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Spring 2012 

The Mitten

Dear MichKids,  


It's late March as I write this, and an early spring sprouts and blooms outside of my office window. This newsletter is bursting too, thanks to everyone who contributed articles, interviews, poems, and art. Hugs and Hurrahs submissions have flowed steadily into my inbox for weeks, and I'm getting swept up in all this wonderful energy.

When I first joined SCBWI, I was stunned to hear, repeatedly, that the average time it takes to get published is ten years. When I signed with an agent a few years later, I thought I was one of the lucky ones ahead of the curve. Not so much. That's when I learned how common it was for an agent to be unable to sell your first book, or your second, or even your third.

My tenth year is near, my third novel is in progress, and that elusive publishing goal is dangling ahead of me. Sure, I've had success along the way to keep me motivated -- contest wins, articles and short stories published. There's even some of my own good news in the Hugs and Hurrahs this month.

But mostly, what's kept me going is the support of my writing friends. Some of them have found agents, others have books coming out, and I'm so thankful to be learning from them, to have their footsteps to follow, even if we're taking different paths.

During a listserv discussion this past winter, several members proclaimed 2012 as the Year of Possibilities. I'm on board, and from the size of our Hugs and Hurrahs section this month, you are too.

The former Mitten editor, Jennifer Whistler, is off on her grand European adventure, but she's still holding our hands overseas. Jennifer's shoes are so big to fill, I'm relieved to have Jodie Fletcher as my co-editor partner. Read on to learn more about Jodie, upcoming SCBWI-MI events, and the many contributions from our members.

Happy spring,

Kristin Lenz



Dear MichKids,


My boss recently told me that "confessions" are one of her pet peeves, so I should remove them from my writing. I really like confessions, and I'm afraid you all are about to bear the brunt of this. 


So, here goes. First confession: My name is Jodie Fletcher and I'm a recovering newspaper reporter. It's been nearly five months since I last put a paper to bed. 


(Insert you all chorusing, "Hi Jodie.") 


Next confession: I left my underpaid, overworked job and sold my soul to public relations in exchange for much better pay and a third of the hours.  


"I'm still writing," I tell myself during the pep talk I give myself each of the three days a week I go into the office. "And it's for a good cause." It's true, too. I work for a community action agency that serves Manistee, Mason, Lake and Newaygo counties, so what I do raises awareness for the good works of the agency and the boss that doesn't like confessions is quite an inspiration -- someone who has spent her life doing everything she can to help low-income families. 


Third confession: I miss working at a newspaper. Being a reporter is a defining experience. It's not just a job, it's an identity and I have to admit that I've been a little lost without it. But this new life I'm somewhat struggling to adjust to is giving me the opportunity to focus on writing fiction and provides me the time to do things like co-edit The Mitten. 


Final confession: Oh God, this is the one I really hate to admit ... I'm stymied. I've found myself doing all the homework I need to do, revising the holy hell out of my manuscript and stopping just short of hitting send on the query. It's an early chapter book, which puts it in that strange no-man's land between picture books and middle grade.  


Despite the fact that many agents and editors at the New York conference in January said this is a very desirable portion of the market, it's difficult to find anyone who is actually looking for early chapter books. I'm going to put it out there, though, because I still believe in it and I'm making a promise to myself here in front of you all: I will get over my paralysis before I click on the button that will transmit this to the world. 


I wish I was Catholic, because now that I've started confessing, I can't seem to stop. I'm not sure if you all out there in MichKidsland can offer me absolution, but it's really helped to get this off my chest, so thank you. 


I'm excited to be getting more involved with the Michigan chapter, and I hope to meet many of you in Grand Rapids on May 12!    


Jodie Fletcher


In This Issue
Lessons from an indie writer
Author Interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw
Updated Authors and Illustrators list up now
Critique Corner
Does an MFA give a publishing advantage?
An author in New York
We the Illustration People
Save the date for SHINE 2
2013 Illustrator Mentorship
Hugs and Hurrahs
Writing for state assessments
Quick Links

 Volunteer Coordinator:

Monica Harris





Spring Conference

"The Sky Is Falling" 

May 12, 2012

Calvin College



June 23, 2012

The Library of Michigan, Lansing


Dog Mugshots 

By Nancy Walker 



Kiddie Litter by Neal Levin
Nan Willard Cappo
From New York Published to Indie: Lessons Learned

By Nan Willard Cappo

Editor's Note: Nan Cappo of Farmington has been a long-time member of SCBWI-MI. Her first novel CHEATING LESSONS (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum 2002, 2003) earned a starred Horn Book review, Jr. Library Guild selection, ALA Popular Paperback for YA, and an Edgar Award nomination for Best YA Mystery. Her latest book is UNACCOUNTED FOR, published November 2011 by Tadmar Press. We asked her to describe differences between being conventionally published and going independent.

Nan, why did you switch from traditional publishing to the new world of self-publishing?

I went indie out of sheer frustration. Though my agent loved UNACCOUNTED FOR, the YA editors in NY said, "We don't know how to sell this."

UNACCOUNTED FOR is a mystery about a wholesome, family-oriented 18-year-old investigating his father's suspicious death at a Michigan fire-engine plant. A coming-of-age book with a conscience. Unfortunately, it had no werewolves or zombies, and the dead people stayed dead -- no tale-telling from the grave. YA editors couldn't categorize it; bookstores wouldn't know where to shelve it.  

