Do you want to make 2017 the year you:
The real question is...
What's your target?
We must know our target before we can hit it. So, let's start by being clear about what the target is. (See above list and add your own!)
Then, let's visualize that target as a smallish red circle in the middle of the board. Maybe when we start throwing the dart, we will skewer the wall (yes, it, um, happens), but we will keep aiming and throwing. Soon, we will hit an outside ring, then an inside ring, then after lots of aims and throws, BOOM! we will hit the bullseye!
And it will be sweet.
To help you stay creative and motivated, here are several writing challenges starting in January.
Jan. 1-31 STORYSTORM with Tara Lazar. Formerly known as PiBoIdMo -- create one new story idea each day of the month. Read daily inspiring posts by authors, join a private FB group, and win prizes like books, swag, and agent critiques! Sign up is open now.
Mar. 1- 31 CHAPTER BOOK CHALLENGE (ChaBooCha) with Becky Fyfe -- write the first draft of your early reader, chapter book, MG, or YA novel in a month. Read daily inspiring posts by authors and win prizes.
Mar. 1-31 READING FOR RESEARCH MONTH (REFOREMO) with Carrie Charley Brown -- read and research mentor picture books. Read daily posts about mentor texts, join a private FB group, win prizes. Sign up begins Feb. 15.
May 1 -7 NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK (NAPIBOWRIWEE) with Paula Yoo -- write 7 picture book manuscript drafts in one week. Get inspired by authors and win prizes.
2017 PICTURE BOOK READING CHALLENGE - challenge yourself to read over 50 books and keep track with a handy list or a pre-made Bingo board.
My target for 2017 is at least one contract in fiction and one in nonfiction. To maintain my inspiration and prime the creativity pump, I'll jump into Storystorm and REFOREMO and will track my reads on the Bingo board!
What's your target for 2017?
I recently found Tim Fargo on Twitter and appreciate that almost all the quotes he shares resonate with me. This one by Abe spoke to an issue that is rumbling around in the picture book creating community right now: how to move your manuscript from "it's good" to "I'm taking this to acquisition."
Even though (or maybe because) we are living in what some industry experts call a golden age of picture books, competition for space on publishers' lists is fierce. We've seen a rise in sales, a corresponding rise in publisher interest, and deeper conversations about picture books as an important form of literature. All of these factors have contributed to more submissions in the pipeline.
So how do we make our manuscripts stand out?
Moving a manuscript from good to sold takes a lot of axe sharpening.
First, we have to start with an effective manuscript (carefully considered, fresh in concept, revised with a critique group as far as you think is possible).
Then, the real work begins.
Sharpen: if you don't have an agent or even if you do, consider paying for a critique from an industry expert who sells or publishes what you write. Find one through your SCBWI chapter, Kidlit College, Writer's Digest, Twitter kidlit contests, Kidlit411, Rate Your Story, Children's Book Insider/Write For Kids, etc. They are out there.
Sharpen further: try the suggested revision even if you don't think it will work and/or improve the manuscript. Copy the manuscript into a new file called, "It will never work" and just try it. Do NOT dig in your heels at this stage thinking you've already done enough work on this manuscript. The revision that moves the work to acquisition might be next! Transparency alert: this stage is my cryptonite. I certainly recognize the value and I do it, but I start out looking like Grumpy Cat's identical twin.
Sharpen even futher: read the manuscript to a new crop of target audience members. I'm not talking about your writer friends, your family, or your trusted beta readers. (What?! You aren't reading the manuscript to your target audience? Gong!) Notice where their sweet little eyes wander (ooops, need a revision there!) and where their happy little faces engage (huzzah!)
Sharpen even furtherest: compare your latest version to the published book(s) closest in feel, theme, style, etc. to what you want your published book to be. (What?!? You haven't looked for comp titles? Gong!) Really dissect that comp title. Type it out in pages, study it, tape yourself reading it aloud and listen to it. Where do you engage? Lose interest? Revise accordingly.
