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Tomorrow I begin the blog tour to help promote the release of my first book, a MG historical titled WHEELS OF CHANGE. I’m excited to be sharing the journey with all of you and hope you will visit some of the stops on the tour to learn about how the book came to be. Here’s the schedule, and please send me your comments about your favorite post; I’d love to hear from you. There will also be two opportunities to win a free autographed copy of WHEELS OF CHANGE at two stops on the tour.
I first “met” Joanne Rocklin when she graciously read my manuscript for WHEELS OF CHANGE and provided a lovely blurb. As soon as I read one of her stories, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of her heart-warming and delightful books. Her titles, THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, and ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, capture the joys and sorrows of childhood with wonderful, unique characters and prose that wedges itself into your heart and takes hold. Her new book – FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY – (FLF) debuts this month, so I thought it would be great to feature her on this blog. First, here’s a description of FLF:
A story about a special girl, an inspiring book, and a brilliant (though unintentionally funny) flea.
From the publisher: This gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness. Release Date: August, 2014 Amulet Books/Abrams ISBN 978-1-4197-1068-1
FIVE THINGS LEARNED WHILE WRITING MY MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY
My novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, my main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant Fleabrain, her dog’s flea.
Much of what I learned while writing FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY were writing concepts I had to learn yet again, concepts that are integral to my own personal writing process. I usually begin with a phrase which arrives out of the blue. The phrase feels promising but doesn’t reveal much about the book I’m going to write. The phrase for this book was “you can stop seeking messages in spider webs.” This was Fleabrain’s first message to Franny, although I didn’t know it yet. I had to remember to just go with the phrase and wildly thrash about while I figure out what it means. I had to learn yet again, that for me, the rough draft is messy and chaotic but eventually leads to the story.
Fleabrain provided Franny a necessary escape while she healed, as well as exciting adventures, affection, companionship and joy. He also taught her when it was time to face the real world. Fleabrain taught me, yet again, that humor will always be present in my books, no matter the seriousness of the subject matter, and that’s a good thing.
Research is an ongoing process. I began reading about this particular era and began to get ideas about my character and her dilemma. I realized I had to set it in Pittsburgh because that’s where Dr. Jonas Salk did his important research on the polio vaccine, and I wanted to include a scientist in the story. But I was already deep into my story when I realized I would have to visit Pittsburgh and interview Pittsburghers who remembered that time. My research kept giving me ideas for scenes and themes for subsequent drafts.
A surprising thing I learned while researching and writing this book was that many, many people knew very little about the polio epidemics. Some had never heard of an iron lung, or any of the treatment methods and medical advances associated with polio. Many were surprised to learn about the isolation and prejudice experienced by those stricken, and that most of the young people were required to attend special schools for “crippled” children. In addition, I myself learned that polio survivors were at the very forefront of the disability movement, agitating for many of the things we take for granted today (curb cuts, handicapped-accessible public places, etc.).
And so, I learned yet again that the theme of my story will only become clear to me during the writing of the book itself, not before, and sometimes at the very end of the process. One of the important things that Franny learned is that it is not she who needs to be repaired by learning to walk again, but society itself, in accepting her.New picture book:
Joanne’s picture book: I SAY SHEHECHYANU will be out in January, 2015
Today’s post comes from my writer friend Yvonne Ventresca whose debut YA novel PANDEMIC, hit bookstores in May.
BOOKLIST has this to say about Pandemic:
“Ventresca gives Lilianna a compulsive need to prep for disaster (a coping skill after her assault) and a father who works for a journal called Infectious Diseases. This ups the believability factor and helps the reader focus on the action and characters. As is to be expected in an apocalyptic novel, there is no shortage of tension or death and a few gruesomely dead bodies, but teen disaster fans will likely appreciate that the high schoolers are portrayed as good, helpful people, but certainly not perfect. This fast read will appeal to fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It (2006), even though the type of apocalypse is different.”
After reading this engaging and suspenseful novel, I can certainly agree that it is, indeed, hard to put down. Ventresca did a wonderful job of making me feel like I was part of the “going’s -on” and even checked my own pantry to see what kind of provisions I had on hand. Here’s Yvonne:
Five Historical Facts I Learned While Researching a Contemporary Pandemic By Yvonne Ventresca
My debut young adult novel, Pandemic, is a contemporary story about a teenager struggling to survive a deadly flu pandemic. Although it is set in present-day New Jersey (what would it be like if a pandemic hit suburbia tomorrow?), I spent a lot of time researching the Spanish Flu of 1918 while writing the book. Parts of my fictional disease are based on the historical influenza, and I was interested in finding out as much about it as possible.
Here are five things I learned while researching Pandemic:
1. The influenza pandemic of 1918 is commonly called the Spanish Flu, but it didn’t originate in Spain. In March of that year, known cases occurred among soldiers in Kansas. But in June, Spain informed the world of a new disease in Madrid, and the Spanish Flu was belatedly named as it spread worldwide.
2. The Spanish flu had a different mortality pattern than previous flu outbreaks, with the highest death rates occurring in adults between the ages of twenty and fifty. The reasons for that pattern are still not entirely understood, but according to the US website Flu.gov, the 1918 virus “evolved directly from a bird flu into a human flu.”
3. In a time before technology, colored ribbons were placed on doorways to indicate a death in the household. The color of the ribbon indicated the age range of the dead. White, for example, was used for children.
4. In 1918, sanitation measures included wearing face masks, blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. Despite these measures, the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of World War I.
5. Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set during the 1918 Influenza. It’s a work of fiction (published in 1939), but was no doubt influenced by Porter’s memories of the pandemic and her own illness. The tragic story provides a sense of the war, the disease, and the desperation of that time.
For resources about preparing for an emergency, visit yvonneventresca.com/resources.html.
For more information about the Spanish flu, refer to:
Before becoming a children’s writer, Yvonne Ventresca wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code and sharing technology tips with other writers. Yvonne’s the author of the young adult novel Pandemic, which was published in May from Sky Pony Press. She blogs for teen writers every Tuesday and for writers of all ages each Friday athttp://www.yvonneventresca.com/blog.html.
But I don’t want you to waste your time, like I did, writing for magazines, trying to build publishing credits, if magazine writing isn’t your ultimate goal. Magazine writing is a completely different skill, and while credits are nice, they are not going to make or break you. Magazine credits prove you’re a professional and that you’ve been through the editing process, but they won’t convince anyone to buy your manuscript if it’s a sub-par story. You need to hone your picture book skills, and that only comes with writing dozens of picture books.
Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette takes clients based on their submission, first and foremost. “For me, the number one focus is on the writing: the voice, the story, the way the language sparkles and draws me in. If you’ve got that, I’ll follow you just about anywhere. All the writing credits, awards, and fancy degrees in the world—on their own—won’t make me take on an author. It’s about the writing, pure and simple.”
I received some misguided (but well-intended) advice when I began writing for children. I was told to place fiction in magazines in order to build my writing resume. So I gave it a shot. Then I found out how difficult it was to place stories. Not any less difficult than getting a book published! (I don’t know why I thought it would be.)
Your story must fit the theme of the magazine issue, which means you’re better off reviewing editorial calendars first, then writing to fill that need. Instead, I wrote what I wanted to write and then found it was only appropriate for a single issue, to be published in three years’ time! Magazines are often booked far in advance. Back in 2008, if I were to place that story, it would have been printed in 2011. Yikes!
Now that’s probably an extreme example, but it’s an important lesson I learned. I was veering off my intended path to publication.
A magazine story has to be more descriptive than the language in a picture book because there are far fewer illustrations to accompany the text. You’re often writing for a single spread with no page turns, and page turns are crucial to picture book pacing, humor and reader anticipation. So I was writing for a wildly different format and not for the goal I desired: to get a picture book published.
Some will argue that writing for credits is necessary prior to getting a book deal, but I say that is incorrect. As long as you have a professional-looking, easily found web presence and membership in a professional writing organization like SCBWI, that’s all you need in your bio to prove that you’re “serious”. The thing you need most of all? You know—a winning manuscript! I had zero children’s publishing credits prior to getting my agent and a book deal. I’m definitely not alone in this.
Children’s magazines are wonderful, but if they’re not your goal, don’t use your precious writing time in this manner. Want a picture book deal? Write picture books! (I say books, plural, because if an agent is interested in your manuscript, that agent will ask for more of your work.)
And I hope that’s not DUH advice!
Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion in the comments!
I am not a scaredy cat. I love to hike and wade in mountain streams. I love to go to places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen. I like to watch documentaries on foods from other countries and want to visit those countries one day. I like to make new recipes! I’ll…
REVOLUTION HAS COME which side do you choose? our world moans and groans under the weight of “progress” while our trees die from acid rain and our rivers, once teeming with wildlife, are suffocated by our excess The future of our world, our children, are abused, silenced and tossed aside like pieces of trash with…
Sean and I are two different people. We knew that going in. And you know what? It’s okay. Matter of fact, it’s more than okay. He likes NASCAR (last name, duh). But me? I don’t watch it. I believe Sasquatches exist. Sean thinks I’m a little loony for thinking that. He likes tea. I think…
My friend and fellow blogger Kathy Temean ( http://www.kathytemean.wordpress.com) posted this information about a west coast workshop event for teens seriously interested in learning the craft of writing for children:
TeenSpeak Novel Workshop Convenes October 17-19, 2014 in coastal Santa Cruz, CA.
TeenSpeak offers a rare opportunity for international teens to interact with top level East Coast editors and agents, and adults who write for the teen/tween market. Open to 10 teens in an intimate setting, the event dovetails with 20 supportive adults in a concurrent, partly overlapping workshop.
FACULTY: Core teen instructor is Helen Pyne, MFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), a former Doubleday children’s/YA book editor. Along with adult enrollees, teens enjoy novel crafting sessions with Knopf Associate Publishing Director Melanie Cecka (also an award-winning children’s book author) and agent Scott Treimel (former children’s book editor), president of Scott Treimel New York.
CONTENT: TeenSpeak workshop focuses on craft through dramatic improv and other vehicles. Teens receive in-person, mini critiques with editor and agent—and full critiques from their own instructor, and volunteer adult enrollees.
In reciprocity, teens offer adults target-reader feedback. After teens edit selected adults’ partial and full novels, they hear our editor and agent critique the same manuscripts. Lively discussion follows, for the benefit of all: “I loved the teens’ insights at this workshop,” says Erin Clarke, executive editor at Knopf Children’s Books. Well before the event, teens are offered tools to sharpen their critiquing skills, and may be paid for a job well done.
FEE: $549 covers up to three nights’ beachfront condo lodging with chaperone, kid-friendly meals, all critiques, and focus sessions.
TeenSpeak Scholarship Fund: This year’s donations will honor renowned children’s author, Elaine Marie Alphin. Teens (and adults) will apply exercises in her book, Creating Characters Kids Will Love. To contribute any amount to support a young person passionate about writing, contact us via the website, where you’ll find mixed testimonials from scholarship beneficiaries and other enthusiastic teens. (Alternately, ask about possible jobs for teens or parents, or split payments.) Teens appreciate your generous donation!
ENROLLING: Recommended enrollment date for maximum options: July 20. Details and contact: http://www.ChildrensWritersWorkshop.com(click FOR TEENS). TeenSpeak is an outgrowth of the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop, established 2003. Don’t delay; we fill fast!
As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.
1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.
2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.
3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.
4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!
For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.
Would you like to spend the next two weeks writing…
…a picture book for young children?
…or an easy reader?
…or an early chapter book?
If so, I’ll help you do it!
In only 14 days!
Yep. You read that right.
You’ll write a complete children’s book in just 14 days!
Here’s the program we’ll be using as the “textbook” for this workshop, although we won’t be following the exact writing schedule outlined in this program. I’ll be providing some additional materials, too.
Already Have This Program?
Maybe you purchased this program – How to Write a Children’s Book in 14 Days…or Less – months ago and read it, yet you just never got around to USING what you learned to actually write a children’s book.
If that’s the case, then my 14-day workshop will help you change all that and FINALLY write a marketable children’s book in just 14 days.
The first few days of the workshop will involve a lot of planning and outlining – what I call “front loading” – so you’ll have everything in place to make it easier and faster to actually write most of your story on Days 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.
But here’s the thing.
You must commit to working on your book – and following the workshop schedule – for the entire 14 days. No slacking – or you won’t get your book written!
For each day of the workshop, you won’t need to be anywhere specific at any specific time of the day. You’ll just need to be available to download the lesson via email, listen to a short audio, and do the assignment for the day.
But you’ll also have the opportunity to attend a live call every day with me during the 14 days to discuss any challenges, questions, or concerns you might have about the day’s assignment.
Plus, there will be daily check-points you must complete to make sure you’re staying on schedule.
Oh…and probably the most important part – I’ll provide a critique of your manuscript once we get to the “proofing and editing” stage of the workshop.
So you’ll know if you have a “marketable” manuscript or you still need to do some additional rewriting before your story is ready to submit to a publisher.
