Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd.

Debbie's blog post: Why Picture Books Are Important

Coming Apr.29, 2014: NAKED!


Out in bookstores now:

I'M BORED. Written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. A New York Times Notable Children's Book and Junior Library Guild selection. Teacher's Guide (K-5) now available.



Before using my comics

Creative Commons Licence

Writer comics by Debbie Ridpath Ohi are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

More details: Comic Use Policy

Welcome to Inkygirl: A Blog For Children's/YA Book Writers And Illustrators, which includes my Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my MicroBookReviews, book reviews in comic formatwriting/publishing industry surveysWriting & Illustrating a Picture Book For Simon & Schuster BFYR post series and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, Category archives, and comics for writers (including 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 Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


It's official: Penguin Random House merger is complete

Looks like it's official: Penguin and Random House are officially merged. CEO Markus Dohle sent the following to letter to Random House authors and illustrators (possibly Penguin as well? I received one because I'm illustrating the RUBY ROSE books for Random House Children's):


To Our Authors,

Today, Random House and Penguin are officially united as Penguin Random House. For us, today is a beginning, and I very much want to reach out to you on our first day as a new company, because it all begins with you: you and the books you write and entrust to us to publish. For us, this is a sacred trust, one that before today Penguin and Random House have honored separately. Now it is a commitment and a privilege that unifies us.

Going forward, we will be defined by our mission for publishing with passion the books you write. In our author-focused, publisher-empowered culture, we respect that your most important day-to-day relationship is with your editor and your publishing team, and that will remain untouched at Penguin Random House.

Continuity within Penguin Random House will benefit all of us: The continuity of nearly 250 imprints and publishing houses worldwide, which will retain their individual identities and autonomy. The continuity of experienced, knowledgeable global and local leadership teams, drawn from both Penguin and Random House, who will fully support our publishers in realizing their objectives and your vision for your books. The continuity of vigilant protection of your intellectual property and copyrights.

Over time, as we gradually begin to integrate our companies, we will learn from one another and evolve to better serve you and your readers. With both businesses performing well, we can take our time with this process, to better understand and analyze the complexity and nuances of these important decisions.

One key development I am personally most excited about involves the future investments we will be making on a global scale for growing your readership in all markets. We will be strengthening our supply chain and our support services for physical booksellers while broadening opportunities in the digital arena. We will be developing more cutting-edge marketing tools and programs, further expanding our consumer insights and market analytics capabilities, and continuing to accelerate our penetration of emerging markets worldwide, all of which will allow us to maximize the number of readers we reach on your behalf.

The creation of our new company is the strongest possible affirmation of the future of trade publishing, and of the importance of maintaining strong and vibrant publishing companies, with diverse and innovative editorial teams. Our unprecedented alignment of resources and relationships is built on this foundation: the passionate belief that connecting authors and readers is at the heart of all we strive to accomplish together. On behalf of my colleagues, I deeply thank you for the opportunity to publish your books.

All my best,

Markus Dohle

Chief Executive Office, Member of the Bertelsmann Management SE Executive Board


Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Children's, Part 3: Back To The Manuscript


POSTS SO FAR: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: Brainstorming, Story Pitch, Thumbnail Sketches

(Note: This series of blog posts is NOT meant to The Definitive Guide of how a picture book is created. Your own publishing experience may differ, depending on your situation and people involved. Thanks for following along! -- Debbie)

I haven't posted in this series for a while because my editor and I decided to put the project on hold while I worked on illustrations for NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black. Entertainment Weekly posted the announcement in January, and I received the final version of the manuscript at the beginning of the year. Have been working very hard (but having sooooo much fun!) on the illustrations since then, and handed in the final art earlier this month. I'll be posting more sample pics on the NAKED! FB Page soon.

Now it's back to my own project, the very first picture book that I'm writing AND illustrating. Since my last post, I'm delighted to have exciting news:

- It's been confirmed that Laurent Linn is going to be my art director (YAYYYY!! Laurent was my art director for I'M BORED and NAKED!). 

- Justin Chanda (my editor) and I have picked a title: WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? I know it shouldn't matter that much, but I have to admit that I screamed a little bit on the phone, I was SO EXCITED.

And though the book isn't coming out until Spring/2015, I felt compelled (yes, COMPELLED) to create a Facebook Page in celebration of my very first children's book with writing and illustration credit: If you're on Facebook, I'd be grateful if you'd Like it. :-)

Anyway, Justin and I had a phone meeting last week about the mss and thumbnails. Next step for me: go back and revise the mss. Justin says that the picture book dummy I sent him is in good shape, but that there are some awkward bits in the text here and there that don't read well out loud, plus the ending seems rushed.

He advised me to always read the text out loud ("It changes everything") to help find places where it doesn't flow well. If there are sections of the text that are not fun to read out loud, then there's a problem that needs to be fixed.

Aside: Justin said that the "read aloud" test is good for novels for older readers as well, not just picture books.

So...I've gone through the mss many times now, reading it aloud and tweaking. Justin's asked me to try writing in third-person instead of first-person, and getting rid of some of the dialog that was slowing down parts of the story (and not fun to read out loud).

I am SO enjoying this process. I do not exaggerate when I say that by the end of the phonecall, I had a stupid-happy grin ear-to-ear. I lovelovelove this creative collab aspect.

Justin is a brilliant editor. He's able to see straight into the heart of what works and doesn't work in a picture book story, and (just as important) is able to communicate this. He doesn't micro-manage, but guides me in the right direction and trusts me to follow through. His enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring. 

And I'm learning SO MUCH. 

Here are a few things I've learned so far in this whole process:

Writing a picture book mss is easy. Writing a good picture book that is different from anything out there AND has commercial appeal is much more of a challenge.

Awareness of pacing and page-turn placement is vital.

Read the text of your picture story out loud. If there are parts that are not fun to read out loud, then those are problem areas that need to be fixed.


Now, back to work.


This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts about writing and illustrating a picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.


Interview: Audrey Vernick on writing picture books, editing process and BOGART AND VINNIE (Bloomsbury/Walker)

Audrey Vernick writes picture books and middle-grade novels. Her nonfiction book Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, illustrated by Steven Salerno, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012 and BCCB Blue Ribbon Winner 2013. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Arts Council’s fiction fellowship, Audrey lives with her husband, son, daughter and two dogs near the ocean.

Audrey was kind enough to answer a few questions about her newest book: BOGART AND VINNIE: A Completely Made-Up Story Of True Friendship, written by Audrey and illustrated by Henry Cole (Walker/Bloomsbury), a Junior Library Guild selection.


When Vinnie, a crazy-happy dog, gets lost at a nature preserve, he finds comfort in the company of Bogart, a big, lazy rhinoceros. Everyone at Wildlands Preserve believes that Bogart and Vinnie are the best of friends. In reality, the games they play—hide and seek, follow the leader—have more to do with Bogart trying to rid himself of an unwelcome, albeit very enthusiastic, visitor. Can Bogart and Vinnie survive their misunderstood relationship and brief brush with fame?

Where to find out more about Audrey Vernick: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook

Interior image from BOGART AND VINNIE (Bloomsbury). Written by Audrey Vernick, ill. by Henry Cole.

Q. What was your writing process for BOGART AND VINNIE?

I’m not sure I have a process, but if I do, this book did not fall within its usual parameters. Bogart and Vinnie’s story is a weird one.

I became tickled with the idea of trying to satirize the nonfiction inter-species friendship picture-book genre. It seemed like the strangest phenomenon—so many of these books were published by different houses but their cover design is nearly identical, as though they’re different books in the same series. That was how I envisioned the cover of Bogart and Vinnie, initially, but this project kept growing in different directions.

Vinnie, the crazy-happy dog, was patiently waiting around for a new project after the one he appeared in, A Puppy’s Guide To Training, failed to sell. Vinnie’s unshakable enthusiasm was something I really enjoyed working with. (And please let it be noted for the record that he was written before the movie Up came out. Similarities have been pointed out. ) Bogart, for years, was a pot-bellied pig. And though the story now takes place at a nature preserve, its original setting was a shelter.

Audrey's office. "I always believe I need an office. Now I have one. It’s always a mess. And I never use it. The “OG” you see is not GO in the wrong order, nor does it stand for nearby Ocean Grove, New Jersey. A friend and neighbor, shortly after we met, decided I was the spitting image of Ogee from Magilla Gorilla, despite the fact that I am not six inches tall and do not have orange hair. The letters were a gift from her."

