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Posts Tagged ‘Picture book writing’

On Sunday, I shared my personal story and the inspiration for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Yesterday, I shared the homemade book that I made for my granddaughter’s third birthday. This was the very first version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I also shared a little bit about the path to publication and an update on my granddaughter. 

In today’s video, I read the published version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I hope you enjoy it. My next video will demonstrate ways teachers, parents, and adults reading to children can help the kids remain engaged by interactive sounds and motions. 

Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Also, if you want a copy in time for a Grandparents’ Day gift, there is still time to buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Book Depository (with free shipping around the world) and more.

I offer some projects and activities for kids to do to feel close to their loved ones on one of my old websites here.

For teachers:

I’ve found when doing school visits around Grandparents’ Day that prior to reading the book, kids like to share about their grandparents. It’s a good way to bring understanding to the kids that some kids have the same situation as them and others have very different from their situation. Some kids have grandparents in other parts of the country, some have grandparents in other countries, some have parents somewhat nearby, some have grandparents just down the street or next door, some have grandparents who live with them, and some have grandparents who are in nursing homes, hospitals, or have died. To save time, you can have more of a survey type thing where kids raise their hands if the question you ask matches their situation with their grandparent.

 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in Part 1, Part 2, and now Part 3 on this topic. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and just in case you missed it, you can read part one here and part two here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

HOW TO CUT AN ORIGINAL 304-WORD BEGINNING TO 76 WORDS

by Michelle Nott

Often when we sit down to write a new story, our beginnings are like Fred Flintstone’s feet scurrying fast underneath his car before it really gets going. But what the reader needs is not all the revving up, but the final kick that sets your story in motion.

As you begin to write, let your mind spin, write everything down. Then, once your manuscript is complete (not necessarily done, however), go back to the first words, paragraphs, pages, and see where your story really gets going. It may sound painful but go ahead and delete whatever doesn’t really jump-start your story.

What should be left is:

A hook – a detail about the setting, an interesting fact about your character, a catchy phrase, anything that will literally grab your reader’s interest and make them to want to read more.

An inciting incident – the hook will lose its grip on your reader if something doesn’t happen to your character. This moment should motivate your reader to want to see how events play out.

Here is an example from my upcoming picture book, TEDDY LET’S GO!

The absolute very first draft went like this… (and you don’t have to read it all to see it was entirely too long!)

“Many, many winters ago, a little girl was born. Her grandmother sat by her hospital window. She looked at the tiny hairs on the baby’s head and started to thread a needle. She touched the baby’s cheek and cut some shapes out of cotton fabric. She giggled seeing the little baby’s tongue slipping through her tiny lips and snipped a piece of red felt. The baby’s eyes were often shut, so Grandma picked some wide-open eyes from her craft box. She sat for hours threading, stitching, cutting. With every paw sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.

Then, with the strength of stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label.

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma’.

What a relief to be done! We left the hospital. Grandma gave me a final squeeze and packaged me up for Christmas. I peered out of a corner of the wrapping paper. The sun came and went several times. Lots of people came to visit and stood around a big tree with bright lights and colors. I could see Grandma’s mouth wide-open laughing. I could see a baby’s mouth wide-open crying. A bigger girl sat under the stockings. Her mouth was closed. She was combing her doll’s hair. Who will unwrap me? Grandma’s voice came closer, then I felt like I was flying. From my view, the baby was no bigger than I was. A lady whispered to her, “Look at this. It’s your first Christmas present. Let Mommy open it for you.”

That’s how it started…and how the crying ended. I lay down next to the baby. She rubbed her nose against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

A much later draft that caught the attention and interest of my agent and editor went like this… (a much tighter version of 76 words from the original 304!)

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear. Then she wrapped me up. And I floated.

The smell of pine drifted through my paper. I drifted from one pair of hands to another.

My head spun. My tummy clogged up with cotton. I pushed through the packaging.

“Teddy,” she said, “for you.”

[ILLO: A patch on the bear reads, “Specially hand-made by Grandma.”]

A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

By cutting out all the “revving up,” the story is more interesting, and the reader gets hooked much quicker. But all that preliminary spinning is often necessary for you, as the writer, to understand your characters and to be able to write the best version of their story. So, write as much as you need when you start, all the while knowing that you will go back and tighten in a way that serves your story best.

As for the final version of Teddy Let’s Go, it is slightly improved yet again. And that, you’ll be able to read as soon as it releases in 2022.

HOW TO USE MENTOR TEXTS TO GUIDE YOU WHILE WRITING BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I usually study beginnings before I write a beginning. This is where I turn to mentor texts. When I’m studying comp titles for a particular book I’m working on, I often keep a spreadsheet of things I want to keep track of. For more of how I keep track of mentor texts on spreadsheets, you can read my post here.

When I look at beginnings, I look at how the author bookended the first and last lines. When they are right next to each other on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to see how they fit together or diverge. I also notice what the author included on that first page. What are the things they wanted the reader to know right away? What did they leave out? Then I look at how they fashioned the beginning lines. What is the construct of those lines?

Then I look at my own work. I might try on first lines in various styles. I try out various starting points for the story. I sometimes even set a timer and write as many first lines as I can. Are there any gems? Are there ways I can combine? I realize it might take me lots of tries to get my first lines just right.

BEGINNINGS ARE A HUGE CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET THERE, THE STORY IS TRANSFORMED

by Beth Anderson

Thanks for this great topic – beginnings are such a challenge! Here are my thoughts….

Beginnings are difficult, require LOTS of work, and can make or break a story for an editor and readers. They have to be strong—they have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Pressure! I have to push myself to just dive in and know that I’ll be working on that beginning later – after I know the arc, the heart thread I want to resonate, and where I end up. Beginnings and endings are integrally related. Here are my essential elements for beginnings with the kind of stories I tell (narrative NF and historical fiction) and some examples from my books.

> The hook: kid friendly invitation to readers that sets up the story question to be answered at the end, often it sparks an emotional response in the reader. Readers are pulled in by that question and read to find out the answer. In “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses we get the superhero kid hook and, literally, a question. The opening of An Inconvenient Alphabet addresses the reader and offers the promise of something puzzling—a battle with the alphabet.

