by Jessica Shaw

Hello Storystormers!

I’m honored to be a guest blogger this year! My debut picture book, THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE, released on August 9th, 2022 from Amicus Publishing. It’s beautifully, whimsically, and adorably illustrated by Pauline Gregory.

Let’s get to it! We’re all here because we love writing and we love good advice and we love inspirational lists, yes?

But a list like this…

  1. Be patient
  2. Be persistent
  3. Do your research
  4. Write, write, write
  5. Read, read, read

…is not super helpful.

Yes, yes, okayyyyyyy. These things are important.

But plenty of writers have been doing all these things for a long, long time and they still haven’t signed a contract. Am I right?

I want to share a better list. One that’s a bit more specific and concrete.

These are things that have helped me advance my writing career. I hope they help you, too!

  1. I frequently submitted poems and short stories to children’s magazines. I (eventually) wound up with numerous published pieces…and, yes, a few dollars in my pocket!
  2. I sought out calls for nonfiction material and work-for-hire books for educational publishers. I wound up with numerous NF book contracts and (more) dollars in my pocket! (This was way out of my comfort zone, but gave me a much-needed boost in confidence.)
  3. I participated in critique groups and exchanged manuscripts with individual critique partners as well. It’s helpful to get feedback at different stages from different people. If you only share our work with one group of writers, try shaking things up! Make some new connections and get some fresh eyes on your story!
  4. I spend time around kids. (Full disclosure—I teach Pre-K, so this isn’t something I had to go out of my way to do.) If you don’t interact with children in your normal day-to-day, try volunteering at a library, elementary school, or church nursery.
  5. I joined Twitter and followed other kidlit people: authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, and agents.  For a while it seemed I was just tweeting into a void, but over time I grew my follows/followers. Twitter is a great platform for staying abreast of current events in the industry, learning about individual agents’/editors’ personalities and preferences, and supporting other creators. Be yourself, be kind, be approachable, but be professional.
  6. I participate in Storystorm! Like many of you, I return to Storystorm year after year. Keep your idea lists handy. When I’m stuck, I look back through those lists until something sparks. I re-read old Storystorm blog posts, too! Inspiration at your fingertips!
  7. I keep evergreen themes in mind. Evergreen books are numerous, but their appeal is broad and timeless. Don’t be afraid to write a tried-and-true story, just be sure to give yours a fresh spin. Take a look at your Storystorm idea list. Would any of your ideas fit with an evergreen topic?
  8. I analyze picture books. If I love a book, I make a note of the book title and the reason(s) for its appeal. Zany humor? Flawless rhyme? Lovable characters? Clever wordplay? Likewise, when you read a book that falls short of your expectations, ask yourself why.
  9. I consider adding an educational element. I tend to write the story first…because story should always come first…but if I’m happy with the story and it lends itself to an educational element, I’ll try to work that in. The Great Cookie Kerfuffle is, at its heart, a book about the importance of friends (hello, evergreen topic), but it’s also a counting book (hello, educational element), and that broadens its appeal.
  10. I storyboard. Page turns are everything. Even if your “illustrations” are stick figures and smiley faces, laying out the pages of a story will show you if the amount of text is balanced throughout the book, and if the text on each page spread lends itself to an exciting page turn. Did I mention page turns are everything?
  11. I put away stories I love (when necessary). This one took me years to master. I tended to get hung up on that *one*, special manuscript for a loooong time because, come on, how could this thing NOT sell? I mean, if THIS story doesn’t get published should I even be wasting my time writing?! I wanted validation. I wasted precious writing time. I’ve learned to give my manuscripts a reasonable shot out there and then…put them in the drawer. It’s not a “bad story” drawer or a “retirement” drawer. It’s a “wait-here-while-I write-my-next-great-story” drawer.
  12. I invest in myself. Attending conferences and writing workshops (and paying for the occasional professional critique) elevated my writing, inspired me, opened up submission opportunities, and put me in the company of kind, talented kidlit creators who became friends and critique partners. I only wish I had invested in myself sooner!

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

Jessica Shaw is the author of THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE (Amicus Publishing, 2022). Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Ladybug, and Hopscotch for Girls magazines. She is the author of numerous non-fiction titles for Rosen Publishing. Jessica teaches Pre-K and lives in the Texas Hill Country with her family.

Visit her at or on Twitter at @_Jessica_Shaw.

Jessica is giving away two signed copies of THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE, one each to two winners.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.