Thursday, September 12, 2019

How would it impact publishers (and authors and illustrators) if Facebook ditches the Like count?

This article by Monojoy Bhattacharjee in What's New In Publishing, How would it impact publishers if Facebook ditches the Like count?, gives us a glimpse of the experiments happening with hiding like counts on Instagram and Facebook.

Why are these platforms looking at hiding the like count?
A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s owner, told BBC that “This test only makes your like count private to others, so that you’re able to focus less on likes and more on telling your story.”

Monojoy predicts,
"With Likes possibly becoming less of a determinant of content popularity, focus on community building and content quality will increase."
This raises so many interesting questions!

Consider: How would your social media efforts change if no one but you could see how many "likes" something you post gets?

And if no one else could see, would you come to a point where even you stopped looking at the like count of what you post?

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Coping with Critical Reviews - Advice from NetGalley Insights

This post from NetGalley Insights, Coping with Critical Reviews, contains some excellent advice:
"When you put your book out into the world you are hoping to find its biggest champions and most devoted fans. But, of course, no one book will appeal to everyone."

Points they suggest we all keep in mind include:
Remember that star ratings are relative
Resist the urge to respond
and even
Glean valuable data in critical reviews

"Sometimes critical reviews can help you better target the right kinds of readers, or tweak your marketing copy. For example, if you have been promoting your book as YA, but critical reviews are saying that it’s too young for a teen audience, consider positioning it as a Middle Grade book instead. Or, if reviewers are expressing surprise at the content, consider revising the way you are describing your book. You want to entice readers, but you also want to find the readers who are most likely to enjoy your book as it is."
It's an article well-worth reading. That is, if you read your reviews. (And I've heard from many authors who don't.)

 How do you deal with critical reviews?

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Preorder Campaign Fueled by Kindness and Community for Author and SCBWI Member Beth Revis

As reported in this article by Sara Grochowski in Publishers Weekly, YA Community Joins Forces in Support of Author Beth Revis, over 150 YA authors have contributed to prize packages that only folks who pre-order Beth's newest book will have a chance at winning!

Here's the scoop, from Aime Kaufman:
#PREORDERMYSOUL: THE BID MY SOUL FAREWELL PREORDER GIVEAWAY! Want to go into the draw for a bundle of five autographed books? Would you like a book signed by Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Victoria Aveyard, Rainbow Rowell, Ransom Riggs, Tahereh Mafi, Sabaa Tahir, Stephanie Garber, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, Neil Gaiman or one of over one hundred and fifty YA authors? What about a hardcover sent out before its publication date? What about a whole series, or a book from the UK or Australia?

Well, this is your lucky day! Preorder Bid My Soul Farewell by Beth Revis and you’ll go into the prize draw — you might score an autographed copy of that mega-bestseller you’ve been dying for, or you might discover your new favourite author. There are over forty prize packs up for grabs!

Beth Revis is an incredible human being. She’s one of the most generous authors around, and never hesitates to share her time, wisdom and enthusiasm with readers and with her fellow publishing peeps. And right now, she’s having a tough time — as she’s explained, her husband is very seriously ill. She needs to focus on what matters right now, but she has a book coming out this September. And sometimes in life, you really do reap what you sow. Beth’s been there for so many people in the publishing world, and now they’re rallying around to help promote her new book for her, so she can keep her mind on her family.
As Beth was quoted saying in the PW article,
“This summer's chaos made me sort of drop the ball on... everything… including making sure everyone knew about my upcoming book release. I have amazing, awesome friends, and when they saw that I was in trouble, they stepped up to ease my load.”

Here's the description of Bid My Soul Farewell from Beth's website...
The stunning finale of the epic fantasy duology from New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis. Alchemy student turned necromancer Nedra Brysstain has made a life-changing decision to embrace the darkness–but can the boy who loves her bring her back to the light before she pays the ultimate price?

Lunar Island is trying to heal. The necromantic plague that ravaged the land has been eradicated, and Emperor Auguste, the young and charming leader of the Allyrian Empire, has a plan: rid the island of necromancy once and for all. Though Greggori “Grey” Astor wants what’s best for his people, he knows that allying himself with Auguste threatens the one person he loves most: necromancer Nedra Brysstain. Feeling like he already failed to save Nedra once, Grey becomes determined to help the Emperor rebuild Lunar Island while still keeping Nedra safe from harm.

Back at the quarantine hospital, Nedra’s army of revenants are growing increasingly inhuman by the day. Wracked with guilt for imprisoning their souls, Nedra vows to discover a way to free the dead while still keeping her sister by her side.

