Practical Matters: School Visits

With my new book coming out in early spring, I’m beginning to book school visits again after a three-year lapse. In that interim I’ve learned a few practical things – beyond the fun of preparing the presentation – that I thought I’d share, and I’d like to open a “suggestion box” for everyone in this talented group to pitch in with their own ideas.

Before the visit:

  • It helps to establish a fee structure that is both realistic and fair to you and the school. I’d suggest that before you book your first visit, talk to colleagues and find out how much they charge. Remember to include expenses, especially if your visit is at a distance. Most authors do Skype visits for free or a nominal fee; a lot of authors offer free or low-cost visits to local schools.
  • I try not to book more than one visit a month unless they are back-to-back in the same region. Writing comes first!

When the visit is booked:

  • If the visit includes fees, expense reimbursements, and an understanding of technology requirements, I find it helps to send the school a contract. SCBWI has a model contract in their resource database for members that I modified for my use.


    My packet (center) with cover letter and poster – made using Word.

  • I send that contract, together with a packet I’ve created, to the school contact person. In the packet is the following:
    • A brief cover letter that directs the contact person to my website and my free downloadable study guides and cover jpegs, and expresses my excitement about the visit.
    • A complete brochure that details each of my books, with synopsis, awards, and reviews.
    • A ready-made poster with the date left blank that the contact person can fill in and post.
    • A swag packet of bookmarks, etc.
  • I’m now following the suggestion of some colleagues to supply one copy of each of my in-print books to the school. I order the books to be drop-shipped to the school as soon as the visit is booked. This accomplishes several things: I’ve found that the school doesn’t always have copies of my books on hand; students who are interested can read ahead of the visit; I get credit for the book sales; I create good will with my contact person. I’ve found that the expense is small, and I fold the cost into my fee.


    Swag and interior packet materials.

During the visit:

  • I try to bring bookmarks or other swag to hand out.
  • I try to have someone take a few photos (quality video is even better if possible) that I can post to my website or use for publicity.
  • If a bookseller is not involved with my visit, I’ve arranged with my local indie to bring a one-page order form for my books with me. Many kids won’t buy books before the visit but will be excited afterwards, and that’s when they’ll want to order. I ask the contact person at the school to collect the order forms and checks made out to my indie (I add something for shipping) and send the forms to me. My indie orders the books, I sign them, and then I send them in bulk back to the school.

After the visit:

  • I send a brief thank-you to the contact person, following up with any reimbursements and orders.

That’s what I’ve got – if you have suggestions please add!


IMG_8226bJanet Fox is the author of a number of books for young readers. Her debut middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, launches on March 15, 2016 from Viking.


Filed under Advice, School Author Visits, Uncategorized

Another Kind of Good-bye

It is my turn to say good-bye.

     *      *      *      *      *

Historically, I haven’t much liked good-byes.

roller coaster

whatwillimiss whatwillimiss whatwillimiss…whoa!

I used to have this really strong knee-jerk reaction to them. This wavy feeling in my belly, like I was riding a roller coaster. And this thought in my brain: What will I miss if I go?

 I had that reaction for a long time. And it was connected to this ancient fear of mine of not knowing. Do you know that fear? For me, it was always about wanting to be on top of things; wanting to know what everyone needed at all times and trying to accommodate those needs. It was also about feeling ridiculously uncomfortable with the idea that something might happen without my knowledge.

Ummmm. Yeah.

Lots of things happen without my knowledge.

Of course that’s true, and there’s no way around it—and no need for a way around it—but I fought it so hard for so long. I stayed past the time I should have stayed at places, I kept my eyes open too wide, my brain going a mile a minute all the time.

What will I miss if I go?

What will I miss if I don’t go? This is real question. Or even more to the point: What will I miss if I don’t let go?

 Because I have finally learned that holding on too tight, and needing to know too much, actually limits me in very profound ways. (Not to mention the fact that it annoys—at best—the people onto whom I am holding!)

Many parts of my life have taught me this over the last decade or so – try holding on too tightly to your teenager, for example! – but the process of writing, publishing, and, now, promoting Another Kind of Hurricane has probably taught me this the most.

I can point to so many lessons, but I will only talk about two here.


