Did you happen to read some emails today? 🙂 If so, then you are in good company. Reading email is a daily occurrence for many of us.
As an author and marketing professional, I’m often asked about social media. I think social media is great. Want to know why? Because it can help you get people onto your email list. And if I had to choose between a huge social media following and a huge email list, I would choose email every time.
Here’s why: The social media algorithm is always changing, and you and I have very little control over who sees our content and when. But with email, we can control when content is distributed, who receives it, and we can track our open rates, engagement rates, and clicks to our website or sales platforms. I encourage all of the authors I work with to have an email sign-up on their website, but you can start off with just using your own email account before investing in a platform like Flodesk, ConvertKit, Mailchimp, or others. Don’t yet have an email list? You can also start by sending messages to your friends, family, and other contacts. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just needs to happen.
Of course, the next natural question is, “Well, what should I say in these emails?” Let’s get really concrete and start off with six messages to send your readers. If you plan out these six messages over the course of six months, or even a year, you’ll have a great foundation for connecting with people through email communications.
Get Ready to Hit “Send”!
Email #1 – The “Behind the Scenes” Email: Sharing behind-the-scenes content is a great way to connect with readers. It gives them insight into your process, who you are as an author, and even teases some upcoming news without screaming, “Buy my book!” I’ve sent behind-the-scenes emails about why I love to sign each copy of my book, sharing news of getting a local bookstore contract, and other small glimpses into my life as an author and marketing coach.
Email #2 – “The Reveal” Email: When you’ve hit an exciting milestone with your book, like starting draft illustrations or finalizing the cover, let people know! Again, you’re not focused on saying “Buy my book,” because if you only have draft illustrations, your book isn’t even ready for purchase yet. But you’re taking people along on your journey and getting them excited for the launch.
Email #3 – The “Special Bonus” Email: At least once a year you should plan on having a special bonus. Typically, this may be tied to a book launch or announcing pre-orders, but it doesn’t have to be. The special bonus is all about something extra people can get when they buy your book.
Email #4 – The “Reviews Are In” Email: I’m a big proponent of getting and SHARING your reviews. Reviews that just sit on Amazon have some value, but you have the ability to really maximize their impact when you share them on social media and through email.
Email #5 – The “Holiday Special” Email: This one is pretty standard as many of us already think about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday (my personal favorite), or Cyber Monday. But there are lots of holidays throughout the year that may tie into your book theme, so don’t feel like you can only send this email in December. But for better or worse, I think people have come to expect a deal around the winter holidays, so you might as well put together a discount or free shipping offer and email it out to everyone you know!
Email #6 – The “Thank You” Email: It’s really important to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has supported you during your author journey. This isn’t a direct pitch for a sale, it’s a moment of gratitude and reflection. Send your readers, friends, and followers a quick message to let them know how much you appreciate them. This act of gratitude goes a long way!
Ready to get started? I encourage you to set a goal of sending out an email in the next 48 hours. Don’t overthink it—just see what happens!
Continuing to Build Your Email List
You’ll want to continue to grow your email list over time. The best thing you can do is to make it easy for people to sign up! Here are areas to focus on:
Your Website: Ideally, your website would promote your email/newsletter sign-up in three places. 1) As a tab in your header banner, 2) in the footer on each page, and 3) and as a display ad that pops up after someone has been on your site for at least 20 seconds. Check out my website to see these three examples in action!
Social Media: Be sure to put a link to your newsletter sign-up in your social media profiles. You can also then direct people to your profile link in your posts. For example, “Want to get updates on my latest book release? Sign up for my email list! Link in bio.” Visit my Instagram page to see how I’ve set this up.
Author Events: Anytime you’re at an event you should have a sign-up sheet available! Better yet, have a giveaway available for anyone who signs up for your email list.
How many people do you currently have on your list? 100? 250? 0? Whatever it is, set a realistic goal for trying to increase it over the next six months.
Remember, none of this has to be perfect, so just get started and see how it goes!
Recently, I received some very good news: a book proposal for a new adult nonfiction book, In Search of the Old Ones: An Odyssey among Ancient Trees, was accepted by Smithsonian Books. In my conversation with the chief editor, it was clearly evident she was excited about this venture and her enthusiasm spilled into every segment of our discussion. My joy for the book also permeated the half-hour call as we chatted about the direction for the book, its breadth of topics, as well as its promotional possibilities. It was an exchange full of delightful potentialities and considered respect.
My unmitigated elation at the acceptance of this book project was couched in the reality that this proposal had been submitted to roughly seventy-two different publishers and/or agents over a span of nearly five years. But, I was in love with the project from its inception and wanted it to succeed no matter the time frame. And so, I continued submitting (what I often refer to as blind persistence) my “arboreal love affair” to a pantheon of potential publishers and representatives. I so wanted someone to love it, too. Finally, one did!
I have often talked about the importance of passion in writing. Whenever I am asked about the single most important element of writing (for children or adults), I always respond that every piece of writing must have a fury and a fire. Words alone do not make for a memorable story, gripping narrative, or engaging novel. The ardor of the author must clearly be at the forefront of any writing. Without that fever, a book simply becomes the recording of words . . . rather than a mutual and affirming connection between author and reader.
We have all had the experience of beginning a new book and realizing that by page five the author has failed to make a literary connection. We quickly discover that we are merely reading words . . . words without substance, devoid of emotion, or lacking involvement. Conversely, good writers don’t record words—they envelop readers in mental adventures full of affection, infatuation, and zeal. It quickly becomes clear that these authors are in love with their lyrics, not because they take up space or complete a sentence, but rather because they are emotional connections between a scribe and an audience.
You and I have also experienced magical books that keep us up into the wee hours of the morning with their scintillating dialogue, engaging plot, and captivating characters. These are books where the author is in love with . . . and has a deep respect for . . . her words—as much as she might be in love with a spouse, a family pet, or her favorite Italian recipe. Words with emotion are linguistically more satisfying and intellectually more rewarding than lifeless terms extracted from a musty dictionary.
Questions to Ask
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin a new book or continue with a current project:
Are you in love with what you write? Or, are your words merely taking up space on the page?
Is your current project (fiction or nonfiction) full of emotion or devoid of human connection?
Do your words come from the heart or do they simply spring from your mind?
Do you embrace your words with as much passion as you might embrace another human being?
