by Tracy Barrett

     I’ve published twenty middle-grade and young-adult books with Random House, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, and others. My first book came out in 1993, when self-publishing was difficult to do, expensive, and mostly looked down on as a way that clueless wannabe authors would get sub-par books printed, only to have unsold copies mildew in the writer’s garage.
      Now, of course, that has changed. Self-publishing—now usually called “indie publishing”—is less expensive and easier to do than it used to be (although doing it well still isn’t cheap, and indie publishing isn’t without new challenges), and the advent of print on demand and eBooks means you don’t have to stockpile.
      Many still look down on indie-published books, and that’s understandable. It’s possible to self-publish a dreadful story with no editing and a garish cover. Of course, plenty of traditionally-published books are bad too. But the lack of gatekeepers means that the percentage of awful books is higher among the indies than the traditionals. Still, every day there are more and more beautifully written, interesting, well-edited, and attractive indie books. A tiny fraction of them become bestsellers and a few are even made into movies.
      So when one of my manuscripts received careful consideration by several major publishers, only to be rejected for vague reasons each time, I decided to give indie publishing a whirl.
      The result is The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard, which came out in July. My target reader for this collection of little-known myths is the kid who loves Greek myths but is tired of reading the same ones over and over. The research was challenging and enjoyable, and I loved discovering stories that I thought middle-schoolers would like. Rewriting them to keep true to the originals while sounding fresh to today’s readers was great fun.
      But there are many facets to a published book. It’s not enough for it to be well written. To be successful—and for the author to be able to take pride in it—the book must also be well edited, copy edited, and designed, with an attractive cover and formatting. It has to be made available to readers and promoted effectively.
      I’m a professional in only one of those areas: writing. I used to copy edit, but I know better than to copy edit my own work, and similarly, I’m not about to trust my own judgment of my writing. My very editorial agent had made me go through several revisions before she submitted it, and then, as I said, it received positive attention at some good houses. So I was comfortable that I wasn’t deluding myself about its quality. But what to do about the rest of the book-production process?
      Fortunately, my agent, Lara Perkins, came to the rescue. Her agency (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) was one of the pioneers of “agency-assisted self-publishing,” and she steered me to a copy editor, a cover artist, a designer, and a formatter, who all did stellar jobs. She also handled getting the ISBN, dealing with Amazon, and lots of other aspects of publication, some of which are ongoing. I found a publicist on my own, after getting Lara’s input.
      What’s in it for Lara? She collects her standard commission after I’ve earned back what I spent on everything but the publicist and other expenses I’ve run into after publication. (This is another reason I was confident that this was a marketable project; Lara’s not about to spend all that time on a book that she didn’t think would sell!)
      I had complete control over every step. Lara presented me with options for each of the services she helped me find, and I consulted directly with Joe Cepeda, the brilliant illustrator who did the cover. For this reason, I’m not going to say how much all this cost—you can spend a lot less than I did, or a lot more. Expect to go into four figures, up to five, for high-quality work.
      Is this expensive? Yes, it is. But it’s a business, just as a KFC franchise is a business. And considering that a KFC franchise costs between $1,250,000 and $2,530,000, I feel like my much, much smaller investment was money well spent.
      One of my added expenses was getting a review from Kirkus Reviews. You have to pay for their review of an indie book, but this doesn’t guarantee it will be a favorable one. They allow you to choose whether or not to publish their opinion, and rumor says that at least 90% of the time, the author chooses not to do so—Kirkus is notoriously tough! This was another financial risk, but it paid off: While I was writing this post, Orpheus received a glowing review!

Tracy's fave work spot - notice the light bulb.

City of Literature

On the last Tuesday of every month the Edinburgh City of Literature holds a Literary Salon at The Wash Bar. This is a pub at the top of the mound - above the National Museum of Scotland. Inside, the ceiling is low and it fills quickly with dozens of local writers, published and pre-published, as they gather to talk craft. Announcements are made about upcoming literary events (here was last night),
and wine is generously poured. Our friend and local photographer, Chris Scott, records the events, but this time I got his picture.
      Most of the attendees are poets or writers of adult literature, so I love it when I find fellow children's book fans - which I do. They are quickly becoming friends.
      I have never lived somewhere so supportive of the creative arts. It is such a pleasure to participate in this event, hosted by the awesome Eleanor Pender, and others around town. Truly, being able to visit museums for free, meet up with various interest groups for free, and embrace the local writing community in this way is an amazing benefit of living in Edinburgh.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Hobbit Ewok

     This thank you card was for one of the interns who helped us out at Hollins University this past summer. She struck me as somebody who was into Star Wars and maybe The Hobbit too - so out came this Ewok Hobbit. Strange? What do you think the key is all about? Hmmm.
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

It's Banned Books Week!

