What NOT to do at an SCBWI Conference

I’m a big fan of Dear Teen Me, and believe me – there are about a million things I wish I could go back and tell the me of {bleep} years ago. But sometimes I’d just be happy with talking to the me of six months ago.

Dear Holly,

Just a few last-minute tips before you hop in the car and drive six hours to a conference where you don’t know a soul.

HAVE A PITCH READY. Don’t know what it is? It’s called Google – USE IT! When the uber-talented super-agent special guest asks you for it, you’re going to kick yourself in the butt for saying “Ummm, I’m not sure, didn’t really think of one.” Really? REALLY?

DON’T BOTHER TO PRINT OUT THAT SYNOPSIS that you wrote in a half-hour if you’re too embarrassed to give it out to anyone. You just wasted cardstock and ink, dummy! At least you can turn them over and let your kids doodle when you get back home.

WHEN YOU GET TO THE HOTEL early and want to figure out where you’re supposed to be so you’re not late, and the girl at the front desk tells you the conference starts at 6:00 with dinner in the restaurant instead of the 8:00 that is written on every other piece of information you have – DON’T BELIEVE HER!

WHEN YOU DO BELIEVE HER and head to the hotel restaurant at 6:00 and there is only one other person there, tell me the truth – any bells going off? Any whistles?

WHEN THE WAITRESS TELLS YOU TO ORDER ANYTHING YOU WANT BECAUSE IT’S ON THE HOUSE remember back to when your momma told you that nothing is ever free. She’s smart. She knew what she was talking about. Do you really think that the organizers of the event are going to pay for you to eat/drink anything and everything you want? Yeah, yeah, I know you’re nervous. Sweating so hard you’re about to slide out of the seat, nervous. But just calm down long enough to use the brain you did NOT leave back in Ohio.

WHEN TWO OTHER PEOPLE FINALLY ARRIVE, talking about traffic from the airport and start name dropping names you’ve only ever seen on the shelves of your local library, put the that fork full of shrimp pasta down long enough to catch their names and what they’re talking about so you can figure out that you’re not supposed to be there.

WHEN YOU TELL THE LADY ACROSS FROM YOU that you feel so out of place – think on that a minute. Is there a reason you should be feeling out of place? MAYBE BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THERE?

WHEN TWO OTHER CONFERENCE GOERS WALK IN THE ROOM, asking if this is where they should be for the conference and the lady next to you tells them “No,” that it starts at 8:00 down the hall – OH NOW YOU GET IT? How’s that for a delayed reaction? Ummm…hello! That’s not just Sally Q. Conference-Goer sitting there to your right, its Miss Big-time editor of power-house children’s magazine that’s going to be sitting at the long table on the stage tomorrow with the other special guests. The same person teaching the class you signed up for tomorrow.

DON’T EXCUSE YOURSELF TO RUN BACK TO YOUR ROOM and call your husband in tears – he’s a state away and can’t do a single thing to console you. But I bet you a hundred dollars he’s glad he stayed home to watch the kids.

WHEN YOU DRY YOUR TEARS AND GET TO YOUR AGENT CRITIQUE and she so kindly lets you know what you need to work on and tells you to take some time with it before sending it to her, don’t change things in the hotel room and send it to her two weeks later. Let it sit, silly. Let it simmer. Look over it again, then again, and again. Then once more for good measure. When she said she won’t forget your unique concept, she really meant it. Even if it is months and months later. Don’t send it to her in two weeks. It’s not ready and you’ll get a rejection faster than ants on a gumdrop.

Don’t worry, you’re going to make mistakes in this whole publishing adventure you decided to take on. I’m sure every one does. One day I’m sure you’ll look back on this conference and laugh at how naive you were. One day.

What’s up with the holey knees?

CMT makes you fall down. A lot.

