Monday Interview: Poet, Children’s Book Writer & Social Media Mogul GREG PINCUS!

Hi everyone, April is School Library Month and National Poetry Month! How are you celebrating? 🙂

Today I’m hyper-supra excited to have gotten an interview out of Greg Pincus busy schedule. I first met Greg at a SCBWI conference, where he reviewed and critiqued my blog for a good, solid 30 minutes. In addition, I had the opportunity to ask him any questions I had regarding social media and children writing–like what was the most efficient way to use twitter, Facebook, etc… I went home with pages of notes Greg had compiled ahead of our meeting, that included advices about blogging and about Multiculturalism Rocks. I wrote about it here. As you will discover during this interview, Greg is one multi-talented and multi-faceted children’s book writer. Let’s dive in!

MULTICULTURALISM ROCKS: Hi Greg, a big thank you for joining us on Multiculturalism Rocks! You’re a screenwriter, a children’s book writer, a poet, a volunteer librarian and, as I’ve nicknamed you (though I found out that others call you that, too), a social media mogul. 😀

I regularly read your posts on GottaBook and The Happy Accident. The first one is all about children’s literature. The second one is focused on social media. What is a “happy accident”? I know from a good source that you’ve had quite a few of your own (hint to April 1st, 2006 and your Fib poems)….

GREG PINCUS: A “happy accident” is a little bit like a lucky break or serendipity… though I like to think we can set ourselves up for these things. In fact, if you look at the happy accident you allude to, I think it’s a good example.

On April 1, 2006, I blogged about Fibs – 20 syllable poems based on the Fibonacci sequence – and how it would be fun to spread them virally around the web for National Poetry Month. I asked everyone I could to help and did everything I could to spread the word. In the end, it happened – thousands of poems appeared on hundreds and hundreds of websites.

That end result was not in my control, though I did everything to set myself up for it. What’s interesting to me, too, is that happy accidents continued to come from the spread of Fibs, including a two book deal… for children’s novels!… with Arthur A. Levine Books. Again, this was not entirely in my control, but I worked to set myself up for it rather than relying simply on “luck.”

Social media is a great engine for happy accidents, small and large both. Connecting with others, and asking and answering questions, is a great way to get yourself set up for good things to happen. Of course, we need to recognize situations as they come, too, and be proactive in making things turn out well.

Back in 2006, I could have been content with having one huge day of traffic… but to me, it seemed like there was more possible, even if I didn’t know what. So I kept asking my network and brainstorming to come up with other possible things to do with the excitement. That’s what lead me into the New York Times and the book deal.

MR: Congratulations on the two-book deal with Arthur Levine Books! What prompted you to write for kids? What is your genre, what type of stories most appeal to you as a writer?

GP: I think I never grew up, so writing for kids was a natural! I think, too, that the type of stories that appeal to me… the ones I feel compelled to write… are the type of stories that appealed to me as a kid, so I see no reason to fight it. I tend to write funny stories (well, I think they’re funny) no matter what age I write for. I’ve written everything from thrillers to farce to dramas, though, so I don’t think about genre when I write – I focus instead on telling whatever story it is that I want to tell.

As a reader, I love funny, enjoy thrillers, seek out non-fiction, and read a lot of poetry (mostly, though not exclusively, poetry for children).

MR: Let me get this straight: You write. You blog. You Tweet. You volunteer at a school library. You attend various conferences on technology and media, as well as children’s literature. Not to mention the time devoted to your family. How do you do it all? I’m one of those who could use one or two time management tips. 😀

GP: I gave up sleep in 2003 and have found everything much more manageable since then.

Actually, what I do is prioritize and re-evaluate constantly. As an example, I initially planned to post five times a week at The Happy Accident. I realized soon that I couldn’t sustain that, so something was going to have to change somewhere. Eventually, after a few different attempts at rejiggering, I came to the conclusion that the right balance for me was two times a week at the Happy Accident. This was reached based on really thinking about my goals, the likely results, and my priorities.

I am also pretty brutal with myself in terms of time allowed on certain tasks (well, brutal when I’m having time issues. Discipline can slip when everything’s going fine!). I do my blog reading via my Google Reader, and I allot a certain amount of time each morning to read what’s waiting for me. If I don’t finish… oh well! Sure, sometimes later in the day I have 10 free minutes – not enough time to write, but enough time to accomplish something if I want – and I might pick up the reading then. Or I might update Facebook or read posts there or visit Twitter or or or. I guess again here it’s about prioritizing, too – write my book or read blogs? Easy call. So in writing time, I don’t read blogs. If necessary, I turn off my wifi connection (or one could install Freedom or other management tools!). It isn’t easy – I could spend all day reading and chatting – but knowing the end goals helps.

MR: I LOVE 30 Poets in 30 Days, the event you host every April at GottaBook. I particularly enjoy how it celebrates cultural diversity in rhyme and verse. How did that come about?

