You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Writing for Teens’ category.

This morning I thought I was still at the NJ-SCBWI Summer Conference because I stumbled downstairs expecting to find fresh-baked coffee cake and a fruit platter. Instead, I found a slumbering adolescent who never got up for middle school and missed the bus. Hence, I was rudely thrust back into the life of a mom. Sigh. So I decided to ignore my life for a while and write this post. Relive the glory days!

ampitheatre15

This would make a great WHERE’S WALDO? spread.

The weekend was chock full of good friends, like author extraordinaire Tammi Sauer, whom I’ve known for SEVEN YEARS but had never met in person. I wanted to make a good impression upon her, so I picked her up from the airport…and then proceeded to get hopelessly lost in Newark. We did spy a ’57 Chevy during one of our dozen-or-so U-turns, so perhaps all was not lost.

57chevy

’57 Chevy! Yes, I snapped this while we were stopped.

And then, we got cut off by a rumbling, muffler-roaring Racini. RACINI, PEOPLE! Only in Jersey.

Racini! (Not the full license plate.)

Of course, there were also the usual suspects present: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Kami Kinard, Marcie Colleen, Ame Dyckman, Adam Lehrhaupt, our fearless RA Leeza Hernandez, and newly-signed talents like Jason Kirschner, Colleen Rowan Kosinski and Kelly Calabrese. (For those of you with bets in the pool, Ame’s hair shone bright blue this year, bordering on periwinkle, stylishly accented with a coral red bow.)

sudiptamarciekelly

Sudipta, Marcie & Kelly. Yes, they can go by first names only.

Katya Szewczuk from KidlitTV let us know that her last name is pronounced “Shove Chuck.” Sadly, Chuck Palahniuk was not in attendance. What a fight club that would have been! (P.S. Isn’t Katya adorable? I call her Ame Dyckman Jr.)

katyaszewczuk15

Carrie Charley Brown, Kirsti Call, Lori Degman and Robin Newman were there, too…but the Witherspoon Grill couldn’t get us a table for 10. For shame! But they did get us a bottle of Prosecco. Next time, it should be on the house.

prosecco15

Me, Kelly, Marcie, Kami, Sudipta and Tammi

My editor from Sterling, the smart and lovely Meredith Mundy, made an appearance with a stack of NORMAL NORMAN cover designs from which to choose. Tammi, an author of eight Sterling titles, offered her expert opinion, too. And guess what? We all agreed on two favorites. (Now do we eeny-meeny-miney-mo?)

normalcovers

NORMAN!

I only saw critique partners Corey Rosen-Schwartz and Mike Allegra briefly. I waved to Mike from my post at the registration table. Then he promptly dissolved into the crowd. This became a new picture book idea. Thanks, Mike!

So I bet you’re like ENOUGH ALREADY, TARA. GET TO THE NUGGETS.

Opening Keynote by Denise Fleming

denisefleming15Denise encouraged us to find out what age we really are. No, this isn’t a plug for how-old.net. Go back to your childhood and discover the age of your true voice. Denise never aged past Kindergarten. Me, I’m perpetually 8.

So that’s what you write. Dig down to emerge as a child, forever locked in a state of wonder.

Denise told us an impromptu paper-making class inspired her to choose this art form as her picture book medium. She evolved from precise watercolor paintings to a more loose, bold, colorful style. HER STYLE. Her illustrations set her apart. She asked us to ponder what makes us each unique. You’ve got to offer something different and not be like everyone else. Stand out, don’t blend in.

Oh, by the way, Denise thinks you’re pretty.

tammisauer15Workshop One:
Writing Picture Books that Sell! by Tammi Sauer

With 23 contracts in 10 years, you’ve got to listen to and respect Tammi’s advice. She presented her top 12 tips for picture books, citing from her titles as examples. The quirkiest thing I found out is that she loves to use the name “Louise.”

Tammi recommends reading A LOT of picture books. You will begin to absorb information about their structure and format without even realizing! This knowledge will then seep into your manuscripts.

Tammi also wants us to write titles that POP. Up the tension in your stories and use words that SING.

