Thursday, April 28, 2016

Judy Blume on Character versus Plot, and her 'Security Blanket' for writing that first draft

In this archived interview on Cynthia Leitich Smith's amazing Cynsations blog, Judy Blume discusses her process.

Here are two highlights:

 On whether she's a Character or Plot-focused writer,

I'm a character writer but there wouldn't be a book if that character didn't have a story to tell. I tend to get ideas about a character in a situation. I don't like to think about "plot." I don't know everything that's going to happen when I begin. I know where I'm starting and where I'm hoping to wind up (though that sometimes changes along the way). The hardest part of writing for me is getting that first draft. I find it pure torture. 

To help with that first draft, Judy has a strategy,

I keep a notebook for months before I actually sit down to begin a new book. Before I start the notebook I have a vague idea of the characters and their story, usually something that's been brewing inside my head, sometimes for months, sometimes for years. I jot down anything that comes to mind during this period -- details about characters, bits of dialogue, chapter ideas, descriptions - sometimes even scenes. This way, when I actually begin, I have my "security blanket." 

It's a great interview (and very reassuring to hear that even Judy Blume revises multiple times!)

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Picture Book Craft Insight From Caldecott-Winning Author/Illustrator Dan Santat

Dan's new picture book

I moderated a panel of picture book creators at the LA Times Festival of Books earlier this month, and what Dan Santat shared about his process is still resonating for me.

For his picture books, Dan illustrates the entire book first without any words, and only then, once the story is working, does he add text, making sure the text isn't duplicating what the images have already said.

It seems like a brilliant strategy that even those of us who write but don't illustrate might try...

It's certainly working for Dan!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Got a recent review?

Was it good? Less than good?

Find out more about Thornton Wilder here

Either way, take these words of Thornton Wilder as good advice:
 "The important thing is that you make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work."
Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Registration for #LA16SCBWI Opens TODAY!

We're so excited!

The SCBWI Summer Conference is packed with:

Keynotes and inspiration,

Agents and Editors and Panels and insight

Breakout sessions on the craft and business of writing and illustrating for kids and teens,

Optional classroom-sized intensives with the amazing Conference Faculty (a who's who of children's literature!)

Optional one-on-one manuscript critiques and portfolio critiques for feedback from a publishing professional.

The Portfolio Showcase gives you an opportunity to display your work to faculty and participants alike. Come and be discovered!

The Golden Kite Awards Cocktail Reception and Dinner

Illustrator, International, and nonfiction socials and the LGBTQ & Allies Q&A

A PAL Booksale, Autograph party, even yoga,

And the conference gala... The Red Carpet Ball!

So bring your Hollywood Glamour, sense of career adventure, and dive into all the craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community that the SCBWI Summer Conference has to offer. You'll find all the information and registration here. 

We hope to see you there!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Author Jason Hough's 5 Reasons To Listen To Audiobooks

Listening to to audiobooks as a way to up your craft? Check out this piece by author Jason Hough.

As Jason puts it,
"Audiobooks are a dynamite way to improve your writing,"

His five points included,
Unlike reading printed text, you can't really skim. You've trained yourself over the years to skip the "boring bits", to the point where you may not even realize you're doing it anymore, or why. And, this may be affecting your own writing. With an audiobook you're forced to hang on every word the author wrote. No eye-wandering past those large wall-of-text description paragraphs. No accidental glimpse at the big reveal in that next big line of dialog. And as a result, you'll gain newfound appreciation for the words themselves. 

What's the last audiobook you listened to? Did it help your own craft?

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beverly Cleary is 100 today!

Winner of the Newbery and National Book Award, and named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress, Beverly Cleary's books include...

Check out this lovely interview/profile with Beverly here.

a highlight:
For Cleary, the most rewarding thing about her writing career has been “the children who have discovered the pleasure of reading with my books,” she says. “I remember when I made the same discovery in third grade, and it was a turning point in my life.”

