Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

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

Wednesday
Jan072015

Comic: The Frog Prince/Editor, updated

Tuesday
Jan062015

Comic: Harry Potter Fan

Monday
Jan052015

Congrats to others on The Bulletin Of The Centre For Children's Books 2014 Blue Ribbon list!

Totally thrilled that NAKED! is a 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winner! Congrats to the others on the BCCB's Blue Ribbon list, including others in the picture book category (shown above). Here are BCCB's Blue Ribbon picture book picks of the year:

Black, Michael Ian. Naked!; illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Simon. 4-7 yrs (July/August)

Campbell, Scott. Hug Machine; written and illus. by Scott Campbell. Atheneum. 4-7 yrs (September)

Dolan, Elys. Weasels; written and illus. by Elys Dolan. Candlewick. Gr. 1-4 (February)

Dubuc, Marianne. The Lion and the Bird; written and illus. by Marianne Dubuc; tr. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. Enchanted Lion. 5-7 yrs (July/August)

Frazee, Marla. The Farmer and the Clown; written and illus. by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane/Simon. 4-6 yrs (November)

Haughton, Chris. Shh! We Have a Plan; written and illus. by Chris Haughton. Candlewick. 4-7 yrs (November)

Nolan, Dennis. Hunters of the Great Forest; written and illus. by Dennis Nolan. Porter/Roaring Brook. 4-7 yrs (December)

Ruth, Greg. Coming Home; written and illus. by Greg Ruth. Feiwel. 4-7 yrs (January 2015)

Shea, Bob. Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads; illus. by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook. 5-8 yrs (December)

Tan, Shaun. Rules of Summer; written and illus. by Shaun Tan. Levine/Scholastic. Gr. 3-5 (July/August)

I posted about the BCCB on my NAKED! blog, but for those who missed it:

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB) is one of the leading children's book review journals for school and public libraries. You can see the full list of the other 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winners on the BCCB website.

"Blue Ribbons are chosen annually by the Bulletin staff and represent what we believe to be the best of the previous year's literature for youth." You can see the Blue Ribbon Archive for other lists from 1990 through to the present. You can also download a PDF version of the list.

You can browse BCCB Blue Ribbon book covers from past years in theLibraryThing Book Awards archives.

Curious about how books are reviewed at The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books? Check out the video above, which shows a book's journey through the CCB and how it becomes part of the  CCB's research collection.

The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books is devoted entirely to the review of current books for young people. It provides concise summaries and critical evaluations to help its readers find the books they need. Each review gives info about the book's content, reading level, strengths and weaknesses, quality of format and suggestions for curricular use.

From the website of The Center For Children's Books: "The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.

In partnership with The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books—an authoritative analytic review journal—the Center aims to inspire and inform adults who connect young people with resources in person, in print, and online. The Center sponsors activities and hosts interdisciplinary research projects involving both theory and practice. In its dual role as research collection and educational community, the Center has national impact on the future of reading and readers."

I encourage you to check out The Bulletin's website, a rich resource of children's book recommendations and information, and The Center For Children's Books.

And again, THANK YOU so much to The Bulletin of The Center For Children's Books for the Blue Ribbon honor!

Sunday
Jan042015

In the end, it comes down to having a good story. No amount of promo/networking can substitute.

A reminder: before you worry too much about a promo/marketing plan for your yet-to-be-published book, make sure your book is as polished as you can possibly make it. No matter what the format, how gorgeous the cover, how well-promoted....you need to have a good story and strong characters.

Take the time to hone your craft.

Saturday
Jan032015

Insecurity, distractions and FINDING FOCUS again while writing

Title: "Looking For Thyme"

Having trouble finding the time to write during the day because of interruptions or other distractions? Or fighting the urge to go look stuff up on Google during your writing sessions?

(hand waving weakly here)

This year I'm going back to writing first thing in the morning to learn how to focus again. I have no problem focusing when I'm illustrating, or doing nonfiction or blog writing. When I'm doing fiction writing, however, I find myself constantly distracted.

Part of this, I'm suspecting, is insecurity. My theory: my subconscious is yelling "if you finish this new book, you're just going to get rejected again! I'm not going to let you finish!" 

