New Voice: Nikki Shannon Smith on The Little Christmas Elf

Nikki Shannon Smith is the first-time author of The Little Christmas Elf, illustrated by Susan Mitchell (Random House/Little Golden Books, 2011)(author at facebook). From the promotional copy:

Nina, the littlest elf in Santa’s workshop, doesn’t finish the teddy bear she’s making in time for it to get loaded onto Santa’s sleigh-but, encouraged by Santa Claus himself to not give up, she works far into the night to finish it. 

While Santa is out delivering presents, a baby is born. 

Santa comes back for Nina’s now-finished bear—and guess who he takes along to deliver it?

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget “the call.” I wasn’t expecting it at all, and it came during a really chaotic time. I submitted the manuscript in May of 2009, and over a year had gone by. I had given up on the possibility of it becoming a Little Golden Book, and had just submitted it to another publisher.

I was working as the interim principal of the elementary school where I usually teach fourth grade, and the school year had just ended. The campus was practically deserted, and I was trying to finish all of my closing tasks so I could drive to Florida the next day (with hubby, two kids, and father-in-law) for a family wedding.

I arrived in the office, opened my email, and saw Diane Muldrow’s name. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s sweet. She took the time to send a rejection note.”

There was no bitterness; I was genuinely appreciative. But when I opened the email, it wasn’t a rejection. She asked if the manuscript was still available.

Now, I know people say “I couldn’t believe it!” all the time, but I really couldn’t believe it. It had been thirteen months! I think I read that email about four times before I really believed it.

When it sunk in I jumped up and screamed. It must have been a piercing sort of scream, because the secretary came running in. I was crying, and she said, “Nikki, what’s wrong?”

I think she thought there had been a death in my family. I rattled off the story and she hugged me.

I couldn’t sit still, so I grabbed my cell phone and ran out the door. I called every member of my family and not a single one answered the phone!

I went back in to try to compose an email response. I hit reply, but my hands were shaking and I couldn’t type.

Eventually, I sent off an email saying that the manuscript was available.

Right after I hit send, a colleague walked in and my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the incoming number, so I didn’t answer. When my colleague left, I listened to the voic email. I had declined the editor’s call! (How’s that for irony?)

I called her back, and we had a lovely chat where she patiently listened to my excited ramblings.

(Kind of like what I’m doing here. I still get really excited when I think about it.)

I didn’t have a big celebration, but the best part of it all was the shriek on the other end of the line when I told my 10-year-old daughter. That was all the celebration I needed.

That kid had been saying for about six months, “Mommy, maybe it’s taking her so long to answer because she likes it and is taking it to all of her meetings.” She was right!

(Mostly… but that’s another story!)

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I got a lot of great advice, both before and after the book sold, and I took it all. I went to an SCBWI session with Brain Farrey of Flux, and because of that I bought my domain name, got a matching email address and joined Facebook.

I’d been avoiding Facebook for a long time! I used a combination of my nickname, maiden name and last name, because I got a lot of “adult” results when I searched for Nicole Smith and Nikki Smith.

Greg Pincus

When the book sold, all I had to do was build my website. I also got advice from Greg Pincus at a SCBWI conference. I joined Twitter, made sure my website was updated, and started interacting more via social media.

I linked my twitter account to other sites, to make updates easier. I started accounts at Goodreads, JacketFlap, and Author Central (Amazon).

Lia Keyes’ blog had great advice on how to set up a Facebook Fan page, which I followed.

And there is nothing like the grapevine of a gigantic and very supportive family to spread the word!

Next, I had to think more about the book and getting “out there” physically. I combined my own ideas with ideas I found on Alexis O’Neill’s website, School Visit, to create a media kit and information for schools.

I also found great resources on the SCBWI website. I asked neighboring regions of SCBWI to publish my good news in their newsletters. When the opportunity came up to apply to speak at a local SCBWI conference, I took it, and was accepted. I did the same for a local literacy event and was asked to visit the venue twice during the fall/winter seasons.

My name and book title were (or will be) included in the promotional materials for all of these events. I hit the pavement and introduced myself at local bookstores, leaving copies of my book postcard and bio. I also sent out a couple of advance copies for review.

Photo by The Davis Enterprise

All of this felt awkward to me, but I was booked for a few events that I consider to be a “big deal” as a result. For me, it’s a huge perk that each of these events allows me to give back to SCBWI and to my community.

As the release date got closer I combined my own ideas with Michael Stelzner’s launch ideas and did a countdown on my author page.

I contacted our local paper and invited a reporter to the “book birthday party” in my fourth grade classroom on the release date, and he agreed to come with a photographer.

I’m still really nervous about public appearances, but I guess I’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to promoting the book now.

It’s a lot of work, and is sometimes uncomfortable, but I have to admit… I’m loving it! I consider it a celebration to which everyone is invited, and that makes it feel more like a party.

My advice to others would be to take the advice of others! Be proud enough to toot your own horn a little bit, be willing to help others, be yourself, and enjoy your dream come true!

The bedroom-office-exercise-TV room where Nikki wrote her first book. 
She now has a dedicated room for writing.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Teaching to Learn by Louise Hawes from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “I know now, what this mildly famous author missed by not working with new and emerging writers. He missed the chance to grow, to change, to be inspired far beyond his own lonely dreams.”

Pacifiers or Catalysts: Your Choice by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “What fills our lives–what quells our anxiety–can be either positive or negative. The activity we choose can be either a pacifier or a catalyst.”

Conjuring a Young Witch’s World in Watercolor: Marsha Riti from Mark Mitchell at How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator.

Forensics Q&A: Not All Explosives are Created Equal by Kristy Lahoda from QueryTracker.netBlog.

Teaching, Writing and the Practice of Illusion by Uma Krishnaswami from Hunger Mountain: A VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: “‘writing fair’ has always been about creating illusion, placing emotional signposts, manufacturing an effect upon the page. The object is to come at truth, but in the most indirect ways possible.” See also Making a Community that Promotes Creativity by Sarah Aronson and True Confessions of a New and Newbie Teacher by Debby Dahl Edwardson, both also from HM.

SCBWI Tokyo and Hong Kong by Mary Kole from Peek: “We met at the lovely Yokohama International School the Saturday before Halloween and then spent one long day talking about the marketplace, queries, craft, and the submission process.”

Writing as Therapy? by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “It has not provided me an avenue to work out my past and my own emotional baggage on the page. Instead, the hard work I do to make my writing better has spilled out into my non-writing life.”

C.S. Jennings Illustration: an Austin-based illustrator, and sometimes author, working primarily in the children’s media industries. Follow him on Twitter. Note: Christopher is recommended for Saturday children’s book events.

