Saturday, June 09, 2012

Guest Post: Sherry Garland on Requiem for a Book

Sherry & fellow children's author Melanie Chrismer
By Sherry Garland
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I do not like sad endings; I do not like things that go gentle into that good night; I’ve never been able to say good-bye without tears.

When I watch the finale of a favorite long-running TV series, I know that I will sob.

Okay, I'm weird, but I have never found anything “sweet” about the sorrow of parting.

So you can imagine my heartbreak when a publisher notified me that not one, not two, but three of my darling books were out of stock and would go out of print.

It is a stabbing pain in the chest, a sinking feeling of loss to know that something that you created, something that you struggled and sweated over, that you wept and laughed over, something that you brought to life and shared with the world, will soon disappear into the forgotten files of “slightly used” on and the bottom shelves at Half-Price Books.

So, why does a book go out of print?

Sherry's latest, illustrated by Judith Hierstein (Pelican, 2012)
1) It sells out of stock but the publisher decides not to have another printing; or 2) the book sells poorly and the publisher decides to get rid of the left over stock, usually at a remainders sale, and let the book go out of print.

For #1 (none in stock) contact the rights department and officially request that the book be printed again. Gather up ammunition and hit them with logic and statistics -- honors, awards, good reviews and reading lists -- any reasons why the book should stay in print.

If your book is hard cover, request it be issued in a paperback edition. The publisher has a certain amount of time to respond.

For #2, if your book has not sold well and the warehouse is full of stock, there isn’t much chance of the book staying in print. If the “remainders” do not sell at auction, they are often sold to a pulper and destroyed. Let the publisher know that you want to purchase some of the stock at remainders pricing. Add this to your contracts.

If the publisher declines to keep the book in print, request reversion of your rights.

Once you have the rights back, you are free to sell the text to another publisher. (Artwork belongs to the illustrator.) I have been fortunate to have this done three times, finding that smaller publishers are more receptive to reprinting a book than the larger publishers.

For example, my historical picture book, Voices of the Alamo, was originally published by Scholastic. When it went out of print I resold it to a smaller publisher. It has done so well for them that I developed a series and wrote three more books in the same format.

Another option is the e-book industry. Many authors are making their out-of-print titles available on-line in e-book format.

This method requires a new cover design and conversion of the text into an e-book format. If you already have an established name, you may expect reasonable sales.

Lastly, you can pay a printing company to reprint the book yourself, typically in paperback. These books can then be sold online, during school visits and even through local bookstores.

With a little effort you can postpone saying, "goodnight, sweet prince," a little longer.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Sherry's blog.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Read Chapter One of The Water Seeker (Holt, 2012) from Kimberly Willis Holt . Note: now available in paperback!

Character Trait Entry: Courage by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "After reflection or a moral assessment, they will step up in a situation, no matter the odds, because they know inside it is the right thing to do."

Dark and Stormy First Lines, compiled by P.J. Hoover from The Enchanted Inkpot. Various authors offer their picks for the "best first line ever."

Julie M. Prince Tribute Fund from SCBWI Arizona. Peek: "SCBWI Arizona has established the Julie M. Prince Fund to honor its member Julie M. Prince, who passed away in June 2011. Donations to the Fund will be used to underwrite eligible SCBWI members wishing to attend an annual SCBWI AZ 'Welcome to Our House' Conference or other events."

Stacy Barney: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "My first job in publishing was a lucky and invaluable internship at Lee & Low, an independent multicultural children's book publisher in New York. I learned a great deal about editing, acquisitions as well as marketing and publicity from this experience."

How to Spread the Word About Your Work by Chris Guillebeau from. Peek: "Being willing to promote in an authentic, non-sleazy manner is a core attribute of micro-business success." See also How to Launch a Book Without Losing Your Mind by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writing Mysteries is Murder.

Jennifer L. Holm, Author: a new author blog. Features news of Babymouse and Squish as well as Jennifer's novels, events, and educator resources. Source: Book Moot.

On Anthologies and Writer Compensation by Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: "if an ...anthology is selling well enough to offer serious exposure, it's also selling well enough to earn real royalties, and if I'm going to write a portion of the anthology, I deserve a share of those."

