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?

14 Aug

Key steps on my journey with Don Tate (so far!)

Yesterday morning marked the debut of a new presentation with a longtime friend.

As you may know, Don Tate and I have created two picture books together: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

John Roy Lynch and George Moses Horton and Lonnie Johnson

Yesterday, we got to present about our journey “From Critique Partners to Collaborators” at the monthly meeting of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, after which Don received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. (Congratulations, Don!)

Preparing for this presentation meant plunging into our electronic archives as well as the memories stored up in our heads, and the process was a lot of fun for us both.

The big takeaway of our presentation was a set of ten tips equally applicable to critique partners and collaborators alike, based on our own experiences with each other over these past 11 years. But we opened with this timeline, which we thought might be of interest to folks who weren’t able to attend yesterday’s meeting.

2005
First (documented) contact!
First manuscript critique
First lunch together

2006
First road trip together
Chris suggests Don write about George Moses Horton.

2007
Don critiques unfinished first draft of Chris’ manuscript, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2009
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers acquires The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2010
Chris recommends Don to Eerdmans as candidate to illustrate The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2011
Charlesbridge Publishing agrees to publish biography of Lonnie Johnson written by Chris.

2012
Don is announced as illustrator of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
Chris recommends Don to Charlesbridge as illustrator of Lonnie Johnson book.

2013
Peachtree Publishers acquires Don’s biography of George Moses Horton.
Don is announced as illustrator of Whoosh!

2015
Chris and Don make first in-person appearances as author-illustrator team.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is published.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is published.

2016
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is published.

And that’s just the high-level version — the nitty-gritty could take up a month of blog posts. But if you’re involved with a conference or organization that would be interested in hearing more of the story, well, maybe we’ll just have to update our timeline to include you.

22 Jan

Bartography Express for January 2015, featuring Trent Reedy’s Burning Nation

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Burning Nation (Scholastic), the second book in Trent Reedy’s Divided We Fall YA trilogy

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150122 Bartography Express

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!

06 Dec

Greg Pincus’ The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

(Note: The following is from the most recent edition of my monthly email newsletter, Bartography Express, which you can sign up for from the big yellow box on my home page.)

The first thing you need to know about the titular Fibs in Greg Pincus’ The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is that while they’ve got a little bit to do with misleading statements, they’ve got lots to do with mathematics and poetry and pie.

14 Fibs

You see, several years ago — after I’d already gotten to know Greg at the 2003 conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and through his blog, Gotta Book — he invented the Fib, a form of poetry based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence. That’s all. No big deal (unless you consider getting written up in The New York Times a big deal). He just invented an entire form of poetry:

One
Small,
Precise,
Poetic,
Spiraling mixture:
Math plus poetry yields the Fib.

One Fib led to another, and a few Fibs later, Greg’s creation has yielded a middle-grade novel published by Arthur A. Levine Books. One Bartography Express reader will win a copy of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.if you’d like it to be you, just reply to this email, and I’ll enter you in the drawing. [Note: The drawing’s now closed, but there’ll be another one each month.] But first, let’s chat a little with Greg about his book.

CB: What made you want to write The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.?

GregPincusPhoto

GP: Tricky question, actually, as this book came about rather non-traditionally. In fact, there was no manuscript when I got a contract — just a title, the idea of a kid who writes Fibonacci poetry and tells fibs, and a tone. So, I guess you could say “a contract made me want to write it.” Still, the theme in The 14 Fibs — a kid in a family where what he loves isn’t, he thinks, appreciated or recognized as “valid” by everyone around him — is what I really wanted to explore when I finally sat down to write the book. Well, that and pie. I do love to explore pie.

CB: Tell me about the kind of kid you think 14 Fibs will appeal to the most.

GP: I suspect that any kid who’s felt pressure to do something they don’t love or understand or felt the need to pretend to be someone who they don’t think they are will find 14 Fibs quite appealing. At the same time, I think the book will appeal to any kid who has struggled with a subject in school — math or otherwise — because they just don’t “get” it. I guess, then, if there are kids out there who fit both those descriptions… that’s who I imagine 14 Fibs will likely appeal most to. That said, all I can really say for sure is that I wrote the book because it was the story I wanted to tell. I simply hope it finds an audience that appreciates it… and who that is, well, that’s up to the readers, not me!

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.

11 Nov

Shark, Train and me in San Antonio this Saturday!

Join me (and/or tell your S.A. friends), won’t you?

By the way, in between the two events announced in the link above, I’ll also be presenting to the Southwest Texas SCBWI:

November 13 – 1-3pm – Guest Author Event with author Chris Barton

You Better Believe It: How The Day-Glo Brothers Survived All the Things I Didn’t Know

Barnes & Noble at the San Pedro Crossing
321 NW Loop 410 #104, San Antonio, TX 78216

“I can tell you exactly where I got my idea from, how I knew that all those years of effort had been worthwhile, and what I learned about publishing, persistence, and fluorescence in the meantime.” – Chris Barton

Chris Barton is the author of the American Library Association Sibert Honor-winning THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS (Charlesbridge, 2009; illustrated by Tony Persiani), the biography of the inventors of those daylight-fluorescent oranges, yellows, and greens you see every day. It was named one of the best children’s books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and The Washington Post.

His second book is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller SHARK VS. TRAIN (Little, Brown; 2010; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld). It has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

He will follow up these picture books with CAN I SEE YOUR I.D.? TRUE STORIES OF FALSE IDENTITIES, a young-adult collection of profiles of impostors and other masqueraders to be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2011.

For more information about Chris, his books, and his presentations to young readers and professional groups, visit him at http://www.chrisbarton.info.