The District of Columbia Public Library newsletter just popped up in my in-box, and I was thrilled to see that DC has a “Books from Birth” program. Early childhood literacy is a crucial building block for later education and parent/child bonding.
The Books from Birth program is open to all children under the age of five who live in Washington, D.C. All enrolled children receive a free book in the mail each month from birth until they turn five.
DC partners with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. According to their website, the program has provided free books for 1 in 10 children under the age of 5 in the U.S. Head to the Imagination Library website to see if you can register your child.
Your state may also have a state program. Google “your state + free books for kids” to get a list of links. Many of them are partnered with Imagination Library but some provide books through other education, private, or health-based grants.
PJ Library provides free books to Jewish Children and their families. You can sign up on their website for books that center Jewish values and culture. PJ Library is specifically for younger children but children 8.5 to 13 can enjoy middle-grade books through PJ Our Way.
If you’ve been following along, you know that I recently received my advanced reader copies for my middle-grade debut novel, SHIRA AND ESTHER’S DOUBLE DREAM DEBUT. The book won’t be in your bookstore until October 10, 2023, but here are a few good reasons why you should preorder yours now.
We’ve all seen what happens when the supply chain is interrupted. When there is unexpected demand, it can take a long time for production to catch up. When you preorder, the publishing company can gauge demand for the book and order accordingly.
A successful preorder campaign creates buzz for a book and builds anticipation for the launch. Especially if you, the consumer, posts about your purchase and support!
Sales of foreign rights and other rights are more likely to be successful if the book has buzz.
Independent bookstores often purchase only one or two copies of a book (especially from a debut author) if they are unsure how it will do. If you order from your local independent bookstore now, they will have guaranteed sales and a reason to order more!
If there’s one lesson learned from last year’s activism and protests, it’s that silence is complicity. In that spirit, I share some thoughts about the children’s book community, diversity, and SCBWI.
SCBWI is a family business. As with many family businesses, a few people who were friends and family worked hard at a thing they loved, taking no money for a time. Eventually, they found other people with the same passion, and the organization grew from mimeographed newsletters to an organization with international digital communications and conferences. As the original founders aged, they gave the organization to their children and so it has grown for 50 years. In order to grow, they also needed a small army of volunteers.
That’s right. The Regional Advisors who liaise with members, book hotels, coordinate schedules, plan menus, develop mentorships, judge scholarships…all unpaid. There are also one-and-done volunteer opportunities for event registration, driving industry professionals, etc.
The volunteers in charge of big events recruit already low-paid editors and agents and authors for a small stipend and sometimes travel and lodging reimbursement. No industry professional is getting rich off of these events considering they often put in many hours planning panels and reviewing manuscripts and portfolios to “give back” to the children’s book community with the hope that they’ll find a diamond in the rough.
Back to the volunteers. They are compensated with complimentary entrance to regional and national conferences and VIP events where they might grip and grin with Children’s Book royalty in the hopes that it might further their careers. It’s no surprise that the “it’s who you know” proverb is important in any industry.
Now, doing all this organizing takes a lot of time and energy. The active volunteers are often whiter and wealthier, but there are exceptions. There are some diverse creators who have been working diligently to grow the organization. Some volunteers are not at all wealthy and their sweat equity gets them into places of which they would be otherwise priced out.
Does this sound familiar? Interns in the children’s publishing world have also been historically whiter and wealthier because they can work unpaid and still live in NYC. Just as interns become industry professionals, Regional Advisors sometimes end up on the Board of Advisors after they have given many years of service.
I was an SCBWI-NE conference co-director in 2008, and co-director of the New England “Many Voices” conference in 2009. I was a Regional Advisor from 2009-2011. In that time, I advocated for scholarships, conferences, and keynoters that would increase diverse representation. It is because I gave so much energy to the organization, that I care about its future. Let me also say that I am writing this with information that was true at the end of my own tenure. If you know of Regional Advisors who are being paid, please say so in the comments.
It is my humble opinion that we will not see lasting change in the organization until the rank and file members are diverse and that diversity is reflected in the regional staff. THAT will not happen until volunteers are replaced by paid staff who are hired to answer to the many voices of its members.
