Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Agents, Inspiration, and Sales, Oh My!

A while back I posted about how I got my agent. It came down to a combo of good timing, her #MSWL post (which really summed up the type of MS I was just sending out to agents), and just really jiving well with each other.

While we all know Agents sell your work and cheer you on, sometimes they are your source for inspiration.

Back on International Woman's Day, March 8, 2018, Rebecca shot a simple tweet my way.
Of course I said, "I love elephants!" and we had a fun little back and forth where, like all highly evolved creatures, we spoke in GIFS and pictures.
But now I had a problem. I couldn't get this idea out of my head. Like I'd told my agent, I'd done a good amount of research on elephants already for a possible Chapter Book Series. I even went to meet one and interview a caretaker. But did I have enough info? I had only done generic research and it was mostly about captive elephants. Was there a solid story here?
I couldn't stop thinking about the elephant I met, the elephant matriarch, and their beautiful and complex family structure.
On March 12th, 2018 I emailed my agent a REALLY rough draft and asked, "Should I pursue this further?"
Her response was simply, "YES!!! Please pursue this !!!! :-)"
So I put everything else I was working on to the side, stayed up way too late watching elephants on the internet, Animal Planet, Net Geo, pulling every elephant book off the shelf at my library and pulling out all my old notes. After fast tracking it to my critique buddies I gave my agent on April 12th.
I was so attached to this piece. I lost sleep over it. I reached out to trusts in Africa to have it vetted. I was terrified that she'd say it was all wrong. (Not because she is mean or harsh, but every writer worries their stuff is crap at some point, right?)
She read it on April 16th. This is what I got back.


We sent it on an exclusive to an editor who ultimately didn't offer. Then we sent it on its first round of submissions.

Friday, August 3rd, 2018 it went out.

Tuesday the 7th we had interest and they wanted to call and speak with me. Within a month we had another editor who wanted a call. We received multiple offers but we chose to publish with Familius.
That they offered is still a little shocking since I'd never spoken with an editor or publisher on the phone so I nervous giggled for half of the conversation and forgot the English language a few times. Thankfully they still loved SHE LEADS. (Whether or not they think I'm nuttier than a peanut shell... we can't be sure.)

I signed the contract on Friday, September 14th. Six months after my Agent playfully pitched me an idea on twitter.

Agents are more than the person who can get your MS seen at big houses. They are more than a contract translator. They are friends and inspiration and cheerleaders and editors and I for one am thankful!

DISCLAIMER FOR WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS: This is not a normal timeframe! Six months is ridiculously fast!!! It took me about three years to sell my first picture book. I've been seriously writing for two to three years prior to that.

SHE LEADS: THE ELEPHANT MATRIARCH will be published in Spring, 2020 by Familius.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How I Got My Agent

So, obviously I am not a great blogger. BUT I have spent the past year really buckling down on my writing. I’ve finished a middle grade fantasy manuscript, polished a number of my picture books, and GOT AN AGENT! But wait, there’s more. I have a picture book under contract with Blue Manatee Press!
I’ve been working towards traditional publication for 5 years. I’ve grown each and every year.
Starting with preachy picture books with long word counts, I didn’t get very far.
I joined SCBWI. Seriously, if you write for kids and want to be a part of a large tribe with education, comradery, and networking, then you should look into The Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators.
So I started going to conferences. I met others like me. I met agents and editors and had critiques. I attended classes, webinars, and workshops. I grew as a writer.
At an SCBWI Critique Fest I met my in person critique group. They have been invaluable in helping me hone my skills, question my characters motivation, and most of all, grow as a writer. Recently I've also joined online critique groups.
Highlights Foundation Retreat cabins
At a Highlights Foundation Retreat I really broke down my works, focused on word choice, and page turns and… did yoga and went on hikes and had the best butter I’ve ever eaten in my life… and I grew as a writer (and maybe as a person. I couldn’t stop eating the butter.)
I’d become confident in my writing. I got some likes in Twitter contests, my percentage of personal rejections grew, I applied for, but did not win mentorships, and finally I had some interest from an editor. I reached out to the agents who were currently reviewing my work in their slush piles and from some requests to inform them I had a contract in hand.
I received multiple offers and the decision wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. There is a ton of pressure and doubt that I think plagues many writers. But the enthusiasm and connection with one agent in particular was too great to ignore. I’m proud to announce I’m represented by Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary.
I had submitted to Rebecca after seeing her #MSWL about creative non-fiction. She’s already negotiating contracts and guiding me along the process. We already have a second manuscript under review. I hope together we sell a bajillion books and make readers happy.
I want to make it clear. The path was long and ultimately I was discovered in a slush pile. But every path is different and there is no one way to be a writer or to become traditionally published. Just keep pushing and growing as a writer.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

I'm here to say goodbye to 2016 and welcome 2017. 

