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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!

 

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.

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!

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