At just $199.99 for the 14-day workshop – plus $37.00 for the the program we’ll be using as our textbook – all this will cost you less than a professional manuscript critique from a published children’s book author!
Wow! Since it’s so affordable, why now sign up now?
Then clear your calendar for the next 14 days – so you can write your children’s book!
Note: If you want to write a longer, more complicated children’s book – a middle grade novel or a YA novel– my Quick Start System to Writing Novels will help you do that in just 16 weeks! Find out more at www.writeanovelstarttofinish.com.
First a synopsis of Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly: Seventeen-year-old Arlo Santiago lives in a dusty corner of New Mexico where his two passions are riding dirt bikes and playing a video game called “Drone Pilot.” He’s so good at the game that the military hires him to fly real drones over Pakistan. However, Arlo is reeling emotionally from a violent death in his family. Will he take the military’s money and commit violence against a terrorist leader half a world away, or find another solution to his troubles? He’s got a lot of them, including a father who drinks, a sister with Huntington’s Disease, and a girlfriend who won’t let him run from his past.
How did the idea for Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly originate?
It grew out of my interest in—and concern about—drone warfare, which offers today’s militaries “capability without vulnerability.” As Arlo’s dad says, “Capability without vulnerability! Where are the heroics in that?” I was interested in several themes. One was the idea that violence against the individual is, in fact, violence against society as a whole. Another focused on the importance of friendship and family in dealing with grief. A third was the tendency of technology to outpace human wisdom.
Tells us a bit more about the story.
Arlo’s mom was a victim of violence. His father, a laid-off newspaper editor, is a pacifist. The family desperately needs money to help Arlo’s younger sister, and Arlo is poised to become a major breadwinner. He joins the drone-missile program as an adventure, without considering the moral ramifications. But he grows increasingly troubled at the thought of the violence he might commit.
So the story raises moral questions for Arlo?
Yes, it hinges on the moral dilemma between what seems right at a universal human level—one that values all life—versus what would provide immediate help to Arlo and his struggling family. It’s the tension between what he wants to do and what he feels he should do.
Like Arlo’s dad, you worked in northeast New Mexico as a newspaper editor. Is the book autobiographical?
Only in small ways. For example, Arlo owns a scruffy standard poodle named El Guapo. I own a scruffy standard poodle named Django.
What path led you to writing novels for young adults?
Years ago, I met the acclaimed young-adult author Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sing Down the Moon, and many more). I shared my literary dreams with him, and he urged me to start writing a novel immediately, not to concoct excuses or bog down in planning. That day is one of the most important of my life. It set me on the path to writing YA fiction.
Why do you write for young adults?
I thought it would be easier than writing for grownups. (Man, was I was wrong.) Also, I had three teenagers in my life. My son, in particular, liked to bring home a pack of “big-personality” buddies whose collective voice mixed confidence, arrogance, enthusiasm, laziness, courage, cowardice, cadence, and more. I’d be doing dishes or driving them somewhere and these boys would be handing me golden nuggets, so to speak. They became role models for “The Thicks” in my first book, Adios, Nirvana.
How would you describe your writing process?
Kurt Vonnegut divided all writers into two groups, “bashers” and “swoopers.” I’m a basher, a slow writer who tries to perfect each paragraph before moving to the next. (Swoopers are fast, yet a bit sloppy.) In the morning, I pour some coffee, and get to work. I bash and bash. Only when I’ve bashed all the bumps down to practically dust do I move to the next chapter. I wish I bashed less and swooped more. The best I can hope for is “swashing.”
What have you learned about yourself through the process of writing both Adios, Nirvana and Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly?
I’ve learned that metaphor can be good medicine. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to deal directly with emotional pain. In writing fiction, I’m able to project my shadow onto the wall of a different cave and, in doing so, work through my issues. As the story unfolds, the characters and I journey toward greater self-understanding. It’s a roundabout process, but it works.
Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly is a novel that clearly provides hope for the future. How important do you think it is to have that note of hope in a novel for young adults?
Hope is extremely important. I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost among these are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard and seem hopeless, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.
And finally, what advice would you give to teens struggling to break away from peer group-imposed identities and create a sense of self?
All of us are great people in the making. One doesn’t have to be rich, famous, brilliant, beautiful, or an outward success to be great. One of my favorite examples from fiction is the fisherman Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. (Trivial fact: I named my main character Arlo Santiago after Hemingway’s old man.) In the Hemingway book, Santiago starts out poor and ends up poorer. However, in the course of the story, he tests himself to the limit. We see his strength, courage, humility, nobility, and hopeful spirit. Each time we take a step closer to who we really are we get stronger. So my thought would be, if you can’t take big steps toward your goal now, take small ones. As with all goals (including writing YA fiction), time is your friend. So to teens who are struggling, I say be patient, practice, persevere, believe in yourself. Never give up.
Conrad Wesselhoeft worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia before embarking on a career in journalism. He has served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, including The New York Times. He is the author of the young adult novels Adios, Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) and Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly (Houghton Mifflin, 2014).
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual NJSCBWI Conference held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Princeton, NJ. It’s a great weekend of reconnecting with friends in the writing world. It’s also a chance to network with agents and editors looking for the best in children’s writing. In addition to the Keynote address on Saturday by Illustrator Floyd Cooper. He demonstrated one of his techniques of illustrating with an eraser. Amazing!
We enjoyed workshops on every aspect of the art of writing for children. Saturday and Sunday were filled with these “mini” lessons on how to: craft the perfect Picture Book, develop characters, write for magazines, write non-fiction, write a query, find out what editors and agents are looking for and much more. There was a book fair with a chance to buy autographed copies of books and meet authors from all over the world.
We also enjoyed a hilarious hour of stand up comedy by Robin Fox.
The conference is always inspiring and re-energizes me with new ideas. And, I got to show off my book with my Agent Liza Fleissig…even though it won’t go on sale until September.
Writing contest — deadline in two days! First Annual Summer Writing Contest Write2Ignite! is pleased to announce the First Annual Summer Writing Contest The winner will receive: a tote bag of goodies especially selected for writers announcement of the winner’s name and story title on the Write2Ignite! website an interview with the winner posted on…
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m terrible at blogging. Obviously. I’ve been focusing on my health again. I’ve started walking at least a mile a day (day 7 today!) and have been upping my intake of daily water (cut out all soft drinks, day 6!). I’m also in waiting mode for a lot of…
Blog Hop is a blog tour showcasing authors and their writing process. I was honored to be tagged by Kristin Lenz, writer of YA and New Adult novels, and all around super fly, groovy chick. (Thank you, Kristin for inviting me!) I tagged another YA writer extraordinaire, Ann Finkelstein, for the next leg of the Blog Hop. You can learn more about Ann at the close of this post.
