Category Archives: Guest Posts

From our friends, agents, fellow authors

Herding Cats: Guest Post by Curtis Manley

It’s always a treat to have a guest post on the EMU’s Debuts blog, and it’s even treatier when that post is written by a fellow EMLA member! Today we have just such a treat! Without further ado, here is Curtis Manley, author of the just released picture book, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ!

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.03.13 PM

Before Internet memes, people had sayings about cats. A difficult—or impossible!—task could be “as hard as herding cats.” You might assume it would be obvious to everyone in the whole world that teaching cats to read would be even more difficult than herding them—and yet the main character of my newly published picture book tries to do just that (Spoiler alert: He succeeds!).

Nick loves books. Even though he named his cats, Verne and Stevenson, after authors, the cats don’t share Nick’s interest in stories. So, being the good friend that he is, Nick decides to teach his cats to read, too. Just as with young humans learning to read, equal progress is not made by all. A tantrum might even be involved before a solution is found…



Some book ideas remain largely unchanged through all the stages from inspiration to published book. Others, well… My story was inspired years ago when my young daughter began reading middle grade novels. She sank so deeply into those books that she was literally in another world—and it wasn’t the world in which her parents were asking her to do things…

And that’s what the earliest version of the story was about: a boy who loses his best friend, his cat, because the cat loses himself in books. But writing a picture book about the dangers of reading books is like shooting yourself in the foot. So I changed the story to make it about cats actually learning to read in the first place.

Personally, I’ve never been able to teach my cats to read anything more than the bag of cat treats. But I’m a non-fiction author at heart, so even though Nick’s story is made up, I had a lot of fun weaving-in real world information: I name-dropped titles of real books. I included some of the steps we all use to teach our kids to read. I made one of the cats a reluctant reader who has trouble getting interested in books in the first place. And I named that cat after a famous reluctant reader: Robert Louis Stevenson—the author of Treasure Island—who, before he could read, dictated stories to his mother and nurse and then illustrated them with his own drawings.



Something else that is harder than herding cats: getting a picture book published! But I had help. Lots of help. The story wouldn’t exist without my family. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere without my super agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. It wouldn’t be appearing without my editor’s interest in an early version (and continued interest in the seven revisions we then went through!). It wouldn’t be as good as it is without the eyes and ears of my wonderful critique group (which includes fellow agency siblings Laurie Ann Thompson, Kevan Atteberry, and Dan Richards). And it wouldn’t look so beautiful without the luminous illustrations by Kate Berube (don’t miss her apt and hilarious titles for the books on the library shelves!).

Oh… And you wouldn’t be hearing about it here without the generous offer of an Emu’s Debuts guest post! Thank you one and all!


Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.01.49 PMCurtis Manley has been a store clerk, geochronology lab assistant, volcanologist, software design engineer, technical writer, and is now a picture book author. His debut, THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, is just out from Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster. Two more picture books—one fiction and one a folktale adaptation—are forthcoming in 2017. Curtis lives near Seattle with his wife, college-age daughter, and just one cat. You can visit him at or on Facebook.



Filed under Guest Posts, Picture books

The Perils of Letting Children – and Books – Out Into the World

Pat Zietlow Miller was an EMU’s Debuts member when her picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, was released in 2013. Now, she’s happy to be back to talk about her second picture book, WHEREVER YOU GO, which just released Tuesday.

Wherever you go

When my oldest daughter was starting to crawl, a dad with grown children gave me this warning:

“Parenting gets harder when your children get mobile,” he said. “When they walk. When they drive. When they leave for college. You lose some control and have to help them while letting them go.”

As my daughter grew, I saw the truth in his words. So while she was still in school, I started thinking about what I wanted her to know before she ventured out our door. You know, mushy stuff. Like:

Your choices control your destiny, so you should choose wisely.

You should celebrate your successes but forgive your inevitable failures.

Worthy goals are hard to achieve, but you’ll always be glad you tried.

There’s value in seeing what’s around the bend in the road, but it’s good to remember your home.

And life goes more easily with the right group of friends.

Those thoughts, and my love, became the inspiration for my second picture book, WHEREVER YOU GO. And the timing of its release – two days ago – is perfect, as my daughter graduates from high school in less than a month.

But I couldn’t just write book that blatantly said, “Hey, you’re leaving, so listen up.” That would surely have elicited eye rolls. Plus, my daughter isn’t stupid. She’s a very smart, very kind, very capable person. But … but … she’s so young. So inexperienced.

Fortunately, I realized that a manuscript I was writing about roads and all the places they could take you would benefit from a little subtext. A little heart. So my advice got woven into a story that you could take at face value or get misty about. And my daughter’s eyes haven’t rolled once.

This story also taught me something important about publishing. Its subjectivity. I knew this in theory, but submitting this manuscript taught me it in practice.

I liked the story. So did my agent. So she sent it out to some editors. One responded promptly and said something like: “I can totally see the illustrations, but I think the writing is clunky.”

Not what I’d hoped to hear.

Barely a day later, another editor responded saying, “I LOVE the writing. But I’m having a real problem picturing the illustrations.”

Now I was just confused.

Fortunately, two other editors liked the text and could visualize illustrations. They both made offers, and the book sold at auction. Interestingly enough, when I talked with each editor before making a decision, they had distinct views of how the book could be edited and illustrated.

I’m very happy with the results, but this scenario does show how a manuscript that’s just right for one editor might not work for another at all. And it shows how much an editor’s vision contributes to the book’s final look.

