Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Kim Tomsic

Friday, July 24, 2015

Conferences are Kingmakers!

Illustration courtesy of Ruth E. Harper
Conferences are kingmakers. It’s true! Talk to published authors and illustrators, and more often than not, an attendee’s career moved into hyper-drive after a conference. It shouldn’t be surprising, since this is where craft improves, ideas bubble to mind, and important connections are made. Many publishing hopefuls met their agent or editor attending breakout sessions, getting critiques, or selecting the right seat at an open-table luncheon. 

Illustration courtesy of Brooke-Boynton Huges
Colorado illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes attended SCBWI's International conference in California in 2012 where she entered her portfolio in the illustrator showcase. She didn't win the showcase, but she did get signed with agent Marietta Zacker and also landed a book deal. Furthermore, Brooke signed up for the one-on-one portfolio review. She received feedback throughout the conference weekend and learned a lot about her craft. When she returned to the event in 2013, she walked away as the Portfolio Honor Award winner and also as the Mentorship Award winner! In 2014, she received the Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI's winter conference in New York. But it's important to know, Brooke's success didn't come from one conference. She says, "I think the most important part about attending conferences is the chance to have one-on-one portfolio critiques and the opportunity to learn about your craft.  I attended six or seven international conferences and three or four regional conferences before I was published and before my portfolio was recognized in the showcase."  Now her illustrations are published in books with Beach Lane, Disney Hyperion, and Random House.
Colorado author Ana Crespo met her editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor of Albert Whitman and Co., at the regional Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. Ana signed up for a manuscript critique and landed a feedback timeslot with Kelly. After listening to Kelly’s edit suggestions, and taking ample notes during the conference workshops and intensive, Ana was armed with ideas to improve her writing. Ana went home, reworked and edited her story, then queried Kelly who bought and published The Sock Thief. Ana now has four more books coming out with Albert Whitman in a series called JP BOOKS, MY EMOTIONS AND ME (p.s. two books release this September--check them out here )!
I met my agent (Jen Rofé of ABLA ) and editor (Melissa Manlove, Chronicle Books) at an SCBWI conference, and let’s just say it involved an unofficial scavenger hunt, an Aperol Smash, and a failed pitch—but that failed pitch was part of a connection, and in the end I received a business card and an email address. A year-and-a-half later I worked on the craft points I’d learned at the conference, then sent a query on a whole new project—here’s where I cue the drum roll and build to a frenzy—I got a YES! My debut book THE ELEPHANTS CAME will release with Chronicle Books in spring, 2017. 
If the above three stories haven't convinced you that conferences are kingmakers, read the summer 2015 Bulletin and the article titled SCBWI Success Story:  Martha Brockenbrough. Martha met her editor, Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levin at Scholastic, at a conference. She says, “Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference”. Martha has sold four (!!!) picture books, including an adorable title called The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy.
This year’s SCBWI Rocky Mountain Regional Conference features some of the brightest minds in the industry. Learn—connect—and you, too, can become a king!  
Register to reserve you spot!!!  And please note important deadlines to sign up for manuscript consultation or portfolio review. 
WHEN:  September 19-20, 2015
WHERE: Marriott Denver West, 1717 West Denver Blvd., Golden, CO
How to Register:  Follow this link to Register or type in: https://rmc.scbwi.org
Who:  See the list below!
Dan Yaccarino, Author/Illustrator

Andrew Karre, Executive Editor, Dutton Books for Young Readers
Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Kristen Nelson, Agent, Nelson Literary Agency
Megged Semadar, Art Director, Philomel
Deborah Warren, Agent, East/West Literary
Stacy Whitman, Founder and Publisher, Tu Books, imprint of Lee & Low Books

Leslie Ann Clark, Designer/Licensor
Melanie Crowder, Author
Julie Danneberg, Author
Erin Dealy, Author
Jenny Goebel, Author
Nancy Oswald, Author

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Agents and Editors Really Think When Reading Your First Page

DREAM TEAM:  Nick Healy, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Jennifer Mattson, Melissa Manlove

Writers want to know the secret sauce that makes editors, agents and readers turn a first page in a book. Some say authors must get the inciting incident on page one. 

