Feeds:
Posts
Comments

This two-part Q&A with Kathryn Otoshi was originally posted way back in 2013. I’m sure a lot has changed for Kathryn since then. But one thing I know for sure is her success continues to grow. I thought it might be fun to bring this oldie but goodie back for all you Kathryn fans. Following is the interview as it appeared in 2013.

Before I get started, I want to give a giant THANKS to Kathryn Otoshi for taking many hours out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and for sharing so much of herself with us in this interview. Today, I am happy to post Part 2 of my interview with Kathryn and even happier to first offer the bonus of Kathryn’s thoughts regarding THE TOP FIVE THINGS THAT MAKE A SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHED BOOK.

There are many definitions floating around for “Independent Publisher.” I tend to like the following: Jenkins Group, Inc., the organizers of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, define “independent” as 1) independently owned and operated; 2) operated by a foundation or university; or 3) long-time independents that became incorporated but operate autonomously and publish fewer than 50 titles a year.

Keep an eye out for future posts on independent publishing.

BONUS INTERVIEW QUESTION AND ANSWER

AKC: What are the top five things that you think make a successful independently published book?

KO:

  1. Write about a story or topic you feel strongly about — First and foremost there must be a real love and passion for the story you are writing about. I’ve always felt that the author must be absolutely fascinated with the story they are telling in order to be motivated to finish it. And also for the reader to be engaged with it as well! Another suggestion: do your research. Do your homework. If you want to connect with your readers, then start connecting with them before your book is published. Be willing to read a draft mock up to whoever your target audience is. I read to classrooms, teachers, booksellers, young kids, and parents to get their feedback on my children’s book. I found that experience invaluable. Then when your book is published, you will need to go out and do author visits. You must feel passionate about your story for you to be able to speak about it over and over, again and again and still keep it real.
  2. Strong production value — The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t apply to children’s books! With thousands of books for a reader to choose from, having a strong production value with appropriate design does indeed matter. An elegant embossment or appropriately placed foil stamp on a jacket, for example, is never lost on your readers. They might not be able to vocalize about exactly why one book might feel ‘good’ over another, but they will instinctively know that the loving details are in there. Graphic design is key. Bringing on a professional graphic designer for your book to have a strong visual appeal is necessary. If you are independently publishing a book, how your book ‘reads’ across a room or how you package it becomes a deciding factor on if your book is picked up – or not.
  3. Have a business plan and budget — While it’s true, that most of us agree that writing and illustrating is a labor of love, publishing is a business. You must factor in all aspects when you publish a book. Be willing to take off your creative hat momentarily to look at how much it will cost to properly produce your book. And how much will it cost to properly support your book in the market so that it will have the best chance for success?  Editing, designing, distributing, printing, marketing and advertising all have a price tag attached. Other questions that involve your overall budget are: how much should you list the book for?  How many copies of the book should you print for the first run? Will you print 2,000 copies of this book? Or 10,000 copies? And if it’s a success, do you have enough buffer in your budget to be able to push the print button right away?
  4. Marketing strategy and distribution is key — Almost 1/3 of my overall budget is set aside for Marketing. Consider the review copies that need to be sent out. Budgets need to be set aside for contests and awards, for conferences, travel, promotional materials, fliers, postcards, bookmarks, ads, website updates and social media. The list goes on. Decide up front how much you want to set aside to promote your book so you know how much you’ll need to budget for. And although Distribution should probably be in its own category, I put it next to Marketing here for the purpose of consolidation. But in a nutshell, having the right distributor for your company to get you into the right channels can make all the difference in the world for the success of your book. I found John Kremer’s web site very helpful in obtaining an initial list of book distributors to start the researching process.
  5. Get involved — Go out there and get involved in your book community! Do readings, go to conferences, meet booksellers, join organizations, have coffee with other authors and illustrators. Listen to your peers speak at events. While writing is by its very nature, introverted, the other part of getting your book out there is you getting yourself out there. So move away from your desk, out of your room, through the door and into the world. In today’s book market, part of sharing your story is also about sharing a part of you.

MORE ABOUT KATHRYN AND WRITING ILLUSTRATING

AKC: How many awards have your collective works received?

KO: Collectively over 20, I’d say.

Teacher’s Choice Award, the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor, and the Flicker Tale Award.

AKC: Which came first, the desire to illustrate picture books or the desire to write?