Five-in-One Notebook Special: Children’s Books about Terezín from Candlewick – Editors Elizabeth Bicknell and Kaylan Adair, Authors Paul Janeczko and Ruth Thomson, Publicist Tracy Myracle from The Whole Megillah. Peek from Paul: “I spent a day in the town and in the ‘Little Fortress’ across the Ohře River, taking lots of pictures, visiting the museums, and just being there. I subsequently used the pictures I took as a slide show that I ran on my Mac as a screen saver. So, whenever the computer was on, those images of Terezín slowly floated across the screen of my computer.”

Novelist Fights the Tide by Opening a Bookstore by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: “A collective panic set in among Nashville’s reading faithful. But they have found a savior in Ann Patchett, the best-selling novelist who grew up here.”

The Sad Song of Okinawa: Life is Our Most Precious Treasure from the SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group. Peek: “…the heart-wrenching story of the Battle of Okinawa, ‘World War II’s longest and fiercest battle,’ as told from the perspective of two young Okinawan children. It is in the form of a picture book for young readers, but certain to stimulate discussion among all age groups about the nature of war and peace.”

Comics Showcased at NYC Librarian Conference from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: “…how do you address the student who comes in looking for books—comic books—on a certain level?”

Congratulations to Horn Book editor Roger Sutton who received the Norton Juster Award for dedication to children’s literature and literacy from the Reader to Reader Foundation.

Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform? by Mary Kole from Peek: “…platform shouldn’t be the thing you need to focus on before you write your manuscript. Once you get a book deal, you’ll need to shift into two modes, a) marketing Debut Novel, and b) writing Follow-up Novel. But that’s after.”

Congratulations to Thanhha Lai, author Inside Out & Back Again (Harper), on winning the National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature! Read an interview with Thanhha by Eisa Ulen from the National Book Foundation. Note: congratulations also to Fiction winner (and fellow University of Michigan graduate) Jesmyn Ward.

So Who Do We Write For? (Featuring Kathi Appelt, Tom Birdseye, Shutta Crum, Sharon Darrow, Jane Kurtz, Julie Larios, David Lubar, and Leda Schubert) by Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek from David: “Perhaps it marks me as a mutant, curmudgeon, or semi-solipsist, but I generally write with no audience in mind.” See also more on audience from Stacy DeKeyser, Kimberley Griffiths Little, and Barbara Brooks Wallace.

SCBWI’s Open Letter to the Kidlit Industry about No-Response-Means-A-Rejection Policies from Lee Wind at SCBWI: The Blog. Peek: “As an organization, we encourage both publishers and agents to find a cost-effective and efficient way to let writers know that they are free to submit elsewhere.”

Back Up Your Blog by Greg Pincus from The Happy Accident. Peek: “Whatever platform you use to host your blog, it probably has a way to back it up. It’s worth doing for peace of mind.”

All Vulnerable All the Time and Not Knowing Why by Jane Kurtz from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “That’s one good thing about having lived through eighth grade–we have those feelings inside of us that we can use in our writing.”

Reminder: Call for Entries! Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Award (Children’s Book $500)(YA Book $500) from the Texas Institute of Letters. Deadline: Jan. 9 postmark. Requirements include a “statement of eligibility confirming that the entrant was born in Texas or lived in Texas for at least two consecutive years at some time. A work whose subject matter substantially concerns Texas is also eligible.”

(Simon Pulse, Jan. 2012)

Live Action Book Trailer Contest for Film-making Enthusiasts from K.M. Walton. Prizes include: $500; personal film critiques by top industry professionals (an Oscar nominee, the director of the major motion picture “The Mighty Macs,” writers for the MTV Movie Awards, and more). Deadline: Jan. 17, 2012.

Interview with Debbi Michiko Florence from Voicu Mihnea Simandan. Peek: “My heart goes out to the people of Japan.”

Meeting Gandhi’s Grandson, the Making of a Picture Book by Bethany Hegedus from ALSC Blog. Peek: “I sat in my wooden seat in the middle of Town Hall and turned to a friend and said, ‘These stories would make a beautiful picture book.’ She agreed. But it was an idea for someone else. Not for me. I left Town Hall, after hearing Arun speak, stronger, less broken, and more able to forgive, albeit slowly.”

What Not to Blog About by Rachelle Gardner. Peek: “…if you’re engaging in social networking as a way to help your writing career, you can’t afford major missteps in your online persona. The trick is to be a real person without over-sharing.”

Last Call: Light Up the Library Auction: bid for a chance to win agent critiques, author Skype visits, original art and much more!

See also This Week for Writers from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing, which includes links to even more roundups.

Picture Book Month

Picture Book Idea Month

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Candlewick, 2011)!  To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Lala Salma” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30. Note: View an inside spread.

The winner of The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, 2011) was Halli in North Carolina.

Enter to win a prize pack for The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister by Kami Kinard (Scholastic, 2011) from Uniquely Moi Books. Includes a signed ARC of The Boy Project, a tote bag, two cards, and bracelets.

Enter to win the Elevensies 2011 Book Feast Giveaway! Deadline: Dec. 30.

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Cynsational Screening Room

Picture Book Month 2011 Trailer from Carter Higgins on Vimeo.

The official trailer to “Hunger Games” (2012).

More Personally

Greg and I hosted a writing day on Tuesday in our dining room. Breakfast was comprised of blueberry pastry bread, egg burritos, fresh strawberries, tangerines, ginger chocolate, Oreo cookies, baked Lays potato chips, croissants, and peanut butter cups. Lunch was penne marinara with squash, and we had brie and French bread after we finished writing for the day.

Mari Mancusi, K.A. Holt, Liz Garton Scanlon, Margo Rabb & Greg Leitich Smith.
Erin Edwards, Sean Petrie, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Highlights of the week also included Austin Comic Con!

Pictured: Joy Preble (purple), Jo Whittemore (Batgirl), P.J. Hoover (goddess), Danny and Julie (the owners of Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas), Cory Putnam Oats (silver), Mari Mancusi, (cat), and in front Jessica Lee Anderson (Calli), Madeline Smoot (Mouseketeer), and K.A. Holt (zombie).

See my full photo report on the convention!

Thanks to librarian Nidia S. Rodriguez for sending the following photos of United High School students at my online author visit to five Laredo, Texas schools!

Thanks also to S. Laurel, who read Eternal with all of her classes! What a wonderful event! 
The next best thing to being there!