> The essentials: What do you need to know about the character and setting? (nothing extra!) The main character and their goal/want/need should be up front. The setting can be implied by illustrations with specifics added later—we don’t need to start with dates and places, but we need a sense of time and place. While you want to ground the reader, you don’t want anything that’s not essential to bog it down. Fill in needed back story and context as needed later, interwoven with action. Examples: I open with Tad Lincoln’s wriggle from birth, clearly involuntary; Prudence Wright’s (2/1/22) spark of independence; a bit about Ben Franklin and Noah Webster (but without names) and the American Revolution as rejecting the rule of England to set up the context and conflict.

> “Plant” seeds: What items or ideas will you need to support for later? What idea do you want to resonate at the end? I had to set up “Smelly” Kelly smelling water and recognizing the odor of elephants, and also the heroism “heart” of the story. On the first spread, Prudence Wright is visually connected with the antagonist that comes later. Sometimes the illustration on the title page or an epigraph (quote) with an illustration, as in the case of Tad Lincoln’s story, strengthen the opening by providing essential information and/or a few seeds.

> Action ASAP: What’s your inciting incident? How can you get to the action, the problem, the emotional response immediately? Often when sharing manuscripts, a critique partner will point to the spot where we first see characters in motion and conflict, and say, “This is where your story really starts.” There’s nothing better than beginning with action. That’s what pulls a young reader in, though that’s often a challenge. It’s harder to get the essentials, the seeds, and the hook embedded immediately in the action. But…I think it’s the most powerful. In Lizzie Demands a Seat!, the first spread has Lizzie in motion, heels clicking, in a hurry, purposeful. Also streetcar, horses, NYC, the pieces of setting we need right away. We get the heat, the stress of being late, and BOOM inciting incident. The shocking unfairness of what happened is obvious – kids recognize unfairness. Then after that emotional hit, we get more context to fully understand society of the time—incentive to keep reading.

Beginnings are a HUGE challenge, but when you finally get there, the story is transformed. The test is to see if you can keep crafting it until you’re there. I think it takes a lot of practice, ongoing learning, to learn how to embed all this information in a short, powerful opening. How can you embed key points without devoting a sentence to each of those pieces? How can you interweave the essentials within the action? The best way to learn about beginnings is to analyze those you consider effective. Good luck!

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kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in both Part 1 and Part 2. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and you can read part one here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

WELCOME READERS BY GIVING A PEEK INTO THE STORY WITH GREAT FIRST PAGES

by Ellen Leventhal

I love the topic of tips for writing outstanding beginnings. For me, this ties into last month’s topic about why it’s important for kid lit writers to read a lot of books in their genre. I read picture books with a different eye each time I pick them up, and recently I have been focused on beginnings and endings because they are both so important.

The first few lines matter for several reasons.

Beginnings of books invite the reader in. It’s the place to welcome your readers, so you want to make it welcoming and give a hint of what’s to come.

As picture book writers, we don’t have “the real estate” to give a lot of background. We have a lot to say in only 32 pages! (actually more like 28 pages). We need to give the readers a peek into the book. Is it humorous? Serious? Light hearted? In a picture book with a traditional arc, we need to introduce the character, what that character wants, and what is standing in the way right off the bat.

But we also can’t just jump in to something that doesn’t make sense to the reader so there needs to be some background in the first few lines. We walk a very thin line!

Remember, all of that information doesn’t all have to be in the first line, but it definitely needs to be close to the beginning. And the lines need to be crafted to make the reader want to read on. I recently re-read Jacqueline Woodson’s EACH KINDNESS. Her fist page just tells us it’s snowy…hmm. However, the description of the snow was just a few words, but they kept me engaged and hinted at something that drew me into the story. (HOW you say things matter) By the second page, we know what the story is about. One more page turn, and we know what the conflict is. BOOM! So was ALL this info in the first two or three lines? No, but pretty close, and it worked! Each page beckoned me to turn the page, and there were not a lot of words on each page.

Even concept books should set up the tone and theme from the very beginning. Parents picking up a book for their little ones, have many options. They want something to grab them. Think about CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert. The first time I read “A told B and B told C I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” I was hooked! I knew what it was about, I loved how unique it was, and it stood out from other alphabet books.

So how do writers do all this? It’s hard! I look up to many writer friends who are experts at awesome first lines.

For me, getting those first lines just right (and are they ever just right?) often takes loads of revision. I write my story first, knowing it’s going to go through multiple revisions before I’m even close to being happy with the beginning. I “wordsmith” the beginning as I go along, checking to make sure that the beginning, middle, and end still make sense together. I actually have a list of great first lines I’ve thought of. Of course, a list of first lines doesn’t make a story, but maybe someday they’ll appear in one. You never know!

Here are a few of my first lines that did make it into print.

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS:
The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.

LOLA CAN’T LEAP:
Lola came from a long line of leapers. She wanted to leap too, but… (second page sets up the conflict)

DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Co-written with Ellen Rothberg)
Sue Ellen had a mind of her own. When the other cows mooed, Sue Ellen Whistled. When the other cows strolled, Sue Ellen danced. And when Max put a sign in the South Pasture, Sue Ellen stomped her foot. (First two pages…the words on the sign sets up the conflict)

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

QUOTABLE QUOTES ON BEGINNINGS: ADVICE FROM SOME OF THE GREATS OF WRITING (plus a little extra from me)

By Rob Sanders

To inspire myself when writing and revising, I often look to advice from some of the greats of writing. After all, I’m not the first person who has walked down the road of writing a story. And I’m certainly not the first who has tried to determine the best way to begin a story in hopes of capturing the attention of my audience. That struggle began millions of years ago when our ancestors orally shared tales around roaring fires.

Some seem to think that beginnings (and maybe writing in general) are easy. Lewis Carrol must have known a few folks like that when he said:

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Carroll

Carroll knew the process of writing was more complex than that, right? We have to remember the complexity of our craft, too. So, let’s back up and begin at the beginning. What is a beginning?

“The beginning is the promise of the end.” -Henry Ward Beecher

The beginning does not exist in isolation. It must be linked to what comes after it—the middle—and the beginning and the middle must lead to a satisfying conclusion. But be warned. You won’t nail the beginning in the beginning.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott says it’s okay for my first efforts to be less-than stellar, that’s good enough for me. But I’m still left wondering what a beginning needs to accomplish. A beginning often (or nearly always) begins with the character, the character’s desire, the character’s problem, or the character’s situation.

“First find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” -Ray Bradbury

To write about a character we have to know as much as possible about that character. We need to know what motivates the character, what makes them who they are. We need to know the story behind the story.

