Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lucy Cummins on Self Promotion: How to Get Work Agented or Not

Cummins.JPGLucy Ruth Cummins is the Art Director for Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers and Paula Wiseman Books. She works with artists from all sides of the technique map on everything from picture books to young adult covers.

Put a mailer together with your strongest piece that highlights your unique style and represents the style you'd be happiest to work in. Lucy gets 0-4 postcards a day. They go directly into her hand. The postcard should have your name, website, and email address on the back and a strong image with no distracting text on the front.

Tip: Lucy loves to get holiday postcards from talented illustrators.

Have an updated website and an active web presence. Lucy finds unagented talent online all the time. Some of the places she "lurks" are Twitter, Flickr, Behance, Instagram, Illustration Fridays and @sketchdailies. A website can be as simple as a blog on or a Tumblr page -- it's a place to feature your work.

Have a picture book dummy ready in case an art director likes your promotional pieces. As an illustrator you should be able to show you can tell a story in 32 pages and be able to defend that ability.

Should you send mailers to an AD who already has someone in their back pocket that has your illustration style?

"That person might be busy. Being someone's back up player is never a bad thing."

Editor, Agent, and Art Director Panel: Freeing Your Creativity and Taking It to the World

Some snippets from our panel:

Lauren MacLeod:  (in reference to children's books)
I love it.  Books are very important to me.  I always loved it.  I am never going to not be here.

Jennifer Rofe:  I didn't know where to go until I met my boss, Andrea Brown...I love it and I don't want to leave.

Jennifer Rofe:  Holiday books...have a limited timeframe for how long they can be on the shelf.  Established characters are often used for holiday titles.  I would be careful with holiday books.  They are trickier than you think.

Kelly Delaney:  If you have a scary book rather than a Halloween book then you have a better chance.  I like the dark Lemony Snicket stuff - kids are scared of all kinds of things, and so focusing on that instead of Halloween I think it can work.

Rosemary Stimola: It depends on the age of the target audience...developmentally speaking, how scary is appropriate for that age group?

Rosemary Stimola:  [in reference to art notes in picture books] In order for an illustrator to have a vision, you can have some notes, but you should not be telling an artist how to visualize and create their art.  If not needed, then nothing should be said.

Kelly Delaney:  It's okay to include [art notes] if it is necessary to tell the story.

Lucy Cummins:  Don't be married to them [art notes].  Someone else might have a better idea.

Lucy Cummins:  I want every illustrator to have a dummy.  If I have worked with you on a project I will be wondering if you have a dummy.

Daniel Nayeri: [in reference to traditional publishers picking up self-published books]  When we're hearing about it on are a small business.  At what point will your small business be bought by a larger business?

Lauren MacLeod:  As you think you are going to self-publish as a way in, for everyone in this room that is probably an imaginary dream.  It is not a secret way in.  Don't do that...if you want to self-publish and that's something you want to do, great.  If you want to do it as a back way into traditional publishing, don't.


Portfolio peeks with Lucy and Rosemary

Lucy Ruth Cummins is the Art Director with Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers and Paula Wiseman Books.

Rosemary Stimola is the founder of Stimola Literary Studio, representing award-winning authors and illustrators such as Suzanne Collins, Jodi Lynn Anderson , and LIsa Papademetriou.

I tend to look for PB art that has a less “animated” feel (ie Disney). With more individual personality. - Rosemary

Great characters are important, but make sure your pieces have a narrative side. - Lucy

I always try to tell people: the more dogs the merrier. - Lucy

For whatever reason, anytime we try to put panels in a picture book, it’s hard to sell. - Lucy

Watch digital techniques so they don’t look so digital. - Lucy

The expressions here are worth a million bucks. - Rosemary

I love hand lettering. - Lucy

If the text is crummy, I might get distracted by it. Don’t include it if you think it takes away from your work. - Lucy

My go-to people have drafting that is untouchably good and they get things done on time. - Lucy

Timely delivery on the art is everything, without that, we can’t go anywhere. - Rosemary

Articulate where you’re stuck when working on a project. It happens to everyone. You have to find your confidence because we hired you for a reason. - Rosemary.

For me, my first response to a piece of art is does it touch me emotionally and what is the story there? - Rosemary

We do look for that one piece in a portfolio that tells a whole story. - Lucy

Katie McGarry - Adding Emotional Depth To Your Manuscript

In a dynamic and heartfelt presentation, Katie McGarry shared her expertise on writing realistic characters, specifically characters (from my experiences of Katie's books) who keep you turning pages and have the power to move you to tears.

As you write, consider the following;

Do you honestly know your characters? 

Set the stage- your setting should be a character

Backstory isn't always evil

Be aware of body language

Do your research


Dig deep

Katie shared excerpts from her books as well as insight from her real life. She is the award winning author of Pushing the Limits, Dare You To, Crash Into You, Take Me On, and Breaking the Rules. 

How to Make an Editor Fall in Love

Stacey Barney is the Senior Editor for Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.

Voice, characterization, and pace are the three things that Stacey pays attention to outside of good writing.

Voice should have "muscle."  Something that the editor will pay attention to from the first word.

When you're revising, that's when you're really writing because that's when you are examining your voice.

Ask yourself what you're good at;  that's what is going to make your story sing.  What's new?  What's fresh?  What is innovative?

She gets 300 submissions a year.  She buys two.

When you do what you do best, it will feel fresh.  It will feel innovative. 

Your characters will come to you.  They will feel like friends or enemies when they aren't cooperating. You have to make sure these people that you know very well in your head are on the page.

Characterization choices are all about the who.  The characters have to feel like someone that Stacey wants to live with for two years.  On average, Stacey reads books three times per edit.  She has to love the people from the beginning.

