Special Interview with Cybils Awards' co-founder Anne Boles Levy and Meet Kristine Brogno from Chronicle Books!!
From Mira: Last week, I had the good fortune to meet Anne Boles Levy, co-founder of the Cybils Awards at the KidLit Con conference here in sunny Sacramento. KidLit Con is a conference for children's book bloggers and it was really cool and very inspiring on many levels. I'll definitely be doing my best to attend next year and if I can I'll also seriously be considering if I can be one of the judges for next years Cybils (the judging applications happen in August). I was excited to attend the conference because of the focus on diversity and because some of my mates were going to be there. And then I met all these cool people there including Anne. So I decided to aks for an interview (as many good bloggers do). Here goes:
Anne, while it's clear that aspiring authors and illustrators need to participate in social media to help build their author illustrator platforms, what happens after you get published?
As most new authors quickly discover, you're left to your own devices for publicity, whether you're self-published or not. How do you get yourself and your book out there to be seen and read and discovered? The Cybils Awards can't be the main part of your publicity plans, but there are things we can do to help.
First, check out our lists of judges. We recruit book bloggers to come and judge our contest every fall, but the rest of the year, they're reading books and writing about them. Rummage around Cybils.com and you'll find our rosters by age range and genre. If you wrote a picture book, for example, there is a list of bloggers who review or write about them -- and it includes each person's blog and twitter handle. Most have their review guidelines and contact info posted on their blogs. The rest is up to you.
Second, our nomination season is open right now, this second. We take nominations from the public from Oct. 1-15 every year, followed by a one-week grace period for authors to nominate themselves. If your book came out this year, consider nominating yourself after Oct. 15. Note that not all genres take self-published books -- double check to make sure.
What are the kinds of books that rise to the surface in book awards?
I can't speak for other awards, but at Cybils, we look for both literary merit and "kid appeal". What does that even mean? Well, it should first and foremost be a story that children will grab off a shelf and love to death, or something a teen would read, unprompted, again and again. Such stories usually begin and end with characters that are richly described, three-dimensional, and jump off the page and into a reader's heart. The plot has to feel organic to the character's growth, and we strongly favor theme over subtext.
What's the difference? After all, aren't both about central lessons and universal truths? Think of theme as a gentle current that doesn't hinder the course of the story, but is forever gliding just beneath the surface, waiting for you to dive a little deeper in to explore. It's implied, not explicit.
Subtext is a hammer, a not-so-hidden agenda that bludgeons you with An Important Lesson. So-called message books really rub us the wrong way. Parents of young kids don't need you to second-guess how they're raising them, and teens can spot a lecture in any form -- and so can our judges. Leave the sermons in church, pretty please!
There are other things we look for too, such as whether art and story in picture books and graphic novels work harmoniously together, and if the story is something we haven't seen 1,000 times before.
How did you come to found the Cybils?
Well, like many great innovations, it happened by accident. A blogger friend complained about how some awards were very snooty and kids would never actually read the winners. Meanwhile, other awards were based solely on popular vote or sales, neither of which seemed a guarantor of quality. I joked in a comment we should start our own awards and combine both ideas -- merit and popularity. Within hours, my email was full with people wanting to volunteer, and within days, we had a name, a blog, and the first judges and book nominations. That was in 2006, and we keep coming back every year for more.
I do feel that it's still the most accessible book awards and also the most transparent. Our nominations are open to the public, we publicize judges' names in advance, we list our criteria, we post reviews of nominated books as the season progresses, and we post the final count of how many books actually got read versus how many were nominated. It's typically around 98 or 99 percent, with only a small number of self-published books going unread if we can't obtain a copy.
Plus, we're nice, and we love books and kids, and we like hearing from folks who feel the same way.
Why is it so important to nominate diverse books?
I'm going to take a different tack than you may have heard or read before. Imagine going into a grocery store and there is only white bread and mayonnaise for sale. That's it! Everybody's on the white bread/mayo diet. You go to the manager to say you want bagels and lox, and he tells you that not as many people buy that. Most people like white bread and mayo, so that's what he's offering. Don't like it? Go bake your own.
That's kind of what’s happening in book publishing right now. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, indicating a massive, untapped market for such books. But the reply has been "such books don't sell." Since when is the free market been solely driven by the supply side of the equation? There is a demand, and let's keep demanding. We can show publishers that there is a profit to be made, and a good way to do that is to showcase diverse books that can compete in a major literary awards and win.
Thank you Anne Boles Levy. I can see how participating can be super helpful for our community and society at large as well as for those who are building their author/illustrator social media platforms. You can find out more about the Cybils Awards right here http://www.cybils.com/ Book nominations are happening right now, so if there are any books that you believe in, please nominate them now. http://www.cybils.com/
Mira Reisberg is the Director and founding instructor of the Children's Book Academy. She has been involved in the children's book industry since early 1988 illustrating and contributing writing to some of the first multicultural children's picture books. Over the years she has taught many now successful children's book writers and illustrators. Starting November 3rd, she will be co-teaching the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books with Chronicle Books' Design Director and Art Director extraordinaire for fearful beginning artists, multi-published illustrators, and adventurous writers. For more information, click here. Meet Kristine below.
