and my project by tweeting it, putting it on Facebook, and by telling friends.

Some of the people who hear about Poetry: Spread the Word will fund it, too, and if things work right, enough people will back my project and I will do a dance of joy.

Now, I have no idea if I’ll hit my funding goal. Because I’m doing this at – which has a system already in place for this type of project – I need to be fully funded by my closing date or no one pays a cent and I get nothing, so I certainly hope I do get there.

Still, whether I succeed or not, the early results tell me that the idea is viable. Just like publishers pay us for our work (value!) and readers buy our books (they get value!), people are backing me because they get value, too.

From this early test run, I can imagine the possibilities for an author or illustrator more established than I am. They can offer signed books, short stories with new content about favorite characters, limited edition prints, or personalized drawings or stories.

In short, I think, the more fans you have… and the more of them you have access to… the more chances you have of giving value to get value in return.

Personally, I imagine a collective (a non-profit, since this is my imagination) of authors and artists raising money for school visits.

Fans will get great material in exchange for support. Librarians and teachers will know where to turn to get great visits when they can’t go more traditionally. And authors and artists will get paid to do what they love. It’s a win-win-win situation, and who doesn’t like those?

There are so many other ways we can be experimenting on our own and using tools like Kickstarter, too. Self-publishing is another area where folks are already trying new things, much as I’m exploring school visits.

No matter what, though, we need to try more to learn what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to finding these new opportunities, our imagination is the only limitation.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win an author-autographed copy of Noodle & Lou by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011)!

To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Noodle and Lou” in the subject line.

From the promotional copy:

Noodle is a worm who is having a very blue day. Luckily, his best friend Lou is there to help chase his blues away.

Deadline: midnight CST April 22. Note: Author sponsored; U.S.-Canadian entries only.

Liz Garton Scanlon will be signing Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) at noon April 23 at BookPeople in Austin. See curriculum guide.

Giveaway Reminder

The winner of an author-signed copy of Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas by Jeanette Larson, illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks (Charlesbridge, 2011) is Ella in California!

More News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Janet S. Wong on the release of the poetry e-book Once Upon a Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals, illustrated by Sladjana Vasic. “Notes feature familiar animals such as the tiger and Asian elephant, but also unusual creatures such as the axolotl (also known as a ‘Mexican Walking Fish’).” Once Upon a Tiger is available as an eBook for $3.99 through the Kindle store.

Lee Bennett Hopkins: official author site. Peek: “To encourage the recognition of poetry, he has established two major awards: the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, presented annually by Penn State University for a single volume of poetry, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award (PDF), presented every three years by IRA.”

Twelve Tips for Twitterphobes by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Today’s post is for those of you out there who haven’t yet tried Twitter or who have given up on it or who are just plain flummoxed by it.”

The Timeless Appeal of Beverly Cleary by Pamela Paul from The New York Times. Peek: “An only child, whose parents were forced to sell the family farm, Cleary was painfully shy. Troubled at school and beset by bad teachers, she didn’t learn to read until the third grade.”

Jo Knowles on the Importance of GLBTQ Characters in Teen Fiction from Lee Wind at I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: “In my latest book, Pearl (Henry Holt, July 2011), a blogger who reviews books wrote that, while she liked the book very much, she couldn’t recommend it because of the homosexual content.”

Skype Authors: Partnering with schools and book clubs through virtual visits to support education worldwide. Suzanne Williams writes: “The authors on the site have pledged to contribute 25% of their fees for any Skype visits booked through the site to a charity that supports education in the developing world. For 2011-2012, that charity is Camfed, and they will be raising money to provide school supplies to elementary students in Malawi. I’m still adding authors to the site and hope to have a group of 20 – 25 participating authors within the next month or two.”

What If Your Characters Don’t Want Anything? by Charlie Jane Anders from io9. Peek: “If the plot happens in spite of your characters’ desires, that makes those desires more important.” Source: Gwenda Bond at Shaken & Stirred.