KO: My desire to simply tell a story rises above my desire to illustrate or write a children’s picture book.  If I absolutely had to make a decision between the two though, I’d probably choose writing…but whew – it would be a very close call.

AKC: Out of all the books you have illustrated, do you have a favorite? How about those you have written?

KO: I suppose I had fun illustrating ONE the most. In general, I’m a representational illustrator. So for my book ONE, where all the blobs of color are symbolic, this was very unique style for me, but also the most freeing. Originally, One started as a story about differences – physical differences. I thought, “What if I created a story about children with totally different colored faces?” Instead of using white, black, brown skin tones, etc – I could use completely different colors like green, purple, blue and orange!  Gradually in my quest to make One as simple as a story possible and boiling it down to its core essence – I ended up making the children’s faces into splotches of colors instead. It was a risk because of the abstraction, but I think that by doing so, I got more leeway to touch upon complex themes and subject matters.

AKC: Where did you get the idea or inspiration for your books?

KO: Mostly from life. “What Emily Saw” is about a day of discovery through the eyes of a little girl. But it’s also based on my own childhood memories. There’s a page spread in there where there’s a hill that transforms into the back of a dinosaur. That’s what I used to imagine when I was growing up! That the hills were the backs of sleeping dinos!

AKC: What advice would you give to writers?

KO: I would say…keep it authentic. And being passionate about your story.  It needs to be meaningful to you if it’s going to mean something to someone else. Everything is key to making a children’s book work because everything is so honed down: the text, the illustrations all the way to the graphic design and production of the book. Even the size of the book and the style of the font have a big influence on the overall look and feel of the book. A children’s book is so limited in text, you have to ask yourself  – What  is each page saying? Is it leading toward my theme? The core ingredients to making a children’s book really solid is to ask yourself a lot of questions about what is working and what is not. Is it really saying what I want it to say in the least amount of words possible? Then before the book is released, it is crucial to read the story to children, parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians – the book lovers in general. They are your audience. Stories are meant to be shared, after all.

AKC: What advice would you give to illustrators?

Before starting the illustration, ask yourself the question: What am I trying to say here? And then ask yourself, What else can I tell the reader that wasn’t in the text? The illustrations are just as important as the text in a children’s picture book. And the pictures should say what the text does not. If your story starts out as “Morris was a lonely mole” …the illustrator has this wonderful opportunity to show us how lonely Morris really is! Is he so lonely, there are cobwebs on his doorknob? Are there briar branches blocking his pathway? A welcome mat that is new and shiny, and never been used? Pictures are a glorious way to engage young readers. Children see and understand images before they ever learn to read. If we get children interested in reading children’s books at an early age, they will become readers for a lifetime. How wonderful! I’m thrilled to be a part of that process.

So for me, it’s making the page come alive. I’m still learning how to do this, by the way. It takes all my experience about composition, leading the eye to where you want it to go, using gesture, POV, lighting, values…and finally the x-factor — your own style, which will summon the page and bring your characters to life.

Through a story, if you are able to create something that influences a young reader in some positive way, however minor – to me, that is true success.

 AKC: Do you have any projects in the works that you are able to tell us about?

KO: I am currently working on a chapter book called “Peter Dobb and the Wondrous Pod” and then two more picture books. I’m coming up with ideas for a graphic novel to pitch in a year. Just recently, I’ve started working on a short screenplay which deals with love, loss and memory.

Please read INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN OTOSHI, PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR AND SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER – PART ONE for Kathryn’s bio with photo, a list of her published books with links, and a link to KO Kids Books.

This concludes my interview with Kathryn Otoshi.  I hope you have found it as informative as I have. With one final thank you to Kathryn, we are done.

This two-part Q&A with Kathryn Otoshi was originally posted way back in 2013. I’m sure a lot has changed for Kathryn since then. But one thing I know for sure is her success continues to grow. I thought it might be fun to bring this oldie but goodie back for all you Kathryn fans. Following is the interview as it appeared in 2013.

I first became aware of Kathryn Otoshi’s talents when her book, “One,” was awarded the gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. My book, “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa,” won the silver, and I became curious about my competition, so I purchased a copy of “One.” It did not take me long to understand why “One” took the gold. I sure am proud to be in such excellent company. Kathryn’s second picture book “Zero,” has been just as successful as “One.” During this interview, I was excited to learn that “Two,” the third book in the number series, will be released next year.

