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1. Tracking Submissions


erikaphoto-45Tracking Submissions

by Erika Wassell

Polished manuscript?

CHECK – one I’m proud of.


YUP – Found a few agents who are a perfect match.

Query Letter?

WRITTEN – Pitches my manuscript and myself.

There it is …


My finger hovers on the mouse. Hesitation. I KNOW this is a worthy story but maybe I shou—– ACK! I’m doing it!

CLICK. Message sent.

So that’s it right? Wave goodbye and cross my fingers?  Not exactly.

While I definitely support leaning back and letting out that breath you may have been holding, you still have another important step… tracking your submissions.

First, the top three reasons WHY:

1) So you don’t query the same agent without realizing it: How long to wait before submitting to an agent again is another topic. But you certainly don’t want to do it by accident! Repeat submissions can look very unprofessional.

2) Follow Up: For many agents, no response, means it’s not for them. But in the research stage, you may find others that say at a certain point, it’s okay to reach out. Following up at the appropriate time shows that you’re dedicated and serious.

3) In case you get a yes! The best reason of all!! If an agent or publisher is interested in your work, you will want to inform everyone else it’s currently out to. (A) Because it’s professional courtesy. And (B), it can drum up additional interest and lead to the sort of “bidding war” that every author dreams of!!

Okay. So what exactly do I track?

Here’s the HOW:

My suggestion is use Excel. It’s easy to set up, and gives me data that is simple to keep track of, look back through and actually use – more so than the stack of scribbled on pieces of paper that form an ever-growing precarious tower next to my computer.

Here are the eight column titles that I use when tracking submissions:

First come the four most obvious: 

Who: The name of the actual person I addressed the query letter to.

Where: The name of the agency/publisher, including its website for easy reference.

What: What manuscript did I send them?

When: Exact date that I hit the all-powerful SEND BUTTON.

       These next four are not as obvious, but they’re JUST as important! 

Why: A few notes about why the agent is a good fit for my manuscript, what interviews I read or what specific things made me query them.

Wait time: What their estimated timeline is. Most places give you an idea of how long it may take them to look over your query and whether or not they will necessarily respond. I note things like “no means no, 6-8 months” or “will respond within 10 weeks”.

Follow up: Often times, no response means not interested. But if I know someone is open to follow up, I make a note as to when to do that, and where I got the information. This way, in my follow up, I can say something like, “As per your interview with ____, I’m following up on the query I sent you three months ago.” IMPORTANT: When following up, I make absolutely sure that I don’t come off irritated. These agents work hard, and receive thousands of queries. I love when I’m able to follow up, so I make sure they know I appreciate the opportunity.

Response: If I get a rejection, or any sort of response, I make a note of when I got it and what was said.

It’s really just eight little columns in a spreadsheet, but it allows me to treat my writing professionally. I know what I’ve done, why I did it, and what I’m waiting on. And that’s really the best way to prepare for what I’ll do next.

When I hit that at-times-OH-so-unnerving SEND BUTTON, I’m comforted in knowing that my manuscript still has a tie to me, right here in my tracked submissions and is not just disappearing into the world of Ethernet cables and fiber optics.

I know your manuscripts deserve the same professional attention.

Thanks Erika for the valuable post. Erika has agreed to be a regular Guest Blogger for Writing and Illustrating.

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, article, list, Process, submissions, Tips Tagged: Erika Wassell, List of tips, Tracking Submissions

5 Comments on Tracking Submissions, last added: 4/15/2014
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2. Ask Kathy Questions Answered

Julia Rosenbaum snarl-screamApril
For all you writers and illustrators who have days where you feel like the publishing industry could make you stop, scream and pull their hair out, this cute illustration sent in by Julia Rosenbaum is for you. 

Julia has always wanted to be a children’s book writer/illustrator…and so she went to law school. A few years after that interesting episode in her life, she learned how to use Photoshop and became a graphic designer. She is now working on her original dream: writing picture book manuscripts and creating illustrations. You can find her online at juliadraws.com and on Twitter @julia_draws.

Here are a few more Answers to the Questions you sent in and the answers from the Writer’s Retreat the other weekend with Agent Sean McCarthy and Associate Publisher at Penguin Putnam, Steve Meltzer.

1. Because agents now often don’t respond if they aren’t interested in a query, that makes almost imperative to send simultaneous queries. Is ten to a dozen too many to send out at once?

The consensus was to send ten queries at a time. No one thought you should send one query at a time and wait to hear back before sending your work out to someone else. Here are my thoughts about other similar questions I get asked: You may get five agents asking to see your full manuscript from the query letters you send out. Some may ask for an exclusive submission. If they do, you will need to way their request against the other agents. That exclusive submission request might throw that agent out of the running or they might be at the top of your list of agents you would want to represent you. If they are, then make sure you find out how long they expect to have an exclusive for your manuscript.

Is this amount of time acceptable? It may be, but now you know how to proceed. I personally think six weeks would be my limit, other people may be willing to wait three months. As long as both of you are on the same page it should work.

What if you send out your full manuscript to five agents or editors and one gets saying they are interested, before you say yes to them representing you and blow off the others, you should email saying you haven’t heard back from them and another agent is interested in offering you representation. Many agents appreciate you letting them know so they can pull your manuscript out of the pile to see if they are interested in your story. No need to do this if an agent stated up front that if you haven’t heard back in three weeks they are not interested.

Say you submit to an agent who turns around and works with you, offers a lot of advice that you use when revising your manuscript, and asks to see it again, IMO, you should make sure you resubmit the manuscript to them, before offering it to another agent.

If you have submitted the manuscript to editors, you should always make sure the agent offering representation knows who has seen it right up front. You don’t want to get in the position of signing a contract with the agent and then have them say they didn’t know it had been read by numerous editors in the industry. They might be thinking they could sell it to the same people you already sent it to. Now you have someone who doesn’t want to work with you and may even cancel the contract with you. Supposed this happens after you have turned down another agent who was interested in your work. Now you have lost out on two agents at one time. Oh yes, this can happen and it doesn’t matter if the agent should have asked these questions, you are now the one who is on the losing end of this scenario.

2. What’s the best way to label a manuscript/book that falls on the borderline between middle grades and young adult? (Think ages 10 to 14. For example, I’m talking about a horsey book, and that is the age at which the most girls are the most horse-crazy, and the best time to market such a book to them.) Would agents/editors want to see it called upper middle grades? Tween?

Sean McCarthy and Steve Meltzer said don’t put MG or YA in the query, put the age group and let them decide where it fits. The other idea you can use is to go to the book store and peruse the shelves. Where would the store shelve your book? What are the titles of the other books on that shelf? You could include a couple in your query letter.

3. What amount of books do you need to sell to have a publisher think your book was successful?

The general number was 20,000 copies, but it could be lower. It depends on the amount of your advance and the projected amount of sales the publisher expects after all there meetings and calculations. As Steve pointed out, a publisher who expects to sell a million copies of a book and only sells 600,000 copies might consider that book a failure. While a book that they projected 10,000 sales and sells 20,000, might be considered a great success.

4. I read on your blog to only use one space between each sentence in your manuscript. I had someone tell me they have asked editors and were told it was okay. Would you double check with Sean McCarthy and Steve Meltzer on this?

I did and both said it would not stop them from reading your manuscript. But I will not tell you that not doing this is okay, because I am trying to get you to do things according to the standard. My goal is to tell you how to do things that will make sure no one will find fault with. If 50% or even 20% of the editors and agents could pick up your manuscript and go on to the next on sitting on their desk because of the extra space, then I say, “Let’s do it right, so you are only judged on the content of your writing.” Over the years, I know little things can make a big difference.

5. I never heard of using capital letters the first time a character is mentioned in a synopsis. Would you ask about that at your retreat?

This is another one that would not stop Sean and Steve from reading your synopsis. I had said that I didn’t think this was a deal breaker when I told you how to format  your synopsis, but again that is the standard. It makes it easier for the editor or agent to read, which shows you care about them and that you approach your writing as a professional who knows the industry.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Asking opinion, authors and illustrators, demystify, How to Tagged: Ask Kathy, Julia Rosenbaum, Publishing Industry Answers, Questions and Answers

0 Comments on Ask Kathy Questions Answered as of 4/9/2014 1:21:00 AM
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3. The Little Magic Box for School Visits and Signing

Debbie 2My Little Magic Box by Debbie Dadey

It took me about twenty years to figure it out, but making a magic box to take with me to book events was a great idea! Okay, it’s not magic but it does have everything I need to make a book signing or school visit go smoothly. What does my little plastic container have inside? Here’s what I’ve collected for my little 6.5 by 4.5 inch box (a left-over from my teaching days):

1. Business cards (Because the minute you don’t have one, you need one.)

2. Tissues (Because boogers are not pleasant with 200 kids watching!)

3. Book plates (Someone will always cry because they forgot their book.)

debbiebox2004. Award winning author stickers (Which I bought in a silly moment, but kids like stickers.)

5. Sticky notes (Because kids have the strangest names these days and it’s better to write it first on a note than ruin the book-better yet have the school or bookstore do it for you while the kids are waiting in line.)

6. Tic Tacs (Bad breath is not an author’s friend.)

debbiecontent2007. Protein bar (Let’s face it, sometimes school lunches are horrible.)

8. Candy (see above)

9. Cough drops (A coughing fit really doesn’t work well with my presentation.)

10. Hand lotion (It makes me feel better!)

11. Hand sanitizer (It keeps me from catching every illness because schools are breeding grounds!)

12. Chap stick (I am prone to fever blisters and they aren’t pretty.)

13. iPad adapter (I started taking my iPad on school visits instead of my laptop and I love it.)

14. Clips to hold up something (Just a handy thing to have for posters.)

15. Memory stick with presentations (Some schools have their computers far away. I also have a clicker to advance slides. There is an app available to advance Keynote-the iPad version of PowerPoint. PowerPoint will convert to Keynote, but there are always a few adjustments to be made.)

16. Slips for information (These are leftovers from a giveaway and everyone likes free stuff.)

17. Rubber band (These come in handy for keeping my rolled up posters tidy.)

18. Markers or ink pens (Some people like Sharpies to autograph with, but I’m not picky).

Missing from my box are my fun red Author pin, camera, book signs, bookmarks, a bottle of water, and school visit brochures. Not all of them will fit inside my box, but I have them listed in marker on the inside of my box so I don’t forget them. Something I’ve been wanting to get is a tablecloth with my logo and maybe some book covers on it. On my scheduling page (http://www.debbiedadey.com/Events/Scheduling/index.php)

debbieDream of the Blue TurtleI have an Author Visit Checklist that lists everything I could think of to help a school prepare for my visit. Click Here to View. 

Perhaps there is something on it you can adapt for yourself. Do you have more suggestions for my box? Please let me know, I have more book events coming up soon!

Check www.debbiedadey.com for one near you.

My newest book is Dream of the Blue Turtle (Mermaid Tales #7) with Simon and Schuster. Treasure in Trident City (#8) comes out in May. I hope you’ll like me on Facebook.com/debbiedadey. I’m hoping it doesn’t take me twenty years to get the hang of Facebook!

Thanks Debbie for sharing your idea for having a handy box that you can grab whenever you do a book event. It will definitely help everyone who has a hard time juggling everything that has to be done in our busy lives.

I love the idea of getting a table cloth made with your logo and covers. They don’t cost very much and it really adds to making you look exciting and professional.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Events, inspiration, list, Tips Tagged: Debbie Dadey, Dream of the Blue Turtle, Simon & Schuster, Tresaure of Trident City

4 Comments on The Little Magic Box for School Visits and Signing, last added: 4/8/2014
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4. This One Tiny Habit Can Help You Become a More Productive (and Wealthier) Freelancer

mini_habits_stephen_guiseby Diana Burrell

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

I make no secret of the fact that I do not like to write, which seems crazy because I’ve been a freelance writer and author for almost 20 years and writers, well, write. But if you’re a professional writer, you know that a lot of the job isn’t writing. You’ve got to do stuff like generate story ideas, market your work, chase down research, interview experts, edit, and manage the business–the fun stuff! It’s the writing part I could do away with, specifically first drafts. Once a first draft is written, I can edit. Bad mood be gone.

Over the years I’ve become good at tricking myself into finishing first drafts. I tell myself, “You only have to write 50 words, then you can take a break and watch YouTube.” Even I can write fifty words, and once I get going, it’s hard to stop, which is how I get so much writing done despite my dislike of wordsmithing.

Needless to say I’m always looking for the path of least resistance to getting more done, so when I read about Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, I downloaded the ebook to my Kindle.

Not only did his book confirm for me that the best way to create a positive change is through small acts repeated daily, but the book was exceptionally well written and researched — impressive in that the author is not a professional writer — and so applicable to the many writers I meet who struggle with getting query letters out the door or writing big projects like books and novels.

Because I suspected Stephen was a bit of renegade — changing your life in big ways through tiny habits? Sounds renegade to me! — I contacted Stephen and he agreed to a 20-minute interview, which turned into a 90-minute Skype call. This is not a verbatim transcript of our conversation, but a carefully edited-down version containing the most valuable points for our readers.


DB: How are mini habits different from most life change philosophies?

SG: Most life change philosophies implore you to get highly motivated to make a big change in your life. Mini Habits are exactly the opposite of that, suggesting you force yourself to do something embarrassingly small, but positive every day.

There are two kinds of motivation. The first type is having a reason for doing something. My motivation for exercise is to look and feel healthy. My motivation for doing this interview is that you asked me to do it and I want to spread the word about mini habits. Unlike the next definition of motivation, your reason for doing things is generally very stable and changes very little over time.

There’s also emotional motivation, which is rooted in enthusiasm and determines your willingness to take action in the moment (“This year I’m going to get in shape so I’m off to the gym!”). Most goal systems rely on this type of motivation; they’ll tell you that you need to find this motivation to succeed. The problem is that emotional motivation isn’t reliable or habit friendly.

When we try to do something like write more every day or lose 50 pounds or get in top physical condition, we’re usually very excited for a couple weeks. We’re highly motivated to write more, eat less, and go to the gym. Yet almost anyone who has attempted to change knows that sometime in those first weeks, motivation starts to wane. For me, it was like clockwork—I’d get motivated to exercise and quit when motivation left me at the two- or three-week mark.

The reason we lose motivation isn’t a mystery. It’s biological. And it’s actually a positive sign! It means the behavior of writing more, eating less, or working out regularly is transitioning to being controlled by the subconscious brain. In other words, a weak habit is forming. But right around this time is when most of us give up. We’re not feeling that burst of enthusiasm anymore, so when it’s gone, we’ll stop doing the behavior that’s just about to become a habit. It’s too bad because the best way to find motivation is to take action! I’m not anti-motivational; it’s just that I don’t believe it works as a starting strategy.

There’s a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War which sums up the Mini Habit system: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” By taking one small action a day—just one small behavior change—we start with a win. After that point, you’re free to do more.

In my book, I talk about doing just one push-up every day. A single push-up! It’s almost too easy, right? But you do it, and because you’re already face-down on the ground, you will probably do more. And that’s how such a small, seemingly insignificant action can grow to make big changes in your life.

Two other factors aren’t accounted for in most other goal achievement systems. First is autonomy. Most systems remove your sense of autonomy; you’re following a plan so that on Monday you do this, on Tuesday you do that, and so on. But with Mini Habits, you do your one small thing like a push-up and after that you can ask yourself, “Am I ready to stop or can I do more?” This autonomy leverages our desire and gives us a feeling that we’re in control, which studies show is a critical factor in goal achievement.

The second is willpower, the ability to force yourself to do something whether you feel like it or not. Most goal achievement systems don’t account for the fact that willpower is a limited resource as studies show. Mini Habits is based on the fact that we don’t have unlimited willpower. Because a mini habit is so small, you can easily complete it even when your willpower is low.


DB: We all know that developing good habits is important, whether personal (flossing every day) or work (writing a certain number of words per day). What’s might our readers find surprising about developing good habits?

SG: When you’re trying to establish a good habit, size doesn’t matter as much as consistency. For example, say you want to get in shape and decide you’re going to do 100 push-ups a day. That’s a lot of push-ups each day, so the chances you’ll stick with that plan are slim. Just one push-up a day, though, you’ll stick with it and end up doing more push-ups consistently. It’s better to do one push-up a day for six months than 100 push-ups for 15 days spread out over six months because that single daily push-up can become a foundational habit, the kind of habit that can change your life.


DB: How did you come up with the idea of writing a book about mini habits and their power to make positive changes?

SG: I started writing on Facebook using the notes feature, writing about my life and stuff like that. My friends liked it and a few told me I should write a book. When I stopped laughing, I started a blog; some of my blog posts were really long, like 4,000 words. Eventually, I decided that yes, I did want to write a book, but I wasn’t sold on any one topic. That changed when I started having a lot of success with Mini Habits.

In the past, I’d have this goal of developing a full-sized gym habit, but I’d exercise for two weeks then stop. Then I aimed for one push-up and got into the best shape of my life. Based on my experience with Mini Habits, I knew I had to share this with the world. That, and I was frustrated by the other systems that give you the same old advice of “get motivated to live your dreams.” That hasn’t been my experience, and the experience of many others as well.


DB: How did you use mini habits to write your book?

SG: I wouldn’t have written the book if not for my writing mini habit. I actually had two writing mini habits: One was to write 50 words a day for my blog, and the other was to write 50 words a day of my book. Most days I would exceed those numbers. Even though goal achievement is a topic I’m passionate about, for some reason I still wanted to avoid writing about it. [DB: Now you can see why I like this guy!] I’d have all these excuses like, “I need to write perfectly” or “I’m not thinking clearly today.” Having to write 50 words a day kept me on track.

It took me three to six months to write Mini Habits, including all the research. At times I made up some conditional mini habits, like “Read one study today.” You don’t realize how small actions can add up until you do them everyday. It’s really powerful stuff.


DB: What has been the response to Mini Habits?

SG: Before I released the book, I told myself I’d be disappointed if I sold less than 200 copies in two months. Mini Habits ended up selling 10,000 copies in three months. Most sales have come through word of mouth, some guest posting on blogs, and being seen in Amazon.com’s sales system, which is huge. Once you get good reviews (Mini Habits has a 4.8 average rating on Amazon), readers take interest and it can sustain sales momentum.

I’ve also gotten quite a few letters from readers with their own success stories by using mini habits. It’s great to see how it has changed the lives of others.


DB: You had a mini habit of writing 50 words of your manuscript every day. What other types of mini habits could our readers adopt to develop or improve their careers?

SG: Obviously making a mini habit of writing 50 words a day is a good place to start, but you can also develop a networking mini-habit, like contacting one person—an editor, potential source, or peer—every day. At the end of the year, you’ll have 365 new contacts. You could have a marketing goal of looking for one new magazine, publication, or client. If you need more ideas for magazine articles or books, you could write down one new idea every day. You could also make one follow-up call or e-mail on a project or question where if you had an answer, you could move forward.


DB: Any last words about the power of mini habits?

SG: Mini habits are awesome. The bar to entry is set low, and there’s no ceiling.

For example, if your goal is to write 2,000 words a day, it’s not only a high bar, but it’s also a ceiling because chances are you’ll rarely write more than 2,000 words a day (due to being satisfied with your work). But if you set your bar at 50 words, you’re not only going to make your goal, you’ll most likely exceed it. Fifty words isn’t much and once you get going, you’ll have more thoughts and words to get down.

It’s Newton’s Laws of Motion at work: “A body in motion stays in motion.” The other part of the law is, “A body at rest stays at rest.” When you’ve got a mini habit (50 words) versus a big habit (2,000 words), it’s a lot easier to get in motion and let momentum carry you further.

(My next Become an Idea Machine workshop starts tomorrow, and it’s the last workshop I’ll lead for several months. Sign up here or send me an email  to be notified of the next workshop.)

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5. Workshop for Poetry & Ask Kathy Answers

logo_highlightsDavid Harrison is conducting a Highlights Foundation workshop:

Poetry for the Delight of It

September 29 – October 2. 

David’s first book for children, The Boy with a Drum, was released in 1969 and eventually sold more than two million copies. In 1972, David won national recognition when he received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories. Since then David has published seventy-seven original titles that have sold more than fifteen million copies and earned numerous honors.

From budding poet to published veteran, if you like to think, talk, write, and share poetry, this one’s for you. Don’t wait too long to decide, this workshop sold out last year.

Here is the agenda:

Session 1:   The Study of Poetry
Session 2:   Verse
Session 3:   Are You Funny?
Session 4:   Skype Guest Kenn Nesbitt
Session 5:   Revising and Rewriting
Session 6:   Skype Guest Jane Yolen
Session 7:   Performing Your Work
Session 8:   Tips on Marketing
Session 9:   Self-Publishing
Session 10: Poetry Editor Rebecca Davis
Session 11: Becoming an Expert
Session 12: Open Forum
Session 13: The Big Performance
Session 14:  Setting Doable Goals
Wrap Up, Pictures, Goodbyes

Individual activities will include time to:

  • Practice writing what you’re learning
  • Be still with your thoughts
  • Start at least three new poems
  • Meet one-on-one with your workshop leader
  • Have your work critiqued by your workshop leader
  • Fun, impromptu gatherings by the fire to share poems
  • Chance to learn from others

Here is the link: http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/workshops/poetry-for-the-delight-of-it-2014

Below are a few of the questions and answers I received at last weekend Writer’s Retreat with Agent Sean McCarthy and Publisher Steve Meltzer.

1. When formatting a manuscript: Do you know of any rule that says you must NOT indent the first paragraph of a new chapter? What do you think?

Both Sean and Steve, thought I was crazy when I asked this and couldn’t understand why this question was being asked. I explained that when you read a book, the first paragraph of each chapter is not indented. Apparently this is something that has carried over from the old days in publishing. It is nothing that a writer needs to do when formatting their manuscript.

2. What do you think of prologues? Use them or lose them? 

Both Sean and Steve agreed that it is okay to use a prologue if it is important to telling the story. The word, “Important” is the key. Could the same story be told without the prologue? Is it something that the reader needs to know and will it tie into the end of the novel? They said editors worry about them, because many readers skip the prologue.

3. Are there any conventions for labeling manuscripts/books that mix genres? (For example, a series that is historical/science fiction/fantasy.)

The word for mixing these different genres is called, “Speculative Fiction.”

4. Because agents now often don’t respond if they aren’t interested in a query, that certainly makes it acceptable, almost imperative, to send simultaneous queries (although with each obviously tailored to a particular agent/agency). Is ten to a dozen too many to send out at once?

There was total agreement from everyone that you should not submit or query to only one agent. Ten seemed to be the standard amount to send out at one time.

5. Underlining makes it clearer to copyeditors and typesetters what needs to be italicized, but do agents have a preference whether the manuscript uses the italic or the underline function of the computer to indicate what will ultimately be italicized?

This was another one that didn’t seem to matter to Sean or Steve. Just italicize and don’t underline, since that is more standard. They weren’t worried about that detail, since they are paying the copyeditors to catch those type of things.

More Answers during the week, so check back.

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: Advice, Agent, Conferences and Workshops, demystify, Editors Tagged: Agent Sean McCarthy, Ask Kathy, David L Harrison, Hightlights Foundation, Publisher Steve Meltzer

4 Comments on Workshop for Poetry & Ask Kathy Answers, last added: 4/7/2014
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6. A Small Exercise that Will Improve your Word Choice

by Julie Eshbaugh


JulieRegular readers of this blog know that I generally write posts about the craft of writing. This post will be a little bit different. Yes, it’s about how to improve your writing, but today I’d like to focus on a single, simple change you can make that will increase your language creativity and force you to think about the specificity and clarity of words several times a day.

I would like to challenge you to remove the words “awesome,” and “amazing” from your vocabulary, and replace them with words that offer more precision (depending on the use.) Try this exercise for a month, a week – even just a day. If you are like me, what you learn will surprise you.

A few months ago I found a list of words that can be substituted for “awesome” on the web (I’m no longer certain where I saw this list, but similar lists can be found with simple web searches. You can also search for words that can be used in place of “amazing” and “cool.”)

Once I found this list (it was at least 25 words long) I started brainstorming words of my own. At this point, I was just playing around, since I really didn’t realize how frequently I went to the word “awesome” as a shortcut word.

Of course, the next time I turned to Twitter, email, texting, or tried to draft a comment on a blog post, I was horrified to discover how these two words – awesome and amazing – had become my go-to words to describe everything from good news about a friend’s new job to a video of a cat. Surely these two things weren’t so similar that they merited the same word to describe them!

So I gave myself a challenge – I wouldn’t use the words “awesome” or “amazing” (in writing – I’m sure I still let them slip in conversation from time to time,) as long as I could find a more specific, fresh, appropriate word.

I have been fairly successful, and I’ve learned a few things about myself, about the people I communicate with, and about the power of words along the way.

I learned that it can take a few long seconds to find the best word when you take “awesome” out of your vocabulary. It can take even longer if you force yourself to find a word that actually describes your thoughts precisely (that is, not just turning to “fantastic” or “great,” though I did fall back on those from time to time.) However, over time, I learned to say something was “inspiring” or “thought-provoking” or “game-changing” or even “I’m so proud of you” instead of “that’s awesome.” I hope this has made my interpersonal communication more meaningful.

I learned that people expect shortcut words. The first time I told a coworker that her presentation was “aces” instead of “awesome” it got a big reaction. It also started a discussion about word use, (and probably confirmed some suspicions that I am the weird word girl in the office.)

I’ve learned that words are ours to use, and we neglect the strength of our communication and our own breadth of vocabulary when we fall back on the same words again and again. After a few weeks of taking on this challenge, I noticed my personal vocabulary gaining a lot more strength. I saw much bigger rewards than you would expect from such a simple exercise.

I do want to be clear that I’m not advocating that we all drop the words “awesome,” “cool,” or “amazing” from our vocabularies forever. I firmly believe that shortcuts in communication have their place and can be very appropriate. However, if you find that you are over-generalizing in your own word use, you may want to drop your “pet words” for a while and see what happens.

Have you ever caught yourself falling back on the same few words as shortcuts in your own communication? Are they words other than “awesome” or “amazing?” Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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7. 10 ways to write a page turner!

There are 10 easy ways (in my opinion) to keep up the pace (or suspense/tension) of a novel. This can be for any book to keep the reader clipping along and turning the pages.

10 steps to a page turner

1) Create short chapters - most of mine are 1500 to 2000 words. (It can't be 250 word chapters with 1000 chapters in the book. Thats' just annoying :)

2) End on the conflict, forcing the reader into the next chapter. (I call it the inverted climax curve! I'm smart huh?)

3) Keep your narrative short. At the end, go through and cut back scenes with too much setting or exposition. I say try to cut them in 1/2. (Actually, I should do this in my conversations as well. I'm sure my friends would appreciate it.)

4) Use short sentences when you want reader to feel rushed into reading. Longer sentences help to slow it down and create tension as well as a break before you ramp back up again. (I call this the roller coaster feeling. Make your reader sick :)

5) Add a ticking time bomb. This can be an actual time countdown or a lead in to knowing something is coming soon. (This even works in the ebay auctions I bid on. There's just something about a clock that creates stress.)

6) Create a strong opening line in every chapter that yanks the reader in. (I tend to spend more time on this than I do finding my dangling modifiers. I do not recommend that :)

7) Create strong closing lines that tease the reader to turn the page. (Do not let them put that book down! If you have to drag them on to the next chapter by their bookmarks)

8) Torture your MC - have her make mistake so actions get thrown back in her face. (I talk to my MC. "Oh you think that's bad, wait until I give you this!" I know I'm nutzo)

9) Raise the stakes each time it looks like resolution may be about to happen. (Give your reader the feeling of "oh thank God" and then take them to "WHAT the hell!"

10) Allow room to breathe. (You don't want them to pass out. Not good PR....But not too much room :)

Feel free to ask me questions! :)

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8. Strategies for Pricing Your Illustrating Work



You may know Joann Miller over at the Directory of Illustration. Well, she asked Friend + Johnson (illustration representation agency) if she could share the best advice they had about pricing that they would give an illustrator. I thought I would share the part about how to come up with a price for a potential client. It is quite good.

Here is a list of questions to ask your potential client to help create an accurate estimate that fulfills both their expectations and your needs.


1. How did you find out about me? Is there something in your portfolio that inspired them to think of you for this project? Make sure you understand exactly what they’re referencing so you can make sure you’re comfortable executing it, and are clear on what they’re hiring you to do. This will also help you determine the level of complexity of the illustration they’re looking for.

Project Description

2. Do you have a layout? How complex are the illustrations? Are they single-spot illustrations or more complex scenarios? Are they providing any references for you to use? Are they looking for you to concept illustration ideas with the creatives, or are you working from a pre-approved layout that will not allow for much change? Is this black-and-white or a four-color piece? Are you working in layers?

3. What is the timing for the initial pencils and the final illustration? Usually, you should have three to four days for the initial pencils, and after client approval, another five to seven days to deliver the final. Two rounds of pencils are standard; anything more should have an additional charge.

Usage, Licensing and Copyright

4. Usage is very important in helping you price your project. Note that consumer advertising will be priced much higher than illustrations for a children’s book or direct mail.

Does the client want national, regional, international, web or worldwide uses? How long is the usage? What is the media use: consumer ad, trade ad, packaging, direct mail, billboards, brochures?

5. If clients say they want unlimited use, you should explore if this is really what they need and offer alternative licensing to match their budget. Often times, clients are not “educated” in this area of rights-based pricing; they will be much more understanding if you take the time to outline that they will ultimately save money by purchasing just the usage they need. For example, if they see the difference in cost for a two-, three- or five-year use, this may be more in-line with what they really need vs. unlimited use/time. 

Most clients aren’t planning on a consumer magazine campaign or any out of home use, they may just want unlimited collateral (direct mail and consumer or trade brochures and inserts) use. Find out specifically what they’ll use the artwork for and tailor your pricing to match.

6. If at all possible, never do “work for hire,” give buyouts or sell your copyright. You’re essentially giving away all of your rights as the creator of the artwork and giving ownership to your client. They in turn can reuse and resell the artwork in any way they want.

You can still retain your copyright even if it’s unlimited use, worldwide for an unlimited time and exclusive to them. If they feel they may need the artwork for other uses down the road or for a longer period of time, these extended uses can be renegotiated or factored into the original contract as well.

