Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEART - Verla Kay

We're so excited to feature Verla Kay this week here on THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS blog. Verla is the genius behind the "Blueboards" which is the go-to place for writers at any stage of their careers—published, querying, just starting out. She is amazing and is a true sweetheart in our eyes!


Here is her bio:
Verla Kay lives on the eastern side of the state of Washington, just two miles from Idaho. She is a former instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature's "Writing for Children" correspondence course.
She writes historical picture books in her own style of writing that she calls, "cryptic rhyme.” She has had eight books published and has three more “in the works.”
Her books have earned numerous accolades, including Best Books of the Year by Bank Street College of Education in New York, Society of School Librarians' International Honor Books, Children's Book Council's Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People lists, and "Children's Best Book of the Year" by Child Magazine.
Her most recent picture book, a non-fiction biography of a stagecoach driver from the 1850’s and 1860’s, “Rough, Tough Charley,” was placed on the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Project list of recommended feminist literature for young readers. Her newest book, “Whatever Happened to the Pony Express” will be released on May 13, 2010, and it’s already gotten a favorable review from Kirkus.
Verla was one of eleven finalists in the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators contest for giving presentations to children at their yearly conference in Los Angeles a number of years ago. She loves traveling and doing author talks at schools and conferences.
Verla Kay's website, which she designed and maintains herself, has twice been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer's Digest and her message board is very active with over 2500 members. It gets an average of over one million hits each month.

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TXS: What prompted you to establish such a wonderful online community? How did you get the Blueboards started?

VK: It was a total accident, at first. I put up my website, and then looked at it. It had information about me and about my upcoming books on it. That's it. And I said to myself, "Who would want to come read that? Only people who knew me already, and possibly a few people that happened to see one of my books and loved itl"

The next question was obvious. "What would make other people want to come to my site? What would make ME come to my site if it wasn't my site?" And the answer was simple for me. "Information about writing." And so my site was born.

I was an active participant in a live chat room that was started by the owner of "The Yellow Board." In trying to find the right venue for that chat room, he moved it to a server that I couldn't get to with my Mac. Only Windows machines could get into the chat room. So I kept the old server and started my own chat room under the name #Kidlit. It became very active. We had workshops in the chat room weekly, and lots of people starting hanging out in it, having a great time sharing writing experiences, brainstorming books, etc. But everyone couldn't get to the chat room nightly, so I decided to start a message board. It was a dismal failure.

In about six months, it had gotten -- oh, three or four messages on it. That wasn't very useful, so I took it down. A few months later, I reanalyzed the message board idea. The previous board had been so filled with popup ads, it took way too long for anyone to get anywhere on it, or read or post messages. So I looked for an alternative way to have a message board. My search brought me to the Simple Machines website. It was the perfect venue for the message board I wanted. I tried it out, and it worked great. It was fast, efficient, and I could alter the look of it to fit my website. As soon as I knew it was a good thing, I paid for a license, so I could have it without any popup ads.

Two days before I was ready to put it up, the Old Yeller board crashed. I was an active participant in that message board already. It was more "open" than I wanted my board to be, though, and catered mostly to brand new writers. I wanted my board to be totally flame-free and to attract mostly people who were past the basics of writing skills. That way it would compliment the Yellow Board, and not compete with it. People who were used to visiting the Yellow Board were screaming all over the internet, "I need my Yeller FIX!" The opportunity to give them a chance to come and try out my new message board was just too good to pass up, so I put my board up two days early and announced over the Children's Writer's Email List I was on that it was "up" and "open for use."

About 20 people swarmed over to it and posted. They liked it. They told their friends, who came and posted. It ended up with about 100 people on it. I was thrilled. People were posting daily, and that's what makes a message board work - active posts on it. That was in September of 2003. I had no clue that the board would grow to have over 2800 members and get an average of over one million hits every month, which is its current status on the web.

Now, I'm very well known for my message board. Sometimes I wonder what kind of monster I started! I'd rather be very well known for my writing - for my books, you know? But I love knowing how many people have been helped by my website and especially by the message board. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside every time I hear someone's success story about how they "found their agent" or "got their book published" or "learned something important that helped them in their publishing journey" because of my website and/or message board.



TXS: What are the demands of such a wildly popular message board? How do you balance this with your writing and with everything else?

VK: The most important thing about my message board (to me) is that it stays a "clean and safe" place for writers and illustrators to share information. That can be a tough job, and it's an impossible one for just one person to do. Because of the very nature of message boards, people are on it 24/7. There's someone, somewhere in the world, all the time who is up and roaming around the web. Flame wars on message boards, and spam posters can erupt at any moment of the day or night, and they can really cause a mess in a matter of minutes. If it's days, or even a few hours before those unwanted posts are noticed, they can turn into nightmares of horrendous proportions.

Steady monitoring is what keeps a board clean and safe. So at the beginning of the board's creation, I looked long and hard at the people who were posting on it, noticing which people were the most helpful to others in their posts. Which people were the most active on it and appeared to be the most tactful in their posts. I sent emails to several of them, asking them if they would like to be Moderators on the message board. I explained there was no pay, as I didn't make any money from the board, but if they were going to be on it anyway, and if they wanted to, I'd love to have them be Moderators for the board. Some said, "No thanks," but most said, "Sure! I'd love to!"

As the board grew in size, I added more Moderators and moved some of my most faithful and active Moderators up to Administrators, so they could help me run the entire board. At present, there are 5 active Administrators for the message board and 15 active Moderators. Without their constant vigilance on the message board, there is no way it would be the wonderful place it is today.

Even with all the help I have, I still check ALL new message topics almost every day in order to see if there are any that might need my personal attention. The first ones I check are messages from my other Administrators. After dealing with any problems or concerns that they have, then I look at the Moderator's messages. Most of the time, any issues that came up with them have already been taken care of by one of the other Administrators, but often I end up right in the thick of things, too.

I normally spend several hours each day keeping up with things on the board. Once in a while, I take a break. When I do, I let the other Administrators know, so they can "cover" things for me. There have been a few interesting board decisions made when I was taking a break. But I trust the people who help me run this message board totally, and really, it's THEIR board, not mine, so I don't have any problem with them running it the way they want to.

As far as balancing my website with my writing? I don't, really. Some days I do NOTHING but work with the board all day long. Occasionally, I've worked all night long, too, when a serious problem has come up and I was trying unsuccessfully to fix it. I've spent days battling problems that seemed like they had no solutions, but each time, I've eventually fixed the problems, and the board has gone back to working smoothly again.

When my editor needs me to do edits on a book, or rewrites, or more research (which happens frequently when we get down to the last few months before a book is sent to the printer) then I let everyone else take over the board while I work on the writing issues my editor needs from me. So I guess the balance depends totally on which part of my writing life needs me the most at the moment.



