Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Book Geeks Rule

Kimberly at YA Books Central has added a Cafe Press shop. Check out the new YA Books Central items you can purchase.

15% of each purchase goes toward covering operating costs for the site (mainly mailing out books for the many contests held there.)

My favorite t-shirt: Book Geeks Rule!

If you have a saying you'd like to see on a shirt, let Kimberly know so she can add it. Buy a shirt...or two or three...and help support her efforts!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My unscientific study: how to get out of the slushpile

I'm sure you've seen Agent Obscura's posts this week where she's doing a "choose your own adventure" lesson on how the process works when you pitch an agent. I don't have the energy to turn this into a "choose your own adventure" post, but I thought today's mail might be an interesting study.

Today, I received a box with 13 self-published books to review for YA Books Central.

1. My first pass through these, I picked up three to examine more closely. I chose these based on the interesting cover art.

2. I opened this box before I opened THE box...the box containing material I was waiting for (Princess Academy, Zen Shorts and Cowboy Camp).

3. Of course, I browsed through the self-published material and quickly focused my attention on the highly-anticipated material.

4. I read one of the books from my Amazon box and LOVED it. So, I stopped everything and wrote a review. You can see my Cowboy Camp review here.

5. I attended to some urgent matters (dinner for the kiddos) and then came back to one of the three books--the one with what appeared to be the strongest opening.

What can we learn from this (besides that I need to spend more time writing!)? Whether you're trying to target a reviewer, an agent, or an editor, it's important to stand out, to be original, to target a person who is interested in the type of things you write. I know I don't always like what I'm "supposed to" like. It's all about personal taste; don't be offended if your writing doesn't make a connection with the agent/editor/reviewer. It's all subjective. Also, it's easy to see why some books make it out of the slushpile and others don't. When an editor has to choose between manuscripts she's requested vs manuscripts that just appear on her desk, she's always going to read the juicy stuff first.

New Reviews

I have posted my review of Rules by Cynthia Lord at YA Books Central.

An excerpt:

RULES is a touching story about families, friendship and fitting in. Catherine, Jason and David are just like real kids next door—the kind of kids you fall in love with and want to shelter from the harsh world.

I read RULES in one sitting on the day it arrived; I couldn’t put it down. I felt the tension and the love—and I wanted to stay in Catherine’s world for just a bit longer. I carried the characters around in my head and my heart for several days...and, I’m not sure they’ll really ever leave me.

I have also recently revivewed The Cranium Star Performer Book of Outrageous Fun.

The Star Performer Book of Outrageous Fun comes with a dry erase marker, clay, a die, a timer, a kazoo, Star Performer cards and a mini Humdinger game board. The book is slim enough to fit into a backpack and is perfect for roadtrips, waits in restaurants and slumber parties.

A perfect gift for the performer in your life!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Happy One Year Blogiversary to Me!

One year ago, Baby K was 9 months old and woke each morning at 5:00 for a bottle. I snuggled her in the dark, hoping she'd go back to sleep. I was sleep deprived and needed "just one more hour" of rest before starting my day. While I snuggled and wished for sleep, I cruised the internet.

I was introduced to blogging by my friend Heather. Her blog was my first stop each day. I looked forward to my daily glimpse into Heather's life. I was intrigued, so I started a blog.
Like many first blog posts, it started, "Well, this is it! I am officially a blogger. I have no idea what to write..." I posted a limerick I had worked on the night before. One year later, I'm still writing limericks. Right now, I'm working on a picture book written in limerick. (Unfortunately I still need to work on my rhyming technique.)

I can't recall where I first learned of children's writing blogs. Early on, I discovered Harold Underdown's site, Anastasia Suen's site and Cynsations. From there, I began following links until I ran across Don Tate and Susan Taylor Brown.

One year ago, I wrote this about Harold Underdown:

I'm so used to thinking of my cyber friends as real life friends, that I almost slipped up the other day and told someone I knew Harold Underdown. I don't know him at all, but he's a great source of writing information. I spend a lot of time researching on his site.

Here's the first mention of Anastasia Suen in my blog:

I stumbled upon Anastasia Suen's web site, Yahoo Group and blog. I've received more useful information from her in the last week than I have from any other source in the past year.

Yes, go ahead and laugh at me! I was very, very green. Some of my posts remind me of a toddler's reaction the first time she visits the zoo. Everything is new and exciting. I've come a long way in the last year, and I owe it all to blogging.

I learned a lot about poetry in April (makes sense since it's National Poetry Month!) I was already getting mouthy about marketing. I was obsessed with American Idol, and I discovered Lauren Barnholdt and Robyn Schneider's blogs. Shortly after that, Lauren convinced Nadia Cornier to blog, and I found that too. April was a big month!

In May, I was still thinking about book marketing and was disappointed to learn that not all books make it to the bookstore, and not all books are pushed by their publishers. Another newbie writer month! I was also fixated on making Boyfriend Lists and on my 20 year high school reunion.

It doesn't look like I did much writing in June. It does look like my kids had a great summer with a flurry of activities. July was full of more vacation activities, my continued obsession with Because of Winn Dixie and a hyper post about book packagers and other stuff.

In August, I took Anastasia Suen's picture book class and gushed about it in several posts. In September I decided I was blogging too much when I started having dreams about other people's books.

In September, I started a journal at Live Journal and started posting my blog entries in both blogs. (As of very recently, I've decided to keep LJ for my "fun" posts and Blogger for my more professional posts.) I love the community-building aspects of Live Journal, but I just can't give up my one year of blogging history at Blogger!

From October through December, my party-girl, sugar-addicted self took over. I sure don't see much evidence of writing going on! (Another post, but I think I'm going to term October-January as my sugar coma months.) I know I was writing, but I definitely was not focused!

January brought a relaxing Hawaiian vacation and renewed focus on writing and submissions.

In February, I started a blog for writers living in the Central U.S.

It's been an incredible year! I met so many amazing people and my life is richer because of YOU!

And, now...I must go take care of the kids who are waiting for mom to plan yet another fun-filled day of Spring Break. I'll do it sugar-free to see if I can avoid the sugar coma that threatens my sanity and my ability to write. You can take away my sugar, but not my caffeine.

I will remain...

One Over-Caffeinated Mom

SCBWI Retreat Update

For those of you in the Kansas City area:

APRIL RETREAT--The deadline for the Kansas SCBWI April Retreat is March 31. If you're in need of time to focus on your writing, this is a perfect opportunity. Choose one of three tracks—Novel, Picture Book, or Sequester—and work on what you really need. Friday is for group activities and time to write; Saturday, spend time on your track.

Not sure about spending the night? We've added a DAY RATE for people who would rather sleep in their comfy beds at home!


* Friday afternoon/evening only (1 meal) - $45 members / $50 nonmembers
* Saturday only (3 meals) - $85 members / $95 nonmembers
* Both Friday and Saturday (4 meals) - $120 members / $135 nonmembers

Download the registration form at our website: http://www.kansas-scbwi.org/ .

Friday, March 10, 2006

Disney Channel High School Musical -- Part 4

You may recall how giddy I was over the Disney Channel Original Movie, High School Musical back on January 21, the morning after its premiere. I've talked about this movie several times since then because I'm so impressed with the Disney marketing machine.

A few stats-
  • The premiere drew 7.7 million viewers in 5 million households.
  • The soundtrack has gone GOLD! Gold, people!
  • The soundtrack was number 1 on the top 200 chart last week.
  • Zach Efron's name (Zach is the male lead) was the second most searched name on Google's Zeitgeist by late January.
  • With each showing, Disney has used a new marketing twist--downloadable lyrics, itunes downloads, a sing a long. Tonight--a dance party! (You can print out dance moves here.)

There was a nice story in our morning paper about this movie. I found it online. It's a must-read for children's writers.

Why? Director Kenny Ortega talks about reaching the tween market. (Yes, a lot of marketing to tweens stuff in this article!) One of my favorite lines:

"I knew from all the research we do and talking we do with kids that they feel good about being kids," he said. "There is definitely tension and angst and issues, but at the end of the day, they have an optimistic viewpoint."

And, related to marketing to tweens, "Tweens and teens spend their lives online," said Elllis [President of youth marketing company, 12 to 20], who counts Diseny among his clients. "The first thing they do when they get home is sign on to the computer and chat with their friends. If someone says, 'Have you seeen this?' all of a sudden everyone is talking about it."

Read the article! And, if you haven't seen what all the hype is about, tune into Disney Channel tonight at 7 central.

**Edited to add--It just occurred to me that a perfect reading selection for middle graders obsessed with basketball is Airball: My Life in Briefs, by LD Harkrader from Kansas! High School Musical is not just a movie about the school musical. It's a movie about basketball and self-discovery. A great parallel to experiences of Kirby, the main character in Airball: My Life in Briefs.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I can't wait to read....

I can't wait to read this! In Ian Falconer's newest Olivia book, Olivia forms a band! AND...the cover shows her twirling a baton. A piggie with a baton!

I just love baton twirling! I was one of the original members (back in 1973!) of the largest group in the Midwest. It's also one of the best in the country, consistently placing high at Nationals! We weren't so good back then, but I was the first student the Director took to nationals way back in 1983. (I'd link you, but for the safety of the kids, I think I'll just let you think it's as geeky as it's portrayed on TV. If you've ever seen this kids, you know that baton twirling ROCKS!)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wouldn't this be fun?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been trying to come up with a donation item for my daughter's school auction. The PTO raised $25,000 last year with a school auction and fun run. This money helps with extra field trips, supplies, playground equipment, PE gear, computers...things that are "needed" but aren't in the budget.

People donate things like time shares, frequent flyer miles, spa days, gym memberships, autographed sports items....things from their parents' businesses. I'm not connected in this city--not like I would be if I lived "back home" near my extended family, so I'm really struggling with this.

Yesterday, I got a bright idea. Why not do something that would also help local writers in the area? I emailed the leaders of two of our local writing groups to see what they thought. They liked it. Next I emailed the principal (still waiting to hear back from him).

Here's the event I proposed:

We would auction a lunch with Kansas and Missouri children's writers (probably authors of picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels) for the winning bidder and 15-20 friends. I'd try to get a lunch sponsor to cater the meal and maybe see if a bookstore would co-sponsor and provide a gift certificate. Lunch entertainment would be the area authors--either reading from their books, or doing something fun from their school visit/storytelling talk. The winner could use it as a birthday party, an outing for their class, or a fun event for another organization they are involved with.

After some additional brainstorming with some area writers, my latest proposal is:

PJs, Pizza and Picturebooks
An almost-sleepover with area writers and illustrators

Story telling, games and crafts (tied to the books' themes) with our author and illustrator volunteers.

We'd open it up to a whole grade level and the parents could do group bidding. The grade that bids the most, wins the event.

I think this is a win/win. The school needs auction items. The authors are looking for a way to increase their exposure among teachers and book buyers. It would also make a nice small-scale event to use as practice. We could easily take this concept to the library, book store or children's museum as a fundraiser for those groups. I'm all about taking the books to the people, on their level...wherever that may be!

I'll let you know what happens next. If the principal likes the idea, I'll open the brainstorming up to the area writers and illustrators.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Another good idea :-)

I saw this link on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog today. Michigan SCBWI has a listing of all the 2006 books authored or illustrated by their members.

What a great idea! I also noticed that they have a listing of all the speakers in their area. Again, a great idea. it should be a no brainer to make it easy for schools and other organizations to find speakers (including school visits).

You need to take a look at those book covers. Yummy! I see several I'd like to add to my collection.

Now, before this turns into a rant, I'm signing off...

because...I just don't understand why people don't want to yell and scream and shout about their new books.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thinking BIG

I've been thinking a lot lately about book promotion and the relationship between librarians, booksellers, authors and schools.

It started when I attended the awards ceremony for an excellent young writers' competition hosted by our county library system and Reading Reptile. There's a reason Reading Reptile was voted the best bookstore in the country last year. They get it. (By the way, look at what's coming up next. They are hosting the DNA Litfest the weekend of March 30th. Some heavy-hitters are coming to town!)

Later that week, Susan Taylor Brown sent me a link to the Children's Literature Network. I've been dragging my feet, but I intend to join. This organization brings authors, illustrators, booksellers, librarians, teachers--everyone involved with children's literature--together. While many of their current members are from Minnesota, you'll see they are seeking members from everywhere. You might also notice that they host a lot of literacy events, author events, book signings, and that they have a lot of marketing resources that their members will find helpful.

Today, I picked up a copy of one of those local children's magazines that sits in the entry to every kid-oriented establishment in the city. As far as free magazines go, the quality is good, but most parents read it for the ads. Ya gotta know what's going on in the wonderful land of Oz! They are hosting a writing competition for young children. Smart business people that they are, there's an ad sales tie in--the company that will provide savings bonds to the winner.

So, I'm sitting here looking at all this stuff, and I'm thinking there has to be a way to get all these people to communicate. It would be nice to start a regional organization to host some awesome events and boost everyone's visibility. It would be a big win for everyone who supports children's literacy.

But, who has the time to start or maintain another organization? Not me. I need to work on getting published (Yes, I know it's strange to think of all these things with no contract in hand, but that's how my mind works when it comes to this stuff. I'm usually thinking three steps ahead of where I am.)

I'm not sure what the answer is. I'm guessing this situation is not just a local/regional "problem."

In my dreams I'd love to see an event co-sponsored by SCBWI, JWKC, the Kansas City Star, an independent bookseller, and...dreaming big here...how about the state library association, a University and the State Board of Education in Kansas in Missouri. (Realistically, I know we can't get this many groups to cooperate, but it is my dream.)

We'd host a gigantic literacy festival. Authors and illustrators would demo their school visit programs to give librarians and teachers a taste of what they have to offer. Booksellers and libraries in both states (Kansas City sits on a state line, for those of you who don't live here) would feature books from participating authors.

  • At the event, we'd push the teaching guides.
  • We'd have coupons consumers could exchange for a special gift when they go into the bookstore to buy a book by one of the featured authors.
  • We'd host a youth writing competition
  • We'd have mini-lessons that kids could atttend to hear authors and illustrators speak and to learn how to write or illustrate.
  • There would be snacks and entertainment and activities related books by participating authors.

It would be a three-ring circus with the best, most engaging, book presentations you've ever seen.

What do you think? What's going on in your community to bring everyone together to support children's literacy? What can or should be done?

Edited to add: The fabulous Elizabeth C Bunce also provided this link to this weekend's Children's Literature Festival in Warrensburg, MO. If you go, or if you've been there before, I'd love you to tell me all about it. It looks similar to what I imagined above. I wonder why I just heard about it today? Cool!

Edited again: Don Tate posted this link to Staple, the Independent Media Expo. Read the description, this looks very similar to what I was thinking. Shoulda known it would be in Austin! Read this description and think KIDS to imagine how this could work in your area as a Kids' Expo: An event to promote independent creative media: comics, mini-comics, zines, art, and self-published literature. Building a community to encourage communication between creators and their audience. All the while having a damn good time in the Live Music Capital of the World - Austin, TX.

Edited yet again: My friend Sharon directed me to the Texas Book Festival. YES! This is what I'm thinking! It is on a larger scale than I thought (look at the major sponsors!), but I did say THINK BIG! I'd love to check this out. Maybe I can get some KC writers to roadtrip with me next year!

Mabel O'Leary

I reviewed Mabel O'Leary Put Peas In Her Ear-y today at YA Books Central. I really, really like this book. I'll forgive the forced "ear-y" rhyme because it's hilarious. It has great illustrations. I love books where there's complete chaos--this one has it!