Four Things All Debuts Should Do

I am a month away from my release (!) and I was thinking recently about different pieces of advice I’ve gleaned over the last year that might be helpful for a debuting author. Below are four things I think all debuting authors should do.

  1. Ask to see your marketing plan!

I fundamentally believe that a writer should worry about writing, and trust their publisher to worry about the publishing. But coming from background where I’ve made my own chapbooks, and then worked closely with a small publisher on a different book of poems, I’m used to being in the know regarding how my work will be marketed and publicized.

That said, I didn’t know what I was allowed to ask for or what information I was supposed to have throughout the process of working with a bigger publisher. Luckily, my editor offered a lot of information without my needing to ask, and I also reminded myself of a saying I first heard from my agent Joan: the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

And following that advice, I know I asked (still ask!) a lot of silly questions, but I think I also ask some good questions that have led to my having a better sense of what my publisher would be doing for me in terms of promotion and what I would need to do myself. Seeing my marketing plan helped me gain comfort in what was happening behind the scenes, and also I came to the table with ideas that would complement the work that my publisher was already doing in getting my book publicized.

  1. Establish what your “reviews” plan is going to be

I had to learn the hard way that I don’t need to read every review I’m tagged in and that establishing a routine for how I would deal with feedback once the book was reviewed would be critical to my well-being.

Since my ARCs were sent to librarians, booksellers, and bloggers seven months before my release date, a lot of folks began writing reviews while I was still working on revisions. And at first, I wanted to read every review and see what WHOLE REAL READERS were thinking and feeling about the novel. But I quickly realized that I was letting too many voices into my head while I was still working on revisions.

I have a writer friend who established an Official Reviews Reader: a friend to read the reviews on their behalf and highlight anything that the writer might wish to know. I know some writers who silence their Twitter mentions and asked their editor not to send them any reviews. In my case, I don’t check online reader review anymore but I still have my editor send me all trade reviews. This works for me! And I think it’s important to consider what works for you.

  1. Find your tribe

Writing is lonely, and you need to find a tribe! Join a debut group, read the work of the other writers in your debut year, attend readings, engage with writers whose work you enjoy, or whose work you’re excited about and begin fostering an online relationship.

Although your friends and family will try to understand the pressure and anxiety and anticipation that comes along with putting your book into the world, other authors debuting with you are basically your comrades-in-arms. They are in the revision trenches, the reviews blues, and the cover reveal highs.

Having writer friends in the same debut year also makes future conferences and literary festivals more enjoyable when you have other authors you can band together with.

  1. Figure out how you’re going to celebrate!

You wrote a book, it’s going out into the world. And as writers I think we quickly learn to appreciate every win: signing with an agent, selling the book, turning in revisions, seeing your cover, etc., and I think it’s equally important to take a moment before the release to celebrate that you made a tangible thing that will be out in the world forever, and ever, and ever.

Hope this helps!


ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland.  The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.


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Singing Your Book’s Song

Happy New Year! I’m relieved to report that it’s now 2018. Do you know what that means? Well, for me it means when someone asks when my picture book Babymoon will be published, I can reply, “Next year.” Those two words have been a long time coming. Who would ever believe that 180 words could take years and years of thought and effort?

I know who would believe it. Another writer. Probably you.

Babymoon is my heart-of-hearts book. Its message—that new families deserve quiet time to bond and fall in love—is deeply important to me. It’s been my job to steadfastly believe in this message, to sing the song of it to myself and to others, as I worked to give Babymoon its chance at publication.

Only you can sing your book’s unique song. You understand its melody and meaning better than anyone else ever could. It’s your job to steadfastly believe in it, and if you can, to make others believe in it too. This could take a long time. Many years. A lifetime, even.

But what could be more important? The possibility of singing something into existence reminds me of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind In The Door. Have you read it? It’s about naming and being named, letting love guide us to our truest selves, and singing our own irreplaceable song. 

Whenever we write or engage in any creative endeavor, that’s what we’re doing. We’re naming. We’re letting love guide us. We’re singing a new song born of imagination and inspiration. With time and lots of work, each has the potential to manifest into something real, like a book.