Screenwriting books advise the inciting incident should land on page ten (or for books, the first 10% of a novel). Wendy Loggia of Delacorte Press/Random House once told me it’s hard to care about an inciting incident until we care about the character. She went on to say that many writers want to get to the good stuff first, but it all has to be good.

To further understand the art of the first page, I asked Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA), to host a panel session during the Big Sur in the Rockies writing workshop held in Boulder, Colorado. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, participants submitted the first page of their work-in-progress and gathered to hear feedback from a dream-team of publishing professionals—Melissa Manlove from Chronicle  Books, Nick Healy from Capstone Publishing and three ABLA agents Andrea Brown, Caryn Wiseman and Jennifer Mattson.  The panel provided insight on what works and what doesn’t on the first page of manuscripts, everything from picture books to YA novels. 

Here’s what I heard:
Don’t rob readers of experiencing the emotional state of the character. This is another reason agents and editors (and readers) want you to SHOW DON’T TELL. For example, writers should not write George was upset about his report card—that TELLS the emotional state. Write something along the lines of George wadded up his report card and shoved it to the bottom of his backpack

Picture Book Writers—WATCH OUT for clause filled sentence structure. Instead, choose an appropriate sentence structure for your audience. Also let sentences end so readers land on an idea. Simplify your language and let the art carry a good portion of the weight of the story. (And on a side note, it’s a good idea to keep emotional conflict out of bedtime stories).

All Manuscripts—
·        Avoid over choreography.
·        Read your pages out loud and listen for repeating words or repeating a character’s name—fix if you’re over using.
·        Choose active verbs. Instead of using “to be” verbs, choose verbs powerful enough to eliminate adjective and adverbs.
·        Remember that books set in the 1980’s are now considered historical fiction.
·        Don’t lead with generic circumstances that stay generic, stay away from common story line and add something fresh and original.
·        Don’t write a book with didactic intentions and please don’t write with a didactic tone; kids will see right through this. “We don’t go to stories for lessons.” Melissa Manlove  (though please see Melissa’s additional feedback listed at the end of this article).
·        Be careful so that you’re not long and heavy on details. Readers don’t want to wade through the mundane to get to the good.
·        “Many editors dislike prologues and we want you to be as rejection-proof as possible so don’t use them unless you really must.” Andrea Brown
·        Some panel members are not fans of mixing anthropomorphized animals with talking humans. That’s not a rule, just a note of preferences when querying this panel.
·        The Picture Book industry is currently hot on having character-driven picture books, but characters still needs to have a motivation.   
·        Another personal preference from this panel—they don’t enjoy reading first pages with names that are difficult to pronounce (i.e. T’sfard-ma-zia might be a prime example).

Using illustration notes in picture books. Please know this varies between editors (for example, never (never ever) send an illustration note to Beach Lane Books). Per the members on this panel, illustration notes are fine, but only if it is necessary for the editor or agent to get an inside joke or a something that is not relayed in the words. Do not use illustration notes to describe your character or provide unnecessary art direction.

Writing in Rhyme. If you are writing in rhyme, please take a look at any book that’s won a Geisel Award (p.s. fun fact—Andrea Brown worked with Theodore Geisel long ago!).
I’ve attended many conferences and though many agents and editors say they don’t like rhyme, many also say it’s because they don’t like bad and forced rhyme. Furthermore, if a story rhymes in English, that doesn’t mean it’s going to rhyme in French or Spanish, so rhyming books are difficult to sell beyond the U.S.  

Author/Illustrators—if work as both an author and illustrator, you should submit a sketch dummy for your full picture book along with only a couple of pieces of finished art.

