Now, I've attended literally hundreds of workshops, webinars, seminars, sessions, intensives and breakouts over the years and frankly, I'm usually not surprised these days by "how to write a story" material. However, during the Highlights workshop, co-instructor, Darcy Pattison, offered an approach that I found both helpful and unique. I'm going to give you the cliff notes version here. (If you want the longer, better version, you'll need to attend PB & J next year!)
Darcy is the author of many award-winning fiction and nonfiction children's books and writing instruction books so she understands story making. She lead us through an exercise in which we we TALKED TO a partner about our work in progress picture book story. We took turns telling our story quickly, then in more depth, and finally in enough depth that we had to really think about details and layers.
All of this happened without one letter of the story being written (or typed). Because we weren't committed to something on paper or screen, we could morph it based on reactions from our partners and our own reaction when hearing it.
When it came time to write, we began with a story that had been tested and thought through.
Guess what? The benefit of the oral storytelling approach surprised me! It shifted my view and my future approach to works-in-progress. Darcy mentioned she uses this exercise with students in workshops, too, and they also make great strides.
Innovative first grade teacher, Mrs. Sarchet in BC, Canada, takes the idea one step further and provides 'loose parts' for her students to build their stories before "capturing" them on paper or screen. Check out her blogs for more info.
I'm hoping Darcy will add this element to her next workshop!
So if you are looking for a way to build your next story, find a partner, or a pet or even a microphone, and tell it before you write it.
Tell me how it goes!
I'm pleased as punch to be a Special Guest for the fifth Picture Books and All That Jazz Workshop at Highlights. Every year, this Workshop receives high praise from attendees. The Workshop is run by award winning authors, Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski (also an author/illustrator) who focus on helping writers bring their manuscripts to higher levels. Here is the webpage from Highlights with much more information. A quick video below will likely get you all JAZZED UP. There are a literally only a few open seats so if you are thinking about it, don't think anymore -- just click TO REGISTER. Hope to see you there!
"Here lies one doubly blessed. She was happy and she knew it."
On March 9th, 2019, during the Michigan Reading Association's (MRA) annual literacy conference, I was honored with their 2019 Gwen Frostic Award.
I hadn't a speck of an inkling this was in the works. So imagine my confusion when I was packing up my belongings after a presentation and was commanded to the late afternoon general assembly by a dear friend, author, and MRA board member, Deb Gonzalez. I think her exact text read, "Get here. Now." She immediately ushered me to a seat in the front row of a 1700-person packed room. Call me perplexed but I didn't have to wonder long because about a second later, the Award was described and I was announced as this year's recipient.
From the MRA website: Gwen Frostic Award
"In 2006 the Michigan Reading Association established a Board Award that would honor a Michigan author and/or illustrator. The candidate must have strongly influenced literacy in Michigan in any dimension of literacy: which may include but is not limited to: children's fiction/nonfiction, young adult fiction/nonfiction, adult fiction/nonfiction, drama, song, poetry, newspaper, magazine or multimedia."
Sara Gwendolen Frostic was a beloved artist, author, and lecturer sharing "her observations of the universe." She was owner and president of Presscraft Papers, Gwen Frostic Prints, of Benzonia. Gwen was awarded honorary degrees from many colleges and universities, was inducted into the Michigan's Women's Hall of Fame, and was even given her own day, May 23rd, known as Gwen Frostic Day in Michigan.
Her nature-inspired art themes resonate deeply with me as does her willingness to pursue her passion for creativity. Her art is breathtaking in its simplicity, the way it engages the eye, and in its respect for subject. Through Gwen's art, we learn about the subject in its environment and like her printmaking technique, that subject is indelibly imprinted in our hearts.
The official Gwen Frostic website is linked HERE. I hope you visit and learn more about her and her work. PLUS, we now have a picture book about Gwen! NATURE'S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY, a Michigan Notable Book, was written by author friend, Lindsey McDivitt, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewan and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Feel free to add this book to your collection and share with young readers.
"The candidate must have strongly influenced literacy in Michigan in any dimension of literacy..." Although the Award language is past-tense, this moment has stoked my commitment to positively influence literacy in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I also challenge you -- writer, illustrator, storyteller, teacher, librarian, parent, and/or guardian of our most special people on Earth -- to positively influence literacy in any dimension that YOU can.
Thank you to the Michigan Reading Association Board for this surprise, this honor, and this challenge.
To Gwen! To children! To books!
images from www.gwenfrostic.com
A quick look at the magazine rack at checkout counters reveals that January is the month to clean up and organize. I'm following suit inside my house but it dawned on me that I should peek into my digital home, too.
Good thing I did because my online profiles looked like this...messy, cluttered, and disorganized.
Cases in point:
1. My Google Knowledge Panel shows a book with no cover image and my profile picture is outdated. I'm in the process of getting verified as a the owner of that Knowledge Panel so I can make changes to it. Wish me luck.
