For Writers

Book Festivals: Are They Worth the Time and Travel?

Photo by Laura Hays Hoover

Take a look at that picture. There’s a lot happening there. A lot. It was taken at the annual Ohioana Book Festival, held each April in Columbus, Ohio. Featuring 150 authors from all genres, it’s a flurry of literary hoopla.

Book festivals happen in major cities and small towns across the country each year. Fall seems to be a particularly popular season for book festivals, so I decided to devote a few minutes to dissecting the costs and benefits of book festivals – for authors and consumers alike.

So what’s in a book festival for…

Teachers and Librarians?  Uh, well, books!  It’s no secret that teachers and librarians love books. They love to read and collect them, and they, above all others, are usually interested in learning what’s new in world of literature. In order to remain fresh and interesting, most book festivals only offer slots to authors who have a new book, released within the past year, or sometimes two. Book festivals are a great way to see, hold, and peruse the newest releases.

Teachers and librarians who are looking to hire authors to speak at their venues can do a little reconnaissance at a book festival. Talking face-to-face with a potential speaker can provide lots of good information about their enthusiasm and their potential to captivate with your audience – something that’s hard to gauge from a website.  Sometimes, teachers and librarians might connect in person with an author they already know via social media. It was great to meet the real Ms. Yingling from Ms. Yingling Reads, a favorite middle-grade book blog, which you can find HERE.

Can you see the mutual admiration?

Parents and Families?  Most book festivals are family friendly, with kids corners and teen scenes and reading rooms and roaming storybook characters and face painting and food – of course, there must be food. I love watching families come by my table. I eavesdrop and hear young readers tell their parents “I read that at school” or “I love that author!” I hear families talking about what books to read together and what books to add to wish lists. I see parents getting a better understanding of their child’s likes and dislikes when it comes to reading. And I see lots of tigers, butterflies, and dragons on faces where the smile didn’t need to be painted.

Young readers get artsy making thaumatropes at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio.

Authors and Illustrators? While attending a book festival is usually free for consumers, the cost of participation may vary for authors and illustrators.  Most book festivals don’t charge authors a fee, but participating authors are carefully selected by the organizers in order to reflect a wide variety of genres. Authors and illustrators are sometimes invited and sometimes they apply. If invited or accepted, authors must consider the cost of an entire day away from their work and travel and, sometimes, lodging near the venue. Some authors find that only a handful of their books were sold after hours of sitting behind a table, engaging in lively conversation with potential consumers. It can be exhausting. But, creators must consider the benefits of attending a large book festival, and there are many. Authors and illustrators often work alone. It’s good to get out of writing caves and interact with the very people for whom we write.  Meeting our audience gives us connection and puts faces to the vague terms “readers” and “middle-graders” and “consumers.” I also have to say that connecting with fellow authors is inspiring and refreshing. I look forward to several festivals a year because I know I will see other authors. Finally, I’ve been invited to many a school or library after meeting a teacher or librarian at a book festival, so often the benefits more than outweigh the cost of travel and lodging.

Nancy Roe Pimm, Julie K. Rubini, Cynthia A. Crane, and Michelle Houts participate in a Middle-Grade Biographies Panel Discussion at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival

Catching up with children’s nonfiction author Mary Kay Carson at Books By the Banks in Cincinnati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would be impossible to list every great book festival in the U.S. here, but I’ll start us off with a few that I’ve attended or hope to attend someday. In the comments below, please add more! And whether you’re a teacher, librarian, parent, author, or illustrator, I hope you’ll consider spending a day at a book festival near you. You just never know who you’ll meet!

Who knew Darth Vader was a Charley Harper fan?

A Short List of Book Festivals – add more in the comments below!

Ohioana Book Festival –  April – Columbus, OH

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – April – Bowling Green, KY

Hudson Children’s Book Festival – May – Hudson, NY

Claire’s Day – May – Toledo/Maumee, OH

Chesapeake Bay Children’s Book Festival – June – Easton, MD

Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival – September – Sheboygan, WI

Princeton Children’s Book Festival – September – Princeton, NJ

Books by the Banks – October – Cincinnati, OH

Warwick Children’s Book Festival – October – Warwick, NY

Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival – October – Chappaqua, NY

Texas Book Festival – October – Austin, TX

Twin Cities Book Festival – October – St. Paul, MN

Buckeye Book Fair – November – Wooster, OH

Kentucky Book Fair – November – Lexington, KY

Rochester Children’s Book Festival – November – Rochester, NY

Wordstock – November – Portland, OR

Western New York Children’s Book Expo – November – Buffalo, NY

Writing MG Nonfiction: Top Researching Tips

I think half the fun of writing MG nonfiction is done before ever beginning to write. It all begins with research. I love to do research. I can spend hours just searching for that one really weird fact that sends me down another research rabbit hole. Those strange and little-known facts are what grab kids attention and what makes your book stand out from the rest. So research is not work to me—it’s really fun. And what it ultimately leads to is the story behind the facts. You want to get to that story . . . it’s what really hooks young readers.

Through working in publishing as an editor and solo as a freelance writer/editor, I’ve gathered some very reliable resources of interesting information that I either use on the book I’m writing or that I tuck away in my “future book ideas” file. I write a lot of science- and history-focused books, so here are some of the best resources I’ve found to help me with that research. Feel free to add some of your top research resources in the comments.

 

Library Databases: Free to access (with a library account) and filled with a wealth of information, library databases can be accessed either online or onsite at your local library. You can search academic journals, historical newspapers, scientific collections, historical collections, government publications, maps, music, and much more. Onsite databases offer even more than what libraries have online. Most writers wouldn’t be able to afford one or two of the subscriptions to these databases each year, but libraries can offer them free to the public. You just have to know where to look on their website or on computers in the library—and librarians are always willing to help you find the best databases for your research needs. Here are just a few of the many databases available through my local library’s online resources:

  • Birds of North America Online: Life histories of bird species breeding in the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, including maps, images, videos, and audio files of songs and calls.
  • EBSCO Megafile: Magazine and journal articles, reference books, and images. Provides general and academic coverage of multiple subjects including science, technology, religion, philosophy, psychology, and business.
  • General Science Collection (from GALE): Full-text articles from journals on physics, mathematics, nanotechnology, geology, chemistry, biology, and more.
  • National Geographic Virtual Library: Full-text magazine articles. Includes books, maps, images and videos. Goes back to 1888.
  • New York Times, Historical: Digitized images from the original newspapers, New York Daily Times (1851 – 1857) and New York Times (from 1857 on, except the most recent 4 years).

 

An LOC image of Wilbur Wright gliding in level flight, moving to right near bottom of Big Hill; Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Library of Congress: I am constantly findingnew treasures on the Library of Congress website. Whether it’s a historical photograph that helps me describe a hunting scenes and near-extinction of buffalo and bald eagles in North America or Civil War maps that help me understand more about the history of the war, this site is packed with primary sources that can be used not only for research on the topic, but also for free historical images that can be used in your book. It contains digital images, music, and manuscript collections; reference guides for researchers (like this one on natural disasters); great backmatter inclusions, like this list of sites for kids and families, turn-of-the-century films of San Francisco before and after the great earthquake and fire ; articles with links and images about important inventions, like the Wright brothers’ airplane and first flight; or the America’s Story site for student use.

 

Google Alerts and GoogleScholar: If I’m working on a particular topic, I’ll set up a Google Alert on the topic. This is particularly helpful when writing about current topics that are affected by daily events. The alerts send me links to the latest news articles and research papers on the topic. For example, I found this really useful when writing a book about exoplanet discoveries, as new planets are being discovered on a daily basis. I use Google Scholar to search academic journals for the latest research.

 

Research Papers (Lead to Interviews and Much More!): Not only great for primary source information and data to support your arguments, research papers are a goldmine for interview leads. They always include author information, sometimes even email addresses for the scientists who led the study and wrote their analysis. If not, by digging a little further, you can usually find contact information through a scientist’s listing on the university website of where they work. I have gotten many interviews with top scientists in their field this way, and the majority are thrilled to speak with me. Many will even send me other papers relevant to my topic, or not-yet-published results from some of their studies.

I found this incredible photo through a research paper on earwigs and their intricate wings.

Research papers may also include photos and diagrams related to the study. Some include a release for media professionals or contact information for media inquiries. I’ve never had a problem getting permission to use these images in the books I write, and since they are so specific to the topic, they can show exactly what’s described in the text (rather than the typical stock images, which is often what publisher’s use when specific images are not available). Authors of these studies will often send me laboratory photos to use in my books as well, which cannot be found elsewhere. For example, for a book on animal and plant longevity, a scientist studying Greenland sharks sent me the most amazing photos of him tagging the sharks for further study and of the shark’s eyeball (which is used to determine its several centuries-old age). Scientists rock! Their willingness to help authors educate others leads to some of the most interesting angles and stories behind the data of their studies.

And just a few more . . .

Digging deeply into your research will lead you on pathways you had no idea existed for your book. So have fun and dig as deep as you can as you work on your nonfiction. Kids will notice your work!

Editor Spotlight-International Editon – Meira Firon from Tal-May Publishing!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! As you may recall, earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be included on a PJ Library-sponsored trip to Israel. Besides getting to meet many fantastic authors from here, one of the highlights of the trip for me, was one really fun night where we met authors, agents, and editors based in Israel. I was lucky to be at the same table as Meira Firon from Tal-may Publishing. I have to say that besides being such an accomplished author and editor, she couldn’t possibly have been any nicer. So, I’m thrilled to feature her in the Editor Spotlight – International Edition!

Hi Meira, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start with, can you tell us a little bit about Tal-May and the type of books they publish?

MF: Tal-May was established at 2004 with the purpose of publishing children and YA books. We publish Hebrew books and translations, new and old, classics and modern. Among the classic books we translated: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, The Outsiders by S.E Hinton and a great adult book, which I decided will be appreciated by YA: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

 

JR: All great books! You’re also an accomplished author with many books out. What types of books do you write?