Back when I was in high school I didn’t know that I had CMT; I’d been mis-diagnosed so many times. Had I known it was CMT wreaking havoc on my feet I might’ve gone the leg braces route and I wouldn’t have fallen up the stairs, down the stairs, and in the middle of the hallway so much. My high school had five floors, and while it had one small elevator – only teachers were allowed to use it. With my homeroom in the basement and my French class on the fourth floor, I’m sure you can imagine [insert sarcasm here] what a blast I had as a high schooler.
Even when I did get correctly diagnosed in 2001 they sent me to get fitted for leg braces and I decided I wasn’t going to go that route. Leg braces? There was no way I could walk around in those big metal things. Pride can sometimes be a horrible thing and I had a little too much of it.
I think back now – I’m quickly approaching my one-year-with-braces anniversary – and wonder how much easier my life would’ve been had I gotten them when they wanted me to. Without them I would fall daily. Every pair of pants I owned had knees that looked like these. For a while it was fashionable, so I was OK – but most of the time it wasn’t and I sported the look anyway. In the year I’ve had my braces, I’ve only fallen once.
I don’t have holes in my knees anymore – but a part of me is still that girl smiling in the picture. Too proud to admit something was wrong, too headstrong to give in, and too sensitive to talk about it all. I like to think most of me has matured enough to accept it and move on. The truth is, I’m still trying.

Book Fair!

It’s BOOK FAIR WEEK at school!

Since our school is so small our book budget follows suite. But each year some of the parents organize a Scholastic book fair so we can use the proceeds to get new books for the library.
The students LOVE the book fair and its always such a fun week.
I got to work there today and I usually spend more than we make, but that’s OK. My girls love browsing for new books to buy (and OK, so do I!) I came home with some new YA books I can’t wait to crack open.
Of course we have a ton of snow coming this week so hopefully we make it to school every day – but you never know here in Ohio.

Waking up to Wall-E

I fought against getting leg braces for over ten years.

It didn’t help that when the doctor told me I should have them, I pictured the big metal contraptions Forrest Gump wore and thought “No Way!”
But last year I gave in. I knew we were going to try to go to Disney World in the summer and I knew I couldn’t go when my legs would wear out after walking five/ten minutes.
They are AMAZING.
Why didn’t I put my pride in check and get them ten years ago? I’ve been wearing them for a year and I never leave the house without them.
Yesterday I thought I’d be a trail blazer and go to Sam’s Club without them – silly girl! By the time I got to the back of the store I thought I was going to have to crawl back to the register, my legs were that tired. Thankfully I made it back to my car, but it was excruciating. And I learned my lesson.
I was talking to a friend a week ago. She was telling me about her friend who also had Charcot Marie Tooth disease and said that her friend refused to get braces. I wish I could talk to her friend. I could probably walk for miles without my legs getting tired and I LOVE IT. I feel like my braces have given me brand new legs.
And of course, it helps when I wake up in the morning to find little “surprises” in them from my five-year-old. 🙂
YAY for my legs!

Claim To Fame Review

I recently finished reading “Claim to Fame” by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Being one of the biggest Haddix fans out there, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one.

I love surprises and Margaret’s books are chock full of them. This book did not disappoint. Lindsey Scott is a former child star who can hear everything said about her — good or bad. I love books about people with unique powers that cause problems. This one was so bad that Lindsey never wanted to leave her “safe” house until she is kidnapped.
The ending was a surprise which I love, but it did seem to wrap up a little quickly.
I can’t wait to add this book to the library shelves as soon as I get back to school on Monday — I already know some students that will love it!

Library Book Challenge

One of my favorite days is Friday.
It’s library day, of course!
Being the librarian at a small private school of Pre-K to 8th Graders is a blast, but it can also be a challenge. Every Friday I am bombarded by kids who either don’t want to read at all, who say I have no books there to read (what???), or who try to read books above their level so it will make them look cool to the other kids. Last week I had a second grade boy come up and slam a copy of Twilight on my desk for me to check out. HA!
The awesomeness of my Friday is that the other 95% of kids love to read and can’t wait to get books. They always want recommendations because they know I read what they read. The problem is that I have been so busy working on MY novel, I haven’t had a chance to read any books since school started in August. My to-read pile is almost as tall as my dining room table.

