Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

When Pencil Met the Markers

Perfect Picture Book Friday

When Pencil Met the Markers (Imprint, 2020) by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos, Jr. and illustrated by Germán Blanco is a fun and encouraging book for anyone who at some point didn’t fit in.

All the markers love to color, but the purple marker loves to color everywhere! He doesn’t stay inside the lines. When Purple is told he doesn’t fit, he feels blue. But then he meets Pencil who gives him the idea of coloring on plain paper. Pencil adds to the drawings. Not only do they have fun, but now the other markers are interested, so now they work together.

This book stands alone but is a sequel to When Pencil Met Eraser. Here’s the story behind that book from Karen. Learn more about the authors: Karen here and Luis here, and about the illustrator Germán here.

Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

You’ve Written a Children’s Book—Now What?

I often see writers say they’ve finished their first children’s book and don’t know what to do next. These are questions I would like to ask each one:

What type of children’s book have you written? A picture book? An early reader? A chapter book? A middle grade novel? If you don’t know, find out.

Does the word count fit the category? For example, picture books are often under 500 words. The others have specific word lengths as well. Check out this resource.

Is your book appropriate for the age range? Most 10-year-olds are not reading picture books. Here’s a quick resource: “Age Levels for Children’s Books.”

Are you reading books in that age range? If you don’t know what’s out there, how can you judge your own work?

Is your story unique? Or is it an oversaturated topic? If a common picture book topic, does it have a unique twist at the end?

Have you researched books like it? That means you’ll know where it would fit on a shelf in a bookstore. That it fits the style of books published in the last five years—not what you read as a child.

Is it preachy? Is it written to entertain or to teach a lesson? What do you prefer reading? A novel or a sermon? I love what Roald Dahl said, “The contents of my books are not going to teach them anything at all, except to grip them by the throat and make them love to read.”

Have you revised? All writers have to revise their work. “Do not query before you have a) finished writing your book, b) revised your book, c) shown your query to someone unfamiliar with your work who can point out confusing bits.” -Lauren Spieller

Have you gotten any feedback from other children’s book writers working in the same category? Critique partners are an invaluable part of the process. You can find them through writing organizations, classes, and online groups. My first choice is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org)—it’s where I’ve gotten my groups. Several Facebook groups I belong to have critique partner matchup areas: Kidlit411 has Manuscript Swap and Sub It Club has a Critique Partner Matchup.

If it’s a picture book written in rhyme, is it well done? Most editors hate near rhyme and forced rhyme. If someone else reads it aloud, do they read it in the correct rhythm? I love Josh Funk’s “Don’t Write in Rhyme.”

Others often jump into these conversations and ask, “Do you want to self-publish or traditional publish?” I believe you need to know what your book is, and about the market, before making any publishing decisions.

Feel free to comment or ask further questions.

Posted in Award Winners, PB, So Many Good Books

this way, Charlie

Perfect Picture Book Friday

this way, Charlie, inspired by a real animal friendship, (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020) by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso is a tear-jerker of a story.

Everyone at Open Bud Ranch can see that Jack, the goat, likes space to himself. Except Charlie, the horse, who can only see out of one eye. Still Charlie is cheerful. Jack watches him carefully and realizes they have a lot in common. One day when Jack sees Charlie having trouble, he decides to lead the way. The two become close friends and help each other live better lives despite the storms that come their way.

I feel like my description is so inadequate for this powerful story of healing and friendship. Don’t miss out on this lovely book.

Caron Levis and Charles Santoso have also teamed up on another picture book. Check out Ida, Always and the awards and honors it has received. Read about the author here and the illustrator here. And don’t miss out on Charles’ other books on his website and Caron’s other books here.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Book Problems

I often am asked to review books—frequently by self-published writers. I explain I’m a book recommender and will only share the book if I like it. If the author is willing to accept that, and the book sounds interesting, then I say “send me the book.”

Perhaps some lessons could be learned from two I got this past month.

One was a darling story. It had fun art. I liked the twist in the ending. But sadly the picture book had some pages that didn’t make sense. (One was the character seeing something she could only feel. Another was the animal in the art and text didn’t match—one hoofed mammal can’t be replaced by another.) There was bad grammar and the overused idiom “all of a sudden.” Another page looked as if the artist drew the background then forgot to put the character in. One page randomly had text all in caps and in a different font.