2. The SEO site description on my website was clunky and didn't reflect my current writing emphasis.
3. My Amazon Author profile was out of date even though I did revise it before the launch of STRETCH TO THE SUN in October.
4. My SCBWI profile was out of date. Gulp.
5. My Facebook profile? Old and boring. Needed an overhaul.
Thankfully, my Twitter profile was okay.
How do you look to the online world? Need a dustin'? I'm right in there with you.
No nonsense literary agent Linda Epstein offers up some thoughts about rejection. The format you see below is created through an app called Thread Reader in which all the tweets in a thread are stitched together so you can read them more easily -- like a blog post. It's pretty cool stuff.
Read Linda's thoughts and breathe them in. Remember that rejections are passes on work and represent opportunities.
Cheers, my friends.
Multi-published author, Lisa Amstutz, offers a helpful post for writers who are trying to traditionally publish their first book and experience long periods of time waiting for answers.
[Let me interject that published authors wait, too. In fact, I double dare you to find a published author that doesn't!]
Remember Newton's first law, "...a body in motion stays in motion?" It was meant to describe a physics concept but it also applies to writers -- pre-published and published. We must keep moving toward our goals. Lisa helps us realize there are many ways to augment the goal of debut and sharpen our skills and connections in the process.
What do you do while waiting that augments your career?
Opening a package from your publishing company is a complete treat. Especially when you have an idea the package might contain the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from your latest book. It did and I am over the moon about this one.
On the cover alone, I adore the detail on the tree bark and foliage, the sweetness of the bear cub's face, the rich sunny yellow behind the tree. And the font choices, oh the font choices! So many to consider and these are perfect. Artist Susan Swan and the design team at Charlesbridge have given readers a feeling of grandeur yet made the cover engaging and inviting. I CANNOT wait to hear childrens' reactions.
There are a few more sneak peeks of interior spreads HERE and they are equally awesome. Stay tuned for the book trailer currently under production with PookyHonk Productions.
I'd love to hear your reactions!
I've started a new FAQ series for people who are ready to start submitting to agents. If this is you, I hope the series is helpful! Click HERE and through the magic of my virtual gnome's hat portal, you'll be transported to the right place. See you there!
Recently, a client who is working through the stages of my Find Me an Agent Match, Please service shared that fear gets in her way of submitting. When we discussed it further, she and I were both surprised to learn she did not have a fear of failure; she had a fear of success. It took some time to peel back the layers of this fear but she was open to learning why she, a grammarian at heart, sent out query letters with glaring sentence construction mistakes and obvious typos. She had even made the unforgivable error of addressing a query to "Mr. X" when it was directed to "Ms. X."
Although her projects were ready for submission, she wasn't.
When I asked her what success looked like to her, she described a fairly dramatic scenario where she'd be on the road most of the time promoting at book fairs and presenting at book signings and school visits. Although this was exciting, it was daunting because she is a single mom of two children and because public speaking gave her the heebie-jeebies. We discussed how this scenario might actually play out. She realized she could say yes to people who had offered to help. She could find a balance between home and book life. And, she could send out submissions that reflected her years of work, talent, and her promise as an author.
Is fear of success -- or failure -- getting in your way? Take some reflection time and see if you can let it go.
Many thanks to my friend, Nancy Castaldo, for hosting the cover reveal of STRETCH TO THE SUN on her blog, Naturally Speaking. Nancy is a multi-award winning author of middle grade and early reader nonfiction and activity books. She's also an environmental educator, naturalist, and photographer. In fact, many of her photographs are used in her books. Here are some of her most recent titles:
I appreciate Nancy's work and am honored to have her share our beautiful cover!
If you are newer to the world of making children's books, you might be asking, "What's all this ado about cover reveals? The book isn't even on shelves yet!" True, but a cover reveal helps you engage with people who might be interested in the book and prepares them for when it launches. It builds excitement and introduces you and your book to like-minded people who might also spread the word for you (such as other creators, teachers, librarians, book sellers, bloggers, and in my case, environmental activists/educators, naturalists, and tree huggers ;).
Plus I'm just so darn happy with this book that I'm excited to share the cover! It's a looooong process from idea to book and this beautiful cover feels like a significant milestone to celebrate.
Check out Nancy's books and events. Her cover reveal for BACK FROM THE BRINK happened 4/24/18. So exciting! Your support of her would mean a lot to me. (That's how we do it in the world of children's books :)
Part one of this two-parter offered a small window into the Bologna Children's Book Fair 2018. Now I want to focus on what it means for an individual creator to attend an event like this.
I guess I can only say what it meant to me as a first-timer. Hopefully something will resonate with you!
Herewith are my takeaways:
Ciao for now!