In fact, a lot of the advice I want my daughter to remember is stuff all writers should keep in mind as they pursue publication. As I said:

Roads … remember.
Every life landmark, the big and the small.
The moments you tripped,
the times you stood tall.
Where you are going, and where you began.
What you expected. What you didn’t plan.

So as my daughter and my book head out into the world, I hope they’ll both find their footing and make their mark – wherever they go.

And for your enjoyment, the amazing book trailer.

Pat photoPat Zietlow Miller got 126 rejections before selling her first picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH. Since then, she’s sold eight additional picture books. Two of them are coming out in 2015 — WHEREVER YOU GO from Little, Brown in April and SHARING THE BREAD: AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING STORY from Schwartz & Wade in August. Pat has also won the Golden Kite Award for picture book text and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor.
Learn more about Pat on her Website.



Filed under Guest Posts

Remembering Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Today we’re offering something special, a moving tribute to author Zilpha Keatley Snyder written by fellow Erin Murphy Literary Agency client Susan Lynn Meyer. Susan is the author of MATTHEW AND TALL RABBIT GO CAMPING, and BLACK RADISHES, which won the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in 2011, and NEW SHOES. Please read on for Susan’s heartfelt guest post…

Susan Lynn Meyer - my author photo

Susan Lynn Meyer

I was very saddened this week to learn of the death of Zilpha Keatley Snyder, best known to the world as the author of The Egypt Game, The Witches of Worm, and The Headless Cupid, all Newbery Honor winners. Zilpha Keatley Snyder wrote some of the books most important to me in my childhood. I still own my disintegrating green paperback copy of The Changeling from 1970, a book I deeply loved, its pages now discolored by time, the cover, bearing the price “$.95,” about to fall off if it is read even one more time.

ZKS n14441Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of the children’s authors whose work I most admire. And, as I came to know, she was also a person of tremendous kindness and generosity. A few years ago, I was trying, rather cluelessly, to find a publisher for my first novel. For reasons too lengthy to go into, it was sitting on the desk of a very well-known editor who had expressed interest in it. Every day I hoped for an email from this editor. But one never came, and after about nine months (yes, I know now that was too long to wait!) I started thinking about sending it elsewhere. I sent it to two other editors—and then it belatedly occurred to me to try submitting to agents.

I had no real idea of how to go about this. I started to investigate agents who had published writers whose work I admired, work that seemed in some respects like mine. I looked online to see who represented Zilpha Keatley Snyder—and it turned out that she and Patricia Reilly Giff, another writer whose work I loved, had the same agent. They were among the most senior and renowned writers on my list. Writing to their agent was obviously an incredibly long shot. But I sent him a letter, as I did to many other agents.

ZKS 1850137_290Rejection letters came back, plenty of them. But then suddenly a lot of things happened at once. The first was a phone call from Rebecca Short (who has just gotten married and is now Rebecca Weston) at Random House, one of the two other editors to whom I had sent my manuscript before I decided to try agents. Rebecca wanted to acquire my manuscript, Black Radishes! I leave you to imagine the utter ecstasy and astonishment I was thrown into by this phone call.

But I also still had submission letters out with literary agents, and I didn’t want just to publish one novel—I wanted a literary career. So I contacted the three agents who hadn’t yet definitively said no. And suddenly all three wanted to represent me. I was astonished that all of this was happening—to me!—but still, choosing between them was surprisingly stressful. One of the agents who was interested was Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s. I phoned the agents and emailed some writers represented by them—and then another amazing thing happened. The phone rang.

Zilpha Keatley SnyderMy husband was making dinner. I was on the exercise bike, working off the stress of sudden, unexpected good fortune and major life decisions. Our daughter was lying on the sofa, reading, as it happens, Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Janie’s Private Eyes. My husband answered the phone. “Susan?” he called, sounding confused. “It’s Zilpha. . . Snyder?”

“Let me talk to her! Let me talk to her!” our daughter shouted as I ran to the phone and, sweaty and panting, spoke my first words to a writer whose books had meant the world to me. Zilpha Keatley Snyder didn’t know me at all. I had never met her or even heard her give a reading, as she lived all the way across the country. But when I emailed her to tell her that I had queried her agent because of my admiration for her books and that he had offered me representation and that I was choosing an agent, she didn’t just email back a reply—she telephoned to talk over the decision with me. Many writers of her stature wouldn’t have bothered to reply at all. “You must have written a really good story!” she kept saying to me.

In the end, I chose a different agent, the wonderful Erin Murphy. (I had decided to write to Erin after swooning over her writer Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold.) But as my novel, Black Radishes, was just about to come out in 2010, my editor at Random House asked me if I knew any writers I could ask for blurbs for the novel. I didn’t know many writers yet. Black Radishes, my novel, was inspired by my father’s experiences as a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied France. Snyder’s Gib Rides Home was inspired by her father’s experiences in a harsh orphanage in Nebraska in the early 1900s. There was, I thought, a connection between the subject matter of the books.

So I very hesitantly emailed Zil again (this is the name she signed her emails with) and asked. I explained that I realized that she didn’t know me or my work at all, and that I completely understood that when she read my book she might not like it and might not want to blurb it, and that if so I would completely understand. But, I asked, could I send her an advance copy of the book?

BLACK RADISHES cover She said yes—and she blurbed my debut novel. I will always treasure the words from her on my book jacket, as I will always treasure the many wonderful books she gave to the world.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder wrote forty-six books over the course of her long and distinguished literary career, books that won many awards and were translated into twelve languages. Her fiction is notable for its emotional depth and complexity, for the respect it accords to the minds of children—to their fantasy lives, their desires and wishes, their pain, their struggles, their courage.

