Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter'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). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

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

Entries in picture books (37)

Friday
May032013

Sophie Blackall's 19th century style mailing promotes her new picture book

I always love hearing about interesting and unique ways (without being spammy) that children's book authors and illustrators have for promoting their work, so was intrigued by Sophie Blackall's promo effort:

From Publishers Weekly (click on image to see original article)

The package above was mailed out to about 100 chlidren's book professionals, handmade by award-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall to help promote THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, a new picture book about a Parisian postman at the turn of the 20th century, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Blackall. 

What a wonderful package to receive in the mail! 

Find out what was inside each package by reading the full article in Publishers Weekly.

Thursday
Apr252013

Kindoma remote bedtime reading could be useful for authors

I was intrigued by this New York Times article, which talks about how Kindoma's new Storytime app lets grandparents and others read bedtime books remotely to children.

Another possible application: authors doing remote readings for small groups of students? Or larger groups, if the iPad is hooked up to a larger display.

I haven't yet tried the app, but the catch is that the app has to have the book in its library. Once the tech is streamlined and if successful, however, perhaps publishers would want to partner with Kindoma to make titles available. 

Friday
Feb222013

Interview with John Martz, illustrator of WHO'S ON FIRST by Abbott & Costello (Quirk Books)

 

I first met John Martz at a National Cartoonist Society party in Toronto a few years ago and am also a fan of his popular illustration and cartooning blog Drawn. In addition to his professional comics work, John is the illustrator of several picture books including Dear Flyary from Kids Can Press, written by Dianne Young, and most recently he adapted the classic Abbott & Costello routine Who’s on First? into a picture book from Quirk Books. His first graphic novel, Destination X, will be released in May from Nobrow Press. John is also the founding editor of the popular illustration and cartooning blog Drawn.

Q. How did this project begin?

I was approached by the publisher, Quirk Books. I got the email while I was sitting in a coffee shop in Wellington, New Zealand on my honeymoon, which was a nice addition to the trip. The book was published in cooperation with the estates of Abbott and Costello, so there were no copyright hurdles that needed jumping, at least not in regards to my duties -- the material was already approved by the time I was brought aboard.

Q. What was your illustration process for WHO'S ON FIRST?

The manuscript for the book was essentially the script from the original Who's on First? comedy routine verbatim, although there were a few things removed or edited just for simplicity and kid-friendliness. Because the material is completely dialogue-driven, it was a given that the story would be presented in comic-book-style with speech bubbles.

My first task was breaking down the dialogue into pages and spreads. I printed out the script and cut out the different pieces of dialogue so I could manually move the bits of paper about until I had figured out the optimal breakdown from which to start thumbnailing. They took up the entire floor of my studio. The illustrations were created digitally, but this physical cut-and-paste way of figuring out pacing and is much easier when you can just move stuff around at will and stand back to look at everything.

The process was pretty straightforward then -- I presented the publisher with a thumbnailed version of the book, I incorporated their feedback into the first draft, and then after an additional round of feedback, I completed the final illustrations. As for character design, I was told I didn't need to worry about making the characters look like Abbott and Costello themselves, and that the characters should be animals.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book illustrators?

This is only my second picture book, so I'm still a relative newcomer to the field. Attending comics shows like the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and SPX in Maryland has been a great way to meet and interact with publishers and fellow artists. My first picture book Dear Flyary, written by Dianne Young, was the direct result of meeting my editor while manning my table at TCAF.

I'm still learning a lot about self-promotion. I'm a little leery of the hard sell online because it contradicts the types of artists and writers I tend to follow on Twitter and social media. Genuineness goes a long way online, and I prefer to follow creative types whose updates aren't just a stream of self-promoting ads. I end up supporting the artists, instead, that provide me with a real sense of personality and likemindedness who produce great work. I think it's a delicate balancing act between promoting your work and trying not being a carnival barker.

My method is to just be myself online, and develop the trust and goodwill with the small-but-growing audience I have, and to hope that when I have new work to share, that my friends and fans and readers will be receptive and want to share it as well.

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

I just finished my third picture book, Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder, which will be out from Kids Can Press in time for Halloween, and I have a science fiction graphic novel called Destination X that will be out from Nobrow Press in May, debuting at TCAF. A collection of my webcomic Machine Gum will also be debuting at TCAF from La Pastèque.

Where you can find more info about John Martz:

Website: www.johnmartz.com

Twitter: @johnmartz

-------

Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.

Thursday
Nov012012

PiBoIdMo: Picture Book Idea Month

Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) starts today!

The goal: to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

Even if you're not ready to join the challenge but are still interested in reading the daily guest posts about writing, illustrating and publishing picture books (hey, I'm one of the guest bloggers), you should follow Tara Lazar's blog.

Tuesday
May152012

Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (Part 2: Brainstorming, Story Pitch, Thumbnail Assignment)

Continuing my series on working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on two new books...

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

(Summary: After I finished illustrations for I'M BORED, Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me two blank contracts. This series is about my own experience working with S&S BFYR on my two new books; if you're interested in the process for I'M BORED, please see How I'M BORED Was Created: A Guide For Young Readers. Neither of these series are 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)

And here is what has happened so far:

I brainstormed picture book ideas.

I've been compiling picture book ideas for a while now, inspired by Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee, Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo and #KidLitArt's Picture Book Dummy Challenge. I've turned some of these into picture book manuscripts.

