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by Kami Kinard
I’m one of those people who has always known I wanted to be an author. What? You too? It’s pretty common (but not necessary) among we writer types. When I first started out, more than a decade ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what type of writer I wanted to be. So I played around with different genres. It was a lot of fun.
But I wanted to do more than have fun. So I devoured Writer’s Market and Children’s Writers Market. I purchased books of writerly advice, and books featuring quotes from authors.
Whenever I felt inspired, I wrote and wrote and wrote. When I didn’t feel inspired to write, I used my free time to do other things. I took courses in metal working, I learned bead stringing techniques, I started a small jewelry-making business, and I even learned to play the banjo.
Then I purchased the book that changed my methods, and ultimately led to publication success.
You might say I experienced a lifestyle change because of this book. One of the quotes featured in it was just a few words from Jack London. Here, I’ve made a little poster of it for you, so you can print it out and hang in your workspace.
Reading this quote resulted in an important ah-ha moment for me. The reason I wasn’t moving forward with my writing was that I was waiting for inspiration to lead me. When it didn’t, I was wandering off of the trail. I realized that in order to capture my dreams, I needed to focus on my quest for inspiration. I gave my metalworking supplies to a cousin in design school. The banjo went to a friend who’d borrowed it a few times. The jewelry making business was sold. I kept the bead stringing supplies because—hey—everyone needs a hobby! (And if you’re serious about this, writing can’t be your hobby.)
Then, I grabbed my club and started spending my lunch break in libraries. I chased down inspiration between the covers of books, captured ideas, and caged them into poems that were soon published in children’s magazines.
I hunted down the idea for this poem, sold to Jack and Jill, on the “UBA” page of a rhyming dictionary. Scuba and Tuba? What’s not to love?
I stumbled across the idea for this story about gopher tortoises, published in Ladybug, while stalking a story about alligators. (The alligator story escaped me, but at least I didn’t come away from the excursion empty handed.)
I tracked down inspiration in unlikely places, like the stroller handle where an inch worm journeyed, and an autumn maple that was reminiscent of a gigantic golden feather. Often, as in these two cases, the inspiration resulted in stories I was able to sell.
Eventually, my club and I apprehended inspiration between the pages of my old middle school diaries, and my trophy looks like this.
My first published book!
You can find inspiration almost anywhere. But you have to stalk it. Sniff the air. Listen for it. Be alert to its presence.
Now, when people ask me, “Where do you find inspiration?”
I answer, “Anywhere I have five minutes of free time.” And this is true. I don’t wait for huge blocks of time, for peace and quiet, or for good atmosphere. Give me five minutes, and I’ll find inspiration. After all, I’m never without the tools of my trade. That’s the best thing about working with words: they’re lightweight, omnipresent, and free!
When Tara invited me to post for PiBoIdMo, my first response was, “I haven’t sold a picture book.” True confession. Notice I put this at the end of the post! Years ago, I imagined I would author only picture books and poetry. But pursing inspiration led me in an unexpected direction. My first published book was not the picture book I predicted it would be, but a middle grade novel.
November is filled with inspiration and ideas. As the month draws to a close, I invite you to pick up your club and keep chasing inspiration. Focus on your quarry. Be relentless. You never really know where the chase will lead you, but if you can capture your inspiration with words, the award is magnificent!
Bonus: If you’d like more PiBoIdMo tips, check out my blog nerdychicksrule.com for another post about writing.
Author Bio: Kami Kinard’s poetry, articles, and stories have been published in some of the world’s best children’s magazines. Her first middle grade novel, The Boy Project (Scholastic 2012), will soon be followed by a companion novel, The Boy Problem (Scholastic 2014). A former public educator, Kami currently teaches writing for children and adults and leads writing workshops at conferences and retreats. She lives in balmy, buggy, and beautiful Beaufort, SC with her husband, two children, and the world’s smartest dog. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting her website KamiKinard.com or her blog at nerdychicksrule.com.
Kami is giving away a critique of up to ten pages of any single children’s manuscript. An experienced critiquer, Kami has critiqued picture books, novels, and poems that have gone on to be published.
