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by Hallee Adelman

During quarantine, we’ve seen people connect and celebrate using song. Neighbors harmonize from their windows for front line workers. Friends croon from cars for drive-by birthdays. Families play “Name that Tune” via Zoom.

It’s no wonder; singing happens to release stress. As a former teacher, I often sang with students before tests or to reinforce tough topics. According to Julia Layton of How Stuff Works, singing lets out endorphins that help people feel good. When an individual sings in front of others, there is often an added benefit: improved confidence.

So what does all this singing have to do with books? More and more, picture book and other authors are writing Book Songs for students that accompany their printed work. Megan & Jorge Lacera worked with Annie Birdd Music for their super-fun Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies song, Dawn Prochovnic wrote lyrics for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, Kwame Alexander shared “Kwame & Randy’s” MixTape 52, and Josh Funk created catchy tunes for his Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast books. I’ve also written songs related to my picture book My Quiet Ship, and also my latest Albert Whitman book, Way Past Mad. I felt lucky to record these songs with Leo Gade and Elizabeth Christman, amazing student singers from the Philly Boys and Girls Choirs.

I began using the instrumentals of my Book Songs as intros for a “Stuck at Home” video series that I started during quarantine to inspire kids/classrooms to create and connect in simple ways. In Video #7, the 76ers Sixth Man, a Philadelphia super fan, shared his idea: write and sing a song for someone you love.

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In Video 7 of our #StuckAtHome Series, the infamous @76ersixthman shares his idea for how to show people you care about them during #QuarantineLife.⁣ ⁣ To watch the other 6 episodes in the #StuckATHome series, go to our IGTV page. For even more #WayPastFun visit WayPastBooks.com for printable activities and more! Link in bio. 📚⁣ ⁣ #GetWayPastHappy #WayPastBooks #WayPastMad #MadNotMean #SixersRock #SixthMan #KidsBooks #ChildrensBooks #KidsBookstagram #BooksForKids #PictureBooks #PictureBook #Reading #KidLit #ReadersOfInstagram #PictureBooksOfInstagram #AuthorsOfInstagram #TeachersOfInstagram #OnlineLearning #StayAtHome #Covid19 ⁣ @albertwhitman @inthesestones @sandradelaprada @halleeadelman⁣

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EUREKA! That video led to a fun collaboration: the 76ers Sixth Man and Way Past Books are now kicking off the first annual Book Song Challenge!

With the school year coming to an end, our students, teachers and librarians have not only read a lot of books, but have also been under a lot of stress (#understatement).

For the contest, students are challenged to create their own Book Song about their favorite book this year. Hopefully, kids can feel good and confident as we celebrate books AND the end of the year for our hard-working students, teachers, and librarians.

Three winners will receive a $76 book gift card for themselves and a $1000 book gift card that will be sent to their school or library. These gift cards will be fulfilled by awesome indie bookseller, Children’s Book World.

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🎶Sing your book song! 🎶⁣ ⁣ @WayPastBooks and @76erSixthMan are kicking off the First Annual Book Song Challenge! 📚⁣ ⁣ Pick your favorite book that you read this #school year. Then make up a book song to either summarize the book or share why you loved it. 🎤⁣ ⁣ Three #winners will receive:⁣ • A $76 book gift card for themselves⁣ • A $1000 book gift card for their school or library (book gift card to #indy #bookseller @childrensbookworld).⁣ ⁣ To enter the #BookSong20 Challenge:⁣ 1) Post your song to Instagram and tag @76erSixthMan and @WayPastBooks⁣ ⁣ 2) Use the hashtags #BookSong20 #SingABook #WayPastBooks⁣ ⁣ First winner announced 5/22! ⁣ ⁣ BONUS: the @76erSixthMan is doing a random drawing this Friday 5/15. Post your #BookSong20 by then and be automatically entered to win a free NBA jersey of your fave team. Be on #TeamBooks! 🏀⁣ ⁣ @albertwhitman @inthesestones @halleeadelman⁣

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As an author who writes small books about big feelings, it’s hard not to consider how kids and school professionals are feeling right now. I’m looking forward to piloting this challenge this year with the 76ers Sixth Man and growing it together as a community where we can share books, book songs, and celebrate the most important thing we have: our future.