This infuriated me. Finally, I asked my agent if she could think of any reason I shouldn't just publish the book myself. She said ... no. Ouch. I decided to do it. I'd earn a much bigger royalty than I'd earn with a standard contract, I'd retain all rights, and have complete control of my material. How hard could it be?

How hard HAS it been?

Not hard - but complex. And everything takes five times longer than you expect. I had underestimated how much a publisher like S&S does for an author.

Take editing. On CHEATING LESSONS, the editor and I used phone and mail to discuss revisions and shape the final version. With UNACCOUNTED FOR I used "beta readers" -- friends and relatives willing to read my draft and make comments and corrections, for free.

Still, none was a professional editor and that made me nervous. Unlike most indie writers, I have the experience to know what professional is. And people still assume that if a book's not from a conventional publisher then it must be crap. Alas, that's often true. So you try to avoid anything that smacks of "self-published." No typos, grammatical or format mistakes, no editing howlers.

I formed Tadmar Press so that the author and publisher would have different names. I used to hire professional editors, proof-readers, and cover designers. (The talent there is from all over the world, and affordable. A tremendous resource.)

For a print-on-demand printer I chose Amazon's CreateSpace -- the royalty is good and their author support is wonderful. I sell the book at Smashwords and its retail outlets; Amazon; and Barnes & Noble. Libraries can order the print copy through Brodart, Amazon, or Ingrams. Bookstores can special-order it from Amazon, but except for a few in Michigan, most don't. Most of my sales are Kindle copies.

What about marketing?  How do people hear about your book?

That's where I most miscalculated. CHEATING LESSONS has sold 42,000 copies. Simon & Schuster sent out 400 ARCs (advanced review copies), and it was reviewed in School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, Kirkus, Teen People and Teacher, etc. But the indie writer can't get reviewed in any of these. (Kirkus Indie will let you buy a review. They're about the only ones.) 

So while I earn four times the profit on each copy of UNACCOUNTED FOR, I don't sell nearly as many. Without professional reviews I can't reach libraries or schools, either. The "names" you hear about who've made millions going self-published? They're out there, but they're rare. And they appeal to different readers than my stuff does. (At least, they don't appeal much to me -- I've checked them out.)
I was so intent on getting the book out, I ignored the experts' advice to begin marketing months in advance. Don't make this mistake!

I was also trying to quit my day job and move to Pittsburgh -- a busy time. Besides, wasn't the fact that I'd revised and polished the book as best I could the really important thing? Well, no. Marketing counts more.

Luckily, while a conventionally-published book has perhaps a year to make its mark in a physical bookstore, an ebook or POD title can live on the Internet for years -- it can start slow and add momentum. That's my current plan.

Some tactics I've used so far (some free, some paid):

  • Emails to librarians, with free ebook coupon.
  • Sold books at a MAME conference.
  • Bought a review from Kirkus Indie.
  • Made a book trailer, posted it at YouTube, my site, etc. (This was fun.)
  • Sent out a press release.
  • Did an ebook giveaway on Library
  • Used and Bookrooster, to expose the book to "professional readers" who are supposed to then write reviews.
  • E-mailed bloggers for reviews. (All YA devotees are NOT the same - the NY editors were right about my book being tough to categorize. It's not for Twilight fans.)
  • Joined Goodreads; bought an ad that shows to targeted readers.
  • Reviews. Supposedly 25 Amazon reviews is a good number to shoot for. You want some two- and three-star reviews mixed in with the fours and fives to convince buyers it's not just your relatives and friends posting. (Though I tried that, too - thanks, sis.)  The book has 11 reviews so far.
  • Social media. Just joined Facebook recently. Simon & Schuster runs tutorials to help their authors promote their own books. I love that they're helping me sell my indie book!
  • Kindle Direct Publishing Select program - jury still out
What I've learned? 

That an indie writer must be a businessperson as well as an artist. That no one cares as much about your sales as you do. And it's not enough to write good books! (It might be enough to write great books, but I'm not there yet ...)

What comes next?

I'm writing a sequel to UNACCOUNTED FOR. I might submit it to conventional publishers -- it will depend how many sales I've made by then. I do like all the new options writers have. Writers who work hard at their craft and their business now have more power and control over their work. Which is good!

* * *

E-mail Nan at:
View the book trailer for UNACCOUNTED FOR at:  
And feel free to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads!!
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Author Interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw

By Natalie Aguirre


Editor's Note: Natalie Aguirre shared an excerpt of her interview with author and illustrator, Ruth McNally Barshaw. To read the full interview, go to:

Ruth has four books published in the ELLIE MCDOODLE middle grade series. Her most recent book, ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, was released on April 10. Ellie is such an endearing character with a great middle grader voice who gets herself in messes, and Ruth's illustrations add so much to the stories.

Hi Ruth. Thanks so much for joining us. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

You're welcome, and thank you, Natalie!

I grew up in a huge, brilliant, creative family in the Detroit area. I liked to draw and write as a kid and hoped to be a cartoonist when I grew up but couldn't figure out how to get into the business. I settled for "commercial artist" instead but didn't know what it meant (art for business promotion).