Is your axe as sharp as it can possibly be?
If so, your manuscript might be ready to submit. I wish you the best of success. Let me know when you get to acquisition.
Feel free to share other sharpening techniques, too.
1. New book launching in 2017? Are you thinking about a book trailer? Do you worry that you don't have the knowledge or expertise to do a great job? Check out this post by Therese Walsh, editor of Writer Unboxed (a stellar blog to follow, BTW) http://writerunboxed.com/2016/12/06/how-to-use-fiverr-to-create-a-book-trailer/
She shares about Fiverr, an amazing resource for all kinds of creative talent that you can contract inexpensively to do what you need done (critiques, logos, book trailers, etc.). Put Fiverr in your quivver of How To Get Stuff Done Without Doing It All Yourself.
2. Manuscript Wish List: if you are a cool kid, you already know about #MSWL and derivitives of it like #MSWL MG and #MSWL PB, but do you know about the Manuscript Wishlist website? What a treasure trove for querying and subbing. Book contracts are all about making the right match at the right time so check this site often.
I chose this image because this post is really about what comes BEFORE a steamy cup o' coffee. This curated content is related to the work we need to accomplish BEFORE submitting to agents.
Start with this fresh post Do I Need an Agent...by Giuseppe Castellano [from his website: Giuseppe Castellano is an award-winning Designer, Illustrator, and Executive Art Director at Penguin Random House; with over seventeen years of book publishing experience]. Even though the post leans slightly toward illustrators, it is a very thorough look at the agent search experience.
Then, investigate In The Inbox which offers online query advice from a smart literary intern. Although she hasn't posted since August (presumably because she is overwhelmed with queries!), there is a wealth of information here including a chart to ensure a query is ready to be sent: https://intheinbox.wordpress.com/
Another valuable resource is Literary Rambles that provides interviews and information on many children's literature agents.
Hope you find these beans helpful!
Content Curation is the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter. - econtent.com
Okay. Since this is #givingTuesday, how 'bout I give you some fresh, interesting children's book industry info? And how 'bout I do this each week? Let's try it!
1. Ripple Grove Press Founder and President, Rob Broder, offers some thoughts about what he's found, and not found, in his inbox since their origin in 2013. (P.S. it appears rhyming is NOT a sweet spot). This is interesting info about RGP, but also a cautionary tale for subbing in general. UPDATE: Mr. Broder reached out to assure me that RGP does not NOT like rhyming. Good rhyming works just fine.
2. Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest has nicely curated (see what I did there?) agents looking for manuscripts about diverse topics or by diverse voices via Twitter. Thank you, Chuck!
3. Dan Blank, an industry expert, posts on Writer Unboxed about what editors and agents really want. The headings alone are worth emblazoning on a sticky note.
Hope there's something here that resonates! If so, let me know.
Editors do not want same old, same old. Believe me; I've heard that message loudly and clearly at every conference and retreat. To catch an editor (or agent) eye, we must stretch into new territory which means trying different approaches, twists, mash-ups, and/or upends. It's the only way to produce work that has that "fresh" quality.
Look at your current WIP with only this thought in mind and create at least three new approaches for your ms. BTW, just changing POV doesn't count for this exercise!
Even if the approach doesn't sing, you'll never regret trying because you will learn something in the process. I pinky promise.
S T R E T C H!
Today, I'm offering you a time management tool that a cave dwelling, amygdala-focused person could have created. First, let me be clear, I have no judgement against dwelling in caves or being amygdala-focused. In fact, many days that sounds like the perfect way to live.
However, my world, like yours, is full of Must Do's, Should Do's, Want to Do's, and Should Have Done's. About a month ago, I had to get real with myself and realize my time management tool/s weren't working. Being a bit of a techjunkie, I've used multiple high functioning tools such as colored-coded Excel spreadsheets, I, J, and Kcalendars, and I even resorted to adrenaline-producing phone alarms.
