Tag Archives: children’s authors

Franklin IN Conference: Tricks and Treats of the Trade

14 Nov

October brought gorgeous leaf color on a beautiful college campus. The Franklin Writing Conference was a one day intimate gathering for authors and illustrators. About fifty SCBWI participants joined a four panel faculty for a day of learning and camaraderie.

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Pictured from left to right. Jennifer Zivoin, illustrator of multiple picture books and early readers including Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf (Jeanie Franz Randsom); Andrea Hall, editor at Albert Whitman; Shannon Baunach Anderson, author of several children’s books including Penelope Perfect and Coasting Casey;  Tina Purcell Schwartz, founding agent of The Purcell Agency.

First of all, I was super excited to meet my agent Tina Schwartz in person! Although we have communicated through email, text messages, and Face Time, it was great to have dinner with her and chat informally.

Secondly, I made a connection with Andrea Hall who is reviewing one of my stories for publication. Fingers crossed!

Thirdly, I met up with Facebook connections Kathryn Powers and Teresa Robeson. Both lovely ladies and talented illustrators.

And last, but not least, I spent quality time with one of my critique partners, Emmie Warner. We carpooled, shared a room, and supported each other through our second conference together. Thanks Emmie!

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My Top 10 Tricks and Treats of the Trade:

(in no particular order)

Be prepared to meet agents and editors with your best work. Have it polished and shined to a sparkle. And lead with your strongest work.

Research submission guidelines and follow then to the letter. Do not make the mistake of losing your masterpiece in the rejection box because you failed to follow directions.

Do your own market research before submitting. Know where your work fits on the shelf. What are some similar titles? How does yours stand out?

Take revisions seriously. If your agent or editor asks for revisions, consider what isn’t working and how to improve it. Don’t rush your revisions, it’s not intended to be a quick fix.

Use market guides such as The Book Markets for Children’s Writers, Writer’s Market Guide, and Children’s Writers and Illustrators to find agents and editors who are the best fit for your work.

Don’t take rejections personally. There are many reasons why an agent or editor may pass on your work which may be more due to their own needs and wants rather than your talent.

Your characters need to visually carry your story (picture books). Let your characters distinguish themselves.

Focus on creating visual movement between scenes.

Work with peers to polish your work. Be open to constructive criticism. It’s easier to swallow a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from your writing partners than it is to get a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from an agent or editor.

If something isn’t working, keep trying.    Revise.    Resubmit.   Repeat.

Persistence with Miranda Paul

13 Aug

 

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I met children’s author Miranda Paul at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference last year when she sprang unannounced into my hotel room with her famously infectious laugh and we became fast friends.  We already knew each other through Facebook and we had promised to meet up and get to know each other better at the conference. You can learn more about Miranda too at her website, MirandaPaul.com.

Miranda is the author of several picture books available on Kindle, but she didn’t become well-known until her first traditionally published picture book, One Plastic Bag (2015) made international news. Since then, Miranda has published four other picture books and has another two scheduled for publication next year.

Coming Soon:

Blobfish Throws a Party – illus. Maggie Caton
Are We Pears Yet? – illus. Carin Berger

And now on the cusp of the publication of her newest picture book, 10 Little Ninjas, I have the pleasure of interviewing Miranda about writing and persistence. Miranda answered all my questions thoughtfully and completely. I’m excited to share her insights with you too!

ME: As a former educator, I’m always interested in author’s previous professional lives. What can you tell us about yourself before you became a world famous author? How did this help your writing career? What non-writing experience was the most influential in your writing success?

