5 Qs + 6 (SIX!) Book Birthdays for Sue Fliess = Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic, part 6

In part 6 of Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic, we’re chatting with prolific #kidlit author Sue Fliess (* pronounced fleece), who has celebrated SIX Book Birthdays this year including two this month—WOW!

CHRISTMAS CHEER a super cute counting board book with Scholastic/Cartwheel, launched Oct. 6th. (Wait–a Christmas book in October? See Q 3. below.) Illustrated by Jay Fleck, it’s the companion counting book to HAUNTED HALLOWEEN.

And TODAY, October 13th, is the Book Birthday of the Spanish edition of Sue’s bestselling Little Golden Book I’M A BALLERINA :

Soy bailarina de ballet (Random House Little Golden Book, Illus. Joey Chou) is the perfect read for National Hispanic Heritage Month/ National Latinx Month, (Sept. 15- Oct.  15) or anytime.

Let’s give these books a party,

shall we? 

CONGRATULATIONS,

Sue Fliess.

Boy do we have some questions for you!

Q 1. What challenges have you had launching your books during this pandemic?

Sue Fliess: Hi Erin! Thanks for having me on your blog.

Challenges for book launches during a pandemic…

where do I begin?

Authors already have so many challenges launching books in a non-pandemic world! There is so much noise, so many books launching at the same time—often by bigger, more well-known authors and illustrators—that getting even a tiny slice of airtime for your book seems like a miracle. I’ve done the bookstore signings where no one shows and you sign a bunch of stock, and the only sales are from bookstore staff, most likely out of pity.  (And believe me, even with 35 books out, in-person events like this still happen).

Publishing in a Pandemic

Sue Fliess: I had two books publish on March 3 (HOW TO FIND A UNICORN / Sky Pony/ Illus. Simona Sanfilippo, and FLASH AND GLEAM Light in Our World / Millbrook / Illus.  Khoa Le) roughly 10 days before my state (Virginia) shut down. I was set to visit two schools that week in New Jersey, and the focus would have been on those books and getting to share them with students. I never got to launch them. My Unicorn book has literally just been sent to my reviewers because the publisher’s warehouse had shut down for Covid-19.

“A ray of light, both illuminating and beautiful.”

KIRKUS

The FLASH AND GLEAM illustrations by Khoa Le are magical!

That said, even though publishing books during a pandemic is a huge bummer, I realize I’m still so fortunate—my books were not debut books, I wasn’t counting on the sales to be able to sell my next book, and I have enough of a brand/following that they didn’t flop out of the gate. (that’s not to say it didn’t really hurt sales!) I reminded myself of this to keep it in all in perspective. I did a bunch of virtual (live and recorded) readings of my books so folks could see the books, but of course, all my school visits, bookstore events, speaking gigs for conferences and the like were either cancelled and only a small percentage were converted to virtual.

“A silly, inspiring story of a princess who makes her scientific dreams come true.”

KIRKUS 

THE PRINCESS AND THE PETRI DISH / Albert Whitman / Illus. Petros Bouloubasis, published in April, and I did some virtual events with my publisher as well as some recorded readings. Thankfully this is part of my STEM fractured fairytale series, so fans of Little Red Rhyming Hood and Mary Had a Little Lab were anticipating it.

In June, HOW TO MEET A MERMAID / Sky Pony /Illus. Simona Sanfilippo, published and in a great stroke of luck, our state had opened up just enough that I was able to have an outdoor story time with my local indie! I read Mermaid and Unicorn and it just felt so good to be able to share a book with real live humans.

Thankfully, at the end of the day, there are bloggers and authors like you, who support each other and help get the word out. Thank you!

I’M A BALLERINA interior, art by Joey Chou.

Q 2.  I’M A BALLERINA! is written in rhyme, as are most of your picture books. Does the Spanish edition Soy bailarina de ballet rhyme too? (I have noticed that translations of my rhymed books are based more on the illustrations than on a direct translation. Or are yours true to the text?)

Sue Fliess: I’m so delighted to tell you that the Spanish version still rhymes! I took Spanish through high school, so I’m terribly rusty, but from what I read, it sounds like they were able to closely keep the story the same, while rhyming it in Spanish. I’m very impressed!

Q 3. Tell us more about your Christmas board book, CHRISTMAS CHEER (Scholastic Cartwheel / Jay Fleck / Oct. 6th ) Why is a Christmas book coming out before Halloween?

