An Author’s Guide To Skype School Visits With Guest Iza Trapani!!!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Everyone!

I have a present for you!

It’s not green.  And it’s not Irish.  But it’s still a great present 🙂

Remember on Friday I promised a guest post on a very interesting topic?


Allow me to introduce the multi-talented and delightful Iza Trapani!

Author/Illustrator Iza Trapani

Hi Iza!

Thank you so much for joining us today!

I personally am very interested in the topic of Skype school visits.  I think they’re a wonderful alternative to in-person visits for many schools, allowing authors and illustrators to visit classrooms without the expense associated with in-person visits.  Having never done one myself, I was curious to know the details of how one goes about it, and I thought you guys might like to know too!  So I asked Iza (who is a pro :)) to elucidate, and she very kindly did (VERY kindly because not only did I ask her for a guest post, it was on short notice!)

Take it away, Iza!

While an in-person school visit is always better, a Skype session is a nice alternative for schools  struggling with tight budgets and/or for schools wanting to invite an out-of-state author. Most authors charge travel expenses  in addition to their presentation fees, so it can get expensive. Skype visits are a convenient and affordable option. They are also great for authors and illustrators who are often up against deadlines.  Cutting out the travel leaves more time for the works in progress.

I’ve been doing skype visits for a couple of years now, and I’m glad to share my experience.

Getting Skype Visits

Advertising for Skype visits is no different than for in-person visits. On my website I have a link with information on my school visits. It includes a description of my presentation, a short video of me presenting to a class, my fees, list of my titles, short bio,  feedback on my presentations and more. When a school contacts me, I also have a school visit PDF that includes all the relevant info plus references. A few years ago we added a blurb that I am now available for Skype visits as well. When I started doing Skype, I sent out an e-mail announcement to all my school contacts, teacher friends, and fans. A few years ago I’d also sent out a flyer to numerous schools within a 50 mile radius. The flyer had a brief bio, description of my presentation and contact info. I am also listed in Arts in Ed directories in several counties. Mostly, the schools find me either via my website or by word of mouth. Because my writing and illustrations (especially) are so time consuming, I can not do too many school visits. But that is a personal choice. Some authors do lots of school visits and I am sure they promote much more aggressively than I do.

Setting up the Session

I set up right in my studio which has good, glare-free northern light and overhead track lights.  My laptop will rest on a small table. I’ll have a stool to sit on and my materials (illustration samples, books I’ll be using etc.) will be within reach on top of my flat file cabinets on the left. To my right will be an easel with an 18×24 pad on which I’ll do drawing demonstrations. Behind me, a low bookshelf will showcase some of my books face out. It makes a nice backdrop.

Before doing my first school visit I did a test with my sister (in Poland!)  to make sure the light was good, that the books behind me were well arranged and that the easel was at the right height. When I first started I was worried that the class wouldn’t see me well, but I soon learned that the image I see of me in the little window on the bottom right in Skype is what they are seeing. I can tilt the computer screen to adjust the view as needed.

Makeup? Attire?

One of the advantages of a Skype visit is that I don’t have to fuss over my appearance. First of all, it’s never a crystal clear image-at least not on my end. I rarely wear make-up but I  will wash my hair and wear a nice, casual top for the session. It doesn’t matter what’s on my bottom half- clown pants or a tutu- they won’t see it 🙂


I turn off the phone and leave a note on the front door. If it’s UPS or FedEx, they can drop off in our front foyer.  My big Mastiff, Jambo, might stay in my husband’s shop- but I have had requests from some schools that the kids wanted to see my pets, so in those cases I will leave him with me. Part of the attraction of Skype is seeing the author at home.

 Technical Problems

Sometimes there are technical problems – usually no sound. So far, the problems  were on the school’s end and were quickly fixed. A quick test Skype with the teacher ahead of time is always a good idea. I also do a test Skype with a friend or relative beforehand.

Sound can be a bit problematic. When the children join me in singing there is a slight delay. Also, I don’t always hear the children when they ask me questions; the teachers usually have to repeat them, and I can hear the teachers just fine. They say they can hear me very clearly, so I am glad about that.

My Presentation

My Skype presentations are the same as my in-person visits. I start off with a short intro, telling a little bit about me- how I was born in Poland and came to the U.S. when I was seven and went right into first grade not speaking any English, and then how my dream of making books for children came true. Then I sing/read one of my nursery rhyme books, and I’ll have the kids sing at least the first verse along with me. Then I will discuss the bookmaking process, talk a bit about getting ideas and turning them into stories, and then the many revisions that are needed. I will show samples of my storyboards, dummy sketches, color studies and final art. I will also show some of my rejected works- paintings I had started but wasn’t happy with. And I have some press sheets to show them so they can understand the printing process. After that I will do Q+A then go on to a drawing demonstration. I’ll choose a character from one of my books and have the kids think of some ideas of what the character could be doing and I will draw it for them. Then I’ll ask the kids to help me add details to the drawing and I will put them in. A typical scene might be a bear riding on a skateboard and juggling. For details they will ask me to put in the sun, birds, bunnies, flowers, ladybugs, etc. I love that! There are so many edgy books out there and it’s reassuring to me to know that kids are still charmed by the beauty and wonder of nature.

My books are ideal for preK to 1st grade, but I will also present to older kids. I will adjust my presentations- doing more singing and reading with the little ones and more bookmaking discussions with the older kids.


I charge $150 for a 45 minute to 1 hr session. My in-person visits are $250 per session plus travel expenses beyond 50 miles. I will do up to 4 presentations in one day. In both cases, the school will send me a check after the visit.

And that’s all there is to it! 🙂

Thank you, Susanna, for featuring me. I hope this info is helpful to your many wonderful readers!
Thank YOU, Iza!  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say it was very interesting and enlightening!
Iza is the author and illustrator of 20 lovely picture books for children, including Itsy Bitsy Spider (a favorite in our house), Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The Bear Went Over The Mountain, Little Miss Muffet and many more. She is also the illustrator of 4 books written by other authors.
Teachers, you can learn all about Iza’s school visits here:
and everyone – teachers, parents, readers, writers, homeschoolers, librarians, kids etc. – you can find Iza around the web here:
Like me on Facebook
Follow me on twitter

I hope you enjoyed learning about Skype visits (I know I did! :)) and if you have any questions, I think Iza will be happy to answer in the comments!

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone, and once again, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🙂

The Idea Behind The Story – Clara Bowman-Jahn Author Of Annie’s Special Day

Happy Monday Everyone!

One quick thing before we get to our post: for anyone who participates in Perfect Picture Books on Friday, I know this is a busy week and lots of people (including me) will be busy with family Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  PLEASE don’t feel like you have to participate this week if you’re too busy!  I have a feeling a lot of us are going to be in that boat, so have fun, enjoy your families, and don’t feel like you have to show up if you’re having a little time deliciously free of the internet! 🙂  We’ll all still be here next week 🙂

Okay!  That’s the business.  Now for the fun 🙂

Today we have a special guest post from Clara Bowman-Jahn.