ZKS th_0440400538This emotional depth is evident even in her funniest novel, Black and Blue Magic. This novel is about clumsy Harry Houdini Marco, who lives with his widowed mother in a California boarding house. A strange, funny little man gives Harry a magical ointment that allows him to grow wings secretly at night. Yet, amidst the humor, with deft, light touches, Snyder gives Harry a wistful yearning to live up to the aspirations of his dead father—and though he never fully loses his clumsiness, he comes to feel closer to his father in the novel’s end.

ZKS 220px-TheChangelingSnyder represents children from a wide variety of backgrounds and in complex, sometimes difficult family situations. Robin in The Velvet Room is from a family of homeless migrant workers living in California during the Great Depression. Cat Kinsey, in Cat Running, is from a tense blended family with a weak mother and a severe, uncomprehending father. In The Changeling, perhaps my favorite of Snyder’s novels, Ivy has an alcoholic mother and various members of her family are frequently in trouble with the law. She finds refuge in her friendship with Martha and her belief that she is not really a Carson but a changeling—of supernatural origin and switched at birth with a human child. Martha’s affluent, seemingly perfect family is challenging in its own way: conformist, highly successful, and judgmental. Martha’s friendship with Ivy allows her to grow and develop outside the confines of her family’s narrow ways of thinking.

In Snyder’s fiction, the line between the real and the magical is sometimes ambiguous, and it is this quality that is perhaps most unique and most haunting in her fiction. There are moments when the reader can’t really be sure whether what has happened can be logically explained. Is Jessica’s cat magical in The Witches of Worm, and does he speak to her without words? Is some other poltergeist at work in The Headless Cupid besides angry adolescent Amanda? And has Ivy somehow managed, at the end of The Changeling at once to escape her family and not to grow up?

In The Witches of Worm, Mrs. Fortune, an eerie and fascinating elderly neighbor who loves cats, tells Jessica, “Belief in mysteries—all manner of mysteries—is the only lasting luxury in life” (116). It is this luxury that Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s many great works of fiction give us, as readers—an exploration of the mysterious ways our everyday world comes into contact with the unknown, as well as a profound exploration of the mysteries and depths of the human spirit.

Visit Zilpha’s webpage, here, for more information about her and her books.

And get to know Susan better by visiting her web page, here. Thank you, Susan, for sharing this with us today! 


Filed under Guest Posts

Books Change The World by Trent Reedy

trent2The EMU’s would like to welcome Trent Reedy, fellow EMLA client, to share some thoughts about how he came to the realization that being a writer and writing books was the best way for him to change the world.

I used to think I could change the world.

In my early twenties, I thought that if I could only get my political party to defeat the opposing side, then everything would be set right. I wasted a lot of time and energy arguing about that stuff. Then I was sent to the war in Afghanistan with my Army National Guard unit and everything changed. With a very real possibility of death lingering over so much of my time there, life was stripped down to only what was truly important. I promised myself that if I made it home, I would dedicate my life to my faith, family, friends, reading, and writing. True to that promise, I no longer get wrapped up in socio-political debates or the current cause du jour. I don’t display argumentative posts on my social media or argue with the posts of others whose viewpoints differ from mine. I no longer believe I can make a change in America or in the world, at least not on the scale or in the manner I once envisioned.

This I believe: The power of a book to improve the life of its reader is beyond measure.

During the most challenging part of my time during the war, my fellow soldiers and I were living in a rented mud-brick Afghan house. The house was built for an Afghan family, and not for nearly fifty soldiers with their vehicles and equipment. Insufficient cold storage meant we were limited to small field rations. The well was shallow and often went dry, so we were allowed three-minute showers once every three days. If the well went dry on a soldier’s shower day, he’d have to wait three days and try again. The heat would flirt with 120 degrees, and was nearly unbearable under our helmets and heavy body armor. The Taliban sent us frequent death threats, and my life was reduced to an endless, colorless drudgery of duty, guns, filth, and fear.

That kind of living ground me down, reducing me to a machine-man who was slowly dying inside. Then one day the mail finally arrived, and with it a copy of Katherine Paterson’s novel Bridge to Terabithia. Some miracle allowed me to find the time to read the whole book that day, and I remember my spirits being lifted up and freed, in a manner similar to the way I felt when I could finally take off my heavy baking hot body armor.bridge

Bridge to Terabithia reminded me that there is still hope, even in the most difficult circumstances. More than that, it was a spark of beauty at a time in my life where beauty seemed so very hard to come by. I needed that spark of hope and wonder. I needed that connection to another person’s personal thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Bridge to Terabithia helped me keep going through those long fearful days. Because of that novel, I will never forget the awesome power of one book to affect its reader. It was that book that gave me hope, not only that I might survive the war and return home, but also that I, too, might one day follow my lifelong dream of becoming a writer.

