Sunday, May 30, 2010

BACK TO BUSINESS MONDAY: Blog Themes (with massive use of parentheticals)

So, I was over at Lee Wind's fabulous The Zen of Blogging trying to soak up some of his amazing energy and great karma when I realized something that was making the old blog here fall short: I do not have a THEME (visit Lee's blog for more on this). Now, to be clear, I USED TO have a theme. That was a couple of weeks ago when I was (semi) secretly a fiction writer but most passionately (and thus I remain) a publishing professional who loves her work helping OTHER writers get their books out into the world in the best possible ways. Then, along came agent, book sale and the decision to go public with my writerliness (is THAT a word?).

For one fun, fabulous week, I blogged about the book deal excitement. Then I settled down and realized that I STILL want to talk about book marketing. I've learned a lot in my many (not giving a number here) years in the publishing industry that I hope is interesting and useful to fellow writers. I want to continue my occasional nerdy book reviews and literary observations in my THIS WEEK WE ARE READING posts. But I am also tempted to share a bit more about my own writing process and new experiences on the road to publication.

So, I wonder, will there be any value to writing a schizophrenic set of weekly posts bouncing from book biz to creative craft? Can I still call myself a writer on the side? Or am I a writer in the middle, too? And how can I blog about all that? It's kind of like the layering of plots and themes in a manuscript. As you write, you see connections, related narratives and images, ways to work with metaphor. But sometimes, it's just too much. The verse (or prose) becomes precious. It feels like you're overdoing it--trying too hard to make things connect. And readers just give up. Not exactly the plan :)

While I don't have a REAL solution, for the time being I'm going to hope that visitors here can live with my crazy (same as my husband has to). I'm going to try to settle into this posting schedule: Back-to-Business Monday, Wordy Wednesday, Fiction Friday.

Have you struggled to give your blog a distinct identity or to focus it around a theme?  How does it tie to your fiction work (or does it)?  Please, please, PLEASE share your experience and advice. I could really use it!  (Also in need of help with parenthetical addiction!)

Friday, May 28, 2010


You know how I love reading books in pairs. This week, due to heavy work deadlines, I'm sharing a few old favorites. Here are three book duets that are as fun and fascinating to read together as peanut butter and chocolate are to eat!

A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett and THE PRINCESS DIARIES by Meg Cabot: Whether a princess of wealth becomes common or a commoner discovers she's a princess, it's the strong heart of the girl underneath the scraps or silks that holds readers from cover to cover.

SHABANU: DAUGHTER OF THE WIND by Suzanne Fisher Staples and THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson (a nice teen reader edition of this book is also available): Poignant fiction and nonfiction portrayals of young Pakistani women. Staples has written two sequels to SHABANU--HAVELI and THE HOUSE OF DJINN--also great reads.

1984 by George Orwell and LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow: "Big Brother" totalitarianism explored through fiction in 1949 and 2008--fun to see the real and imagined technologies and political landscapes as depicted by two powerful thinkers and writers. And check out Doctorow's new YA title, FOR THE WIN, set in the world of Internet gaming.

Please let me know if you're interested in guest posting about a pair of favorite titles. Pick your Friday and send an email to stasiakehoe (at) msn (dot) com.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Business of Children's Books - Putting Your Appearance Plan in Writing

I could write an entire book of funny (and sometimes not-so-funny) stories about school visit surprises.  You know, the cute ones where the kids make an entire luncheon menu based on themes from an author's book (esp. funny when vegetarian author is faced with bologna rolls!) or where an illustrator is greeted at the door by a giant mural painted by students--and less-cute scenarios where the author shows up on the appointed day only to discover the teacher who arranged the visit had her baby early and no one else knew he'd be coming.  Be they good or bad, fewer surprises (for the author and the host) tend to result in better, happier appearances and increase the possibility of an invitation to return.

