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INTERVIEW WITH MIDDLE GRADE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR LAURIE SMOLLETT KUTSCERA

I’d like to introduce Laurie Smollett Kutscera, author and illustrator of the exciting middle grade book Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, published by Blue Whale Press. Her book launched on April 1, 2020. Today, I share an interesting interview with Laurie about her experience as an author and illustrator. She also offers tips for writers and illustrators!

First, I’ll share excerpts of a recent review of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, and I will follow that with the book trailer.

Midwest Book Review

“. . . Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: “Isn’t it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?” What could have been a singular story of a boy’s special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one’s familiar life patterns. . . .

Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician’s Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex’s future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.”                         

 — by Diane Donavan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Book Trailer

Interview

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

Laurie: Thank you for that lovely introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with you!

I knew art was always going to be my path from a young age. As a teenager, flipping through the pages of Mademoiselle, I reveled at Betsey Johnson’s quirky illustrations with dreams of being a fashion illustrator. But once I entered Queens College, my drawing teacher Marvin Bileck, introduced me to the magic of children’s books and changed the course of my life. He was a remarkably talented artist and an award-winning children’s book illustrator. He taught drawing, printmaking, and book design, all of which were filled with energy and exploration. He invited other illustrators to the class including his dear friend Ashley Bryan. What a talented artist and author. And when I was ready to show my portfolio- Professor Bileck arranged for me to meet with Margaret McElderry! I was terrified. I’ll never forget, sitting beside her, she paused at one of my illustrations and smiled.

After college, I spent the next eight years freelancing as a graphic designer when two dear friends approached me about illustrating a story they had written about a cliff dwelling tribe and a fearless girl named Ravita. I was thrilled. I decided to work in pastel—a medium I had never used before. I used my handy dandy Xerox machine and made dummies that the three of us sent to various publishers. Rizzoli Books in NY loved the story and a year and a half later, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published and in the windows of Barnes and Noble all over Manhattan!

Ferdinand and Joker from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

It never dawned on me that I would ever be an author. In truth, I hadn’t thought about writing seriously until ten years later. A writer friend suggested I take an essay writing workshop that lead me to a memoir class. Memoir was fascinating. I learned so much about world building, dialogue and writing in the moment. But knowing memoir is a challenging sell, I decided to take elements of what I had written, and incorporate it into Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Soon after, I found a critique group at Media Bistro that focused on MG/YA. Once I opened a Twitter account, I discovered Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. What a find! I learned so much about the craft of writing picture books and also connected with my current (and may I say, amazing) critique partners.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful illustrator. Which came first? Writing or illustrating?

Laurie: Thank you Alayne. Can you guess? Following is a photo of me with my first paint set when I was 3 or so. ( Nice bangs!) My mother was an artist so I was lucky in that I received plenty of encouragement, (even when I drew people with wheels for feet!) In school, art was always the best class. One of the few I paid attention in. As I grew older, I loved writing poetry and in high school I wrote a fractured fairy-tale that made my English teacher laugh out loud. That always stayed with me, but that was as far as I took it. I didn’t have the confidence to take a writing course until much later. Art was always going to be my profession, or so I thought.

Laurie with her first paint set at age three.

Alayne: Does your art influence your writing or does your writing influence your art?

Laurie: That’s a great question. Most of the time, I think the tone of the story affects the art. It doesn’t happen often, but I have written a few stories based on an illustration.

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a wordless picture book or a graphic novel?

Wordless picture book dummy THE RED BALL, pastel (2019) Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Laurie: As daunting as that sounds, I just recently finished a dummy for my first wordless picture book and am excited to find a home for it. I’d love to learn more about graphic novels, then get down to some serious playing!

Alayne: What is it like to see your printed book for the first time?

Laurie: As you yourself know, there are no words to describe what it feels like to hold your book, years of hard work in your hands. Writing, editing, sweat. Re-writing, editing, tears. Re-writing editing, prayers. Blue Whale Press did such a lovely job designing it. I am beyond thrilled to finally share Alex’s adventure with everyone!

Alayne: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is super creative and unique. The characters are so special. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Laurie: It was a kind of perfect storm. I had just finished a long conversation with a dear friend who was trying to help me out of an emotional slump. We both agreed I needed to find a creative project to delve into. Later that week, I was sitting in a movie theater with my husband watching the opening credits of Casino Royale. I was immediately struck by the graphics that filled the screen. These larger than life card characters suddenly consumed me, and became the impetus for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Had I not had the conversation with my friend, I don’t think I would have been as receptive. This was before Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, which for those of us who join every year know has the same powerful intention.

Alex and King Anton from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Blue Whale Press offered quite a few edit suggestions. I know we all had trying times with that process. But 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?

Laurie: Well that’s the key really, not taking it personally. I think most creative people are super sensitive to begin with, so having an editor revise what seems like a brilliantly crafted sentence can feel like a stab in the heart, LOL. I think communication, intention and flexibility play a big part here. Editing takes on many surprising facets, including when the author and editor live in different parts of the country, or world for that matter! But stepping back always helps. Take a break and come back to it. Have someone unfamiliar with the story read the revisions. The bottom line, editing is part of the process and will only make your work stronger.

Alayne: I’ve mentioned your wonderful characters before, but only asked where you found the inspiration for your “story.” Where did you find your inspiration for so many great characters and their voices?

Laurie: This is a fun question to answer. In high school and college, I was totally into acting in plays and tried to tap into the personalities around me. I guess I still do. In our charter boat business, I’ve met and worked with some interesting people. Not all were delightful. Joker for example, (who is hilarious and whom I love dearly!) was based on two extremely annoying people I worked with. They were beyond self-involved and snapped their fingers at everyone. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at many of their comments. Queen Olivia was based on a very dear neighbor who reminded me of Eleanor Roosevelt. With her queen-like demeanor, she always found something nice to say about people…most of the time. Alex’s character was inspired by my nephew. He is insightful and resilient, but struggled quite a bit when it came to navigating relationships in school. There are parts of me in Alex, too. We moved when I was 10 and I felt so lost in a new school, and I’m pretty sure my teacher had it out for me, too!

Alexander Finn and friends from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Are you a pantser or a planner? Did you plan and outline, or did you just let the story flow out of you organically.

Laurie: I am a total pantser! Before I understood the definition, I would sit at the kitchen counter, open my laptop and begin typing, anxious to see where the story was headed. It was a bit freaky, like I was being channeled and had nothing to do with the outcome. Undiagnosed, that first draft was an exciting process!

Alayne: I recently did a Chapter Book Challenge guest post where I analyzed Misadventures of a Magician’s Son using The Hero’s Journey. Did you study that storytelling structure before writing the book, our do you just have that natural storytelling ability?

Laurie: Wow. That sounds interesting. I was not familiar with The Hero’s Journey when I began writing. I approached Misadventures of a Magician’s Son much like I was watching a movie unfold. I tried to build an arc to the story line based on lots of visual action. Once I joined that MG/YA critique group at Media Bistro, I learned more about structure and was able to strengthen Alex’s voice, clarify details, and build more tension using short sentences.

