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Posts Tagged ‘Dawn Prochovnic’

Beth Anderson

The last “wisdom” post for 2021 has been posted. But I’m excited to share that most of the team will be returning to share more wisdom in 2022. If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know that we have already shared a wealth of wisdom and a treasure trove of tips. If you have read (or you do read) all the posts, you will see that combined, they amount to a full course in picture writing, and then some. I want to offer my gratitude to all the generous authors who contributed to this collection of wisdom posts. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! And I want to thank you, our blog readers, for taking time to follow us and sometimes give us lovely comments that let us know our work is all worthwhile. It means a lot.

In return for our wise authors’ generosity, I hope you will consider supporting them and me by spreading the word about our books and services, buying the books (great Christmas gifts), and sharing our posts. And then, the ultimate gift to an author is always reviews. Please, if you’ve read our books, post reviews. Following is a list of our team members linked to our websites so you can learn more about our books and services. Following the list you will find just a sampling of our many books. I believe most of us have many more that aren’t shared in this post.

In the spirit of giving and to honor the message of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS, I’ve decided to offer a holiday gift to one lucky winner of my giveaway drawing. Following our three collages of our books, you will find the information about the giveaway. And then, finally, you will find links to all of our posts at the end of this post.

Beth Anderson
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Kirsti Call
Pippa Chorley
Alayne Kay Christian
Laura Gehl
Vivian Kirkfield
Ellen Leventhal
Michelle Nott
Rosie Pova
Dawn Babb Prochovnic
Rob Sanders
Melissa Stoller

Untitled design (3)

Untitled design (4)

Than

GIVEAWAY!

Enter for a chance to win your choice of

Complimentary enrollment in Art of Arc

Complimentary access to my webinars

A thirty-minute first impressions critique Zoom call with Alayne

A copy of any one of Alayne’s books (In U.S. only. I can offer a PDF otherwise.)

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

An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make It Rain

HOW TO ENTER

  • Follow my blog.
  • Share any one of our wisdom posts on social media.
  • Comment on this post telling us that you have followed and shared and that you want to be included in the drawing.
  • The deadline to enter is December 17th, and the winner will be announced on December 18. Unfortunately, any book giveaway won’t arrive before Christmas.

In case you missed the news . . .

Analyze with Alayne 3 11 wk course

FOLLOWING ARE THE LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WRITING SATISFYING AND EFFECTIVE ENDINGS (part 1, part 2, part 3, bonus post 1, bonus post two)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic have been presented in three parts. Plus, I will be offering a bonus post, so wait there’s more! If you missed parts one and two click here for part one and here for part two.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

Words of Wisdom

MIRROR THE BEGINNING WITH THE ENDING, BUT WITH CHANGE

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Many times endings harken back to the beginnings–often with a change. This can be true even in nonfiction.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

In this book, the narrator is talking directly to Ona Judge, “Why you run away Ona Judge?” Shepard begins Ona Judge’s journey with a question. In the end, the narrator gives her a charge: “Then run, Ona Judge, run”. The character has changed.

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

In the beginning, we are introduced to a group of boys and their village on stilts on the water in the southern part of Thailand. In the end, the final image is of the boys retuning home after playing football (soccer). We return to the image of the village on stilts. The boys lives are different, but they still return home.

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

In my book, I begin by talking to the reader asking them to imagine what it might be like to go dormant. The ending ends the dormancy and begins to stir.

As a writer, can you find a way to mirror the ending with the beginning, but with a change?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT YOUR STORY’S ENDING

by Pippa Chorley

Endings are part of your main character’s emotional journey and integral to the arc of any good story. Readers want to feel satisfied at when they close the last page. They want to feel that the ending is justified. They want all the loose ends tied up neatly with a bow on top!

It can really help to know your ending ahead of writing your book so that you make your arc as strong as possible and ensure everything that happens on the journey of the main character leads directly towards the ending.

If you are struggling with your story, ask yourself a few important questions:

Does your main character have emotional closure at the end? Is your main character better off at the end of the story than they were at the start, have they learnt something along the way?

In my picture book Stuffed!, a story about the nighttime adventures and arguments of Sam’s stuffed toys, I needed to make sure that I had emotional closure for both Sam and her toys at the end of the story. It begins with the toys arguing in the night and Sam waking up to find them strewn about her bedroom floor looking lost and alone the next morning. It was important when writing the ending that I addressed both Sam’s desires to help her toys and settled the toys arguments as well. I needed all the characters pulled together at the end of the story to make it feel satisfying and tie up all loose ends. Without that my main characters and my readers would not have had the emotional closure needed for a satisfying book.

Does your ending use a repeated phrase or end with similar lines to the very beginning? Does the tone of your ending match the beginning of the story?

I was very careful when writing my new picture book Out of the Box, that the story should come full circle. It begins with great excitement at the arrival of Granny. Sam’s birthday is only three sleeps away and she is hoping for all sorts of grand, expensive presents from her Granny. When things don’t turn out quite as she expected the story takes us on an emotional and imaginative journey with Sam and eventually back to Granny again at the end. Over the course of the story Sam learns and grows but it was important to me to bring her back full circle at the end, to her Granny, equally full of excitement. If I hadn’t done that then Granny would have been obsolete, and there is so much to love about Granny the story would have suffered for it. The tone of excitement at the start matches with the tone of excitement at the end as Sam has learnt an important lesson in the story – that our imaginations can give us just as much of an adventure than a toy.

Can you add a twist at the end to make it more of a surprise?

When I wrote Counting Sheep, a picture book about a little sheep who couldn’t jump over the fence, I came up with lots of possible ideas for the ending. At storytelling sessions, when I ask children how they think the problem should be resolved they nearly always say that the other sheep could help lift him over. It’s a lovely idea and one that crossed my mind too when writing the book, but it’s also very predictable. In the end I decided to write an ending that no one else ever thinks of. It is always a surprise and always a wow, why didn’t I think of that moment, for children as a result. I am ever grateful when I read this story to children to have written a surprise ending.

