Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blogging Etiquette Question

Someone "unfollowed' me the other day.  I was so hurt. (I never claimed to be mature)  I mean, I know you sometimes Follow a blog and then realize you're not that interested after all.  But writers face so much rejection already.  We get rejected by editors.  We get rejected by agents. Now we also have to deal with rejection from our blogger fans?     

I have removed some blogs from my Favorites roll, but mostly because they weren't posting with any regularity.   

What is the general opinion out there.  Is it okay to remove and unfollow...  or not?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hop! Plop! - Life of a Picture Book, Part IV - Birth and Early Years

Hop! Plop! hit the bookstores on April 4, 2006. (nearly three years after getting our contract) Up until this point, pretty much everything went well. There were some minor glitches... oh, such as losing two editors along the way. But for the most part, we were pleased. Walker had given us a double page spread in the Spring catalog and we had received favorable reviews in all the major journals. We were sure we'd fly off the shelves.

When it came to writing, we had good instincts. When it came to submitting, we had the necessary knowledge (from simple research). When it came to marketing... we had zilch.

We had no skills and no clue what to do. I also, due to two very young kids and a recent move, had no local contacts and no time. So, essentially, we just did nothing and hoped for the best. For those of you with a book coming out, let me tell you, "This is NOT a good strategy!"

We sold 5000 copies in the first three months! We were ecstatic. What we didn't know is that after three months, bookstores return all unsold copies. Even if stores sell out, they do not reorder. Our sales ground to a halt.

Publishers are not kidding when they say that it is up to authors to promote their own books. If you are reading this blog, hopefully you also visit resources like Market My Words which are full of info and ideas on how to generate book buzz. If not, start now!

Thing 2 Ramblings

My three-year-old son gets very chatty at night in bed. Last night, the subject was death. When am I going to die? Do kids ever die? When I die, will you take care of my room for me?

I miss the good old days. When he was two. Tasha is a girl. Uniqua is a girl, right? Pa is a boy. Pa has a penis like I do. Daddy is a boy. Tyrone is a boy. Aunt Debbie is a girl. Grandma has a vagina because she is a girl. Miss Wendy is a girl. Is Jack a boy? Jack has a penis. Is Mary a boy? Pablo is a boy.

Life was so much simpler.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting Picture Book Ideas from Kids

Those of you who know me are already aware that I have a bit of an idea-generating impairment. I just hardly ever get any. Story ideas, that it. I have ideas for how to decorate my house or how to convince someone not to vote Republican. But I rarely get an idea and think, "This would make a terrific story for a picture book!"

People always say they get ideas from their kids. Well, my kids are as hilarious as the next, but I don't seem to be able take their antics and turn them into workable plots. Is that because I am not trying hard enough? Let me put some effort in.

1) Last week, we were in a restaurant and Jordan told the waitress, " I speak a little Spanish." Joshy, not wanting to be outdone, said proudly "I can speak a little karate!"

Picture Book Ideas:

How to Speak Karate- little boy takes karate and learns to count to ten in Korean (or Japanese?) Hana, dul, set, net....

The Three Karate Pigs- 3 little pigs get tired of being bullied and decide to study martial arts.
(too many Little Pigs stories already?)

2) I made my daughter chicken tenders for dinner the other night.

JORDAN: Mommy, I can't eat the chicken.

ME: Why not?

JORDAN: Because I don't like chicken nuggets without Ketchup. And I dont' like Ketchup.

Picture Book Ideas:

Circular Logic for Kids- How to outsmart your parents in three easy steps. (Jordan could have written this one at one and a half)

Okay, I admit it. I need help! This is why I always write with a partner. Becky? Melissa? Who wants to be in on a story with me?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happiness is...

I got tagged last week by Shelli from Market My Words,which made me realize, I really want to have it both ways. I want to be tagged, because, otherwise, I feel like nobody loves me. (Thanks, Shelli!) But I don't actually want to do these things!

Anyway, I am supposed to write down six things that make me happy, so here I go:

1) Scuba diving- Heaven on Earth
2) Signing- I think the only blogger who knows this about me is Jules over at Seven Imp's, but I have a Masters in Deaf ed and used to teach at the Lexington School for the Deaf.
3) Those rare moments when my kids are playing nicely together!
4) Starbucks Coffee Frappacinos- I buy them by the case
(Oh my God, make that f-r-a-p-p-u-c-c-i-n-o-s. I drink three a day. You'd think I could get the spelling right!)
5) Hearing kids laugh when I read Hop! Plop! on a school visit.
6) Having Obama for our President

Well, you can see why I am a picture book writer. I got down in 83 words what it took Shelli 525 to do! :)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Seeing Movies is Part of My Job

Most of our friends have young kids and don't get sitters too often. On the occasions that they do get to go out, the vast majority would choose dinner in a nice restaurant over a film. My husband and I would pick the movie every time!

