Editor Interview: Anny Rusk on IntoPrint Publishing, LLC.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations, Anny! 

Could you share with us the history of IntoPrint Publishing?

John Campbell and Greg Luther realized that in the tech age there’s no such thing as an out-of-print book, just books that haven’t been read yet.

In addition, as readers, both Greg and John were frustrated by their inability to find certain out-of-print books.

Upon further investigation, they realized that many out-of-print books still had readers who wanted to buy them and that the authors of these books were losing out on untapped revenue.

IntoPrint was created to help author and reader reconnect.

Who are the people behind the company?

John Campbell—John has enjoyed a twenty-year career in publishing with a focus on operations including order fulfillment, manufacturing (printing), design, marketing and sales. In that time, he has successfully built business platforms to support the changing needs of publishers.

John also practiced corporate law, and as befits business in Nashville, spent a fair share of his time on intellectual property issues for music publishers.

John is excited about the future of book publishing and the ability to connect readers and authors.

Greg Luther—Greg is an avid reader and book collector with 30 years of experience in business, half of which has been as an entrepreneur. He has been a technology management executive in financial services, an educational software developer, a management consultant, and a private investment manager.

An overarching theme of Greg’s work has been finding ways to use information technology to help people learn and work better. IntoPrint Publishing is the latest instance of that longstanding effort.

Anny Rusk—I’ve always written, be it lyrics, marketing copy, or books. Before I became an acquisitions editor at IntoPrint, I was a singer/songwriter and co-founded a music licensing company.

When not talking to authors about IntoPrint, I’m writing a middle grade chick-lit/fantasy novel. I’m also a Harvard College graduate.

What is the mission of IntoPrint?

By Greg Leitich Smithnow available!

IntoPrint’s mission is to serve authors by republishing their out-of-print works to the reading public, and in doing so, help them to make a living from their craft.

We think that serving authors’ needs helps readers, too. For readers, we represent an opportunity to discover, purchase, and read excellent works that have disappeared simply because their sales may not have met the financial requirements of a large publishing company.

What types of books are within your focus?

Our focus is out-of-print books. We welcome all genres in fiction and nonfiction, and most formats including picture books and graphic novels. (We don’t republish coffee table books and the like.)

Why is now the time for this idea?

How many times have you gone to the bookstore, or online, to search for a book you want to read again, or one that was recommended to you, only to find that it’s out-of-print?

As readers, we’re being deprived of a treasure trove of works because traditional publisher’s business models require them to dump books that fall below a certain sales number, often within months of the book’s release. Digital technology allows us to keep these books available by keeping our costs low; thus, we don’t have sales minimums for our books.

We think it’s time that the 99% of authors who want to keep their books out in the market, but who haven’t been well served by the traditional publishing industry, have a publisher who will allow their work to continue to be read.

Do you work with any author who contacts you or is this a selective submission process? 

By Greg Leitich Smithnow available!

It’s a two-way selective process. The author has to feel that IntoPrint is the right place for their work, and so do we. Once an author submits their book, we review it.

If we think that our business model will serve the author and the book, we’ll move on to the next step.

At any point before a contract is signed the author can walk away if she/he decides that we’re not a good fit.

What are the logistics of getting a book back into print?

First we scan our physical book(s), or we convert the author’s Word doc, PDF file, or InDesign files into print-ready digital files. Then we convert them into e-book formats.

Once we have these finished digital files, we use Ingram’s global distribution network to make our print books available to over 30,000 retailers in 100 countries, and our e-books available to 160 online distributors including Amazon for the Kindle, Barnes and Noble for the Nook, and Apple’s iBookstore for the iPad. (See our Web site for a more detailed list.)

Why should authors choose IntoPrint? What are the benefits? How do you stand out and above other options?

We do all the work required to get our authors’ books back into the marketplace. They don’t have to master new software, technology, or complicated business arrangements. And they don’t have to pay for a series of service “packages.” Because we are a publisher and not an author services company, we only make money if authors’ books do, and we do that in partnership with our authors.

Our print quality is excellent and we have a lot of options. Print on demand technology now uses the highest quality inkjet printers in addition to the toner-based solutions that marked the early years of print on demand publishing.

Our authors receive a sliding-scale royalty based on net sales that starts at 50% and goes up depending upon units sold. There are no upfront charges for digital conversion or distribution, and we pay for marketing. Our contract has a five-year term, but if book sales fall below a lower limit, the author has the option to terminate the agreement before then.

In addition, we support our books with what we call Discoverability Marketing. We’ll create a profile for your book, including a description, author information, available reviews etc., and send it to online bookstores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as to reader sites such as Goodreads.

Using continuous search-engine- optimization and search-engine-marketing techniques, we’ll also increase the likelihood that your book will pop up when readers search for you, your title, or keywords related to your title—making it easy to purchase.

