~By Amanda Smith and Kelly Carey
Over the last year, you might have noticed some smart, funny, poignant author acrostics popping up on your social media feeds. These inventive introductions are brought to you by author Nancy Tupper Ling. 24 Carrot Writing talked to her about the intersection of author promotion and poetry and the importance of supporting fellow writers.
Tell us about your author acrostic project and how it got started?
Several months into the pandemic, I decided it would be fun to include some author interviews on my blog. But how to make them a little bit different? I wanted something playful, visual, and easy-to-read when people were flipping through social media. Why not an acrostic of their name? Soon I added a brief bio and the covers of my guest’s books. In the last few months, I’ve made all of the acrostics into a flipbook, thanks to my web designer, Eric Dubois. Feel free to flip through: https://www.nancytupperling.com/author-acrostics/
What is your connection to poetry that spurred your decision to solicit acrostic poems?
Funny you should ask. There was a time when I swore I would never be a poet like my mom, Jean Tupper. That was “her thing” and I wanted to write short stories instead. Well, that didn’t last. In college I began to submit my fledgling poems to various journals. Gradually, after many revisions, a poem or two was accepted, and then more. Winning the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize definitely helped my confidence as a writer. What I love about poetry is how something as small as a haiku or as long as a sonnet can be so power-packed. This is true with “Author Acrostics” as well. I hope readers learn so much about each writer—their soul, their essence, in a tiny space.
Why do you think it is important to promote your fellow authors?
The road is long and we’re all still learning, even after we’ve been published. Certainly, the pandemic reminded us that even if we might think that we prefer a solitary writer’s life, we still need one another for encouragement and growth. The journey is most valuable when we can be generous with our talent and our art.
What do you hope to accomplish with your acrostic project?
Honestly, I don’t know if I thought about this in the beginning, but what I have come to love most about spotlighting an author is the responses I get about their books. Either people learn about books they had no idea about, or they are reminded how much they loved a particular one, and they go back and reread it. It’s the librarian in me who wants to find the perfect read for the readers out there.
What is next for you?
My next book is a children’s anthology with my co-author, June Cotner, called For Every Little Thing: Poems and Prayers to Celebrate the Day (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). Arranged from waking up to falling asleep, this collection is all about finding gratitude in each day and its delights.
Kelly and Annie are both author acrostic participants, and this week 24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to be featured. Thank you for inviting us, Nancy!
Nancy Tupper Ling surrounds herself with books. She is an award-winning children’s author, poet, book seller, and librarian, who has great fun teaching poetry to all ages. Her picture books have received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and her next anthology entitled For Every Little Thing (Eerdmans Publishing) is due out in September 2021.
Titles of Picture Books:
My Sister, Alicia May (Pleasant St Press)
Double Happiness (Chronicle Books)
The Story I’ll Tell (Lee and Low Books)
The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful (Putnam Young Readers)
For Every Little Thing (Eerdmans Publishing in September)
Guest interview of illustrator Qing Zhuang
Often there is a cloak of mystery surrounding the relationship between an author and an illustrator. When illustrator Qing Zhuang signed on to illustrate How Long Is Forever?, I did what every good author is instructed to do. I sat down and zipped my lip. The idea, and it is a smart one, is to allow the illustrator freedom within their creative process without being hampered or interrupted by the pesky author.
It was hard. And I was grateful when the editor sent me sketches and asked for my feedback. But I wonder, what did that process feel like from Qing’s perspective? Let’s ask.
Qing, I’m so happy that you are joining us at 24 Carrot Writing as we celebrate our Annual Illustrator’s Month. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator?
Sure! I studied illustration in college and spent many years afterwards trying to improve my work. I went to SCWBI conferences making incremental progress. I had a lot of growing to do, personally, practically and artistically. So even though I had some good foundational skills and recognition from teachers in my school years, my work was all over the place. It took a long time to figure things out when I graduated. Meanwhile, all my talented friends were getting cool art jobs, awards, reasonable income, name recognition and not horrible dates! Dang! Sometimes I’d cry on the bus after getting yelled at by some grumpy and condescending customer at my retail job. This is not what I’d imagined when I won the children’s version of the Ezra Jack Keats bookmaking contest in 6th grade and decided I was going to become a great writer-illustrator! Alas, I marched on in my tortoise pace.
Eventually my work improved and I tightened up my portfolio by taking out work that didn’t fit and focusing on a singular style as best as I could. The road here was not super glamorous and not without doubters so it takes a lot of conviction within myself that this is what I must accomplish in this lifetime. I took my portfolio to the NJ SCBWI conference and met Karen Boss our Charlesbridge editor there. The rest is history!
A few months after Charlesbridge bought How Long Is Forever?, I received an email from editor Karen Boss letting me know the Art Department had identified three potential illustrators for the book. I went into major cyber stalk mode. All three were fantastic, but the drawings on your website had me convinced that you were the best pick. Did you know I wrote a four page email back with pics from your website as proof? How did you first hear of the project? And what made you sign on?
I wish I could read why you liked my work best out of the three! The competition is SO fierce! I signed on because of how simple but deep it is. This is a story that can be as sweet or thought provoking as you want it to be. I just remember gazing up at the sky as a child getting lost pondering the nature of time and forever-ness.
“How Long is Forever?” Can spur such a philosophical discussion with young ones but it can also be about the down to earth experiences of familial love and the creature comforts we share with the people we love.
It can be about losing a grandparent. When I showed the manuscript to my now husband, he started tearing up. He said it reminded him of his own grandfather who used to make him Chinese pancakes and that was his favorite memory that he will keep forever of this person whom he loved so much. I knew that this story can potentially mean something special to each reader so I was excited to be a part of it!
Qing, I'll send you that email. But for the readers here, I'll share a few of the illustrations Qing had on her web site that made me fall in love with her talent! Here is a reason number one on why illustrates should set up a website, make it easy to find, and populate it with your work!
What was the first thing you did when you received the manuscript to illustrate? What was your process?
I made many thumbnail sketches, researched reference photos and did character designs. I based the farm on the Queens County Farm as well as the farm at Manhattan Country School, where I teach. They have a fantastic farm program and children make wonderful memories at its farm in the Catskills every year.
One of the exciting things about working on this project is the opportunity to try to honor the joy of spending time in the farm and in nature. In this age where many children spend hours doing virtual farming and building in a video game I think it’s really special to have a book that explores just running free and asking questions and investigating out in the world.
But as a city girl who also spends too much time online, I needed to do a lot of research on things like tree species and tractors and which way a weathervane blows (the arrow points against the source of the wind). It took many tries to get it right. This could be said about every stage from beginning to end. Sometimes the illustrations didn’t fit the layout or just something was off with the pacing and I had to scrap it and do it over! I am so grateful to have the patience of the editors because the book really improved from every version.
My manuscript did not have illustration notes and aside from the editor asking me for “minimal” feedback on your illustrations, we didn’t connect until after the book was sent to print. I might have sent you a quick “you’re doing great, keep it up” pep talk email but I wonder what direction you got from Karen Boss and/or the Charlesbridge Art Department.
There were many discussions about the layout of the story because ultimately the words and their legibility are paramount. So depending on where they decided to put the text the whole composition and even perspective of the scene had to change. There were also discussions about the type of tree that would be in the book.
