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kid-lit writing wisdom

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

Words of Wisdom

SPREADSHEETS AND MENTOR TEXTS!

by Beth Anderson

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

STUDYING ALREADY PUBLISHED BOOKS CAN HELP MAKE YOUR STORY SING!

by Vivian Kirkfield

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

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

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

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

by Ellen Leventhal

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

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

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

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

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

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

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

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

by Michelle Nott

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

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

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

READING MENTOR TEXTS INSPIRES, MOTIVATES, AND INFORMS

by Rosie Pova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING KID-LIT WISDOM POSTS LISTED BELOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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kid-lit writing wisdom

For this round of Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom Q & A, I asked the team why it’s important for writers to read children’s books and how one might get the most out of reading them.

I thought it would be good to start this post with the definition of mentor texts. The Iowa Reading Research Center defines mentor texts as “. . . written pieces that serve as an example of good writing for student writers. The texts are read for the purpose of studying the author’s craft, or the way the author uses words and structures the writing. The goal is to provide students a model they could emulate in crafting their own piece.”

Because I once again have the wordiest answer, I will start with my answer to the question. However, before I get started, I’d like to wish a couple of Laura Gehl’s newly released board books, SOCCER BABY and BASEBALL BABY, a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And I’m excited to share that my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS has won another literary award! Congratulations to illustrator Polina Gortman and me, of course : – )

Happy Book BirthdayBaseball soccer baby

Congratulations!

AWARD WINNER FOR HOLIDAY BOOKS TWITTER

Words of Wisdom

IN THE END, YOU’LL END UP BEING A DIFFERENT WRITER THAN YOU WERE BEFORE YOU STARTED DIGGING DEEPER

by Alayne Kay Christian

When I first started studying the art of children’s writing, veteran authors advised repeatedly, “read, read, read.” And so I read. I would bring home 50 picture books from the library (usually biweekly) loaded in my bag with wheels. What I didn’t understand, until I had read hundreds of picture books, was reading them wasn’t enough. What I really needed to do was analyze them. But how could I analyze them, if I didn’t know what I was looking for? So, my next step was to take writing courses specific to picture book writing. In those courses, I got a sense of story arc (narrative arcs and character arcs). When I started doing professional critiques, the “sense” of arc that I had learned from courses gave me enough instinct to know when something was off with the plot of the picture book I was critiquing. But I didn’t always know how to explain the problems to the author of the manuscript. So, I worked to find the answers and explain the issues. I continued to work to understand arc and plot deeper. I read craft books, I did searches on the Internet when something wasn’t clear to me, I took more courses, and I continued reading picture books. That’s when I discovered that the only way I was really going to learn what I wanted to know was to dissect the stories I read. And that’s exactly what I did. In the process of trying to help others, I helped myself as an author. I came to understand fully what makes a powerful beginning, what makes an engaging or compelling middle, and what makes a satisfying ending. I learned the importance of knowing your character’s motivation, want, and need. I discovered the power of solid cause and effect and growing tension. I love seeing how authors leave room for illustrators and how they both tell part of the story. I discovered the importance of pacing and so much more. Once, I understood how to build stories, and I had helped a hundred or so writers understand the same via my critiques, I wrote my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Write and Analyze Picture Books and Manuscripts. Does the fact that I’m a retired acquisitions editor and I offer professional critiques, a bit of mentoring, and a writing course mean that I no longer need mentor texts? Absolutely not. There is still much more to picture book writing besides the plot. Today, I analyze picture books for word choice, voice, and execution of the idea or theme (usually looking for why it stands out). I pay attention to unique characters and character building. I study the huge variety of storytelling structures. I read humor and dream of one day writing something funny. I read heart-tuggers that connect me emotionally to the character and story (That’s the kind of story I tend to write.) I look for “why” I enjoy a book or “why” I sometimes wonder how a book ever ended up published (meaning I didn’t enjoy it). I’m always looking for something, and I’m always learning. I love studying books for language—especially lyrical stories—love them! I could go on forever about the treasures found when you start looking deeply into a story instead of just reading it. But I won’t.

Analyzing or dissecting mentor texts will stretch you as a writer. You’ll be more willing to take risks and try new things. You’ll start wondering things like, what if I used that format instead? What if I tried that cool or clever strategy? The puzzle pieces of what makes a sellable picture book will start slipping into place. And in the end, you will be a different writer than you were before you started digging deeper.

We have lots of great wisdom on this topic, and it’s time to make way for those answers. I do want to say that many moons ago, I discovered that our wise author Marcie Flinchum Atkins knows her way around a mentor text, and you can find some of her posts here and here. At the end of this post, Marcie offers some excellent tips and tools for using mentor texts. Also, our wise author Kirsti Call is the co-founder and of Reading for Research Month (a.k.a. REFOREMO) along with Carrie Charley Brown. They not only offer this very focused annual challenge. They also offer posts year round that walk us through a variety of books with hints regarding what they might teach us as writers. In addition, look around their site for lots of resources. Finally, if you join their Facebook page, they have lots of files that list great mentor text books by categories.