MF: I write for young readers, and the subject that draws my attention the most is the relationship between siblings. I wrote a series of four books about Shira (third grade) who adores and envies her older sister Yael (sixth grade). The books are full of humor and realism. The beautiful black and white illustrations are by Alina Gorban. The first title is: Spying, Snooping and Hot Chocolate. I also wrote picture books, and one of them isn’t really realistic. It’s about a kid that goes to the movies with his parents and big sister. He can’t sit still. He is thirsty, hungry, the girl in front of him is too tall and he can’t see the screen. He needs to go to the bathroom… His sister screams and says she will never go anywhere with him, but then the monster from the movie gets out of the screen and comes to sit next to him. From that point on, everything gets wilder. The title is: Stop moving! And it’s illustrated by Tamar Hochstadter.

 

JR: That sounds like a lot of fun! What was the first book you worked on after you became an editor?

MF: The first book I worked on as an editor for children and YA was a translated picture book: Don’t Let Go! By Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. I love this book. It’s about a father who leaves home, and his daughter asks him to teach her to ride a bike so she will be able to come visit him in his new place. It is really touching.

JR: Does Tal-May pay attention to overseas markets, and look to acquire many books from Europe and the U.S. as well?

MF: Of course, we pay attention to overseas markets! We even attend the Bologna Book Fair every year. Mostly we translate from English and Swedish. We love the Swedish and Norwegian literature – Alf Proysen, Rose Lagercrantz, Mats Strandberg, Hakon Ovres, Pija Lindenbaum. From the English we translated many books – we love Jenny Valentine, Gary D. Schmidt, Lois Lowry, Mo Willems and many others. We even translated Sage Blackwood’s fantasy series: Jinx. And we are always looking for new exciting things.

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

MF: I am very happy to say I enjoy every aspect of my job – how lucky am I, right? I love to read and choose books, I love to work with authors and edit manuscripts, to choose the illustrator and to translate. I guess that at the bottom of the list I will have to say – proofreading, I don’t enjoy that very much.

JR: What sort of books do you personally look for?

MF: I don’t look for a certain kind of book, but I have my personal taste to guide me. When the story is fascinating, when the writing is accurate, when I am completely immersed in the world created by the author and I feel the characters are part of my life while reading – I’m into it and I really don’t care if It’s Fantasy or suspense or realistic prose. I can fall in love with any kind of genre as long as it captures me.

JR: That’s great. Very much how I am. Are you very hands-on with your authors?

MF: I am very “hands-on” with my authors as you put it, but I must remind you that I am not alone in Tal-May. Yotam Shwimmer, chief editor, is the one that works with them closely, and he is so great that they can’t get enough of him. Thanks to Yotam almost every Israeli author wants to publish with Tal-May. Nevertheless, I am very involved in the process from the beginning.

JR: Yotam was also incredibly nice and through social media, I’ve been following Tal-May’s successes this year. What’s the state of publishing in Israel right now? In particular, Middle Grade?

MF: Middle Grade books are the most popular in Israel and teen books are much less popular. Fantasy are best sellers and now we are all looking for comics and graphic novels.  But you must keep in mind that our market is very small – even tiny – so the sales aren’t that big compared to the USA. That is a problem of course, because you have to be at peace with the fact that you won’t get rich from publishing. So, if I’ll go back to question 5, I’ll have to admit that the money aspect is less enjoyable. But, we are not here for the money, right?

 

JR: Well, that’s for sure 🙂 What advice can you give to authors?

MF: My advice to authors will not be new to them: write. Don’t stop writing even if you feel you don’t know what to write about. I’m sure it will come to you if you sit long enough in front of your computer. And just another one: Look around and listen. The world is full of stories waiting for you to capture them. Wow! I sound to myself like some guru.

JR: I think that’s great advice, and yes, guru-like! What was your favorite book as a child?

MF: As a child my favorite book was The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. I read this book over and over again and wanted the Cat to be my friend and help me make a big mess and then fix it all. I think it’s a perfect story and I still love it today.

 

JR: One of my favorites, though Thing 1 and Thing 2 scared me as a kid. Speaking of which, what’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

MF: I wish I could come back to my childhood need to read a book over and over again without getting tired of it. This is such a wonderful feeling. The book is your friend, your world, your escape from everyday life. I wish I could be so happy when given a book like I was as a child. And if I may add – I wish I could be as carefree as the child I was – but that has nothing to do with books. (Or does it?)

JR: I’ll allow it. 🙂 How can people follow you or Tal-may on social media?

Facebook Meira Firon

Tal May Facebook

Tal May Instagram

I’d like to once again thank Meira for taking the time to speak with us today, and hope you enjoyed reading!

 

Well, that’s all the time we have today, since I have to make hurricane preparations. So, wish me luck, and until next time my Mixed-Up friends, keep reading!

 

Jonathan