Bear with me while I explore my experience with Tropical Storm Irene one more time. Like a spiral of wind and water goes round and round, I come back to it again and again, looping around again, but moving into new learning each time. rainbow spiral

Some of you know this part of my saga with Irene. We lost almost all of the contents of our basement when it flooded. At one point during the process of hauling stuff from the basement, someone gave me a box. I opened it. It was filled with photographs – a picture of my siblings and me at my wedding, a picture of my sister the first time she made my son, Luc, laugh, a picture of a camping trip with friends. The photos were soaking wet and covered in mud. I knew there were dozens of similar boxes, still in the basement. I knew I had to throw them all away. But I couldn’t do it. Not yet. So I went back to filling the dumpster. Hours later, as the sun was setting, I took a break and walked to the lawn at the side of my house.

What I saw took my breath away.

Image 10

A photo of my sister Callie and my son Luc (who is now that teenager I have to let go of!), among others.

People I didn’t know—were saving all of my photos. Someone meticulously peeled them apart, someone rinsed them in a shallow bin of water, and someone hung them on a clothesline to dry.

It was one of those moments that shines a light. Instead of focusing my attention on that box of photos, I let it go. And in the process I left a space for these people. Without realizing it, I had allowed there to be this vibrant, full-of-potential space. A space, it turns out, spanning those amazing people and me.

And inside of that space, those people and I—we were forever changed; we became friends.


When Hurricane was just beginning to get some public attention, I wanted to center myself; to try to find a way to be grounded while on this public journey, because this story had been just mine for so long, you know? And I knew I could easily get mired down in watching and waiting for and fretting over those reviews. I asked both my editor (Annie Kelley) and agent (Erin Murphy) for their philosophies on reviews. They are wise, Annie and Erin. They both told me almost the same exact thing, and it really stuck with me.

They said that it’s important to remember that the book is out of my hands now. I have to – wait for it, wait for it – let it go. It “belongs” in a sense, to the people who read it.  That rang so true to me. It is very humbling to imagine my book—my ideas and words—becoming a part of someone else’s life, part of a reader’s thoughts and perspective. But it also makes a lot of intuitive sense. I can vividly remember the books that I felt were written just for me when I was a kid.

And what I have come to believe, both based on my own reading as a kid and my own research on reading as an adult, is that there is a space created when you read. A space between you and the book. Sometimes it is sort of window-shaped – where you learn about new things; sometimes it is more mirror-like – where you see yourself; and sometimes it is like a map with a thousand creases – pointing you on a journey.

Annie and Erin also told me to remember that so many readers who have a positive experience with my book—librarians, parents, teachers, and mostly kids—are people I will never, ever hear from. There is something magical about that.

If I let go. If I leave space.

The magic of space, for me, is the landscape—or maybe people-scape—where the alchemy of one person connecting with another unfolds.*


Emu’s Debuts has been a place of so much alchemy and so many connections. I can’t even begin to thank those of you who have graced this blog, and those of you who will. Just please know how much you have touched me, comforted me, taught me, changed me. I am on-my-knees humbled by you and hands-outstretched-to-the-sky honored to know you.

     *      *      *      *      *

calvin and hobbesI still don’t like good-byes. They still scare me, to be perfectly honest. But I respect them. And value them. And thinking about them as letting go and leaving space – for other people, for other ideas, for magic – makes it infinitely easier…

…to say…





*I can’t write about the alchemy of connection today without thinking of the so many refugees who need a place, a space, to call home. This is a smart op-ed piece about moving forward together.




Tamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House in July 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at and on Twitter @tsesmith.



Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness

Filled with Turkey, Pie and Gratitude

With just a few weeks to go until my house is wonderfully overflowing with family, the smell of turkey cooking, and the sweet scent of strawberry-banana-cream pie, I’ve been thinking much about all I am grateful for. I think about Molly, the main character from FINDING PERFECT, and how grateful I am that she stuck in my head long enough that I couldn’t NOT write about her.  I think about Olive, the mc from my work-in-progress and how lucky I am that she, too, has proven to be stubborn and persistent. That’s what writing is really about, right? The character, the story nugget, the crystal of a place or idea that feels so real that it just can’t be ignored. I am grateful for those moments that find their way into my brain just long enough to take hold.

But, the list of things I am grateful for happily doesn’t stop with the characters and the stories that I get to bring to life.

I am grateful for my amazing husband of 25 years, and my 2 incredible sons. Grateful for family on both coasts. To me, family is truly what it’s all about!

I am grateful for the people in my life who taught me to never stop dreaming, to never give up, to never stop asking, Why not me?