Last night I gathered some of my most supportive women for a Moxie watch party to celebrate where we are now–in life, in our careers, in our parenting, and in our feminism. I had loved the book by Jennifer Mathieu and have been eager to see the film since I’d heard that Amy Poehler would be directing it.
We filled up the chat bar with our texts–cheers for the young women as they fight the patriarchy and transform, eye rolling when the stupid adults were stupid, cheers for the romantic male lead, boos for the villain and the administrator who ignores her duties, fists raised for the inclusion of intersectional feminism and LGBTQ representation, gasps when the inevitable shocking plot-twist appeared. Perhaps it was, as this NYT reviewer says, “unfocused and too often unbelievable,” but for us, that was the point.
We can all point to too many real-life f-ed up news stories (Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, Trump) that I saw symbolized by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s beautiful villain in Netflix’s Moxie. Everyday there are new #metoo situations in the news and others that we only hear about in whisper campaigns. As a parent I have felt ineffectual when I heard after-the-fact that sexual assault and harassment issues infected the schools to which I sent my own children. These stories and the patriarchy have beaten us down over the years taking away our hope that anything will be better anytime soon. As a white-woman I am tired of losing, yet when I feel that I have lost, I know that there are others that have lost even more. So I was absolutely fine, buoyed in fact, when I could lose myself in this feminist Quasi-Fantasy*, with my glass of wine and my girlfriends. Says one girlfriend:
Anna, is there a word for quasi-fantasy*? That’s how it felt to me. Simplistic kind of on purpose, just giving us the gift of more ease since we live the BS of reality. Quasi-Buffy but instead of slaying vampires they slayed football players with Zines.
The alternative reality that props us up for another day. Shows like Madame Secretary make me feel that way too, or Wonder Woman. Just a bit where we get to pretend the work could be easier and we could get our vindication and dance party at the end of the damn day
YES! Let me stand akimbo with my lasso of truth. I am aching for that dance party where I can thrash about, that catharsis when in the movie when Lucy challenges the book list, that passionate release when Lucy and Amaya kiss, how sexy it is when Seth asks for consent, the power when Vivian finds her voice, and the chilling hope when the students who walk out scream in chorus.
If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
Welcome to a new occasional feature I’m calling #MarketingMonday. This is a place for authors to learn about book marketing from each other and those in the industry. The feature will include helpful website links, interviews, and brainstorms.
Today, an interview with debut middle-grade author Ginger Johnson whose book The Splintered Light (Bloomsbury) just launched last week! If you missed the summary, check my last post here!
Ginger, welcome and thank you for visiting Creative Chaos! What surprised you about the publishing and book launch process?
I suppose what surprised me most (even though EVERYONE told me this) is how much time I spent on things other than writing. I learned so many new technologies and applications to support my marketing efforts. At times, I felt very much like an old dog trying to learn new tricks, but I have a slew of new skills that I hadn’t anticipated.
You’ve been Instagram-ing like crazy! Have your engagement and follow numbers changed?
I haven’t kept track of specific numbers, although I do know I’ve gained probably 100-150 new followers. I used to follow more than be followed, and that has reversed now.
That’s exciting! What was the best marketing advice you got from a fellow author?
One of my fellow 2018 debuts (I can’t remember who or I’d attribute) shared a spreadsheet she had made to keep track of what marketing she was doing and when she needed to do it. I made a similar spreadsheet about six months out to form a concrete plan and to keep track of what I needed to do. If I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have done much marketing at all, or else I would have turned into the Stress Queen while trying to do everything.
Another good piece of advice came from Julie Berry who told me that I only have one debut and that I should do as many events as possible.
I love the advice to keep track of all your marketing activities. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and duplicate efforts or drop something—especially with a debut. What was the best advice or help you got from the marketing team at Bloomsbury?
My publicist at Bloomsbury (Lizzy Mason) is incredibly wonderful. She’s always been a source of cheer and encouragement, and she’s arranged some great opportunities for me to meet with booksellers and schools across the country.
Did you give yourself a budget and if so, what did you spend it on?
I did all of my design work myself (website, book trailer, bookmarks, banner, etc) saving my budget for printing some high-quality swag—really nice bookmarks and large round stickers. I also had a banner printed for bookstore events.
The majority of my budget is being spent on travel. Even though Bloomsbury is generously sending me on a book tour and to NCTE this year, I booked some additional trips to reach audiences in other parts of the country.
I saw that you have a LONG list of venues you’ll visit on your tour. That banner will make it easier for book buyers to identify you as the author and not a store employee. (“Where’s the…adult nonfiction, bathroom. etc…”) How exciting for your new readers.
What aspect of your marketing plan are you most excited about?
I’m excited about my school visits planned during my book tour. I don’t think there’s anything quite like seeing your book in the hands of your intended audience.
Absolutely! Is there anything else you learned or that you discovered that I didn’t ask about?
Marketing is a beast that can consume all your creative energy. It’s ok to not do everything. Some people blog, some people have newsletters, some people tweet incessantly. Once I stopped looking at the marketing everyone else was doing and gave myself permission to do what felt comfortable for me, the marketing became manageable rather than overwhelming.
Happy Book Birthday to Ginger Johnson and The Splintered Light from Bloomsbury! I’m jumping for joy to recommend this new middle-grade book. I was honored to hear an excerpt of the book in its earliest stages and I fell in love immediately.
Reminiscent of The Giver, this literary debut middle-grade fantasy is beautifully written and stunningly creative.
“A deep dive into a world-within-a-world, a heart-within-a-heart.” –Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist
“The joys of the senses and the glories of creation shine in this radiant debut.” –Julie Berry, Printz Honor author of The Passion of Dolssa
“Ginger Johnson’s debut is as vibrant as the colors her characters wield in this novel about creativity, collaboration, and creation.” –Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of The Water Castle and The Firefly Code
Ever since his brother Luc’s disappearance and his father’s tragic death, Ishmael has lived a monotonous existence helping his mother on their meager farm where everything is colorless. Until one morning a ray of light fragments Ishmael’s gray world into something extraordinary: a spectrum of color he never knew existed. Emboldened, Ishmael sets out to find answers hoping his long lost brother might hold the key.
He finds Luc in the Hall of Hue, one of the seven creative workshops at The Commons, the seat of all new creation. Luc is completing the final days of his training as a Color Keeper, adding the finishing touches of color to a brand new world designed and built by a team of young artisans. Although his heart calls him to a future as a Color Keeper, Ishmael feels too guilty to leave the duties of his old life behind. But when a catastrophe destroys nearly all of the color and light at the Hall of Hue, Ishmael and Luc are suddenly at severe odds. Torn between his family and his destiny, Ishmael must learn when to let go of the past, when to trust the path ahead, and when to believe in himself.
#Kidlit writer/illustrator friends! I took the summer off from blogging for my own WIP and the many transitions happening in my personal world, but great books came out all summer long.
Come September, I’ll be Back-to-School Blogging and would love to focus on your mid-list PB, MG, or YA read that didn’t get enough attention because it was a late spring/summer release. I’d like to post interviews, anatomy-of-an-illustration posts with process drawings, what’s-the-seed-of-your-story posts, and more. Ideally, I’d have enough to post M, W, F throughout September starting 9/5/18. I’ll be prepping these in the next two weeks.
If you are interested in taking part, pitch me your book/post idea with a Facebook message or email. annaeleanorjordan at gmail dot com
VCFA alumni get first dibs so mention that in your note.
If I have space for fall releases I’ll add those in.
SCBWI PAL published books only.
In July of 2011 I graduated with my M.F.A. in Writing with a concentration in writing for children and young adults. I was sure that I was on my way. Publication would be right around the corner. When I received the 2013 PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery award and got an agent shortly after—I was sure that I was on my way. Publication would be right around the corner. A revise and resubmit within the year convinced me that I was on my way. Publication would be right…well you get it.
Persistence is the golden ticket in this business but isn’t easy. I’ve found that a supportive community of other writers and regular professional development keeps me going (along with my “morning pages,” thank you Julia Cameron.)
If you haven’t picked up an award-winning volume by Melanie Crowder where have you beenyou have a lot to choose from. Young adult historical novels such as the beautiful novel in verse about Clara Lemlich’s campaign for worker’s rights, Audacity, or the heart-breaking An Uninterrupted View of the Sky about Bolivian prisons and the children and families who live there. Middle grade novels that range from the fantastic, A Nearer Moon, to the ecological near future, Parched, to the contemporary, Three Pennies. All of them are lyrical and tightly written stories about characters with realistic, emotional journeys.
Melanie has been kind enough to drop by Creative Chaos.
Welcome, Melanie! This is not the first class you’ve taught online, but this is the first class I’ll be taking online. As a seasoned face-to-face educator, how do you use technology to affect successful learning?
Well, if we could beam every single attendee to the beautiful Writing Barn and back again each night to resume our busy, busy lives I would love to teach this course face-to-face!
But since we haven’t we caught up to Star Trek tech yet, the online platform the Writing Barn uses is pretty seamless. Attendees can all see and hear one another, we can screen-share documents, and have a real-time conversation. I taught a course on Emotion in Fiction using this system and it went very well—we had a great group that generated some really fascinating conversations.
It seems that work-shopping one’s work with other students is an important part of the class. Are comments delivered in print or is there an actual discussion via video?
Yes! We learn so much by putting on different hats—writer, teacher, editor, student. Many times we can see elements that aren’t working in others’ work that we are blind to in our own—it can be so illuminating—especially when the topic we are covering in class becomes clear on the pages we’re discussing.
Your curriculum is chock full of basics including plot, structure, character, conflict and more advanced topics such as voice, dialogue and theme. Are there auxiliary readings or is all the content delivered during the Wednesday night lessons? How will we fit it all in?
Like most of my classes, this one will have a combo of lecture (including excerpts from mentor texts), discussion, and writing exercises. My teaching style is fluid—responsive to the needs of the individuals present—so the ratio of those different elements may shift on any given day. I will also often point attendees to additional resources that I find helpful beyond the scope of what we can cover in class.
No doubt, there will be writers with a wide range of experience. How do you tailor a class to meet everyone’s needs?
I think of learning the craft of writing as a spiral. Sometimes when we circle back to something at a more basic level of understanding, it unlocks deeper connections or reminds us of simple truths we’ve forgotten. And that applies to all of us, at every stage of our writing journey. The minute we close ourselves off to new learning is the moment when our writing begins to stagnate.
My hope is that this class will speak to writers at various stages: writers who are working on a first draft for the very first time, writers who have mastered picture books or middle grade, but are wanting to translate their skills to writing for the teen audience, as well as those who have a few YA manuscripts under their belt, but who are wanting to take their work to the next level.
What are you most looking forward to in teaching this class?
I love connecting with other writers, and the synergy that comes from our collective focus. I love seeing that light go on when new possibilities open up in a writer’s mind. Honestly—it’s thrilling!
Thank you, Melanie! I too am looking forward to meeting a new cohort of lovely writers, spiraling back to forgotten truths, and keeping my current “work in progress”—progressing. Join me!
Creative Chaos welcomes new readers who are coming here to follow G.A. Morgan’s blog tour for the Kirkus starred review book, The Kinfolk. This blog is called “Creative Chaos” for a reason. Not only do creators exist in a world that pulls them in various crazy, stressful directions, but the process of making art of any media is a wonderful jumble of ideas and leads, backtracks and revisions. It’s messy and often—yes—chaotic. Ernie D’Elia is an illustrator who understands the chaos of creation. He fashions three dimensional worlds from nothing. He draws. He paints. He writes. (All images that follow are property of Ernie D’Elia and Islandport Press and may not be used without permission.)
Ernie and I met through New England SCBWI and attended a wonderful intensive by Lita Judge about breaking into kidlit illustration by focussing on book covers. The next thing I knew, Ernie was sharing his cover design for The Fog of Forgetting, the first in the Five Stones Trilogy (#5stonesbooks) by G.A. Morgan, published by Islandport Press. This week, The Kinfolk, the final installment of that trilogy launched. Welcome, Ernie!
Q. Tell us a little about your professional journey (or chaos) that led you to illustrate the Five Stones Trilogy. Was The Fog of Forgetting your first cover? What other professional illustration jobs did you have before this?
A. Thanks for inviting me to talk about creating the covers for the Five Stones Trilogy, and creating in general!
The Fog of Forgetting was not my first cover. The first was a really fun adventure story called “How to Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy King.” There was a great up-lit Mayan King with a jaguar headdress, looming over the heroes.
Q. Wow, I love the light! In the workshop we took together, Lita stressed the importance of being open to revision and brainstorming a large quantity of cover ideas. Once you got the job, did your first drawing get approved? How did you land on the final art for book one?
A. Fog of Forgetting went through a handful of sketch ideas, then a couple roughs, and one or two changes in the final drawing.
My favorite idea (sketch #4) did not make the cut, but looking back, it wasn’t the best fit.
Sketch #2 was too crowded, but the tree, platform and waterfall were on target.
Sketch round 2 #2 was almost there, but he looked too tentative. In the final art, he’s gripping a sword, looking heroic.
That’s why flexibility is really important! It’s hard to be objective when you’re in the throes of making stuff. Trust in your editor/art director!
Q. What is your process choosing the scene you’d like to portray? Do you read each of the books before you start drafting cover ideas or are you given a synopsis?
A. I don’t always get the entire manuscript. Usually there are a few select scenes to work with, luckily. I would probably overwhelm everyone with sketches of every scene–“Let’s make this a graphic novel!” written on every page.
Q. Which book cover was the most difficult to create and why? How did you find a solution?
A. The trickiest by far was Chantarelle, the second book. Islandport had a specific set of requirements for this one. The characters are falling into a chasm, an explosion propels them up and out, AND there’s a giant black panther after them. The perspective alone was a challenge, not to mention 5 desperate reaching hands. There were way too many sketches of that cover to share, let’s just say there was a heaping pile of trial and error, and a steaming bowl of failure, until it was all worked out. Creative chaos at its best!
In direct opposition to that one, Kinfolk was two drawings, some minor tweaking, and right into the final. It’s my favorite of the three.
Q. Each book features various characters from the stories. Tell us a little bit about your process of character creation.
A. Creating characters from G.A. Morgan’s work wasn’t difficult because they were so well written. I felt like I had a clear idea of each person. I think it was Annie O’Brien that said you shouldn’t draw characters, you should draw people. A character can easily become a cartoon, but a person is an individual; not a stereotype, not an archetype. That’s especially true when portraying people of ethnic backgrounds that are not your own.
Q. No illustrator is an island, and you worked with Islandport Press children’s editor, Melissa Kim. How did Melissa guide you in this process? Was she more hands on or off? Were there any particular suggestions she gave that were especially helpful to you as an illustrator that you’d be willing to pass on here?
A. Melissa was great to work with! Her input was always spot-on. It was her suggestion to change the posture of Chase (on the first cover) from frightened to more bold. She was hands on, as far as being involved in guiding the process, and was always there to answer questions. I had a great time working on these books with her! Like I said before, trust your art director!
Thanks so much for visiting Creative Chaos today, Ernie!
Thanks for having me on the blog! See you soon, hopefully!
If you missed the other blog posts on this week’s tour, I’ve listed them below. Don’t miss the world debut of the book trailer tomorrow!
Monday, October 24: G.A. Morgan Lists Her Top Ten Fantasy Books for Kids on Pragmatic Mom.
Here’s Kirkus Reviews had to say in their starred review about The Kinfolk:
“Morgan holds the complex plot deftly, alternating the third-person narration through the points of view of several main characters (Dankar, Chase, Knox, Evelyn) chapter by chapter. With clarity and economy, she intertwines back story, setting, adventure, and philosophy in convivial balance, and she admirably maintains the individuality of her very large cast of characters (helpfully delineated in a guide at the back). She tests her characters sorely and sometimes violently, but it’s always in service of the plot. Teeming with adventure and philosophical richness, this trilogy closer excels.”