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I awoke this morning and thought, “What a fine day for a new blog post.” Of course, I also thought, “What a fine day to go swimming” and “What a fine day to finish reading that book.” Sensing that I have packed today’s schedule, I decided that said blog post would have to be ultra-short. (I would have said “uber” short, but that word has been bogarted by some taxi service.)

So here I have pieced together quick quotes and sage snippets from the SCBWI events I attended in the spring—New England SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI.

I hope you enjoy while I do the backstroke with a soggy book.

tuesday

“A picture book is an amazing thing, a world unto itself. You can do anything in those 32 pages and that is the thing I love about it.” ~David Wiesner

“As I create, I am continually asking myself ‘why is this happening?’ You know you are desperate when you go to the ‘magic button’ solution.” ~David Wiesner

lunchlady

“Be nice. Be resilient. Set goals. Adapt & learn. Your biggest achievement is just around the corner.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

“Don’t do a $50 job like a $50 job, you’ll get $50 jobs your whole life. Do it like a $500 job and you’ll start getting those.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

mango

“It’s not necessarily ‘write what you know.’ Write what you want to know ABOUT. The passion for that subject will come through.” ~Wendy Mass

adabyronlovelace

“When it comes to the nitty gritty marketing of your book, always remember, something is better than nothing.” ~Laurie Wallmark

ellrayjakes

“A postcard is the best way to get our attention. I get 60 emails a day…it’s too much. I like the tactile nature of a postcard. I love feeling them and looking at them…if they hit anything in me, I keep them.” ~Laurie Brennan, Associate Art Director, Viking

hogprince

“Characters who make interesting mistakes are inherently interesting. The kind of mistakes your character makes defines her. How a character acts in the wake of a mistake should be unique and personal to her. Failure is fertilizer: a world of things can grow from the mistakes your character makes. Someone who is always right is BORING.” ~Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

theBFFsisters

“I wanted to write a book where my daughter could see herself—that’s me!” ~Suzy Ismail

“Writing from a multicultural perspective is no different than writing. All writing is about crossing boundaries.” ~Suzy Ismail quotes Debby Dahl Edwardson

donalynmiller

And, finally, my favorite quote…which is still making me think long and hard:

“How are you creating a literary world besides being a literary creator?” ~Donalyn Miller

 

familyportrait (140)by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Thirty days, thirty picture book ideas. At first, that doesn’t sound too hard. And you’ll undoubtedly have terrific ideas in the first few weeks, nuggets that have been waiting to be uncovered for a while that PiBo is forcing you to excavate.

But then, if you’re like me…it’ll start getting harder. Maybe you’ll even hit the wall…and start to think you’ll never have another good idea again…and then maybe never any idea at all ever again…and then you’ll be tempted to quit the PiBo challenge and give up on your writing dreams and move to the Adirondacks and live in a small cabin you hand-make out of fallen branches so you’ll never have to face anyone ever again…

OK, maybe it won’t get that bad. But it is not uncommon to hit the “idea wall,” so to speak – and that is always disheartening. So before you start your official PiBoIdMo journey, I wanted to share three things you can do to re-fill your idea well if it starts to run dry.

(1) Words You Love:
My son and I have a secret password that we plan to use in case either of us suspects the other has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a life-like humanoid droid designed to help the aliens get a foothold into Earth society as they plan to take over the planet. That password is “Capuchin Echidna.” (Of course, I think we’ll have to change that now that I am announcing it on the internet!) How did we come up with that? Simple: capuchin and echidna are so much fun to say, and together, they sound HILARIOUS.

Capuchin. (Credit: David M. Jensen)

Capuchin. (Credit: David M. Jensen)

Echidna

Echidna

When I wrote a book about the bond between parent and child (which I talked about during last year’s PiBoIdMo), my publisher wanted a super-fun phrase to serve as the call and response between mother and son. The result was RUTABAGA BOO—which, like Capuchin Echidna, is a ton of fun to say or shout or giggle.

Keeping your own list of words you love can serve as a source of inspiration for a full-fledged picture book idea. Often, these words are not just fun to say, but very evocative. Think of kerfuffle, or fidget, or crybaby – don’t they get your wheels turning? Or cantankerous, shenanigan, or fartlek (which is actually a training system for runners, not whatever first popped into your head)? What are you already imagining when you hear those words?

Your word list may never do anything for you but make you smile—but remember, it easier to be inspired when you are smiling than when you a frustrated, frowning, and pulling your hair out.

[Tara’s note: check out this word list!]

(2) Things You Hear:
I’ve long been a fan of stealing from children. Not candy, mind you – just ideas. If you have children of your own who are picture book age, you probably already know that listening to them playing with their friends or telling a joke they found hilarious can be a great source of inspiration. But here’s the thing – if you do have children of your own, at some point you will have bled them dry and you won’t be able to get a fresh idea out of them (also, things you find interesting in your own children can, from time to time, on occasion, be completely uninteresting to people who are not biologically related to you, as most of your audience will be).

So seek out some other children (not in a creepy way! Don’t stalk a school or surveil your neighbor’s toddlers!) and listen and take notes. Some great places for this: library story time, walking around a toy store, the subway, the bus, the aisles of your supermarket, the local ice cream shop. Sometimes it’s not a matter of stalking or pursuing so much as just keeping your eyes and ears open in familiar places. I know some of the most hilarious conversations I’ve ever heard have been while some weary, frazzled parent is trying to buy the groceries while keeping his or her children relatively close and relatively calm. Here’s one from last week:

“Daddy, can I have turtle?”
“No, honey, we can’t get any more pets.”
“No! I mean for dinner.”