But still reeling from the trauma of the plague, the people of Lunar Island are looking for someone to blame, and Grey can only protect Nedra for so long. And when Nedra and Grey are thrust into a battle with an even more terrifying adversary, Nedra will be pushed to the darkest depths of her necromantic powers. But can Grey let her go that far?
The novel releases on September 24, 2019, so there's still time to preorder (do it by September 30, 2019) and enter the giveaway drawings! Get all the details here.

The best part of this story? Our community coming together to help one of our own.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Transparency and Insight From Deborah Underwood as She Shares the Royalty Numbers for "Pirate Mom," an Easy Reader

Deborah Underwood posted this on Facebook on August 15, 2019, and it received over 100 comments and was shared numerous times.

With her kind permission, I'm sharing it here with our SCBWI community:

On one hand, I'm happy to get a check for $308.07 for a book that's been out for 13 years. On the other hand, this is why authors charge for school visits and why we can't send you free books. 286,982 copies of PIRATE MOM sold over the years. My take: $17,459.15 less the 15% that goes to the agent who sold the book. So I've received $14,840 and change, spread out over 15 years when you take the timing of my advance into consideration. I'm delighted to have this book still out in the world, and when schools ask me which books they should sell during my visits, I include this one, because its low cover price makes it accessible to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford their very own book. But still. A girl's gotta eat! So does her cat.

A few clarifications: Most sales of this book were paperbacks. The paperback price started at $3.99; not sure what it is now. My royalty rate on standard paperback sales is 3%, but I think there were a ton of book club sales, too.

By email, Deborah adds:

"This is a particularly dismal scenario; with most of my books, I’m getting 5% of the hardcover picture book list price. But if you do the math, you’ll see that selling a very respectable 10,000 books at $16.95 earns a picture book author $8,475…or $7,203.75 after their agent’s 15% cut. And they'll only see that if their advance has earned out.”

A few aspects of what Deborah shared that really resonate:

Pirate Mom sold over 280,000 copies - more than a quarter-of-a-million copies!  And Deborah's take was less than $15,000 - spread out over 15 years! Less than $1,000 a year...

"...this is why authors charge for school visits and why we can't send you free books."

The generosity and transparency behind Deborah sharing these numbers. Because the more real we can be in setting our expectations for what this writing (and/or) illustrating for children career can be, the better we can navigate the adventure that is our career.

What resonates for you?

Thanks, Deborah! Find out more about Deborah and all her books here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Conversation with Christopher Paul Curtis - Listen to the Latest SCBWI Podcast Now!

National Book Award finalist and Newbery Award winning author Christopher Paul Curtis speaks with Theo Baker about his own writing journey, and shares his advice on the craft of writing, offering insights into the process, and reflections on his works. Their conversation ranges from a writer's power to the power of stories to surprise you to the role books can play in the world, and much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The New Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award

Announced at the 2019 SCBWI Summer Conference (#LA19SCBWI), The Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award provides tuition to the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles to the author of a promising manuscript who is dedicated to honing their craft and expanding their writing community but is experiencing a financial barrier to attending the conference. This award is offered in celebration of Kate Dopirak, a picture book author and beloved SCBWI member who lived her life lighting the way for others.

The KDCC Award will alternate every other year between a picture book winner and a middle grade/young adult winner. The initial 2020 KDCC Award will be given to a picture book manuscript, and will include a 20 minute phone consultation with literary agent Tracey Adams from Adams Literary, as well as a 20-minute phone consultation with children’s editor Andrea Welch from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

You can learn more about Kate and this award here:

Submissions will be accepted from between 5:00 a.m. PST on September 1 and 8:00 p.m. PST on October 31, 2019. Good luck!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 22, 2019

SCBWI's New Grant For Authors of MG Fantasy and Science Fiction: The A. Orr Fantasy Grant

The A. Orr Fantasy Grant is a new award for middle grade fantasy and science fiction authors. Sponsor Michele Orr, through her foundation Voice Garden, has been a member of SCBWI for several years and when her sister Alice Orr Sprague passed last year from a short struggle with cancer, Michele wanted to honor her memory. Alice, under the name A. Orr, wrote two fantasy novels, The World In Amber and In the Ice King’s Palace, published by Bluejay Books in 1986 and 1987. It is Michele’s honor and joy to create this award in remembrance of her sister.

Award: The winner of the A. Orr Grant will receive tuition to the Los Angeles Summer Conference (beginning in 2020), a manuscript consultation at the conference, and $300 cash.

Deadline: Submissions will be accepted February 17, 2020 through March 20, 2020. The winner will be announced in May.