My goal as a writer isn’t to change the world, but to make a connection with each single reader of each of my books.

trentand girl

During my time in Afghanistan, my fellow soldiers and I encountered a young Afghan girl named Zulaikha who had suffered from birth from cleft lip. An Army doctor had volunteered to conduct her needed corrective surgery, but the Army could not send a helicopter for her. So my fellow soldiers and I pooled our money to pay for civilian transportation to get Zulaikha to her surgery. When she returned to us, she was completely changed. Only a tiny scar hinted that anything had ever been different about her. And although she was very young, and we were probably intimidating strangers from a distant land, she faced the entire situation with a wonderful quiet courage and dignity. For me, she began to symbolize the struggle that all Afghans face in working to build a better country for future generations. The last time I saw Zulaikha, I promised myself I would do dustwhatever I could to tell her story. That’s what led to my first novel Words in the Dust, the story of a young Afghan girl named Zulaikha who dares to dream, who finds the courage to pursue her own best destiny.

I once heard from a young Afghan-American reader who thanked me for writing “a book that shows that not all Afghans are bad.” I worry for this reader, wondering what she must have to deal with in her daily life that makes her feel that such a book is necessary. But I’m honored that she could find some measure of comfort and common ground with Words in the Dust. And I hope that other readers might find an Afghan friend in Zulaikha, a connection to this country that has become such an important part of our own country’s narrative. The Zulaikha I met in Afghanistan didn’t set out to change the world. Instead she inspired me and the soldiers with whom I served. And I hope her namesake character will make a connection with others, one reader at a time.

I recently celebrated the publication of my fourth novel If You’re Reading This. This book, about a ifyourereadingsixteen-year-old young man who begins to receive letters that his soldier father wrote before he was killed in the war in Afghanistan, is my attempt to say goodbye to this long war that has affected millions of American young people. My goal with If You’re Reading This isn’t to convince anyone to support or to protest the war, but to offer the reader a sense of what the mission in Afghanistan has meant to Afghans, to the soldiers who served, and to the families who sacrificed in support of that service. If I can help even one young person who has missed his deployed loved ones, then I’ll have done my job. An entire generation of young people has grown up, enduring the sacrifices in support of our long wars, and I believe they deserve to know why. They deserve to know that they’re not alone and that their sacrifices are valued and appreciated.

I wonder if a great deal of the problems we continue to face in society may be at least partially the result of too many people trying to “change the world,” of too many people stuck in a default mode of thinking in sweeping generalizations, of seeing in each person they encounter, not an individual in all his rich complexities, but rather as a subset of a larger group with all the potentially problematic assumptions that view can bring. My YA trilogy Divided We Fall depicts America’s divdedpolitical divide stretched out to its furthest nightmarish extreme. In my story, this division has resulted from two sides, two clashing socio-political ideologies that are both trying to “change the world” for what each of them believes is the better. Instead of communicating with individuals person to person in order to seek common ground and practical solutions, the people in Divided We Fall flock to those whose thoughts and ideologies mirror their own. Safe in those self-affirming alliances, they set about trying to “change the world” by hurling partisan insults and blanket accusations at their adversaries, until all they’re left with is the divide itself.

Ten years ago, in the violent maw of another divide, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia reminded me of the life saving power of books, of each book’s awesome potential to connect the individual to hope and a better life. I believe that all the wars, weapons, and worries of the world could be overcome if each individual strove to live for the positive and uplifting. Nothing brings an individual to that way of thinking better than the real human connection that is possible through the pages of a book.

trent and katherine


Filed under Guest Posts, Writing and Life


Good morning! Allow me to (re)introduce myself. I am Jeannie Mobley, one of the founders of EMUs Debuts, and I write historical fiction. Which is why I have been invited to return with a guest post on this great, glorious, momentous day in history.

Yes, my friends. Today, July 14, is Bastille Day! Vive la France!

motto of the French revolution source:istockphoto permission:licensed

Yep. I’m here because  in 1789, on this very day 225 years ago, the French revolution began with the storming of the Bastille. A revolution that would culminate in overthrowing one of the great monarchies of Europe and see the king, and more notably (at least for my purposes here,) the queen guillotined in front of the populace.

Yeah, so. She had a little money. But how much cake could she really be eating with that waistline?

That queen was the beautiful and elegant Marie Antoinette. Beautiful and elegant on the outside, anyway, but so arrogant, and hard-hearted that when she was told that the peasants had no bread, she allegedly replied, “Let them eat cake.”

In truth, it’s unlikely that Marie Antoinette ever said this. The story comes originally from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiographical work Confessions, penned in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was a mere child and the storming of the Bastille was over twenty years away.

Which brings us (obviously) to the Literary History of Cake.

Because while I’ve been trying to educate you on French history, you’ve just been thinking about cake, haven’t you? About the tender sweetness of the layers and the buttery texture. About the chocolaty smoothness on your tongue, and the creamy, dreamy swirls of icing bursting with sugary delight across your tingling taste buds.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right.

The literary history of cake.

We might argue that the literary history of cake begins with that great visionary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and culminates, at least so far, on July 10, 2014 with the release of the





But Tara’s journey with Cake didn’t begin with her debut novel, just as Gladys Gatsby’s journey in ALL FOUR STARS didn’t begin with Cake. In fact, we first meet Gladys preparing a non-cake French dessert, Crème Brulee. I’m not going to give you the details. Suffice it to say, if the French monarchy had had Gladys and her blow torch 125 years ago today, things might have turned out very differently. Vive la France! indeed.

Gladys’s journey takes us through hilarious and astounding feats of cookery, despite her parents demands that she stay out of the kitchen, and on to her accidental assignment reviewing a top New York dessert bakery for a New York newspaper. It culminates not only with cake, but with  mouth-watering moments of literary goodness you won’t want to miss.

Desserts only

As for Tara, her journey has included some hilarious encounters with cake as well. Apparently, she has had a long fascination with cake in literature, claiming Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a favorite book, and the cake-eating-torture within it a favorite scene. Tara’s obsession with cake literature has even led her to reenact this scene. On video. On this very blog!


