Thursday, December 19, 2013

Exquisite Anticipation

Since I was a child, I get super excited and nearly cross-eyed with Christmas anticipation. 

Holiday writing, editing, winter themes and beauty (I love snow) now combine to add to my professional glee.

There is a magical sparkle in the air that seems to coat nearly everyone and everything to some extent. Granted a few Scrooges still persist, but thankfully they are few in my daily sphere.

It seems anticipation and hope are key to our human existence and especially a reflection of childlike optimism. Will I get the puzzle I want? Wagon? Pony? Gifts are a delicious mystery and can potentially contain anything before they are opened. Well, maybe not a large pony.

Next time you are looking for a new book project, think about the anticipation prior to the holidays or getting a new tooth or waiting for the cat to have kittens. Children's writers, unlike other genre writers (e.g. science fiction), have actually experienced (and been) the very audience they serve. Enjoy the fun and fingers crossed for the pony! -Q

Monday, December 9, 2013

If You Were a Book...

You know how people always compare dogs and their owners? If you were a book, what would you be? Would you be a western? Science fiction? Paranormal? Fantasy? Mystery? How-to? Historical? Humor? Children's? Christian? Romance? Multicultural? Science? Or some combination of these? 

Iced in over the past 4 days, I have given this some thought. I love fantasy, historical, and science fiction. Throw in some humor and occasional romance for fun and that just about describes me. But like most people, I have different personas depending on the day. I have even written in several of these genres, but I always come back to picture books, my first writing love. 

How about you? At life's end, which best describes you? Are you disciplined enough to focus solely on one writing genre or do you combine one or more? Could you change? Tantalizing things to think about when digging through the freezer for something else to cook since you can't get to the store. -Q

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 PiBoIdMo Success

The magic and muse visited me again in November for PiBoIdMo. I ended the month with 33 new ideas in my notebook and a nearly forgotten spare (written on an scrap of paper and shoved in my purse). It seems unbelievable that in one special month ideas flow like water when other months are dry as the Sahara. But as I commented on one of the PiBoIdMo blog posts, for me it is all about showing up. Nearly every morning in November I woke up a half hour or so before my alarm, made a cup of coffee, sharpened my pencil, grabbed my new eraser/notebook and ...waited. Within 5 to 10 minutes a glimmer of an idea or a title would come to me. I faithfully jotted it down and waited some more... fixing breakfast or making more coffee in the interim. At times the entire idea formed and was outlined, but some fragments came later in the day or even days later. All good.

Then presto chango! November is over and I have successfully completed another Picture Book Idea Month with lots of new ideas to begin 2014. Hurray! - Q

Friday, November 15, 2013

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Many of you have probably figured it out already, but I realized recently that perhaps the reason editors and agents discourage rhyming stories for picture books (besides the fact that it's often not well done) is that rhyming words depend largely on the culture, language, and geographical region of the reader. This became apparent to me when I realized that "gardener" could be pronounced with 2 syllables (gard-ner) or 3 (gar-den-er)  depending on where you live. 

We all know Bostonians pronounce words differently than Houstonians. Do you say "Where are you all going?" Or "Where are y'all headed?"  

I grew up in Nevada, but when I lived in Texas, I learned a lot of new pronunciations. At Thanksgiving, most native Texans say turkey and all the "fixins" not "fixings" or even "sides." My daughter pointed out that I say, the days of the week as (e.g., Monday as "Mon-dee, Tues-dee" instead of "Mon-day, Tues-day"). 

In an article on the subject, James Joyner notes, "I say “loyer,” not “law-yer,” despite the latter pronunciation dominating the places I’ve mostly lived.  Ditto “may-uh-naze” rather than “man-aze.” 

So then, if I have a rhyme about the "sea" and planned to rhyme it with "Thurs-dee" I'd have a problem. A reader in another geographical area would think the rhyme was broken or just wrong. I love to play with rhyming texts, but it is something to think about when tempted to rhyme the next picture book story.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

PiBoIdMo 2013 Has Arrived!

