Getting Published in KIDLIT is Easy, Right?

Hello writers. I know it’s actually autumn because I’m wearing fuzzy slippers, I’ve been craving soup, and I’ve made my first batch of pumpkin chocolate chip bread yesterday. Oh, and I looked at a calendar. Holy heck how did it get to be mid October?

Which brings me to two complete non sequiturs for today’s post. First, how absti-tutely simple it is to write picture books. (Ironic eye-roll.) And second, how other websites like PBSpotlight help writers connect with super nicety-nice critiquer-folk.

This week I have been asked multiple times how to get published.

Friends, or friends of friends, or barely friendly acquaintances have been coming out of the woodwork saying that they’ve “written a story” and their mother ( or “kid,” or “sister,” or “husband’s boss,” insert as appropriate) LOVES it and thinks it should be published. Like, now. In time for Christmas. So they can give a copy to all their grandkids. And want to know how to make that happen.

I wish I had an answer that they would like to hear.

But like all creative professions, writing and publishing takes three things: time, effort, and skill. And the third one only comes long (long) after the first two.

But who am I to crush dreams, right?

So I tend to give the same advice that I have mentioned on this blog, and will mention again here in case anyone else is thinking that they can whip up a kids book in the time it takes to make pumpkin pie (ohh, pie.)

(Have I mentioned that not enough people in the UK understand the incredible-edibleness that is a good pumpkin pie? But I digress.)

Here’s what I suggest to all those who have written something and want it to magically become a booky:

  1. Read, read, read other books in the genre you are hoping to write in to see what styles are marketable and what storylines have been done before. (Agents and publishers may be inundated with “pet” books, for instance, and are often searching for a more intriguing subject matter, or a very new stance on a tried and true subject.)
  2. There are some amazing online sites (many free) that cater to new children’s writers. Here are a few that will help get your juices flowing and will teach you a thing or two about the field, before you jump in with both feet: Mr. Schu’s Watch. Read. Connect; Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids while raising them; Writer’s Rumpus; Kidlit 411; MG Book Village; Teachers Who Read; and PBSpotlight (more on this one below).
  3. Finding a group of writers to help critique your work is invaluable to any new writer. There will often be other writers in your location that are looking to create a group and finding them may take time but joining a society or writing program would help. Constructive criticism, like you learned in third grade, is constructive if it’s given well and RECEIVED with gratitude. Sometimes you need a thick skin in this business, and sometimes you need to buckle down and throw away everything you thought you loved about your manuscript. Them’s the breaks.
  4. Perhaps look into SCBWI (the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for a wealth of information and inspiration. If expense is an issue, there are many other online groups that help guide new writers. Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 for instance.
  5. There are plenty of conferences and writing seminars that can be done online (or in person after covid) that will teach you the ins and outs of writing for children. Try the Writing Barn, Highlights, or even your local university, which may have non-MFA track courses. CityLit in London has incredible writing classes on kidlit.
  6. Self-publishing is a thought too. Most writers don’t pair up with illustrators until after their story has been sold to a publisher, but if your book doesn’t need illustrations, check out the many self-publishing options. I’ve never done it so I’m not the best person to ask about this because picture books are always highly illustrated and the publishers have always chosen illustrators for me (writers often don’t get a say in who will illustrate their work).
  7. I’m still struggling to find an agent (after 10 years of writing!) so keep at it and don’t give up, but know that it is a HARD and SLOW process. (My latest book will. be published 4+ years after I wrote it, and that’s typical.)

Now, on to the second point that I was going to make. This post is more than a plug for a competition called #PBCritiqueFest, sponsored by Brian Gehrlein at PBSpotlight . It’s actually a plug for getting other people to look at your work and tear it to shreds. Ok, harsh! What I mean is, the BEST thing you can do for your writing is to involve as many people as possible in the process. I know your first instinct is to crawl into the Cave of Introversion and hide your work from the world (while also craving publication), but critiques and critique partners are experiences (and people) to be cherished.

Getting a foot in the publishing door is the hardest thing that many writers will go through. It’s a path lined with rejection and failure, to be honest, but also filled with great new kidlit friends and mentors. The children’s book community is a supportive, friendly place and is mostly comprised of people who want to see books in the hands of mini readers.

Which is where sites like PBSpotlight come in. Competitions/twitter pitch parties/etc are great for social media recognition but in the end they are all about getting manuscripts in front of readers.

So if you’ve written that manuscript, and your mother thinks it’s great, GREAT. You’ve taken the first step. The first of many many steps. Now help yourself out by seeking out someone you trust who will alert you to its flaws. Because that way you can make it BETTER.

Here’s to better books!

Happy writing.

Ever tried. Ever failed.

No matter. Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

Skully and Bones

Hello October!

