Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 50/50 Project: Help for Somali Refugees Plus a Critique for You

East Africa is suffering its worst drought in 60 years, and the people of Somalia – especially women and children – are traveling long distances under grueling and dangerous circumstances to end up in refugee camps. And there they find not refuge but underdeveloped resources.

There is so much suffering in the world right now it’s hard to know how to help. Here’s your chance to help Somali refugees, and give yourself a professional boost as well.

One of my fellow-members of Romance Writers of America, Kathy-Diane Leveille, created a mechanism to aid Somali refugees through CARE International. She asked for writers willing to participate, and I joined this group. Her idea was to form the “50/50 Project” – your writing critiqued by a published author – that is, each of the published writers involved in the project is available to critique 50 pages of your work for only 50 of your dollars. You can choose which writer you would like to submit work to, on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Bidding” opens Saturday, October 1, which is why I’m posting this today. I’d be thrilled to review 50 pages of your work in progress. And if I’m not a match for you, check out the other talented authors who have also volunteered their time and energy.

Please go to the link - writerswhocare - and check out the authors. For a flat $50 donation you can help the destitute and starving of Somalia and come away with a terrific critique as well.

And, many thanks.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Debut Authors of the Class of 2k11: Tess Hilmo

I'm so pleased to be able to introduce 2k11 author Tess Hilmo, whose middle grade novel With A Name Like Love debuts this week. 

Kirkus gave the novel a *starred review* (congrats, Tess!): "A story about the meaning of home, justice and love, beautifully told." 

A summary: "When Ollie’s daddy, the Reverend Everlasting Love, pulls their travel trailer into Binder to lead a three-day revival, Ollie knows that this town will be like all the others they visit— it is exactly the kind of nothing Ollie has come to expect. But on their first day in town, Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother is in jail for murdering his father. Jimmy insists that his mother is innocent, and Ollie believes him. Still, even if Ollie convinces her daddy to stay in town, how can two kids free a grown woman who has signed a confession?  Ollie’s longing for a friend and her daddy’s penchant for searching out lost souls prove to be a formidable force in this tiny town where everyone seems bent on judging and jailing without a trial."

Tess graciously agreed to write a guest post for me, and it's my pleasure to bring it to you.

We Are All Connected

When I began writing With A Name Like Love, I knew three things:
1.     I wanted to celebrate the rich, Southern gospel music that I love so much
2.     I wanted to write an intriguing murder mystery
3.     I wanted to include a strong family unit

When I was little, I remember one of my grade school teachers telling our class about how the old Negro Spirituals are all written in a five key scale called pentatonic scale. Five humble keys that, when arranged, can give us feelings of loss, heartache, redemption and hope.  They have the ability to connect us and make us believe we can do great things.  Think about songs like Amazing Grace and the emotion it stirs.  Or the power within Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

I wondered if it could be the same with a novel.  If including basic elements of hope, heartache, redemption and love could bring us all together under the umbrella of story.  That was and continues to be my goal with this book.  It is a Southern murder mystery that highlights the triumph of the human spirit over difficult and, at times, dark events.

Music and stories bring us together and remind us that we are all connected.

What are your favorite songs and what emotions do they evoke in you?

You can find out more about Tess on her blog 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten Thousand Hours

A short post for a busy week...

Several years ago I listened to Malcolm Gladwell reading from his wonderful book Outliers. He explores what makes someone a true success - an outlier - in their field. Think folks like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the Beatles.

His hypothesis is that it takes 10,000 hours of intense practice in whatever craft you work in - whether computers, music, or in our case, writing - to achieve the kind of mastery that can make you an outlier. There are other factors that weigh in, of course: native talent is nice, as well as a certain intellectual ability. But by and large, it is practice, and lots of it, that make someone more successful than those around him or her.

If you look carefully at the resumes of our most talented and renowned authors you'll notice that by and large they spent a long time getting to the top of the field; there are very few overnight successes.

Do I write every day? I try to, but there are days... The way I look at it, however long I spend at my desk I'm adding to the 10,000 hours I'll need to achieve anything even approaching mastery of the craft of writing for children.

With a rough calculation, 10,000 hours is the equivalent of a year and a quarter of 24/7/365 days. Which means if you work on writing like most normal people, at say, 5 hours per day (and take weekends off but no vacations) it will take you closer to 8 years of steady practice to achieve this kind of mastery.

