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1. Fiction Magic: Kickstart Your Writing with Deb Lund

Sometimes writers need a good kick in the pants.

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal writing coach by your side every day to get you moving? She could whip the sheets off you each morning, bugle reveille in your ear, even toast  you an Eggo while you shower.

Eh, who am I kidding? Writers don’t shower!


Author Deb Lund brought together her 20+ years of teaching experience in a magical way—with 54 surprising writing prompts, tips and tricks for you to apply to your work-in-progress whenever you’re feeling stuck. It’s like having that writing coach right there with you, only a lot less annoying. It’s “Fiction Magic”!

Fiction Magic Title screenshotMagicalDebLund

For years, Deb taught 4th- and 5th-grade students how to write, and she wanted to make it cool for them, so she developed these cards. Her real “aha” moment came when she realized that she could teach adults the same way she taught children, using the same FUN strategies. ABRACADABRA! These “magical” cards act as triggers to pull something out of your head that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to coax out.

At the Oregon Silver Falls SCBWI Writing Retreat, star agent Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency attended Deb’s session and then exclaimed, “I want all my writers to have your cards!” Yep, she was that impressed. The only problem? Deb’s cards were a prototype that cost her $200 to produce. How could she make them for a dozen writers? A hundred? A THOUSAND?

Enter Kickstarter. Deb’s Fiction Magic campaign is on right now and it’s 94% funded already! But with just 10 days to go, she needs your help. And believe me, you want her help, too!

Let’s do a few tricks right now, shall we? Whip out your WIP and see if these magical remedies help!


Your characters must make some bad choices along the way. They may even have to negotiate for something they need or want with people they loathe. Characters may know they’re agreeing to bad deals but feel they have no choice. Or the deals appear good, but fall apart later. Or time factors make the deals even more ominous. Make the stakes of bad deals so high it’s difficult for your characters to back out of them.

When you feel stressed by all that’s on your plate, be gentle with yourself. Let your characters agree to bad deals, but the only agreement you need to make with yourself right now is to write, no matter how bad the writing may seem.


Secrets can be powerful tools or sources of trouble. Or both. What information could your characters unwittingly slip out to the wrong people? Characters could be in danger because of secrets. Other characters could reveal secrets that affect your lead characters, whether the secrets were theirs or not. In trying to cover up secrets or escaping from those trying to conceal secrets, what could go wrong? Who will be angry? Hurt? Feeling betrayed? Put in life or death situations?

Do you keep your dreams secret? Sometimes they need protection, but when you’re ready and the time is right, reveal them to others who believe in you.


If you’re lucky, you’ll pick this card over and over, because this is Key. Your characters are on quests. Delay them. Interrupt their journeys. Who or what could step in to make your characters stop in their tracks? The interruptions may be people, objects, circumstances, thoughts, feelings… Send your characters merrily down the road, and then run them into roadblocks. Keep tossing them unending hardship. Warm up your pitching arm and let it rip. Throw after throw after throw.

As a writer, you have plenty obstacles. For each one you throw at your character, remove one from your writing life! Where will you start?



There are 51 more Fiction Magic tricks for you to try. But only if you help Deb reach her goal.

Check out her Kickstarter and create your own magic! (Even if that includes the bugle call. But that’s not for me. I am NOT a morning person!)

10 Comments on Fiction Magic: Kickstart Your Writing with Deb Lund, last added: 3/28/2014
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2. 99 Problems, But a Book Ain’t One (plus a giveaway!)

110912_Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen_BB_AB_0136by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

As an author, I look forward to my next book release the way parents look forward to the birth of their child. After all, the release date is a birthday of sorts—the day my creation is real to everyone, not just me! If you’ve ever known someone expecting twins, the excitement is even higher—though, the fear associated with the event is also heightened.

This year, I’m having the publishing equivalent of quadruplets:

duckduckmoose orangutangled

snoringbeauty tywrecks

Like I said, I’ve got 99 problems, but a book ain’t one.

I get it. To have her problems, you might be thinking. After all, too many things publishing is a far better problem than too few. Or none at all. But there are problems created by my multiple birthing. Here are a few things you might not consider when praying for a year like this:

  • The whirlwind of marketing becomes a tornado.
    Since January, I’ve done three blog giveaways (the first was a DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE package of a book, a book, and a package of magic erasers, the second was a piece of Aaron Zenz’s original art, and the third is the autographed book we will give away here on this blog) with a fourth one coming up. I’ve done 42 Skype classroom visits—not including the 14 I have scheduled for the TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS launch. I’ve flown to a conference in California and done a bunch of signings. I’ve revamped my website, I’ve had educator guides created, I’ve read the books so many times I have them memorized. And on the 7th day I rested…except, not really. Remember, all these marketing things are in addition to my regular job of writing, revising, preparing workshops, creating professional development. Oh, and raising all my kids.
  • orangutangsbyaaronToo much of anything is good for nothing.
    As much as we want to see our books in print, publishing is about more than just personal accomplishment—t’s about sales. While my ego might be excited by multiple books out at the same time, the market is another story. Have you ever heard of market saturation? Economic theory says in a given market, only so much growth can be supported. For authors, that means there are only so many new books a consumer will buy at a given time. Having too many books at once can actually reduce the probability that a fan will buy all of them, just because he may not want to buy more than a certain number of books within a short time period. This principle also extends to recognition. It’s highly unlikely that you’d have multiple books nominated for a given award in the same year. So you’ve increased your overcall competition by competing with yourself.
  • The “what have you done for me lately?” problem.
    Let’s face it—people are basically raccoons, distracted by whatever is new and shiny. And if you have a bunch of books come out at once, chances are, that will be followed by a long gap until your next release. But a book only keeps it’s “new car smell” for a finite amount of time. When something else new and shiny comes along, you won’t be able to compete and the raccoons will move on.

So, who still wants to have lots of books published at once? And who doesn’t?

Well, let me tell you a secret—it’s not up to you.

For the most part, publishers work on their schedule. And their concerns aren’t your concerns. So books may come out slowly at regular intervals, or they might appear all at once. As authors, we don’t have much say in this.

So how do you deal with this? How can you turn all these negatives into something positive for you?

I’ve given you the problems, so let me propose some solutions:

  • Find your overarching narrative.
    Whenever I have a book release, I take the details of its inspiration and craft a storyline that matches to a theme. For example, every night at bedtime in my house, my kids go nuts. My son, especially, when he was younger, he refused to sleep—no naps, no bedtime, no nothing. He was absolutely convinced I was going to do something awesome. This became the backstory for CHICKS RUN WILD, and I’ve introduced the book to hundreds if not thousands of readers by telling this story. With each of your books, you should be creating a narrative as well—but when you have multiple books at once, think of an umbrella narrative that talks about all the books. For example, DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE and ORANGUTANGLED are both about having bad days (though they resolve that issue differently). When I talk about them together, I tell my audience about taking bad days, mistakes, blunders and turning them into inspiration. They’re also both about friendship, and the different ways your friends can help you get through a rough patch. When you have one narrative, that message starts to represent you as a brand instead of the individual products/books. And at the end of the day, you want fans of your brand, not just your book.
  • Coordinate efforts.
    When you start marketing one book, leave yourself openings to market the others. For example, when I was booking release day virtual visits for SNORING BEAUTY and I had too many requests, I offered the folks I couldn’t schedule in March a spot on the TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS release day. So instead of having to start from scratch for the next release, I’ve got some legwork done already.

sudiptabookmarkUse this principle in your marketing materials, too. Having bookmarks printed? Think about designing something that works for all your new releases. Making postcards? Create a “New for 2014” card instead of individual designs.

Just breathe. As I said before, in the grand scheme of things, having too many things published at once is the better dilemma to have. Because if you’ve got to have 99 problems, at least a book ain’t one.


Thank you, Sudipta! This is all good to know since I will be having two books released in 2015! Yikes! TWINS! Somebody boil some water!

Do you have any questions or comments for Sudipta? Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of one of her 2014 books, YOUR CHOICE! (And a tough choice it is!)

Also be sure to visit Sudipta’s awesomely nerdy blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule.

10 Comments on 99 Problems, But a Book Ain’t One (plus a giveaway!), last added: 3/21/2014
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3. Break These Writing Rules: Wendy Mass, Josh Berk and Sara Zarr (plus a giveaway!)

Hey, look at that! I finally got Sara Zarr on my blog! Let me introduce us: Tara Lazar, Sara Zarr. Sara Zarr, Tara Lazar. Woo-wee, that’s fun to say!

OK, enough fooling around. Let’s get serious. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. Let’s get mischievous. Because today we’re breaking rules!

breaktheserulescoverThe YA anthology BREAK THESE RULES explores the flip-side of those nit-picky little rules you’re supposed to follow when growing up. What would happen if you didn’t “grow up” and “be serious”? So what if you daydream, skip college or talk about religion? Must you really pick a side between jocks and geeks?

Well, 35 authors tell you to ignore “the rules”, just go ahead and break ‘em. Because they did. And it didn’t kill them. Heck, they even came out on top. Check it out. (Even I’m in the book! I can’t believe they asked me. Maybe they knew I’m a scooter-ridin’ rebel.)

To celebrate BREAK THESE RULES, I thought it would be fun to learn what WRITING RULES some of the authors have broken. You know, we hear the rules all the time—rules about content, length and showing-not-telling. And in picture books: no rhyming, no art notes. We’re bombarded by rules at conferences, in craft books and even on this blog! (Yeah, sorry ’bout that.)

So today we’ll hear from Wendy Mass, Josh Berk, and of course, that author with the awesome name, Sara Zarr!


wendymassWendy Mass

When I talk to kids at schools about writing, I always tell them to be sure to keep their eyes and ears open when they’re out in the world and to closely observe what’s going on around them. The thing is, when I am out in the world, say at a busy shopping mall, the people around me may as well have three eyes and two heads for all I notice them. I never study people, I never notice what they wear, how they move, how their voice sounds, all those things you are supposed to do when you are trying to create believable characters. It all just makes me uncomfortable. That said, I do get inspired by things I see in the world, or hear, or read, just not people. So there you have it, my dirty little secret. On the positive side, if we cross paths you’ll never have to worry if you have spinach in your teeth because I’ll never notice .



I quite possibly owe my entire writing career to the fact that some years ago I decided to break the first rule of writing: write what you know. I had a crazy idea to write a YA mystery novel about a deaf teen solving a murder. I knew nothing about writing mysteries and less about being deaf. But I was curious. And so I learned.

