Monday, March 12, 2018

Ten Things to Keep in Mind AFTER getting a Book Deal so You Don't FREAK out! by Hilary Wagner

Some day it will happen! Some day, you will wake up, thinking it's a normal day and then, suddenly, you get the call. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL! Here are some quick tips to help you through the process so you don't lose your mind!

1. Don't be scared of working with your editor! You'll do fine! Your editor is your friend and sounding board. They want to make your book the very best it can be.

2. Be prepared to take what you consider the most special parts of your book...OUT! The key here is you consider them the best parts. Your editor can see things you don't from an outside perspective.

3. Concerns? TALK TO YOUR AGENT! He/she knows the business and they will tell you if you're concerns are justified or you're freaking out for no reason. (I would fit into the "freaking out for no reason" category). If you don't have an agent, reach out to others you know who've been published. Most of your fellow writers will be thrilled to help you out and share their experiences.

4. Don't be afraid to ask your publisher LOTS of questions-- if you don't ask, you won't get.

5. Your publisher may change your release date several times--this is totally normal, especially for a debut.

6. Know that you have NO control over the cover art...but be happy when your publisher does ask for your input and/or gives your book a fabulous illustrator, and if they don't give you the illustrator of your dreams, have a nice piece of cake (preferably chocolate) and tell yourself, they know what they're doing.

7. Bear in mind that Barnes & Noble, along with big box sellers and Indie stores, do NOT pick up every book, even from big publishers! There is nothing you can do if they decide not to carry your book in their brick and mortar stores, so don't worry about it--it does not mean your book won't be successful.

8. Don't fret if you start on a one book deal (becoming the norm these days), but be merry when they buy the sequel six months later--off a proposal no less! That means they like you, they really, really like you!

9. There are a lot of things out of your control in publishing--in fact--most things. Before giving yourself a facial tick, take a step back, inhale a deep solid breath, and realize no matter what's in store for you, you made did're a first-rate writer--YOU!

10. Rinse and Repeat! In other words, write another book. ;)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why #Kidlitwomen Matter on International Women's Day by Kell Andrews

Today is International Women's Day, a day for "motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive" amid the longer Women's History Month. It's also a day that in past years seemed to be recognized mostly with a flurry of social media posts that got lost amid trivial celebrations of International Pancake Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day.

This year is different, and it's about time. It doesn't feel like just a hashtag, and that's partly because of other movements defined by hashtags, like #yesallwomen, #metoo, #weneeddiversebooks, and now #kidlitwomen.

The #kidlitwomen conversation is wide-ranging and intersectional, and we can turn conversations into action. (Follow on Twitter, Facebook, or view an aggregated list of posts)

#Metoo brought a reckoning in industries including film, and now extending to children's literature, as spurred by Anne Ursu's article about sexual harassment in kidlit.. #Weneeddiversebooks launched a nonprofit and challenged the industry to reexamine how they acquire, market, and honor books, engendering #ownvoices as a call to move beyond publishing diverse stories to promoting diverse creators.

International Women's Day is so much more than books. It's about equal rights and opportunities for women, girls, and nonbinary people around the world. Lives, jobs, education, and bodily and legal autonomy are at stake. Of course children's publishing is just a small slice of it, but it still matters. And as a children's book author, I can advance change in my own industry more effectively than I can influence another one.

#Kidlitwomen matters to me. 

As a middle-aged, mid-career, mid-list author, I am easily overlooked. Women in similar situations can never know why.

As with everything in publishing -- from getting an agent and being published, to marketing support, reviews, awards, and speaking fees -- there are so many factors that it's difficult for an individual to know when bias exists. The system relies on imposter syndrome -- you have to wonder, "Maybe I didn't get that award (panel, agent, contract, review) because I'm not that good."

I am not an official part of #kidlitwomen or its organization, but the conversation has let me know that I'm not alone. It's given me a place to wonder aloud when even questions once seemed forbidden.

