Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do's and Don'ts for 2010

I got two new followers this week. Boy, if they think all my posts are going to be as entertaining as the last one, they are in for a big disappointment!

Anyway, I now bring you "Do's and Don'ts for 2010"

Do submit your work!

Do give children's books as gifts (especially at birthday parties!)

Do listen closely to your kids for ideas.

Do trust your gut.

Do dream big!

Don't kiss anyone near a lit candle.

Don't nap when you could be going to the gym instead.

Don't let your four year old listen to the Rent soundtrack.

Don't take rejection to heart.

Don't buy books from bookstores that you already ordered from Amazon.

And whatever you do, DON'T play Scramble on Facebook. If you start, you will never have time to read, write, or blog again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Okay, Maybe I Can! (Kiss and Tell)

Okay, you convinced me. (Actually, the truth is.. nothing cheers me up like a good dating story)

So, let me set the scene. (BTW, I suck at exposition which is why I write for three year olds.)

Manhattan. Late nineties. I am madly infatuated with a guy named Warren. I haven't read Twilight, but I imagine he had the same effect on me that Edward had on Bella. He made me swoon.

One night we are having drinks in a candlelit bar on the upper east side. The bar has a front room and a back room and we are standing alone in the corridor connecting the two. The attraction is so strong that our wine glasses end up on a ledge and we start kissing.

I'm melting...

Suddenly, I am ripped from my reverie, by a busboy who starts whacking me on the back, neck, and shoulders. Even in my buzzed stupor, I think, "Only in NYC could I be attacked by a busboy!"

I turn to him and say, "What are you doing?"

And he says, "Putting out the fire. You hair was on fire!"

Yup, folks. It's true! Unbeknownst to me, my hair had caught on a candle flame that was sitting on the ledge.

Must have been some kiss, huh?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Can't Kiss and Tell

You know it hasn't been a good day when the glass of wine you so desperately need ends up shattered in a million pieces on the porcelain floor before you've even had a chance to take a sip.

I wanted so badly to get to read all the kissing posts I missed yesterday! I even wanted to post my own. Not a scene from a manuscript (I write PBs!), but an actual real-life kissing scene.

Unfortunately, though, things conspired against me. So... no incredible kissing story. Well, unless you beg.

And let me tell you... life is definitely stranger than fiction, because if you had read this one in a book, you never would have believed it!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Illustrator Appreciation Day

We've had agent appreciation day and editor appreciation day. When is it going to be illustrator appreciation day? Anyone?

Well, I for one would like to thank all the fabulous picture book illustrators out there who bring our stories to life. As Michael Stearns so eloquently said, "Picture book writing must be woefully dependent on the illustrations, else the manuscript is trying to do far too much, is the bore at the table who won’t let anyone else speak, won’t let the conversation come to life, and flattens the spirit of the evening."

Also, I'd like to give Neil Numberman a special shout out for sending me this awesome drawing of my three ninja pigs! (My publisher has not selected an actual illustrator yet, but I got a big kick out of seeing Neil's sketch)



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?

I'm having a hard time writing blog posts lately. My doctor put me on Zithromax for bronchitis and it has had some weird side effects:
  • Loss of saliva
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Loss of all ability to be funny
Unfortunately, this drug has a long half life which means it stays in the system for weeks. So, until it's out, I'll have to "borrow" some entertaining material, so I don't put you all to sleep.

Since it's Hanukkah, I bring you a little holiday humor courtesy of Comedy Central.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Jon Stewart
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Monday, December 14, 2009

Would You Want Your Book Published If You Didn't Love It?

Okay, just a hypothetical... I am not in this position, but I imagine I could be one day.

You wrote a book and you're not thrilled with how it turned out. Your agent, however, thinks it's marketable and she can sell it. Would you want it out there in the litosphere with your name on it if you didn't LOVE it?

NOTE: After reading some of the comments, I just want to clarify. In this hypothetical, the story is not CRAP and you do not HATE it. Other people may love it... perhaps your beta readers, critique partners, etc, but you don't love it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Goldilocks is Not the Only One Who Rocks

While Jordan has been out crushing the hopes and dreams of all the five year olds in town, I have been busy stressing.

  • Stressing about driving all the way to Scarsdale, NY for a school visit.
  • Stressing about getting all my Hanukkah gifts purchased and wrapped in time.
  • Stressing about what might come out of my daughter's mouth next.

I've also been mulling over the whole Golidlocks thing. I was not putting it out there for vote (it was really all a joke) but if I had been, Goldi Rocks would definitely have won!!!

Anyway, just found out it is Unofficially Official Agent Appreciation Day, so a huge shout out to my awesome agent, Kendra Marcus, who really has her finger on the pulse of the children's publishing industry.

Kendra rocks. She can take one look at a manuscript and know instantly if it will sell (and to whom!), and if not, why not.

She told a friend of mine, "This is a charming story with great characters, but I can't sell it because there isn't enough illustrative potential."

"Poppycock," my friend and I said.

Then two weeks later, my friend got an email from a senior editor at a Major Publishing house saying, "We love your story and your characters, but we don't think it has enough illustrative potential, so we have to pass."

*facepalm*

Maybe I should run the Goldi Rocks idea by her before I even start it?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jordan the Grinch

Okay, my daughter has managed to spoil Christmas for everyone in her class.

I got a call from her kindergarten teacher this afternoon. Now, you have to realize that Jordan is a dream student. She LOVES learning. She is smart and highly engaged and absorbs everything like a sponge. She is an all-round delight (whenever her mom is not present)

So, it is very rare that her teacher would need to call out of the blue.

"I've been getting calls from parents," Mrs. S. began.

Apparently, Jordan has been telling the kids in her class that there is no such thing as Santa and that all their Christmas presents come from their parents.

(For anyone who hasn't figured it out, we're a Hanukkah household)

Excuse me, while I go check the real estate pages. I need to move to a new town where everyone doesn't hate me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Goldilocks on the Brain

Sorry if I haven't visited your blogs lately. I have bronchitis (or something posing as bronchitis) and I just can't seem to kick it.

Anyway, I seem to have a Goldilocks obsession. It might have something to do with the fact that my agent keeps telling me, "Write another fractured fairy tale." Pigs was such a hit, do it again. Makes sense. Sound logic. Except that pigs came to me entirely by accident. I can not set out deliberately to write a fractured fairy tale. Trust me. I have tried. While other people have come up with 30 wonderful diverse ideas for PiBoIdMo, I have a list of 30 pathetic variations on the Three Bears theme.

Goldifox and the Three Hares
Tawnylocks, Goldi's Little Known Twin
Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

The list goes on and on...

My latest came to me the other night. I'd use the fairy tale to teach fractions. It was going great... until I woke up. What on earth could I have been dreaming? Goldilocks and the Three and a Half Bears? UGHHHHH.

Go away Goldilocks and leave me alone!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Faulty Amazon Logic

My husband got me Amazon Prime. This means I can get free shipping without having a minimum order of $25. I was able to convince myself that this would actually save me money. (Gosh, I am gullible) Think of all those times, I said to myself, where I wanted two picture books, and the total came to like $23.87 and I had to order one more book that I didn't even want just to get the free shipping!

Yeah, but now I pull the trigger on every whim. Oh, look... this penguin book looks cute. $10.85. Ding! Oh, here's another. Mr. Wolf's Pancakes. A fractured fairy tale. Need that one for research. $11.03. Ding!

Picture books are arriving by the day! It's no wonder my four-year-old is addicted to Super Mario Brothers. Addiction runs in the family.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Keeping Up with the Joneses, I Mean... the Kids!

