Friday, May 07, 2010

Guest Post: Author Mari Mancusi on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing

By Mari Mancusi

When I was a teen, you read a book, you reached the end. You put it down and started the next. The experience ended at "The End." But for today's teens, "The End" is just the beginning.

The DVD extras generation is looking for an entire multimedia experience when he or she delves into a book. They want the world the author created to live and breathe, and they want to become a part of it. And as an author, you can build an incredibly loyal fan base by taking steps offer that enhanced experience to them.

These days, when a tween or teen finishes a book they enjoy, the first thing they do is Google the author or series title. They're looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can "like," and secret inside information about what's coming up next. In short, they're looking to become a part of the world in any way they can.

Publishers have been slow to realize this, and a lot of initial multimedia/online content originated with the authors themselves, using their own budgets to enrich the reading experience. Now publishers are starting to catch on and will develop websites and videos for their top-selling authors. But mid-listers are still going to have to go it alone.

Don't worry--you don't have to spend a ton of money to create these multimedia extras. For example, while fancy book trailers can cost thousands of dollars to produce, a local college student might produce one at a big discount--or even free--just for the experience and exposure they get from being listed on your website. And don't think that free necessarily means inferior quality--I've seen fan videos with way more sophistication than some of the professional ones. Just make sure you supervise where they get their images and music from. They need to be royalty free to use or you might get in trouble down the road.

As an alternative, a simple webcam video with you chatting one-on-one with readers can be just as effective as a full on book trailer, if not more so. Mainly because this is what teens do themselves.

Look up "haul videos" on YouTube sometime to see what I mean. There are thousands of teens just sitting in front of their webcams, chatting about what they bought at the mall. They talk right into the camera and there's little, if any editing.

Since most newer laptops come with cameras already installed, this could be an easy, completely free way to promote yourself and your book. In these videos, you can talk about what's going on with the books. Give readers top secret advanced information or just chat about the plot of the next installment or even your life or writing process in general.

The key is to be natural and lighthearted and make the videos fun. (And not too long--three-to-five minutes is perfect.)

Other things that teens love? Widgets which can provide countdowns to your book release. has a free service or a pro service for $29.99 a year. You can also create (or have your webmaster create) AIM icons, Twitter Icons, Blog Avatars and wallpaper downloads--all with your book covers. In addition to allowing teens to become a part of your book's world and remember your series between releases, you're also getting free advertising to all their friends when they stick your book cover on their AIM or Facebook page.

One thing I did--which has been time consuming, but instrumental in pushing my series--was creating a fan club. On my website,, I have a "Want to Join the Blood Coven?" page where kids can sign up to become Vampires in Training. The kits I send contain a welcome letter from the vampire master, Magnus, a plastic "Vampire in Training" card to stick in their wallets (like a credit card--so much cooler than paper and you can get them made overseas pretty cheap - like $200 for 2,000 cards). They also get a magnet (I have those designed for free at VistaPrint and just pay shipping) and an autograph sticker they can place in their book. And lastly, I include six bookmarks. One to keep and five to give out to potential vampires in training that they deem worthy of the coven. There's also a forum where they can role play with the other vampires in training or just chat about the books.

Overwhelmed yet? Well, don't be. You don't have to do everything yourself. The thing is, readers don't just want to hang out in your world, they want to contribute to it. Encourage them to create fan videos and put them up on YouTube. Or draw pictures and post them to DeviantArt. Since a lot of kids will do this on their own and not tell you, you should regularly search these sites for content based on your books. If you find some, write to the user and ask them if you can post it on your blog. You can guarantee they'll say "yes" and send all their friends to your website to check out their stuff.

This is something teachers and librarians can help out with too. Buy a cheap webcam or a netbook with webcam installed and have kids do their own "book haul" videos by speaking into the camera about their favorite books and why they like them. Then upload the videos to YouTube (free) and send a link to the authors they mention, asking if they would consider embedding the video on their blogs or Facebook pages. How cool would it be to see your students' videos featured on their favorite author's page?

And lastly authors--communicate with your readers. When they write to you, answer them. When they post on your Facebook page, reply. I know it can be overwhelming, but even a one-line answer can build a relationship with a reader that will last a lifetime. They want to feel valued, important, part of the world. And sending a quick reply will make their day. They'll tell their friends and family and that's the kind of advertisement that money can't buy.

