Doing the Author thing in 2023
BBGB FOR THE LOVE OF PUBLISHING EVENT!
The BBGB event was a huge success in Richmond, VA! I hosted a live audience in Richmond as well as a crowd cast of aspiring kidlit authors virtually. It was the first of many and I really enjoyed sharing my story and how I published Island Girls.
Palmetto State Literacy Association Conference
I had the incredible opportunity to speak and network at the Palmetto State Literacy Conference as a debut author. This conference was geared towards educators and I was able to speak to a crowd about how they could use Island Girls in the classroom. Mentor texts, environmental segments, creative writing courses, Earth Day, Ocean's Day, and mainly, as a way for kids to use their voices to create major change for our world! Thank you so much to Seafarer friend Kelly Mac and her mom Kaye who helped get me to this stage. What a thrill. I can't wait to return to beautiful Hilton Head Island next year.
BOOKSTORE 1 SARASOTA EVENT
Thank you, SARASOTA! This event was a little unique because I got to surprise the crowd with the real Island Girls! Sadie and Josie each had a chance to share their story and answer questions from the audience. They even got to sign a few books. I am so proud to see them gain confidence when speaking and understand how much this little book is spreading awareness about plastic in our oceans. It was so fun and special to see friends from so many parts of our Florida life come out to support and celebrate with us. Thank you, so much, for the love and support, Florida! I'll be back!
Watch out publishing world, I'm a ninja now😉
Ok ok ok. So I'm back from Hawaii and I had the most incredible experience. A lot of people are wondering how it was, what we did, where we went, etc... so the intent of this blog is to help other authors and writers decide if this type of retreat is right for you and to let you know what all we did!
There was so much anticipation built around going to Hawaii. A total bucket list location for me... and so many thoughts ran through my head:
How can I fly so far away from my family?
Am I being selfish by going on this trip alone?
Am I crazy?
Am I really worthy of investing in myself?
Am I a good enough writer?
Who will I meet?
Will they be nice?
Will they like my writing?
...Seriously, the list goes on and on and on of the doubt, Blake can vouch for me, I almost canceled around September / October when I was in the middle of hockey season wondering if I should really go. I was totally chickening out. The questions, the nerves, everything about it was so new and uncomfortable for me... but something just told me I had to do it. (I was also incredibly lucky to have such a supportive husband who all but told me I was going. He said that I deserved this and I will have a blast). So... I went.
The Writers Workshop Dallas is the group I have been with on this writing journey since day 1 back in January of 2021. I knew they hosted great online classes like the picture book course I took with Rosie Pova and the mentorship I did with her... so when I saw that they opened applications for a retreat in Hawaii I thought I had to put my hat pool of applicants.
Apparently, it was a highly competitive pool of applicants and I was so lucky to have been selected as one of the retreat attendees. When I got the email that I was selected from Blake, I actually couldn't believe it. In the email, we were notified that the Hawaii Island Retreat where we were staying had two accommodation types: A regular room in the hotel itself or a yurt. When I found out the yurts had a bathroom and running water inside of them, I knew the yurt was for me on this adventure.
I am so glad I chose to stay in the yurts because I actually think the accommodation in the yurts was nicer than the hotel rooms, even though we paid less. More to come on this later.
Before the Retreat:
We had to send 7000 word sample of our writing to the group to critique before we got there. We were required to write critique letters to each author in the group answering a specific set of questions and an area to fill in with other feedback. We were not given the names of the people attending the retreat beforehand or any information, so all we had to go on was a name and a manuscript.
Meeting at the Airport:
When we met at the airport for the shuttle to the retreat location up in Waimea, we all introduced ourselves as... Blair... who wrote X. or Kate... who wrote Y. It was so crazy to match people with their manuscripts, I was shocked at who some people were who had written certain manuscripts. I was "Moon Beach Rising Blair." It was a very great way to meet our fellow attendees.
Location of Retreat: The Hawaii Island Retreat itself was very remote. I would have preferred to be in a location closer to town with way more to do. If you travel so far away to a place like Hawaii, it would be really great to have the ability to experience more of the culture.That being said, the location of the retreat sat upon a grassy hillside overlooking a beautiful Pacific Ocean bay. The week we were there just so happened to be best "whale watching" week as the whales were migrating from Alaska and very active. It was heavenly and SO exciting to see whales breech all day, every day. Total magic. How can anyone complain about that? You kinda cant. There were plenty of hiking trails and it was good for me to "chill" out a little but I also was ITCHING to do more.
