“Why Would a Kid Read it Again and Again?”

Lately, when editing my manuscripts, I’ve been asking myself this question: Would a kid want to read this again and again?

Is it funny? Will it make kids think?  Will they feel that they can relate to the characters? Is the story unique? What’s the “wow factor” of this book and will it have kids coming back for more?

The next question I ask is potentially even more important than the first: Why would a parent think that their child would read this book over and over again? It’s not often that a child purchases a picture book. It’s the parents that do the initial screening. Sure a kid might pick a book up off a shelf in a store, but if that book doesn’t pass the parental sieve, it’s not going home in the hands of that child.

And what’s the point of buying your child a picture book if they read it once and then it gathers dust as bookshelf clutter until mom or dad eventually toss it into a Goodwill bag?

It’s a tough task, making a book appealing to both parents and children. They’re very different age groups experiencing the world in very different ways. Hopefully, with enough reflection, I’ll be able to pull it off.

What are your strategies for finding this balance?

 

Much love and keep writing.

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Querying: What is My Story About?

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The sun is shining, the world is beautiful, it’s Monday, and somehow I have off work! Instead of strapping on a pack and taking a group of 5th graders hiking, I’m posting up at my living room table, keyboard at the ready. Queries are slowly trickling into my “sent” box and life feels glorious.

As I’m back on the query train, I’ve been thinking about the process a lot these days. I recently received some stellar query advice from picture book author, Dev Petty. I know I’ve been shouting Dev out a lot these days, but during her talk a few weeks ago she said so many inspirational nuggets of wisdom that I’ve needed a few weeks to process them all.

When it comes to querying, Dev says that, without using any character names, you should be able to answer this question in less than one sentence:

What is my book about?

An agent probably won’t ever ask you to explain your book in a single sentence but having the ability to do so will give you the foundation of your query letter. You’re the author after all. You should be able to narrow the essence of your manuscript down to just a few short words. If you can’t do it, no one else will be able to.

An excellent example that Dev gave us was Sendak’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. She asked us all the simple question: What is this book about? A few brave souls volunteered their answers:

“It’s about a boy who runs away from home.”

“It’s about a boy who gets mad and goes on an imaginary adventure.”

After a few, Dev cut us off. As it turns out, this one can be narrowed down to less than a sentence. The very essence of Where the Wild Things Are is anger. The book is about anger.

It’s true. Arguably, the most well-loved picture book of all time is about anger. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the plot and sub plot and characters. That’s part of what makes writing queries and synopses difficult—all of the distractions that seem so important to summarize, but would ultimately be useless without the books fundamental message.

I started thinking in these terms about the picture books and YA manuscript I’ve written so far. Pairing them down to a sentence or even just a word makes talking about them seem so much more manageable.

My book is about perspectives in nature, or learning from your choices, or human nature. This is the first step, setting the framework for the rest of your query. If the book is about perspectives in nature, what essential plot points do I need to communicate in order to convey that message?

So far, this process has been working wonders for me. It’s turned query writing into a puzzle: identify the essence of the story, add in the details that support it.

I’ve got another picture book in the works these days and will definitely be using this approach when it comes query time.

 

Much love & keep writing.

 

Aaand We’re Back

Hi friends,

It’s been about a year since my blog went silent—a year, two new teaching jobs, two cross-country moves, and a trans-Atlantic relationship, since my last post. I can blame the crickets on circumstance, or I can just fess up. Maintaining a blog is a lot of work. Sometimes when life gets hectic something’s gotta go and for me it was the blog.

Despite my cyber silence, my plight for publishing has far from ceased. Queries continue to fly from my ever-hopeful fingertips but to no avail. Something about my first book just wasn’t cutting it. So I took it to the cleaners, ransacked the ending, a few major plot points, and started rebuilding. The direction it’s taking feels good and new and fresh and promising. But I got stuck. I’m frozen somewhere between my old manuscript and my vision for the future. So instead of prying reluctant words from my brain, I recently set it aside. My neurons simply refuse to fire in the order it will take to finish that book right now. So screw ’em. They’ll come around eventually.

In the meantime, besides short stories, other YA novel ideas, and journaling, I’ve turned my attention towards another writing outlet: picture books. They’re short, and snappy, and to the point. And the best part is, they make little kids think. Tiny little ones all over the country read, and are read picture books every day. And their tiny little brains use the information in those books to help them make sense of the crazy world that they so recently arrived in. What a cool opportunity to be a part of. So I wrote the first draft of a picture book a few weeks ago. And just a few days later got an email from my local SCBWI chapter with the subject, “Is Your Picture Book Ready to Send? A Checklist for All Writers.” The universe works in weird ways sometimes. Well, all the time actually.

The email turned out to be an advertisement for a local meeting with a guest speaker named Dev Petty, author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog and I Don’t Want to be Big. During her talk she provided the list of questions she always asks herself before sending manuscripts to agents. I fully intend to break down the important points of her talk in my next blog post, but the real point here is that this meeting really inspired me to get back on the blogging train. It’s time to sweep the crickets out and get back to business. I have returned to the cyber world. And here I shall stay.

Stay tuned and keep writing.

 

Beta Reader Appreciations

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Today’s post is about gratitude. More specifically, it’s about the endless appreciation I have for my readers. Composing a novel is a rewarding yet maddening process. The journey from to a jumbled clot of half-formed ideas to a coherent parcel of neatly synced details is a long one. It’s like creating an incredibly elaborate patchwork quilt. Every detail is it’s own patch and not only does each patch have to compliment the ones directly next to it, it has to tie into the ones above and diagonal to it. It has to fit with the border. There have to be patterns and themes. And too top it all off, everything has to be neatly stitched together–so well stitched that you can’t see the stitches.

The more time you spend on a novel the harder it is to look at it objectively, to see if each patch is in place or if you’ve missed a stitch. Everything gets muddled inside your head. It’s for this reason that I’ve come to appreciate the immense importance of having people read your work as you go–of having beta readers.

Over the last year and a half I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible people volunteer to read and edit my novel. My parents were the first. They’ve been more supportive and helpful than I could ever ask for and I wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for them. Others who have taken many hours out of their days to read and give me feedback include my brother, grandma, my two beautiful aunts, Cameron Daniel, Becca Farmer, Lars Nordgreen, Ren Luckenbaugh, Max Pollock, Aaron Juchau, Andrew Punsoni, Kimberly Sabatini, Mark Holaday, Tanner Connolly, Danielle Renino, and anyone else who I might have missed. I’ve thanked all of these wonderful people individually but today I wanted to take a moment to revisit the support they’ve shown me. Whether you read the first few pages or all 270, my novel would be nowhere near it’s current state if it weren’t for you. Thank you for backing me in this journey.

 

 

Much love & keep writing.