20151027_205040

These eavesdropped ideas are free, and they get you out of your own ruts and thinking like someone new.

(3) Memory Mash-up:
Most of us have memories that make us smile. And I’m not just talking about the cute thing your daughter did when she was two or the time when you were five that you did that thing that your mother still talks about. Those memories are great—and you should definitely mine them for story ideas—but push that farther. Think of the stories your family tells every Thanksgiving that still make you laugh or the tale behind that photo your grandmother keeps on the mantle that makes her smile. Think about that story that makes half your family tear up every time—that also makes the other half of your family roll their eyes.

All those memories are a great place to find a story idea, if—and this is important—if you are willing to fictionalize them.

Remember that thing I said about other people not finding your children as interesting as you do? That pretty much applies to your whole family. So don’t be afraid to reimagine Uncle George as a buffalo or Cousin Edna as an ostrich. Grandma’s living room can become a swamp and Dad’s office can be a snowy mountain. Use the memories as a starting point—and then go in the direction your imagination takes you.

Happy PiBoIdMo and have a great month!


Sudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committee, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting SUDIPTA.COM or KIDLITWRITINGSCHOOL.COM. She’s on Facebook and Twitter @SudiptaBQ.

PrizeDetails (2)
nerdychickscholarTo help you put your PiBo ideas to use, Sudipta is giving away a free online picture book writing course in 2016 through kidlitwritingschool.com.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This [amazing] prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

bSudipta in purpley Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

It’s still early in Picture Book Idea Month, and hopefully you’re all still overflowing with ideas that you can put down on paper. It does get tougher as the month continues, but bravo to you for taking up the challenge!

You’re going to come up with a lot of different kinds of ideas. You’ll think of titles, puns, and images that you see in your mind’s eye. You’ll imagine complicated scenarios and Holy Grails. You’ll draft punchlines and scenes that tug at the heart. All of these varied things can eventually grow into a beautiful, successful picture book.

But no matter what you start with, character is almost always the key to crafting a book that will be published.

POPPYCOCK! you say. CODSWALLOP! BUNK! After all, there are so many other things we hear about that make editors want to publish a manuscript. Compelling plots. Flawless writing. Powerful marketing hooks. And those are all vital things! Your plot has to be gripping and unique. The writing must be impeccable and beautiful to read. There has to be hooks to help the book sell.

But all of those things pale in comparison to the character.

It is the character that the reader will fall in love with. It is the character who he will root for. It is the character he will draw on his fan mail to you. It is the character who will live on in his imagination for week, months, years to come.

It is the character you have to get right.

Let’s talk about some ways to do that.

Character is Like the Salt

salts

Every once in a while when I’m cooking dinner, I totally forget to add salt. The meal I end up with is nothing short of disgusting and inedible. Salvageable, yes—as long as I add some salt to it. But without that one ingredient, dinner is nothing like what it is supposed to be.

Character is the salt in your picture book idea.

Some meals use a lot of salt. Others, just a sprinkling. But salt is essential. The same holds true for character.

Even in a high concept idea (which is becoming increasingly popular in picture books), you still need that sprinkling of salt, errrr, character. Here’s an example: I have a book coming out soon called RUTABAGA BOO (which will be illustrated by the uber-talented Bonnie Adamson). The entire book is about the unbreakable bond between a son and his mother. Whenever the son needs his mother, he says, “Rutabaga!” To show that she is there, she answers, “Boo!”

On the surface, it may not seem like there is a lot of character in this idea. (I mean, how much character development can you show in 22 words?) But while the heart of this story is the mother/son bond, what draws the reader in is what you learn about the characters—and how much those details endear the characters to the reader. Every spread tells you something more about the characters—what they like to do, what scares them, what makes them feel better. The characters in this case may just be a sprinkling of salt—but without them, the story doesn’t mean nearly as much to the reader.

Think Wedding Cake, Not Cupcake

weddingcakelayers

Let’s belabor the cooking theme some more.

As you are thinking of you PiBoIdMo ideas (and you are focusing on character because you, like me, believe character is the key), make sure you incorporate layers from the beginning. Just like a wedding cake is more impressive because of its tiered layers, you want to create a character that has, well, tiers and layers. Don’t let your idea stand at “Cindy wants a new puppy.” Push it to the limit (even at the idea stage):

  • Can you enhance the theme? “Cindy wants a puppy so she can join the kids who walk their dogs afterschool and make some new friends” or “Cindy wants a puppy so she isn’t so lonely”
  • Can you ratchet up the conflict? “Cindy wants a puppy but her father hates dogs” or “Cindy wants a puppy – but she only wants responsibility for the top half (the bottom half – and anything that comes out of the bottom – should be her brother’s responsibility!)”
  • Can you make your character a study in contradictions? “Cindy wants a new puppy—and yet, she is allergic to dog hair!” or “Cindy wants a puppy but she already has a kitten who is deathly afraid of dogs”

Every time you add a layer to the idea, you make your story inherently more interesting. And no matter where you add the layer, try to leverage into making the character more complex.

To go back to the RUTABAGA BOO example, layers were very important to make that story meaty enough to merit a hardcover picture book. It wasn’t enough to say that the son wanted to be with his mother in a whole bunch of different scenarios. When I wrote the story, I thought about all the different reasons that children want their parents. Would he look for her when he was hungry? When he was scared? How would those look different? How about when the boy was excited – how would he look for his mother then? When he was lonely? When he was tired? What kinds of scenes would show all these diverse interactions that create a relationship?

