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I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!
Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.
She’s made my writing dream come true!!
2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):
I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.
Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!
We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!
The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus.
Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), throughout the year.
When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.
Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.
Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.
I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it.
As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?
1. Write What You Love:
Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.
My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for "Highlights."
Well, "Highlights" rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.
The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.
Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.
One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.
Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.
Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.
And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!
(See #1 again)
4. Play and Experiment:
To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.
Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?
I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!
5. Reach Out:
Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.
There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns and Sylvia Liu. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen’s title, above all, Take Joy!
Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:
This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone's socks off, Penny's having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that's unlike any other.
The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.
After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.
One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.
During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.
Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.
There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.
So during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.
Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.
THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.
I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.
I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.
Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.
Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat.
In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks.
Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.
I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.
Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.
When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.
I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”
Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly). I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.
I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).
I naturally gravitate towards diversity in my reading, and my blog has had this as a focus since its beginning, but this challenge has pushed me to seek out texts in a more targeted way. Today’s story, however, came to … Continue reading →
Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released last month. Twenty-two Cents is about Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. In this post, we asked her to share advice on what’s she’s learned about banking, loans, and managing finances while writing Twenty-two Cents.
What are some reasons why someone might want to take out a loan? Why wouldn’t banks loan money to poor people in Bangladesh?
PAULA: People will take out a loan when they do not have enough money in their bank account to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a house. Sometimes, they will take out a loan because they need the money to help set up a business they are starting. Other times, loans are also used to help pay for major expenses, like unexpected hospital bills for a family member who is sick or big repairs on a house or car. But asking for a loan is a very complicated process because a person has to prove they can pay the loan back in a reasonable amount of time. A person’s financial history can affect whether or not they are approved for a loan. For many people who live below the poverty line, they are at a disadvantage because their financial history is very spotty. Banks may not trust them to pay the loan back on time.
In addition, most loans are given to people who are requesting a lot of money for a very expensive purchase like a house or a car. But sometimes a person only needs a small amount of money – for example, a few hundred dollars. This type of loan does not really exist because most people can afford to pay a few hundred dollars. But if you live below the poverty line, a hundred dollars can seem like a million dollars. Professor Yunus realized this when he met Sufiya Begum, a poor woman who only needed 22 cents to keep her business of making stools and mats profitable in her rural village. No bank would loan a few hundred dollars, or even 22 cents, to a woman living in a mud hut. This is what inspired Professor Yunus to come up with the concept of “microcredit” (also known as microfinancing and micro banking).
In TWENTY-TWO CENTS, microcredit is described as a loan with a low interest rate. What is a low interest rate compared to a high interest rate?
PAULA: When you borrow money from a bank, you have to pay the loan back with an interest rate. The interest rate is an additional amount of money that you now owe the bank on top of the original amount of money you borrowed. There are many complex math formulas involved with calculating what a fair and appropriate interest rate could be for a loan. The interest rate is also affected by outside factors such as inflation and unemployment. Although it would seem that a lower interest rate would be preferable to the borrower, it can be risky to the general economy. A low interest rate can create a potential “economic bubble” which could burst in the future and cause an economic “depression.” Interest rates are adjusted to make sure these problems do not happen. Which means that sometimes there are times when the interest rates are higher for borrowers than other times.
What is a loan shark?
PAULA: A loan shark is someone who offers loans to poor people at extremely high interest rates. This is also known as “predatory lending.” It can be illegal in several cases, especially when the loan shark uses blackmail or threats of violence to make sure a person pays back the loan by a certain deadline. Often people in desperate financial situations will go to a loan shark to help them out of a financial problem, only to realize later that the loan shark has made the problem worse, not better.
Did your parents explain how a bank works to you when you were a child? Or did you learn about it in school?
PAULA: I remember learning about how a bank works from elementary school and through those “Schoolhouse Rocks!” educational cartoons they would show on Saturday mornings. But overall, I would say I learned about banking as a high school student when I got my first minimum wage job at age 16 as a cashier at the Marshall’s department store. I learned how banking worked through a job and real life experience.
TWENTY-TWO CENTS is a story about economic innovation. Could you explain why Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank was so innovative or revolutionary?
