Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Read the first two chapters of The Princess of Iowa by M. Molly Backes (Candlewick, 2012) online for free.

Tips and Tools for the Agent Hunt from Donna Bowman Bratton. Includes information on researching agents, where to find them, and how to field "the call."

Character Connection by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "One of the most common reasons for rejecting a manuscript is when the agent or editor can’t connect with the main character."

TOC Bologna: Digital Kids' Publishers Try to Chart the Growth Ahead by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The questions were many, and the answers...perhaps fewer. Integrity of e-products, especially those intended for children, was a recurring theme...as was the array of digital options available to publishers, each with their advantages and disadvantages in terms of development costs, pricing, competition, and more." Source: Joy Preble.

Independent Booksellers Nimbly Stay Afloat by Cynthia Morris from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Not even the most savvy webinar can compete with the buzz of a live event. There’s nothing like rubbing elbows with other bibliophiles."

How to Submit a Package Wherein Illustrations are Kit-and-Caboodle with the Text by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "... in your case, the project is all-or-nothing, so here’s how to do it right."

Manuscript Blindness by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: "How can you cut them or even radically change them? They're yours. It would be betrayal."

First Nation Communities Read 2012-2013 Nominees Announced from Helen Kubiw at CanLit for Little Canadians. Peek: "Initiated in 2003, the First Nation Communities Read program has as its mandate the promotion of family literacy, intergenerational storytelling, and intergenerational information sharing, of texts with First Nation, Métis, or Inuit content, and involving the participation (writing, illustration, etc.) of a First Nation, Métis, or Inuit creator."

How to Make a Series Bible by Michelle Schusterman from YA Highway. Peek: "...a document (or several documents) containing everything from character descriptions and class schedules to timelines and setting details. It takes some time to put together, but it’s worth it when you don’t have to go flipping through pages trying to remember whether the best friend lives on Walton or Walden Street."

It's Okay to Leave Stuff Out. In Fact, It's Better. from Jane Friedman. Peek: "I was too young to know it at the time, but the stuff I was writing was really prep work..." See also Jane on Distinguishing Between Straight-up Advice and Paradigm Shift.

Dare to Suck by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I’m going to show you an approach that just might help you overcome those mosquito-biting, brick-walling, quick-sandy (hey, it might be a word) speed bumps from hell."

What Can Stop Your Career from Ever Starting by Emily Latham from Jane Friedman. Peek: "We are constantly searching to define the unknown. Not many people are complacent with not knowing."

The Hunger Mountain Auction include manuscript critiques by agents Ammi-Joan Paquette (three chapters, bid one and two), Holly McGhee (picture book), Elena Mechlin (100 pages of YA novel), Tricia Lawrence (YA novel), Joan Slattery (25 pages of YA novel) as well as a picture book critique by author Liz Garton Scanlon, children's book marketing consultation from Curious City, and five-night writing retreat at the Writing Barn in south Austin.

Recommended to talk about bullying.
Thoughts on Books, Bullying and Standing Up by Ann Angel from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "The students and I discussed how frightening it is to be bullied and how it makes them feel. They had a lot to say on the subject of bullying and being kept down and wrote so many comments I couldn’t post them all in one column so I’m posting more today."

How Much Should We Take Readers Into Account When We Write? by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writing Mystery is Murder. Peek: "You’ve got to know your target demographic. You need to know what your readers like."

Macmillan Prize Incorporates Digital by Charlotte Williams from The Bookseller. Peek: "The Macmillan Prize (U.K.), which rewards illustration, has introduced a digital category for the first time...The prize now has two separate categories, one for a physical picture book, and one rewarding a storyboard for an enhanced e-book." Source: Achocka Blog.

Congratulations to Mary Kole, formerly of Andrea Brown Literary, on her new position as Senior Literary Manager and the head of Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult at Movable Type Management. See more information.

Eight Ways to Get More Out of Your Facebook Fan Page Today by Raag Vamdatt from ProBlogger. Peek: "The new fan pages don’t allow you to use many of the tactics that you might be used to. However, these changes do open up many new possibilities as well."