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

Laurie: I began writing in 2007, but with only a few winter months to devote to the process, it took me several years to complete it. I took a break for a year to work on another project, then came back to it in 2012. In 2014, I began subbing with no bites. The following year, I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam Event in NYC. I created a deck of cards with the characters, fanned them open, and pitched my heart out to a number of agents. 500 people, 1 hour and lines 15 minutes long, I was so nervous, I left my bag somewhere in the ballroom–but I found my agent! She pitched it to a number of publishers including Simon & Schuster who loved the manuscript and asked for revisions. That was the high point. But unfortunately, they passed. (I think they had another project in the works about magic.) Soon after, my agent left the company. That was the low point. I took some time off to clear my head. When I started subbing again I discovered Blue Whale Press was open to submissions. That was 2018. And here we are!

Alayne: How long did it take you to the write the book—from first line until confident enough to submit?

Laurie: I don’t want to frighten people because my experience (and work schedule) are probably not quite the norm. But from the time I began to write until I started submitting took 8 years.

Alayne: Did you have the book critiqued or edited before submitting?

Laurie: Yes, first through my critique group at Media Bistro. I received feedback on every chapter and once I revised the manuscript based on their feedback, I hired an editor to review again. He had some excellent ideas regarding juggling and strengthening a few scenes and suggested I write a prologue for the ending. He also recommended I call the book- Dance of Suits: An Alexander Finn Magical Adventure, which I was never crazy about, but submitted it for a while with that title. I think it confused people. I finally changed it to Misadventures of a Magician’s Son a year later.

Alayne: Did you have beta readers at any time?

Laurie: Yes, I had a few beta readers, including a middle grade librarian.

Alayne: We’ve touched a little on the illustrator side of you, but I’d like to dig into that a little deeper. I’ll start with the question, Do you have a preferred medium?

Laurie: So much has changed since I opened that first paint set. In truth my work used to be very linear and detailed. Now I’m trying to find a more ethereal approach to my art. I love working in pastel–it’s dreamy and soft and likes to take the lead which is kind of cool. I love playing with colored pencil and watercolor then fine tuning in Photoshop. I also love working in Pro-Create. I’ve recently gotten to a place where I don’t need a sketch as a starting point. OK…that in itself is an amazing accomplishment especially for a control freak like me!

Polar Bears by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – pastels and Procreate

Illustration from Painted Desert Dummy by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

Illustration from Maya’s Treasure by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

 

Alayne: Have any other artists or children’s literature illustrators influenced you during your journey so far?

There are so many illustrators that have inspired me. After reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I was elated to see that illustrations for middle grade readers didn’t necessarily have to be cartoony. Cartoony is fine, but Bagram IbatoulIine’s artwork evokes such depth and warmth. It was the perfect choice for Kate DiCamillos work.

Illustrators I love: Brian Selznick, Erin E. Stead, James Christopher Carroll, Brian Lies, Sophie Blackall, and Pamela Zagarenski just to name a few. I love Gauguin, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and my all-time favorite, Leon Bakst. He was a costume and set designer, and his illustrations are exquisite. I can only imagine what he would have brought to picture book illustrations.

Alayne: What medium and process did you use for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son?

Laurie: Many of the original illustrations were done in colored pencil. Soon after, an editor I met at the SCBWI conference in NY explain to me that middle grade readers prefer black and white illustrations. At first, I was disappointed to learn that, but once I converted all my work into grayscale, I was happily surprised at the results. The rich grays and deep blacks added quite a bit of mystery that complimented to tone of the story. I did the remaining illustrations in black and gray Prisma pencils on vellum paper and adjusted them in Photoshop.

Alayne: Where did you find the inspiration for the illustrations of the book’s characters?

Theo and Mr. Raymond from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: I always try to take advantage of the resources around me…like friends. I started eyeing them up right away. For instance, the model I used for Joker is a very dear friend who was born in England and lives up in the Adirondacks. Unlike Jokers snarky character, Chris is charming and brilliant and was unbelievably patient as I took photo after photo of him. Two of our first mates posed as Theo and Mr. Raymond, and another friend’s grandson posed for Alex. I also had Joel, my technical magician/adviser pose while Alex shuffles the cards. And our dearest neighbors posed as the King and Queen of Hearts.

Alex from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

 

Alayne: How is illustrating a middle grade different from illustrating a picture book?

Laurie: There are always exceptions to the rules, which I love, but in general, there are fewer illustrations in middle grade books and most are created in black and white. Picture books are different in that much of the story is told through the illustrations and are done in full color.

Alayne: How many years did you work on the art for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son? When did you do the very first drawing?

Laurie: I started working on the first illustrations back in 2007. Mostly character studies, lots of hands and card tricks in motion. I finished the last illustration a few weeks ago. All in all, twelve and a half years of illustrating.

Alayne: For this specific project, Did the drawings inspire your writing? Or did your writing inspire the drawings.

Laurie: I visualized many of the scenes before I started illustrating them. So, in a sense, the illustrations in my head inspired the writing. Once I began, I jumped back and forth between writing and illustrating. Working this way helped me visualize specific scenes and details I might otherwise have missed.

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

Jack from Misadventures from a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: Try not to focus on the contract. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you focus on crafting wonderful stories, the contract will follow. Keep submitting, try to develop a thick skin—someone just told me this, so again easier said than done. If you’ve received feedback, try to take a step back. Put it away and re-read it again later. It’s easier to grasp when you’re not so close to it.

Alayne: I know that being a writer/illustrator submissions are different than those who are writers or illustrators only. Do you ever submit as a writer/illustrator?

Laurie: Most of the time. It’s a bit more work. Not only are you offering a polished manuscript but you’re creating an entire book with illustrations. This is the heart and soul of your story.

Alayne: Do you ever submit as a writer only? Or as an illustrator only.

Laurie: The answer is yes to both. I actually have several manuscripts that I feel would be better using an illustrator with a more whimsical approach. I also just completed a wordless picture book that I just started submitting.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writer/illustrators?

Laurie: Read out loud. Savor every word. Have fun with your dummies. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Break rules!

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

Laurie: I have to! I love sharing stories that will touch young readers and adults. Maybe Alex’s journey will help someone who’s having a difficult time navigating this ever-changing world we live in. Maybe I can get them to laugh and see the light is closer than they think.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Laurie. Your story has brought me so many smiles. You know I am in love with Joker 😉 Thank you for helping Blue Whale Press make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Joker and his scepter Emilio. King Anton, Queen Olivia, and Jack. Characters from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutcera copyright 2020

Thank you Alayne–for believing in me and Alex’s journey.
C#&sffinxaagpzzz@l. OHHH, hey, no. Wait! UGH! Joker just climbed on my laptop. He wants me to tell you…you haven’t heard the last of him!

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is  available wherever books are sold. Some places currently are

Amazon

BookTopia

The Book Depository

Barnes & Noble

About Laurie

laurie-smollett-kutsceraLaurie Smollett Kutscera was born in Greenwich Village and grew up in Queens, New York. At the age of 11, she performed her first magic trick and was destined to be a ventriloquist with the aid of her childhood friend, Neil, who today is a real magician! But rather than follow in the footsteps of Houdini, she went on to study fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is an award-winning graphic designer, a published children’s book illustrator, and toy designer.

