Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

kid-lit writing wisdom

For this round of Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom Q & A, I asked the team why it’s important for writers to read children’s books and how one might get the most out of reading them. To read the fabulous answers from last week (Part 1 of 2) click here. Before we get started with words of wisdom. If you’d like to see Rob Sander’s inspiration for TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE, check out this clip from the Today Show. It’s very good. Congratulations, Rob!

Words of Wisdom

SPREADSHEETS AND MENTOR TEXTS!

by Beth Anderson

Since others are offering thoughts on why it’s important for authors and illustrators to read children’s books, I thought I’d share a little on how I go forward from there. One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started this journey was from critique partner Julie Rowan-Zoch. She not only told me to read LOTS of children’s books, but also to log them on a spreadsheet for later reference. On my log, I record genre, structure, NF/F, topics, and notes which can include story summary, beginnings and endings, likes/dislikes, and anything else interesting. And WA-LA! I have an amazing reference tool that grows and grows! It’s a 5 minute job that really pays off. If I need to see how an author made a complex topic simple, or used 2nd person narration, or broke the 4th wall, or tackled a bio, or used quotations, or handled 2 main characters, or superheroes, or a myriad of other things, all I need to do is search the document for key words and I’ve got some books to go to as mentor texts. Taking that a step further, when I find a book that knocks my socks off, I type up the text. (It’s truly astounding what you see when you type up the text!) I note page breaks, line breaks, word count, etc. And then use colored highlighters as I analyze and examine how that author did what they did. Transitions, context, characterization, conflict, arc, vital idea threads, backstory, voice, imagery, and on and on. I look for whatever I’m struggling with or find particularly amazing. Many times I use the same typed up text for different elements of craft as I work through different manuscripts. I’m learning from the masters! The more you dig in, the more magic you see! And then…at different points in my own manuscripts, I get out those colored highlighters and attack my own words on the page. Seeing elements of craft in others’ work, helps me identify needs in my own.

STUDYING ALREADY PUBLISHED BOOKS CAN HELP MAKE YOUR STORY SING!

by Vivian Kirkfield

My love affair with picture books began on my mother’s lap as she turned the pages of THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. The year was 1949 – I was two years old – and with every new book, I discovered a magical world. Stories like BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, THE CARROT SEED, and GOODNIGHT MOON, spirited me to places I had never been and introduced me to characters I had never met. Although written more than 70 years ago, those stories and other classics can still provide today’s writers with tips on structure, character development, plot, pacing, and the importance of opening lines and satisfying endings. Of course, it’s also crucial to read current books published in the last five years, as well as all of the Newberry and Caldecott winners.

Read first for enjoyment. Let the words and the story surround you like a beautiful melody. Then read the book again and pay attention – how did the author draw you in – what engaged you. Deconstruct the text (some people like typing out the words) and examine the opening lines, the page turns, the ending. My bookshelves are overflowing and I can’t always buy all the books I’d like to, but libraries are a fabulous resource, as well as YouTube where you can find many books being read aloud, especially the older classics and the popular award-winning newer ones. Even the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature can be helpful in providing opening lines and a bit of the flavor of the book. There are also Facebook groups and blogs and challenges like ReFoReMo.com (Reading for Research Month) where you can find discussions and information on using picture books as mentor texts.

And here’s a tip on using mentor texts in a clever way that a writer friend, Judy Cooper, shared with me: Find your favorite picture book in the genre you are writing (nonfiction, rhyme, fractured fairytale, or whatever) – the one you absolutely love. Then copy out YOUR own manuscript onto little post-it notes and stick one on each corresponding page of the already published book that you love – your opening lines go on the first page of the published book, and so on. Do you have enough scenes, page-turns? Does YOUR story have a good rhythm to it. Does it engage you like the published book did? If the answer to any of those questions is no – please don’t give up – remember what Stephen King said, “Writing is rewriting” – and studying already published books can help you make your story sing!

ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO DEVELOP AS A WRITER IS TO READ, READ, READ

by Ellen Leventhal

My first thought about why I read children’s books is, “Why wouldn’t I?” I love them! Reading children’s books has always been part of my life as both a child and an adult. That may sound strange, but it really isn’t. As a teacher I read them as part of my job, and as I writer, I read them as part of my job. A fun part, but still part of the job. I consider reading children’s books a type of professional development. I want to continue to improve my craft, and one of the best ways to do this is to read, read, read.

I read middle grade novels for the joy of reading, since I don’t write them (at least at this moment). I mostly write picture books, and I am working on a chapter book, so I approach them a bit differently. I start by reading them through to allow myself to feel the story without dissecting it. Then I think about something I’m having some difficulty with and look at how other authors handle it. Did they slow down the action to ramp up the emotion? Did they use figurative language to make it more lyrical? What did they do to add a twist at the end? I sometimes type out the text and study the page turns, etc. I find this helps me with my pacing.

But honestly, I read children’s books to surround myself with something I love and something I love to share. And when I face the blank page and begin to wonder if I can do this, I look at my stack of books and they give me the spark I need to get started.