One of my favorite commercials growing up was this:

A ten-year-old boy goes off to sleep-away camp. His parents are home crying. The neighbor asks, "What's the matter? Do you miss your son?" They answer, "No, we can't program our VCR without him!" CUT TO: Parents go out and buy a new easy-to-program VCR. CUT AGAIN: Kid is reading a letter at camp and starts to cry. Friend says, "What's the matter? Are you homesick?" He answers, "No, but my parents don't need me anymore!"

This commercial really hit home! Time and time again, I would ask my Dad to tape a show only to come home and find out he had accidentally set it for AM instead of PM or he had had the TV set on the wrong channel and had recorded fuzz.

Now, I am the ancient imbecile. My kids are way ahead of me. At three and a half, my daughter had to show me how to take photos with my cell phone. And now, in kindergarten, she not only has a blog, but she got a vlog up!!!!

Boy, I'd better get with the program!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How to Spend an Advance (that You Don't Even Have Yet!)

I've spent my advance five times over already. Yes, the advance that hasn't yet come. That one.

But now that I know it is coming (at some point!)

I made a list...

1) dive trip to the Caribbean
2) fancy new web site and book trailer
3) Highlights Foundation workshop
4) piece of original picture book art
5) publicist for the Ninja Pigs launch!

Too bad for me, my advance barely covers one of those things!

Being impulsive and unable to wait for 1, 2, 3, or 5, I picked a piece of art from Tyrannosaurus Drip, by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts. This book is bloody brilliant! (Naturally, it's created by Brits)

So, I will soon have the final spread of T-Drip hanging on my wall where I can see it every day!

Now I need to sell four more manuscripts, so I can splurge on the other things.

What are you going to do when you get your first/next advance?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bad Habits Sometimes Pay Off

Aside from refreshing email every two seconds, checking stat counter to see how many blog hits I've received, and viewing my blog for new comments, I have two other bad habits that Lisa and Laura may not have developed yet. (1) I constantly check my Amazon sales ranking, and (2) I google my name and/or my book title. These activities, when done in tandem, can sufficiently waste an entire day. So, often, when my husband comes home from work in the evening and asks what I did with my day, I have little to report.

But not this time! Today, between routinely reading blog comments and wondering why my monthly traffic has been at its lowest since July, I googled "Hop Plop Schwartz' and I made an exciting discovery! Bloomsbury has a new web site up. (This in and of itself is not exciting). Since Bloomsbury now owns Walker, they include a Hop! Plop! page... and under awards, it says: "Bank Street Children's Books of the Year- 2006." This was big news to me! (It was never on the old Walker site)

So, now, when David gets home and asks, "Did you accomplish anything?" I can say, "Yes. In doing research, I've uncovered a whole new marketing tool for my book!"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Shout Out to the Pre-Pubbed

There have been a lot of shout outs lately. Shout outs to the newly agented (Elana, Katie, SF, etc.) Shout outs to the newly contracted (Lisa, Laura, yada yada...).

Well, this is a shout out to everyone else! It can be hard to hear everyone's good news.

I know... I was 35 when I met my husband. Of course, I was happy for all my friends who were getting married, but it was incredibly hard not to envy their good fortune. I wanted it for me too!!! Where was my knight in shining armor? (Incidentally, I now know. He was on JDate looking for someone ten years younger than me!)

So, for all of you who don't have your first book deal yet, here's to good news in the near future. It can all change in a day! It only takes one call. One person to read your work and fall in love with it. One person to share your vision. That person is out there!

Scott Hoffman, from Folio Literary, recently said:
If you're a writer who has received personal attention or an 'encouraging' rejection from even one reputable agent, this is a good indication that publishing has become a numbers game for you. It's now just a matter of finding the right agent or editor at the right time. I'd strongly encourage you not to get even a little bit discouraged until you've received 50 - maybe even 100 - rejections on the project in question.

Hope all your dream come true in 2010!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Behind the Scenes Look at Joey Fly, Private Eye!

Did you ever think of trying a new genre? Aaron Reynolds did. He jumped from picture books to graphic novels and his debut book, Creepy Crawly Crime (Joey Fly, Private Eye), was just released by Henry Holt.

I was very curious to hear about how the two experiences compared. After all, a graphic novel is really kind of a PB for older peeps, right?

Welcome, Aaron. Did you and Neil Numberman communicate more than typical author-illustrators who are working on PBs?

Though we have talked some since the book came out, we never spoke once – no phone, no email, no nothing – prior to its release. There was no communication whatsoever, except between our editor and us. I have learned that sometimes the word COLLABORATION means letting go and trusting this fellow artist who is just as gifted as I think I am. It’s all still collaboration, even if I don’t have my hands in his paints.

Did Neil do anything that surprised you?

EVERYTHING Neil did was a surprise. I HATED his character interpretations when I first saw them…the main character has no freakin’ pupils, for crying out loud! How do you do a 96 page graphic novel where the main character has no pupils?! But, as often is the case, I came to see just how brilliant and wonderful and cutting edge his interpretation of my characters was. And as I saw more and more sketches of this world he was creating for these characters, the more I fell in love with everything he was doing. He was SOOOO the right person to illustrate this series.

How did the process of writing a graphic novel differ from the process of writing a PB?

The writing is much different, because I don’t write a manuscript, I write a script. Like, for a play or a movie. It looks like this:

Caption: And I was about to dig into a day-old corned leaf on rye, extra mayo…

Sammy: You gonna eat that?

Joey: Slow down, dustbuster. I haven’t even started yet.

Sammy: Just asking.

(A shadow blocks our view)
Caption: …when a shadow fell across the table.

Shadow: You are Mr. Fly?

Caption: The shadow was eight-legged and fuzz-covered.

Caption: It had the stench of death…or maybe it was the week-old aphids on the all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s so hard to tell the difference sometimes.

That’s a sneak peek from Joey Fly 2: Big Hairy Drama. I write the whole book like that, including stage directions and details about the action along the way. Then I break the scenes into panels, the way I think each shot makes sense for the telling of the story.

So, the writing is much different than a picture book. I rarely use an outline…I might walk into the writing with a couple key twists or specifics in mind, but usually the story just unfolds for me at the keyboard. After the story is done, I hand it off to my editor and we do a few rounds of revisions, just like with a picture book. Then she hands it off to the illustrator.

That's fascinating. Thanks for visiting Aaron!

For anyone who missed the super-fantastic trailer for Joey Fly, you can see it here. And come back later this week for a Joey Fly giveaway!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sneak Peak at Joey Fly!

I've been a little MIA this week. Thing 2 and I are both sick. The virus is definitely affecting my brains so forgive me if I am a bit incoherent.

Thing 1 managed to get a new blog post up though. She's so cute when she dictates. She says, "One time Junie B said... uh... Mommy, don't write the uh. I was just thinking."

Anyway, stay tuned. Tomorrow is the 19th stop on the Joey Fly, Private Eye blog tour. I'll be talking to Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman about their first graphic novel. Since I already gave Aaron a shout out for his charming picture book, Chicks and Salsa, I feel it is only fair to give Neil one too! Neil wrote and illustrated Do Not Build a Frankenstein, a funny and clever book with fabulous art.

From Publishers Weekly:
There's a new kid in town, and he's a walking cautionary tale. As his peers listen raptly, he launches into a series of flashbacks, all designed to reinforce the lesson of the title. Sure, he says, a monster of one's own is fun at first (it turns out monsters are not averse to wearing drag when playing dress-up), but pretty soon the monster's enormous strength and relentless energy make it clear that emulating Victor Frankenstein is never a good idea (“He'll chase away your friends... and your pets... and he'll break all your toys”).

