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It’s here, it’s here! Every writer’s favorite gifting list!

Thanks to illustrator Susie Ghahremani at for creating the typewriter-tree for our post. And the first item I’ll recommend is straight from her site! I bought a bunch of her adorable enamel pins, plus a typewriter pin! They now proudly adorn my denim jacket. (Psst, all the gifts on this list can be for YOU! Treat yourself; it’s been another rough year!)

The first gift I love for writers keeps your mind sharp and hones your creative connections with all those tricky clues.

$40 annually

You’ll receive the daily NY Times crossword, mini crossword games, and my current obsession, Spelling Bee. And if you’re truly up for a challenge, NYT fan Sarah Sinclair offers a Spelling Bee knit hat pattern on

BOOK DARTS @ The Grommet

I always say to classes I visit, “To be a good writer, you must be a good READER.” Book darts are thin metal line markers that hug a page, pointing to a specific line, without marking up the page. Each tin contains 125 book darts, more than enough for multiple books, magazines, journals… Now you can easily refer to your favorite lines.


If you’re like me and a box of your books goes KA-THUNK on the front porch, you scramble to grab any old dojigger to open it—a key, a ballpoint pen, even a fingernail. But that’s so wrong! You risk ruining your writing tool, your manicure, and you’ll mangle your lock trying to jimmy it open with a misshapen key. So get a Gerber Shard. It’s even airline-approved!


You’re a writer, not an illustrator…so here’s a nifty gadget for you. Put it next to any drawing and it will reflect lines to trace. If there’s an image in a picture book you love, you can recreate it for yourself.


Don’t worry, it won’t tell you to drink more Ovaltine. However, if you’re a kidlit writer, I know you’re gonna love this! Who doesn’t want to pass secret notes? (Hey, why not write an entire manuscript in code and challenge your critique partners? On second thought, never mind. They’ll kick you outta the group.)

GRIDS & GUIDES NOTEBOOK from Princeton Architectural Press

If you’re a visual thinker, this notebook offers varying lined pages for ideas, lists, paragraphs, doodles, anything you can imagine. It’s been a bestseller for a decade.

$39.99 for 24-pack of 4×4

It doesn’t matter if you’re a plotter or a pantser, every writer can find a use for these. And another use. And another. They’re erasable, re-stickable, and each one should last about 2 years stuck and unstuck to your wall, your manuscript, your bedside table, or your partner’s forehead.

starts at $27 per month

Scribbler says it’s “like a writing conference in a box.” There’s lessons, chats, other writerly gifts and a new novel to enjoy. All you need is a cuppa tea, a cat, and a roaring fire. (In the fireplace. Don’t set your manuscript alight.)

RUSTIC BOOKSTORE CANDLE by Mirus Candles on Etsy
$8.95 and up

Writers love books. But we adore old books, especially the aroma of a used bookstore! I’ve searched high and higher for that scent, and this may be the closest with its combination of old books, worn leather, and fireplaces.


Published in late 2020 from Skyhorse, this delish little tome may have escaped your notice. “From Christmas and Thanksgiving to Halloween and New Year’s, this seasonal cookbook offers 17 full four-course holiday meals from 25 classic books—each including an appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert.” Don’t forget to invite me to dinner!


This game is especially perfect for picture book creators, as it’s based on creating words to describe the illustrated cards and telling stories based on the images. Both children and adults can play together!


I have bookshelves all over my house, but I could always use another one. That’s probably you, too. This bookcase is narrow, meaning anyone can find a place for it. Besides, it’s a nice excuse to buy more books—to fill it up!

NOVEL TEA BOOK TINS from Uncommon Goods
$35.00 – $39.00

I admit, I don’t like coffee, so you’ll never see that bitter brew on this list. However, I adore a good cuppa tea. I should’ve been born British.


Maybe the pandemic has renewed your love of old-fashioned letter-writing. Here’s a treasure trove of 100 book jacket postcards for short communiques that are more meaningful (and more fun) than text messages.


And for those longer hand-written sentiments, there’s this gorgeous notecard set of 12 iconic female writers, with original portraits by Etsy seller CustardApple. They’re lovely, printed on recycled linen, with Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, plus 8 others.


EX LIBRIS STAMP by Etsy Seller ExLibrisStudio

Personalized gifts are so special and this shop has every “ex libris” design you could ever want, from children’s choices to animals, science, and mystery. Choose a stamp or a sticker for your favorite bookworm.


For keeping you writing friends close, and your writing enemies closer. (The pen is a double-edged sword, is it not?)


Speaking of sharp writing implements, I asked my friend, illustrator Kirk Reedstrom, to tell me a little about this curious pen I saw him using last week. He says:

“For the calligraphy lover or illustrator in your life, I cannot recommend Dan Berry’s Blade Pen highly enough! Hand-made by UK-based cartoonist and illustrator, Dan Berry, this pen is a lot of fun! This dip pen’s unpredictable nature helps me loosen up and get a delectably wonky line quality I haven’t found with any other tool.”

Here are a few adorable drawings Kirk made with his new pen:

LAP DESK by Lap Gear

During the pandemic, I gave up sitting at a desk. I balance my laptop precariously on a living room pillow. NOT the best set-up. Enter this lap desk. There are tons of designs to choose from if you choose a couch for comfort. There’s even a slot for your phone (so you don’t sit on it, like I do).

MOFT Invisible Laptop Stand

Speaking of comfort while writing, this “invisible” laptop stand won a design award for its slim profile that attaches directly to your laptop for go-anywhere convenience. You’ll get a perfect tilt when you need it and a sturdy, flat base when you don’t.



“Each round begins with a rotating judge drawing a Story card and reading the first sentence aloud. The other players then write down a word or phrase that fills in the first blank. After every player has submitted their word or phrase, the judge chooses their favorite and places it on the story card upside down. This continues for every line. At the end of the story, the judge reads the completed story, revealing the winning submissions!”


Shameless plug. If you’re a fan of my List of 500+ Fun, Cool & Interesting Words, you’ll enjoy how I turned it into a book, with 750+ words arranged by category for ease-of-use and fun facts behind entries. Available wherever you purchase books, starting January 2.


And finally, thanks to my friends at, we have the Narwhal Fountain Pen, one of the owner’s, Kiran Mehra’s, favorite pens. I asked her what makes it so special. She says, “Narwhal pens write amazingly!  Fountain pens have been around a long time, but the Narwhal fountain pen takes what’s good about classic fountain pens (for example, the Piston-Fill system) and removes the headaches that used to come with them. Narwhal pens are the same quality and often-times materials as expensive luxury fountain pens (which can go upwards of $200 – $2000, believe it or not), but for an affordable intermediate price of $50. There is no better first fountain pen to have!”

And lucky blog readers, thanks to, you can WIN A NARWHAL FOUNTAIN PEN!

Simply add one gift-for-writers suggestion of your own to this post in the comments below.

One random winner will be selected at the end of 2021.



Our first gift this year is the adorable “Snow Bear” mascot by the generous and talented Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Give her a follow on Instagram @tatjanamaiwyss for a daily dose of happy! You can also find her art on Etsy.

Speaking of Etsy, that’s where our initial group of gifts can be found. Etsy offers a variety of unique treasures for a superstar scribe. Here are a few examples…

Leather iPhone “Book” Case

This is a handsome, protective and useful phone case. There are several Etsy artisans offering similar ones—you can pick a favorite—although I’m sold on the vintage book design.


Literary Cookie Cutters

If you like to bake, then these are for you! Fahgettaboud gingerbread men! Your favorite writer wants to bite into Emily Dickinson!

Alternatively, give these to your writer-baker friend and they’ll gift you right back with a set of Shakespeare sugar cookies. (I see two sprinkles making a fine mustache.)


Book Shelf Scarf

Bonus: this scarf goes with any sweater hue!


Book Spine Stair Decals

Genius! Decals! You don’t need to hire a painter!