Obviously, I have kept my eye on Ms. Otoshi’s amazing success as an independent publisher. The more I observed, the more my curiosity about this award-winning author/illustrator grew until one day, I thought, Why not introduce yourself, and see if she would be willing to answer some questions. And that is exactly what I did. Kathryn was extremely responsive, very sweet and gracious. It has been my pleasure to get to know her. And now, it is my honor to introduce this lovely woman to you.

KathrynOtoshi_crop

Kathryn Otoshi is a children’s book author and illustrator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to this, Otoshi worked in the film industry at Disney’s ImageMovers Digital (Christmas Carol) as well as George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic (Star Wars) as the Graphic Design and Multimedia Art Director.

Otoshi’s first book as author and illustrator was “What Emily Saw”, a Borders Original New Voice Nominee. This was followed by “Simon & the Sock Monster”, short listed as a USA Book News Honoree, and “The Saddest Little Robot” (2004), a BookSense Pick. She teamed up with author Liz Hockinson and created the illustrations for “Marcello the Movie Mouse”(2005). Marcello garnered the Writer’s Digest Award for Best Children’s Book, the DIY Best Children’s Book, the Hollywood Book Festival Award, and the Eric Hoffer Notable Award.

Her book “One”, winner of 16 awards, including the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor Book and the Teacher’s Choice Award, is an anti-bullying  book introducing colors, numbers, and counting while playing on larger themes of acceptance, tolerance, and the power of one voice. Her newest book, “Zero”, is about finding value in ourselves and in others.

Otoshi has been a guest speaker at over 100 venues, including the San Francisco Writers Conference and a keynote speaker at the International Reading Association (Canada).

ON WITH THE INTERVIEW!

My curiosity got the best of me, and I swamped Kathryn with 25 detailed and probing questions. Like most writers and illustrators, Kathryn is busier than busy. Yet, she was kind enough to choose the questions that appealed to her the most. This resulted in 15 questions and answers that allow us to step into Kathryn Otoshi’s creative world for a while. The interview will be posted in two sections. Part 1 covers Independent Publishing. Part 2 is about Kathryn’s experience and her advice related to writing and illustrating.  I will share Part 1 today and Part 2 next week.

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING

AKC: Are you the sole proprietor of KO Kids Books? If so, what is it like to wear so many hats?

KO: Hi Alayne.  KO Kids Books is currently a DBA under the corporation, Baytree Entertainment, Inc. But yes, I do wear many hats!  It’s a bit of a balancing act, but what I find most interesting about having all these different job positions  (Creative Director/Graphic Designer/Illustrator/Editor/Writer/Sales Marketer/Publisher) – is that you have a much clearer understanding of how each position impacts the other. For example, you can easily see how deciding to make an oversized book might accommodate the Illustrator’s desire to have more expansive pictures. But the Publisher and Marketer part of you would inherently know this might not be a great idea, due to the high cost to produce a book like this and the fact that your book might not fit on a standard shelf.

AKC: I believe next year will be the tenth anniversary of KO Kids Books’ first two releases, “What Emily Saw” and “Simon and the Sock Monster” (both copyright 2004). I know that publishing independently is hard work and costly. How do you manage to continue publishing independently given the cost and work involved?

KO:  Well, when I first started KO Kids Books, I had my own graphic design freelance company. I was fine keeping my ‘day job’ and having KO Kids Books be what I lovingly called ‘my expensive hobby’.  Later I started working freelance at Disney’s ImageMovers Digital.  When the company closed at the end of 2010, my fourth KO Kids book, “ONE,” had already taken off. My expensive hobby had suddenly and surprisingly turned into something more. So I phased out doing a lot of graphic design work. I’ve been focusing on KO Kids Books and the children’s book industry ever since.

AKC: Do you have any advice for those who might be considering independent publishing?

KO: Sure do. Talk to a few indie publishers you admire. Ask them the pros and cons of being a publisher and really be willing to listen to the cons – not just the pros. Writing and illustrating is a creative process. Having a publishing company is a business. So realize that up front, and accept that you will have to be fiscally responsible for it. I would also join a local indie publishers association or organization to get to know more presses. Lastly, I would read Dan Poynter’s “Self Publishing Manual”. I wish I had read that book when I was first starting out!

AKC: What is the best part of independent publishing?

KO: Having the creative control and final say over the writing, illustrating and design of my books.

AKC: What is the most difficult part of independent publishing?

KO: For me, it’s the business side. That’s why I have someone dear to me, Daniel Jeannette, who has given me sage fiscal advice on the business side of the organization.

