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by Brenda Reeves Sturgis

As writers, we must ALL strike while the iron is hot. Every writer tries to get into the castle (the publishing houses) over the drawbridge. The drawbridge however is crowded, heavy laden from the weight of writers that would love a meeting with the Queen or the King, (the editors). It is necessary, and beneficial to keep your eyes wide open for a secret passage that presents itself to you where nobody else is looking.

still-a-family-final-cover

This is EXACTLY how my newest picture book, STILL A FAMILY, Albert Whitman & Company, illustrated by Jo-Shin Lee, was conceived and transpired. I was trolling on Facebook one day, and there was a conversation that began on the wall of Tracey Adams, co-founder of the esteemed literary agency, Adams Literary. Josh Adams was my first agent, and so we have a wonderful relationship still, and I frequently read their posts as they are the most amazing people and such incredible agents. Tracey was in Maine visiting, and her daughter made a comment wondering why there were so many homeless people in Maine.

Tracey wondered why a book about the homeless, and how to explain homelessness to children, hadn’t been written yet. I was circling the castle and I saw that small light in the window of opportunity open. Nobody else had yet discovered it, and so I sat down and wrote a first draft of Still a Family. In doing so, I struck while the iron was hot.

It was quick writing session, 30-minutes maybe. I originally didn’t write STILL A FAMILY to sell it. I wrote it because I truly wanted to write something for Tracey’s daughter. It was a story written in rhyme, and I posted it on my Facebook wall.

Immediately…within seconds, I got a message from a Facebook friend who works in a homeless shelter saying, “This is GREAT! Can I share it with people at my shelter?”

I was encouraged by this response, and answered with, “Let me run this by my agent, the beautiful-friend-to-all Karen Grencik, of Red Fox Literary to see if there might be a calling for a book like this,” and I took the story off my Facebook wall if there were indeed a need for this story.

I sent Karen a message. “Do you think there is a calling for a book about a child living in a homeless shelter?” She pinged back a response…”No, I don’t really think there is a calling for a book like this, sorry.”

Well, I continued walking around the castle, and I saw another door open that nobody had yet seen, as two editors had responded on Tracey’s Facebook wall post. Their commentaries went like this. “I would LOVE a book like this for OUR house.” “YES, us too, we would like a book like this.” I scribbled down names, and found out what houses the editors worked at. I ping-ponged back another message to Karen. “There are two editors asking for this manuscript, will you send it?”

And just like that, before the day was over, we were out on submission with STILL A FAMILY.

I know this is highly unusual, I know the way this happened was nothing short of a miracle, but in saying this, had I not been open to getting into the castle other then over the drawbridge, had I not been willing to write something on cue, to write to what a specific editor had requested, STILL A FAMILY might never have come to fruition.

albertwhitmanKaren and I received immediate responses (within a day or two) regarding this manuscript. And within 6-weeks, STILL A FAMILY was sold to Albert Whitman & Co, this is record speed in the land of publishing. The manuscript changed a LOT, it was revised and revised, rewritten and tweaked, it went from rhyme, to prose. I had never written in prose before and it was a scary process for me, but I listened intently to my editor, Andrea Hall, and I was able to write the story (which took just about a year of revision) and is now being released on January 31st.

Albert Whitman wanted the story to be about a family, and how a family STAYS a family while living in different homeless shelters. Oftentimes families are separated, the mom lives with the children in one shelter, and the dad lives in a different shelter with men. I researched and wanted to write a story that would speak to the homeless, but also to librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, depicting the story compassionately, and with respect, it is a story of hope but most of all it is a story about LOVE.

I wrote the story to bring the plight of the homeless to light, to humanize this epidemic that is taking over our country and enveloping our world. 2.5 million children are affected by homelessness every single year. Sometimes the ONLY thing that separates the homeless from people with a home is a medical crisis and/or a few paychecks.

still-a-family-1 still-a-family-2

One thing led to another, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly have given STILL A FAMILY glowing reviews. There is a news anchor in New York that is going to blog about this book and report on it, and I have paired with Schinnell Leake, an Oprah Woman of the Year and founder of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, an organization that provides birthday parties to children in homeless shelters. This is quickly becoming my life’s work, getting STILL A FAMILY to the children that need it most, to the children in the shelters, to the families to give them hope, to the schools for understanding and educational purposes…this is my new mission.

In closing, I reiterate to you to keep looking, keep searching, keep writing, and keep walking around the castle trying to get an audience with the Queen or the King. Keep your eyes open for trap doors, for a different access, for another way in, because you just never know how wonderful it all might be and how what YOU have to say can make a difference. Not only for people that you didn’t even know needed you, but for your own life, your unique purpose and your individual writing journey as well.

A percentage of every sale of STILL A FAMILY will be donated to homeless shelters across the country.


cover-still-a-familyBrenda Reeves Sturgis is the author of 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD,  illustrated by David Slonim, THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES, a cumulative rhyming book, illustrated by Brooke Carlton, and TOUCHDOWN, illustrated by Trey Chavez.

