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.
This past weekend I attended a talk by picture book author, Dev Petty, at my local SCBWI chapter meeting. Dev is the author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog and I Don’t Want to be Big. As promised in my last post, here is a list of questions that Dev asks herself before sending her picture books to agents.
- What are my goals?
- Have I read current and popular picture books?
- If so, what have I learned about current popular flow, rhythm, and style?
- Have I considered writing in different tenses, points of view, and formats?
- Have I considered deeper options, metaphors, and ideas?
- What is the most interesting way I can turn my idea into a story?
- Does my story have a strong beginning and a satisfying ending?
- Does my story have an original voice?
- Did I leave room for the illustrator?
- Did I consider action on the page?
- Did I leave room for the reader to participate with the text/images?
- Do I get quickly into the action and story problem?
- Did I read it out loud? Many times? To different audiences?
- Is my story too long? (More than 900 words for a picture book)
- Is it rhyming? If so will that hinder my chances of getting published? Dev made a good point about the fact that rhyming texts are harder to edit for publishers. She also shared that agents/publishers tend to be more enthusiastic about signing picture books with prose than with rhyme.
- Is more than one beta reader telling me the same thing?
- Can I remove anything that isn’t adding to the story?
- Do I have a handful of other stories to show agents should the request them? (More on this question in my next post)
- Does my query letter voice reflect my writing voice?
- Do I have a social media presence?
So there you have it, the thought process of a published, successful picture book writer. I fully intend to ask myself all of these questions before sending manuscripts out in the future. Hopefully they’ll work for me (and for you!) like they worked for Dev.
Much love and keep writing.
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.
Long time no blog.
This post goes out to those of you that are in the drafting stages of your first book. Right now you’re probably experiencing some Frankensteinesque tunnel vision along the lines of “Must finish book, must finish book…” It’s an involuntary mantra that never seems to turn off, even in sleep. I used to dream of finishing my manuscript only to wake up and find that I was still at a meager 20,000 words.
The point of this post is to drive home a very important message: The work doesn’t end once you’ve written your last word. Once you’ve decided your manuscript is ready to be seen by the eyes of agents and publishers you’re opening an entirely new can of worms and those worms need tending to.
So to give you an idea of the work involved in pushing a completed manuscript through publishing, I decided to share the things on my current writing “To Do” list:
- Research agents that are interested in my genre
- Send query letters to said agents (this can be pretty involved as most agents want query letters, synopses, and partial manuscript requests in varying formats)
- Attend writing functions/network (SCBWI is a great organization to be a part of if you want to get involved in your local writing community)
- Read books within my genre to see what’s currently hot on the market
- Find other writers (beta readers) to read my manuscript and provide feedback
- Beta read for other writers.
- Work on a second/third book (agents will be more interested in you if you have multiple books to publish)
- Make business cards
- BLOG (the more followers you have, the more marketable you look to agents and publishers)
Those are just the things I could think of off the top of my head. It’s safe to say that I’ve got quite enough to keep me busy for a while.
For those of you that are in the same stage, what’s on your writing “To Do” list? Is it the same as mine? Shorter? Longer? Did I miss anything?
Much love, and keep writing.
2014 ends tomorrow night. Of all twenty-two of my years spent breathing, this has been the most intense.
It’s the year that I completed my college education and the year I moved across a continent to a place where I didn’t know a soul. In the last 365 days I became a certified teacher, discovered my passion for outdoor education, parted ways with love, and began teaching a class of twenty-six hormonal eleven-year-olds.
It’s also the year that I finished writing my first novel and began drafting my second.
From rewrites to rejections to more rewrites it’s been a hell of an experience. And now, with a shiny new full time job, I’m beginning to realize that publication just isn’t going to happen as quickly as I’d like it to. There’s just not enough time in the day to work, pump out queries, and swamp your social media pages with blog posts. I’ve spent the last month mentally kicking myself for not querying enough, not drafting enough, not blogging enough. But honestly, what and who sets the standards for “enough?” Here’s a revelation: It’s me. I’m in charge of how much I say is enough, and if I can’t manage a blog post a week or a thousand words a day, then too damn bad. I’ll live. My books will continue to exist and I’ll get to it when I can.
New Year’s Resolutions: Breathe.
I’ve been querying like mad over the past couple weeks.
For those that don’t know what querying is, it’s basically sending a letter/other materials to an agent to inquire as to whether they’re interested in reading your manuscript.
Through time spent researching various literary agent preferences I’ve found that no two queries look exactly alike. Some agents only want a query letter. Some want a query letter and the first ten pages. Some only want the first ten pages. Some want the first ten pages in the body of the email. Some want it as an attachment. Some want it mailed. And, unfortunately, some want a synopsis.
These synopsis-seeking agents are the bane of my existence.
Believe it or not, I think I may have had a harder time summarizing the plot of my book in two Word doc. pages than I had writing the entire two hundred sixty book pages. What do you mean you want me to condense my elaborate story into a few meager paragraphs? What do you mean I have to fit in the main character arc including their major character traits and motivations? The impact character’s part? The major relationship and themes? You want the plot line but you don’t want me to give it away? Talk about a tall order, people.
Anyway, I worked on the damn thing for a few days, got it to an acceptable state with the help of many deep breathing exercises, and now I’m never going to look at it again.
Agents should start getting back to me over the next couple weeks. In the meantime I plan to keep pumping my manuscript out into the world. Wish me luck.