Monday, August 1, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting July 2016


The COSBWI July meeting in Columbus featured author Michele Jakubowski.  Michele writes early readers and chapter books.  She has two series published, Sidney & Sydney and Perfectly Poppy, and two forthcoming series to be released in 2016, Ashley Small and Ashlee Tall and The Sleuths of Somerville.  With so many books under her belt, it was exciting to hear Michele talk about her journey to publication and offer advice for aspiring writers.

Michele began her love of books at an early age and was most inspired by her literary hero, Judy Blume.  She studied English and always wanted to write, but her dreams got pushed aside for a while.  It wasn't until Michele had her own children that she was inspired to start writing.  She was disappointed that her son's books were all "boy books" while her daughters books were all pink, so she set out to write a story that they could enjoy reading together.  Sidney and Sydney was the result of this idea, a book with alternating chapters told from male Sidney's and female Sydney's perspectives.

Michele sent over 100 queries to agents and editors, eventually finding a home with the publisher Capstone.  During the process of publishing the Sidney and Sydney series, Capstone offered her the opportunity to write a new project with them, which became the eight-book series Perfectly Poppy.  They are publishing her upcoming series, too, and Michele has been thrilled for the opportunity to work with multiple projects and different editors within the same house.  When she isn't busy writing, Michele loves to do author visits at schools and Skype visits.

After Michele shared her publication story, she answered questions from the group and offered advice.  Some of her tips included:

-Send queries in small batches.  She regrets sending so many at once since she couldn't implement helpful feedback into work that was already on submission.  Michele recommended that writers send a few queries at a time, then consider any feedback received (and revise if needed) before sending more.

-If you're not going to work with an agent, you need to be comfortable with asking for what you want.  You need to do contract research, too.  Michele learned a lot navigating her first contract, but is currently happy with her decision to work on her own.

-Make sure to write down your ideas when you have them!  Michele shared a humorous story about how she came up with the idea for Sidney and Sydney while falling asleep one night.  She dragged herself out of bed to jot down all her thoughts, and the notes were a wonderful surprise when she found them the next morning.  (She had, indeed, forgotten her ideas overnight!)

A big thank you to Michele for speaking to COSCBWI!  You can find out more about Michele and her writing at /www.michelejakubowski.com.

And 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 compilation is from www.amazon.com.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Celebrating All the Things

Normally around this time each year, I get a little panicky that summer is slipping by too fast.  This year is no exception, but I'm happy to say that it's been a blast so far!
 
Since summer "unofficially" starts on Memorial Day weekend (you know, when all the pools open), that's where I'll start, too.  Memorial Day weekend happened to coincide with the 30th birthday of yours truly.  I *may* have mourned the loss of my twenties for a day or so, but then my hubby took me to The Wilds for a weekend getaway.  If you haven't been there before, it's a wildlife conservation center in Ohio where the animals roam free Savannah-style.  (Well, as close to "roaming free" as they can.  The herbivores and carnivores are still very much separated--it's not "The Circle of Life: Live on Stage!")  I've wanted to go there for pretty much forever, so we packed our bags and stayed overnight in one of their super-fun Yurts.
 

We even splurged for a "Wildside" tour, where you travel the park in a small truck to get up close and personal with the animals.  It did not disappoint.
 
 
Shortly after the holiday weekend, my little sister graduated from high school.  (Sniff.  Now I really do feel old!)  To commemorate, we all headed to Disney World for a week of family festivities.  The revelry also included birthday celebrations for two of my sisters, and an honorary birthday celebration for me.  (Did you know that Disney cast members wish you "Happy Birthday" all day long when you wear a birthday button in the parks?  I sure didn't, and got startled more than once!)  It was an awesome week featuring:
 
FOOD!
 
Epic EPCOT desserts!

 
FAMILY!
 
We almost got everyone to look at the camera.

 
MORE FOOD!

Mmmmm....waffle sandwich....
 
 
RESISTING THE URGE TO DANCE ON RIDES!

Holding hands is required.

 
AND HUBBY NOT SMILING IN PICTURES!

 
And of course, I had to embarrass everyone by demolishing one of those ginormous turkey legs in public.  (If you recall from my 2013 trip, it's tradition!)  


My little sister said I looked rather primal devouring the thing, with my scrunched-up nose and meat-tearing head jerks.
 
I've been to Disney many times, but this is the first trip where we got to experience the "Magic Bands."  I must say, the technology was really neat--even spooky at times!  (Like when the mirror ghosts smashed my little sister's face with a cake on her birthday at the "Haunted Mansion.")  However, the bands kicked me out of the family on our very last "It's a Small World" ride.
 