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING – MAINSTREAM PUBLISHING

AKC: I know, in addition to KO Kids Books, you have also illustrated the following books:

“The Saddest Little Robot” by Brian Cage, Soft Shell Press/Red Rattle Books 2004

Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat” by Susan Lendroth, Shen’s Books 2010

What was it like illustrating for other publishers versus KO Kids Books?

KO:  I enjoyed working with other publishers and seeing how they worked. It was great getting a different perspective and working with a team as I generally fly solo.

They have final say, of course.  Once I said I was done…I really had to be DONE. If there was indeed a valid last minute change I had to make in the illustration, it would have to be a very compelling reason why I needed to do this. It affects a lot of people when changes are made in the 11th hour – the writer, the editor, the designer, the printer are all impacted by this. And of course, the publisher, would ultimately need to approve it.

Versus if I did work under my own company, if there was a moment of inspiration that came to me,  or a more clever way to show the illustrations, I could make that tweak or change on the spot – even if the book was right about to go to press.

AKC: In your experience, what is the average process time to get a book into publication (from writing/illustrating to release)? Was there a difference in process time between KO Kids Books and the other publisher’s books?

KO: I’d say from the time the contract is signed, it takes about 2 to 3 years to get a children’s book published – and that might be considered fast by some publishers! When I published my first two books under KO Kids, it was done in less than a year. But I realized what a disservice I was doing by not spending more time working on the marketing and promo aspects of things before the books were released. Now, I’d say it takes a good solid 2 years for KO Kids Books to release a new book, which include all marketing/promo, a plan for a tour, and shows and conferences I plan to attend.

AKC: In 2006, KO Kids Books released “Marcello the Movie Mouse” by Liz Hockinson. This appears to be the only book, so far, that was written by an author besides you. Why did KO Kids Books decide to take on this project? What was the experience like for you?

KO: At the time, I had been thinking about considering submissions from other authors.  I met writer Liz Hockinson in a children’s picture book class at my local indie bookstore, Book Passage.  I really liked her writing style, and admired her dedication to the craft. We ended up in a writing critique group together and became good friends. One day she told me she wanted to write a story about a moxie little mouse named Marcello who had a big dream:  he wanted to make a movie!  I loved the idea and told her I wanted to hear more. After many writing drafts from Liz, and hours of illustration from me, “Marcello the Movie Mouse” was released a year and a half later. We had a great time marketing the book together. Currently though that’s the only book I plan to publish from another author. I’ve decided our focus for KO Kids will be on the Number Series: ZERO, ONE…and now TWO, which will be released next year.

* * *

Jenkins Group, Inc., the organizers of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, define “independent” as 1) independently owned and operated; 2) operated by a foundation or university; or 3) long-time independents that became incorporated but operate autonomously and publish fewer than 50 titles a year.

Sometime in the future, I plan to share my experiences with independent publishing and offer more thoughts on independent publishing companies versus self-publishing. I’ll keep you updated regarding when this might happen.

Be sure to come back next week when Kathryn shares more about herself and gives a little advice to both writers and illustrators.

KO Kids Books

Kathryn’s Amazon Page

Zero

ZERO
By Kathryn Otoshi
ISBN: 978-0-9723946-3-5
List: $17.95

“Zero”, the follow up to “One” is about a big round number, Zero. When she
looks at herself, she just sees a hole right through her center. She admires
the other numbers who can count. She wants to count too, but wonders how can
a number worth nothing become something? Thus begins the story of Zero’s
search to find value in herself and in others.

OneONE
By Kathryn Otoshi
PUBLISHER: KO Kids Books
ISBN: 978-0-9723946-4-2
List: $16.95

“One”, winner of 10 awards including the Teacher’s Choice Award and the
Mom’s Choice Award, is an anti-bullying, number/color book that introduces
the concepts of acceptance, tolerance, and what it means to count!

Movie MouseMARCELLO THE MOVIE MOUSE
By Liz Hockinson, illustrator by Kathryn Otoshi
PUBLISHER: KO Kids Books
ISBN: 978-0-9723946-2-8
List: $16.95

“Marcello the Movie Mouse”: Marcello, has a big dream: he wants to make a
movie. But without a camera, a crew, and Ravioli the theater cat lurking
around every corner, can this moxie little mouse make tail ends meet? A fun,
inspirational story which includes a glossary of movie terms to wrap it all up.