Brenda is the winner of the 2007 Smart Writer’s contest and the Grand Prize winner of the 2014 MeeGenius Author Challenge contest. Her latest picture book, STILL A FAMILY, will be released by Albert Whitman & Co on January 31st, 2017. You can visit her at BrendaReevesSturgis.com, or on Facebook, and you can see the trailer of STILL A FAMILY on You Tube.

prizedetails

Brenda is giving away three copies of STILL A FAMILY—one to a winner here, one to a homeless shelter of the winner’s choice and one to a children’s library selected by the winner.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

UPDATE: 2/5/2013 #Bedtimepicks hasn’t caught on, so I’m changing the hashtag to #BedtimeReads, which is more appropriate and easily understandable. Please join in! Just Tweet the hashtag with the titles of the books you’re reading to your children each night.

For two years I’ve been Tweeting the hashtag #bedtimepicks to share the picture books I’m reading to my kids that night. For two years some folks have joined in, yet all have dropped out.

Then I realized: YOU HAVEN’T BLOGGED ABOUT THIS FOR TWO YEARS?

What is wrong with me? (Don’t answer that!)

So I now triumphantly propose we get moving with this hashtag! It’s a simple way to share and discover great picture books for parent-child bonding. (And if you read chapter books or middle grade novels to your kids, of course, those count, too!)

In the evening, tweet something like this:

Then click on the hashtag to see what other parents and caregivers are reading.

VOILA!

TWO YEARS IN THE MAKING!

If you’re in, let me know in the comments. And please blog about it to spread the word.

Now quick, let’s all play catch-up!

Last week I said if someone invented another social media site my head might explode.

Well…KA-BLOOIE!!!!

Yes, we bibliophiles have a new social domain: !

Named after the sound book pages make when thumbed, Riffle has been dubbed “the Pinterest of book discovery” by Publisher’s Weekly. Could it potentially change the way we learn about great new reads? Absolutely! Could your head also detonate? Let’s put it this way—if you ever wanted to sport a mushroom cloud, you’re in luck.

The Publisher’s Weekly article didn’t reveal much, featuring jargon-heavy quotes by Riffle founder Neil Baptista, like this beaut: “We’re going to focus on bringing the audience to the table and curating the information. There’s a ton of online expertise, and we want people to push their content through Riffle.”

So what the heck does this all mean? How will Riffle work?

Well, yours truly worked in high-tech market research for a decade (from 1993 to 2003), so I called upon one of my smartest digerati buddies to give it to us straight.

Chris Rechtsteiner is the founder and chief strategist of blueloop concepts, a boutique research and advisory firm focused on the mobile and digital media market. Chris has worked on many publishing projects, so he’s very knowledgeable about the intersection of books and digital applications.

Here’s what Riffle may be:

  • The idea is to build a truly Facebook-connected social reading group/platform. How this isn’t GoodReads is a mystery, but apparently the need to build a GoodReads 2.0 is there.
  • The company behind Riffle, Odyl, already has templated/socially-integrated foundations for bringing content about books to consumers, so they have a fast and easy starting point.
  • The core objective is to really bring forward the content being created/discussed about a book (that’s what the curation reference hits). When Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, etc. are posted about a title, they’ll all be “magically” brought together to give you a complete look at the “conversation” and “group” around a book. (Again, GoodReads, but with MORE noise.)
  • Odyl isn’t a novice at this stuff as they’ve been able to do a really good job of building publisher relationships, so they’ll have the “blessing” of the publishers to do this right out of the gate. (Translation: they’ll have books featured with deep, rich content day one and it will grow from there.)

And here’s how they may do it:

  • Supposedly the “curated” information (e.g. people scanning blogs, reviews, Twitter, etc.) is going to be done by experts, so there won’t be “noise” (per se) but only the best information on a particular title.
  • This means you’re going to have to have HUNDREDS of “experts” there to sift through everything in order to have any volume of books at all… which means scale is a serious issue because the books that get the Riffle treatment will be “selected” … and likely tied to the publisher relationships (read: publisher financed through marketing budgets/author marketing dollars). While that last part might not be true, it wouldn’t be surprising, as no one has yet deeply tapped the publishers’ book marketing dollars online like the brick-and-mortar booksellers and traditional media have.

(I applied for more information on Odyl, and I was asked, as an author, how much money I planned to spend on book marketing this year, so Rechtsteiner’s ideas sound spot on.)

If you had to bet your money, right now, on what Riffle ultimately does or becomes, you’re going to see a GoodReads that is a series of lists or collections of books that have a narrative by an expert. This is how the expert would really play. The question is how many people they employ (or allow?) to be experts as to how rapidly these narratives and book lists are created. And who will these “experts” be? How will they be vetted? Will they be Riffle employees, contractors (like About.com guides), or volunteers (like Wikipedia writers/editors)? All this remains to be seen.

So is anyone on Riffle now? Yes. What did we hear about it? “Pinterest for books sounds really interesting, until you realize that people don’t repin books on Pinterest today.” (True dat. The most repins I get are for recipes, home decor and fashion. Did I just say true dat?!)

So…only time will tell. But as Chris Rechtsteiner told me, Riffle is needed and welcomed. “While there are no shortage of book discovery tools and platforms coming to market today (Riffle, Jellybooks, etc.), it’s hard to argue with anyone’s efforts to make reading more prominent. I have some doubts regarding how social book reading really is (in the web’s definition of social), but one thing will remain constant and true for a while: there are simply too many titles to choose from and finding the next, best one to read [online] will remain a challenge for a long time.”

If you’d like a Riffle invitation, this link is your ticket.

Many thanks to Andy J. Smith, illustrator extraordinaire, and Chris Rechsteiner of blueloop concepts for helping me pull this blog post together while I tried to stuff gray matter back into my skull.

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TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
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April 26, 2022

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