Monday, November 15, 2010

The Waiting Game

When you submit a picture book to a publisher you may wait up to 4 – 6 months for a response.
Here’s what you can do in the meantime:

Create a list of publishers and agents you’d like to send your work to
Read publishers’ and agents’ blogs
Research topics that interest you
Take those topics and write a fictional story or a nonfiction article
Write articles for writers’ newsletters and magazines
Read books in all genres, first for enjoyment and then as a writer
Meet with another writer for coffee or lunch
Form or join a critique group
Talk with librarians about their current needs
Enter a writing contest
Offer to help another writer edit his work
Create a website
Re-write an article using a different slant and pitch it to another market
Consider co-hosting a writers’ event or workshop
Sign up for a writing class
Brainstorm new ideas for another picture book  

What other writers’ ideas do you have when you play the waiting game?

Monday, November 8, 2010

15 "Must-Haves" before Submitting

I write and submit nonfiction articles as well as picture books.  Writing can be challenging—publication even harder. But I’ve discovered that the process is easier when I have the following:           

A comfortable chair
A room with plenty of light 
Coffee, chocolate, or any comfort food
The will to let the answering machine pickup
Passion about my writing
The drive to read my work out loud 
A first reader to point out mistakes or to make suggestions
The resolve to edit my work to perfection
An understanding of the market 
A grasp of the submission guidelines
An irresistible query letter, one page
Patience as I wait for an editor’s response
Tough skin if I receive a rejection
Perseverance to submit again

What "must-haves" do you need when you write?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Make an Editor's Day

If you’re thinking about writing and submitting a picture book, it pays to accrue writing credentials.  The fastest way to do so is to write nonfiction.  Really.  It’s easier to get published writing nonfiction than fiction.  Find a topic that interests you.  Make sure it has kid appeal.  Research it.  Write the piece in a kid-friendly in tone.  Then research the magazine markets to find a publisher. Pitch your idea to an editor.      

I’m an editor for the educational website and assistant nonfiction editor for Stories for Children Magazine.  So take it from me, you can improve your chance of an acceptance when you:

Follow the writers’ guidelines, even if you’ve submitted to the publication before
Present an ordinary topic in an extraordinary way
Use reliable sources (that does not include Wikipedia)
Write an article with a great hook, a beginning, middle, and satisfying ending
Incorporate similes, metaphors, alliteration into your articles
Use spell and grammar check  
Check your facts, dates, and spelling of proper nouns
Use a grade assessment tool as a guide to writing for the appropriate target age
Ask a reader to take a look at your piece before submitting
Have an expert read your work for accuracy
Keep your query to one page
Provide photographs or images 
Thank an editor for her time
Make the revisions an editor has requested 

There you have it—14 tips to garner an acceptance.  I guarantee it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

28 Picture Books

My husband Jim read picture books to Abby at bedtime, starting on the night we brought her home from the hospital when she was five days old.  These books are some of our favorites and are suitable for children ages 4 – 8.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles
Goodnight, Moon by Margaret W. Brown
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
I Need a Hug by Clara Barton Elementary First Graders
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura J. Numeroff
Is Your Mama a Llama? By Deborah Guarino
June 29, 1999 by Davie Wiesner
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia L. Burton
Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe
Oliva by Ian Falconer
Round Trip by Ann Jonas
Ruby the Copy Cat by Peggy Rathmann
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
The Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch
The True Story of the Three Pigs by A. Wolf, John Scieszka
The Tub People by Pam Conrad
What do you do with a Kangeroo?  by Mercer Mayer
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Wilford Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

Monday, October 18, 2010

Initial Results

Maggie and the Third Grade Blues had been sent to several editors.  Most publishing houses will respond in three months if interested.  So far:
Dial—sent the manuscript; no reply
Arthur Levine—sent the manuscript; a signed rejection
Atheneum—sent a query; no reply
Clarion—sent the manuscript; no reply
Flashlight Press—emailed the manuscript; personal reply: a sweet story, but only publishes 2 PB/year
Tricycle Press—liked my previous submission, sent the manuscript, received a personal rejection   
Christy Ottaviano Books:  project not right for her list, personal rejection with a sticker!

Andrea Brown Literary Agency—sent an e-query + manuscript; no response after 6 weeks
Writers House Agency:  personal rejection 
Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency:  post card, no thank you

Contest news: 
The Decatur Public Library Annual Writing Contest—contest discontinued this year

And finally, better news:
The Alabama Writers’ Conclave Annual Contest—Honorable Mention
Writers’ Digest—among the top 100 winners

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dangerous Myths and Terrible Truths

I read this article many years ago, and it is still relevant.  Here are a few snippets from the piece.  Check out Aaron Shepard’s article for 10 more myths and truths about picture book writing.

MYTH: Children’s books are easier to write than adult books.
TRUTH: Good writing is difficult no matter what the reader’s age—and children deserve the best.
MYTH: Since my kids/neighbors/students like my story, it will make a great book.
TRUTH: Your kids/neighbors/students may like it only because it’s yours, or because they enjoy your reading.
This does not impress editors.

MYTH: To sell my work, I must get an agent.
TRUTH: Though it has become harder to sell children’s books without an agent, you can still do it—and getting an agent may be as hard as getting a publisher. Agents are more useful and available once you’ve sold on your own.
MYTH: My chances are better if I submit to small publishers.
TRUTH: Not unless your book is specialized. Small publishers issue fewer books and must often be cautious in their selections. Large publishers can afford to take an occasional chance.

MYTH: When submitting, I must protect my ideas from theft.
TRUTH: Theft by children’s publishers is rare. Ideas are plentiful, so editors are more interested in finding writers who can handle ideas. In any case, copyright law protects your work—without any official registration or notice.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Most picture books are made up of 16 spreads.  A “spread” is both pages of an open book. 

To represent the spreads, draw sixteen rectangles on a piece of paper, using four rectangles per row.  Draw a line down the middle of each rectangle to divide them into 2 squares.  These represent the picture book pages with text and illustration (usually 32 pages). 

Rectangles 1 – 4 represent the beginning.  Introduce characters, the setting, the character’s want, the conflict. 

Rectangles 5 – 11 represent the middle of your picture book.  Introduce other characters (most picture books should have 2 – 3 characters), action, and complications.  Rectangle 12 is the crisis or climax page. 

Rectangles 13 – 16 represent the ending.  Examine the character’s feelings and solve the story problem. Include a physical resolution and an emotional resolution.

You can fill in the squares with sticky notes and move them around, if needed.  This technique will  help you visualize your story.