Sari-Covered Journals

Beautiful keepsake journals in every jewel color of the rainbow.


Vintage “Game of Authors”

I had never seen this before, but serendipity had me stumble over these games of yore. The first is from thee 1920’s and the second is the 1943 “Salem Edition.”


I love games of all kinds. Maybe your friend the children’s writer does, too. After all, we’re just overgrown kids.

MoMA “Writer’s Block” Jumping Game

Based on the perennial waiting-for-our-food-at-the-diner game, this version features colorful pencils to lighten the writer’s blocked mood.


The Storymatic Card Game

Invented by a writing professor, this card game offers character traits, situations and motivations even your most daringly creative friend never thought of shoving into one story.


Once Upon a Time Game

Pick some cards and then steer the story your way!


Modcloth is one of my favorite places to shop for quirky clothes. They are equally offbeat with their accessories!

Colored Pencil Wallet

It looks like it carries pencils, but it carries stuff to buy pencils.

What the @’&#*? Earring Set

How I needed these when writing THE UPPER CASE! (Not because I was cursing while creating it, but because these characters make cameos!)


OK, so maybe your writer friend wants to do some actual writing!

Vivid Gel Pen Set

Bright and smooth for fanciful journaling.


Delde Sliding, Standing Pen Pouch

I stole this idea from Heidi Stemple! This case is amazing…you unzip, pull down on the side handles, and all your writing implements are there for the grabbing! Indispensable for book signings!


ReMarkable Tablet

Writes like paper, saves like a computer!


Scapple Mind-Mapping Software

Watch the demo of this simple, straightforward method of connecting ideas visually. Scapple is helpful writer’s tool from the folks at Literature & Latte who brought you Scrivener.


While your writerly pal is doing their thing, they could use a thing to ensure their comfort. (If they’re cozy, they will keep that B.I.C.!)

Happy Heat Foot Warmer

Happy heat for happy feet!


Ember Heated Smart Mug

Hot tea! Hot coffee! Hot cocoa! YES, PLEASE!


Secret Garden Sherpa Fleece Blanket

Other blankets available; I just loved the birdie!


Out of Print Sweatshirt

I know some fashionistas say that adults should not wear cartoon merch. You know what I say to that? See this gift.


Panda Fleece-Lined Slipper Socks

Cute AND cozy—the perfect combination!


Your writer, while feeling cozy, will also get hungry. To stop hangry from spilling onto the page, consider these snacks.

Ma-Ka-Rohn Macarons

I ordered these for my daughter’s birthday and I can say MMMMRFFFFUMMFF!

(That’s “yummy” while my mouth is full.)


Amma’s Kitchen Kerala Mixture

Based on popular street food from India, this is a bag of spice and crunch. I usually opt for the mild, but the hot variety isn’t too hot!


BookBrews Subscription Box

Each month they ship a book, coffee/tea and chocolate. The gift that keeps you eating and reading!


As I often tell students, to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.

Women of Letters Scratch-Off Chart

As you read, scratch off the title to reveal the woman behind it all!


Heroine Book Shelf

Here’s how it works…you nail it into your wall and place your books atop! Voila!

“Here I come to save the page!”


Literary Insults Chart

Have a clever burn within reach.


Once your writer has a book published, they need a way to display it!


I first discovered these hand-made, sturdy stands at my local indie, The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ. I ordered a set of 6 for myself and they are the hit of every book festival! They hold about 5-6 picture books, titled upward for optimal viewing as crowds stroll by. There’s even a space on the front of the stand to place a small sign.

The wooden dowels are removable, which makes packing them up and transporting them easy. They have different sizes for various kinds of books. Best career purchase I ever made!


One last gift, this one for writers to give the non-writers in their life.

StoryWorth Subscription

With StoryWorth, you encourage family and close friends to share stories you haven’t heard before, then they’re collected and bound into a book. That’s a monumental memento! I wish this was around when my grandparents were still here!


I hope you enjoyed these gift suggestions!

Share the love and share your own picks in the comments!