Sue Fliess: CHRISTMAS CHEER counts to ten as it follows two children on the night before Christmas. They prepare for Santa’s arrival and Christmas morning. In very spare rhyme, it includes lots of Christmas-y things: mistletoe, reindeer, hanging stockings, caroling and more. One star shines / Moonlit pines. Two awake / Cookies bake. All holiday books generally publish a few months prior to the actual holiday so that bookstores and other booksellers can order them and stock them in time to sell them in advance of the actual holiday. Also you have a better chance of being included in holiday book roundups if you can get the book into the reviewers’ hands well in advance of the holiday. And since this one is coming out before Halloween, why not get the companion Halloween book HAUNTED HALLOWEEN while you’re ordering? J

A “Not too scary, not too sweet…way to get the Halloween party started for older toddlers and young preschoolers.”

KIRKUS 

Q 4. What would you say to pre-published Sue, now that you have 35+ titles out in the world?

Sue Fliess: You are not in charge of the timeline. It’s not going to happen when you think it’s supposed to happen. Keep writing and submitting, be patient and work on your craft.

My first book, SHOES FOR ME!, was rejected 28 times before I sold it, but while I was trying to sell it I was writing new stories. By the time I landed an agent, I’d been writing for 3 years and had roughly 10 saleable manuscripts to give her out of the gate. Keep in mind, the first thing you write may not be the first book you sell.

Q 5. What are you working on these days? (How’s that MG novel?)

Sue Fliess: I’m currently working on book 2 in my spy picture book series: BEATRICE BLY’S RULES FOR SPIES (Pixel+Ink , Illus. Beth Mills, Book 1 releases April 2021–ED note: you can preorder now! ), and I recently finished a super fun, energetic picture book that I just sent to my agent…hoping she loves it! It’s pretty much the first fresh new story I’ve written in a while. Hmm, that MG novel is still here. Giving me side-eye. I thought I was going to finish it during the pandemic, but my anxiety took a front seat and I actually did not get much writing done at all this spring. But I just gave myself that space and forgave myself. I do feel like I’m ‘coming to’ a bit more now. Getting excited about writing again and actually coming up with new ideas. Phew!

ED: I love that Sue. We’ve all been reeling from so much craziness this year. It’s important to give yourself permission to not write sometimes.

And it was so much fun to celebrate Children’s #Environmental Health Day with you and your beautiful book THE EARTH GIVES MORE (Albert Whitman / Illus. Christiane Engel.)

Do your part. Use what you know.

Help the Earth to thrive and grow.

excerpt from THE EARTH GIVES MORE

Huge thanks to Sue Fliess for taking the time to chat today, and

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAYS x 6! 

To find out more about Sue Fliess and her books, check out SueFliess.com and follow her on Twitter @SueFliess & Instagram @suefliess. (***Did you know Katy Perry reads her books?) Also–here’s a fun flashback of our first interview together WAYYYY back when.

Up next, we’ll be talking to actor, producer and debut picture book author Angie Bullaro about #kidlit publishing, Girl Power and hockey!

Meanwhile, stay safe–and VOTE!

Happy October #Kidlit Book Birthdays = 5 Qs + 2 Authors

It’s time for part 5 of Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, and I’m excited to showcase these #2020BookLook authors and their lovely books:

SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES

by Melissa Berger Stoller 

(Spork/ Illus. Lisa Goldberg / Oct. 20)

Sadie loves listening to Nana’s tales, especially about the traveling candlesticks, kiddush cup, and challah cover they use every Friday night. Will Sadie ever be able to tell her own special Shabbat stories, just like Nana? Based on true stories in the Author Melissa Stoller’s family, this book celebrates family history and connections.

Interior of SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES illustrated by Lisa Goldberg.

Check out SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES’

 trailer here. 

AND 

THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN

by Julie Abery

(Kids Can Press/ Illus. Pierre Pratt– Oct. 6)

Told in rhyming verse, this is the true story of João Pereira de Souza of Brazil, who cared for a Magellanic penguin that had been caught in an oil spill–and their unlikely friendship.

João hears “a sorry screech” as he walks along the shore near his home… 

Interior of THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, art by Pierre Pratt.

  • Both books combine interesting cultures with real life stories/connections.
  • Both include an older adult character, connections, and kindness.
  • Both books release this month–in these chaotic times–and deserve more fanfare. Right?  

Welcome Melissa and Julie! 

Melissa Berger Stoller: Thanks, Erin! I’m so happy to be featured on your blog along with my friend and fellow #2020BookLook member, Julie Abery! And I’m excited to get my copy of Julie’s new book, THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN.

Q 1. What inspired you to write these stories?

Melissa Berger Stoller: I was inspired to write SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES because of stories I have heard over the years about my own family. Specifically, my father Harry often spoke about the years he spent in Europe during World War I. He was born in New York, but his mother took him to Europe to meet his grandparents. His father stayed home to work. My father and grandmother were caught during the war and couldn’t return to almost ten years! This story always captured my imagination, and I heard more family history from my father’s brother, Uncle Sam, over the years. Later, I heard stories about my husband’s grandfather Reuben, who left Russia when he was a teenager in 1917 due to violence against Jewish people at that time.

