Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Mingle at Publishing Events

This past weekend was the Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. I had no official duties (unlike last year), but as always when I'm in town, I enjoy attending the VIP Cocktail party, and then the Kidlit Drink Night after party (hosted by Fuse #8). The main problem with these events is that there are just too many people to talk to everyone I would have liked to.

I do remember a time as a younger editor when I didn't know as many people as I do now, when I found it harder to mingle. And I also imagine these events can be intimidating to attend as an author or illustrator. So, I thought I'd give some tips on how to mingle at publishing events. I know most of these tips are pretty standard, and to give full disclosure, I don't actually abide by all of these, but here goes:

1) The best "pick-up line" is to simply say "hello" and introduce yourself. Honestly, everyone at these type of events should be there to mingle, and even if they're not, they at least expect others to introduce themselves. If you recognize someone, whether an author or editor or Twitter friend, go up to him/her and say hi. Then again, if they look like they're deep in conversation with someone else, wait until they're not as engaged to approach them.

2) Have a goal/agenda for the event. Maybe there's an author, illustrator, agent, art director, or editor, etc. you've always wanted to meet and know will be there. Make your goal to meet that person. Maybe you're shy: make your goal to introduce yourself to at least one stranger. Maybe your goal is to get at least two business cards, and/or give your card to at least three people. Turn it into a game!

3) Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm totally happy to introduce people to each other. I wish people would ask me more to introduce them to others. In general, I think people like to feel helpful.

4) Don't get drunk. It's fine to have a little liquid courage in you, but remember that this is a professional event. Nobody wants to be around someone who is sloppy. Don't embarrass yourself.(Okay, not that I've never gotten drunk at a publishing event myself...)

5) Have some conversation topics prepared. Maybe it's a current event, or asking what people are reading, or what they think of the award winners, etc.

6) Don't be afraid to introduce yourself again, or ask someone to remind you of their name. I go to so many different conferences and events. I may remember faces, but not usually names. And I never expect people to remember me. So don't worry about offending people you know you've met but can't remember. And it's always helpful to people to reintroduce yourself to remind them of who you are.

7) If you're introverted and/or shy, don't worry--I'd say at least 75% of the people in publishing are, too!

8) And finally, not to be cliche, but: Have Fun! These events are FUN! You're in a room of people who love books as much as you do. What's not fun about that?

As for the rest of the conference, I was following the action on Twitter over the weekend while I finished up an edit. There are also great interviews and wrap-ups of the different talks on the official blog here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I started this as a comment to Meghan's post, below, but it kept getting longer and longer.

One of the kids I babysit for (a girl, 8) got a Nook for Christmas and says a lot of the books she wants aren't available for it. I know everyone is going to say "What books?" and when asked that question, she couldn't remember.

As for me: I live in the country and I must say, it would be HEAVEN to be able to get any book I wanted, instantly. I don't think I'll ever be much of an ereader, though, unless they ALL let you see the pages turning the way the ipad does -- that really is cool. I'm a fast reader and read the last line on one page awhile I turn to the next, so the screen going blank/blank completely ruins the reading experience for me. It takes me out of the world of the book. If I had unlimited funds, I might get ipad just so I could read in bed and read anything.

But then what would I do when I travel? I have to bring a laptop. It would be too heavy to carry a laptop for my writing (which is already too heavy!) AND the ipad. The Macbook Air is light enough to carry around, and Kindle books can be downloaded to it....but it's expensive, and what good is that for reading with the screen going blank or black at the end of every page?

Back to the ipad: if it could handle Word, I'd be tempted: very tempted. You can use the USB camera port on it for external keyboards, and a mouse, too......but I just don't think it would work well for long documents. I'd miss Word, which has become so automatic for me (I have been using it for over 20 years) that I don't even need to think about it, I just write with it. It's become part of my brain, in almost an Ender's-game-like way.

Has anyone found a good Word substitute that works on the ipad? If there is one, I could adjust and might be even more tempted!

The ipad is very cute, and lots of the applications are fun. My favorite is the one that labels all the stars and constellations in the sky WHERE YOU ARE STANDING, from your point of view! The kids I babysit for never use this or any others, though: they just play games on it. And one of them is a reader, the kind of reader who LOVES to read. He's ten, and when he reads, he reads books: printed books.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I just wrote a post about how BN is being sued for its Nook. At the end I compared the Nook with Alex, which is created by Spring design (you can see these two devises on my blog), and said I'd go with the Nook. Then I was thinking about it and said if I HAD to pick an e-reader I'd buy a Nook. A Nook color I guess (I'm adding the color part here). The iPad is an amazing devise but let's face it--it's a laptop without the keyboard. I already have a small 12 inch laptop. Why would I want another? I find that the iPad is too big and heavy to carry around and I would want something a bit smaller to lug on the subway because that's where I'd use it most.

So... what would YOU pick?


p.s - I think Alvina has had several?

Dear Goldilocks: An Original Fairy Tale Poem

I have another poem from my unpublished collection Excerpts from the Fairy Tale Files. I really enjoyed taking on the persona of fairy tale characters and speaking in their voices in many of the poems in the collection—as I did in For Sale and Not All Princes Are Cut from the Same Cloth.

The poem I have for you today was composed in the form of a letter written by an angry Mama Bear to Goldilocks.