Simon & the Sock MonsterSIMON & THE SOCK MONSTER
By Kathryn Otoshi
PUBLISHER: KO Kids Books
ISBN: 978-0-9723946-1-1
List: $16.95

“Simon & the Sock Monster”: A little boy loses his lucky soccer sock right
before his championship game, and his older sister tells him the Sock
Monster ate it for dinner. Simon enlists the help of his friend to rescue it, but what they discover in the end will have everyone laughing.

What Emily SawWHAT EMILY SAW
By Kathryn Otoshi
PUBLISHER: KO Kids Books
ISBN: 978-0-9723946-0-4
List: $16.95

“What Emily Saw”: A story about a day of discovery through the eyes of an
imaginative little girl. She sees mice getting married in her room, men with
balloons having tea in the sky, and meets a friendly dinosaur to play
hide-and-seek with, but in the end, she finds the true magic comes from home.

Maneki NekoMANEKI NEKO: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat

Published by Shen’s Books
By Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
PUBLISHER: Shen’s Books
ISBN: 978-1885008398
List: $17.95
“Mankei Neko: the Tale of the Beckoning Cat”: When a young samurai gets
caught in a terrible storm, the cat who lives in the monastery saves him by beckoning
him out of danger with her raised paw. Discover the legend behind Japan’s most famous cat!

When I decided to do “the experiment” mentioned in my last blog post, I forgot to set an end date. Well, actually, I had no idea what type of response I would get, so it would have been difficult to set an end date. At this point, I believe I have had enough response to the experiment that I am ready to take the link to the webinar down. For those of you who are still interested in watching it, see the information below. If you have saved the link of the webinar with plans to watch it later, please feel free to watch and make a donation using the payment link below.

Based on the experiment, “affordable” for this particular webinar, Top Ten Reasons for Rejection, seems to be $15.00. And I will honor that. I don’t know anywhere else that you can get a mini course or a webinar for $15.00. So, if you want tips on some corrective action that you might take to improve your chances of submission success, and/or if you would like to deepen your understanding of plot and arc, this webinar is for you. You may pay for the webinar as follows.

BEFORE CLICKING TO PAY, READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS BELOW. If you would like to view the webinar, click here to pay. Once payment is received, you will be sent a link for the webinar. If you would like the webinar link sent to a different email than the one used for PayPal, please put it in the notes section at time of payment.

If you have questions or need help with the payment, you can contact me by clicking on the “contact” tab at the top of this page, message me on Facebook or Twitter. Or message me here.

Follow Writing for Children’s Webinars and Courses on Facebook to stay informed about new webinars and courses and specials.

 

 

experiment

THE EXPERIMENT IS OVER. For an explanation, see my next blog post here.

Last week I offered a new webinar with a mini course in plot and arc as well as a very informative discussion on ten reasons for manuscript rejection, which also teaches about writing kid lit. I know that I’m offering valuable information, and I thought that I was offering it at a reasonable price. However, I got very little response. Also last week, I was following a thread about someone wanting to start a new course, and a couple people asked, “Can you make it affordable?” I tried to engage those people in a discussion on what affordable means to them, with no luck. But it got me thinking . . . affordable probably means something different to everyone.

I thought about doing a poll. Then I decided to try an experiment. What if I offered the webinar for anyone to watch with a request that they contribute what they would consider affordable? I know this means it will be free to some, $5.00 to others, and maybe $25.00 or more to others.

My goal has always been to offer services, courses, and webinars that may be affordable to those who cannot afford the more pricey services, courses, and webinars. I would love to offer everything I do for free, but my time and knowledge are valuable to me, and I want to respect that to some degree. So, for now, with these Writing for Children Webinars, I want to try an experiment and offer this first webinar on a donation basis. So, you will find the link to the video below. You can get a bigger screen in YouTube by putting it in theater mode. Once you watch the webinar, if you have found value in it, please donate whatever works for you at https://paypal.me/BlueWhalePress. Also, please note with your payment that it is for the EXPERIMENT.

THE VIDEO LINK HAS BEEN REMOVED.  If you would still like to watch the webinar, see my next blog post here.

 

If you found this webinar valuable, please DONATE HERE and note that it is for the EXPERIMENT.

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. And boy do I have some good reasons for that.

Reason #1

In 2016, my husband and I sold our home, bought a motor home, and began a two-year journey across America. It was the experience of a lifetime! I saw places and things I never thought I’d see, and I saw places and things that I didn’t even know existed.

bus new

Our home for two years. We lived everywhere!

