Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meet Sharon Verbeten - Rate Your Story Judge

Welcome, welcome!  It's a record-breaking day in Wisconsin (81 degrees in March is unheard of...) and along with it I welcome one of the Rate Your Story judges who happens to be the children's librarian in my city.  And what an honor to have such a grammar-loving editor hosting storytime with our children...she's building a great foundation in our kids. Without further ado, I welcome:

Author and Editor Sharon Verbeten!

Sharon Verbeten is a writer, author, editor, creative thinker, mentor, children's librarian and, not least of all, mom. An editor/journalist for more than 25 years, she is currently the owner/editorial director of her freelance writing/editing company All Write Creative Services in De Pere, Wis. She writes non-fiction magazine articles, primarily for national trade publications (in fields as interesting and diverse as library science, funeral service and waste management). She is the author of The Best of Barbie (2001, Krause Publications) and contributor to several other books on toys and antiques. And, oh yeah, she also is mom to a very active, very social 5-year-old daughter. 

Miranda: Welcome, Sharon!  You're portfolio is so impressive.  As a writer, you're a stellar example of breaking into big markets. And, on the editor side of reject or accept submissions all the time.  Tell us what makes writing publishable or rejection worthy?

Sharon: As a writer and editor, I've been on both sides of the writing game. This has proven extremely valuable to me as a writer because I can understand both sides of a transaction. Here are several cardinal rules that will, in my opinion, always make me reject (or not even read further) a submission.
    a. Not proofreading a cover letter or submission. Errors tell me you don't care enough about your own writing to perfect it. If you don't care, why should I?
    b. Submitting tired or cliche submissions. To be a good writer, write. To be a great writer, read. It's quite true. The more you read, the more you will be exposed to other types of writing and other ways to say things. But it will also help you be more original and not submit the same thing that's already been done. 
Miranda:  Great advice.  So, we want the reader to care and we want to show the overworked editor something original.  Now, let's take off your editor's hat and talk to you as a children's librarian, since we've got a lot of children's story submissions lately -- can you tell us what makes a story ideal for young audiences?

Sharon:  Well, as someone who is aspiring to write a children's book, I hope I can nail that one down soon! Seriously, as a children's librarian, anything can be engaging to a young audience--it's all the carefully chosen text and often in the accompanying illustrations. But even oral storytelling without images or props can be compelling if done correctly. I think too often, people think that children's books are simple because they don't use a lot of words or they don't have many pages. On the contrary--that's exactly why they are so tough to write, because it's really hard to tell a great story in so few, carefully selected words. Of course, throwing the word "butt" or "underwear" in there never seems to hurt either! :)
Miranda:  I find that works too.  My son is currently in love with Meet Jack Truck because Max jumps over old toilets and says "Look, I'm a pottyhead!"  But...that brings up the point that some of those things might be overdone or overused.  You must see it everyday as a librarian at a pretty sizeable children's library.  Do you find that there are devices or topics overused in children's lit?

Sharon:  Well, everyone thinks they can rhyme like Dr. Seuss, so I'm not a big fan of rhyming text--nothing seems to measure up to the master. I also cringe at books that tend to be too overly didactic--picture books can tell messages and teach lessons--albeit subtly. And I've never been impressed by most of the children's books written by "celebrities." Authors often can't act, and vice versa. 
Miranda:  Well said.  So, what are your favorite children's books?
Sharon:  From my childhood, I remember Little Golden Books and getting very excited every time we'd go to the store--I'd beg my mom for a new fresh one with the golden foil spine. My favorites were Mister Dog and The Color Kittens, still around today. Today, I wouldn't call them exactly "literature," but that didn't matter--what mattered was they drew me in and made me a reader. Today, I'm a bit more discerning when I read children's books. My favorite children's author remains Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, etc.), and newer picture book author Mo Willems is my current favorite. In terms of children's fiction, I love Neil Gaiman and Kate DiCamillo.

Miranda: Thanks for sharing.  And, since you attend national conferences every year and do a lot of book reviews, I bet you rub elbows with some of these celeb. authors and illustrators.  True?  Who have you met?

Sharon:  Several years ago, I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum to do a feature on the art of children's book author/illustrator Lois Ehlert; she met me at the museum for the interview and was delightful and then invited me to her home studio across the street. She was most generous and warm in sharing her personal work and stories. Her books and her collage style artwork are perennial favorites of mine. And, as editor of Children and Libraries magazine, I get to meet many authors at the American Library Association conventions each year. My most touching meeting was this past January meeting Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter--a novel that features a child with Down syndrome. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I thanked her for her brave and authentic story, and I teared up as she signed a copy of the book for my daughter, Holland. I love meeting authors--in my experience, they have always been warm and down-to-earth. 

Miranda:  Lovely!  So...if any of our readers who are freelance writers plan on submitting to you for Children and Libraries or the other publications you edit...what is one piece of advice you've got for them before submitting (to you or anyone!)?

Sharon:  I'll say it again--PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD...and, with apologies to Nike, don't be afraid, JUST DO IT! 

Miranda:  Great!  Now, I better go back and proofread this transcript...eek!  Thank you so much for all you do to help bring an editor's perspective to the judging at Rate Your Story. I hope our audience will link up with your page on Facebook (All Write Creative Services) and learn more about your publications as an editor and writer.

Comments are open below -- and there's a new poll on the sidebar - what rating would you give US at Rate Your Story?  I'm going outside to play in this amazing weather and hopefully when I return, you've all commented and rated us well...Ciao!


  1. Wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing. I also love Lois Ehlert's work, and loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Your advice on submissions and stories seems right on the money. Thanks for the interview and thanks for all you do for RYS!

  2. Very nice interview and I appreciate your tips. Thank you for sharing...

  3. All I can say is awesome interview and great tips and advice!
    Thank you :)

  4. So glad to know that I am not the only one who gets a bit teary-eyed when a special book is signed for me!

    The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a wonderul book, heartily recommend it also.

    Lovely interview, thank you.

    - Cathy Mealey

  5. Thank you for a lovely interview and wonderful tips! I was so touched thinking of you having Memory Keeper's Daughter signed for your daughter. It is such a touching story. And now I'm going to take your advice and go write! (with spell check of course!)

  6. Thanks so much for the interview! I have some "not proofreading carefully enough" horror stories!! You can never emphasize that enough!


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