From left to right…
Ruined by Paula Morris, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Savvy by Ingrid Law, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper, Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer, Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Dark Life by Kat Falls, Spoiled Rotten by Brandi Johnson (I went to high school with Brandi!), Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Tennyson by Lesley M. M. Blume, People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau, Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
So I came up with an idea. I’m challenging the kids to 1) guess how many books I can read during our Christmas break and 2) see if they can read more than I do!
This is a win/win/win.
Win #1 – Contests always get them excited to read!
Win #2 – I finally get the books in my pile read.
Win #3 – I’ll have lots of book recommendations for them on January 3rd!
I’m going to keep track of my tally here on the blog just in case any students happen to read it and I’ll be sure to post if any of my students beat me. (I’m hoping they do!!!)
Happy reading!

Create Your Own Book Cover

After two years and twenty three ms edits you’ve finally convinced yourself to submit your novel to an agent (or two…or three…). Now the agonizing wait begins.

HEY! Stop checking your email again and get back here!
You need something to keep you busy. One thing you could do is play around with a book cover. It’s actually pretty fun and there are quite a few different ways you can create one.
Step 1
Find a background image.
There are a few routes you could go as far as finding an image to use.
  • Take your own picture. This is a fun option, especially if you love photography as much as I do. However you really have to know what you’re doing. You don’t want a mediocre picture with harsh shadows or washed out with a flash that’s too bright. You want your book cover to look as professional as possible. Any image you associate with your novel reflects on you and the novel itself, good or bad.
  • Buy a royalty-free stock image. There are plenty of royalty-free stock image websites out there with a fabulous array of images to choose from. If you have been to my website, http://www.hollyvandyne.com, the notebook image in the background was an image I purchased from http://www.istockphoto.com. Each image is a certain number of credits depending on its size. I purchased enough credits for a medium size version of the notebook image for $18.25. The benefit of buying the use of a royalty-free image is that the user has the one-time right to use the photo without restrictions. I didn’t have to give credit to the photographer to use it.
  • Use a free stock image. There are free stock image websites out there as well. I got the stock image photo of the notebook I used on my book cover at http://www.sxc.hu/. Once you find an image you want to use be sure to pay attention to the use of the image as listed by the photographer. The one I chose asked that if used, please just let the photographer know where and how you used it.
As I said before, just be sure that you choose a professional looking image and one that fits your novel. The Talented Hand of Sophia is about a girl who writes so a notebook was one of the best images I could have used. Think about it, search through lots of images (not just the first one that comes up as a match to your search), and once you find the perfect one to use you are ready for the next step.
Step 2
Resize and Add Text
For this step you’ll need a photo editor. Again, there are a few different routes you can take.
  • Buy photo editor software. There are all sorts of them, you may have one on your computer already. Most printers, scanners, digital cameras come with a CD that has either a full version or trial version of image editing software. You can install this to use or buy a copy in just about any store that carries software. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great one and is only $99. You can also buy it online at http://www.adobe.com. Or if you want to try it out they allow you to download a free 30-day trial version of the software.
  • Use a free photo editor. There is an awesome free program at http://pixlr.com/ that you can use directly on their website without having to install any software on your computer. I’ve used it a few times, it is pretty easy to use and a lot of the features are similar to Photoshop. Not bad for a free program!
When I did my book cover, I made the image 1000 pixels wide by 1500 pixels high. Once it was created I sized it down to about 10% of that to fit on my website. I suggest looking at different books in your genre and try to keep yours the same style. For mine I found a simple image to make my title stand out and used a simple font so that it didn’t distract from the style I was trying to achieve.
Play around with it! This was the second one I created, my first try ended up looking a little too childish for the subject matter and age range of my novel so I tried again until I got an image I was happy with.
Now you have my permission to go check your email again (my fingers and toes are crossed for you!) If you make a fake cover of your own novel please post a link in the comments here, I would love to see how it turned out!