What I discovered: it's easy to come up with ideas for picture books. The challenge: to come up with picture book ideas that are different from anything else already out there.

This is one of the common misconceptions held by newbie picture book writers, I find: that their story is unique. I still consider myself a newbie picture book writer, by the way, so I speak from experience.

Child nervous about their first day at school but then finds out another child feels the same / makes new friends / discovers it's not so bad after all? Done.

Child has trouble making new friends because they are too shy / insecure / mean / stubborn / family just moved? Done.

Child loses a beloved object / pet / toy and is totally distraught but then formulates plan / enlists help / searches everywhere? Done.

Child having a horrible day where nothing goes right but then takes action & everything turns out ok? Done.

Child resents the fact that he is always overlooked / ignored and decides to do something about it? Done.

Child hates doing something that parents always want her to do so finds a way around it but then discovers why it was a good idea? Done.

Child resents older or younger sibling so decides to run away / get rid of sibling somehow but starts missing the sibling despite himself and reunites? Done.

Child...well, you get the idea.

The bottom line: It's very tough to come up with a story that is totally unique.

But still:

I tried to figure out how to make my story stand out in the marketplace.

At this point, I can already imagine some of you shaking your fingers at me and saying, "Just focus on making a good story. Worry about the marketing/publishing part later."

However, I'm already assuming that having a good story is an essential. My end goal, however, is to not only get the book published but to have the book sell well. If the story is too much like others already out there, a publisher is less likely to want to take a risk on it. And if the book doesn't sell well, then the publisher is less likely to offer me more contracts.

So yes, there needs to be a good story BUT  I also want to help an editor convince their sales team that the book should be published.

An aside: I've already gone through this several times with my novels for young people, in which various editors liked my story enough to take to the next step, but then the projects were nixed by sales/marketing. It's one reason I spent way more time in the plotting/outlining process for my current YA mss before starting to actually write it (and it got nominated for an SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication Award"! It didn't win...but still! Now I just need to finish it).

So yes, I was discouraged. But then I thought, hold on. Surely I can't be the only one despairing about finding a unique story idea. And there are new picture books coming out all the time! 

And that brings to me to another essential part of my "newbie picture book writer/illustrator" self-education:

I read many, many picture books.

Since the career-changing events of 2010, I've been immersing myself in the world of picture books. I have no children and hadn't really read many picture books since my nephews and nieces grew past that stage.

Once Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me my first picture book illustration contract, that all changed. I started going to the library and local bookstores every week to read as many picture books as I could. I read everything I could get my hands on -- old and new.

I looked at both the text and the illustrations, and how they enhanced each other. I didn't always like the picture books I read, but tried to analyze exactly WHY I didn't like them. And when I really enjoyed a picture book, then I'd reread it and ask myself similar questions: WHY did I like it?

I needed to figure out a unique spin for my stories.

 I looked especially closely at new releases. Obviously these publishers had faith in these books, so what was it about the stories that made the publishers willing to invest money into these projects? The answer: a unique spin. In almost every case, the basic story was enhanced with a framework made unique in either the setting, characters, voice, format or other aspect.

Once I realized this, I went over my list of picture book stories and started working on expanding some of them into full manuscripts with the whole "unique spin" aspect in mind.

But still, I wasn't completely happy with any of them yet. 

I realized that I needed to get my head into "pitch" mode.

When I last visited Simon & Schuster BFYR in NYC to talk about I'M BORED promotion, Justin asked me if I had any picture book stories to show him. I hesitated, saying that I had written about 25 picture book manuscripts but wasn't yet happy with any of them.

Justin interrupted my babbling excuses and suggested that I needed to change my mindset. Having worked with S&S BFYR on I'm Bored, I already had my foot in the door. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers was my publisher. He was my editor. So how about I pick out 4-5 of what I considered my best stories and send them to him, even if I didn't think they were perfect yet?

Whoa. Really?!?

Ok, I admit I was pretty clueless. I had figured that even though I had illustrated a book for S&S BFYR, that I was still starting from scratch when it came to submitting my own stories. And that if they said no, that was it.

I was wrong.

Anyway, I promised Justin I'd send something very soon. Of course I was STILL paranoid about sending stories that I considered early drafts, so I enlisted the help of my MiG Writers critique group for some feedback and suggestions for tweaks.

Then...I took a deep breath and send my stories to Justin.

He picked one he thought had the most potential. I'm very happy he picked the idea that he did; of all the stories I sent him, this is going to be the most fun to draw!

We had a phone meeting about my story, with editorial assistant Dani Young sitting in. It was a TRULY EXCELLENT phone meeting. I was all "omigod, you're absolutely RIGHT" and "YES! I love that!!" and Justin was all "it's all right there in your story" (I just hadn't seen it).

What Justin was able to do, which I hadn't, was to identify the essence of my picture book as well as see the potential of what it could be. AND he was able to communicate that to me.

By the end of the phone call, I was incredibly inspired and eager to get started.

THE NEXT STEP: I need to show my story visually, in thumbnails.

 Justin asked me to forget about working on the text but just to focus on figuring out how to tell my story visually in very rough thumbnail sketches -- knowing that will help determine my text. I'm not going to worry about character sketches or detailed illustrations yet.