Agents mull change to AAA code of practice by Charlotte Williams and Benedicte Page from Peek: “Literary agents are privately ­discussing removing a clause ­preventing them from acting as publishers in the UK Association of Authors’ Agents constitution.” Source: Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent.

As Nike Says: “Just Do It” by Erin Vincent from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “…I understand that you are busy with a million other obligations. But if you want to write – if you want to be published – you have to start. Right now. Don’t put it off any longer, because trust me, it will never be the right time.”

Congratulations to Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary for signing Kari Baumbach, and congratulations to Kari for signing with Rubin! Note: link to Rubin includes a substantial video excerpt of his presentation at a Highlights Foundation workshop; he offers insights on technology-driven changes in publishing as a business.

You Need a Complete Manuscript by Mary Kole from Peek: “The only exception to this rule is if you’re writing older non-fiction, like something for the middle grade or teen age rage or a reference book/textbook. And picture books from author/illustrators…”

The Elusive Advanced Reader Copy by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker. Peek: “If authors say no to requests, it’s not because they don’t want you to have an ARC, it’s because they are expensive and hard to come by, and in today’s market, the buzz from that ARC might be the only publicity that author gets.”

Interview with Holly Black by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: “…I think the tricky thing about fantasy is that issues in the magical world should ideally both remind us of issues in our world, but not parallel one thing so closely that it appears to be merely that thing in disguise.”

Social Networking and Your Picture by Jessica from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: “One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the use of your book’s cover as your profile picture.” Note: your mileage may vary.

Team ‘Hunger Games’ talks: Author Suzanne Collins and director Gary Ross on their allegiance to each other, and their actors by Karen Valby from Entertainment Weekly.

Making It Through the Middle by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “…if you don’t get through middles, you’ll never get to the end–and be published.”

More Personally

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by M.G. Buehrlen from Young Adult Books Central. Peek: “Book four is still untitled, but it will feature characters from all of the previous books. Expect more adventure, humor, chilling suspense, and moments that may well inspire Quinice/Kieren and Zachary/Miranda shippers to swoon.”

Lost Souls? from Book Moot (“Smith does not focus on any individual religion or faith here but the story reflects a belief that we all possess a spirit that can be imperiled. For teen readers, that is not a bad thing to ponder.”).

I’m on a revision deadline and spending the week at the annual Texas Library Association Annual Conference and the YA A to Z Conference, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas (more on all that to come), but first here’s a quick look at my comings and goings around town.

Highlights of late include lunch at the Shoal Creek Saloon with Austin author-illustrator Salima Alikhan. Read a Cynsations interview with Salima.

Last weekend, I had coffee with Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA student Melanie Crowder at BookPeople.

Afterward, we continued upstairs to the children’s section for Jo Whittemore‘s launch party for Odd Girl In (Aladdin, 2011).

Jo give a warm, upbeat, funny PowerPoint presentation and then signed books for her many eager fans.

Enter to win an autographed copy of Odd Girl In by Jo Whittemore (Aladdin, 2011)! To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Odd Girl In” in the subject line. Deadline: midnight CST April 15. Note: Author sponsored; U.S.-Canadian entries only.

More Personal Links of the Week:

Cynsational Events

Erin Murphy Literary Agency Wine Social will be at 3 p.m. April 16 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: “Come meet Erin Murphy as well as some of the authors she represents.”

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide.

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson.

Guest Post: Varsha Bajaj on T Is For Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet

By Varsha Bajaj

I met Amy Lennex from Sleeping Bear Press at a Houston SCBWI conference.

Post-conference over margaritas and fajitas, we chatted about Michigan winters, Writing, “Slum Dog Millionaire” (2008) and my reluctance to refer to Bombay as Mumbai.

Almost a year later, when Amy asked if I was interested in writing an alphabet book on India my immediate response was, “Yes!” It would be a gift to leave for my American-Indian children and future grandchildren.

