by Troy Cummings

Designing a picture book cover is like housetraining a puppy: it requires lots of patience, there are papers spread all over the house, and it’ll inevitably lead to fits of howling in the middle of the night.

But if you can sniff out the good ideas and clean up your happy accidents, you’ll hopefully wind up with something you’re proud to cuddle up with on the couch.

When I wrangle my picture book covers, I try to explore as many different ideas as possible. I start by sketching a few pages crazy loose brainstormy concepts, and then distill those into half a dozen thumbnail sketches.

I draw my thumbnail sketches at about 1.5″ tall. It forces me to work quickly, make big, bold shapes, and to _not_ get fussy with details. I think it’s best to work in b/w at this point; we can save the color decisions for later.

Here are the cover sketches I submitted to my editor/art director for CAN I BE YOUR DOG? It’s a story about a dog who writes letters to every house on Butternut street, in search of a home–so I knew I’d want the cover to involve DOG + MAIL.


1. Big letter: This would have been a pretty static/boring cover; the puppy is too small! But I kept it here in case it gave us more ideas for another direction to follow.

2. Arfy mailing: I like how this one shows us the dog actually sending a letter. It’s sort of already getting the story started—like a bonus page zero of the book!

3. Zoomed-in stamp: I was trying to show the title in a cancellation stamp, but it’s too hard to read. (I ended up stealing this idea for my ABOUT THE AUTHOR photo on the flap. (With my portrait on a 3RD CLASS STAMP.)

4. Special delivery: I liked this one, especially Arfy’s floppy ears.

5. Big puppy: We ended up using this one as flap art, too.

6. Peek: I liked the timidness of the puppy peeking around the corner; we ended up using a variant of this on the back cover.

7. Arfy’s head: This was everyone’s favorite. The scruffy mutt is prominently featured, and it was nice to work the title into the illustration.

Once we’d agreed on a direction, my art director Liz (who rocks!) was able to take my sketch and improve it like crazy. Liz zoomed in on the image, made the title bolder, suggested to bend the letter, and moved my byline out to the background space. I loved all of her suggestions, and we ended up with a jacket that reads pretty well across the room or as a tiny thumbnail image on the web.

The best part about sketching multiple ideas is that none of that work was wasted. I was able to reuse some of my sketches on the flaps/interiors of the book, or for promotional materials.

Troy Cummings is the author/illustrator of more than 30 books, including CAN I BE YOUR DOG?, THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM, and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (written by the indefatigable Tara Lazar!) You can follow him on Twitter @troycummings, follow him on Instagram @troxcummings, or follow him to the new ice cream shop that opened next door to his studio. (Shrewd move on their part!)

Troy is giving away a signed copy of CAN I BE YOUR DOG?

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be selected next week.

Another drum roll…

Before I announce the daily prizes from Storystorm, I must thank Urania Smith for doing the random selection for me. Urania is my mentee from We Need Diverse Books, which we will be talking about soon….but let me tell you, she is a talent on the rise. Watch out for her!

And so here we go…

Day 1: Kirsten Ealand
Day 2: Patricia Alcaro
Day 3: Jen Arena
Day 4: Judy VanSlyke
Day 5: Frances Tosdevin
Day 6: Wendy Myersart
Day 7: Pat Miller
Day 8: Ryan Roberts
Day 9: Andrea Mack
Day 10: Maryshorgan (Sherry Peace)
Day 11: Tracey Brown
Day 12: Rhonda Whitaker
Day 13: Deb Smith
Day 14: Jennifer Broedel
Day 15: Writersideup
Day 16: Lynne Marie
Day 17: Anna Levin
Day 18: Natasha Garnett
Day 19: Karen Larson
Day 20: Andrew Lefebvre
Day 21: Beth Stilborn
Day 22: Bgonsar
Day 23: Lu Fiskin-Ross
Day 24: Kassy Kepol
Day 25: Kathy Cornell Berman
Day 26: Vasilia Graboski
Day 27: Mary Worley
Day 28: KASteed
Day 29: Lucy Straugler
Day 31: Stephen S. Martin

Adam Lehrhaupt: Susan Schade
Nancy Churnin: Debbie Meyer

I will be emailing you all in the next few days to arrange your prizes.