To do this, I've created a template which fits on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. In case any of you would like to use it for your own picture book planning, I've provided a print-ready PDF version (click thumbnail below):

 

There seem to be many different templates for book dummies out there, but I wanted to make sure I was using one that Justin approved since I'll be printing out quite a few copies for me to scribble on. Justin said the endpapers are separate for a 32-page book, so I'm not going to worry about those for now.

I've filled up nearly a dozen of these sheets with my scribbled thumbnails already. Working out a story this way is GREAT for exposing bad pacing and other storytelling problems; I've already discovered that the mss I sent Justin just doesn't work. I'm working non-digitally for these sketches using just a pile of printed sheets, a mechanical pencil and a big eraser. The eraser is getting a LOT of use. :-)

Even if you don't draw but are just writing a picture book story, I still recommend you try this method. Just use stick figures or a scribbled phrase (e.g. "Sam throws marmite at Emma" etc.).

Other resources you might find helpful:

Bob Staake's Picture Book Templates (though reader Michael Johnson had issues with that template and proposed a revision)

Tara Lazaar's Picture Book Layout Dummy

Sarah McIntyre's Book Dummy

How To Mock Up A Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison

FAQ: Making A Picture Book Dummy, by Tina Burke

How To Make A Storyboard, by Uri Shulevitz

If you know any other resources that could help picture book writer/illustrators in the early creation stages, feel free to post below!

There is no set schedule to this blog post series. I'll only post in the series if I have something useful or interesting to say. To make it easier to follow this particular thread, I'll tag related posts with "pbcreation."

Wednesday
May092012

Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (Part 1: Intro)

I'm pleased to announce the launch of a new series of blog posts:

SpencerHeader v2 flat600

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

As some of you may already know, I'm writing and illustrating my very first picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers: I'm going to call this Picture Book X until I have an official title. I'm going to be blogging about the process of creating Picture Book X, from start to finish, in Inkygirl. An aside: if you're curious about my blog posts about the creation of I'M BORED, new picture book by Michael Ian Black that I was asked to illustrate, I recommend you follow my I'M BORED Scrapbook. That blog also details how I started working with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

Because my book is still in its early stages, I won't be talking about its content at all -- not even its title, which has yet to be finalized.

Instead, I'm going to be talking about the process with a perspective that I hope will help aspiring picture book writer/illustrators. I also figure this blog post series may be of interest to those curious about what it's like to work with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

I'll be posting about the process, what I'm learning, what happens at various steps and what they mean, the people I interact with at S&S and what they do. I'll be sharing some of the templates I create for myself to help with workflow, plus give you a peek of what goes on inside Simon & Schuster BFYR later on in the process, after I've handed in my finals.

Keep in mind that this is going to be based on just one particular project and from one perspective (mine). Your book project may have been -- or could be -- very different, depending on the circumstances and the people involved.

My editor, Justin Chanda, has given me the go-ahead to blog about the process (thanks, Justin!). I worked with Justin on I'M BORED illustration discussions, but this will be the first time I've worked with him on story text. 

I haven't yet been assigned an art director; the project is still in its very early stages.

There is no set schedule to this blog post series. I'll only post in the series if I have something useful or interesting to say. To make it easier to follow this particular thread, I'll tag related posts with "pbcreation." Whenever possible, I'll also be including related resources to help you find additional info on the topic, and will also be encouraging you all to share your own experiences.

I hope you'll join me! :-)

----

Header photo credits: My photo - Beckett Gladney, Justin's photo - Sonya Sones

 

 

Thursday
Apr052012

Interview With Lee Wardlaw, My First Writing Mentor: Children's Books, Advice and a Book Giveaway

Photo: Craig Jaffurs

Book Giveaway: Post a comment below to be entered in a prize draw for a copy of Lee's 101 Ways To Bug Your Friends and Enemies and a buggy doodle from Debbie.

Way back when I started pursuing getting my novels published, Lee Wardlaw offered to read what I had written and give me feedback. It was first time I had received a critique from a professional in the industry, and I was blown away by her generosity, encouragement and advice.

I worked hard on revamping my manuscript and after another round or two, Lee passed my work on to her agent, Ginger Knowlton. Ginger took me on as a client! I'll always be grateful to Lee for that early encouragement and for taking that time with me.

Lee has written over two dozen books for young people and has won many awards and award nominations for her work. Most recently: 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award (for Won Ton), 2012 NCTE/CLA Notable Children's books in the English Language Arts, 2012 Best Children's Book Award - Los Angeles Book Festival, 2012 ALSC Notable Children's Book , 2012 CCBC Choices as well as nominations for the 2012-13 Chickadee (Maine) Reader's Choice Award, Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award and Rhode Island Reader's Choice Award.

You can find more info about Lee and her work at:

http://www.leewardlaw.com/

and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/leewardlaw

--------

Photo: Lisa Yee

Q. How did you make your first sale?

Plucked from the Slush Pile! Yep, it happens. And I will never, E.V.E.R., forget the day I received that first acceptance. I screamed. I babbled. I called my mom. I might’ve even kissed the mailman…

Q. How did you get your agent?

I met her at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, just a couple of days after I sold that first book. I hadn’t yet written a feigned nonchalant “Why, yes, if you’d like to publish my novel, by all means please feel free to do so” response to the editor, because I was still too busy screaming and babbling. So the agent stepped in and negotiated the contract for me. We worked together for about three years; in that time, she sold two more YA novels and a nonfiction book of mine.