Great Cause

Support the Distribution of "Fat Kid Rules the World," a Narrative Film Project in Los Angeles at Kickstarter. "Mainstream Hollywood doesn't know how to make money on a movie like this, they don't believe that there is an audience, and we mean to prove them wrong." Notes: (a) based on the Printz honor book of the same name by K.L. Going, (b) video contains strong language.



Cynsational Giveaways

Joanne on Details in Writing
Last call! Enter for a chance to win a picture book critique or first-chapter critique for a middle grade novel (ages 8 to 12) by Joanne Rocklin, emphasizing "sparkly details."

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Joanne Rocklin critique" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: 11:59 CST May 14. Note: please indicate if you're entering for a critique/book or both.

And enter to win one of three copies of The Fives Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin (Abrams, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: 11:59 CST May 14. Note: please indicate if you're entering for a critique/book or both.


Last call! Librarians, enter to win one of three sets of five signed Diabolical bookmarks and a Tantalize series button! Please indicate your affiliation (the specific school(s), public library/system) in your entry. 

Last call! YA readers! I'm also happy to send up to five individual signed bookmarks!

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Diabolical" in the subject line. (If you're on LiveJournal, I'm also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.) Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: midnight CST May 14.

New Editor Critique Giveaway! Enter for a chance to win one of five first-page critiques from Penguin editor Steve Meltzer. Picture books through YA. Fiction or nonfiction. Eligibility: international.

Steve Meltzer has been in publishing industry for over 25 years and has served in a variety of positions and has been on many committees. He is the editor of many books for young readers, including John Madden’s Heroes of Football: The Story of America’s Game; the Sydney Taylor award-winning, Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin; the Every Cowgirl series by Rebecca Janni, illustrated by Lynne AvrilThe Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day (an SLJ Best Book of the Year); Useful Fools by C.A. Schmidt (a Booklist Best Book of the Year) and The Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton, illustrated by Jen Hill. His series include Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol and the Dutton Winnie-the-Pooh books. Steve also is an adjunct instructor at New York University.

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and/or ask Tina Nichols Coury a question. Deadline: May 15.

Karyn on Backstory
New YA Book Giveaway! Enter to win a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Please specify if you already own one of the books and are looking to win the other. Or email Cynthia directly with "Eye of the Sword,"in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 21.

The winner of The Veil by Cory Putnam Oakes Prize Package was Mera in Maryland.

This Week at Cynsations 

More Personally

Congratulations to P.J. Hoover on her two-book deal with Tor and to E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally on Dear Teen Me (Zest, 2012) being chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection.

Here's a peek into this week in my writing life...

Copy edits on book one of the YA fantasy series launching in winter 2013.
Betty X. Davis, Bethany Hegedus, Sara Pennypacker, Vanessa Lee and Debbie Gonzales celebrate Sarah's new release, Summer of the Gypsy Moths (Balzer + Bray, 2012) at BookPeople.

Liz Garton Scanlon (standing, students pictured) hosted me, Greg, Jeff Crosby, Lindsey Lane...
plus Mari Mancusi and P.J. Hoover at Austin Community College.
Greg, me, Jennifer Ziegler & Jordan Sonnenblick at Threadgill's. Photo by Chris Barton.

Chris and Jordan post the flight of the Congress Avenue bats! Photo by Jenny.


Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Dinosaur Thunder by Marion Dane Bauer

About Greg Leitich Smith:

Re: Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Blake Henry (Clarion, 2012): “[T]his is exactly the book young dino fans would write themselves, crammed with sandbox-style action and positively packed with words like Nanotyrannus and Parasaurolophus. Great back matter clarifies fact from speculation, while Henry’s manga-inspired illustrations provide a good sense of the monsters’ scary scale.” – Booklist

Cynsational Events

Salima Alikhan speaks on "Writerly Despair: How to Be Inspired, Rather than Crippled, by Criticism" at 10 a.m. May 12 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI.
Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors, in celebration of 100 Years of School Libraries in Austin, which will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin.


Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith this summer?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview & Editor Critique Giveaway: Author Tina Nichols Coury & Editor Steve Meltzer on Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tina: What was the initial inspiration for Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Dial, 2012)?

Little did I know that homework, a funeral and a famous stained glass window would begin a journey towards publication that would last almost eighteen years.

