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I find it fascinating when kidlit authors can hop into other genres. My mind is perpetually caught in 2nd grade so I could never envision writing young adult novels. But as my agent reminds me, never say never. Clever, Joan, ever clever.

vbartlesVeronica Bartles is one of those age-group-jumping frogs. Err, I mean authors. Sorry, I’ve got froggies on the brain because today she’s revealing the cover of her upcoming picture book THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (Balzer + Bray), illustrated by Sara Palacios. And GET THIS–the idea for the book came from her participation in PiBoIdMo. It’s another success story!

Veronica, you write YA novels! And now, a picture book! How difficult was it for you to write for a much younger age group?

Well, I’ve been accused of being very young at heart, so luckily it’s not too difficult for me to slip into a younger voice. But there’s definitely a shift between writing YA novels and picture books. I wouldn’t say one is harder to write than the other, but writing a picture book is definitely not easier than writing a full-length novel, just because it’s shorter. You’d think (at least, I used to think) that it would be a lot harder to write a 50,000-word novel than a 500-word picture book, because the novel has 100 times more words. But with a picture book, every single word counts. When you have only 500-700 words (or less!) to tell a story, with fully-developed characters, plenty of conflict, and a plot that keeps an audience’s attention through multiple re-readings, even the smallest word choice questions make a difference.

Although I can usually jot down a picture book first draft in a few days, while it takes a month or more to finish a YA novel’s first draft, I discovered that the revision process is so much more intense for my picture books. When all is said and done, writing and revising a picture book takes as long as it takes to write and revise a full YA novel. (Maybe even longer.) That was definitely something that took some getting used to.

OK, now I’m really going to test your YA loyalty! How is writing a PB “better” than writing a novel?

Tough question!

I think the best part about writing a picture book is that I can be surprised by the final story too. Writing YA is really fun, and I absolutely make friends with my characters by the time we reach the end of the story together. But since I write all the words, there isn’t anything in the final novel to surprise me. With THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, my words only tell half of the story. The rest is the work of my fabulous illustrator, Sara Palacios. I love the way her pictures and my words fit together to tell a story better than either of us could do on our own.

What was it like when you first saw Sara’s illustrations?

Way back before Sara was officially signed on as my illustrator, my editor sent me some sample artwork with the most adorable frogs you’ve ever seen, and I was immediately smitten. When I got the word that Sara had agreed to illustrate THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, I saved those frog pictures as the background wallpaper on my phone, so I could look at them several times a day. Of course, this made waiting for the official illustrations just a teensy bit harder, because I knew something absolutely fabulous was coming.

So I started following Sara’s Facebook page, watching for any hints of frogs and princesses in her artwork.

One day, she posted a picture of her desk with several sketches for the book she was currently working on, and up in the corner of the picture, there was a pencil sketch of the most adorable little girl I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking, “I want Princess Cassandra to look just like that.” And I’ll admit, I was kind of sad to see this perfect princess in a pile of sketches for someone else’s book. But a couple of days later, my editor, Kristin Rens, emailed me some rough, preliminary sketches of Sara’s concept art for Princess Cassandra … and it was the sketch I had fallen in love with from her Facebook post!!! I sent my daughter outside to do lots of cartwheels for me in celebration. (I’ve never had good enough balance to pull off a proper cartwheel, so I always have to designate a proxy cartwheel performer when celebrations call for one.)

What suggestions do you have for MG or YA authors who want to take on a PB?

Read lots and lots of different kinds of picture books to familiarize yourself with the PB voice. Read them aloud, so you can hear the rhythm of the narrative, even in the books that don’t rhyme. Read them to small children (if you don’t have small children of your own, you can always volunteer to read for story time at your local library), and pay attention to the way they interact with the books. And don’t be afraid to use big words. Kids love creative vocabulary choices!

Also, if possible, make friends with some illustrators. Their critique is invaluable when you’re trying to write a book that’s both fun to read and still leaves enough room for the illustrator to tell her part of the story.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS sounds like an adorable fractured fairy tale, where a princess loves frogs so much, she can’t help kissing them. What was your inspiration for this one?

