Behind the Scenes: My Experience as a Cybils Judge

This winter, I was able to serve as a judge for the Cybils, an award for children’s and young adult authors and illustrators. Established by bloggers, the Cybils recognize work that combines literary merit with popular appeal.

I’d been following the Cybils for a few years, and knew that it was a well-respected award. I’m a book blogger, too, at Kid Book List, and when I saw the call for judges, I thought I’d give it a try. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to discover some great books and meet new people in the kid lit community.

It was both of those in spades. I was chosen to be a second-round judge in the Poetry category. Lucky me! I am a big fan of novels in verse and kid poetry anthologies.

Anyone can nominate books for consideration in any of the categories; the only requirements are that they have been published in the United States or Canada in the year under consideration. Each Cybils category has first round readers who go through all of the nominated books. They narrow the nominations to a group of five to seven finalists for the second-round readers, who then choose a winner.

That’s where the fun began for me. We had a fantastic and incredibly diverse set of finalists in the Poetry category, which made our task both exciting and difficult. Our finalists were:

BOOKED by Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander, a middle grade novel in verse about a soccer-obsessed boy whose parents are separating;

FRESH DELICIOUS, written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, an upbeat and colorful poetry anthology for the preschool and early elementary set, celebrating the joys of the farmer’s market;

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes, a spare and lovely middle grade novel in verse told from the perspective of an overweight boy who struggles to win his athletic father’s approval;

GUESS WHO, HAIKU, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea, an adorable picture book in poem form centered on a barnyard;

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, a middle grade novel in verse told from a remarkable eighteen perspectives and in an array of poetic forms, about the last year of a school that will be torn down;

TO STAY ALIVE: MARY ANN GRAVES AND THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE DONNER PARTY by Skila Brown, a young adult historical in gorgeous and unflinching verse;

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: POEMS FOR ALL SEASONS, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a beautiful anthology for early elementary readers that celebrates the garden through the seasons.

Once the finalists were in, we got to work. First we gathered the books from the library (or our bookshelves!), and a few that we couldn’t get in time were sent from the publisher. Our reading load was lighter than the first round’s, and I was able to get it done in the time we needed without too much trouble.

The great sweep of books in this category made it challenging to compare them, but after some email discussion, we decided that Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY was “the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics.” See here for our write-up about why we chose it, and to read about the winners in all of the categories.

You can find out more about the Cybils here. If you’re interested in nominating a book, the deadline is generally in October. And if you want to apply to be a judge, the application is due in September. Follow the Cybils account on Twitter to make sure not to miss any announcements.

I’m so glad I was able to participate in the Cybils process. I discovered some fantastic books, analyzed what makes for a successful book of poetry for children, and met other dedicated readers of poetry and novels in verse.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who spends her lunch hours reading poetry. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can also find her on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram

BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME

BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME will be released August 2017!

This YA sci-fi anthology (edited by sci-fi authors Paige Daniels and Mary Fan) features stories about girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)… Girls who engineer, tinker, hack, and more, using their smarts to save the day. It’s got space operas, sci-fi mysteries, steampunk, cyberpunk, all kinds of punk! Proceeds from sales of the anthology will be donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund!

Yes, that’s right! Buying this book will support future female engineers! I’m honored and thrilled that the editors selected my story In A Whole New Light to be included in the anthology. Check out the great cover!

BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME will be available for pre-order in May. In the meantime…

ADD IT ON GOODREADS!

SIGN UP FOR THE RELEASE DAY MAILING LIST!

VISIT THE BRAVE NEW GIRLS WEBSITE

Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme is the second volume of the Brave New Girls anthology series. The first, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets was released in June 2015 and has so far raised thousands of dollars for the Society of Women Engineers Scholarship Fund. Find it here on Amazon.

BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME is a great book for middle school and high school classrooms to encourage students who love science and to support future engineers. Win-win! We’d like to support as many budding engineers as possible so please share the news!

Stories in the anthology (in alphabetical order by title):

The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair by Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

The Adventure of the Brass Lamp by Margaret Curelas

Arch Nemesis by Jamie Krakover

The Babysitting Job: A Robot Repair Girl Adventure by Josh Pritchett

The Case of the Missing Sherlock by Mary Fan

Chasing the Copper Dragon by Karissa Laurel

Circus in the Sky by Lisa Toohey

Dangerous Territory by Holly Schofield

The Experimental Bug – First Test by Jelani-Akin Parham

Hack by Evangeline Jennings

In a Whole New Light by Michelle Leonard

The Last Android by Paige Daniels

Let Androids Eat Cake by Meg Merriet

The Maker’s Handbook by George Ebey

The Non-Existence of Gravity by Steph Bennion

Nova by Stephen Landry

Our Very Respected and Always Benevolent Leader by Kay Dominguez

Scilla’s Monster by Elisha Betts

Skyris by A.A. Jankiewicz

Sweet Emotion by Bryna Butler

The Swiss Cheese Model by Eric Bakutis

The Verne Shot by Brandon Draga

MICHELLE LEONARD was born a math and science nerd. After spending ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when she’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to all of their important gigs and lessons, she’s writing down profound thoughts and turning them into stories for young readers. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. You can also find her on Twitter .

The Call with Julie Artz

Hi, Julie. I’m so excited that you’ve signed with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit and are on your way to publishing success! I think The Call is one of the most desired/feared/nerve-wracking/exciting/elusive steps a writer works toward. You’ve nailed your query and finally garnered some interest, but now what?

Photo credit: Gail Werner
Photo credit: Gail Werner   

 

She sent me an email. I had received a similar email from her in the spring that ended up being a Revise & Resubmit on an older manuscript, but the wording on this one was different, so I was pretty sure it was going to be an offer. She didn’t mention a time, but she called me the next morning, so there was only one day of nail-biting.