Most of the changes came about because of an editor’s interest. She loved the idea at first but wanted to really push the satire, to include elements from some of the famous inter-species friendship books—Owen & Mzee, Tarra & Bella, Suryia and Roscoe—and elements of Christian the Lion too.

Click the image above to see a PDF (395k) sample of one round of edits for BOGART AND VINNIE. From Audrey: "(This is) a very marked up pages of an early draft by Stacy Cantor, who was my editor at Walker (no longer there)."Once I completed that revision, her coworkers thought no, there should probably be less reliance on pre-existing knowledge of those other books. And by the way, was Audrey married to the idea of Bogart as a pot-bellied pig?

That was a hard one. Bogart had been a pig for a long time on paper and in my head. They wanted an animal whose contrast with a dog was more extreme, for greater comic effect. And so Bogart morphed into a rhinoceros. I guess Bogart and Vinnie is the best example among my books of accepting editorial guidance.

From the beginning of my writing life, I was always impressed when writers, faced with a requested revision that resulted in a near miss (something I have experienced on many occasions), politely said they were grateful for the experience and knew they had a stronger book as a result.

I am almost always willing to give an editor’s suggestions a try. (The only exception that comes to mind is the editor who suggested I fictionalize Brothers at Bat to give it more drama.) But I rarely share that “this is surely better than it was” sentiment. Not that I think it’s worse. It’s just different. I gave something a try and now I have a different story. I did a lot of experimenting with this book.

I really loved the idea of a book whose story and illustration played against its narration. There are still elements of that in the book—readers will get that Bogart cannot stand Vinnie. That has more to do with the genius of illustrator Henry Cole than with my writing. Once Henry came on board, I knew the book would be fine. So much that is funny about this book comes from what Henry brought to it.

Interior image from BOGART AND VINNIE (Bloomsbury). Written by Audrey Vernick, ill. by Henry Cole.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?

Photo from school visit in Newark, NJ.I wish I could go back in time and give myself some advice, but the sad truth is I didn’t want to hear it then. A lot of what I know now had to be learned by doing and living through.

Still, I think I would grab back-then-me by the shoulders and scream right into my face, “Don’t get too hung up on what you think is your first truly viable/sell-able manuscript.

Even though my first picture book, co-written with my sister Ellen Gidaro, DID finally find a home, it took years. Many years. And I had a crazed myopic focus that could have benefited from some mellowing. I could have written so much more during that time.

From Audrey's first bookstore reading & signing of BOGART AND VINNIE, "with my pals Evan and Noah at Booktowne in Manasquan, NJ."Hand-in-hand with that advice is this: Do NOT become fixated on exceptions to the rule.

I really, really felt like if Kevin Henkes got to write long texts, there was no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to, too. Sure, no-name Audrey Vernick. You keep submitting your 1400-word manuscripts and see how that works out for you.

The intensity of desire for that first sale is something I will never forget. It is all-consuming, or at least, it was for me.

And though I don’t hear a lot of people saying this, I think a major factor that comes into first sales (and subsequent sales) is luck—hitting the right editor’s desk on the right day with the right manuscript.

In the case of one of my early sales, the acquisitions meeting was postponed a ridiculous number of times. The last postponement nearly killed me. But ultimately, the reason the book was acquired had everything to do with the weekend get-away a key player at the meeting had taken that very week, which had made her curious about the life of the subject of my book. Had the meeting taken place the previous week, it would not have sold.

"With my son and husband at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where I gave a talk on Effa Manley (and, two years later, on the Acerra brothers from BROTHERS AT BAT), doing the wave."

Q. What are you working on now? Any current news or upcoming releases you'd like to mention?

I just finished revision on my second novel, Screaming at the Ump, which comes out April 1. I’m halfway through a first draft of another, presently titled Army Of One. There’s a picture book I adore that needs more revising—and my editor at Clarion gave me great notes for it. I’m also in the early stages of co-writing a chapter book with my friend, the excellent writer Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

But I spend most of my time gushing over Priscilla Burris’ art for our spring 2014 release, Edgar’s Second Word. I am not sure there has ever been anything cuter in existence. Ever.

I have a couple of New Jersey appearances for Bogart and Vinnie this month, and then I think the summer’s mostly quiet until the (always awesome) Princeton Children’s Book Fair in September. One of the things I’ll be working on this summer is the picture book revision workshop I’m teaching at an SCBWI conference in Michigan in October. I’m really looking forward to that!


Where to find out more about Audrey Vernick: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook


Writers: Don't get hung up on your 1st mss. Know when to move on. @AudreyVernick (BOGART AND VINNIE) this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Gratitude, Encouragement and Inspiration: My Eighth Grade Teacher, Mr. David Smallwood

So much goodstuff has happened to me since 2010, when I was offered my first book contract. This is one of a series of blog posts (in no particular order) about people to whom I am grateful. Posts so far: My career-changing SCBWI conference - My thank you letter to the SCBWI - A thank you to Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's.

Above: My eighth grade teacher, David Smallwood, surprised me (and yes, made me weepy) last year by attending my very first book launch, for my illustrations in I'M BORED.  Not only that, but he gave me a folder full of my writing back then, which he had kept all these years:

Most of these stories and poems were written solely to show my teacher for the pure fun of it, NOT because they were assigned. All were typed manually (with mistakes laboriously fixed with correction fluid), and a few illustrations. Back then, I mainly wrote science fiction, horror and mystery, and was fond of twist endings.

David Smallwood (I still can't help but think of him as Mr. Smallwood, though he encourages me to call him David now) is the first teacher who ever encouraged me in my creative writing. I loved his sharp wit and the way he noticed individual students, no matter how quiet or shy. I clearly remember how much his comments about my writing made me more confident, drew me out of my shell.

We used to have a "who can be more witty/snarky" letter war going on that I hugely enjoyed. I used to spend hours with a thesaurus in my efforts to find longer and longer words in our literary one-upmanship contest:


I'm still fascinated by words, slightly off-beat humor and snark.

After I graduated from grade school, my friend Cathy and I used to go back and visit Mr. Smallwood from time to time. As high school students, we felt so sophisticated and grown-up as we reminisced with our former teacher about our year, exchanged gossip about what others from our class were up to. Sometimes Mr. Smallwood would ask me about my writing.

Visits grew less frequent once I started attending university. I reveled in my new independence. Unlike high school, I found boys that interested me AND were interested IN me: geeky nerdboys who liked the same books and movies as I did, who didn't think me odd for not wearing makeup and hating clothes shopping. I had a boyfriend.

Earnscliffe Public School seemed so very distant, though from time to time I found myself thinking of Mr. Smallwood because none of the profs I had in university inspired me the same way. Mr. S and I would exchange snailmail letters, but the time between our letters grew as I got distracted by my studies and then by work.

Years passed, and we eventually lost contact until we found each other on Facebook. Last Fall, I sent him an invite to the launch of I'M BORED at Type Books in Toronto on whim, not really expecting that he'd be able to attend since he lived out of town and we weren't really in touch. 

At the launch, he hung back behind most of the people, so I didn't see him until I signed books. Even then, he was one of the very last people in line. I can't remember what he said, but I recall recognizing the voice and looking up. Then screaming, "MR. SMALLWOOD!!!"

I was SO incredibly touched that he had made the trek out to attend my very first book launch, and proudly introduced him around. My husband had heard many stories about my favorite teacher, so it was a special pleasure to finally be able to have them meet in person.

Side note: Although I've gotten close a few times, my agent and I haven't yet found a home for my middle grade novel manuscripts. I've shelved two so far and I keep working on my craft. Some of my Torkidlit pals, the MIGWriters critique group and friends/family help me finetune my stories. I'm much more confident about my writing now than I was in the beginning, and continue to work on getting better.

When I updated Mr. Smallwood on what was going on with my writing, he encouraged me not to give up on getting my novels published.

And I won't. 

It WILL happen.

To Mr. David Smallwood and all the school teachers out there who continue to encourage young people in pursuing their creative passions: THANK YOU. You make more difference than you can possibly imagine.

(Thanks to my friend Walter K. for the book launch photos.)