You can find out all the details here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Inspiration: Jane Yolen on the nearly 17 years it took her to write "a Jewish Book"

Jane's essay at the Jewish Book Council website, "If the Muse Comes Calling: Jane Yolen on Writing," is about the evolution of her Jewish dragon short story and novella, written with her son Adam, The Last Tsar’s Drag­ons.

It also includes a very telling and thought-provokingly honest account of how the first 17 years of Jane's writing "did not fea­ture any­one or any­thing Jewish."

Here's how Jane describes what happened next:
"And then in the 1980s, one of my edi­tors, who hap­pened to be a rabbi’s wife, asked me why I had nev­er writ­ten a Jew­ish book. And I had to think long and hard about that. And she noodged. Boy! Was she an expert noodge. The result was The Devil’s Arith­metic. And then the Jew­ish sto­ries began to tum­ble out — between more books about women pirates and kings and princess­es and uni­corns and dinosaurs— in prose, in rhyme, for pic­ture book read­ers and for teens."
What I think is so fascinating is that it took someone on the outside to point it out to Jane - and to ask for it.

Which can be inspiring for each of us.

What do you wish someone pointed out to you that you haven't done yet in your creative work?

What do you wish someone asked you for?

And ask yourself: What's my equivalent of Jane's Jewish dragon story?

And then write and/or illustrate that. After all, it worked for Jane!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Time is the Best Editor" - Excellent Advice from Author/Illustrator Eugene Yelchin

Eugene Yelchin, an equally adept author and illustrator, is a National Book Award finalist for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, co-authored with M. T. Anderson,

and the recipient of the Newbery Honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose.

He received the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for The Haunting of Falcon House,

the National Jewish Book Award for illustrating The Rooster Prince of Breslov,

and SCBWI’s Tomie DePaola Award!

In a breakout session at this past weekend's #LA19SCBWI, Eugene gave a talk about time in picture books that I attended. He's brilliant, and one of the most resonant pieces of advice he shared was this:
Take your story as far as you can bring it, and then stop.
Let it sit for several months.
Five or six months later, look at it.
You'll see what it needs.

"Time is the best editor."
Great advice, and I can vouch from personal experience that it works.

Thanks, Eugene!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Instagram! Twitter! The SCBWI Conference Blog! Follow #LA19SCBWI To Gather Your Own Favorite Moments

Can you feel the buzz?

On Instagram, wisdom like:

On Twitter, insights like:

And on the Official SCBWI Conference Blog, craft knowledge like:

It's all there for you to check out - with live stories, photos from the portfolio show and the Woodstock at 50 gala, and so many more moments of inspiration and community.


is your key.

Go unlock the SCBWI 2019 Summer Conference as it resonates online, and for you!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Si hablas español, la página de Facebook Facebook en Español seguirá los principales acontecimientos del congreso #LA19SCBWI.

#LA19SCBWI starts tomorrow, and I'm so excited to share that our Spanish-speaking friends (lead by Malena F. Alzu, SCBWI's Spanish Language Coordinator) will be sharing about the conference on SCBWI Facebook en Español here:!

We hope you'll follow along, and share the word - en español, of course!

Oh, and check out the July 2019 issue of La Cometa here!

Make sure to follow the hashtag #LA19SCBWI on social media, and the Official SCBWI Conference Blog at

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Ten Top Book Advertising (and Marketing) Tips from RWA's Annual Conference, complied by Diana Urban at BookBub Partners

This highlights article is loaded with ideas, including some excellent step-by-step advice, gleaned from the recent Romance Writers of America annual conference.

There was so much good stuff shared, here's just the first one of ten:

1. Create reader sales funnels

A sales funnel is the journey a reader takes in order to eventually do business with an author or publisher. Dana Kaye, founder of Kaye Publicity, explained how to implement sales funnels to increase book sales. The funnel breaks down into four main stages:

Awareness: the reader first hears your name or book title and starts to become familiar with your work.

Interaction: the reader engages with you through social media, your website, or at an in-person event.

Interest: the reader signs up for your newsletter or downloads a free ebook.

Sale: the reader purchases one or more of your books.

You can drive readers down your sales funnel across various marketing channels. Take email marketing, for example; when someone signs up for your mailing list, you can set up an automated email series driving potential readers who just became aware of you (by finding your website) and interacted with you (by subscribing) to become more interested in a specific title and ultimately land a sale. Dana recommended setting up an email sequence like this:

Welcome email: a brief introduction to you and your work, with a free piece of content.

Backstory email: a deeper dive into your writing and your backstory.

Social proof email: reviews of your book, awards and notoriety, read-alike suggestions.

