A Chat with Cynthia Kreilick About “Publishing Local” and Morning Circle Media, by Anna Forrester

MCM logoThere are so many ways to get your stories out to readers – from self-publishing to publishing with one of “The Big Five,” to everything in between.

This spring I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia Kreilick, who writes picture books and also runs a small, local press in Philadelphia that falls into that “in between” category.

Morning Circle Media occupies a unique niche on the publishing spectrum. Its website explains that Morning Circle “…publishes beautiful, bilingual children’s books that feature the diverse communities of Philadelphia.  We collaborate with the best writers and illustrators in our region to promote an appreciation of culture, language and art.”

I’m delighted to welcome Cynthia to Eastern Penn Points today to talk about Morning Circle Media and her work there.

Anna Forrester: First off Cynthia, can you tell us a little bit about how Morning Circle got started?

Cynthia Kreilick: A midlife crisis. That’s how Morning Circle Media was born. I was really bored with what I was doing, despite a good salary and great colleagues. I was at an age when I knew it was “now or never,” so I took a leap (thanks to a very supportive husband, who could finance my new business).

I had been working in early childhood education for over 20 years before I took this leap. I had a good network and lots of experience reading picture books to children. I had also been writing creatively all my life. This network has paid off. It’s much easier for me to get my books into the hands of early childhood educators because they know me and trust the quality of my work.

AF:  Boredom is definitely a powerful – and important motivator! I’m imagining that your background in Early Childhood Education must have also contributed to Morning Circle’s mission—and that your midlife crisis coincided with some sense of a need in the children and communities where you worked. Could you tell us a little bit about Morning Circle’s focus, and where it springs from?

CK: Morning Circle Media sprang from a desire to write about the things that matter to me: language, culture, and the nature of being human.

I was visiting a lot of early childhood programs, in both urban and rural areas, doing technical assistance and quality improvement consulting. There were lots of books about numbers and shapes and colors and jobs that people do, but I was not seeing books for little children that prepared them for the complexities of life or the gray areas that we grapple with on a day to day basis. Authors and publishing houses were skirting the really vital topics that invite children to experience their emotions…their humanity: aging and death; sexuality; violence; love; faith; sacrifice; betrayal; reconciliation; the quest for identity. And there were very few books that showed people of color in an authentic, meaningful way. Many of my books deal with universal feelings and aspirations. The fact that they are bilingual helps people of various cultures talk about common themes.

AF: Do you feel like the #WNDB movement is beginning to address any of your concerns? (If yes, how? And how is what you’re doing also different?)

CK: Wow! What a great organization! We have similar missions. Morning Circle Media, however, focuses exclusively on creating and publishing children’s picture books. We also feature mostly Philadelphia-area authors and illustrators. Because Philadelphia has so many art schools and so many talented writers, we have an endless supply of fantastic local talent. We love promoting our homegrown authors and illustrators!

AF: As a small, local publisher, what strategies do you use for distributing your books and getting them out there to readers?

CK: We have two main ways of distributing our Morning Circle Media books: teacher workshops and story visits. I have a special certification in the State of Pennsylvania that allows me to do professional development for licensed early learning programs. 75% of our books are distributed at these early literacy and cross-cultural understanding workshops. Each participant receives a free book when they attend a workshop. Our bilingual children’s books are the focal point of most of these trainings. Teachers take the books and the extension activities directly to the classroom.

Our Morning Circle Media Story Visits are popular with Philadelphia early learning programs, the Free Library of Philadelphia and local public and private elementary schools. Programs are required to purchase a minimum of 10 books per Story Visit. Often, programs order many more than 10 in order to give a book to each child in a given classroom or school. Each Story Visit includes a bilingual reading of a particular book and an extension activity that goes deeper into a concept introduced in the book. We do not spend a lot of time putting our books in bookstores or on Amazon. If you’re not actively promoting your books, they’re not moving!

AF: Morning Circle Media’s work feels more relevant than ever with the current political climate growing more complex for immigrants. I wonder: are you interested in hearing from writers, illustrators or educators who might want to submit work or otherwise get involved with Morning Circle Media and its work?

CK: This is an easy answer: Yes!  Morning Circle Media would love to collaborate with Philadelphia authors and illustrators interested in publishing children’s picture books about our local immigrant communities.  We are particularly interested in working with immigrants themselves.

We are also starting to reach out to investors who want to help fund our books and our educational outreach.  We are looking for people who are interested in promoting bilingual early education and cross-cultural understanding. My mother, for example, just funded a cross-cultural understanding event, sponsored by the Free Library of Philadelphia, for Kindergartners at Jenks Elementary School.  My daughter and I read one of our early books, Lucha and Lola, took the kids to a Mexican monarch butterfly sanctuary via Skype, and did a monarch butterfly art project—all in a one-hour class!  This event would not have been possible without the generous donation of my mother. 50 children received a copy of Lucha and Lola, met the author and illustrator, and learned about a very unique, endangered insect.

Thanks so much for this interview!

AF: Thank YOU Cynthia – I look forward to seeing what comes next at Morning Circle Media!

Anna Forrester’s debut picture book, BAT COUNT (illustrated by Susan Detwiler), was published by another “in between” publisher – Arbordale Publishing– in February 2017. Arbordale publishes picture books with science and math themes to ignite a passion for reading and learning.

Connect with Anna through her website or on twitter @annaforr.