Here’s how it happened.

In the mid-nineties, I attended a funeral for an elderly neighbor at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, a very old cemetery in Los Angeles, renowned both as the resting place of movie stars and the home to many fabulous pieces of art.

I had planned to bury myself at the local library after the service to search for an idea for a project I needed to do for a children’s writing class I was taking. But I had never seen the stained glass window of Leonardo da Vinci’s "Last Supper" that Forest Lawn is famous for, so I decided to take a quick hike up to the Grand Mausoleum to see it before I left.

In the Court of Honor, the stained glass window took up one whole side of the mausoleum. Along with the select group of the rich and famous who were spending eternity under the window, I discovered something surprising: a small relief of Mount Rushmore tucked away on a lower corner of the wall. The names of Gutzon and Mary Borglum were etched below.

What was Mount Rushmore doing there with The Last Supper, and who were the Borglums? I knew immediately that I had found a subject for my class project.

Later, at the library, I found the research about the sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the construction of Mount Rushmore fascinating. And in all the stories of the creation of the monument, one interesting fact came up again and again: the sculptor’s son, Lincoln, had been with his father every step of the way.

Lincoln Borglum as a boy

I brought two different book ideas into class the following week. One was the building of Mount Rushmore; the other was the story of the sculptor’s son. The feedback from my instructor and my classmates was unanimous. Everyone felt I should concentrate my efforts on writing about the son, Lincoln Borglum.

Tina: What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Tina's doberman Honey and her pal Ginger
I am a trained artist, and writing for children was a new skill to learn. For ten years, I took classes and joined critique groups and worked on this story. At one point I put the manuscript in a drawer for two years.

Then at my local SCBWI Writer’s Day in 2005, editor Mark McVeigh of Dutton (now an agent), who had critiqued my manuscript, asked to acquire it.

Then for the next seven years the book went through two editors, three release push-backs and a house reorganization that moved the book from Dutton to Dial.

It took fourteen years to build Mount Rushmore.

 It took over seventeen years from that day in my children’s writing class to have a published book in my hand!

Tina: Dutton first acquired your manuscript in fall 2005. You were half way through the editing process when your first editor left Dutton back in early 2008. Then the manuscript was assigned to Steve Meltzer. What was your first impression of Steve?

My first impression was relief. I had heard horror stories about orphan picture books going to editors who only worked in YA. Steve was a senior editor and had worked in publishing for years. He wrote me a friendly email saying he looked forward to working together. I asked him to be interviewed for my blog and he agreed. I immediately loved him for that.

Steve: You hadn’t acquired Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose. But you were assigned it after the original editor left the house. What was you first impression of the manuscript and of Tina?
 
I love nonfiction. I feel that I am a very lucky to make a living reading history. So when my publisher offered me the chance to take on this project, I was thrilled.

I thought that the story of a boy who finishes his father’s dream in creating a sculpture from a mountain was operatic.

Tina’s manuscript was incredibly good. It was a rare example of the editor not having to do much editing. I think Tina was a little surprised when she read my short editorial letter.

Inside Mount Rushmore Studio

Steve: How did you and/or the art director come to match Tina’s text with Sally’s art?

The credit for that goes to the book’s original editor, Mark McVeigh and art director, Sara Reynolds. All I can say is it was a wise choice. I joined the project after Sally had been signed up. It was a real treat to be able to work with her since she is very selective about projects. Sally used a style that had a '60s nostalgic feel but with very modern updates. Very folksy, which truly matched the text.

Tina: The book release date was pushed back one than once. What did you do to promote your under-contract but still unpublished book during that time?

I fell into blogging early in 2007 and my blog, Tales From the Rushmore Kid, gave me a platform for my unpublished book and a voice in the children’s writer’s community. I work hard to get interesting content from agents, editors and authors. Many have given me interviews, including Susan Patron, Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman.

In 2008, my husband, legendary record executive Al Coury (pictured below), received a lifetime achievement award from a heritage foundation in D.C. I didn’t like the video production company they were using for the honorees, so my control-freak self decided to learn how to make one. It was a big hit at the event, and the confidence I gained led me to a produce a new cyber promotional tool, the book trailer.