And she thought when I left the blog she could stop being haunted by this picture.

It’s sad, really, where the literary history of cake takes us, isn’t it?

No. No, it isn’t.

Because it takes us, in the end, to THIS FABULOUS WEEK in which EMU’s Debuts is celebrating the release of Tara’s delicious first novel, ALL FOUR STARS (which went by the working title Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake for a time. Just in case I haven’t mentioned cake enough in this post.)

Congratulations, Tara. Because nothing is sweeter, or bursts more gloriously upon us, than a debut novel. And this one is sweet indeed.

So stick with us all week to celebrate ALL FOUR STARS.

Raise a slice of cake in honor of the event!  Then wipe off those sticky fingers of yours and crack open a copy!  You’ll find yourself cheering the whole time!

What’s that you say? You don’t have a copy?! Well, there are three things you can do about that:   buy one at your local bookstore, check one out at your local library, or LEAVE US A COMMENT THIS WEEK FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF YOUR VERY OWN!!!!!

FourstarsVive la Gladys Gatsby!

FourstarsVive la Cake!




Filed under Celebrations, cover art, Guest Posts, Launch, Uncategorized

Editor Interview: Heather Alexander, Dial Books/Penguin

Jeanne Ryan experienced a potentially stressful surprise after her book was signed by Penguin: the acquiring editor left! But to Jeanne’s delight, another editor was in the wings, eager to work on her project. To me, this is a story about the wonderment and value of the unexpected…

Today, we welcome Dial Books editor, Heather Alexander, who will fill us in on Jeanne’s journey to publication.

Heather Alexander misses nothing when she edits with these glasses!

1) Emu’s LBS: Hi, Heather. Thank you for joining us today. Since you weren’t the original editor for NERVE, at what point did you become involved and how did that happen?

My dear friend Andrew Harwell was the acquiring editor of Nerve, and to be completely frank, when he was telling me about it, I was jealous.  Like, gritted teeth “I’m so happy for you!” jealous.  It sounded like such an awesome story by a cool writer.  It was my bad fortune that Andrew left Penguin, and my great luck to have this amazing book fall onto my list.  Well, luck and lobbying; everyone at Dial knew I was very excited about the project, so it made sense for me to take it over.  Andrew had given some preliminary notes, but Jeanne and I worked closely together basically right from the start.

2) Emu’s LBS: Did this book change in any major way during the editor-writer revision process?

There were a couple of big changes, like the setting for the end, and how the end plays out, but a lot of the work Jeanne did was expanding character and tightening plot.  Some back story was fleshed out, some relationships were defined and clarified, and there was at least one name-change.  But this was in pretty good shape when I got it.

3) Emu’s LBS: What did you like best about the process of refining NERVE for publication?

Working with Jeanne is a wonderful experience from an editorial standpoint.  She has terrific ideas, and is open to mine, and uses them as a jumping off point for more brainstorming.  We had a lot of conversations that built ideas on each other’s thoughts, which is a very satisfying way to work.

4) Emu’s LBS: Do you think the plot of NERVE could happen in today’s Internet age? 

That’s one of the things I like best about Nerve:  it doesn’t seem like it could happen, but when you break it down, it’s not as far fetched as it seems.  I hope we’re not giving ideas to creepers.

5) Emu’s LBS: What’s it like working with debut authors? How is it different from working with more established authors?

I love working with debut authors.  They’re so enthusiastic and I don’t mind soothing nerves and holding hands along the way.  There isn’t a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Publish)” guide—although maybe there should be—so there is a lot of managing expectations, and explaining the process.  But seeing a new author through it all to publication day (and the accompanying glee) is really fun for me.  More established authors are also great to work with, and the focus might be a little different.  We can dig more deeply into expanding their authorial voice, the reach of their books, and their brand. But everyone was a debut author at some point. 

Thank you, Heather, for allowing us to host you on Emu’s Debuts and for having the NERVE to bring such a thought-provoking, exciting book to readers!


Filed under Book Promotion, Editing and Revising, Editor, Guest Posts

EMU’s Debuts proudly presents WE’VE GOT A JOB by Cynthia Levinson

WE'VE GOT A JOB by Cynthia Levinson.

WE'VE GOT A JOB is one of the most important and valuable books your child will ever read.

In late spring of 1963 the front line of the American Civil Rights movement was located in the city of  Birmingham, Alabama. It was a time when the lives of black Americans were continually threatened by the very authorities whose duty it was to protect them. One of the most remarkable events in the annals of our nation took place during this time, an event which saw 4,000 of our nation’s least experienced and most vulnerable citizens rise up against the tyranny of segregation. They were children, some as young as nine years old, and they changed the course of American history.

EMU’s Debuts is immensely proud to celebrate the launch of Cynthia Levinson’s middle-grade debut, WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH. It’s an extraordinary book that’s already earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. Prominent book distributor Baker and Taylor called it “the cat’s meow,” and School Library Journal’s Practically Paradise blog believes it may be the most important historical account of the Civil Rights Movement that students will read in school (which they will, of course).

As we did for Michelle Ray‘s debut, FALLING FOR HAMLET, we’ll be posting all week long about WE’VE GOT A JOB. There’ll be interviews, quizzes, teaching ideas, wonderful stories, prizes, and just lotsa EMU-esque good vibes. FYI, all you little EMUs who comment this week will receive a free “I can be a hero too!” badge. We’ll also have two opportunities to win a free, personalized copy of the book – the first is by leaving a comment on this blog post.