**Post workshop Melissa and I chatted, and she states there’s another side to this list of advice. To learn more, I suggest you read her interview titled “Noir and Horror for your Kindergartner” by Maggie Tokuda-Hall posted on the Boing Boing blog 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

BIKE ON BEAR a Summer Reading Sensation

BIKE ON BEAR by Cynthea Liu Illustrated by Kristyna Litten.

 New this month, BIKE ON BEAR (Aladdin, June 2, 2015) by Cynthea Liu Illustrated by Kristyna Litten.


Bear can do almost anything. His one-paw pawstand is perfection. He can solve the trickiest of equations. He can even out-build a brigade of beavers. But the one thing Bear can’t do? Ride a bike.

Bear tries everything to help him learn: library books, training wheels and super-cheers from his fellow animal friends. But all of those fail to get poor Bear on two wheels. The situation is looking unbearable, but an unexpected mishap might be just the thing that propels Bear to bike on!

BIKE ON BEAR is packed with clever, fresh and FUNny ideas; plus add on the illustrations and you get a story that’s both gratifying and hilarious. Picture book readers will enjoy the heart and determination in this story, and picture book writers can use this as a perfect “how-to craft book” (a story problem, try-fails, the rule of threes and the bookending style where the story’s beginning and end match so nicely). BIKE ON BEAR is definitely this summer’s bookstore star.

Kirkus Review: "Bear’s supportive friends and family, along with Litten’s warm-hued, cozy illustrations, drape the story in comfort, even during Bear’s many tumbles and spills.This pivotal childhood milestone is often defined by fear, but this variant is for young brooders everywhere. "

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Aladdin (June 2, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1481405063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1481405065

Buying Links:
Indie Bound:  Buy from an Indie Store
Barnes and Noble
Boulder Bookstore
Tattered Cover

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Could PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF Represent for Diversity Groups?

Welcome, Katie Salidas. Thank you for agreeing to my FAST FIVE interview about your debut YA novel release PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF , and Happy Book Birthday! 


All Giselle ever wanted was a family... that can accept her for what she is, a werewolf. 
In a world where supernatural creatures are not out and proud, this has been a problem for 16 year old Giselle. A child of the system, she's been bounced from home to home for as long as she can remember. As soon as the moon calls out her inner wolf, it's back into the system she goes.
Against the odds, a new family is found for Giselle. One that may prove the answer to all her dreams and wishes. But this family comes with a deadly secret that could send Giselle six feet under instead of back into the system.
Amid factions of warring witches and werewolves, and deadly curses with no hope for a cure, the way will not be an easy one, but if Giselle can call upon her skills as a lone wolf, she may just be able to unearth the truth keeping her from the one thing she's ever wanted... family.

Q  Katie, you've written novels and novellas for 5 years, however this is your first novel for the young adult market. What was your impetus and inspiration to write for teens?

A  If I told you I did it on a dare, would that negate the interest in it? I hope not. In all honesty, I’ve had many people over the years tell me I “should” write YA. I’ve always been one to play in the genre pool, so dipping my toes into new waters is something I enjoy. The character, Giselle spoke to me and I found the story developed very cleanly around her. She’s got it rough, trying to find where she fits in, and in a world where supernatural creatures are not “out and proud,” it’s even harder to find where you fit.

Q  What were some of your favorite novels when you were in high school?

In high school, I remember reading The Vampire Diaries, and The Vampire Chronicles. My interests were pretty singular there. I have always been a paranormal fan. Something about the creatures that could possibly exist in our world, under our nose, is intriguing.

If Giselle were given the chance to meet her birth parents, would she take it?

Giselle has spent her entire life wondering why she was dumped into the system. She’d never found her place in the world. The one thing she’s wanted is family. So, yes. If given the chance, Giselle would cross any distance to find out what happened to her family, and she would do anything find them.

If PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF was sold to Hollywood, who would you cast in the roles of your main characters?

Oh that’s easy! I’m a never-ending daydreamer, one day hoping to see my books turn film, so all my book files have character dream sheet with them.