Happy Birthday, Beverly! And thank you for the books, your gift to all of us.

p.s. - my favorite Beverly Cleary book? The Mouse and The Motorcycle. What's yours?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hugh Howey's empassioned argument for Amazon and self-publishing

In this Digital Book World interview by Daniel Berkowitz, successful self-published author Hugh Howey makes some fascinating points talking up the pros of self-publishing, like

"There’s a good route here for a livable wage if you can write entertaining stories and really pour energy into doing it right." 

and the cons of traditional publishing, like

"Publishers need to rebrand from the ground up. Get rid of ancient imprints that readers don’t care about. Stop paying seven- and eight-figure advances to people who are already millionaires, and instead pay more up-and-coming authors a livable wage."

Here's a highlight of their exchange:

Daniel: There’s some talk lately about Amazon being a monopoly or monopsony and the negative effects its share of the market has on the flourishing of literature. In your opinion, how worried should we be?

Hugh: I think the motives here are no secret, and they have historical precedent. When those who can’t compete on the open market realize this, they appeal to the public for sympathy and to the courts for protection. There are two very strident campaigns going on here, and both are ethically bankrupt.

Amazon has vastly increased the access to books. They have also vastly increased every author’s access to the market. They are lowering prices for consumers and increasing pay to producers. They are able to do this by operating very efficiently and by pouring all their earnings back into their business divisions.

What’s really Orwellian about these monopoly complaints isn’t just that Amazon is doing the opposite of what they’re being accused of; it’s that major publishers are the ones who have enjoyed a collaborative monopoly for many years and have used the lack of competition to calcify the reading experience, overcharge for their wares and underpay for work.

For a very long time, most aspiring writers had no hope of expressing themselves and having access to consumers. Amazon almost single handedly changed that. For an equally long time, many lower income and small-town readers have not had access to enough affordable books. Amazon almost single-handedly changed that.

Even better, Amazon is now hurting the big-box brick and mortar stores that decimated indie bookshops. Indie bookstores are making a comeback, and it’s largely because Amazon cleared out the wolves that were winnowing their kind. Those bookstores offer a shopping experience can’t emulate, so the two can exist in harmony. But there’s no doubting the positive effect Amazon has had on their numbers. Shoppers are showing they will support both.

So Amazon has been great for readers, writers and small bookstores. That leaves noncompetitive middlemen and the authors who were enriched by their system to complain. To be simultaneously pro-books and anti-Amazon requires some truly impressive mental gymnastics from anyone else.
It's a thought-provoking interview and well worth reading.

Illustrate and Write On, 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sneak Peek At #LA16SCBWI Keynotes!

SCBWI's 45th Annual Summer Conference, July 29-Aug 1, 2016, will feature keynotes from these bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators:

Marie Lu

Sophie Blackall


Neal Shusterman

Carole Boston Weatherford

Deborah Halverson

Ellen Hopkins 

Drew Daywalt 


Jon Klasson

Pam Munoz Ryan


Jenni Holm

Registration will go live at on April 19, 10am Pacific Time!

We hope to see you there.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Smashwords' Mark Coker argues for "The Power of Free: How to Sell More E-Books"

It's a really interesting position that Mark Coker puts forth in this PW article.

Likening a free e-book to those supermarket samples of a new cheese, as a way of building customer trust that they'll like the new cheese, Mike argues that you shouldn't just give a taste of your e-book, you should give the entire e-book away for free. And, that the longer the book is, the better chance you have (if it's brilliant) of building trust with the new reader who has taken a chance on reading your work.

He goes on to say that free e-books are not only ideal as series starters, but they have a lot of value for authors with multiple titles, and even for authors with just one book out (suggesting free for a promotional time period.)

But even when you've giving it away for free, there's still that challenge of being discovered. As Mark puts it,
"Free is no guarantee of bestsellerdom. There’s a glut of high-quality free books. At Smashwords alone, we‘ve published more than 60,000 free books. The competition for reader eyeballs is fierce."
What do you think of "free?"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Laurisa White Reyes' THE STORYTELLERS wins the SCBWI SPARK Award! -- And Your Chance To WIN a copy!

The Spark Award-winning middle grade novel

Award-winning author Laurisa White Reyes

Lee: Congratulations on The Storytellers winning the 2015 SPARK Award! Please tell us about your award-winning book!

Laurisa: Set in the early 1990s, 12-year-old Elena Barrios' father has AIDS. Rather than face certain ridicule and ostracism, Elena tells her friends anything but the truth, fabricating stories about him being a writer and researcher. But the reality is Elena resents her father’s illness and can’t face the fact that he is dying. 