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“A Method for the Madness” & Silent Auction Announcement, by Virginia Law Manning, EPA Critique Group Organizer


I’ve read it takes the average author 10 years to get their first book published. TEN years. But, one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t rush it. You have to do your homework. While there are no short cuts, you can have a plan, and I’m big on plans! Here is my roadmap to submissions:

  1. I get an idea for a story. I write it down. I’ve started using Scrivener to keep track of my picture book ideas. I don’t actually begin writing the story though until I’ve had a chance to let the idea brew and bake. When my idea comes to life with a beginning, middle and end that I think will work, I…
  2. Write my first draft. I revise it but I don’t go crazy. I’ve realized that my greatest weakness as a writer may be my propensity to spend hours tweaking wording in a manuscript when the manuscript has bigger issues. When the first draft feels ready to share, I…
  3. Submit my manuscript to my critique group. The first time around, my critique partners (CPs) are looking at big items. Is there a clear problem? Does the MC try to solve his/her problem? Is the ending satisfying? Then I…
  4. Read the critiques. There are four people in my group. Often in the early stages, my CPs will give me similar feedback because the flaws are more obvious. I revise my manuscript to address their feedback. Then I…
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until either:
    1. I lose interest/become frustrated and need to take a break from the story, or…
    2. I’ve gotten to a version where the comments from my critique partners no longer agree with each other and the feedback seems to reflect my critique partners’ individual tastes rather than my vision for the story. At this point, I may still put the manuscript away so that I can look at it again with fresh eyes in a few months. Otherwise I…
  6. Send it to my alternate critique partners. I have several friends whom I swap critiques with from time to time when I need “a fresh set of eyes” on my work. I may also call in some favors. For instance, earlier this year I asked the educational director of the preschool where I work if she would critique a manuscript for me. Then I…
  7. Look for paid manuscript critique opportunities. Having my work critiqued by editors and agents has taught me so much!!! I know they are expensive, but I cannot stress enough how important they are! Sometimes if I’m stuck on a manuscript, I might get a manuscript critique with an author. While they can’t offer us representation or sign a contract, authors can help us brainstorm our manuscript problems.
  8. After I’ve addressed the editor’s/agent’s feedback, I resubmit my manuscript to my critique group with the editor’s feedback. My CPs can help me identify if I’ve made the necessary changes.
  9. If my CPs give me the green light, I start submitting, but I still keep my eyes open for other paid manuscript opportunities. One reason I do this is because, after working on the story that long, I start getting impatient and with a paid manuscript critique I know when I’ll get a response. This is an expensive indulgence I allow myself.
  10. At every step, I’m always thinking of new story ideas and storing them in my Scrivener file.

I hope you’ll think about what your current plan is and whether it’s working for you. If you don’t have a critique group, please check the EPA website under “Local Critique Groups” to find a group to join.

I really want you to succeed! If you’re going to the EPA Pocono Retreat, I have donated a “Picture Book Author’s Care Package” for the Silent Auction. The care package includes three of my favorite writing how-to books, a book lover’s journal, and the opportunity to have three picture book manuscripts critiqued by me. Proceeds from the Silent Auction go to the Pocono Retreat Scholarship Fund. It’s a win-win-win situation!

I hope to see you at The Barn!


Posted in critique groups, Pocono Retreat, writing craft, Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Dealing with Doubt: A List of Writerly Reassurance, by Jeanne M. Curtin


I was sitting at my desk, ready to write, when an unwelcome visitor, Doubt, barged in. The longer Doubt stays, the bigger and louder that visitor grows. So, I managed to push Doubt out the door by coming up with this list of Writer Club clues. A list to reassure myself that I am, indeed, a writer.

Are you one, too?

  1. Libraries and book stores are magnets.
  2. Your heart smiles when a book is in hand.
  3. Idea catchers are close by at all times. Notebooks, recording devices, cellphones, etc. One never knows when the best ideas will surface.
  4. If you’ve said more than once, That would make a great story. And this counts whether you’ve said it out loud or to yourself. Which is a perfect segue to clue number 5.
  5. If you talk to yourself. When characters come to life, they’re like different voices inside of writers’ heads. And sometimes, if we get a little stuck, talking to our characters, asking them questions, can help us get unstuck.
  6. You enjoy a good word game. Like Scrabble, UpWords, WordBrain App, etc. Writers love juggling, finding, and creating words. Word Nerds are we.
  7. Though you may be up and about by five or six o’clock in the morning, you may still be wearing PJs at two in the afternoon. My office is conveniently located right down the hall from my bedroom.
  8. You enjoy the idea of eating letters. Like alphabet cereal, soup, or crackers. After all, you are what you eat. Letters form words, words form sentences, and sentences form stories.
  9. You surround yourself with other writers. Your friends list is growing with others afflicted with the writing bug, too. You join critique groups and professional organizations.

Number 10 was intentionally left blank for you to fill. Please leave your clue in the comments below. 

And for the illustrators out there, what reassures you that you are indeed an illustrator? 

Jeanne M. Curtin is a member of SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge, Rate Your Story, two critique groups, and volunteers at an Elementary School Library. She mostly works on picture books, but has a new adult novel in the works, and has self-published Brave, a young adult novel. She has a 21 year old son, and lives with her fiance in the Harrisburg area.


Posted in Writer's/Illustrator's Toolbox, Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

A Cafe Chat with Senior Editor and Author Orli Zuravicky, by Lindsay Bandy

Cafe Chat Cup

IDA Design

Orli Zuravicky is a senior editor at Scholastic, and she has written and edited over a hundred books for children. She’s about to add “2017 Pocono Retreat Faculty Member” to her long list of accomplishments! Here she is with a little Pocono Preview, and general chatty fun.


LB: Hi there, Orli, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! As we settle into our comfy booth, what would you like to drink?

OZ: Hello! Thanks for having me. I would love a coffee. There’s never a time when I’ll say no to coffee!

file7961249615202.jpgLB: You’re in good company there. Something to snack on? 

OZ: Hmmm… I think I’ll have an omelet.

LB: Excellent. Make mine a Western!

We’re excited to have you on our Pocono 2017 faculty! Can you give us a little teaser about what you’ll be sharing at the retreat?

OZ: I’m very excited to be coming this year! Giuseppe Castellano, art director at penguin, and I will be doing a session together all about the working relationship between the editor and the art director, who is responsible for what, and how their relationship and the decisions they make impact a book in various ways.