Dear Goldilocks,

You little brat. You little scamp!
You sneaked into our summer camp
And ate my little baby’s bowl
Of porridge, broke his chair, then stole
Upstairs and napped on Baby’s bed.
You ripped the new embroidered spread
His Grammy gave him yesterday.
This time you may have slipped away.
But if you ever come back here,
I’ll grab you, Goldie, by the ear—
And cut off all you curly hair!
You are not welcome!!!!!

Ma Bear

Here are three of my favorite picture book versions of the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears:
Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Retold & illustrated by James Marshall


Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Retold by Jim Aylesworth & illustrated by Barbara McClintock

The Three Bears

Retold & illustrated by Paul Galdone


At Wild Rose Reader, I have the rough draft of an original poem titled It’s Snowing Again!.

You’ll also find the Poetry Friday Roundup over at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Libby has been busy doing research and I have as well. I meant to post about this on my own blog but got really distracted and ended up posting funny videos I found on YouTube on Library Raps on the Dewey Decimal system, etc. They're entertaining.

Anyhow, this is something I do when I get into research:

I watch movies I need on the time periods, such as one on Kennedy because he died in the 60s. When I find what I'm looking for I freeze frame and take photo:

In this case I was looking for reporters. I am doing a book on a boy who added stars to the US flag. After they got added reporters flooded his school to interview him. In my nuttiness, I want to see what it looked like in 1960. Thus, the need for films from that time period. Mad Men is also a good way to go. The first season took place in 1960. I'll have to rewatch part of that. Oy. Lots to do!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Usually the boys I babysit for aren't too interested in my books and writing. But when the topic was TRUCKS, all that changed. The four-year old lugged down a volume the size of an old encyclopedia (all devoted to trucks) and began eagerly turning the pages and explaining the various vehicles. The ten-year old supplied the names KIDS use, and some of the sound effects.

Soon I had quite a long list of truck names and sounds, and both boys helped me pick the ones that would be the most popular with kids....but the ten-year old wasn't sure we had made the right choices.

"I know! To find out what kids really like, let's look at Mitchell's trucks."

It was quite a collection, and encompassed most of the house, and, with his brother's Leggo creations and planes, the entire dining room table.

There were far too many to include (these pictures do not do justice to the range of the collection, but you get the idea), so we asked him to show us his favorites.

By the end of the afternoon, I was confident that I'd made the right choices, and liked the names of the trucks and Mitchell's onomatopoetic sound effects, too. At home, I made my final selection and then, while trying to get the sounds right, found this amazing Web site: the sounds of every truck on our list and many more. Here, for your listening pleasure, is a plain bulldozer. There are many more exotic ones.

On Monday, or maybe as I write this, my agent is sending the ms. out to editors -- but whether anyone buys it or not, I had a lot of fun researching it and writing it.

And that, this year, for me (I am NOT presuming to advise anyone else), is the point. If *I* don't have fun doing this, I might as well "be an accountant or something."

The quote is from Anna, in one of her posts on this blog. I forget what the main topic was, but she, while acknowledging some of the disadvantages of being an artist (and let's face it, there are MANY), concluded: "At least I don't have to dress up in a suit and be an accountant or something."

Not that there's anything wrong with being an accountant, I'm very grateful to mine. He makes probably about 20 times what I do -- but, at least when I'm doing research and writing books like this one, I do enjoy what I do. For a long time I thought of my writing as a way to make money, and when I thought of it that way, I put myself under the kind of pressure that wasn't productive, and felt, was, poor all the time, too. If you can count on your writing or artwork to make money: GREAT. Lucky you! I know, I know, it's not just luck, it's talent and hard work as well. If you've made it, well done! Bravo!

I'm just saying that for me, thinking of it this way works better. If I genuinely enjoy what I write, and can make enough money from my freelance work and babysitting to live on (and as our loyal readers know, now I do), I really can't lose.


I've been posting away on the topic of ebooks on my new blog: CHILDREN'S BOOKS - THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY (Scroll past the repeat...). There are also a few other blogs to check out on that topic as well.

Hey, I'm not one to do all this talk and no action. I feel like I can't complain about ebooks or fully talk about the ins and outs of all of this without trying it out myself. So, here's what I want to do: I want to take one of my out-of-print books and turn it into an ebook using BN's Pubit.

Here's the question:
Do I:
1) give it away for free, as in list it for 0.00 dollars? (If I CAN do that)
2) sell it for .99 cents?
3) sell it for over 9.99 and get 60% instead of the standard 35%?

I'm right now leaning toward giving it away for free. Why give anyone any money for it? I'm already giving it away on my website for free so why not continue the gesture? Then again, perhaps that will ruin the experiment. Will it? Do I need to sell it for 99 cents like everyone else to see what will really happen?

I need your votes so vote now!

Thank you!

Marketing Q&A

I was interviewed over at the blog Market My Words on Monday. Check it out the Q&A here, and comment for the chance to win some ARCs!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What I Really Want to Do is Direct

On Sunday, at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn I met a true New York icon, Spike Lee. With his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, he wrote the picture book Giant Steps to Change the World, illustrated by my client Sean Qualls. Tonya read the book while Sean showed the audience his artwork and the three then answered questions from adults and kids alike and signed books for their fans.

The topic of today's blog post... What I Really Want to Do is Direct (thought I'd sneak in a plug for my client's book by drawing a connection with Spike Lee. Tricky, huh? Buy Giant Steps to Change the World wherever books are sold).

