Meet Michelle Houts

 by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton


I'd like to welcome Michelle Houts to the Six Pens Blog!

Michelle is a fellow, award-winning Ohio author who has a new book coming out in August of 2023, Hopefully the Scarecrow. We are excited to help her celebrate!

Here's a sneak peek at the cover:


Michelle, tell us about HOPEFULLY THE SCARECROW.

Hopefully the Scarecrow (by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Sara Palacios) releases August 8, 2023 from Flamingo Books (Penguin Random House). It tells the story of a scarecrow who is kept company by a girl who visits his garden with piles of books. She reads aloud, filling his head with stories and adventures. When the girl stops coming to the garden, the scarecrow finds himself alone and helpless. But throughout adversity, he remains hopeful. Hopefully the Scarecrow is a story of friendship and hope.

 What was your inspiration for the book?

While working as an elementary school speech-language pathologist, I observed children whose life circumstances left them uncertain about their futures. As very young children, they had very little agency and no ability to change their situations. I wanted to write a story for anyone who needs hope. And who has less control over their situation than a scarecrow, stuck to a pole and left out in the elements? Like Hopefully the Scarecrow, I want children to see that even when things seem bleak, there’s always hope that the sun will shine again.

 Michelle, what are your thoughts on Sara Palacio’s illustrations?

When I saw Sara Palacios’s sketches, I adored Hopefully and his young friend. But, when I got my first glimpse of the finished art, I was completely in love! Sara has created a fabulously rich garden, alive with vibrant color and a wonderful southern feeling that I’ve never seen in a scarecrow story. Her art leads the reader right into Hopefully’s imagination, where kings and dragons and, most especially, hope live.

Thanks, Michelle for sharing your latest book with us. We are excited and looking froward to purchasing this heartwarming tale of friendship and hope in all of our lives. You can preorder from your favorite bookseller or follow this link: Hopefully the Scarecrow a book by Michelle Houts and Sara Palacios (bookshop.org)


 Michelle has published 13 titles. 
Here are a few of my favorites: 

COUNT THE WINGS, a middle grade biography about Ohio artist Charlie Harper.
SEAGLASS  SUMMER, a picture book.
LUCY'S LAB, a chapter book series.
BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY, Michelle's first book,
published in 2009.

Her books can be found at in-person bookstores or online here https://bookshop.org/contributors/michelle-houts.


 

    Check out Michelle's website:https://michellehouts.com/




 

 

 

 

Author Quotes for the New Year

                  (Share your favorite author quotes in the comments! Happy New Year!)

                                                        


'You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.' – Annie Proulx





'Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.' – Stephen King






'We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.' – Ernest Hemingway






'You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.' 

– Jodi Picoult





'If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.' 

– Margaret Atwood





What will you write this year?




HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS FOR BOOK LOVERS

 from all of us at A Song of Six Pens 


Gloria G. Adams   
Lisa Amstuz

Kate Carroll     Laurie Knowlton

Lana Koehler    Gloria Reichert



We've put together some gift ideas for readers, writers, and book lovers everywhere! Enjoy!


                        


Check out LITERARY GIFTS like jewelry, clothing or even temporary tattoos on sites such as Etsy, Pinterest, Out of Print, and The Literary Gift Company.


Who wouldn't love to have their own personalized BOOK EMBOSSER?

                                                                      

 


 Or, how about giving your favorite writer or voracious   reader the gift of TIME? Offer to babysit, house sit, or pet   sit while they get away to write or read.



Writers love to take WRITING COURSES and WEBINARS!  The Storyteller Academy, Reedsy, and Writer's Digest are just a few great resources.



    Our favorite gifts, of course, are BOOKS!
Check out this great website for a list of some of the 
best books on writing for children


            


Happy Holidays!