We understand that authors have a great deal at stake in terms of their personal brand. Our intention is to go forward as partners and provide visibility to our process and methods so that the author is comfortable with IntoPrint.

Publishing is harder than it looks, and we aren’t perfect, but we want to do everything we can all the time to foster a trusting and effective relationship between us and our authors – and the same between authors and their readers.

How should authors contact you? What are key do’s and don’t’s?

We welcome anyone with a previously published book to go to http://intoprintpublishing.com/submit-your-book-to-intoprint/ and submit your book to us for review.

At this time, we are not a good fit for unpublished authors. Our aim is to get previously published, out-of-print books back into the marketplace within 90 days or less. We’re not set up to edit, create cover art, and do all of the other steps that come with bringing an unpublished book to market for the first time. (Though that being said, some of our authors are dissatisfied with their book’s cover, and in those instances, we do work to obtain a new cover for the IntoPrint version.)

As a note, for those of you who want to submit picture books and/or graphic novels, we need both your consent and the illustrator’s consent before we can move forward.

Based on Ulman’s Banner in the Sky,

Do you also publish original titles or only those that previously have been traditionally published?

We are open to taking self-published works if they meet our criteria.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

We recently decided to go look for James Ramsey Ullman’s titles. We’d read his mountaineering stories, and like for so many others, his words led us into the mountains.

We Googled his name – and in a several-step exchange found our way to his grand-daughter, who is the rights-holder on his work. We are in discussion to license these works and bring them back into print.

The lesson is that the technology—coupled with modern fulfillment practice—is enabling us to connect with authors and readers in a cost-effective manner that was impossible just a short time ago. I expect the same story to repeat itself for literally every genre over and over again.

We want to make out-of-print books a thing of the past.

Cynsational Notes

Greg Leitich Smith says:

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be bringing these books back into print with new editions and hilarious new covers.

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex are set in and around the world of the fictitious Peshtigo School, an academically rigorous and zany institution in downtown Chicago.

“Although I love the covers of the original editions, when it came time for new editions, we decided to go with a more cohesive, thematic look (see above).

“Tying it all together is the wrought-iron looking gate (the bird at the top of the gate is Phlogiston, the Warrior Penguin, the Peshtigo School’s mascot). And, since each of the books is told from multiple points of view, each corresponding to an element in the titles, it was decided to go that way with the cover elements, too.”

Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo was a Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner, Junior Library Guild selection and ALA Popular Paperback. It’s companion, Tofu and T.rex, was a finalist for the Texas Reading Association Golden Spur Award and Writers’ League of Texas Book Award.

Order Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex, both comedies featuring academically gifted kids at set at the fictional Peshtigo School of Chicago. The books were originally published by Little, Brown.

Greg also is the author of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), a dinosaur time-travel adventure, and the forthcoming Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014), which is about what happens after a UFO appears over Cape Canaveral.

Greg is a popular speaker and writing teacher. His school programs connect language arts and science in a fun, kid-friendly way. See more information to book children’s author Greg Leitich Smith.

Guest Post: Angie Smibert on How Not to Write a Series. Or How to Dig a Rabbit Hole.

Read chapter one!

By Angie Smibert
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

How do you end a trilogy or series?

That is a good question. As I look back on writing the Memento Nora series, I feel like I’m more qualified to talk about how not to write one—let alone end one.

First of all, I didn’t intend Memento Nora to be a series. When I sold it, I thought it was a stand alone. (And that probably shows!) I had the ending and epilogue firmly in mind.

(Spoiler alert: Nora would sacrifice herself and her memory and ultimately save her mom. Her mom would hear Nora’s story, then spit out the pill, and later tell Nora what happened. The end.)

But somewhere in the revision process, my brilliant editor, Marilyn Brigham, scribbled a question in the margins that changed everything. Would Nora, the old Nora, the Nora who’d forgotten everything that happened in the book, believe her mom?

Facepalm. She certainly would not.

And at that point I saw where the story needed to go next. Or at least I thought I did. I thought I had a brilliant idea about how Nora and Micah would rediscover what they’d forgotten from book 1.

I wrote a version of The Forgetting Curve that summer and subbed it…and the publisher turned it down. Needless to say I was more than a little deflated.

Lesson 1: Writing the second book is really hard.

But it’s a good thing Marshall Cavendish passed on it.

That version of The Forgetting Curve did continue the story, but it didn’t cover new ground, either in terms of character development, theme, or plot. And that version didn’t advance the overall plot of the series. It didn’t take the reader further down the rabbit hole—or deeper into Mordor or the Matrix, depending on your taste in analogies.

Each book in a series or trilogy has its own story, but each also has to fit into an overall story arc that progresses with each new book.

Lesson 2: Lead the reader (and characters) farther down the rabbit hole with each book.