Author Clara Bowman-Jahn

She is doing a mini blog tour, posting on different aspects of the writing and production of her debut picture book, Annie’s Special Day.

Annie’s Special Day is available at eTreasures and Amazon

And she’s going to share with us where she got the idea for the story!

So without further ado, here’s Clara!

How I got my idea: from idea to story.
I was lying in bed one day in May with a terrible fever, but the sounds of the birds were ones of beauty and magnificence.  From about four AM to Seven AM the birds just blew my mind. It seemed like every hour some different bird sang their song. Singing back and forth while courting their mates is so melodious and awe-inspiring I still get up and don both my hearing aids just so I can hear it.  And it was in all around sound. One further away would sing to one closer in and back again.

I wanted to record them somehow. I didn’t have a tape recorder. I thought of the character Annie and how a little girl heard something beautiful every hour like I did with the birds. First the crows then the more musical birds come, like chickadees and warblers, the smaller ones. They were right next door in the trees near my bed. I could hear them through the open window.

I figure it was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life to write down what I heard every hour that morning while sick and feverish, but it turned into a children’s book. And that is something pretty terrific.

The specific words “Annie heard (something) every hour” has been edited out of the book. The editor thought it slowed down the action and that it was passive writing so now there is just an activity, an adventure, every hour that Annie sees and does. “Annie’s Special Day” is a basic concept book about time and clocks with Annie having a birthday slumber party and staying up all night. It’s about family and friends. “Annie’s Special Day” is a cheerful read without much plot but a book of recorded enthusiastic activities and fun.

That fall I took a writing project class and finished my book. But the main person I can say supported me and taught me how to revise and rework my book was my kindergarten teacher sister.  She read over more rewrites than I can remember and showed me how to make something out of the book. Then the next person who made the book a beauty was my illustrator, Claudia Wolf. She really took the character of Annie and made a little girl from her. She brought the book to life.

Then the whole other story of what came after I got that contract was my husband who finished what the publisher couldn’t. Because when you are the first children’s book in a small press the story doesn’t end there. The entire format, the text embedding, and the size of the book have to be done for them.
My husband, my hero, did all that. He enlisted the help of a writer friend, who also holds a print shop, Sue Walls, to show him what needed to be done and which computer tools he needed, and he did it. He transcribed my e book to a print one. If anyone is interested I’ll send his written explanation of all he did to you. To me what he did is no small miracle.

And along with being my biggest support he does the grunt work for me. Without his effort there would not be a print book. And when he asks if it were worth it? He easily says yes. And so do I. I love my book and am having fun marketing it.

What has your process been? From idea to story? I would love to hear in the comments.

Thanks so much, Susanna for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. This post marks the end of my blog tour hosted by my blogging buddies. 

And I know you won’t want to miss any of the other posts, so… 🙂

At Pat Tilton’s Children’s Books Heal: a book review and Q&A with Clara about “Annie’s Special Day” on November 12th
At Joanna Marple’s Miss Marple’s Musings: the illustrator story from Clara’s side on November 14th
At Stacy Jensen’s Writing My Way Through Life: author Clara Bowman-Jahn’s publishing story on November 15th
And finishing up on Clar’s Blog: a post from “Annie’s Special Day”  illustrator, Claudia Wolf on November 20th 

Annie’s Special Day is available at eTreasures Publishing and Amazon.

Thank you so much, Clar, for joining us and sharing your inspiration.  Readers, if you have questions or comments, I know Clara will be checking in and will be sure to respond!

Author Clara Bowman-Jahn

Clara Bowman-Jahn worked as a registered nurse for thirty two years finally trading that job for her true love, writing. Clara’s short  stories have been published in the anthology of the “Campaigner’s Challenges 2011” Book.

When Clara is not writing, she does volunteer  work for a local elementary school and her church. She also likes taking long walks with her husband, blogging, and reading books. She is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Pennwriters, Bethesda Writer’s Center and Round Hill Writer’s Group. She lives in rural Loudoun County, Virginia with her brilliant husband, and two cats. She is the proud mother of two wonderful grown sons and a grandmother to a delightful grandson. 

Guest Post From Author Amy Dixon! (And A Giveaway!!!)

Happy Monday Everyone!

Boy did I wrestle with this post.

As you know, today is our day for a guest post from Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE.  (And did I mention there’s a giveaway?!!)

It was also supposed to be the day I posted the Halloweensie Contest Finalists (of which there are a lot more than 3 because at final count we had 38 entries and 3 finalists was simply not a number I could get down to with so many fantastic stories!!!)

I actually started writing the post thinking I’d put everything in.

But by the time I got to the end of Amy’s part, I knew it wasn’t going to work.  Wonderful as you all are, I felt it was just too much to ask you to go on from Amy’s post to the contest finalists – it was getting VERY long.  So since today is her scheduled day, I hope you will all thoroughly enjoy her post, which is full of inspiring words for writers!  I will post the Halloweensie Contest finalists in a separate post either later on today or tomorrow (which I realize is not a normal posting day for me) – feel free to tell me in the comments which you’d prefer!

So without further ado, heeeeerrrre’s AMY!

Amy Dixon

When I was growing up, some of my favorite books involved one Miss Ramona Quimby. I’m sure I related to her trials as the little sister, and to her attempts to prove herself worthy of admiration and acceptance. I will say though, that Ramona went to much greater lengths to gain such admiration. I never accidentally cracked a raw egg on my head, or wore a Chiquita banana sticker on my face in order to be a part of the latest fad. But I was always delighted by her antics, and always wished, in spite of what seemed like constant embarrassment, that I could be more like her. What perhaps now I would categorize as impulsiveness, I then regarded as bravery. Ramona was brave. I wanted to be brave, too.
It was my affection for Ramona that made the nickname I earned on the soccer field when I was 10 a little more palatable. My sister and I both played on a team called The Golden Touch. I wasn’t a flashy player. I don’t think I ever saved or scored a goal. But our coach would put me in the midfield, point out one of our opponents and say, “Don’t you let her get by you.” I took his charge seriously. I followed that player around on the field like a stray puppy who was once given a scrap and was hoping for more. I would not leave her alone for a second. And so, on the soccer field, I became Amy the Pest.
When I started writing for children six years ago, I had no idea the tenacity that would be required to make things happen in this business. It definitely called for a bit of…pesty-ness.  Not a bombard-agents-and-editors-with-e-mails-and-phone-calls-till-your-name-is-engraved-on-their-list-of-psycho-writers kind of pesty-ness. But a persistent, persevering, resilient kind of pesty-ness. A pesty-ness that revises the same manuscript 27 times until it is just perfect…and then starts from scratch because an editor thinks it would work better in third person.  A pesty-ness that takes in each painful rejection and yet still finds a way to send the story back out again. A pesty-ness that makes us certain those rejections will be fun to share later in a “look how many times my amazing, award-winning story was scoffed at before it sold!” presentation.
And so, 20 years after my days as a half-back for the Golden Touch, Amy the Pest was resurrected. I wrote. I revised. I critiqued. I conferenced. I submitted. I was rejected. I revised some more. I submitted some more. I was rejected some more. I buzzed in the ear of the publishing world, and was swatted away again and again.
But like Ramona and her questions about Steam Shovels and their bathroom habits, I wouldn’t go away. I believed in my work. I had critique partners who believed in my work. And somewhere in there, somewhere in between growing as a writer and learning the business of publishing, I became brave. Brave enough to send out MARATHON MOUSE, even after getting some discouraging editor feedback. (So…all that happens in this book is…he runs? Am I missing something?) Brave enough to get a publisher’s offer on MARATHON MOUSE, and ask the editor for 2 weeks to follow-up with agents before saying yes. Brave enough to now say out loud, “I am a writer.”
Get your copy today! 🙂
So here I am…Amy Dixon, Age 37. Here to encourage you to channel your inner Ramona. Release your pesty-ness.  Learn to be brave. You will grow as a writer, even if, every once in a while, you end up with a little raw egg on your head.

Wasn’t that just terrific?  Thank you so much for those inspiring words, Amy!

I will tell you all that I have read MARATHON MOUSE and will be posting it this Friday as my Perfect Picture Book – it’s fantastic and I highly recommend it and you should all find any excuse you can to buy it! 🙂

In the meantime, one lucky, lucky reader is going to win a signed copy, because Amy is just that wonderful!  All you have to do is leave a comment telling about something you accomplished (like a marathon :))  For example, I could say that once I was Sneezy in our third grade play of Blanche Neige – and if you’ve ever tried to sneeze in French you will know just what an accomplishment that was!  But I realize it’s Monday morning and many of you may not be fully caffeinated yet, so if you can’t remember anything you’ve accomplished at this hour you can just write why you’d like the book 🙂

Stay tuned for the Halloweensie Contest Finalists and don’t forget to let me know if you have a preference for later today or tomorrow.  The post is already written because it used to be half of this one 🙂

Have a lovely Monday 🙂

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Patrick Milne

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to the third guest in our self-publishing mini-series, Patrick Milne.

By way of introduction, Patrick says, “I always enjoyed writing stories as far back as I can remember, though by the time I hit high school, I’d lost interest. It wasn’t until I took a writing course in university as an elective that I really started taking any creative impulses seriously again and eventually majored in professional writing and communications. It was chiefly short prose that I studied throughout school and it wasn’t until my sister, Stephanie Faye, embraced her animation talents that we decided to try a children’s picture book together.”

SLH:  Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

PM:  We didn’t really even think of the traditional publishing route initially. We just tried to get the story together as much as possible in a 32-page structure, which was difficult because it was the first time we’d done anything so short. It was definitely an exercise in brevity! During the process, it seemed any time we brought up the idea of a publisher and looked around at their respective websites, or researched agents, either they weren’t accepting manuscripts or you had to jump through hoops to get it to them. We continued working away until the story took shape and by then, we both really loved it and couldn’t have fathomed changing anything about it. 

SLH:  What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?

PM:  Once we got our hard copy proof copy back from the printer, Stephanie, the book’s artist, took it to a small publisher’s fair in Vancouver. She got interest from several companies but each had their own list of changes they wanted to make. By that point, we’d been working on the book for so long, Stephanie especially with all of the art and coloring, that thinking about incorporating their changes was just too overwhelming. At that point, we officially decided to move ahead on our own.  

SLH:  How did you go about self-publishing?

PM:  We found a small printing company in Winnipeg, Manitoba called Art Book Bindery that had a great reputation. We knew we wanted to do at least a small run of print copies so we worked with them. The electronic version was formatted and uploaded to Amazon several months later.

SLH:  Did you hire an editor?

PM:  No, I’ve had several jobs as a copy editor in the past so I was very confident in my own abilities. We also passed it around to some family and friends to make sure everything was coherent and had a nice flow and rhythm to it, but the words, sentences, and grammar I was very possessive about. Outside opinions were really key for us because when you work on the same story and the same sentences, you can miss little things

SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  What kind of contract do you have with her?  Did you have a lot of back and forth contact with her as she created the illustrations?

PM:  My illustrator was my sister, Stephanie Faye, who is a graduate of Capilano University in British Columbia and had been working in children’s television and animation for several years previous. We sent the manuscript back and forth over email and had conversations over Skype about it. Once she began the illustrations, she sent her drafts to me through email and we discussed them every few days. It was a very collaborative effort for being so far apart.

SLH:  How did you get your book from conception to e-book format?  Is it also available in hardcover or paperback?  Print on demand?

PM:  We currently sell the print version through our website and at various local craft sales around Christmas time and it does quite well. The ebook version, Stephanie formatted from her finished files and they were formatted in a .mobi file for the Kindle and uploaded to Amazon. We’re working on getting it into different places on the web to broaden Lucy’s availability but as of right now, those are the primary outlets.

SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?

PM:  Selling the print copies at various fairs has been the most successful approach for the print version. The electronic version has been totally different. There are thousands of ways of going about marketing our book, the only problem is where to start. We currently use Twitter and Facebook and I’ve started a blog called So Much To Be Read to help build a community and get the word out on other children’s authors and illustrators just like me who are self-published. There is so much more to do and I feel like all we have to do is just start!

SLH:  Do you do school/library visits?  How has that worked with an e-book?  How have sales been in relation to the visits?

PM:  We did a seminar with a local grade seven English class that was doing a unit on writing their own picture book and sold many of the print copies there but no e-book versions that I know of. It’s something we’d certainly like to keep doing.

Patrick’s office

SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?

PM:  I think the single most important thing to understand is that finishing the book is only a small part of what self-publishing is all about. Depending on your hopes for the book and what it might become, all the rest is marketing – thinking about who your audience is and where to find them and how to get the word out about your book without coming across as a desperate spammer! On the one hand, it’s a very frustrating process, but on the other, you’re only as limited as your imagination. Furthermore, there has never been a time in history when reaching people has been as simple as this. We get a lot of motivation and inspiration from keeping that in our mindset.

SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?

PM:  Trust your instincts and stay true to what your book is all about and why you wanted to write it in the first place. If we had decided to incorporate the changes suggested to us by the various publishers, I don’t think I would feel quite as passionately about Lucy Snigglefritz as I do now, or as proud. If it set us back from getting a publishing contract, so be it. I don’t see any evidence these days that working with a publisher is any less challenging than the self-publishing route.

Thank you so much, Patrick!  It is so interesting to hear from different authors who have chosen this route.  We all have a lot to learn from you.

Folks, please feel free to visit Patrick on his Website, follow him on Twitter @fayemousbooks, or network with him on LinkedIn.  Patrick has kindly offered to be available for questions, so please ask if you have any!  In addition, he is giving away a free e-copy of The Adventures Of Lucy Snigglefritz – I have seen it and it’s very cute even on my black and white Kindle! – so if you’re interested in qualifying, please leave a comment saying why you’d like to have the book!

Thank you all for joining us!  Have a great weekend!

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Suzanne McGovern (And A Giveaway!)

I’m sure we’re all in a little bit of withdrawal on our first Friday without PPBF, so to lessen the sting a little – well, a LOT really! – I have a fantastic and educational post to share with you, the first in our 4 part mini-series on self-publishing!

(Also, a large plate of assorted danish… help yourselves :))

Also, there will be an awesome giveaway at the end of this post!

So without further ado, let’s welcome Suzanne McGovern.  Thank you so much for joining us, Suzanne!

Suzanne McGovern
SLH:  When did you first become interested in writing?  Was it something you always did, or something you came to later in life?

SM:  I’ve been an avid reader since I was a young child, and writing assignments were always my favorite in school, but I wouldn’t say that writing stories was something I always did. What has been clear for as long as anyone can remember, however, is that I am horse crazy.
Suzanne with Gator (dk. bay) and Milo (gray)

SLH:  If you began as a child, were you encouraged by family/teachers?

SM:  I was encouraged by my parents to pursue all of my interests and got positive feedback on my writing from family and friends (though, again, writing wasn’t a spoken passion at the time). In high school, for me, writing became part of my self-identity.

SLH:  If you began later, what drew you to it?

SM:  The opportunity to express myself – to talk about a particular topic or situation through my own lens. As a Communications and English/Journalism double major at the University of Delaware, I always enjoyed writing features and “column” type stories more than reporting news.

SLH:  Is there an author who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer?

SM:  So many writers have impacted me as a reader – it’s much too hard to choose just one or two. I can say that when it came to writing my Gator books, the gold standard I had in mind was a poem written by Jimmy Cagney about his deceased dog – “A Dog Named Beau.” It was so simple, so illustrative, so poignant and so pure.  That’s what I wanted my stories to be.

SLH:  You are self-published.  How and why did you decide to go that route?

SM:  Though I had crafted my Gator idea and written several scripts, I had virtually no access to publishers. I’d heard the endless stories of manuscripts sitting in piles on publishers’ desks with little chance of ever being read and considered. And I heard horror stories about writers who lost all input and access to their stories once they signed a deal. I had one friend of a friend in publishing who told me that my stories were nice, but that rhyme doesn’t sell – that, at minimum, I needed to rewrite them as prose. To me, this was sacrilege, as I believe the rhyme in my stories is a critical part of what I have to offer as a writer. I like the rhyme. And moms who read the stories said they liked reading it aloud. Long story short, I decided to focus my efforts on publishing the series as I envisioned it, end to end, vs. trying to please publishers (if and when I actually connected with one!). This required a tremendous investment of time, energy and dollars on my part, but it enabled me to maintain control of the entire process. This was important to me, as I only had one idea (I’m not prolific like some writers I know!)  and that idea was based on personal experience, so I wanted to keep it pure.  I realized in making this choice that I would be severely limiting my ability to publish and market my work, but it was a choice I made regardless.

SLH:  Can you describe the process?  How did you get your illustrator?  How did you manage paying the illustrator (flat fee, royalties?) Did you have a contract with your illustrator?  How did you decide where to have your book printed?  Did you hire an editor at any stage?

SM:  I didn’t have an editor at any time, but an advertising copy writer friend did proof the stories and offer a few suggestions in terms of word choice and punctuation.
I found my illustrator Donna in an unusual way… I started with an extensive online search, which yielded a few illustrators of interest; however, all had agents and I’d been told by a few friends to avoid illustrators with an agent if at all possible, as the agent’s fee drives the total cost of hiring an illustrator up quite a bit.
At the same time, at the suggestion of a friend, I phoned SCBWI to ask for guidance on negotiating Illustrators’ fees. (I had zero experience at any of this!) The woman at SCBWI offered to post my job on the SCBWI online bulletin board, for members to consider. So, I submitted a short classified ad and, within days, started receiving emails and links to portfolios – 20+ in all. One or two even took the initiative to draw a spec illustration based on the requirements I’d outlined in my ad. I considered each one carefully, made a short list of two, interviewed both by phone and requested additional spec work. In the process, it became clear to me that Donna Bizjak was the one and only illustrator for Gator and me.
Donna and I sign a contract for each Gator book (three so far). I believe doing is is critical — it is both professional and practical; it protects us both. We negotiated a flat fee, which was my preference, given that I had no idea where this project was headed and I wanted to be sure Donna felt she was being fairly compensated for her amazing work.
For printing, I again conducted an in-depth online exploratory around domestic, digital, on demand and printing abroad. For my purposes and given several key considerations, printing abroad proved to be the best option.

SLH:  As a self-published author, how do you handle marketing and distribution?  What has worked best for you?

SM:  By day, I work a career in advertising, so I have a solid foundation in marketing. At the same time, the time I have to focus on marketing my Gator series is limited to nights and a few hours on the weekend. I got the three books I’ve published so far on and I built a web site. I did some readings and book fairs. And, I sold the books to local shops door to door. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time or wherewithal to pursue the type of marketing efforts I know have the best potential to build awareness and drive sales. This is frustrating, but I console myself by believing that the books are timeless – they will still be relevant whenever I have the opportunity to make them a priority.

SLH:  Have you tried digital publishing in any format?  Can you share your experience?

SM:  No, I have not tried digital publishing. My exploratory indicated that digital publishing options are inhibitive for a classic children’s storybook – no hard covers, no sewn binding, sometimes no color, limited page sizes. As with publishing, I had a very specific vision of what I wanted the books to be and digital printing wasn’t able to meet my needs. Important to note — this was about seven years ago and things may have changed by now. I do recall that digital printing was the most economical option for modest quantities, a major pro for that route!

SLH:  Have you done apps for any device?  Can you share your experience?

SM:  No, but it’s a great idea. I’d love to pursue the Gator series as both e-books and apps. For me, there’s nothing like books printed on paper, but digital is an absolutely critical path to pursue today.

SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?

SM:  Horses have always been my passion. I’d wanted a horse of my own since I was about eight years old but, given realities, it took me until my mid-30’s to make it happen. Until that time, as much as I loved a good book, and as much as I wanted to write, I never felt I had anything of interest to say…no story to tell, no ideas. That all changed when my first horse, Gator (aka Montana) came into my life – then the Gator stories just started popping out of me. My childhood dream come true was also the lens through which I realized what I wanted to say and how to say it.

SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author and/or as a self-published author?

SM:  Too little time to make it happen. If I had the time, I’d probably be most challenged by the financial investment required. When you self publish, you’re on your own for everything – figuring out how who to sell to, how to sell, marketing, distribution, franchise development, finding a partner/investor, etc. As best I can tell, traditional distribution points (i.e., retail chains and larger independent booksellers, as well as smaller independents beyond driving distance) are not accessible to those without a publisher. Non-traditional marketing is the way to go for the self publisher – I believe there’s major success to be had via clever efforts online.

SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author?

SM:  I’ve created something I’m proud of, so I’d say the most wonderful thing is the sense of accomplishment at having actually become the writer I’ve aspired to be since college (albeit in my own small way). There’s nothing like a child telling me how much he or she loves Gator, or calling out a favorite detail from the books. Or, a parent telling me that my Gator books are bedtime favorites on the night stand, alongside famous classics handled by major publishers.

SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

SM:  I’ve done a few, but not enough to intelligently comment here.

SLH:  What advice do you have for authors just starting out?

SM:  Frankly, I think I’m the wrong person to ask, as I consciously chose not to follow the traditional rules of writing for or pursuing publishers. In doing so, I understood that I was not setting myself up to create a writing career, but it was more important to me to bring my personal project to life exactly as I’d envisioned. All I can suggest is to be honest with yourself about your objective, do the necessary homework to understand how to pursue that objective (unbelievable how much information and how many resources are available online), and keep the energy flowing as you go. The process can be both exciting and gratifying (as well as scary and frustrating) – whether you win or lose, it’s a great life adventure and fantastic learning experience.

SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?

SM:  As previously mentioned, my “day job” has absorbed all of my time over the past couple of years. (After all, it is the day job that funds the self publishing!). So, I’m not working anything new. Just looking forward to a time when I can really dig into all the ideas I have for Gator.

SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?

SM:  No, not since I entered a few contests with the first book.

SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?  Which book’s sales (if any) did not do as well as expected?  Why do you think that might have been?  Were you surprised by one book’s success over another’s?

SM:  As previously noted, all of my sales have come through local door-to-door distribution and personal sales. I’ve sold the most of the first book in the series, Gator and Pete – More Alike Than It Seems. But I think that’s because I was able to focus the most time and energy on that one. Less for Blue Ribbon Gator . And, less still for Gator to the Rescue.
One interesting learning for me – Moms seem to like Gator and Pete best, because they love the sweet story and the moral. They say they love to read it to their little ones. At the same, kids seem to like Blue Ribbon Gator best, because it shows lots of horses, has lots of movement and has lots of bright, primary colors. They also say they like winning – go figure!
My personal favorite is Gator and Pete, so I published it first to ensure it made it to print if I was only able to do one.

Where can we find you?;

Books can be ordered direct from Suzanne’s website, or from Amazon!

Just for fun quick questions:
Agented or not?  Not
Traditionally or self-published?  Self
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Unfortunately, not (yet!)
Plotter or pantser? Not sure what this meansJ
Laptop or desktop?  Laptop
Mac or PC?  PC
Day or night worker?  Night
Coffee or tea?  Hot chocolate
Snack or not?  Absolutely
Salty or sweet?  Sweet
Quiet or music?  Depends on the day but, generally, quiet if I’m creating.
Cat or dog?  Horse!
Currently reading?  The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and A Respectable Wife by Robert Goolrick.

Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and expertise with us, Suzanne!  We all really appreciate it!

Now then, Suzanne has graciously offered to answer any questions y’all might have, but she is traveling, so please be patient for your answers 🙂

In addition, we are offering a fantastic giveaway – a complete set of the Gator and Pete books – that’s 3 hardcover picture books, folks! – signed by the author!  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment saying who you would like the books for (it’s okay to say yourself :))

I hope you will all be back Monday for our visit with Vivian (and just so you know, I know this was a long interview and post – Vivian’s is long too – she was incredibly generous with her knowledge and advice – but the other two are not this long! :))

Have a great weekend everyone! 🙂

Perfect Picture Book Friday – A Leaf Can Be

Sniff sniff sniff tiny stifled sob.

I know.  It’s very sad that this is the last Perfect Picture Book Friday until September 7.  I’m going to miss it, too, but I think we will all find the break refreshing (and hopefully it will give me time to catch up and improve!)

And to make you feel a little better, I made this delicious summer strawberry shortcake just for you

(and yes you can have as many slices as you like!)  In addition, I’m sharing a lovely summery book (well, it can be any season, really, but it looks so green and summery that I’m sticking with summery :))

A Leaf Can Be
Written By: Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrated By: Violetta Dabija
Millbrook Press, February 2012, Fiction based on fact

Suitable For: ages 3-8

Themes/Topics: nature, seasons, poetry

Opening:  “A leaf is a leaf
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.
A leaf can be a…
soft cradle
water ladle
Sun taker
Food maker…”

Brief Synopsis: a simple rhyming story that shows all the many things a leaf can be.

Links To Resources: the back of the book has lots of facts about leaves, showing how they can be all the things mentioned in the book.  There is also a small glossary.  Take a walk and see how many different kinds of leaves you can find.  What could your leaves be used for?  Leaf Activities.  What else can you look at in different ways?

Why I Like This Book:  The quietness of this book encourages children to really think about all the different things leaves can be and in turn encourages children to stretch their imaginations about how other everyday objects might be used in different ways.  The poetry is gentle with pretty images.  The information in the back adds a lot to the learning potential of the book.  And the art in this book is absolutely luminous.  It just glows.  It is the perfect art for the text making for an altogether magical reading experience.

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

For the next 2 Fridays before Summer Short & Sweets begins, we will be having a miniseries (and when I say mini I mean mini because 2 is about as mini as you can go and still call it a series :)) on self-publishing.  Self-pubishing is becoming a more viable and more attractive option, so I thought you might find it interesting to hear from a couple folks who have chosen it.  I find what they have to say very enlightening and I hope you will too!

Now, I know you’re probably going to fall off your chairs, and I’m probably forgetting something and I’ll have to amend this hastily, but I don’t have anything else to add today.  Just goes to show that sometimes even the long-winded can be… well… short-winded, I guess 🙂

PPB bloggers, please add your post-specific links below, and I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.  Happy Father’s Day to the dads in our group!  And tune in Monday for a special treat – a guest post from the one and only Joanna Marple all about the process of working with uTales!!!

Cori Doerrfeld Shares The Creation Of Her Picture Book Little Bunny Foo Foo! And Then Susanna Shares One Of Hers To Make Up For The Glitch!

Welcome, everyone, to today’s very special treat!

You may remember Cori.  She did an interview and giveaway here in February 2011 (see Part 1 and Part 2.)  She is a talented author/illustrator who has illustrated multiple books, including two for Brooke Shields as well as the recent Seashore Baby and Snowflake Baby, but in the last year she has also published Penny Loves Pink and Little Bunny Foo Foo which she both wrote and illustrated.  I hope you will enjoy her entertaining tale of Little Bunny, which makes for perfect spring fun and a great Easter gift 🙂

Take it away, Cori!

All my stories find their origin in childhood. I am inspired by my own childhood, as well as the ones I’ve witnessed as a daycare teacher, nanny, and mother.  When I was little, I loved the bizarre, the unique, and even the scary.  I loved Stephen Gammel’s illustrations in Scary Stories, and I was a huge Tim Burton fan.  When I started creating stories and characters of my own, I was naturally drawn to similar themes.  At the daycare, we sang every children’s song known to man, and the one that always stuck out as odd to me was “Little Bunny Foo Foo”, especially the way my coworker sang it.  The traditional song turns the bunny into a goon, but my coworker always turned the bunny into a monster instead.  The children just loved the idea of a bunny transforming into a monster, and so did I. Images of a seemingly harmless bunny hopping through a forest kept creeping into my mind. What would she look like if she turned into a monster I wondered…

As both an illustrator and an author, I usually visualize a story before I write any text. Based on my initial thoughts, I’ll do a very rough thumbnail version of a book.  This way I can see right away how the art will flow one page to the next, as well as how to best break up the text.  My original version of “Little Bunny Foo Foo” was much darker and intended for an older audience.  

My husband and I attended several comic conventions a year to sell and promote our work, and this is where my initial version premiered.  We printed little paperback copies off the computer.  It was always a good seller, and kids seemed to like it too.  The violence was no worse than the Tom and Jerry cartoons so many of us grew up with.  When a publisher showed interest in the book however, I was asked if I could find a way to push the story even further and to tone down the manic, mallet wielding bunny.  The editor suggested that Bunny Foo Foo could use something softer to bop the mice, like an oven mitt.  It took me nearly a year to rework the story.  I struggled quite a bit at first.  I was not only attached to my original version, but I found it difficult to formulate just how I could push both myself and the song in a new direction.  The editor’s suggestion of an oven mitt was stuck in my head, and one day the idea just hit me all at once.  I find a lot of my story writing problems are solved this way.  If I just think on an issue long enough, eventually lightning will strike.  Obviously if Little Bunny Foo Foo is bopping mice with an oven mitt, it’s because they stole the cupcakes she had just finished preparing! 

I know many people liked the way Foo Foo bopped the mice due to random, unknown reasons in the original version, but I really liked the idea of telling one story with the text, and another with the illustrations.  In my finished, published version of Little Bunny Foo Foo, the text is only a slightly modified version of the classic song.  The illustrations however, reveal a lot more to the story; showing an increasingly frustrated rabbit simply trying to recollect her cupcakes.  This plot line gave me several opportunities to create fun little scenes where mice and birds collaborate to steal Foo’s cupcakes, as well as the chance to show why the Fairy meets her fate in the end.  

Little Bunny Foo Foo is my second self-authored title, and was therefore still a learning experience.  Every story, even once it is picked up by a publisher, goes through several transformations.  The end result is more of a team effort than I realized before becoming a published author.  An author must learn to balance input and requests from the publisher with maintaining the integrity of the original idea.  Mallets may become oven mitts, but sometimes cupcakes with sprinkles are the perfect way to sweeten a strange and disturbing bunny’s desire to scoop up field mice, and bop them on the head.

I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse into the creation of a picture book and will all feel inspired to go out and buy Foo Foo for your friends and relations! 🙂


I realize it didn’t turn out to be quite what I promised…!

Chalk it up to Cori having a new baby and me being over-scheduled and both of us feeling time-crunched resulting in a slight miscommunication…  It turns out Little Bunny Foo Foo, since it’s based on the familiar rhyme, didn’t actually change text at all from pre- to post-published, so it’s not a good candidate for comparison.

Luckily, I know another writer… and I finagled my way into her files… 🙂

SO.  Since I want to deliver on my promise, I hope you will accept something of mine instead of something of Cori’s for now.  Cori has another book in the works that she thinks will be much better suited to this type of post, but since it’s not published yet, we’ll have to wait for that one.  Meanwhile, hopefully this will suffice:

I’m going to share the creation of Freight Train Trip with you, if that’s an okay substitute for Cori.  I chose it because most of my other books had such minor changes from my version to the published version that they wouldn’t be very interesting for this exercise.  But Freight Train… that’s another story 🙂

I got the idea for this story from my children and my nephews, but particularly from my nephew, Eli, who was going through a heavy train phase when this story came to mind.  I wrote it in rhyme because I wanted to capture the rhythm of the train.

Here is the original:                    And this is the published version:

Chug.    Chug.
Freight train pulls out of the yard.               The freight train’s pulling from the yard.
Locomotive’s working hard.                        The locomotive’s working hard.
“Safe trip!” calls the stationmaster.             “Safe trip!” calls the stationmaster.
Chugga, chugga, train rolls faster.               Chugga chugga, the train rolls faster.
Locomotive in the lead
Changes gear and picks up speed.
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOO!
Engine rushes down the track                      The engine rushes down the track
Ninety-seven cars in back                          with ninety-seven cars in back.
Full of lumber, grain and ore                      They’re full of lumber, toys, and more,
Headed for the Western Shore.                   and headed for the western shore.
                                                          Chugga chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
                                                          Clicka clack too HOO HOOO!
Down the line a crossing gate                     Down the line a crossing gate
Closes telling cars to wait.                         closes telling cars to wait.
Freight cars rumble.  Rails are humming.      Freight cars rumble.  Rails are humming.
Bells clang, “Look out!  Trains a-coming!”     Bells clang.  “Look out!  The train is coming!”
Locomotive thunders past.
Freight cars follow just as fast.
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOO!
Engineer sees up ahead                             The engineer sees up ahead
Signal lights are flashing red.                      that signal lights are flashing red.
Has to stop his speeding train                     Racing toward him, running late,
‘Til the light turns green again.                    Is the eastbound six-oh-eight!
Switcher moves him to the side                   The engineer sees in a flash
So two trains will not collide.                      that trains are headed for a CRASH!
When the westbound track is clear,               Where, oh, where is Switchman Jack,
Puts his engine back in gear.                       who’s supposed to switch the track?
Railroad track begins to climb.                     TOOOO-HOOOO!  TOOOO-HOOOO!
Engine’s working double-time.                     The whistle wails.
Up the mountain, what a strain                    Hurry up and switch those rails!
For the long and heavy train!                      Just in time Jack flips the switch
When it clears the snowy peaks,                  Trains rush past without a hitch!
Down the other side it streaks.      Chugga chugga choo CHOO CHOOO! Clicka clacka too HOO HOOO!           
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOOO! 
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOOO!
Races toward its destination,                       The train speeds toward its destination
Slows and pulls into the station.                   It slows and pulls into the station.
Cargo haul is safely done.                           The cargo haul is safely done.
Journey’s over.  It’s been fun!                      Our journey’s over.  It’s been fun!
Chug.    Chug.                                          Chug.  Chug.  CHOOOOooooooooo!

(Text copyright Susanna Leonard Hill and Little Simon 2009 all rights reserved)

I tried VERY hard to get this lined up so you could see the changes easily.  It works on my preview.  I can only hope it comes out right on your view!  Please forgive that one tiny line of chugga chuggas after “trains rush past…”- it was supposed to be on two lines but just wouldn’t fit right.  (And if it doesn’t come out right, let me know, but I probably won’t have time to fix it until Thursday!)

So now.  What do we see?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller? (sorry, I couldn’t resist :))

The changes they asked for were:
1.  Make it more dramatic.
2.  Put in the articles.  (You know.  All the “the”s.)
3.  There was some disagreement as to how the chugga chuggas read.

They asked for more drama.  I gave them more drama.  Funny that the only critics of this book have said it’s too dramatic 🙂

As for the articles, I liked the rhythm better without them.  I fought for them.  But I was out-voted by the copy editor who convinced the editor that it wasn’t proper English without the articles.  “What about Sheep In A Jeep?” I said desperately, but alas, it was not to be and the articles went in.

We ended up changing the chugga chuggas so no one would stumble, although I confess when I read this aloud, I say it the original way, which makes sense to me, and sounds more train-like 🙂

So what do you guys think?  Is it helpful to see this?  Which version do you like better?

Having spent way too much time trying to get these columns to line up, I really hope you guys find this useful! 🙂  Please let me know.  And of course, if you have questions, fire away in the comments.

And now, I’m off to 2 days of intense school visiting (although I’m still planning to get Would You Read It up tomorrow… somehow… :)) so forgive me if I don’t get around your blogs as much as usual!  I’ll catch up eventually 🙂

(And, just so you know, in a couple days I’m going to pull some of the verses from the published version because I’m not really sure I’m allowed to post it like this, so learn from it while it’s up :))

Have a lovely day! 🙂

So Many Surprises!!! And Oh Susanna – How Many MSS For Agent Querying?

Raise your hand if you’re happy it’s April!!!

April happens to be my favorite month.  The air is warmer and softer.  The light changes.  Nature is trying on all her new finery.  And some of my favorite people have birthdays this month 🙂

So in honor of April, I have surprises for you, my friends!  (And may I just say, I hope you all ate your Wheaties this morning because I have a lot to say – which I know you’ll find shocking since I’m normally such a model of succinctness :))

Surprise #1!

First, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, I have managed the MAP OF MY DREAMS for Phyllis’s World Tour.  It is so cool that you will be amazed!  Here’s what you can do:

You can zoom out and see all the places in the world she’s been at one time, or zoom in so you can easily click on each marker.

You can change the view from map, to satellite, to hybrid, to terrain!

You can click on the individual markers and they will tell you who she visited in that spot, show a photo you can click to enlarge and clarify, give a short description of her visit, and include a link directly to the associated blog post (it says website which I couldn’t change but click on it and it will take you to the blog post.)  (Also, I could only attach one link per marker, so for a couple people who posted 2 or 3 times, I put the main post.)

And it has purple markers for the main tour and yellow markers for the school tour!

Check it out!  (The only annoying thing is the ad I can’t get rid of!)

Here’s a screen shot that shows you the whole map without the ad 🙂

click HERE for interactive map

Seriously.  Is this a wonder or what???!!! 🙂  (and if anyone finds glitches, you must break it to me very gently because this took me a Very. Long. Time!)

Of course, it makes me notice all the empty areas, so if you know anyone in South America or Greenland or Turkey or such like who wants to join the tour, let me know 🙂

I know you will all want to try it out right away, but come right back, because more good stuff is coming!

In case you missed it over the weekend, Phyllis visited Rena in Alberta, Canada, (there was an enchanted castle and bull riding involved!) and one of Pam’s literacy groups in Atlanta, GA (very cute kids and Phyllis learned a lot about Dr. King, Ghandi, and Rosa Parks!)!  Pam will have more posts to come as Phyllis visits with other kids.

Surprise #2!

It’s been a while since the Valentines’ Contest, so what better way then a Fabulous Fun-Filled Contest to celebrate spring, and April, and writing for kids, and all the awesome April Birthdays (mine, my dad’s, my niece’s and my nephew’s, your friend and mine Renee’s of No Water River, and please, if anyone else celebrates this month let me know and I’ll add you to this celebrity list :))

Here are the rules:

Write a children’s story about a very creative or unique birthday celebration in 1-300 words!  (The 1 is for Cathy if she needs an extra challenge.. and Cathy? it also has to rhyme! :))

It may be prose or poetry, so those of you participating in Poetry Month can join in.  Those of you who are participating in the A To Z challenge may title it with anything you want to fit your letter of the day 🙂  Those of you who are participating in 12 X 12 will have your manuscript for the month!  And for those of you not participating in any of the above and feeling a little left out, this is your chance to be part of something far less time-consuming 🙂

Entries must be posted on your blog (or in the comment section of my contest blog post on April 21 if you don’t have a blog) between Saturday April 21 and 11:59 PM EDT Tuesday April 24.  Add your entry-specific link to the list that will go up with my special post that Saturday.  I will not post on Monday April 23 so the list will stay up.)  I’m still picking out prizes, but there will be prizes and they will be good and I will let you know when I decide what they are 🙂  (You are invited to suggest prizes if there’s something your little hearts especially desire :))  If there are fewer than 20 entries there will be one prize.  If there are more than 20 entries there will be 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes!  The number of entries will also determine the number of finalists that will be posted for you to vote on Monday April 30.  (I’m trying not to skip Would You Read It or Perfect Picture Books or overload you with extra posts, hence the wait til Monday the 30th!)  (And if more than 20 people comment that they have too much to do in April and won’t enter, I will move the contest to May, even though *sob, sniff* it will no longer be The Birthday Month!)

Surprise #3!

I have a very special extra post that will go up tomorrow!  (Yes, tomorrow, even though I usually don’t post on Tuesday – it was either that or stuff it into this already overly long post!)  But you’re going to want to see this one.  It is a guest post from the lovely Cori Doerrfeld in which she will share with us how she created her newest book, Little Bunny Foo Foo!  Original and published mss will be included so you can see the difference, as well as her first vision of the art and how it morphed into the final version!  It’s not often you get to see so much process, and Cori has been very kind to share, so I hope you’ll all find a little time tomorrow (or when you have a few minutes) to read it.

Now, to finish up this very long post (I always have so many things to share, and only 3 days a week to do it!) we have a quick Oh Susanna question.  (The inclusion of Oh Susanna isn’t a surprise on Monday, but the question is always a surprise, so it still counts :))

Carter asks, “How many submission-ready manuscripts should I have in my pocket before I begin querying agents?  I know which one I want to lead with, but I assume I should have a number of others for an interested agent to read when considering representation.”

I would say that, as with so many things in this business, a lot depends on the agent.  For some agents, one strong manuscript is all they need.  But I think most will want to see more, especially with picture books.  My answer would be, lead with your strongest manuscript and have 3 others waiting as back up – enough to show that you’ve got more than one story in you, and preferably a little bit of a range of your style (if you have a range of style.)  For example, if your lead manuscript is roll-on-the-floor funny, maybe one of your others should be a quieter/more thoughtful/different emotion type of story if you also write that kind of story.  However, that very much depends on your writing style – some authors produce funny, or emotional, or whatever every single time and that’s what they’re known for.  Basically, you want to have enough to show that the agent will hopefully like at least a couple.

What do the other writers out there think?  Would you recommend more than 3 back-ups?  Less?