Because at the end of the day, it's not what medium you provide the "DVD Extras" in--video, podcast, website, downloads--it's how those extras make your readers feel about the world you've built for them. Draw them in, make them feel a part of things and let them know they're valuable to you. Because let's face it, the world couldn't exist without them!

Anyway, I could go on and on, but the point is this. Building a successful teen series and cultivating lifelong fans depends on a well-written book, a good publisher/distribution, and a whole lot of luck. But you can tip the scales in your favor by taking simple steps to build an online world that compliments your series. Not only will it spur sales and keep the momentum going between books, but it'll bring you closer to your readers and you'll all have a lot of fun!

Here are examples mentioned in the text:

book trailer

webcam video to readers

reader-created book trailer

See also fan art, the Blood Coven Vampires official website and facebook fan page.

Cynsational Notes

Mari Mancusi used to wish she could become a vampire back in high school. But she ended up in another blood sucking profession--journalism --instead. Today she works as a freelance TV producer and author of books for teens, including The Blood Coven Vampire series.

When not writing about creatures of the night, Mari enjoys traveling, cooking, goth clubbing, watching horror movies, and her favorite guilty pleasure--video games. A graduate of Boston University and a two time Emmy Award winner, she lives in Austin, Texas; with her husband Jacob and their dog Molly. You can find Mari online at

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Rick Riordan: The World as His Classroom by Jennifer M. Brown from Shelf Awareness. Peek: "A mixed-race family would have the same issues today that they had hundreds of years ago." Source: Mitali Perkins. Read a Cynsations interview with Rick.

Editor Interrogation: Julie Tibbott (Graphia/Harcourt) from The Undercover Book Lover. Peek: "Losing a book I love to another publisher is always rough. But, in the end it’s nice to know that the book you loved will be published anyway, and there’s always something else wonderful coming down the line." Source: Jackie Morse Kessler.

Independent bookstores make a comeback: With so many small shops closing, a new wave of collectives are starting to get attention by Chantal Braganza from the Toronto Star. Peek: "'I think it’s an opportunity for us to think of a book as not a thing in and of itself, but as part of a larger process.' What Rovito refers to is more than just the belief there will always be a need for books in print, but that there will always be a need for places other than the sofa or your favourite library nook to experience them." Source: Mitali Perkins.

Reminder: Hunger Mountain Fund-raising Auction is ongoing now to May 9 on Ebay. Bid to win full length manuscript critiques with Tanita Davis, author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Mare’s War (Knopf, 2009), Michelle Poploff, Vice President, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, and picture book writer Tanya Lee Stone, who won the Sibert Award for Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick, 2009). In addition, National Book Award finalist Deborah Wiles and Jacqueline Kelly, author of Newbery honor book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, 2009), will offer young adult and middle grade manuscript critiques. Bidding ends at midnight EST May 9.

Revising a Rough Draft by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "The beginning chapter or chapters I might go over fifteen or twenty times. It’s ridiculous. I know it is, but I can’t help myself. I need to do that to get them to be the best I can make them." See also Brian on Delusion. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Behind the Book: Growing Up on the Brink of War by Ellen Wittlinger from BookPage. Peek: "For seven days we lived in a state of panic, listening for the sound of planes from nearby Scott Air Force Base, discussing who had bomb shelters and whether a hole in the ground would really protect you, picking at our dinners while watching somber television newscasters who seemed scared to death themselves." Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen.

No T. Rex in the Library: a free readers' theater adaptation (Word doc.) by Toni Buzzeo. See also No T. Rex in the Library Curriculum Connections (PDF). Read a Cynsations interview with Toni.

Reading Animals by Jennifer Armstrong from The Horn Book. Peek: "We deliberately work to create and strengthen the natural bond between children and animals in our quest to promote civilization and its ideals of dignity, compassion, and justice." Note: includes a short list of children's-YA authors who're vegetarians.

10 Questions to Ask an Agent Before You Sign by Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents Editor's Blog. Peek: "Your objective is to hire an agent you can trust with your money, your work, and your future. It's all part of finding your perfect match."

Cynsational Blogger Tip: when writing up an author/illustrator talk at a private event (paid admission), limit coverage to an overview blurb, a few personal reactions, and a fair-use quote of under, say, 50 words. Speakers set their fees in part based on whether it's a presentation that can be given again, and a full online recount reduces the value. If you don't think they'll mind your posting a thorough report, ask anyway.