I went away to college, studied advertising and psychology, and met my husband, Charlie, there, and we settled there and raised a family -- four of the best kids in the world. They're ages 14 through 28 right now.

Charlie was a writer, I was an illustrator, and we collaborated on lots of neat projects including my daily comic strip in the school newspaper, mini books and a few editions of a satirical newspaper. Then he got into retail management and out of writing. I worked for the university.

Eventually I quit my job to work out of my house. I wanted a family audience for my cartoony art. By the fall of 2002 I'd failed as a cartoonist (two different syndicates said I was "in" then dropped me), rubber stamp artist (they wanted me to change my style), portrait artist (underpaid), T-shirt artist (underpaid), graphic designer (bored, underpaid), essay writer (won six national essay contests in a row, lost the next six) ...

Writing and illustrating kids' books was sort of my last hope. Ironically, I'd considered doing kids' books in 1985 and again in 1992, but abandoned the idea because I was too busy. In 2002 I was still busy, but the time was right. I entered a picture book competition run by Simon & Schuster. Lost the contest, but loved the work. So I wrote and illustrated more books. It took me two more years to learn this business: I worked full time without a paycheck. It was painful. But eventually it paid off. In 2005 my first book sold, ELLIE MCDOODLE: HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL.

That's awesome that you and Charlie collaborated. And I know he's getting back into writing again too. You've certainly tried a lot of different ways to make money from your art. How did you come up with the first Ellie McDoodle story and what have been the challenges as you continued it as a series?

The first book was inspired by camp when I was a kid. By age 12 I'd gone to family camp, day camp, overnight camp with my cousin, Girl Scout camp, cabin camping, tent camping, trailer camping, private campgrounds, state parks, pit toilets, ice cold showers, fishing, frogging, skunks, raccoons, mosquitoes, making friends, losing friends -- plenty of material for a book.

I started the book as a lark. I intended to show my writer friends that I didn't have what it took to create a cartoony book for kids. I was sure it wasn't going to work out. To my utter shock, it did work -- instantly. Unlike the books I'd been doing for the past couple of years, there was no writing, then storyboarding, then drawing, then angst, then changing the writing, then changing the storyboard, then changing the drawing, ad nauseam. This just flowed from start to finish. Even the revisions were great fun, like a puzzle to be solved.

The series challenges are formidable: Book 2 was scariest to write. Suddenly I was concerned with improving on the previous book and pleasing the readers, librarians, reviewers, my family, my publisher ... Eventually I realized I needed to just write for myself.

Time is always a challenge for me. And quieting the demons in my head is an ongoing battle. They tell me my work stinks, and it'll always stink...

I think most authors can relate to the Book 2 pressures. Ellie is such a likeable character, but she always seems to get in trouble. I was worried for her the whole time while I read BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER. How did you develop her as a character and pick the problems she must face?

Trouble is what makes a book fun to read. Resolved trouble is what makes it fun to remember. I like putting Ellie in trouble, and having her resolve it in a satisfying and unexpected way.

Ellie grew out of me and my kids. I'm always getting into trouble, like Ellie, and I always have a sketch journal handy. But Ellie is still fresh to me -- I don't know her completely, yet. Maybe when I figure her out all the way, her stories will be done. Her problems are specific and quirky and weird, but they're also universal. We all at some point strive to be understood, to make new friends, to make good choices. I try to keep her relevant to today's kids, but I think if I'd read an Ellie book when I was 10, I'd have liked it a lot.

You illustrate as well as write your stories. What's your writing/illustrating process? Do the pictures come first or the plot and words? How much more time does it take you write a book because you're illustrating them too?

Book 1 came out as writing and art at the same time, page by page. Book 2 was the same but took less time. Book 3 was writing and art together, then revised writing, then revising art. Book 4 was writing first and then the art. At the beginning the art took as long to do as the writing. Now the art comes much faster.

The concept for a book comes to me in illustrated vignettes of joy and frustration on a subject I'd like to explore deeply. I'll spend half a year gathering ideas and playing with themes while finishing another project. Then two months seriously brainstorming and thinking and researching and outlining. Three months writing. A month illustrating. A month rewriting and redrawing. Mash it all together, mix it up a bit, add or take away time, and that's my process.

It takes a year to produce a book but not all that time is writing or drawing. There's off-time. And there's double-time. Once my head is in a project it's pretty firmly implanted and it gets difficult to think about much else.

So interesting to see the process since you have both jobs for your books. Your agent is Erin Murphy. Tell us how she became your agent and about your road to publication.

I'm lucky to be with Erin and EMLA (Erin Murphy Literary Agency). She has many seriously impressive people working with her. I've formed deep friendships with many of them, and they've taught me a lot about craft, marketing, and life.

Erin found me back in February, 2005. One of her writers, Susan Vaught (STORMWITCH, TRIGGER, MY BIG FAT MANIFESTO) sent Erin to my website to read a conference sketchbook I'd just uploaded. I was halfway through writing the first Ellie book, on a dare, really, and Erin asked to see it when it was ready, if I was considering representation.

Susan knew about my sketchbook and that I was trying to create a book in that sketchbook style, because it'd become a discussion thread in the huge Children's Writers group in Yahoo groups, where I chatted and Susan lurked. The whole Ellie McDoodle creation process played out online. Without the Internet, without a website, without that fabulous writer/illustrator community, I'd have no books.


