Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Second Star to the Right Children’s Books, Denver CO

second-star-ooks-logoHooray! A new and thriving all-children’s bookstore!  This month we’re talking with Dea Lavoie, Co-owner of Second Star to the Right Children’s Books in Denver.

MUF: We’re excited about your new store, a true children’s bookstore that includes both new and used books. What inspired you to set up shop, and how’s it going so far?second-star-front
Dea: Opening the bookstore has been a dream for a long time. I could see myself as the Meg Ryan character in the movie You’ve Got Mail! My husband and I had been teachers for around 12 years, and I knew I wanted to continue working with children. Children’s literature is amazing, and I wanted to share my love of it, and help children discover their love of it as well. It has been such a learning experience and we have been so grateful that people have embraced and encouraged us along the way. We just had our best month ever and keep continuing to grow!second-star-interior

MUF: In a small store like this, you must have room only for good books. How do you choose the titles you carry, both new and used?
Dea: Choosing the books for the shop is truly a joy. We make sure that we have the beloved favorites from way back, along with the most current titles. Fortunately we get to look at samples of new books before each order to help decide which ones we think our customers would love the most. Then you just have to decide which ones tug on your heart strings the most, or envision if you think a specific customer might enjoy the book. It ‘s a little tricky sometimes, but your intuition kicks in a lot.second-star-lilysecond-star-bfg

 MUF: As middle grade authors, we’re curious to know some titles– new and old, fiction and nonfiction– you find yourself recommending to readers ages 8-12 these days?
Dea: When I taught third grade, my students always seemed to love the Roald Dahl books, especially The BFG. The humor in the book really engaged the kids. So I do recommend those. secon-star-raymiesecond-star-wrinkleThe One and Only Ivan by Kathrine Applegate is such a poignant book about animals and friendship my students really enjoyed, and one I recommend.  Also, A Wrinkle in Time is an amazingly imaginative book that kids now appreciate as much as many years ago when it was written. Some of the newer books I recommend are Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, whom I adore, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart that tackles transgender and bipolar issues in a beautiful story, and The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill,second-star-girl-who-drank a magical middle grade fairy tale about a young girl with emerging magical powers that result from drinking moonlight.

MUF: Bug parties, dog adoptions, math tutoring, yoga lessons—tell us about some of the activities going on at Second Star on the Right. Any author visits or other events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?second-star-banned-books
Dea: Our many events and activities keep us on our toes! We have such a creative staff that includes teachers, actors, and artists. Everyone is always thinking of something new to try. We do monthly read to a dog, read with a local police officer, local dentist, storytime in Spanish or French, Baby Storytime, Parent book clubs, and birthday parties! We also have a middle grader advisory group that get to read books before they’re released. They give us opinions on what they like which books they think will sell. (They also get to keep some of the books!) We’re always looking for new members.
We frequently have author appearances. Upcoming October events include a Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcake Party at 4:00 on the 9th and  Kathleen Pelley and her new book Happy Mamas on October 15th, when we will have a Spanish translator present to translate the book into Spanish. Author Stan Yan who second-star-zombiewrote There’s a Zombie in the Basement is coming on the 16th. We also have a Pumpkin Party on the 21st and Trick or Treat Street on the 29th where Kids trick or treat through the neighborhood! We add new authors and events all the time.ssecond-star-best-bkstore

MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places to get a snack or meal afterward? And if they could spend the day or more, are there some unique family activities or sights nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Dea: We are located on Tennyson street, in northwest Denver, that features many boutiques, restaurants, and shops to explore. We are right next to Cozy Cottage, a tasty breakfast and lunch place, along with Parisi, a yummy Italian restaurant, and across from El Chingon, an authentic Mexican food restaurant. This area has many festivals going on that feature arts, crafts, and local food items, we’re also a hop, skip, and jump from the mountains which are always great for a picnic! Elitch’s is Denver’s big amusement park, and lots of fun, and so are the Aquarium, Denver Zoo, and Botanic Gardens. scond-str-welcome

MUF:  Thanks so much Dea for opening this store and for telling our readers about it.  Readers, next time you’re in Denver, be sure to visit this addition to the world of children’ books.

