30 Seconds

11 Feb

I’ve long said that picture books are the commercials of novel writing, meaning that like TV commercials picture books tell a complete story in a short amount of time.

I ran across this marketing article which provided more information on why shorter is often better.

Super Bowl Ads Were Short This Year: Here’s Why That Worked

 

In it (an ironic 10min read), the author @PamelaBump reports that ads of 30 seconds or less have become the norm. As a picture book writer this grabbed my attention. And so I began reading it with an author’s eye, finding similarities between these successful commericials and picture books.

Here are a few things I noticed:

  • “These brands also had to create content that would memorably stand out in a chaotic stream of other insanely high-priced ads.”

A picture book manuscript must also stand out in the crowd. Agents and Editors receive hundreds of submissions monthly (some daily). Therefore they have to be very discerning, because when it comes right down to it their audience is also very discerning and not willing to part with less than $20 for a book that doesn’t stand the test of time.

  • “Even if you’re highly skilled in creating videos that are 30-seconds or less, you might also worry about the research-backed fact that the average viewer only pays attention to online content for eight to 12 seconds.”

Eight to Twelve Seconds! I’m assuming this is the scrolling attention span, but nonetheless… wowzers! In the picture book world these are the adults. The gatekeepers. So almost at a glance a decision will be made to pick up and read the whole 32 pages. This is also true of the intended audience 4-8 year olds!

“This year, while many brands that bought Super Bowl ad slots of 30 seconds or less relied on quick celebrity cameos, extreme stunts, nonsensical humor, and insanely expensive special effects to grab attention, some companies actually delivered bite-sized commercials that boosted brand awareness with clever, informative, or incredibly memorable storylines.”

I’ve noticed an increase in ‘celebrity’ authors, as opposed to celebrity authors, authors who have become celebrities through their volume of work. Pop stars, Hollywood stars, Political Stars etc. bring instant name recognition to a project and exposure that even well known authors can not. Celebrity authors may not have the staying power of kid lit authors, but they bring in quick cash. And after all, publishing is a business. Additionally, picture books rely on many of the same devices employed by the 30 second ads… nonsensical humor, special effects, clever, informative, or memorable storylines.

Pamela Bump went on to showcase seven successful Super Bowl ads from this year. You can read the full descriptions in her article. Paraphrasing Bump, I’m going to mash up the commercial with a writing tip.

  1. Hulu: Tom Brady’s Big Announcement … suprise ending! Just when you think you have the story figured out… surprise!
  2. Mountain Dew: As Good As The Original? Spoof the nostalgic. Convince the skeptic that the new is better than the classic. To do this well, you have to know the classics first. Read widely. Read currently. Read classically
  3. Olay: #MakeSpaceForWomen Poke fun at outdated stereotypes. #empowerment is more than just a hashtag. Empower children to be more, be better, be themselves.
  4. Cheetos: MC Hammer Where It All Began Unseen moment in history… tell an interesting story that no one’s heard before (even if it’s not true). Historical fiction plays a big role here.
  5. Weather Tech: Lucky Dog Tell a story you are passionate about. Find your passion. Write your passion. Share your passion. You might be surprised to learn that others have the same passions.
  6. Pop Tart Fixes the Pretzel Innovation. Revitalize a traditional problem/solution (or any other) format. Use humor, satire, wit to your advantage. When writing, ask yourself… is there another way?  Dig deep. Don’t settle on the first or second, or even the fifth idea. The best ideas are the ones no one’s done before.
  7. Planters: Baby Nut Bizarreness makes it memorable. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb! Go with it. Get crazy. Let your inner muse play.

 

Now that you’ve finished your masterpiece, will your manuscript pass the 30 second test? Work on your pitch. Polish that query. Remember you only have 30 seconds to impress an agent or editor and make that sale!

 

Lyrics of My Writing Process

1 Nov

Like a songwriter, I use only words to tell a story. But I’m not ashamed of not being able to illustrate too. Words, whether text or lyrics, stand alone. Yes, music helps to tell the songwriter’s story and illustrations help to tell the storyteller’s story, but even in without those the words which tell the story stay with me for a long time.

I often find my self singing song lyrics prompted by a conversation or an experience.  Can you even say the words “imagine” or “thriller” with out singing them in your head?