And this year's focus is on Celebrating Diversity. Click the banner to learn more about BBW, read articles about why diverse books are commonly banned, and find some titles that some people would rather you didn't read - and go read them!

Saturday Sunrise

I woke up a little early Saturday - or maybe the days are indeed getting shorter here. At any rate, I was so glad to capture this out our flat window:

VIDEO: They All Saw A Cat

I love this book, THEY ALL SAW A CAT by Brendan Wenzel. Check out the trailer on YouTube by clicking the image below.

A normal Friday at Uni...??

Friday wrapped up our first week back to Uni in absolute chaotic style. The morning began on the east side of town at the Minto House on Chambers Street. I haven't figured out the best path between Minto House and my studio in the Evolution House yet - although the southern-most path goes by the Brazilian Crepe Stand, Tupiniquim, one of my fave places to eat lunch in Edinburgh, so I imagine I'll be going that direction a lot. And it's flatter - that's a big deal here. Direct paths aren't always the best paths to take in this city as you can end up going UP and DOWN and UP!
Anyhow, MFA 2nd-year students (MFA2s) have Context (the academic/writerly portion of our studies) in a tighter setting than last year's lecture theatre. I know almost everybody in my group now, and we'll get loads done on our dissertations, which occur this semester. (In the UK you write a dissertation for your Masters and a Thesis for your PhD - it's opposite in the states.) My theme is "Comparing and Contrasting the US Caldecott and UK Greenaway Award-winning Picture Books to Identify Trends, Similarities and Differences Between the US and UK Markets." Wish me luck!
     After our Context meeting, I had a meeting with my personal tutor back at the main Art building. My tutor works in Fashion Design, which gave me all sorts of fun ideas for my Exit Show, which will happen this coming May.
     I then had my one-on-one with Jonathan Gibbs, head of our illustration department. He was extremely helpful guiding my direction for the upcoming semester.
     Then it was back to the Minto House for our breakout groups - called Seminar. (In the future, I'll use this in-between gap time to go to the main campus library and write.)
     Then back again to Evolution House for our semester kick-off project called EIEIO. All illustration students - undergrads and postgrads were broken into groups and given a nursery rhyme to dramatize in some creative way (leaving the audience to guess which nursery rhyme you had). My group was assigned "The Little Nut Tree." I wasn't familiar with this one, but apparently it was a political satire based on Catherine of Aragon, who originally married Henry VIII's brother Arthur, who proved to be infertile, so she became the first wife of King Henry VIII and Queen of England. Ironically, there were two Americans in my group. Our third member (English) came up with the idea to adapt the tale to American politics. This is what happened as a result:
We reworded the poem a bit. Instead of giving a golden pear and a silver nutmeg to the princess, as the rhyme states, the "prince" now gave a golden elephant and silver donkey to the "princess." OMG.
     The whole point of the project is to become familiar with the studio spaces and make friends, and that certainly happened! Turns out Harriet plays guitar. We went to lunch the other day at Hula Juice bar, then stopped by Red Dog music and jammed on their guitars for a bit - FUN!
     But my day wasn't over yet!
     Blackwell's Books hosted an amazing event that pretty much every kidlit fan in Edinburgh attended - An Evening with Oliver Jeffers, Sam Winston & Eoin Colfer (CLICK HERE to read more about it). Of course, that meant heading back over to Chambers Street again - seriously! A bunch of us met up at Revolution Bar to grab a snack before-hand, then head to the event hosted by our illustrious and dear Vivian French.
Hazel Terry did a nice write up of the event - CLICK HERE to read. I was pretty tired, must admit. Needless to say, when I finally got home, I went straight to bed!