Reason #2

Just as we were winding down and planning on settling back into a traditional home, we decided to resurrect Blue Whale Press—a publishing company my husband had started many years ago.

sold

New journey on the way!

Reason #3

I’ve been busy as the content and developmental editor and creative director for Blue Whale Press. We have spent the last nine months or so, taking submissions, acquiring books, editing, and designing books. We have moved into our new home in Texas, and we are super excited about the Blue Whale Books that will be released this year. You will be seeing more posts about Blue Whale Press and our books in the near future. For now, if you would like to learn more, visit the Blue Whale Press website. Be sure to visit the “about” page.

 

blue-whale-press-logo-web2

 

ANNOUNCEMENT!

Through Blue Whale Press, I am also launching Writing for Children Webinars and Courses: The place to learn about children’s book writing and publishing.

 

writing for children webinars and courses

 

Our first webinar is Top Ten Reasons for Rejection (and what you can do about it.) It includes a mini course on writing with a classic arc. See the short video below to learn more. Payment instructions below the video.

 

 

BEFORE CLICKING TO PAY, READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS BELOW. If you would like to view the webinar, click here to pay. Once payment is received, you will be sent a link for the webinar. If you would like the webinar link sent to a different email than the one used for PayPal, please put it in the notes section at time of payment.

If you have questions or need help with the payment, you can contact me by clicking on the “contact” tab at the top of this page, message me on Facebook or Twitter. Or message me here.

Follow Writing for Children’s Webinars and Courses on Facebook to stay informed about new webinars and courses and specials.

Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel have interviewed me for their blog KidLit Takaways. Thank you, ladies! In the interview, I share some picture books with good arcs and break them down to show the various plot points. I also offer a 25% discount off my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Because their blog’s theme is “Bite-size bits of wisdom & inspiration for writers on the go!” we weren’t able to include everything from the interview, so I offer some of the outtakes below.

How did you come up with the idea for your online writing class, Art of Arc?

After critiquing hundreds of picture book manuscripts, I saw the same issues repeatedly. As my professional critiques include mini lessons, I found myself recreating the same lessons but customizing them for each story I critiqued. There had to be an easier, more efficient way to do this. And a course was born.

The reason I created a course that focuses on the classic arc is because 90% of the stories I critique are built around that structure. Many successful published picture books are built around an arc on some level. It is the number one structure in picture books. Therefore, I believe this course fulfills a need that has not been available until now. Many courses are taught using the classic arc, but none goes into the detail that this course provides.

Define “story arc.”

Story arc (sometimes called narrative arc) refers to the plot’s development, and character arc refers to the character’s development. Sometimes this can get confusing, with kind of a which came first the chicken or egg type of conundrum. However, usually with picture books, neither comes first because they develop simultaneously as the story progresses. Your character can’t develop unless your plot creates events that instigate your protagonist’s growth or change. Your plot can’t develop unless your character reacts to the plot events through action that moves the story forward, hence developing the plot.

The character arc is the structure that shows how the character develops (grows/changes/or learns) over time. Without a change, the story would be flat, and the reader would not have much to relate to. Usually, the main character starts out with some sort of conflict that he tries to work through, and he is eventually forced to make a choice that leads to his change in thinking or growth. Sometimes the change in thinking is acceptance. Character arc is sometimes confused with character motivation (the thing that makes him take action).

Motivation is the “why” of the protagonist’s action.

The arc is the “how” of the change and growth that occurred because of the action he took.

So, motivation is the driver. It is the energy that moves the protagonist to react or act. His growth is the result of the actions that he took.

Arc determines the ups and downs that set the pace of your story. A good arc is key to engaging readers from beginning to end. There are many picture books based on a similar idea or theme. The arc helps to differentiate one of those same-topic picture books from the other. The narrative arc (also called story arc) is related to the external events and the character arc is about the protagonist’s inner journey, hence the importance of some sort of growth in the character by the end of the story. But still the two arcs form a symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other. The situations and challenges that your characters face are part of the story arc. The choices your character makes and the action he takes that lead to growth and change all fall into the character arc zone.

The main plot points of the story arc include the exposition, ordinary life, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Not all picture books show the ordinary life. Many start at the inciting incident.

The beginning of the story usually provides the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. And the protagonist and his problem/goal are introduced.

Describe the class curriculum and learning objectives.