A couple of entries ago, I said that I would tell you about my ninth and tenth 2011 resolutions in a later post. Well, the time has come...

9. Write the picture book already.
For YEARS I have had a picture book title in my head. I even wrote down the first line once, but I have never attempted to write the next line and certainly not the whole manuscript (or revise that non-existent complete manuscript to my satisfaction). Why not? I know from working with so many picture book creators that crafting a picture book is the work of a certain kind of brilliance. I worry that trying my hand at writing a picture book would send the wrong message to those clients. Would they find it disrespectful that I should dare to think I could do what they do? For so long I have said that I'm not a writer, I'm not the one to create a great character or start a story and carry it through to resolution; I'm skilled at helping writers and advocating for their careers. Am I to be one of the fools who attempts to write a picture book but doesn't realize how difficult it is to write a successful one? All of these are real concerns of mine, but to be honest...the biggest impediment has been the fear that it won't be any good...and if it's no good what does that say about me as a representative of children's book authors. But as Sondheim wrote in Company "Don't be afraid it won't be perfect...the only thing to be afraid of really is that it won't be."

All that to say... My ninth resolution is to write the picture book already. And not to wait until Dec. 31st to do it. I am challenging myself to sit down and write a draft when I have the time and head space to do it and to revise and tinker with it some as well. The goal is not to make it perfect or make it sell, but to be active with it in 2011 so it doesn't eternally become relegated to the "this idea I have" folder in my mind.

10. Actively pursue more Middle Grade and YA fiction projects / represent more novelists. Unlike most agents, author/illustrators comprise the majority of my client list. I treasure being a part of the picture book world and enjoy its rewards (see my last post on The Caldecott Call). But yes, I am also actively looking for more fiction to round out my list.

What am I looking for?

*I have many author/illustrator clients who have expanded their audience by creating graphic novels or highly illustrated book for older readers alongside their picture books as Grace has done with the Year of books, Ling & Ting, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (see also Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series and Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn). I think the use of “beyond the spot” illustration in middle grade fiction (and to a lesser degree in YA fiction) will continue to grow. I would welcome submissions of this ilk. Of course, Jeff Kinney makes it look simple…but it’s not. I am looking only for submissions in this category from true author/illustrators. I am not looking for another diary or journal format book for older readers, but an original piece of fiction in which the art naturally tells part of and enhances the story. I love when art adds humor to a funny book like in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda or gives further insight into a character in more serious fiction such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

*Humor: I think there is room in this market for more laugh-evoking fiction. I am not looking for potty humor (unless you are Dav Pilkey, don’t try it) or adults writing what they *think* kids will find funny (how irksome it can be to hear the writer coming through a first person child narrator). King Dork by Frank Portman and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green come to mind as great examples of humor in YA. The True Meaning of Smekday is a personal favorite for middle grade readers in addition to Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s in-the-works Platypus Police Squad series. Perhaps even better are books that can make you laugh out loud AND tug at your heartstrings, like Lisa Railsback’s Noonie’s Masterpiece.

*Retellings: I am a sucker for a great, unique retelling. I’m not talking about Austen (can you get better than Clueless? Plus, I already have Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland on my list) or Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, or other Shakespeare usual suspects. My client, Pamela Keyes, debuted as a YA author last fall with The Jumbee, a retelling of the Phantom of the Opera set in the Caribbean in modern day. And how about Neil Gaiman’s version of The Jungle Book, the Newbery Medal winning, The Graveyard Book? That’s what I am looking for.

*Interesting settings and places in time: I am not looking for the next civil war, depression, Holocaust or 1960s story. I am looking for the next Al Capone Does My Shirts, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Ninth Ward, Revolution or the upcoming Bird In a Box by my client, Andrea Davis Pinkney. That doesn’t mean send me manuscripts about Alcatraz, Evolution, Katrina, France, and Joe Louis. Like the titles, I listed, I want manuscripts that exhibit personal stories that a 21st century reader can still relate to with fully developed (not stock) characters. I want to see a rarely used locale, time period or historical event shaping the story and the protagonist without dominating the text.

*Wow this author can write: While it can be difficult to sell a straight, contemporary middle grade or YA novel in this publishing climate there are books that are so wonderfully written that they cannot be ignored. If you can write as well Tim Tharp, Sara Zarr, or Francisco X. Stork, please be in touch immediately.

*Plot matters: Yes we need to like a character, and “voice” can separate a submission from the stacks, but when a writer can sustain a tight, page-turning plot…that’s the jackpot. Great examples of such successes are Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and Paper Towns by John Green.

*High-concept: This is what most agents are looking for and is much harder to define. A lot of high concept books are becoming the “Big Books” that publishers want. Paranormal Romance and Dystopian titles can be considered high concept, but I am not looking for manuscripts in those categories. The Invention of Hugo Cabret with its use of wordless spreads almost like silent movie stills is definitely a high concept book. Of course, format innovation is not the only way to yield a high concept label. Some of my favorite books are the Lemony Snicket books which set themselves apart not only through their great packaging but also through tone, narration, and word choice that couldn’t be found in other children’s books published at the time. To be clear, high-concept doesn’t always mean high-art. There are entertaining, independent reads that are definitely high-concept.

