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Archive for the ‘Editing Picture Books’ Category

kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in Part 1, Part 2, and now Part 3 on this topic. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and just in case you missed it, you can read part one here and part two here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

HOW TO CUT AN ORIGINAL 304-WORD BEGINNING TO 76 WORDS

by Michelle Nott

Often when we sit down to write a new story, our beginnings are like Fred Flintstone’s feet scurrying fast underneath his car before it really gets going. But what the reader needs is not all the revving up, but the final kick that sets your story in motion.

As you begin to write, let your mind spin, write everything down. Then, once your manuscript is complete (not necessarily done, however), go back to the first words, paragraphs, pages, and see where your story really gets going. It may sound painful but go ahead and delete whatever doesn’t really jump-start your story.

What should be left is:

A hook – a detail about the setting, an interesting fact about your character, a catchy phrase, anything that will literally grab your reader’s interest and make them to want to read more.

An inciting incident – the hook will lose its grip on your reader if something doesn’t happen to your character. This moment should motivate your reader to want to see how events play out.

Here is an example from my upcoming picture book, TEDDY LET’S GO!

The absolute very first draft went like this… (and you don’t have to read it all to see it was entirely too long!)

“Many, many winters ago, a little girl was born. Her grandmother sat by her hospital window. She looked at the tiny hairs on the baby’s head and started to thread a needle. She touched the baby’s cheek and cut some shapes out of cotton fabric. She giggled seeing the little baby’s tongue slipping through her tiny lips and snipped a piece of red felt. The baby’s eyes were often shut, so Grandma picked some wide-open eyes from her craft box. She sat for hours threading, stitching, cutting. With every paw sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.

Then, with the strength of stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label.

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma’.

What a relief to be done! We left the hospital. Grandma gave me a final squeeze and packaged me up for Christmas. I peered out of a corner of the wrapping paper. The sun came and went several times. Lots of people came to visit and stood around a big tree with bright lights and colors. I could see Grandma’s mouth wide-open laughing. I could see a baby’s mouth wide-open crying. A bigger girl sat under the stockings. Her mouth was closed. She was combing her doll’s hair. Who will unwrap me? Grandma’s voice came closer, then I felt like I was flying. From my view, the baby was no bigger than I was. A lady whispered to her, “Look at this. It’s your first Christmas present. Let Mommy open it for you.”

That’s how it started…and how the crying ended. I lay down next to the baby. She rubbed her nose against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

A much later draft that caught the attention and interest of my agent and editor went like this… (a much tighter version of 76 words from the original 304!)

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear. Then she wrapped me up. And I floated.

The smell of pine drifted through my paper. I drifted from one pair of hands to another.

My head spun. My tummy clogged up with cotton. I pushed through the packaging.

“Teddy,” she said, “for you.”

[ILLO: A patch on the bear reads, “Specially hand-made by Grandma.”]

A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

By cutting out all the “revving up,” the story is more interesting, and the reader gets hooked much quicker. But all that preliminary spinning is often necessary for you, as the writer, to understand your characters and to be able to write the best version of their story. So, write as much as you need when you start, all the while knowing that you will go back and tighten in a way that serves your story best.

As for the final version of Teddy Let’s Go, it is slightly improved yet again. And that, you’ll be able to read as soon as it releases in 2022.

HOW TO USE MENTOR TEXTS TO GUIDE YOU WHILE WRITING BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I usually study beginnings before I write a beginning. This is where I turn to mentor texts. When I’m studying comp titles for a particular book I’m working on, I often keep a spreadsheet of things I want to keep track of. For more of how I keep track of mentor texts on spreadsheets, you can read my post here.

When I look at beginnings, I look at how the author bookended the first and last lines. When they are right next to each other on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to see how they fit together or diverge. I also notice what the author included on that first page. What are the things they wanted the reader to know right away? What did they leave out? Then I look at how they fashioned the beginning lines. What is the construct of those lines?

Then I look at my own work. I might try on first lines in various styles. I try out various starting points for the story. I sometimes even set a timer and write as many first lines as I can. Are there any gems? Are there ways I can combine? I realize it might take me lots of tries to get my first lines just right.

BEGINNINGS ARE A HUGE CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET THERE, THE STORY IS TRANSFORMED

by Beth Anderson

Thanks for this great topic – beginnings are such a challenge! Here are my thoughts….

Beginnings are difficult, require LOTS of work, and can make or break a story for an editor and readers. They have to be strong—they have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Pressure! I have to push myself to just dive in and know that I’ll be working on that beginning later – after I know the arc, the heart thread I want to resonate, and where I end up. Beginnings and endings are integrally related. Here are my essential elements for beginnings with the kind of stories I tell (narrative NF and historical fiction) and some examples from my books.

> The hook: kid friendly invitation to readers that sets up the story question to be answered at the end, often it sparks an emotional response in the reader. Readers are pulled in by that question and read to find out the answer. In “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses we get the superhero kid hook and, literally, a question. The opening of An Inconvenient Alphabet addresses the reader and offers the promise of something puzzling—a battle with the alphabet.

> The essentials: What do you need to know about the character and setting? (nothing extra!) The main character and their goal/want/need should be up front. The setting can be implied by illustrations with specifics added later—we don’t need to start with dates and places, but we need a sense of time and place. While you want to ground the reader, you don’t want anything that’s not essential to bog it down. Fill in needed back story and context as needed later, interwoven with action. Examples: I open with Tad Lincoln’s wriggle from birth, clearly involuntary; Prudence Wright’s (2/1/22) spark of independence; a bit about Ben Franklin and Noah Webster (but without names) and the American Revolution as rejecting the rule of England to set up the context and conflict.

> “Plant” seeds: What items or ideas will you need to support for later? What idea do you want to resonate at the end? I had to set up “Smelly” Kelly smelling water and recognizing the odor of elephants, and also the heroism “heart” of the story. On the first spread, Prudence Wright is visually connected with the antagonist that comes later. Sometimes the illustration on the title page or an epigraph (quote) with an illustration, as in the case of Tad Lincoln’s story, strengthen the opening by providing essential information and/or a few seeds.