Happy Holidays!

by PJ Gardner

Calling all storytellers! Early middle grade needs you!

If you’re like me when I first started writing HORACE & BUNWINKLE, my debut novel, the term “early middle grade” is relatively unfamiliar. We’re much more aware of upper middle grade and the way it helps readers transition into the young adult sphere. But early middle grade is a real thing with a similar goal, only in its case the transition is from Chapter Books.

So What Is Early Middle Grade and How Is It Different From Chapter Books?

Let’s do a break down of the basics.

Chapter Books

  • Age of reader: 5-10
  • Word count: 5,000 – 10,000
  • Subject matter: concentrate on the external events of the story, fewer characters, less character development, more straightforward story

Early Middle Grade Books

  • Age of reader: 7-11 (8-9 year olds being the ideal age)
  • Word count: 15,000-30,000
  • Subject matter: Bigger cast, more complex characters, who have emotional arcs. Complex stories.

The Sky’s the Limit

Early Middle Grade is where we start to lose young readers, and I think that’s directly tied to the limited number of books aimed at them. And that’s where you come in.

Writing for this age group is full of possibilities. Series like JUDY MOODY, DOG MAN and GERONIMO STILTON prove that kids love a book with a healthy mix of the written word and images. Graphic novels are another format that kids are excited about, which is great news for author-illustrators.

Humor and adventure stories are always popular. However, books like A BOY CALLED BAT show that there is interest in deeper, real life topics as well. Also, there is growing need and desire for diverse characters.

Keys to Writing Early Middle Grade

There are two major keys to writing for this age group—create believable characters and craft dynamic plots.

Believable Characters

As writers for young readers we know children are people, too. They experience heartbreak and joy and everything in between as much as any adult. The difference is they don’t always have the language to identify or process those emotions. Books are an excellent way of giving them that vocabulary. I truly believe the early middle grade years are the most critical time to do that.

The best characters are born from a respect for the emotional life of the reader. So, whatever your character is experiencing—whether it’s funny or sad—keep it real. Dialogue and inner thoughts are especially important in creating that believability.

Dynamic Plots

By seven years of age a child has already consumed countless hours of TV and video games, where they have encountered a wide variety of stories. This means they won’t be satisfied by or invested in a book that isn’t interesting and compelling. The plot should have twists and turns, highs and lows, and real stakes. It may not be life or death, but it should feel that serious to the characters.

But Seriously You Should Consider Early Middle Grade

It may seem like a huge jump to go from picture books to early middle grade, but it’s actually a natural step. It calls for the same kind of creativity and skill set, as well as the enthusiasm for storytelling.

Early middle grade is the perfect place to branch out. First, it’s an under-tapped market, and it’s a fantastic market. Seven to eleven year olds are hungry for good books and they are absolutely devoted to their favorite authors. At present there simply aren’t enough books geared to the 7-9 year-old crowd.

Unfortunately, picture books are in lower demand right now. If you’re an illustrator as well, it can be time-consuming, which drastically limits the number of projects you can do at any given time. And, let’s be honest, they have smaller advances, too. These are the reasons why I recommend diversifying.

While no one can predict what will happen in publishing I’m convinced middle grade in general, and early middle grade specifically, is about to hit a boom.

Personally, I love writing for this age group. And I love getting pictures of kids reading my book independently. That’s a huge deal and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

I hope you consider being a part of early middle grade as well, because there will never be a better time to share your stories with older readers.

When PJ Gardner was a little girl growing up in Colorado she dreamt of being an actress or a dental hygienist or even Mrs. John Travolta. It didn’t occur to her that she could be a writer until she was a grown up. Her debut middle grade novel, Horace & Bunwinkle, has been published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s thrilled. PJ lives in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with her husband, sons, and Boston Terriers, Rosie and Rocky. She doesn’t own a pig because her husband says she’s not allowed to. Visit her online at

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering a new award that honors the wonderful spirit and work of late children’s book author Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award will offer one picture book writer:

  • Full tuition to the SCBWI International Conference in L.A. in 2020
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (Kate’s agent)
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (one of Kate’s editors)

The #KDCCAward will alternate yearly between picture book and middle grade/YA. Submissions will be accepted for this inaugural award from September 1 to October 31. 