To minimize surprises and optimize outcomes, put the following in writing:

Once you've agreed, via email or phone, to appear at a school or library, formal confirmation should be sent. This can come directly from you or from your publisher but should include the following:

1. Date on which you are sending/confirming this appearance AND date of appearance.
2. Exact address of the venue at which you will be appearing along with phone/fax/email if possible--a good way to make sure you've got this all on file.
3. Contact information for the person with whom you arranged this visit (including their title or relationship to the host venue AND home number, cell phone number, etc., in case they are volunteer or part time).
4. A rough itinerary for your visit.  Include arrival/departure dates, length of presentations, and ages/sizes of groups you will be addressing.  Note if you'll participate in a book signing, luncheon, and anything else you have discussed with the host regarding the shape of your day.
5. Your honorarium and fees should be clarified as $X per day (X # days, if appropriate) = $XX PLUS travel and expenses (or note FLAT FEE if applicable).  Also note any specifics, such as whether host will provide local transportation and who will make travel arrangements, if this has been determined.
6. Complete contact information for yourself, including mailing address, email and phone number.  Many schools will have district paperwork they will need to send to you for completion.
7. Notes for the host. Here are a few stipulations I like to make:
--Please contact the author upon receipt of this confirmation.
--Payment is due on the day of the appearance.
--Please be sure to have a faculty member or volunteer available to assist the author on the day of the appearance.
--Please be sure that teachers remain with their classes during author presentations.
--If you plan to order books, please be sure to begin this process at least eight weeks before author visit.

Whether sending via email or snail mail, here are some things you may want to include in your cover:
1. RESTATE the appearance date, time and venue.
2. Provide LINKS to your website, publisher, and book order resources.
3. Explain the NEXT STEPS.  This varies by author.  Let them know if you'll be in touch or whether they should call you to work out final presentation details.  Do you provide a reading guide, discussion questions, or tips for teachers preparing students for your visit?  Briefly explain such resources.

Once you've created standard confirmation and cover letters, adapting them for each appearance is fairly simple.  The documents can then be used as the basis for organizing your appearance program: Print out a copy of each letter and store it in an "Appearance Binder" with a calendar at the front.  After each visit, make a few notes about the school (were they well-prepared? were you happy with your presentation?  was the venue hard to find?  would you recommend this school to other authors?) on the confirmation documents and set follow-up dates (thank-you note to host, newsletter addition, fall check-in for possible second visit) for that school on the calendar.

Like blogging, good appearance program management can take some time but it can help avoid a lot of stress and confusion later on.  A memorable presentation--one that engages and inspires students--should be the first and most important focus of your appearance plans.  But carrying your professionalism into the time before and after your actual appearance is something that educators and librarians will not forget either!

Monday, May 24, 2010


Sometimes it's hard to warm up to Mondays.  My solution?  Do a little redecorating here at the blog (see nice, new broken-out blog lists?), eat two pieces of chocolate-dipped marzipan before lunch, and spend a bit too much time perusing the Armchair BEA blog (recommended if you, like me, can't be in NYC for Book Expo America in person this week). 

After that, I was ready for a few hours of work.  Then, 2,000 words on the new ms.  You heard it! I'm in that first-romance-frenzy period where the words just pile onto the page and I can't get enough.  I'm in love with my main character and can't wait to discover how she works out all her angsty teen problems and gets to the end of the summer.  Structurally, I'm trying something new that's pretty interesting, too.

Also had a wonderful chat with my new editor today and, as a result, I've got a sense of the timetable for what comes next for AUDITION.  I am so excited to work on revising that book and so, not only am I racing through the new story but I have AUDITION revisions to look forward to--kind of an awesome summer plan (better than, say, a trip to Hawaii for us mole-people who really prefer the keyboard to the beach).

So, there's not much literary or marketing insight here.  Just a quick update on my day.  Wondering how you warm up to the start of the week.  And sending you good Monday karma before I crack open my book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

THIS WEEK WE ARE READING...the sublimely surreal

When I went to the library this week, I grabbed two books I've been meaning to read for some time: Neil Gaiman's Newbery-winning THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (2008) and Francesca Lisa Block's 1989 debut WEETZIE BAT. Though at first they seemed an odd pairing, I discovered that (beyond both being terrific, interesting reads) the books made sense together on many levels.

Not going to overdo the synopses here (note: these aren't exactly spoilers but skip this paragraph if you don't want any hints about endings) but, in short, WEETZIE BAT is the story of a young woman who lives with her gay best friend, has a child out of wedlock, confronts AIDS and death, and winds up finding happiness in a mythic 1980s Los Angeles. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK follows Nobody Owens ("Bod") who, as a toddler, escapes being murdered with the rest of his family by wandering into a graveyard where he is raised and protected by the dead until reaching young adulthood and eagerly stepping out into the world to live his life. Neither novel shies away from challenging subject matter but instead integrates it into sublimely surreal yet urgently compelling worlds filled with death and life, grief and joy.

