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Archive for the ‘Picture Book Writing’ Category

Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

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It’s been months since I’ve written a blog post, but it’s time to pick myself up by my bootstraps and get going again. What a year this has been! I’ve bounced around a number of ways to approach this return to my blog. I even started down a path of several paragraphs talking about how when times get tough, the tough keep going. But that path also led me into a “true confessions and soul searching” direction that just didn’t feel right. So, I’m going to try a more direct approach to where I’ve been, what I need to do, and where I’m going. I’ll start with where I’ve been.

Please forgive any weird formatting issues. WordPress decided to change it’s format while I was away. I need a little more time to learn it.

Who Knew?

When my latest books were scheduled for release, who knew that we would be challenged with a pandemic that has changed nearly everyone’s life? Who knew that my first picture book in ages, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, would be released eighteen days after I had knee replacement surgery? Who knew that the surgery would still be holding me back nearly four months later? Who knew that my next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, would be released four days after my oldest brother’s death? Who knew that book two in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book Series, Cowboy Trouble, would be rescheduled for 2021? Who knew, that my first picture book, Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa’s tenth anniversary would slip by without acknowledgement or celebration? Who knew that it would be picked up by Clear Fork Publishing under the Blue Whale Press imprint, and continue selling all these years later?

My Brother and Me–I will miss him, but I carry him in my heart.

I didn’t know that my exciting book launches and the wonderful year I had planned for all of my beloved books would all come crashing down around me. I’ve been knocked down, but I’m getting back up (broken heart, bum knee, and all) and moving forward.

Trying to get in the spirit in spite of my challenges.

What I Need to Do and Why I Need to Do It

I need to make up for lost time and share the news of my books with y’all. I feel compelled to do this because I feel it’s only fair to the illustrators (Milanka Reardon and Polina Gortman) who worked so hard on my picture books. And it’s only fair to the beautiful books and heartwarming stories that people should get an opportunity to read them. It’s only fair that the kids and adults who will read them should be made aware that the books even exist. It’s only fair to João Pereira de Souza and Dindim to have their story told. It’s only fair to the citizens of Toledo, Ohio and the little weed that their story of unity be told when it seems we’ve forgotten how to love and care about one another as human beings. Along those same lines, I feel like I have an obligation to humanity to share these stories of love and kindness. They both touched my heart, and I want to reach as many other hearts as I possibly can.

You can help me and the illustrators as well as readers by requesting the books at your library and writing reviews. I would be forever grateful.

Future Posts

Keep an eye out for future posts. I’m going to start a new series called Arc Angels where published authors will analyze each other’s books and share with you how each made their stories shine by using the classic narrative and/or character arcs. I expect there will be prizes and giveaways along the way. I plan to share the very first version of Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa with my crude illustrations and all. I will also share how the book started as one thing and ended up being another. And I’ll soon have a book trailer for Cowboy Trouble to share.

There are lots more great posts to come, but I will save them for surprises.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A heartwarming holiday tale that proves even the littlest things can make a big difference.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The fine message about holiday spirit makes for a perfect read for parents seeking stories that encourage kids to feel empowered to begin changes that cross age and economic barriers. The Weed That Woke Christmas is a lovely, positive, much-needed story for modern times.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“This sweet story is accompanied by lush illustrations by Gortman, who portrays Toledo’s citizens as diverse. The author manages to convey the importance of charity and community without making the tale mawkish or trite. She closes the text with the real story of the Christmas Weed and the hope that the holiday magic will continue.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

This heartwarming and inspiring book proves that even the smallest gestures can make a big difference and transform apathy and oblivion into awareness, unity, community, kindness and hope. Partly truth and partly fiction, it is based on the true story of how a weed on a Toledo street corner helped spread the giving spirit far beyond its traffic island home. All Weed wants is to be seen, but people are in too much of a hurry to notice each other, let alone Weed. Weed watches, wishes, and waits until finally someone does see it. But Weed discovers that there is something far bigger and more important than a little weed being noticed.

Where to Buy

Buy wherever books are sold and . . . 