And so, that’s it. It’s over????

No, silly, it’s never over! It’s time to WRITE!

Good luck and happy creating!

Drum roll please…

The following Storystormers have been randomly selected from the pool of ~800 who registered for the event AND completed the 30-idea challenge!

Each winner has been paired with a picture book literary agent who will provide feedback on FIVE IDEAS that have been fleshed out into pitches.

So winners, go through your idea lists and pick the five ideas that move you, that sing to you. (Like Adele.)


Write up each idea as a pitch, around a paragraph apiece. Write about the crux of the story, the hook, how you might envision it panning out. If you aren’t exactly sure, then say so. But give as much information as you can about the idea so the agent can give you feedback on the idea’s viability in today’s picture book marketplace. This will give you an IDEA of which IDEAS you should pursue as manuscripts.

I will give you three days to work on your idea descriptions, then I will email you on February 10 to introduce you to your agent. I have asked the agents to respond to your ideas by the end of the month, but some asked for a little longer due to pending commitments. So please give them time to review and reply appropriately.

And so, here we go…the GRAND PRIZE WINNERS ARE:

Julia Ugarte (Holly McGhee)
Donna Taylor (Ammi-Joan Paquette)
Bronte Colbert (Tricia Lawrence)
Mary Jane Muir (Rachel Orr)
Johnell DeWitt (Stephen Fraser)
Tiffany Dickinson (Erin Casey)
Cassie Bentley (Kelly Sonnack)
Amanda Davis (Jennifer March Soloway)
Tanya Parrott (Tracy Marchini)
Lauren Soloy (Liza Royce Literary Agency)

Congratulations, everyone! Go celebrate!

Remember there are still prizes to come–all those daily goodies you saw throughout January. So stay tuned!


by Adam Lehrhaupt

This is my idea jar. I keep all my story ideas in it.

You know the ones.

The same ideas we spend all of Storystorm coming up with.

Our brilliant, wonderful, genius ideas.

The ideas we will turn into fantastic manuscripts. Manuscripts that will, some day, become beautiful books.
So yes. This is my idea jar.

When I need a jumpstart, I reach inside and pull out one of my ideas. Then, it’s time to play.

You need to play with your ideas. You know that, right? If you don’t, they get rowdy. When ideas get rowdy…oh, my! The trouble they can cause…

Anyway, now I get to play with my idea. I can do all kinds of things with it:

  • Draw it.
  • Talk it out.
  • Sculpt it.
  • Fancy needle point thing it.
  • I can even write it.

Well, I’d probably write it over any of those other ones, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You can play with your ideas however you want. The important thing is that you USE them.

Every. Single. One.

They might not all turn into that beautiful book, but we can learn from them all:

  • What made this idea work?
  • Why did this one fail?
  • Can I revise it so that it’s better?
  • Is there a different approach that I haven’t considered?

So, take out those ideas. Play with them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you do, learn from them.

Take what you learn and turn it into successes.

And then…

Reach back into that idea jar and do it again.

As a special treat, in honor of my newest book, I’m giving away my #1 thing to help you write picture books that will sell absolutely FREE, along with 35 tips and tricks to help you do it. Just stop over to

Adam Lehrhaupt is an award-winning children’s author and writing coach.

He has written 14 picture books, including his newest, IDEA JAR (S&S, available TODAY) illustrated by Deb Pilutti.

by Nancy Churnin

Don’t turn out the lights, the Storystorm party is not over!

Yes, now that your notepads and brains are bubbling like cauldrons with ideas, the question Tara has asked me to answer in this post-Storystorm post is WHAT NEXT? In the 11 months between the end of Storystorm 2018 and the start of Storystorm 2019, what should you do with your ideas? How do you know which ones to work on first and which, if any, you may want to toss?

This is an answer you can make with your heart or your head. My advice? Use both.

What does it mean to choose from the heart? There are some ideas that just grab you and won’t let you go until you put them on paper. I keep long, growing lists of ideas, but I circle and focus on the ones that haunt me. I prioritize according to the ideas that demand a chance at life.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME sprang from a promise I made to a Deaf man, Steve Sandy, to tell the story of this Deaf hero. It was my first book and I had no idea at first how to tell the story.

At the same time, my head knew there was a classic hero’s journey here to tell if I could just break down the steps. With the help of online classes and fearless critique partners, my head was able to figure out how to turn this idea into a story about a boy who grows into a man with a goal that he achieves by learning his challenge—his deafness—is actually his gift.

Three of my other books, while driven by my heart, made equal sense to my head. CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (coming out in June) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (coming out in September) also required a lot of writing and revising, but ultimately fit into a hero’s journey with a clear beginning, middle and end.

But MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN ran the risk of being heart over head. It defied the classic structure with the story of a young man, not a boy, whose challenge is to find an easier way to navigate across a 300-foot mountain so people in his village can get access to schools and doctors. But I loved this idea and couldn’t let go until I found the way to tell his true story. It was a deeply rewarding experience as I slowly stumbled and felt my way to a narrative with a folk tale feel.

Ultimately, all ideas require you to put your head to work, as you have to solve the problem of creating page-turning suspense that leads to a satisfying conclusion in a story of roughly 800 words or less, preferably one that kids will want to read again and again. While some ideas contain a clear journey, others will prove elusive. Some you may want to toss or postpone. But you may not necessarily want to abandon them. Whether you let them guide you into a story should be a question of how much you love them.

We often talk about books as our babies. Like human or fur babies, they’re living, breathing pieces of you – funny, passionate, silly, kind, wise, a mix of some or all of these qualities or others that you never anticipated. So as we approach Valentine’s Day, sort through your ideas for the ones you love most passionately and give them everything you’ve got. Then when they grow up and move to bookstores far away, they’ll still feel close, beating in rhythm with your heart.

Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of six picture books: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman); MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books); CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR LINE IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) and the forthcoming IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books, Spring 2018); THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman, Fall 2018) and MARTIN & ANNE (Creston Books, 2019). Free Teachers Guides and projects for kids are available for all her books. You can learn more at, join her on Facebook at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and find her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Nancy is giving away a copy of her most recent book, CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!



It may have been a little bit crazy, but here you are.

If you have 30 ideas, you can qualify for one of our AMAZING Storysttorm prizes (the daily giveaways and the Grand Prizes) just by taking the following pledge. Put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours! Give them a big, fat, juicy smacker! SMOOCH!

You have until February 4th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post. PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name or email you left on the registration post and the name or email you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. If you want to check the registration post, it is here.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you made a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

If your name appears on both the registration post AND this winner’s pledge, you’ll be entered into the drawings for the daily giveaways and the Grand Prizes: feedback on your best 5 ideas from a literary agent.

So what should you do now? Start fleshing out your best ideas! Write them as elevator pitches. Get ready because YOU might be a CHOSEN ONE.

The daily giveaway prizes include picture books, manuscript critiques, art prints—all the stuff you saw during the month. All winners will be randomly selected by and announced next week.