How to Get Rich on a Texas Cattle Trail by Tod Olson, illustrated by by Scott Allred and Gregory Proch, afterword by Marc Aronson (National Geographic, 2010): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: " and lively introduction to the old west..."

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel by K.A. Holt (Yearling, 2010) is now available in paperback. Read a Cynsations interview with K.A.

The Art of Revising a Novel by Chris Brodien from The Enchanted Inkpot. Includes a round-up of revision strategies/process insights from the Inkies.

Reasons I Write by Rachel Greer from Crowe's Nest. Peek: " makes life meaningful. When I write stories I make patterns, little crescendos in the joyous, boring senselessness of life."

Building Your Pitch from Elena Johnson from QueryTracker. Translated notes from Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary. Peek: "She gave five steps for building your pitch. I think this pitch can transfer to the written query letter as well as be used for verbal pitching at conferences."

Bugs in My Hair?! by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Albert Whitman, 2010) is now available in paperback. From the promotional copy: "'What do you mean, I have bugs in my hair?!' blurts Ellie when her mother and their school nurse give her the bad news: Ellie has head lice. 'These things happen,' says Ellie's mother. At home, Ellie and her mother talk to the doctor and read the papers from the school nurse. Then they shampoo, comb, and do laundry. Ellie even writes a note for kids who get head lice-'These things happen,' it says. The author includes a note for concerned parents. Catherine Stier's light look at this all-too-common problem is sure to strike the right note with stressed-out kids and families. Tammie Lyon's humorous paintings complete this reassuring tale."

Top Ten Crime Fiction for Youth: an annotated bibliography by Ian Chipman from Booklist. Peek: "Whether your tastes run toward historical whodunits, high-stakes heists, or hard-boiled hawkshaws, outstanding examples of each can be found in the best crime fiction for youth reviewed in Booklist over the past 12 months." Source: April Henry.

Interview: AnnMarie Anderson, Senior Editor at Scholastic Paperbacks by Nathalie Mvondo (with Ari) from Multiculturalism Rocks! Peek: "...if there’s a book out there that’s just a really great read, with vibrant, believable characters and an exciting plot, and the characters happen to be people of color, then I don’t think that book will be a tough sell."

You're Still Working on the Same Book by Robie H. Harris from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "...that’s when I realized that as an nonfiction author, it was my responsibility to make sure that kids and teens, the audiences for this book, would have the latest and most accurate science and medical information in order to help them stay healthy. At that moment I knew that as long as this book was in print and went back to reprint, I would have more work to do."

Prom Drama: a bibliography of recommended reads from Teens @ Arapahoe Library District. Peek: " It’s amazing how quickly prom can turn into "prama" when the anticipation turns into stress! So, relax. We're here to help... or at least let you forget your troubles by reading about someone else's!"

Pie-of-the-national-poetry-month-club: Susan Blackaby by Heather Vogel Frederick from Set Sail For Adventure. Peek: "I once told an editor that none of the major publishers (including hers) know beans about producing leveled readers. Just because something is true doesn’t mean you need to be the one to say so...."

Handling Critiques Without Getting Defensive by Carolyn Kaufman from Blog. Peek: "...having problems pointed out is tough, but that's the only way we're going to build a great story. This is even more true if you hope to publish, because both agents and editors will ask you to make (often tough) revisions to polish your story into a salable state. (And don't forget about the reviews after your book is published! You'll need a thick skin for those!)"

The Series Bible by Nathan Bransford from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "Whenever you reintroduce a character the Series Bible will remind you what they look like. If you have different worlds/planets/lands/classrooms/lairs you won't have to go hunting through your manuscript to try and remember which one is which." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Author-Agent Agreements from BookEnds, LCC. Peek: "Getting an agent should be about a lot more than submitting your book or negotiating a contract. It should be one step toward building a career, and hopefully that’s the way you’ll want to treat it."

The Crimson Cap by Ellen Howard (Holiday House, 2009) has been chosen as the winner of the 2010 June Franklin Naylor Award for the Best Book for Children on Texas History. Read a PDF excerpt.