I'm so excited that Picture Book Idea Month is here and I'm on target! November 6th and I have 6 pages in my PiBoIdMo 2013 notebook brimming with new ideas. 

This is great news in itself, but PiBoIdMo founder, Tara Lazar offers even more goodies in the form of writing encouragements, give aways, and different guest bloggers every day this month. Barely into the first week and I found Katie Davis's guest blog and picture book infographic particularly helpful. 

With tons of good ways to spark new ideas, I plan to post it above my computer. I've already pinned it to my Writing Resources board on Pinterest if you want to repin it. 

I'll report on my progress throughout the month. Let me know of yours, too. -

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) 2013

Last year I tried PiBoIdMo as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could concentrate for 30 days straight on my children's fiction. No excuses. No days off. 

Not only did I survive, I came up with more than 30 story ideas. (I checked my 2012 notebook this morning and had written 36 ideas!) Now, I'll admit some were better than others and some are still percolating, but I developed full fledged stories from 5 of them. And have several more to begin work on.

Have you committed to PiBoIdMo 2013? What have you got to lose? (I even won a book via the contest last year.) The motivation of knowing we are all pulling in the same direction for a solid month is fun and exciting. Even I keep up with the blogs and comments on Facebook. (For me, a feat in itself!) Consider this your nudge to give PiBoIdMo a try. If you're like me, you'll be surprised and excited by your productivity. - Q

Sunday, October 6, 2013

First Lines - Picture Books

One of my favorite books is Could Be Worse! by James Stevenson. Humor is woven throughout and I can almost hear Grandpa explaining his adventures to his wide-eyed grandchildren. 

The fun is hinted at in the first line, "At Grandpa's house things were always the same." 

You can tell from the cover art that things are not looking normal at all. The first line combined with the fantastic illustrations tell the reader that this book is going to involve some tall tales of Grandpa's adventures. Combined with a twist of an ending, I was hooked and had to have it. 

What about the first lines of other picture books? Here are some of my favorites.

"Long, long ago (about six houndred and two years ago last Friday at 7:00 p.m. Fairy Standard Time, to be exact) the childless King Gluteus and his wife, Queen Esophagus, got lucky at last." - Snoring Beauty by Bruce Hale

"Morris Lessmore loved words." - The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

"It all began when Floyd got his kite stuck in a tree." - Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

"It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling." - Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Each of these provide a tantalizing bit of information that leaves the reader wondering and wanting to learn more. It's a honed skill to get that first sentence right especially in picture books. Studying the craft of great children's writers helps me develop my own work.

I use Pinterest as a visual filing system for information, images, illustrations, books, and writing resources  Recently, I created a board called, First Lines - Picture Books. I save memorable first lines from picture books for later reference.  Check it out and share your favorites. I'd love to read them. - Q

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Awards

Now that Alphabet Puke - Monsters' Medicine A-Z has seen the light of day for a few months, it's time to think about book awards. Some are submitted automatically and others are more particular. One thing I've learned is that not all book awards are created equal.

Some awards are extremely expensive and so a publisher needs to weigh the potential for acclaim against a hefty submission fee. For example, if several thousand entries are received per category, is the cost justified? 

Additionally, some contests have dozens of categories, so even if a book wins, what does that mean? Is it like receiving a first place in the "best little red-headed girl with a curl over her left ear, missing two front teeth, and a lop-sided grin" category? How would colleagues or readers view that distinction? Would people even have heard about those awards? If it isn't the Caldecott or Newberry, what impact does a children's book award really provide?

Well, there are legitimate book awards that have been around for many years. They provide readers with an idea of the quality of the content and illustrations especially when reviewed by professionals. They may have different tastes from you but just like movie reviews, when something is bad, everyone thinks it's bad not just the high brow reviewers. So for marketing purposes, an award tells buyers that some folks think a book is worthy of recognition.

Just be careful that your book is submitted to a company whose intent is honest (i.e., submission fees are not exorbitant, reviewers are named, and the purpose of the award process doesn't seem to be to make the award organization wealthy). 