High-concept to me also means something more substantive than a hook. I am probably not the right agent for a simple YA love story with the twist being that the guy is a fallen angel. If you can tell me not just that your manuscript “is great for readers who like Harry Potter,” but give me a very clear idea and make me want to read the book with a simple, specific phrase or tagline, that’s great. Also quick comparisons help (ex. Frog & Toad meets Law & Order was used in my pitch to editors for Platypus Police Squad).

Let me also be clear that I am not looking for high-fantasy, very technical science fiction, horror, issue novels, or quiet coming of age fiction. I am not commenting on the value of manuscripts that fall into these categories; I am telling you that I am not the best agent for such work. In fact, I tend not to gravitate toward genre fiction, but genre bending fiction (like the part satire, part mystery, part contemporary YA The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart).

(Quick practical matter) If you choose to submit a novel to me, please follow my submission guidelines which can be found on my page at Publisher’s Marketplace. Here you will also find further information about my client list (please note: I do not post all deals on this site). More information on Writers House can be found at our website Please do NOT send me specific questions about your work or my submission process (or what I said in this post). I simply do not have time to answer those questions individually. Non-client writers should only email me if with their submission. Also, if your manuscript falls into one of the categories that I said I am not interested in seeing, please understand that this is a matter of personal taste and needs. I ask you not to send me your work “just in case” I might make an exception. There may very well be another agent who is the right match for you. I wish everyone the best of luck in finding the right home for their work.

The phrase “what I really want to do is direct” can connote a lack of appreciation for the success one has achieved in their current vocation. I picture it said by someone incapable and received with an eye roll. I want to make clear that I love working with author/illustrators and that my call for novelists does not mean I am abandoning those clients who I have been working with for years or the medium they use to express themselves. Far from it. Instead, I am looking to stretch different agenting muscles and fill what seems to be a curiously open section of my list. As for writing my own manuscript, if you ask “will it take you away from full devotion to representing your clients?” Did I just roll my eyes? Sorry.

This will be my last weekly blog entry (at least for Tuesdays and for now). Next week, we welcome back Blue Rose Girls regular, Anna Alter, from her maternity leave. I have really enjoyed filling in for Anna here and hope my entries have been helpful and fun for you to read. I do hope to do some guest posts in the future. If there are specific topics you would like me to explore, please leave suggestions in the comments.

Rebecca Sherman is a fabulous agent with over 9 years of experience at Writer's House. Her clients include Lunch Lady author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, the Scott O'Dell Award Winner Matt Phelan, Caldecott Honor Illustrator Brian Pinkney and Blue Rose Girls Anna Alter and Grace Lin. You can follow Rebecca on twitter @rebeccagent.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beyond the Book: Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Beyond the Book:
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier
To us
it is just dirt,
the ground we walk on...
But to Dave
it was clay,
the plain and basic stuff
upon which he formed a life
as a slave nearly 200 years ago.

Dave was an extraordinary artist, poet, and potter living in South Carolina in the 1800s. He combined his superb artistry with deeply observant poetry, carved onto his pots, transcending the limitations he faced as a slave. In this inspiring and lyrical portrayal, National Book Award nominee Laban Carrick Hill's elegantly simple text and award-winning artist Bryan Collier's resplendent, earth-toned illustrations tell Dave's story, a story rich in history, hope, and long-lasting beauty.

I'm way behind in writing my "Beyond the Book" posts--I have two Fall 2010 picture book I haven't yet written about, and two winter novels waiting in the queue. So, I'd better get cracking.

Dave the Potter, as you probably know by now, just won the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. What you probably don't know is that this book has had a long road to publication. Now, the beginning of this publication story is not my own, so I apologize in advance if I recount any of the details incorrectly. But to the best of my knowledge, here you go.

The author, Laban Carrick Hill, first came to the Little, Brown list with the nonfiction book and National Book Award finalist, Harlem Stomp, which Megan Tingley had acquired in the early 2000s (back when I was still assisting her). When editor Jennifer Hunt joined Little, Brown in 2002, Megan passed the book to her to handle, and Jen finished up the editing, and also acquired and edited Laban's follow-up America Dreaming. Sometime during all of this, Laban told Jen about a slave named Dave who not only made amazing pots, but also wrote poetry. He had first heard about Dave the Potter at a conference on the Middle Passage, and then later saw one of Dave's pots end up on the TV Show "Antiques Roadshow," and his curiosity was piqued.

There wasn't too much known about Dave at the time, but Laban was inspired by what he was able to find. He wrote a poem that honored the spirit of Dave's life. He and Jen went back and forth to refine the text and shape the story.

Apparently our acquisitions committee didn't see the vision at first, because it took two tries before we were able to sign up the text.

I'm not positive on the timing, but I believe it was a good five years later that Jen asked me if I would be open to handling the book going forward. They had approached several illustrators who, for various reasons, were not able to sign on, and Jen, who was now Editorial Director in charge of fiction, wasn't editing many picture books any more and didn't feel she was able to give the project the attention it needed.

I was intrigued, but hadn't read the text before, so I read it before accepting, of course--although, truth be told, even if I didn't like the text, I would have said yes. (Part of your job as an editor is to take on whatever is assigned to you, even after you've risen beyond the assistant/associate editor level.) But thankfully, I found it beautiful, profound, and deceptively simple. I was excited to work on the book.