But first, the story of how this amazing story became a book, courtesy of three major players in its publication: Chris Barton, Erin Murphy, and Kathy Landwehr.


Part I: An Early Recommendation

SHARK VS. TRAIN author and EMLA client Chris Barton.

Celebrated author and early WE'VE GOT A JOB supporter Chris Barton.

Austin, Texas is a fiery mosh pit of accomplished children’s authors and illustrators, and the proposal for WE’VE GOT A JOB had a terrific Austin-based booster early on: picture book/nonfiction author and Renaissance man Chris Barton.

MJ: What did you see in Cynthia’s proposal that spurred you to send it on to your agent?

CB: Cynthia’s materials — two chapters, an outline, and a bibliography — were simply outstanding. The topic was fascinating and undeservedly little-known, her treatment of the events was compelling, her voice was confident, and it was obvious how hard she had worked to polish those materials. Most importantly, I really enjoyed reading them and I was highly interested in learning the rest of the story. It was an honor to put her in touch with Erin and help get her proposal into Erin’s hands so that LOTS of us could read the rest of Cynthia’s story.


Erin Murphy, agent extraordinaire and owner of superdog Lulu.

Überagent Erin Murphy, who knows a good thing when she sees it.

Part II: A Referral, a Tingly Feeling, and an Offer of Representation
Chris Barton’s agent is, of course, the queen EMU herself, Erin Murphy, whose track record speaks for itself.

MJ: You didn’t hesitate to sign Cynthia on as an EMLA client, lucky for us. Why were you so inspired by her proposal?

EM(U): The first thing is that it came on referral from Chris Barton. It’s always good when someone you trust says, “You have to read this,” or something to that effect.

The second was that the proposal was clearly written by someone who knew what she was doing, both in writing and research, and it was revealing an aspect of the Civil Rights Movement that I’d never been aware of. I had that tingly O.M.G. feeling mixed with a bit of panic that someone else would do it first. I couldn’t imagine a better topic for children’s books. The Civil Rights era and its major players have been covered so much in children’s literature, and here was a brand-new take with the most kid-interesting window that I could dare to imagine. This was a book that could change kids’ lives.


Part III: The Right Editor at the Right Time

Peachtree Publisher's Spring 2012 Catalog

Oh, there's some good stuff in here, you know there is.

Kathy Landwehr, VP and Associate Publisher at Peachtree Publishers, was eerily perfect for Cynthia’s book, so much so that I had to pepper her with multiple questions.

MJ: What was your initial reaction to Cynthia’s proposal?

KL: Delight and exhilaration. I was already a bit obsessed with the Children’s March and had been trying to figure out who could write the story—and then there it was! The proposal started off with a bang, as the finished book does, introducing us to Audrey Faye Hendricks, who went to jail when she was just nine years old. Before I finished reading the proposal, I jumped up and ran down the hall to wave it in our publisher’s face and babble incoherently. Fortunately, she’s fluent in Kathy and understood what I was talking about. And she shared my enthusiasm.

MJ: Was there any one aspect of the proposal that compelled you to acquire it?

KL: I was already interested in the story of the event. I loved Cynthia’s approach, focusing on four of the participants and using their personal experiences to convey the enormity of the event. I was also impressed by the thorough and extensive research that she’d already done, and the way she had integrated so many important details into a compelling story.

MJ:What kind of impact do you hope this book will have on readers?

KL: I hope that readers will respond as I did—that they’ll jump up, run down the hall, and tell someone that they have to read this amazing book. I hope that, as I do, they’ll marvel at Arnetta, Audrey, James, and Wash and feel amazed at their maturity and accomplishments and grateful for their efforts and sacrifice. I hope they’ll realize (or be reminded) that individuals can make a difference, that people—including young people—can confront tremendous injustice and change the world for the better.


Contest! Free Book! Book Contest for a Free Book!
We’re giving away a copy of the book, including a nifty personalized bookplate direct from the author. To throw your hat in the ring, just leave a comment on this post. And as I mentioned earlier, there’ll be another chance to win a free copy on Friday. One way or another, however, you want to read this book and share it with the children in your lives. Raise a fist to the heavens and shout in triumph, blog readers – WE’VE GOT A JOB is worthy of all our praise and thanksgiving!



Three Starred Reviews


Filed under Agents, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Colleagues, Editor, Guest Posts, Happiness, Updates on our Books!

Interview with Sourcebooks Assistant Editor Aubrey Poole

On Monday, I had the pleasure of interviewing author, Anna Staniszewski about her newly-released book, MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE. Today, I follow-up with an Assistant Editor at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Aubrey Poole, who stepped right in and helped put Anna’s debut novel into the hands of readers.

LBS: Speaking for Sourcebooks, what was it that first attracted you to MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE?

AP: Anna’s agent sent over a great pitch about an adventurous girl that saves magical kingdoms (I loved that Jenny did the rescuing in this fairy tale), but it was the first few lines that grabbed me: “You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They’re lies. All lies. No one tells you the truth until it’s too late. And then all you can do is run like crazy while a herd of unicorns tries to kill you.” How can you not love Jenny after reading that? And who knew Unicorns were so bloodthirsty?

LBS: How did the revision process work between publisher and author?