So, here we go with the Q & A portion of our program.
I hope you are grading on a curve. (And remember, I was promised there would be NO math problems.)
What am I working on now?
I just finished my second contemporary middle grade novel, SHORT CHANGED, at the end of May. Thankfully, as I was wrapping up novel two, ideas for middle grade number three began to percolate. Did I mention Ray, the main character of this novel, is forcing me to learn to knit because he likes to knit? He takes his protagonist role very seriously. I don’t want to disappoint him.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
It has my voice. What would be the point of imitating anyone else? We already have a Jerry Spinelli and Sharon Creech. I like to blend humor with tenderness (tempered with enough references to boogers or puke to make it believable and boy-friendly).
Why do I write what I do?
Writing middle grade is a sweet spot for me–readers are still young enough to appreciate my dorky sense of humor, but sophisticated enough to handle more complex plot lines, language and themes. But I don’t have to write any “content.” (blushing) I know. I know. I’m such a ninny.
How does my writing process work?
First off, you should know, I never ever intended to write a novel, much less two, going on three. I remember showing my grandpa one of my published magazine stories. He said, “That’s good, Vick. Now, where’s your novel?” I told him flat-out, “I’m not a novelist. There’s no novel in me.” (See? Such a ninny I am.) It wasn’t until a friend asked me to collaborate on a novel with him that I ever thought to attempt such a crazy thing. I mean, novel writing was for, sheesh, I don’t know–novelists. But I reasoned that before I co-wrote a novel, maybe I’d better see if I’m capable of creating a one on my own. And so it began.
My first middle grade novel, SHRINK, germinated from a short scene based on a childhood memory. The story took on a life of its own as I began to ask why–why did the main character say that? Why does he feel this way? Why did he make that decision? To whom is he telling his story? And why? Because I was neon green at novel hatching, I pretty much let the characters run the show, which meant I had a lot of clean up to do on the back side. (Kids are not known for their logic or consistency you know.) I still love the characters in that first novel and even miss them when I see a real-world kid who looks like one of them. I must have done something right.
My second novel was inspired by a stupid idea. I thought it would be clever and ironic to write a novel with the title SHORT STORY. But that, I was wisely advised, would get way too confusing. So, I changed the title to SHORT CHANGED, but kept the basic story. I tried writing this novel on my own, like the first one, while trying to avoid the rookie pitfalls. But eventually, I opted to enroll in a novel-writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. The individualized instruction and the built-in deadlines helped me progress. I’d recommend taking an ICL class. If you want to know more, just let me know via my contact page and I’ll get right back to you.
My third novel is unfolding very differently. I want to plot and plan and outline before fully immersing myself in this novel. I am gathering articles and ideas too. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to take those knitting lessons. I’m also going to “interview” each of my characters in order to create character sketches. I treat characters like they are already fully-formed people. It’s my job to get to know them and create a world for them to live in and circumstances to respond to. (And how “simple” is that?)
Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I love the entire novel-writing process–the first niggling from a new idea, meeting my characters, creating that first draft, revising (ad nauseam), receiving critiques, revising again . . . I love it all. Except when I don’t.
(I hope I got the answers right.)
The next stop on the Blog Hop tour will be hosted by my talented friend and Sock Sister Ann Finkelstein. Ann writes young adult novels in Michigan. She enjoys biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and photographing the great outdoors. Read more about her. You can read Ann’s brilliant answers about her writing process on Friday, June 20. Don’t miss it!
Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. ~ James Joyce
by Ashley Fedor, Editor and Director of Content at MeeGenius
In the next few weeks MeeGenius, the #1 app with over 700 e-books, will be kicking off our Author Challenge—an open challenge for aspiring authors. I wanted to let you know about it in advance and invite all aspiring authors to participate. I exchanged some emails with Tara prior to writing this post and we thought it would be a great opportunity to share some aspects of our publishing process.
At MeeGenius, the publishing process begins—where else?—in the slush pile! As the editor, I read through hundreds of submissions, looking for stories that I know will resonate with our readers. This could mean unique characters, an engaging voice, a topic that will be particularly powerful to parents, or simply great writing.
Once I decide to acquire a manuscript and the contract is signed, then the fun part begins! I work with the author on 1-3 editorial passes. We collaborate to take the manuscript from something good to something great. This can take anywhere from one week to several, depending on our timelines.
Once we have a finished manuscript, I assign it to an illustrator and provide art direction. The illustrator sends a round of sketches, which I review with an eye for editorial accuracy (if a character is supposed to be wearing a dress but she’s wearing snow pants, we need to fix it!) as well as layout (if it’s a landscape picture, will the text fit on the page?).
At the same time, the manuscript is sent out for narration and cues (word highlighting). Once all assets are completed, it’s time to build the book! Our production team works tirelessly to create beautiful e-books, QA them across platforms to catch any issues, and finally, to send the book out into the world.
Previous Winner: The Secret Police Dog
Thank you so much Tara for giving us the stage here to share this exciting opportunity with your audience.
berylreichenberg asks: If you already have several picture books published, what are the best blogs and other sites to use to get the word out and market your books?
So many kidlit authors tend to stick with promoting on writer blogs, which is certainly good, but we can be preaching to the same audience over and over again. I, myself, worry that people are gonna get sick of me.
Instead, look to librarian blogs, parenting blogs, teacher blogs, homeschool blogs, bookseller blogs and other “gatekeeper” sites that target those who buy children’s books.
Technorati.com is a good place to search for top blogs in various categories, like books, education and parenting.
Some blogs have review policies, so read them and reach out. I receive many unsolicited requests every month. I can’t accept them all, but I do what I can. Bloggers are always in search of good content, so you’ve got nothing to lose by asking for coverage. Make sure you appeal to that blog’s readership with your pitch. (I receive pitches that don’t come close to interesting my audience, which tells me the sender is doing a mass mailing rather than targeting me specifically.)
Pat Miller asks: When you have a drawer full of PiBoIdMo drafts that just don’t seem to get off the ground, how do you maintain your motivation to dig back in and make one of them sing?
Another tough question!
I have barrels full of uncompleted manuscripts. Honestly, I tend to think that if I’m not “feeling” them, they’re not worth my time, at least not at the moment. I might feel them later, so that’s why nothing ever gets tossed.
Jerry Spinelli’s EGGS was in a drawer for 20 years when his wife Eileen made him pull it out. He reread the manuscript and felt re-energized. Neil Gaiman got the idea for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK 20 years before he actually wrote it. He wanted to wait to become a better writer because he knew the idea would be challenging.
