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by Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg
You have an idea for a book! Yahoo! It’s one of those ideas that hits you so deep in your gut that you immediately scribble it into a little notebook. Your stomach bubbles, not in an indigestion sort of way, but in a nervous-happy–giving-birth-to-a-germ-of-an-idea way. So how do you know if the idea is really picture book idea? What if it’s actually a chapter book or a middle grade novel, how do you know?
Well, you don’t. Not right away.
Of course, there are the obvious tip-offs that your idea is not a picture book. Take your idea through this list and see how it stacks up.
- Age of the protagonist.
These days picture books are generally geared for ages 2-7, although there are still picture books geared towards older elementary school, especially in nonfiction. Still, there’s no question that picture books are skewing younger with shorter word counts. If your primary character is in first through third grade (or ages 6-9), and is longer than 700 words, chances are you have a chapter book. And if your character is a fourth or fifth grader, chances are you have a younger middle grade novel (for ages 9-10). Now sometimes, often, older chapter books overlap with middle grade. Is Stuart Little an illustrated chapter book or an early middle grade? There is no hard and fast answer here, especially since the term chapter book has often been used in a general way to indicate a book for elementary school children that has chapters. However, often in publishing when we say chapter book, we often mean an early chapter book. Think Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones or Geronimo Stilton. Of course, exceptions apply in everything (and really, would it be any fun if there weren’t?). But read on to help you determine where your idea fits best.
- Interest of the main character.
Is your main character interested in something that will be appealing to younger children? E.g. If you’re story is about a child who’s excited about writing cursive, this means the main character is probably eight, and chances are it’s a chapter book story. If you’re an author/illustrator who has created lots of charming or edgy black and white illustrations to go with the story, chances are it’s a chapter book. Early middle grade books are also starting to feature illustrations more. This is great news for illustrators.
- Period of time.
Does your story occur over a year? Six months? You may have a chapter book or young middle grade on your hands. Now there are exceptions, picture books such as Diary of a Worm, which chronicles a character over a large period of time, or nonfiction picture books that occur over a long time like biographies. The majority of contemporary picture books take place over a brief period of time, while chapter or middle grade books usually have the luxury of taking their time with a story.
- Type of protagonist.
Are your main characters animals or personified objects? Chances are it’s either a picture book or an early chapter book. Older kids generally want to look more sophisticated with “grown-up” books, but of course there are always exceptions, like the fresh middle grade graphic novel Low Riders in Space, which features a dog, an octopus, and a mosquito as main characters.
Generally, if you like writing really short manuscripts with simple plots, often with animal characters on topics of interest for very young kids, you’re a picture book person. If you like the luxury of time and space for writing slightly longer books (from 1500 to 15,000 words) that still have pictures for slightly older kids ages 6-9, with or without animal characters, then you’re a chapter book writer (or maybe even an early reader person, but that’s a post for another day). And if you like much more complex plot lines, much longer storytelling, stories for early middle school kids, then you have an older middle grade idea.
So…what kind of ideas do you have?
Bonus info: Mira and Hillary will be co-teaching an outrageously fabulous interactive e-Course, the Chapter Book Alchemist, starting January 12th. Together and with the help of Mandy Yates, they make it ridiculously easy to write a chapter book or early middle grade during the 5 fun-filled weeks. The course features optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, lots of lessons and exercises, the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary (with a free Scrivener course) and Golden Ticket opportunities to submit directly to agents and editors. Click here to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits! Click here to find out more.
Hillary Homzie is the author of the chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space as well as the middle grade novels, Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, The Hot List, and Karma Cooper Unplugged (forthcoming). Some of her books are currently being made into an animated television series. Hillary teaches in the graduate M.F.A. program in children’s writing at Hollins University as well as for the Children’s Book Academy. She is also a former stand up comedienne. Visit her at HillaryHomzie.com.
Mira Reisberg is an award-winning children’s book creative, a former kidlit university professor and a former literary agent. She is also the Director of the Children’s Book Academy and has taught many now highly successful authors and illustrators. Visit her at childrensbookacademy.com.
You know I love lists. I’m a listophile. This blog features t a list of 500+ Things that Kids Like, Things They DON’T Like, and a list of over 200 fun, cool and interesting words. List-o-mania! List-o-rama! The lister! (Pretend I’m talking in Rob Schneider’s SNL “annoying office guy” voice.)
Today I invited debut author Darlene Beck Jacobson to the blog to share the Top 10 Toys and Candies of the early 1900’s, the time when times, well, they were a-changin’. It was also the time during her new middle grade novel, WHEELS OF CHANGE! (Don’t you just LOVE that cover?)
TOP TEN TOYS OF 1900-1920
- Teddy Bear (1902)—in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, on a hunting trip, had an opportunity to kill a bear and didn’t.
- Erector Set—invented by AC Gilbert, a gold medal Olympian in the 1908 Pole Vault.
- Lionel Trains (1901)
- Lincoln Logs (1916)
- Raggedy Ann Doll
- Radio Flyer Wagon (1917)
- Tinker Toys (1914)
- Crayola Crayons 8 pack (1903)
- Tin Toys
Other popular toys of the time included: Baseball Cards (1900), Ping Pong (1901), Jigsaw Puzzle (1909), Snap Card Game, playing cards, marbles, checkers, chess, yo-yos, wooden tops and (of course) dolls.
Let’s see, what would the top 10 toys of today be? I think Teddy Bears might still have a shot at it. Maybe Crayola crayons, too. But I bet no one back then could envision an app being the most popular toy. (An app? they might say. You mean a tiny apple?)
Now let’s devour the top tasty treats of the era!
POPULAR CANDY FROM 1900-1920
- Candy Corn (1880-s)
- Juicy Fruit Gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum (1893)
- Tootsie Rolls (1896)
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1900) with Almonds (1908)
- Necco Wafers (1901)
- Conversation Hearts (1902)
- Brach Wrapped Caramels (1904)
- Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses (1906)
- Peppermint Lifesavers (1912)
Hmm, I think Hershey would still rank pretty high today. But my kids love Sour Patch and Fun Dip and AirHeads and all kinds of gross things now. Give me a Hershey’s any day (although make it a Cookies-n-Cream bar).
Last night was back-to-school night at my daughter’s elementary, and I’m astounded every year when the principal says, “Our children will be working in fields that haven’t even been invented yet.” That’s how fast things are moving. I’m sure in another hundred years the top toys will be time machines and molecular transporters that will bring the catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” back in style.
Today’s world is moving fast, and that tempo is paralleled in WHEELS OF CHANGE with racial intolerance, social change and sweeping progress. It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old EMILY SOPER, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at homehearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females. Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt. Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort. Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.
Sounds exciting, right? IT IS!
And guess what, you have yet another chance to win another book! Leave a comment stating what YOU think the #1 toy and #1 candy is right now, in 2014. You have until the last seconds of September 29th to enter. The winner receives WHEELS OF CHANGE.
To learn more about Darlene Beck Jacobsen and WHEELS OF CHANGE, visit DarleneBeckJacobson.com.
As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.
1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.
2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.
3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.
4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!
For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.
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
- SCBWI (formerly 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!