        









  

Meet Becky Gehrisch, owner of Bookling Media

 by Gloria Reichert


   Becky Gehrisch     

       After meeting Becky Gehrisch at the recent SCBWI: Ohio North Conference, I was fascinated that she has established a publishing company called Bookling Media. I had all sorts of questions about how one goes about doing such a thing and thought readers of this blog might also find such information useful, especially those who are authors/illustrators. Becky graciously agreed to be  interviewed. I hope you enjoy meeting her and learning about her company.

       Becky is the Creative Director at Bookling Media LLC, an independent press redefining the kidlit publishing industry, book by book! Bookling Media focuses on picture books created by author-illustrators. Passionate about art, Becky has an art degree from The Ohio State University and has served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
   

 Becky, what inspired you to write and illustrate your first book?

As a kid, I loved seek-in-find aspects to illustrations and details in picture books. When I was in middle school, my art class had an opportunity to submit a picture book through a nationwide Written and Illustrated program. I won Honorable Mention! The thrill of creating a physical book to call my own was satisfying. My name was on a book –how cool is that?!

I then went to The Ohio State University to study painting and drawing. I was drawn (pun intended) to Norman Rockwell and other illustrators. I loved art that told a playful, childlike story. After graduating, I took time away from the fine arts and relocated to the countryside. There, I was newly inspired to pick up my paintbrush and make a fun illustration of three dogs playing in a bathtub!

At OSU, I almost minored in Art History. Remembering dates and names was a challenge but I was intrigued by how art changed throughout time. Because of this, I included fun art facts about art styles in the back material of Escape to Play. Creating classic art on the pages for kids to find and then read about later was a blast! I loved the interactive aspect this is for kids.



I absolutely needed, in my core, to create a fun book that allowed kids to enjoy detailed illustrations! I loved the process of creating each chaotic scene for the dogs to explore which then evolved into a story. Adding the easy-to-read poem tied everything together.

Who are some author/illustrators you admire?

Wow! So many. Here are some in no particular order: Wanda Gág, Jan Brett, Dan Santat, Brian Lies, Brendan Wenzel, Peter Brown, Ryan T. Higgins, and many others! They all have such a unique and mastered illustrative style. The reason their books stand out to me is because of their storytelling power through the marriage of the words and images. I often love the humorously written ones best but a beautiful, touching story is quite captivating, too!

What led you to found Bookling Media? How will it be different from other publishers?

I saw a need in the industry to create Bookling Media through my own experiences as an author-illustrator and through my involvement with SCBWI. I realized how terrible the traditional publishing experience has been for many creators, not just when submitting manuscripts to publishers, but also after their books were published.

I saw friends powerless to market their books and take control of their own success due to their publishers’ policies and contract restrictions. I knew there had to be a better way. So, a plan emerged! I wanted to create a new kind of publishing company that is known for high-quality picture books while also respecting the creators and allowing author-illustrators to remain in control of their intellectual property rights.

What will you do if you receive a manuscript that is beautifully illustrated but poorly written? Or, vice versa?

I feel that a manuscript with great illustrations but poorly written is easier to adjust and mold into a polished piece. We can always develop a story. It would be harder to keep the essence of

the art in a collaboration with another illustrator. If the meat of the story is unique, the rest can follow.

If a manuscript is written well but the creator lacks in artistic skill, it will be hard to move forward. I strive for high quality, especially in the illustrations, and a picture book should reflect that. I have already received some manuscripts which have great illustrations, so I’m confident that the next book that Bookling Media releases will be beautiful!

Can you share some details about your Bookling Media? How will you promote and distribute your books? Do authors receive royalties? Will you use freelance or in-house editors? etc.

There is a lot to cover here! Relationships are everything, and that is the value that Bookling Media brings to the table for our creators. My team consists of industry professionals that either have their own businesses or freelance. It works well because we can get experienced professionals such as editors, designers, proofreaders, and typesetters to work on our projects on a fractional basis. We use offset printing instead of print-on-demand to give us the highest degree of creative control and quality.