Remember, they want to use you and you want to work with them. This is a negotiation to give them what they need and pay you fairly for the creation and use of the work. You’re working together to create a fair contract for both parties.

7. Will this image have resale potential in stock or other markets? Does your licensing give you this option?

Keep Budgets & Other Paperwork in Mind

8. Editorial and book clients usually have a predetermined budget. Sometimes you can renegotiate if you feel it’s too low for the amount of work they’re requesting. You should always get a credit line for editorial or pro-bono work.

9. Do they have an allotted budget already in mind? If not, when do they need numbers?

10. Is there a contract? You should have your own contract in addition to anything they supply.

Hang Up

11. Never give an estimate while you’re on the phone with your client. It’s best to hang up and think about what you’re comfortable with.

12. Review your estimate before submitting it. A great source for guidelines for estimating various projects is the “Graphic Artists Guild Handbook” at www.graphicartistsguild.org/handbook/.


13. After you have submitted your estimate and it’s approved, make sure to have it signed and sent back to you.

14. After the project is confirmed, you should bill 50% of the job. This is important for cash flow since illustration projects can stretch over a number of weeks with the back-and-forth for approvals. This is also important with a new client that you don’t have a payment history with.

15. In addition to billing upon confirmation AND having a new client sign your contract, you may want to get a purchase order from you client as it is a contract to purchase your services from your buyer.

To read all the other helpful information use this link: http://joannsartadvice.blogspot.com/2014/03/take-charge-of-pricing-your.html

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, article, authors and illustrators, How to, illustrating, list, Tips Tagged: Directory of Illustration, Freelance Pricing, Friend + Johnson, Joann Miller

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9. Beat Procrastination – Take a Page from Seinfeld

seinfeldWhat’s most impressive about Seinfeld’s career isn’t the awards, the earnings, or the special moments — it’s the remarkable consistency of it all. Show after show, year after year, he performs, creates, and entertains at an incredibly high standard. Jerry Seinfeld produces with a level of consistency that most of us wish we could bring to our daily work.

Compare his results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to create, but struggle to do so. We want to exercise, but fail to find motivation. Wanting to achieve our goals, but — for some reason or another — we still procrastinate on them.

What’s the difference? What strategies does Jerry Seinfeld use to beat procrastination and consistently produce quality work? What does he do each day that most people don’t?

I’m not sure about all of his strategies, but I recently discovered a story that revealed one of the secrets behind Seinfeld’s incredible productivity, performance, and consistency.

Let’s talk about that what he does and how you can use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to eliminate procrastination and actually achieve your goals.

The Seinfeld Strategy

Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One fateful night, he found himself in a club where Jerry Seinfeld was performing. In an interview on Lifehacker.com, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”

Here’s how Isaac described the interaction with Seinfeld:

“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

“He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red ‘X’ over that day.

” ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.’ “

You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results.

It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”

And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”

Let’s talk about how you can use the Seinfeld Strategy in your life.

How to stop procrastinating

Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day, while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.

While most people get demotivated and off-track after a bad performance, a bad workout or simply a bad day at work, top performers settle right back into their pattern the next day.

The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”

All you have to do to apply this strategy to your own life is pick up a calendar and start your chain.

A word of warning

There is one caveat with the Seinfeld Strategy. You need to pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.

It would be wonderful if you could write 10 pages a day for your book, but that’s not a sustainable chain to build. Similarly, it sounds great in theory to be able to deadlift like a maniac every day, but in practice you’ll probably be over-trained and burned out.

So step one is to choose a task that is simple enough to be sustainable. At the same time, you have to make sure that your actions are meaningful enough to matter.

For example, researching good jokes each day is simple, but you’re never going to write a joke by merely researching. That’s why the process of writing is a better choice. Writing can actually produce a meaningful result, even when it’s done in small doses.

Similarly, doing 10 pushups per day could be simple and meaningful depending on your level of fitness. It will actually make you stronger. Meanwhile, reading a fitness book each day is simple, but it won’t actually get you in better shape.

Choose tasks that are simple to maintain and capable of producing the outcome you want.

Another way of saying this is to focus on actions and not motions.

Mastery follows consistency

The central question that ties our community together — and what I try to write about every Monday and Thursday — is “how do you live a healthy life?” This includes not merely nutrition and exercise, but also exploration and adventure, art and creativity, connection and community.

But no matter what topics we’re talking about, they all require consistency. No matter what your definition is of a “healthy life,” you’ll have to battle procrastination to make it a reality. Hopefully, the Seinfeld Strategy helps to put that battle in perspective.

Don’t break the chain on your workouts, and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly.

Don’t break the chain in your business, and you’ll find that results come much faster.

Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits, and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.

So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.

Written by James Clear at Entrepreneur.com

Take tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, article, How to, Tips, writing Tagged: Acheive Your Goals, Jerry Seinfeld, Secret of Productivity, Stop Procrastinating, The Seinfeld Strategy

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10. 5 Tips for Revealing to Your Boss That You’re Freelancing on the Side

Writing Your Way Out - High ResolutionThis is an excerpt from my e-book Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, which is available on Kindle and in PDF for under five bucks.

Freelancing while you’re also working a regular gig can be difficult, confusing — and risky. The last thing you want is to find yourself sans job and floundering in the freelancing waters without a life jacket. (In that mangled metaphor, the life jacket is regular freelance gigs.)

But don’t worry — you can work with your particular job situation to make freelancing on the side work for you, and even work for your employer!

How to Tell the Boss

“Tell my boss?” you ask yourself. “How about if I don’t and just say I did.”

Your first instinct may be to go undercover. And that might work for you. But consider this:

  • You will need a writer website. Can you keep it hidden from your boss should she Google you, without resorting to cloaking tactics
    that will keep you hidden from potential clients as well?
  • Ditto with LinkedIn. Many editors and prospects use LinkedIn as a kind of Yellow Pages for finding writers. Will your boss notice that your LinkedIn profile title suddenly went from “Insurance Salesperson” to “Freelance Writer”?
  • If you hide your freelancing status from your employer and he finds out, how do you predict he’ll react? Will he feel you’ve been deceitful?

That’s why you want to control the situation instead of leaving it to chance that you’ll be discovered. Kind of like a politician who comes clean on some skeleton in the closet before the media can out him. Makes him look a lot better that way, doesn’t it?

Now, I can’t guarantee that your employer will be happy with the situation, and only you can decide whether it’s worth it for you to come out to your boss. Maybe you work in an environment where it’s expected that you live for your job, and telling your employer you’re writing on the side could leave you holding a pink slip. So use your best discretion.

Whether you might want to come clean also depends on the type of job you have. You’re probably safer telling your employer you’re freelancing on the side if you’re in a management position than if you’re lower down the ladder.

Here are some ways to make the revelation as smooth as possible:

1. Don’t give away the farm.

You can tell your boss you’re freelancing on the side without also revealing that you plan to eventually quit your day gig.

You may face some uncomfortable questions, such as why you feel you need to write on the side. Are you desperate for money? Are you dissatisfied with your job? Be sure to come up with responses for any questions you feel you may be asked.

2. Do your work at work.

When you have this discussion with your boss, assure her that during the 9-5 your focus will be on the work you were hired to do. Then make sure to do that.

I know, I know. Your job can be boring, and sometimes you find yourself playing endless games of Minesweeper during slow times.

But whatever you do, do not go back on your promise and succumb to the temptation to build your freelance business on company time. This can lead to all sorts of unpleasant consequences, like you having to explain to your boss why you’re trolling for writing gigs from your work email account.

However, some bosses are super-understanding and will let you write on your breaks or during slow periods. If that’s the case for you, you can ignore this tip.

3. Add value.

Put your all into your day job. No slacking off because you know that in a few months (or a year, or whatever) you’ll be quitting anyway.

In fact, instead of just doing your job, you should work to kick ass at your job. You want to allay any fears your employer may have that you’re not putting as much effort into your job as you used to because of the side gig.

4. Make it a win-win.

Make your writing benefit both your employer and yourself. For example, offer to write your company’s website copy, brochures, or case studies as part of your regular duties. Point out that they can save money by not hiring someone else to do it. (You don’t have to point out that you’ll be getting practice that will help you eventually say sayonara to your employer.)

5. Check your contract.

Before you make a move, check your employment contract. Some contracts stipulate that you won’t pitch your services to the employer’s vendors and service providers, and other contracts state that anything you create while at work belongs to the employer.

How about you: Do you have a day gig and freelance on the side? How do you make it work? Let us know in the comments below!

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11. Books Edited By…

Are you using all your SCBWI member benefits? I bet there are a lot of busy writers who are missing a lot of things that the SCBWI provides to help you sell your manuscripts. Did you know if you are a member and login to www.scbwi.org, you can find a list of editors and what books they edited? This is valuable information when trying to find the right home for something you have written. 

A smart writer or illustrator (they list picture books with the illustrators) would save this file and every time they read a book, they would look in the author credits to see if they mentioned who helped them make their book shine. If they are smart, they will mention the editors at the publishing company as a way to thank them for their expertise. We can use that information to hone our submissions and use that information in a query letter or when we run into an editor. This is called, “doing your homework” and makes you appear as someone who knows the industry.

Below is just part of one page to give you an idea of what it looks like.


Hope you take the time to check out all the benefits your SCBWI membership provides.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Editors, list, need to know, opportunity, organizations, Publishing Industry, reference Tagged: Books by Editor, SCBWI Benefits

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12. Motives

Writing Life Banner By

Biljana Likic

biljana new picI used to do a lot of acting. I went to an arts high school, my major being drama. Acting isn’t a very big part of my life anymore, but the things I learned in drama class were a massive influence on my development as a writer. Writing is similar to acting, in that you have to connect to the characters you’re creating and that usually involves putting yourself in their shoes. This can be difficult. Motives aren’t always easy to decipher, and I there are times where I just plain don’t know why a character is doing something. Times like these, I remember drama class.

My teacher had this method. It was an all-encompassing method that she gave to us in answer to any issue we had with motives or tactics. What was it?

Find the love in the scene.

The man loves the woman, and the woman is indifferent. Why is she indifferent? She doesn’t love him back.

Boring! Negation doesn’t leave a very good impression compared to agreement. In acting, the first rule of improvisation is that you’re not allowed to negate what your partner says. Granted, a woman’s love isn’t improv, but the point here is that negation isn’t very interesting. It can’t go anywhere. If she doesn’t love him, then who does she love? Someone else? Her work? Her independence? A flat no, without reason, will stagnate. Find the love in her life, and suddenly her reasons for not loving him are clear, and they create deeper conflict that you can develop.

Since conflict makes the story-world go round, it’s fortunate that love is the kind of emotion that is strong enough to start wars. Somebody flying in the face of your love is a serious offense and if it’s bad enough, it will move you to defend your love with everything you have. Characters in a novel are no different. If you find yourself struggling with a plot hole made from a character’s lack of reasons for action, find the love in the scene. If they’re reacting with an anger or hate you can’t explain, all you have to do is consider why they might be angry or have hate. Which is so obvious, I know, but the simplest way of doing that is having the characters love the opposite of what they hate and building the scene around that. If you have a girl glaring at a guy for tossing her a wolf whistle, don’t make it about how she hates bigotry. Make it about how much she loves equality and respect. After that, the hate comes naturally, and its depth is exponential.

Another reason love is so damn important is because from love you can create nearly every kind of relationship or reaction possible. There are three big questions when it comes to acting that you have to ask yourself while developing your character: What does the character want? Why did the character move? Why did the character say that? It’s not a coincidence that those are the exact same questions that I ask myself when I’m struggling with a scene. In the end, the most effective method of answering them is by figuring out what they love. Their loves can be numerous. They can extend away from people and reach into the realm of both abstract and concrete concepts: I love humour, I love music, I love freedom. Take those away from me, and I will fight you. Give them to me and I will appreciate you. Tease me with them, string me along, and I’ll follow, because just the glimpse of those things, just the possibility of possessing them to a greater extent, will seduce me into a state of obedience.

Suddenly, I have three relationships, all three extremely different, all built around what I love, all with perfectly explicable motives that are true to myself and make me consistent about being who I am.

Consider this with your characters, and clarity will follow.

Find the love in the scene.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and in her fourth year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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13. Free Fall Friday – Results

susan-dobinickSusan Dobinick, Assistant Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux is our Guest Critiquer  for March. Read the four winners and read Susan critique below:

Susan assists two children’s trade imprints. She works with fiction and nonfiction, ranging from picture to young adult books. Her specialties include children’s trade publishing, picture books, chapter books, middle-grade books, young adult books, educational publishing, textbooks, and teacher editions. She holds a B.A. in English from Chicago Goucher College.

Susan is Edith Cohn’s editor for Spirits Key, which is coming out in September. Edith has a nice interview with Susan on her blog. Here is the link:



ELLIE AND THE KING by Anita Nolan MG Novel

“I’m adopted. It’s the only possible explanation.”

The Piercing Pagoda kiosk at the mall provides excellent cover for my friend Lindsey and me while a group of kids from school—the popular ones—stroll past, but I duck lower anyway. I don’t know why I worry. I’m one of the more invisible people at school. But if anyone connects me with the man dressed as Elvis standing across the way, my name will be texted to every student in Cranford Middle School, and possible the entire state of Pennsylvania.

Lindsey glances at the older ladies—it’s always older ladies—lined up to meet my dad, and shakes her head. “There’s only one problem with the adoption theory, Ellie. How do you explain your eyes?”

That is the problem. I’ve tried to convince myself that I look nothing like my father—and I don’t—except for my dark green eyes, complete with little blue flecks. I guess the adoption theory can’t be right, but as Dad bursts into song, I wish it were.

The kids from school hang at the edge of the crowd, pointing at Dad and laughing. My faces flushes. I have a hard time swallowing. I wish he would keep the Elvis stuff out of the mall and away from anyone I know.

Gram says I shouldn’t be embarrassed. Everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. Unfortunately, my skeleton is the one dressed in gold lame singing Love Me Tender in front of the Cinnabon.

All Lindsey and I wanted to do was buy a few yards of silky white polyester. It wasn’t our idea to turn a trip to the mall into a media event. But apparently Dad decided to promote the upcoming Philly Salutes Elvis Tribute, so here he stands, dressed like Elvis, talking like Elvis, and acting like Elvis. Dad’s best friend, Norm, who is also Lindsey’s father, pretends to be Dad’s bodyguard—as if he needs one. But Elvis always had a bodyguard, so Dad does too.


Ellie and the King

I like the voice in this—the writing feels very authentically middle grade girl to me. I am not sure the author is choosing the right place to focus this energy, though, especially at the beginning of the book. Ellie is the one who I am interested in, but her dad is stealing the show (as, of course, an Elvis impersonator is apt to do). I think it is common for kids to be embarrassed by parents and there is certainly room for books that talk about navigating these relationships, but I want the child protagonist to be at the forefront here. More Ellie and Lindsey, please! What are they going to do with that fabric? Then, once we know and love Ellie, we can see more about the relationship with her father and relate more to her embarrassment. I also would caution against leaning too heavily on Elvis as a joke throughout the whole book—I am not sure that kids would love that joke as much as adults—so be sure to keep the ways in which Dad embarrasses Ellie relatable to people who don’t know much about Elvis.