LB: That will be fantastic!

Oooo….OMELETTES have arrived!! While you chew, think about the last book you read that made you…..

Laugh out loud: 
Do they have to be kids’ books?: I think I’m going to go with adult choices–I spend so much of my time in the world of children’s publishing that it’s a treat to read an adult book!

So, the book I read and reread every time I want to laugh is Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. It’s hilarious.

Cry (or at least sniffle): Hmmm… I would have to say Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Go all warm and fuzzy: Let’s see… I’m not sure about warm and fuzzy. I’ve been on a bit of a mystery bent lately so I can’t remember the last book that left me quite feeling like that. If I had to choose, I would say Pride and Prejudice, which is one of my absolute favorites, and always just makes me happy.

lauren graham.jpg


Change: Lauren Graham’s recent memoir had a section about writing in it that I thought was super interesting, and it’s inspired me to rethink my writing routine.


HEA2+version+2.jpgLB: You’ve got some mad juggling skills, Orli, being both a successful editor and author! How do you find time to work on your middle-grade series HAPPILY EVER AFTERLIFE amidst the busy business of editing? 

OZ: Thank you. Well, I guess I would say that when I’m in the midst of a writing deadline, I do a lot of hibernating on nights and weekends, and I basically go into hiding haha. After long days at work, it’s obviously very hard to focus more at home, so I try to use the nights to decompress so I can be ready to write on the weekends. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of something, I can work for a couple of hours on a week night. I’m the kind of person who needs a lot of alone time, so I have to factor that into my process in order to be productive.

LB: How does being an editor make you a better writer? How does being a writer make you a better editor?

OZ: I think about what I ask of my authors and try to deliver that as a writer. As an editor, I’m always asking my authors to show and not tell, and I’m always asking them to create an emotional connection between the reader and the characters–so these are things I keep in mind as I write, and it definitely improves my work.

LB: Your heart would explode into a million rainbows if you came across a manuscript that combined….

rainbow heart.jpg

OZ: I’m focusing on nonfiction right now, so I’m on the hunt for narrative nonfiction picture books that focus on an important and interesting topic, but that do so for the picture book aged reader. So many nonfiction manuscripts I get are simply too sophisticated; I think writers feel they are allowed more leeway with nonfiction topics, but the reality is, your ‘reader’–who is really just a listener at that age–ranges between 4-6 years old, so you still need to entertain them and hold their suspense in the same way you do with a fiction picture book.

LB: I talk to a lot of picture book writers who are unsure of how to navigate the currently trendy author/illustrator style, with very sparse text and an emphasis on telling a story more visually. Any words of wisdom for these storytellers without professional illustration skills of their own?

OZ: This has definitely been a bit of a trend, but as an editor I can tell you that we still absolutely appreciate how difficult it is to write a good picture book–and in order to do that, you need to be a good writer. If you write a strong manuscript, no editor is going to reject it because you can’t also illustrate it. You only have the talents you have, and if you aren’t gifted with the talent of illustration, there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is hone the skill that you DO have, and that’s the ability to write a great story. So I would advise these writers try not to use up your energy worrying about this, and instead, to take that energy and put it into writing an incredible story.

IMG_8839.JPGLB: What’s one thing you currently see too much of?

OZ: Bedtime stories. I see a ton of bedtime-focused picture book manuscripts, and while this is definitely an evergreen topic, it’s hard to do it differently than it’s already been done. That’s not to say it’s impossible! Just a big challenge.

LB: What’s one thing that makes you stop reading a manuscript?

OZ: If my interest isn’t immediately grabbed by the time I’ve turned the first page, the chances are there that I will stop reading. Picture book manuscripts are so short that writers need to make a big impact in a short amount of space–and they need to make sure every word they use says what they need it to say.

LB: Okay, Orli, it is now time for rapid-fire favorites! Take a deep breath and tell us your fave….

Baby-shower gift book: My friend Raquel D’Apice’s Welcome to the Club. It’s a hilarious adult book about baby firsts–but not always the firsts you think.welcome to the club.jpg

TV Show: Sons of Anarchy.

Type of shoe: I’m a colorful pump kinda gal.

Candy: Twix. Hands down.

Book as a child: I loved Corduroy, Caps for Sale, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

Corduroy-Book--pTRU1-6671663dt   caps-for-sale   steig--sylvesterandthemagicpebble.jpg

Recreational activity: Painting things in my apartment! I love interior design and I’m often found painting old dressers and chairs–I even painted the backsplash in my kitchen!

LB: Oh, we are kindred spirits! I’m always looking for something to redecorate (just ask my husband!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, Orli! Can’t wait to meet you in just a few weeks.

OZ: It was my absolute pleasure! I’m looking forward to meeting you as well, and spending the weekend with tons of creative folks!

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Nominate A Charitable Cause for SCBWI’s Books for Readers Campaign! by Lindsay Bandy

Amidst all the ups and downs of the business and the process, it’s good to stop and remember why we do what we do: the readers. We all dream of that kid who will hug our book to her heart! With SCBWI’s new Books for Readers campaign, you have the opportunity to bring books written by SCBWI members (maybe even you!) to kids in need.

Read more about the program below, and click here to nominate a worthy cause for donation by April 30!


To help increase book access, promote
SCBWI authors/illustrators and to advance the mission of SCBWI

SCBWI Members across the U.S. and around the world are invited to participate in a book-giving and life-changing event.

Books from our SCBWI members will be distributed to causes and organizations in need. Our book drive’s mission is 3-fold:

•    To help increase book access for readers in desperate need of books by collecting and donating books that SCBWI members create…

•    To help promote our authors, illustrators, and their books…

•    To help highlight the work of SCBWI and its members as both book creators and literacy advocates for children and young adults…
We will be collecting our members’ books worldwide for causes selected most worthy by our SCBWI Books for Readers Selection Committee.
Here’s how Books For Readers will work:

SCBWI members who would like to nominate a cause or organization must complete the entry form. The forms will be automatically sent via email to your Region’s Email Box. The last day for entries is April 30, 2017.