GP: We’re lucky in that the field of children’s poetry has a wonderfully rich collection of voices, and one of the goals I had when I started 30 Poets/30 Days was to make sure that the project reflected that. Luckily for me, the poets I’ve asked to join in have said yes.

I also noticed when I asked poets for recommendations, they also suggested a wonderfully diverse collection of poets, including exposing me to people I hadn’t known. This was another more selfish goal of 30/30 – broadening my own reading and finding amazing new-to-me poets and poetry to enjoy.

I think exposing everyone to diverse voices is important, too, but at the end of the day, the diversity came about because I love seeing and learn from seeing other perspectives and hearing other voices, and I wanted to share what I love with everyone who stops by.

MR: I’m talking to Greg, the social media expert. Multicultural books often suffer from a lack of publicity and exposure. Do you have any advice for authors promoting their work? From your experience, what can we do that would make a big difference?

GP: Making a big difference starts from making a “little” difference. Actions become cumulative, in a sense. Promotion in a social media world comes from building relationships with people who can be your champions, supporters, and, if we’re lucky, our readers. It takes time and consistency and is much easier to do when you start early and focus on small steps rather than making a big difference.

There’s no magic bullet, unfortunately, but a few good rules of thumb are to be part of the community, not just talk about yourself. Support others when you can, particularly if you’re going to want them to support you. And think “out of the box” rather than just the “easy” areas to focus on. We folks in children’s lit are a wonderfully supportive group, but if you write a book about, oh, baseball card collecting, then become part of that community, too. When you share common interests with people, it’s easier to find champions and buyers.

MR: *hypothetical situation* You’re one of the concerned parents invited to Washington to meet president Obama and to defend the cause of school libraries, schools being a major victim of state and nationwide budget cuts. What do you tell him? How can we (readers) help librarians keep their job and save our school libraries?

GP: I think telling specific, personal stories that illustrate the impact of libraries, just as the President or other politicians do when they are on the national stage, can be quite effective. I also think continuing to make our voices heard not just once but consistently when the situations arise can also be helpful. And, frankly, that coming up with comparisons… of what is funded vs. what is NOT funding and what research shows as the impact of those programs is another way to go. Tough choices have to be made… but there are many different possible choices, and I think it helps to point that out.

That said, my deeper sense is that we need to think more broadly than abolut talking to politicians. We need to work on a community level first to make sure everyone understands the important role school libraries and librarians fulfill. I’m not likely going to get to talk to President Obama… but I can start locally with everyone in my orbit to make sure that we create a culture that values the library in the same way we value safe streets. Then, I’d like to believe, that idea can work its way upward.

MR: Talking of which, you’re donating three of your favorite poetry books. There are…

GP: Yikes!!!! Three?!?!?!?!?! You’re cruel! I can’t answer, cuz it depends on who I’m donating to. Yeah. That’s it. I mean…

OK, fine. I’ll cheat a tad: I’d donate an anthology put together by Lee Bennett Hopkins since it will show a great range of poets all focused on the many aspects of a particular theme (maybe America at War or Sharing the Seasons or or or!). Then I’d add an anthology of funny poems for kids since they are often my favorites and are what got me into loving poetry more broadly (perhaps the Jack Prelutsky anthology For Laughing Out Loud or the Kingfisher Book of Funny Poems or Kids Pick the Funniest Poems or or or). And then, since I just re-read it, I’d add in Joyce Sidman’s This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness because it’s fantasic.

Ask me another day, I’d probably say three different books!

MR: Last but not least, what is the procedure to follow for people eager to contact you help or questions regarding social media (blog, twitter, etc…)

GP: I answer a lot of questions on my blog at the Happy Accident, and I’m always available for hire. Folks can email me or find me on Twitter and start off by saying “hi!”

Greg, thank you again for your time and for sharing your experience. I look forward to this year’s 30 Poets in 30 Days, and can’t wait to read you books!

For more information on Greg Pincus, visit
o The Happy Accident – using social media to help create happy accidents
o While you’re at it, make sure to read his post “Going for the Win-Win-Win
o GottaBook – Children’s literature & poetry
o 30 Poets 30 Days April 2011
o Twitter

Tibdits on my life & Asilomar Conference

Hi everyone,

if you are familiar with this blog, you know that I don’t share much about my life here. The focus is what is happening in the world of multicultural children’s literature; however today the post will be a little bit more personal. 🙂

Posting will be light in the days to come, as it has been this week. I’m in college and I have my finals in the next ten days. So much happened between January 1st and now that I have to rearrange my schedule, so that it can once again be balanced. I thank my critique partners for their advice and patience (you guys are fabulous!), as well as Greg Pincus who gave me the most insightful and wonderful media critique session at a conference I attended a few weeks ago. He reminded me that as a writer, I need to make sure that in the midst of all my activities I still have time to write. I needed to hear that. Thanks, Greg! The man is really amazing and you will find his story inspiring, once I find the time to dedicate him a post; which will be some time after this school session is over. If you can’t wait that long, click on his name! 😀

The main change I’m thinking of implementing regards posting, which will now occur three times a week: Monday (interview), Wednesday and Friday. Some posts might still appear Tuesday and Thursday, but that will be the exception.

Back to the SCBWI Asilomar Conference, I do not have enough time to give an account that will do justice to how amazing the conference was. Yes, the speakers were inspiring beyond words, but there is also something equally uplifting about being around other children’s writers, and sharing our experience, and laughing, and critiquing each other’s work. Conferences with a “small” (think 100-150) number of participants also allow for a more personal connection with editors and agents. I have noticed the atmosphere to be a bit more relaxed, and the guest speakers to be surprisingly approachable. I had the pleasure to converse with Ken Wright of the literary agency Writers House and Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, as well as Scholastic Paperbacks editor AnnMarie Anderson and Tracy Gates from Viking Children’s Books. I met some of the people I interviewed such as Ann Martin Bowler and Marsha Arnold, Lea Lyon who is one of my favorite illustrators, and many others. If you are a writer and can ever attend a kid lit conference, whether it be a ALA, SCBWI, MLAG or other, please really consider doing so. Inquire about scholarships if your funds are low. There are ways to make it happen. I made it to Asilomar thanks to a scholarship, and I look forward to helping someone else attend it in the future.

From this point I’ll focus on the MC aspect of the conference, however for more accounts visit Sue Douglass Fliess’ as well as Linda Joy Singleton’s blog.

Though this wasn’t per se a “multicultural” kid lit conference, I was surprised to spend the weekend talking about multiculturalism almost all the time. Lots of people have much to say about it; the topic is definitely current and raises much passion in a positive way. Now, if this would translate in more book sales in the future, wow! I’m getting ahead of myself here, excited as I am about this year bestselling MC books. I’m watching several titles closely! 😀

The consensus from professionals in the publishing industry (agents and editors) seem to be: “put the numbers aside, the “MC books don’t sell” that we hear all over, and write what you are passionate about.” What I am adding here comes from personal conversations, so forgive me for not giving names at this stage. Those are arguments that we already know, but it doesn’t hurt to hear them again. Write your story, make it as good as you possibly can (strive for excellence), then fight for it. A professional was convinced that a good MC story will always sell no matter what. It is a nice thought, but it still takes a strong fight, with some authors forced to consider self-publishing when traditional publishers think there might not be a market for their stories.

A speaker particularly stood out in my opinion, in terms of multicultural kid lit, and that is Scholastic Paperbacks Senior Editor AnnMarie Anderson. She is the only one who specifically brought multiculturalism up during her presentation, stating that “we need more cultural diversity in children’s books!” Is she your she-ro yet? She totally rocks, and you know that I’m biased! 😀 Anyway, Ms. Anderson specializes in paperback series like Geronimo Stilton or Poison Apple, so please, do not query her with a picture book or a 100,000 words manuscript. She is looking for boy-friendly stories, as well as animal characters, think Warriors, Bunnicula–yep, a vampire bunny. How fun and original?! She also wants multicultural stories, wants to bring more minorities characters to the readers! Yay!

*Big sigh & smile* That was sooo refreshing to hear! Of course, a boy-friendly or animal story can also be multicultural, but it totally made my day that she clearly put cultural diversity among her principal interests.

Last but not least, allow me to introduce a fabulous literary agent: Marietta B. Zacker. What is so special about her? So many things, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with her background. Marietta has fifteen years of experience working in the publishing industry. She knows how publishers think, what they like, what they don’t, knows which doors are the hardest to push (yet she goes for it!). Marietta also owns a bookstore specialized in children’s books. As such, she is in a position that is not common for most agents, having an insight about booksellers and readers that is truly unique.

Edited 02/24/2019: Marietta and I amicably parted ways in 2012.

In any case, if you would like to know more about Marietta, please check the following links:
o Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
o From Hilary Wagner’s blog, one of her clients: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Agent Marietta Zacker!. Marietta took the time to answer various questions from readers for ten days.
o Her agency submission Guidelines
o Follow Marietta on Twitter

Marietta’s Interviews:
o @ Literary Rambles, interviewed by Casey McCormick
o @ Market My Words, an interview focused on marketing to indie bookstores, by MG/YA author Shelli Johannes

And this concludes today’s post! I hope that you had a fairly good week, and wish you a fantastic weekend. What will you read? 😀

Please, note that for the next ten days I will most likely not be able to respond to comments (though I might), and you might not hear from me by email as well, due to my exams. That said don’t punish me, and feel free to react to this post. Thank you for your patience.

Happy reading & cheers,


Edited 02.08.2011