Tripwire offer: a discounted ebook or other low-cost content (hook readers with this first sale).

Free gift offer: another free piece of content, access to a Facebook group, or other free offer.

You can also apply this sales funnel methodology across other channels, like Facebook ads (to target readers who’ve visited your website) or quizzes (to email content to readers who selected specific quiz or survey responses). 

Click here to read the full piece on the BookBub Partners website.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 1, 2019

It's Just 8 Days Away! Don't Miss #LA19SCBWI, The SCBWI 2019 Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 9-12, 2019

Time's running out for you to be part of all the craft, business, inspiration, opportunity, and community of the SCBWI Summer Conference!

See the full schedule and get all the conference information here.

And if you can't join in person, follow along on social media with the hashtag #LA19SCBWI, and make sure to bookmark the Official SCBWI Conference Blog here, at

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Conversation with Laurent Linn - Listen to the Latest SCBWI Podcast Now!

Emmy Award-winning Laurent Linn is the art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and the author illustrator of the YA Novel, “Draw the Line.” Laurent speaks to Theo Baker about the appeal of puppetry, his eleven years working with the Muppets, and the shift in his career path that led him to children’s books. Their conversation also explores cover design, working with new illustrators, how “every book is an experiment,” and much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Watch this Interview with Author/Illustrator Peter Brown

Morgan Reeves sat down with author and illustrator Peter Brown to pick his brain on artistic techniques, writing inspirations, and the world of children's literature.

In this recorded interview from 2017, there's lots of great stuff, including a rundown of what Peter's school visits include, his career path, the vocabulary of comic books, and so much more.

Listen to and watch the full interview here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How Some Authors Are Using Instagram Stories To Reach Readers

Check out this piece from the BookBub Partners blog, How Authors Use Instagram Stories to Connect with Readers.

In it, Julia Hansen lists 16 different ways authors are using Instagram stories, along with examples of each.

The one I'm most excited about (and the example was inspiring!) was:
16. Create a highlight

One of the most useful features on Instagram is the ability to save stories to your profile. While most stories disappear after 24 hours, you can choose to have them stay on your profile in a highlight.

Here, author R.S. Grey has a highlight sharing the reading order for her books. This is a useful resource for anyone visiting her profile.

Which ways of using Instagram Stories have you tried, and which are inspirational for you?

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Send YOUR Books to Donate via SCBWI's "Books For Readers" Program by July 31, 2019

There is still time to donate so please help make the lives better for the kids in the Madison Reading Project (their 2019 goal is "to provide 40,000 high-quality diverse books and 125 public events with literacy programming and outreach to underserved children in South Central Wisconsin.") and REACH, Inc. (an organization that "promotes literacy for children who are at-risk and homeless throughout Coastal Virginia") with new books written and illustrated by SCBWI PAL members.

You may send 2-6 copies per book written and/or illustrated by PAL members you'd like to donate to this address:

6363 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 425
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Attn: SCBWI Books for Readers

For more information about the program and donating, click here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Early Registration for #LA19SCBWI, The 2019 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Ends July 17, 2019

The Keynotes! (including Pura Belpre and Caldecott Honor winner Yuyi Morales, National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson, Newbery Medal winner Meg Medina, and a rare U.S. appearance from picture book legend Mem Fox.)

The Panels! (including "Creating Memorable Main Characters for a Book Series," "Agent Panel: Trends and Evergreens: Selling Your Book in Today's Market," "Publishing Options in 2019," "Birth of a Picture Book," "Creating Books That Matter," and "Editor Panel: What Speaks To Me In The Books I Acquire.")

The 72 Breakout Sessions!

The Agents! The Editors!

The Portfolio Showcase! The Manuscript Critiques!

The Life Drawing Lunch! The Woodstock West: 50 Years Later Party!

There's so much more, and I'm practically running out of exclamation points...

Gift yourself all the Information, Inspiration, Opportunity, and Community of the 2019 SCBWI Summer Conference. Get all the details here. Early Registration ends tomorrow (Wednesday July 17, 2019.)

We hope to see you there!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The 2019 Newbery Medal Speech by Meg Medina

Meg Medina won the 2019 Newbery Medal for her middle grade novel, Merci Suárez Changes Gears.

She received the award and gave her acceptance speech at a gala dinner celebration on Sunday June 23, 2019.

