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Interview with Jody Jensen Shaffer and giveaway of LIAM HEMSWORTH: THE HUNGER GAMES' STRONG SURVIVOR

Hello all. Wednesday just got better! I have an interview with author and poet Jody Jensen Shaffer on work-for-hire writing and her recently released celebrity biographies for kids.

Hi Jody! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. To start, why don't you tell us a little about yourself and your books to date.

Hi Casey! Thanks for having me!

I grew up in a small town in Missouri, the youngest of three kids. My dad taught college Biology and my mom taught elementary school. After high school, I earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in English. I taught Freshman Composition at two colleges while working full-time in corporate management development. I had always loved writing but became interested in writing for children when I stayed home with my own kids. We’d visit the library, check out as many books as we could carry, then rush home and devour them. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on children’s literature--picture books, fiction, nonfiction, chapter books, and novels. When my youngest child entered kindergarten in 2006, I began writing for children.

Since that time, nine of my books for children have been published and another four or so are in the pipeline. I also write for magazines like Highlights, Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, Clubhouse Jr, Babybug, Humpty Dumpty, and Turtle.

I had a chance to read one of your celebrity biographies, Liam Hemsworth: The Hunger Games' Strong Survivor and enjoyed learning about the star. What sort of research was involved in the writing of this and your other biographies?

Thanks! I enjoyed learning about Liam myself. My publisher, Lerner, wanted Liam and my other biographies to be as current and as verifiably accurate as possible. That meant seeking out primary source quotes from Liam, watching hours of interviews with him, and scouring reliable sources, like library databases and established newspapers and magazines. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed uncovering little-known facts about Liam.

It does sound like enjoyable work. One thing that stood out to me in Liam's biography was the fun, accessible voice. What age range are these books marketed to, and how do you ensure the voice and language are at grade level?

These books are written for kids reading at grade levels 3-4, but because of the subject matter, they may be interesting for kids through sixth grade. It’s a balancing act to find the right voice for these fun books and to make them accessible to their intended audience. Tools that analyze the readability of your text are super-helpful. They tell you if you’ve written to the grade, below it, or above it. Then you can make changes accordingly.

Your books with The Child's World are all written on a work-for-hire basis. How did you start writing for the company and what has been your experience with them?

I began writing children’s work-for-hire through the book packager, Red Line Editorial. I sent my resume and some writing samples to then-Editorial Director, Patricia Stockland, now with Lerner. She asked if I’d be interested in writing some books for The Child’s World. I jumped at the chance, and BREAD BEFORE THE STORE and BLUE JEANS BEFORE THE STORE became my first published titles. Both Red Line Editorial and The Child’s World are top-notch.

What would you say are the pros and cons of a work-for-hire project?

I love doing work-for-hire! It’s fun, interesting, and highly collaborative. I never know what subject I might be working on next for what audience in what format. I love the variety, the challenge of learning new things and producing good work on a deadline, and the people I’ve met through this line of work. They have all been fabulous.

Honestly, I can’t think of any cons! My experiences have been great. It helps that I’m curious and can synthesize information fairly quickly.

No cons? Fantastic! Do you know of any good resources for writers interested in work-for-hire opportunities?

The very best resource I know of for those interested in work-for-hire opportunities is Evelyn Christensen’s website. Writers can click on the link for “Educational Markets” and find an extensive list of publishers and packagers. Another way to find possible markets for work-for-hire is to go to the library and see who published books like you’d enjoy writing. Then search out the companies online for their writers’ guidelines and requirements.

I see that your first fiction picture book Us Time will be published by tiger tales in 2014 - congratulations! Moving forward, do you see yourself continuing to write both fiction and non-fiction?

Thanks! I am so excited about my first picture book with tiger tales! I saw early illustrations, and they are adorable.

Yes, I will continue to write both fiction and nonfiction, because I love them both!

That's great news for us! What are you working on now?

Well, I’ve always got picture book and chapter book manuscripts percolating in my brain. My agent, Kathleen Rushall, and I are subbing a few things currently. I’m preparing to do a poetry workshop with middle schoolers next month. I’ve got bits of notes on my desk with poem ideas that I need to formulate. I’ve got more work-for-hire books on the horizon. And I proofread and copy edit professionally, so I’m never at a loss for writing-related activities! I am so lucky!

Wow! Writing definitely keeps you busy. One last question. Where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?

My blog is the best place to see what I’ve been up to lately, http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com.

Thank you so much for stopping by Literary Rambles and sharing your writing with us, Jody!

Thank you for having me, Casey! It’s been lots of fun. I’ve followed your blog for many years and found it super informative and helpful!

Jody has generously offered to give away one copy of her celebrity biography, Liam Hemsworth: Hunger Games' Strong Survivor.  To enter, please be a follower and leave a comment by April 1st. Include your e-mail address if it's not available online. This giveaway is US only. For additional giveaways we're running see the list at the top of the blog, and don't forget to check out Jody's other biographies including Josh Hutcherson, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Lea Michele, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. 


Brenda said...

Great interview. I never knew there were specific tools that access for readability levels and help adjust the level of the text like Lexille levels, interesting.

Jessie Humphries said...

You had me at Liam Hemsworth! I'll read anything about my celebrity crush. And wow, my eyes have really been opened to a completely different kind of writing. Thanks :)

Aurora Smith said...

haha, what JEssie said. This is a great interview. Enjoyed it!

Cherie Reich said...

Wonderful interview! Congrats, Jodie!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great interview. Enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

I did some non-fic writing for a web company for a while, but it wasn't for me. I'm so glad Jody has found her niche and loves what she does. That the most important thing in the world. :-)

Christina Lee said...

HOW COOL!!!! This is a side of writing I enjoy hearing about (work-for-hire)!!

Nicole said...

Very interesting interview! Thanks to you both.

Jody Jensen Shaffer said...

Thanks, everyone! And thanks for having me, Casey!

Mary said...

I'm with Jessie Humphries -- you had me at Liam Hemsworth! :) I've always wondered how people ended up writing those celebrity biographies. Sounds like a pretty cool job.

Gisele LeBlanc said...

Great interview, Jody and Casey! Loved reading about your journey and how you got into this line of writing, Jody! Awesome, and good luck with all your books! :)

Kristin Lenz said...

Wow, Jody is busy! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and work-for-hire resources. I've always wanted to learn more about these opportunities.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Natalie, Hi, Jody,

What a fantastic way to write. I actually like the idea of work for hire. Like you, Jody, I like variety and I had never thought of this as a way to be published. CONGRATS on your savvy and new book!

I will definitely check out the link.... THANKS so much.

A different and intriguing interview, Thanks Natalie.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fun interview. My father was from Missouri. They moved to California during the depression.

Jody Jensen Shaffer said...

Thanks again, everybody! Good luck with your own writing!


Ann Herrick said...

Wonderful interview! Work-for-hire sounds very rewarding!

Evelyn said...

I loved reading your interview, Jody! Congratulations on your upcoming books and on all your other successes. Thanks for mentioning my site. Ev

Natasha said...

Great interview!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Michelle Lord said...

I can't wait to read Us Time!