It was only later that the enormity of the task struck me. I was born and raised in India and therefore felt a huge responsibility to do the country justice. Easier said than done. India is such a diverse and complex country that doing it justice was a daunting task.

T is for Taj Mahal, illustrated by Robert Crawford (Sleeping Bear, 2011), was also part of an existing world series and had to conform to the structure of the other books. A quatrain on the topic was geared to the younger reader, and the more detailed sidebar was aimed at the older elementary age child.

The varying levels of complexity help make the book useable with a wider range of kids, and I hope teachers and librarians will appreciate that. Alphabet books with this unique structure make concepts accessible and more appealing to the reluctant reader as well.

It was my responsibility to address the history, geography, pop culture, sports, and other unique characteristics of the country while always keeping in mind the book’s exacting audience, the young reader.

The most challenging task was to choose the word or the topic to represent each letter. I made a chart and then started to juggle concepts around. Some were easy. T is for Taj Mahal was one of the first concepts I put on my chart. I had to include the fascinating and romantic story behind the Taj. B is for Bollywood was a no brainer.

Others were not as easy. Should S be for sari? Should D be for Diwali? How would I include India’s cuisine, music, and its many languages?

I was panicked. Was it possible to incorporate everything I wanted within the constraints?

Eventually, after vast amounts of chocolate, many cups of chai, and vociferous nail biting, it all fell into place.

S eventually was for Spices, and it included the section on Indian cuisine. D was for Dress, and it allowed me to include not only the sari but also other forms of dress like the salwar-kameez. And F was for festivals, so I could talk about not only Diwali but other holidays like Holi, which is a spring festival of color.

Robert Crawford’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful and add an amazing depth to the narrative.

My patient critique group made sure that I explained everything I needed to and consoled me when I wailed, “How do you write a quatrain about Export?”

Above all, I am privileged to be a tour guide to India.

New Voice: Marianne Monson on The Mima Journals Vol 1: The Water is Wide

Marianne Monson is the first-time YA author of The Mima Journals Vol 1: The Water is Wide (Deseret Book Co., 2010). From the promotional copy:

When Mima’s mother meets a pair of LDS missionaries in the small English town of Wood Box in 1844, Mima prays that the townspeople won’t treat them any differently.

But when her mother chooses to be baptized, Mima’s worst fears are recognized. Even her best friend refused to stand by her.

So when her mother decides to leave for America, Mima is faced with some hard decisions. Should she stay in London with her brother, or face the journey to America with her mother and her strange new religion?

Book one of three, The Water is Wide, begins the beautifully written adventure of a teenage girl who experiences the life of a pioneer as an outsider.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal?

This book was written because I found myself as a student in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College and suddenly I needed to produce manuscript pages.

Like many writers, I had grown up as an obsessive reader. As a child, my mother claims that I had a penchant for drama and would “transform” into the protagonist from whatever book I happened to be reading at the time, mimicking their patterns of speech and dress.

(I remember elusively darting around corners clutching a notebook after reading Harriet The Spy [by Louise Fitzhugh (Harper & Row, 1964) for example.)

At age seven, I recorded in my journal that when I grew up I wanted to write stories. That desire always stayed with me. Although I wanted to be a writer desperately, I was also terrified of failing.

For years, I pushed my goal of being a writer into the future. I told myself that I would write once I had more life experience. I would write once I had more education. I would write once I had a “writer’s studio” (it is a good thing I didn’t hold out for that, since I still, alas, cannot claim ownership of such an idyllic-sounding space).

And suddenly there I was at Vermont College, surrounded by famous author-teachers, with a deadline looming in my face and a husband and a two-year-old baby waiting for me at home, wondering if I was wasting a goodly amount of both time and money.

Luckily, the deadlines forced me to push aside all my years of fears and excuses and do as Jane Resh Thomas brilliantly recommended: “put your butt in the chair.”