For Ruth's marketing advice and what she's working on now, read the rest of the interview at: You can also enter to win signed copies of
ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, but hurry, the contest ends May 5.

You can find Ruth at her blog: and website:

Natalie Aguirre is an attorney by day and an aspiring middle grade and YA fantasy writer. She hopes to start querying her first book that's taken her nine years to write this year.
Check Out the Updated Authors and Illustrators List!
Artwork by Lucy Ingles

The new, updated Michigan Authors and Illustrators list is now available on
the chapter website:
see how many fantastic, amazing people from our state have created all sorts
of works for all sorts of kids!

Remember, we also have our new and forthcoming books list, with the latest
books produced by Michigan members. It will be updated soon, so if you have
PAL status and a book published between April 2011 and July 2012, send your info to our
webmistress, Diane Telgen at:

Critique Corner - Statewide Success Stories 

By Anita Fitch Pazner


The first March Critique Meet proved to be a huge statewide success spawning numerous on-going critique groups. I attended the Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills Meets and enjoyed them both very much. Since writing and illustrating are such solitary environments, getting into and maintaining a supportive critique group is priceless.
This group gathered in Lansing for one of the many critique meets held statewide in March.

Once in a group, communication and regularity is key. Kathleen Eiken who attended the Ann Arbor meet came from the Capital District chapter of SCBWI in upstate New York. Her former chapter met on the last Monday of each month. They even went so far as to host speakers every other month to discuss the business of writing.


Many more of our March Critique Meet groups are planning their next meeting and are simply communicating through e-mail. Others have decided to try Googledocs, and Nina Wolpe's Interlochen group will soon have their own website and e-mail addresses designed by group member, Heather Brady. I can't wait to check that out. I sure hope they let me.


Bloomfield Hills group member, Jennifer Byrnes, solicited some advice from our list-serv members. Here are some of their responses:


Janet Heller:
My advice would be that the group needs to have at least one person who has already published something. This person can answer basic questions about "how to" issues. The group also needs to give constructive criticism, not rants. But the criticism should be honest and tough. Finally, the group members need to make an effort to come to meetings prepared to discuss all manuscripts in detail.

Sandy Carlson:
In face-to-face groups, I've experienced several ways to run the group. One was where each had a chance to read (up to 10 minutes), and then sit "in the hotseat" as the others commented about it. Another one was a manuscript exchange, where we then silently read and critiqued for 90 minutes, handed the manuscripts back, chatted a bit and then departed.

Ann Finkelstein:
I'm a member of the World's Greatest Critique Group. (That's our name.) Over the years, I've learned a lot about critiquing. Here are my thoughts. Some of them may work for you.
  • Be honest. Telling someone their submission is great when it's not is neither kind nor polite.
  • Be constructive. Telling someone to put their manuscript in a drawer is not helpful. Not every manuscript can be published, but every manuscript can be improved. The writer can learn by improving it.
  • Writing and critiquing are different skills. Both have to be developed.
  • For face-to-face groups, have a person who isn't the writer read the submission out loud. The writer should, of course, listen for awkward phrasing. More importantly, the writer should watch the reactions of the other members of the group. It's a great way to judge if the emotions the writer wished to communicate are working.
  • Do your homework. If submissions are sent in advance, read them and think hard about them.
  • Say what works and doesn't work, even if you can't figure out how to make a helpful revision suggestion.
  • The critique is about the manuscript, not the person who is critiquing. I love it when critique members compliment my idea, but the bottom line is improving the manuscript.
  • In the end, the writer has to judge critique suggestions for him or herself.
The critique corner will be an on-going column dedicated to navigating a successful critique group. If you have any feedback or questions you would like addressed please contact Anita Pazner at

Happy Critiquing!
Master of the Fine Art of Writing
By Kristin Lenz

Does an MFA give you a publishing advantage? It's a common question addressed to editors at conferences, and one that many writers consider. There are plenty of other ways to improve your craft, but for some writers, an advanced degree is the logical next step for their career. I interviewed SCBWI-MI member, Laura Handy, who completed her master's degree in Children's Literature last year.

Laura Handy 
Tell us about your decision to pursue a master's program and why/how you chose that particular program.

I'd been thinking about an MFA program for a while, but it was a heart-to-heart with an agent during a critique at an LA-SCBWI conference that convinced me. I loved the program at Hollins University -- but realized as awesome as it was I couldn't make it work. My husband is both a commercial and a National Guard pilot which means, most of the time, I am the sole parent at home with my three kids. Trying to finagle writing conferences is difficult enough, but a low-residency every summer? No.

So I started looking closer to home. A wonderful YA author and MFA professor (who shall remain nameless as a professional courtesy) told me don't even bother trying U of M's MFA program if my intention is to only write for children. Children's fiction is banned from the workshops, as is genre fiction. This person recommended I talk to Eastern Michigan University's Children's Lit department because there were bound to be other writers there and maybe their MFA program was more accepting of this type of writing.