HALF-TRUTHS by Carol Baldwin                    Young Adult/Historical Fiction

Women can’t be scientists. At least that’s what Daddy always tells me.

But now I have proof he’s wrong.

I pick at the frayed edges of The Story-Lives of Great Scientists and stare out the kitchen window. If Marie Curie could make exciting scientific discoveries, why can’t I?

But I know better. Only a few colored kids make it to college. And if they do, it’s just to colored schools to become teachers. Not to big universities where important scientists get their start.

Science has always been my favorite subject. My best friend Darla rolls her eyes when I say the PTA should buy more microscopes for chemistry and biology. She thinks the money should go towards a gym. We can’t ever agree on that one.

I look at the clock above the kitchen sink. It’s four already. Any minute my big brother Sam will push through the screen door wondering what’s for supper. Momma, Daddy, and Big Momma will come in talking about work and expecting to smell dinner cooking.

“Gloria!” I yell out the window to my younger sister. “Get yourself in here and wash up the breakfast dishes!”

She looks up from the tea party she’s having with her Shirley Temple doll. “Let me finish pouring tea. I’ll be in soon!” She waves away a chicken that’s wandered over.

I doubt that’s going to happen. It’ll be me, not Gloria, catching heck if Big Momma comes home to a sink full of dishes. Sometimes I feel like everyone’s maid—something I swear I’ll never be. I wish I could spread a pair of wings and fly away.



Well, this has a lot of interesting premises that drew me in right away. I’m a sucker for a strong female protagonist. I especially love books with characters who overcome societal expectations to succeed—and you just know that this character is going to find a way to succeed. I do think the author is putting all of her cards on the table right away, and I would like to see some of this develop more slowly—so, for example, she thinks that she can prove her father wrong that women can’t be scientists, but then shoots herself down quickly because people of color can’t even go to college. What would it be like to see her keep with the Marie Curie excitement a little longer, and then feel her disappointment when she comes to this second realization?

My caution with YA historical fiction is that it can be a bit of a tricky sell—when I am looking at these submissions, I am looking for historical plus a big hook; day to day life is a bit harder to reach a wide audience.



MRS. HENNESSEY’S HENS     by Susan E. Harris     Picture Book

Mrs. Hennessey had six speckled Sussex hens. They were cheerful and chubby. Curious and cuddly. Feathery and friendly. So friendly they were more like dogs than hens.

When Mrs. Hennessey ate breakfast on the patio, the hens ran to greet her.

When she enjoyed a cup of tea under the stars, they nestled at her feet.

And when Mrs. Hennessey took her daily walk, they always wanted to walk with her.

But Mrs. Hennessey worried. “You may think you’re dogs but you’re not. You are hens! And it isn’t safe for hens to take a walk.”

One day, Mrs. Hennessey left for her walk. “My, what a windy day,” she said and headed down town. <Gate stays open and hens follow>

At the post office the wind blew hard. “Goodness,” said Mrs. Hennessey, “there goes all the mail! I must go help the mailman. Never mind. Those little dogs fetched his mail. But I’m glad my girls are home. I’m sure those dogs would’ve chased them.” She started her walk once more.

At the library Mrs. Hennessey stopped. The librarians were hanging a banner. The wind blew harder still and pulled the banner from their hands.

“My, how I wish I could help them,” said Mrs. Hennessey. “Never mind. Those little dogs caught the banner! And look how they’re hanging it on the library. But I’m glad my girls are home. I wouldn’t want them flying so high.”

She bought an apple-tart from the bakery and went to sit in the park.

In the park some children were flying a kite. The wind blew it’s hardest yet and sent the kite into a tree.

“I’m sure those little dogs will help the children. After all, they can fly.” Mrs. Hennessey thought about what she’d said. “Wait a minute! Dogs can’t fly!”


Mrs. Hennessey’s Hens

You know, it’s funny—my colleagues and I were just talking about liking chicken books the other day. I think the sentence length here is really spot on for picture books, and the author has a good sense of how to move the story along. I am having a logic problem, though—is Mrs. Henessey actually mistaking her hens for dogs? I just don’t know that a pet owner, especially one who clearly loves her pets so much, would make that mistake, even if she is absent-minded—and though picture books are fun places for fantastical adventures, I am a stickler for logic, so I would rather see a story that really embraces hens being hens. (Of course, I suppose the hens could dress in dog costumes—but I still am not sure that the costumes would be that believable to hide that the dogs were really hens…)



THE THREE WIGGLY WORMS BLUFF by Wendy Greenley     383 word Picture Book

“Melting snow is swamping the soil! Time to head to higher ground,” said Papa Worm.

Papa, Mama and Baby Worm squirmed to the surface and wiggled up the grassy slope to face—the dreaded sidewalk.

“Ow! It’s rough,” said Baby.

“Go as fast as you can.” Mama gave him a pat. “And keep a lookout for birds.”

Baby wiggled as fast as he could.

But he was only halfway across when a robin swooped down.

“I’m going to slurp you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’m a baby myself. Barely a bite, and not worth your flight. Mama is coming, she’s more than a morsel. Why don’t you wait for her?” said Baby.

The robin thanked Baby and sent him on his way.

When the coast looked clear, Mama wiggled as fast as she could.

But she was barely halfway across when the robin hopped out from a bush.

“I’m going to slurp you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’d make an adequate dinner, but if you want to treat your babies to a feast you might want to wait for Papa worm. He’s coming next,” said Mama.

The robin thanked Mama and sent her on her way.

Papa did calisthenics, warming up his wiggle. Between the birds and the pavement heating up, He needed to be fast!

Papa wasn’t halfway across when the robin landed in his path.


The Three Wiggly Worms Bluff

I like that this has a good seasonal hook—I could imagine a class of kids reading it right at the end of winter or the beginning of spring. I also think it builds in a satisfying way—it’s an old and simple trick, but using patterns of threes (three characters, three problems, etc.) tends to work well, especially in picture books. I am not sure why the family keeps throwing each other to the mercy of the bird, though—the baby can’t actually want the mama to be eaten, or the mama for the papa to be eaten, right? I think you could get rid of the worms suggesting the bird eats the others and still have each worm outsmart the bird in a different way.


I want to thank Susan for sharing her time and expertise with us. These type of critiques can help all of us improve our writing skills. We really appreciate you helping take us to the next level. Thanks again!

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: Advice, Editors, inspiration, Middle Grade Novels, picture books, revisions, Young Adult Novel Tagged: Farrar Straus and Giroux, Free Fall Friday, March First Page Critiques, Susan Dobinick

2 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Results, last added: 3/31/2014
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14. Query Tips – Examples – Links

silvialiuPig n Butterlies 2004

This cute little piggy was sent in by Sylvia Liu. Sylvia was selected the 2013 New Voices Award winner by Lee and Low Books and my debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, is scheduled to be published in Fall 2015. She is part of the 2013 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and being mentored in illustration by Caldecott-winner David Diaz.


1. Always address your query to a specific person.

2. Make sure you mention the title of your book in third  paragraph.

3. Mention the word count and genre of your book in third paragraph.    

Note: Novels should be 80,000 to 100,000 words. Young adult novels can be significantly less: 40,000-60,000 words. Insert word count and genre at the end of your first “hook” paragraph.

If your novel is 200,000 words – Cut before you query.  No one wants an overweight manuscript. AgentQuery reports unless your manuscript is a historical family saga or an epic science fiction battle, agents hit DELETE on proposed first-time novel over 110,000-120,000 words.

4. Share the reason why you are querying this particular agent. Let the agent know that you have researched them and have a reason for choosing them for representation.

5.  Have someone you know check for typos and grammar mistakes. It is very easy when e-mailing a query letter to click the send button before throughly checking your text.  Writers seem to be in the mode to triple check everything when they snail mail their queries, but since we send so many personal e-mails without closely checking every word, that “Send” button can be easily clicked.  The mistake snail mailing query writers make is forgetting to include their contact information – something you don’t need to include with an e-mail. I know that sounds crazy, but I have seen it when writers have sent me submissions for editors and agents.

nathan bransford book2Need to see an ACTUAL query letter before you’ll know how to write one? Here is the query letter Author (at the time agent) Nathan Bransford:

Dear Ms. Drayton,

As a young literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. I have long admired Inkwell, as well as your strong track record. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you searched for a book that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike THE BOOK THIEF (which I absolutely loved), you might just have JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle-grade-and-up science fiction novel that I just completed. Still fun! But no one dies – Mr. Death would be lonely.

Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled. But when the trio meets a mysterious man in silver one night they trade a corn dog for his sassy spaceship and blast off into the great unknown. That is, until they break the universe in a giant space kapow and a nefarious space buccaneer named Mick Cracken maroons Jacob and Dexter on a tiny planet that smells like burp breath. The friends have to work together to make it back to their little street where the houses look the same, even as Earth seems farther and farther away.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW is 50,000 words and stands alone, but I have ideas for a series, including titles such as JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE and JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE VACATIONING ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET. I’m the author of an eponymous agenting and writing blog.

I’d be thrilled if you would consider WONDERBAR for representation, and a few other agents are considering simultaneously. Thanks very much, and hope to talk to you soon.

Nathan Bransford

Here are a few other places to look:

Nathan Bransford dissects a really good query letter and extoll its virtues.

Click Here to Visit Galleycat. They have 23 Agent Query Letters That Actually Worked.

Nonfiction writers don’t need to have a completed manuscript.  They only need a proposal before seeking representation from an agent. Here’s are books and places to help with writing a proposal:

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, How to, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: David Diaz, Links to Query letter Info, New Voices Award Winner, Query letter Example, Query Tips, Sylvia Liu

5 Comments on Query Tips – Examples – Links, last added: 3/28/2014
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15. How to Write A Query Letter


You can see from the above illustration by Evi Gstottner that she loves fairytales and folktales. She graduated in 1992 from Byam Shaw School of Art in London and in 2009 she completed her MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge School of Art). Evi was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here is the link: http://www.kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/illustrator-saturday-evi-gstottner/

The goal of query letter is to elicit an invitation from an agent (or editor) to send in sample chapters or the whole manuscript.

A query letter is a ONE PAGE letter with three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography.

Don’t stray, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer. Keep it simple. Stick to three paragraphs.

Paragraph One is called The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and reel them in.

The first paragraph is your chance (perhaps your only chance) to grab the agent, since many agents will be immediately biased—for good or for bad—within a sentence or two.

If a writer queries via a referral, he will always begin with, “I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended that I do so.” Thus an agent, whether he likes it or not, must take the first sentence seriously, if for no other reason than he risks offending an existing client check or editor. Please do not say this unless it is true. Agents will check and you don’t want to be embarrassed or have someone think you are not trustworthy.

If you haven’t been referred, you could still grab the agents attention with something personal., such as: ”I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”

What will this show?

1. That this is not a random query letter.

2. That you’re approaching him/her for a specific reason

3. That you’ve put a great deal of time and energy into researching the market

4. That you know who the agent represents, and the types of books they have sold.

5.  It will put a positive association into the agents mind, as it will make him or her think of a book they sold.

6. It offers a comparison, allowing the agent to immediately grasp the type of book you’re writing and thus help they agent decide if they want to represent another like it.

7. It shows that you know the market, that you have an objective grasp of what your own book is about and where it fits within that market.

8. It indicates that you’ve put care into your writing.

Referencing one of his/her titles will help accomplish this. But don’t bluff. Noah says, ”If you don’t truly do the research, it will show. I’ve received many letters which referenced a book I sold, but when I read the rest of the query, I realized that their book was not at all similar; it was just a gimmick to get me to pay attention. When an agent realizes this, he will just be annoyed. So when referencing a book, make sure it is truly appropriate. But if you’ve done the research and query a truly appropriate agent and reference a truly appropriate title, then you are already off to a shining head start.”

Agent Query suggests using the when formula: “When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way. Sure, it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works.”

Example:  Bridges of Madison County

When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.

Note: Many writers use the “when” formula, so use it as a starting point. Write your basic hook and then spice it up with the “When. Noah says to keep your opening paragraph to one sentence, so if you add a when to the personal approach, make sure it is short.

Example: Non-”formulatic” fiction hook:

The Da Vinci Code A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Paragraph Two—Mini-synopsis: This is where boil down your entire novel into one paragraph and expand your hook. Put in the hard work of practicing and revising, until you get that paragraph to sing the same tune as your whole book. Read the back flap of books you like to get a feel for how to create a juicy paragraph.

Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio: Keep it short and related to writing. If your book revolves around a hospital and you are a nurse, then say that. If you have a published book, been published in some magazines, etc,, or won a writing contest or award, then let the agent know. if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no writing degrees, and have no credentials to write your book, then don’t say it. This just gives you more space for Paragraph Two.

The Closing: Thank the agent for their time and consideration. Let the agent know you have the full manuscript available upon request. Note: Never query an agent unless you have written, revised, and finished your full manuscript.

Tomorrow: Query Tips – Examples and Links.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, How to, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Breaking down the Query Letter, How to write a query letter, Noah Lukeman, One page Query letter

8 Comments on How to Write A Query Letter, last added: 3/26/2014
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16. Kickstarter advice with Spike and Paul Roman Martinez

Are you among the four or five people who haven’t done a Kickstarter yet but are just thinking about it?

C. Spike Trotman has run several Kickstartes herself, and is working on a mini comic (if you call 30 pages a mini comic) with some advice. Four more pages in the link.

Hi, folks. Here’s a five-page preview of a mini I hope to have on sale next week. (People ask me for advice on a weekly basis, anyway; might as well consolidate it all into one handy package.) Stuff I plan to include:
What to ask the printer
How to calculate your goal properly
How to price and sell your books
Good backer bonus ideas
Your Frenemy The Post Office

Along the same lines, Paul Roman Martinez offers 11 Things All Failed Kickstarter Projects Do Wrong

In putting my projects together, I’ve done research into hundreds of campaigns, following them from start to finish, trying to analyze what works and what doesn’t so I can implement those strategies into my own projects. Here are a few of most common mistakes I see people make that hopefully you can avoid. I’ve seen amazing projects fail because they missed a few of the simple things listed here. While no one can guarantee success, I can promise a better chance of reaching your funding goal if you fix these issues in your next project!

If you’re thinking of coing crowdfunding, better bookmark these.

2 Comments on Kickstarter advice with Spike and Paul Roman Martinez, last added: 3/24/2014
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17. The Query Letter

great-query-jacketFor the last few weeks we have gone over how to format your manuscript and how to write a synopsis. Every week I have pointed you towards agents and what they are looking for, but really the first thing you need to do is hone your skills on writing a great query letter. It is wonderful that more and more agents are accepting query letters via email, but there a perils that come along with this. We are so used to quickly jotting down a few sentences to talk with friends and hitting the send button without thinking, that the same thing can happen when emailing a query letter to an agent. We all need to beware of doing this an approach the query letter with the same respect as the rest of our writing.

