Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Writing Nonfiction for CRP: Lisa Amstutz Dishes the Inside Scoop ~ Christy Mihaly

Author Lisa Amstutz is an accomplished nonfiction writer who has written several picture books and more than 150 educational books. She recently put her science background to work to write Amazing Amphibians: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, and More, published this January with Chicago Review Press (CRP). It's full of kid-friendly facts and activities, along with amazing photos and educator resources.

Many GROG readers are familiar with the traditional picture book process: Submit manuscript, wait, weather a storm of rejections, and if you're lucky and persistent, eventually find an editor who loves your story, then wait for an illustrator, and perhaps celebrate publication a few years later.

With longer nonfiction, the process usually begins with a proposal. Publishers vary, but I was interested in Lisa's experience with CRP, so I asked Lisa some questions. Okay, perhaps it's fair to say that I peppered her with questions. Which she graciously answered.

Lisa on a visit to Vermont: Looking for frogs?
Christy Mihaly: At 128 pages and 30,000 words, Amazing Amphibians is longer than many of your previous works, and it's your first with Chicago Review Press (CRP).
What do you want readers to know about this book?

Lisa Amstutz: First of all, amphibians really are amazing! Amazing Amphibians gives an overview of amphibian biology, behavior, and conservation. There are tons of color photos in the book, and each chapter has three hands-on activities related that will be useful for parents and educators.

CM: Amphibians may not be everyone's favorite creatures on Earth, but your enthusiasm for them shines through. How did you get the idea to write this book?

LA: I had seen some of the other books in the CRP "Young Naturalists" series. They seemed like they would be fun to work on and right up my alley as a science writer. After studying CRP’s catalog, I brainstormed ideas for topics that they hadn’t yet covered.

CM: I've heard other authors recommend looking for a gap in a series or pitching to fill a hole in a publisher's catalog. It's great to hear you say that it worked for you.
Why and how did you pitch amphibians to CRP? Was there any back and forth with the publisher to finalize the book outline and treatment?

LA: I actually pitched several ideas to CRP, and the editor at the time was most interested in seeing a proposal for this one. I then wrote up a full proposal and sample chapter and she took it to acquisitions. The final book more or less followed that original outline, but of course went through several rounds of editing before publication.

CM: So you pitched before drafting a complete proposal, which saved time, and then you knew they were interested in your topic before you put in the work. Great! 
Did you enjoy the process of writing this book? How long did it take? How did you stick to your schedule and get it all done?

LA: CRP has been wonderful to work with! The process took about two years from pitch to publication. Writing a book this long can be overwhelming, so I had to assign myself a daily word count, allowing plenty of time for self-editing and peer editing before submission.

CM: I'm sure that discipline was an indispensable part of your process. And yes, I know how important critiques can be! 
Amazing Amphibians includes intriguing activities for kids. How did you come up with them? Were there series guidelines? Did you try all the activities?
One of the 30 activities in Amazing Amphibians

LA: I brainstormed activities based on the topics at hand, and used Google and Pinterest to look for ideas I could adapt as well. I hired my kids to test out the activities for me, which was really helpful! 

CM: Ah, nepotism! I particularly noticed the many gorgeous photos in this book--I think there are about 60 of them. How did you conduct photo research and select photos? Did you contact photographers yourself? And is this the first book you've done where this was required?
Lisa and friend photograph a newt

LA: Yes, this was the first time I’ve had to acquire photos. I found them all online. Some were free on Flickr, Pixabay, or Wikimedia Commons. Others I purchased through stock photography sites like Shutterstock and iStock. For a few of them, I worked out a purchase from individual photographers. The publisher required very detailed documentation of each photo source and permissions, which was a little daunting until I figured out the system!

CM: Whew. This might be intimidating to writers who haven't done it, but I understand it's part of the process for many nonfiction books. 
How were the book's artwork and design developed?

LA: CRP handled all the graphic design. I did supply rough sketches for the activities to show what I had in mind.
Fun Facts and Graphics in Amazing Amphibians
CM: Did you hire an expert to review the text and/or illustrations? What kind of expert background does CRP require its authors to have?

LA: I had an amphibian expert review the manuscript. I’m not aware of specific requirements at CRP, but I think having relevant education or experience is a good selling point for nonfiction topics in general. My science background definitely made me feel more confident in having the background knowledge to tackle this topic. 