When Elena is befriended by an older woman named Ang, who tells stories about her own father and the history of prejudice against African Americans in the years before the civil rights movement, Elena is transported into these stories, allowing her to experience them first hand.With Ang's help, Elena gains the courage to stand up to the bully at her school, mend her relationship with her father, and finally say goodbye.  

Lee: What's the story behind the non-traditional publishing of The Storytellers?

Laurisa:  The idea for The Storytellers began twenty-two years ago while I was working at Huntington Hemophilia Center in Pasadena, CA. The office was also an AIDS clinic, and its doctors were on the cutting edge of developing treatments for the disease. In the early 1990s, there was a huge stigma attached to HIV and AIDS, and society's pervasive fear and ignorance often led to victims of the disease being ostracized. Working in that clinic allowed me to see the human side of AIDS. Men and women, fathers, mothers, children. I saw the devastation of AIDS in their faces. My mother taught me that every person has value; every person has a story. I knew I had to tell their story. 

I began writing the book in 2007, and it took eight years and more than a dozen drafts to complete. I worked with a leading developmental editor and several beta-readers to get it right. Yet submissions resulted in nothing but rejection. One agent even replied by saying, "Why would today's kids want to read about AIDS in the 90s? It doesn't apply to them." This took me off guard. To me, she was essentially saying that people being mistreated thirty years ago is of no interest to today's generation. But if that is true, why do authors still write about the Holocaust, or the Civil Rights Movement, or slavery? 

Since there didn't seem to be a place for The Storytellers in the traditional marketplace, I decided that I would self-publish it. It didn't matter to me if a single person ever read it, this story deserved to be told. And if I was going to tell it, I was going to create the best quality book I possibly could--not because I hoped to sell it, but for the sake of the story itself. 

Lee: What do you see as the biggest challenge of publishing outside the ‘traditional publishing’ structure?

Laurisa: I think the biggest challenge to self-publishing is the temptation to cut corners and minimize costs in a book's production. As the Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, thousands of books crossed my desk, including titles from the biggest houses, indie publishers, and self-publishers. The biggest problem I saw with too many self-published titles was their sub-standard quality. The covers were often amateurish, and the texts were in dire need of professional editing. It's a shame because many of the stories were great, but when a book screams "self-published," who wants to open the cover and read it? 

This is not meant as a criticism but as a wake up call. When it comes to adult and young adult self-published books, it's often hard to distinguish them from traditionally published books. I would love to see self-published middle grade books reach that same level of quality. This is one reason why I founded Skyrocket Press, a cooperative publishing venture that connects authors to professional artists, editors and designers, so that the end results are top quality books. 

Lee: What’s the biggest advantage?

Laurisa:  Control. Of everything. For example, I had an idea of what I wanted the cover of The Storytellers to look like, but I don't have an artistic bone in my entire body. So first, I researched other middle grade books with silhouette covers. Then I hunted for the right artist. I found Jessica L. Barnes via her Etsy shop, iillume, and hired her. The result was exactly what I'd hoped for and more. 

With self-publishing, it's important to distinguish the difference between being in control and doing it all ourselves. Being in control means we, as the authors, have the final word on how the book is executed. But we can't and shouldn't do it all ourselves. To create a quality book requires teamwork, just like in traditional publishing. 

Lee: Anything else you’d like to share?

Laurisa: Receiving the Spark Award came as a huge shock (I can still hardly believe it), but it also validated my decision to self-publish The Storytellers, a story that didn't quite "fit" in the traditional publishing world. I am deeply grateful to those who had a hand in bringing it to life: Jessica Barnes, Katie Reed, Deborah Blum, Dorine White, Cheryl Sena, Carissa Reyes, Pat Brown, and Emma Michaels. And of course, I'm so thankful to SCBWI, not only for choosing The Storytellers for the Spark Award, but for also being my biggest support through every stage of my writing career. 

Thanks, Laurisa!