When the book is ready, we run a presale campaign to help cover the initial costs of publication and printing. Working closely with the creator, we put together a launch team and marketing plan for the presale. Our relationship with our distributor lets us make our titles available through Baker & Taylor for libraries, Ingram for independent bookstores, Barnes &Noble, Amazon, and even Walmart.com to name a few.

We provide marketing support to drive sales, and our creators make a percentage of every book that Bookling Media sells, either directly or through distribution. Unfortunately, the middlemen and retailers take a large cut. Where our creators can make the most money is author events and school visits.

We have built a toolkit to help creators market themselves and host successful events. We make copies of their book available to them at deeply discounted prices so that they can sell directly at their events or on their own website. Our authors enjoy access to our marketing coaching and materials, as well as the freedom to sell and market their books as they see fit.

What kind of books do you like to read?

This is the toughest question! I love a variety of genres, but I really enjoy picture books and a good, historical fiction!

What book has influenced you the most?

I received a chapter book, Half Magic, from my aunt when I was a kid. It was by Edward Eager and originally published in 1954. This was the first book that I could read with minimal illustrations, and it struck a chord in me. Merging the magical and every-day of four children, was intriguing.


My mind was full of the images that inspired me to create my own magical scenes. In 2019 I drew a ghostly girl and did not connect the association somehow to the cover of Half Magic! The cover art is a part of my subconscious it seems!

What was your most unusual or funny experience as an author/illustrator?

What a great question! At an elementary school visit I asked what tools might be needed to make a picture book. One answer was interesting. The boy said, “a saw!” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one, so I just said, “Sure, cutting large stacks of paper needs a sharp cutter almost like a saw!” Kids say the funniest things.

I have found that kids love coming up to my 18” mouse puppet, Norman. They want to hug him and pet him. This is more sweet than funny, but I enjoy those moments with young readers. It is amusing when kids want my autograph – in pencil – on their writing notebooks.

What work do you wish you had written and illustrated?

Anything illustrated by David Wiesner or created by Dan Santat – just wow! They have been extremely inspirational to me in my art and illustrations. The dynamic way they lay out their illustrations is amazing.

What is one piece of advice you would give to author/illustrators?

I love the advice to be cautious of taking too much advice. However, there is one piece of advice that I feel strongly about - study your craft. If your craft is writing and illustrating, take serious time to hone each. This will make a world of difference in submitting your work and in the end, selling it!


*Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Both! Mostly pantser!

Guilty Food Pleasure? Ice cream!

Favorite Hobby? Painting and light hiking.

Dog or Cat Person? Cat currently. Maybe all those years of mischievous dogs wore me down!

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? David Wiesner. His illustrations are amazing, and I would love to know more about how his brain works.

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Evening. If I could, I’d work from 12pm-4pm and 8pm-12am.


   Since Bookling Media’s start in 2020, Becky has built and led the team through the publication of their premiere title and is now announcing national distribution! Bookling Media has also opened submissions for author-illustrators to submit their manuscripts for publication.

Check out the submission guidelines here: https://www.booklingmedia.com/submissions



Five Ways to Know That Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit

 by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton


 

1.     Does your story have:

One main character?

A setting, using strong sensorial words?

A problem? Quest? Journey? Mystery? Can it be solved by the end of the story?

Attempts at solving or completing the plot line?

Suspense, with each attempt to succeed intensifying the tension?

Character-driven actions for the circumstances or world you have developed?

A plot that must be solved by the main character’s wits, strength, abilities?

A climax where the main character is at his lowest point?

A character’s attempts and failures at solving the problem that add up to the knowledge, talent, strength needed to actually solve the story problem?

Character growth for your main character? Change? Become stronger, better, wiser?

A satisfying ending? Have you wrapped up all the loose ends?

  

2.     Make sure your manuscript has been read by a critique group.

Rewriting is the most important part of writing.

If a critique suggestion rings true to your character, make the change.

If you have more than one person saying there is something missing or needing to be rewritten, chances are strong that you need to rework that portion.


 

3.     Make sure your manuscript has been edited.

 Check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure.

 

4.     Make sure you know the proper format for submitting a manuscript.

Name, address, phone number on lefthand corner.

Title half way down the manuscript, with your name below.

Second page has a header with you name, title and page number.

The following pages all need the same header with the page number.

Begin your story at the top of page 2 under the header.

Word count in the upper right corner.

 

5.     Make sure you check the publisher’s guidelines prior to submission.

Every publishing house has its own distinct directions on how, and to whom a manuscript should be submitted. Follow those directions, or your manuscript may end up in the trash never having been read.

 Most successful writers spend more time and energy rewriting than they do writing. My father always said, “The harder I work the luckier I am.” The same is true with writing.

 




 


DON’T JUST END IT!

 


By

Kate Carroll

 

            Last month, Six Pen’s author, Laurie Lazarro Knowlton, splashed into spring with seven writing hooks that are sure to capture a reader’s attention. This month I decided to focus on entertaining endings.

            Maybe you’ve already written a perfect masterpiece, but the ending doesn’t measure up. You’re searching for that satisfying stop that will cause readers to reprise, “Again!” Stories that surprise us with a twist at the end, ones that come full circle, or those that drop in one last drip of humor can deliver that marvelous magic for the reader.  Sounds simple enough, but just like all things picture book, penning a winning ending takes practice.

            If story endings challenge you, take some time to study several well-loved picture books and uncover the craft elements that make their endings successful.  Enlist the expertise of a well-read librarian to lead you to some of the best examples.

            Below are endings from both classics and new works that have effective endings and make kids want to read and repeat.  Some employ the use of more than one device that double down on a great pay-off.

 

Repetition and Dialogue

 

              … “Oh, bliss!” says the cow, and she jumps right in.

“Oh, bliss!” says the pig with a happy grin.

“Oh, bliss!” says the duck, splashing in with the rest.

“There’s no doubt about it. Home is best!”

Wishy - washy.  Wishy - washy.

 

Excerpt from ~MRS. WISHY-WASHY’S FARM by Joy Cowley


            Dialogue and Surprise

 

           … “I think we can!” said Cheese Doodle. 

          “How about you Cookie? Hey, Cookie, where are you?”

          “Umm… Cookie?”

 

Excerpt from ~SNACK ATTACK! By Terry Border.



      Humor and Surprise

 

                 … Excuse me, have you seen a rabbit wearing a hat?

No. Why are you asking me? 

I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. 

              I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me anymore questions.                          

OK. Thank you anyway.

 

Excerpt from ~I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen

 

 

      Circular, Repetition, Dialogue

 


…A is out of bed, and this is what he said: “Dare double dare, you can’t catch me.

 I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut tree.” Chicka chicka BOOM BOOM!                                                                              

 

Excerpt from ~CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by B. Martin and J. Archambault

 

           

            Circular and Humor

 

               ...Seeing the blackberries will remind him of her jam. 

              He’ll probably ask for some. And chances are…                       

              if you give him the jam, he’ll want a muffin to go with it.

 

Excerpt from ~IF YOU GIVE A MOOSE A MUFFIN 

by Laura Numeroff

 

 

        Humor and Dialogue

 

       … “That first day wasn’t so bad,” Dad says, feeling pleased. 

“We can come back tomorrow,” Mom offers. “If you want.”

           “Umm,” Pascaline says with a smile...                                                                                      

“Never, not ever.”

 

Excerpt from ~NEVER, NOT EVER! by Beatrice Alemagna

 

Total Surprise

 

 

                           

 This three-act, one word picture book has a brilliant ending!

 

~SPENCER'S NEW PET by Jessie Sima

 

 

 


Seven Spring Hooks

by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton 

 

            Spring is so close we can almost taste it!

 The thing I love about spring is that after so many gray days the sun finally warms the earth, and all the world is made anew.