CM: Compared with working on an illustrated picture book, were there additional challenges and/or costs involved in putting Amazing Amphibians together? 

LA: I spent a good chunk of my advance on photo permissions. Some of the photos were a challenge to track down—it turns out there aren’t a lot of photos of endangered species available. Probably should have seen that one coming! I could have gotten by with spending a bit less, but wanted the photos to really pop. So I consider that an investment in the book’s success.

CM: Ah. Note to self: Write about commonly photographed species. 
So Lisa, what else should writers know before submitting to CRP? Any additional words of advice?

LA: As with any publisher, study their catalog and look for holes you could fill. Check out some of their recent books to get a sense of their style, especially if you’re targeting an existing series. Their submission guidelines are on the website, so read and follow those carefully. 
Best of luck!

CM: Thanks, Lisa, for your words of wisdom. 
And best wishes and health to all our readers.

Lisa Amstutz is the author of more than 150 children's books, including Applesauce Day, Finding a Dove for Gramps, and Amazing Amphibians. PLANTS FIGHT BACK (Dawn Publications) will be released in October 2020, and MAMMAL MANIA (Chicago Review Press) in 2021. Lisa specializes in topics related to science and agriculture. Her background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science. She lives on a small-scale farm in Ohio with her family. 

For more information about Lisa’s books as well as her critique and mentorship services, see
And find Lisa here:
Twitter: @LJAmstutz

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Stephanie Roth Sisson and SPRING AFTER SPRING

Hi again, weary travelers. 
I may be preaching to the choir here, but who doesn't like a smile.
Especially in these stressed & crucial to pay-attention, times.
Fortunately,  this post is a Group Blog visit with biographer
of Rachel Carson, Stephanie Roth Sisson. It's from an earlier
visit at my site, Bookseedstudio. - J.G. Annino

Q/A with Stephanie Roth Sisson

Q You write, “I have long loved Rachel Carson’s writing, especially,
her books about the wonders of nature where she writes so poetically
about science.” How did that long connection to Rachel Carson inform
your proposal to write about her?

I keep files with potential candidates for possible biographies. There were a few things that came together at that time to make it clear that Rachel Carson should be the subject for my next book. But, although I had read her more poetic books which completely transport the reader to this universe of interconnected lives in the natural world,  I had not yet read Silent Spring. My husband and I had just moved to Mauritius from our uber environmentally conscious bubble on the coast of California. The house we first rented in Mauritius was at the edge of a sugarcane field. So we could see everything that went on in that field from the house. I had never seen so much pesticide use and it shocked and worried me. Even inside the house there were these little thimble sized cups of gecko poison (which we immediately removed) to kill the very geckos that if you left them alone, would eat
 the bugs that were also being “treated” for.  We saw pest control making regular rounds in our little neighborhood. So at that point Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring became immediately relevant to my life. Then there was my dear friend, Sharon Lovejoy. She was a cheerleader for choosing Rachel Carson for my next book. Her books, well, you should get them and read them, they are a genuine and heartfelt connection to nature.  And of course the politics around the E.P.A. starting in the first months of 2017 and continuing on now were also an influence.

                                                    Stephanie Roth Sisson

Q How does an author already familiar with a subject discover
new details? And bring a fresh perspective to the story?

Stephanie: What I try to do in the picture book biographies that I write is to not only tell the story of a person’s life, but also to explain about a field that they contributed to. For example, Star Stuff, Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is also an astronomy lesson, and Spring After Spring, How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement is a lesson in ecology. 
There is so much information that it isn’t hard to get lost in it. There are so many things to convey, but I try to remember the child who will be “meeting’ this person for the first time and who probably knows nothing about Rachel Carson, the time she grew up in, the things that influenced her and what was important to her and why what she did was important. Also, I put in things that I think that another child could relate to, like Rachel had a dog named “Candy” who was her constant companion growing up. When she was older she always had at least one cat, and so I showed her always with her pets at home- always with that relationship to her fellow creatures.  Then there was the shell that her mother had that you see throughout the book which represents Rachel’s connection to the ocean and that you can see throughout the book.

What are your processes, tips, organization plan, in
winnowing an extraordinary amount of information on record about
someone who travels from being an unknown child of farm origins,
to testifying before tough inquisitors in Washington, D.C.,
changing U.S. history?