PAULA ANSWER: Muhammad Yunus’ theories on microcredit and microfinancing are revolutionary and innovative because they provided a practical solution on how banks can offer loans to poor people who do not have any financial security. By having women work together as a group to understand how the math behind the loan would work (along with other important concepts) and borrowing the loan as a group, Yunus’ unique idea gave banks the confidence to put their trust into these groups of women. The banks were able to loan the money with the full confidence in knowing that these women would be able to pay them back in a timely manner. The humanitarian aspect of Yunus’ economic theories were also quite revolutionary because it gave these poverty-stricken women a newfound sense of self-confidence. His theories worked to help break the cycle of poverty for these women as they were able to save money and finally become self-sufficient. The Nobel Committee praised Yunus’ microcredit theories for being one of the first steps towards eradicating poverty, stating, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank is a biography of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and revolutionized global antipoverty efforts by developing the innovative economic concept of micro-lending.
Welcome to the final day of PiBoldMo! Congratulations! You made it! By now, hopefully you have come up with 29 fantastically fun and totally awesome ideas for future picture books.
So for Day 30, you need one more idea. Come on, you can do it!
But in case you are burned out, here’s one last idea sparker to help you make it through Day 30.
Have you ever heard of the “elevator pitch”? It’s a famous phrase used all the time in the writing industry, as well as in the business world. In a nutshell, the “elevator pitch” is how long it should take for you to tell someone what your book is about. By the time your elevator reaches your floor, you should have been able to “pitch” your book idea in that brief amount of time.
In other words, an elevator pitch should last about 30 seconds.
So look over your 29 ideas so far. Can you pitch each idea in 30 seconds?
Pretend you waiting for the elevator at the Society of Children Book Writers &Illustrators national conference. To your left stands a famous children’s book editor. The two of you engage in some small talk as you wait for the elevator. The editor learns you are a writer at the conference. Eager, he/she asks if you have written anything.
And then the elevator doors open.
Oh no! You probably have 30 seconds to pitch your amazing picture book to this editor before the elevator reaches his/her floor.
So how to craft your elevator pitch? Some tips to get you started:
1. Start with a cliffhanger “hook.”
This can be in the form of a question or a one-sentence “logline” that conveys your book’s main conflict. “What if a child loses her beloved stuffed toy animal at a laundromat and can’t tell her dad because she hasn’t learned to talk yet?” Or think of your hook in terms of theme or even a personal anecdote that relates to your book. For example: “I have the most stubborn cat who is convinced the full moon is a bowl of milk. She will do anything to reach that moon.” (Note:
Obviously I’m using “Knuffle Bunny” and “Kitten’s First Full Moon” as examples.)
2. Set up the main character and conflict.
Then launch into the heart of your story—who’s your main character? Why should we love him/her? What obstacle must they overcome in their quest? (“Trixie and Knuffle Bunny have never been separated… until now.”)
3. Leave ‘em hanging. Don’t spoil the actual ending.
Conclude with an open ending—will Trixie learn how to speak before Knuffle Bunny is lost forever?
For Day 30, to get your brain ready for that final idea, why not take an hour or two to review your previous 29 ideas? See if you can “pitch” them to a friend. Sometimes I will take a friend out for coffee and pitch them some ideas I am working on to get their feedback on how clear and concise my ideas sound to them. I even have them “time” me with a stop watch!
When you are working on your elevator pitch, it will help you focus on what the heart of each book is truly about… you’ll learn quickly as to what the most important point of the book is.
Once you practice your elevator pitches for some of the 29 ideas you’ve already come up with, then try the same approach for your 30th idea. See if you can just brainstorm a fun 30th picture book idea in 30 seconds or under. You can even record yourself as you talk out loud. Or you can write them down
I owe a huge thank you to Tara Lazar for holding PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November. After I finished NaNoWriMo mid-month, I tackled her amazing challenge and wasn't sure if I'd be able to come up with 30 new picture book ideas that fast. Well...I ended up with 38 ideas by the end of the month, and can't wait to flesh out my favorites and tackle them in Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee challenge in the beginning of May, where I'll write 7 picture book drafts in 7 days.
Not only did Tara inspire me to come up with some amazing new picture book ideas, but she also held a wonderful contest. Look what I got in the mail: I love receiving surprises in the mail. Thanks so much for the fun prize, Tara and Alyson Heller from Simon & Schuster!
Nineteen years ago, Hubby gave me a huge Valentine's Day surprise when he proposed to me. I'll never forget how he ordered champagne and made the most beautiful toast. But he acted kind of strange when I sipped the champagne. He asked if it tasted okay, and I said it was great. Sip, sip, sip. Then, he held up his glass and said you can tell a good champagne by the effervescence of the bubbles. I thought the bubbles looked fine. Sip, sip, sip. And then our waiter came over, took my glass, and tipped it toward me saying that sometimes champagne can have a bitter taste because of a metallic sediment on the bottom. That's when I finally saw the ring--good thing I didn't drink it! :)
Here's our engagement picture (sorry that it's a little fuzzy, but I had to scan it in).