Melissa and her father, Harry.

He left with only his younger brother and a few items and made his way to safety in America, never seeing his parents again.

Melissa with Nana Jessie.

These stories resonated with me and I knew I wanted to incorporate them into a book. And I channeled my Nana Jessie, who was a great storyteller herself. It all came together in Sadie, the main character in SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES. She has a wonderful relationship with her Nana, and learns about her heritage through her Nana’s Shabbat stories. And one day, Sadie finds her voice and learns to tell her very own stories.

#DreamTeam

I was so happy that Callie Metler-Smith, the publisher at Clear Fork Publishing (Spork Imprint), shared my vision, and Mira Reisberg was a joy to work with as Editor/Art Director. Along with the immensely talented illustrator Lisa Goldberg, we were a #DreamTeam!

Julie Abery: Wow! This sounds fascinating, Melissa! I cannot wait to add SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES to my bookshelf when it publishes later this month! I love true stories, Erin, and I am thrilled to share a little bit about my inspiration for THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN with you today.

In 2016, I read about João Pereira de Souza and Dindim’s adorable story in the news. It was such a heartwarming story about a man and his penguin pal, that I couldn’t resist digging further into the Google blackhole to find out a little more about it. I pawed over photos, videos, read lots of articles, and scribbled “Tiny penguin, stuck like glue, dripping in an oily goo” and “Fishy kisses” into my notebook. The story remained that couple of lines until a few years later when I was looking for a story idea for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words story contest. Top tip… keep a notebook!

After the contest, I decided to expand the story start. I particularly liked the link to nature and conservation, as my son is an ecologist. After I had shared the story with my agent, we agreed that I should take it along to Bologna Book Fair with me.

ED note: Lucky Julie lives in Switzerland!

Julie Abery: I had a meeting already scheduled [at the Bologna Book Fair] with Kids Can Press, who had just signed my Sakamoto Swim Club story, so I shared it with them…

It was such a pleasure working with my editor at Kids Can Press and award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt to really make the text sing and add a layer of fun and humor.

Interior of THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, art by Pierre Pratt.

Q 2. What discoveries did you make while researching/writing these stories?

Interior of SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES illustrated by Lisa Goldberg.

Melissa Berger Stoller: I did lots of research for SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES. While researching at Ancestry.com, I found census records and even the ship’s log for my father’s journey back home to New York. All these historical documents, as well as details about the ritual objects associated with Shabbat, helped shape the narrative.

Julie Abery: In writing  THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, I discovered many things about Magellanic penguins, also called banded penguins because of their unique striped pattern. They mostly live in south America and the Falkland Islands. In the spring, they migrate north to warmer places at the same time as shoals of anchovies are on the move…dinner on the swim — how convenient! They were named after the Portuguese explorer Francis Magellan, who discovered the species in 1519 on his voyage around the world. I also found out that Magellanic penguins are monogamous… who knows, perhaps one reason Dindim bonded with his rescuer?

Q 3. What surprises did your illustrators bring to your stories?

Interior art by Lisa Goldberg / SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES

Melissa Berger Stoller: Lisa Goldberg brought such joy and illumination to this book! Her Chagall-inspired artwork adds an exquisite layer to the book. I particularly love the dreamy quality of her illustrations, and her color palette. Also, she incorporates a visual story thread throughout of a playful cat – I know that readers will enjoy looking for the cat as they read the book.

Julie Abery: The first illustration I saw from Pierre Pratt for João and Dindim was their portrait. From that moment, I knew that THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN was going to be adorable. The connection he created between the characters was so loving and sweet, and the book’s warm color palette takes me right to the beach! He also became involved with the revision process, which was great. As Pierre speaks Portuguese, he had access to interviews Jennifer and I didn’t, and so brought some interesting facts to the process.

Interior of THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, art by Pierre Pratt.

Q 4. What do you hope young readers will take away from these wonderful stories?

FAMILY

Interior art by Lisa Goldberg / SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES

Melissa Berger Stoller:  I hope that readers will take away an appreciation for their heritage and the special stories that are present in all our families that keep us connected. Now is a wonderful time to interview older relatives to learn about their experiences, both the joys and the hardships. And as I tell students when I do school visits, we are all storytellers. We all have our unique stories that only we can tell.

KINDNESS

Julie Abery: I hope young readers will be touched by the kindness João shows to the penguin, be inspired by the tender inter-species relationship they develop, and will be encouraged to look after nature. The story of  THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN  gives a gentle introduction to oil spills and their effect on nature, which I hope will lead to class discussions on environmental awareness and how we can all help.