Stephanie: I love researching, as I mentioned before. I do so much that my editor has to say, “stop!” And then I sit there with my piles and look for threads that I can pull through a narrative both in words and images that I can use to illustrate a concept. 
Then I try to get a theme down to one sentence, which is SO hard to do because as I research I find so many interesting things out and want to share them all. Every page in the book should harken back to that one theme, sometimes there are sub themes in the images or hinted at elsewhere.  
 I like showing my subjects as children and what they were like. There is a clear thread going from Rachel’s childhood and the experiences she had as she grew up, becoming aware of threats to the environment and seeing their consequences.
Another parallel to now is that she had to contend with a lot of disinformation and personal attacks to discredit her. So, her coming forward to testify was an amazing act of bravery. The science she had behind her as she spoke and her thorough and clear presentation, including in her book Silent Spring, appearance on the CBS Reports television show and her testimony showed people that she was credible and should be listened to. 
              all images copyrighted, used with permission of Stephanie Roth Sisson

Q What sorts of materials relating to Rachel Carson did you find in research?

Stephanie: A constraint I had was not being able to visit the places she grew up in or was associated with because I was living in Mauritius at the time. So I had to rely of print media, film and the internet. Our U.S. home base was still California at the time, so when I could fly home I would fill my suitcases with books I found about Rachel.
Particular materials that I felt gave the most insight into Rachel were her own speeches she delivered that gave a few sentences here and there describing her childhood. There is also a collection of letters between Rachel Carson and her very close friend, Dorothy Freeman where I think you can get a really good sense of what she might have been like. And also another great resource was The Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited by Linda Lear. 
I read everything I could find on Rachel Carson and then I researched topics related to Rachel Carson. I kept thinking about the title Silent Spring and the iconic first chapter where Rachel paints this picture for us, with a landscape without birdsong. I used the idea of having a lot of creature voices in the beginning and then showing less as we go on could help kids get what was going on. I had also stumbled on an interview with Bernie Krauss, who wrote The Great Animal Orchestra. The book talks about how the sounds in nature represent the health of an ecosystem and that each living thing has its place in the “orchestra.”  You’ll notice that in Spring After Spring that in the first few pages hours are passing and that first we hear birds in the dawn chorus, then insects after their bodies warm up and they are able to produce sound, etc. Then in the next few pages it’s the seasons and then years. I used the idea of the health of an ecosystem being represented by sounds to not just talk about birds, but also the entire web of life as it relates to the over-use of pesticides.

                                               copyright, Stephanie Roth Sisson

Do you mind sharing how your mother, who you dedicate the book to,
helped create your love of nature?
Stephanie: My mom is amazing. She had always had this connection with children and the kid in her that I benefited from immensely. She always had a garden growing, flowers all around the house …But it was this one moment that I remembered, that made this her book. I was living on an organic farm and environmental education center called “Ocean Song” in Occidental, California when I was maybe 19 or 20. I had packed up all of my possessions and left to live in this place and my parents and sister had come out to visit me (aka check up on me and make sure I hadn’t joined a cult or something). We were all walking through his beautiful forest with towering redwoods, lush mosses and ferns, when my mom launches into this, “I’m very botanical” speech. All of this while she is petting the mosses and is clearly “in” the moment of being swept away with all of this aliveness around her. I love that memory. 

                                               copyright, Stephanie Roth Sisson

With appreciation for your time, incredible great stories & use of these creative images from your studio Stephanie, is there an extra, random or other surprise thought to share?
On a side note, there was a subtlety that I wanted to mention in this biography. When you look out into the world at what people have written about Silent Spring and DDT many articles vilify Rachel Carson saying that she contributed to deaths from malaria because of her cautions about pesticide use. These articles mischaracterize her stance. I wanted to make clear that she never said to not use pesticides ever, she was concerned with the inappropriate use and the overuse of pesticides and herbicides. If you want to see something shocking you can find videos online of people almost bathing in DDT. It was everywhere on everything because no one thought there were any dangers associated with it. 
Also, a lot of people don’t notice this, but the front endpapers are little vignettes of Rachel and her mother, but the back endpapers are of Rachel and her adopted son, Roger, her nephew. So while she was doing all of this writing she was also a single mom. 

                     copyrighted material, used with permission of Stephanie Roth Sisson

SPRING AFTER SPRING is a multi-textured book, with extra pleasure for
little readers in voicing spelled-out animal sounds captured throughout the story,
and yet, it’s a title equally appealing to older nature-loving students,
who will dwell with nuggets of the fascinating end notes.
Adults who are besotted with the best picture book bios will savor it, too.

