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Hey, Tara! Thanks for letting me share about my Stinky Stench!

(Umm, P.U., but OK…?)

Over the last year and a half—ever since first book LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST was released—a small handful of bookstores around the country reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in visiting to do readings and signings.

For those in and around New England (my home), I tried to make it happen. But occasionally, a store far out of driving distance asked. And while I was honored, I didn’t have any imminent plans to travel to New Orleans or St. Louis or Los Angeles*.

Well, word got back to my amazing publicity and marketing team at Sterling Publishing. In preparation for the release of the sequel, they offered to send me on a short tour to celebrate THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH and they even worked it out that I could visit a bunch of those stores that had contacted me!

So for the first two weeks of May I traveled from Boston to Allentown, PA to Asheville, NC to New Orleans to Kalamazoo, MI taking a detoured route through Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis, then finishing up in Baltimore.

I had seven bookstore events: The Novel Neighbor, Octavia Books, Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Bookbug, The Ivy Bookshop, and two Barnes & Nobles (Allentown, PA and Portage, MI).

At Bookbug they made these cupcakes:

And I got to hang out with a bunch of nErDcampMI friends.

At the Novel Neighbor, they ordered special Flapjacks Lip Gloss:

At The Ivy Bookshop, it was standing room only!

But the best part was that I got to visit 19 schools in those ten school days.

Some days I visited three different schools. Other days I’d stay at a single school all day and do multiple presentations.

Sometimes I’d be reading to a single class or grade at a time. Other times I presented to entire elementary schools—from 600 students in the gym to 200 students in the auditorium to 150 students in the library to 20 preschoolers in the art room—I tried it all.

One school got creative with life-size minecraft and Pirasaurs!

Sometimes I had slides and a microphone.

Other times I had neither. Luckily I’m not a diva …yet (traveling with a personal masseuse is totally acceptable, right?).

One school that I had Skyped with previously got me to read my poem about my cat that poops all over the house.

So I’d like to thank Sterling for everything! From the tour all the way back to taking a risk on the slush pile submission in 2013 that was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (yes, it was a slush pile submission – Sterling accepts unsolicited submissions via snail mail – see guidelines here).

*Don’t worry, Los Angeles. I promise I’ll get out to you eventually!

Josh is giving away YOUR CHOICE:

  • EITHER a personalized signed copy of THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH
  • OR a written critique of your picture book manuscript (Josh values this at an estimated $1 billion)

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (9.19.17), Albie Newton (Spring 2018), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (2018), and more coming soon!

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He’s written a free 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books available on his website here.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more about Josh at his website and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

by Tammi Sauer

I have been a part of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo) ever since Tara introduced it back in 2009. Each year, as a guest blogger, I have shared one of my idea-getting strategies. I’ve mentioned everything from “celebrating the weird stuff in your life” to starting with a setting to playing with various structures. Each year, I have also accepted the challenge to come up with at least 30 picture book ideas.

And, each year, do you know how many of my 30+ ideas are good ones?

25? 10? 5?!

The answer is 1. Occasionally 2.

My other 29+ ideas? They are okay ideas. But okay ideas do not result in offers.

During PiBoIdMo 2013, I jotted down this snippet of an idea: funny rules for having an unusual pet.

I felt the idea had potential. But I needed a story. I needed a beginning, middle, and end. I needed a character readers could care about. I needed conflict. I, um, needed a lot.

Also, around this time, I had been wanting to write a book using the how-to structure.


Then one spring day, while I was in PetSmart with my son, everything clicked.

I saw a rack filled with brochures. Each brochure provided information on caring for a particular pet. There was a brochure on dwarf hamsters, a brochure on guinea pigs, a brochure on geckos.


I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do! I was going to write a pet care guide for a lion!

My favorite part about working on this manuscript was that I wanted the text to play the straight man to the art. I wanted the text to read as if caring for a lion is easy. I wanted the art to show that it is anything but. Because of this, I included more art notes than usual.

CARING FOR YOUR LION sold at auction to Sterling.

We ended up finding the perfect illustrator in Troy Cummings. Not only did Troy get the humor of the manuscript, but he amped it up to ridiculously wonderful proportions. Plus, he created the purrr-fect case cover for this book. (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal it here.)

This is what Kirkus had to say about Caring for Your Lion:

“Sauer’s terse text, presented as the steps in the care manual for the lion, are tongue-in-cheek smile-inducing, as are accompanying black-and-white diagrams from the manual. However, their interaction with Cummings’ full-color, digitally created illustrations of a light-brown-skinned child and the full-grown male lion that was delivered instead of a kitten are laugh-out-loud fun. Allow plenty of time to giggle over the details.”