A few years previous, I had studied for a semester in England. While in Yorkshire, I visited a graveyard (I must admit I have always loved old graveyards) where the headstones were tilted and scoured by time.

Several of my own ancestors had been buried in that graveyard, and as I looked over the parish records, I saw their names, baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded in spidery, scrolling ink. Generations of families had been born and raised and buried in this small, rustic town. And then missionaries from the Mormon church arrived and created a religious fervor that tore families and the community apart in many ways.

I had been fascinated by this story, imagining (as authors do) the individuals and their reactions to this situation. I had wanted to write about it at the time, but lacked the confidence (see preceding paragraphs) to begin.

Years later at Vermont College, the graveyard scene came back to me. And I wondered if, perhaps, I could attempt the story. I was very nervous about tackling this subject.

For one thing, religion was a taboo subject in young adult literature at that time (yes, things have changed since then). The fellow students I shared the idea with tended to respond with a blank stare and a rather floundering response.

I had been raised as a Mormon and was used to reactions ranging from comments about cults to follow-up questions involving polygamy. Writing about something so personal to me seemed like I might be opening up an intensely intimate side of myself for public ridicule.

But my Vermont College mentors challenged me to “write what haunts you.” They took the manuscript seriously and asked me to continue with it.

Kathi Appelt taught me that good writing always comes from an intimate, personal space and often involves overcoming fear.

Marion Dane Bauer worked closely with me on the manuscript, challenging me to revise, stay true to Mima’s story, and to tell it as authentically as I was able.

It was an honor to work with such gifted writers and teachers, who truly provided the structure and encouragement I needed to find my own voice.

The novel was completed as my Creative Thesis for the program when I graduated in 2006. An editor at Penguin Putnam was interested in it for a time, but when she eventually passed on the project, I put it away for a while, aware that it needed more revision.

I worked instead on a chapter book series that sold to Deseret Book in 2009. I mentioned the novel in passing to my editor there, and she requested to see it.

I was completely unprepared for my editor’s response. She loved the novel and wanted me to consider developing it into a trilogy. I had always envisioned the book as intended for a broad audience. I felt that Mima’s story was the story of a girl’s journey toward spiritual peace—a journey I hoped would speak to girls with a wide variety of religious backgrounds (or none at all).

I had never imagined the book being published by Deseret Book (a publisher that sells primarily to the Mormon marketplace), since my protagonist is not a member and has asks some pretty difficult questions about the church (including polygamy), but overall it has been a good fit. I particularly love what they did with the cover and the interior design. My editor Heidi Taylor has been a pillar of wisdom and support.

Reading the reviews and responses from readers is always a very emotional experience for me. When they connect with the story, when they respond to Mima’s journey, it is as if the reader and I have had a conversation—connecting us across time and space. It is an exhilarating feeling, a feeling that will motivate me to continue to write for years to come.

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

I teach creative writing and composition/literature at Portland Community College.

Writing is a very solitary activity. Oftentimes, it involves me wrestling my beloved laptop and trying to extrude a morsel of insight from my brain, wringing it drop by precious drop onto my keyboard.

Writing is recursive. I return to the same scenes over and over, revising, reshaping, re-thinking.

Teaching is dynamic, spontaneous, and requires me to interact with live people, which I find to be of enormous benefit both to my emotional sanity as well as to my work as a writer. I learn constantly from my students—about the world, about human nature, and about the power of language to shape our experiences.

It is a blessed privilege to be able to do two things that I love so well and call this a career.

Cynsational Notes

Marianne Monson has always adored antique shops, steamer trunks, and old British Novels. She majored in English Literature at Brigham Young University where she particularly enjoyed studying the Brontes and spent a semester in London. She holds a master’s of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative writing from Vermont College. She teaches English and creative writing at Portland Community College and loves reading to her children, Nathan and Aria.

Editor Interview: Wendy McClure on Albert Whitman

Wendy McClure on Wendy McClure: “I was born and raised in the Chicago area.

