Margarita Engle Named Young People’s Poet Laureate

WOW. Just wow. Member and multiple award-winning author Margarita Engle has been offered the position of national Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Spoiler alert: she accepted.

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Margarita Engle, photo credit Sandra Rios Balderrama

The title, and its $25,000 prize, is given biennially in recognition of outstanding poetry for young children. In an interview after her win, Engle recently told Publisher’s Weekly, “I want to choose the theme of peace, or paz. It’s a bilingual theme, and maybe if I can draw in other poets it will become multilingual.”

Despite her new responsibilities and added work, Margarita agreed to share a bit about her journey and her love of poetry. Thanks again, and congratulations from the region!

 


Poetry is an Adventure

No one can prepare to become the national Young People’s Poet Laureate. There is no career map, alchemist’s recipe or scientific formula. One morning I was living in solitude, simply enjoying the process of writing. By afternoon, I had received a dreamlike phone call, and nothing seemed real anymore. The impossible had become possibleAlltheWayToHavana.MargaritaEngle through some mysterious pathway beyond my understanding or control. I was offered an honor, but it is also an opportunity, and in a certain sense, a responsibility. Now I need to figure out how to carry gifts of poetry to places where authors don’t usually go—children who live at the end of a rural road, and city teens whose schools can’t afford an honorarium.

I started writing poetry as a small child whose life alternated between urban northeast Los Angeles and a farm at the end of a muddy dirt road in a remote corner of Cuba. As an adult, I studied agronomy and botany, then changed directions after taking a creative writing seminar from Tomás Rivera. At first, I was dizzy with joy every time one of my haiku was accepted by an obscure literary journal, or one of my opinion columns was published by Hispanic Link News Service. Miguel'sBraveKnight.MargaritaEngleWhen I wrote novels for grownups, one reviewer accused my fiction of being too poetic. It was intended as criticism, but it felt like praise. Writing is an adventure. I needed to explore. I returned to my poetic roots, eventually discovering young adult verse novels.

After writing The Poet Slave of Cuba, I never returned to prose. In fact, at this point in my life, I only veer away from poetry when I’m asked to do a guest blog or interview, and even then, I find myself wishing I could answer prose questions in verse.
Why? Because poetry makes me happy. I could say that I choose verse in order to offer a welcoming expanse of white space to reluctant readers, and that would be true. I could add the fact that verse novels allow me to distill complex historical situations down to their emotional essence, and that would also be true. Some people might want to know about various awards, a Newbery Honor, multiple Pura Belpré Medals, Américas Awards, a Golden Kite, the Charlotte Zolotow Medal. Yes, it’s true, all those highlights of my writing life were received by verse novels, a verse memoir, and a poetic picture book, ForestWorldMargaritaEngleand as much as I treasure them, they are not my reason for devoting my life to poetry. I choose verse because no matter how much rage and resistance is encompassed by my stories of social justice, I feel peaceful whenever I have
a chance to communicate with young readers in rhythmic language, trying to offer them the beauty and hope they deserve, because they are adventurers, eager to explore.


Margarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award recipient. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She lives in central California with her husband, and continues to visit Cuba as often as she can. Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World. Visit Margarita at her website.


Kantor, Emma. (2017, May 16). Margarita Engle Named Young People’s Poet Laureate. Retrieved from: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/73621-margarita-engle-named-young-people-s-poet-laureate.html.

The Yellow Hat Syndrome by Dionna L. Mann

THE YELLOW HAT SYNDROME
(Colors have been changed to protect the innocent.)

 

I loved my yellow hat with the little ball on top. When I saw it gleaming in a bin at a thrift shop, it called to me. “Hello! Ain’t I sunshiny!” I picked it up. No doubt, someone’s granny had crochet it. And now it would be mine. MINE!

I tried the hat on. Oh, yeah, baby! Don’t I look fine as sunshine dancing on a dewdrop! I couldn’t stop wearing it.

Then one day, my dear friend (and she’s the kind that will tell you ANYTHING) saw me wearing my bright-as-daylight find.

With eyes focused on my hat, she frowned and said, “Never wear that again. Never.”

“What? Never? You don’t like it?”

“No,” she said.

“But look at the color! And the little ball on top! And the way it slants to the side, like a French beret! You really don’t like it?”

“No. It’s…it’s… Well, it’s…ugly.”

“Ugly!” I said. “I don’t think so!” And I pulled the hat tighter around my head.

I was hurt. Offended. Angry! How dare she call ugly what I love!