> Action ASAP: What’s your inciting incident? How can you get to the action, the problem, the emotional response immediately? Often when sharing manuscripts, a critique partner will point to the spot where we first see characters in motion and conflict, and say, “This is where your story really starts.” There’s nothing better than beginning with action. That’s what pulls a young reader in, though that’s often a challenge. It’s harder to get the essentials, the seeds, and the hook embedded immediately in the action. But…I think it’s the most powerful. In Lizzie Demands a Seat!, the first spread has Lizzie in motion, heels clicking, in a hurry, purposeful. Also streetcar, horses, NYC, the pieces of setting we need right away. We get the heat, the stress of being late, and BOOM inciting incident. The shocking unfairness of what happened is obvious – kids recognize unfairness. Then after that emotional hit, we get more context to fully understand society of the time—incentive to keep reading.

Beginnings are a HUGE challenge, but when you finally get there, the story is transformed. The test is to see if you can keep crafting it until you’re there. I think it takes a lot of practice, ongoing learning, to learn how to embed all this information in a short, powerful opening. How can you embed key points without devoting a sentence to each of those pieces? How can you interweave the essentials within the action? The best way to learn about beginnings is to analyze those you consider effective. Good luck!

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kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in both Part 1 and Part 2. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and you can read part one here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

WELCOME READERS BY GIVING A PEEK INTO THE STORY WITH GREAT FIRST PAGES

by Ellen Leventhal

I love the topic of tips for writing outstanding beginnings. For me, this ties into last month’s topic about why it’s important for kid lit writers to read a lot of books in their genre. I read picture books with a different eye each time I pick them up, and recently I have been focused on beginnings and endings because they are both so important.

The first few lines matter for several reasons.

Beginnings of books invite the reader in. It’s the place to welcome your readers, so you want to make it welcoming and give a hint of what’s to come.

As picture book writers, we don’t have “the real estate” to give a lot of background. We have a lot to say in only 32 pages! (actually more like 28 pages). We need to give the readers a peek into the book. Is it humorous? Serious? Light hearted? In a picture book with a traditional arc, we need to introduce the character, what that character wants, and what is standing in the way right off the bat.

But we also can’t just jump in to something that doesn’t make sense to the reader so there needs to be some background in the first few lines. We walk a very thin line!

Remember, all of that information doesn’t all have to be in the first line, but it definitely needs to be close to the beginning. And the lines need to be crafted to make the reader want to read on. I recently re-read Jacqueline Woodson’s EACH KINDNESS. Her fist page just tells us it’s snowy…hmm. However, the description of the snow was just a few words, but they kept me engaged and hinted at something that drew me into the story. (HOW you say things matter) By the second page, we know what the story is about. One more page turn, and we know what the conflict is. BOOM! So was ALL this info in the first two or three lines? No, but pretty close, and it worked! Each page beckoned me to turn the page, and there were not a lot of words on each page.

Even concept books should set up the tone and theme from the very beginning. Parents picking up a book for their little ones, have many options. They want something to grab them. Think about CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert. The first time I read “A told B and B told C I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” I was hooked! I knew what it was about, I loved how unique it was, and it stood out from other alphabet books.

So how do writers do all this? It’s hard! I look up to many writer friends who are experts at awesome first lines.

For me, getting those first lines just right (and are they ever just right?) often takes loads of revision. I write my story first, knowing it’s going to go through multiple revisions before I’m even close to being happy with the beginning. I “wordsmith” the beginning as I go along, checking to make sure that the beginning, middle, and end still make sense together. I actually have a list of great first lines I’ve thought of. Of course, a list of first lines doesn’t make a story, but maybe someday they’ll appear in one. You never know!

Here are a few of my first lines that did make it into print.

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS:
The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.

LOLA CAN’T LEAP:
Lola came from a long line of leapers. She wanted to leap too, but… (second page sets up the conflict)

DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Co-written with Ellen Rothberg)
Sue Ellen had a mind of her own. When the other cows mooed, Sue Ellen Whistled. When the other cows strolled, Sue Ellen danced. And when Max put a sign in the South Pasture, Sue Ellen stomped her foot. (First two pages…the words on the sign sets up the conflict)

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

QUOTABLE QUOTES ON BEGINNINGS: ADVICE FROM SOME OF THE GREATS OF WRITING (plus a little extra from me)

By Rob Sanders

To inspire myself when writing and revising, I often look to advice from some of the greats of writing. After all, I’m not the first person who has walked down the road of writing a story. And I’m certainly not the first who has tried to determine the best way to begin a story in hopes of capturing the attention of my audience. That struggle began millions of years ago when our ancestors orally shared tales around roaring fires.

Some seem to think that beginnings (and maybe writing in general) are easy. Lewis Carrol must have known a few folks like that when he said:

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Carroll

Carroll knew the process of writing was more complex than that, right? We have to remember the complexity of our craft, too. So, let’s back up and begin at the beginning. What is a beginning?

“The beginning is the promise of the end.” -Henry Ward Beecher

The beginning does not exist in isolation. It must be linked to what comes after it—the middle—and the beginning and the middle must lead to a satisfying conclusion. But be warned. You won’t nail the beginning in the beginning.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott says it’s okay for my first efforts to be less-than stellar, that’s good enough for me. But I’m still left wondering what a beginning needs to accomplish. A beginning often (or nearly always) begins with the character, the character’s desire, the character’s problem, or the character’s situation.

“First find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” -Ray Bradbury

To write about a character we have to know as much as possible about that character. We need to know what motivates the character, what makes them who they are. We need to know the story behind the story.

“Everything must have a beginning . . . and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” -Mary Shelley

But be cautious—it seems that the biggest problem with beginnings is that they often get lost in back story. While back story is essential to the writer it is usually nonessential to the reader. Find the back story, then edit out as much as possible. Speaking of editing and revision, the beginning will change and grow and develop as the story does.

“By the time I’m nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times.” -Roald Dahl

Often it is only after you’ve finished a story (is a story ever finished?) that the beginning becomes clear.

“I write the beginning last.” -Richard Peck

Here’s the thing—we writers often overthink things. Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time with in our own heads or because we spend so much time in front of a monitor or because we work again and again and again to find the just-right word. Sometimes, we can think so much that we don’t write. So, the best advice for beginnings might come from a race car driver.

“To finish first, you must first finish.” -Rick Mears

Or we could revise that a bit to say, “To finish, you must first begin.” Better yet, we might let a motivational speaker inspire us and our beginnings.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -Zig Ziglar

You have greatness inside you. You have stories inside you. You have beginnings inside you. Now, go on—begin!

