Archive for the ‘creative coaching’ Category

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.


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


  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.


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.

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Vivian Kirkfield has asked me to participate in her “Goal-Busters” blog series by sharing some of my goals for 2014 along with how I plan to achieve my goals and how I will reward myself. I believe the post will go live on Monday, February 3. In the process of answering her “Goal-Busters” questions, I mentioned SMART goals, and I thought it might be helpful if I explain via my blog what a SMART goal is.





Timely or Time-based


Specific – Setting a specific goal increases ones chance of achievement. General goals are too broad in scope. There is no clear vision to focus on. Specific goals pinpoint exactly what you are going after. To determine your specific goal answer the following questions:

Who:      Will I do this alone or will other people help me achieve my goal?

What:     Exactly what do I want to achieve?

Where:    Where will I work toward this goal? (home, work, gym, school, library)

When:     What time frame will I commit to?

Which:    Exactly what is required (skills, money, materials, etc.) to succeed, and what limitations or constraints need to be put in place?

Why:      Exactly why do I want to achieve this goal? What is the purpose? What does it mean to me? What are the benefits? What will I gain by achieving this goal?

EXAMPLE:  A general goal would be, “I will read more picture books.” A specific goal would be, “I will read 500 picture books and complete 24 mentor text studies in 2014. Every other week, I will borrow and read 21 picture books from the library, and each time, I will use at least one book as a mentor text to improve my pacing skills.

Measurable –Determine how you can measure your progress. It is not only important to measure your progress at the end of your goal. It is equally important to measure your progress as you work toward your goal. By doing this, you will know if you are on track to achieving what you set out to do, or if you need to adjust something to ensure your success.

Ask yourself: How much? How often? How many? How will I know when my goal has been reached?

EXAMPLE: In my ‘specific goal’ example above, I had a measurable end goal of 500 picture books read and 24 mentor text studies completed in 2014. I also had a smaller measurable goal of 21 picture books read and one mentor text study completed every other week. I could have also set it as a monthly measurable goal of 42 picture books read and two mentor text studies completed. I could of went smaller with – During my two week period, I will read two picture books a day, and complete my mentor text study during the remaining three days. Focusing on smaller goals will eventually add up to achieving the larger goal. The smaller goals seem more attainable, and with each success, the larger goal will seem more attainable as well.

Attainable – It is important to be sure that your goal is achievable. If the goal is too lofty, for example, read 500 picture books a week, it is most likely not an attainable goal. If you live in a rural area and the nearest public library is five hours away, going to the library twice a month, might be an unattainable goal.

When setting a SMART goal, you first need to believe that you can manage everything that you are setting out to do. If you set a goal that is unbelievable to you, you will most likely be unable to achieve that goal.

Your SMART goal also needs to be possible. If you set a goal to read 500 picture books and you have no affordable or obtainable access to picture books, no matter how much you would like to do it, your chances will be slim. Of course, you may find a way around it, so let’s try another example. If you set a goal to make 500 books magically appear by using your mind, you won’t achieve it no matter how hard you try. Okay, some people may believe that to be possible as well, but I think you get the picture by now.

My above examples of unbelievable goals are based on my belief system. When you consider whether your goal is possible or impossible, it is important to make your plans based on your own standards and understanding of your personal abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Do not let other people’s beliefs limit you or your own beliefs about what is achievable for you.

Realistic –  A realistic goal must be formed around an objective that you are willing and able to work toward. Setting a lofty goal can often be easier to achieve than a small/easily attainable goal because the challenge of a big goal can be a motivating force. But if the goal is so big that it is not realistic or it is unattainable, it might be time to rethink things.

Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe you can succeed. Another way to determine if you are setting a realistic goal is to ask yourself if you have ever achieved anything similar in the past. You might also go back to that “WHICH” question:  Exactly what is required to succeed, and what limitations or constraints need to be put in place? What conditions would have to exist for me to succeed? Are these requirements, constraints and conditions realistic?

It can sometimes be tempting to do something simply because it is easy, sounds like a good idea, or might be fun to try. This often results in finding that the action you have taken has no long-term importance to what you truly want to achieve. This is what I call distractions. Ask yourself: Is this goal important to, and in line with, my long-term vision/mission?