Kelly Light, Kidlit Dynamo: On Illustrating THE QUIRKS and ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS, Middle Grade Novels, Writing & Illustrating Picture Books

I first came across Kelly Light's work online. Not only did I love her fun character sketches, but I was also drawn to her writing -- edgy, fun and bubbling over with enthusiasm for all things kidlit. Then I met her at an SCBWI conference and found she was the same in person!

If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to read Erin O'Shea's great interview with Kelly about how Kelly went from animation/marketing to being a fulltime children's book writer and illustrator.

Kelly is also one of the most productive freelancers I know, with many projects on-the-go and in the pipeline:

The Quirks, Welcome to Normal - Spring 2013 Bloomsbury. Author: Erin Soderberg, Illustrator: Kelly Light. Facebook Page.

Elvis and the Underdogs - Spring 2013 Balzer and Bray. Author: Jenny Lee, Illustrator: Kelly Light. Book website. Facebook page.

The Quirks: Circus Quirkus - Spring 2014 Bloomsbury. Author: Erin Soderberg, Illustrator: Kelly Light.

Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service and Room Service - Spring 2014 Balzer and Bray. Author: Jenny Lee, Illustrator: Kelly Light.

Louise Loves Art - Fall 2014 Balzer and Bray. Author & illustrator: Kelly Light.

Lola Knows a Lot! - Fall 2015 Balzer and Bray. Author: Jenna McCarthy, illustrator: Kelly Light.

plus three more picture books she can't talk about yet. :-)

You can find out more about Kelly at her website, Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown Ltd.

Q. How did you start illustrating middle grade novels?

I was checking my emails, the night that I gave my first workshop on character design at the NESCBWI conference in April, 2012... when I spotted an email from Bloomsbury. I was excited to read that they and the author of The Quirks: Welcome to Normal both were interested in me illustrating this new Middle Grade chapter book. I did not respond that night. I was too shocked. The next day I whispered to someone..."I just got my first offer." They exclaimed ,"What are you waiting for!?"

S0, I went home and typed that I would LOVE to read it. This would be my first book with a bigger publishing house.... I was excited to read my first manuscript. I sat down on the living room couch, which is where I love to read in the quiet... put my feet up... read the first chapter... and fell in love with the quirky characters.

Sketch for THE QUIRKS: WELCOME TO NORMAL. Copyright © Kelly Light.

The Quirks: Welcome to Normal by Erin Soderberg was so imaginative, I could not wait to start drawing the images that were exploding in my brain.

I signed on for that project and started sketching.

Copyright ©2013 Kelly Light.


One month later, I was on a plane to Florida and got another email. This time from Balzer and Bray, and imprint of Harper Collins. Would I sketch some dogs with "personality". They were looking for an illustrator for a middle grade chapter book as well. I drew during the entire plane ride. Because I was going on vacation- all of the dogs that I drew became characters that in my head worked at a surf shop... They were silly. But it did the trick and I got the book!

Sketches from LOUISE LOVES ART. Copyright ©2013 Kelly Light.

Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee was underway as well. It stars a boy named Benji who is need of a service dog. When that dog arrives, it is a big Newfoundland named Elvis. It's a book filled with heart.

The two chapter books kept me busy through the summer and the fall with character design, cover design, cover color concepts and interior sketches. During that time I also was lucky to sign 3 picture book deals. I learned to juggle- fast.

Character sketch for LOUISE LOVES ART. ©2013 Kelly Light.

Working on "MG" - or middle grade. Is a lot of fun. Drawing for an older audience allows for some broader humor and a lot of detail. The black and white art for me stays fresh as it's pure drawing. I loved MG as a kid. Most of my all time favorite books are MG. It was a drawing frenzy of happiness as I sketched the interiors. It may just be my sweet spot as an illustrator. Having said that...

Middle grade illustration is a lot of work in a shorter amount of time. The deadlines come quick. The covers need to be done first so that the books can go into the catalogs and out to the buyers. The print time is a much quicker turn around, so most publishers will have these books in kids' hands with in a season. Start to finish- 6 months - top.

Have whiplash yet?

I do.

Early character design sketches for THE QUIRKS. Copyright © Kelly Light.

Then... there is a good chance, if the first book does well in have a series on your hands. Suddenly you have to see your life blocked out books and books ahead. Deadline to deadline. As if your life is now a chapter book itself. Good fortune? Yes.... but B-U-S-Y.

The relationships that I have built with both of my art directors are very important because of the short and firm deadlines. They say when they need it and I say if it's possible with in my staying alive for me to do that. We all have really gotten to know how each other works and thinks..and recovers post deadline.:)

Cover image for Elvis and the Underdog Facebook page.

So- knowledge is power, as School House Rock taught us in the 70's. Know before you get in... MG is fun, fast and furious.

Now that both first chapter books are out, it is delightful. I am already finishing the covers on the second books in both series.

I have had contact with the author of The Quirks, Erin Soderberg, She and I connected when she contacted me to tell me how much she loved the illustrations and I told her how much her words hit my imagination.

As far as how I create the art for the MG chapter books, I work in Photoshop. Time constraints make this the easiest way to go. Revisions- tweaks... quick fixes don't get any easier than working in layers. I sketch character design by hand tho... something about paper and pencil and that initial spark... it all just goes together.

Q. What's your typical work day?

Mondays - I do the administrative stuff and try to plan out the week. The least amount of art gets done on a Monday. Friday seems to be my most productive day.. which weirds me out. Maybe it's because I know during the weekends it's harder to accomplish a lot.

Each Day is kinda like this: Wake up. This is not an easy task even when I have not been up for a deadline. I wake up around 6-6:30. I get my 13 year old (who moves even slower than I do in the morning) - off to school.

I do my social media in the mornings usually while I have coffee and egg whites and an English muffin. I am a creature of habit. I eat the same thing every morning. Then at 9 - I am off to the gym, 4 days a week. I think the amount of time I spend sitting on my tucchus is awful for me. So- this is non-negotiable time for me. (I do slip up right at a deadline tho..can't not sleep and go to spin class)

I come home and hit the work. I work until 2:45. Then I get the kid...and hope she has after school plans, so I can go back to work. Most days she does. I work until dinner. Notice I am not saying that I cooked that dinner. I am lucky if I have time to cook twice a week these days. I try to cook in large quantity so we have left overs, when I do. The other nights... it's every Light for themselves..

I go back to work from 7 until I can't stay up any longer. I try to take off Friday nights and Saturday nights. Altho, right before a deadline ... I have no idea what night it is so I just keep working..... food is brought to me.. I grunt. I devolve a bit.


Q. Could you describe your studio?

I work up in my attic.

The act of ascending those steps helps. Working in the house is a distraction, so I am happy to close the door and feel a bit in a world of my own.

Above my studio door, I hung pictures of people I really look up to. They all have 1 thing in common. They marched to the beat of their own drum. Followed their own path.

My studio is a bit messy right now...cause I am so busy... but I like to share a realistic picture of my here goes...

Above my head right now. My inspiration wall for Louise Loves Art. "You Are Here" - it's a message to myself. I get kind of lost in my work, in the flurry of how much work I have.. that I feel a bit disconnected from life. I hung that up a few weeks ago to look at. I also need to get a handle on what has happened and be really, really present and own it. I did this, it did not happen to me.

To my left right now:

Those manilla envelopes are all manuscripts. There's the finished Elvis book! A mock up of The Quirks diner mugs the author and I made for promotion, The cover mock up for Louise, an old radio, I collect them, my first reader and Richard Scarry, who I love.

To my right, right now:

That's my Cintiq. I got it a year ago- it makes work faster than drawing on a Wacom tablet. My revisions on Louise. My uke ... it's a de-stresser. I sing a lot.My clock, Spartacus...he has a name, and my favorite thing in the world- The Iron Giant.

Behind me:

My drafting table. Most of my sketching happens there.

Above my drafting table hangs:

This is how I feel these days . Like Charlie after the elevator ride... he has to get to work...and wear the heavy pumpkin colored top hat and make great chocolate.

Where I never sit:

This is my thinking chair... but now- it's covered in books by people I know! Which is thrilling!! Jane Yolen says..(I am paraphrasing) "In this business, if you can not be happy for the success of your friends, you have no business being in it."

My book shelves.... imploding:

TOYS!!!! Stuff! Dust!!

And Pepperland... I am a Beatles nut.

