Beth Stilborn and Emma Walton Hamilton Photo (c) 2012 by Star Black.

Beth Stilborn and Emma Walton Hamilton
Photo (c) 2012 by Star Black.

Thank you for joining me for this excerpt from my interview with Emma Walton Hamilton for the Children’s Book Hub.

Emma is the founder and administrator of the online “salon for writers and illustrators” that is the Children’s Book Hub. She started it just over two years ago, and in this excerpt of the interview, she shares with us her thoughts behind its founding, as well as her hopes and plans for its future.

Through the Children’s Book Hub, Emma shares resources, a monthly newsletter, an opportunity for writers and illustrators to share in an online forum, and perhaps most importantly, Emma shares her connections with the wider world of children’s books and her vast knowledge (and amazing research abilities) through monthly Expert Interview audio webinars with someone like author Andrea Davis Pinkney or Tomie dePaola, SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver, Hornbook editor Roger Sutton, freelance editor Emma D. Dryden, agent Jennie Dunham… the list goes on. Hub members always have an opportunity to submit questions in advance for these interviews. Also every month, Emma provides a Question and Answer audio webinar in which she answers Hub members questions on a particular topic, usually relating to that month’s Expert Interview. The interview I’m serializing here came about when I suggested it was high time Emma herself was featured in an Expert Interview.

Now, let’s see what Emma has to say about the Children’s Book Hub, and the offshoot Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group which she and I co-host.

BETH: Just Write for Kids begat the Children’s Book Hub. I’d like you to talk a bit about your thought process that led into setting up the Hub, your initial vision, how it has been fulfilled, where it’s fallen short, just an overview.

EMMA: Well the vision is ongoing; it’s only two years old. It’s still very young relative to other similar sites. The vision continues to be community and resources and learning, although learning and resources go hand in hand. Again, a lot of it was self interest! I know that it can be hard to find a sense of community as a writer, and it can be hard to get good feedback. Everyone is a critic out there, and there is a lot of advice that people love to bandy about and not all of it is good. I wanted to create a space for myself and for others, for colleagues in the industry, a central clearing house in a sense, where one could find anything one needed to support one’s journey through writing children’s books. What I imagined was it would be a place where children’s book authors and illustrators would gather to learn, to seek out answers to questions, to access resources and materials, and to support one another through the forum and a sense of community.

Another part of it was that in my editing practice a number of my clients would, after I had edited a project, come back to me with further questions. They’d say, “The manuscript is finished, I am in the querying process now but something is wrong with my query. What am I doing wrong? How do I get an agent? What do you think of this publisher or have you ever heard of that person? Should I do this or that? What’s next?” And I unfortunately I didn’t – I don’t – have the time to answer all of those questions as they were coming in. If I could provide a place where people could find the answers to those questions more easily and readily, perhaps it would be easier for them and for me. Those are all common questions, and the answers are out there; it’s just not always easy to find them if you have to go out and search. You don’t necessarily know if what you are reading is trustworthy. If you go and do an Internet search, for instance, on query letters or agents, you might end up with some bad advice from some e-how site. You just don’t know how trustworthy the advice is. I wanted this to be a place where everything is trustworthy, everything is vetted by me and by all the experts who come in and contribute, and you know the information is solid. That’s been and continues to be the vision.

Now, as I continue to learn more myself from the teaching, the same is true with the Hub. For me, it’s been just a wonderful, rich learning experience, taking things a step further – things I don’t necessarily know more about. For instance, I remember one interview I did with Jane O’Conner, who was an intellectual property rights attorney. I have read contracts and signed them, but I didn’t have all the information at my fingertips. I learn so much from each of the people that I interview. Then to go on and do a question and answer two weeks later requires me to do further research, so it has become a wonderful learning tool for me in that every month I learn from the person I interview and then learn from the further research I do for the Q&A.

BETH: It is such a fantastic learning experience for those of us who are listening.

EMMA: Thank you. I am a hungry student myself; I am a lifelong learner. As you know, Beth, not only do I teach for the MFA at Stony Brook Southampton but I am a student there myself taking courses, one course per term, to get my own MFA in writing. I’m just a perennial student; I really love to learn. I think that’s why I enjoy what we do on the Hub so much.

BETH: When I went to SCBWI in LA in 2011 and went into breakout sessions that were for first timers, focussing on the basics, I found – and I know that other Hub members who were there found – we were hearing what we had already learned from you. That you had given us such a good grounding through the expert interviews and the Q&As that we were more advanced than the basics.

EMMA: That’s great; I’m so happy to hear that.

BETH: It was such an affirmation for us, what we had learned about what you were doing with the Hub, I was lauding it far and wide.

EMMA: It’s great fun and I look forward to continuing to develop it further. We are in the process now of making some improvements to the site itself just to make it more user friendly and more visually fun and content rich. I have been working with a team to develop some new materials for the Hub and I’m excited to see where that takes us. I’m also very excited to say I am working with a little mastermind group now. There are four of us working together.
It’s phenomenal because everyone has a different strength; everyone has something different to contribute. For years I have done everything from working with private coaches to consultants for individual projects, but this is just a group of like-minded children’s book colleagues in the industry. Each one brings something to the table. We meet once a week virtually, online, and discuss what we are working on, and everyone has something of value to contribute to someone else. I am looking forward to taking all the resources I am learning there and bringing them to the Hub, and adding things – for instance, a video component.

I think there are a lot of ways that we can advance what we are doing on the Hub. I would welcome feedback. I’m going to do another survey to see what people would like to get from the Hub. The way technology is going now, the possibilities are endless, and there is so much we can do. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve this year through these initiatives. I’m going to take it one step further and make it an even richer salon, if you will. For instance, eventually one of the things I’d like to do is occasional video conferencing. I’ve discovered the joys of Google Hangout where people with webcams can get together in a group and see one another and it’s a virtual conference. For the Hub, that would be phenomenal. It’s slightly tricky because of the different time zones, but nevertheless we could manage that. We might get a kick out of seeing everyone else. Those kinds of things will be fun.

BETH: Sounds like a dynamic, growing thing. I of course have a particular interest in the Hub Facebook group. How can that group more fully feed into the full membership Hub, knowing that many of our Facebook members can’t afford the monetary commitment it takes to belong to the full Hub. We’re still kind of children of the Hub and there is a community.

EMMA: It’s one that I’m thinking about a great deal, and two things come to mind: first of all the Hub Facebook page is just wonderful in terms of the resources that people share there and the support that we feel from one another. What I am hoping to do in part in this revamping of the Hub in the new year is to make more parts of the Hub available on a more accessible level than full membership. In other words, to make some of the Q&A presentations available for individual listening, so that if you don’t want to be a member of the Hub all year long but you really want to listen to a Q&A on intellectual property rights, or presenting your work or getting an agent, you could access just that one call and download it. That’s one way I’m looking at opening some areas of the Hub.

Another way is to look at possibilities for staggering the membership, maybe making one form of membership at a different rate with access to a portion of the resources but not all of them. Looking at different levels. That’s another way to go. And then of course from time to time opening up the content like we are tonight with this call to the Facebook group so we can hear from them. The more the merrier. As far as I’m concerned the more questions we have, the more feedback we have, the more community we have, the richer the experience for all of us.

BETH: The more participation, the more we know that there are people out there thinking and feeling and wondering the same things.

EMMA: That’s exactly right. I’m looking at all of that and I’m also open to ideas and suggestions. If any of our listeners have recommendations or suggestions for ways to integrate the Facebook group more seamlessly with the official Hub membership that I haven’t mentioned, I’m wide open to suggestions. I would love to hear from you.

BETH: And there is contact information on the Facebook group for how to get that information?

EMMA: I’m on the Facebook page and I see everything that gets posted there, so if people wanted to start a thread of suggestions or recommendations I’d be delighted. Perhaps you can start that.

BETH: We can start a document, because you can put documents on and add to them and comment on them.

EMMA: That’s a wonderful idea; let’s do that. From time to time I do offer specials. I will offer first month for $5, or those kinds of specials, and the Facebook Group is always the first priority in terms of early announcements of those specials. Each time we do that I am eager to let the Facebook members who are not necessarily full members of the Hub have first advantage.

BETH: That’s great, and I am sure it’s greatly appreciated. It’s good to get a taste and think about how to make it work. If you’re thinking of having different levels, that might be a key to allowing some people who I know would really love to be part of the full Hub but just can’t see their way clear. It would be good to be able to involve them. I’m glad we have the Facebook group.

EMMA: The other thing to remember is that anyone who is having a financial challenge can opt out at any time. There is no obligation for Hub membership to pay for a full year in advance. It’s $19.95 a month, so in any given month if that becomes prohibitive it’s easy to opt out and one can opt in again when one feels able to do so. Just to be able to take advantage of it for a month or two and look over resources and know you an opt out at any time I think sometimes might be helpful and all people need to hear.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

If you are a writer or illustrator of children’s books (published or emerging) and you are interested in joining us in the Children’s Book Hub, you can find more information at this link.

Writers and illustrators who are on Facebook are also welcome to join our Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. Please note (this is VERY important) — Emma and I need to be able to tell from your publicly viewable information on Facebook how you are connected to the world of children’s literature in order for us to be able to approve your membership request. Thanks! Here’s the link.

If you’ve been thinking about the Just Write for Kids course since last week, and want to get more information or sign up, this is the link to click.

Next week, Emma will talk about her work at Stony Brook Southampton University, and about the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference. Stay tuned!

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