Laurie’s passion for writing began 12 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. Today she continues to write and illustrate and is currently working on several contemporary picture books and middle grade novels.

Laurie lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. You can learn more about Laurie by going to lskillustration.com.

For Aspiring Magician’s

Laurie has interviewed the young man who helped her learn about magic as part of her research for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. He offers some tips on to get started and improve as a magician.

Introducing Joel Goldman, Magician Extraordinaire!

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I’ve been busy working on the next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy book and rewriting my picture book writing course, Art of Arc. That’s only part of what I’ve been up to. But what’s important here is that I haven’t written a blog post in a while, so it’s high time I wrote one.

Today, I thought I would take a little time to share a few other things that I’ve been up to because I want to share some news, opportunities, and resources.

Teachers, librarians, parents – this one is for you.

I was just invited to be a judge for a fun writing contest for children in grades 3-5. Rosie Pova is offering the contest on her blog. This is a nationwide competition for creative writing with a theme, a twist and, of course, PRIZES! Teachers and librarians have 30 days from the contest opening date to submit the best entries that they select.

The contest began January 18 and will end at 11:59 pm February 16, 2018.

Writers, this one is for you.

I’ve signed up for my sixth year as a 12 X 12 member and my third year as a 12 X 12 critique ninja. As a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, you get the motivation and accountability you need to write picture book drafts in 2018. There are opportunities to learn from industry experts, receive advice on the craft of writing picture books from published authors, literary agents, and editors, and enjoy the fellowship of community. Registration is open until February 28.

Just so you know, a critique ninja is a person who works in the 12 X 12 forum offering critiques on posted picture book manuscripts. There is a whole team of critique ninjas – all professional critique writers.

Another one for writers.

I’ve joined Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge for, I think, my sixth year. The Storystorm challenge is to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas. The registration is over and the challenge is more than half over, but you can still get some great inspiration for finding ideas from the month-long Storystorm posts on Tara’s blog. Once upon a time, Storystorm was called PiBoIdMo or  Picture Book Idea Month.

This one is for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )  

I have bounced around the idea of trying my hand at art with this KIDLIT411 illustration contest, but I haven’t gained the courage. But YOU might want to give it a try. Excellent opportunity! The deadline is February 9.

Another one for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )

I’ve been practicing art using a bunch of different books, but I also recently signed up with the Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS). Here’s a little blurb from their site. Our videos are custom made to show you how to get the skills necessary to break into the dynamic field of illustration. We have a wide range of subjects that fit any interest you may have in art. On top of our huge video library of art videos, we are now offering multi-week interactive classes where you get direct feedback from the instructor. In addition to our video content, we offer a forum where you can chat with other students and ask for help or just show off your stuff!

Now, if only I could get reliable Internet access on the road so I can watch my courses!

And one last bit of fun for writers.

If you don’t know about it, Sub Six is a Facebook support group for kid lit writers who are focusing on submitting their work. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with it, and the wonderfully smart and talented Manju Gulati Howard has volunteered to help. And boy has she helped. She does so much to inspire and encourage the group. She’s secured monthly prizes for the whole year from generous donors. And now, she has started Rejection Bingo, which is a blast. The game is in play until June 1.

 

  

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giftPRIZE ANNOUNCEMENT

In my last post MY GIFT – YOUR GIFT, I asked people to share inspirational quotes or short stories as gifts to others. In return, those who participated were included in a drawing to win complimentary admission to my picture book writing course Art of Arc. I also offered two Art of Arc students or alumni complimentary picture book critiques. I’ve decided to give a bonus gift, so three people have won the course and two have won critiques. Congratulations to the following winners!

COMPLIMENTARY ART OF ARC COURSE

Ann Magee

Julie Bergmann Lacombe

Chris M. Regier

COMPLIMENTARY CRITIQUE

Gabrielle Schoeffield

Linda Schueler

 

A fun drawing by Teresa Robeson from her blog ONE GOOD THING.

A fun drawing by Teresa Robeson from her blog ONE GOOD THING. Click on the image to see more of her work.

 

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JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS 

I first offered a version of this post in 2012. It was titled THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN. Each year since, I’ve modified my original post and reposted it. Before I share the 2016 modified version, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog and me throughout the year. I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May the New Year bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Now for JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. . . .

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

A NEGATIVE DRAIN

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

ENERGIZE YOUR SPIRIT

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

YOUR LIST

Over the next couple of weeks, take some time to reflect on 2016 and list the things that you accomplished throughout the year. I hope you will celebrate your successes by coming back and sharing some of your discoveries in the comments section of this post or share them on your own blog. The most important part of this challenge is recognizing the positive, energizing events of 2016.

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR LIST

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

For tips on celebrating your achievements see CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS BIG AND SMALL. Be sure to scroll down to the section about the achievement jar, so you can celebrate all through 2017.

Below I share some my 2016 achievements.

  1. I signed a four-book deal for my chapter book series SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY with Clear Fork Publishing. In the process, I met some great new friends and my fantastic editor Callie Metler-Smith.
  2. I attended the Big Sur Cape Cod workshop and spent time with my lovely friends Sylvia Liu, Victoria Warneck, and Teresa Robeson.
  3. I continued to help other writers via my Art of Arc course and critiques. And other writers helped me with some great critiques and brainstorming.
  4. I completed the Nonfiction Archaeology course.
  5. I made my first serious attempts at writing two different nonfiction picture books. And I found the courage to submit them!
  6. I celebrated many, many friends’ successes – book contracts, book releases, agent representation and so on. Go Kid lit Community!
  7. I took care of myself during rough times and celebrated my fun times with joy.
  8. I continued to practice one of my favorite author survival skills, which is write from the heart – submit with detachment. I also encouraged others with positive and inspirational quotes on Facebook and Twitter.
  9. I completed my 5th 12 X 12 writing challenge and had the pleasure of working as a 12 x 12 Critique Ninja.
  10. I ended 2016 by gifting my picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript (deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc) and some picture book critiques.

Now it’s your turn. Celebrate with us by sharing your accomplishments.

Best wishes in 2017! Wait, there’s more. This would have been my sixth year of participating in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) challenge, but there have been some changes. My sixth year will have to wait until January 2017, and I will be participating in STORYSTORM instead. To read about the changes and how to register click on the following badge. Thirty story ideas in thirty days, with inspiration, great faculty, and prizes, too!

storystorm-badge

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This post was originally part of Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog seried WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Marcie had asked the contributors to this series the following question: How do you keep yourself motivated? We all like to have written, but find it hard to stay motivated to write.

Following is my response to the question.

Some words my thesaurus gives for “motivated” are inspired, stimulated and encouraged. Some antonyms for those words are demotivated, uninspired, depressed and discouraged.

When it comes to writing, do you ever feel demotivated? Discouraged? Uninspired? Depressed or frustrated? What might be behind those feelings? Following are ten obstacles to consider when you lack the motivation to write. I have listed a few ways to combat each obstacle. Can you find some other ways of your own?

1. Fear
List the beliefs, thoughts, events, situations etc. that are behind the fear and find a way around those obstacles.