Some people who teach about SMART goals use the word relevant for the R word. They say that a goal must be relevant to what you want to achieve in the short term and the long term. Using Relavant as the R word encourages goal-setters to understand their personal vision, mission and purpose – see the whole picture – when setting a SMART goal, or any goal for that matter.

Timely or Time Based – A goal with no established time frame is far less motivating than a goal that is grounded within a time frame. Time frames provide a sense of urgency. If you simply stated that you want to read 500 picture books. You could still be working on (or thinking about) that goal in the year 2034, if you are still living. By knowing 21 books need to be checked out of the library this week and read within the next two weeks, your unconscious mind is set into motion, planning to begin working on that goal.

Considering a time frame overlaps with the SMART goal step “Specific.” It is emphasized as an individual step to drive home the importance of including this strong motivator in your goal plans. Having a deadline prevents procrastination. It has been said that a goal is a dream with a time frame. Dreaming it is not doing it. Doing it is meeting that deadline with a specific plan.

Some people who teach about SMART goals use Tangible for the T word. To me, tangible ties in with the question “WHY” because if the goal feels substantially real/material, the benefits are much easier to identify. A goal is tangible if it can be precisely identified or realized by the mind; if it can be appraised at an actual or approximate value; or when it can be perceived or experienced through one of the senses: taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing.

Tangible goals make it easier to make the goal measurable, and in the end, attainable.

If you are struggling to set a SMART goal, it could be because your future plans (mission/vision) are not clear enough. It would be a good idea to work at getting a clear vision of what you truly want and then go back to setting your SMART goals.

Taking time to identify goals that are most important to you will help you figure out ways to manifest your vision. Focusing on the steps of setting SMART goals can heighten your awareness of exactly what is required to realize your goals.

When you plan specific steps to your goal and establish a time frame for executing those steps, you can attain most any goal you set. It is my hope that taking the steps I have outlined above will expand your ability to reach goals that you may have thought previously unattainable. Stating goals clearly with specific steps will increase your confidence. You will realize that you are capable of achieving your dreams, you are worthy of that success, and you have what it takes to live your vision.

With every decision you make throughout your day, stop and ask yourself:

Does the action I am about to take move me closer to my goal, or further from my goal? If the answer is “closer to,” you are heading in the right direction. If the answer is “further from,” you have another decision to make.

How is your goal specific? What makes it specific? What makes it measurable? How will you measure your progress? Is it attainable? Why? Is it realistic? Why? Is it relevant? Why? Have you committed to a time frame? What is it? Is your goal tangible? How?

Once you have answered the above questions for your goals, write a vision statement for each goal. Read your vision statement daily, and track your progress through measurement.

EXAMPLE VISION STATEMENT: “I will read 500 picture books and complete 24 mentor text studies in 2014. Every other week, I will borrow and read 21 picture books from the library, and each time, I will use at least one book as a mentor text to improve my pacing skills.

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Before I get started with this post, I want to announce my new professional picture book manuscript critique service. For more information on what I offer click here.  January 12-18, 2014, Meg Miller will be presenting ReviMo – Revise More Picture Books Week. She has interviewed me for one of her ReviMo posts. One of her interview questions was, “What is your revision process.” I decided to post a list of some things I take into consideration when writing and revising picture books. The list is similar to what I look for when I critique other people’s work. I hope it is helpful.

Read about the new Sub Six Series: ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS


 Does it read smoothly or do I trip up a lot as I read?
 Does it make me feel emotion?
 Do I find myself smiling or chuckling?
 Do I feel anxious, excited or sad for the main character?
 Do I find myself cheering for the main character?
 Does it have a satisfying ending?



 Is the opening line or paragraph strong?
 Will it grab the reader’s attention immediately?
 Will it make readers want to learn more or continue reading?
 Does the setup and description go on forever? Or do the first couple of spreads reveal what the story is “really” about?
 Will the reader have a good sense of the main character and his desire or problem by the third spread?


 Does the text move the main character and story forward through his attempts to get what he wants?
 As the main character moves forward, does he attempt and fail to achieve his goal?
 Do his attempts and failures increase the story tension and make me want to turn pages?
 Will readers feel like they are in the story, experiencing what the main character is experiencing?