So, sign away and pick up your winner’s badge to proudly display anywhere you choose:


by Doreen Cronin

Inspiration is a slippery thing, impossible to catch when you’re trying and ironically, easiest to catch when you’re really, really busy doing something else. About a year after CLICK CLACK MOO was published, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith. I was an attorney at the time working long days and plenty of weekends to boot. I wanted to pursue writing as my career, so I finally quit my day job and shortly thereafter, we moved out of the city and out (well, up, actually) to the suburbs. I was going to write all day. All night if I wanted to! I had my own office in the house, I had plenty of writing time. No day job to get in my way! I sat and I sat and I sat—and I thought and I thought and I thought and I waited and waited and waited. You know what never showed up? INSPIRATION. I didn’t write a thing for almost a year. DIDN’T WRITE A THING. I had written so much more when I was working long hours and always pressed for time. Oddly, inspiration struck when I had no time for it back then. WHAT? NOW? A story about a worm?? It’s 1:00 a.m. and I have a brief due tomorrow! But when your brain is working, its working overtime. The harder I worked at my day job, the more my brain was spinning with ideas.

What I learned in The Year of Not Writing (besides that we really should move back to the city), was that more often than not, inspiration shows up in the work. I write every single day. I absolutely do not write well every single day. In fact, I rarely do. Ninety percent of what I write is unusable. Horrible. Hideous. Embarrassingly bad. Boring. Unoriginal. Most of it will never see the light of day. But if I wait for inspiration, they will find my rotting corpse hunched over my desk and a blank screen on my computer. Which came first—the inspiration or the work? Very rarely, for me at least, it’s the inspiration. Usually, the uninspired work comes first and somewhere in the first draft or third draft or 18th draft, something from that work stands out, pops out, screams for attention. That’s the inspiration. Only you have to write it first. So frustrating!!

Where to start? Anywhere. I’m an introvert—so I’m listening way more than I’m talking—which is helpful. If you are chatting on your cell phone, or sitting near me on the F train, or at the next table in a restaurant… I’m eavesdropping. Bits of things, pieces of things are the best. Almost anything taken out of context can be a great story starter, title, or dialogue. I’m also partially deaf, so I mishear things all the time —which also makes for strange word pairings in my brain (and plenty of awkward conversations, which is okay, because of the introvert thing—I’m used to it.). Mistakes are great inspirations. Embarrassment is great inspiration. Fear excels at the art of inspiration. If you are not lucky enough to be a hard-of-hearing introvert, re-write an old idea. Write about a time you were deeply embarrassed or scared to death. Write about what you wished you had said in a recent awkward conversation, instead of what actually came out of your mouth (maybe that’s just me).

In the heart of every story is conflict—or a problem. Find yours. Use yours. Give your problems away to your characters. See what they do with them. If you can’t come up with a character, use a stand-in. Here, squirrel, here’s my problem. I’m afraid of ________. Just start writing the story about the squirrel afraid of public speaking—even though this would seem to fall into the category of a problem with little consequence for a squirrel. Just write it. Ninety percent of it will be unusable, hideous, boring, nonsensical. But it will start you down a path where you don’t know what’s coming. That’s where you want to be. That’s where inspiration likes to hang out.

When I die, some poor soul will come along and have to dig through my office. If I was alive, I’d be mortified at how many bad ideas, bad writing, and manuscripts completely lacking in originality will be unearthed. That’s the work. Maybe it will inspire somebody…

Doreen Cronin grew up in Merrick, New York, with her parents, two brothers and a sister. They lived in a red house with a big backyard and a neighborhood full of kids. Her dad was a police officer and he was very, very funny! Doreen decided that she wanted to be a police officer when she grew up, too. Or maybe even an FBI agent! When she actually did grow up, she realized she wasn’t actually brave enough to do those jobs!

It was her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, who first told Doreen that she was a writer. Mrs. Cooper gave her extra writing assignments to encourage Doreen. It was extra homework, but she loved it! She also loved the library—it was one of her favorite places to spend time.

Doreen graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1988 and St. John’s Law School in 1998. After practicing law for a few years in downtown Manhattan, she left my job and decided to write full time. She’s been writing ever since!

Visit her online at

Doreen is giving away a set of signed CLICK, CLACK, MOO books (Click Clack Moo, Giggle Giggle Quack, Duck for President, Click Clack Boo)!

