Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Enjoy the Season!

We're taking a break to enjoy the snow, hot cocoa, winter sky, sledding...
      see you in the new year.

collage art ~ Sue Heavenrich

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Dip into Art, Find a New Writerly You by Leslie Colin Tribble and Kathy Halsey

Any amount of creativity takes incubation.
Kathy:  This past fall was hard on me mentally and by October, I felt creatively dry. I had not read Julie Cameron's The Artist's Way but I have done Morning Pages and knew to take myself on "creativity dates" to art museums, the woods, or whatever to just feed my soul and heart. I changed up my creative routine and challenged myself to try pen and ink sketching with Inktober a week into the challenge. Although I didn't get 31 drawings done, one a day with a prompt, I did enjoy the pursuit of another medium. Here's what I learned dipping into a new art form.
One of my pen & ink sketches w/acrylic. Inspired by a photo and the prompt "angular."

  • It freed me from being too critical of myself, since I didn't consider myself an artist. 
  • I met other artists and saw how many different ways there are to render art with pen & ink.
  • I sketched on planes, in pubs, and found that people were interested in what I was doing. 
  • By the month's end, I realized that as I wrote, I was beginning to think in pictures and what I would sketch on a page. 
  • I gained courage from trying an art form that was new and realized that all artistic expression has rough patches, trial and error, fun, and breakthroughs.  
Sometimes you have to be patient and wait until the time is right.
I knew some of my kid lit friends had other talents and asked them to comment on what they enjoyed in addition to writing and how each art helps feed the other. Twenty-three writers responded to my question over at KidLIt411. I'll share just a few responses.

  • To me, creative writing is just one form of artistic generativity. Almost any form of self-expression is useful for generating writing ideas and for getting into creation-mode.
    Different ways of creating often feed into one another. A necklace I've woven may lead to an idea for a different way to decorate a cookie, which in turn may result in an unexpected idea for a children's book. - Michele Blood
  • I enjoy handicrafts like sewing, knitting and needle-felting along with costuming. I also garden. For me, it's about letting my brain have some time to fallow, but my hands need to be busy somehow.  - Kimberly Christensen
  •  I love gardening, and mowing the lawn. How is lawn mowing creative? I mow nonsensical patterns, or only see from above patterns some times. It's great non-interupted creative time too, much writing is figured out in the fresh air! I also do t'ai chi and qigong which help my writing a great deal. - Charlene Brandt Avery
  • Cooking, gardening, and oddly, doing puzzles. I realize that it's not creative in the sense that the pieces are already there. But it both focuses and relaxes my mind. It's very meditative and I often come up with ways to approach a manuscript I'm working on while I'm doing them. - Julie Foster Hedlund
  • Finally, GROGger friend, Leslie Colin Tribble, is an author/photographer and treats Facebook followers to amazing photos. I asked her to tag team with me on this post. Her photography makes me conjure up stories. (They are throughout this post.)  
Leslie: I use photography to help me sharpen my creativity. Often when I'm out hiking I see things in nature which prompt story ideas so I snap photos to help me remember. Or I take photos of things I want to research later - what might that animal track be; what woodpecker makes those types of holes; do kangaroo mice hibernate? I could write these ideas down in a notebook, but slipping my cell phone out of my pocket and snapping off one or even ten photos of something is so much easier. Thank goodness for digital!

Creativity is a reflective endeavor.
I'm not on Facebook much anymore, but I have a presence on Instagram (sagebrush_lessons) and I love it. I follow people, places and hashtags that inspire me to create, whether it's photography or writing. I really enjoy posting my own photos and love showing people a slice of my outdoor life. I seldom post anything personal, but I do post things that I find interesting in the natural world. Instagram boosts my creativity and keeps me looking for unique and fun subjects for posts. 

I also think it's good to take a break from your regular writing. I didn't do much of any writing this past year, and when I finally picked up a pen, I wrote personal journal entries exploring emotions and thoughts, something I definitely am not comfortable with. And I've been trying to write a nature-related tidbit per day, just to jump start the words. Writing is practice and when I don't practice I feel the words and ideas stop flowing. 