When I decided I wanted to challenge myself by writing picture books, we parted ways. (She specialized in the teen and adult markets.) Over the next few months, I asked every author I met – at school visits, book festivals, SCBWI functions, conferences, etc. – which agents they would recommend. Again and again I heard: “Ginger Knowlton”. She was newish to the agenting world, but she worked at a highly respected New York agency, was learning the ropes from Marilyn Marlow (the Grand Dame of children’s book agents), and had a background in Early Childhood Education. Sold! I queried her with a couple of manuscripts, and she called not long after that, saying she’d like to represent me. I screamed. I babbled. I called my mom. I kissed my husband. (Our new mailman wasn’t nearly as cute.) Ginger and I have worked together now for almost 24 years. She’s stuck by me through thick and thin and anorexic. I adore her.

Q. You've written in so many genres in the children's book world. Which feels the most comfortable for you?

None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. If I feel ‘comfortable’ when I’m writing, then I know I’m not challenging myself.

Instead of ‘comfort’, I prefer to experience what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls flow. In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Dr. C. (didn’t want to attempt that spelling twice!) describes flow as an intense focus on an activity – a concentration so deep that you’re unaware of yourself, your surroundings, of time passing. You see flow most often in Montessori schools. There’s an intense joy on the face of a young child who is wholly immersed in tackling and mastering a task. I experience flow when I’m writing something I love, whether it’s a poem or a picture book, a novel or nonfiction. It happens a lot, too, when I’m creating humorous dialogue for my middle grade characters. Their conversations just, uh, flow…

Q. How much time (or percentage of your time?) do you spend promoting?

In 2011, I had two new books published: a picture book, Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, and the third novel in my middle grade series, 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies. It had been almost seven years (!) since I’d last had a new book out, so I really felt invisible. To offset that, I spent the majority of 2011 promoting like crazy.

My year-end totals were: 18 bookstore events, 17 school visits, 7 speaking engagements, 3 Skype visits, 3 blog interviews, 3 TV/radio/print interviews, 3 articles written, and 2 miscellaneous events. Miles driven: 3,500+. WHEW! I did all my own coordinating and publicity for these events, too, so that meant creating/printing/mailing flyers, sending info to schools, contacting newspapers, magazines, events websites, etc., etc. It was a huge job. Won Ton went into a third printing in less than a year, so I have to think the effort was worth it!

Coming April 22nd, 2012Usually, though, I’d say I spend 50% of my time writing and 50% promoting. The latter is usually through school visits, which I love. Put a microphone in my hand, and I turn into a total ham - - with cloves and brown sugar on top! But the balancing act is a constant struggle. It’s great fun working with and talking to my readers…but sometimes I’d really rather be at home, writing.

Q. Do you work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you manage your time?

Eek. No. If I’m working on a novel, that’s really all I can handle. I tend to juggle a lot of characters and subplots, and I do a lot of research for each book, which means a full-to-overflowing brain. Ditto for my office, which needs shoveling out frequently. Add another novel or picture book to that mix, and I might implode - -or end up on that TV show “Hoarders”.

Sometimes, I can work on a couple of picture books at the same time, but that’s only in the early stages of each, where I’m mainly banging out ideas or plot lines.

Because I have A.D.H.D., I tend to get easily distracted. If I’m distracted, I don’t finish projects. So it’s best if I stick with one project at a time. That being said, I’ve learned that I need to be distracted now and then, otherwise I get bored and don’t finish projects. (Kind of a Catch-22.) So I treat my brain by entertaining it with writing in the mornings and promo stuff in the afternoons. The variety helps.

Q. What are your writing habits? (wordcount goals? rituals? favourite place? etc.)

If I’m working on poetry or a picture book, I need to use a pen and notebook, and I need to sit somewhere comfy: curled up on the sofa, outside on the deck, etc. But if I’m writing a novel, I MUST work in my office. I’ve never done well working outdoors or in coffee shops. (Too many distractions.) My office is painted and decorated in shades of green (teal, seafoam, jade, forest), which calms me so I can focus.

Other Must-haves:

1. A Mac. Forever and always. And it must have a 27” screen.

2. An Aeron chair (I have neck and lower back issues)

3. An ergonomic keyboard (wrist issues)

4. Natural lighting or a desk lamp with a 100-watt incandescent light bulb (government intervention issues. I’m stockpiling my 100’s! I hate CFLs. They make me squint.)

5. Plenty of protein snacks. (hypoglycemia issues)

6. A glass of iced tea with extra lemon, mint leaves and Splenda.

7. A cat or two curled up on my printer or on the floor heat vent.

I start work early-ish: 8:00 a.m. (I prefer between 5 and 6 a.m., but with a husband and teenaged son at home, those times aren’t optimal.) I write until noon; take an hour break; then go back to work until 2:40 when I leave to pick up my son at the high school.

My habits have changed over the years. In the past, my minimum goal was three hours or three pages, whichever came first. Now, if I’m working on a novel, I’ll set a different goal for myself every day, depending on where I am in the story. If I think I can rough out two or three major scenes in a particular chapter, then that’s my goal. If I know it’s going to be a particularly difficult chapter, for whatever reason, then I may set a goal of writing only one scene.

It’s that variety that keeps me from getting distracted!

When working on 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies, I was really having a hard time focusing. (For some people, like me, ADHD gets worse asyou get older.) So instead of writing the book sequentially, I allowed myself to hop around, writing chapters out of order. That was great fun, and it kept me motivated.