I started with the cupcake model of “sons like having their mothers nearby” and added tiers to make the story mouthwatering. In 24 words (and Bonnie’s beautiful illustrations, the reader is left with a full depiction of the mother / son bond – and meets characters that they can identify with.

Envision Your Character

After I’ve lectured you on the importance of character, I’m sure you’re all committed to brainstorming great characters every day of PiBoIdMo 2014. So now I’d like to give you a tool to help you with that.

When I teach kids at author visits about developing characters, I give them a graphic organizer to help them get their thoughts down on paper. As it turns out, that organizer works really well for picture book authors, too. (I know. I use it!) So here you go, PiBo-ers! Your own Character Graphic Organizer to help you develop your ideas…

Character graphic organizer

Click for full-sized, printable version.

guestbloggerbio2014

Sudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School  and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committe, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting SUDIPTA.COM or her blogs NERDYCHICKSRULE.COM and NERDYCHICKSWRITE.COM.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SudiptaBardhanQuallen

Twitter: @SudiptaBQ

duckduckmoose tywrecks orangutangled

prizedetails2014

One lucky commenter will receive a free picture book course at Kidlit Writing School! Our next picture book course will be on character development in picture books. The winner can opt to take that course or any other picture book course offered in 2015.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, and happy brainstorming!

As a bonus, ALL PiBoIdMo participants who register for a class during PiBoIdMo can get a discount on picture book courses at Kidlit Writing School by going to the secret PiBoIdMo page: http://www.kidlitwritingschool.com/piboidmo-special-registration.html. Find the coupon code to get your discount—just make sure you register before November 30!

 

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

IMG_5422 (1)It’s back to school season here in New Jersey (or, outside Philadelphia, as I typically refer to it) and that means big changes in my household. All summer, my kids and I are bums. We hang out at the beach, at the pool, at the mall. We travel, we sleep in, we do nothing. Summer is heaven.

But come September, my children’s lives change. Gone are the no schedule, no stress days and in their place we have wake up alarms, agenda books, and deliverables (and, it seems, a LOT of laundry!). The kids aren’t the only ones who go back to school—as a children’s book author, the school year means that I go back to school as well.

Every year, between school visits, Skype visits, and events like Dot Day or World Read Aloud Day, I connect with about 100 different schools all around the world. Because I spend so much time with school kids, I end up doing quite a bit of teaching, especially teaching writing. Which happens to be a completely different skill than actually writing.

There is a very stupid expression that you sometimes hear people throw around: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I want to be very, very clear here: that is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Not only is it disparaging, inflammatory, and demeaning, it also has the distinction of being very WRONG. I definitely knew that before I personally started working with schools, but now that I teach on a regular basis, I can tell you that those who teach can do better than anyone else.

teach

It has to do with the nature of teaching. In order to teach someone a skill, you have to know it so well that you can explain every step, even the ones you do automatically or on muscle memory. Here’s an example: when I was in graduate school, I bought a brand new Mustang that I couldn’t drive. Because it was a stick shift and I only knew how to drive an automatic. So I had a friend try to teach me how to drive stick. We got in my car, I started it up, and I asked him what to do next. He said, “OK, now drive.” I looked at him blankly. “Just don’t stall the car,” he added. I had no idea what that meant. So he said, “Don’t ease off the clutch to quickly. Or too slowly!”

At that point, I threw him out of the car. He, to this day, doesn’t understand what had upset me.

He knew how to drive a manual, and things that I needed to know—how to properly come off the clutch when changing gears, how to tell when to shift up or down, etc.—were things he’d stopped thinking about. So he couldn’t teach me to do them because he hadn’t been thinking about all those little steps that you do to succeed that once you’re successful, you completely forget about.
(For the record, I can now totally drive a stick.)

When I started teaching writing, I struggled with this same thing. I thought to myself, How can I teach something that I just DO? Trust me, this was very difficult to figure out. But the more I did figure it out—the better I got at teaching others how to write—the better I actually got at writing. Just like my friend who failed at teaching me how to drive my Mustang because there were so many things he was doing on autopilot that he couldn’t explain, as writers, we do that same thing. When you get to a certain point in your writing journey, you don’t even think about certain things like how to conceptualize a complex character or add layers to your plot, you just do it. But if you try to teach someone else how you do what you do, you have to break down every action into baby steps so that you can show your students how to mimic your actions. This forces you to think through your methods, and in the process, refine them even more.

So even if you’re not at the point in your publishing career where you are teaching, I’d like to encourage you to think like a teacher to become a better writer. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to create a charismatic main character,” I’d ask you to analyze what steps you’d take to do that, like:

  •  Start with something familiar
  •  Add some positive unique features
  • Give the character some flaws that make him or her relatable
  • Give him or her positive relationships (family, best friend, etc.) and negative relationships (nemesis, villain, etc.)
  • Temper every extreme (like “good” or “bad”) with something that brings it back a notch (like “good but hates kittens” or “bad but rescues kittens”)

The more you go through this process of treating your writing objectives like lesson plans, the deeper you’ll understand what you’ve done when something work—and what you may have left off inadvertently when something doesn’t work.

When you’re a good teacher, your students will benefit. When you yourself are your own student, your teaching skills make you so much better at doing.

Happy Back to School!

SudiptaParisSudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committe, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting Sudipta.com or her blogs Nerdy Chicks Rule and Nerdy Chicks Write.

Sudipta’s new class: Picture Book A to Z’s: Plotting in Picture Books

The Picture Book A to Z series is designed to be a collection of master level classes that cover all of the fundamentals of picture book craft. While each class is complete on its own, taken together, the series will teach you everything you ever wanted to now about picture books- and a lot more!

The ability to craft a strong picture book plot is one of the factors that separates unpublished writers from those who consistently sign publishing contracts to see their work in print. This course will teach you the essentials of creating compelling plots, starting with Arcs, Beginnings, and Climaxes — then literally taking you through the alphabet. Each topic will be explored in depth, both in the lessons and in the discussion forums and webinars. The writing exercises that are a part of of the course are designed to help you apply the lessons to your own writing seamlessly and immediately. By the end of the course, you will never look at plotting the same way again! The first course in this series, Plotting in Picture Books, will begin on October 6, 2014.

Bonus Critique: Register for Plotting in Picture Books before September 20, 2014 and receive a free picture book manuscript review and 20-minute Skype session with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, redeemable within six months of the course’s completion.

Thanks, Sudipta! And now for the giveaway…either a 20-minute telephone/Skype PB critique with Sudipta or one of her signed books. The choice is yours. Just comment once below by September 16th to enter!

Today there’s not one guest post, but TWO. On the radio, this would be called a TWO-FER TUESDAY. But it’s Thursday. Yeah, this is why I’m not on the radio.

sudiptateaching

My Favorite Parts of Writing for Kids by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

So far, 2014 has been a really big year for me. I’ve had four picture books come out in the first four months of the year—DUCK DUCK MOOSE, ORANGUTANGLED, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, and SNORING BEAUTY. I’ve had books selected for the Junior Library Guild, chosen as Amazon Big Spring Picks, and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. I also joined the faculty of the Children’s Book Academy and began teaching writing.

Almost 12 years ago, I made the decision to leave graduate school in biology and begin writing books for children. In that time, there have been many highs and lows, though right now is certainly one of those highs. In light of the good fortune I’m experiencing right now, I wanted to share my three favorite parts of being a children’s author.

  1. Nobody tells me what to write about.
    Every project I take up, I do so because it is something that interests me. I get to decide what to write about, and if that means spending one day on a concept book about the bond between a mother and a son, the next day on a picture book biography of Jackie Robinson, and the next on a story of some ducks whose best friend always MOOSES everything up, I can certainly do so (and I have!). It is a wonderful thing to have complete control over what I have to work on.
  2. I can work barefoot in my bed in my pajamas.
    In the spirit of no one telling me what to do, I don’t even have a boss who makes me get dressed before I go to work! Some of my finest writing has come out of the left side of my bed, under the covers with my feet poking out.
  3. I get to create something out of nothing.
    This one’s the key. In so many jobs, people follow instructions, push paper from one end of their desk to the other, execute against a task list. I’m not knocking those jobs at all—without them, our world doesn’t work. I’m just saying that it’s very rare to be able to start with nothing—just me and my imagination (and my laptop!)—and end up with something that is real and good, that didn’t exist before, that is entirely the product of my willing it into existence. Artists are driven to create. To be able to follow that imperative and still be able to support my family—well, that’s what I’m most grateful for. That’s my favorite part.

Happy Writing!

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mirareisberg

My Favorite Parts of Teaching and Agenting by Mira Reisberg

That part is easy–helping!! This helping boils down to helping make dreams come true, helping people improve their skills, helping to create a more level playing field with Children’s Book Academy scholarships, helping get great books and art out into the world created by great people, and finally helping bring more happiness and joy in the world (oh and having fun playing with people, words, and images).

Being a creative is hard. We live in a culture that generally undervalues and underpays us though this seems to be shifting a bit with new technologies where there is more of an emphasis on storytelling and image-driven messages.

But the payoff, and it’s big, even if it does take a long time for the money to come, is having a meaningful, heart-filled, and very fun life. I was talking with another agent this morning where we were helping each other out and it was just so lovely. That’s what we do in community-oriented organizations like PiBoIdMo, Rate Your Story, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Children’s Book Academy, and this is another thing that I love about what I do.

In the old days, being a writer or illustrator meant slaving away in isolation. Now we have all these fantastic resources that not only help us with our craft, but also with our hearts providing support, resources, companionship, and practical assistance. So if you are feeling isolated or stuck, just reach out and ask for help. How amazing that we can do this. I certainly couldn’t be doing what I do at any other time in history. In some ways I love what I do a little too much and having a slightly addictive personality, tend to do too much. But this is a small price for all the joy and happiness that I get from being creative and helping others. So I guess this is another thing that I love about what I do, getting to live a wildly creative life and do good at the same time.

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Tara’s Favorite Part of This TWO-FER

Years ago, I attended NJ-SCBWI events to learn about the business and craft of writing for kids. That’s where I met Sudipta. She has taught numerous picture book courses. She’s the most savvy and knowledgable instructor I know. She has taught me story techniques that no one else has ever divulged!

And now everyone has the chance to gain writerly wisdom from Sudipta. Along with Mira, she’s teaching the outrageously interactive online course: “From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques” starting May 19th. Mira and Suipta have nicknamed this course “The Missing Link” because it really is what most writers are missing in foundational knowledge. CLICK HERE for details and top secret discounts. This is the only time that Sudipta and Mira will be co-teaching this course together with the wonderful Mandy Yates assisting.

