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breadsauceWanna know how I got published? The NJ chapter of SCBWI is to thank. I began attending their events years ago, soaking up all the craft knowledge and publishing tips I could like a piece of garlic bread hungrily sops up the last bits of gravy (yes, my Italian grandmother called it gravy, not sauce).

This year the conference will be held June 28 & 29 in Plainsboro, NJ at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Conference Center. (Hmm, I wonder if they’ll be serving pasta with gravy?)

More details to come, but for those of you who want to propose a workshop or presentation, submissions are now open!


Hope to see you there!

In 2008, I had the most nerve-wracking 20-minute drive of my life. My knuckles paled, my stomach gurgled, and my thoughts raced faster than the 35 MPH I could manage to clock on the highway. I was on my way to my first kidlit conference ever: the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference. AHHHH! Somebody help me!

Thanks, Ryan. I know you would have, honey. But I digress…

I knew practically nada about writing for kids, but I had the start to a middle grade novel that had gotten good feedback from my critique group. So I slipped the first three pages into an envelope earlier that summer and waited patiently for the response. Thankfully, I was on vacation for the final two weeks of the countdown. It made my vacation go by much more slowly. I recommend this tactic to anyone who must wait—go to a beach and plop a lounge chair in the sand, facing the ocean. Or facing Ryan Gosling in surfing trunks. You’ll come to love the waiting.

But when the vacation was over and the car hit our driveway, I jumped out and dashed to the post office. Awaiting me was a thick envelope, and remembering the drill from college admissions, I knew this meant a “yes”!

So off I went. I was so green. (Although I wore a cute purple blouse.) But when the event was done, I blogged all about it. It helped me absorb the information like a SCBWI sponge. Hopefully my notes help prepare you for this year’s conference. You can review them all here: RUCCL 2008.

But Tara, what does this all mean?

It means that the RUCCL 2012 Application is now available!

And guess who’s your morning “Success Story” speaker?

As Miss Piggy would say, “MOI!”

Yeah, I was pretty floored they asked me. Trinka Hakes Noble sent me an email saying, “I hope you don’t mind, but I put your name forward as our Inspiration Speaker for the mentee breakfast.  Would you be interested?”

Would I be interested? Are you kidding? Of course I am! Wow! Whoopee! Holy macaroni! Keeno Yaccarino!

Wait a second, what did I just agree to…? Pale knuckles and gurgling stomach again?

Well, I am hoping many of my blog readers will be accepted to the conference this year. Because not only do I want to see you succeed, I’ll need your help during my presentation. (Details to come. No, you won’t need to hold a barf bucket. Well, maybe. OK, don’t hold me to that promise.)

So polish up those manuscripts! You’ve got until July 2 to postmark them.

And if you have any questions about the conference, please ask away in the comments!

I’m so pleased to bring you the PiBoIdMo Cafe Press shop this year!

There’s mugs, t-shirts, journals and totebags with Bonnie Adamson‘s adorable firefly logo, and every purchase earns $3.00 for two charitable causes: RIF and Mount Prospect Elementary School library.

RIF has lost its federal funding grant, and Mount Prospect’s library budget has been slashed by 80% over the last 2 years. (I volunteer there once a week.)

Proceeds from the shop will be evenly split between these two charities.

So if you need a hot cup of java to get your creativity flowing, what better mug than this one?

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!

‘Twas the night before Conference and all through the hotel,
Authors were dreaming of merchandise deals with Mattel.

The manuscripts were printed with name and website,
In the hopes that an agent would find love at first sight.

The editors were snoring tucked into their rooms,
Knowing before them a day of pitching looms.

And while I am too warm, and Corey Rosen Schwartz too cold,
We share a king bed because the queen rooms are all sold.

Out in the hallway, there arose such a noise,
Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the conference’s only two boys.

The place is packed with slinky stiletto-heel wearers,
‘Cause style in books means style in fashion is fairer.