Hubby fished the ring out, dried it off, and proposed to me...what a wonderful Valentine's Day memory! I hope all of you have a fantastic Valentine's Day, and make special memories that will stay with you forever.
Are you up to the challenge of writing 7 picture books in 7 days? Then be sure to join The National Picture Book Writing Week, hosted by Paula Yoo, author of GOOD ENOUGH.
The marathon lasts from May 1-7. Read all about it HERE.
I wish I could take part in this, but I'm afraid I'll be INCREDIBLY busy next week preparing for my picture book writing workshop. For those interested, please check out the details at SavvyAuthors.com.
When I attended my first SCBWI conference in 2005, I instantly became a conference addict. It's amazing to spend time with others who love children's books as much as I do! I always leave with so much information and inspiration--and I have to say that everyone is always so friendly and supportive. I love being part of such a wonderful community!
We have an amazing SCBWI FL Mid-Year Workshop in Orlando on June 25th, with incredible intensives on June 24th. The hotel is on Disney property, so it's the perfect excuse for a vacation! Here's a link to more info about our Orlando Workshop at the Coronado Springs hotel, and you can also read the faculty bios.
Intensives--Friday, June 24th
Picture Book Intensive
Alexandra Penfold: editor at Paula Wiseman, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Lisa Wheeler: author with over thirty titles on library shelves including picture books in prose and rhyme, an easy reader series, three books of poems, and creative nonfiction for the very young
Michelle Burke: editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers
Kathleen Duey: award winning author who has published over 70 books for readers K-YA
Marjetta Geerling: author of FANCYWHITE TRASH and another novel scheduled for release in 2012
Lucy Cummins:associate art directorwithSimon & Schuster Booksfor Young Readers
Any way you look at it, it’s been a rough senior year for Glee’s Mike Chang so far.
He got yelled at by Sue Sylvester on the third day of school. He had to convince some reluctant football players that dancing would help their sports skills. He watched several New Directions members leave the group and start a competing club. And then, just as he was helping whip the remaining glee clubbers into tip-top dancing shape, he received an A- on a chemistry test.
Brittany would have been thrilled, but Mike was devastated.
Turns out an A- is considered an “Asian F” in Mike’s family. In fact, the grade was low enough for his dad to call an emergency meeting with Principal Figgins to discuss Mike’s future.
It also turns out Mike’s parents want him to go to an Ivy League college and become a doctor or a lawyer. Mike, who’s played by Harry Shum Jr., wants to dance, but is afraid to tell his parents. He tries to improve his chemistry grade and secretly try out for the school musical, but there are too many schedule conflicts. His mother finds out he’s been cast as Riff and is supportive, but his father confronts Mike and ultimately disowns him when Mike admits he wants to perform.
And you thought your life was complicated.
Mike’s girlfriend, Tina, tries to help by visiting Mike’s father at work and sharing a DVD of his performance in “West Side Story.” But Mr. Chang is unmoved and accuses Tina of having unrealistic expectations and fostering the same in his son.
This is the point in the story where, if I were a librarian at William McKinley High School, I would have given Mike a copy of Good Enough (Harper Teen, 2008) by Paula Yoo.
Because it’s not an assigned English literature text and wouldn’t appear on a recommended reading list for the SATs, Mike probably would have had to read it on the sly, but I think the benefits would have been worth the risk.
It’s the story of Patti Yoon.
And her story is not unlike young Mr. Chang’s. Patti’s parents expect nothing but the best from her. But only if the best will look good on her applications to Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Straight As are an expectation and extracurricular activities are carefully chosen.
In fact, Patti was introduced to the violin as a young child so it could be her “hook.” Something that would help her stand out from the many other talented, college applicants with 4.0 GPAs and high standardized test scores.
But for that to happen, Patti has to be a good violinist.
Fortunately, Patti has a natural aptitude for the instrument. That coupled with private lessons and a rigorous practice schedule have turned her into one of the best high school players in the state. But her practice SAT scores aren’t as high as her parents would like them to be, so Patti finds herself on a strict schedule of studying, test-taking and violin playing.
There are breaks for her to attend church, where Patti’s youth group is made up of other Korean teens whose parents expect similar success. But there aren’t any breaks when a cute trumpet/guitar player invites Patti to jam with his band or attend a rock concert. And when she tries to juggle her schedule and secretly do a few fun activities, her parents find out and react pretty much like Mike’s dad.
