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Archive for the ‘Writing Courses’ Category

UNEARTH YOUR PROTAGONIST’S TRUE GOAL.

By Alayne Kay Christian

dig

CAN YOU DIG A LITTLE DEEPER?

In my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript, I talk a lot about consequences. What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not solve his problem or reach his goal? Why is it important to him on a personal level? This is one way to get your readers to connect with the protagonist on an emotional level. That connection makes the reader want to keep reading.

Sometimes, writers have difficulty giving their protagonist a strong goal that will carry the story and engage the reader. I often fall back to my life coaching days when I think about story characters, and I’d like to share how I relate character goals to coaching clients’ goals.

Very often, clients come to a life coach with surface goals. One of the first things I do with new clients is work to get to their deeper goals. The goals that really matter. The goals that will motivate the client and drive her to take action. If after exploring and digging, the client can’t unearth her true desires, I try a different approach. I ask the client what she doesn’t want. It seems that it is much easier for most people to identify and express what we don’t want. And this brings us back to our story writing. When searching for a strong goal, try asking yourself, “What is my main character trying to avoid? What does he NOT want?”

One more little tip along the same lines. A main character’s goal can be something he doesn’t want. And that is what I will leave you to think about today. Now for some exciting news.

 

AWARD WINNER, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA HAS BEEN RELEASED!

gong gong cover

 

Books that we authors write often feel like our babies. Books that our critique partners write can sometimes feel like nieces and nephews. Today, I would like to welcome my new little niece into the world. The winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA was written by my friend and critique partner Sylvia Liu. The fabulous illustrations were created by Christina Forshay.

Gong gong signing

Sylvia signing preorders at Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia.

gong gong book shelf

On the shelf!

REVIEW

By Alayne Kay Christian

Inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei watches Grandpa “dance slowly among the flowers in the garden.” He moves “like a giant bird stalking through the marsh.” His arms sway “like reeds.”

“What are you doing, Gong Gong?” Mei Mei asks. And this starts a dance between inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei and patient, loving Gong Gong. Every page walks the reader through this beautiful, playful relationship. Mei Mei’s creative attempts to follow her grandfather’s tai chi moves bring smiles when I read and explore all there is to see in the illustration. While I keep smiling, the end tugs at my heartstrings as the dance continues with a fun but touching role reversal.

Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay are perfect dance partners as well. Liu’s wonderful storytelling with lovely lyrical language paired with Forshay’s lively, flowing illustrations create a dance of their own. It’s a winning combination! As a mother, grandmother, author, and picture book writing teacher, I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Gong Gong spread 2

Art by Christina Forshay, used with permission from Lee & Low Books

 

MORE REVIEWS AND SOME GREAT INTERVIEWS

I considered interviewing Sylvia, but there are already some excellent interviews and other reviews out there, so I thought I would share the links to them.

Lin Gong offers a review and a great interview.

The Reading Nook Reviews gives an extensive review.

Kirkus Reviews offers their praises of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.

Publisher’s Weekly offers their views here.

Yvonne Mes interviews Sylvia with questions about winning the Lee & Low New Voices Award and much, much more.

 

Sylvia NewSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit group, Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book. Visit her online at www.enjoyingplanetearth.com.

 

Christina ForshayChristina Forshay is a full-time illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous style. Born and raised in sunny California, she was inspired to become an illustrator by her many visits to Disneyland and by watching hours of cartoons as a child. Today, she still watches cartoons for inspiration for her illustrations! Christina lives with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs in California. Visit her online at www.christinaforshay.com.

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FIRST A LITTLE INSPIRATION

EVERY DAY BIRDSAmy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of FOREST HAS A SONG and EVERY DAY BIRDS, challenged Today’s Little Ditty readers to write poems about small things— animals or objects you see everyday and don’t give much thought. I took the challenge, and I’m honored that my piece was selected as the poem that will close out Today’s Little Ditty’s month of small beauties.

little dittyToday’s Little Ditty is a great blog to follow. It offers tips and prompts for writing various forms of poetry, wonderful interviews, and fantastic examples of poetry. It’s well worth checking out.

Following is my little ditty.

 

 

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAY
by Alayne Kay Christian ©2016

As the morning light steals the night
A new day is on the horizon
I am drawn to the eastern sky

In complete silence
The bright morning star calls to me
I am one with the Universe
Of this I am never more certain than
Somewhere between night and day

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In the sharing of this poem, I wish you many moments of quiet peace.

