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by Colleen Paeff

The year or two leading up to the publication of an author or illustrator’s debut book is a rollercoaster ride of exciting milestones (“I signed my contract!”), new experiences (“Hello, Copy Editor.”), and sheer terror (“You expect me to read my book aloud in front of how many children?”). And, like a rollercoaster, it’s best experienced with friends. That’s where debut groups come in.*

The Soaring ‘20s Picture Book Debuts is a collective of picture book authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators with debut picture books being released in 2020** and beyond. We’ve pooled our resources, talents, and sympathetic ears so none of us has to experience this ride solo—and that’s fitting because we certainly didn’t get this far on our own. We’re all in the happy position of awaiting the release of our books thanks to the authors, illustrators, teachers, editors, or agents who looked at our work and offered targeted feedback to help improve it.

And now we’d like to do the same for you!

To celebrate the launch our new website, we’re giving away 20+6 free manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critiques in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY!

If you’ve been in the picture book game for a while, you probably already know the value of a thorough, thoughtful critique. But if you’re new to writing or illustrating for kids or you’re on the fence about whether or not to hand your baby over to a set of critical eyes, allow some of our members us give you a nudge:

“Critiques have been an essential step (many steps! multiple flights of stairs!) on my path to publication.”

Angela Burke Kunkel, author

“If you’ve put your all into your work-in-progress and are ready to see it with fresh eyes, a critique is a fun way to open new pathways in your brain and to rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.”

Shelley Johannes, author/illustrator
MORE THAN SUNNY (Abrams, Spring 2021)

“The more we embrace the journey of improving and collaboration, the more we learn and the better we become as authors, illustrators and artists.”

Sam Wedelich, author/illustrator

“I’ll always remember how Jo Whittemore, author of FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF, critiqued me years ago. She called problems in my manuscript ‘opportunities.’”

NoNieqa Ramos, author
BEAUTY WOKE (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spring 2021)

“The more you have your work critiqued, the less personal it becomes. You learn to listen for the gems of advice, questions, concerns, and ideas that other readers/writers have for you. Then when you take those gems and apply them to your work, the proof is in how much your writing is improved and how much your skill grows as a storyteller. And while this process sometimes has you feeling vulnerable and exposed, ultimately when you send your writing out into the world, you will feel so proud of it!”

Anna Crowley Redding, author

Convinced? Go to our website to enter to win a free picture book manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critique in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY by midnight on September 15 and you could be one of 20+6 lucky winners!

*We’re not the only game in town! Check out KidLit411’s list of Debut Year Groups (scroll all the way down to the bottom).

**One of us got bumped up to 2019! Look for Author Saira Mir’s MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: INSPIRATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF OUR TIME (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster) on October 29.

Big thanks to Tara for letting us share the news about our giveaway on her blog!

(And Tara says thanks right back!)

#Kidlit4Japan Auction #49 from Tara Lazar

Description: Tara Lazar will critique two fiction picture books of 800 words or fewer. Preferably prose, but she will crit rhyming manuscripts, too. The critiques do not have to be submitted together and can be claimed at any time. Bid now, write later!

Estimated Value: $100
Auction Begins: Tuesday 3/29 @ 9:00AM EDT
Auction Ends: Friday 4/1 @ 9:00AM EDT

Bio: Tara Lazar is the author of THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster 2013) and the creator of PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, the picture book writer’s alternative to NaNoWriMo.

More winners! Congratulations to the writers who have won a manuscript critique with one of the following published authors: Sudipta Bardan-Quallen, Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Tiffany Strelitz-Haber, Lori Degman, Lori Calabrese and Linda Bozzo:

Heather Kephart
Emma (from Australia)
Jessica Stanford
Leslie Zampetti
Lisa Rogers
Cari Meister

Be on the lookout for an email from me with further instructions. (Please check your spam filter, as a single email was sent to all of you.)

Next up, the winners of all the glorious picture books!

Want a great piece of writing advice? As a new writer, surround  yourself with more experienced professionals. You’ll grow and learn far more quickly than if you remain in a critique group comprised of writers on your level.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find an experienced critique group. However, paid critiques are one way to gain access to knowledgeable professionals and speed-up your learning curve. You can receive paid critiques at SCBWI conferences and through independent editors, and once in a while critiques go up for auction to benefit good causes. But these critiques, while thorough and worth every penny, can sometimes cost a lot of pennies.

I met award-winning author Brenda Reeves Sturgis at the 2008 Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference and we had instant chemistry. Easy-going, lovely, and full of fun, Brenda possesses a great personality and a penchant for picture books. Her debut TEN TURKEYS IN THE ROAD releases fall 2011 with Marshall Cavendish, and her poetry appears in the SWEET DREAMS anthology later this year from Blooming Tree Press. And guess what? OK, you’ve guessed it, she has begun a new critique service for picture book writers (and for not that many pennies).