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post (as per Annette’s spine-tingling challenge).
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!
Flash on over to Flash Fiction Chronicles today and I’ll tell you all about writing micro fiction for children! It’s how I got my start.
If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why.
Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following?
- Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.
- It would be fun to see your name in print.
- You want to sign autographs.
- You want to make money, quickly.
- You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it.
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. Because it’s not an easy business. NOT. EASY. AT. ALL.
New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication.
Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Likewise, writing one story does not mean Random House will offer you a contract. Although, keep hitting that ball, make it go higher and farther…learn about fielding and sliding, too…and play seriously for years, and you just might make it.
Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. We are all HOPEFUL. But, everyone is wrong. (Including me!) Trust me, this will NOT happen. It has NOT happened to ANYONE. (Except for Kevin Henkes.)
The motivation to write a children’s book should be:
- You love to write. You were born to write. You can’t NOT write.
- The child inside you is begging to get out and explore.
- You love children’s literature and want to contribute worthy stories to the genre.
- You want to inspire children to read, write, create, imagine and dream.
- You enjoy learning from children. (Yes, your primary goal should not be to teach them. Teachers, parents and guardians teach. Books are meant to be fun.)
- You want to work hard to establish a career as a kidlit author. You’re in it for the long haul.
Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it. That’s something a small percentage of authors achieve. (Yes, authors can have dozens of books in print yet they cannot support themselves through writing alone. Moreover, advance checks can take a long time to arrive, and royalties trail about about 6-9 months behind book sales.)
And even if you become a famous author, most people won’t recognize you by sight or name. It will never get you the window table at The Four Seasons on a busy Saturday night. You’re better off making a reservation as “Doctor Lazar”.
It takes most children’s writers years to land their first book deal. And selling one book does not guarantee future book sales. Selling each subsequent book can get MORE difficult, especially if one (or more) of your titles do not sell as well as the publisher expected.
I don’t mean to be discouraging. I want to be REALISTIC. Children’s literature is a BUSINESS. And this business is like any other—it takes hard work, commitment, talent and a little luck, too. If you’re writing a children’s book on a whim, you might end up being very disappointed when you realize how tough it really is.
In short, I’ve made more money and worked fewer hours in EVERY OTHER JOB I’VE EVER HAD.
There’s no job I’VE LOVED MORE. (Besides being a mom, of course.)
Just because you’re writing for children doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it is more difficult to become a published kidlit author than it is to become any other kind of author. (That’s because there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Everyone believes writing for kids is easy because they’re kids. Not so.)
So do it because you LOVE it. You LOVE it like you CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. Because children don’t deserve anything less than YOUR VERY BEST WORK.
Steps you should take:
- Earn a degree in English and/or Creative Writing.
- Read hundreds of books in your chosen kidlit genre (picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels, graphic novels, YA).
- Write. Write. And write some more.
- Join a critique group specific to the genre in which you wish to publish. YA novelists don’t necessarily know a lot about picture books and vice-versa.
- Join SCBWI.
- Attend professional kidlit conferences, book fairs and other literary events.
- Revise. Revise. And revise some more.
- Research agents and editors online.
- Establish a social media presence. Make writing friends. Gain a support system.
- Consider investing in professional writing books, magazines and services like Publisher’s Marketplace (which will show you what books are selling, which agents are selling them, and to whom), The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly and The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide.
- After at least two years of writing, try submitting. Don’t send your work out in huge batches. Research who likes the kind of work you produce and target a few. If only rejections come back, try another small set of subs, revise again or write something else.
- Never give up. Keep writing new stories. Those who make it in this business are those who persevere!
Excellent online resources for aspiring children’s authors:
- The Purple Crayon
- Writing for Children and Teens
- Twitter Chats for Writers
- Verla Kay’s Blueboards
- Myths and Truths of Writing for Children
- Preditors & Editors
- Literary Rambles: Spotlighting Children’s Book Authors, Agents and Publishing
- Author April Pulley Sayre’s How to Become A Children’s Book Author
by Alyson Heller
As I dodged shoppers last Friday at my local mall, I came to realize that trying to find that next “big thing” in publishing is like to trying to find a great pair of shoes on sale—really hard to do, may cause some panic attacks, but once in a while, you will find the perfect fit.