“In 1997, I found myself working as an editorial assistant at Albert Whitman after getting my M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“My dad used to joke that I wouldn’t be able to use my poetry skills in any kind of office job, and I’m happy to have proven him wrong!

“I live in Chicago with my fiancé, Chris. (I know it’s a little unusual to be at one publisher for so long, but A.W. Co. has evolved so much over the years that my current job is very different from the one I had here even just five years ago.)”

What kind of young reader were you? What are the books that helped make you the book person you are today?

When it came to picture books, I loved the comfort and reassurance of ordinary details—any kind of illustrated book that provided vast visual inventories of things, such as the Richard Scarry “Big Books.”

Starting in about third grade, I adored the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (193202006)(given recent projects, this is no surprise) and not too long afterward moved on to Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-1869) and even Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).

I liked ambitious reading as a kid, and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (E.P. Dutton, 1978) really blew my mind with its multiple characters and adult points of view.

In junior high, I loved what I now call “70’s grubby jeans novels,” those gritty YA books by Paul Zindel, S.E. Hinton, and others.

What inspired you to focus on editing books for young readers?

I was drawn to children’s books throughout my young adulthood. The best part of my summer job at a day care center was rediscovering picture books.

In grad school, I kept studying fairy tales, and then my first publishing job at a textbook company had me searching libraries for literature selections for a K-8 reading series. By the time I started at Albert Whitman, it seemed like a natural progression.

Do you accept unagented work?

Yes, though these days I’m more likely to send editorial letters for fiction projects rather than picture books.

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submissions process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

Be patient. I don’t have the time I used to have for corresponding with writers, but I do remember names and after several submissions I often recognize when someone has been diligently submitting and working on her craft. In other words, I am paying attention.

Don’t get too hung up on short-term goals, like writing a dazzling query letter. Think of agents and editors as career partners, not gatekeepers—it’s a big difference in attitude.

There’s been a lot of discussion of late about the current state and future of the picture book. What do you think?

I doubt picture books will vanish from the landscape anytime soon. Tablets and other e-book developments will give rise to a lot of fun, innovative stuff, of course, but I think hardcover picture books will also continue to evolve as a result.

In both cases, I think people will want more from picture books—more enhanced features in e-books and more richly detailed physical books. So while picture books are becoming a narrower market, I hope that new developments will make it an even more interesting one.

Albert Whitman is based in Park Ridge, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Does that offer you a different point of view than, say, a NYC-based editor? If so, how?

I think the company’s small size and independent status influences my perspective at least as much as the location. For a small company, the stakes are higher in the sense that every book we publish has to stand out in some way. I don’t go after trends, and I look for writers who are interested in building a career.

As a reader, what have been your favorite new children’s books of 2010-2011 and why?

I’m a big fan of Countdown by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic, 2010) for its wonderful design and approach.

My favorite YA last year was Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian (Push, 2010), which is such a smart novel for girls.

And I really loved Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam CJ Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins (Holt, 2010), because it’s such an innovative take on the subject of mothers and daughters, historically fascinating as well as deeply moving.

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

You can’t please everyone!

You’re also a writer! Please tell us about your own writing?

I write nonfiction for adults mostly, though I’ve published a picture book called The Princess and the Peanut Allergy, illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Whitman, 2009).

I write the pop culture column for BUST, which is an alternative women’s magazine.

My newest book is called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie (Riverhead, April 2011) and it’s exactly what it sounds like—an account of my love affair with the Little House books, including my visits to all the Laura Ingalls Wilder home sites.

Writing it and now promoting it has really brought my writer and children’s book editor worlds together.

What do you do outside the world of publishing?

I write and watch movies with my fiancé, Chris.

Cynsational Notes

Wendy (in red) is pictured with Albert Whitman marketing director Michelle F. Bayuk.

See also Marketing Director Interview: Michelle F. Bayuk on Albert Whitman from Cynsations.