The format of the workshop:
I was in the fiction writing group and this was our schedule:
8:00 am breakfast
9:00 am daily lecture by Ying Compestine and or Mark Gottlieb
10:00 am - 12:00 pm critique break out groups
1:00 pm Lunch
3:00 pm Afternoon activity (hike, trip to the store, beach, etc)
6:00 pm Dinner
The morning lectures by Mark and Ying were very helpful and informative, we workshopped pitches and heard a little bit about query letters from Mark. We learned about making a career from writing and a little about the submission process from both Mark and Ying. The time around that table was invaluable hearing stories and having a bit of a Q&A with top industry experts.
The critique time was incredibly helpful for the person who had their work being critiqued. IE -- I was first, on the very first day of the workshop, Monday. Lucky for me, I got to spend the rest of the week working on edits that were given to me on that very first day. The rest of the time I was at the workshop, I was in the sessions listening to others critique writing, critiquing it myself, and learning directly from how Ying who would correct or bring the level of writing up to the next level. She would stop us and say, "add a tag line here", "tell me what she looks like, what is she wearing, what does the room look like..." Sitting in and listening to Ying for the week critique like this was very beneficial for me. I learned a lot that will help me on the creative and editorial side of my middle grade novel I am working on.
OPEN READING NIGHT :
I loved this part of the retreat where we each had a turn to read a portion of whatever we wanted. Published work, something we were working on, poems, etc... I loved hearing everyone from the non-fiction and fiction side of the workshop along with Mark and Ying's readings. That was a really cool part of the retreat.
We each also had one-on-one meeting with Ying and Mark which were very helpful.
Ying: My one-on-one with Ying was a critique of a children's picture book manuscript I had submitted to her. We also took the time to discuss the business plan for me as an author. She helped give me advice and direction and encouragement. The friendship and connection I made with Ying was worth the entire trip itself. She is one incredible lady who I learned so much fun. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know her on a professional level and as a friend / mentor.
Mark: My meeting with Mark was a lot about the business side of publishing. I was picking his brain about the type of clients he hires, what kind of books he would sell in today's market, how do I fall in comparison to other querying authors. He helped me by telling me I have an impressive platform and very intriguing writing. He asked me to submit my middle grade novel to him that I was very hesitant to do... but I did. Unfortunately, the first day he was back at his desk, I got a one two gut punch of a rejection from him, with an invitation to submit to another agent at Trident. The invitation to submit to another agent in his company was very nice and while I still totally took the rejection personally, I know that it wasn't personal. I know he is very busy and doesn't specialize in picture books at all.
The Hotel Itself
Is run by wonderful people. It is outdated and definitely not a four star hotel. I personally was fine with the accommodation because I selected the yurts and I knew what I was going to stay in. More of a "glamping" style type trip for me. It was SUPER fun, exciting, and the night that it rained... well, it sounded like I was inside of a drum. It was a totally magical time for me. Solo time away from being "mom" where I could focus on this new direction life has taken me as an author. One thing I will mention that was a complete let down was the coffee situation. I am a coffee girl and with the time difference (5 hrs from EST) I would wake up around 3-4am and be wide awake, ready to write. After my walk in early morning darkness with my flashlight from yurt village to the main hotel building.. only to find that I couldn't physically even make coffee myself! Bummer man! We were able to get this sorted out mid-week, but, still had some major struggles with the coffee.
Overall, I think if you go to a retreat like this with an open mind, ready to better your writing in a live critique setting, and take advantage of all the down time in between, then a retreat like this is for you.
I personally took every single opportunity I could to hike with Mark and his lovely fiancee, asking a ton of industry questions along the way. I ate meals with Mark and Ying, Blake and Mike. I made sure to connect with every other author at the retreat, learn a little of their backstory, what they write, their "why".
NETWORKING is a huge part of this business and I made such great friends... not to mention omg the level of conversation was so rich and the air was filled with passionate individuals writing about crime investigations, war history, Wuhan in the middle of the covid breakout, children in polish war camps, sci-fi stories I was so impressed with I could barely wrap my brain around the different portals we were traveling through... My mind was exposed to different genre's, poetry, memoirs, magical realism, nonfiction... you guys the richness of even being able to mingle among the crowd of such intelligent, inspiring, successful individuals was just something you can't really explain.