 
 
 
After all of that merrymaking around the Magic Kingdom, there was still more celebrating to be done post-Disney.  As I mentioned in my last update post, one of my writing buddies and I challenged ourselves to some writing/illustrating goals in May.  The endeavor carried on into June so we could both kick our goals in the butt.  My target was to edit at least two chapters of Pirate Ferret (check!) and to doodle something every day. (I had to make up a few sketches at the end of the month, but double-check!)  Here are some of my favorite sketches from the challenge:
 
 


 

Kristy finished her goals, too, so we marked the occasion by stuffing our faces at a delicious Chinese buffet.  Trophies and medals are nice, but you can't beat all-you-can-eat dumplings and egg rolls!
 

And lastly, that dash of Disney magic inspired me to finish one of the "It's a Small World" illustrations for my nephew!  I still have several to finish painting, but I'll celebrate accomplishing one!  :)
 
 
The rest of the summer is chalking up to be pretty darn busy, but there are also plenty of exciting plans ahead.  I hope you're all having a fun and sunny season!
 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting June 2016

 
The COSCBWI June meeting in Columbus featured a group critique.  COSCBWI holds critique sessions for members a few times a year since they are such an important way for writers and illustrators to get feedback on their work.  Pieces are critiqued in a constructive and friendly environment, allowing members to share their work with confidence.
 
For this critique meeting, the format was switched up a bit.  Instead of one person at a time sharing their work with the entire group, members were divided into smaller clusters.  This allowed more time to be spent on each individual critique AND made it so that more members could share their work overall.  Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun with the new format, and it was great to become better acquainted with other local writers and illustrators in a more intimate setting. 
 
Some tips were brought up to help everyone including:
 
-Remember that your work needs to stand on its own.  When your manuscript or portfolio is in the hands of agents and editors, you won't be able to explain or justify yourself.  Critiques are a great way to discover what points may be confusing and how to strengthen your concept so that your work is crystal clear when you send it out into the world.
 
-Listening to critiques of other people's work is just as helpful as receiving feedback for your own manuscript or illustration.  You never know what you'll learn that can be applied to your own project, and it feels great to bond with fellow writers/illustrators who are in the same boat as you.
 
-Don't get discouraged!  No one gets it right the first time, and even the most famous writers and illustrators still deal with frustrating drafts and disheartening rejections.  Read, read, read; revise, revise, revise; then repeat.  It's a lot of hard work, but great things come to those who don't give up.
 
A big thank you to everyone who shared their work AND everyone who provided feedback for the group critique!  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!
 

Monday, May 30, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting May 2016


The COSCBWI meeting for May featured guest speaker Sally Oddi.  Sally is the owner of Cover to Cover, the only independent children's bookstore in Columbus.  With over 20,000 titles in stock, the store has been connecting children and books since 1980.  Sally is also very encouraging of local writers and loves to support the community with book launch parties and other author events.  She took some time from her busy schedule to talk to the COSCBWI members about the state of the market and what it's like to be an independent bookstore in a world full of "big box" stores.

Sally began her talk by happily exclaiming that physical books are NOT dead!  In fact, her experience has proven that they are alive and well, and kids and teens frequently tell her that they prefer reading a book with pages rather than anything on an e-reader device.  The ever-changing technological world keeps her on her toes, though, especially with competitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  As an independent store, Sally said that she enjoys working on a personal level with customers and promoting the books she feels strongly about.  Her biggest challenge comes with snagging author appearances.  She explained that this is a much more difficult process than it was in the past, especially as the big publishing houses merge and restructure their priorities.  Nowadays, publishers are more interested in how many books will sell at an event rather than getting exposure for an author.  It's a tough line to walk, but Sally said she tries her very best to bring great programming to her customers and community.


Sally also talked about many interesting trends she has noticed in the publishing market.  Some of these include:

-The resurgence of longer, more literary picture books in the market instead of only 300-500 word stories.

-The popularity of non-fiction books on unique topics, like The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller.  She noted that with so many titles published on Thomas Jefferson and other common subjects, it's a breath of fresh air to see these books on new, unusual topics.  And kids love them!

-The popularity of board books, especially for baby showers in lieu of cards.  On that same note, Sally said that she thinks there are some holes in this market and would love to see new early-concept books (like the seasons, feelings, etc.) instead of popular and classic stories just being condensed to a smaller format.

-The boom of middle grade series and lack of stand-alone titles.  She said that more and more, middle grade books seem to be stretched out unnecessarily just so they can be packaged in a trilogy or longer series.  (Sometimes at the expense of quantity over quality.)  Sally said that she adores strong, stand-alone books, though, and hopes the market will come back to publishing more of these in the near future.