Thanks, Sudipta & Mira!

So now it’s your turn. What are your favorite parts of what you do?

110912_Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen_BB_AB_0136by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

As an author, I look forward to my next book release the way parents look forward to the birth of their child. After all, the release date is a birthday of sorts—the day my creation is real to everyone, not just me! If you’ve ever known someone expecting twins, the excitement is even higher—though, the fear associated with the event is also heightened.

This year, I’m having the publishing equivalent of quadruplets:

duckduckmoose orangutangled

snoringbeauty tywrecks

Like I said, I’ve got 99 problems, but a book ain’t one.

I get it. To have her problems, you might be thinking. After all, too many things publishing is a far better problem than too few. Or none at all. But there are problems created by my multiple birthing. Here are a few things you might not consider when praying for a year like this:

  • The whirlwind of marketing becomes a tornado.
    Since January, I’ve done three blog giveaways (the first was a DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE package of a book, a book, and a package of magic erasers, the second was a piece of Aaron Zenz’s original art, and the third is the autographed book we will give away here on this blog) with a fourth one coming up. I’ve done 42 Skype classroom visits—not including the 14 I have scheduled for the TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS launch. I’ve flown to a conference in California and done a bunch of signings. I’ve revamped my website, I’ve had educator guides created, I’ve read the books so many times I have them memorized. And on the 7th day I rested…except, not really. Remember, all these marketing things are in addition to my regular job of writing, revising, preparing workshops, creating professional development. Oh, and raising all my kids.
  • orangutangsbyaaronToo much of anything is good for nothing.
    As much as we want to see our books in print, publishing is about more than just personal accomplishment—t’s about sales. While my ego might be excited by multiple books out at the same time, the market is another story. Have you ever heard of market saturation? Economic theory says in a given market, only so much growth can be supported. For authors, that means there are only so many new books a consumer will buy at a given time. Having too many books at once can actually reduce the probability that a fan will buy all of them, just because he may not want to buy more than a certain number of books within a short time period. This principle also extends to recognition. It’s highly unlikely that you’d have multiple books nominated for a given award in the same year. So you’ve increased your overcall competition by competing with yourself.
  • The “what have you done for me lately?” problem.
    Let’s face it—people are basically raccoons, distracted by whatever is new and shiny. And if you have a bunch of books come out at once, chances are, that will be followed by a long gap until your next release. But a book only keeps it’s “new car smell” for a finite amount of time. When something else new and shiny comes along, you won’t be able to compete and the raccoons will move on.

So, who still wants to have lots of books published at once? And who doesn’t?

Well, let me tell you a secret—it’s not up to you.

For the most part, publishers work on their schedule. And their concerns aren’t your concerns. So books may come out slowly at regular intervals, or they might appear all at once. As authors, we don’t have much say in this.

So how do you deal with this? How can you turn all these negatives into something positive for you?

I’ve given you the problems, so let me propose some solutions:

  • Find your overarching narrative.
    Whenever I have a book release, I take the details of its inspiration and craft a storyline that matches to a theme. For example, every night at bedtime in my house, my kids go nuts. My son, especially, when he was younger, he refused to sleep—no naps, no bedtime, no nothing. He was absolutely convinced I was going to do something awesome. This became the backstory for CHICKS RUN WILD, and I’ve introduced the book to hundreds if not thousands of readers by telling this story. With each of your books, you should be creating a narrative as well—but when you have multiple books at once, think of an umbrella narrative that talks about all the books. For example, DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE and ORANGUTANGLED are both about having bad days (though they resolve that issue differently). When I talk about them together, I tell my audience about taking bad days, mistakes, blunders and turning them into inspiration. They’re also both about friendship, and the different ways your friends can help you get through a rough patch. When you have one narrative, that message starts to represent you as a brand instead of the individual products/books. And at the end of the day, you want fans of your brand, not just your book.
  • Coordinate efforts.
    When you start marketing one book, leave yourself openings to market the others. For example, when I was booking release day virtual visits for SNORING BEAUTY and I had too many requests, I offered the folks I couldn’t schedule in March a spot on the TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS release day. So instead of having to start from scratch for the next release, I’ve got some legwork done already.

sudiptabookmarkUse this principle in your marketing materials, too. Having bookmarks printed? Think about designing something that works for all your new releases. Making postcards? Create a “New for 2014” card instead of individual designs.

Just breathe. As I said before, in the grand scheme of things, having too many things published at once is the better dilemma to have. Because if you’ve got to have 99 problems, at least a book ain’t one.

.

Thank you, Sudipta! This is all good to know since I will be having two books released in 2015! Yikes! TWINS! Somebody boil some water!

Do you have any questions or comments for Sudipta? Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of one of her 2014 books, YOUR CHOICE! (And a tough choice it is!)

Also be sure to visit Sudipta’s awesomely nerdy blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule.
 

110912_Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen_BB_AB_0136by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

It’s Picture Book Idea Month, and I’m going to give you a math lesson.

Who remembers high school math? A long time ago, we may have learned about combinations of variables. As we go through PiBoIdMo, we need to explore different combinations to discern the optimal result.

Now, you’re thinking, well, no kidding. How does that help me?

Aren’t you lucky? I’m going to tell you.

