01 Jun

“Writing a book is like making a friend. Some … open up immediately…” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for June 2018)

Welcome to the Q&A for the June edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with novelist Samantha M. Clark. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, will be published later this month by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. Samantha is also the regional advisor of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

(Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of Austin SCBWI my entire career, and through the chapter I’ll be teaching two online classes — here and here — next month.))

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast is a lyrical adventure story with, at its center, an unconventional mystery: Who is the titular boy (he himself doesn’t know), how did he get to the island where he is now, and how will he get home, wherever that may be?

In its review of Samantha’s book, School Library Journal says, “With a sharp focus on the isolated protagonist and his internal struggle, it is character development that shines most clearly, though the external environmental dangers and the mystery keep the suspense taut.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the winner of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on June 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Samantha M. Clark.

Chris: Young readers often want to know how long it takes to write a book, and I find that there’s typically both a short answer and a long one to that seemingly simple question. So: In your experience, how long does it take to write a book?

Samantha: Hahaha I’m not sure there is a short answer to this question, unless it’s: It depends.

Writing a book is like making a friend. Some friends open up immediately and you feel like you know everything about that person really quickly; other friendships build over time, and you might discover something new about that person years after you meet.

For example, the first draft of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast took about six months for me to write, and it wasn’t an easy draft to complete. I floundered through a lot of it, not knowing where the story should go next. I would basically say, let’s try this… and see what would happen. It wasn’t until I got to the end of that draft and I wrote that final scene — which is pretty much the same in the final book — that I truly understood what the boy’s journey was and why I was writing it.

I then had to go back to the beginning and revise with that in mind. I did around nine or ten revisions, each time getting to know the boy and his story a bit more, before I signed with my agent, then another two or three with her before it went on submission to editors. Then I did another big revision while it was on submission, and that’s the one that sold.

With my editor, I did a few more smaller revisions before it went to copy edits, and I even changed a few lines and one small section in the final passes before the book went to press. All that took about seven and a half years, but between those revisions I wrote and revised four more novels. Phew! So how long does it take to write a book? My answer is: As long as the story needs.

Chris: Four other novels, on top of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast? That’s a whole lot of work, on top of your efforts these past few years as a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. How have those two time-consuming pursuits — that inward-facing work of advancing your own writing, and that outward focus of supporting scores of others in advancing their own creative work — fed into and reinforced each other?

Samantha: Yes, writing is definitely inward-facing, because until the story is on paper — digital or print ;) — you are the only one who can live it. You’ll have critique partners and maybe an agent or editor who’ll read drafts and make suggestions, but only you know whether you’ve fully achieved what you see in your head. Only you can invent the world, breathe life into the characters, and grow this story through first draft, and revision and more revisions.

It’s kind of like playing singles tennis, where you might have your team of coaches and sponsors and fans behind you, but when it comes down to it, you’re the only one on your side of the net — in the good times and the bad. So that’s why it’s so important to have other people who support you.

Aside from my husband and family, I found those people with organizations like SCBWI and the Writers’ League of Texas. I’m generally a shy person, so volunteering was a great way for me to meet people and I jumped in with small jobs. But my last five years as the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of SCBWI has been especially valuable to me.

I took the position on the encouragement of friends who thought I’d do a good job, but I quickly realized that I was going to get out of it far more than I put in. I’ve met amazing people within our close to 330-member chapter; I’ve been able to learn and network with the speakers I’ve brought in to teach others; and the generous thank yous I’ve received from our members helped me feel a lot less of a failure when I received rejections for my manuscripts.

That old “do unto others…” guidance really is the best advice. I feel good every time I recommend a book by a friend, or share their good news, and I’m propped up by the feeling of accomplishment for every event I organize that goes off well.

Sadness and feelings of not being good enough tend to fester, dig into our hearts and spawn when we’re alone and spend too much time inward-facing. But when we’re looking out, inspired by those around us, and allowing them to lift us up with hope in our darkest moments, we will achieve as well.