OVERCOMING SELF-DOUBT and FREE GIVEAWAY

revimo 2016In January, I was a guest blogger for Meg Miller’s ReviMo challenge where I wrote REVISING YOUR WAY TO DREAMS COME TRUE. If you are struggling with frustration or self-doubt, you might feel renewed after reading this post. At the end, I offer a free checklist for polishing manuscripts and doing critiques and edits.

IMPROVE YOUR MANUSCRIPTS AND YOUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE READERSReFoReMo 2016

This month, I had the honor of being a faculty member on the ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month) team. In my guest post, CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN READING AND WRITING, I encourage readers to look deeper than the surface when analyzing mentor texts or your own work. In considering ways to engage readers, I offer four questions to ponder while analyzing your stories or mentor texts.

DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF PICTURE BOOK WRITING

My picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript continues to deepen writers understanding of picture books while helping them refine their work. Following are some of the latest comments from students who have completed the course.

I wish The Art of the Arc course existed a year ago. It would have saved me a lot of time. It gathers a lot of information that new picture book writers need all in one place. Alayne provides so many examples and even includes a few that don’t follow the classic arc. I found the reminders about what the reader should be experiencing at different points in the story especially helpful.

I appreciated how the worksheets made me take apart my own manuscripts so I have a better understanding of why some aspect isn’t working. I’m going to continue using the worksheets to guide my revisions. The Facebook group doing a monthly study of a picture book should help solidify what I’ve learned. Thank you, Alayne! – Mary Worley – Children’s Writer and Former Librarian

Alayne’s Art of Arc self-paced course not only teaches a writer about story structure but explains the specific parts of a story, in depth, and the importance of why each must be related, relevant, and remain connected. What I learned through her examples and exercises are the specific ways to break down a story using task analysis. This process helps me determine if the reader is “imagining and feeling” the story I want to tell reflected through my writing. As a writer who starts as a pantser, Alayne provided the organization I needed to analyze my own writing. – Keila V. Dawson, Author, THE KING CAKE BABY, Pelican Publishing Co., January 31, 2015

Alayne distills and clarifies picture book wisdom in a conversational tone. Her writing has earned a place on my reference shelf. Mike Karg – Children’s Book Writer

Art of the Arc teaches you to methodically analyze your manuscript or mentor text, and in doing so, pulls you back as the author to see your story through more objective eyes, able to evaluate it piece by piece. The course is well organized and contains a virtual plethora of resources. – Beth Anderson – Freelance Writer

This course was so helpful in showing me the areas where my manuscripts were not moving and how to fix that. Studying picture books suggested in the course focused this for me. The great thing is now I’ll be able to use this as I’m writing and, I hope, cut down on revision time. I highly recommend this comprehensive course. – Carol Crane – Children’s Writer

When asked, “How does this course compare to other courses you have taken?” One Art of Arc graduate said, “I haven’t taken other courses. The best comparison is Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I love the depth and specificity of both. As with her book, your materials are worthy of re-reads.”

The following are not testimonials, but a few wonderful comments from the ART OF ARC Facebook group.

I just want to thank you, Alayne Kay Christian for putting together such a comprehensive course. I am only on lesson two, but I have already learned so much. The cost of this course is some of the best money I ever spent on learning the picture book craft. My mind is racing with all the possibilities for improving my manuscripts and writing new and better ones. I am truly blown away with how much work you put into this and how generous you are to share it with the world. Thank you!

I agree! And the ability to be in this group, ask questions and give answers is invaluable, too! Thanks, Alayne Kay Christian!

Click here to learn more about ART OF ARC and to read many more testimonials.

art of arc extra

 

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th (1)JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS WITH THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

I offered my first THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN CHALLENGE in 2012. Each year since, I have modified my original post and reposted it. Before I share the modified version, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog throughout the year. I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May the new year bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Now for THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN. . . .

A common question in life coaching is, “What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?” The answer goes something like this: Imagine you are driving a car through life with a psychotherapist as your driving instructor. The psychotherapist will spend a lot of time instructing you to look through your rearview mirror at where you have been. A “life coach” driving instructor will encourage you to look out your windshield at where you are going.

A NEGATIVE DRAIN

Today, I am going to swim against the life coaching current and ask you to look back at where you have been. New Year’s resolutions often have roots in the past. We look back, with a certain amount of regret, at what we failed to accomplish in the outgoing year. Focusing on our shortcomings, we resolve to make up for them in the New Year; usually with bigger and better plans than before. Although setting these goals can leave you feeling hopeful, looking back with self-judgment can sap your confidence and drain your spirit.