“Everything must have a beginning . . . and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” -Mary Shelley

But be cautious—it seems that the biggest problem with beginnings is that they often get lost in back story. While back story is essential to the writer it is usually nonessential to the reader. Find the back story, then edit out as much as possible. Speaking of editing and revision, the beginning will change and grow and develop as the story does.

“By the time I’m nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times.” -Roald Dahl

Often it is only after you’ve finished a story (is a story ever finished?) that the beginning becomes clear.

“I write the beginning last.” -Richard Peck

Here’s the thing—we writers often overthink things. Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time with in our own heads or because we spend so much time in front of a monitor or because we work again and again and again to find the just-right word. Sometimes, we can think so much that we don’t write. So, the best advice for beginnings might come from a race car driver.

“To finish first, you must first finish.” -Rick Mears

Or we could revise that a bit to say, “To finish, you must first begin.” Better yet, we might let a motivational speaker inspire us and our beginnings.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -Zig Ziglar

You have greatness inside you. You have stories inside you. You have beginnings inside you. Now, go on—begin!

OPENING LINES ARE HOW AN AUTHOR MAKES A STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION ON THE READER

by Vivian Kirkfield

I was always taught that first impressions are really important. You wear a new outfit on the first day of school. You give a firm handshake at a job interview. And in a manuscript, the opening lines are how the author makes a strong first impression on the reader. Opening lines are a doorway into the story – they give the reader a taste of what’s to come and they often set up the promise that will be fulfilled with the satisfying ending. I’m a big fan of concrete examples and so I’ll share a few of my favorite opening lines from some of my own stories – and also the closing lines that mirror them:

The Boys Who Dreamed of Flying: Opening Line: “At a time when most of the world believed human flight was impossible, one boy thought differently.”

Closing Line: “And it all started with Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers, as different as could be, who worked together to take the first step in that starry direction.”

Black Forest or Bust: Opening Line: “Something had to be done. And Bertha Benz was tired of waiting for her husband to do it.”

Closing Line: “And in July of 2016, exactly 125 years after a determined young woman tiptoed past her sleeping husband to take her children on a visit to their grandmother’s house, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, in recognition of her invaluable contribution to the development and design of the modern automobile.”

Raye Draws Her Own Lines: Opening Line: “When Raye Montague was seven years old, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.”

Closing Line: “The tour director had been right all those long years ago. Raye didn’t need to worry about becoming an engineer…she just went out and did it!”

Making Their Voices Heard: Opening Line: “Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be.”

Closing Line: “On the outside, these two stars couldn’t have looked more different. But on the inside, they both understood that sometimes even stars need a little help to shine.”

One of my favorite ways to get opening line inspiration for a new nonfiction picture book bio is to read some of my favorites…classics or current ones. I study how those authors crafted their opening lines. Then I go to my research and look for something that jumps out at me. It’s not a scientific way of doing it…but somehow, it works.

A MINI-LESSON IN WRITING GREAT BEGINNINGS

by Rosie Pova

For me a great beginning should not only accomplish several important things all at once, but also do so smoothly and organically.

1. Introduce the main character so the reader knows immediately who to root for

Whenever I critique manuscripts, I often see stories that open with a secondary character speaking or “entering” the scene first, and that causes confusion. If I, as the reader, get on board and ready to see the world through the eyes of the first character I encounter only to find that that was not the star of the story, that creates disconnect as my focus was misplaced.

2. Give a sense of the character’s personality

This is where the reader forms a first impression about the main character and they must engage the audience with something interesting, unique, fresh, intriguing etc. about themselves.

3. Establish the premise.

This is very important — it’s the “promise” the story makes to the reader and it’s also what we would come back to to measure up against and see whether that promise has been fulfilled by the resolution.

4. Establish the tone.

There should be no confusion about that.

5. Evoke a strong desire to keep reading and find out more.

Say too much, and you might lose the reader. Say too little, and you might confuse the reader. Make it just right!

So, if your beginning hits all the marks above, you’re golden!

A FEW MORE FIRST LINES FROM MY BOOKS

by Alayne Kay Christian

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, illustrated by Milanka Reardon

“On an island off the coast of Brazil, a black blob bobbed on the beach. The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam. It squeaked. Joao squinted and moved closer.

Slippery.

            Heavy.

                        Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled. It could not stand.”

These first lines let you know who, what, and where.

Where: The story occurs on an island off the coast of the Brazil.

Who: João and a dying penguin (you learn the penguin’s name on the next page)

What: João discovers a dying penguin.

It also sets the tone or demonstrates the voice. It creates questions that make the reader want to turn the page. What will João do next? What will happen to the poor little penguin? The next pages connect the reader emotionally to both João and the penguin.  

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRSITMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, illustrated by Polina Gortman

“When Weed was a seed, it tumbled on a breeze and snuggled in a crack, smack-dab in the middle of a busy traffic island.

Spring rains showered, and Weed sprouted.

Summer sun warmed. Weed grew.

Cars zoomed. People zipped and scurried—always in a hurry.

But no one noticed Weed.”

We know this story is about a weed that wants to be noticed. We can tell the story is set in a big city. And we get a sense of the voice/tone. We are left wondering what will happen to weed. We build a slight emotional connection (especially anyone who can relate to longing to be “seen” in a big world too busy and unaware to see). In this book, the illustrations help tell the story and raise more interest when the reader sees that weed isn’t the only one going unnoticed. What about the homeless man and his dog who are seeking kindness?

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, illustrated by Joni Stingfield

“Emily loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They let her eat sweets, stay up late, and jump on the bed. She could skip her bath, make lots of noise, and run in the house.

Grandma and Grandpa played with her, read her stories, and let her help in the garden.

Emily loved her time with Grandma and Grandpa except for one thing. . . .”

With these first lines the ellipsis is used as discussed in Part 1 on writing outstanding beginnings. This leaves the reader wondering what that “one thing” is, and it compels the reader to turn the page and keep reading–it pulls the reader forward into the story. 

SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: COWBOY TROUBLE, illustrated by Blake Marsee

“I was happier than a snake sunning on a woodpile when Aunt Rose asked me to be in her elegant wedding. I was sadder than a rodeo clown on a rainy day when I learned flower girls wear dresses and fancy shoes.”

This is the first paragraph of a chapter book. This book is book 2 in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. So, there is a prologue written in the form of a letter from Sienna. Therefore, the reader has a sense of who, what, where and tone before they read this first paragraph. This first paragraph, informs the reader that this is a story about a girl who has a problem. Her Aunt Rose wants her to be in her elegant wedding, but that means wearing a dress and fancy shoes!