Q. How much prep do you do before you start writing?

Tons.

Whether it’s a picture book or a novel, I write pages and pages about all the central characters, asking myself questions about who they are, what they want, why they want it, how they’re prevented from getting it, etc. It’s crucial to know what motivates your characters – what values move them to action – and why. Otherwise, you won’t know how they’ll act or react in every situation you put them in.

Each book also involves research. Take, for example, WON TON – A CATTALE TOLD IN HAIKU, the story of a wary shelter cat and the boy who adopts him. Now I know cats. My first spoken word was ‘kitty’ and I’ve shared my life with probably 30 cats over the years. BUT, I still needed to research cat behavior, specifically that of adult cats who’ve spent most of their lives in an animal shelter. I researched shelters, too, and how best to introduce a cat to a new home. (I thought it important for the book to be accurate so shelters would get behind it, maybe even carry it in their gift shops.) I also researched haiku - - American haiku is different from Japanese haiku - - and that’s when I realized I’d actually written the book in senryu! That was an important distinction for me to be awareof if I wanted elementary schools to use the book as a teaching supplement.

After the character work and the research, then I do a rough outline of the book. I ALWAYS know how the story is going to end before I start writing. For me, writing a novel is like taking a trip. You don’t just get in the car and start driving willy-nilly. (Well, in real life you might, if you’re the adventurous sort, but if you do that in fiction, you’ll end up with stream of consciousness stuff, not a novel.)

Before you back out of the garage, you need a destination and you need a road map. The road map is the plot outline. My outlines tend to change along the way, taking little detours here and there, picking up extra passengers (characters), maybe getting a flat tire (more conflict!), but I make sure the basic road map stays the same. That way, I and my story get to The End in one piece.

Q. What's the biggest mistake that new writers tend to make?

Ha. I don’t know. There are so many from which to choose! Not having read a children’s book since before the invention of dirt…not having been around children since being children themselves…worrying too much about contracts and agents and merchandising instead of focusing on their craft…submitting stories that aren’t stories at all, but incidents or anecdotes…the list goes on.

My biggest mistake, way back when, was writing picture books that featured inanimate, anthropomorphic characters. Kind of like The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein – but without his wit, intelligence, heart and drawing talents! My early picture books were awful. Of course, I didn’t know that then…

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

1. Read, read, read, read, read picture books. Pick out your favorites and take them apart, analyzing what you like about them and why; what about them resonates within you; what’s their unique tone, their style; what makes their characters fresh; what is special about their voice; and what gives them enough appeal to be read and re-read up to 500 times;

2. Take a poetry-writing class. Learning how to distill a story’s essence; using rhythmic, evocative language and vivid imagery; creating something that cries to be read aloud - - all of that is what you need to write poetry and picture books. I don’t think it’s an accident that WON TON is my most successful picture book. I started writing it while taking a poetry class from children’s book author and poet Ellen Kelley.

Q. For your picture books, how much interaction did you have (if any) with the illustrator?

None. Well, I might send them an email, introducing myself and saying I’m looking forward to the publication of ‘our’ book. But that’s it. Typically, the author and illustrator don’t collaborate on a picture book project. The author writes the story, the editor picks the illustrator, then the illustrator draws the pictures.

People are always surprised by this. But it makes sense. I wouldn’t want an illustrator standing over me, saying: “Gosh, I don’t know how to draw cats. Could you make your story about dogs, instead?” And I’m sure an illustrator wouldn’t want me dictating to him/her what kind of style, medium, etc., should be used. Of course, this means you have to have an extremely savvy editor, one with a clear vision of what kind of art will best complement and enhance the story.

Q. What are three things you wish you had known when you first started your writing career?

1. That rejections aren’t personal

2. That an editor’s suggestions aren’t set in stone

3. How much publicity and promotion I’d have to do!

Q. Any news about current or upcoming projects you'd like to share?

RED, WHITE & BOOM! (Holt, ages 2-6, illustrated by Huy Voun Lee) will debut in April. It’s a rhyming picture book about the ways families from different cultures celebrate our country’s independence.

I’m finishing up a sequel to WON TON…and making notes for 101 WAYS TO BUG YOUR BROTHER AND SISTER…and I have a cool idea for a nonfiction project (but I’m not saying what it is!).

-----

Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.

Tuesday
Feb282012

New Blog: SUSAN SAYS - by children's book literary agent, Susan Hawk

Screen Shot 2012 02 28 at 7 44 40 AM

I enjoyed meeting Susan Hawk at the SCBWI annual conference in NYC, and I just found out she has a new blog!

SusanHawk

Susan worked in children's book marketing for over 15 years, most recently as the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books For Young Readers. Before that: Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. While at Penguin, she also helped acquired projects for Dutton Editorial.

From her About page:

I handle books for children exclusively: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA, fiction and non-fiction. In middle-grade and YA, I’m looking for something that makes me laugh out loud, I’m a sucker for bittersweet, and I can’t resist a character that comes to understand how perfectly imperfect the world is. I want a book to stay with me long after I finish reading, and I’m looking for powerful, original writing. I’m open to mystery, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). My favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial. In non-fiction I’m looking for books that relate to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world. In picture books, I’m looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and characters as indelible as my childhood favorites Ferdinand, Madeline, George and Martha.