I am so grateful to Tara for creating this challenge. Because of StoryStorm, the following books got their start:

  • Nugget & Fang (HMH, 2013)
  • Your Alien (Sterling, 2015)
  • Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016)
  • Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017)
  • Truck, Truck, Goose! (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Wordy Birdy + a sequel (Doubleday BFYR, 2018, 2019)
  • Knock, Knock (Scholastic, 2018)
  • Go Fish! (HarperCollins, 2018)
  • The Farm that Mac Built (HMH, TBA)
  • Quiet Wyatt (HMH, TBA)

Plus, I recently received an offer on a book that began as an idea in StoryStorm 2017. I think this world needs Tara Lazar Day. Until then, I came up with one small way to celebrate Tara. One of the aforementioned books is dedicated to her.

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish (but no lions). Visit her at


Tammi is giving away a Caring for Your Lion prize pack to one lucky commenter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

This pack may or may not come with a real lion.

You’ve been warned.


Stuffed Norman by!

A four-foot-tall stuffed NORMAL NORMAN sits in my house and my 12-year-old forgets he’s here, so she jumps upon spotting him, not unlike Gloria’s reaction to dog-butler Barkley on Modern Family. OH DIOS MIO!


It’s exciting and shocking to see your character come to life. Although, truth be told, Norman is not really MY character. If you were participating in PiBoIdMo this past November, you discovered that I didn’t know what kind of animal Norman was. I left the art note blank in my manuscript. Editor Meredith Mundy asked me what Norman was but I refused to name his species—I thought an illustrator would do a much better job. So Norman, he really belongs to S.britt. Only Stephan could have created a purple orangutan with handsome-nerd glasses and such emotional expressions. But it did take a while to find the real Norman. The first few attempts didn’t feel quite right. But we all knew it when the true Normal Norman revealed himself. On a unicycle.

Normal Norman stripe sketch   Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

Normal Norman unicycle

So if I didn’t imagine Norman, how did he come to life?

I began with his name, the title: Normal Norman. That’s all I had. But I knew there was no way Norman could actually BE normal. No siree. He had to revolt at all I threw at him. By making my character act in unexpected ways, I conveyed a message to readers that I didn’t necessarily intend, but which worked out perfectly: there’s really no such thing as “normal.” We are all different in our own special—sometimes zany—ways. And that’s something that should be celebrated.

I’ll be celebrating the release of Normal Norman in just a few days, on March 1st! Sterling Children’s Books is giving away five copies via GoodReads—please click below to enter and add Norman to your want-to-read list!


If you’d like to pre-order a signed copy, please call my good friends at The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ at 908-766-4599. I’ll dash over there to personalize and sign it.


A couple of places I’m not dashing are London and Bologna for the international book fairs. But guess who is? Yep, you’ve guessed it: Norman. He’s on a world tour! I hope they don’t serve bananas in first class.

Meanwhile, the author will be on a virtual tour. Be sure to stop by these entertaining blogs for all kinds of uncommon fun and giveaways. But sorry, we’re not giving away stuffed Norman. After all, he’s got a jet-set schedule. Lucky dude!


by guest blogger Catherine Bailey

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

:Mind Your Monsters BAILEY Cover



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

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


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

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

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

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

cowboycampTammi Sauer is the author of Cowboy Camp, a knee-slappin’, whip-snappin’, giddyup of a picture book.

I predict you’re going to be hearing a lot about Tammi soon. With several gotta-read-’em titles on the way–including Chicken Dance, Mostly Monsterly and Princess-in-Training–we can all say we knew her when!

Tammi is moseyin’ over to my blog today to talk about her trail ride from writer to published author.

Tammi, how did Cowboy Camp gallop from your desk to the bookshelves?

Cowboy Camp didn’t start at my desk, it started on my front porch.

One evening, there was an unexpected knock at the door. I opened it and was greeted by a young boy. He was selling newspaper subscriptions in an effort to go to…COWBOY CAMP. I looked at this kid with his everywhere hair and thick glasses and uncowboy-like everything and knew I had a story.

I wrote the manuscript, revised it, and sent it out in under a week—my fastest ever. Early on, Cowboy Camp made its way to three acquisitions meetings. Oh, the joy. But each time the manuscript was returned to me with regret. Oh, the agony. Many personal rejections rolled in as well. Then I discovered a house that was just starting up a picture book line. I thought, “Maybe this is it!”

I sent Cowboy Camp to Sterling Publishing. Within two weeks, I learned the manuscript was going to acquisitions. Shortly thereafter, the editor emailed and told me the acquisitions team loved the manuscript, but the house wanted to find the perfect illustrator before offering me a contract. Yes, more joy. More agony.

Months went by. I decided to send Cowboy Camp to SmartWriter’s first W.I.N.! (Write It Now!) Competition. Cowboy Camp ended up placing second in the picture book division out of more than 400 entries. I shared the news with my editor contact at Sterling. Within weeks, I had an offer. Yee-haw!

You said Cowboy Camp was your “fastest ever.” How many picture book manuscripts did you write before Cowboy Camp? Are any of those slated for publication?

I’m not sure how many picture book manuscripts came before Cowboy Camp. Maybe four or five? I do know that they were collectively awful. I consider them my “practice manuscripts.” And ha! No, none of those early works are slated for publication.