READING IS ONE OF THE EASIEST WAYS TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

When I teach writing workshops at schools, libraries, and professional conferences, the most important advice I give to aspiring writers of all ages is that reading is the easiest way to become a better writer. When young writers press for more information on why the above statement is true, we talk about how reading exercises the muscles in the brain and how a stronger brain is capable of writing stronger stories. We also talk about how reading helps expand our vocabulary and trains our brains to recognize and replicate the structural aspects of effective writing. We talk about how reading other authors’ books can help writers come up with their own ideas. And we talk about how nonfiction books for young readers are a particularly good resource for those (adults included) who want to learn something new, because children’s literature is especially good at presenting complex information in comprehensible ways. We also talk about how reading a good book can be relaxing, which might be just what your brain needs to help you come up with good ideas. And, we talk about the Pleasure Reading Award I earned for reading the most books in Mr. Snook’s fifth grade class and how I’m certain that all of that reading significantly contributed to my eventual successes as a writer.

I could go on and on about the wisdom of reading children’s books, but the truth of the matter is, the main reason I do so is because I sincerely enjoy it. I especially love picture books, which likely comes as no surprise, since that is what I most often write. When my kids were little, we read stacks and stacks of picture books together, on topics carefully curated to their particular interests, coupled with whatever authors/publishers/themes I was researching at the time. My library system allows up to 99 books to be checked out by a single patron. Pre-pandemic it was not unusual for me to have upwards of 80 borrowed picture books in my home at any given time!

READING MENTOR TEXTS HELPS TO EXPLORE WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T WORK FOR THE BOOKS YOU WANT TO WRITE

by Michelle Nott

I read children’s books, anything from picture books to MG, for many reasons.

First, picture books are an extraordinary combination of poetry and art which are two of my favorite things! Even if a book is not written in verse, the author has still chosen each word, literary device, and structure in a very intentional way. When I read picture books, I’m not only paying close attention to what authors write, but what they don’t. The white space is so important to create pause and reflection. It’s a true skill to understand how leaving words out can allow the text to say even more. Also, spare text leaves space for artists to use their talents to enhance the overall experience of picture books. For me, studying the balance between text and image is essential to creating memorable picture books and a true pleasure as well.

I also write middle grade, and so read a fair number of novels for that age group as well. Again, it starts from a place of enjoyment. I used to teach middle school and absolutely loved this age group. But, it’s been a long time since I was that age or taught that age and my own daughters are older now, so reading current middle grade is important to keep up with the interests and dilemmas of this important age. It also reinforces how many issues around friends, self-discovery, family, and school are universal and timeless. Studying pacing and structure from various texts (prose and verse) and knowing what types of stories are available, helps me also to explore what works, what doesn’t, and what I can uniquely bring to the world of middle grade literature.

READING MENTOR TEXTS INSPIRES, MOTIVATES, AND INFORMS

by Rosie Pova

If you’re in the business of children’s writing, you better be current on your children’s books reading.

For me, one of the reasons I read kidlit is so that I know what the market looks like. Is it saturated with too many books with the same animal/theme/style of writing?

If I’m working on a story, I need to know where it could be placed and how good of a chance it has to “make it” in the marketplace. How does it measure up to what’s already out there? How and why would it stand out? Has it already been done in the same or similar way? The answers to these questions help me course-correct in order to avoid future rejections and have publishing professionals tell me “it’s already been done” or “it didn’t stand out” whereas I could’ve done my timely research.

Another reason I read picture books is to get inspiration about the type of stories I want to have in my body of work. Sometimes the tone or feeling of a book grab me, other times, it’s the takeaway, or something particular about the character, the brilliance or absurdity of the title, the humor, an unexpected angle etc. I get clarity and get excited!

This gives me great motivation to write a story that would have a similar feel to it or evoke that kind of reaction in the reader, like it did in me. In other words, I use reading to give myself a general prompt. Some of my best stories have come to be that way.

Reading my colleagues’ work also gives me validation, makes me feel like what I do matters and there’s an audience for my work.

Those little gems are also great teachers on the craft! I could keep going with the reasons, but I will stop here and just say, we, as writers, must read. It’s that simple.

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING KID-LIT WISDOM POSTS LISTED BELOW

TO READ Part 1 OF WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS (MENTOR TEXTS) AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM click here.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 2 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 3 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

TO READ MORE ABOUT THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM AND THEIR BOOKS click here.

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. You can learn more about why I chose to cover this topic in Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 here. And you can read part 2 of 3 here. You can read more about the “Wisdom” team members and their books here.

Congratulations!

Cover When Water Make Mud 9781950169443

Before I move on, I’d like to do a little horn tooting and also offer a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Janie Reinart and Morgan Taylor. Their book WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A STORY REFUGEE CHILDREN has been rated the #1 new release in Children’s Africa Books on Amazon. So, where does the horn tooting come in? This is one of the last books that I edited, did art direction, designed, and published during my work with Blue Whale Press. Not a bad way to finish!

Now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

“MY WRITING GREW STRONGER DURING THOSE TEN YEARS, AND MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE INDUSTRY INCREASED EXPONENTIALLY.”

by Laura Gehl

I wrote my first picture book, One Big Pair of Underwear, when my oldest son (now almost 17!) was a baby. The book was published almost exactly a decade later. In between, I wrote a lot of other books, some of which went on to be published. Most did not. My writing grew stronger during those ten years, and my knowledge of the industry increased exponentially. Like most people, I made some embarrassing mistakes before I knew what I was doing!