Meg's speech was lovely, and personal, and universal, speaking of her own life (with the stories of her bike history) and sharing what she hoped to accomplish through the creation of this fictional bike, crafting:

“...a novel with a bike as Merci’s first longing, a way to steer herself through the sixth grade and all that awaits her during that wonderful and bewildering year. Merci Suárez and her family are a Cuban clan who live intergenerationally, interconnectedly, in Florida, as my mother dreamed of doing. And they’re a family that sacrifices for each other in large and small ways every day, which is, I think, the most important legacy the elders in my family left me.

And what does Merci find out? Just what I have, I suppose. That life is full of wonderful surprises, like new friends in the sixth grade, and lousy ones; like loneliness and family illnesses. She discovers — as always children will — that happiness and heartbreak coexist in a life well lived. Sometimes all there is to do is to switch to a different gear and push on, always with the hope of a better day.”
It's quite a speech, and you can read the whole thing here, courtesy of the Horn Book.

A moment of emotion captured on the giant screens during the standing ovation after Meg Medina's Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech

Find out more about Meg and her books here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Introverts Unite (Quietly, and in Your Own Way)! – A Guest Post by Author Chris Tebbetts

Chris Tebbetts and his many published books... with a special one on top!

Since 2001, when I took my first kidlit writing class with Barbara Seuling (who a lot of SCBWI folks will remember as fondly as I do), I’ve worked on thirty published novels. Of those thirty, twenty-nine have been ghostwritten, work-for-hire, or co-authored. Which is also to say that twenty-nine of my thirty published books have someone else’s name, and not mine, on the copyright page. But more about that in a minute.

I didn’t set out to become a professional co-author. It just kind of happened that way, through a series of unforeseen opportunities and coincidences. It turns out, though, that I like it. A lot. I like how it’s allowed me to write full time. I like the creative synthesis of working with other storytellers. And I really like having high-profile partners who take care of the marketing and promotion end of things. For a prototypically introverted writer like me, that’s no small thing.

All of this has afforded me some experiences that go way beyond the hopeful imaginings of my eighteen-years-ago self. The Middle School books I’ve written with James Patterson have sold millions of copies and been made into a movie. I also got to write two trilogies with Jeff Probst, the host of my honest-to-god favorite T.V. show of all time.

So yeah, no complaints.

But what I’ve never done—until now—is publish a book in the usual way: written on spec, sold through my agent, and with full ownership of the copyright at the end of the day.

That new book is a YA novel called Me, Myself, and Him, out July 9.

It’s a “Sliding Doors” story with parallel narratives that follow my 18-year-old protagonist through two different outcomes from the same inciting incident (an autobiographically drawn episode in which my character breaks his nose huffing whippets behind the ice cream store where he works). The story is one part memoir, a lot of parts fiction, and also the most personal thing I’ve ever written, by far.

That seems appropriate, too, since this is the first time I’m stepping out as a solo act, and, by extension, as the person in charge of selling my own work to its prospective audience. It’s been a whole new experience with a steep learning curve—not just about the business end of publishing, but also in terms of the emotional rigors of doing such a thing.

There’s a kind of cruel joke in the world of publishing. This is an industry that attracts some large number of people (like me) who thrive on working in quiet isolation, only to then ask them to turn around and shout “LOOK AT ME!” in the most convincing voice possible when it comes time to share that same work with the world. It tends to bring up an insecurity or two. Or three.

I’ve never needed skin so thick before. Never grappled with the kind of loin-girding that this level of self-promotion requires. And what’s more, I find myself feeling envious of other writers in a whole new way. I obsess about the things my publisher is (and isn’t) doing to promote the book. And I’m constantly measuring my own highs and lows against whatever it is my colleagues seem to be experiencing with their own 2019 releases. (Emphasis on the seems to be, given the slanted reality that is other peoples’ lives on social media.)

Should I even be admitting all of this publicly? Maybe not. As I said, I’m learning as I go. But I also know that talking about it has helped as much as anything. Naming these things out loud has been pretty good at taking away some of their power. It’s also come to show me how much I’m not alone in all of this anxiety.

The more I talk with other authors about this subject—the nasty grip of social anxiety in the face of self-promotion; the impossible odds of breaking through the white noise; the “who am I?” sting of impostor syndrome—the more I realize that it’s one of the most common themes in the lives of writers. None of that awareness takes away the stress, per se, but there is certainly something to be gained from recognizing it as a shared experience. (And tangentially, let me recommend this article from the Guardian, Everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.)

The good news is, we’re in the business of shining lights into dark places. We have a unique obligation to our audience, to offer some hope where it’s needed, and to show our readers how very much not alone they actually are. And that extends to the way we treat each other as well. My non-writer friends are always commenting to me about how cool it is to see all of my kidlit people on social media, cheering each other on, promoting one another’s work, and generally making this a wonderful industry to be a part of.