TXS: What are some things that writers can do to build a sense of community and companionship?

VK: Interact with people. Get them talking, and discussing relevant subjects. Talk to teachers and librarians. Get on email lists and actively participate, so people begin to recognize your name and learn your worth. Join message boards that will benefit you and that you can participate actively in, helping other people, too.

Be very careful about joining any new community "just for what you can get out of it," though. That's NOT the way to build good community companionship or an "author presence." When you first join a group of any kind, look and listen to others. Get a feel for the type of community it is. Do participants joke with each other a lot or are they very serious in their discussions? How do they share their good news with each other? Before you share yours, be sure you have "given" something of yourself to the community. People will be much more likely to be happy for you if they know something about you and how hard you have had to work to reach the place where you are sharing good news.


TXS: You’re quite generous to writers by providing advice and mentorship. What are some tips that you frequently suggest?

VK: Most new writers want to know where they can get published, how they can find an illustrator for their stories, and where to get an agent. I tell them to join or start a critique group, and to get ahold of the most recent Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market guidebook to find a reputable place to send their work. I explain they don't find their own illustrator - their editor will want to pick one for their book, and that they don't have to have an agent, that sometimes that's harder than finding a publisher at first.

You'd probably be surprised at how many people contact me asking for help publishing their books. They seem to think I'm a publisher myself or that I have an "in" with publishers. If I did, I wouldn't have so much trouble selling my own stories!



TXS: You’re also proactive when it comes to marketing. Do you have any pieces of marketing advice you could share?

VK: For me, the best "marketing" has been attending library and school conferences. Find out when your local area will be holding theirs, and then what you have to do to be able to participate as an AUTHOR speaker. DO NOT PARTICIPATE AS A REGULAR SPEAKER! You will be "lumped" in with all the educators, and will be totally lost in the conference schedule, and you won't have an author signing time scheduled, either. By telling them you are an author, (or illustrator) you will get special "billing" on the conference schedule and they will usually set up a signing time for you, as well. When you arrive at the conference, make a beeline to the booksellers booths. Make sure they know you are there and that you will be signing books at the conference. Sometimes, they will want you to sign books in their booth, too, so they can sell them as autographed books to attendees.

Try to pick a subject that will excite librarians and teachers. Since my books are all history based, I like to give a talk about Bringing History Alive in the Classroom. I prepare a comprehensive list of other people's books that teachers have shared with me that are good for use in the classroom. I share some of the artifacts I used when doing school visits to bring my books to life for kids - gold and a gold pan, an iron spike and a replica of a golden spike, and a replica Nez Perce indian bag are just a few of the things that I've taken with me for my talks.

Sometimes, you can just do a "mini" school demonstration, too. Many of the teachers and librarians that attend these conferences are there looking for good speakers to bring in to excite their children about reading and writing.

The most important part of marketing is getting yourself and your books in front of as many people as possible. It really does help book sales! (But don't be discouraged if not many books sell right away or if you don't have educators beating down your door to bring you in to do talks. I've found most of my contact results come weeks or months or sometimes a year or two after my efforts at publicity. But they DO come.)


TXS: Thank you, Verla! We were so happy to feature you!

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Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.



Sunday, March 28, 2010

Critique Winner and Library Love Results!

A huge thank you to everyone who supported our Library Loving Blog Challenge! We love that we're supporting THE READING TUB!
We're happy to report there were 67 comments and at 25 cents a piece, that comes to $16.75. We were so excited with the turnout, we're going to round it up to $33 and look forward to participating again next year.


And now, for the winner of our critique from editor Madeline Smoot (picked via Random Number Generator) is...


Congratulations, Michelle! Please send your query letter and up to ten pages of your manuscript to our email address, and we'll forward them on to Madeline!

Thank you to everyone who entered! We'll see what we can come up with next.

Hope everyone has a great Monday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday Roundup—Texas Sweethearts Style

Happy Friday from The Texas Sweethearts!

The last day to enter a drawing for a critique from editor Madeline Smoot is this Sunday, March 28th. The winner will be announced on Monday, March 29th. All you have to do to enter is follow the blog and comment on the critique post. We're excited about all the entries and would love to see even more. So spread the word!


The last day to bid in the YA Book Central Auction for a three-sets-of-eyes critique from The Texas Sweethearts is March 30th. It's a great cause, and it's three sets of eyes looking at your pages and query!


A huge thank you to all who have commented on our Library Loving Blog Challenge! We're thrilled to be supporting THE READING TUB, and your comment makes a difference. For every comment, we are donating 25 cents to support kids and reading. So comment on the blog challenge post! It costs you nothing, and it helps!


In case you missed it this week, our Featured Sweethearts were Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media. They had some great things to say, and we were honored to feature them!

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On Thursday, Texas Sweethearts Jessica Lee Anderson and PJ Hoover visited the Juvenile Detention Center here in Williamson County. It was such an awesome experience to speak to this group of kids (who ranged from 10-18) about writing, story ideas, and our paths to putting words on the page.

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For a wrap-up of PJ Hoover's visit to the Virginia Festival of the Book, you can visit her blog for pics of lots of cool authors and some rather skimpy meals.

PJ Hoover, Keri Mikulski, Stacy Nyikos, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and Barrie Summy

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In the Featured Sweetheart Nomination category, we have:
  • Jennifer Hubbard, organizer of the awesome Library Loving Blog Challenge
  • Critter, who after his trip around the kidlit world is going to be auctioned off to charity

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

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Press release from Bethany Hegedus, Co-Editor of Hunger Mountain

The 2010 Katherine Paterson Prize Deadlines and Judge Announced.

Bestselling author Holly Black will be the 2010 judge of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing at Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts.

The Katherine Paterson prize was launched last year to honor writers of young adult and children’s literature. Writers may enter young adult and middle grade writing and writing for young children. Entries may be short stories or novel excerpts.
There is a $20 entry fee, and the postmark deadline is June 30, 2010. There is a $1000 prize for the winning entry, and three runners-up receive $100. The winner and the runners-up are all published on Hunger Mountain online.
Complete guidelines may be found here.

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TAKE A CHANCE ON ART: 2010 Disaster Relief Raffle

Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2004). The original artwork for this spread, donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail.

The raffle will be held on Friday, April 16, during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by Monday, April 9)and will be sold onsite at the spring conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Take a chance on art and improve the chances that your library association can help Texas libraries recover from natural disasters.

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The Texas Sweethearts are looking forward to participating in Operation Teen Book Drop. It's coming up April 15, 2010, and you can read all about it here. Why not think about participating yourself?