My first task was to find an illustrator, and as I read the text, I knew it would be perfect for Bryan Collier, an artist I had long admired. I ran the idea by Laban, who told me that Bryan had also been his first choice, but when Jen had initially inquired about his schedule, he had been too booked up to consider new projects. Well, as so much time had passed, I thought it would be worth asking again. After getting the go ahead in-house, I called up Bryan's agent, Marcia Wernick, who said that Bryan was open to start a new project in less than a year, so I sent along the ms. She called a few days later to say that Bryan was really interested in the project, but wondered if there was any back matter material to read. I sent along the rough author's note that Laban had written. A few days later she called again and said that Bryan wanted to know if the author's note was final. I said no, that it was unedited. Bryan didn't want to sign on until it was farther along. Laban was extremely impressed at Bryan's thoughtfulness before committing, and was happy to work on revising. I also talked to Jen about the direction she wanted it to take. We decided to focus on Dave's achievements as an artist and poet, and how he would still be considered an accomplished artist in his own right, that his art transcended his circumstances.

After a few rounds of revision, Bryan officially signed on officially. Hurrah!

Six months later, Marcia called me to say that Bryan was ready to start working on Dave the Potter. I hadn't been expecting him to start for another six months, so I was surprised, but thrilled. We invited Bryan to come in for lunch to meet the team.

As soon as I met Bryan, I was charmed. I had met him once in passing at a conference, but didn't know him beyond that. But he was warm, friendly, and passionate. And he gave the best hugs! I knew it was going to be wonderful working with him.

Bryan told us that he was planning on taking a trip down to South Carolina where Dave had lived. He had read a book, Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of Slave Potter Dave by Leonard Todd (incidentally, this book had not been published when Laban had originally written the text). Bryan went down to Edgefield, SC, and met a potter who owned some of Dave's original pots. Bryan took photos, watched several pots being thrown, and toured the town. I loved that Bryan threw himself into the book, and that the research he did complemented the research Laban had done five years earlier.

Speaking of Laban's research, as so much more was now known about Dave and his life than when Laban had first written the text, we had to go back and make a few adjustments. We added to the extensive back matter that talked about Dave's life, and we also added both an author's note and illustrator's note where they both talked about their inspiration and research.

The final book is a real testament to the hard work and passion of its creators. They met for the first time at ALA Annual last year:
As I mentioned in my ALA wrap-up at the time, we had a breakfast in honor of Dave the Potter and had several of Bryan's original pieces on display:

This is one of my favorites, and was in the running to be the cover image:
This is a close-up (bad quality, sorry) of one of the paintings. If you look closely, you can read the hidden message...
It's really some of Bryan's best work. I'm so pleased he and this book was recognized for it.

To be sure, a picture book about a slave potter is probably not the most commercial of subjects for a picture book, and is perhaps not for very young children, but I think kids interested in pottery and poetry will be drawn to this book, and as the NY Times stated, this book can work as "a gentle way for adults to introduce slavery to young children."

Read this entire review in the NY Times.
And read this great interview with Laban in School Library Journal 
To see photographs of Dave's pots and to read his poems, visit Leonard Todd's website.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Life imitates children's books

Some of you may remember that I'm writing articles for our local PATCH. The one that posted yesterday is my favorite so far, and it IS kids' book related -- something I've wanted to do ever since I read about it in the Little House Books. And no, it's not go sledding.

Here's the article.

But, until it snowed and I was sledding with three children, never thought of doing it when it was actually possible TO do it.

To me, it's surprising how different writing for a newspaper is than writing fiction or even this blog. I leave out so many details about the children that I would normally put in. For example, if I'd been posting about this, or writing a chapter in a novel about it, I would have had Mitchell (the boy in the blue snow suit) saying eagerly:

"I'll do it for you because I'm quicker!"

and then running out to fill his saucer with snow.

from the BRG archives: this or the

In my current work, I’ve driven myself mad trying to make the colors brighter at the end of the book (when the girl is happy) than those at the beginning (when the girl is sad)--even though she is wearing the same red coat. It becomes an insane process as I struggle with whether to use jewel red or crimson…and probably when the book is printed, the color difference won’t even be noticeable.

But it’s these little things that we, as creators, can’t let go of. Mary Newell Depalma, when writing A Grand Old Tree, told me a story of how she got into an argument with her editor over a “this” or “the.”

“…the roots of her grandchildren sink deep into the earth,” her editor had marked.
“…sink into this earth,” she had marked back.
“THE earth,” he had replied.
“No, THIS earth,” she insisted.
“I can’t believe you’re being so difficult,” he said.

And I suppose we are a difficult bunch. Exacting, demanding and a bit crazy-- but the ones who really feel the brunt of this is ourselves. While we toil and labor at the subtle nuances, do others, in the end, even notice the difference between a “this” vs. a “the” or a jewel red vs. a crimson? Probably not.

And nor should they. Because that is what makes what we do so beautiful.

Originally published Aug. 7, 2006

Friday, January 21, 2011

call for bookshelves

I'm putting out a call for photos of bookshelves. On my new blog I did my first bookshelf post. Believe it or not my friend Julia actually shelves her books by color like seen above! Well, not as perfect, but still (kind of nuts if you ask me - in the best of ways of course). Please send me photos of your shelves! My email is my first name last name 007 at


FOR SALE: An Original Fairy Tale Poem

Here’s another poem from my unpublished collection Excerpts from the Fairy Tale Files. It's about Snow White's evil stepmother.


My magic mirror is for sale.
It’s such an awful tattletale!
It told me things about my foe
I’d really rather never know.
I MUST be fairest in the land…
Not second best! You understand?
I want to be the most divine.
My reputation’s on the line!
The seven dwarfs? Those little cretins!
They should be in the dungeon, beaten.
They foiled my plans to kill the lass.
I’ve got to sell my looking glass
And spend the cash on wrinkle cream,
A nose job, and a health regime,
Two weekends at a beauty spa.
Then I’ll look like a movie star.
I’ll be the fairest in the land!
And Snow White?
She can go pound sand!

Here are links to the other fairy tale poems that I’ve posted at Blue Rose Girls:

Not All Princes Are Cut from the Same Cloth
Fairy for Hire
At Wild Rose Reader I have A Snowstorm Poem Three Ways.
Tara has the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Teaching Life.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ebooks - self published mixed with the non

I posted this on my new blog but I'll mention it here too: I''m irritated by the way B&N mixes self published ebooks and regular ebooks all together, side-by-side on their website and when you browse on the Nook (or I guess just "Nook" - they don't want you to say "the"). This makes for a disaster in my opinion. I'd posted images of some of the covers - very amateurish. One must imagine that the text also mirrors the covers - as in needing much editing, etc. I find this insulting. Is this what they think of published books? That all the editing and design and illustrating means nothing because they'll just throw them along with something that someone did without 10 or more years of training.

Well, this is the impression that I get and I don't like it. Not one bit. This is just one of the many reasons that I don't like where ebooks are headed.



I watched a documentary on Keith Haring the other night. If you don't know, he died of aids at the age of 32. He kept painting and painting and painting until he died. He never took a break.

I feel like this also. The minute I'm okay enough to get work done I feel like I have to start dozens of new projects--whatever pours out of my head... like I can't take a break... like it would be a waste if I did. Why is that?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

Many students often ask me if Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is going to be made into a movie. Unfortunately, Hollywood has not called (or at least not yet, I can dream--right?) but thanks to a very cool project called the 90-second Newbery Film Festival, it could be a possibility!

But it's up to you. The 90-second Newbery Film Festival will be made up of reader-made videos that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less. Selected films will be shown with much hoopla and excitement at an event at main branch of New York Public Library. Think of it as a kid-film Oscars.

Well, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a Newbery book. That means someone (hint hint) could make it into a 90-second movie for this film festival. And if someone (hint hint) does happen to find Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as an inspiration for a 90-second movie, I'll send you a free print from my etsy shop!

Not that you have to use Where the Mountain Meets the Moon(sniff), any Newbery book can serve as your 90-second movie inspiration. Here are the rules according to the creator of the contest, James Kennedy:

1. Your video should be 90 seconds or less. (Okay, okay: if it’s three minutes long but absolute genius, we’ll bend the rules for you. But let’s try to keep them short.)

2. Your video has to be about a Newbery award-winning (or Newbery honor-winning) book. Here’s a list of all the winners.

3. Just to be clear: we’re not looking for book trailers. We’re looking for full-on dramatizations, with mostly child actors, that manage to tell the entire story of a book in an ridiculously short amount of time.

4. Your video must condense the plot of the book in 90 seconds or less. Again, exceptions will be made for something really ingeniously bonkers, but it has to be related to a Newbery winning book.

5. Upload your videos to YouTube or Vimeo or whatever and send the link* at kennedyjames [at] gmail [dot] com. Make the subject line be “90 SECOND NEWBERY” and please tell me your name, age, where you’re from, and whatever other comments you’d like to include, including whether you’d like me to link to your personal site. You can give an alias if you want; I understand privacy concerns.

6. Sending the link to me grants me (James Kennedy) the right to post it on my blog and to other websites where I sometimes post content (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and to share at public readings, school visits—and hopefully the “90-Second Newbery” Film Festival at the New York Public Library in the Fall of 2011.

7. Deadline is September 15, 2011.

(*if you do happen to use Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as your movie inspiration, please send me the link too!)

Just to note, I am pretty sure this is a film festival for students (ages 0-18) though, of course, teachers, librarians and parents are encouraged to help and guide (I think this great idea for a project!). Here is a 90-second film of A Wrinkle in Time as an example and inspiration:

Hope to see your 90-second film soon!!

dear friends

For those of you who read my blog, you can probably guess that the word "extrovert" would never be used in a description of me. Even though I do a lot of public speaking, it is not something that comes naturally to me. It's taken me quite a while to be able to talk fairly comfortably in front of group and I am only able to do that after preparing and practicing hours ahead of time.

Having this blog does allow me to share and communicate more than I would in person. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad. During Robert's illness and death, I chose to let my personal life and emotions seep into the cyberworld-- even harnessing its power to create a fundraiser.

I know that these are things that I put "out there" and I do acknowledge that I have blurred the lines of public and private. However, those very things that I have chosen to share are difficult for me to discuss in a public forum. Yes, I have moved forward with my life and I live each of my days as fully and with as much happiness as possible. But that doesn't mean I ever forget about Robert or wish with all my heart that he could've lived the life we so desperately wished for him. There is never a day where I do not think of him, that is not tinged with the sorrow of a love lost.

