Friday, November 24, 2017

The Thankful Post

I always love Thanksgiving. During the October through December whirlwind of holidays, Thanksgiving is the time to pause and count your many blessings. I have a lot to be grateful for this year:

My family--both near and far--who always love me, support me, and make sure I have a full tummy.

My friends. Some of them I see weekly, and some I've never even met in person, but they are all my kindred spirits.

The kidlit community. I may not be published yet, but I've met so many wonderful people this year who have been a blessing on my writing journey.

My health. Though my spine has been up and down this year, I've still gratefully avoided surgery.

My hubby, who always makes me laugh (even when I don't want to), and reminds me of the importance of pushing the pause button--and getting a full night of sleep from time to time.

I'm also extra grateful for one more thing this year:


If you've been following my blog over the years, you'll know I have an annual tradition of dressing up my dog, Penny, in a silly costume for Halloween.  You also may have noticed that I did not make my usual Halloween post this year.

Penny was diagnosed with mitral valve disease this past January, with a prognosis of 6 months to 2 years. I didn't handle Halloween well, knowing it could be our last one with her. (I may have made hubby answer the door while I cried for the first fifteen minutes of trick-or-treaters.) She'd had a dental procedure just the day before, and the day after Halloween we rushed her back to the doggy hospital with anesthesia complications. It was touch and go, but thankfully she pulled through and is now back to her happy self a few weeks later.

We know her poor heart will give out someday, but I'm grateful for every day we get to spend with her. Penny has brought so much joy to our lives, whether she's Froggy Penny, or impersonating my favorite cartoon pony as this year's "Penny Sparkle," or just being her normal snuggly, burping, kissy self.

To end on a happier note, here's an outtake of Penny in the first version of her My Little Pony costume. It's almost as good as her annoyed expressions during the photo shoot as Hula Penny in 2012.

Penny says, "For the love of kibble, GET THIS OFF MY HEAD!"

From my little corner of the internet to yours, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving! Hold your friends and family close, and enjoy this season of gratitude. :)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

SCBWI Meetings (Multi-Month Edition!)



In light of the craziness of the past few months, it’s time for a multi-month SCBWI meeting summary extravaganza!

AUGUST:

The August SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured MG & YA author Liz Coley.  Liz spoke on the topic of “Hybrid Publishing.”  As an author who has experience with both traditional and self-publishing, Liz had a lot of great advice to share with the group.  She explained that each type of publishing has its pros and cons, including:

Cons
-Traditional publishers are harder to get into (often requiring an agent), and take longer to publish work.  Authors also earn royalties, ultimately sharing the book’s profits with the publishing house, their agent etc.  

-Self-publishing often requires a significant financial investment up front, including design, inventory, and advertising costs.  It can also be hard to find an audience with a lot of competition in the market.

Pros
-Traditional publishers have access to reviewers, book stores, foreign sales, media rights, etc., which often means greater distribution and sales of a book.  So even though the author gets a “piece of the pie,” the pie is usually bigger overall.

-With no middlemen involved, self-published authors get to enjoy their entire pie.  They also get to control all aspects of their project (cover, release date, content, etc.), which is great for people who like that level of control.

SEPTEMBER:

The September SCBWI meeting featured YA author Natalie Richards.  Natalie talked about the art of pacing and why it’s so important in a story.  She described stories as a road trip: the plot is the road, the pacing is the car, and the characters are the people in the car.  Just as a car can go fast or slow, so can the pacing in a book.  It’s good to have a mix of “savoring” (slower parts) and “action” (faster parts), but too much of one or the other can make the plot drag on or zip by much too quickly.  Natalie gave tips on how to speed up and slow down pacing including:

Slow Down
-Add descriptions/atmosphere, character introspections, and quiet moments for the characters (and reader) to “catch their breath”
-Cut back on dialogue

Speed Up
-Shorten sentences/paragraphs, add more dialogue, and choose “power words” (active verbs and strong adjectives)
-Be mindful of the white space on a page.  More white space = quicker reading, which is great for suspenseful, page turning moments in the story.

OCTOBER:
 
The October SCBWI meeting featured illustrator Christina Wald.  Christina has been illustrating for twenty years and discussed the many roads that artists can take throughout their careers.  In addition to children’s book illustrating, Christina’s career has included work for pop-up books, toy concepts and packaging, tabletop gaming cards and books (including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars), and magazines.  She offered great advice to artists looking to break into the business including:

-Have a strong online presence.  You never know who will see your work and what will lead to a new project.