Hallee Adelman is the author of My Quiet Ship (2018), Way Past Mad (2020), Way Past Worried (coming Fall 2020), and two additional Way Past titles (2021). With a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies, Adelman has taught university and elementary students, having been nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award on multiple occasions. She loves sharing writing tips with educators, children, teens and writers. She is married with two children and two dogs. Random facts: Adelman also produces documentary films. She keeps sour gummies in her desk drawer. She is currently engineering a giant leprechaun trap thanks to Tara Lazar’s most recent book!

When I was a kid, creative writing was a way for me to finally be in charge.

Kids are always being told what to do—by their parents, their teachers and other adults. But when they’re writing a story, they can make anything happen!

Creativity is not only good for story writing, it’s good for the brain.

I’ll let Susan tell you more…

Our family homeschooled for a decade, ten pretty magical years, and when our now-adult daughter reached out to me for suggestions for her friends who suddenly found themselves homeschooling, I realized that the important things to learn were not subjects, but skills. And the single most important skill is to think creatively, to generate questions and ideas. Tara Lazar’s Storystorm has been, by far, the best source I know for teaching the brain that skill. You know that feeling at the end of a class, when the lecturer asks “Are there any questions?”—and your brain suddenly goes blank? Storystorm changes that. It sounds impossible, that reading a blog post and writing down an idea a day can change the brain, but it works. Enjoy, and wonder on.

Susan Wroble
susanwroble.com

Thank you, Susan.

And now, here are blog posts about creativity and generating story ideas. Enjoy!

I will be adding to this list throughout the next few days, as others suggest articles I should highlight.

Also, try my lists:

Have fun and be creative!

 

I was planning to announce the Storystorm Grand Prize Winners today, but I was unable to get to it. This gives you more time to polish your ideas, though! I’m posting this so no one thinks they missed it! The Grand Prize will be announced later this week instead. So as Willy Wonka says…

 

Registration for Storystorm 2020 is now closed.

You can still join in the fun if you’re not registered, but you won’t be eligible for prizes.

Read the daily posts and jot down an idea! That’s all there is to it!

Have fun creating!

Every year when STORYSTORM rolls around, I struggle to find a theme for the registration post…so I go looking for good GIFs.

OK, I think Modern Family wins this year. It’s my family’s favorite show, so why not?

Every year I think there is no way I can pull this off again.

And every year, it somehow comes together as if by magic!

It’s quite astounding, really.

I’m not a super-organized kind of person. In writing terms, I’m quite the pantser, although over the years I’ve become a deliberately procrastinating pantser. What does that even mean? I let my ideas marinate, simmer—maybe even fester—until I feel ready to write, until I have a pretty good idea of how it should all go down.

And then it works out, kind of like this:

So that’s what my process feels like, and I’ve come to trust it, bonks on the head and all.

So this STORYSTORM, I encourage you to not only create one new story idea a day, but I also challenge you to learn about your creative process. Knowing your process is an important part of this whole crazy world of writing for children. Honoring that process is what has worked for countless other writers.

(You’ll notice the process includes changing course—or changing sitcom families—when necessary.)

So hello and welcome to STORYSTORM 2020!

Three years ago I changed the name and month of my annual writing challenge, from Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) to STORYSTORM. Why? Answer’s here.

Any writer interested in brainstorming new story ideas in January is invited to join the STORYSTORM challenge of 30 ideas in 31 days. Any genre, any style; student, amateur, hobbyist, aspiring author or professional.

How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…

  • Register.
  • Read daily posts.
  • Write down story ideas.
  • That’s pretty much it.

At the end of January if you have at least 30 new ideas, you can sign the STORYSTORM PLEDGE and be eligible for PRIZES.

So are you ready? Follow these steps:

  • Register ON THIS BLOG POST by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Full name, nickname, whatever name you want to use for the entire event.
  • Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.
  • Please leave ONE comment ONLY. Do not reply to say “hi” to a friend. Do not comment to fix a mistake. ONE COMMENT. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

Registering makes you eligible for prizes.

Visit this blog daily (taralazar.com) in January for inspirational essays by guest bloggers—professional authors, illustrators and experts in creativity.

Instead of visiting the blog directly, you can receive the daily posts via email by clicking the “Follow Tara’s Blog” button in the left column—look under my photo for it.

At the end of January, if you have at least 30 ideas, sign the STORYSTORM PLEDGE (to be posted on January 31) and qualify for prizes.

Prizes include agent feedback, signed books, original art, writerly gadgets and gizmos.

Remember, do not share your ideas publicly in January. They are YOURS. No need to prove that you have them at the end of the month. The pledge you will sign is on the honor system.

Are you in? Awesome. Pick up your Official Participant badge below and affix it to any social media account you wish. (Right click to save to your computer, then upload it anywhere.)

The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. Everyone needs family!

(What??? I told you my process includes changing sitcom families when needed!)

The Facebook group is completely optional, but it remains a year-round source of writing information and support, mostly focused on picture books, I admit, because that is where this all began.

Registration will remain open through JANUARY 7TH.

What are you waiting for? Register and go celebrate! I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day.

I had a little visit with Santa and whispered all of these goodies in his ear! I hope you find just what you want under the tree this year.

The Book Seat

Besides a book, this is the perfect writer’s companion. It’s a sturdy pillow with a ledge to cradle your most precious possessions.

Get it: thebookseat.com

Once Upon a Time Card Game

Fancy a fractured fairy tale? Well, this one will definitely crack you up.

Get it: atlas-games.com

Wacky Wavy Mini Tube Guy

I dunno ’bout you, but I like silly things on my writing desk to entertain me. Enter this panic at the disco.

Get it: urbanoutfitters.com

Margaret Atwood Masterclass

What can I say other than WOW!?

Get it: masterclass.com

The Writer’s Toolbox

Doing Storystorm this year? This will keep your creativity turned up to 11!

Get it: chroniclebooks.com

Hemingway Typewriter Pencil Cup

A few years back, I shared this typewriter coaster set. Here’s a matching desk accessory!

Get it: victoriantradingco.com

Typewriter Wrapping Paper

Speaking of typewriters…you may want to use this as wallpaper.

Get it: theliterarygiftcompany.com

Scrabble Tile Magnets

The game you know and love, now in fridge format.

Get it: wildandwolfshop.com

The Pilot’s Pen (Night Writer)

In the 80’s there was Knight Rider. Now in the teens, we get an upgrade to Night Writer.

These LED pens light up so you can write in the dark. (Remember to keep a notepad on your nightstand for those sleepy, brilliant ideas!)

Get it: amazon.com

Chapter One, The End Earrings

Little Gem Girl creates these earrings. You just have to fill in the middle.

Get it: etsy.com

Mark My Words Bookmarks

These comic/graphic novel-style bookmarks will be sure to get the word out that you love reading.

Get it: genuinefred.com

Tea Drops Sampler

Tea is my creative fuel…and this appears to be a genius new way of taking your tea to crit group.

Get it: uncommongoods.com

Ideal Bookshelf Art

Artist Jane Mount creates ideal bookshelf art from Shakespeare to contemporary favorites. See the entire collection…and read it, too!

Get it: uncommongoods.com

The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus

While not necessarily for kidlit, this looks to be a creative kick in the keister.

Get it: indiebound.org

Children’s Book Week Posters

There’s an entire store filled with posters from every Children’s Book Week dating back to 1921!

Get it: cafepress.com

Rest My Sole Foot Rest Cushion

If you’ve got your BUTT IN CHAIR, you need to get your FEET ON REST. (Sorry, socks not included. But see below.)

Get it: amazon.com

Banned Books Socks

Keep those tootsies warm and cozy!

Get it: outofprint.com

Literary Temporary Tattoos

To tat or not to tat, that is the question. Don’t make a permanent decision.

Get it: chroniclebooks.com

Tara Lazar Books

Yeah, shameless plug.

Get it: taralazar.com/taras-books

You can also view my previous holiday gift guides for writers:

Happy Holidays, writing friends!

Please share you writerly gift picks in the comments!

Well, hey-hey-hey, we’ve got a couple new early reader friends here today!

Say hello to FRANK AND BEAN!

I’m eager to eat…er, I mean…MEET them, so I sat down with the fellas to have a frank conversation.

So Frank, you’re quite the solitary, secret fellow. What did you first think when Bean came along?

In three words: short, round, and jarring. Frankly, he’s a loud bean. 

Frank’s got a point there, Bean. Why are you so LOUD?

WHAT’S THAT? *banging on drum* WHY AM I SO PROUD? 

BECAUSE I’M A ONE-BEAN BAND. LISTEN TO THIS! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* *bangs gong* 

Crash! Toot! Gooooooong!

Bean! She said loud, not proud. Why are you so loud?

 Me? Loud? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am exuberant. 

Well, we’ve got one quiet and one loud here. Does your friendship prove that opposites really do attract?

We’re different, but we’re the same in one way. We’re both like to use our imagination and be creative. I make up songs, but I have a hard time coming up with their words. Frank is a writer who keeps a Secret Notebook. What do you write in there, Frank? 

Bean, shhh! We can’t give away the end of our story. These people haven’t read it yet.

Oh. Right. HEY, FRANK! 

Bean, you don’t have to shout. I’m on the same page as you.

We forgot that we have something else in common too, Frank. We both like jelly donut holes. And Frank? I like you too. 

Aw. Thanks, Bean. 

Well, your story ends on an interesting note, guys. Do you want to give us a little hint about what may come next?

Sure! Our next adventure is about creativity too. But it’s about creativity in the kitchen. Or a food truck. Bean gets a big idea to compete in the forest’s food truck contest. 

Will we win, Frank?

I don’t know. The book isn’t done yet. But I bet we’ll have fun.

Me too. Because we totally rock! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* 

Gooooooong!

Well, now I need a couple of Tylenol…extra strength…fast acting…

Let’s take a look at the WORLD PREMIERE BOOK TRAILER!

FRANK AND BEAN is an adorable new early reader series from author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Bob Kolar, published by Candlewick. There’s full-color delight on every page, perfect for kids who are moving beyond picture books but don’t want to leave the best part—THE PICTURES!!!—behind. These pals have a tiny bit of a rough (and loud) start to their friendship, but they realize their strengths complement each other in perfect harmony.

If you’d like to win a copy of FRANK AND BEAN, leave a comment about what makes friendship so special.

One winner will be randomly selected very soon, because Tara has a lot of giveaways for which she needs to pick winners. So she’ll do it all in one fell swoop!

Good luck!

To follow this tour, you don’t even need a VW minibus! (But that would be more fun.)

by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at SalinaYoon.com.

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Gabi Snyder & Robin Rosenthal

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE!

READY TO EMBARK ON A JOURNEY?

When the gate is left open, one dog escapes the yard for an adventure on tricycles, trolleys, and trains. This hilarious story counts up to ten and back down again as more pups join the fun—and one very determined cat goes on the chase!

Coming in May 2020!

We (author Gabi Snyder and illustrator Robin Rosenthal) “met” for the first time over video chat to discuss our experiences creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, which is the debut picture book for us both!

RR: What inspired TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE?

GS: I’d say one part real-life and one part kidlit! The dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in the story was inspired, in part, by my childhood pets. I grew up with a cat we called Kinko (named for his kinked tail) and an assortment of dogs. Kinko was the undisputed boss. Now my family includes one dog and one cat. (They take turns keeping each other in line.)

As a kid, one of my favorite picture books was GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. I must’ve read that book hundreds of times, anticipating the playful and action-packed dog party at the end. The silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic.

GS: Speaking of silly dogs, I adore the characters you’ve created for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE and your bold, colorful style! What drew you to the text?

RR: Thank you! Wow, I love hearing the backstory!

I loved this text when I first read it. It is so simple, and you leave such a generous amount of room for the illustrator to play. The joke is entirely in the illustrations. You really had to trust your illustrator to pull it off! It’s a true partnership of art and text.

RR: How did you make choices about leaving room for an illustrator? Was that hard? What, if anything, surprised you about my art?

GS: Tough questions! I didn’t make a conscious effort to leave room for an illustrator, but I did aim for spare. The text is very simple, but functions as both a counting book and an epic chase! As a counting book, it does specify the number of pups and mode of transportation for each spread, but the appearance and personality of the dogs and the setting were left open to interpretation. I did include a few illustration notes about the cat character and her story arc that’s not obvious from the title or the text!

The story escalates to “Nine daring dogs on a hot-air balloon.” But when we reach “Ten dogs,” there’s a revelation. That tenth animal is NOT a dog! And while my illustration notes made clear who that is, I did not specify where we are. Robin, your illustration there is hilarious and unexpected! I gasped in surprise when I saw it, and yet it seems like the inevitable “of course!” choice. Truly perfection. Thank you!

GS: The humor in your art is fantastic. I especially love the facial expressions and costume choices for the cat. What influences did you draw upon when creating this fun group of pups and one sneaky cat?

RR: When I read the text, I immediately knew that I wanted to create this cat character. In my head she was part Garfield/part Terminator: kind of aloof, but also with strong drive and purpose. I wanted the dogs to be happy, optimistic, and confident. I also wanted each dog to be different so there would be a surprise on every spread. I spent a lot of time getting the expressions right, as they need to convey the emotion of the story without any text to back them up. The clothing is a little bit 80s retro mixed with current kids’ fashion styles.

GS: Part Garfield/part Terminator—ha! I love the 80s retro vibe in your art.

RR: What was your experience like as a debut picture book author? Anything that surprised you about the process?

GS: I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with editor Meredith Mundy and the team at Abrams. The suggested text changes were pretty minor, but definitely strengthened the story. As a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect, but was happily surprised that Meredith kept me apprised of each new development with the art. It was such a delight to watch the characters come to life in your adorable illustrations.

Meredith recently asked me whether the book looked like what I’d imagined when I submitted the text. In truth, the book’s illustrations are even more adorable and humorous than I’d imagined in my head. The 80s retro vibe/wardrobing of your characters is very much in line with my aesthetic. The only big surprise was the “Ten dogs…WAIT!” spread (which, as I mentioned above, I ADORE). And then when I saw the full color illustrations—wow! It may sound clichéd, but there’s something magical about the picture book collaboration between an author and an illustrator. The whole is so much more than the two parts!

GS: What was your experience like as a debut picture book illustrator? Anything that surprised you about the process?

RR: So, first of all, that is so nice to hear! I appreciate that they keep the author and illustrator separate throughout the process, but it is also a little strange to not really know how an author is feeling throughout the process. Meredith would give me very nice updates—like “The author loves the character sketches!”—so that was helpful. I felt a big responsibility with your work!

I think the hardest part for me as a debut picture book illustrator was the pressure I put on myself. This is your first impression, DO NOT blow it! I had to keep reminding myself that the kids are my audience. Will they laugh? Will they love it and want to read it again? I tried to make that my focus.

Meredith and our art director, Hana Nakamura, were a pleasure to work with and they gave me a lot of freedom and great feedback. For the cover, we agreed we wanted to show our three main characters. I drew a lot of options and here are a few.

Meredith and Hana and the team at Abrams picked one and sent some feedback:

And here is the final cover! I’ve just heard they are going to foil stamp the blue type and the scarf stripes, so I am excited to see that when it is printed!

TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE is available for pre-order!

Gabi and Robin will give away one copy of TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in May 2020)!

Leave one comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected next month.

Good luck!

 

I was chatting with my editor last week about my upcoming book with Mike Boldt, ALIEN IN THE DOGHOUSE (working title). I mentioned my philosophy about picture book art notes—how they describe the action that needs to happen for the story to work.

While I teach this at writing conferences and workshops, I never Tweeted it. So…

…and this resonated with a lot of picture book writers.

New writers often hear “don’t use art notes”—but that’s not correct.

I believe some editors/agents say that because new writers tend to misuse art notes. The mistake is overusing them—writing visual instructions that are unnecessary or superfluous. It’s like writing [bunny hops away] when the text already says that the bunny skedaddled.

Misused art notes can also dictate what things should look like when that’s not a writer’s job. Art notes like [she has pigtails] or [green ball] aren’t the writer’s decision. The only time something like that is necessary is when the appearance of pigtails or a green ball act as important plot points. Can the girl have short, curly hair? Can the ball be orange? Does the story still make sense? Then leave out the art notes.

Art notes should only be used when it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. Like when you want to be subversive:

She smiled!

How will anyone know your character is supposed to look upset? Art notes! Erm, I mean ACTION NOTES.

Then Kevin asked me a question…

So, here’s my newest book from Tundra, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, illustrated by the fabulous Melissa Crowton.

I set out to write a story with mostly visual puns and jokes, and this book is the result.

Here’s one of my favorite pages…

My manuscript reads:

Don’t worry, the bus has an endless number of seats! [clown car]

How else is the illustrator supposed to know the school bus is really a clown car?

Then there’s this page…

My manuscript reads:

Walk this way! Your big brother will show you the ropes. [tightrope]

Now, truth be told, I imagined the brothers on a high wire, carrying a balance stick and walking into the school, hence the “walk this way”. However, coupled with the previous page, which had to show the BIG TOP, this was the best way to illustrate the entire spread. Notice I did not dictate exactly how or where the tightrope should go. All the illustrator needs to understand is the literal tightrope.

And this is another hilarious page…

My manuscript reads:

You can let off some steam during recess [circus train], but watch out for other stuff that steams! [poop]

Ahh, what’s a picture book without some well-placed scatological humor?

That’s how I approach art notes, as action notes. Note that I don’t even write “art note” between the brackets—the brackets and italics is enough for the editor and illustrator to know what they are.

I try to be as succinct as possible so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story.

But Tara, I hear you ask, what do you do when the art notes are so plentiful, it does interfere with reading the story?

Well, take a look at the grid format solution. It’s how my agent and I submitted YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

And now that it’s back-to-school time, how about a giveaway?

I have 3 signed copies of YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

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

Good luck—with your art notes and the giveaway!

 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I recommend kidlit writers secure an agent. Literary agents provide many crucial services that go far beyond selling manuscripts. A good agent guides you through every step of your career—the ups, the downs, the slumps, the triumphs. They are your ever-hopeful cheerleader and your biggest fan (often the smartest one, too). As one literary agent states, “There’s no greater professional joy than championing a book that you believe in and watching the world delight in it.”

Today I’m delighted to interview that agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. She serves as Senior Vice President of Trident Media Group. 

Alyssa, why (and how) did you get into representing children’s literature?

When I was a second-semester-senior English major in college, I suddenly found myself finding a way to tie children’s literature into all my term papers. I wrote one called “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out” about tea in Alice in Wonderland. And for my History of India class I wrote another about the British Raj in India as shown in the works of Hodgson Burnett and Kipling. I took this as a sign that I was meant to work in children’s publishing. And later that summer when I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course, I found myself making a bee-line for all the kidlit jobs, although nobody really used the term kidlit back in 1998.

In the spring of 1999 I was hired by S&S Books for Young Readers where I spent over seven years as a children’s book editor. And in year six of those seven years, when I decided I wanted to segue into the more entrepreneurial pursuit of agenting, I only ever considered doing so if I could be a children’s book agent. I’ve heard it said that children’s literature is the body of literature people know the first and the best, and that’s definitely true for me! Luckily for me, Trident specifically sought out a children’s book agent in the Fall of 2006 and they were open to hiring someone with an editorial—rather than an agenting—background.

How did the years spent working as an editor influence your agenting style?

I think my years spent working as an editor taught me a lot about the importance of having an editor who is an advocate, someone who can really sell the publisher’s sales force on an author’s book and make them realize they have something really special on their hands, as opposed to just another book in a sea of many books that will fly under the radar.

I always try to make editors realize that they need to pound their drums about the book and get the jacket just right if they want the book to really shine.

I also learned about the importance and transformative powers of revision. If I fall in love with an author’s voice, I will still take on the project even if it means a year or two of editing until the plot and the story arc are in the shape they need to be in order to sell.

Can you pinpoint a particular quality that makes you fall in love with a voice?

I’m a huge sucker for setting so the ability to conjure a sense of place that feels palpable always goes a long way with me. When I think back on the books I love, both front list titles and those that I still hold dear from my childhood, the #1 thing that stands out to me is how much I love the characters. So, when voice grabs on and makes me care, like really care such that I’m still thinking about the characters after the fact, then I know the voice has done its job. Lyrical lovely language that I want to quote doesn’t hurt anything either, of course!

I know agents get asked this a lot, but is there anything specific you’re dying to see? What’s on your wish list?

With the popularity of graphic and middle grade novels, I’m trying to expand my stable of illustrators and author-illustrators at the moment. I’m also very influenced by my rising-4th-grader son’s love of shorter books, so I’d love to find more fictional manuscripts for middle grade in verse or alternative shorter text formats that still manage to tell a full, high-stakes story. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction and history, and while the category in younger MG has kind of exploded already, I still think the market could really use a series like I SURVIVED, but for upper elementary age and middle school readers; there’s a big hole for kids after they finished many of the I SURVIVED and WHO WAS/IS books. And I’m also keen for books that are laugh-out-loud funny, as I never see enough of those in either MG or YA. And I always gravitate towards books with vividly-drawn settings, bonus points for those regional, cultural, and ethnic flavors that I’ve yet to see much of in kidlit before.

Beyond the writing, what else do you look for in a client?

I tend to look for clients who are hardworking, passionate about their craft, and good at marketing. Again, a sense of humor in life as well as in art is a virtue. And also patience is a big plus.

Speaking of patience, can you explain why it’s an important virtue in authors? What do you advise your clients to do during the wait?

It’s rare that things happen exactly as we expect them to. Sometimes books take a long time to sell and sometimes they sell quickly but the contracts due to various reasons take time to be finalized. Sometimes there’s an auction but bidders are on vacation, so the whole timeframe gets pushed back a month. Everyone has their own “dog ate my homework” story when it comes to waiting and publishing. And once the book is sold and paid for, odds are there will be more waiting, whether it’s for an edit letter, marketing plan, illustration sketches, sales figures etc. I always tell my clients to keep busy when their books are on submission: Try writing or outlining new works. Revise your five year goal plan. Get a lot of exercise. Binge watch a worthy show. Spend time in the company of loved ones and dear friends. A watched pot never boils!

Does a potential client have to have a blog and/or a large social media following for you to sign them?

If it’s celebrity- or news-driven nonfiction, having some social media out of the gate holds value when getting editors to read a proposal. But for fiction and more scholarly nonfiction or picture books, it’s certainly not a prerequisite when I go on submission. It’s nice if by the time of publication authors have a way for readers to reach them online. And I’ve had several clients tell me that booksellers have reached out to them on Twitter pre-publication, so again, it does hold value, but I always put the most stock in the book itself.

When you have a client project ready to submit, what steps do you go through? How do you strategize the submission process?

When a project is ready for submission, I love creating a submission list that includes a variety of different editors. Generally, these include a mix of imprints at larger houses and smaller houses, and includes editors at all different career stages. The common thread is that I know these editors to be hungry for this particular type of book. I usually learn who is looking for what by doing research on PubMarketplace and Manuscript Wishlist. And since I’ve worked with a bunch of editors over a number of years at this point, sometimes I also intuitively just know who might like what. Depending on the type of book, I usually submit to be between 8 and 14 editors at any given time. That way, the list is small enough to make each editor feel special. But the body of editors reading is large enough to have a healthy competitive situation if it goes to auction.

Over the course of your agenting career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

I love seeing client dreams come true, and quite a lot have in my 12+ years as an agent. I’ve had my hands in numerous long-running bestsellers, a major motion picture and the early stages of a Broadway musical. I’ve seen clients win Caldecott, and Printz Honors and Siebert and Belpre Awards. I’ve helped put in motion author tours, conference appearances, and front-of-store promotions, and have been instrumental in keeping titles in hardcover for years. I’ve negotiated offers that doubled and tripled from where they started. But my greatest achievement is overall is not doing anything by rote, and always trying to think outside the box. Because of this, each new situation becomes a wonderful learning experience that often sheds light on the next book…and the one after that.

What changes and challenges in publishing do you foresee happening over the next few years?

Children’s publishing is incredibly competitive with many more agents and one less big six (now big five) publishers in town now, and I wouldn’t be shocked by further consolidation in the future. Clearly bookselling in the era of amazon.com offers up many challenges for booksellers and authors generally. The fact that B&N, after having been owned by one individual for so long, has been recently purchased by an equity firm is leaving a lot of people wondering about the future of book chain retail in the digital age. That said, there are several new kidlit publishers  as well as Indie bookstores on the rise, and I think audio originals and graphic and illustrated books are growth areas. As long as libraries and schools continue to have book-buying budgets and people continue to have kids, I’m relatively optimistic about the future of kidlit publishing.

And lastly, are you open to submissions?

I am open to submissions, five pages in the body of a query letter for longer works, complete PB texts in the body of a query, and any art or illustrations inserted as links in a query letter, no attachments. Email to ahenkin@tridentmediagroup.com.

Alyssa, thank you for an informative and engaging interview!

Good luck with your queries, kidlit writers!

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