The State Farm Youth Advisory Board, a philanthropic program of State Farm, is accepting applications for youth service-learning projects designed to create sustainable local change in communities across the United States and Canada. Projects must be designed to address the root cause of the following issues: access to higher education/closing the achievement gap, financial literacy, community safety and natural disaster preparedness, social health and wellness, and environmental responsibility.
Applicant organizations must be a K-12 public or charter school, or institution of higher education. Nonprofit organizations also are eligible if they are able to demonstrate how they plan to impact student achievement within the public K-12 curriculum. Grants will range from $25,000 to $100,000. Deadline: 4 May
The White House recently responded to the School Librarian petition. Using the “We the People” portion of the White House website, the response concluded by saying
The Obama Administration remains committed to supporting school libraries and the critical role they play in providing resources and support for all students in their learning, to ensure that all students — regardless of their circumstances — are able to graduate from school ready for success in college and career. Check out this response on We the People
I can't believe how busy things have been, but I've been making incredible progress on my MG and PB. I love finding ways to dig deeper into my manuscripts, and I also love the extra push that challenges give me.
I've been a member of From The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors since our group started, and am thrilled with the impact our blog has had. It's wonderful helping to introduce new and beloved older novels to middle-grade lovers. My must-read stack is always overflowing with incredible books! If you write MG and love middle-grade books as much as I do, I hope you'll apply for one of the available spots. Here's the link. Hurry, because the deadline is tomorrow!
I'm thrilled that the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge has inspired me to try to write one new manuscript a month in 2012. For the past several years, I've always participated in Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) which inspires participants to write 7 new picture book drafts in 7 days, from May 1st - 7th. I love that challenge, and am going to do my best to tackle that along with the 12 x 12...while revising a middle grade novel. Not easy...but definitely worth the extra effort. I love having brand new manuscripts to mold into shape. So...who is going to take the NaPiBoWriWee challenge with me? There's a wonderful and supportive Facebook group for it. Let me know if you want me to add you, and we'll cheer each other on.
I've had less writing time than usual though, because we recently adopted a puppy. Ruby is a beagle and pointer mix who was one of over 100 dogs rescued from the Everglades. We weren't looking for another dog, but couldn't resist this adorable face! I'll fill you in on how we ended up finding her another time. I need to finish up more of my MG revision and get ready for NaPiBoWriWee!
Here's a photo of Ruby (who was 11 pounds when we adopted her) and our 2 1/2 year old, 90 pound Bullmassador, Lolly. It's amazing how much these two love each other already. We're so glad they both found their way into our family and hearts.
Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her first book, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, won Lee & Low’s New Voices Award. Her new book, Twenty-two Cents, was released this week. In this post, we asked her to share advice on publicizing your first book for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other new authors.
BUT… winning the New Voices contest was just the start. I had to do several revisions of the manuscript based on insightful critiques from my editor Philip Lee. Because this was a biography, I had to do extra research and conduct many more follow-up interviews to make sure all the facts of my manuscript were accurate. And then after all the line edits and copy edits and proof reading checks and balances were completed, I had one more thing to do.
No problem, I thought. All I had to do was answer that huge questionnaire the Lee & Low publicity department sent me. Our publicists were amazing – they were already aggressively sending out press releases and getting me invited to a few national writing conferences for book panels and signings.
But I quickly discovered that a debut author must be willing to pound the pavement, too! So I hired freelance graphic designer friends to create bookmarks and fliers of my book and an official author website. I dropped these off at as many schools, libraries and bookstores I could visit on the weekends. I contacted these same places to see if they would be interested in hosting a signing or school presentation of my book which included fun show-and-tell visuals of how the book was made, a slide show and even a specially-edited CD of historical film footage about my book’s topic.
I contacted local book festivals to be considered for signings and book panels. I not only asked friends and teachers and librarians to spread the word but even people I thought might have a vested interest in the book because they were also professional athletes/coaches and Asian American activists. I always updated our amazing Lee & Low publicists so we both were on the same page. We were a team who supported each other.
I also kept up with the news. Any pop culture trend, breaking news or social issue that was a hot button topic related to my book was an opportunity to see if my book could be mentioned or if I could be interviewed as an “expert.” For example, I pitched my book during the Summer Olympics as a relevant topic.
For my second book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (illustrated by Lin Wang), published in 2009, I created NAPIBOWRIWEE – National Picture Book Writing Week on my website. It was a fun version of the famous National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo”) event that promoted writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. My NaPiBoWriWee encouraged writers to write 7 picture books in 7 days. I advertised my new SHINING STAR book as a contest giveaway drawing prize for those who successfully completed the event with me.