Agent Noah Lukeman has written a whole book on how to do this in his appropriately title book, HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

Love the way Noah explains this: Most writers put a tremendous amount of effort into their content, spending months or years with their manuscripts, agonizing over word choice, scene order, character development. Yet when it comes time to write a query letter, they will often write something off the top of their head, sometimes with a mere hour’s effort, and let this suffice to represent their work. They rush through the letter process so that the agent can get to the book itself, which they feel will explain everything. They feel that if an agent just sees the writing, nothing else will matter, and that a poor query letter will even be forgiven. This is faulty thinking. For agents, the query letter is all. If it’s not exceptional, agents will not even request to see the writing, and writers will never even get a chance to showcase their talent. For most writers, the query letter—which they rushed through—becomes the only piece of writing they will ever be judged by, and unfortunately, the only chance they ever had. While it may seem as if a query letter is a shallow way to judge an author, I can tell you from an agent’s perspective that it is a very effective tool.

For the professional eye, a query letter is much more than just a letter:

1. It shows the agent whether you are able to exhibit word economy

2. Whether you have a grasp on the nature of your own work

3. Whether you have a realistic grasp on your own background and credentials.

4. For non-fiction: It also demonstrates whether you have a grasp on your market and your competition. A query letter can also serve to warn an agent, to act as a red flag, if for example you are too aggressive, or pitch too many projects at once. The way it physically looks speaks volumes, as does whether you’ve sent it to the right person in the right way. A layman looks at a query and sees a one page letter. An agent looks at it and scans it for 100 different criteria.

This mere page can tell an agent more about the writer and his work than you can possibly imagine.

This week we will talk about what goes into making your query letter stand out and get noticed. Remember: The query letter might be the only thing that agent ever reads of your writing. Remember: Agents have a big pile of other writer’s query letters sitting in front of them and would like to get through that pile sitting on their desk, so small things can be the difference between them saying, “Send more” and “not interested.” But also, Remember: Agents want to find the next great book or else they wouldn’t be facing that pile.

So let’s learn what to do, learn how to avoid the pitfalls that get our letter tossed and signal an amateur.

Noah Lukeman is giving away a .pdf of this book and How to Land an Agent. You can also get it for free on your Kindle at Amazon.

Here is the link for the download: http://www.landaliteraryagent.com/

Here is the layout for this week:


Wednesday: Query Letter Tips – Examples and Links

Thursday: Agent Wishlist

Friday: First Page Critique Results

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Agent, demystify, need to know, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Agent Noah Lukeman, The goal of the Query Letter, The Query Letter, What a query letter says about you

5 Comments on The Query Letter, last added: 3/25/2014
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18. Illustrator Saturday – Melanie Hope Greenberg

melpic290Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 trade published children’s picture books; six of them she wrote. Greenberg was recently an artist in residence for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her original picture book illustrations were exhibited in a solo show and as a part of the “Drawn in Brooklyn” group exhibition at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza.

Greenberg was also the selected artist for the Texas Library Association conference’s Disaster Relief Fund raffle. SCBWI NY Metro steering committee member. Keynoter, panelist, workshop presenter, picture book manuscript / dummy / portfolio critiques for SCBWI regional conferences.

Judge for the 2005 SCBWI Golden Kite Award, 2006 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award. Judge for the 2010 Cybils Awards.


Here is Melanie talking about her process:

Muriel Feldshuh was kind enough to invite me to participate, for a second time, in her traveling children’s picture book artist quilt project.  She sent a kit containing a lovely note, a blank square of muslin, packing, and a self addressed, stamped return envelope. How could I refuse?

The  first muslin square I painted is in the red quilt above. Feldshuh’s quilts exhibit in galleries throughout the United States.

For the new quilt, consisting of Brooklyn based illustrators, I chose an icon that both represents Brooklyn and my picture books. This is a sketch of a book cover test for MERMAIDS ON PARADE. The publisher thought it was “too old” for the age level of my book.

I still love this sketch and I’ve wanted to use it somewhere else. So, I did.

I work with a copy machine. I cut out extras and fixed some lines. Then copied again. There’s my outline.

I copy once more, and experiment with paint on the paper first. I discovered my glitter nail polish made a quick drying sparkle over the paint. Yippie, no glitter mess.

Using a lightbox, I trace the mermaid’s outline onto the muslin square with pencil. I lay down shapes of pure colors.

Now I add some details to the under layers of paint.

I add purple pen out line and carefully brush in the glitter. I do not want paint or glitter to spill onto the muslin outside the mermaid outline.

Remember to always ventilate while using the nail polish in large areas. I painted by an open window.

Finished art.

How long have you been illustrating?

Before kindergarten. I cannot remember not coloring or drawing. Here’s a painting from my teenage years living in Co-op City in the Bronx.


What was the first art related work that you did for money?

UNICEF greeting cards was my first professional illustration job. I also worked in a frame store and in graphic art studios.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?

When I met a picture book art agent. Finding her was random luck as I pounded the pavement with my portfolio and illustrating for the gift industry.


Greeting Card published by Michel & Co

Did you do freelance before you got into children’s books?

Yes. I still freelance. I’ve published hundreds of illustrated images on greeting cards, coffee mugs, posters, gift items and more.


What was your first book you had published? What year was that and who published it?

AT THE BEACH which I wrote and illustrated for Dutton Children’s Books 1989


How did you get that contract?

Through the agent. We worked for about 6 months crafting a dummy and writing. Then I got the job!


What spurred you to write your own book?

I always liked to write and my agent encouraged me to write a story.


How did you find a home for that book?

Through the agent. I was incredibly green.


Is there anything you can point that ratcheted up in your career to the next level?

Understanding the vast scope of our business and how it all connects. Marketing my art and books with an individual vision to a target audience.


What book was your first big success?

When I saw my illustration from AT THE BEACH in Publisher’s Weekly with a lovely review. I was on an interview at Publisher’s Weekly for a freelance graphic job. When the art director flipped through the magazine there was my painting! The review made me realize that books were more than a freelance gig which is what I thought about my first book deal. Had no idea about picture book reviews.

PS: I got the freelance job at Publisher’s Weekly, too!


Since then, which book do you feel is your biggest success? Which book is your personal favorite?

A big success is DOWN IN THE SUBWAY which is still in print and has received several honors and became a New York Time Great Children’s Read. MERMAIDS ON PARADE is my personal favorite because it’s a personal story that came from real life. And the story in the book manifested in real life, too. We marched with a little girl who I met at my Eric Carle Museum program. She and her mom came all the way from Massachusetts to Brooklyn to march with my friends in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. She won a medal for Best Little Mermaid. Just like my book!


Have you won any awards for your books?

Yes, notables, honors, a New York Times Great Children’s Read, and state awards.


Did you do the original cover of Lizzy Logan Wears Purple Sunglasses by Eileen Spinelli or the latest cover or both?

Great question! I illustrated the first cover in my folk art style and I have no skills to illustrate the new cover. LOVE that they used the same hair style, I’m honored!


I see you have done a number of books with Henry Holt. How did you make that happen?

Agent connection to editor, Nina Ignatowicz. I published THE WIND’S GARDEN and A CITY IS with Henry Holt.


How many picture books have you published?

16 trade picture books. Six of them I’ve written.


Do you plan to write and illustrate more books?

Always trying. I have polished projects which I submit and various new projects in different stages.


Are you open to working with self-published authors?

I’m not seeking it out, however if I am paid well I’d consider it as a freelance job. Because I am considered “hybrid” I might self-publish my own previously published books now out of print. These books have a track record with the public library system and with schools.


Do you feel your style has changed since when you started out?

Yes, from a decorative cartoon style to a painterly style. That evolution was challenging. In retrospect, it was breaking out of barriers (black lines) into a light filled open field (no black lines). The art mirrored my psychology at the time. Learning to expand interior spaces and how to illustrate with moods and symbols.


What materials do you use to paint your color illustrations?

Gouache, pens, pencils. Ballpoint rainbow colored gel pens rock my world for fine detail work.


Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?

No. Ten fingers are my digital age ;)


Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?

Yes. I had a monthly job with Scholastic’s Instructor Magazine for many years before their illustrations changed to photos. My first assignment with Scholastic was for poems edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. He and I are currently Facebook Friends! Also, worked with Children’s Television Workshop, and teacher magazines.


Have you done any books with educational publishers?

Yes, A SCARY THING IN THE KITCHEN with McGraw-Hill. I AM with Scholastic. And many more black and white illustrations for textbooks.


What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

Postcard mailings. Submitting proposals. Online presence. Networking.


Do you have an artist rep.? If yes, who? If not, would you like to have one?

I did have a 23 year year long good relationship with an agent who is not as active. I went on my own but would LOVE an energetic rep. It’s a lot of work to meet the art directors and editors, do the paperwork and contracts. Definitely worth the commissions.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Totally! My platform has ballooned. I meet people at events who say they see my name everywhere.


How did you get your first school visit?

I cannot remember, almost 22 years ago. Probably local, I sent mailers to the schools.


Do you actively look for school visits? Or do they find you through word of mouth?

Both. I have a booking agent now but I still must market on a consistent basis and do so with personal lists I’ve built up over time.


Do you have any tips on how to get invited to a school for a presentation?

Marketing to the target audience is always best.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, and lots of paperwork! However, deadlines shape a timely art production. I paint better and more efficiently when I am eating.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My paints.


Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Yes, I LOVE to research! I have files of research before I sketch, write, etc. Especially if I am not clear on what info to convey in the art or story. If I can take photos I do, but I use my own visual files and the internet to search for images and other research.


Jay Asher, author of 13 REASONS WHY, on left standing next to Melanie and the Disco Mermaids from the SCBWI party was research for MERMAIDS ON PARADE. They appear inside the book as well as on the flap jacket. )

Have you ever thought of getting back the rights to your out-of-print books and self-publishing them?

Yes! At this point I am hybrid, books in and out of print. I sell my remainder copies. I’ve learned how to sell to bookstores and the public via experience, the events I do and through social networking. Again, because I am “hybrid” I can self-publish previously published books now out of print which have a track record with the public library system and with schools.

melaniehgQ35Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Retire properly with financial security. melaniehgQ36

What are you working on now?

Submitting, submitting, submitting. I have a new Ebook being released with Random House. It’s the reincarnation of IT’S MY EARTH, TOO, originally published by Doubleday, released in 1992. It went out of print around 1995 when Doubleday merged with Random House.


Do you have any material type tips you can share with us?

Play with whatever excites your imagination and experiment.


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Work your butt off. Stop waiting for others to do the heavy lifting. Keep trying. Present your creativity with an authentic individual voice.

Melanie thank you for sharing your journey, talent, expertise, and process with us. Please keep us informed of all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them.

For more of Melanie, you can find her at: http://www.melaniehopegreenberg.com/ or  http://mermaidsonparade.blogspot.com/

All art and photos are the copyright of Melanie Hope Greenberg.

Please take a minute to leave Melanie a comment. It is always nice to hear your thoughts and I am sure Melanie would appreciate it, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process, Tips Tagged: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art's, Melanie Hope Greenberg, SCBWI Magazine Merit Award

7 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Melanie Hope Greenberg, last added: 3/25/2014
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19. Illustrator Saturday – Wendy Martin

WendyMartinPortraitA transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years.

Wendy’s love affair with art and illustration began at an early age. One of her earliest memories is of sitting with a pile of crayons and papers strewn around her proclaiming to her parents that someday everyone in the world would be looking at her art. In spite of her parents’ attempts to steer her toward a more practical choice, she never wanted to do anything else.

So, Wendy followed her heart and earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued her art education at the School of Visual Arts, earning a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. These disciplines can still be seen in her work in her strong lines, textures and detailed patterns.

Her career began in advertising and graphic design in New York, where she was often called upon to create spot art for a variety of clients, which included Fortune 500 companies such as Kraft, General Electric and Sears. After her move to Missouri in 2000, she turned her focus to her true love, children’s books. An Ordinary Girl, A Magical Child, a children’s book she both wrote and illustrated was released in 2005. When the original publisher folded, An Ordinary Girl, A Magical Child was picked up by a new house, edited and re-released in 2008, then went on to become a finalist in the 2009 international COVR awards. Four additional picture books and a coloring book quickly followed.

Wendy can still be found sitting around her studio with papers strewn around her creating stories and illustrations for children. She has since traded in her crayons for watercolor, pen and ink, and a computer.

She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors.

Here is Wendy discussing the February 2014 promotional postcard mailer she created entirely in Adobe Illustrator:

I’ve been using AI since it first came out. Sometime in the early to mid 90s, I believe. That first version of the program was installed via a couple of 3×3 floppy disks. Remember those? Not very floppy, and incredibly tiny amount of storage space. I currently use CS5, the CD for the program stores more data than my first Apple computer.

Not only has AI become a much bigger program, it now has so many more capabilities to create painterly art. Here is my illustration process in Adobe Illustrator.

I start out with paper and pencil. I may use a sketchbook, but in most cases, I just grab a piece of blank copy paper and scribble till something comes of it. Once I have a messy thumbnail down (I won’t bother sharing it, since it is unintelligible to anyone but myself) I work on character development. Characters are sketched separately, scanned in and layered into Photoshop. Adjustments and revisions are made and background options explored.


Once I have my rough layout designed in Photoshop, I bring the file into Illustrator as a template layer. I begin inking over the pencil rough. As you can see above, the inking has some major changes, especially to the right half of the image. I decided the image of the three boys and a dog playing with a couple of basketballs was too ordinary. I added more story telling to the illustration by changing the middle boy’s basketball to a swirl of light. Where the boys crossed over the division delineated by the swirl, they and their environment became a fantasy world. The dog was out-of-place, so it transformed into a fox.

I create my characters on separate layers in AI, that way I can revise them in placement, size etc, easily. The only drawback, if you can call it that, of this technique is I have to draw each character in its entirety. It’s a little more work initially, but makes the fine adjustments throughout the image creation much less of a hassle.


When the majority of the character inking is done, I begin adding flat color. With this piece, I had several false starts with getting the swirling light and the portal to reflect the vision in my head. Glowing orbs of light are a lot easier to accomplish in Photoshop, apparently, because I couldn’t find any reference or samples created utilizing AI. Since I didn’t want the background to compete with all that was going on with the main characters, I hadn’t inked it. I wanted to simulate a bright sunny day, but differentiate the left side from the right. I also wanted to avoid flat colors in the hills, fields and court surface, so I messed around with a variety of textures until I got the effect I was looking for. The glowing orb and separation are progressing to closer to the image in my mind. I added a larger, darker version of the background flowers to the foreground.


I worked the details into the left side of the background, adding leaves to the tree with flowers and grass at its roots. I decided the costuming on the boys was too similar in color and values to those of the background. I changed them so the boys appeared to jump forward in the space. The glowing orb and its trailing light has finally come close to what I was aiming for. I began laying in the fur on the fox to make it more dimensional. Then I moved to the boy on the left and concentrated on the highlights and shadows on him, his clothing and the basketball he’s dribbling.


I worked on the boy and then moved over to the fox bring dimensionality and a painterly feel to both of these characters. Then I completed the background on the right side, adding the trees, leaves, flowers and grasses along with their shadows. The color and shading were also added to the basketball hoop. Shading and highlighting of the middle boy was also attacked, paying special attention to the cross-over details on his clothing to differentiate the mundane from the magical worlds he was straddling. The lighting on this was tricky since he is split by the trailing light of the glowing orb.


More details were added to the fox before I moved on to the last boy. As I was working, I noticed all the boys’ legs were in the same position. I didn’t like the way the elf shoes were hitting the fox, so I revised the boy’s lower half to add more variety to the children and remove the confusion between the elf shoes and fox. Once the revisions were made, I continued adding details to the woodland elf costume. It’s hard to tell here, but the elf-child has leaves scattered in his hair as well. I also decided the style of middle boy’s hand didn’t match the rest of the image, so I made it more realistic and changed its position.