Me? My name sings. I shall hereforthto be known as Tra-la-la Lazar.

tralala

Workshop Two:
Writing Mainstream (BUT COOL!) Picture Books by Ame Dyckman and Adam Lehrhaupt

This dynamic duo demonstrated a lot of energy, pizzazz and “special sauce.” No, we’re not talking about McD’s. Their “cream of creativity” is a mixture of unique elements that add up to writing a hook-y, mainstream winner. Slather on your own writing style, stir in heart and humor, and you will concoct a winning picture book recipe.

But remember, that’s just the sauce—an accent. Your picture book still needs meat! Pick popular subjects, relatable situations and age-appropriate “big picture” messages to make your story its most delish.

ameadam15

jenmalone15Workshop Three:
Thinking Outside the Box to Market Your Book with Jen Malone

I call this presentation “How to Sell Your Book Without Being Creepy.” As natural introverts, we writers don’t like going outside to deal with “people and weather.” We abhor the uncomfortable, used-car-like sales pitch. We don’t want to plaster the interwebs with “BUY MY BOOK!” Ick.

So what’s an author to do? Jen presented unique, creative ways to market by simply being you. Look outside your own book community to find opportunities for connections. Offer others what they want and they might just offer what YOU WANT—an introduction to a new audience. Jen has been doing work with the Girl Scouts and a famous bakery to reach her target audience, tween girls. (And, there are CUPCAKES involved. Win, win, stuff yer face.)

Workshop Four:
7 Revision Tips to Take your PB from WAAH to WOW! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Marcie Colleen

Don’t let the high-heels distract you. These two PB experts offer furlongs of fabulous advice. (Furlongs? I gotta stop the alliteration.)

They emphasized reviewing your picture book to ensure visual variety. This refers to textual elements as well as compositional ones. Think story AND layout. Think page turns. Think scene changes. Dump anything that’s repetitive or passive without purpose.

sudiptamarcie15

Workshop Five:
Is Your PB Worthy? by Marie Lamba

marielamba15Oh, how I regret not getting a photo of Marie hugging her presentation easel. Adorbs.

Marie, an author and agent, bubbles with enthusiasm for picture books. She brought some of her all-time favorites to share and exclaimed, “Isn’t that HILARIOUS?” while doubled over in laughter.

We all want that—a reader who loves our book five, ten, even 20 years after first reading it. So how do we get that?

Be different. Don’t just write the first idea that comes to mind. Write five ideas. Then another five. Use the tenth one. Applying this tip from Donald Maass means you’ll arrive upon something no one has done.

Marie also shared the top 10 mistakes she sees in picture book submissions. For example, she doesn’t want to see “just a schtick.” (Don’t you LOVE Yiddish words?)

Your picture book can be ridiculous, but quirky humor isn’t enough. She cited her own manuscript about a girl who wears gloves on her feet and pretends she’s a monkey. It’s cute and funny, but it’s not enough. Marie didn’t have a story, she had a schtick. Your manuscript needs a plot to matter.

Other common errors include rhyming NO MATTER WHAT and writing a slice-of-life vignette—a set-up instead of a story.

hunderdown15Sunday Morning Keynote:
Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Children’s/YA Market by Harold Underdown

Harold! You have to love him. (You have to follow his Purple Crayon website!) He’s bursting with kidlit experience and wisdom.

First, he told us some great news: the children’s publishing market rose 20% last year!

Hard copy books are not disappearing and ebooks are not replacing them. In fact, the ebook market has hit a plateau and represents only 15% of the children’s market, but that number leans heavily toward YA. Picture books are preffered in hard copy by a wide margin.

Bookstores (both online and brick-and-mortar) are now the biggest sales channel (40%), as opposed to schools and libraries in years past.

Know that diverse books are hot and that writers and publishers are taking this issue seriously.

YA remains a boom area, MG is very healthy and PBs are experiencing renewed interest. Some are even calling this time “the golden age of picture books.”

However, Howard emphasized that you should always do your best work and not focus on what’s hot. This is what will get you published.