  • Step One: Finding the Variables

If you are like me, you try to come up with picture book ideas as complete entities: a character with a specific problem/resolution. But just like in your manuscript drafts, your first idea isn’t necessarily your best idea, and it definitely doesn’t need to be your last idea. If you allow yourself the freedom to separate your idea into it’s entities, you might end up with something better.

Think of it this way: if you come up with 30 characters over the next month (let’s call this variable C) with 30 definite story outcomes (this variable will be O), all you have is 30 ideas to work with. On the other hand, if you have 30 characters, each of whom has 30 story outcomes, you have many more possible ideas to develop. Mathematically, the total number of combinations is represented by this formula:

Number of combinations = C x O

In this case, you end up with 30 x 30 = 900 story ideas at the end of PiBoIdMo. That’s accomplishing a lot, isn’t it?

Basically, separating your ideas into building blocks—into variables—allows you to have useful partial ideas. How many times have you realized that there really needs to be a book about a certain topic? Or come up with an adorable character for whom you can’t think up a story?

Write these down. Add them to your C and O lists. Every once in a while, look over the lists and see if there is a combination you see that resonates with you that was different than what you originally imagined. Allowing these partial ideas to have value takes a lot of pressure off you as a writer and creator. It is very hard to have a good idea every day! But just because something isn’t the perfect idea doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you.

  • Step Two: Expanding the Combinations

A good book has a main character and a primary plot. Many books, however, have secondary characters. Some books have secondary plots.
What if some of your PiBoIdMo ideas don’t work as stories because you came up with a secondary character or a plot?

Some books even have a pair of main characters (mash-up, anyone?) What if one of your character ideas would be four times as strong if you combine it with another character?

If you combine even more variables, you make your work go even further:

Number of story ideas with 2 characters = C x (C-1) x O = 30 x 29 x 30 = 26,100 ideas!

(and a secondary plot on top of this…you get the idea…)

Again, allowing yourself to have incomplete ideas gives you the freedom to pursue many more possibilities.

Obviously, some of the combinations that come out of this process are not going to work. So you really won’t have tens of thousands of ideas to sort through. But hopefully, you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m trying to encourage you to look at your work over this month in a different way.

Whenever you can have a complete story idea, that’s fabulous. Run with it. But don’t get frustrated if inspiration comes in drips and drops instead of a flowing stream. It’s all going to be valuable in the end.

  • Step Three: The Idea Wheels

I want to leave you with something fun. I’ve asked you to take your building block story variables and consider them in various combinations. You could create a spreadsheet and be very orderly about it, but what I really want you do to is have fun with it and let the random ideas percolate through your brains. So I’m inviting you to create your own Idea Wheels.

There’s a great site called WheelDecide.com, where you can create your own wheels of fortune, if you will. You can create one wheel for your character ideas and another for your story outcomes. Then, spin away until the wheels hit upon something that really works for you. It’s visual and fun, and if nothing else, there’s a winner every time!

wheeldecide

You are all just beginning your PiBoIdMo journey, and it will be a long month ahead. But I hope you stick with it—I bet you’ll come out on the other side with valuable starting points for writing. Good luck!

BONUS!
Last week, this blog hosted a double cover reveal for two of my upcoming picture books. In honor of the reveals, I held a book cover caption contest. It was not easy to pick the winner because there were so many captions that were great! But after careful consideration, on the basis that this caption works so well for BOTH covers, here is the winner:

“Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?”

BeFunky_orangutangled winner.jpg BeFunky_snor beauty cover winner

Everyone, please put your hands together for Dawn Young! Dawn wins her choice of a signed copy of ORANGUTANGLED or SNORING BEAUTY! Yay!

And one more bonus…

BONUS: If you’d like more PiBoIdMo tips, pop over to my blog at NerdyChicksRule.com for a great post about knowing what your character wants.

guestbio

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Chicks Run Wild, Pirate Princess, Hampire!, and Quackenstein Hatches a Family. She visits schools around the country to talk about the craft of writing to children of all ages. “Every book is an autobiography” is a favorite saying of hers, and a big part of her message is that everyone, grownup or child, has a story that is interesting and compelling—if you can find the right words to tell it. Sudipta lives outside Philadelphia with her children and an imaginary pony named Penny. You can learn more about her and her books on her website www.sudipta.com or at her blog www.NerdyChicksRule.com.

Sudipta_Nov_2012-008 small (640x429)by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Next year—2014—is going to be a hectic year for me. In January, I’ve got a new book called DUCK DUCK MOOSE releasing, illustrated by the fabulous Noah Z. Jones and published by Hyperion. But that isn’t it for the year! No, I’ve actually got THREE more picture books and a couple novels in the pipeline. It’s going to be quite a year!

I can’t share all the upcoming books with you, but I am thrilled to be able to do this:

A DOUBLE COVER REVEAL!

That’s right, folks, not just one gorgeous cover, but TWO!

orangutangled cover

ORANGUTANGLED:
Two orangutans reach for some mangoes, fall, and land in a gooey, gummy mess. Other animals join the fray until there’s a big ball of mango-juice-covered animals rolling down a long hill to the ocean—will they be okay? Or will they make a gooey-gummy tiger treat?
Illustrated by Aaron Zenz

snor beauty cover

SNORING BEAUTY:
Tucked in his little bed inside the castle walls, Mouse is eager to get a good night’s sleep before his wedding tomorrow. But just as he begins to drift off, he’s awoken by a tremendous roar. SNOOOOGA-SNOOOOOM! KER-SCHUPPP! Sleeping Beauty is snoring . . . again! When the handsome Prince Max arrives, Mouse thinks he’s found the perfect scheme: He’ll convince the prince to kiss Beauty and wake her up! But when Prince Max learns that Beauty is the one making such monstrous noises, will he still want to kiss her . . . or will he run away from the noisy princess, leaving her snoring for another hundred years?
Illustrated by Jane Manning

Now, these covers are in no way alike at all. BUT…what strikes me about both of them is that they are screaming to be captioned!