Now that I have published close to thirty books and have a fabulous agent (I did not have an agent when I sold my first book), I still get rejections. And I still have manuscripts that never end up selling—even books that my agent and my critique partners love. I can’t honestly say that rejections feel much different now either. While I KNOW that each rejection is just about a certain book not being the right fit for a certain editor at a certain time, that doesn’t mean each rejection doesn’t hurt. I once received a rejection for a manuscript that had already been acquired by a different publisher, and it STILL stung. The waiting hasn’t disappeared either. But my critique partners, my agent, and the wonderful teachers/parents/kids who take the time to tell me how much they love my books all help weather the inevitable rejections and the just-as-inevitable waiting that are part of this business!

KEEP DOING THE WORK

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

My journey certainly has been and remains, long and winding. I attended my first writing conference in the summer of 2004. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, and I came to learn. The guest editor was Arthur A. Levine, of Harry Potter fame. He was kind and generous with his time, feedback, and encouragement. After the conference, I formed a critique group and joined SCBWI. With the support of these groups, I worked diligently on one of the stories I’d workshopped at the conference, and when I felt it was ready, I submitted my first manuscript to Arthur A. Levine Books, (his imprint at Scholastic, at the time.)

Arthur was again kind and encouraging, and I will always treasure the personal letter he sent back to me, gently declining my story. Over the next several years, I continued to do the work of a writer, inventing new stories, revising, and asking for critiques over and over again. As I developed an inventory of submission-ready manuscripts, I studied publishing houses and began the task of submitting. I accumulated several large file boxes filled with manuscripts in various stages of revision and correspondence from editors across the country (this was before submitting electronically was a thing.) Over time, the editorial correspondence I received shifted from form letters to personalized notes with suggestions for revision and/or ideas for other publishers that might be a better fit for my work.

One dark and stormy night in October 2007, I took my kids to a book event in our area to meet Bart King, the author of my daughter’s then-favorite book. At the event, I visited with another exhibiting author, David Michael Slater, whose books with an educational hook struck me as being similar in nature to my stories that incorporated American Sign Language. I told him about my work, and he agreed that it sounded like a strong fit for his publisher, ABDO, and he was kind enough to put me in touch with his editor. ABDO was indeed a good fit for my ready work at the time, and I published 16 books with that editor, from 2009-2012. It was a great experience.

Then I had a dry spell. A long dry spell that didn’t break until 2015 when two author friends in my local area, Elizabeth Rusch and Amber J Keyser, thought of me for an anthology they were working on called Oregon Reads Aloud. Liz reached out to invite me to participate, and I shared a freshly revised version of a story that had received several encouraging “personalized rejections” (so I knew that it was “ready,” it just needed to find the right home.) The story was accepted for the anthology, my dry spell had lifted, and my confidence was restored.

Through the process of participating in a wide variety of marketing events for Oregon Reads Aloud, I met the publishing director and marketing manager for West Margin Press (then Graphic Arts Books.) I’ve since published three picture books with the marvelous team at West Margin Press, including my book that just released in April, Lucy’s Blooms. It is my sincere hope I’ll get to work with them on another book in the future, but alas, they’ve passed on my last three submissions. Not to worry. Those stories will find a home, they just need to find the right home.

With 20 picture books and nearly as many years of experience, there are parts of me that still feel a bit like a newbie in this business. Maybe that’s because I’ve not yet been able to secure an agent (I will keep trying.) Maybe it’s because the publishing industry is hard to break into (over and over again.) Maybe it’s because each book takes a different route to publication, so the path is in fact a bit new each time.

With that said, here are my tips and takeaways: Keep doing the work. Read. Write. Revise. Seek feedback. Revise again. Build a body of ready work. Attend book events. Support others in their work. Make friends. Seek out and accept opportunities that align with your interests. Strive to better understand the market. Submit your work, as it becomes ready. Repeat.

TRENDS COME AND GO

by Michelle Nott

I was first inspired to write children’ stories while living in Belgium. My little girls’ bookshelf was mainly stocked with stories written in French. They were brilliant books, but we had decided to raise our children bilingually. And so I dusted off my Creative Writing degree and got writing … and thinking about turning these bedtime stories into actual books. Luckily, I found SCBWI Belgium (now SCBWI Benelux) to guide me. A couple months into my first critique group, a friend said she thought her editor would like one of my manuscripts. I queried her and after a round of revisions, she offered to publish my first early reader book. But it would take four years to have it in my hands. Once that book came out, she acquired my second early reader that took another four years to see the light of day. In the meantime, I queried agents with picture book and middle grade manuscripts. One of my first picture book stories received many kind rejections, mainly “it’s lovely, but too quiet.” At the time, most agents and editors were asking for action-packed plot-driven stories. Mine was not. But it’s important to remember that trends come and go, and to write the story you are to write. Finally, I sent a middle grade manuscript to an agent who replied that she liked my writing, but asked if I also wrote picture books. I sent her that quiet manuscript,… and she loved it! And then an editor and an illustrator at Enchanted Lion Books loved it. And now I’m thrilled that this book, Teddy Let’s Go!, written when my oldest daughter was in Kindergarten, will be published in time for me to hand it to her on her way to university!

PERSISTENCE CAN CERTAINLY GET YOU TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE

by Rosie Pova

My journey to publication was definitely long and full of heartbreaks along the way. Given the fact that English is not my native language, and I had no clue how publishing worked, no wonder it took me 13 years to get my first yes from a traditional publisher. I had so much to learn, so much to catch up on as an immigrant, and so much to experience before I found my footing.