AP: Generally we go through two rounds: First is the developmental edit that looks at the story arc and second is the line-edit where I look more closely at sentence structure, word choice, etc. Anna is a terrific writer and she put a lot of work into it with her agent before we even got it. I suggested a few tweaks to the pacing and the final showdown with evil Klarr, which Anna skillfully incorporated, but I can honestly say it was a pretty light edit. Also, I just have to thank Bill Gates for Microsoft Word’s Tracked Changes.

LBS: I understand that Anna’s original editor left to attend an Oxford writing program. Did you become the primary editor, and if so, what was that like for you?

AP: Yes, Rebecca Frazer was the acquiring editor. She has a fantastic eye and really helped me learn the ropes. This book is one we worked very closely on from the beginning – I actually read it first and when Rebecca heard me laughing hysterically from the next room she called me to find out what I was reading. Since I was such a big fan, Rebecca let me take point on this project while overseeing the process. I’m very grateful for her trust and direction, and it turned out to be a smooth transition once she left. I was incredibly pleased when my MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE was officially transitioned to me – I love working with Anna!

LBS: From a publisher’s perspective, what is the most challenging part of bringing a debut novel to life?

AP: Getting the word out! I think it’s obvious how much I love this book, and I want everyone else to love it too! But they have to read it first. Anna has been just amazing about getting out there and promoting this book, and so has our marketing team. It’s also important to get the packaging right because we’re hoping to establish a successful career for Anna—not just this one book. So we want to get the title, cover, and back cover copy just right not only for the book but for Anna’s author brand.

LBS: I know a lot of readers and authors wonder why it can take years between an acquisition and its release date. Why is that?

AP: There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes! As an independent company, Sourcebooks is a bit more nimble and we can actually get a book to market more quickly than is sometimes typical. We’ve just finished acquiring for Fall 2012 and are moving to Spring 2013. But we need time to edit the book, get the packaging right, manufacture the final product and then build up interest. We print advance reader copies five or six months before the actual publication date to send out to reviewers and bloggers like you. They need time to review the book and get it into their magazines, etc. I get anxious to see my author’s books in print, so I can only imagine how they feel, but it doesn’t help to print the book faster if no one’s heard of it.

LBS: I’ve always wondered, is it easier or harder to work with debut authors?

AP: Oooh, good question. I think there are pros and cons. Previously published authors know the ropes and have experience with the editing and publishing process. But there’s nothing more exciting than that first call to an author to tell them that we want to acquire their book(s). That’s the best part of my job.

Good luck with Anna’s book, Aubrey! I am sure it will reach the hearts of many middle-graders. Thank you for taking the time to stop by Emu’s Debuts and share your side of the publication experience with us.


Filed under Book Promotion, Editor, Guest Posts, Publishers and Editors

Interview with Debut Author Anna Staniszewski

I recently had the pleasure of reading Anna Staniszewski’s debut middle-grade novel, MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE. What a fun read, filled with adventure, imagination, and a strong female character. All the qualities that I looked for when I was a book-devouring kid. I’m sure readers will enjoy following Jenny’s adventures and misadventures as she breaks up unicorn fights, fights evil magic, and struggles to save the citizens of Speak. Today, I interview author Anna Staniszewski, followed by Wednesday’s interview with Assistant Editor at Sourcebooks, Aubrey Poole, to learn all about this book and its path to publication. But first, here’s the lowdown from the jacket copy:

I’ve spent my life as an official adventurer. I travel across enchanted kingdoms saving magical creatures and fighting horrible beasts that most of you think are only myths and legends. I’ve never had a social life. My friends have all forgotten me. And let’s not even talk about trying to do my homework. So-I’m done!! I’m tired and I want to go back to being a normal girl. But then along comes “Prince Charming” asking for help, and, well, what’s a tired girl like me supposed to do?

Anna Staniszewski stops by Emu's Debuts

LBS: Welcome, Anna! I know that sometimes debut novels take a long time to get in proper shape for publication. When did you start writing MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE and how long did it take you to find an agent and then a publisher?

AS: I first started working on MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE in late 2006. I’d been writing a dark, depressing YA project that was really getting me down, and I was in desperate need of a change of pace. I sat down and wrote a scene about a girl named Jenny who comes home from school to find a talking frog sitting on her bed. I wasn’t sure what the girl’s story was, but she was so spunky that I was eager to find out more about her. Over the next several months, whenever I was stuck on the YA project, I would come back to Jenny and continue telling her story. In 2009, about three years after I first started working on the project, I signed with my agent with a different manuscript. When I told her about this manuscript, she liked the idea and helped me whip it into shape. I was ecstatic when it sold to Sourcebooks in the summer of 2010. It’s been a long journey, but definitely a rewarding one!

LBS: What was the revision process like before and after you had an editor?

AS: As I mentioned above, I did quite a bit of revising with my agent. During that process, I cut out two major characters and significantly simplified the plot. Once I started revising with my editor, I focused a lot on fleshing out the story, especially the minor characters. I also wound up rewriting the ending to increase the tension and drama. Something I learned along the way: the longer you work on a funny project, the more the humor wears off on you. I felt like I had to keep “upping the funny” throughout the process just to keep myself laughing, and I think it made the story more entertaining in the end.

LBS: I understand you had a few changes of the guard while at Sourcebooks. How did that work?

AS: The manuscript sold to Rebecca Frazer, though I wound up working with both her and Aubrey Poole throughout the process. Rebecca recently left Sourcebooks to study writing at Oxford (aren’t you jealous?) but luckily that happened after the book was pretty much completed. The Sourcebooks team has been amazingly supportive, so the transition has been very smooth.