You can write about anything—or anyone—you care to. Curiosity and empathy are your greatest tools as a writer, not the limited scope of your own experience.


sarazarrSara Zarr

The rule I break most often is “write a crappy first draft.” I work much better if I revise as I go. Which isn’t to say that my first drafts aren’t crappy. Because they are. As are my second and third, I’m pretty sure. But what I try to avoid is blindly thrashing through and pushing ahead no matter what, just to get the words in. For one thing, I don’t want to write myself into a corner or dead end and then have to throw out all the pages that got me there. For another thing, I get this unpleasant feeling of anxiety if I write forward knowing there are big problems behind me. If I feel my idea of a character changing as I write, I want to go back and at least patch up the previous version of that character before I get too much further. It’s like knowing I left my wallet at the restaurant or something. I have to go back. There’s always more revision to do, but I try to keep the crappy to a minimum along the way.


Thanks, daring edict-evaders!

So get out there and start breaking rules. Be different. But most importantly, be WHO YOU ARE. (I’m Tara Lazar, not Sara Zarr. But maybe we could switch for a day?)

What writing rule have you broken?

Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of BREAK THESE RULES, available now from Chicago Review Press.

10 Comments on Break These Writing Rules: Wendy Mass, Josh Berk and Sara Zarr (plus a giveaway!), last added: 3/17/2014
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4. What’s a GROG? (Not what I thought it was.)

When I was but a wee thing, our family would often drive past a restaurant sign in town: “Good Food and Grog”. So I pestered my parents, “What is GROG?” My father replied, “Grilled frog.”


HORRIFYING! Cooked Kermit!? Envisioning swaths of crisped, green skin beside a sobbing Miss Piggy, I vowed never to eat there.

Well, today I have put that childhood nightmare to bed. I have learned that GROG actually means GROUP BLOG. And, I’ve got a new kidlit grog to share with you.

Welcome author Todd Burleson, GROG spokesperson (who assures me he’s never roasted an amphibian over the coals).


The term GROG evolved out of a desire to gather a group of writers and form a new blog about children’s literature. There are several phenomenal group blogs in the literature world. Many gave us inspiration, but none of them met the specific needs of our group. And, in the spirit of all things creative, we came together to form this GROG.

Our aim with this blog is to provide:

G: Guidance and support
R: Resources on the craft of writing
O: Opportunities to expand our skills
G: Great folks who support readers and writers of all ages!

Each weekday we will be focusing on a specific topic. Here are the daily foci:

Mondays: Mentor Texts
We will look at how mentor texts and other approaches can help teachers and writers of all ages to develop writing skills. We envision doing book reviews here too.

Tuesdays: Tools & Technology
We’ll look at tools, often technological, that can help us as writers.

Wednesdays: Craft
We’ll focus on the craft of writing. Sometimes it will be a writing lesson, other times it might be a review of a book on writing.

Thursdays: Submissions
On Thursday’s we’ll focus our thoughts on submissions, contests, query letters and more.

Fridays: Finds
These will be a smattering of awesome discoveries that we want to share with you.

Now why start a group blog instead of just an individual one?

  1. Being practical, we knew that sharing the load would help us remain faithful to posting while also maintaining our writing, teaching, family lives.
  2. We believe that the power of the group is to harness our connections.
  3. We know that each of us has a specific passion. By harnessing the power of the group, we get to share many more ideas and hopefully will reach and benefit many others.
  4. We enjoy being together. When we chat or meet via Google Hangouts, the ideas and passions flow.
  5. Finally, its a way to make the world ‘smaller.’ We have group members all over North American and even one in Seoul, South Korea. We may not be in the same time zone, but we all are dedicated to supporting one another as GROGgers and reaching a larger audience.

We have some phenomenal contributors at all stages of publication, but all eager to share. They are: Jan Godown Annino, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Todd Burleson,
Tina Wheatcraft Cho, Kathy Halsey, Suzy Leopold, Christy Mihaly, Janie Reinart, Sherri Jones Rivers, Patricia Toht, Leslie Colin Tribble, Pam Vaughan and
Jackie Wellington.

Thanks, Todd! And good luck to you all!

So please go visit these fine folks at Groggorg.blogspot.com.

They will be giving away a boatload of prizes in the beginning of April, including a signed copy of THE MONSTORE by yours truly. You can also like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Kermit will thank you.


10 Comments on What’s a GROG? (Not what I thought it was.), last added: 3/7/2014
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5. Books and Smiles for Haiti (plus a critique giveaway)

chieuby author Chieu Urban

Thank you Tara, for inviting me to spread awareness of Books and Smiles for Haiti to this talented group of authors, illustrators, agents, editors, and children’s book enthusiasts.

For the past few summers, I have shared my books with the children of Haiti, and the pictures and smiles and thankful notes I’ve received remind me of why I enjoy creating books for kids. I think that it would be fantastic if they were to receive even more books from our community.

Please join me in sharing your wonderful books for the sweet children of Haiti. Although their needs are much bigger, these gifts will bring smiles to their faces and joy to their day.

I am thankful to President Steven Mooser of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for kindly donating two boxes of books and jump starting the campaign! The amazing people of Life Connection Mission are dedicated to getting the books to the children. They are a non-profit organization serving the poorest children in the Western Hemisphere. A special thank you to the generous authors, illustrators, and children’s book community who have already contributed to this project.


Photo courtesy of Life Connection Mission

We are collecting board books, picture books, beginning readers, and information books with pictures of animals, science, space, and more.

Our goal is to have a really great collection of books by the end of the school year, when they will be crated up and transported to Haiti. I am very excited about this project and look forward to partnering with our talented children’s book community.


Photo courtesy of Life Connection Mission

If you would like to participate in Books and Smiles for Haiti, please email me at chieuurbanstudio (at) gmail (dot) com for the mailing address. Together, we will see our efforts grow. Please join our Facebook group page for updates.

Thank you, Chieu!

And now for the giveaway…

If you pledge to donate to Books and Smiles for Haiti, I will enter you into a drawing for a picture book critique from me, Tara Lazar. I will keep the comment thread open through the month of March. Just leave a comment stating you’ve donated in order to be eligible for the critique. And thank you for supporting this wonderful cause!

10 Comments on Books and Smiles for Haiti (plus a critique giveaway), last added: 3/3/2014
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6. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #3: Picture Book Intensive

Today we’re lucky to have Peggy Robbins Janousky visiting to share highlights from SCBWI FL’s Picture Book Intensive. Take it away, Peggy!

peggyI have attended many picture book intensives over the years, but this one topped them all. Participants were treated to an all-star panel that included: agent Deborah Warren of East West Literary, editor Laura Whitaker of Bloomsbury, author and editor Andrea Davis Pinkney and author Toni Buzzeo.

The presentations were practical, but powerful:

  • Always bring your “A” game.
  • Rhyme is not taboo, but bad rhyme is.
  • Picture books are getting shorter and are being targeted for younger audiences.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Hook me and keep me hooked.
  • Be passionate about your book and be able to pitch in just a few sentences.

One of the best things that was presented was the HOT list. These are the topics that editors and Barnes and Noble want now:

  • Moments of the day
  • School stories
  • Learning concepts
  • Holidays (MLK, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day)
  • Friends and family biographies
  • Character-driven stories
  • Original stories that every kid will love
  • Interactive picture books
  • Finding the new in the old

If you haven’t taken an intensive before, I strongly urge you to consider it. Intensives are exactly that, intense. They give you the opportunity to delve in deeper and they also give you the opportunity to get to know the presenters on a more intimate level. I came away from this intensive with a new sense of purpose and drive. I also came away with a few good friends. All in all, it was money worth spending.

I have to admit, I almost did not attend the Miami conference. I was having a pity party and I wasn’t really up for the company. I had broken my leg in three places. Needless to say, getting around was a wee bit difficult. I was ready to bail. I am glad I didn’t. The first page of my manuscript was read during “first page reads”. Much to my surprise, the panel loved it. One editor wanted to know who wrote it, an agent wanted to read more, and another editor wanted to acquire it. I have to admit, I was in shock. By the end of the weekend, thanks to the help of a good friend, I had signed with that agent. Just one month later… My bio and picture are up on the East West Literary website. The editor that I mentioned is considering three of my manuscripts. And I am still pinching myself.

I will tell you that this was not an overnight success. I have attended many conferences and taken copious notes. I have revised, cut, and revised some more. I have also had moments where I was so rejected that I thought I would never put myself through another critique again. So what’s the moral of the story? Never give up. Never let pity or self-doubt get the upper hand. Believe with all your heart that your day will come. Then get off your butt and get to that conference. Your happily ever after is waiting for you to show up!

Peggy Robbins Janousky uses her offbeat sense of humor to write offbeat picture books. When she is not writing, Peggy uses her time to rescue stray animals. Much to her family’s dismay, she keeps them all.

kristenfultonAnd thanks to Kristen Fulton for adding this summary of Andrea Pinkney’s workshop: The Write Stuff.

  • Writers write every day, whether it be a holiday or vacation.
  • Find your “twinkle”—what makes you sparkle around others?
  • Establish immediacy—using voice, characterization, mystery and drama.
  • Ask yourself, “Why does the reader want to come on this journey and what makes the reader stay on this journey?”
  • Writing is fun—and hard work.
  • Writing is re-writing at least 10 times.
  • Just get started and keep going.
  • Read every day, whether it be a holiday or vacation.

Kristen Fulton writes non-fiction picture books and is running an amazing non-fiction picture book retreat with loads of agents, editors, and authors on July 7-12. Check out her website for details!

10 Comments on SCBWI FL Conference Recap #3: Picture Book Intensive, last added: 2/28/2014
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7. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #2: Editor Panel

Let’s welcome Mindy Alyse Weiss back…she’s got the scoop from the recent SCBWI FL Conference. And boy, what a scoop it is! It’s chocolate fudge with rainbow sprinkles!

Ever wonder about an editor’s wish list? Wonder no longer! In the Editor Panel, Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker and Andrea Pinkney discussed what kind of projects they’re seeking—and not seeking. There seems to be a trend away from dystopian and paranormal novels in YA.

A Wonderful Editor Panel

Stacy Abrams, Executive Editorial Director of Bliss and Entangled Teen
Contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it, but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski, Associate Editor, Thomas Dunne Books, MacMillan
Dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.
With social media, if you do one thing well but don’t like another, don’t force it.

Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Fire
Loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format. Read more about her wish list here.

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
She’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she’s physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice. With MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. “Help me help you.”

Andrea Pinkney, Vice-President and Executive Editor, Scholastic
More diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar.” She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

A Laura Whitaker

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury

Besides writing a well-crafted story, how do you catch an editor’s attention? Laura Whitaker presented “Dating 101: What Makes YOU Desirable to an Editor”.

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.

Title—come up with something original that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself.

Your website is your calling card—especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA.

Interact! Do you write about the process or what you’re working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it is not a substitute for the craft.

Thanks again, Mindy!

Come back on Friday for the rest of the scoop from SCBWI FL. We’ll have vanilla and strawberry for those who don’t like chocolate. (Don’t like CHOCOLATE? Who are you people???)