While I was adding final details, I decided the two boys on the left needed to have their faces revised. Although the adjustments are minor, they gave the boys more definition and made their faces more in keeping with the semi-realistic style of the image. Almost done but for a few more minor revisions.


Finished piece.


Here is the printed piece back from the printer and ready to mail out.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been creating art in one form or another for as long as I can remember. When I was 12, the children’s librarian was so impressed with my origami pieces she invited me to be the guest artist for the display cases in the children’s wing library entrance. It was quite an honor, since the guest artists were usually well-known professionals from Long Island or New York. The display cases where 2’x6’ long and about 18” high, one case on each side of the entrance hall. I created a mountain village scene for one and a fishing village scene for the other. It took me three months to complete all the origami pieces.


How did you decide to attend Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology?

I went to a very large high school. There were close to 3,000 students in the 3 grades. Because of the size of the school, and the affluence of a lot of the surrounding communities, my upper grade education was more like college. The high school had wings divided by discipline. One of the wings was the Arts and Theater wing. I had classes in fashion illustration, textile design, life drawing and costuming. I was very passionate about pattern and textile. Everyone assumed I would go to an art college. I wanted to focus on illustration, but my parents talked me into going into fashion design because they believed it had more practical applications in the working world. I applied to Pratt, FIT and Parsons. Pratt granted me a full scholarship, but when my parents and I went to visit the college, they were afraid for my safety in the Brooklyn neighborhood the college was located in. I chose FIT because it had a 2-year program and I wanted to get out on my own as soon as possible.


What made you decide to continue your education at the School of Visual Arts for Graphic Design?

I was offered a job before I even graduated from FIT. I was thrilled until the newness wore off. I was the designer for a little firm that created clothing for low-end department stores similar to what Wal-Mart is today. Part of my job was to go to places like Macy’s and Bloomingdales and make sketches of their merchandise, bring my sketches back and make patterns for my employer. In the fashion world it’s called a knock-off and was part of the business. It was sucking the soul right out of me. So I left the fashion world and got a job as an illustrator at a hand-painted clothing store. I was paid by the piece, and became really fast at copying the owner’s designs onto various items of clothing. I struck out on my own, came up with my own line and gave it a go. Part of what I needed to do was create advertising. I loved putting all the pieces together, but decided I would be better off if I got my BFA and learned from experts. So I applied to SVA for their Graphic Design program.


What were you favorite classes?

Richard Wilde, the head of the Graphic Design program, taught one of my classes. He really pushed the students to think outside of the box to fulfill the assignments. I loved that class because there was always a new challenge. I no longer remember what it was called, but I do know Mr. Wilde create a book a number of years later based on the class with samples of student work.


Did SVA help you get the job in advertising after you graduated?

Not really. At that time NYC was a very scary place to be living. I move to Connecticut right after I graduated. I got a job as an Art Director for a publisher of 5 business trade publications. After working there for a while, I found a job closer to home as a paste-up artist for an advertising firm that created ads for the telephone book yellow pages and menus for fine dining establishments. The owner of that business got into serious trouble with the law. One day, after I’d been working there for a few years, I showed up to work and the building was padlocked shut. So I became a freelancer. One of the places I freelanced for was Black Birch Graphics, a non-fiction school library book publisher. Another place I freelanced was an advertising agency creating business-to-business publications for Fortune 500 companies. Eventually, I ended up freelancing for this company full time. I was with them for 9 years.


What made you leave that job in Connecticut and move to Missouri?

I blame the Internet. I met the man who became my husband on-line. He didn’t want to be separated from his children by moving to New England, so I sold my house by the beach and relocated to Missouri.


Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced your style?

Yes. I love patterns and flowing lines in clothing. My style is very graphic as well, probably from long years as a technical illustrator with the advertising agency.


What was the first art related work that you did for money?

When I was 11 or 12, my mother hired me to illustrate a pamphlet she wrote on dog training. I created 5 illustrations for her. I think she paid me $50. The illustrations were not very professional, but I got paid.

My first “real” illustration job was for Crossword Magazine in 1987. Mr. Wilde had an agreement with the art director to show him student work. If the AD liked any of the images, the student was offered the opportunity to create mechanicals for the cover of the magazine. I had two pieces selected. This was before computers. I had to ink all those lines by hand, with a Rapidograph. I was lousy at it and ended up hiring a fellow student to do the inking for me. We split the fee.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?

After I moved to Missouri.


How did you do freelance work while you were working to break into the children’s publishing industry?

I freelanced for places like Sear Photo Studios, Purina, and Mays Company. I did illustration, logo design, prop design, photo retouching and general graphic design.


Was An Ordinary Girl, A Magical Child, your first book?



Who published that book in 2005?

Pagan World Press


How did that contract come about?

Ordinary Girl is a very niche book. The rejections I received all told me the book’s market was too small. I was lamenting this to a fellow writer friend of mine when she said her publisher was looking for Pagan-focused books. I sent him a query and he jumped at the chance to publish the book. Sadly, the publisher folded shortly after my book was released.


How did you find another publisher after the first publisher folded?

It pays to have friends who know people. Another friend put me in touch with this publisher and I signed a 3-book contract, which included the already published book.


Did you have a hard time regaining your rights, so you could get it published with a new publisher?

I had a lawyer review the first publisher’s contract before signing it. One of the clauses was reversion of rights after a certain time period of the book being unavailable. So I waited the allotted time period, had the lawyer draft me a letter declaring my intentions and the clause for reversion of the rights and got them back. It pays to have a good lawyer on your side.


Do you consider that book to be your first big success?

Ordinary Girl went on to get an award sticker and was reprinted 3 times. It’s had a good run and still outsells all my other books.


How many picture books have you published?



Were they with the same publisher?



Do you plan to write and illustrate more books?

I’m working on several dummies at the moment.


Are you open to working with self-published authors?

I am, under certain conditions.


What materials do you use to paint your color illustrations?

I use digital and traditional medias.


What do you use with your black and white?

Mostly digital. I always start with a pencil sketch.


Do you feel there is more work out there for black and white illustrations?

I think it depends on the market and the artist’s style. My dream job would be doing color covers with interior line art for chapter or middle grade books.


Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?


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What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I used to advertise in print annuals and on group portfolio sites, but most of my paying work came from postcards and direct email marketing so that’s where I focus my efforts now.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

A padded seat cushion. After spending hours in a chair, it really makes a huge difference in being able to keep working in comfort.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I consider illustration my full-time job. I am in the studio every weekday morning at 7. I usually work until 3 or 4. If I have a pressing deadline, I will go back to work in the evenings and on weekends. I’d say I spend about 40-50 hours a week in the studio, either working on a piece or on marketing or updating my blog and web site.


Do you actively look for school visits? Or do they find you through word of mouth?

At the moment I’m not actively seeking school visits. I will probably go back to it when I have a new book to promote.


Do you have an artist rep.? If yes, who? If not, would you like to have one?

I’m between agents right now. My last rep decided she no longer wanted to be in the publishing business and quit. The book she was marketing is hidden in a drawer somewhere since I don’t know where it was shown. I have several picture books out on submission with carefully selected agents.


Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I spend a good portion of time on research and reference collection before and during any project. I used to berate myself that I was wasting time, but I now know it’s an essential part of my process.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Most definitely.


Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop only after an illustration is 90% done. Mostly for minor editing or color correction.


Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I have a 12-year-old 4X5 Wacom tablet. I use it nearly every day.


Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I’d like to illustrate books for the major publishers. I’d also like to have steady educational publishing clients.


What are you working on now?

I create new pieces all the time. I also have several picture book dummies in the works. Plus, I’ve branched out into fantastic art in the past few years. Last May, my husband and I took a mini vacation to Kansas City and attended Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. I went as a spectator, but took some postcards with me. Charles Vess chastised me for not having a booth and displaying my art there. So this year I bit the bullet and applied for a booth and was accepted. May is only a few short months away, so I’m focusing on creating enough fantasy art to fill my booth. I hope Mr. Vess likes what he sees.


Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

One thing I tell my traditional media students is to buy the best quality art supplies they can afford. For years I used the cheapest paper, paints and brushes to save money. When I finally splurged on quality supplies the difference in my paintings was huge. I had a lot more successful end results.


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Draw or write every day. Creative endeavors require constant practice. Illustrating is a marathon event. You have to train constantly to compete.


Thank you Wendy for sharing your journey, talent, and process with us. Please remember to keep us up-to-date with all your future successes. You can find Wendy at: www.wendymartinillustration.com

Please take a minute to leave Wendy a comment. I am sure she would like that and so would I. Thanks.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, demystify, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Process, Tips Tagged: An Ordinary Girl, School of Visual Arts, Wendy Martin

9 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Wendy Martin, last added: 3/3/2014
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20. New Jersey SCBWI Social & Tip


We are all hoping this little girl who is bundled up for the snow, will be able to shed those heavy clothes in a few weeks. Well, spring really is just around the corner, said by someone who is waiting for the next snow storm that is about to bear down on New Jersey.  Michelle Munger is the illustrator of this cute painting. She is a realistic painter and has been painting for the last ten years. She also dabbles in painting whimsical and fantasy as well as attempting to write that next big YA breakout novel. You can find her at: http://michellemunger.moonfruit.com and http://michellesportraits.com

When Leeza Hernandez took over for me as New Jersey’s SCBWI Regional Advisor, she started doing some smaller meetings and has resurrected an idea that David Caruba used to do in the summer at people’s homes over  decade ago, but now the New Jersey Chapter has added SCBWI Socials in various locations around the state. Last Wednesday we had our first social in this area at Dubh Linn Square in Cherry Hill. I was asked to be host, which I gladly did. We had 12 members show up and had a great time. It was nice to socialize with members I knew and it was great to see and meet new members who recently have joined. I think we have developed as a chapter to the point where it is nice to just meet without having and editor or agent join us. It give us the freedom to focus on each other, talk, and answers questions that might not be asked with an industry professional present. If you get a chance to attend one, do so. Everyone left an hour after the scheduled end and we all said, “We have to do this again.”

I was the only one who took pictures and that’s because Mieke or Ann reminded me – easy to forget when you are busy talking and enjoying yourself. So I’m not in the pictures, but you can meet everyone else below.

Here’s the  simple tip I shared with everyone: Lately I have seen a lot of manuscripts with this mistake:  Text with double spaces at the end of each sentence. Do not leave two spaces at the end of your sentences. I used to do this, too, because I was taught to type this way. It looked better to me. If you read agents blogs or posts, you will see them mention that leaving two spaces at an end of a sentence is one of their pet peeves, so why not try to break the habit? It makes you look old and stuck in your ways if you don’t. When you kick the habit and stop double clicking at the end of a sentence, you will see how annoying it is to read a manuscript that way. It sticks out like a sore thumb for me now. Get with it and break the habit. Why take a chance of irritating someone who reads your work?
Lt toRt-Colleen Kosinski,her husband, and Amy Hollinger

Left to Right: Colleen Kosinski, her husband, and Amy Hollinger.

Lt to Rt - Mieke Zamora-MacKay and Jody Staton

Left to Right:  Mieke Zamora-Mackay and Jody Staton

Lt to Rt - Mieke Zamora-MacKay, Jody Staton, Ferida Wolff, Ericka Wassall

Left to Right: Mieke Zamora-Mackay, Jody Staton, Ferida Wolff, and Erika Wassall.

Ann Magee

The Lovely Ann Magee who was sitting next to me and didn’t have enough room to take a good picture. She is even better looking when she isn’t blurred.

In foreground - Angela De Groot and behind her Nicki Saltarelli

In foreground is Angela De Groot and behind her is Nikki Saltarelli.

Lt foreground- Erika Wassall - end of table Amy Hollinger

Left: Erica Wassall and at end of table is Amy Hollinger.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Events, Tips Tagged: Colleen Kosinski, Ferida Wolff, Fun Time Talking about Writing and Illustrating, kathy temean, Michelle Munger, NJSCBWI Social

10 Comments on New Jersey SCBWI Social & Tip, last added: 3/2/2014
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21. Write what’s in your heart

Writing Life


Erin Bowman

This is a topic I originally discussed on my personal blog, but I still find it incredibly pertinent, so I’ve reworked it for you lovely Pub Crawl readers.

Well over a year ago, I had a lovely Skype chat with one of my writer friends. We got to talking about book ideas and how we both have dozens squirreled away. Some of these ideas are floating around in our minds without an ounce of documentation. Others are a couple bullet points in a word doc. A few are just clever titles in need of characters and plot, while some might already have a handful of chapters captured. Which to focus on next?

I began speculating about the right “follow-up” for my career after the TAKEN series. My writer friend wondered which of her story ideas she should run with while her current novel was queried. She was even kind enough to pitch a few of these ideas to me.

I instantly knew which was most appealing to me as a reader. I knew which sounded the most similar in style/genre to the book she was querying. I knew which was best aligned with current trends. (It’s worth nothing that the story was different for each of these three scenarios.) But screw the trends, right? Never write to trends. And who cares how I react to my friend’s ideas, because guess what? She’s not writing solely for me.

At the end of the day, the only thing you can do is write the story you’re most excited about. The one you find most compelling. The idea that haunts you, keeps you up at night, refuses to be ignored. There’s one story kernel in every batch of ideas that always does this—sort of rises to the top and waves its arms like a madman—so pick that one out of the bunch, and start writing it.

I think we sometimes focus on this “Which book should I write next?” question because our end goal is to share that story with others (aka: Sell The Book). Naturally, if we’re going to face the blank page and spend several long months in WIP-land, we want to make sure we’re at least writing something sellable. Or something that appeals to a friend/agent/editor/teen and so on. We go looking for validation before we even begin.

But I’ve finally learned that this doesn’t matter. At least not as a be-all, end-all. Because here’s the hard truth:

» The novel you query might not get you an agent.

» The novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.

» The second novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.

» The novel you submit as your option under contract might get rejected.

» No matter how far into this game you are, there is never a guarantee that the next book you write will be published.

So why the heck wouldn’t you write the book that wants to be written? The one you care most about? The one that you want to tell more than anything in the word, regardless of trends or genre or audience or theme or style or length or similarity to your previous works?

Write the book that’s in your heart and write it exactly as you see it fit.

Do this and you will never regret telling that story, even if it doesn’t get picked up. Because if you’re proud of your novel—if it’s filled with characters you love and a world you created and a story you couldn’t not tell—it will always, always be worth it.

I promise.

Erin Bowman is a YA writer, letterpress lover, and Harry Potter enthusiast living in New Hampshire. Her debut novel, TAKEN, is now available from HarperTeen, and FROZEN releases 4/15/14. You can visit her blog (updated occasionally) or find her on twitter (updated obsessively).

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22. Avoiding Common Mistakes in the First Five Pages

first five pagesWe’ve been talking a lot about how to format your manuscript, so I bought The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman to see what other things might be good to share and already he has reminded me of things I forgot to mention to you that you should do before submitting.

He says, “There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.” He also points out that agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript.