Do your words simply fill out a sentence or do they passionately engage a prospective reader?
Is your writing a love affair or a daily duty?
Before I submit any manuscript or book proposal, I always ask myself one critical question: Am I in love with this piece? If my answer is not an enthusiastic and passionate “YES,” then I know there’s more work to be done. By the same token, if I do not approach a new piece of writing with emotion and sentiment, then I know that potential readers (and potential editors) won’t either.
My new project focuses on trees across the U.S. that have lived (and continue to live) to ripe old ages (e.g., Bristlecone Pines in eastern California [see photo to the right] that have been living for 5,000+ years; an aspen forest in central Utah that has been alive for 80,000 years; and redwood trees more than 2,000 years old). A direct outgrowth of my children’s title Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/3DxJpLj), this venture will be an amazing journey—one full of passion, overflowing with desire, and packed with excitement. As I state in the book’s Introduction, “These are escapes into mysterious territories of both ecology and contemplation—expeditions that are as much admiration as they are an affirmation.”
In short, this will be a most incredible love affair!
Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please email Laura Parnum at email@example.com before November 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”
Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:
Book Deal Announcements
Author Dana Kramaroff recently announced that her middle grade novel Do More was acquired by Lauri Hornik at Dial in a preempt. The novel tells the story of 12-year-old Josh, who keeps his Jewish identity a secret at his new middle school. But when someone sprays swastikas and graffiti all over the school, and then Josh’s synagogue, he forms the “Do More” club to try to counteract hate. Publication is planned for fall 2023. Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Agency represented Dana in a two-book deal for North American rights.
Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow recently announced a deal for a middle grade book, Grounded, in collaboration with authors S.K. Ali, Huda Al-Marashi, and Aisha Saeed. The novel is pitched as The Breakfast Club meets Hello Universe, about four unlikely kids who meet at the airport when their flights get grounded, changing their lives forever. Publication is set for spring 2023. Erika Finkel at Abrams/Amulet acquired the book at auction in a six-figure deal for world English rights. Jamilah was represented by Essie White of Storm Literary.
Author Ellen Ramsey recently announced that her picture book A Book for Bear was acquired by Cheryl Eissing at Flamingo Books. This picture book, to be illustrated by MacKenzie Haley, tells the story of Bear, who, with help from his friend Ellen, tries imaginative disguises in his quest for a book of his very own. Publication is slated for summer of 2023. Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency represented the author in an exclusive submission.
Grandma Lisa’s Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden (Pollination Press, 2021), by Lisa Doseff was recently awarded the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Bronze Medal for Environmental Issues. In this book, Join Grandma Lisa as she enlists the enthusiastic help of her grandchildren in transforming her yard into an attractive garden for wildlife. Along the way she explains why planting native species is so important and allays the children’s fear of insects by lovingly showing them how these critters are so essential to our world. The family revels in working together, adding plants and other elements to the garden necessary to support a variety of wildlife. As the yard begins to teem with animals, the children are simply enthralled and delighted by the sights, sounds, and mere presence of nature found in Grandma Lisa’s garden! Told in rhyme, children will enjoy learning about important concepts such as host plants, compost, food webs, and so much more.
Agent Signing Announcement
Our Eastern PA SCBWI Critique Group Coordinator and Meet & Greet Coordinator, Heather Stigall, recently signed with literary agent Beth Marshea at Ladderbird Literary Agency. Wishing you both a wonderful partnership!
Alison Green Myers released her debut middle grade novel, A Bird Will Soar (Dutton Books for Young Readers), on October 19. The book is a heartfelt and hopeful story about a bird-loving autistic child whose family’s special nest is in danger of falling apart: Axel knows that his mother is like an osprey—the best of all bird mothers—but it’s hard to remember that when she is worrying and keeping secrets. His father, who is more like a wild turkey, comes and goes as he pleases. Still, Axel loves the time he spends with his friends observing the eagles’ nest in the woods near his home. When a tornado damages not only Axel’s home but the eagles’ nest, Axel’s life is thrown into chaos. But Axel knows an important fact: An eagle’s instincts let it soar. Axel must trust his own instincts to help heal his family and the nest he loves.
Hilda Eunice Burgos released her second middle grade novel, Miosotis Flores Never Forgets (Tu Books) on October 26. Perfect for fans of Meg Medina and Barbara O’Connor, this heartfelt novel about family, pets, and other things we hold close is one that you’ll never forget. Miosotis Flores is excited about three things; fostering rescue dogs, goofy horror movies, and her sister Amarilis’s upcoming wedding. But her papi wants her to care about school more than anything else, so they strike a deal—if Miosotis improves her grades in two classes, she can adopt a dog of her own in the summer. Miosotis dives into her schoolwork, and into nurturing a fearful little pup called Freckles. Could he become her forever dog? At the same time, she notices Amarilis behaving strangely—wearing thick clothes in springtime, dropping her friends in favor of her fiancé, even avoiding Miosotis and the rest of their family. When Miosotis finally discovers her sister’s secret, she faces some difficult choices. What do you do if someone is in danger but doesn’t want your help? When should you ask for support, and when should you try to handle things on your own? What ultimately matters most: what Miosotis wants, or what’s right for the ones she loves?
Author L.E. DeLano released her latest YA novel, Blue (Gaze Publishing), on October 26. When Blue Mancini’s mother picked her name, it ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. A year ago, Blue’s brother, Jack, was involved in a car accident that killed the father of her classmate Maya Rodriguez. Luckily for Jack, he got out of a manslaughter charge and into a plea bargain thanks to the top-notch lawyer hired by Blue’s wealthy parents. The fallout is now affecting Blue as Maya returns to school determined to carve out a pound of flesh from the only member of the Mancini family she can reach. On top of that, Blue has a demanding mother, a father who’s never around, a drama-addicted best friend, and a secretive new guy who’s determined to make Blue his own personal cheer-up project. It’s a perfect storm of misery. When Maya’s social media taunts and in-person digs finally push Blue to retaliate, they find themselves in afterschool detention and forced into a project meant to foster cooperation and civility. As the layers of their tangled drama unravel, Blue learns more about Maya’s life—and her own sense of privilege—when secrets are revealed that cast a new perspective on everything in Blue’s world.