OPENING LINES ARE HOW AN AUTHOR MAKES A STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION ON THE READER

by Vivian Kirkfield

I was always taught that first impressions are really important. You wear a new outfit on the first day of school. You give a firm handshake at a job interview. And in a manuscript, the opening lines are how the author makes a strong first impression on the reader. Opening lines are a doorway into the story – they give the reader a taste of what’s to come and they often set up the promise that will be fulfilled with the satisfying ending. I’m a big fan of concrete examples and so I’ll share a few of my favorite opening lines from some of my own stories – and also the closing lines that mirror them:

The Boys Who Dreamed of Flying: Opening Line: “At a time when most of the world believed human flight was impossible, one boy thought differently.”

Closing Line: “And it all started with Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers, as different as could be, who worked together to take the first step in that starry direction.”

Black Forest or Bust: Opening Line: “Something had to be done. And Bertha Benz was tired of waiting for her husband to do it.”

Closing Line: “And in July of 2016, exactly 125 years after a determined young woman tiptoed past her sleeping husband to take her children on a visit to their grandmother’s house, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, in recognition of her invaluable contribution to the development and design of the modern automobile.”

Raye Draws Her Own Lines: Opening Line: “When Raye Montague was seven years old, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.”

Closing Line: “The tour director had been right all those long years ago. Raye didn’t need to worry about becoming an engineer…she just went out and did it!”

Making Their Voices Heard: Opening Line: “Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be.”

Closing Line: “On the outside, these two stars couldn’t have looked more different. But on the inside, they both understood that sometimes even stars need a little help to shine.”

One of my favorite ways to get opening line inspiration for a new nonfiction picture book bio is to read some of my favorites…classics or current ones. I study how those authors crafted their opening lines. Then I go to my research and look for something that jumps out at me. It’s not a scientific way of doing it…but somehow, it works.

A MINI-LESSON IN WRITING GREAT BEGINNINGS

by Rosie Pova

For me a great beginning should not only accomplish several important things all at once, but also do so smoothly and organically.

1. Introduce the main character so the reader knows immediately who to root for

Whenever I critique manuscripts, I often see stories that open with a secondary character speaking or “entering” the scene first, and that causes confusion. If I, as the reader, get on board and ready to see the world through the eyes of the first character I encounter only to find that that was not the star of the story, that creates disconnect as my focus was misplaced.

2. Give a sense of the character’s personality

This is where the reader forms a first impression about the main character and they must engage the audience with something interesting, unique, fresh, intriguing etc. about themselves.

3. Establish the premise.

This is very important — it’s the “promise” the story makes to the reader and it’s also what we would come back to to measure up against and see whether that promise has been fulfilled by the resolution.

4. Establish the tone.

There should be no confusion about that.

5. Evoke a strong desire to keep reading and find out more.

Say too much, and you might lose the reader. Say too little, and you might confuse the reader. Make it just right!

So, if your beginning hits all the marks above, you’re golden!

A FEW MORE FIRST LINES FROM MY BOOKS

by Alayne Kay Christian

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, illustrated by Milanka Reardon

“On an island off the coast of Brazil, a black blob bobbed on the beach. The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam. It squeaked. Joao squinted and moved closer.

Slippery.

            Heavy.

                        Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled. It could not stand.”

These first lines let you know who, what, and where.

Where: The story occurs on an island off the coast of the Brazil.

Who: João and a dying penguin (you learn the penguin’s name on the next page)

What: João discovers a dying penguin.

It also sets the tone or demonstrates the voice. It creates questions that make the reader want to turn the page. What will João do next? What will happen to the poor little penguin? The next pages connect the reader emotionally to both João and the penguin.  

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRSITMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, illustrated by Polina Gortman

“When Weed was a seed, it tumbled on a breeze and snuggled in a crack, smack-dab in the middle of a busy traffic island.

Spring rains showered, and Weed sprouted.

Summer sun warmed. Weed grew.

Cars zoomed. People zipped and scurried—always in a hurry.

But no one noticed Weed.”

We know this story is about a weed that wants to be noticed. We can tell the story is set in a big city. And we get a sense of the voice/tone. We are left wondering what will happen to weed. We build a slight emotional connection (especially anyone who can relate to longing to be “seen” in a big world too busy and unaware to see). In this book, the illustrations help tell the story and raise more interest when the reader sees that weed isn’t the only one going unnoticed. What about the homeless man and his dog who are seeking kindness?

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, illustrated by Joni Stingfield

“Emily loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They let her eat sweets, stay up late, and jump on the bed. She could skip her bath, make lots of noise, and run in the house.

Grandma and Grandpa played with her, read her stories, and let her help in the garden.

Emily loved her time with Grandma and Grandpa except for one thing. . . .”

With these first lines the ellipsis is used as discussed in Part 1 on writing outstanding beginnings. This leaves the reader wondering what that “one thing” is, and it compels the reader to turn the page and keep reading–it pulls the reader forward into the story. 

SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: COWBOY TROUBLE, illustrated by Blake Marsee

“I was happier than a snake sunning on a woodpile when Aunt Rose asked me to be in her elegant wedding. I was sadder than a rodeo clown on a rainy day when I learned flower girls wear dresses and fancy shoes.”

This is the first paragraph of a chapter book. This book is book 2 in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. So, there is a prologue written in the form of a letter from Sienna. Therefore, the reader has a sense of who, what, where and tone before they read this first paragraph. This first paragraph, informs the reader that this is a story about a girl who has a problem. Her Aunt Rose wants her to be in her elegant wedding, but that means wearing a dress and fancy shoes!

The last page in the chapter reveals Sienna’s fears. “I’d look mighty silly in a dress. I’d trip over my own feet in them fancy shoes. And I ain’t much good at manners neither.” We learn she is struggling with those fears but also the fear of of hurting Aunt Rose’s feelings and making her sad if she refuses to be a flower girl.

So, by the end of the chapter, the readers have been informed enough to pull them forward into the story.

MORE TO COME!

Next week Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, and Michelle Nott will share their wisdom, tips, and even some worksheets for writing outstanding first lines. 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we feel it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. So, it seems the best place to start is the beginning. When I was acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, if the first lines of a manuscript didn’t capture me, the story usually didn’t engage me. I always say, if the first lines don’t hook the agent or editor you’ve submitted to, what will make them think they will capture readers?