Other writers will argue that you cannot wait for the muse, you just have to keep pounding on the manuscript. I tend not to do that because I have enough ideas that do sing to me, in key and on beat.
And hence we get to the reason why I do PiBoIdMo—the more ideas in your file, the more potential manuscripts you’ll have. You can ditch one idea and move onto another. In my experience, the best manuscripts have begun when I have stopped working on a manuscript that’s been giving me headaches. It’s like my brain has suddenly been freed from its chains. My upcoming title, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, came about after I ditched a struggling manuscript. The words for BEAR just flew out, whereas I was laboring hard on the previous story and it just wasn’t working.
Sometimes changing the voice or POV in a manuscript is enough to get it revived.
A critique partner pow-wow can also provide a boost. Just sit around with some best buddies (and coffee and coffee cake) to discuss the challenges and concerns you have. Ask for suggestions and solutions. If you can’t do it in person, Google hangouts are fun, especially since you can stay in your jammies. I truly believe critique partners are not just for completed manuscripts, but those in progress, too.
When all else fails, go for a walk or take a shower. Research shows that “thinking on our feet” leads to creativity. And mundane, repetitive tasks give our minds freedom to wander.
Amymariesmith asks: I’m going to my first SCBWI regional conference in June. Any tips on what to bring?
Have fun, Amy! You should bring:
A list of your PB ideas. I think it’s great to get a professional’s opinion about whether your story ideas are marketable or if they’re too common and need work. You might have an opportunity to sit down with someone to discuss them.
Your manuscripts. You never know when a critique opportunity will arise.
A list of industry questions. I know I tend to forget everything once I arrive at a conference. If there’s something you want to know, write it down and keep it handy. There’s often panel discussions where you can post your questions.
A notebook and pen to take good notes. (Then when you go home, type up your notes. This will help them soak into your brain.)
A camera. Take pics and share them.
Your business cards. Even if you’re unpublished, you’re still officially a “writer”. You want to connect with professionals and potential critique partners. If you’re having meals there, hand them out to those sitting at your table. Everyone else will remember to hand them out, too!
Side note: sometimes at conferences I’ve seen unpublished writers carrying plush likenesses of characters they’ve created. This seems like a smart idea, to attract attention and questions about your work, but some professionals just think this is strange. Great writing is guaranteed to attract positive attention, not gimmicks.
Mrs. Ricefield asks: I would also love to hear more on how to make the best out of conferences you attend. Thank you for the question.
See my suggestions above on what to bring. Also, make friends. See someone standing alone? They’re an introverted writer, but writers love to talk about writing, so go say hello. This is your opportunity to network and gain a support system. Have fun and be yourself.
Don’t go with too many expectations—it’s rare to get a book deal or an agent at a conference. (But be sure to follow-up if someone expresses interest. Things happen AFTER the event.)
Volunteering at a conference is also a great way to get one-on-one time with professionals and to be remembered. Why not volunteer to pick up agents and editors at the train station or airport? You’ll have time to chat and get to know them.
Ask editors about life outside the office. You’ll connect on a more personal level and you’ll be one of the few people who aren’t trying to squeeze a book deal out of them. Editors are people, too. They get tired of being pitched, poked and prodded.
Great friends at the NJ-SCBWI Annual Conference. Authors Ame Dyckman, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Kami Kinard.
Angela Turner asks: I am writing a nonfiction book in narrative form but I want to put notes on the same page that tell a little more with more specific language. What is the proper way to show this in your manuscript?
While I haven’t written this kind of book before, I suggest using a format similar to how we place art notes in a picture book manuscript. Use brackets to denote the sidebars. Like this: [Sidebar text:].
Maybe someone more experienced with these manuscripts can comment below.
Joy Moore asks:
How would you describe your writing style?
A quirky, punny word-a-palooza.
Brenda Harris asks: If an author-illustrator is self-publishing, who are the most important people (editors, art directors, etc) I should ask advice(hire?) from about my dummy book. And- where can I search and find these legit helpers?
There are independent editors with decades of publishing experience whom you could try. Just a few:
Read through each consultant’s site to determine the best fit for your writing style.
Also, be aware of current publishing scams and hustles. There are those who prey on writers with dreams of publication. Check out Preditors & Editors.
Before you begin, you should know the distinction between true self-publishing and publishing via a vanity press. Read this blog post.
I’d really like to know what your best time to write is (and the importance of having a set time to write).
Erik, I don’t have a set time to write. I have found that routine tends to stifle my creativity. I know some writers insist upon writing the same time every day, in the same place, with the same materials, claiming that routine means they write whether or not they’re in the mood. And I suppose that does work nicely for a lot of writers. It doesn’t work nicely for me.
I’ve never been a routine person. Something about my personality always eschews routine. I cannot remember to take a daily vitamin. I don’t wake up the same time every day nor go to sleep at a set hour. I have a tough time eating leftovers.
I like changing things up. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes late at night. Different times of day can lend varying moods to my writing. Same as with different places—sometimes I write in bed, sometimes in the kitchen. Occasionally I work on my back deck, at the park or at the library.
And I don’t write every day. That may have to change when I start writing novels and I’ll need to get more words down, but for now, I take writing breaks. Two days on, one day off. Three days on, three days off. One day on, four days off. (GASP!) Again, I change it up a lot. And sometimes these breaks are dictated by family or other obligations.
With this non-routine routine, I’ve had no shortage of creativity, no writer’s block. I’ve got four manuscripts under submission right now and four under construction.
The bottom line is that there’s no “right” thing that works for everyone. It’s totally up to you to find your creative groove. Don’t take anyone else’s advice unless it resonates with you.
Charlotte asks: Why does it seem that there are so many women writing for children, attending SCBWI conferences, posting here, etc., and yet by comparison there seem to be so many successful children’s books by men? Ya know what I mean? Certainly there are tons of successful children’s books by women, but the rations have me baffled. At the last SCBWI conference I attended, women outnumbered men 98-2. Even if there are more children’s books by women authors, the ratio is not 98-2, not even close. So what’s going on? Do men feel more free to write wackier stories? Do women censor their own out-of-the-box impulses? Do editors and agents subconsciously give men more leeway to push the boundaries/break the rules? Do women tend to write more lesson-y stories? Are there just as many men writing and they just don’t show up at conferences? Whaddaya think?
Charlotte, you may want to check out the VIDA Count. VIDA has found a distinct imbalance between the amount of literature by women that’s published and awarded versus that of men. See these articles:
But don’t women read more? Don’t they buy more books? Don’t they edit these journals [and books] and read slush? And therefore—isn’t this largely the fault of women, as well?