The End of the World as I Know It by Jeff Hirsch from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "A girl talks to you or she doesn't. One little adjustment and everything can change. Over and over you're saying goodbye to one world and hello to another. Didn't it feel like that? So monumental?"

Cynsational Blogger Tip: make your post titles are specific as possible. Often readers are scrolling through a list. Which would you be more likely to click on "Guess what?" or "Author-Editor Interview with Shana Corey of Random House."

Five Children's Books about Microfinance: a round-up by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients who traditionally lack access to banking." Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Do the Write Thing for Nashville: "We're raising money for flood relief in Nashville by auctioning off critiques and more from your favorite authors, agents, and editors." New items go live daily. See also Tennessee Flooding: thoughts by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin 2010)(ages 8-12): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: " Theodosia Throckmorton is back and the Museum of Legends and Antiquities is as unsettled as ever. "

Writers Links from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's Literature Resources. The home of a mega round-up of annotated links on agents, book design and art direction, editors and publishers, education, illustration, promotion, publishing, and writing. Bookmark for future use, and please pass on this link. Notes: it answers about half of the questions I receive from the main website; especially useful to those trying to get an overview of children's-YA publishing and/or to find an agent.

Giveaway Reminders

Enter to win a copy of Morpheus Road: The Light by by D. J. MacHale (Aladdin, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Marshall Seaver is being haunted. Or maybe we should say, hunted, because it was that too. Marsh is left alone to deal with demons both of his own making and those that are reaching out from beyond the grave. Follow this series to outer reaches of reality where the supernatural becomes . . . natural.

See also the book trailer.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Morpheus Road: The Light" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message/comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: May 31. Publisher sponsored; U.S. entries only.

Enter to win a copy of Smells Like a Dog by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown, 2010)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Smells Like Dog" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: May 31. Publisher sponsored; U.S. entries only. See also Suzanne on Why I Love Writing for Middle Graders.

Cynsational Screening Room

Jennifer Cervantes
, author of Tortilla Sun (Chronicle, 2010) makes tortillas with her daughters. Source: Josh Berk.

Check out the book trailer for Keeper by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2010).

Check out the book trailer for Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready (Simon Pulse, 2010).

Check out the book trailer for Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson (Simon Pulse, May 18, 2010).

Check out the book trailer for Once Upon a Baby Brother by Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (Melanie Kroupa, June 2, 2010). Source: Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth.

Author Jackson Pearce on critique partners:

More Personally

Author Melissa Walker sends in this shelf shot that includes Eternal (Candlewick, 2010) and can be found at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan (NYC). Thanks, Melissa!

Class Notes Change of Plans: Two Law School Grads Bolster Their Friendship by Changing Their Careers and Finding Their Calling in Books by Lara Zielin from The Law Quadrangle [of The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor (PDF). Features me and classmate, fellow YA author, and pal Niki Burnham. Read a Cynsations interview with Niki.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation by A.J. Coutu from World of Ares. Peek: "Miranda and Zachary are truly interesting characters. While they are partially defined by their status as supernatural beings, but they are also filled with the self-doubt and raw emotions that are in all of us."

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation by Iffath from Love Reading X: for people who just love reading. Peek: "Eternal was full of danger, passion, deception, humor, and anticipation."

YA Book Review: "Eternal" by award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith from Mechele R. Dillard from Atlanta Young Adult Literature Examiner. Peek: "Parents are sometimes concerned about teens' fascination with the 'realm of the undead,' but Leitich Smith's work is an excellent example of how a positive influence can be found in a necessarily-dark area of literary fascination."

Reading Is Fundamental 2009 Multicultural Library Booklist (PDF): an annotated bibliography. Peek: With the support of Macy’s, RIF has donated more than 400 multicultural children’s book collections to elementary school classrooms in low-income communities throughout the United States. Each collection includes 50 hardcover books representing American Indian, African-American, and Hispanic themes as well as a selection from additional parallel culture groups. RIF also provided reading activities to accompany the book collection. Note: I'm honored that my picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) was included in this wonderful program.

Cynsational Events

Johnson City Writes: A Literary Event with Authors Greg Garrett, Bethany Hegedus, and Bill Minutaglio will take place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 11 at Johnson Settlement Event Center in Johnson City, Texas. Peek: "The day begins with a panel discussion with authors Greg Garrett, Bethany Hegedus, and Bill Minutaglio, and each author will teach a break-out session in the afternoon. See event details (PDF) with class descriptions, instructor bios, and information on how to make your reservation today. Class sizes are limited!"