Names and naming are important in both novels. Gaiman's protagonist, "Nobody" is also "Bod"--the only living, embodied denizen of his graveyard home. Bod's many dead friends are identified by both name and headstone inscription (this is actually quite amusing at times) which both date and characterize them. Bod's enemy is "the man Jack." In Block's imagistic tale, Weetzie's partner is known only as "My Secret Agent Lover Man" while her own name is unique, inexplicable, a sound more than a word. Her best friend's boyfriend is a "duck" (cute guy) named Duck. One child is lovingly, tolerantly known as "Witch Baby."

Both Gaiman and Block delight in wordplay and recognize the power and importance of character names and chapter titles. Both are keenly aware of the ways prosaic structure (and, in Gaiman's case you've also got to note the elegant, organic interweaving of illustration into the book's format and design) can drive a story forward. Both create complete, absorbing yet fantastical worlds into which the reader is immersed. And both, in the end, find beauty in wounds that can't be healed and, be it Tinsel Town or a last resting place, hope in places that will never be perfect.

Read these two books as a study in structure and style and to see two master wordsmith's at work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: What makes a high-quality school visit?

After an exciting couple of weeks (thanks for all the comments, emails, and FB congrats!), it's back-to-business here at the blog. The dust is finally settling a bit (metaphorically, I mean--it's still pretty thick on the furniture around my house).  I am trying to reflect on this experience and look forward to sharing the many wonderful bits of advice writing colleagues have sent along.

Meanwhile, before the insanity began, I was excerpting portions of my SCBWI presentation on Making School & Library Appearances as Part of Your Book Promotion Platform. Today, I'll get back to this with a discussion of QUALITY.

There are several levels at which the author/illustrator can create a high-quality appearance.

1. The initial contact and dialogue with the host
2. The appearance confirmation and preparatory correspondence
3. The presentation itself
4. Post-presentation follow-up

Today will focus on the INITIAL CONTACT AND DIALOGUE WITH THE HOST. While students or community members are the ultimate audience for your presentation, a quality appearance begins with the coordinator or host (teacher, school administrator, librarian, PTA parent volunteer). For this individual, an important element of quality is an author's accessibility and responsiveness. In our age of Twitter, Facebook, multiple e-mails, phones (seem a little old-fashioned sometimes), day jobs and stolen writing time, it can be hard to manage appearance requests coming from many different directions. However, the faster you respond to an inquiry, the more likely you are to book the appearance. Make this initial contact HIGH QUALITY by:
  1. Providing a best email address or other contact information on your website and all appropriate venues. A one-click link to contact you OR to your publisher/appearance coordinator OR to direct site visitors to your AUTHOR APPEARANCE INFORMATION PAGE is ideal.
  2. Checking all of your email and other networking accounts routinely. If you do not have time for a long conversation, a quick "I'll be in touch" reply is much better than weeks of silence.
  3. Installing an auto-reply to any email address from which your answer will not be prompt to advise folks of your response time or provide an alternate contact method.
  4. Drafting a reply email with relevant information (this can be modified per request but at least you won't have to start fresh every time and are less likely to forget key details). This email should include:
  • A thanks for their appearance request and confirmation that you are scheduling school/library visits.
  • Your standard honorarium (e.g., $X/day plus travel and expenses for UP TO 3 (or 4) presentations plus book signing), perhaps noting that you need further details regarding this request before finalizing price (this is a good line to include if you are inclined to be flexible on fees).
  • The information you need from the host (exact address, email(s) and contact details; best dates for presentation; age/grade level and group size(s) you will be addressing; number of presentations, etc., they have in mind).
  • Links to your website, educational materials (such as reading guides or presentation descriptions), etc., so that you continue to show the value of your appearance program in the time between first contact and confirmation.
  • An explanation of what happens next (e.g., "As soon as I receive this information I will contact you to see if we can get this on the calendar.").
ONCE this conversation yields an agreed-upon presentation date, fee, and rough itinerary, the next step in ensuring a high-quality appearance is your confirmation and subsequent correspondence with your host. This will be the subject my next "Book Business" post.

Meanwhile, wishing you a happy week ahead.

Friday, May 14, 2010


You heard it. Mo Willems adapted his fantabulous picture book himself and it's onstage now at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Check out the great Washington Post review.

For decades, the Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences has been producing wonderful shows, including stage adaptations of many literary works, both through seasonal programming and their daring New Visions, New Voices festival which is only a week away!

As someone who writes novels set in the world of the performing arts, I delight in seeing such cross-disciplinary explorations: Creating movement with words; acting out illustrations; expanding narrative with songs; using text to reflect jazz rhythms; dramatizing a book like KNUFFLE BUNNY with its pre-verbal protagonist; and showing how stories can live in so many ways.