Three Mistakes Authors Make from Ann Bauer. Peek: "I find out about other authors before I meet them. I read their work. I remind myself—often—that my almighty book is not at the center of everyone’s universe."

Protecting Your Professional Reputation by Carolyn Kaufman from Peek: " backups are constantly being made of everything online. Even if a picture, blog, review, or site is taken down, it may still show up in searches and cached versions of the removed information for years afterward."

In Defense of Summer Reading Freedom by Kate Messner from Kate's Book Blog. Peek: "That’s what we in the education world call fluency.  And it’s an essential element of literacy — one that we can’t always develop as well as we’d like in the classroom because it takes time.  Lots and lots of time reading books that kids love."

Conquering the Cliché by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "Don't allow your teen protagonist to be a carbon-copy (cliché) of every other teen you know."

From Tu Books, a Lee & Low imprint
Multicultural Publisher Holds It's Own -- Lee & Low Keeps Growing, Despite Competition from Giant Rivals by Maggie Overfelt from Crain's New York Business. Peek: "The company's sales force has landed large orders in St. Louis and parts of Florida."

New Visions Writers Award from Tu Books/Lee & Low. Peek: "...for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500."

Authors: Why You Shouldn't Respond to Bad Book Reviews by Joan Stewart from The Publicity Hound's Blog. Peek: "You might develop a reputation on blogs and discussion boards as an author who can’t stand the heat."

Call for Writer Quotes! Lindsey Lane, author of Snuggle Mountain, invites writers at all stages of the publication journey to share their favorite quotes about writing at her regular blog feature, "Quotable Tuesday" at The Meandering Lane. She says: "Quotable Tuesday is a place where I invite writers to share the quote that gets you to sit down and write. Or the quote that reminds you to keep going. Or take a break. Or the one that helps you feel less alone." If you would like to share your favorite quote at Quotable Tuesday, you can email Lindsey (lindsey(at)lindseylane(dot)net). If you have a story about how you found the quote and why it's meaningful to you, include it, too, as well as any news or photos you would like to share.

The Ethics of Blurbs by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "I’ve heard editors and agents moan because their names are plastered on self-published books as endorsements when the editor actually rejected the book as not yet ready to be published."

Book Launch Award from the Society of Children's Book Authors and Illustrators. Peek: "The SCBWI Book Launch Award provides two annual awards of $2000 each for an author or illustrator to use for marketing a book scheduled for release during the next calendar year."

Gold Medalist -- Nonfiction
Parents' Choice Award Winners

See medalists in:

 Boston Globe - Horn Book Awards
See honor books and more information.

 Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a set of three author-signed children's books, written by Jane Kohuth -- Duck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter (Dial, 2012); Estie the Mensch, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Random House, 2011); and Ducks Go Vroom, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Random House, 2011)! The winner also will receive Duck Sock Hop magnets! 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 "Jane Kohuth" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: June 18.

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook, 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 Year of the Beasts" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight June 11. See also Cecil Castellucci on Medusa, a Childhood Friend.

One-Year from Solstice Giveaway from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. Up for grabs are four YA ARCs!

Attention U.K. readers: check out the book giveaways at tall tales and short stories!

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Happy summer! Here's a sunflower in my yard.
My priority this week was preparation for the upcoming Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference in Utah. I'm working on speeches about writing fantasy and writing voice.

I'm also flirting with the idea of joining Pinterest and using Rafflecopter for giveaways here at Cynsations. Any insights on either one would be appreciated!

In summer movie news, I saw "Snow White and the Huntsman" and was particularly wowed by Charlize Therone as "Ravenna" (the queen). The cinematography and effects also were visually arresting.

Letters to the Inner Teen by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Peek: "As an author of young adult books, I’ve written from the perspective of a guardian angel, a were-opossum, and even a pesky human or two. But the character who was the hardest for me to connect with was my own teen self."

What Draws Teens to Fantasy Novels? We Ask Authors, Booksellers and Teens. By Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman. Features quotes by me and a recommendation of both my latest, Diabolical (Candlewick, 2012), and, by fellow Ausinite Nikki Loftin, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, Aug. 2012). Peek: "At Austin's BookPeople, fantasy books are twice as popular with young readers than novels set in a more realistic world, says children's book buyer Meghan Goel."