Given this, it’s not surprising that I associate lyrics with my daily living. So something struck me as “ironic” as I listened to Mick Jagger belt out “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones), I was motivated to send out three more query submissions. Having done that, I went on to think of other lyrics which vocalize my writing process and I came up with a few obvious one right away.

Of course there’s  Paperback Writer (preformed by The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney songwriters). Send in the Clowns (Judy Collins, songwriter) after the first, second, third, and more drafts, and sometimes even Respect (Arthea Franklin, songwriter) if I’m feeling particularly confident. Then there’s I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends (later preformed by Joe Cocker, John Lennon and Paul McCartney songwriters) for my critique partners and, On The Road Again (Willie Nelson, songwriter) for the multiple writing conferences I’ve attended near and far. And, You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon, songwriter) for a prospective editor, because really at that point I don’t care what name they call me!  Finally, We Are the Champions (preformed by Queen, Freddie Mercury songwriter) for when I finally make it.

 

 

So now I’m wondering… What lyrics speak to you?

Lessons Learned from a Pre-Schooler

30 Aug

I was in the unique position of spending two uninterrupted weeks with a four year old. My camera roll reminded me of ten very important lessons we can all learn from spending time with our little ones.

 

carrot#1 One piece of candy is worth three baby carrots.

 

box#2 A box is never just a box.

 

hp#3 Sing, dance, and do the hokey-dokey. (pronounced as spelled)

[Musical accompaniment from storyteller and bookseller at our local bookstore, Joseph-Beth.]

 

]cows#4 Cows do not have upper teeth.

 

#5 Fairies like mushrooms, acorns, and painted rocks.

 

sunflowr#6 Even a field of dying sunflowers is magical.

 

fort#7 Blanket Forts are great places to eat cookies and play games on rainy days.

 

cookies.jpg#8 Speaking of cookies, if you take only a nibble maybe no one will notice.

 

cape#9 You only need a cape to have superpowers.

 

duck#10 Make friends everywhere!

 

 

 

Celebrating the First Moon Walk

15 Jul

*Note: No, you are not seeing double! This post was intended to be a page under my newest heading, 5 Star Picture Books. Because I had trouble converting it to a page, I have rewritten it. It is now entitled 50 Years Later. you can find it under 5 Star Picture Books. And now there are two! (And, PS thanks for reading my posts!)

July 20, 2019 is the 50th Anniversary of the First Moon Walk. Learn more and see actual footage of the first steps and raising of the flag on the NASA site. Let’s celebrate this historic event with a pair of picture books published this year.

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon
written by Dean Robbins
illustrated by Sean Rubin
Orchard Books, May 2019

First let’s look at a traditional non-fiction book. This is the story of a NASA astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon. Alan was so inspired by this event that he wanted to paint his impressions of the moon so that others could feel the magnitude of his feelings rather than the just the gray rock and dust associated with the moon. His paintings are bright, bold, and breathtaking. He experimented with them, creating even more authenticity. He sprinkled them with moon dust, scratched them with tools he’d used on the moon, and stamped them with astronaut boots. Below is a copy of his painting The Spirit of Apollo.


It is my dream that on the wings of my paintbrush many people will see what I say and feel what I felt, walking on another world some 240,000 miles from my studio here on planet Earth.” -Alan Bean

************************************************************************

Moon’s First Friends
written by Susanna Leonard Hill
illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, May 2019

Our second book is a non-traditional non-fiction. This is the story of an anthropomorphic moon who talks to the reader about being lonely and wishing for a friend to visit her. Although she is the queen of the night sky, no one came to see her. She first asks the dinosaurs to visit but they stayed on earth. Then she asks other animals and then humans. Finally, she sees people making attempts to visit her. She is excited at the prospect but still has to wait for many years until man is able to send a rocket ship into space and land on her surface. She shares in the men’s wonder giving them rocks and dust to take home and they leave her a plaque, a flag, and many many footprints to remember them by.

Although this story is told by the moon it includes historic and scientific information. There is also back matter giving factual details about the first moon landing, the phases of the moon, facts about the moon, photos of the first astronauts, and a timeline beginning 4.6 billion years ago with the Hadean Era to the present Cenozoic Era, and detailed information about each stage of rocket ship which took the first men to the moon. And, if that wasn’t enough… you can download a scanner reader to your phone and listen to the Apollo 11 liftoff and the first words spoken on the moon!