Sometimes you have to just stop and absorb all that good energy.
Another practice which has come into my life is that of sketching. I've always wanted to keep that tried-and-true naturalist's notebook filled with beautiful sketches of plants and animals. But I really can't sketch for anything. The point is though, that sketching helps me notice both intimate detail and overall impressions. It helps me better understand what I'm looking at and inspires me to increase my knowledge. It's a creativity booster, even though I am absolutely no good at it. I figure I may never create a journal on the lines of Claire Walker Leslie, but my sketching certainly can't get any worse than it already is. And who knows? In several years (decades?!) I just might be slightly better at sketching than I am now! 

What are some ways which you can try to ratchet up your creativity by exploring other art forms? How about taking a watercolor class or learn sculpting? Maybe you could join a Toast Master's group, learn glass blowing, or learn to knit? I find I do a lot of mental writing when I'm just knitting down a long row of the same stitch (plus I'm not a very gifted knitter - plain and simple for me!) Find something you aren't very good at, especially if it requires you to use a different side of your brain.   
Other times you have to head out and pursue it.
Kathy:  As author Sarah Aronson reminded me in her recent newsletter, "In our creative lives, when we take risks, we don't always succeed either. But you'll never know what can happen in your story unless you try. Unless you let go of playing it safe. Unless you risk losing." Here's to new forms of creativity in 2019. What might you do with this one fabulous life? 

Its always worth the effort and you can congratulate yourself on a job well done.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Writing a Holiday Picture Book ~ by Patricia Toht

This time of year, bookstores are filled with holiday books, with picture books making particularly festive displays. 
A holiday display at Dragonwings Bookstore
in Waupaca, WI
Perhaps that sets you wondering about writing one of your very own. I've written two holiday books, PICK A PINE TREE and PICK A PUMPKIN, and I've learned a few things along the way. 

Let's begin by looking at the pros and cons of holiday books:


• Many holiday books have a ready consumer market every year, with shoppers willing to open their wallets to buy. In 2017, Money magazine asked the National Retail Federation to rank which US holidays have the most consumer spending

National Retail Federation, 2013
The Winter Holidays are #1 by a long shot. The next biggest are Mother's Day, Easter, Valentine's Day, Father's Day, and Halloween (in that order). Each of these holidays offers an opportunity for books.

*The second largest "holiday" spending is Back to School. Another topic to consider!

• The school and library markets also buy holiday books, and are often interested in a greater variety of topics. While bookstores might not carry a wide stock of books on minor holidays, such as President's Day or Groundhogs' Day, schools and libraries order these books to support student learning.

• Often readers build their own personal libraries of holiday favorites, adding to their collections every year. Repeat business!


• The window for selling holiday books is narrow. You only get one shot each year for sales - the rest of the year, sales are pretty non-existent.

• The holiday book market is crowded. It can be difficult to come up with a unique offering that will stand out.

• Holidays are hardly universal. Some are celebrated widely in the world, while others are unique to certain countries or regions. Publishers may not want to take on a book with too narrow an appeal. 

• Publishers interested in selling co-editions (versions of the book published in other countries) will also not be interested in holiday books with a limited audience.

So, still interested? How do you get started? 

1) Visit the library and the bookstore. What holidays are celebrated in books? Read, read, read!

2) Christmas and Halloween are widely covered in the US. If you choose either, can you come up with a unique character, setting, conflict, or other element?

3) Diversity offers opportunity. Is a holiday that you celebrate under-represented?

4) Look at book formats. Has a particular format not been done? Concept book? Wordless? Nonfiction? Historical fiction? Poetry?

5) Apply your craft. Elements that make a terrific traditional picture book are the same ones that make a great holiday book. My favorite craft book is Ann Whitford Paul's WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.

Below is just a small sampling of my favorite Christmas books. What are yours, readers?