Remember A Prayer to the Silent at CBC Diversity, as part of the It's Complicated series? Find out how you can become a CBC Diversity partner.

Finally, due to a cancellation, one spot has opened up for my Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Writing Workshop in August. Snag it fast!

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:
Cynsational Events

Central Texans! Mark your calendars for June 9 at BookPeople! Greg Leitich Smith will speak on "Writing Speculative Fiction" at 10 a.m. and Don Tate will host a book launch and signing of It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low, 2012) at noon.

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

Thursday, June 07, 2012

New Voice: Lynda Mullaly Hunt on One for the Murphys

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the first-time author of One for the Murphys (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

In the wake of heart-breaking betrayal, Carley Connors is thrust into foster care and left on the steps of the Murphys, a happy, bustling family.

Carley has thick walls and isn’t rattled easily, but this is a world she just doesn’t understand. A world that frightens her.

So, she resists this side of life she’d believed did not exist with dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom.

However, with the help of her Broadway-obsessed and unpredictable friend, Toni, the Murphys do the impossible in showing Carley what it feels like to belong somewhere. But when her mother wants her back, will she lose the only family that she has ever known?

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

Oh boy. The call.

When I signed with agent Erin Murphy, she warned me that a literary novel could be a tough sell in this market. I was prepared for anything. After revisions, we sent it to about 10 editors. There was interest from one publisher but it fell through because, 'It wouldn't be a break out success.'¨

After about six rejections came in, all saying roughly the same thing, I suggested to Erin that I revise. Her response was confident and calm (not like me). "No. Not yet."

View from Lynda's window.
While attending ALA in Boston, I met up with Erin and another agent from EMLA, Joan Paquette, at the "Tweet Up,¨ a casual mingling session for 150 writing professionals/tweeters.

I was causing harmless mischief by dressing Erin up as a Sox fan and trying to coax her into staying longer than she should so we could talk to an editor that had my manuscript on her desk. (Erin hesitated because she didn't want to run late for another appointment. So responsible, that Erin.)

"C'mon, Murphy¨ I'd coaxed. "Two minutes. It'll be fun!" I had no idea.

So, Erin and I were having a rather pleasant conversation with editor A, when a tall, graceful woman came through the crowd and hugged Erin. Erin introduced the woman to me as Nancy Paulsen, a name I recognized.

They chatted for a bit and Nancy said something about what she was looking for in a manuscript.

Erin replied by pitching my novel and then asking, "May I send it to you on Monday?"

Nancy agreed and they took out their Blackberries and made notes.

I couldn't believe it. Really? Did I just witness that?

Weeks later, Erin e-mailed me to say that Nancy had contacted her about my manuscript; they had scheduled a phone call for the following day. Erin warned me, however, that there probably wouldn't be an offer from Nancy, but a request for revisions. That sounded good to me!

The next day, I was sitting at my desk with my cell, when the ringtone I'd set for Erin started to play "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," by Stevie Wonder.

I answered.

Erin: "Now, what song is it that you told me plays when I call your phone?¨

"Signed, Sealed, Delivered?¨ (I'm still completely clueless here.)

"Well that's perfect, because we have an offer on the table from Penguin.¨

Okay. Imagine bottle rockets launching into the air. Imagine a drag racer with no parachute. Imagine me in my office.

I reacted even before it had sunk in. This was good old fashioned shock. And I had a whole lack of eloquence thing going there, too. "Oh my God! Really? Oh my God. Really? Oh my God! Really?¨

So, I finally calmed down and thanked Erin for all she'd done. For her faith in me and in my book. For making a dream come true. And we both got a little weepy.

At the end of my life, when MTV counts down my ten best moments, this will be there.

Lynda's desktop.
Now, I'd always imagined how cool I would be telling my family about this kind of success. Clever. Calm. Collected. Suave, even--how I'd smoothly slip it in to conversation.

Erm--not so much. My body hasn't moved like that since I ran hurdles in the 10th grade. I went leaping and screaming into the kitchen, my voice blaring and choking at the same time. "The Murphys sold! Oh my God! It sold! The Murphys sold!"

My husband, who was in the kitchen, spun around and I could hear my daughter running down the hallway upstairs. We jumped around in chaotic happiness.

My son had been playing with the kids next door, so the three of us threw open the front door on that bright March day and ran next door in our stocking feet to tell him.

I am one blessed woman, let me tell you. I have a super-supportive family and network of friends.

So, Erin Murphy is my agent. And Nancy Paulsen is my publisher/editor.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

We all have different facets of ourselves. Some people refer to it as wearing different hats. Well, three pieces of myself--author, teacher, and former child--came together like a braid to create One for the Murphys. If one had not existed, it could not have held together.

Truthfully, there is a lot of the "teen me" in Carley, my main character. She is self-protected, spirited, and suspicious of love. She's sad and confused, knowing that there are things in the world that she will never have. Not the kinds of things that don't matter--the things that do. And she is keenly aware of the difference.

Thing is, things just were; I never analyzed myself, especially at a time when these issues were not discussed in school, easily found in books, on television, and in movies. Although, I remember seeing a movie called, "A Girl Named Sooner" and being floored by it. I understood her. She even looked like me. I watched for years for it to come on television again. It never did.

One thing that puzzled me, though, were my cousins who seemed to be similar to me but were better versions. Their families bustling and happy. Comparing myself to them, I made assumptions about myself that turned out to be incorrect. (Like I wasn't as smart as them or was somehow "less than.")

Thing is, I felt these things but couldn't label them. That's the thing with kids sometimes--they know how they feel but are sometimes unable to label it. With maturity and the ability to put words to it, it becomes something that is easier to understand, I think. However, with that understanding comes a bucketful of other things, not all good.

I was told I could never have a happy life. I was told that I wasn't smart enough. I resisted believing any of it. I was encouraged to choose a life I'm glad that I didn't choose.

Being told I couldn't have "that kind of life" only made me want it more, and so I built that future, tiny piece upon tiny piece. Every time a part of me whispered that it couldn't possibly work out, I told it to shut up and replaced it with something else like a song with the kinds of lyrics I needed to hear. Over and over I would listen. Over and over.

Lynda as a baby.
I had the wisdom to be happy for the things I did have, and, in many ways, I really was an over-the-top-fortunate child. I focused on being grateful.

I don't know why. I can't take credit for it. A blessing from God, I suppose. Like the way some people can just play the piano with no training. I just knew. Had an understanding. A wisdom about the world from a young age.

So, I was this funny mix of observant, laser-focus, long-term thinking, and yet I stayed under the radar, rarely letting adults know what I was capable of and was skeptical of love.

Well, except for my big brother, Ricky; I always knew he loved me. Always.

That must have been enough.

Flash forward. I am a graduate of the U. Conn School of Education. I started off bumpy but ended up with impressive recommendation letters from student teaching and a near-perfect average by the time I graduate with a masters. I am teaching third grade in a small town in Connecticut.

And. I. Just. Love. It.

I was good with the kids that were considered trouble-makers. I understood them. When their behaviors made no sense to other adults, I knew their undercurrents. I also understood that every kid has a currency; you just have to figure out what it is. With many of those "troublesome" kids, their wish was simply to be seen and heard.

So, for work completed or good behavior, I would give rewards of my time. One-on-one lunches. Chess after school. Basketball games. Helping me with bulletin boards. It depended on the child.

Meanwhile, I was getting an education in why I was the way I was when I was young. I was developing an understanding for the injustice of a lot of it through the eyes of a woman that would become a person who held up a mirror and demanded I look into it, through her eyes. I suppose, between being protective of my students and opening myself up to her, I looked upon myself with more compassion.

The author piece? Well, that was an accident, I guess. An accident I worked long and very hard for.

After attending multiple critique groups, SCBWI conferences, taking over as director of the SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat, and writing an unpublishable novel (that served in teaching me a lot about craft) these vivid scenes appeared in my head one day.

They were about a girl waking up in a hospital; I could feel her confusion and fatigue. I could smell the hospital. She is dropped into a foster family that shows her a side of life she didn't think existed. The idea of these people genuinely caring for her frightens her, so she pushes them away. Or tries to, anyway. I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to make the connection between Carley and myself.

Lynda and her mom on the day of her high school graduation.
Without being the child I was, I wouldn't have had an understanding of the many conflicting layers of Carley. Without the teacher, I don't know that I would have developed a full appreciation for what my childhood behaviors really meant. And then there's the writer that rose up through the middle of me and demanded I get it down on paper. Honestly, I didn't seriously have my eye on publication for about seven years of this 10 year journey.

