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by Dr. Carrie Barron

Here is a wonderful quote I just found by psychologist and creator of the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, Abraham Maslow: “A first rate soup is more creative than a second rate painting.”

I think I can stop right here, as to me that says it all. When you follow an impulse, pour your heart, engage your hands and play around with the elements or ingredients, you are being creative. Make a soup and do it your own way.

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Inspiration? It’s great if it comes but not necessary. Just pick up the pot, spoon, chopping knife and throw your fresh, multicolored carrots on a cutting board. Sometimes, the feeling comes after the activity begins. If you wait for the muse, you might become anxious if she doesn’t show up. You might procrastinate, become inhibited, feel abandoned and twiddle your thumbs while fretting about your shortcomings. Take care of yourself and conjure your creativity at the same time, by starting something, anything, no matter what your mood. Because it can change your mood. And that is reason enough. Your soup doesn’t have to be that good. If you are practiced, maybe your soup will be stupendous. If it is less than you hoped, there are more opportunities to learn. The best thing is that you engaged your hands in a meaningful way, immersed in a process and tried to master something new, which is good for mental health. Meaningful hand use elevates mood and mind, according to researcher Dr. Kelly Lambert.

creativitycureThere are other forms of meaningful hand use. What about writing by hand versus typing? Writing by hand though not efficient, can fill a need. Putting the inner self on the page is an act of creativity. Holding a pen and handling paper is visceral. I think about the artist Louise Bourgeois and her Drawings for Sleep. Drawing helped her manage her insomnia. By creating absorbing problems to solve via hand to paper, she was transported to a different place. Many, many people tell me that handwritten lists are a way to deal with anxiety.

So whether it is a soup, a drawing, a list or a poem, bringing your true self fully to the task to is a creative act. I get really inspired when I find great quotes like the one above. If a first rate soup is more creative than a second rate painting, think of all the creative people out there who might be inspired, motivated and assured if they only knew who they really were and what they could do!


carrieheadshot-200x300Carrie Barron, M.D., (Grace Caroline Barron, M.D) is the Director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas and a board-certified psychiatrist/psychoanalyst. She served on the faculty of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and maintained a private practice in New York City for almost two decades. Carrie has published in peer-reviewed journals, won several academic awards and presented original works on creativity and self-expression at national meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Via articles, interviews and quotes, she contributes to many podcasts, radio shows, magazines and newspapers. Carrie maintains a blog on Psychology Today, has taught at en*theos Academy for Optimal Living, the Hudson Valley Writers Center and Columbia and is on the Honorary Board of RiverArts. Visit her at carriebarronmd.com.

prizedetails

Dr. Barron is giving away a copy of her book, THE CREATIVITY CURE.

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

Good luck!

by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I’m assuming that you’re all deep into your brainstorming about story ideas at this point and already have a meaty list after all the inspiring posts you’ve been reading during Storystorm. Good for you!

I sometimes equate this stage of story brainstorming to experimenting with a recipe for a cake. Why cake? Because cake is one of my favorite things in the world. And suppose it’s a recipe entry for a baking contest in which you can submit ONE entry.

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After Storystorm, I advise you to browse your list of ideas and choose the one that appeals to you the most. Maybe you’ll be so excited about this particular idea that you won’t be able to wait. Maybe you’ve already started working on expanding the story, plotting an outline and/or doodling rough sketches. Maybe you’ve just expanded the idea a wee bit, perhaps into a paragraph or a few pages of notes.

Excellent! Now put that story away and DON’T LOOK AT IT for a while. “A while” is up to you. For me, it’s at least two weeks but sometimes several months.

In our baking analogy: it means tweaking your cake recipe and then putting that experimental cake in the oven:

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RESIST THE URGE TO TAKE IT OUT OF THE OVEN BEFORE IT’S READY.

Why?

Because if you take it out too soon, it’ll look pretty much the same as when you put it in. What you want: to give it enough time to settle, to bake, to reach a state where you can taste it objectively and see whether it’s really THE cake recipe you want to submit to the contest.

