Posted in Inspiration, Market Prep, PB, So Many Good Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Keeping Up with Picture Books

It could become a full-time job keeping up with all the new picture books coming out. And especially with libraries and many bookstores still being closed, it’s harder to do than ever. This is where I’m grateful for a number of blogs that help me stay in tune.

One site I’ve not shared before is Picture Book Builders. Formed by a group of well-published authors or author/illustrators, their goal is to explore“how one element of a picture book’s story or art manages to grab us or wow us or strike an emotional chord.” They take turns blogging about picture books. It may be an interview with a new author or illustrator about a book, or a recommendation of a new picture book, or maybe even a giveaway. The blog started in 2014, but I only discovered it last year. I subscribe—there are about 8 posts a month—so the info comes right into my inbox. A recent book from this site that I want to read is FIVE MINUTES (That’s a lot of time) (No, it’s not) (Yes, it is) (Putnam, 2019) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

I think I’ve talked about Susannah Hill Leonard’s blog before. I’m interested in her “Tuesday debuts” and “Perfect Picture Book Friday” posts. For the latter, anyone can add picture books they are reviewing or recommending, too. Susannah’s shared books on Fridays aren’t always the newest books, so there’s a nice mix of old and new. One of her recent posts is a book I’d already discovered, but love so much I’M A HARE, SO THERE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) by Julie Rowan-Zoch. Susannah posts about 3 times a week. Again, I subscribe.

And if you’re familiar with Storystorm, you probably already know about Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). It’s not just a January idea month blog. Posts are often written by other authors sharing their inspiration for a book, a cover reveal, success stories, etc. Here’s a book birthday post I recently enjoyed: BIRDS OF A FEATHER! (Philomel Books, 2021) by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Except in January when posts are daily, posts vary but usually there are several per week. Again, I subscribe to get them in my inbox.

And the final blog I depend on is Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating. Among her variety of posts there are always book giveaways—they aren’t always picture books, but I love the interviews and insights into these books. One that caught my attention recently was LITTLE EWE: The Story of One Lost Sheep (Beaming Books, 2021) by Laura Sassi illustrated by Tommy Doyle. Posts are daily! And, yes, I subscribe.

Do I look at these posts every day? No. Instead I take a few hours a few times a month and look at a batch of posts. Sometimes that means I miss out on giveaways from all of these sites, but since my main purpose is to get my eyes on picture books, that’s okay, too.

Do I like every book they share? Of course not. Books are very subjective. But I definitely find books I want to read. My library doesn’t always have them, but that doesn’t stop me from requesting they order the picture books!

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 Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, Writing Life

Finding Agents Zoom Meeting

In response to questions on KIDLIT411 (a Facebook group), I offered a free Zoom meeting today. About nine or ten writers participated and we spent about an hour together.

Getting ready for it–using a list of questions some had–I realized I’d done a live talk on a similar topic for SCBWI Oregon back in 2019. So, I took the PowerPoint from that, did some rearranging, and had a presentation.

My plan had been to record the Zoom meeting. I was almost done talking when I realized, I’d never pushed start record. Arghh. Next time I need a sign that says START RECORD right in front of me!

Since I can’t share the recording as planned, my husband reminded me I could convert the PPT presentation as a pdf. Wise man. Except it was too huge. He suggested we try google slides–it cut off some of my text. So, instead I chose outline view in PPT and copied the text of my slides and answered some extra questions I was asked:

ORGANIZING RESEARCH PROCESS

Keep track of those you are interested in!

  • You can do…
    • A Word document
    • A Word table
    • An Excel spreadsheet
      • Each tab a different agent (editor) and paste all your info including links
    • A pen and paper notebook

What info you may want to keep

  • Contact Info
  • Name
  • Email or link to submission form
    • usually forms are through agency—sometimes query manager
  • Agency/Publisher
    • website
  • Personal blog link
  • Twitter link
  • Where you found them…
  • What they want to see, such as …
    • Query or cover letter
    • Full manuscript, first ten pages, first 50 pages, first chapter
    • Synopsis – one page, brief, or …
    • Author bio
    • Comp titles
  • How they want it sent – email (attached or not–usually pasted in) or form (with link)
  • Report time – and if no response, or not stated

WHERE TO START RESEARCHING AGENTS (EDITORS)

  • My favorites…
    • Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog – https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/
      • Usually features one agent a month
      • First page submission opportunities
      • Place to share art, find out about contests, etc.
      • You can subscribe!

WHEN I FIND AN AGENT (EDITOR) I’M INTERESTED IN…

  • I check their agency website
  • Twitter – unfortunately, you must have an account – https://twitter.com/
    • I also use this to check to see if an agent is up-to-date on queries
  • Google – search the internet for interviews/mentions/podcasts
  • I read and listen to any of the above I find
  • Ask myself questions:
    • Are they representing what I want to sell?
    • Do I like books they represent or that they say they like?
    • Do I recognize any of their clients?
    • Does their personality rub me the RIGHT way?

QUERY MANAGER

  • Accessible from the agency website or Manuscript Wishlist or Twitter
  • Let’s look at an example…
    • I review what info each agent wants
    • PREPARE ALL YOUR INFO READY IN A WORD DOC SO YOU CAN COPY AND PASTE
    • When ready click submit
    • Make sure you re-enter email on confirmation screen or it doesn’t send
    • I copy confirmation URL and paste into my file
    • You won’t always receive an email response, but can check via your link

HOW I KEEP TRACK OF SUBMISSIONS

  • I use a Word Table in a document per project – e.g. Title Queries
    • I include potential agents to submit to
    • I prepare my query letter or Query Manager info inside
    • I note results
    • I note agencies that don’t allow queries to more than one agent
    • I use color-coding so I know whom I’m still waiting on

Questions?

  • Favorite Podcasts?
    • Someone else mentioned Jessica Faust and James McGowan at Book Ends Literary
  • How much time do you spend writing versus doing writing business?
    • It depends on what’s going on in my world. I don’t know how to quantify it either. When I’m burnt out on writing, I might go catch up reading newsletters, research agents, submitting. It varies week to week. I also do the latter when the in box gets too full! 😉
  • Is there a list of good agents versus bad? No. It’s too subjective.
  • What about Query Tracker? I’ve not used it. Developed my process before it existed.

I hope this is helpful to those who couldn’t attend.


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

Finding Comp Titles

shelf-159852_640.pngRecently, I was at a writer’s conference where someone asked, “What do you do when you can’t find comp titles?”. (Comp titles are comparable titles.) Sometimes writers say, “nothing is out there like this book.” That’s highly unlikely, especially if the book fits a category–picture book, middle grade, young adult, etc.–and it fits a genre. If it doesn’t fall in any of these, perhaps the writer needs to rethink the project–there may be a reason “nothing is out there” like it.
How I find comp titles
First, I go to Amazon and search in the category. (You could use Barnes & Noble as well.) Let’s say I’m looking for comp titles for a picture book. I start by searching by subject in picture books. For example, manners, or musical instruments, or fun in the sun. Be sure and use the check boxes on the left to help you narrow your search. I usually check hardcover. Since I mostly write fiction, I specify that as well.
Next, I search by characters. If my characters are animals, I’ll search for fiction picture books on that specific animal. E.g. How many picture books are there with a tree frog as the main character? Probably not many, which can help your book stand out. I know there are a lot of picture books with chicken, dog, or cat main characters.
If neither of those options work, try searching for the tone of the book, such as humor or sweet, whatever fits your manuscript best. Or search for the theme of your book.
You can also go to a local bookstore and ask someone in the children’s section to show you recent books on a specific topic, character, or written in a specific tone.
Reading books
And, of course, I read the books I find to see if they really are a good comparable title.
I also do a lot of reading of picture books and may find comp titles that way as well.
Using multiple comp titles
Sometimes it takes two or three titles to express your book, so your pitch or query letter would say, “My book is like Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code meets Mo Willems’ The Thank You Book. (Note these are recent titles, which make the best comps.) You can also use movies or TV shows as one of your comps. “My YA manuscript is like The Truman Show meets M.T. Anderson’s Feed.” (These aren’t recent, but would give the editor or agent an instant picture of your manuscript.)
Usually you don’t want to use the blockbuster books, such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games as comparison titles. Although, if you were comparing it to some aspect of the book, that might work too. “My book has a main character who doesn’t fit in like Luna Lovegood in HP, but the story is more reminiscent of Laurel Gale’s Dead Boy.”
Agents and editors I’ve heard speak agree that comp titles will be out there. You just have to do the research to find them.
For further reading on this topic go to “Finding Comp Titles for Your Novel” by Annie Neugebauer and “Comp titles” by Janet Reid. Both of these posts are from 2012, but have great info.

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

Writing for Children’s Religious Magazines

christ&lambI’ve sold over 75 short stories to a variety of religious magazines. Some of these stories were resales as the markets don’t have the same audience, but have very similar beliefs. Some stories were tweaked to fit a specific religion. A few of the magazines are no longer in print. Others have gone through transitions and name changes.
Beliefs Vary
Each magazine has its own flavor and set of beliefs. When reading sample stories, you’ll find certain magazines specifically mention God and/or Jesus, while others don’t. In all cases, there are things you need to know when writing for the religious market.
Theme Lists/Editorial Calendars
Many of the religious magazines can also be called “church take home papers.” In other words, 52 issues are printed for each Sunday/Sabbath of the year. Others, are monthly magazines with several stories/articles per issue. Not only does this mean they need lots of material (fiction and nonfiction), but these magazines often have some kind of theme. It can be a yearly theme, a monthly theme, or an issue by issue theme. There may be Bible verses to read along with theme topics. Often, theme lists, sometimes called editorial calendars, are available online. If not, you’ll need to write to the magazine for them. For one magazine I’ve gotten on a mailing list to receive the themes by email.
Writers Guidelines
All have submission guidelines–many of which are online. These will tell you word counts–some will be ranges, others will be up to a specific word limit. You may find deadlines for submissions. You’ll find information on the rights the magazine buys. (If you need further information on rights, go here.) http://www.susanuhlig.com/2013/10/is-that-right.html The focus of the magazine is usually mentioned here as well.
But one of the biggest “guidelines” is reading the stories in the magazine itself. This is where you’ll really see whether the stories are simply moral or “good,” or whether God is referenced or talked to, or both. You’ll get to see if story settings are inside or outside of church–often the most religious magazines use both.
The Characters
Most will have one main character either overcoming a problem or learning something. (That doesn’t mean these stories have to be preachy, although some will lean more that way than others.) Someone might help them with the problem, but the main character has to be in control and do the actual solving. Because of what happens in the story, the character will change in some way.
Editorial Relationships
Often, if you break into print with one magazine, you can sell more stories to the same magazine. If you do, you may develop a relationship with the editor(s). I had one editor tell me she liked my story, but since the magazine didn’t promote contemporary Christian music, they couldn’t use it. Without a relationship, all I’d have gotten would have been a straight rejection. I’ve also had editors ask me to fill holes in their lists of stories. After receiving a specific topic, I usually had to propose a couple ideas before getting the go ahead to write.
Rejections
You may find as I did that some magazines are really hard to break into. In fact, some I never wrote something that they accepted. You may also find some rejections are a “not now” as they had too many stories that fit the topic. That means you can send the story later when it again fits a topic. I’ve also resent stories when a new editor comes along. This means you have to keep accurate records on your submissions and on the magazine.
Sales
My favorite sales to religious markets were the magazine I read when I was a teen and the magazine my daughters read when they were teens. One of the fun things with resales is seeing how differently the same story can be illustrated. But the best is knowing that there are children and teens being encouraged by my stories.