Monday, May 22, 2017

Cover Reveal: Pirate Island and Guest Post by Author Katie L. Carroll

An Inside Look at the Cover Process for the Middle Grade Adventure PIRATE ISLAND 
by Katie L. Carroll

One of the coolest things about being an indie author is having total control over your cover art. It’s also terrifying! A cover is one of the most important parts of a book, giving readers their first impression of the story. Anyone with a basic computer skills can create a cover, but not everyone can create a good cover…never mind a great cover.

When it was time to figure out what I wanted for the cover of my middle grade adventure PIRATE ISLAND, I knew I wasn’t going to do it myself. I am not an artist or designer and felt it would be best to hire a professional. After browsing through a ton of recent middle grade titles, I decided that I wanted a piece of original artwork.

But who would I hire to do that? I’m not a publishing house with a big budget and a pool of talented artists waiting to work with me. So I stuck with the contacts I have. Illustrator Susan Tait Porcaro ( had one of my favorite illustrations in THE GREAT CONNECTICUT CAPER, a collaborative middle grade mystery created by 24 different authors (I wrote chapter 2) and illustrators.

I contacted Susan about PIRATE ISLAND, she was interested in the project, and her rates fit my budget. We set up a timeline, signed a contract, and Susan got to work. I had to provide her with more information about the book itself and gave her some of my thoughts about what kind of cover I had imagined, including details about Billy, the main character; the setting; and the mood of the book.

Susan got to work on a black-and-white character sketch and sent it to me to review. There’s nothing quite like seeing a character I created in my head come to life as an illustration. We discussed changing Billy’s expression and posture. She sent more sketches that incorporated those changes and added setting details. The cover concept was becoming a reality.

Then came color! Susan thought a vivid sunset with lots of orange would make for a striking color scheme, and I was totally on board with that. Then I got to see a full color illustration of just Billy. Once we settled on all the little details about him, next came the details for the setting.

When I got a look at the near final cover image, tt was love at first sight! I thought Susan had really nailed the mood I was looking for, and she did it in such a striking way.

The final details included font and color for the title and author name. Then for the paperback version, I had to provide her with the proper size and finalized jacket copy. That took a little work on my part because I had to make sure I knew how many pages the actual book was going to be. And I had to make sure I had written a compelling teaser for the back of the book that would encourage readers to pick it up.

I couldn’t be happier with the cover Susan created for PIRATE ISLAND. The concept of it was a collaborative process between the two of us, but it took the creativity and vision of a truly skilled illustrator to take that concept and turn it into a gorgeous book cover that offers an enticing promise to readers about the story inside. 

A thrice cursed island, a legendary pirate treasure, and one not-so-brave boy. What could possibly go wrong?

For centuries, the whereabouts of Captain William Kidd’s lost pirate treasure has remained a mystery. When Billy’s best friend, Andy, proposes they look for it on nearby Pirate Island, Billy thinks it’s just another one of their crazy adventures. It’s usually Billy who ends up in trouble as a result, but he goes along for the ride…like always. The more he delves into the life and death of Kidd, the more he thinks the treasure is real and that it might be buried on the small island in Long Island Sound. Billy—nope, call him William—becomes obsessed with the captain of the same first name. He even believes he’s possessed by Kidd’s restless soul. Now he and the spirit of a long-dead pirate are leading the crazy adventure on Pirate Island. And what they find is far bigger than the treasure they imagined.

Available October 2017! Add PIRATE ISLAND on Goodreads.

About the Author:
Katie L. Carroll always says she began writing at a very sad time her life after her sister Kylene unexpectedly passed away. The truth is Katie has been writing her whole life, and it was only after Kylene’s death that she realized she wanted to pursue writing for kids and teens as a career. Since then writing has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She has had many jobs in her lifetime, including newspaper deliverer, hardware store cashier, physical therapy assistant, and puzzle magazine editor. She works from her home in Connecticut that is filled with the love and laughter of her sons and husband.

In addition to PIRATE ISLAND, Katie is the author of the YA fantasy ELIXIR BOUND. Find Katie on her website, Twitter @katielcarroll, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Tough Question: how much are you willing to change for success?

Being published is a dream for so many writers, and each story is important to us. We want this story to be read, we want people to love it. We want to see it on bookshelves. (We wouldn’t be putting ourselves through this agony if we weren’t passionate about getting our book published.)

But… the book is also important to us. The characters have meaning. What happens to them is important! (Most of us wouldn’t be able to go through all the work to write and edit a book if we didn’t LOVE the story and characters.)

So what happens when publishing doesn’t agree with the story you have completed? What if, in order to reach the dream of being publishing you have to change something you don’t want to?

This month, I worked as a mentor for #teenpit, where high school writers submitted some of their writing to be mentored by some awesome writers. During the process, my mentee asked me this super deep question about choosing art or business. 

We were discussing a possible shift in perspective of her book and she asked me this:

“No matter what I do, I know that if I took the whole thing [insert suggested book changes here] it'd be a million times more marketable, and I'd have a better chance at being published… And I don't want to deviate from my story just because I want to appease the industry, but at the same time, this is my story, and I want more than anything to see it in the world.”

Oh man. That’s a seriously heavy question! 

How much are we willing to change to be published? 

It’s a very personal question. For some people the answer may be “EVERYTHING! I’ll do whatever it takes to be published!” for others it may be “Nothing! I won’t change for you!” (In which case, I suggest self-publishing). But for most of us the answer is going to be somewhere in-between. 

I don’t have a definite answer for you—only you can answer this question for yourself— but I do have some advice that might help if you’re ever in this predicament. 

This was my response to my mentee (with a few tweaks to make it less specific, more universal): 

"I went through a long R&R process with Entangled for my first book. We totally re-plotted it. It meant an almost total rewrite. I was okay with the changes because it made the book stronger. But there was one thing my editor suggested that I didn't agree with. 

There's a scene at the end of the book that my editor wanted to cut. I took a long time to think about it and decided I wasn't willing to cut it. That scene felt like such an important part of Anna's story and honestly, it fit the new focus of the story (A huge theme was about her lying, this was her big moment of telling the truth. Even facing the truth). I told him I wasn't willing to cut it, and he said we'd make it work (a relief because I was really willing to walk away from the deal for that scene). When he read the final version he said he teared up during that scene. 

My suggestion is for you to decide what the heart of this story is for you and stick to it. What don't you want to lose? 

For me is was Anna. Is was her journey, her emotions, and her sweet relationship with Jackson (though he used to be Arney. They changed his name!) Everything else in the book could change, but so long as those emotions stayed, I felt confident about it. 

What is that thing for you?"

It's a hard line to find sometimes. You will need to change things to be more marketable, that’s just part of publishing and if you want to be successful in traditional publishing, it’s a thing you will have to do. BUT this is your story. Please don’t ever forget that YOU make these choices. And it’s okay to walk away from a situation that you feel uncomfortable with, even if it means walking away from a potential publishing deal. 

 Finding the line you aren’t willing to cross... that parts up to you. It isn’t always easy but you’ll feel better if you are willing to compromise without losing the heart of your writing and story. 

Good luck!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review - 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior

Graphic novels are great equalizers in middle grade books, since they offer so much for readers of different abilities to appreciate. A lot of reluctant readers will page through them because they think a book with a lot of pictures will automatically be easier. What they don’t consider is that graphic novels can present additional layers of challenge. The stories frequently advance through dialogue instead of narration, and often through the artwork alone. As a result, readers need to make inferences while reading graphic novels, which is easier to do when they’re engaged in the story.

The recently released 5 WORLDS: THE SAND WARRIOR, written by Mark and Alexis Siegel, and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun, is the first book in a new series of graphic novels that will have middle graders carrying copies and sketching the characters on the inside covers of their school notebooks.

The story is set against the backdrop of a growing conflict between worlds and cultures. Each of the three main characters comes from a very different life, with their own unique abilities and problems to overcome: Oona Lee, a Sand Dancer, is struggling to develop her skill while living in the shadow and memory of her older sister, Jessa. The young thief An Tzu is doing what he can to survive living in the city while mysterious forces bring slow and gradual changes to his life. Famous Starball athlete Jax Amboy is worshipped by a galaxy of fans, but has his own secrets to contend with. The three are brought together following a cataclysmic attack, and slowly come to realize how much they need each other as they try to save their world.

After I finished reading the book, I loaned it to one of the reluctant readers in my class. He kept it with him all the time, even hiding it in his lap to read when he didn’t think I'd notice. He finished it in two days. I asked him what he thought when he returned it. He said it reminded him of Guardians of the Galaxy. I figured his comparison had to do with the science fiction setting, but he went beyond that. “Because the characters all have their own problems, and even though they don’t get along all the time, they’re still friends and they have to work together.” I loaned it to one of my stronger readers next. She brought it home and finished it overnight. I had to endure a chorus of complaining from the other students when I said I had to keep the book myself for a few days to finish writing the review.

A lot of young readers are going to be taken in by this epic story and these characters, and will be anxiously waiting to find out what will happen throughout the rest of the series. I know I am!

Friday, May 12, 2017

MACY McMILLAN: Five Fun Facts (and a giveaway!)