Sometimes when you take it out of the oven, it’ll look like this:

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Though of course we all hope for this:

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But back to when your cake story looks like this:

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At this point, you may realize that it’s not worth salvaging, and you may want to just toss it. Sometimes your instinct will be right.

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However, there may still be SOMETHING about it that you just can’t let go of:

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In that case, try experimenting some more. Maybe combine it with another idea, find a different spin, rework it in a different genre or format. Turn it upside down or reverse it, add an unexpected twist. You never know what will happen. Read this Veronica Bartles Storystorm post about how she substitutes story ingredients to familiar recipes to make them uniquely delicious. (Mmm, plus her Cranberry Sage Cookies With Almonds recipe sounds yummy….)

Then put it in the oven again to let it bake:

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As before, no matter how excited you are, force yourself to work on something else and NOT take your new creation out too soon. While you’re waiting, take a look at your other recipe ideas, start experimenting for another recipe.

And so on. Ok, I’ll drop the baking analogy…you get the message, right?

Sometimes I may feel SUPER excited with a new story idea and have the urge to IMMEDIATELY dive into the writing and editing and revision process. Sometimes the first draft of the story pours out onto the paper; I love when this happens. However, I have learned to let an idea or first draft sit for a while before coming back to it. If I’m still excited about it, then I go to the next stage. After another round of writing or sketching or revising, I let it sit again and then re-evaluate.

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The danger of letting yourself dive into developing a story idea too soon is that you’ll get so caught up with the “ooo shiny toy” honeymoon phase that you won’t be objective. You’re going to be pouring a lot of time and effort into this project, after all, as well as inevitably getting emotionally invested. It’s in your best interest to take your time before you commit.

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So stick with the rest of the Storystorm month! Keep reading Storystorm blog posts and coming up with ideas. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to look at your earlier ideas more objectively.

This is pretty much my story brainstorming process, by the way. I currently keep a notebook where I constantly jot down story ideas, fragments, bits of conversations and synopses for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I used to use a digital notebook but I currently prefer a paper notebook where I can doodle as well as scribble ideas PLUS I like being able to physically browse earlier ideas to see if they still excite me.

Whatever the method you use to keep track of your story ideas, I encourage you to GIVE THEM TIME to develop and before sending them out into the world.

Good luck!


debbieridpathohi-laugh-anniet-v-500x750Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster), a book that began as an idea generated during PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm). Her illustrations appear in books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume, among others. Upcoming books in 2017 include Debbie’s second solo picture book, Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster), Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster, author Aaron Reynolds), Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in The Secret Ingredient (Random House, author Lauren McLaughlin), and Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins, author Rob Sanders). Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

prizedetails

Debbie is giving away one of her original found object doodles, using a crumpled Lindor wrapper and drawn with a fountain pen. It’s about 5.7″ x 7″, and will be mailed in a protective cellophane wrapper with a cardboard backing.

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

Good luck!

by Jennifer Arena

A year ago last autumn in Chicago during the Architecture Biennial, one exhibit captured my imagination. Situated in the middle of a large room were several dozen waist-high stands, each holding small everyday objects, such as fake flowers, egg crate foam, or a crumpled mini plastic water bottle.

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What made the objects startling, though, was that the artist/architect had included tiny plastic people on or by each group of objects. Those plastic people changed the objects from everyday to fantastic—no longer just things you’d find in a junk drawer, they were now a whole new landscape for those little people. I had a moment of vertigo. I was looking at something small, a pile of Pringles, but to the plastic people, the Pringles were hills. And if the Pringles were hills, what did that make me?

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At this point you’re probably thinking, “Did I click on the right blog? Isn’t this supposed to be about WRITING?” But writing is the first thing that came to mind when I saw the exhibit, particularly writing for children, because the everyday can become fantastic if you just change your perspective. We do it all the time as writers of kids’ books. We imagine ourselves as we were when we were three or seven or ten. We remember what it felt like to be younger, smaller, under our parents’ control.

But as writers, we’re not limited to imagining ourselves as children. We can imagine ourselves as anything at all. A monkey. A vampire. A purple two-headed dragon. A little plastic person in a field of giant fake flowers. We can picture ourselves on the outside looking in . . . or on the inside longing to get out.

Perspective has been on my mind a lot lately. This year, I had two books come out that look at perspective differently. The first, LADY LIBERTY’S HOLIDAY, features a larger-than-life main character, the Statue of Liberty, and views America through her eyes. To her, Niagara Falls isn’t just a gorgeous waterfall—it’s the perfect spot to shower. And the Golden Gate Bridge? A great place to nap. The only thing that makes her feel small is the Grand Canyon.

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martaMARTA! BIG AND SMALL, on the other hand, takes on the idea of how perspective differs depending on what something is compared to. So compared to an elephant, Marta is small. Compared to a bug, she is big. (Or “grande”—it’s a bilingual book.) It’s the whole idea of me, the Pringles, and the tiny plastic people. We are all big, and we are all small. Everything is relative.

And this is where the inspiration comes from. If you’re looking for a new idea, change your perspective. What would it be like if you were the size of a mouse? What would you eat . . . or wear . . . or play with? What if you were as big as a Brachiosaurus?

twigsLook around. A pile of Pringles can be a hillside. A handful of twigs can be a forest. A piece of egg crate foam on its side can be a modern housing development. Lie on the floor. Crawl on your knees. Climb a ladder and see what it’s like to be eight feet tall. Take an elevator to the top of a tall building and look down. Then look up. Who sees the world that way? There’s your character. What challenges would they face? There’s your plot.

In one of the explanations of the exhibit, the artist/architect wrote “Anything stacked is architecture.” He found inspiration for his craft in the everyday, just as I found inspiration in his exhibit. Who knows where your next idea might come from? Like architecture, inspiration is everywhere!

For more on the exhibit, Sou Fujimoto’s “Architecture Is Everywhere,” click on this link.


0007_arena_Jen Arena writes, edits, and finds for inspiration in the world around her for everything from easy-to-reads to picture books to early chapter books. Her recent titles include BESOS FOR BABY (Little Brown), LADY LIBERTY’S HOLIDAY (Knopf), and MARTA! BIG AND SMALLl (Roaring Brook), which the Huffington Post named in its Best Picture Books of 2016 as an Honorable Mention in the category of—you guessed it—“Best on Perspective.” Her next picture book SLEEP TIGHT, SNOW WHITE will be published in 2017 by Knopf. Visit her on twitter at @hallojen or at her website: jenarenabooks.com.
prizedetails
In honor of the very first Storystorm, Jen is giving away a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult phone call. She has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long. Ask away!

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

Good luck!

 

devbookstore

by Dev Petty

My first book, I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, came out last February and it’s been a wild ride this year publicizing and reading my book across the San Francisco Bay area which I call home. It’s kind of been the year when I went from “person who wrote and sold a book” to “writer,” if only because I now actually say “Writer!” when people ask what I do instead of coughing and pretending I didn’t hear the question like before.

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My journey from Visual Effects artist, to mom, to writer was fast. I didn’t have a ton of time to consider what being a writer would mean or what it would feel like to read my book to a room full of eager faces. I’ve visited many schools, dozens of bookstores, a few libraries, workshops and panels too. I had a lot to learn, if only about engaging with kids, which even though I’m a parent, I needed some work on. What was surprising, and exciting, was how much I learned about writing FOR kids through the process of reading TO kids. It turns out, if you do the same sort of spiel and read the same book enough times, you start to notice some things and, like so many other experiences, those things inform the act of writing picture books…who knew?! So here are a few WRITING lessons garnered from READING.

Kids are power-hungry little critters. What do I mean? It means they like to have the information, fill in the gaps, answer the questions, even guess the question all before you, another kid or another adult gets a word out. Every time I read a certain page of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I get to the part where I say “Because you are a….”

and the kids all shout out FROG!

Which is infinitely more fun that me saying “frog” to them in my not-that-fun voice. Time after time, I realize that when given a chance to extrapolate and interpolate they’ll do it. What does this mean for writing? It means you can leave a little space. Kids can draw conclusions and they’ll feel good for doing so. It also means you can play with that phenomenon. It’s a fun technique to send ’em down one road and get them thinking they know the answer and then turn the page and it’s something else entirely…it’s kind of a safe way to be wrong about something.

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Kids are smart. They OFTEN ask me about publishing, how a picture book is put together, how and where I write, etc. Unlike young Dev who spent a lot of time drawing some sort of hybrid human/hotdog people, these kids are sophisticated and curious and savvy. Spend an afternoon with a bunch of second graders and you’ll be jotting down words to look up when ou get home. I talk to them about paste downs, collaboration in a digital world, and revision. This ought to remind us writers to not dumb things down- it may take more than one read, but they’ll get it…and then they’ll teach you.

Dev's required reading shoes

Dev’s required reading shoes

Kids are also weird and they appreciate weird. I’ve written about this before, but many, many readings have reminded me of the truth of this statement. The best readings I have are the ones where I am revealing of my own oddities, shortcomings and foibles. It may get back to the power-hungry nature of the little guys, but they do love to feel that you’re on equal footing, that the writer is goofball, kid-like participant in the process and not button-up preacher sitting in the adult-sized chair above. What does it mean for writing? It means I’ve learned the joy of letting go a little and using a big brush to write strong, strange things and hope that kids, if not adults, will get it. Or at least enjoy it.

mikeboldtKids like pictures. Well, duh Dev—of course kids like pictures…they draw them ALL THE TIME…on paper! But seriously, I found when I incorporate images into my reading, even a simple 20 minute reading, they are much more involved and attentive. Examples: I used to just say Mike Boldt illustrated the book…but then I put a funny picture of Mike in a big flowery frame and started bringing it along…they love it. I bring the alternate language versions of my book and pass them around. I draw a little. It’s pretty obvious what this means for writing—it means, think about the pictures! It means letting the pictures do a lot of the work for you, it means present, don’t preach.

So in this year, I’ve sure learned a lot. I’ve come a long way since my first reading when my hands wouldn’t stop shaking and I had notes written on a scrap of paper so I’d know what to say. My writing has changed because of all these kids, parents, librarians and teachers who’ve welcomed into their rooms. In fact, these days when I’m writing a new story, I IMAGINE myself reading it to a room full of kids and I imagine the page turns and pauses and laugh lines, the open space for them to guess and wonder, and the possible reactions to things. Of course, in my head, the kids are all wearing overalls and red converse and yellow rain slickers and have rosy cheeks and bacteria-free hands and speak a little french and go fishing and think I’m terribly cool, like spy cool and that they might want to be like me some day. I digress…

Finally, in case you’re a new author and in the market for a few tips you may not have considered—here now a few Reading Your Picture Book Lessons I’ll offer for free:

  1. Don’t swear. Seems obvious, right? Harder for some of us than others.
  2. If you take questions, always ask the kid’s name before he/she talks.
  3. Bring along a little giveaway, not all kids can afford your book and you’ll feel good if you send em home with something.
  4. Show up early.
  5. Send a thank you note to the teacher, book store manager or librarian after.
  6. Connect with the parents and teachers, let them ask questions too
  7. .If you make a joke about something like eating bugs, be ready for the possibility that one of the kids in your audience has, and often does eat bugs as part of their culture and then be prepared to feel really, really awkward.
  8. Seriously, don’t swear.
  9. When signing books, bring scratch paper to write the names down before you pen them in your book. The kid might say “My name is Max” and that might have an umlaut and a couple h’s these days.
  10. Finally, remember what the whole point of this writing for kids thing is. It’s to delight, inspire, amuse…kids. I’m just the hired help–another reminder this is the best job on Earth.

Thanks, Dev. These are great tips. (And I second that umlaut warning. Also, don’t say another name while you are writing a name, otherwise a book for Marcie will wind up being a book for Autumn. True story.)