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Hello, Storystormers! Your guest posts will return tomorrow for a full 30 days of inspiration. Plus, there will be a couple of Post-Storystorm guest blogs, too!

In the meantime, let me announce the Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best five ideas from one of these TEN amazing picture book literary agents.

The Storystorm Pledge will be posted on February 1st for you to sign if you have at least 30 ideas. This will be your chance to officially affirm that you have completed the Storystorm challenge.

Winners of these Grand Prizes will be selected in early February from the list of Storystormers who have both registered and completed the challenge. Your name must be on both the registration and final pledge.

Without further ado…which is certainly NOT about nothing…let me introduce the Grand Prize agents to you.

Holly M. McGhee, President and Creative Director, Pippin Properties

Holly M. McGhee still carried MADELINE around in 3rd grade—until Mrs. Carrier, her school librarian, tricked her into reading longer books by giving her one with her name on it, HOLLY IN THE SNOW. After college, Holly headed straight into the book world of New York City, where she has enjoyed being a secretary, an advertising manager, a sales rep (for one month), and in the six years prior to opening the doors at Pippin, an executive editor at HarperCollins.

Now, as the President and Creative Director of Pippin she is dedicated to shepherding books that make a difference into the world.

Ammi-Joan Paquette, Senior Agent, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Ammi-Joan Paquette is a senior agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, representing all types of children’s and YA literature. She is also the author of the Princess Juniper series, the forthcoming MG novel The Train of Lost Things, and picture books including Ghost in the House, Elf in the House, Bunny Bus, and The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies. With acclaimed author Laurie Ann Thompson, she is also the co-author of the “nonfiction with a twist” series, Two Truths and a Lie. In her agent acquisitions, Joan is particularly drawn to richly voiced, unforgettable characters and settings, as well as tightly-paced, well-plotted stories with twists and turns that keep you guessing right until the end. Visit her on the web at: (P.S. Joan represents Tara.)

Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Tricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 22 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids books to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.

As agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.

Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) at and

Rachel Orr, Agent, Prospect Agency

Prior to joining Prospect Agency in 2007, Rachel worked as an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she had the pleasure of working with such successful novelists as Dan Gutman and Suzanne Williams. Because of her editorial background, Rachel continues to do a lot of hands-on work with her clients before sending their projects out on submission.

Rachel loves working with clients who come from diverse backgrounds and have fresh perspectives to offer readers.

Rachel is looking for short, punchy picture books (either in prose or rhyme) that are humorous and have a strong marketing hook; non-fiction picture books (especially biographies or stories with a historical angle); and illustrators for the trade market.

Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Stephen Fraser joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an agent in January 2005. He worked most recently at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where he edited such creative talents as Mary Engelbreit, Gregory Maguire, Michael Hague, Ann Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, Brent Hartinger, Stephen Mitchell, and Dan Gutman. He began his career at Highlights for Children and later worked at Scholastic and Simon & Schuster.

A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, he has a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College in Boston. He represents both children’s and adult books in a wide range of genres.

Erin Casey, Junior Agent, Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency

Erin has found solace and wonder in books since she stopped gnawing on their corners. Erin graduated from Hamilton College with a B.A. in Creative Writing and an ever-growing list of books to read. Though she spent most of her education learning to appreciate, analyze, and argue points about adult fiction, working at Gallt and Zacker has allowed her to get back in touch with her inner child. Erin now reads books for all ages and is particularly drawn to work that shows the author’s world- and character-building ability. She wants to believe wholeheartedly in the world of the book, whether the setting is familiar or fantastic. She wants to experience the characters’ journey through all of her senses as well as her emotions. She wants even the simplest lines of dialogue to pluck at her heartstrings because they’re so perfectly written for that character. Erin loves that startled feeling you get upon reaching the end of a chapter in a really good book. You forget you’re reading when you’re so busy living, you know?

Kelly Sonnack, Senior Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Kelly represents illustrators and writers for all age groups within children’s literature (picture books, middle grade, chapter book, YA, and graphic novels).

Picture books that Kelly represents include sweet, emotional books like Diane Adams’ TWO HANDS TO HOLD YOU and LOVE IS (both Chronicle), Elizabeth McPike’s LITTLE SLEEPYHEAD (Putnam/PRH), and Alastair Heim’s LOVE YOU TOO (Little Bee/Bonnier); funny books like Bridget Heos’s MUSTACHE BABY (Clarion/HMH), Alastair Heim’s NO TOOTING AT TEA and his upcoming THE GREAT PUPPY INVASION (both Clarion/HMH); thoughtful and imaginative books like Jessica Young’s MY BLUE IS HAPPY (Candlewick) and Sam Zuppardi’s THE NOWHERE BOX and JACK’S WORRY (both Candlewick); and original board books such as Kenny Harrison’s four-book series Hide and Seek Harry (Candlewick).

Kelly spent most of her childhood as a 3rd culture kid, growing up in Singapore. Now she lives with her husband and little ones in San Diego, and is on the Advisory Board and faculty for UCSD’s certificate in Writing and Illustrating for Children. She is also a founder of the City Heights Young Writers Workshop and is a frequent speaker at conferences, including SCBWI’s national and regional conferences. She can be found talking about all things children’s books on Facebook (agentsonnack) and Twitter (@KSonnack).

Jennifer March Soloway, Associate Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Jennifer represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and YA stories, and is actively building her list. Although she specializes in children’s literature, she also represents adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime, suspense and horror projects.

For picture books, she is drawn to a wide range of stories from silly to sweet, but she always appreciates a strong dose of humor and some kind of surprise at the end.

Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer worked in marketing and public relations in a variety of industries, including financial services, health care, and toys. She has an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College, and was a fellow at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto in 2012. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, their two sons, and an English bulldog.

Jennifer regularly presents at writing conferences all over the country, including the San Francisco Writers Conference, the Northern Colorado Writers Conference, and regional SCBWI conferences.

For her latest conference schedule, craft tips and more, follow Jennifer on Twitter at @marchsoloway.

Tracy Marchini, Literary Agent, BookEnds Literary Agency

After four years as a Literary Agents Assistant at Curtis Brown, Tracy Marchini left to pursue her own editorial business and to earn her MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. With ten years of experience either at an agency or working as a freelance children’s editor, she joined BookEnds in June of 2016 and is excited to grow her list of both award-winning and debut authors and illustrators.

Growing up, Tracy made it a personal goal to read every Nancy Drew Case Files in her school’s library and still has a soft spot for a good girl detective story. As an adult, she loves the sense of possibility in children’s and young adult literature – and can still empathize with the soul-crushing feeling that is mandatory gym class.

Tracy is looking for picture book, middle grade and young adult manuscripts across most genres, including contemporary, mysteries, thrillers, magical realism, historical fiction, graphic novels and non-fiction. She is also looking for picture book illustrators and author-illustrators. Follow her on Twitter @TracyMarchini.

Liza Royce Literary Agency

Liza Fleissig, with her partner Ginger Harris-Dontzin, opened the Liza Royce Agency (LRA) in early 2011. A cross-platform company providing development, representation, and strategic career management for clients in all media, their goal is to represent clients in all stages of their careers, from the most established to those developing their craft, as well as debuts. Both former partners in NYC based litigation law firms, Liza and Ginger bring a combined 40 years of negotiating experience to the field. This background, along with connections rooted in publishing, movies and television, allowed them to focus and build on a referral based clientele.

From picture books through adult projects, fiction and non-fiction, screenplays to stage works, LRA welcomes strong voices and plot driven works. Their inaugural books became available in stores January 2013. Their first was an Edgar nominee, another was an Indie Next Pick, and two others were optioned for film. LRA’s success began right out of the gate. Here’s to more great projects!