And once more, thank you to Carmen A. Escamilla, the additional librarians/IT gurus, and students who made my online visit yesterday with Alexander High School, L.B.J. High School, United High School, United High School (9th Grade) and United South High School in Laredo, Texas such a great experience! Thanks for your wonderful questions and for your enthusiasm for the Tantalize series!

Kirkus Reviews says of Diabolical (Candlewick, 2012): “A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor.”

Congratulations to P.J. Hoover on the sale of Brazilian rights to Solstice!

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Holiday Tree Lighting and Author Signing at LBJ State Park! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for the tree lighting ceremony at LBJ State Park from 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Cynthia will be signing Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010). Lucy Johnson will be speaking briefly at the event, and Santa may make an appearance, too. See more information.

See also Cynthia’s upcoming events in Austin, Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Guest Post: Joseph Bruchac on Writing Fantasy & Wolf Mark

By Joseph Bruchac

First of all, I’ve been a fan of fantasy and science fiction for most of my life.

One of the happiest weeks of my childhood was when my grown-up cousin Bobby, figuring I was old enough (having turned twelve), showed me his collection of sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. More than three hundred of them were carelessly stacked on the floor of my uncle Harry’s unheated attic.

“I’ve read them all,” he said, “take as many as you want.”

I took them all, loading them thirty at a time in the basket of my bike pedaling the two miles home and then two miles back to get more. Van Vogt, Lord Dunsany, Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Howard, Vance. . .

I still have most of them, their yellowed pages and the prices on their covers (none more than 35 cents) reminding me how many decades have passed since then. And in those decades I’ve continued reading fantasy and have even taught courses in it on the college level.

Secondly, I’ve also always been a person who loves and feels a strong connection to our animal brothers and sisters, so much so that when I went to Cornell University I spent three years majoring in Wildlife Conservation before changing my major to English after taking several creative writing courses and embarking on a career as a successful poet who also wrote fiction and eventually ended up–after having my own children–as a children’s writer.

Among those books for young people (and teachers) is the “Keepers of the Earth” series I co-authored with Michael Caduto, which uses American Indian traditional stories to teach science.

And then there is my Indian background, my interest in the real history and authentic culture of my own Abenaki ancestors and those of the other first nations of this continent. That interest is reflected in my work as a traditional storyteller and in most of what I write.

And I am deeply committed to pointing out whenever I can that American Indians and our cultures are neither vanished nor irrelevant relics, but part of the fabric of American life today.

So, when I first came up with the idea of writing Wolf Mark (Tu Books, 2011), I brought to it not only a wide knowledge of the field of fantasy but also a great deal of knowledge of the natural world, and a desire to reflect American Indian culture in a way which was neither stereotyped nor one-dimensional.

(One aspect of American Indian cultures, past and present, is a good sense of humor–often ironic and self-mocking. I’ve tried to use that indigenous sense of humor in the book and hope that readers find themselves laughing while they read it as much as I did while writing it.)

The best fantasy works for me when it is not just based in imagination, but in a world that seems as if it could–or should–be real.

Thus, in creating the setting, the characters, and the overall story, I did an immense amount of research. That research was not just into the entire werewolf mythos–in folklore, film and print–but also into such esoteric fields as firearms, spy lore, Russian rock and roll and contemporary Russian teenage slang. I also blended as much literature as I could into the story, not just in my translation of a poem or two by Anna Ahkmatova, but also places where I have paraphrased or quoted poetry from the past.

I should also mention that I’ve been studying and teaching martial arts for over three decades and hold the rank of Master in the Indonesian fighting system called Pencak-silat. So those moments when Luke makes use of his training reflect that reality as well.

Photo of Joe by Michael Greenlar

Most importantly, I tried in writing the book to honor an important part of my Abenaki storytelling tradition–the part that emphasizes that a good story must always have at least two elements to it. The first element is that it must entertain. The second is that it must teach. I hope I’ve succeeded in sharing a story that’s not just exciting but also a sort of morality tale.

The last thing I want to mention is the difference I hope the reader sees between most werewolves and Luke when he puts on his second skin.

Rather than losing control and giving way to a “bestial nature,” Luke simply becomes more himself. And that is as it should be, for the wolf is not a figure of fear to American Indians. Wolves are regarded as teachers, as scouts, as role models. There never was a war between us and the wolf, but a relationship of respect.

And anyone who has been around real wolves–as I often have–knows what powerful creatures they are and that they have no desire to cross our paths or attack us.

True, we do have traditions in most of our Native cultures about “skin walkers,” humans who use power in a twisted way to take on an animal shape. But we have just as many if not more stories about people who are adopted by animals, who become animals themselves without any desire to harm humans or do the sort of things that are usually caused by human jealousy and greed and desire for power.

The characters in my novel who are that kind of “skin walker” are to be found in the Maxico Corporation and have nothing to do with American Indian legend, though you could see them as connected to the European werewolf archetype.

There’s a lot more that I could say about the writing of Wolf Mark–a journey that sometimes took me in unexpected directions.

But I’ll end this here without going much further into the story–and possibly spoiling it for those who’ve not yet read it and would be happy to do without further critical exegesis…such as my pointing out the places in the novel where I have gently parodied some of the cliches in werewolf stories or reflected a bit of Poe or Lovecraft or Lon Chaney.

But I will nod to one more writer who has been an influence on my career and my worldview. Walt Kelly, whose Will Rogers-like possum Pogo pointed out another of the crucial points I wanted to make in Wolf Mark: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”

Cynsational Notes

Teatime Tuesday with Joseph Bruchac by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBtastic Reads. Peek (on his writing space): “It’s at the end of a dead end road, next to a seven acre pond with hundreds of acres of wilderness beyond the 12 acres I own there. I can hear the wind in the trees and the sound of leaves falling to the earth and I’m visited often by deer, wild turkeys, and can find the tracks of bears and moose nearby, though they’re seldom seen…”

Guest Post: Anne Ursu on Happily Ever After (or Not)

By Anne Ursu

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Gerda and Kai are best friends until the day a shard of magic mirror falls into Kai’s eye and he’s cruel to Gerda.

In Breadcrumbs (HarperCollins, 2011), the same thing happens to Minneapolis fifth-graders Hazel and Jack. They’re best friends in the world, until one day Jack just changes. And then he disappears. Hazel learns he’s been taken into the woods by a witch-like woman in white. Her plan is simple: go into the woods, save her friend, and they can all live happily ever after.

But the fairytale woods in Breadcrumbs are not a happily-ever-after kind of place. Really, fairytale woods rarely are. The Cinderella-type stories that end with palace weddings and promises of eternal bliss are the succulent gingerbread houses that lure us into the fey world of mischief, vendettas, curses, and cruelty, where children are neglected, orphaned, abandoned—and that’s just at the beginning.

Child readers devour the tales, knowing full well what really lurks inside gingerbread houses. I think the idea that fairy tales are happy comes from adults, from a wish they have for kids and for the stories they love.

It’s easy to be so dazzled by fairy-godmother glass slippers that you forget a pair of shoes can just as easily make a girl dance herself to death.

We try so hard to protect our kids from the world as long as we can—hiding the ugly bits, promising certainty, security, a happily ever after. As adults writing for kids we protect our child characters, too. My first draft didn’t ask much of my protagonist Hazel, because I wanted the misfit girl in the beginning of the book to learn to feel okay about herself. And while Hazel struggled with the shifting landscapes of the real world, when she went into the enchanted woods she was fine. But I started this book wanting to write about growing up, and I wasn’t doing anything to help Hazel do so.

I recently worked with a student who was writing a book about a boy with Asperger’s. The character was so deeply felt that as a reader I dreaded the struggle he would go through. But in the first draft, he didn’t struggle. The writer couldn’t put this boy through the sort of hardship protagonists are supposed to experience. She kept throwing in people and situations that protected him, eased him–the fairy godmothers of narrative—because part of her simply could not bear to have him suffer.

We talked about this, and she came back next time with a manuscript full of tests and trials for the boy, and a quote for me from a memoir by Tim Page about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s:

“For some of us, stories where the characters don’t live happily ever after, where the hero is too late to save the day, where nothing is redeemed are curiously restorative, for they present a vision of the world that serves to reinforce what we see with our own eyes, and the truth is not so terrible that it can’t be told.”

That’s it. The truth is not so terrible that it can’t be told. Sometimes the world is completely outside of the child’s control. Growing up is a process of change, all the time, and the rules change too. Friends fall away, people get sick, families break apart, other kids are cruel. Nothing is assured, least of all happy endings. But that doesn’t mean the world isn’t so terrible you can’t live in it. That you can’t thrive in it.

The trick is simply figuring out how. And this is what stories help kids do.

The Cinderella ending is about safety and sameness. It’s a reassurance that everything will be okay for the heroine as soon as the fairy godmother appears and waves her wand. And the heroine doesn’t have to do anything but wait around. It is tidy, and easy, and it is small comfort.

Anne Ursu

Growth is something else. It is about a journey, it’s about maturity and strength earned through hardship. It might not mean you get what you want at the end, it might mean you carry scars, it might mean you’ve lost things along the way. But it also means you’re more able to live in the world as it is, to slay whatever dragons might come across your path in the future.

In the woods Hazel encounters people who have been lured in by the gingerbread-house exterior of fairytales. They believe in a happily-ever-after universe and so cannot live in the real one—and in their attempt to escape they’ve become trapped.

It’s not Hazel’s lot to be entrapped by stories—but rather to absorb them, to integrate them into her own understanding of the world even as they threaten and try to break her. The woods never affirm Hazel—they rock her and change her—but by going through them she’ll be better able to find her footing in the real world. And the magic in it, too.

Anne’s office

Governor General’s Awards Announced

Congratulations to the winners of the Governor General’s Awards, Canada’s oldest and most prestigious awards for English- and French-language Canadian literature!

Children’s Literature — Text

Christopher Moore, Toronto, From Then to Now: A Short History of the World (Tundra)

Martin Fournier, Québec, Les aventures de Radisson – 1. L’enfer ne brûle pas (Les éditions du Septentrion)

Children’s Literature — Illustration

Cybèle Young, Toronto, Ten Birds, text by Cybèle Young (Kids Can)

Caroline Merola, Montreal, Lili et les poilus, text by Caroline Merola (Dominique et Compagnie, a division of Éditions Héritage)

Source: Lena Coakley, Cynsations Canada reporter.

Event Report: Austin Comic Con

Me with Greg–I also wore a long Gothic-style gown to the convention (on day 2).
Thanks to Wizard World for offering me a complimentary table in artist’s alley at Austin Comic Con
It was my first time at the show, and after consulting with fellow kidlit graphic novelists Barry Lyga, Jenni Holm and Matthew Holm, I decided to use the opportunity as a reader meet-and-greet.  
Greg Leitich Smith and I did giveaways of signed bookmarks and postcards, “blood” candy, and signed copies of Tantalize and Eternal as well as my own debut graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story
I’m the world’s biggest Babymouse fan!
We didn’t advertise the giveaways–so as not to be mobbed by people simply grabbing free stuff–but rather let readers come and find us. We had some terrific conversations, dished on the series to established fans and hopefully won over new readers, too! 
To everyone who teared up, yelped, started bouncing, ran to drag your best friends over, or couldn’t leave without a photo and hug, it’s an enormous honor to write for you!
Thanks to all the YA readers, artists, librarians, and booksellers who stopped by to chat!

Upon arriving, I was charmed to find myself positioned across from Peter Mayhew (AKA Chewbacca) of “Star Wars” fame. 
Lending him my packing tape was the closest I’ll ever come to an I-Saved-the-Wookie moment. Check out Peter’s books, My Favorite Giant and Growing Up Giant. Note: he did a reading on Sunday, which was designated as “kid’s day” at the convention. 
From there, the event was a blur of costumed fun. Here are a few highlights!
Green Lanterns were in abundance.
Austin author-illustrator Jeff Crosby.
The Riddler–very much in character!
Batman, likewise completely in character.
Author-editor Madeline Smoot & authors Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover & Joy Preble.
Steampunk — major representation!
The Joker.
Austin authors K.A. Holt & Jo Whittemore.
Captain Jack Sparrow.
R2D2 — at my table!
Hogwarts students.
Austin author-illustrator C.S. Jennings–at the very next table! Super nice guy!
A better pic of our table!

Celebrity sightings also included James Marsters and Juliet Landau (Spike & Dru of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” fame). Oh, and ask P.J. Hoover about Kevin Sorbo–really.

New Voice: Jane Kohuth on Estie the Mensch

Jane Kohuth is the first-time author of Estie the Mensch, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Random House, 2011)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

What’s a mensch, and why does her family keep telling Estie to be one? She’d much rather be a jungle cat, or an alligator, or an octopus. But if being a mensch means helping a new friend, then maybe it’s not so bad after all?

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

Like many people who go on to be writers, I had an outsized love of books from the beginning. I maintain vivid memories of my earliest reading — specific images from picture books and collections of nursery rhymes, snippets of sound that still roll around my inner ear, characters who still make surprise visits.

My childhood reading experience was so powerful, so overwhelming to the senses, that I admit to not really having grown up properly as a reader. Sure, I went to college, majored in English and read literature I loved, but in that deep place of the imagination where my reading mind lurks, I still identify most powerfully with children’s books and the characters in them.

The child who loved rhymes and filled notebooks with poems fell easily into the short form, the rhythmic lines, the minute attention to language that picture books and poems share. So when I decided to move from writing poetry for adults to writing children’s books, I felt most natural working with the picture book form.

My debut picture book, Estie the Mensch, has its roots in a particular childhood reading experience. When I was about ten, I was very disappointed to discover that Anastasia Krupnik (by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin, 1979) celebrated Christmas. Anastasia seemed Jewish to me, her name sounded Jewish, but, it turned out, her mother was Christian, and the family put up Christmas decorations.

I am an omnivorous reader, and that was true when I was a child as well. I liked realism, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, even the occasional sports story if it was written well (despite the fact that in real life I detested sports). I enjoyed reading about children from other places and times, but I was also very interested in reading about children like me. That meant Jewish, observant but not Orthodox, city dwellers.

But I couldn’t find any books like that. I’d settle for Jewish non-city dwellers, but there weren’t any of those either. There was a handful of excellent historical fiction, the already thirty-year-old All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor (Follet, 1951) among them. I loved the family of five sisters and the way the books were not about being Jewish, but showed how Judaism was important to the family’s rhythm of life.

But when characters were Jewish (or half-Jewish) in books about contemporary life, Judaism itself rarely made an appearance.

When I began writing for children, I knew from my continued reading of children’s books (I spent time as a children’s bookseller and library assistant) that the type of Jewish-oriented books available hadn’t changed much since I’d been a child. Jewish-themed picture books were (and are) still dominated by holiday stories, folk-tales, and historical fiction, while contemporary realism in all ages ranges featuring actively Jewish characters was still rare. I wanted to write the books I’d longed for as a child, both for Jewish children growing up now, and to add to the growing collection of multicultural books for children of all backgrounds.

But when I showed my manuscript for Estie the Mensch, a story which features a contemporary Jewish family, to agents, I heard the opinion that Jewish-themed books wouldn’t sell to major publishers.

After the acceptance of my first book, the early reader Ducks Go Vroom (Random House, 2011) my agent Becca Stumpf (the Prospect Agency) submitted a number of my manuscripts to my editor Christy Webster (PDF). We were both quite surprised that the one the Random House team chose was Estie!

So while my picture book manuscripts cover all kinds of subjects and themes, Estie the Mensch, holds a special place in my heart, and I’m very pleased that it will be my first published picture book.

As a picture book writer, how did you learn your craft? What were your natural strengths? Greatest challenges?

After my undergraduate years as an English and Creative Writing major, I chose to pursue at Master’s in Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. This was an intense and thought-provoking experience which informs my writing, but it did not teach me the nitty gritty details of crafting a book. So when I decided to “switch careers” only a couple of years in to working in Jewish education, and not being in a position to take out more student loans for an M.F.A., I set out to teach myself.

I had never stopped reading children’s books, but I stepped up my reading drastically. I joined SCBWI. I attended the New England Regional Conference every year. I joined a newly forming critique group, which continues to meet twice a month. I’ve learned so much from my fellow writers, whose various backgrounds offer a great variety of strengths. I read articles and books on writing, and I practiced. I figured out what it felt like to write a picture text, what sort of thought process I needed, what sort of ideas could work. I generated ideas by the dozen and got into the habit of thinking all the time about whether there was a story in a particular word, feeling, image, or memory. I began to read picture books like a writer of picture books, and that made my reading all the more helpful.

My natural strengths are a facility with poetic language — rhyme, meter, rhythm, assonance and alliteration. I’m good at writing short too, which is key to writing publishable picture book manuscripts.

My greatest challenges are crafting a narrative structure for my stories and creating enough conflict and suspense to sustain a listener’s interest.

When I first received comments about not having enough conflict in my manuscripts, I was confused. I didn’t necessarily want to write loud blustery stories. It took me some time to learn that conflict didn’t mean scary, intense, or angry, it meant a challenge that a character faces, internal or external, that drives the story and makes the reader want to find out what happens.

I was also relieved to learn that some books are concept books rather than story books, and that the rules of narrative structure you hear about don’t always apply.

I am still very much in the process of learning my craft, still looking for opportunities to learn more. I’m fairly sure I’d be fooling myself if I looked forward to a day when I’d be ready to approach writing with complete confidence. But complete confidence is boring. Much better for each new project to be an adventure.

Jane’s workspace.

Cynsational Notes

Take the Mensch Challenge for a Chance to Win Estie the Mensch from Jane Kohuth. Peek: “Send me a short description of a way you’ve been a mensch and, if you have one, a photo, and you could be my Mensch of the Month!”

Jane looks forward to the release of Duck Sock Hop (Dial, 2012).

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Dead Girl Walking (Book #1 in the Dead Girl series) by Linda Joy Singleton Price Drop for Nook Readers: now available for $2.51. Note: you can also order a paperback copy from Indiebound. Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy Singleton about Dead Girl Walking.

Things I’ve Learned from Beverly Cleary by Caroline Starr Rose from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. Peek: “Though she doesn’t shy away from awkward moments, there is a tenderness in the way Cleary deals with Ramona when she throws up in class, when she kicks her bedroom walls in anger, when she names her doll the most beautiful name she can think of.”

Age: Are You Too Old to Write? by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “You have tremendous writing potential because you’ve lived long enough to have learned a lot. You have life experience!” Note: looking for a role model? Try Betty X Davis.

American Indians and Diversity in Young Adult Literature by Debbie Reese from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: “The story itself is heartbreaking for what it tells us about government programs that, in this case, used Native children as subjects for scientific experiments. Debby’s book (My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Marshall Cavendish)) is inspiring, too, because it also tells us just how strong Indigenous people and our Nations are, in spite of all the governmental programs designed to ‘kill the Indian and save the man.'” Note: includes bibliography of middle grade and YA recommendations.

Diversity Matters: Trent Reedy on Insider/Outsider Narratives and the Young Afghan Girl Who Inspired Words in the Dust from Tracy at Tall Tales and Short Stories. Peek: “It’s important for all writers of realistic fiction, whether cultural insiders or outsiders, to strive to write a story that is at least possible, while accepting that the story will not, cannot, represent or be ‘true to life’ about the entire population at large.”

Encouragement for Writers: An Agent Success Story with Jenny Murray from Christy’s Creative Space. Peek: “I received a few personal rejections. They were gifts because they helped me see the hard work that still needed to be done. They gave me direction.”

2012 Books by Austinites by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.Check out upcoming titles from this dynamic childrens-YA writing community.