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. See faculty bios. Note: I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

SCBWI Florida: Mid-Year Workshop and Intensives will be June 4 and June 5 at Disney's Coronada Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. Note: I'm honored to be leading the marketing track with author/social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs. Picture book, middle grade, YA, and series tracks also are available.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Guest Post: Alex Sanchez on The Guy Box

By Alex Sanchez

Before becoming a YA author, I worked for several years as a juvenile probation officer. What struck me most when I first began was that 90% of my caseload was boys.

I recall asking my supervisor: "Why so many more boys than girls?"

His response: “Because they act out more.”

Act out what? I wondered.

As I listened to the boys' stories about their conflicts with families, school, and peers, I could hear the hurt and pain behind their words. And I began to understand what they were "acting out."

We all know the admonition that society imparts to boys: Boys don’t cry. But from what I observed, the message is actually far broader: Boys shouldn’t feel, period.

Whereas we allow girls a wide range of emotional expression, boys are too often given the message that they shouldn’t show or feel almost any emotion, whether it be hurt, loneliness, sadness, grief, or even too much joy.

What’s left? Anger—directed either toward others or turned inward. That’s the emotional "box" that we confine guys to. The Guy Box.

Maybe that’s why 90% of my caseload was boys; why guys commit suicide about four times more than females; why males comprise a majority of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless of all ages; why guys have lower levels of college attendance... The list goes on, including the striking statistic that every school shooter, except one, has been male.

It can be hard for boys to sort out their feelings. I should know: I used to be a teenage boy myself. Too often we abandon boys to figure out how to be men from violent, misogynistic, and homophobic computer games, gangsta’ rap videos, Internet porn sites, and gun-filled TV shows.

What’s the alternative? One option is books about boys—whether written by men or women. Positive images that help boys figure out what it means to be a man. Affirming stories that help guide boys through the confusing terrain of adolescence by creating an emotional connection and providing a moral compass.

Although I left my job as a juvenile probation officer quite a few years ago, the stories of the boys I worked with continue to move me. Their experiences are a big part of what motivates me to write about boys, reminding me of my own teen memories, and inspiring me to keep pushing out of my own "guy box."

Cynsational Events Report: Austin Area Children's Book Signings

Author Chris Barton celebrated the release Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) April 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

The crowd starts to gather.

Former Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow, YA author Mari Mancusi (newly relocated to Austin!), and current Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales.

Author-illustrator Don Tate with man-of-the-hour Chris.

You could have a cookie in support of Train, Shark, or both!

Afterward, authors Jennifer Ziegler, Mari, Mark Mitchell, Jo Whittemore, and Greg Leitich Smith.

Last Sunday, Greg and I attended the launch of Anna Maria's Gift by Austin author Janice Shefelman, illustrated by Robert Papp (Random House, 2010). The event was held May 1 at BookPeople.

Janice shows off her new book, standing with her husband, children's book illustrator Tom Shefelman.

A young violinist accompanied Janice in her presentation. Notice Tom's painting in the background.

Janice signs books.

From there, we went to P.J. Hoover's signing at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum.

Here's P.J. "Tricia" Hoover!

Author Jessica Lee Anderson with Mark.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Author-Editor Feature: Shana Corey of Random House

Shana Corey on Shana Corey: "I grew up in North Carolina and moved to New York after graduating from Smith College. I got my first job working as an editorial assistant at Random House Children’s Books and fell so in love with the industry, that I never left.

"I was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for my first picture book, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!, illustrated by Chesley McLaren (Scholastic, 2000), which was also selected as a Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2000, a Booklist Editors' Choice, and an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book.

"My other picture books include Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2009), Milly and the Macy's Parade by Brett Helquist (Scholastic, 2002), Players in Pigtails, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Scholastic, 2003), and the First Graders From Mars Series, illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 2001-).

"I currently live in Brooklyn with my husband and two little boys.

"When not writing or hanging out with my family, I’m an editor at Random House where I enjoy reading and editing series like Babymouse by Matt and Jenni Holm and Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park, as well as middle grade and young adult novels."

What kind of young reader were you?

I was an excited reader--one who couldn’t wait to get home with the new stack of library books, one who loved getting pulled into different worlds (I still do).