Some of our authors, Vivian Kirkfield for example, participate in Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays. Participating in this activity will expose you to lots of different books, plus Susanna offers a list of books by themes (scroll down on linked page). Following are some other links that will lead you to mentor text info from Marcie and Reforemo.

http://www.reforemo.com/2019/09/mentor-text-talk-with-author-marcie.html

https://www.marcieatkins.com/tag/reforemo/

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2015/03/show-me-way-mentor-texts-as-lights-into.html

10 REASONS TO READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS

(ESPECIALLY PICTURE BOOKS)

(AND DEFINITELY PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES)

by Rob Sanders

1. To learn something new.
2. To soak in the story.
3. To examine the structure.
4. To observe the page turns.
5. To analyze what makes the story work.
6. To dissect the craft.
7. To enjoy the illustrations.
8. To investigate the word choices.
9. To evaluate the back matter.
10. Because you can’t not read them!

GET INSPIRED TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE!

by Laura Gehl

I read children’s books to marvel at thoughtful page turns, to laugh at witty spreads, to appreciate the interplay between text and art, to let various rhythms and cadences wash over me, to get refrains stuck in my head, to admire different text structures, to soak in new information, to feel characters tug at my heartstrings, to think, “I wish I had written that,” and…most of all…to get inspired to sit down and write!

READING PICTURE BOOKS ALOUD HELPS ME DELIGHT IN STORYTELLING AND LUSCIOUS SOUNDS

Kirsti Call

I read picture books to learn about what works and what doesn’t, to appreciate the poetry of sparse text, to feel and to heal. Reading picture books aloud with children helps me delight in storytelling and luscious sounds. And of course reading picture books inspires me to create my own stories, putting words together in ways that (hopefully) evoke laughter, love and connection.

WHY I LOVE READING CHILDREN’S BOOKS

By Melissa Stoller

As a children’s book writer, it’s vital for me to read children’s books. I write chapter books and picture books, so those are the book genres that I mainly read. I like to read children’s books for several reasons. First, it’s important to keep up to date with all the new books. I love reading newly published picture books so I can stay current about topics and what is selling at the moment. Second, I can apply the knowledge I gain from reading children’s books to my writing process. I use books as “mentor texts,” meaning they teach me about writing in some way. For example, if I’m writing a non-fiction book about sea life, I will read every current similar book I can find to see how other authors handled the subject. Or, if I’m trying to add more “heart” into my fiction picture book manuscript, I will read books that I know pull at the heartstrings. I also notice how the author chose specific words and language patterns, handled pacing, left room for the illustrator, and other craft points. Third, I use current children’s books as “comparative titles” that can help me pitch my manuscripts and place them in the marketplace, comparing my manuscript to a recently-published title, and also showing how my manuscript is different. Finally, the most important reason that I read picture books and chapter books is that I LOVE them! I enjoy reading children’s books almost as much as I like writing them! A perfect afternoon would be spent curling up with a cup of mint tea, a gluten-free muffin, and a stack of wonderful children’s books!

READING KID LIT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A CHILD AGAIN, WHICH IS HOW WE NEED TO FEEL TO WRITE BOOKS ABOUT AND FOR CHILDREN

Pippa Chorley

Every Wednesday morning, we start our critique session with a table piled high with books; childhood favourites, classic picture books, brand new purchases, library searches and recommendations. It’s one of my favourite parts of the week. I always feel like a kid in a sweet shop!

It gets our conversation bubbling immediately, what we like, what we don’t like, what we find clever, beautiful, funny, endearing, or even why we don’t like something or think it could have ended differently. It opens up conversations about craft and style, and it also gets our own creative juices flowing. It helps us generate new ideas or writing styles and helps us critique our wobbly new manuscripts at a much higher level and gives us courage to try new things. Sometimes it even sparks a whole new idea for a manuscript too!

I think the reason why we read children’s picture books as authors is endless and unquestionably important. But, for me personally, why I love it so much, is because it brings me and my fellow critique partners together weekly through a shared love of children’s writing. And most importantly, it makes me feel like a child again. Which is just what we need to feel when we are writing books about them and especially for them!

IF WE’RE GOING TO WRITE BOOKS, WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE BEST

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

If we are going to create stories, we must also admire stories. If we are going to write books, we must learn from the best. One of the most accessible ways to learn about what the greatest writers are doing is to utilize your library card. I make a habit of keeping my holds and checkouts at the library maxed out. At least once a week, I take a big stack of picture books and read and analyze them.

