Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bumps In the Road and Writing Roles: Part II of Co-Authoring Dialogue with Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell

 Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won the second copy of The Teachers March! from the bonus blog.


Welcome back to my second conversation with Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell on their co-authoring journey. (If you missed the first post when they gave tips for successful collaboration, you'll find it here.) Today we'll talk about some of the technical, business, and creative aspects of their co-authoring project. 


Carol: How did you decide who was going to write what?

Rosie and I learned co-writing is tons more challenging than deciding who’s writing what. We viewed our collaboration as a business. Before we wrote a jot, we contracted details up-front about our partnership. 


Carol: What’s involved with your contracting process? Is it the same as signing a contract with a traditional publisher?

Cat: It’s very different, Carol. As Indie authors, contracting means mapping out the who, what, where, why, when, and how we’d work together – all those details creatives dislike thinking about!


I developed a Statement of Work (SOW) to spell things out before deciding to work together.  With the SOW as our guide, we hashed out everything from identifying goals and target audience to head-spinning stuff like finances, writing, production milestones, and marketing strategies. It took weeks. It wasn’t fun, but it was worth the effort to avoid roadblocks later.


I learned the hard way about establishing clear expectations at the start of a project. Five years ago, I co-facilitated a short-story anthology collection with several other kid lit authors. After months of writing and editing, we couldn’t figure out how to manage royalties or taxes between people living in the US and abroad. Then someone submitted a Young Adult horror story, which didn’t fit our target audience of sweet reads for primary grade kids. So, we never published, and the project folded. That fiasco still haunts me.


Carol: After completing your statement of work, did you decide on content and writing roles?

Rosie: Figuring out writing roles was part of the up-front work. Cat had the big picture in mind, so she wrote the opening and ending sections. She also incorporated feedback from her local SCBWI critique group. 


I knew the story’s details and had lots of ideas for plot mischief, so I drafted the middle. Then I’d hand those chapters over to Cat for her to do her magic with rewrites and editing.


We also created extensive storyboards for our character and added everything we could imagine about them: What did they look like? What did they like to do in their spare time? What were their personality traits? etc.

True story: I was telling my husband about what one of our characters did in our book that day.  I was talking so real about her, my husband had to stop and ask me, “Who is that, and she did what?” It’s funny how your characters become so real to you in your head!

Carol: How did you keep track of your drafts and exchange feedback with each other?

Cat: This is where we got cozy with technology! We used Google’s shared drive for file exchange. We set up character boards and tons of other folders to house ideas and how-to articles in addition to our chapter drafts. 


I also created an excel template to divide our book into its beginning, middle, and end. Shooting for the sweet spot of 30,000 words for a middle-grade tale, we estimated the number of chapters and page count for each chapter. Then we brainstormed chapters and sketched in scenes and story arcs. This spreadsheet became our book outline. We could see what we’d written, where we were headed, and tally word count.


Rosie: We wrote our first drafts in Word on our desktops but used Google docs to edit. That shared drive became our file cabinet in the sky! I highly recommend it. 


We also checked in by email and replied to each other’s comments on Google Drive and agreed before moving on. Mostly, our comments went smoothly, but a few times, we’d have to talk them out. 


Carol: You live 1,500 miles away from each other. How were you able to communicate and keep going?

Rosie: This is my first-time co-authoring. Cat taught me a world of knowledge on how to communicate through Google Docs. 


We also touched base with each other almost daily, even if it was to catch up on small details. I think the key to co-writing is to communicate consistently and be very specific with how things are discussed. Having a plan and keeping organized has also been very helpful. Cat is the guru of folders, lists, and charts that saved us. She even made sure our monthly phone calls, which we called “Call Memories,” were documented and put in special folders.


If one of us needed to leave the office for a few days, we let each other know ahead of time. It really has been like a full-time job, but it’s doing what we love and that is writing!


Carol: How did you manage bumps in the road while co-writing?

Cat: To be honest, living in a pandemic was a major stumbling block for me. In the early days, I couldn’t concentrate. Didn’t want to write. Stepped away from the keyboard for weeks until I could wrap my head around the new normal. Rosie was very understanding.


Beyond Covid, we addressed critical success factors in our Statement of Work, so we didn’t have major stumbles. If differences popped up, we talked them through and kept going. It also helped to have a fab writing partner like Rosie! See our tips about finding your perfect co-author in part 1. 


Carol: How did you decide on a title? Was it difficult to agree on one?

Rosie: It was a long process because we wanted a title that no one had used before, so it took weeks to find the perfect one, Just Between Sam and Me. Here's a you-tube video that describes their process. 


Carol: Who are you using to print the book? How did you make that decision?

Cat:  Because we live in two different states, managing author royalties and tax implications were our biggest production challenge. 


That’s why we chose Bundle Rabbit before we started our partnership. This aggregator distributes print on demand books through Amazon and digital books across multiple platforms, like Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Best for us, it also tracks sales and manages co-author royalties and taxes. 



Carol: Did you have any financial outlay?

Biggest expenses:

  •  Hiring an artist to create the cover and half-dozen black and white interior illustrations. 
  • Hiring a graphic designer to format our print book (Cat’s formatting the e-book on her Vellum Software that runs on Mac OS).