I was also a heart-on-my-sleeve-emotional reader; when I loved a book-I looooved a book. I was the Little House on the Prairie [by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-)] equivalent of a Trekkie.

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout "yes!" or run the other way?

I kind of ran back and forth. I always loved writing and telling stories to myself and kids I babysat for (and at 12 I was pretty adamant that I was going to be the one to write the sequel to Gone With the Wind [by Margaret Mitchell (1936)]), but I was shy about sharing my writing with peers and had a pattern of running from that. I joined the high school newspaper, and then quit when I heard there were going to be try outs. I’d sign up for writing classes and then panic and drop out. I had complete performance anxiety.

Writing professionally grew naturally out of editing though. When I started at Random House, editorial assistants were often given licensed writing projects. For me, that was absolute, total bliss. I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I would have paid them to let me write--and the more I wrote, the less shy I became about sharing.

What inspired you to make youth literature in particular your career focus?

I’ve always been a kid person and kid’s books are the books that have meant the most to me over the years. They’re the books I return to again and again, the books that my college roommate and I first bonded over, the books that most often make me teary, and the books that when I lend, I really, really want back.

I took a children’s literature class in college and that was the first time I realized that perhaps I could turn my love of kids books into a job.

(I was a government major, and until that point, my career plan involved becoming the president of the United States. So it’s good that I found a backup plan.)

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles?

Once I started writing, I found it much easier to send out my writing to someone I didn’t know (at least in the beginning) rather than to face live readers in a class or writing group, and that was enormously freeing. I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?

And I got very, very lucky by finding exactly the right editor at the right time—an editor who is not only immensely smart and talented, but who also shares many of my interests.

I wrote fast and furiously for a few years, and then slowed down quite a bit in the past five years as my day job has become more and more interesting and satisfying to me (I’m kind of an all-or-nothing sort of girl, I tend to seesaw back and forth between where I’m focusing my creative energy-writing or editing).

And then I had my kids, and since they’re still young, my focus is really on them. I know many people who manage to balance work and kids and writing brilliantly, and I’m in complete and utter awe of them. I do still write, but very slowly now-like watching paint dry slow. My process is: type a word-now maybe I better take a break to go make some playdough or join the PTA or redecorate the kids room-type the another word.

Could you update us on your back-list books, highlighting as you see fit?

My childhood Little House obsession grew into a passion for women’s history which has inspired most of books. My first book, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!, is a lighthearted look at Amelia Bloomer, a real life early feminist and the woman bloomers are named after.

Players in Pigtails is about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. In that story, I’d done all the research, interviewed players, etc. and had all sorts of wonderful facts I couldn’t wait to include (in order to make female athletes palatable to 1940s America, the players were actually required to go to charm school and to wear lipstick--I couldn’t make up such fun details!).

I was stuck though on which player to focus the story on--there were just so many admirable women in the league, picking one didn’t seem fair.

In the end, I happened to come across the lyrics to the song “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” (1908). And I found something that completely amazed me. There’s a little known first verse that begins “Katie Casey was baseball mad, had the fever and had it bad.”

I couldn’t believe it. The song that everyone associates with baseball is about a girl! I decided instead of focusing on a single woman, to make a fictional main character--a composite of the many cool women in the league--and I named her Katie Casey.

Milly and the Macy’s Parade is a holiday story, but it’s really an ode to my Jewish grandmothers both of whom were the daughters of immigrants and who are about the same age as Milly is in the story. Most of the story is fiction, but it’s rooted in a fact about the parade’s beginnings.

The parade was started by immigrants who worked at Macy's and who were homesick for the holiday traditions of their homelands--I read that and was intrigued. I wondered who actually started it? And I loved how quintessentially American it was that the parade began with immigrants and the traditions they brought with them.

Congratulations on the success of Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2009). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thank you! I first came across Annette’s name while I was researching Amelia Bloomer, and she kept popping up until I decided I needed to find out her story.

I tend to be inspired by people who are brave enough to buck convention, and Annette (a record-setting athlete who scandalized Boston by wearing a one-piece bathing suit in 1908) certainly did that.

I loved that Annette was confident enough to be herself and to do what she knew to be right--even if it meant going against the prevailing fashion (as anyone who’s ever gone to high school knows, it doesn’t get much braver than that!).