 Is there cause and effect throughout the story, connecting the dots from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, scene to scene?
 Are there too many obstacles?
 Too few obstacles?
 Do the steps that the main character take make sense?


 Is there a strong story arc that builds to a turning point or climax?
 Does the main character experience a darkest moment that leads him to resolution?
 Does the resolution come just a page or two before the ending?
 Is the ending connected to the rest of the story and satisfying?
 Does it offer a twist?
 A nice tie in to the beginning?
 A moment of realization or satisfaction that the main character has grown, learned something, or reached his goal?


 Do all the story dots seem connected?
 Is time and place clear throughout?
 Is tense consistent?
 Is point of view consistent?
 Are there awkward, clumsy, or wordy sentences?
 Are there any missing or confusing transitions between scenes?
 Is there too much telling and not enough showing?
 Is there too much dialogue and not enough action?
 Are there places where the text is doing the illustrators job?
 Do all passages create visions or move the story forward in some way?

You might also like Perfecting Your Critique

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sub six series 2I am excited to announce the Sub Six Blog Series: ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS. We will launch the series tomorrow with guest blogger Sylvia Liu in a post titled CONTESTS AND OTHER SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITIES FOR BOTH WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS. Sylvia will be sharing a list of writing contests and illustration contest. Her list also includes opportunities to apply for grants, mentorships, scholarships and so on.

Each month, the Sub Six Series will feature a different guest blogger who will share his/her thoughts and knowledge on various subjects (see list below). Some months, we will be offering some bonus posts. January is a bonus month with three posts instead of one.

Our titles are not quite worked out, but I can give a basic idea of what will be happening in the coming months.

January is a busy month. I hope you will bear with my many posts. And I hope you will find them beneficial.

We start the month on January 4 with Sylvia Liu’s list of contest and submission opportunities for both writers and illustrators.

Polishing a manuscript before submission is crucial because you want to submit your BEST work. On January 6, I will post a list of things to look for when revising or polishing a manuscript. This post will link to my interview about revising manuscripts on Meg Miller’s  blog for the ReviMo challenge.

Improving your craft is another way to submit your best work. At the end of January, guest blogger Marcie Flinchum Atkins will be showing you how using mentor texts can improve your picture book writing. She will even be offering some worksheets that you can print out and use.

February will spotlight Marcie Flinchum Atkins and her tips for submission organization.

March brings Elaine Kiely Kearns. Her topic will be about things such as, how to choose an agent, knowing when to nudge, and so on.

In April, Yvonne Mes will be helping us learn how to submit without feeling like throwing up. Can you relate?

May is another bonus month. On May 4, Kristen Fulton will share her secrets for submitting nonfiction works. Then later in the month, we will feature Jan Godown Annino who will cover the topic What Critique Pals and I Know about Submissions.

In June, Vivian Kirkfield will be sharing what she has learned about submitting to niche publishers, and she might share one interesting way to get your foot in the door.

July – I will be covering queries and cover letters.

Sylvia Liu  will be returning in August to share her knowledge and experience with submitting as an author/illustrator.

September – December, we will be answering questions that writers have asked about submissions. The questions will be answered by a group of writers who are experienced in submitting to agents and editors.

The Sub Six support group submitted hundreds of manuscripts in 2013. I will be posting the actual numbers in February. I would like to invite anyone that is ready to start submitting to join us in 2014.

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Thank you for your interest in my webinar “Perfecting Your Critique” and this additional information. If you haven’t seen the webinar yet, it may be viewed by clicking the link below. The password is nonficpic. When you are done watching, I hope you will read the blog all the way to the end. There are some excellent resources and great information.

PERFECTING YOUR CRITIQUE webinar video  Remember the password is nonficpic.

Clicking on the following will open my sample critique and Hannah Holt’s sample critique.

Bunky Bear Alayne’s crit pdf

Bunky Bear Doesn’t Like to Share Hannah Critique

Learn more about Hannah Holt

My critique partner, Anthony Pearson, is doing a series on his blog where he is sharing critiques he has received on one of his stories. Currently, he has two critiques up. I did a critique on the story a few weeks ago, and he should have mine added to the blog next week. So, if you want to see more example critiques from me and a few other writers click on the link below.