2. Lack of Knowledge
Take classes; read; ask questions; participate in writing community discussions; attend conferences; join a critique group; read blogs; join a group like Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, or kidlit411, or Sub Six, or WOW nonficpic, and many more.

3. Lack of Ideas
Join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo; start an idea file; live life thinking like a writer – eventually you’ll hardly go through a day without hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that sparks an idea; ask other writers how they get ideas. This is a common question in author interviews, so read interviews.

4. Rejections
Read “We’re All in This Together” posts on rejection (post #1 and post #2) and my post on TWELVE METHODS FOR COPING WITH REJECTIONS.

5. Other People’s Successes
Instead of letting the green-eyed monster frustrate, discourage or depress you, do something nice. Congratulate the other writers. Buy their books. Share their success on your blog or elsewhere. Let their success inspire you. Believe the same is possible for you.

6. Feeling Overwhelmed or Overloaded
Take a break by doing enjoyable things that you have not allowed yourself to do for a long time. Cut yourself some slack and prioritize. Are all those “shoulds” spinning around your head really that important? See time management link in #10 this post. Journal, meditate, vent to someone that you know truly understands.

7. Distractions
Set limits on social media and other computer distractions. Find a place and time to write that is void of distractions. Are you a distracted mom? See Marcie’s “Mom’s Write” series.

8. Writing for the Wrong Reasons
Ask yourself why you are writing. If it is to become famous or make lots of money, those reasons might not be enough to motivate you after you’ve received a few rejections. They might not be enough to motivate you away from distractions. There has to be something in it that makes you want to write no matter what. Even if no one ever reads it, you are compelled to write. What makes you love writing? According to my Webster’s Dictionary, the definition for motivate is “To provide with a motive.” The definition of motive is “Something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.” What is your motive for writing?

9. Beating a Dead Horse
After sending the same story to your critique group twenty times, you might feel like you are beating a dead horse. After getting twenty rejections for the same manuscript, you might feel like you are beating dead horse. When going around in circles editing the same old five stories, you might feel like you are beating five dead horses. Try putting the dead horses away for a while and start writing five fresh stories.

10. No Time
Look at your time realistically. Are you trying to fit a 72-hour day into 12 hours? If so, you have too much on your plate and something must go. What will it be? When considering this, the first place to look is time wasters. Check out these time management tools.

Your turn: What keeps you motivated when things in your writing life get tough?

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12X12 NINJAOne of the many benefits of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 group is the Manuscript Makeover section in the 12 x 12 forum. Members post their picture book manuscripts in the forum and critique ninjas pop in and offer critiques. Last month, I had the pleasure of being a critique ninja. I’ll be returning in September for another month as ninja. There are many talented writers in 12 x 12, and I read lots of stories – some fun, some funny, some touching – all creative. I found a pattern in many of the stories I read. They had elements of episodic storytelling.

 

Following, I provide a brief overview of episodic storytelling in an abbreviated lesson from my online picture book manuscript writing and analyzing course Art of Arc.

 

Rising Chaos

 

A while back, in response to a critique I had done for a chapter book, the author responded, in part, with the following:

 

“For me, rising action means adding story problems! Rising chaos!”

 

That’s one way I would describe an episodic story. While the story might be entertaining dogand move forward, it meanders. An episodic story reminds me a bit of the expression, “The tail wagging the dog.” For a while, the story is taken over by some fun and entertaining scene(s), but eventually it has to get back to the story as a whole – the one with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. The entertainment is the tail – the dog is the main character who is being wagged by the tail – and as a result, your reader is also being wagged by the tail.

 

The story takes the reader down a meandering path that is disconnected from the other parts of the story. Perhaps the path is loosely connected because the protagonist is involved and there is some sort of loose connection to the character’s problem. But the question to consider is, how connected is each scene to the scene that came before and the scene that follows?

 

The goal in a picture book with a classic arc is to have scenes flow seamlessly, building off each other until they are so blended you don’t even notice the changes that lead up to the end.

 

In an episodic story, the scenes often feel disconnected.

 

The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.

Whackamole

In the picture book manuscripts I critique, I often find main characters taking action, going from one place (or one thing) to another with no real reason. It’s a little bit like the main character is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. To the reader, it feels like the main character is spending all his time reacting to any obstacle that pops up. He has no real plan or reason for his actions – no real direction. Episodic stories lack focus and direction. Many times circumstances or other characters drive the direction the story takes, and the main character seems to go along for the ride. We see no change or growth in the scenes or in the story. One way that change and growth are revealed is through decisions.

 


SOME WAYS TO TEST YOUR PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT FOR EPISODIC ELEMENTS

 

DOES IT MATTER WHERE EACH SCENE APPEARS IN THE STORY?

 

With storylines built via cause and effect, scenes rely on each other to tell the story and to build tension. What if you moved your scenes around? Would the plot change? If it doesn’t matter where a particular scene happens in the story, it is likely episodic.

 

ARE SCENE GOALS RELATED TO THE STORY GOAL (larger plotline)?

 

Although scenes stand alone, they also need to be steps in the story plot. How does each scene advance the story (related to the plot as a whole)? Does the resolution or discovery made at the end of one scene set things up for the next? Or stated differently, does the next scene start with something that stemmed from the prior scene – an event, a decision, an action – and then move on to something new that leads to the next scene?

 

IS THE RISING ACTION, RISING CHAOS?

 

Are the main character’s challenges independent problems that create a meaningless (as related to the big story problem) obstacle course for the main character?  How can the challenges all be connected to the common thread of the story? Resist causing unnecessary trouble for the main character. Even when the trouble is entertaining, fun, and exciting, if it doesn’t have “whole story” purpose, it is probably episodic.

 

Each of the main character’s challenges should involve the following:

 

  • Overcoming the obstacle for that portion of the story.
  • Have significance to the bigger story. Remember, the main character has a big story goal and then smaller goals as the story builds. The smaller goals should not be too far removed from the big goal.

 

IS THERE A GOAL DRIVING THE SCENE?

 

Why is the main character in this scene? Why is he taking action? Is he taking intentional action or is he just reacting with no goal in mind?

 

DO THE SCENES INFORM THE READER?

 

  • What will the reader learn about the story (as a whole)?
  • What will the reader learn about the main character?
  • Do these events and actions move the plot forward in a way that makes the reader care about the main character, become curious, want to know more?
  • What is the purpose of the scene?

 

At the end of this post you will find a couple of links that will lead to excellent posts on episodic writing. Although they are not about picture book writing, they still help clarify what an episodic story is and why it can be problematic. Although some people write episodic stories intentionally, I believe there is no room for episodic storytelling in picture books. Young children do not have the attention span to follow the chaos that is created in such a story.

 

Let me be clear about the above statement. I am talking about classic stories. There are picture books that may seem episodic, and at times that’s okay. Concept picture books are a good example. The reason these books can be episodic is because they are built around a theme or concept. Take a look at THE BELLY BOOK by Fran Manushkin or EVERYBODY SLEEPS (BUT NOT FRED) by Josh Schneider. Many of the events in these books could have happened at any point within the book (or story). But these books are not built around a classic arc. Every story you write will NOT need to be analyzed for episodic elements. However, if the story you are writing is built around a classic arc with rising action and cause and effect, watch for episodic elements.