ENERGIZE YOUR SPIRIT

Instead of looking back at your shortcomings with regret, look back at your successes with confidence and gratitude. Looking back and acknowledging your accomplishments will give you the opportunity to celebrate your successes and energize your spirit as you look forward to your new year.

THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

Over the next couple of weeks, take some time to reflect on 2015 and list 31 things that you accomplished throughout the year. I hope you will celebrate your successes by coming back and sharing some of your discoveries in the comments section of this post or share them on your own blog. The most important part of this challenge is recognizing the positive, energizing events of 2015. Even if you are unable to list 31 achievements, come back and celebrate with us by bragging a little about your year.

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR LIST

  • How did you grow personally, professionally or as a writer?
  • Did you have a positive impact on others?
  • What writing skills did you learn or strengthen?
  • Did you improve organizational skills?
  • Did you find the secret to time management?
  • Did you complete any writing challenges?
  • Did you join any groups?
  • What personal strengths did you gain?
  • What goals did you achieve?
  • What unplanned accomplishments did you achieve?
  • What character qualities did you strengthen?
  • Have you improved your communication skills?
  • Have you gotten better at saying no to others, to yourself, or to activities that drain you?
  • What acts of kindness did you share?
  • What special, memory building moment did you have with family, friends, writing groups, by yourself and so on?
  • Did you submit any of your writing? If you want to challenge yourself to submit more in 2016 join my Sub Six private manuscript submission support group on Facebook.
  • Did any submissions get accepted for publication?
  • Did you get any rejections with encouraging notes?
  • Did you find a positive way to accept rejections?

For tips on celebrating your achievements see CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS BIG AND SMALL. Be sure to scroll down to the section about the achievement jar, so you can celebrate all through 2016.

Below I share ten of my thirty-one achievements.

  1. I started 2015 with my first SCBWI annual winter conference in New York where I met many of my friends in person for the first time, including four out of six of my Penguin Posse critique partners.
  2. I developed a highly detailed picture book writing course. This was a long and challenging process that I must celebrate by sharing. I consider it a huge achievement. Yay!
  3. I completed Renee LaTulippe’s fantastic course  The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry
  4. I attended the excellent SCBWI workshop, Tammi’s Top Picture Book Writing Secrets with Tammi Sauer and Janee Trasler
  5. I started art classes.
  6. I completed Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s and Kami Kinard’s Kid Lit Summer School: The Plot Thickens
  7. I helped as many fellow writers as possible with their manuscripts.
  8. I learned to practice one of my favorite survival skills, which is write from the heart – submit with detachment.
  9. I completed my 4th 12 X 12 writing challenge and my 5th PiBoIdMo challenge.
  10. I ended 2015 with a very successful launch of my picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript (deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc).

I’m already planning for next year. I recently signed up for the 2016 Big Sur at Cape Cod, Andrea Brown Literary workshop. This is doubly exciting for me because I will be meeting up with some of my Penguin Posse sisters once again.

Best wishes in 2016!

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

Eye to Eye

by Alayne Kay Christian

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

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

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announcementsWhile I was off pondering future blog posts, taking a break from critiques, and editing picture book manuscripts, I discovered a great picture book writing course. To be fair, I wrote a picture book writing course! Today’s post will share some exciting news about my critique partners and friends. But I’m also EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE the launch of ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript – An independent study writing course. My Mama brought me up to be polite, so I’ll share the news about my friends first. We have had so much good news in the writing community this year that I can’t share it all in one post. My apologies to my friends who are not in this round of announcements.

olivers grumbles

My critique partner Yvonne Mes has two newly released picture books.

Oliver’s Grumbles – illustrated by Giuseppe Poli

Meet Sydney Nolan – illustrated by Sandra Eterovic

meet sydney

My critique partner Renee LaTulippe  authored poems in the recently released

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom!

nature poetry

snappsyMy critique partner Julie Falatko’s debut picture book Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)  will be released in February 2016. It is illustrated by Tim Miller.

My critique partner Dev Petty’s debut picture book I Dont’ Want to be a Frog was released this year. The illustrator is Mike Boldt. I don't want to be a frog

My friend and Sub Six member

Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book There was an old dragon

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight was released in August. It’s illustrated by Ben Mantle.

I just registered for my fifth round of Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) Since I am sharing friend’s books, Tara has been on fire! She had two books released this year and has several coming out next year. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL MY FRIENDS!