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Mostly/dp/0981493815

Amazon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981493823/

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

Book Depository

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Polina-Gortman/9780981493817

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/1137418710?ean=9780981493817

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780981493817

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A moving, affectionate, and joyful tale, all the more so for being true.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An Old Man and His Penguin holds a number of important messages about human/animal relationships, love, oil slicks and their impact on sea life, and loneliness. . . . its underlying focus on letting go and reaping rewards from non-possessiveness offers an outstanding lesson about love for the very young.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Adults looking for an inviting animal story with an important message will welcome this appealingly different seaside tale.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“The underlying lesson about compassion and good stewardship is subtle but effective; an author’s note explains the real-life circumstances. Reardon, who also illustrated the penguin-themed Noodles’ & Albie’s Birthday Surprise (2016), deftly captures the story’s charm and expressiveness.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

Off the coast of Brazil, João rescues a lifeless, oil-covered penguin (Dindim) and nurses him back to health. Dindim adopts João as an honorary penguin, and the steadfast friends do everything together. They swim together, fish together, and stroll the beach together. But there are real penguins somewhere across the sea. So one day, Dindim leaves João. The villagers tell João the penguin will never come back. João cannot say if he will or will not. Are the villagers right? Will Dindim ever patter into his old friend’s loving arms again?

Where to Buy

Wherever books are sold and . . .

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Old-Man-His-Penguin-Honorary/dp/173289356X/

Amzon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732893578/

Book Depostitory

https://www.bookdepository.com/An-Old-Man-and-His-Penguin-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Milanka-Reardon/9781732893566

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-old-man-and-his-penguin-alayne-kay-christian/1136805502?ean=9781732893566

Books-A-Million

https://www.booksamillion.com/search?id=7861112761623&query=An+Old+Man+and+His+Penguin&filter=

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781732893566

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/an-old-man-and-his-penguin/book/9781732893566.html

SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because the narrator gives a sense of the heart of the story that ended up in my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED.

ANOTHER SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because it does a good job of showing the community coming together.

A SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT JOAO AND DINDIM THE PENGUIN

BOOK LAUNCH POSTS

Thank you to all my friends who helped me share the news of my books via social media when I couldn’t! There are too many to mention, but you know who you are.

Thank you friends who featured my books on your blogs!!!!

My brain is still somewhat foggy, so if I’ve forgotten anyone, please forgive me and feel free to add your post in a comment.

The Weed That Woke Christmas

Vivian Kirkfield’s Picture Book Friday Post 

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS Plus Giveaway

Kathy Temean shares my book journey on her  Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/10/11/book-giveaway-the-weed-that-woke-christmas-by-by-alayne-kay-christian/

Rosie Pova interviews me on her Chitchat blog.

https://www.rosiejpova.com/blog/chitchat-with-author-editor-and-publisher-alayne-kay-christian

Keep an eye out for my KidLit411 feature coming in November.

An Old Man and His Penguin

Janie Reinart interviews me on the GROG blog.

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2020/07/she-wears-many-hatsinterview-with.html

Vivian Kirkfield features An Old Man and His Penguin on her blog.

Alayne Kay Christian: Will Write for Cookies Plus GIVEAWAY

Kathy Temean shares Milanka Reardon’s and my book journey for an Old Man and His Penguin or on her Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/book-giveaway-an-old-man-and-his-penguin-how-dindim-made-joao-pereira-de-souza-an-honorary-penguin/

Kathy Temean features Milanka Reardon’s art process for An Old Man and His Penguin.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/05/09/illustrator-saturday-milanka-reardon/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HOLIDAY GIFTAWAYS (1)

What’s in Lottie’s Wagon?

With the holidays coming, I’m offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to kid lit writers and illustrators  as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for No Bears Allowed by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon. The first place winner will also win a 15-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone or Skype. There is still time to get in on the fun! The deadline for the photo caption contest is December 4. The first week, we offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman. And this week, we are offering even more!

This week, we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book, Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a 15-minute “first-impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone of Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover Who Will? Will You? ARC to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with Who Will? Will You? you can view the fun book trailer below.

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

“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.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

The beauty of writing contests is it gives you a possible start for your next picture book. So, it is never a waste of time.