Writer organizations also offer awards that provide a lot of exposure for a new book and don't charge a bundle for the privilege. Something to think about...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Marketing for Introverts

I am a quasi-introvert. I enjoy people, other writers, children, etc, but still recharge my creative batteries in solitude (hiking, photography, reading). So, like other introverts, marketing is less than a good time for me because I see it as being uninvited and in your face (e.g., telemarketers at dinner time). I prefer a more sincere approach (i.e., helping others). This plays into my comfort zone since I am more than happy to market for other writers and illustrators. I also like helping folks find reading that meets their needs.

Recently, I rediscovered Rachelle Burk's Writers' Resources blog with TONS of great info. writing/publishing topics as well as great marketing links. I am now making lists of parent organizations, stores, school, journals and anyone else who comes to mind that might genuinely be helped by offering Alphabet Puke - Monsters' Medicine A-Z to their children, patients, or clients.

I know this is intuitive (and I have been doing it to some degree), but now I'm looking at marketing through a different lens and don't mind the process. I'm helping! This mindset change has made all the difference in my marketing foot dragging. Give it a try and let me know what you think or send along other marketing tips for introverts and extroverts. - Q 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

From the Great Beyond

Do you ever run up against day job deadlines, procrastinated a bit too long, or had family demands that made it impossible to get a story finished in time for your critique group? Me too. 

The past few months have been beyond busy. (I've even gotten super behind on this blog.)

So this month, I pulled a story from my files that I wrote several years ago to see why it had been relegated to the great beyond (beyond me caring about it anymore). 

Hmm...the structure was okay. The premise was simple. It wasn't too long, but still had lots of illustration opportunities. I even had a record of the publishers I had sent it to and been rejected by (some with personal replies!) 

The answer is simple. I lost confidence in the story and gave up too soon. Now in hind sight (and with more experience), I believe it deserves a second chance. 

So, I'll submit it to my critique group to make sure I'm not kidding myself, then if it gets a thumbs up, I'll send it out again.
Maybe this time...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A is for Agents

The past year or so, I've thought a lot about the relationship between writers and their agents. Never working with an agent for my non-fiction books, I've reconsidered for children's fiction. 

The publishing world is changing daily and I've  recognized the need for a professional in my corner. This person/agency is different from family, friends, and other writers who often refrain from tough comments on your work.

As they say in the South, they don't have a horse in that race (i.e. your publishing success). Your agent does. Your success is key to their success. 

So, it's time for me to kick start my efforts to find the right agent who will nag, help me grow, praise, edit, cut, advise, redirect, nag some more and commit for the long haul. For my part, I will work on my craft, read, get better at marketing, and follow his/her advice. Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fathers' Day Children's Books

Fathers' Day is a big card giving holiday, but also a great day for giving books. What are Dad's favorite hobbies (hiking), historical people/events (Lewis and Clark), teams (Beavers), vehicles (motorcycles), sports (tennis), or cuisine (Italian)? 

All great ideas, but there are also children's books that either feature a Dad or hook Dad with one of his favorite things. Some of these include: Take Me to Your BBQ by Kathy DuvallMike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matt McElligott, Bad Boys by Margie Palatini, and My Father Knows the Names of Things by Jane Yolen.

Dad and kids can celebrate the day by reading about Dad-like things -- complete with sound effects. Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Busy has become my middle name! Work, travel, work, writing, events, and more work have made the past two months a blur. No time to worry about it though, I'm looking forward to attending the Oregon Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference this month. With lots of talented folks attending and presenting, it should be a blast. I can hardly wait. I love the critique input, camaraderie and shared commiseration. SCBWI conferences always leave me charged and ready to write and/or tackle yet another revision.

Have you been to a writing conference this year? It might be just the thing to put the spring back in your writing step! There are plenty still to come. Go for it!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Deadlines Are Awesome!