Unique setting

Economy of words, and so funny!
Cute character and sweet ending
A classic, in rhymed text
My favorite historical fiction
Christmas book

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays! 

Best wishes for the New Year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Building an Artist's Collective

by Sue Heavenrich

Annie Z ~Night (self portrait)
Annie Zygarowicz and Johanna van Der Sterre were successful illustrators when life - and the economy - pushed them off course. Annie delved into graphic design, developing brochures, websites, and providing a range of publicity services. Johanna managed to carve out some time for painting and began sharing her love of art through a series of art workshops at the local library.

Last summer, both decided they were ready to dive back into children's book illustration. While chatting one day, they wondered whether they could collaborate on marketing - maybe share a website or do some local art shows.

Johanna ~ Day
"But our artwork is so different," said Johanna. She paints animals and scenery with a bright, lively watercolor palette and then digitally refines them. Annie focuses mainly on digital character design and scenes using dark, muted colors.  Johanna's art embraces picture books; Annie's tends towards the middle grade readers. Their work is as different, and as complementary, as night and day - a description that captures the mood of their work as well. Annie's paintings are dark and mysterious while Johanna's tend toward the sunny.

So, in July, they established the Night and Day art collective. Since then, they've added two new members: Marie Sanderson and Jennifer Gibson, whom Annie and Johanna had met in 2016 as part of an art gallery tour. Marie’s serene farm scenes and animals are painted with loose pastel watercolors, with the gentle feeling of "dawn". Jennifer paints plein aire landscapes with gouche and watercolor, garnering her the nickname "dusk".
Jennifer ~ Dusk

Between them, they've illustrated traditionally published and indie-published picture books and are busy working on new projects. As a collective, their goal is to support each other and promote each other's art. Some artist collectives form to share work space and materials. At this point, the Night and Day collective is more oriented to support.  They plan to get together on a monthly basis, like a critique group.

"We want to fit our skills together to collaborate on projects and also explore ways that illustrators can help each other," Johanna said.  To that end, she and Marie are working on holiday cards for a local show.
Marie ~ Dawn

The Night and Day Art Collective website, is currently under construction and should be ready to unveil next month. And you can find out more about each illustrator, and check out their online art galleries, at their individual websites:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pointers from two Publicity & Marketing Experts! (Plus a Handy Publicists' Contact Sheet Provided)

Barbara Fisch (left) and Sarah Shealy (right)
Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy from BLUE SLIP MEDIA answer questions about promotions that every author should know . . .

by Eileen R. Meyer

2019 is just around the corner. If you’re like me – you may have some thoughts for new resolutions on your list. Items like “stepping up your author presence” and “enhancing your promotional efforts” are always on my list for improvement.

Many of us are at different points in our publishing journey. Some may be pre-published and looking at how to stimulate interest in a debut title. For others, you may have launched a few books into the world and you’ve learned a bit of what works and doesn’t work. Now you’re ready to fine-tune your efforts for your latest book. Based on these very different starting points, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Rather, we each need to assess where we are, what our unique goals are, and then determine which marketing and PR activities will help us achieve desired results. And this month, we’ve got some experts to help provide guidance!

Welcome to another TAKE FIVE interview. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to get to know Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy as they share their expertise in marketing and promotions. Before we dive in, let’s learn a bit more about Barbara, Sarah, and their firm

Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy worked together at Harcourt Children’s Books for 20 years, most recently as Associate Directors of Publicity. They established Blue Slip Media in 2009.

Five Questions for our experts:

Eileen: 1. Can you tell us more about why an author should work with a publicist –or is that only for the big name authors?

BARBARA: We work with authors at all stages of their careers—from debut authors to those who are more established. Everyone has different needs. For newer authors, publicists can help with an extra push to certain areas, such as introducing their work to teacher and librarian blogs. Their publishers usually send books to a good list of blogs along with a box of other titles—so a freelance publicist can help with targeted pitches so bloggers will want to pull the book out of the stack.