Well, in November of 2010, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d written my first YA manuscript during NaNoWriMo in 2008, and I’d attempted to write another one (but failed miserably) in 2009, so I felt like I had to “win” again in 2010 to redeem myself. But I was querying that first YA manuscript, knee-deep in revisions on other YA manuscripts, and I didn’t have any great ideas for the next big thing. The thought of subjecting myself to NaNoWriMo made me want to curl up under my desk and sob. So when one of my friends posted a link to something called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book IDEA Month!), I decided I would do that instead. Come up with 30 ideas in 30 days? How hard could it be?

I didn’t actually intend to write picture books, but I wanted an easy way to give myself a writing win, and I told myself that coming up with thirty PB ideas was sure to spark my brain and give me plenty of ideas for YA manuscripts as well. But ideas don’t always come just because you want them to!

Suddenly, it was almost the end of the month, and I still had a nearly-empty PiBoIdMo idea notebook. But I had started collecting query rejections on my YA manuscript, KISSING FROGS, and I desperately needed some kind of validation. I was NOT going to let this challenge beat me, so I started looking everywhere for the slightest glimmer of an idea. And as I thought about my “failed” novel (I had almost TEN whole rejections!!) I started to wonder, “Well, what if the princess didn’t WANT that clichéd Happily Ever After? What if she wasn’t looking for a prince? What if she really just wanted a frog? But what if she loved frogs so much she couldn’t help kissing them goodnight? What if the poor princess had a castle full of princes, all proposing marriage, but really just wanted a pet to love? By the end of the week, my PiBoIdMo idea book was brimming with ideas for fractured fairy tales, including two or three ideas for YA novels.

And I fell in love with a spunky Princess Cassandra, who wanted a frog, not a prince.

So let’s meet Princess Cassandra and her beloved froggies!

PrincessAndFrogs c

You know I’ll be first on line to buy this one. I’m a frog fanatic. (Which I tend not to reveal because everyone starts buying me frog-themed gifts. I’ve got a big box of ugly porcelain frogs, hidden away. Maybe I’ll try smooching them into royalty!)

Thanks, Veronica, for revealing your cover here today. Congratulations!

Princess Cassandra and frogs are coming via Balzer + Bray on November 15, right smack dab in the middle of PiBoIdMo 2016. Be sure to hop back here then to win a copy!

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!

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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.

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’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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

No, that’s not an ostrich, it’s an EMU.

See, besides this crazy blog, I also belong to EMU’s Debuts, which is even nuttier because it’s run by debut kidlit authors repped by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Get it? Erin MUrphy?) And we’re one bizarre bunch. (C’mon, we named our blog after an Australian flightless bird. It’s worse than vegemite, mate.)

We did something today that took a lot of NERVE for the release of Jeanne Ryan’s YA debut!

We’re playing “Truth or Dare”, video style!

Check it out because I make a complete fool of myself! 

(Which, ya know, is pretty easy to do.)

I call my video “Truth or Date”.

If you can, please leave a comment (I realize that’s difficult while making the cuckoo-sign) because we’re hoping to get more comments than ANOTHER BLOG who DARED us to this challenge!

I am ridiculously far behind in picking winners. So without further ado, here they are!

WINNER of CRASHING EDEN by Michael Sussman:

MIKE ALLEGRA! (heylookawriterfellow)

WINNER of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN by Tiffany Strelitz Haber:

LESLIE G!

Congratulations, guys! I’ll be emailing you shortly.

I’m sorry if you didn’t win, but everyone’s leaving with a consolation prize. No, not a lifetime supply of Turtle Wax. (Do they even make Turtle Wax anymore? If you ever won a lifetime supply on Let’s Make a Deal you’d be ripped off.) Instead, it’s a piece of picture book writing advice:

Think BIG and carry a SMALL manuscript.

One of my favorite quirky picture books is OTTO GROWS DOWN by Michael Sussman, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that Michael has a new YA novel, CRASHING EDEN. Well, Michael is crashing my blog today and he’s leaving behind a paperback copy just for you.

“Dr. Suss” (as I like to call him) is a prolific, versatile writer who has published books in diverse genres. So I asked him how he shifts gears to different formats and what obstacles he faces in doing so.