We editors have a love/hate relationship with that “thrill of the hunt”—with every email from an agent, we hope that once we click open the attachment or email, there will be a pitch or manuscript so amazing, we will have to stop our day to read and convince our powers-to-be to let us acquire it. Most of the time, it isn’t quite what we are looking for—it might not be our taste, or in line with our house publishing strategy—but every once in a while, there is a pitch or idea that makes us pause our day.
For me, I always have that gut feeling—much like that fabulous piece of jewelry that draws your eye, I just know that I absolutely have to try to make sure that particular manuscript gets to stay with me, knowing that I would be so very bummed out if I couldn’t work on the project. There’s usually a unique hook—an idea that hasn’t been done over and over and over again—or a character that I immediately fall in love with that triggers that feeling. I also try to see if there is something timeless about the story; a book that you know readers will think is still relevant to their world 10 years from now—the little black dress of publishing, so to speak.
Of course, love for the idea isn’t enough to propel that manuscript into something that can go directly from my in-box to the local bookstore. Even though this may have caught my eye, I need to make sure that the story ultimately can fit into the overall marketplace and fit in with our list. That means a revision or two (sometimes 3!), making sure that the author shares our vision for their project, and coordinating the best PR possible for the title.
Though writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, the editing process is a team effort, and one of the great joys I have with my job. Even though it can be daunting, that chase, that knowledge that another fantastic story for kids could be sitting with me (or a member of my terrific team), is what keeps me going—and what makes this crazy, wonderful, unpredictable world of publishing so great. There’s nothing like finally seeing that finished product hit the shelves—and knowing that book will hopefully be someone’s perfect fit.
Alyson is an assistant editor with Aladdin Books, a kid-centric imprint featuring titles with strong commercial appeal for readers of all ages up to tween.
Alyson was part of the S&S Associate’s Program before landing her job with the Aladdin imprint and becoming part of a wonderful team. Alyson works on everything from picture books through middle-grade novels. She has had the privilege of working with some fantastic authors (and agents!) during her time with S&S. Some new and upcoming titles that she has edited or co-edited include Just Add Magic by Cindy Callaghan, Odd Girl In by Jo Whittemore, Sprinkles and Secrets by Lisa Schroeder, Cold Case by Julia Platt Leonard, The Monstore by Tara Lazar and I Loathe You by David Slonim.
In addition to her love for reading and writing, Alyson is also a huge fan of traveling, baking, eating things that are bad for you, awful reality t.v., and all things sparkly. She currently lives in Connecticut.
Simon & Schuster has generously donated several picture book prizes for PiBoIdMo. Winners for the titles below will be announced on December 4th, randomly selected from those who completed the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Thanks to Alyson and Simon & Schuster for the prizes!
I don’t know about you, but I’m a little weird. I like to make up words and twist them around, and call things and people by funny names. Sometimes this amuses other people, and it always amuses me. That’s one of the keys to storytelling: having fun with words and concepts, and not being afraid to put in your own little bit of wackiness.
Now, I love picture books, but when it comes to writing I tend to be a novel person. I write long. So I was a bit surprised when an idea for a picture book popped into my head and demanded to be written. It was inspired by my dog Emma. (Isn’t she cute?)
Ever since my husband and I adopted Emma over the summer, it’s become a hobby of mine to come up with silly names for her. Miss Emma Dog. The Furry One. Emmakin Skywalker. She doesn’t seem to mind.
Emma gets very excited when she thinks she’s going for a walk. One morning, when she was trying to speed up the process by whimpering, I told her: “Hold on, Dogosaurus. We’re going.”
As we were on our walk, that word kept bouncing around in my head. Dogosaurus. And when I glanced over at Emma’s shadow, with its long snout and sharp teeth, it didn’t seem that far-fetched that a dog could turn into a dinosaur. And wow, what a whole lot of chaos that would be! Thus the idea was born.
At this point, the manuscript is still in its infancy. It’s gone through some major revisions, and I’m sure it’ll go through several more before it’s anywhere near done. But the initial idea, the initial weirdness, keeps me inspired to continue working on the story.
So as you’re thinking of ideas this month, why not try embracing your weirdness? Maybe there are things you do or say that people roll their eyes at? Use them! Maybe there’s a joke you made up that makes you laugh every single time you tell it? Mine it! The idea might be strange and silly, and it might entertain only you, but you never know where your inner weirdness can take you.
Anna Staniszewski lives near Boston with her husband and their adorably insane black Lab. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Anna’s debut novel, MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE, will be published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in September 2011. You can visit her at www.annastan.com.
A great road trip game is called “No, It Wasn’t.” It’s played with partners. One begins telling a story—any story. The other interrupts as often as desired with, “No, it wasn’t”—or any grammatically-correct contradiction.
It may sound like this:
1: One morning, Jane went for a walk.
2: No, she didn’t.
1: That’s right. It wasn’t a walk. She was running. For exercise.
2: No, it wasn’t.
1: Actually, it was because someone was chasing her. A bad guy.
2: No, it wasn’t.
1: No, it was the police. Jane is the bad guy.
And so on. The challenge to the storyteller is to instantly change direction, as often as they’re prompted. As the story continues, the predictable story lines usually fall away, and the requirement to make changes opens the doors to great creativity. A new story begins to emerge, one that goes in radical new directions. In the example with Jane above, it would’ve originally been a story about her going to visit her friends. In only three twists, Jane is on the run from the police.
This can be a useful brainstorming game for writers too. Maybe you won’t end up writing the story in the direction the game led you, but it does force you to explore more options than Jane simply being out for a walk.
If you’re already working on a premise, write a quick logline for it. In your first sentence, try a “no, it wasn’t,” and see where it leads you.
Or start fresh. Choose a main character, any main character, then give them something to do. And so your game begins.
Need a prompt?
Here it is: When (Main Character) came home that day an old friend was waiting.
No, it wasn’t.
Jennifer A. Nielsen’s debut novel Elliot and the Goblin War was released in October 2010. And it comes with a warning–as of today, only 7 children who have ever read this book have lived to tell about it. If you’re very brave, perhaps you’re willing to take your chance with it.
The next book in the series, Elliot and the Pixie Plot will be released in May 2011. It’s pretty much like the first book, except it has a different plot. Different artwork too. Because that’d be pretty lame if they just used the same art all over again.
So this self-proclaimed intergalactic superpower Mike Jung and I have a little middle grade book review thing going. You may have read our bookish banter regarding Nan Marino’s touching Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me or our unique take on Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead’s time-travel thriller When You Reach Me. (After all, Elizabeth Bird did mention our review in FuseNews.)
In a pathetic, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants fashion we dubbed ourselves the Ebert and Roeper of children’s book reviews.
We think you agree that the name lacks the imaginative flair and je-ne-sais-quoi mystique you’ve come to expect from Tara and Mike. Especially Mike. In the words of the immortal Steve Martin, he’s a wild and crazy guy.
So we thought–hey–we’re writers! We can do better than that. What’s better yet–we know a lot of writers! Smart writers! (Notice how I’m buttering you up.) They can certainly do better than that! In fact, why don’t we sit back and do nothing while they do all the work? Yes, we’ll have THEM choose the title for our review series while we collect all the middle grade glory!
We’re even offering up a prize! And again in the words of the immortal Steve Martin: “I’m picking out a Thermos for you. Not an ordinary Thermos for you. But the extra best Thermos that you can buy, with vinyl and stripes and a cup built right in.”
Well, I’m not sure if the prize is a Thermos. But it’s gonna be somethin’. Yes, you’re guaranteed SOMETHIN’.
Head on over to Mike’s Little Bloggy Wog for more details.
And tell him Ebert sent you. Or Roeper. We haven’t quite figured out who is who. (You see why we need a new name?)