Still, I knew there was more story there. So I stared at the proverbial drawing board (AKA, out the window) until I saw it. And I saw that I’d need new characters to tell the next part of the story and give the reader a wider perspective on this dank rabbit hole I was digging. And since I’d made everyone from the first book forget what happened, someone new had to play detective. Enter Aiden and Velvet. (Technically, Velvet wasn’t new, but she’d only had a few lines in the first book.)

Lesson 3: Don’t dig yourself into too tight of a corner!

So then I wrote spec chapters of my new version of The Forgetting Curve (which the publisher liked, thank goodness)—and I nearly spit-taked coffee all over the dashboard of my car when my agent told me how soon I needed to have the rest done.

Publishers like to have books in a series, at least a YA one, come out not more than a year apart.

Lesson 4: Write fast!

Again I ended the second book with a key character getting her memory wiped (or did she), but at least this time I didn’t erase everyone’s memories (See lesson #3.) This time I also had an idea where the third book was going.

I sold The Meme Plague on spec. (I learned that lesson, too.)

And I did not spit-take coffee this time when told it was due in a month (not kidding), but then my agent got me two months, which seemed like total luxury. Still.

Lesson 5: Write smart—and fast!

The key challenge in book 3 was to tie up everyone’s story as well as the overarching one (on top of revealing what’s at the bottom of the rabbit hole)—while not making it too pat.

Easy. (Ha.)

The latter part of that requirement was mainly because I don’t like pat endings. I love stories that leave a little to the imagination and not everyone gets what they wanted. Life is messy, and fiction should be, too. At least a wee bit.

During the revision process of book 3 I did end up including additional points of view and storylines in order to show what happens to Winter and Aiden. (Another brilliant suggestion from Marilyn.)

Read Chapter One!

The POVs of the last book are Micah, Nora, and Velvet because
they needed to tell this part of the story, but I ended up adding Winter
and Aiden because we (me included) really needed to find out what
happens to them.

Lesson 6: Wrap up everyone’s story lines without totally tying them up in a neat bow.

(Spoiler alert: The ending of The Meme Plague may leave some things open, world-wise, but at this point, I think the main characters’ jobs are done. Or at least they’ve done what they can do for now.)

Some people might read the ending and think, oh, she must have another one planned. But this time I don’t. Yet.

Lesson 7: Stop when the characters are finished with their jobs.

New Voice: A.B. Westrick on Brotherhood

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A.B. Westrick is the first-time author of Brotherhood (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. 

By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. 

As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. 

In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

Research photo of Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War

I drafted Brotherhood in first person, present tense, but on revision changed the manuscript to third person, past tense. Such a difference!

I love to draft in first person-present because it’s intense. It’s arresting. First person-present forces me to enter into my protagonist’s world and imagine his actions as if they are happening right now: I smell what he smells, and touch what he touches. I taste, see and hear the specific, concrete moments of his life.

To some extent, I experience his emotions while I’m writing, and can observe exactly what my own body is doing. Am I breathing or holding my breath? Curling my toes? Clutching the edge of my desk? Chewing on the inside of my lip… or my fingernail… or a pencil eraser?

First person-present demands a sense of immediacy that’s honest and real, and forces me to shed stereotypical concepts of who I think this character might be or become. Instead of an idea or symbol or construct, he becomes an individual.

But my first person-present version was over the top! My protagonist is an illiterate 14 year-old boy whose awful grammar is difficult to read. Sure, I created a strong voice with an honest cadence rolling on the page—I could hear him speak—but the choppiness of the dialect detracted from the story. I had to let it go.

Visit Kathi Appelt

I decided to keep his Southern dialect in passages of dialogue, and remove it from narrative sections, and I rewrote the story in third person. But even in the dialogue, there were times when I cleaned up the words, knowing that once the lilt of his speech was established, the reader would supply the Southern accent organically. Readers would hear him; they’d get it.

So for example, instead of writing something like, “we gonna git ’im,” I’d spell it correctly (“we’re going to get him”) and leave the pronunciation to the reader.

(By the way, it was my advisor at VCFA, Kathi Appelt, who helped me wrestle with these tense and point of view changes. Oh, that we could all have critique buddies like Kathi Appelt!)

When I switched to third person, I considered omniscient third, and decided that it created a greater sense of distance and perspective than I wanted. So I re-wrote in close-third. When the protagonist learns something, the reader learns it simultaneously and not before.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

I’m a debut author, so I’m still figuring out the business, and there’s a lot to figure out! You can put your whole day, every day, into social media and book promotion, but if you don’t love the process of writing, if you don’t write for the story and the language and the characters, and instead you write only for the business, well, I don’t know what to tell you. I wouldn’t be able to do it. For me, the writing of fiction comes first, the business second.

Visit A.B. Westrick

How did the MFA help me with the business? It helped me improve my writing! And when I was ready to pitch my manuscript, mentioning the MFA piqued my agent’s interest. But the writing had to speak for itself.

I remember that in my first phone call with the woman who is now my editor, she asked if I’d be willing to make significant revisions to the manuscript, and I said, “Yes, by all means.

After Vermont College, revision is my middle name.” Or I said something like that. (You know, I have no idea what I said. It was my first-ever conversation with a New York editor. I think I babbled a lot.)

But my point is that I think she felt better about taking a risk on me—a debut author, no track record—knowing that I had an MFA. The degree reassured her that I would approach revision requests professionally.

But even with the MFA, I think there’s a “don’t quit the day job” mentality in the world of writers, and that’s probably good advice. Writing doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. Many authors supplement their royalties with speaking engagements.

To aspiring authors, I’d say: don’t get an MFA because you think it will help you with the business. Get an MFA because it will make your writing better and will challenge you, and you’ll have to write so much that it will help you decide whether you’re cut out to be a writer. Whether you enjoy hours spent alone. Whether you love the process. Because if you don’t love it, and if there’s anything else that you could be happy with and make money doing, I’d suggest that you consider seeking the other thing rather than writing.

A.B.’s work space

Cynsational Notes

Of her workspace, A.B. reports, “I grew up with that lamp,
and inherited it when my parents downsized to a retirement community. My daughter did the painting over my desk; it’s her illustration of Mark Mathabane’s autobiography, Kaffir Boy.
(My daughter is a painter, living in Brooklyn.) The starfish inspires
me, the heater warms me in the winter, and books pile up faster than I
can read them.”

A.B. won the SCBWI Book Launch Award. She says: “My winning proposal included the plan that I would get students to write, revise, rehearse and record stories in the format of NPR’s ‘This American Life.’ Then I’d post the recordings on my website. I’ve had a blast doing this! My website now includes a page called ‘Students’ where you can listen to students reading their own writings.”

Guest Post & Giveaway: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on the Best Book Launch Party Ever

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Six weeks before my novel Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013) came out, I attended a friend’s launch party and thought, “I could never pull this off.”

Her apartment building’s party room was jam-packed with guests, everyone had a good time, and all her books sold out.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, which makes it difficult for me to connect with people and organize big events. I also don’t like noisy, crowded parties.

But I wanted my book to be noticed on its launch day, and I wanted to feel like this—the arrival of my first novel from a major publisher—was a special day for me.

Rogue is about a young teenager who, like me, is on the autism spectrum. She is obsessed with the X-Men, mutant superheroes who have been excluded from society but who have unusual special powers that can save society. She sees herself as a mutant, but one who has not yet found her special power.

As Rogue’s launch day approached, I thought about my own obsessions and my own special power. Over the past several years, I have built an entire Lego city and created various story lines with minifigures. I thought, “Why not use my minifigures to celebrate my book?”

I’d recently bought a Lego picture frame that I could use as a billboard, and I had barriers to block off streets and plenty of Lego people to show up to an all-day block party.

In the morning, I set up and photographed the billboard and the start of the celebration, complete with the BMX bikers and skateboarders who play a major role in Rogue. I posted the photo on Facebook and tweeted it to my followers.

Many wrote in their congratulations, and I sent them additional photos of my Lego city, Little Brick Township, in appreciation of their support.

The big event happened at night, when one of Little Brick Township’s popular bands, SlikMoovs, played at the huge party and dance.

Social communication is one of the greatest challenges of persons on the autism spectrum, but as Temple Grandin has pointed out, there are many ways to communicate.

In creating my launch party, I played with two-dimensional images, three-dimensional figures, light and shadow, and narrative to convey an imaginary community’s celebration via social media. I had fun, and I believe that I brought joy to others through my art. Above all, I found a creative solution to what was for me a seemingly insurmountable problem.

Teachers know that not every student is an academic star. Not every student is a leader who can gather people around him or her and get things done. Not every student comes with an entourage of friends.

Students possess a wide range of abilities and challenges, and teachers have the tough task of bringing out the best in each student, and giving everyone a chance to shine.

I hope my book launch party gives you ideas for your classroom or library and serves as inspiration to help each of your students find his or her special power.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

LEGOctober: Lyn’s reflections on what the Little Brick Township has taught her about writing.

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013). The first person in the comments to identify the language of the green and white sign just above and to the left of the billboard in the first Lego photo will win. Be sure to include a link to your contact information/Twitter account. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

Feral Nights Now Available from Walker Books (U.K.)

Author copies are in the house!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral trilogy) is now available from Walker Books in the United Kingdom. Note the light-catching embossed detailing and kicker line: “The hunt is on…” From the promotional copy:

Fans of the Tantalize quartet will thrill to see werepossum Clyde and other favorite secondary characters — plus all-new ones — take to the fore in book one of an all-new series.

When sexy, free-spirited werecat Yoshi tracks his sister, Ruby, to Austin, he discovers that she is not only MIA, but also the key suspect in a murder investigation.

