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.
You may know that my next book releases in October, 2018. I’ve been working on a publicity platform, discovering lots of neat ways to let folks know about the book and myself. However, I discovered that, though I’ve been very active in the children’s book industry for a decade (yikes) and have promoted two other books, I know my newest book could use a fresh perspective.
I was thrilled when my friend, colleague, and general smartypants gal Deb Gonzalez contacted me to be part of her new on-line publicity course suitable for published and prepublished authors and illustrators. Preparing for presenting my part of this course has helped me prepare my own publicity. That's a lot of 'p' sounds but still, win, win!
Here are the pieces I know my publicity campaign needs. I need to:
I desire all these things, and yet I have limited funds and time to devote to developing this campaign.
Where should I start? Where should anyone start? We need a plan, Stan! Let’s set some practical, affordable, and achievable goals. Let’s devise a strategy by asking guidance from professionals who know what to do. Let’s take some action! That’s what Path to Promotion: A Six-Week Online Book Publicity Course is all about.
Together, we will navigate our way down the Path to Promotion.
Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity preparation process, and to clarify steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. In this session, we’ll explore topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others. At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the quest to make a splash in the world.
Here’s how the Path to Promotion 6-week course works:
Join us, won’t you?
For more information, contact Deb Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deb’s Bio: Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects. She's the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming non-fiction picture book Play Like a Girl: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). A transplanted Texan, Debbie now calls beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan home where she lives with her husband John and spunky pup, Missy. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Submissions are now open for the March 2018 edition of the Happy Book Birthday program.
This new SCBWI program invites all members to celebrate and promote their newly published work in the same month the book is released.
From SCBWI: On the first Monday of each month, we will display all of the books together on our beautiful Book Birthday page and advertise them through our social media channels.
Each Book Birthday announcement will remain up on our site for two weeks. We hope that all of our traditionally and independently published members will take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate their achievement and launch their work into the book-buying community.
The first Book Birthday will be for all books published in February 2018, launching February 1.
We are currently accepting submissions for the March 2018 Book Birthday.
Only authors and illustrators with books published in March will be able to participate this month, but we will have Book Birthdays for every following month.
On February 5th, members with March books can start submitting their information. The deadline is February 20th, no exceptions.
Please gather the following information:
1.) Title of book
2.) Name of author and/or illustrator
3.) Image of book cover (.jpg or .png). Name the file the full title of your book, for example “What_Girls_Are_Made_Of.jpg”
4.) Summary or statement about your book, 25 words or less
Send this information to email@example.com.
Want to see the January books? Click HERE!
Happy (Book) Birthday!
Anyone who hangs around me long enough will hear me say, "You have to ask for what you want."
I don't mean this in a self-serving way. What I mean is that the universe is busy. There are lots of people and creatures and big things going on all the darn time. (Sort of like parenting, right?) So I think it's okay to ask the universe to focus on a particular want. I think it's okay to call some attention to it.
The first part of asking for what we want is putting words around the want because we have to know what we want before we can ask for it. This can take some time to figure out and some practice. I know I have it right when I ask the universe (or the car dealer or husband guy or airline worker) for what I want and the answer is an easy "yes," or "I can do that," or "sure, I can make that work."
Sometimes I'm surprised how easy it is. And if I never ask, I'll NEVER receive exactly what I want.
Try it. Ask for what you want. It just might be what the universe wants to give you.
Have you faced rejection on your picture book manuscript/s lately?
Know that subjectivity ALWAYS plays a role in this. What one editor or agent loves another might not (and in this crowded market, 'loving' is almost always a prerequisite for acquisition). Also know that there is nothing you can do about subjectivity.
However, there are many other reasons that rejection might be popping up and these reasons might be fixable. Instead of pouting or giving up or trashing a good idea out of frustration or saying "it must be THEM and not my work!" (I've NEVER done any of those things, nuh uh), become a detective and piece together some clues as to why this might be happening.
So what about the clues?
Let's look at the following submission tips from the Rutgers University Council on Children One-on-One Plus Conference. To be part of this mentoring-based conference, a creator needs to submit work and have it selected. Check out their insights about why certain picture books were not selected last year. For more information on the RUCCs One-on-One Plus Conference, click here.
Apply these clues to currently published mentor texts and you'll see patterns emerge. Study these patterns and you'll see where you can improve your picture book manuscript and resubmit.
C'mon Sherlock. You got this.
What are the clues you use, my picture book writer friends?
We all want to be the conductor of our manuscripts. We want them to reflect our creativity, our voice, our idea.
However, picture books are not solo pieces. Text plays with illustrations. Illustrations play with text. So, what happens when, as writers, we feel we need to offer something that is not text but sets the stage, provides an orientation, and/or shares our vision?
We learn writers have an option to do this through short notes included in the manuscript. Called 'art notes' or 'illustrator notes,' they are meant for initial readers (critiquers, agents and/or editors) but won't stay in the manuscript after it is illustrated.
HOWEVER, after we've begun to receive critiques and listen to agents and editors speak about what they want to see in manuscripts, we quickly realize these readers' opinions about art notes can be as unique as they are. Some, like vice president and publisher Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster), clearly feel it is "not the writers' job to control what happens with illustrations." Read author Barb Rosenstock's interview with Ms. Johnston at Picture Book Builders blog. Bottom line: art notes could be a kiss of death for a manuscript submitted to Ms. Johnston. The text must stand alone.
However, Brett Duquette, senior editor at Little Bee Books, has a slightly different viewpoint. (Sterling publishes about 40 books a year and most are picture books.) Mr. Duquette encourages writers to submit manuscripts showing page turns and art notes where they are deemed crucial. He wants writers to show their vision of the story, but also trust the editor to "get it." Bottom line: judicious imperative-only art notes are acceptable and page turn indications are encouraged.
And, although she admits she might be unique in this viewpoint, Carol Hinz, editorial director of Lerner imprints Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, likes pagination in her manuscripts. Read her recent blog post to learn why.
Going one step deeper with art notes, what do we do when our text:
* doesn't reflect the full story we've envisioned?
* is in cognitive dissonance with illustrations?
* is limited or non-existent?
Remember that submitting a cover note including a well-crafted logline/blurb can provide enough information to replace art notes. While we don't have access to authors' cover notes, we can research blurbs as mentor texts...
If your text doesn't reflect the full story? Try this blurb for SNAPPSY DID NOT INTEND TO BE IN THIS BOOK (Falakato/Miller published by Viking Children's). This is a book-length sparring match between exasperated alligator Snappsy and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy and ignores his pleas to scram.
Text is in cognitive dissonance with illustrations? Try this blurb for QUIT CALLING ME A MONSTER! (Jory/Shea Random House BFYR) A pear-shaped, purple-fur-covered creature speaks directly to listeners. “I’m no monster!” This not-a-monster’s appearance and behavior belie his message.
Limited or non-existent text? How about this blurb for FISH (Liam Francis published by Roaring Brook/Porter) In this nearly wordless book, a boy and his dog go fishing and pull in not a fish but a large letter F. I soon follows, then S. The boy, after reeling in a disappointing letter Q, is then pulled underwater for a mini-adventure.
Michigan author Shutta Crum says this about art notes for her adorable nearly wordless book, MINE (illustrated by Patrice Barton published by Alfred A. Knopf) in the SCBWI Bulletin:
If you are an SCBWI member, you can log in and read the full article here.
After reading this post and others on the topic, IF art notes are still imperative for understanding an aspect of the text and IF your intended reader is amenable, this seems to be an accepted format: [brief art note]. Art Notes 101 includes: don't make a note for specific characteristics (colors for clothing, hair, etc.), don't demand (use terms like "consider" "possible" or use a question mark after a suggestion), learn a few illustrative terms like "vignettes" or "spot art" to describe your idea if necessary.
In the end, let's recognize that readers are people with subjective tastes and opinions. This applies to art notes, too. Learning those tastes and opinions helps us submit material that honors the reader. Keep going to conferences, listening to webinars, reading interviews, etc., and know what the agent or editor prefers before submitting.
Understanding our readers -- and letting go of our grip on the baton -- can make the difference between a pass or an accepted submission.
How do you use art notes? Or not? Opinions? Experience? Share it out!
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.
This blog shares insights on the craft of writing children's books and the publishing industry, and supports creators and educators on their journeys.