I had loved it when a little girl at the grocery store peered over her mamma’s shoulder and said “Hat! Hat! Hat!” and her mother said “Haaaatt.” (Mom liked it so much, she would

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Illustration by Tami Traylor

craft one later. I was sure.) I loved it when at the library folks did double takes. (They liked it so much, they were trying not to stare. I could tell.) I loved it when a workmate said “A new hat, eh?” then belly-laughed. (She liked it so much, she was jealous. I knew.)

I loved it then. And I loved it still! Something was wrong with my friend (and the rest of the world) to think my hat ugly. End of story.

Little did I realize it, but I was inflicted with the YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.

On the way home, I calmed down. (It was, after all, only a hat.) And then I began to reason: Was it possible that, because I loved my hat, my objectivity about its aesthetic value was clouded? Was it possible that my hat was not all sunshine-and-skipping-through-the-meadow? Was it possible that my hat was not all that? I had to admit, it was possible. My friend did have fashion sense, the kind I never had. My friend did care about me. My friend did only try to help.

When I got home, I looked myself over and tried to see my hat through my friend’s eyes.

And it was then, and only then, that I began to rethink the yellow hat.

And you know what? I decided my head-topper needed to be removed from my wardrobe. The hat needed to be history. The hat needed to be deleted.


 

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Dionna L. Mann

I’ve noticed a similar tendency in us writers. Oftentimes, when a critiquer doesn’t join us in loving what we’ve written, we tend to get defensive and dismissive. Sometimes we get fuming mad. Sometimes we hold on to what we’ve written and refuse to reevaluate its place in the manuscript. Objectivity may be obscured by our love—The YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.

Of course, a critiquer’s opinion may simply be proving the truism that one person’s ugly is another person’s beautiful. Who knows? The critiquer may simply have an aversion to the color yellow. And so, after graciously thanking them for sharing their opinion, we may decide not only to keep our yellow hat but wear it loudly. That’s what owning our own voice is all about.

Either way, viewing our work through the lens of a thoughtful critique can increase our objectivity. It can cause us to pause and ask: Is what I’ve written as beautiful as I imagine? Is my yellow hat all that? In that case, we’ll be willing to re-write, revise, re-order, or retire those yellow-hat darlings. After all, don’t we all want our manuscripts to be as sunshiny-beautiful as my yellow hat?


Dionna L. Mann, an SCBWI Mid-Atlantic PAL member since 2005, considers herself more of a re-writer than a writer. Her current work-in-progress is a nonfiction picture-book about a surrogate owl papa that has helped no less than 30 owlets pass mouse school. Dionna can be found celebrating all things kidlit at www.dionnalmann/blog.

 

 

What Motivates Us? by Josh Nash

I recently read the following quote: “Insecurity breeds quality.” Is that true? And no, not the kind of insecurity where you worry that your nostrils are bigger than everybody else’s (for example). The quote in question comes from Don Robinson, the editor of a small WWII infantry division newspaper, for whom “insecurity” meant the constant fear of the paper being shut down, which in turn pushed his work to the highest standard of quality. It really got me thinking. What is it that motivates us as illustrators to create and achieve great things with our art? There are undoubtedly countless causes for motivation—probably as many as there are illustrators. But I am one illustrator, and I can think of a few.

One good motivator is having a goal, a brass ring to reach for. My wife would very much

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Josh Nash

like to win the lottery. Which would be really great for me. I could finally put that animatronic jungle cruise in the backyard, and she could finally build those schools in Africa or whatever. But if I really think about it, a winning lottery ticket for me would look a bit different. For me, it would be walking into my local independent bookstore, and seeing a book I made, wrapped in a shiny, beautifully designed dust jacket, spread across the lap of mom and child as they lose themselves in the magic of storytelling. Eventually they buy 24 copies and pass them out to friends, family, grocery clerks, mail carriers and random motorists waiting at red lights. What does your winning lottery ticket look like? What is your brass ring?