Meanwhile, werepossum Clyde and human Aimee have set out to do a little detective work of their own, sworn to avenge the brutal killing of werearmadillo pal Travis.

When all three seekers are snared in an underground kidnapping ring, they end up on a remote island inhabited by an unusual (even by shifter standards) species. The island harbors a grim secret and were-predator and were-prey must join forces in a fight to escape alive.

Fans of best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith Tantalize quartet will thrill to see favorite sidekick characters–together with all-new ones–take to the fore in this wry, high-action entry in an exciting new series.

Cynsational Reviews

YA author Brian Yansky models the Sanguini’s dragon predator or prey T-shirt!

“Smith’s blend of supernatural suspense, campy humor, and romantic tension is addictive; allusions to both pop culture (‘Thriller,’ Monty Python) and literature (The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Most Dangerous Game) add to the fun. Most satisfying of all, Aimee and especially unassuming, injured Clyde leave their sidekick roles behind to come into their own.” —The Horn Book

“Smith’s fantasy smoothly switches between the three protagonists’ perspectives, while expertly blending the mythical and the modern. The story’s sharp banter and edgy plot make for an entertaining and clever story about loyalty and reconciling differences.”
— Publishers Weekly

“sexy, fast-paced…ending that satisfies and should win her many new fans.” — Booklist

“…dialogue that sparkles with wit, filled with both literary and pop-culture references. (‘You’re saying that you and my sister perform exorcisms on vomiting children with rotating heads?’)…playful, smart tone.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Cynsational Notes

Take a sneak peek at Feral Curse (Book 2).

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Katie Monnin on the release of Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts: An Illustrated Adventure, illustrated by Rachel Bowman (Maupin House, 2013)! From the promotional copy:

Today’s reading standards require K-12 teachers to teach multi-modal texts that combine print and images. 

Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts: An Illustrated Adventure shows teachers how to read, understand, and teach the unique vocabulary and anatomy of the graphic text format alongside traditional, print-based literature and content-area selections. 

Make the most of the graphic text-driven format in your reading program with this engaging and innovative professional resource from Dr. Katie Monnin.

Break It Up! How to Reduce Reader Fatigue from QueryTracker. Peek: “We have become a nation of short attention spans. If you hand us a tome filled with paragraphs that go on for pages, we will snore. Our eyes will glaze over. Worst of all, we skim.”

Organic Writers and Plotters by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: “We are said to write by the seat of our pants. Thus you sometimes hear us referred to by the mildly vulgar term ‘pantsers.’ We are said not to plot.”

Diversity 101: Blurring the Lines Between the Familiar and Foreign by Uma Krishnaswami from CBC Diversity. Peek: “Personally, I’m tired of hearing South Asian characters who sound like Gunga Din. When you’re writing contemporary fiction, let your characters sound as if they live in the same century as we do. You’re after cadence, not caricature.”

Human Trafficking, Immigration and Sexual Violence: an Interview with Cory McCarthy by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature. Peek: “I’m frightened by the idea that many teens aren’t aware that this is a reality in suburban and rural America…that this is much closer than outer space…and much more real than ‘Law and Order: SVU’.”

The Evolution of a Picture Book Cover (and Other Goodness from Cece Bell) by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Cece is visiting today to share rejected cover images, as well as title page illustrations; some early sketches and layouts and such; and some final art from the book, too.”

The Ever-Elusive Secret of Writing by Sarah Beth Durst from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Finishing that novel taught me that I could do it. And once both my conscious and subconscious mind knew that, everything changed in a profound way that I hadn’t anticipated.”

The Talent and Skills Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Characters are unique and memorable not only because of their individual mixtures of positive attributes and flaws, but also because of their personal likes and dislikes, their hobbies, and their talents and skills.”

Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalists from the Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: “The GGs are awarded in both official languages, in seven categories: fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation…”

Coming Out 2.0 from Malinda Lo. Peek: “A few recent books question the concept of sexual orientation labels entirely.”

The Beat Goes On – Or, How To Be A Meter Reader: Identifying Rhythm Troublespots In Your Rhyming Picture Book Story by Debbie Diesen from Julie Hedlund. Peek: “…a word of caution: Some rhythms allow for – to my mind, even demand — a bit of wiggle room in terms of unaccented syllables.” Via Emma Dryden.

Parting Ways with Your Agent by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Perhaps your career is taking a different turn or moving into a genre that your agent doesn’t handle or have as much expertise in. It’s perfectly acceptable to call your agent and have an honest discussion about that.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story & Eternal: Zachary’s Story, both by Cynthia Leitich Smith & Ming Doyle was Todd in Florida. The winners of Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem were Paige and Katy. Note: new Cynsations giveaways will go live within the week.

