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 archives, 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 simon & schuster (17)


Photos from my NYC trip (includes #NY15SCBWI pics)

Simon & Schuster meeting about my illustrations in SEA MONKEY AND BOB (author: Aaron Reynolds)

I had SUCH AN AMAZING TIME IN NEW YORK! Huge thanks to the SCBWI Winter Conference organizers, volunteers and faculty for a fantastic event.

Eventually, when I get more free time (hahahah), I hope to post some highlights. The next couple of weeks are going to be superbusy for me so for now, I'm sharing some of the photos I took with my iPhone during my trip. Please don't ask me to send you individual photos; I lack the time right now -- I've posted the highest res versions I have on Flickr.

Feel free to share or repost any of my photos. Photo credit would be much appreciated (or tagging me). Here are some of the photos from my adventures in NYC, including after the SCBWI conference:

On Facebook:
Part 1: SCBWI-NYC - Part 2: SCBWI-NYC (cont’d)Part 3: Curtis BrownPart 4: Random House Children’s - Part 5: Simon & Schuster Children’s 

On Flickr:
Part 1: SCBWI-NYCPart 2: SCBWI-NYC (cont’d)Part 3: Curtis BrownPart 4: Random House Children’s 
- Part 5: Simon & Schuster Children’s 


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 3): Snooping through Laurent Linn's office, Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet with Michael Ian Black, fairy godmothers, my trip to Boston

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

After the B&N event, I had lunch with Ginger Knowlton (my agent at Curtis Brown Ltd) at a nearby café. So great to catch up. I was supposed to get together with Ginger back in February, but I cancelled my trip because of the Judy Blume illustration project.

When I arrived at Simon & Schuster for the meet-and-greet, there were NAKED! and I'M BORED signs and books on display in the front lobby of the 4th floor, yay!

Dani Young (Assistant Editor at S&S Children's) came out to greet me, and took me to Justin Chanda's office to dump my coat and bags. Justin was still in a meeting. It's always fun hanging out in Justin's office when he's not there; not only do I get chance to check out his book collection but I also have such interesting conversations. And Justin, if you're reading this, don't worry -- we never talk about you, really. Or snoop through your stuff.

This time, Laurent Linn (my Art Director for both NAKED! and I'M BORED) came by to chat:

And then while we were catching up, Jeff arrived. He had dropped off some of his luggage at a friend's place but had trouble finding a cab in the rain, so ended up walking all the way to S&S. But yay, he finally got meet Laurent!

Happily, we were early enough that Laurent could take Jeff on a quickie tour of the offices. I trailed along, of course. And I got Jeff to take this photo of us in the lobby:

And LOOK! I was excited to come across this display of the revamped Judy Blume books with my illustrations on the cover (designed by Lauren Rille):

And OH MY GOSH, I spotted hardcover versions of the chapter books I illustrated!!! It was the first time I had seen the final version.

Laurent showed Jeff his office. I love Laurent's office. Look, he has hanging art! Not just mine, but I also spotted art by my friends Kevin Sylvester and Eliza Wheeler:

And look! Laurent (who used to work for Sesame Street) won a Daytime Emmy award in 1994 for Outstanding Achievement In Costume Design for Sesame Street. And check out his signed Sesame Street poster:

He is also a Totoro fan, and I took this photo for my friend Errol Elumir:

But then it was time for the Meet & Greet. Check out this example of the cool Naked!-themed cups they had at the event:

Justin and Laurent talked about how much fun it was to work on NAKED!:

After Michael said a few words (including nice stuff about me *blush*), it was my turn. Because I was nervous, I had some notes written down:

I started by saying how I wish I could take a snapshot of this moment to send to my younger self and (this wasn't planned) Jeff jumped up and took this photo, heh:

Aw, so many friendly faces.

I mentioned I was nervous so had to use notes, right? Well, turns out I accidentally skipped one of the lines in my notes and FORGOT TO THANK LAURENT LINN FOR BEING SUCH AN AMAZING ART DIRECTOR ON THE PROJECT AAAAAAAAUUUGGGH. I apologized to Laurent afterward. Hopefully he will still want to do projects with me.

At the end of my mini-speech, I mentioned that earlier this year as I was posting about the Judy Blume illustration project as well as NAKED! coming out, someone asked me if I had a fairy godmother. Yes, I told them, and my fairy godmother's name was JUSTIN CHANDA! If you don't know why, I encourage you to read my Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's as well as the story of how I became illustrator for the Judy Blume books.

So.... I presented Justin with a labelled Fairy Godmother wand and then gave him a big hug. Apparently Justin has taken the Wand to several meetings at S&S since. :-)

After the speeches, Michael and I were ready to sign some books:

Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I loved meeting so many of these behind-the-scenes S&S types who help create such fantastic books.

