Thursday, September 27, 2007

Heather Brewer Hoodie Giveaway!

Heather Brewer author of Eighth Grade Bites is simply Fangtastic!
She is holding a contest through the month of October and giving away 13 Hoodies!!!
Click Here For All The Juicy Details!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rita Mills~ Interview ABC's Picture Book Competition

With the voting about to start for the 3rd Annual ABC's Picture Book Competition, the buzz about this competition begins. Here to help us understand more about the ins and outs of the competion, is Competition Coordinator, Rita Mills. Please feel free to post in the comments area any additional questions you might have.

Welcome Rita!

Sheri: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rita: As for my background, I had a twenty-year career at The Houston Post, a major metropolitan newspaper, which I left with the upper management title of PrePress Resource Coordinator. In 1993, I accepted the position of Managing Editor of Arte Publico Press, the largest publisher of Hispanic literature in the US, located at The University of Houston. Their plans included launching a children’s picture book imprint, Pinata Books, and I was intrigued. I knew little if anything about children’s books other than I had loved and collected them for years, but they were looking for someone with practical experience in the creation of those books.

After four years at Arte Publico, I left to start my own business, The Book Connection. I could see the publishing industry was changing rapidly because I was getting weekly calls from people wanting to know how to publish their books. At that time—mid ‘90s—the publishing industry was going through some major changes. The onslaught of the internet pretty much leveled the playing field for the small publisher, so more and more newbies wanted to start their own publishing houses.

As a book publishing consultant/coach and book packager, I help small publishers start their own publishing companies and school them in the standardizations required to become viable in publishing and produce trade quality books across all genres. I work with more than thirty freelancers all over the US who have book specific experience, and I am the project manager and coordinator for the various titles. I have worked with several of my freelancers for fifteen years or longer and know their skill sets. I have packaged more than 350 titles in the last 15 years of which about 20 have been children’s picture books.(The numbers used in this sentence are correctly used.)

Sheri: Why did you start the ABC Picture Book Competition?

Rita: When an average of three children’s picture books out of twelve thousand submissions sent to traditional publishers are actually published, I would say that constitutes a need.

So I started the competition to give the unknown writers and illustrators a chance to become published.

The idea for the ABC’s Children’s Picture Book Competition was first tossed around about eight years ago during a brainstorm session at a nonprofit cooperative for whom I worked. We were discussing the frustrations of the publishing industry and started working on the idea of a contest of some sort to recognize newbies to the industry. It wasn’t until much later that the idea for an internet vote started taking shape, and the whole idea of the competition was honed to what it is today.

The nonprofit was dissolved after the second round of the competition, and, because of the obligations that were in place, I took on the responsibility of delivering on those obligations. Just so everyone is aware, the competition skipped a year when my personal life took on an ominous note. My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and was brought home for hospice care, so there was no way I could continue that round of the competition.

Sheri: How many writers usually participate in the competition?

Rita: The first competition had roughly 250; the second round had 176 entries; and the third round had 128. The numbers were never anywhere near as large as we envisioned going into the competition, and those that claim I am getting rich must not know how much it costs to publish a quality book.

Sheri: Can you explain why there is a $55 entry fee?

Rita: The entry fee is meant to discourage those who just send out their manuscripts indiscriminately. If they are willing to send in an entry fee, they generally have faith in the quality of their stories. And this fee also helps with the administrative costs of doing the competition.

Just a sidebar on the $55 entry fee:

Several years ago when I was trying to write, I sent one story out simultaneously to several publishers and spent over $100 on postage alone. My reward was six Xeroxed rejection letters, and six didn’t even bother to respond after my hours of research and compilation of the specific things that they were looking for.
There are many awards out there that charge a fee to submit your titles. No one seems to have a problem with them charging a fee and most are now over $100 per title. And, basically all you are going to get for your trouble is the opportunity to buy their stickers to put on your books.

Sheri: Is there one specific thought that you would like to get across to the public?

Rita: In order for a small publisher to have a viable publishing project, a target audience is necessary so marketing dollars can be focused on a specific core audience. With that said, think marketing angles for your entries. For instance, these two winners have great target audiences:

12 Dog Days of Christmas in New York City—dog lovers, Christmas gifts & New York fans
Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets—Duh!—Texas is a large state and it is about our state flower, the bluebonnet

A children’s story is a children’s story. If it has a good target audience as well as tells a good story, how can it not be a winner?

Sheri: If the participation level was higher would you use the extra fees to publish a second book?

Rita: Going into this competition idea, we had decided that for every three hundred entries we would publish one book. Things obviously didn’t turn out the way we wanted when it came to the number of entry participants, but that is still our goal. I would rather publish more books than less because we get some really terrific stories. If I had the resources, there are at least four out of the first two rounds and four in the current round of the competition that I would publish myself.

Sheri: What happens to the finalist stories that don’t win?

Rita: The stories that don’t win in the internet vote are kept online. I wanted them to still have visibility with the hopes that another publisher might peruse the stories and like one enough to want to publish it themselves. To date I think there have been three or four of the finalists that have managed to make it into print, and I get requests periodically from internet surfers that want the contact info for either an author or illustrator for a project. I also moderate two listservs and participate on several others that deal with publishing, and I often point people to the ABC’s website to take a look at the stories.