Where you can find more info about Susan:

Her Susan Says blog: http://susanhawk.blogspot.com

On Twitter: @susanhawk

Also, Heather Ayris Burnell recently interviewed Susan Hawk about picture books: why she represents picture books, what she looks for, common submission mistakes, and preferred word count.

Thursday
Jan192012

It's Easy To Write A Picture Book. Writing a GOOD Picture Book, On The Other Hand...

 

PigBalloons v5 withcopy600

I have too many picture book ideas (I partly blame Tara Lazar & her PiBoIdMo 2011 month :-) and have been working on half a dozen picture book story texts over the past year: rewriting a zillion times & dumping ideas that just don't work. Anyone who thinks picture book stories are easy to write is NUTS. Or rather...it's easy to write a picture book. It's very difficult to write a GOOD picture book. It makes me appreciate Michael Ian Black's wonderful I'M BORED story all that much more.

Anyway, I've stayed sane by plowing ahead and doing drawings for picture books that don't exist yet. Less pressure, helps me improve my craft, and who knows? I may turn some of these into full-blown projects someday. I've also been reading Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, Harold Underdown's Complete Idiot's Guide To Publishing Children's Books, and Cheryl B. Klein's Second Sight: An Editor's Talks On Writing, Revising & Publishing Books For Children And Young Adults for inspiration.

Anyway, I decided to do the drawing at the top of this post because I liked the pig character in one of my recent Daily Drawings (see http://DebbieOhi.com for more of my Daily Drawings):

CareerPig9withtext copy600v2

I'm participating in KidLitArt.com's Picture Book Dummy challenge for inspiration as I continue to work on my own picture book stories AND continuing to read as many good picture books as I can. Any recommendations for well-written picture books?

 

Thursday
Jan122012

GUEST POST: Hazel Mitchell on the creation of her picture book ebook with UTales

01HazelHoldsiPad

Hazel Mitchell is the illustrator of several books for children, including ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid’ (Books for a Better Life Finalist 2012),‘Hidden New Jersey’ from Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press 2012, and the ‘All Star Cheerleader’ series by Anastasia Suen from Kane Miller.

She is originally from England, but now lives and works in Maine USA along with a menagerie of animals and a couple of snow shovels.

Find out more about Hazel at http://hazelmitchell.com/

----
As a children’s illustrator and writer, the opportunity to get an ebook online can seem both mind boggling and frustrating. Only six months ago, getting a book online was a big and expensive deal, out of reach of most individuals. If you were well published there was a chance your book might be made into an app. The rest of us were just spectators. But just lately the world of kid’s books in apps and ebooks has exploded!

New start-ups are making it possible for children’s book creators to produce their own books and get them out for ipad/iphone/android with little, if any, cost. With the rise and rise of the ipad, and now Kindle Fire, several companies have jumped on board and launched software which enables the easy self-publishing of ebooks.

02uTales

Each company is doing it in a different way. Some are owned by regular print publishers marrying up with software designers. Others spring from the entertainment industry and gaming companies. Right now, it’s a wide open field.

I was interested to dip a toe into the ‘ipond’ and see what it was all about. I chose to give Utales.com a go. There are several reasons why I was attracted to this app company and one reason was they have an editing team watching over the quality of all books published, headed up by Emma Dryden of Drydenbks.com. She is an industry professional with a lifetime’s experience in editing and producing children’s literature. To me this was vitally important. In a market that is truly self published having no QC is asking for trouble. After all, we want these books to be a great product.

03uTalesAd

Utales is based in Stockholm, Sweden and is the brainchild of entrepreneur and social media expert Nils von Heijne. Anyone can submit a book for review by the uTales panel. The software created by the company is very easy to use and requires very little expertise. For illustrators who already use a computer, it’s a breeze. The software comes with the ability to create simple animations and sound effects. Those looking for more extensive animations and control might find the software lacking. But it’s about creating great stories for kids, and although there are some bells and whistles, it’s not the main focus of Utales.

Utales works on a co-operative system. (Something very different to other ebook platforms out there). Utales encourages collaboration between authors and illustrators, some working at great distances from each other around the world (over 1,000 to date). Join the Utales page on Facebook to meet other creators, it's a lot of fun! The % earned by a book is 60% of the cost (and you can set your own price). If you are working with a collaborator the % is split 50/50. Books may be purchased singly or the purchaser can choose to subscribe monthly to the service and read all the books they wish. The cost of subscribing is $9.99 a month and with over 150 to choose from, that’s great value! Each Utales contributor is then paid a % of the total subscriptions in that month, dependent on the number of times their book is read.

Another cool feature of Utales is their support of the charity Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit founded in 2008 that has since built 30 schools in villages around the world. Contributors can choose their level of donation from each book.

SO how did I create the book?

First I had to decide what to create. That was pretty easy as Utales was running a competition to retell a classic tale and I chose ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by Hans Christian Andersen.

04UglyDucklingCover

The page size is always a square format. First I worked the way I would usually for any book - by creating thumbnails and roughs to get the flow of the story. I was aiming for about 30 pages, so about the same as a standard picture book.

05UglyDuckLineDrawing

I hand drew each page in pencil. (Again this is how I usually work).

 

05UglyDuckColor

I scanned them in and using Photoshop, coloured them. Then I added the text. There is a facility to place the text in Utales, but frankly it was just as easy to add in Photoshop. (Later I wish I had used the online text facility as I had to them go back and forth to make edits and reload which was aggravating.)