A sincere THANK YOU to all the participating agents!

Storystormers, get down to work refining, polishing and fleshing out your best ideas so you will be ready if you are randomly selected a Grand Prize Winner!

by Jane Yolen

I could go on a metaphoric streak about ideas, talking about stalking the shy idea, cultivating the wild idea, setting traps… etc. …

But honestly, ideas are thick on the ground. They are everywhere. If you’re a writer, just take a walk outside and ideas will come to you at once.

Take my hand. Here we are crossing from my house, over a set of stone steps, walking down to my daughter’s house. It is evening. There are sun-activated lights.

I think: fairy lights. What if a child going over a stone walkway to her grandmother’s house, fantasizes a story about fairies guiding her to their queen. Or perhaps fireflies are out. The child in the picture suddenly begins to see that lights are not just random, but patterned. She grows into a famous scientist studying fireflies. Or perhaps the child is lost and the lights call her home. Or. . .

See—the single idea of a child walking in the evening and lights—sun-activtated, or firefly or fairy lights—I already have the beginnings of three different stories from one idea.

And if the same story was written by, say—Patricia Polacco, Dan Santat, or me—you would get three very different stories indeed.

So it’s not the idea by itself, but what you do with it that matters.


How do I know this? Well, after 366 books (#s 365 and 366 are being published March 6 of this year) I think I can say reliably that those ideas are everywhere. But if you are not alert to them, you will probably be stomping on them every time you put your feet over the side of the bed. (And what kind of monster is under your bed anyway?)

So being alert is a start.

But another important part is—take time. Time out or time in. Time for yourself, and time to just quietly keep your eyes sharp.

I call those days I am not writing, “gathering days”. When I am walking outside, I am always aware that I am breathing in stories. When I read a newspaper or book or story or poem by someone else, I find stories there as well.

When I sit in a train or a plane, and listen in in on conversations of strangers—gossip is also a story starter. You learn about individual voices by eavesdropping.

Patricia MacLachlan regularly uses things her grandchildren have said as story starters.

My COMMANDER TOAD books began when my son Adam was bright and brave since he was afraid of going up the stairs for bed which meant going down the long dark hall to his room.

Maurice Sendak has said that WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE came about because of at family parties his aunts and uncles leaning over and pinching his cheeks when he was a very small and saying, “You are so cute, I am going to eat you up!”

OWL MOON was a story I saw played out in my own family as my husband took our children out owling.

Oh—and when editor Bonnie Verberg called me up and said, “My son Robbie is three years old. He hates to go to bed and he loves dinosaurs. Can you do anything for him? And HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT was born. Robbie is now graduated from NYU. I like to think I had a little bit to do with that!

Yep, ideas everywhere.

So don’t ask where do you get your ideas. Ask yourself: “What can I do with all the ideas I have?”

And then go out there and cultivate that wild idea.

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is celebrating her 365th published book in 2018. Her works, which range from very young rhymed picture books to novels for adults and every genre in between, have won an assortment of awards including two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, the Jewish Book Award, the Kerlan Award, and the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, as well as six honorary doctorates. She lives in Massachusetts in the winter and Scotland in the summer. She writes every day. Follow her on Twitter @janeyolen #Yolen365 or on Facebook and visit her website:

Also see Jane’s previous Storystorm post about how a haunting photograph of the “angel” apartment building in Paris prompted a new picture book. 

Jane is giving away a signed copy of OWL MOON.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Stacy McAnulty

I’m not a neuroscientist, but I have theories on how the brain works. Allow me to explain.