While I was told that some workshop instructors may not allow genre or children's writing at EMU, I was also told that I could very easily create a program at EMU that would achieve my goal. I could either a) take writing courses as electives while working towards my MA in Children's Literature, or b) take children's literature courses as electives while working towards my MFA in Creative Writing. After some deliberation, I chose option A because the courses offered by EMU's Children's Lit department closely resembled those offered at Hollins. I knew coupling those courses with writing workshops would teach me to be a better, more critical writer -- even if it meant writing "adult" stuff (which I found most of the time my YA stuff was very similar to the "adult" stuff of my classmates anyway).  So, while my degree is an MA in Children's Literature rather than an MFA in Writing for Children, I still feel I achieved exactly what I needed.

How did you benefit from this program/how did it advance your writing career?

My BA was in English with an emphasis in writing, so I was no stranger to taking writing workshops and analytically reading literary texts. On top of that, I'd been seriously working at making writing a career -- writing regularly, reading in my genre, attending writing conferences, participating in a critique group, etc., -- for five years before deciding on graduate school. But when I started taking analytical classes specific to the genre I was trying to write, exploring the history of that genre, etc. I really started to see writing for young adults in a new way. I was able to apply those approaches and elements to my own writing. I began paying attention to the rhythms, the use of words, the assumptions the reader makes, etc. It allowed me to step back, separate myself from my story and look at it for what it was -- a young adult text.

What were your favorite/least favorite/most challenging aspects of the program?

I really didn't have a least favorite, but learning critical approaches is always a toughie! My biggest challenge, though, was juggling full-time school and full-time parenting -- especially the second year when I received a graduate assistantship. Although it was paying for my school plus a little extra, I was working all day, running home to the kids, and then returning two or three nights a week for a three-hour class. That was tough.

Describe a challenging, surprising, or inspirational moment or assignment.

I wrote an analytical paper called Bodies Betrayed: Abjection and Subjectivity in Speak and Blood and Chocolate (I know right?) that my professor wanted me to enter into the graduate research fair. I was reluctant because, even though I used to teach, getting in front of peers to present terrifies me. But I did it -- and I won one of the $250 prizes given for the best research paper/project, which made the pool of perspiration and total freak out worth it.

Congratulations!  What are some considerations for others who may be thinking about this path?

You have to know what type of writer you want to be and look at the programs available. If you are a parent, you also have to consider money and parenting and what you can afford on both fronts. Every situation is different and every student and writer is different.


For more info. about the Children's Literature programs at EMU, go here:

Laura's debut young adult novel, BLIND SPOT, will be released by Harcourt in October 2012.  Learn more at:
Nibbling the Big Apple
By Kelly A. Barson
Kelly A. Barson

Last September, as the magic that is an SCBWI-MI conference swirled with the wonder that is Mackinac Island, I heard the call. Actually, it was an announcement, but "call" feels more mysterious, doesn't it? Shutta Crum generously offered a scholarship to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York!

New York! I've heard about those conferences. Tons of editors and agents. The glitz. The glamour. Who wouldn't want to go?

Since I'd signed with an agent three months prior, and she had just sold my novel a few weeks before the conference, I imagined how cool it would be to actually meet my agent and editor in person. Then I reigned in my thoughts. What were the chances that I'd actually win? And if I did, could I afford everything else: the plane, the hotel, and the other miscellaneous expenses? I decided to enter anyway, even if it were a longshot. I'd figure it all out if I won.

I soon heard another call. This time it was Monica, and she used the phone. Not so mysterious, but quite practical. I won! All I had to do was sign up, pay, and send her the receipt. She'd reimburse right away. Yay! I squealed. I happy danced. I posted on Facebook.

Then it hit me. I didn't have the money to actually get to New York, let alone actually stay there.

I whined to my mother. She said, "Your father has frequent flyer miles. Go ahead, use them." So I did.

I contacted writing friends who'd offered, "If you're ever in the City..." and said, "Guess what? I'm coming to the City!" My dear friend Kate emailed back, "You're staying with me. We'll go to the conference together. In fact, stay longer. See people. See some sights." Another said, "I'll pick you up at the airport. We'll have lunch."

Everything fell into place, and off I flew to New York -- on the same plane with several members of Michkids' famous ad-com team, no less. Dreams really do come true!

The first day, I was set to meet my agent and a friend/agent-sibling for lunch. Despite my getting drenched in a freak rainstorm an hour before, lunch was wonderful. We went to The Farm on Adderly, a trendy café on busy Cortelyou Street, which was very different from what my Michigan sensibilities expected based on the restaurant's name.

The conference speakers were great. Chris Crutcher had the entire ballroom mesmerized. He shared real-life stories and how they shaped his writing. He explained how he didn't mine the actual facts as much as the underlying emotion. We laughed. We cried. We took copious notes.

Kathryn Erskine encouraged writers to find focus and handed out tea light candles to remind us.

Cassandra Clare talked about love triangles, and even though I don't write romance, I learned a lot about crafting complicated relationships. Henry Winkler-yes, The Fonz-made an appearance too. He now writes books for kids with Lin Oliver.

Since I'd never been to a national conference, I didn't know what to expect. Somehow I imagined it as a cross between a Broadway show and the Detroit car show. It wasn't. It was strikingly similar to our Michigan conferences, except with more people. There were more break-out sessions and more speakers, but the quality was pretty much the same. Our Michigan chapter is worth coming home for.