A kidlit conference is full of women who are hot,
Who sell tons of stories while you just want one shot.

But we authors are friendly, we certainly don’t bite,
We’re not filled with envy, we’re not filled with spite.

We will welcome you to our world that’s so crazy,
So will editors and film agents who’ve worked with Scorcese.

Get out there and network! Polish your pitch to a shine!
Relax in the lounge with a smooth glass of wine.

A kidlit conference is the place to make a friend,
It’s where deals happen ’cause deal-makers attend!

But don’t drone for hours about your book’s premise,
Talk about your life, your hobbies. Do you play tennis?

And don’t just stand there, go mix and go mingle.
Don’t stare at the editors like they’re all Kris Kringle.

Be yourself and you’ll find that you’ll be an attraction,
Don’t croon like Jagger about not gettin’ no satisfaction.

Be happy, be cheerful, take crits with salt if need be,
Remember we’re here to help you succeed, see?

(Excuse the bad meter, I’m not really a poet.
Ask Corey the rhyme genius, she really does know it.)

And with that I bid you a hearty good luck.
Break a leg, do your best, get that writer’s block unstuck.

Enjoy yourself for three days and two nights.
Happy Conference to all, and to all a good write!

Last year I attended the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus conference. (Phew! That’s a mouthful. How ’bout I just say RUCCL from now on?)

It was my first big conference. It was my first conference, period. I thought I was prepared. I don’t get nervous in large crowds of people, nor do I find it difficult to go right up to someone and chat. And I love public speaking and performing. I’m not easily intimidated.

But, when I arrived, I realized it. I hadn’t fully prepared myself.

The day went by quickly. Those organizers pack the event chock full of excellent speakers and interesting topics. (See my post-conference notes from last year.) The time you have to meet people is the time it takes to walk from one presentation to another.

I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to many editors or agents. True, I had only just begun to write for children, and thus, I didn’t know who I should be chatting with anyway.

So I decided that I would try to help other first-timers. Here’s a list of lessons I learned last year. I hope they help you make the most of your day.

1. Research the faculty in advance.


2008 RUCCL mentors arrive

Find out which editors and agents are interested in the kind of work you produce. Make a list of their names, and if possible, look up their photos online. No, I’m not encouraging anyone to be a stalker! There are 80 professionals mixing it up with 80 attendees, all wearing name tags. If you don’t want to squint at people’s chests all day trying to figure out who is who, go online and see if you can find a photo to recognize people by sight.

Approach editors/agents only during appropriate moments. Don’t interrupt another attendee or tap the editor’s shoulder while they’re taking a big honking bite of sandwich. You should know that the restroom is a no-no! The best time you’ll have to approach professionals is between sessions. Another good time is when they announce where mentors and mentees should meet. (They will announce pairings via alphabetical order and ask “A-F” to meet in a specific area, like near the fireplace.) When I went to find my mentor for my 45-minute session, I didn’t immediately see her…because another attendee had already pulled her aside to talk.

And I’ll say it: lunch is a good time to talk. They will seat mentors at numbered tables that correspond with the five-on-five assignments. Although not everyone sits in the right place, it will be easiest to find people during lunch. But again, if someone is chomping on chicken salad, it’s probably not a good time to interrupt.

Why is it important to talk to the faculty directly? Because they may not accept your submission post-conference if you don’t make contact. Now that’s contrary to what I had heard about conference submissions, but I did get one submission returned after RUCCL, citing that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. (Yes, RUCCL was clearly marked on the envelope and in the cover letter.)

So find editors. Ask if you may submit. Ask for a business card. Don’t give them yours unless they ask. Be professional, courteous, polite and to the point! There’s not a lot of time, so don’t ramble. Which brings me to my next lesson…

2. If you know your manuscript needs direction, say so.

My submission last year was a novel I had only recently begun. I was not yet clear on the plot or direction. But when my mentor asked me about it, I meandered. I had two general ideas of the possible direction in my head, but I wasn’t certain which path I should take. Instead of asking my mentor what she thought, I tried to make it sound like I was clear. And I obviously was not.