Hope these examples and questions help you make your endings super satisfying! Happy writing and editing everyone J

MAKE YOUR READER WANT TO RELIVE THE STORY: NOW THAT’S AN ENDING!

by Michelle Nott

A good ending will make us want to relive a story, to close a book only to open it back up, even when we know how it will end.

As we know with picture books and reading to young children, that’s just what we want to happen, to read the story over and over again. So that ending must be good! But strong endings need to conclude an already strong story with strong characters that a child wants to experience over and over again even, and especially, when they already know the ending.

As a freelance editor, I have read lots of manuscripts. Some stories seem to be going fine and then the ending just comes and goes. No hurrah, no tears, no laugh. When that happens, I advise the writer to review what events are leading to the ending. Often, not enough has happened to logically and smoothly arrive at the ending they want. It may be a lovely or funny or inspiring last sentence, but there is a missing link between the middle and end which compromises the final emotion.

For example, in my early reader Dragon Amy’s Flames, she wants to win a prize by hitting the bullseye at the fair. But she has a habit of burning up that and other toys whenever she feels frustrated. And so, she has to learn to control her temper. The reader sees she is trying hard and making progress calming down and staying focused in different scenarios. By this point, the reader knows she could probably do it. And so, I could have ended the story with her finally hitting the bullseye. The story had logically led to that conclusion. But instead, the next day she asks her brother if she can practice with him. He agrees but only if she controls her flames. That could have also been a logical place to end, on an image of her succeeding. But it would not have been as satisfying as how it did truly end.

I added one more moment of suspense and doubt: “Sizzle, a spark flew too high. Fizzle, a flame fell too low. And then … Amy’s scales quivered. Her skin shriveled. Her nostrils flared…ROAR [and this is when something previously would have been engulfed in flames]… and ZING!”

The last illustration shows she has hit the bullseye perfectly. Her family (and the reader) cheers.

If your ending looks and sounds like it has all the elements of a strong and satisfying ending but it’s not getting the emotion for which you’re striving, look at the lines between your middle and end. Is there a space waiting to be filled? It may just need a sentence or two. It may need an illustration note to create just enough of a pause. Maybe you could take a refrain and twist it just one more time.

As they say, “Mind the Gap!” and your story will smoothly get to where it needs to go.

WRAP THINGS UP BUT KEEP THEM WONDERING

by Dawn Prochovnic

When I reflect on story endings that are especially satisfying to me, the one constant is that I find myself thinking about the story long after it has ended. For example, when a television show has me hooked, I’m sure to be thinking about and/or talking about “last night’s episode” when I wake up the next morning. Likewise, the movies and novels that I count amongst my favorites are the ones I’m still reflecting on long after I’ve finished them.

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite ways to end a picture book is with an ending that wraps things up in a satisfying way, but that also invites the reader to ponder what happens next.

One of my first books, The Nest Where I Like to Rest, offers an example. It is a cumulative story about a mama hen who wants to rest while she waits for her nest of eggs to hatch. The story begins:

This is the nest where I like to rest.

These are the eggs I carefully laid to hatch in the nest where I like to rest.

But how can I rest with a rat near my nest?

Throughout the story, mama hen’s nest is disrupted again and again by various characters. Finally, at the end, mama hen successfully hatches her eggs. “Hooray!” you might say! But not so fast. The last line in the story reads:

But how can I rest with these chicks in my nest?

This “second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What happens next?” What will those chicks be up to? Will mama hen EVER get any rest? (parents everywhere know the answer to that!).

The ending of my most recent book, Lucy’s Blooms, provides a similar invitation for readers to consider what happens next. In the story, Lucy nurtures a garden of blooms she finds in the meadow behind Gram’s house, with a goal of entering the town’s gardening contest. Throughout the story, Lucy’s blooms grow and change, but Lucy’s love for them remains strong—even when Lucy doesn’t get what she hopes for. In the end, Lucy and her blooms return to Gram’s open and loving arms. The lines on the next-to-last spread read:

“C’mon,” Lucy said with a smile.

“I’ll race you back to Gram’s.”

She took hold of her wagon and ran.

And the last spread reads (with a fabulous illustration to match):

“A fantastic flurry of silky seeds swirled and twirled behind her.”

This “ second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What will happen to all of those silky seeds? How will Gram and Lucy spend their afternoon? Their next week? Their next summer?”

One of the things I love most about books with this type of ending is the opportunity to ask young readers these types of questions when the book is shared. Their ideas for how a story might continue beyond the last page never cease to amaze me!

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

FOLLOW MY BLOG OR KEEP A CLOSE EYE OUT FOR MY BONUS POST ON ENDINGS.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. If you missed part one, click here.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Laura Gehl, Ellen Leventhal, Vivian Kirkfield, and Rob Sanders.

Words of Wisdom

ENDING WITH A BONUS

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite types of ending is when the main conflict is resolved before the final page, allowing the last spread or two to add a twist of humor or an extra layer to the story.

For example, in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, by me and Sarah Horne, Ana is initially upset about getting a chicken as a gift from her grandmother, instead of the amusement park tickets that she had requested. This conflict is resolved when the chicken builds Ana a backyard amusement park and Ana realizes Abuela Lola knew exactly what she was doing. But the wonderful spread with Ana riding in eggshell-shaped roller coaster cars with Abuela Lola is not the end of the book! Afterward, Ana says, “Next year, I’m asking Abuela Lola for a trip to the moon!” and we see the chicken beginning to design a rocket ship.

In My Pillow Keeps Moving, by me and Christopher Weyant, a lonely man keeps accidentally purchasing a dog—first as a pillow, then as a footrest, and finally as a coat. The main conflict is resolved when the man decides to adopt the dog. But then the story continues with the dog winking at her feline friend, the man accidentally purchasing the cat as a hat, and all three becoming a happy family on the final page.

