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Contests for kidlit writers are big draws because they’re an opportunity to break into the business, but I must say to publishers—please stop with the public vote-to-win process.
Publishers may think that open voting ensures that the public’s favorite—and thus, the best book for their audience—will win, but how is that going to happen when the writers are campaigning for votes via social media?
Sure, votes demonstrate the author’s reach and may indicate how well they’ll market a published book, plus it gets more eyeballs on a publisher’s site. But the thing that will really sell a book? A GOOD story.
Writing contests should be chosen by an experienced editorial team, not by Aunt Sue in Schenectady. Because it’s one thing to ask for a writer’s friends and family to click a button and yet another to ask them for cash once the title is released. Just because someone spends two seconds to vote does not mean they’ll spend hard-earned money on the completed book.
Contests that require people to vote once a day for a prolonged period are even more exhausting to the writer and the people who are repeatedly asked to vote. And vote again. Just one more click. Another? Pretty please? It may even cause that writer’s social network to shrink.
And think of the disappointment when the diligent voters learn their time was for naught. Think of the writer’s disappointment having to tell their audience that it was for naught. Will people spend the time voting for that person again? Maybe. But maybe not.
Yep, social media isn’t always so social. And it shouldn’t be exploited.
As a kidlit enthusiast, I want to see good stories published for children to love. The public voting process does not ensure that. Like a Student Council election, it ensures that the most popular person wins. But the most popular isn’t always the most qualified or the most deserving.
In the end, these contests are more about marketing for the publisher than about discovering real talent. And if you have real talent, you should avoid them. Spend your time polishing your manuscript for submission, not campaigning for votes.
I’m sure this post will cause a stir. So please, debate away in the comments. I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
There are many things I wish I had known about writing picture books when I began pursuing my dream of becoming a published author. Word count. Page turns. Linear storytelling. Building tension. The “twist” ending. Instead, I had to learn these things through trial and error, attending industry conferences, reading books and blogs, and networking with professionals.
On November 6 in Madison, NJ, I’ll be sharing all I’ve learned to those who also have a dream of becoming a picture book author. Are you in the area? I’d love to see you!
So You Want To Be a Picture Book Author
November 6, 2011, 2-4pm
Sages Pages, Madison, NJ
Many people believe writing for the young is easy. After all, “they’re just kids!” But writing for children is one of the most difficult genres in publishing to break into.
Picture book author Tara Lazar (“The Monstore”, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster 2013) will teach you all the things she wished she knew when she began her career, from story length to page turns, how to leave room for illustrations and create irresistible, age-appropriate, relatable characters.
You’ll learn the little-known “rules” of kidlit (and that rules are made to be broken!), plus how to fine-tune your ideas into sellable manuscripts. Participants can even submit a first page of their children’s picture book or novel for an anonymous critique. Tara will answer your questions and help you form an action plan for breaking into the kidlit business armed with knowledge, inspiration and encouragement.
Visit The Writer’s Circle to sign up. Only $25 for 2 hours chock full of what took me years to learn!
It’s summer, so let’s have some fun, shall we?
How about a contest?
Good. I thought you’d like that.
And this one is easy. You don’t have to send a manuscript. All you need to enter is a premise.
That’s right! A picture book premise.
Make it unique, make it funny, make it touching. In less than 100 words tell me your story’s premise. What’s the problem? What crazy situation has got your character all flummoxed? Imagine it’s your book’s jacket copy. What would you say to sell the audience on your book? You’ve only got a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so make it snappy.
The best premise will win a free critique–and get this, you don’t even have to have the book written yet! Think of a great premise now, claim your critique later. I’ll honor the free critique for as long as you need (although it’s non-transferable and its cash value is 1/100th of a cent.)
There are three steps to enter:
- Subscribe to my blog via email if you haven’t already. (See handy button in the top left column of my blog.)
- Send your premise in the body of an email with the subject line “PB Premise Contest” to tarawrites at yahoo dot you-know-what. All entries must be received by Sunday, August 14th. (One entry per person, please. So make it your best.)
- Tell your friends. The person who refers the most people to my blog will also win a critique! (Just let me know in a comment below who you referred. I’m working on the honor system here.)
That’s all! So easy-peasy! I’ll announce the winners the week of August 15th.
One last thing–if your premise is anything like one of my current projects, I will notify you, just to let you know, I’m not taking anyone’s premise. I’ve got enough of my own begging me to write them!
This list of literary agents on Twitter is mostly comprised of kidlit agents, and it isn’t comprehensive, and some are no longer agents…but all are worthy of a follow. They are in no particular order.
Know other literary agents on Twitter? Please post a comment and I’ll periodically add to the list.
You can also find this list here: http://twitter.com/#!/taralazar/literary-agents/
We are a boutique literary agency dedicated to the management and representation of the finest authors and artists working today.