So, dear friends, this is what I ask of you. I'm so honored and touched if you feel connection to my story--real life or fiction--and I am always happy to talk to you. But please do not ask me questions about Robert in a public forum in front of a large group, consider saving it for a one-on-one conversation afterwards. Or if you wish for me to speak about Robert's Snow to a group, please ask me ahead of time so that I can emotionally prepare myself.

And I will sincerely thank you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Caldecott Call

As anyone who would ever read this blog already knows, last Monday the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced. Two of my clients were recipients of honors.

Our very own Grace has now been recognized two years in a row by award committees: last year with a Newbery Honor for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON and this year with a Geisel Honor for LING & TING: Not Exactly the Same!

I must admit, before Grace received both honors, there was a significant level of expectation (despite the fact that that one should never expect an award doled out by a committee). WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON had been named on numerous mock Newbery lists, some bloggers even predicted that it would win the 2010 medal. Because the midwinter conference was in Boston last year and Grace was present throughout the weekend at the convention center, many attendees told her that they were confident she would have a seal on her book by the same time next week. In my BRG entry recapping 2010, I have already detailed the hours leading up to calling me that Monday morning. To describe it one word? Nerves. Grace’s call to me was the end of an emotional journey which included hopefulness, anxiety, and melancholy. The last stop in that journey came with Grace’s call; it was relief, happiness, and pride all at once but most importantly calm.

I had a similar experience with Grace’s Geisel honor. Even before the holidays, Alvina had suggested to Grace that she answer the phone if an unknown caller rang the Saturday or Sunday of Midwinter 2011 weekend. It may seem overconfident, but how could Ling & Ting not receive a Geisel distinction? So when Grace called that Sunday evening, I answered the phone with the slightly cocky, “Oh, you already know something do you, Ms. Lin?!” The call brought closure; Ling & Ting was indeed award-worthy.

But oh how different Monday morning was.

To back track, I first met David Ezra Stein at the SCBWI annual conference in the summer of 2006. He seemed like a wonderful person, and I really liked his book Cowboy Ned and Andy. But, it wasn’t until the next year, his book LEAVES came out, and I KNEW I wanted to work with him and our agent/client partnership began. Toward the end of 2007, there was a lot of buzz for Leaves; it had received five starred reviews, and I distinctly remember, my colleague Steve Malk saying on the phone, “I think Leaves is going to win the Caldecott.” That would have been great, but I just began working with David; I hadn’t sold Leaves, we hadn’t worked together through its development. When it was not acknowledged with an award or honor, I simply thought “onward!”

The following year, I sold Interrupting Chicken to Sarah Ketchersid at Candlewick at auction. It was the first book David would write and illustrate for Candlewick, and I was excited to help forge this new relationship.

These images are part of the submission material from Interrupting Chicken. David’s sketches tend to be very loose and many changes come about from this stage to final art.)

Two years later after a lot of hard work on David’s part, but also from Sarah and his designer, Ann Stott, Interrupting Chicken was published to good reviews. David and Candlewick made a wonderful trailer for the book. PW had just included it in their article “Don’t Write the Obit for Picture Books Yet” as a new picture book by a non-household name that can still sell well.

But…on Monday morning, I had no expectation that David’s non-household name status could change in a matter of hours. Of course, there is always the possibility, even though, no other clients had a lock on an award the way Grace did on the Geisel. I have several clients who were eligible for Coretta Scott Awards. There are very few predictions made publicly/online on awards other than the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz, so I was unsure who the frontrunners were except in those races. My client, Matt Phelan, had received some Caldecott buzz for his illustrations in Flora’s Very Windy day.

Despite the fact that I had no Monday morning expectations, I was experiencing a sense of unrest. On my walk to the office, I called my mom and jokingly asked “Why hasn’t anyone called me this morning?” Once in the office, I involuntary jerked forward any time I heard the phone ring… anywhere in the office; I wondered if life-changing news was being relayed, and I kept thinking that in San Diego and in New York editors, agents, and publishers were rejoicing with secret news that the entire country would be privy to in the next couple of hours…as I sat in anticipation. At 9:54, I posted on twitter “I’ve been unreasonably antsy all morning.”

I need to shake some of that energy off, so I walked away from my desk, got a drink of water, went to the ladies’, stopped for a quick chat with a colleague. When I got back to my desk and looked at my Outlook, the top email was from my assistant. It came in at 10:02. The subject line was “Sarah at Candlewick called.” My heart leapt, my hand shook as I opened the email which simply said “Sarah called to talk about David Ezra Stein. She’s out of the office, but her cell is [number omitted, because…duh!]…

And then I remembered that I had called and left a message the previous Thursday for Sarah saying that I wanted to catch up about David. Immediately, I thought “who in their right mind returns a call the morning of ALA awards announcements?”

A brief tangent for those that don’t know; this is how an author or illustrator finds out about an ALA win. Early in the morning of the award announcement, all employees of any given publishing house that are in attendance at ALA midwinter conference gather in hotel rooms and wait for committees to call. If/when the phone rings, the committee tells the school & library marketing contact and all those in the hotel room “your book X by author and/or illustrator Y has received award Z.” Then school & library marketing contact gives the committee the winner’s phone number so that the committee can call the winner and deliver the news. After that call, the winner would call to celebrate with the editor who most likely already has been told either because she is in the room or because the publisher has called the editor from Midwinter. AND, a client should call their agent to break the good news.