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Here are all the places we'll be for the rest of March and April:

March 27, 2010 - PJ Hoover Teen Book Club Author Visit at the Cedar Park Public Library

April 9-11, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson at the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Annual Retreat

April 14-17, 2010 - Jo Whittemore, Jessica Lee Anderson, and PJ Hoover at Texas Library Association Conference (TLA) in San Antonio, TX

At TLA, we'll be having a reception at the Milkweed Editions book on Thursday, April 15th at 3:00 pm complete with CUPCAKES which make every event sweeter!


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Have a great weekend!

*Note: If there is something you'd like us to include in our Friday roundup, please email us. We're happy to include news and information about the awesomeness of the kidlit world!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEARTS - Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy (Blue Slip Media)


Texas Sweetheart Jessica Lee Anderson worked closely with our newest Featured Sweethearts on a campaign for her novel, BORDER CROSSING, and was impressed with Blue Slip Media. Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy are incredibly kind, generous, and have a lot of marketing wisdom to offer!

Bio:

Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy launched Blue Slip Media, a children's book publicity and marketing agency, in 2009. Recent and current campaigns include publicity for BORDER CROSSING by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed), THE PILLOW BOOK OF LOTUS LOWENSTEIN by Libby Schmais (Delacorte), THE LIFE OF GLASS by Jillian Cantor (HarperTeen), and LEAVING GEE'S BEND by Irene Latham (Putnam). For over 15 years, they were the Associate Directors of Publicity for Harcourt Children's Books. At Harcourt, Barb and Sarah led notable campaigns for HOW I BECAME A PIRATE by Melinda Long and David Shannon, A COUPLE OF BOYS HAVE THE BEST WEEK EVER by Marla Frazee, EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles, and many other bestselling books for children and young adults. More information can be found on their their web site: www.blueslipmedia.com.

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TXS: Could you tell us about Blue Slip Media, and how you got started?


BF: Sarah and I worked together at Harcourt Children's Books for over 15 years. We shared the position of Associate Director of Publicity--originally because we were filling in for each other during maternity leaves, but it grew to an arrangement that suited us personally and professionally. It was ideal to work part-time while our children were small, and we later found that sharing the job had many other benefits. We've come to say that two heads are better than one, and we truly believe it!

We opened Blue Slip Media in March 2009. It was really a natural progression of everything we'd been doing before then--partnering with authors in promoting their books.


TXS: What is something unexpected that you’ve gained from your marketing experience?

SS: After marketing and publicizing children's books for close to 20 years you'd think we'd have seen and done everything under the sun by now. But the fascinating thing that this kind of perspective gives us is the surprise that absolutely no two projects are the same. Each book and each author's backstory are completely unique. Sometimes we can explore avenues we're already familiar with, but each time we're in a new car and the view is completely different. Each book presents its own challenges and opportunities--which is no doubt why we still love doing this job so much even after all these years. Every book is fun and new and exciting!


TXS: You both work so well together—what are some ways that you support each other? How do you stay so organized?


BF: Thank you! We've definitely come to know each others' strengths and have benefited from them over the years. I tend to be more budget-oriented and I like Excel grids, so I'm often the one to pull back and fit the puzzle pieces together. Sarah is amazingly creative and is always making brilliant connections with people and books.

Because we shared the same desk, phone, and computer for so many years, we've become accustomed to passing information back and forth. It started with a notebook from the week's events, but now we share almost everything online.

SS: The best thing about working as closely as we do is being able to ask yourself a question about a particular nuance about a campaign and getting an answer back. Before jobsharing with Barb, I never had a job where a boss or coworker knew EXACTLY what I was talking about on any given project. Now, after 15+ years, I'm completely spoiled by it! I don't think I could do a job--any job--without her! (And she is 100% the reason why we stay so organized!)


TXS: Since many publishers have less marketing and publicity resources, what are some ways that authors can successfully promote their books?
BF: The first thing I'd recommend is to think locally--make sure your book is sent to local media (newspapers, radio stations, websites), your hometown newspaper, your college alumni magazines, etc. Most publishers are focused on the national level, and they may not know the smaller papers in your area. Get to know your local independent bookseller and children's librarians. Offer yourself as a resource--can you give a talk or workshop for a teen reading group? Can you do a craft or story hour with young children? You may even want to consider partnering with the local school's PTA or teachers to talk with kids in the classroom.

Secondly, use your own contact list--whether it's a Facebook group, a writer's group, or whatever--to help spread the word about your book.

Thirdly, I would recommend you broaden your network as much as possible, whether it's through social media or in person. Attend conferences when you can, talk to other authors, meet those in the field who can help you make connections.

SS: I agree completely with what Barb says. I'll just add a little note here about the importance of the personal touch. When you're reaching out to these local booksellers and librarians and teachers, take a minute to write a thank you note by hand and pop it in the mail after a particularly lovely conversation. Or bring a rose from your garden when you stop by to drop off your latest galley. The personal connections you make will help not just with this book but with each successive title you publish. It's well worth the extra effort to lay a solid foundation that you can build upon. In this fast-paced world filled with e-mails and mass mailings, the personal touch can really make you and your book stand out.


TXS: At the 2009 SCBWI annual conference in Los Angeles, you discussed niche marketing. Could you share a few tips about how to take advantage of niche market opportunities?

SS: Niche marketing and publicity are great ways to extend the reach of your book to an audience predisposed to love it. Think about the subject matter and setting of your book and then about what niche areas you might explore. If your book is historical fiction about the Alamo, for example, Texas media would be one niche publicity avenue to explore. Another would be organizations and groups interested in Texas history, in military history, in Mexican-American history, in Santa Anna, in Jim Bowie, and in Daniel Boone. Also publications, groups, and websites/bloggers interested in historical fiction.

Once you've identified the avenues you want to pursue, it's time to get on the computer and start researching. This can be a time consuming process, but it's worth the effort when you find that group with a newsletter that goes to 5,000 Alamo history buffs that would love to review your book and spread the word to their members. You have to be careful to check out the sites/groups you're uncovering in your searching: Are they current and active? Do they have a newsletter or website that could review your book? Can you find an email address of an editor or group president you can query first to assess their interest in your book? You should answer "yes" to all three of these questions in order to consider this group worthy of approaching.

Marketing is a little different than publicity. If you were interested in marketing your book to one or more of these niche areas, you might consider buying their group membership list and sending each member a postcard about your book. Or you could inquire about conventions dedicated to Alamo history buffs or any annual festivals held at the Alamo itself -- could you be a potential speaker at the event? Sell your books on site to visitors? Marketing tends to involve a bit more financial commitment than publicity might. You should definitely discuss any niche marketing ideas with your publisher to see if they are interested in pursuing them on your behalf. It's a good idea to talk about niche publicity with your publisher as well, to be sure you're working together instead of at cross purposes.