How did you prepare for The Call? Any sites or blog posts that you felt were helpful in preparing?

I emailed my amazing Pitch Wars 2015 mentor, Juliana Brandt, who shared her list of questions and gave me an awesome pep-talk. And I emailed a couple of critique partners to freak out/ask for advice. I also did a little cyber stalking internet research on the agency and its clients. I read Janet Reid’s blog religiously and she talks a lot about how to maintain good agent-writer relationships. If you’re querying and not subscribed to her blog, go subscribe NOW!

I have to ask where you did the call? Were your kids and husband home?

I was home alone, thank goodness, because I was pacing all over the house with my phone and notebook. I was so nervous and had to keep moving (and reminding myself not to talk too much)! Once I got off the call, I was getting DMs, emails, text messages, and phone calls all at once. I didn’t even text my husband until later because I was on the phone with The Winged Pen’s own Jessica Vitalis, talking her ear off as she drove out of town!

How were you feeling when the call started? How did you feel once the conversations got going?

I had already had a really positive interaction with Jennie about the R&R on my previous manuscript, so I was feeling really good from the moment the call started. Even before it started, really. I sent her The Elephant Tree instead of the revision (with her permission) because I felt it was a stronger manuscript and she was enthusiastic about the project from the moment I pitched it to her. The call blew me away. By the time we had this call, she had read all three of my middle grades, so I knew she really got me as a writer. And she said all the right things. I was floating by the end.

What was the big deciding factor on deciding that this was the agent for you? Was there a moment in the call or something she said?

When she made me cry (in a good way), I just knew that she got me 100% and was going to be the perfect fit.

How has communication been since the call and what’s the next step for you?

I have been working on revisions on The Elephant Tree since we signed in October. So in addition to discussing revisions, we’ve also had a productive back-and-forth about my next story. The one I was plotting before I signed with Jennie is a totally different genre than The Elephant Tree (dark fantasy instead of contemporary with a sprinkle of magic), so it doesn’t make a very good follow-up.

 I came up with a character and pitched Jennie a story idea that, unfortunately, has been done in an upcoming MG. That’s why I’m so glad to have an industry insider to help me navigate this—can you imagine if I’d written the whole story before I found out someone else had done something similar? I was able to take that same character, who I’m sort of falling in love with, and put her into a new story that Jennie thought would make a great follow-up to The Elephant Tree. Now if I can just get these edits done, I can start writing the shiny new story!

Are there any questions you wish you had asked that you didn’t?

We got so busy talking about edits for my current manuscript and story ideas for my next one that we completely forgot to talk about what her contract looks like! She had to email me the contract after the fact. I actually thought of a ton of questions after I got off the phone with her, so we had another round of email back and forth during my nudge week.

Any advice for querying writers working toward The Call?

Don’t give up! This was the third middle-grade manuscript I’d queried (fourth manuscript total because there was that one awful chicklit novel I wrote in my twenties and was foolish enough to query) and I racked up over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars 2015 manuscript before I shelved it to focus on The Elephant Tree. The evening before I got the email from Jennie, I got a heart-breaking pass from another agent that had me so down in the dumps that I’d actually told my critique partners I was all done with this manuscript (even though I only sent a total of 48 queries on it!). The next day, I had an offer.

Julie, thanks so much for letting me pester you with all these questions and congrats on this giant leap forward. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieartz. You can also find her at julieartz.com.

~Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

#Scrivathon16 – Writing for Syria Relief

There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world. It’s part of why I spend such a huge amount of time fleeing into the fantasy realm with a book, a movie, or with my own writing. But last month I heard about an opportunity to help a good cause WHILE fleeing into that fantasy world: #Scrivathon16 on Saturday, November 12, 2016.

#Scrivathon16 image

 

 

A 24-hour word sprint, #Scrivathon16 will raise money and awareness for Syria Relief, a registered UK charity whose aim is simply to ‘relieve the suffering and support the future.’ It has a solid network of committed management and logistics staff on the ground inside Syria—currently numbering at around 1,600—which means they can deliver humanitarian aid in all areas, including the hard-to-reach rural and some besieged areas. In the short space of time since its inception, Syria Relief has established its reputation as a trusted and efficient humanitarian aid agency on the ground, with a track record of the highest level of transparency and feedback.

If the images of children being pulled from the rubble have touched you the way they’ve touched me, perhaps you’ll consider joining #Scrivathon16, donating to Syria Relief through the #Scrivathon16 JustGiving page, and entering to win one of the oodles of raffle prizes A.Y. Chao has put together for this event. You can even win one of several query/critique packages from authors at The Winged Pen:

ENTER HERE with code “Winged Pen Query & 1st Page” for a chance to win one of TWO query and first page critique from The Winged Pen’s contributors

ENTER HERE with code “WP 1st Page Crit” for a chance to win one of FIVE first page crits from one of Laurel Decher, Gita Trelease, Halli Gomez, Jessica Vitalis, and Kristi Wientge

ENTER HERE with code “Winged Pen Query & 1st Page” for a chance to win one of TWO query and first page critique, from either Gabrielle Byrne or from Julie Artz.

Check here for even more amazing raffle prizes!

BONUS BONUS BONUS!!!

Because the world needs a little extra love this week, The Winged Pen will be matching Syria Relief donations made Saturday through our Winged Pen #Scrivathon16 page (up to $500). So consider making a donation.

BONUS BONUS BONUS!!!

Don’t forget to join us on Twitter on November 12 for 24-hours of word sprints, camaraderie, and writing for a most worthy cause.