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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

SCBWI Meeting April 2017


The April SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured children's author Linda Stanek.  Linda has published both fiction and nonfiction picture books including, The Pig and Miss Prudence and Once Upon an Elephant.  She spoke with our group about her journey to publication and the magic of the phase, "One things leads to another."

Linda never thought she wanted to be a writer; she wanted to be a farmer when she was little, and ultimately choose a career in teaching.  She took a break from her career when her children were young, and decided to try out writing when she wanted some on-the-go hobbies that she could do during their activities.  She ended up falling in love with it.  It took her two years to draft her first novel, and she joined SCBWI when she decided she wanted to make her "hobby" her new career. 

Linda had heard that it was a good idea to have publishing credits on one's writing resume.  She turned her attention to submitting work to magazines, focusing on the crafts sections in Highlights magazines.  It took a while, but eventually they purchased one of her craft ideas.  Since "one thing leads to another," she ended up selling a nonfiction article to Highlights, too.  Linda said she was very grateful for this early experience in publishing nonfiction because it taught her the importance of good research and fact checking. 

While trying to sell more nonfiction articles to Highlights, Linda wrote an article on Goodyear and how they build blimps.  Highlights wasn't interested, but they gave her the idea to grow the article to a book-length project and submit it to their sister company, Boyds Mill Press.  It didn't work out, but the opportunity got her writing and submitting more and more. 

In 2008, she published The Pig and Miss Prudence and started getting involved with author visits.  And because "one things leads to another," an editor she was working with on the blimp book became the editor for a new line of books with the Columbus Zoo, landing her a book project to commemorate a baby elephant's first birthday.  Beco's Big Year gave her many opportunities to meet elephant keepers and experts, and she learned a ton about elephants.  She learned so much, in fact, that she wrote and published a second elephant book, Once Upon an Elephant.  And her publisher liked it so much that she has another nonfiction book coming out later this year called Night Creepers about nocturnal animals.  (That's two more awesome "one thing leads to another" situations for anyone keeping count!)

And what became of the blimp book?  Linda still hasn't gotten it published, but--as one thing leads to another--she married the Goodyear Blimp Crew Chief.  (Best. Ending. Ever!)

The moral of this tale?  Linda highly encourages everyone to take chances and pursue all the avenues you can.  You never know what might lead to success, but if you keep trying and never give up, something surely will!

A big thank you to Linda for sharing her inspiring (and romantic!) road to publication journey!  You can find out more about Linda and her books at  www.lindastanek.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: Cover image is from Linda's website, www.lindastanek.com.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

SCBWI Meeting #2 March 2017: Columbus Edition


As I mentioned in my last post, this month features TWO SCBWI meeting summaries!  The March meeting in Columbus featured Middle Grade author, Jennifer Maschari.  Jen is the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and the upcoming Things That Surprise You.  She spoke to our group about the publishing process and craft of writing--and which is more important to focus on when you're getting started.

Jen began by saying that the first step in any writer's journey is to WRITE A BOOK!  Aspiring authors have a tendency to think about writing more often than they actually sit down and write something.  Jen reasoned that you'll never have "enough time" (or whatever other excuse you fall back on), so just do it.  DO IT NOW! 

But then what do you do once you have poured your heart into your pen or triumphantly typed, "The End?" 

Jen admitted that she jumped into querying and focused on the publishing process as soon as she finished her first book.  But looking back, she wishes that she'd spent more time on her craft and less time researching agent response times.  It took her many rejections to realize that her manuscript wasn't strong enough to be published yet.  This is a very common situation that new writers find themselves in.  But don't fret!  Writers can strengthen their work by reading current published books, joining critique groups, and...

Revising!

To Jen, revision is the heart of writing.  She gave a list of the many things that she's done to her books during the revision process including cutting characters, changing tense, changing point of view, and even starting over.  It's okay if you don't get things right the first time; revising allows you to approach your story in new ways, discard what doesn't work, and add elements that will make it stronger.  Jen also emphasized how important it is to find a network of writer friends.  These may be people you meet at a conference, in online groups, or even at your local SCBWI meeting.  They'll help you get through the bad times and celebrate the good times of your publishing journey, all the while helping to improve your writing so it becomes the best it can be.