Several members from our regions will be presenting at the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Philadelphia in March 2022. Alison Green Myers, Katey Howes, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, and Alexandra Villasante, along with Meera Treehan, will be presenting “Writing to Center and Empower Children Outside the Mainstream.” Presentation description: Children’s authors have the privilege and responsibility to tell stories that matter. These panelists write stories that share the lived experiences of children and teens outside the mainstream, narratives that transcend marginalizations—not by erasing them, but by embracing them. In centering outsiders, these authors honor the craft of story and the art of humanity. This panel highlights the motivations, challenges, craft, and artistry that contribute to the creation and success of their books. Alexandra Villasante will also be part of a presentation called “Multitudes: Writing Intersecting Identities in Short Fiction” along with Eric Smith, Mia García, Katherine Locke, and Emily X. R. Pan. Presentation description: Short form fiction has an important part to play in children’s literature—particularly when it can highlight the intersecting identities that make up the reality of our world. A diverse panel of authors writing for children across age groups will discuss the impact that short fiction can have on readers and how learning how to write short fiction can deepen and improve craft. AWP 2022 conference information can be found here. Did we miss any other member presenters? Let us know!
Forthcoming Book Announcement and Cover Reveal
Author Jennie K. Brown recently announced her forthcoming middle grade novel, Scrumptious (Snowy Wings Publishing), with an adorable cover designed by Jennie herself. In the book, twelve-year-old Petunia Fair spends her free time cooking meals from her Grammy Joanne’s recipe book and watching her favorite reality cooking show, Chef Extraordinaire. When Petunia’s idol, the world-renowned Chef Jordan Ramikin, announces that the first round of his newest culinary competition, Chef Extraordinaire, Junior, will take place in her home town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, Petunia’s dreams of having a cookbook and restaurant of her very own may be closer than she thinks. All she has to do is do what she does best—cook. Easy as apple pie, right?! But in order for her dreams to come true, she’ll need to out-chef not only the snotty Bianca Friday (who just so happens to be the daughter of her dad’s new “lady friend”), but also Luke Paring (Petunia’s super cute and super talented crush), all while coming to terms with the death of her greatest culinary inspiration of all—her Grammy Joanne. Scrumptious is due to release in March 2022.
SCBWI’s Recommended Reading List—October 2021
SCBWI’s October Recommended Reading List features one creator from our Eastern PA region. Each month, SCBWI features books written and illustrated by our members, and every month highlights a new theme that will foster discussions, activities, and enjoyment. October’s list celebrates people with disabilities. On this list, you will find a range of inspiring fiction and nonfiction stories about people who are blind, autistic, deaf, physically disabled, learning disabled and more. This month’s list features Traveler by L.E. DeLano.
I’ve been writing professionally for nearly 40 years. During that time, I’ve collected an array of resources that have become integral elements of my writing and, most specifically, the way I approach each and every children’s book. In a departure from my usual monthly musings, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of those vital writing aids. It is my sincere hope that you will discover some inspiration, methodologies, and wisdom in this continuously evolving list.
Best Smartphone App: If you haven’t discovered it yet, I strongly encourage you to download the Power Thesaurus app (it’s free through the Apple store). This is one of the most useful (and equally amazing) apps available for any writer—it goes where the Word thesaurus does not tread. Rarely do I craft an article, blog post, or book without this resource by my side. The wealth of synonyms—for any single word—is beyond description. In short, it has never failed me in turning up that one incredible word that perfects a sentence, defines a character, or eloquently illustrates a description. I would be lost without it. Trust me—your writing will sizzle (and your readers will be dazzled) whenever you use this app.
Best Writing Book (not about writing): The author never talks about writing (I’m certain the terms “children’s author” and “children’s books” never appear in any chapter), yet it will be one of your “go-to” resources as you wrestle with plots, characters, themes, and other creative entities of your current writing project. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (https://amzn.to/3BYcTkv) is one of those quintessential books that will shape your thinking (in a very good way), transform your creative output (exponentially), and stir up your imagination (in ways never imagined). This tome has truly earned its five stars on Amazon (including over 7,000 positive reviews) with “. . . ten transformative principles that help readers discover their artistic side and build a more creative life.” It’s not a book about writing; but then, it’s a book that has everything to do with writing.
Best Podcast on Writing: If you’re looking for some writing inspiration or just want to “hang” with an author who has “been there, done that,” then you definitely want to check out I Should Be Writing by Mur Lafferty. On the other hand, if you’re looking for information on specific writing problems and challenges, you’ll want to tune in to Lafferty’s other podcast, Ditch Diggers. Either way, you’ll get some personal experiences, unabashed insights, and lots of down-to-earth advice that will positively impact your authorial output.
Best Blog on Writing: There are a plethora of blogs out there that will tell you how to be a good writer; but few that will show you, with insightful advice, relevant suggestions, and inspirational articles. Write to Done (https://writetodone.com) is like a whole semester of writing courses at your fingertips. Recent articles include “75 Dialogue Prompts for Writers,” “How to Fix Passive Voice (7 Examples),” “How to Avoid an Editing Nightmare,” and “Helpful Research Sources for Historical Fiction Writers.” This blog covers all the bases—teaching you how to master a cornucopia of different techniques and habits geared toward your literary success. Any author seeking to improve will want to access this resource regularly.
Best Source of Writing Quotes: We all need a little authorial inspiration every now and again. And, we all need to know that someone else has a word or two (or three) to help us on our way. If you’re looking for the ideal collection of writing quotes, check out https://blog.reedsy.com/writing-quotes. Here are 170 quotes full of counsel and comfort for writers of every stripe. Pick your favorites, copy them on Post-it notes, and arrange them around the border of your computer (as I do). Your day will be brighter and your writing will be crisper.
Dear Readers: Do you have a favorite writing resource? If so, please share it in the “Comments” section below. Your fellow authors will thank you!
Many of you know our former Co-Regional Advisor, Alison Green Myers. Although Alison stepped down as Co-RA, she still plays an active role in volunteering with our Eastern PA SCBWI region, including chairing our 2020 Pocono Retreat and co-coordinating our first PAL Mentorship Program this year. That is why we are thrilled to celebrate with Alison as she launches her debut novel, A Bird Will Soar, which releases October 19 from Dutton Books for Young Readers. It brings us great pleasure to gather together at our virtual Eastern Penn Points Café. In addition to Alison, in attendance are Co-Regional Advisors Rona Shirdan and me (Laura Parnum), Assistant Regional Advisor Kristen Strocchia, Illustrator Coordinator Berrie Torgan-Randall, Meet & Greet and Critique Group Coordinator Heather Stigall, and Field Trip Coordinator Virginia Manning. We even have a super-secret special surprise guest. And be sure to read to the end for details on our giveaway!