Piboidmo banner 2015Bear Book final cover 

AND NOW FOR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

art of arc extra

I’m happy to announce the launch of ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript. This is a self-study course that will deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and introduce you to other picture book structures. Understanding story and character arcs will help give your stories order and the tension that will energize them from the beginning to the end. This energy will not only drive your protagonist forward – it will also drive readers to turn pages and keep reading. The course offers worksheets that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger. You will gain the knowledge and receive the tools to assist you in analyzing your own work prior to investing in professional critiques. It guides you through a manuscript-self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely. It also shows how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance your stories in a way that will take them to a higher level. The tools provided are perfect for analyzing mentor texts, too! All the above and much, much more for less than the cost of one professional critique! Detailed information about the course, the very low introductory price, and my qualifications to teach this course can be found on my website.  You can find a few testimonials below.

TESTIMONIALS

ART OF ARC is one of the most comprehensive writing classes I’ve ever taken. It breaks down complex aspects of story structure in a clear manner that helped me to understand every element of picture books, from hook to satisfying ending. The worksheets helped me to dissect my stories and see what they were missing and how they needed to be rearranged, making the revision process a lot less painful. If you want to learn how to develop a great story arc with a hook, page-turners, tension, dark moment, climax, and satisfying ending – this class is for you! Alayne even includes links for writing resources.

– Donna C.

Children’s Book Writer

Alayne has outdone herself with this course; I don’t know HOW she does it. Things I thought I understood about writing picture books are now crystal clear!! Alayne somehow manages to make it simple and easy to understand yet delves deeper into the workings of a picture book than I ever have before, and I’ve studied picture book writing quite a bit!  Great information, wonderfully laid out to lead you systematically through analyzing and improving your manuscript. Almost every lesson gives really helpful examples. I loved this course! I’ll continue using it to polish my manuscripts in the future.

– Meg M.

Children’s Book Writer

Fresh. Straight forward. Thought provoking. Idea generating. WOW! It clarified and enhanced my understanding of things I’ve learned prior to the course. You’ve explained things I’ve heard before in a way that is clicking better now. I feel I have a better eye for story arcs, extraneous information that bogs stories down, lack of forward movement, how authors keep or do not keep tension in their books, etc.

– ART OF ARC Beta Students

Detailed information about the course, the very low introductory price, and my qualifications to teach this course can be found on my website.

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2Our guest bloggers for the final ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series are Sylvia Lui and Elaine Kiely Kearns. I’m proud to call these two smart, talented, and lovely women my friends and critique partners. In this post, they share what they learned from planting a seed of an idea and nurturing it into a successful platform. Thanks Sylvia and Elaine for sharing your experience and wisdom.

 Top Ten Signs That You’re Building a Successful Platform

By Sylvia Liu & Elaine Kiely Kearns

A year and a half ago, we created a kid lit resource website, www.Kidlit411.com. The idea was simple – a website where children’s writers and illustrators can learn about the world of kid lit – from writing and illustration tips, to finding an agent, to listings of conferences, classes, contests, and more. kidlit 411

We soon added weekly interviews with authors, illustrators, agents, and editors, a weekly update email, a Facebook page to connect with our community, and a manuscript swap group. Earlier this year, we were named by Writer’s Digest as one of The 101 Best Websites for Writers, as well as one of The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015 (The Write Life) and The Top 50 Writing Blogs for 2015 (Positive Writer).

A side effect of Kidlit411 was that we created a nice platform for ourselves as children’s authors and illustrators. (What exactly is a platform? Jane Friedman defines platform as having visibility, authority, and a proven reach to a given audience). We didn’t set out to do so, but we learned the following about building a successful platform:

  1. You grow naturally and organically.

No, we are not talking about free-range chickens. We have found that platform building is an organic and slow process. When you do something you love and share your passion, like-minded people will find and join you. Instead of having a grand plan, you let things evolve over time.

  1. You’re filling a need.

A great way to build a platform is to identify a need for something (a service, a community, a challenge) and meet it. For Kidlit411, I (Elaine) found myself gathering links to good articles and resources on writing for children. I (Sylvia) joined her, designing a site and adding my illustration perspective. We now have a convenient, organized, and curated site for all things kid lit. Other excellent resources are available, but many require a membership fee, such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

  1. You’re building a community.

Our Facebook page is a great way to connect with old and new online friends in the kid lit community. Through the group, we are able to keep people up to date on our new postings. Better yet, our group has become a place for people to ask questions, share tips, and connect with one another.