Sheri: What is the reason for doing an online vote? Why not just select a winner?

Rita: The ABC’s competition has taken a lot of criticism because the winner is chosen by an internet vote, and many have said it is nothing but a “popularity contest.” The competition was specifically designed this way to zero in on the marketing prowess of the authors and illustrators. Wallflowers need not apply!!
It really doesn’t matter which one of the ten finalists wins, because they all have merit or they wouldn’t be a finalist. By organizing the competition this way, the “cream will rise to the top,” and the author/illustrator team that is the most outgoing will be the winner. Any publisher knows a marketing personality is essential for a successful publishing project, and children’s literature is no different. An author who is outgoing and willing to help market their stories is a tremendous asset.
Another aspect of the internet vote idea started at that first brainstorm session. One of the things we were all appalled at was the subjects of some of the published books. Who makes these decisions? Too many times I feel editors aren’t in touch with what the buying public really wants. So this competition gives the end-user—children and parents—a say in what is published.

Also, we are working with several school districts this year to help bring the vote into the classroom, and the teachers are excited about having a fun language arts project for their students.

Sheri: The competition is in its third year. Can you tell us a bit about the first two winners and what has transpired with them?

Rita: The first competition winner, 12 Dog Days of Christmas in New York City, was a very difficult book that needed a lot of research. As of yet, it hasn’t been finalized because we had a problem with the illustrator who won the competition. By the time we got that person off the project and another one in place, we were a good year and a half behind schedule on the book. The book should be finalized this fall and will go to print by the end of the year with a projected pub date of December 2008.

The second competition winner, Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, was chosen and we had a finalized book ready to go to the printer in three months. But it was a completely different kind of book that didn’t require a lot of research and graphic control like the first book does.

Just some tidbits about what has transpired over this last 12 months with the second winner,
Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.

The authors and illustrator have done multiple school visits, with nearly double that amount on the books already for this coming school year.
The book has been picked up by the Writers Alive! Program at the Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center. It is being made into a musical as part of the program, and will tour the state with KVPAC for the whole year. The book and play is facilitating the efforts of KVPAC to take this nonprofit to a higher level of awareness throughout the state.
Since the subject is wildflowers, the protagonist of the story is taking up the cause of wildflower preservation that was vacated by Lady Bird Johnson’s death this summer. The Got Bluebonnets? Campaign will launch at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas September 23, 2007.
Enter your school in a drawing for bluebonnet seeds at the website.
We have managed to sell roughly thirty five hundred books in that twelve month timeframe as well, which isn’t bad for a small publisher.
The book has been nominated for several book awards, and we may know something shortly after this blog interview is posted.

Sheri: Illustrators do not pay a fee to participate. What are the benefits of illustrating for the competition?

Rita: You are right, the illustrators do not pay an entry fee, and they also get paid for their work. Illustration is a much more involved and complex undertaking than writing a story, so I felt the illustrator should be paid something for their time and involvement, hence their stipend for the illustration work. And, because the illustrator gets paid for their work, they get fewer copies of the book than the author.

I have been asked many times about having a competition for the illustrators, but a good picture book starts with the story. And, as the creative director of the competition, I feel the illustrator should be chosen for their style and skill in order to marry it with the story. The illustrations are going to make or break the book, to be really honest, so I hate to leave that aspect of the book to chance. If anyone can figure out a way to do an illustrators competition, please email me. I would love to hear from you.

Sheri: Will there be a fourth annual Picture Book Competition?

Rita: If you had asked me that back in March when I was reading all the stories and looking at going in the hole again on the costs of the competition, I would have probably said no. But working with this group of budding authors and illustrators who are so enthusiastic and eager to learn and participate, I have decided to give it at least one more year. So, the fourth round of the competition will launch simultaneously with the internet vote that will be from September 16-30, 2007. Deadline will again be on February 28, 2008.

And for every 300 entries, there will be one finalist’s story chosen to receive a publishing contract!

Sheri: As one of the 12 finalists in this years competition, let me end saying the last few months, working with Rita, has been the experience of a life time. Win or lose I do not regret it for a minute. Rita is a wonderful person to work with and I don't have a doubt in my mind about her dedication and sincerity when it comes to this competition.

Thanks Rita for stopping by!

For more information about the ABC's Annual Picture Book Competition, feel free to contact Rita Mills.

Rita Mills—713-937-9184

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wow! My poor neglected blog.

It is hard to believe that the last time I posted here was in August. What a slacker. Well not really. I have been a busy-bee working on marketing my story for the ABC's 3rd Annual Picture Book Competition. Voting starts on Sunday!
I am very excited and hope that everyone else will be too when they see all the fun stuff in store on the "Spider & Fly" website during the competition. Make sure and check it out. There will be some great contests with some Awesome Authors. Trust me when I say you don't want to miss these contests!
Coming this Friday, I will be posting an Interview with Rita Mills, the editor of the competition. This is a must see. Rita answers some questions weighing on many peoples minds!
Hope to see you on Friday.

Happy Writing~