So let’s welcome 2018 with lifted voices. I’ll be listening for yours.





I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book Babymoon, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. What Miss Mitchell Saw, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Girl Versus Squirrel, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.









Filed under Dreams Come True, Faith, Inspiration, Picture books, process, Uncategorized, waiting

You’re Publishing a Book? How Nice!

I remember walking into my local indie children’s book store and asking if I could talk to their book buyer. “My debut novel comes out next year,” I told her, eyes wild with joy. “How nice,” she cautiously replied, and I could immediately see weariness and wariness in the woman’s eyes. I thought I’m not the first mom to walk in here and say I’ve written a book, am I? I wondered how many folks came in with books printed through Amazon’s CreateSpace, certain every bookstore has plenty of room to stock them and time to hand-sell their self-published creations.  

Telling my I-just-signed-a-book-contract celebration news to acquaintances often elicited this reply: “How nice! My daughter/aunt/ neighbor/child’s teacher/lawyer/candlestick maker published a book too!” 99% of these books were self-published. I can’t guess what percentage of non-writer folks assume that self-published books and traditionally published books are pretty much identical in terms of quality and the time invested to achieve that quality, but it felt high. High enough that I felt compelled to introduce my impending authorship by cramming in somewhat pompous-sounding details before running out of breath: “My first book is coming out next year with a traditional publishing house that’s been in the children’s book business for over eighty years and it’s going to sold in bookstores all over the country just like Harry Potter and yes, you’ll be able to order it not only from Amazon but anywhere fine books are sold.”

When I began my journey to publication, self-publishing was not part of my equation. I never questioned that I was going to seek out an agent and go the standard elephant3

glacially-paced rejection-rife but-oh-so-worth-it-all route. However, after years of work and only six months away from my book’s birthday, self-publishing persistently lurks in the background when I talk about my upcoming debut. It doesn’t lurk maliciously; more like a confused, well-meaning elephant who doesn’t know why its presence near my dining room table (carefully set for a book debut celebration party) is making me uncomfortable.

I learned to accept this sense of a misplaced pachyderm wandering in my writer’s soul until I took over leadership of an informal local writers’ group. One member of my group nearly shelled out big bucks for a “publishing contract” from some vanity press pretending to be doing him a favor. And another elected to print his memoir through Amazon and was amazed to find that my publishing experience bore no resemblance to his. I’m now worried about pre-published writers who genuinely want to become professionals getting sucked into thinking there’s no appreciable difference between self-publishing and traditional.

There are certainly valid reasons to self-publish, like avoiding rejection and having control over your book’s design and timing of release. I would hope that anyone choosing self-publication does so with their eyes wide open, knowing the price they pay for personal control is giving up the giddy fun of receiving advances, the power to reach readers through extensive publicity and distribution networks, and the warm, supportive hammock of confidence in the quality of your book’s professional editing and production.


What about your own journey, fellow pre-published and published writers? Let’s talk about any elephants that lurk at your own dining room tables. Have you considered going (or even satisfactorily navigated) the self-publishing route? Have you ever struggled to convince folks that traditionally publishing a book is one heck of an accomplishment? You have? How nice! Please share a comment below.


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is proud that it’s taken years of persistence to say her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out June 5, 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. See the cover reveal on KidLit TV here. Tweet to her about your own publishing experience @christinauss or drop by





Filed under Celebrations, Publishers and Editors, Self-publishing and Traditional Publishing, Uncategorized

A Band of Babies (Hardcover)

Source: A Band of Babies (Hardcover)

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Fare Well not Goodbye

As writers we’ve all come upon people who say, “I don’t care about being published, I just love the process.” Whoa Nelly – that is not me! WRITING IS HARD and I wouldn’t be beating my head against this particular wall if I didn’t strongly want my stories out in the world. And now LOST BOYS has been out on it’s own for three weeks. It is still a sparkly, giddy thrill every time a friend sends a picture of my book (my book – the one I wrote) on the shelf of some random bookstore.