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011, Usborne UK 2012)


Indie Spotlight: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville NC

malaprop's logo #2Independent bookstores are undoubtedly one of the most hopeful things  going for writers and readers today.  With special pleasure this month we feature Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe ( which spoke up and pushed back pushed back in North Carolina this spring.  We are talking today with General Manager Linda-Marie Barrett.malaprop's front #1
During the recent controversy over gender laws in your state, you appealed to authors and businesses not to boycott bookstores as part of their protest. Was the response encouraging? What role do you think bookstores like Malaprops can play in shaping independent and inclusive outlooks, particularly in the young?
Linda-Marie:After our open letters to authors, published in Shelf Awareness, in which we urged authors not to boycott us, we received very encouraging and supportive letters and phone calls from authors, publishers and other booksellers. Independent bookstores like Malaprop’s Malaprop's Thanksare often the only space in communities where controversial ideas are discussed. Independent bookstores are guardians of freedom of expression. We host authors and carry books that nurture inclusivity and awareness of different ways of being in the world.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.   What do you want people, especially young people, to experience when they visit? malaprop's interior #2
Linda-Marie: We hope most to be welcoming, inspiring and safe. We want to be a place where people relax when they enter our doors, find their next great read, laugh at some of our silly gift items, and engage with our booksellers and learn something new. We love our young readers and encourage them to find books that open their minds and their hearts and spark imagination.

MUF: What’s a good day at Malaprops?
Linda-Marie: Every day is a good day, but the best day for me is when I have a conversation with a customer malaprop's languagesand learn something from them that I can apply in my own life. I love when matching readers with books that might change their lives, or at the very least, bring a smile and a lightness to their hearts.

MUF: Malaprop’s is a relatively small shop. How do you decide what titles to carry and feature at your store?
Linda-Marie: We are not small for an independent bookstore, but we are very selective about what we bring in. We purchase based on what our customers have loved in the past, what we see being favorably reviewed in media we respect, and according to our tastes, too. We carry all of the favorite books of our staff. We also look for those special books that readers won’t find anywhere else. We like to surprise and delight our customers.Malaprop's Mr. PuffballMalaprop's League of Seven

MUF: As middle -grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old and new, fiction and nonfiction, you find yourself recommending to ages 8-12 these days? Linda-Marie: I love Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo, and The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. Lombardo and Gratz are local authors whose reads have a lot of heart, humor, and imagination. Lombardo illustrated Mr. Puffball and her drawings are hilarious!

MUF: Does Malaprop’s have any activities or events coming up in July or August that would be of particular interest to middle-graders? Malaprop's Harry potter
Linda-Marie: Our big event will be the Harry Potter midnight release party. Too much fun!

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit your store, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could have lunch or snacks after shopping?
Linda-Marie: We are fortunate to be surrounded by family friendly restaurants. Great places to eat are Early Girl, Laughing Seed, Tupelo Honey, and Loretta’s.Malaprop's interior #1






Thank you for talking with us, Linda-Marie.  Readers, have you been  to Malaprop’s or think you’d like to visit?  Please add your comments.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

When Traditionally Published Authors Make the Leap to Indie Publishing

CarolI’d like you all to meet my friend and mentor, Carol Gorman. She’s the author of more than 40 books for young readers. Dork in Disguise, originally published by HarperCollins, was nominated for 10 state children’s choice awards and was the winner in 5 of those states. Her books have sold to various book fairs and audiobook companies in the U.S. and to publishers in England, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

I first met Carol when I moved from Minnesota to Iowa in 1994. She was what I wanted to be: a published author! I’d published a few magazine stories at that point, but nothing else. I could hardly believe that such an accomplished author would be interested in me. But that’s Carol!

She taught me about Three Act Structure, how to audition for and work with book packagers (which started me on my own career), what to look for in an agent, what to look for in a contract, how to put together a good school visit presentation. Much of what I know about writing and publishing, I can trace back to some conversation I had with Carol.