Friday Links List - 23 September 2016

From GalleyCat: All About Roald Dahl: INFOGRAPHIC

From Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Chris Raschka (and Vera B. Williams') HOME AT LAST. I met Vera when she spoke at Kindling Words. By the end, I gave her a big hug and rubbed her back. I told her I was checking for wings. She truly was an angel.

From Writer unboxed: The Power of Myth in Fiction - about the false stories we believe - really interesting!

From The New Yorker: Cartoons about children's books - like this one:
Gawk over this beautiful work by

From The Blabbermouth Blog: Guest Post Regarding Writing: Matt Bird & The Secrets of Story

From Flashbak: Why Charles M. Schulz Gave Peanuts A Black Character (1968)

Monika Schröder's BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD

When asked to blurb BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD by Monika Schröder, I said, "This story of loss and healing introduces us to bird-loving Wren, who turns out to be stronger than she knows as she finds her path back from grief. She learns that that there is no straight path to healing, and that it’s okay to honor good memories while growing from bad ones. Wren’s sense of self and ingenuity will inspire readers to find hope and opportunity right alongside this gutsy main character." I'm thrilled to have Monika here today to talk about her book herself!

by Monika Schröder

      Thank you for inviting me to your blog and for giving me the opportunity to share a bit about the process of writing BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD.
     BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD is the emotional, realistic fiction story of 12-year old Wren who is heart-broken after loosing her father in an airplane crash. Wren's father always told her to be "light like a bird, not like a feather" — to control her own destiny, to make her own choices. But Wren is adrift after her father dies and her mother acts distant and angry. Over the course of the story Wren needs to heal and grow, and when she finally learns the reason for her mother's behaviour, they both have to learn to forgive.
     In early drafts of the book the focus was on Wren's trouble being the new girl in school and her fight to save the bird sanctuary. Over many revisions I felt that I hadn't reached the core of who she was and what was hurting her. But I didn't know how to fix it and left the manuscript in the drawer for a long time. And then I suddenly knew who Wren was: her father had died and her mother had dragged her to northern Michigan. From there I rebuilt the emotional arc of the novel, focusing on the grieving and her relationship to her mother.
     It still took me a lot longer to finish BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD than my previous novels. In hindsight, I realize that one reason for a slower writing process may have been that for the first time I braided together several subplots in a book: Wren's relationship with her best friend Theo, her desire to fit in with the popular girls at school, her grief, the relationship with her mother and, finally, the school project she and Theo work on together which leads into their campaign to save a bird habitat. I am not a fast writer, and, after I had taken the original manuscript out of the drawer, more than two years went by before I had put all the scenes in the right place so that Wren's emotional arc as well as the different plot components were aligned. Only when that structure were in place, I could begin to polish and edit the text.
     Sometimes it was difficult to write about a grieving girl, but I also enjoyed getting deep into her character and describing her growth over the course of the story. I particularly enjoyed when Randle appeared. He just 'came to me' as I envisioned Wren looking for her dad's car and he became an important person, helping Wren to learn to forgive.
     Since it took so long to finish the book I experienced many moments of frustration. Like many writers in those moments I thought I could never shape this manuscript into a decent book. My poor husband had to listen to me whine frequently and repeat the question, "Will I ever finish this book?" I appreciate his patience and constant encouragement. He reminded me that time actually doesn't matter while writing a book. What matters is to get it right -- and not to loose faith.

      Monika Schröder writes novels for middle grade readers. Among her books are SARASWATI'S WAY, a story of an Indian street child and THE DOG IN THE WOOD, set in eastern Germany at the end of WWII. She grew up in Germany but has lived and worked in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, and Chile. Before moving to the US she was the elementary school librarian at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India. She now lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband and her dog. This is where she writes...

Back to Uni!