In 2010, I wrote an article for Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market on “Book Promotion: From Blog Tours to Book Trailers.”

Also in 2010, I applied for and was accepted on the faculty of the SCBWI Summer Conference. That was a dream-come-true for me.

Tina: What advice would you give fellow writers on how to get published?

If you haven’t done so, join the SCBWI. Everything you need to get published is in this organization. Presentations on craft, critiques and workshops will hone your manuscripts. The focus is always on the quality of the manuscript. Many editors and agents critique for SCBWI events, and it is a great way to get your manuscript noticed.

Tina is the youngest child.
Today you need a body of work to get an agent and agents are the new readers, so make sure your manuscripts are perfect before submitting to one.

Start blogging and commenting on kidlit blogs. There is tons of information out there, and it’s a wonderful community.

Think twice before you self publish, though it is cheap and tempting. At one stage, I thought about doing it, but I am glad I took the traditional route. It is easy to lose all perspective on one’s manuscript. It was a difficult journey to publication but it has been a collaborative one.

I had the creative force of two editors, art directors, designers, an illustrator, two copy editors, a publicist, and a marketing and sales staff. I can’t imagine what the book would have been like if only I wore all those hats.

Tina: What advice would you give mid-list authors on promoting their books?

Authors can do an amazing amount. Do one hour each day of cyber marketing. Besides Facebook and Twitter, it is important to blog. Blogging brings up your Google numbers. Do an Anniversary Blog Tour of your book. Research a new audience for your tour.

Unlike a new release that relies on book launches, signings and hype, backlist books need to tap into a whole new audience, and the web is full of opportunities. Surf the web for blogs that feature festivals, reviewers or producers of your “hook.” All books have a hook, whether it is apples, cowboys or teen romance.

Do a book trailer and kick off your tour with it. Book trailers are fairly new and most backlist books don’t have them. If you do have one, there is no law not to have another. The more cyber information out there, the better for your book.

Tina with illustrator Yuki Yoshino and authors Greg Trine and Lin Oliver.

Steve: What suggestions do you have for mid-list authors interested in working on their own and with their publisher to best promote their book(s)?

Go anywhere and everywhere to promote your book. Be it a library, classroom, bookstore, online…anywhere. Make something fun for giveaways so that people will remember you. Write articles for any magazine, newspaper or blog to promote your work. Do it all for free, in the end it will pay off.

Tina: Name one thing you learned from Steve.

Lots about writing and revising, of course, but the thing I most appreciate was learning that being friends with my editor is just as important as being colleagues.

Bleeding over revisions and dealing with the publication pushbacks was so much easier to handle with my buddy, not just my editor, to hold my hand.

Steve: Name one thing you learned from Tina.

Al presents John Lennon with a gold record.
Besides an incredible Paul McCartney story?

Seriously, the one word I would use to describe Tina is “generous”. She is generous as a writer since she always gives her best and is a great researcher. She is generous as a blogger since she is wonderful in promoting other people’s work. She is generous as a promoter always giving time to help her publisher.

However, she is incredibly generous as a friend; even offering to take on mom responsibilities when it looked like my daughter was going to take an internship in LA. Luckily, she dodged that bullet.

She is just great and has a bright writing future ahead of her.

Editor Critique Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win one of five first-page critiques from Penguin editor Steve Meltzer. Picture books through YA. Fiction or nonfiction. Eligibility: international.

To enter, comment on this post and/or ask Tina Nichols Coury a question. Deadline: May 15.

Blog Tour
Cynsational Notes

Tina Nichols Coury is an author, award-winning multi-media artist, blogger, vlogger, producer of book trailers and all around Renaissance woman. In character as “The Rushmore Kid”, she visits schools across the United States to present her popular "Why I Love America” program.

Tina currently lives and works on the beach in Oxnard, California with her husband Al, their Doberman, Honey, and the Keyboard Kitties, Toulouse and Monet. Don't miss her blog, Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Steve Meltzer has been in publishing industry for over 25 years and has served in a variety of positions and has been on many committees.

Steve is the editor of many books for young readers, including John Madden’s Heroes of Football: The Story of America’s Game; the Sydney Taylor award-winning, Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin; the Every Cowgirl series by Rebecca Janni, illustrated by Lynne AvrilThe Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day (an SLJ Best Book of the Year); Useful Fools by C.A. Schmidt (a Booklist Best Book of the Year) and The Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton, illustrated by Jen Hill. His series include Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol and the Dutton Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Steve also is an adjunct instructor at New York University.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Karyn Henley on Backstory or Baggage?

By Karyn Henley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

A suitcase overloaded with stuff you won't even need is frustrating to lug around. So is a novel overloaded with backstory. I learned the hard way to pack light whether traveling across country or journeying through a novel.

For years I started my novel manuscripts with a good deal of background. One day a well-respected author listened as I read my opening scene in a workshop.

She responded, “I don’t want to know all that.”

I was dumbfounded. Didn’t the reader need to know that my protagonist grew up in poverty? Or why the kingdom was at war?

I rewrote, working backstory into conversation or wedging it between beats of action. I read my new opening to a critique partner. After hearing two sentences she said, “Stop. That’s backstory.” I read two more sentences. “Backstory,” she said. Two more sentences. “Backstory. Backstory.”

Confused, I revised, then attended a writer’s conference. My critiquer said I had loaded my opening with backstory, most of it unnecessary. He gave me a tip: Don’t use the word “had” until at least page 50. “Had” signals backstory.

Karyn, scene sorting
With that clue, I revised. Still, I didn’t completely comprehend until I read this somewhere: Include backstory only when it moves the plot forward.

I finally got it – and here was the eye-opener: If you reveal backstory early, you sabotage yourself. Save backstory. Use it later for twists and shocks that surprise readers and send the plot in unexpected directions.

At last I understood. Here’s how it affected my rough, published as Breath of Angel (WaterBrook, 2011).

From the beginning, a major character is touchy and abrasive. I don’t explain why (backstory) until a third of the way through, when we need to know. Then we learn he’s grieving over a woman’s death. He loved her. But the reason he loved her lies in the nature of their past relationship (backstory), which is revealed late in the novel to create a twist.

My editor wrote in the margin: “Great reveal!” If I had told this guy’s backstory when I first introduced him, I would have destroyed the suspense and surprise.

With novels in a series, each book accumulates the history of its predecessors. It’s tempting to remind readers of what happened earlier by summarizing the previous books as backstory. But how much do readers need to know? A bit of backstory may be necessary, but tuck it in carefully in small amounts and only where it makes sense in the ongoing plot.

Backstory often hides in the guise of prologue. Do readers need background before they start the novel? Really? Or can you entice them into the story with your first page and reveal “prologue” later in supportive and surprising ways?

With travel these days, extra bags and overweight luggage can cost you. Backstory can cost you too. So take what you need, but travel – and write – lean and light.


Cynsational Notes

 Enter to win a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012). To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Please specify if you already own one of the books and are looking to win the other. Or email Cynthia directly with "Eye of the Sword,"in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 21.





Book Trailer: Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Whatever After (Scholastic)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

In the first book of Sarah Mlynowski's new series, Whatever After, Abby and Jonah are normal kids until the mirror in their basement magically transports them inside Snow White's fairly tale.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

In Memory: Maurice Sendak

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

My deepest sympathies to Maurice Sendak's many colleagues, friends, and fans in the world of children's literature.

I've gathered the following links and video in memory of his life and legendary body of work.

Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares, Dies at 83 by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: "Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn."

Maurice Sendak Dies, Author and Illustrator Wrote about Children's Survival by Becky Krystal from The Washington Post. Peek: "President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in 1996, saying, 'His books have helped children to explore and resolve their feelings of anger, boredom, fear, frustration and jealousy.'"

Why Picture Books Are Important by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Picture Book Month. Peek: "One of my earliest summer memories is of sitting on the carpeted floor of a bookstore and pouring over Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)."

My Friend Maurice by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: "...a grownup still obdurately tied to childhood, making him frequently impossible but also possessed with the honesty and passion of kids who haven’t yet learned to moderate or disguise their feelings."


"By now, Sendak is finding his dinner waiting for him.
"And it is still hot."