Here is the link to what KIRKUS said about Stephanie’s achievement.

This acclaimed title is an NSTA 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Books selection, 

NSTA 2019 Best STEM Books selection, NCSS and CBC Notable Socials Studies 

Trade Books for Young People selection, 2019 Green Prize Winner Santa Monica 

Public Library & a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

Each time I read this book I am struck by how Stephanie folded a
gargantuan amount of information, conclusions and nuances, into a
smooth-flowing entertaining story. 
I’m especially delighted with how the book is sprinkled with animal 
word bubbles, which children will love
enacting out-loud, as they page through the story.

(p.s. Another Group Blog member is acknowledging comments, for this post’s
writer. Appreciations :) 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Crafting a Story with Two Main Characters--Where Giving Each Equal Weight Is Important, Guest Post by Vivian Kirkfield

Author Vivian Kirkfield is no stranger to the kidlit world. You can find her just about everywhere in kidlit social media. Her newest picture book, Making Their Voices Heard, debuted the end of January. I, Tina Cho, invited my critique partner to share her writing expertise with our Grog readers. Take it away, Vivian!

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share on the Grog Blog, Tina. I’ve seen a question come up several times on Facebook groups that are devoted to writing, and I thought I would speak to that.

How do you craft a story with two main characters where giving each equal weight is important?

Before I wrote the draft for MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: THE INSPIRING FRIENDSHIP OF ELLA FITZGERALD AND MARILYN MONROE, I used several picture books as mentor texts. One of the most helpful was Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick. Another book was Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pickney, illustrated by Brian Pickney. I studied how the authors introduced their characters and how they relayed information about their lives and how their lives connected.

I’d already done a bunch of research, but none of my sources, mostly books about Ella and Marilyn, spoke about their friendship. I had to become a detective. I contacted the author of one of the Marilyn Monroe books. She didn’t know but she directed me to the website of the president of the Marilyn Remembered fan club. He didn’t know either, but he kindly gave me the phone number of the woman who had been Ella’s promoter for thirty-seven years. It was so hard for me to call her…I’m really timid that way. But I knew I needed the information because I knew I wanted to write an authentic and accurate story for children…and I wanted it to be a story that children could relate to – a story about friendship. Even young kids know about playdates and going to a classmate’s birthday party and how it feels when your friend is mad at you. How to be a good friend is an important lesson for kids. And although it’s true that each of these icons had enormous talent, each was being limited because of discrimination of one kind or another…and it was their friendship and respect for each other which helped break those barriers.

I took a deep breath…or maybe a few…and I called Audrey Franklin. I got her answering machine. And left a message. Miracle of miracles…she called me back the next day - we chatted for hours and she verified that they were, indeed, friends.

So, now I had verified they were friends, but I knew I also had to balance these two superstars. The mechanics of the text set out to do that. I began by introducing both women and pointing out how they are different yet the same.

Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike—full of hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be.

Next, I showed how Ella got her start – going from living on the streets to playing with a real band. Then, on the next page, I showed how Marilyn got her start – going from working at an airplane factory to signing a studio contract.

But we need to throw rocks at our heroes, right? And what I love about writing nonfiction is that I don’t have to invent the rocks…these women really faced huge obstacles and barriers. On the next two spreads, I show how Ella, though a jazz phenomenon, battled racial discrimination. And then I show how Marilyn faced an industry run by men who controlled her career.

So far, so good. I was keeping it pretty even and balanced. Now I wanted to show how Ella helped Marilyn…and then how Marilyn helped Ella. The nightclub incident where Marilyn persuades the owner to book Ella by promising to bring the media to his doorstep was easy. There was plenty of online information about that – and Ella even speaks about it in an interview. But how was I going to show how Ella helped Marilyn? That was definitely a challenge.

I found interviews where Marilyn mentioned how much she loved Ella, not only as a singer, but as a person. Ella was actually her idol…Marilyn was a fan girl! And then I read several articles that spoke about how Marilyn studied Ella’s voice to improve her own vocals to get ready for her singing role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Bingo! When critics gave Marilyn rave reviews and her bosses amended her contract and gave her a higher salary and more control over script approval, I knew I had what I needed. Because this was a BIG deal – it’s what she had been fighting for all along. Marilyn also used Ella’s records to help with her insomnia – she’d fall asleep listening to Ella’s voice.