I have a dog, Jabba the Mutt and my daughter's cat, Jedi..who hang out up here allllll the time. Here's an old pic of them..kitten on the internet. Awww.

Q. What advice do you have for those interested in illustrating middle grade novels?

I think what I can say to those who wish to illustrate MG chapter books is - It's all about character. You are drawing for 7-11 year olds. These kids want to know the characters. This is the age when the characters are your friends. The characters help you get through some crazy changes in your life. They want to connect- SO be specific with the "WHO". WHO is the main character?... draw them so they feel they could sit next to them at school. Who are the friends and the side kicks and the adults? They should all have something recognizable to the reader , just like in real life, no matter how unrealistic you may draw them. They should FEEL real. Also... bring THE FUNNY. This age loves to laugh. The illustrations in MG can really add humor and another layer to the text.

I am a true believer in Laughter is the best medicine- and this age group wants to laugh their way into and through their tweens...

Having some strong black and whites of the right age kids in your portfolio in REAL moments that happen in 4th grade- 5th grade. Braces. Awkwardness. Cliques start to form. Girls travel in packs. Bullying or standing up to it. School stress. Being bad at sports. Someone is an underdog. Science Fair explosions... There- I gave you some ideas!!

Advice from Kelly:

My "getting here " story is typical. I've met many people like me who tried for years and years to get published before they got their first book deal.

My "I've got book deals! "I had better learn to juggle fire while on a unicycle!?!" story.. is a little atypical. I currently have 10 books under contract.

Sketch from LOUISE LOVES ART. Copyright © Kelly Light.

These days, I want to yell out my car window.. "Don't give up!", everywhere I go, but that's too simple. "Hang in there!" "Follow your passion!" -- they all are true but not enough to cross over and get books.

So let's talk turkey.

Do not waste time.

This is not a hobby. If you are serious about making childrens' books - take yourself and your work, seriously and have some serious fun doing it.

You must work it.

Work your butt off.

Sell the hell out of yourself.

Put your best foot, face and work forward.

Stop wondering what they want. Stop looking at other people's work. Make the art that is YOU. The art that you were born to make.

You were a 4 year old, a 2nd grader , a 4th grader.. that never left you. Just listen.. he/she's telling you exactly how it felt to be that age.

In the end - that's it in a nutshell.

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

I am now finishing my first picture book as Author.Illustrator. It is called "Louise loves Art" w/ Balzer and Bray. It comes out fall 2014.

I have 3 picture books lined up behind that like planes on the runway at JFK. Everyone hope for me... I do better than JFK does.... at getting up in the air on time!

I am looking forward to school visits and talking to kids about the importance of "drawing". Most kids draw and at some point stop. I wonder how many kids these days have the time to . From being a Mom in this age of technology and over booked activities.. I worry.. no kids watch the clouds... and see rabbits or dragons. No kids steam up the back car window with their breath and draw with their fingers. No kids stop to pick dandelions..blow the seeds than tie the stems into shapes. The act of drawing is like visual meditation. So I wanna bring drawing back. That's my own hope for what my picture book will spark when I get the chance to talk to kids about expressing themselves. There's a line in my book, "I love art. It's my imagination on the outside." I wrote that before I wrote anything else. It's a motto and a mission statement.


You can find out more about Kelly at her websiteFacebook and Twitter. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown Ltd.


Curious about how middle grade novels get illustrated? @KellyLight offers insights & sketches: (via @inkyelbows) (Tweet this)

Advice to aspiring bk illustrators: Stop wondering what they want. Make YOUR art. - @KellyLight (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Video: Maurice Sendak On Being A Kid (Blank On Blank's Animated Version)

Blank On Blank finds vintage interview tapes and adds new animations. Their mission: "to curate and transform journalists' unheard interviews with American icons. The future of journalism is remixing the past."

I enjoyed this 2009 interview with Maurice Sendak in his Connecticut home, and thought the creators did a good job at matching the tone of the animations to the interview content. You can find more info about Blank On Blank's other projects at their website(Thanks to Monica Edinger for the video link.)

Yesterday was what would have been Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday. Google had a great Google Doodle tribute to Sendak:

Some advice for writers from Maurice Sendak:

"Unplug when you need inspiration." (4 Lessons On Writing (And Life) From Maurice Sendak | PRDaily)

"Wield a more subversive sword!" (from a Slate post/obituary)

Stories about children need to reflect the truth. (Why Maurice Sendak Insisted He Didn't Write For Children | TIME)

More Maurice Sendak video goodness...

Maurice Sendak talks about his career, William Blake and writing children's books ("I don't know how to write children's books...") in 2011 in his upstate New York home. Warning: some of Maurice's language is not child-friendly. :-)

Maurice Sendak on his work, childhood, inspirations:



Picture Book Writing Process: How Hélène Boudreau Wrote I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN (Candlewick Press)

I met Hélène Boudreau through Torkidlit, and have continued to be impressed by this woman's energy and enthusiasm for kidlit/YA online and offline. I interviewed Hélène a couple of years ago about her book, REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS, and am delighted to be interviewing her again about her picture book, I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN.

The book just recently came out from Candlewick, and has hugely adorable illustrations by the French artist, Serge Bloch.

Hélène is an Acadian/Métis writer and artist. A native of Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, she writes fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults from her land-locked home in Markham, Ontario, Canada. She has published five non-fiction and nine fiction books for children and young adults, including the picture book I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN (Candlewick) and the tween series REAL MERMAIDS (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky).

You can find more info about Hélène at her website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

Q. What is your writing process? 

People are often surprised when I tell them it took me three times longer to write and revise my 400-word picture book, I Dare You Not to Yawn compared to my 50,000 word novels from my Real Mermaids tween series but it is absolutely true. That said, the process for creating both is quite similar. When I speak to school groups about my writing process, I do it in terms of the ABC’s of writing. Of course, it’s not as simple as that sounds but it’s really all about:

Aha! Getting your brilliant idea and developing it. Begin! Putting pen to paper (or pixel to screen) and giving into your story with wild abandon. Complete! Seeing your story through to the end, being open to criticism, and not giving up until it is as perfect as you can make it.

Aha! I tend to get my ideas in stages. Usually, when something strikes me as a great picture book concept, I jot it down in my ‘Ideas’ folder and let it knock around in my noggin for a few weeks or months. I poke at it with a stick, wondering how to attack it, then finally one day the moment seems right and I start writing things down.

For I Dare You Not to Yawn, the idea originated when my daughter was about 4 years old. She would do this thing at the dinner table where she’d let out a great big yawny-YAWN then watch to see what would happen. Of course, then I started yawning. Then so did her sister and her dad. Soon, we were ALL yawning until we finally figured out she was doing it on purpose!


Of course! Yawns are contagious! Perfect idea for a bedtime story.

So, that was the kernel of the story. I thought about that for a long time, wondering how I would approach the concept and turn it into a picture book. Because of the subversive nature of my daughter’s antics, though, I knew I didn’t want it to be just a sweet, lulling, comfy bedtime story. Instead, I wanted to turn the idea on its ear and approach it from a slightly different angle, which gave me the idea to write an anti-bedtime story (i.e. a how-to guide to avoiding bedtime). Of course, the ultimate outcome remains the same—making kids feel sleepy and cozy and ready for bedtime—but I wanted the child to be an accomplice with the narrator in a way where everyone understands where the story is going but happily tags along for the ride.

Begin! Now was the time for research. First, I made a list of any yawn-inducing images I could think of: bed time stories, lullabies, comfy stuffies and yawning baby animals. But that wasn’t enough. Since this book was meant to be a read-aloud, I actually needed to use words that mimicked the action of yawning. Mouth-stretching words like rawr and baabaa and of course yawn itself. This would make the reader open his/her mouth W-I-D-E to actually induce the reflex to yawn while reading.

Then, I started writing. Sections of the manuscript came all at once, other parts took more time but the first draft took a period of a few months, I would say. In the initial stages of writing picture books, I organize my writing in a spreads template, which is typically a 5 x 3 table to represent 15 spreads, which is a typical amount in a 32-page picture book.

Breaking text into spreads like this can really help in studying the pacing of a story. I experiment and layout my text in a 5 x 3 grid and also a 3 x 5 grid to see how the story 'chunks up' (that's a technical term *wink*). The story I’m writing at the moment, for example, works best in a 4 x 4 grid and gives the story its best symmetry.

