Podcast: Pat Mora, Cynthia Leitich Smith & Don Tate

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What an honor to be interviewed for a podcast also featuring author Pat Mora and author-illustrator Don Tate by Professional Book Nerds.

Peek from my segment:

“It [writing for kids] was a heart decision, not a head decision and part of that heart decision wasn’t just about my work.

“It was about the power and importance and necessity of bringing goodness into the world, specifically goodness for kids, and so I was going to do what I could to uplift all storytellers and young readers.”

Click here to listen.

Cynsational Notes

About Professional Book Nerds: “We’re not just book nerds: we’re professional book nerds and the staff librarians who work at OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools. Hear about the best books we’ve read, get personalized recommendations, and learn about the hottest books coming out that we can’t wait to dive into.”

Guest Post: Brian Anderson Collaborating with His Daughter Amy on Space Dictionary for Kids

By Brian Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Have you ever wondered why the spacecraft that carried the first U.S. astronaut into space in 1961 was named the Freedom 7? Was George Lucas already planning six prequels, or what?

When my daughter Amy turned 21 years old in July 2014, she was doing summer research in astrophysics at Baylor University. Her birthday coincided with a stargazing party at Meyer Observatory, so I offered to make a piñata and have the star party double as a birthday party.

I started making custom piñatas when Amy was five years old, and over the years her birthday party piñatas had grown increasingly elaborate.

“How about a black hole piñata,” I joked. I imagined one round balloon, decorated all black. She would never agree to that.

“That’d be fantastic!”

I knew right away something was wrong. I told her nothing escapes the gravity of a black hole, not even light. It’s just a black dot in space. That’s when she told me about accretion disks and X-ray emissions and Hawking radiation. Apparently, I had a lot to learn about black holes, and now I also had a challenging piñata to make.

The following summer my friend and fellow Austin children’s book author Christina Soontornvat told me that Prufrock Press was looking for an author to write an astronomy dictionary for kids.

Christina and I are both science educators as well as children’s book authors, and she thought I’d be perfect for the job. But after the way that black hole piñata joke backfired on me the summer before, I knew I didn’t know enough astronomy to write a book about it.

But I knew someone who did.

Brian & Amy–back in the day.

Amy had just graduated from college and was taking the summer off before starting graduate school in the fall.

When I suggested we write it together, her first question was the same as mine – isn’t there something like this already available online for free?

Her search turned up the same thing mine had: some highly technical glossaries that were clearly not intended for kids, and a scattered collection of incomplete and sometimes incorrect astronomy glossaries for students.

My nine-year-old self was screaming at me that space-loving kids needed this book. Amy felt the same way, and agreed to help write it. We have liftoff!

We compiled a word list of about 450 terms, grouped them into five subject areas, then dived into researching and writing.

The fact that Amy understood the science content much better than I did is part of the reason our collaboration on Space Dictionary for Kids (Sourcebooks, 2016) worked so well. She brought content mastery and I brought a learner’s perspective.

Together we were able to create an astronomy dictionary that’s both scientifically accurate and understandable to young readers.

Collaborating with my daughter will always be one of the highlights of my writing career, and Amy taught me a lot of astronomy along the way. I finally understand retrograde motion!

I already knew quasars were the brightest objects in the universe, brighter than an entire galaxy of stars, but until I started working with Amy I never knew exactly what a quasar was. And I also learned (a little too late) that I should have offered to make Amy a black dwarf piñata instead of a black hole piñata.

Cynsational Notes

To answer the opening question, each of the Project Mercury astronauts, known collectively as the Mercury 7, was allowed to name the ship that would carry him into space, and each ship’s name would end with the number 7. In addition to Freedom 7, the other Mercury spacecraft were Liberty Bell 7, Friendship 7, Aurora 7, Sigma 7, and Faith 7. If you’re keeping score, you probably noticed that that was only six. To find out what happened to the seventh Mercury astronaut, flip to page 144.

Guest Post: Joy Preble on Life as an Author-Bookseller…or Bookseller-Author?

Joy’s first full day at Brazos Bookstore

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Last month, I became the new Children’s Specialist at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. I hadn’t planned on it, but when you stumble into your dream job, well, you take it!

It’s a balancing act: Selling books and buying books and merchandising and creating store events, while also writing and promoting my own novels. I’m not just an author anymore, but I’m not just a bookseller either, and this hybrid from means I’ve seen behind one curtain, and now I’m peeking behind another.

What have I learned in the past few weeks the job? Lots of things, and not so much that they are new but that I’m seeing them through a different prism.

And so the responsibility of hand-selling books I love by authors whose work I admire weighs heavy—and heavier because we are a small, highly curated independent store and space is a premium, especially so in the children’s area.

Our buyer’s philosophy is: “if two copies is good, then one is better.” If I order three copies or four, then I better not only adore this book, but have made it clear to my co-workers why I love it, made sure they’re reading advanced copies and come up with a plan to sell it big. If I put a book face out or make it part of a special display or grace it with a shelf-talker that choice is mine. Already, I’ve seen how store love and hand-selling can quickly turn a small book from a small press into a bestseller.

It makes me all the more appreciative for the booksellers and librarians who’ve supported my career and talked up my books and kept copies on hand. Because I know now what happens when I see that a book hasn’t sold any copies in a month or two. I purge all or most of the copies from the shelves and replace it with something new.

Booksellers channeling Dorothy Parker

Of course I knew this before… in theory. But while the author part of me—the part that knows what it takes to write a book and bring it into the world—struggles with the idea, the bookseller part of me either has to come up with a plan or put it on the return shelf.

We return a lot of books each week. Stacks and stacks of them. The author part of me will probably always feel sad about this. But that is how it works.

On the other hand, one of the grand things about working at an independent bookstore is that while we respect the Kirkus Reviews recs and the Indie Next List and all the rest of it, we are under no obligation to promote only the books that the reps have pushed when we take meetings.

Oh, we want to predict the big titles as much as the next guy, but we also revel in finding that hidden gem of a book and giving it its due. But I know now that this takes more than just keeping it on the shelf. It means moving it around the store, making it visible, putting it in customers’ hands, crowing about why we love and why they should read it.

My new job has revived and broadened my reading tastes because of this and colleagues who put translated Latin American novels in my hands or find themselves shocked that I had not read Kelly Link’s latest short story collection.

I could go on and on and tell you how our particular store is owned by a co-op or how the reps often bring pizza. Or how I still have a weird series of reactions each time I see my own books in the store. Should I write a shelf-talker? Put them face out? Force my colleagues to read the latest?

Am I author/bookseller? Or bookseller/author?

Ringing up your own book for a random customer is, well, strange.

But this is enough for now.

Cynsational Notes

Joy Preble is the author of several young adult novels including the Dreaming Anastasia series (Sourcebooks), the first book of which was named an ABC Best Book in 2009; the quirky/humorous Sweet Dead Life series (Soho Press); a contemporary road trip/family drama, Finding Paris (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins), which School Library Journal called, “An intricate guessing game of sisterly devotion, romance, and quiet desperatio.”

Her latest release is It Wasn’t Always Like This (Soho Teen), which Kirkus Reviews called “a modern Tuck Everlasting with a thriller twist.”

Joy lives in Texas with her family, including a sweet but slightly unhinged basset/boxer. In between writing and working at Brazos Bookstore as bookseller/Children’s Specialist, she teaches and lectures widely on writing and literacy and is currently on faculty at Writespace Houston.

Guest Post: Jesse Gainer on Submissions for Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

By Jesse Gainer, Director
Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, established in 1995, recognizes and honors authors and illustrators who create quality children’s literature that authentically depicts the Mexican American experience in the United States.

We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary and were written up in an article published by NBC Latino.

We are currently seeking submissions to be considered for the 2016 award in two categories:

2015 Winner

Works for Younger Children

These are books appropriate for children from birth to 12 years old [or Infant to 5th grade]

Works for Older Children

These are books appropriate for children ranging from 13 years old to 18 years old [or 6th grade to 12th grade]

All submissions for 2016 must have a publication date of 2015 to be considered. Our submission deadline is December 1st.

To submit a book for considerations please send four copies of the book to:

2015 Winner

Jesse Gainer, Director
Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666

If you have a suggestion for a book that you believe would be a good submission, but you can’t send four copies, please email Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu) with the title, publisher, and ISBN of the book (and/or contact him with any questions). See more information about the award.

Event Report: Texas Book Festival

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

About The Texas Book Festival: “…celebrates authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination.”

Author Michelle Knudsen and moderator Sean Petrie in the green room.
TBF committee member Carmen Oliver and moderator Anne Bustard in the green room.
Tim Tingle, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Jacqueline Woodson, Pat Mora, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Don Tate
With author Kelly Bennett in the Writers’ League of Texas booth
With authors Greg Leitich Smith, Varsha Bajaj and Trent Reedy at the author party.
With authors Monica Brown and Cynthia Bond at the author party.
With author-illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores at the author party.

See another Texas Book Festival photo report by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Guest Post: Carmen Oliver on Founding a Children’s-YA Author & Illustrator Booking Agency

By Carmen Oliver
of The Booking Biz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“I don’t believe in barriers…just fly your plane.”
—Captain Nicole Malachowski from Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts (Candlewick, 2009)

Over the last eleven years, I encountered a lot of barriers.

A lot of uncertainty.

But during that time, it afforded me the opportunity to really focus on studying children’s literature and the publishing industry. I have volunteered and apprenticed in various leadership and communication roles with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Writers’ League of Texas, and the Texas Book Festival.

Carmen & Dianna Hutts Aston at a conference

My agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary is negotiating the sale of my first picture book, and I’m well published in children and adult magazines. I judge children’s writing contests and mentor new writers.

All of this to say has created the fuel to fly my plane.

In March 2014, I founded The Booking Biz, a boutique-style agency specializing in booking award-winning children’s authors and illustrators for school and library visits, festivals and conferences, and bookstores and special events.

I chose to pursue this career because it spoke to a number of my passions. It allows me to connect children with terrific book creators and hopefully, in some small way, make a difference in their lives.

Additionally, I couldn’t wait to collaborate with like-minded individuals who respect and adore children’s literature. Working with librarians, educators, and event coordinators who are passionate about creating lifelong readers and learners, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

For me, like many in the children’s publishing business, the decision to work with someone must come from a connection, respect, and love of their work. But not only that, I have to believe 110% in their ability to reach their audience and deliver a presentation that will enrich, inspire, and motivate long after they’ve left the proverbial stage. Therefore, I only take on clients whereby I’ve seen their presentations or that come highly recommended by someone I trust implicitly.

Librarians, school administrators, and event organizers need to be able to trust my recommendations. I’m not a salesman. I’m an advocate and partner for my authors/illustrators but also for the businesses searching for speakers.

Don Tate drawing at a festival

Here are a few things that leap to mind when someone from my agency presents:

  • Animated & entertaining
  • Audience participation
  • Connecting and relate-ability 
  • Teaching but not preaching

I believe one of the most important roles of a children’s booking agent is to listen. In Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often do we find ourselves doing that? I know I’ve done it many times. Talking before the person has finished speaking. As a booking agent, it’s important to quiet your mind and focus on what is being said, how it’s being said, and what isn’t being said. There’s a lot that can be missed if you’re already concentrating on your next sentence, pitch or comeback.

Not every author needs a booking agent. Not every librarian or event coordinator will work with one either. But when you do enlist their service, here are a few of the benefits:

Bethany Hegedus wows the crowd at a school visit.
  • Professional, personalized pitches to organizations on author’s behalf 
  • Negotiates contract/agreement for fees and scheduling 
  • Acts as a liaison between author and event coordinator 
  • Manages all nitty-gritty details 
  • Assists and/or coordinates book sales 
  • Markets and builds new relationships 

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that creating partnerships with librarians, educators, and event coordinators shouldn’t rely solely on the shoulders’ of the booking agent. Your booking agent is your partner and as partners, you both should be equally reaching out into the community and making connections. Every good pilot needs a supportive co-pilot to fly the plane.

More on the Agency

The Booking Biz represents children’s authors Bethany Hegedus (TX), Dianna Hutts Aston (TX), Dianne de Las Casas (LA), Whitney Stewart (LA), David Elliott (NH), Lindsey Lane (TX), author-illustrator Don Tate (TX), and illustrator Evan Turk (NY). The agency is currently not accepting any new clients at this time. For information, visit the Booking Biz website.

Texas Library Association Annual Conference

The Texas Library Association annual conference is one of my favorite youth literature events. This year, the setting was San Antonio, my hotel was the Westin Riverwalk, and my sponsoring publisher was Candlewick Press.

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I drove to San Antonio on Friday and attended the TLA Welcome Party at the San Antonio Musuem of Art. It’s not a children’s/YA literature event per se, so we didn’t know a lot of people there. But it was quite festive. The planners featured a string group outside and a horns group inside. A Mexican buffet was served. Guest were welcome to wander the museum, which had a wonderful collection and historic architecture.

I spoke the next morning on a YA Roundtable panel, “Magic in the Middle,” with Tim Wynne-Jones, who’s a pal of mine from the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and Margaret Peterson Haddix. It was my first time to meet Margaret, which was exciting. She’s one of my favorite YA authors, and I often hold up her writing as an especially good example of plot and pacing. Gary Schmidt also was supposed to be on the panel, but like a number of authors, he was snowed in up north.

My signing at the Candlewick Press booth followed, and I was pleased to hear that Tantalize sold out at the conference. Thanks to all who stopped by! Thanks also to everyone who told me how much they had enjoyed the novel!

That night, I attended the YART author/publisher dinner. The other author at my table was Lila Guzman, and it was lovely to see her.

We stayed over for the TLA Joint Publishers Reception on Friday, which was elegant. I was especially impressed by the fountain. It was held at the Hilton Palacio del Rio.

On a more personal note, highlights included:

(1) Being mistaken for Laurie Halse Anderson. Chalk it up to conference brain fuzz, but I actually didn’t realize what had just happened until the librarian had walked away. She’d mentioned reading Twisted (Viking, 2007), which I agreed was amazing (I just finished it), and the challenges of placing upper YA in middle school libraries. Jeepers. Oh, well. I’m sure she later realized the misunderstanding. And frankly, I’ve always wanted to be Laurie Halse Anderson (who wouldn’t?). So, that was my chance!

(2) Meeting for the first time A.M. Jenkins, Sharon Draper, Justine Larbalestier, Grace Lin, Yuyi Morales, Mitali Perkins, Dana Reinhardt, and Scott Westerfeld. I was beyond star struck. I also can’t stop thinking about Justine’s statement that there are fox-sized bats in Australia. I may have to visit. Really. Soon.

(3) Coming “home” to TLA. I couldn’t begin to name all the Texas librarians I’ve known and worked with over the years. How great to see so many in one place! I’m thrilled by all their efforts and proud of their success. It’s a particular pleasure to hear my out-of-state author colleagues gush about the conference and our state association.

My one lingering question: could someone please recommend shoes comfortable enough for the conference floor? By the end of day one, my feet were plotting revolt.

Author/illustrator sightings included Brian Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Anne Bustard, Chris Barton, Toni Buzzeo, Cecil Castellucci, Esme Raji Codell, Kathleen Duey, Lupe Ruiz Flores, John Green, Peni Griffin, Helen Hemphill, Emily Jenkins, Julie Lake, Debbie Leland,E. Lockhart, Patricia McMahon,Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, Leda Schubert, Don Tate, Tim Tingle, Jerry Wermund, Kathy Whitehead, and Jennifer Zeigler. My apologies to anyone I’ve missed.

Special thanks to Candlewick Press, the YART librarians, and other TLA planners! All of your efforts were most appreciated. It was such an honor to join you all!

More on TLA

Never Sign Near Mo and Other Conference Survival Tips by Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Suitcase? There’s No Suitcase Here… by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

TLA–1 from Camille at Book Moot.

TLA, Just Plain Fun by Grace Lin at The Blue Rose Girls.

TLA Today by Don Tate at Devas T. Rants and Raves. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Tantalize Giveaway Contest at YABC

Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central is sponsoring a giveaway contest that features 20 available copies of Tantalize. The challenge is: “Make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf. Be Creative! And remember, answers DO count!” See the entry form. The event is co-sponsored by YABC and Candlewick Press. Please help spread the word!

In review news, Publishers Weekly cheers “…horror fans will be hooked by Kieren’s quiet, hirsute hunkiness…” I love the alliteration “hirsuit hunkiness.” How fun is that?

Thanks to BookPeople of Austin, Texas for featuring the book in its March newsletter! This is my local independent bookstore. Yay, Austin!

Thanks also to Cat for her kind and enthusiastic welcome to MySpace. I’m honored.

And last, I’d also like to note that I’ve signed a contract for a new picture book (“Holler Loudly”) with Dutton. I’ll keep you posted on illustrator and pub-date news.

More News & Links

Congratulations to my pal and fellow Austinite Chris Barton of Bartography on the sale of his SECOND book! Wahoo!

“How Bleak Thou Art:” my comedic writer (and very cute) husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, blogs about the dearth of YA/tween comedies at Blogger. See also comments on his LJ syndication.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature blogs about Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1999). See my bibliographies on books with interracial family themes and Native themes.

Writers’ League of Texas Calls for Teddy Award Entries

The Writers’ League of Texas calls for entries for its Teddy Book Awards in the “long works” and “short works” categories. The awards “were established to honor outstanding published books written by Writers’ League of Texas members.”

The entry fee is $25 per submission. Books published between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2006 are eligible. Download the 2007 entry form (PDF). The deadline is June 29, and there is a $1,000 cash prize and trophy in each category. Members may join the League at the time of their entry.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2007.

Last year, in the short works (picture book) division, the finalists were The Pledge of Allegiance by Barbara Clack (Texas A & M University Press Consortium, 2005) and Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (Simply Read Books, 2005).

The winner was Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos, 2006)(recommendation).

In the long works (middle grade/YA) division, the finalists were Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview) and Czar of Alaska: The Cross of Charlemagne by Richard Trout (Pelican, 2005).

The winner was Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Heather Hepler, co-authored by Brad Barkley (Dutton, 2006)(co-authors interview).

How To Throw A Book Launch Party

Learn “How to Throw a Book Launch Party” via an article I’ve written that has been posted to Anastasia Suen’s blog, Create/Relate: News from the Children’s Book Biz.

Speaking of which, the lovely Elizabeth Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink is the latest blogger to chime in about my Tantalize launch party. Liz is the author of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004). Visit her author site and read her recent interview at Cynsations.

Don’t miss the other party reports from Cynsations, GregLSBlog, Don Tate’s Devas T. Rants and Raves, Camille’s Book Moot, Jo Whittemore’s LJ (great pics!), and Alison Dellenbaugh’s Alison Wonderland. Read Cynsations interviews with Greg, Don, and Jo.