Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, August 18, 2014


   Today, I'd like to welcome author and publisher, Shirin Yim Bridges, to the KidLit Rambles blog. Shirin is an award-winning children's author (Ruby's Wish, Chronicle Books, 2002; The Umbrella Queen, Greenwillow Books, 2008; Mary Wrightly, So Politely, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) publisher of Goosebottom Books, and one of the judges of the 2014 Redwood Writers Club's Writing Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction contest. In this interview, Shirin shares the pros and cons of being a small, independent press, the motivation behind her leap of faith from author to publisher, common manuscript submission mistakes to avoid, and her tips for marketing and promotion.

You began your publishing career as an author. How did you decide to take on the challenges of becoming a publisher?

It all began with my nieces, who’d disappeared into a pink fog of Disney princesses. I wanted them to know that there were real princesses who didn’t sit around waiting for a prince. So I started to write a series of nonfiction books—which I ended up calling The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses—and I sent the first manuscript in to Samantha McFerrin, who was the editorial assistant on Ruby’s Wish, and at that time my
editor on Mary Wrightly So Politely over at Harcourt, and who is now, ironically, the Executive Editor of Disney. But the more I thought about it, the more control I wanted over these books. You normally get next to zero control over design and art direction as a picture book writer, and I was used to controlling the last detail as a creative director. Plus, I was looking for a career change. The tipping point came when I spoke to Amy Novesky, my editor on Ruby’s Wish, who had left Chronicle and gone to set up on her own. I said, “I’m thinking of becoming a publisher,” and instead of saying “you’re crazy,” she said, “I’ll help.”

Tell us a little bit about Goosebottom Books.

Goosebottom Books is dedicated to fun nonfiction—or with our latest series, fiction that has a nonfiction soul. We started with the Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, which won an IPPY medal, and then brought out the Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames, which was named a Top 10 Nonfiction Series for Youth by Booklist and the American Library Association. We also published the first book in the U.S. to use mobile augmented reality, Horrible Hauntings. Basically, you download a free app and when you look at the illustrations in our book, you see 3D ghosts appear. The amazing thing is that they’re interactive. You really have to see it to believe it. That book picked up a few awards and made the coveted Children’s Choices list.

All those books are solidly nonfiction. But this fall, we’re launching A Treasury of Glorious Goddesses which are written as faux autobiographies. So that’s definitely fiction. However, the books, Call Me Isis, Call Me Athena, and Call Me Ixchel, all have nonfiction hearts, because they are based on established mythology. We also provide a nonfiction back section, to furnish cultural, geographical, and historical context. 

What inspired you to start your new fiction imprint, Gosling Press?

Over the last few years I’ve been seeing too much great fiction to not want to publish some of it. So, I’ve set up a new imprint, Gosling Press, to handle fiction without diluting Goosebottom Books’ clarity of purpose. Gosling will be launching its first title in Spring 2015, a very special book called Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi of One and Zero fame, and co-author Bret Baumgarten. We’ve already received our first backorder!

What is the hardest thing and the most rewarding about being a small, independent press?

The most difficult thing, quite frankly, is to make any money. In addition to writing and publishing, I teach. Whenever I show my students where the money in the price of a book goes, everybody descends into a stunned and depressed silence. Nearly none of the sales price comes to the author or publisher. It’s a very tough game. 

For me, the most rewarding thing about being a publisher is how creative it is. I brought these books into the world—they were conceived and executed to my vision. To pull it off, I had to wear a hundred hats, including the janitor’s hat, and the sheltered workshop hat, licking envelopes and assembling hundreds of mailing packages. I love that! I love the variety, and the challenge, and the hard work. I love the very fuzzy boundary between my job and my life. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like who I am.

When you receive manuscript submissions from other writers, do you tend to read them with your author eye or your publisher eye?

I read them with a publisher’s eye—which is an editor’s eye plus a marketing eye at once. The annoying thing is that when I read for pleasure now, I seem not to be able to turn off that filter. I’m forever being distracted by typos.

What are some of the common mistakes you see writers make in their submissions?

They don’t know whom they’re submitting to. They send me manuscripts that are so far from what we publish—I got a memoir about pole dancing once! One glance at our website should have told you that pole dancing wouldn’t work for us.

The other mistake is that some authors get rude and impatient for an answer. This despite us sending receipt confirmations for all submissions we get, saying that their submission will be filed and we will be in touch if an opportunity arises. This means, in the nicest way, don’t call us; we’ll call you. But I still get angry emails from writers saying I submitted a month ago and it would only take you ten minutes to respond. Those writers, a) can’t do math and figure out that ten minutes per submission would sink my day; b) don’t understand independent publishing and how many other things I could put those ten minutes to better use for—weeding negative people out of my writers files, for example.

What advice would you give writers on making their submissions stand out?

Be professional. Be someone who understands my business, who understands what I might want that you can provide. As they used to say in advertising, identify the need, the pain point. Become the solution. 

And then, write well. Independent publishers are all in this because we love books and writing. We are easily seduced by great words.

Nowadays, authors have to do a lot of promotion and marketing themselves. What
marketing/promotion tips can you give authors?

My advice is going to sound awfully zen. Everything there is to say about building an author’s platform, etc., etc., has already been said. You can find how-to tips galore on the internet. My advice is whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy it. Don’t turn the privilege of being an author into a marketing chore. 

For example, I know authors who pack their calendars with school events and then don’t enjoy them because they’re over-stressed and over-tired. All that time spent not enjoying something? That’s life slipping away.

You also teach creative writing. Tell us about your current or upcoming writing classes.

I am leading a middle grade workshop through summer, and teaching a five-week picture book writing course for the Writing Salon that starts this Sunday, Aug. 24.  On September 27, I’m giving a one-day intensive on Digital First, a new phenomenon in publishing, at Stanford University. Then in October, I’ll start a 9-week middle grade and young adult course, again at the Writing Salon.

Where can people find out more about the classes you offer?
Follow my blog! It’s goosetracks.me. I regularly post musings on the writing and publishing life, and an updated list of my teaching and speaking engagements.

Thank you, Shirin, for your helpful insights into the writing and publishing life from an author's and a publisher's perspective.

If you live in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Marin, Humboldt, Solano, and Napa Counties, you can enter the Redwood Writers Club's Writing Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction contest here.

What are your experiences and tips for submitting to publishers?

Sunday, August 3, 2014


   Interesting documentary on JK Rowling that covers her final touches on the Deathly Hallows, the crazy frenzy the launch of the book created, and a bit about her life and childhood before she became famous. I've always thought she has had such an amazing writing journey.