It's wonderfully useful to start thinking in two-page 'spreads' like this when writing picture books because it lends itself well to the illustration end of things. If you take a look at my illustrator's website for I Dare You Not to Yawn, you'll see what I mean. I’ll wait here while you do that. But, please come back. I’ll miss you…

Click image above to visit illustrator's blog post about I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN

Serge shows a couple of spreads of his illustrations based on the breakdown of my text. In some spreads like (spread 1/ page 4-5) the text only happens on one page, though the art spreads across two. In another, like (spread 2/ page 6-7) the text and pictures are broken up into two distinct entities, and finally in (spread 8/ page 18-19) both the text and the pictures flow over the two pages.

When submitting my manuscript to my editor, though, I don’t use the table since it makes it hard for her to make editorial comments. I format my text like a typical manuscript and label each spread with headings so she can visualize the page breaks. Example:

Spread 1 (page 4-5)

Text, text, text…

Spread 2 (page 5-6)

Text, text, text…

and so on until

Spread 15 (page 32)

Text, text, text…

I keep my ‘illustration notes' as sidebar ‘comments’ or numbered footnotes so they don't clutter the text.

IMPORTANT: be mindful to only add illustration notes when absolutely necessary (ie when the text has a double meaning, which is not obvious, frex).

Complete! Now that I’ve worked on my text and have revised it within an inch of its life, it’s the time to show my work to a few trusted critique friends, my kids, my husband, my agent and whomever else will be gracious enough to read my story. This is the time I’m most possessive of my words—like showing off your newborn baby to the world and daring anyone to tell you it’s not the most beautiful creature they’ve ever seen. But, of course, I need to get over myself and allow the story to be vulnerable for a while. This is the final step before I send my story to my editor so I want it to be the best I can make it. Do I pout? Lots! But it’s for the greater good and I work on my story for a few more months in this manner.

Finally, it’s time to share my manuscript with my editor. By now, I Dare You Not to Yawn had taken about a year and a half to write and revise in its various iterations. I had shared it with at least a dozen people so I had a lot of opportunity for feedback. You would think, at this point, that the story was pretty much ready to send to the printing press, right?

Not so fast, cowgirl.

Before acquiring the project, my editor and I did a pretty intense round of revisions. I worked for weeks to get it perfect then sent it off again, hoping I’d struck the right chord. I must have done something right(ish) because a few days later my agent called with the news that Candlewick would, indeed, like to publish I Dare You Not to Yawn. That was in Fall 2009.

*cue 76 trombones in a big parade*

Can I haz a picture book published now, plz?

Nuh-uh, hold your horses sum’more!

It actually took 18 more months and 6 major revisions for my editor and I to get the text in shape enough so that Serge Bloch could get started on illustrations. Bless my editor’s heart—she was SO patient with me as we worked on draft after draft (after draft). There were times when I honestly thought I should give back my advance money and call it a draw. But I tried to put my trust in the editorial process and we persisted until I heard the precious words; “It’s ready!”.

And as a special treat (or possibly an exercise to discourage anyone from attempting to publish a picture book, like EVER), my editor has given me permission to share the evolution of that text with you here. The following is the step-by-step process (with some, but not all, of the line edit comments and her general editorial comments as footnotes) of how the text changed over that period of a year and a half. There were still a few tweaks after this once we had the context of Serge’s illustrations but you get the picture.

PDF: Evolution of I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN over six drafts (124k)

In total, from editorial acquisition in fall of 2009 to revisions and illustration to publication in spring of 2013, it was nearly a four year process.

Was it worth it? Totally!

But, hopefully, now you can understand why it took me longer to write, revise, and publish this 400-word picture book compared to my 50,000 word Real Mermaids novels. *wink*

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers? 

No matter how good you think your idea is—the next one could be better.

It is so important to be constantly generating ideas as a picture book author because, for example, of the thirty or so picture book manuscripts I have in various stages of development on my hard drive, only two (so far) have been actually published. Those are not great odds but the more you create the better chance you have of success. I often see authors fall in love with ONE idea and work and work and work on that idea at the expense of creating new stories. I admire their tenacity but it might not be the best approach at hitting on not only a good idea but a marketable idea. I try to think of those other 28 ideas on my hard drives as prototypes. Good but not GREAT. Keep it fresh and keep it moving, people!

No matter how good you think your book is—it can be better.

There are so many things authors can do to raise their game. My writing improved by leaps and bounds when I joined a critique group. Revision, revision, revision! It’s the process of sculpting away the excess clay to reveal your masterpiece inside. In my case, though, I can only take my story to a certain point on my own (maybe the ‘good’ point?) but need objective feedback to help take things from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Reading many, many, many books in the picture book genre to get a sense of how the pros do it and reading books on ‘craft’ can be useful as well. Going to conferences, reading articles and joining professional author associations are a wealth of information as well.

It’s not one thing, it’s everything.

No matter how unfair and just-plain-wrong the comments from your critique partner/agent/ editor seem to be—there is usually truth in every critique. It’s your job to pull out the ‘why’ of their reactions.

This can be so frustrating. Just recently, my agent critiqued a picture book manuscript of mine and while she loved the overall concept she thought my ‘punch line’ in spread #13 could use more punch and she gave me a potential example of how I could spice things up. “Are you kidding me?” was my first response, “my idea is MUCH more brilliant! Why can’t she see that??”. (LOL, sorry super agent, Lauren…)

So, I sulked for a while (three weeks, to be exact), asked two other people for their advice in the meantime (one who agreed with her, which made me sulk even more) then got over myself and tried to look at my agent’s comments in a less egotistical/prima donna manner. Now, finally, I am realizing that even though my agent had given me an example of how the story could be better, that was merely a jumping off point for me to push myself and get the story to the next level.

Was she right after all? Begrudgingly, yes. There is a problem with the punch line. My agent was merely pointing that out. Now, it’s my job to figure out how to fix it.

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

At this very moment, I’m working on revisions for the fourth book in the Real Mermaids series. I’m also working on a new picture book, which I hope will be a companion picture book to I Dare You Not to Yawn but that remains to be seen—if only I can sort out spread #13!

You can connect with Hélène at her website, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.


Author @HeleneBoudreau shares revision/editorial notes for 6 drafts of pb I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN: (Tweet this)

Revision process = sculpting away excess clay to reveal masterpiece within. @HeleneBoudreau tips: (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.




Monsters, Picture Books and Creative Process: Author Tara Lazar & Illustrator James Burks re: THE MONSTORE (Aladdin)

I first became familiar with Tara Lazar through her wonderful blog, Writing For Kids (While Raising Them) and her PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). THE MONSTORE is written by Tara (her debut picture book) and illustrated by James Burks, and just came out from Aladdin / Simon & Schuster Children's.

Basic story premise: Zach buys Manfred The Monster from The Monstore to keep his little sister from snooping in his bedroom, but his plan backfires as Gracie teams up with Manfred. Zach goes back to The Monstore (no refunds or exchanges) for another monster...and another...and another. I won't give away the fun surprise ending; you'll have to get your own copy to see. I love the bright colors and scary-cute monsters, and Gracie is awesome.

Tara's upcoming books include I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(illustrator: Benji Davies, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2014) and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (illustrator tba, Random House Children's). More info about Tara and her books on her website at, and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

This post was originally an author interview, but then James was kind enough to answer a few questions about THE MONSTORE as well; you can find his answers after Tara's. James is the author and illustrator of BIRD & SQUIRREL ON THE RUN (Scholastic/Graphix), BEEP AND BAH (Carolrhoda) and GABBY & GATOR (Yen Press). You can find more about James Burks and his projects at his website.


Q. Do you  have a writing process? What was your process for THE MONSTORE?

My writing process is to have no process. Seriously. I abhor routine and find that taking the same approach for every manuscript stifles my creativity. Sometimes an idea bursts into my brain and I cannot stop it, it's like a runaway shopping cart. I must sit down and write and let it flow without my internal editor saying "STOP. WAIT. I DON'T LIKE THIS SENTENCE." I can figure it all out later; this concept cannot wait! Yet other times, I get a glimmer of an idea, just a faint sparkle, and I write it down to save for later.

The concept needs to "marinate" like a chewy flank steak. I'd like to say I have an idea notebook that I carefully organize and categorize, but the honest truth is sometimes I write an idea on the back of the electric bill, on my daughter’s Kindergarten artwork, or an old, crumpled Panera receipt. The best part about this is finding that scrap weeks or months later and going YES! I CAN WRITE THIS NOW!