But when that yes came, two more came with it as well, so I received three publishing contracts all at once! That was certainly an exciting victory!

Up to that point, I had been submitting to both agents and publishers. But even though I did get an agent before, the book she signed me with didn’t sell.

Fast-forward to today, I have five traditionally published books (four out, one upcoming), and my newly released one, Sunday Rain, was recently featured in The New York Times which is an absolute dream come true!

Overnight success in publishing is rare. But persistence can certainly get you to where you want to be.

And yes, I still get rejections. All the time. And that’s perfectly normal. In fact, those rejections are necessary, because that’s how our work finds the exact right home it’s meant for.

“I HAVE TO LOVE WHAT I’M WORKING ON, I HAVE TO ENJOY MY WRITING RITUALS, AND I HAVE TO RELY ON FRIENDS WHO ARE ON THE SAME JOURNEY.”

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

It took me many years of writing very diligently to have my first book published. I first published work-for-hire nonfiction for the educational market. My first trade picture book WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE was picked up in a call for submissions from Millbrook Press. I already had something to submit that had been getting good feedback, but ultimately kept getting rejected.

I write everyday (I score high on “discipline” in Clifton Strength’s Finders) because it helps me stay connected to my work. If I don’t write, I often feel like things are “off.” I have several projects in circulation—often in different genres and for different age groups. When one project isn’t going quite right, I can work on another project. I always have something percolating or waiting to be worked on. To stay positive, I keep a spot in my bullet journal for celebrations. They often don’t include “book deal.” But they do include things like: finished middle grade novel revision, finished fast draft of chapter book, received positive feedback from editor, participated in panel at XX conference. These celebrations remind me that the journey is important too. When it feels like a long wait for a book deal, these small victories remind me that I’m making progress.

I definitely get rejections—a lot of them. I try to frame rejections in different ways. Sometimes I get rejected because the publisher has already bought something similar. Other times I get rejected because the publisher just didn’t connect with it. If I get feedback from various places that sounds similar or points to the same thing, then I know it’s time to pull back and take another look. In those cases, rejections can make me a better writer. But they definitely don’t make the writing life easy. That’s why, for me, I have to enjoy the journey I’m on. I have to love what I’m working on, I have to enjoy my writing rituals, and I have to rely on friends who are on the same journey.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here and TO READ PART 2 click here. TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two. TO READ MORE ABOUT THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM AND THEIR BOOKS click here.

A LITTLE BONUS FEATURE–THE BOOK TRAILER FOR WHEN WATER MAKES MUD

Read Full Post »

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION (USUALLY) DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT (Part 1 of 3)

kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. One of the reasons I wanted us to cover this topic is because every once in a while, you’ll see blog posts from an author who tells you the very first manuscript they sent out was acquired overnight—as though it’s the easiest thing one can do. That is not the norm nor is it reality. I also wanted emerging writers as well as those who have been at it for a long, long time to see similarities and differences in each writer’s experience. My wish for you and all our readers this round is that you might be inspired or pick up just one bit of wisdom that will help you in your journey. But also, that you adjust your expectations, so that if you find yourself on a long and winding road, you’re not disappointed or discouraged. And if you are one of the lucky ones who gets a contract overnight, you will be surprised and appreciate the moment even more than you might have.

Because it has been a long road for the “Wisdom” authors, we all had a lot to say. So, this topic will be shared in three parts over the next three weeks.

I’ve seen some similarities in answers, but everyone’s path has been a little different. I’m going to start with my own answer because it brings up a topic that didn’t pop up in any of the other answers.

Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate Rob Sanders has a book birthday coming on May 4 with  TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’d like to also congratulate the illustrators of my picture books for winning the Story Monsters Approved Award. Polina Gortman illustrated THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed. And Milanka Reardon illustrated AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin.

Congratulations!

Two Grooms on a Cake

AWARD WINNER FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!Winner for (1)

Words of Wisdom

WHEN YOU SAY “YES” TO ONE THING, YOU ARE SAYING “NO” TO ANOTHER

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m guessing, as with most team members, it would take an entire book to share my long journey. I’ll do my best to keep this short. My first picture book BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was released way back in 2009. It won some awards and got great reviews, so I thought for sure, this kid-lit writing thing was going to be a breeze. I was wrong. I spent the next several years taking children’s book writing courses, attending SCBWI conferences and workshops, and getting involved in the online writing community. In 2013, I was on top of the world when I signed with an agent (my choice out of three agent offers—wasn’t I something?). I knew for sure that I was going to conquer the kid lit world now! Well, once again, I was wrong. In 2015, I parted ways with the agent. That set my confidence back for a couple of years. I did very little submitting, but I did continued to write, study children’s book writing, and work to grow my online presence. I also started a professional critique service and wrote an independent-study picture book writing course, Art of Arc. I also started working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12, which I did for three years. In 2016 I signed with a small publisher and in 2017, my chapter book series Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy was launched. I continued to study children’s book writing and submit. Also in 2017, I helped my husband relaunch Blue Whale Press where I was the acquisitions editor and creative director. In addition to that, I spent the year going back and forth with an agent who I thought was going to sign me for sure. Once again, I was wrong. We even had what I thought was “the call.” But it turned out to be a “let you down easy” call. She loved one of my stories, but didn’t fully connect with the others I offered. That set me back for a while. But I had so much going on with Blue Whale Press and my other writing related work that I didn’t have time to fall into negative thinking. In 2019, I started offering affordable children’s writing webinars. But even with all of the above, I also continued to study, write, and submit. 2020 was an exciting year for me when finally; my next two picture books were published. I am so proud of AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and my latest Sienna book COWBOY TROUBLE. I’m so excited that THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS recently won the Story Monsters Approved award for books that make a difference. And THE OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN won an award in the nonfiction picture book category.