I'd seen pictures of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I expected it to be big. I expected a lot of people making foreign rights deals and of course, a lot of children’s books. But I never expected so much intensity around and respect for the art of creating books for children.
Every time I pushed the turnstile into the venue -- called BolognaFiere -- it was as if I’d left a typical world full of typical happenings and landed in a special place that was created only for and about children’s books. Every person there (approx 27,000+ of us) came because they wanted to know more, do bookmaking better, and/or explore what was possible.
So what does it look like inside the Fair? Several very long and light filled-halls are chock-full of booths -- or “stands” as they are called there -- showcasing books and child-related products from all around the world. Ever wonder what the country Slovakia is publishing? Head to stand 22 C 4. Or want to see what the Scandinavian Publishing House views as its best new titles? That’s stand 26 A 68. Or maybe compare the illustration styles of the Cambridge School of Art (stand 25 B 110) with Changjiang Children’s Press (26 B 127)?
Here is a list of all the exhibitors and a map of the venue. Wow, right?
Then there are “conferences” – short presentations/workshops/masterclasses on many, many topics such as illustration, packaging, apps, translation, toy design, etc. etc. This year, there were 250 different conferences, many presented in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and English. At one conference, I heard a translator who looked as Midwestern USA as person could but spoke with a beautiful command of Japanese. Really, one could keep busy just attending conferences. Here is a view from my... um...refueling station.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s booth (stand 26 B 76) was a happening place and home base for book creators from around the world. Highlights were the Dueling Illustrator’s competition (in which two illustrators are read part of an unpublished manuscript and asked to draw an image for it on the spot, in front of an audience, in a short amount of time!) and showcases where SCBWI members shared their books and often, their art-making for visitors.
Here is a Dueling Illustrator's competition with intrepid SCBWI Advisory Board Member, Bologna Book Fair coordinator for SCBWI and author, Chris Cheng, reading the manuscript selection to two illustrators:
Here is SCBWI Michigan co-Regional Advisor and author/illustrator, Leslie Helakoski, during her busy showcase.
Also, the Fair celebrates the “best of” -– such as the best illustrations submitted for selection (displayed in the photo to the left) and gives out prestigious awards (Bolognarazgazzi Digital Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award, Silent Books Award, BOP - Bologna Prize for the Best Children's Publishers of the Year, etc.).
And just to keep things interesting, the Licensing Trade Fair happened simultaneously so we were treated to various life-sized licensed toys in our midst.
Fascinating books are being made and sold in almost every corner of the Earth. If we believe, and I do, that children’s books often represent our current culture and our hopes for tomorrow, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is an opportunity to see our whole wide world under one roof.
What does all this mean for a creator? For your own work? Scroll down for Part Duo.
Janie Reinart over at GROG posted about creating our personal mission statement. This exercise seems like it could be a bit "woo-woo" but that couldn't be further from the truth. Following our path starts from knowing where we want to go.
Here is my mission statement: to write stories that help children understand the world and their place in it, to exemplify a supportive, professional perspective, and to provide leadership and connection within the children’s literature community.
It's a little wordy but it works for me.
If you don't have a personal mission statement YET, take a couple of minutes to read Janine's post. Create your statement. Then post it on GROG and here, too. Okay? That makes it real.
Remember, we can change our mission statements as our perspective changes. And it's not graded or judged. This work is all for you.
Go on a mission. Yours.
Okay. I might be biased because Charlesbridge is publishing my forthcoming book STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH and I know firsthand they are an amazing team, but this post by Charlesbridge nonfiction senior editor Alyssa Mito Pusey is all-by-itself excellent. Getting to “I GET IT!”: Scaffolding in Nonfiction is shared on Charlesbridge's Unabridged blog (a great place to visit, BTW). In this post, we learn four techniques for tackling big topics in children's nonfiction. Many thanks, Alyssa and Charlesbridge.
I follow agent Jessica Sinsheimer on Twitter and she offered this great behind-the-agent- curtain look at why (most) agents don't give feedback (very often). (Parentheses are my own. Some agents do give feedback and some give it occasionally, but I certainly understand the spirit of Jessica's thread.)
Disclaimers: Settle in. This will take a bit to read but it's important to understanding the industry so it's worth it. And, forgive the wonky formatting.
Jessica Sinsheimer @jsinsheim Ravenous reader, lazy gourmet, literary agent + cheese-obsessed human. Co-creator of #PubTalkTV, #MSWL, Manuscript Wish List® + http://ManuscriptAcademy.com/welcome
New York, NY
Joined April 2011
Jessica Sinsheimer @jsinsheim
So it's very common for writers to ask why agents don't give feedback. The answer, usually, is that we're busy--but that's hard to grasp on a concrete level. Today, the lovely and talented @BenFaulknerEd mentioned reading tons, and out of curiosity, I did the math to compare.
This blog shares insights on the craft of writing children's books and the publishing industry, and supports creators on their journey.