Competition motivates. I look at art by Marla Frazee and Adam Rex and I see a level of intention and excellence that is so inspiring. So inspiring that it makes me want to run straight to my studio, close the door, tear my current work into confetti-sized pieces, toss it into the air and let it rain over me in a shower of ordinary. But just before I go in for such dramatics, I remember that if I want to make great art, my competition is the place to look for inspiration. There are vast amounts of talent among the throbbing mob of hopeful illustrators just waiting to be tested, dying to be published. And we can learn so much from each other. Though, I find it very motivating to turn to the illustrators at the top of the heap as well. These are the artists who are making amazing books, and theirs is the level of excellence I strive for in my art.
Closely tied to that sense of competition is the desire to improve, which is also a strong motivator. How many times have you completed a work of illustration and compared it to that first vision you had in our mind? How many times has that initial vision eluded you? When you realize that the only way to improve is to keep working, you can turn that into a kind of purpose. A working mantra.
Another catalyst for improvement is critique. I have found that the most valuable critiques come from the professionals in the industry. SCBWI conferences are obviously a great place to sit down with an art director, agent, or professional illustrator and say “Please look at the very embodiment of my naked soul which I have delivered onto page from the absolute furthest reaches of my ability and do please indicate in the most precise language possible, just how I have fallen short.” I have also come by great critiques by following Penguin Random House Executive Art Director, Giuseppe Castellano on twitter (@pinocastellano). Giusseppe will periodically offer twitter crits in 140 characters or less. I was happy for the benefit of his expertise on one particular piece I was working on. He pointed out to me that it could certainly use a splash or two of color throughout. I took his advice and I think the illustration is better for it.
BEFORE:
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AFTER:
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Finally, it seems to me that there is one motivator that ensures all others—the need to create. We would not even be discussing these subtler instruments of motivation were it not for the very need we feel deep in our bones to make art! This is the same need that, when neglected, can make us feel cranky and out of sorts, kind of like skipping breakfast—only imagine breakfast contains all the essential soul-sustaining minerals and life-affirming vitamins a healthy body requires.

Whatever it is that motivates you to create, be it a brass ring, or simply an innate need, keep letting it push you to achieve greatness with your art. It may even lead to a winning lottery ticket—whatever that might look like to you.


Josh is 50% eraser shavings, 50% animal cookies and 50% Café Americano. Josh is also horrible at math but he loves to draw. Josh has been drawing professionally since 2004 and has done so for the nice folks at Scholastic, Hooked on Phonics, and singer-song writer Kenny Loggins. When he isn’t drawing he can be found enjoying beautiful Northern California with his wife and dog, traveling to a rainy European city, reading a book or doing any number of activities that don’t require math. He may also be busy writing his own stories, querying agents, or working on a new board book for Beacon Publishing.

Visit Josh at joshuanashillustratesFacebook, and Twitter.

Spring Spirit 2017 Summaries

With an inspiring keynote by Grace Lin, professional head shots available for the first time, and a fantastic panel on diversity, 2017’s Spring Spirit was great. And that doesn’t even include all the other sessions, the networking, or the manuscript critiques that happened throughout the day. If you missed it, you missed a lot. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below you can find summaries from volunteer members who attended each session and agreed to steward for the region. Thanks everyone!

And if you were at Spring Spirit, don’t forget to fill out the survey. USE THE LINK, not the email (or you’ll have to fill out the form twice—like me). The link will be live until April 17th.

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Pitch Perfect: Finding Your Novel’s Voice with Peter Knapp by Martha Longshore

Peter Knapp acknowledged that voice is elusive if you come at it from every angle at once. He suggested that a character’s relationship to time is a useful angle for creating immediacy in your book and for developing voice. He also offered some questions to ask of your character, such as What future event is your character not prepared for? What does your character anticipate and what does he/she dread? What is your character proud of and what does he/she regret? What does your character think of as temporary and as permanent, and how is he/she right or wrong about those assumptions?

 


Exploring the Unexpected in Picture Books with Amy Fitzgerald by Shirley Espada-Richey

Amy encouraged us to avoid copying cool approaches you see others use. Instead, innovate with a purpose/goal, not just for the sake of being different. Think outside the box; there are stories, experiences and perspectives that are worth exploring, and be prepared to fail and try something else.

 


The Whole Submission Package: From Researching Agents to Signing With One with Beth Phelan by Sally Spratt

When submitting a query letter it’s important to establish your main character at the start.  State their goals, the escalating conflict, what’s pushing them.  Don’t give away the climax, you want to entice the agent or editor to read.

 


Public Speaking for the Introverted with Grace Lin by Joanna Rowland

She had us think about these questions:
What do you want to share about your work? and What does your audience want to hear? She told us to write like we’d talk for speeches: with short sentences, contractions, and small words. And, she told us to forget grammar. 😉
Also, she suggested using visuals like in a power point. She advised making sure our speech has a beginning hook, a middle and an end. And to make sure there’s an emotional arch and we tie it together at the end.
She suggested talking about your books in a way that no one else can.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols: Enriching your Draft with Kate Sullivan by Suzi Guina
Kate gave writers tips on how to get to the emotional core of our stories using theme, symbolism, and motifs. One way to find the theme in our stories is to ask ourselves what our story is about, not plot-wise, but emotionally. And Kate reminded us that theme should be more than one word. Our theme wouldn’t be death, but it could be we can learn from death. Symbolism and motifs help distill our theme and enrich our stories.

An Editor and Art Director Panel with Amy Fitzgerald and Pamela Notarantonio by J.D. Silverwood

Amy Fitzgerald and Pamela Notarantonio shared the process from submission to publication, including: revisions, pagination, art direction, artist selection, revisions, final proofs, etc. The panel was open to audience participation in an open and honest discussion about what publishers are looking to buy.