Interior of THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, art by Pierre Pratt.

Q 5. Tell us about your upcoming projects:

Melissa Berger Stoller: I have two picture books releasing in 2021 with Clear Fork Publishing (Spork). RETURN OF THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke) is the sequel to SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, and it’s a friendship story that incorporates colors, nature, and a little bit of magic.

And I’m delighted to be collaborating with Callie Metler-Smith and Shirin Shamsi on PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, a story about three girls from three different faith traditions who cultivate friendship on the first day of school through planting seeds. Callie, Shirin, and I represent the same faith traditions as the girls, and we love working on this project together.

Julie Abery: I have a few books releasing in 2021, Erin. SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB: HOW A TEACHER LED AN UNLIKELY TEAM TO VICTORY (Spring 2021) is another true story, being published by Kids Can Press. It follows the life of science teacher, Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club. The story starts in the irrigation ditches of 1930’s Maui, where his team first learned to swim, and ends in 1948 at the Olympic Games in Wembley, London. It has been stunningly illustrated by the phenomenal Chris Sasaki!

There are also another two Little Animal Friends board books (Amicus Ink) launching in Spring 2021.

Learn more about these authors and their books!

Melissa Berger Stoller– Twitter: @MelissaStoller Instagram: melissa_stoller

Facebook  and on her blog and website: melissastoller.com

Julie Abery– Twitter:  @juliedawnabery  Instagram:  juliedawnabery

Facebook and her website: LittleRedStoryShed

Next time we’ll be talking to the awesomely prolific Sue Fliess about the Spanish edition of I’M A BALLERINA and her new Christmas release, CHRISTMAS CHEER!

Until then–stay safe, everyone!

Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic, part 4 = 6 Qs with author/teacher Ann Marie Stephens

This blog post is for my #Teacher pals who tell me,

“Someday I’d like to write a book.”

Many of you have heard my answer already (See below. *), but today I’m chatting with FIRST GRADE TEACHER and CHILDREN’S AUTHOR

Ann Marie Stephens. 

     

Yes, friends, she writes FUN books,

she’s a FULL TIME time teacher in a Title I school

–pivoting and #distanceteaching in the middle of this pandemic, just like you

–and her newest book,

ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY

(Illus. Jia Liu / Boyds Mill Press),

releases next month: Oct. 20th.

 

Feathery fun for the newly numerate. Take it away, Arithmechicks!

Kirkus

“(B)right, engaging illustrations… (a)n elementary-school teacher, Stephens offers a lively story and a useful appended page with several different strategies for demonstrating subtraction. This cheerful sequel to Arithmechicks Add Up (2019) has its madcap moments, while creating opportunities for kids to use subtraction skills as they enjoy the playful story.” —Booklist

In Arithmechicks Add Up“Ten young chicks make their way to the park for a day of fun, incorporating math into every playground activity… Stephens deftly interprets the usefulness of being able to quickly count and add, and Liu’s texturized digital illustrations convey all the fun of the playground alongside simple mathematical concepts. An enjoyable resource for young ones stepping up their counting game.” — Publishers Weekly

6 Qs with Ann Marie Stephens:

Q 1. What are the challenges of launching ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY during a pandemic, compared to ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP in 2019? 

Ann Marie Stephens: Launching a book in a pandemic means online promotion will be more important than ever. I’m still in the planning phase and I know my launch of ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY will not be anything like the first chick book launch. I was in one of my favorite indie bookstores, Scrawl Books, for that one. The place was packed, there were designer chick cookies, and I had real chickens as my guest stars! I’m not sure what this launch will look like but I’ll try to be creative. I’ve already ordered bookplates to sign and send in the mail, and I have adorable chick swag. Whatever I do, I hope for a lot of participation from family, friends, and book lovers!

ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY, interior art by Jia Liu.

Q 2. How does your teaching job influence or inspire your writing?

Ann Marie Stephens: I haven’t really acquired many ideas while teaching or from my students. What I can say is that teaching first grade grants me the opportunity to read aloud dozens of books each week. I see what makes kids laugh, empathize, and question the world. When a book is too long they will make comments such as, “When is this going to be over?” or “I’m tired!” Then I’m reminded of the importance of pacing and the economy of words when writing my own stories. Lastly, I get to watch kids fall in love with books. That makes me want to write more of them.

Q 3. Is it true that you don’t really like math? (The secret’s out!) Does this mean you’re writing these books to help your younger self navigate the math waters?