#Kidlitwomen matters to the industry. 

#Kidlitwomen has generated hard data about illustration awards and conference participation, and more data is a prod to change, as we've seen in reports about diversity (see
Yamile Saied Méndez's post about CCBC's 2017 Multicultural Report ).

There's not a lot of transparency in the industry around promotion and money. On social media, everyone's books and careers appear to be doing great, but only because we're only showing a small part of the truth. Shining this light means that we in this industry -- creators, editors, publishers, marketers, book buyers, reviewers, teachers, librarians, and consumers -- can examine how we are maintaining a system that lifts male stories and creators over women -- especially since it's often other women who are doing that lifting.

And most importantly...

#Kidlitwomen matters to kids.

Children of all gender identities need to see books that reflect the panoply of experiences from the voices and imaginations of women around the world and from every community. The only way that happens is when those stories are published, promoted, and put in front of them. Kids need to see that stories and voices of women and girls are lifted up, both for their universality and their specificity.

We need the talent of all children, of all genders, and the books we create can help ensure that children recognize and develop their own talents.

About Kell Andrews: Kell is the author of Mira Forecasts the Future (Sterling, 2016) and Deadwood (Spencer Hill Press, 2014). Her next picture book, The Book Dragon, will be out from Sterling October 2, 2018. She lives outside Philadelphia with her funny husband and two brave daughters.

Monday, March 5, 2018

On My Reading List: The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell (post by Paul Greci)

I write survival stories and I totally gravitate toward reading them. Here’s the most recent addition to my reading list.

 This first paragraph of The Last Panther (seen below) grabbed me because it has an excellent mix of action driven by the setting, plus suspense. It makes me want to keep reading.

 "The netters were pulling something to shore. Kiri couldn’t see what they’d caught from where she stood on the beach with Paulo, but six or seven netters had waded into the surf to haul on the lines, so whatever the nets held, it must have been big."

About the book:

Eleven-year-old Kiri has a secret: wild things call to her. More than anyone else, she’s always had a special connection to animals.

But when Kiri has an encounter with the last known Florida panther, her life is quickly turned on end. Caught between her conservationist father, who wants to send the panther to a zoo, and the village poachers, who want to sell it to feed their families, Kiri must embark on a journey that will take her deep into the wilderness.

There has to be some way to save the panther, and for her dad and the villagers to understand each other. If Kiri can’t figure out what it is, she’ll lose far more than the panthers—she’ll lose the only home she’s ever known, and the only family she has left.

About the Author:
TODD MITCHELL is the author of a few other books for middle-grade and teen readers, including The Traitor King, The Secret to Lying, and Backwards. Currently, he teaches creative writing in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he lives with his wife, two wily daughters, and one very smart dog. You can visit him (and arrange to bring him out to your school) at

If you’ve read or are planning to read a recently published survival story I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by.

Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in October 2018 is Follow the River, a sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In January 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hello, Diverse Kidlit. It's 2018. How are you?

I'm still basking in the brilliance of Black Panther. I'm still thrilled that the Newbery Medalist is Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly, a Filipino-American woman. And I'm not ecstatic only about  the medal winner. Did you take a look at the diversity that glows from the whole Newbery list? The Caldecott medal? And of course, the Coretta King Scott and Pura Belpré medalists and honors?

Does this mean our call for more Diverse Books has been answered? That we "made" it and now we can continue back to the usual programming?

This post is an invitation for dialog, and I realize I might be preaching to the choir. Our Project MG Mayhem audience is a group of people in love with children's literature, and the children we serve in our daily lives. As Daniel Tiger says, "Sharing is caring," and one of my languages of love is sharing books that reflect the childhood experience in all its facets, whether it be by my own writing or the writing of others with the same commitment as mine. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is matching a young reader with a great story I know they will love, either because it will act as a mirror or as a window into the lives of those with other experiences. This last time at the school fair, I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of characters of color either in the covers or acting as protagonists in a variety of genre and storytelling form. I did however realize something the CCBC strongly notes in their yearly report on diversity in books.