Clicking on the following will open a list of questions that can be used as a guideline when writing critiques.


Clicking on the following will open a questions and answers page. These are questions about critiques that people had asked but were not answered during the webinar.


In the answers I mention Nancy Cofflelt’s books, here is a link Nancy Coffelt’s Amazon Page

Thanks to Russ Cox, Julie Falatko, Sabrina Marchal, and Jennifer Young for helping me answer the question about in-person versus online critique groups.

A BIG THANK YOU TO KRISTEN FULTON and WOW nonficpic for making this webinar available. Every year, starting June 21, Kristen challenges the members of WOW nonficpic to write a nonfiction picture book a day for the week, and there are prizes! All year long, the group has fun writing, networking, revising, learning, and winning. Now, Kristen has added extremely informative free webinars as one of the group benefits. Also, in February 2014, there will be a mini challenge that will be centered around doing research for nonficiton works. To join, click on the link below, and ask to join. It is a great group of writers.

Join WOW nonficpic

Learn more about WOW nonficpic

For additional information regarding critique groups click on the links below.


From the Positive Writer blog: WHY WRITERS ARE THE MOST BRUTAL CRITICS OF OTHER WRITERS, by Bryan Hutchinson


Jingle Bells cover

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hummingbirdBefore I get into the Trapped Hummingbird: Self-Created Fear portion of the post, I want to offer a quick blurb on picture book writing courses. One of the winners in the Grandparent’s Day writing contest mentioned that she is looking for more writing courses after completing a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Here is a short list of courses that are getting a lot of buzz. Please feel free to share additional courses in comments.

Susanna Leonard Hill’s MAKING PICTURE BOOK MAGIC course.




Fear is a common stumbling block for writers and, for many people, in life. Before you continue reading, stop and take a moment to list some of your current fears. Once you have your list move on to the next paragraph.

The fears you have listed would most likely be nonexistent if you had no memory of your past and you did not have the ability to imagine your future. We all have our natural reactionary fear when we are in true danger, but I doubt that the fears you have listed are such. Look at your list, and consider the following questions for each fear. Is this fear something I have created in my mind based on past experiences or an imagined future? Is this fear keeping me stuck in place or leaving me feeling anxious?

One of the biggest fears that stand in our way as writers, and in life, is fear of the unknown. Most of us cannot possibly know the outcome of something, yet we create frightening scenarios in our mind that seldom come to be. Living a fearful life blinds us to new perspectives and opportunities. The darkness of our fear overshadows the light of our spirit.


One morning, when I opened the garage door, I discovered that a hummingbird had been trapped in the garage overnight. Even though the now wide-open garage door left a huge escape route, the poor hummingbird could not find her way out. Why? Because she would not change what she was doing. She fluttered along the ceiling until exhaustion forced her to stop and rest on the garage door’s support brackets. Within moments, she commenced fluttering again – using up all her energy.

We opened the upper portion of a garage window that was only about a foot away from her resting place. Yet, with two good routes to freedom, she could not find her way out. She continued her exhaustive fluttering – resting routine over and over. I tried to lure her lower with a hummingbird feeder, so she could see the expansive escape route of the garage door. I went outside the window with the feeder and talked to her. My husband and I tried every way we could think of to guide her out of the garage. I believe she was so full of fear that she could not see the light emitting from her path to freedom. Finally, we decided to leave her alone, trusting she would eventually find her way out.

That evening she was gone. I believe she spent some time alone in peace where her fear subsided, and she could finally see the light and reclaim her freedom.

This story had two messages for me that I would like to share with you:

  1. My husband and I had to let go of our fears that the little bird would suffer injury or death. Then we had to let go of our efforts to control the situation. We had to let things unfold naturally.
  2. We only had goodness in our hearts and wanted nothing but the highest good for our little winged friend. Yet, her fear would not allow her to trust us. If she could have trusted, all her exhaustive struggling would have been unnecessary, and she could have found freedom with ease and much sooner.

What fears are creating struggles in your life? Holding you back? Slowing you down? Preventing you from trusting?

Read about other writers’ fears at Marcie Flinchum Atkins “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: FEAR.”