Ann Marie Stephens: Yes, it’s true, mostly because I don’t enjoy it as much as other subjects. I was good at math at an early age, but I lost interest when I reached Algebra and Calculus. I couldn’t see their relevance. I know from experience that when you make learning relevant, kids comprehend better. That’s what I’ve tried to do in both Arithmechicks books, and my 2021 book, CATASTROPHE, A STORY OF PATTERNS. This story follows cats on a fishing expedition that ends in disaster. The cats use patterns in their actions, and they even eat a yummy treat to ease the pain of their failed mission. Kids definitely relate to treats!

How do you have TIME????

Q. 3 As a full-time teacher, how on earth do you have time to write books? 

Ann Marie Stephens: I rely on weekends (when I’m not doing school work) and holidays. I also do what I call “stoplight writing”. I print out a copy of my current manuscript and take it with me on my 40-minute commute to school. When I’m sitting at red lights I look at phrases, words, or plot points I need to rework. When the light turns green, I think of solutions in my head while I’m driving to the next red light. Then I jot down my thoughts. I’ve been known to work on stories during boring professional development trainings or staff meetings. I can’t stop my brain from wandering. #writerproblems


Q  5. Any tips for our teacher friends who “want to write a book someday”?  

Ann Marie Stephens: To teachers who are aspiring writers— read as much as you can. Read the kinds of books you want to write because that’s how you learn the craft. Write with your students. Write for your students. Write because your students need to hear your voice and your story. They need to see you inspired by words because it all becomes contagious after that, doesn’t it?

Ann Marie got these masks –with two of her book covers!–from a former student.

What Teachers want parents to know:

“the kids are indeed learning…”

Q 6. CONGRATULATIONS on your 30th year teaching. (THANKS for all you do!) What would you like parents and the community at large to know about Distance Learning/teaching in a pandemic?

Ann Marie Stephens: My students and I began 100% distance learning on August 31. Teaching first graders online feels like being the ringleader of a circus where the Big Top hasn’t been assembled, the performers are stuck in their cages or trailers, and we are expected to work together to put on an elaborate show. Despite this, we are having fun and the kids are indeed learning. Teachers want parents to know that we are trying so hard to be amazing right now. We are sacrificing sleep, weekends, and time with our families to juggle everything being thrown at us. We are also balancing the education of our students while attending to their mental and emotional needs. We love their kids and dream of the day we can be in person with them.

Thank you so much for joining the blog today, and

Happy almost Book Birthday to  ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY. 

To learn more about Ann Marie Stephens and her books, follow her on Twitter @AMStephens_  and Instagram @amstephens_ and check out her blog:  2 Happy Teachers 

Next time we’ll be talking to TWO children’s authors Melissa Berger-Stoller and Julie Abery, and celebrating a few well-deserved (belated) Book Birthdays!

Stay safe, everyone.

*Also–dear teacher friends–about writing that book:

“Someday is NOW.”

Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, part 3: 10 Qs for Lauren Kerstein and 10+ excellent tips on craft!

Happy September pandemic Book Birthday to Lauren Kerstein and ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT (Two Lions/ Illus. Nate Wragg) We first talked to Lauren Kerstein last year about her debut picture book, ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES, so I’m very curious to see how this pandemic book birthday compares.

But FIRST, let’s celebrate this adorable new bedtime Rosie & Charlie title and ask Lauren a few questions about craft:

Rosie the dragon’s bedtime routine has been a little bumpy lately. But not to worry! Charlie is prepared with everything he needs to help guide his pet dragon (and best friend) to a peaceful night’s sleep… How hard could tucking your pet dragon into bed be…?

Q 1. Hooray for your second Rosie the Dragon and Charlie title! Writing the sequel often adds more pressure than writing the first book. Did you lose any SLEEP over this manuscript? (See what I did there?)

Lauren Kerstein: HAHA! You are a punny, punny woman and I LOVE it!

I didn’t actually lose sleep over this one because in a strange, round-about way, it was already written. The Good Night book was actually the first book I wrote in this series. I had to SIGNIFICANTLY revise it, which was a tad daunting, but I really felt like Rosie and Charlie’s voices and reactions were so much a part of me by the time I revised it, that it went pretty smoothly overall (as far as revisions go).

What would Rosie do?

Lauren Kerstein: Creating bedtime-vocabulary word banks, and lists of expressions that Charlie might use really helped. I also kept asking myself, “What would Rosie really do in this situation?” Finally, I dug into my memories of bedtime with my children, and with children with whom I’d worked (I’m a child and family psychotherapist). And let me tell you, those memories were gold!

Q 2. What was the inspiration for ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT?

Lauren Kerstein: In 2016, I read a fabulous post about structure by Tammi Sauer during ReFoReMo. Then, during NAPIBOWRIWEE, I challenged myself to write books in different structures. So… Good Night began as a “how to” book and was about putting your mommy to bed. I thought it would be hilarious if the tables were turned and a child had to tackle the bedtime bumps we tackle as parents. With fabulous feedback from critique partners, Rate Your Story, my agent, and my editor, this book evolved into the character-focused series it is today. I let my Jersey-girl humor fly free, included actual tips and skills, and named my beloved characters. Through it all, the heart and voice remained the same.