The character designs also took a couple of tries. I made many different potential Masons and the editors picked the one we know and love pretty easily. But I had to redo all my designs of grandma and grandpa because they looked too old fashioned. Somewhere in me I am still pouting that I wasn’t able to do the sweet and chubby grandparents in my initial sketches because it’s kind of my nature to be sappy and nostalgic. However, I’m also glad I was challenged to make more contemporary looking grandparents, especially with our very hip and artsy grandma design who I based off of my college art professor. I also tried to make grandpa kind of cool looking so I ditched the overalls and gave him a jean jacket and nice shoes. Someone said he looks like Ernest Hemingway. My friends make up stories about how they met as young artsy hippies and decided to retire at a farm where the grandma makes pottery and takes photos of pastoral landscapes.
Anyway, many changes were made at all stages of the book. Anytime anything changes it affects the whole book. For example, there were these cute bird feeders hanging on the house porch but they were blocking the text, so I had to edit them out of all the pages. Another example is the editors wanted me to depict teeth. Stylistically, I rarely drew teeth so at the last minute I had to photoshop in the teeth of all the characters. Haha! Now you know how the sausage is made.
It is important for all children to be able to recognize themselves in the books they read. The manuscript never offered a physical description of the character and you smartly took the opportunity to present Mason with darker skin and his grandparents with light skin. Can you talk about that decision?
I just want different types of families to be portrayed because whatever we see in the media gets legitimized and embraced. It’s wonderful now to see so many books and other kinds of media beginning to embrace a diversity of experiences. In the school I work at, there are so many students who are adopted, from a mixed or blended family, or simply don’t look like their caretakers for some other reason. I also have friends and professors and colleagues who are in such families. I am excited that a sweet book about love and timelessness can reflect them too. I mean why not? Teachers and parents now are so good at discussing questions about different families if they do come up. For my character designs of Mason, I featured many different looks, actually referencing some children I know. It’s just how I work, I don’t like to just make stuff up, I tend to care about it more if it is based on things and people I know in real life.
You recently signed with an agent! Congratulations! How did that happen? And how is it changing how you are working? What are you working on now?
Thank you! For the past couple of years different literary agents have reached out to me even before I had a real dummy ready to present to them. I knew that getting an agent is a long term commitment and didn’t want to rush and find someone I don’t feel right with. So I worked on How Long is Forever? and didn’t think too much about representation because I wanted to focus on my debut book!
After the book was sent off to the printers, I started to read some interviews of the different agents I had been acquainted with but they didn’t seem to fit. At a portfolio review, the reviewer suggested that I query Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates, so I wrote her name down and read her online interviews. Those interviews resonated with me. Then I saw her speak at a virtual panel and found her to be very professional and warm. I still felt like I wasn’t ready to reach out because I am a chicken. Then an editor at Holiday House who I had met a year ago emailed me asking me if I have finally written a story for them. I had a dummy in progress about grocery shopping with my mom which I sent anyway to see if there would be any feedback. To my surprise they enjoyed it and offered a deal! I really wanted an agent to help me negotiate this time so I reached out to Wendi and fortunately she replied right away! We had a few Zoom meetings and now I can feel very glamorous and tell people to contact my agent if they want to work with me!
Qing Zhuang is an illustrator and elementary educator based in New York City. She holds a BFA in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and a MA in teaching from School of Visual Arts, New York. How Long Is Forever? is her debut as an illustrator. She is represented by Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates. Qing's debut as both author and illustrator, Rainbow Shopping will launch from Holiday House in the summer of 2022. To learn more about Qing, visit her website at www.qingthings.com.
To purchase a copy of How Long Is Forever? click here.
Kelly Carey presents a guest interview with Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate, Charlesbridge Publishing
Prior to the release of my debut picture book, many colleagues had warned me that the marketing work for my book would fall squarely and heavily on my shoulders. That was a bit terrifying! I was new to this rodeo and the marketing bulls were rippling with scary muscles and fuming with bad smoky breath. I dove into research, determined to be a marketing bronco buster, and then along came Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate at Charlesbridge Publishing. And suddenly, I was no longer alone.
I have been incredibly relieved to find that Jordan has proved to be both a partner and champion in marketing my book – which is really our book! I’ve invited Jordan to join us for 24 Carrot Writing’s July Marketing Month to explain how authors can help market their book, what they can expect from their publishing house, and how to have a good marketing partnership with your publisher.
Thanks for joining us Jordan!
First, can you explain your role at Charlesbridge and how you interact with authors, booksellers, and influencers and …. well, who else do you work with?
Thanks for having me, Kelly! It’s been such a pleasure working with you on How Long is Forever?.
As the Marketing Associate for Charlesbridge, I work closely with authors. So really, anything that falls under that umbrella: I’m in touch with indie bookstores across the country, and help get events set up; I submit authors and their books for festivals, if timing and fit are there, and organize the planning leading up to it; I reach out to various outlets/influencers for publicity opportunities, and mailing out advance/complimentary copies; I pitch upcoming books at bookseller regionals/conferences, too! Basically, if you’re an author with book releasing with us, we’re going to be working together.
Many debut authors don’t know where to begin in marketing their book. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for a book release?
As much as I am going to help get your book out there in the world, it’s so helpful to have an author to work with that is willing to put in the work, right there with me. So how can a debut author be a partner to market their book?
The more we have worked together, the braver I’ve become in asking for marketing help. For example, I came up with some classroom activity ideas to go along with the book, but I couldn’t make them look professional. I reached out to you, and the Charlesbridge team designed a spiffy looking activity guide to accompany the book. I’ve also reached out to ask if Charlesbridge would supply books for giveaway campaigns – you did! What sort of support should authors feel comfortable asking for? What support do publishers want to give? And what makes the marketing partnership between an author and publisher work?
I think the most successful marketing partnership between author and publisher is when it can be a more collaborative experience. If you, the author, have relevant kid lit/book subject contacts that would help promote the book, tell us — we’d send out copies. Are you already tight with certain bookstores, and have the event coordinators’ contact info? Pass that along. And yeah, you had an idea for a tie-in activity guide that you would then be able to use at all your events. The publisher sees the value in that material, so of course we helped bring it to life! If you have a reasonable ask, that would help sell copies of the book, the publisher will try to help make it happen.
I’ve been thrilled that you have reached out to bookstores to find me virtual gigs. What helps you get an invitation for an author? What can an author do to help?
Those essential first steps I mentioned earlier are the building blocks for this question, too.
Kelly, you’ve been not only willing, but excited, to help promote your book! Do you remember our early conversations around author events (pre-Covid-19), and you essentially said "I’ll drive to any bookstore events you set up in MA and the states that touch it." Haha. That’s dedication. I knew then that you would be awesome to work with. While I don’t expect that level of determination, I admire the spirit, and it was nice to know you gave me the green light to really go for it. When events were starting to go virtual, you adapted, and even learned all of the various platforms that bookstores threw our way. You also worked on your presentation (you had a couple, depending on what the situation called for), even offering a meaningful and easy craft kids at home could make, so it definitely made my job easier.
When you’re a debut, bookstores don’t have a backlist/sales to consider when making event decisions. However, if you’re putting in the extra work, I can better attempt to paint a picture in an event coordinator’s mind on what an event with this author will look like, what we can offer, and how that would be a draw for their community’s families. So, in short, be willing to open up your schedule and prepare!
Guest post by Author Carrie Finison
Please join me in my DeLorean as we travel back in time…
On June 7, 2019, I woke up with BIG plans for the day. My 8th grader would be graduating from middle school on June 11. My 4th grader would be in school for only another week after that. Mama had a mile-long to-do list to accomplish before the busy, distracting days of summer arrived!
