Monday, October 3, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting September 2016

The September SCBWI meeting in Columbus featured Michaela Schuett.  Michaela has illustrated and author-illustrated several books, including Let's Count Fish!, The Prince and the White Tiger, and the forthcoming I am a Unicorn!  (The Columbus SCBWI members actually got to hear a draft of I am a Unicorn! at a group critique meeting, and everyone was thrilled to learn that it will be printed in 2017!)  Michaela shared her publication journey with us, as well as tips on how to find work in the competitive field of children's publishing.
Michaela started her career in graphic design.  She spent several years in the newspaper and magazine industry before taking the leap into freelance work in 2013.  Her first steps as a freelancer included joining many social media networks and mailing out promotional materials.  In 2014, a doodle she posted on Twitter piqued the interest of an author, which led to her first job illustrating a picture book with Omnibus Publishing.  While working on projects for Omnibus, she was contacted by people who saw her work on Instagram and the national SCBWI website, earning her even more illustration jobs.  During that time, Michaela also submitted her work the traditional way, mailing postcards and submitting her manuscripts to publishers.  As a result, she got an illustration published in Highlights magazine and scored a book contract for I am a Unicorn!  
Michaela credits her success to perseverance and sharing her art in as many ways as possible.  If she had only submitted her work one way (such as traditional postcards), she would have missed out on the opportunities she gained through social media networks--and vice versa.  But by taking advantage of the many avenues available to modern illustrators, she was able to connect with a wider audience.  Michaela also highly recommends taking the time to put together professional-looking promotional materials and a strong website.  You want to make sure you present yourself in the best way possible.  Lastly, she encouraged aspiring artists to be brave and consider every opportunity that knocks on your door--you may be hesitant to answer, but you never know where that opportunity may lead. 

A big thanks to Michaela for sharing her journey and publication tips!  You can find out more about Michaela and her books (as well as her graphic design work) at

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Cover image is from

Saturday, August 27, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting August 2016

This month's COSCBWI meeting in Columbus featured illustrator Joe Sutphin.  Joe creates illustrations for middle grade novels, including the Doctor Critchlore's School for Minions series and the forthcoming Word of Mouse.  He shared his publication story and gave the group a behind-the-scenes look at how internal art is created for children's novels.

Joe's path to publication was long and winding.  When he realized he wanted to illustrate children's novels, he read widely to study different art styles.  The Spiderwick Chronicles especially appealed to him, so he contacted the illustrator of the series, Tony DiTerlizzi.  As Joe practiced his craft, Tony became a friend and mentor.  He encouraged Joe to submit his work to publishing houses, and in 2012 Joe was contacted by Simon and Schuster to illustrate a piece in a John Carter of Mars anthology.  Joe attended the book release in New York and took the opportunity to meet with art directors at various houses.  Although the trip didn't result in immediate work, it allowed him to make professional connections.  He stayed in touch with these art directors over the years, and eventually Abrams came to him with the Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions project. 

As Joe got more books under his belt, more opportunities came his way and he signed with an agent, too.  He took the leap and decided to become a full-time illustrator.  His big surprise came when he learned that two artists recommended him for a book they each couldn't take on.  The publisher was Jimmy Patterson Books, and Tony DiTerlizzi was one of the artists who had recommended him for the job.  The book, Word of Mouse launches in late 2016.  Joe feels lucky to get to do what he loves and can't wait to keep illustrating books!

Joe shared some interesting facts about the illustration process for middle grade and chapter books.  His contracts state how many illustrations he is required to create per book, but he usually gets to suggest where he thinks the pictures should go throughout the text.  The art and editorial teams either approve or give alternative suggestions, and he creates the art from there.  He almost always illustrates the cover first since publishing houses need it for catalogs and promotions.  The art creation is a surprisingly collaborative process, too, and he often speaks with the editors (and even the authors) so he can be sure to draw the details as accurately as possible.

After giving the group a peek at the illustration process, Joe shared a few words of wisdom including:

-Make all the contacts you can.  You never know where  a relationship will lead!

-Be tactful and kind when reaching out to professionals.  Be the type of person you would want to work with.

-Don't shy away from opportunities, even if they seem small.  Projects you accept early in your career will give you practice for bigger opportunities down the line.

A big thank you to Joe for sharing his story!  You can find out more about Joe and his art at

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Cover image is from

Monday, August 1, 2016

COSCBWI Meeting July 2016

The COSCBWI 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 /

And if you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at  I hope to see you at the next meeting! 

Note: Cover image compilation is from

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:
Epic EPCOT desserts!

We almost got everyone to look at the camera.


Mmmmm....waffle sandwich....

Holding hands is required.


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  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  (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  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Cover to Cover image is from

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!