Check out the book trailer here! 

Q 3. When do you know a manuscript is ready to submit? How do you know when to say, “Good night”? ; )

Lauren Kerstein: What a dreamy question, Erin! I don’t have a clear-cut answer because this varies from manuscript to manuscript. In general, I use the following criteria to determine whether or not a manuscript is ready to submit:

  1. Have three or more of my trusted and amazing critique partners given it a yay?
  2. Does it flow smoothly when I read it outloud?
  3. Have I let it “rest” for at least 24-36 hours (and usually longer) so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes one last time?
  4. Did I comb through every single word? Did each word earn its right to remain in the manuscript? Did I choose the BEST words possible?
  5. Did I have someone (usually one of my daughters) read it out loud to me? As Jane Yolen says, “The eye and the ear are different listeners.”

       If all of those questions receive a resounding, “yes,” then it is ready!

Q 4. Since you’re in the middle of #RevisionWeek, are there some tips you might share with those in revisions right now?

Lauren Kerstein: Ooooh, I am bursting with tips right now.

You can check them out at: https://laurenkerstein.wordpress.com/

Here are a few of Lauren Kerstein’s

current favorite

revision strategies:

  1. Print out the manuscript, find fun colored pens, and write all over it. What’s working? What’s not? Circle verbs that can be stronger. Underline lines that can be funnier or more emotionally resonant.
  2. Save a new draft each time you revise. That will give you the freedom to “kill more darlings” since you know the old words are still there.
  3. If you are second-guessing something in your manuscript, then an agent or editor will too. Revisit and revise those moments that leave you wondering.
  4. Create a “juicy word wheel” with synonyms that might come in handy for your manuscript.
  5. Check each spread to be sure you left LOTS of “white space” for the illustrator.

Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic:

Q 5. Congrats on your successful virtual book launch with Second Star to the Right! Any tips for other authors who are launching books this year? 

Lauren Kerstein: I highly recommend partnering with a local bookstore for your launch. I reached out to one of my local Indies, Second Star to the Right Books, and I loved working with them. They were terrific behind the scenes as Nate Wragg (my illustrator) and I prepared for Rosie and Charlie’s Big Bedtime Birthday Bash.

ED: Note the catchy book release name, friends…

Lauren Kerstein: There are definitely pros and cons for each virtual platform. A secure platform is MOST important. Second Star uses Google Meet and I loved the fact that I could see some of my audience. This helped me gauge interest and engagement, which was really helpful. I think it also enabled me to more effectively interact with everyone.

No matter the platform you use, I suggest sending out tech tips specific to your platform in case people have trouble and need something to reference.

Q 6. How does launching a book in the Pandemic compare to the debut of your first book in June 2019?

Lauren Kerstein: In June 2019, Nate and I launched Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Make Waves in-person at a local bookstore. While that was INCREDIBLE, I must admit that in some ways, I liked launching virtually better than launching in person. I mean, nothing can take the place of face-to-face interactions, but the fact that people were able to join from all over was really wonderful. I was also thrilled Nate and I could launch together again despite the pandemic.

I planned activities and ways to interact, just like I did for the in-person launch. I also tried to use the virtual platform to my advantage and share slides and graphics that I may not have been able to as effectively share in person. I suppose the biggest missing piece—besides hugs—was face painting… (OH, and candy). I’ll have to ponder that for my February launch. Perhaps the first 20 people to register will receive a swag bag (with treats) before the big launch party.

Pondering…

Pondering…

Q 7. How can readers and fans help spread the book love during these crazy times?

Lauren Kerstein: What a wonderful question! There are so many ways to spread book love during this time (without spending money).

  • Goodreads: If you have a Goodreads account, you can mark books as “want to read.”
  • You can also “vote” to add books to lists in Listopia on Goodreads. I happened to notice there’s a list called “Picture Books About Dragons.”

Hmmm… I might know a book for that list! https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/84854.Picture_Books_About_Dragons

And, here’s another great list: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111973.Picture_Books_of_2020. I might know a few books for that list! (Hint: One of them might have the word EARTH in the title!)

  • Reviews: Leaving reviews for books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc is SUPER helpful!
  • Social Media/Build Buzz: Sharing book love on social media is always a wonderful thing! Include pictures and #hashtags. Pictures can help your post break through social media noise. For example: I might tweet about DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5. OH wait! I did! Yay! Check it out here: https://twitter.com/LaurenKerstein/status/1304494012837949441
  • Library: Check books out of your library (and pick them up curbside). You can also fill out the online form at your local library requesting they purchase books.