I am grateful for my girlfriends who are like the sisters I never had.

I am grateful for my EMLA family. Who knew signing with my amazing agent Trish was a package deal complete with the Erin Murphy’s Dogs and an entire writing community of talented, supportive and all-around awesome people?

I am grateful for the gifts of those no longer with me. My mom who taught me how to love unconditionally and color outside the lines. My father in law who taught me to be fearless. My Gram, who taught me strength comes at any height (she was 4”10 at her tallest) and any age (she died a month ago, just shy of 102).


I am grateful for Angie Chen, my awesome editor, and all the talented people at FSG who are making FINDING PERFECT come to life.

I am grateful for Twizzlers, my happy dance, my little Lu, and being able to write every day.


So, as I sit with those I love watching football on Thanksgiving, I will be filled with more than just pie and turkey. I will be filled with so much gratitude.




Elly Swartz loves writing for children, and not long after she began writing, she got a sign that, indeed, this was the right path for her. She opened a piece of Bazooka Joe gum and wrapped around the sugary, pink delight was a fortune that read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.”  She keeps her fortune tacked next to her desk in her office.

Elly’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, is coming out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on October 18, 2016. FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two tall and loving, twenty-something sons and one-year-old beagle named Lucy.

You can visit Elly on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.


Filed under Happiness, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

In the Nick of Time

Years ago, I used to pride myself on working ahead of time. I used to see some kind of deadline off in the distance and plan out how I would try to get it done a little early–a paper, maybe, or grading some essays, or a reading assignment for a class.

Okay, it was a short phase.

Maybe a year at most.

But I loved it. I loved the feeling of walking to my teaching post, or driving in to a night class, feeling somewhat rested and thinking, yup, that was done a little early. Finished. Finalitisimo. Nada more to do!

And this small bit of excitement gave me a real hunger for more of it (as well as for flour-based bakery items such as: blueberry muffins, banana bread, banana muffins, and blueberry bread).

Even though the phase was short lived, that feeling was pretty amazing.

Fast forward many years, and the reality is very much the opposite. (However, the flour-based bakery items still come along for the ride.) Now, I find myself rushing to complete any task: grading the essays, working on that revision, starting the first draft, getting to the copy edits, putting the kids to bed, putting myself to bed, putting an idea to bed, laying off the flour-based bakery items, and doing the paper for the night class.

All of it happens, pretty much, in the last minute.

Or the last second of the last minute.

For a while, I mourned the loss of the getting-things-done-early kind of life (eating copious amounts of flour-based bakery items was crucially helpful in this stage.)

Then, for another while, I worked vigilantly to get that done-early mentality back (in which case flour-based bakery items were fuel for the drive, pricing energy and courage and chutzpah!).

Finally, I came to a deep acceptance, sat for long periods of time realizing that such a life was not to be had (at least for long time) and proceeded to eat copious amounts of flour-based bakery items to console my heart and stomach regarding this fact.


So, I am happy (resigned?) to now report that I am coming to a place of peace (giving up?) on getting things done ahead of time and then proceeding with calm confidence towards the due date.

I am coming to an acceptance that, in certain stages of life (maybe thirty or forty years?), getting things done in the nick of time is okay. It is fine. It is fun! The adventure of rushing! The joy of jovial justice that such things still actually DO get done is cool enough! Right on! Right…on? Right?

Or maybe something bigger is at play. Maybe the reality is that all of the goals we make, and all of the hopes and dreams that we seek to accomplish as writers, cannot be completed in a single burst. So we work diligently, we consume our flour-based bakery items, and we pray that we’ll make it on time.

And when we do–instead of feeling guilty for the nick in which we finished, maybe we should eat another banana blueberry muffin bread item and whisper a pray of thanks that we even had the chance to pursue it in the first place. Or, to use much better, more refined words that do not mention anything at all about flour-based bakery items, hear it from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, that sounds much better and saves an awful lot of space.


Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Writing, Writing and Life

Mental and Practical Planning for a Book’s Release

Carole’s recent post about letting go of control got me thinking about my own tendencies. My debut picture book, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness is scheduled for an April 2016 release, barring another delay. Fingers crossed. It’s been a long road since the editor first expressed interest in 2011. Now that the release is six months away, I’m in both reflective mode, and pre-release planning mode.