Why is this? I guess because we are both readers/writers. To us, nothing is better than a good story. A film is a work of art, like a novel, or even a picture book. We love to get lost in a world that a writer/director has created. We love to analyze what worked and didn't work for us.

The last two films we saw happened to exemplify exactly what you, as authors, want to do... and NOT do.

1) Slumdog Millionaire- My husband read Robert McKee's book on screenplay writing and always tells me that there is a difference between character and characterization. This article sums it up well. Slumdog Millionnaire did a phenomenal job of character development. Time and again, the two brothers at the center of the story are faced with choices and it is their decisions that show us who they are in their heart of hearts. The author puts them in pressure situations and forces them to act. We clearly see what is important to Jamal (the MC) and what makes him worthy of achieving his goals. This is a MUST SEE film.

2) Last Chance Harvey- This movie failed miserably in our opinion. Dustin Hoffman, as Harvey, was a very passive character who was never really forced to make a tough choice. We get plenty of characterization (in the form of mannerisms, speech, attitude, etc) but we never really get to know who he is at his core and as a result, we don't really care if his dreams are fulfilled or not.

As an author, I see it as my job to experience stories in all mediums. Not just in print, but in film and in live theater. I guess that means I can save my ticket stubs and write off movies when I file my taxes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Picture Books with Letters, as in ABC's (or in this case ZQV's), not as in "mail"

Candace over at Book, Booker, Bookest, recently pointed out that "Z," "X," "Q," and "V," have not gotten the recognition they deserve. Have these letters really been given short shrift?

I decided to take a look at the picture book market and see.

Since I am now going to AA (Amazon Anonymous) to address my addiction problem, I set out for my local library. It was MLK Day, so the library was closed. D'oh! Had it not been for the fact that my kids were off from school and demanding my nonstop attention, I would have surely broken down and ordered online.

As it was, I returned the next day and here is what I found.

Z Goes Home- Jon Agee
Not quite as "Z" centric as the title suggests, this book wordlessly follows the letter Z home after he climbs down from the "City Zoo" sign at the end of the day. The illustrations of Z's journey (past an Alien, over a Bridge, into some Cake...) are absolutely fabulous.

AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First - Alethea Kontis
Sick of going last, Z demands to be first. Pandemonium ensues in this zany alphabet romp. A comical twist for kids who already know their ABC's.

Alphabet Mystery- Audrey Wood
Little x disappears from the alphabet and the rest of the letters go and search for him. This one was checked out, so I couldn't take a first hand look.

The verdict? "Z," "X," "Q," and "V," havent been treated too shabbily. If anyone has gotten the shaft, seems to me it's "zero."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Belated Birthday to A.A. Milne

Bother! Yesterday was A.A. Milne's birthday and I missed it. (Must have something to do with the fact that we were away this weekend for the fourth time since Christmas!)

I really wanted to blog about what a genius he is! Perhaps I should have been British because most of my favorite authors are from the other side of the Atlantic. (So are most of my favorite films and sitcoms)

I mean, what sounds funnier?

We ran to the supermarket because we had run out of junk to eat.

We ran to the supermarket because we had run out of rubbish to eat.

Of course, the latter. (You might want to read the whole post on my friend Laura's blog)

Anyway, back to my idol, A.A. Milne. I think Winnie-the-Pooh is sheer brilliance.

At breakfast that morning, Pooh had suddenly thought of a new song. It began like this: "Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!" When he had got as far as this, he stretched his head, and thought to himself, "That's a very good start for a song, but what about the second line?' He tried singing "Ho," two or three times, but it didn't seem to help. "Perhaps it would be better," he thought, "if I sang Hi for the life of a Bear." So he sang it... but it wasn't. "Very well then," he said, "I shall sing that first line twice, and perhaps if I sing it very quickly, I shall find myself singing the third and fourth lines before I have time to think of them.

This is going to be my new strategy for 2009. I am going to write really, really fast before I have time to think of anything!

Actually, that is kind of how JOPs work. Maybe you should all go over to Becky's and try one.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Vomit King Strikes Again

I had so many things I was planning to do today, until my three-year-old son woke up with a stomach bug and had to stay home from school. In case anyone is wondering, it was my fault that he threw up all over our bed, because I "didn't grab the bucket fast enough." He made sure to point this out to me ten or twenty times lest I forgot. Mommy, if only you had better reflexes...