Following is the picture book trailer.

Following is a short peek at the Who Will? Will You? activity book for teachers, parents, and librarians

The Contest—WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON?

  1. Write a 100-word story about what’s in Lottie’s wagon. The story must include the words pup, beach, help, and of course wagon and Lottie. Any form of the words is acceptable—for example: puppy, puppies, beachfront, beach ball, helpful, helping and so on. The title is not included in the 100 words. You can go under, but not over.
  2. It should be appropriate for children ages twelve and under.
  3. Your story can be serious, funny, sweet, or anything in between. It can be written in poetry or prose, but it must include those 3 words.
  4. NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! Keep reading beyond the following image, there are more steps you must take.

 

  1. Post the above photo with your story on your blog, along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  2. IMPORTANT! Along with the story you paste into comments, add your name and your blog post-specific link (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  3. Post between now and Saturday, December 14 by 11:59 PM EDT
  4. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and paste your story in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog. But please share the a blurb about the contest and the link in social media.
  5. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  6. Please submit your entry only ONCE.
  7. By entering this contest, you agree that if you win, and you like the book, you will post an Amazon review.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  • Kid appeal—something the twelve and under reading audience will enjoy and relate to.
  • Originality and creativity.
  • Humor, heart tugging, or thought provoking.
  • Wow factor—something that makes the story stand out from all the others.
  • Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.
  • Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Sunday, December 8.

The Prizes

First place:

A pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Sarah here and more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place:

A softcover ARC of Who Will? Will You?

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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.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

KathrynOtoshi_crop

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

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

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

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

ON WITH THE INTERVIEW!

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

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

AKC: What is the best part of independent publishing?

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

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

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

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING – MAINSTREAM PUBLISHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

KO Kids Books

Kathryn’s Amazon Page

Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maneki NekoMANEKI NEKO: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat

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

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experiment

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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To art note picture

Guess what? Tara Lazar has a little more to share! She reached out to me about doing a second post on illustration notes. Why? Because she had just a little more to say. And I totally agree with what she has to say. So here it is. . . .

 

WAIT — THERE’S MORE
by Tara Lazar

 

Alayne, when it comes to art notes, I thought I said it all…

But the day my post was published, a friend said to me, “But I talked to [well-known illustrator] and he said he never looks at art notes. He told me not to bother.”

Well, I know this illustrator is widely published and award winning, but do not listen to him. (At least about this. Sorry, dude.)

The illustrator is not the first person to read your manuscript.

But who is?

The EDITOR you want to ACQUIRE IT.

So don’t think about the art notes being solely for your illustrator. They are more for your editor.

The editor must understand the story and your vision for it. If there is something they do not comprehend because you’ve been too stingy or cryptic with the art notes, then they may just send a rejection.

If an art note is necessary to understand the action, put it in. If your text says “Harry was happy” but you really want him to be hopping mad, the editor isn’t going to know that without [Harry is angry]. Editors cannot read your mind. This is your chance to ensure that she or he gets what’s happening.

After the editor acquires your manuscript, lots of changes may happen, including the stripping of art notes. And that’s OK. By the time illustration work commences, your illustrator has already been pitched on the story and its vision. There have been talks between the illustrator, editor, designer and art director. Your illustrator will be brilliant and do things that you cannot even yet imagine. They will blow you away.

But if the editor is confused while initially reading your manuscript, you will never even get to that step. Your story could be doomed to dwell in a drawer forever.

Remember, the art notes aren’t necessarily for your illustrator…but for your EDITOR.

Thank you for the bonus, Tara!

If you haven’t seen it, be sure to read Tara’s first post How Picture Book Writers can Leave Room for the Illustrator.

Check out – Illustration Notes: To Include Or Not Include on Johnell Dewitt’s site. It is loaded with info and resources on the topic of art notes.

Kidlit.com also has some good information about including illustration notes. (Full disclosure – I discovered this post in the Kidlit411 Weekly)

 

ABOUT TARA

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

Her picture books available now are:
• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website.