If we look at the numbers compiled and provided by the CCBC in their 2017 Multicultural Report, we'll see that although the number of books with diverse characters has encouragingly increased from last year, only a small fraction of them were written by authors from communities considered as minorities:

  • 340 had significant African or African American content/characters.
    • 100 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators. (29.41% #OwnVoices)
  • 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters.
    • 38 of these were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators. (52.78% #OwnVoices)
  • 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters.
    • 122 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. (39.35% #OwnVoices)
  • 216 had significant Latinx content/characters.
    • 73 of these were by Latinx authors and/or illustrators. (33.8% #OwnVoices)  
(Taken from the CCB Blog) 

The full study is more extensively reviewed on their website. Take a look at it please. 

In the rush to get more diversity in kidlit, a new phenomenon was born, that of the Sensitivity Reader. I was one myself, exclusively reading others' manuscripts with Latinx representation with so much demand for my services, that I put my own writing on the back burner for more than a year. My reasons for quitting being a Sensitivity Reader are echoed on this telling post by Justina Ireland, who previously had created a resource list for industry professionals listing a variety of cultural consultants (or sensitivity readers). In her post, she explains why she won't be promoting the "list" anymore or updating it. 

If we look at the diversity in not only the authors and illustrators ranks, but also agents, editors, reviewers, and book sellers, we'll see that there's still a long road to go. New York Times bestseller author, Dhonielle Clayton, recently expressed a wish that there were more Black women who could review her new book, The Belles. Based on the replies and the backlash to her tweet, it's blatantly obvious that her wish expressed a dire need for more representation on all levels of the publishing machine. 
Maybe our problem in kidlit (and literature and arts in general) has never been a need for more diverse books, but a need to decolonize our stories, as Junot Diaz explains in this interview from 2012. 

My friends, I don't have any answers or witty conclusions, but like I said earlier on my post, what do we do with the numbers we have? How do we best serve our readers from every culture and background better? 

If according to the CCB studies "A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child," after all the push for diversity in the recent years, how is it best to proceed from now on? Where do we go from here?
Again, I don't have any answers, but being an immigrant, a Latina children's author living in the US, this issue touches me closely. It not only affects me professionally, but personally. Where are kids like my kids in kidlit? And when my kids do see themselves, what narrative are my children learning? Written by whom? I think about all these questions all the time. I'm eager to learn your thoughts. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

What BLACK PANTHER can teach us about Storytelling: Conversation with Matthew MacNish

One of the things I've learned about myself recently is that I'm not much for movies. This became apparent with the advent of the Movie Pass, and the fact that both my wife and eldest son snapped them up. The two of them were giddy from going to movie after movie. What was I doing? Staying home and reading a book.

This is not meant to disparage movie going. Part of my reluctance to venture forth to the silver screen is probably because of my extreme introversion. I mean, getting in a car and driving to a movie theater and then being cheek and jowl with all those strangers: taxing! But my wife lost her job and we decided we were going to call this time of transition a 'sabbatical,' and we headed off to stay at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, where we could sit in the library and read all day to our two hearts' content.

The siren call of the movies gripped my wife even here. And so, in a small local theater on the Oregon coast, we watched the stunning Black Panther, which has taken the world by storm.

I loved the movie and found it fruitful for discussion. But, movie-amateur that I am, I realized I needed help in formulating my thoughts. I reached out to former Mayhemmer, Matthew MacNish, who is one of the cleverest guys I know. He can write entertainingly on everything from politics to music to sports to the literary life to movies. He gladly agreed to help out. Here is our conversation. Hopefully it will elucidate what Black Panther  can teach us about storytelling:

I'm interested in the structure of the movie. It begins with a kind of prologue, where we don't exactly know what's going on, and the aftermath is kept from the viewer till later in the movie. SPOILER ALERT: SHADE YOUR EYES!!! (i.e. the king killed his brother.)