Hey–did you notice–critique service, Reeves Sturgis. That rhymes! Well, kind of. Maybe just a little? Huh?

But believe me, her critiques are far better than my rhymes.

Check out her testimonials!

Three things happened to young adult writer and teen librarian Bridget Zinn in February:

  1. She got an agent for her novel.
  2. She got married.
  3. She found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.

It’s unbelievable that a young, vibrant woman with absolutely ZERO of the risk factors has been struck with this form of cancer. But it is pretty incredible that the kidlit community has come to her aid with The Bridget Zinn Auction.

Authors have donated signed copies of their books, editors have offered critiques. All to benefit Bridget’s treatment and recovery. 

There’s lots of fabulous goodies to be had. Just take a look:

There’s lots more marvelousness to be had. Jewelry, crafts, books, journals and custom items. (I’ve got my eye on that custom cookbook.)

So what are you waiting for? Start bidding! The auctions will close on May 30 at 11pm EST.

purpleIs there such a thing as too many critiques?

A writing friend and I debated this issue earlier this week. She told me that if one critique partner doesn’t like something, she changes it, even if no one else agrees. Her opinion is that a critique group represents a microcosm of editors. She knows she can’t please everyone, but she tries to incorporate everyone’s suggestions.

My reaction was: yikes! With the wide range of opinions I sometimes receive, it would be impossible to address every critcism. I might wind up with a muddled mess of a manuscript.

My story cannot be all things to all people. We all have our own tastes, which dictates the books we choose to read, the titles we recommend to friends, and the stories we stop reading after Chapter I. If not all people agree on published books, you don’t have to wait for a concensus vote on a manuscript before considering it finished.

I only revise based on solo suggestions if the comment resonates with me. If someone points out something I was already doubting, then that’s the confirmation I need to fix it. A writing peer can highlight something I never thought of, but I immediately see the validity of their argument and make the change.

If a comment doesn’t make sense to me, I ask questions. I have to understand the reasons behind the criticism. And if it still doesn’t feel right, I leave it behind. If six people love something and only one hates it, I’m not going to strive to please that person, especially if I just don’t agree. Ultimately, I’m the author.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all peer opinions and I do my best to incorporate suggestions that I think will work, especially when at least three people wave a caution flag. But just one person? I don’t feel bad about leaving it.
So how do you feel about this issue? Do you try to address every criticism in a revision? And at what point do critiques become counter-productive? How long do you go on seeking opinions, changing and revising? I want your feedback about feedback!

I bumped into an on-again, off-again writer friend today, which was a surprise, since she seemed to be hovering somewhere above the clouds.

“My novel is going really well,” she said. “I’m going to finish it up soon and send it out!”

Yes, she was planning to submit her first draft.

First, I applauded her enthusiasm. “That’s great!”  Then I cautioned her. “But you should really have it critiqued first.”

“No, do you really think so? I don’t think it needs it.”

I explained that most writers don’t have enough distance from their work to see problems in their own manuscripts. The fabulous ideas in our heads are not always executed clearly on paper. Because the story is unclouded in our minds, we don’t realize when the paper takes giant leaps (or even small side-steps), losing the reader.

She belonged to my critique organization but quit last year due to her off-again writing status. I encouraged her to return if she was serious about this novel.

“Maybe I’ll just pay someone to critique it.”

A professional critique can indeed be helpful, but a good one can be pricey, so your manuscript should be in a near-submission-ready state. Because you don’t want to have to pay for two (or more) expensive reviews.

“The thing is, I don’t want a lot of people to read it. It’s very personal.”

“But you want to have it published?” I joked and she offered a pseudonym.

“Well, it’s a really great story,” she said. “I’m certain it will get published.”

“I’m sure it is. Everyone thinks their own work is wonderful. Or else we wouldn’t be writing.”

When I suggested some writing books I thought might be helpful, she asked me what a few of the terms meant. That’s when her feet returned to solid ground.

I had to explain that I didn’t want to squash her excitement, I just wanted to prevent her hopes from being squashed. If she sends out a manuscript too soon, before it’s truly ready, she’ll use up her chances with publishers and agents. If they reject something once, they are not going to want to see it again (unless a revision is expressly requested).

It’s terrific to be enthusiastic about your work. Love creating. Love writing. But be realistic, too. The clouds are a fine place hang out once you’ve signed that publishing contract. But keep your feet on the ground until then, pen to paper, writing and revising. And revising some more.

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