This morning, I opened up Facebook to find some comments by Debbie Bernstein LaCroix. I thought her words would be perfect for this post. With her permission, I have included the comments below.

Here’s the thing… sometimes you have to take risks. Sometimes those risks will pay off, and sometimes they don’t. But if you want to be successful, it means trying new things and stepping outside your comfort zone. Later this week I will have a success story with Usborne that started 3 years ago. I totally took a leap of faith, and got nothing. Until 2 weeks ago… With writing, I take risks every time I send out a story. And most of the time, it comes with a rejection. It would be so much easier to quit. But I want to build and foster imaginations, so I don’t. When I share an idea with someone, it has the risk of failing. Some of my ideas end up horribly. Some of them take over 10 years to complete (The Children’s Museum)… but it’s all about knowing that you can do it, and not giving up. It’s OK to be scared. I am, a lot. But I know I have things to do. And I can’t do them if I just sit back and do what is easy. So here is my question to you, what risk will you take tomorrow?

(additional comment)

Just adding, I have a lot of people bringing me in to do author visits. For this, it’s a risk, an unknown. But the rewards for each are different… in building relationship, upping sales, fostering the love of reading or what ever their goal is. Just heard back from one that a Kindergarten teacher is really happy that I am going to be speaking to her classroom. She says they always get forgotten or ignored. Sure, speaking with the younger kids is a little more of a challenge in some ways. But they love to learn about where books come from too. Anyway, glad this consultant took a risk and that I can help make them happy.

To learn more about Debbie and Usborne visit the following.

Debbie’s Website

Debbie’s Blog

Usborne Books

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Because there were only six story entries in the Grandparent’s Day writing contest, I am announcing our six finalists and voting will start early. However, voting will remain open until the time originally stated in the contest rules – Friday, August 30 at 11:59 PM CDT. Winners will still be announced on Saturday, August 31 by 11:59 PM CDT.

All you have to do is read the six stories, note the number of the story that you like best, and vote on the poll at the bottom of this page. If you would like to read more about the contest or learn about the prizes go to  WRITING CONTEST IN HONOR OF GRANDPARENT’S DAY.

The contest inspired all kinds of long-distance love stories: Love across technology, heavenly love, old memories love, across the ocean love, funny love, and runaway love, What a variety of touching and fun writing. I am so happy that the contest helped encourage these writers to tell their stories.

The stories or links to stories are listed below.

Thanks to everyone for participating, and best of luck to the finalists.


Where’s My Grammy?

by Sally Phillips

Emma spent her summers visiting Grams wonderful bakery. It was always filled with Emma’s favorite goodies. There were ooey-gooey chocolate frosted donuts and chewy soft pretzels. Baking marble rye breads and fruity pies of very kind kept Grams busy.

One day, Grams said, “Let’s make gingerbread cookies.”

Emma clapped her hands, “Let’s make Grammy cookies! That way when I go, I’ll have cookies to remember our visit.” Molly barked her approval.

Grams mixed the spicy dough and rolled it out. She cut a grammy shape. Emma added raisins and a tiny cherry for her nose. Grams drew a smile into the dough and popped it into the oven.

After baking, Grams put it on the counter to cool. “Just a few extra touches,” said Grams pulling out a bag of red licorice. Emma added it for her grammy’s hair with icing to tack it down. Grams used icing to draw a sweatband and racing shoes.

“That’s just like you Grams,” said Emma pointing to a picture.

“That’s when I won the long distance race last year,” said Grams smiling.

Then, quick as a flash the cookie disappeared from the counter. The screen door slammed like a 4th of July firecracker.

“Oh, no said Grams, I should have never added those racing shoes. The Grammy cookie has run off!”

Grams and Emma were out the door in a flash. “I see something brown running down the road,” said Emma.

Chasing after her grammy gingerbread cookie, Emma soon came across a police officer. “What’s going on?” asked Officer Jane.

“My Grammy cookie is running away,” said Emma catching her breath.

Officer Jane saw Grams running down the road. “I’ll call for back up. Well get your Grammy back,” she called to Emma. Officer Jane ran down the road.

Emma passed a field full of soccer players. “What’s going on?” the team captain asked.

My Grammy cookie is running away,” called Emma.