But a brief Twitter check stopped me in my tracks. #NationalDoughnutDay was trending. How could I, author of a soon-to-be-released picture book entitled DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, have forgotten about this important national holiday? As I scanned through the tweets in my feed, one thing became clear. People like to talk about doughnuts. A LOT! It was a festive atmosphere and I wanted to jump in with both feet.
At that point, I had officially been on Twitter for six years, since 2013, but I rarely used it. I had joined only to participate in pitch contests when I was seeking an agent. I didn’t spend much time tweeting and didn’t have a large following. But one of my goals in advance of my July 2020 book release was to grow my connections on Twitter. And I wanted to do so in a genuine way, not by participating in many of the “follow fests” that I saw happening. Without knowing the words for it at the time, I was seeking “audience engagement” rather than numbers.
Normally, I’m a planner. I second-, third-, and fourth-guess most of the things I do. But right then, I needed to get two kids to school and get on with my day. With no time to play guessing games, I posted the following:
Then I packed up the kids and left the house.
I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe some fun pictures of doughnuts to fill my news feed? Maybe a few more followers? I was pretty surprised when I came home, checked Twitter, and found over a dozen responses to my tweet. As I started responding to them, more responses came. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to share their favorite doughnut.
I tossed my plans – whatever they were – aside and spent most of the morning on Twitter. At some point, I realized my plan to offer a critique needed some parameters, and posted a quick update:
Responses slowly tapered into the next day, as Twitter moved on from #NationalDoughnutDay. When the dust settled, I took a peek at Twitter Analytics (something I’d only just discovered) and found that, in the short timeframe of the giveaway, I had gained over 120 new followers and my tweets had earned a total of about 29,000 impressions. Maybe that’s not a lot for some people, but at the time for me, that meant a 10% jump in my followers. And, most importantly (to me) these were followers who genuinely wanted to engage with me, and who might later be interested in reading my book.
So what were my takeaways? There were some practical things I learned. Keeping track of a lot of responses all at once is tough. The logistics of doing a fair drawing from retweets can be a little complicated. Tweeting on a hashtag that’s already trending (#NationalDoughnutDay) can greatly boost your visibility. But, just as with making a delicious batch of doughnuts, some of the intangible lessons were more important:
1.Don’t rush the doughnuts! Engagement takes time.
You want followers who are interested in you and want to engage, and that means you need to take the time to reciprocate. Offer something of value and people will respond - and that doesn’t necessarily mean monetary value like a critique or a book. I think people had fun that day and valued the interaction as much as (if not more than) the chance at a critique.
2.Just add sprinkles! It’s more fun when you have fun.
This particular giveaway didn’t feel like “work” or a drain on my time because I was engaging with people over a topic we all loved – doughnuts!
3.Don’t overmix your batter! Don’t overthink it.
Probably a life lesson for me, but I’m not sure this would have gone as well as it did, if I had spent time planning it in advance. For good or bad, Twitter is a very spontaneous medium and that can work to your advantage.
Just to quickly illustrate an example of #3, let’s jump back in the DeLorean and zoom forward to 2020. This year, I planned a big preorder giveaway for DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, scheduled to launch on National Doughnut Day – June 5. However, when the day came we were in the midst of major social upheaval and protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and…well, it didn’t feel like a good moment for self promotion or talk of something frivolous like doughnuts. So, just as spontaneously as I had jumped into the National Doughnut Day celebrations in 2019, I pulled out of them in 2020, and waited for a different moment to announce my giveaway.
Twitter can keep you on your toes, for sure, but keeping things spontaneous and real will help you grow your audience in a genuine way – and have fun while you’re doing it!
~Hosted by Amanda Smith
Welcome to the final installment of 24 Carrot Writing's Graphic Novel Virtual Panel Discussion. Over the last two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), our talented panelists have shared insights about the strengths of graphic novels and their process as creatives.
Join our panel as we jump into the last two meaty questions:
Middle school students seem particularly drawn to graphic novels, and often graphic novels are set in middle school. What does that communicate about the market for upper middle grade/ lower young adult readers? Are graphic novels purposefully aimed towards the middle school reader, or is there something in the graphic novel format that perfectly mashes with the middle schooler’s brain?
Breena Bard: Middle schoolers are taking their first steps toward independence, developing their own beliefs and opinions in a way that they hadn’t before. They are exposed to a diversity of ideas and people, and as they begin to open their minds, they are perfectly primed to receive a radical new method of storytelling. Kids are free of the biases that keep many adults away from comics, and they aren’t pressured to maintain a high-brow reading list. And as long as adults react to graphic novels by wringing their hands or turning their noses up, graphic novels will also have a certain rebellious spirit that might attract middle school readers as well. Plus, comics are just super fun!
Terri Libenson: I’m not sure, really. My characters are all 13 and in seventh grade, yet most of my readers are younger, often in third through sixth grade. Many kids read “up”; that is, they tend to read about characters older than them. I’m not as knowledgeable about what 7th-9th graders are reading, but I personally think there is an opportunity for graphic novels geared for that age bracket.
Tom Angleberger: Middle school is such a weird time when kids sometimes feel like they should be giving up the type of books they loved in elementary school and reading big thick books. The growing acceptance of graphic novels creates a loophole here. A kid who read Smile in third grade can read Guts in seventh grade. (Of course, as far as I’m concerned, kids should keep reading great kids’ books with pride FOREVER!)
Terry Ebbeling: Middle-school students are high energy and don’t often have a lot of “sit” in them. They are also visual learners. Graphic novels appeal to this age because of the pictures which break up the prose and allow students to “see” the story. While middle-school students enjoy graphic novels, there are also a number of authors who gear their graphic novels towards upper elementary students and even high schoolers. Honestly, I like them, too!
What would you like to say to those well-meaning adults who act as gatekeepers regarding graphic novels? To those who see graphic novels as inferior reading?
Kayla Miller: Comics ask readers to use different skills than prose books. To really read a graphic novel, you have to read not only the text, but also to observe environments, body language, and facial expressions. It can be a really engaging and emotional experience. When reading prose, you have to imagine the visuals based on the descriptions given to you and fill in details about the world around the characters, but when you’re reading comics you have to fill in the characters’ inner worlds and use context clues from the art to decipher what they’re thinking and feeling. I don’t think the skills developed reading comics are any less important or useful than those that students gain while reading prose novels. I also get comments all the time from parents that their reluctant readers become eager readers when it comes to graphic novels. If you believe that fostering a love of reading in younger generations is important, you’re only getting in your own way when you disregard graphic novels.
Breena Bard: They should try reading some :) Really though, the fact that graphic novels are told with pictures should not disqualify them, and in fact makes them more accessible and engages students’ brains in a really unique way. Perhaps there is fear because graphic novels are a relatively new medium, but so were computers and tablets, and most schools utilize those to great success. Take time to read some of the new middle grade graphic novel classics (ask a middle schooler and they will surely have a list for you!) and keep an open mind to the possibilities these stories and this exciting format have to offer. They really are quite wonderful!
Terri Libenson: It couldn’t be further from the truth (and if it helps, I avidly read comics as a kid, and now I read such a wide range of books, from non-fiction to fiction, including – yes – graphic novels for adults!). As I mentioned, graphic novels can be quite layered as well as visually stunning and rich in story. And then some are just plain fun, and that’s okay. Graphic novels vary just like prose books. And they are, indeed, BOOKS.
Tom Angleberger: I think people are hung up on word-count. They assume 100,000 words is better than 1,000. Or 100. Or zero, in the case of wordless graphic novels. Well, that’s just dumb. Do they also assume that a novel by Joe Smedlap is better than a sonnet by Shakespeare?