September is always the most beautiful month to be in England–Indian summer days, bright sunshine, spectacular sunsets–but when October rolls around all of that seems to disappear with a POOF!

(It’s been raining for two straight days here. I’m going to need a rowboat soon…)

Luckily however, I love everything that comes with autumn. Pumpkins, crisp apples, and HALLOWEEN!

So, to get in the spirit, I wrote a little something. This story is for a 200-word contest called #FallWritingFrenzy. It’s sponsored by kidLit author Lydia Lukidis and author/agent Kaitlyn Sanchez.

You can see the rules here.

Please check them out, get involved, and support the other writers by visiting their sites too.

So without further ado, I give you…

all images courtesy of UNSPLASH

SKULLY AND BONES

“Dear Skully,” said Bones 
on one Halloween night,
“deep down in my toes 
I feel something’s not right!
"The pumpkins sit grinning, 
the black cats are meeting,
while fairies and ghosts 
flit about trick-or-treating.
 
"Yet something inside of me’s 
feeling quite airy
instead of hair-raising,
spine-chilling, and scary.
 
"My hip bones and knee bones 
and fingers and spine
are right where they should be
and doing just fine.
 
"But where is the rest
of my innards and skin?
If I’m nothing but bones,
THEN WHAT’S HOLDING ME IN?"
“Oh Bones,” replied Skully
“there’s no need to worry.
Whoever has made us
was just in a hurry.
 
"These kids seem like whizzes 
at costumes and crafts,
Let’s ask them to patch up
two bungled rough drafts.
courtesy of Pexels
“Try stuffing our nothing 
with candy and treats,
or please let us borrow 
you ghostly white sheets!”
 
But all of the children who 
saw them just w a i l e d.
“It seems our request,
my dear Skully, has failed.”
So Skully and Bones
were both left without parts.
No noses to sniff with,
no quick-beating hearts.
 
And crept through the town
on that dull Halloween,
two lanky no-bodies
with air in between!

There you have it…a 200 word story about skeletons who are missing their insides. Maybe if I turn this into a proper picture book I’ll give them a happier ending!

Happy writing all!

COVER REVEAL!

OH, hello! Remember me? It’s been a while. In my defense, there was this worldwide pandemic thingy that took my mind off this site for a while. But I’m back, baby! (I would say “better than before” but that’s not really the case…)

And BOY do I have some news! While the past few months have not been good for my creative output (I’m looking at you, homeschooling), it HAS been a good time for getting books accepted for publication. I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold five (5, count ’em) manuscripts to publishers. Three will come out in 2021 and the other 2 don’t have dates yet.

(Insert smug face here 😉 )

The first three are NONFICTION. I’ve been branching out recently and trying my hand at writing nonfiction for kids. Turns out I LIKE IT!

(I wanted to insert a gif here from the Life Cereal ads back in the 80s when they say “Mikey likes it!” but I guess that’s too old school for giphy…)

So. anyhoo, for all my (zero) followers, here’s the latest super impressive cover for my next book. It was illustrated by the amazing Alexandra Badiu and you can see more of her lovely work at

www.alexandrabadiu.com .

The book is a biography of an amazing woman named Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Who? You ask. That’s exactly why I wrote the book. No one has heard of her, and her story NEEDS TO BE TOLD!

Jocelyn is an astrophysicist (yes, she’s alive and well at this very moment), who made what scientists consider the greatest astronomical find of the twentieth century. While a grad student at Cambridge, in the 1960s and 70s, Jocelyn identified the first four neutron stars ever. Einstein and other scientists had been speculating their existence since the 1930s, but no one had ever found proof. Until Jocelyn.

So why don’t we know her name? When the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for this discovery, it went to her adviser on the project, Anthony Hewish. Jocelyn’s name was left off the list.

When I first learned about Jocelyn, I was inspired by her graciousness in the face of this massive oversight, as well as her persistence and dedication. I knew that her story—like those of Rosalind Franklin, Lise Meitner, Chien Shiung Wu, or other female scientists whose contributions were overlooked throughout history—needed to be told.

So. Here. It. Is!!!

Isn’t that a sight for sore eyes?

Many thanks to Albert Whitman & Co for choosing to publish Jocelyn’s story.

The book will be available at all fine bookstores on April 1, 2021, and you’ll be able to pre-order it online soon. (I’ll write more about the process of writing this book in a separate thread.)

I’ll leave you with this:

Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you.
Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Happy writing!

World Book Day!

When I was a kid, did we ever have a whole day that celebrated books? Let alone a whole WEEK? I don’t ever remember this much hullabaloo around the pure unadulterated enjoyment of reading (or about the drastic need to encourage nonreaders to pick up a book, or to make sure every child, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, has books to read).

I was a bookworm, a “nerd,” but I learned early on that I needed to hide that fact from other kids for fear of the torturous bullying that being “bookish” caused.