Attention Texas Authors & Illustrators! Please consider making a donation to the Austin SCBWI Bastrop Library Fund. Peek: “They have planned to tie two children’s books together with a ribbon and put a package into as many children’s hands as they possibly can.” See more information.

Anneographies: children’s book author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday.

Early Readers vs. Picture Books by Robin Smith from The Horn Book. Peek: “Books for new readers tend to have a few characteristics that are not required for picture books.”

How To Set Up An Author Or Book Page On Google+ (Part 1) by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: “You may already have a Google+ Profile page. While there are many similarities between a Google+ Profile Page and a Google+ Page, here are some differences…”

Writing on a Theme by Mary Kole from Peek: “What is the big question you want your story to answer? What is the thing you’re asking or hoping to express about the universe and life itself? What are you exploring? What do you wish you could solve about your own life? What have you observed about being alive? That’s your Big Idea and/or Big Question and I think every book should have it…otherwise, what’s the point?” See also Mary on Query Personalization and Territory by Laura Oliver from Glimmer Train Press; source: Jane Friedman.

Recommended Realistic Fiction for Boys by Kristen Remenar from ReaderKidZ. Peek: “My son loves his family very much, but he doesn’t want to read about families, or school, or anything to do with relationships, and these are the most common elements in contemporary realistic fiction for kids.  So I found books that met the requirements that are funny, or have an irresistible plot twist, or tell a story where the reader wishes he could be there, too.”

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Shandra Strickland from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Picture books give me freedom to interpret the story in my own way. I can add elements that aren’t necessarily in the text, and I have plenty of room to develop the story. Because I have more experience at making books now, my approach to illustrating an emergent reader would be much different than when I was starting out.”

The Writing Life by Sherryl Clark from Books and Writing. Peek: “Making writing your life can mean other unchallenging, boring things can fall off your plate, and you let them without any sense of obligation. Your life is now a challenge instead of a trudge from day to day.” Source: Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid.

Treating the Pain of Rejection by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “The only way writers can avoid rejection is to avoid submitting work. Considering that abstinence is a pretty harsh therapy, I suggest you do the exact opposite: submit everything, submit often, submit everywhere. Kind of a hair-of-the-dog approach.”

Call for Entries! Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Award (Children’s Book $500)(YA Book $500) from the Texas Institute of Letters. Deadline: Jan. 9 postmark. Requirements include a “statement of eligibility confirming that the entrant was born in Texas or lived in Texas for at least two consecutive years at some time. A work whose subject matter substantially concerns Texas is also eligible.”

Two Promotional Things Every Middle Grade Author Should Do by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa’s Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: “By the way, I get a lot of mother-daughter book clubs requesting my discussion guide. Do you know how happy this makes me? Very happy!”

A Seven-Point System for Evaluating Picture Books for a Wide Range of Audiences by Uma Krishnaswami from Spellbinders. Peek: “Think about picture books in terms of these criteria. Keep the related considerations in mind to find the right ones for audiences from elementary to high school and beyond.”

Set Your Goals: Step by Step by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! Peek: “A regular review of your personal goals can keep you on track, or help you recognize when it’s time to change. Once you identify your priorities, you can take steps to get there.” See also Procrastination Tip: Jump In! by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid.

Author Impact of Amazon Kindle Owners’ Lending Library from Rachelle Gardner. Peek: “Right now, a major issue is how payment to publishers will be handled, and then how publishers will in turn pay their authors.”

See also This Week for Writers from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing.

Global Connections

Global Connections to Authors & Books with the Hans Christian Andersen Award from

“In an effort to build awareness about the remarkable books written for children and teens across the globe, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has established the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Every two years, one author and one illustrator are selected as recipients of the award, considered by many to be the world’s most prestigious in children’s publishing. Maurice Sendak, for example, is the only illustrator from the United States to ever win this award.

“In the spirit of IBBY’s mission to foster global connections to great books and stories, has developed the following digital collection of recordings and websites. This archive introduces fans of children’s and young adult books to the authors and illustrators that have been nominated for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award.

“We contacted and recorded as many of the 57 nominees from 32 countries as we could, and present below audio recordings of these men and women accurately pronouncing and speaking about their names, as well as their personal websites or Wikipedia entries.

“We hope that these materials enable readers to become aware of the passion and the personalities that bring books and children together, worldwide.” See more information.

Light Up the Library Auction Update

Join in Jean Reidy‘s Light Up the Library online auction celebrating the release of her latest picture book Light Up the Night, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Hyperion, 2011) and benefiting the library at Musana Children’s Home in Iganga, Uganda! The auction will continue until Nov. 18.

Highlights include:

Picture Book Month

Picture Book Idea Month

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, 2011)!  To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “The Flint Heart” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 14.

Notes: Read a sample chapter (PDF) and A Conversation with the Creators of The Flint Heart (PDF), both from Candlewick. Listen to an audio of Katherine Paterson discussing the book.

Enter to win Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Candlewick, 2011)!  To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Lala Salma” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30.

Note: View an inside spread.

The winner of Waiting to Forget by Sheila Kelly Welch (namelos, 2011) was Tessa in California. Read a guest post by Sheila on How a Bionic Author Joined the Digital Age.

Celebrate Malinda Lo‘s newly redesigned and relaunched official author site by entering to win the tie-in giveaway, featuring 10 signed hardcover copies of Huntress (Little, Brown), as well as three paperback U.K. editions, three paperback U.K. editions of Ash (Little, Brown), and a bunch of Ash posters (12×18 inches).

Enter to win Malinda Lo Giveaway!

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Party of the Week (That, Alas, I Missed)

From the opening reception for the 22nd Annual Children’s Illustration Exhibit Nov. 6 to Jan. 15 at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts; see more pics!

Front Row: Paul Jacobs, Rebecca Guay, Diane deGroat, Richard Michelson, Karla Gudeon, Sara Levine, Nancy Carpenter, Angela DiTerlizzi, Heidi Stemple; Second Row: Steven Withrow, Lesley Breen Withrow, Jennifer Swender, Jane Yolen, Jane Dyer, Barry Moser, Burleigh Muten, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Lesleá Newman, Kathy Brown, Tony DiTerlizzi; Third Row: Wendell Minor, Jules Feiffer, Raul Colón, David Hyde Costello, Neil Waldman; Back Row: Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Tom Warburton, Scott Fischer, Mo Willems, David Milgrim

More Personally

Thank you to Carmen A. Escamilla, the librarians/IT gurus, and students who made my online visit yesterday with Alexander High School, L.B.J. High School, United High School, United High School (9th Grade) and United South High School in Laredo, Texas such a great experience! Thanks for your wonderful questions and for your enthusiasm for the Tantalize series!