In Judge Juliette, by me and Mari Lobo, Judge Juliette has to rule on whether her family should get a dog (like her mom wants) or a cat (as her dad hopes). The main conflict is resolved when Juliette discovers she must recuse herself, since judges aren’t allowed to rule in cases involving family members. But the book ends on a funny twist when Juliette hands her courtroom and gavel over to a friend and takes on the role of lawyer instead. Juliette says she would like to make a case for getting a dog AND a cat…AND (on the final page!)…a boa constrictor.

These endings with a little extra twist are favorites for me as a reader (This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen is a great example) and as a writer. I love how this type of ending gives the reader the satisfaction of “Hooray, the conflict is resolved!” and then a bonus laugh, or an extra “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!”

WHAT KIND OF ENDING WILL SET YOUR BOOK APART FROM THE REST?

by Ellen Leventhal

There are many different types of endings, all satisfying in their own way. I love endings with a twist, a surprise, a laugh, and even with an “aww.” Of course, your conclusion needs to stay in line with the rest of the book. You wouldn’t want a serious, quiet book to end with a big guffaw. A smile, yes, but probably not a huge laugh. Humorous books can definitely have an “aww” ending, but there needs to be a lead-up to it. It’s important to keep the character of your book throughout. When a funny book ends on an “aww” note, a fun thing to do is to have a humorous page turn that would tie it all together. It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s sometimes fun. I’m currently working on two humorous books that end with a sweet solution to the problem. However, the last page turns are both wordless spreads that tell the reader that something funny is about to happen.

I knew exactly what ending I wanted in A Flood of Kindness. It ends with an “aww” moment, but it wasn’t surprising. Readers could guess it may happen, but still, when it did, it was satisfying. (At least reviews say it is, and who am I to argue?) As an aside, illustrator Blythe Russo evoked such emotion that the reader roots for this main character from the minute they see her.

Lola Can’t Leap (by Noelle Shawa and me) has a surprise ending in the fact that the main character does NOT reach her goal, but she discovers something else. And then, Noelle made it even more surprising on the last page turn with her art.

I love circular stories where the end takes the reader back to the beginning of the story. There are so many wonderful circular stories. I recently re-read Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline’s Coyote Moon, which starts with Moonrise, takes us through the night, and ends with the coyote family waiting for the moon to wake them again.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets (written by Ellen Rothberg and me, illustrated by Joel Cook) is circular in the sense that when reading aloud, children cheer “Don’t eat the bluebonnets!” throughout the book. The last line invites them to echo it one last time.

Play around and see what will set YOUR book apart. And mostly, enjoy the process. Happy Writing!

ENDINGS THAT WRAP THINGS UP IN A NICE PACKAGE OF WORDS

by Vivian Kirkfield

Early on in my writing life, I attended a conference and heard Candace Fleming speak about picture book endings – and what she said made a huge impression on me. She told us that when a reader gets to the end of the book, they should be saying one of three things: HAHAHAHA, AHA! or AWWW.

Why, you ask? Because the emotional connection between the reader and the story is so very important. And, if the reader laughs at the end because the story was funny, or is surprised because there was a twist, or if the reader’s heart is touched, the author has succeeded.

For me, when I read the last lines of a story, I love to get a chill down my spine or a warm fuzzy feeling. For me, a ‘satisfying ending’ is an ending that tugs at my heart…it’s an ending that fulfills the promise of the opening lines of the story. Here are a couple of examples:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH:

Opening Lines: Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

                          Hurry up!

                          Eyes down!

                          Don’t speak!

                          Slaves were property–like a cow, or plow, or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

Satisfying Ending: Sarah took a slow deep breath.

                              She slid out the papers.

                               She read out loud!

                               S.E. Goode

                                Cabinet Bed

                                No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

                               Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history.

                               She had built more than a piece of furniture.

                               She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

MOON MAN: Robert Goddard and the Liquid Fuel-Propelled Rocket  (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Sometimes Robert Goddard’s curiosity was so intense, it made things explode.

Satisfying Ending: Robert Goddard ushered in the era of space flight with the world’s first liquid fuel-propelled rocket. Today’s space program is built on the discoveries he made, and for some of us, that trip to Mars young Robert dreamed about up in the cherry tree may one day become a reality.

ALL ABOARD: George Stephenson and the Steam Locomotive (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Click! Clunk! Hiss!                   

Deep underground, in a maze of pitch-black tunnels, young George Stephenson hefted chunks of coal.

Satisfying Ending: The railway revolution had begun, and George Stephenson had led the charge, changing the landscape not only of England, but of the entire world.

One of the best ways to learn how to write satisfying endings is to read LOTS of them. Pick out your favorite picture books and use them as mentor texts. Examine the endings and observe how you feel when you read them. And then, go bravely into the morning or the night or whenever you do your best writing and play with those words until YOUR satisfying ending emerges!

MOVING FROM TROPES TO TREMENDOUS ENDINGS

by Rob Sanders

Sometimes to understand what something is, it’s helpful to know what it isn’t. Endings we grew up hearing or that were frequently used tropes, are a good place to look for what not to do.

That’s all folks. Bug’s Bunny may have been able to get away with his famous line to end Saturday morning cartoons, but as writers it’s not that easy. A story that just ends—without an ending—one that just stops without providing resolution or emotional climax, does not actually have an ending. Story doesn’t just end. It builds to and ending.

The End. As I always told student writers, “If you have to write THE END, then you haven’t written an ending.” The ending (even in nonfiction) is the conclusion of the plot. After the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action, the ending brings the reader home and helps to create a feeling of completeness or wholeness for the piece.

They lived happily ever after. Oh, that the life really always ended with happily ever after. While most picture books do end happily or hopefully, the ending is really the place the author can create a variety of emotional impacts. In his pyramid plot structure, Freytag called this the denouement. Some define denouement as the emotional climax of the story. This emotional impact may affect the reader in a variety of ways. It may bring a smile, a tear, a cheer, a spine-tingling chill, an ah-h-h-h, and more.