So, even as I’ve dipped my toe into these new waters, and even as I’ve found it to be distressingly chilly at times, I’ve also come to realize that if I raise my head and look around once in a while, I’ll find that I’m not swimming alone.

Not even close.

* * *

Thanks, Chris!

Find out more about Chris and his debut solo YA novel, Me, Myself, and Him at this website.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The 2019 Caldecott Medal Speech by Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall won the 2019 Caldecott Medal for Hello, Lighthouse. (Her second time winning this highest honor for illustration of a children's book!) She gave her acceptance speech at a gala dinner on Sunday June 23, 2019.

It was a wonderful speech—interesting, profound, inspiring, and ultimately had the entire room of hundreds of librarians and children's book industry folk (including me) leaping to our feet to give her a standing ovation.

The standing ovation for Sophie Blackall

On one of the two big screens, Sophie just after her speech

Because yes,
Kids are smart. Girls can do anything. We can all be beacons.
Go read the entire speech here at The Horn Book. It's well-worth it!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Author Website Criteria - How Does Your Site Measure Up?

This excellent article by Diana Urban over at the BookBub Partners blog, 45+ Author Websites with Stellar Designs, includes the list of ten criteria that were used in choosing the author websites they would feature:

  • Include a list of published books

  • Prominently display new or impending releases

  • Provide an obvious way to subscribe for updates

  • Provide a way to contact the author

  • Include links to the author’s social media profiles

  • Display a list of upcoming events

  • Include a blog to showcase the author’s personality and/or writing process

  • Be easy to navigate

  • Have a clean, unique design

  • Be mobile friendly

It's great to see what the more than forty authors featured did, and, just as important, we get to take an inventory of our own author websites.

What changes might make our own website even better?

Read the full article and see all the examples of excellent author websites here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Conversation with Elizabeth Partridge - Listen to the Latest SCBWI Podcast Now!

Multi-award winning nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge speaks to Theo Baker about how her upbringing impacted her storytelling, her way into oral histories, and the responsibility she feels towards the people she interviews. She considers how her work is “bearing witness” and shares what she’s learned about writing compelling nonfiction.

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Michelle Markel on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author - from the Cynsations Blog

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations blog is consistently amazing, and I'm obsessed with this series on "Survivors"—folks who have been long-time, actively publishing children's /YA authors. The interviews are informative and inspiring—this is the second one I'm highlighting, but you should go read them all!)

Highlights from the Michelle Markel interview:
“Writing about Henri was a healing experience. I channeled his rebellious attitude and broke a few rules myself, regarding picture book biographies (a breezy tone, fragmented sentences…). What did I have to lose?

In freeing myself up, I found my voice and a publisher. I was honored to receive a PEN award for picture book writing for The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans, 2012). Everything changed. I was validated, I got confident, I got attention. My ship was back on course.”


“I want to emphasize here a couple of things: taking risks, and loving the subject matter. I took a chance on writing about Rousseau, a self-taught artist who’s not as widely respected as the “masters.” I later went out on a limb with other picture biographies.”

Read the full interview with Michelle here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Debut YA Author Karol Ruth Silverstein On How Volunteering for SCBWI Led To Her #OwnVoices Breakthrough

SCBWI Volunteer Karol Ruth Silverstein's debut YA novel is called "Cursed" (June 25, Charlesbridge Teen).

Karol sporting her Disability Pride in a t-shirt she designed!

I interviewed Karol to find out more...

Lee: Hi Karol! So please tell us, how did volunteering for SCBWI lead to your getting a book deal?

Karol: Actually Lee, I have you to thank! My journey really started when you invited me to become a coordinator for the Westside Writers Schmooze (now called the Westside Writers Mingle) here in Los Angeles. For any readers who aren't familiar with the Mingles (or LitMingles), they are monthly meetings held by many local SCBWI regions where writers and/or illustrators get together to discuss topics related to children’s books. I ended up coordinating with fellow SCBWI-L.A. member Charlie Cohen for four years. Toward the end of our "reign," I was prepping for a Schmooze on social media for writers. Though I'd had a Twitter handle for a while, I barely used it. Twitter seemed so confusing! I went onto Twitter determined to familiarize myself with the various things one can do on the platform. I spent some time tweeting, retweeting and commenting, and then I decided to follow a few hashtags. I happened to stumble onto the last 15 minutes of a Twitter pitch event (#PitMad)--just enough time to get out a few pitches. Literary agent Jen Linnan “liked” one of my tweets, which meant she wanted to read my manuscript. Long story short, she signed me! (I think it would be responsible of me to add a disclaimer here: results not typical!)