You can win a copy of Dev’s newest book, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG. Just leave a comment below–include a reading aloud tip if you have one. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks. US addresses only, please. GOOD LUCK!

idontwanttobebigDev Petty is the author of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG, and CLAYMATES (L,B & Co. ’17). She is a former visual effects artist who loves writing picture books because they’re like tiny, paper movies. Dev is a Berkeley native, devout Californian, and she’s super good at word jumbles. She’s represented by Jen Rofé of ABLA. Visit her at DevPetty.com.

November—typically this month I’m a blogging fool, organizing Picture Book Idea Month posts, participants and prizes. But PiBoIdMo has been moved to January, a new year, a fresh start. The new news about the annual writing challenge is that I’m working hard on the new name and logo, which I will reveal shortly, along with the changes in scope. So the news is that there is no news? Yeah, sorry ’bout that. I feel badly, so let me cheer you up with Snoopy, who always makes me feel better. (Plus, added bonus: BUNNIES!!!)

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And some of you will feel even better, because I am playing Oprah again today with my favorite things: giveaways. I did not realize it had been months since I announced prize winners, so I have a bunch here. Congratulations to all and be on the lookout for an email from me.

NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL Winner
Carol Gordon Ekster

MY BIG TREE Winner
Shuko

MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT Winner
Danielle Hammelef

LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS Winner
Bethany Johnson

SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS Winner
Marlaina Gray

MONSTER TRUCKS Winner
Diana Owen

BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY Winner
Melissa Stoller

MARIA GIANFERRARI Winners
Query Pass: Genevieve Petrillo
PB Critique: Mary Jo Wagner
Book: Kelly Conroy

There are still open giveaways, so give the blog a scroll. Plus I’ll have another one next week. Boy, with all the blogging lately, it sure does feel like November…doesn’t it, Snoopy?

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by Ruth Spiro

I’ve spent the past few weeks in a flurry of activity, celebrating the release of my new science-themed board books, illustrated by Irene Chan. BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! are the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series, published by Charlesbridge. Next year they’ll be joined by two siblings, BABY LOVES THERMODYNAMICS! and BABY LOVES QUANTUM PHYSICS!

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lesterfizzWhen my first picture book, LESTER FIZZ, BUBBLE GUM ARTIST, was published in 2008, my marketing plan included the tried-and-true signings, mailings and school visits. But back then, we authors had to promote our books the old-fashioned way: Barefoot, walking uphill, in the snow.

At least that’s how it seems, looking at it in the rearview mirror.

Take a minute to consider how you’d get the word out about your new book and connect with potential readers without social media.

For me, this second time around is a whole new world.

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LESTER FIZZ came out in August of 2008, and I scheduled most of my launch events for September. I ordered postcards with the book cover on one side and details like the ISBN and a few blurbs on the other. I used the postcards as event invitations by printing labels with the date, time and location, affixing them to the postcards and then addressing them by hand. This required more work, but it allowed me to order a larger quantity of generic postcards I could use for multiple purposes, such as leave-behinds at conferences.

At the last minute, I decided to spring for the 5 x 7 size, which I thought would have greater visibility. Unfortunately, when I sent my first mailing I neglected to consider two important details. First, I used regular postcard stamps, not realizing the larger size required extra postage. This problem was compounded by the fact that when I designed the postcards, it hadn’t occurred to me to include a return address.

postagedueI’m not sure where those postcards ended up, but it wasn’t in my friends’ and family’s mailboxes. Ordering a larger quantity turned out to be my only smart move, because once I learned that 90% of the postcards were never delivered, I had to re-do the entire mailing. (The others arrived at their destinations postage due!)

Later that month when my schedule slowed down, I joined Facebook. Not many people I knew were using it, as it wasn’t yet a “thing” among people my age. Still, I’d been hearing about it more and more so I decided to check it out. I had fun connecting with high school friends and former colleagues, and began posting status updates. I still had two more book signings coming up in October, so I posted the details.

Surprisingly, people I hadn’t seen in years showed up, some with friends, babies, nieces and nephews in tow. Truth be told, these folks weren’t on my invitation list and would never have known about the events if I hadn’t shared them on Facebook.