To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went VIRAL. Thousands of aspiring newbie writers AND published veteran authors all across the United States and in countries as far away as Egypt, Korea, France and Australia participated in my NaPiBoWriWee event. Talk about great publicity for my second book! As a result, my NaPiBoWriWee event has become an annual event for the past six years, where I have promoted all my new Lee & Low books! (For more information on NAPIBWORIWEE, please visit my website http://paulayoo.com).
And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I did to promote my first book. Today, not only must debut authors “pound the pavement” for publicity, but they also must navigate the social media waters with blogs tours, breaking news Twitter feeds, Instagram and Tumblr visual posts, and so on. As I write this blog, I’m sure a brand new social media app is being invented that will become tomorrow’s Next Big Social Media Trend.
In the end, it was an honor and privilege to win this contest. I’m grateful for what it has done for my book career.
For my new book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (illustrated by Jamel Akib, 2014), I’ve already participated in several blog Q&A interviews with signed book giveaway contests from established children’s book writing websites. I’ve promoted the book on my website and on social media sites. And I’m also promoting the book in real life by participating in book festival panels, including the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
For new authors, I recommend pounding the pavement like I did. Think outside the box – are there current news/pop culture trends that relate to your book’s topic that you can exploit as a relevant connection? Can you come up with your own fun “viral” website contest like my NAPIBOWRIWEE? Make fast friends with your local librarians, schoolteachers and bookstore owners. Keep up with the latest and most influential kid lit bloggers and see if you can pitch your book as a future blog post on their site. And give yourself a budget – how much are you willing to spend out of your own pocket to promote your book? Find a number you’re comfortable with so you don’t end up shocked by that credit card bill!
Of course, these suggestions are just the beginning. Book publicity is a difficult, time-consuming job that requires much hard work and persistence and creative out-of-the-box problem solving. But trust me, it’s all worth it when you see a child pick your book from the shelf of a bookstore or library with a smile on his or her face.
Thanks for joining us, Paula! The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here. The deadline for submissions this year is September 30, 2014.
SCBWI is great not just because of all its resources for writers and book lovers, but it's also a wonderful professional organization because of all its AMAZING REGIONAL ADVISORS!!!
These hard-working men and women work tirelessly day and night to make sure the SCBWI organization runs smoothly. From offering regional newsletters with helpful articles on the craft of writing, to hosting parties, to lots and lots of xeroxing, emailing, and arranging events... these brave Regional Advisors keep SCBWI moving!
As Aaron Hartzler, SCBWI Director of Communications and Creative Director likes to say:
"That's how we roll..."
These RAs hail from all over the country and from as far away as Spain, Russia, and Australia!
Some inspirational words uttered at this year's RA Word Parade included "Success," "Newbie," "Chocolate - because you can never have enough chocolate," "Kick-awesome" (inspired by American Idol), "Embrace," "Percolating," and "Horizon."
LA regional advisor Claudia Harrington wanted to say "klutz" because her arm is in a cast, but instead, she decided her word would be "Bravery." Brava, Claudia!
Here's some live video of the RA Word Parade!
On behalf of all the members of SCBWI, Thank you, awesome SCBWI Regional Advisors for all that you do for us!
DONNA GEPHART: "12 3/4 Ways to Tickle Young Readers' Funny Bones"
Some hilarious higlights from 2009 Sid Fleischman Humor Award winner Donna Gephart's panel:
-- She provided handouts for everyone with a list of techniques and details to hone one's humor skills.
-- She advises taking risks. "Mine your embarrassment," she said, discussing how writers should not be afraid to talk about real life embarrassing moments.
-- "Embarrassment is funny but humiliation is not," she said. "You want to empathize with your character. Readers want to laugh, not cringe."
-- She gave a writing exercise in which conference goers had to do: List embarrassing things that happened to you or list things that embarrassed you as a kid.
-- She suggested paying attention to the "sound of language" as another tool to write humor. For example, the "K" sound is funny, such as "Chicken is funny. Roast beef is not. Pickle is funny. Cucubmer is not. Twinkie is funny. Pie is not."
-- She also advised using exaggeration and understatement as tools for writing humor. Examples included "Exaggeration: referring to a tropical breeze as a hurricane" and "Understatement: referring to a hurricane as a tropical breeze."
-- Ultimately, she says writers should not TRY to be funny. "Forced humor is no fun for anyone."
-- She also gave a handout listing funny picture books, early readers, chapter books, and MG/YA novels.
It was a packed room where people participated with a lot of enthusiasm to Donna's writing exercises. And yes, there was much laughter!