The focus of the course is the storytelling structure that uses a classic arc. The purpose of this course is to deepen writers’ understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and to introduce them to many other picture book structures. The course also addresses a number of common issues I have found in the manuscripts I critique.

The objective of the course is . . .

• To give a strong foundation in storytelling that is built around the traditional story arc
• To teach picture book writers some techniques and structures that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger
• To provide writers with the knowledge and tools to assist in analyzing their own work prior to investing in professional critiques
• To guide writers through a manuscript self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely
• To show writers how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance their stories in a way that takes them to a higher level
• To shed light on writing elements previously learned in less-detailed courses
• To expand writers’ ability to revise and polish their manuscripts
• To expand writers’ ability to develop a strong plot

The curriculum is based on the following lessons:

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

LESSON SIX: THE MIDDLE – FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE PROBLEM OR REACH GOAL

LESSON SEVEN: DARKEST MOMENT, INNER AND OUTER CLIMAX, ENDING

LESSON EIGHT: SHOWING VERSUS TELLING

LESSON NINE: USING ELEMENTS OF FICTION IN NONFICTION

LESSON TEN: OTHER COMMON ISSUES

BONUS MATERIALS AND WRITING RESOURCES

Describe your background in writing?

I’ve written my whole life. First, I wrote for creative pleasure. Then I wrote in various jobs. I wrote newsletters, processes, and procedures. I wrote greeting cards for a small business my sister and I had. When my granddaughter was born, my interests turned to children’s book writing. I started my children’s writing journey and education with the Institute of Children’s Literature, moved on to their advanced course, and then I started taking courses from authors, editors, and other writing schools. In addition, I went to SCBWI conferences and workshops as well as other writing workshops and webinars. There is a partial list of the courses I’ve taken on my website.

And in critiquing?

I’ve been critiquing for ten years. It started with critique groups. Then as I progressed with my knowledge, I felt the need to help other writers, so I started critiquing people’s manuscripts out of generosity. In the process, I learned things I hadn’t learned in the courses I had taken. Issues that I sensed were concern worthy piqued my curiosity and drove me to research. I was especially interested in understanding plot and arc on a deeper level because I saw so many stories that were missing cause and effect or had no arc or a weak arc. The more I critiqued, the more people would tell me how much I helped them understand and strengthen their story. So, I decided I must be pretty good at this critique thing. After writing hundreds of picture book critiques, I opened my professional critique service in January 2014. In 2016, I was invited by Julie Hedlund to be a Critique Ninja for 12 X 12. This will be my third year as a Critique Ninja. I still give critiques away to help other writers. For paid critiques, I mostly critique manuscripts for my students and alumni because I know that I can refer back to lessons that they should revisit to help them strengthen their manuscripts. My students get a deep discount on critique fees.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make regarding story arc?

There are so many! I could write a book, but I will give a few of the top ones that have major impact on the story.

I see a lot of episodic stories. I explain episodic stories on my blog.

Many stories have a lack of growing tension or lack of variety in action.

It’s common to read stories where it’s not clear who the protagonist is. When I query the author, we often find who they think the protagonist is does not convey in their story. This is usually a sign of an episodic story or a weak or nonexistent arc.

I find that the darkest moment and inner and outer climax are either weak or missing.

There is often a lack of motivation or stakes that drive the protagonist to take action. This and a lack of obstacles (or try and fail scenes) result in a story with very little to no emotional core. The lack of stakes and obstacles prevent the rise in action and the tension that keep the reader engaged.

I see many weak beginnings that don’t hook me as a reader. They don’t create questions in my mind that make me want to keep reading. They don’t set up any expectations that make me want to keep reading.

And then there are weak endings. Just a few examples: The story is resolved too easily. Someone else steps in and saves the protagonist. It might be predictable. There are loose ends left dangling.

Tell us about your writing career.

I covered this pretty much in my answer about my background in writing. I will add that my picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was my first published book. And it won the Mom’s Choice Gold Medal and the Independent Publisher’s Silver Medal. My first chapter book Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain was released last year. It is the first in a series with three other Sienna books that are scheduled to follow. I have started giving chapter book critiques, and gosh darn it, if I’m not pretty good at those, too 😉

Can you share any success stories from your students?

While some of my clients have signed with agents or sold books to publishers, I don’t believe that it is entirely a result of taking Art of Arc or any one course. I believe that it usually takes a combination of courses (where the author gleans a bit from each one). And then there are critique groups, professional critiques, conferences, and craft books, and on and on. It’s also important to give credit to the determination and the blood, sweat, and tears that authors put into their work. In my opinion, reaching success as a writer usually takes a village. I’m happy that Art of Arc can play a role in the growth of many writers’ knowledge. I will share a few recent comments about the course below.