I wrote because I loved it and I worked hard at it because I loved it enough to want to be better at it. Like a sliver I just had to get out. Get it down in all of its emotional honesty. No filters.

After all, no one else was going to read it anyway, right?

And then I met this agent.

But that's another story.

Cynsational Notes

Follow Lynda at Twitter.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

New Voice: Lissa Price on Starters

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lissa Price is the first-time author of Starters (Random House, 2012). From the promotional copy:

In a future Los Angeles, becoming someone else is now possible. 

Sixteen-year-old Callie discovers the Body Bank where teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. But when her neurochip malfunctions, she wakes up in the mansion of her rich renter and finds she is going out with a senator’s grandson. 

It’s a fairy-tale new life, until she discovers her renter’s deadly plan.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I think finding a writing community is one of the most important things a writer can do. I’ve made wonderful friends by going to writer’s conferences and workshops. I met my local writing group when I went to a conference in Arizona.

Lissa's work space.
On the last day, the Sunday brunch, I sat at a table with some guys. They told me they were looking for a woman to be in their writing group because they had just lost the only female member. In case that sounds wrong, let me say that it helps to have both sexes in a writing group so you can always get a reality check.

I thought they lived far away but it turned out they lived in the city next to mine, in California, just 20 minutes away. So I joked later how I had to travel to Arizona to find my local writing group.

The group had been going on for a long time, and I loved the way they ran it. We email each other pages a day before the meeting. If we have a lot of pages that week, we try to send earlier. Then we print out the pages and write our comments on them.

At this point, after being together four or five years, we know each other’s style and personality well enough that we’re comfortable making comments. When you don’t know a group very well, there could be some temper tantrums. One of them is an attorney and one is an ex-journalist, which makes for excellent critique partners.

We’ve lost some members who got published and they were afraid I’d leave too. But I value our group too much. Many authors have writing groups.

In addition to this, I joined the Apocalypsies, a group of some 140 2012 debut authors, young adult and middle grade. I’m really glad I did this as I’ve made some wonderful friends and found a great sense of camaraderie. We share information and serve as a great support when we tour. I had one stop in a city that wasn’t well publicized. An Apocalypsie showed up with her writing group and that made my night.

The new group for YA authors debuting in 2013 is the Lucky 13s. Anyone debuting then should seriously consider joining.

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 have always been a bit of a geek nerd, so the social networking aspect of promotion came naturally to me. Before I went searching for agents, I taught myself Word Press, went to a couple of WP group meetings, and then created my own website.

When my publisher picked up my book, they looked at it and decided it was okay to continue blogging on it. They gave me a nice new banner with my book on it and I took off the excerpt and description as we were keeping the book concept secret pre-publication. They still created their own official site, which is beautiful ( and startersbooks on facebook).

Beth Revis, the author of Across the Universe and A Million Suns, invited me to join her blog, The League of Extraordinary Writers. She started it with five 2011 debut YA authors working in science fiction/fantasy, all wonderful writers. Going into the second year, she invited five authors debuting in 2012.

It’s a great group, I’m proud to be part of it. I blog on Thursdays, so sometimes I’ll pick up on a topic that was started earlier in the week and sometimes we all just write about what’s on our minds. For example, I spoke on the YA dystopian panel at the LA Times Festival of Books, so I wrote about that and how I chose to attend the Anne Rice interview.

I never have trouble thinking of a blog idea on that site, it’s more a matter of trying to write what the readers will most enjoy. It’s not like my blog where I feel I can write whatever I want.

I find that my mornings are consumed by promotion. I answer email from the east coast, then tweet about my fellow Apocalypsies news, do Q and A for blog interviews, correspond with fans, handle giveaways and promotions, fill out forms about upcoming appearances and conferences.

Some days it is all I do, and I don’t get to writing until very late at night. I am hoping that once my book has been out longer, I’ll be able to have more writing time. But what I most enjoy is getting tweets and emails from fans from twelve-year-olds to adults, saying they loved reading my book.

My advice to debut authors is to embrace the process. All of this social media allows us to connect with each other faster than ever before and that’s what it’s all about – connection.

By Paul Gregory Photography.