So much has changed for me since 2011, and certainly since I began playing with the story in 2008. I’ve grown and evolved as a writer. A lot! Since this book went under contract, I’ve written four books for Capstone, sold En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words to Peachtree (that release has been moved to 2018) and, in August, sold King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, also to Peachtree (2017 release). I’m honored to have been awarded the SCBWI book launch award for Step Right Up, and a Work-in-Progress Grant from SCBWI for my as-yet-unsold picture book biography, Tomboy: The Daring Life of Blanche Stuart Scott. My cup runneth over. It is unlikely it that I will ever see this abundance of good fortune again. And all before my debut trade book releases. I am inhaling the sweetness of it all because, for now, my words are insulated from the world.

As writers, the only thing we can control is the words on the page. Up to now, all positive feedback related to my books has come from my agent, editors, publishers, and other select publishing professionals. Even the inevitable rejections along the way have been contained within the industry. I am acutely aware that, in six months, when Step Right Up appears on book shelves, my words and I will be exposed to the court of public opinion. Yikes! I will have no control over reviews, awards, sales numbers, the reaction of young readers. None. Nada. Zilch! What if people hate my book? What if they call me names? What if my research is questioned, or someone criticizes…something? What if, what if, what if?

There is only one way I can think of to prepare myself emotionally for public responses to Step Right Up: to remind myself that I wrote the book for me, or for the ten-year-old girl I was. And for the children today who share my sensibilities: my love of animals, my curiosity and wonder, and my deep desire for a kinder world. A part of my heart went into this book. When review copies are finally sent out, I will tattoo this reminder onto my psyche in hopes that barbs won’t sting too badly, and that any (hopeful) accolades will stay in perspective. None of us should worry about what isn’t within our control. But we do. I do.

The other side of preparing for my book’s release is thinking ahead to marketing and promotional ideas. Fellow EMU Debuter Laurie Thompson once shared her fantastic spreadsheet detailing her marketing plan for How to be a Changemaker. I can’t find it now, but it was truly impressive. Sadly, I’m not as tech-minded, and I am the queen of shortcuts. For the past few years, this composition book has served as my drop-file repository of marketing ideas.

IMG_9678 FullSizeRender 2

You can tell that it was never intended for public viewing, hence the organized chaos of it. I approached it the way I approach my change jar, where I empty the contents of my wallet when it gets too heavy. I have categorized sections of the composition book by reviewers, swag, website development, book trailers, book fairs and conferences, lists of people who should be notified about my book, swag, social media tips, launch party ideas, nonprofits relating to my subject, school visits, awards, notes from publicists, and random flyers, directories, and miscellaneous information that might spark a promotional idea. Whew!  Unlike the change jar, I can’t put a quantitative value on my ideas. There are lots of guesses involved when planning a promotional effort. What works? What doesn’t?


Ultimately, in these months before my book releases into the world, there is quiet amid the anticipation. Amid the planning. Amid the adrenaline rush. Before My book becomes the world’s book, I am secretly coveting the unblemished euphoria of having created, while weaving a piece of my heart into the text. That’s what all writers do, when they write for themselves, right?


Donna Janell Bowman is a Texas author witIMG_0595h so many stories and so many curiosities in her head, they sometimes spill out in the form of books for young readers. You can learn more about her at her temporary website, which is currently being redesigned.


Filed under Uncategorized

Hi! My Name is Jason, and I Can’t Tell You Anything

When really, really good stuff happens, I have a hard time keeping it to myself. I love positive juju and I just want to share it with others all the time so that we can bask in rays of awesomeness together. Like, imagine if you were being swarmed by puppies. You wouldn’t want to hoard those little bundles of sunshine for yourself, you’d want to share the joy of puppy love with everyone!


Sometimes in the writing world, however, you don’t get to share those puppies right away. You can get really great news, but you have to hold on to it for a while when you want to SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!


And that’s okay, because then the excitement builds and it’s the best kind of waiting game. It’s like the reverse of anxiously biting your fingernails when you’re on submission, waiting to hear back if anyone is going to buy your book or not, only to find out no.


This is the best kind of news, and someday I will be able to share it when I get the go ahead (Hint: Focus on the “debut” part of EMU’s Debuts). But for now, here are a list of three INSANELY AWESOME things that I love that I can share with you, and you should go check them out until I can spread the word about other words that will become a book someday.