“We’ll get her, come on boys,” he said. All the players ran down the road too.

Emma heard a whirling sound overhead. It was a TV helicopter. “We heard on our radio that your Grammy from the bakery is missing,” the reporter said. “Well fly around and find her.”

“No wait,” Emma said. “My Grammy cookie ran off, not my Grams!” But they had already flown away.

At the end of the road, the TV crew was recording all the action. “And here’s the girl with her missing Grammy.”

“I wasn’t missing,” said Grams. “We were chasing Emma’s grammy gingerbread cookie!”

Molly appeared out of the bushes. She had gingerbread crumbs around her mouth. Molly’s nose had a red cherry on it.

“You ate the cookie?” said Emma.

“And so we have it, a happy ending after all,” said the reporter. “News at 9”.

Emma said, “Let’s record the news tonight Grams. When we feel sad about being apart, we can watch our adventure all over again.”

“That’s better than a cookie,” Grams said laughing and gave Emma a big hug.



An Ocean Apart, 

Near by Heart

by Maria A. Velardocchia

Brrrring! The phone rang right on time! When Antoinette’s daddy nodded ‘OK’, she answered the phone before it could ring a second time. Antoinette was so excited! She knew the phone call was from Pappou, her grandfather in Greece. On the first day of each month, at 8:00 in the morning, either Pappou called Antoinette’s house, or Antoinette’s daddy called Pappou. They took turns, and this month it was Pappou’s turn to call.

“Hi, Pappou!” Antoinette said, with a smile in her voice.

“Hello, my Antonia,” said Pappou. Pappou liked to call Antoinette by her Greek name. “Tell me how you are and what you’ve been doing, so I can hear your beautiful voice.”

“Oh, Pappou, we’re all doing well here in Florida. The weather is so nice and mommy and daddy have been taking me to the beach a lot. Daddy says it reminds him of when he was a little boy in Greece and you used to take him to the beach in the summer.”

“Yes, Antonia, your daddy is right. We would pack our lunch and go to the beach every day. It was your daddy’s favorite place to go,” Pappou said in a voice that sounded like he was remembering.

“Pappou, did daddy like to find shells on the beach?” Antoinette asked.

“Find shells, you ask? He sure did. Not only shells, but here in Greece we have beautiful little pebbles on our beaches. They are smooth and colorful, and your daddy loved to bring a favorite one home each day,” answered Pappou.

“He did?” asked Antoinette. I like to collect rocks. I guess that’s another way we’re alike!”

“Yes,” Pappou said. “Antonia, you remind me very much of your daddy when he was eight years old like you.”

“I know what, Pappou!” exclaimed Antoinette. “When we go to the beach today, I’m going to have daddy take a picture of me holding some shells. Then, when I write you my letter, we’ll send you the picture so you can see me at the beach!”

“Oh, Antonia, what a good idea!” said Pappou. “I can’t wait to get the picture! And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to find a picture of your daddy and me at the beach, many years ago, and I’m going to send it to you!”

“Hooray, pappou! I’m so excited! I’m going to get ready for the beach now while daddy talks to you. I love you, Pappou,” said Antoinette.

“I love you, too, Antonia,” said Pappou.

Two weeks later they got a letter from Pappou! Daddy carefully opened the envelope. There was a letter for daddy and mommy, and a letter for Antoinette. Tucked inside Antoinette’s letter was a picture of Pappou and her daddy at the beach. She loved the picture! As Antoinette went to bed that night, she held the picture close to her heart and dreamt of the day she would visit Pappou in Greece.



Grandma, Can You Guess How Special You Are?

by Kristina (Senese) Johnson

Grandma, can you guess how special you are?

This is my story and now you are the STAR!

When you are here or when you are there

You can count all the clues of the times that we share.

Clue number ONE is the first to let you know

It’s something you do from my head down to my toes.

Lots of smooches and big hugs that are so tight

I love to cuddle when you tuck me in at night.

Moving on to the next clue that is number TWO

In counting with numbers that is what you do.

Sitting at my house and watching me play

Us taking a nap together after a long hard day.

Using my fingers counting to clue number THREE

This you do in the kitchen and it makes me hungry!

Lots of baking and tasting so many delicious treats

Sitting next to me at the table when it is time to eat!