Apollo 11 Plaque Left on the Moon

Closeup view of the plaque which the Apollo 11 astronauts left behind on the moon. The plaque is made of stainless steel measuring nine by seven and five-eighths inches, and one-sixteenth inch thick. The plaque was attached to the ladder on the landing gear strut on the descent stage of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. During flight , the plaque was covered with a thin sheet of stainless steel that was removed on the lunar surface. -NASA

“HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON

JULY 1969, A. D.

WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND”

Celebrating 7 Years

8 Jul

Just renewed my SCBWI membership for another year! Next month marks the beginning of my 7th year and I feel confident.

In the last seven years I have grown so much as a writer and made so many good friends along the way. I’d like to thank the members of the Cincinnati chapter (Ohio: Central and South) for welcoming me to their group. When I joined Kerrie Logan Hollihan was our leader. She later passed the torch to Andrea Pelleschi. Both are gifted writers and published authors yet they, with Brandon Marie Miller, Mary Kay Carson, Kathy Cannon Wiechman, and Nancy Parish willingly offered advice, instruction, and friendship.

Through the monthly meetings I have met many more talented writers and illustrators, and have developed critique groups and friendships with several of them. I’d like to thank Jennifer Sommer, Keila Dawson, Emmie Warner, Kate Harold, Connie B. Dow, and Carol Martin for always being willing to read my work, make suggestions, and provide support. They lift me up and give me confidence to keep going.

And most of all, I’d like to thank Tina P. Schwartz at The Purcell Agency for believing in me and working hard on my behalf. I have worked as Tina’s assistant for a time before we signed a one year contract to sell one of my stories. After that year, Tina and I agreed not to renew our contract while I search for an agent who works more exclusively with picture book writers, but we remain friends and maintain a working relationship. I still read for her periodically and we touch base on our personal and professional lives. It was because of my association with Tina that I got my first ‘paying gig’ talking about agents, how and why they choose or reject a project. I have presented at both the Columbus and Cincinnati chapters.

In the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney… I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends. So for all those mentioned and those many others I have met at conferences and through social media, I thank you! Have a piece of cake!

Hurry Up and Wait

13 Jun

‘Hurry Up and Wait’ was a common phrase around our house growing up. Apparently it’s a common military maxim, and we were a military family. It fit every scenario from getting ready for meals to vacation travel. Personally, I haven’t used it much as an adult. But it popped into my head this morning as I hit the send button on yet another submission.

Thanks Dad, this makes the wait a little easier to bear.

You Had Me At Ice-Cream

11 May

That’s all.

Literary Agent Search

13 Apr

I’ve heard many people say that they are searching for the perfect agent. As if there is only one perfect agent for them.

I disagree.

Authors works tirelessly combing the internet and publications for agents that are ‘perfect’ for them, when in reality there are many ideal agents available.

That’s not to say it’s easy finding an agent (perfect or otherwise). Of course you weed out the ones who do not represent your genre (fiction, mystery, sci-fi, biography, history etc.) or specific audience (PB, MG, YA). That still leaves several hundred who do. Then you search for those who represent specifically what you have written. My recommendation is that you cast your net wide. (Remember when your mother told you there are plenty of fish in the sea?) Even though you may think your story is a good fit for a particular agent there are countless reasons why you may not be offered a contract. Some have a heavy workload and cannot take on new talent. Some have something else like yours in their catalog already. Some are in the process of changing their focus. Some are closed to submissions when you’re ready to publish. Some may have left the business altogether.

And so the dreaded rejections pile up, usually in two categories, the Ignore, in which case you just don’t hear from the agent at all or the Form rejections, for example your story didn’t move them, your main character didn’t speak to them, it doesn’t fit their needs, etc. Every once in a while you’ll receive a personalized rejection specifically stating what they liked about your story and either the reason they passed on it or a suggestion to improve the story and your chances of getting published.

What now? You’ve got a story you believe in but you’ve been rejected not only by your ‘dream’ agent but also several others who you were sure were as close to perfect as you could get. You must continue to submit. This is not the time to wallow in your grief. There really are more fish in the sea. Go back and cast your nets again.