Marketing Director Interview: Michelle F. Bayuk on Albert Whitman

Michelle F. Bayuk on Michelle F. Bayuk: “I’ve been the Director of Marketing here at Albert Whitman & Company since February 2009.

“I was living in New York when I took the job. So shortly after watching President Obama sworn in from a Manhattan bar (a thrilling experience), I packed up a U-Haul and drove through an ice storm to reach Chicagoland (also a thrilling experience, but not the good kind).

“Before that, I was the Marketing Director for the Children’s Book Council, and also worked at many other children’s book publishers, including Millbrook Press and Scholastic – nearly 20 years all together.”

Michelle (left) is pictured with Albert Whitman editor Wendy McClure.

What kind of young reader were you? What are the books that helped make you the book person you are today?

I think the best word would be – ravenous! I literally gobbled them up and moved on to the next…not always remembering all the details, of course. Nancy Drew (Grosset & Dunlap, 1930-) books were my faves (I still love a good series mystery).

When I was at the CBC, I read all the Newbery winners and discovered that The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958) had been quite a transformative book for me – I just didn’t realize it at the time. Rereading it as an adult was quite an eye-opening experience.

I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? (Atheneum, 1970) 30 times as a kid – a fact that resulted in a wonderful conversion with Judy Blume at an ALA conference a few years ago.

What inspired you to focus on marketing books for young readers?

When I got that first job, I thought it was an accident – a wonderful accident – but an accident. But a “ravenous” reader growing up to work in children’s book publishing really isn’t an accident.

And I think I took to marketing because it gives me a chance to participate in the entire publishing process – and work with everyone involved. From the authors and illustrators to the editors and art directors to the teachers, librarians, and booksellers who do the most important part – putting books into the hands of children.

Could you tell us about Albert Whitman? It’s an independent publisher, yes?

Yes, independently owned and operated since 1919 – and only the fourth owners! That makes for some great longevity in decision-making and really helps us look towards the long term. And being fairly small – about 60 book a year – allows us to focus our efforts at every level, editorial, art, marketing and sales.

FYI, Albert Whitman was also the founder of another company – formed before ours – that later became part of Western Publishing – the Golden Books people. There can be some confusion out there – but it’s always fun to explain. [See A Tale of Two Whitmans by Wendy from Boxcars, Books and a Blog.]

Have your marketing strategies changed during the recent economic downturn? If so, how and what is your rationale?

On the marketing front, our primary focus was increasing our visibility in the marketplace. We’ve here for over 90 years making really good books, but we’d become a little bit “lost in the mist.” People remembered us if they needed a book on asthma or diabetes, but didn’t remember that we did a lot more than that. We’ve been out there saying “Here We Are!” so we’ve done pretty well through the “Great Recession.”

Now that people know we’re here, the marketplace is really noticing what great books we have.

How has the list changed over the years? How would you describe the list now?

Well, over 90 years it’s changed numerous times! However, it’s really the changes over the last two years that are most interesting. We’ve also done good, solid books – especially books that were helpful to kids in very specific situations – asthma, adoption, etc. And the Boxcar Children, of course.

We’ve also always had some fiction and some great, fun picture books, but we’ve always been strictly K-6. Last year we launched Board Books, and in 2011, we’ll be launching a YA imprint.

We’re still keeping to that “books that matter” mentality, but we’re also expanding what we mean by that. While some books are very specific – for instance, this spring’s The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Mathies, illustrated by Kristi Valiant (Albert Whitman, 2011). It’s a beautiful picture book about a family dealing with Mom’s breast cancer.

There’s also Doodleday by Ross Collins (Albert Whitman, May 2011) – which is just a fun story about out-of-control doodles wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, but isn’t that also about the importance of imagination and doodling, too? (By the way, we’re working with several other publishers on a big Doodle Day promotion for May 12, 2010. Turns out there is such a thing as Doodle Day sponsored by the National Fibromatosis Foundation.)