MIRANDA: To answer your first question, I’ll tell you what I tell kids in many school visits—and in the back matter of my book Whose Hands Are These?—that I’ve had many different jobs, and that’s OK. I’ve been a teacher, a store cashier, a volunteer zookeeper, and more. I think every experience helps my writing career, because there’s no replacement for tapping into a personal memory. Exposure to something new or learning a skill outside the writing subset expands your bubble.
To answer the last question, it’s hard to say what non-writing experience has been the most influential. Participating in drama and theatre taught me how to take criticism and direction. I learned the importance of working collaboratively with others toward a final, polished production. I often hear from writers how much they fear “not having control” of their book (or illustrations) when traditionally publishing. I’ve never met Nate Wragg, illustrator for 10 Little Ninjas, and it’s Karen Greenberg’s first acquisition for Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet through trusting them (and so many others at Penguin Random House), the book has become an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August and was reviewed in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Learning to trust and honor the expertise of other creatives was something I didn’t have to overcome. I have professionals such as April Deming and Michael Tolaydo to thank, because they taught me these lessons and more.

ME: Have you found a difference in being accepted inside or outside of your own community? (Do people see you differently based on how long or in what capacity they knew you before you became a writer?)

MIRANDA: I’m not really sure how to answer this. People are always longing for acceptance in some capacity, especially young people. But gaining acceptance from peers or the community isn’t why I write. I’ve always loved writing, and have always done it. In fact, being a kid who liked to write poems or stories until 2 a.m. often made me feel quite different, the opposite of someone who’s accepted, you know?

ME: What specific obstacles did you face while working on becoming a published author?

MIRANDA: Oh, there are many. And I know other authors who have overcome much greater odds. There’s balancing family life (not unlike dad and the sensei in 10 Little Ninjas!), and there’s rejections of course. My newest book, 10 Little Ninjas, was rejected multiple times—even by my own agent at first—and once turned down after being rewritten three times for the same house. But there’s one obstacle bigger than rejections—the obstacle of yourself. We doubt our abilities, we keep our work to ourselves in fear that it’s not good enough. Once I learned to take myself seriously, I found momentum. Momentum is huge.

ME: How do you manage your professional time, especially in terms of speaking engagements?

MIRANDA: I have really large calendars, and a couple of people who help me keep things straight. Recently, I’ve had to turn down a few requests, which breaks my heart, because if there’s a teacher or group of kids or festival that invites me, the person inside is saying “YES! YES! YES!” But the calendar is saying, “Think again, Sister.” So, I let the calendar rule my life to keep some sense of order.

ME: Have you ever had an idea that just didn’t gel? What do you do with these gems?

MIRANDA: All the time. One of my first picture book manuscripts, for example, which I tried pitching at a conference once, was an inanimate-talking-object story with a holiday and religious twist. With a moral! Sometimes, stories need to be tucked away, or saved for family. Other times, an idea isn’t quite ready to be developed. I keep an idea notebook where I write them all down. I will never, ever run out of things to write about. The best ideas find me, and keep nagging until I can’t not write them. Like my new one about inanimate talking objects written in all dialogue, coming out in 2017 called Are We Pears Yet? (Ha! Never say never when it comes to breaking the writing rules!). It’s illustrated by Carin Berger and published by Neal Porter Books.

ME: What would you say is the major hurdle to traditional publication?

MIRANDA: For me, it was first realizing this career was even a possibility, and then deciding to go for it. I’d written my whole life, but never knew much about getting a book published or really made it a goal. Another hurdle was then getting my work out there, on submission, because I never considered it “ready.” I’m a natural editor; I tinker with manuscripts for years and still might not consider it done. The work could always be better, I think. I can’t say what the major hurdle is for other people. I often hear from people who have an idea but haven’t actually started writing, let alone revising. Finishing something is a lot of work, especially when the perception is that writing for kids is easy or fun or a hobby. I’m grateful for my B.A. in English every single day, but even more grateful for not allowing myself to get too distracted by building a platform, marketing, etc. before I’d even built a large body of work.

ME: What other writing experiences have you undertaken?

MIRANDA: I’ve written a YA novel, a screenplay, hundreds of poems, and have freelanced for newspapers, magazines, and even app/game companies. I’ve taught writing, and continue to teach workshops when I can. There’s very little I haven’t done, and I think that helps me improve and grow as a writer.

ME: What plans do you have for your future self?

MIRANDA: Keep on keeping on, mostly. I am collaborating with my husband, Baptiste Paul, on a few manuscripts that we’re very excited about.

ME: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

MIRANDA: In the words of Roxette, “Listen to your heart.”

I love the quote! Thanks for interview Miranda. Let’s wrap this up with one last bonus question.

ME: What one worthwhile question have you NEVER been asked? (And what’s the answer to that question?)

MIRANDA: I don’t often get asked about my favorite desserts. They are (in order): tiramisu, chocolate-covered strawberries, and Special K bars.

And for those of you who want to follow Miranda on social media, you can find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.  

 

 

 

Back to School

26 Jul

It’s almost back to school time here in my little piece of the midwest. It’s a time simultaneously dreaded and celebrated by teachers, students, and parents. The end of July marks the start of back-to-school sales, the last days of summer vacation, and the final hours of personal freedom. Although I’ve been retired for three short years now, my teacher’s soul still aches for the beginning of a new school year.

For me, July is a time when I really start to value the gift that is summer vacation. The minutes of extra sleep in the morning, the carefree hours of dilly-dally, the days and weeks of unfettered sojourn. One of the most precious gifts of summer vacation has always been the endless supply of library books and hours upon hours of relaxed reading enjoyment. I never understood people who didn’t love reading. As an educator, I studied this alien phenomena. Why did so many children hate reading? Why did they avoid reading? Why did they find it so laborious?  Kids are not born hating reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy sitting on someone’s lap and listening to a story. Even as they got older, toddlers and preschoolers still enjoy hearing a story from the criss-cross position on the floor, so it’s not just the human touch of the lap which makes reading enjoyable. Actually most kids don’t start disliking reading until school-age. Which begs the reason so many kids dread the beginning of another school year. Do they equate school with achievement in reading, writing, math, or failure, embarrassment, and boredom? I made reading success my mission. What could I do to foster a love of reading in every child I met? How could I make reading an enjoyable activity? How could I turn reluctant readers into successful readers?

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So, contrary to popular beliefs, I and countless other teachers across America spent July and August preparing for the next school year. Before the first #2 pencils hit the sales rack, I attended classes and workshops dedicated to helping me be a better teacher. Prior to the last days of vacation, I spent days researching new titles and finding just the right books for my students. In lieu of the last hours of personal freedom, I scoured thrift shops and discount stores for things to make our reading time special. Because for me, nothing was more important than helping students find their own joy and self-worth in a book. And although I won’t be joining you in another adventure this school year, I will always value and respect the passion and dedication of teachers everywhere.

Tradition holds the back to school time as a season in and of itself. The end of July marks the beginning of a clean slate for a new year, the hopefulness of new or renewed friendships, the promise of fresh ideas and discoveries, and the anticipation of a precious gift. Wishing all my young and young-at-heart friends the gift of a wonderful school year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Fool’s Day

1 Apr

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I made a comment on a friend’s Facebook post pretty much implying that she and her writing partners stop making hard work look so easy, it’s not! And anyone who thinks it is, is a fool.

It’s true. These lovely ladies lead our monthly SCBWI meetings with the grace and intelligence that only experience can achieve. It may look like what they do is easy. But like one of my supervisors used to say many years ago, “I’m working like a duck… smooth on the surface; paddling like crazy to stay afloat!”

These authors are mentors to the many others who are working to succeed. They are dedicated to research, writing, editing, and sharing. Their many books inform and entertain. So I’m taking the opportunity this April Fool’s Day, to salute them. Thank you (left to right) Mary Kay Carson, Kerri Logan Hollihan, and Brandon Marie Miller at  Hands on Books. 12901048_1754140581483945_8981486111798615873_o

Thank you also to our president Andrea Pelleschi, and to the many other SCBWI members who lift us up every month with their encouragement and support.

 

To my mentors and role models… Happy April Fool’s Day!

A few words to the wise…

 

 

 

 

 

Studying Art Notes

3 Mar

 

If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.

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Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.

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As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.

 

First Lines

27 Feb

I suspect the picture book market today can be likened to Grab-n-Go, a popular convenience store serving a fast paced generation.

Consumers are looking for fast service, fresh ingredients, and value pricing when choosing a foodservice solution and convenience stores are answering the call with innovative programs that meet the latest food trends.
-Marilyn Odesser-Torpey

Not in the sense of speedy delivery of sandwiches, but picture books must GRAB the reader on the first page, if not the cover, and GO on to provide high quality literature with a fresh twist at a value price.

What are your favorite children’s books? These are books you have Grabbed and Gone with over the years. These are your go-to books. These are the books we give as gifts and reread for our own pleasure.

We can recite the first lines of these books.

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Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

– A.A. Milne (1926)

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Where’s Papa going with that ax?

-E.B. White (1952)

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The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said ‘How we wish we had something to do.

– Dr. Seuss (1957)

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The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

– Maurice Sendak (1963)

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One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.

– Eric Carle (1969)

These books stayed with us for a reason… they hooked us into the stories we saved in our hearts. And so whenever we hear these lines we are immediately transported back to the time we sat in someone’s lap, or pushed our way to the front of the group, or felt the joy of reading and rereading our favorite books independently, or probably all three.

Now of course, a good opening is worthless without an equally great follow up. These are tied together in our memories. A few words can elicit a flood of emotions and trigger an avalanche of subsequent memories. The power of those opening lines is what keeps us opening those books over and over, rereading those pages, and reliving those adventures like it’s the first time.

Did you notice something about all the quotes above? Look at the publication dates. That’s right, for the most part they are 50+ years old. THAT is the staying power of a great hook, a powerful first line, an exceptional story. THAT is what we are striving for as writers!

But does that mean there haven’t been any brilliant first lines since 1969? Absolutely not. That’s just where my memory takes me. Where does you memory take you?

Let’s look at some of today’s first lines. The most recent books of 2016 are all of two months old. How many first lines do you already know? Which ones do you think will become classics? Will today’s children quote these books in 50 years? Let’s certainly hope so!

 The books below are listed alphabetically by title so as not to show favorites.

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Dennis was an ordinary boy…who expressed himself in EXTRAORDINARY ways.

-Salina Yoon (2016)

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Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, “Dog’s just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You’ve got to make do.

-Susan McElroy (2016)

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When the crickets sing and the end of summer is near, Grandma and Granpa say COME.

-Marc Harshman (2016)

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Peddles was just a pig.

-Elizabeth Rose Stanton (2016)

25777449 I’m running in place, listening to my feet pound the pavement.

-Pat Zietlow Miller (2016)

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I never imagined, before you came along… that our house could get this messy and LOUD!

-Sherri Duskey Rinker (2016)

 

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Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.

-Julie Falatko (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fingerprints on the Table

16 Feb

A little something to think about on Presidents’ Day…

“Upstairs in the White House there is a long table.  The FINGERPRINTS of all who touch it are part of its story…”

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The table is the White House Treaty Table.  It was commissioned in1869 by President Grant as a conference table for himself and his seven advisors who formed his cabinet.  Each seat has its own drawer with a lock and key.  In 1898 it was used for the signing of the peace treaty with Spain ending the Spanish-American War.  Since then it has been known as the Treaty Table and another Cabinet Table was built when the president’s cabinet grew to nine advisors. Over the years it has been moved and used by presidents for various reasons.  In 1929 President Coolidge signed the Pact of Paris peace treaty on that same table.  In 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the table returned to its original place, and in its honor that room became known as the Treaty Room.  As more and more treaties are signed on that table over the years, it collects more and more fingerprints of the men and women who work for peace in our country.

This is all information which I did not know before this week, before I read this picture book, written by my OLLI instructor, Connie Trounstine.  I am proud to have an autographed copy of this book in my library.  Connie is a wonderful person, author, and instructor, and I am very lucky to have met her.  I encourage you to pick up your own copy of Fingerprints on the Table for yourself and for your children.

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Happy Presidents’ Day!

Peace!

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