Eight years later, Facebook has become an invaluable resource. It enables authors and illustrators to leverage our social networks by publicizing events, sharing links to blog posts and reviews, and connecting with fans and potential readers. Best of all, rather than blowing my promotion budget on invitations and stamps, I purchased important stuff like rocket ship cookies, airplane tattoos and astronaut ice cream!

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I recall exactly how I met Tara-–on Twitter!

I had a Google Alert set for my book title (another helpful resource) and discovered her tweet:

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We began following each other, I found Tara’s blog, and made a friend with similar interests halfway across the country. (Tara’s note: I love quirky LESTER FIZZ.)

In 2008 I knew very few people who were active on Twitter. The old joke was that people used it to announce what they’d eaten for breakfast. Back then, I think Twitter was still figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up.

Ah, but Twitter is home of the hashtag.

For those still unfamiliar, and I personally know more than a few, I’ll briefly explain. Adding a “#” to the beginning of a word or phrase makes it visible to all of the 313 million active users around the world who are searching for that word or phrase. #Authors, #illustrators, #booksellers, #librarians, #bloggers, #editors, #agents and others in the #kidlit and #SCBWI community, including those interested in #picturebooks, #graphicnovels, #reading, and #literacy use hashtags to connect and see what others are discussing. Get the picture?

(People use hashtags on Facebook and Instagram too, but it all began on Twitter.)

You can share ideas and #chat with like-minded people around the world without leaving your own comfy couch. Through the years, I’ve used Twitter to “meet” hundreds of educators, librarians and booksellers. I’ve received invitations to speak at conferences, set up Skype visits with classrooms in India, Turkey and Mexico, and kept abreast of topics trending in children’s literature. When used the right way, the power of Twitter is stunning.

So, while I may have missed the boat with #bubblegum, now I can easily find people who are interested in #boardbooks, #STEM, #quarks and #aerospace. See? It’s addictive!

But wait, there’s more…

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Booksellers, librarians and parents often post photos of new or favorite books, and some popular Instagram accounts have tens of thousands of followers (or more!) How cute is this photo of a little reader?

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pinterest
One word: Educators! If you have Educator Guides, crafts or activities to go along with your books, create a Pinterest board and pin them there. I pinned mine for Lester Fizz five years after it was published, and they’re still being “favorited” and “repinned.”

Baby Steps
In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the two heavy hitters. They’ve given me the biggest return on my investment of time and effort without costing a penny. But as I made a list of all the tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as popular) only six or eight years ago, I realized just how far we’ve come. There are some resources I haven’t mentioned (LinkedIn, SnapChat, Tumblr) simply because I haven’t found them quite as useful as the others.

Keep in mind that while these social media platforms can be used for promotion, they’re also spaces for creating community. I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences come from authentic interactions, resulting in relationships that grow over time. The best part is that once you’re an active member of a community, you don’t have to promote yourself as much because others will help do it for you. Of course, this works both ways. It’s a joy to celebrate contracts and “book birthdays” of those in your community, especially when you’ve followed each other through all the ups and downs of the journey.

Thank you, Ruth, for showing us how book marketing has changed dramatically in just a few years. I personally do not know what I would do without social media because, as you know, I like to stay home in my jammies.

Ruth is giving away a signed, two-book set of BABY LOVES SCIENCE to a random commenter. How do you use all the tools we have today to spread the word about your work?

A winner will be selected soon. (I have stopped saying a particular date because I never get to it in time. Yes, I have lots of things I have to pick winners for…I PROMISE SOON.)

RuthSpiroRuth Spiro is a children’s book author and freelance writer. Her Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge, includes Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks!. The next two titles, Baby Loves Thermodynamics! and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! will be published in 2017. Also forthcoming from Dial is a new picture book series, Made by Maxine, which sold at auction in a 3-book deal. The first book is scheduled for 2018.

Ruth’s debut picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist won awards from Writer’s Digest and Willamette Writers, and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. Her articles and stories have appeared in FamilyFun, CHILD, and The Writer, and also in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time (Vol. II), edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. She lives in suburban Chicago.

Website: RuthSpiro.com
Twitter: @ruthspiro
Instagram: @ruthspiro
Facebook: facebook.com/RuthSpiro.Author/

.