Okay, before I go back to bed, here is the trailer for Joey Fly, Private Eye! This sets the bar for book trailers! I am saving up to hire whoever made it. It is all kinds of awesome!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Fifteen Years Too Long?


To wait to get published? I'd say so. To wait for true love to call? That is the question of this song.

David and I met on the beach in Dec 1985. His roommate, Steve, and my roommate, Carolyn, were brother and sister. They lived in Miami, and David and I were both down visiting for winter break. A bunch of us ended up on the beach one afternoon. I have no recollection. He has a photo to prove it.

David called me in November of 2000.

For our wedding, he had this song written:

Monday, November 9, 2009

November Anniversaries and a Giveaway

I have quite a few anniversaries in November.

Nov 3rd- This is the day I got engaged. My husband proposed to me in 2001 on the beach in Miami because that is where we met for the first time.

Nov 13th- This is the day I wrote my first blog post in 2008.

Nov 16th- This is the anniversary of the day my husband and I met for the first time in 2000, unless you count that time we met on the beach in Miami in 1985. (But that is a whole other story!)

So, anyway, in honor of my blogiversary (and another secret anniversary that I can't talk about yet! :) I am giving away a signed copy of Hop! Plop! Just leave a comment to be entered. Drawing will be Nov 13th at 11:00 PM. (U.S. residents only)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Me and My Big Mouth

Okay, I let the last cat out of the bag a bit too soon. I knew I couldn't be trusted! If you have secrets, do NOT tell them to me. Everything is fine, but I had to temporarily pull the previous post. My agent issued a gag-order!

In other news... Lisa and Laura are giving away a Kindle! Yup. Leave it to those two to come up with the best contest prize ever to celebrate the sale of their first novel, The Haunting of Pemberly Brown.

Um, how am I going to compete with that?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The First Cat is Out of the Bag!

Ready?

Lisa and Laura, everybody's favorite writing sisters, have a book deal!

From Publisher's Marketplace: Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker's A Kate Lowry Mystery: THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN, a quick-witted mystery starring a private-school sleuth with attitude and pearls, who receives an email from her dead best friend, to Daniel Ehrenhaft at Sourcebooks, for publication in Spring 2011, by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management (NA).

How was I privy to this information before the rest of the blogosphere? Well, stalking comes with its benefits. (Also, if you spill secrets to people, they tend to feel obligated to spill some back:)

I encourage you to check out Lisa and Laura's blog. They are hilarious and... they are planning a we-just-sold-our-first-book-so-we're-giving-away-one-really-super-amazing-prize contest. Who would want to miss that?

And come back soon if you are interested in seeing what other cats pop out around here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A NaNo Alternative for PB Writers


I admit it. I am jealous of all you NaNo participants. It's like a club and I can't join. You all get to "friend" each other and send each other virtual high fives! I feel left out.

But Tara Lazar has proposed an alternative for those of us who write picture books only.

National Picture Book Writing Idea Month- generate one new picture book idea per day.

30 ideas in 30 days.

I'm in!

If you'd like to participate, just sign in by leaving a comment on her blog post.

Hurray. We've got out own club!

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Need a Vacation from Myself

I'd like to be someone else for a few days. I am sick of me.

Last night, I dreamed that a publisher made me an offer. I was so excited! But then, when I read the contract closely, I realized that they were not offering to publish my book. They wanted to produce a new cheese with my title and character for branding. Yes, cheese. (It makes a tiny bit more sense in the dream, because in that world my main character was a mouse.) They said that if the cheese sold really well, they would consider printing the story as a companion book. Reverse merchandising. I was so torn... say "yes" in the hopes that the cheese led to a book. Or say "no" and risk that no one else would show interest.

Waking up didn't even make me feel better. I'm still stuck with myself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Excuse Me While I Go SCREEEEEAAAAAMMM!!!!

Today I took Joshy to a basketball class and had this conversation with one of other moms.

MOM: My son wrote a book and I was wondering how to get it published?

ME: Excuse me?

MOM: My son. He's in fourth grade. He wrote a fabulous book with illustrations and everything. He's very talented. I'd like to get it published, but I don't know how to go about it.

ME: Do you mean you'd like to self-publish it... to give it to friends and family members?

MOM: No, I'd like it to sell in stores.

ARGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This is What Makes It All Worthwhile

Writing for publication is tough. It comes with a lot of frustration and a lot of disappointment. But then something happens that makes it all worthwhile.

The other night I got this email from Kim:
I wanted to let you know that I read Hop! Plop! to my 5 year old tonight. She LOVED it! She noticed right off the bat that elephant and mouse are dressed alike. I hadn't noticed that at all. :) She also kept feeling so sorry for mouse when he'd get thrown off the rides. And, at the end when they hug, she joined in by hugging the book and called "group hug". The story is so charming and sweet! I'm going to give it to my friends with young kids for birthday gifts. Can't wait to see what you come up with next!

I've had a smile on my face ever since!

Thanks, Kim :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Post is Cancelled (Again!)

For days now I have tried unsuccessfully to get a post up. Type, delete. Type. Delete. Type, type. DELETE.

Why am I having such trouble blogging?

Is it too much caffeine? Doubt it. I am sticking to my daily 3-Frap-a-day regimen.

Is it because I started working out and I have sudden new-found energy? Could be... but wouldn't that make me post more instead of less?

Is it because I am harboring many secrets? I would have to go with this as my best guess.

This week, I somehow found myself privy to all sorts of information I am not allowed to share. This SUCKS. I have never been good at keeping secrets. If you are ever making a surprise party for someone I know, do NOT tell me. I will slip.

So, hurry up. Contracts, get signed! I want to get back in the blogging saddle.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Tango Submit

My friend Tiffany and I are both out on submission and every morning we IM each other, to ask... did ya hear? Here is kind of how our conversation goes (Adapted from The Tango Maureen from the Broadway Show, "Rent"):

[COREY]

This is weird

[TIFF]

It's weird

[COREY]

Very weird

[TIFF]

Friggin' weird

[COREY]

I'm so lost
That I don't know what to do
There’s been no word at all
Should I give them a call?
Or wait three more months,
Then pursue?

[TIFF]

Feel like going insane?
Got a fire in your brain?
And you're thinking it may be time to quit?

[COREY]

As a matter of fact --

[TIFF]

Honey, I know this act
It's called the 'Tango Submit”
The Tango Submit
It's a dark, dizzy merry-go-round
They all keep you dangling

[COREY]

You're wrong

[TIFF]

Your heart they are mangling

[COREY]

It's different with me

[TIFF]

And you toss and you turn
'Cause those form letters burn
Yet you yearn and you churn and rebound

[COREY]

Yes, you’re right, I admit!

[BOTH]

The Tango Submit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thing 1 has a Blog!

No, not that Thing 1. My Thing 1! I am the proudest Mommy in the world.

It was all her own idea. "Mommy, I want to start a blog," she said. "I'm going to write and write and write and when I get older I'm going to be a famous blog maker."

Isn't that cute? Did I mention she is only five?

As they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Now she obsessively checks her blog every five minutes to see if anyone has left her a comment.

So, somebody... please go leave her one.