-The growth of books that fit with Common Core Standards.  Sally explained that many teachers come into her store looking for new books for their curriculum, so if your book happens to align with Common Core Standards, it can only benefit you.

-The continued increase of self-published titles.  Sally noted that if you're planning to self-publish your book, be sure to do your research on distributors and wholesalers.  (She recommended becoming familiar with Ingram and Baker & Taylor distributors.)  Doing so will give you access to more stores and ultimately a bigger market of potential customers.  She said that you can't hope to sell your book if stores can't buy it for their shelves.

Sally finished the chat by reminding the COSCBWI members to keep reading and pursuing publication.  There's a child somewhere in the world who needs the book you are writing.

A big thank you to Sally for sharing her knowledge!  You can find out more information about Cover to Cover at www.covertocoverchildrensbooks.com.  (It's a wonderful store--I highly recommend stopping by!)

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 to Cover image is from www.covertocoverchildrensbooks.com.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spring 2016 Update

Spring is a whirlwind season for me!  I feel like my blog is always extra-quiet this time each year, but that's just because I'm always extra-busy.  This year was no exception, and now that busy spring is winding down to wonderful, slow-paced summer, I figured I ought to let you all know what I've been up to!
 
The biggest--and craziest--thing about spring for me is my day job at the Ohioana Library.  While most of the year the library is quiet and calm, each spring 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.  This year was the milestone 10th anniversary festival, and it was definitely the best one yet!   
 
The 2016 festival poster designed by illustrator David Catrow.
 
After the festival, I jumped into preparing for my very first workshop presentation called "Photoshop 101" for my local SCBWI group.  We went over the basics of Photoshop, as well as some of my favorite digital art tips and tricks.  Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I made my first digital illustration almost five years ago.  (That seems like FOREVER ago, and boy was it a struggle!)  Although I'm still learning more about digital art everyday, I've come a long way since 2011 and really enjoyed sharing what I know.  I was pretty nervous to get up and teach a whole group, but all the familiar faces in the room made me feel right at home.  (And I don't think I said anything too stupid!)  
 
A screenshot I used to show what my Photoshop files look like.  Lots of layers!
 
The festival and workshop have been the meatiest things on my plate, leaving little time for my personal art and writing.  (My bum shoulder has also flared up from time to time, but hopefully that problem is being nipped in the bud.)  It's been a bit difficult, but I've tried my best to stay creative and dabble in some projects here and there.  One of my dear writing buddies asked me to do some illustrations for her "whimsical life" book proposal (it's such a fun concept!), so I created a few pieces to accompany her manuscript.
 
Accompaniment for "The Dawn of Whimsy" chapter.
 
Personification of the voice in your head that says you stink at picking colors.
 
I'm also still working on the special project for my nephew's Disney-themed room (which has proven itself to be a bit more elaborate than I originally anticipated.)  But I am making progress on the series, so I'll share the work-in-process piece my sister has already seen.
 
"It's a small, small world!"
 
One of my other close writing buddies decided to challenge herself to a "NaNoWriMo"-style goal for May.  (For those not in the know, the official "NaNoWriMo" is a project where you write a whole novel during the month of November.  How anyone can accomplish such a task in the midst of the holidays is always beyond me!)  She asked if I wanted to join, and while I don't have a new novel I want to draft, I'm participating in my own way by creating a quick sketch at lunch everyday.  (It feels good to get that pencil moving!)  I'm also working on editing Pirate Ferret, which has been collecting dust during the past few months.  In addition to the sketches, my goal is to revise at least two chapters by the end of May.  These may seem like itty-bitty tasks, but baby steps are still better than no steps!  And what is our reward if we accomplish our goals?  Food, of course!  We're both getting oh-so close to a victory Chinese buffet.  :) 

A teeny tiny mouse sketch.

Last but not least, I've been dragging my tushie to the gym to get in shape for my upcoming trip to Disney World!  While I don't love all the time that exercising gobbles up, I do like the benefits of walking without limping.  Plus, it gives me a good opportunity to watch Disney movies on the treadmill!  (The Fox and the Hound II is a surprisingly decent movie.  ;) )  

Gotta get in shape so I can eat all that delicious Disney food!
 
And that's what's been keeping me busy!  Now that it's almost summer, I hope to spend more time on my writing and illustrating, and relax a bit.  I hope everyone has had a great spring and is looking forward to lazy days ahead!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting April 2016


The COSCBWI meeting for April featured middle grade author Jennifer Maschari.  Jen's debut novel, The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, just released in February 2016.  We were excited to have her speak to the group about her writing journey and hear her advice for aspiring authors.