This past weekend, I discovered that the deadline to turn in a manuscript for a conference review was the date to be 'received by' instead of the date to be 'postmarked by.' 

At first, this was not good news (i.e., extreme panic), but after 4 hours of revisions during the wee hours of the morning (I couldn't sleep anyway), I finished version 6 of the story and had it formatted and ready to be mailed the next day. 

The deadline turned out to be the path to unleashing creativity and honing my story to a much finer point. I simply could not miss the deadline. 

So, next time you think there is no time (did i mention I also had unexpected house guests) to get that revision or query or cover finished and submitted, get inspired and just do it. The dead of night could be your best time to work on meeting deadlines!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Picture Books - Keep Them Coming

I heard an editor at an SCBWI conference several years ago say that she read children's books above and beyond the manuscripts she reviewed. She went to the library and checked out books (old and new) to be reminded of what is timeless and what is up and coming. 

Hearing that, I've elected to do the same. Nearly every Saturday, I visit one of our branch libraries and choose from among new and classic picture books to review. Yesterday, I chose several new books including Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, The Monster Returns by Perter McCarty, and Red Sled by Lita Judge. All great stories with varied illustration styles. I noticed each story had at its core a theme of helping others. Classic. I hope to incorporate that to a greater degree in the picture book story I'm working on now.

Want to look for more underlying themes? Check out this list of favorite books compiled in 1999 and then updated in 2007 by TeachersFirst. Find your favorites and see if they appeal due to an underlying and connecting theme.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Marketing - Be the Reader

Marketing is not my cup of Earl Grey. As soon as I open my mouth, I have visions of all the overbearing sales people I've ever met mocking me. However, I realize it's nutty to write for publication and never talk about it. I'm not a hermit. I just like to write.

So, what to do? Be the reader. 

I've started sitting on the floor with a picture book and thinking about color and text choices. I'm spending time (minutes) on particular characters and/or characteristics on each page like a child would do.

Olivia by Ian Falconer is a good book to try this with. Black, white, and splashes of red tell the story in addition to words. I love it. The words and illustrations focus the attention, but also let an active imagination wonder what will happen next.

When I became the reader of my books instead of the author, the marketing monkey got off my back.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Deep End

Authors are talking about the pros and cons of online connectivity. 

Pros = keeping current with publishing changes, linking/friending writers, editors, and readers, as well as marketing your work 

Cons = finding time to write, attend conferences, and spend time with family, horses, dogs, and cats.

Initially, I kept to the shallow end of the pool with 2 websites (fiction and non-fiction). Slowly, I waded in with LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest (fun!). I'm up to my neck now, but wait, there's more! 

With global competition for a reader's attention, authors must take on much more of a book's online and hands-on marketing efforts. 

How many hours are there in a day again? Where's a pesky time machine when you need one?

Do I have the answer? Well, I recently read an eloquent Writer Unboxed post by Robin LaFevers on prioritizing and saying no to time-consuming things that don't grow your writing dreams. For me, it was a life preserver in an increasingly murky marketing pool.

With a new picture book, Alphabet Puke: Monsters' Medicine A-Z, ready to launch next month, Robin's post reminded me that saying no was not just an option for writers, but a necessity. 

Sans a time machine, saying no, gives writers time back to relax in/out of the pool.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Read, Read, Read

As we begin another writing and critiquing year, I am amazed at all the interesting ways children's writers tell stories. Take Lee Wardlaw's Won Ton - A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. As the title describes, the story is told via page after page of haiku. Clever!

Will I ever write a book in haiku? Who knows? But now I have a role model and trail blazer to look to in case I want to try it.

Or how about How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland that tells a historical story and slips in tons of science details. Super!

Will I be writing about dinosaurs soon. No, but thanks to this book, I have a excellent example of how interweaving science and history can be done. 

There are lots of other examples. I save mine at Picbooksrock on Pinterest. Then, I can go back and reference my favorites whenever I want.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Missed It by That Much!

Just today I saw that the 2013 schedule for a literary festival that I have previously participated in came out while I was sick in bed this week. Drat!!