An Agent Panel with Peter Knapp and Beth Phelan by Karen McCoy

 
The author/agent relationship can be built on many things, such as the way an author approaches craft, the agent’s strategy, and the way feedback is exchanged, but most importantly, it needs to rely on trust from both sides.

Finding the Heart in your Non-Fiction with Patricia Newman by Louis Arredondo

In the “Finding the Heart in your Non-Fiction” workshop, author Patricia Newman presented the awesome fact that nonfiction does not have to be dry and boring. Examples of her own exciting nonfiction writing include the now classic Plastic, Ahoy! and the recently published Sea Otter Heroes. Here are some of Patricia’s inspiring facts for nonfiction writers: We still try to put a lot of heart and feeling into nonfiction; stories that can still tug at the heart. Facts about things that matters; stories about people!

 

Critique Carousel: Do You Ride?

Recently I asked Jen Garrett, our Critique Carousel Coordinator, to explain a bit about Critique Carousel—namely, what it is and how it can help YOU. (Hint: If you need a critique group, or just want new eyes on your latest manuscript, check out a meeting.) She did all that, and included a brief history from previous CCCs, in their own words. Enjoy!


CritiqueCarouselBanner750x273First, Critique Carousels have three purposes:

1) To let nonmembers have a peek into what SCBWI is all about.
2) To provide opportunities for peer critiques and feedback.
3) For members to connect with other writers and find or form critique groups.

That said, the idea of the Critique Carousel has evolved and changed hands (and names), but its mission has always been the same—to provide a place for children’s writers to meet and get in-person feedback on their work.

It all started when…

Lou Ann Barnett, March 2015-September 2015

The idea actually came from listening to the members of North Central SCBWI. We put together a survey asking people what they needed in terms of critiques, and it was clear in their responses that people wanted to connect with others to make their writing better. I personally had felt the benefit of small private critique groups, but how to match people up was the problem. Writers are generally more introverted in nature, and some found value in online connection, but joining private groups was more challenging for people.  Placing your baby in someone else’s hands for solicited critique can be scary. So thinking that a monthly meeting, where people can meet in a safe space, exchange their work, and have a facilitated critique session might organically grow into private critique groups for our members.

As a very geographically diverse region, I knew I couldn’t manage reaching all the geographical cities initially, but even around Sacramento is a huge area. I had experience organizing a Meet-up writers group and knew of some places that would work, Raley’s, libraries, places like that all around the city. I knew that where you met determined if some people could make it. So I didn’t want to pick one place, but choose many around Natomas, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, Roseville, Davis. All around. I didn’t come up with the name of ‘Critique Carousel’, but I love it and it really nails that vision to move the location around.

The first Critique Carousel (even though it wasn’t called that yet) was a group of around ten people, some who were members of SCBWI, but had never been to a meeting before! That was so exciting to me, that we are able to meet some of our members through this meeting. Many had never exchanged work and others were more experienced. I helped to facilitate by giving people examples of how to critique, handouts on what makes a good critique group, and encouraged people to exchange names and create their own groups to better their work. It was very encouraging.

As we started gathering steam, we got some interest in other members to help out and I thought that having a speaker begin the session would be great. Jessica Taylor was at the start of her published phase of writing, and she shared her experience with critique partners. She was not part of a critique group, but had a number of different partners that besotted her in different ways, like a critique partner support network. I loved hearing her process. And the last meeting I organized was a very well established group, “That’s why we have us”, my friends Patti, Jerri, Connie and Linda who have a very successful writing group that is almost run like a business, with a lot of heat.

I organized about six meetings before I stepped down as ARA.  I had just started a job with a mega-commute, so I handed off to the very valuable hands of Nikki.

Nikki Shannon Smith, September 2015-September 2016:

Our region has always had the goal of bringing members together to critique each other’s work, but it’s taken different forms over the years. In 2015, our then-ARA, Lou Ann Barnett, began holding regular critique meetings at local libraries. When I came on as Co-ARA the summer of 2015, I continued what Lou Ann had started and set a goal of using libraries in different local towns to provide access to as many members as possible. I named it ‘Critique Carousel.’ Critique for obvious reasons. Carousel for the cyclical/rotating meetings, and the flexibility to “ride” when it worked for you. (Changing/rotating attendance for “passengers).

Once I named it Critique Carousel I wanted to have a symbolic logo for the website. We ran a contest for our illustrators, but it didn’t yield a logo. I reached out to a member whose art work I’d recently seen and fallen in love with. Her name is Andi Burnett. She agreed and within a couple of weeks we had our beautiful logo!