-Show the type of work that you want to do and DON’T post things that you don’t enjoy.  It’s good to be well-rounded, but if you hate drawing bicycles, then it’s better to leave them out of your portfolio.  (Otherwise you might attract a client who wants you to draw fifty of them!) 

-Remember to include keywords on your social media posts so your art will pop up when people search for that subject matter.

-Be open-minded about opportunities that come your way.  You never know what doors might open if you give something a try!

OTHER FUN!

In addition to hosting these three great speakers, Central/Southern Ohio SCBWI also held the 2018 Notecard Contest this fall.  (Which has kept yours truly quite busy!)  This year’s theme was “Classic Children’s Books” and the winners were chosen by a guest judge in the publishing industry.  The five winning pieces (seen below) are available for purchase in a one-of-a-kind notecard set at https://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.


All contest participants were also invited to display their illustrations in a gallery at the Upper Arlington Library.  The gallery is currently up and will be available for viewing through the end of November.  If you’re in the Columbus area, be sure to stop by the library and see everyone’s talented work!

I think that’s everything for Central/Southern Ohio SCBWI happenings!  If you want to learn more about SCBWI, please visit the website at https://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the end of the year celebration (and last meeting of 2017) on November 29!

Note: For more information about our guest speakers and their books, visit:
Natalie Richards- http://nataliedrichards.com/

Monday, September 25, 2017

Tornado Wrangling 2017

Oh man, I am behind on blog posts!  Remember this post back in 2014 about tornado wrangling?  Yeah, that's becoming an annual thing.  In fact, this year might have been even crazier than the aforementioned Storm of 2014.  (And that one was a doozy!)

But have no fear!  The forecast is calling for clearer skies soon, and then I can catch up on my AWOL posts <cough--August SCBWI summary--cough> AND share all about the exciting stuff that's been keeping me busy. 

Now excuse me; gotta grab my lasso and tame some more twisters!  Yee-haw!    


Monday, July 31, 2017

SCBWI Meeting July 2017


The July SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured Kathryn Powers, Illustrator Coordinator for Cen/South Ohio SCBWI.  (That's me!)  Well, it was supposed to.  Then things went kerplooey.

The plan was to do a Photoshop demonstration similar to my "Photoshop 101 Workshop" from 2016, including tips and tricks for how to spiff up author/illustrator photos for websites.  I brought all my tech equipment for attendees to test out.  I doctored celebrity photos to use as my guinea pigs, including giving poor Chris Hemsworth a face full of  greasy pimples.  The room was full of eager SCBWI members...

But technology failed us.  As in, none of the meeting room's A/V stuff was working, and therefore no one could see what I had planned to demonstrate and share on my equipment.

Alas.

Alack.

#@($&*

This was actually a perfect example of the biggest downfall of digital art: when technology goes wrong, you're sunk.  (Think of it as if a traditional painter suddenly had every tube of paint they own dry up.  Yeah.  They are not going to be a happy camper.)  Tech issues do happen from time to time for digital artists.  I've had some lovely experiences with my computer screen dying before a deadline; Photoshop crashing in the middle of illustrations; and power outages that have wiped out my work.  But those instances are few and far between.  Overall, I love the digital medium.  This was just an unlucky night for all of us.

The meeting was also a perfect example of why you should always have a backup plan.  (Who is going to be looking into buying their own mini-projector?  Me!)

Membership Coordinator, Kristy Boyce, helped me turn our lemon-situation into lemonade.  (Thank you again, Kristy!)  We talked about all the exciting events happening in our chapter and nearby regions, like our September workshop with agent Danielle Chiotti (https://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/); had a Q&A for the 2017 Notecard Contest (which is due August 30--instructions are also on the website); and did a short picture book exercise for members who wanted to stay.  But mostly, we all had fun and tried to laugh at our misfortune.  That really is the best thing about kidlit folk: even when things go wrong, we still have a great time.  :)

Come rain or shine, we have the best time!

We're doing our best to reschedule the presentation, so hopefully we can try again before too long!  (And for anyone reading this who attended the meeting, thank YOU for being so understanding!)