Overall, I had the trip of a lifetime. Visiting my editor at Viking/Penguin made me feel like a superstar. Tromping around the Big Apple made me feel like a jet-setter. Navigating public transportation (a first for me) made me feel like a country bumpkin. If it weren't for wonderful urban-dwelling friends who helped me, I might still be on the subway. But none of it would have been possible if not for the generosity of Shutta Crum and the Michigan SCBWI. Thank you!

Kelly Barson loves to visit new places, but doesn't want to live anywhere but Michigan. You can visit her at
By Lori Taylor

"Do we even have a name for our group?" I whispered to Joyce Masongsong-Ray, fellow illustrator and hostess of our March 2012 Winter Critique Day.

It was almost time to begin the afternoon of SCBWI fellowship and introduction to new folks. What I was referring to was the group that she instigated last year around the time of the SCBWI Fall 2011 Conference on Mackinac Island. A group of local Michigan SCBWI illustrators geeked about meeting and critiquing just like the writers do.

So, who are we? The illustration group, aka "Those-SCBWI-MI-Illustrators-in-Southeast-Michigan-That-Meet-Every-Six-Weeks-Yep-Them-Folks." We are growing, expanding, ever-increasing. We are up-and-coming, emerging, and budding. We're veterans, been-around-the-blockers, and returners to the drawing table. We are the Illustrators, hear us roar! And boy are we roaring with excitement over the new and sudden flurry of SCBWI illustration contests and a host of events.

More and more illustrators are making themselves known, toting their dummies, portfolios and grins, as they creep out of their lonely, dark studio corners and step into the light to things like the MichKid ListServ, Scribblers:, and this past critique event.  

How and when did this happen, this influx of artists, this gathering of Illustration Nation tribe? Was it after the inspirational Matt Faulkner Illustration Class and competition on Mackinac Island that bonding took place? Or maybe around the time Joyce held the first illustrator meeting, or when the Scribblers blog got started. I think the excitement began back at the 2011 Fall Conference with art director, Patrick Collins. All I can say is that we're glad and we're here with our gear and digital gadgets, in paint smocks and ink stains.

Our officially nameless group, the "SCBWI-MI-Illustrators-of-SEMI," meets every six weeks. We meet for laughter, critique, camaraderie, tips, news on new tools, friendship, event announcements, vital support and, of course, lunch! We've had special guests, ("Uncle" Matt Faulkner), sketching games, prizes and great vegetarian dishes served up at these group meets. As an illustrator, does this not sound like fun? Then join us! The next SEMI Illustrators are meeting here in my studio in Pinckney on Saturday, April 14 (contact me if you'd like to join in: Yikes, better plan the menu!

As for you "SCBWI-MI-Illustrators-of-the-Far-Northern-Yooper-MI-Wonderlands" and the "Along-the-Western-Shores-of-Lake-Michigan-MI-Illustrators" and the "SCBWI-MI-of-Northeaster-Thumb-o-the-Mitten-Huron-Folk," are you meeting in homes with pencils and salads in hand? Have you started your group yet? Or named it? Why wait? It's great to be a group.

Lori Taylor is a freelance artist, author/illustrator, grandmother, living in Pinckney with scaly, finned, furred, feathered and artistic friends. She is often found wandering Michigan wild places in boot and kayak to search for stories.
Artwork by Lori Taylor

The ABC's of Publishing a Children's Book 
By Steve Warner 
Artwork by Lori McElrath-Eslick

A is for Agents, I'm sending my query. 
B is for Books, which make me so cheery. 
C is for Children's, a cut-throat division. 
D is for waiting to hear their Decision. 
E is for E-mailing queries like mad. 
F is for Failing to proofread, so sad! 
G is for Great, all the stories I've written. 
H is for Hoping the agent is smitten. 
I is for Indigestion I get from declines. 
J is for Juggling submission guidelines. 
K is for Keeping my eyes on success. 
L is for Losing my mind from the stress. 
M is for Money I hope they will pay. 
N is for No which I hear every day. 
O is for Overworked, taking its toll. 
P is for Published, the ultimate goal. 
Q is for Quitting and giving up writing. 
R is for Rhyming books, always exciting. 
S is for Seuss, everybody would read him. 
T is for Tired of trying to beat him. 
U is for Unpublished and all out of balance. 
V is for Vastly misjudging my talents. 
W is for Writing with all my finesse. 
X is for eXpecting to always impress. 
Y is for Yes, someone finally replies! 
Z is for ZZZZZZZZZZZZ I can rest my tired eyes! 

Steve Warner is a writer, blogger, husband, father, based in Vicksburg, Mich. He writes rhyming stories and poems for kids.

Save the Date for SHINE 2

Saturday, June 23, 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The Library of Michigan, Downtown Lansing

SCBWI-MI is shining the spotlight on Submissions, How-to's, Inspiration and Notable Essentials for one power-packed day. Writers and illustrators will gather at one conference and breakout into two focus development sessions: craft training for writers and critique elaboration for illustrators.

Powered by a team of speakers, writers will have a better understanding of industry standards in children's publishing. Four sessions illuminate picture books while encompassing SHINE goals. The dynamics of each session develops into the next, reflecting a day of incremental learning.