I think we should judge books on how many brain cells they light up. Trust me, Dog Man lights up a lot more brain cells than Tom Sawyer Abroad. (I was forced to read Tom Sawyer Abroad in 7th grade and am still mad.)
Terry Ebbeling : I would tell those reading “gatekeepers” of graphic novels that there are different strokes for different folks in all areas of life, including reading. If students enjoy graphic novels, they are READING! Yay! I do not recommend a steady diet of any one genre, including graphic novels. But, if this genre gets kids into books, then let’s allow and encourage graphic novels.
Thank you to Terri, Breena, Kayla, Tom, and Terry for a fabulous discussion. I know I am paying closer attention to details in the settings and characters, as well as other context clues when I read graphic novels. I am also inspired to think visually and cinematically about the scenes I write, and I cannot wait to get my hands on our panel's new releases in May (if I can pry them from my own middle schooler's hands!)
Terri Libenson is the cartoonist of the internationally syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries, and the author of the best-selling illustrated middle grade novels, Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzy, and Just Jaime. She was also an award-winning humorous writer for American Greetings for 22 years.
The Pajama Diaries launched with King Features in 2006 and currently runs in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country and abroad. Pajama Diaries has been nominated four times for the Reuben Award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” by the National Cartoonists Society and won in 2016.
Terri lives with her family in Cleveland, OH. Her newest novel, Becoming Brianna will be available in May 2020. To learn more about Terri, visit http://terrilibenson.com/
Breena Bard writes and illustrates comics, drawing inspiration from her childhood in Wisconsin, and the stacks of graphic novels on her bedside table. Her graphic novel debut, Trespassers, is set to release May 5, 2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two kids, and cranky but lovable cat. Visit http://www.breenabard.com/about-1 to learn more.
Tom Angleberger is the author of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling Star Wars Origami Yoda series. He is also the author-illustrator of Fake Mustache and Horton Halfpott, both Edgar Award nominees, and the Qwikpick Papers series, as well as many other books for kids. But he always wanted to draw comics and he’s finally gotten the chance to draw with Geronimo Stilton and the Sewer Rat Stink! (Available May 5, 2020) He’s married to acclaimed graphic novelist Cece Bell, who wrote and illustrated El Deafo. To learn more visit https://origamiyoda.com/the-books/
Kayla Miller is the author and illustrator of the best-selling Click series of graphic novels. The third book in the series, Act, is coming out in May 2020 and a fourth book is currently in the works. To learn more about Kayla, visit https://www.kayla-miller.com/
Terry Ebbeling has been teaching grades 7 and 8 ELA for the past eighteen years. She enjoys delving into reading and writing with her students and finds young-adult literature far more riveting than adult literature!
This week's reading list:
CLICK and CAMP by Kayla Miller
INVISIBLE EMMIE, POSITIVELY IZZY and JUST JAIME by Terri Libenson
SMILE, SISTERS, and GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
DOG MAN by Dav Pilkey
Hosted by Francine Puckly
I so enjoyed meeting and chatting with Christy Ewers and Chris Tugeau, the mother and daughter team behind The CAT Agency, at the 2019 New England SCBWI Spring Conference. 24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to host this interview with Christy as Illustrator Month comes to a close.
Hello! And thank you for including me!!
For a lot of authors and illustrators starting out in the children’s literature publishing world, the big question on their minds is, “What are my chances?” So what arethe chances with The CAT Agency? How many submissions do you and Chris receive each week/month/year and how many new clients do you sign?
Oh boy – lots and lots. We receive a consistent flow of submissions a day. I’d say 20 on a slow day. It can be a challenge to get back to everyone, but we try to. As far as chances? We are always open to submission – always. But right now, we are not actively looking to add to our list. We are a boutique agency, so we need to be careful that we have the bandwidth to give our attention to those we currently represent before we consider taking on more talent. That said, if there is someone whose work has blown us away, we huddle about it!
When there is bandwidth for more, we consider adding to the group. However, there are lots of submissions that have impressed us that we have had to pass on! That’s the one crux of being a small agency!
Have you ever received a submission from an artist you’ve declined and then a year or a few years later receive a second query from the same artist who you feel has grown and developed and then decided to represent the artist? What would be the changes in the submission materials that would lead you to change your mind?
Absolutely!! We have several illustrators in our agency now that have that exact story. For instance, one of our illustrators submitted to us in 2015…and after seeing her work grow stronger and stronger over the course of 3 years, I signed her in 2018. She landed a two-book deal almost immediately. I’m so grateful that she stayed in touch, evolved, grew so much as an illustrator, and had the patience that it sometimes takes!
As far as changes in the submission goes, usually when we see promise in someone’s work, we will give a brief critique, things to work on, things to add, etc. and then we ask the artist to be in touch with new artwork. Obvious progress, pushing oneself, listening to critique, and being motivated to draw every day…those things are game-changers!
Illustrators are encouraged to be fresh and original with their art. When you and Chris review potential clients, what are the factors that make you feel an illustrator’s voice is unique and authentic?
I completely agree in encouragement for illustrators to find themselves in their style and work. We can tell if they have been heavily influenced by a certain style or trend, and it makes their work less appealing to us. That said, paying attention to what is selling and what is happening in the market is of utmost importance, too!
As far as illustrators go, we really don’t recommend that they attempt to follow trends, even if their style is not one that we think would be super successful in the industry right now. Artists should stay true to themselves and create art in a way that makes them happy. We encourage practice and experimentation and growth, but only if it’s an organic process of evolving as an illustrator. I think that when people overthink being unique and authentic, it either makes them too much so— that their work becomes too niche—or it changes who they are as an artist, and it stops being fun!
If you are a talented illustrator, you will find work somewhere. It may not be in picture books, but maybe it’s in scientific illustration! Maybe it’s in educational books! Maybe it’s in children’s magazines! And then maybe there’s that one picture book that’s perfect for you and only you! My point is, everyone is unique. Do YOU!
What’s the most common mistake (or mistakes) an artist makes when seeking representation from The CAT Agency?
Beginning an email with “Dear Sirs.” Ha! (For real.) But other than that, really it’s just treating us as you would like to be treated. Spelling our names right, reading the submission guidelines, and then being human in terms of connection and correspondence.
A lot of people send out obvious group submissions, and the salutation is “Hello” and there is nothing personal in the body that gives us any idea that they care about our particular agency at all. When we respond to submissions, we do so on a personal level. Sometimes giving really thought-out critiques and guidance! When someone doesn’t give us the few minutes it takes to be a little personal, we aren’t compelled to do the same. And then everyone loses!
When you sign an illustrator or author/illustrator, do you engage in a revision process with their work? If so, what does that process look like?
Yes! Illustrations-wise, if there’s anything that we see that needs to be added to make their portfolio more robust and appealing to publishers, then we work with them to get it to that point.
If it’s an author/illustrator working on a dummy, then I am happy to help along every step of the process. Sometimes it’s so early in the process that I help in brainstorming ideas and characters, and I’m here to help with overall story-crafting. Often, our author/illustrators either write a manuscript or sketch out a dummy before sharing it with me, and then I edit, make notes and suggestions about how to get it to the point of being submission-ready.
It’s part of my job to make sure that everyone’s work—whether it be their portfolios or their dummies, or manuscripts—is as strong as it can be, and as marketable as can be when I present it. It’s also part of my job to help as our artists grow and evolve and move forward. So it’s an on-going thing; not just something that happens at the beginning of our working relationship.
Of your represented clients, what do you consider to be a “good year” for The CAT Agency and your clients with respect to the number of contracted projects? And how many projects would an illustrator typically juggle at one time?
