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kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

Congratulations!

Cover When Water Make Mud 9781950169443

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

Now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

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

by Laura Gehl

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

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

KEEP DOING THE WORK

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRENDS COME AND GO

by Michelle Nott

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

PERSISTENCE CAN CERTAINLY GET YOU TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE

by Rosie Pova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

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

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

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

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

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

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kid-lit writing wisdom

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

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. To learn more about why I chose to cover this topic, read Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 click here. To learn more about the “Wisdom” team and their books click here. And now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

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

by Ellen Leventhal

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

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

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

by Pippa Chorley

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

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

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

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

by Beth Anderson

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

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

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

BONUS! TEN-YEAR BOOK JOURNEY STORY BY MELISSA STEWART

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

PART 3 COMING MAY 8

Next week, we’ll wrap up our thoughts on the path to publication with Laura Gehl who talks about how time only serves to make you a better author. Dawn Babb Prochovnic looks at the importance of continuing the work in spite of obstacles. Michelle Nott talks about trends and also demonstrates that it pays to never give up on old stories. Rosie Pova talks about how persistence pays off. Marcie Flinchum Atkins talks about enjoying the rituals of writing and having friends who “get” the writer’s experience.

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

 

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

kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations!

Two Grooms on a Cake

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

Words of Wisdom

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

by Alayne Kay Christian

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

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

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

say yes say no

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

by Kirsti Call

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

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

by Melissa Stoller

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

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP AND YOUR FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD!

by Rob Sanders

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

FIVE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS IN ANY PROJECT

Vivian Kirkfield

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

COMING IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS PART 2 AND PART 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers to “Most Important Lesson Learned”

WRITING IS A GIFT TO MYSELF
by Laura Gehl

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

SPEAK UP WITH CONFIDENCE
by Vivian Kirkfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITING IS LIKE TENDING A GARDEN
by Melissa Stoller

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

THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
by Ellen Leventhal

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

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

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

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

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

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I was so impressed with the visual story that Polina Gortman created in our picture book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED that I decided it would make a great mentor book for both illustrators and writers.

In the video at the end of this post, I walk you through the visual story that is related to my text but independent of it in many ways. It demonstrates to illustrators how doing more than just showing what the text is saying can add layers of meaning to a story and make a picture book much more interesting. It also demonstrates to writers the importance of leaving room for the illustrator to help tell the story. 

Western Washington SCBWI featured Polina on their blog Pen & Story. It is a worthwhile read to accompany this video because Polina talks a bit about her process and how she managed all the characters that she created that appear throughout the story. You can read the post by clicking here.

Also, in a recent article in the Toledo Blade Newspaper, Polina shared some interesting details about how this great visual story came to be. It all started with her not fully connecting with the story . . . 

Blade quotes PolinaI hope that you will be patient and watch the video to the end because that is where the whole story that Polina created comes together. This visual story is all Polina’s creation–no one told her to tell the story, no one told her what characters to create, and there is no bakery, baker, or older woman with a dog mentioned in the text at all. I know that without the text it’s hard to know what Polina created in addition to the story told via text. But I can’t give the whole book away. My publisher wouldn’t like that 😉 Also, I intentionally left the text out because I wanted the visual story to stand on its own with just a little help from my guidance. I hope this video inspires both illustrators and writers, and if it does, please leave a comment to let us know.

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I’d like to introduce author/illustrator Milanka Reardon. She is the illustrator for Who Will? Will You?—written by Sarah Hoppe and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Milanka shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, and more!

 

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved to draw from the time that I was a little girl living in Titograd, Yugoslavia with my mother. I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books from that country. I still have most of them. That is the one thing that I carried with me when I emigrated from Yugoslavia when I was six years old. I left any toys I had behind. My aunt sent us a roll of toilet paper when we lived in the old country, and I used to draw pictures on it. It made a great continuous storyboard and I filled each square with pictures!

When I decided to go back to school for art, I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, (art school wasn’t considered a practical thing for an immigrant girl). And while I loved drawing and painting plants and animals, I wanted to tell a story with them. I always loved the funny individual expressions of the animals and saw them as characters, and I wondered about their story. So that naturally led me to the Children’s Book Illustration program at Rhode Island School of Design. Once I started that program, I found that I had so many stories that I wanted to tell with pictures, and that was just the beginning.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

The art, definitely! I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer.

Side note from Alayne: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces (Blog reader: see image above for Nana’s Wall) and it is so wonderful that I can’t forget about it!

Thank you so much, Alayne. That story parallels my life so much that it came naturally. But of course, the pictures came first. Then it took several years of revising the story to make it into a real picture book. I’m hoping that it will be published someday.

Kirkus Reviews had the following to say about your Who Will? Will You? illustrations:

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.”

I agree with Kirkus. The drawings you have done for my next book, Old Man and His Penguin, are equally as impressive.

Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

I have so many influences! I love to travel and get the feel for a place, and I think that influences my illustrations. Maybe that’s why they have an old-world feel. With Who Will? Will You? I really tried to show a diverse world of characters for the book. That is why the Kirkus review made me so happy. I was really trying to show a population of humans that was diverse without singling out one group of people. I wanted Lottie to ask different people who will take care of her pup, and I tried to imagine who she would meet in the real world. The animals were just the extra fun bonus to illustrate!

Do you have a preferred medium?

I painted mostly with oils when I started painting portraits. Then I found that I could achieve some fantastic results with colored pencils. I love to explore different mediums. Now I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character that best fits the story. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with Photoshop or Procreate.

What medium and process did you use for the Who Will? Will You? illustrations?

For Who Will? Will You? I used mostly watercolors and pencils, both pastel pencils and colored pencils. After scanning the paintings, I was able to make adjustments using Procreate and Photoshop as well.

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Working with Blue Whale Press has been a wonderful experience. I had creative freedom with the illustrations, and the editor and publisher were very supportive while providing professional feedback throughout the process. Also the author, Sarah Hoppe, did a fantastic job writing a fun story and making each word count.

The last book I illustrated was self-published. Illustrating for someone who is self-publishing their book is very different. The author of the story had definite ideas of what he wanted on each page, and there was a lot more input on each individual illustration from the author throughout. It’s kind of nice with a small press because you have the best situation in that the publisher trusts you to create the characters and to come up with the book dummy but is available and provides professional feedback where needed. The overall process was very positive and supportive with great communication between the editor, publisher and myself. Thank you, Alayne, for that!

It has all been my pleasure, Milanka.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think that anyone that has gone to art school realizes that critiques can be tough. But you try to use them to improve your own artwork. In the case of illustrating a picture book, you have to always be open to suggestions and ideas that may improve the story. So, it’s more about working together with the editor to make a better book. Making a good picture book is a collaborative effort. The author, the illustrator, editor and publisher all have ideas to make it work and hopefully it all comes together in the best way possible in the end. That is why I have always been open to edits. I know personally that I spend so much time staring at that illustration that I may miss something important, so the creative direction is appreciated.

My advice to any illustrator would be to look at the final image and to do what is best for the book. If more than one person critiques the same area of the illustration, then it’s probably not reading correctly. The creative direction from the editor and publisher is meant to improve the story, it is not a personal commentary on you.

I love the little extras you put on every page of Who Will? Will You? One little thing I noticed that made me smile is one of the sea lions is cross-eyed 😉 But you just created such a nice world for Lottie.

How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page?

The job of the illustrator is to add to the story and to tell the story with pictures. So naturally you want to add a little something extra to the story. The illustrations should complement the text and the text should also complement the illustrations. They work together. There is no need to be redundant and only show what is told in words. It’s a lot more fun to add the little extras. Children are smart and they will notice. It’s the difference that makes a book one that a child will want to read over and over again to discover even more within the book and the illustrations each time they read it.

Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story?

Yes and no. Personally it does show some of your sense of humor, adventure or even if you’ve done your research correctly. But, I feel that you should show some of yourself in your illustrations because that’s the point of both telling with words and pictures. It’s all about making the story fun for children.

Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Research! Research the location. In Who Will? Will You? I had to think of where could you find all of those types of animal rescue places in one area, and even a bat cave! And how do you make each one different and unique. Then you can put who would be in those places. So that research was fun – going to the beach and even a cave and sketching and photographing. You notice, especially when you sketch people and animals the different body positions and facial expressions that people have. Animals too! It’s fun to observe and sketch.

Character study, younger Lottie and Rufus

Lottie and Rufus are so adorable. Where did you find your inspiration for them—well, for all the characters, really?

Character design, older Lottie and Rufus

I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was in a Paneras and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair. When I came home I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So I drew who I thought Lottie would be. And I remember my initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember you telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so please change her to an older child. You were so nice with your directions and I thought, okay, that’s not really a problem. I can draw an older Lottie. And then what kind of dog would my older Lottie have. It was early enough in the process that it wasn’t a problem to change because I was only showing you initial sketches, and I hadn’t started the storyboard yet. I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages.

Notice the fun eyes on the sea lion. But notice the sad eyes on Lottie. This is actually an earlier image. In the book, she has tears 😦

In the Who Will? Will You? art, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language.

How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

That takes time and a lot of sketching from life. Really noticing that people hardly ever stand like those stick figures looking straight ahead that we all love to draw. Most people are always leaning or moving around. Body language tells a lot. I went to the SCBWI LA conference and took an Illustrator Intensive on character design that the art director Laurent Lin was in. He used to work for Sesame Street, so he brought in puppeteers that showed us some amazing things about body language. The stories that they told with just those puppets brought me to tears and made me laugh. That was with just body language – the puppets eyes and mouth weren’t moving, just their bodies. It was an awesome lesson, one that I am still working on. It also comes back to sketching from life and observing body language and putting in the tiny details after.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

I try to keep the body proportions the same. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you want to draw freely which I think is more important in order to get expressive illustrations. But you can always scan things into Photoshop or Procreate and check your proportions and use that as a guideline when you are going into the final drawing phase. Or you can use good old-fashioned tracing paper. Let your initial sketches be free and fun. In the final illustrations try to get those proportions right. That will make the painting stage go so much more smoothly. You will have figured it all out in the drawing stages.

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations, again!

Thank you so much, Alayne! I signed with Barbara Krasner with Olswanger Literary. I am really hoping to get my picture book dummy out into the world!

Blog reader: See toilet paper art image at the beginning of this interview. That image is from the dummy for Nana’s Wall. A beautiful story.

What was it like to see your granddaughter look at the book for the first time?

Aw, look how sad she is for Lottie. So sweet.

So happy. I love it!

Yay! And happy again.

Oh my goodness, that was amazing! It truly was a test. She’s not quite two years old yet but she loves the book. She was so funny when she looks at the pictures, she absolutely loves the way each of the adults say “no” to Lottie. She actually mimics the hand movements that they use (thank goodness I got the body language on those characters!) No is a favorite word of hers! She also was sad when she first saw Lottie crying and kisses that picture. And she loves to sing one of her favorite songs in the end. (From Alayne: Sorry, we can’t share the song without giving away the ending of the book.)

She is so adorable. It is a thrill to see this. Thank you for sharing these precious moments!

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Milanka. I’m thrilled that you are illustrating one of my picture books next! Your work has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure working for you and with you, Alayne! Thank you so much for the kind words and for this opportunity!

BONUS!

When, at another time, I asked Milanka questions that I had for myself personally, as an illustrator wannabe, she graciously shared excellent advice—excerpts below.

About Style

I think that’s wonderful that you are taking an online art class. And cute is a wonderful style to have. We can’t all be the same, that would be boring. . . . A realistic style can be a curse. It just takes a lot of time and no matter how hard you try, there is always someone that can do it better. That’s what an illustration teacher at RISD told me. Besides, if you have a realistic style, it’s so easy to notice little mistakes. So go with your style and just practice every day.

Best Advice

Honestly, the best advice that I can give you is to sketch people every day. They don’t have to be perfect sketches, just sketch. And one thing you’ll notice is all of the wonderful gestures. People don’t just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help no matter what style of illustration you choose, or sometimes I feel it’s the style that chooses you. But either way, you need to know a bit about anatomy and that’s great to be learning from online classes and reference books too.

I love “the style that chooses you”!

More about Inspiration for Lottie and other Who Will? Will You? Characters

Lottie was made up in my mind and so were her various adult people. Remember when I sent you the turnaround of Lottie. I did all the things that I needed to to map out her features and size, etc. But she looked a little stiff at first. So I never used those exact images. By observing real people, she became softer and moved better along the page. Actually even though Lottie was made up, I noticed a little girl in Paneras that was so cute but had that messy hair, and I loved the way she sat on her leg and leaned from side to side, so expressive. So, I had her in mind when creating Lottie and I knew I wanted a diverse set of characters. Children in a playground are also fun to watch and to draw. So just observing people helps. They are not all the same size or shape either.

Character study, Lottie’s dog Rufus.

Final painting of Rufus and friends

Sketching is Fun

Sketching is a lot of fun. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Nobody has to look at it. Afterwards, you can choose a sketch to really focus on and draw out. It’s such a good feeling when your drawing starts to come to life.

 

Inspiration for Alayne’s Next Picture Book

Old Man and His Penguin

The kids in the penguin story came from my sketchbook from when I traveled to Cuba on a cruise. I had my sketchbook with me and children were on recess when we were in the old town in the plaza. I did some quick sketches—it was fun, and like most things in life, you never know when they might come in handy. The old man is made up, but I did ask my husband to do a couple of poses and to walk so I could take a picture to draw from. He would never stand still long enough for me to sketch even a quick two-minute sketch!

Sneak peek, dummy sketch Old Man and His Penguin

Simple Lines

You don’t have to be super realistic. Some people are so expressive with simple lines. I wish that I could be. I’m still working on that. Just go out there and sketch different people and gestures and have fun with it.

About Milanka

Milanka Reardon learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can read more about Milanka and see some of her artwork by going to MilankaReardon.com.

To read interview with Who Will? Will You? author Sarah Hoppe click here.

All content copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

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ATTENTION TEACHERS, PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND WRITERS! WIN PRIZES!

Sienna wand

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Art by Brian Martin

POOF!

You are a cowgirl (or cowboy) fairy!

 

WRITING AND DRAWING CONTEST

FOR KIDS 7-11!

Holidays are coming! How would you like a gift card to help you buy gifts? Would you like two signed copies of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain to give as gifts? Or keep one for yourself and give the other away?

How to win . . .

Two signed copies of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain and a $25 Amazon gift card.

 

1. If you are 7-11 years old, draw a picture of a cowgirl or cowboy fairy.
2. And write a story about what you would do if you had cowgirl/cowboy skills and fairy powers. You are the main character or hero in this story. This story will be your adventure that results in something good happening for other people.
3. The story must be no less than 75 words and no more than 125 words.
4. The story must have a beginning, middle, and end.
5. Be sure to give your story a title (not part of word count) and to put your name as the author of the story. Sign your drawing too.
6. Honor system. You must create the story yourself and draw the picture yourself.
7. You may ask an adult to help you type the story (as you have told it) or take a picture of your handwritten story.
8. You may ask an adult to help you take a picture of your drawing.
9. You may ask an adult to help you enter the contest by posting it as a comment on this blog post by November 25, 2017.
10. You may do this as a class project. Everyone in your class will illustrate and write a story, and the class will vote to determine which story will be entered into the contest. Be sure to add to your entry your school name and location, your classroom number, your teacher’s name, and of course, the author’s name.

Cowgirl/Cowboy Fairy Abilities

As a cowgirl/cowboy fairy, you can . . .

• Ride horses.
• Use a lasso to capture anything.
• Herd cattle.
• Take care of horses, goats, donkeys, cows, pigs, and chickens.
• Fly.
• Use your wand and fairy dust to make magic.
• You can also add or create your own cowgirl/cowboy fairy powers and skills.
• Your friends may be fairies, humans, animals, or all of the above.

FOR ADULT WRITERS

Help me spread the word for this contest and your name will go in a drawing for your choice of one of the following:
• A signed copy of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Trying to Make it Rain
• A picture book critique
• A chapter book (first three chapters only) critique

GUIDELINES FOR ADULT WRITERS DRAWING

1. Share one of the five prepared tweets below.
2. Visit my page in the SCBWI BookStop and sign my guest book, which is located on the right under my photo. Be sure to have a look around. There are lots of great 2017 children’s books to view. If you signed my guest book previously, that counts – just let me know in your comment.
3. Honor system. Share news of the contest with your child’s (or children’s) teacher(s), or any teacher, and your name will go in the hat twice!
4. Comment on this post to let me know you have tweeted and signed my guest book. And your name will be entered in the drawing. Good Luck! Don’t forget to let me know if you have shared the contest with teachers, so I get your name added a second time.

PREPARED TWEETS

Children’s Writing & Illustration Contest. Great prizes! #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing Contest. Gift card, signed book, critiques. #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing & Drawing Contest. Prizes! #teachers #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing & Drawing Contest. Prizes! #parents #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

POOF! You’re a cowgirl/cowboy fairy Children’s writing contest #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

sienna-cover-1

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To art note picture

Guess what? Tara Lazar has a little more to share! She reached out to me about doing a second post on illustration notes. Why? Because she had just a little more to say. And I totally agree with what she has to say. So here it is. . . .

 

WAIT — THERE’S MORE
by Tara Lazar

 

Alayne, when it comes to art notes, I thought I said it all…

But the day my post was published, a friend said to me, “But I talked to [well-known illustrator] and he said he never looks at art notes. He told me not to bother.”

Well, I know this illustrator is widely published and award winning, but do not listen to him. (At least about this. Sorry, dude.)

The illustrator is not the first person to read your manuscript.

But who is?

The EDITOR you want to ACQUIRE IT.

So don’t think about the art notes being solely for your illustrator. They are more for your editor.

The editor must understand the story and your vision for it. If there is something they do not comprehend because you’ve been too stingy or cryptic with the art notes, then they may just send a rejection.

If an art note is necessary to understand the action, put it in. If your text says “Harry was happy” but you really want him to be hopping mad, the editor isn’t going to know that without [Harry is angry]. Editors cannot read your mind. This is your chance to ensure that she or he gets what’s happening.

After the editor acquires your manuscript, lots of changes may happen, including the stripping of art notes. And that’s OK. By the time illustration work commences, your illustrator has already been pitched on the story and its vision. There have been talks between the illustrator, editor, designer and art director. Your illustrator will be brilliant and do things that you cannot even yet imagine. They will blow you away.

But if the editor is confused while initially reading your manuscript, you will never even get to that step. Your story could be doomed to dwell in a drawer forever.

Remember, the art notes aren’t necessarily for your illustrator…but for your EDITOR.

Thank you for the bonus, Tara!

If you haven’t seen it, be sure to read Tara’s first post How Picture Book Writers can Leave Room for the Illustrator.

Check out – Illustration Notes: To Include Or Not Include on Johnell Dewitt’s site. It is loaded with info and resources on the topic of art notes.

Kidlit.com also has some good information about including illustration notes. (Full disclosure – I discovered this post in the Kidlit411 Weekly)

 

ABOUT TARA

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

Her picture books available now are:
• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website.

 

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At a recent SCBWI conference, one editor mentioned leaving room for the illustrator. So, I asked Tara Lazar if she would share what that means to her and give some advice on how to do it.

 

HOW PICTURE BOOK WRITERS CAN LEAVE ROOM FOR THE ILLUSTRATOR
by Tara Lazar

“Leave room for the illustrator.” You hear it all the time.

But what does it mean?

I imagine the school bus, smelling like moldy socks and overripe bananas (which have an eerily similar aroma). Should you scoot over? Stop saving that seat for your bestie?

Well, kinda. The illustrator’s art is the elephant on the school bus. It’s the first thing people see when your bus…err, I mean book…rolls into the world. So it’s in your best interest to make that pachyderm shine.

So let the elephant speak for himself. Don’t shove words into his mouth. Don’t over-describe what he’s doing.

The elephant picked the perfect seat. [elephant in back, bus on two wheels]

The kids made him feel welcomed. [kids crowd in first row to balance bus]

It was a smooth ride to school. [flat tires]

OK, you see what I did there?

Read those lines without the art notes:

The elephant picked the perfect seat.

The kids made him feel welcomed.

It was a smooth ride to school.

Eh, rather ordinary without those notes. But with them, it’s funny. It might even be hilarious.

A picture book comes together when the words and the text play together. And sometimes there’s a tug-of-war between them that elicits giggles and guffaws.

Leaving some things unsaid is a technique you must learn as a picture book writer.

So go ahead, DON’T WRITE!

And that, my friends and elephants, is how you write a picture book.

Alayne: Tara’s guest post prompted me to ask one of the most common questions that picture book writers ask. . . .

“I’ve been told by agents that text should be clear enough that art notes are not necessary, so how do you leave room for the illustrator without art notes?”

Here is Tara’s answer. . . .

Well, what you’ve been told by agents is true…and also not true at all.

Often at conferences and workshops geared toward new writers, presenters steer picture book writers away from art notes. That is mostly because new writers tend to use unnecessary art notes. New writers either try to dictate what their characters should look like or describe action that is perfectly clear by the text (or at least well implied). So it is sometimes easier to put the ix-nay on the ote-nay at that level.

Also, some illustrators will tell you they don’t look at the art notes. And that’s fine. Once they understand the overall story, they can tuck the notes away and think of something better.

However, if what you have written is not understandable without art notes, if the story does not make sense without art notes, YOU MUST USE ART NOTES.

Look at DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen. There are only three words in that book–really, two, because DUCK is repeated. If she submitted that manuscript without art notes, there would be no story. Her story is IN THE ART, IN THE ACTION.

I have written manuscripts that use so many art notes it renders the story difficult to read. In those cases, my agent and I submit the manuscript in grid format. There’s a handy post on my blog that talks all about it. (https://taralazar.com/2012/10/03/art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/)

The art of playing tug-of-war with text and image is best demonstrated by author-illustrators. It’s a difficult skill for authors-only to master, but it is one that all the best authors use.

Alayne: For additional information, see my post on including art notes in manuscripts.

Tara Lazar head shot

 

About Tara

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

7 Ate 9

Tara’s picture books available now are:

• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

A big THANKS to Tara for sharing her wisdom with us. To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website at https://taralazar.com/

 

 

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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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