And that’s the way it was. Walter Cronkite ended his CBS evening news broadcasts every night by saying, “And that’s the way it was.” Writers sometimes are tempted to conclude a story by recapping everything that has gone before. In this situation, the writer tries to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss out on anything important that’s come before. While the intention is good and while the approach might work on occasion, it also discredits readers and their ability to think, remember, and participate in the story.

The moral of the story. I grew up with books that made sure I understood the lesson or moral once I’d finished reading. Today, “The moral of the story,” should be saved for folktales. Yes, many current picture books do have a lesson or theme, but a skillfully written manuscript reveals that lesson or theme and a wise writer trusts the reader to make inferences to uncover the lesson or theme. (By the way, it’s ok if readers arrive different at different conclusions. It’s the magic of storytelling—each reader or listener can their own ideas about the story).

So, how do you end a picture book manuscript? Remember these tips:

  1. Don’t rely on tropes.
  2. Build to an ending.
  3. Make sure the ending completes the plot.
  4. Create an emotional impact.
  5. Trust your readers.

Allow readers to make their own inferences and to draw their own conclusions.

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. Before, I move on to our wisdom, we have some good news and announcements to celebrate. You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Happy Book Birthday

Screenshot 2021-08-20 at 6.48.40 PM

Pippa Chorley’s latest picture book OUT OF THE BOX (illustrated by Danny Deeptown and published by Marshall Cavendish) will be coming into the world in mid-November. You can find some more info on KIDLIT411 here. CONGRATULATIONS!

OddBeasts_CV-1

Laura Gehl’s board book ODD BEASTS: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals (illustrated by Gareth Lucas, published by Abrams) was born on November 2. HAPPY BELATED BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Congratulations!

Who is a scientist

Laura Gehl’s book WHO IS A SCIENTIST? received a blue star review from Kirkus!

“Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.” – Kirkus Reviews

You can read the whole review here.

stitch by stitch

Rob Sanders’ recently released picture book STITCH BY STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT received a blue star review from Kirkus and a starred review from Publishers Weekly! This baby is off to a good start! CONGRATULATIONS!

“Storytelling and history, beautifully stitched together.” Kirkus Reviews

Read the whole Kirkus review here.

Read the whole PW review here.

Words of Wisdom

To kick off our series on writing effective and satisfying endings, I will share an excerpt from Art of Arc that I think is an important tip.

“From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, everything you write should relate to the ending. Every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

COMMON MISTAKES WITH ENDINGS

by Alayne Kay Christian

One thing that I often see in picture books that I edit or critique is the last lines feature a character that is not the main character. In my opinion, the main character should always be the one under the spotlight at the end of his/her story.

Another mistake that I often see is bringing a new character into the story toward the ending for no other reason than to facilitate resolving the story.

Allowing the main character to be a victim of circumstances instead of the master of his destiny or allowing the main character to be the recipient of a sheer-luck induced or happenstance resolution that comes way too easily are common issues in stories I critique.

Similar to the above, having someone else solve the main character’s problem usually diminishes and destroys your main character’s role as the hero of his story. There are stories, where the main character seeks out or asks for help. However, I prefer stories where main characters make their own choices and decisions and then take action based on those decisions. I’ve seen older or wiser character’s help guide the main character toward the direction of the final action and discovery. I’m sorry, I can’t think of any books off hand. But if you study picture books, you will find the older or wiser rescuer or guide seldom shows up, and if one does, the main character remains the star/hero of the story in the end.

Ahh, I just thought of two books that have someone help solve the problem. They are both older books, but good examples of allowing an older/wiser person to help while still keeping the main character the star.

In MADDI’S FRIGE by Lois Brandt, the mom eventually steps in to help. However, only because the main character decided to tell her mom about her problem. But in the end, the main character and her friend Maddi are the stars in the spotlight. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In THE LADY IN THE BOX by Ann McGovern, it can almost feel like the mom hijacks the story once the kids decide to tell the mom about their problem. However, the reason this works is the story always remains told from the main character’s point of view. And again, she is the star in the spotlight at the end of the story. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In both of the above examples, the story topic included a problem that was too big for a picture-book age child to handle by herself. For either character to successfully handle these tough situations would have been unrealistic.

Now, I’m going to move away from common mistakes and move on to different types of picture book endings. Many of our wise authors talk about the same topic, I’m just saying it in a different way because I think it’s valuable information.

SOME TYPES OF PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

As some of our wise authors have stated there are at least two kinds of endings. The “Aww” ending, which is usually an emotionally touching ending, and the “Aha!” ending, which usually leads the reader to a surprise or some sort of unexpected realization. Then there is the “Wow!” ending which is when the ending is so unexpected that it changes the way you view the whole story. There is sometimes a fine line between a wow ending and an aha ending. The other ending, which is also a surprise, is the funny (Ha-ha) ending where the payoff is so huge or funny that the reader can’t stop thinking about it and wants to read it over and over. All the endings are kind of closely related because they all have elements of surprise mixed with satisfaction. And they all touch the reader on an emotional level. So, that tells me that emotion, surprise, and satisfaction are key factors in creating a strong and effective ending.

The “aha” ending feels like a surprise but it also feels inevitable—but not predictable. It’s kind of like, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Or maybe even a “Wait. What?” When it comes to aha and wow endings, there is little better than giving our readers a moment where they suddenly see or understand the story in a new or clearer way. If our story ending causes the reader to pause and reevaluate the story, we’ve done a good job.

With the “aww” ending, the reader is satisfied and touched emotionally because after a “try and fail” arc struggle, the main character’s emotional needs are finally met. This doesn’t always come from the character getting what he wants. Sometimes, it’s from getting what he needs. With the aww ending, the reader usually has a sense of empathy with the character, and this empathy generally started earlier in the story via the emotional roller coaster ride, but then that final moment of empathy is where the reader gains a sense of satisfaction. “Oh good. All is well.” This kind of story ending leaves the reader feeling comforted with a strong sense of closure, which stems from the discomfort the character experiences earlier in the story (the emotional roller coaster ride).