Oh boy, is this a loaded question! The answer is that it’s different for everyone. We have some artists who can quadruple up on projects, and they have the speed and ability to complete dozens of projects a year. Of course, they’re not all picture books—but with a combination of picture books, chapter books, magazine work, educational work, and cover art, it’s possible. We represent some artists who only work on picture books and only work on one at a time. So a good year for them would be two picture books. We have some artists who have a very niche style or appeal, and perhaps one major project a year would be a good year for them and their particular genre. If someone is working on a graphic novel, that eats up a whole year – and so in that case, a good year is one graphic novel.
When I take on clients, I ask what their goals are in children’s literature/illustration, what their ideal life/work balance would be, and what their financial needs are. And then I can set goals for myself on how I can help them to make it a “good year” for them. Of course, I’m not a wizard, and this business is still freelance – and there are no guarantees in freelance! – but together we can work to hit the mark of a GREAT year! ☺
How do you work with editors to match your illustrators to specific manuscripts? How do you determine if an illustrator is a good match for a project?
Many of our projects are commissioned by editors or art directors who come to us. If our promotional efforts have worked, they’ll know about our illustrators, and they’ll come to me checking the interest and availability of an artist for a particular job.
Whenever I’m visiting a publisher, showing portfolios and dummies, etc., I’ll start by asking if there’s anything in particular they are looking for. Oftentimes, they’ll say “Yes, we have just signed up a manuscript about a penguin who thinks he can fly and we are looking for an illustrator who has a fresh, painterly style, and who can create endearing, but not saccharine-sweet penguins. Got anyone who fits that bill?” And I think for a moment, and say, “As a matter of fact, I have a few!”—and we go from there. If they have interest in any of our illustrators, then it might lead to that person getting that book!
Sometimes, an editor or art director will come to me, and say (for instance) “I am looking for an illustrator for such-and-such graphic novel. Any suggestions?” or “I am looking for someone who is willing to work on a tight budget, and who can turn a book around in 4 months. Got anyone?” Things like that. So, depending on the criteria, I will make suggestions—but then the art has to speak for itself from that point on!
Based on your website, you and Chris represent roughly twice the number of illustrators as author/illustrators. Do editors prefer author work to be separate from illustrator work? Is it an easier sell to align an illustrator with an existing manuscript or do you find that it is a case-by-case basis?
Well, when my Mom started the agency in 1994, she was one of the only strictly illustrator agencies in the business. Over time, many of her illustrators either were, or became, authors as well. When I joined, I opened us up a little more to the ‘author’ end of things, as writing is my background, and it excites me just as much as the illustrating does!
As far as editors go, I think that a one-stop-shop of an author/illustrator is great, but I don’t think that it makes a huge difference. It’s not always a guarantee that they are going to love both the story and the illustrations, so there’s always that risk in submitting author/illustrated dummies. It often happens that they like the manuscript, but not the art, or the art, but not the story. Which is why just authors should generally submit only their manuscripts, and not try to assign an illustrator to their stories, or have an illustrator do artwork for them. If they like one and not the other, it may be a pass for both.
Signing up just a manuscript adds that extra step in finding the right illustrator to illustrate it, but that’s the fun part!
What do you feel The CAT Agency offers its clients that is unique or different in the industry?
I’m not totally sure how other agencies operate, but I think that what makes us different is the family aspect of our group. My Mom and I are obviously mother/daughter, but even long before I joined her, she always cultivated an environment of “family” within the agency. She has always really cared about the people she has represented over the years; knowing and involved in their work and family life – and they were always a part of ours!
Since I joined, we have expanded a bit, but it’s still really important to us to maintain the family feel. We encourage everyone we represent to get to know one another, support one other, lean on one another, and to feel like they are part of an extended family of artists. We also want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable coming to us for any reason; in the way that you would a friend.
Of course, the agency is a business, and we respect that aspect of it, too. Sometimes caring for someone means parting ways, if - for whatever reason - we are unable to do our job as agents, or an artist is unable to do theirs. But even if we have to take different paths, we still support and care for everyone as they continue their journey – like a family does!
When an illustrator is not working on an assignment, what do you advise your illustrators do to grow their craft/art?
Draw every day! Every day. Always create and play and experiment. If you find yourself with free time, create a dummy! Or give yourself an assignment, like a mock cover, or experimenting with graphic novel illustration, or creating any number of new portfolio pieces. Try a new medium, or a new process. One thing I definitely recommend is to do a figure drawing class, or sketch from real life, or plein-air paint, or even collage. Challenging yourself or simply just practicing every day will keep you loose and creative, but you also may discover (or uncover) something spectacular in doing so. And that may just be the ticket to your next project!
Christy T. Ewers is one half of the agenting team at The CAT Agency, where she represents illustrators and author/illustrators in the children’s industry, along with her mother and partner, Chris Tugeau, who founded the agency in 1994. The CAT Agency is a boutique agency that believes in the hands-on approach in representing a diverse group of talent from all over the world. Christy works closely with the entire "family" of artists, spearheading promotion and deals for CAT Agency illustrators, as well as working closely with the authors in the group to help craft their stories and hone their writing for young readers.
Hosted by Francine Puckly
As Illustrator Month continues, 24 Carrot Writing is excited to host New England-based author/illustrator Deborah Freedman, creator of several picture books for young readers. Her books have received many starred and enthusiastic reviews, honors, and awards — including SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award and a Parent's Choice Gold Award. Welcome, Deborah!
You’re recently back from Nerd Camp in Parma, Michigan. Can you tell us a little bit about this event, how long have you been doing it, and what’s your favorite part of this outing?
I love Nerd Camps! I could talk books all day if you let me, and for the past four years visiting Parma has been a highlight of my summer. It’s a place where passionate, progressive educators are sharing their most creative ideas about raising readers, in a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for spontaneous, informal conversations and getting to know people. I’ve met so many I truly respect and admire — and they give me hope for the world. I’m incredibly grateful for all teachers do.
Let’s talk about CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE. What was the process for bringing Carl into the world, from inspiration to completion?
Carl, as a character, first popped up in one of many revisions I did for my book SHY. But no one at Viking understood what this funny earthworm was doing in that book, so my darling was deleted. But not killed! Late in 2016, I was sitting at my desk, questioning my purpose in life, when this small character with big questions came back to me… and this time, he had his own story.
You’ve worked with Kendra Levin at Viking Children’s Books on a few of your projects. Have you and Kendra discussed or applied any of the exercises from her book, THE HERO IS YOU?
I’ve worked with Kendra on four books and have learned so much from her. We do talk about the creative process a lot, and she is as insightful about that in person as she is in HERO. The real Kendra, like the author Kendra, is a wonderful creativity therapist; when she helps steer me through some particular problem, she’s also giving me the tools and confidence to deal with it myself the next time.
Tell us a little bit about the process of working with your editors. How long does it take, from start to finish, once one of your manuscripts is acquired?
With Kendra, each book has started with a fairly clear concept, characters, theme… but I’m plot-challenged, so that’s where a lot of our work together happens. Even once I hope I’ve got it, she will push me to clarify my intentions and go deeper. With some projects, I chase an idea in a bunch of different directions before finding the right path, and other stories slowly evolve — but all of our manuscripts have taken a long time, up to nine months of back and forth with text and thumbnails before I start doing tight sketches. Once everything is approved for final art, Kendra hands me off to Jim Hoover, who has art directed all of my five books at Viking.
With any of my publishing teams, a lot gets done by email, though of course I love those long phone conversations or occasional in-person meetings where we can really hash things out.