MACY McMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS is a middle grade novel in verse, launching May 15 in the U.S. (so soon!!).

Here’s the blurb:

Olivia has been Macy McMillan’s best friend ever since Macy transferred to Hamilton Elementary from Braeside School for the Deaf. But then their sixth grade teacher assigned that embarrassing family tree project, and Olivia made a joke about Macy’s father, and now neither girl is speaking—or signing—to the other. 

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. With her mother getting married and an ugly For Sale sign jammed into their yard, Macy could really use a best friend right now. But it seems the only person who has time for her these days is Iris Gillan from next door. And it’s not like a crabby, old woman who doesn’t even know sign language is going to be any comfort. Right?

Kirkus says, "The verse trails down the pages in narrow bands leaving plenty of white space. Even characters that are barely sketched emerge fully realized through the spare yet poignant narrative….Macy’s life lessons are realistic and illuminating; that she is deaf adds yet another dimension to an already powerful tale."

I’m so excited for readers to meet Macy and Iris! To celebrate the launch, I’m giving away a signed paperback edition of MACY McMILLAN, but first, five fun facts!
  1. The librarian in MACY McMILLAN is named after Beverly Cleary

  2. MACY was the first manuscript I wrote using an outline. (Did it convert me from pantsing? Uh…no. But it also didn’t kill me. I might actually do it again!)

  3. I managed to sneak a few of my favorite books into the manuscript. All these books get a shout-out in MACY McMILLAN, either directly or indirectly: 

  4. I had the title several years before I had a story to go with it.

  5. The last poem in the book is my favorite (and it’s only one sentence).

To enter the giveaway, comment with one of your fave books—one that you’ve read and re-read, one that you recommend all the time, one that you quote lines from at inappropriate moments even if it causes people to look at you funny (“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good"). So, yeah…comment with a fave book, and please include your email so I can contact you if you win.

Good luck! And if you want to help spread the word and make this author super-happy, please share this post on social media, or add MACY to your Goodreads, or request it at your local library. Thank you so much! *passes you cookies*

Shari Green writes fiction for kids and teens. She lives on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, with her husband, kids, and the worst watchdog ever. Visit her online at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cover Reveal - Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons

Today we have an awesome cover reveal for the third book in the Evolution Revolution series titled Simple Lessons.

A little bit about the book:
Even though his woods are safe from the construction machines, Jack the squirrel can’t go back. The scientists who captured Rat, and his sister’s mate Jerk, are searching for him-and show up at his human friend Collin’s house. To save Jack, Collin and his mother take him to a sanctuary. There, Jack meets Addy and other rescued squirrels, along with Horse and a group of barnyard animals. Collin visits, bringing Mina the talking bird, and teaches Jack the last simple machines: the pulley, the lever, and the gear. Jack shares what he learns with Addy, but Hawk and the scientists are hot after him. One final battle between humans and animals erupts. If Jack wins, he’ll have to run away from everything he knows. If he loses, he will never be free.

And now for the awesome cover reveal

And check out the first two books in the series as well:

About the author:
Until Hollywood calls, Charlotte lives in NJ with her husband, three children, two needy cats and sometimes a deranged squirrel. Her latest work is the Evolution Revolution trilogy (Poolside Press): Simple Machines, Book 1, Simple Plans Book 2. and Simple Lessons Book 3 (May, 2017). She is also the co-author of Blonde Ops (St. Martin’s/Dunne) and the Sirenz series: Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion (Flux), and one of 13 authors in the anthology, Beware the Little White Rabbit (Leap). To put books in the hands of kids, she contributed to the fundraising ebook anthology of horror, Scare Me To Sleep. She’s written for magazines and newspapers, and has given presentations and workshops at NJ SCBWI conferences and other venues. Currently she’s working on sci fi, historical, fantasy, and time travel novels for middle grade, young and new adult readers. Connect with her on Twitter (charbennardo), Author Charlotte Bennardo on FB, on Pinterest and Instagram as Charlotte Bennardo, and through her blog,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fast and Furious: Write that First Draft!

I recently watched two movies in The Fast and the Furious franchise and it got me thinking about writing the first draft of a book.


I admit: I am late to The Fast and the Furious World, just like I'm late to the world of fast drafting.

The movie franchise expects three things from its viewers:

  • a suspension of belief
  • for us to believe these characters will do anything for each other because they are family
  • that everyone understands this is thrilling fun, and no, they are not racing (get the pun?) towards the Oscars.

But here's the thing. These movies deliver on all three things, and often while delivering quite wooden dialogue and confusing twists.

Considering the series has earned $5 billion to date, they may be on to something.