Workshop Six:
Marrying the Right Manuscript with the Right Publisher by Steve Meltzer

stevemeltzer15Steve is a welcomed, popular mainstay at NJ-SCBWI. He emphasized doing your research when searching for a publisher. It’s important to seek out comparable titles published within the last three years, those that are of a similar subject and format, but not famous or mega-selling. No one’s gonna believe your series is the next Harry Potter. Query with a reasonable comp, not an outrageous claim.

Workshop Seven:
The Changing Face of Humor in Picture Books by Steve Meltzer

Do I even have to talk about this? Steve and I disagree. I respect his opinion immensely, but I think a popular recent title missed the mark and had opportunity for so much more humor than it presented. He nudged me on the lunch line, “It’s a great book.” I topped my salad with bleu cheese and thought about it.

johncusick15Closing Keynote:
How to Be a Writer Without Losing Your Mind by John Cusick

John Cusick said much about life as a writer and agent, how he uses an Iron Man figurine on his desk to distinguish agent-time from writer-time, and how to balance our life roles.

He reminded us that our job is to “sit down and start.” Don’t worry about writing the whole book. Write a little bit for now. (This resonated with me. I tend to panic about writing AN ENTIRE NOVEL when I should really just put one word in front of the other.)

Also, no one cares if you stop writing. YOU MUST be the motivator.

Have a writing friend you can complain to…and let them know that this is their purpose. (Not their sole purpose, of course. We all need to kvetch and we need a kvetch catcher.)

Bottom line, it’s irrational and childish to make things up for a living. It’s crazy-making. So embrace it. Be crazy. It’s crazy that anything can be this good!

“Don’t worry about being normal because what you do is extraordinary,” John said.

I couldn’t agree more. How about you?

Let’s welcome Mindy Alyse Weiss back…she’s got the scoop from the recent SCBWI FL Conference. And boy, what a scoop it is! It’s chocolate fudge with rainbow sprinkles!

Ever wonder about an editor’s wish list? Wonder no longer! In the Editor Panel, Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker and Andrea Pinkney discussed what kind of projects they’re seeking—and not seeking. There seems to be a trend away from dystopian and paranormal novels in YA.

A Wonderful Editor Panel

Stacy Abrams, Executive Editorial Director of Bliss and Entangled Teen
Contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it, but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski, Associate Editor, Thomas Dunne Books, MacMillan
Dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.
With social media, if you do one thing well but don’t like another, don’t force it.

Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Fire
Loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format. Read more about her wish list here.

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
She’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she’s physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice. With MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. “Help me help you.”

Andrea Pinkney, Vice-President and Executive Editor, Scholastic
More diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar.” She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

A Laura Whitaker

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury

Besides writing a well-crafted story, how do you catch an editor’s attention? Laura Whitaker presented “Dating 101: What Makes YOU Desirable to an Editor”.

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.

Title—come up with something original that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself.

Your website is your calling card—especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA.

Interact! Do you write about the process or what you’re working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it is not a substitute for the craft.

Thanks again, Mindy!

Come back on Friday for the rest of the scoop from SCBWI FL. We’ll have vanilla and strawberry for those who don’t like chocolate. (Don’t like CHOCOLATE? Who are you people???)

flashfictionchronicles

Flash on over to Flash Fiction Chronicles today and I’ll tell you all about writing micro fiction for children! It’s how I got my start.

http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/flash-fiction-for-ya-y-not

STORYTELLER: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock cannot be missed, yet for two years I missed it. What is wrong with me? (Eh-hem, this is a rhetorical question, thankyouverymuch.)

Roald Dahl remains one of the most iconic children’s authors of all time, yet he began his career writing macabre short stories based upon his experience in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Just how did he evolve into the fantastical children’s author we all love?

Sheila St. Lawrence, Dahl’s literary agent at the Watkins Agency, is to thank. She realized “the ease in which Dahl could enter a child’s mind,” clearly apparent in his short story “The Wish”. In the tale, a young boy dares to walk across a carpet by stepping only on its yellow portions. Should his foot slip onto another color, he thought he would “disappear into a black void or be killed by venomous snakes.” This story was the only adult Dahl piece to feature a child protagonist to date, and it could not escape St. Lawrence’s attention.