 

In the Art of Arc Course, I list some books in the cause and effect section that have somewhat episodic segments, but they are still built around cause and effect. NO DAVID, by David Shannon and WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, by Ellen Javernick are a couple. Although many of the segments could appear anywhere in the book, these segments each have their own cause and effect.

 

In NO DAVID, David’s actions lead to a reaction from his mother. But eventually the sum of the events lead to a reaction from David and that event leads to the final reaction from his mother.

 

In WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, each time that question is asked the reader sees the effect.

 

In BECAUSE I STUBBED MY TOE, by Shawn Byous you will find a perfect example of how important the order of events can be. Everything that happens in this story is a result of the boy stubbing his toe, but it is also the result of the event that came before it. This is a true cause and effect book.

Copyright Alayne Kay Christian 2016

LINKS TO ARTICLES ON EPISODIC WRITING

 

Plotting Problems – Episodic Writing

By Marg McAlister

http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/plottingproblems.html

 

From Moody Writing

Episodic Storytelling is a problem

http://moodywriting.blogspot.com/2012/11/episodic-storytelling-is-problem.html

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT, EPISODIC STORIES, art of arc extraOR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS contact me and ask about the new TRY IT plan where you can try the first five Art of Arc lessons for $35.00 – purchased with no obligation to buy the remainder of the course. You may contact me using the “contact” tab at the top of this page, or via my Art of Arc webpage.

 

An outline of the first five lessons follows:

 

WELCOME SECTION

 

The welcome section includes a nine-page supplement demonstrating sixteen different picture book structures with diagrams, descriptions, and book titles.

 

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What drives your protagonist?
  • Beginnings and hooks.
  • Who, what, where, when, why?
  • Story promise, reader’s expectations, and story questions.
  • Page-turners.
  • How the whole story connects to the ending.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginnings and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

 

  • Setting the hook.
  • Creating a connection with the reader.
  • Inciting incident.
  • Ways to keep the reader reading.
  • More on page-turners.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginning and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

 

  • Story arc (plot development)
  • Character arc (character development)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Small, scene goals
  • Tension
  • Feelings
  • Character turning points

 

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

 

  • What is cause and effect and why is it important
  • Diagrams
  • Writing exercises
  • Worksheets
  • Examples
  • Bonus supplement with links to additional info

 

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

 

  • What is an episodic story?
  • What causes a story to be episodic?
  • Worksheets and tips for testing your story for episodic elements
  • Links to additional info

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

A NEGATIVE DRAIN

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

ENERGIZE YOUR SPIRIT

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

THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

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

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR LIST

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

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

Below I share ten of my thirty-one achievements.

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

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

Best wishes in 2016!

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is the one and only Julie Hedlund. Thank you, Julie, for taking the time to share your thoughts on platform building.

Before I move on, I want to mention that registration for Julie’s 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge begins next month. If you don’t know about this wonderful writing community and challenge, it would be worthwhile to give the 12 x 12 page a look.

12-x-12-new-banner

Now, here’s Julie. . . .

BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BY Julie Hedlund

Thanks Alayne for hosting me today! I’m a big fan of your blog, so it’s an honor.

Never has a word inspired so much fear and angst into the heart of an author. Part of that fear, IMHO, is based on myths about platform that I want to bust for you today. My goal is that by the end of this post, you’ll feel a LOT better about what author platform is (and isn’t) so you can embrace it as part of your journey as a writer.

The first big myth about author platform is that it is primarily about online activities, particularly social media and, to a lesser extent, websites and blogging.

But since we are writers, let’s take a look at a couple of definitions in the dictionary for the word platform:

“A place, means, or opportunity for public expression of opinion.”

Another definition: “A formal declaration of the principles on which a group
makes its appeal to the public.” We could change that to say: “A formal declaration
of the principles on which a writer makes his or her appeal to the audience/readers.”

Under these definitions, platform is not a set of tasks or tactics. Platform is an opportunity for you to establish your identity as an author and communicate that identity, that worldview, to your audience.

As Tara Lazar aptly explained in her post, everything you do that you intend your potential readers and audience to see is part of your platform. Everything. School visits, presentations, book signings, mailings and newsletters, promotional materials such as business cards and book swag – even conversations at conferences.

And yes, your website and/or blog and social media presence is a part of your platform, but only one part. Choose which aspects of online platform you enjoy and leave the rest behind. It’s okay. Really. Because if being on Twitter is anathema to who you are, that will come out in your participation anyway. Luckily, there are many options for online platforms, but we don’t have to be tied to them all.

The second platform myth I’d like to bust is that it’s all about promotion, and you establish it for the primary purpose of being able to sell your books.

Wrong.

Your platform should not be used to blast your message out to a bunch of people in one direction but rather, to create a conversation and a two-way dialog that will help you build relationships and make connections with people (as Miranda Paul pointed out in her post).

Your platform should be a means by which you help others. Sometimes that takes the form of a helpful blog post, sharing a resource on social media, or giving a workshop on writing. Sometimes it takes the form of making people aware of a book you’ve written that you think they will enjoy and/or will enrich their lives. You wrote the book for people to enjoy, so promoting it in that way is a just another way of helping others.

Helping people is not only rewarding all by itself, but it also builds awareness of you and your work in an organic way. Like Tara is well known for her picture book idea month challenge, I am best known as the founder of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge. I embrace that role because I LOVE helping other writers, and it’s a huge part of who I am. I get a great deal of support (and yes, some book sales) through that community because they already know me and are therefore likely to enjoy my books.

The last myth I am going to bust today is that platform is a drain on time and creativity. That it “takes away” from your writing. If you approach your platform in the right way, holistically and as an extension of yourself, it can actually be a huge part of your creative journey AND fun!

Connecting with readers and fellow writers is a big part of why we write, is it not? Platform provides the means to make those connections and reap those rewards by giving of yourself and receiving from others. How great is that?

Julie Hedlund - Headshot

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Hedlund is an award-winning children’s book author, founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, monthly contributor to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books Podcast, and a frequent speaker at industry events such as SCBWI conferences.

Her picture book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, first published as an interactive storybook app, was the recipient of the 2014 Independent Book Publisher’s Association Benjamin Franklin Digital Gold Award. TROOP-Cover-300x283Her storybook app, A SHIVER OF SHARKS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, was a 2014 Digital Book Award winner. MLFY_coverHer latest book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, released in September 2014 from Little Bahalia.

Julie is passionate about helping fellow writers achieve success. With her friend and colleague Emma Walton Hamilton, she created The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions – a soup-to-nuts resource for crafting a winning query and landing an agent or book deal. As a single mother of two young children who earns a complete living as an author-entrepreneur, Julie also created a course called How to Make Money as a Writer to help other authors build their careers and support themselves financially.
Julie lives in beautiful Boulder with her two children, ages 12 and 9, and a large and terribly misbehaved hound dog. When she is not writing or entrepreneuring, she loves reading (duh!), hiking, skiing, cooking, movie and game nights with the kids, and sipping red wine at sunset in the company of good friends and family.