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips and examples. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. You’ll notice that some of our wise authors talk about the ending of the story as much as the beginning. There is good reason for this. In my picture book writing course Art of Arc, I interrupt the lessons on writing beginnings to talk about endings. Following are a few excerpts from Art of Arc to explain why it’s smart to think about endings when writing your beginning. You’ll also find more on the subject of endings in some of the wise-authors’ answers in this post and the two to come.

Excerpts from Art of Arc

“You might think that endings would be the final lesson presented in a course on writing and analyzing picture books, but another common problem that I have found in writing critiques is there is often a disconnect between the beginning of the story and the end. The ending has so much to do with the beginning and the rest of the story that it is important to start thinking about it at the beginning.”

“. . . From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses
I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing.

Happy Book Birthday

Listen_coverMost of the people in this group are from my groups for 2021 picture book releases: 2021 Word Birds and Twenty One-derful Picture Books. Before I move on, I’d like to congratulate one of our Twenty One-derful group members Gabi Snyder. Her picture book LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will be coming into the world on July 13. Happy Early Birthday baby LISTEN!

Peach and Cream Photo Spring Quote Twitter Post

Also, friends have made me aware that I failed to let the world know about my latest Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Book: COWBOY TROUBLE. So, I thought this would be a good time to let everyone know it is there and would make an excellent summer reading book. You and your children can read the first three chapters on You Tube (see below). The “cowboy trouble” begins in chapter three. I also share the book trailer for anyone who is interested.

Words of Wisdom

Since, as usual, my answer is the most wordy, I will lead with it.

THE FIRST LINES OF A BOOK ARE THE DOOR TO YOUR STORY. THE WORDS INVITE THE READER TO STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD AND ENTER THE STORY WORLD.

by Alayne Kay Christian

I decided to take the easy way out and pull some excerpts from my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Unfortunately, it ended up being a hard way to go because I struggled to choose just a few words to share from the course. I thought it might be fun to introduce some of the reasons a strong beginning is so important. So here goes. . . .

Have you ever seen carnival barkers in old movies? “Step right up!” they shout to people passing by. They describe attractions. They emphasize variety; advertise novelty, oddity, beauty, challenge, and fun. Their barks are intended to create curiosity, generate excitement, and entice listeners to buy tickets to entertainment. Sometimes, they conduct short shows for free, where they introduce performers and describe acts. Their promises of entertainment are all intended to entice and incite the passersby to come on in!

In the old days, or in old movies, a newspaper boy shouted things like, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Bonnie and Clyde shot dead!” The purpose of this? All to create excitement and curiosity that would entice people to buy an extra edition of the newspaper.

Without the red carpet and fanfare on Oscar night, would the event be nearly as exciting, inviting, or enticing?

In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, would the beginning have been nearly as engaging without the yellow brick road, the fantastic send-off song, and Dorothy’s cheerful dance down the road? Not to mention, the switch from black and white images to color. What if Dorothy had just said, “Okay—I’ll go find the wizard.” and then shuffled along aimlessly in silence through a black and white setting, sans the road? Would we have been as eager to follow her into the story?

The barkers, the newsboys, the red carpet, and the yellow brick road all pave the way for an event, an experience, a journey, an adventure, or whatever it might be, to unfold. The first lines in our books pave the way for our idea/story/plot and our protagonist’s and readers’ journey to unfold. The whole objective of first lines is to capture readers’ attention and make them want more. We want to entice and incite them to come on in, buy into the experience, and commit to taking the journey with our protagonist. This is often referred to as the hook.

A good hook creates questions and curiosity. It makes a promise that says, “This is what the story is about.” It also sets expectations and maybe even evokes emotions. Wow! That’s a lot to accomplish in a picture book page or two. This is true, but writers do it all the time, proving that it can be done. . . .

. . . In picture books, we often incite the reader’s interest with words such as the following, “but,” “until,” “one day,” and we use the three little dots . . . called the ellipsis. Interestingly enough, these words and punctuation that incite the reader to turn the page usually lead to the inciting incident—the event that energizes the story’s progression. This event moves your protagonist into the action of the story. It also pulls him out of his ordinary world into a new world where change can occur—the door to our story.

Why are these words (“but,” “one day,” “until” and so on) or the ellipsis used so frequently? They work to keep the reader reading. How? They create a pause or a moment of silence that gives the reader an opportunity to think, imagine, guess, ask questions, and experience emotions. It makes them stop and pay closer attention. Using these techniques hint at what’s to come, which in turn creates curiosity. Sometimes they are the arrow that points to the heart of the story. Using these techniques are great ways to hook a reader. They all suggest there is something coming, and they create anticipation. It could lead to an answer, reveal a secret, hint at danger, present the unexpected, and so on. All of the above hook the reader. When the reader is hooked, she is pulled into the story far enough that she wants to read more.

I’d love to share more, but we have many great words of wisdom waiting for you, so let’s move on.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR READERS INTRIGUED AND WANTING MORE?

by Kirsti Call

Richard Peck said: “You’re only as good as your opening line.” How do we keep our readers intrigued and wanting more?

Ask a question. Asking a question gets readers thinking. Not a Box immediately asks: “Why are you sitting in a box?” We want to turn the page to find out the answer. The Day the Babies Crawled Away questions: “Remember the day the babies crawled away?” This piques our interest. We want to know what happened on that fateful day. Did the babies survive? Where did they go?

Take People by Surprise. Mustache Baby declares: “When Baby Billy was born, his family noticed something odd: He had a mustache.” A baby with a mustache? We have to read on. Leonardo the Terrible Monster tells us: “Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.” A monster who isn’t scary? I can’t wait to turn the page.

Use word play. Being Frank starts with: “Frank was always frank” and Bridget’s Beret is similar: “Bridget was drawn to drawing.” There’s nothing better than the clever use of words to get people wanting more.

Using questions, surprise, wonder, opinion and word play makes the first sentences of our stories irresistible.

FIRST LINES THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE STORY—AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite techniques when I am writing is to use a first line that will be echoed throughout the book.

For example, the first line of Juniper Kai: Super Spy reads, “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy.” This line comes back in the middle, when Juniper is feeling left out: “It didn’t matter if she had nobody to play with. Because Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone.” Then the line comes back a third time at the end: “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone. Sometimes. But sometimes a spy needs a good co-agent. And Juniper Kai knew she was born to be…a spy-tacular big sister.”

Another example is in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday. Like the title, the first line reads, “I got a chicken for my birthday.” This line is repeated throughout the book: ”I got a chicken for my birthday. And the chicken has a list.” “I got a chicken for my birthday. And now the chicken stole my dog.” The line then comes back at the end. “I got a chicken for my birthday. And it was the Best. Present. Ever.”