Yet another shining example of great lectures provided by award-winning writers at the SCBWI national conference.
MICHAEL REISMAN: "What Hollywood Wants With Your Book"
(Pictured above: Michael preps for his lecture by providing not one, not two, but THREE handouts!)
Michael Reisman, author of the bestselling SIMON BLOOM middle grade novel series, discussed the behind-the-scenes tips on why and how Hollywood options books, based on his own experience for more than ten years as a story analyst for movie studios and television networks, including Nickelodeon. His own SIMON BLOOM book was recently optioned as a movie.
He provided three handouts that were extremely helpful. They were:
-- A sample of "script coverage" on Lisa Yee's novel, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS. This showed Michael's synopsis and analysis of her novel and whether or not he considered potential movie/TV material. He wrote "CONSIDER," which means "Worth a serious look; needs varying degrees of changes."
-- A handout explaining what points story analysts consider while reading and covering book properties. (Examples include "Characterization: Asks how realistic and multi-dimensional the characters are. Will audiences identify with them? Will they care about them?")
-- A handout explaining coverage "jargon." ("CONSIDER" was just defined above, but another example includes: "CONSIDER CONCEPT: Too many problems to adapt directly, but may be worth purchase for core ideas or key elements" and "RECOMMEND: Buy; needs no or almost no changing.")
Some highlights from Michael's extremely informative talk:
-- "Don't write what will make a movie deal. Write what makes a good book." He emphasized how different these genres are and you should simply concentrate on writing the best book possible, period.
-- Retain your movie and TV rights. "I'm a happier man because of my movie deal" given that he retained his own rights.
-- Get a movie agent or manager to help navigate through the Hollywood world.
Overall, Michael delivered a very thorough lecture on how Hollywood approaches book properties and why they option or do not option books. But the information he provided in the handouts and in his advice/examples during the lecture were both applicable not only to published authors interested in trying to get their works optioned but also for aspiring writers because the points brought up about how Hollywood story analysts critique premise, dialogue, storyline and premise ideas was very helpful. Another example of the excellent informative lectures provided for writers at SCBWI's national conference!
After Kathleen Duey's inspirational farewell keynote address, conference goers enjoyed the Farewell & Autography Party where they were able to meet and greet the authors and get their autographs! Fresh lemonade, pretzels, and candy treats were provided for everyone as they headed out the door and back to their homes.
It was clear that close friendships had blossomed between conference goers over the past four days and that everyone - from aspiring newbie writers to published veteran authors - were inspired to rush home and WRITE WRITE WRITE.
The room was full of camaraderie and everyone enjoyed the celebration at the farewell shindig. Tonight, the faculty will meet for a final celebratory wrap-up party.
The entire SCBWI TEAM BLOG - Alice Pope, Jolie Stekly, Jaime Temairik, Lee Wind, Paula Yoo, and Suzanne Young - would like to thank SCBWI for giving us this opportunity to share the highlights of the 2009 national conference with everyone. We had a blast attending all these panels - our one regret was that we wish YOU were there! :) If you would like to find out more about SCBWI and join as a member, please go here for more info: http://scbwi.org
Remember, we are an interactive forum, so please comment away on our blogs. We look forward to the dialogue between SCBWI members about this year's conference.
I'm back in the Nati, the humid humid Nati, and still coming down from the from the fantastic SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. If you weren't there I hope you followed the event on our equally fantastic Official SCBWI Conference Blog.
TEAM BLOG's posts, photos and video were terrific (not to mention fast and furious) and I think we offered a good taste of the conference and shared some useful information for those who weren't there as well as for attendees who could only attend one session at a time. (We could attend 6, and a few times we attended 9 or 10.) If you haven't visited the Conference Blog, click here to check it out.
And below are a few more of my photos from the Blue Moon Ball on Saturday night. (I posted some on the conference blog after the event.) There were drink tickets. There were quesadillas. There was dancing. And, of course, there were outfits.
This year they're blue butterflies; last year they were literary lady bugs.
This conference-goer's cow stopped jumping over the moon to pose for a picture.
These Royals fans were happy about the party theme.
This conference-goer got wiggy with it and enjoyed the Mexican food buffet.
Jay Asher is without mermaids but still ready to disco as he poses with Linda Sue Park.
I'm not sure if she's a superhero or a cheerleader who mistook her pom-pom for head gear.Either way I like this outfit.
In my addled state at the time of my last post, I completely lost track of our topic du week -- my favorite subject. Food!
Since having children and losing my limited ability to concenterate for anything greater than a two-minute interval, my sole non-Nickelodeon TV viewing consists of the news and The Food Network.