Still, I puttered when I should have been plotting, I worked around projects when I needed to dive in and accomplish. And, finally, the Get Real Moment came when I crashed into a deadline full speed and narrowly met it. That's not me.
Remember that old adage that probably Oprah said, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten" or something like that? Well, I decided to shake things up and go old school. And it's working so well, I want to share. Ready to have your socks knocked?
Ta Da! Feel free to download and print out your very own Carrie's Work Grid. (That's my fancy name for it). Now here's the tricky part...be careful to follow directions here...write a header in each box. I know, right? Choose a bigger box for categories that require more to do's.
Mine are: NI (my freelance job), SCBWI, Books, YAC (a volunteer position I hold), Home, and Apt. (What's an apt, you ask? I own and manage a mixed use building so am busy getting an apartment or an "apt" rented right now.) Now, add bullet points for things that need doing. Add your own notes and hieroglyphics, and then Cross Items Off When Done! (ahhh, doesn't that feel good?!)
Low tech, high reward. You're welcome.
It is my observation that we get stuck in revision when we limit our thinking to good or bad. Those adjectives are judgmental, flat, and as oppositional as a tired two year old.
Why not try shades of BETTER?
Start where you are and strive to make the work BETTER using whatever criteria needs applying (e.g., better for my audience readability, better for the current market need, better for rhythm/cadence/lyricism, etc.). Of course, this means we must first identify the end goal, but that's very doable.
I challenge you to ditch the limitations of "good" or "bad" as they apply to your work.
Good? Bad? Blech. Better is...BETTER.
As part of a continuing effort to match my WsIP with publishers' interests, I scour new online catalogs for publishers that seem like a fit. Usually catalogs release in the fall and spring, so I'm actively looking at them now.
This catalog by Sterling Publishing is particularly informative because they provide info on the author, illustrator, and the hook of each book. When you read this section, you can almost hear the editors at acquisition discussing the marketing potential and sale-ability of the manuscript. Here is an example:
Notice in the author's and illustrator's bios that Sterling is not only listing achievements but is showing booksellers why these creators are a good bet. The creative team's individual and collective platforms -- which is an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach (Jane Friedman) -- are spelled out convincingly. These qualities are what made this author and illustrator attractive to Sterling and gave them evidence that these creators will contribute to sales. Of course, many of us won't have such a large list of accomplishments or as deep a platform. But even a tiny bit of backstory as to why this author chose this topic is interesting and gives reason to believe the book will hit the mark. (This tiny bit of backstory might have been written into a cover letter or query as well...)
** What is your platform? Can you write it out using Linda Ashman's model? **
The Key Selling Points may be the most important piece for study. Sterling is delivering on a digital platter the many ways this book and this author will appeal to buyers. They are giving bookstores reasons to say yes to buying this book for their shelves and talking points they can use to handsell the book to customers.
As writers, we can study the Key Selling Points and extrapolate to our own WIP. Picture editors and the marketing team debating the merits of your manuscript at acquisition. Does it have the potential for a large audience (notice how Sterling gives numbers of soccer players to illustrate the potential? -- again, good material for a cover or query letter)? Does it have opportunities for diversity in illustration or in storyline? Not every book must, but it is an important aspect of our book culture and most publishers are invested in creating more diversity in children's books. Does it offer a new take on a universal theme (in this case, the importance of teamwork and persistence)?
To land the deal, we want these hooks -- and/or others that correspond to your topic and theme -- to be sharp.
** What are the Key Selling Points for your WIP? Try listing them. If you can't, maybe the project needs a slightly better focus. **
Continuing the Hey, Coach! page tour, take a look at the marketing and publicity section:
■ National print and online publicity campaign
■ Blog tour
■ Goodreads giveaway
■ Local events in author’s hometown of Chapel Hill, NC
Which of these items above do you think the author will have a hand in? If you said, "All" you are correct. There will be support from Sterling, but the author (and illustrator) will be on the front line and behind the scenes making this campaign successful.