The last page in the chapter reveals Sienna’s fears. “I’d look mighty silly in a dress. I’d trip over my own feet in them fancy shoes. And I ain’t much good at manners neither.” We learn she is struggling with those fears but also the fear of of hurting Aunt Rose’s feelings and making her sad if she refuses to be a flower girl.

So, by the end of the chapter, the readers have been informed enough to pull them forward into the story.

MORE TO COME!

Next week Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, and Michelle Nott will share their wisdom, tips, and even some worksheets for writing outstanding first lines. 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we feel 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. So, it seems the best place to start is the beginning. When I was acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, if the first lines of a manuscript didn’t capture me, the story usually didn’t engage me. I always say, if the first lines don’t hook the agent or editor you’ve submitted to, what will make them think they will capture readers?

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips and examples. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. You’ll notice that some of our wise authors talk about the ending of the story as much as the beginning. There is good reason for this. In my picture book writing course Art of Arc, I interrupt the lessons on writing beginnings to talk about endings. Following are a few excerpts from Art of Arc to explain why it’s smart to think about endings when writing your beginning. You’ll also find more on the subject of endings in some of the wise-authors’ answers in this post and the two to come.

Excerpts from Art of Arc

“You might think that endings would be the final lesson presented in a course on writing and analyzing picture books, but another common problem that I have found in writing critiques is there is often a disconnect between the beginning of the story and the end. The ending has so much to do with the beginning and the rest of the story that it is important to start thinking about it at the beginning.”

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

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses
I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing.

Happy Book Birthday

Listen_coverMost of the people in this group are from my groups for 2021 picture book releases: 2021 Word Birds and Twenty One-derful Picture Books. Before I move on, I’d like to congratulate one of our Twenty One-derful group members Gabi Snyder. Her picture book LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will be coming into the world on July 13. Happy Early Birthday baby LISTEN!

Peach and Cream Photo Spring Quote Twitter Post

Also, friends have made me aware that I failed to let the world know about my latest Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Book: COWBOY TROUBLE. So, I thought this would be a good time to let everyone know it is there and would make an excellent summer reading book. You and your children can read the first three chapters on You Tube (see below). The “cowboy trouble” begins in chapter three. I also share the book trailer for anyone who is interested.

Words of Wisdom

Since, as usual, my answer is the most wordy, I will lead with it.

THE FIRST LINES OF A BOOK ARE THE DOOR TO YOUR STORY. THE WORDS INVITE THE READER TO STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD AND ENTER THE STORY WORLD.

by Alayne Kay Christian

I decided to take the easy way out and pull some excerpts from my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Unfortunately, it ended up being a hard way to go because I struggled to choose just a few words to share from the course. I thought it might be fun to introduce some of the reasons a strong beginning is so important. So here goes. . . .

Have you ever seen carnival barkers in old movies? “Step right up!” they shout to people passing by. They describe attractions. They emphasize variety; advertise novelty, oddity, beauty, challenge, and fun. Their barks are intended to create curiosity, generate excitement, and entice listeners to buy tickets to entertainment. Sometimes, they conduct short shows for free, where they introduce performers and describe acts. Their promises of entertainment are all intended to entice and incite the passersby to come on in!

In the old days, or in old movies, a newspaper boy shouted things like, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Bonnie and Clyde shot dead!” The purpose of this? All to create excitement and curiosity that would entice people to buy an extra edition of the newspaper.

Without the red carpet and fanfare on Oscar night, would the event be nearly as exciting, inviting, or enticing?

In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, would the beginning have been nearly as engaging without the yellow brick road, the fantastic send-off song, and Dorothy’s cheerful dance down the road? Not to mention, the switch from black and white images to color. What if Dorothy had just said, “Okay—I’ll go find the wizard.” and then shuffled along aimlessly in silence through a black and white setting, sans the road? Would we have been as eager to follow her into the story?

The barkers, the newsboys, the red carpet, and the yellow brick road all pave the way for an event, an experience, a journey, an adventure, or whatever it might be, to unfold. The first lines in our books pave the way for our idea/story/plot and our protagonist’s and readers’ journey to unfold. The whole objective of first lines is to capture readers’ attention and make them want more. We want to entice and incite them to come on in, buy into the experience, and commit to taking the journey with our protagonist. This is often referred to as the hook.

A good hook creates questions and curiosity. It makes a promise that says, “This is what the story is about.” It also sets expectations and maybe even evokes emotions. Wow! That’s a lot to accomplish in a picture book page or two. This is true, but writers do it all the time, proving that it can be done. . . .

. . . In picture books, we often incite the reader’s interest with words such as the following, “but,” “until,” “one day,” and we use the three little dots . . . called the ellipsis. Interestingly enough, these words and punctuation that incite the reader to turn the page usually lead to the inciting incident—the event that energizes the story’s progression. This event moves your protagonist into the action of the story. It also pulls him out of his ordinary world into a new world where change can occur—the door to our story.

Why are these words (“but,” “one day,” “until” and so on) or the ellipsis used so frequently? They work to keep the reader reading. How? They create a pause or a moment of silence that gives the reader an opportunity to think, imagine, guess, ask questions, and experience emotions. It makes them stop and pay closer attention. Using these techniques hint at what’s to come, which in turn creates curiosity. Sometimes they are the arrow that points to the heart of the story. Using these techniques are great ways to hook a reader. They all suggest there is something coming, and they create anticipation. It could lead to an answer, reveal a secret, hint at danger, present the unexpected, and so on. All of the above hook the reader. When the reader is hooked, she is pulled into the story far enough that she wants to read more.

I’d love to share more, but we have many great words of wisdom waiting for you, so let’s move on.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR READERS INTRIGUED AND WANTING MORE?

by Kirsti Call

Richard Peck said: “You’re only as good as your opening line.” How do we keep our readers intrigued and wanting more?

Ask a question. Asking a question gets readers thinking. Not a Box immediately asks: “Why are you sitting in a box?” We want to turn the page to find out the answer. The Day the Babies Crawled Away questions: “Remember the day the babies crawled away?” This piques our interest. We want to know what happened on that fateful day. Did the babies survive? Where did they go?