I am so excited to be back at the Uni! Fall semester - the third of four in my MFA in Illustration program here at the University of Edinburgh - has now begun. We have 26 students in the Illustration program this year - woosie! So, our desks have streamlined a bit. Here's mine:
However, out of those 26 students, only 4 of us are now MFA2 (2nd year) students. We are calling ourselves the Fabulous Four and we are definitely suffering from senioritis. Or maybe it's just a strong sense of solidarity. At any rate, we solidified our exalted status at our favorite Thai restaurant for lunch. Here we are - Boris, Nadee, Me, and Catherine. Wish us luck!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Wheelchair Reader

     The Paralympics in Rio made me realize I hadn't given you a wheelchair coloring page before. That must be remedied! Especially one popping wheelies...
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Picture Hooks Master Class

This weekend I participated in the 2nd Picture Hooks Master Class for 2016. This time Sara Ogilvie taught us about picture books. I was often asked why I was there since I've already been published, but I never stop learning. And especially now, as a student, I am going through a complete reboot/rebirth/reinspiration time. Honestly, I should be like this all the time - eager to try new things and producing at remarkable rates. Being a student has turned me on! And this class was no exception. Here was our work area - a studio in the Edinburgh Portrait Gallery at the top of my hill.
     Sarah walked us through her path to publication, and working with art directors, and the journey through several of HER BOOKS. Since I'm not familiar with the UK market and how things work here - I learned A TON from her!!!!
     On Saturday, she had us do a really fun activity... She passed out slips of paper that had emotions on them. Each person had a turn at selecting an emotion and creating a pose for the rest of us to draw for one minute. Here were some of mine:
Then we each chose a plastic animal to draw in those poses. I got the tiger.
My fave was the Sleepy pose.
This exercise prepared me wonderfully for the story boarding we did on Sunday. We could either work with our new characters, or on an existing project. I chose a project-in-progress with ducks. I truly believe her exercise helped me stretch how I handled the storyboard, and I hope to do a line of 'mood sketches' from now on before I start storyboards. Such a good idea!
     Sara was fantastic and amazingly generous. She encouraged us to bring in personal works to share on Sunday for feedback, which I did. Her gentle steering was so encouraging and so helpful. Truly, it was an amazing workshop.
     What's also wonderful is the sense of camaraderie that is developing between the students who have been attending these master classes. Many are working illustrators and art teachers. Many are trying to reboot careers. Needless to say, the talent is amazing and inspiring in itself to be around. I learn as much from my classmates as I did from Sara! For instance, Hazel did cut-paper bats. Here I am with Sara, Hazel, and Hazel's bats.
Catherine worked with stencils, cut paper, and textured painting.
Astrid, who is one of our Illustration tutors at the College of Art worked on multi-media awesomeness. As she said, she was eager to get messy!
We're becoming a lovely tight group. Here I am with Hannah and Anka.
And then, of course, there was Vivian, who has been an amazing mentor to me here at the Uni.

     I can't wait for the next event in December!

VIDEO: David Lynch on Creativity

I love this animation created to accompany David Lynch's ideas on creativity. Click the image to watch on Facebook.

General Edinburgh Awesomeness

Surely it's not possible that I've begun to take all the awesomeness that is Edinburgh for granted? Or perhaps I just don't have enough hours to write about all the tiny magical things that happen here. Like going to listen to our friend Amandine sing in a choral group at the Edinburgh School of Art Sculpture Court.

Or meeting up with fellow illustrators, Catherine and Jeanne for a small critique group at Waterstones on Princes Street - with the best view of the castle in the background.

Or finally meeting Debbi Michiko Florence in person after a decade of emailing back and forth.

Or catching a sunbeam with Stan at The Olive Branch, to send a Happy Birthday wine glass *clink* to a friend in hospital.
Life here is full of little miracles and I'm so grateful for all of them!


I met Leonard Marcus years ago at the Decatur Book Festival and we've been friends ever since. I'm also a fan. Not only did he curate the wonderful picture book exhibit at the New York Public Library, "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter." (which I was lucky enough to see and blogged about here), but he is a renowned scholar in the field of children's books. His latest endeavor is sure to be the new bible for graphic novels...