Other guest posts on platform building:

Breaking the Fourth Wall: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

You are your Platform by Tara Lazar

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been away regrouping in preparation for my upcoming blog series on platform building. I’ve also been busy with my critique service. I’ve added many more testimonials to my website, and I’m working on some new ideas and services. I continue to plug away at my picture book and chapter book writing and edits with my fingers crossed that some of them will soon meet with Erzsi’s approval, and the submission fun will begin.

Speaking of submissions, before I move on with my DON’T BE AFRAID TO FALL post and my announcement about my new blog series, I want to thank the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS team for sharing so much of themselves during the series. Thank you: Cindy Williams Schrauben, Elaine Kiely Kearns, Heather Ayris Burnell, Julie Falatko, Kirsti Call, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Sophia Mallonée, Sylvia Liu, Teresa Robeson. Your posts continue to help writers who visit my blog.

When it comes to submissions or the business of writing, it can sometimes seem much easier to get discouraged than encouraged. Today, I offer some food for thought about discouragement, or perceived failure. I’ve had the following piece in my collection for many, many years. I’m guessing since the early seventies. You can tell it’s old because of the people and events mentioned. I’m sure we could find some remarkable statistics on more current people. But what really matters is the message. I’ve modified the piece slightly and interjected a little in parenthesis.

FALLINGDON’T BE AFRAID TO FALL

Author unknown

 You’ve failed many times, although you may not remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim, didn’t you?

Did you hit the ball the first time you swung a bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strike out a lot. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 homeruns.

R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. (Macy’s now has 800 stores. They are in every major geographic market in the United States plus their Macy’s.com website.) English novelist, John Creasey, got 752 rejection slips before he published 564 books. (I’ve read elsewhere that it took him 14 years to sell his first story, and he wrote 600 books, using 28 pseudonyms.)

Don’t worry about failure. Worry about THE CHANCES YOU MISS WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN TRY.

ANNOUNCING MY NEW BLOG SERIES 

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING

In the ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series, ten awe-inspiring social media mavens will share their key lessons or tips for building strong, engaging, and of course, successful social media platforms. I’m excited about this series because I think it will be a great service to the writing community. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to work with each of these phenomenal women. I am so proud to be able to feature them on my blog. One of the many things that I love about this series is each team member has developed a unique platform. I believe that the guest posts will be as unique as each of these talented people and their successful platforms. I expect that their posts will show others that ingenuity and the thing that all writers have, creativity, is the key to a strong platform.

piboidmo2014In celebration of the quickly approaching Sixth Annual Picture Book Idea Month and her upcoming picture books I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the one and only Tara Lazar will kick off the series on October 25.

It is also my pleasure to introduce the rest of the team:

Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu – Children’s Book Authors, Founders of KIDLIT411, and more

Heather Ayris Burnell – Children’s Book Author, Founder of Sub It Club, and more

Julie Hedlund – Children’s Book Author and Founder of the 12 x 12 Writing, and more

Katie Davis – Author, Founder of Brain Burps about Books, Video Boot Camp, Author, and more

Marcie Flinchum Atkins – Children’s Book Author, Queen of Teaching about Mentor Texts for Writers and Teachers

Michelle Lynn Senters – Children’s Writer and Founder of Kids are Writers

Miranda Paul – Children’s Book Author, Founder of Rate Your Story, and more

Susanna Leonard Hill – Children’s Book Author and Founder of Making Picture Book Magic, and more

See you in a few weeks.

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AAS Q&A 4DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT SUBMISSIONS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ANSWERED? ASK YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

Before I get started today, I want to thank the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS Q & A team for their great answers to this month’s question.

When I first got the idea for this series, I asked children’s book writers what questions they would like answered regarding manuscript submissions. Several people asked similar questions about agents and editors. I decided to share all the questions with the team, as I believed it would offer them more brainstorming power. I think if I were to combine all the questions asked, they would lead to two basic questions.

1) How do you manage your agent/editor searches, information gathering, and so on?

2) How do you determine who you sub to?

Here are the questions as asked:

  • How to narrow down your “where to submit” list?
  • I find researching agents and editors overwhelming. Where is the best place to start?
  • How do I know if I am really targeting my manuscript to the right publisher? I know that we are supposed to study publisher’s websites, market guides, read other books published by them in the same genre, etc., but how do I “really” know if mine is right for their list? Are there any tips or tricks that help you to narrow down potential publishers? Are there any “tried and true” methods used by those of you who are published? I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to feel somewhat overwhelmed when I peruse those market guides.

Once again, the team came through with excellent answers. And once again, they have offered so much information that I will do two posts. Click here for RESEARCHING AGENTS AND EDITORS: HOW TO YOU DETERMINE WHO TO SUBMIT TO? PART ONE

* * *

Sylvia Liu, Writer-illustrator

portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com

blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

Sylvia Liu is a winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award. http://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/01/15/announcing-our-2013-new-voices-award-winner/

Here’s how I research and query agencies:

(1) Overall Strategy: Small Batches. The best advice on querying agents is to do so in small batches (4-6) at a time, and include both your top and lesser choices in each batch. That way you can get feedback (or silence, which is a form of feedback), and adjust your query. If you blast out a query that is not working to 50 agents, and they all decline to ask for more, you are out of luck. If you get rejected on your first round of 4-6 submissions, you will still have other top choice agents to send a revised query to.

(2) Initial research. I start researching agencies using Literary Rambles, which has a comprehensive list of children’s agents with detailed interviews of their likes and dislikes and links to other interviews. I also check out lists like the top 25 children’s agents by sales and the many lists on Kidlit411’s agent page.

(3) Excel spreadsheet. I create an Excel spreadsheet with agents I’m interested in, listing their name, website, submission process, and any specific interests relevant to my work. I color coordinate the entries by highlighting my favorite ones in one color and my second choice in another.

(4) More research on top choices. For my top choice agents, I do more research. Their websites usually list their clients. I’ll check out as many books of their clients as I can find and read them (for picture books, it’s easy to read; for middle grade books, I skim or read the first few chapters). This is a good way to see if my work would fit in with the agent’s tastes and to get good personalized information for the query letter.

(5) Send out in small batches and keep track of responses in Excel. I send my query (for picture books, that often includes the story pasted in the email text) to 4 to 6 agents, including 2 to 3 of my top choices, and 2 to 4 of my second choices. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of the date I sent a story, what I sent, and the usual response time (some agents will tell you that if you haven’t heard within x weeks, consider it a rejection).

When I get a rejection, I highlight that entry gray, so I can tell at a glance which submissions are still active. If I get requests for more material, they get a yellow highlight. When I followed this approach last year, I got two requests to see more work, which did not lead to representation. I highlighted those entries in light purple (to remind myself I’m making progress). My 2013 Excel spreadsheet had a lot of lines of gray (rejection) and white (no response), 2 lines of purple, and one bright yellow (my contest win – I also keep track on my spreadsheet all my contest entries).

* * *

Sophia Mallonée, Children’s Writer

www.sophiamallonee.com

Unfortunately, I don’t think there are any special tricks to narrowing down your submission list. The only tried and true method to finding the right agent or publisher is through research. Lots and lots of research.