Giselle - Lauren Ambrose
Asher - Santiago Cabrera
Damien - Damien Molony
Di - Claire Holt
Taylor - Phoebe Tonkin

Will there be a sequel and what insider information can you reveal here?  

As of right now, I have no sequel planned. The book ends on a HEA [Happily Ever After]. Of course, with all my books there are some threads left out on purpose, so I have fodder to come back to later in potential future installments. For example in this one, Di’s little secret magical contract is teased but never revealed. That could come in to play should readers want to continue to dig deeper into the Hernandez pack and the Thrace pack’s past with the local witch coven.

Thank you, Katie! On a final note, in the current campaign for diverse books in the young adult market, I can't help but notice PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF  represents a paranormal group that's not "out and proud". Perhaps this a nod to the We Need Diverse Books campaign and the many under-represented minority groups.

PRETTY LITTLE WEREWOLF buying links below:

Pretty Little Werewolf. 
Kindle USA - 
Kindle UK - 
Nook - http://tinyurl.com/mk6cjfg
Kobo - http://tinyurl.com/n8qn2m6
Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/…/show/25373764-pretty-little-wer…
iBooks - https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id986657617

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Win Advance Copy of SWITCH by Ingrid Law, the Third Book in the SAVVY Collection

win this copy!!!
Would you like an early peek at the third book in Ingrid Law’s fervently awaited SAVVY collection? Read on to learn how to receive my copy of this ARC.

Just when you thought you had “savvies” figured out, author Ingrid Law adds a wily twist to the Beaumont family’s gifts. Her newest novel SWITCH (Dial Books for Young Readers, September 2015) reveals what happens when savvies get topsy-turvy and—just like life—spiral upside-down and out of control.

JACKETFLAP: Gypsy Beaumont has always been a whirly-twirly free spirit. So on her thirteenth birthday—the day everyone in her family gets a magical ability—she hopes for a savvy that will let her fly, or dance up to the stars. Instead, she wakes up with blurry vision…and starts seeing flashes of the future and past. But what she doesn’t see coming is the announcement that their downright mean grandma Pat has Alzheimer’s and is coming to live with them. Even more surprising? Suddenly her savvy—along with her whole family’s—switches to its topsy-turvy opposite!
                Now it’s total savvy mayhem, and Gypsy’s in for a fiery, wild, suspense-filled journey as she struggles to control her unpredictable new talent, and to save her family from a future she never wanted to see.

Booklovers who enjoy Ingrid Law’s unique, Gypsy-esque perspective of the world and fresh approach to retro-language—wackadoo, rabble-rouser and collywobbles—will once again fall in love with her writing. Middle School readers are guaranteed to have a blast with the humor and escapades in SWITCH, but they’ll also be inspired by the pluck of her diverse and authentic characters. Adult readers will savor the nostalgic undertones and layers of eccentrics. But no matter your age, pages will flip faster than you can say muddy-river-magic, because the spirals in SWITCH keep you on your toes and invested in the suspense-filled, magical adventure.  
SWITCH is the eagerly anticipated third installment in the SAVVY collection. SAVVY debuted in 2008 (a 2009 Newbery Honor book), and SCUMBLE released in 2010 (a New York Times Bestseller and Smithsonian Notable Book).  
I had the happy privilege of experiencing an early read of SWITCH, and now you can, too! I’d love to pass on my Advance Reading Copy to you…if you’re the lucky winner.
Entering to win this ARC of SWITCH is a two-step, super-simple process:
1.      copy paste and Tweet:  “I hope I win an ARC of SWITCH by Ingrid Law given away at http://bit.ly/1G7kCwr   #What’sYourSavvy?”
2.      Leave a comment on this blog, telling me your Twitter handle (and something fun, too, if you’d like).
Then I’ll put your name in a hat. **If you don't have a Twitter account, please leave a comment and tell me about another source of social media where you can comment.
Good luck! SWITCH is dedicated to Law’s parents whose anniversary is June 15th, so on June 15th I’ll draw the name of one lucky winner. Cross your fingers! You will love SWITCH, but winner be warned—do not try and read SWITCH in a quiet zone, because it’s packed (PACKED!) with irrepressible, laugh-out-loud moments.  