How did you manage the leap from pre-published to successfully published with multiple books out over the last 12 years? Was there a learning curve when it came to marketing your books and crafting author visits? And did you ever feel you made any marketing mistakes or that there was anything you would avoid in future?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were one place authors could go to learn everything we need to know about having a book out in the world? My main mistake has been worrying too much about what other people are doing. In the end, experience has turned out to be the best teacher, helping me to slowly trust my own instincts and simply do what I enjoy and do best—for author visits, marketing, all of it. I think that figuring out how to present our public selves to the world is a lot like finding and honing a writing voice. Which can take a while!
You and I met years ago at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA standing in line at a coffee bar, just after your debut picture book was released. You evolved from SCBWI member seeking publication to debut author/illustrator to multi-published author/illustrator who now presents at conferences. How important has the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators been to your writing career?
Yes, I remember that! I’d sold my first book, Scribble, after being “discovered” at the NYSCBWI conference, and it had recently come out. Travelling to LA that year turned out to be important for my career too, because it helped me connect with my first agent. But honestly, I mostly value SCBWI for helping me find a wonderful writing community of people like you — who are supportive, inspiring, and dear to me. We never stop needing each other.
When you are taking a break from working on an assignment, what do you do to grow your craft/art?
A break? What’s that? ;)
I should take more long breaks. But there always seem to be things on my desk, in various stages, because I’m very, very slow at developing ideas and am afraid to turn the incubator off! I have also discovered that valuable cross-fertilization seems to happen between projects when more than one is going at a time.
But every day I do make time for reading from a wide range of both kid’s and adult fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry… and my husband and I take frequent advantage of our fortunate, easy access to amazing theater, music, and museums. Other art forms give me a break from my own brain for a while and then later expand it.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we pay a lot of attention to goal setting and planning. Do you set illustrating/ art goals? If so, what do they look like?
I do my best to stay loose and open for as long as I can, and have figured out that I need to schedule in enough space for experimentation and play, and also time to overcome my inevitable inertia, fear, self-consciousness…
My main goal is simply to grow with every book; I just want to feel like I’m always pushing forward.
My biggest dream is that someday the final product will be as good as what was in my head. :)
Deborah’s most recent releases are CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE released by Viking Children’s Books on April 2, 2019, as well as SHY (Viking Children’s Books, 2016) and THIS HOUSE, ONCE (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017). To find out more about Deborah, visit her at https://www.deborahfreedman.net, @DeborahFreedman on Twitter, and @freedmanillustrates on Instagram.
~by Amanda Smith
I have been following Miranda Paul's career for many years and celebrate along with her as her fifteenth book will be released this year. Her picture books inspire young readers to take care of the earth and one another. She invests generously in the kidlit community as founder of RATE YOUR STORY and co-founder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS. Her generosity also spills over in other walks of life in local and international communities, where she invites others to come alongside her and spark change. I am honored to welcome Miranda to 24 Carrot Writing to tell us about her newest book-baby.
NINE MONTHS: Before a Baby is Born (illustrated by Jason Chin) released on April 23, 2019. You have said of this book, “My heart is full to have this very special book received with love. It's been in development for ten years, and I may cry upon its ‘birth.’” Please share with our readers the journey of NINE MONTHS and why it is so close to your heart.
Nine Months is the book I wanted when I was pregnant with my second child. Sometimes that’s why you write a book—the one you want doesn’t exist yet. While every day I was getting access to weekly updates on the status of my baby, where was the scientifically-accurate yet age-appropriate book for my two-year-old daughter who was as curious as I was about each stage of her new sibling’s development? And while there were plenty of great picture books about where babies come from or emotional picture books about how much love a new baby gets, I struggled to find one that struck the right balance between the two. It only took ten years, but Nine Months is exactly the book I wanted. The science of human life is as miraculous as the love families have for each other. This book compromises neither one, and it’s also a reflection of the diversity of our world’s families.
Your books are diverse in theme, yet many deal with social/environmental issues. Why do you gravitate towards telling these kinds of stories?
Diversity and environmentalism are important aspects of my life, and my work is an extension of who I am and what I believe. As a white woman, I am keenly aware of my privilege and how representation in society can elevate or diminish someone’s opportunities. On a more personal level as a mom, raising biracial, multi-ethnic children who are also nature lovers is my everyday joy and task. Having traveled, lived, and made friends with people in more than a dozen countries has afforded me the discovery that human beings are more alike than we are different, and that our planet is a superbly beautiful place worth protecting. All children need to be reflected in and honored by the stories we tell, and our planet should be given a voice.
You are such a prolific writer, and you do school visits and many other public appearances as well. How do you structure your writing time? Do you write on specific days or do you write every day?
I get this question a lot. Many people don’t know that I’ve been writing most of my life, so when I began in children’s books I had a body of work and experience writing for other kinds of publications. My structure isn’t exactly the same day-to-day (what working mother can say this? What person, for that matter?). But just as any other self-employed person I set schedules and have honed my self-discipline. I do most of my school visits in spring and fall, and therefore a lot of new writing and researching naturally falls in the winter and summer months. There’s no magic equation. Everyone who is an aspiring writer—even if you’re working another job (like I was when I began) or taking care of children or elderly—must find the motivation and momentum to fit the work into the “cracks of life,” to use a phrase I heard from writer Susan Manzke. You may not have entire days to write, but you might have snippets here and there. Enough snippets put together make a book.
Here at 24 Carrot Writing we are big on setting goals as a way to stay motivated and on task. Do you use writing goals to keep focused? Would you mind sharing your goals or 2019?
Just before my debut book One Plastic Bag released, I had a moment in which I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. The feeling was exhilarating; it’s hard to describe. So for the past couple of years, my goals have leaned toward enjoying the process and keeping on the same path. Of course, I also have personal goals for growth and pushing myself to try new things. Not all of them have to do with writing, which is what I find most meaningful. The more I work on having the life I want, the better I seem to be doing professionally. I get to write—and live—what I believe. Keeping that realness is at the top of my list of goals, because I hope it’s an inspiration to my children that exploring who you are, staying active in areas that matter to you, and developing your passions are all measures of success, regardless of the outcome.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Remember that even though you may pour your heart into your work, ultimately you and your work are separated once it goes out into the world. A rejection or critique is about the words on the page—not you, personally. So yes, you can keep creating. Yes, you are good enough. And yes, your voices and visions matter enough to share. It’s really that simple.
Thank you for sharing your heart and wisdom with 24 Carrot Writing, Miranda.
New and Upcoming Books by Miranda Paul:
Miranda Paul is the award-winning author of One Plastic Bag, Water is Water, and I Am Farmer, all Junior Library Guild selections. Whose Hands Are These? was named a 2017 ILA Teacher's Choice and Are We Pears Yet? won the 2018 Award of Excellence in Children and Young Adults Literature from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Her most recent release, Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born, received three starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Miranda Paul is an annual faculty member at the Highlights Foundation and a co-founding member of the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, for which she currently serves as Mentorship Chair. Visit her at mirandapaul.com.
NINE MONTHS: Before a Baby is Born, as well as Miranda's other book are available at these retailers:
Barnes and Noble:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/nine-months-miranda-paul/1129200776?ean=9780823441617#/
Interview by Annie Cronin Romano
Welcome Ann! We are happy to have you join us to be interviewed by 24 Carrot Writing! How did you come to be a children’s book author?