Our selection committee, comprised of SCBWI staff and members of the SCBWI Board of Advisors, will select 1-2 recipients to receive our books. The selecting will take place from May 23-June 23, 2017. The chosen regions’ recipients will be notified by June 29, 2017.

Members can begin sending their published (and signed) books to SCBWI HQ from July 12-September 4, 2017.


Upon announcement of the 2 regional recipients, two large-scale celebrations will be planned (July 12-October 31, 2017) and executed (date(s) in November TBD) by SCBWI HQ in the recipients’ regions.

Posted in Books for Readers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Café Chat with Author, Writing Coach, and SCBWI EPA Co-Regional Advisor Kim Briggs, by Lori Ann Palma

kim-20-1If you’ve been enjoying our series of author interviews, then you’ll definitely want to read on for my one-on-one with our very own Kim Briggs! Kim is often behind the scenes working her magic for the SCBWI Eastern PA chapter, but today she’s answering my questions about writing, time management, and her path to publication. First, here’s some background:

Kim Briggs once smashed into a tree while skiing. The accident led to a concussion, a cracked sternum, temporary notoriety as a sixth grader returned from the dead, and the realization that fictionalized accounts are way more interesting than just slipping on the ice.

starrfall-v5-2An unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theories combined with a love of travel and happily ever afters led Kim to write her YA novel, Starr Fall, where a secret organization decides 17 year old Starr Bishop is not only the model student, but the ideal assassin. While in hiding, Starr meets dark, moody, and dead sexy Christian Evergood. Cue the swoon worthy music. But it’s not all happily ever afters for Kim. Her NA novel, And Then He, explores the dark and scary corners of the human psyche. Following a night of innocent flirting with a handsome stranger, Tiffani finds herself in the midst of a nightmare she can’t escape. And Then He is available through Amazon and other major book retailers. Starr Fall released November 2016 with Inkspell Publishing, followed by Starr Lost in January 2017 and Starr Gone in June 2017. Her novella, Avalanche is part of the Valentine Kisses Anthology and released February 14, 2017. Kim is one of the Co-Regional Advisors of the Eastern PA SCBWI Chapter. She’s a writing coach and offers manuscript critiques from picture book to adult fiction and nonfiction.

Hi Kim! We’re super excited that you’re not only planning the Pocono Retreat this year, but you’re also on the faculty!
There’s so much I want to ask, but first, let me welcome you to the virtual Eastern Penn Points café…what can we get you to drink?

Hi, it’s strange being on this side of the desk, but I think I like it…Yes, I think I could get used to it. I’ll take a chai latte with soymilk—that’ll settle me down a bit.

And we know you love your chocolate, so what type of treat would you like on the side?

I do love me some dark chocolate. Today, I’ll take a scone with chocolate chips and cherries.

That sounds amazing, so I’m having one too!
Now, let’s get down to business! You blog on your site INKSisters Write. How did this site come about and how did you decide to use the letter-writing style as a format for your posts?

Great question! INKSisters Write began as All Things YA & NA in 2014. I blogged a few days a week for five or six months, but by July, I burned out. I took an eight-month hiatus with no real intentions of returning to blogging, but one cold February night in 2015, everything changed. I was cruising around cyberspace and for some reason I decided to check the blog. I went into the stat page (I’m a stat geek) and discovered that even though I wasn’t adding new blog posts, my existing posts were getting hits. A lot of hits. I was surprised that people actually read my posts. I was flattered too, and I realized I owed it to my readers to create new content. The blog was also a means to promote And Then He, my New Adult Psychological Thriller, but I hated being me, Me, ME all the time.

In December of 2015, I decided to change the name to All Things Writing in order to reflect my interest in picture books and writing in general. It seemed like a good idea at the time—I had loads of picture book and middle grade author friends I could talk about, but something was still lacking for me. I loved writing blog posts but it felt like work and took time away from my other writing. I needed help. I wanted to have fun. Alison Green Myers and I have been critique group partners since 2012, so I asked her if she’d like to LLTTDjoin me on the blog, and she said, “YES!!” Around that same time, I had finished Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (one of my all time favs by the way). I told her about the letter format of the book, and we thought it would be fun to write them to each other.

Writing a letter to your bestie doesn’t feel like work. It’s like we’re back in eighth grade passing notes to each other without the risk of getting caught by the teacher. Only now we profess our undying love for our latest book crush. INKSisters Write is all about sharing the writer love.

Our growing viewership loves the letter format too. After all, the letters are for them too! We try to post on Mondays and Thursdays, but sometimes life gets in the way and other times, we have special book news, cover reveals, blog tours, or book releases on another day, so we roll with it.

In the age of social media, a letter is a gift. We send each other these gifts every week. I love it!

It sounds like you found a way to fit blogging into your schedule. Which brings me to my next question. On Twitter, you participate in #5amwritersclub…did this arise from your need to fit writing into your busy life?

Yes, life is busy. When I’m teaching, 5 am is the only time I can write or work on my social media. A writer’s life is about balance and I’m doing my best to juggle everything—I’m a Libra so it’s part of my DNA. Plus, the #5amwritersclub is the most supportive writers’ group I’ve come across on Twitter. We wave good morning to each other usually through a Gif, pass out donuts, toast with our morning beverage of choice, and get to work. I actually can’t think of a better way to start my morning. My house certainly isn’t that cheery in the morning…even my dogs roll their eyes sometimes.

As part of your many talents, you offer manuscript critique services…can you share what you look for in particular when critiquing and what type of feedback clients can expect?

