Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).
I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi
#bookaday: ALONG A LONG ROAD by fellow Canadian Frank Viva (Little, Brown). Love the simple palette and gorgeous retro-style art as well as the glossy yellow road (you can't help but want to touch the pages) that runs throughout.
Find out more about Donalyn Miller's Book-A-Day Challenge on the Nerdy Book Club site, and you can read archives of my #BookADay posts.
Looking for some Canadian holiday kidlit cheer? Try DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW: A CANADIAN JINGLE BELLS, a new book written by my friend Helaine Becker, illustrated by Werner Zimmermann, companion to their #1 national bestseller, A PORCUPINE IN A PINE TREE. More info about DASHING on the Scholastic Canada site.
More about Helaine: http://www.helainebecker.com/
More about Werner: http://wernerzimmermann.ca/
Also see my other #BookADay posts.
In prep for my workshop at CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination, I asked literary agents, editors and art directors a few questions about whether they research potential clients, authors and illustrators online and what they look for. 18 editors (some of whom also look for picture book illustrators), 8 agents and 2 art directors responded.
Here's what they said:
QUESTION: When you are considering taking on a new client/author/illustrator, do you ever research them online?
77% of respondents said that when they are considering taking on a new client, author and illustrator, they ALWAYS research them online. The rest said they sometimes do.
QUESTION: If you do online research before signing on a client/author/illustrator, has your research ever made you decide NOT to sign them on?
62% said that YES, they have decided to reject someone after researching them online. Some said that while they hadn't yet rejected someone after online research, they would definitely think twice about signing with someone who posts a lot of negativity (see below) or posts "with cringe-inducing syntax."
In this section, I invited respondents to volunteer additional comments, including turn-ons and turn-offs, what they look for during online research.
The following respondents gave me permission to use their names.
Christie Harkin, Consultant Publisher at Clockwise Press:
"I have been turned off by authors/illustrators who bad-mouth their editors/publishers/agents. It is amazing to me when I see this on Facebook. Even if you don't mention your editor/publisher by name, it is usually very obvious to whom you are referring. I would definitely think twice about taking on someone who did this. Also, I look for authors/illustrators who are generous in sharing news about others in the community. People who only post promo about their own books (BUY MY BOOK! LOOK AT MY STUFF!) are not generally as well-received or connected with the larger community. If you are a new or emerging creator, you need to be engaging with others who are also plugged in to the kidlit world."
Andrew Karre, Editorial Director at Carolrhoda Books/Lerner ( December 11, 2014 update: Andrew is joining Dutton Children's Books as executive editor on Jan. 12):
"An extent online presence is not a necessity. It's gravy. But . . . I place a certain amount of value on a social media presence that seems human and natural and interesting. A Twitter stream that is full of interesting engaged conversations on a variety of topics--even topics other than books--is somewhat more interesting to me than one that is all review links and retweets. I don't much care how many followers. (Unless, of course, it's a huge number, because I am not an idiot about what that means.)"
Carol Hinz, Editorial Director at Millbrook Press:
"I'm not necessarily looking for something in particular when I look up an author or illustrator. I simply want to find out if the person has a web presence and, if so, what it is. It's also helpful to get a sense of what else they've done, how they present themselves, whether they do school visits, and what helpful connections they may have (whether it's with other writers, educators, booksellers, etc.) when it comes to book promotion."
NOTE: Most of the respondents answered anonymously but to avoid the awkward he/she decision, I decided to use "he" or "she" randomly.
One agent said she decided not to request material from previously published authors who got combative with reviewers. Another respondent said that while he hadn't yet rejected a project based on online research, he may make a note to discuss proper online etiquette with that particular author or illustrator. "But I believe the day is coming where my online research will make me answer 'no' when I question, 'Do I love this book enough to want to deal with THIS'?"
Another respondent said that online research sometimes makes her ask more questions, change the direction or focus of the conversation, dig deeper ("and not always in a negative way"), sometimes for the benefit of both of them and sometimes in ways that lead to more meaningful partnerships.
"Biggest turn-off: Writers who get argumentative and/or rude with reviewers and bloggers online. I also look at blog and social media posts that see how the writer comes across in their daily interactions. I'm wary when a writer acts rude, cynical, prejudiced, or pessimistic on social media. That's not to say that people can't have down moments, but if their overall feeds are full complaints and abuse toward others, it's an immediate "no." I've been lucky, though, to have found clients who are all positive, dedicated writers open to criticism and growing in their craft."
"I'm usually just looking for more information and/or to confirm my initial impression. I do notice if someone writes extensively about the writing and publication process ("got another rejection today!") or if he/she does a lot of self-publishing. Neither of these are deal-breakers at all, but they present unique challenges. I actually do most of my sleuthing with agents and agencies, and in that case I do judge if I see a lot of awful self-published covers (but again, may still work with them). Also, I assume writers and agents research me online but the less I'm reminded of that, the better—like don't start every email to me by mentioning something I've posted on Facebook. I don't like the feeling of someone friending me on social media in order to 'gain access.'"
"I look for obviously divisive posts, things that I see that I think would turn off a readership. Professionalism online is important, and also gives me an idea of what you'd be like to work with. I also look to see how you interact with others on your blog/twitter/site whether or not you acknowledge people who leave comments or tweet with you."
"Turn offs= being unprofessional/rude/inappropriate in a public online setting. Why would I want someone with that type of behavior linked to me as an agent and the agency as a whole?"
"When researching someone online, I'm generally just looking to flesh out my knowledge of that person in advance of a possible acquisition. I'm not actually looking for trouble spots, just maybe things to discuss at an IRL meeting with colleagues (sales points) or with the author themselves (small talk). When it's an illustrator, particularly; I do a lot of triage online before anyone's necessarily aware that I'm looking - I use online portfolios to identify leads. I'd advise artists to have as much art available to view online as possible. Use places like deviantart if you don't have a well-maintained personal site or an illustration agent with a good easily searchable site. Probably use deviantart even if you do. The easier your work is to find, the more work you'll pick up. I've been involved in acquisitions where a Google search turned up a certain amount of Internet Drama. It never really influenced the decision - we signed people up each time. I could imagine scenarios in which it would be a deal-breaker - for example, if we discovered that an author was a Neo-Nazi, that wouldn't play well - but none of them has so far come to pass. Incidentally, I think the situation in which duly diligent research is crucial is if you are an author or illustrator being offered work by a publisher or agent. You need to check out the bona fides of the person or company asking to contract with you, because there are an awful lot of sharks out there." - @iucounu on Twitter
"Turn ons - lots of work with the same energy and talent that brought the illustrator to my attention in the first place. Turn offs - samples that look dated, have styles that are very different and less appealing to me than the first sample I saw, very few samples."
"Online turn-offs: people who tweet way too often, people who only speak and don't engage others in conversation, people who are far too self-promotey, people who share way too much of their personal lives, people who are far too neurotic (tweeting constantly about writing woes and insecurities), people who are far, far, far too negative about anything and everything, and the biggest of all: people who feel the need to insult other writers/houses/editors/agents. Oh, and also, writers who quote themselves online. Online turn-ons: people who engage in meaningful discussion (without hitting me on the head with a hammer), people who find that balance between an online persona and being who they really are, people more interested in building a community than shilling their work, people who are endlessly supportive of fellow writers (without being obnoxious about it). What I really want to learn when I research a writer online is what they're after. Did they write the book to jump on the gravy train, hoping it would be the quick path to fame and fortune? Did they write the book because they scoff at the genre they just wrote and wanted to prove anyone could do it? Or is this someone who is serious about building a writing career and not just receiving the adulation of thousands of strangers? THAT'S the writer I want to work with. Someone dedicated to their craft and not their number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers."
(On whether they have rejected someone after online research) "Not if I really, really love the book, but if an author has exhibited abrasive or unpleasant behavior online, it definitely makes me think twice about signing them. When I sign someone, I'm not just signing up the project--I'm going to have to work with the author for a long time, and I prefer not to invite a headache into my life. While a great web presence is a definite plus, I'd never turn someone down for a lackluster web presence. But if I discover combative, difficult behavior, etc, I have to decide if this person is worth the unpleasantness they'll likely bring to my life. Because people are usually consistent--ie, if they're unpleasant to some people, they'll probably be unpleasant to me too if and when any difficulties in our working relationship arise."
Curious about my other publishing industry surveys? Feel free to browse current and past Inkygirl Surveys online.
Looking for some kidlit illustrator love for the holiday season gifting? In addition to books, of course, here are some Etsy shops where you can find traditionally published children's book illustrators. If anyone knows of others, feel free to post in the comments section! Please note that I'm only listing shops that currently have items for sale (so have left out my own :-)).
Also see Travis Jonker's Ultimate Children's Literature Illustrator Gift Guide, which includes non-Etsy places where you can buy children's illustrator stuff.
---- Last updated: December 11, 2014
If you know of other traditionally published children's book illustrators with Etsy shops that currently have items for sale, feel free to list them (ideally with the Etsy shop URL) below. In answer to the question "why only traditionally published? why only shops with items for sale?": I didn't have time to list ALL shops, sorry; if anyone out there is willing to take on that project, feel free to post your list below.
Thanks so much to Dianne de Las Casas and the other Picture Book Month co-founders for inviting me to be a Picutre Book Month Champion this year! I've so enjoyed reading all the essays as well as Marcie Colleen's special curriculum tie-ins every day.
If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to browse the Picture Book Month archives. So many wonderful posts: some funny, some deeply moving. All are inspiring.
As I mentioned in my post, while many of us enjoy and appreciate picture books throughout the year, it's nice to have an excuse to throw an extra special party during November.
Writers: Didn't Have Time For #NaNoWriMo? Try 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day (and why I need to do this)
If you're a writer who has no trouble banging out thousands of words a day on a regular basis, you can skip my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Writing Challenge.
This post is for others who fit into one or more of the following situations:
- You started NaNoWriMo with good intentions but ended up falling further and further behind until it was way too late to try catching up.
- You've always wanted to try a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo but knew you'd never have the time to write 50,000 words in November.
- You have a day job and need some motivation to squeeze out extra time to do regular writing.
- You have kids, so life is often crazybusy with parenting duties and an unpredictable schedule. You need some motivation to carve out writing time here and there.
- You're an illustrator who is trying to flex your writing muscles. A writing challenge with achievable goals could help you get that picture book or other writing project finished.
- You already make a living as a writer or are a published writer, but have always wanted to try another genre...but your paid/contracted work has always come first. Even with limited time, you want to get that personal writing project of yours off the back burner and make some steady progress.
In my case: I am a children's book illustrator who has just started writing picture books. I love my work and I love making picture books, but I also have not forgotten my roots: I have been writing books for young people for as long as I can remember. None of them have been published, though I have been steadily working on my craft; judging from the gradual improvement in quality of editorial rejection letters, my writing has been getting better. I've gotten close (tantalizingly, frustratingly close) for my latest novel, but "close" is not the same as a book contract. I also had my YA novel-in-progress nominated for the SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication" Award.
Then a rejection ended up (in a roundabout way) getting me a book illustration contract with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, and my novel-writing got put on hold. It's ironic but a part of the business: I've since had more than one editor express interest in seeing my novels, but I haven't had as much time to work on my writing because of my contracted illustration work.
With what I've learned since then, I'm realizing why my already-written novels didn't sell and why they SHOULDN'T have sold, and have shelved them. I've started working on a new project which I'm pretty excited about, but don't spend nearly enough time on. It's been a crazy year for me: I illustrated three Judy Blume chapter books, 10 Judy Blume covers, finished the illustrations for my first solo picture book (WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? with Simon & Schuster), illustrated RUBY ROSE ON HER TOES (picture book by Rob Sanders, with HarperCollins), did sketches for MITZI TULANE: PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE (picture book by Lauren McLaughlin, with Random House), some sketches for SEA MONKEY AND BOB (picture book by Aaron Reynolds, with Simon & Schuster), did my first book tour, talks and workshops at conferences, then had family health issues.
But something else I've learned: life is ALWAYS going to be crazybusy, one way or another. I will NEVER have the luxury of time that I had in my pre-published days, and that's not a bad thing. If I want to achieve my goal of getting my novels for young people published, I have to adjust and squeeze out writing time however I can.
Hoping some of you join me in the Challenge! Here's more info about how to participate. Feel free to post below or in my Writing Challenge: 250, 500 or 1000 Words Facebook page. Or you can just participate without letting anyone know...it's entirely up to you.
I've decided that the girl's name is Keiko. Haven't come up with a name for the baby yet, though.
Although I've used Skype before, I resisted doing Skype classroom visits until recently because I wasn't confident about the technology working properly. Since I first tried Skype, however, broadband services have improved and more schools are starting to do Skype visits with authors and illustrators.
Other reasons I decided to explore visiting schools via Skype:
- I lack the time and finances to visit schools outside of the Toronto area. I also don't drive, which makes transportation more of a hassle and time-consuming.
- I had so much fun talking to young readers during my NAKED! book tour (thanks, Simon & Schuster!) that I want to do this more often than I have in the past, but am limited by the reasons mentioned above.
- Although I know they can't replace in-person visits, virtual school visits enable me to use more props in my presentations, a wider range of art supplies, show students around my home office, be able to pull out musical instruments (I have many) on whim.
- I know some schools can't afford a full school visit, so I decided to offer a 15-20 minute visit for free. Those who want a longer visit can pay my regular fee. I'm also relatively new to school visits, so this also gives schools an idea of what I'm like in person. When I do my next book tour, whether sponsored by one of my publishers or funded on my own, hopefully some of these schools will be interested in having me visit.
What I did before my first Skype visit:
- I researched a TON, searching online for blog posts by children's book authors and illustrators who have done Skype visits, as well as posts by teachers and librarians about Skype visits. I was especially interested in posts by children's book illustrators, since we have the advantage of being able to do drawing demos. :-)
- I talked to my friend Lee Wardlaw, who was also my first children's book writing mentor. Lee has a huge amount of experience presenting at schools and bookstores in person as well as via Skype. Do check out her Presentations page as well as her Secrets To A Successful Skype Visit for educators.
- I worked with teacher-librarian Arlene Lipkewich and A. Blair McPherson for my very first school Skype visit; their first-graders voted I'M BORED as their favourite book last year in their "YouDecide!" program. I started with a Skype test call with Arlene and another teacher, then a Skype call with Mrs. Brooke's second grade class. Arlene gave me useful feedback which I used to tweak my setup and presentation before I Skyped with five classes (115 students) of first-graders the following week. Thanks you, Arlene and A. Blair McPherson!
- I collected some of the useful resources I've found on my Skype School Visit Page for teachers and librarians as well as children's book authors and illustrators.
What I did during my 15-20 minute Skype visit:
- I read I'M BORED (for the second visit, I also read NAKED!). By the second visit, I was better able to monitor what I was showing the kids, so would zoom in on the Potato, for instance, when it was the kids' turn to yell "I'm BOOOOORED!" But I also tried to pull back sometimes, so they could see me as well.
- After the reading, I showed the students a sketch or two from the process.
- I pulled out my guitar and had students help me co-write a very short I'M BORED song.
- I did a drawing demo. The first time, I used my Derwent Inktense blocks to draw something and then used water to show the kids how the line turned into watercolor. I had the camera zoomed in close and later Arlene said that while this was great to see, it would have been great to see me as well. For my second Skypevisit, I decided to go with a big marker and watercolor paints instead, interacting with the students for suggestions on what to draw. It was fun but very messy on my end :-D -- I'll have to rethink this for my next Skypevisit.
- At the end, I did a Q&A. I loved hearing the types of questions asked by the kids. Some just came up to the laptop and didn't say anything, just smiled shyly or said (after a long pause): "I like your drawing!" One asked why the Potato in I'M BORED liked flamingos so much. I promised I'd ask Michael Ian Black, and he responded by email very quickly; I passed this answer onto the teacher afterward.
What I learned and what I'd do differently next time:
- It's sooooooo much more fun than I expected!
- I strongly recommend doing a Skype test call in advance of each Skype visit as well as just before the visit itself. I found this a great way of identifying potential problems and fixing them.
- Make sure you leave time for a Q&A, and coordinate with the teacher ahead of time so that he/she is able to have students prepare questions in advance.
- Figure out how to make my own screen bigger so I can see what the kids are seeing. Try to place this screen behind the webcam so I'm looking at the camera, not away.
- If I do painting, I will NOT set the paint cups on my desk where it's way too easy for me to knock them over in the middle of the Skype session (fortunately I didn't have much liquid in each)!
- Figure out how to mute the audio on my computer so I just hear it on my headphones. I found the echo a bit confusing, and was also worried about the echo leaking through into my microphone.
- I'm also going to investigate ways of sharing my screen, so I can show kids how I draw digitally. I think it will depend on partly on whether the school's Skype is able to do this, which makes a tech test in advance even more necessary.
Some useful resources (if you know of others, feel free to share below):
Please do check out the resource list I've compiled for teachers/librarians and authors/illustrators to my Skype page; I'll be gradually updating it.
Interested in having me do a Skypevisit with your school or library? Please see the info on DebbieOhi.com/skype. Hope to visit with you soon!
Next week, I'm Skyping (simultaneously) with third-graders in St. Paul and Boston, MN schools about I'M BORED. Can't wait. :-)
Just finished Teresa Toten's THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B. Wow, loved this book so much; it was one of those stories that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Wonderful voice. I also learned a lot about OCD. Highly recommended! I was also lucky enough to hear Teresa's inspiring opening keynote at CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination and chat with her a bit afterward. SUCH a nice person!
A Happy Birthday (and THANK YOU) to my Simon & Schuster Children's editor, Justin Chanda, who helped me find my books
Since Justin Chanda "discovered" me at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles (and after many, many years of rejections), my children's book career has taken off. Every so often I still pause in the middle of whatever I'm doing and think to myself OH MY GOSH I'M ACTUALLY MAKING A LIVING WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN'S BOOKS and hyperventilate a bit but then calm down because I have upcoming deadlines and need to get back to work.
A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Jun 6, 2014 at 4:37pm PDT
This past year has been especially crazygood, with my illustrations appearing in JUDY BLUME reissues from Atheneum (JUDY BLUUUUUUUUUME!!!!!!) as well as NAKED!, a second picture book with Michael Ian Black and Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. And then S&S sent me on my very first book tour!
A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:24pm PDT
Do you see that wand that Justin is holding in one of the photos above? A while back, I was posting about the Judy Blume illustration project as well as NAKED! coming out in 2014, and someone asked me if I had a fairy godmother. Yes, I told them, and my fairy godmother's name is JUSTIN CHANDA. I presented Justin with a labelled Fairy Godmother wand at the Simon & Schuster Children's meet & greeting with Michael Ian Black and me. Here's a photo that my husband Jeff took, just after I gave Justin the wand and was about to give him a big hug:
Apparently Justin has taken the Wand to several Simon & Schuster Children's meetings since. :-)
And just recently, I got to see the color proofs for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, which is going to be my very first solo children's book. I think it really didn't hit me that I'm actually going to be a children's book AUTHOR as well as illustrator until I saw those proofs. The book comes out from Simon & Schuster in May 2015, woohoo!
Now that I've been working with Justin for four years, I feel even more lucky. He's a brilliant editor. I'm learning so much from him about the craft and business of making children's books. Justin has the ability to bring out the best in those who work with him, pushing them hard but also trusting their creative instincts.
I'm grateful to SO many people who have encouraged me along the way and could not be where I am now without them. Justin Chanda was the first editor to give me my Big Break, to believe in me enough to offer me that first book contract, and mere words cannot express how much I appreciate what he did and continues to do for my career.
Happy birthday, Justin, and THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME FIND MY BOOKS!
A photo posted by Jpchanda (@jpchanda) on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:33pm PDT
If you're doing NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to check out my friend Errol Elumir's daily NaNoToons!