One of my favorite ways to determine which ones I want to study in depth is to read through the stack of books. I make three stacks:

1) Not for me.

2) These are great, but not my style.

3) THIS is the kind of writing I want to do.

Pile #3 is the one that I take more extensive notes on. It’s the type of books I type up to see how it looks on the page, examine the structure, and bask in the language.

For more posts about reading mentor texts, you can check out the many mentor texts posts on my blog.

For a more extensive post on how I organize and keep track of my reading, you can check out this bullet journaling post.

One other tip: If I’m feeling stuck or mired in muck about my own writing, often reading stellar books can bring me back. It usually takes me only about 20 minutes of immersive reading to realize I really DO want this writing life, and I really want to create stories.

Next week, we will get more great tips and stories from Beth Anderson, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, Dawn Babb Prochovnic, Michelle Nott, and Rosie Pova.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers to “Most Important Lesson Learned”

WRITING IS A GIFT TO MYSELF
by Laura Gehl

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

SPEAK UP WITH CONFIDENCE
by Vivian Kirkfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITING IS LIKE TENDING A GARDEN
by Melissa Stoller

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

THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
by Ellen Leventhal

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving thanks! (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the holidays coming, I am offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to the kid lit writers and illustrators community as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman.

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

by Lydia Lukidis art by Tara J. Hannon

This week we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for No Bears Allowed along with a fifteen-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via telephone or Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover of No Bears Allowed to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with No Bears Allowed, you can view the fun book trailer below.

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

 

Following is a twenty-six-second peek at the No Bears Allowed downloadable and printable activity book. Visit Blue Whale Press to download it.

Following is the photo for the contest.

The Contest

  1. Write a funny or heartfelt caption for the above photo of Rabbit and Bear.
  2. The caption must relate to Thanksgiving or being thankful for something. Still, the funnier or touching the better.
  3. Add interest to your caption by printing out the photo and putting it in a Thanksgiving setting and then taking your own photo starring Bear and Rabbit. You can right click the photo to save or copy it for printing or to include it with your caption on your blog.
  4. Post the above photo (or your own Thanksgiving Bear and Rabbit photo) with your caption on your blog along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  5. Post between right now this very second and Wednesday, December 4 by 11:59 PM EDT
  6. IMPORTANT! Add your name and your blog post-specific link in a comment here in this post (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  7. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and the caption in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog.
  8. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  9. Please submit your entry only ONCE.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  1. Thanksgiving appeal.
  2. Originality and creativity.
  3. Humor or heart tugging.
  4. Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.

Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Saturday, December 7.

The Prizes

First place: A pre-release proof (hardcover) of No Bears Allowed and a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and the critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place: A softcover copy of No Bears Allowed.

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AAS Q&A 4

This month, I asked the All about Submissions team the following questions: How do you cope with rejections? What do you do with the rejection letters – even if they are just form letters? I will share some of their answers today and the rest tomorrow. Please feel free to comment and share your tips for coping with rejections.

I would like to introduce our newest team member, Heather Ayris Burnell, author of Bedtime Monster. Welcome Heather.

As always, a big thank you to all that took the time to share their answers to this month’s questions.

* * *

Kirsti Call, Children’s Author

The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall!

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

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

www.kirsticall.com

Rejection is proof that I’m writing.  Rejection is proof that I’m submitting!  Rejection gives me one less publisher or agent to send that particular manuscript to!  I have dozens or maybe even hundreds of rejections and I keep every one of them. Even form letters are concrete evidence of my dedication to writing stories for children.  And somehow, with each rejection, I feel like I’m one step closer to finding the right publisher.

* * *

Julie Falatko

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

Represented by Danielle Smith

http://worldofjulie.com/

I am someone who suffered from severe submit-o-phobia for two years. It was good. I am grateful for my fear of rejection, because otherwise I would have submitted some truly awful stories. But as I was working on writing, and knowing I wasn’t ready yet, I’d see friends complaining about rejections, and I was so jealous. I wanted to be ready to submit things! I couldn’t wait until I was far enough along to actually start getting rejections. That was the next phase on the horizon that I could see: submitting stuff, getting rejections. And I knew I wasn’t there yet.

So when I did finally started submitting, I honestly didn’t mind getting rejections. I mean, well, sure, I minded a little. But I knew every rejection just meant the agent and I weren’t a good fit. I was so happy to finally be at a point where I was getting rejections. I found the waiting-for-rejections to be a lot harder than the rejections.

I kept all of my rejections. Some of them were very nice ones, and I would go back and reread them for encouragement. I don’t know what it means that I am someone who read rejections for encouragement, but it’s true.