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at https://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Duck doodle is by me, Kathryn Powers.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

SCBWI Meeting June 2017


The June SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured a group critique of query letters.  This was in follow up to the May meeting with Juliana Lee, who gave tips on crafting query letters based on her experience as a reader at The Purcell Agency.  With summer vacation season in full swing, it was a small group, but a fun and intimate experience! 

Everyone who brought a letter for critique got great, in-depth feedback from the other members.  Here are some of the biggest points we talked about:

1) Be sure to write you query letter in a letter format.  The body of your letter should include a salutation, story pitch, relevant information about your project (i.e. word count, genre, etc.), bio, and closing.  You can also include some information regarding why you are submitting to a certain agent or editor, and it's good to note what you've included if they ask for the first ten pages, a synopsis, etc.  If you're not sure whether you've written your letter in the standard format, it's easy to look up examples online.  (Or ask some writing buddies for advice!)

2) "Comp titles" are a familiar topic in the kidlit industry right now.  (Example: My book is like The Hunger Games meets The Cat in the Hat.)  Some agents and editors like to see this included in query letters; some don't.  As a general rule of thumb, you don't want the comp title(s) to be too popular (like comparing your manuscript to Harry Potter), but including thoughtful and modern comp titles can show that you know the industry and your potential audience.  As always, be sure to do your research on the agent's/editor's preference and do include this information if they ask for it.

3) Don't Give Up!!!!  It was clear as the group chatted and shared their work that many people are all too familiar with rejection from agents and editors.  (I'll raise my own hand to that!)  If you're feeling down, don't be afraid to share your experience with other writers and illustrators.  A good support system is one of the best ways to get through "query hell," and reminds you that you're not alone.  And even better, when you DO get a "YES!" someday, you'll have lots of people who will be ecstatic to celebrate your success.  :)

A big thanks to everyone who attended the meeting, whether it was sharing your work or offering feedback to others.  It was a fantastic night!

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/
 
I hope to see you at the next meeting, when yours truly will be sharing Photoshop tips and ways to spiff up author/illustrator headshots!  It's going to be TUESDAY, July 25, and NOT THE USUAL WEDNESDAY, so be sure to mark your calendars now.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SCBWI Meeting May 2017


The May SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured Juliana Lee.  Juliana is both a writer and a literary assistant at The Purcell Agency. She spoke with our group about her experience working with agent Tina P. Schwartz and offered advice on how to craft and submit a winning query letter.

Juliana decided that she wanted to focus on her publishing dreams when she retired from teaching.  She joined SCBWI and attended conferences, ultimately meeting Tina through a webinar.  They hit it off and Juliana became a reader for Tina, which led to her growing into the role of a literary assistant.  (And Tina eventually became her agent, too!) 

As a literary assistant, Juliana reads query letters and manuscript submissions, weeding out the bad submissions (i.e. those that don’t follow directions, are addressed to the wrong person, etc.), and passing along ones that she thinks have promise.  Juliana made it clear that Tina has the last say; she likened herself to a sounding board and trusted advisor. Juliana explained that agents have to make really tough choices, especially when many of the submissions they receive are GREAT. But Tina helped her think about “the best of the best” in a new way: pretend you're at the book store with $20.  What will you buy? Although there are many wonderful books, you can’t purchase everything.  You have to be picky and choose wisely, even if you really want to buy everything on the shelves.

So how can you make your submission stand out?  Juliana shared some great suggestions based on the fantastic submissions (and terrible ones) that have come across her desk:

1) Make sure you follow the agency’s submission guidelines, especially when it comes to attachments, accepted genres, and information they request to see in the query. Each agency has different policies, so be sure to do your research.

2) Make your query as short and to-the-point as possible.  Agents receive dozens—even hundreds—of queries a day. Remember that your manuscript will speak for itself, so keep your letter short and sweet so the reader can dive right into the good stuff!

3) If you met the agent at a conference or have some other personal connection, be sure to note that in the query.
 
4) If you’re querying multiple agents (which is the norm nowadays), DO remember to change the name in your letter! Agent Y does not want to receive a letter addressed to Agent X—and it happens more often than you think.  (Yikes!)

Lastly, Juliana reminded us all to keep submitting and never give up. The publishing industry is a subjective business, and just because one agent says, “No,” doesn’t mean that every agent will say “No.” (And remember that anytime you get personal feedback from an agent, it means they saw promise in your work and you’re on the right track!)  She sagely recommended listening to the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” and thinking about the lyrics in terms of the submission and revision process:
 
Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better  
     
A big thank you to Juliana for sharing her experience and advice with the group!  You can find out more about Juliana on The Purcell Agency’s website at thepurcellagency.com and her personal author website at julianaleewriter.com.

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Juliana Lee's photo is from The Purcell Agency's website: thepurcellagency.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Everything from Spring

It's May, and I'm overdue for a "what I've been up to" blog post!  Spring is my busiest season of the year, but things have been extra-crazy behind the scenes the past few months.  So what have I been up to?

The Ohioana Book Festiva

Poster art by author/illustrator Lindsay Ward

Per usual, the biggest--and most exciting/hectic/crazy/fun/exhausting--thing about spring for me is my day job at the Ohioana Library.  From January to April every year, the place gets turned upside as we plan and prep for the annual Ohioana Book Festival.  It's a fantastic one-day event celebrating Ohio authors and illustrators with fun for the whole family.  I really enjoy that my day job has such a positive impact on Ohio's literary community.  Between my work with Ohioana and SCBWI, I've gotten to know a lot of fellow kids' writers and illustrators, and I love that I can help support them with this event.  It makes those late nights at the office (and frantic phone calls about tablecloth colors) well worth it!

My Spine

I'm going to take a moment to talk about my spine.  My spine is not my friend right now.  For a couple months, my doctor thought a pinched nerve was causing pain and numbness in my hand and back.  In February, we learned that I actually have a broken spinal disc.  Eww.  Eww.  EWWWWW.

How do you cure that?  Epidural shots.  Maybe surgery.  Massively cutting back on writing and illustrating.  (I'm not so great at that last one.) 

I'm now two injections into treatment and feeling "meh."  I have good days; I have bad days.  Sometimes I get really frustrated.  It's hard to predict what the next few months will bring, so I just remember my doctor's words that any improvement is good improvement. (And it could be worse.  WAY worse.  So I'm quite thankful for that.)      

 SCBWI

Now let's go back to happier things.  My local SCBWI chapter was a partner of the Ohioana Book Festival, and our illustrators sponsored a coloring page activity for the kids' room.  I really didn't want to skip the project (spine injury be darned!), so I paced myself as much as possible and created this:

   
You may remember this jaguar from a calendar contest piece I created in 2012.  I always liked this concept, but the original has been weeded from my portfolio over the years.  So I took this opportunity to revisit my old drawing and give myself a refresher in vectoring with Adobe Illustrator.  I'm much happier this little guy now and thought it would be fun to show how my art has changed with a "Draw This Again" meme.  Who knows--maybe I'll revisit him again in a few years!


The Children's Book Academy:
Middle Grade Mastery Course

Let's face it--I'm bad at taking it easy.  I try.  I really do.  (I'm sorry, spine doctor!)  But when I found out the Children's Book Academy was offering an online spring course called "Middle Grade Mastery," I just couldn't resist signing up.  I loved the course I took in 2016, "The Craft and Business of Writing and Illustrating Picture Books," and I knew this opportunity was just what I needed for my Pirate Ferret manuscript.

So I signed up, and I'm oh-so glad I did.  The "Middle Grade Mastery" course was led by instructors Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie. We went over tons of middle grade goodness: revising, illustrating, pitches, mentor texts, character development, idea generating, and everything in between.  The instructors were both wonderful (it was great to work with Mira again!), and so nurturing.  It's clear they care about the success of their students and pour their hearts into teaching.  I met new wonderful writing buddies, too, which always makes me happy.  :)

The course inspired me to make Pirate Ferret a priority, which I frequently find difficult to do in the midst of life's chaos.  (Darn you again, spine!)  With encouragement from the instructors, I even pushed myself (and paced myself) to tackle some new sketches and black and white illustrations.

Sketches of Tentacles, my main character
 

Three dog characters: Sandy, Cookie, and Pickles

 
B&W Art Sample


B&W Art Sample

The course JUST ended, wrapping up with the exciting "Golden Ticket" contest where professionals have the opportunity to view our work.  When all is said and done, though, I'm just super happy that the course brought me back to my true love: writing and illustrating.

And I think that's everything!  Kind of a hectic season, huh?  I'm not sure what summer will bring, but hopefully I can keep focusing on my book projects, learning all sorts of literary goodness, and continue healing!  

Note: "Draw this Again" meme is by Bampire on deviantArt. link