What are those tangled Orangutans saying?

What is the Princess thinking as the prince gets closer? Like this:

captioncontest captioncontest2

CAPTION CONTEST!

IN HONOR OF THE DOUBLE REVEAL, I’m happy to announce a new giveaway. Here’s what you have to do—just write a caption for one of these covers and put it into a comment below. We’ll keep it open for 7 days and then I will pick my favorite one. The winner will receive a signed book of his or her choice as soon as the books become available!

Good luck, and I’m looking forward to reading your captions!

sudiptamagazineSo, you’ve finished PiBoIdMo, and now you have all these great ideas. You’re on the road to publication!

Except, you still have to write the books. And that’s not an easy path.

A lot of people think that finding ideas is the hardest part of writing. It’s not. Finding ideas is very difficult, but figuring out which ideas to focus on first and which ones to let linger—that’s the killer. So that’s what I’ll try to help you with today.

Step 1: Get the easy stuff out of the way.
Some stories write themselves, or at least flow out of your mind effortlessly. Get those down on paper first—there’s no reason to not take the path of least resistance.

Step 2: Organize and analyze.
You’ve got 30 picture book ideas. Maybe more. Do you write manuscripts for them in alphabetical order? Chronologically? By order of the number of feet the main character has?

You could do any of those things, but it’s probably not the most efficient route to publication. So instead, I have a system. Here’s where I get nerdy.

You know that program called Excel that math people use but us creative types stay away from? Find it on your computer and start it up. We’re going to create a spreadsheet of ideas.

The idea here is to sort your ideas by various relevant characteristics to make sure you end up with a varied portfolio. After all, just like an illustrator has a style but needs more than paintings of bunnies to create a portfolio that will get him or her contracts, writers need to show range, too. You don’t want your own books to compete with each other —you want every book to have its own independent niche.

Column headings. The column headings will give you a way to list the relevant characteristics and sort your ideas using these.

Everyone may have different column headings, but here are some common ones that everyone should have:

  • Title (Obviously)
  • Character type (What kind of animal? How old of a human? Etc.)
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Problem type (Is it a monster? A bad teacher? A parent? A wild animal?)
  • Age range (will this be a young PB or one for older kids?)
  • Hook (I may actually separate this into sub-categories to make it easier to sort.)
    – Institutional hook
    – Holiday tie-in
    – Developmental milestone

You can add any more headings that make sense to your work.

Create the spreadsheet. Now take all your PB ideas and start filling in the blanks. Now, you may not have a fully fleshed-out plan for each idea—that’s fine, just fill in as much as you can. And this is a place to do some research, too. Look at the market—are there hooks that are more popular than others?

Analyze your data. So you’ve entered your 30 ideas. Now we’re going to rank them.

You probably don’t want to write 16 books about pigs. It would be hard to get them all published before you establish a reputation. Same thing with 6 books about monsters or 3 books about pirates. So look at your spreadsheet and start seeing how you can sort the data.

If you’ve never used Excel, here is a quick tutorial: use the mouse to highlight all your data (not the column headings) and then click on Sort & Filter (in the Data tab of my version of Excel). You should then be able to sort by any of the columns. So if you sort by the column of Character Types (Column B in my spreadsheet) and sort on Values with the Order set to A to Z, all your entries will be rejiggered so you can see all your pig ideas next to each other and all your monster ideas will be next to each other.

Now look more closely at those similar ideas. Is there one that is particularly appealing? Stronger than the others? Incorporating more hooks? Move that to the top of the list. To create that varied portfolio, go through and pick only one idea from each “type” to work on first. When you notice ideas that seem too similar, delete one of them.

Step 3: Write!
I recommend getting a list of about 6 ideas to work on at a given time. Fewer than 6 and you may hit writer’s block, more than 6 and it is hard to keep everything straight. So keep looking at the ideas until you pull 6 good ones. Now you have a plan! From here, all you have to do is write a great manuscript, revise until it is perfect, market it until you find a home, wait for the illustrations, plan for the release, figure out promotions…well, that’s a post for a different day, isn’t it?

In the meantime, go figure out what to work on….

.

theworst12daysSudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her newest release is THE WORST TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, illustrated by Ryan Wood. In this spirited reworking of the classic song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Joy has to deal with her first Christmas with a new baby brother—and nothing could be worse. A sweet surprise turns the tables on Joy, who eventually appreciates what her baby brother adds to the holiday. 

Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at www.sudipta.com. She also blogs at NerdyChicksRule.com, so go subscribe for witty bookish quotable things.

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

I have something that’s so real.

Reality is your friend. That’s the best piece of advice I can give anyone about anything. Really.

Of course, it strikes even me that someone who makes a living distorting reality (i.e., writing fiction) would be so high on reality. Yet, here I am, with my message to other writers about elevating their fiction by keeping it real…

Now, let me take a step back and tell you that I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about when I came up with this reality idea. (It was really only based on Tara’s brilliant Vogue cover.) Should I talk about the business of publishing, or the craft of writing? Should I talk about balancing life and art, or about using literature to explore life through art? I could see the positives in each of those approaches, and it made it really difficult to get started. So then I thought, maybe I could touch upon a few of these topics? Not all in one post, obviously, but maybe Tara would let me guest blog a few more times?