Thoanks to Bethany Hegedus for sending this shelf shot of Blessed (Walker Books, 2011) from a bookshop in Dublin, Ireland.

Is Austin, Texas Paradise for YA Authors? by David Duhr from Publishing Perspectives. Peek: “Where can you find a tight-knit, post-Potter community with strong leadership and a mentoring tradition for young adult writers? In the middle of Texas, y’all.”

Cover Stories: Tantalize: Kieren’s Story from Melissa Walker. Peek: “The cover illustration of Kieren is very masculine at a time when depictions of boys in YA cover art tend to skew pretty. This feels authentic to Kieren, who’s determined not to be a danger to others but is still willing to go dominant when interacting with other shifters.”

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Cory Putnam Oates on the release of The Veil (Octane, 2011)!

Find me at facebook, twitter, JacketFlap, Google+, LiveJournal, and YouTube.

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing in Artists Alley at Austin Comic Con, scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Austin Convention Center. Greg Leitich Smith will be sharing the table, and fellow Austinite Jeff Crosby will be featured at another table in the alley.

Also look for Writing Ninjas, Jessica Lee Anderson, Jason Henderson, K.A. Holt, P.J. Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Cory Putnam Oakes, Joy Preble, Madeline Smoot, Tracy Deebs at booths #521/523. See more on Cynthia’s appearance at Austin Comic Con.

Holiday Tree Lighting and Author Signing at LBJ State Park! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for the tree lighting ceremony at LBJ State Park from 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Cynthia will be signing Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010). Lucy Johnson will be speaking briefly at the event, and Santa may make an appearance, too. See more information.

See also Cynthia’s upcoming events in Austin, Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Agent to Agent Interview: Erin Murphy & Tricia Lawrence

EM: We’ve had an interesting, unexpected growth spurt at Erin Murphy Literary Agency over the last few months.

It all started when I was brainstorming about how I could manage my time better so I was focused even more on my clients. I figured out that one discrete chunk of stuff was social media/website work, and I was trying to find someone who could do that for me.

And along comes this email from Tricia Lawrence, who had 16 years of experience as a freelance editor and as an early adopter of social media who had been on the cutting edge of using social media to promote books and authors. She was looking for an internship so she could explore becoming a literary agent. It was a match made in heaven.

TL: I admit it! I have been following Erin’s agency for a few years (you know, kid standing outside a candy store, hands pressed up against the glass, wishing with all her might to go inside?) and when Erin brought on Ammi-Joan Paquette in 2009, I was the typical heartbreaking story: sitting in a cubicle in my employer’s London office, hating every beige and gray minute. I thought to myself, “If I could ever do that, my life would be perfect” (yes, I was that person) and then promptly forgot about it and went back to copyediting medical disorder monographs.

EMLA New Release

Oh, how my life has changed, and I am so glad I sent that email to Erin. It was a total long shot, but I was encouraged by a writer friend to just try. And I did and Erin was so gracious and open! I like when life works like that.

EM: Me too! Not too long after Tricia started working with us, Ammi-Joan Paquette and I had our annual agency retreat, and Tricia came.

She did a session about using social media to market and did one-on-one consultations with our client attendees, and so many authors came out of those consultations inspired to try some new things—empowered, I’d say.

It had all been this big amorphous “should” to a lot of our clients before, and Tricia made it concrete and approachable. Some people are just naturals at it, but others need some TLC to make the leap.

TL: What book promotion boils down to is telling a really good story. Most all marketing (even if you’re selling toothbrushes) is about a good story. So authors have a particularly convenient head start on this. They already have the story!

But promoting a book must become about supporting the current book and the past books and any future books, so I ask authors to look closely at their body of work (if they’re unpublished, what is their passion?) and try to find patterns—a theme underlying everything that they write, talk, dream about.

EMLA New Release

Authors write a book from their heart and soul; promotion for books can come from that same place, I say. I call this an axiom—it is my way of avoiding the dreaded “platform” that we are all just sick of now—and an author’s axiom can be anything: unlikely friendships, hope in darkness, bullying kills a bully’s brain cells, a thesis of sorts that an author is seeking to prove in her books and in her life and what she cares deeply about.

That is what you blog about, talk about, use to develop themes in current books and new books, tweet about (especially if current events can support your axiom; or start to argue with your axiom; we like conflict!), and of course, later on, can provide inspiration for future projects. Thus, an axiom must be bigger than a current book.

This is why I ask everyone to look at your past, your present, and your future when choosing an axiom. It’s got to be big enough to support whatever you choose to do down the line.

That said, an axiom evolves as you grow. If you find an axiom that really fits you, that is a passion, that you cannot stop talking about no matter how much Erin Murphy wants you to (ahem, this is getting long!), then you know you’ve got something that will work.

Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, EMLA client Phil Bildner, agent Erin Murphy, and newest EMLA agent Tricia Lawrence.

EM: It’s so terrific to know that we can support our clients in this anxiety-causing area, but beyond that, I think it helps us in placing new books with editors.

These days, acquisitions committees are looking for reasons to sign this great manuscript over that great manuscript, and if an author is known to be promotion-averse, it can be the reason to say no.

Authors don’t have to be marketing geniuses, they don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give an inordinate amount of time to marketing to the point that they don’t have time to write, but people (readers, teachers and librarians, reporters) have to be able to find them.

EMLA New Release

Being able to read a writer’s blog voice, online interview voice, and so on can instill a lot of confidence. It’s so great when marketing and promotion departments know on the front end that promoting an author’s book will be a partnership with the author doing his or her share.

We just got back from a week of meetings in New York, and people there are really interested to hear about the EMLA blog tours. We have a strong community at EMLA, and it’s been wonderful to have that turn into not just a fun and supportive thing for our clients, which seemed like plenty of wonderfulness already—but now we’re harnessing the strength of that community to spread the word about new books, too.

TL: Two EMLA clients came up to me at the retreat and suggested that we use our EMLA community to help launch new books. I think EMLA clients are genius!

When a new EMLA book is about to publish we usually have two or three clients volunteer to host that new book and author on their blogs. Sometimes, I put a call out on our forum, which always gets a great response! The launch date approaches and it’s like fireworks in the sky—that book and author appear on a blog here and a blog here and over there—all different, but when it adds up, it makes a show!

EMLA New Bestseller

I think it’s amazing to see a group of authors work together so well that they get excited about promoting each other (it is much easier to help promote others than themselves) and that in turn helps when each book comes out. The author is not alone; their axiom gets echoed throughout the blogosphere.

That’s the power of social media.

EM: Tricia’s so convincing, she even got me blogging! And now she’s moving out of her internship into an agent role, seeking her own clients. It’s been win-win.

I’d love to hear what other agencies are doing to aid their clients with promotion—I think, like many things with agencies, we all play to our strengths and develop our growth according to what opportunities come along, so it’s often not a plotted-out kind of thing—one day, we just look around and realize, hey, we’ve got this whole new area we’ve developed!

More on Erin

Erin Murphy was born and raised in Arizona, and founded Erin Murphy Literary Agency in Flagstaff in 1999. She works with publishers of all sizes all over the U.S., and has placed clients’ books with every major children’s house in New York and Boston, but she cut her teeth in regional publishing.

She began her career at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers (a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, and was a member of the board of directors of PubWest, a professional development organization for small and mid-sized publishers in the West.

Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and select nonfiction.

She is especially drawn to strong characters and heart-centered stories. In her spare time she loves walking, baking, kayaking, knitting, traveling, reading (often audiobooks), and powering through her Netflix queue.

You can read more about Erin’s tastes and background in interviews here and here.

Bid for a chance to win a critique from Erin Murphy (50 pages or five picture books) at the Light Up the Library Auction.

Look for Erin at the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference Feb. 17 and Feb. 18, 2012, and the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference and Retreat at Asilomar from March 2 to March 4, 2012.

More on Tricia 

Tricia Lawrence is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 16 years of working as a developmental and production-based copyeditor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist hoping to learn from Erin and Joan about agenting.

As associate agent, Tricia represents middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She’s looking for strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here.

Enter to win a Social Media Strategy Package from Tricia at the Light Up the Library Auction.

Look for Tricia at the SCBWI Western Washington Annual Conference on April 21 and April 22, 2012 in Redmond, Washington.

Guest Post: Brenda Reeves Sturgis on Keeping the Faith

By Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Faith is believing in something that you can’t see, can’t hear, but can feel deep in your heart!

Pursuing your dream of becoming a published author is no easy task. It’s not for people who refuse to push through adversity.

Becoming a writer begins first and foremost in your mind. When times get tough and you want to quit, it is this vision that will help carry you through to victory.

I spent my teenage years holed up in my room, filling books with handwritten poetry in verse. However, I never thought about becoming a published writer until I attended an author visit at my daughter’s school in 2004. It was there, in that little school in rural Maine, that I learned about the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators.

I took a leap of faith and joined SCBWI.

Traveling to New York was a big deal to a small-town girl. While attending my first SCBWI conference, it took every ounce of strength I could muster not to turn and dash out the door. Instead, I kept moving forward with faith in my dream.

Doubt crawled in, “Who was I to think I could ever step in this arena? What did I have to offer the publishing world?” There were over 1000 people at the SCBWI event–authors, illustrators, agents, and editors. It was intimidating. I sat in the back, near the door (for a quick escape), listening, learning and longing to become a published author.

Afterwards, I joined my first critique group. It was in this group that I penned 10 Turkeys in the Road (Marshall Cavendish, 2011), and this was another step forward.

When the rejection letters came, I tossed them in the trash. When you decide to become a writer you will face rejection, revision, and rewrites! You must seek and hold onto your vision.

Maybe that vision for you is a completed manuscript. Maybe it’s the acceptance of representation from an agent. It might even be thoughts of becoming a New York Times best-selling author.

Whatever your dream, you can achieve it. But not without faith—faith in yourself and faith in your talent. I reasoned with myself: if I quit, I would never know success.

When I signed with my first agent, I was euphoric, but after two and a half years, we parted ways amicably. After six months of querying, I signed with my second agent, but our communication styles didn’t mesh.

The vision of my career as a children’s author (and all that came with that) was foremost in my mind. I couldn’t quit. Visiting schools, attending signings, reading at children’s hospitals, and all that it would entail…that was my goal. I had to do whatever it took.

Eight more months of querying agents, researching boutique and large agencies, new and seasoned agents…and I received great feedback, a few close encounters, but not the perfect-fit-for-me agent.

I was at a crossroads. At one point I unplugged my computer, gave away two-thirds of my books to the local library, and quit. That lasted three days. Then I said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me!”

I follow editors and agents on facebook and am active on social media. I had heard of Emma Dryden of Drydenbks through mutual colleagues.

Emma knows this business, inside and out. She’s highly respected and vastly admired by industry professionals. I surmised that Emma was my last hope to help me figure out a strategy. I had a long chat with my husband and told him, “I have to hire her. She’s my last chance to get anywhere in this business! She’ll know what I should do!” I had faith that Emma was my answer.

I hired Emma for three hours as a consultant to tell me what I was doing wrong. Was it my writing? Was it my approach? Was it my expectations?

This ended up being the best move I ever could have made. Emma and I had a phone conversation. She looked over my work, and after our consultation, we had a great game plan.

My work was not in question. It was my query letter that needed tweaking.

Emma assured me that my expectations for what I wanted and needed in an agent were attainable. She loved my writing and compared my work to two of the best rhymers in this business–a huge compliment that propelled me forward. We tightened my query letter.

Emma was happy to allow me to use her name in my query e-mails, and her name alone opened many doors for me. Every agent responded promptly and favorably within days.

Within three days after our consultation, I did indeed find the perfect agent for me, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary.

After reading my query letter, Karen was eager to speak with me. She had contacted Emma about me to find out more.

Karen said that, because Emma had praised my work, she was confident that my manuscripts would be great. So she asked to see my entire body of work. I gladly sent her all of my polished picture book projects.

Having Emma in my corner made all the difference for me. The difference between getting nowhere and going everywhere!

Karen Grencik and I have the same goals, the same communication styles, the same vision. My work is being submitted and read. We’re moving forward. Karen is confident she can sell my manuscripts, even in this down market.

My relationship with Karen is easy, based on mutual respect. She totally gets me and my idiosyncrasies, and she calms my fears.

Karen has a good attitude about rejections. We’re in it for the long haul!

Moishe’s Miracle, illustrated by David.

My first book, 10 Turkeys in the Road, illustrated by David Slonim, has been published by Marshall Cavendish. Scholastic has picked it up for the book clubs and book fairs. I’m on my way!

Looking back over my seven-year journey, I’ve grown. I’ve learned. I’ve dug deep and carried on. Was it easy? No, not one bit! Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely! I’ve reached the summit, it’s breathtaking! Come up here and see for yourself.

Keep writing. Keep believing. Keep turning over your own stones.

Reach, stretch, breathe!

You’ll be so glad that you made the climb!