Another attendee had it right. She told me, “I explained to my mentor that I had started the novel but stopped because I was stuck. I told her I wasn’t sure the direction it should take. She then gave me some very good ideas and we brainstormed the possibilities.”

3. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

During the five-on-five, the mentees had an opportunity to ask questions of the professional panel. But our discussion leader asked questions off a prepared, suggested list of topics. They weren’t necessarily the questions I wanted answered, but I didn’t speak up and ask what was on my mind.

Remember, this is your day. The conference is arranged to help you, the mentee, take the next step in your career. So if you don’t find the topics to be of interest, speak up. Politely interject and ask if you can introduce a question instead.

Mixing it up at lunch

Mixing it up at lunch

4. Prepare a list of questions.

Questions about your submission, questions about the market, questions about the publishing house, questions about your other manuscripts. Whatever questions you have, take them with you. Refer to them. If there’s information you want to collect, this is the place to do it.

Another good idea is to bring a list of your manuscripts with one-line descriptions. Even if you just have ideas, ask if they’re good ones. A mentor might tell you to pursue idea A and D but not B or C because of current market dynamics, competition, or other factors (remember, one of those factors might be personal taste).

5. Have fun!

This is your day. It’s a step forward in your career. Enjoy it, use it to your advantage, learn from it. Congratulations and have a great day!

I added the schedule from last year as I recall it, for those interested in how the day is structured. Please realize this may not be similar to this year.

2008 RUCCL Schedule
• Arrive, get folder with schedule/mentor assignment/faculty bios, read through it, have breakfast, free time to mingle with other attendees
• Introductory speaker (2008, Kay Winters)
• Mentor session
• Panel Discussion (2008, “How a Manuscript Becomes a Book”)
• Lunch
• Five-on-Five Discussion (You, your mentor and four other mentor-mentee pairs)
• Keynote Speaker (2008, K.L. Going)

I’m back from vacation.

We unlocked the door and dumped our bags, adding to the stray belongings flung about during our packing tornado. Then big sighs on the couch, surveying our natural disaster.

This stinks. Or maybe I should say the house stinks, being closed up for two weeks with a cucumber rotting in the fridge, mossy and shriveled like a dead pickle.

We’re home and I’m in a funk. There’s no sugar-coating the post-vacation blues. (And since the cupboard is bare, I have no sugar anyway.)

beachhavenlibraryThere was no fiction writing on vacation. I barely even thought about writing. I snapped a photo of the charming Beach Haven Public Library to serve as inspiration for a new story, but that was it. The needle is pointing to “E” on my inspiration gauge.

So how do I jump back in the saddle again, I wonder? From where does the motivation arise? I sent nothing out on submission recently, and my middle grade work in progress has been frozen in mid-chapter ever since I received conflicting feedback at the NJ-SCBWI conference.

I used to be in a hurry to get my work published. I had a timeline for getting stories done and accepted. I’m not making that deadline, and what’s worse, I feel guilty that I’ve let this self-imposed schedule slip. I have friends with new agents, friends with new book deals, exciting happenings that should shove me into gear.

But, no. I’m still sculpting sand mermaids on the beach.

sandmermaid2Perhaps that’s as it should be. I hear you saying, “Everyone needs a break, even writers!” But for the past few years, I didn’t believe this to be true. I write because I must write. I possess a DNA code that compells me to be creative. Shouldn’t I be writing every free moment of the day? And if I’m not, can I still call myself a writer?

An epiphany came yesterday while out to brunch. An elderly woman stopped by our table. With her fingertips brushing the tablecloth she said, “You look like a happy family. That’s so nice to see.”

I nearly teared up at her kindness…and at the realization that my publication woes are stupid, silly. I have a healthy family. A good life. I am a writer. I will write. The stories will come. Someday, they will be published. I will keep working until they’re good enough.