An editor and an art director would have caught these issues. I don’t usually share my opinion in detail with an author, but in this case…I did because the book isn’t in print yet. I’d really like to see this book have a chance.

The other book got a “no” almost immediately. The art looked amateurish. And the first page had forced rhyme. I started skimming. The story continued with forced rhyme. I found alliteration with adjectives and nouns that didn’t add. An “all of a sudden.” It was preachy. Another character solved the problem for the main character.

First, let’s talk idioms. It’s not that they can’t be used, but they should be used with purpose. Look at this collection of picture books that use idioms—they use humor to explain the phrases. To me, “all of a sudden” is like writing, “hey, reader, pay attention something exciting is going to happen.” Instead, consider using a sound effect. E.g. “Wham! George crashed into the tree.” Or simply show the reader what happened. “The cat dashed out behind the couch.” Here’s a list of phrases and words, you might want to consider avoiding, plus suggestions on what else to use.

Preachy or didactic. How many of us like being told what to do? When a story is too obvious about the message, it isn’t entertainment. And fiction picture books are meant to entertain, comfort, challenge, stoke imagination, and yes, even sometimes teach. But that’s not why kids want them read over and over and over. I like this post on mistake two in “5 terrible, horrible, no good, very bad children’s book mistakes.”

Main character doesn’t solve problem. Our job as adults is to teach children to become adults who know how to solve their own problems. It’s never too early to start. Don’t you remember how proud a small child is when he or she could say, “I did it myself!” Don’t take that away from picture book characters either. Here’s a list of picture books—new and classic—about characters solving problems.

Grammar mistakes. Even the best grammarian can make mistakes. Don’t go it alone. If you aren’t sure of something, look it up. Get others to read your material and check your grammar.

Eyes on your work is good for art, too. Each spread should have something interesting going on. Art is supposed to enhance the text, not just be a filler.

In general, critique groups can help improve your manuscripts, and hopefully avoid errors like the ones mentioned in this post.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

It’s that time of year again

Time to set up for the new year’s record keeping.

First, a folder for 2021 Writing Finances.

Next, new spreadsheets:

  • Writing Expenses*
    • Used my template and updated the year.
    • Transferred recurring expenses from last year’s writing expenses to the new spreadsheet.
    • Entered January 1st car mileage (same as year-end mileage for 2020).
  • Writing Income**
    • A simple “save as” since I have a template that has my recurring payments.

Then, updated others with new tabs for 2021:

  • Instructional spreadsheet where I enter student lessons.
  • Google drive sheet for our online critique group schedule—we have a moderator each week and keep track of which two writers are presenting a manuscript.

These processes take an hour or two.

*The categories on Writing Expenses’ spreadsheet are:

  • date
  • expense item (event, address; postage to submit manuscript, etc.)
  • agent/publisher/magazine (and those extra details, if needed, such as to whom)
  • manuscript
  • mileage driven
  • other car expenses (tolls or parking fees)
  • advertising (website hosting, domain renewal)
  • office supplies (those things you need to run a home office: paper, printer ink, etc.)
  • travel (airfare, taxis, hotel)
  • meals (while traveling–only a portion is deductible)
  • misc (where I put conference fees)

I have a worksheet for each month with a year-end sheet that pulls the totals from each month and gives me a grand total.

**The categories on Writing Income are:

  • date
  • payment from whom or what:
    • teaching
    • critiquing
    • book royalties
    • flat fees
    • magazine and online articles/stories
    • speaking
  • amount

I have my spreadsheet set up to auto total all the amounts.

Time to double check the old year’s record keeping.

For me, I have to print out the expense and income spreadsheets to make sure that every entry has an amount (money or mileage as appropriate). I always find a few errors. Once they are all corrected, the reprinted sheets are stapled together by category so when all the other tax documents come in, we’re ready to do our taxes.

Depending how accurately I’ve kept records, this probably takes a couple hours.

I find this pre-work makes my record keeping easier and quicker.