Lastly, Jen talked about how writing is hard work--really really hard work.  It's a dream, but it's also a job.  But by putting in the time and work (and not fretting over agent response times), you can achieve success!

A big thank you to Jen for sharing her writing and publishing wisdom with the group!  You can find out more about Jen and her books at jenmaschari.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: Cover image is from Jen's website at http://jenmaschari.com/books-2/  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SCBWI Meeting #1 March 2017: Cincinnati Bound!


This month is extra special because I'll be blogging about TWO SCBWI meetings!  The Central & Southern Ohio chapter of SCBWI encompasses a large chunk of the Buckeye State including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton.  Since I'm in Columbus, I attend the monthly meetings there.  But Cincinnati is home to our chapter's Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Pelleschi, who also holds meetings in her corner of the state.  With the winter weather receding, Regional Advisor, Jody Casella, and I took a road trip to attend the March Cincinnati meeting and connect with our southern SCBWI siblings.

The SCBWI meetings in Cincinnati are held on the 2nd Tuesday each month at 7:00 pm at the Sharonville Library.  They feature a mix of critique meetings and speakers, and you can always find the details at ohiocensouth.scbwi.org.  Jody and I were thrilled to meet 30 members from Cincinnati, many of whom we'd connected with via email and Facebook over the years.  (It's always wonderful to put faces to names!)
 
The Sharonville Library.  We even arrived before dark!

Jody and I started the meeting with an overview of the happenings in Columbus and how the Cen/South Ohio SCBWI Board is trying to better serve and connect members across the region.  (Like our website improvements, our in-the-pipeline plans for published members, and our awesome new members-only Facebook group for artists: Cen/South Ohio SCBWI Illustrators.)  Jody and Andrea also reminded the group that SCBWI is an organization made up of volunteers, and everyone is invited to get involved.  So if you want to see more events or critiques in your hometown, don't hesitate to volunteer and see what a difference you can make in Ohio's children's lit community.

After the overview, Jody took the stand as the month's guest speaker to give a presentation on her publishing journey.  I always find road-to-publication stories so inspiring.  Like many aspiring authors, it took Jody a long time to publicly admit that she wanted to be a writer.  (It's so much easier to keep those dreams quietly to oneself!)  NANOWRIMO was a big turning point for her, forcing her to get ideas down quickly instead of fretting over every little word.  It also made her realize that often you don't know what your story is about until you get to the end of it and see what you have.  (Her main character for her published novel Thin Space wasn't even planned--he popped up in her draft and stole the show, taking her story in a direction she'd never intended.)  Once you have everything on paper--from your carefully-planned plot points to your unexpected surprises--THEN you can go back and work on making the story the best it can be. 

Jody also warned about two big pitfalls for writers: being Arrogant and Insecure.  She admitted that she fell into the camp of being Arrogant when she started and thought she knew more about writing than she did.  It took her a while to realize that she still had a lot to learn, but once she did, her newfound openness to workshops and critiques provided a big boost to her work--and ultimately her career.  On the flip side, Jody cautioned that being Insecure can be equally damaging.  Some writers have a difficult time believing in their own abilities, and she has seen many that are afraid to share their work with the world.  But if a writer is too cautious, he or she can miss great opportunities and run the risk of never going anywhere.

Jody's parting advice to the group was to never give up.  The journey can be tough and full of surprises, but success comes to those who persevere!

A big thank you to Jody for her inspiring presentation!  You can learn more about Jody and her writing (and follow her wonderful blog) at: http://www.jodycasella.com/

I'd also like to send a huge thank you to the Cincinnati members for giving us such a warm welcome!  We had a blast and can't wait to come down to see you all again!  