It was also so great to meet people in person I was mostly familiar with on Twitter, like Rachel Stark (@syntactics on Twitter):

One of the people I had been hoping to meet was Christian Trimmer, who is @MisterTrimmer on Twitter. However, it didn't sink in until later that I DID meet him, but just hadn't connected his face/first name with his Twitter id. Gah! I emailed him after the event to apologize for not recognizing him.

With Veda (digital marketing coordinator), Isa Caban (marketing assistant) and Teresa Ronquillo (marketing coordinator):

And thanks to Angela Zurlo of Simon & Schuster's Production department for this copy of the UK version of NAKED!, which comes out TODAY. According to my British friends, "pants" means "underwear" in the UK.

When we finished the signing the last of the books (thanks to those who waited in line until the end), we closed up the room and headed out:

Because Jeff had had so much trouble trying to flag a cab in the rain, we decided to take the subway to Penn station instead. Jeff wasn't coming with me for the rest of the book tour, but he wanted to help me get to the train. I'm so grateful for his help, because lugging stuff through on the NYC subway during rush hour was not fun, especially in my somewhat zombie-ish state...It had been a wonderful day, but I was dead tired. Then I thought of Michael, who was doing a literary-themed comedy event with Parker Posey later that night! 

Jeff bought me this Naked granola at Penn station. :-)

At Penn Station, we had some challenge trying to figure out where I was supposed to get on the train (again, rush hour crowds didn't make this easier). Then we discovered that my train was late. :-( We said our good-byes when the train finally arrived, and Jeff wished me luck.

I ended up not getting to my hotel in Cambridge, MA until after midnight. It was pouring rain and there was only one cab waiting, and that got taken by the person just ahead of me. I debated about calling one (how long would it take?) but I wouldn't be able to see it arriving so would have to stand out in the rain with my luggage anyway. After five minutes, though, a cab came along YAY.

I was soooo braindead at that point; I am so not a night person, and it had been a crazy (crazy WONDERFUL) day. Happily, though, my Royal Sonesta Boston room was super-comfy:

As tired as I was, I needed to reorganize my stuff so that I'd be ready for the next day's presentation. By the time I felt prepped, I had less than six hours until I had to get up again.

The bed was soooo comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

Next up: Talking to kindergarten and grade one classes at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA!


My WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? obsession, solving a mystery AND the new picture book from Simon & Schuster BFYR

Back in September, I posted about being obsessed with the WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? music video, and was trying to identify the children's picture book featured in the video:

Thanks to all who tried to help me. Cathy Ballou Mealey, for example, asked her friend Norwegian children's book writer and illustrator, Svein Nyhus. Apparently Svein said he didn't recognize the book but thought it might be a fake cover. At this point, I suspect Svein knew more than he was letting on. :-) Keep reading...

Anne C. Holm cleared up the mystery, saying that the fake book cover art was created by Norwegian artist Julie Ebbing, who was studying art at a university in Oslo.

But then....

A couple months later came the news: Ylvis signed a deal with Simon & Schuster Children's! Norwegian brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker had already asked Svein Nyhus to be the illustrator. And the book was going to be designed by Laurent Linn, MY ART DIRECTOR AT S&S (!!!).

Svein Nyhus is a Norwegian children's book writer and illustrator who has written and illustrated several of his own children's books as well as illustrating Why Kings and Queens Don't Wear Crowns, a picture book written by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway.

Here's the cover as it appeared in Norway, plus a photo of Svein:

Images from The Local.The artist blogged insider info about one of the illustrations in the Norwegian version:

For details, see Svein Nyhus's blog.See Svein's blog post about how he worked in a minimalistic joke into the Norwegian version above. Even if you don't understand Norwegian, I encourage you to scroll to the bottom of Svein's picture book entry page for sample illustrations and a peek into his process.

The WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? picture book was edited by Christian Trimmer, Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, and the art director was Laurent Linn. Here's a photo that Laurent tweeted, when the sample books came in:

I *love* the art.

"We are very excited about this book," said Vegard Ylvisaker in a news release. "It is much more than just a spin-off from the video. We actually started the process with the illustrator before we even uploaded the video to YouTube. As we were working with the song it just felt like it had the potential of becoming an interesting book as well, mostly because all of a sudden we found ourselves wondering what does the fox really say?"

The Ylvis guys recently did a book signing in Toronto at Chapters-Indigo but AAAAAUUUGGGGHHHH I had to miss it. My friends Kathleen and Walter lined up to get their copy signed:

Ok, I think it's time to listen to the WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? video again:

Related resources:

USA Today article on the new WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? picture book


Simon & Schuster Children's books affected by the B&N/S&S dispute


I've been gradually updating a list of children's and YA books being affected by the dispute between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. For more info and to find out how you can help, please see http://inkygirl.com/bn-dispute. If you're a Simon & Schuster Children's author or illustrator affected by the dispute, feel free to fill out my survey.