Thank you all for sticking it out to the end of this post! 🙂  Please, have an extra donut on me!  See you tomorrow with Cori, and Wednesday with the March Pitch Pick and Delores’s Would You Read It pitch.  I hope you all have LOTS of fun with the map! 🙂

Meet Ryan Sias!

Wow, do I have a treat for you guys today!  Allow me to introduce the one and only Ryan Sias!

Ryan Sias

Ryan is the author/illustrator of  Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend (Blue Apple Books 2011) and the illustrator of Are You Eating Something Red? and Are You Eating Something Green?- placemat books from Blue Apple Books 2010. His story and illustration work have appeared in Nickelodeon magazine, the Flight series (Villard) and Mad magazine.

Ryan earned a B.F.A at the Ringling School of Art & Design in Florida, where he created the puppet troupe, “Patchwork Puppets” and performed in schools, libraries and theme parks. After working for five years at ReelFX in Texas as an art director for videos he moved to New York to pursue his television and children’s book illustration career.

Ryan has considerable experience in the world of television and film. He has directed videos for Barney and Chuck E. Cheese and his storyboarding credits include the movie Bowling for Columbine, as well as Robots and Maya & Miguel for Scholastic Entertainment.  He is currently working with Sesame Workshop (a dream come true!)

Ryan has so much interesting information to share that I will probably divide his interview between today and Wednesday so you can enjoy it fully.  At the end there will be a contest (you know how I love contests!) and the prize will be a signed copy of Ryan’s most recent title:  Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend!

Welcome, Ryan, and thank you so much for joining us!

SLH:  Ryan, how old were you when you started writing stories?  Drawing?

RS:  According to my parents I started drawing when I was 1.5. I’ve seen a drawing I did of Ernie at age three. (I loved Sesame Street!) I have books I made all through school. So I’ve been creating stories my entire life!
Two of Ryan’s early drawings (above and below)

SLH:  Were you encouraged to pursue writing/illustrating?

RS:  Yes, my mom taught Kindergarten and my dad was a Industrial designer. So it was a house of creative people. I remember drawing all the time.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia very young, so I was encouraged to draw since school was tricky for me.

SLH:  How has being dyslexic affected your career?  (Although dyslexia makes writing harder, dyslexics are notoriously original thinkers, often very spatially gifted – more right-brained than the rest of us – are there things you think actually come more easily to you?)

RS:  Being dyslexic made school very difficult for me, and was hard on my ego. I drew all the time because it was easy and I got praise for it. I think that is the main reason I draw all the time still.
I love to write because it is so creative, but it can be hard because I have typos and wrong tenses all over the place. (Probably in this interview!) I  use spell check, but I’ll use the correct spelling of the wrong word. So I have to have everything checked by friends.
I do find I am able to generate ideas very fast, and I am creative all the time. I’m not sure how much of that is the dyslexia or just my lifetime of being creative.  I’m not sure if I do it better than any one else.
I have learned to accept my dyslexia. It is an extra challenge, but I’ve never known any different and I don’t let it get in the way of my dreams!

SLH:  What was your first published book?  How did you feel/react?

RS:  When Are You Eating Something Red? came out it was very exciting! But I didn’t fully believe it until I had a copy in my hands. The most shocking thing for me was when I saw it in the store of the Museum of Modern Art! Now I tell people that my work is in the MoMa next to the Picasso’s! 😉

SLH:  What books have you published subsequently?

RS:  My brand new book Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend was my next book, it is also with Blue Apple Books. It is part of their Ballon Toons line of books. It just came out April first!

SLH:  Which is your favorite of the books you’ve published so far?

RS:  I like all my books, but at the moment my new book Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend is my favorite. I like the comedy and how the Robot talks in third person. My goal is to do more silly books, so this is a step in that direction.

SLH:  You have been both author and illustrator of your books.  When you create a story, which comes first – the writing or the drawing?  Or do they go hand-in-hand?

RS:  They go hand in hand for me. I’ve started books both ways. I flip between both as I’m developing an idea.

This is how I normally work.  I do pencil sketches for the whole book.
I use a light board, making the lines with water color instead of the ink that many people use.
I scan the finished inked page.
I color in PhotoShop and TA DA!  Finished art!

Wow!  As someone who cannot draw, I am fascinated by Ryan’s process.  I hope you’re finding it interesting too!

Tune in Wednesday for the conclusion of Ryan’s interview, when we’ll learn about his marketing techniques and school visits, among other things, and finish with A SECRET! and our contest for a free signed copy of Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend!  See you then 🙂

And if you have questions for Ryan, please post them in the comments!

I’m A Guest! – Let’s Talk Marketing

So guess what?

Alison Stevens invited me to guest post on her blog this morning for Marketing Monday!  I’m so excited, because this is my first guest post ever!  I feel so sought after 🙂
Please pop over to her blog here and read about what I have done in the wide, wide world of marketing (about which I knew absolutely nothing and had to figure out everything the hard way – by trial and lots of error.)  You can also look back in her posts for marketing advice from other authors – very interesting and helpful.
I’ve also already thought of a couple things I left out when I was writing the post for her.  One of them is Amazon.  Amazon ratings and reviews are very helpful (as long as they’re mostly good :)) but it’s surprisingly hard to get them.  If you aren’t famous enough that everyone already knows about you – in which case you probably don’t need the ratings and reviews so much – you’re not likely to get too many.
So, if it should happen that someone tells me they like one of my books, I usually ask them, if they have a minute,  if they would be so kind as to quickly write a sentence or two that sums up what they just said on Amazon.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.  I also seek out Top 10, 100, or 500 Reviewers and ask if they’d be willing to read and review my books.  I can’t afford to send out billions of copies, so I usually just ask two or three.  So far I’ve been lucky – most have said they’d be willing to read the books, and they’ve given me nice reviews – but that is a risk you take.  If they don’t like the book, you could find you’ve gone out of your way to ask someone for what turns out to be a negative review with extra weight because it’s from a Top Reviewer.  I can’t say whether the Top Reviewer reviews have actually helped sales or not, but I figure they’re not hurting them…
If any of you have writer friends with books on Amazon though, you can help them by posting nice reviews with good ratings (if you honestly feel the book deserves it.)
The other thing I forgot to mention was bookmarks… which I am just in the process of making now, thanks to my daughter who is a lot more computer savvy than I am.  When they’re all done, I’ll post a picture on the blog so you can see them 🙂
I think I also forgot to mention that I am on JacketFlap and GoodReads.  I think it’s helpful (hopefully) to be part of the reading community.  I love to read and discuss books, I usually post giveaways when I have a new book coming out, and it’s fun to see what friends and colleagues are reading and liking.
A lot of this blog’s followers are writers – what do you do for marketing?  Do you belong to JacketFlap?  GoodReads?  Other similar groups?  Do you have marketing tips that you have found especially helpful?  Please share!  And don’t forget to check out the rest of my experience in marketing, such as it is :), on Alison’s blog!