BF: A key thing to emphasize, when you do pursue niche opportunities, is that there are often both sales and publicity opportunities. Most publishers are happy to follow up on sales leads you provide them, but it's a good idea (as Sarah mentions above) to have a discussion about the best possible way before you proceed.


Thanks so much for letting us stop by the blog!

THANKS, BARBARA AND SARAH!


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Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Library-loving Blog Challenge

This is a library-loving blog challenge!

For every commenter on this post between now and March 27th (Saturday), we will donate 25 cents to THE READING TUB, up to an amount of $100. We just featured THE READING TUB's very own founder Terry Doherty last week on our blog.

How easy could it be? You comment, we cough up the money, and an awesome volunteer-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting reading and literacy gets a gift! If you don’t know what to say in your comment, “I love THE READING TUB” will do.

Note that our pledge is “per commenter”—so if a single person leaves 50 comments, that still only counts once! But you can do more by spreading the word ... please link to this post, tweet about it, and send your friends here so they can comment and raise more money.

If you’re moved to make a flat-fee donation to your library, or to start your own challenge, you are quite welcome, and please leave that information in the comments.

For a complete list of participating bloggers (and to visit other sites where you can help libraries just by leaving a comment!) visit the writerjenn blog at http://writerjenn.livejournal.com/

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Friday Roundup—Texas Sweethearts Style

Happy Friday from The Texas Sweethearts!

Jo Whittemore
's release party for FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF was a blast! You can read all about it here!

Jo decked out in a red and black theme!

Is any party complete without a cake?


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The Texas Sweethearts were thrilled to be featured on The Reading Tub this week. Thank you so much, Terry!


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This week Jessica Lee Anderson was
Huge thank you!

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In the Featured Sweetheart Nomination category, we have:
  • Pat McCarthy, Woodstock creative writing high school teacher
  • Donna Van Cleve, Hutto Librarian
  • Katie Luedke, Hutto reading teacher
Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

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Don't forget to help Young Adults Book Central! Their auction is ongoing. And the Texas Sweethearts are proud to be offering up a three-sets-of-eyes critique.

You can see the details here and see all the auction items here.

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The Texas Sweethearts will be participating in the Library-Loving Blog Challenge organized by Jennifer Hubbard, author of THE SECRET YEAR. The skinny is we post on March 23rd, and for each comment we receive by March 27th, we donate 25 cents up to a max of $100. All money goes to your local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity—you choose.
Visit Jennifer's blog post for more information or if you want to join!

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TAKE A CHANCE ON ART: 2010 Disaster Relief Raffle

Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2004). The original artwork for this spread, donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail.

The raffle will be held on Friday, April 16, during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by Monday, April 9)and will be sold onsite at the spring conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Take a chance on art and improve the chances that your library association can help Texas libraries recover from natural disasters.

*****

The Texas Sweethearts are looking forward to participating in Operation Teen Book Drop. It's coming up April 15, 2010, and you can read all about it here. Why not think about participating yourself?


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The Fire Petal Auction is now open! Fire Petal Books is a new bookstore with vision that needs some help to get started. Head over to bid on some fantastic items including signed books and manuscript critiques from agents, editors, and authors. And you'll be helping children's literature and educational programs in Utah at the same time.
The auction ends Saturday, March 20th, 2010. Don't miss out on your chance for something awesome!

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Here are all the places we'll be for the remainder of March:

March 20, 2010 - PJ Hoover on author panel at Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA

March 23, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson Insight Schools Virtual Visit

March 25, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson and PJ Hoover at the Williamson County Juvenile Academy, Georgetown, TX

March 27, 2010 - PJ Hoover Teen Book Club Author Visit at the Cedar Park Public Library

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Have a great weekend!

*Note: If there is something you'd like us to include in our Friday roundup, please email us. We're happy to include news and information about the awesomeness of the kidlit world!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEART - Terry Doherty (The Reading Tub)

We're so excited to feature Terry Doherty this week here on THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS blog. Terry is the mastermind behind The Reading Tub and a true sweetheart in our eyes!


Here is her bio:
In 2001, Terry traded in her nearly 20-year career in government service for the all-important job of being Mom. The flexibility of being a Stay-at-Home-Mom allowed Terry to pursue her lifelong vocation for reading and literacy. Inspired by the time she spent reading with her daughter, she founded The Reading Tub, Inc. in 2003. Her purpose is clear: make it easy for families to create a positive reading environment at home, find great books (that don't involve TV or movie characters) and make it accessible to EVERYONE! Terry, has Bachelors of Art degree in English, and also holds a Masters of Science in Strategic Intelligence. She was a librarian's assistant in college, and DESPERATELY wanted to be a librarian ... but fate intervened. Instead, she is celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary this year and has a wonderful 8-year-old daughter. They live in Charlottesville, VA, in the shadow of Monticello, home of the man who said "I cannot live without books." (President Thomas Jefferson)

In addition to running The Reading Tub, Terry organizes the super-star cast for Share a Story-Shape a Future, a blog tour for literacy; writes a monthly column called "Prompt Ideas" for the PBS Parents Booklights blog; and is the Director of Social Media for the Mom's Choice Award.

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TXS: The Reading Tub is so impressive, organized, giving...okay, I could go on and on. Can you please tell us a little bit about what The Reading Tub is and what your goal for it is?

TD: The Reading Tub(r) and our companion blog sites are the online venues that help us promote family literacy. Our tag line is "We bring reading home to families." The website offers in-depth profiles of children's books for audiences from infant to teen, as well as articles and links to literacy tips and tools. Over the last six years, the Reading Tub(r) has evolved to be more than just an online review catalog, as we now have several community-based projects, including a school partnership program and Share a Story-Shape a Future, a blog tour for literacy.

I look at The Reading Tub as a facilitator for reading. We give families the tools that help them connect kids with books that engage them as people AND readers; and we donate hundreds of books each year to nonprofits and schools that get the books to at-risk readers and readers-in-need (i.e., students failing reading benchmarks for their grade level and/or children ith no reading material at home).


As it has continued to grow - particularly in the last two years - my goal is to become the literacy outreach for a company or organization. I love what we do, but we can't grow much more without a bigger infrastructure.

TXS: What inspired you to start The Reading Tub, and how has your vision changed since its inception?

TD: I have the honor of being a stay-at-home mom, so my days were filled enjoying my daughter. Catherine has always been an early riser, so while my husband and I were getting ready for the day in those early days, she would watch Between the Lions. [I know, bad mom putting her infant/toddler daughter in front of the TV!] Well, she LOVED that show (so did I, to be honest). It was the ONLY show she would actually watch and not talk through or walk away from.