Laura: Welcome everyone! It’s so nice that we can all chat together. Alison, we’ve got a ton of questions for you. Now that we’re settled in, who wants to get started?
Berrie: First of all, Alison, huge congrats to you! How do you think living close to the woods and having access to nature influenced your story?
Alison: Hi, Berrie! Thank you for your kindness and for this question. I feel safe in the woods. It is “quiet” in its own way. This morning when I was out with my dog, the “quiet” was acorns falling through tree branches, and wind catching on loose leaves, and our footsteps. I wanted to bring that quiet into my story. I wanted to thank our woods in some way for giving this space to feel safe. I hope the fact that outside in the woods is a comfortable space for me comes through for readers and they can picture the world of tall pines, waving ferns, and rushing water.
Heather: What inspired you to write Axel’s story?
Alison: Hi, Heather! Wow, this is a big question. This story came together in lots of ways. I’ll try and be concise. The answer really is “everything.”
There are things that my brain has been churning on since I was Axel’s age and younger that, only now, at this point, I can put to words. The story finally started to gel in 2018. I had been writing a ton of poetry, mostly about birds, and some about family. Then, in May of that year, we had a significant storm come through our area. Tornados touched down. There was a lot of destruction. Along with the pain it caused to people and places in our community, the natural world was turned upside down.
Four nesting eaglets were displaced. (I’m sure many more, but I knew personally about these four.) We were members of the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, and we were so grateful to the giving and resourceful team at DVRC who took in the four birds (and others) and shared with the community the releases of three of the four. It was a hot topic at our kitchen table, in the car, on hikes. We wondered, “But what about the fourth eagle? … Why haven’t they shared release information? Health information? Did something bad happen? Did something good happen?” It was a mystery… and sometimes I can’t let things like that go.
All that hurt. All the efforts of those good people from DVRC. Something had to be going on, but what?
And then, in August of the same year, we attended an educational program by the DVRC. (We’ve seen the program many times.) This time, there was a new crate. And at the end of the program we knew so well, we heard a new story. About an eagle displaced from her nest during a horrific storm, and the injuries, and the new hope for this eagle to be a part of the DVRC educational programming. And then Bill—falconer, skilled Wildlife volunteer, and raptor rehabber—opened the crate.
“This is Lizzy,” he said. Lizzy spun on his arm. She flapped. She squirmed. She tried to settle. And then, she did. Something inside me settled too, knowing that this mystery had been solved. Lizzy wouldn’t return to the sky, but she had found a new place to call home.
Fast forward to this past August. After two years of not being able to safely attend an educational program with DVRC, we were finally on the road to this year’s program. Just like our kitchen table, car, those hikes before, we had all of the questions: “Will Lizzy be there? … Will she be mature yet?… That brilliant ‘bald’ head and tail feathers…”
Sorry, Heather. I think I mentioned the word “concise” at the beginning of my answer. That was anything but!!!
Virginia: I understand your main character, Axel, is autistic. Did you find it difficult to write a novel with an autistic character?
Alison: Hi, Virginia! Axel is the heart of the story. His autism is part of that, as it is reflected in his every day, inside and out. While his character is a work of fiction, Axel has parts of my son, my husband, friends, and myself, all wrapped up into the way one character views the world.
I worked to find the parts of myself that are reflected in Axel’s character. It was important to me to show Axel’s full life. He loves his life. He has amazing friends and a supportive network of adults. He has a truly exceptional dog! He loves birds and nature, and has the freedom to explore outside and take time for his own thoughts. Axel, like me, is also deeply empathetic to humans, animals, and all things in nature. This means that we feel big and deep feelings about the hurt that others feel. (And the joy!) Axel also has to process his anxieties about his inner world and the greater world. I looked to some things that have helped me, like finding quiet places to think, people like Ms. Dale to talk to, and support groups like his Friendship Club, to name a few. What Axel discovers, better than I have to this point in my life, is asking for help, being brave enough to ask for what he needs. This is especially evident in what he asks of his parents.
Having the book told as multi-genre with factual poetry, definitions, emails, and prose, gave me many ways to enter Axel’s world, his family, and all of my personal experiences that are reflected in the book. I was also lucky enough to have friends and paid readers from the autistic community to talk with me about Axel and Dr. Martin’s characters, and their interactions in this fictional world. Since some of the book touches on counseling strategies, I was able to have feedback from the counselors, too.
Kristen: How much did you have to learn about birds to be able to write this story.And how did you research?
Alison: Hi, Kristen! Well… We love to talk about birds in this house. If you’ve ever been on a Zoom meeting with me in the daytime, nine out of ten times I’m going to mention a bird that’s flying by. (Hey, look, another vulture!) But, much of what is in the book digs deeper than just a birding hobbyist like myself or my son could deliver. The first thing that I researched deeply was bird instincts. If you have a chance to read the book, you’ll find instincts as the backbone.
Way back in Heather’s question, I talked about writing poetry about birds, and a lot of that poetry showcased their instincts. Those little hooks made me want to go deeper. See, I had this thing, this idea, that I wanted to share with kids and say, “This is what I think about instincts, how about you?” I wanted to say that sometimes we celebrate instincts, especially in the animal world, but often we try to reprogram (blah!), correct (no!), or dismiss (caw!) humans’ instincts. And I wanted to dig into the research to see what resonated between bird and human instincts—why one, the bird, was celebrated, and the other (at times) dismissed.
I can tell you that I read many, many, many books. I took courses online with the Audubon and Cornell Bird Lab (Yay! Accessibility to so many more classes!), and talked with bird friends. Not friends-who-are-birds, but friends-who-love-birds. Dear Heidi Stemple, Christine Ahern, Dennis and Tierney Cheng, just to name a few. I had the knowledge from our amazing Delaware Valley Raptor programs, and then, after a few drafts of the book had been turned in to my editor (who also has a thing for birds), I went to bird expert Jack Hubley for a paid read.
I’m getting long winded again, sorry. Dear Readers, If birds aren’t your thing, skip this and go to the next question!