by Leonard Marcus

      Some time around 2005 I heard a talk given by a librarian about how his library was struggling over what to do about “graphic novels”—whether to purchase them and if so where to put them. I was intrigued. By then I was well aware of the long-standing opposition of American librarians to old-style comic books, which many librarians going back to the 1930s regarded as sub-literary, and which some thought morally or psychologically harmful to young people. I began nosing around. The first graphic novel I read was Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and I found it to be one of the most powerful books I had ever read. In fact I cried when I got to the end. Then when First Second Books came along with graphic novels ear-marked for young readers, I began to pay close attention to their lists. One of the next comics-formatted books I read was Alan’s War by Emanuel Guilbert—a dramatization of one G.I.’s experiences of the Second World War. Next I discovered the funny, bittersweet work of Sara Varon. I kept on going from there.
      I realized that comics were another compelling way to tell stories—both true stories and fictional ones. The best comics feel to me like a cross between a traditional print narrative and a film. When I read a graphic novel now I have almost the sensation of being at the movies, with the text pared down in the same way the captions are in a foreign film, and with images aimed not just at depicting the action but also at setting a particular tone, rhythm, and point of view. Also, for “reluctant readers,” comics have proven to be a gateway to reading generally. How great—and valuable—is that?
      Once I decided to do the book that became Comics Confidential, I immersed myself both in the work and life stories of each author/artist I wanted to interview. After a while, questions always present themselves. I think of an interview as an “encounter”—a sort of meeting of minds—and I try to keep the conversation from feeling too one-sided. I am always on the lookout for any thread that connects the storyteller to the story. My favorite moments are those when the person I am speaking with says, “I never thought of that.” Conversation is usually messy. I don’t ever want to lose that quality altogether but I always edit a transcript enough to give an overarching clarity to what was said.
      People in general surprise me, which is one reason I like doing interviews so much. Gene Luen Yang surprised me when he said that he did not consider himself a particularly strong draftsman--but then B.B. King did not think all that much of himself as a guitarist. I was amazed (though not surprised) by the extraordinary depth of knowledge that Harry Bliss, Geoffrey Hayes, and others have of the comics tradition. I found it fascinating—and surprising—that Catia Chien came to art via a serious interest in entomology and that Matt Phelan taught himself to draw. I was delighted to learn from Hope Larson that after finishing her graphic novelization of A Wrinkle in Time her idea of a good break was to enroll in a class in “ice-cream school.” I am pretty sure that Madeleine L’Engle would have approved.
      One of the best things about how the comics genre has grown is that it offers so much variety now—something for almost every taste and temperament. Readers who enjoy biography might want to try Feynmann, by Jim Ottaviani; illustrated by Leland Myrick; or (as mentioned earlier) Alan’s War. Fans of Harriet the Spy would enjoy Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer and Skim. Sara Varon’s Bake Sale is goofy and poignant—an unexpected combination. For newly independent readers, Geoffrey Hayes’ “Benny and Penny” books are total charmers—and models of fine drawing and composition. The list goes on …Who can resist? Not me.
Leonard at his desk...

And Leonard with some publishers recently in Beijing.

Riding of the Marches

We went to a Bespoke party hosted by the restaurant Angels With Bagpipes the other night. It was to kick off their new catering service and it was an absolute blast.
     The next day it occurred to me that their main restaurant was positioned perfectly to view the Riding of the Marches parade.
So, Sunday, Stan and I walked the 15 or so minutes from our flat to get to the Royal Mile. The road was already blocked off for the parade and crowds lined each side. Amazingly, there was a free table outside at the restaurant, just as I'd hoped, and we truly couldn't have asked for a better spot to enjoy this under-advertised event. Per the Edinburgh website, "The Riding of the Marches commemorates the tradition of inspecting the city’s boundaries and re-enacts the Captain of the Trained Band's return to the city with news of defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. After the Union of Parliaments in 1707 the annual inspection ceased until 1946 when a ride was held to celebrate peace after the Second World War. It returned in 2009 and since then has become a popular family event in Edinburgh, attracting hundreds of riders each year. CLICK HERE to see more."
It began with some very important looking people carrying flags. They were followed by the brass band.
And behind them came the bagpipe players.
Here's a quick video (click the image to watch on YouTube)...
Finally, it was time for the horses - all 250 of them! Each district/territory had their own uniforms, like the riding hats with the pink pom-poms.
Truly, it was an amazing view seeing horses all the way down the Royal Mile.
I tried to get you a nice video of the parade and the view. Click the image to watch on YouTube.
It continues to amaze me - the awesome things that happen here in Edinburgh. How lucky we feel to be a part of all this!

CLICK HERE to read more about the event.