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Archive for the ‘Picture Book Writing’ Category

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

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

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

Keep an eye out for future posts on independent publishing.

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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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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SHOULD MY PICTURE BOOK BE A CHAPTER BOOK?

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming chapter book SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN – coming April 2017! This is the first book in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. Didn’t Brian Martin do a fantastic job?

sienna-cover-1

In this story, Sienna is not your normal cowgirl. She’s half-human and half-fairy. But Sienna wants nothing to do with fairies. When her ma sends her to fairy camp instead of cowgirl camp, she ain’t none too happy. Not only must she deal with cliquish fairies who reject her spunky spirit and outspoken ways, she must also noodle out how to help Mother Nature end the Texas drought. Can Sienna balance cowgirling with some tried ‘n’ true fairy skills to both fit in and make it rain? This is a story about perseverance, friendship, teamwork, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others.

This book and the second book in the series AUNT ROSE’S FLOWER GIRL started as picture books. So, how did they become chapter books? It all started in 2012. I was invited by the Institute of Children’s Literature’s (ICL) faculty to participate in their advanced program, Writing and Selling Children’s Books. About that time, I visited my then five-year-old granddaughter in Chicago.

“What if you could fly?” my granddaughter asked.

I responded, “I’d come to see you more often. What if you could fly?”

“I’d fly up to that ceiling fan and take a ride,” she said.

Boing! Idea time! I thought, There must be a picture book in there somewhere. So I started brainstorming. My first version was titled THE GIRL WHO COULD FLY, and it included a protagonist that took a ride on a ceiling fan. Then I changed the title to THE GIRL WHO SAVED TEXAS. My ICL instructor wasn’t really sold on the fairy angle I had developed, but she did say that she’d like to see me Texas the character up. That thought led her to suggesting that I make the protagonist a cowgirl fairy. I ran with those ideas and fell in love with Sienna.

In 2013, I took my SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN picture book manuscript to the North Texas SCBWI conference. And I was lucky enough to have the first page read on stage and commented on by Lin Oliver. I could see by her smile that she liked the voice. But in her comments, she wondered if the story was too old for the picture book audience. I later found a few minutes of one-on-one time with Lin, and she encouraged me to consider expanding the story into a chapter book.

The conference gave me the confidence that I needed to submit the picture book manuscript. Three agents offered me representation. One agent was actually interested in shopping it as a picture book. I didn’t discuss it with the second agent because I chose the third agent to represent me. This agent agreed that it would be wise to turn the Sienna story into a chapter book. We worked together for about a year and then we parted ways amicably. As time went by, not being able to attract a new agent caused my confidence to wane. I spent a year floundering and nearly another year halfheartedly submitting.

In 2016, I went to a weekend workshop with a highly-respected literary agency where we presented our work in a roundtable forum. The senior agent who led the group loved Sienna’s voice and asked me to send her the whole manuscript. Yes! Perhaps my beloved Sienna would be published after all. But after months of nothing but crickets, I nudged the agent. Finally, I heard back with a form letter rejection – not one clue as to why it wasn’t right for her. I had a brief setback, but instead of letting it get me down, I immediately started submitting again. Two months later, I had a contract for the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series with Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.

So, why were the Sienna picture book stories better suited for the chapter book audience? The characters were too old for a picture book. As much as I wanted to limit Sienna’s age in my mind to a spunky eight-year-old girl, she wanted to be older. Her voice was older. Her actions were older. And since the story was written in first person (Sienna narrator), the storytelling voice was better suited for an older audience. Another reason a chapter book was a good idea is because I was able to expand on the story and further develop this fantastic character. These are only a few reasons why a picture book manuscript or picture book idea might work better as a chapter book.

Do you have any picture books that really should be a chapter book? It might be worth thinking about.

Check out Is Your Idea a Picture Book, Chapter Book or Middle Grade Novel? By Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg on Tara Lazar’s blog.

Anastasia Suen answers the question “Should I write a picture book or a chapter book?” on her blog.

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