In my own work, I have found playwriting classes to be very useful in helping me refine dialogue in prose pieces. Reading aloud, giving the words sound and performance quality, is an essential part of my revision process.  It is also a key element for many good author appearances, drawing in kids who may have struggled to connect with the words on the page. Some authors with whom I work even provide a mini "script" for school appearances so that educators can better prepare their students and get excited for the fun they will be having, or bring puppets, instruments or other creative props to incorporate audiences into their presentations.

Something to consider for the weekend: What role does PERFORMANCE play in your writing process or in your approach to author appearances?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Even though it won't be in stores until June 22, I got to read the first two chapters of Holly Cupala's amazing debut novel yesterday (check out her rockin' website--lots of great swag)!  Here's how it happened:  When Holly arrived at the SCBWI meeting on Tuesday night, she had just received some copies of the 17-page "sneak preview" of TELL ME A SECRET from her publisher and I snagged one (check out cute pic of me and Holly with the bookie). Reading it was the carrot I dangled in front of myself as I was trying to reach my 1,500 word goal for the day (don't always set the bar that high but I was feeling energetic). Alas, I only finished my pages in time to head out to pick up four boys from three different schools and haul them all to a two-hour track meet :)

I'll admit, I didn't actually see my third-grader run the relay because, leaning against the chain link fence at the edge of the track, I was already swept up in the opening pages of TELL ME A SECRET. I did catch him in the 75 yard dash because I raced through those two chapters more breathless than the runners on the field and, frankly, frustrated that the rest of the book wasn't in my hands right that moment. With rich, evocative language and a heartbreakingly vulnerable protagonist, this title is going right onto my summer must-read list!

Next post, on Friday, will be about School & Library author visits.  Promise!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Last night, the amazing Karen Cushman took the evening off from her hectic Alchemy and Meggy Swann book tour to speak at the year-end SCBWI Western Washington monthly meeting. Her talk was entitled "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." She discussed writing her first book at age 50 and her desire to give readers positive stories. She told us that writing was "giving power to your thoughts." And she generously described not only her writing process but her feeling that each writer must take the license to write in the way that works best himself or herself.

Best things about last night?

*I had the pleasure of meeting many blogger and Facebook friends (some for the first time in person) including the charming Molly Hall and that dynamo known as Holly Cupala (more on that tomorrow).

*I got my very own autographed copy of Meggy Swann and was able to actually tell THE Karen Cushman that I'd just sold my first novel (braggy but oh-so-fun!)--she offered her congrats.

*I drove home loving the community of writers to which I belong and oh so inspired. Today, right after posting this, I am gifting myself with a giant chunk of offline, uninterrupted writing time. Woo-hoo.

Tune in tomorrow for a SECRET... (curious?)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Okay, so how to follow up on a post like yesterday's deal announcement? (Links for agent-seekers at the bottom)

Until now, I've been blogging mostly about promoting the work of other writers. For fifteen years (please don't do the math on my age), I have freelanced for children's trade book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Random House, Tor Books, and HarperCollins, writing reading guides and jacket copy, attending conferences, and scheduling author appearances. It has been my joy and privilege to celebrate and promote other authors--to help them get their stories out into the world. I have discovered many great books and made wonderful friends. Meanwhile, I admit, I've been rather quiet about my own fiction. In fact, most of the authors, editors and other publishing folk with whom I work by day do not know about my writing life.

So, now my secret is out and I sit here at the computer (and, according to the illustration at left, now blonde instead of brunette) looking at the post I was about to publish concerning optimizing the quality of school/library author appearances. I will share this information soon (I think it's very interesting) but in my heart I know that yesterday's BOOK DEAL (still like putting that in all caps!) has already changed my approach to this blog. The outpouring of cheers and encouragement from friends in the writing community has been amazing and wonderful, and I look forward to your company as I continue down the road to publication. I am going to have to get used to being on both sides of the publishing fence and, despite my natural New England reserve, try to share a bit more about myself as writer and not just a writer-on-the-side.

I'll close here with a couple of links for readers in the agent-seeking phase. For about six months before I found the courage to query any agents, I had been keeping an agent "wish list" which I refined with, among other things, information from these great blogs:

Finally, before my new-blog-perspective panic attack completely overtook me this morning, I found some calming comfort and good advice at Yen Cheong's awesome Book Publicity Blog.