To find out more about Laurisa and The Storytellers, visit Laurisa's website here

Want to win a copy of THE STORYTELLERS? Leave a comment in the next two weeks, and we'll randomly select a winner!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I Learned Working At A Bookstore: Guest Post By Mary Ann Fraser

Mary Ann Fraser

About two years ago, while in the midst of a book signing, the owner, who was a friend, asked if I would be interested in working at one of their discount bookstores. When I asked what I would be doing, she replied, “Everything.” With a deep-rooted passion for books and three boys in college, I saw it as a nifty way to help fill the coffers. I accepted. Little did I realize the impact that job would have on my work. (And, as my husband would later point out, on my earnings. After a while, I could hardly afford to work there anymore even with my employee discount!) But as far as lessons, the job couldn’t be beat.

Here are five things I learned working at a bookstore:

1. People buy what they know – I now see why the classics continue to top the indie charts for sales. With so many books to choose from, people (parents in particular) will invariably go with a book they know either through experience or numerous recommendations. And with the current trend of gifting favorite childhood books for baby showers, this is even more the case. Very often the theme for such events is “books from your childhood.”

2. Characters, especially licensed characters, are tough to beat. This is even more the case for easy reads. If those characters appear in a series, so much the better. And so often humorous traits trump super powers.

3. To my surprise, seasonal books are not as big a seller as you would expect. Who buys the ground hog and valentine books? Predominantly teachers and grandparents.

4. Book signings have lost their novelty. These days a book event has to be extremely well-planned and offer something unusual to be a success. And although you might expect a panel of authors to bring in more people, often that is not the case. If you’re planning a store event, it’s best to figure that you’ll have to bring in the bodies. And nothing is more annoying than a pushy author or a prima donna. Remember, a book signing should be of mutual benefit.

5. Never underestimate the power of hand-selling. So often people come into a bookstore unsure what to buy and will go with the recommendation of a knowledgeable bookstore employee. All the more reason to get to know your local booksellers—not as an author, but as a customer. What more can you do to introduce yourself to the staff? Offer to do a reading. Many stores feature a regular storytime. Come up with a simple craft and offer to read your book along with a couple others. The store will love you.

BONUS: And if you are looking to buy a children’s book and need a recommendation, it’s the ex-librarian, or moon-lighting author who will be your best bet. They will be the person tucked back in the kids’ section waffling over which books to buy with their next paycheck. And yes, that was me.

Mary Ann Fraser is the author/illustrator of over sixty fiction and non-fiction books for children, including her latest picture book, NO YETI YET (Peter Pauper Press). Other titles include HEEBIE-JEEBIE JAMBOREE (Boyds Mills Press), the OGG & BOB books (Two Lions) TEN MILE DAY (Henry Holt), and WHERE ARE THE NIGHT ANIMALS (HarperCollins). Her books have received a Junior Library Guild Selection, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Book Links Book of the Year, IRA Young Readers Choice Award, and American Booksellers "Pick of the List." She is a regional advisor for SCBWI, and a member of the California Readers Association, Children’s Authors Network, and the Children’s Literature Council, and when she is not writing, illustrating, or giving school presentations, she is painting murals, playing her hammered dulcimer, or in her garden talking to her turtles. To learn more visit

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

3 tips from Fauzia Burke for marketing our books online

In an DBW interview about their book, "Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-By-Step Guide," Fauzia Burke speaks about getting to know your audience,

"To this day, I hear people say, 'My audience is everyone.' But there is no 'everyone.' People will tell me their audiences is women, men, people with families, or people with jobs--but those things are too wide, overwhelming and hard to market. The exercise and checklist included in the book is where you can get to know your readers and narrow down whom your audience is. If you try to aim for the bigger general audience, you may miss your niche."
And Fauzia's two favorite tips for busy authors?

A mailing list is more important than social media. Everyone talks about social media but, in my experience, people are more likely to buy a product through a mailing list than social media. Many people ask me, “If you could give one word of personal branding advice, what would it be?” It would be that every author should focus on their mailing list because that’s what’s going to nurture your most valuable readers.

My second favorite tip is that while people tend to focus on the number of their fans and followers, it’s better to focus on engaging with your audience. Having few followers with more engagement is more important than having more followers with less engagement. People tend to focus on how much traffic they’re getting on their website but what’s more important is how much time they’re spending on it.
Good tips!

Illustrate and Write On,