So, I was instructed to call Sarah the morning of the award announcements, not David. Chances were Sarah was returning a call, but as I dialed her number, there was a hopeful part of me that thought, “She wouldn’t do that the morning of the awards; Interrupting Chicken could have won something.”

Here is a reenactment following Sarah picking up the phone and saying hello…
Agent: (warbling) Hi, it’s Rebecca; I’m returning your call? (Question mark intentional though, yes, that should be a statement).
Editor: (with hesitation) Have you spoken to David this morning?
Agent: noooooooo? (again, should be statement; voiced as question)
Editor: BlabberingStammeringHemmingHawing (note: editor should be cast as a woman who normally has a relaxing confidence, level-headed with a soft voice; we can tell something is off here).
(Though editor has not said a thing, agent suspects she knows the very thing editor is not saying)
Agent: (not meaning to, but yelling) WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY!
Editor: somethingsomethingwhitenoise We Just Got a Caldecott Honor whateverwhateverwhatever

And scene.

Actually, this phone scene ran long, because Sarah and I then tried to guess if David had already been called or not. If he had, maybe he didn’t know that he was supposed to call us; after all, this had never happened to him before. If he hadn’t been informed yet, we didn’t want to ruin the moment when the committee called him. Luckily, David and Sarah were supposed to meet at 10:30 to go over the dummy for his next book. Between the two of us (muddled by emotion), it took far too long to come up with a plan in which Sarah would call David. If he knew something, he would tell her of course, if he didn’t say anything, Sarah would pretend she was calling about their meeting.

Agent: (again, at an unintentional volume) WELL, IF HE KNOWS, WILL YOU TELL HIM TO CALL HIS AGENT! (Yes, that should be a question mark.)

We hang up.

As I explained in my 2010 recap, when an agent gets news on ALA awards morning, we are supposed to swallow the excitement until it has been announced to all. I am not proud of this, but last Monday morning after hanging up with Sarah, I proceeded to run around my office building like a maniac. I ran up the stairs to tell Simon Lipskar. Not in his office, I veer right toward his assistant, who sits next to my assistant, who sits next to another assistant.

Manic Agent: WHERE’S SIMON?
Simon’s Totally Together Assistant: It’s Monday…
Simon’s Totally Together Assistant: Would you like me to call him at home?

Manic Agent then tears down the stairs, calls her own mother, interrupting a class of preschoolers to relay the good news. Her mother marvels, “two years in a row,” and says a whole bunch of things about pride and loving her daughter, but her daughter quickly gets off the phone to keep the line clear. She can’t sit still though, so she runs down the hall to the office of the Children’s Subsidiary Rights Director (who had already sold audio rights to Interrupting Chicken to Recorded Books). Said rights director has her assistant in the office, but in honor of the title character…


Agent’s unruffled assistant comes down the stairs, peaks into her boss’ office doesn’t see her. Agent sees this happen, and gets her attention.

Agent: I’m over here!
Unruffled Assistant: (in everyday voice) David’s on the phone
(Stage direction: without saying a word, Agent swiftly walks away from slack-jawed colleagues in subsidiary rights’ director’s office back to her desk. Unruffled Assistant heads up to her office to put through the call).

Agent: (answering the phone) IsThisCaldecottHonorWinning David! Ezra! Stein! (agent notes, in the future, when a client calls with award news, she will let them tell her without blurting out that she already knows).
Just Slightly Less Than Cool As A Cucumber Client: They told me not to tell anyone.

Honestly, I can’t remember much of our conversation, except that always level-headed and measured David did say at one point…

Just Slightly Less Than Cool As A Cucumber Client: (imagery not verbatim): I’m not the type to do jumping jacks and shoot off fireworks, but I really am very excited.

And, I told him I could tell. I also remember that during David’s effusive gratitude, I was distracted by my colleague, Dan Lazar who came to my doorway. While trying to listen to David, I pointed to the copy of Interrupting Chicken on my shelf, smiling and then wildly put up my hand to Dan to high-five…but Dan thought I was trying to say that Interrupting Chicken had won FIVE awards… well, that is one way to deflate the mania.

Honestly, I did feel revved up all day. It powered me through a spin class that night, and only started to ebb later in the evening. It wasn’t until my book club meeting the next night, when I could explain it. Unlike the announcement of the Newbery Honor for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, which ended an emotional journey, the news that David had won a Caldecott Honor STARTED the day’s emotional journey. Experiencing an ALA awards day that began without expectations and found a client winning an honor was completely different from my experience the previous year.

I wonder what emotions a Medal phone call will bring. Get crackin’, clients!

In all sincerity (and poking a bit less fun at myself), I am over the moon happy for the deserving, David Ezra Stein. As David said in our call, we are thrilled that the committee has recognized a “funny book.” Trying to remain sensible, David says, “I know it doesn’t change the world,” to which I interrupted, “so many more children are going to read and be read Interrupting Chicken now. They’ll remember it as adults as one of their favorite books and part of their childhood, and in that way it does change their world.”

Rebecca Sherman is a fabulous agent with over 9 years of experience at Writer's House. Her clients include Lunch Lady author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, the Scott O'Dell Award Winner Matt Phelan, Caldecott Honor Illustrator Brian Pinkney and Blue Rose Girls Anna Alter and Grace Lin. You can follow Rebecca on twitter @rebeccagent.