I think as children, we all believe that we’re special, that we have it in us to change the world. We start out wanting to be artists or astronauts or rock stars, but then somewhere along the way, most of us lose that absolute, unconditional belief in ourselves.

Well, Annette never lost it. And when the whole world told her her clothing choices were wrong, she wore them anyway and went on to write books about why the rest of the world should change. How can you not love that they kind of chutzpah?! I wish I had it!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Researching Annette was a challenge. There’s very little out about her, and most of what I originally found included discrepancies that made the research a bit like a treasure hunt.

I spent weeks pouring over microfilm from 1907, which is when all the secondary accounts said she’d been in Boston, and I couldn’t find a single mention of her in any of the Boston papers. I finally started looking for her in the surrounding years and had an ‘aha!’ moment when she showed up in Boston papers in 1908.

You have published a number of easy readers. What attracts you to this format/age-level? What are its special challenges?

I think early readers are a great training ground for picture books because they force you to be very concise and not to rely on flowery language (which can be lovely to read, but is probably not going to hook a kid anyway). Early readers also have very precise word counts and rules and when you learn that rhythm, they can be hugely fun to write, like figuring out a puzzle. They also make great read-alouds.

My kids love Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Donald Cook (Random House, 2005), Eat My Dust! Henry Ford's First Race by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Richard Walz (Random House, 2004), and George Washington and the General’s Dog by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz (Random House, 2002).

What advice do you have--both creatively and professionally--for writers interested in creating books of this kind?

Read everything you can, research what’s already out there and find something that hasn’t already been done, and write the publishers to find out what their guidelines are and who the editor is for that format. The biggest mistake writers make is to submit to the wrong editor--find someone who edits books like the one you’re writing.

Let's shift gears! You're also an editor at Random House! How did you prepare for this career?

As with writing, I think the best and really the only preparation for an editing career is to read everything you can.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

As an editor, it’s my job to help an author make their book the best it can possibly be and then position that book to sales and marketing in a way that gets them as excited about the book as I am and that gives them the tools they need to spread that excitement outside of the house to the rest of the world. I also want to make it as smooth and as positive a process as I possibly can for all involved.

What are its challenges?

The economy. It’s hard to have a book you love, a book you know is really good and that deserves readership, that may even have the reviews to support that--and then not to have it sell well.

It can also be a challenge at times to manage expectations. The truth is that it’s not standard or even necessarily helpful to tour first-time authors, and it’s my job to make sure an author understands that and knows that it’s not for lack of enthusiasm; we’re just spending our marketing dollars very strategically, and a well-placed ad, or an ARC giveaway at conferences may actually help them and their book more than sending them on the road.

What do you love about it?

Really, just about everything (except the above)!

If you could make a change for the better in the publishing world, what would it be? Why?

Lately, I’ve noticed in certain forums there seems to be an "us against them" mentality—i.e. publishers are making a killing on eBooks or authors should wrest cover control away from evil publishers. I find it very disheartening. I think we’re all book people, we’re all trying to do the best we can by these stories.

I may be naïve, but as someone who’s been on both sides of the industry for almost 14 years now, what I almost always see are editors and publishers and authors working really hard for their books. Could we do better? Absolutely. Are mistakes sometimes made? Sure.

But I don’t think it’s systematic or the norm, and I definitely don’t think it’s constructive to approach it as a battle between publishers and readers/authors. We’re all on the same side and I'd love for people to start off with that assumption. (I know, I know, cue "It’s a Small World").

What are a few of your favorite books (of those you edited) and why?

I’m a huge fan of C.K. Kelly Martin and am so excited for more and more people to discover her. Her writing is just mind-blowingly gorgeous, and her characters are people I recognize and connect with and care about every time--even the minor characters.

C. K.’s newest book The Lighter Side of Life and Death [releases May 25] is my favorite yet. It’s one of the sexiest, most soulful books I’ve ever read.

I also have the pleasure of editing the incredibly talented brother-sister duo Matt and Jenni Holm and am always happy when a new Babymouse comes out (in part because I’ll get a 24-hour break from my five-year-old begging me for the next Babymouse!) They’re such smart, laugh-out-loud funny books. Cupcake Tycoon is coming out this fall.

And this is an extra busy year for Jenni because she has a new novel out as well--her first since her Newbery Honor winning Penny From Heaven (2006).

