Friday, July 31, 2015

TBA Monthly Wishlist -- July 2015

It's time again for the Monthly Wishlist!  Here's the ONE project that the TBA agents would love to see in their submission inbox. If you have something that fits with the below, please check out our submission guidelines and send it over. We can't wait to read!

Historical fiction set during a momentous time or centered around the secret love affair of a historical figure. – Louise Fury

High concept women’s fiction with lots of plot, emotion and heart, like THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman. – Jenny Bent

I love MG and YA books that have a story within a story -- be that a book, play or something else! Susan Hawk

I would love to work on a speculative novel or thriller with supernatural elements, either YA or adult. Think THE ROOK by Daniel O'Malley, THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman, or HALF-RESURRECTION BLUES by Daniel Jose Older. I want to believe in (and be terrified by) magic! Brooks Sherman

Big, gorgeous YA fantasy with Asian settings, characters, world. Beth Phelan

Animals and anthropomorphic characters—I love stories with either animals as the main character, or with a close bond with a child. Examples: CHARLOTTE’S WEB, A DOG CALLED HOMELESS, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Or what about historical fiction seen through the eyes of an animal—major events in history with a dog or cat or pig or...etc. narrator? Gemma Cooper

A domestic suspense novel with a really strong sense of place like MO Walsh's MY SUNSHINE AWAY Victoria Lowes

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Susan Hawk closing to queries, until September 22nd

I will be closed to queries from Wednesday, July 28th, through Monday, September 21st, which will give me time to get caught up.  On Sep 22nd, I’ll open to queries again.

If you queried before this announcement was made (on 7/28 at 9:00 am EST), I will reply to your query in the next couple of weeks. 

If I requested your material, or if you were referred by a client or someone I know, please go ahead and send your query.

All other queries will receive an auto-reply, reminding you that I’m closed, and requesting that you re-query when I open again.

Many thanks all, I’m already excited to see what my query inbox brings this September!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Marketing & School Appearances: Interview with Catherine Balkin of Balkin Buddies

Today, we're continuing our focus on marketing and school appearances, in a conversation with Catherine Balkin, President of Balkin Buddies, a company that books authors into school and libraries for appearances, as well as provides other general information about publishing.  We're so glad to have Catherine with us today!

Catherine, you're the President of Balkin Buddies.  Can you tell us a bit about what you do, and how you came to create your company?
As you know, I worked at HarperCollins for 15 years. When I left, a lot of the authors I had worked with asked me to continue setting up school visits for them. Some librarian friends suggested I build an author appearance website (librarians always have the right answers!). After that, other authors and illustrators approached me to work with them as well, so now I work with quite a number of them in various capacities. I promote all those I work with via social media. I have a blog; I tumble on Tumblr, pin on Pinterest, tweet and listen in on various educational listservs to see if any schools are looking for author visits. I also promote the authors at library and educational conferences and occasionally give talks on the subject.

What impact can school appearances have on an author's career?  How are they different than bookstore appearances?
Once a school has had an author come to their school, the author’s books live on in their library for several years because the kids remember their presentations and continue to request their books. A good school also promotes the author visit in local newspapers so they get local attention in area libraries and bookstores. The more attention authors get, the better it is for their books. Authors also get paid an honorarium for school visits, which helps their budget and gives them writing time that they wouldn’t have if they had to have full time jobs. Several authors have also mentioned that school visits help them to stay in tune with their audience, too. They get story ideas from the kids they talk to. Bookstore appearances are different in that they don’t pay the authors an honorarium. Publishers pay the author’s expenses and arrange book tours at a number of bookstores. Also, in bookstores, authors may give readings but they never give full length presentations, as they do in schools.

How can a debut writer get started making school appearances?
I always recommend that a new writer start locally, contacting schools in their own town. I also suggest they create a flyer for their book and add information about their school presentation and honorarium, which should be on the low side. I know some new authors will do free school visits, but I wouldn’t suggest doing very many. In my experience, people think they get what they pay for and that if they’re not paying, they’re not getting anything. The only exception might be the school the author’s children are attending. Authors can also talk to bookstores, especially independents, and ask them to let schools know about their books and that they’re available for school visits. Bookstores might be willing to put out the author’s promotional flyers for people to take. Also, of course, they should have a website (see more about this below).

Does it make sense for writers to make school appearances before they have a book published?
No. Schools expect a professional writer, and if the writer doesn’t have a book out, they won’t be taken as seriously. If the author is expecting the book to be out shortly, I would still suggest not scheduling a visit until after the pub date. Authors usually autograph books during school visits. The schools order books from the publisher, the local bookstore or online, so the author should want to make sure the book is not only in the warehouse but has time to be distributed.