As you’ll see many of our wise author’s mention offering a surprise twist at the end of a story. This will give the reader one last boost before closing the story. And the surprise twist is a great tool for setting up aww, aha, wow, or ha-ha endings.

Joyce Wan says, “When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun. When done well, an unpredictable twist can turn a good book into a classic and is often what makes repeated re-readings a pleasure. In subsequent readings, the reader enjoys being in the know and re-reading a book when you know what’s coming can be enjoyable in its own right too.”

CIRCLE BACK PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

by Melissa Stoller

I love writing picture book endings that circle back to the beginning of the story. The endings I craft often refer back to the opening lines, and then add something more to show that the main character has grown and changed throughout the pages of the book.

For example, in SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke)

Opening lines: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Ending lines: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart . . . Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Readers follow Scarlet as she learns to let go of perfection and find her own magical creativity.

In PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot) –

Opening lines: On the first day of school, the wind rattled and leaves swirled. Molly’s knees knocked as she buttered her toast. Would the other kids like her?

Ending lines: That season, the girls planted trees of friendship. And built bridges of hope. Together. In Peace Park and beyond. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Readers follow three girls of different faith traditions through the seasons of a school year, as they discover friendship and celebrate their differences.

And in READY, SET, GORILLA! (illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew) –

Opening lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Ending lines: They all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Readers follow Gorilla as he learns that having friends and playing fairly makes him a winner.

As you create your own picture books, experiment with different types of endings and see what resonates with you. Happy writing!

A SATISFYING STORY ENDING IS UNEXPECTED YET INEVITABLE

by Kirsti Call

Jane Yolen taught me that a satisfying ending is unexpected yet inevitable.  Here are three endings from books I’ve written–always with Jane’s advice in mind.

  1. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD‘s ending is surprising, yet makes sense. Mootilda’s bad mood has es-cowlated all day, until she chooses to think about her friends instead of herself.  The final spread shows her with the sign:  “Cow-nseling, expert in the field.”  Mootilda sits with her pen, notebook,a box of tissues, and Crow on a couch across from her.  He begins his session with, “I’m in a bad mood.”  This ending also mirrors the beginning of Mootilda’s journey when she says, “I’m in a bad mooood!”
  2. COW SAYS MEOW has a circular ending where the end hearkens back to the beginning, and encourages the reader to read the book again.

OPENING line: “Cow says… Meow.”

CLOSING line: “Cow says…Pssst. Can I meow again?”

3. COLD TURKEY ends with the opposite of the beginning. You guessed it, he starts out cold, and the last line is: “TOASTY TURKEY!”

Circular, surprise and opposite endings are only a few of the numberless ways we can create satisfying endings.  So, don’t be afraid to try out multiple endings for your story–read, re-read, write, re-write and find the solution that gives you that satisfied feeling of closure. You’ll find it’s almost always something unexpected….yet inevitable.

GIVE THE READER SOMETHING TO TAKE AWAY

by Beth Anderson

Endings and beginnings are equally difficult. And they’re intricately dependent upon each other. Endings need to circle back to the beginning in some way—as an “answer” to the story question posed, or the “bridge” that takes the story into the future. As a person who writes historical stories, the decision of where to start and stop is crucial. Just as identifying that inciting incident is essential, knowing when your emotional arc is complete is, too.

  • Endings can’t be too abrupt. Or drone on and on.
  • Endings must be clear, but not sappy or didactic.
  • They should elicit an emotional reaction, linger, resonate.
  • The take-away must be just that—something a child can carry in their mind or heart or funny-bone.

When I work on revising an ending, I copy and paste the section into another document and redo, redo, redo. Small tweaks, rephrasing, rearranging. Over and over and over until I work through to that just right piece that will bring satisfaction and go a step further to carry something forward. I like to think of the process of writing as mining—digging deep into story and also into self to find that special take or “heart” to shape, polish, and thread through. Your ending is the resulting “gem.”

I like endings that provide an invitation for a child to rethink themselves.

In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I used the “conventional you,” addressing the reader, in both beginning and end. The last page says: “Next time you sound out a word, think of Ben and Noah. Thay wud bee pleez’d beecuz that iz egzaktlee wut thay wonted!” It’s sort of “congratulations, you’re a great thinker, too”—a chance to rethink self.

Another way I think of endings is laying a thought or idea in the lap of the reader.

The end of Lizzie Demands a Seat! plants the seed for carrying social justice action forward.

Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses ties back to the the beginning question, “What good was an extraordinary nose?” and Kelly’s desire for a “power” that would make him special. At the end he discovers that his special power is inside, then… “James Kelly gazed at the waiting passengers. He would bet each person had something special inside. He could almost smell it.” (the last sentence is also in the opening) This is an invitation for a child to think about what makes him or her special, but also a “lay it in their lap” ending.

The end ties up the story with a bow, a gift for the reader to carry forward.

At the end of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle, people around Tad finally see the goodness in the “problem” child when his relentless, pandemonium-producing wriggle benefits others. This ending is an affirmation of the capableness and goodness of children. A gift.

Endings are hard. But…a good ending makes a story sing!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, and Rob Sanders.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley shared their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles. If you missed it, you can read KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3) here. And you can read Ellen Leventhal’s and my mini-course in Part 1 of 3 here.

Today, Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller share their Writing Captivation Middles toolboxes, roadmaps, wisdom, and tips. You won’t want to miss it!

Before we move on, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

My friends Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz‘s latest picture book COLD TURKEY (illustrated by Chad Otis) will come into the world on November 1. However, it is available for pre-orders now. CONGRATULATIONS!

cold turkey cover

Words of Wisdom

MARVELOUS MIDDLES

by Melissa Stoller

When writing picture books, it is important to craft snappy openings that grab the reader’s attention. It is also crucial to draft satisfying endings, so the reader wants to read the story over and over. But the middle of a picture book . . . that is notoriously difficult to get just right. Here are a few tips about turning the middle of the story from muddy to marvelous!