So, I didn't get to write. I didn't submit to Firebrand Literary Agency. And I didn't get to pick up my framed Emily Brown art. But I did find out I have yet another parenting flaw. I lack the speed necessary to catch projectile vomit.

If there is a picture book idea here, someone please let me know!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Need a Good Laugh?

This post by author, Michael Gerard Bauer, had me rolling on the floor. It was so funny, in fact, that it got me to order his YA book, Don't Call Me Ishmael. Well, that... and the review on The Book Chook's blog.

There is nothing better than a good laugh. Which got me thinking... what picture books crack me up? The truth is, not many. Editors always say they are looking for humor. And there are plenty of PBs that make me smile, or perhaps inwardly chuckle. But very few make me laugh out loud.

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt is a funny book. The Three Horrid Little Pigs is comical. Froggy Gets Dressed elicits a giggle or two when I read it aloud to my children. But I can't think of a single PB that sends me or my kids into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

What picture books do you find to be laugh-out-loud funny?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Letters in Picture Books- Continued

Where was I? Oh, yeah... I was explaining why I like it when picture books include letters. (I also like lists, signs, charts, diary entries, etc)

Okay, so Becky and I were brainstorming one day, and I said, "Hey, let's do something with letters."

We discussed an idea and then started a draft. Becky wanted the entire thing to be letters. "Whole thing? Wouldn't that get kind of tedious?" I asked. "Not at all," she replied. "In fact, I read a book like that once. I Wanna Iguana. It was very cute."

I immediately ordered it. The book is indeed cute. I laughed on the first read through. But I didn't feel like I could read it over and over. Am I alone in this? I went to Amazon and checked the reviews. Customers love it!

So, here are my questions:

If the purpose of including letters is to break up the rhythm and vary the pacing of a story, then doesn't writing in ALL letters defeat the purpose??? Are there other picture books that consist entirely of letters? If we stick to this format, is everyone going to think we copied I Wanna Iguana?

My friend, Tara, happened to answer some of these already in yesterday's comments:
OpenID taralazar said...

Click, Clack, Moo: one of our favorites. It's simple, hilarious and features a surprise ending.

Some of the books with longer letters, however, leave my kids a little bored. They prefer letters when they're sprinkled about to help carry the story, not when they are the entire story.

Thanks, Tara. Glad to know it is not just me!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Picture Books with Letters (as in "mail" not ABCs)

I always find it amusing when picture books include letters. Perhaps the best example is Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type.

Dear Farmer Brown,
The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets.
The Cows

Letters can be a cute and clever way to convey info. They also provide authors with an easy way to switch points of view.

In Tightrope Poppy the High-Wire Pig Poppy takes a fall from the high wire and emails Mom:

I'm no star. Let's not pretend.
I tried.
I failed.
No more.
The End.

Then, of course, Mom emails back:

My dearest Poppy, Mom replied,
I know you're sad and crying.
You can't lose heart
on one bad start--
some dreams take lots of trying.

Letters can also add variety to the rhythm of a story.

In the hilarious book, My Penguin Osbert, Joe is desperate to get rid of his Christmas present.

Dear Santa,
How are you and Mrs. Claus? We are fine.
Thank you for the great penguin named Osbert.
We take cold baths together and have
creamed herring for breakfast.
I am getting used to spending all day
in the snow.

Plus, it turns out I didn't have frostbite after all.

your friend,

P.S. One more thing, Santa. If you feel like maybe
I should have asked for a different present,
and you want to swap, that would be OK.

I am going somewhere with this, but I am out of time for now.

So, more on this subject tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Questions (and Answers) for the New Year

1) The answer to the question, "Should I take a nap?" is always "No."

This is not to say that one can never nap. As my brother puts it, "If you really needed a nap, you would not be asking the question."

Corollary to #1: The answer to the question, "Should I go to the gym?" is always "Yes." This does not get its own number because I no longer ever ask myself this question, but you might so I thought I ought to put it out there.

2) The answer to the question "What should I write about?" is "It doesn't matter."

Too often, I don't write at all because I can't think of an idea. In '09, I am just going to write. Better to write crap than nothing at all.

3) The answer to the question, "How much time should I spend blogging?" is "As much as I want."