You’ll never land an agent unless you persist. Agents are busy people. They have a list of clients (or they’re busy building their list). They are not out there searching the internet looking for your story… you must send your story to them.

And when you finally do find an agent who likes your work and wants to give you a contract… then and only then, have you found your

Hieroglyphics to Hashtags

19 Mar

The art of storytelling is as old as time. Many years ago I toured the caves of Altermira in Spain with my family. The cave drawings depict prehistoric tales of bison hunts, animal sightings, and survival signed with a handprint. I was filled with awe and pride that my ancestors may have authored these stories.

Fast forward several years and I have gone from hieroglyphics to hashtags in less than seven days.

Last week I was awed once more by the hieroglyphic stories of the ancient Egyptians. I visited the Cincinnati Museum Center with a friend to experience this as close to first hand as I may ever get.

With the ‘magic’ of modern technology, I tried my hand at writing with hieroglyphics on a computer screen.
I also stood inside a tomb with detailed instructions for the after-life. Sure wish I could read it!



Today I used another form of technology to discover what literary agents are looking for in the form of manuscripts. Using #mswl I discovered an agent who is looking for funny picture books. In particular, one with chickens. Well guess what I sent him? A submission with a chicken protagonist who gets herself into some funny situations as she tries desperately to change her circumstances! Maybe my cave ancestors will look down fondly on me and be proud of what I have created for the world.

While I wait for a response from said agent, maybe I’ll browse Pinterest for some fun chicken crafts to keep me busy.


A Writing Community that Works for YOU

19 Jan

Do you need to belong to a writing community? Yes, you do! There are various groups you can join, some free/some paid. Each has its own focus, everything from support and information to education and advocacy.

This week I had the opportunity to learn about an organization that I want to share with you. The Authors Guild is an advocacy group which works FOR you. “The Authors Guild exists to support working writers and their ability to earn a living from authorship. We work to protect free speech, honor copyright, and ensure fair compensation practices in the changing publishing landscape.” This very important mission includes offering legal advice, resources, discounts, and providing seminars and workshops to members.

Free Swag included a new journal!

Yesterday, the AG offered a free workshop in Cincinnati (Thanks to our library for hosting.) and I attended with one of my critique partners. AG partnered with Penguin Random House to present a full day of seminars, lunch, and fellowship. Topics included Path to Publication, An Editor’s Perspective, Your Legal Rights: Making contracts Work for You, Everything You Need to Know About Agents and Query Letters, and more. I went home with so much information, I’ll be processing for weeks!

Whether you write kid lit, short stories, poems, novels, magazine exposés, newspaper articles, how-to manuals, scientific research, editorials, blog posts, screenplays, movie scripts, tour guides, cookbooks, or anything more than your grocery list, I highly recommend that you join the Authors Guild too.

2019 The Year to Follow Friends

1 Jan


I’ve proclaimed 2019 the year I follow more of my friends’ blogs.

For years, I have followed Tara Lazar for her funny wit and her generous giving spirit. This morning I anxiously opened my Word Press to read the installment of this year’s Storystorm. It was a great article written by Cathy Breisacher about using picture prompts to generate story ideas. Check out the adorable cover to her new book coming out this March.

Afterwards, I checked out my reader list. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any blog posts from my reader and I was surprised to find that I don’t know more than half of the people I was following. I made a conscious effort to read and comment on those I know personally and those who I know through association. And I deleted many I had never heard of and don’t remember following or for what reason. But what bothered me is that I know a LOT more people who have blogs that are not currently on my feed. So… if you want me to follow (and hopefully periodically read) your blog, please leave a link or your address in the comments below and I will add you to my reading list.

Here’s to 2019! A year to support fellow writers and illustrators!

Energy Enthusiasm Excitement

2 Dec

IMG_7342 copy

Energy. Enthusiasm. Excitement. These three words perfectly describe Sherri Duskey Rinker, author of the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series and several other books for young people.

Sherri must have been exhausted, she had already had two school visits that day. Yet here she came, eager to meet more fans.

Hosted by The Blue Manatee Bookstore she was here to talk to her audience… a loud rambunctious crowd to say the least. And talk she did. To them. On their level. Matching their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement note for note.

 

IMG_7346 copy            IMG_7347 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherri asked them questions, responded to their questions (and sometimes off-topic comments), and told them stories about herself. And of course she read her newest book, Construction Site on Christmas Night.

IMG_7351

Every eye was focused on the book. Every ear was tuned into the story.  She totally had these kids… mind, body, and spirit. I was in awe of her.

On the way to dinner, I asked my granddaughters what they liked the best. The six year old liked Sherri’s story about her sons. She even compared them to herself and her sister, saying that she goes right to sleep after her stories but that her sister does not. And she liked that the author wrote all their names in the book. The three year old said she wanted chicken nuggets and fries, but not the orange fries her mommy gave her the other day… those were yucky. Yep, even my own prodigy can be off-topic at times!

Thanks for coming to Cincinnati, Sherri! So glad I got to meet you in real life! me and sherry

 

Off topic post script: Orange fries are NOT yucky. Mommy is right, they’re better for you than regular french fries.

 

 

A Moment in Time

12 Apr

35631584Today’s moment was when David Wiesner, three time Caldecott Award winner, spoke to a group of fans. He shared his perspective on writing and illustrating. And, he took us through the process of writing his newest picture book, I GOT IT!  Like many stories, I GOT IT! focuses on one moment in time which is stretched out across 32 pages. Pulled from his boyhood memories of playing baseball in the neighbor’s back yard, David illustrated the actual and imagined circumstances surrounding the moment when the smallest outfielder is confronted with a fly ball.

138069Of course I picked up my own copy of I GOT IT! as well as a new copy of THE THREE PIGS. Along with most of my picture books, this one was left to a new teacher when I retired. But how many times do I have the opportunity to own a signed Caldecott Award winning picture book? Answer: Four to date.

 

(Another thing I learned is that a Caldecott Award winning autograph does not have to be legible, It’s a good thing the artwork is so fierce.)

IMG_1262

 

Among the many fans in attendance were three legendary Cincinnati illustrators, who agreed to stand for a photo. From left to right: Loren Long, David Wiesner, Will Hillenbrand, and C.F. Payne.

IMG_1258

 

Thanks to Joseph-Beth Booksellers for bringing another amazing author and illustrator to Cincinnati.  Look up some of David’s other picture books in your local bookstore.

 

 

Oh yeah, and that moment when I got my picture taken with David Wiesner!IMG_1261

 

Bagel in Love

10 Feb

 

9781454922391_jkt.indd

 

Bagel in Love

written by Natasha Wing

illustrated by Helen Dardik

published by Sterling Publishing, 2018

Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Sweet tale of rejection, acceptance, and finally love. Bagel gets the brush-off from all the bakery pastries. He gets treated like day old bread by everyone from Doughnut to Pretzel and everyone in between. He feels totally crummy. His dreams of tap-dancing like Fred Eclair are dashed, until he meets a tempting little tap-dancing cupcake. They make a tasty pair winning the dance contest and each other’s hearts.

Oh, did I mention puns? You figured that out, huh? Between the  flat out rejection from the Matzo to the icing on the cake, you’ll be happy you found this scrumptious treat.

And hungry? Don’t get me started… had to search Pinterest for some yummy valentine pastries. Which is your favorite? Send me your recipes!

 

Sure, and if this isn’t enough… there’s glitter! The cover art and final page is fancy, sparkly, shimmery heaven for glitter junkies!

When Your Llama Needs a Haircut

27 Jan

 

35297326

 

When Your Llama Needs A Haircut

Written by Susanna Leonard  Hill

Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Published January, 2018 by Little Simon Books

Upcoming school pictures + reluctant llama = hilarious hairy situations.

Goodreads Review 

 

Remember that time your mom cut your hair? Yeah, me too… and then the time I gave myself a home perm, YIKES! But this delightful picture book will help you see the humor in hair disasters.

Realistically, does a llama need a haircut? Well I did a little google search and guess what I found… some pretty awful llama hairstyles.

 

 

So if you’ve got a llama in need of a haircut, please research all the possibilities before venturing into the barbering trade. And definitely don’t demonstrate on yourself first, especially not the night before school picture day!

 

 

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