Book Trailer: Picture Day Perfection

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Santat (Abrams, 2013). From the promotional copy: 

It’s picture day, and the boy at the center of this charming picture book wants to make sure his picture is perfect. 

It seems as though everything’s going wrong for him—he has bedhead, a stained shirt, and a big scowl on his face. 

But when he goes up for his picture, he thinks about his terrible appearance, and he smiles—because he secretly wants his picture to be the worst ever taken! 

But just as he smiles, the photo is snapped and his plan is ruined—the photo looks great. 

New Voice: Marcia Goldman on Lola Goes To Work: A Nine-to-Five Therapy Dog

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Marcia Goldman is the first-time author of Lola Goes To Work: A Nine-To-Five Therapy Dog (Creston Books, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Meet Lola, a little terrier with a big job. Children will identify with the feisty Lola as she struggles going to school, passing tests, and finally achieving her Big Dog dream. 

If Lola can make it in a world of Great Danes and Labradors, so can anybody who’s feeling like a runt.

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

When I retired a few years ago from teaching, I was eager to slow down, and I figured I would know what I was supposed to do next when the time came.

One day, I had an epiphany. I love my dog, a five-pound yorkie, I spent 30 years as a special education teacher, and if I combined the two, what better way to legitimize spending all day with my dog?

I knew about therapy dogs, but I didn’t know if only certain breeds were used or how one became trained and qualified.

When I first thought about Lola becoming a therapy dog, I was told that she was probably too little and probably not suitable. I am glad that I didn’t listen, because she is very good at her job.

Lola and I had been visiting a preschool program for children with Autism. She and I would greet the children during circle time, and then I would read to them.

I realized how much more impactful it would be for the children if they heard a story about the dog that was right in front of them! I wanted them to be able to listen to a story about a dog while actually seeing and petting one. I looked online and in bookstores, but I couldn’t find anything that had a dog that looked like Lola.

I also knew that, for children on the spectrum, photographs would be more meaningful than illustrations. I decided to create my own book!

I had never written a story book, nor was I very good with a camera, but the children were my inspiration and Lola was a willing participant with a little help from doggie treats and string cheese.

It started out as a home project with only two copies, one to leave in the classroom and one for me. But with guidance and encouragement, the original plan turned into a wonderful writing adventure for both of us.

CYN NOTE: See Marissa Montes on Creston Books: A New Children’s Press is Born.

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

Being a teacher and having spent the last 30 years working with children on the Autism spectrum, my inclination was to tell the story in simple sentences that would resonate not only with children, but with their teachers and parents too. It has a simple and clear story line with only one or two sentences per page and photographs rather than illustrations.

Lola has a lovable face and an indomitable spirit that makes you want to cheer her on, so it seemed natural to let the story be told in her voice.

I also wanted her story to have teachable moments. Lola’s story is of a dog that was told that she was too little to have the job she wanted. It is about having a dream and having to work hard to achieve it. She could have given up, but instead she worked extra hard to prove that she had the right stuff to be a therapy dog, even if she was small.

Lola’s story not only shows how she made her big-dog dreams come true but also how helping others makes you feel good inside. It is a story about believing you can do something, working hard to achieve it, and making a difference.

The teacher in me hopes that it will be a book that parents and teachers want to read to their children and be waiting for the next Lola book and the next story she has to tell.

Check out the curriculum guide, and like Lola on facebook.

Guest Post: Ammi-Joan Paquette on An Abundance of Book Releases: How Much Is Too Much?

By Ammi-Joan Paquette
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

It’s no secret that once you step onto the path of publication, a lot of things immediately swing right out of your control: When you sign with an agent. When your book will be published. What your cover looks like. And then there’s the little matter of publication date.

My first book came out in 2009, my second in 2011, and the third in the spring of 2012. Anyone who knows me will testify to my love for (obsession with) balance and a well-paced flow of events. So for all those early years, everything was great.

But when you write across age groups and genres and publishers, as I do, that whole “out of your control” thing? It shifts into overdrive.

And that’s how it happened that I hit 2013: my very own Publication Bonanza Year. I first heard that my YA science novel, Paradox (Random House), which I sold in the summer of 2010, would be released at the end of June 2013. Hooray!

But that was just the beginning. Over the next few months, my book publication schedule unfolded like this (with manuscript sale dates noted for interest):

Paradox (YA) -> sold to Random House August 2010 -> pub date: June 25, 2013
Ghost in the House (PB) -> sold to Candlewick July 2010 -> pub date: July 9, 2013
Rules for Ghosting (MG) -> sold to Walker/Bloomsbury December 2011 -> pub date: July 9, 2013
Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (PB) -> sold to Clarion January 2012 -> pub date: October 2013

Astute readers will immediately notice the glaringly obvious: Three of my books were being released within a two-week period (over the summer, no less!), and the fourth just three months later.

*cue extreme hyperventilation attack*

Needless to say, the past few months have been a whirlwind of hectic book-related activity. I’m also aware of the fact that an abundance of book releases this year means slim pickings up ahead.

With all that in mind, here are the Top Ten things I’ve learned, joys and challenges alike, over the course of this tumultuous and release-packed season.

Top Ten Facts about a Compressed Release Schedule

1. It’s a tough thing to complain about. (But you will anyway.) 

Whatever your publishing hurdle—getting an agent, getting published, grappling with a less-than-favorite cover, or, yes, a jam-packed release schedule—there is someone on the path who would love to be in your shoes.

It’s a prime example of the much-used “first world problem.” It’s okay to vent/panic/air your concerns, but knowing the right time and place (and audience!) to do so is crucial.

Also? It’s quite likely not as bad as you think; see #2 below.

2. Despite your fears, those raised eyebrows you see are looks of appreciation, not of scorn.

One of my big concerns in my book life is the fear of wearing out the goodwill of my writing friends. The idea of an extended period in the spotlight, or of appearing perhaps overly grabby of the publishing gods’ goodwill, makes me hugely uncomfortable.

But over and over, I’ve been surprised by the generosity of my writing friends and of the community at large.

And that may be my biggest takeaway of this whole experience: This isn’t something to skirt and be ashamed of—celebrate! Revel in it. Which leads us to the next point.

3. Supportive friends are the gift that keeps on giving. Oh yes, they are! 

Putting your words out for the public to do with as they will is an incredibly vulnerable act, and to lift your head from this and to look out at a sea of supportive faces … well, it makes all the difference.

So to all of you who have made time in your busy schedule to come and show your support, you have my undying thanks! (Also: Did I mention that new book event I’ve got scheduled up ahead?)

4. If you look for the balance, it’s not that hard to find. 

So, yes, four books coming out over the course of three months is not the most ideal of timing. And it would be easy to sink under the weight of the possible, the ideal, the unfailingly awesome book-related possibilities.

Instead, I just went into this time deciding ahead of time to pace myself. I will do what I can do, and nothing more. I accept every signing or promo opportunity I can, but I consult my schedule before saying yes.

Overcommitting myself won’t do anybody any good. I have had to sacrifice much of my writing time in favor of promotion—but honestly, I think it’s been a fair trade-off.

5. No matter how busy you are, there’s always room in your day for One More Thing. 

It’s like they say about having kids: If one child already takes all your time, how can two (or three, or four!) take up any more?

Well, that may be debatable, but if there’s one thing this summer has taught me is how very much one can pack in when one needs to. I often start my days early and end late, but doing the important things first and fitting in a task wherever and whenever I can has worked wonders.

6. It’s kind of nice to have “something for everybody”! 

Several months ago, my publication roster included a picture book about fairies, another about mermaids, and a realistic contemporary upper middle-grade set in Thailand.

Suddenly this has been joined by an action-packed YA science fiction thriller; a humorous MG caper with a ghost as main character; a spooky rhyming picture book for the very youngest readers; and the sesquipedalian story of two friends who get into no end of trouble.

If that’s not something for everybody, I don’t know what is

7. Unpleasant reviews are greatly diffused when they’re only part of that year’s offering. 

Here’s an unexpected positive result of having more than one book out in close proximity: When those inevitable less-than-glowing reviews come in, it’s much easier to shrug and move on.

They didn’t like this one? Oh, well. What will they think of the next one? Hey—it’s a starred review!

It’s not that the tough spots are any easier on their own, but there’s just so much more opportunity for the upside to balance out the downside. (Hey—there’s that balance again!)

8. Book promotion is a muscle that grows stronger with use. 

It’s true: Book promotion is not my strong suit. But I figured that if ever there was a time I needed to branch out and get busy on my promo skills, the Four-Book Summer Bonanza was probably it.

I won’t say I’m some kind of self-promotional dynamo (far from it, let’s be honest), but I have been actively venturing into bookstores wherever I happen to be and introducing myself, offering to sign stock, and making myself available for events.

I printed up a flyer listing my new books and keep it in my purse to give to bookstore owners who haven’t heard of my work—and you know what? They are always thrilled to receive it.

Stepping out of my comfort has always paid off.