In the video below, Maurice Sendak discusses death (and life). Watch and listen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Editor Interview: Andrew Harwell of HarperCollins

Molli and...The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Andrew says: "I'm an associate editor at HarperCollins Children's, having come over from Penguin Young Readers last summer.

"I started working at Penguin immediately after graduating from the University of Chicago -- my family drove back to Georgia loaded down with my possessions while I flew up to New York with a smile and a suitcase.

"That more or less set the pace for what working in New York would always feel like."


What kind of young reader were you?

I started with big, sweeping classics because they were worth the most accelerated reader points and because I so enjoyed getting lost in other worlds -- I never wanted the books to end!

When I described this problem to my savvy local bookseller, she pointed me to the Redwall books in the children's corner. "These books never end," she said.

I became obsessed with Redwall and other fantasy series -- Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, Diana Wynne Jones...I even wrote Redwall fan fiction, although thankfully it's no longer online.

What inspired you to make children's-YA book editing your career focus?

I studied German and philosophy in college, but I spent my downtime in the kids' section of 57th Street Books, desperately seeking respite from the often dour, heady reading I was doing for class.

When I spent a summer in Germany, I found myself in the kids' sections there, too, devouring books that were both fun and foreign-reader-friendly. I became very interested in what German kid lit had to say about German culture (and as a fantasy reader, German kid lit is a treasure trove), and this enjoyable critical thinking turned me onto the idea of children's books as a career.

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

Definitely roles, plural. First and foremost, my role is to help my authors tell their stories in the clearest, most engaging way possible. And since editing is always a conversation, never just a red pen, that one step involves a lot of communication.

After that, my role is to share my enthusiasm for projects within my house, so that my house in turn can share that enthusiasm with the world. Then, I remain the liaison between my authors and my house, making sure that we're doing everything we can for each book, getting it into the hands of the right readers.

Thriller Fest 2010: R.L. Stine, Ridley Pearson, Andrew, F. Paul Wilson, A.J. Hartley, and Jennifer Allison
What are its challenges? What do you love about it?

Challenge #1: There are only 24 hours in each day. I wish I could offer thorough feedback to every author I meet, because truly, I've met so many talented authors, but if you couldn't tell from that last question, there is so much to do for the books already under contract that my job is frequently a herculean balancing act.

What I love most is helping authors discover new things about their own writing, whether it's a particular strength they hadn't realized or a recurring motif they've repeated unconsciously.

I also love seeing the reactions my authors get from kid readers. I've seen letters from parents and kids who say that a book I've worked on has changed their life, and let's be honest, that feeling never gets old.

If you could go back to your pre-editor self, what advice would you give him?

Master yoga. You'll need it later, and even the evening classes won't fit into your schedule.

What sort of manuscripts are you interested in and what about that type of book appeals to you?

I work exclusively on middle grade and young adult novels.

In middle grade, I love series with expansive world-building and offbeat characters. If I need charts, graphs, and encyclopedias to edit it, I'm there. I'm also drawn to off-kilter humor and books with macabre sensibilities, like Coraline (HarperCollins, 2002) or A Tale Dark and Grimm (Dutton, 2010).



I'm a genre guy in YA, too, from horror and thrillers (I was a Lois Duncan fanatic in middle school) to slipstream and fantasy. My favorite YA writers are the ones who clearly value every single word, and who know that "young adults" and "older kids" are not the same thing at all.

Could you tell us a bit about your latest and/or upcoming books?


I have the privilege of working with career funny-man Chris Grabenstein on a series called Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers, the first of which just came out this month. It's a caper comedy that we're describing as "'Ocean's 11' for tweens," and it makes me laugh every time I read it.

The first series I signed up myself at Harper is called Case File 13, and volume one, Zombie Kid, goes on sale next January. I wish I could go back and give it to my 10-year-old Goosebumps-loving self.

What books, along the lines of those you publish, would you recommend for study?



Diana Wynne Jones' writing defines my idea of good plotting, with character arcs, subplots, and minor details all coalescing into climaxes that will boggle your mind every time. Kelly Link's twisty, razor-sharp prose consistently sets my brain on fire, and I can't think of higher praise than that. Dan Gutman, whose My Weird School books I have the privilege of working on, makes the most brilliant and hilarious wordplay seem effortless. I'd start with them.