Though my debut YA novel Cursed wasn't the book I'd pitched in the Twitter event, Jen read an excerpt and loved it. She helped me fine tune the manuscript before we went out on submission and we eventually found it a home with Charlesbridge Teen. Cursed was not necessarily an easy sale and I was extremely lucky to find an agent who fell in love with it. I was in the right (virtual) place at the right time. And I was there specifically due to my SCBWI volunteer gig.

Karol's debut YA comes out on June 25, 2019

Lee: Wow, what a story! Why do you say Cursed wasn’t an “easy” sale?

Karol: The easy/most direct answer is that the manuscript had a lot of profanity in it. Like - A LOT. Plus, my main character was originally 13 (though she's now been aged up to 14 to put the book more squarely into the YA category). The cursing is an integral part of the story, so it wasn't like I could cut it all out. The protagonist, Ricky, is newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and cursing is one of her main coping mechanisms. As she adjusts to her new reality, she does learn better ways of handling her anger and curses less. But it was important that she be able to fully and realistically vent her frustrations, anger, and fear at the beginning of the book. That meant real cursing—f-bombs and all. Using "darn" and "heck" was not going to cut it in terms of authenticity, which was tremendously important to me.

Cursed is also what some refer to as "younger YA" - for readers aged 12-15 or so. This can be a somewhat tough market in general. Publishers Weekly had an article a while back explaining that, while readers in this age range are underserved and definitely in need of great reading options, agents aren't always sure how to pitch these books, publishers struggle to market them, and booksellers aren't clear where to shelve them. So that added to the challenge.

Lastly, Cursed is about a teen with a chronic illness who experiences chronic pain. Despite the incredibly valuable push for all kinds of diversity in kids books over the last decade, books featuring physical disability and/or chronic medical issues are still not exactly abundant on bookshelves. My editor Monica Perez said that she noticed a lack of these kinds of books in YA in particular, and that was one of the things that drew her to Cursed. The fact that the book is #ownvoices was icing on the cake.

Lee: #Ownvoices of course leads to the question: How much of Ricky’s story is your story?

Karol: I'm glad you asked! While Cursed is very much drawn from my personal experience, it's definitely fiction. People who know me sometimes get confused on that front, I think because Ricky's voice is so similar to mine. The set-up of the story mirrors my life the most: Ricky is sent to live with her dentist dad at his ill-equipped one bedroom apartment (which she dubs the Batch Pad), as a way to make things easier on her physically. Getting to school is still really painful though. Since her dad leaves for work before she needs to leave for school, she realizes she can just pretend she's getting ready for school—and then go back to bed once her dad's gone. She ends up cutting six weeks of school before her truancy is discovered. Basically ALL of that is taken from my life—other than the snarky name for her dad's apartment. Most of what follows in the story is made up, but there are moments, emotions, lessons learned, etc. that are drawn from my experiences throughout my lifetime of living with a chronic illness and figuring out how to partner with medical professionals and advocate for myself.

I remember fabulous YA author Sonya Sones (who blurbed Cursed!) once saying that one of the great things about writing YA is that you can have your characters make the same mistakes you made but figure out better solutions and/or end up making better choices than you did. You can clean up your past and hopefully provide more agency for your teen readers. I condensed a lot of what I've learned about living a life like mine with some modicum of grace into the six month timeframe of the book. Hopefully the book can speed up the process for readers who are dealing with similar circumstances (which I feel can be broadened to include any situation that hinders self-acceptance).

Lee: As a writer with a disability, what do you think the industry can/should do to be more inclusive, equitable, and accessible?

Karol: One of the toughest parts of disability advocacy is how incredibly varied the folks huddled under the disability umbrella are. There simply is no singular way to address the needs, preferences, experiences and sensibilities of all people living with disabilities. Likewise, stories featuring disabled characters are going to be—or should be—of every stripe and color. I think for too long, the narrative for disabled characters has been sorely limited. That's thankfully beginning to change, with #ownvoices disability books—where the author has the same disability or medical condition as the book's protagonist—really moving the needle in terms of authenticity and variety.

The kid lit industry has been a frontrunner in the charge for more inclusion and representation of underrepresented groups, both on the page and "behind the pen." Amazing progress has been made. Still, disability isn't nearly as present in the diversity discussion as some other groups, with physical disability garnering less attention than neurodiversity (a blanket term referring to variations in the human brain). But—as I've seen in a snarky meme—inclusion isn't pie! There aren't a limited number of slices. The We Need Diverse Books website gives an incredibly far-reaching definition of disability and I encourage all people involved in the children's literature industry to check it out and keep it in mind whenever discussions of diversity come up.