Check 'em out! Cheers! Stasia

Monday, May 10, 2010


As you've probably guessed from the title, my husband brought home these roses on Friday in celebration of my BOOK DEAL. (Happy to report there were also chocolates and dinner out with the kids for Mother's Day.)

So, here's the short form (and it really is short). After signing with my agent, the amazing Catherine Drayton about ten days ago, she turned around and sold my YA verse novel, AUDITION, not just to a fantastic imprint, Viking, but to an editor with whom I am incredibly excited to work. It was pretty hilarious really, since she called to discuss the good news while I was chaperoning a third grade field trip and I could barely make out every other word through the school-bus-chatter din. I must also mention here that she lives in Australia so I can't even imagine what time of day or night she was working on my behalf but I will say to those of you on the fence about signing with a great agent just because they aren't in NYC that this does not appear to be a problem :) 

I've got to admit, I feel a bit like Cinderella. I'm not sure I've really processed it all yet (totally get how Cinderella could have lost that slipper--in the past week I've lost my car keys at least once a day). But, at this point, I am just thrilled to have met some of Catherine's other clients: The dynamic duo of Lisa and Laura Roecker and the delightful Becca Fitzpatrick who were instantly supportive and encouraging. I have become even more grateful for the generosity and support of my SCBWI Western Washington friends and colleagues (some of them AUDITION beta readers) as I struggled to find the courage to submit my manuscript and then to choose my agent--honestly, SCBWI rocks!

The very best thing about selling my manuscript, though, is it feels like I have a new license to write. All of those stolen writer-on-the-side hours creating this manuscript can be remembered with a little less guilt. And I just want to write more and more and more.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Next week is Children's Book Week!

Just finished writing the reading guide for a cool new middle grade series with some fun regional history elements.  Perfect timing too, as I'm getting ready to chaperone a third grade field trip to a history museum today.  Got my peanut butter sandwich packed already.  I love spending the day with gradeschoolers on a special trip, listening to their lunch table conversations and the hilarious observations that are sometimes very different than the responses for which teachers had been hoping from a given exhibit.  These moments are gifts to writers of children's books.  Before I head out the door, I did want to remind you that next week is the Children's Book Council's annual Children's Book Week.  Check out their website for all kinds of interesting events and, especially, the announcement of the Children's Choice book awards.  Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Okay, I confess, I am an uber-book-nerd. When I decided to read WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan, I could not resist making this choice into a literature course by picking up NICK & NORA'S INFINITE PLAYLIST by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan as well.

There are so many reasons to read these books together: Two examples of David Levithan co-writing with other awesome YA authors. Two books structured in alternating chapters from two points-of-view. Two books packed with edgy dialogue in which characters journey across richly depicted music-scene landscapes and through virtual universes which can yield as much real joy and heartbreak as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. In sum, two very in-the-moment, in-our-time novels.

I started with NICK & NORA, mostly because my secretary (suffering from an ear infection) seemed to perfectly embody Nick at the start of the story (though the heartbreaking/heartbroken cone around Nick's neck would certainly be metaphorical). (And, oh, come on, I had to post this pic!) The language in this novel is so stylized, so sharp, that it took me awhile to get into the book's rhythm. But the characters were so compelling, their heartbreaks and insecurities so intensely portrayed, that I had to follow. WILL GRAYSON was easier for me to begin, perhaps because I'd just finished NICK & NORA or maybe because this story begins with the unforgettable Tiny and the description of an endearing friendship.

The thing that works most for me in both novels was the way the structure enriches the ideas being explored. In both books, the dual teenage protagonists are defined by other people and things--music choices, the people who dumped them, the friendships they've managed to hold onto. It seems to me this is a critical experience of teen life--identifying yourself by the group to which you belong, or the activities in which you choose to participate, without necessarily stopping to reflect deeply on the role you play in these dynamics (which can lead to some challenging situations).

The binary structure of both of the novels allows readers to see one narrative as a foil for the other and to choose which character, which narrator, most closely represents their own identity and situation. In this way the reader, along with the protagonists, is defining himself or herself in terms of what they see outside, or on the page. While each novel plays out in its own unique way, both are journeys in which the characters ultimately make a connection with a person who enables them to look inward with honesty and, as a result, to become a little more themselves.

To analyze these books in depth would be a very long term paper indeed. I could probably do five pages on the significance of the titles alone (maybe that's why I love writing reading guides). Today, however, I'll conclude with recommending these two titles as must-read YAs.

Do you have any books that you recommend reading as a pair? Please let me know as I can never get enough term paper assignments :)