  Spring also seems to be a time when new ideas flood my mind. Ideas are great, but everyone knows it is how you execute that idea that makes a story.  Good stories begin with a great hook. A hook grabs your reader and gets them to sit down and read. But how do you do that?

  I've pulled together seven types of opening sentences that are guaranteed to make the reader want to keep reading.

 

 


1.      Start with an exclamation!

 “Hi! I'm the bus driver. Listen, I've got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don't let the Pigeon drive the bus!”

                                     ~DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS! By Mo Willems

           

2.      Start with a question.

 “Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see? I see a ...”

  ~BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE?  Bill Martin Jr.

 

 3.      Start with a statement.

 “Grandma Ronnie isn't home anymore.”

    ~A YOUNG MAN'S DANCE by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

 

4.      Start by showing the setting.

 “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

                         ~ MADELINE, by Ludwig Bemelmans

 

5.      Start with Onomatopoeia.

 “Hieronymus Bets has unusual pets. Slurp the sugapotomus is his slimiest pet.” 

                          ~HIERONYMUS BETS AND HIS UNUSUAL PETS, by M.P. Robertson

 

6.      Start with a repeat refrain.


 
“Before John was a jazz giant, he heard hambones knocking on grandma's pots, Daddy strumming the ukulele, and Mama cranking the phonograph.

   Before John was a jazz giant, he heard steam engines whistling past...”


  ~BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT, by Carol Boston Weatherford

 



7.      Start with the main character.

 “Clementine waited until her work in the Big House was done and the twinkle of stars filled the night sky above the Cane River. She was ready to paint.”

             ~ART FROM HER HEART, FOLK ARTIST CLEMENTINE HUNTER, by Kathy Whitehead

 

         Spend some time in the library reading first lines in picture books to make your own list of great ways to hook a reader, then spring into a new season of writing by hooking your reader with a great opening sentence.

 

 

 

 


Serialized Fiction: Is It For You?

 

by Gloria G. Adams


Serialized fiction is nothing new. In the late 1800’s and early-mid 1900’s, many classics like Treasure Island and The War of the Worlds began as a series of chapters published in magazines or newspapers. 

Though this form of publishing never truly disappeared, its popularity waned for a long while. But today, serialized books have found a resurgence through social media platforms like Wattpad, Sweek, and more recently, Kindle Vella.
 

At first blush, you might think it’s only for adult books. But Kindle Vella has an entire children’s collection, and both Sweek and Wattpad publish YA novels as well as adult.

 Kindle Vella: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/GR2L4AHPMQ44HNQ7

 Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/

 Sweek: https://sweek.com/write-stories

Besides writing a serialized novel (publishing one chapter at a time), writers also use these platforms to publish stand-alone short stories as well as serials (like soap operas and weekly TV dramas and sitcoms.)

Readers can access a great deal of content for free, but there are also paid options. Wattpad includes some books in their Wattpad Paid Stories, but it’s by invitation only.

What’s in it for writers? Promotion, recognition, and possibly building a fan base. And the possibility of royalties. Wattpad boasts a monthly audience of 90 million users. It’s a great way to connect with readers, especially for new or unagented authors. There are also some protections in place against plagiarism.

Some have found success on these platforms. Over 100 books have been published that had their origins on Wattpad.

One of these authors was Brittany Geragotelis, who tried for ten years to get published traditionally. After posting on Wattpad, she garnered nineteen million readers and Simon and Schuster published her YA book and sequels.

Nikki Kelly’s Wattpad-published romance trilogy was picked up by MacMillan in 2014.

 While these success stories aren’t the norm, the potential is out there.


If you are interested in serialized fiction (or nonfiction), thoroughly explore all of the information on the platforms’ websites. Another suggestion: read one or more how-to books, like How to Write Serialised Fiction by Simon K. Jones. Start reading it right now on... Wattpad!

https://www.wattpad.com/story/86532927-how-to-write-serialised-fiction