Lee: For readers, here's that We Need Diverse Book's definition of diversity:
We Need Diverse Books: Our definition of diversity: We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.
Okay, Karol, that totally makes me want to ask: can you shout out to some great disability books out there?

Karol: Interestingly, three that come to mind immediately all feature deaf characters - Cece Bell 's terrific #ownvoices graphic novel memoir, El Deafo; the amazing Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick and 2018 Schneider Family Book Award winner, You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner.

The Schneider Family Book Award is among the awards given annually by the ALA and honors books that embody the artistic expression of disability experiences for child and adolescent audiences. Their list of previous winners is a great place to start for anyone looking to learn and read more about disability, as is the website Disability in Kidlit.

I can also report that there are a number of 2019 debut novelists who've written books featuring characters with disabilities. This is definitely heartening! In particular, YA fantasy We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett completely blew me away. The book features a protagonist who's an amputee--and also training to be a fighter pilot. Bartlett handles the character beautifully and the whole book is an incredible thrill ride!

Lee: Any plans to write more books featuring characters with disabilities?

Karol: Yes actually! I'm in the early stages of a young middle grade novel that has a feline main character. But the human main character is young girl who uses a wheelchair. There's also another cat character who's been declawed--which many people don't realize is akin to amputation. This book is not #ownvoices because I'm not a regular wheelchair-user myself (or an amputee), but I liked the idea of including these characters because they exist in the world and should exist in books too! While the disabilities aren't a main focus in the story, they do resonate within the book's themes.

Lee: Thank you so much Karol! And congratulations on your debut!

You can find out more about Karol Ruth Silverstein and "Cursed" at her website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author - On the Cynsations Blog

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations blog is consistently amazing, and I'm obsessed with this series on "Survivors"—folks who have been long-time, actively publishing children's /YA authors. There's a lot of wisdom and encouragement shared, and I couldn't choose just one to highlight, so I'll share two. (One today, and the other next week.)

Highlights of the Vaunda Micheaux Nelson interview:

“I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d had the courage to take the leap sooner, to play it less safe.”

“My second book, Mayfield Crossing (Harper, 1994), wasn’t published until five years later.

Rejections filled the interim, and I lost confidence. I started to believe that Always Gramma was a fluke, that I would probably be a one-book author.

I learned I had to do what my heart kept telling me—live my life the best I could and write. Everything I submit isn’t successful. I still get rejections. But I try to be true to who I am and learn from the failures.”
Check out the full interview over at Cynsations here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Linda Sue Park Shares Lois Lowry's Advice on Novel Structure

Linda Sue Park, photograph by Sonya Sones

Newbery-Winning Author Linda Sue Park is a brilliant writer, and, to quote her, it's pretty clever to learn "from the best!" On her website, she shares advice on writing, including a section on Structure:
My outline for novel structure comes from author Lois Lowry (I’m a strong believer in learning from the best!). I read about how she builds her stories:

•Complications and choices

Once again, I've adapted another writer’s advice to suit the way I work. I divide “Quest” into two sections: Internal and External. In every scene I write, the character must either make progress toward or face impediments to the quest(s).
She continues by sharing how she applied this to her novel Seesaw Girl.

Go read Linda Sue's advice now. (There's great stuff there about reading 1,000 books before you write your own, and about discipline, too.)

Thanks, Linda Sue!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The 2019 Crystal Kite Winners!

Fifteen divisions.

Peer-selected winners.

Sixteen newly award-winning books published in 2018 to add to your must-read list!

Presenting this year's SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards:

From the Atlantic division (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Wash DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari; illustrated by Brian Floca

From the Australia, New Zealand division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

At The End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Powell; illustrated by Nicky Johnston

From the California, Hawaii division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton

From the Canada division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Outlaw by Nancy Vo

From Europe, Latin America, Africa division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Night Lion by Sanne Dufft

From the Mid South Division (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer

From the Middle East, India, Asia division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is a tie...

The Clever Tailor by Srividhya Venkat


All Eyes on Alexandra by Anna Levine

From the Mid West Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

From the New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

From the New York division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito; illustrated by Laura Freeman

From the South East Division (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge

From the South West Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic

From the Texas, Oklahoma division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark

From the UK, Ireland division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

And finally, from the Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have A Horse by Marcy Campbell illustrated by Corinna Luyken

Congratulations to all the winners, and to everyone who entered! You can find details about entering your 2019-published book for consideration in the 2020 SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards here.

Illustrate and Write On,