The thing is, as much as you might not want to hear this, all of that painful time spent researching, is actually really good for you. Think about it. If you find an agent, that person doesn’t simply help you sell your work, they become a partner, working with you to help you mold your career. Speaking not only as a writer, but as an ex-agent (in the photography industry), your relationship with your agent should be just that, a relationship. This is a person who has to not only believe in your work, they also have to share your vision and passion for it too. You don’t want to just sign with anyone, you want to sign with the one.

You need to research, you need to sift through lists and websites and message boards and everything else you can possibly find. Then once you’ve done all that, you can start the courting process. It might be quick and heated, or it might be long and drawn out. But in any case, it is the way it is and the way it should be. None of this is something that can be rushed. This is your career and there are no shortcuts when it comes to building a strong foundation.

As for finding publishers to submit to, the same holds true. Read blogs, read books both in stores and libraries, Google publishers, go to conferences, listen to what editors have to say and in other words, research. This isn’t a race to see who gets published first, this is your passion and your work. Work. It’s not always easy – if it was, everyone would be doing it.

If you believe in what you do, then let your belief be your fuel. You will power through it and eventually, you will find the place that you were always meant to be. Good luck!

* * *

Julie Falatko, Author of SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK) (Viking Children’s, 2015)

Represented by Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary

http://worldofjulie.com/

I found the best way to find agents who would be a good fit was to read a lot of picture books. When I read books that I loved, or that were a little bit like mine, I’d dig around and figure out who the author’s agent is. A few agent names kept coming up again and again, so I moved them to the top of my spreadsheet. I then researched those agents like I was cramming for finals. I wanted to know everything I could. What books do they like? What are they like on Twitter, if they’re on there? Do they seem passionate about books in interviews, or snooty and snarky? And: are they still open to submissions? Are they still accepting picture books? Submission guidelines change, and the biggest best thing you can do is to read them and follow them exactly.

I read advice that said you should simultaneously query huge batches of (well-researched) agents at a time, but I could never get my head around this. Maybe because what I write is kind of oddball, and so it didn’t seem like there were that many agents who might dig my style. Instead I went for a super-focused, very personalized querying approach. It was maybe more nerve-wracking, because I felt like I was narrowing my options, but I think it’s what helped me get an agent. I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time. (I ended up querying eleven agents total.)

* * *

Kirsti Call, Children’s Author of  THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL!

http://www.characterpublishing.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&path=82&product_id=60

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILoU8KRTjRM&feature=youtu.be

www.kirsticall.com

Here are 3 things that help me decide where to submit:

1. I go to the library or bookstore and read!  When I find picture books that I like, I take note of who the publisher is. Then think about which of my manuscripts would be a good fit for that publisher.

2. I search Book Markets for Children’s Writers 20142014 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market and SCBWI’s The Book.  I mark each publisher that fits with the name of the manuscript I want to submit.

3. I network.  People in the 12×12 community or Children’s Book Creatives share what they’ve learned about publishers and then I have a better idea of whether they are a good fit for me and my story. I was lucky with my debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall.  A friend in my critique group was published by Character Publishing, so I submitted to them.

* * *

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

Between today’s answers and those posted yesterday, I believe the team has done a thorough job of answering the question. Therefore, I have decided to share some links that fit well with this topic. First, I want to mention that Elaine Kiely Kearns, Children’s Writer http://www.kidlit411.com/ will be our guest blogger on March 15. Her blog will be a bonus post for this topic. Not only will she give her tips for researching agents and editors, she will be giving some other tips for agent submissions, including bringing your manuscripts to conferences and sending conference submissions.

RESEARCHING AGENTS PART ONE

Alayne’s Links for HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHO TO SUBMIT TO? Part Two

Before I give you links to resources, I want to offer some links to a couple Facebook Groups that relate to submissions and agents and editors.

Agent/Editor Discussion This board is for picture book authors. We discuss agents/editors, sending manuscripts, cover letters and queries. We support the successes and celebrate the rejections (that means we are one step closer to a yes). It is a closed group, but you can ask to join on the page.

Sub Six The Sub Six picture book support group’s focus is supporting each other as we work toward our submission goals.

Hot off the press. SO YOU WANT TO GET AN AGENT, by Romelle Broas

http://romellebroas.blogspot.com/2014/02/so-you-want-to-get-agent.html

From PUB[LISHING] CRAWL: RESEARCHING AGENTS by Susan Dennard; INDUSTRY LIFE

http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/09/06/researching-literary-agents/

4 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN RESEARCHING LITERARY AGENTS, from Writers Digest and Brian Klems’ The Writer’s Dig.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-things-to-consider-when-researching-literary-agents

HOW TO RESEARCH LITERARY AGENTS, By Noah Lukeman from WRITERS STORE

http://www.writersstore.com/how-to-research-literary-agents

ALL OTHER “ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS” POSTS

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AAS Q&A 4DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT SUBMISSIONS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ANSWERED? ASK YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

When I first got the idea for the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series, I asked children’s book writers what questions they would like answered regarding manuscript submissions. Several people asked similar questions about agents and editors. I decided to share all the questions with the team, as I believed it would offer them more brainstorming power. I think if I were to combine all the questions asked, they would lead to two basic questions.

1) How do you manage your agent/editor searches, information gathering, and so on?

2) How do you determine who you sub to?

Here are the questions as asked:

  • How to narrow down your “where to submit” list?
  • I find researching agents and editors overwhelming. Where is the best place to start?
  • How do I know if I am really targeting my manuscript to the right publisher? I know that we are supposed to study publisher’s websites, market guides, read other books published by them in the same genre, etc., but how do I “really” know if mine is right for their list? Are there any tips or tricks that help you to narrow down potential publishers? Are there any “tried and true” methods used by those of you who are published? I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to feel somewhat overwhelmed when I peruse those market guides.

Once again, the team came through with excellent answers. And once again, they have offered so much information that I will do two posts. Part Two will go live tomorrow.

* * *

Teresa Robeson, Author and Artist

teresarobeson.com

My least favorite part of the writing life is not coming up with ideas, or the initial writing, or even the several hundred revisions I have to do on each manuscript. No, my least favorite part is doing market research to send it to the appropriate agent or editor. I don’t know why I dislike it; perhaps it seems so dry and methodical after the creative process of writing a story.

The following are steps I take to ensure I’m targeting the right person, be it an agent or publisher:

1)   I determine what specific category (that is, age range) and genre my story is in. This is very important since agents and editors have their likes and dislikes and won’t rep or publish anything that’s not on their want-list.

2)   I look through a copy of a children’s writers market guide and see who is accepting works in the category/genre of my story. Usually, I use the Writer’s Digest one – CHILDREN’S WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET or the Institute of Children’s Literature version – BOOK MARKETS FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS. Those market guides will have not just a general alphabetized listing of publishing houses and agency names, but they also have listings by specialization. For example, the Category Index of the “2014 Book Markets for Children’s Writers” goes from Action/Adventure to Fantasy to Young Adult Nonfiction, and everything in between.

3)   After narrowing it down to a section comes the tedious but necessary part of skimming through all the entries under that section. You may decide to choose more than one section to look at. For example, if you have a fantasy for middle-graders, you should check both the Fantasy section and the Middle Grade Fiction section. The optimal agents/editors to send to would be the ones that fall into both categories.

