Editor Robin Tordini (Henry Holt) talked about ways of connecting what we write with the right editor. She suggested using humor because it “infuses the story with vitality.” Some examples she used were: Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman, Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller, and Benny and the Binky by Barbro Lindgren.
Editor Jennifer Wingartzahn (Clarion Books) told us she also appreciates humor in a picture book. An example she cited from Clarion’s 2007 list is: The Wonderful Thing about Hiccups by Cece Meng and illustrated by Janet Pederson. Wingartzahn also helped us see revision in a different light in her talk, “Revision as Reinvention.” She led an exercise in which we re-wrote the opening sentence of a story by changing tense, adding alliteration, and changing point of view. Read an interview with Wingartzahn here.
Writer Deborah Wiles urged us to search our hearts for the stories that really matter to us and then to mine our experience for the details that will make them come alive for others. Before the editor, before the agent, before the cover letter, she told us in her sonorous voice, comes the STORY. I read Wiles’ most recent book Aurora County All-Stars to my three boys this summer and it became a fast favorite. I began following her career almost as soon as I started writing myself — always seeking connection to others with Mississippi ties.
Artistic Director Martha Rago (Harper Collins) walked us through the process of making a picture book — from manuscript to final product. She shared her recent experience working on Not a Box and Not a Stick, two gorgeous and ingenious books by Antoinette Portis. She also distributed a very useful packet of basic information that she credited to Scott E Franson and the Book Making 101 section of his website. During my brief time with Rago in a formal critique session, she gave me the names of some photographers whose work I might find interesting and helped me jog loose an idea for my next book.
I went Atlanta this weekend for “The Inside Story,” a conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Though bad weather in New York delayed the arrival of three speakers, the intrepid organizers did some re-arranging and we were treated Friday night to a talk by Diane Capriola, co-owner of Little Shop of Stories.
She told us she relies on children (her own and the ones who come in her shop) to tell her what they like. She also said she is most likely to order a book for her shelves if she gets a good review via word-of-mouth. Sometimes this pitch comes from the publisher’s sales rep, but it can come from a writer or illustrator, too — just not the weekend before Christmas.
I got word that the photographs I took at the Writing From Nature workshop have been posted in a gallery on the Highlights Foundation website. Seeing the photographs there in the gallery brought back memories of an extraordinary few days.
I am still using some of the tools that I learned from Andy Boyles, Mark Baldwin, Lindsay Barrett George, Solon Morse, and Ed Wesely.
As part of my promotional materials, I created two one-page informational sheets. They are very similar — both include the cover art from Wolfsnail, a blurb praising the book by Dr. Timothy Pearce of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and a tiny photo and bio of me. The first also contains detailed information about the science curriculum objectives supported by the book. The second includes details about school visits, includinge fees and duration.
Once again, my sons’ school requirements have been driving our reading. My fourth grader’s language arts teacher designed a unit to go along with Watsons Go To Birmingham. He and his classmates read three to four chapters a week. I started reading aloud with chapter 2. My fifth grader started staying close for these readings. (He hadn’t read the book.) Even the seventh grader started lurking and stole away with the book to finish it on his own. (He said he much preferred it to Bud, Not Buddy.) I think the bus anxieties and antics and the dynamic between Kenny and his bully big brother Byron hit pretty close to home around here.
My fifth grader’s language arts teacher is doing a similar thing with the folk tale collection The People Could Fly. He’s been doing his own reading — at night when he goes off to bed. What he doesn’t remember is that I read many of those tales to all three boys when they were pre-schoolers. Virginia Hamilton was a favorite author of mine.
For non-school reading, the reading that happens at night when my nine-year-old is cuddled in his bed, we just finished reading The Godolphin Arabian. Douglas identified with the stable boy Agba, but he couldn’t understand why the boy couldn’t talk. Now, we’re on to Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander.
I’m in the middle of a new step in the marketing and promotions process. I am completing an application to become part of the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Artists Roster. If my application is approved, I’ll join a list of artists who visit schools and other venues to perform or teach workshops. Aside from the exposure, this is important because schools and other organizations can use grant money from the Mississippi Arts Commission to pay roster artists for doing presentations and workshops. Some organizations make it a policy to invite only artists on the roster because they may not have the time or expertise to do their own vetting.
I will be applying online and you can read about the requirements here. Many of the things the commission requires are things that a writer or illustrator trying to promote a book should be working on anyway. For example, an artist must provide copies of promotional materials and give details about his or her marketing plan. The application doesn’t amount to very much more work — and it is serving to focus my thinking and efforts on this work that otherwise might not get done.
I’ve never written a formal marketing plan. When I was a newspaper reporter, I received press releases and calls from public relations people. In the dozen years since I left the newspaper business, I have served as an unofficial (volunteer) public relations consultant for several nonprofit organizations and schools. I have written press releases, taken photographs, written cutlines, and called reporters and editors to pitch stories.
Now that I am implementing a marketing plan for my own book Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, I am finding out that the nuts and bolts are pretty much the same. The first step is research, which admittedly, I have been doing for years. I have been collecting clippings about regional book festivals and conferences, making lists of bookstores I’d like to visit, and noting the area schools that invite authors.
Once I had the targets in mind, I needed to develop promotional materials. In my years of going to SCBWI conferences and reading books on writing for children, I’ve learned that first time authors often have to produce their own materials, but that the publisher should always be kept in the loop. I sent the designs for my business card and bookmark to my editor and the marketing director at Boyds Mills. They were enthusiastic. I went to a local printer I have worked with for my freelance clients and, for a little more than $100, I got 600 bookmarks and 500 business cards printed.
The marketing is working pretty well so far. I’ve scheduled my book launch at Lemuria. I’ll be presenting a workshop at the Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg in April and at Writing and Illustrating for Kids (SCBWI-Southern Breeze) in Birmingham in October. I’ve also been asked to be a part of the Eudora Welty Library‘s summer reading program and to visit elementary and middle schools in my home city.
I know I’ve been away a long time. I’ve got all kinds of reasons — vacation (read: kids around the house), being sick (Grover’s Disease, even!), and working hard on projects (more on that soon). Richard took this image yesterday. Our amaryllis bulbs are in full bloom so he set up this shot in the kitchen. The red ones are so saturated with color that they cry out to be photographed. Richard got some tips on setup from Digital Camera magazine, a beautiful publication out of the U.K. We’ve learned a lot from reading the articles and going through some of the tutorials that come with it each month.
The white and pink amaryllis peaked a few days earlier. He took this one in the living room near the window. I tried printing out one of these on fabric, but the result was too dull looking. I think I’ll stick to glossy prints for these.
Most of the work we did in January was creating publicity materials for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. Richard designed business cards and bookmarks and I designed and wrote a one-page flyer that included ways teachers can use Wolfsnail to teach science objectives in the Mississippi curriculum. I’ve scheduled the book launch at Lemuria for May 3.