So for now, I’ll ride Western side-saddle. No need to gallop when I can mosey back in. 

How about you? Do you have the late-summer blahs? How do you get motivated again after a break? After a rejection?

masondixonWhat 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.

Tractor Service

Christians Like Pianos
Need Frequent Tuning

Minnows Crickets
Worms Sodas

Bee City
Honey Farm
Petting Zoo

Pumpkin Girl Road
Heavy Father Lane

There’s Only One Heaven
and Only One Way
to Get There

Groceries & Hunt’n Stuff

Organic Produce

Today’s Sons
are Tomorrow’s Fathers

Mars Oldfield Road

Vincent’s Venison
Processing Plant

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?

Random comments on the children’s book industry from editors and agents attending the NJ-SCBWI mentoring workshop on February 22:


“Things are getting tighter with budgets. As hard as it was to get published, it’s even harder now.”

“Bookstores are cutting down on their inventory. We can’t get as many books in, so we’re not buying as many books.”

“This is not just a correction of the marketplace, it’s a correction of the mind.”

“We’re going to be seeing far fewer advances for mediocre books.”

“But if you’re a new author, you don’t have a poor track record to hurt you.”

“We may see a return to house authors. Authors and publishers will enter a partnership. They’ll help nuture one another and careers will have a steady progression. If you find a house that loves you, they will love you long time!”


“Learn how to market your books. Do school visits. Use social networking tools. Talk to other writers about your book. Talk to everyone about your book.”

“Get to know your publicist and marketing director. They are your friends. But don’t overwhelm them with 17 email messages a day. Let them know you’re their partner.”

“Realize that the books you see up front in the stores are paid for by the publishers through co-op marketing. If they have a talking slip? Paid for. If they’re on an end-cap? Paid for.”

“Become friends with your local librarian and your local bookstores. But always keep your publicist informed about what you’re doing. Don’t go over their head. Don’t go over your editor’s head, either. That’s bad business for everyone involved.”

“Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t send chocolate to all the Borders buyers in the country.”

“With school visits, you’re a celebrity to those kids. Get yourself out there. Build word-of-mouth.”

“Temper your expectations. If you wrote a teen non-fiction book, the big retailers aren’t going to carry it. That’s not their market.”

“Don’t follow today’s trends. Writing for the market in general is a terrible idea.”

“If you’re a picture book writer, don’t start writing a YA about vampires just because it’s popular.”


“Editors are always in the market for a well-written book. But I can’t define for you what that is. I know it when I see it.”

“Know what your editor likes. Know who you’re submitting to. I don’t like gross stories.”

“But I do! Send them to me!”

“We like authors who are agented because the work comes in polished.”

A big storm’s a-comin’, says the weatherman, pointing to a white map.

Here in New Jersey, we’re expecting at least six inches of the fluffy stuff by tomorrow. My eleven-year-old neighbor began dancing in front of my fridge and told me about her snow day superstitions: silly but important steps she must take to ensure a snow day tomorrow.

She wears her pajamas inside-out.

Sleeps with a big spoon under her pillow.

Flushes one ice cube down the toilet for each inch of snow she wants.

Eats ice cream.

And dances beside the Frigidaire.

She swears “everyone” does this. At first I wasn’t sure if “everyone” referred to her sixth-grade friends or the rest of the school-age country. Have these snow day superstitions made their way across America, much like the Mikey-of-Life-Cereal Pop Rocks and Diet Coke rumor of my youth?

snowdaydance1Yes, they have! Darn it, because I thought this was a charming idea for a picture book. Alas, it’s already been written. Check out “Snow Day Dance” by author/illustrator Will Hubbell.

According to my young friend, the final snow day superstition is to say a prayer before bed, so I wrote one for her…and for the rest of the kids in America who are wishing hard for a day off.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray for snow twelve inches deep.
Should it melt before I wake,
I pray school’s canceled by mistake!

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