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

Write the story that sets your brain on fire, not the story that you think will sell.

What are pitfalls to avoid?


A common pitfall I see is an overly ornamented voice undercutting what might otherwise be a good story. I attribute this to the legacy of writers like Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, and Lemony Snickett, who can pull off that sly wink to more sophisticated readers while still giving us characters we can care about.

To be clear, I love those authors’ books, but that kind of arch storytelling isn't inherently interesting to my mind, and often I see writers get lost in their clever language to the detriment of their plots and characters.

As a reader, so far what are your three favorite books (not including your own) of 2012 and why?

As much as I've talked about middle grade, my three favorite books so far this year are all YA:



1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Read with a box of tissues, and prepare for a paradigm shift. It's a book you'll finish and then immediately call everyone in your phone to tell them how much you love them.


2. Black Heart by Holly Black: When you read for a living, it's rare for a plot to surprise you, but every book in this Curseworkers series has been truly unpredictable. And Holly Black pulls off an incredibly difficult feat in creating a world populated almost entirely by anti-heroes who all manage to be likeable despite their grievous shortcomings.


3. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: Cashore is a master of weaving complex mysteries rooted organically in complex characters, and this third book in the Graceling series takes the "sins of the father" theme of the first two books to all new heights. Not since high school has a book made me forget to eat, but during the weekend I spent reading this, I’m pretty sure I stopped existing in the real world.
Twitter pic shows off one of Andrew's signature collages.

Hunger Mountain Auction Offers Agent & Author Critiques, Marketing Consultation & Writer Getaway

By Liz Garton Scanlon (Beach Lane, 2009)
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Hunger Mountain Auction offerings include manuscript critiques by agents Ammi-Joan Paquette (three chapters, bid one and two), Holly McGhee (picture book), Elena Mechlin (100 pages of YA novel), Tricia Lawrence (YA novel), Joan Slattery (25 pages of YA novel) as well as a picture book critique by author Liz Garton Scanlon, children's book marketing consultation from Curious City, and five-night writing retreat at the Writing Barn in south Austin.

Deadline: May 14.

Cynsational Notes

"Hunger Mountain is both a print publication and online destination for readers, writers, artists and art lovers. We create engagement with the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for conversation.

"Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) is a national center for graduate education in the fine arts located in Montpelier."

Monday, May 07, 2012

New Voice: Marissa Burt on Storybound

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Marissa Burt is the first-time author of Storybound (HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

When Una Fairchild stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, she thinks nothing of opening the cover and diving in. 

But instead of paging through a regular novel, Una suddenly finds herself Written In to the land of Story - a world filled with Heroes and Villains and fairy-tale characters.

But not everything in Story is as magical as it seems. Una must figure out why she has been Written In - and fast - before anyone else discovers her secret. 


Together with her new friend Peter and a talking cat named Sam, Una digs deep into Story's shadowy past. She quickly realizes that she is tied to the world in ways she never could have imagined - and it might be up to her to save it.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

It is a writing truth that should be universally acknowledged that a manuscript in the hands of a good editor is always in want of revision.

When I finished writing Storybound (then titled "The Tale of Una Fairchild"), I went through several rounds of revisions before querying agents. My agent, Laura Langlie, also helped me revise the manuscript. So I felt like it was in pretty good shape when we went on submission.

Oh, how little I knew! When Erica Sussman at Harper asked me if I'd be willing to do an exclusive revision with her I jumped at the opportunity. One phone call with general notes, one editorial letter, and another shorter round of revisions later, we went to acquisitions.

After Harper acquired the offer there was two...or perhaps three?...more revisions. And then copy edits. And first pass pages. And final if-it's-not-too-late tweaks.

When I'm in the midst of revising - one of my favorite parts of the process - I feel like I've just dumped out all the pieces of a difficult jigsaw puzzle. There are times when everything feels like a hot mess, and I despair of any possibility of it all coming together to form anything that remotely makes sense.

But I keep working at it. Another piece here. That corner bit there. Then there's a moment of inspiration. "If I insert this scene, then the others will come together perfectly!"