 

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At a recent SCBWI conference, one editor mentioned leaving room for the illustrator. So, I asked Tara Lazar if she would share what that means to her and give some advice on how to do it.

 

HOW PICTURE BOOK WRITERS CAN LEAVE ROOM FOR THE ILLUSTRATOR
by Tara Lazar

“Leave room for the illustrator.” You hear it all the time.

But what does it mean?

I imagine the school bus, smelling like moldy socks and overripe bananas (which have an eerily similar aroma). Should you scoot over? Stop saving that seat for your bestie?

Well, kinda. The illustrator’s art is the elephant on the school bus. It’s the first thing people see when your bus…err, I mean book…rolls into the world. So it’s in your best interest to make that pachyderm shine.

So let the elephant speak for himself. Don’t shove words into his mouth. Don’t over-describe what he’s doing.

The elephant picked the perfect seat. [elephant in back, bus on two wheels]

The kids made him feel welcomed. [kids crowd in first row to balance bus]

It was a smooth ride to school. [flat tires]

OK, you see what I did there?

Read those lines without the art notes:

The elephant picked the perfect seat.

The kids made him feel welcomed.

It was a smooth ride to school.

Eh, rather ordinary without those notes. But with them, it’s funny. It might even be hilarious.

A picture book comes together when the words and the text play together. And sometimes there’s a tug-of-war between them that elicits giggles and guffaws.

Leaving some things unsaid is a technique you must learn as a picture book writer.

So go ahead, DON’T WRITE!

And that, my friends and elephants, is how you write a picture book.

Alayne: Tara’s guest post prompted me to ask one of the most common questions that picture book writers ask. . . .

“I’ve been told by agents that text should be clear enough that art notes are not necessary, so how do you leave room for the illustrator without art notes?”

Here is Tara’s answer. . . .

Well, what you’ve been told by agents is true…and also not true at all.

Often at conferences and workshops geared toward new writers, presenters steer picture book writers away from art notes. That is mostly because new writers tend to use unnecessary art notes. New writers either try to dictate what their characters should look like or describe action that is perfectly clear by the text (or at least well implied). So it is sometimes easier to put the ix-nay on the ote-nay at that level.

Also, some illustrators will tell you they don’t look at the art notes. And that’s fine. Once they understand the overall story, they can tuck the notes away and think of something better.

However, if what you have written is not understandable without art notes, if the story does not make sense without art notes, YOU MUST USE ART NOTES.

Look at DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen. There are only three words in that book–really, two, because DUCK is repeated. If she submitted that manuscript without art notes, there would be no story. Her story is IN THE ART, IN THE ACTION.

I have written manuscripts that use so many art notes it renders the story difficult to read. In those cases, my agent and I submit the manuscript in grid format. There’s a handy post on my blog that talks all about it. (https://taralazar.com/2012/10/03/art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/)

The art of playing tug-of-war with text and image is best demonstrated by author-illustrators. It’s a difficult skill for authors-only to master, but it is one that all the best authors use.

Alayne: For additional information, see my post on including art notes in manuscripts.

Tara Lazar head shot

 

About Tara

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

7 Ate 9

Tara’s picture books available now are:

• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

A big THANKS to Tara for sharing her wisdom with us. To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website at https://taralazar.com/

 

 

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Melissa bookThe Winner

The winner of Melissa Stoller’s giveaway is Jane Heitman Healy! Congratulations, Jane, you have won a signed copy of The Enchanted Snow Globe: Return to Coney Island.

 

Tara Lazar’s Upcoming Guest Post

Tara bannerI’m excited to share that next week, the one and only Tara Lazar will share some of her expertise regarding how to leave room for the picture book illustrator.

More – Lots of resources for chapter book writers

  • Do you have a chapter book idea, but don’t know where to start?
  • Do you have a chapter book idea, but feel something is missing in your first draft?
  • Do you have a chapter book that you’ve been unable to finish?

Grog bannerIf you answered “yes” to any of the above, you might want to check out my guest post on the GROG blog I Have a Chapter Book Idea – Now What? The post is full of chapter book writing resources and my own checklist for developing or editing your chapter book.

sienna-cover-1butterfly kisses cover

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