To my subconscious: I'M NOT GOING TO LET YOU TAKE CONTROL ANYMORE.

Julia Cameron suggests doing three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. I tried this some years back and while it worked for a bit, I just found the process of writing by hand too laborious; I'm so used to typing on the computer keyboard. I'm also aiming for a specific wordcount rather than number of pages. However, I love the basic idea so am adapting it for my own situation.

I'm trying to do some writing first thing in the morning, before anything else. I also gave this a shot early last year but got too easily distracted. Trying it again this year but instead of fighting the distractions and worries that crowd into my head as I'm writing, I'm EMBRACING IT. If I start getting the impulse to "just take a second" to go check something online, I put that into my stream-of-consciousness writing session instead ("Right now I'm fighting the urge to go look up xxxxx...").

Sounds silly, I know, but it seems to satisfy the part of my brain that needs to do something about the thought RIGHT THEN AND THERE, so I can keep on writing about other things.

I'm also counting this as part of my Daily Words goal, which is currently 500 words/day. This morning I wrote 433 words but later today I'm going to do another writing session specifically for my own writing projects. I also find Ommwriter and Coffitivity help me focus. I've tried apps like Freedom, which turn off Internet access on my desktop computer, but I find it's way too easy to hack them. :-\

Much better, I think, to try to change my habits rather than try to hide the shiny toy.

My hope: that the habit of writing first thing in the morning starts feeling more natural to me than my OoShinyToyMustGoogleIt and "just spend a few minutes checking social media" urges.

And if the morning stream-of-consciousness exercise feels like it's becoming a regular habit, I'll stop counting those words as being part of my Daily Words goal and just count my project writing. I'll keep doing my morning warm-up, though.

If any of you are having the same issues as I am, I encourage you to try stream-of-consciousness writing, first thing in the morning. Let yourself write ANYTHING: poetry, fiction snippets, personalstuff, whatever pops into your head....just keep writing and DON'T leave whatever app you're using to "just look something up" or check email.

Good luck!  I'll check in later in a month or two to let you know how I've been doing as well.

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The Challenge: 250, 500 or 1000 words/day. Also see my 250, 500 or 1000 words/day Facebook page.

 

Thursday
Jan012015

Short on writing time? Try the 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge

Looking for a daily writing challenge with flexibility? Short on writing time for a particular project? Or are you motivated to write but have an unpredictable schedule? I started the 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge for those who want to work on a particular writing project but are finding it hard to find the time because of (1) a day job, (2) parental duties, (3) bill-paying freelance work, or (insert YOUR reason here).

If you have no trouble writing thousands of words a day, then I encourage to skip the rest of this post. :-) To those people: if you must post a comment, I'd appreciate you posting encouragement or advice rather than "I don't need this challenge because *I* write 5,000+ words a day." Thanks. :-)

BASIC IDEA:

1. Pick a goal: 250, 500 or 1000 words a day.

2. Aim to write that many words a day. It's up to you whether or not to make your goal public or not. Feel free to use one of the badges I've provided. Also feel free to follow/comment on the Facebook page.

3. If life gets in the way, then put the Challenge on hold. Try not to do this more than a few times a year if at all possible. DON'T try to "catch up" when you get back.

To others like me, who have other work or activities that usually have to get first priority, I encourage you to check out how to participate in my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge. You can also follow my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Facebook Page for motivating tips, advice and to exchange encouragement with fellow writers taking the challenge.

Good luck!

Wednesday
Dec312014

Comic: New Year's Resolution Block

Tuesday
Dec302014

Comic: Alphabet Soup

Just one reason you should always keep a notebook handy -- you never know when inspiration will strike!

Monday
Dec292014

Comic: Fortune Cookie Query

Wednesday
Dec242014

A comic for the holiday season (thanks to Pamela Ross for her caption!)

Thanks to Pamela Ross for letting me turning her caption into a comic.

Wednesday
Dec242014

Survey Results: Do you like having background noise while you're working?