  1. You’re not doing it alone.

Having two of us work on the site, with the help of many others who send us links, makes the task easier. We can back each other up when other life and work obligations come up and two minds are generally better than one.

  1. You’re thinking outside the box.

You do something new that excites people, or you do something that’s been done, but with a new twist.

About seven years ago, the kid lit world was a lot less connected. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) had piboidmo2014started in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Tara Lazar created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and Paula Yoo started NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) that the picture book community found a way to connect and encourage each other to develop ideas and write picture books. What a great idea – spur people to create stories, while providing prizes and expert advice.

Other successful platforms also harness individuals’ creative impulses while creating a community. Tania McCarthy’s 52-week illustration challenge (an illustration a week) and Jake Parker’s Inktober challenge (31 drawings in 31 days) are illustration challenges that have grown tremendously.

Other kid lit people also thought outside of the box to create great platforms. Katie Davis has been the mastermind of over 200 Brain Burps podcasts over the past five and a half years. 12-x-12-new-bannerJulie Hedlund leads the enormously successful 12×12 picture book challenge (write 12 picture book manuscripts in a year).

When we started Kidlit411, we didn’t re-invent the wheel. But we like to think we provide a visually appealing and user-friendly wheel.

  1. You are building on your areas of strength and expertise.

Part of building a platform is knowing yourself. Are you a people person who loves to socialize? Do you love information and technology? Are you an artist at heart? All of these characteristics will steer you naturally to the platform that best suits you. We figured out that we both enjoy seeking, organizing, and sharing information. We are curious about the career paths of other creative people, which led us to our weekly interviews of authors and illustrators.

  1. Your project is self-sustaining without enormous amounts of work.

If you find yourself spending more time working on your platform than doing your creative work then you are not using your time wisely. For Kidlit411, we read and keep up with kid lit, so adding the links to our website does not take much additional time. Our weekly interviews involve finding people, asking questions, and formatting their answers, also not time consuming.

If you do find that your platform has grown beyond your individual capabilities, you hire or outsource your work. For example, NaNoWriMo is now a professionally run nonprofit organization. 

  1. Your project has grown beyond your initial expectations.

The great thing about many successful platforms is that most times, the creator didn’t expect or imagine what it would turn out to be. For example, an artist begins a personal creative challenge and invites a few friends, and before he or she knows it, it becomes a widespread challenge. 

  1. You’re not in it for yourself.

You didn’t build the platform just to sell your wares. You provide meaningful content, or a meaningful experience that attracts others to fill a need. We found that providing easy access to good information is an idea that sold itself. 

  1. You are having FUN.

Life is short. Don’t start or continue a platform-building project because someone said you had to. Only work on things that you enjoy and are having fun doing. If the side effect is that you are bringing other like-minded people along, all the better.

Sylvia New

SYLVIA LIU is a former environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. Her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (Lee & Low Books) is scheduled for publication Spring 2016. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and two daughters. She is inspired by aliens, cephalopods, bunnies, and pigs who want to fly.  Her portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com and blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is currently chasing the dream as a published author. Armed with a master’s degree in Education Elaineand working from her home office, she spends her time creating picture book and middle grade stories. She lives in New York with her husband, two beautiful daughters and three furry babies. When she isn’t writing, she can be found doing yoga and eating chocolate but not usually at the same time. She is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer Di Chiara Literary Agency in New York.

Following are the links to the other guest posts in the ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series:

THE PUSH AND PULL OF PLATFORM by Heather Ayris Burnell

A CASE OF THE WHY NOTS: How I Built (and am still building) My Platform by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? AND WHO WILL THEY BE? by Susanna Leonard Hill

JULIE HEDLUND BUSTS MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

YOU ARE YOUR PLATFORM by TARA LAZAR

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is award-winning author, writing teacher, and the sweetest person ever, Susanna Leonard Hill. Thank you Susanna for sharing your story with us.

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?

AND WHO WILL THEY BE?

by Susanna Leonard Hill

Once upon a time, there was a writer (that was me) who wrote stories for children.  Although she dreamed from girlhood of picture books with her name on the cover (and not because she wrote it there with a crayon), she was pretty sure she wasn’t good enough to get published.  (Due to word count limitations we’re going to skip a bit…)  Blah, blah, blah, some other stuff happened and one day in 2002 her dream came true and life was good.

“Now then,” said the Powers-That-Be, “go forth and build a platform!”