Take People by Surprise. Mustache Baby declares: “When Baby Billy was born, his family noticed something odd: He had a mustache.” A baby with a mustache? We have to read on. Leonardo the Terrible Monster tells us: “Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.” A monster who isn’t scary? I can’t wait to turn the page.

Use word play. Being Frank starts with: “Frank was always frank” and Bridget’s Beret is similar: “Bridget was drawn to drawing.” There’s nothing better than the clever use of words to get people wanting more.

Using questions, surprise, wonder, opinion and word play makes the first sentences of our stories irresistible.

FIRST LINES THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE STORY—AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite techniques when I am writing is to use a first line that will be echoed throughout the book.

For example, the first line of Juniper Kai: Super Spy reads, “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy.” This line comes back in the middle, when Juniper is feeling left out: “It didn’t matter if she had nobody to play with. Because Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone.” Then the line comes back a third time at the end: “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone. Sometimes. But sometimes a spy needs a good co-agent. And Juniper Kai knew she was born to be…a spy-tacular big sister.”

Another example is in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday. Like the title, the first line reads, “I got a chicken for my birthday.” This line is repeated throughout the book: ”I got a chicken for my birthday. And the chicken has a list.” “I got a chicken for my birthday. And now the chicken stole my dog.” The line then comes back at the end. “I got a chicken for my birthday. And it was the Best. Present. Ever.”

The reason I like this technique so much is that you can see your character growing and changing by the way that repeated line is used at the end compared with at the beginning. In Juniper Kai: Super Spy, Juniper goes from being a lonely only child to wondering what secret her parents are hiding, to being an eager big sister. In I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, Ana goes from feeling perplexed (and a bit annoyed) by the strange birthday gift from her grandmother, to even more perplexed (and more annoyed) as the chicken begins recruiting her pets to build something huge in the backyard, to feeling absolutely thrilled (and realizing that her grandmother knew exactly what she was doing all along).

I also love this technique when I see it in other people’s writing! Any book that starts and ends with a similar line tends to leave me smiling and satisfied!

FIRST LINES PROVIDE A PEEK INTO THE WORLD OF THE STORY

by Melissa Stoller

First lines in a picture book set the tone and the mood for the story. Like an invitation that might provide an initial glimpse into the theme of a party, a first line can provide a peek into the world of a story. When I draft the first few lines, I try to give the reader an idea of what will come next, what the character might want, and a little bit about the setting, if possible. Of course, I write, rewrite, revise, and tweak as the story evolves. The first line that I start with is usually not the first line that is printed. Also, when I finish writing the story, I go back to ensure that the ending works with the beginning. I love to have first and last lines that complement each other, that show growth of the main character, and that leave the reader with that special something that makes them want to read the story over and over.

Here are examples of first and last lines from two of my picture books:

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

First line: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

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

Throughout the story, Scarlet realizes that she wants to rely on her own magical creativity instead of the magic of the paintbrush.

READY, SET, GORILLA!

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

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

Over the course of the story, Gorilla realizes that playing fair, good sportsmanship, and being a good friend make him a winner.

Happy writing and editing as you draft the best first lines for your stories!

FIRST LINES IN EARLY DRAFTS ARE OFTEN A TYPE OF WARM UP WRITING UNTIL YOU FIND THE PERFECT WORDS

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

The beginning of a story is still very much a draft until I write and then polish the ending. Eventually, I return to the beginning and rework it until I’m satisfied that it aligns with (and is worthy of) the ending I have carefully crafted. Sometimes I discover that the “beginning” is actually several sentences into the story I have written, which means I have to cut some (often many) of my beloved words. To make this process easier on myself, I usually create a document called “darlings I had to cut” that I can copy and paste these tender words into, so I can bare to part with them in the working draft of my story. I rarely, if ever, go back and retrieve these “darlings,” but saving them “just in case,” allows me the creative freedom to vigorously revise, so the story can start right where it needs to, and without all of the unnecessary “throat clearing” that often shows up at the beginning of my earlier drafts.

I will also mention that Richard Peck offered his wisdom on this topic (as it relates to writing novels, but widely applicable), in this 2006 article for The Horn Book: In the Beginning: What Makes a Good Beginning? 

MORE TO COME!

There will be two more posts (July 10 and July 17) on this topic with lots of great information coming from the following wise authors: Vivian Kirkfield, Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, and Rob Sanders. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers Most Important Lesson Learned

 

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

 

COMPARISON, CRITICISM, AND JUDGMENT

A WRITER’S WORST ENEMIES
by Alayne Kay Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

SUCCESS LIVES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF FAILURE
by Kirsti Call

My most important lesson learned on my publication journey:

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

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

Happy Creating!

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

 

WRITING AUTHENTICALLY IS A MUST
by Rob Sanders

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

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

 

WRITING IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
by Pippa Chorley

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

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

 

EVERYONE’S WRITING PROCESS IS DIFFERENT
by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

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

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

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

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On Friday, I announced changes for Blue Whale Press and me. I also announced a new series coming to my blog. I’m going to repeat it here, but also fully introduce you to the KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM team. So here goes . . . I’m resurrecting my “All About” blog series (All About Submissions and All About Platforms) combined with Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s “We’re All In This Together” series—with Marcie’s permission of course. Thanks, Marcie! And boy do we have some fantastic multi-published authors to tackle our old topics and lots of new ones. We’ll be sharing our wisdom and stories about the world of kid lit writing and publishing. And because of all our combined years of kid lit writing experience, we will be giving the series a new name. KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM (Over 170 years of combined experience as authors!)

We believe that kid-lit writers have lots of questions about writing, agents, publishing, editors, submissions, platforms, and more. Our intention is that Kid Lit Writing Wisdom will be a very helpful resource. Do you have a question?

IF YOU HAVE WRITING OR PUBLISHING QUESTIONS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE THE TEAM ADDRESS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

Please allow me to introduce the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team.

All of our team members (except for one) have new picture books coming out or already released this year. We are either members of 2021 Word Birds or Twenty One-derful Picture Books in 2021 or both. Bios and more follow the list.

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

 

Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way. Learn more about Beth at bethandersonwriter.com Signed copies of Beth’s books can be found here.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is a teacher-librarian by day and a children’s book writer in the wee hours of the morning. She holds an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature (Millbrook Press, 2019) is her most recent book. Marcie also serves as the nonfiction coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI region. She muses about mentor texts and making time to write at marcieatkins.com. She’s on Twitter and Instagram as @MarcieFAtkins.