There are so many ways to help without spending money. And of course, if you want to buy the books (ALL THE BOOKS), that’s excellent too.

Q 8. Tell us a bit about your next book, HOME FOR AWHILE.

I am so excited to talk about HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press). This book is straight from my therapist’s heart. I can’t wait for you to meet Calvin!

Calvin wants to trust, but is afraid to open his heart. HOME FOR A WHILE is a book about a little boy in foster care who wants to find a place he can call home, for a while. It’s a book about seeing your strengths, increasing self esteem, and building emotion regulation skills.

Calvin will move into bookshelves on February 2, 2021. It is available for preorder at your local Indie bookstores or on Amazon.

Dear pre-published Lauren…

Q 9. Now that you have THREE titles in the queue—and more on the way—what advice would you give to pre-published Lauren that you didn’t know before?

Lauren Kerstein: I’d say:

“Hey you– yes, YOU, the one typing out words without receiving critiques and thinking they are surely going to grab an editor and… Go! Go! Go! Straight to bookshelves.

NO!

Writing is NOT a solo journey! You cannot write in a vacuum!”

(“P.S. If you want to continue writing in rhyme, you better study how to do it well. This stinks!”)

Then I’d say:

“Okay, now join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12x12PB Challenge, and a critique group immediately! Hone your craft with writing classes, read TONS of recent books in your genre, and put manuscripts away for a while before you send them out.

Patience and persistence will propel you forward, NOT nearly-ready submissions.

And finally, I’d say:

“Not every manuscript will make it out of your computer and onto bookshelves. But every book will make you a better writer!”

(This one is tough to accept, but SO true!)

You can learn more about Lauren and her books on LaurenKerstein.net 

and follow her on Twitter: @LaurenKerstein and Instagram: laurenkerstein

Lauren Kerstein: Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog! I absolutely cannot wait for your latest book, Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5, to come out in December!

ED: Aw, Thank YOU Lauren! And since you mentioned it…

Q 10.  If Rosie and Charlie could write a letter to the Earth, what would they say?

Dear Earth,

Rosie and I are so sad people haven’t been more careful. I’ve written a list of all of the ways we can help you, and Rosie and I are up for the challenge! Rosie’s even promised to use less water in her baths, and to recycle all of her gummy skunk wrappers.

We want to help you heal!

We love you.

Sincerely,

Rosie and Charlie

Excellent.

They can join the Earth Heroes club any time!

Stay safe, friends.

Next week we’ll talk to Ann Marie Stephens about picture books + Math and publishing #kidlit in a pandemic. part 4. 

4 Qs + 4 Happy Book Birthday(s) = Diana Murray: Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic!

Wooo-hoooo! It’s the Book Birthday of DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS, a Math Reader/ Step-into-Reading #STEM book by Diana Murray (Illus. Mette Engel /  Random House Books for Young Readers).

This is Diana’s FOURTH book released in 2020. 

2, 4, 6, 8, math with dinos is so GREAT! This Step 1 early reader will introduce the fundamentals of addition and the concept of “doubling.”

In part 1 last week, we helped celebrate three nonfiction picture books (+ one more) that released during these #shelterinplace crazy times.

In this post, we have FOUR questions for bestselling author Diana Murray about writing tips and launching her FOUR 2020 #kidlit titles.

Let’s get this pandemic Book Party started!

Happy Belated Book birthdays to… 

GOODNIGHT VEGGIES

by Diana Murray, illustrated by Zachariah OHora/ HMH Books / March 2020

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“[S]nuggled-in vegetables and sweet, lilting text offer an effectively snoozy bedtime rhyme.”

Publishers Weekly

★ “In OHora’s sweet and funny acrylic art…. The childlike approach, appealing art, and relatable worm character…connect story and audience.”

The Horn Book, STARRED review

FIVE FUZZY CHICKS

by Diana Murray, Illus. by Sydney Hansen/ Imprint/ February 2020

An Amazon Book of the Month (Feb 2020)

“Murray and Hanson have created what feels like an old classic that’s simultaneously fresh and sweet… A bedtime countdown rhyme for every little farmer.” ―Kirkus 

WILD ABOUT DADS

by Diana Murray, Illus. by Amber Alvarez / Imprint / May 2020

A fascinating look at dads in the animal world.—Kirkus

This heartwarming story depicts dads in the animal kingdom…Suitable for read-alouds and a solid choice for Father’s Day. —School Library Journal

 

4 Qs with Diana Murray

Q 1. What surprises did the illustrators bring to these books?

Diana Murray: One big surprise in DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS was the way Mette illustrated “double the RUMBLE!” She used a secondary meaning of this word, which added some fun tension. And I love that she used so many varieties of dinos! This was a very hard one to illustrate because of the sheer number of dinos that needed to be visible. I can’t believe she made it work so well.