SPOILER ALERT MIKE! LOL. But in all seriousness, I really enjoyed the structure of the film, and the way Ryan Coogler (the director and one of two screen writers) revealed the plot. I especially enjoyed the pre-prologue, which describes the history of Wakanda, and the separation of the tribes, and also mimicked Shuri’s sand table. There’s a theme here, in which all the past kings of Wakanda have done what they believed to be right, to take care of their people, but they’ve behaved in a kind of nationalist xenophobic way, and T’Challa is awoken to the wrongness of this, interestingly enough, by his own cousin.

I'm also interested in the portrayal of the "villain." He has an agenda we can understand (revenge), plus he wants to use Wakanda's technology to help break black people out of the discrimination in which they're held. On some level, we can understand his motives and he is the hero of his own story. Was it necessary for him to die?

If you know Ryan Coogler, and follow his films, such as the masterpiece FRUITVALE STATION, and the surprisingly good CREED, you’ll know that he has a bit of a love affair with Michael B. Jordan--for good reason. Jordan is a fabulous actor, and he nails one of the most sympathetic “villains” I have ever seen in a superhero film. His methods might be misguided, but you can absolutely understand his goals, and in fact, he sways the Black Panther to his point of view, in the end.
There’s a line at the end, when Killmonger says something like “Imagine that, a little boy growing up in Oakland believing in fairy tales." Understand that this is Ryan Coogler talking to the audience about his own life, and the dreams of storytellers. It’s a beautiful, tragic moment. I did kind of wish that Erik could have accepted T’Challa’s offer to heal him, but I understand the decision to let him go, as sad as it was.

The other thing that gnawed at my consciousness was that Wakanda, for all its technology, was very African (or something I accepted as African). The street scenes didn't show gleaming roads or superhighways, but sort of dirt roads and a bazaar-like feel. On the other hand, they had amazing aircraft, kind of like spaceships. And the superstrong metal, vibranium. What did you feel about Wakanda making this decision to keep its technology hidden from the outside world?

This is two subjects, kind of. I really appreciated the production design in that it did show a Wakanda, especially on the street level, in which economic inequality was starkly apparent. Even between the rancher/farmer tribe of W'Kabi, and T’Challa’s tribe’s ivory towers it was clear that some people in Wakanda did not live the same kind of life as others. It was subtle, but Nakia very clearly touches on the fact that it is her calling to take care of the underprivileged.
As for Wakanda keeping its tech hidden from the outside world, you can certainly sympathize with T’Challa’s father and the kings who came before him, but the world is indeed getting smaller, as the film points out, and this kind of tribalism is going to become a thing of the past one way or the other. I thought this was an incredibly contemporary theme, and was brilliantly portrayed in the film.

I really liked the role of strong women in this movie. And it was incredible to see so many black actors and few white. Was the CIA pilot absolutely necessary to the success of the story? What if he'd been black?

I’ve seen some articles claiming that this film is too male gazey to be properly appreciated as a social justice vehicle. I have to completely disagree. Yes, technically it was written by two men, and certainly it was directed by a man, but the real strength of this film, at least in my opinion, is all the strong women of color who quietly and with dignity learn to endure the hegemony of colonial imperialism. Yes, in the long run, T’Challa is the king, and he must see the light, but he would never be the man he became without his mother, his general, his love, and even his little sister, who was my absolute favorite.

Having Martin Freeman as the one white ally did not bother me. Films have inserted token black sidekicks for decades. Sure, he could have been black, and that would have been great too, but I didn’t have a problem with his casting. There’s a great moment when M’Baku silences him in the throne room, showing that they will make their own decisions, regardless of what the colonizers want them to think or know.

I'm sure we could have gone on and on, but this blog post is long enough already! Thanks, Matt, for being my go-to film guy. Q to everyone else: if you've seen Black Panther, what are your thoughts about any of the topics touched on above--or any others? Thanks for reading Project Mayhem!