So obviously, we want to do everything to look good and make our first contact a professional one. We want to make sure our manuscripts do not signal carelessness, sloppiness, ignorance, or defiance of the industry’s standards; that the writer doesn’t care enough to do the minimum amount of research to make a manuscript industry presentable. An editor or agent will assume that the careless presentation continues in the manuscript.

Avoid rejection in the first few minutes by making sure your manuscript is presented properly:

Paper: 8 1/2  x 11 inch standard 20 pound bond white computer paper.

Text: 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  Printed only on one side of the page.

Clean: Do not send out a manuscript that you have sent out to other agents or editors if it appears the slightest bit worn.

Eliminate: Make sure you do not send out a manuscripts filled with boldface, underlined, capitalized, or italicized words everywhere, unless you purposely want to drive the agent or editor crazy.

Printing: Do not try to squeeze the last drops of ink from your printer and send out dim/hard to see and please if anyone still has a dot-matrix printer, throw it out and buy an ink-jet or laser printer.

Spacing: Double spaced lines with 1 inch margins. New paragraphs should be indented and also dialog should always be indented. Make sure you indent enough spaces (8-10 spaces on my computer). Nothing is worse than trying to read a manuscript when the indentations are so slight it is easy to miss them. Leave a half of a page between chapters. Line breaks between paragraphs scream amateur.

Do Not Include: Artwork or illustrations throughout the pages. It screams amateur. You might feel that adding some clip art helps the editor or agent get a feel for what you book is really about, but it is not professional. If you text needs a picture to explain what is going on, then add an illustrator’s note. Try to keep them to a minimum.

If you are an illustrator and have written and illustrated your book and have a book dummy; make sure you mention this in your query and give a website link where they can visit to see your art. You might want develop a page on your website exclusively to give to editors/agents, so they could view it online. Never send in original art.

Rights: When you present a manuscript to an agent or editor you are offering all rights. Do not put “Copyright” on your manuscript. It makes you look paranoid and besides it is not necessary.

Avoid Overuse of: Question marks, exclamation points, and parentheses. The abundant use of foreign words or phrases. Noah also say to avoid the inappropriate use of fancy words; crude of vulgar language or images; graphic blood and sex, but most of all cliché. Doing this in the first five pages can lead to instant rejection.

I think this covers all of the instant cosmetic rejections. Hope this helps.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Book, demystify, How to, inspiration, reference, rejection, Writing Tips Tagged: Formatting your manuscript, Noah Lukeman, Staying out of the Rejection Pile, The First Five Pages

8 Comments on Avoiding Common Mistakes in the First Five Pages, last added: 3/12/2014
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23. 15 Things to Consider When Writing Description

Word PaintingSome of us try to use description language too much in our writing and others need to start thinking about how to use this literary tool more often.

The dictionary defines “describe” as:

To transmit a mental image or impression
To trace or draw the figure of; to outline
To give a verbal account of; to tell about in detail

Used properly it can take your reader into your fictional dream and that is a good thing.

I just bought Word Painting by Rebecca Mcclanahan and thought I would share some of the things she talks about in the first chapter that should give you food for thought. Like I said I just bought it, but so far I am glad I added it to my “How to” books.

1. Descriptive passages create the illusion of reality, inviting the reader to move in, unpack, and move in for a spell. They provide verisimilitude. What John Gardner (author of The Art of Fiction) calls the “proofs” that support and sustain your fictional dream. It is not a bunch of “flowery stuff.” It is not just something we stitch on top of our writing to make it more presentable.

2. Description composed of sensory detail penetrates layers of consciousness, engaging your reader emotionally as well as intellectually. The success of all fiction depends in part on descriptive image-making power.

3. Carefully selected descriptive details can establish you characters and setting quickly and efficiently. It is not merely describing how something looks with visual detail, but also smells, tastes, textures, and sounds.

4. As a framing device, description establishes the narrator’s, or character’s point of view. Shifts in the description frame (or eye) can signal shifts in point of view or a significant change in the character. Description begins in the eye, ear, mouth, nose, and hand of the beholder. Careful and imaginative observation may well be the most essential task of any writer.

5. Well-placed descriptive passages can move your story along, shape the narrative line and unfold the plot. It is not a way to hide from the truth. The world isn’t always pretty. Describe it honestly and face difficult, even ugly, subjects when necessary.

6. Descriptive passages can act as gearshifts, changing the pace of your story – speeding it up or slowing it down, then increasing the story’s tension.

7. Description can serve as a transitional device, a way of linking scene or changing time and place.

8. Description can orchestrate the dance between scene and summary.

9. Description can serve as a unifying thematic device, what Stanley Kunitz calls the “constellation of images” that appears and reappears in a literary work, suggesting the idea or feeling that lives beneath the story line.

10. Description can provide the palette of gradations in mood and tone. Dip you brush in one description and the darkens; in another, and the sun breaks through.

11. The language of you descriptions, its rhythms and sounds, can provide the equivalent of a muscial score for the fictional dream, a subliminal music that plays beneath the story line.

12. Writing descriptively doesn’t always mean writing gracefully. It won’t necessarily make our writing more refine, lyrical, or poetic. Some descriptions demand uneven syntax and plainspoken, blunt prose. Jagged, even. Fragments, too. Slice of chin. Buzz saw.

13. Description doesn’t always require a bigger vocabulary. House is probably a better choice than domicile, a horse is easier to visualize than an equine mammal, and red blood is brighter than the sanguine flow of bodily fluids.

14. Writing descriptively doesn’t necessitate writing more. Description isn’t a steroid, something to make our language bigger and stronger, nor is it an additive promising more miles to the fictional gallon. Sometimes writing descriptively means writing less or disappear altogether.

15. Description rarely stands alone. It should be woven in and seamlessly intertwined with other literary elements. Description isn’t something we simply insert, block style, into passages of narration or exposition. Yes, sometimes we write passages of description. But the term passage suggests a channel, a movement from one place to another; it implies that we’re going somewhere. That somewhere is the story.

Hope this helps.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Book, demystify, inspiration, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Description in Your Writing, Rebecca Mcclanahan, Word Painting, Writer's Digest

4 Comments on 15 Things to Consider When Writing Description, last added: 3/12/2014
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24. Illustrator Saturday – Mike Cressy

cressymike2Mike Cressy grew up in Detroit area and started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. He remembers being sick at five years old his mother putting a stack of paper on his tray and he would draw all day. Mike had good art teachers in high school but is essentially self-taught, taking only one class to learn a certain technique from an illustrator he admired. He moved to California to work at an animation studio as well as creating posters for theaters in L.A. and worked for the Times and other publications. Then Mike started working for a software game company in 1996 and still does today. But children’s picture books are more fun for him these days although he still likes creating realistic work here and there. You will see his work on Seattle Weekly and other publications from time to time.

Mike is a member of The Illustrator’s Partnership of America (IPA) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and lives in Bellevue, Washington.

He has a knack for characters and strange creatures, has illustrated several children’s books and created artwork for numerous games, covers and logos.

Here is Mike showing and discussing his process:


I start with the drawing. I need a background. Something that isn’t too distracting but colorful.


I fill in the background with a color and for some reason I think this purple is a good color to start with.


I start painting with a texture brush in a darker purple. I liked a wave shape and kept the brush at about 45%.


I had this free texture in my files, laid it over the background and set the layer blend to “Mulitply” and dropped the “Opacity” to 66%.


I filled in the next layer with a solid pink and then set the layer blend to “Divide” and the “Opacity” to 60%.


Then I Copied all the background files and flattened them, flipped it horizontally and selected the layer blend to “Pin Light” and lowered the “Opacity” to 60%.


I went back up to the pencil drawing layer and selected the layer blend “Multiply”. I then made a new layer beneath it and the background and started to fill in the flat colors on the Bird.


What it looks like without the pencil drawing overlaid.


Next I start adding the shading, which is a darker version of the pink. I usually make a clipping layer out of the shading layer that is above the flat colors so that any over painting never shows up on the image.


I finish up on the shading on the Bird.


Here I’ve added a shadow to the Bird by taking a version of the basic color layer and scale down the vertical. This doesn’t always work because it can distort the shadow image in a way that is not reflecting the way a shadow should be, based on the light source. Here it seems to work well. I’ve also filled in the flat color of the “Beet” character.


Using the same process for the bird, I made a clipping mask layer above the “Beet” flat colors and started shading with a dark green, shifting it a bit toward blue.


More detailed shading on the “Beet”.


Then darkening the “Beet” with an overlay of the original flat colors and using a “Multiply” layer blend after finishing the detail. The I did the same thing for the shadow that I did on the “Bird”.


When did you first realize that you were good at art?

I don’t think I ever thought of it that way but I can remember when it hit me that I really liked creating art. My sister drew some cartoon characters on an invite to a party and I was enthralled that she could do that. I wanted to do that. Then when my mother sat me down in front of the TV with a tray loaded with crayons and paper, I drew for hours. I think I was home sick from school. I was 5 years old. Soon after that I started making up my own comic books with characters inspired by what I saw on TV.


Did you leave high school and go to college to study art?

I was having a bit of a rough time as a teenager. I didn’t finish high school and couldn’t wait to get away from it. I did go to a community college to try and make up my credits for the diploma but never applied them. The classes I took were terrible. I had an art class there …I don’t think the art teacher liked his job. He would show up to take roll call and then tell us to draw something and then leave the classroom for the rest of the hour. Sometimes he wouldn’t come back. The history class that I took there was good and the teacher cared about the subject. I didn’t take another class till I moved to California from Michigan and had started my art career. That class was at Otis Parson’s and the teacher was an illustrator who’s work I admired greatly at the time. I wanted to learn his techniques, so I signed up for the class but I didn’t take other classes there and didn’t graduate from that school.  I did end up using the techniques I learned in that class.



Where were you living at that time?

I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s. Detroit, where I was born, was not the best place to start an art career. I had visited the art director of the Free Press in Detroit and he showed me the book “Graphic Artist Market Guide” and said “Look through that and see where you think you fit in.”

That was an eye opener. I didn’t see very many listings for places in the Detroit area. I called the two or three that were in there. One of them wanted me to draw some designs for T-shirts but then found a more experienced artist. Luckily I ran into an old girlfriend from high school at the local A&P. She told me of another friend of ours who had moved to L.A. and was working as an animator. She told me I should talk to him and see if he could get me in at the studio he worked for. I did and moved out to L.A. that summer.



What did you study in college?

Illustration and a little history.



What was the first art related work you did for money?

I did a mural in a dentist office when I was 15. It was terrible. My Mom had showed the dentist some of the Christmas scenes I did as a kid in the basement using the Peanut characters. I was a big fan of Charles Schultz. The dentist liked them and thought it was a good idea to have something like that in his office to lighten people’s moods before sitting in his chair. I think I got $25 for it and was happy to have some extra dollars.


How did you get involved in advertising illustration?

During my 4 years of an animation career, I became infatuated with illustration. I had always like illustration but now I saw it as a possibility. Being in Los Angeles, there were tons of advertising agencies and at that time they used a lot of illustration. I took a C.E.T.A. government-training job at the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance, which allowed me to work on posters for plays and do storyboards. I also had plenty of time at LATA to work on my portfolio, which I did almost every day. When I got about 12 good images I started taking my lunch time to visit advertising agencies, newspaper editorial offices, art directors at large companies, magazines and graphic art studios. If people don’t see your work, you don’t get work. So getting my portfolio in front of the people who were making those decisions was and is important.  I eventually started getting assignments at all those places. I had some big time clients very soon. I made good friends with the art directors and would hang out with them and their wives at parties. Networking was and is a big thing. I am doing my best to do more of it.


You say you have had your own studio, since 1980 (Do you mind if we not mention the year here? I’m finding that there is a lot of age-ism these days). Is that because you have done freelance artwork, while working at other jobs?

Every artist should have their own studio. Not just for freelance work but every artist should be working on their art all the time. Of course you need to break away from it here and there to recharge your creative batteries but always have a place where you can create the art you need to either get work or to just get it out of your head and see if you can reproduce that which was inside your head.


Did you develop your style during the advertising years or would you say your style developed while working in the gaming industry?

During my advertising years I found that it was a good idea to be as photo realistic as possible. It seemed to be what the agencies wanted but I always found a way to make it somewhat surreal, using some metaphor that was implied by the art director, the subject or the text. That kept me engaged and excited by what I was creating. After a while I started getting uninspired by the lack of imaginative ideas coming from art directors. They seemed to be coming from the same book of ideas and were unwilling to try something different. That’s when I had to step in and do something to save myself from a boring career. So I started slipping in changes in my style. Not being so realistic and adding more oddball things here and there. I had seen other illustrators doing this and it was exciting to me. So I thought that was a good way to go. One day while I was working out of a studio in my garage when my wife and me lived in South Pasadena and just started drawing from the idea I had in my head for an assignment from a magazine and it just clicked. I knew then that I had a personal style that I needed to develop. Which was juxtaposed with the very realistic rendering I was doing of a building for Cedars Sinai Medical Center on my other drawing table.


Coming into the game industry helped to solidify my idea of what I wanted to do with my style. They were very open to having something that very unique and when you have a style that nobody else can do but you, they hold on to you if they really like that style. That’s not to say that you style can’t evolve over time. Mine certainly has. I went from a realistic style to a very cartoony style almost over night. Then I started mixing the two. But that was a way for me to evolve from a very basic extreme. A new beginning, in a way.


Did you move to Seattle specifically to get involved in the gaming industry?

When my ex-wife and I moved to Seattle it was to get away from the craziness of what Los Angeles had become. Tensions were high and we had just gone through a riot. At one point when the riots started, my wife and called me to tell me she was leaving work early because fires were being set. My car was in a repair garage in down town Pasadena, which was near one of the hot points of rioting. I thought my car was going to be destroyed because a building a block over from there was set on fire and burned to the ground. The owners of the garage left for their safety. So there I was with no wheels and my wife was trying to get home from her job in the San Fernando Valley. She didn’t get home till 9:30 that night. We didn’t have cell phones and I was so worried that I tried calling everyone on our landline to see if they had heard from her. After that experience we started looking for places to live outside of Los Angeles and raise a family. We really liked San Francisco but it was too expensive. Then I saw an article about Seattle in Sunset magazine and the photos were amazingly beautiful. It looked like the perfect place.


However, when we moved here I lost all my clients in L.A. and it was tough getting anyone to look at an artist from Los Angeles. They hated Californians here at that time. Now, nobody cares but then, it was a different story. They thought we were all rich and making the housing price go up. They felt like they couldn’t afford to buy a house. They blamed us instead of realizing that companies like Microsoft were responsible for hiring people from other places and bringing them to Seattle.

After 6 months of living here and not finding much work, I saw a listing in the Seattle Times for an artist at a software game company in Issaquah… a bit of a drive from West Seattle where we lived. I got hired and they taught me how to create art on the computer using Photoshop. Electronic Arts eventually bought them and I moved on to Microsoft and other game studios.


Was it after the move to Seattle that you started thinking about illustrating for children?

Actually I started getting into that when we lived in South Pasadena. My wife had shown me the current crop of picture books that had these incredibly cool illustrations by William Joyce, Lane Smith, Kevin Hawkes and a few others. It blew my mind. I had not thought about doing that as a career and my eyes were now wide open. I had been a fan of Robert McCloskey and Dr. Seuss as a child but never thought to do that as a career, but now it seemed like a possibility.