SARAH: Authors are specialists at writing books, and publicists are specialists at working with the media and in crafting marketing and publicity campaigns. They are vastly different enterprises! So if an author feels he/she could use a little help with outreach, it’s worth at least chatting with a publicist to see if there are areas where she/he could help. It’s also hard for authors and illustrators to sing their own praises when approaching media. It’s much easier for a publicist to say, “This author is fantastic!” than it is for people to gush about themselves.

Eileen: 2. What are the most common mistakes new authors make regarding book promotions? 

BARBARA: There are two kinds of approaches new authors have. One is to be complacent and assume that everything is being take care of by their publisher. The unfortunate truth is that publishers cannot possibly do everything for every book—as much as they might like to. It’s just a reality that house publicists and marketing departments have too many priorities and too little time. So unless there’s an extraordinary amount of marketing attention being paid to the bookwhich does happen on a rare occasion!—authors can mistakenly believe that things will just work out.

Another approach is when authors try to do everything all at once just before pub—and then they are disappointed when they don’t have huge crowds at their bookstore launch, or front-page interviews in their local paper. Things take time to build, and it’s important to cultivate authentic relationships with booksellers, local teachers, and local librarians long before their book publishes.

SARAH: I think it’s also important to manage expectations when you’re a new author. It took a lot of years for Kate DiCamillo to get where she is! An appearance on The Today Show or having your book hit the bestseller list is rare for a debut. If you approach your marketing and publicity with the attitude that every media hit you get is an awesome step in the right direction, you’ll be pleased with your results and not frustrated by them.

 Eileen: 3. The world of Social Media can be overwhelming to an author who is already stretched thin writing and revising multiple book projects. From creating and updating a website, to maintain a presence on various forms of social media (FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more …)  what advice do you have for authors seeking to manage this untamed beast so that it doesn’t take over their writing time?

Social media can be confusing and even scary for new authors. It might feel like you have to jump in and do everything all at once. Authors know they’re supposed to do something, but it’s hard to know exactly where to start. Here are a few tips to stay sane.

Pick one area of social media that feels comfortable and stick with it. There’s no 100% perfect platform, and each one has its advantages (more on that below). But it’s far worse to just dabble in several areas. If you like Facebook, and feel like you can add some interesting content (beyond just promoting your book), then post on a consistent basis. The general rule of thumb is 1 promotional post (about yourself/your book) to 4 general posts. If you’re great at taking photos, or if you’re an illustrator, consider Instagram. Twitter is where a lot of the children’s lit conversation is happening. Pinterest is used by a lot of teachers and libraries.

The key for all of social media is engagement. You want people to respond to and share your posts. Facebook has made it a little more difficult for folks with author pages to have their posts show up in their fans’ newsfeeds. That’s because Facebook changed their algorithms so that interactions between friends are favored. They call it “people over Pages,” and the only way to get past that algorithm is to post content that your readers will want to share and respond to.

Another tip for social media is to pay attention to hashtags and how they can help your posts get seen by others. On Twitter and Instagram that is especially important—look for discussions around hashtags such as #tlchat (teacher-libarian chat),  #picturebook or #kidlit.

The key thing to remember with social media is that it’s SOCIAL. Just as you wouldn’t go to a dinner party and only talk about yourself, you want to listen as much as you are talking. Social media is a great way to gain grassroots support and friends by connecting with folks over shared interests. And to cultivate that relationship, you contribute in a positive way, and always act graciously and generously.

Eileen 4. There is such a wide array of marketing and promotional activities that an author can select for his /her book launch. From creating a book trailer, to virtual and live launch parties, and bookstore visits, to marketing campaigns targeting a particular segment of the market …. There are so many choices for how to use your limited time. How do you know which activities will yield the greatest dividends for your book and your marketplace? What factors should an author consider?

BARBARA: I think authors need to consider what the primary market is for their book. If it’s a bedtime book for very young readers, it will resonate more with parents and caregivers for young children—so authors may want to focus more on marketing to this demographic rather than teachers and librarians. If it’s a book with classroom applications, then authors might want to have some downloadables created that teachers and librarians can use.