(Just wait till she finds out about StatCounter!)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rutgers One-on-One Conference

Yesterday, I had my one-on-one mentoring session at Rutgers. My mentor was Margaret Woollatt, Associate Editor at Dutton. When I found out that Margaret edited If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen, I was very excited... it's my son's favorite book! (It also happens to be in rhyme!)

We started with THREE NINJA PIGS, but Rutgers allows 45 minutes for the session, so she was able to read and comment on three additional manuscripts.

Margaret is the kind of person who- unlike me- thinks before she speaks. I blurt. Our conversation went something like this...

MARGARET: This story has a strong hook, but I think when you write in rhyme, you take your story down a notch in terms of the age of your audience.

ME: blah blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah- blah, blah.

MARGARET: So, that means... you can afford to be sillier.

ME: blah, blah, blah, blah blah blah?

MARGARET: Well, you have a lot of serious stanzas. A lot of real conflict. Make it WHACKED OUT.

ME: blah, blah, BLAH, blah-blah. blah, BLAH BLAH.

MARGARET: You don't even have to be bound by reality so much. Seuss dealt with some serious topics, but he did it in a totally silly way.

ME: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... blah?

MARGARET: And make sure everything is relatable to kids. In If I Built a Car, Van Dusen says that the car smells like blueberry muffins. All kids know what that smells like. He's not just talking about carburators and spark plugs.

ME: Blah, blah, blah, thanks blah blah so much.

What I like about Margaret's comments is that they are applicable to nearly all rhyming PBs, not just one specific manuscript.

She gave me a lot to think about.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Need My Monster- Road to Publication


Guest Blogger- Amanda Noll

I’ve spent my life reading children’s literature, first as a child, then as an Elementary Education major in university, and also a mother of four.

I’ve had many bumps and bruises on the path to publication. I started writing for children when my oldest son was about three years old (he’s fifteen now). It took several years of constant writing and critiquing to find my own style and voice. It was also a trial and error process to find a critique group that suited me. Finally, with all the big pieces in place I was able to write a story I was confident would sell.

The initial idea for I Need My Monster came when I couldn’t keep my three year old daughter in bed. I’d just given birth to our fourth child and I desperately wanted everyone to sleep through the night. One night when the three year old was out of bed, again, I wished she had a monster to keep her in bed. It wasn’t my finest parenting moment, but something good came from it.

I wrote the story in 2005 and started submitting it later that year. I got some good feedback from editors and an offer to read revisions from a large company about the same time that Flashlight Press told me they were considering it for publication.

I decided to go with Flashlight Press because I liked their style, and I loved my editor Shari Dash Greenspan. She made the whole traumatic process bearable. I had no idea how much revision goes into a picture book!

So my time line looks something like this:

Wrote story mid 2005
Started submitting late 2005
Waiting
Waiting
Signed contract with Flashlight 2007
Waiting
More waiting
Book released April 2009

During all the waiting I was still getting rejections. I even go a form rejection 2 days before my book was released even though I hadn’t submitted it to anyone in more than 3 years.

During the years of rejection I had to believe in my writing and my book. It was difficult when everyone seemed anxious to tell me I wasn’t good enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Need My Monster


Every picture book writer seems to have a monster manuscript. My friend, Tara, is subbing one now. My friend, Tiffany, has one in rhyme. Becky and I are in the middle of a first draft.

With all the monster books out there, it is hard to come up with an angle that is unique. But Amanda Noll has done it with I Need My Monster.

One night, when Ethan checks under the bed for his monster, he finds a note instead: "Gone fishing. Back in a week. –Gabe"

What will Ethan do? He needs a monster under his bed. How is he supposed to get to
sleep if Gabe is gone?

Come back tomorrow to hear Amanda's story of how this clever book went from concept to contract.

In the meantime, I think I'll start shopping for my own monster. I'm not sleeping too well these days.

Monday, October 12, 2009

TIP: Submit! (Seuss Style)

I realize I am long overdue for a Seuss post.

Last week on Twitter, I came across this fantastic link: Slush Reading, Seuss Style.

Bloody brilliant, huh?

Not only did it make me laugh, but it got me thinking about all the people I have been in critique groups with over the years who write and write and write... but never submit.

So, this is for them:

They read slush
Slush, they read
Sometimes they like the slush they read

They read their slush
They do indeed
So if you want
to succeed
Here’s advice that you must heed

You must submit-
that is the key
Submitting is the key, you see

If you don’t
send stories out
You won’t get pubbed
There is no doubt

Can not, will not take a chance?
You’ll never get that big advance

No three book deals
Or royalties
No rave reviews
Or noisy SQUEES.

You must submit,
Submit you must
Or manuscripts
will gather dust.

So, if you want
to get that call
Submit to one
Submit to all.


NOTE: This could be better with more time, but my Bunco game started five minutes ago!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The A-I Relationship in Action: Chicks and Salsa


I could blog about Chicks and Salsa in any number of ways. I could talk about how much I love the tight repetitive structure. I could praise the lovely alliterative language. Or I could applaud Aaron Reynolds for achieving that desirous, but elusive, little twist.

But I am not going to do any of those things. I am going to focus on what the illustrator, Paulette Bogan, brought to the table here.

Let me back up for a second and set the scene.

Farmer Nuthatcher's chickens were tired of the same old chicken feed. So, the rooster hatched a plan.

The chickens crept into the garden where they took tomatoes and uprooted onions. That night the chickens ate chips and salsa-- though nobody was quite certain where the chickens got the salsa.

Soon the other animals are itching for some spicy southwestern cuisine.

The ducks dipped into the garden where they selected cilantro and gathered garlic. That night the ducks ate guacamole-- though nobody was quite certain where the ducks got the avocados.

Are you getting the idea here?

Okay, so I always chuckled a little when I came to the "Nobody was quite certain..." part. It's an amusing line.

But what I didn't even notice (my kids had to point it out!) is that there is a mouse in sunglasses covertly handing off all this stuff to the barnyard animals. Ha! It cracks us up.

I just had to email Aaron and ask, "Did you put in an illustrator note about that?"

Here's his response:

No, I never included any illustrator’s notes for the mouse stuff. I just thought it was funny that we never knew quite where these guys got the harder to find ingredients, but when Paulette read it, she decided to provide a visual answer to that question in the form of the mouse. Wonderful! And one more example of why the process works the way it does. If it was my job or right to tell Paulette what to draw, I never would have come up with that.

Wow! So there you get a look at the process in action!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Author-Illustrator Relationship

What relationship?

A lot of people think that picture book authors sit down with their illustrators and discuss their vision of their story. This is not how its done.

I would never have even met my illustrator, Olivier Dunrea, if I had not dragged myself and my huge pregnant belly down to Books of Wonder one day when he happened to be doing a signing there (and when I say huge, I am NOT frickin' kidding.)

The norm is for there to be no contact at all. Seem counter- intuitive?

I guess the theory is that the illustrator should not be unduly influenced. It is his or her job to come up with the visual expression of the story and the author just has to trust them to do exactly that.

I certainly wouldn't tell my OB-GYN how to do his job. But there is something very difficult about giving up all control to the illustrator. I guess that's why someone invented "art notes."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Straight Up... with a Twist

Nothing like a Sixth Sense or a Usual Suspects. Everyone loves a good twist.

But how often do you see a one in a 400 word picture book? I can't think of too many.

Actually, only one PB comes immediately to mind- Bark George by Jules Feiffer. (I won't spoil it by telling you what it is!)

And yet, editors and agents often say, "I like it, but I was hoping for more of twist at the end." I have heard this time and time again.