I’ve never been described as having many talents. I had one bad experience during a seventh grade talent show performance—tap shoes, a leotard, and a room full of high school boys (and yes, there was glitter and a tutu). Let’s just say I haven’t recovered yet, so I’m a little “talent” shy.

I love critiquing manuscripts. (I know. I’m weird.) I enjoy reading other writers’ work. I think because I’m a writer, I’m more sympathetic to the intimacy of the writing to the person but also aware that I’m not helping that person if I just give fluff. I provide a detailed letter with focus on Big Picture, Plot, Story Arc, and Character Arc. I emphasize everything the writer does well and what he or she needs to work on. Because I know how important the work is to the person, I also guarantee a fast turn-around, typically a week or two after our free 15 minute consult, because who wants to wait months and months for a response? I sure don’t!

That is a fast turn-around! Additionally, writers can also employ your coaching services. Can you share an inspiring success story from your work?

Go. Write. Win.

That would be a great chant for my writing coach clients, except I would never put that type of pressure on any creative person. I don’t like pressure situations—actually as a rule, I dislike impromptu writing exercises because I feel like my brain freezes and I’m writing in a language I don’t even understand, so while I give impromptu writing exercises in a workshop, I never put people on the spot. (Or try not to anyway.)

But to answer your question, I don’t have one client success story. I consider all my clients successes, and here’s why…

  • They were brave enough to start writing—Instant success!
  • They were brave enough to realize that they might need someone to either guide them step by step through their writing process either through deadlines or assignments or they needed someone to help them take their writing to the next level—Instant Success!
  • They contacted me, trusted me with their work, hired me as their writing coach—BINGO! They’ve hit the success jackpot!

Writers place too much pressure on themselves. They measure their success by a final product (a book, a contract, a review) rather than celebrating each step of the journey. I believe in recognizing and applauding each stage of the writing process. That’s where true success lies.

Great advice! And that leads me to wonder about your writing process and the Starr Fall series, which is published with Inkspell Publishing. How did this partnership begin?

51AsjOS2U6LStarr’s been a part of my life since I sat my butt in the chair and started writing the night before Thanksgiving 2009. Whenever I hit a wall with Starr Fall, (a pile of rejections), I’d put the book away and work on something else, but Starr’s stubborn and persistent. She often tugged (yanked) on my arm, and she’d say, “Kim, writing is hard. I get that. Submission is even harder. I get that too. Rejection, the worst of all. Get over it. I want my book in the hands of readers.”

So, I’d revise, rework, submit, and repeat. Eventually, I began to receive full manuscripts requests, and I knew I was onto something. Starr would cheer, “See? See! I told you!” I usually sent Starr Fall to agents, but in the fall of 2015 I decided to send it directly to a few publishers. The day after Christmas, I received an offer of publication with Inkspell Publishing. As an indie, they have a much faster turnaround than traditional publishers, and I was ready to dive into book publication. Eleven months later, Starr Fall released, followed by Starr Lost in January, and Starr Gone in June. It’s been a wild ride since!

Starr Fall also features a GORGEOUS cover! Did you work with a cover designer for the final product?

Thank you! I love it too. Najla, from Najla Qamber Designs, was the cover designer. Together we selected the image, discussed colors, but the covers and layouts are all Najla. She’s a cover wizard. My theory is that she attended a Hogwart’s type school of design or is a mind-reader because she takes what’s in my brain and makes it a reality.

Najla lives in Behrain. There’s about a twelve-hour time difference. During cover appointments, we’d email images and layouts back and forth in the early morning. The best part of the cover design process was waking up to an email from Najla, clicking open the attachment and seeing the cover for the first time. Starr Gone’s cover reveal is May 4. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

The biggest problem I have is deciding which cover I like best! What do you think?

If I have to choose, I’d say Starr Fall is my favorite…only because I like a little romance in a book cover!
As you mentioned, Starr Gone’s cover reveal is next month. When can we expect the book to release?

Starr Gone releases June 4, 2017. There will be at least one more book, but the outline is shaping up as two more. I’m obsessed with my current WIP, but I plan to write the fourth book in the summer. The release depends on Inkspell Publishing’s book schedule, but Book Four probably won’t be out until 2018. (I’m sorry fans, but you’ll love the book I’m working on.)

And lastly, when you first started out, did you ever think you’d come this far in your publishing career?

When I began writing I assumed I would wind up with a published book. READ: naïve and stupid. As I continued my journey, I realized how difficult it was to get a book published.

The writing world is filled with talented writers, but only the most persistent writers succeed. (Persistent sounds so much better than stubborn, doesn’t it?) A writer must also be open to suggestion. Agents, editors, other authors, and writers want you to succeed—they really do. The biggest complaint I hear from the pros is that many writers don’t open themselves up to suggestion. Not that a writer should listen to every piece of advice and make every change mentioned (because they shouldn’t), but if they keep hearing the same comment over and over again, they need to listen. As a teacher, I was taught to give the students what they need, not what they want. The same holds true for writing.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox…I never thought I’d have five books to my name. I’m overwhelmed and often pinch myself—I have the bruises to prove it. Writing is hard, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to interview me! I love you all to pieces!

Thanks so much, Kim! It’s been great getting to know more about you and your writing journey!

 To read more about Kim, please visit her website, or her blog with INK Sister Alison Green Myers at INK Sisters Write. You can also chat with her on Twitter: @KimBriggsWrite


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A Café Chat with Literary Agent Taylor Martindale Kean, by Lori Ann Palma

TMK-bio-photo-thumbnail-for-website-150x150There are only a few weeks until our 2017 Pocono Retreat! Today we have another amazing interview to help you get to know our faculty.  Taylor Martindale Kean joins us in the Eastern Penn Points café!