Cynsational Notes

The Starters Readers Guide (PDF) from Random House.

Like the Starters Facebook page and check out the FB game app.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Giveaway: Jane Kohuth's Duck Sock Hop, Estie the Mensch & Ducks Go Vroom

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a set of three author-signed children's books, written by Jane Kohuth -- Duck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter (Dial, 2012); Estie the Mensch, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Random House, 2011); and Ducks Go Vroom, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Random House, 2011)! The winner also will receive Duck Sock Hop magnets!

Visit the author blog, Jane Says!

From the promotional copy of Duck Sock Hop:

Ducks pull socks from a big sock box. Socks with stripes and socks with spots . . . These ducks love their socks and they have them in every imaginable color and design. What should they do with them all? Hold a sock hop of course! A tongue-twisting, toe-tapping read-aloud sure to inspire dancing.

Cynsations New Voice Interview with Jane!
From the promotional copy of Estie the Mensch:

What's a mensch, and why does her family keep telling Estie to be one? She'd much rather be a jungle cat, or an alligator, or an octopus. But if being a mensch means helping a new friend, then maybe it's not so bad after all?

Parent Magazine's 20 Best Books of 2011!

From the promotional copy of Ducks Go Vroom: 

Simple, funny action words and onomatopoeia describe three silly ducks' rather impolite visit to their Auntie Goose's house. This rollicking, tongue-twisting, rhyming story of three enthusiastic house guests, paired with the lively artwork of illustrator Viviana Garofoli, is just the right speed for beginning readers.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Jane Kohuth" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: June 18.

Monday, June 04, 2012

New Voice: Jennifer Gennari on My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jennifer Gennari is the first-time author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of only one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But this Vermont summer, June needs not only the best berries but also a whole lot of courage. 

June’s breezy life by Lake Champlain changes when her mom’s girlfriend, Eva, moves in and they announce they want to marry under Vermont’s new civil union law. 

To make this summer even more mixed up, June’s not quite sure what to make of her feelings for Luke or her crumbling friendship with Tina.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Graduation, 1982.
When I won a short story contest in my local newspaper at age 15, I thought success was inevitable. I’d be an author without even really trying!

Well, for twenty years I didn’t really try, and my quickly tossed-off pieces were rejected again and again. I finally saw that it would take commitment and hard work. I was raising children, which I love doing, but one morning after another PTA meeting, I knew it was time to put some energy into my dream.

In 1999, I signed up for a weekend writing getaway in a little town called Volcano, up in the Gold Country of Northern California. I’ll never forget it—I slept in a canopy bed in a wonderful Victorian inn and shared and laughed with the other women writers. I rose early to think and write, inspired by the golden light rushing over the creek rocks.

That was the turning point. I joined a critique group, participated in a local monthly reading series, and signed up for SCBWI and every workshop I could find. I owe so much to those friends and teachers who told me when the writing was good and when it wasn’t.

So I was committed. But was I working? I liked to write poetry, but I struggled to figure out how to write more than 2,300 words (my longest short story).

I don’t read horror novels, but it was On Writing by Stephen King (Pocket Books, 2000) that inspired me to get my butt in chair and write. I also relaxed and wrote a lousy first draft after reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, 1994).

I began working on what I called "Pie." Inspired by some ugly prejudice I saw, I took that emotional core and built a story in a place I know very well—Vermont. Writing about pie felt natural, too—I was known for my homemade butter crusts. 

Writing about what I knew well helped me build a world for June, who slowly grew out of some specific childhood memories (and I had to relive some).

But it was my experience with step-families that further deepened her story.

Those first chapters gained me admittance to Vermont College of Fine Arts. Even after I graduated in 2006, it took another two years to land my agent, Alison Picard, and it was another two years of rejections before my manuscript sold in 2010.

And all the while, even though I sometimes despaired, I kept writing and growing.

Inevitable? Not at all. We all tell stories, and some of us write them down. It’s what happens after that first draft that matters. So I set aside weekend mornings to write and revise (even thought I do get distracted by the birds outside my home). It’s hard but satisfying work.

Jennifer's work space, complete with Shadow.
As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

One of the best decisions I made was to enroll at Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2004. Those two years of reading, writing, sharing, and listening made all the difference.