So while I've sat here for way longer than I thought... writing about my time in Hawaii and the complaints about the... coffee(?) I think it is safe to say that this retreat checked the boxes for me.
When asked if I will go again... the answer is a screaming YES! I just have to find a way to gently ask my family when I will be "allowed" to go again (!!)... and find a location with a group I'd like to travel with.
Did I have (unrealistic) hopes of making Mark my agent? YES.
Did I come home with Mark as my agent? No.
Does it matter? NO.
Am I in a much better place professionally after the retreat than I was before the retreat? YES
I have industry knowledge. I am armed with so much editorial craft for my middle grade, my picture books, and I have grown my network by a lot. Another thing I learned while on this retreat is that, for me personally, I continue to reassure myself that I LOVE writing. I love talking about the industry, I love hearing other's publishing stories, I love why people love their agents and why people don't love their agents, I have found a really great network of people who I enjoy being with, I enjoy working with, I enjoy conversation with, and I cannot wait to continue to learn and grow my career as a writer with.
What to look for when searching for a retreat:
HUGE thank you to Blake and Mike for taking us on such a wonderful turning point in my career as an author. You all did such a great job planning and selecting such a great group of writers who I am lucky enough to call friends. HUGE thank you to Ying and Mark for pouring your industry knowledge into us. As the first retreat post-covid... to have the two of you as our faculty was AMAZING. I know I personally learned a lot from you all and I can't wait to update you all with more publishing and/or agenting news... SOON I hope!
Watch out publishing world... I'm a ninja now 💙 😜
THANK YOU WRITING WORKSHOPS!
Kona, Hawaii here I come!
MY BAGS ARE (almost) PACKED...
I'M CHECKED IN AND READY TO GO!
I am nervous.
I am excited.
I am quite frankly, FLIPPING OUT!
I've never been to Hawaii and I am so excited for this opportunity to meet and write with other authors in a place that I know will be magic. I know that I will feel so connected to the environment. For a little more insight on what I will actually be doing, here is some information on the incredible people I get to work with next week, Ying Compestine and Mark Gottlieb.
Fiction Instructor Ying Compestine is an award-winning author, inspirational speaker, and former food editor for Martha Stewart's Whole Living magazine. Ying is the author of 20 books published by Simon&Schuster, Penguin, Abrams, Henry Holt and Co., including the novels Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier, A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, and the forthcoming Morning Sun in Wuhan. Many of Ying’s books have won numerous awards globally and are required reading in schools around the world. A few are currently being adapted into TV shows and a feature film. She has also worked as the spokesperson for several international companies such as Nestle Maggi and Celestial Seasoning.
Nonfiction Instructor Mark Gottlieb is a highly ranked literary agent at Trident Media Group both in overall deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, Mark has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold books to film and TV production companies. He previously ran the agency’s audiobook department, in addition to working in foreign rights. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres and looking forward to bringing new and established authors to the curious minds of their future readers.
Mahalo, y'all! I'll check back from Hawaii... 🤙🏻
This update is to notify customers that Island Girls will be temporarily unavailable to order on retailer websites and through ingram for the next week or two. This is a result of a misprint on the original file uploaded. Unfortunately, it was a mistake on the publishers side.
Please be patient, I'm so sorry about this. It will be back up and ready for ordering before we know it!
In the meantime, if you would like to order signed copies of Island Girls through me,
please fill out the order form here .
Thank you for your continued support! I appreciate it so much!
An ocean of gratitude,
It's been one heck of a crazy month. The launch of Island Girls: Free the Sea of Plastic went better than I could have ever imagined. I am not sure what I was expecting but it was crazy, in a good way!
I was hopeful that I would sell about 150 books (which was incredibly optimistic) during the holidays. I was blown away by the interest and positive reviews people were giving me for the book. I had originally ordered 200 copies from the publisher to sell on my own, realizing that I might have some left over, which would have been fine. But, I found out pretty quickly that I needed to order another 200 books. And then another 200 books. And then another 200 books. I ended up selling about 750 books. 750 books! That is 750+ books that are now in the hands of our youngest activists inspiring them to help our oceans and our under-the-sea friends.