It took thirteen years of hard work, but more than anything, perseverance, to get (soon to be) four published picture books and two chapter books into the world. I tried to include what I consider to be major parts of my journey to demonstrate that it’s not necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding our way through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.

I don’t regret my path for a minute because I love all the gifts I have given writers and illustrators over the years with my critiques, courses, work with Blue Whale Press and so on. I’ve found that for me, relaxing into where life takes me usually leads me to where I need to be. But a word of warning . . . when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to another. In my case, I said a lot of “no” to writing and submitting by saying “yes” to helping others. Where might I have been had I been more focused? That is not a question of regret. It is a question that I pose to you as writers. Following is a little worksheet to help you see your “yes” and “no” choices more clearly. I hope some of you find it helpful. The worksheet was initially part of a much longer post I wrote on the topic. Click here to read it

say yes say no

SHEER LUCK? SOMETIMES. SHEER GRIT? MOST OF THE TIME.

by Kirsti Call

It happened backwards for me. I wrote my first couple of stories, joined a critique group, submitted THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL about three months into my writing journey. Character Publishing gave me an offer almost immediately, and my first book came out in 2013. Then for 6 years I wrote and revised and submitted and submitted and submitted again. I FINALLY got my first agent who subsequently sold 4 books for me. Sheer luck led to my first book. Sheer grit led to others.

ALL THE TIME I PUT INTO LIVING LIFE, AND WRITING STORIES, LED ME TO STRENGTHEN MY CRAFT AND FIND MY WRITING VOICE

by Melissa Stoller

My journey to publication was indeed a “long and winding road.” I had started writing when my oldest daughter was a baby and I loved reading picture books to her and making up bedtime stories. Before that, I practiced as an attorney, taught legal research and writing to law students, and worked as a career counselor at a law school. When I received many rejections to my initial book queries, I turned my attention to writing parenting articles and doing freelance editing. But eventually, I returned to my dream of writing for children (and by that point, I had three children and lots more time doing field research into the KidLit world). In fact, I had joined the SCBWI in 1997 (!) and my first book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, was published in 2017! I am forever grateful to Callie Metler and Clear Fork Publishing for helping me turn my writing dreams into reality. My advice to aspiring writers is to keep pursuing your goals. Your writing journey may detour down some curving roads, like mine did, and your path to publication may not be straight. But all the time I put into living life, and writing stories, led me to strengthen my craft and find my writing voice. So, buckle up, get on whatever type of road best fits your career, and say ready, set, GO!

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP AND YOUR FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD!

by Rob Sanders

My journey to publishing started back in college. I paid my way through college and graduate school by writing religious educational materials. A few years later, I wound up working for the company for which I’d been writing, eventually becoming an editor and product designer there. But none of those materials were things kids would ever find in their public or school libraries or local bookstores. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I decided to pursue my dream of writing picture books. Two years later I made my first sale through a paid critique at SCBWI LA. A year later, I landed an agent. Selling my second book proved to be as difficult as selling the first and that pattern continues. Each of my manuscripts has to stand on its own merits and find its own home. I often remind myself of the advice my agent gave me when we first started working together: Keep your chin up and your fingers on the keyboard!

FIVE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS IN ANY PROJECT

Vivian Kirkfield

Whenever I do presentations about the path to publication, I talk about how becoming a picture book author was a lot like making a pizza. Whether I’m speaking with six-year-old school kids or sixty-year-old aspiring authors, I share the 5 P’s…5 ingredients that are necessary for success in any project: PASSION, PREPARATION, PRACTICE, PATIENCE, and PERSISTENCE. It’s a process and it takes time. I started my writing journey at the end of 2011 – we signed my first book deal at the end of 2015 – and that book launched in 2019. I had sent out a few submissions to editors on my own, but I knew I wanted an agent because I knew I didn’t want to focus on where to send my manuscripts…I wanted to focus on writing them. However, the path is different for each one of us – and what is right for one person might not be right for another. What is needed, however, whether you have an agent or not, is positivity. Oh…there’s another P…I guess you can tell I’m a picture book writer with all of that alliteration.😅 I remain positive because I know that the rejections…and YES, I do get lots of rejections…are not personal. I try to remember that this is a business…and the publisher/editor must make a profit from the books they produce. Otherwise, they have to close their doors. And if they don’t choose my manuscript, it’s because they don’t think they will make money. I also try to keep in mind that sometimes, publishers are wrong. So, when I get a rejection, I remind myself that I am in good company with J.K Rowling and Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King and many others: https://wildmindcreative.com/bookmarketing/6-famous-authors-who-once-faced-rejection.