The first one I organized myself made me anxious! I’m a perfectionist, and also wanted it to be valuable for the attendees. I fretted over all of the details (location, time, best way to receive and distribute manuscripts…). I made door signs, sign-in sheets, an information sheet on how to give and receive critiques, created an outline for my mini-presentation at the beginning. I got there at least an hour early to set up and I was nervous! The first group was full of fantastic people who seemed happy to be there. I met new people, saw familiar faces, and made friends.

I served as coordinator for a year. I hosted the last one Lou Ann organized as my first meeting. It was “That’s Why We Have Us” in August of 2015. I hosted one meeting a month, skipping only April (Spring Spirit month) and December (Holiday Mixer time). I guess that adds up to ten!Acorn Critique Carousel Slide Graphic.001 (3)

One of the most memorable meetings was the January 2016 Critique Carousel. I called it Rejuvenate Your Resolve, and each member of the regional team presented 5-10 minutes of inspiring or encouraging advice. I loved having Bethany Telles (CoARA) and Rose Cooper (former Illustrator Coordinator) there with me. Bitsy Kemper (Regional Advisor) had to cancel for health reasons, but she sent in a hilarious video she recorded in her pajamas. We also had more “first timers” than usual at that meeting. We had a blast.

Jen Garrett, September 2016-present:

It was a serendipitous bunch of circumstances that led me to become Critique Carousel Coordinator. I was the facilitator of a very similar group called the Writers Bloc—a monthly drop-in critique group open to writers of all genres—that met at the Placerville Library. Sometimes in lieu of regular critique meetings we had authors, publishers, and book buyers speak to us with their tips about the industry. Many of the speakers were SCBWI members.

After a year or so, I realized the Writers Bloc needed to be retired. The attendance had dwindled, and the feedback wasn’t really helpful. I would bring my picture book manuscripts to a group of novelists and memoir writers, who didn’t feel familiar enough with kidlit to give me constructive criticism. Luckily, I also had my own picture book critique group (shout out to the Bookstormers!), so I emailed the individuals on the Writers Bloc list and suggested other groups that might better benefit their writing.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I was on RA Bitsy Kemper’s radar to be Critique Carousel Coordinator, because soon after I announced that the Writers Bloc would be retiring, I got an email from Nikki. Critique Carousels had everything I loved about the Writers Bloc, and it was in kidlit so the feedback would be pertinent to my writing. It was a perfect match!

To help me transition into the role of Critique Carousel Coordinator, my first meeting was combined with September’s Quarterly Meeting in El Dorado Hills. I messed up on the time and was not-so-fashionably late, but Bitsy smoothed the whole thing over and proved to be the gem she is in guiding me through my part of the event.

For October’s meeting, I received a little ‘on the job’ training from Nikki, but it was my first “I’m the offical host” event. Nikki has continued to be on hand to be a mentor and liaison for me, especially if anything comes up I don’t know how to handle.

November was my first speaker Critique Carousel event. We had the fabulous Margaret O’Hair give tips on “Never Give Up on Your Writing.” Her speech was originally scheduled as a Writers Bloc event, but because she is a published SCBWI member it converted very nicely to a Critique Carousel.

In January, we did a reprise of “That’s Why We Have Us” as a kickoff to Critique Carousels this year. I enjoyed it immensely and learned something new about formatting my manuscript. At February’s Critique Carousel, I witnessed a brand new picture book critique group form when participants exchanged contact info. I was so excited!

One thing I always strive to do as Critique Carousel Coordinator is help more writers connect and hone their craft. We’re working on scheduling events in the coming months, including (we hope) a few speakers. While Critique Carousels are by and large free events, some of our speakers will be offering a unique opportunity to get a professional critique from them for a fee. Stay tuned for details!

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Stay up to date on Critique Carousel meetings by checking the SCBWI North/Central home page under ‘Critique Groups‘ (found on the purple sidebar). For questions, suggestions, or concerns, email Jen Garrett.

Break Free From Submission Paralysis: Building an Agent Database by Allison Aubin

Even after the writing is finished—after your characters have done amazing things (or ordinary things in amazing ways) and you’ve told the story in a great voice that will connect with readers—the hard work has just begun. Seriously? Yup.

If you’re going the traditional route, now it’s time to get your masterpiece in front of the right agent. But this can seem overwhelming—how do you choose who to query, and how do you keep track of it all? Member Allison Aubin offered to share her system, hoping it might work for others. Thanks, Allison!


As creators of soon to be great works—if only we could get them into the right hands—we are told we must search for the one agent. This one agent will connect us with the one editor, the one publisher, that will treat our work with the care of a beloved child and raise it into the NY Times Bestseller list and beyond!

The problem with finding that one single perfect agent in a sea of thousands is a paralyzing one. But you aren’t looking for one single perfect agent. To get over this paralysis, rephrase the situation.

You only have until December to get 50 rejections.

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Author Allison Aubin

Somewhere in those rejections, you just might find that one YES. However, the real question remains. How do you find 50 agents to query?

Once I rephrased the situation to aim for multitudes of rejections, and therefore, submissions, I developed a database of agents for my one manuscript that was ready for the market and began submitting in earnest. Sure, I’d submitted here and there with heartfelt queries and not even one request for a full, but with my database of specially targeted agents, the very first one asked for a full manuscript. This wasn’t the end of the road YES, but it was a far sight better than what I had been doing, which was wildly querying people I liked at conferences.

To create your own agent database, you will need excel or Google Sheets, The Book put out by SCBWI, and access to agent information online. This information includes further research on the agents listed in The Book and other agents seeking new clients. They often give interviews to Writer’s Digest and other writing organizations and businesses to boost submissions.

With your very own database, you will identify agents looking for your work in particular, and track what kind of response you’ve gotten. Never be afraid to add or subtract from your database, and always track to whom you’ve submitted. I created my database with headers for contact information, query package requirements, whether they accept multiple submissions, a few brief notes on what they’re looking for, or previous works they’ve handled that are similar to mine but not the same. You can add categories like comparable titles or authors in their portfolio, whether you’ve met them, and even interests that you have in common that you have perhaps gleaned from Twitter or blogs.

I spent two hours creating the first list for my agent database. This was an entry-by-entry reading of The Book. It will go by faster than you think. I needed someone who wanted a YA adventure fantasy with a male protagonist and a humorous voice. Anyone who represented only illustrators did not get an entry into my database. Likewise anyone not open to YA.

I started with a list of 46. Then I began searching my emails. I subscribed to the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents newsletter years ago. I went back six months and copied over any YA agents. I also went to the WD agents newsletter online and looked for links to other agent notices and searched for blogs that listed interviews with agents. From that first list of 60, I began to cut.

CUT? More is not always better. In this case, I didn’t need everyone who would read only YA, I needed someone interested in a new client with a specific work. You know, my work.

I researched every agent in my database and cut anyone who was not open to my protagonist or not open to fantasy. From there, I sorted people by query package. Everyone looking for a 5-page sample went in one tier, 10-pages another tier, 3 chapters a third tier. These tiers don’t have to make sense to you, because it’s my database. The way my tiers are set up, I can submit multiple submissions to multiple agents and get to one YES even faster.

Creating your own agent database is a time investment in targeting your work to the people who want to help you get your work into readers’ hands. Periodically, set aside time to go over your database and ensure future agents are still open to new clients and still eager for work like yours.

While I’m still waiting to hear back on my current submission, I’m not worried. If I get rejected, I can just move down the list and submit to the next lucky agent or agent group. You have better things to do with your time than worrying about the next agent—like starting your next project!

The links below have information on even more agents to add to your database:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

http://www.leewind.org/

http://www.agentquery.com/


Allison Aubin has written for regional magazines and newspapers and has been a member of SCBWI for four years. She loves reading and writing YA fantasy. When she isn’t writing, she works in the food industry and gets to read federal regulations and legislation. Like any normal person, she would rather be writing. Visit Allison at aaubin.com.

My First Time: At the Big LA Conference, That Is by JaNay Brown-Wood

This past August, I attended my first national conference for the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. I have attended other regional conferences in the past such as the Oakland Conference once, and the Spring Spirit several times—which I also had the honor of being faculty on in 2016. So I was no stranger to conferences. But even with that said, the SCBWI LA Conference was more than I could have ever expected.

I want to put you in the mindset of what it was like by asking you this: Have you ever run a race—like a marathon, a 5K, or a cross-country race—and when you get near the finish line, there are lines and lines of people smiling and cheering you on, urging you to finish? And even though those people might be complete strangers, they yell for you, encourage you, and sometimes high-five or embrace you when you’ve crossed the line? And you feel this overwhelming joy and excitement and pride as you trudge forward?

This is how it felt to be at the SCBWI conference.

Even though writing for children and getting published is not easy, I was surrounded by countless individuals who smiled excitedly and encouraged one another, and I did the same. It was completely symbiotic, as if we were all running the race and cheering each other on all at the same time.