My agent said it just this week.
Blustery (code name:)- This one is definitely worth working on. Good multiple levels... friendship, loneliness, a windstorm/chase. I'd love to see more of a twist at the end though.

So, Becky and I brainstormed. And guess what? We came up with something! (Amazing what one can do when pushed.)

Not sure we'll succeed in executing it effectively, but we do have an idea to give the story an added element of surprise.

We're going to work on revisions. In the meantime. if you can think of a picture book with a clever twist, please share!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or titles is only imagined.

There was once was a picture book writer
Whose writing could not have been tighter
With an agent on board,
"Kung Fu Cows" was adored.
Her future was looking much brighter.

Then she and her agent conversed-
"No others compare to your first.
Not saying, they stink.
But you need to re-think."
Now that writer's bubble has burst.

Okay, so... good thing that didn't actually happen, because that would be depressing.

But let's say, for hypothetical purposes, that it did.

What can you do when your picture book manuscript is just not strong enough to sell in this difficult market?

My agent offers these general suggestions:

1) Strengthen your characters. This is a very character-driven market. (Sucks for me because I tend to write plot driven stories.) Make sure your characters are well-drawn.

2) Add layers. If a story has appeal on many different levels. it has a much better chance. For example a story about counting, pirates, and friendship has a much better chance of selling than a story that is just about pirates. [Guess that's why Hop! Plop! sold... it's about friendship, playgrounds, problem-solving, and math/physics (size, balance, etc.)]

3) Consider switching rhyme to prose. Rhyme occasionally works, but often it just complicates the storytelling because of the demands of making the lines rhyme.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Post has been Canceled....

Amy Allgeyer Cook cracked me up with her post title yesterday, Today Canceled Due to Lack of Enthusiasm.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could cancel a day? I think I'd actually like to cancel this whole week.

All that fasting and atoning I did yesterday has killed off some brain cells. I can't think of a single thing to post about.

Well, actually I should rephrase that. I can't think of a single thing to post about that would make it past the blog police.

I'm in an overly reflective mood. And we all know, it is NEVER a good idea to reflect too much in public :)

So, what's a blogger to do?

Guess I'll have to come up with a list of ways cheer myself up.
  1. Go see what shenanigans Lisa and Laura are up to.
  2. Read my latest story with a British accent (Always sounds bloody brilliant that way).
  3. Tell my husband, "Honey, I'm late," and watch the sheer panic that comes over him. (This might seem mean, but if you saw the look on his face, you'd laugh too)
Ah, I feel better already.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hop! Plop! - My Road to Publication

In Case You Missed It ...

Recently, I've been asking guest authors to share their stories of how they got their first contract. Did they have an agent? Get out of the slush? Receive dozens of rejections?

I realize if you weren't one of my seven or eight followers back in December of last year, you probably missed my own story (or I should say series) of my road to publication.

So, now that I have over 100 followers, I've decided to post it again.

Hop! Plop! - The Life of a First Picture Book:

Part 1 - Conception
Part 2 - Gestation
Part 3 - Labor Pains

I know. You're probably thinking, "You bum! Too lazy to come up with a new post?"

Yes. I got nothing.

But in my defense, I have had two sick kids this week. The first FULL week of school. And I had looked so forward to finally having some time to myself!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Those of Us With Parenting Troubles Are in Good Company!

Got this email from my mom today and realized, I am not alone!

After creating heaven and earth,
God created Adam and Eve.

And the first thing he said was "DON'T!"

"Don't what?" Adam replied.

"Don't eat the forbidden fruit,"God said.

"Forbidden fruit?
We have forbidden fruit?
Hey Eve...we have forbidden fruit!"

"No way!"
"Yes way!"

"Do NOT eat the fruit!" said God.

"Why?"

"Because I am your Father and I said so!" God replied, wondering why He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break
and He was ticked!

"Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit?" God asked.

"Uh huh,"
Adam replied.

"Then why did you?" said the Father.

"I don't know,"said Eve.
"She started it!" Adam said.

"Did not!"
"Did too!"
"DID NOT!"

Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.

Ha! Now I don't feel quite so bad!

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Advice for New Parents


1) When your baby cries for milk, walk... don't RUN!

When my husband used to go to get a bottle for my newborn daughter, I literally used to yell at him, "Hurry! Faster!" Now I have two demanding little narcissists who think they are royalty. Would you like a foot massage with that lightly salted buttered popcorn?

2) Never ever let your preschoolers listen to the soundtrack from Rent.

Unless you want two little imps running around the house screaming in unison: This is weird. F*cking weird!

3) Whatever makes your life easier at the time is sure to come to back and bite you.

It might seem like a good idea to lie down on the floor next to your child's crib and stay there until she is asleep to avoid an hour of bloodcurdling screams, but DON'T DO IT! Likewise, do not drive them around to get them to take a nap, and whatever you do, do NOT buy them a toy to shut them up while you are running errands.


I keep telling David, "If we had a third, it would be so much easier this time around. I wouldn't make all the mistakes I made with the first two."

His response is always the same: You can have as many kids as you want. Just find a different husband.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The HICCUPotamus, Part 2- and a Giveaway!


What Does an Illustrator Bring to the Writing Table?

As you can see, Aaron Zenz is an amazing illustrator. But this is a blog about writing. So, what I wanted to know was this: Does being an illustrator affect how you write picture book text, and if so, how?

I should have asked Aaron this directly, but being inept at interviewing, I beat around the bush.

Wow! I see you have Book Dummies up on your web site. That is so cool. Do you recommend that PB authors "page out" their manuscripts even if they are not illustrators?

AARON: Yes, I think it's beneficial for a number of reasons...

First, a major aspect of a picture book is the "Page Turn." It's a reality that is unique to children's books. In an adult novel it doesn't matter -- you can turn a page in the middle of a sentence. Pages are insignificant. But in picture books, "the page" is a Huge component! Where the words fall, how they are paced out, is just as significant as what they say or how they're illustrated. Granted, authors don't always have to determine where those page turns occur. Sometimes that's best left to an editor or art director or illustrator. But I have to believe that being aware of their importance, imagining the Page Turn standing there looking over your shoulder, is going to influence, to improve, the way a person writes for children.

Second, "paging out" a manuscript is going to help you think through the action in a story -- or the lack of. Although an author may not be creating the illustrations him-or-herself, it's ideal to keep in mind that someone else WILL be. Since people know that I'm a children's author, I get asked all the time to look at things they've written (You probably get the same!) One time I was reading a story that, at first glance, seemed perfectly fine. The dialog was clever. The writing was creative. The language was beautiful and engaging. But after a while I wondered... how would someone illustrate this? This was intended to be a picture book, but the first third of the story consisted of a father talking to his daughter as he tucked her into bed. They were saying great stuff, but there was no action until a third of the way through the book. "Paging it out" might have helped the author to realize... here they are at the bedside, bedside again, and again, again still bedside. Gee. What is that going to look like? Picture books are inherently visual. (PICTURE books - see!) Although they aren't making the pictures, the best authors still focus on the visual nature of the product they are creating.

So, there you have it- an illustrator's perspective on PB writing.

Leave a comment for a chance to win two signed copies of The Hiccupotomas. (U.S. residents only. Contest deadline, Sept 19th at 11:59 PM)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The HICCUPotamus, Part 1- and a Signed Book Giveaway!

Aaron Zenz, author and illustrator of The HICCUPotamus, filled me in on a little secret. He is not a huge Seuss fan. He felt bad about admitting this publicly, especially because The Hiccupotamus so often gets compared to Seuss. (I, myself, did it here)

But he does LOVE nonsense!