And now she’s set up shop as an indie publisher. I’m so impressed by all she’s learned and accomplished. So here’s a peak at what it’s like for a successful, traditionally published author to make the leap to indie publishing.

You’ve published many books with traditional publishers. What got you interested in indie publishing?

The experience with my 40 traditionally published books was very stressful for me. I’d hope and pray that an editor would like my manuscript, that I’d get a great cover, that the book would come out when it could get noticed, and that it would stay in print for a long time. So the idea of actually getting some control over these things was very appealing. I could choose and hire my editor, approve the cover art, design or approve the interior, publish the book when it would work in my life, manage my own book launch, and maybe best of all, make sure the book is available as long as I’m alive and interested!

Was it hard to learn how to do this?

Yes. I’m still a novice; I have so much more to learn! Business and sales are not in my natural skill sets. But I hooked up with online and onsite courses in Lincoln City, Oregon taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. They taught me the basics and are still teaching me, as I am ready to learn more.

What was the hardest part?

It would have been designing my cover. But I’m realistic and know that I don’t have the talent for that. I’ve seen so many covers that, frankly, look self-published: the 6 x 9-inch cover using a generic photo, no author or book blurbs on the front, amateurish copy, etc. So I’m using a smaller trim size, which is more expensive—printing costs are determined by number of pages—but looks more professional, I think. And I’m hiring artists for the cover illustration and book designs. Claudia McGehee designed the logo for my publishing company, Skylark Lane Press, and I love it. I’m also absolutely thrilled with the illustrations and designs from artist Candace Camling for my Dork novels. She’s interested in doing a lot more of my books, and I’m so happy about that!

Carol's logo

dork cover

I took an online course on interior book design with Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira which was the best course of any kind I’ve ever taken. I learned enough about InDesign that I can do my book interiors. I know that Joel Friedlander has very reasonably priced print and ebook design templates that many writers use and like. But I didn’t want to be limited to his designs.

What was the easiest?

I don’t think any part of this is easy. But I love it so far! It’s hard work and frustrating, but it’s so gratifying when the book is ready and It looks very good, and I feel confident about the story.

Were there any surprises along the way?

I can’t think of any. I knew I’d have a steep learning curve—or mountain—to climb. I think many people learn these things more easily than I do. People with business acumen, people who have design talent, people who are good at detail work, these people will grasp the minutiae more easily than I have.

Do you think you’ll return to traditional publishing?

No. I don’t want to go back to feeling so helpless. I’ve decided that I’d rather earn less money but have control over the publishing process. I do think, though, that if I learn how to do this right, I should be able to earn a very good living. I’ve started very slowly because of the strain of my husband’s 14-year battle with bone cancer and the grief of losing my sister to breast cancer last summer. It’s hard to focus and learn new things when these crucial life events take over. But over time, I’ll get more books out, I’ll know the steps to take, and I expect the process to become smoother.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for other traditionally published authors who might be considering indie publishing?

Yes. I recommend that you start your own publishing company so that the company name is listed on the copyright page. You want to be an indie publisher, not a “self-published writer.” If you have your own publishing company, it demonstrates that you’re take your writing and your business seriously. You’re going to write and put out a lot of books, not just one or two. (That said, I have to admit that Skylark Lane Press doesn’t yet have a website. That’s the next thing to tackle.) The publisher website can be a part of your website or a separate entity.

Also, take classes from Dean, Kris, and Allyson, and learn everything you can. They hold an on-site 8-day workshop once a year for experienced writers who want to become publishers of their own work. The workshops are tremendously helpful and inspiring. Dean and Kris have written best-selling novels. They’ve had a wealth of experience writing, publishing, and in distribution and promotion, and they like sharing what they’ve learned.

Thanks, Carol, for answering my questions. Please visit Carol’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series and many other books for middle grade readers. For more information visit her website or look for her on Facebook or Twitter.