08UglyDuckSpeech

Next, I thought about the areas I would like to animate. These areas have to be uploaded as transparent gifs/png’s to the software on Utales and overlaid on the background. I separated the egg out in Photoshop (which moves and makes a ‘cracking’ sound) and also added a couple of dragonflies that ‘chime and wiggle’ when touched. Go to http://utales.com/books/the-ugly-duckling to see the finished page.

07Dragonfly 09UglyDuckPetals

I uploaded the background (with the text) to Utales. To do this you need to join the Utales community. Starting a book is easy ... You simply create a new book and the software opens on your computer. No downloads etc. You work totally online with each page in a book format and can preview at every stage. It works on MAC or PC.

The software did have some issues ... occasionally it would lose the animations and sounds and if I had to change the background then the overlays sometimes had to be repositioned (you can change the sizes and positioning with handles, very easy!)

10UglyDuckSpread

You add cover pages and title pages just as you would with a printed book. Here are a couple of other images. On some of the pages I made things move that you normally wouldn’t expect - like the rain and snow and stones in the barn yard. It created more movement with limited options. I also created some double spreads for interest as well as spot illustrations.

11HouseHillspread 12TurkeyChick

When you have completed the book (and you can rearrange pages and make changes as much as you wish) then you submit it (or ‘publish’) to Utales. At this point the book is reviewed by the QC panel. If they have changes (mine were mainly with punctuation - NO surprise there!) They will get back to you. You can resubmit the book twice more for review. After that if it is still not up to quality - then no deal. And they mean it!

After a couple of back and forths ‘The Ugly Duckling’ made it to the ebook list in time for the launch in early November. And what was even better I won the Utales Classic Tale Competition and got myself an ipad2!! Yippee!

The app is available to download on ipad and iphone right now. You DO need to register first at Utales.com to get a password and user name. This has proved somewhat frustrating because Apple will not allow a redirect to a website OR instructions on the front page (well, they will, but for a BIG %). It’s aggravating as it feels as if Utales is being penalized for it’s community approach. We are assured this won’t be so on the Android, and hopefully, Kindle rollout. We shall see.

So far I have had over 550 hits on the book and am hoping to produce another classic fairytale soon. It was a lot of fun to produce the book. I guess I did it in about a week, a very small amount of time from conception to public release!

Utales are planning on adding more animation and sound features in the New Year. Right now all books are in English, but other languages are planned, as well as more educational books. I really hope that there is a ‘read back’ feature at some point.

Things to bear in mind: These Ebooks are great for younger viewers - if you want to do a graphic novel or similar, not so much. Larger text is best because of iphone in particular. Bright simple pics work well, but with the quality of the ipad detailed drawings do just as well these days. The emphasis is on reading and not games.

To see a preview of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ go to http://utales.com/books/the-ugly-duckling

Find more of my work at www.hazelmitchell.com

or my blog at www.hazelmitchell.blogspot.com. I’m a proud member of the GLOG Pixel Shavings and a PAL member of SCBWI. Contact me by e-mail.

Monday
Jan092012

Annual Kidlitart Picture Book Dummy Challenge starts today!

Screen Shot 2012 01 09 at 12 45 35 PM

Today's the first day of the 2nd Annual Kidlitart #PBDummy Challenge! I am so in.

The goal of this 25-week-lon online group challenge: to create and submit a picture book dummy. Actually, I'm planning to create and submit several picture book dummies during this time.

To find out more, see Everything You Need To Know About The 2nd Annual Kidlitart #PBDummy Challenge and other posts on the blog.

THE SCHEDULE 
STEP 1: Pick your project (1 week) Jan. 9-Jan. 15 
STEP 2: Draft the story (4 weeks) Jan. 16-Feb. 12 
STEP 3: Develop the characters (2 weeks) Feb. 13-Feb. 26 
STEP 4: Storyboard text and art (2 weeks) Feb. 27-Mar. 11 
STEP 5: Render tight, full-size sketches (8 weeks) Mar. 12-May 6 
STEP 6: Produce final art of two spreads (4 weeks) Mar. 12-May 6 
STEP 7: Assemble the dummy (2 weeks ) Jun. 4-Jun. 17 
STEP 8: Research submissions; prepare dummy package (1 week) Jun. 18-Jun. 24 
STEP 9: Submit (1 week) Jun. 25-Jul. 1

 

Saturday
Dec102011

HarperKids video: Meet Author/Illustrator Kevin Kenkes

Wow, I love watching this man draw. The video includes fascinating info about how Kevin Henkes draws and writes. He says that before starts a picture book, he works on the character first. He wants to have a clear image of the character before anything else.

One of my favourite quotes from the video: "If we expose our kids to books and art, nothing but good can come of it."

More info about Kevin Henkes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Henkes

Unfortunately his official website seems to be hacked right now. :-(

Tuesday
Nov012011

November 2011 is Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month is an international initiative to designate November as Picture Book Month, encouraging everyone to celebrate literacy with picture books. Founder, Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller) storyconnection.net, and Co-Founders, Katie Davis (author/illustrator) katiedavis.com, Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator) www.dulemba.com, Tara Lazar (author) taralazar.wordpress.com, and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator) wendymartinillustration.com, are putting together their worldwide connections to make this happen.

Every day in November, there will be a new post from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important.

"We are doing this because in this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book.

Join the celebration and party with a picture book!"