Although The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price is Jen's first published book, she explained that it wasn't the first book she wrote.  Jen loved both reading and writing from an early age, and had encouragement from her teachers that she would become a writer someday.  Jen first chose a career in teaching, but decided in 2010 that she wanted to give writing a serious try.  She enrolled in an online writing class, which helped her stay focused with deadlines and assignments.  The class also introduced her to fellow writers who would go on to become her writing buddies and support group. 

While she loved the book that she wrote during the class and queried it to many agents, it didn't snag her a book deal.  She sorted through the encouragement and discouragement, and ultimately wrote a new book.  Happily, the second book was The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, which won the attention of an agent and sold to a publisher more quickly than she expected.  Jen said it was a serendipitous situation, and that she feels her second manuscript was successful because she both worked hard and was very lucky in how everything lined up.  She has two more forthcoming books to be released in 2017 and 2018, and is so pleased that she gets to share her stories with middle grade readers everywhere.

Jen knows how hard the journey to publication can be and had a lot of great advice for the COSCBWI members.  She encouraged everyone to write for the age group they love.  For her, she feels that the middle grade years are such a powerful, memorable, and tender time in a young person's life.  She also encouraged each COSCBWI member to not shy away from the story inside them--even if it isn't the easiest story to tell.  Jen writes about serious topics, but aims to create a safe space between the pages for kids to experience big emotions.  Your story may be just what a child needs to help them deal with their own difficult situation.  Lastly, Jen encouraged everyone to never, ever give up.  While it may be a long and winding journey, you just have to believe that whatever you're working on will one day be great.  

A big thank you to Jen for sharing her road-to-publication story with our group!  You can find out more about Jen and her writing at jenmaschari.com.

And 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/.      

Monday, March 28, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting March 2016



The COSCBWI meeting for March featured children's writer Carmella Van Vleet. Carmella is the author of many books including Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter; To the Stars!  The First American Woman to Walk in Space; and Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself.  With nonfiction, middle grade fiction, and picture book titles under her belt, Carmella offered our members a unique look at publishing in multiple genres.

Although writing in multiple genres can be tricky at times, Carmella loves the challenge and excitement it brings.  She began her publishing career with articles and moved into writing teachers' guides.  Her publisher unexpectedly turned to publishing nonfiction books, but instead of going elsewhere, Carmella decided she wanted to give that genre of writing a try.  She stayed with them and published several nonfiction books, establishing her role as an author.  But after a while, she decided that she was interested in trying fiction, too, so she braved the world of middle grade novel-writing, ultimately finding an agent and publishing Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter.  Her first picture book followed shortly thereafter--a special project she'd work on for years with astronaut Cathy Sullivan.  Carmella laughed as she explained that her next book will return her to nonfiction, and that she's working on more middle grade and picture books, too!


Writing and publishing in multiple genres can be quite a balancing act, so she warned that writers may want to think twice before diving in.  But for those brave souls eager to cross genres, Carmella had several tips on how to find happiness and success including:


Finding the Right Agent
Carmella explained that some agents aren't interested in representing writers who want to publish in multiple genres.  It's important to find one who represents everything you want to write, or is willing to learn how to rep the genres they are unfamiliar with.  Another option is to have different agents for different types of writing, so you may end up with one agent who represents your picture books, and another who represents your YA novels.  This is perfectly acceptable--as long as both agents are agreeable to the situation--but can be tricky for the writer.  Carmella cautioned multiple genre-writers to do their research and choose their agent (or agents) with care.

Marketing and Website
If you write in multiple genres, another challenge you will face is tackling marketing and promotion.  It can be hard to brand your writing when your books span diverse genres and age groups.  While some writers choose to have different websites and social media platforms for their separate genres, this can be expensive and time-consuming.  Instead of focusing on your book titles and genres, you can also brand yourself.  This is what Carmella does on her website.  She keeps the tone and images fun for multiple audiences and keeps her website well-organized so people can easily find what they're looking for.

Navigating the Creative Flow
Lastly, Carmella discussed how writing in multiple genres can affect creativity.  On the negative side, this type of writing can cause you to have so many ideas at once that you don't know what to focus on.  It can be tough deciding which projects to pursue--both for your personal enjoyment and to further your publishing career.  It can also make you grow tired of working on Book X's deadlines when you'd rather be working on Book Y.  But on the plus side, writing in multiple genres can be a boon to your creativity!  It keeps you from getting bored or stuck in a creative rut.  More markets also equals more opportunity, so if a certain genre you write isn't selling well at the moment, you can switch to a different one you know and love.  It can be a lot for one brain to handle, but the possibilities--and opportunities--are endless!

A big thank-you to Carmella for sharing her knowledge and experience with COSCBWI!  You can find out more about Carmella and her awesome, wide-variety of books at www.carmellavanvleet.com.

And 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 images are from Carmella's website at www.carmellavanvleet.com.