 

Kirsti Call is the co-hosts of the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She’s a critique ninja and elf for 12×12, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a Rate Your Story judge. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti is a therapist trained life coach for creatives. Her picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) moooved onto shelves last fall. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Learn more about Kirsti by visiting kirsticall.com.

 

Pippa Chorley is the award-winning author of three picture books. She grew up in a picturesque village in England and now lives in sunny Singapore with her husband and their three children. As a child, she spent her days dreaming up magical worlds on her family dog walks. Today, Pippa can still be found composing stories on her morning walks with their springer spaniel, Jasper.

Trained as a primary school teacher, Pippa loves to write stories that make children giggle and think outside the box. Her newly released picture book, STUFFED! (illustrated by Danny Deeptown) empowers children to use their imaginations and problem solve with courage and kindness. Watch out for Pippa’s next picture book OUT OF THE BOX, which is due to be released at the end of 2021 and is sure to be ‘out of this world’! To learn more about Pippa and her books visit pippachorleystories.com.

 

Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. She was the co-founder of Blue Whale Press and the acquisitions editor and art director for three years. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Her published works include the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series, and picture books BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN, and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED. Her fourth picture book, FAITH BENEATH THE BRIDGE is planned for release in the fall of 2021. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart. To learn more about Alayne visit alaynekaychristianauthor.com.

 

 

Laura Gehl is the author of more than two dozen board books, picture books, and early readers, including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, My Pillow Keeps Moving, Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer, and the Baby Scientist series. Her work has won awards, appeared on state and national reading lists, and been translated into numerous languages. For information about new books and free downloadable teacher’s guides, please visit lauragehl.com.

 

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. Vivian’s books are available at Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores, as well as Bookshop.org and Amazon. If you order from her local indie, Toadstool Bookstore in Nashua, you can get a signed copy. If you order from anywhere else and would like a signed bookplate, please email her at: viviankirkfield@gmail.com. To learn more about Vivian and all of her books visit viviankirkfield.com.

 

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to Ellenleventhal.com.

 

Michelle Nott is a freelance editor, published poet, and children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction, in prose and verse. She has authored two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames. Her debut picture book, Teddy Let’s Go!, is forthcoming from Enchanted Lion Press (Fall 2021). Michelle grew up in the U.S. and has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. She holds American and French citizenship and is bilingual, English and French. Her extensive travel around the U.S., Europe and Africa fuels her imagination and appreciation for story and world cultures. To learn more about Michelle visit authormichellenott.com.

 

Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children’s author, poet, speaker, and writing coach. She’s a Writing Instructor for the Dallas Independent School District through The Writer’s Garret, an instructor with Writing Workshops Dallas, teaching online picture book courses to children’s writers, and also serves as a judge for Rate Your Story.

Rosie speaks on many women’s topics as well and has appeared on radio and print media.

Her upcoming picture book, Sunday Rain, celebrates imagination, the love of books, and new friendships. Her other upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in spring of 2022. Visit Rosie at rosiejpova.com.

 

Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Lucy’s Blooms (forthcoming, 2021), Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist. She is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at dawnprochovnic.com.

 

Rob Sanders is a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. He is known for his funny and fierce fiction and nonfiction picture books and is recognized as one of the pioneers in the arena of LGBTQ+ literary nonfiction picture books.

This year Rob will release TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING (Little Bee Books) and STITCH-BY-STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT (Magination Press). His 2020 releases included THE FIGHTING INFANTRYMAN: THE STORY OF ALBERT D. J. CASHIER, TRANSGENDER CIVIL WAR SOLIDER (Little Bee Books), MAYOR PETE: THE STORY OF PETE BUTTIGIEG (Henry Holt & Co.) and BLING BLAINE: THROW GLITTER, NOT SHADE (Sterling). Rob is co-regional advisor for SCBWI Florida and a frequent speaker, teacher, and critiquer.

A native of Springfield, Missouri, he has lived in Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee. After earning a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Religious Education, Rob worked for fifteen years in children’s religious educational publishing as a writer, educational consultant, trainer, editor, editorial group manager, and product developer.

In 2006, Rob moved to Florida and began working as an elementary school teacher. Soon he was serving as a district writing trainer and resource teacher. But he spent most of his career teaching fourth graders about books and words and reading and writing. Rob took retirement in December 2020 and now is writing full time. To learn more about Rob visit robsanderswrites.com/.

He is represented by Rubin Pfeffer.

 

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island (Clear Fork Publishing); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. (Clear Fork). Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks. To learn more about Melissa and her books visit MelissaStoller.com.

IF YOU HAVE WRITING OR PUBLISHING QUESTIONS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE THE TEAM ADDRESS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

We’ll be back soon with our first words of wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

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This two-part Q&A with Kathryn Otoshi was originally posted way back in 2013. I’m sure a lot has changed for Kathryn since then. But one thing I know for sure is her success continues to grow. I thought it might be fun to bring this oldie but goodie back for all you Kathryn fans. Following is the interview as it appeared in 2013.

Before I get started, I want to give a giant THANKS to Kathryn Otoshi for taking many hours out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and for sharing so much of herself with us in this interview. Today, I am happy to post Part 2 of my interview with Kathryn and even happier to first offer the bonus of Kathryn’s thoughts regarding THE TOP FIVE THINGS THAT MAKE A SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHED BOOK.

There are many definitions floating around for “Independent Publisher.” I tend to like the following: Jenkins Group, Inc., the organizers of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, define “independent” as 1) independently owned and operated; 2) operated by a foundation or university; or 3) long-time independents that became incorporated but operate autonomously and publish fewer than 50 titles a year.

Keep an eye out for future posts on independent publishing.

BONUS INTERVIEW QUESTION AND ANSWER

AKC: What are the top five things that you think make a successful independently published book?