Here's what Aaron had to say on the subject:

I don't like rhyming for rhyming's sake. I really think if a story *can* be told without rhyme, then it *should* be. But I DO love nonsense. Love it, love it, love it. I think Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" is the best thing ever written. I had a sense of accomplishment as a kid when I memorized it -- like I had mastered a secret language. I'm drawn to nonsense. Most of the things I've written involve nonsense -- either utilizing nonsensical words or simply starting with a nonsensical premise.

"The Hiccupotamus," rhymed only because it was essential in creating the nonsense words. "There was a hippopotamus / Who hiccuped quite a-lot-amus / And every time he got'emus / He'd fall upon his bottomus." I really had no interest in telling a story about a hippo with the hiccups getting chased around by a bunch of different animals. But I was enraptured with the idea of writing a story with words like "Cementipede" and "Wellephant" and "Quickerish" and "Nightmareapy!"

Jargon has a very nonsensical feel to it. Also coming out this month is a book I illustrated called "Nugget on the Flight Deck," written by Patrica Newman. While I was not thrilled with the idea of drawing pictures of aircraft carriers and jets (not my thing), I loved the fact that the book was filled with cool naval-speak like "zero-dark-thirty," and "put on a zoombag" and "bingo to Mom" and "401 plugged and receiving." Great stuff!

I have another manuscript I'm hoping, hoping, someone green-lights soon about baby animal names. We know about puppies and kittens and cubs. But there are also great baby animal names like pinkies, squeakers, leverets, and elvers. I love that!

Also, if "Hiccupotamus" manages to do well, I have a sequel that I'm hoping someone somewhere would like to publish called "The Chimpansneeze." It's also loaded with tongue-fun nonsense words. Any publishers reading this? Any takers? Eh?

The Chimpansneeze? Sounds hilarious. If I were an editor, I'd grab it!

Okay, we have more Aaron Zenz coming tomorrow. In the meantime here is the GIVEAWAY:

One lucky winner will receive TWO SIGNED copies of The Hiccupotamus (one for you and one for a friend.) Just leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite nonsense word. Come back and leave one on tomorrow's post for a second entry. (Open to U.S. residents only)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blog Tour Teaser

Guess who is making a stop here tomorrow as part of his blog tour???

I'll give you a hint:

There once was a guy who loved silliness.
Nonsense words gave him a thrilliness.
You'll be quite impressed with his skilliness.
If you can't guess, I will spilliness.


Gosh that rhyme scheme was hard! I'm even more impressed with him than I was before.

Ready?

It is Aaron Zenz, also known in some circles as Z-Dad. Aaron is a super talented author AND illustrator, and he will be visiting us to celebrate the re-release of his whimsical picture book, The Hiccupotamus.

There once was a hippopotamus
Who hiccupped quite-a-lotamus.
And every time he got-emus...
He'd fall upon his bottomus.

I know, I know... he makes it look so easy!

So, please come back tomorrow. And if you'd like to check out some of the other posts on Aaron and his work, here are all the stops on the tour:

Monday Sept 7: Bookie Woogie
Tuesday Sept 8: Fuse #8
Wednesday Sept 9: Five Minutes for Books
Thursday Sept 10: Mother Reader
Friday Sept 11: Reading to Know
Saturday Sept 12: Book Scoops: (here and here)
Sunday Sept 13: 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Monday Sept 14: Jumping the Candlestick
Tuesday Sept 15: Thing 1 and Thing 2

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week's Winner- Thing 1

Within a span of three days, Jordan (Thing 1) started kindergarten and learned to ride a two-wheeler! What a big week for her.

Thing 2, of course, was VERY jealous and did his best to make her life miserable. He drew on her art work, knocked down her sand castle, and for no reason at all said to me, "Sometimes I hate Jordan and her stupid mustache!" (Mustache? I have no idea where he gets these things from)

As for me, I got nothing. No news from my agent. No progress on my new PB. No spike in my blog stats.

I did have a little excitement, when I noticed that someone Googled, "Corey Schwartz and _____________" (Insert my agent's name in the blank). Let me just say, for a brief moment, my Hope Tank was full! I figured it must be an editor. Who else would Google my name with my agent's name? And, after all, I am out on sub.

But, of course, it could have been anyone. And if it was one of you, PLEASE tell me, so that my tank can go back to Empty where it belongs.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You're As Happy Now as You'll Ever Be

The Intern wrote a fabulous post called Scientific Proof that Publishing a Book Won't Make You Happier.

She points out that many writers expect "rapture and eternal contentment" following a publishing contract. But then, when those writers get book deals, they "defer their rapture and eternal contentment to when their book sells 1,000,000 copies, or when they get interviewed about it on the Daily Show."

After experiencing much consternation over this, the Intern has finally found an explanation: the hedonic treadmill. In her words, this theory states that "human happiness can only fluctuate so much before an internal recalibration occurs, and one returns to how happy or anxious one always was."

I suppose some of you may find this news a bit depressing, but I found it totally LIBERATING!

It takes all the pressure off.

If PIGS sells, great! If not, it really doesn't matter! Sure, I'll experience a brief high when I get the call. I may scream and jump up and down and call all my friends. It might last days or perhaps even a few weeks. But in the end, I won't be any happier.

I'll still be worried about X and annoyed about Y. My kids will still make me laugh and they'll still drive me crazy.

What an effing relief!

Thanks, Intern!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Liar Liar

I hear a scream from the other room. It's Jordan. She's crying. Josh comes running towards me with Jordan not too far behind.

ME: Why is Jordan crying?
JOSH: She hit me.
ME: If she hit you, then why is she crying?
JOSH: She feels bad.
ME: (Stifling a laugh) Jordan, what happened?
JORDAN: Joshy isn't telling the truth.
JOSH: Okay, we're both lying.

That's his new strategy. All for one and one for all.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tribute to Caleb

When I was in kindergarten, I came home from school crying one day. My mother asked me what wrong and I told her, "A man named Vincent Van Gogh killed himself because no one appreciated his art. Then after he was dead, he became famous."

I was heart-broken. (My mother called the school and reamed them out for teaching five year olds about suicide!)

Last week, a guy that I went to elementary school with took his own life. I hadn't seen him in years, but we had recently reconnected on Facebook. I've been under a dark cloud ever since I heard. No matter how hard I try to enjoy the last beautiful days of summer, all I can see is his gorgeous smiling face!

So, this is for him:

Starry starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness of my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

For they could not love you,
but still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Caleb,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

(Lyrics from Vincent by Don McLean)

Rest in peace, my friend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

StoryQueen's Story

Today's inspiring Guest Post is from the fabulous Shelley Moore Thomas over at StoryQueen's StoryCastle

What it all comes down to is luck, I think. Luck is very powerful. That being said, I think it is possible to make your own luck.

When we finally broke down and bought a computer in late 1992, I figured I would start sending manuscripts out. (How writers managed before computers, I have no idea!) I had about six manuscripts that I decided to send, to different houses because simultaneous submissions were a big fat no-no. I bought my copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market so I could see who published what (and learned what a cover letter should look like). I chose editors to send stuff to based on nothing scientific...oohh, I really like her name! And started sending stuff out.
I received rejections, of course, all manner of rejections.
Dear Writer....
Dear Author.....
Dear Friend.....
Dear Ms. Thomas....whoa! Wait a minute!! Someone took the time to type my name??? Yahoo!

Okay, seriously, the tiny victories were sweet.

Then one day, on the simplest of my manuscripts, I got a letter asking to hold it for a bit, from the FIRST publisher I sent it to. Next came a letter asking to publish it. I was thrilled! The book was Putting the World to Sleep which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1995. There was only one change of one word in the manuscript, so not a lot of editing.

You would think I had it made. I sure did. Heck, I'd had my picture book published!!! By the first editor that saw it!!! I am awesome!!!

However, more likely I was lucky. I made that luck by not giving up, by being professional, and by not giving up. (Yes, I said that twice.) I thought Houghton Mifflin would be swarming all over my next stuff, my other stuff, my whatever!! But, after sitting on some stuff for a year and a half, they did not buy it. I was, at the time, crushed. I should not have been. Folks, this is the way it is. In order to publish a book, it must be the right book in the right hands at the right time. The magic three. I was lucky the first time. I had to make my own luck on the next eight books.

In terms of the rule of three, things are changing. I cannot get my books into as many hands (searching for the right ones) because fewer and fewer editors will look at unagented material. And, though I have nothing against agents, I have not yet engaged one. It is probably time to try and do so. Especially since I am trying my hand at longer pieces now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Starting from Scratch

Since I am on the subject of Tiffany, let me tell you one of the things I most admire about her as a writer. Tiffany is able to throw out a draft and start completely fresh. She can change the characters, setting, and format so that you can barely recognize it as the same story.

I can't do that. I get locked in. I can switch from prose to rhyme. Or change a character from a bear to a moose.

But I am not able to totally begin anew.

I can't clear my mind. The old version gets stuck in my head like a bad song. It just replays itself over and over, preventing me from finding a new melody.

Are you able to throw out a draft and really start from scratch?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Did It Again!

I used to feel sorry for people who don't scuba dive. There is a spectacular world down there. A world of brilliant colors and unimaginable beauty. And there are people missing it!

I kind of feel that way now about non-bloggers. Okay, not quite. But those who don't blog are definitely missing out. They are missing out on a wonderful world of supportive writers. A fabulous community that shares information and is an incredible source of inspiration.

So, I am always happy when I convince a friend to start blogging.

Please welcome Tiffany to the blogosphere! She is an amazingly talented rhymer. I expect her to have her first picture book contract soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Out of Sorts

I'm feeling itchy,
kind of twitchy,
new WIP is a mess.

Becoming b*tchy.
Things are glitchy.
Hope its PMS

Not sure what is going on. I usually have NO ideas. But when I do miraculously get one, I know exactly how to execute it. Now I have TWO ideas. And I am completely stymied.

I can't figure out what the style or structure should be. First person? Third person? Rhyme? Prose? For the first time ever, I feel like there are too many possibilities. It's overwhelming!

This is my STRENGTH. What do you do when your strong suit fails you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Otto Grows Down: Rough Road to Publication

By Guest Blogger- Michael Sussman

By the time my son Ollie turned six, I had read him piles and piles of picture books. Although a few were excellent, I was amazed at how many were mediocre or worse: mundane, unimaginative, and condescending to children. I decided I could do better.

Otto Grows Down was my second or third attempt at a picture book. After some rewriting based on feedback from my writer’s group, I submitted to at least 20 or 25 editors. Not a bite, despite the fact that I’d already published two nonfiction titles for adults.

I decided to spend some money and hire a freelance editor to critique the manuscript, and this turned out to be extremely helpful. I realized that I’d basically written a one-joke story about a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time. What was lacking was emotional depth.

Like Archimedes, my eureka moment arrived in the bath tub. What if time turns around because Otto makes a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born! I was so excited by the resulting rewrite that I had visions of a vicious bidding war among dozens of editors! It didn’t happen.

Once again, roughly 20 editors rejected the story. One editor at a major house loved it, but the manuscript didn’t make it through the acquisitions meeting—some of her colleagues deemed the story too complex and potentially scary for young children.

Finally, returning from a writer’s retreat, I discovered a phone message from Frances Gilbert at Sterling Publishing. She was prepared to offer me a contract, which I eagerly signed. She turned out to be a wonderful editor, and Sterling did a magnificent job producing the book, with fabulous illustrations by Scott Magoon. Today, Otto Grows Down is face-out in every Barnes & Noble in the country!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Otto Grows Down

Everyone is talking about time management lately. Jody Hedlund talks about How to Make More Time in a Day. Susan Mills laments about The Time Factor. Even Agent Rachel Gardner makes suggestions on how to squeeze your social networking into 15 Minutes a Day.

I, however, have discovered the real secret to having great posts without spending lots of time. Guest Bloggers!

Tomorrow, Michael Sussman will tell the fascinating story of how he got his first picture book published. Otto Grows Down is the story of a six year old who wishes that his baby sister had never been born. Otto blows out the candles on his birthday cake, and suddenly, times starts moving backward!

Tara Lazar claims that this quirky, clever tale Raises the Bar for Picture Book Writers. I totally agree. (In fact, I'm bummed that I didn't think up this premise myself!)

I would have thought that such an imaginative manuscript would have gotten grabbed up instantly. But no. Stay tuned to hear about Otto's rough road to publication.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Signed Copy

I really have nothing say at the moment, but in a major attempt at laundry avoidance, I am determined to come up with something!

Uh, let's see...

Did I ever tell you who my first signed copy of Hop! Plop! went to?

The dedication went to my husband. I had no kids at the time, so it was a no-brainer.

But the first signed copy went to my second grade teacher, Claire Cohen. She always said, "You are going to be a famous writer or poet someday." I remember her saying it and I felt she deserved to hear from me 33 years later when my first book was published!

Who gets your first signed copy?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

PIGS on Submission

I was going to blog about nothing. but Megan Rebekah already did that.

So, now I will have to blog about something. And that something is called How Much I Love My New Agent. (Yes, I am still reading too much Junie B.)

I love my new agent. She is awesome. She actually reads my emails and responds. She even calls (Okay, I know I am going to get ticketed by the blog police big time because this could imply that I once had an agent who didn't call, but it is NOT my fault if you leap to all sorts of crazy conclusions on your own.)

I spoke with Awesome Agent on Thursday and she said PIGS is ready to go! So she is sending it out to a couple of houses that she thinks might have interest and she is also sending updated drafts to the editors who already have it.

Now I just have to wait for responses. I'd better ask Jesus to give me patience. That waiting business is hard work!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My daughter was incredibly verbal when she was little. So verbal, in fact, that I never would have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it myself.

When she was around a year and a half, I said to her, "Jordan instead of just crying in your crib, can you kind of yell out and tell me what's wrong so I know if I need to come in. Like Mommy, I dropped my pac!"

Later that night, I was in a deep sleep and I heard, "Mommy, I need more milk."

I got up and made her a bottle. Just as I was falling back to sleep, I heard, "Mommy, my milk leaked." Yup, she really said leaked.

I got up and sure enough, I hadn't screwed the lid on properly. I had to change her pajamas and her sheets and get her a new bottle.

I was so tired. (Keep in mind I also had a three month old!)

I finally get back into bed and drift off and I hear, "Mommy, I got in a bad mood!"

Ha! Why couldn't she have taken after her father?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Power of Positive Thinking

Warning: This Post Might be Slightly Blasphemous.

It's WIP Wednesday. What work? What progress? As some of you can tell, I have been in a bit of a funk this week. I blame it on hormones.

I thought maybe if I blogged about something sad, it would be cathartic. That backfired. It made me feel worse. (Why did I have to drag everyone down with me?) Don't worry. I won't be trying that again.