6 Comments on SCBWI FL Conference Recap #2: Editor Panel, last added: 2/28/2014
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8. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #1: Agent Panel

MindyThis week I’m doing something special–bringing you a boatload of notes from Florida’s recent SCBWI conference in Miami, courtesy of author Mindy Alyse Weiss. Why a boatload? Well, it’s freezing here in NJ, so I imagined Mindy on a catamaran, sipping a piña colada with the captain as she wrote this. (We all have dreams, and my dream is to attend a WARM conference! Or maybe that should be a HOT conference?)

I was thrilled when Tara asked me to blog about the 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. She always gives so much to the kidlit community through her yearly PiBoIdMo challenge and thoughtful blog posts, and I hope this will help all of you, too. Since workshops are often repeated, I can’t share all the secrets…but I definitely have some juicy info, plus insight into what some agents and editors are hoping to find…

I attended the Agent Panel with Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Deborah Warren of East*West Literary Agency and Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, where they shared wish lists and do’s/don’ts with aspiring authors.


Jen Rofé

  • When sending a query, make it clear you’re personalizing it to that agent.
  • When asked how many editors she sends a manuscript to at a time and when she considers giving up, she said she won’t stop until she’s exhausted every opportunity.
  • The fastest she sold a manuscript—three hours! The longest it took was four years.
  • Wish list: commercial character-based picture books. A country song book for YA. Books based on childhood, like a girl who is getting into stuff she isn’t supposed to do, but nobody would expect that.
  • If you write picture books, she would want at least four she could try to sell right away.
  • Write the thing that scares you. It usually comes from some raw, painful place and that’s where the good stuff comes out.
  • So many people say that it only takes one yes. But it’s not just one yes—you typically need lots of yeses, including the editor, publisher, marketing, etc.
  • Don’t EVER write to the market!
  • A personal note from an agent is a good sign! They don’t have time to send that to everyone. It might be the project/first page/query letter that isn’t quite right at the moment.

Deborah Warren

  • Specializes in picture books. She’s known for building brands and loves finding new talent!
  • She loves working with author/illustrators—it’s her sweet spot. She’s having trouble with chapter books (they’re usually franchises). Realistic fiction is really coming back and she’s excited about that.
  • The client/agent relationship is like a marriage. She’ll never give up on a client—once you’re on the team, you’re there!
  • Wish list: Author/illustrators, multicultural, books based on childhood, a book about singing, or kids overcoming their obstacles.

Ammi-Joan Paquette

  • She looks for a strong opening in the sample pages and is especially drawn to precise pitches in a query that are snappy and compelling.
  • She usually takes three to four weeks to respond to queries. For longer requested manuscripts it was two months, but she’s backlogged right now.
  • When working on promotion, authenticity and what feels natural to you is important. An awkward presence is actually worse than no presence. In the pre-published stage, the focus should be on craft.
  • Wish list: books that do something really different, a different narrative structure, different POV. She loves unusual projects, books based on childhood—travel, unusual vacations, anything to do with food or baking or French food.

Thanks for the agent tips, Mindy. See you back here on Wednesday with more from the SCBWI FL Conference!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

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9. More “Mean Reviews”: Children’s Authors Read Bad Online Reviews of Their Books

Not every book is meant for every reader, but try telling that to an author. We cringe at bad customer reviews of our titles. After years of hard work, it’s difficult to hear that someone dislikes your story. It’s even harder to swallow when your book gets a one-star review for glacier-speed delivery and schmutz on the cover. Yep, these days the old adage is truer than ever: “Everyone’s a critic.”

No one’s immune to the anonymous online rant. Not even Pappi’s Pizza Parlor.


(They had no problem swallowing that review.)

If you’ve spied Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets”, where celebrities read devastating Twitter exchanges about them, you know that these criticisms can be hilarious and even, I dare say, cathartic to read aloud.


So in the same spirit of poking fun at ourselves and our detractors, author Marc Tyler Nobleman collected videos of children’s authors reading bad reviews of their books. The first installment included three deliciously derogatory episodes. And now the next three episodes have been released, with a mightily attractive screen shot of yours truly gracing the “cover” of Episode 5.


Enjoy, and feel free to share your worst review below!

It’s as healthy for ya as a meatball sandwich.

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10. A PiBoIdMo Success Story Launches Today! Goldi Rocks! (plus a giveaway)

Let me take you back to the first year of PiBoIdMo—2009. (For those unindoctrinated, that’s Picture Book Idea Month. Wait, can a picture book writer even use a highfalutin word like unindoctrinated? Or highfalutin?)

Well, it’s 2009 and my good friend Corey Rosen Schwartz is having trouble meeting the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. She despises her ideas. Corey takes her frustration out on Facebook, where all passive-aggressive complaints go to get their wings. She shares several titles on her idea list which feature the precocious blondie:

  • Goldifox and the Three Hares
  • Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
  • Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

She posts these same titles on her blog under the caption “Goldi on the Brain” (a serious affliction for fractured fairytale writers). And you know what? Everyone on Facebook and the blog LOVES the third idea. (Remember the Rule of Threes?) One person, Beth Coulton, even offers to collaborate. They write it together and it gets bought by Putnam in 2010.

And so, a book is born. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just wanna pinch its cheeks?


The concept is clever—the Three Bears form a band but they can’t find a lead singer who can hit the high notes.


They hold Idol-like auditions and the fairytale characters just don’t cut it. Sorry, Little Red, you’re not going to Hollywood. No golden ticket for you.


(I wonder if Papa Bear is supposed to be Simon? But Simon wouldn’t dare don a bandana, right? V-neck tees are much more his style. Maybe Papa is Keith Urban.)

Meanwhile, Goldi wreaks havoc in their studio.


She even drools on their keyboard!


What are the Bears to do? They have to get rid of the golden-haired menace!

Or do they?

Well, you can find out right here. Because I’m giving away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to one lucky winner! Just leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck, music fans!

And congratulations to Corey, Beth and Nate on the release of their new book!

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11. NJ SCBWI Annual Conference June 28 & 29

breadsauceWanna know how I got published? The NJ chapter of SCBWI is to thank. I began attending their events years ago, soaking up all the craft knowledge and publishing tips I could like a piece of garlic bread hungrily sops up the last bits of gravy (yes, my Italian grandmother called it gravy, not sauce).

This year the conference will be held June 28 & 29 in Plainsboro, NJ at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Conference Center. (Hmm, I wonder if they’ll be serving pasta with gravy?)

More details to come, but for those of you who want to propose a workshop or presentation, submissions are now open!


Hope to see you there!

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12. Students, Authors and Skype: Believe the Hype

You know, picture book authors and teachers have oodles in common. We all love kids, we’re often underpaid, and we deal with constant parent criticism. Really, we could be twins. Except teachers must get groomed and dressed every morning while we authors get to lounge around in jammies all day. (Sorry, it’s one of the professional perks.)

I do Skype visits in my jammies--whichever kind the kids pick. This time it was ice skate jammies!

I do Skype visits in my jammies–whichever kind the kids pick. This time it was ice skate jammies!


That’s why I was surprised when I spoke to a group of 50 teachers last week and not a single one had ever used Skype in the classroom. We’re not so twinsy after all?

I connect with a lot of teachers online, so I mistakenly assumed that a majority already took advantage of this technology. But I learned that lack of time and resources—plus occasional lack of the internet—means Skype doesn’t get utilized. Some schools even have privacy concerns and other rules preventing its use.

But that’s too bad! Why should it be?  If schools can’t afford to bring an author in to speak, Skype provides a free next-best-thing alternative. Author Kate Messner maintains a list of authors who offer free 15-minute Skypes, and a searchable database of Skype-able authors is available at skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com. With World Read Aloud Day approaching on March 5, think of how excited students will be to hear an author read their own book. It’s magical. Kids consider authors the “rock stars” of the written word.

shannonmmillerJust ask Shannon McClintock Miller’s students. She’s District Teacher Librarian at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa and has invited authors/illustrators into her library via Skype for the last six years!

I asked Shannon a few questions to help other teachers get started with their own Skype program…

Shannon, what can a teacher do if their administration is skeptical about Skype?

If the administration is resistant, teachers need to show examples, show the importance, show the impact it can have on the students. They also need to reassure them that the kids are safe, that they know what they are doing…that they understand the “digital citizenship” impact.

When we started out, we practiced Skyping into each others’ rooms. I would read from my library office to the kids down the hall over Skype. We were then able to teach them about Skype, how to behave, that it was just an “extension” of their classroom. All those silly behaviors that we see at first when kids are put in front of a camera can be talked about and addressed. Make sure your administraion knows this.

The impact of bringing in not just authors, but other experts and professionals, takes the library or classroom outside of the four walls and into the world. It brings the children experiences that they might not have otherwise.

skypeWhat is your Skype set-up like?

We have a computer with a camera and that is what I use. I have it connected to a projector so the kids can see the author or visitor. You don’t have to have a fancy set up to make this work. It can be simple. And kids can also gather around the laptop on the table, which is what we usually do because they like to be close to the author. Also, it’s very important to have speakers set up. Have the kids be able to come up easily and ask questions, too.

I love how mobile my set-up makes me. I can go anywhere with my laptop…and make connections happen naturally. I also use my phone and iPad with Skype, too. Last year took my phone to our pasture for a class of Kindergarteners to see our horse. It works—the connection, the relationships are what is important.

Also, it’s important to have the author’s book available. We have even read the book along on our iPad if the book is an eBook, too. Or I have printed off papers from the Skype visitors to have for the kids.

We are renovating our library and this is a very important part of the new design. But I want people to know—you can have it be very simple, too.

What have been some of your most memorable Skype author/illustrator experiences?

We have had so many wonderful Skype visits.

  • Mercer Mayer was very special because being one of the favorite of all kids (and teachers)… And my cousin (with whom I teach) asked me for her kindergarteners.
  • Michael Buckley led an hour-long discussion as a culminating event with our 5th graders and also had fun with us on the last day of school last year.
  • Tom Angelberger has Skyped with us several times to create Origami Yodas.
  • Robert Forbes and Mrs. P read poetry together for our Poetry Summit with five other schools around the world.
  • Peter Reynolds Skyped from his home studio. Being an artist and friend of Peter’s, this was very special.
  • Loren Long Skyped for Read Across America Day 
  • This fall we have been Skyping with Capstone Publishing Art Studio. And LOVED this one
  • I know I am leaving out so many of my favorite friends and visits…I could go on and on.

vanmeterHow do you feel these visits have impacted your students?

I feel that these visits bring great experiences and connections to our students. By Skyping with authors, they can discuss writing, publishing, reading, brainstorming, etc. By Skyping with illustrators, they can discuss being an artist for books, for authors, how they got involved and the process.

A lot of times the authors talk about writing when they were younger—how they went to school, where they trained and how they got better at writing.

We have Skyped with publishers to understand the process of writing and publishing a book.

We get to bring the world to our children through these virtual visits.

Thank you, Shannon! It’s interesting to hear from a school system that has been utilizing Skype to its full advantage!

So, how about YOU?

Are you a teacher, educator or librarian eager to try Skype? I’m offering free 15-minute Skype sessions for World Read Aloud Day on March 5th!


I will read my book THE MONSTORE, tell students a SECRET about the book and then answer their questions. (I also perform a magic trick made possible only by this amazing technology and the warping of the space-time continuum.)

Just email me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot you-know-what-else) and we can set up a time slot!

Happy Skyping to all!

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13. How the Outside World Impacted the Inside World of Publishing (From An Agent’s Point of View)

miraagentby guest blogger Dr. Mira Reisberg

You’ve been pounding the keys for months or years, you’ve finally finished your manuscript and you’re ready to submit. You go to a publisher and they are only accepting agented submissions. You go to some agents and they are closed to submissions. You start pulling out the hair now that you didn’t pull out while writing your manuscript in utter frustration!! I want to explain a little about how this came to pass and what you can do about it.

A Little Publishing History
Back when I first started working in this industry, in the good old days of early 1988, first as an illustrator and then as just about everything else, it was a very different world. There were many publishing houses with many editors and art directors and many smaller independent publishers as well. It was fascinating to visit and editors had assistants and support staff that are rarely found these days. Publishing was wide-open and thriving.

But then over time, the corporatization of America started taking hold and larger publishing houses started buying smaller publishers, becoming larger corporations. Using economies of scale, they needed fewer editors, fewer art directors, and fewer assistants. Things started automating more with newer technologies stretching editors and ADs to do more. Many editors, ADs, and their assistants were let go, increasing the workload tremendously for those who remained or those who were newly hired. Big corporations started taking over or merging with other big companies increasing this economy of scale.


Enter September 11th and the Anthrax Scare
Following the 2001 September 11th attacks, there were numerous anthrax scares, as one NBC employee tested positive and a New York Times reporter received a suspicious envelope with white powder. An increase in submissions, partly enabled by changes in attitudes to self-expression, creativity, and access to education—plus access to improved writing technologies, fewer resources of staff to deal with the increase, combined with the anthrax scare—caused many New York children’s book publishers to close their doors to submissions and only accept new submissions from agents.

Then came Amazon with its deep discounts and the recession killing off more independent publishers, further narrowing the field. Fortunately, many smaller publishers did keep their doors open to what’s known as unsolicited submissions and quite a few wonderful independent publishers like Chronicle Books and Lee and Low remain.

Today there are 5 major publishers as well as a bunch of independent or semi-independent publishers. This is not to say that the major pubs aren’t producing wonderful work or that big publishers = bad, or small publishers = good (though most smaller publishers do need extra support). That’s overly simplistic and there are truly wonderful people working at all houses and imprints, big and small making equally wonderful children’s books. I’m just talking about the narrowing of the field for submissions. Some of the major publishers’ imprints still accept unsolicited manuscripts, but for many publishers, due to the overwhelming number of submissions and reasons explained earlier, they prefer the system of having an agent act as a kind of quality screener and gatekeeper.


Now It’s the Agents’ Time to Be Overwhelmed
These days we have a big problem with supply and demand where there are many more writers than there are agents, editors, or publishing opportunities. Also, many writers don’t do the work of learning the skills and techniques of being a professional writer, honing their craft over time, taking courses and learning the specific requirements of contemporary publishing and their specific genre. They submit their work and overwhelm agents who then close their submissions except through conferences, referrals and special circumstances.

So Back to You. You Ask Yourself, “What Can I Do Now?”
We understand that this is frustrating. Here’s a little information about what you can do to get past these restrictions. One of the best ways to get access is by making personal connections with agents and editors at conferences or through courses. There is nothing like a personal connection in any aspect of life. But remember that editors and agents are mostly overworked and underpaid. They do this work because they love books and helping others. As society changes with events in the world, we have to change with it. The thing that doesn’t change is that first impressions make lasting impressions. If you meet an editor or agent make a great impression by being warm, helpful, kind, and positive. As the saying goes, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Of course before you submit, make sure your work is wonderful, brilliant, original, professional and publishable. But this is a given. If you make meaningful connections, chances are they’ll want to help you if they can, and besides the possibility of publishing, you might just make a wonderful friend.

To learn more about Mira Reisberg and her agency, visit HummingbirdLiterary.com. To learn about her upcoming writing course, visit ChildrensBookAcademy.com/writing-childrens-picture-books.html.

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14. The Rule of Threes in Picture Books


Allow me to be Andy Rooney for a moment.

Imagine me as a white-haired, bulbous, salty old man with a whiny accent.


I know, it’s hard. But just IMAGINE. (By the way, isn’t “bulbous” a marvelous word? I think we, as writers, should seek its descriptive assistance more often. But sorry, I digress. Back to being Andy…)

“Ya ever wonder why so many children’s books feature THREES? Goldilocks and the THREE Bears? The THREE Little Pigs? Snow White and the SEVEN Dwarfs? No wait…I miscounted…I mean The THREE Billy Goat’s Gruff?”

Yes, there’s something downright appealing about the number THREE. (P.S., I’ve returned to being Tara. Thank goodness ’cause those eyebrows are itchy.)

It’s like two is too little. And four is too many. As Goldi would say, three is “just right”. Three is as satisfying as a warm, comfy little bed. (Until the three bears arrive home, that is.)

According to Wikipedia (yes, I’m quoting Wiki), “things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans (“Go, fight, win!”) to films, many things are structured in threes.”

The rule of threes is all around us. In photography, the “rule of thirds” dictates that the most visually striking elements of a photograph should align with the intersection of theoretical lines which break the image into thirds lengthwise and widthwise. (Geesh, what a clunker of a sentence.) Hence:


In interior decorating, objets d’art are often grouped in threes.


Architecture adheres to this rule as well. Three are more aesthetically pleasing than two or four. Threes help to balance the focal point in a room. Just ask Genevieve.


There’s the “three schema approach” in software engineering. But don’t ask me to explain. That’s the hubby’s forte.

Even religion espouses threes—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

“Omne trium perfectum” is a Latin phrase which translates to “everything that comes in threes is perfect”. The world seems to think so. You’ll see the “rule of threes” demonstrated everywhere. Hey, I even sneeze three times in a row.

So in picture books, where do we use this rule?

Descriptive groups of three.


“The Monstore” by Tara Lazar & James Burks


Three images upon a page.


“Boy + Bot” by Ame Dyckman & Dan Yaccarino


Even three text boxes!


“Children Make Terrible Pets” by Peter Brown


And the classic three characters.



But the most important rule of threes in picture books is three attempts to solve a problem. (Prior to the fourth successful attempt.)

These three attempts invest the reader in your hero’s struggles. Solving the problem in one fell swoop? That doesn’t feel genuine, and the reader won’t care about their journey because it’s over before it’s even begun. There’s no time to empathize with your MC. And with two attempts, the main character has not yet collected enough information to help complete his task. But third time’s the charm! (See that?) It’s when he tries again, fails, hits his lowest point, but then realizes just what he needs to rise again. Three attempts build tension and encourage the reader to turn the page–eagerly! Oooh, what happens NEXT?

Crack open your favorite picture book and you’ll notice threes abound. What did you find?

But now, I’m going to tell you about some different numbers…


THE MONSTORE author and PiBoIdMo creator Tara Lazar’s “7 ATE 9″, a pun-packed preschool noir mystery, starring a hard-boiled Private “I” and a mysteriously missing number, to Kevin Lewis at Disney-Hyperion, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World).

Hip, hip, hooray!

(That’s three cheers!)

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15. Gratitude: It’s Good For You


Stationery by Mooseart on Etsy.

Are you good about saying “thank you”?

Admission: I’m not.

Some people keep desks full of exquisite stationery and sign them with flourishing gratitude. Me, I can’t find a stamp in the junk drawer so I give up before I even start. And my address book? Last seen in 2009, scribbled over by toddler’s crayons. And glitter glue. And strawberry applesauce.

Yeah, despite organizing PiBoIdMo every year, in daily life, I’m highly unorganized. Neatness and order doesn’t compute. I leave dishes in the sink. Piles of unfolded clothes litter the laundry room. A confused conglomeration of bags and boxes accumulate under the stairwell. I’m afraid to know what small animals have taken residence there. (Fodder for my next picture book manuscript?)

Saying “thank you” has always been difficult. When someone offers a compliment, I deflect it with self-deprecating remarks. My goal is to let the person know whatever I did was simple, something they could just have easily accomplished. It feels braggart to accept a compliment. So I don’t take them. The attention feels uncomfortable. Little did I know how rude it was to not respond with “thank you”.

I like to give, not receive. Don’t ask me why. Some psychologist is gonna have a field day with this. But I do have a point, beyond being called in for a head-shrinking session.

I’d like to say “thank you” to YOU for helping me to achieve a rewarding 2013.

  • To all the people who purchased my debut picture book THE MONSTORE, thank you.
  • To those who voted for my book and my blog in various end-of-year superlatives, thank you.
  • To everyone who follows me here or on Facebook and Twitter, thank you.
  • To the participants, authors, illustrators and agents of PiBoIdMo, thank you.
  • To those who have asked me to guest blog, speak or present, thank you.
  • To the authors who wrote all the books I read in 2013, thank you. (Yes, I must thank them—they kept me happily entertained!)

This past year has been a tremendously gratifying one for me, and I would be amiss if I didn’t extend my gratitude.


May your 2014 be productive and successful!

And now, to find that address book…

Yep, I still haven’t mailed out my holiday cards. *sigh*


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16. Write to Done’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers


Well, this week has been a whirlwind, a whirlygig and a tilt-a-whirl all-in-one.

Stop, Amy, I’m dizzy!!!

After so many of you nominated this blog for Write to Done’s “Top 10 Blogs for Writers” contest, I learned yesterday that it was selected! It cracked the top 10!


top10blogforwriters2013This blog is a labor of love, it truly is. (I know I’m using a lot of clichés this week, but heck if they aren’t so darn apropos.) I blog because I enjoy it immensely, and hey, even though picture books LOOK simple, we all know they’re complicated. There’s a lot to dish and discuss.

Many of you are visiting for the first time, linking from Write to Done. So now would be a good time for a “Year in Review”, no? Amazingly, the top three posts this year were NOT written this year—they’re oldies but goodies (another cliché, Tara?):

  1. Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout (Picture Book Dummy)
  2. 500+ Things That Kids Like
  3. Roald Dahl: What Makes a Good Children’s Writer

The top three posts written this year were from PiBoIdMo guest bloggers:

  1. Tammi Sauer Starts with a Title
  2. Zachariah OHora Pimps His Characters
  3. Melissa Guion Bursts the Bubble

And my three favorite posts of 2013?

  1. A Monstrous Book Launch Story in GIFs
  2. What’s Wrong with Writing Message-Driven Picture Books?
  3. Tara Lazar Gets Emotional
  4. Gifts for Writers (In Other Words, Gifts for YOU!)

(Hey, I thought you said THREE? It’s my blog, they’re my rules. Which can be broken. Just like picture book rules.)

Write to Done called this blog “a hub for picture book writers.” It’s true—we’ve created a supportive community here and in our PiBoIdMo Facebook group. (Please join us there. The group is open year-round and delves into all things picture book.)

While composing this “year in review,” I noted that in 2013 I highlighted more authors and illustrators than ever before—and while that’s a good thing, I’d like to circle back to more craft articles in 2014.

However, it always helps to have your input. What do YOU want to see here in 2014? (Besides PiBoIdMo 2014, of course.) Please leave a comment! Your votes got this blog into the Top 10 (thank you!) and your votes for this blog’s content will ensure it continues to be a useful (and FUN) resource.

Many thanks to Mary Jaksch of Write to Done for the honor, and congratulations to the other winners: Writer Unboxed, KM Weiland, Carol Tice, Chuck Wendig, CS Lakin, James Chartrand, Kristen Lamb, Linda Formichelli and Darcy Pattison. Go check them out! Methinks you’ve got a lotta good reading in your future.


(Hey, you know who that is? Ally Sheedy! I tell this story at school visits: when I was in elementary school I checked “She Was Nice to Mice” out of the library. My librarian, Mrs. Shamus, told me that the author, Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy, was only 12 years old. I then thought, “If she can do it, then I can, too!” That was my writing epiphany, the first time I recall wanting to become a children’s author.)

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17. PiBoIdMo Day 24: Maria Gianferrari Embraces Failure (plus a prize!)

Maria_Nov2013by Maria Gianferrari

Embrace Failure: A Recipe for Success

Prep Time: Indeterminable

Yield: Infinite Possibilities


  • 1 cup of Inspiration
  • 10 cups of Perspiration
  • Spread with Failure
  • Sprinkle with Hope

With the lightbulb logo as inspiration, I thought I’d quote Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So get out that deodorant and sweat away!

Now that you have a bunch of ideas, it’s time to play with them, and fail. Most of the time, we have to fail before we can succeed. Let’s face it, failure sucks. I hate failing. It’s painful. I go through cycles where I feel like a fraud and a complete loser. Some days I still want to give up. But I can’t—it’s in my blood, and yours. Writers, Artists, Scientists, Musicians, Inventors, all creators, more often get it wrong before they get it right. Failure is integral to the creative process.

Giving ourselves permission to fail is very liberating. How can we fail at writing a sh*tty first draft? The only way we can truly fail is by not writing. Not drawing that first line. Not trying. Being too afraid.

So jump right in and fail! Here are some ways to embrace failure:


  • Keep Kneading: Change genres/formats

I had my first close encounter with a coyote on a moonlit night in January 2007. I became obsessed with coyotes. I researched—I even interviewed a biologist for the nonfiction article I’d be submitting to Highlights. I subbed. I waited. I hoped…REJECTION. But the coyotes kept howling in my head. This failure was an opportunity to begin anew. I re-worked the article into a poetic nonfiction picture book manuscript. I submitted, got rejections, revised. Three years later it received a Barbara Karlin commendation, and helped me land the incredible Ammi-Joan Paquette as my agent. In May 2013, COYOTE MOON sold to canine lover Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press—six years after the early version failed.

  • Marinate: Let It Sit a Bit

I’ve love raptors, especially red-tailed hawks. In 2009, Highlights rejected “Highway Hawks” because they had too many bird stories. It sat for three years before re-surfacing as PiBoIdMo idea #21 last year: convert hawks article to a haiku picture book! It didn’t end up in haiku form, but it also sold to Emily at Roaring Brook this past summer—four years after the initial rejection. And even better—it will be illustrated by the phenomenal Brian Floca!

  • Fold in: A New Point of View

“Terrific Tongues” began as a poem in 2004 when my then 2 ½-year-old daughter became obsessed with tongues. Tongues everywhere were greeted with the German word “Zunge” since we were then living in Berlin. Inspired by her fascination, I penned a poem for Highlights, though I never submitted it because it felt incomplete. I toiled, researched creature tongues and it evolved into a nonfiction picture book. I revised, incorporating a second person interrogative refrain that gave the story an interactive feel. Though I received some nice comments from editors on its originality and kid appeal, it continued to be rejected.

In 2008, I submitted it to the PEN New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award contest. I received the form rejection letter and filed it away. A month later I received a phone call from Judge Susan Goodman explaining that my manuscript had been a contender, but for the failure of a too-technical ending. Grateful for her encouragement, I re-worked the ending and re-subbed it to the contest in 2009 when it was one of the winners! Though the award didn’t lead to acquisition, it was how I first met Joan. This manuscript sold to Rebecca Davis at Boyds Mills Press in June 2013—nine years after the initial inspiration.

  • Set Aside: Take a Break and Procrastinate!

One of my all-time favorite movies is “High Fidelity,” starring John Cusack. It’s one of those rare movies that’s actually better than the book (no offense Nick Hornby!) The main character, Rob, is a charming cad who owns a record store and confesses to the camera like he’s our friend. He and his musical snob sidekicks, Dick and Barry, make “Top 5” lists for: Mondays, memorable break-ups, death. Watching the movie inspired me to insert lists into the picture book I was then revising. PENNY AND JELLY was my first sale, acquired in a two-book deal by the lovely Cynthia Platt at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! Newcomer Thyra Heder’s humorous and warm illustrations will accompany the text.

Find inspiration in creative procrastination: watch a movie; go to a museum; explore nature; read poetry; listen to/play music; dance; garden; bake; craft. If you’re an artist, try another medium: switch sketching for sculpting; exchange knitting for painting; choose collage over clay.


Here are a few other ingredients to spice up your failing manuscripts:

  • Stir in a new setting
  • Truss with structure: lists; recipes; manuals; formulas; diary/letter formats; musical compositions
  • Beat in a dance tempo: waltz; disco; cha-cha anyone?
  • Frost with layering or a dual narrative (works especially well for nonfiction)
  • Blend poetic forms: sonnets; haikus; acrostics; ballads
  • Render your MC from human to animal; female to male; animate to inanimate object (or vice versa)
  • Mince previous PiBoIdMo ideas together to form something new

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time,” said Thomas Edison.

Give yourself the permission to fail—you never know what you might discover in the process! It will take time, but don’t give up! You will get there! If you’re completely passionate, perhaps even obsessed with your manuscript, all the better. This energy will give you the momentum to glide over bumps in the road.

So try that picture book text, those illustrations, just one more time. Embrace failure, and you will surely find success!


Maria is currently failing on 2012’s PiBoIdMo idea #29. She is a nature, creature and dog lover who grew up near a farm in New Hampshire climbing trees, smelling maple syrup clouds, and slapping cow patties. She now lives in northern Virginia with her German-scientist husband, Niko, their artist daughter, Anya, their Dixie Chick rescue dog, Becca, and two rescue rats, Lucia and Nera. She has three fiction picture books forthcoming: two PENNY AND JELLY books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) as well as OFFICER KATZ AND HOUNDINI (Aladdin); and three non-fiction books: COYOTE MOON & HIGHWAY HAWKS (Roaring Brook Press) and TERRIFIC TONGUES (Boyds Mills Press). To learn more, check out her website: MariaGianferrari.com.


Maria is giving away a picture book critique!

One winner will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 24: Maria Gianferrari Embraces Failure (plus a prize!), last added: 11/24/2013
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18. PiBoIdMo Roald Dahl Quote of the Day #5


10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Roald Dahl Quote of the Day #5, last added: 11/24/2013
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19. PiBoIdMo Day 18: Dorina Lazo Gilmore Feeds Her Imagination (plus a prize!)

Bio photo 2012by Dorina Lazo Gilmore

I grew up in the kitchen with my mama and grandmas and aunties. When I was a little girl my mama sprinkled flour across the counter and let me draw pictures in it while she baked. As I got older, I got to do more grown-up jobs. She taught me how to read recipes, measure ingredients and decipher spices.

I loved being in the kitchen because that’s where I found the greatest samples of food and the best stories cooking.

When I sat at the table with my grandma rolling lumpia, she would tell me about her childhood growing up in the Philippines and Hawaii. Grandma would giggle about the days when my grandpa would dedicate songs to her on the radio. She would share techniques for Filipino cooking, which is as much about the process as it is about the ingredients.

When I would pull up a stool to the counter, my mama would tell me about her adventures in the kitchen with her dad. I learned about our Italian-American heritage. I discovered the secret pasta sauce recipe. My mama unraveled the stories of her dreams, failures and the roots of her faith.

We bonded right there in the kitchen.

Christmas family photo 2012

As a mama of three girls, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen today. We create, we taste, we dream up stories. One day I heard that familiar scrape of the stool across the kitchen tile. My middle daughter, who is named after an Italian chef, wanted to help mama. I happened to be making a Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte. When she saw the chocolate swirling in the mixing bowl, she looked up at me very earnestly and said, “When does the licking begin?”

A classic line that will go down in history in our family. I am sure it’s also a line that will climb into one of my manuscripts one day.

And that’s just what happens in the kitchen: stories are born. My latest book, CORA COOKS PANCIT, details the story of a Filipino girl who learns to cook her family’s favorite noodle dish with her mama and uncovers some family history in the process. The story came out of my own experience cooking with my grandma Cora.

I happen to have a hand-scrawled copy of my grandma’s pancit recipe. I believe recipes are also a kind of story, a narrative of ingredients and traditions. That’s why we decided to include the recipe for the dish in the back of my book. When I do school visits, I talk about the ingredients with the kids and we cook pancit together.

I also included some details in the book from a Filipino friend who grew up in California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. One day when we were cooking together she told me about her dad who cooked for the hundreds of farmworkers who picked strawberries and grapes in the fields. This added another layer to my original manuscript because I could share a piece of California history as well.

Moise & Dorina gaze at roof

The kitchen can also be a place to test out a lot more than just recipes. If your writer’s brain is blocked, droopy, stuck or uninspired, go feed it. Throw open the cupboards, dig in the refrigerator, turn up the burner and make something. I call it cooking therapy. Sometimes just the act of making myself a snack or cooking up a meal gets my creative juices flowing. While I’m cooking, I’m working out the kinks in my plot or adding nuances to my characters – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously.

Julia Child said, “This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook. Try new recipes. Learn from your mistakes. Be fearless, and above all, have fun.”

Sounds like great advice for writers too.

Bon appétit!