Tools

“Uh…,” I said.  “Have you seen me with tools?  This is not a good idea.”

Apparently they weren’t talking about that kind of platform.

“Uh…,” I said.  “Have you seen me with technology?  This is not a good idea.”

Apparently they did not care.

BUILD was the directive, so by golly I had to try.

Let’s just be clear on one thing: I had NO idea what I was doing or how to do it!

To save you from landing in the same predicament, I will share with you Susanna’s Rules for Practically Painless Platform Building.

Rule #1: Eat Something Chocolate 

chocolate

Really.  It’s good for you 🙂  Construction is hard work.  You must be properly fueled 🙂

Rule #2: Know what platform is.

It is helpful before you begin construction to have some idea of what it is you are hoping to build.  Otherwise your go-cart might turn out to be a lawn mower… or in our case, your platform might turn out to be a mineshaft. 🙂

So what is platform, anyway?

Basically, it’s your visibility as an author:

  1. Who you are –

Well, that’s obvious.  You’re you! 🙂 Whether you’re a stay-at-home dad of 7 who loves to bake Lebkuchen and play the tambourine, or a NASA engineer who is consumed by competitive crochet in your down time, it’s you as an individual that people want to know.

  1. Your personal and professional connections –

Friends and family, coworkers, critique partners, your dentist, your son’s trombone teacher, etc.  You might also include people you know through the Internet, but that overlaps into the third category a bit.

  1. Finally, the part people tend to think of more as “platform” – the work you do specifically related to being an author, and your online presence –

Any form of media where your writing is available or where readers can get to know you, including bookstores, newspaper articles, radio interviews, school/library visits, book signings, online booksellers, and anywhere you are active in social media – your website, blog, newsletter, FB, Twitter, etc…

Do not feel that #3 is the only part that matters.  All three of these elements are equally important, and #1 is arguably most important because it colors everything else.  But you likely feel pretty comfortable with #1 and #2, whereas #3 might be the place you feel a little out of your depth. So that’s the focus of the other rules.

Rule #3: Find Your Comfort Zone

Some love to travel.  Some love to stay home.  Some love to dress to the nines.  Some love to loaf in pajamas.  Some like it hot… well, you get the idea.

You’ve got to be comfortable with what you’re building, and not all social media options are created equal.  Scout around.  Sample the choices.  Hold it up and see how it looks before you nail it in place 🙂 Do you love the brevity and variety of Twitter?  Or would you prefer the option to discourse at greater length on a blog?  Or do you like the happy medium of Face Book?  Do you see the world through a camera lens? Then how about Instagram? Pinterest? YouTube?

There are lots of options out there.  Don’t make yourself miserable forcing yourself to participate in something that doesn’t suit your personality and style.

Rule #4:  Don’t Wear Yourself Out!

We are all busy.  We have spouses, and kids, jobs and homes and cars and pets and aging parents and yoga/running/swimming/watching basketball on TV – you know, exercise :), and some of us have to bake Lebkuchen and practice the tambourine…  There are only so many hours in the day!

Cookies

Choose 2 or 3 at most of the social media options and limit time spent on them each day.  That way you can give your best to the options you choose, avoid burnout, and still have time to write, which is, after all, the whole point of all of this!

Rule #5: Figure Out What You Have To Offer (and yes! you have something to offer!) Preferably Before You Start Blogging 🙂

Okay.  So now we get down to the nitty-gritty.  What’s going to be the focus of your tweets, your FB posts, your blog?  What are you going to put out there for the world?

I tried everything.  I think literally actually everything.

Trial and Error, thy alias is Susanna!

Try to avoid that 🙂

Platform, platform, platform… We’re supposed to reach our audience of readers.  Well, obviously that’s impossible in the case of picture book writers – our readers are pre-reading listeners.  They tend not to frequent FB, twitter, or phyllis coverblogs of any kind 🙂 The actual readers of our books – the mouthpiece through which our audience hears our stories – are parents, teachers, grandparents, librarians etc.  Those are also the people who buy our books, since most 3-8 year olds are hampered in the cash flow and transportation departments 🙂 So really, our platform efforts should be directed toward these adults.

I tried writing posts on dogs, gift-wrapping, song-writing, Mondays, book drives, how useless I’d be as a pioneer… all topics that should appeal to parents, teachers and librarians, don’t you think?

Alas, they apparently appealed to no one!  Just go back and look at my early posts… and how there are no comments on almost all of them!