KO:

  1. Write about a story or topic you feel strongly about — First and foremost there must be a real love and passion for the story you are writing about. I’ve always felt that the author must be absolutely fascinated with the story they are telling in order to be motivated to finish it. And also for the reader to be engaged with it as well! Another suggestion: do your research. Do your homework. If you want to connect with your readers, then start connecting with them before your book is published. Be willing to read a draft mock up to whoever your target audience is. I read to classrooms, teachers, booksellers, young kids, and parents to get their feedback on my children’s book. I found that experience invaluable. Then when your book is published, you will need to go out and do author visits. You must feel passionate about your story for you to be able to speak about it over and over, again and again and still keep it real.
  2. Strong production value — The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t apply to children’s books! With thousands of books for a reader to choose from, having a strong production value with appropriate design does indeed matter. An elegant embossment or appropriately placed foil stamp on a jacket, for example, is never lost on your readers. They might not be able to vocalize about exactly why one book might feel ‘good’ over another, but they will instinctively know that the loving details are in there. Graphic design is key. Bringing on a professional graphic designer for your book to have a strong visual appeal is necessary. If you are independently publishing a book, how your book ‘reads’ across a room or how you package it becomes a deciding factor on if your book is picked up – or not.
  3. Have a business plan and budget — While it’s true, that most of us agree that writing and illustrating is a labor of love, publishing is a business. You must factor in all aspects when you publish a book. Be willing to take off your creative hat momentarily to look at how much it will cost to properly produce your book. And how much will it cost to properly support your book in the market so that it will have the best chance for success?  Editing, designing, distributing, printing, marketing and advertising all have a price tag attached. Other questions that involve your overall budget are: how much should you list the book for?  How many copies of the book should you print for the first run? Will you print 2,000 copies of this book? Or 10,000 copies? And if it’s a success, do you have enough buffer in your budget to be able to push the print button right away?
  4. Marketing strategy and distribution is key — Almost 1/3 of my overall budget is set aside for Marketing. Consider the review copies that need to be sent out. Budgets need to be set aside for contests and awards, for conferences, travel, promotional materials, fliers, postcards, bookmarks, ads, website updates and social media. The list goes on. Decide up front how much you want to set aside to promote your book so you know how much you’ll need to budget for. And although Distribution should probably be in its own category, I put it next to Marketing here for the purpose of consolidation. But in a nutshell, having the right distributor for your company to get you into the right channels can make all the difference in the world for the success of your book. I found John Kremer’s web site very helpful in obtaining an initial list of book distributors to start the researching process.
  5. Get involved — Go out there and get involved in your book community! Do readings, go to conferences, meet booksellers, join organizations, have coffee with other authors and illustrators. Listen to your peers speak at events. While writing is by its very nature, introverted, the other part of getting your book out there is you getting yourself out there. So move away from your desk, out of your room, through the door and into the world. In today’s book market, part of sharing your story is also about sharing a part of you.

MORE ABOUT KATHRYN AND WRITING ILLUSTRATING

AKC: How many awards have your collective works received?

KO: Collectively over 20, I’d say.

Teacher’s Choice Award, the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor, and the Flicker Tale Award.

AKC: Which came first, the desire to illustrate picture books or the desire to write?

KO: My desire to simply tell a story rises above my desire to illustrate or write a children’s picture book.  If I absolutely had to make a decision between the two though, I’d probably choose writing…but whew – it would be a very close call.

AKC: Out of all the books you have illustrated, do you have a favorite? How about those you have written?

KO: I suppose I had fun illustrating ONE the most. In general, I’m a representational illustrator. So for my book ONE, where all the blobs of color are symbolic, this was very unique style for me, but also the most freeing. Originally, One started as a story about differences – physical differences. I thought, “What if I created a story about children with totally different colored faces?” Instead of using white, black, brown skin tones, etc – I could use completely different colors like green, purple, blue and orange!  Gradually in my quest to make One as simple as a story possible and boiling it down to its core essence – I ended up making the children’s faces into splotches of colors instead. It was a risk because of the abstraction, but I think that by doing so, I got more leeway to touch upon complex themes and subject matters.

AKC: Where did you get the idea or inspiration for your books?

KO: Mostly from life. “What Emily Saw” is about a day of discovery through the eyes of a little girl. But it’s also based on my own childhood memories. There’s a page spread in there where there’s a hill that transforms into the back of a dinosaur. That’s what I used to imagine when I was growing up! That the hills were the backs of sleeping dinos!

AKC: What advice would you give to writers?

KO: I would say…keep it authentic. And being passionate about your story.  It needs to be meaningful to you if it’s going to mean something to someone else. Everything is key to making a children’s book work because everything is so honed down: the text, the illustrations all the way to the graphic design and production of the book. Even the size of the book and the style of the font have a big influence on the overall look and feel of the book. A children’s book is so limited in text, you have to ask yourself  – What  is each page saying? Is it leading toward my theme? The core ingredients to making a children’s book really solid is to ask yourself a lot of questions about what is working and what is not. Is it really saying what I want it to say in the least amount of words possible? Then before the book is released, it is crucial to read the story to children, parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians – the book lovers in general. They are your audience. Stories are meant to be shared, after all.

AKC: What advice would you give to illustrators?

Before starting the illustration, ask yourself the question: What am I trying to say here? And then ask yourself, What else can I tell the reader that wasn’t in the text? The illustrations are just as important as the text in a children’s picture book. And the pictures should say what the text does not. If your story starts out as “Morris was a lonely mole” …the illustrator has this wonderful opportunity to show us how lonely Morris really is! Is he so lonely, there are cobwebs on his doorknob? Are there briar branches blocking his pathway? A welcome mat that is new and shiny, and never been used? Pictures are a glorious way to engage young readers. Children see and understand images before they ever learn to read. If we get children interested in reading children’s books at an early age, they will become readers for a lifetime. How wonderful! I’m thrilled to be a part of that process.

So for me, it’s making the page come alive. I’m still learning how to do this, by the way. It takes all my experience about composition, leading the eye to where you want it to go, using gesture, POV, lighting, values…and finally the x-factor — your own style, which will summon the page and bring your characters to life.

Through a story, if you are able to create something that influences a young reader in some positive way, however minor – to me, that is true success.

 AKC: Do you have any projects in the works that you are able to tell us about?

KO: I am currently working on a chapter book called “Peter Dobb and the Wondrous Pod” and then two more picture books. I’m coming up with ideas for a graphic novel to pitch in a year. Just recently, I’ve started working on a short screenplay which deals with love, loss and memory.

Please read INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN OTOSHI, PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR AND SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER – PART ONE for Kathryn’s bio with photo, a list of her published books with links, and a link to KO Kids Books.

This concludes my interview with Kathryn Otoshi.  I hope you have found it as informative as I have. With one final thank you to Kathryn, we are done.

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

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

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

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

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

Writers, this one is for you.

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

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

Another one for writers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And one last bit of fun for writers.

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

 

  

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Before I share Melissa’s wonderful post, there are a few things I want to announce.

The winners of my book and critique giveaways are Cathy Ogren and Kim Delude. Cathy has won a copy of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain. Kim has won a critique on the first three chapters of her chapter book. Congratulations! Thank you to all who participated in the giveaway by commenting and sharing the link.

September is Chapter Book Challenge Lite month (a.k.a. ChaBooCha Lite). This is another chance for writers to challenge themselves, and to give themselves a deadline for writing a book. The goal is to write the first draft of an early reader, chapter book, middle grade book or YA novel within a month. Want to join the fun? Sign up here.

 

I am pleased to have my friend, Spork sister, and fellow Chapter Book Challenge member Melissa Stoller as a guest blogger today. She is offering a chance to win your choice of a copy of her book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, or a chapter book critique (first three chapters), or a picture book critique. All you have to do is comment. Be sure that your name is on the comment.

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK

by Melissa Stoller

My debut chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, released from Clear Fork Publishing shortly after Alayne’s chapter book, SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN. I enjoyed following Alayne’s posts about the differences between picture books and chapter books here and here. And I blogged about writing chapter books as well here and here.

Melissa with book

When Alayne asked me to comment further about this topic, I wondered what I could add that would be new and fresh. I decided that a Top Ten List would do the trick. So here goes:

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK:

  1. Length of the Book – In a chapter book, the author has room for more words. I tried to keep each of the ten chapters of my book to approximately five hundred words each. That was a general rule I used for my own planning purposes but I think it helped to keep each chapter on track. And in picture books, I aim for the sweet spot of approximately five hundred words. So just by doing the math, it is apparent that I would tell a story much differently in 500 words rather than 5000 words. I liked the longer format a chapter book afforded me to tell this story.
  2. Age of the Characters – My main characters are nine-year-old twins. Generally, young readers enjoy reading about characters who are a bit older than they are. The book is geared to children ages 5-8, with the main characters falling just above that mark. This older age of the main characters fits in perfectly with a chapter book structure.
  3. Age of the Reader – In a chapter book, the reader can be a bit older and may be more sophisticated than the reader of a picture book. The sweet spot for picture books is generally 3-5 years old. The sweet spot for chapter books is generally 5-8 year olds. These ages tend to fluctuate and the lines get blurry, but that’s how I categorize them in my mind. Writing for each age group has its rewards, you just have to know your audience.
  4. Number of Characters – The common wisdom is that the fewer the characters the better in a picture book. Picture book writers generally stick to a few characters so that the plot is tightly woven. In a chapter book, that general number of characters can expand. In my book, the main characters are twins. Plus, I include their grandmother and her dog Molly, and then Jessie and her two sisters Anna and Pauline, and finally Jack. They all had some character development (some more than others) and I had the time and word count to include relevant details and dialogue to shape them. In a picture book, there just isn’t the word count, the attention span of the young reader, or the availability of plot to include so many characters.
  5. Complexity of the Plot – A picture book usually focuses tightly on one problem or issue, and one or two characters who are somehow growing or changing. That is enough for the young reader who is the target audience for the picture book. In contrast, a chapter book’s plot can be more complex, and can have more sub-plots, twists, and turns.
  6. Dependence on Illustrations – Whereas the magic in a picture book comes from the meeting of the text and the illustrations, in a chapter book the magic usually comes mostly from the text. The chapter book illustrator enhances the story and helps bring the story to life, but usually there are only a few full-page and/or spot illustrations per chapter. The book is not dependent on illustration as a picture book is (hence the difference in title between a picture book and a chapter book).
  7. Dialogue – A picture book usually doesn’t have excessive dialogue because there is a potential for the characters to just seem like “talking heads.” Of course there are exceptions and there can be dialogue-heavy PBs, but generally I try to keep PB dialogue to a minimum. In contrast, chapter books are filled with more dialogue and description as they present a well-rounded view of the characters and plot.
  8. Enough Material for Ten Chapters – A typical chapter book is broken down into ten chapters. Ask yourself these questions: do you have enough story to fill in these chapters? Does your story arc have a complete and satisfying beginning, middle, and ending? Or could you condense the story into approximately 500 words that will be enriched by illustrations? Also, try to make sure that each chapter has a mini story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, and the transition to the next chapter contains a small cliff-hanger to help the reader maintain interest.
  9. Writing Time – Because chapter books are longer and the plots are more complex, the author can spend more time with the characters and plot (of course writing picture books and chapter books both take tremendous time in the brainstorming, writing, and re-writing phases). In my case, I love my chapter book characters and this story line so I’m happy to have more time with them. I enjoyed fleshing out their emotions, their characteristics, details about their appearance and dress, their dialogue, and their adventures.
  10. Series Potential – I know that an author is not supposed to be concerned with series potential when writing a picture book or a chapter book. However, I must admit that when writing THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION, I did think about, well . . . a collection! I envisioned twins shaking many snow globes in their grandmother’s collection, and each time they did, they would be transported to a different time period and location. When writing a picture book, I might think, wow, this could really lend itself to a sequel. In fact, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is my debut picture book being published by Clear Fork Publishing in 2018, and I’m hard at work writing the sequel. But I would not envision designing a whole picture book series.

So there you have it . . . ten factors to consider when deciding whether your story is more suitable to a picture book or a chapter book. And of course, these are my top ten factors . . . you might have your own distinct top ten. Whatever you decide, make sure you set yourself up for success: work closely with your critique partners; hone your craft by participating in writing classes such as The Children’s Book Academy Chapter Book Alchemist, and writing communities such as the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, The Chapter Book Challenge, The Debut Picture Book Study Group, KidLit411, and many others; join the SCBWI and your local SCBWI chapter; and immerse yourself in the world of children’s books. Reading, writing, and being part of the KidLit community has truly inspired my work – and it’s been so much fun as well! Melissa book

I look forward to reading your books, and I know that whatever format you choose, it will be the best one for you.

_ _ _

Thanks, Alayne! I loved being featured on your blog. And I’m excited to read more of your upcoming chapter books and picture books!

_ _ _

Alayne: Thank you, Melissa! I look forward to reading more of your work as well.

 

Melissa head shot  About Melissa:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the debut chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, July 2017); the debut picture book SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, March, 2018); and THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE (Clear Fork, April 2018).  She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, an Assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, and a volunteer with SCBWI-MetroNY. Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, travelling, and adding treasures to her collections. Find Melissa online at www.MelissaStoller.com, MelissaBergerStoller (Facebook),  @MelissaStoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram).

 

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