How important is a website for authors?  How can writers use their site to promote their school visits?
Most schools learn about children’s book authors and illustrators by searching the internet and finding out about their books. So a website is very important. Information they ought to include on their website is some biographical information; any and all books awards; a list of their books in print; links to places people can order books or learn more about them, such as Amazon or; descriptions of a couple of their school programs; an honorarium range (for example, $500 to $1,000 plus expenses depending on location, group size, etc.); and contact information. I’d also suggest they put their website address on their business cards and any promotional material they create.

I would also suggest authors and illustrators put information about themselves, their books their programs and their contact information on other sites as well, such as and

When does it make sense for writers to hire a booker, such as yourself? 
Authors should be somewhat established before they hire a booking agent. They don’t have to be famous, just know what they’re doing by then. Authors frequently expect booking agents to get a lot more author visits for them, but that’s not necessarily the case. Having a booking agent might get them a few more schools, but there’s usually a lot more to it than that. Just promoting authors and their books is a full time job but that’s only one aspect of a booking agent’s job. The booking agent often does most of the paperwork, such as writing the contract for the visit, sending invoices to the schools and filling out forms that the schools or school districts may require.  It’s also easier for a booking agent to negotiate the honorarium for the author. As mentioned previously, I recommend an honorarium range be added to the author’s website, but depending on what the school wants the author to do, I try to get the maximum of the range. If authors don’t like negotiating or are wary of charging the maximum, a booking agent is good to have, because most of us are far from reluctant to charging the most we can get.

What do you recommend that writers charge for their honorarium?
For a new writer, I’d say $300 to $600 plus expenses is a good range. As they and their books get better known, I’d recommend they raise it. If they win a major award – a Newbery Honor or Newbery Award, for example – they can start charging $2,000 plus expenses, maybe even more.

Any other advice on school appearances, or marketing, for writers?

I’d suggest new writers and even established writers looking to refresh their school visits go to conferences. They might start with their own state or regional reading or library conferences which can easily be found on the internet. Then be sure to bring lots of promotional flyers and business cards and engage the teachers and librarians you meet on the exhibit floor, in autographing lines, at meal functions or even in the coffee line. I’d suggest keeping it short, but don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, talk about your book for a couple of minutes, and give out your flyer. Conference goers don’t bite and love books. Take advantage of it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tips and tricks for school visits - interview with TBA authors

Today on the blog, I've interviewed my clients Mo O'Hara, Sam Watkins, Ruth Fitzgerald and Sam Hay about school visits. If you are a debut author thinking about planning school visits, we hope you find this helpful. If you have additional questions please reply in the comments - Gemma

How did you get started - say you've never done a school visit before, and you don't know any teachers or have any school connections, how do you make that first appearance happen?

Mo O’Hara: Before I was published I set myself a mission to learn as much about events as I could. I wanted to be prepared. I was lucky in that I had kids at two different schools nearby. I went to teachers at both the schools and asked to sit in on the author visits that they had coming up. Then I went to all the author talks at  my local bookshops for a few months. I stalked fellow SCBWI authors and illustrator at their events. I basically saw lots and lots of other people doing it and thought about what worked and what didn’t in the events I saw. It was extremely helpful. After I’d seen a lot and planned a lot I offered my events for free for a couple months to schools in my area, friend’s kid’s school’s,  SCBWI connections, Bookshop connections etc.  I just used all the connections I could to get different school, library and bookshop experiences.

Sam Watkins: I emailed a handful of schools in my area. I think I was expecting to get a fairly big response, because I’m currently offering to do them for free, so I didn’t email that many because I didn’t want to over-stretch myself! I was quite surprised to only get one response from that batch. So my advice would be to email as many as you can, and also get a named contact to email. Otherwise you’ve got no idea if the email got to the relevant person, or whether it went straight to the junk mail folder.

Ruth Fitzgerald: My first school visits were to schools I had connections with  - where my children went or where I had friends who were teachers. I then sent out an email to about 50 local schools offering to do free visits. I got about 15 visits directly from that and then schools would tell each other. I also contacted the local branch of the Federation of Children's Book Groups and they publicised my visits. I have recently made contact with the School Library Service who are another useful contact as are local bookshops. I did the first two terms of visits free in order to publicise my book and gain a bit of experience. I'm now charging, although I still keep it quite reasonable.

Sam Hay: A: My first school visit was arranged via word of mouth - a neighbour worked in a local school and she invited me in. But if you have no school connections try dropping off a free copy of your book to a few local schools and then offer to pop in for free to talk about your writing. This way you can build up your own confidence and also gather a portfolio of teacher references to use to gain more work, or for your website. Also, start small. Work with a single class rather than a whole school assembly until you feel confident in front of children. 

Mo O'Hara at an event

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone planning a school visit?