TL: Michael, you’ve written medical books, picture books, and now a young adult novel. How did you adjust from writing one genre to another?

MS: The toughest shift was from writing nonfiction professional books on psychotherapy to writing fiction. About 20 years ago I first tried my hand at a novel. Looking back at that manuscript, I cringe at how stiff and wooden my writing was—especially the dialogue. Thanks to practice and critiques from writer’s groups, my next novel was considerably better, although it too went unpublished.

After reading hundreds of picture books to my son, I decided to start writing for children. That transition was a breeze. Writing for kids totally freed my imagination and allowed me to be much more playful and fantasy-based. The result was OTTO GROWS DOWN, a story about a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time.

In writing for young adults, I benefited from having already spent years honing my novel-writing skills. There were, however, two major differences. It was a stretch to write with the voice of a teenager, and that took a great deal of revising to get right. Secondly, I had to revisit my own adolescence, and that was no picnic!

TL: Which genre is your comfort zone?

MS: When it comes to writing, I’m such a perfectionist that I’m not sure I have a comfort zone.

Writing picture books is probably easiest for me, since the sky’s the limit when it comes to letting your imagination run wild. In terms of novels, I think I feel most comfortable writing thillers and mysteries, especially with a comic edge.

TL: How did you get the idea for CRASHING EDEN? What made you decide to tackle the YA genre?

I started trying my hand at fiction about twenty years ago. I wrote a psychological thriller and a comic mystery novel, neither of which were published. I developed severe writer’s block, which was immediately relieved when I began writing for young children. Looking back, I think I was working out unresolved issues from my own childhood. Next I turned to writing for young adults. Consciously, I chose YA because the market was hot! But unconsciously, I believe I realized that it would give me the chance to work on issues from my mostly miserable adolescence.

The genesis of CRASHING EDEN began with the title, which had floated around in my mind for nearly a decade. I’d been interested in world mythology for many years, and especially intrigued by the widespread myths suggesting that humans have degenerated from an ancient state of grace, symbolized by Paradise or the Golden Age.

I began to wonder what might happen if we were somehow able to recapture the state of mind supposedly experienced by people before the Fall. What if a device could be built that altered our brains in such a way that we felt like we were back in the Garden of Eden?

This led to speculating about how the God of the Old Testament might react to trespassers in his Garden. That’s where the story takes a controversial turn.

TL: What an intriguing premise! So, what YA reads have really stuck with you? To which books would you compare your style?

MS: My favorite YA novels are Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, FEED by M.T. Anderson, UNWIND by Neal Shusterman, and MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francis X. Stork.

I’d like to think my style is unique, although I’d say it’s strongly influenced by two of my favorite novelists: Tom Robbins and Christopher Moore.

TL: How do you hope readers will react to your book?

MS: My ideal reader loved OTTO and is curious about the title of my novel. She’s intrigued by the notion that the widespread myths of a Golden Age were based on something real, and by the idea of returning to Edenic consciousness. She feels empathy for my troubled protagonist and gets caught up in his many dilemmas. She enjoys the humor and suspense of the story and finishes the book in one sitting. Then she recommends the novel to all her friends, posts glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and sends a copy of the book to her uncle, the filmmaker!

TL: Ha, ha! Don’t we all wish! So, with all those genres floating around in your head, do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Yes, I’ve definitely had periods when I couldn’t write a thing and couldn’t come up with a single idea. It feels awful. With other types of work you can just phone it in, but not with writing.

With mild writer’s block, I can overcome it by exercising, being in nature, taking a hot bath, meditating, or simply taking a break from writing. With more serious cases, it takes some psychological/emotional exploration. The blockage may be due to depression. It may stem from avoiding something that you need to write about. In one case, my writer’s block evaporated when I shifted from writing for adults to writing for children!

TL: I love that. Writing for children definitely frees the imagination and lets you go places adult fiction doesn’t.

Thanks to Dr. Suss for offering a paperback copy for me to give away! Just leave a comment to enter. You get one entry for your comment plus an extra entry for each share on social media, just let me know in a separate comment! A winner will be selected in one week. Good luck!

Want it now? Crashing Eden is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

And visit “Dr. Suss” online because he’s hilarious and talented (and a good friend)!

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?

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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