Tonight I will make my first appearance in one of my local indies. I am overflowing with gratitude for this journey and for the traveling companions I’ve met on this road.piglet_gratitude_winnie_the_pooh

And these traveling companions – my writing community, my tribe, have brought such a richness to my life. Because of their company and their kindness and the way we can jump into one another’s imaginary worlds, I’ve come to actually value the process as much as the end product of my book on the shelf. So today I will be leaving the role of debut and moving into the role of author – there is manuscript and other stories that need attention. This milestone also means fledging the Emu Debut nest. But don’t say goodbye too loudly ’cause ya ain’t getting rid of me easily. I will be here to support all the other Emu’s with future hatchings and share the new ideas and coming success of my nest mates. A hearty SHOUT OUT to all my writing buds and especially the whole Erin Murphy Literary Agency tribe. May we all fare well in this journey, my friends. I might have done this without you, but probably not and even if I had it certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere near as delightful.

FullSizeRenderDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel was released by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California.






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So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye

It’s been an exciting ride having Blue Sky White Stars and LiNES come out in the same year and a few months apart. One took 4 years to be born, and the other less than 2 years. Both have simple sparse verse. It’s been quite a ride.

Blue Sky Cover w text

When I wrote Blue Sky White Stars, I had no idea if anyone would like it. When I wrote LiNES , I hoped people would like it.

(click here for teacher ideas to go with BSWS)

(click here for teacher STEM ideas to go with LINES)


People ask which is my favorite and I have to say LiNES. Both ideas just came to me and I wrote them down as fast as I could to catch all of it.

On thinking about what to post, of course I loved getting to know my fellow Emus and being part of the nest. It was a wonderful feeling to have support while watching my “baby” hatch into the world. Of course when flying the coop, reflection became a natural part of it. That made me start thinking about what it takes to be a writer in this industry. I would have to say that writing takes courage. Courage means you are afraid, but you move forward anyway. Courage involves fear, not lack of.


Sometimes people ask for advice on writing. So I thought in my farewell post, I would list a dozen things that helped me (other than the wonderful Emus). . .

  1. I would also say, be aware of your fear of success, and make sure that is not stopping you.
  2. Give yourself permission to succeed.
  3. Ask lots of questions to yourself and out loud. The answer will come. This is especially helpful when having writers-block or solving a problem.
  4. Remember to revise more than rewrite.
  5. Don’t send out a manuscript before it is done. Make sure it spit-shines.
  6. Put in your 10,000 hours to become a professional. Remember this IS a competition.
  7. Make your goal that you want your manuscript to be irresistible to any editor.
  8. Join a critique group (I recommend online).
  9. LISTEN. Know that you don’t have to take any of the advice. You just need to put your wall down and listen. That is how you will learn. That is how you will grow and get better.
  10. Regularly do critiques (as in a critique group). Learn to have the eyes of an editor.
  11. Think out of the box. Picture books have been around for 100+ years in mass. The obvious ideas are taken. Think out of the box.
  12. Pray! (My secret weapon :o)

Thank you fellow Emus and readers, teachers, librarians, and all the lovely supporters of my writing and books. On that note, it’s late.  The sun has gone to bed, and so must I.  So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.

IMG_2907Sarvinder Naberhaus  is the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her most recent book, Blue Sky White Stars received 4 starred reviews and is a patriotic salute to the flag, paralleling the forces that forged this great nation, illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson. Look for her STEM & STEAM book, LiNES (also a starred review from PW) with  Pinterest boards of activities (click here: of all her books) for teachers, visit her website and find her on Twitter: @sarvindern


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Blast Off

I’ve launched.

launch gif

THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY has completed its countdown. We’re out there, now. Spreading adventure, science, and engineering to readers around the world.

And so it’s time for me to step away from my EMU nest.

This is unexpectedly one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far. It’s the end of the beginning, and I’m not sure I’m ready. Nicely, however, I’ve made a lot of friends during the beginning, and they’re coming with me as we all venture into the next phase of our careers. So that is making the transition a little easier.


It’s odd to be on this side of the launch. Everything seemed to build up to that one magic moment when my book hit shelves. I can’t help but compare it to what happened when Curiosity landed on Mars. Anyone who knows me knows how much the Curiosity rover inspired my debut, and now, it continues to inspire me.

When Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, all anyone could talk about was the tremendous feat it took to get it there. The nail-biting landing sequence. The cheers when it successfully set down.




But landing was only the beginning of Curiosity’s job. Its real work started when its wheels touched the Martian surface. And I feel that way about my debut.

We made it. We’re here. Let’s celebrate.

But also…let’s get started. It’s time to dig in and do what we came here to do.

curiosity selfie

Lots of love to my fellow EMUs who have been a part of my journey. It’s been an honor to share in this experience with you all.


Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) released on  August 1st, 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.


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Behind the Scenes with Sally Doherty, Editor of LOST BOYS

Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel was released THIS WEEK by Henry Holt/Macmillan. LOST BOYS, a YA novel of historical fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. We can’t wait to delve into this lyrical story of music and courage in the face of war. Today we have the pleasure to take a peek into the editorial process of LOST BOYS by hearing from Darcey’s editor, Sally Doherty.



Q: What was it about Darcey Rosenblatt’s LOST BOYS that first got you interested in acquiring it?

​A. I was captivated by the opening scene, especially the first few lines.  What kind of mother is this? What kind of life was Reza living?  I needed to know, and so I kept reading and could not put it down.​

Q: Were you actively trying to find a historical fiction manuscript that touched on some of the themes from the novel or was this a book you didn’t even know you were looking for?

​A: I had enjoyed editing historical fiction in the past but was not necessarily looking for more. Erin Murphy has an incredible instinct​ for what might appeal to which editor, and she thought of me for this story, and she was right.​

Q: Tell me a bit about what you looked for throughout the editing process for LOST BOYS?

​A: For me, the key to this novel was to keep the tension tight from beginning to end. This is, of course, true for any story, but because the book opens with a startling scene and the ending is a chase sequence, we didn’t want the plot to sag in the middle, as some stories tend to do. It’s difficult to keep momentum going, particularly when the characters are hanging around in a POW camp, but Darcey pulled it off, as I knew she would.

 Q:  Who is you favorite character from the book and why are you drawn to them?

​A: It has to be the hero, Reza, because Darcey has made him come alive for me. I think I would know him if he walked down the street toward me, and I would like to hang out with him and hear him play the tar.​

Q: Who do you think is the target audience for this book? Is there someone you imagine as the perfect reader?

​A: Because the hero is male, it’s natural to assume that the main audience will be boys approximately 10–14 years old.  But because the characters are so memorable, I think girls will also be swept up in the vivid world of the story. It’s also a good story for any reluctant reader given the captivating, fast-paced plot.


Thanks so much, Sally! It’s so great to get an inside peek on how an editor approaches a project. We here on the EMU Debut team think YOU reading this blog post interview are the perfect reader for LOST BOYS and we hope you’ll pick up a copy.

For more information on Darcey Rosenblatt, or the inspiration of LOST BOYS check out this post on Darcey’s blog.



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Stories that Resonate

Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel, LOST BOYS, is the story of a young boy who is pulled into the very adult world of war. It is heartbreaking imagine any child suffering the horror of violent conflict, but for many children across the world, living through war is a daily reality. UNICEF reports that about half of all civilian casualties in armed conflict are children, but the ravages of war go beyond injury and death: hunger, disease, psychological trauma, and disruption of schooling are just a few of the painful scars that war leaves in its wake.

As authors, parents, and educators, we often struggle with how to expose our own children to the realities of the world without overwhelming them. Books offer a window that allow kids to explore frightening or difficult subjects from a place of relative safety. Several years ago I was in the audience of a panel discussion that explored the topic of writing about war for young people. Each author on the panel could recall a book they had read in childhood that was pivotal in building their childhood understanding of armed conflict.

For me, the most memorable books about war were those I used in my own classroom teaching. Deborah Ellis’ THE BREADWINNER and Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ SO FAR FROM THE BAMBOO GROVE both showed the devastating impact of conflict on children and families, regardless of which “side” the family was on. My students found Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ book particularly powerful, as our study of the novel always culminated in a visit from the author. There were hugs, tears, and questions after questions. Even years later my students talk about what Yoko’s story meant to them.

Today I asked fellow Emus to share their own memories of books about war that resonated with them. Here are their thoughts.