So how long had you been writing for children when you got the contract for Cowboy Camp?

tammisauerIn 2000, I started toying with the idea of writing children’s books (this meant I would write for a couple of hours one day and not write another word for the next, oh, ten months or so). I didn’t get serious about writing children’s books until the spring of 2003 when an illustrator paid a visit to my daughter’s preschool. Seeing a real live person who was involved in the creation of children’s books was the push I needed to make writing a priority in my life. I received Cowboy Camp’s offer the following year.

You have five books slated for release. Do you have an agent now, or are you continuing to submit on your own?

I have an agent. In August of 2005, after much agent research, I sent Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency a query for a humorous, contemporary teen novel. It wasn’t long before she asked for the manuscript. The next thing I knew, she wanted to call me. Eek! Fortunately, a miracle occurred and the phone call went well…so well in fact that I KNEW I found the right match for me and my work.

Around the time that I signed, my PB writing started to take off. And that teen novel of mine? It was getting revision request after revision request after revision request to infinity. I made the decision to put the novel on hold and focus on what I loved and did best–PBs. Laura fully supported me on my decision.

You obviously have the talent to succeed in novels. How did you come to the realization that you were a PB-writer at heart? Do you think you’ll ever go back to that YA novel?

PBs just felt more right.

I don’t think I will ever go back to that novel. There was a lot that I loved in that manuscript (the characters, the humor, the voice). But one day it occurred to me that if I was going to have a novel Out There, I’d want it to be someone’s favorite. I would want others to feel about my book the same way I had felt when I read A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. My manuscript was nice, but it didn’t have that kind of wow factor.

What do you love most about writing picture books? Is there a particularly satisfying challenge? Are you thrilled to see your words come to life through each illustrator’s interpretation?

I can’t think of the one thing I love most. Coming up with a good idea is awesome. So is finding the perfect word, creating just the right story arc, and discovering new ways to build heart and humor into a manuscript.

As for satisfying challenges? I would have to say getting the “Yeah, baby!” from my critique partner Cynthea Liu is one of the hardest things to come by and therefore one of the most satisfying of challenges. The “Yeah, baby!” is what we give one another when a manuscript is decidedly brilliant and ready to be sent agent-ward. Believe me, getting the coveted “Yeah, baby!” is worthy of fanfare.

chickendanceIt has been a real thrill to see my words come to life through each illustrator’s interpretation. In Chicken Dance, Dan Santat created an Elvis Poultry that absolutely floored me. I recently received Scott Magoon’s sketches for Mostly Monsterly and I was equally amazed. Scott’s take on the main character and her story was better than I had ever imagined. I feel honored to be working with such talented people.

One way for children’s authors to promote their books is with school visits. You just got back from a school visit in Texas. Can you tell us about that? What is a typical Tammi Sauer visit like for the students?

I absolutely love doing school visits–especially when schools work hard to make the day an event. On my web site, I list some tips for a successful school visit and Holliday Elementary certainly made the most of it. The kids–as well as some of the faculty and staff–gussied up in their best cowboy and cowgirl gear. Cowboy grub was served. Stick horse races took place in the gym. Bandana-wrapped trail mix was passed out. A guess-the-number-of-beans contest was held in the library media center… It was truly a cowboy-themed day.

I always strive to make my school visits fun, engaging, and informative. I offer a lot of opportunities for audience participation, perform a couple of magic tricks and/or an impromptu theater experience, and do what I can to really connect with the kids. Creating a memorable and meaningful experience for students is my top goal.

Yee-haw, honey! That sounds like a rootin’-tootin’ good time!

Once your picture book is accepted, the publisher has to find an illustrator. How much input do you give your editor regarding illustrator choice?

Some houses ask for illustrator input. Some don’t. I was thrilled when my editor at Simon & Schuster asked me for an Illustrator Wish List. So fun! One of the names at the very top of my list was Scott Magoon. I was astounded when Scott signed on for Mostly Monsterly. Total writerly dream come true!

I am happy to say I have formed good email relationships with Dan Santat and Scott Magoon. They are both so funny and brilliant and beyond what I had ever hoped for as partners for my books.

How do you stand the wait until your book is released? Most picture books take 1-2 years to hit the shelves!

tammichicksI WISH it only took 1-2 years! Chicken Dance will hit the shelves three years after I received the offer. Mostly Monsterly debuts two and a half years post-offer. The waiting is pretty horrible–especially since I am not a patient person. At all.

But, wow, when little bits of news trickle in—like finding out who will illustrate an upcoming book or receiving preliminary sketches or seeing the final art for the first time–it makes for some really nice moments along the way.

Tammi,  thanks for sharing your story. Before you ride off into the sunset, what’s your best piece of advice for aspiring picture book authors?

My best piece of advice for new writers who dream of becoming published picture book authors is to read–and study!–as many picture books as possible. Knowing picture books inside and out–their feel, their rhythm, their language–is the very first step in creating quality picture books of their own.

OK, cowpokes! You heard Tammi! Now get on back on yer saddle! Read and write! 

And don’t forget to visit Tammi’s blog! You can order Cowboy Camp or pre-order Chicken Dance via Amazon.

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