By Susan Wroble
RMC SCBWI’s PAL (Published and Listed) Liaison Rondi Frieder suggested a theme for the group’s March get-together as “Silver Linings from the Pandemic,” but the unexpected silver lining was all the resources and tips the members had to share.
Join a Debut or Launch Group:
If you have a book coming out, find or create a launch group. “It’s a lifesaver,” said Beth Anderson. “I don’t know how I could have made it through a debut year without that type of support,” Julie Rowan-Zoch said. Being able to collaborate and divide the work has allowed Julie’s group to present to a number of conferences and book festivals. The benefits were echoed by Megan Freeman, whose novel-in-verse Alone came out in January, and Jessica Speer, whose debut MG novel on happy friendships was pushed back from 2020 to this July.
“Poetry is the language of our heart that can come out in hard times,” Claudia Mills said. She tried a verse novel during the pandemic and learned she could write in a whole new way. Claudia suggests Molly Fisk’s occasional online poetry group, where the only rule is that comments must be positive. “I love being in a judgment-free zone.”
For Denise Vega, poetry was also a gateway to writing inspiration. Denise highly recommends Renée LaTulippe’s offerings, including Peek & Critique, a free service offered to all KidLit writers. Peek&Critique’s teaching videos include an introduction to poetry forms, lessons on meter and rhyme, scansion practice, and language-level analysis and critique of your submissions.
Support the Schools:
Many of the PAL members focused on how they could support teachers through this exceptionally difficult year. In her blog, author Julie Danneberg began to really concentrate on providing teaching resources. A therapist as well as an author, Carolee Dean was excited that her new book Story Frames for Teaching Literacy could be a real help for teachers working with kids struggling to read or in special education. Laura Roettinger provides science links for educators on her blog and features interviews with authors.
Carmela LaVigna Coyle had two recommendations regarding schools and author outreach. Scholars Unlimited looks for authors to read and record one of their books for students and families. Their mission is “to support low-income, academically struggling young learners. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org Carmela also noted that Nest Tijuana, a school and resource for children and families along the border, is in need of books in Spanish.
Beth Anderson suggests working with an Indie Bookshop to do a launch at a school. “There is a real audience of kids for the author, a valuable visit with an author for the kids, and a group for the store to target with their book sales. It’s a win-win-win.” For Megan Freeman, 70% of her school and library visit requests are coming through bookstores. Colorado is so fortunate to have so many great Indies, including Second Star to the Right, BookBar, Boulder Books, The Bookies, Firehouse Books, and of course, Tattered Cover.
Beth also noted that author Kate Messner puts together a list each year of authors and illustrators who are willing to do free events with schools in conjunction with World Real-Aloud Day (next scheduled for 2/2/22!). Lauren Kirstein also mentioned Kate Messner as a fabulous resource with her videos and information on virtual author visits. You can sign up here to be on Kate’s list of authors who offer free 15-minute virtual chats with classes or book clubs who have read one of their books.
Another resource Beth recommends is TeachingBooks.net. This is a free service with original, curated literary resources. Authors and illustrators can post short video clips introducing their books or telling people how to pronounce their name! As an example, here’s RMC-SCBWI Co-Regional Advisor Dow Phumiruk’s page.
Kimberlee Gard also suggests paying attention to special book-related days, like Read Across America Day (the next is 3/2/22). For Kimberlee and many of the PAL members, the ability to do virtual visits in places where you could not connect in person has been a real boost to creativity.
Beth Anderson had great success with An Open Book, a foundation with the goal of connecting authors and illustrators with Washington, DC-area students to build equitable access and nurture a lifelong love of reading. Beth’s presentation was free—but the foundation purchased a copy of her book for every child in the class. She also recommends signing up to be interviewed on the Reading with Your Kids podcast, with host Jed Doherty.
For many of the RMC-SCBWI PAL writers, this was a year to delve into craft. A huge silver lining of the pandemic was that so many opportunities became available because they were virtual—you could take classes from anywhere, often at reduced rates. As Fleur Bradley noted, in-person events can be exhausting, and being able to learn the material at the pace and times you wanted was a real blessing. Writers mentioned taking virtual classes and offerings from a number of places, including:
- SCBWI (You can search by region or through their global events calendar, as most events this year are virtual).
- The Writing Barn (classes, intensives, and retreats; located in Austin, Texas)
- The Highlights Foundation (a range of courses, workshops, and retreats; located in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania)
- Free Expressions (supporting new and experienced writers with professional literary services and workshops)
- The Inner Circle (a private Facebook group with nearly 10,000 members for new and established writers interested in the craft and practice of writing, offers coaching and accountability)
- Udemy (offers online courses on pretty much everything; this link goes to their writing courses)
Making connections, both real and virtual, was a repeated theme. Rondi Frieder is in a group that meets each week just to write. Those meetings, now virtual, continued throughout the pandemic. Laura Perdew measured six-foot distances and opened up her back yard to writers and gets together with other Boulder authors to talk and walk. And many of the authors supplied books to Laura, who was collecting for communities that had been ravaged by the fires. Kimberlee Gard put up a Little Free Library at her new home that really helped foster a sense of community. And many of the authors supplied books to Laura, who was collecting for communities that had been ravaged by the fires.
Fleur Bradley suggested on focusing subgroups and genres. She was able to do a lot of networking through Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She also noted that Twitter’s ARC sharing groups have been invaluable. Likewise, Megan Freeman was blown away by how generous the MG Twitter community has been in terms of sharing resources.
Fleur and Beth Anderson both mentioned FlipGrid, which is a free video discussion experience. Beth noted that her short author video on FlipGrid led to free conversations with classes—and that those sometimes led to longer, paid presentations.
Stephanie and Jim Kroepfl stayed involved in activities with the Colorado Author’s League, and they discovered the joys of contests when their book Merged was awarded first place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy and Young Adult Fiction category — and then took the grand prize in the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Award by Story Monsters. “Emotionally,” Jim said, “this was a lifesaver!”
Without a commute, nature writer Susan Quinlan ended up with extra time, which she was happy to spend outdoors. She found that it was a year of experimentation, and she felt especially nurtured by being able to read sites tailored to things that interested her, through sites like Feedly.com.
For Jennifer Mason, the challenge of the year was how to move around a conflict and let yourself stay flexible and live and fresh. When her WFH books were put on hold, she started a mystery podcast for kids, Blister and Muck. She had to keep learning about recording, marketing, and promoting all while writing an unsolvable mystery story.
And if you need some inspiration, Lauren Kerstein had the perfect suggestion—bubble baths! “A bubble bath is like an idea fountain,” Lauren said. “I keep waterproof paper and my phone nearby to jot down ideas. It has solved so many creative problems.”