I don't have any rituals, either. Some days I write from a breakfast tray on my unmade bed. Others, I write at my too-small kitchen table. When it's nice out, I go on the backyard deck. Sometimes I write first thing in the morning. Sometimes I write after everyone has gone to bed. Some days I write 5 words and erase 3. And I call that a very productive day.

I do a lot of staring. One day my husband came into the bedroom where I was working. He asked me a question, but I didn't respond. It didn't register; I was so deep into my manuscript. He finally asked, "Oh, are you writing?" I answered yes. "But you aren't typing." I laughed. "I'm staring," I explained. "Staring is writing." I stare a lot. The most time-consuming part of writing a picture book is the staring. (OK, you can call it thinking.)

Some characters from THE MONSTORE. Art ©2013 James Burks.

THE MONSTORE began with just a title. That's it. I thought it was a clever play on words. But I had no story to go with it. I carried the title in my brain for months. It would pop out at inconvenient moments, like at the checkout line at the grocery store. It would ask, "Hey, Tara. When are you going to take me for a ride?!" I thought the pineapple was talking to me. And I told the pineapple it was getting pushed in the cart and to keep quiet, there was Kardashian gossip to read.

Then I attended the NJ-SCBWI conference in 2009 and met an agent I had known from social media. She asked what I was working on--the question every writer hopes for--and I didn't have a good answer. I asked if I could send her a list of picture book concepts to see what would be the best ones to pursue. She agreed. And I had nothing to send!

So I quickly came up with a premise for THE MONSTORE: a boy wants to return the monster he bought because it doesn't spook his little sister. The agent told me to run with it. So I tossed out the pineapple, shoved THE MONSTORE into the shopping cart, and away we coasted! The story spilled out quickly and my critique partner, author Corey Rosen Schwartz, said "This will sell!" I was submission-shy at that point, having racked up a pile of rejections, so I sat on the story for months.

Tara's workspace. "There is my husband, my tea, my lunch and a stack of unmade bed workspace!"

I submitted it to another NJ-SCBWI event, but I couldn’t attend because I had become ill with Multiple Sclerosis. It was a really bad time for me. I was bedridden and depressed. But the organizer of the event said she would have the editor mail her critique to me. When it arrived, the envelope was so fat, I assumed it was crammed with all the things the editor hated, so I ignored it. I let it sit on the kitchen counter for a couple weeks.

When I finally got the nerve to open the letter, I read the first sentence and couldn’t believe it: “What a fun story with a clever premise. I was hooked on page one.” The letter was filled with complimentary bullet points with suggestions for revision and an invitation to submit. That’s when I knew I had something special and I began querying agents. Soon thereafter I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and about four weeks later, the manuscript sold to Aladdin. It happened very quickly. And it has never happened that quickly ever again!

THE MONSTORE went through two rounds of revisions with my editor Alyson Heller, and I’m so glad it did. It was a good story when I submitted it, but it was a great story when we were finished with the revisions!

Sample image from THE MONSTORE. Art ©2013 James Burks.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?

The best advice I have for aspiring picture book writers is something I wish I would had been told a long time ago. Good writing isn’t enough. You need a killer concept.

Sample image from THE MONSTORE. Art ©2013 James Burks.A well-written story with a mediocre concept will get a form rejection every time. But a fresh, unique concept that needs better execution will get a revision request. And a killer concept that’s written well? That’s your ticket to a contract.

I critique a lot of manuscripts from new writers and that’s my most common suggestion—to work on the concept. Because there are a lot of very good writers who understand the structure of a picture book story, but they write about too-common themes and are almost always pushing a message. Don’t think about delivering a message. Think about entertaining kids.

You hear a lot of talk lately about writing character-driven manuscripts, and that’s good advice. The better advice? Write fun-driven manuscripts. Does a kid want to be taught to eat their spinach and to say please and thank you in a book? Nah. They hear that from their parents, their teachers and their Sunday school. EVERY DAY. Let books be their escape, not yet another place to teach. Go for the fun. You’ll be fostering a life-long love of reading.

Q. Any tips for picture book authors looking for agents?

For PB writers seeking an agent, I suggest having at least 3-5 manuscripts ready to go. The more the better; the more polished the better. Don't query with one or two--because that agent is going to want to see more of your work, I guarantee! Picture books are a difficult sell, and overall they make less money than a novel, so an agent wants to see that you have a body of work they can submit and sell. The best thing to do is to wait and not query too early--because if you query too early, before your manuscripts are ready, you've lost the chance to query that same agent with the same work at a later date. I know this means waiting years--but I don't like to use the term "waiting". It means WORKING years. And it will all be worth it, trust me.

I've also seen new writers make the mistake of querying agents AND editors at the same time. Do not do this if you're intent on getting an agent! If an agent learns the project they love has already been shopped widely and rejected, they'll assume they won't be able to sell it. And you'll lose an agent opportunity.

While you can sell a manuscript on your own, I believe the best bet for new writers is to get an agent. More and more houses are closing to unsolicited submissions. I would never have gotten a deal with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster without my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette.

I didn't really query Joan--I received referrals from two friends and just sent the full manuscript of THE MONSTORE. She loved it and asked to see more of my work. I then submitted two more PB manuscripts and the first chapter of a MG novel. She liked it all! I had queried other agents who only liked THE MONSTORE and some of my ideas (which weren't manuscripts yet), so I knew Joan, who was excited about it all, would be the right agent for me. We've sold three picture book projects together in three years (plus one YA essay), all during my "without a release" phase...with a few more on the horizon...I hope...!

Sample image from THE MONSTORE. Art ©2013 James Burks.

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

Oh my, I think the question is what I am NOT working on now! I sometimes have too many ideas, and that’s what I’m dealing with right now. I’ve had some new manuscripts get rejected recently, but rejected from “fans” who make suggestions for improvement, so I’m eager to revise and get it back to them. And there’s other ideas just begging for me to get started on them. There’s only so much time in a day, and I find that by the time I drop off my kids at school, it’s already time to pick them up again. My days fly by. I am not a morning person, but now I am waking up early on weekends just so I have uninterrupted time to work. Err, I mean stare.


Note from Debbie: I also asked James Burks about what it was like illustrating THE MONSTORE, and here are his responses.

Photo from James Burks website.

Q. What was it like to illustrate THE MONSTORE?

Working on the Monstore was fun. It pushed me to develop a new style that I thought was more "picture-booky." It was a bit more painterly. A bit of a departure from my other style which has more of a comic book feel.

Image © James Burks.Q. What was your process?

I tend to work in Photoshop and draw on a Cintiq monitor with the exception of my initial sketches which I drew in my sketchbook. I wanted the colors to be a bit brighter, especially for the monsters.

I drew inspiration from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland for the interior of the Monstore. I wanted it to be victorian and old and a bit gaudy with gold ornate frames. I like to give layers to my illustrations so that there are lots of things to look at. The reader might spot things that they didn't see on the first read.

Q. How did you start working with Aladdin/S&S?

Working with Simon and Schuster was great as well. They had contacted me after seeing something on my website that caught their eye. I was excited to take on a project that featured monsters and thought the concept was great.

All in all, I'm super happy with the way the book turned out. It is definitely some of my best work to date and I hope that everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed illustrating it.



Advice for aspiring pb writers: Good writing isn’t enough. You need a killer concept. @TaraLazar (Tweet this)

Tips for picture bk writers seeking agent: have at least 3-5 mss ready to go. @TaraLazar advice: (Tweet this)


For other interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives.


MicroBookTweet: BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle

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More info about Tim Federle:

On Twitter: @TimFederle

Click on my "microbooktweet" tag to browse some of my other micro-length book reviews and tweets.


John Green Defends Traditional Booksellers, Publishers and Editors

Love this.

p.s. Warning: some of the language is not appropriate for younger listeners.

(Thanks to Teleread for the link.)


And the Golden Marmot goes to: John Hendrix @hendrixart

This week's incredibly prestigious Golden Marmot award goes to illustrator John Hendrix for his brilliant Twitter profile bio above. You can find out more about John at and on Twitter at @hendrixart.



Seattle Public Library sets world record for longest book domino chain

After seven hours and five attempts, volunteers from the Seattle Public Library and local residents set up a total of 2,131 books to break the world record for the longest book domino chain. The event kicked off the library's Summer Reading Program.

Thanks to the Seattle Public LibraryBook Patrol and for the info.)


MicroBookTweet: RATS SAW GOD by Rob Thomas

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Click on my "microbooktweet" tag to browse some of my other micro-length book reviews and tweets.


Interview with Literary Agent Emily Keyes of L. Perkins Agency (and my 25,000th follower!)

Thanks so much to Emily Keyes, the 25,000th person to follow me on Twitter. Emily is a literary agent at L. Perkins Agency, and kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Inkygirl readers about her work and what she's looking for.

Q. How did you come to work at L. Perkins Agency?

Lori Perkins, the founder of the agency, used to teach at the NYU and I was a student at the NYU Publishing Program. She was looking for interns and I worked for her briefly, going through slush, but she kept in touch with me when I was working other places.

So when my job at Simon & Schuster ended, she said I could come work for her which was huge for me because I was really worried about what I was going to do, and because I had always been very interested in the agent-side of the business. In addition to building up my own list, I do the contracts and foreign rights for the agency.

Q. Are you open to submissions? If so, what kinds of books are you looking for? What are you NOT looking?

Yes, I am open to submissions. I'm looking for all kinds of things. I still feel like I'm really building my list. I'd really like to see some middle grade novels from your readers. I get a lot of teen books but not as many younger readers. I'm not looking for picture books right now though. I love them so much, but I worry about my grasp on the market. Maybe one day. I'm also not looking for erotica. I get a lot of erotica submissions which is awkward.

(Note from Debbie: Emily does not currently represent illustrators.)

Q. You mention you're especially looking for middle grade novels. Any specific types/genres you're looking for? e.g. fantasy vs contemporary, etc. Any examples of MG novels you especially like?

I love a lot of types of middle grade. I wouldn't say no to fantasy, but I'm leaning toward contemporary these days. Or science fiction. I think there are a lot of MG fantasy books out there already, so the bar is set very high. My favorite MG growing up was probably MATILDA and I can't wait to see the musical. I recently read ZEBRA FOREST and enjoyed that quite a bit. And THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN made me cry a lot (I have a thing about baby elephants, in that I love them). 

Q. How should writers submit material to you?

Authors can send their query and the first five pages of their manuscript (pasted into the body of the email) to emily at lperkinsagency dot com.

Q. Who are some of your clients? Any new or upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

My client Sara V. Olds has a book called MY LIFE AS A LUMBERJACK coming out on May 30th. Definitely check it out if you're interested in a fun summer read. Some of my clients are Kit Forbes (who used to write adult romance novels under the pen name Barbara Sheridan, her first YA is coming out next year), Kenneth G. Bennett (who self-published his middle grade series and we recently sold the film rights, that's exciting), Amy Zhang (who wrote a piece for CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: INSPIRATION FOR WRITERS that came out May 21) and Dale Lucas (whose YA science fiction story recently appeared in the FUTUREDAZE anthology). I also have some exciting things that are going to be announced soon that I'm dying to talk about but can't.

At the Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Co.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's/YA book writers?

Read a lot. Your followers probably don't need to be told this, but I see a lot of submissions from people who don't actually read kidlit. They just think, "Hey JK Rowling made more money than the Queen! It's easy!" I find that very insulting. Writing for kids is so much fun, but it's also a lot of work. I think the shorter the book, the more each word matters, so the degree of difficulty actually goes up.

Q. Where can people find out more about you online?

I have so many online accounts. I tweet almost every day at @esc_key. I also have a blog  and a tumblr. Those are the three I use professionally. I'm still trying to figure out what to post where. But I do like interacting with people, especially readers.

Q. Anything else you'd like Inkygirl readers to know?

I used to moderate a blog about Sweet Valley High called 1bruce1. I debated mentioning it in the above question, but it's not professional (at all!). I haven't had much, if any, time to devote to it recently. I guess it says something about me that I work on young adult books all day and then, for fun in my free time, I read more.

The L. Perkins Agency

Twitter: @esc_key



Mistakes by new kidlit writers: 1. Thinking it's easy 2. Not reading it. - Lit agent @esc_key (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see the Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Book-Buying Poll Results: Content is king, whether a book is self-published or not

I had originally intended for this to be a quickie poll in my series of Informal Surveys/Polls About Writing, Reading and Publishing but realized that for a topic like this, there is no such thing as a quickie poll. The topic is clearly a pretty sensitive subject, and some people automatically assumed that I was out to discredit books that had been self-published. Yikes.

For the record, I have bought self-published books. Some were very good (like Cheryl Rainfield's YA novel, Parallel Visions, and Galleycat recently listed some top children's books by indie authors) and some were not so good. I am going to be self-publishing a compilation of my writer comics (my agent at Curtis Brown is helping me with this).

I know there are many out there who sneer at those who self-publish, but I am not one of them. As I said, there are some very excellent self-published books. But there are also many, many bad self-published books. Overcoming that stigma will be a challenge for indie authors until there are easier and better-known ways to separate the good from the bad. 

The "Us vs. them" hostility (on both sides of the equation) frustrates me. It's not productive, it sparks flamewars, it only widens the gap between those  publishing with traditional houses and those who go the indie route. The truth is that more writers are starting to experiment with doing both. It's a choice.

And whether you choose to go indie or traditional with any particular book, your focus should always be on quality content. There are many good resources online to help; please feel free to post suggestions below. NOTE: I will not tolerate flamewars in the comments section so if you post a hostile or abusive message, whether pro- or anti- indie publishing, I WILL REMOVE IT/NOT APPROVE IT FOR POSTING.

But on to the poll results....

I knew when I posted the poll that the results would probably skew toward those who already had an interest in self-publishing (whether positive or negative). However, I was mainly curious about the people who bought a book they knew was self-published (and DIDN'T know the author/illustrator), and why they did so....I figured the results would give some useful info about book discovery, and that info could help indie authors.

However, some pointed out that some self-published books out there that don't LOOK self-published, so how would people KNOW if they had bought a self-published book? Also, some pointed out my poll answer choices didn't cover the scenario where a traditionally published author decided to go the self-publishing route. I'm sure there were many other situations that my limited yes/no type of choices didn't cover.

With the above in mind, here are the results of my poll:

141 people participated in the poll and of these, 78% said they had bought a self-published book. 

Of those who bought a self-published book, 42.5% said they made the purchase because they knew the author and/or illustrator, and wanted to support them.

I was mainly interested in the remaining 57.5%, who had bought a book but weren't familiar with the author and/or illustrator, or said that knowing the author and/or illustrator was not a factor in their purchase decision. 

Of these purchases:

67.7% were digital, 27.7% were print and 3.1% were digital AND print. One person wasn't sure.

The most interesting part of the results, at least for me, were the reasons that people bought these books. Here are some of the reasons:

37.5% -- Word-of-mouth recommendations

31.3 % -- A review

20.4% -- The book was $2.99 or less.

10.9% -- The cover.

9.4% -- The book was free, so they figured they had nothing to lose.

Other reasons listed in the open-ended comments section, from most popular:

Liked the sample excerpt.

Non-fiction book about a unique topic.

Fan of the author. Author had traditionally published in the past but had decided to self-publish a new book or a sequel to a traditionally published series.

Story description or blurb intrigued them.

Amazon suggestion based on other books they had bought.

Fan of the author's blog.

Met the author in person or saw their presentation at a convention/in-store event.

Book recommended by publication or blog.

Book was subject of a controversy.


By far, most of the people who commented said that their book purchase decision was made because they liked the sample excerpt. 

Second-most common reason: because the book offered them content they couldn't easily get nonfiction, this involved a niche topic. In fiction, it was because an author they liked was offering more of his or her writing.

So in the end, people don't really care whether a book is self-published or not. What matters: quality content.


Also see my other Inkygirl Surveys and Polls about reading, writing and publishing.


Interview with Celia Lee, Assistant Editor At Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), open to unagented submissions from Inkygirl readers for limited time

  *** PLEASE NOTE THAT SUBMISSION WINDOW HAS NOW CLOSED. Response time (only those who included an SASE will receive a reply) is expected to be approximately 6 months. ***

Celia Lee is an assistant editor at Cartwheel Books, Scholastic’s 0-5 imprint. When she’s not reading, she’s talking about reading. And when she’s not talking about reading, she’s thinking about reading. You can follow her on Twitter @VitellusD.