In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, Clear Fork Publishing, 2020), Sadie listens to Nana tell stories about their ancestors as they prepare for a Shabbat dinner. I knew that Sadie’s biggest wish at the opening was tell stories just like Nana. I also knew that, at the end, Sadie would find her unique voice and tell her special stories. So in the middle, I drafted three vignette stories for Nana to tell (based on my family history). I knew I had to keep these “stories within a story” concise and full of emotion that children could relate to. Because Sadie believes that Nana is the best storyteller, these vignettes had to rise to meet the readers’ expectations. So in drafting within this particular structure, I paid close attention to this important middle of the manuscript. I tried to include lots of emotional resonance and heart! And of course, Lisa Goldberg’s stunning illustrations and her vision truly added another layer to the whole book, and especially to the vignettes in the middle.

Here are two examples:

Middles Melissa 1

Middles Melissa 2

Good luck drafting your own marvelous middles for your picture books!

WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES TOOLBOX AND ESSENTIAL STEPS

by Beth Anderson

Muddy, mediocre middles quickly quash readers’ enthusiasm for the story. To create a captivating middle you’ll need a full toolbox of writer skills. Here are the essentials as I see them—and the reminders I give myself as I revise.
• Plot the arc with a clear inciting incident and escalating tension.
• Build scenes.
• Keep your main character active.
• Pay attention to motivation and stakes—keep the emotional arc driving the story.
• Create effective transitions.
• Enhance turning points.
• Craft page turns.
• Use pacing techniques to keep the story moving.
• Weave in necessary context and make it relevant to the action—no info dumps.
• Immerse readers in the experience of the main character. This involves “Show don’t tell” and other considerations.
• Tie it all tightly with the essential, uniquely-through-you, “heart” thread.
For me, beginning, middle, and end evolve simultaneously in the writing process because you really can’t craft one well without the others. But once I’m able to eke out a middle, I have lots to work with, and I’m on my way!

EXCAVATING THE HEART OF A COMPELLING MIDDLE

by Dawn Prochovnic

Middles are what seem to come most easily to me—or more accurately, it’s the story ideas for which I have strong middles that I actually sit down and write and stick with to the end.

I have a LONG list of story ideas, and I update this list regularly as new ideas pop into my head. Many of these ideas remain just that—ideas. They seem SO GOOD on the surface, but I have difficulty figuring out how to make something of them. Other ideas really grab hold of me and insist on being written. For me, that urgency and insistence comes from the middle of the story. It’s the middle of the story that begs to be let out of my head. It’s the middle of the story that spills out of me. It’s the middle of the story that compels me to find a strong opening and satisfying ending, and it’s the middle of the story that I sometimes have to completely reimagine in order for the story to reach its full potential.

My forthcoming book, MAMA’S HOME (Familius, 2024), provides a great example of this process. The working title for the original draft of this story was CHILDHOOD BLISS. It was a slice-of-life story about a joyful, play-filled, childhood. I wrote it on scraps of paper and in notes on my phone while my youngest child (now a sophomore in college) blissfully engaged in the imaginative play area in our local children’s museum. I loved the idea of a story about everyday, child-centered activities that bring joy into a child’s life, and that collectively make for a bliss-filled childhood.

Over time, it became clear that the story would need a stronger hook in order to become a book. I loved the story enough to keep working on it, which led to different stories with essentially the same “middle.” For example, for a time, the story was entitled GRANDMA’S HOUSE IS HAPPINESS, and associated revisions incorporated the elements of connection with an active and engaged grandparent. Eventually, the focus shifted to the excitement and delight in sharing everyday, joyful activities with a parent who returns home after being away for an extended period of time. With that angle, the current title emerged, and I revised the story to incorporate the preparations for and anticipation of Mama’s return.

When I submitted this version to Familius, their team wondered if I might be open to a more specific reason for Mama being away— the arrival of a new sibling. This brought additional revisions that incorporated the anticipation and preparations for a new sibling along with Mama’s return and featured activities that could be engaged in with a new sibling in tow. For this revision, I also looked for opportunities to emphasize and lean into the enduring and evolving nature of the relationship between Mama and an older child.

Throughout the revision process, the essence of the story, childhood bliss, remained intact as the story evolved into the version that will be made into a book. The story idea that took hold of me from the start and insisted on being written was the middle. It’s the part of the story that I connected with so deeply right from the start, and that kept me motivated to keep working on it until it was just right for its eventual publishing home.

ROSIE’S ROADMAP TO A CAPTIVATING ENDING

by Rosie Pova

The meat of the story is in the middle, so make sure it’s full of action, go ahead and throw in a little mid-way twist, too, and let us learn something new or something more in-depth about your character. Grab the reader’s attention by fleshing out an irresistible personality for your character, bring us along on the emotional journey with every scene, and plant little questions we’d want to find out the answers to.

Middles can be challenging, but they are also an opportunity to go all in and turn a reader into a fan.

Now, go move and shake your middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we believe it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. When we last left off with the Wisdom series, we talked all about writing outstanding first lines and beginnings (part1, part 2, part 3). Now it’s time to tackle middles. I struggled with words to describe a good middle and my favorite words were “captivating” “compelling” and “engaging.” They all have similar meanings. If your middle doesn’t compel readers to keep turning pages, it probably needs some tweaking or a rewrite. The same goes for engage or captivate. What will make your readers want to keep reading? With my many years as a professional critique writer and the former acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, I can tell you that you can have the best beginning and ending, but if the middle doesn’t keep the story train on the track, the story will never survive.

This month, I’m excited to share our wise authors’ many fabulous tips and examples for writing strong middles. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ middles, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Today’s post will focus on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. Ellen Leventhal and I were on the same wavelength, so we both wrote about cause and effect. Probably no surprise, but my portion is quite long, so I’ll start with Ellen’s wonderful thoughts and examples and then finish with my mini-lesson for writing middles. Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Beth Anderson’s fantastic book TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President House (illustrated by S.D. Shindler) is coming into the world on October 5!

Congratulations, Beth.

TAD LINCOLNS RESTLESS WRIGGLE FC

My friend and fellow Word Birds 2021 member Nancy Churnin has two new babies being born!

DEAR MR. DICKENS (illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe) with a birth date of October 1 and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg) with a birth date of October 5.

Congratulations, Nancy!

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

Congratulations!

My longtime critique partner and friend Hannah Holt’s fun, funny, and educational picture book A HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: With Professor Chicken (illustrated by Korwin Briggs) is now available for preorder.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Final Cover Underwear_Medium

Now for some words of writing wisdom. . . .

Words of WisdomTHE MIDDLE SHOWS US HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER GOT TO THE END

by Ellen Leventhal

Somewhere between the excitement of those glorious first lines and the relief of coming up with a satisfying ending, something has to happen. With picture books, we don’t have much time or space to bridge those two, but the middle IS the story. It’s the journey, and that’s true whether you are utilizing a traditional arc or something a little different. We still need to see the character move forward toward that end. When I teach writing to kids, I talk a lot about cause and effect. For example, in my book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, I first jotted down the following. Because there was a flood (cause) Charlotte lost her possessions, and her home was ruined.(effect) Because her home was ruined, (cause) she had to go to a shelter (effect). I did that for each scene until the cause and effect got us to the ending. It would be so much easier to say something like, “Charlotte’s house flooded, but she learned that doing kindness for others would help her heal, so she gave a boy her teddy bear.” Easy, but not a story. The middle is where we learn all about Charlotte, her emotions, obstacles, and growth. It tells us HOW she got to the end.

I don’t always approach middles that way, but when I do, I come up with different cause and effect scenarios. I think about all the different ways my character could reach the ending. How do I want my character to achieve the goal? Or not achieve her original goal? Once I choose a path, I begin to write. I work on flow and transition, always asking myself questions such as, does this work with the beginning? Does it lead to the outcome? Do I want to change the outcome? Is it child-friendly?

This is just one trick in the toolbox of writing middles, and to be honest, it doesn’t always seamlessly lead to a satisfying ending. But that’s ok because, as we all know, writing is revising.

The middle has the power to bring our character to life and truly bring us on the journey with her. It’s where we see her emotions and obstacles. It’s where the reader hopefully connects with the character. Writing the middle is not easy, but when that messy middle flawlessly brings us to our satisfying ending, it’s magic.

WK_FloodOfKindness_Cover_2 (002) Official

SOLID MIDDLES VS FRACTURED MIDDLES

by Alayne Kay Christian

I went through the Art of Arc course to see if I could choose just a couple top tips, but there is so much that goes into writing compelling middles that it was difficult to choose. However, the fact that I dedicate two full lessons to the topics of cause and effect and episodic stories convinced me to share some already existing blog posts on these very important topics. You will find the links below. These two posts don’t only have a wealth of information, they offer worksheets and ways to test if your story is episodic. These are old posts, so any deals or giveaways are no longer valid.

EPISODIC STORIES AND CAUSE AND EFFECT

FRACTURED MIDDLES

What would a Dachshund look like without a middle? A school bus? The Eiffel Tower? Imagine just about anything without a middle, and what do you get? What if the Dachshund, school bus, or the Eiffel Tower look like if they had a weak middle? What if the middles of the Dachshund, school bus, or Eiffel Tower were disconnected from the beginning and ending of your story? In the following video, I have a little fun demonstrating solid middles vs fractured middles using crude and wacky drawings.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

CAUSE AND EFFECT RUFFLE

In the following video I do a clumsy ruffle demonstration explaining how a solid cause and effect thread vs a broken one can impact your story’s middle.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE (a little something extra)

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER v3

I love picture books that offer an emotional roller coaster ride. Since, I already have an example that I did for a few recent manuscript critiques using the book THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, I share the PDF via the following link Middles Those Shoes. This example highlights the many wonderful ups and downs this story ride offers. In addition, it points out the links in the cause and effect chain. This analysis is a good example of one way to use published books as mentor texts.

The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride are usually created by tension that results from obstacles/conflict/struggles. As I was going through Art of Arc’s lessons about writing middles, the following blurb jumped out at me. I thought it worth sharing as I end my portion of this post and start preparing my next blog post with more great words of wisdom from our blog team.

Straightforward and struggle-free stories, with no apparent consequences or sense of what might happen if the main character doesn’t succeed, will generally lose a reader’s attention. But when obstacles (conflict) create struggles and force the main character to make choices and decisions, the story is taken in new and exciting directions. This engages the reader.”

I can’t wait to share more good news and the treasure trove of wisdom about middles from our other wise authors. Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Kirsti Call, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, Rob Sanders, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

REMINDER SEASON OF KINDNESS

Before I move on to the video, I want to remind everyone that your opportunity to win fabulous prizes for you, your children, or your classroom will end on October 1. The Season of Kindness guidelines can be found here. I hope you’ve been working on creating kindness, and I will be pleasantly surprised in the coming days when you share your acts of kindness in comments.

CHECK OUT THESE FABULOUS PRIZES

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity, humor, fun, kind acts, bonus book photos, and following the guidelines accurately. The top eight winners’ names will be drawn from a hat randomly, and prizes will be offered in an elimination process. So, the first name drawn from the hat will have the first pick of the 8 prizes. The next person will choose from the remaining seven prizes, and the third will pick from the remaining six prizes, and on and on.