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Author JaNay Brown-Wood

It started from the moment I stepped into the massive lobby of the Biltmore Millennium hotel on registration morning, the walls bouncing with voices of enthused writers and illustrators and lovers of children’s literature. The elation there was palpable. And I continued to feel it with each workshop, event, and encounter I experienced. Like the workshop for first-timers where we drew birds on our nametags in order to be able to identify other newbies in the crowd. It was here where I met a new friend, Aneeka, who I still keep in touch with now. Or like every time Lin Oliver addressed the crowd making us laugh and think and feel. Or each keynote speaker who shared their experiences and filled us with words of inspiration such as when Pam Munoz Ryan said “be contentious, unacceptable, and dangerous.” Or when Jon Klassen so eloquently described how his own art grew from the things he did well while getting better at the things he didn’t do so well, and then he gave us exceptional and meaningful examples from Pixar. Or the tear-jerking life story shared by Ellen Hopkins and some of the struggles she endured, which led to authentic books embraced by readers everywhere. And I certainly cannot fail to mention the inimitable swag that is Richard Peck.

So. Much. Good. Stuff.

As I sat in the crowd, I took countless notes, trying to capture as many morsels of knowledge from these Giants-In-Our-Field as I could. And with the jam-packed schedule (dinners, face-to-face editor critiques, happy hours, book sales, autograph sessions, lunch dates, award banquets, intensives, etc, etc. etc.), there was never a dull moment—and that’s not even including the time I spent fiercely attempting to avoid of any ghosts known to walk the halls of the Biltmore.

Upon the conference’s completion, I left feeling inspired, exhausted, motivated, and with a sense of duty. Duty to continue to write strong, well-executed stories that I can share with children and make them fall in love with reading and good writing like I have and like all the other lovely souls I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference.

So to use one word to describe my first SCBWI LA conference as succinctly as possible: Golden.

It was truly such a valuable, memorable, and fantastic experience. I look forward to the next time I get a chance to attend this conference, and I can’t wait until the day where I too will be able to grace the podium as a faculty to share my own knowledge with budding and bona fide writers in the future.


JaNay Brown-Wood is an Early Childhood Education professor at American River College and the author of the award-winning picture book Imani’s Moon. She is a frequent speaker and presenter and enjoys promoting literacy for kids. She is also the proud owner of two red-eared slider turtles, both of whom she calls “Bubba.” Her second picture book, Grandma’s Tiny House, will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing in the Fall of 2017.

Self-Publishing Through Crowdfunding: Why I Didn’t Wait For Permission To Publish My First Book by Jed Alexander

Speaking of crowdfunding and Kickstarter, our own Jed Alexander has some experience. I asked him to share his thoughts. Take it away, Jed!


Like many of you, I’d been trying to get a book published for a number of years. I did all the right things. I got Best in Show at my first local Spring Spirit SCBWI conference. Soon after I started getting work from Cricket Magazine. About three years later, I acquired my agent, Abigail Samoun, at then fledgling Red Fox Literary.

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Author/illustrator Jed Alexander

From the beginning, I’d always wanted to be an author/illustrator, and have had one foot planted firmly in both disciplines. I’ve always wanted to make my own books. So as soon as I got my agent, I immediately started submitting my book proposals and dummies. And I immediately started getting rejections.

But book dummies aren’t books. They’re half-formed. Half-finished. For years I’d started project after project and never completed them, a habit I swore I’d break. And here I was doing it again. I understood it was a necessary part of the process, that this was how it was done in the publishing world. But I was tired of waiting for permission. I wanted to make a book.

In SCWBI, we’re always warned against self-publishing. A self-published book won’t be taken seriously by a real publisher. You won’t be able to put it on your resume. And when I told my agent I wanted to publish a book using the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, she let me know that we shouldn’t consider this my official debut. But for me, it was a question of: How long was I going to wait? At what point was this going to be real? I had just turned 40, and I wasn’t going to wait any longer.

It took months to prepare. I read as much as I could on the subject. I tried to glean as much as I could from successful crowdfunding campaigns. I did as much of my homework as I could until I knew I was absolutely ready. I made my video on my iPhone, editing it with the free software that came with my Mac. I researched the most economical way I could print my book—off-set printing overseas—and got the best prices I could for the T-shirts and posters I would offer as my rewards. I made sure everything was fairly priced.

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School Library Journal said, “…the images feel timeless and classic…The stories have wide appeal, and the limited use of words allows for broad exploration.”

The campaign was a great success. I had almost 300 supporters and raised over $10,000. My project became a Kickstarter Staff Pick, and a Kickstarter Pick of the Day. And eventually, through an old contact, I was able to get Alternative Comics, a small press comics publisher, to agree to put their name on the book and sub-distribute it.

While my book (Mostly) Wordless was, and continues to be, a modest seller, its publication has resulted in other opportunities. I was offered a regular writing gig for the site Pyragraph, I taught a class in crowdfunding for The Children’s Book Academy. And most surprisingly, 16 copies of the book were requested by a member of the Caldecott committee for review. I might not have come even close to getting the award, but now I’m on their radar, and I can’t wait for them to see what else I can do.