The reason I like this technique so much is that you can see your character growing and changing by the way that repeated line is used at the end compared with at the beginning. In Juniper Kai: Super Spy, Juniper goes from being a lonely only child to wondering what secret her parents are hiding, to being an eager big sister. In I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, Ana goes from feeling perplexed (and a bit annoyed) by the strange birthday gift from her grandmother, to even more perplexed (and more annoyed) as the chicken begins recruiting her pets to build something huge in the backyard, to feeling absolutely thrilled (and realizing that her grandmother knew exactly what she was doing all along).

I also love this technique when I see it in other people’s writing! Any book that starts and ends with a similar line tends to leave me smiling and satisfied!

FIRST LINES PROVIDE A PEEK INTO THE WORLD OF THE STORY

by Melissa Stoller

First lines in a picture book set the tone and the mood for the story. Like an invitation that might provide an initial glimpse into the theme of a party, a first line can provide a peek into the world of a story. When I draft the first few lines, I try to give the reader an idea of what will come next, what the character might want, and a little bit about the setting, if possible. Of course, I write, rewrite, revise, and tweak as the story evolves. The first line that I start with is usually not the first line that is printed. Also, when I finish writing the story, I go back to ensure that the ending works with the beginning. I love to have first and last lines that complement each other, that show growth of the main character, and that leave the reader with that special something that makes them want to read the story over and over.

Here are examples of first and last lines from two of my picture books:

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

First line: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Last line: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart, Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Throughout the story, Scarlet realizes that she wants to rely on her own magical creativity instead of the magic of the paintbrush.

READY, SET, GORILLA!

First lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Last lines: The friends all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted . . . Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Over the course of the story, Gorilla realizes that playing fair, good sportsmanship, and being a good friend make him a winner.

Happy writing and editing as you draft the best first lines for your stories!

FIRST LINES IN EARLY DRAFTS ARE OFTEN A TYPE OF WARM UP WRITING UNTIL YOU FIND THE PERFECT WORDS

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

The beginning of a story is still very much a draft until I write and then polish the ending. Eventually, I return to the beginning and rework it until I’m satisfied that it aligns with (and is worthy of) the ending I have carefully crafted. Sometimes I discover that the “beginning” is actually several sentences into the story I have written, which means I have to cut some (often many) of my beloved words. To make this process easier on myself, I usually create a document called “darlings I had to cut” that I can copy and paste these tender words into, so I can bare to part with them in the working draft of my story. I rarely, if ever, go back and retrieve these “darlings,” but saving them “just in case,” allows me the creative freedom to vigorously revise, so the story can start right where it needs to, and without all of the unnecessary “throat clearing” that often shows up at the beginning of my earlier drafts.

I will also mention that Richard Peck offered his wisdom on this topic (as it relates to writing novels, but widely applicable), in this 2006 article for The Horn Book: In the Beginning: What Makes a Good Beginning? 

MORE TO COME!

There will be two more posts (July 10 and July 17) on this topic with lots of great information coming from the following wise authors: Vivian Kirkfield, Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, and Rob Sanders. 

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Sarah Hoppe Headshot

 

I’d like to introduce Sarah Hoppe, the author of the wonderful picture book Who Will? Will You?—illustrated by Milanka Reardon and published by Blue Whale Press. First, I will share a book trailer and couple reviews for her sweet and educational story. And then you will find an interesting interview with Sarah about her experience as an author and a photographer. She offers tips for writers, too! You will find some of Sarah’s lovely photography as you read.

 

 

Kirkus Review

“A girl tries to find help for a stray baby animal in this picture book from debut author Hoppe and illustrator Reardon (Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise, 2016).

When Lottie and her dog, Rufus, find a lone “pup” (who’s not initially shown in the illustrations) on a trash-filled beach, they’re eager to help him. The girl approaches several people about helping the pup, each time answering questions about what he can do, but no one’s willing to take it in. The animal shelter worker assumes the pup is a dog—but when she gets a good look, she refuses to help. A park ranger thinks the pup might be a bat, and a sea lion keeper guesses it’s a sea lion, but they’re mistaken. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions. Hoppe uses clever science-related questions (“Does the pup have super-cool senses to help find its food?”) to encourage readers to guess the animal’s identity and to think about how different animals share similar qualities.

A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists.”

Midwest Review

“Who Will? Will You? is a picture book for ages 4-8 that receives lovely colorful illustrations by Milanka Reardon as it explores a young beachcomber’s unusual find at the seashore.

Lottie never expected to find something bigger than a shell, but a little pup tugs at her heartstrings and poses a problem far greater than locating the perfect shell.

Many are interested in adopting Lottie’s find . . . until they look into her wagon after initial excitement. The story evolves to question not only who will take charge of a stray, but why nobody will do so.

A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray.

Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find Who Will? Will You? engrossing and fun.”

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan’s Literary Services
www. donovansliteraryservices. com

Interview

Alayne: How did you get your start as a children’s book writer? What brought you to this world?

Sarah: I’ve been an avid reader since I was small. Books were my friends when I was too shy to make others, and they were friends to share with others once I got a little braver.

While I was studying to be a teacher, my favorite class was Children’s Literature. I got to read books for credit! I aced that class, and my love for picture books only grew.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful photographer. Which came first? Writing or photography?

Sarah: Thank you. I’ve written stories for fun since I was a kid. I took my first photography class in high school, and in college, I got to experience the joy of a dark room before everything went digital.

I got serious about being a writer first. Then I decided to do something with all my photographs, started an Etsy shop, and I sell my work locally.

Alayne: Does your photographer’s eye influence your writing?

Sarah: Sometimes it does. My favorite kind of photo to take is a macro photo. Insects, flower petals, and dewdrops are often taken as a macro photo. It’s when you get up and personal with your subject, revealing details and showing them true to size or larger than life.

I was practicing macro shots with slugs. Slugs and snails are great subjects for this as they are happy to stick around for a while. The slime trail they leave behind is beautiful, and that little trail, sparkling in the sun, inspired another book.

 

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a children’s book using photography as illustrations?

Sarah: It is definitely something I’ve thought about. An alphabet book was the first thing that came to mind, and I’m still pondering that. If I can figure out a good story arc that works with my style of photography, I’ll dive right in.