Children’s agent for the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Brooklynite, children’s book agent, Squarespace support specialist, semi-pro Jew, bourbon drinker. I work for lots of people. None of these tweets are theirs.
At work, I’m a literary agent focusing on the YA genre, and I have to bite my tongue. On Twitter, I’m the anonymous Marie Suzette, who says whatever she wants.
Literary agent representing nonfiction for adults and nonfiction and fiction for YA and MG readers I tweet mainly advice for writers and updates on my books.
Alanna Ramirez is a literary agent with Trident Media Group.
Director and Principal Agent, Children’s Department, McIntosh & Otis, Inc.
We’re the Greenhouse Literary Agency, a transatlantic agency specialising in children’s fiction.
Founder and agent of children’s/YA at Greenhouse Literary Agency, based in DC and London. Dachsund-slave, photographer, lover of history and wild places.
Agent with D4EO Lit and multi-pubbed author writing as Mandy Hubbard and Amanda Grace. I like words. And pasta. Not necessarily in that order.
Literary assistant and junior associate at Nancy Coffey Lit. Lover of books and food. And cupcakes.
There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more. Children’s Literary Agent at Waterside Productions, Inc.
When one arrives at their summer rental home, the sandy carpets, wood paneling and fishnet curtains can be largely ignored. You’re there for the beach, not for the house.
But when a foodie arrives in their temporary accommodations, the heart sinks upon discovering a less-than-accommodating kitchen.
Preparing for our annual excursion to the Jersey shore, I packed the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, ginger and jars of spices. I collected basil, chives, parsley, cilantro and mint from my garden. Yet I didn’t bring my trusted chopping knife, so I’m forced to mince and julienne with a butter knife. What I wouldn’t give for a serrated edge.
The hutch stores silverware for 50 people and wine glasses for 75, but not a single can opener that works. I must remind myself to buy dried beans next year.
Paper-thin pans burn their sizzling contents even on the lowest heat, so I’ve adapted a cooking method of removing them from the stove every few seconds. On, off. On, off. The scrambled eggs cannot brown, or else the kids will deem them “dirty.”
The first few days were filled with frustration. I cursed the dull peelers, all seven of them. I laughed at the bevy of bottle openers. If two dozen people wanted to open their Coronas in unison, no problem. There’s an entire shelf of serving platters, but not a single baking dish.
But now I’ve settled into the groove of my poorly stocked summer kitchen. Forced into a culinary simplicity, I plan our meals accordingly. Grilled chicken with roasted tomatoes. Pasta with grated cheese and torn herbs. Sole with browned butter sauce (I knew those pans were good for something). Cutting shortening into flour for biscuits works just as well with two forks as a pastry blender.
When I’m forced to do without, doing with seems complicated. For instance, my cupboard at home features the fruits of a ridiculous Nordicware Bundt pan fixation. But the shape has nothing to do with taste. Baking on an island with inferior cookware feels like a greater accomplishment than serving a cake that resembles a castle. Those pans allow me to cheat. What epicurean expertise can I claim if I own every tool of convenience?
So I’m learning to love my summer kitchen and the skills of culinary compromise it’s teaching me. Now if I could just rip that fishnet off the window, this house might be perfect.
Yes, I’m on vacation and this blog is quiet. Can you guess today is rainy? I will return to kidlit upon returning home. I hope you’re having a fun and relaxing summer!
Agents and editors have told me they occasionally receive calls from writers who are brand new to children’s books. These aspiring authors ask, “How do I get my book published?”
Kindly folks that they are, these agents and editors don’t slam the phone down. They’ll sometimes spend a few moments providing basic details. But this information can be easily found online. That’s what makes being a new writer so exciting these days: there’s professional advice available via websites and blogs, you just have to search for it. It’s not all so mysterious anymore.
So if you’re looking to launch a kidlit career, please don’t call an agent or editor to learn the basics. Let them read manuscripts, sell books and do their jobs. Come here instead…
A New Children’s Writer’s To-Do List:
I knew you’d like that one.
- Read children’s books.
Become familiar with the genre in which you write. Understand appropriate length and content for specific age groups. See what’s being published. Don’t follow trends, but know the competition. When pitching editors and agents, it’s often helpful to compare your book to another title. You can’t compare if you aren’t well read.
- Join SCBWI.
Take advantage of their resources—local chapter events, national conferences, online discussion boards and publications.
- Join a critique group.
Find fellow writers who work in the same genre as you. They provide support, motivation, and helpful feedback. (And if you can, find a group with writers who are more experienced than you.) P.S. Your mother, daughter, spouse, and neighbor’s 2nd grade class are not a critique group.
- Attend workshops, conferences and events.
Seek out opportunities to learn and network with authors, agents, editors and writing peers.
- Read books on the craft.
Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
Writing for Children and Teens by Cynthea Liu
Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
- Revise and rewrite.
It’s not going to be right the first time (or maybe even the second or the fifteenth). It’s just not. Resist the temptation to submit an early draft to a publisher.
- Take time to develop your skill.
Your writing will improve with practice. Most professional authors need at least two years of serious writing to hone their craft, and it’s not unheard of to work for ten to fifteen years before becoming published.
- Submit when you have more than one project polished.
Finished your first manuscript? Keep writing. If an editor or agent likes your manuscript, but not enough to make an offer, they may request other material. Have a few manuscripts at the ready.
- Learn to have patience.
It can take many years to write publishable material, sell your first project, and develop a career. Even after you become published, the business is still full of waiting—waiting to hear from your agent and/or editor, waiting for a book to be released, waiting to earn out. You will never NOT be waiting. Patience and perseverance are key.
- Call yourself a writer.
Because you are one!
If you have some newbie suggestions, let’s hear them. Please leave a comment.
What separates the south from the north? Nope, it ain’t the Mason-Dixon. It’s the road signs.
New Jersey’s exit signs remind us that the road we’re on is not the road we want. Ads for dating websites wilt on the medians. The giant green gecko stares down at our cars, telling us to save on insurance. There’s not much personality there.
But South Carolina? There’s treasures along the roadside. And I’m not talking about boiled peanuts.
Reading the signs along a rural route, I was reminded of how small, specific details in your writing–like a street name or a slogan on a church billboard–can contribute loads to the mood and setting of your story.
Here’s the southern road signs that charmed me.
Christians Like Pianos
Need Frequent Tuning
Pumpkin Girl Road
Heavy Father Lane
There’s Only One Heaven
and Only One Way
to Get There
Groceries & Hunt’n Stuff
are Tomorrow’s Fathers
Mars Oldfield Road
There are stories buried in these signs.
Do you pet bees at Bee City?
Was Pumpkin Girl related to Heavy Father?
Is the welder married to the organic farmer? Or are they the same person?
Did aliens once land on Mars Oldfield Road?
What stories do your town’s signs tell?
Did you know that words on a page make a sound in your head? Reading expository stretches is like someone whispering in your ear. Too much and it makes you doze off. Page upon page of dialogue can be tiring as well, like listening to a loud, non-stop talker. Blah blah blah. And awkward arrangements will make a reader dizzy and confused. The ears hear what the eyes see.
Words on the page should have a pleasing rhythm or euphony. Words should mix and mingle in our minds to elicit rich imagery. Sure, you might want some words to clash for effect, but overall, clunky language is junky language.
I enjoy writing in first person because I can become my character. I sometimes speak a scene aloud before committing to paper, to test the sound of the words. (And I’ve even been known to speak with an accent, since my current manuscript is set in the south.)
Reading your manuscript aloud differs from scanning it on the page. Your ears will immediately find awkward passages and stilted dialogue. While reading aloud, you’ll be able to examine:
- Repetitive phrases. Many writers have crutch words or phrases that they use repeatedly without noticing. Reading aloud can make those redundancies obvious. Even a word used twice on the same page can sound faulty to the ear, especially if it’s an uncommon word.
- Authenticity of dialogue. While reading, ask yourself, do people talk like this? You might find yourself adding words or skipping some to fit a more natural speech pattern.
- Wordy descriptions and run-on sentences. Too many adjectives can bog a sentence down. And don’t even get me started on adverbs. That requires a separate post!
- Pacing. Do you have long passages of description or introspection? Too much dialogue? Is the piece too slow or too fast?
Your body will also give you cues. Do you need to catch your breath? Are you thirsty? That may sound funny, but it was true with one of my early stories. I stuffed my sentences so full of curlicue words that I needed a big glass of water afterwards.
But be forewarned, like any technique, reading aloud does have its cons. A writer may inject a tone or inflection while reading their own work that doesn’t come across on the page. I learned this recently at a first page session when someone else read my story. The humor and liveliness that I intended fell flat. Was the reader’s performance or my words at fault?
So you might want to consider having a critique partner read your manuscript aloud instead. Even if it’s read in monotone, the meaning should shine through. Are the words doing what you want them to do?
Have a listen; make a revision.
It’s Children’s Book Week! So what does that mean? It’s time to celebrate children’s books across all genres.
Read to children. Inspire their creativity. Write a story together. Draw pictures. Enter Carin Berger’s Contest. Do whatever you want to make reading a priority in your family’s life! (Although I’m sure it’s already a priority.)
To help you along on this salute to Silverstein, this festival of Fox, this jubilee of Jeffers, here are some links:
- Read story starters by children’s authors and finish what they started.
- Visit the Write For a Reader blog. Shelly will have author interviews and give-aways all week.
- Check out IlluStory and Create Your Own Pop-up Book, fun ways for your child to publish their own book.
- Review the Top 10 Summer Reading Lists from various organizations and the children’s choice reading list from the Children’s Book Council.
- Share your favorite children’s book with us. Comment below so others can discover great books.
And here are some marvelous picture books being released this week! Enjoy!