Anyway, I am going to try a new tactic today. I am going to write about a book that I found uplifting: The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

A few years ago, I was going through a tough time, and I came across some mention of this book. (It was pre-blogging, so God only knows where.) The book sounded fantastic! The chapter headings were something like this:

  • How to Have More Energy
  • How to Be More Patient
  • How to Stop Worrying
  • How to be Happy All The Time

I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I ordered it from Amazon immediately and opened it the second it arrived.

And this is basically what every chapter said:

If you want more energy, just wake up every morning and say, "Jesus, please give me energy today."

If you want to be more patient, just get up every day and ask Jesus to give you patience.

If you want to... okay, well, you get the point.

I found this hilarious.

First off, I am Jewish. Second, it is billed as a "self-help" book. It should have been called The Power of Prayer, not The Power of Positive Thinking.

But as I read on, the book was filled with touching anecdotes of people who overcame hardships by believing in themselves. It was strangely inspiring. I was much more positive for several months. My husband even noticed, and I would joke with him, "I'm much happier since I found Jesus."

Now I just need to remember tomorrow to ask Jesus for a new PB idea.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can You Judge a Guy by His Books?

I remember the first time I went out with David. I thought he was good-looking, smart, and very genuine, but there was no spark. After three or four dates, things fizzled and he didn't call again. About a month later, I was invited to a holiday party and was asked to bring friends. I figured, "Why not ask him?" He is a very eligible bachelor. Surely someone else will want to meet him. I moved in three months later.

If I had paid more attention to what was on his book shelves, I might not have needed a second look. How many single guys have Six by Seuss? Add to that The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, and it should have been instantly obvious! Don't you think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kids Sure Do Have It Great!

Okay, now I feel horribly guilty for getting everyone depressed.

So, here are a couple of Calvin and Hobbes:






Ah, to be a kid again!


Making Sense of the World

Warning: This post has some sad content, so if you are highly sensitive, you might want to skip it.

Linda at Swell Books wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called Why I Write for Kids. I wrote a kind of dumb answer in her comments section and now I'd like to give it another go.

As a mom of two preschoolers, I watch my two kids struggle to make sense of the world around them. In particular, Josh with his constant categorizing. Pablo is a boy. Uniqua is a girl, right? Or his more recent, I think Manny and Diego are kids (Ice Age). But I know Alex is a kid because he has a Mommy and Daddy. (Madagascar) I don't even bother to remind him that I am a grown up and I have a mommy and daddy (because I want him to stop his rambling and go to sleep!)

Okay, this is where the sad part comes in. My husband was out with the kids the other day and they saw a baby deer who had gotten his foot caught in a sewer grate. The poor thing was terrified. They called the police. The policemen arrived on the scene and after conferring for a second, one of them came over to my husband and said, "Sir, get the kids out of here."

David heard the shot as he drove off.

My kids live in a world where the police officers saved that baby deer. That's what policemen do. They SAVE lives. You call them, and they come to the rescue.

I think I write for kids, because I still want to be living in that world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seeds of Doubt

Oh, maybe I shouldn't have posted that snippet. It's not that you all weren't supportive. Quite the opposite! People said such nice things about the newer version of that PIGS stanza that now I am second-guessing my decision to replace it.

I even went to so far as to email Casey and ask her if my newest version was better, and she said, I actually prefer the one with "succulent swine."

When did I start writing by committee? (My husband always warns me against doing exactly that!)

Why can't I decide for myself? Why do I feel like polling each and every one of my followers? Maybe because I am so used to writing with Becky? Whenever I am on the fence, she always has a strong opinion, so that settles it.

Maybe I have just revised this story for so long that I have lost perspective? Has that ever happened to you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teaser Tuesday (sort of)

Okay, so I wasn't planning on posting a snippet of THREE NINJA PIGS, but a comment on my last post got me thinking...

Suzanne from Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness, wrote "I just read something that said a good revision changed or removed every, single word of the first draft."

Whoa! My OCD tendencies immediately kicked in.

Every single word! Is that possible? Have I ever done that? Have I come close? Have any of you?

I looked back at my first draft of Pigs and compared it to my most recent. (Since it is a fractured fairy take, the structure of the story really didn't change at all.)

Not going to bore you with my detailed analysis, but here is a sample to give you an idea of how much has been altered.

BEFORE (1st draft)

The wolf looked at Pig 3’s stance
And noticed the black belt on her.
“Though I’d like a good meal,
I’ve gotta be real.
Against you I’d be a goner.

AFTER (Draft submitted to my agent*)

The wolf saw that he was outrivaled
He shuddered and shivered with fear.
“Though I do love to dine
on succulent swine,
I’d best get the heck outta here!”

As you can see, the premise stayed in tact, but nearly all the actual words have changed.

* This stanza has since changed again.

Tip of the Day- Less is More

Even Seuss says so: "The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads."

I think this is especially true of picture books. Take a look at your manuscript. Is every word necessary? Are there places where you can cut? Can you replace three words with one better word?

For more picture book tips, read Margot Finke's article, So You Want to Write a Picture Book?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Publishing Pains- Maggie's Monkeys

By Guest Blogger- Linda Sanders-Wells

I'm happy to share the story of how Maggie's Monkeys made it into print. The history of this book is that it took about nine years from when I wrote the first version of the story until I had the book in my hands. It was rejected 18 times in the six years between first submission and acceptance by Candlewick. I'd been writing picture books for about three years and already had dozens of rejections in my file, so I wasn't surprised when editors said no. (I generally keep sending manuscripts out until they've amassed at least 12 or 15 rejections. In total, I have received something like 250 rejections on 15 or 20 different stories, ranging from picture books to YA novels.)

This story, originally called Monkey Madness, wasn't just one of the manuscripts in the pile, though. From the beginning, it got more positive reactions than other things I'd written. First from my writing group and then from editors. One editor at a major house who was on my A list said she'd taken it to the editorial director, who thought it was too old for the picture book crowd. Another high-ranking editor felt the ending was too flat and asked for revisions -- and then took two years to reject the revised story.

Here's part of the story that I do think has value for other writers. The revised ending had a lot of fun elements, but it didn't feel quite right to me. It was a little too hyped up and pulled the story away from the family too much. I struggled with the decision about which ending to use when I sent it out after that, and opted to go back to the original. Since the editor who asked for the revision still wasn't persuaded, I decided to go with what felt right to me. I'm glad I did.

I was getting close to giving up on it when I read an interview with Candlewick editor Joan Powers by Robin Friedman as part of the research I routinely did into editors and their tastes. I was shocked to realize I knew Joan. We worked together briefly in New York many years ago (at Mademoiselle magazine, which if you knew either of us would probably come as a surprise).

When I started submitting, I had spent time at my daughter's bookshelf, pulling out the books I liked and listing who published them. The house that had the most of my favorite titles was Candlewick. But Candlewick only accepts submissions through agents, and I don't have an agent.

I decided to take a chance. I wrote Joan, not even sure she'd remember me, and asked if she'd read a manuscript. She agreed and later sent me editorial notes that were wonderfully helpful. I used her suggestions to revise, among other things making clearer why Jack didn't want to play along with Maggie (she's practically a baby!). I briefly considered going back to the second ending, but my writing group and my own conscience argued against it.

Finally, the call came. And it was like I'd always imagined. I talked through the details with Joan (and the offer was generous -- Candlewick is a very author-centric publisher, and I couldn't be happier to have published with them), then spent three days walking on air, calling everyone I knew and pinching myself to see if it was really true.