My wife and I talked it over and she said that she had always wanted to write children’s books so we started to collaborate on a book. I created the illustrations after she wrote up a story quickly. I didn’t think it was a great story but I also thought that it would evolve and get better. She didn’t want to re-write anything and we argued about that. I ended up putting a dummy together that was quite elaborate. I had color illustrations mixed in with the drawings for the rest of the pages. I had a color cover… but the story wasn’t very good. I sent it to a few publishers before we moved to Seattle but got only rejection letters. I suspected as much and it dampened my spirit about doing another picture book dummy for a while. I didn’t illustrate a full picture book till after my divorce and had started working in the game industry.


What was the first thing you illustrated for the children’s market?

That was an educational book when I first started working for advertising agencies. I had that realistic style and a book publisher saw my portfolio somewhere and called me up. The book they had me illustrate was a test book for a 5th grade reading level. So the realistic style seemed to work with for them with that level. It was all in black and white so I used my ebony pencils to do very tightly rendered illustrations. If you want to do varied tones and textures that look realistic on certain papers/boards… you can do it somewhat easily using an ebony pencil. The darks are very dark and the lighter areas you just do a little rubbing with your finger… smudging the graphite. I don’t have a copy of that book anymore. It went missing during one of the moves. I’d love to still have a copy.


How and when did that come about? (See previous answer)


I am assuming you were one of the early adapters to Photoshop, Flash, and the other software programs for illustrators and designers. What was the first piece of art that you did digitally?

OMG… it sounds so long ago now. I started with Photoshop 3. That along with a program called “Debabelizer” which helped you convert files. When I got my first job at Microsoft they introduced me to a program that became Flash. It was called something else at the time, but it was a great tool to animate with. It was more acceptable than using another program that I used at the time called “Animator Pro” or “Ani-Pro”. AP was a better animation tool but the way they labeled commands weren’t right and it was confusing to use at first until you spent hours learning those arcane names of commands.


I remember the first drawing I did in Photoshop was of an animal skull. I had done several pencils drawings for the product we were creating in Issaquah. I scanned them into Photoshop and drew over the top of my pencil drawing with the pencil tool in Photoshop. I was surprised at how well it turned out but and it gave me confidence to do the next one and the next and add color. It was exciting to see your art on a monitor. I still enjoy that part.


Did you ever get involved in the animation side of gaming with your artwork?

Yes, I did a lot of animations the first 5 years or so. I even got some advertising agency work creating my own bizarre character and animating him for a Compaq Computers thing that was to be included with software when you bought one of their computers.

I just found all these old floppy disks with all my animations on them. There is no way to really look at them now but the last time I saw them I was embarrassed that they were so low rez. I thought it was just better to throw them away.


When did you join the SCBWI?

I joined SCBWI in the late 90s. I had just started illustrating several picture books, and finished three in a row for Grolier. They asked me to illustrate their catalog for that year. I was happy to do that for them and excited at the thought that other publishers would see my art. When I finished the cover, Grolier rewarded me not only with money but they sent me this big box of gourmet dark chocolate with liqueur inside each one a week after I finished the art. It took me a month to go through that delicious box.


When I came down from that chocolate high… a friend of mine told me about the SCBWI and I realized that it would be a great idea to join and start networking with fellow picture book illustrators and writers. I’ve been a member ever since and have gone to many conferences in Los Angeles and Seattle. Next year I hope to go to the one in New York, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time but was freaked out about doing since 9-11. I may be over that fear finally.


Do you have an agent or artist rep.? If so, who and how did the two of you connect? If not, would you like to find good representation?

I’ve had many art reps over the years. One of the best reps I had was Barry Schaffer in Los Angeles. He was always on my side and fought for me when it came to discussions with clients. We got to be good friends for a while. He knew a lot of well-connected people in L.A. and I would get party invites from them.

I was in Italy for vacation one year and had left Rome to stay on Sardinia, a large island west of the Italian coast, just below Corsica. I had called my studio, which I shared with 6 other illustrators and heard that my rep had called with a big job. He had landed the Camel Cigarette account from Salisbury Agency and I needed to come back and start working on the illustrations before it goes to someone who wasn’t on vacation. I finished up my two weeks on that island and came right back to Los Angeles. I would have traveled more on the main land of Italy if I didn’t come back for that assignment. Barry left the business a few years after that and we lost touch. I have no idea what he’s doing now.


I currently just signed up with a terrific rep in Connecticut. I like how she works and I look forward to a good relationship that I hope lasts for a long time. I found her on line and sent her some of my art. A week or two later I got a call from her and we talked for a couple of hours. I had a good time on the phone with her. It’s like making a new friend.


When and what was the first children’s book that you illustrated?

I had always done educational books from early in my career, but the first picture book I illustrated was by a small publisher and I’ve mostly forgotten about it. But it lead to the 3 books at Grolier, which came fast. Bubble Trouble by Joy N. Hulme, Purple is Best by Dana Meachen Rau, and Bugs by Patricia C. and Pat McKissack. The Bugs book was made into an interactive eBook a few years ago. A company in Japan did the eBook. They took my illustrations and animated them in a way that keeps the integrity of the art and is a lot of fun. However, they never contacted me that they were doing this and made no effort to offer any sort of compensation for re-using my art. I tried to contact them about this but it was fruitless.


How did that contract come about?

I think they saw one of my images somewhere and called me about doing a book for them. After the first one was finished, they asked me to do another and then another. I wish it happened like that with all publishers. I’d be very happy. The editor/art director was so much fun to work with.


Do you consider that book to be your first big success?

Yes, I’d say so, but “The great show and tell disaster” by Mike Reiss was higher profile because he is a writer/producer on “The Simpsons”.


Have you tried to write and illustrate a children’s book, yet?

I’d had many attempts at it but it wasn’t until recently… like the last 3 or 4 years where I actually felt comfortable in the writers roll to be able to write something that I think would work well as a picture book. I’ve got ten that I’ve been working on for the last year. One is almost finished in terms of it being a picture book dummy that I will be sending out to publishers and literary agents. The other ones are in various levels of completion. I think it helped to have been working on my graphic novel for the last 6 years. I hope to have that finished this year as well.


What type of work have you done for Scholastic?

Illustrations for books.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?

Nine that have been available to the general public and at least three times that many that were educational and just for schools.


Have you illustrated any book covers?

Yes, plenty. The first 15 were done for Holloway House in Los Angeles. I don’t show those to anyone.


Do you feel living in Seattle hinders you in any way with getting more illustrating jobs?

No. What hinders me is not getting my work in front of people who could possibly give me work.


How did you get the Rookie Readers books with Children’s Press?

See my answers that concern Grolier Press because they are the ones who published those.


How did you hook up with Grosset & Dunlap to illustrate LOOK! MY TOOTH IS LOOSE?

I had worked with the same art director/editor on a previous book “The great show and tell disaster” and we got along very well. He liked my work and wanted to find more projects for me. It was too bad that in the middle of the “Look, my tooth is loose” book that he had a major dispute with his bosses and left the company. The person who took over the book wasn’t happy about taking over someone else’s book and wanted their own ideas pushed forward. I like how that book turned out but the relationship them suffered because of the change.


What book made you feel like, now I’ve made it?

None. If that ever happens… I’ll be very rich and famous. But we’ll still be friends… right?


How did you get to work for Amazon Game Studio?

Per my exit agreement with Amazon, I’m not allowed to say anything about them in print, or on line.

Let me just say that was hired as an artist to work on games.


How do you do that living in Seattle? Do they have a studio there?

Since their inception, Amazon’s headquarters have been in Seattle.


Is there a strong art community in Seattle?

When I first came to Seattle it was a small community of artists but the core of the city had a very art friendly nature to it. Since then it’s gown by leaps and bounds.  These days you can’t toss a piece of paper without hitting an artist. That’s both good and bad. It’s great to have a community of like-minded people who support each other. On the other hand, it means that the competition for work is fierce.


Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?

Yes, many over the years. I have an illustration on the current cover of Spider magazine.


Now-a-days, do you do any illustrations using traditional paint? If so, what materials do you use?

I do many paintings for my portfolio traditionally. I usually paint with acrylic but sometimes it’s oil. Either one I’ll use on canvas. I like the texture of canvas. It’s been a while since I’ve painted on any other surface. That being said, right now I’m reworking my portfolio and it needs to reflect digital art to get work and so the most recent images are digital paintings from a traditional pencil drawing.


What do you feel you bring to the table that other illustrators do not bring?

Since illustrators must have imagination I’ll say that my particular brand of imagination and my style of taking that image from my imagination and presenting it in the only way I know how.


What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

Things have changed so much in the last five years that it is different every year. Things that I’ve done in the past that almost guaranteed work, no longer bring in jobs. I do what ever I can fit in each week to get my work out to the people who make those decisions. It’s the best that anyone can hope to do, and with a little luck an art director, editor, publisher, game producer, account executive will send me an email or pick up the phone and call.  I know that sounds vague but if I were to list everything that I’ve been doing every week to get work, there would be a long list. I’m on line for several hours each day posting my work, sending resumes and emails that feature a new image that I created. I’ve got blogs for several different aspects of my portfolio as well as several different Facebook pages for my books and ideas. It’s a difficult world to get a paying gig in lately. I would love to keep doing what I’ve been doing for most of my life so I have no choice but to spend that time productively in pursuit of the next job.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

Without any doubt it would be pencil and paper. If all I was allowed to do from now on were to draw I don’t think I would be unhappy. That and my guitar. Music is essential for creativity.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I wake up thinking about what I’m going to draw that day. And if it’s not a good drawing day (and that happens every once in a while), then I start painting either on canvas or on the computer. I don’t think about too much other then what I’m going to create that day, except for when I have unrelated events and chores. So, to answer your question, there is no set or specific time limit or schedule. Creating is part of life not an appointment.


Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Sometimes. It depends on my needs. I certainly do research to find out what something really looks like and if there is any way I can add to it and somehow make it more of what it is. Maybe skew it in some way. Give something a unique POV. Sometimes that means looking at how another artist would handle that situation, angle, or item. It helps to be prepared. It usually makes your image much better for it.


Did taking research photos spark your interest in photography?

I’ve always been interested in photography and I used to be one of those technical guys that had the exact exposure and lenses, but for a long time now I’m of a sort that prefers just having a good eye for an image and a simple camera. When I photograph landscapes I try to make sure there are no people in my shot. That makes some of my photos look like there aren’t any humans left in the world. It gets more difficult every day to do that in Seattle. We’ve grown so much here and there are way too many people everywhere now.  I’m not anti people… let’s just spread out a bit more.


One of the reasons I gave up on being so technical about photography was from this incident when I was at a concert in Dodger Stadium. There were 4 or 5 bands and I had press passes for my girlfriend and me at the time. I made her the photographer and we both carried around all my equipment. During a band change we took a break backstage and we put my cameras and lenses in the photographers tent on a table like every one else. When we came back from getting a bite to eat,… all my equipment was gone. It was a big lesson and I realized that I didn’t need all that equipment to take a good photograph. I just needed a simple camera. I feel that way when I’m work on my art style. Simple can be the best way much of the time.


How was the idea for Seattle Reflections born?

I have a fold up bicycle that I carry in the trunk of my car throughout the fair weather months in Seattle so I can cycle wherever I feel the need to do so. Every time I would drive into Seattle during those months, I made sure that I brought one of my cameras with me. That bike gets me into some parts of Seattle that most people don’t get to or see much. I can get to different POVs that are exciting to view and try to take the best picture I can get. I turned those cycling photos into the book.


Have you won any awards that you are particularly proud of?

I’ve won a few awards over the years and really it’s just something that is really exciting at the time but they don’t pay the bills. Better to have them than not. The one that I’m proud of is the one I received from the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles in 2012 (Illustration West 50) for the poster of my Super Alphabet picture book. Which wasn’t published at the time. It featured all the letters. I worked very hard on that book and still think of it as one of my better books but there is way more to come.


I am sure you have used a Graphic Drawing Tablet with your background, but do you always draw on one?

Yes. When I’m working on the computer that’s all I use to draw with in Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Manga Studio, Sketch up and Sketch Book Pro. When I’m at a full time job it’s nice if they can afford to get me a Wacom Cintiq. A Cintiq is so much easier to draw and paint with on the computer because you are doing so directly on the image and not detached from it as with a regular Wacom tablet.  That directness improves speed and accuracy, which in turn allows you more freedom with your creativity. I guess that sounded a bit like a commercial but it’s true.


Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Yes, Plenty. I have a ton of stories that went to tell before I leave this mortal coil. All the picture books that I’ve started working on. The graphic novel that I hope to finish this year is the first of many that I hope to create. I just hope that people find them interesting and worthy of their time and are either informed or entertained by them. I also want to rework the way I do my abstract images and have more gallery shows. I’m trying to work out some licensing possibilities and if those pan out, perhaps they can be a good source of funding for the rest of my projects. I’d also like to have the band that I’m in be able to get a drummer so we can start playing more gigs. :D


What are you working on now?

I just finished a lot of art for the Tacoma History Museum. They called me a few months ago and asked if I had time to work on art for an exhibit explaining the concept of “Time” to children. I thought it was a great idea and said yes immediately. So I had a meeting with the director, who is a terrific, fun, woman, who has great ideas for the museum and it was a pleasure to work with her. I digitally painted two murals for the exterior walls and the banner that promotes the exhibit. They are also using several of my older paintings for the interior of the exhibit. It opens in May of this year. I’m very excited about it and will appear at the opening to sign postcards and posters. I also might be wearing a bit of a costume that one of my characters will be wearing in the exhibit.

I’m also finishing up one of my picture book dummies that I wrote and my graphic novel that I’ve been working on for the last 6 years.


Do you have any material type tips or software type tips you can share with us? Example: A new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

The best thing you can do for yourself as a current day illustrator who wants to work as well as work fast is to explore new art software. Photoshop is great and it has many things in it that many people don’t know about. I love using the layer clipping mask. Also either make your own brushes or find a source to get new brushes from time to time and experiment with them. Also use textures to give more life to your paintings. Manga Studio is a great, great program for drawing. I prefer drawing in that program than any other program and the reason why is that it has so many options for your drawing. You can adjust lines that you’ve already drawn very easily. It also has the best perspective tool that also allows for adjustments after you’ve created your image. Sketch up is great for creating a quick 3D model of something that you may need to draw from various angles instead of guessing how it would work if you turned it 30 degrees in any direction. Don’t be afraid to experiment.


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Make sure to keep positive in the face of constant rejection. Do your best to write or illustrate every day. Network as much as you can. You never know when a friend will be in the position to help you get a job, give you a chance or even just be there for some encouraging words. Be kind to others and help them when you can. Everyone needs a helping hand and sometimes good luck isn’t enough. Be sure to exercise daily and get plenty of rest and eat healthy. Promote, promote, promote.



Mike thank you for sharing your talent, expertise, process, and journey with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and let us know about all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them.

You can find Mike at: www.mikecressy.com  or on facebook: www.facebook.com/mike.cressy  or his blog: www.mikecressy.blogspot.com

If you have a minute I would love if you would leave Mike a comment. I am sure he would, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, Illustrator's Saturday, Interview, Process, Tips Tagged: Amazon Gaming Studio, Animator, Children's Book Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Mike Cressy

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