THIRD PLACE CONTEST WINNER
THIRD PLACE CONTEST WINNER
I have a challenge for you.
Take your picture book manuscripts (yes, all of them) and see if you can arrange the beginnings so that they are exactly 70 words. Not a word over the limit. The beginnings however, can be shorter than 70. But you can't end in the middle of a sentence.
I learned about this exercise by taking part in Mindy Weiss' PB Party.
To participate, a writer had to submit only the first 70 words of a manuscript. The idea is to set up the story and introduce the conflict in order to entice the judges to read more.
For me, that required rearranging the beginnings of nearly all of my work and then selecting the strongest piece.
Believe me, none of the first seventy words of any of my manuscripts were compelling enough. I had to do lots and lots of tweaking to lower the word count. Often, I'd get close but would always go over the limit by just one word. It was frustrating and yet fun. It was like working a puzzle, trying to restructure sentences so that the opening was clear and captivating. After I had pared down all of manuscripts, I had to choose the most intriguing one so that the story would leave the judges begging for more.
Sound easy? It's not.
But I will guarantee when you strive to make the beginnings of your stories shorter, your manuscript will be irresistible. And agents will want to read further.
So, I throw down the gauntlet. What do you say? Are you up to it? Are you ready to take the 70-word challenge?
✌ and ♥
|Photo: John Schnobrich|
I don't mind waiving my fees for my friends. But sometimes, they may want me to line edit a chapter book. They may want to meet multiple times and get feedback with every new draft. They may even want me to help sell their self-published books.
One friend asks me to take a look at her work and then gripes when I point out parts of her beloved stories that need attention. She doesn't want to hear the truth about her work. It's her nature to resist revision. Though she'll make some slight changes, she really would like me to fall in love with the first draft.
Another friend wants me to give him feedback on his work, but unlike my female friend, he never really listens to my advice and never makes a single change, even if there are grammar or formatting problems. Ideally, he would like to find a publisher for his children's stories, but he always decides to self-publish his work. Always. He only wants my approval and for me to boost his confidence.
These two examples are rare. Most of the time, my writer friends don't abuse our friendship. They don't get frustrated and they are open to making revisions. They make consulting fun and rewarding.
For instance, several years ago a friend needed help with a manuscript he planned to submit to a children's magazine. I was happy to help him, and in the end, the piece got published in Highlights. He sent me a copy and I found his story even retained some of my ideas. Eventually he learned the ropes. Now, he has been published by Highlights multiple times. I'm thrilled that my advice has made a difference in his writing career.
But there will always be a few friends who make my job challenging. They may get defensive or disregard the suggestions. Their attitudes frustrate me, and helping them feels like a waste of my time.
Things have got to change when it comes to helping my friends. We need to have a conversation. I need to learn what it is they want from me and then they need to learn how I can help them. So, here are some of the guidelines I'm thinking about:
I put thought and effort into reviewing manuscripts, and I don't expect all of my suggestions to be used. But if friends contact me for help on a picture book, I expect that they do some editing and to do so without grumbling about it. They will need to be considerate and respectful of my time. I've got to put my foot down. Would you agree it's time to clue-in my friends? Would you agree it's time to set a few ground rules?
✌ and ♥
|Photo: Hannah Olinger|
How would you feel if a critic said your picture book manuscript was not a picture book?
Recently, that very thing happened to my friend Anne. As you can imagine, she was upset. The critic remarked it was more suitable for a magazine. What's weird is I had worked with Anne on this particular project and I've always considered it a picture book.
So, how do you know if you've written a magazine story or a picture book?
Magazine stories have fewer illustrations, have one scene, and are meant to be read once.
Picture books rely on illustrations, have scenes that advance the plot, and are meant to be read out loud and repeatedly.
Specifically, picture books:
Some picture books are simply a lively romp with lyrical language and energy that’ll entice re-reading for the sheer joy of it. More often, picture books are character-driven with a strong arc. These stories center on an inner conflict which leads to character development.
What if you're still unsure if you've written a picture book?
You can separate the text of your manuscript into pages and try to envision the art that will support each page.
When author Debbie Ridpath Ohi pages out her text, she does tiny thumbnail sketches using stick figures to check overall flow. Debbie says, "You don’t need to be an artist to do this!"
So, what did my friend decide to do? Anne realized the critic was entitled to her opinion, but she also realized the critic had made some good points, which inspired her to reevaluate her picture book. Moving forward, Anne plans to edit her work by making the text more joyful to ensure re-readability and by developing more inner conflict that will lead to character growth.
Anne has the right attitude. She knows it takes determination to stay positive and to continue after hearing discouraging comments. But what would you do if someone were to give you a disheartening critique about your work, especially if you heard it's not a picture book? I hope you would question that opinion. You may need to find others for support. You certainly have my support. I will tell you to believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. Don't let one opinion get you down. Be strong. Keep on going and don't give up. You know as well as me, it takes perseverance and a thick skin to write for kids.
✌ and ♥
|Ozzie, not Polo|
|Photo: Josh Applegate|
THE ESSENSE OF YOUR STORY
When agents and editors read your work, they are not only looking for character and plot, they want to get a sense of the theme. Theme is a word or two that gives the essence of your story. It touches on what the main character learns and how that character changes in the process of the story.
That said, can you identify the theme or themes in your picture book stories? For me, two themes often appear in my picture books: bravery/courage and kindness/empathy
Why do I choose these themes? It's kind of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter, where the hat chooses the wizard. I don't choose a theme; the theme becomes apparent after the first draft of the story.
When I write a children's book, I concentrate on character and plot. The theme turns up when most of the story has been developed.
For instance, in one of my picture books, a young girl wants to find a way to help a homeless person. This story, based on a true experience, honors my daughter who gave her umbrella to a penniless person. As the story developed, the theme of empathy emerged by showing the actions of the main character.
If you're struggling with theme, consider what Writers Write has to say:
"A theme can be chosen by answering one or both questions: