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Hey, Tara! Thanks for letting me share about my Stinky Stench!

(Umm, P.U., but OK…?)

Over the last year and a half—ever since first book LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST was released—a small handful of bookstores around the country reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in visiting to do readings and signings.

For those in and around New England (my home), I tried to make it happen. But occasionally, a store far out of driving distance asked. And while I was honored, I didn’t have any imminent plans to travel to New Orleans or St. Louis or Los Angeles*.

Well, word got back to my amazing publicity and marketing team at Sterling Publishing. In preparation for the release of the sequel, they offered to send me on a short tour to celebrate THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH and they even worked it out that I could visit a bunch of those stores that had contacted me!

So for the first two weeks of May I traveled from Boston to Allentown, PA to Asheville, NC to New Orleans to Kalamazoo, MI taking a detoured route through Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis, then finishing up in Baltimore.

I had seven bookstore events: The Novel Neighbor, Octavia Books, Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Bookbug, The Ivy Bookshop, and two Barnes & Nobles (Allentown, PA and Portage, MI).

At Bookbug they made these cupcakes:

And I got to hang out with a bunch of nErDcampMI friends.

At the Novel Neighbor, they ordered special Flapjacks Lip Gloss:

At The Ivy Bookshop, it was standing room only!

But the best part was that I got to visit 19 schools in those ten school days.

Some days I visited three different schools. Other days I’d stay at a single school all day and do multiple presentations.

Sometimes I’d be reading to a single class or grade at a time. Other times I presented to entire elementary schools—from 600 students in the gym to 200 students in the auditorium to 150 students in the library to 20 preschoolers in the art room—I tried it all.

One school got creative with life-size minecraft and Pirasaurs!

Sometimes I had slides and a microphone.

Other times I had neither. Luckily I’m not a diva …yet (traveling with a personal masseuse is totally acceptable, right?).

One school that I had Skyped with previously got me to read my poem about my cat that poops all over the house.

So I’d like to thank Sterling for everything! From the tour all the way back to taking a risk on the slush pile submission in 2013 that was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (yes, it was a slush pile submission – Sterling accepts unsolicited submissions via snail mail – see guidelines here).

*Don’t worry, Los Angeles. I promise I’ll get out to you eventually!

Josh is giving away YOUR CHOICE:

  • EITHER a personalized signed copy of THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH
  • OR a written critique of your picture book manuscript (Josh values this at an estimated $1 billion)

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (9.19.17), Albie Newton (Spring 2018), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (2018), and more coming soon!

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He’s written a free 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books available on his website here.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more about Josh at his website joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

by Asia Citro, M. Ed, Publisher

Thank you so much, Tara, for the chance to introduce your blog readers to The Innovation Press!

We are a Seattle-area children’s publisher that’s a bit new on the scene. In fact, this year is our first “big” year; we’ve got ten children’s titles coming out in 2017.

As I’m sure you have all discovered, small presses tend to have a “type” when it comes to the sort of books they’re looking for and we are no exception. Right now we’re focused on the K-5 market, but anything goes as long as it fits in that range—picture books, chapter books, and middle grade submissions are all great. If you take a peek at our titles, you’ll start to get a sense for the sort of books we’re after. As a former classroom teacher, I have a particular affinity for books that teach in some way. We love titles that promote creativity, diversity, laughter, and learning. If you take a close look, you’ll find that almost all of our 2017 titles are hybrid texts (a mix between fiction and nonfiction).

Though we are newer, we have international distribution, so our books are in stores, shops, libraries, and schools all over the world. We also have foreign rights representation (seeing our books printed in foreign languages is the coolest!). Oh, and we’re a member of the Children’s Book Council as well as an SCBWI PAL Publisher. We also believe in making our books available to all children, so for every ten books we sell, we donate one to First Book (an amazing nonprofit that pairs educators and students in low-income districts with books).

We pay an advance as well as royalties to our authors. In addition, we offer a lot of publicity help and support and we involve authors as much as possible in the decision-making process for things related to their book (such as illustrator, title, etc).  If you have something you think might be a great fit, we’d love to see it! You can find our full submission guidelines here.

Thanks for getting in touch, Asia. While I have not worked with The Innovation Press personally, this new publisher looks like an excellent opportunity for aspiring kidlit authors.

If you have questions about The Innovation Press, please leave them in the comments and Asia will answer them.

carlehonors

Tonight the Eric Carle Museum will present four winners of its prestigious Carle Honors. I will be there to capture it all and report back to you, picture book devotees. In the meantime, I asked the honorees to answer one important question about the state of our craft and business:

Six years ago, The New York Times published an article about the demise of the picture book. Fast forward to this past January, and a picture book won the Newbery Medal. Plus, the current market has been heralded as “the golden age of picture books.”

Why have picture books defied the Times’ portent of doom–and why do they continue to remain a strong and important art form? Why are picture books more loved now than ever?

stevenheller“Is there any better medium for bringing together such varied artists and writers and stories and styles? The book has not died after 500 years and the picture book continues to be the most accessible of media. It’s not a fad. It’s not obsolete technology. It is an intimate tactile entity for making ideas come alive. As long as there is paper, what better way to use it?”
~Steven Heller, Bridge Honoree

allensay“A lot of American mothers today have become what the Japanese call “Education Mamas.” They want their offspring to start college at 12 and retire at 30, and book merchants are hell-bent on accommodating them. They have forgotten the Alice who asked for all children: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Thanks to the conversation of Lewis Carroll and pictures by Sir John Tenniel, Alice is very much alive today. Would anybody remember Alice without Sir John?”
~Allen Say, Artist Honoree

jasonlow“The demise of picture books is connected to other mistaken predictions like the death of the print book when e-books came on the scene years ago. There is a general backlash against electronic books because of the amount of time people are spending on their phones, online, and binge-watching TV. People need a break from screen time. Also, the e-book experience, when compared to the tactile experience of a print picture book is not significantly better. The time spent reading an actual book is still a great past time that relies on the power of imagination, and the close relationship of words and pictures.”
~Jason Low, Angel Honoree

reginahayes“I never believed in the demise of the picture book! Picture books will always remain a vibrant art form. They are constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented as new authors and illustrator enter the field. Styles change; a new style surprises and delights, then there are imitators, and eventually something different will turn it all around again. I’ve seen a style dismissed as outdated, then a few years go by and it is fashionable again, maybe even considered classic.

“The rise of e-books have, ironically, made publishers and the public more aware of the importance of the book as a physical object, an object that should be beautiful. I notice more and more care being lavished on paper and binding and innovative jacket treatments.

“I don’t think children should ever be urged to give up picture books when they are ready for chapter books. In my experience, children constantly go back and forth. They return to old favorite picture books even when they reach double digits, perhaps because the books provide a feeling of security, of coming home, perhaps recapturing the warmth and closeness of being read to by a beloved adult. And for that, a real book is essential!”
~Regina Hayes, Mentor Honoree

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Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Honorees, and congratulations on being recognized.

To learn more about the Carle Honors and this year’s Honorees, please visit The Carle Honors website where you can also bid on the charity art auction.

Follow me on Twitter @taralazar, as I will try to live tweet from the event. A recap of the evening will be published here later this week.

 

authorphoto_anika_deniseby Anika Denise

Tis the Season!

What’s in the secret sauce of a successful seasonal title? Anika Denise, author of Monster Trucks, a high-octane Halloween tale of vroom and doom, divulges tips on crafting seasonal stories that SELL!

First, what’s a seasonal title? (It may seem obvious, but indulge me a moment, kidlit peeps.) A seasonal title is any book that relates to a season or holiday, be it Halloween, Hanukah, Easter, Earth Day, Back-to-School or Black History Month. (Think table displays in bookstores and libraries.)

So, why am I singling them out? I mean, shouldn’t we all just write good stories, and if they happen to have a holiday hook, all the better?

Yes! But this might get your attention: At a recent SCBWI retreat, Christian Trimmer, Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster, revealed seven factors that help get a picture book acquired. Number one was: “Be a Celebrity!” (Unless you’re Kelly Clarkson, read on.) Number two: “Get that Promotion!” In other words, books with potential for holiday placement are more likely to catch an editor’s eye.

Excellent! So how do you write a seasonal story that sells?

BE SEASONAL, BUT NOT OVERLY SPECIFIC

My editor on MONSTER TRUCKS, Nancy Inteli, pointed out that while she frequently acquires seasonal titles, she especially seeks books that aren’t so narrowly holiday focused that their shelf life is limited. “Monster Trucks has a clear Halloween hook,” she explained. “But it also appeals to the truck-loving crowd, which makes it a perennial.”

monster-truckscover

That’s not to say you should abandon that Arbor Day book you’re writing, just keep in mind that a broader seasonal story might have a better shot at finding a home.

Another great example of a not-so-specific seasonal book: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. Although Creepy Carrots is quite likely on every Halloween book display table in America, it’s not strictly a Halloween book. Quirky and funny, it and can be read and shared all year round.

And speaking of quirky and funny…

ORIGINALITY IS KEY!

It’s always key. But when traversing well-trodden territory like “Back to School,” you better come packing a twist. Take School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, for example. It explores first day jitters from the SCHOOL BUILDING’s perspective. Genius! And delightfully original.

RAMP UP THE READ-ALOUD APPEAL

One happy outcome of writing a seasonal title is, booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents are going to want to incorporate your book into story times. It helps to keep this in mind as you polish your manuscript. Humor, action, poetic techniques, evocative language and relatable characters will ramp up your read aloud appeal.

baking-day-interior-copyright-christopher-denise-2014

In BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, bouncy rhymes, rhythmic refrains, and descriptions of sweet scents filling the air (hopefully) engage and entertain the read-aloud crowd. And although the new board book edition is being marketed for Christmas—at its heart—BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S is a cozy wintertime tale about spending time with family.

So if you’ve got an idea for a seasonal story simmering on the back burner, fire it up and submit! Tis the season!

Thank you for the useful information on selling a seasonal book, Anika. As the first stop in Anika’s MONSTER TRUCKS blog tour, we are giving away a copy to a random commenter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. Good luck!

monster_trucks_interior1-1024x419

Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book Monster Trucks, illustrated by Nate Wragg, “a mash-up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. When not writing tales of vroom and doom, Anika can be found zipping around her hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island in her monster minivan, or reading not-so-scary stories with her husband and three kids. Visit her online at AnikaDenise.com, or on Twitter @AnikaDenise.

by author Catherine Bailey & illustrator Sarita Rich

hypnosisharryt

Thank you for hosting us today, Miss Tara. We are excited to be here, and we are excited to celebrate the release of HYPNOSIS HARRY, and we are excited to talk about each other and, well, we are just really excited. So without further ado, here is us interviewing us.

1. Okay, Sarita, Harry’s expressions are some of my favorite moments in the book. Was he, or any of the characters or images, based on your family or home life?

As much fun as Harry was to draw, I really liked having a sister. In an earlier draft, she was older, but I decided maybe a baby/toddler would be funnier, especially on the last page. And I had a (sometimes) cooperative model at home, so that was helpful. I also liked having a cat in the story. I’ve had my share of overweight cats that could squish themselves into tiny cardboard boxes and fall asleep.

HH character sketches

2. I love that background info – especially the bits about the sister and the cat. (I have both.) So what was the most challenging aspect of illustrating Harry, and how did you overcome it?

Timing. I received the manuscript late September 2014 and had to submit a sample spread before October 10. I was pregnant with an October 23 due date and thought I had plenty of time to finish the spread. At my 38-week appointment, my doctor said I could go into labor any day, possibly that very night. “But I can’t! I haven’t finished the spread!” I thought. I sent the file on October 9, and Stella was born October 12. Sky Pony offered the contract shortly afterward, and I had to figure out how to be a mom and an illustrator at the same time. I was a little sleep deprived until June, but when an opportunity to work with editors from like Sky Pony, and an author like Catherine comes along, you say YES and sleep later.

HH sample spread

3. I had NO CLUE you were birthing babies during all this. You win the amazing illustrator ward of the year for sure! And you have been equally amazing with the promotional / post-publication support. What unique skills/opportunities do you think an illustrator can provide to/for the marketing of a picture book?

Illustrators have a chance to bring a book to life in many different ways. When you invited me to collaborate on launch party ideas, I learned an illustrator can extend the life of the book way beyond the reading. For HYPNOSIS HARRY, I helped create fun extras like coloring pages, drawing activities, and a craft demonstration. Since we both love giveaways, I suggested that since we couldn’t attend the other’s launch party, that we each donate an item to give away at our respective parties. And one thing I love most about illustrators is seeing a preview of process—a drawing demo, for example–because usually all we get to see is the finished product. When I find a book I admire, one of the first things I wonder is, “How did the illustrator do this?!” Seeing what goes into the creation of a book makes you appreciate the work so much more.

4. I do love giveaways. And your genius craft ideas. And Nutella. But I digress. What part of marketing HYPNOSIS HARRY are you most looking forward to doing?

I have some school visits lined up on April 8th, which happens to be during reading week at this particular school. I’m looking forward to reading to kids and drawing with them and giving them free stuff (bookmarks!).

5. Okay one last deep and insightful question. What was one NO from your parents that you wish had been a YES?

I’m from a treeless part of northern Alaska, and therefore my sister and I could never have a tree house. We had to settle for a ground level clubhouse. One summer we devised the perfect set up of old pallets and scrap plywood, complete with a clandestine hole in the ground in which I deposited empty candy wrappers. At one point, I tried to build a fire inside the clubhouse to destroy evidence of said candy consumption. I made sure to put the fire out completely, etc. but Dad found out and said NO to unsupervised backyard fires. He was especially furious because I had overlooked the fact that our clubhouse was built right next to the 50-gallon oil tank that contained our winter fuel…

That’s hilarious. And also dangerous. I am very glad you did not blow yourself up Sarita. And I am very, VERY glad you are my illustrator. Thank you! Okay, my turn in the hot seat.

1. In hindsight, I’m also grateful for parents who tempered the pyromaniac within so that I could live to meet Harry. What made you want to tell his story?

I read some little online blurb somewhere about a hypnosis demonstration gone wrong – the performer couldn’t snap his audience out of their trance. So I added hypnosis to my list of picture book ideas and forgot about it. A few weeks later I was trying to explain to my three-year-old why she couldn’t wear my wedding dress to school and it hit me – what if she were in charge? What if she hypnotized me and her dad? What would she do?! It would be terrifying, but also funny. Also, when I was a kid, I had a book called something like How To Get Your Parents To Give You Everything You Ever Wanted. That book was definitely a big inspiration too.

2. I love this insight into the inspiration behind the book. Speaking of others being in charge, how do you strike the balance between including too many illo notes and trusting the illustrator?

How do I strike the balance? Um, I don’t. I’m awful. LOL! My early drafts include dozens of art notes. I guess it is just part of my writing process to visualize every image and page turn. Fortunately I have great critique partners, and a wonderagent, who save me from myself. They help me to cut most of the art notes, which is a good thing. It is critical to trust the illustrator, art director, and publisher. They know so much more and do a much better job at that side of things. Let’s just say that if you and I both drew a stick figure, your stick figure would be way prettier.

HH sketch 1

3. I can see my stick figure getting carried away with clothes and eyelashes but the important point is that YOU are a marketing genius whose marketing plans should be SCBWI conference presentations. So what are the 3 most important things you keep in mind when developing a marketing plan for your picture books?

Audience, Budget, and Feasibility.

Defining your Audience makes you focus your efforts, which makes everything you do – calls, emails, school visits, signings, tweets, etc. – more effective. For example, I know my audience likes books, so bookmarks are a good giveaway (thank you Sarita for those!). Hairy poisonous spiders on the other hand, are not.

I hate to say Budget – but books are a business, like it or not, and I can’t spend a lot of money on items that don’t have a healthy return (even if I really, really want to!).

Feasibility means “Will Catherine actually do this thing or will she wimp out because she’s tired / doesn’t understand it / ran out of time?” For example, I would love to drive to every library within 200 miles and show them HYPNOSIS HARRY and convince them to add it to their collection. But unless I win some sort of babysitting and gas lottery, I can’t. So I’ll tone it down and just drive to every one within 30 miles 🙂 And I will do a lot of outreach online.

4. Those tips are sure to help us maintain sanity. Moving on: what major differences do you see in your marketing strategies for this book vs. MIND YOUR MONSTERS?

The biggest difference is that I can market HYPNOSIS HARRY towards schools because it came out during the school year. Also I now have dozens of school visits under my belt from my first book, MIND YOUR MONSTERS, so I can go back to those contacts. Overall marketing the second book is easier because I have at least some clue as to what I’m doing. But there’s always more to learn!

5. And finally, because I have to know, what was one NO from your parents that you wish had been a YES?

My grandparents had a farm, and on that farm was Molly. Molly was a horse and she belonged to my older sister Sarah Helen. Eventually I wanted a horse too (they really should have seen that coming), but my parents responded with a firm No. Instead my sister was instructed to share Molly with me. You can just imagine how that went. I spent a lot of time trying to ride the barn cats.

HH sketch 2

Thank you for reading. And there’s more! A giveaway (wheee)! Just leave a note in the comments below and you will be entered to win a Skype consult with author Catherine Bailey and illustrator Sarita Rich. Consider it a tag team critique where we will take a look at your picture book manuscript, and then chat about it with you in person. Well, in “digital-person.” You know what we mean.

rejectedYou’re a lovely person. Simply charming. I mean that, I really do. You read my blog and leave nice comments and buy my books and write like you can’t go wrong. But I have to tell you:

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

In short, that’s what a literary rejection means. It’s not about YOU. Remember, YOU are lovely! It’s about the editor and whether the proposed project fits with her taste and imprint list.

Subjective, it’s all subjective! One editor’s rejection is another editor’s next book!

But editors and agents often provide writers with rejection statements that we want to understand. We feel the need to analyze, to determine what we can do better. But don’t over-analyze. Sometimes a rejection is just a way of saying “no, it’s not for me.”

Here is a list of common rejections heard by picture book writers (and other writers), plus an interpretation of what they mean. (Note that I said “interpretation”! Your mileage may vary.)

“It feels familiar.”

The editor is reminded of another book (or books) while reading your manuscript, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it’s the character, the theme or the structure, but it’s impossible to pinpoint. In short, the story doesn’t feel unique enough. The editor doesn’t think it will stand out in the marketplace. There’s too much similar competition. If you wrote about a common theme (new sibling, moving to a new house, first day of school, etc.) without a fresh new twist, this could be the problem.

“It’s too slight.” or “It’s too one-note.”

The editor feels your story doesn’t have enough meat to it. It may be lacking a universal emotional theme (friendship, being yourself, perseverance, etc.) or a clear story arc. The editor may feel there isn’t enough going on to encourage re-readings. The story feels more like a one-line joke than a fully fleshed-out tale. The main character may not have struggled enough before finding the resolution, which is sometimes why an ending can “fall flat”. Also rejected as “needs more layers.”

“It’s not right for our list.”

Every imprint within each publisher has a specific “style”. Some are commercial, some are literary, some are message-driven, some are wacky and humorous. Know which imprint publishes what.

“It’s too similar to…”

Your story competes too closely with a book on the editor’s list or a wildly popular book by another publisher that’s already in the marketplace.

“It’s not right for us at this time.”

See above. They might have projects in the hopper that compete too closely with what you submitted. (You submitted a story about a bowling ball. They just signed a bowling ball book! What are the odds???) They may have recently contracted multiple projects and no longer have room on their list. They may be moving away from “older” picture books into the younger set (ages 2-5 vs. 4-8). Unfortunately, this rejection is also used as a polite catch-all or a form rejection.

“It’s too quiet.”

The imprint you submitted to might not publish literary fiction. The editor feels your manuscript doesn’t have a strong hook, something that will make your book marketable. They don’t feel it will stand out in the marketplace. It cannot be easily summarized into an elevator pitch, which is what their salespeople will use to market the book to stores, schools and libraries. It’s not a commercial or high-concept story.

“It’s too commercial.”

The imprint you submitted to might not publish commercial fiction. Commercial books have a strong marketing hook, are often high-concept (can be boiled down to an immediately understood, succinct statement), have a clear plot struggle and appeal to a wide range of readers. Literary fiction features artistic prose and often contains an internal conflict and more meandering plot.

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“It doesn’t resonate with me.”

This is really a case of “It’s not you. It’s me.” The editor may think the story is well-written and even enjoy it, but it isn’t tugging at her heartstrings. Being an editor is like dating, like finding a potential mate—the story has to light something within her to want to devote passion and commitment to it. Remember, the editor has to spend two or more years with your story, bringing it to life. They need to feel sincerely attached to it. You want them to LOVE it, you want them to be EXCITED so they can create the best book possible. Examine your emotional theme—is it strong enough?

“I didn’t quite connect with this in the way I’d hoped.”

See above. The editor may have liked your concept and pitch, but not the execution of the story. Again, the story isn’t tugging at his heartstrings. Examine the POV, voice and the emotional theme (often referred to as a “layer”). A revision might be necessary…or not. Another editor may connect. Also rejected as, “It doesn’t have that WOW factor” or “I’m not getting that YES! feeling.”

“This needs a stronger voice.”

Voice is the unique way an author combines words and strings together sentences. It is your story’s personality, its manner of expression. It’s the difference between “Oh, shucks!” and “Oh, slippery slush!” (Little Red Gliding Hood) It’s the difference between “Charmaine’s showing off” and “Charmaine’s strutting hard enough to shame a rooster.” (The Quickest Kid in Clarksville) It’s the difference between “Pancake raced away” and “Pancake rappelled down a rope of linguini.” (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast)

Go ahead and play with your words—use stronger verbs, alter the sentence structure, use alliteration, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia and uncommon words. Heck, make up a word every once in a while! Think of voice the way a poet thinks about meter—there’s a certain beat that the reader can dance to.

Pretend YOU are the main character. How would he or she TALK? Does the way you’ve written the story—the cadence of the words—match the character, the setting, the situation?

“There’s no current market for this.”

Your story’s subject matter and/or theme is either too popular or too obscure.

Remember when vampires were all the rage in YA? Same thing with pirates in picture books. There were a slew of well-received books featuring gangplanks that sold gangbusters. (Hey, there’s “voice” again!) But then that ship sailed. The market got soaked with pirates. So guess what? Editors didn’t necessarily buy a lot of pirate titles because there was too much existing, well-established competition. But everything is cyclical. I spot new pirate books on the horizon, captain! Land, ho!

Also, your manuscript might not be a picture book because it’s too long or too descriptive, yet it doesn’t fall neatly into another kidlit category, either.

Form Rejection vs. Personal Rejection

Most will send a form rejection. There’s just not enough time in the universe—or even in the flux capacitor—to personally respond to every manuscript. But if you receive a personal rejection, the editor or agent sees something promising. You haven’t hooked him, but he sees potential. Think of it as encouraging. You’re on the right wave. Just keep swimming; just keep swimming.

On the other hand, getting only form rejections doesn’t mean you DON’T have potential. It just means the editor or agent is crunched for time.

I mean, imagine this is what gets dumped on your desk every day!

slushie

One thing you should know: if an agent or editor wants to see more of your work, they will ask. No need for interpretation; it will be there in black and white. If they complimented your story but did not ask for a revision, DO NOT send one anyway thinking they just forgot to ask. If they want it, they WON’T FORGET. And if you send something they didn’t ask for, THEY WILL REMEMBER.

Let’s face it, the fact that you’re even receiving rejections is good. Yes, GOOD! You’re putting your work out there. And the sting of each rejection will lessen with every new one you receive. So let them pile up. Read ‘em. Move on. You WILL get rejections for the rest of your life if you’re a writer. Bottom line: learn to live with them, their brevity and their occasional ambiguity. Ever onward.

And, in case you forgot, you’re a lovely person.

As one of the top kidlit writing websites, one that appears first in numerous Google searches, with thousands of followers, thousands of daily hits…

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…I’m here to tell you that this platform doesn’t necessarily yield book sales. It yields emails from writers asking how to self-publish.

(Speaking of my books, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK was just released and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD comes out next month. Did you get yours yet?)

Listen, I’m not bashing those who want to be their own children’s publisher. Everyone dreams of being an author, don’t they? There are some projects that are close to people’s hearts. Stories they want to share, to inspire others. And everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of people seem to start with me.

excuseme

But why me? I have no experience in self-publishing. Zero. I don’t know the first thing about it and I’d be lost if I tried to do it myself!

Here are my top 5 reasons for choosing NOT to self-publish picture books:

  1. You prefer the professional backing of a traditional publisher, from production to distribution to promotion.
  2. You aren’t an illustrator. You want a publisher who can attract top-notch illustrative talent.
  3. You realize how difficult it is to sell a book to the public, to bookstores, to libraries, to schools…and could not do it alone.
  4. You welcome input from the creative team and find it invaluable for making your book the best it can possibly be.
  5. You prefer advances over expenses.

These are my personal reasons. Your mileage may vary, but I’m guessing that many traditionally-published authors feel similarly.

Here are my top 5 reasons to choose self-publishing:

  1. The story you want to tell—you MUST tell—isn’t commercial enough to secure a traditional publisher, or it is in an experimental or non-standard format.
  2. You prefer artistic autonomy.
  3. You have capital available to invest in quality contractors to help you with the entire process, from production to distribution to promotion.
  4. You have an established platform/audience via which to promote and sell the book.
  5. You enjoy taking risks. You thrive on it!

If you really want the low-down on self-publishing children’s books, Kidlit411 has put together a marvelous resource list. Also read Chuck Wendig (stop calling it “self-publishing” and get your boomcake on). Check out Will Terry and Dar Hosta, two successful independent author-illustrators.

Me, I’m probably the worst source of information on self-publishing. Unless you’re reading this post. Then I’m okay.

And maybe I’m a better source when it comes to giving advice to on-a-whim-don’t-wanna-do-this-for-a-living writers. Here’s a conversation I tend to have once a week:

“You know, I wrote a little story like Goodnight Moon last year. Now I need to find an agent, right?”

“Oh, that’s great, but I’m going to be completely and brutally honest with you here: it’s not something you’ll want to do unless your heart is set on it as a career.”

ohreally

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really. It takes years to land an agent. And then, sometimes, years to find a publisher, if you even find one at all.”

ohreally

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Well, I just wanted to have a hard copy for the kids. Maybe I should try Snapfish?”

“Yes, absolutely. Snapfish is wonderful.”

snap

P.S. I also recommend Storybird, Bueller.

Oh, rejection!

We all face it. Even published authors. Even Jane Yolen!

This is how I consider rejections now, after seven years in the business:

rejected

But when you’re still unpublished, rejections somehow hurt more.

Besides applying a baking-powder-and-vinegar salve three times daily, how do you ease the sting?

Welcome author Emma Walton Hamilton. She will teach you what those rejections really mean and how you can use them to your advantage.

EmmaHAMILTONby Emma Walton Hamilton

Manuscripts are like children–we birth them, nurture them, pour our heart and soul into helping them be the best they can be. Then we send them into the world, praying they have what it takes to succeed. If we’re lucky, and we’ve done our job right (we hope), they’ll fly. But inevitably, we–and they–must muddle through setbacks and tests of resolve before they can claim their place in the world.

One of those setbacks is rejection. Manuscript rejections are an unavoidable part of the writing life…but that doesn’t mean they aren’t painful. It also doesn’t mean they can’t be converted into learning opportunities. This is such an important distinction that Julie Hedlund and I devote an entire module to “Interpreting Rejections and Dealing with Feedback” in our new Complete Picture Book Submissions System, which we created to support picture book authors through every step of the submissions process, since we know firsthand how challenging that process can be. (Check out Julie’s recent blog post exposing one of her earliest query letters.)

Converting the experience of rejection from personally devastating to professionally useful begins with bearing a few important things in mind:

  1. Manuscripts get rejected, not writers themselves. Meaning, this is not about you–it’s about the manuscript not being a right fit with that agent or publisher.
  2. It’s business–not personal. The reasons for the rejection may in fact have less to do with the quality of your writing and more to do with the focus of the agent or publisher at this time, or the limitations of their current resources.
  3. Hundreds of famous children’s authors received rejection letters on what later became their most successful manuscripts, including Dr. Seuss, J.K Rowling, Madeline L’Engle, Stephanie Meyer, Meg Cabot, C.S. Lewis and many, many more. (Check out Literary Rejections if you don’t believe me, or could use a little company for that misery.)
  4. The wrong fit at one place can be the right fit somewhere else. Moreover, that somewhere else will serve you and your manuscript better than the first place would have, because they “got it.”
  5. There may be a gift accompanying the rejection at best, insight into how to improve your manuscript or query, and maximize your chances of nailing the next submission; and at least, the opportunity to strengthen your commitment and resolve. (An old acting teacher of mine used to say, “Never mind the talent, do you have the tenacity?” This is just as relevant for writers.)

Maybe the rejection includes some feedback worth considering (although it’s important to distinguish between meaningful feedback and form letter feedback, which is something else we focus on in the Complete Picture Book Submissions System… it’s easy to confuse the two.) But even without feedback, every rejection is an opportunity to revisit your query and/or your manuscript. Is it really submission-ready? Is it structurally sound, formatted correctly, typo-free? Is every word essential?

Finally, it’s important to take care of yourself during this time. Sending your creative work into the world can make you highly vulnerable, and it’s easy to lose perspective. Do whatever you do to nurture and reinvigorate yourself: take walks, meditate, see a movie, go shopping, get a massage. Seek the company and communion of fellow writers for support, learning and perspective. Most of all, keep writing–generate new material to keep building your portfolio, stay in the flow, and avoid having all your eggs in one basket. That is, after all, the real work of being a writer.

Picture Book Submissions System

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and writing coach. With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over thirty children’s books, seven of which have been on the NY Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series (#1 Bestseller), Julie Andrews Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Simeon’s Gift, The Great American Mousical, and Thanks to You–Wisdom from Mother and Child. Emma’s own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal.

devPetty1by Dev Petty

I wrote a whole post for this very blog some time ago about NOT writing and just thinking. I wrote about getting to the heart of your story idea in your head before you ever write a word. I believe in that process…big time. But it’s not how I wrote I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG. That’s a different story. That’s the story of how a sort of basic story idea turned into one with legs…frog legs! In fact, it was the writing of FROG that taught me to slow down and think, to find the story thread before I started writing.

frogdevpetty

I knew I wanted to write a story all in dialogue. I wanted it to be funny. And I wanted it to be about a frog. I like frogs, it was that simple. Not much to go on, eh? Believe me, my first efforts on frog reflected just how thin the idea was. Frog went from animal to animal saying “I want to be like you…because…you’re furry (or you can fly or you can hop).” It was repetitive and a little hollow and NOTHING REALLY AT ALL HAPPENED. These are the sort of problems I usually suss out when I’m just thinking instead of writing, so I don’t usually have this situation. But there was something about the first draft I liked enough to keep at it.

froginterior

This is when I stopped and realized I needed to answer my own critical, favorite story writing question.

“What is this about?”

The answer, as written, was “A frog who wants to be a rabbit or a cat or an owl.” And after a ton of rewrites and rearranging, it wasn’t getting any better on the page. So I stopped revising. I stopped writing. As I closed the laptop and started thinking, I realized it was a little deeper. The answer really was, “This is a story about a frog who doesn’t want to be a frog.” It’s about wanting to be something other than what you are. Now THAT’S a little more interesting. When I started thinking about it that way, the story opened up and it wasn’t anymore about cats or owls, it was about nature, it was about accepting your nature.

That answer allowed me to start thinking about the frog, the good parts, the bad parts, the way we all sometimes envy things about others that we can never, and probably should never have. The story was getting deeper, but still…nothing really happened. The frog went from animal to animal saying he wanted to be them and then the book ended. You’re a frog. Get over it.

froginterior2

Confession. I’ve tried to write novels. A bunch of em. I am a Viking at writing three awesome chapters and then running out of steam, throwing the laptop across the room and eating ice cream for a while. But I do it often enough that I’ve learned a few things. Newsflash Dev, your story has to have a PLOT and not just be a rambling treatise on frog existentialism. So I decided to bring a new character in…a wolf…who would act as a bit of a therapist, a reality checker who would point out the good parts of being a frog through his own nature. Once something happened, the wolf, my story had a turn and a direction and something, albeit small, happened. I hope kids will read frog and realize that everyone has things they want to change about themselves, and that’s a totally okay, natural thing to explore. But you also sort of have to accept who you are, find the bright parts about who you are and work with what you have.

I guess the truth is, I sort of violated most of my own rules of picture book writing in the writing of the one picture book I have out there. I kind of teased a good story out of a pretty mediocre one. But that’s ok too, it taught me a lot about finding that thread. It helped me develop a process…find the thread FIRST! Remember to TELL a story and not just muse.

Since we’re talking story threads, I thought I’d put down a few tools I use to try to figure out what I’m getting at when I’m developing a story idea in my head, before I start writing.

  1. I write a poem. It’s not the kind of poem anyone would ever, ever, ever want to read. But the lack of rules in poetry allow me to explore an idea without limitations. I usually write pretty long, stream of consciousness poems about my story idea and most of it will be total garbage. But usually, when I read it through, somewhere in there is a thread I can hold onto and start crafting a story around.
  2. Imagine your story as a trailer. I’d never thought of this one until I started watching a lot of picture book trailers and working on my own, for Frog. But when you have to introduce your character, a story problem, a plot twist and a possible solution- you’ve covered a lot of story elements and it’s pretty easy to find where you need to go a little deeper.
  3. Ask yourself what your story is about. Sounds obvious, I know, but I forget to do it ALL THE TIME. And, while you’re busy talking to yourself, why not have a whole conversation?

“Dev, what is this story about?”
“Well, it’s about a frog who wants to be a cat or an owl or something else.”
“Gosh, Dev, that’s not very interesting.”
“It’s not? Crap. OK, it’s about not wanting to be a frog.”
“Getting there.”
“You’re bossy. Fine. It’s about not wanting to be what you are.”
“That’s sad.”
“Okee…it’s about accepting who you are.”
“Bingo!”
“I don’t like you.”
“I don’t like you either.”

Finally, Never throw anything away. Whether you save one giant list of picture books in Scrivener or text files or email drafts (I’m partial to that one), never give up on a story. Put it aside, let it steep, even put it in total cold storage, but don’t throw anything away. SO many of my stories come from little breadcrumbs of ideas I left myself along the way.

Dev Petty is the author of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG (Doubleday 2015, Illustrated by Mike Boldt) and CLAYMATES (Little Brown, 2017).  A former film effects artist, she lives in Albany, California and writes funny books for kids and immature adults. Visit her at DevPetty.com.

Do you want to be a frog? No? Do you want to own a frog? Not really? How about own a SIGNED COPY of Dev’s I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG? Plus bookmarks? Yes? OK then, leave one comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in two weeks! Good luck!

david-michael-slater-mayby David Michael Slater

Greetings!

My name is David Michael Slater. As an author of 20+ books (for children, teens, and adults) I am always interested in new ways of reaching readers. Self-publishing has never appealed to me. I have nothing whatsoever against it, but the sky-high pile of self-published titles one must compete with is simply too daunting, especially when so many people report not wanting to take the time to sift through that pile for the gems. The traditional route is as daunting as ever, but I do not bash it either. But it is a rough go, especially with a project that seems risky in any way.

Enter Inkshares.

inkshares

My newest picture book, Hanukkah Howie vs. Santa Claus, recently launched with this newfangled “crowd-directed” publisher. Inkshares makes final decisions about projects based on pre-sales. This is a fascinating new approach that, thus far, I find extremely reasonable.

hanukkahhowie

Why?

First, I can understand Inkshare’s desire to minimize their risk by taking on properties with proven market appeal (via pre-sales). What publisher wouldn’t? The result has been my working my tail off trying to secure these pre-sales, and I must admit it’s fairly exhausting.

What’s the payoff?

How about 50% of gross revenues and a non-exclusive contract?

Hard to argue that both sides don’t benefit from such an arrangement.

HoweyCharacterThe process is simple, you approach Inkshares with your project. In my case, I came to them with the finished text and an illustrator (the awesome UK artist Andy Catling) already on board. The Inkshares team evaluates your project, and if they deem it’s potentially viable, they will guide you through the steps of setting up a project page and then a launch.

They do help with social media marketing during the funding period, but mostly it’s up to you. So far so good. We’re a week in and funding at 23%.

You can learn much more at Inkshares.com. If you are interested in my project, you can read the entire (500 word) text, see the hilarious art, and note the exceptional blurbs (like the ones below) coming in from popular and bestselling authors at HowievsSanta.com.

Good luck on your on publishing paths, wherever they may take you!

“A new holiday tradition deserves a new holiday classic read aloud, and David Michael Slater has delivered just that, right to our door, by sleigh and by Hanukkopter.”
–David Lubar, Author of Hidden Talents and Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

Hanukkah Howie vs. Santa Claus “could bring about world peace, but only if you do your part.”
–Heeb Magazine

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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COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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