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


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.


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"):


This is weird


It's weird


Very weird


Friggin' weird


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?


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


As a matter of fact --


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


You're wrong


Your heart they are mangling


It's different with me


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


Yes, you’re right, I admit!


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
Signed contract with Flashlight 2007
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.