In WILD ABOUT DADS, I was surprised (or maybe “impressed” is a better word) by how much emotion and warmth Amber brought out in the animals and by how lush the backgrounds were. She balanced factual accuracy with cuteness and love.

As for GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, when my editor asked me if I had any thoughts on an illustration style for the text, I said “something hip and modern, similar to the style of Zach OHora.” So first of all, I was surprised that Zach himself ended up being the illustrator! He created the main character (a worm) and the whole tunneling concept, not to mention the urban rooftop setting. None of that was in the text and it was all a pleasant surprise.

With FIVE FUZZY CHICKS, I could not believe how incredibly fuzzy and adorable the illustrations were. And I loved that Sydney made the chicks all different shades. It was such a thoughtful touch. I just assumed they’d all be yellow.

#WritingTips

Q 2. You say that working in graphic design has made you a more visual writer. Can you explain this approach?  

Diana Murray: By visual writer I mean that I always have the illustrations and page turns at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. Even when you’re not the illustrator, it helps to be very mindful of what the illustrations might end up being. Here are three important things to consider:

  1. Make sure there is variety from page to page. Think about how you can change the scene, the action, and/or the layout. Creating a dummy sometimes helps (although I often just picture it in my head). You don’t need to be an illustrator to make a dummy. It’s not something that will be final, but just something that will help you visualize as you write. For Double the Dinosaurs, I made a varied list of activities that might happen at the beach and a varied list of general dino activities. I thought about how to incorporate an interesting mix into the text, which could lead to varied illustrations.
  2. Create anticipation/excitement/tension with page turns. This is related to the variety I mention above. You can sometimes create an exciting page turn with an ellipsis. Throughout my new early reader, I repeat the phrase “Double the dinosaurs…” and then, on the next page, I reveal the outcome: “…double the STOMP!”, “…double the CRUNCH!”, “…double the SPLASH!”, etc. This builds anticipation, plus reader participation. Using rhyming text supports that even further, because the rhyme offers a clue about what comes next. 
  3. Let the illustrations tell part of the story. This is another good reason to visualize what the art will show, as you are writing. For example, in WILD ABOUT DADS, the text describes ordinary dads. They like to “go fishing”, “carry you on piggyback”, “dance”, and “(bring you) dinner”. Without the art, the reader might imagine their own dad. But the illustrations show an eagle, a dart frog, a crane, and a fox doing these things. That creates another layer of interest. Another example I often use is from my earlier book DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS. There is a couplet that reads: “They find a treasure to behold./A pile of loot worth more than gold!” The illustration shows a treasure chest full of books. Not using the word “books” in the text but then showing books in the art is more engaging than simply spelling it out. It lets the reader connect the dots.

Publishing in a pandemic…

Q 3. What has it been like, launching a book –or four–during the Pandemic? 

Diana Murray:  I don’t usually do launch parties, but I had planned to go to a bunch of festivals: Hudson, Montclair, Millbrook, Poughkeepsie, Warwick, Princeton, Maplewood, Chappaqua and Chesapeake. Those all got cancelled or moved online. I think Maplewood and Chappaqua are the only ones that got rescheduled to this fall. So hopefully, those are still on.

Making it happen…

Diana Murray: I did do a WILD ABOUT DADS reading and craft for the Montclair Book Festival via ZOOM, together with the illustrator, Amber Alvarez.

I also did an online reading of GOODNIGHT VEGGIES for Wellesley Books, MA. I incorporated some actual veggies (with googly eyes) into the reading, which was pretty funny.

I was supposed to do a reading and craft for FIVE FUZZY CHICKS at “Picture Book Palooza” in NJ but that also had to be rescheduled (tba). PB Palooza is a fun event held at the Cranford Public Library (all arranged by author Laura Sassi) where a bunch of authors and illustrators get together to read and do activities with kids. We had a great turn out last year. I had some other library readings scheduled, too, but basically, everything got cancelled. A handful of things happened online, but the turnout was much smaller. It continues to be a strange year!

Q 4. What can book friends do to support new releases in these crazy times?

Leave an Amazon review, please! It makes such a difference. Also, adding forthcoming books to your Goodreads list (or rating them there) is great. Both are FREE, and even a super short rating with a one-word “Enjoyed!” is much appreciated.

Let’s DO THIS, friends!

Diana’s wonderful books deserve our support!

To learn more about them, go to DianaMurray.com

and follow @DianaMWrites on Twitter and @dianamurrayauthor on Instagram.

Next week, we’ll talk to author Lauren Kerstein about her ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOODNIGHT launch with Second Star To the Right, and what’s next in 2021!

Stay safe, friends.