***June 15th UPDATE:  Congratulations Amy Nelson Green, you are the winner!***

·         Age Range: 8 - 12 years
·         Grade Level: 3 - 7
·         Hardcover: 368 pages
·         Publisher: Dial Books (September 1, 2015)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0803738625
·         ISBN-13: 978-0803738621


Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Mystery of Landing a Publishing Deal Revealed--Interview with Author Ana Crespo

Sleuthy Seven with Ana Cresposeven answers on how to land a picture book deal (AND unveiling the mystery of the illustrator, illustration notes, etc., too!)

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, Ana! Thank you for agreeing to an interview and congratulations on your debut picture book THE SOCK THIEF (Albert Whitman, March 1, 2015).  I adore your story set-up—Felipe sneaks through his sunny, Brazilian town, stealing all the socks, but why? He doesn't even need socks, since he wears flip-flops every day. Kids will love solving the mystery of THE SOCK THIEF. I know I'm buying a copy for my nephew, today!

Jacket Flap:Brazilian boy Felipe doesn't have a soccer ball. So, when it's his turn to take one to school, he uses a little bit of creativity… and a few socks. Felipe is the sock thief, but finding socks is not that easy and the neighborhood pets make it even harder. "Au, au, au!" a dog barks in Portuguese. Felipe wonders if he'll play soccer with his friends today or if he will be caught by a tattle-tale parrot? Along the way, Felipe leaves delicious mangoes in exchange for the socks he steals. After he swipes each pair, he twists and turns them into an ever-growing soccer ball. At the end of the day, he returns each pair of socks with a note to say thank you.

And now, getting answers to solving the mystery of scoring a publishing deal.
Ana Crespo author of THE SOCK THIEF

Q –Ana, you’ll probably get this question during every school visit, but I’m dying to know—how did the idea of THE SOCK THIEF story unfold?

A –It’s a bit of a long story – several years long.  When I was little, my father used to tell me stories about his childhood years.  One of these stories happened to be about how he and my uncle would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, get her stockings, stuff them with newspaper, and make a soccer ball.  The story stuck to my mind and came back when I started to pursue a career in writing for kids.

Q –How long have you been writing picture books, and how did you meet your editor (the fabulous Kelly Barrales-Saylor of Albert Whitman)?

A –I started writing seriously in 2012, so I haven’t been writing for a long time – I am one of the lucky ones. I met Kelly during my second Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI conference, in 2013.  I was probably one of the first people (if not THE first person) to sign up for the conference and was lucky enough to get a manuscript critique with Kelly.  The critique spots go away quickly, so you really have to pay attention to the registration dates.  The manuscript she critiqued was THE SOCK THIEF.  However, despite meeting Kelly for the manuscript critique, I think we really connected during the post-conference workshop, when we realized our views about picture books were pretty similar.

Q – I understand you have a five-book deal with Albert Whitman, so here’s the question every writer really wants to know—how did you score your publishing contract? (Details, please! How did you score this one, the other four, etc. Tell us the steps from contact to contract).

A –The offer for THE SOCK THIEF came after I sent Kelly the manuscript with revisions. I don’t have an agent right now, so I had to deal with all the aspects of the contract negotiation.  It was a bit of a headache, but everyone at Albert Whitman was wonderful.  They answered all my questions, helped me figure out what I didn’t understand, and etc.  I’ve been pretty happy with the process so far.  After the contract for THE SOCK THIEF was signed, I sent Kelly a list of some manuscripts I had available, including this small series about JP, a very imaginative little boy who is still learning how to deal with his own feelings.  It turns out they were looking for new stories about feelings and the JP books were the perfect match.  We signed a 4-book contract.  The first two books – JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS and JP AND THE POLKA-DOTTED ALIENS – are pretty much ready and going to print soon.  They look amazing!