A character must have a flaw and/or obstacles.

There is no right or wrong answer for pace.  It is only what is right for the book. 

For literary middle grade, slow is okay but the writing must be beautiful.  For commercial YA, it must be fast.

You want action to gain momentum to get to a crisis point.  If you are doing a lot of setup, it could hinder your pace from the beginning.  If setup is your first ten or twelve pages, it becomes boring.


Gennifer Choldenko: Down and Dirty Revision Tips

Gennifer Choldenko, acclaimed author of Al Capone Does My Shirts, shares advice on Revision.

  • Seek out great critiquers who will tell you the truth.
  • Don't be defensive--try to save your comments by taking notes and giving it time to sink in.
  • Don't critique yourself too much on the first draft.
  • Don't spend too much time on the first chapter when drafting.
  • Writing plot can be learned, writing characters is much harder. 
  • Backstory must be leaked in sparingly so that your readers are dying to know the rest. 
  • Do a 'word search' to make sure you're not to repetitive. Also 'word search' your characters to check to see if they're dialogue is consistent with their characterization.
  • Do your research. Try to recreate setting as best you can. 
  • Be patient--it's part of the game.
  • Honor your instincts. Stay true to your story--if it doesn't feel right, don't do it.
  • Try to develop a love for revision. 

Daniel Nayeri: How to Sell Me a Book

Daniel Nayeri is the director of children's publishing at Workman Publishing Company.

Workman is a fiercely independent publishing house.  Workman is one of the biggest of the indies.  Workman published WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING, etc. 

Workman publishes the popular BRAIN QUEST games and workbooks and also is doing some Star Wars workbooks.

Workman depends heavily on their back list.  They have unique formats for their books.  Many of their books are interactive and have tactile features (ribbons, etc.). Their books are incredibly creative and truly different - for example, COLOSSAL PAPER MACHINES, in which readers are actually given step-by-step instructions on how to make said machines from cardstock included at the end of the book.

Key takeaway:  Workman wants definitive, useful, format driven books.

Ruta Sepetys: The Best Investment: How Do I Spend My Marketing Dollars?

New York Times bestselling author, Ruta Sepetys, discusses a variety of ways to spend your marketing dollars.


  • Let the kids run the school visits--for example, the theater groups, history class kids. They're more invested in the books if it's something they're interested in.
  • Try creating a profile page on 'Skype in the Classroom'._
  • Giveaway incentives for asking questions.
  • Book fairs, festival, conferences are great for networking which is often times an incentive.

Promo Materials:
  • Bookmarks, bookplates, postcards, and flyers are a great tool for promotion.

Social media:
  • Pick the social media outlets you like best and use those to connect with your readers.

Overall an inspiring and informative session from one of Midsouth's greatest success stories.

From Spark to Flame: A Picture Book's Path to Publication

Amanda Driscoll is the author of Duncan the Story Dragon.  She is represented by Rosemary Stimola and Kelly Delaney at Knopf is her editor.


Amanda Driscoll gets ideas when she is walking her dogs.  She does thumbnails so she can see when the story is flowing.

When she wrote Duncan, she had been writing for about five years.  She previously been submitting to editors directly, but decided to seek representation from an agent.  She made a short list of dream agents and queried them when she received a request from Rosemary Stimola.

Rosemary loved the book, and she set it on her desk for a few days.  When everyone in the office stopped to ask about it, she knew for sure it was something special.

When Rosemary Stimola sends something out, she always expects there to be revision. 

Kelly Delaney loved the book and was able to get approval and make an offer quickly.  She thought the text was nearly perfect but wanted to push her outside of her comfort zone on the illustrations.  They asked to her experiment with different drawings of Duncan.  They eventually settled on a kid-Duncan.  They want through multiple extensive revisions to get it exactly right.

Rosemary was able to sit back and watch it unfold because of the excellent collaboration between Kelly and Amanda.

Amanda advises that authors and illustrators need to be open-minded and flexible.  Remember that revisions are a normal part of the process.  

If you wanted to hear the whole story...sign up for SCBWI Midsouth next year!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Robert J. Blake: Rough Idea to Credible Sketch

Blake.JPGRobert J Blake is an award-winning author illustrator who travels the world to find his stories. He’s authored/illustrated over 30 books and has developed a messy but proven process for organizing and producing ideas.

“I’m a messy guy and I have a messy procedure. I really think that’s the best way to work. That being said, you can be wildly creative but later you have to be able to organize it. And the organizing is an art in itself.”

Robert has kept every one of his sketchbooks since grade school. Everything he's ever worked on, he can find in his "records". He likes to paint on location and talk to locals to get the energy and feel of the setting and the story he wants to tell. 

"When I start I get the worst ideas out of my head so they’re out. It’s just as important to the process. As you work, look for the rhythm and the statement that you want to make, don’t focus so much on the drawing. Keep your mind elastic as the concept takes shape."

Robert gave us a charming account of how he found inspiration for his book LITLE DEVILS on location in Tasmania. For a 40 page book he might have 15 spreads, and he does an action graph to map the emotional energy of the story before he moves to thumbnails and sketches. He'll do fifteen or more sketches for each drawing, considering all angles and perspectives. For this particular book, he did 8 dummies before he turned them into his editor. It might sound like a lot of work, but Robert believes you can't think of it that way. Illustrators have fun problems to solve. In our studios, we're the boss.

"It’s amazing that you can take something from your mind and show it to people -- show them what’s in your head. That’s the power we have as illustrators.”

Conference Happenings!

A VERY special thanks to our amazing photographer, Carla Schooler, for capturing all of these wonderful SCBWI moments!

Kristin Tubb talks Children's Writing and Publishing 101

Daniel Nayeri keeps things interesting!