Carmen Oliver is a gifted storyteller and teacher. She’s also the brains behind The Booking Biz, which combines her public relations skill set with her love of children’s books. Carmen supports authors and illustrators as they make connections with their readers through special events and school visits. Carmen’s clients include Kwame Alexander, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Don Tate, Kathi Appelt, Sarah Aronson, and Salina Yoon, to name a few. The Booking Biz continues to grow because of Carmen’s passion, generosity, and in-depth knowledge of children’s books. We’ve been lucky enough to have Carmen on faculty at the Highlights Foundation. She sat down with us for a nice chat on the blog.
Alison: Welcome, Carmen! We are thrilled to have you on the blog today. You have a hand in producing many children’s book events and making connections between your clients and children, but you also spend time presenting at schools as an author. Can you share with us one of your favorite experiences during a recent school visit?
Carmen: Thank you, Alison. I’m thrilled to be back! One of my favorite experiences came from visiting a school arranged by An Open Book Foundation in Washington, D.C. After my presentations were over, a five-year-old girl asked me if I would read her Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies. I had just finished reading the story during my presentation, so this caught me a little off guard at first, but I pulled the book back out. We sat down on the carpet, knee-to-knee, and read the story together. Then she asked me if I could read it again. And so I read it again. I savored that moment. Still do–giving her as much love and attention as I could in a sea of busy kindergartners!
Alison: What a special moment for that child, and for you. School visits can be overwhelming, but you’ve said before that you look for special moments like this when you visit a school. My guess is that when you look for them, you find them. We know that you’ve shared tips like this at the Crafting Successful Author Visits workshop. What do you hope authors and illustrators take away from this workshop?
Carmen: Along with looking for those special moments, I want authors and illustrators to understand that working with children is all about authenticity. They must be their authentic selves and tell stories that only they can tell. Every one of them has something important to say. It’s my job to help them uncover these traits and help them shape their presentations in a way that connects them to their audiences with heart, humor, and confidence.
Alison: In addition to your workshop about school visits, we are excited to have you back to host The Journey with Don Tate later in the year. This workshop changed the path towards publication for many of the attendees last year. What about the group of authors and illustrators who came last year inspired you?
Carmen: Being able to return and teach The Journey with Don is one of the highlights of my year! Don is a fantastic mentor and coach, and teaching alongside him is an honor. Although we come from different backgrounds, we have a lot in common when it comes to teaching, writing, and our work ethic.
At last year’s workshop, I was inspired by the students: their eagerness to learn, their passion for their stories, their willingness to be open and try anything. But most of all, I was inspired by the growth I saw in their work, and how it transformed over the course of the days we were together. Each revision became stronger because of the work they were willing to do. Writing children’s books is not easy, contrary to what many people think. But I do believe it’s teachable. I’m living proof. Sure, it takes talent. But more than that, it takes patience, persistence, and perseverance. Natalie Goldberg said, “If you love the work, it’ll love you back.” At The Journey in 2017, I’m going to continue that mantra.
Alison: We love your work! What can we look forward to reading from you soon?
Carmen: I’m actually in the middle of working on a nonfiction picture book biography about a famous folk singer and activist, and finding the heart of that story. One of the things that I find most interesting about this artist is the special relationship she had with her nanny, and how that person shaped and contributed to the person she became: what she cared about, what she sang about, what she wrote about. At present, I’m in the middle of trying to figure out the best way into the story. I’ve tried several linear approaches that I don’t think are working, and therefore, I’m in the noodling stage again. Thinking. Imagining. Processing.
Back in 2009, I was working on a nonfiction picture book biography at a Highlights Foundation workshop with Barbara Kerley and Kim Griswell. I’m thrilled to say that I’m in the process of signing a contract for that project. I’m afraid I can’t divulge any details yet. But I do want to say: stick with your stories for as long as it takes to tell them, and sell them. Some come together quickly. Others take years. Each one is a different journey. Each one has something new to teach us. This latest sale reaffirms to me, yet again, how important it is to believe in our stories when no one else does. I’m so glad I never gave up.
Alison: What a great message. Thank you for your time today, Carmen.
Carmen: Thanks, Alison. My pleasure.
— Interview by Alison Green Myers