Eight years of intense practice - constant, daily, rigorous practice with no vacations, sick days, family reunions, kid crises - to achieve anything approaching mastery. I'm sure that even with my steady effort over the course of ten years of writing for children I haven't even approached 10,000 hours.

I think it's time for me to get back to practicing...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Creating a Smartphone Picture Book App: Lindsey Lane

I was very excited to learn from my friend and Vermont College of Fine Arts classmate Lindsey Lane that she had acquired the rights to her first picture book, Snuggle Mountain, and then created a smartphone app for the book. Finally, someone who could explain this mysterious process! I've interviewed Lindsey, and am delighted to have her here this week.

Hi Lindsey! How were you able to acquire the rights? Was that a difficult process?

It was not difficult at all. Cynthia Leitich Smith had recommended Aimee Bissonette of Little Buffalo Law to me as someone who would review contracts for authors who don’t have agents. I contacted her in August 2010 and told her that Clarion, the publisher of Snuggle Mountain and imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, had let SM go out of stock about two years ago and that I would like to get the rights reverted to me. She asked me to send her the Rights Reversion clause in my contract. After reading it, she said it was very standard and all I needed to do was send them a letter requesting that the rights revert to me. Basically what’s going on is you have to make the request so that the publisher can decide to put the book back in circulation and, if they don’t do that, the rights revert to you. Because the book had been out of stock for two years, it was pretty clear they weren’t going to reprint it, so the letter was a formality. Still, Aimee was helpful in drafting the letter, subtly letting HMH know that she was representing me and then being available to me if I needed any extra help. Aimee said to give the HMH folks about three months to go through their process and then contact them again. Sure enough, three months later, I wrote them a brief: ‘How is the progress on the Snuggle Mountain rights reversion?’ email and, a week after that, a disk of the book arrived in the mail with a letter telling me that the rights belonged to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me. Ta-Dah!

I was so excited to learn that you have created a smartphone app of the book. Can you tell us (a) how you went about creating the app, (b) how you made it available, (c) how you think it's working?

After Melissa and I got the rights back in December 2010, I emailed her to see what she thought about making Snuggle Mountain into a digital book. She was all for it. She had already been approached by someone who was doing ebooks and apps so we just broadened our search. Fortunately, a group of authors and illustrators had just stared a blog called e is for book. The premise of the blog is that a book is a book regardless of the format and each contributor’s blog post focused on the creation of digital books for kids. Through that site and links to other sites, Melissa and I learned the names of ebook and app developers. We took turns querying and interviewing them. The one that popped out for us was PicPocket Books. They had developed Elizabeth Dulemba’s Lula’s Brew and Elizabeth was very complimentary of their work. We sent Lynette Mattke of PicPocket Books a copy of Snuggle Mountain and she said she would very much like to make it into an app. We had a conference call with her and afterwards, Melissa and I agreed that what we liked about Mattke’s approach was that she really likes to remain true to the integrity of the book. She didn’t want to turn books into games. We signed with her in March. I got busy adding bits of dialogue for Emma. Melissa handled all the reformatting of the artwork for the iPhone and the iPad as well as creating the artwork for specific animations like wagging tails and sniffing noses. In April, Lynette and I skyped and she showed me the app on the desktop of her computer. (That was co cool.) We tweaked a few things (the sheep dog sounded like a Chihuahua) and it was available on iTunes in Mid-May. Because PicPocket Books is an approved Apple app developer, Snuggle Mountain is only available through iTunes and, right now, only folks with iPads and iPhones can purchase the Snuggle Mountain app. But that could change next week. Seriously. The digital world changes that fast.

Did you find the process easy or was the learning curve steep?

PicPocket had about 30 apps under its belt when we came along so that made our process very easy. What was a bit disorienting is the speed of this process. The publishing industry moves at a snail’s pace compared to the app and ebook world. Normally you have time to prepare for publicity (you know make a trailer, do pre-release buzz, make a postcard), but suddenly the app was out and I still feel like I am catching up. But on the other side of the proverbial coin, the app is not a book taking up warehouse space so as long as I’m out promoting it, parents can download the app. Really, it’s pretty sweet to be in an airport, near a wiggly child and ask them if they like books. If they do, I ask the parents if they mind if I read them a book. Next thing you know, I’ve got this little one sliding her finger across the iPhone screen, turning digital pages. Kinda fun.

Would you recommend to authors who have not yet published but who may have a picture book ready that they try creating an app?