22 May

Sign up now for my summer online classes about school visits

Registration is now open for two webinars I’m teaching this July on the topic of school visits. If you know an author or illustrator who might benefit, won’t you please share this with them?

School-Visit Basics with author Chris Barton
Monday, July 16, 2018, 7 p.m. Central
In this 90-minute webinar geared toward authors and illustrators doing from one to ten school visits (mostly local) per year, Chris Barton shares his insights about setting rates, getting bookings, making effective presentations, managing details, and providing the best possible experience for everyone involved. If you’re relatively new to doing school visits and want to get up to speed, or have limited availability that you want to make the most of, bring your questions and get them answered by someone who has made the transition from total newbie to 100-visits-per-year veteran.
Register for the basic class through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI members receive a discounted rate of just $10.)

School-Visit Advanced with author Chris Barton
Wednesday, July 18, 2018, 7 p.m. Central
In this 120-minute webinar geared toward authors and illustrators doing more than ten school visits (or more than five out-of-town visits) per year, author Chris Barton shares his insights about managing your calendar, working with (and without) a booking agent, finding and communicating with interested schools, coordinating with your hosts, improving your presentations, traveling smartly and healthily, and dealing with glitches, snags, and setbacks — all while tending to your creative work and enjoying your career. If you’re experienced at school visits and want more — more bookings than you’ve been getting, or more satisfaction with the number of visits you’re doing now — bring your questions and get them answered by someone who visits more than 100 schools per year and pretty much loves it.
Register for the advanced class through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI members receive a discounted rate of just $35.)

Thank you to the Austin chapter of SCBWI for making these online classes happen. I miss doing school visits during the summer, so as I prepare for the webinars, at least I’ll be thinking about doing school visits!

23 Apr

A great idea for local authors and indie booksellers

And it comes from Austin, Texas — home to me, a thriving chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and my favorite bookstore, BookPeople.

Just one sign — literally, and from 8 years ago this week — of BookPeople’s longtime support for me and my books.

Meghan Goel is the store’s children’s book buyer and programming director, and she also contributes to Publishers Weekly‘s ShelfTalker blog.

In her post last week, Meeting the Authors in Our Neighborhood, Meghan introduces what I think is a great idea — one that can benefit local authors and independent booksellers alike, not just in Austin but far beyond.

Here’s a little bit of Meghan’s ShelfTalker post:

[T]his July we’re going to test out a new bookseller intro and q&a for Austin’s SCBWI author class of 2018. If it works well, we’ll make it an annual thing. We’ll obviously emphasize that this is a great opportunity for new authors to tell us about their books, but authors new and old can come and ask us anything at all—general questions about bookselling, best practices for working with us on book launches, ideas for how to help promote their books between releases, or anything on their minds about working with a bookstore like ours.

Retailers and children’s authors/illustrators elsewhere, what do you think? Worth a try in your community?

01 Apr

Don, Tom, and me

Don Tate, Tom Lichtenheld, Chris Barton

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel at last month’s Austin SCBWI conference with illustrators Don Tate (shown on the left) and Tom Lichtenheld (the guy in the middle). If those names sound familiar, it’s because I’ve created a book with each of them.

In fact…

Today (no fooling) is the publication date not only of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which Don illustrated, but also of the board book version of the Tom-illustrated Shark Vs. Train. Both books give readers something to chew on — one figuratively, one literally — so if you know someone with a big appetite for something new to read, won’t you please keep these in mind?

30 Nov

2015 Austin SCBWI Conference: You will win!

(What’s with the Shark Vs. Train reference in the post title? Well, read on…)

Registration opens one week from tomorrow for the annual conference of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Regardless of whether you’re aspiring or accomplished, the March 7-8 conference has something for you:

    keynote addressess and panel discussions
    writing craft breakouts
    all-day illustrator track
    all-day professional development track
    critiques and reviews of manuscripts, portfolios, and picture book dummies

There’s all that, and more, and I haven’t even listed the editors, art director, agents, New York Times bestselling authors, and other artists and authors who will be on the faculty. You can see that list here, but I do want to point out that I’ll be among them, as will illustrator Tom Lichtenheld.

Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld

In the nearly five years since the publication of our book Shark Vs. Train, this will be the first time that Tom and I have appeared together at the same conference. I’m excited about that, and I hope you are, too.

So, get it on your calendar today, get ready to register next Monday, and we’ll see you in March!

18 Mar

A little teaching now, a lot of teaching later

In a guest post last week for the International Reading Association’s Engage/Teacher to Teacher blog, I wrote about a technique I use for getting to know my the characters in my nonfiction books.

(In the same post, YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler — Sass & Serendipity, How Not to Be Popular — wrote about how she gets inside the heads of her fictional characters, and vice versa. So, really, between the two of us, you’re all set.)

Check it out, and if what I had to say seems useful to you, I hope you’ll join me this June for “You Don’t Have to Choose: Balancing Playful Picture Books With Rigorous Research,” a one-day workshop I’ll be teaching through the Austin chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Workshop Synopsis: Creatively and professionally alike, authors can enjoy big benefits from letting the silly stuff cross-pollinate with the seriously researched. In “You Don’t Have to Choose,” we’ll use the examples of picture book authors who have done both fiction and nonfiction as a springboard for discussing and honing skills and techniques applicable to both types of writing. We’ll examine the benefits — and potential drawbacks — of that sort of career cross-pollination with a goal of having each student leave the workshop inspired and equipped to create books in both realms, with some newly gained practical experience under their belts.

Details, including discount info, are available here.

20 Feb

Groucho glasses and curriculum guides

At the fantabulous Austin SCBWI conference this past weekend, various folks asked me what I was working on these days. I know they wanted to hear about new picture books or nonfiction projects or the like, but what most came to my mind was Groucho Marx glasses and curriculum guides.

Why’s that? Well, I’ve got a new book coming out in less than two months, Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, and I’ve been taking the jittery, nervous excitement that comes with a book release and trying to channel that energy into plans and efforts to get the word out about it.

There are lots of things I could spend my time and/or money on in support of the launch of Can I See Your I.D.? A book trailer. A blog tour. A launch party. Paid advertising. Lesson plans. And so on, including — yes — novelty Groucho glasses in keeping with the “false identities” theme. And at least some of those, I will spend my time and/or money on.

But there’s a limit to it, and I can feel that limit approaching. The book is finished — it’s as good as it’s ever going to get — and there are other projects of mine that would also like me to finish them. (The feeling is mutual.) So much of what happens with Can I See Your I.D.? from here on out depends on work that’s already been done, and I need to keep that in mind and keep the importance of the promotional efforts in perspective.

Does that make me a little uneasy? Does it make me wonder whether I’ve considered everything I could and should do in order to give this book a happy launch out into the world? You bet your life. But a year from now, the launch will be long over, the book will still be the book, and I’ll hopefully have a new launch to start thinking about — if I get back to the work of writing, that is.

30 Aug

From RIF to TBF and beyond…

Welcome, all you first-time Bartography readers who have found your way here from my guest post at Reading Is Fundamental’s blog. Bartography veterans, I hope you’ll pay a visit to Rasco From RIF and make a habit out of it.

Want to win a signed copy of The Day-Glo Brothers or Shark Vs. Train or an advance, uncorrected proof of my next book, Can I See Your I.D.? Soon — very soon — I’ll be sending out the new edition of my occasional Bartography Express newsletter, and as always, one subscriber will get a free book. How do you subscribe? See the box on my home page — but hurry…

The big literary event here in Austin every fall is the Texas Book Festival. This year’s lineup of authors was announced this past week, and I could not be more excited about being included. Seriously — take a look at who all’s coming to town, and then make sure you join them October 16 and 17.