I am thrilled to be writing this blog post.

bored

Wait a second…

That’s the worst opening, isn’t it?

Let me explain.

powersaleswritingBack when I wrote marketing copy, sales letters and press releases for a living, I bought POWER SALES WRITING by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, an eye-opening guide and the most useful business book I’ve ever read. Good business requires sharp writing.

In the book, Hershkowitz-Coore tells marketing writers to stop being thrilled all the time. Sure, you are thrilled to announce a deal, launch a product or publish a book. But why should your audience be thrilled? What’s in it for them? No one is going to be thrilled simply because you are (except for your mother).

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The point? Stop writing sales pitches from your point of view and write from the target audience’s POV. Make your audience thrilled. Give them something to get excited about.

I receive dozens of unsolicited book review pitches a week. There are too many, so I take a simple approach to weeding them out. Those that use “I am thrilled” to open the pitch get deleted. (Sorry.) With that introduction, I know they haven’t considered my blog readers’ point of view.

I never forgot that thrilling lesson. Yes, I’m sometimes still too thrilled for my own good. I want friends to be happy for me, so I will occasionally toot my own flugelhorn. But then I remember what my Nana used to say: “Well, your arms are long enough to pat yourself on the back.” (Yeah, Nana could be harsh.) In a way, Nan was trying to teach me the same lesson as Hershkowitz-Coore. No one is going to be as thrilled as you are, so you’d better make your news worthwhile to others.

I am thrilled to be finished writing this blog post…because I hope it has helped you.

We have a winner for Catherine Bailey and Sarita Rich’s giveaway. Sarita’s daughter Stella did the honors:

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Congratulations, MELISSA STOLLER! I will be contacting you via email to arrange the prize.

Watching that sweet video makes me want to write a story to make Stella giggle! Consider her cuteness your motivation for the week!

 

Short Stories

“How did you get your start writing?”

“Just like Roald Dahl.” (Yes, I take advantage of any opportunity to compare myself to my favorite writer.)

But, I’m not kidding. When I began this whole crazy ride, I did so by writing short stories for adults, just like Dahl. Except my stories weren’t short stories. They were short, short, extra short stories—flash fiction.

I had found an online magazine called “Six Sentences” that published one flash fiction piece per day. The name of the site said it all—every story was only six sentences long (or six sentences short, chortle chuckle).

To some writers, this presents an enormous challenge, to examine character and emotion and conflict between six periods. Sure, you could exploit the semi-colon and em-dash and maybe stretch it to resemble eight-and-a-half sentences, but still. That’s not much space.

The uber-short format, however, is like prose-poetry. And it’s most definitely like a picture book because some things must be left unsaid, yet the silence remains part of the story’s experience.

Paper Cuts
by Tara Lazar

Her daughter was achingly beautiful, a delicate loveliness like a paper lantern, illuminated from within. The girl’s long hair separated into fine ringlets, cascading like curled Christmas ribbon down her back. She was the kind of child who made strangers smile and take pause—the kind of child who made other mothers envious. The mother was not so much shunned as politely excluded; excuses were made, apologies provided, but invitations were never extended. She exaggerated her own ordinary features—forgoing makeup, leaving her hair unwashed for days, wearing mismatched clothing—but none of her efforts to elicit pity served to lessen the jealousy; her daughter’s radiance only shone brighter, her extraordinary hair the source of more disdain. The mother closed her eyes, grasped the scissors, and cut.

I’ve long held the belief that aspiring picture book writers would benefit from writing flash fiction, as it’s good writing practice in another format. No pictures are necessary, but a mind for visuals is. Can you imagine the scene above?

Writing these stories is fun as well as a challenge, so I was mighty intrigued when I saw Logitech announce their Very Short Story contest on Twitter.

logivss

So here’s your chance to strut your storytelling skills outside the usual medium. Logitech is giving away their new K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard and a Blurb giftcard for the best short story written in 8 tweets or less. Just use #LogiVSS to tell your tiny tale. Get all the details here—http://blog.logitech.com/2016/02/18/k380veryshortstorychallenge—but hurry! The contest ends at the close of this week.