LBS: Have you been surprised by any aspect of the publishing process?

AS: I was really surprised by how stressful copyedits were for me. I usually love revisions, big and small, but because I tend to be a perfectionist, copyedits fed into my neurotic tendencies just a little too much. I was very glad to have a deadline; otherwise, I could have continued agonizing over words and commas for years!

LBS: How has life changed since your book debuted this fall?

AS: The biggest change is the fact that my writing is on display more than it ever has been before. I’ve always been a bit shy about sharing my work, only letting my critique partners read it in its early stages. Even my family had hardly read anything I’d written before. Now my story is out there in the world for everyone to read! It’s been a bit of a shift for me, but getting positive responses from readers has made it less scary. I even heard from a girl who hadn’t liked reading before she picked up my book, and now she can’t wait to read more. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that!

Wow, what a great fan letter, Anna. That’s the ultimate compliment. I’m sure a lot of writers can relate to this interview, from balancing multiple projects to trying to “feel” the humor in a story that you’ve been looking at for years. Congratulations on your debut novel, and thank you for stopping by to share your story!


Filed under Book Promotion, Guest Posts, Publishers and Editors

Welcoming Jennifer Nielsen!

It is once again GUEST WEEK here at EMU’s Debuts, in which we talk with some other authors about their debut experiences. This week, we talk to two authors who have debuted a little differently from most people.

Today’s guest is Jennifer Nielsen, who’s second book, ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT appears in stores this week!  This is the second book in a series, and also Jennifer’s second book to be published, and yet in a sense, it is still part of her debut, because her first sale was for a multi-book deal.  So she agreed to come by today and tell us a little about debuting with a multi-book deal.  How did that happen, Jennifer?

 In the spring of 2009, my fabulous agent (Ammi-Joan Paquette) began the first round of submissions for my middle grade manuscript, ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR. It tells the story of Elliot Penster, an 11-year-old boy who becomes King of the Brownies and accidentally launches a war with the Goblins. Two houses made offers on it, and both offers came in for a three-book deal.

Almost immediately, I began work on the second manuscript of that series, ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT. This book, which has just released (squee!), picks up shortly after the end of the Goblin war when Elliot is kidnapped to the Underworld by a Pixie who wants Elliot to steal a hair from a sleeping demon for a plot of her own.

As proof that I have a fabulous agent, in the spring of 2010, she sold another three-book series for me to Scholastic. The first book, THE FALSE PRINCE, will launch in April 2012.

How does selling multiple books differ from selling a single book?

Every sale is exciting, right? And every sale deserves celebration because it means that story will be told. The difference is that in selling multiple books of a series, I knew right from the first manuscript that there would be more story to tell. So it allowed me to write in threads for Book 1 that I knew might not be developed until the second or third book. I probably wouldn’t have included them if there were a chance of it being a standalone book, because these threads wouldn’t have made sense on their own.

And it was fun to look ahead and know I would have two more book releases all on that single sale. This is a great thing, but it also means I have a longer time commitment. It would be difficult to work on other projects until I knew I’d met my expanded obligations for the current releases. When I wrote FALSE PRINCE, I had completed the first two ELLIOT books and was into my early drafts on the third. But even though I have ideas, I won’t begin any solid work on a new series until the ELLIOT books are completely wrapped up, and until I get through the outline stage of the third book for the PRINCE series. I’m really excited about the other ideas, but they’re in a long line.

I think many unpublished authors (and probably a lot of published ones too) dream of the multi-book sale. What is different about writing a non-contracted book and a contracted one?

When I’m writing a non-contracted book, always in the back of my mind is the nagging question of whether this manuscript will sell. I think many writers feel this way, and we all hate that feeling.

Now I’m working on contracted books, and the question that nags at me isn’t whether it will sell, but whether if what I’m writing meets the expectations generated from the previous manuscript. I sometimes miss the freedom of writing without rules, deadlines, and limits. Having two contracted series means that I’m always working on promoting the current release, edits for the next deadline, or writing the next manuscript (which means, I’m always working). It also means from the planning stage, my ideas become subject to the thoughts and feedback from my editors. Luckily, I’ve had great editors to work with, so this has been helpful for me. I’m glad to be where I’m at and feel very fortunate, but I’ve come to understand that nagging questions are a constant for writers. The only thing that changes is what the question asks.

How are you building off your first book to promote the second book in the series?

Every author hopes to build a fan base with subsequent books, regardless of whether they are standalone or series books.

One thing Jennifer Nielsen knows about promotion is to get a REALLY GREAT CAKE for your release party!!!

This is probably the great advantage to a series sale. If children liked the first ELLIOT book, they are likely to seek out the second. If they stumble upon the second, they might go back and get the first, and so forth. But since I knew from the first book that five more books remained to be released (in two separate series), whenever I signed a book, I’d include with it a cardstock insert (like a square bookmark) that gave the titles and release dates of future books. I don’t know if that simple gesture will translate into future sales, but it definitely couldn’t hurt!

The bottom line is that when you approach a sale, it’s important to know who you are as an author. While some may prefer the security and advantages of a multi-book sale, others may prefer the freedom and advantages of a single book sale. Neither option is a guarantee nor a hindrance to a successful career, so it’s really a matter of working toward what works best for you.

Thanks for joining us today, Jennifer! Both ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR and ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT are available for sale, so check this great series out, if you haven’t already, and join us Wednesday to talk to Audrey Vernick about her debut in a new genre.


Filed under Guest Posts