After a disastrous two-year foray into playwriting, St. Lawrence implored Dahl to turn his literary aspirations elsewhere. Yet he ignored her kidlit suggestion, wrote stories that got turned down by The New Yorker, and instead got placed in the far less desirable (but still paying) Playboy.

Dahl’s publisher Alfred Knopf expressed interest in a children’s book, but then dropped a collection of adult stories called “Kiss Kiss” from Knopf’s 1959 list. Dahl spouted some choice words in response, threatening that Knopf would never squeeze a children’s book out of him.

Dahl once again became focused on writing for actors, as he wished to develop vehicles for his wife at the time, screen star Patricia Neal. After all, if Neal was working steadily, her income afforded him more time to write what he wanted to write. There were shows for Hitchcock and a drama series for TV based upon classic ghost stories, produced by Alfred Knopf’s half brother. But when the pilot episode encountered a controversy, the series got permanently shelved and Dahl was forced to return to the idea that evolved into JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.

I will say “and the rest is history” here, although STORYTELLER is only halfway through Dahl’s life story at this point. So like Sheila St. Lawrence, I implore you to turn your literary aspirations toward it.

But before I go, it would be a shame not to share with you Dahl’s advice to children’s writers, as told to Helen Edwards in an interview for Bedtime Stories exactly 42 years ago:

What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading…[He or she] must be a jokey sort of fellow…[and] must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” said the big crocodile to the smaller one. “I feel like having a nice plump juicy child for my lunch.” They love that sort of thing. What else do they love? New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long. But above all, when you write a story for them, bear in mind that they do not possess the same power of concentration as an adult, and they become very easily bored or diverted. Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate them on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself, “Is this too slow? Is it too dull? Will they stop reading?” To those questions, you must answer yes more often than you answer no. [If not] you must cross it out and start again.

For me, these are words to write by. Funny that he should utter them within days of my birth! (Wait a second, did I just reveal my age?! Eh-hem, this is a rhetorical question, thankyouverymuch.)

UPDATE: Whoopsie. I looked at the wrong footnote. The quote above is from a letter Dahl wrote to “The Writer” Magazine in October, 1975: “A Note on Writing Books for Children”.

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

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

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

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

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

But Tara, what does this all mean?

It means that the RUCCL 2012 Application is now available!

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

As Miss Piggy would say, “MOI!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why.

Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following?

  • Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.
  • It would be fun to see your name in print.
  • You want to sign autographs.
  • You want to make money, quickly.
  • You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it.

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. Because it’s not an easy business. NOT. EASY. AT. ALL.

New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication.

Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Likewise, writing one story does not mean Random House will offer you a contract. Although, keep hitting that ball, make it go higher and farther…learn about fielding and sliding, too…and play seriously for years, and you just might make it.

Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. We are all HOPEFUL. But, everyone is wrong. (Including me!) Trust me, this will NOT happen. It has NOT happened to ANYONE. (Except for Kevin Henkes.)

The motivation to write a children’s book should be:

  • You love to write. You were born to write. You can’t NOT write.
  • The child inside you is begging to get out and explore.
  • You love children’s literature and want to contribute worthy stories to the genre.
  • You want to inspire children to read, write, create, imagine and dream.
  • You enjoy learning from children. (Yes, your primary goal should not be to teach them. Teachers, parents and guardians teach. Books are meant to be fun.)
  • You want to work hard to establish a career as a kidlit author. You’re in it for the long haul.

Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it. That’s something a small percentage of authors achieve. (Yes, authors can have dozens of books in print yet they cannot support themselves through writing alone. Moreover, advance checks can take a long time to arrive, and royalties trail about about 6-9 months behind book sales.)

And even if you become a famous author, most people won’t recognize you by sight or name. It will never get you the window table at The Four Seasons on a busy Saturday night. You’re better off making a reservation as “Doctor Lazar”.

It takes most children’s writers years to land their first book deal. And selling one book does not guarantee future book sales. Selling each subsequent book can get MORE difficult, especially if one (or more) of your titles do not sell as well as the publisher expected.

I don’t mean to be discouraging. I want to be REALISTIC. Children’s literature is a BUSINESS. And this business is like any other—it takes hard work, commitment, talent and a little luck, too. If you’re writing a children’s book on a whim, you might end up being very disappointed when you realize how tough it really is.

In short, I’ve made more money and worked fewer hours in EVERY OTHER JOB I’VE EVER HAD.

BUT…

There’s no job I’VE LOVED MORE. (Besides being a mom, of course.)

Just because you’re writing for children doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it is more difficult to become a published kidlit author than it is to become any other kind of author. (That’s because there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Everyone believes writing for kids is easy because they’re kids. Not so.)

So do it because you LOVE it. You LOVE it like you CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. Because children don’t deserve anything less than YOUR VERY BEST WORK.

Steps you should take:

  1. Earn a degree in English and/or Creative Writing.
  2. Read hundreds of books in your chosen kidlit genre (picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels, graphic novels, YA).
  3. Write. Write. And write some more.
  4. Join a critique group specific to the genre in which you wish to publish. YA novelists don’t necessarily know a lot about picture books and vice-versa.
  5. Join SCBWI.
  6. Attend professional kidlit conferences, book fairs and other literary events.
  7. Revise. Revise. And revise some more.
  8. Research agents and editors online.
  9. Establish a social media presence. Make writing friends. Gain a support system.
  10. Consider investing in professional writing books, magazines and services like Publisher’s Marketplace (which will show you what books are selling, which agents are selling them, and to whom), The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly and The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide.
  11. After at least two years of writing, try submitting. Don’t send your work out in huge batches. Research who likes the kind of work you produce and target a few. If only rejections come back, try another small set of subs, revise again or write something else.
  12. Never give up. Keep writing new stories. Those who make it in this business are those who persevere!

Excellent online resources for aspiring children’s authors:

Happy Halloween!

It’s time for ghouls and ghosts, Linus and the Great Pumpkin, Milky Ways and Kit Kats…and speaking of cats, black ones might cross your path today. That’s because The Lucky 13s are here!

The Lucky 13s are debut 2013 kidlit authors in the picture book, middle grade and young adult genres. (It used to be just MG & YA debuts, but I butted in.) They’ve started a kidlit blog, Twitter account, and picked out a spiffy superstition-spoofing logo designed by Wendy Martin.

For PiBoIdMo, I asked some of The Lucky 13s what being creative meant to them…

Rachele Alpine: Making, living and getting lost in a world that is one big game of make believe!

Elsie Chapman: For me, creativity is never a constant. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to get the words to come. Music always works—songs I already know and love and connect with certain memories, new ones that make me sit up and really listen. Amazing lyrics can recreate a moment or emotion that just make me want to write.

Emma PassFor me, creativity means freedom; life in full colour instead of just black and white. Although writing is my main creative outlet, I also love to draw and play the piano, just for myself, and I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t do those things (well, actually, I can… and it’s a very scary place!).

Kristen KittscherI like to remember that creativity isn’t some rare non-renewable resource that only a select few can access. We’re all imaginative, as long as we stay open-minded. For me, being creative means giving myself permission to be messy, make mistakes, and generate thousands of bad ideas for every clever one.

Jessica Young: I think creativity has to do with curiosity and playfulness—thinking “what if” and then trying it. For me that often means connecting elements or ideas in a new way, or following one small clue and discovering where it leads, but also taking the risk of it not working out, or leading somewhere I didn’t expect.

Liz Coley: I tap into my well of creativity by remaining open to outside courses of inspiration, especially NPR radio interviews and random discussions with strangers. Somehow these cross fertilize in the shower or car, when my mind can wander and free associate. Turning this into something written requires a foamy latter, a comfortable chair, and, seasonally, a fire. Sitting in a noisy Starbucks for four hours and blocking it all out works wonders as well.

Elisabeth Dahl: Creativity means letting your mind off-leash. In the case of writing, this can mean allowing your mind to root around for interesting associations. If you’re telling a story about a widow and you suddenly picture the Venus de Milo, ask yourself why. What’s the connection? Should the statue figure into your story somehow? The unconscious mind is so smart.

Sarah Skilton: Being creative means a fresh piece of blank notebook paper and no expectations, restrictions, or judgment. It means writing whatever happens to pop into my head, without any audience in mind, and without wondering what anyone else will think about it. Being creative means creating just for me, to mark a moment.