12 YA Fiction Giveaways & New Releases from Adventures in YA Publishing. See also The Giant YA Pride 2013 Giveaway from Malinda Lo.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I’m honored to announce that I’ll be offering the keynote address at the Kidlitosphere Conference Nov.  9 in Austin, Texas. Check out this short Author Spotlight: Cynthia Leitich Smith from eBooksDaily.

Join Greg Leitich Smith and Susanna Greenberg for Book Buzz at noon central next Thursday, Oct. 10 on Blog Talk Radio. Peek: “Meet children’s book author Greg Leitich Smith and learn about his books, Tofu and T. Rex and Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo, now published in new editions by IntoPrint Publishing.” Note: more on the re-releases and IntoPrint coming soon!

Congratulations to Frances Lee Hall on the sale of her middle grade novel, “Fried Wonton,” to Regina Griffin at Egmont!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Delve into the world of graphic novels on Oct. 5 with a Graphic Novel Workshop, featuring author/illustrator Dave Roman, author Cynthia Leitich Smith and First Second Books Senior Editor Calista Brill; sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak Oct. 17 at Lampasas ISD in Lampasas, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will offer several presentations the week of Oct. 20 in conjunction with Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) being the featured title for children as part of the 2013 One Book, One San Diego campaign, sponsored by KBPS, more details forthcoming.

Cynthia Leitich Smith joins featured authors at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the State Capitol Building in Austin. She will speak at the “Girl Power(s)” session with Kami Garcia and Jessica Khoury from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Capitol Extension Room E2.014, with a book signing immediately following.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Illumine Award Nov. 8 at the downtown Hilton in Austin, Texas.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Kidlitosphere Conference Nov.  9 in Austin, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Feral Nights) and P.J. Hoover (Solstice) will sign their new releases from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Florida Association for Media in Education Conference Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 in Orlando.

The Craft & Business of Writing: Everything You wanted to Know About Writing, a fundraiser featuring C.C. Hunter, Miranda James and Lori Wilde for the Montgomery County Book Festival, on Nov. 16 at Lone Star College Montgomery Campus in Houston. Fee: $100. Registration deadline: Nov. 10. See more information. Register here.

New Voice: Annemarie O’Brien on Lara’s Gift

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Annemarie O’Brien is the first-time author of Lara’s Gift (Knopf, 2013)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Young Lara is being groomed in the family tradition to take over as Count Vorontsov’s next kennel steward, breeding borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. 

But when Lara’s baby brother is born, she finds herself supplanted as her father decides to make her brother the next kennel steward. 

Lara has a special gift of understanding these incredible dogs—a gift that her father eyes with fear and superstition. 

Can Lara convince him to let her fulfill her destiny with the noble borzoi? And can she save her favorite dog, Zar, and the rest of the borzoi from a hungry pack of wolves threatening life on the estate?

Set in Imperial Russia, full of color and authenticity, this is a powerful story of one girl’s love for her dog—and her desire to fulfill her prophetic dreams and destiny.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Lara’s Gift is a story I carried in my head for twenty years. In that time, I was passionate for anything Russian and read tons of Russian literature and history. I also spent ten years living and working in and around Russia. So many of the details and images I describe come from my own memories.

There were a few key books that helped me understand life on the noble country estate during the Imperial era: Life on the Country Estate by Priscilla Roosevelt (Yale University, 1995), Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia by Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia (Indiana University Press, 1993), and Observations on Borzoi by Joseph B. Thomas (Houghton Mifflin, 1912).

The biggest roadblock (don’t laugh!) I had was determining what kind of business the fictional Count Vorontsov owned. I didn’t want his money to come from the Tsar or some typical Russian business in caviar, fur, or vodka.

I kept telling myself, “It will come to me.”

Almost two years passed and I wasn’t any closer to finding an answer until I ordered a 1914 National Geographic magazine that featured Russia from cover to cover. In it, I read about the world-renowned Russian bell foundry industry and that’s when it clicked. My Count would own several bell foundries!

I also utilized the sound of the bells to evoke an often difficult to capture fifth sense, as well as to increase tension and show emotion.

As someone with an MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

The best thing I ever did to develop my craft was to get an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. In fact, I’d love to go back to the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) to do another round! I’ve no doubt I could improve my craft. There’s always room for growth. Even if you’re published!

Before I started VCFA, I asked a dozen writing teachers about the function of prologues. I never got a satisfactory answer, yet didn’t consider looking into it myself more deeply. Part of me didn’t think I could and another part of me wanted a quick and easy answer.

When I did my critical thesis on the function of prologues in YA fiction, I was amazed that with a little thought I came up with some good stuff that I used to anchor the opening in my debut novel, Lara’s Gift.

I had struggled with where to start my story until I realized what it needed was a prologue. A bolshoe thanks to Mal Peet for using one in Tamar! His prologue taught me how to use one in Lara’s Gift.