If they are, here are a few things I discovered.
1) SO MANY PEOPLE LIKE TO TALK ABOUT BIRDS! Maybe it is where I live, or the current state of the world, but people are looking up in the sky at the mystery and magic of birds more now than ever. Birders have puzzles, board games, books upon books, Instagram stories, online community groups, and more.
2) I also found that I could get myself in a bird-research spiral quickly. One example (of many): I was looking up some research out of the University of Chicago with the sleep patterns of birds, which led me to a sleep study (OH WOW) about whether songbirds dream in song. (!!!!!!) If at that moment
a) we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic,
b) it wasn’t the middle of the night,
c) it weren’t for the fact that I wasn’t able to drive, and
d) it weren’t for the fact that I had one hundred other responsibilities…
I would have flown out the door and found biologist Daniel Margoliash and asked every question in the world that I had at that moment! Birds dreaming in SONG! Tell me all the things!! At that 3:00 a.m. moment, all I wanted to do (besides talk to the researcher) was to figure out how I could throw out the entire book and start over about a sleep study dedicated to songbirds. (And songbirds aren’t even really my passion!)
And this is just one example of one of the research spirals!
3) Another thing I discovered: Bird experts (I do not count myself as one of them) don’t agree on all things. I kept wanting to make connections between humans and birds. Some bird experts cautioned this… I mention one such caution in the back matter of A Bird Will Soar. (My editor was kind enough to let me include a section called “Bird Fact/Bird Fiction.”) One of the big areas of disagreement was this idea that birds have hope. I couldn’t shake it. No matter how many books I read or how many bird experts said, “Hmmmm… I don’t think so…,” I needed (need) to believe that hope permeates all species.
In summary, my main character, Axel, loves birds. I think I love them more.
Rona: I love that Axel enjoys his time in the woods where he can be alone with his thoughts. I think we all need private time to reflect on important things, or just to be quiet and still. Do you have a thinking spot that is all your own?
Alison: Hi, Rona! I’m so glad you brought this up. We use the phrase “thinking time” a lot in my house (and car, and on hikes)… There’s a lot going on in all of our minds; “quiet” or “downtime” or “rest” help our minds settle from the racing.
I had someone once talk to me about the mind’s use of “closed doors.” I loved how she put it. Telling me that I had a choice. I could close the door softly and tiptoe out, or, if my mind felt that it needed the space, it might SLAM the door closed. She wondered, “What do you think is healthier for your mind?” She put an emphasis on “your,” and I appreciated that.
Some people might be okay with slamming doors in their mind and some people might be okay with having all the doors open and so much going on inside every room in the mind. For me, I must actively work to find quiet, so that I can close doors in my mind. I go out into the woods with my dog. I put a puzzle together with ear buds in. I used to swim a lot, which shut so much out.
I know that when I don’t make time, or when I can’t get time, my mind starts slamming doors. And the doors that my mind decides to slam might not be the ones that I would have picked to close gently.
I have a dear, dear friend whom I’ve known since I was five. She’s known me—all of me—for decades. She knows that sometimes I go silent. I pull as far away from the world as I can. It’s what I’ve come to know as slamming-doors time. I close doors on friends, activities, and conserve what capacity is left for getting on with the days. She knows me well enough not to take this personally. She makes space for the fact that sometimes I just need to close everything up and try to heal.
I realize I am writing a lot of “SLAM” as an answer to a question about “QUIET.” Sorry.
I’ll end by saying, I seek “quiet thinking time” in my life now more than ever, because I think I have more control over those things than I did when I was younger. Getting “quiet” comes and goes in cycles. I understand that now, too. I won’t close everything out forever. I’ll find a way to open back up again.
What I hope for kids who need it, is that their quiet time is honored. That their instincts to close doors softly is respected.
Laura: I’m so excited that this book will be out in the world! I had the privilege of being an early beta reader and—wow—your readers are going to fall in love. What else do you hope your readers will come away with after reading the book?
Alison: Hi, Laura! Thank you for all your feedback in early versions of the book. I think it was all in verse when you read it? I remember you had asked about Frank (the dad) at a time when I wasn’t ready to dig too deeply into that character. There’s a line now in the book, just before Frank comes to a “Pasta Palooza,” that wouldn’t have ever entered my mind without your help. It is an anchor to Frank’s abandonment and defining his character. Discovering that line will always make me think of your feedback. Thank you.
I said in Kristen’s question a little about what I really want to do with kids and this book, and that is to LISTEN to their ideas. I wrote a book about my thoughts and my processing, but what I’m really interested in is seeing what it makes them think about themselves and their world. How many of them will see themselves reflected in Axel? In Daniel? How many will wonder about the mysteries inside and outside their schools or homes or churches? Will they, like Rona, share with me their thinking spots? Will they say, “Yes! I have a teacher just like Ms. Dale!”? Will they say, “Um, you can’t name an eagle BRAVIARY—that is a Pokémon name and reserved for Pokémon!?!”?
I also want to create with them. I wrote an educator’s guide to go with the book with discussion questions, STEAM activities, and writing prompts. One art activity that I can’t get out of my mind is exactly the kind of activity that I would have done in my classroom. Paper everywhere. A big mess before it becomes something magic. I’d love to make wings with the kids. Big wings. Properly measured wingspans. One side as cool a collage as they’d like. Mixed media, all one color, whatever they want. And on the other side… all the ways they can trust their wings… All of the voices inside them that say, “You ARE a poet!” or “You can do it!” Poetry on wings!!
I don’t have a classroom anymore, so I hope I can find my way into a few, and I can be with kids to listen and create!
[Sound of bell ringing as the café door opens]
Laura: Look who it is! It’s our super-secret special surprise guest, Kim Briggs! Kim and Alison served together as our Co-Regional Advisors when I first joined SCBWI. Grab a beverage and pull up a chair, Kim. We were just bombarding Alison with questions about her book.
Kim: Hi, everyone! Mmmm, those chai lattes look great. I’ll jump right into the questioning! When you first hatched A Bird Will Soar, did it arrive as the perfect baby chick, or did it need some encouragement? What was its evolution?
Alison: Hey, it’s you! (Let me say here that Kim knows me well. She knows my epic fear of surprises—good or bad—she’s definitely a good surprise… But she let me know she’d be here, which filled me with joy from the very beginning!!! I might be in tears. Okay, I am.)