And, when I'm finished, I wonder how I could have ever submitted that horrible earlier draft for anyone to read. And I float up on the clouds with my new rock-star version of my book...until the next round of revisions. Which is really the important thing to keep in mind.

If you embrace the potential in each level of revision, your book will continue evolving and growing into a better, stronger version of itself.

That's one of the key things I would recommend to other writers. Consider revisions as an opportunity to grow your skill as a writer. At every step along the way, I was thrilled that other people in the industry were willing to invest in me and this project.

Sure, it was challenging at times to think about cutting a whole point of view or a few characters, but I was - and still am - thankful for the professional input of my agent and editor.

Listen to all the suggestions, sit with them, and then try them out! You can always go back to an earlier version, but if you hang on to "that scene" and aren't willing to risk something different, you may never discover how much better your work can actually be.

Yes, it can feel depressing to hit the delete button on that lovely chapter you thought was so brilliant. But then there's room for whatever else you want to make up next. That's the wonderful thing about being a writer. There's no scarcity of creativity.

As a fantasy writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time fantasy reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I was that girl who sat at the lunch table with her nose buried in a book. My report cards inevitably had the halfhearted scolding from teachers who wrote: "Marissa has been reading novels in class."

I would read into the wee hours, the familiar scene of flashlight-under-the-covers enacted nightly at home. If I was being punished, my parents would sometimes confiscate the book I was reading at the time. (Oh, torture!) I read all manner of books when I was young - and still do - but fantasy remains one of my favorite genres.

For some reason, I had an odd class schedule in middle school, which meant that I spent my study hall alone in the school library, accompanied only by the elderly nun who cataloged books for the students. I never did any schoolwork during this period. I can still see the particular spot in the library where the mythology and folklore books were stacked, and I worked my way through them one by one. Classic fairy tales. Greek mythology. Fables. I devoured them all.

So when I stumbled across my first fantasy novels, I recognized the echoes of fairyland at once. I read Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams (DAW Books, 1985) many times over in that seventh grade cafeteria. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein (Geo. Allen & Unwin, 1954-1955) captivated me so much so that I wore an old keyring on a chain around my neck for most of the school year. Then I discovered Ursula K. LeGuin. Robert Jordan. George R.R. Martin.

I love the feeling of getting lost in a good book, and I think the extensive worldbuilding in good fantasy literature makes space for this especially well. When I began to write my own story (fantasy, of course), I discovered the lovely surprise that authors get to escape to their own created worlds as well - something that my twelve-year-old self would have approved of very much.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I've had to give this some serious thought. One of the wonderful things about the slew of books, blogs, and articles about the publishing process is that they provide a wealth of information that can help new authors. And this is one of the most overwhelming things as well.

The internet's bottomless history of publishing advice is now at my fingertips, and I find myself with a growing to do list of everything a debut author "should" do to promote her book. And, to tell the truth, I'm not that convinced about the worthwhile-ness of much of it.

Marissa makes a note.
Oh, believe me, I want to market my book (please buy it!), and I'm willing to invest time in things I think will pay off. But I've had to learn to prioritize.

My agent gave me some great advice early on. She told me to start a blog...if I had a niche I could fill. If not, she said in so many words, then let the blogging thing go.

This is how I've approached many of the things on my to do list. Can I do this item well? Will it pay off for me? If not? I just let it go. I've mainly focused on real-life relationships.

Through the Apocalypsies, a group of 2012 debut authors, I've come to know several other authors in the Pacific Northwest. We meet monthly for coffee, mutual support, and to brainstorm group panels or appearances we can do together. This is an exponentially better way for me to participate in author events, besides the fact that we have a great time together.

I make space for school visits and look for opportunities to build connections to my local independent bookstores and libraries.

I've let go of the idea of book-related swag and a book trailer.

I still hold out hope for revamping my website, but I know this won't happen before my book comes out.

It's all a process - and a fluid one at that - and I would encourage debut authors to think strategically about their marketing plan, prioritize realistically given the amount of hours they have to put toward it, and to give themselves grace to do their best and enjoy the process - even if they don't check every box on their to-do list.
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