The best advice I can give students/graduates transitioning between school and publishing:

1) trust your gift;

2) give yourself goals/deadlines; and

3) never give up hope.

Don’t let one, two, or even dozens of rejections cripple you. Take what advice you’re given (or not given) and learn from it.

Don’t take the rejection personally and always move forward.

Guest Post: Kelly Bennett on That Last Revision: Ruthless Bites

By Kelly Bennett
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I never—even in my most vivid nightmares—imagined I’d write anything “vampire,” let alone a picture book!

Truth is, if anyone is to blame for it, it’s you, Cynthia. You inspired me to try it.

Which makes it especially grand to be celebrating my new picture book, Vampire Baby, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick, 2013), with you!

When you think about it, writing is a vampirical pursuit. Ask a certain brilliant, sweet-faced author’s advice on how to improve your writing she might well suggest—in dulcet tones, of course—that you “open a vein,” “bleed on the page,” “kill your darlings.”

So, in keeping with the whole bloody business, I’m seizing this opportunity to share a painful but effective final revision suggestion: After you hit SAVE, but before you push SEND, take Ruthless Bites!

That’s the advice the late Tony Hillerman, author of 29 books, including the award-winning Shape Shifter series featuring Navajo Tribal police Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, gave me at an OWFI conference about 15 years ago. He credited taking Ruthless Bites with elevating him from mid-list author (“B List” he called it) to best-selling author.

What’s a Ruthless Bite?

  • Cut one word from each sentence.
  • Cut one sentence from each paragraph.
  • Cut one paragraph from each page.

If you think it will be tough to bite into your 50,000 word novel manuscript this way, imagine applying Hillerman’s “Ruthless Bites” polishing method to a 700 word picture book manuscript!

In Vampire Baby, Ruthless Bites changed this:

Mom laughed at my Vampire Identification List.

Proof that Tootie really is a Vampire Baby!

Sharp fangs

Loves to bite (Note teeth marks)

Vampire Hair

Loves to chew

Favorite color is red (Think BLOOD)

Nocturnal (sleeps during the day and is awake at night)

Best Vampire Protection – Garlic!!! Vampires hate Garlic!

To this:

That’s correct, I deleted the “Identification List.” Upon review of the story, I realized I didn’t need it as every item listed was used elsewhere in the text.

Ruthless Bites changed this:

“YOUCH OUCH, TOOTIE. LET GO TOOTIE please, pretty please… No Bite!”

To this:

Deleting a word here, a sentence there, resulted in a snappy, repeatable refrain.

Aside from killing a few darling, and stinging at first, what will this bloodletting do?

  • Tighten your writing. 
  • Hone your word choice. 
  • Speed up the pace.

Go ahead, try it: Pull out your polished manuscripts, curl back your lips and take Ruthless Bites.

I dare you!

New Voice: Charlotte Gunnufson on Halloween Hustle

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Charlotte Gunnufson is the first-time author of Halloween Hustle, illustrated by Kevan J. Atteberry (Two Lions, 2013). From the promotional copy:

In the dark, a funky beat. Something white with bony feet. Skeleton dancing up the street, doing the Halloween Hustle. 

Skeleton is dancing his way to a Halloween party—but as he grooves across town, he keeps stumbling, tumbling, and falling apart! 

Can Skeleton stay in one piece long enough to make it to the party?

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2013, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Surprised to debut in 2013? Thrilled!

Did it seem inevitable? No. Still, part of me believed it would happen, that it had to happen, because once I started writing again, I knew I couldn’t give it up.
I re-began writing in 2007, just before my 41st birthday.

I’d been published before. A poem about a duck. In an Archie’s comic book. Way back in elementary school. I wrote through my teens and into my mid-twenties. Then, I stopped writing for fifteen years for good reasons and poor excuses.

I stayed up late one night watching “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the story of a homeless father who struggles to find security for himself and his son. When I turned off the TV, I thought, “I have been such a whiner.” The next day, I re-began writing.

I sent out my first story in the spring of 2008, thinking, “I’m almost there!”

When that story, along with several others, didn’t get plucked from the slush pile, I decided to establish myself writing poems for children’s magazines. Easy peasy. Almost there.

That fall, having failed to sell a single line, I had an idea: I’d submit a craft project accompanied by a poem. Among the Halloween decorations, lay a skeleton Isaac had made in second grade. The dancing skeleton poem grew too long to be a poem.

I couldn’t decide what to cut. I wrote a story instead.

 In 2009, February 16th according to my “Submissions Record” spreadsheet, I sent Halloween Hustle to several publishers. A familiar thing happened.

Yep. Nothing.

But my first poem was accepted for publication in early 2009. Whew! Almost there.

In March, 2010, more than a year after I’d submitted the manuscript for Halloween Hustle, an editor from Marshall Cavendish sent the manuscript back. With whole pages crossed out. With lots of notes. With a letter saying it had potential for their list.