What new directions at the house should we know about?

We’ve really been growing our fiction list. 2010 marked a real focus on early chapter book with the launch of two series: The Buddy Files by Dori Hillestad Butler and Zapato Power by Jacqueline Jules (guest post). Both are doing very well, and The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy (Book 1)(Albert Whitman, 2010)(guest post) is on the Texas Bluebonnet Master List for 2011-2012.

We’ll be reissuing and repackaging some of our best middle-grade novels beginning in the fall, as well as that soon-to-announced young adult imprint.

We’re definitely looking for new fiction at all levels.

On the younger end, we plan to start publishing some board book originals. Up until now, all of our board books have been abbreviated editions of well-loved picture books, such as The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max (Albert Whitman, 2010).

This spring marks our first board books created as board books, with What Do You See? and Look Who’s There! by Martine Perrin (Albert Whitman, May 2010). These are die-cut board books with amazingly graphic art. We’re now on the lookout for some great board book manuscripts.

As for our core business – picture books – we’ll continue to look for and publish a wide-variety of books that kids will love – and sometimes need to help explain their world.

In the meantime, we’ll also be reissuing the classic Flicka, Dicka, Ricka titles by Maj Lindman, in deluxe editions.

Oh, and keep an eye out in 2012 for a relaunch of The Boxcar Children!

Big picture, what makes Albert Whitman special?

As a small publisher, we have the opportunity to publish some great books that (for whatever reason) are overlooked by the big guys. Books that have niche subjects or smaller audiences often find a good home with us, but we also have the flexibility to give an author or a series time to develop. And with the strength of The Boxcar Children, we have distribution capabilities not usually found in a small publisher.

Also, when an author or an illustrator or a librarian or a teacher or a bookseller has a marketing question or idea, they know exactly who to call, and I’ll even answer the phone!

I’m just one person and do the types of work that 20-plus people do at the larger houses, but I also have fewer books. I can look at the entire marketing picture.

Same thing in editorial, art, and sales. We can really own a book from start to finish. It’s fun!

As a reader, what have been your favorite new children’s books of 2010-2011 and why?

Aside from all the wonderful Albert Whitman books? Well, I really haven’t finished by 2010 reading. As of this writing, it’s a week or so before ALA Midwinter and I’m feeling very far behind. I like to know all the books as they awards are announced.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Atheneum, 2010) had me crying in a public place, so that’s usually a good indicator. I also enjoyed Countdown by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic, 2010) and Scumble by Ingrid Law (Dial, 2010)(Savvy (Dial, 2008) was my favorite book of that year.)

As for picture books, LMNO Peas by Keith Baker (Beach Lane, 2010) and What If? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook, 2010).

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

Well, I remember that first morning telling myself to “stand up straight, look people in the eyes, and smile.”

What would the current me tell that young woman?

“This is going to be better than you can ever imagine!”

What do you do outside the world of publishing?

Read! Well, I guess that’s not “outside of publishing,” but I do belong to two adult book clubs. I need to make sure I’m reading books for big people too.

I’m also very active in my synagogue. I’m just finishing up a stint as Co-Programming VP of the Sisterhood, and I’ve signed up for an Adult Bat Mitzvah class this spring. (Biting finger nails at the thought….)

Cynsational Notes

See also Editor Interview: Wendy McClure on Albert Whitman from Cynsations.

Enter to Win Postcards Autographed by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Bookmarks Autographed by Mari Mancusi

Update: I’m sorry, but this giveaway has expired. However, you can find the latest monthly giveaways (books, bling, critiques and more) by checking out the most recent Cynsational News & Giveaways post on this blog. It probably ran last Thursday or Friday.

Thanks for your interest!

Are you on facebook?

In celebration of the Texas Library Association annual conference, Literary Lonestars at facebook are giving away Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, Aug. 2011) postcards, signed by me, and bookmarks signed by author Mari Mancusi.

Deadline: April 11.