Now when Marilyn spoke, her bosses paid attention. And reporters and photographers followed her everywhere. Determined to thank Ella in person, Marilyn bought tickets to Ella’s next show.

After the show, Ella and Marilyn sit shoulder to shoulder, chatting. When Marilyn discovers that the Mocambo club refused to book Ella, she wanted to help her friend the way her friend had helped her.

Putting their heads together, Marilyn and Ella hatched a plan.
And I love the illustration Alleanna Harris did.

Marilyn put her career on the line to a certain extent because in those days, there was a lot of racial discrimination (not much has changed, unfortunately) and movie studios controlled what their actresses could and couldn’t do. By calling the nightclub owner and insisting that he book Ella, Marilyn stepped up and spoke out. This is what we mean by allyship. You don’t just give money to the cause…you step in and make it happen. The Civil Rights movement was just in its infancy…in fact, the nightclub incident happened in 1954 and it wasn’t until the end of 1955 that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.

I was able to show that both of these strong women admired and respected each other. Ella said, “She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her time. And she didn’t know it.” And Marilyn said, ““Well, my very favorite person and I love her as a person as well as a singer. I think she’s the greatest and that’s Ella Fitzgerald.”

I also wanted to show how we are all complex individuals. Most of us know Marilyn as a sexy Hollywood star…and kids probably don’t know her at all. Similarly, most kids may never have heard of Ella, but her music was genius…in fact, at the very first Grammys in 1959, Ella Fitzgerald won for best female pop vocalist and best improvised jazz performance. I thought it was time for kids to discover these two special women and how differences in race, color, and creed played absolutely no role in their amazing friendship. And how poignant a time for a book like this. We can, and must, all step up, making our voices heard for what is right, so that our nation can be healed. Covid-19 will, at some point, have a vaccine that will protect us from it. But this sickness of hatred and anger can only be healed with kindness, love, compassion, and with the willingness to listen to the voices of people of color.

Most of you who know me know that I am an extremely optimistic person and I’m always trying to find a positive, even in the darkest of times. My older sister used to call me Pollyanna, after the storybook character who finds something to be glad about in every situation. And I think I have found it. Young people are stepping up and refusing to allow this hatred to go on. A high school junior reached out to me last week. As a school service project, she is building a website where she will showcase videos of teachers reading aloud books from different cultures. She wants to use Sweet Dreams, Sarah and she wrote to ask my permission. Of course, I checked with the publisher who is totally on board. What thrilled me the most were the young girl’s words: “Your book has had a profound impact on my life and has given me the confidence to use my voice.”

And THAT is why I write books for children! Just like Ella and Marilyn, everyone needs to make their voice heard.

Bio: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of numerous picture books. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramLinkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Vivian's books:
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House) illus by Jill Weber
FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (PomegranateKids) illus by Mirka Hokkanen
SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books) illus by Chris Ewald
FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2021, illus by Gilbert Ford

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime with Author Mike Armstrong by Kathy Halsey

Could you pack an entire summer into one day? Debut author Mike Armstrong's main character Will tries to manage the feat in this picture book debut BEST DAY EVER. Wouldn't that be fun? But for poor Will, nothing seems as much fun as it did when he made that list full of promise until he finds a friend.
Book Review
BEST DAY EVER by Michael J. Armstrong, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans (Sterling Children’s Books, 6.2.2020) showcases main character William’s escapades as he tries to make the last day of summer fun and memorable. However, with the best-laid plans, lists, and his trusty self-created fun-o-meter, he still misses the mark. While Williams pursues math camp, learning Spanish, and mastering the scooter, his annoying neighbor Anna, tries to ruin his fun with imaginative, messy play! In a poignant, sweet ending, William finally realizes who is REALLY having the most fun, and a new friendship begins.

Debut author Armstrong sets up two disparate characters who are the perfect foil for each other. Readers will be rooting for William to venture out of his safe, predictable ways as he reaches for adventure beyond his comfort zone. Illustrator Ceulemans creates rollicking scenes that add to the fun. Librarians and teachers will appreciate this book for its light-hearted celebration of imagination, friendship, and appreciating others for their differences

Craft Chat With Mike Armstrong

1. What prompted you to write a book about summer? How did you make a popular subject like “summer” unique for the market?
Thanks for having me on the GROG! To be honest, my intent wasn’t to write a book about summer. I had this story idea, but I needed two things: 1) a setting where two kids might unintentionally interact, and 2) a sense of urgency. As a kid, I remember trying to cram as much fun as possible into the last day of summer vacation in an attempt to stave off the inevitable disappointment of having to go back to school. So, it was a perfect fit for my story idea.