This year I want all you writers to make realistic resolutions.

Write more.
Write without distractions.
Write without fear.
Write with your heart.

Yes, it is a lovely thought to say, "This year my resolution is to become a published author." Unless you are self publishing there are too many things out of your control.

This year I hope to polish, revise, write, research. All of which are in my control. Patience, focus, and drive are within my control. Dedication is within my control.

Don't beat yourselves up with things don't go to plan. This business is subjective and slow, which is difficult for us to grasp in a time of instant gratification. 

I wish everyone a productive new year. I wish you inspiration. I wish you peace.

Happy New Year! Happy Writing!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Guest Post by Picture Book Author Julie Murphy

SPECIAL GUEST! I’m ecstatic that I have a guest post from picture book author Julie Murphy about her latest book Gilly’s Treasures. Take it away Julie.


Hi, June, and thanks for hosting me on your blog to help celebrate the October 11 release of my picture book for children (4-8), Gilly’s Treasures.

Writers often see the advice, “write about what you know”. I have always loved the beach and often spend my holidays there, so it was natural to write a story set at the beach. And that story evolved into Gilly’s Treasures.


One of my favorite books as a child was Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. I loved it so much that I still dream of visiting Cornwall one day, where the story is set. And of course, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is a story for all ages. Contemporary children’s books set at the sea that I love are Magic Beach by Alison Lester (fiction), Tanglewood by Margaret Wild and Vivienne Goodman (fiction), and When Elephants Lived in the Sea by Jane Godwin & Vincent Agostino (creative non-fiction).

My daughter and I loved snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef
My husband, daughter and I still often visit the coast for our holidays. We have quite a few gorgeous natural places within a days’ drive. Plus we are very fortunate to have visited some more distant places, such as the Great Barrier Reef, and Ningaloo Reef in north-Western Australia where we saw green turtles!


One of the green turtles we saw at Ningaloo Reef

I love animals so, after school, I trained as a zoologist before working as a zookeeper for a decade. It wasn’t until I left that job to have a baby that I became immersed in the wonderful world of children’s books – both as a reader and a writer. My love of picture books really took over from that point. Many of my favourite picture books are about animals, as well as the ones I write.

I have been writing picture books for about a decade. My training in zoology helped me get a foot in the door with work-for-hire projects, which I wrote to specific briefs provided by the publishers. Most are non-fiction books about animals, but it is only by chance that many are also about the sea. Ocean Animal Adaptations, Coral Reefs Matter, and Anglerfish are just a few examples.

I am proud of my non-fiction books, but I must admit to being extra excited to welcome Gilly’s Treasures into the world. It is my first fiction picture book, and began as my own idea (rather than to a publisher’s brief). With the feel of a traditional children’s fable, it tells the story of Gilly; a seagull who is so busy finding pretty, shiny things at the seaside that he forgets everything else – even to eat! Thankfully, with a little help from his partner, Swoop, he eventually discovers what really matters most to him. Illustrator Jay Fontano has done a wonderful job bringing Gilly and Swoop to life, and balancing my fable-like story with fun, friendly illustrations. I especially love the new character he introduced - a cute little crab who children will love spotting on each page.

I hope that children who read Gilly’s Treasures will want to visit the beach and another natural places for themselves, and maybe find a treasure or two of their own. And it might even spawn a conversation about what they think is most important in their own lives.

I think it is important for children to visit natural places. It gives them a chance to unplug from their devices, slow down, breathe the fresh air, and learn something about the real world. Who doesn’t find nature relaxing? Even a back yard or local park will do the trick. I think it not only benefits the child, but also conservation because kids will be more likely to look after what they know and care about.

My daughter (3) has always loved exploring the beach.


Where to learn more about Julie and her books?

Julie’s web site – www.juliemurphybooks.com.au

Facebook page with book preview - www.facebook.com/GILLYSTREASURES



Gilly’s Treasures is available from many on-line book stores, including Cedar Fort’s sales page, Books & Things (free for most parts of the USA): www.booksandthings.com


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Concept to Completion: Librarian Matthew Winner

So we’ve come to the end of the series from Concept to Completion. The part where someone with money (adults) buys our books for readers (mostly kids). The people with more experience than any other when it comes to getting books into the hands of a young reader is a librarian. I’d like to welcome Matthew Winner, Elementary Librarian, Podcast Host, Author, and super nice guy.

Welcome to the Blog Matthew. So why did you and how did you become a librarian?

 I taught 4th grade as a general educator for a few years, but began work right away on my Master's in School Library Media after being inspired by the school librarian where I taught. I became a school librarian soon after when a nearby school had a position open and I felt the calling to step out beyond the classroom into a role that served the whole school. It's been a great career so far and there's not much better than watching readers grow and championing global citizenship through books, authors, literacy, and technology.