A great disappointment to my mother and especially my beloved late grandmother, I am not a cook. I did somewhat redeem myself by marrying Emeril. :) As a child, I did not enjoy eating -- much consternation ensuing. Of course this situation has been more than remedied now. I may not cook, but oh, how I love to eat.
As I type this, I am listening to my husband and two-year-old son in the next room, watching an HBO concert tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. The pride of a musician sharing his passion with his appreciative son is beyond words. Of course I thoroughly comprehend why my grandmother could not get over my lack of aptitude for (or interest in) her life's work. But honestly -- as a cook, she was an impossible act to follow.
Like Carmela, my family had the whole pasta-turkey-22 course Thanksgiving meal as an established tradition. Like Mary Ann, my grandmother grew up in a home with boarders (and 10 siblings). And scrapple (yum -- I know, I know) and stewed tomatoes (yuck) were staples of my youth.
My mother's family hails from Ischia and Amalfi. My mom and aunt finally visted their ancestral homeland a few years ago, and the initial plan was to tour northern Italy. My mom nixed this idea immediately. "We can't go there! They eat white sauce!" In our family, tomato is King.
My parents dated in high school. My dad eventually went to college, joined the army to avoid being drafted and, eight months into his service, called my mom from California (in the middle of the night) to propose. He said that army food sucked, and he really wanted to get married so he could move out of the barracks and have someone cook him good meals. She turned him down. :) He called back. They have been married for 41 years, so he must have done something right.
My father (a "Mitigan" = American) had a favorite meal -- stew. He looked forward to it all day on one of their first days as a married couple. He came home and was surprised to smell something spaghetti-like. My mom assured that no, it was stew. He was expecting beef in broth. What he got was hot dogs, peas, and potatoes in a tomato sauce. My mom had never eaten or cooked a meal that was not tomato-based. Today, she makes a mean beef stew. However, she remains horrified that my four-year-old prefers her pasta without sauce, thanks very much.
My dad being a Korean linguist and my mom being a cook, I also grew up eating some of the very best Korean food. I recently read a book by Paula Yoo, and as soon as the protagonist mentioned mandu, she had me hooked. Back in the day, my parents used to watch every episode of The Sopranos (bear in mind that I have two Aunt Carmellas, an Uncle Junior, and that my mom's godmother is married to a Tony Soprano who worked in waste management). My mom would then call me in LA to report, in mouthwatering detail, the foods consumed in each episode. If any family member eats at a restaurant, I know to expect a ten-minute recap of the meal, soup to nuts. Family recipes are cherished posessions, framed and hung, replicated, discussed and dissected. Especially in a family of non-readers and non-writers, the effort to record a recipe (much of which consisted of "a pinch of" this and "add until it looks right") was clearly and act of pure love.
Reading JoAnn's post about A Wrinkle in Time, I was transported as soon as I saw the words "cocoa"
Paula Yoo photo courtesy Jennifer Oyama, Audrey Magazine
30 picture book ideas in 30 days?
Are you CRAZY?
Oh wait. You’re a writer. OF COURSE you’re nuts!
And I’m a writer, too. Which means we’re both in the same boat.
Tara asked me to give you some words of advice as you hunker down for that final idea for Day 30 of the 2009 PiBoldMo–Picture Book Idea Month!
I thought I’d talk a bit about my “other” job to give you some ideal inspiration! In addition to my YA novels and picture books, I am also a TV writer. I’ve written for NBC’s The West Wing, FOX’s Tru Calling, and currently The SyFy Channel’s Eureka.
As a working TV writer in Hollywood, I have to come up with ideas every single day. In fact, I have to come up with DOZENS of ideas every single hour of every single day when I’m working on a TV show.
Here’s how most scripted TV shows work: several writers are hired to literally sit around in a room called “The Writers’ Room” all day long and come up with ideas for episodes. Each show is run differently, but the basic day usually involves the writing staff discussing what storylines should happen in each episode, along with in-depth dialogue about character development and themes. It’s a really fun job when you think about it–you’re getting paid to make up stuff!
At the same time, it’s also a really TOUGH job. You can get burned out very easily when trying to brainstorm episode storylines and figuring out which character does what and why. It’s often like solving a puzzle–there’s a ton of logic and plausibility that you have to consider when pitching ideas.
I’ve learned a lot from having worked in TV about how to brainstorm effectively when it comes to ideas. Of course the sky’s the limit when it comes to brainstorming–anything from a pebble on the beach to a squirrel running across the street to the cranky lady standing in front of you in line at the bank can lead to an amazing story idea for your picture book.