Your gray matter is full of ideas that are locked away, waiting to be released. These little nuggets can be freed by numerous methods. Here are some of my favorite ways to unlock an idea:

  1. Listen to NPR for an hour. It must be a show that has story segments. (Sorry Terry Gross.) Your world will be expanded and your brain will start asking questions. I listened to a story about de-extinction. It’s kind of like Jurassic Park but really happening with the Wooly Rhino. I ended up drafting a story called WOOLY AND FLEA.
  2. Force yourself to create a list. In seventh grade, my daughter had ten minutes of free writing at the beginning of every language arts class. The only rule, the pencil had to keep moving. Free writing is difficult for me, because I end up wanting to write “All Work and No Play Makes Johnny a Dull Boy” over and over. So, instead I recommend making lists.
    — Jot down a list of characters that would make horrible protagonists.
    — Titles that would make frightening bedtime stories.
    — Plots that would make conservatives (or liberals) really angry.
    — Unlikely friendship pairings.
    — A setting you’ve never seen before in a kid’s book.
  3. Stop twisting fairytales and twist something else. Can we all agree we have enough Goldilocks and the Three Whatevers? Why not twist “The Breakfast Club” into a picture book? Instead of “five high-school students from different walks of life endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal,” how about “five dogs from different walks of life endure a Saturday at the groomers under a power-hungry stylist”? Or ghosts in a haunted house? Or fleas on the back of a wooly rhino?
  4. Play the what-if game with a six year old and then steal her ideas. The what-if game is simple. Just fill in the blank. What if your principal was alien? What if there was one clock that controlled time across the universe? You offer a what-if and then the child offers a what-if. The ideas will get crazier as you play. You can make it more challenging by adding “and”. What if your principal was an alien and you discovered his plot to collect specimens? Note: this game can also be played with a drunk friend if you don’t have a child handy.
  5. The playlist shuffle. Pluck an idea from whatever song comes up. I did this recently and got “Ebony and Ivory.” The result was an idea about a piano-playing t-rex named Wonder. Note: if you only listen to classical music, I don’t know if this will work. Maybe borrow someone else’s iPod.
  6. Go for a walk or take a hot shower. Kidding! Those never work for me.
  7. Head to your local bookstore. This works best on a Tuesday when the shelves are full of new releases. Pick up each book. Imagine what the story is about before you crack the cover. Sometimes you’ll be right. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you’ll have a better idea than what’s been published. Note on karma: do not walk out of this bookstore without buying something. Karma is watching.

If you do all of these things, I know a nugget of an idea will be knocked loose from your skull. Probably more than one. Once you open up the spigot, the ideas will trickle out.

But let’s be honest, most of these ideas probably stink. If you’re lucky, you’ll be blessed with a mediocre one. Unfortunately, when the idea presents itself, you really have no way of knowing if it’s golden or just coated in a golden-like substance.

So now you have to do the real work. You have to write the manuscript. That’s the only way to know. You might realize the nugget is garbage after the first sentence, or after you complete the first draft. If it still has some shine, you revise. Then you might realize it’s crap. Or you keep moving on. Revise. Is there something these? Revise. Has it lost its luster? Revise. Revise. Revise. Have you struck gold?

Now for the unfortunate moment of truth. That golden nugget of an idea—the one that has become a well-polished, beautiful manuscript—might never sell. (That’s a completely different conversation.) Your job is to move to the next idea. And the next. And the next. I promise, your brain is full of them. Just keep turning the key.

Stacy McAnulty is a children’s book author, who used to be a mechanical engineer, who’s also qualified to be a paleontologist (NOT REALLY), a correspondent for The Daily Show (why not), and a Green Bay Packer coach (totally!). She is the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Recipient for Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Her other picture books include Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, illustrated by David Litchfield; Brave and Beautiful, both illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite, illustrated by Edward Hemingway; and 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath, illustrated by Joy Ang. She’s also authored the chapter book series Goldie Blox, based on the award-winning toys, and The Dino Files. Her debut middle grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, will publish in May 2018. When not writing, Stacy likes to listen to NPR, bake triple-chocolate cupcakes, and eat triple-chocolate cupcakes. Originally from upstate NY, she now lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 2 dogs, and 1 husband. Visit her online at and Twitter

Stacy is giving away a signed copy of EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
Fall 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

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