Sarvinder Naberhaus says:

NUMBER THE STARS is a wonderful story of a nation and children’s heroism. I love how children were part of the process of risking their lives to save others.

Debbi Michiko Florence writes:

FAREWELL TO MANZANAR was the first book that taught me about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I was in 4th grade and I had a billion questions. Fortunately I had a Japanese American teacher. Then I learned my dad and his family had been interned. I still have that book today on my shelf. I bought a copy for my daughter to read as well.

Terry Pierce writes:

I can’t recall a single book about war from my childhood, but if songs could count, I’d say that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young influenced me. I can still recite many of their anti-war songs. The simplicity of the lyrics, harmony and guitar in “Find the Cost of Freedom” are powerful. The other song that resonated strongly with me was “Ohio”. I still remember sitting in shock watching the news of the four Kent State student protesters being killed by the Ohio national guard. It was an eye-opening moment for me to realize that peaceful protesters could be murdered by our own military. Ohio was a strong reflection of the anger and sorrow so many people experienced during that time.

Christina Uss says:

I feel like I was woefully unexposed to books that about war or conflict when I was young. All that pops into my mind was Johnny Tremain, a tale which I remember felt hard to understand and archaic. War appeared to be something that happened elsewhere, long ago, and would never touch me or anyone I knew. The kidlit books I’m reading now and discussing with my kids are enlightening us both about the resilience and vulnerability of children in countries hit by war – I was particularly touched by Ibtisam Barakat’s TASTING THE SKY and BALCONY ON THE MOON about coming of age in Israeli-occupied Palestine. I wrote to Ibtisam and she ended up sending a postcard to my daughter to say hello in Arabic (one of her favorite things as a child was having pen pals from around the world. Even if she couldn’t travel, her words could.)

We are so happy that Darcey Rosenblatt and LOST BOYS have added to the rich list of titles that help young readers begin to grasp the impact of war. Congratulations, Darcey!

Kat Shepherd is a writer and former classroom teacher living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.





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I’m thrilled to be writing about author Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel, LOST BOYS. While the essential plot follows twelve-year-old Reza’s experience as a child soldier during the Iran-Iraq War, music lives at this book’s heart as well. Reza’s love of music helps him make sense of his world and to survive.  I won’t give away any plot points, but suffice it to say, one couldn’t take music out of this book and have it tell the same story.


Since the beginning of human history, from every continent across the globe, we’ve made and shared music. Whether it’s soothing our savage breasts or our savage inner beasts, it hath charms nothing else can quite duplicate. Reza shows us this in one complicated twelve-year-old life.

Darcey’s story of Reza’s reality where music can never be taken for granted smacked me upside the head with the realization of how lucky I was in my own music-filled childhood. I was encouraged to find passion, solace, sanity and happiness in listening to and performing music. I love the idea of young readers having their eyes opened to their own aural freedoms by learning about Reza’s barriers to access.

When Reza finds adults who not only recognize his need for music but take risks to provide it, it made my heart soar.  As a parent with kids headed towards the pre-teen years, I think a lot about providing them access to quality music, expanding their auditory boundaries, letting them know music is as good for them as proper sleep and decent food. I often prescribe doses of their favorite pop songs to lift their moods. (As Dr. Mom and a music major, I have the authority to say, “Take two Weird Als and some Katy Perry followed by Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and call me in the morning.”)

I’m so glad that LOST BOYS portrays the power and necessity of music for children – NOT the necessity of music lessons to turn kids into Baby Einsteins, but something that helps us feel balanced, comforted, understood, and more alive. I brainstormed to think about other middle-grade and YA books where music plays an integral role in supporting the main characters. How about Conrad Wesselhoft’s poetry-and-Red Bull-fueled ADIOS NIRVANA, Adi Rule’s gothic mystery STRANGE SWEET SONG, Ann McCaffrey’s classic fantasy DRAGONSONG, Linda Urban’s quirky A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT?

I know there are others out there. Please share with us at Emu’s Debut your own suggestions below for books where music is as integral to a character’s happiness as it is for Reza in LOST BOYS!

LOST BOYS can be found at your local bookstore, or online at:


Barnes and Noble:




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