I have always loved to read and write. My father took me to the library every week as a child. He let each of his eight children check out three books a week. Imagine keeping track of that? I was late to learn to read--maybe the end of first grade. He read Madeline to me and I knew how important that book was. After all, my siblings and I walked in lines, just like Madeline.
When you write, do you plot out your stories or are you more of a pantser?
I suppose I’d describe myself as more of a pantser. I write one sentence telling what my book will be about. Then I dive into the research and build a word/phrase bank. I have had early drafts for picture book that run over 20,000 words. I peel away bit after bit until my story reveals itself to me. Not the most efficient practice, but it works for me.
You have two recent releases: PENCIL: A STORY WITH A POINT (Pajama Press, 2/15/19) and WHY SHOULD I WALK? I CAN FLY! (Dawn Publications, 3/1/19). What was your inspiration for these stories?
I was cleaning my kitchen junk drawer. I have several more throughout the house. Maybe more than “several”. As I came across each item, I began to wonder if it might have a personality. Like rubber teeth, for instance. What might they say? To whom?
For Why Should I Walk? I Can Fly, I had been sitting on my back porch with my husband. Each of us sipping cold coffee. We noticed a baby robin in a tree, on a limb, contemplating that first leap from the nest. Mother and father bird were nearby.
Two of your nonfiction picture books involve jazz music: THE LITTLE PIANO GIRL: THE STORY OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS, JAZZ LEGEND and J IS FOR JAZZ (such a fun read)! Can you share what sparked these stories? Are you a musician yourself?
I can play the sticks if pressed into it. I do love music and still love to dance even though I’m a bit arthritic these days. I got the idea for both books on a day I subbed for my music teacher friend who had an ongoing unit on jazz. I wondered if a jazz alphabet book had ever been written. As I pondered who or what to use for the letter W, my jazz historian friend reminded me of Mary Lou Williams, the First Lady of Jazz. As I began to read about her, I was totally hooked. My sister, Maryann Macdonald, paired with me in the writing of that book. It sold first and about 3 years later, J is for Jazz sold.
FAIRY FLOSS: THE SWEET STORY OF COTTON CANDY is another of your nonfiction picture books. What lead you to write this delicious story?
Sonal Fry at Little Bee asked me to write this book. She gave me lots of freedom in deciding what to write. When I learned that the Electric Candy Making Machine was first introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, I was hooked. I did quite a bit of the research at the UMKC Dental School Library since one of the inventors was a dentist. He also wrote books for children. How cool is that?
You have written several early reader books, including the forthcoming TIP AND TUCKER: ROAD TRIP (Sleeping Bear Press, 3/15/19), co-written with Sue Lowell Gallion. What was the process of co-writing like?
Co-authoring with Sue is a dream come true! We really think alike and arrive at an ending in the same way. We are willing to defer to one another as we trust where the story will go. I’ve had equally good experience with my sister, Maryann, and with Barbara Stuber. She and I co-authored a book that is still slowly making the rounds.
What do you love most about being an author?
When I see a child smile, laugh, wonder, and learn from one of my books, I think I have done my job. That really is what keeps me writing. I plan to do this until my last breath.
What is the most challenging part of being an author?
For me that would be keeping all my files in order. I have many, many versions of each manuscript before it becomes a book. I study and compare them and see if there is any bit of magic in one before I discard it.
What is your editing process like? Do you belong to a critique group?
I do belong to a critique group. Jody Jensen Shaffer and Sue Lowell Gallion and I try to meet up every couple of weeks or so. We read exemplars (recently published) and then share our own work. We may read each piece 2 or 3 times slowly and carefully. Then we play with possibilities and word choices, story arc, tension, etc. It is the most satisfying experience. We also talk about the publishing world, share our disappointments and successes. All very, very good.
You have published over 25 books. Are there any particular favorites which hold a special place in your heart?
I'm really proud of J IS FOR JAZZ. It was vetted by three important jazz historians and is accurate. I really loved studying jazz history and making it come alive with a bit of jazz slang. I hope my readers feel the same way.
As you have many book launches under your belt, do you have any words of wisdom for debut authors regarding marketing/publicizing their new book babies?
I’m not especially good at promotion. Thank heavens my publishers are. I do lots of school and library visits and sell books there. I have been to several conferences for librarians. These are very good. SCBWI conferences and literary festivals other good way to connect with parents, teachers, and students. I’d love to do another conference or festival this year. Maybe someone reading this will ask me to present. Here’s hoping. :)
What advice would you give to writers out there in the query/submission trenches?
Study the marketplace. Before I did this seriously, I had very few sales. Since that time, I’ve had nearly 40 more sales. I take about 15 minutes a day and search for editors’ wish lists, publishers’ lists, and names of new publishers. This really helps me direct my submissions. Be prepared for rejections. Take the bad with the good.
What were some of you favorite books as a child?
I loved the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse books and read them over and over hoping one day to actually be a nurse. As an early childhood and special education teacher, I did bandage plenty of knees and elbows from playground mishaps. My grandmother read A. A. Milne to me. I completely love his work, most especially the poem that goes, "When I was one, I had just begun…"
What are a few of your favorite books as an adult?
Louise Penny and Gary D. Schmidt are my all time favorite authors. They are in categories of their own making. I will admit to reading each of their books at least twice. Three time for OKAY FOR NOW.
We’d love to know what you’re working on now. Any projects coming up?
I am working with Jane True on a bio about Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Hoping to wrap that up this weekend and send it out. We have an editor with interest. Please cross your pinkies! I am also going to be writing two more Tip and Tucker books with Sue Lowell Gallion for Sleeping Bear and I have another silly book in the works that may go to Pajama Press. And a book idea, not yet fleshed out for Dawn Publications.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with 24 Carrot Writing, Ann!
Ann Ingalls writes for both children and adults and is the author of over twenty-five books. She loves chocolate, swimming, playing Bridge, and traveling. To learn more about Ann and her work, visit her website, www.anningalls.com. She is also on Twitter @AnnIngallsBooks.
Hosted by Kelly Carey
24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to welcome author Jarrett Lerner to the site. Jarrett is the author of EngiNerds, a middle grade series starter hailed by Kirkus as a “boisterous balance of potty humor and geek pride” and a “rollicking young engineer’s adventure”. Its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds launches next month and I know my nephew is hoping for more side-splitting fun (and farting robots!).
Jarrett knows how to have fun in his writing but he is also passionate and serious about being a contributing force in KidLit and having a positive effect on his young fans. To that end, Jarrett cofounded and helps run MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects.
Welcome to 24 Carrot Writing Jarrett!
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page? How did you become a published author?
I’ve been drawing and writing since I can remember. Growing up, I definitely had other interests and hobbies – I played baseball and guitar and skateboarded. But I was always in the middle of a book or two, and I always had notebooks lying around with stories, sketches, and ideas. And while my interest in those other things waned, my interest in reading and creating only grew, and eventually flared up into a full-blown passion.
Even so, it never occurred to me that I could become a published author. In college, I was writing like crazy. And sure, I fantasized about being published. But I truly believed that that’s all such thoughts ever were and ever would be – fantasy. It took an author who I looked up to a great deal challenging me on that and encouraging me to make a go of it before I fully took myself and my work seriously. And then it took years and years to really find myself as a creator, to understand where the stories I wanted to tell “fit.” Or, to put it differently, it took years and years to accept and embrace the fact that I stopped maturing around the age of 10, and that I just wanted to write about farting robots and draw monsters all day long.
Fans of EngiNerds are excited for the sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds. When did you decide to write a sequel? How did it feel to go back and revisit Ken and his EngiNerd crew in a new manuscript?