And guess what? Logitech is also giving away one of their new keyboards to one of my blog readers! If you hate typing on a phone or tablet’s screen, worry no longer. This keyboard is happy to help you out.

Just leave a comment below about short story writing and you’re entered to win. One lucky commenter will be picked randomly in two weeks!

So go ahead and write on! (But don’t write on and on and on!)

by guest blogger Catherine Bailey

You call her Tara Lazar. I call her Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. And thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, and her month-long picture book idea challenge PiBoIdMo, I now have three picture book contracts.

toodreamy

Tara chose this GIF because she always wanted to be Sherilyn Fenn.

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI.org) in 2010. Soon after I joined Verla Kay’s Blueboards, now accessible through the SCWBI website. That is where I heard about PiBoIdMo.

piboidmo2014officialparticipant

I’ll admit at first I did not understand all the hubbub. Come up with a PB idea per day? Who would check to make sure I did it? What if I didn’t? Was I supposed to call somebody? What else happened during PiBoIdMo? Then it clicked. I had to work on my writing–even if just for a bit–EVERY SINGLE DAY. Plus there were these motivational, insightful daily posts! I felt like I had struck PB gold.

Suddenly I was focused and taking my writing seriously. I made time to write. I made goals. I made lists. Long, gloriously detailed lists–of ideas, agents, publishers, writing techniques, bookstores, dream editors, dream illustrators…

On one of those lists was idea #17: How Do You Move a Monster? It was something my toddler had asked me. That’s it. There was no plot or character or anything–just that title. When I went back to idea #17 over a year later, I had an answer. You ask the monster to move… politely. Then a manuscript sprouted. After months of polishing, I shipped the story off to a few well-researched publishers.

Lo and behold, Sterling Publishing contacted me. I was plucked from the slush and THERE WAS INTEREST. Of course I just about died. I ate donuts and cried. And I contacted an agent who I had pursued earlier, Kathleen Rushall. Within a few days she agreed to represent me and from there INTEREST turned into and OFFER which turned into a CONTRACT which turned into me EATING MORE DONUTS.

donuts

The title changed to MIND YOUR MONSTERS and the book debuted this August. Here is the fabulous cover and some interior sketches:

:Mind Your Monsters BAILEY Cover

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In the meantime, my toddler became an actual kid, we had another baby, and I kept participating in PiBoIdMo. Instead of making a new “Idea” list, I just added to the old one which was (rather optimistically) titled “101 Picture Book Ideas.” Did I have 101 Picture Book Ideas at this point? No. Nope. Nerp. But I knew I would eventually, thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady and her website of wonders.

Then I turned two more PiBoIdMo ideas into manuscripts. One was simply listed as “Hypnosis/stuck in trance” and the other was “Lucy loves Bobo—maybe Bobo is a lobster?” With time, work, and the input of an amazing critique group, those weird little baby-ideas turned in HYPNOSIS HARRY and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, both of which sold to Sky Pony Press.

IMG_2697

Today my “101 Picture Book Ideas” list includes over 200 entries. And thanks to Tara, I mean Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, it is pure habit for me to add ideas to this list whenever something pops in my mind. And speaking of lists, here is a very brief recap of what I got out of PiBoIdMo.

  1. Ideas. Okay, so that one is obvious.
  2. A concrete starting place I can go to when I am stumped/motivated/annoyed with a current project. Like an anchor on a little boat in a big sea, this is very reassuring and grounding.
  3. Confirmation that writing is work and deserves the respect and focus of any other job – which for me means planned writing time, specific goals, and occasionally…donuts.

So thank you Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me. And thank you for taking me to what I call Contract-Landia! Now c’mon November–let’s go PiBoIdMo!

PiBoIdMo 2015 registration will begin HERE (yes, I mean right here, on this blog, so there’s no link to click) in late October. I hope to see you then!

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

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My Picture Books

WAY PAST BEDTIME
illustrated by Rich Wake
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
April 2017

7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY
illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
May 2017

THE WHIZ-BANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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