 How do you stay on top of what to purchase for your library? There are so many choices.

I read a lot. Mostly I'm reading for my podcasts (All The Wonders podcast and The Best Book Ever [this week]), but I also read reviews monthly in School Library Journal and daily across various library a teacher blogs. Beyond that, I try to listen really closely to the interests of our students and the needs of our teachers when selecting materials for our library.

How do you match up books to readers?

Ahh! This is the art of being a school librarian! Knowing readers, knowing their interests, and knowing the reading level where they feel most comfortable as a reader as all things I take into consideration when helping to connect kids with books. Often they are excited to read whatever I'm excited over or whatever we put on display. I think they've come to trust the hard work we've put into building a really strong collection, so they know there are endless excellent choices for them in our library.

 I know I was always grateful when my librarian handed me a book she thought I’d like! Since you are also a writer, how does that affect the way you look at books that come into your library?

I'm aware that I don't write for all kids and I acknowledge that the books in our library were also not written for every single reader. I know what I like to read aloud and I know what books move me or make me smile or keep me thinking about them long after I read them aloud. Being a librarian and reading books aloud as regularly as I do has helped me to understand and identify those qualities that make good books work so well. As I write I try to keep in mind those qualities in addition to those readers I see every day. If I can picture the faces for which I'm writing, I can usually tell if I'm on the right track.

Are you ever shocked, impressed, or amazed at the books kids end up loving?

 I'm amazed by my students every single day. I'm amazed at their avid reading habits (I was not an avid reader as a child). I'm impressed that they read and retain as much as they do (I have memories of the emotions I felt reading books, but not so much of the stories themselves). I wouldn't say I'm shocked by what books they end up loving, but often I'm taken aback when they read a story and tell me a personal connection stirred up from reading the book. Some of the experiences my students have lived already at such a young age are quite profound. But I'm never ever surprised when they love a book, no matter what the book is. After all, that book was written for them.

I'm never ever surprised when they love a book, no matter what the book is. After all, that book was written for them.

What a perfect thought! What are your top three favorite picture books?

My favorites change all the time, but my students would probably say Shh! We Have a Plan! by Chris Haughton, Press Here by Herve Tullet, and A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins.

I love A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals. So clever. What do you wish you had in your library? Do you see any holes in the bookshelf that need to be filled?

We're always in need of more stories depicting diverse individuals, backgrounds, and experiences, but quite frankly the thing I wish I had more of in our library is space. We're blessed to have a revolving door of students visiting us each day, but having more space (and maybe even more time) would allow us to better serve as a place for the students to call their own. But if you're in need of picture book ideas, we could use more books featuring talking boats that enter dance competitions with stories themed around friendship , acceptance, and navigating the choppy waters of pier pressure.

 Okay... that was a long way to go for a joke. But, seriously? There might be something there!

 Yup, that on was a long hull… J What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Podcasting fuels my creative time. I scheduled interviews at least once a week and I find that I think about the things I've talked about with guests throughout the rest of the week. Being connected with others. Having a platform to be enthusiastic over their work. Helping others to know their work matters to a much greater audience than they may realize. That is what it's all about for me.

Thank you, Matthew, for joining us. I can’t wait to see more of your podcasts and your future books!

BIO: Matthew Winner is an elementary library media specialist in Elkridge, Maryland. He is the co-founder and content director of AllTheWonders.com, a children’s literature website and more, and host of the All The Wonders podcast, a weekly podcast where Matthew talks to authors, illustrators, award winners, up-and-comers, and everyone in between. Matthew is represented by Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary. For more information, connect with Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewWinner or online at MatthewCWinner.com.

Concept to Completion: Sales, Publicity, and Marketing

     So after the writing, editing, and art are complete there are magical folks that make book sellers and libraries want to carry your books. The Sales team gets your work out there.

Publicity and Marketing get people interested and curious about your book.  

I imagine they all work their magic around a cauldron, brewing up the necessary trailers, promos, and swag.
Then they spell the book to make it irresistible.

While I was not able to pin anyone down just yet for an interview (the flying monkeys are working on that for me) I’m using this post as a place holder. Then we’ll learn the truth from an insider.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Concept to Completion: Illustrator

Welcome to Reading, Writing, and Reaching for Chocolate. The next stop on the road from concept to completion of a picture book is the Illustrator. Today we have an interview with Vanessa Brantley Newton, Illustrator of My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, The Hula Hoopin’ Queen, and (one of my personal favorites-literally made me tear up) Sewing Stories. Her most recent illustrations can be seen in Mary Had a Little Glam.

Thank you for joining me Vanessa. So let’s start at the beginning. What happens when you get a call from an art director?

I really love to hear from my art directors, but of late some of them I only get to talk to once or twice on the phone and sometimes not at all.