Hmm, interesting question. I know that there is a digital fever for books right now. App and ebook developers are cropping up like toadstools after the rain. Melissa and I had an advantage in that Melissa’s gorgeous artwork was already created so it made our project very viable and easy to convert into an app. Certainly, any author or illustrators with out of print picture book should try this route. It’s thrilling to me that Snuggle Mountain can be out there in the hands of the little readers and their parents. For pre-published writers who have written picture book that they would like to turn into an app, it will be a much different journey without already created artwork. But really, anything is possible. I mean, it’s sort like the wild west (at the Toadstool corral) right now with traditional publishing scrambling to catch up to epublishing and app developers opening up to the possibility of picture books.

Anything else about this mysterious world that you'd like to share?

A couple of things.

Melissa and I asked Lynette about making the Snuggle Mountain app available to other smart phones like the Droid. Right now it’s not possible. There is a digital divide between Apple and other smart phones and tablets.

When I started this process, I was a neophyte in the digital world. Really. I had to learn the difference between eBoooks and apps and why a picture book needs to be an app not an eBook. If you have ever seen a picture book an eBook, you would get it immediately. Basically an eReader only shows you one page at a time, so the artwork on a full-page spread gets cut in half. Not very satisfying when illustrators create artwork for a two page spread. With the app format, you can see the entire two page spread on the screen so nothing gets cut in half. It’s quite lovely, really. That said, I just read a post by Elizabeth Dulemba that she has formatted her Lula’s Brew to fit on a Nook. So once again, the digital world is shifting.

Contracts are changing to reflect the digital presence in publishing. Check out the rights reversion clause in your current and future contracts. Pay attention to where your rights will go if the print version of your book goes out of print. Pay attention to your rights period. Be careful they don’t drift off into the ethers of the eWorld.

Finally, in the digital world, there is a new kind of typo. When you first see your book as an app, it is really important to check all the bells and whistles it offers. Remember an app is short for application, which is a kind of software, which means that there can be formatting glitches. Fortunately, in the world of apps, you can send out an update and glitches gets fixed pretty easily but still, these glitches are like typos (and I hate typos) so check ALL the ways your app works before it goes out.

What are you working on now?

On October 8, Austin SCBWI is presenting a symposium called StoryTelling in the Digital Age. I am thrilled to join a stellar faculty and present the picture book app journey to participants. Oh, and I’m excited about taking a writing class with Margo Rabb this fall.

I'm so happy you came by - thank you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Random Acts of Publicity Week: A Selection of Favorites

Author Darcy Pattison had a great idea a few years ago: a week authors could devote to promoting other authors. This is the week, and I'm going to start right off with Darcy.

Last fall I had the pleasure of attending one of Darcy's weekend-long novel revision retreats. Let me just say that if you ever have the opportunity to attend one, jump. She walks participants through the techniques outlined in her clever book Novel Metamorphosis, and I had enough new ideas and strategies to see me through any number of novel revisions. Not to mention seeing in bold where my work was flawed and what I could do to shore up sags.

I've said it before, but I'll say again: I could not revise a thing without the help of Donald Maass and his two outstanding books: Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I learn something new each time I re-read - which I do each time I revise.

I have struggled with plot, but Martha Alderson is a clear light in the dark forest. Her Blockbuster Plots video is a staple of mine, and I never plot now without checking my draft against her brilliant template.

Now, I don't review fiction; but I'd like to introduce readers to two authors whose work I admire greatly. Both are Canadian, and their books don't get lots of publicity in the States, but they deserve an audience.

The first is a man who writes across genres - adult, young adult, middle grade - and he is richly talented. His name is Alan Cumyn.

Alan has written three charming and hilarious middle grade novels that commence with the award-winning The Secret Life of Owen Skye. These novels are the best kind of "boy books" - totally engaging, respectful of their audience, beautifully written. His newest fiction is right at the top of my TBR pile, a young adult novel, Tilt.

The second novelist I'd like to honor is Sarah Ellis. (Sarah writes reviews for The Horn Book, but don't let that left-brained activity fool you. She also writes fiction with heart.) Sarah's award-winning middle grade novel Odd Man Out had me laughing out loud. She, like Alan, is able to voice the mind of a young boy with exceptional clarity.

You may not find Alan's and Sarah's books on your local bookstore shelves but they are worth ordering - for yourself, or a young reader you know, who will truly thank you.