Alayne: Do your children influence your writing?

Sarah: Yes, but in a roundabout way. I’ve never taken anything they’ve said or done and plopped it right into a story, but so much of their spark and joy finds its way to the page.

Alayne: What was it like to see your children read your picture book for the first time?

Sarah: They were so proud! They loved it. Of course, they knew the plot and I’d shown them some of the illustrations, but being able to hold a physical copy made it real. They were telling people for years that I am an author, but now they can show people the book.

Alayne: Who Will? Will You? is a sweet story, but it is also educational, which we at Blue Whale love. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Sarah: One of my kids and his love of nonfiction, and my dad and his love of quizzes. Between a quiz about animal babies and a stack of animal books by my kid’s bed, an idea started brewing

Dog babies are called pups, but so are many other animal babies. A case of pup confusion would make an interesting story. The outline fell into place as I delved into research.

Alayne: Blue Whale Press changed the title of your story and offered quite a few edit suggestions. You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways. Do you have any tips for authors regarding how to keep from taking edits personally?

Sarah: Thank you. Blue Whale has been a pleasure to work with as well, and it honestly didn’t feel like there were a ton of edits. I suspected the title would need a change, and I knew there would be other edits as well.

The thing to remember is that everyone involved in your manuscript wants it to succeed. We’re all on the same team. Like any team, its members have different strengths. Trust that each member is doing their best in their area of expertise, just as you have given your very best manuscript for the team to work with. Not one member has all the answers, but together you can figure it out.

Alayne: I like that answer a lot, Sarah. I often remind people that everyone’s name is going on the book, so the author, illustrator, and the publisher all want it to be the best that it can be. Trust is truly key.

Alayne: Lottie and Rufus are wonderful characters. Where did you find your inspiration for them?

Sarah: Lottie is curious, kind, and determined. Those qualities show up time and time again in kids all over the world. Lottie could be anyone and everyone. I also wanted a brave adventurous girl like my nieces for my main character. So, Lottie is full of adventure and bravery. I thought about all the amazing kids I know and poured their traits into Lottie.

An amazing kid needs an amazing best friend. I have a dog named Rufus who has been my companion for the last fourteen years. Lottie needed a young Rufus to keep up with her adventures. Milanka and I made the perfect friend for our spunky, big-hearted main character.

Alayne: This is your debut picture book. How long had you been writing and submitting before signing with Blue Whale Press?

Sarah: I had been playing around with story ideas for a while but got serious when I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. I was in my second year of 12×12 when I signed with Blue Whale.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writers and illustrators who are waiting for their first contract?

Sarah: Patience and perseverance. Keep writing, and find people who write what you write. Connect with people, on-line or in person, get and give feedback, and work on your craft.

Alayne: Now, I will put on the spot, even more than I already have 😉 Why do you write?

Sarah: Books evoke emotions. To bring joy, laughter, or even sorrow to someone through your words is powerful. Now add illustrations! The words and pictures together tell a story that, without the other, would be impossible. That’s magic, and to have a small part in something so wonderful is all I ever wanted.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Sarah. Your story has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments. We love the last spread in the story. It is so touching. And it’s wordless! So why would I compliment an author on a wordless spread? Because your story inspired it! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Sarah: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.

LOOK INSIDE THE WHO WILL? WILL YOU? ACTIVITY GUIDE BELOW. To get your free download, go to Blue Whale Press and click on the link provided under the Who Will? Will You? book description. Coloring sheets, word puzzles, crafts for children, worksheets and more!

About Sarah

Sarah Hoppe is a born and bred Minnesotan, a photographer, and an author who loves to write weird stories and be outside with nature. When she isn’t with her camera and family traipsing about the woods, she can be found inside working at her computer and creating different worlds.

Sarah loves dogs, books, campfires and pizza, and used to be a third-grade teacher. Living in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband, two boys and two dogs, you can often find Sarah and her family out on an adventure or trying craft projects with lots of hot glue. To learn more about Sarah, click here. To learn more about Sarah’s lovely photography click here.

Who Will? Will You? Can be found wherever books are sold. Some online stores are listed below.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indie Bound

Booktopia

More Interviews and Blog Posts with Sarah

Susanna Hill’s Blog

https://susannahill. com/2019/06/04/tuesday-debut-presenting-sarah-hoppe/

On the Scene in 19 Blog

https://onthescenein19. weebly. com/blog/previous/4

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating Blog

https://kathytemean. wordpress. com/2019/07/25/book-giveaway-who-will-will-you-by-sarah-hoppe/

The GROG Blog

https://groggorg. blogspot. com/2019/03/picture-book-debut-interview-with-sarah. html

Post Bulletin Minnesota Newspaper

https://www. postbulletin. com/life/lifestyles/first-time-author-makes-her-mark-in-picture-books/article_d50f0654-a4f9-11e9-9491-3f9511893d8f. html

https://www. grandrapidsmn. com/eedition/page-c/page_dcea1c8c-d497-5adc-a46a-05fe1fd9b40e. html

This last one won’t work unless you have a subscription.

Photographs copyright © 2019 Sarah Hoppe

All art copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

 

 

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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.

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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.

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heart This month, on the  TODAY’S LITTLE DITTY blog, Michelle H. Barnes had a spotlight on Rebecca M. Davis – the senior editor for Boyds Mills Press and for WordSong, the only imprint in the United States dedicated to children’s poetry. Rebecca challenged TODAY’S LITTLE DITTY followers to write poems about acts of kindness. Lacking confidence in my poetry skills, I hesitated to join the fun. But I had a little ditty gnawing at me until I gave in and tried. I will share my free verse piece below. But first I must say, if you aren’t aware of TODAY’S LITTLE DITTY, it is worth a visit. It inspires not only writing and poetry, but in my case, stepping outside comfort zones and possibly growing as a writer.

Eye to Eye

by Alayne Kay Christian

Inside a cardboard lean-to
a child crouches, wrapping arms around legs,
tapping tingling toes
to warm them.
“Change to spare?” her mother begs.
A boy stares,
his mother tugs.
His arms reach out
with cocoa and coat.
Eyes meet.
Smiles match.
A grinning boy shivers his way home.

Alayne’s Picture book writing course – Art of Arc: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript (deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc).

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sub six series 2

I apologize for hijacking Jan’s informative post with a few announcements. I feel it is important to let you know that I have decided to let ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS Q & A rest for the summer. However, there are still some ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS guest posts coming up. The two main reasons for the summer break with the Q & A are:

1) It’s a busy time for everyone, so I thought it might be nice to give the team a break.