Clue number FOUR is a clue that I adore

But don’t you worry there are so many more.

You and I get to giggle and talk on the phone

The sound of your voice has such a friendly tone.

Next it’s time to count to the clue that is number FIVE

This is what you and I do as soon as you arrive.

I like when you play games with me like hide and seek

Grandma, do those glasses really help you to peek?

Using both hands to count to clue number SIX

This is a clue like the others that is easy to pick.

Your laugh is jolly with a rosy cheek on each side

You light up a room with your smiling eyes.

Bunny ears on one hand makes this clue number SEVEN

Another clue that shows how you are a loving person!

Really smart and funny, so soft and so gentle

Grandma, you don’t complain when I’m a lot to handle!

Wiggling my fingers to count to clue number EIGHT

All have been good, but this clue is sure great!

You are my Grandma forever and for always

How happy I am when you tell me all of your stories!

What can I say about clue number NINE

Just like apple pie Grandma, you are so devine!

When you are here or when you are there

I think of you always and how we are a pair.

The last clue is important it is clue number TEN

It is hard for me to say to you so carefully listen

My special grandma, I love when you are near

I don’t like to say “goodbye,” it brings me to tears.

Now that you have counted all the ways you are a STAR

Grandma, have you guessed how special you are?

One day when I am older and a much bigger me,

The memories of us Grandma, how special they will be!




Helen Velikans’s story  “I Hate Grandparent’s Day” can be read on her blog.



Donna Sadd’s story “Vacation Sport” can be read on her blog.



Linda Schueler’s story  “Messages” can be read on her blog.


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ImageLucky for Sophie and Chloe, Grandma Tillie knows how to royally entertain her grandchildren. To their delight, whenever Grandma Tillie babysits, she seems to disappear, only to be replaced by a parade of lovable characters. There’s Tillie Vanilly with the bright pink hair, star of The Tillie Vanilly Show, who loves to tell jokes and dance the conga; Chef Silly Tillie with the lampshade hat who offers up a dinner of Worm Chili with Glue Gravy; and Madame Frilly Tillie with the sparkly eyeglasses and towel turban, the world’s most creative bath-bubble stylist. Sophie and Chloe wonder who will appear to tuck them into bed: Hiker Hilly Tillie, Explorer Chilly Tillie, or Zoo-lady Gorilly Tillie? To their surprise, it’s the best character of all—just plain Grandma Tillie. Available at Amazon.com.


Emily loves to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Like most grandchildren, she is showered with affection and enjoys the freedom to eat sweets, stay up late, and help Grandma in the garden. But when Emily’s visit with her grandparents ends, she’s saddened by thoughts of missing them. To comfort her, Grandma gives Emily a book that teaches her to use her imagination, memory, and natural surroundings to help her feel close when they are apart. In a surprising role reversal, Emily comforts Grandma by sharing her own secrets for staying close. Great Grandparent’s Day gift for long-distance grandparents who miss their grandchildren. Available at Amazon.com

ADDITION OF NEW PRIZE! Today, I received a signed copy of Mercer Mayer’s “Grandma, Grandpa, and Me.” All contest participants will be included in a drawing for the chance to win this great bounus prize.

Grandma, grandpa, and me v2

Little Critter is having a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm! He’s excited—there is so much to see and do. Join Little Critter as he helps his grandparents milk the cows, pick blueberries, and bake a pie for the contest at the Country Fair. There are many delicious pies in the contest, but Little Critter’s pie has a secret ingredient that is sure to make it a favorite!


This year, in the US, National Grandparent’s Day falls on Sunday, September 8. Because I am a long-distance grandparent, and my picture book “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” is about a little girl with long-distance grandparents. I have decided to make the long-distance grandchild/grandparent relationship the focus of this writing contest. I know, could I repeat “long-distance” one more time 🙂


  • Write a picture book story (500 words or less) about a child with long-distance grandparents.
  • Post the story on your blog by Friday, August 23 at 11:59 PM CDT. Please include a blurb about the contest and a link back to my blog.
  • Between Friday, August 23 and Sunday, August 25 at 11:59 PM CDT, comment on this blog page announcing the title of your story along with a link to your posted story/blog page.
  • If you do not have a blog, paste your story as a comment on this blog page.
  • I will share a list of all story/blog links on Monday, August 26 by 11:59 PM CDT.
  • The links to the stories will remain posted so everyone will have a chance to read them.


  • My handsome assistant and I will determine the top six finalists, and they will be announced on Wednesday, August 28 by 11:59 PM CDT. The winners will be determined by popular vote as follows:
  • The finalists’ stories will be posted at the same time as they are announced (8/28), and voting will begin.
  • Voting will remain open until Friday, August 30 at 11:59 PM CDT.
  • Winners will be announced on Saturday, August 31 by 11:59 PM CDT.


First Place – $25 Amazon gift card, plus a signed copy of “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” and a highly *detailed picture book manuscript critique from me.

Second Place – One highly *detailed picture book manuscript critique from me plus a signed copy of “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa.”

Third Place – A signed copy of Laurie Jacobs’s picture book, illustrated by Anne Jewett,  “Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie” and a signed copy of “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa.”  (true confession – I wish I could win the signed copy of Laurie’s fun picture book 🙂

*Please note that my critiques skills are strong with the exception of pictures books written in rhyme. My ability to critique picture books in rhyme is limited.

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One day, after a discussion with my friend about manuscript rejections, she said to me, “We are just going to have to keep writing until we get it right.”

Part of me agreed with her until I woke the next morning thinking, Who says we don’t already have it right?

My daughter loves beets and I hate them. Which one of us is right? Or is the beet wrong for tasting the way it tastes? Sometimes, manuscript rejections might merely be an indication that we have not found the right match for our work – the person who will love our beets. Of course, this thought process doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying to improve my craft. However, it does mean that I have decided not to let other people’s personal tastes make me doubt that I have it right. There are plenty of famous, extremely successful writers who were rejected numerous times before they found the right beet-eater.

I might not like beets, but I love black jellybeans. As far as other jellybeans go, red ones are okay, and green ones? Yuck! It is all a matter of taste for me. I think I would even reject the green ones if I were starving. I could take or leave the red ones. But I cannot resist a black jellybean.  I had to taste a lot of jellybeans before I could determine which flavor I like. I had to taste beets before I could learn that I hate them. Who knows what writing flavor an agent or editor will love without first offering them a taste? Yes, we can do our best to research what they like. But sometimes, it is a matter of building a relationship and learning their literary tastes.


In the above image, there are very few black jellybeans.

Like an agent with manuscripts, I would have to reject a lot of colorful jellybeans to get to the flavor I like.

I have a friend who signed with an agent earlier this year. That same agent also rejected my friend’s first manuscript submission, and then another and another and another. My friend kept submitting manuscripts to this agent until she found the story that the agent could not resist. That story must have been a flavor the agent loves. Now, my friend is trying to rewrite the first rejected story to see if she can change the flavor enough to get her agent to take a bite.

I hope if you ever find yourself feeling dejected over a rejection that you will take any critique comments into consideration, but also keep in mind that sometimes rejections are nothing more than a matter of taste. Even the picture book/literary genius, Jane Yolen, gets manuscript rejections. This week, she shared on Facebook that she received a rejection from one of her favorite editors, and she will continue looking for the RIGHT editor for that particular book. To me, the RIGHT editor will be the one that loves the flavor of Ms. Yolen’s book.






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This is my final Doodle Day July prompt. Thanks to Alison Hertz for letting me have some fun sharing my ideas. This one is fun and easy. I often play this game with children, and they love it. All you have to do is have someone scribble on a piece of paper or close your eyes and do your own scribbles. Then look at the scribble from every direction to see what it inspires. In my following examples the original scribble is in red and my doodle is in black. My husband did some of the scribbles and I did some with my eyes closed. As you will see, I did not spend a lot of time on these doodles. I find scribble doodles to be an excellent way to let go of my inner judge and perfectionist. There is only rule for this prompt – keep it simple, fun and quick.

Happy doodling!












Wishing in Color Doodle Prompt

Mandala-Doodle Samples

Including Art Notes in Picture Book Manuscripts

Interview with Kathryn Otoshi Part One and Part Two

The Social Network Monster that Ate the Author

When My Story Becomes Their Story

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