First: sexism pervades our culture, and so it is often unconsciously absorbed/internalized by everyone, including women. Feminism is an act, not a bumper sticker. It requires the constant re-evaluation of one’s assumptions, habits, and biases. By being a part of the system, women are often a part of the problem.
Further, as Sarah Seltzer points out,
“In my experience, the reality may even be worse than the numbers. Women who are allowed to be prominent — and this is not to erase those who do it on their own merit, because their numbers are growing — often don’t challenge the worldview of those who hire them. In fact, given all the anti-feminists like Caitlin Flanagan, Katie Roiphe and Christina Hoff Summers taking prime media real estate, it would seem that for women, reinforcing sexism is a good formula for vaulting ahead.”
~ Sarah Seltzer, Jewish Daily Forward, March 2012, “Byline Bias – and What We Can Do About It.”
Stacy Couch asks: I was wondering about the different stages of birthing a PB. PiBoIdMo does a great job re: brainstorming. Maybe posts about craft would help bring those ideas to life.
Character-driven picture books: What they are, what makes a character sing.
Plot: How to plot a PB.
Plot: Why stakes matter.
Rule of Three
Plot and the Rule of Three.
Different Genres within the PB World (Quiet, Noisy, Character-Driven, Interactive, Etc.)
External vs. Internal Conflict
Allowing Room for the Illustrator
Then perhaps a series about critique groups (how to find them, how to set up one), conferences (purpost, intensives, tips) and another querying agents, editors (the importance of etiquette, researching them beforehand).
I’d love to see more craft-related posts, though, since any agent or editor would focus on the work itself.
Great suggestions, Stacy! I’ve covered some of these topics already. Check out:
Everyone who loves books for children has their favorites. Those special books that have left a mark or demand to be read over and over again. So here are 30 of mine…in no particular order. Some are old classics, others new. Some picture books, middle grade and young adult. All are wonderful additions to every child’s library.
The Cat in the Hat – Dr. Suess
Leo the Late Bloomer – Jose Aruego
The Runaway Bunny/Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt
Inside the Slidy Diner – Laurel Snyder
Middle Grade: Anne of Green Gables – L M Montgomery Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank Charlotte’s Web – E B White Because of Winn Dixie – Kate DiCamillo A Northern Light – Jennifer Donnelly Harry Potter Books –J K Rowling The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman Chains – Laurie Halse Anderson The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly The Midwife’s Apprentice – Karen Cushman The Phantom Toolbooth – Norton Juster Ramona Quimby series – Beverly Cleary An Unfinished Angel – Sharon Creech Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool Flora and Ulysses – Kate DiCamillo One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street – Joanne Rocklin When Audrey Met Alice – Rebecca Behrens The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky – Holly Schindler Glory Be – Augusta Scattergood The One and Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate Wonder – R J Palacio
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series – Anna Brashares
On the Facebook PiBoIdMo group, I’ve been asking picture book writers which topics they want to see on my blog. Then it finally dawned on me (and Dawn is my middle name, so this should have occurred far sooner)—I should ask on the blog. DUH.
Tara-ra-BOOM-dee-ay by AJ Smith
See that? It’s my head exploding from the geniusity. (Yes, I made that word up. I’m allowed. I write picture books!)
So here I am, asking you, dear blog readers, what is your most burning, head-blasting kidlit question?
Leave it below in the comments and later this month, I’ll strive to answer them all.
But just remember, you’ll be getting an answer from someone with half a head.
Giving and receiving critiques on your writing is one of the most helpful and necessary parts of the process. I value my critique group beyond any other writing tools I have. They let me know what works and what doesn't, when something I thought was crystal clear is not, and when my characters are acting out of character. They offer encouragement and cheerleading.
Not only has constant critique made me a better writer, it has made me a more professional writer. When I receive notes from agents, editors, and other professionals, I am able to receive the notes with a professional calmness. I don't get defensive. I get revising.
I hope everyone who writes is able to find a group or a few trusted beta readers who can offer valuable critique, but I know that there are quite a few writers in our SCBWI region (Utah and southern Idaho) who may not even know any other writers in their community. Or perhaps they don't know how to get a group started. Or have never critiqued anyone else's work and feel inadequate.
That is why we started a region-wide event called The Great Critique. We give you the opportunity to meet with other children's writers in your area and critique away. On one day, August 9, we all meet throughout the region, helping each other become better writers (and illustrators--they get to participate as well!). During the summer, you'll receive excerpts from manuscripts by the others registered in your area. You'll read them, prepare comments, and then meet in August for live critiquing. And if you don't have a meeting close by, we offer an online location as well. This event is FREE, and we hope you take advantage of it.
In addition, if you wish to have a critique from a publishing house editor or an agent, you can register for that through our web site. And for an extra bonus, you can get a professional query critique.
You'll find all the details on our registration page. So there are no excuses. Sign up NOW. Registration is open until June 15.
by Neysa CM Jensen your regional advisor for SCBWI (I live in Boise, Idaho, but don't hold that against me.)
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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up…
Today’s post comes from a fellow writer, Johanna “Jody” Staton about how she finds and keeps ideas for writing. Here’s Jody:
Even when we enjoy writing and want to do it, we always seem to have excuses not to be doing more of it: school, jobs, family plans and obligations.
For me, there was one more excuse: no ideas that grabbed me by fingertips and dragged me to the keyboard. Until I read a column in a writers’ magazine that suggested keeping an “idea dump.” So I started one.
I’ve always gotten a daily newspaper, a habit learned from my grandfather and reinforced in journalism classes. Skimming the headlines gave me a general idea what was going on in the world. If the headline hooked me and the lead paragraph reeled me in, a whole article gave me insight into people and stories I didn’t know about before.
My mother had frequently clipped articles that she sent to me in college. Off on my own, I rarely cut anything out of the paper, until I read that “idea dump” column.
Space was made in a file cabinet. Out came the manila folders, the scissors. My husband read the newspaper first, because it developed holes once I got hold of it. Magazines were divested of entire pages.
The folders multiplied like rabbits. “Characters” became a bigger hanging box-bottomed folder housing “Children,” “Teens,” etc. “Settings” got geographical divisions. For articles from the writing magazine, genres each had their own folder, as did various aspects of the writing craft.
The following outline is an example of just some of the folders in my “idea dump”:
people who work with animals
middle grades books
young adult books
my home town
point of view
Can I claim that each of those clippings resulted in a writings project—a story, an essay, an article, a novel? No. But what I do know is that once I followed the column’s advice and started my own “idea dump,” something must have gotten turned on in my brain, so that now I have enough ideas for novels to keep me writing forevermore.
How do you organize/sort/keep your ideas for possible stories?