Ruth: Be prepared! Have lots of material, a powerpoint presentation and pictures to show in case the powerpoint fails! Make sure it's lighthearted and fun. In primary leave time for lots of questions - in High School be prepared for no questions at all!

Sam H: Take lots of props and include your audience with lots of child participation. Not every child finds it easy to sit still and listen for 45 minutes, so get them interacting and playing games!

Mo: Plan, plan, plan. My main advice is have your event set up so that it easily breaks down into small 5 or 10 min chunks. Then if you have to do a shortened version on the day for any reason (and this will happen loads) then you can easily adapt. It’s less stress on you and less stress on the school.

Sam W: Make your presentation as interactive as possible. The kids just love being involved! I do an ‘interactive reading’ – as I read from the book I hold up flashcards with sound effects on them, which they then shout out. They totally love this – the next visit I do I plan to do much more interactive stuff. 

Sam Hay getting kids interacting!

What do you wish you had known before you started doing school visits?

Sam W: One thing I do wish I’d known was that I should have emailed a lot more schools to get a decent amount of responses. Apart from that I felt really prepared. I am kind of an over-prepper at the best of times!

Ruth: I wish I'd know how much fun they are because I wouldn't have worried so much!

Mo: That people don’t always appreciate ‘Free.’ 

Sam H: Try to engage with the whole room, not just the keen ones with their hands up, otherwise it can turn into a rabble! Also keep it brief. Leave them wanting more. I also think it’s really important to empower kids, so that they feel that becoming a writer or an illustrator is an obtainable goal.  Some authors go the other way - a friend’s child recently came home from a school author visit utterly deflated. The author had told the kids that she was a special person and that’s why she was a successful writer, and none of them were likely to achieve her greatness! Ridiculous! I always tell kids they can do it too. Also I remind them about the other ways to tell stories - I always talk about the amazing illustrators!   

Sam Hay with fan art!

What do you never go to a school visit without? 

Sam H: Props! Lots of props! Even if you want to use power point, have a plan B just in case it goes wrong! I also take stickers with me, so everyone leaves with something. Another good plan is to try and get some publicity giveaways from your publisher - book marks, badges etc.  

Mo: Tech back up for my presentation and a non tech alternative if both plan A and plan B fail. (and my felt Frankie and Fang plushies that Gemma made me)

Sam W: Assuming an assembly: PowerPoint presentation, all visuals printed out in case of technical failure, spare copies of the book to sell in case of bookshop failure, free stuff like bookmarks, badges etc.

Ruth: I never go without a bottle of water as it's non-stop talking!

Frankie and Fang plushies

Any favourite stories from successful events? 

Sam H: I was once mobbed at an event by Undead Pets fans - they’d even choreographed an Undead Pets tribute dance! I felt like I was in a boy band. I came away feeling ten foot tall. There can be a few wobbly moments in writing, but meeting kids who enjoy your work, makes it all worthwhile.    

Sam W: At the end of an assembly I said “Anyone got any questions?” and there was a nervous silence. A few hands went up but it wasn’t a massive response. So I said, “Okay, anyone who asks a question gets a badge!” Every single hand in the room shot up. I ran out of badges!

Kids can ask some funny questions. Best questions I’ve had were: Does your hand ache after you’ve written a book? And … Where do you get all the paper from?!

Ruth: I did an event where I did four classes and an assembly in one day  - it was completely exhausting but almost every child in those classes bought a book - I signed over 70 books  - I felt like Jacqueline Wilson!

Mo: I think one of my favourite events happened on tour in California this Spring. There was a school that was having State testing so the kids weren’t allowed to be out of class for more than 20 minutes at a time. They had booked two hour long assemblies. The kids were stressed from the testing, the teachers were stressed from the testing and my publicist and I were stressed from the tour. When we arrived and were told that the kids wouldn’t be able to come out we were all disappointed and it could have easily meant that the whole thing got cancelled. Instead the librarian suggested that we just do drop in sessions in her library for smaller groups of kids to come in a chat for 15 min each.  That way the kids would all get to meet me and chat. It would be a break from their testing and no one would have to be disappointed. It turned out to be one of the best afternoons I had.  We hung out in the library and every 20 min a new class would come in. We chatted about books, I told them about bringing my goldfish back to life and we played guessing ‘What if’ games about stories. They had a blast and so did I. I think of that as a huge success because it could have been a huge failure for everyone. 

The popular Creature Teacher badges (thanks David O'Connell)

Any disaster stories or funny things that have gone wrong? 

Mo: I was booked in a big Victorian school that had two halls. One on top of the other.

I did my presentation upstairs while downstairs another group had a demonstration with puppies training to be guide dogs. We could hear the barking and yelping and clapping up the stairwells. I was basically looking out at a room full of kids who knew that just below them were noble and cute little Andrex puppies doing noble and cute things. The look of disappointment on their faces was epic! The moral of this story is you can never compete with puppies.