In Inkygirl recently, I talked about how I'm sometimes more productive when I have sounds from a coffee shop playing in the background. Do you usually like to have background noise while you're working? If so, what type?

One-third of you prefer silence but the rest like some kind of background noise. Of the latter, 70% prefer ambient noise and 45% prefer music without lyrics.

These days, my favourite ambient noise tool is Coffivity. I've also recently signed up for Spotify, and use playlists like Indie Folk For Focus, Superior Study Playlist, Music For Concentration and Brain Food.

Next poll question: Are you giving any physical books this holiday season? (yes/no)

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Curious about my other publishing industry surveys? Feel free to browse current and past Inkygirl Surveys online.

Saturday
Dec202014

Snowman Comic Caption Winner: David Lubar

 

Thanks to everyone who entered my Snowman Comic Caption Contest! So many great entries and quite a few of them would have fit perfectly...SO hard to choose.

Congrats to David Lubar, whose caption I chose for the final comic. David wins a copy of either I'M BORED or NAKED! (his choice), signed by me, inscribed and mailed to anyone/anywhere he'd like, plus a Random hand-drawn/painted doodle by yours truly.

Runners-up, each of whom gets a Random hand-drawn/painted doodle:

"Darn screen is frozen." - Cindy Williams Schrauben 

"Frosty enjoyed nothing more than correcting people's grammar on the internet." - Ezra Denney

"I don't snow whether to use my pen name, Robert Frost, or my real name. I wonder if readers will carrot all." - Dee Leone

"Call me Icemael" - Kathy Holzapfel

"That's me as a snowball." - Pamela Ross (and stay tuned for more about Pamela's caption :-))

To David, Cindy, Ezra, Dee, Kathy & Pamela: please send me a FB message or Twitter DM with your contact info? Please start your msg with "COMIC PRIZE" to make sure I see it (I tend to get a lot of Kickstarter, auto-mailings & other requests).

You can read other caption suggestions on Twitter and Facebook. Here are just a few of my other favourites (apologies if I left out duplicate credits; there were a bunch of similar themes :-)):

"Oh, this is heating up! I'd better finish before I melt." - Sandra Gulland

"Google search: 'smart gloves'" - Lori Nichols

"It was a dark and snowy night..." - Jo Karaplis and Susan Pace-Koch

"Dear Bill Nye, what can I do to help stop global warming?" - Sue Jeffers

"Honey, I'll be done surfing the net soon, then you can have your head back." - Jim McMahon

"This ending will make their hearts melt!" - Kelly Bingham

"Throwback Thursday: Yes that was me once upon a time. I was just a flake." - Lindsay Brennan

"My writing today is abominable." - Henry Herz

"Missed Connections: Lost my old silk hat. Although life does surprisingly go on, you are missed. Thumpity thump thump just isn't the same without you." - Marcie Colleen

"Frosty's family was unable to cope with his winternet addiction." - Dan Hoffman

Friday
Dec192014

Comic: Christmas dream

Another comic from the archives. 'Tis the season, after all...

Wednesday
Dec172014

#BookADay: ALONG A LONG ROAD by Frank Viva (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

#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.

More about Frank Viva on his website and you can also find him on Twitter at @VIVAandCO.

More info about ALONG A LONG ROAD on the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers website.

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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.

Monday
Dec152014

Comic Caption Challenge (there will be PRIZES)

Any caption ideas for this comic? You can post your answer below, on Twitter (please tag with #inkycaption hashtag) or on FB.

There will be PRIZES.

Monday
Dec152014

Holiday Kidlit: DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW by Helaine Becker & Werner Zimmerman (Scholastic Canada)

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/

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Also see my other #BookADay posts.

Friday
Dec122014

Comic: He's Checking It Twice...Just Not Yet

Friday
Dec122014

Comic: Snowman Gift

 

Thursday
Dec112014

Comic: The Writer and Santa

Wednesday
Dec102014

Survey Results: What Agents, Editors and Art Directors Look For Online

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."

 

OTHER COMMENTS:

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." 

 

Other Comments:

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."

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Curious about my other publishing industry surveys? Feel free to browse current and past Inkygirl Surveys online.