Mini-interview: Simon & Schuster Children's publisher and editor Justin Chanda advice for aspiring picture book writers

Photo: Sonya Sones.Justin Chanda is my amazing editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

 I will always be grateful to Justin for being the first editor to believe in me and my work enough to offer a book contract (see this post for Justin's explanation of why he chose me to illustrate I'M BORED). Justin is also publisher of three flagship children's imprints at Simon & Schuster Children's: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, S&S Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, where he is responsible for the publication of 150 - 200 Trade titles per year ranging from picture books to young adult.

Q. In your experience as a children's book editor, what do you find is the biggest mistake that aspiring picture book writers tend to make?

The one that I see most often, and it covers a multitude of sins, is they do not take the time to really hone their project. Writers have so many ideas they want to work on one, move on to the next, flood an editor with a bunch of projects… Thing is, picture books take time. There is craft, there is fine tuning, there is CUTTING OF TEXT. All of this takes time. A book needs to be read aloud. It needs to be tweaked and made sure that every word is there for a reason — a good reason. Rushing to get through, or assuming that short = easy or quick is a recipe for disaster.

That and thinking rhyming solves everything are the biggest mistakes.

Q. What upcoming book releases are you especially excited about?

As an editor: there is this hilarious book NAKED! coming out that I think you might have heard of.

As a publisher, Oh, my there are SO MANY things coming out this year that I am dying over. But I have to say that Brian Floca's LOCOMOTIVE is a freakin' masterpiece.

You can find Justin on Twitter and on Facebook.


Common mistake by new picture bk writers: assuming short is easy/quick. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: bit.ly/171ZkMR (Tweet this)

Aspiring picture bk writers: Rhyming does NOT solve everything. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: bit.ly/171ZkMR (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


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: https://www.facebook.com/DebbieOhiBooks. 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.


Hanging out with Neil Flambé writer/illustrator Kevin Sylvester

For more info about Kevin Sylvester:



I'M BORED Process: How a picture book is translated into other languages


 I was thrilled to find out that the French version of I'M BORED was available for ordering online, and then got curious about the process.

How does a picture book get translated? Are there any issues that children's book writers and illustrators need to be aware of, when working a project?

I interviewed Tracy Philips from the S&S UK Translation Rights team about the process, over the I'M BORED Scrapbook Blog.


A Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's


Today's print issue of The New York Times Sunday Book Review has their list of Notable Children's Books Of 2012. There are six YA books, eleven middle grade books, and eight picture books….and I'M BORED (written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by me) is included!! I'm about to head out this morning to hunt down a copy of The New York Times  in Toronto but first, I wanted to write this post:

It's been a truly extraordinary year for me.

Not only did my very first children's book come out in bookstores, but Simon & Schuster also gave me contracts for two more books - one of which I'm also writing. I am grateful to so many people who have encouraged and supported me in the past as well as during the I'M BORED creation process, but today I'd like to mention one person in particular: Justin Chanda.

JustinChanda bySonyaSones credit

In 2010, Justin saw my portfolio in the SCBWI Summer Conference Showcase and decided that I'd be the perfect illustrator for Michael Ian Black's newest picture book. Later on (after it was too late for him to change his mind), I asked Justin more about why he picked me; you can read some of his answers in the I'M BORED Scrapbook.

S SKids

Justin had never heard of me when he first approached me at the conference. He didn't know anything about my "author platform" or the fact that I had been focusing on writing up to that point ... it was all about my art. From Justin, when I asked him:

There was a sense of whimsy and definite style. I loved the assorted cast of characters, but I loved your point of view just as much. I remember there was an illustration of a robot who had lost his arm and one of a little girl looking at these tiny monsters. In both instances I got a clear sense of character, a sense of humor, and a sense of style.

Over the years, I've had a wide range of rejection letters from a wide range of children's book publishers…from the bare form letter for my early efforts up to much more personalized "we like her writing but the story's not quite there" or "we love her mss but it doesn't quite fit our list right now". I've been appreciative of all feedback and I can tell by the quality of the rejections that I've been getting much closer…. but they're still rejections. :-)

Justin Chanda was the first children's book editor to believe in me enough to offer me a contract, and I will always be grateful to him and Simon & Schuster Children's. I'M BORED has opened up other opportunities at S&S, with two more picture book contracts. Justin says he'd also be happy to take a look at anything else I've done, including my middle grade and young adult writing (YAY), so I've  been working hard on some new projects.

2011 01 31 SS Sign


I'm going to be writing a series of short gratitude posts over the coming months, thanking some of the people in my life as well as those involved with the creation of I'M BORED, but for now... I'm going out to get a print version of The New York Times Sunday Review so I can get ink on my fingers and spend way too much time marvelling at the extraordinary fact that my name is included.

Photo below was taken by my husband Jeff, when The New York Times reviewed I'M BORED back in September. Below the photo, I've posted the comic I created after reading the review. 


NYTimesBoredComic 600


Judy Blume's FOREVER available in ebook format!



Happy to hear that Judy Blume's FOREVER is finally available in digital format. I remember reading this book as a teenager for the first time, riddled with guilt (I had a religious upbringing) but totally fascinated, whispering about it with my friends in school.

It was the first book I'd ever read that dealt so frankly with the physical changes and feelings of teenaged years. I was lucky enough to hear Judy speak at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA last year - what a down-to-earth, productive and generous woman!

From Shelf-Awareness.com:

Readers may discuss and share memories about Forever (or any Judy Blume book) using the Twitter hashtag #JudyBlumeForever. If you include the phrase "@Judy Blume's Forever is finally available as an eBook" on your Facebook page, it will automatically post to Judy Blume's fan page as well. The Forever home page includes links to purchase the e-book edition, and a link to repin your favorite Blume book covers on Pinterest.

I ran into Judy Blume and Richard Peck outside the conference hotel, and they kindly posed for a photo:

Richard Peck and Judy Blume


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."


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:

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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




Advice for illustrators entering their first SCBWI Portfolio Showcase



 I tend to get the same sorts of questions in person and email over and over, so I've started compiling some of my answers in a FAQ, for those interested.

The latest is advice for those entering the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase. As some of you already know, doing this (with the help of my friend Beckett Gladney) resulted in my getting a book contract with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, second-place in the overall Showcase and an SCBWI Mentorship Award.

See my newest FAQ entry for portfolio showcase tips and a quote from S&S BFYR editor/publisher Justin Chanda about what he liked about my portfolio.


I'M BORED Scrapbook updated: My First Visit To Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers In NYC

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I've updated my I'M BORED Scrapbook with a post about my first meeting at Simon & Schuster in NYC last year: initial impressions, what I learned, and photos.

See my Scrapbook Archives for earlier sketches, photos, and quotes from Justin Chanda (editor/publisher), Laurent Linn (art director) and Michael Ian Black (author of I'M BORED).

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My Big News: TWO BOOK CONTRACTS with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (!)

[ UPDATE: I've started posting about the process of working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. ]

I have been dying to share this ever since I first received the offer but now that the contracts are all negotiated and signed, it's OFFICIAL:

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I am (so very very) pleased to announce that I just signed TWO (!) book contracts with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

One contract is to illustrate a picture book.

The other contract is to WRITE and illustrate a picture book.

To say I am excited would be a vast understatement.

Even now, I am fighting the urge to insert exclamation marks at the end of every sentence.

The good people at S&S are looking for a picture book story for me to illustrate right now (yes, RIGHT NOW).  Michael Ian Black's I'M BORED was such a perfect fit for me, and I had SO much fun working on it - I can't wait to see what my next illustration project will be.

As for the picture book that I write AND illustrate: I'm very much looking forward to working again with Justin Chanda, my editor on this project. I've already sent him some ideas, and he'll be helping me choose and work on the story that ends up getting published. MY VERY FIRST OWN PICTURE BOOK!!!! Oops, accidentally let some extra exclamation marks escape there. Sorry, can't help it.


Ginger Knowlton is my goddess of an agent at Curtis Brown Ltd.

Justin Chanda is the publisher of three flagship imprints at Simon & Schuster: AtheneumMargaret K. McElderry Books and Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. He is crazy-enthusiastic about children's and YA books.

He was also one of the illustration portfolio showcase panel judges at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2010 (thank you thank you, SCBWI!), where he offered me a book contract to illustrate Michael Ian Black's I'M BORED (I later asked Justin about why he picked me, and here's what he said).

I've already learned so much from Justin about the craft and business of creating children's books, and I look forward to learning more.

So much more I want to say, but it'll have to wait.

But for now, just this:




Oh wow. I have my VERY OWN PAGE on the Simon & Schuster website!

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HOW COOL IS THIS?!??????????

I'm sure you jaded published authors/illustrators out there are rolling your eyes, but give me this moment of SQUEE. :-D


I am SO determined to get more titles listed under "Debbie Ridpath Ohi's Books"...

Video interview & book trailer: THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin

Above: A great interview with Michelle Hodkin, author of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER (Simon & Schuster) - a book I just finished and LOVED. Interview also includes Michelle's insights re: writing process & social networking.

I was a bit wary at first when I started reading this book, given all the hype it's received recently. But then I ended up having to read the whole book in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. Tough to go into details without giving major plot spoilers.

Can't wait until the sequel.

Here's the book trailer: