Advice to Editors & Agents

Don’t you love it when a voice rises from the everyday noise of life and speaks to your heart?

Alice Pope hosted a guest post by author Hope Vestergaard this week. Hope has some advice for editors and agents, which I found to be quite refreshing. I’ve often wondered why, in a business that requires a joint effort from editors, agents, authors and illustrators, all too frequently there seems to be an imbalance in the standard operating procedures, particularly in regards to marketing and submissions. Hope has done a nice job of explaining that all parties should be respectful, play nice and remember to use their manners. Click here to read her post.

Greetings from Oregon!

Just thought I’d pop in to say that I’m in Oregon this week doing a three-day school visit at Bryom Elementary in Tualatin. I just finished Day Two of my visit and I have to say–WOW–these kids are amazing! Not only are the Byrom students polite, friendly and energetic, but their writing samples from the writing workshops I’ve been doing with them have shown their creative talents. From story writing, to poetry, to jokes, these kids have a knack for the written word. Today I heard some fabulous “Wish Poems” from a group of third graders. Try this with your students/children. Have them write a poem (no rhyming) where each line begins with, “I wish…”. This simple sentence starter unlocks their imaginations to so many things for which they could wish.

And I’ve totally enjoyed reading my books to the students, but have especially had fun reading Blackberry Banquet, since it really was “born” in Oregon while I was berry picking one morning. These kids appreciate a good blackberry story!

Happy reading and writing!


Picture Book Retreat

Oh, what a weekend it was! I attended the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Picture Book Revision retreat last weekend and wow, did I have a great time! I met four fabulous editors (stay tuned for Mini-Views in the next few weeks) from Peachtree Publishing, Candlewick, FS & G, and Balzer & Bray. My head is still spinning from input on my work, writing in general, creativity, socializing and making general merriment (our regional advisor likes to keep us busy and aren’t writers and illustrators fun folks to hang out with?).

I even learned a new word, I’m a bit shy to admit. “Meta-fictional: fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions” (Webster). In other words, when one of my characters is blown out of the book, THAT’S metafictional. I had no idea, but gosh, I love it when I learn something new!

Here’s a photo of me with two of my favorite blog buddies, Tina Nichols Coury and Jill Corcoran. Please check out their blogs. I’m sure Tina will have a video of the retreat posted on hers soon and Jill always has terrific, informative posts on writing.

Happy, Happy Holidays & Adieu til 2009!

Before signing off until the first of the New Year, I wanted to give holiday wishes to all.

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanakkah!
Happy Kawanzaa!
Feliz Navidad!
Buone Feste!
Joyeux Noël!
Mele kalikimaka!

Milad Majeed!
Frohe Weihnachten!
And Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us!

May the upcoming year bring you much happiness and success in all of your publishing endeavors!

See you in 2009!


Self-Inflicted Suffering: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

This past weekend I attended a workshop on book promotion. One of the things attendees had a choice to do was either 1) give a pitch to the group and have the facilitator review your performance, or 2) give a reading to the group and have an acting coach give you feedback on your performance. Despite what many of my friends might think (because I hide my introvert tendencies pretty well), both of these choices struck fear in me. However, I came to “play” and since Blackberry Banquet has been out for a few months and the Sylvan Dell publicist is a PR phenomenon, I forewent the pitch session and opted for the reading.

What on earth was I thinking? Really. Why didn’t someone just smack me upside the head with a snow shovel? I know me. I don’t regularly read Shrinking Violets Promotions because of their clever photo selections. It’s because I’m an introvert and I totally get what they say!

Okay, back to the workshop… I watched four other authors go before me and get tortured–I mean, scrutinized in such a way that could only be described as painful. But there I sat. Thinking about times when I’ve let my “introvertedness” kick in and I’d chicken out. I thought about that agent at a conference, who was just standing there, all alone, just waiting for someone to approach him to pitch a story, but I didn’t have the guts. I thought about when that editor and I were the only ones in the restroom washing our hands, and all I could garble out was, “That’s a pretty sweater.” So, I sat there, watching my fellow authors undergo their readings, continually being interrupted by the acting coach, mostly to hear all of the wrong things they were doing, then given suggestions for improvement, then trying again, then being interrupted again…like a news clip of a bad accident shown over and over again (mind you, I applaude their efforts and felt their pain).

But there I sat. Thinking about how a person grows from stepping outside of his/her comfort zone. And when the facilitator asked who would like to be next and all hands shot beneath the tables, I raised mine. Again, what was I thinking? Where was that snow shovel?

Now, I’d like to say that it wasn’t so bad. That I learned a lot. But honestly, I can’t. It was a blur. I was light-headed. I felt my face flushing to a color that would rival Santa’s suit. The acting coach tried giving me advice. And I’d fail. And she’d try again. And I’d fail. I just didn’t understand what she wanted. My head was spinning. She might as well have been speaking to me in Urdu. Perhaps partly because she wasn’t expressing herself clearly. Perhaps because I was not in any condition to follow.

What’s the point of all this? Well, it got me to thinking. I’m always telling my writer friends that you have to step outside your comfort zone. But I think I learned something this weekend. Stepping outside the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean taking off all your clothes and jumping into the Arctic Sea. If you really don’t like cold water but know you need to learn to like it, start with putting in your big toe. In other words, you have to use your head and do what you can manage. Yes, push yourself to go beyond what’s comfortable, but don’t go so far that you’re completely out of your element. That’s just no fun.