I prefer a phone call instead of emails. Email sometimes can come across as cold to me. I like to hear the excitement in an art director's or editor's voice. It helps me to understand what they are looking for as well. I like to start all of my projects off with a kick off call. Just to get a feel for who I am going to be working with, what they expect of me and what I in turn want to express through my work.

So when I get a call from art director, they basically tell me what the size or specs of the project are. I am asked if I have any idea of how I will approach the work. If it will be live work (meaning traditional paint, paper, collage) or will it be digital files. We talk about building characters for the stories and if it's historically based, they will sometimes send references and information they have collected to help in the process. Sometimes all I get it the spec of the project and they leave me to created sketches and then after the first round of sketches they will tell me what they would like to see changed and if the author has anything suggestions they include those as well.

 Do you communicate with the art director, the editor, or both?

So, some Publishing houses don't have art directors and it's all left to the editor. I get to work with both and sometimes just one or the other.

What is your process when getting started with a new manuscript? 

I am dyslexic and so it takes a while for me to get through the simplest of stories. I read them to myself and then I have my husband or daughter or someone read it out loud to me so I can picture it in my head. Hearing it read out loud is super important for me. It helps me to grasp the story and the characters or character in the story and what the story feels like.

That’s amazing, and wonderful that your family helps! I like to hear my words aloud by others too, to get a sense of flow.

So once you get the go-ahead from the art director what is your final process?

Every time I start a picture book or middle grade reader, it's like doing it over the first time every single time for me. Some illustrators don't have that situation. I do.  I have been at this for years now and still it's like the very first time every single time LOL!

I usually take a week to just think of how I want to approach the book. During that week, I start to birth the characters. I look through magazines and photos. I visit Pinterest and look at children. I go to Barnes and Noble and watch the children. Collecting information and references all the while. I am a people watcher and this helps me greatly in my illustration work.

Then I starting working out the story and story boarding and doing some rough sketches and then they are sent to the publisher and then they will send them back in a few weeks and then there is usually a second round of sketches and then when approved I take it all to finish. Even after they are all finished and colored and collaged, there is still the process of looking them over and finding anything that isn't working or needs to be adjusted.

When everything has been fixed and adjusted it goes to print for proofing and then F&G's* are sent to me and the author to see what the first print looks like. Before you know it, a box of book are sitting at your doorstep. LOL!!

(Note for newbie’s to the industry-or oldies who don’t do acronyms: F&G means a folded and gathered or an unbound book. This gives those working on the book the first glimpse of what the finished product can be. This is the last chance to catch changes that need to be made before final printing.)

What is your favorite part of the process?

I am just starting to embrace and like the process of sketching, but my favorite part of all is actually creating the character and then creating the finishes! So I have two parts that I love.


As an author-only, I am so jealous of the creation of the character. I’m can’t wait to see what my characters look like ‘in person.’  What is the longest and shortest time you’ve worked on a manuscript?

3 months and 3-4 years.


Do you deal with any other people within the publishing house? If so, who? 

Sometimes when they are wanting to promote the book I will hear from a publicist for the publisher and they will tell me what they have in mind to move the book. Such as book festivals, book signings and other events.

Is there anything you wish authors knew that would make your job easier?

That illustration is a whole other ball of wax. Some illustrators don't like artist notes, but then there are some of us that do. I am one of those Illustrators that do. It's when they begin to interfere with the process that it becomes a problem. I have only had two of those situations. One was with a publisher and another with a self-published job. Nearly drove me crazy LOL! Mostly it's a process and sometimes it goes rather quickly and then sometimes it takes a whole lot longer.

Any advice for aspiring illustrators?

Hone your gift! Draw everything and every day. Try different art supplies. The ones that go together and the ones that don't. Be brave and break the rules and see what comes from it. You may surprise yourself and others too.  When building a portfolio only put the things that you are proud of in there. Don't put half done work in there when you are looking for work. They only want to see what puts a smile on your face and what you are most proud of.

When trying to get a job in children's pub please put children into your folio. Children, moving, dancing, bouncing, singing, being kind or being rambunctious! Create characters that speak to the audience. Give them personality by giving them names and places that they come from and remember there is never any competition unless you invite it in. Nobody can do what you do. Your style is your style and nobody can bring to the creative table what only you can bring so develop your style and then hone it.

What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Music, music and music. Oh my goodness I can't go a day without music. I listen to a lot of happy music as to why my illustrations are often happy ones. R and B, Hip Hop or conscious music, gospel, classical, meditative. It creates an atmosphere for me to work in. Music is like paint to me. I have different paints for different illustrations and the same goes for my music.

What wonderful advice and insights. Thank you again for coming out to the blog, Vanessa. I can’t wait to see what you draw up next.