2) I am busy with writing projects and my new picture book critique service.

Many of our Q & A members have had good news since we started the team. I am hoping to share some of it with you in the future.

I would like to thank today’s guest blogger, Jan Godown Annino, for sharing some of the things she has learned in her writing journey. Here’s Jan. . . .

 

Admissions about Submissions:

Things Learned from my Crackerjack Critique Partners

 by Jan Godown Annino

 

It could be that at the end of this day, you won’t submit that poem, story, article or book. I’m talking about that manuscript glowing over there in your To-Go queue.

Why not?

1. There is a time to submit.

2. And there is a time to delay a submission.

Having spent plenty of time around the table with my prize-winning poetry critique partner and two groups of published writers / editors, I’ve been privileged with an inside view of their submission experiences, results, and hopes.

Jan's crackerjack  critique group L to R : Debra, Ann, Jan & M.R. Photo by Paolo Annino

Jan’s crackerjack critique group
L to R : Debra, Ann, Jan & M.R.
Photo by Anna Annino

As the leader of a writing workshop in a retirement community for several years, I discovered a surprising reason to hold back on submissions. Also, in attending crackerjack workshops at the Hollins University summer children’s literature program, I learned a lot about submission attitudes from fellow writers.

Today, I share what I learned about manuscript submissions and writing from the above mentioned experiences.

This blog post is about moving a voluntary, not required writing for everyday employment, submission along. Moving it the long, long, miles from the keyboard toward publication. NOTE:  Writing required for everyday employment such as, works-for-hire, paid/staff writing assignments, writing in other employment settings, or other similar pieces are not in the hopper for this discussion.

Two Little Reasons to Hold Back on Submitting

Little reason one: The poem, article, story or book manuscript ain’t poifect. It’s not the best.

Some things that might get overlooked or might need a little extra attention are: the idea, research, writing, revisions, fact-checking, copy editing, formatting & agreements / commitments previously made with an agent or editor.

Although flush with the thrill of creation earlier, the writer now realizes that all the words don’t work well. The next revisions might start with arrangements for hiring an expert copy-editor where they will work together to provide polish before submitting. They might look for things such as, lax formatting, missing significant facts and so on.

The best work moves forward. The less than best, no.

Now for a word about partial manuscripts. Sometimes, upon request from editors or agents, a writer sends out work that is partially written. But those requests for partials do not mean that those professionals on the receiving end hope to read work without sparkle. Those partials must be the best they can be, not hurry up, rough-and-tumble drafts.

As for the writer who has an arrangement with an agent or editor to peek at works-in-progress that are covered in construction dust, well, that writer owns a unique send button. Brava! Not every keyboard has ’em.

For most of us, it works in our favor to leave the typos, wonky formatting, and blobby ideas at home.

Little reason two for holding back on submitting, with three aspects to it: An unready, unprepared writer.

1. Not the writer’s true topic.

A writer may realize they dislike the topic that they are messing around with in Microsoft Word, longhand, or however it is they bring something to the page.

As a community college adult education writing instructor, I had big ears for the round-the-world adventures of active retirees. They are the ones who taught me about this “wrong topic” problem.

Out of about 20 fascinating writers with lively stories to tell, each semester, usually one-fourth shared that they were slogging away at a piece that they didn’t want to write. But they were dully plodding because a spouse, child, sibling, college group, former employer, etc. tasked them with it. Someone had complimented them on their writing, rhyme, annual family newsletter, vacation report, or anecdote about Uncle Mortimer and the wasp in his armpit by telling them, “You have to publish this!”

If you don’t want to write the piece you are working on, give yourself permission to write something you want to write. (Note – again, under discussion is voluntary writing, not required writing for everyday employment.)

 2)     Scrutiny

A smaller part of little reason two is that an author is unready, at this particular moment, to be out there for scrutiny. Consider the following scenario: An author’s pal runs interference and sets up a pitch session with their editor or agent. The unprepared author doesn’t have the pitch polished, is sick with the ick, is distracted by several serious family kerfuffles, etc. The editor is faced with either wasting time with an unprepared author or a string of cancelled appointments due to the author’s personal issues.

The remedy is to always try to be ready, but to understand if the time is truly not right. Ask the editor/agent if you can be in touch soon, like in two weeks?

3)     Unwilling to budge

A third aspect of little reason two is that the writer is emotionally tied to the story exactly the way it is submitted. The connection, often from a heartfelt childhood experience or other event, is so vivid to the author that any manuscript changes suggested by an editor or publisher feel wrong . . . or it seems as though it would be a betrayal of this emotional material to make changes for improvement.

So why send a piece to a traditional publisher, whose job is to find ways to make the piece better, and whose experience guides them to do this, when the writer’s thinking from the get-go is,  I’m not open to substantial changes. You must be open to changes to work with a top-drawer editor and publisher.

There may be other reasons a writer is unready; please share a comment.

COMMENT prize

The prize(s): A surprise item (or items) from Jan’s writer’s vault (U.S. & Canada postal mail, only.)

To be considered for a prize, leave a comment, by June 30 midnighty and include your real name if that is not the automatic comment name.

I appreciate those who helped. In acknowledging assistance (Ann, Debra, M.R, especially, thank you) any foolishness of thought, fact or interpretation, is my own. I’d like to also express gratitude for Sub Six/Alayne and your supporting cast, and more thanks to Kristen Fulton for the enthusiasm she shares in the writing community.

Photo by M.R. Street

Photo by M.R. Street

About Jan

Jan Godown Annino’s picture book biography of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, SHE SANG PROMISE, is an ALA Amelia Bloomer Top Ten book. ​The New Jersey native moved to south Florida as a teen and now ​​lives with her family safe from pythons,​ ​crocodiles and most tourists,​ ​in North Florida​.​ ​Her ​poems for children are published in a 2014 Peace Corps anthology for Ethiopian schools, and her poetry for young readers also appears in Milkweed’s STORIES FROM WHERE WE LIVE, Literary Field Guide Series (Piedmont & South Atlantic edition).  ​Her Florida nonfiction books​ ​ ​are also well-regarded. Jan is​  ​an active reader in schools.

Visit Jan’s blog

Learn more about Jan on Twitter

You can also find Jan on GROG a group blog offering guidance and support to writers. 