  1. Anjelica Huston’s two-part autobiography, A STORY LATELY TOLD and WATCH ME, in audio edition, read by Ms. Huston herself. It’s amazing, and you’ll hear tales of riding through windy Italian hills on a Vespa behind Ottavio Missoni wearing a Helmut Lang frock and you’ll realize that this is real life and not a romance novel.
  2. Pumpkin bagels at Noah’s bagels, toasted, open faced, half smeared with pumpkin shmear, the other half with peanut butter and strawberry jam. This is a very specific order, I know, but it’s the only way to go.
  3. Baby tapirs!



DSC_2983Jason Gallaher is a children’s book writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. When not writing, Jason zips about Los Angeles, California. He loves dinosaurs, unicorns, dinosaurs riding unicorns, and anything magical that takes you to a different world or time. Also, Anjelica Huston. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. Jason also occasionally enjoys writing about himself in the third person for internet biographies.




Filed under Uncategorized

Letting Go of the Need to Control

I am a long-time reader of a free weekly newsletter titled “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, which offers advice on becoming – well – more “zen-like” and calm in the face of adversity and disappointment. On my October 5th birthday, Leo’s post was “Letting Go of the Need for Control.”  My reaction was, “What a great birthday gift that would be! Come on, Leo. Tell me how to do that!”

First, Leo admits relinquishing control is a problem for him. “One of the things I struggle with in life is wanting to feel in control of how things will turn out – control of a trip I’m on, of a project I’m working on, of how my kids will turn out.” Yep, sounds like a universal issue. It’s certainly one of mine.

He continues: “I don’t think we ever really control how things will turn out. . . . What’s more, I’ve found that when I want to control the outcome of things, I become more anxious, more tense. I’m less happy with how other people do things, less happy with myself, less relaxed in the moment.”

Mrs. PuffI am not a control freak. I don’t always have to get my way. I play nice with others and do my best to be thoughtful and kind. I’ve received enough rejections to be humble and enough acceptances to know that some big publishing houses believe I have talent. However, like most writers, I struggle with feelings of powerlessness about my work. When will my agent send out the manuscripts she likes? When will editors respond? Why do things in this business move so slowly? (I had a manuscript accepted seven years ago by HarperCollins that still hasn’t been published!) Why? Why? Why?

Here’s Leo Babauta says:  “I can’t stop myself from wanting to control things,” he writes (thus proving that he’s human!) But  he has learned to handle it:  “I have to just notice the desire to control things, and let the urge happen. Just sit there and see the urge, feel it, be with it.

“Next,” Leo continues, “I turn to the moment and see the beauty of what’s in front of me. Of the ever-changing situation I find myself in. There’s joy in this situation, even if it’s uncontrolled. I don’t need to control things to enjoy them. I can just let things happen.”  I warned you about the zen, right? However, I’ve found Leo’s advice to be practical. I continue to find joy in the process of writing. Some of what I write does eventually sell.

In the meantime, I find joy in being with my audience – children – one morning a week as a volunteer nature guide at a 200-acre farm and nature preserve. Last Thursday, while gathering eggs, a kindergarten student got scared by a chicken and threw his egg on the ground instead of putting it gently back in the nest (for another child to discover later.) The egg cracked, the chickens began gobbling it, and the little boy – whose name is Alex – looked stricken.

He was cheered by my zen-like response. “Don’t worry Alex. It’s just an egg. Plus, their behavior proves that you are SO much smarter than those hens! If they were smart, chickens would peck their eggs open and eat them for breakfast, instead of letting humans eat them!” Alex laughed, let go of his worries, and we all went off to visit the pigs. Zen in action! I do wonder what his mother said when he told he learned on his field trip that he is smarter than a chicken!


Filed under Advice

The Long Bumpy Road

learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. — BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert

Like many writers, I have been writing stories since childhood. I have always been passionate about stories. I first decided to write fiction for kids and teens as a career path in 2001. I joined SCBWI, received the gift of a mentor in Cynthia Leitich Smith, found critique groups (I moved a lot), went to conferences and workshops, read every craft book available to me, discovered an amazing community on LiveJournal (in 2004), found my writing/critiquing soul partners, wrote and wrote and revised and revised and queried and submitted, and accumulated a healthy pile of rejections.

I had some close calls for different manuscripts — a phone call from an editor (kind and encouraging, but a rejection nonetheless), revising out of contract, going to acquisition, “good” rejection letters. This went on for over a decade. I admit to bouts of extreme sadness, many tears, frustration, and thoughts of giving up. In the meantime, I had two nonfiction children’s books published that I am proud of, but the dream has always been to write/publish fiction. One evening in 2008, after yet another “encouraging” rejection, I decided to quit. I was going to quit writing, quit submitting, quit dreaming of publication. I cried long and hard. My heart was broken. I think I cried for well over an hour. I decided to distract myself with a movie, August Rush. Within the first 10 minutes of viewing the movie, I was struck with a story idea. I ran upstairs, grabbed a legal pad, and wrote out ten pages of a scene. Such was my commitment to quitting. My love for writing stories was stronger.

Flash forward to 2014: I have long admired the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I was flattered when a dear and talented friend referred me to her agent, Tricia Lawrence. Tricia requested a full of my MG novel and then I waited. While I waited, I kept writing and kept querying/subbing. Around the same time, I received a request for a full of my chapter book from editor Grace Kendall at FSG, and then I waited. While waiting and writing, I had an opportunity to write four books for an early reader chapter book series and jumped at the chance. I had a fabulous time writing these stories. In fact, I was having a (mostly) fabulous time writing all my stories.

And then…in April of 2015, Grace emailed to say she wanted to take my chapter book to editorial, and then acquisition! I reached out to Tricia and told her I had a YA novel and a chapter book. She requested both. Within days of each other, Tricia offered representation and Grace wanted not only my chapter book, but three more books for a series! My story Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen about headstrong Japanese-American third grader Jasmine Toguchi and her quest to join in on the family tradition of making mochi, and three more books about Jasmine, are going to be published!

I am filled with overwhelming gratitude and joy and excitement and glee! I am grateful to Tricia and EMLA, and Grace and FSG, and to this incredibly supportive children’s lit community – many of you have been cheering me on from the very beginning. I’m grateful to my husband, Bob, and my daughter, Caitlin, for their unwavering belief in me, their firm support of my writing, and to my family and non-writer friends who even if they didn’t fully get “it”, they got me.

My road to “the call” meandered with many obstacles and detours, but I am glad I stayed on the path, on my path, because the journey is different for each person. Along this path of mine, I’ve met some warm and talented people I now call friends. While there’s no guarantee of publication, the only way you can be sure of never getting published is by quitting. If you love writing, if it brings you joy, if you can’t see doing anything else, keep writing, keep learning, keep growing, and stay the course. Enjoy the journey and the process of creating. Have fun. Believe, even when it’s hard. (And surround yourself with support and love!)

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Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her dog, Trixie, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux in Spring 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books.

Before she started writing as her career, Debbi worked at a pet store, volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator, interned as a zookeeper’s aide, taught fifth grade, and was the Associate Curator of Education for a zoo.

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.


Filed under Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, joy, Patience, The Call

And Then There’s a Cover and a Catalog Listing

I think several of us may have mentioned that the period between when you get that call saying, “Yes, we’re going to publish your book” and when the book actually appears on a bookstore shelf is composed mostly of long periods of waiting with occasional flurries of intense activity over edits or titles or whatever.  (Yes, I see we have mentioned that. See here and here. And here. Never mind. We’ve all mentioned it.)


And, in most cases, before you got that “yes” there was quite a bit of writing and waiting and writing and waiting while you wrote some more. Years and years of it for most of us. We’re not all patient people when we start but we get better at it perforce.

But it can sometimes feel like nothing much is going on. It can feel a little unreal, like maybe you dreamed that book sale and you will wake up and. . . But then your editor sends you some of the sketches and an enormous envelope with printers proofs arrives. So it’s happening. Not for another year and a half but it is happening.

And then suddenly, there’s quite a bit going on. There’s a cover.

Yep, an actual cover

Yep, an actual cover

This lovely fat envelope of F&Gs arrives. You’ve heard of these. They sound mysterious but they’re just your book, all folded and gathered together, but without the binding. You can pick one up and sit down on the couch and read it to a kid, just like you would a book. It feels pretty real.

Then your sister-in-law calls to say, “How come you didn’t tell me you could order your book already?” Umm, because I didn’t know. But you go out to the HarperCollins website and there it is–a catalog listing. You spend fifteen minutes looking it up on the website of every bookstore in the world and it’s there–every time. And I’m not gonna lie. That feels pretty great.