How did you come to work at Scholastic?

So I had been going to grad school (for Publishing) and doing various editorial internships for a few publishers in the city for about a year, when a wonderful, kind, generous classmate of mine told me she was leaving her current Scholastic Book Clubs job for a new position in the company.

This was HUGE news for me, because Scholastic was the first publisher I ever knew about, due in part to the Book Clubs flyers I poured over when I was in elementary school. So being the enterprising individual that I am, I applied and interviewed for the job…which I didn’t get (but a very good friend of mine got it instead, which is a whole other story!).

Luckily for me, the kind classmate heard about another opening in the Book Clubs division and passed along my resume. Et voila! I got the job, worked for a few years for the wonderful Book Clubs, and then moved over to my current position with Scholastic’s Cartwheel imprint. I guess I’m a Scholastic gal through-and-through.

What is your typical work day like?

Mornings are usually the calmest part of the day. That’s when I can write a few emails, organize our imprint’s various internal charts and grids, catch up on the latest children’s book reviews/announcements, look at production passes, and review and respond to submissions. Afternoons are a little busier, because that’s when most of our meetings happen—with production and planning, or editorial and design, or even with our Book Clubs and Book Fairs. But I also squeeze out more emails and work on submissions in-between meetings. So essentially my day consists of writing, whether it be emails, proposals, or copy; reading, either emails, manuscripts, or proofs; and meetings, with anybody and everybody!

What's the best part about your job?

Working with so many talented authors, illustrators, designers, and editors!

What's the most challenging part about your job?

Working with so many talented authors, illustrators, designers, and editors! Seriously, all of these guys are so creative and inspiring—they really challenge me to be the best that I can be. It’s great…and it’s hard work!

Is Scholastic open to unagented submissions from writers and illustrators? If so, could you please give us more details?

Scholastic’s current policy is that we are not accepting unagented submissions. However, our Cartwheel imprint is opening up a 2-month window starting today, where we will review unagented submissions. 

*******NOTE FROM DEBBIE* - Submission window is now CLOSED, so I've removed the contact info. Unagented submissions are no longer being accepted and will not receive a response. Thanks to Celia for allowing Inkygirl readers the opportunity! **********

Note from Debbie: I asked Celia if she'd be the person who would be reviewing submissions and what kind of submissions was she especially looking for/not looking for, plus if she was open to submissions from illustrators who are NOT writers. Celia says that she'll be the primary reviewer though other editors may also take a look. From Celia:  

"In terms of what we’re on the lookout for: holiday; tried-and-true subjects like transportation, community, or new experiences; interesting novelty formats; and new ways of addressing core concepts. Things that we’re not looking for are nonfiction, anything older than 1st Grade, and “love” books. And we can certainly take a look at illustrators who aren’t writers! They can send a postcard with their url to their portfolio."

What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators? 

Really explore the book market out there. Go to your local bookstore or a Barnes and Noble and see the kind of books that they display. Then go to stores that have a book section—your Targets, your Walmarts, even your Gaps and Anthropologies. An understanding of what booksellers of all kinds are selling out in the world is invaluable, and can really help you market your stories to publishers.

Related online resources:

About Scholastic Children's Books Publishing & Distribution

Also see my other Inkygirl interviews.


Comic: Bibliophile Bus Stop


MicroBookTweet: DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler


Written by Holly Black

Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster Children's (May/2013)

Also see my other MicroBookTweets and my interview with Eliza Wheeler.


Assembling A Children's Illustrator Portfolio: Choosing The Portfolio, Images, Assembly and More

Juana Martinez-Neal, who won last year's SCBWI Summer Illustrator Portfolio Showcase, has a fantastic step-by-step post about how to put together a children's illustrator portfolio. Lots of specific tips and resource links plus visual examples from other illustrators (hey, like ME :-).


Interview with Eliza Wheeler about MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS and DOLL BONES

Photo by Adam WheelerEliza Wheeler and I met at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2010, when both of us were chosen for the Illustration Mentorship Program. We both hit it off right away; I love Eliza's positive life outlook, enthusiasm and wry wit. Since then, we've become good friends and I fervently wish we lived closer together so could hang out more often. Geography really sucks sometimes.

The photo to the right was taken by Eliza's filmmaker/photographer husband, Adam Wheeler (who is just as cool as his lovely wife). 

It's been so exciting to watch Eliza's career take off since that SCBWI conference. Not only did she win the Overall Portfolio Showcase the year after, but her first picture book, MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), hit the New York Times Bestseller list!! Eliza has a lot of other projects already on the go, of course, but was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for Inkygirl readers.

What was your work process for MISS MAPLE SEEDS?

When I started working on the finals for MISS MAPLE, I had printed out light sketches onto the final drawing paper with my Epson printer (a step I've replaced by traditionally transferring the sketch via a light box), and I stretched and taped my paper onto 16 plywood boards. That way, I could work on all of them at the same time and build up slow washes, moving onto the next as I let layers dry. Creating finals for picture books calls for long hours, and I've found audio books to be really helpful while I work. I believe during this book I listened to The Hunger Games, and started the Harry Potter series. 

Photo by Adam Wheeler

What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writer/illustrators?

1) Be patient while you build up your body of work. Just focus on your craft, and leave the business side of storytelling for later; for when your work is REALLY good.

2) Create the kind of work that your kid self would have loved. Be your own audience, and always ask yourself "If someone else made this, would I read it? Would I put it up on my wall?". It seems obvious, but more often than not when I ask myself this question, I'm surprised to think "no".

3) Read, read, read. Whenever I'm stuck with my storytelling I read. I get new ideas or answers to existing stories when I read. And don't just read in your genre. A friend lent me Aimee Bender's adult novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and I was distracted through the entire thing because every single time I sat down to read that book, a particular story I was working on would come to me in waves. I don't know why that was, but certain books will do that, and I've learned that it's a really great thing.

Photo: Rachel Jackson

Photo: Rachel Jackson.How was your book launch party?

It was INCREDIBLE. I had so much help from my good friends on the day of the event, and it was also my first public speech. I was so nervous, but then really enjoyed telling the story of this special book. There was a large crowd, and it meant the world to see all these friends from different areas of my life come together. There were people there I hadn't seen in years! Also, my books sold out! They had something like 54 copies. We were blown away. I knew that I wanted to make it special for my debut book, but it was even better than I could have imagined. 

Congrats on MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS making it onto the New York Times Bestseller list! What was your reaction when you found out?

It was of complete and utter disbelief! I saw it mentioned on twitter late in the evening, and thought it was a mix-up. Then Nancy Paulsen emailed me the list, and I was in shock. I told my husband, but it sounded more like a question, "My book got on the New York Times bestseller list?"  We just kept saying, "what?! what?!" back and forth. And then I think we laughed a lot and continued saying "what?!". 

Your fabulous illustrations appear in the just-released DOLL BONES by Holly Black. How did that process go?

Doll Bones was extremely fun to work on - illustrations for middle grade go a lot faster than picture-books, it's sort of less excruciating in the sense that we don't need to convey too much information with the illustrations. They add fun, mood, and flavor - there's an ease there that I love. I worked entirely with Simon and Schuster's art director, Sonia Chaghatzbanian, but Holly was sweet to send me a couple Tweets through the process to let me know she was loving the illustrations, which were thrilling messages to get.

What are you working on now?

As for new projects, I'm right in the thick of illustrations for a picture book by Mara Rockliff called The Grudge Keeper. It's a super fun story; one of those manuscripts I couldn't turn down because I wished I had written it. I'm also working on a new picture book idea with my editor Nancy Paulsen at Penguin, but can't say much about that yet. I also will be working on a brilliant middle grade novel by Kate Milford called Left Handed Fate, and I'm equally excited and nervous for that project, just because I want to do Kate's story justice with the illustrations. 

Where to find out more about Eliza and her work:


Eliza's website:

On Twitter: @WheelerStudio

Eliza Swanson-Wheeler on Facebook


Aspiring writers/illus: Create the kind of work your kid self would have loved. @WheelerStudio (Tweet this)

Be patient while you build up your body of work. Focus on craft first, biz later. @WheelerStudio (Tweet this)


Also see my other Inkygirl interviews.

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