10/15/2014 12:50:42 pm
I know a book I want to nominate! I feel like a dunce that this is the first I'm realizing we can do this. Thanks.
10/29/2014 06:08:55 am
Nominate that book Johnell! No dunce hats here, everyone learns something new everyday :)
10/15/2014 01:10:13 pm
Thanks, Mira for this interview. I learned how the Cybils are different from other awards and found it so interesting to learn how the Cybils Awards were created!
10/29/2014 06:09:56 am
Glad you enjoyed it, tell everyone you know about these awards! We need as much support as we can get for diverse books!
10/29/2014 06:10:46 am
They sure are! Kristine is a joy to work with and a fountain of knowledge!
10/15/2014 01:30:45 pm
I find your blog posts very educational and entertaining. I am new to the business of writing for children and eager to learn the business from every angle. Just reading your posts helps me learn a little bit at a time and I feel like I am quickly getting a good foundation to build upon. Thank you for consistently great information!
10/29/2014 06:11:57 am
Dianne, that's the reason we all work so hard to bring you this information, whatever benefits we can bring to people it makes us happy!
10/15/2014 01:49:31 pm
Mira, I keep forgetting about you doing this on Monday's! I found this week's interview with Anne Boles Levy very informational. I had no clue there was even a Cybils Award or what it meant. I'm most definitely going to check this out. I'm interested in reading bloggers of picture books. What a great gateway of knowledge! I enjoyed your chat with Kristine Brogno, too. She's excited to begin an adventure with you! :)
10/29/2014 06:14:55 am
Awww, Debbie, you're gonna make me cry. Thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate them. I'll continue to do these for as long as people benefit from them :)
Maria Reina Mariana Fay
10/15/2014 01:52:01 pm
I so appreciate Anne Boles Levy's outlook on theme versus subtext. It's comforting to know that you don't need a hammer to tell a story. Her explanation of diversity is so on point. I think the "what sells" mentality has inundated our society to the point of mediocrity. I'm with her~not interested in mayo and white bread...And thank you Anne, for mentioning that you are nice, a wonderful quality that I applaud! Lovely interview, Mira. As usual a little gem. Thank you both!
10/29/2014 06:16:22 am
Bagels and Lox forever! The next course is going to be amazing. I'm so excited!
10/15/2014 03:47:21 pm
Wow--great to hear about the Cybils. I'm rather surprised I didn't know about them before. I'm a children's librarian as well as a writer, so this is great info.
10/29/2014 06:17:18 am
I'm so glad we brought this information to you! Tell everyone in your Library about these awards! We need more word of mouth :) Thank you Ann.
10/15/2014 04:32:27 pm
I have heard of the Cybils, but didn't know anything about them. Now I am in the know and will share with others. Thanks for this article and "meeting" Kristine from Chronicle
10/29/2014 06:18:01 am
Nicole, as always, thank you for being so wonderful. And I hope you loved Kristine as much as I do.
10/16/2014 01:34:23 am
I loved reading this and learning about the Cybils. I wasn't aware of the award. Maybe some of the bloggers might want to mention the award??? so more people will be aware. Out of curiosity, how was the name chosen? Does Cybils stand for something?
10/16/2014 02:47:18 am
I very much enjoyed your Anne Boles Levy interview. I'd never heard of the Cybils Awards before, but totally believe they are needed. I agree with Ms. Levy that often other big-name children's book awards go to more literary works than "popular" books children love. I'm glad the Cybils Awards combines both kinds of books in their presentations.
10/29/2014 06:20:07 am
Hopefully some other bloggers do! The Cybils need all the attention they can get! I'm actually not sure how the name was chosen...Maybe someone else who knows can chime in??
10/16/2014 02:53:26 am
Wow! This was super helpful. I'll be keeping my eye on the Cybils. Thank you for this wonderful interview and post!
10/16/2014 10:02:07 am
Amazing post. Such great information in this interview. Thanks so much for these blog posts, Mira. Comments or not, they are very helpful and I'm sure many people are reading your posts.
10/29/2014 06:24:34 am
Thanks for the reassurance Angela :)
10/16/2014 10:55:32 am
Mira, what wonderful interviews you share with us! I am constantly amazed by the wealth of information that you offer, and I am still trying to process everything from the last class!! The Cybils Awards sound awesome; that was entirely new to me, and the the little intro put out by you and Kristine made me smile. Your excitement is contagious!! Thank you!!
10/29/2014 06:25:26 am
So glad to be a help Nancy, one drop of knowledge at a time, it will all settle in. And yes, Kristine is a joy to have on board. :)
10/16/2014 11:36:05 am
Thanks for the fantastic interview! I know a couple Cybil's Awards judges and they are thrilled to be reading so many great books!
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We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break