Need to hear straight talk on the basics of plotting? My favorite is still What’s Your Story? by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion Books, 1992), which reminds me that you better make sure your character has a problem.

I also loved working on dialogue and examining each sentence at the word level after reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (HarperCollins, 2004). My graduate lecture was on “How to Edit Like a Pro,” and I had great fun collecting faculty gripes.

At Vermont College, we didn’t discuss marketing and the business aspects of publishing. But I needed that apprenticeship of learning the writing craft more. And it was like camp for book lovers!

So now I’m learning all the promotion tactics—being on twitter, building a website, creating bookmarks, making connections, and guest-blogging (thank you, Cynthia!). But none of that matters if you don’t first concentrate on the hard and lovely work of writing.

Cynsational Notes

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer is an Association of Booksellers for Children Spring 2012 New Voices title.

Jennifer's desk.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Agent Update: Mary Kole of Movable Type Management

Mary visits a vineyard.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations! When you last visited in 2010, you were with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. What's this we hear about your moving to a new position?

I've switched agencies, it's true! I've been approached by agencies before but never really felt the work-chemistry until a chance meeting with Jason Ashlock of Movable Type Management.

I adore the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and had an amazing foundation there--I admire and respect all of my former colleagues deeply. But I wanted to learn more about digital publishing, packaging, and the possibilities available now to writers who may be a bit more entrepreneurial, because that's my mode--I spent the first six years of my professional life at a Silicon Valley start-up that ended up selling to Google.

I love being small and nimble and in a leadership position. At MTM, I have the chance to head up the children's department and that's incredibly exciting to me.

Will your existing clients be moving with you or are you looking to rebuild from the ground up?

In an extremely humbling and gratifying move, my clients have elected to take the plunge with me at MTM. I couldn't be more thrilled. Several clients who originally came to me from Andrea's list ended up back with ABLA--though I was glad to shepherd them during my tenure there--but everyone I brought in came along for the ride.

That said, I am looking to very much build up my list and find fresh talent in my new role!

Has this change affected the types of manuscripts you're seeking? What's the scoop on your current interests?

Photo by Mary of Sacre Coeur in Paris.
Not at all. I'm still looking for picture book, middle grade, and young adult clients, with a specific emphasis on novels and author/illustrators.

For fiction, I really want projects that have a clear theme/story core, relate-able characters, strong plot, and great writing.

I'm coming out with a book this October from Writer's Digest Books called Writing Irresistible Kidlit--it's very craft-heavy. I will always be a rigorously editorial agent with high standards, but I also want premises that feel big and commercial, because that's really a hot spot in the market right now.

I like to say, "Literary spark and commercial appeal." I'd be especially curious to find mystery, thriller, fantasy, light sci-fi, adventure, horror, or contemporary realistic MG and YA novels with strong romantic elements throughout and stellar voice.

How about submissions procedures? What's the scoop?

Submission guidelines are the same as they ever were for me, but we're currently updating the MTM website, so I'm happy for the opportunity to reprint them here.

For picture books, I want the query and the full text (for writers) or a query, the text, and a link to an online illustration portfolio (for author/illustrators). If I want to see a dummy after that, I'll ask.

For middle grade and young adult, please send a query and the first 10 pages of your prose. You must use the word "Query" in your email subject line, and my email is No snail mail and no attachments, please. Every personalized email that follows guidelines will get a response!

In addition to your wonderful blog at, you're also at Kidlit Apps. Could you tell us a little about your approach to each?  

Mary eating offal and fermented tofu in Hong Kong.
Because of all the changes recently, my approach to the Apps blog has been, sadly, neglect more than anything! But digital books and the developments there have always been an interest of mine. Recently, I've been putting together articles and doing some analysis of the general marketplace.

Sometimes I do app reviews, because I love seeing what's out there and thinking critically about digital books. This is a blog I hope to resurrect with gusto very soon...probably after BEA madness!

Anything you'd like to add?

I'm really excited to hit the ground running at Movable Type. In order to be successful and to help my clients grow, I have a lot to learn about the new landscape of publishing, and I really am looking to broaden my list, especially with novelists.

Before, I was one agent of nine, we all handled the same types of books, and potential clients had to choose one of us for their submission. Now, I'm the children's person at a smaller agency. All that's to say, basically, bring it on!

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