4)   While doing step 3, I put the agents/editors into three categories: Most Desirable, Somewhat Desirable, and Last Resort.

5)   I start with the Most Desirable and look up their websites to see if they’re currently accepting clients/manuscripts and see if there’s more info about their likes and dislikes. Plus, their websites will have their most updated mailing (or emailing) addresses.

6)   Step 5 might help you further rank all the people/places in your Most Desirable list from your dream agent/publisher on down. Start submitting!

There is no guarantee that, even with all that work, you are targeting the best person/place for your manuscript — perhaps Agent A just broke up with her boyfriend the day she reads your story, and even though she normally loves YA romance, she may hate your romance that particular day. You can’t control these things, but if you’ve done the research above, you can be certain you’re sending your story to the people who would be interested.

Note from Alayne: The market guides that Teresa mentions in her answer also offer a variety of manuscript submission related articles, information and examples. They also have lists of contests. The info provided is different every year, so if you get a chance, give them a look. Some libraries have these guides in their reference section, plus Amazon has their look inside feature.

* * *

Cindy Williams Schrauben, Children’s Writer

Raising Book Monsters – kids who devour books and hunger for knowledge

http://www.RaisingBookMonsters.com

I am still an agent-orphan, but . . . I have studied, researched, and absorbed information for quite a while now, so I will share what I believe to be best and worst practices.

This process is overwhelming; one that is driven by passion and a desire to reach a goal as quickly as possible. Blind drive and determination can be problematic at times. It can, I’m afraid, cloud our vision and instigate reckless behavior. Let me give you an example: I have my list of “dream agents” carefully chronicled on a spreadsheet with links to their interviews, wish lists, current titles, and agency sites. I have created this list with care and a clear mind. I know what I want and who can help me to get there based on hours of research. But then . . . my internet writing family starts buzzing about the fabulous Agent X who has just opened up to submissions. Hmmm, doesn’t sound familiar; I check my list, but he’s not there. I check out his stats, current clients, past sales, and desired projects and realize that he isn’t really a good fit. But, as the buzz continues and I get caught up in the excitement . . . Maybe I will be the exception. Agent X says he doesn’t like quirky-zany stories, but surely he will like mine! So, I spend hour upon hour researching and writing a killer query, and I send my story off. Wait, why did I just do that? Because I lost sight of my writing . . . my goals . . . and the best path to get there.

Instead of reiterating the Internet sites and market guides that are available for research, I will end here with general advice. This journey to publishing is a rough one, and it should be traveled with a sure foot and discriminating mind. Do your research. Keep careful records. Determine a path and stick to it. Stay true to yourself and your writing. Submitting your work to long-shot agents not only wastes countless hours, it plays games with your self-confidence as well. So, garner your patience, use the down-time to learn more about your craft and stay on a straight road toward your goal.

Note from Alayne: After I read Cindy’s answer, I asked her the following: You mention when Agent X pops up, that you get sidetracked and check out his stats, current clients, past sales, and desired projects. Do you have a specific place you go to get these stats? If so, would you be willing to share?

Cindy’s answer: As far as researching, I use an agent’s site, first and foremost. Facebook, Twitter, Literary Rambles, Query Tracker, and good old Google for interviews. I feel that interviews give me the best insight into the agent and not only their wish list, but their writing preferences related to style, voice, etc.

* * *

Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Children’s and YA Writers

www.marcieatkins.com

1) Read, read, read. When you find books like the ones you write, look up the author. Google the author’s agent. Then you can say, “I really like your client xxx’s work, and my work is similar to xxx.” Knowing who agents represent or the types of authors they represent is very important. You aren’t going to send a picture book to an agent who represents adult thrillers. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Reading books like those you write will help you know the market, but it will also help you get a leg up on agent research.

2) Follow blogs and industry newsletters. I find Literary Rambles a helpful site as a starting point. I also subscribe to Children’s Writer Newsletter and Children’s Book Insider. They often write about agents and what they are looking for. If an agent mentions that she is looking for a middle grade magical realism novel, and you have a completed one, then that might be an agent you should consider researching a little bit more. You can also Google the agent’s name + interviews. I’ve found interviews all over the internet just by Googling.

3) Go to SCBWI conferences or join groups like 12×12. Agents go to these conferences or participate in 12×12. Live conferences help you get an idea of personalities of different agents.

4) Connect with other writers. Once you get to know people in critique groups, Facebook groups, and at conferences, ask them about various agents. My critique group had dinner together the other night, and between the five of us, many of us had experiences with various agents through in-person critiques, e-mail contact, or even representation. Nothing can beat networking in that form.

5) Stay organized. I recently wrote a post on this blog about submission organization. Once you do your research, keep track of it. I use a spreadsheet. Every time I find someone who I might be interested in, I put them on the spreadsheet. I make notes to myself, paste in website addresses, then it makes researching much easier next time. If I just have a name, I don’t know why I put them there. But if I put a name, a web address, and a note to myself “looking for multicultural YA,” then I even know what manuscript I want to send.

* * *

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

First I want to announce my professional picture book manuscript critique service.  Click here to learn more about my service. Between today’s answers and those that will be posted tomorrow, I believe the team has done a thorough job of answering the question. Therefore, I have decided to share some links that fit well with this topic. But first, I want to tell you about tomorrow.

RESEARCHING AGENTS AND EDITORS PART TWO

  • Sylvia Liu will offer some additional resources plus her five step strategy for researching and querying agencies.
  • Sophia Mallonée will give her photography industry ex-agent perspective on the importance of finding the right agent.
  • Julie Falatko will talk about her super-focused, very personalized approach to finding, and signing with the agent that appreciates her “oddball” writing style.
  • Kirsti Call will share three things that help her decide where to submit. And I will offer more links to other agent/editor resources.

Alayne’s Links for HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHO TO SUBMIT TO? Part One

Perfect fit! MARCH 27 WEBINAR through Michigan SCBWI – HAROLD UNDERDOWN PRESENTS: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT – RESEARCING THE RIGHT AGENT, EDITOR, AND/OR PUBLISHING HOUSE.

https://michigan.scbwi.org/events/webinar-3-researching-the-right-agent-editor-andor-publishing-house/

https://www.facebook.com/events/402818103189026/?ref=3&ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

Since a couple answers mention Literary Rambles, I thought it might be good to start with the following:

THREE PART SERIES ON LITERARY RAMBLES: RESEARCHING LITERARY AGENTS

PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN BUZZING AROUND THE WRITING COMMUNITY THIS WEEK.

ON TWITTER, GET THE INSIDE SCOOP: EDITORS AND AGENTS POST THEIR MANUSCRIPT WISH LISTS – OVER AND ABOVE GUIDELINES.

 #MSWL PICTURE BOOK

#MSWL MG (Middle Grade)

#MSWL (Other)

SHARON K. MAYHEW OFFERS A LIST OF AGENTS, EDITORS, ETC. 

http://skmayhew.blogspot.com/p/blog-awards.html

Click here to find all other ALL ABOUT SUBMISSION posts.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT SUBMISSIONS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ANSWERED? ASK YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

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