Blogging is a totally worthwhile activity. Unlike checking election polls and amazon rankings, you actually have something to show for it at the end of the day. Starting this blog was my biggest accomplishment in '08. I had over 500 visitors in December alone. I met lots of really awesome bloggers and feel like I am part of an extremely supportive community. Thanks to everyone who stops by and especially to those who leave me comments!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Guest Blogger: MelissaPEA on Self-editing of Picture Book Manuscripts

Sometimes it’s hard to catch mistakes in our own manuscripts. That’s why we join critique groups: to help us improve our work. I think, though, that we can derive even more from critique sessions if we strive to do our best on our early manuscripts. I’m not saying that we should wait to submit to critique partners until the manuscript is perfectly polished. But if we can do a better job of self-editing, then our writer’s group will be able to spend less time catching glaring errors, and more time helping us to push our manuscripts to their absolute best.

Here is a checklist for self-editing. It is geared toward picture books, but some items apply to all manuscripts.

1) Main Character. Is there a strong enough introduction to the MC? Is the MC’s problem clear from the beginning, and are we immediately rooting for the MC to solve that problem? Or are we rooting for the main character to change in some way?

2) Secondary Characters. Is every character necessary? Consider the purpose of each character. Is each character distinctive, or do you have some characters who do not stand out? Have you given names to your important characters? Can you improve your manuscript by adding emotion or humor through your characters’ words or actions?

3) Dialogue. Does the dialogue that you have chosen for your characters sound authentic? Is the language too stilted to sound like real conversation?

4) Story Arc. Does the plot flow logically from beginning to end, with an adequate build-up to the ending? Or does the ending seemed rushed and abrupt? Are all plot elements necessary, or is something present that does not in any way further the PB to its resolution?

5) Language. Is the language at the right level for a PB audience? Have you avoided excessive redundancy? Are you stumbling over any words or phrases when you read it out loud? Are your word choices consistently fun and playful, making it a great read-aloud? If not, can you key in on sections of the manuscript that are better than others, and if so, can you put more of the "good stuff" into the sections that are paling in comparison?

6) Clarity. This is, of course, the touchstone of all writing. Are the wording and images clear and within the grasp of your audience? Do your transitions work, or are there scene changes that leave the reader confused? Don’t assume that the illustrations will take care of clarity (unless you are an author/illustrator). As the writer, you need to use specific language so that the reader is clear about what is transpiring.

7) Ending. Is the ending satisfying enough? Does it strike just the right chord with the reader, so that people will want to reread your PB? Have you resolved everything in the plot that needs resolution, or is there a dangling plot point? If you have left anything unclear, is there a valid purpose in doing so?

8) Length of Manuscript. Is it too long? Are there portions that drag? Does it take too many paragraphs to get to the main problem? Or, is your manuscript too short? Do we not have enough of a flavor of the setting, characters, and problem?

Go through your PB manuscript and see if you can make some changes based on these suggestions. Good luck, and enjoy the revision process!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Off and Running in '09

Only 17 and a half more hours before school resumes! Yippee!

Once I get my mischief makers out of the house, I will be able to focus more clearly on my goals and resolutions for '09. In the meantime, here are a few short-term plans for this week.
  • I plan to do Becky's JOP exercise again. For those of who haven't tried this week's yet, head on over to Becky's site and give it a go.
  • I'll be giving away a signed copy of The HICCUPotamus by Aaron Zenz. Come back soon for details on how to win this whimsical picture book.
  • I am hosting my first guest blogger. My talented friend, Melissa, will be posting on how to self-edit your picture book manuscript. (another reason to return to my blog)
Oh, and did I mention, it's my birthday Thursday? Not a big one, but still an excuse to go out and order a bottle of wine.

My kids just stopped by my computer to inform me, "We are doing something naughty." Uh-oh! 17 hours and 25 minutes, and counting....

Friday, January 2, 2009

Reflections on 2008

I really wanted to get one last post in before the new year, but unfortunately my kids were not on board with that plan. My Thing 1 and Thing 2 made so much mayhem (including taking a scissor to their clothes!) that I couldn't even blink, let alone blog.

So, here is a slightly belated look back at 2008.

On the downside, my writing career completely stagnated. My agent subbed NOTHING, so I had to ditch her in November. I some how did not manage to come up with a single new decent picture book idea. And my Hop! Plop! sales ground to a halt. (Unless you count the 100 or so copies that I bought!) So, essentially, I could have slept through the entire year like Rip Van Winkle and I would pretty much be in the same spot I'm in now.

On the upside, nearly everything else went well. We completed a fabulous renovation that totally transformed our house. Our kids were cuter than ever and did not end up in the ER once. And Obama won the democratic primary against all odds and then won the Presidential election! (Perhaps my obsession with following every detail of his campaign had something to do with not getting any writing done?)

Since 2009 is not a big election year, I am hoping to get much more accomplished!