That’s my plan, at least. Shhh. Don’t tell her.

I’ve decided in this round, I’m going to focus on how we can use the reality of life to create meaningful art. So, to get back to where we started:

Reality is your friend. That’s the best piece of advice I can give anyone about anything. Really. But especially when it comes to writing fiction, reality is your best friend. It’s reality that makes your fiction come to life.

Whenever I’m at a school to talk about writing with kids, I spend a lot of time telling kids that every book is an autobiography. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that in my private moments I am a vampire pig (à la HAMPIRE) or a chicken in pajamas (à la CHICKS RUN WILD). But every book I write is informed by my own reality. In some way or another, I am every one of my main characters. My kids are my main characters, too, sometimes individually or sometimes as a blended product, but there’s always a piece of me. Because, at the end of the day, if the only way to be a successful storyteller is to write what you know, well, is there anyone we know better than ourselves?

The temptation when we start writing is to create something grander, bigger, more than ourselves. After all, my life is fairly boring—barely want to hear about it!—so why would anyone else want to read about my reality? So we start out creating characters that are better than everyone else, smarter, prettier, more talented, more perfect. Their adventures are epic. Their adversaries are the embodiment of evil.

And the result is often—not always, but often—unbelievable. In the “no one would believe this and therefore this story rings false” way.

As much as readers turn to literature to escape, to experience things that they cannot do, the reality is (and, remember, reality is your friend) that no reader likes to read about someone better than him for too long. The main character has to be relatable to keep a reader’s interest. And how do you craft a relatable character?

By making sure he is just a regular guy (who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.) Basically, by keeping him real.

(This is hardly new advice. In fact, I’ve given this advice myself in a different form in my picture book workshops – that you should always make sure your main character is interesting, but well and truly flawed. Because it’s the flaws that keep him real.)

So, how do we use reality to craft fictional characters? Obviously, we can’t just write about ourselves or our kids exactly as we are. (Trust me, I’ve tried that. That’s a little too much reality.) The trick, I’ve found, is to choose interesting traits (perhaps from several different sources) and blend them together to create a new, fictional character grounded in reality.

Here are some examples:

In HAMPIRE, Duck desperately wants a midnight snack, but is worried about running into the dreaded Hampire. The reality: every night, I want a midnight snack, and every night, I am convinced that if I step foot off my bed, the monsters will get me. The fiction: I am not a duck.

In PIRATE PRINCESS (available in May 2012 from HarperCollins), Princess Bea dreams of the pirate life, but when she boards the pirate ship, she realizes she’s awful at deck-swabbing (she has no housekeeping skills), she can’t be their galley cook (no culinary talents), and she is an ineffective lookout in the crow’s nest (she get’s seasick). The reality: I have no housekeeping skills, I have no culinary talents, I get seasick, and I think I’d look dashing in a pirate hat. The fiction: while Princess Bea doesn’t like to dress in silk, brocade, or chintz, and can’t stand the idea of being married to a prince, I love dressing up and look forward to a life with my Prince Charming (yes, Daniel Craig, I’m talking to you!).

In my forthcoming chapter book series, THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY, the main character, Destiny, discovers she needs glasses. She’s worried about what she will look like (especially about whether they will make her nose look big) and what others will think of her glasses, from her friends on her soccer team to her classmates in the fifth grade. This one is complicated, because I drew from a lot of different sources of reality, so here’s a little chart of some of the sources:

Something about Destiny The inspiration
She wears glasses My daughter Brooklyn and I both wear glasses, and we both initially worried about what other people would think of them.
She’s concerned about the size of her nose. I’m concerned about the massive size of my nose.
She’s in the 5th grade. My daughter Bella is in the 5th grade.
She loves soccer. Bella and Brooklyn both love soccer.
She plays goalie. Brooklyn plays goalie.
She’s super smart. Bella and Brooklyn are both super smart.
She’s afraid of spiders. I’m afraid of spiders.
She’s Indian American. My whole family is Indian American.
She lives in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia. We live in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.
Her first pair of glasses are dark tortoiseshell. Brooklyn’s first pair of glasses are dark tortoiseshell.
Her second pair of glasses are black with zebra-printed sides. Brooklyn’s new pair of glasses are black with zebra-printed sides.
Her glasses let her see bits of the future clearly. Brooklyn’s glasses let her see the present clearly.

Obviously, I could go on and on with more examples of traits that I drew from my life or from my children’s lives. But you’re getting the idea. Here’s something I would add, though: in every place in the revision process where my editor asked for more detail, the things I added were inevitably true things about someone in my house.

So, one more time, let’s go back to the beginning: reality is your friend.

Do you believe me yet?

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her picture book QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY was selected for the California Readers 2011 Book Collections for School Libraries. BALLOTS FOR BELVA was named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List and received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award in 2008 and FLYING EAGLE was a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book selection for Students K–12 in 2010. Her science book, NATURE SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS, was named a finalist for the 2011 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. And her books CHICKS RUN WILD (named one of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year in 2012) and HAMPIRE! (nominated for a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award) are her personal favorites, and just fabulous.

Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at www.sudipta.com.

P.S. If you love Sudipta’s author headshot above, her photographer LifeArt Imaging is currently running a Groupon. Click here! 

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
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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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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