Me (Kathryn Powers), Andrea Pelleschi, and Jody Casella

Monday, February 27, 2017

The "Ten Years of Writing" Blog Post

<insert trumpet fanfare here>
 
It's my ten-year writing anniversary.  Ten years since I sat down at my computer, wrote my heart out, and started pursuing this crazy dream of publication.  
 
That's 1-0.  A decade.  a.k.a., A LONG, LONG TIME.
 
I'm actually feeling okay about the occasion.  Perhaps even a little bit proud?  I always hear that it takes most authors "ten years to become published," so my first contract must be just around the corner, right?  ;)  
 
In reality, I think of it more as "ten years of not giving up."  I've earned my proverbial stripes and am prepared to keep moving on, even though that final destination is still a big, fat question mark.
 
I know, I know.  This is when non-writers and illustrators would say WHY?  Why, oh why, do you continue to do this to yourself day after day, year after year, with no end in sight?  Are you nuts?!
 
Yes.  
 
It takes a certain type of insanity to battle the odds and keep chasing the publishing dream.  It's not for the faint of heart or sound of mind.  Or for people who despise rewriting their manuscript's opening sentence at least forty six times. Consider yourself warned. 
 
I wasn't sure how I wanted to mark this occasion.  I thought about doing a cake recipe blog post.  One of those, "Stir in ample dedication.  Add a cup of tears and a dash of bitterness.  Top with lots of chocolate--you'll need it."  
 
Instead, I ate some celebratory s'mores cheesecake.
 
Treat yo self.
 
I don't feel like being cutesy or clever, so I'll just be honest.  When I started my first novel, The Beast of Bannock, I didn't think it would take ten years to become published.  I didn't think I would go on to write several more books and still not be published. (My hopeful five-year writing anniversary post now makes me cringe.  Poor, naive 2012 Kathryn!)   
 
The journey to publication really is like climbing up a mountain.  A thrilling, dangerous, dizzying Mount Everest.  The adventure has been wonderful.  It's been ugly.  There have been times I thought I was sooooo close to the summit only to find out I still had a long, long, looooong way to go. 
 
 
Parts of this decade-long endeavor have been better than others.  Years 1-4 were full of optimism and confidence.  I soaked up everything I could and thought publication was just around the corner. 
 
Year 5, that confidence started wavering.  
 
Years 6-8 were rough.  The rejections piled on; promising connections didn't pan out the way I thought they would.  I was bummed out and burned out.  I frequently wanted to throw in the towel.  I even declared I was throwing in the towel on more than one occasion!  But something always called me back, and I kept at it despite my protestations.
 
Year 9, I felt the stirrings of my early passion and a twinge of hope again.
 
And now--at Year 10--I'm overall quite zen about the whole thing.  Maybe I'll get published; maybe I won't.  All I can do is give it my best.  Just keep swimming and all that. 
 
I may not be where I thought I would be at this milestone, but I'm not doing too bad.  I've got some books under my belt and more in my head.  I've learned a thing or two.  I've been blessed with so many, many wonderful writing and illustrating friends and family members who support me.  (You know who you are.  You're probably reading this.  I love you all and would be tumbling down the mountain if I didn't have you.)  
 
I also know that if (when?) I get published some day, more challenges will always come my way.  But I'll save that for another decade.

More than anything, this occasion has made me nostalgic.  I'm not as devoted to my first novel anymore--the one about about a boy named Ellis who turns into a horse.  (He also has green scars.  I still think that's kind of cool.)  But I'll always love it to pieces.  So to celebrate this anniversary, I'll share some of my other firsts: my first writing notebook; my first rejection; my first (horrific) equine character sketches; my first stab at drawing a map of my fantasy world; and my first professional critique.  (If you can read that tiny print, the agent bluntly wrote, "There isn't enough character development up front for me to care about, and root for, Ellis."  She was 100% correct.)
 
 
And lastly, thank YOU for staying with me for all of these years.  If you're one of my readers who is also climbing the mountain, I can't wait until we meet at the summit someday.