Early in my writing career, I would fuss over every single word and image in my first draft. I was slow as molasses, would get muddled in the middle, write myself into corners and keep trying to fix things as I went along.

It was a sure-fire recipe for taking months to write that first draft.

And it didn't make the first draft any better. I still had to do multiple revisions and cuts.

Perhaps I ought to have learned after doing my first NanNoWriMo, but I didn't. I continued to clean up along the way and continued to be frustrated by how long it took me to come up with a decent book.

And then I discovered fast drafting. And it changed my life.

Now when I write, I spend several weeks plotting, doing character development, doing a rough outline. And then I write - FAST.


I don't look back. I'm Vin Diesel, keeping my eyes on the road. I don't worry about the carnage in my wake; that's for somebody else to clean up later. (Myself in the role of special effects maestro)

I trust I will be able to make something out this  - see suspension of belief above.

I know my characters will come through for me in the revisions, although some of them may end up in fiery car crashes...

I have fun.

I don't second-guess.

I don't worry about imagery (unless something pops into my head) or making things beautiful.

Heck I don't even worry much about grammar.

I just get the story down, print it off, and like a good car mechanic, take it all apart and decide what parts are essential and what parts are missing in order for me to get the car on the road.

I can usually fast draft a book in less than a month now. The work comes in revisions (see Stefanie Wass' excellent post on revising here and Shari Green's equally helpful one here)

The first few times you try this it may seem wrong, because you are essentially allowing some awful clunky stuff to stay on the page, but for those of you who are too precious with your words from day one, it might be a great way to move your writing forward!

It's all about getting to the first THE END, then making it the best it can be. 

And then you can drive away into the sunset...

Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: City of Grit and Gold

Genres: Historical FictionMiddle Grade Fiction
Length: 164 p.
Publication Year: 2017

In City of Grit and Gold, by Maud Macrory Powell, 12-year-old Addie navigates the dangerous and ever-changing world of Jewish immigrants in 1886 Chicago. Amid striking workers and the looming threat of illness and injury, Addie must come to understand her topsy-turvy family dynamics while discovering who she really is. 

This is a sweet story that weaves in culture from the "old country," while showing how the immigrants adjust to their new lives. Macrory does an excellent job of including German phrases and lullabies in a way that makes perfect sense to readers who don't know a lick of German.

The novel also provides wonderful insights into differing perspectives among the immigrants during a time when workers' rights were just beginning to be established. 

Addie struggles to understand her father's insistence that things in America were so much better than in his homeland. 

". . . as though they lived high on the hog in their own countries," he says. "They should be grateful for the work and stay home at night."

At the same time, her uncle demands better pay and fairer treatment. It's up to Addie to figure out who is right, or could they both be?

This story is a provocative exploration of the thoughts, beliefs, and struggles that plague the haves and the have-nots, all seen through the eyes of a child. 

It will leave you examining your own beliefs, which is always a good thing!

Maud Macrory Powell comes from a family of writers. She was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and went on to study comparative religion in college and environmental studies in graduate school. Maud and her husband run an organic seed and vegetable farm in the Siskiyou mountains of southwestern Oregon. They grow fruits and vegetables for their local community and raise vegetable and flower seeds that are shipped, sold, and sown all over the country. Maud thinks of her words and stories like the seeds on the farm- she creates fertile ground for them, cultivates and crafts, separates the good from the chaff, then scatters them as far and wide as they will reach.
Her essay “The Fruits of My Labor” was published in the anthology Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American FarmersCity of Grit and Gold is her debut novel.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: BRACED, by Alyson Gerber

BRACED, by Alyson Gerber, tells the story of Rachel, a seventh grader who has finally earned a place as a forward on the school soccer team. Just as the school year is about to start, her scoliosis doctor breaks awful news: The curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps Rachel in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. Worse, it changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a soccer ball, and how everyone sees her.
I highly recommend this book, as it not only promotes an awareness of scoliosis, but also raises empathy and a heightened understanding of others. The author, who wore a back brace from ages 11 to 13, delves deep into the emotional truths of middle childhood.  At a time in life when fitting in and conforming is ultra-important, Rachel’s brace makes her feel insecure, lonely, and unsure of who her real friends are. When it’s time for the seventh grade formal, Rachel isn’t sure she wants to attend. How is she supposed to dance while wearing thick plastic that feels like a turtle shell?
I love how Rachel grows and changes from a scared, insecure teen to a girl who discovers her inner strength. There are no easy answers for Rachel, and no miracle cures. But that’s what I love about BRACED. It feels real.

My rating: Five Stars. A fast-paced, emotional read with well-rounded, believable characters.