9. Exhausting the usual forces you to become creative. 

There’s the requisite book launch party, and perhaps a local event here and there. But when you’ve got four books coming out in close succession, you need something to make them stand out. So?

I’ve had to get creative. Okay, maybe this is still an item on my to-do list. I’m not nearly as promotionally creative as I ought to be (see #8 above).

But this concentrated time of setting aside my writing and focusing on the author side of the business has been incredibly helpful. It’s a side I hope to carry with me as I get back into the writing side, to constantly be interacting with the world not just as a writer, but as an author, too.

10. In the end, it’s out of your control. 

life, publication is what you make it.

Hopefully, 2013 will turn out to
be not the pinnacle of my publishing effort but just another stepping
stone to more and greater things in the future.

Will it

I have no idea. All I can do is focus on doing my best every
day—whether I’m writing, promoting, agenting, mothering, baking… well,
you get the idea.

The future is way out of my control. But what do you want to bet it’s going to be awesome?

Guest Post: Jane Sutton on Writing With Stealth

By Jane Sutton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In my books for children, I like to entertain and then…sneak in a message.

My dualistic humorous/serious tendencies go way back. I was a social, jocular kid…but privately, I worried about weighty issues like death and whether anyone could really understand how someone else felt.

I was a conscientious student, who made the National Honor Society in my junior year, but pretended to sing into the Candle of Knowledge/microphone during the induction assembly.

As a senior, I was elected Class Comedienne, and in college, elected Phi Beta Kappa.

See what I mean about that dual combo?

But…as an author at a cocktail party, trying to curb her narcissism, said, “Enough about me…Let’s talk about my books…”

And Now, a Word For the Message

Young Jane

Through humorous characters and plots, I try to convey serious messages with stealth.

I work really hard not to hit readers over their heads with lessons. Heavy-handed messages make for snooze-worthy reading, plus readers get messages more readily when they figure them out themselves.

Which Message?

Empathy is #1 on the list in my head for what I want to encourage in children. If people put themselves in others’ shoes, we’d have fewer wars. We would be less apt to distrust people who look, act or think differently than we do. Lawmakers wouldn’t cut funds for hungry people. There would be less road rage. And no one would cut in line at the bakery.

But How to Get the Message Across?

I was working on my latest picture book, about Hanukkah. Besides explaining the meaning of the holiday and displaying its joyful traditions, my self-appointed task was to sneak in a message about the importance of empathy…without being didactic.

“I’ve got it!” I thought. “I’ll write about a gorilla who buys hilariously inappropriate gifts!”

What to Say/What Not to Say

In Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster, illustrated by Andy Rowland (Kar-Ben, 2013), Esther the Gorilla sets out shopping at the last minute. I had fun making her choices silly: a jogging suit for a turtle, a jungle gym kit for a hyena, an elephant joke book for an elephant, and giant socks for a small monkey.

Esther buys each gift because she likes it (elephant joke # 52 makes her fall down laughing; the jogging suit is marked down to $12.99 from $13). The text does not say that Esther hadn’t thought about what her friends would like. Readers can figure that out themselves, especially because the intended recipient of each poorly thought-out gift is revealed gradually.

Similarly, I don’t announce that Esther’s friends are thoughtful in their gift choices. The text and Andy Rowland’s wonderful illustrations show Esther opening exquisitely perfect gifts for a gorilla, e.g., membership in the Coconut of the Month Club. When rueful Esther throws a Hanukkah party, where her friends get to trade for gifts they like, and she is thrilled by the joy she’s generated, I hope readers get the message that it feels really good to be empathetic.

My advice for writers who want to send strong messages is: be furtive. Don’t burst in like a SWAT team with your message. Infiltrate the plot with your message as if you’re an undercover cop.

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Comics Shoes

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The shoes are the work of Custom By Kylee, made just for me!

I sent her a pair of Unisa Madison Peep-Toe Wedge Pumps purchased from J.C. Penney.

She did the rest, using art from one of my graphic novels, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle and available from Candlewick Press in North America and Walker Books in the U.K.

I’m looking forward to wearing them to YA author events and out and about in Austin.

more information
Custom By Kylee

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Texas Book Festival

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kit Grindstaff on Book Marketing for Newbie Authors from Literary Rambles. Peek: “people often don’t know that you’re the author of that lovely pile of books. Even with a poster of you/your book cover right there!…write a sign saying something like, ‘Yes! I’m the author!’ More people stop.”