The other thing about being home was that we could read together. We always read at least one book before every nap and at bedtime. When Catherine was about a year old, we started making weekly trips to the library. At first, I picked all the books, but after a couple of clunkers, I let her start picking books from the board-book bin. Well, even with THOSE books there were clunkers. These are the books that we would sit to read and, invariably, Catherine would close the book and say "No more, Mama." Sometimes we'd get through it on a second or third attempt, but the girl knew what she liked and what she didn't.

I was floored. These were books she spent TONS of time exploring at the library, best-selling childrens books, award-winning books, books she had seen on TV. "No more, Mama." So one day when I was expressing my frustration about the whole process, my sister-in-law suggested I start a website. "Parents and teachers would love it. They would love to have a place to go to find out what the audience thinks." And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Reading Tub started out 6 years ago as a hobby. It was a way to help a new mom (I had an 18-month old at the time) stretch herself by doing what she loved (reading) and learning something new (how to build a website). It was going to be a book review website, but when authors found us and started sending us books, I shifted gears a little bit and turned it into a full-blown nonprofit and created a way to get the books we were receiving to readers in need. Now, I see our primary function as one of facilitating access to books. Those with access to computers can find in-depth profiles of nearly 1,750 books. For those who don't have a computer - or books - we work with organizations and schools to get reading material where it's needed.


TXS: What is the biggest surprise you've had since you started The Reading Tub?

TD: The first surprise was that three months after we made the website public - basically "flipped the switch," authors found us and wanted to send us books. I was floored, given that I knew nothing about SEO or indexes or keywords .... none of that.

I guess my other big surprise is the reaction we sometimes get for reviews. As a rule, we don't ask for books, We read the books we own, go to the library, and whatever publishers and authors send us. We read EVERYTHING sent to us, though we don't guarantee a review. We go to great lengths to try to match a book with the audience's interest because I think that helps with a book's reception. There are all kinds of books, and we want to include as broad a variety as we can, and sometimes that means a reviewer needs to read something outside their comfort zone. Still, we want a balanced profile, even for books that may not match a reviewer's taste. We require our reviewers to include at least one positive. Authors pour their hearts into their work, and they deserve some positive feedback. That said, I have been threatened personally, we have had people tell us they would sue us for slander ... Thankfully it hasn't happened a lot, but I am always floored at the naivete (?) that if you ask someone to read your book that they WILL like it as much as you do.


TXS: How do you think reading for kids has changed over the years. People talk so much about kids needing to share their attention with texting, TV, and video games. Is the challenge greater now for getting kids to read?


TD: Wow, great question! First, I think kids read more than they like to admit. If you're reading the instructions on how to play an online arcade game, you're reading. If you're sending an IM to your BFF U R reading (and writing). If you are trying to figure out how to hack a video game to get to the next level ... yep. You're reading. It doesn't look like that stereotypical sit-with-book-in-hand, but it is reading. Do I wish that more kids would spend time exploring books rather than racking up the screen time (television or computer)? Absolutely. Even my daughter (8YO) who loves to read sometimes whines about it.


While I understand the Academy of Pediatrics' position about "no TV before age 3," I don't think it is realistic or practical. For one thing, kids see parents using their "screens" all the time ... for games, email, Internet searches. It is how we collect, process, and use information. Even our pediatrician uses a tablet during our visits. As a society, I think we are all becoming visual learners. Is that good? I don't know, it's just different. Reading has changed because there are so many more options available. "Screen time" is part of everyday life. Still, as a parent I can't say "oh well, it's PBS Kids, so she can watch/play for a couple of hours." While we prefer our daughter has active (v. passive) screen time, we still set limits.

The good news is that because there are so many other ways that kids learn through print these days, I think they may actually "get" how important reading fairly quickly. That said, it is still up to the adult caregivers to make sure there is balance.We need to be just as vigilant about screen time as we are about a steady diet of fried foods and sweets.


TXS: What can others do to help with the success and vision of The Reading Tub (including readers, writers, parents)? How can we help you reach your goal to be a first-stop for people who want to help kids reach their full potential and become successful readers?


TD: Quite frankly, the first thing folks can do is donate. We are a 100% volunteer organization - including me. Any/all money we get goes to funding our work, so while we have HUNDREDS of books, without the money to pay for shipping, we can't get them to readers in need consistently. They just sit on shelves in my office. We don't charge a donation fee for book reviews, but we do have a donation requirement for our Author Showcase. Our volunteers do A LOT of work to put those together, so we do have a nominal donation for that service. [http://www.thereadingtub.com/featured_authors.asp]

I can't say enough thank-yous to our volunteers, especially the folks who read and review books for us. In addition to the books that are ready to go to at-risk readers, we have about 200 books that we need reviewed. Our review process is a little different in that we always include the target audience's opinion. Finding families to read picture books and easy readers is fairly easy because Mom and Dad are doing the reading. For chapter books, though, it is harder. Once kids can read independently, the process gets "split." Adults read the book and write a review and the pre-teens/teens add their thoughts in their own words. So we have chapter books that need both sets of reviewers ... and we have so much fantasy our existing pool of fantasy lovers have said "enough." So I said all that to say we can always use some fresh perspectives.

I would also love to build out the Resources section of our website. One day, I'd love to have an interactive tool that helps people understand reading levels and explains technical jargon in a family-friendly way. For now, I'd be happy with adding some more articles - including personal stories - about becoming a reader, ways to help young children become successful readers, and working with struggling readers, essentially some "what worked for me" type information.



TXS: If you could make a wish for kids and reading in the future, what would it be?

TD: Wow ~ ending with a toughie. My wish would be that every child receives six new books when they are born: a cloth book, two board books, two picture books, and an easy reader. Having reading material at home is the pivotal determinant for whether or not a child becomes a successful reader. Parents tend to treasure the gifts their newborn receives, and even if they aren't readers themselves, they would know they have something special; and that feeling would be passed down to their child from day one.



TXS: Thank you, Terry!

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Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Patience

If you're in this writing business, then you most likely know how hard it is to be patient. This week we have Jessica Lee Anderson talking to us a bit about patience and her writing journey.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Friday Roundup—Texas Sweethearts Style

Happy Friday from The Texas Sweethearts!

This past week, Austin authors donated signed books, treats, toys, and other gifts to lift the spirits of Shane Hill, his lovely wife, and their two young children. Shane Hill, who has several connections to Austin authors, was severely burned after the disgruntled pilot flew his plane into an office building here in Austin. Fortunately, Shane is on the mend, and we’ll continue to think about him and his family. Our thoughts also go out to victim Vernon Hunter and his family.


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The Texas Sweethearts were thrilled to be featured on Shrinking Violet Promotions earlier this week. Thank you so much, Robin and Mary, for having us!


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In the review front, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD by PJ Hoover received a five star review from Teens Read Too and the Gold Star Award of Excellence! Thank you, Tasha at Teens Read Too!