Just for comparison, here is the marketing and publicity campaign section for Tammi Sauer and Vanessa Brantley-Newton's fall release with Sterling called Mary Had a Little Glam. Both creators have a deep platform and Sterling is going big on this one:
■ Author appearance at ALA
■ National print and online publicity campaign
■ Included in Sterling’s Children’s White Box mailing (an American Booksellers Association program to mail promotional material to independent bookstores)
■Review copy mailing to organizations and websites supporting diversity in children’s books
■ National book tour
■ Trade advertising campaign
■ Digital focus on children’s book review and mommy blogs
■ Author to promote on her social media platforms and website
Again, lots of support from the publisher, but also lots of time investment by the creative duo as well.
Call me a catalog geek, but there is so much to learn from these pages. Grab your mug, your mouse, and see what you find. I'd love to hear your observations.
Consider my mind blown. A 54 page picture book?
Of course it’s a biography of Albert Einstein (On a Beam of Light A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky) and there’s relativity and quantum physics and atomic particle stuff. But still.
We are “taught” to work within 32 (or maybe 44) pages for picture books and then, wham! Chronicle Books goes and does this. The interesting thing is, every page needs to be there. Whether it’s a full page of art or art plus words, each page feels right.
Consequently, the book feels right. It’s a big topic...not just the science, but the book also captures the love Albert’s parents had for him, Albert’s frustration with school/teachers who limited him, societal constraints (#nosocks), how wondering can lead to understanding, and the power of following your unique passion. So many wonderful layers.
To add one more interesting layer to this post, you have to go back in time with me. Recently, I expounded to my critique group about word count in picture book biographies trending up (partially to justify my 1000 word + backmatter WIP biography) and that of course there are low word count bios like The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse (Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper) and On a Beam of Light, but most I’d read were in the 800 - 1800 range.
So hold up there, cowgirl. Did you catch that? I’d read On a Beam of Light at least five times and heard it discussed by Chronicle editor savant Melissa Manlove (if you don’t know who she is, you should -- just sayin’) before I decided to study it. In my head, it was a traditional 32 page, low word count book. HOWEVAH -- the word count? About 1160! And, pages? 54! It took typing out the text in two columns (to represent the left and right side of a book which is the starting point of my study) to notice the number of words and pages. In fact, I hand-counted the pages again because I didn’t believe my Word doc!
A book like this is like a newly discovered treasure chest. It isn’t until we break it open and take time to run our fingers through the gems that we fully comprehend the riches within. I love that I didn’t catagorize it in my head as a longer format picture book. And after 10 years in this business, I love that my mind was blown. Well played, Chronicle!
The term didactic refers to intending or inclined to teach, preach, or advise.
In today's market, writing an overtly didactic children's story for the trade market is usually a kiss of death for the manuscript.
Avoiding didactic writing or themes might be one of the hardest concepts when beginning to write for children. I get it; our adult mind -- either consciously or unconsciously -- wants to share what we've learned and what we know. We may feel that children of today need a nudge in the right moral direction. Or if we are of a certain age and grew up when more teaching-heavy stories were the norm, it could feel familiar and natural to write a story with a strong message.
However, I want you to succeed as a writer of children's books and these type of stories will likely not be acquired in today's market because:
1. a didactic story reflects the writer's ideology and unique perspective instead of allowing the reader to bring their own perspective to the story
2. a didactic story narrows the scope of the story to only the writer's experience instead of opening the reader to new worlds
3. a didactic story often has only one layer -- the moral or teaching -- instead of offering many layers for self-understanding and growth.
Great literature doesn’t tell you what to think or how to feel. It simply creates the space for those thoughts to happen on their own."
Write big, leave space, invite your reader in.