  1. Describe the most delicious meal you can imagine. What are the smells, the colors, the tastes that inspire you there?
  2. Sketch a scene in words or pictures from your childhood that involved food. Was there a traditional dish or meal you often made with your family?
  3. If you were inviting a famous chef to dinner, what you would you serve? Invite your own children or perhaps your inner child to be a part of that story.
  4. What food makes your stomach turn or your nose turn up? Write a story about a child avoiding or facing that food.
  5. Go in the kitchen. Make yourself a snack. Dig in. Then imagine what would happen if that tantalizing snack came alive.


CoraCooksPancitCoverDorina is the author of three books for children, including CORA COOKS PANCIT which won the Asian Pacific American Librarian Association’s “Picture Book of the Year.” Her poetry has also been published in Cricket magazine.

Dorina loves creating healthy recipes for her family and friends. To balance all that eating, she runs half marathons with her hubby and knits. When Dorina is not writing or stirring up stories in the kitchen, she is the director of The Haitian Bead Project. The project features upcycled jewelry made by Haitian artisans who are rising out of poverty. Dorina loves working with the Haitian women and sharing their stories in the U.S.

Visit Dorina online at DorinaGilmore.com, Twitter @DorinaGilmore or check out some of her recipes on the Health-full blog at MissionFitness.com.


Dorina is giving away a signed copy of CORA COOKS PANCIT!

This prize  will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

14 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 18: Dorina Lazo Gilmore Feeds Her Imagination (plus a prize!), last added: 11/18/2013
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20. PiBoIdMo Day 19: Melissa Guion Bursts the Bubble

melissaguionby Melissa Guion

Welcome to your 19th day of PiBoIdMo, everyone! Wow, you guys are amazing, and maybe a tiny bit crazy! You’re going through with this thing! How are you doing? Are ideas coming to you? Has the well run dry? If so, here’s one I was saving for a rainy day: “alpaca inherits disused windmill.” You can have it. Don’t tell Tara!

Now freshen up your coffee because we’re going to talk about…


It’s a scam. That’s my honest two cents. I don’t even know why I put it in bold type. Here are some reasons it stinks.


The shenanigans start with a young lady in Ancient Greece. She’s 14—high time she married the aging polygamist down the road, says dad! But our girl is a step ahead of the game. She just got a job relaying divine messages from Apollo, and she has to remain a virgin for him! I don’t know about you but I’m already suspicious.


Does girlfriend get to have clandestine sex with gods? Maybe. Does she hang out in a cave breathing intoxicating fumes? Once a week, which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about vaping. She’s the most revered figure in ancient Greek society. That means gold jewelry, fancy dinners and spa days. And she’s free to speak gibberish, which handlers translate for her credulous visitors: “She said ‘you may never not defeat the Spartans/why does this lamb stew taste so amazing?’”

Sure, Apollo told her to say that. I almost forgot: she gets three months’ vacation. No surprise oracles started popping up on every corner. I’m declaring it the world’s first really great grift.


If you’re picturing the rock band from Detroit with a singing drummer, I’m not talking about them. They’re legit. I’m talking about the artists and writers of late 18th and early 19th-century Europe. They were obsessed with finding inspiration, especially after a juicy excerpt from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience ran in Marie Claire’s September 1794 issue.

According to the Romantics, artists harness the divine when they create their work. Not everyone can do it, though. God only talks to geniuses! How did that theory serve our creative forebears? It justified chronic procrastination. It was also good for starting drunken fights about who’s a genius and who isn’t. And it was a compelling argument when begging your dentist for opium, as you see in the following historical exchange:

PERCY SHELLEY: I wish I had more opium.
SHELLEY’S DENTIST: I’m sorry, Lord Shelley, I cannot responsibly give you any more opium.
SHELLEY: I guess you don’t want me to realize my genius.
(SHELLEY’S DENTIST sighs, gives SHELLEY more opium.)

I apologize if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble with this. I just want you to be aware that a person who goes on about inspiration is hoping to rob you or use you to get drugs. Does this apply to my fellow guest-bloggers? I don’t know them all personally, but I’m going to say yes. Maybe not Jane Yolen, she’s a hard worker. It’s certainly true of the illustrators. You’re better off trusting a carney.

So where does this leave you? At your desk, where you belong! And when you lack an idea? My advice is, have a sandwich. Take a nap. Try again tomorrow. Stay away from gods and dentists. Listen to Jane Yolen.


babypenguinsMelissa Guion is the author and illustrator of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! (Philomel 2012) which was selected for The Original Art 2012 and has just been reissued as a board book. Her second book, BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA, arrives in January.

Visit Melissa online at MelissaGuion.com or follow her on Twitter @MelissaGuion.


Melissa is giving away a signed copy of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! and (vegan, opium-free) penguin gummies to snack on while you read it.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 19: Melissa Guion Bursts the Bubble, last added: 11/19/2013
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21. PiBoIdMo 2013: Meet the Agents

I call the agents who participate in PiBoIdMo “agent prizes”, but let me make one thing clear: you do not get to bring them home with you.

Oh, sure, I know how you’d love to cuddle up with an agent, dress them in adorable footie pajamas and read them bedtime stories, but alas, they are remaining in their respective homes. For now. Who knows? If they really LOVE your ideas, maybe they’d like to snuggle beside you? But I digress…

At the conclusion of PiBoIdMo, on December 1st, I will post the “PiBo Pledge”. Leave a comment on the pledge post if you have completed the challenge with at least 30 ideas. You do not have to submit those ideas to prove that you have them. You’re on the honor system. It’s OK, I trust you.

grandpoobahfredIf you have “signed” the pledge by commenting AND you had also registered, then you are eligible for an “agent prize”—a.k.a. THE GRAND POOBAH OF PRIZES. You will get your 5 best ideas evaluated by a kidlit agent. They’ll tell you which ideas might be the best ones to pursue as manuscripts. (Or not.)

Don’t worry–you’ll get a few days to pick your 5 best ideas and flesh them out before sending to your assigned agent.

This year we have EIGHT EXCELLENT AGENTS participating! This means there are EIGHT GRAND PRIZES! I hope to add more, but these are who we have thus far.

Now…let me introduce you…let me make you smile… (wait, that’s let me entertain you…oopsie…but I bet you’re smiling anyway)…


Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)

joanagentJoan is a Senior Agent with EMLA, working from her home office in Massachusetts as the “East Coast branch” of the agency. She represents all forms of children’s and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time.

An EMLA client herself, Joan is also the author of numerous books for children, most recently the picture books Ghost in the House (Candlewick, 2013) and Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion, 2013), and the novels Paradox (Random House, 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker, 2013). When she is not on the phone, answering email, or writing, you will most likely find Joan curled up with a book. Or baking something delicious. Or talking about something delicious she’s baked. Really, after books and food, what else is there worth saying?

You can read more about Joan’s writing and agenting process here.


Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)

trishagentTricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 18 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.

As associate agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.

Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here and here.


Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency

mariettaagentMarietta has experienced children’s books from every angle—teaching, marketing, publishing & bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. She is also book curator at an independent toy store/bookstore. Read a recent publishing industry piece by Marietta here.



Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary

daniellemsmithDanielle Smith began her agent career at Foreword Literary Agents in 2013 where she represents picture books and middle grade authors and illustrators. Her enthusiasm for children’s literature began as a young child, but grew exponentially when her own two children were born and shortly thereafter she began reviewing books at her top rated children’s book review site There’s A Book. For more than five years she’s been involved professionally with books through print and online publications such as Women’s World and Parenting Magazine, as a member of the judging panel for The Cybils awards for fiction picture books, as well as locally by serving on the board of The Central Coast Writer’s Conference.

Danielle is also a writer, represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg for her middle grade novel The Protectorate. She’s a member of SCBWI and can frequently be found on Twitter talking about anything from children’s books to the BBC’s Sherlock to her own parenting woes & joys.

Read more about Danielle here.


Mira Reisberg, Hummingbird Literary

miraagentMira Reisberg came to launch Hummingbird Literary following a 25-year history in the field of children’s literature working as an award-winning illustrator, a writer, editor, art director, designer, a children’s literature and art education professor, and a teacher/mentor to many now successful children’s book creatives.

Her mission is to successfully represent all age-levels to create wonderful books that bring meaning and/or joy to children’s and young adult lives. Hummingbird Literary will have a limited number of clients so that Mira and her team can focus on building long-term careers and fruitful relationships.

Learn more about Mira and Hummingbird here.


Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency

susanhawkSusan Hawk represents authors who write for children of all ages, babies to teenage.

Susan comes to TBA from Children’s Book Marketing, where she worked for over 15 years, most recently as the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. She’s also worked as a children’s librarian and a bookseller.

Susan handles books for children exclusively: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA, fiction and non-fiction. She wants a book to stay with her long after she finishes reading, and she’s looking for powerful, original writing. She’s open to mystery, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). Her favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial. In non-fiction she’s looking for books that relate to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world. In picture books, she’s looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and characters as indelible as her childhood favorites Ferdinand, Madeline and George and Martha.

Read more about Susan here.


Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary

lorikilkellyLori Kilkelly is an agent with Rodeen Literary Management, founded by Paul Rodeen, formerly of Sterling Lord Literistic, in 2009. After working in sales for a number of years, Lori decided to follow her passion for books. She attended the Denver Publishing Institute, subsequently joining the agency as an intern in early 2010. Ascending the ranks from intern and reader to assistant, she worked with current and potential clients as well as editors and publishers. In early 2012 Lori took on the role of Social Media Manager, creating and maintaining the Rodeen Literary Facebook page as well as Twitter and Pinterest accounts, to provide promotional opportunities for RLM clients as well as keep interested parties informed about books, news and events involving RLM. In December 2012 she began representing her first client, Toni Yuly, and has subsequently taken on an additional four clients. She represents authors as well as illustrators and is actively seeking talented Middle Grade and Young Adult writers.

Please visit here for more on Lori and Rodeen Literary.


Sean McCarthy, McCarthy Literary

mccarthy small headshotSean McCarthy began his publishing career as an editorial intern at Overlook Press and then moved over to the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. He worked as the submissions coordinator and permissions manager before becoming a full-time literary agent. Sean graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English-Creative Writing, and is grateful that he no longer has to spend his winters in Minnesota.

He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings. He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, or query letters that pose too many questions.

You can visit Sean here and follow him on Twitter here for his thoughts on publishing news, the inevitable hipsterfication of Astoria, and the Mets’ starting lineup.


Yay! So those are our agents, folks.

Now I should end on a humorous note, but you know, running PiBoIdMo just wipes the witty right outta me sometimes.

Maybe…yabba dabba do?

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo 2013: Meet the Agents, last added: 11/19/2013
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22. PiBoIdMo Day 20: Pat Miller Shares 5 Ways to Get in the Back Door of the Big House (plus prizes!)

Pat Millerby Pat Miller

For me, ideas rarely spring to life like Athena leaping from Zeus’s forehead. When I intentionally push my imagination up against the wall, patting it down for inspiration, I get nowhere but frustrated. But I have discovered five ways to slip into the back door of The House of Inspiration.

1. Piggyback
I was delivering the annual library orientation to my primary classes. That involved repeating the same lesson 23 times. “I wish there was a book we could share that detailed the procedures in a fun way,” I thought.

hi res Book HuntWeeks later, we were acting out the choruses of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt when it struck me. I could write an orientation book called We’re Going on a Book Hunt! The structure of the classic rhyme was a ready framework for my own bouncy tale about a class of bears who learn to use the library, complete with original choruses.

You aren’t likely to think of ideas no one has ever considered before. But you can tweak the tried-and-true to make them your own. Library shelves are home to a plethora of piggy-backed productions—Little Red Cowboy Hat and The Wolf Who Cried Boy are two more.

2. Get Emotional
My two-year-old granddaughter wanted to help make a shopping list. As I said peanut butter, eggs, bread, she made a squiggle for each. When I added tiger toes, monkey milk, and boo-boo fruit, she calmly added each to the list. Her bit-lip intensity and self-confidence charmed me. That emotional *ping* signaled to me that this incident was worth writing down.

Negative emotions *ping* as well. Recently, we received a fancy invitation to the anniversary party of a couple I didn’t know. But my husband said he was a great guy, new to their golf group. So we went. We gave them a gift, signed their bridal book, and shared a lovely dinner with a table of strangers. When we finally asked someone to point out the special couple, we realized that neither of us knew them! How did we get invited?! As we slipped out undetected, I was confused and embarrassed. *Ping!* I converted this emotional incident into a nugget for PiBoIdMo.

Build a stockpile of emotional *pings* in your notebook. Cull them from real life and from your memories. An emotional connection helps kids identify with your character. But it can be difficult to generate while pressured by a blinking cursor. Stored episodes of affection, anger, admiration, embarrassment, etc. can be the yeasty starter for developing similar emotions in your work.

Squirrelsnewyears3. Mother of Invention
One January, my first grade teachers asked if there was a book about making New Year’s resolutions. I searched area libraries and publisher catalogs without success. Then it dawned on me that I could write that book. Two years later, I was able to supply them with Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution in which a rookie squirrel learns about making resolutions from her friends.

Necessity is the mother of books about gluten allergies, bullies, gay parents, and overseas adoptions. Be alert when you hear (or think) “I wish there was a book about…” When I told my grown daughter I was working on this post, she said, “I wish there was a book about an Advent calendar that came to life.” I may never write it, but I added her wish to my notebook. My husband still wishes I would write a book about famous brothers. It’s in there.

On the last page of every issue of The SCBWI Bulletin, Libby Nelson compiles a librarian wish list of fiction and nonfiction topics. One of those needs could become the mother of your next brilliant inspiration.

substitutegroundhog4. Carry a Net
One year I was coaxing my kindergarteners to guess what special day was coming up. They made random incorrect guesses, so I gave them a clue.

“It’s the day when an animal pops out of its hole to look for its shadow.”

Blank looks. These were Texas five year-olds. There are no wild groundhogs in the entire state. Then an earnest little boy waved his hand, blurting, “I know this one!”

“Great! What animal pops out of his hole next week?” I asked.

“The armadillo!” he proudly announced.

Not quite. I went on to explain about Groundhog Day, but as soon as the class left the library, I scurried into my office to record the exchange. Three years later, that conversation inspired my first children’s book, Substitute Groundhog.

My new smart phone takes dictation, but I find small tablets to be more versatile. (It’s creepily obvious if you dictate into your phone while eavesdropping.) I have little tablets in my purse, my gym bag, my car, and my kitchen. I even have a waterproof one in the shower—my best place for getting ideas. Tablets help me capture inspirations before they fly away.

5. Plant Bulbs
I read a great gardening tip about using golf tees to mark where you plant bulbs so you don’t accidentally plant over them. Bulbs look like rocks. You plant them. Water them. Then wait. And wait. Eventually you forget about them (hence the golf tees), and go about your life. One day–surprise! Leaf tips, followed in quick order by stems, buds and gorgeous flowers.

We were touring the Boston harbor when our guide waved his arm vaguely to the north and said, “Over there is the grave of the guy who invented the doughnut hole.” I jotted that fact in my little purse notebook. Later, I transferred it to my Idea Notebook where it sat for two years until I took it to the Highlights Nonfiction Workshop. There I began my research. Six months later, I wrote the manuscript as my first for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12. Her February agent requested to represent it. In July, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt acquired The Hole Story of the Doughnut.

How easily I could have let the tour guide’s remark fly away on the wind off the harbor. A quick jot in my notebook, and it was safely planted. You never know which homely idea will germinate when least expected, nurtured by future life experiences or eyes that see it in a different light later.

Reinvent the books or songs that you love. Record emotional situations and capitalize on needs around you. Keep your mental nets ready. Stash your tablets. And faithfully plant your ideas. Then you’ll gain ready admission into The Big House.


Pat was a school librarian for 22 years—the perfect job for a children’s writer. Her Substitute Groundhog received 33 rejections before the euphoric phone call from Albert Whitman. It went on to become a Junior Library Guild Book, a Scholastic Book Club selection with CD, an e-book hybrid from Weigl, and translated into French for Canadian Groundhog Day. Besides her books for children, Pat has written 20 for school librarians and is Contributing Editor for LibrarySparks magazine. Pat loves doing school visits as an author and storyteller. Visit her at PatMillerBooks.com and check out her blog at PatMillerBooks.com/blog. Comment there on her latest post to win another chance for a critique.


Pat is generously giving away two prizes!

The first—pick one of her three children’s book—with audio CD. If you win, it will be personalized to your favorite reader.

The second is a picture book critique.

Two winners will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 20: Pat Miller Shares 5 Ways to Get in the Back Door of the Big House (plus prizes!), last added: 11/20/2013
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23. PiBoIdMo Day 21: Steve Barr Really Wants to Direct

SteveBarrCartoonistby Steve Barr

I can’t really begin to pinpoint where my inspiration comes from. When people ask where I get my ideas, I don’t tend to have an answer ready. Ideas just seem to leap into my head out of nowhere. My best guess is that there’s some faulty wiring in my brain. That’s most likely due to the regular “thumpings” my older brother gave me on a daily basis as we were growing up. Perhaps he knocked a few screws loose.

I can get inspired by all sorts of things. Some of my best ideas pop into my mind when I’m driving down the highway with no music on, just daydreaming. Or when I’m laying in bed drifting off to sleep. If I had music blaring inside the truck, the lyrics would be too distracting and I’d just end up singing along with them. At home, when I’m locked away in my studio, I do listen to music. But it’s usually jazz, classical or new age. Anything that doesn’t have words blasting into my mind. I want all of the words that are rushing through my head to be my own.

I OBSERVE. By that, I mean I tend to truly look at everything around me. If I’ve hiked miles away from civilization and I’m sitting on a mountaintop watching a hawk fly above me, I’m usually thinking “Oh….THAT’S how their wings are shaped when they’re drifting!” and I incorporate that into my work later. You may sometimes see me sitting in a mall somewhere, and it will appear that I’m gawking at people passing by. Sometimes I stare. But what’s actually going through my mind is “So, that’s how the wrinkles on a coat look when someone bends their arm” or “What a crazy hat! I need to remember that and draw it later.”

I also LISTEN. When other people are talking, I really want to hear what they have to say. Their problems, their frustrations and the things that make them laugh. Because, after all, any of those conversations can be the foundation of an idea for a book or a cartoon. Inspiration is all around us, and we just need to learn how to harness it in our own way.

For instance, a friend was recently telling me that he was concerned that his wife was thinking of getting rid of him. On my ride home, the idea for a cartoon about that popped into my head and I drew it the next day.


Yet another acquaintance was complaining about having trouble getting to sleep. As I was approaching my cabin later that night, a raccoon darted across my path. Those two subjects merged in my mind, and another cartoon was born.


The process of creating books and cartoon ideas are very similar. It’s just that cartoons are compressed into images and thoughts that can be expressed quickly, while books use pictures and words to give a longer, more complete story.

But, like everyone else involved in creative endeavors, there are those days where I’m stopped dead in my tracks by a severe case of “writer’s block”. What do I do then? Well, sometimes I give myself a break, walk away from my work and let my batteries recharge. But if I’m faced with a tight deadline, whether it’s self-imposed or from contractual obligations, I do have a backup plan. I use a technique taught to me by another successful cartoonist when I was young. I take a sheet of notebook paper and divide it into columns. The columns are labelled “Main Character”, “Setting”, and “Supporting Characters”. I fill the columns with all sorts of possibilities, then either close my eyes and randomly circle sections from each column or I simply pick combinations that I think might work. This creates unique combinations I may not have thought about otherwise, and can help trigger new ideas and possibilities.

Cartoonists, like authors, are doing the same thing as a movie director. They created a cast, give them their lines and put them in the right surroundings.

Here’s an example of the chart:


Once one of the combinations begins to trigger ideas, I roll with it….trying to think of what the characters might be saying to each other or how they would be interacting. This method would probably work just as nicely for inspiring writers as it for helping cartoonists. I ask myself what the characters would have in common, or what issues they might be struggling with. And here are the results of combining a dog, a restaurant and a woman on a date:


So, my creative process is very similar to approaching a railroad crossing. Stop. Look. And listen!

Sometimes it results in wonderful inspiration. And other times it results in a train wreck. If the latter happens, I just dust myself off, tuck that idea away for a different time and start on another.

As the late great cartoonist Gil Foxx once wrote in a book he signed to me, “Persist. Over…..and over….and over…and over.” Just keep chugging away, and eventually you are bound to end up on the right track.

Another great source of inspiration can be your editor. (Or an agent, if you have one.) Something I think that many writers and artists tend to forget is that your editor is your best friend. They’re your teammate. You both have the same goal. You are both trying to develop the best product possible. I know quite a few people who like to argue with their editors when they’re given input, because they feel a bit insulted that someone is trying to change part of their creation.

I’ve never looked at it that way. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the finest editors in the field, and I would always listen to their suggestions because I knew they had my best interests at heart.


Do you know that Maurice Sendak had originally intended to call Where the Wild Things Are something totally different? Yup. He was going to title it Land of the Wild Horses. But when he started working on the illustrations, he realized that he wasn’t very good at drawing horses. It was his editor’s suggestion to change it to “WIld Things”, inspired by a Yiddish expression that referred to boisterous children.

Can you imagine the world of children’s literature without Where the Wild Things Are in it? I can’t. And it may never have happened if he hadn’t been willing to collaborate closely with his editor.

CrazyCreaturesCover2Christina Richards, my editor at IMPACT Books, edited my books perfectly and seamlessly. By the time I received the galley proofs for Draw Crazy Creatures, I could not tell which words were mine and which ones were hers. She had removed unnecessary and redundant text during the editing process, and had made minor changes to some of my sentences that had a major impact on them. A major impact that made them better. She made the book flow smoothly.

So I’d highly recommend that folks in the creative end of this business open themselves up to constructive criticism, helpful suggestions and any input from the editorial staff they are working with. These people are in the positions they are in because they know what they are doing. They are the inspiration behind the scenes, and when they’re done helping you, they will have played a huge role in making you and your work shine.


123drawcartoonpeopleSteve Barr is the author and illustrator of Draw Crazy Creatures and Draw Awesome Animals from IMPACT books. He’s also written and illustrated a series of 11 books in the 1-2-3 Draw line from Peel Productions.

Steve’s cartoons have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guides” and the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. He’s also done a lot of art for a wide variety of educational products and publications. You can take a peek at some of his work on his website SteveBarrCartoons.com.


Steve is giving away two signed copies of Draw Crazy Creatures!

Two winners will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

11 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 21: Steve Barr Really Wants to Direct, last added: 11/21/2013
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24. PiBoIdMo Day 22: Bitsy Kemper Makes it Happen

by Bitsy Kemper

Ah, the life of an author. Writing, creating…it evokes images of stretched legs and hammocks by the sea.


Yeah, right. Sometimes I’d rather clean the toilet. Let’s face it. No matter how much we love what we do, and no matter how easily words may flow, there are days when it’s still work. To be a good writer, nay, a great writer, we are faced with days and days of less fun and more work. But hey, it’s still fun. And usually better than grabbing a scrub brush.

With an easily-distracted brain (IS THAT CHOCOLATE?), my biggest challenge is focus. When faced with a deadline or obstacle, my mind tends to freak out. It wanders about like a baby that’s just learned to crawl. (“Oh, I need to see that up close. Oh wait, there’s something shiny, was that always there? Can I eat it?”) Sometimes it sprints like an escaped prisoner and doesn’t come back for days.

When I *have*to focus, I usually can’t.


I figured I could better harness that energy by creating a blog. After all, writing is writing, right? In July I created a WordPress account and literally went live within five minutes. Then I spent 105 minutes picking out a font. Background color? Agonizing. Theme? Changed it four times. I could easily spend five hours a day refining and fine tuning to get it just right. And not one minute would be spent writing. That recently-sprung prisoner called distraction would be laughing all the way to the bank.

oldmanwagfingerCreating or maintaining a blog isn’t the same thing as writing one. But you can’t do one without the other, not if you want to do it well. All the time I spent obsessing over managing formatting ate away at the time I could have spent writing it. Or better yet, working on a manuscript. There’s only so much time in a day, and we need to spend it wisely. (Oh, crap, did I just turn into my grandfather?)

Some of you are very good at writing a pithy post, hitting enter, and going back to your regularly-scheduled program. You impress me. But my brain won’t let me off that easy. “Was there an extra space after the fifth sentence? Would this look better in blue? Maybe I could take a few pictures to post along with it…hang on, I’ll grab my camera…” Next thing you know I’m knee deep in gifs and jpegs and have completely forgotten the purpose was to write.

Here’s the deal: WordPress ISN’T WHAT I DO. It’s not what defines me. Sorry, blog, I mean I like you and all, but you are not what I wake up in the morning eager to work on. You are not what I think about all day and can’t wait to work on again once the kids are asleep. You are not what kept me from falling asleep last night because of all those great story ideas resulting from an otherwise painful trip to the mall. Yes, I will tend to you, dear blog, but not at the expense of my other writing progress. I can’t hand you the steering wheel.

I set the blog up only to walk away because it aggressively detracted me from my one true love: working on my manuscripts. (To think they just waited patiently for my return! They are so good to me.) My blog is imperfect and I hate that. But sometimes “good enough” has to be, well, good enough.


Bottom line: if there is only enough time in the day to get one thing right, it’s gonna be my manuscript, not my blog. I won’t be a better writer if I use the blog as a distraction away from my “real” writing, the way I use my writing to distract me from cleaning the bathroom (honestly, you’d think it’d be spotless by now).

Maybe you can replace the word “blog” with “Facebook” or “crying baby” or something else from your own life; we all have that one big distracter that keeps us from staying on track. The trick is to fight the temptation, tame the beast, focus focus focus.

Make time for yourself, no one is going to give it to you.

Now I’m off to finish those revisions my editor needs next Thursday. Sorry, bathroom and blog, you’re gonna have to wait.


bitsykemperBitsy Kemper is author of six educational picture books and one nonfiction YA that’s due 2014. Interestingly, her passion is humorous middle grade and creative, fictional picture books, but real life (or is it her blog?) has a way of interfering with finding their perfect publisher…

Busy with three kids (four if you count her husband), Bitsy has stayed focused long enough to present at writer conferences and schools from NY to CA. She’s enjoyed using her corporate background to create custom business plans for fellow writers who would rather clean toilets than market themselves. Follow her at @BitsyKemper or BitsyKemper.com.

Now stop reading and get back to writing!

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 22: Bitsy Kemper Makes it Happen, last added: 11/22/2013
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25. PiBoIdMo Day 23: Kelly Light Gets Medieval On Your [Bleep]

kellylightby Kelly Light

I don’t want to talk about feelings. I don’t want to pamper you. I’m not gonna nurture your spirit. I’m not gonna help you find your happy place where ideas grow like flowers.

I want to make you work.

I want to talk about just how hard you are going to have to work if you really want to create children’s books.

I’m gonna get real here, folks. I could try to inspire you with lots of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but I’d rather kick you in the tuchus.

‘Cause that is what you need. I’m gonna be tough. I am gonna go all medieval on that butt.

I wish I could get Samuel L. Jackson to read this post to you…but this is just me, the voice of experience..sending you some tough love today.


You now have one week left of PiBoIdMo. You’ve taken on the challenge. When the month is over – don’t put down the pencil.

Never put down the pencil.

I am talking commitment on a new level.

Ten minutes a day is not going to lead to getting a book written or drawn or dummied or submitted. If that’s what you have managed to do everyday for three weeks, making children’s books may not be the job for you.

I know, I know….you’re calling me some choice words right about now. Hear me out.

This month is about coming up with ideas. Which is an important first step. What are you going to do with those ideas?

An idea is just a spark. You have to cut down the trees and chop them into logs until your blistered and bleeding and collect kindling and learned how to build the right wood pile tee-pee…to make a fire…to make that spark ignite into a blaze.

You aren’t gonna get warm with just a spark.

You are gonna freeze like a motha #$%&#%.

Don’t stop after ten minutes. Don’t stop after a month.

This is hard work. This is hours and hours of work.

If you want to get published, want it more than anything or want it more than everyone else, than this is the job for you.

Job. Not dream. Not hobby.

If you are in this for the long haul, start your haul now. You want a career in this? Act like you already have one.

Fasten your seat belts while you have your “Butt in Chair,” folks, and only get out of it to go to the john!

If you really want this, keep reading. If you think you may get to that book dummy you have had on your desk for the last two years or you might write down that idea you had four years ago that you know is genius and a best seller and the next Fancy Nancy or Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you’ll get around to it after you’ve decided “you’re ready” and you’ve taken 24 more writing workshops….you may want to stop reading now.

I’m about to get meaner.


I said you need to want this more than everyone else.

I wanted this more than you.

Harsh, right?

But true.

I wanted this so badly I was like a pitt bull. Jaws of steal clamped down on this career.

Who do you think of as the people successful in publishing?

Those people wanted to be in it more than everybody else.

They had the drive. The determination.

They were like dogs on a bone.

They write to write and draw to draw, day after day, after day.

They don’t just consider it a hard job that they love….but also consider it oxygen.

You can’t exist without oxygen. You can’t only breathe for ten minutes a day.

You are dedicating the month of November to generate picture book ideas. Dedicate the next 12 months to turning your ideas into manuscripts and book dummies.

Ideas are not delivered under your pillow by the Idea Fairy. Ideas are generated, manufactured by work. You need to be an idea factory. A word factory. An image factory.

You have to grind these ideas into something. You have to pound them into shape. You have to process them into something useful, intelligent, imaginative and appealing.

You have to billow steam and pollute your life to make something that matters.


The biggest pieces of the 1000 piece puzzle to publication are hard work, passion, believing in yourself, perseverance, persistence, patience and opportunity.

Talent—or a better word, SKILL—is the last and smallest piece of the puzzle. When all other pieces have been put in place…you need the the skills developed and ready for when opportunity knocks. Or YOU kick down the #@$@%*$ door.

You had better have the goods and be ready to work. You can only be ready if you are ALWAYS creating new work.


That’s in like, everyday.

I now work 7 days a week. 10 hours a day.

I worked hard to get here but I had no idea how much harder I would work once I got books.

So work that tuchus off this week. Don’t half-ass it.


What you have come up with this month will not be brilliant. But what you think has potential should not sit on your desk until the next PiboIdMo.

Finish it. Really, finish it. Finish one. The next one will be easier. And the next. Just finish.

Polish it. It’s no good until you rework it, over and over……..

Send it off. To a crit group. To an agent. To a editor. If you don’t submit, nothing will ever happen. Nothing. Ever. Nada. Zip. Ze-ro.

Believe in it and yourself. You are as much a work in progress as your work. Own your work where it is right now. Make no excuses for it or where you are in your development at this very moment.

The Beatles could never have made “Hey Jude” without first making “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Take your work in hand and hand – it – over – to be looked at by many people who know more than you.

Move on. NEXT! Next challenge, next idea, next month, next story, next project… you are factory now, remember? DO NOT PRESS THAT BIG RED STOP BUTTON. DO NOT SHUT DOWN THE LINE.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Think of me. By next PiboIdmo, I will have met 4 book deadlines working 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

I wanted it more than you. Now YOU go—beat ME at wanting it.

My inspirational foot is kicking your backside. Go to work.

Don’t make me come over there.


No Samuel L. Jacksons were harmed in the making of this post.


Kelly Light has a lot of books to work on. She is illustrator of “The Quirks” series from Bloomsbury. “Elvis and the Underdogs” from Balzer and Bray, her picture book “Louise Loves Art” is out next Fall 2014 from Balzer and Bray with more Louise books to follow,
“just Add Glitter” comes out 2016 from Beach Lane Books and the hits just keep on coming…

Check out Kelly’s work at KellyLight.com.

All opinions expressed above were solely Kelly’s and not the opinions of PiBoIdMo or it’s affiliates.


Kelly is giving away signed copies of “The Quirks” and “Elvis and The Underdogs”.

Two winners will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

12 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 23: Kelly Light Gets Medieval On Your [Bleep], last added: 11/23/2013
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