Other expenses:

·  Swag, giveaways, Advance Reader Copies for industry reviewers who require print editions; plus postage and handling. 

· Advertisements on sites like Amazon, Book Bub, Fussy Librarian, etc., especially around launch week. 



·      Fortunate to have professional editors among our friends and family, or editing would be a major expense.

·      Impossible to put a price tag on support received from beta readers, author pals, newsletter subscribers, Street Team, and fellow bloggers like you, Carol! We could never succeed without it. 



Carol: What software/tools would you recommend to writers who want to collaborate and self-publish?

·      Google docs for co-editing and file sharing on Google Drive

·      For Mac OS: Vellum software to format digital books

·      Canva or Photoshop for creating marketing materials

·      Excel or Google sheets to keep track of expenses

·      Google calendar to manage dates for production, guest blogging, and marketing dates.


Carol: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?  Has either of you self-published before? 

CatThis is my fifth book as an Indie, and love the freedom of being an authorprenuer! Today’s publishing technology and social media channels make print-on-demand readily available, so why not?!? My books have been recognized with several writing awards, and my last book, Sweet T and the Turtle Team won the Wind Dancer Film competition and was considered for adaptation to TV or movies. I’m one happy Indie camper.


RosieI love being an Indie Author! It has given me the chance to make my books just the way I want them. I currently have nine children’s book titles. I’ve been able to include personal stories with the memories of family and friends that I love. I’m looking forward to making more. 




Their middle-grade book, Just Between Sam and Me, will be released in print and digital formats on Dec. 2. Rosie and Cat will contact the winner, who will have 24 hours to respond in order to receive their advance print copy of the book as soon as it is available. The print copy is only available within the continental U.S. If you are outside the U.S. you will receive a digital ARC.  PLEASE leave your comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you're uncomfortable leaving your email, contact me at cbaldwin6@me.comGiveaway ends September 22. 


One (1) ARC paperback of Just Between Sam and Me – Continental US


One (1) ARC digital download of Just Between Sam and Me– International

Giveaway begins:

16 September, midnight , ET

Giveaway ends: 

22 September, 12:00 am midnight, ET

Open: International


Must be 18 years or older to enter, have a valid email address and USPS address (US), or current Amazon account (international). One (1) winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget from among all eligible Entries received throughout the Sweepstake period and will be contacted by Cat Michaels via email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 24 hours to respond. If a winner does not respond within 48 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  Prizes are provided by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell, who also host and manage this giveaway. Host is not responsible for technical/internet difficulties.  If you have questions, email to Cat Michaels: cat@catmichaelswriter (dot).com


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Author Interview with Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace + Giveaway

Congratulations to Jolene Guiterez (second week in a row!) who won a copy of The Teacher's March! For those of you who didn't win, here's a second chance! Jolene is adding to her school library, book by book. 


As promised on Wednesday, here is my bonus post taking you behind the scenes with Sandra Wallace and Rich Wallace, authors of The Teachers March!

Carol: How did you find this story? Was it while researching the time period or other individuals involved in the civil rights movement?


Rich and Sandra: Yes, Joyce Parrish O' Neal, whose mother (Too Sweet) participated in the Selma teachers’ march, told us about it while we were interviewing her for a previous civil rights book (Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights).  We’d been discussing Martin Luther King Jr.’s presence in Selma during the Selma to Montgomery march when she mentioned that he’d been there back in January of 1965 to encourage Black citizens to march and returned to applaud the teachers for making history with the teachers’ march. The fact that so few people knew about this crucial event—including us--really opened our eyes. We set out to interview as many of the teachers and their family members as we could.

Reverend Reese and Joyce Parish O'Neal

Reverend Reese and Joyce Parrish O'Neal

Carol: I’m in the process of hosting another collaborative team on my blog and so I’m curious about your collaboration process. How do the two of you work together? Assign jobs, come up with a joint vision, etc.


Rich and Sandra: We always start with a topic that has a strong appeal for us both—usually that means little-known people who have broken barriers and changed the world but their stories have been lost to history, and we really want kids to know about them. Then we read everything we can get our hands-on. In the case of the teachers’ march, primary sources were spare. There were some recollections in slim chapters of civil rights books, and brief, local newspaper coverage, which discriminated against the teachers and portrayed them as trouble-makers, and some New York Times coverage at the time. But the teachers’ march was quickly overshadowed by national coverage that followed subsequent events. John Lewis was beaten leading a Selma march a short time later (notoriously known as “Bloody Sunday”); then Lewis and MLK led the historic march from Selma to Montgomery right after that. The teachers’ march—which set those more famous events into motion—was almost forgotten.


So, we set right into the second phase of our research, which is visiting with the key players, being with them at the location of the history-making event, and chronicling their memories through interviews and oral histories. Those first-hand accounts are vital not only for context, primary source information, and voice, but to humanize history. Learning about the dangers they faced and what was at stake helps us honor their courage and create connections across human experiences. For The Teachers March! we made several trips to Selma and did our interviews in person.


For our books on subjects that are further back in history (Bound by Ice was from the 19th century, for example) we rely on journals, letters, newspaper articles with quotes, artifacts, and other contemporary material. 

When we finally start writing the manuscript, we do tend to “assign” certain sections to each other (or more likely, we volunteer). We serve as each other’s editor and hold each other accountable to the storyline and to the narrative voice.


Boyds Mills Press & Kane is generously providing another copy of A Teachers March! to one of you. Please leave a comment by September 15 (with your email address if you are new to my blog) for a chance to win. 


Investigative journalists Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace are a husband-and-wife team who write books together and as individuals. They are the co-founders of The Daily Good, a nonprofit dedicated to literacy, food security, inclusion, and health in their city of Keene, NH. Sandra’s picture book Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, was presented the 2019 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction by the National Council of Teachers of English. Rich’s many novels include award winners such as Wrestling Sturbridge and Playing Without the Ball. Visit them at, and

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Teachers March! A Picture Book Review + Giveaway

Congratulations to Jolene Guiterrez who won Maiden of Iron from last week's blog.


The Teachers March! (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2020) is a nonfiction picture book that many of you will be interested in adding to your home or school library.

This is the story of Reverend F.D. Reese's activism and how it led to obtaining equal rights for African Americans. Set in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, co-authors, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace use storytelling techniques to bring history alive. 


The first line hooked me right away.

Reverend F.D. Reese taught science at R.B. Hudson High School, but his favorite subject was freedom.

Reverend Reese loved teaching science, but he was passionate about teaching his students that under the Constitution, they had the same rights as whites. 

He led marchers to the courthouse to register to vote but was met by Sheriff  Clark who swung his billy club and threatened harm to the Negroes. Reverend Reese knew that even if they registered, they would be forced to take a voting test that Whites didn't have to take--and that was impossible to pass. 

Reverend Reese thought about how the Black teachers were respected in their community. They were the somebody somebodies. College educated. Shiny leather shoes. Suits and Sunday brooches seven days a week. No group like that had marched for freedom before.

(Side note: When I interviewed people for Half-Truths this was the attitude that was expressed toward the Second Ward High School teachers. They were respected and loved.)

But how would he convince the teachers to march? They were frightened. Reverend Reese needed a "glorious opportunity" and a "triumphant idea." 

He discovered he had both. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King talk on television, he decided to write to him and ask for help with the teachers.

The night that Dr. King spoke at Brown Chapel, seven hundred people packed the auditorium. Two people from the community came also, 15-year-old Joyce Parrish, and her mother "Too Sweet."

Despite their fears of going to jail or losing their jobs, one by one, over a hundred teachers agreed to march for the cause: they were leaders of the community and they would come forward and demonstrate their commitment to gaining the right to vote. 

As a teacher, Too Sweet had a difficult choice to make. She was a single parent. Who would take care of Joyce if she went to jail? More than a hundred teachers pledged to march, and Too Sweet was one of them.

On the morning of January 22, 1965, the teachers who had said they would march packed a peanut butter sandwich and a toothbrush. They would need them if they were arrested. Reverend Reese was worried. He'd seen other individuals arrested as they tried to register. Would the teachers show up for the march?

They did!

When they arrived at the courthouse, they were greeted by the same sheriffs who had angrily confronted Reverend Reese before. 

But this time, the sheriff and his deputies faced a huge crowd of teachers. If they all got arrested, who would teach the students? The superintendent would have to close the schools. The sheriff knew that and had to put away his billy club.

Reverend Reese and his triumphant idea had gained a glorious victory.

Afterward, Joyce was relieved when she found her mother amidst the group of marchers. She and her mother hugged; Dr. King came back and praised the teachers.

Because the teachers marched, other groups marched also. Beauticians and barbers. Undertakers. Even the students.

Many of the Selma marchers were arrested and the nation took notice. They wondered why respectable citizens in suits and dresses, and school kids carrying books, were jailed.

In the summer of 1965, the Voting Rights Act passed. In August, Reverend Reese, Too Sweet, and other teachers climbed the steps to the courthouse. There were no voting tests or bully clubs. 

And the first thing they did, was vote Sheriff Clark out of office. 


The back pages of the book are filled with information. The authors, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace discuss their interviews with Reverend Reese, Joyce Parrish O' Neal, and Lawrence Huggins, another teacher mentioned in the book. In addition, the illustrator, Charly Palmer, discusses his use of photographs to create his unique illustrations. A detailed timeline and bibliography make this an excellent curriculum resource for students in 2nd-5th grades. 


Leave me your name and email address (or email me privately) by September 11 to enter the giveaway. For an extra chance to win, share this post on social media and let me know what you do.


Since I am also working on a book related to civil rights, I was very interested in how the Wallaces became interested in this story. Because I'm running a series on writing collaboratively (check out the first post here) I asked them about that too. Look for their responses to these questions on a bonus blog post on Saturday. (And a second chance to win The Teachers March!)

Bumps In the Road and Writing Roles: Part II of Co-Authoring Dialogue with Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell

 Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won the second copy of The Teachers March! from the bonus blog. ***** Welcome back to my second conversa...