* * *

Heather Ayris Burnell, Author

Bedtime Monster

www.subitclub.wordpress.com

www.frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com

Represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency

To me, rejection is just part of the process of becoming published. Statistically speaking, it takes a lot of rejection to get to an acceptance. When we send our work out for consideration we are competing against hundreds of other talented writers and their work. There are so many factors that are out of our control once we send our work for consideration. The piece we send not only has to be the best of the best, it has to reach the right person at the right time and fit into their vision, whether it be an agent building their list or a publisher looking for that next great book to publish. Being rejected means you are getting your work out there and trying to reach your goal of publication. That is a positive thing! When I get a rejection, I let myself have that “oh darn” moment but I don’t dwell on it. I read the reply a couple times to let it sink in (I always seem to skim on the first couple of reads), take note in my submission log, move on, and keep on working toward my goal. Sure, I might switch up my query letter if I keep getting forms or do some revising if I get suggestions.

Rejections don’t have to hold you back. They can help you gain insight that can keep you moving forward in a positive direction.

I do think you can have some fun with rejection letters. Why not? I have a lot of ideas of what to do with them, I even wrote a post, Fun with Rejections! I’m saving mine up for a piñata and am hoping to have a big party with a bunch of my writer friends someday. Not sure exactly what I’ll fill the piñata with. Pens…notepads…chocolate? There will definitely be chocolate!

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Elaine Kiely Kearns, Children’s Writer

http://www.kidlit411.com/

Ah, rejection.

After much reflection upon this question I can only answer in one way: rejection sucks, people. It stings, it burns, it makes us feel like we are inadequate and that our writing is subpar.

And of course, anyone reading this post also knows that rejection is a part of this wacky, wonderful path to publication. Getting your manuscript snatched up by an agent or an editor right out of the gate is unrealistic. Of course it happens, but it’s rare. I am guessing that it would be easier to win the lottery – twice.

So what do we do with all of this rejection? How do we cope?

Well, first of all, we have to learn to take comfort in knowing that it is just part of the process. It’s business. Just business. When you look at it like that, it’s so much easier to accept. Another rejection? Who cares! Onward! (Especially if it was the standard form letter rejection.)

However, if you received some notes from an editor or agent on your manuscript, Congratulations! If an agent or editor has taken the time to give you feedback, I would take that as a sign that you are getting closer. A lot closer. Agents and editors do not have the time to give feedback, so even though it’s a pass, be grateful that they thought enough of your manuscript to give you a little bit of something to go on. Celebrate!

The last thing you can do is to arm yourself with information and become familiar with an agent and editor’s job. Wait, what?! Why? Well, if you put yourself in their shoes, you will see that the rejection you’re receiving isn’t personal. Publishing, after all, is a business. That’s the bottom line, and sometimes we need to remind our creative brains of that fact. Your writing may be strong and entertaining, but for a myriad of other reasons, it may just not be the right time for them to accept it. If you understand where they are coming from, it’s much easier to understand and accept that painful sting.

And ultimately, won’t it be that much sweeter when your deal finally does come through? Just think of all the hope you’ll be able to give to those who come after you when they ask, “Did you get a lot of rejections before your ‘yes’?” And you’ll say, “Yeah, a lot. Hang in there, it will happen for you too!”

“You never really fail until you quit.”- Anonymous

Happy writing!

For more information about agents, editors and rejection visit: http://www.kidlit411.com/2014/01/kidlit411-submission-how-to.html

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Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Children’s and YA Writer

www.marcieatkins.com

Marcie wasn’t able to contribute this month, but Marcie, ten other writers (many you may know), and I discuss “Dealing with rejections” on her blog. Here are the links:

http://www.marcieatkins.com/2013/04/20/were-all-in-this-together-rejection-post-1/

http://www.marcieatkins.com/2013/04/21/were-all-in-this-together-rejection-post-2/

* * *

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will offer links to a couple of my previous posts about rejections below.

TWELVE METHODS FOR COPING WITH REJECTIONS

This partly humorous and partly inspiring post offers the yin and yang of coping with rejections.

BLACK JELLYBEANS, MANUSCRIPT REJECTIONS, AND BEETS

This post talks about how taste influences rejections and acceptance.

From Marcie Flinchum Atkin’s blog: WHAT’S SO LOVELY ABOUT WRITING FOR CHILDREN? While all the writers’ answers are inspiring, mine relates to rejections, so be sure to scroll down until you get to my answer.

WHAT’S COMING IN PART TWO?

  • Teresa Robeson talks about growing out of the deep funk that rejections can induce.
  • Sophia Mallonée and Cindy Williams Schrauben both share their thoughts on the many sides of rejections.
  • Sylvia Liu gives her “numbers game” perspective along with sharing a bit about her favorite rejection.
  • I share a bunch of inspirational links on topics such as new perspectives, turning your rejections into successes, and taking criticism like a pro.

A list of all the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS posts.

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