Even my earliest drafts of the first book ended on a cliffhanger (I’m a big fan of them!), and when the book eventually sold, it was bought along with a sequel. So I knew pretty much from the get-go that there’d be this follow-up. Revisiting the crew in a new manuscript was both fun and frustrating. I love these characters, and tossing them into a bunch of new crazy situations was a total blast. But there were times when I wished they weren’t so fully formed in my mind (and in the first book!), when if one or another character was just a little more like this or that it would’ve made the plotting of this second book a whole lot simpler. But that just forced me to challenge myself, and in the end, I think, I produced a better book because of it.
You just announced the launch of a new series, Geeger the Robot, an early Chapter Book launching in 2020. How would you compare working on your MG books to working on this Chapter Book series?
Henry James once described novels as “loose, baggy monsters.” He meant it especially when comparing them to short stories, in which there’s less room for detours and digressions and, on the part of the reader, less tolerance for “imperfection.” And if there’s a spectrum for such considerations, then poems would be at the opposite end from the novel. In a poem, a reader might notice (and be irked by) a single out-of-place syllable.
I think James was onto something. With novels, I feel more free to take detours or linger in a scene a bit longer than is strictly necessary, just because it might be interesting or enjoyable. You don’t really have that luxury in shorter works. But at the same time, there’s something thrilling about chasing the “perfection” that is (or at least seems) possible in shorter works. I labor over all of my sentences. But the shorter a work is, the fewer the sentences it contains, the more “right” I feel those sentences need to be.
You have taken your passion for writing and used it to fuel the creation of projects and communities like MG Book Village, Kids Need Books, and Kids Need Mentors. Can you talk about how your writing journey lead you to each of these endeavors?
I think my passion for storytelling and creating has always had a tendency to “spill over.” I read as much, if not more than, I draw and write. I get really, really excited about other people’s work, and want to share it with the world, and I think my involvement in the MG Book Village sprung out of that. And Kids Need Books and Kids Need Mentors – those are both projects aimed at improving and enriching the lives of kids. That’s something I try to do with my books too. While it may look like I’m scattered or that I’ve got too many irons in the fire, I see all of these projects as related.
You have a great natural talent and interest in illustrating. How did you land on MG and Chapter Books and not PBs or graphic novels? Is there a PB or graphic novel in your future?
I’ve been drawing longer than I’ve been writing, and growing up, the two were always linked for me. But I think school – and in particular high school and college – severed them in my mind. There weren’t any pictures in the books we were reading for my literature classes. And if I’d been caught with one that did have them, I probably would’ve been ridiculed for it. And the only time visual art was linked with storytelling was in my Art History courses in college, and then in an extremely scholarly manner.
There’s a great quote from Picasso – “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I learned a great deal in high school and college. But I think it knocked me off my creative track. I was learning to write like Dostoevsky and Philip Roth and talk about paintings like I was interviewing for a job at MoMA when my heart lay with 8-year-old Jarrett making his own silly comic books in the back of the classroom. Fortunately, it didn’t take me a whole lifetime to reconnect with that kid.
And yes – there are some illustrated works in my future. I’m not allowed to talk much about them just yet, but if you follow me on Instagram and/or Twitter, I now and again give some sneak peeks (shhh… don’t tell my publisher!).
You have done an impressive number of author visits in a far reaching number of states. For example, you’ve been to California, Illinois and all over New England. How did you land your bookings? Manage your travel? And how have you planned your presentations to appeal to different audiences?
I’ve been lucky to receive a number of invitations to schools. And once I have an invitation, I usually start doing outreach to try and turn a single visit into a sort of mini-tour. Last year, for instance, an educator in Chicago expressed interest in my visiting her school. I put out a call to others in the area and was able to get a week’s worth of visits. I’ve organized several other trips in just that way. But I think it’s important to say that I wouldn’t be able to do this as successfully had I not put a lot of time and effort into connecting with educators and librarians all across the country (which is something I continue to do all the time!). I truly believe that kids’ educators and librarians and kids’ book creators are colleagues, and that the more we work together, the better work we can all do. Putting in that time and effort to make these connections has enriched my life in many ways. I’ve learned SO much. I’ve made incredible friends. I’ve grown as a person and as a creator. And, more practically, it’s helped me when it comes to booking visits.
The Dutch version of EngiNerds just launched. How did you balance excitement over a foreign edition with a new illustrator doing the cover and a new title? How can authors and illustrators, who cherish their work, make space to let the creative energy of others add to it?
I fully embrace the collaborative aspect of book-making. Sometimes I feel it’s a bit preposterous that authors get to have their names alone on their book covers! It’s almost always a team effort. I’ve also always subscribed to the idea that, once you put a book out into the world, it’s no longer yours – or no longer only yours. In engaging imaginatively with a work, each reader assumes a slice of ownership of the book too. I think because of all this, I find it thrilling to see what other creators do with “my” work. But that doesn’t mean I can’t question or challenge some of the choices they make – that’s part of the collaborative process too.
At 24 Carrot Writing we are big on goal setting. Do you set detailed writing goals, broad yearly goals or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I think I do some combination of both – I set goals by the seat of my pants! I am never working on just one project. I always have two, three, and sometimes even four or five going at once, each of them usually in a different stage of completion (or incompletion). On any given day, I’ll take two things into consideration: (1) what I feel like working on, and (2) about how much time I’ll have to work on it. Given that, I might do some exploratory doodling, or dive into novel revisions, or work on putting together a picture book dummy. Every now and again, though, I really “land” on a certain project, and will give it my full attention and concentrated energy until it’s finished (or a draft or version of it is complete). I guess you could call it “occasionally organized chaos,” but it keeps things both fun and productive for me. And that’s huge. If I’m not enjoying the work, it shows in the results. That might not be true for all creators, but it is for me.
Of course, sometimes some of this goes out the window when you’ve got deadlines. But the majority of the time, I meet my deadlines without changing things up.
24 Carrot Writing sits on the premise that authors need to set and accomplish both writing goals and the business of writing goals. How do you balance your responsibilities to MG Book Village, Kids Need Books, and Kids Need Mentors with writing your books and hitting your writing deadlines?
I touched on this in an earlier question, but basically, I think it’s all about perspective, and about how you define your work and your goals. I love, love, LOVE making books. And yes, I could probably do that and only that all day every day for the rest of my life and be BEYOND content. But I don’t see making books as the only aspect of my work as a creator – or, what’s more, as the only facet of what I, as a human being, have to offer during my time on the planet. In addition to making good books, I want to more directly help and inspire kids, and I want to give back to the various communities that have supported and sustained me. With such goals, it’s not so much about finding balance as it is about finding the time to get it all done!
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Embrace, explore, and celebrate the things that make you (and your creative output) uniquely you. The weirder and wonkier, the better.
To learn more about Jarrett you can visit him at jarrettlerner.com/ , or find him on Twitter @Jarrett_Lerner.
You can purchase copies of EngiNerds or Revenge of the Enginerds using these links: www.indiebound.org/book/9781481468725, www.indiebound.org/book/9781481468749, www.amazon.com/EngiNerds-MAX-Jarrett-Lerner/dp/1481468723/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547132304&sr=8-1&keywords=enginerds , www.amazon.com/Revenge-EngiNerds-MAX-Jarrett-Lerner/dp/148146874X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547132360&sr=8-1&keywords=revenge+of+the+enginerds .
And be ready to have Jarrett in a bookstore near you! Jarrett will be at the South Portland Public Library in Maine on February 23rd and at Print Bookstore in Maine on March 12th. 24 Carrot Writers be sure to say hello!
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