Of course, many books cross over into both markets, and if you have the time, energy, and resources, it’s good to explore many options. But for those who are limited and want to know what the best use of their budget, we suggest starting with the primary market.

SARAH: It’s also important to think about which efforts are going to help you increase your profile and your platform. What efforts will get your name and book jacket in front of that primary market in ways that will also help build your career? If you’re writing primarily for the education market, getting reviewed by blogs and media for and by teachers and librarians gives a nice push to that market, plus you can add those review quotes to your website. If you’ve written that bedtime book Barb mentioned, can you do a pajama story hour at your local bookstore and use images from that in your social media and to post on your website? Use those publicity and marketing hits to continue to build your platform as an author.

Eileen 5. When should an author begin to work with a publicist—must it always be early in the process (6 months before publication) or will you work with an author after the initial publishing house marketing support trails off? And please share more with our readers about how they may contact you to discuss achieving some of their marketing and PR goals.

BARBARA: It’s really best to start well before pub date when you can, just because it gives a publicist the opportunity to better strategize outreach efforts. Some media outlets need 4-6 months at least, and conference and festival organizers need even longer. It’s very difficult to pick up a book after publication, though we have done so on occasion—especially if there’s a tie-in like Black History Month or Women’s History Month.

SARAH: Freelance publicists are busy, so the earlier you can get on someone’s calendar, the better. And Barb’s right about picking up on something after it’s been out for a while. Without some kind of holiday hook, it’s very hard to get publicity for an older title because you’re competing with all the new books that are just coming out. But if you’re just looking for some marketing support—like help creating a curriculum guide to post on your website, or making a promotional piece to hand out at school visits or conferences—those kinds of projects aren’t time sensitive and can be done for a backlist title.

If you’re interested in talking with an outside publicist about your book, we recommend you chat with several to find the best fit for you and your project. You need to “click” with your publicist and be comfortable with his/her approach and communication style. You should look for someone who specializes in or has good experience with children’s books specifically as the market and publicity landscape is very different for books written for adults. Ask your author friends for recommendations and look through the publicists on this list for firms to contact. Best of luck to you!!

Thank YOU, Barbara and Sarah for sharing your expertise with our readers.

You can learn more about Barbara and Sarah’s firm here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving Wishes ~By Suzy Leopold

Thanksgiving is a special time of the year to express gratitude as family and friends gather together to celebrate.

Why do many give thanks only once a year on the third Thursday of November? There is power in giving thanks every day. Research indicates the importance of giving thanks makes one happier, healthier, and more productive.

My list of gratitude is long. It includes: 

  1. My husband Perry, who believes in me
  2. A loving family that includes seven grands
  3. Our son who is serving in the United States Air Force
  4. Good health and happiness
  5. The freedom to make choices
  6. A garden on the Illinois Prairie that produces fresh, organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers.
  7. Opportunities to share my love of reading and literacy with young adults at Lincoln Land Community College and my [after school elementary level] reading buddies
  8. Story time at Afterwords Book Store and much more.
Airman Nathan
I'm also thankful to read, write, and create every day.

Homemade pumpkin pie
May I serve you?

Do hope you can spend some time reading and writing this Thanksgiving weekend. Grab some leftovers, a piece of paper and pen or your computer.

Perhaps you will:

  1. Create a gratitude list
  2. Write about your Thanksgiving traditions
  3. Interview family members at your Thanksgiving table.
  4. Set new writing goals

And as you write, think about how thankful you are to express yourself. 

"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity; it must be produced and discharged, and used up in order to exist at all."