Creative Commons license Ben Smith via Compfight

Now, somewhere in my files is a list of the ten thousand things I’m supposed to be doing to market this book. . .

mylisa_email_2-2Mylisa Larsen has been telling stories for a long time. This has caused her to get gimlet-eyed looks from her parents, her siblings and, later, her own children when they felt that certain stories had been embellished beyond acceptable limits. She now writes children’s books where her talents for hyperbole are actually rewarded.

She is the author of the picture books, How to Put Your Parents to Bed (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.)


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Guess I’ll Be Going Now

I can’t believe today is my day to leave Emu’s Debuts. (Actually, it was yesterday and I’m a day late getting this post up. See how I’m dragging my feet?)

I’ll be honest, guys: I don’t know what to say for this last post. I’ve drafted and trashed two versions so far. One was about the similarities of being a new mom and a new author and the pressures of trying to navigate both at the same time. The other was about the unexpected curveballs of life and how no experience happens in a vacuum; there is always the push and pull of everything else going on in your life, tugging and molding the experience. I like both ideas, but then they petered out in the middle with the whole quandary of is this really how I want to say goodbye?

Argh. I’m never good at goodbyes. I’m always the awkward one leaving the party.

I revisited other Emus’ final posts for inspiration, but instead of thinking about what I should write, I got caught up in the comfort of their advice and experiences. And that is exactly why I have loved being a part of this blog and think it’s an important resource for writers. Being a writer and navigating the publishing world is a tricky, lonely thing sometimes. There are no clear-cut paths, and any given question has a variety of answers. It helps to have a community you can learn from and lean on, and that’s what Emu’s Debuts has been for me.


How to say “good-bye” in Muppet?

I suppose I should use this last post to sum up what I’ve learned from my debut experience, but that’s easier said than done. I feel simultaneously so overwhelmed with processing everything that has happened in the past year, both personally and career wise, that I couldn’t possibly whittle it down into a pithy post, and also, I feel exactly the same as I did a year ago. But how can that be if I’ve had so many new experiences? I must be different. I’m surely older and wiser, right? But I’m still struggling through the draft of a book–just like last year–still trying to tell a story as best as I can. Still trying to brainstorm how I can reach the readers who will be most interested in my stories. I have not yet unlocked the secret level with all the writerly answers.

One of the things that took me most by surprise about being on the published side of the debut process was how stressful I found it. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone so many times I’ve lost count. But I haven’t regretted sticking my neck out there once, and in fact, after stepping out of my comfort zone the first few times I was encouraged to do it more because my experiences were never as scary or hard as I worried they might be, and so many good things have come out of saying YES.


Now that’s a cute goodbye, right there.

I had an epiphany about the stress a couple months after Book Scavenger came out, which I shared with my husband. With the enthusiasm of someone crying EUREKA! I said, “It’s like I’ve started a new job!” And he gave me this side-eyed, slightly concerned look, which I’ve seen more often in the past year, and he said, “Yes. It is.”

Because of course it’s like starting a new job. But I hadn’t really connected those dots. Maybe because I sold my books in 2013, so my brain felt like THAT was when I started a new job, only all the work I did between selling Book Scavenger and its publication was largely familiar-to-me work. That was a lot of the sitting by myself playing with words sort of work which I have done for decades.

It has been the experiences that came after publication–largely the experiences of interacting with people who have read my book or who I hoped would read my book or who might help get my book into the hands of the readers who will like it. All of that stuff was totally new terrain. I was suddenly researching things like how to set up school visits, what to say at school visits, how to set up Skype visits, introducing myself at bookstores and libraries, talking up my book at trade shows, deliberating what sort of promotional materials I should invest in, and on and on and on. I paid attention to conversations about these things before, but studying something is not the same as experiencing it. Fortunately, with experience comes familiarity, and that is why it was a relief for me to realize that I’ve started a new job. As with any new job there are learning curves, but soon it becomes familiar and you will settle into a routine.

So I don’t have anything particularly profound to share today. I’m doing my best to enjoy the ride of becoming a published author, and am so grateful to have had the experience of being an Emu. If you’d like to stay connected, you can find me over here on my author blog where I hope to be more active in the future.

And now, um, I guess I’ll be going.

See? I’m awkward at goodbyes.




jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger has been selected as an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick for Summer 2015, an Amazon Best Book of 2015, and was one of five books chosen for the Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Reads 2015, among other accolades. Two more titles in the Book Scavenger series will be published in 2017, as well as a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2018. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. More information can be found about her and her books and


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