Our SHINE 2 speaker line-up features:
  • Shutta Crum is an award-winning writer of books for children and poetry for adults. In addition to her 12 published books she has three forthcoming titles.
  • Rhonda Gowler Greene is an award-winning author of 21 picture books, with three forthcoming. She's published with Atheneum, Holt, Houghton Mifflin, Dutton, Walker, Scholastic, Eerdmans, and ZonderKidz.
  • Leslie Helakoski is an award-winning author of six picture books including BIG CHICKENS and WOOLBUR. She is currently illustrating her next book, UNDER THE TABLE, which will be out in 2013.
  • Vicky Lorencen is a writer and editor for a regional health system with experience as a freelance writer, reporter, college-level writing instructor and magazine editor.
This year's summer SHINE 2 will feature an exciting full-day event for our illustrators called Illustration Idol. We have put together a panel of published Michigan illustrators to facilitate an open discussion of our attendees' portfolio submissions.

Illustration Idol attendees will gain valuable feedback and insight as they listen to comments regarding their peers' work -- strengths, weaknesses, improvements, advice. As the day goes on, every attendee will get their very own "15 minutes" with the panelists.

Our Illustration Idol panelists are a "gem" selection of published Michigan illustrators:
  • Aaron Zenz
  • Ryan Hipp
  • Wendy Anderson Halperin, this year's illustrator mentor

SHINE 2 Chairpersons include:
Illustrator Mentorship Contest at SHINE 2

Calling all unpublished SCBWI Illustrators who live in Michigan!

The 2012-13 Illustrator Mentorship contest will take place on Saturday, June 23 at the the SHINE 2 conference in Lansing. The winner will receive the opportunity to be mentored by Wendy Anderson Halperin for a year!
During the Illustration Idol section of the SHINE 2 conference, attendees' artwork will be reviewed and judged by three professional illustrator panelists (one of them being the mentor). At the end of the day, the mentorship will be awarded to one of the unpublished Michigan members in attendance.

Therefore, in order to apply for the illustrator mentorship, you MUST ATTEND the conference on June 23. You must be unpublished, must be a current member of SCBWI and you must live in Michigan (and plan to reside in Michigan through the one-year mentorship period).

Wendy Anderson Halperin has won numerous awards, provides drawing workshops and gives lectures on creativity and children's book illustration. She has illustrated a number of books, including THANK YOU, GOD, FOR EVERYTHING and PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN. Visit her website:  
to learn more about Wendy and her books.
You'll find the illustrator mentorship contest entry form at our website:

Further questions should be directed to Rachel Anderson at:
We're looking forward to seeing you, and your artwork, at SHINE 2 on June 23.
The Lady Who Wrote 
By Betty Westra 

There once was a lady who wrote. 
She would publish some day, so she hoped. 
But all she collected 
were notes marked rejected. 
When mail came in, she barely coped.   

Betty has been been writing for years and has mostly been published in children's magazines. She is currently working on two MG novels and had an easy reader published, Alexander and the Stallion. She finds her interest still seems to lie with magazine short stories, articles and poems, which allows her to write in a variety of genres.



The Literary Rambles blog made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in the May/June issue. Congrats to Natalie Aguirre and her blog partner, Casey McCormick. What an honor for a hard-working team! Their blog is listed as number 13 under "Everything Agents." If you haven't discovered this super-resourceful blog, check it out here:


Tracy Bilen's book launch party/signing for her debut YA novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, will be at Barnes and Noble, Troy, across from Oakland Mall, on Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. Yes, that's this weekend! Stop by and show her some love.


On March 8, Janet Heller read her poetry and autographed her books (TRAFFIC STOP and HOW THE MOON REGAINED HER SHAPE) at Schuler Books & Music in downtown Grand Rapids. I hope some of our MichKids were able to attend!


Speaking of great events, ELLIE MCDOODLE was live and on stage! Ruth McNally Barshaw was the featured author for the Miller College Children's Literature Project (and also its Children's Theater Project). On April 21, the kids performed a play written by a high school student based on the second ELLIE MCDOODLE book at the Binda Performing Arts Center on Kellogg Community College's campus.


Ryan Hipp was in the spotlight, too! He is the 2012 recipient of the Gwen Frostic Award, for work that has greatly impacted the lives of children through influencing literacy in Michigan. Ryan was presented the award at the 56th annual Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids, on March 10.


Vicky Lorencen's picture book manuscript PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY FISH was selected as a top 5 finalist in the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) children's book of the year contest. Congrats, Vicky!


More accolades from the National Association of Elementary Principals Book of Year Award: Lisa Chottiner's middle grade novel JUMP FREE finished in the Top 25 out of over 750 entries. And the good news continues for Lisa! Her book OH NO! THE EASTER BUNNY IS ALLERGIC TO EGGS! was published as an e-book by on March 23. Another story, MOOLEY NO ORDINARY CHRISTMAS COW, will also be published. These are Lisa's first published picture books!


Neal Levin had two new illustrations published in Boys' Quest and one in Fun For Kidz. Highlights for Children granted permission to Pearson Publishing to reprint two of his short stories: NO ORDINARY FROG and THE FARMER AND THE FOX.


Kathleen S. Allen's YA fantasy faerie novel, LORE OF FEI was published in April by Muse It Up Publishing. Faeries vs. humans, who will win in the battle for FEI, the land of the faeries?   


The Hunger Mountain literary journal published THE POWER OF BUTTERFLIES by Kristin Lenz, in April. Read the story here:


Monica Harris is retiring from her Co-RA role with a burst of publishing credits! She received a book contract for ADVENTURES OF SOPHIE AND KYURI with TunTun books in Korea. It's part of their English Language program for young kids and she's thrilled to have worked with them. Monica also sold an article to Hopscotch magazine titled GEORGIE WHITE CLARK: RIVER RAFT PIONEER which looks at the life of Georgie and her amazing contributions to white water rafting in the Grand Canyon.


But wait, there's more! Several of our Michigan authors, including Monica Harris, Pat Trattles, Karen Bell-Brege and Betty Westra, sold writing passages for the MEAP and other state assessment groups. See the article below by Pat Trattles to learn more.


Way to go, MichKids!  

Networking Works!
By Pat Trattles 


Last fall I received an e-mail inviting me to a three-day workshop to learn how to write passages for the MEAP. The letter stated I had been recommended by the Michigan Reading Association. I don't know how many letters went out, but about 16 of us answered the call; including fellow SCBWI-MI members, Betty Raum, Shirley Neitzel,  Monica Harris, Karen Bell-Brege and Betty Westra. The first morning we learned how to use the data input system, and the nuances of writing for educational assessments -- topics to avoid, readability, being sensitive to unintentional bias issues, etc. Then we went to work. For the next 2 1/2 days we wrote; uninterrupted by laundry, carpooling duties, and all the other distractions of our regular lives. It was great.


In January another e-mail went out to those who participated in the November workshop asking us if we'd be willing to write for other state assessment programs. Those who said "yes," were then contacted by the woman who coordinated the programs for Nebraska and Idaho. No, we didn't go to Nebraska for three days. It was all done by e-mail.


Then in March we received another e-mail from Michigan inviting us to a three-day workshop in East Lansing, this time to write for the ELPA -- English Language Proficiency Assessment. (Since March is Reading Month and a very busy time with school visits, only about half of the original 16 were able to make it.) The ELPA is an assessment given every spring to students in kindergarten through 12th grade who do not have English as a primary language. It measures their ability to read, speak and listen to the English language. It was hard! Not only were we extremely limited in word count, but we had to avoid idioms and words that might have more than one meaning, could not use contractions until the middle and high school levels, etc. It was hard work, but extremely rewarding.


The organizers of the MEAP and ELPA workshops mentioned how appreciative they were to have experienced writers creating the testing materials. They are hopeful our passages will help students do a better job on the tests.There are currently, however, no opportunities for other writers to become involved. In writing lingo, the State of Michigan is currently closed to unsolicited submissions. But if there is one takeaway, it is the importance of networking. If it hadn't been for the Michigan Reading Association, none of this would have happened.  
Pat Trattles is the author of two books,
EMPEROR PENGUINS. When she is not busy procrastinating, she writes from her home in Holland, Mich.



(Note: Events and opportunities are not necessarily sponsored or endorsed by SCBWI-MI. We try our best to list only high-quality notifications through reputable sources. Please confirm all information with the source whenever possible. )


Detroit Working Writers (DWW) will present the 2012 Fall Writers' Conference: From Passion to Profession on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Clinton-Macomb Public Library in Clinton Township. Doors open at 9 a.m. sharp. Sixteen workshops will be led by Michigan writers. The keynote speaker will be Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli of Mancelona, Mich. Conference registration materials are posted at: DWW is also sponsoring a pre-conference Creative Writing Competition open to all Michigan residents. Writer guidelines and the entry form is also available at their website. All entries must be postmarked by July 15.

TU BOOKS, which publishes speculative fiction for children and young adults featuring diverse characters and settings, has issued a
call for submissions. Their focus is on well-told, exciting, adventurous fantasy, science fiction, and mystery novels featuring people of color set in worlds inspired by non-Western folklore or culture. They welcome Western settings if the main character is a person of color. They are looking specifically for stories for both middle grade (ages  8-12) and young adult (ages 12-18) readers. For more information on how to submit, see the submission guidelines at:


Saturday, June 23
The Library of Michigan, Downtown Lansing
This event will feature two focuses -- a full day for writers, or a full day for illustrators. Our contest for the 2012 Illustration Mentorship with Michigan illustrator Wendy Halperin will take place that day, as well! See above article for more info on Shine 2.

Fall Conference
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5-6
Detroit's Historic Greektown
Take your middle grade and young adult novel to the edge with this year's Fall Conference. Libba Bray, author of A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and the rest of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy will kick off the one-day conference on Friday, Oct. 5 with a writing intensive. Then spend Saturday, Oct. 6 focusing on the writer's journey all the way from idea to movie deal. Meet Libba's agent/husband, Barry Goldblatt and her editor, Alvina Ling, and see how they work as a team.
Frida PennabookDon't Forget Frida  
It can sometimes be difficult to navigate the world of children's writing and publishing, and it's often helpful to ask advice of a fellow writer or artist.

MichKids' own resident expert, Frida Pennabook, has her pencil poised and ready to respond to any and all questions, no matter how obscure they might be.

E-mail queries here, and we will see they get to Frida.
Artwork by Dana Atnip