I didn’t have the self-confidence to stand up to my tormentors, so, red-faced, I would lower my hand in class after being laughed at for answering yet another question about the assigned reading. And stay silent.

Thank goodness for adulthood. And for perspective.

Though now I’m watching my daughter come home in floods of tears after being laughed at for having her nose in a book, and it all comes back to me.

I try to teach her to be strong, and brave, and gritty, and self-accepting, and yet, inside, I’m wishing I could punch all those kids in their measly little faces.

Anger management issues aside, I’m excited at the fact that at least on one day a year, books are celebrated. Here in the UK, all school age kids get a free book! What a tremendous program and one that should be encouraged (and funded).

Yet public libraries are closing, school libraries are underfunded, and reading for pleasure is in decline. Here’s the latest research:

Nielsen Book Research’s annual study of children’s reading habits found that only 32 percent of British kids under 13 are read to daily by an adult for pleasure, down four percentage points in a year and down nine percentage points compared with 2012. Being read to is a gateway for children to read for pleasure independently but the National Literacy Trust found in a separate report that that activity in eight to 18-year olds has dropped to 52.5 percent from 58.8 percent in 2016.

https://reaction.life/reading-sharp-decline-thats-bad-news-future/

The statistics are grim.

But when I talk to other people, I hear Word Book Day labeled as “every parent’s nightmare,” rather than the unique opportunity that it is. There’s one word that seems to put the fear of all things holy into parents, and that’s “costume.”

The idea of dressing up as a book character is viewed as tedious rather than thrilling.

(Dressing up for a Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo) fun run with the munchkins.)

I get it.

Parents are busy, and time is short, and money is tight.

But World Book Day is Halloween, but for BOOKS. What could be better than that? All the fun and none of the cavities!

When my daughter this year decided to go as Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she spent most of the morning sticking large wads of blu-tack (poster putty) behind her ears, pretending it was gum. I am loath to think of the amount of tears that are going to be shed tonight when we try to remove that sticky mess from her hair! But at that moment she was in her element, and it was a glorious sight. One made possible by books.

So I will try to remember this as I talk to students, and laugh at the silly costumes that they have worked hard on, and enjoy the moment.

Because it’s a celebration of reading. Which sounds like the kind of holiday I would have dreamed up as a kid.

And then I’ll sit down and dream about my next children’s book …

… and consider which pair of scissors I’ll be using tonight on my daughter’s hair.

(Willy Wonka, last year…)

Perk UP!

Hello there fellow writers! January has been an amazingly productive month for me. I’ve written three — count ’em 3! — new drafts of books, and revised 4 others! Phew! I’m pooped.

water!

But this isn’t about patting myself on the back.

Nope. I wanted to share some of the reasons and resources that have helped to make it such a productive month.

First, work has been slow. I’ll admit, that’s not a great thing (um, hello tax man. I’ll get you that check soon…) but it has allowed me to actually get my BIC and Focus. Butt in Chair time is critical, yes, but what also works for me is Deadlines.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

I wrote one of those 3 (have I mentioned THREE) manuscripts in two days for an editor who wanted to take it to a Creative meeting. Boy did THAT news light a fire under my bum.

But there are also a few other things that helped.

  1. Having a critique group. These guys keep me level-headed and accountable. If it’s my turn to post, I post. There’s no point in having wonderful writers ready and willing to give you their honest feedback if you don’t have anything to send to them. So I keep writing!
  2. Storystorm. If you haven’t joined, and you want to know anything about the picture book industry. Take a look at Tara Lazar’s free resource: Storystorm.
  3. 12×12. Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge asks its members to write one new draft each month of the year. Plus it provides webinars and activities to keep you motivated.
  4. Other resources that I use to stay inspired:

http://www.kidlit411.com

http://resourcesforchildrenswriters.com

https://www.nffest.com

https://www.scbwi.org

https://literaticat.tumblr.com

https://mswishlist.com

5. Plus a bunch of writer blogs including:

https://susannahill.com/blog/

https://viviankirkfield.com

6. There’s also CONTESTS as well (like #PBPitch if you’re on Twitter) that can lead you to agents and editors.

7. And finally, Some of the best lessons I ever learned came from classes. Especially https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/history-culture-and-writing/writing/children-s-writing

I’ll keep adding to this. Because I get asked A LOT “I’ve written a book, what do I do next?”

My biggest piece of advice:
Don’t write in a vacuum.
It’s dark and lonely in there.

(ok, here’s the real quote…)

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

Until next time…

Welcome 2020

Happy New Year!

Why hello there! It’s a new year and I have many gloriously ambitious hopes for the year ahead. (Don’t we all? It’s January!) But sometimes those dreams fizzle out by June (I’m looking at you, screenplay).

So instead of resolutions this year, I’m inciting revolutions.

Wait, scratch that.

Renovations?

(nope)

Relegations?

(Sorry, had to add an English football reference for my Arsenal fans.)

Revelations?

(Ahh, Dr. Who. This is how I feel most of the time)

Heck, I’m just going to try to make it to February.

No, seriously, I will be Renovating both my house and my old picture book manuscripts, searching for the diamonds in the (very very) rough (drafts).

I will be Relegating my inner critic to the Back Seat (of my mind) and pursuing grand new adventurous topics with abandon, even if I don’t have any expertise in them and don’t know what kind of rabbit holes they might send me down.

And I will hopefully be able to act on some Revelations that I’ve had recently about how much I enjoy writing nonfiction, about what it will take to get more of my writing out there and in the hands of you wonderful readers, and that one Eureka moment I had about dunking a Snickers bar, churro-like, in some Spanish Hot Chocolate (you know you want to try it now).

salivating yet?

So I hope you’ll join me in looking forward to all that 2020 has to offer. I promise I won’t be this perky all the time, just when the caffeine kicks in.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Day (or two!) of Classroom Visits

Thank you to Manland Primary for inviting me in for two days of classroom visits! This was a belated, rescheduled #WorldBookDay visit due to a crazy two-month hearing-loss incident (a story for another time!)

The kids were incredible — receptive, engaged, and so, so, SO creative! We discussed favourite words, perseverance, talking pineapples and spy pigs. The workshops I ran with the older kids were a pure treat! They spun the idea wheel with vigour and came up with some great stories. The younger kids loved dressing up in very serious outfits and petting my book mascots.

A fun few days had by all! I forgot to take photos but hopefully I’ll get some copies of the school’s pictures to add to this post!

Now back to this:

(c) Schulz of course

Silly Questions for Serious Writers

Silly Questions
for Serious Writers

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately in which authors who are on blog tours are asked a lot of serious questions about their craft, their process, their writing preferences.

Granted all these solemn questions are important to understand the hard work and dedication that it takes to be a writer, and others can learn a lot from the answers, but holy hell some of the questions make me want to snooze!

Yes, yes, there are no stupid questions, yatta yatta.

But everyone knows that the sillier the question, the more the reader catches a glimpse into the actual personality of the writer.

James Lipton was on to something when he added Proust’s (really Pivot’s) questionnaire to the end of Actor’s Studio:

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What is your favorite curse word?
  6. What sound or noise do you love?
  7. What sound or noise do you hate?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

(There is a great article about these questions if you’re interested in the backstory, here.)

So, I’ve come up with a list of questions to ask writers (or anyone really), to get to know them better. (I’ll fill it in myself for my next post.)

  1. What book or movie has made you pull your hair out, scream at the screen, jump up and down and generally obsess over for weeks on end until you start to see people rolling their eyes when you bring it up for the hundredth time?
  2. Speaking of obsession, what’s one thing you are or have been completely obsessed with?
  3. Name one thing you hoard or collect (come on, you know there’s something. Besides rejection letters, that is. 😉 )
  4. If your writing style were an animal, which would it be? (Are plotters elephants? Are pantsers meerkats?)
  5. On days when you want to say “Sod it all! I give up!” A) what would you rather be doing, and B) what helps you get back in the writing groove?
  6. My favorite way to procrastinate is…?
  7. Singing in the shower. Your thoughts?
  8. How would your children describe you?
  9. Food that you absolutely couldn’t live without and would fight tooth and claw to consume, even if that meant stockpiling it before Brexit, or hiding it from your significant other in a top secret desk drawer and not feeling an ounce of shame about lying about it when asked point blank whether you have any.
  10. Oh yeah, and tell us about your new book.

What questions do YOU want to be asked while on blog tour?

#50preciouswords

I love entering contests, and I like all things short, so this competition is right up my alley. Author Vivian Kirkfield has challenged writers to use just 50 words to write a story.

It’s the old Green Eggs and Ham challenge but using ONLY 50 words rather than 50 distinct words to make up the book.

I’d been mulling over whether to write a book called Brave Chicken for a week or so now. (That’s what my daughter calls our cat. He really is one courageous scaredy cat.) I love the title but it’s already being used by Scholastic for an educational program that they run, so I figured rather than a picture book, I’ll use it here. Enjoy.

(And check out Vivian’s site on https://viviankirkfield.com/2019/03/02/the-50preciouswords-writing-contest-is-open/)

Brave Chicken

Brave Chicken can do anything.

“I am invincible!”

He saves little duckling from the Wrath of Terrible Tractor.

Rescues piglet from the Mayhem of Muddy Puddles.

But the Stables of Stink can foil even the most fearless of fowls.

Brave Chicken holds his beak,

musters his courage,

and RIDES!

Yeehaw!

Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 10.16.54