Yes! Really almost there!

I revised and re-revised and on April 23rd, two-and-a-half years after I’d re-begun, Marshall Cavendish acquired Halloween Hustle. Initially, the editor thought it would be published in the fall of 2012, but because of the illustrator’s busy schedule, the date was pushed to 2013.

Basically, now. Am I there, yet?

Six years have passed since I re-began writing. Many things have happened. Some things haven’t.
I’ve written a few hundred poems and short pieces and sold just over thirty of them. I’ve been lucky enough to have my work appear in Highlights, Highlights High Five and Hello, Cricket, Ladybug, Jack & Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and Turtle magazines.

Marshall Cavendish was acquired by Amazon. I still have my wonderful editor. Illustrator Kevan Atteberry has generously shared his work with me to help promote the book. We’re Facebook friends. I’ve written dozens of stories. I haven’t sold another manuscript.

How did I keep the faith? How do I keep the faith? My critique group, SCBWI, magazine pieces, plodding perseverance, and hope.

In Halloween Hustle, Skeleton falls down and falls apart, but…

Skeleton doesn’t groan or whine.

Binds bones together with tape and twine.

Bounces up, feeling fine…

Skeleton dances like he’s never going to fall down or fall apart again. That’s not foolishness. That’s the sort of faith writers have to have.

I’ve said “The Pursuit of Happyness” inspired me to re-begin writing. It also keeps me going. The movies final message: life is not about achieving happiness but pursuing it.

The joy truly is in the journey. A while back, I was listening to NPR and a guest cited a study which found we are happiest not when we’re so far from our goal that it seems unreachable and not, surprisingly enough, when we reach that goal. We are happiest when we are almost there.

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?

How am I promoting Halloween Hustle?

Leaping in and learning as I go! With as much time and energy as can possibly be spared from family, friends, sleep, and, yes, writing.

Here’s why: When Halloween Hustle was acquired in 2010, after two-and-a-half years of struggle, I thought I’d strolled onto Easy Street on my way to Piece of Cake Café.

Nope. Despite a few maybe-um-nos to some other stories, I haven’t sold another manuscript.

I’m determined to think of this as a blessing in disguise. If I had another book waiting in the wings, I don’t think I’d be as dedicated to the success of this book. Halloween Hustle is an only child. I’m the helicopter parent.

My macro-strategy: Tap into what makes the book unique and then promote it in way that’s unique but still feels natural.
My micro-strategy: Create a big buzz with lots of little bees. Preferably—pun alert!—free bees.
(Any advice I can offer is sprinkled throughout and aptly humbled by parentheses.)

Online efforts: I’ve set up accounts and author profiles on Amazon Author Central, GoodReads, Shelfari, Library Thing, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and SCBWI (not exactly free, but worth every penny).

I’ve researched kid-lit blogs where my book might be reviewed. (Start now! There are oodles of terrific blogs and you can accidently learn a lot from them.)

I created a list of blogs (many blogs list other blogs!), read every review policy (do this!), and researched how to query bloggers.

Then, as professionally, politely, and enthusiastically as possible, I asked bloggers if they’d be open to receiving a copy of my book for review. (One of my biggest I-must-be-on-Easy-Street mistakes: Assuming that bloggers would be delighted to review my book. After all, it’s free! Reality check: Bloggers are busy. They are inundated with requests. Read this perfect primer.)

I hired a designer for my website. But before this, I examined scads of author websites, asking myself, what works? What doesn’t? What do kids, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, etc., want in an author website?

I read expert opinions. (Start now!)

I “met” my designer, Taylor Ridling, on LinkedIn. I looked at her work, sent a comprehensive plan, and signed a contract. (Develop a vision for your website. Get a contract with a completion date.)

I wrote the trailer “script” and song “lyrics.” Then, I hired the ridiculously talented Alisabeth Von Presley to create the book trailer and dance video. Dance video? That’s what I mean by “unique but still feels natural.”

Real space efforts: I’m launching the book with a Halloween Hustle Dance Party! Halloween décor, music, costumed dancers and helpers, crafts, coloring pages from illustrator Kevan Atteberry, word puzzles, a chance to chalk the walk, complimentary bookmarks, and actual dancing!

Attendees are invited to do the “Halloween Hustle” and favorites like “Monster Mash” and “Purple People Eater.” I’m adapting the event for various venues.

Am I enjoying the process or does it seem like a chore?

On “Dancing with the Stars,” contestants say they knew being on the show would be hard but it’s so much harder than they ever dreamed—and so much more fulfilling.

That’s how promoting a book is. Exhilarating. Exhausting. I feel confident and clueless by turns. It’s a bit like being a (helicopter) parent.

(Figure out what makes your story unique and run with it! Think big! Study hard! Start early! Ask your critique group for ideas and support. If you can’t pay them back, then pay it forward.)