I'm drawing-challenged, but if I weren't I'd be registering for this Retreat before the chartreuse could dry on my cotton duck canvas. The (Days and) Nights of the Roundtable Fall Retreat 2016 is hosted by SCBWI Michigan. It features three tracks: picture books, novels, and illustration. The illustrator track has been designed by Ruth McNally Barshaw, author/illustrator of the famous Ellie McDoodle series and Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI MI (lucky us.) Even a novice like me can appreciate the leaps these attendees will make with an agenda like this! (see below) and with faculty like these! (see below)
4:00 - 5:00 PM Check in/Register/Illustrators will be handed an assignment at check-in (Draw a character) Illustrators should have the Quick Illustrator Homework (Mood thumbnails) already done, or do it now.
5:30 - 6:30 PM Welcome and Dinner all 3 tracks
6:45 - 7:35 PM Vanessa Newton -- Introduction to Picture Books: What makes good illustration in a picture book? It's all about the page turn. Surprises from working with art directors and editors.
7:45 - 8:30 PM Demo –Cathy Gendron--Traditional Glazing Technique Demo Cathy will take students from quick sketch and under-painting, through multiple layers of thinly applied oil paint to a completed illustration. In the process she will discuss color temperature and contrast, form and volumetric shape control, painting tools and surfaces, and an overview of different painting mediums and their individual characteristics.
8:45 - 10:00 PM Portfolio Mingle/Social Activity/Optional S’mores Party
7:15 – 8:00 AM Breakfast all 3 tracks
8:30 – 9:25 Vanessa – Character Workshop. What Makes a Good One? Shapes. Decisions. Likability. Using reference images. Includes drawing time: refine last night’s character.
9:30 – 10:25 Kirbi Fagan – (composition homework is reviewed in this session) Composition Lecture: Create clear, more polished images that read fast for a commercial market using color, value, perspective and more. Learn about my THREE elements that I believe are the formula for an eye catching, art director loving image. Use every element in your image to create movement and flow no matter what style you work in. Gutter talk, where you can crop where you just can't & type, what AD's want you to consider when creating portfolio pieces.
10:30 – 11:25 AM Cathy – Style vs. Voice: How do you think about finding your place in a crowded illustration field? 11:30 – 12:00 PM Assignment given: Find a character at lunch. Use this ½ hour to revise your character you developed yesterday, using what you have learned so far. Next, take your sketchbook to lunch and find and sketch another character there.
12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch all three tracks
1:00 – 1:50 PM Vanessa – Character Workshop Part 2: Action How does your character move? how is that related to how the character looks? How to add movement in a static character. Includes drawing time: refine the two characters you developed this weekend: Add action poses.
2:00 – 2:50PM Kirbi -- Composition Workshop: Draw thumbnails again after we talk about them using what was learned in the lecture. Tools needed: grey, black and white + paper any media (ex. markers, pencils, colored pencils). These "templates" can be used toward future illustrations, for example a triangle might be a person and circle might be a fish etc.
2:50 – 3:20 PM 30 minute break - bookstore and/or regroup, breathe, grab a snack.
3:20 – 4:10 PM Cathy – You’re not a dabbler or a hobbyist: How to treat your talent with respect and professionalism. How do you represent yourself to the world? What is the best way to work with an art director? How do you attract attention from the publishing world? How do you resolve disagreements and conflicts without burning bridges? How do you protect yourself from copyright infringement and what do you need to know to protect the rights of your fellow artists and photographers.
4:20 – 5:10 PM Vanessa -- Character Workshop Part 3: Design Design the world your character lives in – clothes, furnishings, atmosphere. How do these decisions affect the character’s design? Includes drawing time: refine the characters you’ve been working with. Add design to their worlds. Can they both inhabit the same story?
5:20 – 6:10 PM Kirbi – Color Lecture: Creating cohesive harmonious color schemes, limited color schemes and how to steal other people’s color schemes. Learn how using reflective color can add life to your work. Make smart choices when choosing colors in your main character. Learn why green is the devil. Dividing your composition up by color temperature to increase readability. Problem solving with color with these questions, in this order: is it the right value? Temperature? Saturation? Hue?
6:15 – 7:00 PM Dinner all three tracks
7:20 – 8:20 PM Demo - Kirbi reviews the art piece you sent in with retreat registration. Kirbi paints over the images digitally to show how the techniques in her lectures can be applied.
7:15 – 8:00 AM Breakfast for all
8:30 – 9:25 AM Vanessa – Putting It All Together: Design, characters, the world in your book. Illustrating someone else’s words.
9:30 – 10:25 AM Cathy – Mechanics: What does a thumbnail, rough sketch, presentation sketch and color sketch look like and which one do you create at each stage of a project? How do you streamline the parts of your art making process to save time (and money)?
10:30 – 11:25 AM Vanessa, Kirbi, Cathy: Group critiques
11:30 – 12: 00 PM Vanessa: Motivational send-off
12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch all three tracks, goodbyes, announce winner of mentorship
Checkout at 1:00 PM
Don't tarry. Register today -- before I change my mind, pick up a paint brush, and join you.
I've been a soccer mom for 17 years which means I've watched (and coached) a LOT of soccer games. I love the moment shown here when competition is transcended by compassion and respect.
I also love these moments within the children's book industry, another highly competitive endeavor. Even when Writer A knows that Writer B sitting next to her at the critique table might be published before she is, Writer A is suprisingly willing to share what she knows about craft, editors, agents, art directors, publishing houses, how to move to the next level, etc. This sharing happens at Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) events and it happened this past week at the fantastic WOW Retreat hosted by writer Kristen Fulton. She opened the Retreat by sharing her remarkable story from veterinarian to cancer survivor to children's book writer with multi-book deals -- all within a few years -- and mindfully set the tone for generosity at the Retreat. This tone continued throughout the week and was passed between writer, agent, and editor.
When competition could call the shots, writers can choose to lend a hand. When writers are generous, great things happen.
The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, a nonprofit land conservation organization, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Their 2016 Storybook Hike Series is such a fun way to celebrate this milestone. They hosted me and A Warm Winter Tale at their Kalamazoo preserve on February 27, 2016 and I had a blast!
The intent of our storybook hikes is to introduce nature to children in a fun and engaging way, that also supports their language arts development and their love of books.
The book had been laminated and stationed throughout the trail. We stopped to read each page, digest the wonderful illustrations by Christina Wald, and learn about how animals adapt to keep warm in the cold weather. Sunny skies, happy children, nature = a perfect day!
Laura Backes, former children's book editor and now co-founder of Children's Book Insider, wrote a helpful article in their newsletter about the perennial topic of leaving room for illustrations. I've blogged about the "why" of this concept before and now Laura's perfect algorhythm for "how" to keep word count down follows. To read the full newsletter and access all of their publications and resources, consider becoming a member of Children's Book Insider.
"Leave lots of room for illustrations. I mean LOTS of room. This is the best way to cut down your number of words, and the hardest thing for most writers to do (unless you're also an illustrator, in which case you've got an advantage here). First, study books with short texts and see how much of the story is contained within the pictures. Then write your first draft, forgetting about word count. As you revise, think about what each illustration might look like. It helps to create a 32-page "dummy" book and put your text on 26-28 pages (leave the other pages blank for title page, copyright, end pages, etc.). * HERE IS THE EXCITING PART! Then write a description of each illustration, or sketch one out (don't worry, no one will see this but you). Now, what do you say in the text that's also depicted in the pictures? Take it out of the text. It doesn't need to be stated twice. Kids are looking at the illustrations while an adult is reading the words, so they'll get that information."
And let me tell you, IT WORKS! Kaboom! Useless words are out! Try it and let me know how it works for you!
This blog shares insights on the craft of writing children's books and the publishing industry, and supports creators on their journey.