A lot of people have asked me how it feels to have such a successful book? I honestly can only answer that question with a huge sense of relief for the turtles and our under-the-sea friends and motivation that we are doing something to spread awareness about plastic in our oceans. I had plenty of moments in my career as a scuba diving instructor where I would look into the eyes of the turtles, the rays, the barracuda, and the sharks and really feel them talking to me. I told them I would help them and this is my little way of creating awareness about what is happening underneath the sea. I am very proud to have kept my pact with my under-the-sea friends. I am going to share with you all below some of my moments, so that you can understand some perspective... and maybe even a deep calling to help and protect them, too. Seriously, when a turtle or another under-the-sea friend looks you in the eye, it's very powerful. I know they are all rejoicing underwater and THANKING YOU for the support, for teaching our children the importance of caring for our environment and all the love for this book. I do believe that it WILL make a difference!
So, anyway, I am just so happy with how this has all gone. I'm blown away and very humbled. Thank you. The launch of Island Girls has been so much fun and I'm really looking forward to everything that is coming up in the future. I cannot thank everyone enough for their support. Below are some photos of all that transpired over the past 6 weeks. I am thrilled the book sales have hit 800 and counting. I am looking forward to:
10 ways you can help me spread awareness about plastic in our oceans this Holiday Season!
The time is finally here. The book is starting to post on websites(!!) I cannot thank you all enough for the excitement. It is contagious and I really feel the love and support from so many family and friends.
A lot of you have asked how you can help me. Here are a few ways:
Writing with Rosie weekend was a huge success!
I just got back from another whirlwind of a weekend in Dallas, Texas. I attended the workshop with the intention of learning more about the children's picture book industry, working on my own manuscripts, having FUN, and connecting with other women in the KidLit community. I did all of that... and so much more!
A quick recap of what the weekend entailed with the wonderful writers who flew in from New Jersey, California, Virginia (me), and a few from Texas:
This year Rosie added Jackie Kruzie to her faculty for the weekend, and she was so valuable! Jackie's experience as an editor brought our manuscripts to the "next level". I am forever grateful to Jackie for leading the edits on Island Girls: Free the Sea of Plastic which is publishing in a few weeks. We took my manuscript down from 523 words to 302, which is just so incredible in the world of picture books!
I am also very thankful to my new critique group, appropriately named "The Gut Fillers", for your willingness to share your work with me, the group, your honest feedback, and your support of all things Island Girls. I cannot wait to meet you all again at another retreat!
Rosie and Jackie, thank you again for everything. I can't wait for the next retreat!
For more photos and updates from our weekend in Dallas, visit Rosie's website online here: https://www.rosiejpova.com/writersretreat2022.html
I want to introduce you to my incredible illustrator, Svitlana Holovchenko!
The publisher I had signed with asked me if there was anyone in particular I wanted to work with on illustrations for my story after the entire clipart debacle. I knew this was my opportunity to find my dream illustrator and send her information to the editor.
I scoured the internet for websites and portfolios over the weekend so that I could submit four illustrators I'd be happy to work with. I spoke in depth with each illustrator about the scope of this project, the timeline, and that they would have to be ok with the author (me) being very involved with the vision. I wanted to leave space for the professional to take over on the creativity front, but as far as the basis of the story, my own children as the characters, the fact that this picture book is based on a true story, it had to be somewhat accurate. After finding four amazing illustrators, it was clear that Svitlana was the one I had fallen in love with her illustrations... and I wouldn't be satisfied with anything else. My daughters, Sadie and Josie, also selected Svitlana as their top choice. It was completely unanimous.
After the publisher told me they didn't want to pay for illustrations (another story for another time), I had my agent get my rights back immediately, and out of the deal, immediately.
I knew I had to work with Svitlana... so I took a leap of faith and hired her, signed her onto the project, and I have never looked back. I have been so incredibly happy working with her.
Even though we do not speak each other's language, we have found a way to use google translator to communicate and share the vision of the project. She and I have bonded over motherhood and our care for the environment, particularly the ocean. She is Ukrainian and has been living in Germany over the past few years. She is one of the most talented illustrators I've ever seen, ever. I am so lucky to have her illustrate this very special story... after all, it is the illustrations that make a book come to life, and trust me, she has made my story come to life.
We are getting close to the finish line... and will have a pre-order link for the book in the next few weeks. Sneak peeks of her illustrations will also be coming soon. In the meantime... here are some of the illustrations that made us completely fall in love with her work...
HUGE shoutout to Svitlana... Thank you for making this dream become a reality for me!
You can follow her on instagram @svitlanaholovchenko and twitter @sholovchenko or find her online: https://hotarudesign.jimdosite.com/art/
That's all for now...
I was asked to speak as a Featured Author at the Palmetto State Literary Association Conference in February in Hilton Head, SC and Plastic Ocean Project is sponsoring me! Wahoo!
I'm so honored that people believe in the power of ISLAND GIRLS, my little picture book that started as a dream. ISLAND GIRLS is really becoming a very real reality. A reality I am so proud of for sticking up for my vision and being strong enough to be patient and publish it the right way. I hope to share a sneak peek of a spread or two in the coming weeks.
So, for all who are asking, what is happening behind the scenes? Here is a small snapshot of what I am working on:
Those are the bigger pieces right now... there are so many little details that I need to include and I am just getting really organized because it's a lot.
If you have any ideas for PR / news outlet leads / book launch signings, contact me please.
Thank you for the continued support and excitement! It's all happening...
Wow, guys. This summer has been WILD. The kids are finally back in school so I have a minute to update the blog on all of the ups and downs of the past few weeks.
MAY: I took my time going back and forth discussing at length the illustration process, how the illustrator would be selected, negotiating that I would get a say in the illustrations. Afterall, this book is about my family and has my own children in it SO I really care about what the illustrations look like!
JUNE: After weeks of back and forth discussion, I signed the deal.
JULY: I waited a little over 3 weeks and I got the first spread from an "illustrator" that was in
fact from FIVERR and computer generated graphics, aka CLIP ART. It was completely unacceptable.
I wanted to throw up. This is awful! The illustration above is of a box turtle on land near a lake and a forest. This book is about plastics in the OCEAN with sea turtles.
My agent and I freaked out and had words back and forth with the publisher. His response:
"Do you have the contact information of an illustrator you would like to work with?"
So we spent hours talking to illustrators over the weekend and came up with a top 4 list to send to the publisher, with one of them being Svitlana... who submitted her turtles below:
YES. THATS A LOT MORE LIKE IT. 100%! Totally magical and what we had envisioned for this project.
The kids and I totally fell in love with her. She is lovely and from Ukraine but living in Germany. She is a mom too and loves the ocean. She was available for immediate hire. I had set the scene and was THRILLED.
I waited for a response from the publisher... hoping and praying one of the four illustrators I submitted would work out.
"Ladies, we have lost our way. Usually author provides the publisher with a complete, edited manuscript complete with illustrations. In this event it is evident that the publisher is to pay for the pictures, an honor I feel necessary to decline."
It goes on and on... but, no, this is not the case at all. Left furious again and unsure of what to do, the one thing I did know is that I did not want to publish my story that is so near and dear to my heart with this publisher who decided they all of a sudden didn't want to pay for the illustrations.
SO I CHANGED GEARS.
I allowed myself time to be mad and time to be sad and time to think. I couldn't get Svitlana out of my head... I knew she had to illustrate my book.
AUGUST: Amidst the chaos of a family reunion in Louisville, Kentucky I decided to go for it and sign Svitlana to the project and INDIE PUBLISH this manuscript. That is a newer term for self publishing. But I'm not doing it all on my own, I've enlisted the help from an amazing team at Gatekeeper Press and the book will be published under my own imprint. Name TBD.
SO, I ditched the publishing house, I did not renew my contract with my agent and I'm feeling great and BACK ON TRACK.
The book will be available for pre-order by Halloween and books will be in hand by Christmas (as long as we don't have any delays). The indie publishing house will help with distribution and a little marketing as well. My illustrator Svitlana is simply amazing and she is working very hard to get the illustrations completed for me by beginning to middle of October. Once we have the complete spreads, we can finalize the interior design and layout for printing and will have a date to publish.
SEPTEMBER: It's been a long journey but I am so proud have found my feet again. I have had a lot of help from critique partners and experts in the industry leading the way for me and I am very thankful to them. I hope to share more frequent updates as we are getting closer and closer to "go time" and I cannot thank you all enough for your continued interest and support on this journey of mine. We currently have 3 complete spreads of the 12. I'm in love with her work.
If there is one thing i've learned from this, never settle and trust your gut!
Blair has travelled extensively all over the world. She and her husband enjoy taking their kids on big adventures together. Blair writes children's picture books for all ages! Most of her stories are inspired by life events. They feature kid’s curiosity, love of the environment, laughter, and fantasy.