On Twitter, you can follow Picture Book Month tweets with the #PictureBookMonth hashtag.

Monday
Oct242011

PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Ideal Month) sign-up starts today

Piboidmo participation badgeYay! Official sign-up for PiBoIdMo starts today! Check out the cool event badge created by my illustrator friend Bonnie Adamson.

The challenge:

Create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days.

You can find out more info in Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo sign-up post.

Tuesday
Apr192011

PiBoIdMo and Tara Lazar

Tara Lazar is a children’s book author, mother, foodie and founder of Picture Book Idea Month (a.k.a. "PiBoIdMo"). Her first picture book, The Monstore, will be published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2013. Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find out more about Tara at her blog: http://taralazar.wordpress.com/

And stay tuned for PiBoIdMo 2011 this November!

What inspired you to start PiBoIdMo?

I got active in the online kidlit community in November of 2007. I learned about NaNoWriMo  immediately--EVERYONE was chatting about it. I was jealous of novel writers having all the fun, so the following November I decided I would do something to inspire me as a picture book writer. I'd created one new picture book concept a day. I didn't make it through the whole month, though. I finished with 22 ideas, but one of them was for THE MONSTORE, my upcoming book with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.


How many years have you run PiBoIdMo?

PiBoIdMo 2008 wasn't official, it was just me and a few local writing friends. I ran PiBoIdMo on my blog for the first time in November 2009. This past November was the 2nd year for the blog-based event.


How successful has it been?

The first year I ran PiBoIdMo, I didn't have a sign-up period, so I don't know how many people participated, but a little over 100 signed the pledge at the end, confirming they had at least 30 ideas. My website received 15,000 hits during November 2009, which, at the time, was the most active month the site ever had.

For PiBoIdmO 2010, there was a sign-up period which logged 404 particpants, with 201 completing the challenge. Web hits soared to 30,000 for the month and my blog was ranked in the top 100 book blogs by Technorati, making it as high as #10. I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the participators! Many blogged their daily progress. Megan K. Bickel, for instance, put her own spin on PiBoIdMo by creating ideas in alphabetical order.

And PiBoIdMo has netted others contracts and awards. Corey Rosen Schwartz came up with the idea for GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS during PiBoIdMo 2009, which was bought by Putnam in 2010. Diana Murray wrote a manuscript from a PiBoIdMo idea which won the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant. Those are the two PiBoIdMo success stories I know of, and I'm sure there's more to come! I hope people will contact me with their good news.


Have you enjoyed running it?

It's been a blast running it, but also a lot of work. The first year, I decided to do a daily post after I had already recruited guest bloggers. There were 15 guest bloggers, which meant I had to write 15 posts on my own. That was a bit much, so in 2010 I decided to schedule more guest bloggers. The response was surprising--there were more volunteers than days in November! So some of the guest spots rolled into early December. I had so much fun putting the posts together; I felt privileged to read all the great advice before anyone else.

Next year I might need a PiBoIdMo assistant! So many people volunteered prizes that I'm still doling them out in January!

Thursday
Jan062011

Picture book Dummy Challenge

Are you an author thinking of writing or writing and illustrating a picture book? If so, check out the Kidlitart Picture Book Dummy Challenge, 25-week online group challenge to create a submit a picture book dummy. It starts today and ends on June 30th.

Excerpt from the description of who can join:

Though geared primarily toward author/illustrators, writers who are not artists can benefit from portions of the dummy exercise, and illustrators without an original manuscript can use the process to create a dummy portfolio piece.

Find out more at: http://kidlitart.blogspot.com/2011/01/its-here.html

Here's the blog post schedule:

Jan. 6-Jan. 13 (1 week): Pick your project

Jan. 13-Feb. 10 (4 weeks): Draft the story

Feb. 10-Feb. 24 (2 weeks): Develop the characters

Feb. 24-Mar. 10 (2 weeks): Storyboard text and art

Mar. 10-May 5 (8 weeks): Produce tight, full-size sketches

May 5-Jun. 2 (4 weeks): Produce final art of two spreads

Jun. 2-Jun. 16 (2 weeks): Comp the cover and assemble the dummy

Jun. 16-Jun. 23 (1 week): Research submissions; prepare dummy package

Jun. 23-Jun. 30 (1 week): Submit

Jun. 30: Wrap party!

Wednesday
Aug042010

2010 SCBWI-LA Takeaways: Jon Scieszka

I've always appreciated those who post "takeaways" after they attend conventions: nuggets of wisdom that they took away from the event. Everyone's takeaways are different because everyone has different levels of experience and goals.

I'm going to be sharing mine over the next little while, as well as linking to any others that I can find. If you have takeaways or convention reports of your own to add, feel free to post in the comments section!

Jon Scieszka: Tales Of A Picture Book Writer: Do's, Don'ts, Maybes

- Look up the top 100 books listed by School Library Journal and read them.

- Don't do what someone else does. Do what YOU connect with.

- Read bad books, which can be educational.

- Read children's trade publications and kidlit blogs.

- Most picture book manuscripts by new writers can be improved by cutting length by half.

- Don't try to follow the market.

- Read everything in your field that you possible can: library, bookstore.

- Learn and read in prep but once you start to actually WRITE, then forget about trying to follow every rule and industry blog, and just focus on WRITING.

- In retrospect, Jon is glad that his early submissions got rejected.

Other reports on this event:

SCBWI Conference Blog

Page 1 2