Jennifer McGowan: Being Creative to me means giving a dream life—putting ideas into action or thoughts into form. It’s not enough to imagine something; being creative actually involves ensuring that the product of one’s imagination becomes a tangible reality for all the world to see. 

Nicole Maggi: Creativity is feeding my inner Artist and giving her an outlet. It doesn’t matter if that outlet is coloring in a coloring book or writing a story that no one else is going to read. My inner Artist doesn’t care about book contracts or bestseller lists or gallery shows.  She just wants to dance.  

Megan Shepherd: Lately I’ve come to see creativity as an alternate way of navigating the world. In school you learn skills like memorization, critical thinking, and how to provide the “correct” answer. But creating art means seeing the world through a different lens, where there are no rules or guidelines, and, in fact, stepping outside the normal lines of thought are essential. Creativity is both terrifying and freeing.

Steven dos SantosCreativity is like a key to me that unlocks a mental door into worlds I can only dream about, or nightmares I dare not speak of. Being highly imaginative can be a powerful gift, as it allows me to breathe life into blank pages and hopefully fill them with enough emotion, mystery, adventure, suspense, humor, and horror, to spawn a visceral connection with people I’ve never met before.

Brandy Colbert: Creativity allows me to craft a bit of sense from the people, words, and ideas that float around in my head. It assures me that daydreaming is never a waste of time.

That kinda leaves me. If I knew the answer, I wouldn’t have asked the question!

But seriously folks, to me, being creative means being out on the fairway during a thunderstorm and raising your 9-iron to the clouds. Take risks. Go out and seek the lightning. Because it does strike, but only if you’re lucky*.

* Definition of lucky: when preparedness meets opportunity.


Kidlit Book Trailers

Bookselling is changing rapidly with advances in technology and the belt-tightening economy. Publishers and authors are having an ongoing discussion of electronic rights, trying to anticipate the future of digital books.

But the forces of technology aren’t all daunting. Heck, authors are having a blast creating book trailers to promote their titles. What better way to capture the attention of an increasingly online, plugged-in audience?

Award-winning storyteller Dianne de Las Casas has created a Ning community for sharing and discussing kidlit book trailers. Authors are invited to post their trailers and other videos (like a school visit). Bibliophiles can browse the selections to discover great reads.

http://kidlitbooktrailers.ning.com

Haven’t seen a book trailer? Here’s a gorgeous one from the site: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by author/illustrator Grace Lin.

The Unread

Here’s where you cover your ears because I’m gonna toot my own horn. Picture book author Heather Ayris Burnell (Bedtime Monster, Raven Tree Press 2010) interviewed me for her Unread series of aspiring authors. As you may have guessed, there’s almost as much talk about food as there is about books.

Besides Unread, Heather’s blog is dedicated to author interviews, book reviews and being a writer and librarian. So there’s lots of reasons to visit regularly.

http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/2009/08/unread-interview-with-tara-lazar.html

Mitali Perkins’ Fire Escape

I am in awe of this woman. Not only is Mitali Perkins an amazing novelist, she shares the most compelling kidlit news and information via Twitter and her blog, with special emphasis on multi-cultural issues. If you haven’t visited, you really need to.

http://www.mitaliblog.com
http://twitter.com/mitaliperkins

Meet Eric Carle

August 23, 2009 marks Eric Carle’s 80th birthday and there’s a big bash at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. Crayola will unveil “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Green” crayon as part of the celebration. Wow, getting a crayon named after your work. Now that’s iconic.

http://www.carlemuseum.org/Programs_Events/Upcoming/Meet_Eric_Carle/

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Picture Book Intensive

On November 15, picture book author Sudipta (yes, she has earned one-name status) will lead a four-hour picture book intensive workshop in Princeton, NJ for the NJ-SCBWI.

Some topics she’ll cover:

  • Choosing Timeless Themes
  • Ebb & Flow of Tension
  • Creating Emotional Attachment to the Main Character
  • Finding Ways to Make Your Book Re-Readable
  • Humor and Heart
  • Query Letters
  • Marketing

I know I’ll be there!