Also speaking of big events — and of big events in which I’m delighted to play a part — registration is now open for the 2011 Regional Conference put on by the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Is this conference for you? Only if there’s some appeal in spending a weekend learning from a Caldecott medalist, a National Book Award winner, editors who have worked with Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling, the agent who sold Newbery honoree The Underneath, etc.

Of course, an event doesn’t have to be big in order for it to be meaningful — especially when the audience is a group of young readers with the opportunity to connect with the author or illustrator of one of their favorite books. To help schools and libraries find Texas-based creators of books for children and young adults, SCBWI chapters from all over the state collaborate each year on a guide to available speakers. Here’s the PDF version of this year’s guide, and here’s a little information about getting included in next year’s guide.

Finally, if you’re interested in what Marilyn Carter, Lisa Lawrence, and I had to say during our recent Writers’ League of Texas panel on publicity, video from the event is available on YouTube. Bethany Hegedus (author of the upcoming Truth, With a Capital T) offered a recap on her blog, one of the many reasons to spend time getting to know Bethany and her writing.

15 Aug

More pre-panel thoughts on PR

While working on the usual stuff this past week — revising, researching, preparing a guest post for another blog, attending Austin SCBWI’s monthly meeting, reading Julius Lester’s terrific On Writing for Children & Other People, etc. — I’ve continued thinking about the panel discussion I’ll participate in this coming Thursday.

On August 19, the Writers’ League of Texas’ monthly panel on marketing topics will address the theme, “Building Your PR Team.” (The discussion starts at 7 p.m. at Austin’s BookPeople; pregame will be down the street at Shoal Creek Saloon.)

At least as much as the various PR tools available to us, we writers (illustrators, too) need to know what our objective is as professionals. Even before I joined Facebook and Twitter, I’d reminded myself occasionally that this blog is a secondary medium that serves to support my primary medium of books. For me, that’s still just as true, and the need for a reminder is still just as great — maybe even more so.

I have no interest in becoming known primarily as a blogger, or Tweeter, or especially prodigious Facebooker. I like researching and writing books, and I want to do more of that. I also understand the need to support my book-writing habit through school visits and conference appearances. (Luckily, I absolutely love doing those visits and appearances.) So, my virtual “PR team” is geared toward enabling those things.

There are also the (occasionally hazy, but nonetheless real) limits on how much of my time I can spend on anything related to my writing. Producing more words to go into those books has to come first, but figuring out which of those PR activities comes second, third, and so forth — and which just don’t get done at all — is a continuing struggle.

I’m eager to hear folks’ thoughts — both this Thursday evening and in comments and conversations in the meantime — about how they prioritize the marching orders for their PR team.


P.S. This doesn’t qualify as “usual stuff” by any means, but last weekend I did visit the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (a.k.a. “The Nickel”) in Abilene, Texas. The SCBWI Golden Kite, Golden Dreams exhibit is there through September. Go see it.

12 Sep

A bit much, even by Austin SCBWI standards

But who says there’s anything wrong with a bit much?

Registration opened this week for Destination Publication!, the January 30, 2010, conference of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Now, Austin SCBWI tends to do conferences well. But this one’s so big you’ve got to take a step or two backwards in order to see the whole thing. It will have:

  • A Newbery Honor Author (Kirby Larson)
  • A Caldecott Honor Illustrator (Marla Frazee)
  • Three Agents (Andrea Cascardi, Mark McVeigh, Nathan Bransford)
  • Three Editors (Cheryl Klein, Lisa Graff, Stacy Cantor)
  • Eight Featured Authors (Liz Garton Scanlon, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Jacqueline Kelly, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and me)
  • One Special Guest Author (Sara Lewis Holmes)
  • One Featured Illustrator (Patrice Barton; no, we’re not)
  • Traditional Critiques
  • Advanced Critiques
  • Portfolio Reviews
  • Two Parties with the Faculty
  • Like I said — registration for the conference opened this week. I wouldn’t count on it staying open for long.