COMING IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS PART 2 AND PART 3

Next week, Ellen Leventhal and Pippa Chorley talk about their journeys, which both include dealing with imposter syndrome. And Beth Anderson shares her thoughts on what it takes to be successful as an author. Finally on May 8th, we’ll wrap up our thoughts on the path to publication with Laura Gehl who talks about how time only serves to make you a better author. Dawn Babb Prochovnic looks at the importance of continuing the work in spite of obstacles. Michelle Nott talks about trends and also demonstrates that it pays to never give up on old stories. Rosie Pova talks about how persistence pays off. Marcie Flinchum Atkins talks about enjoying the rituals of writing and having friends who “get” the writer’s experience.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

Read Full Post »

 

Welcome to Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom where a team of multi-published kid-lit authors with over 170 years of combined experience as writers share their wisdom. You can read all about our team here. And you can read part one of THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY here. Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate some of our team members.

Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate some of our team members.

Ellen Leventhal’s book A FLOOD OF KINDNESS will poke its sweet head out into the world on April 13. Happy early birthday wishes and welcome to the world! Beautiful story.

And another baby book will be born on April 13. Dawn Prochovnic’s LUCY’S BLOOMS will brighten our world. Another weed has captured my heart ; – )

I decided to launch our “wisdom” series with a general question. I half thought that there would be a lot of similar answers. The answers in this second part of “Lessons Learned” demonstrate that although what most of us strive for is the same, everyone’s experience is different. But I also notice a thread in several of the answers, which touch on the importance of community and support from other writers. I often say, it takes a village. Some of the answers shared here confirm that it truly does.

There are so many great online writing communities, but I’ll offer the first two that come to mind. They are both Facebook groups. I’m sure they will lead you to more groups and opportunities to grow as a writer. KidLit411 is a wonderful writing community. They also have a website that offers unlimited resources. Plus they have an illustrator/portfolio critique swap and a  manuscript swap/critique connection group. KidLitCreatives encourages and supports writers and illustrators that are actively writing and submitting. They even offer prizes each month!

And now for our question to the wise. . . .

Answers to “Most Important Lesson Learned”

WRITING IS A GIFT TO MYSELF
by Laura Gehl

The most important lesson I have learned is to focus on the happiness I get from the act of writing. I absolutely love to write—that’s probably obvious, or I would have chosen a different career. But it is easy to think that happiness for a writer comes from making a sale, getting a starred review, winning an award, and so on. For me, those things do bring happiness, of course, when they happen. But I can bring myself happiness EVERY SINGLE DAY just by sitting down to write. Sometimes, life gets extra busy and stressful, and I realize it has been a week or more since I actually did any writing. When I force myself to find time to write, voilà—it makes me happy! Writing is like a gift I can keep giving to myself over and over, and it is a gift I love every time. But for some reason, this is a lesson I keep needing to relearn. It’s easy to get pulled back into worrying about the next sale or the next review…and easy to feel like there are so many other things going on that there isn’t time to write. In both of those situations, I need to remind myself that I will feel better if I get back to writing. And then I do!

SPEAK UP WITH CONFIDENCE
by Vivian Kirkfield

I realize that every editor has her or his own way of moving forward and that the timeline for the path to publication for each book is going to be different. But I wish I’d had more knowledge of that timeline when I signed my first book deal and I wish I’d had more confidence to speak more decisively when things weren’t moving along smoothly. If you haven’t gotten sketches and you should have…speak up. If you’ve gotten them and there is a problem…gather your proof and speak up. When it comes to historical accuracy and authenticity, we must advocate for our stories to ensure that children receive the best books possible.

BY SUBMITTING TOO EARLY, WE BURN BRIDGES. BUT . . . THAT’S ALSO HOW WE LEARN
by Beth Anderson

I wish I’d had a better idea in the beginning about when a manuscript is ready for submission. As with most endeavors, you don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s probably impossible to have known that, and the gap between my “ready” and “submission ready” was significant. Thankfully, I’ve had critique groups that pushed me closer, but they too were working to understand “ready.” I think the only solution is to share your work with people that know more about the business and will be honest with you. And then we must be patient enough, diligent enough, tough-skinned enough, and trust them enough to really listen and keep working on it. By submitting too early, we burn bridges. But…that’s also how we learn. Beth

WRITING AND PUBLISHING IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES—YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT EXPERIENCE YOU’RE GOING TO GET
by Dawn Prochovnic

I think one of the things I’ve learned (or, more accurately, one of the things I am still learning) is that writing books is somewhat akin to raising (and/or teaching) children. You can read about it and glean ideas about how to handle certain circumstances from others, but in the end, you have to follow your own instincts. What works for one parent/teacher/child or author/book does not necessarily mean it will work for another. And just because you have successfully written/published one (or many) books, does not mean you have it all figured out. Yes, you come to the table with more experience, more confidence, and more tools in your toolbox, but each book will require you to begin again. Each book will journey on its own unique path. And each book will require the depths of your love and commitment—coupled with the right balance of full-on attention and getting out of the way.

Vivian wrote: I LOVE this one, Dawn…so very true…each book and each editor and each illustrator who works on one of our books creates a different recipe…like baking a cake. And for those who have baked cakes, you know that even if you use the same ingredients, the temperature in the oven might fluctuate or someone might slam a door in the house or the baking powder you used isn’t as fresh…and the results may be different.