Taylor Martindale Kean is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring fiction and non-fiction projects. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies. Taylor is looking for young adult fiction, literary middle grade fiction, and young adult and middle grade nonfiction. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices in contemporary, fantasy, historical and magical realism novels. She is looking for books that demand to be read. More than anything, Taylor is looking for diverse, character-driven stories that bring their worlds vividly to life, and voices that are honest, original and interesting. When considering non-fiction projects, Taylor uses much the same approach, and hopes to find authors with fresh ideas and perspectives, with writing that is accessible, entertaining, and compelling. Clients include: Annie Cardi, Emery Lord, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sally J. Pla, Aisha Saeed, Diana Rodriguez Wallach, Lois Miner Huey, Tim Bradley, and more. When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.

Hi Taylor! Thanks so much for joining us before we meet you in the Poconos next month! Whenever we welcome a guest to our virtual Eastern Penn Points café, we like to offer you your favorite beverage. What can we get for you?

Hi, Lori Ann! Thank you so much for having me! I am thrilled to be participating in this year’s retreat. I’d love to have a soy latte (aka, my lifeblood), thank you.

One soy latte/lifeblood coming right up! And now to another passion of yours: children’s literature!
When I speak with literary agents who primarily represents books in the MG and YA categories, I like to ask what attracted you to this specific segment of books. Have you always been drawn to children’s literature over adult fiction/non-fiction?

I absolutely love working in MG and YA. While I read broadly in fiction, yes, I was always drawn to these categories. I could talk for hours about adult fiction projects I love, but what speaks to me in MG and YA is the immediacy of experience, the way characters (and therefore readers) must interact with their worlds without the benefit of adult wisdom. They often don’t have the ability to contextualize big life moments with prior experiences, because it’s happening for the first time. No matter what genre, I find these narratives so compelling. The questions of “where do I belong, who are my people, and who do I want to be?” are timeless.

The fantasy genre within YA is still going strong as far as agent requests and reader interest, but how has this market changed in the past few years? What should writers think about when approaching fantasy stories?

I am *such* a big fantasy fan. I have been so excited to see the market really respond to epic fantasy, but even more excited to see how authors are really pushing boundaries and expectations. We’re seeing YA writers create the most compelling fantasy, the most inventive and dynamic worlds. When writing fantasy, writers really need to be thinking about world building. That’s a pretty basic answer, but immersive worlds are make or break in fantasy. It needs to be fleshed out, the rules need to be consistent, and the characters need to reflect that world (rather than feeling like a contemporary teen plopped into a fantasy world). I want to see how a character’s mindset, goals and relationships are shaped by their environment, like the setting is a character itself. Additionally, you need to make sure the stakes are high enough, and will keep the reader connected to the characters’ emotional arcs.

Along with fantasy, contemporary is a big genre in YA. With contemporary YA pushing past the boundary of books and into television and films, do you think it will see a downtick in the coming years, just as dystopian fiction has?

I do think there will be a downtick, but not from lack of interest. Most houses have bought up a ton of contemporary YA, and so the market is saturated. But in terms of strategizing your own writing, never let trends overly influence you. It’s a fine balance to be aware of the market without writing toward it, but it’s an important thing to practice. Learn what’s working, but don’t obsess over making your book fit any particular mold. Agents and editors are always wanting to see the project that’s unique to you, that only you could write. Contemporary YA will always be a cornerstone of the category, but the sales may just slow down until publishers are needing to refill those lists again. No matter what genre you’re writing in, focus on making it the absolute best it can be, rather than changing to fit a sales trend.

In the MG area, you’ve mentioned that you prefer upper MG with more serious themes. Can you provide an example to illustrate your preference?

someday birdsI do love upper MG, but that’s not to say I’m only looking for heavy books! I absolutely love books that are light, have humor, and aren’t dealing with any particular issue. But I’m also hands down a devoted fan of family and friendship stories, with characters looking for answers to big questions. A great example of my taste in MG is a recently published book by my client Sally J. Pla, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS. This novel is hilarious, emotional, deep, fun and engaging. It has a little bit of everything, and is the kind of book that makes an imprint on your life. That’s what I love to find.

Many agents talk about wanting to see a fresh perspective or unique voice. Can you explain what this means to you?

I’m actually giving my talk on this at the retreat! I won’t spoil the takeaways, but I will ask a related question as food for thought: What is the book that only you can write? What is the book in your soul?

Come to my session for my breakdown and advice on voice!

I can’t wait for this session! It’s such a great topic since all writers will struggle with voice at some point in their writing career.
And speaking of careers, f
or writers seeking traditional publishing, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding what an agent does. Can you tell us what your typical day is like?

There really is no typical day for an agent. On any given day, I’ll be working on contract negotiations, reading/editing client manuscripts, sending new projects on submission to editors, chasing those submissions, working with co-agents to license sub rights, emailing editors/publicists/marketing directors, etc. about a book in production, doing career strategizing with clients… and any combination thereof before reading queries at night! I love the variety of roles to play as an agent, and I love being my clients’ advocate.

You’ve shared your manuscript wishlist with us in your Pocono Retreat faculty bio, but do you have any additions that are at the top of your list?

I am actively signing authors right now, and I’m really just looking to be swept up in a project! I’d love to rep more fantasy and magical realism. But truly, I want to find anything that feels immersive and compelling, regardless of genre. BULL cover

Most agents don’t have a lot of time for personal reading, but is there a book you recently read (that’s not one your client list!) that you couldn’t put down?

I just read BULL by David Elliott and could *not* put it down!! I read it in one sitting and was blown away. You have never read anything like this, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lastly, are there any upcoming projects you’re super excited to talk about?

I represent Emery Lord and her new novel THE NAMES THEY GAVE US publishes in May! The name they gave usI am so excited to see this book out in the world! As always, Emery’s characters and story are intensely compelling. It’s about so many things, but in many aspects it’s about what and how we believe when belief fails us. I mentioned earlier how I am always drawn to books that look for the answers to big questions, and this book is no exception. I hope you love it as I do.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Taylor! Looking forward to meeting you in person in a few weeks!