Please consider applying…and please help spread the word.

Thank you.  ️ ️ ️


As I present winners for the last several giveaways, I want to also make the post useful for everyone, even if you didn’t win a prize. So I asked followers on Twitter what they wanted me to write about…

Ahh, Katie, if only I knew the answer to that! We would all be guaranteed a run-away hit!

But seriously folks, what I do is try to stay on top of what’s being released and what’s coming out so I don’t duplicate something that’s already out there. Has that tactic worked? Scanning announcements in Publisher’s Marketplace and Publisher’s Weekly? Visiting bookstores twice a month? Asking my local librarians what new titles they’ve acquired?

Well, yes and NO. Definitely NO.

I wrote a blobfish manuscript right before a barrage of blobfish books got bought. Nice timing, Tara. I had thought to myself, “I haven’t seen any picture books about blobfish,” which is really code for “everyone is writing a blobfish book RIGHT THIS SECOND!”

Now that doesn’t mean the world won’t want YOUR blobfish book. It’s just that the world didn’t want MINE (at the time).

Unique hooks are like strikes of lightning. Hold an umbrella during a storm and you might get hit. What that means is—be open to all the inspiration going on around you. Something you see or overhear might lead to a hilarious title that inspires a whole new story. Ducks circling my table at an al fresco breakfast led to a knee-slapping title.

Put aside time every day to just sit and daydream. Let your mind wander. Go out in public and eavesdrop.

I happen to like wackiness in picture books. A new book with a fantastic hook IMHO is LLAMA DESTROYS THE WORLD. The llama in the story is so hungry he eats EVERYTHING and creates a black hole. Now that’s ludicrous. And I gotta read it.

What books hook you? Study them. Figure out why. What about the title and premise makes you want to pick them up immediately? And then try to do that in your OWN, UNIQUE WAY.

After all, you’re a unique writer. You’ll find your unique hook.

With my book 7 ATE 9, I began by thinking of a popular schoolyard joke that every elementary student would know. I wanted a punchline to be the title. AND BOOM! “Why was 6 afraid of 7?” smacked me upside the head.


And then I was off to the races. Seriously. I immediately thought about 6 visiting a “Private I” and things went from there.

For the sequel, coming out in October, I wanted Private I to continue with his punny sleuthing, so after numbers, I naturally turned to letters. AND BOOM! The title THE UPPER CASE came to me for its play on a detective CASE and a letter CASE. Fun times, fun times. (Then it took me over a year to think of the 3rd book’s hook!)

Another fantastic thing I learned about finding subjects for picture books is asking a toy store: what’s new and hot in toys at the moment? Typically trends in toys lead to trends in books. So make friends with your local librarian and your local toy seller!

And now…onto our recent winners! Congratulations to all. I will be emailing you shortly.

BADGER’S PERFECT GARDEN by Marsha Diane Arnold
Julie K. Rubini

Celeste Bocchicchio-Chaudhri

Poetry Skype with author Shannon Anderson
Emmie R. Werner

THAT’S FOR BABIES! by Jackie Azúa Kramer
Anita Banks

A KITE FOR MOON by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Lisa Howie

COWHIDE-AND-SEEK by Sheri Dillard
June Sengpiehl

untitled by Timothy Young
Rinda Beach

You may know April is National Poetry Month, but to dig a little deeper, I asked Shannon Anderson—author, poet and teacher—to the blog to explain why poetry is important for children to read and write. She also shares tips for teaching poetry to young writers.

Shannon, what is National Poetry Month and when was it created?

I’ll admit, I had to look up the history behind this special month! Here you go: National Poetry Month was first started in April of 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

Many schools celebrate reading and writing poetry with creative activities and celebrations. As a teacher, I LOVE the “excuse” to encourage kids to read and write more poems during this time. As an author, I have been to many schools this month to share the joy of poetry and write poems with kids in writing workshops. My creative writing clubs have also had a blast this month, focusing solely on poetry creation.

Why is poetry important for children?

That is a big question! I can answer first as a mom, remembering back to my girls loving the sing-song rhythms of stories written in rhyme. The sounds and plays on words were pure enjoyment! Poetry helped them develop a love for books and reading.

As a teacher, I can tell you that poetry does SO much for language development. Reading rhyming poetry can help kids with predicting, an important comprehension skill. Reading aloud helps kids build their reading fluency. Poetry is the perfect genre for introducing interesting vocabulary words and figurative language. And, in my opinion, it is one of the best ways to inspire creativity and self-expression with students’ writing skills.

How did you kick off National Poetry Month with your classroom?

By the time April has rolled around, my class has already been introduced to all kinds of writing. I actually start out my first week of school with a narrative rhyming story from our reading series. I pair this, When Charlie McButton Lost Power, with Penelope Perfect, to show the kids the magic of different rhyming schemes. Many students don’t even realize authors intentionally plan which lines rhyme!

The first week of Poetry Month, I used my book MONSTER & DRAGON WRITE POEMS to show the kids other types of poetry that do not rhyme. Examples include acrostics, cinquain, haiku, and others. Through this mentor text, they see a fun story about a Monster & Dragon writing poems and want to try them out themselves.

Where can teachers, parents, and other writers go to find more information about poetry…and where can they find your book?

Being the poetry geek that I am, I wrote a big blog post about this, pulling together many great resources I have found. You can read the post here: Preparing for Poetry Month.  MONSTER & DRAGON WRITE POEMS is available here.

Shannon, thanks for sharing your love of poetry. April poem showers bring May writing powers! (Um, maybe you can tell I’m not much of a poet.)

What are you working on now?

I have a busy summer of writing ahead! I’m working on three books for teachers and have two more books for kids coming out next year. I’m sure it’s no surprise that one of the books for teachers is about writing. I’ll be sharing my lesson ideas, motivators, and tips for inspiring and teaching young writers. You can visit my website for updates and my newest releases: I have a link there to sign up for my monthly newsletter as well. I gather and post all of my favorite new finds for the month in these. (For teachers and writers.)

Shannon is giving away a free Skype poetry visit to the classroom of your choice.

Leave one comment to enter and a random winner will be chosen next week!

Good luck!

Yeah, I may receive a “cease and desist” letter from the Peanuts people any minute for using that image as my header, so let me get right to my first “write” gift…the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

What kidlit writer doesn’t love Schultz’s merry misfit, his pilot puppy, and a girl named after candy?

You get the sensation, right?

Oh geez, those York folks may be after me now, too.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree With Blanket Tree Skirt

Available from Vermont Country Store. (And you may be reminded of Christmases past when I say “some items sold separately” and “some assembly required”.)

Now, time for booties.

No, not baby booties. Book booties…


Available from Groove Bags.


I’m not the most organized writer, but this looks like it can help. It features an area for notes plus numbered pockets for keeping mind memos and snippets—maybe to represent each chapter?

Industrial-Inspired 12-pocket Wall Memo Board

Available from Overstock.


You’ve probably heard the writing advice “B.I.C.”: BUTT IN CHAIR. But your butt may hurt after sitting a while. This funky stool by ErgoErgo “encourages you to make small movements that help circulation, breathing, and keeping your mind more alert. And unlike a stability ball, ErgoErgo looks cool and won’t roll away.”

Adult Active Sitting Stool

Available from The Grommet.


A good game during the holidays brings family together…so you can show off your word superiority and crush them all in a pile of defeat!

Anagram, The Ingenious Game of Juggling Words


Available from The Literary Gift Company.


I know, we writers have high shelf esteem.

Available from LookHuman.


Perhaps the writer you know is seeking a little R&R (wRiting and Relaxation). What better place to get away than the Highlights Foundation? Your own private cabin, three scrumptious meals a day, hikes through the countryside, a poetry garden…it is a marvelous retreat. When Highlights isn’t hosting a workshop, anyone can visit and create their own private UNworkshop. Genius idea for genius ideas to flourish.

Highlights Unworkshop

Available from Highlights Foundation.


Now, lemme ask some writer friends what they recommend.

How’s about Katey Howes, author of the upcoming BE A MAKER?

“For the writer with published books to promote, these tabletop chalkboard signs are a godsend. They pack up easily for travel to book festivals, conferences, and anywhere else you find authors and illustrators tucked behind tables of books and swag. Add a pack of brightly colored chalk markers and even the most introverted writers can get shoppers’ attention and communicate prices and details—without having to make eye contact or speak above a whisper. Not published yet? Use these chalkboards to post a motivational message on your desk or a Do Not Disturb: Writer At Work sign for your children to completely ignore.”

Mini Chalkboards

Available from Factory Direct Craft.

“Also essential for the writer on the go—this folding dolly can haul boxes of books to school visits, fairs and festivals. The removable bag is great for storing the posters, promo items, snacks and cardigan sweaters essential for author events.”

The Trolley Dolly

Available from dbest products.


‘Scuzi, Tara here again…Katey’s suggestions reminded me about these sturdy and portable book display stands. displays are invaluable at book festivals and events. Your book gets displayed face-out and tilted slightly upward for passers-by to notice, plus there’s space on the front of the wood base to put a little sign. You can stack a few books on the stand so if one person picks up a book to read, there’s still another book on display. The dowels are removable so everything can be packed away flat and neat. These wood stands are far better than flimsy plastic photo holders (that keep falling over). My local indie uses them throughout their store, too. They come in various sizes and configurations for books big and small.

The Bookstand

Available from


Next up, Laurie Wallmark, who will release HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE in February

A woman of few words (well, she is a picture book author), Laurie simply told me her husband received a several-month iPenBox subscription and loved it.

Good enough for me.

From the website: iPenBox is a curated subscription box for the pen, paper and ink enthusiast, delivering a monthly box of products to your door. Each month this mystery box will be filled with new, innovative, and sometimes unusual items from the pen, paper and ink world. We hand pick 4-10 items around a fun monthly theme! This way you’ll be able to discover and sample new items that you might not have heard of or tried before.

iPenBox Monthly Subscription Box

Available from iPen Store.


If you have any vegetarian writing friends, please shield their eyes. (Look away, Josh Funk, LOOK AWAY!) Paul Czajak, author of MONSTER NEEDS A CHRISTMAS TREE, is a real weisenheimer. And a hungry one, too. He sent me this gift suggestion with a short testimonial: “Because cooking with duck fat makes everything taste better. And yes, I mean everything.”

OK, so maybe your writer friend is looking a little under-nourished. Paul’s got your solution.

Antibiotic-Free Duck Fat

Available from Good Vittles LLC.


Then Jarrett Lerner, author of ENGINERDS, chimed in and said he would like ANYTHING from Montague Workshop. From duck fat to the whole kit and caboodle. Only here, folks.

“Brad and Kristi Montague are the brilliant individuals behind Kid President, and since then, they haven’t stopped creating more brilliant things. Whether it’s T-shirts, prints, cards, pins, stickers, or stationery, everything they make is warm, joyful, and inspirational. Their stuff is like the material equivalent of a good hug and an encouraging pat on the back. It makes me happy, and I just love it so much.”

I love it too, Jarrett. So I picked out this little goody…

Don’t Hide Your Magic Enamel Pin

Available from Montague Workshop.


We all need to be reminded of that, don’t ya think?

What would be a great gift for a writer? (OK, I mean, what do YOU want for the holidays?) Please share your selection below in the comments!


by Lydia Lukidis

I fell in love with writing at the age of six. I scribbled poems and stories everywhere I could. But when it came time to choose a field to pursue my studies in, I opted for practicality and studied Pure and Applied Science.

It was hard work and I earned my degree. YAY!

But then, OH NO! The sinking feeling in my heart was undeniable. I realized I didn’t want a career in science.