I’d like to share the link to the animated book trailer and song for LUCY’S BLOOMS

WRITING IS LIKE TENDING A GARDEN
by Melissa Stoller

I wish I had known – and I’m still learning – that writing is a bit like tending a garden. You can plant bulbs and water and feed them – but not every one will grow (some bulbs inevitably get eaten by resourceful squirrels!). But if you plant enough then hopefully some will blossom. It’s the same with manuscripts. Not every story will sprout and even those that do still have to go through revisions, editing, an agent search, rounds with an editor, acquisitions committees, and more. But hopefully the story that does make it through will bloom! So my tip is to keep writing and then write some more. Work on your craft. Take classes. Read mentor texts. And surround yourself with excellent critique partners. Hopefully, by tending to our writing gardens, we will cultivate the best stories that will become beloved books.

THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
by Ellen Leventhal

One very important lesson I learned is that there is strength in numbers when it comes to marketing. I knew that getting a book published was just the beginning, but I didn’t know anything about marketing groups with my first two books. I am in two groups now, and the support has made a huge difference.

TAKING PART IN A WRITING COMMUNITY CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING
by Michelle Nott

Besides all the previous tips, I would encourage everyone to find their writing community, be that organizations like SCBWI or CBI, critique groups or at least a partner, and writers and artists on social media. When I first started writing for children, I was in Belgium and didn’t realize there were so many other writers for children in Europe and who were so generous with advice and support. I had been writing alone for a year, and almost gave up, until I noticed an agent from NYC was offering a master class through SCBWI in Paris. That small gathering opened up the entire kid lit world to me. I found a critique group in Brussels, went to Europolitan Conferences, and actually learned about the business side of writing for children (and how much improvement my query letters needed!) Community can also help writers realize that everyone’s journey is unique and that fact, in itself, can avoid a lot of stress and unrealistic expectations. We can all learn something from each other, no matter where we are on our writing and publishing paths.

MAKING GENUINE, AUTHENTIC CONNECTIONS WITH FELLOW WRITERS IS GOLD
by Rosie Pova

The most important thing I’ve learned throughout my publication journey is that support is invaluable and that nothing really happens without it. This business is tough! Making it to publication is a huge victory! It means you’ve overcome a mountain of obstacles and heartaches, most likely, but then the hard work starts. So in light of that, I wish I had joined a promotional group or two after the publication of my first few books. Joining forces with peers can take a book so much farther! For years, I’ve struggled with marketing, promotions, spreading the word … solo. Having a support system and teammates makes all the difference! So, my advice is to start thinking about that very early in the process — don’t wait until your book is about to release — and plan wisely. Find a promo group to join or start one. The more heads come together to collaborate and promote, the better. Oh, and don’t forget to be a supporter of others in the kidlit community, too. Making genuine, authentic connections is gold in this business!

Read Full Post »

Welcome to Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom where a team of multi-published kid-lit authors with over 170 years of combined experience as writers share their wisdom. You can read all about our team here. Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate some of our team members.

Rosie Pova’s lovely book SUNDAY RAIN had a birthday on March 2. Welcome to the world, little one!

Vivian Kirkfield’s new book FROM HERE TO THERE: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves is really going places! (See what I did there?) Great collection of stories all in one book!

Kirsti Call’s picture book, COW SAYS MEOW just had an udderly sweet birthday on March 16! Welcome to the world little book!

Laura Gehl‘s rhyming board book BASEBALL BABY will come into the world on March 30. Happy early birthday!

I decided to launch our “wisdom” series with a general question. I half thought that there would be a lot of similar answers. Although, some answers might relate to another in small ways, the answers prove that although what most of us strive for is the same, everyone’s experience is different. I think most of us on the team agree that we are all still learning, but with so many years behind us, we do have a lot to share. The question for this post is . . .

Answers Most Important Lesson Learned

 

I am rudely offering my answer first because it is the longest answer.

 

COMPARISON, CRITICISM, AND JUDGMENT

A WRITER’S WORST ENEMIES
by Alayne Kay Christian

Through my own experience and through observing other writers’ struggle, one important lesson I’ve learned is comparison, criticism, and judgment are a writer’s worst enemies. When it comes to looking outside ourselves to find our worth via comparison and judgment, my experience and observations have been that it usually leads to self-criticism and pain. In the kid-lit writing world, it can be a long hard road to what one might consider success. Most of us see success as getting positive feedback on a manuscript, signing with an agent, getting a book contract, holding that published book in our hand, getting great reviews, having a million-copy seller, and on and on. Unfortunately, success is a moving target. Like a drug addict, we are always looking for the next success fix. But as soon as the pleasure of meeting a goal fades away, sometimes even while we are still enjoying it, we are looking for more of the same or maybe even something different.

In the online writing community, it’s almost a daily occurrence that someone’s good news (usually several people’s good news) is shared. Sometimes, it seems like an hourly event! Isn’t that great? It’s also great the writing community is always there to help celebrate our successes. But I know for sure that when you are surrounded by others’ perceived successes, and you can’t seem to see any successes on your end, comparing, criticizing, and judging is a surefire way to stop or hinder your chances of success. When we compare ourselves, our efforts, and our situations to others, we become our own victims because the next step is self-judgment and usually self-criticism. I suppose for some, the outcome might be inspiration, encouragement, and the strength to keep on keeping on. But for others, comparing, followed by self-judgment and criticism, lead to emotional confusion, discouragement, and sometimes a sense of defeat. Most climb out of it, pick themselves up, and get back on the rough road they have put themselves on in their writing journey. I admire and praise those who have found the peaceful route to their perceived success. But more than anything, I wish peace for those who struggle.