So I stumbled along, trying this and that, until one day I hit on the idea of Would You Read It Wednesday (primarily for writers, but with hopes of attracting teacher and librarian feedback), and then Perfect Picture Book Friday (intended as a resource for parents, teachers and homeschoolers…but which seems to appeal to writers seeking mentor texts), then contests for writers (an opportunity for writers (of all ages) to write stories for kids that could be read by parents, kids, teachers, etc.), Short & Sweets (for writers but hopefully also for teachers and kids), Oh, Susanna! (intended for writers, teachers and parents… but writers were the only ones who ever seemed to have questions), with a few author and illustrator interviews and a mini-series on self-publishing thrown in for good measure.

And by gum! 4 years down the road it appears I’ve got a nice little platform of people I adore, who make my blog a wonderful community where I’m grateful to spend time. Can't Sleep

And yeah… if you noticed that the platform I intended to build for parents, teachers, librarians and such turned out to be a platform for writers, well, maybe that’s because I am a writer and that’s the way I think.

I choose to believe that many of the writers who make my blog and FB page and twitter…area…whatever you call it 🙂 … such a great place to hang out are also parents, teachers and librarians.

As Gilda Radnor said on Saturday Night Live, it’s a dessert topping AND a floor wax 🙂

Happy Platform Building! 🙂

Thank you so much for having me, Alayne.

Note from Alayne: Pardon my intrusion. Because I am interrupting, I want to say make sure you scroll to the bottom of this post for Susanna’s bio and links to her website, blog and more. Now for my reason for the intrusion. . . .

I had no idea what Lebkuchen is, so I looked it up. For those of you who also don’t know, Lebkuchen is a centuries-old German gingerbread specialty that is traditionally baked during the winter holiday season.

Also for those of you who don’t know Susanna and all the wonderful things she does for the writing community, I want to give a basic description of some of the things she mentioned in this post.

Oh Susanna is the children’s literature world’s version of Dear Abby, except not about relationships (well, not yours – character relationships would be OK). It is an advice column/question forum for those of us in the children’s book world, as it were 🙂 People can ask Susanna questions about writing, reading, teaching writing and so on.

Short & Sweets was started as a way for writers to keep their writing oars in during the happy, busy, outdoor fun summer months. Susanna offered fun exercises that writers could do together.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Is a group effort. Using a set format, bloggers share picture books they want to recommend to others. Susanna then shares that link on her blog in her extensive list of picture books, categorized by theme.

Would You Read It Wednesday? This is a weekly feature that offers a chance for writers to try out pitches for their Picture Books, Early Readers, Middle Grade, or Young Adult Works-In-Progress.

Contests and Picture Book Writing Course Susanna also has Holiday writing contests with excellent prizes. And then there is her Making Picture Book Magic writing course, which, as a graduate of the course, I can personally recommend. You can find more information on all of the above on her website – links follow Susanna’s bio.

slh wyomingAbout Susanna

Susanna is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.)  Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean.  Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Summer 2016.  She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.

Links:

Website: http://www.susannahill.com/HOME.html

Blog: http://susannahill.blogspot.com

Face Book Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannaLHill

Making Picture Book Magic (online picture book writing course): http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html

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Summer SparksThis week my guest post CAUSE AND EFFECT is being featured in the Summer Sparks challenge hosted by Tracey Cox. There is some great information, so I hope you will give it a look.

Also, here is the link to the top viewed post on my blog this year. USING CHARACTER-DRIVEN PICTURE BOOKS AS MENTOR TEXTS TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN WRITING, by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I want to share that I have been taking an excellent course on chapter book writing. Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write for  Middle Grade and Chapter Book Course is a 14 week experience that will help anyone turn their writing dream into a reality. Offering several worksheets per lesson and providing thorough information on each chapter book element, Emma methodically walks her students from the beginning of their book to the end. I highly recommend this course.

Finally, in case you missed it, I have started a picture book manuscript critique service.

Next week my ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series will feature guest blogger Vivian Kirkfield. She will offer her thoughts on “getting in the backdoor” with your manuscript.

Happy writing!

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My friend, Renée LaTulippe, is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Poetry Friday is a weekly meme in which lovers and advocates of children’s poetry share their own kids’ poems, poems by major kids’ poets, interviews, videos, and more. Join the fun! Click here to learn more about Poetry Friday and to find the hosting schedule.