First: Hi, Kim!! Thank you for being here. You are an osprey mom and friend!
I’m going to answer this question the best I can, friend! I don’t really think it has “hatched” yet. My emotions have been all over the place about this story from the “start”—when I wasn’t sure what it was as the pieces were landing together: poems, abandonment, tornado, instincts, parenting.
I wasn’t ever like, “This works! I’m so happy!” But I could say, “No, this isn’t it, not yet.” I knew what I wanted to say, and just kept trying different ways to get it to come out. I had been without an agent for almost a year at this point. I wasn’t sure what to do with the project. If I wanted to try to get it published. If it was a thing, just yet.
My writing partner Linda suggested that I query a small batch of agents and just see what their feedback would be. Her encouragement led me to Jen Rofé.
Jen helped me turn a project into a story. She asked a lot of questions about Axel and his father’s relationship. She encouraged me to add about 10,000 words of prose to the story.
I am so grateful for the people who have helped along the way, because, no, it wasn’t (and isn’t) “perfectly hatched,” Kim. But after working with Jen, I felt like I was a lot closer to what I was trying to say.
Jen took it out on submission. And in March 2020, Andrew Karre picked up the book. What followed was phone calls with Andrew. He was saying back to me what I was trying to say in the book… I wanted the book to be ABOUT instincts and trusting your own wings… And he wanted ME to follow my instincts and trust in the direction of the book.
We played with points of view. We played with structure. I wrote so many poems that never made it into the book. I wrote stories about the relationships of all of the adults in the book. (My favorite is the meet-cute with Emmett and George. It involved a Mary Oliver book and a cup of coffee.)
Then, a year ago, when I was to deliver the project to Andrew, I started over with a blank page. I wrote long nights and early mornings after and before work.
I turned in the project and doubted every choice I had made. Why would I start over! What was I doing! Andrew was supportive. He believed in it when I couldn’t. And that draft, just a year ago, is the book we ended up editing.
But has it “hatched”?
Not yet. I think when I hear from a kid about the book, that’s when I’ll feel like it’s hatched. That’s when I’ll feel like I can just let go of all the things it was before and only celebrate what it is in their hands.
Laura: Okay, folks, let’s go around the room and each tell what our favorite bird is. Mine is the crow. They’re so ominous and mysterious, but they’re also highly intelligent.
Kristen: So hard to choose! They’re all so amazing it depends on the season and the habitat I’m in. Right now, Canada geese are high on my list.
Berrie: My favorite bird is a hummingbird.
Virginia: My favorite bird is the tufted titmouse.
Heather: Blue jay!
Kim: The chickadee. (I love to sing chicka-dee-dee-dee!)
Rona: My favorite birds are the cardinal couple (Mr. & Mrs.) who visit my backyard every day to eat the safflower and sunflower seeds that I leave out for them. I love watching them, and I look out the window when I hear their chirp.
Alison: Now all I want to do is talk to you about your bird favorites!! Heather! Come to my yard! We have a full-on Broadway musical with blue jays! And, Berrie! Hummingbirds are magical, no matter how many times you see them, right? KRISTEN! Canada geese! Have you read The Anthropocene Reviewed? I laughed and laughed at the Canada Geese essay… See… I’ll stop, because this is not answering the question! Sorry!
My favorite bird is the American Kestrel. Full stop.
Laura: This was so much fun! We should do a giveaway for our readers!
Alison: Laura! Let’s! I’d love to do an audiobook giveaway! I mentioned entry points to this story: poetry, facts, prose… Another entry point is definitely the performance by narrator Jamie K. Brown who brought the story to life in the audio book. (You can listen to a sample here: https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/a-bird-will-soar-by-alison.)
Laura: That sounds wonderful. How about we pick a winner at random from those who comment on this blog post? And thank you, everyone, for hanging out today to celebrate Alison’s book release!
Alison: Thank you all so much for today, and for years and years of support! Thanks to our entire region for being so generous with their support and care. Leave your favorite bird in the comments, too! I’d love to know!!
Readers: If you’d like to enter to win an audiobook of A Bird Will Soar, please comment with your full name and Twitter or Instagram handle by 9:00 p.m. on Friday, October 22, 2021. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner!
Alison Green Myers is an avid reader, poet, and writer. She has served as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, curriculum writer, and school director. She is the Program Director for the Highlights Foundation, a National Writing Fellow, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. A Bird Will Soar is her first book for children. Please come say hello at alisongreenmyers.com.
Eastern PA SCBWI member Laura Sibson’s newest book, Edie In Between, was released in August. Our PAL Coordinator, Lindsay Bandy, recently had a chance to catch up with Laura at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say.
Lindsay: Hi there, Laura, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Café! Can we get you something to drink?
Laura: Thanks for having me, Lindsay. How about a latte? It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those.
Lindsay: And how about a little something to munch on, too?
Laura: Ooh, really? Chocolate croissant, please! Now I’ve got my fave items for a productive writing session.
Lindsay: Perfect! Coffee and a cheese Danish will do the trick for me. Soooo, congratulations on your newest book, Edie in Between! I’m so excited to talk with you about Edie’s story. Can you introduce her to our readers in five adjectives?
Lindsay: Okay, let’s talk about that stunning, retro-tarot-card-inspired cover! Can you tell us a little bit about how tarot cards play into the story?
Laura: First of all, big shoutout to Lisa Sterle who illustrated the cover. Among many other things, she created the fabulous Modern Witch Tarot deck. As for tarot in the book, at the beginning of the story Edie is struggling over the loss of her mother and is reluctant to embrace her magic. She meets Rhia at the local occult shop, who gives her a tarot card that proves to be illuminating for Edie. Tarot does not play a huge part in the book but rather symbolizes Edie’s acceptance of this magical world she inhabits.
Lindsay: Did you have any special “aha” moments while writing this story?
Laura: Yes! There was a revelation that occurred in the drafting that completely surprised me. But I can’t tell you because it’s a surprise for readers as well.
Lindsay: Which of the characters is most like you?
Laura: Probably Edie. I love to run and use my running to process my thoughts and feelings and to enjoy nature. And I’d like to think I’m as determined as Edie. After all, it took me 10 years from the time I started writing fiction until I got published. But I think my emotions are more on the surface than they are for Edie.
Lindsay: Who were some of your favorite book/movie/TV witches growing up?
Laura: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I love that my editor calls my book Practical Magic for the modern day, but I don’t come close to Hoffman’s brilliance. I also loved the TV show Charmed, Willow in Buffy, and the movie The Craft, and Hermione, of course.
Lindsay: If you could cast a spell on your writing process, what difficult aspect would you choose to make magically easier?
Laura: Plot! I generally come to a story with a sense of the character’s emotional world, but I always struggle with creating a concrete plot. Sadly, for me, characters can’t sit around and emote all day.
Lindsay: Well, we are in the same boat, Laura. If you come across that spell, please, please, please cast it upon my writing desk, too! I think it’s really helpful for prepublished writers to know that even successful writers have trouble spots or aspects of writing that come more easily than others. Speaking of which, what’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
Laura: Aside from Butt-In-Chair because you can’t get published if you don’t finish the thing, I always return to a Neil Gaiman quote because it reminds me of the value of beta readers as well as the importance of trusting yourself as a writer: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Lindsay: What is your favorite thing about being a YA author?
Laura: I like writing teen characters because I love exploring the tension between burgeoning identity and independence in the face of little true power. And there’s nothing like hearing from a teen who resonated with your words. I love being a YA author because the kidlit community is a generous and fun group of writers.
Lindsay: Many of our readers are working hard toward publishing their own books, writing, revising, querying, and building their social media platforms. What is one thing you wish someone would have told you before you signed your first contract?
Laura: I received wonderful, accurate advice: “Focus on what you can control. The publishing world is subjective. Don’t give up. You only need one YES.” The trouble is that I didn’t take the advice. I sometimes allowed fear to get in my way. I stopped querying. I quit on manuscripts. I didn’t believe obtaining an agent or a book deal would ever happen. I credit my writing friends for picking me up after each setback. So maybe the best advice is to identify beta readers and friends who understand what you are trying to achieve, who will support you, but who will also be truthful with you.
Lindsay: What keeps you going on difficult writing days?
Laura: See above. But also, at this point, I’m grouchy if I don’t write. Writing is both the way that I process my world and my escape from it, depending on the day. I need to write.
Lindsay: When readers turn the final page of Edie’s story, what do you hope they come away with?
Laura: I hope readers feel like they’ve been on a bit of a journey, made some great friends, and experienced a warm hug.
Lindsay: What’s next for you?
Laura: I’m working on another YA with a paranormal element. I’ve got an elite private school, an urban legend, a girl who wants to help her older brother, and a ghost hunter who gets in her way. But I’ve still got to nail down that pesky little plot. Lucky for me, I’ve got that latte and croissant you gave me. So, into the Writer’s Cave I go. Thanks so much for having me!
Lindsay: Thanks so much for stopping by and giving me an excuse to eat some Danish. Your advice has gotten me excited to tunnel back into my writing cave, and I’m sure our readers will be heading to their local bakery before plopping their butts in their writing chairs, too! Can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
Laura Sibson holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Formerly a career counselor at the university level, she now writes and teaches creative writing in Philadelphia where she lives with her family. Edie In Between is her most recent young adult novel. She is also author of The Art of Breaking Things.
The Eastern PA SCBWI Equity and Inclusion Team is excited to offer two scholarships for our Query Grind 2022 webinar series including query package critiques and a submission opportunity! The deadline for scholarship applications is October 20, 2021. See details below.
About Query Grind
Do you have a middle grade or young adult manuscript ready or almost ready to query? Join us for our Query Grind 2022 webinar series as three industry professionals discuss how to strategically query and start working with an agent, plus a bonus editor webinar on selecting the right comp titles and a submission opportunity!
January 27, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Things To Know About Literary Agents with Literary Agent Linda Camacho, Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency: You’ve written and polished that manuscript, so now what? This webinar will go over next steps in your journey to publication, from how to land one, yes, but most of all, how to actually work with an agent. An agent’s role in your writing career is a big one, but what do they do and not do, exactly?
February 24, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
No Stress Comp Titles—Choosing the Right Comparison Titles for Your Book with Editor Rachel Diebel, Feiwel & Friends: For querying writers, choosing comparison titles can be a daunting task – finding the right titles that both show your project’s place in the market and also demonstrate its uniqueness can feel impossible! As much as we love to hate them, getting the right comp titles is an essential part of positioning your work, from the query letter all the way to publication. This webinar will explore the basic rules for selecting appropriate and effective comp titles and how to use them to position your book in a query letter, as well as giving a “behind the scenes” look into how comparison titles are used on the editorial side of the business.
March 21, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Voice: Level Up! Exploring Commercial vs. Literary Voice with Literary Agent Leslie Zampetti, Dunham Literary: What do agents and editors mean by voice? How do commercial and literary voice differ? How can you develop or improve your authorial voice? Come explore the multiple levels of voice in this webinar with agent Leslie Zampetti as she shows you how to enhance and optimize your authorial voice. This presentation includes mentor texts, exercises, and tips on distinguishing between various voices and developing your own distinct voice.
May 19, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Tackling (and Surviving!) the Query Trenches with Literary Agent Saba Sulaiman, Talcott Notch Literary Services: Seeking representation is a daunting process with all sorts of unspoken rules that can sometimes feel arbitrary and frustrating. This presentation will address how best to strategize querying literary agents: the dos, the don’ts, and the don’t worry abouts of composing and sending query letters, along with some suggestions for how to cope with the uncertainty of this phase of your writing career.
All presentations will be recorded and the recording link provided to all participants registered prior to the event. See registration page for registration cutoffs for each webinar.
About the Scholarships
The Equity and Inclusion Team of Eastern PA SCBWI is honored to announce two full scholarships with the complete three-query critique package to be awarded to story creators whose work promotes the mission of the Equity and Inclusion Team. These stories should allow all children to embrace and celebrate their own experiences as well as foster appreciation for the richness of other cultures and lived experiences in our world.
To apply, please email the following with “Query Grind Scholarship” in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org:
A brief letter of introduction, explaining how you/your manuscript connects to the mission of the Equity and Inclusion Team
A 5-page sample from your manuscript
Application deadline:Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Current SCBWI members who reside in Eastern PA will be considered first, but current members from other regions may also apply. Please note that if no applicants meet the requirements, Eastern PA SCBWI reserves the right not to award the scholarships for this event.
About Query Package Critiques
A limited number of query package critiques are available with this webinar series. A query package consists of a one-page query letter; a one-page synopsis (single spaced); and the first 20 pages of a manuscript (double spaced). Query packages will be critiqued by all three agents in the series—Linda Camacho, Leslie Zampetti, and Saba Sulaiman.
As a bonus, critique participants only will have an opportunity to submit to editor Rachel Diebel after the third round of critiques are returned in July. To participate in this opportunity, register for a query package critique.
Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please email Laura Parnum at email@example.com before October 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”
Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:
Author Vanessa Cain released her picture book The Brightest Bulb (illustrated by Caner Soylu) in August. This cute, rhythmic story is about a Christmas bulb looking for a job that makes him feel special. Unfortunately, Little Bulb is not very good at any of the jobs in Christmas Town. With the help of Bob, the Head-Elf-In-Charge, and Santa, Little Bulb will come to know that just being himself makes him the best bulb even if he isn’t the brightest. This book is recommended for ages 3 to 8. Children will have fun learning the different jobs available in Christmas Town while watching Little Bulb fail over and over, but never giving up his pursuit. The friendship between Little Bulb and Head-Elf Bob will show kids the importance of supporting friends when they try new things. Lastly, children will come to understand that everyone shines in their own special way.
Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach has released her latest young adult novel, Small Town Monsters (published by Underlined, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, September 2021). Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents’ reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she’s the family outcast, lacking her parents’ innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement. Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he’s taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn’t recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father’s death might be something more . . . sinister. When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil.
Small Town Monsters was also included in SCBWI’s Recommended Reading List this month. Each month, SCBWI features books written and illustrated by our members, and every month highlights a new theme that will foster discussions, activities, and enjoyment. The theme for September 2021 was Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month and celebrates the people, histories, culture, or traditions from the U.S. Latinx community, Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
The newest book in the Truth About series, Scurry! The Truth About Spiders, by Annette Whipple releases on September 30 from Reycraft Books. Where do spiders live? How do spiders make silk? Are spiders dangerous? These and other questions are answered by the arachnophile author, along with some extra information provided by the spiders themselves. For readers ages 8 to 10.
Jessica Whipple’s poem “The Letter” was published by The Dirigible Balloon, an online webzine that publishes poetry for children. The poem expresses a child’s excitement at corresponding with a faraway friend. Children can read or listen to Jessica’s recorded reading of the poem here https://dirigibleballoon.org/poem/The-Letter.
The Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) conference is happening this week, and thanks to Western PA SCBWI Regional Advisor, Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, and Eastern PA SCBWI PAL Coordinator, Lindsay Bandy, members from both regions have teamed up to donate signed copies of their books as a raffle prize for conference attendees. Check out all these gorgeous books that were generously donated by our Pennsylvania members!
Many of our local SCBWI members are available for school and library visits, so we encourage you to share these titles and creators with your local school and library communities. A special thank-you to Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan for compiling the covers and titles (with links below) for this fantastic collection.
This November my wife and I will be celebrating our50th wedding anniversary. We will be journeying back to The Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, VA to spend three nights in the same historic house we stayed in on our honeymoon. Back in 1971, the rate for the house was $35.00/night. Let’s just say that the rate in 2021 is much, MUCH different! But the memories will be just as sweet!
Over the past few months, friends and acquaintances have posed the inevitable query: “What is the secret to a long marriage?” Our response is usually captured in two words—good communication. As I was discussing this with a long-time friend (a fellow writer), it also occurred to me that good children’s writing is also based on good communication. It’s one thing to type words and sentences on a computer screen; quite another to convey emotions, feelings, and a connection with characters and themes. The first is merely talking, the second is communication.
I specialize in writing nonfiction for children. I know that it is quite easy to do some background research and put down an amalgam of words about mysterious animals, exotic locations, or environmental threats. That’s the easy part. That’s how encyclopedias get written, how legal documents get penned, and how bland and nondescript books get created. Or, to put it in different words, that’s talking through a book rather than communicating with readers.
My challenge, every time I sit in front of my computer, is to share the passions and ferver of my subject to young readers, to incite personal discoveries and promote self-induced explorations, and to create an appreciation for a topic or subject that may be outside readers’ experiences or knowledge. To do that, I can’t simply “talk” my way through the manuscript; I have a linguistic obligation to communicate with my readers . . . to build a bond (okay, to build a “marriage”) that will be both sustaining and long lasting. Writing is not about the transference of words from one head to another—it’s always about evoking an engaging relationship that may change, influence, or inspire.
For the moment, let’s take a look at some examples of communication versus talking. To do that, I’ve extracted examples of good communication from several children books and YA novels. Those have been listed in the left-hand column in the chart below. I’ve also taken the liberty of rewriting those examples as though the author had simply been talking (rather than communicating) to their readers. I hope you notice the differences.
Rewritten as a Talking Example
“The rain here is different than the way it rains in Greenville. No sweet smell of honeysuckle. No soft squish of pine.” —Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
It rains in Brooklyn. It also rains in Greenville.
“This is the wall, my grandfather’s wall. On it are the names of those killed in a war, long ago.” —Eve Bunting, The Wall
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is in Washington, D.C. It has lots of names on it.
“There is a secret that almost nobody knows. I will tell it to you, if you promise to tell someone else.” —Douglas Wood, Making the World
I have a secret. Would you like to know what it is?
“Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl . . . .” —Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Once, I was arrested. Let me tell you my story.
“When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” —Cynthia Rylant, Missing May
My grandfather was very sad when my grandmother died.
“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.” —Ellen Levine, Henry’s Freedom Box
Henry Brown was six years old.
Communicating to our readers may be one of the most challenging things we do as writers. It implies a respectful relationship—one that conveys thoughts, feelings, and emotions through the magical manipulations of words. The words we choose and the order in which they are presented to our readers differentiates a simple manuscript from a meaningful, relevant, and engaging book.
As they say, talk is cheap. On the other hand, the power of our tale—whether nonfiction or fiction, picture book or YA novel—is ultimately determined by the arrangement of vocabulary and the passion of the author. Like any good marriage, it is the degree of communication we share with our readers that determines the longevity of a story and the embrace of minds.
A retired educator and prolific author, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also penned the critically acclaimed Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3kl74YQ). [“If I could give this book ten stars, I would!”]