Royalties: A Few Answers from Laura Purdie Salas. Peek: “I think 4,000 is probably about right or even high for my two poetry books so far (both with Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), because BookSpeak is in its 5th printing, but I only just passed 10,000 copies sold in June of this year.”

Putting the Cart Before the Horse (Novel & Synopsis) by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker. Peek: “I remember the first time I wrote a synopsis. I thought it would be impossible to pare down my novel into a mere page or two, and I struggled with it. I agonized over it. I hated every minute of it. So I did the professional thing…”

What is an Editorial Letter? by Marissa Burt from Project Mayhem. Peek: “…the level of interaction really stems from the unique relationship between writer and editor, but the general idea is that after you submit your first draft, your editor reads through it and sends you broad editorial notes.”

LGBT Young Adult Books 2003-2013: A Decade of Slow But Steady Change from Malinda Lo. Peek: “That best friend — even if she’s important to the main character — is marginalized in the narrative. I’m looking for books in which LGBT characters are the stars.”

Keeping Diamonds by Andrea Davis Pinkney from CBC Diversity. Peek: “…as people who are often newly out of college, it wasn’t easy to assert themselves when issues of race were discussed in meetings. When well-meaning people made inappropriate race-related comments that nobody else considered offensive. When a question came up at a meeting about whether or not to depict a face of color on a book jacket (as this is sometimes perceived as a detriment to sales), or when a person of color on a cover is shown from behind or only depicted through body parts like feet.”

On Starting in the Middle by Debbie Levy
from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: “For me, what makes an opening not only effective, but also great, is when this plunking-down-in the-middle-of-something also alludes to unsaid events or characters that came before, and those that lie ahead.”

How Is the World of Children’s Picture Books Changing? from Penguin Random House. Peek: “How have globalization, technology, and eBooks impacted the world of children’s illustrated books? We sat down with Rachael Cole, art director for Schwartz & Wade, to find out more.”

Nine Items to Check on Your Book’s Proof by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “Update your author biography one last time, if needed, adding in any new and appropriate promo material. At this point, you can even insert a new author photo, if you like.”

The Dreaded Middle: Why You Don’t Have to Dread It by Yahong Chi from Project Mayhem. Peek: “…you have room, space and time.”

Must Manuscripts Be Finished for Agent Conference Critiques? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “ou wouldn’t submit an unfinished project in a regular submission, but conference critiques really are for critiquing as well as networking.”

Book List: Children’s Books About Transracial Adoption from Lee & Low. Peek: “Because we don’t live in a color-blind world, transracial adoption (adopting a child of a different race or ethnic group) is a complicated act, and presents unique challenges for both the adoptive family and the adoptee. …books that feature transracial adoption in some way.”

Purrfect Reads by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: “Founded in 2005 by pet expert and advocate Colleen Paige, National Cat Day aims to raise awareness of homeless cats as well as appreciate the companionship of feline friends.” Note: bibliography of recommended reads.

Revision Technique: Book Mapping by Caroline Rose Starr from Project Mayhem. Peek: “The most recent mini map (in the last picture above) helped me through a rough portion when many story strands were coming together. I was able to see how things currently stood and where I needed to change things — either moving poems to new places, cutting them entirely, or adding something new.”

How To Get Over Writer’s Block from Nathan Bransford. Peek: “It is not something that will stop you from finishing, nor is it something that you have to give into because it’s inevitable. You can’t treat it like a virus that will pass in time if you just wait it out. You must seek a cure.”

Resolutions: Telling the Truth to Children by S.P. Gates from Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: “Are we, as children’s writers, under an obligation always to present a world with resolutions, where lessons are always learned, where bullies get their deserts, where good always triumphs over evil, even though we know that isn’t true?”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaway

See also Six YA Giveaways & New Releases from Adventures in YA Publishing.

More Personally

With author-illustrator Don Tate at the Texas Book Festival author breakfast at Texas Monthly
Authors Greg Leitich Smith & R.L. “Bob” Stein
With author Guadalupe Garcia McCall
With fellow Austin writer Carmen Oliver
Texas authors Diana Lopez & Karen Harrington at the Family Life Center
With fellow Austin author P.J. Hoover in the green room
The Girl Power(s) panel (P.J. Hoover, Jessica Khoury, Kim Garcia & moderator Sean Petrie)
With Austin writer Meredith Davis & festival author (& VCFA alum) Kate Hosford at Bess Bistro.

See also Greg Leitch Smith’s photo report on One Book, One San Diego (for Kids!).

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

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. Check out the program and register today!

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.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will teach from June 16 to June 20 at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, Utah. Note: details are still emerging.