When I sat down after my reading, my mind reeling, the writer next to me asked me if I was okay. I said, “No. I need a cookie…and a shot of whiskey.” Luckily, I don’t drink. But the cookie was delicious (okay, I had two!) and I think I learned something. And isn’t that what pushing yourself is all about?


Cinderella Writer Goes to the Ball

What a week it was! My every day life is usually about as exciting as watching paint dry (which is just fine by this little ol’ introvert), but last week I made two school visits, to the high desert city of Apple Valley (home of Yucca Loma Elementary–a gem of the high desert) and the Central Coast community of Santa Maria (home of Liberty Elementary). The latter event was part of the San Luis Obispo California Reading Association’s Central Coast Author Fair.

On Saturday, I visited the Santa Maria Valley Children’s Discovery Museum (more on that later–awesome place for kids and adult who are kids at heart), Dandelion Wishes Children’s Boutique and B Wise Supply. I was able to hobnob with fellow authors Teri Sloat, Alexis O’Neill, John Archambault, Sherry Shahan and Greg Trine.

Yes, I felt a bit like a Cinderella writer getting to step out of her normal work routine of sharpening pencils, tidying stacks of manuscripts that consume her office, pouring through piles of books, and madly scribbling down story ideas and working on those pesky revisions, and getting to dress up in her finest authorly clothes and spend time at the finest ball in the land (well, central coast California land) and spend time with royalty (although there was no ballroom dancing, I’m sure to Sherry Shahan’s disappointment, but Alexis O’Neill, the Recess Queen was there :-).

It was indeed a joyful weekend. I really do believe that time spent with children and authors does not count against one’s life on earth. It only adds to it!

PS: Photo courtesy of Alexis O’Neill 🙂

Don’t Let Their Efforts Be Wasted…Vote!

It’s hard to imagine the periods in our history when certain people did not have the right to vote based on their race or gender. The right for all to voice their opinion has been something I have taken for granted for most of my life.

Yet this year, this landmark year in American election history, has reminded us of the many people who sacrificed their health, well-being and even lives in order to assure that those who came after them were secured the right to vote. These were the true unsung heroes of America.

Hillary Clinton’s historical bid for the presidency and Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination have reminded us of how far women have come since the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the creation of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Barack Obama’s historical presidential nomination reminds us of the long and painful path in which African-Americans have marched, from the creation of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1865 until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (to learn more, click here).

We cannot let the efforts of those who have come before us go unnoticed. People suffered and died for the right to step into that booth and cast their vote—to let their voice be heard.

Author Ayn Rand once said, “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote a way the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from the oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual.”

So, for those who came before you, and for the future of those who will come after you, get out there and VOTE!

Visit BLOG THE VOTE for more non-partisan readings on the importance of voting.



Why do witches make for good writers?

They’re very good at spelling!

How do you compliment a witch?
Tell her she’s charming!

What do you get when you cross a witch and the Easter Bunny?
Someone who wishes you a Hoppy Halloween.

Have a safe one!

Back from Vacation

I’m back from vacation and boy, am I ready to get back to work! Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting my son and daughter-in-law, seeing New Hampshire and Maine for the first time, and getting to spend time with my grandcats. I saw so many cool new places–both historical and natural–and I fell in love with Pemaquid Peninsula in Maine, where at the lighthouse are some outstanding gneiss formations (for you geology geeks like me). But you know how it is–us writers get a wee bit grumpy when we can’t write for a few days, so I’m eager to get back to real life.

Now I can focus on my novel revisions plus a brand new project, and I have three book signings for Blackberry Banquet this month, the first being at the Barnes & Nobel in Palmdale, CA on Saturday, Aug. 16. Yikes! I’d better get to work!

Happy writing!

SCBWI Summer Conference Tips

More Tips for Sailing Through the SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Unfortunately, I have to miss it this year, but since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips from my own past experiences.

1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely, the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.

2. Map out your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.

4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside café, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Last year, both my roommate and I found the sandwiches dry and overpriced ($7.50 for a sandwich, $3.00 for an apple, $4.50 for a small bottle of water). Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.

For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found to work is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.

I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins/scones so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Last year, the coffeemakers were removed from the rooms (this in new since Hilton took over) but there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.

5. Bring a book bag and money. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators).
Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem…yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? And I’ve known other authors who had the same thing happen to them. I’d like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.

6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.

7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.

8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back. Or you can use the valet parking (for an extra fee).

9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.

10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and insight, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editors speak and have the hope that because you better understand what their needs are, your work might find a place with them. This takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it, time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope.

Notes from last year:

11. Coffee-aholics: Request a coffeemaker for your room, or bring you own (I have a small single-cup coffeemaker I got from Brookstone that I love). Last year, there was a Starbucks in the hotel lobby, but if you don’t want to leave your room for your morning cup o’ joe, then you should plan in advance.

12. Manuscript Critique. If you’re doing a paid ms critique, bring an extra copy for you to make marks on as your reviewer is making comments. And write down in advance any questions you have. It’s easy to forget questions when nerves get a stranglehold on you.

Enjoy and happy conferencing!