For more info:
http://sudiptabq.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/picture-book-writing-intensive-workshop/

To Register:
http://www.newjerseyscbwi.com/events/091115-pbintensive.shtml

Do you have any can’t-miss kidlit links to share?

Agents and editors have told me they occasionally receive calls from writers who are brand new to children’s books. These aspiring authors ask, “How do I get my book published?”

Kindly folks that they are, these agents and editors don’t slam the phone down. They’ll sometimes spend a few moments providing basic details. But this information can be easily found online. That’s what makes being a new writer so exciting these days: there’s professional advice available via websites and blogs, you just have to search for it. It’s not all so mysterious anymore.

So if you’re looking to launch a kidlit career, please don’t call an agent or editor to learn the basics. Let them read manuscripts, sell books and do their jobs. Come here instead…

A New Children’s Writer’s To-Do List:

  1. Write.
    I knew you’d like that one.
  2. Read children’s books.
    Become familiar with the genre in which you write. Understand appropriate length and content for specific age groups. See what’s being published. Don’t follow trends, but know the competition. When pitching editors and agents, it’s often helpful to compare your book to another title. You can’t compare if you aren’t well read.
  3. Join SCBWI.
    Take advantage of their resources—local chapter events, national conferences, online discussion boards and publications.
  4. Join a critique group.
    Find fellow writers who work in the same genre as you. They provide support, motivation, and helpful feedback. (And if you can, find a group with writers who are more experienced than you.) P.S. Your mother, daughter, spouse, and neighbor’s 2nd grade class are not a critique group.
  5. Attend workshops, conferences and events.
    Seek out opportunities to learn and network with authors, agents, editors and writing peers.
  6. Read books on the craft.
    Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb
    Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
    Writing for Children and Teens by Cynthea Liu
    Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
  7. Revise and rewrite.
    It’s not going to be right the first time (or maybe even the second or the fifteenth). It’s just not. Resist the temptation to submit an early draft to a publisher.
  8. Take time to develop your skill.
    Your writing will improve with practice. Most professional authors need at least two years of serious writing to hone their craft, and it’s not unheard of to work for ten to fifteen years before becoming published.
  9. Submit when you have more than one project polished.
    Finished your first manuscript? Keep writing. If an editor or agent likes your manuscript, but not enough to make an offer, they may request other material. Have a few manuscripts at the ready.
  10. Learn to have patience.
    It can take many years to write publishable material, sell your first project, and develop a career. Even after you become published, the business is still full of waiting—waiting to hear from your agent and/or editor, waiting for a book to be released, waiting to earn out. You will never NOT be waiting. Patience and perseverance are key.
  11. Call yourself a writer.
    Because you are one!

If you have some newbie suggestions, let’s hear them. Please leave a comment.

gallery_fish

Check ya later, kidlit fans. There’s sand castles, seafood and South Carolina in my forecast.

I’ll be posting again in July. Y’all come back now, ya hear? ‘Cause you won’t want to miss an interview with the stupendous Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Or the artistic antics of up-and-coming author/illustrator Ryan Hipp (who contributed the robot fish above). Or the courageous story of YA debut author Albert Borris. Illustrator Kristi Valiant will talk about her latest book, Cora Cooks Pancit. I’ll also share some tips for making your own book trailer before you sell the book. And perhaps my talented friend Michael Sussman will make an appearance… 

It’s all coming next month. And August. It may be summer, but I don’t plan on slowing down.

Well, maybe just a little bit, for now.

takethedareBefore I take off, let me remind you to Take the Dare at Cynthea Liu’s website. There’s fabulous critiques up for auction from kidlit agents, editors and authors. All proceeds benefit Tulakes Elementary, a Title I school in Cynthea’s home state of Oklahoma. So show you care, take the dare!

This week also marks the YA Book Carnival, hosted by Shooting Stars Mag. Nearly 100 giveaways are listed, so go enter and grab a great read!

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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive kidlit news, writing tips, book reviews & giveaways via email. Wow, such incredible technology! Next up: delivery via drone.

Join 9,482 other followers

My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

Blog Topics

Archives

Twitter Updates