So yes, everything they said at SCBWI proved true. The book isn’t taken into account by mainstream publishers when I submit my manuscripts and book dummies. It’s not likely to go further than my modest first printing of a 1000 copies. But I made a book. A book I’m very proud of. And it has readers. And I still get e-mails from parents who have enjoyed the book with their children. It’s even been used by teachers to teach pre-literate kids.

If you’re at all considering self-publishing as an option, think about why you’re doing this in the first place. Do you really want to make a book, or do you simply want to be published? How high do you have to count before your book matters? How many readers? How many dollars? Very few people make a living from making books—even those who have been published by major publishers. So you can’t be in this for the money. And you won’t have readers unless you put your book out there. And with desktop publishing and crowdfunding, publishing is easier than ever. The only permission you need to make a book is your own.


After working for over ten years in the editorial field for such publications as LA Weekly, The Sacramento News and Review and The Santa Cruz Metro, Jed returned to his first love, children’s literature. With this new focus, Jed debuted his portfolio at The 2009 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators North/Central California conference where he won Best in Show. He has since contributed to Nickelodeon Magazine and Cricket Magazine as both an author and illustrator.

Jed will be teaching a Self-Publishing Through Crowdfunding Course with Mira Reisberg at The Children’s Book Academy (10/24-11/21). He is also currently writing and illustrating a comic strip for SpongeBob Comics. Find out more about Jed at jedalexander.com.

Writing is Like Baseball by Erin Dealey

Confession: I missed SCBWI CA North/Central’s Spring Spirit this year. >SIGH<

As my mother used to say, “I can’t be two places at once.” (Right again, Mom.)

I envisioned you, dear SCBWI pals, sharing good news and sparking your creativity during the always-fabulous Spring Spirit workshops.

Meanwhile, I did my best to share the #kidlit spirit and kick off Independent Book Store Day at Laurel Books in Oakland CA (Thanks Luan Stauss!). That afternoon, I had the honor of speaking to an entire MP Room-full of young authors, grades PreK-8th from 33 schools, at the Oakland Diocese 24th Annual Young Authors Faire, and boy were they proud!

Over 500 students submitted books they had written. Honors and awards were given out in every age category, and covered eight genres. The joy beaming from these kids as they showed their books to their equally proud parents lit up the room. Their excitement mirrored ours, SCBWI pals, as did the question first and foremost on their minds: What do I do now?

I know that look. That question—the one that pops up after a contract is signed (or not), a manuscript critique goes well (or not), a book is launched. So I took the podium and shared a few vignettes about authors from J.K. Rowling to Christopher Paolini, 9-yr-old Alec Greven, and me. Because no matter where our #kidlit paths have taken us, we share several commonalities:

  1. Our parents own small publishing companies. (Just kidding.)
  2. We strive to listen to our muse. That gut feeling. The story that won’t let go.
  3. We write because we cannot NOT write.
  4. No matter whether it’s our first success (or not) or our books are now a theme park (or not), WE KEEP WRITING.

Baseball players don’t quit after they strike out.

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Author Erin Dealey

Nor do they stop after their first home run. (Seriously—writing a children’s book is sort of like baseball: Anyone who’s ever thrown a ball thinks they can coach, right? But I digress…)

Unlike my young author friends, we are so fortunate to
have our SCBWI tribe. Whatever our #kidlit path, our SCBWI community helps us keep going. Because just like in baseball:

You win some,

you lose some,

and some get rained out.

But you always suit up like it was the real thing.

Keep suiting up!


ERIN DEALEY (@ErinDealey—Twitter~Instagram~Pinterest) writes in many genres, from board books to YA, including DECK THE WALLS (Sleeping Bear Press) a kids’-eye view of the holidays. Among her five forthcoming picture books are BABIES COME FROM AIRPORTS (Kane Miller/ 2017), and PETER EASTER FROG (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Atheneum, 2018). Her first picture books with Atheneum, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX, and LITTLE BO PEEP CAN’T GET TO SLEEP have taken her to school visits as far south as Brazil and as far north as Tok, Alaska. Dealey is an experienced K-12 Language Arts/ theater teacher, actor, former Co-RA of CA North/Central, frequent conference presenter, 12×12 faculty, and the social media/ PR Coordinator for East West Literary. She lives in northern California and lasted one full day as an employee at a Pineapple Factory in Hawaii. If you’re still reading this bio (thanks!), check out her FB page WRITE NOW! An Occasional Day in the life of author Erin Dealey and her youtube Writer’s Rap at Writers – Erin Dealey