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In the Featured Sweetheart Nomination category, we have:
Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

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Don't forget to help Young Adults Book Central! Their auction is ongoing. And the Texas Sweethearts are proud to be offering up a three-sets-of-eyes critique.

You can see the details here and see all the auction items here.

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The Texas Sweethearts will be participating in the Library-Loving Blog Challenge organized by Jennifer Hubbard, author of THE SECRET YEAR. The skinny is we post on March 23rd, and for each comment we receive by March 27th, we donate 25 cents up to a max of $100. All money goes to your local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity—you choose.
Visit Jennifer's blog post for more information or if you want to join!

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TAKE A CHANCE ON ART: 2010 Disaster Relief Raffle

Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2004). The original artwork for this spread, donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail.

The raffle will be held on Friday, April 16, during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by Monday, April 9)and will be sold onsite at the spring conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Take a chance on art and improve the chances that your library association can help Texas libraries recover from natural disasters.

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The Texas Sweethearts are looking forward to participating in Operation Teen Book Drop. It's coming up April 15, 2010, and you can read all about it here. Why not think about participating yourself?


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The Fire Petal Auction is now open! Fire Petal Books is a new bookstore with vision that needs some help to get started. Head over to bid on some fantastic items including signed books and manuscript critiques from agents, editors, and authors. And you'll be helping children's literature and educational programs in Utah at the same time.
The auction ends Saturday, March 20th, 2010. Don't miss out on your chance for something awesome!

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March is a busy month! Here's all the places we'll be:

March 14, 2010 - Release Party for Jo Whittemore's FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF - 1:00, BookPeople, Austin, TX

March 16, 2010 - PJ Hoover at Woodstock High School Creative Writing Club, Woodstock, VA

March 20, 2010 - PJ Hoover on author panel at Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA

March 23, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson Insight Schools Virtual Visit

March 25, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson and PJ Hoover at the Williamson County Juvenile Academy, Georgetown, TX

March 27, 2010 - PJ Hoover Teen Book Club Author Visit at the Cedar Park Public Library

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From our lunch last week, here we are chilling at The Cheesecake Factory!

Jo and PJ

Jessica and Jo

Have a great weekend!

*Note: If there is something you'd like us to include in our Friday roundup, please email us. We're happy to include news and information about the awesomeness of the kidlit world!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEART - Sally Kruger

It is our pleasure and honor to announce our newest FEATURED SWEETHEART, Sally Kruger! Sally’s passion for young adult literature shines, and she is a dedicated teacher, reviewer, and volunteer.

Check out her Reading Roost: http://readingjunky.blogspot.com/

Here is her bio:
I have spent 32 years teaching primarily 8th grade English in a small town school district in Michigan. Getting involved with reading and reviewing teen fiction has enhanced my teaching by enabling me to connect students to books in a very personal way. In addition to my classroom work, I am also involved with my local public library as president of the board of trustees, and throughout the years, I have made workshop presentations about reading and writing at the local, county, and state level.

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TXS: Wow, you’ve been teaching for 32 years! What influenced you to become a teacher, and what keeps you motivated?

SK: The desire to become a teacher began when I was a kid. I was one of those lucky people who had great school experiences, hit on a future career plan, and was able to stick with it and be happy about the choice. I’ve stayed motivated by trying new things in the classroom as much as possible.

Early in my teaching, I was very interested in getting students writing in the classroom. About 15 years ago, I was struck by some research about how much reading can enhance writing and communication skills, and I began reading the books I was asking my students to choose from in my classroom and library. Once I started becoming personally familiar with literature written for teens, I was able to encourage them to read by placing relevant books in their hands and talking with them about those books. Now I’m even more involved through blogging, reviewing, and trying to keep up with the latest stuff out there.


TXS: Do you have any inspiring stories you could share with us? Any advice for aspiring teachers?

SK: The most exciting experiences involve watching as kids discover that reading is something they can actually enjoy, maybe even for the rest of their lives. At our recent parent/teacher conferences a parent talked about his son bringing home a book from my classroom. The parent admitted to listening to his son talk about the book and then picking it up himself and reading it over the course a few days. He even mentioned that his wife complained that he should give it back to their son since he was the one who was supposed to be reading it. His son rolled his eyes when Dad reminded him that he wanted to read the sequel, so please bring it home soon. The student was in my room the next morning asking if he could sign the book out for his dad. I hope when kids see adults they admire reading, it provides positive motivation.

My advice for teachers is to practice what you teach. I have always been dedicated to my classroom and my students, but since I started reading along with them and sharing my experiences with books, my teaching has become more meaningful to me and hopefully, to my students as well. Become actively involved in what you do. I think “burn out” happens when the same practices are used day after day and year after year.


TXS: What are some ways you get your students fired up about reading?

SK: First and foremost, my students see me reading.
I also read aloud to my classes twice a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday they know I will be reading. I’m currently reading IF I GROW UP by Todd Strasser. It is a book about inner city gangs and one boy’s struggle to survive in that environment. It is an entirely different culture than my students experience in our small, Midwestern town. They love this book. When we had a snow day on a Thursday, they were horrified that I missed reading to them. I had to cave to their protests and read on Friday. I planned to anyway. *wink*

A program called Accelerated Reader has also helped me inspire more reading. Our school has had great success with this program that asks students to read and then take computerized tests that measure basic comprehension. The students earn points for each book read and each test passed. I believe the program is successful for us because we keep our book collection current and encourage kids to read books they enjoy. The amount of reading in our school has increased dramatically over the years. Kids carry books with them everywhere and are even caught reading in other classes and in the hall before school, after school, and during lunch. At the halfway point of this school year, my 52 8th graders have read a total of 36,224,663 words. We even provide the opportunity for students to come into school once a week during the summer to pick out books and take the computer tests to earn extra credit points for the following school year.


TXS: How did you get started reviewing young adult books? What have you gained from this experience?

SK: My reviewing work started when I took a few minutes to check out MySpace. My high school aged daughter was getting involved in the social networking world, and I was being a “mom” and checking it out. When I discovered how many young adult/teen authors were hanging out there, I was hooked. I started writing reviews and posting them on my MySpace blog.

The next step in reviewing came when I ran across a website called Teensreadtoo.com administered by the absolutely incredible Jen Wardrip. At the time she called herself a stay-at-home mom, and she was asking for help reviewing young adult fiction. I contacted her and it started a great relationship. I’ve been reviewing there for a couple years, I think. I sort of lose track of time when it comes to this stuff.

Next, it was on to my own blog called Readingjunky’s Reading Roost . Then Facebook surfaced as another networking site. At first I thought no way, but you know how that goes. I now post reviews there, too.

Getting involved on the internet has also helped to motivate some of my students. When I can tell them that they can read about books on the internet, and I can connect them to different sites and blogs, they start visiting them and then start talking about it with each other. This year I inherited 9th grade English along with the 8th graders so I decided to help them create a blog. We now have Fresh Dawgs Book Blog. Using screen names, I am posting their reviews, recommendations, and author interviews as part of their classroom reading requirements. They are excited to see their words on the internet and thrilled when they receive comments from viewers. (Thanks again, Jessica.)


TXS: Could you tell us about your involvement with the Cybils? What was this experience like?

SK: I got involved with the Cybils after seeing a call for judges on their site. I took a chance and sent them my information. As a participant on the first round selection committee for YA fiction, I had a chance to read some terrific books and hook up with some enthusiastic readers. The experience was a humbling one. A number of my fellow group members were much younger, and I discovered, probably much wider read than myself. The insight and opinions they shared about the books we discussed was inspiring and reaffirmed my excitement about what I love to do. I hope I did my job well enough to participate again.



TXS: Thank you, Sally!

*****

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

BOOK RELEASE DAY!

We are so excited for our Sweetheart Jo Whittemore! Today is the release of FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF!

Here's what reviewers are saying:

From Publishers Weekly:
"The quick-witted banter and discussion of such issues as breaking gender stereotypes should resonate with older readers..."

From Enchanting Reviews:
"
This is a fun, hilarious tale that is sure to keep you laughing...Whittemore does a great job multi layering her characters with fun quirks and personalities without them being the usual cardboard stereotypes."

Yay, Jo!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Critiques, Critiques, Critiques

NOTE: Read to the bottom! We're giving away a critique from an editor!

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One of the things THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS have discovered the most is the value of a good critique. Whether you're on the giving end or the taking end, honest critiques will advance your writing more than anything else.

In the spirit of this, THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS are launching their own critique service! Whether you're interested in receiving feedback on your query, your synopsis, or your partial or full manuscript, we'd love to help.

In giving critiques, we strive for honesty above all else. Every manuscript has wonderful aspects, and every manuscript can use work. And getting out of the slush pile can seem impossible when, in truth, much of the time a reworked query letter and first few pages can make all the difference.

If you're interested, please check out our website for rates and specifics. And if you know someone else who is interested, we'd love if you passed our information along.

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In the spirit of critiques, editor Madeline Smoot of Blooming Tree Press, aka The Buried Editor, has kindly offered up a critique. She will critique a query letter and ten pages for one lucky winner. All you have to do to win is:
  • Follow our Blog
  • Comment on this Post

The contest will run through Sunday, March 28th, and the winner will be announced Monday, March 29th.

Good luck! And have a great week!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Friday Roundup—Texas Sweethearts Style

A huge congratulations to Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith! The paperback release of her novel ETERNAL hit the New York Times bestseller list! The Texas Sweethearts are honored to consider Cynthia a friend.
(And in case you don't remember, Cynthia was our very first Featured Sweetheart back in December 2009.)


And we can't help but point out another Austin author who happens to be on the New York Times bestseller list for her amazing picture book, ALL THE WORLD. Liz Garton Scanlon, we're talking about you! We adore you and your book!

Did we mention how wonderful it is to live amid such cool authors?

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Don't forget to help Young Adults Book Central! Their auction is ongoing. And the Texas Sweethearts are proud to be offering up a three-sets-of-eyes critique.

You can see the details here and see all the auction items here.

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In major news, FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF by Jo Whittemore received a fantastic review from Publisher's Weekly! We are so proud of Jo and cannot wait for her book release!
You can read the full review here.

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The Texas Sweethearts will be participating in the Library-Loving Blog Challenge organized by Jennifer Hubbard, author of THE SECRET YEAR. The skinny is we post on March 23rd, and for each comment we receive by March 27th, we donate 25 cents up to a max of $100. All money goes to your local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity—you choose.
Visit Jennifer's blog post for more information or if you want to join!

*****

TAKE A CHANCE ON ART: 2010 Disaster Relief Raffle

Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2004). The original artwork for this spread, donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail.

The raffle will be held on Friday, April 16, during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by Monday, April 9)and will be sold onsite at the spring conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Take a chance on art and improve the chances that your library association can help Texas libraries recover from natural disasters.

*****

Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!

*****

The Texas Sweethearts are looking forward to participating in Operation Teen Book Drop. It's coming up April 15, 2010, and you can read all about it here. Why not think about participating yourself?


*****

The Fire Petal Auction is now open! Fire Petal Books is a new bookstore with vision that needs some help to get started. Head over to bid on some fantastic items including signed books and manuscript critiques from agents, editors, and authors. And you'll be helping children's literature and educational programs in Utah at the same time.
The auction ends Saturday, March 20th, 2010. Don't miss out on your chance for something awesome!

*****

March is a busy month! Here's all the places we'll be:

March 6, 2010 - PJ Hoover presentating at Austin SCBWI Monthly Meeting

March 14, 2010 - Release Party for Jo Whittemore's FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF - 1:00, BookPeople, Austin, TX

March 16, 2010 - PJ Hoover at Woodstock High School Creative Writing Club, Woodstock, VA

March 20, 2010 - PJ Hoover on author panel at Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA

March 23, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson Insight Schools Virtual Visit

March 25, 2010 - Jessica Lee Anderson and PJ Hoover at the Williamson County Juvenile Academy, Georgetown, TX

March 27, 2010 - PJ Hoover Teen Book Club Author Visit at the Cedar Park Public Library

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The Texas Sweethearts enjoyed lunch at The Cheesecake Factory this past week. Sadly, we all passed on cheesecake, but the Miso Salmon was perfect!

Have a great weekend!

*Note: If there is something you'd like us to include in our Friday roundup, please email us. We're happy to include news and information about the awesomeness of the kidlit world!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Texas Sweethearts Critique in YABC Auction!

In support of the YABC Fundraising Auction, the Texas Sweethearts are offering up a three-sets-of-eyes critique!

You can see the details here and see all the auction items here.

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YABC & The Texas Sweethearts

THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS Critique—Three Authors, Three Sets of Eyes, Three Helpful Opinions

What could be more helpful than a critique to strengthen your story? Three critiques! Multiple-published members of THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS—Jo Whittemore, P.J. Hoover, and Jessica Lee Anderson—will individually critique your query letter, synopsis, and the first ten pages.

For more information about THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS and the authors, visit: http://texassweethearts.com/.

Texas Sweethearts

This auction ends on March 30, 2010 at midnight CST.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

FEATURED SWEETHEART - Alice Pope

We are delighted to announce our newest FEATURED SWEETHEART, Alice Pope! We thank the career gods too because Alice is an amazing editor, and she’s so generous with her information and time. She’s also incredibly Internet savvy, and you can check out her Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market blog here.