But a cool image, compelling character, or interesting conflict isn’t enough to create a fully-fleshed out idea. You have to combine all three areas–image, character, conflict–into one idea in order to have a viable story for a potential picture book.
As a TV writer, I was constantly told that story equals intention plus obstacle. Memorize this formula!
INTENTION + OBSTACLE = STORY
In other words, your main character has an INTENTION. But there is an OBSTACLE standing in your character’s way. This creates CONFLICT… which is another way of saying STORY! Ah ha! So STORY EQUALS CONFLICT! And how that character overcomes that obstacle reveals his or her journey towards that end goal.
As long as you can make this equation work, you’ve got yourself a viable story idea! It’s actually a fun formula to apply to published books, movies, and TV shows to break down a completed project to its very essence–the idea. Sometimes working backwards and analyzing published books and figuring out their basic idea can help you as you brainstorm your own ideas.
In other words, try this formula on published books or movies etc. as a “warm up” exercise before you begin your own brainstorming. For example…
And here, as a public service announcement, we share with you the inestimable Arthur A. Levine, Vice President of Scholastic Inc. and the Editorial Director of Arthur A. Levine Books, taking a momentary break after a full day at a SCBWI conference:
Please welcome my guest today! Her name is Paula Yoo and she's a violinist and a children's and young adult author. In this interview, Paula talks about her musical background, her books, and the National Picture Book Writing Week, among other things.
Thanks for this interview, Paula. It's not often I get to interview a violinist who's also an author. Why don't you start by telling us a little about Paula, the violinist.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I was inspired after reading "Charlotte's Web" in the first grade - I started writing my own stories after reading that book. My first "novel" was a 75-page handwritten book entitled "The Girl Called Raindrop." (Hey, I was only seven years old at the time!) I actually mailed it in to Harper & Row because they published my favorite series, the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They wrote a very nice letter back saying I should try out for their children's writing contest. I remember being upset and tearing up the letter because I felt I was not a "child" writer - I was a "real" writer! So I think of that as my first rejection letter! LOL!
Fast forward many years - I was an English major in college, and then received my M.S. in journalism and an MFA in creative writing. I spent the first ten years after college working as a newspaper and magazine journalist. Journalism taught me how to write on deadline - it was a great experience. I then taught for a little bit before switching over to being a full-time TV screenwriter for dramas. During that time, I sold my first two picture books and first YA novel.
Tell us about your books. Are they violin related?
My first two children's picture books are not violin-related, but I still feel the lessons learned in these books are very similar to what a violinist learns. My first picture book was SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low 2005). It was a biography of the Olympic gold medalist diver Dr. Sammy Lee. My second picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low 2009), came out in July 2009. It is about the ground-breaking actress and first Asian American female movie star Anna May Wong. In both books, Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong worked hard at perfecting their art (for Dr. Lee, it was mastering difficult dives and for Anna May Wong, it was learning the craft of acting). They also struggled to come to terms with their own artistic dreams versus their parents' dreams for them to have secure lives. Often times, parents want their children to have "regular" jobs and financial security. Pursuing sports or the arts is a very risky dream. I identified with Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong for those same reasons.
My first YA novel, GOOD ENOUGH, was published in 2008 by HarperCollins. This book is based on my own life growing up as a "violin geek." I have often read books about violinists that come off as very "well-researched," but do not have the authenticity and "
The incredible Paula Yoo has organized the Second Annual National Picture Book Writing Week (aka "NaPiBoWriWee") event! The event officially begins at midnight on Saturday May 1, 2010 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday May 7th. In preperation Paula is posing writing tips and inspirational tidbits throughout April to get everyone ready to write. Today was my turn to contribute a quote. Check out the blog here: http://paulayoo.com/content/napibowriwee-2010-inspirational-blog-5-mon-4510 and find out even more information on NaPiBoWriWee at: http://paulayoo.com/news
National Picture Book Writing Week (aka NaPiBoWriWee) 2010 is upon us! Read more about it at event creator Paula Yoo's web site.
During the first week of May, writers will create one picture book per day for seven days. This event is meant to spur those reluctant writers who've always wanted to write for children but have never taken the plunge.
This is NOT to say writing a picture book is easy. On the contrary, it's EXTREMELY difficult and challenging to write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, an original plotline, and a unique character with a compelling voice for the picture book genre. Every word has to count. Every image and every action has to speak volumes in terms of theme and deeper meaning... while still being kid friendly, fun, and appropriate for the tone of the book (be it a quiet literary picture book or a hilarious, laugh out of loud funny picture book).