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.







Mar 24, 2014

An ARA's View of a Regional SCBWI Conference

Happy 2014! Okay, it's been a while since I've posted. But that's a good thing. I've just been too darn busy. Really, that's my goal. To be too busy to blog. Well, I'm still too busy, but I'm feeling guilty now, so I'm gonna try to get back on the wagon a little.

Me and Katie (and Carolyn Mackler--d'oh!)
So, last year I accepted the role of assistant Regional Advisor for my local SCBWI chapter, San Francisco/South. With all the perks and the huge salary (um, okay it's a volunteer position) also came a greater sense of duty to my fellow chapter members as well as the responsibility and ownership for our annual regional conference. I really wanted to do my all to make this year's gathering at Asilomar special and worth-wile for everyone. Along with our RA, Naomi Kinsman and our Illustrator Coordinator, Lea Lyon, I think we pulled off a truly great weekend in early February.

The Faculty we brought in was utterly amazing. They were open and inspiring and really engaged with the attendees. I had the privilege as ARA of inviting one person of my choice to the faculty. My absolute first pick was author-illustrator and social media maven, Katie Davis, and guess what? She came! It was so great to finally meet her in person and introduce her at the conference. She put on a stellar presentation about authors using video to promote their work.

David Shannon's thumbprint.
From YA novelist Carolyn Mackler photo bombing my selfie with Katie, to author-illustrator David Shannon smushing his thumbprint on my glasses, the whole weekend had so many layers of fun and surprise. It was a brain sapping amount of work and I can't say it was very relaxing. But it wasn't supposed to be. I stepped over to the other side. The side where the event only succeeds if you help make it work. By the end, the resounding feeling I went home with was pride. I was proud of the job we did, proud to be on the advisory committee team, proud of our volunteers whom we couldn't have survived the weekend without, and proud to contribute in my own little way to helping others in this incredible kidlit industry get a little further down their career paths.

If you've never volunteered for an SCBWI event, give it a shot! It will enrich your experience and who knows, maybe David Shannon will come by and press his thumb on your glasses, too.

Dec 28, 2013

Teeny Tiny Trucks... in 3-D!

During our holiday visit to Boulder, Colorado, my wife’s uncle surprised us with a fascinating tour of the Engineering Department at CU. The classrooms there are filled with laser cutters, 3-D printers and electrical engineering equipment. Uncle Steve wanted to demonstrate the 3-D printer to my kids, and he needed a small object to create in a short amount of time. So, prior to our visit, Steve used a software called SolidWorks to design a 3-D Teeny Tiny Trucks toy prototype! The design was based on the little blue truck from the book named “Ernie” by our illustrator Keith Frawley. The digital model even captures the curved shape of Ernie’s trailer. 

We arrived at CU, loaded the 3-D design into the printer, and then the magic began. Over the course of about two hours, an inkjet-like printing arm swung back and forth creating ultra-thin layers of a thermoplastic polymer. These 3-D printers are totally amazing. They can create incredibly detailed and complicated objects. For instance, we saw a linked bicycle chain and an adjustable wrench with moving parts. The possibilities are endless! When our two little Ernies were done, we carefully scraped the prototypes off the plate, scrubbed off some excess resin in a high-powered water chamber, and voila! One teeny tiny truck made to order! 

It was the coolest thing to see a character from our picture book come to life as a solid object. This test version was fairly basic, but Steve is already planning more detailed designs of all three trucks from the book. Neat, huh? Well, get this: Imagine if you had a 3-D printer at home (or at a school or library) and you could download the specs and print off your very own Teeny Tiny Trucks toy… The future is now, people. Just you wait and see!