CLICK HERE TO FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF “ALL ABOUT SUBMISSION” POSTS

CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ON ALAYNE’S PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE SERVICE

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AAS Q&A 4Welcome to the launch of ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS Q & A. This will be a monthly feature with some bonus posts here and there. I have been collecting questions about submitting to agents, editors, etc. from writers with inquiring minds. I have recruited a fantastic team of children’s writers who have many years of experience with submitting. I developed this team because I thought it would be beneficial to writers to see answers from a variety of perspectives. This month’s answers have some common threads. Two strong threads are “Join a critique group – maybe even more than one.” And “Don’t be in a hurry. Take time to let the story marinate.”

The team had so much to offer that I will be posting more answers tomorrow. Elaine Kiely Kearns will share the seven stages that her manuscripts go through before she considers them ready. Cindy Williams Schrauben will give you eight simple, common sense guidelines for determining if your manuscript is ready. I will share a few tips and provide some links with more tips, including some additional checklists that you can use to decide if your story is ready for submission. Before I move on I would like to announce my new picture book manuscript critique service. Click here to learn more about what I offer.

Introducing the team members!

Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Kirsti Call

Julie Falatko

Elaine Kiely Kearns

Sylvia Liu

Sophia Mallonée

Cindy Williams Schrauben

Alayne Kay Christian

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT?

 Sylvia Liu, Writer-illustrator

portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com

blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

You know your manuscript is ready if: (1) it has sat in your computer and marinated for a while; (2) it has gone through at least two rounds of critiques and revisions, one for big picture issues and one for fine-tuning and word-smithing; (3) you’ve street tested it (read it out loud to children in your target age group, preferably not your own children); (4) optionally, it has gone through a professional paid critique, and (5) you read it and get that feeling that you have captured magic in a bottle. Getting to the fifth step is the hardest in my experience. I’ve sent out plenty of manuscripts that weren’t quite there and in retrospect, they were not ready. The one that met all of these criteria ended up being the manuscript that got me a publishing contract.

A BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Sylvia Liu. She is the winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award. She tells all about it in her Interview on Clarike Bowman-Jahn’s blog.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Children’s and Young Adult Writer

www.marcieatkins.com

I consider my manuscript ready to go when I’ve vetted it through all of my critique groups (sometimes multiple times). When they start fiddling with commas and moving a word here or there, then I know it’s pretty close. Sometimes I’m so immersed in revisions that I think it’s ready before it really is. This year my goal is to take the manuscript as far as I can, put it away for 2-3 months, then re-evaluate it again. Sometimes that manuscript I think is really ready is really not.

Sophia Mallonée, Children’s Writer

www.sophiamallonee.com

This is probably the single most difficult question to answer when it comes to writing, and honestly there’s no clear sign or finish line. It would be so much easier if there was!

For me, I like to pound out a very rough first draft and then leave it for a week or two before I do anything with it. I usually then go through 1-3 rounds of personal revisions before I send it off to my critique group and then 1-2 rounds of edits with my crit partners. After a series of thorough revisions, I’ll leave the story to sit and marinate on its own for a couple of weeks.

The passage of time is really my best tool to judge the strength of a manuscript. After enough time has passed for me to feel distant from the story, I’m then able to pick it back up and read it with fresh eyes. If it reads smoothly, makes me smile in the right places and so on, I’ll send it out. Otherwise, I start the process all over again and might add a few new eyes into the mix for more suggestions.

I also prefer to do small batches of submissions at a time and that way, if I get any helpful feedback from my submissions, I’m able to make further revisions before I send it out again. So you might find that even after you think a manuscript is ready to submit, there are still changes to be made!

Kirsti Call, Children’s Author

www.kirsticall.com

Her debut book: The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall! (trailer)

I started submitting almost immediately after I got back into writing 3 years ago. I thought my first story was fabulous and ready to be published.  Sadly, no publisher agreed with me!

Now that I’ve had more time working in the industry, I realize that it wasn’t ready.  I needed to go to a critique group, get a writing partner, revise, revise and revise some more!  I needed to attend conferences and hone my craft.

Now that I do that, I know my manuscript is ready when I have no qualms about the beginning, middle or ending. I know it’s ready when I can read it out loud without stumbling.  I know it’s ready when my critique partners have nothing much to say about the story, except for how wonderful it is, of course!  Nothing’s better than making a manuscript sing!

Julie Falatko, Author

http://worldofjulie.com/

Her debut book: SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK) (Viking Children’s, 2015)

Represented by Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary

In so many ways, it’s very, very hard to know when a manuscript is ready to submit. For me, at least. It took me years — YEARS — to understand that first drafts are SUPPOSED to be terrible. And that it is my job to fix them. So usually when I write, I go through a fairly normal cycle of “this is awful/this is brilliant.” I need to make sure that when I think a manuscript is done, that it is really done, and it’s not that I just happened to catch myself at a “this is brilliant” upswing. Having more than one critique group helps. Taking some time away from it helps, too, so you can come back to it like someone else wrote it, to see what still needs to be fixed.

But eventually, you’ll know in your gut that there’s nothing else you can change in a manuscript. You have to be really honest with yourself about this. It might, and probably should, take months. Take your time. Take it seriously. It’s a tough balance — you need to give yourself enough time to get it right, but at a certain point you also have to let go and trust that you’ve done all you can.

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

As I mentioned earlier, one of the strong themes in this month’s answers is do not rush to submission. Don’t let your desire to be published or get an agent interfere with good judgment. In a recent Interview on kidlit411, I offered the following advice to writers. Do not be in a hurry. I don’t want to discourage any writer from submitting because there are some people who are new to the writing scene who find success in achieving publication in a very short time. However, I believe that this is rare. I know it is tempting to jump right into submitting, but I caution you to take your time. Learn your craft, and learn it well. If you can afford it, take classes, get professional critiques, and read, read, read. Be sure to join a critique group. Immerse yourself in the writing community, and learn from those who have already learned from their mistakes. It is not a race – it is a journey.

Click her for HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT – PART TWO with additional answers and some excellent resources for deciding when your manuscript is ready for submission.

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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

THINGS I NATURALLY NOTICE WHEN POLISHING MY WORK

 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?

STORY COMPONENTS

BEGINNING PAGES

 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?

CONFLICT

 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?

STORY FOCUS

 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?

CLIMAX AND RESOLUTION

 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?

LINE BY LINE QUESTIONS

 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?

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