~William Faulkner
Autumn creation
Celebrate the meaning of Thanksgiving throughout the year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Look at an Indie Bookstore - What Writers Can Learn by Kathy Halsey and Patricia Toht

Take a peek with me and GROGger Patty Toht into indie bookstore life. Patty is a former bookstore owner, children's author, and now a librarian. I began my career as a teacher, transitioned to being a school librarian, and now work part-time at an indie bookstore. Welcome to indie life, a whole different world than big box stores and Amazon.
Bookstore owner Melia Wolf of Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers & me

Never Never Land, Patty's children’s bookstore in the suburbs of Chicago

Open the door to Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers on any given day. and books lovers will find the owner and staff busy with a myriad of tasks. In one week, the store hosted middle grade author Alan Gratz, David Shannon, book talked middle grade fiction to a small group of parents, former teachers, and grandparents and that was just three days of a typical week. 

As Patty explains, there are so many tasks that the independent owner takes on that are sourced out to others in national operations. A funny misconception Paty had was that, as a bookseller, she would have loads of time to read books! As the owner/operator, her days were packed with a huge variety of tasks, from ordering and stocking to helping customers to scheduling employees and paying bills. All of her reading was done at night.

 Indie Bookstore 411
Your local indie may not have the inventory of a big box store, the money to hire publicists, accountants, or a huge sales force. However, you local independent bookstore will have these unique qualities that can't be duplicated elsewhere.
  • Booksellers who are book aficionados and genre experts who can find you just the right book. For example, my indie, Cover to Cover in Upper Arlington Ohio has booksellers who are former teachers, librarians, and gamers. We know the newest picture books, YA authors personally, science fiction and fantasy for all ages.
  • Indies develop a relationship with you, know your tastes, offer discounts for frequent customers, and treat you like a friend. Relationships with customers matters to them.
  • Programs that support that local community and the schools such as local/national author visits, book clubs, a third space with is safe, writer workshops, and professional development for preservice teachers. This Thursday, Cover to Cover will host best-selling YA author Edith Pattou at theUpper Arlington Main library from 6-8 PM. 
 How Books Are Bought
At Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio, book sellers are always updating their orders on what books to buy. Staff members can recommend books, discuss them with the owner, and a decision is made. Staff knows that if we recommend a book, we need to be able to hand sell it. Here's another audience, children's workers may think about as they write. 
Patty shares other ways that bookstores acquire titles. (Cover to Cover also uses these three primary ways to get stock.)

• "Sometimes I met directly with a publisher’s representative.  We would flip through the catalogue and discuss the titles. Often the rep had F&Gs of picture books and ARCs of novels so I could actually see what the interiors looked like and read jacket copy. We would also discuss any marketing plans for the books, as well as book displays and special deals.
• If the publisher didn’t have a rep to call on my tiny bookstore, I thumbed through catalogues and read the descriptions of the titles. I usually began by ordering books from tried-and-true authors or illustrators and then moved onto books that seemed to be a good fit for our clientele.
• I also worked with two distributors, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. These companies  carried books from most publishers (kind of like an Amazon for booksellers). These companies were great for smaller restocks of top sellers and for filling special orders. But their discount wasn’t as good as ordering directly from publishers."
Check out all this fabulous children's nonfiction at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!
The  Best Way to  Promote Your Books
Before I began working at Cover to Cover, I frequented the store, driving across town to support my independent bookseller. I bought books, attended author signings, and introduced myself to owner Melia as an avid reader and writer. Its important to connect authentically and early in your writing career to really establish a good working relationship. (I'm pre-published, but I'm a big fan of Cover to Cover.)
Author Patty offers this advice for authors.

• "Stop by! Ask if the bookstore carries your book. If they don’t, show them a copy so they can read it. Let bookstore owners get to know you, love you, and love your work.
• Refer your local friends to your indie. Remind them that, at an indie, you get to hold and read actual books rather than ordering by a description. Indie sellers know what books their customers love and are very adept at putting the right book into the right hands.
• Sign stock! Customers like giving signed books as gifts.
• Have a launch party or other event! It’s fun to have special occasions to celebrate with customers." 

 I'll be recommending Patty's rhyming picture book, Pick a Pine, for this holiday season!
The holiday season is upon us. Let's support authors and independent bookstores and give some extra holiday cheer to those in our industry this year. Curl up at an indie bookstore soon!

Cover to Cover has this wonderful space for reading and lounging.