Michael Samulak said, “I don’t have a ‘success’ story in the traditional sense, but I can at least support the ‘village’ idea and say that the course has helped me with my writing and approach. I recently was able to finish a story that I am currently submitting to agents. I realized how much of my writing up to the ARC has been ideas more than a complete story.”

One of my students, Karla Valenti has signed with Essie White and her picture book Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence has been acquired by Sourcebooks. This is the first book in the My Super Science Heroes picture book series. Following is what Karla shared with me about how Art of Arc impacted her writing.

“So I took your course after I had taken a few other PB courses. What I loved about it was that it (1) reinforced a lot of what I already knew (hooks, story structure, conflict, showing vs. telling, etc) but it provided supplemental material to study, (2) there was a lot of new content that was really useful and that I’d never read before (e.g. episodic stories and using elements of fiction in NF), and (3) you have assembled a truly fantastic list of resources!!

In the end, the exercise of working through all of these materials, truly helped cement (and ultimately internalize) key elements of picture book storytelling which have undoubtedly made me a better writer.

As for how this helped me in my career, the course gave me a number of tools I could use to improve upon my stories as well as the confidence to know that I was on the right track as a writer. It also helped me become better at reviewing my work and critiquing the work of others. This last part continues to be a huge benefit as I find no substitute for reading picture books (published or otherwise) and trying to understand what makes them resonate.

On a personal note, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to also learn from you through your manuscript critiques. It is clear you have a solid understanding of effective and meaningful storytelling, and your insights have been invaluable in helping me develop my own work.”
For those who might be interested, there are many more testimonials on my website.

Other suggestions for picture book writers.

Read, read, read. Read picture books. Read books on writing.

Analyze picture books written with a classic arc. One good way to do this is to write out all the plot points in simple sentences. I find when writing critiques that sometimes getting away from the wonderful writing and distilling the story down to simple, bland steps of the protagonist’s actions, challenges, and turning points, I can see the actual structure better.

You can find more information on Art of Arc on my website. To learn how to get your 25% discount, be sure to visit KidLit Takeaways.

 

 

ValentinyLast month, I participated in Susanna Hill’s Valentine’s Day writing contest. I was fortunate to win an honorable mention for Beautiful Language and win a copy of Rhyming the Write Way by Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard. Thank you! The reason I say “I was fortunate” is because after I entered the contest, I realized I was so focused on the theme of hope that I never mentioned Valentine’s Day. So a good reminder to me – watch those submission guidelines.

50 precious words 2018This month, I’m participating in Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest. There’s still time for you to enter and challenge yourself to write a story in 50 words. There are many great prizes. My entry is below.

Reading research 2018I’m also participating in Reading for Research Month as a viewer of the many wonderful posts. This is a great event and challenge with lots of opportunity to learn from mentor texts.

In addition, Chapter Book Challenge just started. Write a Chapter Book in a month! So, if you are writing a chapter book or have been thinking about writing one, here’s your motivation and accountability if you want it.

Now for my 50 Precious Words . . .

Wally Earthworm’s Quest
by Alayne Kay Christian

Wally Earthworm hated dirt  wally earthworm5
Reading’s what he loved the best
That, and snuggly, silky shirts.
Ready to begin his quest,
He squirmed, he searched, he wished, he roamed
He dreamed of silk and book abodes
Until a page of silken words
Became his perfect bookworm home.

(Metrical variance intentional)

 

Mentors for Rent

Balanced Advice About Writing for Children and Young Adults

Blog - Anitra Rowe Schulte

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

KidLit411

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Susanna Leonard Hill

Children's Author

johnell dewitt

nomad, writer, reader and aspiring author

Teresa Robeson

writing * science * nature * art * cultural identity * food

Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Penny Parker Klostermann

Children's Author and Poet

Blogzone

Practical tips to help your writing dreams come true...

STORYBOOK INK

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Noodling with Words

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

365 Picture Books

A picture book every day

Julie Hedlund - Write Up My Life

On Living the Dream and Telling the Tale

VIVIAN KIRKFIELD - Writer for Children

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Carol Munro / Just Write Words

Can't write it yourself? Call Just Write Words.

Jo Hart - Author

A writing blog