Sam W: I managed to persuade the headteacher to let me use his treasured remote control for the overhead projector, which apparently only he gets to use. Halfway through my presentation I pressed the wrong button and the screen died. The kids found this hysterical. The headteacher came over, gave me a slightly disapproving look, and switched it back on again. It wasn’t really a disaster, but I felt a bit silly!

Sam H: I recently did a giant workshop with hundreds of kids. Generally I don’t use power point, I prefer props. But on this occasion, because I knew I’d be addressing such a huge audience I decided to give it a go. I got up to begin my talk and my first slide jammed. Ha! I was stuck with an enormous picture of a rhino behind me for ten minutes, and there’s only so much you can say about a rhino! I had a brief moment of panic but then realised it was just me up there and I’d have to keep going. Thankfully I had props! Ten minutes later the power point started working again and I was back on track. Later, a teacher told me it was the best talk she’d been to - so even disasters don’t matter so long as you’re enthusiastic and have a clear idea of what you want to say!    

Ruth: Fortunately, I haven't had any real disasters although I did once turn up to a World Book Day event dressed up as a character in one of my books. I was surprised the children didn't know who I was until I realised that book hadn't come out yet! . The worst events are when the school treats you like a free supply teacher and doesn't order in any books either - I had a few of those.

Ruth dressed up as Emily Sparkes' Mum

What is your favourite thing about doing school visits?

Ruth: You can't beat the feeling when a little kid comes up to you and says, 'You're my favourite writer in the whole world!'

Mo: Making kids laugh.

Sam H: The feedback! Kids are honest. They will tell you what they like - and don’t like. It’s the best forum for understanding what they want to read and why! 

Sam W: It’s just the most fantastic buzz meeting the people who are actually reading your books! It gives me a real buzz to talk to children about reading and writing because they are genuinely excited and happy to meet you and talk to you. After every event I’ve done I’ve gone home oozing with inspiration and ideas for my writing, and more than anything wanting to do more school visits. Hopefully I will, soon!

Sam Watkins and David O'Connell at a school visit

Thanks Mo, Sam, Ruth and Sam for some great tips and insights! All authors are availiable for school visits, and you can follow them on twitter here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Marketing advice from two debut authors - TBA client post

We are talking marketing on the blog for the next few months, and TBA clients Rachael Allen and Felicia Chernesky have kindly shared some advice for new authors. 

First up, Rachael:

 1. You can't do everything. If you're a debut, especially if you're a debut, you're going to want to. Even though I'm telling you this, and even though you may agree, the swirl of "Things other people are doing" is going to get to you, and you're going to find yourself agreeing to 87 million blog posts and shipping everyone who pre-orders your book a tap dancing monkey. But what I'm saying is: I officially give you my permission not to do all the things.

 2. Do the things you like. Focus on those things, and do them well. You'll have more fun, and it'll show. Trying to figure out what those things are? Here's a post I really love by Courtney Steven's that tells you what book marketing things best fit with your Myers-Brigg type:

3. Be nice to people. So many opportunities have come my way as a result of me forming genuine friendships with others in the publishing business.

 4. Team up with other people on events/giveaways/anything you can. It's less daunting that way and more fun.

 5. Write a killer next book.

Rachael Allen lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two children, and two sled dogs. In addition to being a YA writer, she's also a mad scientist, a rabid Falcons fan, an expert dare list maker, and a hugger. Rachael is the author of THE REVENGE PLAYBOOK (HarperTeen, June 2015) and 17 FIRST KISSES (HarperTeen, 2014). You can find her on twitter @Rachael_Allen or her blog:

And now for Felicia: 

My first book released September 2013. By March 2016 I will have published six picture books with Albert Whitman & Company: a seasonal rhyming concept book series, FROM APPLE TREES TO CIDER, PLEASE! (Fall 2015), and a prose book about a boy who speaks in numbers (Spring 2016). Learning to promote has been trial by fire; as appearances for one book wrap up the next book appears. My agent and publisher offer supportive guidance, as does my wonderful husband, Eddie, a longtime business representative, who cheers me on: “Ask questions. Try everything. Do your best. All it takes is one person.” 

Not every appearance results in big book sales—but signings get my books out there, where I’ve made connections that lead to school visits, speaking engagements, and event appearances. Book promotion is an adventure, an opportunity to be creative and cultivate new readerships. Plus it’s fun and gets me out, away from my desk. 

A confession: I struggle with nerves before appearances. Focusing on the delightful young readers, families, teachers, and librarians I meet via my books makes those butterflies flit away. Persevere! The joys and rewards of book promotion are so much more than monetary.

Felicia can be contacted on her website, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.