As a super special treat, today, March 3rd, is Alice's birthday! let's all sing a virtual round of Happy Birthday for her!

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Bio:

Alice Pope is editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, serves as Managing Editor of the Writer’s Digest Books Market Books department, and has been with WD for more than 17 years. She recently edited Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. She also teaches webinars for Writers Online Workshops, maintains Alice ’s CWIM Blog, and is active on Twitter and Facebook. She loves memoirs, angsty YA novels, cute shoes that are on sale, days that are not too hot, yoga, watching TV (particularly shows involving overwrought teens with spectacular wardrobes), paging through magazines and blogs, reading picture books to her 5-year-old boy, attending writers conferences, Thai food, and Sunday afternoon naps. She had a short and unspectacular run as a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is the captain of SCBWI TEAM BLOG which provides exhaustive coverage of the organization’s two Annual Conferences in LA and NYC.

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TXS: You’ve been editing Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market for over 15 years—could you tell us how you got started and how your career has evolved? What is something you’ve gained from this experience?

AP: This September will mark my 18th anniversary with F+ W Media , parent company of Writer’s Digest Books. (Can we tell your readers I started here when I was 12?) I began as an editorial assistant working on a few of our magazines (including Writer’s Digest) and a few months later there was an opening in our Market Books department which I took. I assisted the editor of CWIM and pretty much from the first week I started campaigned to edit the book myself. I finally talked my boss into it, and the rest, as they say… These days I work on CWIM as well as Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market and serve as managing editor of our Market Books department. So I started as a proofreader/assistant on a couple of our annual books in an office in which 15 of us shared one computer and one AOL email account. Now I decide editorial lineups, talk at conferences, give webinars, and work on all seven of our annual books for writers in some capacity, and we have websites and blogs and newsletters and Facebook and Twitter and a WD online community just for writers. I’ve evolved and so has technology. Yay!

As for what I’ve gained. Well I’ve learned tons from people in the industry, people I meet at conference, and my co-workers (who I learn from every day). I’ve gotten an obscene amount of free books over the years (the best job perk ever). But most of all I’ve made some truly amazing friends (you know who you are) who I can’t imagine I’d ever have met if I didn’t do what I do. I thank the career gods for all of these things daily.


TXS: Your blog is just incredible! Do you have any advice for beginning bloggers? Advanced bloggers?

AP: Well gosh, thank you! I do have some advice (although it might be a tad do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do). When you’re just starting, it’s important to determine exactly what your blog should be and find your voice. You don’t want a blog about nothing—don’t be the Seinfeld of blogs. You need some sort of angle, something that will be interesting and useful to readers. Next, post often and be consistent. Decide how many posts you can reasonably handle in a week—maybe, say, you can post on Mondays and Thursdays. Try to stick to your schedule so readers know what to expect. I also think recurring features are good—say a monthly interview or a Friday book review. These are things that readers can get used to and look forward to seeing. And I’ve found that the more often I post the bigger my readership. Be sure to use other social media like Twitter and Facebook to direct people to new blog posts—you can automate this. My most popular posts are the one that get retweeted over and over.


TXS: You have a large online presence—what do you think is most effective when it comes to online outreach? How do you balance your time?

AP: I don’t think there’s one single thing that’s most effective. What’s most effective, I think, is meshing various platforms together. As I mentioned above, use Facebook and Twitter to get people to your blog or website to read new posts, learn about new titles, find the latest news. I think there are two keys when you’re out there online—be sincere and participate. You’re not out there to sell, you’re out there to make (virtual) friends, create a network. Answer questions, solicit feedback, have conversations, share links, and enjoy yourself! Social networking and blogging should be fun. If it’s a chore, something you dread, then either it’s really not for you or you’re approaching it wrong.

As for balancing time, I try to get blog posts up in the morning. I check Twitter and Facebook while I eat my oatmeal (or sometimes on my iPhone before I roll out of bed) and then several times throughout the day. Some days this plan works, sometimes it doesn’t. There are days when I’ve got a lot to say and I’m feeling particularly social and I can get sucked into Twitter all day long if I don’t watch out. I must check myself frequently. Social networking can be fun and exciting and there’s always a lot happening out there so it’s easy to spend the whole day reading posts and status updates and tweets and following links. There are days when I have to say to myself: Alice , step away from the Facebook. You’ve got work to do.


TXS: Since you avidly attend conferences, would you recommend any in particular? How can attendees get the most out conferences?

AP: I. Love. Conferences. Like many of you writers and creative types out there, I’m at a desk behind a computer the better part of my days. And although I have co-workers to keep me interested and amused, there’s nothing better than getting out there and meeting writers in person—whether aspiring or bestselling. It’s just energizing. It gets me excited to come back to my office and do my job. (And after 18 years, that’s saying a lot, don’t you think?)

My favorite event is the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles. The programming is terrific, the hotel is fab, and it’s like an annual gathering of like-minded friends, old and new. This conference always offers a bajillion breakout sessions, excellent keynotes, several networking/mingling events and the chance to get a manuscript critique by an editor, agent or author. (If you can’t make it, there will be live blogging) I recommend any event put on by SCBWI. The Winter Conference is great too, and there are a number of regional SCBWI chapters that put on terrific conferences. (Check their events calendar) But if I had to pick— L.A. in July.
To get the most out of conferences, I’d say first do some prep work. Read the bios of the speakers and visit the websites of the ones who interest you. Make sure you’ve got a good stack of business cards. Post on your social networking sites to see it there will be any conference meet-ups or tweet-ups (or organize one yourself). Heck, plan your party outfits. While you’re there, be friendly. Talk to people. Attend everything (you can sleep when you get home). Take notes. Exchange business cards. When you come home, follow-up with people you meet. Writer Jane Makuch did a helpful guest post for my blog recently with some advice for conference goers which you can find here.

TXS: Is there any advice you have for writers to keep up with this changing industry? What about advice for other editors, or for agents?

AP: There are so many great blogs out there to help writers stay informed. (Use Google Reader so you don’t overwhelm yourself.) And of course attending conferences is helpful in this regard, too. Writer’s Digest puts on Editors’ Intensive twice a year (our next one is in March) where Chuck Sambuchino, Jane Friedman and the other members of our editorial staff (including me) talk about where things are and where thing are heading. (Jane’s give a great presentation called 10 Secrets for Succeeding as a Writer in a Transformational Time.)

I’ll pass on giving advice to other editors and agents—so many of them are the ones who keep me informed. Read their blogs and follow them on Twitter. You’ll learn a lot. And, while it’s important to pay attention to the industry and it’s important to network and create a presence for yourself online, remember that writers are still writers. However your work is put out in the world—printed book or electronic device—the core of your job is to write. Don’t get too bogged down everything else and stay from your mission.


TXS: Thank you, Alice!

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