Monday, October 28, 2019

"Small With Big Dreams" at SCBWI-C 2019 Conference

On a spur of the moment I decided to attend a panel discussion with Lisa Kline, Robin Kirk, and Katie Pryle; I was glad that I did! Lisa and Robin are both authors who have been published by Blue Crow Publishing, a traditional small press which Katie co-founded with Lauren Faulkenberry.

Katie Pryal, Lisa Kline, Robin Kirk


My blog readers are no strangers to Lisa's work. I was privileged to host her cover reveal of her most recent book, One Week of You, wrote about Summer of the Wolves, and blogged about her first book, Eleanor Hill.

Lisa has published ten books with publishers of varying sizes including Carus Publishing, Delacorte Press, Zondervan, and now Blue Crow. Her books have been both agented and non-agented. She submitted to Blue Crow without an agent and was impressed with their prompt response; an offer of publication followed within weeks of her requested revisions. This was very different than the long wait she had sometimes experienced with the larger publishing houses. 

Lisa said she has enjoyed her personal connection with Katie and Lauren. "Publishers who are writers know what it’s like to write and publish a book. Katie and Lauren’s comments inspired me to make my book better.” 

Lisa acknowledged that when your book is with a smaller publisher it may be more challenging to get reviews. Although all the publishers have given her marketing assistance and submitted her books for awards, the downside of a large publisher is that after six months the publisher sometimes must turn to the next book they need to promote. 

Blue Crow continues to promote One Week of You on their site and at conferences. In addition, they promote whatever she does. Lisa finds that she has to do a good deal of her own marketing, but all authors in today’s publishing atmosphere must market. Lisa received a larger royalty than most publishers offer, but not an advance. 


Robin Kirk's debut novel The Bond, is a young adult post-apocalyptic story that is much different than the nonfiction titles she has previously published. 

In her presentation, Robin recommended researching all publishing options. Her nonfiction books have been published by Duke University Press, The University of Massachusetts Press, and others. She suggested I consider contacting the Charlotte Historical Society as a potential publisher for HALF-TRUTHS.

She discussed the pros and cons of hybrid publishing which often demands a large investment of time and money. Robin recommended reading what Lyn Miller-Lachmann had to say on the topic if you are interested in pursuing it. Forming a co-op with other authors who publish similar books is another option. Here is an article by Jane Friedman on that. Authors can create a website, form imprints, share resources and even purchase ISBN numbers this way. Here is a link to Jane Friedman's popular chart on different publishing paths. 

Robin also recommended joining the Authors Guild as well as a Facebook group in your writing genre. Finally, she also recommended Zotero, which is a free online bibliography manager that is awesome. Thanks to Robin, my next WIP already has a budding bibliography!


Katie Rose Guest Pryal is the co-publisher of Blue Crow Publishing. Here were some of her observations:

  • She has yet to hear positive experience about hybrid publishing by which she means publishers that require you to pay to get your book published while also requiring you to surrender your rights. On the other hand, she strongly supports self-publishing and author co-op groups.
  • Traditional publishing thrives on keeping authors in the dark. She and Lauren founded Blue Crow with the intention of being transparent, honest, and available to their authors. (Check out their mission statement.)
  • Blue Crow receives unagented submissions and publishes about five books a year. 
  • Referral via one of their authors is the best way to connect with her. 
  • The landscape of trade reviews is changing. It is hard for small presses to get picked up by the trades. At the same time, however, book bloggers are becoming more and more important, even more important than trade reviews, when it comes to marketing a book to a wide audience. 
That final note was music to my ears! It reminded me of my experience at Highlights Summer Camp in 2016 when assistant editor, Cherie Matthews, announced that Carol Baldwin's blog was one that she followed--without knowing I was in the audience! Both times I felt validated--all my blogging work is paying off!

Speaking of small with big dreams, I think my friend's son was the smallest attendee at the fall conference. He has been "reading" for months! 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Two Picture Book Workshops at SCBWI-C

Most of my faithful blog readers know that I've been working on a novel for many years. What you might not know is that novel started as a picture book. Although that is another story, I continue to love picture books.

Recently, I've reviewed a number of nonfiction picture books  including some biographies. It appears to be a growing (perhaps limitless) trend in children's books. As I wrote HALF-TRUTHS I came across two historical figures that became mentor figures to Lillie and Kate. As I mentioned here, they each could be an inspirational subject for a picture book. 

With that in mind, I attended two workshops on picture books at the SCBWI-Carolinas conference. Here are some of my takeaways:

Tara Luebbe

Picture Book Workshop #1

Tara Luebbe spoke on "Mining Nonfiction for Fiction Picture Books." Each of her books, written with her sister, Becky Cattie, started with a real fact. Although this isn't exactly what I have in mind to write, her workshop was informative and inspirational.  

Tara brainstorms as many unusual facts as she can find and then digs deeper. She tries to marry different ideas together and thinks, "What can I add to make this marketable and kid-friendly?" She researches to make sure that the idea hasn't been taken, does more research into the subject, and even finds jokes related to the topic. Her wide range of picture books are a testimony that this process works!

She mentioned submitting back matter with your manuscript and to use art notes as needed, particularly for action. "Don't overuse them. If the script doesn't make sense without them, then it's okay."

Picture Book Workshop #2

The second picture book workshop I attended (there were others, these were the ones I selected) was, "Bringing Your Voice to Nonfiction" with Lina Maslo and Alice Ratterree. Lina is the author illustrator of Free as a Bird and an upcoming biography Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia. Alice has illustrated several books but focused on Dangerous Jane, the biography of Jane Addams. 

Lina Maslo

Alice Ratterree

Lina and Alice stressed that the person you are writing about inspires you. And as you write, remember to:

#1 Discover! Learn something new! Play!

#2 Cross pollinate as you write. Draw from other areas of your life. 

#3 Always ask yourself,  "Who am I creating for?"

All three of these points resonated with me. It is easy to lose the sense of play and discovery when we're writing so I appreciated the reminder. 

I   Writers are also encouraged to consider the character's natural environment, his or her time period, and the city, town or village where your character lives. Nonfiction biographers must constantly consider what influenced their character. I was particularly interested in how Alice demonstrated that the color palette she used in Dangerous Jane reflected the colors in Jane's life.

Speaking of nonfiction, here's one more slide from Vicki Selvaggio's intensive:

She told me, "This varies for picture books as you usually don't need a proposal for a nonfiction picture book. This information applies mainly for middle grade and young adult books." Depending on the topic of book, Vicki always determines what to send in her proposal based on the publisher's submission guidelines and the type of nonfiction project. 

Is there a nonfiction picture book in your future? If so, I hope these tips will help you on your journey. Keep me posted on your progress--we can compare notes along the way!

Next Up: Small With Big Dreams

Monday, October 14, 2019

Analyzing the Successes of the Past and Present for Creating Unique Stories of the Future: Intensive Workshop with Vicki Selvaggio

Congratulations to Carrie Schmidt and Becky Scharnhorst who each won a copy of When We Were Alone from last weeks blog. 


Two weeks ago I attended the fall SCBWI-Carolinas conference. In the next few posts I'll share some of my highlights with you.

First up was the writing intensive with Vicki Selvaggio on Friday morning.

Vicki is a knowledgable, passionate, and accessible agent with Storm Literacy Agency. She poured herself into her presentation! Here are some of the points she made:

  • She loves seeing potential in other people’s writing and encouraging writers not to give up.
  • At the same time, writers need to delve deeper to make their stories stand out from other books in the marketplace. Additionally, writers must add layers so that children [and teens] emotionally connect with every aspect of a story.
  • If you have an idea for a series, remember your book has to be able to stand alone. If you are a debut author, a publisher might want to base a series on how the first book is received.  Or, sometimes the publisher loves the series premise and an offer is made. Word it as “Series potential" in your query and be prepared to pitch other books. Those other ideas don't necessarily need to be completed, but the writer should have an idea of how to pitch what the next (or next two) book(s) will cover. (Realize that these practices vary from agent to agent.)
  • Your manuscript must appeal to the Eye: How does it look? Is there creativity in opening paragraphs? Is there adequate white space?  Sentences that are the same length sometimes have the tendency to sound the same. Make sure there are variations in the length of  your sentences. It's not good if something looks the same and sounds the same. To the Ear: How something sounds makes a difference. To the Hand: How does the manuscript make someone feel? A book must emotionally connect with the reader. 
  • A manuscript must have 3 C’s: clarity, consistency, and a cohesive feeling. 


The opening page must include a sense of frustration
and what the character wants.


  • Think of transitions like the reader is moving through a house freely. If transitions aren’t smooth, the reader will have to stop and open doors. Consider too, how you're ending your chapters. Are you transitioning your readers into the next chapter in a smooth way, while keeping them engaged? 


The story has ended, but the journey for your character has just begun.
What will happen next?


  • What is not said can have greater impact than what is said. The same goes for purposeful miscommunication.
  • Dialogue should move the story forward. If there’s no change after the dialogue, it isn’t doing its job.
  • Incorporate dialogue with subtext. Possibly characters disagree about one thing, but really are talking about something else.


  • In life, nothing comes easy. Without the battle, the win isn’t as gratifying. The same is true in stories. If you give your main character what s/he wants before s/he struggled for it, the story won’t be gratifying for your readers. 
  • ASK YOURSELF: Why am I writing this? Who cares? 
  • Your job is to make your reader care. 
  • Consider rejections as the fuel to success. 

Remember in the beginning of this post I mentioned that Vicki was accessible? When I told her that I wanted to pitch HALF-TRUTHS to her, she made sure to fit me into her busy schedule. She listened, asked questions, and encouraged me to submit to her. 

No doubt about it. Vicki Selvaggio is on my top 10 list of agents!

Next Up: Tips on Non-Fiction. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

When We Were Alone: A Review and a Giveaway

Every once in awhile you run across a picture book that informs readers in a beautifully, albeit sad manner. When We Were Alone by David Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett is one of those books.

The book is accessible to young readers and also speaks powerfully to adults. Featuring a story within a story, the book opens with a Nósisim (my grandchild), asking her Nókom (her grandmother) about things that are different about her. The girl notices that her grandmother wears colorful clothes "like she dresses in rainbows," that she wears her hair in a long braid, speaks in Cree, and spends time with her family.   

With every answer,  Nókom tells a short story about how when she was young she was sent to a school far from home. For example, at the school, the girls had to wear clothes that "weren't colorful at all. We all mixed together like storm clouds."  Nókom says, "They wanted us all to be like everybody else." So now, her grandmother loves to wear colorful clothes. 

When Nósisim asks why her grandmother wears her hair in a long braid, she explains that they cut all the girls hair and "Our strands of hair mixed together like blades of dead grass."

"But sometimes when we were alone, we would pick the blades from the ground. We would braid them into the short hair they had given us, and we would have long hair again."

With lovely rhythm and repetition, Nókom explains how whenever something was taken from them, she and her friends would come together "when they were alone" and find a way to remember their home, their language, and their people. 

Educators, you will find an excellent classroom resource here for K-3rd grade. This would be a great book to use on Indigenous Peoples' Day is October 14th.

David Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation) and Julie Flett  (Cree-Metis) are significant contributors to Native Nations literature and artwork. Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away this book, courtesy of Portage & Main Press, through our Native Nations issue of Talking Story to be published on October 9. Leave a comment (alone with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name. If you leave a comment through the newsletter, I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends October 14.

THE DOUBLE CROSSING by Sylvia Patience: A Middle Grade Historical Fiction Review, Author Interview, & Giveaway

  Sylvia Patience , the author of The Double Crossing   ( Paper Angel Press, 2023),   reached out to me with a request to review her histori...