Jody Staton first realized she wanted to be a writer when she was twelve, and won an award at summer camp for the best writing of the season, a paragraph titled “God’s Symphony.” She worked for her high school and college newspapers, and was an English major. She has a graduate degree in magazine journalism. Jody was also an editor at Jack and Jill magazine, and had stories and articles published there and elsewhere. She does freelance copy editing, and has written several middle grade and young adult novels, all in various stages of development. None are published yet, but some have gotten favorable comments from agents and editors. She is currently working on a horsey historical for upper middle grades.
Sorry, no car giveaway here. Not sure you’d want a ’77 yellow hatchback anyway.
What you’ve got are your burning kidlit questions with my answers. Please remember that these are my opinions and not necessarily gospel. (I can’t sing, anyway. Except, apparently, for 70′s car commercial jingles.)
If you have follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments!
Writenit asks: Is there a better place than Amazon to search to see if the fabulous (at least in my head LOL) idea you came up with has already been done a million times?
Besides Amazon, try searching WorldCat.org, the world’s largest database of library holdings. A simple Google search is also a good idea. Try the various types of Google searches, including images and news.
But just remember, even if your title is taken or your idea has been published, there might be room for your manuscript, too. General ideas can be similar, but the execution can result in wildly differing stories. Of course, if there’s an extremely popular book with your idea, odds are that a publisher won’t take a chance on a directly competing book. In other words, if your dragons love tacos or your crayons are going on strike, you probably want to look elsewhere for ideas.
Patricianesbitt asks: Do you have any inside tips as to what themes or topics publishers are looking for?
This information is always changing. Right now, I hear that character-driven picture books are all the rage.
“Looking for” details can often be found at SCBWI conferences and on blogs when a particular agent or editor has been interviewed. You might want to search for conference bios, where professionals often divulge their wish lists.
You’ll also want to visit the bookstore at least once or twice a month. See what’s being displayed face-out (publishers have paid for this promotional opportunity). Are there are a lot of books on one particular subject, like trucks? Well then, the truck ship has probably sailed. (Whoa, that was a mixed metaphor, huh?) Once you see an abundance of one kind of book in the stores, the end of that craze is probably upon us. Remember pirate books during the Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies? I went to a conference around that time and the editors practically screamed, “No more pirate books!” Sometimes they know more about what they DON’T want than what they DO.
Bottom line: everyone wants a good story. You don’t have to write to the marketplace’s demands. In fact, I suggest that you don’t. Whatever idea stirs up the most passion in you is the manuscript you should be writing. Your enthusiasm will be evident on the page—and that is always appealing.
And always remember Karma Wilson’s example. McElderry’s sub guidelines said “no rhyme and no talking animals” when she sent them BEAR SNORES ON, which turned out to be a huge hit, launching her successful career. It was a great manuscript, so the DON’T guidelines became moot.
Maria Matthews asks: Is it better to aim at writing a current popular topic or to write a quirky unusual book?)
As I noted above, “currently popular” isn’t your best bet, simply because the books released today got purchased as manuscripts two to four years ago, on average. So you can’t necessarily catch up to what’s hot. And what’s hot is always changing. You never know what the next “big thing” will be.
That’s why I suggest writing from your heart. If quirky and unusual is what you enjoy, then by all means, write quirky and unusual!
Josh Funk asks: How do you get awesome illustrators to do “head shots” for you? (like AJ Smith did in your previous post)
When I first began my blog seven years ago, I paid illustrators to do graphics for my site, like this watermelon-themed banner by the talented Val Webb.
Now that my blog has become well-read, I often ask on Facebook or Twitter for a particular graphic and someone volunteers their services, in exchange for a mention and link. I’m usually blown away by the response, and so grateful!
Jdewdropsofink asks: So after reading your previous post, I want to know the super secret story techniques you learned from Sudipta?
I’ve learned a ton from Sudipta. If ever you get a chance to hear her speak or teach a class, grab the opportunity. I’m going to send you to her very pink site instead of spilling her secrets here…
Nicole Snitselaar asks: I would like to know, how much details you must write down when you are planning a PB without words…?
Only as much detail as you need to get the idea across. Be as succinct in your word choices as you are while writing a regular picture book. Paint the overall picture but don’t go into minutiae. You still must leave some things for the illustrator to fill in.
Author Linda Ashman has posted her manuscript for NO DOGS ALLOWED, which is nearly wordless. Check it out here. It’s an excellent example.
Jennifer Kirkeby asks: What do you do to keep yourself motivated? Especially after rejections?
You know how “location, location, location” is real estate’s most important criteria? Well, “new work, new work, new work” is how I keep myself motivated. A new story is always so exciting, isn’t it?
I’ve seen writers try to sell the same manuscript year after year. On one hand, it’s good to be persistent, but on the other hand, you should know when it’s time to move on. Once you’ve finished a manuscript and started submitting, work on something new. Always have your list of ideas ready. Review them. Grab onto whatever resonates and start writing. An editor might not like what you’ve just submitted, but they might like your NEXT project. The more projects you have, the better your odds of becoming published.
Don’t let rejections get you down. Everyone gets them. It’s the nature of our business. I’ve gotten so many now that they’ve lost their sting. I read the rejection, absorb the comments, decide if I agree or disagree, and move on.
Not every manuscript is for every editor—and a rejection doesn’t mean your story’s terrible and it will never find a home. Editors can reject a manuscript because it competes too closely with one of their existing or upcoming books, or because it doesn’t fit with their imprint’s personality and goals. An editor with a bug phobia may stay away from beetle books. An editor might even love your story, but their team isn’t as enthused.
Remember a rejection is not a personal attack. They are rejecting the work you submitted, NOT YOU. YOU are marvelous. YOU are creative. YOU just need to write another story.
Yangmommy asks: Hi! I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at the MD/DE SCBWI in Maryland last month. It was the highlight of my day (and I still find myself saying, “whhyyy?”)! But I left wondering more about how and when to insert the art notes. In the margins? Within the text (but doesn’t that break up the flow?)? Do you have an example you can showcase on your blog?
An art note can be written in the body of your text, right after the words the art will accompany. I typically put the art note in brackets and italicize the text, like this: [Art: bear tickles alien.]
I’ve also written manuscripts with so many necessary art notes that my agent has submitted them in graph format. This is because the art notes broke up the flow of the story too much, making it difficult to read. The graph format allows an editor to scan through the story easily while still being able to comprehend the illustrations. I explained this in a post here.
Tim asks: I attended a picture book writing conference recently, and the presenter asked for a show of hands of all those who at least occasionally wrote manuscript in rhyme. Nearly every hand in the room went up. And many new rhyming picture books are published each year. Yet aspiring PB writers are told frequently that rhyme is a very tough sell. So I’d love to see a post or two on how to sell rhyming PBs. Not tips on how to write in rhyme–there are lots of resources for that–but on how to SELL it, including the no-nos either in queries or in manuscripts that will stop an editor or agent cold.
Tim, there are no tricks to selling a rhyming manuscript other than making that rhyming manuscript GREAT. (There’s nothing you can say or do to sell a sub-par manuscript.)
Editors see a lot of bad rhyme, which is why they often tell new writers to avoid it. Rhyming manuscripts that don’t sell:
use common and predictable rhymes,
feature wonky meter,
veer off in an unbelievable direction to meet the rhyme scheme,
use awkward sentence structure to make a rhyme work,
feature too many near-rhymes, or
explore an overdone theme.
What’s a GREAT rhyming story? A manuscript whose rhyme scheme is original and whose meter is consistent. A manuscript that features an appealing, marketable hook.
For a picture book, some agents and editors zip right past the cover letter to get to the meat of the manuscript, so I don’t think anything is going stop them cold, unless you’re wildly unprofessional and stuff your envelope full of glitter.
Your query/cover should:
address the agent/editor by name,
explain why you are submitting/targeting that editor/agent/imprint,
compare/contrast your book to existing titles,
include a brief synopsis,
offer a short bio (only with information relevant to writing for children), and
have a polite closing.
It should be one page only.
The manuscript should be double-spaced in a 12 pt serif font, like Times New Roman.
Again, don’t use gimmicks. Good writing and a professional presentation is all you need to attract an agent/editor’s attention.
Ginger asks: What does a picture book look like in written form and do you add picture ideas?
I mentioned the standard format above. Here’s a pic of what the first page of a PB manuscript might look like:
The second and each subsequent page header will include “Name/TITLE” on the left and numerical page number on the right.
Regarding art notes, that really requires its own post! See these previous posts:
The bottom line is that you only include art notes if it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. For instance, if your text says “Felix was happy” but he’s really upset, you need an art note so the illustrator doesn’t make him smile.
Write something like: “Felix was happy. [Art: Felix isn’t happy.]” You should not write “Felix was happy. [Art: Felix is stomping his feet, wearing red, waving his arms and sticking his tongue out.]” That’s far too specific and doesn’t leave the illustrator room to interpret Felix and his feelings.
Grab your PiBoIdMo mugga joe and let’s get to it, shall we?
mvanhierden asks: When submitting query letters for picture books, is it standard practice to include a manuscript?
Always follow an individual’s submission guidelines. Some agents/editors don’t ask for a query first because a picture book is a short read. They’ll ask for a cover letter and the manuscript instead. And even though some want the full manuscript, they’ll still ask for a query letter with it. Why? They want to hear how you SELL the story.
But everyone is different; pay attention to their guidelines. Guidelines are in place to help an agent/editor work most efficiently, according to their preferences. Therefore, not following guidelines is subject to an immediate, automatic rejection.
Anne Bromley asks: I heard recently that one needs at least 3 polished, ready-to-submit picture book stories in order for an agent to take serious interest. Has this been your experience as well?
Yes, this is what I recommend—have at least 3 to 5 picture book manuscripts polished and ready for submission.
An agent will rarely take a writer based upon one manuscript alone. Yes, it happens, but your odds are so much better if you have several ready. Why? If the agent likes your work, they will almost always ask for MORE WORK. An agent wants to ensure that they are a good fit for you, so they want to connect with a body of work, not just one piece. If they like your submission and want to see more but you don’t have anything else, you’ve wasted an opportunity.
More books ready means more books to sell, which is preferable for the agent. If they can’t sell one manuscript, they have another to sub immediately.
But what about an editor? The same holds true. They could like your manuscript but not have the ability to publish it for whatever reason. They may ask for something else. You want to have that something else ready!
And honestly, you become a better writer with each manuscript you complete. So although you might have only one ready to submit, wait until you have more because the next manuscript might be the better sell.
Patricia Tilton asks: When do you set aside a MS after many rejections, even though it’s polished, been through editors and you’ve done the revisions and more revisions? Or do you just keep submitting?
Tough question, Patricia! I feel like this is dictated by a gut feeling more than anything else.
I have an agent, so my rejections always include a reason. If I receive compliments and suggestions, then the manuscript is on the right track and we keep submitting. If I receive a lot of similar suggestions for improvement, I take it back and revise.
For those without an agent, if you receive only form rejections without any personal rejections, it’s a signal that perhaps the manuscript needs more work.
It’s not uncommon to hear of manuscripts rejected 20 or more times, so sometimes it’s about just connecting with the right editor at the right time.
If you’ve submitted widely without a bite, I’d recommend putting the manuscript aside and coming back in a few months to see if you can make improvements. Then try another round. Again, some rejections are about timing rather than quality, so a new round of submissions can yield new results.
Carrie Brown asks: We know, as writers, to revise until our very best work is present. Then, we know to send it out to our critique groups and revise some more. Repeat. Repeat again. Etc. Once our work is “the best it can be,” do you think there is a secret numbers formula as to how many subs a manuscript should go through before being shelved? What if, for example, a manuscript goes through a period of requests mixed with personal feedback from agents, and then said changes are made and it goes back out to be met with chirping crickets? Then what? Just like everything in the writing world, I know these questions will be met with subjectivity, as well. But this inquiring mind values your opinion!
Yes, as you’ll see by my answer above, it really is subjective, a gut feeling. I’ve known writers who have submitted 27 times with rejections and the 28th time was the charm. I’ve known writers who have revised a manuscript on and off for nearly 10 years before it was bought.
I suppose my suggestion is to keep plugging away as long as you feel passion and confidence in your work. Again, sometimes it’s about timing more than anything else.
Let’s go to the scenario you proposed—if you’ve made changes that were requested but have only heard crickets in response, I would probably go back to the previous version. When you revise based upon suggestions from one individual, it’s purely being done to meet their specific taste. And if they don’t like it after the changes have been made, it probably wasn’t the right move.
Jo Dearden asks: In your query letter, when it comes to describing your Picture Book, should you include a short paragraph in the style of a jacket blurb, or should it be a straighter description (like a mini, paragraph-long synopsis)? This is assuming you’re sending the whole text to the agent/publisher.
Yes! It’s an excellent idea to write your synopsis in the style of jacket flap material. This kind of paragraph whets the appetite and makes the reader want to dive in. Pick up a bunch of picture books at your library and study the book jackets. Try to emulate them.
Guess what? There one final installment coming tomorrow!