For the past several months, I had planned to contact the new organizers and express my interest in presenting my newest picture book. Too late. I felt like the beautiful SS Minnow had just left the dock for the 3 hour tour and I didn't have a ticket.

But rather than dwelling on what might have been, I decided to skip the pity party. Instead, I sat down and updated my to do list based on known family commitments (graduations, new babies, birthdays, etc.) and decided to get a handle on my planned and potential marketing commitments. I did it by: 

  • Creating emails to potential bookstores regarding signings
  • Updating a list of blogs looking for guest bloggers
  • Compiling a list of related businesses, etc. with parallel interest in the new book
  • Updating the Alphabet Puke: Monster's Medical A-Z press release
  • Getting out the 3-ring binder I had purchased to keep all my marketing notes, punching holes in all the information I had compiled in the past several months, and defining topic sections
  • Making a list of writer friends who might lend a hand with (or at least point me in the right direction) for facilitating the best social media buzz on the day of the book launch
  • Resolving to get more knowledgeable about Twitter and connect with folks who might really have a bonafide interest in the new book (besides the obvious of wanting healthy kids)
  • Re-working my blog and Facebook signatures to do a bit of passive marketing for my previous writing as recommended by friend and adept online author/marketer Darcy Pattison.
  • Making plans and reservations to attend a new SCBWI conference.

Organization is good! I'll keep you updated on how well the next few months unfold. I expect clear sailing ahead for much longer than the 3 hour tour.
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Revisions Rule

When I was in high school I competed in speech and debate. I preferred expository speaking, but our coach insisted we try different events. In extemporaneous speaking you get a topic and then speak on it for about 5 minutes or so with only a minute or less to prepare. Depending on the topic, a sensible and non-rambling delivery can be tough to achieve. 

Sometimes, I feel like the first draft of a children's story is like that. An idea pops into your head, you process the various tacks the story can take, and then you deliver your ideas on a blank page. If it rambles too much, you want to throw out the whole idea. Fortunately, writing gives you plenty of "do overs" (i.e. revisions) to harness your creativity and hone a great story. The trick is remembering you have that capability. The first draft is never the last (at least for 99.999% of writers).

And let me know how the elf and dragon work out the cupcake sharing...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Big Dog, Little Dog

With the publishing world in a major state of flux, have you ever wondered whether you make a difference? When you see the rankings of well known authors in the high thousands, do you cringe and wonder if there is any hope for the average dedicated children's writer? 

I used to think that way until I figured out that I need to create children's stories based on who I am and not follow trends (although I've never wanted to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse). I'm not a big dog (yet), but I'm not a tiny dog either. I'm just a writer focusing on being #1 to the reader who buys my books. (Readers are #1 to me.) 
What do you think?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Into the Fray

My new picture book, Alphabet Puke - Monsters' Medicine A-Z is coming out in March and I need to jump on the internet marketing highway in a major way. Yikes!

Do I know all the things you need to do to get a book noticed among the thousands of children's books published each year? Nope, not even close. Am I going to throw up my hands in defeat? (maybe) I mean, NO! 

I am going to assimilate all the marketing wisdom shared by children's authors and other online experts to guide my forays into advertising and "horn tooting" territory. I may even buy a bigger horn! (Probably not, but I may get one with more bling or maybe a steampunk horn. I'll let you know.)

Got any marketing pearls to share? Pass them forward and I'll do the same. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Clean Slate

As you probably noticed, my last post came just after the big Christmas Day snow storm. Until today, everything remained pristine white. Today started the big thaw. I even waited until melting started before walking in the backyard to maintain the perfect white a while longer. (We get deep snow so seldom.) 

Anyway, it got me thinking about the first day of each year and how we all have a clean slate (not counting looming deadlines) for our ongoing editing, new ideas, and submissions. It's like a do over. We can forget any rejection letters, delayed responses, or other less than hoped for outcomes. We are on top of our game with a clean slate. I started to fill mine today. How about you?
Happy New Year!