Nov 7, 2014

Sage Advice From a 35-Year-Old Bookmark

Remember the very first time you ever won a contest? Like, EVER? 

For me, it was during my second grade year at Ridgeview Elementary in Liberty, Missouri. Every kid in the school was given a slip of paper and asked to create a bookmark design. I sat at my desk and brainstormed for thirty seconds or so, which probably felt like a really long time. And then I was struck with an idea. 

My sweet little creative mind conjured up a visual gag along with a punny headline. “Lean over and reach for a book” with the Leaning Tower of Pisa next to a library. It was creative gold! I imagine it took me three to five minutes to finish my concept, which also probably felt like a really long time. I dropped my bookmark onto the pile with my classmates’ submissions and forgot about it. After all, I was late for recess.

A few days later, an announcement came over the classroom loud speaker. The principal, Mr. Aubrey, declared that the first place winner of the school-wide bookmark contest was second grader, Tim McCanna. I was shocked! And excited! And proud! Enough copies of my bookmark were made so that everyone in the school could have one. It was my first time being published, in a way.

Many years later, I would work in advertising as a graphic designer, crafting headlines and combining words with images. And now that I’m a children’s author, it all starts to make sense. Of course my first message to the masses would be to READ! (If only I’d had a Twitter account in 1979…)

So, as we celebrate Picture Book Month 2015, take the advice from my 8-year-old self. Instead of reaching for the remote, lean over and reach for a book.

Sep 8, 2014

SAVE THE DATE! 10-4 is Talk Like a Trucker Day!

Howdy folks! TRUCK-tober is just around the corner, and you know what that means. It's about time for another Talk Like a Trucker Day on October 4. (Get it? 10-4!) Last year, the Teeny Tiny Trucks book and app didn't even release until October 15th. But this year, we've got truckloads of both and they're available everywhere--right NOW!

We'll be having some fun promos for the month of Truck-tober. And, if you're in the Bay Area be sure to come down to Hicklebee's Children's Books in San Jose on October 4, 2014 from 2-3pm. We'll be celebrating Talk Like a Trucker Day with a reading of Teeny Tiny Trucks. Plus, I'll sign some books, we'll all talk like truckers, and we'll sing some silly songs, too!

Get Hicklebee's complete Talk Like a Trucker Day details here.

Over and out!

Aug 29, 2014

How I Didn't Get My Agent. And Then I Did.

A lot has happened since my last post in (gulp) April. My family took an amazing trip to Maui. My son enjoyed his first time at a week-long sleep away camp. My daughter jumped cross bars on a horse. I read Teeny Tiny Trucks at a number of Bay Area libraries, schools and bookstores. I attended SCBWI’s International Summer Conference in LA. Oh, and I got an AGENT!

Let’s focus on that agent thing, shall we? Back in the Fall of 2010, I had just moved from Colorado to California. In the San Francisco Bay area, we are lucky enough to have 3 regional SCBWI chapters. So, after attending the SF/South chapter’s Illustrator’s Day event, I crossed the Bay to Oakland and sat in on the North & East Bay chapter’s Fall Conference. Agent Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency spoke at one of the sessions, and a few months later, I queried her with a manuscript I’d written about a father and son in a toy store. Shortly after, Caryn responded with an email that said the work was well written (yea!) but that it just wasn’t for her. Ah well, you move on.

As much as I really, REALLY wanted to land an agent that day, I can look back nearly four years later and be glad that I didn’t. I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t ready. In the years that followed, I became a much stronger children’s writer. But aside from developing a deeper, richer manuscript portfolio, I dove head-first into the industry. I read tons of picture books and middle grades, attended a variety of SCBWI conferences, joined a long-lasting critique group, blogged now and then, volunteered for my local chapter, and eventually became an SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor. I participated in online groups like Picture Book Idea Month and the 12x12 challenge, contributed music and narration for several story apps, produced a series of kidlit-centric YouTube videos and book trailers, received a letter of commendation from the Barbara Karlin Grant, and sold a manuscript on my own that went on to be published traditionally and digitally, both versions receiving positive Kirkus reviews! All that while being a stay-at-home dad. Not bad, huh?

Oh, and I continually REVISED my work. That is so key. The rhyming manuscript that received the 2013 Barbara Karlin letter of commendation had been revised at least 15 times. I started writing that story in early 2011! And even after receiving the nice accolade, I still wasn’t satisfied that the story was perfect. In fact, around revision 18 I had a huge breakthrough that turned it from a good manuscript into a much better one. 

Then, this past summer my local SCBWI chapter hosted an “Agent’s Day” event. We invited six agents from around the country to come talk about the biz from their unique perspectives. Cool, huh? They also provided manuscript+query letter critiques. And who should happen to critique mine, but none other than Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Caryn was so enthusiastic and supportive of my work. Within weeks she offered representation and I accepted! Woo-hoo! Drop the balloons and confetti.

Then my agent—I love saying that—my agent did an interesting thing. She requested revisions. Revisions on the story that I had revised 18 times. The same story that had received a letter of commendation! And you know what? She was absolutely RIGHT. Among other things, the ending needed work. And I’m sooo glad to have Caryn pushing me to make my manuscripts as perfect as possible before she sends them off for submission. 

So, the next time you get a “No” from an agent or editor, take it in, sulk for a moment, and then get busy. Because with time and tenacity you might turn a “No” into “Not yet.”




Apr 1, 2014

Easter Basket Giveaway at Little Bahalia Publishing!

Hey folks! Hop on over to www.littlebahalia.com and enter their drawing for your chance to win one of two incredibly awesome Easter baskets they've put together! One is monkey themed for Julie Hedlund's A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, and the other is truck themed for Teeny Tiny Trucks! Both include a signed copy of the book with lots of extra goodies. So come on, help the Easter Bunny out this year. Offer ends April 4! Go sign up NOW! www.littlebahalia.com


Mar 28, 2014

Read Across America Day 2014

After I held my Teeny Tiny Trucks launch party at my kids' school library back in November, our principal asked me to help organize an event for Read Across America Day on March 3rd. I had no idea what a fun opportunity it would end up being. Read Across America Day is sponsored by the National Education Association, and it's a great way to promote reading to school kids while also being a celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday.

I was able to recruit three amazing local children's authors to join me for the event: Sue Fliess, Amy Gibson, and Jeanne Walker Harvey. Between the four of us, we divided and conquered, offering 20 presentations in 2.5 hours to every student at Castro Elementary in Mountain View, grades K-5. Needless to say, Read Across America Day was a huge success. I only wish that all the kids could have seen all of the presentations.

Amy brings literally trunkloads of animals as visual aids for her hysterical collection of animal poems, Around the World on Eighty Legs. Jeanne connects with kids' love of non-fiction through two great picture books. My Hands Sing the Blues is about the life and art of Romare Bearden while Astro the Stellar Sea Lion tells the true-life tale of a rescued sea lion. Sue's Shoes for Me! and A Dress for Me! plus two Little Golden Books about pirates and robots are always crowd pleasers. And, of course, I brought along my uke and iPad to augment my Teeny Tiny Trucks presentations.

I'm so grateful to know such talented and giving community of writers in the Bay Area. Read Across America Day proved what we can do together to encourage new generations of readers and writers. If we inspired just one kid that day, then it was worth it. But, in this case, I can safely say we inspired hundreds of kids. Read Across America Day doesn't have to come just once a year! Every day is an opportunity to put a book in front of a kid and spark their imagination.