So it was back to the drawing board. Since writing was always my first love, I decided to study English Literature at McGill University. Cut to a few decades later, I’m a published children’s author and found a way to incorporate my science background into my writing. I finally had the opportunity to use my science degree in a fun way.

It came about unexpectedly, when I began to write for the educational market several years ago. I didn’t know I would love it until I tried it. Now I have over 40 educational books and eBooks under my belt, including two really exciting contracts I landed with Kane Publishing for their Science Solves It! series. I’m happy to announce both books are now officially released: A REAL LIVE PET! and THE SPACE ROCK MYSTERY.


You may be wondering if the educational market is right for you. Here’s a list of common questions:

  • Can I submit my own work to educational publishers?
    There may be exceptions, but most educational publishers offer work-for-hire (WFH) contracts. They develop their concepts and specific guidelines in-house. Then they hire freelance authors who will create an outline and write the book under the guidance of an editor.
  • Will I get an advance and royalties?
    In general, most educational publishers don’t offer an advance or royalties. Rather, they pay a one-time flat fee and retain all rights to the work. In some cases, you may not even get credit. On the plus side, WFH contracts typically pay fast, and the turn-around is quicker.
  • Can WFH contracts help open doors to trade publishing?
    Landing WFH contracts can help you break into the market and gain experience working with editors and publishers. It’s also an opportunity to develop your writing skills and gain writing credits. This may help you on your path to traditional publishing, but there’s no guarantee as the two markets are separate.
  • Do I need an agent for the educational market?
    Nope! You can apply and negotiate your contracts on your own. The contracts are typically fairly straight forward. Another bonus is that it’s slightly easier to break into this market in comparison to commercial publishing.
  • How can I get started?
    Start compiling a list of educational publishers that work with the age brackets you’re interested in. In the SCBWI book, there are many great listings. Check the guidelines for each publisher and send them a cover letter detailing your experience and qualifications, along with your CV and some writing samples.

But as all writers know, you’ll need plenty of patience and perseverance. I remember my first attempt several years ago. I painstakingly crafted my cover letter and beefed up my CV as much as I could. I sent off 100 cover letters but didn’t get a single reply. Not even one! I experienced a moment of despair but decided to keep going. A year later, my body of work had grown and my writing samples improved. I sent off another batch of cover letters to the same publishers and lo and behold, I got my first break! From there, it snowballed.

While the educational market is not for everyone, it works well for authors who have a passion for writing nonfiction and want to supplement their income. For those interested in giving it a shot, I wish you luck on your journey! If you have any other specific questions, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Plus, leave a comment to enter to win a copy of A REAL LIVE PET!

A winner will be selected in a few weeks.

Good luck! 

Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with over forty books and eBooks published, along with numerous short stories, poems and plays. Her background is multi-disciplinary and spans the fields of literature, science and puppetry. Lydia writes fiction and nonfiction for children from K-6, and enjoys working with educational publishers such as Kane Publishing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Red Line Editorial. She is also passionate about spreading the love of literacy and has been facilitating writing workshops for children since 1999. Visit Lydia at or connect with her on Twitter @LydiaLukidis.

Poor, sad, neglected blog!

I’ve been whisking off to school visits and conferences, but I’ve not been too busy to blog. Too lazy, perhaps. And I have an avalanche of awesome authors and illustrators waiting for me to post about their books. I need a swift kick in the pantaloons.

Remember when Twitter was introduced, “they” dubbed it a micro-blogging platform? (“They” are always busy, have you noticed?)

Well, I’ve been micro-blogging. Here are some recent tidbits of #pubtips…

Don’t follow me on Twitter?

Let’s fix that, shall we? (Does that make us a “they”?)

And now, here are “they” who won recent giveaways here:

Amanda Sincavage

Tracy Marchini’s CHICKEN WANTS A NAP
Carole Calladine

Troy Cummings’ CAN I BE YOUR DOG?
Kara Newhouse

Congratulations, winners! I will email you shortly…

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!

Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

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