Of course, we all have our own path to follow. And we all have the road that will take us to where we are meant to be. I’d just like my ramblings to leave you with the thought that we have the power to make this writing journey a peaceful and pleasurable ride or to make it a treacherous and tumultuous one. For me, remaining aware of the compare, criticize, judge trap (whether it be directed at self, others, or both) is one of the best things I ever learned to do for myself. But the biggest lesson is to recognize it for what it is—the enemy. See that big flashing red light of discomfort and distraction and STOP looking outside yourself. Then, find a way to bring your focus back to you in the moment where you can find peace and joy in your writing journey. One lovely step at a time.

If doing what you love feels more like a struggle than a peaceful or joyful experience, take a good look within. You will likely find that you are comparing, criticizing, or judging (or maybe all three.) It’s impossible to be in the moment under those circumstances.

Coincidentally, while I was working on the above answer, the following Jane Friedman blog post popped up in my email. I feel like it is too related not to share. Although, I’m not talking about jealousy in my answer, falling into the compare, criticize, judge trap can lead you there. Click here to read The Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy in the Time of Quarantine by Nancy Stohlman.

It’s funny how once you bring something into your consciousness, it seems to pop up everywhere. As I was preparing this blog post, I received newsletter from Jess Keating. Jess has a different take on jealousy. And she offers her creative guide to jealousy here. It’s definitely worth reading! Thanks, Jess.

 

To learn more about Alayne and her books visit alaynekaychristianauthor.com

 

SUCCESS LIVES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF FAILURE
by Kirsti Call

My most important lesson learned on my publication journey:

Each rejection, each defeat, each failure only teaches resilience and leads to success in this business. Without years of persistence through the failures, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Success lives in the neighborhood of failure.

My book, COW SAYS MEOW came out on March 16! Here’s the 2 minute song my 15 year old daughter wrote for it: https://youtu.be/X14k86vW6FY (And I just got a very unexpected starred review from SLJ!)

Happy Creating!

To learn more about Kirsti and her books visit www.kirsticall.com

 

WRITING AUTHENTICALLY IS A MUST
by Rob Sanders

My most hard-learned lessons seem to be those that are the most obvious. I wrote and published for a few years before I finally owned the lesson that I need to write the stories only I can write and to write with authenticity. I still have to evaluate what I’m working on to see if I’m doing that. Life (and my writing career) is too short to spend time writing things that don’t truly represent who I am.

To learn more about Rob and his books visit www.robsanderswrites.com

 

WRITING IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
by Pippa Chorley

I think the thing I learned from the entire process is that writing is only the start. Once the book is handed over to the illustrator your work does not stop, its then time to begin marketing your book, engaging with other authors, preparing blog tours and launch events for when the book is out on the shelves, as well as school author visits, craft and storytelling sessions. For many authors that is particularly tough as we tend to enjoy the process of writing rather than speaking and shouting loudly about ourselves and our work. I do think in hindsight though that the earlier you begin this process the less pressured and easier it is, and the more you engage with other writers the less scary it feels and more enjoyable. Writers are wonderful people and love to help other writers and once you start talking to them, even via twitter and Facebook, it is easy to become part of this lovely community and gain the confidence you need to put yourself out there. So my tip would be to engage early on in small and meaningful ways and build it up slowly so that it never feels too onerous or overwhelming.

To learn more about Pippa and her books visit pippachorleystories.com

 

EVERYONE’S WRITING PROCESS IS DIFFERENT
by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I wish I had known much earlier on that everyone’s writing process is different–that it’s okay to lean into what works for me. I’m fascinated by other people’s ways of brainstorming, organizing, and revising, and I learn a lot from the way other writers do things. What I have learned is that I need to think about what works best for my brain. Often, I hear a cool tip from another writer, and now my first step is to spend some time journaling about what that might look like in my own process with my current projects. If I think it might help, I try it out. If I think it needs tweaking, I change it to make it work for me. This means that I’m learning to trust myself more. I do a lot of reflection–weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. At every point along the way, I’m asking myself: “What did you learn about yourself as a writer or about your process?” Knowing that I can lean into my own quirks and develop my own unique processes has helped me abandon what is no longer working and feel more confident in my writing. It has helped me embrace the mantra: “Joy in the process.”

To learn more about Marcie and her books visit www.marcieatkins.com

The team will continue to answer the question in part two of THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY with some great bits of wisdom from Beth Anderson, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Dawn ProchovnicRosie Pova, and Melissa Stoller.

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

 

 

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.

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Mentors for Rent

Balanced Advice About Writing for Children and Young Adults

Blog - Anitra Rowe Schulte

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Ellen Leventhal | Writing Outside the Lines

Children's Writer and Educator

KidLit411

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Susanna Leonard Hill

Children's Author

johnell dewitt

nomad, writer, reader and aspiring author

Teresa Robeson 何顥思

books * science * nature * art * cultural identity * food

Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Penny Parker Klostermann

children's author

Blogzone

Practical tips to help your writing dreams come true...

Caroline Frye

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Noodling with Words

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

365 Picture Books

A picture book every day

Julie Hedlund - Write Up My Life

On Living the Dream and Telling the Tale

VIVIAN KIRKFIELD - Writer for Children

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Carol Munro / Just Write Words

Can't write it yourself? Call Just Write Words.

Jo Hart - Author

A writing blog