If you’d like to read more about Taylor, please visit the Full Circle Literary website.

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Congratulations Val Jones and Broccoli! by Lindsay Bandy

Fridays are my favorites for sharing happy news, and I’m so excited to share that Val Jones’ ADORABLE picture book, WHO WANTS BROCCOLI? has won the Keystone to Reading Elementary Award for Preschool!


Broccoli is a lovable but rambunctious dog who wants to find a home in this fetchingly fun picture book! Broccoli lives at Beezley’s Animal Shelter and loves to show off his bowl-tossing and tail-chasing skills—and especially his great big BARK! He dreams of playing in a yard with a boy.

Good boy, Broccoli!

And congrats to you, Val, on this special award! Broccoli is sure to find his home in the hearts of many more kids this year.

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A Cafe Chat with Agent and Author Tracy Marchini, by Lindsay Bandy

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Hey, everyone, hope you’re getting as excited about the Pocono Retreat as I am! Deadlines are looming for critiques and portfolio reviews (April 7th!). If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time. Just click here.

 Tracy Marchini of BookEnds Literary will be speaking and giving critiques at the retreat, but LUCKY US, she’s here today, too!


LB: Hi there, Tracy, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! Can we get you something to drink?
TM: A hot chocolate, please!

LB: I hope you came hungry. What can we get you to eat?
TM: Are there chocolate croissants?

LB: There is chocolate everything. Want a chocolate cheeseburger? Just kidding–unless you actually wanted one. No? Okay. Croissant it is.
So, we’re really excited to have you on faculty for our upcoming 25th Annual Pocono Retreat! Your Sunday morning session, Ten Things the Children’s Market is (or is not!) Looking for in 2017, sounds great. Is this a session that will cover picture books through YA?
TM: Yes! Since I know that there will be writers across all genres at the conference, I hope to offer enough information that everybody leaves the room with some sort of take-away that is relevant to their career or work-in-progress.

CHICKEN cover.jpgLB: Big congratulations on your upcoming picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, which is now available for pre-order. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the story, and how long you’ve been writing?
TM: Thank you! Chicken Wants a Nap was actually inspired by a grad school assignment. At the time, I was a full time student earning my MFA in Writing for Children, was freelance editing, and was working part-time on a Dean’s Fellowship. The assignment was to write about a character’s best or worst day, and I was just absolutely exhausted that night. To me, the best thing in the world at that particular moment would have been the ability to take a nap. So out came this story of a barnyard chicken who desperately wants a nap, but is constantly interrupted.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I sent my first picture book submission out when I was a teenager. It went to boards (which, to be honest, probably had something to do with my age at the time) and I received a lot of encouraging feedback even as I was collecting rejections, so I kept writing, revising, and submitting. I also did a lot of exploratory writing when I first started. In addition to writing for children and teens, I tried literary fiction for adults, short stories, poetry, etc. (Somewhere there’s also a small handful of terrible, angsty song lyrics, and those will never see the light of day.)

After college, I worked as a newspaper correspondent, children’s book reviewer and freelance copywriter while also working as a Literary Agents Assistant. There’s such a different voice and structure involved in each of those types of writing, and I feel like it really honed my ability to draft in the proper structure – be it a picture book, a pitch letter, a press release or a novel.

But all that experience also brought me back to my real love – writing and representing books for children and teens.

a hungry lionLB: Can you tell us the last book you read that made you…

Say awwwww! –
A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins (I should say that I “awwwed” at a particular spread, but that wasn’t the end of the story…)

Laugh out loud – Penguin Problems by Jory John; illustrated by Lane Smith (Love this type of humor! Would love to represent a book like this!)

Cry – This Is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. (Big, ugly tears.)

this is where it ends

Learn something new – Florence Nightengale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef. (Intrigued by the idea that Florence Nightengale could do so much good but still believe in the miasma theory of illness until much later on in her life.)
Change –
Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mary Cronk Farrell (This was an inspiring reminder that so many of the things we take for granted – like an eight hour work day – were fought for with actual blood and tears.)

LB: As an agent who is seeking a wide variety of material for young people, can you name anything that consistently gets your attention across categories?
TM: Across all categories, I like underdogs, unknown heroes and heroines, strong female protagonists and/or humor!

LB: Finish this sentence: If more writers would _________, my job would be so much easier!!
TM: If more writers would pay closer attention to submission guidelines and/or research their genre before submitting. I still receive manuscripts for adult fiction, picture books that are 3,000 words long, and ‘young adult’ manuscripts that are actually memoirs of an adult’s childhood.

LB: Any querying tips for those readers in the trenches?
TM: Always check the submissions page of the agency’s own website before submitting. An older article could have incorrect or outdated submissions information.

Also, if you can, try to find out what books or authors the agent already represents. If you’re writing in a very narrow niche, e.g. “My passion is writing books set in Chicago during the final year of Prohibition,” then you’ll probably have better luck with an agent that doesn’t already have a similar, established writer on their list. If you’re writing more broadly though, e.g. I like to write quieter, more literary picture books, then you probably would have luck with someone who does seem to gravitate towards those kinds of stories.

Finally, if you’re a picture book author, it’s important to send your most polished work… and if that’s not a good fit, please don’t dig deep into your backlist to submit again. As an agent, I’m happy to look at more work from an author even if I reject their first submission… but I want to see growth in subsequent submissions. It says to me that you’re continuing to learn and hone your craft, and that’s very attractive in a potential client.

LB: All right, Tracy, it’s now time for rapid-fire favorites! Take a deep breath and tell us your favorite….

Type of shoe – leather boots, I wear them pretty much every day

Book on the craft of writing – John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story looked at structure and character in a different way than I’d seen before


Vacation spot – France (though it’s been a while!)

Book as a kid – Chatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day

Piece of playground equipment – The one where there’s a circular disk in the middle that you use to spin the set of horses or whatever character/animal you’re sitting on. Get a couple strong kids and you’ve got a decent ride!

Animal – duck (That one was easy!)

baby duck.gif

Thanks so much for joining us today, Tracy! We’re looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks in the Poconos!

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A Café Chat with Award-Winning Author Susan Campbell Bartoletti, by Lori Ann Palma

Our guest today in the Eastern Penn Points Café is Susan Campbell Bartoletti!Susan-CB-150x150

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award-winning author of picture books, novels, and nonfiction for children, including the Newbery Honor book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, the Sibert Medal-winning Black Potatoes, and Dear America: A Coal Miner’s Bride. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors, including the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.  She teaches writing classes at a number of MA and MFA programs, among them Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally she leads workshops offered through the Highlights Foundation.

Hitler Youth

Welcome, Susan! First off, let me congratulate you on your many writing awards! With 19 published books, including works of fiction and non-fiction, you are such an inspiration to us at Eastern PA SCBWI. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you! SCBWI is near and dear to my heart. It helped me grow as a writer and helped me learn the “business ropes,” so to speak. It gave me confidence.

As you may know, I was a regional co-adviser at the very first Pocono Retreat held in 1992. I held that position until 2002.

And since the Pocono Retreat is celebrating its 25th year, it’s amazing to have you join us and share your wealth of knowledge!
As we settle into the virtual Eastern Penn Points café, can we get you your favorite beverage?

Coffee! Strong coffee. Peet’s coffee, if you really want to know. With milk. Not too much milk. No sugar.

Now that you have your coffee, let’s talk books! You’ve written across the spectrum for young readers, from short stories to poetry to picture books to MG to YA, as well as fiction and non-fiction. With so many ideas and the ability to tell a true story or a fictionalized account, how do you choose an idea to pursue?

Lee Gutkind, the self-proclaimed godfather of creative nonfiction, says this: If you can tell a story as a true story (meaning nonfiction story), then you have no business telling it as fiction.

For me, it comes down to this: what is the best way to tell the best story?

For me, every story begins with a question. Writing the story as nonfiction is one way to tell the story that answers the question “what is.” When I write nonfiction, I cannot invent anything – not one word of dialogue, not one detail of weather. Every fact, every detail must be verifiable.

But sometimes I still have questions when the nonfiction book is done – or I might find too many gaps in the research that make the writing of a nonfiction story too difficult or not the best way to tell the  best story.  That’s when I might turn to fiction and filter the facts through my imagination to answer the question “what if” or to tell the story of what might have happened, based on the facts.

Dear AmericaMany of your fiction titles for young adults focuses on men and women in historical time periods who encounter struggles with war, unfair labor practices, politics, or human rights. What is it about the past that fascinates you as a writer?

Hm. Let’s wax philosophical here: Is it the past that fascinates me or the way that the past finds its way into our present?

That’s definitely an interesting question, which leads me to wonder…when a young reader finishes one of your books, what do you hope they’ll take away from the experience?

I do not write the stories I write to teach readers anything. Stephen King says that each book should be a letter to someone. If that’s true, then my books are letters to my middle school students.

It’s such a great age. Middle school kids begin middle school as children and leave as young adults. They are seeking out role models, in real life and in imaginary life. They are interested in everything—for 30 minutes. They are finding out that life isn’t fair—and it gives them agency. They want to do something about it! They are eager to access and transform the political systems in their lives. They’re think critically and to question everything: their parents, their teachers, their education, all of those authorities and institutions that have power over them.

They’re amazing. They give me hope and they inspire me. And so, if there’s one thing that I hope I can give them in return, it’s hope and courage.

In a past interview, you noted that photo research of the time period you’re writing about is extremely important. Do you create a photo file, or use a Pinterest type of platform to organize your inspiration?

No. My storage system is a milk crate. I call it my iCrate.

If you could go back to a historical time and place to live, when and where would it be? Who would you be most excited to meet?

I would never survive in another time and place. As a woman, I’m outspoken, I challenge, I have opinions, I think critically, I am eager to work and to create. Do you know what society was like for such a woman, even as recently as 60 years ago? But perhaps I’d like to meet some family members whom I never had the chance to know.

You were an 8th grade English teacher for 18 years, and during this time, you shared your own stories with your class. Would you credit those students as your first critique group?

I loved helping my students stretch and grow as writers. On rare occasions I brought a story to class.  It was the teaching of writing that helped me make the three most important discoveries a writer can make: my subjects (to write about), my audience, and my voice.

Typhoid MaryYour latest publication is a middle grade biography titled: Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, which focuses on the real life of Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary. How did you come to write about this topic?

Mary Mallon was mentioned in a newspaper article. I read the article, moved on, and then my heart turned over a bit, and I thought, Huh. I reread the article and then wrote a bit about it in my journal. I suggested the subject to my editor, who was intrigued. I wrote a proposal, and then submitted a 3-page sample, written in the style/voice/approach I hoped to incorporate.

Lastly, we’d love to hear about any upcoming books you plan to release!

I have two more nonfiction books in progress that are under contract and a novel contract. I’m not ready to talk about those projects yet. Oh! And I’m also co-editing a nonfiction anthology with Marc Aronson, featuring the year 1968, to be published by Candlewick next year. We’ve got some great nonfiction writers on board.

I’m also working on a Top Secret Project. It’s a novel for younger readers (maybe 4th grade?) that’s not under contract anywhere. It’s an idea I’ve carried around in my head for about ten years, and I finally began to put it down on paper. It’s fun writing something that’s not contracted, though I am eager to know if I have anything that works or if I’m simply amusing myself.

All of these projects sound very exciting, and we can’t wait to see them in the future! Thanks again, Susan!

If you’d like to read more about Susan, or check out her books, please visit her at http://www.scbartoletti.com.

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