Jenni’s new novel Turtle in Paradise (May 10) is a book the whole family can enjoy together. It was inspired by Jenni’s family history and is set in depression era Key West, and reading it, you’re just transported--the local color and characters, the voice. It has everything from a gang of ragtag kids, to Little Orphan Annie, to Ernest Hemingway to buried pirate treasure—and it’s incredibly vivid and beautifully written.

Audrey Couloumbis is one of my favorite all time authors. Her Misadventures of Maude March is a book I would have loved growing up and am very proud to have been a part of--it’s a wild, rollicking western about two orphaned sisters who become inadvertent outlaws and it stars the most endearing narrator I’ve ever met. And Audrey has another book coming out this fall, Jake (Sept. 2010), that I think is really special.

And I have two middle grade debuts this spring I’m really excited about, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (a story with magic, miniatures, mystery and adventure and perfect for fans of From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1967) and The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (Hyperion, 2000)) and Nature Girl by Jane Kelley (a wonderfully funny, feel-good, girl power twist on a survival story that I want to give to every 9-12 year-old girl I know!).

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

Mostly through agents--Random House officially doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, though if I’ve met an author and connected with their voice, then I usually welcome submissions from them.

What recommendations do you have for writers interested in working with you? With your house?

Join SCBWI. Get a good agent, and I’d really recommend an editor-friendly agent. Yes, you want your agent to get you a good deal, but you also want them to be someone editors enjoy working with.

What makes Random House special?

We have an amazing, unparalleled sales force made up of the smartest and most enthusiastic book people I’ve ever met. We have a President who genuinely cares about creating a fun place to work. We’re a great place for authors and a great place to work (though as a writer, I want to say Scholastic’s pretty special as well).

How does your writer self inform your editor self and vise versa?

They’re so intertwined it’s hard to separate. My writer self reminds my editor self to be very gentle and encouraging. It’s easy to write a ten-page editorial letter, but I know that it can be overwhelming to read on the other end.

My writer self also reminds me editor self that it’s not my story, and so I work hard to make sure that I’m never encouraging an author to take a story in a direction that doesn’t feel right to them.

On the other side, my editor self reminds my writer self that this is a tough market and there are a lot of books out there. That I shouldn’t get my hopes up for "Oprah" or a 12-city book tour. And that I should never, ever be a diva to my editor or to any of the talented folks graciously working on my books.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I read grownups books, I go to yoga and wait for the snow to melt and the sunshine to come back out (update: it's melted! the sun's out! I'm dizzy with vitamin D!), I hang out with my family and laugh over the things my kids say and bore my friends and family by repeating them excessively, I surf the internet way too much and watch way too much bad television (and some good television--though I tend to prefer the bad).

Cynsational Event Report: Texas Library Association Conference

Wow, what fun I had at last month's annual conference of the Texas Library Association in San Antonio! Special thanks to the TLA Young Adult Round Table and Candlewick Press.

Author Tim Tingle shows off Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light, illustrated by Karen Clarkson (Cinco Puntos, 2010).

ALA Honor Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Chris Barton. Chris's new release is Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little, Brown, 2010).

Professor Junko Yokota of National-Louis University in Chicago and National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt.

Professor Sylvia Vardell of Texas Woman's University.

Author-librarian Debbie Leland models my upcoming release Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010).

Author Janet Fox models her upcoming release, Faithful (Speak, May 13, 2010).

Texas Sweethearts Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover, and Jo Whittemore. Jo's new release is Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin, 2010).

Professor Teri Lesesne of Sam Houston State University and Lois Buckman, librarian at Caney Creek High School in Conroe, TX.

Buda author Jerry Wermund shows off Focus on Minerals, illustrated by Tony Sansevero (Rockon, 2007).

Author Peni R. Griffin models 11,000 Years Lost (Amulet, 2004).

Author Kathy Whitehead shows off Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Putnam, 2008).

Illustrator Joy Fisher Hein.

Author Pat Mora and Professor Loriene Roy of The University of Texas.

Austin authors Greg Leitich Smith, Bethany Hegedus, April Lurie, Debbie Gonzales, Carmen Oliver, and Shana Burg. Bethany looks forward to the release of Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, Oct. 2010) and April's most recent book is The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010).

April again, this time with authors Frances and Brian Yansky. Brian's next book is Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, Oct. 2010).
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