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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

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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. To learn more about why I chose to cover this topic, read Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 click here. To learn more about the “Wisdom” team and their books click here. And now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO UNDERSTAND THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS YOU GO THROUGH

by Ellen Leventhal

Yes, it is definitely a long and winding road to publication. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that the twisting and turning of that road doesn’t stop after one or two books. At least for me, it doesn’t. I’m still dealing with twists, turns, small bumps, and large hurdles. And like all of publishing, the movement along the road is SLOW. But honestly, there is no other road I’d rather be traveling now.

Everyone’s journey is different, and mine is a bit odd. My first published book was a result of Ellen Rothberg and me winning a picture book writing contest. We didn’t know a lot about writing PBs, so we took classes and revised with the publisher/editor a ridiculous number of times until we all thought it was ready. And we won! The prize was publication, and that’s how the first version of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets was born. After that, I was hooked. Ellen and I wrote a few more together, but unfortunately, that publisher decided they didn’t want to do kidlit anymore. Those last two books (which I still love) faded into the sunset. However, another publisher wanted the bluebonnet book, so we sliced and diced to bring it up to date, and that, along with new illustrations, became the Ten Year Anniversary edition. I published another book with that same publisher, and then…another contest! This didn’t lead directly to publication, but because I was in the finals of Picture Book Contest, I signed with a wonderful agent who sold my recently released book in six month. Story over? Far from it. That agent was project by project at the time, and she didn’t connect to my other work. So although I sold another book on my own (signed in 2021…pub date 2023), I am back looking for agents. Or more publishers at open houses. I’m not sure. When Imposter Syndrome sits on my shoulder and invades my very being, I can fall into a dark place, but I don’t. When more rejections fill my inbox each day, I can give up. But I don’t. And the saving grace for all of that is this incredible kidlit community. It’s important to have people in your life who understand the trials and tribulations your go through and critique partners who will be honest and help you. I am lucky to have all that to help me persist and stay positive. So the road to publication for me has been twisty, and it still is. But as I said, it’s exactly the road I want to travel now.

YOU CAN’T REACH YOUR GOAL BY SITTING STILL. YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING AND LEARNING AND PUTTING ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER

by Pippa Chorley

I have to admit that I am still very much travelling along the road to being a full-fledged writer and I still hesitate at times over being called an ‘author’. It can be hard for imposter syndrome not to creep in when you haven’t quite fulfilled all of your dreams. My road feels particularly long as I have been writing stories and poetry since I was seven. At the age of 17 I drafted my first ever picture book and at the age of 20 I drafted my first ever novel, a YA. Both of these have sat on my computer ever since but I still couldn’t help but write more and more and more. I just love it!

Finally, 3 years ago when my daughter (child number 3) went to nursery I decided to take my passion more seriously and joined SCWBI and a local critique group. I took some old picture book manuscripts along and very quickly one of the members introduced me to a publisher she felt would like my writing. I was extremely lucky that she was right and they offered me a three book deal. I was thrilled and it has been incredibly exciting to finally step onto the road I have always dreamed of walking down.

That said, my journey is not over by a long shot. I have yet to find an agent and I would still love to one day publish my YA novel and chapter books written over the years. There is still much to do, much to learn, more twists and turns to navigate. As we all know, the kidlit writing industry is particularly tough and takes more staying power that others to keep picking up your pen because rejection is everywhere. I have had numerous rejections since querying and it can be disheartening and discouraging but if you love writing as much as I do, then keep going, because you can’t reach your goal by sitting still, you have to keep moving and learning and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the only way and together, we can help each other get there. I say that because without the support network of other amazing writers it would be easy to stop, but they keep you going and moving forward.

I UNDERSTAND THAT A MANUSCRIPT HAS TO BE RIGHT FOR AN EDITOR AND THAT THERE’S MUCH MORE TO CONSIDER THAN MY STORY

by Beth Anderson

I’ll try to make what could be a lengthy saga short by focusing on the timeline. I decided to go for it, to go after my “someday,” in fall 2013. I researched the industry, joined SCBWI and a critique group, and sought out writing groups online to guide me. All those pieces were immeasurably essential as I embarked on this journey. Spurred on by naiveté and the power of goal-setting, I thought I’d be subbing to agents and editors after a few months. [oh, silly me!] As I learned more from fellow creators and online courses, I realized that wasn’t realistic.

After examining options, I decided I wanted to pursue an agent first. I began subbing to agents in mid 2014 and racking up rejections. By the end of 2015, I was wondering at what point I should move on to a more worthwhile investment of my time and energy. But since I’d found some encouragement along the way, I felt I owed it to myself to double down my efforts, pushing myself into the discomfort zone, commit at a higher level. A month and a half later in early 2016, I signed with my agent. Having a knowledgeable partner made all the difference. Eight months later, I had my first offer. And in September 2018, I held my first book in my hands, five years after I began the journey.

Now, I have three books released and five more on the way. I learn more with each one, even the manuscripts that will never go anywhere. I still get plenty of rejections, but now it doesn’t hurt because I know that a rejection means I put it out there. I understand that a manuscript has to be right for an editor and that there’s much more to consider than my story. I’m fortunate to be retired and able to invest all the time I want in this endeavor. I’m continually amazed by all those who hold down jobs and raise kids while pursuing publishing. I think it’s important to not be too hard on yourself and be patient. But at the same time, I believe you have to put in your 10,000 hours and plunge in with an attitude of openness, push yourself by venturing past your comfort zone, dive into opportunities, and trust professionals. The road IS long. And winding. Full of bumps. And potholes. But if you take the kid lit community along, it’s an amazing ride!

BONUS! TEN-YEAR BOOK JOURNEY STORY BY MELISSA STEWART

As I was putting this post together, I discovered a post about Melissa Stewarts new book SUMMERTIME SLEEPERS: Animals that Estivate, which shows the timeline for the ten years it took to bring this book to publication. It is a perfect example of the sometimes long and winding road to publication. To read the post click here.

PART 3 COMING MAY 8

Next week, 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 PART 1 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.

 

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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.

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