Best Day Ever is really more about the characters themselves. Anna and Will are polar opposites who think in very different ways, but find common ground in their desire to have fun. I really love them both, and have written a second book with them which, coincidentally, is set in the middle of winter.

Also, the book is also dialogue-only, so I couldn’t employ many literary devices (alliteration, rhyming wordplay, etc.) because then their voices wouldn’t ring true. But I think – I hope – that their interactions are both unique and fun.

2. Tell us about your publishing journey. Ups, downs, how you persevered…
I think my journey was a bit different than most. I met the editor who acquired my book at a small SCBWI conference. It’s kind of funny because I had intended to show him a different manuscript. But the night before, the speaker asked anyone who was open to it to come up and read two minutes of their manuscript. I went up and for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was a hoarse, cracking voice – just butchered my story. My rhyming story. It. Was. Ugly. 

Anyway, when I got my chance to sit down with this editor, I decided to show him something new instead. When he read it, his exact words were, “I can fix this.” Six months and several revisions later, he acquired it.

But then...he left the publisher. I was immediately worried that my book would get shelved, so I flew to New York to meet with my new editor. Then she left. Then two more left. I’m now on my fifth editor. Each time I was convinced that they would drop my book (thanks, imposter syndrome). Fortunately, despite a short publishing delay due to COVID-19, we’re now at the point of no return. I think. Honestly, I probably won’t believe it until I’m actually holding a hard copy.
Here's what fun for Will looks like with a friend.
3. What craft advice do you have for pre-published writers?
Write. Emotionally detach. Get feedback from honest critique partners. Rewrite. Repeat.

I’ve never had a story get worse because of a rewrite. Mine always get better. But I’m a task-driven person, so I’m always in a hurry to get things done. I’m sure other people hang on to stories too long, continually tweaking things that don’t need to be tweaked. That’s not a problem that I have.
Will and Anna come to terms!

4. I know you’ve been working on how best to market books. Share some tips with us, please.
First thing, do NOT expect your publisher to do all the marketing, especially if it is your first book. You need to be actively involved in this process. Accept that fact.

Second, don’t release your book during a COVID-19 pandemic. I spent a year developing a comprehensive marketing plan for my book (I like marketing. And yes, I know, I’m a nerd). Now everything has changed. I had 15 reading/signing events scheduled during the month my book is being released alone. All have been canceled or postponed. Everything is virtual now. Fortunately, parents are desperately searching for educational content for their at-home kids. I’m trying to find a way to create longer-form virtual content (readings, Q&As, etc.) that will hold a kid’s attention so their parents can work for 15 minutes in peace.

Third, like it or not, Amazon is everything. Make sure you optimize your Amazon page. Hustle reviews (or at least “thumbs up”). Add video content. Populate your Author Central page. Before COVID-19, Amazon was responsible for over 50% of all books sold. I’m sure that percentage has jumped significantly 

Finally, don’t just try to do what everyone else is doing. Think about who buys books, how they buy them, where they buy them, and where they go for recommendations. Get creative. And if it works, be sure to tell me. But only me. 

5. What are you working on now?
Sorry if this is TMI, but I had an upheaval in my life (in addition to COVID) a few months ago, and I haven’t written anything since then. I’ve been consumed with trying to rebuild and do whatever I can to market my book. I know those writing muscles are atrophying.

That said, I do have an idea that I think has promise. I need to find the right character for the story and pare down the plot (I sometimes have a problem with my plotlines running amok). Hopefully I will finally put a pen back onto paper in the next couple of weeks.

More About Mike
After beginning his career as a marketing professional, Michael Armstrong changed course and joined the nonprofit world. He served as the Executive Director of The ALS AssociationThe Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and other nonprofit organizations.

When his daughter was born, Mike left his job to become a stay-at-home dad. Soon after, he began writing children’s books (and rekindled his love affair with Play-Doh). Today he is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and is represented by Curtis Brown, Ltd. Mike also rehabs old houses, has an unhealthy obsession with sports trading cards, and ignores the fact that his 80-pound dog desperately needs a bath. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Contact and follow Mike here: 
Web site:
Twitter  @wrongarmstrong
Instagram @wrongarmstrong