Several months ago, if I had heard the words Poetry Friday, I would have ran in the opposite direction. But because I am one of the lucky few to beta test Renee’s new online class, I have mustered the courage to share a little of my poetry today. Before the ‘reveal,’ I want to introduce Renee’s course, THE LYRICAL LANGUAGE LAB: PUNCHING UP PROSE . . . WITH POETRY! 

Renee's course

I highly recommend this 4 week course. Editor, writer, and children’s poet, Renée LaTulippe, teaches the fundamentals of poetry for picture book writers, whether they plan to write in rhyme or not. The course covers basics such as meter, rhyme, and types of poetry, as well as techniques to bring poetic and lyrical language to one’s writing, both rhyming and prose. Renée will begin monthly classes in April 2014.

For the chance to win a FREE course and learn how to punch up your prose, just go comment on Renee’s giveaway post!

As you will see by some of my poems, I sometimes struggle with scanning beats or understanding stresses. But thanks to Renée’s course; her individual comments on each course participant’s work; her audio demonstrations of beats; and her great homework assignments, it is all starting to click for me. I finally have confidence that I can write rhyme, improve my poetry, and succeed in writing lyrical prose. Before this class, I had given up on writing rhyme and never dreamed of writing lyrical prose. Now, I dare to continue trying. The quatrains that I am sharing today show some of my first attempts in the course. They are from lessons two and four. The course offers 21 lessons. I thought it would be nice to show Renée’s excellent approach to helping her students understand what works and what doesn’t work and why. Therefore, I have included some of my poems that worked, some that didn’t quite work, and Renée’s comments on all.

LESSON FOUR

Alayne’s Anapestic Quatrain One

I see ice on my sill. Is this Texas?
It’s so cold, it’s so gloomy and dark
We had sunshine just yesterday noon
When we took a long walk in the park

Alayne’s Anapestic Quatrain Two

How I wish I had written The Elf on the Shelf
It’s a marketers dream to extreme
I am pleased my elf Blizzard arrived just in time
For some fun and some tricks – she’s a scream

Alayne’s Anapestic Quatrain Three

Can we mourn for a stranger, someone we don’t know?
Can a heart fall and break when a hero lets go?
Can a tear leave the eye on its own – will more flow?
I say yes, we are humans, our endless love grows

Renée: Well done, Alayne! You used headless and catalectic meter to good effect in the first quatrain with anapestic trimeter; a perfect mix of anapestic tetrameter and trimeter in the second; and perfect anapestic tetrameter in the third. WHOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Alayne: Holy Moly! I got them all right, Renee LaTulippe????? A first. I know they aren’t the best poems in the world, but just to get my stresses right puts me on top of the world and gives me SO MUCH HOPE! It must be very rewarding as a teacher to see a student grow.

Renée:YES!!!! Alayne, it is exciting and rewarding indeed! And don’t worry about content now – we’re just working on stresses. It’s a big hurdle to get over, and you guys are all SAILING THROUGH!!!

LESSON TWO

Alayne’s Iambic Quatrain One

I have some friends who help me out
When I am feeling down
If not for them, I’d sit and pout
Instead, I am a clown

Alayne’s Iambic Quatrain Two

Although I’ve tried, I can’t write rhyme (Or: Although I’ve tried, I cannot rhyme)
I can’t hear stresses or the beat
I’m working hard and taking time
To study both iambs and feet

Alayne’s Iambic Quatrain Three

I write, not clean. You all know that.
Cobwebs are dangling. Soiled dishes are stacked
It’s time to feed my starving cats
My house is filthy, but my subs are tracked

Renee’s Comments for Lesson Two Iambic Quatrains

I hate to tell you this, but your first quatrain is PERFECT. Yup! That means you have to stop saying you can’t write rhyme! PERFECT.

The second quatrain is ALMOST perfect – just the last line is off because you have put a stress where it doesn’t belong on the second syllable of IAMB. The stress has to go on the FIRST syllable. You could fix that line with: to STUDy Iambs, MEter, FEET.

The first and third lines of the third quatrain are also correct. Lines 2 and 4 are where things get sticky. Line 2 starts with a stressed syllable instead of unstressed, and there are some extra beats. In Line 4, “my house is filthy” is correct, but then you have extra beats with “but my.”

Renee’s possible fixes.

I write, not clean. You all know that.
The cobwebs cling, the dishes stack.
It’s time to feed my starving cats.
A filthy house–but subs are tracked!

For the chance to win a FREE course and learn how to punch up your prose, just go comment on Renee’s giveaway post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July – I will be covering queries and cover letters.

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

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

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

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