Q –So, you landed the deal. The contract was signed. Now tell us about next steps and how the editing process worked between you and Kelly (and others).

A –Like I said, Albert Whitman is wonderful, and the editing process was just as wonderful.  I was included in most of the steps.  From the very first sketches, they welcomed my comments.  I offered a different, honest point of view, while always keeping in mind that the final decision belonged to Kelly and her team.  And I liked it that way.  It was a great learning experience.  Then, came the marketing.  Again, Albert Whitman has been extremely supportive.  I was lucky to land a contract with such a professional publisher.

Q –THE SOCK THIEF was illustrated by Nana Gonzalez—she did a beautiful job creating fun,
Illustrator Nana Gonzalez
lively, and authentic spreads. People always ask picture book writers if they did the illustrations, too. Obviously you did not. Although there are many author/illustrators out there, there are also many authors who are not illustrators, and the publishing house hires the illustrator. Did you have any input on picking the illustrator?

A –No, I didn’t.  However, as soon as Kelly knew who would be illustrating the book, she let me know.  Nana is from Argentina and, as it turns out, her grandfather used to make sock balls as well.  It was the perfect match.  Her illustrations are beautiful. 

Q –MORE on illustrations. So we know you wrote the text; Nana Gonzalez created the illustrations; And Albert Whitman found Nana; And you and Nana never met before you wrote THE SOCK THIEF. Since I only have seven questions, I’ll do a sneak-around and divide this question into two parts.
Part one—I’ve heard many editors say that it is typical that the author and illustrator never have a single conversation, and that is done by design—the publisher wants the illustrator to create their vision without being impinged  by the authors vision—keeping the two apart generally creates a richer finished product—was this true for you—were you and Nana kept apart (as in no phone calls or emails with one another during the creation of the book)?
Part two—I’ve heard editors provide mixed responses regarding authors providing illustration notes. What was your experience with this—did you give any art notes prior to or after the creative process?

A –I didn’t have any contact with Nana, but that didn’t bother me.  Albert Whitman was a filter between the author and the illustrator, but I still feel like I participated in the illustration process through my comments.   In fact, that brings us to the answer to a previous question.  The final decision in regards to the book belongs to the editor and its team.  If the author and illustrator exchange ideas, there is a chance the author’s message will contradict the editor’s message.  I am a very practical person.  The way I see it, the editor wants the book to succeed just as much as I do.  Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t share my opinions, especially when I feel strongly about something.  However, I feel comfortable leaving the decision to the editor.  If I trusted my work to that editor, I must trust her decisions, too. 

Regarding the illustration notes, I have also heard different accounts about what is too much and what is okay.  In my opinion, it really depends on the story.  In THE SOCK THIEF, for example, illustration notes weren’t necessary, except to mention the story was set in Brazil and to describe how to make a sock ball.  On the other hand, the JP stories wouldn’t make sense if it weren’t for the illustration notes.  In JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS, for example, JP spends most of the story talking about a giant octopus that lives only in his imagination.  If I didn’t use illustration notes to reveal what the giant octopus really was and what it was doing, the story wouldn’t make sense.  So, I guess authors must be careful not to constrain the editor’s imagination (because that will likely turn into a rejection) and later the illustrator’s imagination by being too detailed about the illustration notes, but they are necessary in certain cases.

Q –Where and when are your book signing events?
Right now, I have two signing events scheduled in Colorado Springs, but there may be some more coming up.  You may find an up-to-date schedule at http://www.anacrespobooks.com/#!appearances/csw1.

Thank you so much for this interview, Kim!  It was a pleasure sharing with you and your readers.  I hope everyone enjoys the book.

Buying Links for THE SOCK THIEF: 

Editorial Guidelines for submitting to Albert Whitman & Co. Publishing: