Surviving Storystorm

Who am I kidding? That was a tremendous amount of fun.  As a first time Storystorm participant, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I do know myself though, and with any undertaking I have a tendency to start off strong, lag in the middle and then scramble to tie up the ends and (hopefully) finish strong.  Let me tell you, there was no lagging in the middle this month, ideas continued to flow.  I know this was in part because I was in the habit of looking for them, but probably more so because of the incredibly encouraging and inspiring guest posts, served up every day with a healthy dose of realism.

I’ve noticed a trend in my manuscripts recently where many have an academic thread that weaves the emotional arc of the story together. For instance, a few of my current manuscripts have a science element, one has a math theme and one dabbles in ELA.  Well, I just read through my list of 30 ideas, and the trend continues. Unlike many writers in this genre, I’m not a teacher, not by a long shot.  But I do come from strong teacher stock.  As a mom, determined to raise children who love to learn like I do, I weave lessons and interesting facts into all of our conversations, and apparently this happens when I write as well.  I guess the one reason I was excited to find some spots of consistency within my 30 seemingly random ideas is that those are the stories that feel most authentic to me and are the most fun to write.  (My convictions about living and writing authentically will have to wait until another day.)

Like I said, the guest posts of the past months have been fantastic.  (Here’s hoping one of my comments pays off and I win a prize too!) These are some of my new favorite one-liners.  If you haven’t read the posts in their entirety, do yourself a favor and click over to read them now.

–  Jarrett Lerner (Day 18)– “No, an idea is more like a dog who’s just realized he’s about to be taken to the vet. Ideas have to be chased down, wrestled into submission, tricked or bribed with treats.” -ALSO- “…when it comes to writing, there’s a time for quality and a time for quantity”

–  Jess Keating (Day 6) “Inspiration is a muscle, not a muse.”

–  Tara Lubbe (Day 21)– “In your eyes, your book is your baby, your masterpiece, your blood, sweat and tears, your soul. And yes, it IS all of those. But to the retail world, your book is a product, a SKU—inventory to be turned. Is your idea strong enough to be crafted into a sellable product?”

Josh Nash (Day 27)– “Living a creative life is a full-time job and being open to ideas means you are always on the clock.”

–  Jeanette Bradly (Day 26)– “Don’t scare off your ideas by holding out unrealistic standards. Let your ideas grow at their own pace.” – ALSO- “No one cares if you don’t have an idea right now, and you shouldn’t either. Take a nap or go for a walk. Your ideas will grow while you aren’t paying attention.”

And for the record, this is not a comprehensive list of my favorites, there were so many more I could add!

Also, I’m excited to report my first submission of the year! This didn’t happen until October of last year, so 2018 is off to a much better start.  As I try to find a balance between prose and poetry while keeping my BIC, I stumbled across a submission opportunity for poetry geared towards grades K-4.  As a mom to a Kindergartener, 2nd grader and a 4-year-old who thinks he’s 10, I knew that I could speak the right language.  Also, I love (LOVE) deadlines.  This was the perfect way to get words on paper, exercise my rhyming muscles and hold me accountable. Let me tell you, getting started was not fun.  I was out of shape, out of sync and way off track, at least for a while.  (I had a hard time coming up with a rhyming word for ‘you’. Shameful, right?) I had a talk with myself as I struggled to find the right words, just to make sure my intentions were clear to my idea and anyone who may have been listeningHere’s what I said – I know that every submission is a long shot, and I appreciate just having the opportunity.  My goal in this case, is only to complete and submit something that I am proud of. I just want to stay in the habit of putting myself out there; of stepping out in to the arena.  I think my conversation was well received because I continued to chip away at it and when it was all said and done, I had a poem that consisted of 50 words and 8 lines. So that was yesterday, and I’m calling it a win, even without knowing the results.  (Also, you can add my thoughts on ‘writing with intention’ to the list of things I need to elaborate on one day.) Next up, you can find me (not so) patiently waiting for the WWTS winners to be announced. (TOMORROW!  EEK!)

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Nathan called.

Okay, so he’s not a real person and he didn’t actually call. But I spent the better part of two years getting to know him and his story, in the way only writers can. Technically that’s my second to longest relationship, ever. Nathan is the main character of the first picture book manuscript I’ve ever written. When I started blogging, there were a few picture book drafts in my desk drawer, but his story was still consuming more of my time and energy than the others. Last week, in one of the Storystorm guest posts, Jared Lerner talked about wrestling inspiration into its place and boy, did I ever wrestle with Nathan’s story. I worked through more drafts than I can count. His story was my first critique, my first submission and my first rejection. He and I had many long talks, we changed direction, we rhymed, we didn’t, we argued, there were tears and finally, he was shelved.  Although, I don’t really think it was a mutual decision.
To be fair, I had a number of very valid reasons. For one, I’m pretty sure we both needed a break from each other and the painful revision process. I told him it would be temporary, and that we could still be friends. Second, since I wasn’t focusing all of my energy on his story, I was able to give life to the other stories that were surfacing. There’s no way I would have written the other manuscripts that I have, had I stayed immersed in Nathans’ world. Third, I realized that few authors ever publish their FIRST story, and that maybe Nathan’s job had only been to get me down this path of chasing my dream. Maybe he was sent to introduce me to the wonderful world of Kid Lit because when I started swapping manuscripts, Nathan’s story was all I had to offer. Some of the writers who offered their feedback have morphed from strangers to critique partners and are now my dearest writing friends. There’s something to learn from every relationship, and I thought that maybe Nathan and I’s relationship had run its course because I learned what I needed to from him.
Anyways, like I said, he called. He actually has been for quite some time, but I was doing the writer’s equivalent of silencing and screening. Finally, I answered. I pulled his dummy out and read it for the first time in months. I can still recite the words, I still love the premise of his story and reading it completely excited me.  Thankfully, I’ve learned a little since I last worked with him and the only way I’ll agree to give his story another try is if he understands that we can’t be exclusive.  There are plenty of stories waiting to be written, his will need to share some brain space. Also, he hinted around that he misses his rhyme. You may remember that Nathan’s story was born as a rhyming story. I’ve talked much about it here, along with my decision to drop the rhyme and try to get his story told in prose. I did a decent job in prose, and using those writing muscles paved the way for all of my other main characters to see daylight. But if I’m being totally honest, his story is still, just decent.  I do hope to straddle the fence and write stories in both prose and rhyme, so it seems now is a good a time as any to start rhyming again.  That’s not to say I’ll start with Nathan, because a little part of me feels like he’s asking me to un-do all that I’ve done.
So, what’s the first thing you do when an ex calls you out of the blue, you call your best friend and spill your guts; that’s what I’m doing here. I’m telling you that he called, and I’m not quite sure what his intentions are yet, but I agreed to talk to him about it. We’re meeting for coffee next week.
There’s a line from one of my favorite books on writing that I keep going back to, especially on the days that feel tough. In the introduction of STEERING THE CRAFT, Ursula le Guin wrote, “Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…Craft enables art. There’s luck in art. And there’s the gift. You can’t earn that. But you can lean skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.”
Did you hear that? YOU CAN LEARN TO DESERVE YOUR GIFT. I think I need to blow that up poster size and put it over my desk… or maybe use it as wallpaper. I’m still not sure if Nathan’s story is one that the world will ever read, and that’s okay. But I’m almost certain I’ll agree to pull him out, especially as I’m working to ‘deserve my gift.’ I think he has more to teach me, and if anything will push me out of my comfort zone, again. I just keep reminding myself that when I learn something from one manuscript, all of my stories- past, present and future will benefit. So, I guess, I really have nothing to lose. Right? Thanks for listening. I feel better already.

And as always,
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Buy the Book

A few summers back, I started chasing this dream.  I had no understanding of the industry, no awareness of the process and no clue where to begin.  Somehow, probably after enough Google searches, I got my hands on a copy of the 2016 Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market.  I remember the excitement I felt when it came in and I promptly read it cover to cover. The excitement quickly turned into overwhelm and the book was shelved.  I had the wonderful problem of having too much information.  Fast forward two years, and I had the good fortune to catch one of Katie Davis’ Writing for Children podcasts (Episodes 74 & 78) about using Market books wisely.  She and her guest, Marni McNiff spoke to the fact that most writers had a copy, and most copies looked brand new because they had never been used. Bam, that was me. Thankfully, I learned a great deal while the book was shelved and recognized that it was time to pull it out again.

Like all writers, one of my 2018 goals is to continue submitting my work (see my full list here).  Last year, I sent a handful of queries out to agents, with an equal amount of rejections received. I don’t think these queries were as ill-fated as my earlier ones, and I believe that I’m moving in the right direction.  But I know myself, I’m a bit of an acquired taste and I always do better with in-person introductions, one major exception being that awful pitch session I had back in the fall. (I’m going to be working on those too.) I also had a long talk with the girl in the mirror and admitted that my intentions for chasing agents were a bit skewed.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely hope that I’m blessed to find one, but there was a part of me that was hiding behind agent queries and avoiding editors out of fear. I’ve received those rejections too, and for me, they stung a bit more than the agents. I’ve shied away from editors because of the power they hold, an convinced myself that my only chance for success was if I had an agent in my corner. Shame on me. All of that might totally be true, I might have a greater chance for success with an agent, but I don’t deserve one if I decide that I’m incapable of chasing this dream alone.  If one day I land the right agent at the right time, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Until then, I’m going to put my big girl pants on and forge my own path. I’ve reset my expectations, outlined my intentions and came up with a game plan.

My mission, should I choose to accept it is to submit to well-researched publishing houses and have my 2016 Market will look worn by the summer. (Think Velveteen Rabbit caliber used and abused.) If I manage to do so, I get to buy the 2018 edition and continue down this path. I love goals! I love deadlines! I’ve already started! I have a spreadsheet with small-mid range publishing houses, listed in alphabetical order, with all the info I might need when its time to start hitting the ‘send’ button. If you don’t have a copy of a recent Market book, I definitely recommend investing in one. An internet search yields little results in comparison to the information within the pages of this book.  No doubt more homework is required then just taking the information at face value (it is a 2016 book after all) but it gives a spectacular starting point as opposed to searching for some variation of “publishers looking for picture books”.  (Another of my goals is to submit to Magazines, and the book has a whole section devoted to this; more on this another day.)  So I’m off, wish me luck and I’ll send it right back to you.

Also, I’m excited to tell you that a few of my pre-published friends have agreed to guest post here over the coming months.  They each have great things to say, most have their own blogs, some I’ve traded manuscripts with and all are going to be wonderfully successful authors one day. I asked them to ‘Be My Guest’ because I want you to meet them!

Now I need to figure out what to do with this white stuff on the ground… AGAIN. Snow falling twice in one winter is more than this Cajun girl can handle.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Annie Silvestro

I don’t know about you, but it seems like everywhere I turn lately Annie Silvestro is there!  Her debut picture book, BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is an adorably charming read. (If you love libraries and little bits of nostalgia as much as I do, you have to check out the end pages!) But that wasn’t even the only book she released in 2017, and she’s starting 2018 with a bang! Read on for the wonderful nuggets of wisdom she shared and keep an eye out for the links to her other wonderful posts! AnnieSilvestro-2

Annie, thanks for being here! As always, in honor of my southern roots, “Can I get you something to drink?”  I’d love a hot tea, thank you!

Perfect! One of my resolutions for 2018 is to learn to love hot tea.  I’ll have whatever she’s having, probably with a little extra sugar and cream. (Do you drink cream in tea? Or is that just coffee? I have a lot to learn.)  So this might be a bit of an understatement, but 2017 was a good year for you- BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB was released and then a short ten months later you introduced MICE SKATING to the world.  It seems you’re carrying that momentum over into 2018 too! For starters, you had a guest post as a part of the Storystorm challenge (one of my favorites so far), you’re a mentor for Writing With The Stars, you have a book-iversary coming up, and then in the fall is release of your third picture book!  More on all of that a little later. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children?  Thank you so much – it was a surreal and exciting year for sure! I have always been passionate about all things Kid Lit related. Though I got my start in magazine publishing, my heart was always in Kid Lit. Once I went to my first National SCBWI conference in NYC, I knew I had to make the leap. So I started writing, reading as much as I could, then I joined a critique group and became active in my local SCBWI chapter.

I hope it’s okay if I start off asking you about Picture the Books!  Almost the entire list of authors I hope to interview here on Paper People this year (2018) comes from Picture the Books. It’s a wonderful, incredibly talented group (they have a blog, go check it out!).  Can you tell us about the groups inception? How did you become a member? Julie Segal-Walters, author of the hilarious THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK, came up with the initial idea and then enlisted Katey Howes and Ariel Bernstein to co-found Picture the Books. I knew Julie, Katey, and Ariel through the NJ SCBWI. Through that connection, along with a shout out from Twitter about 2017 debuts, I learned about PTB and jumped aboard. I am so grateful I did! The support, advice, and friendship from this amazing group of authors and illustrators has been invaluable throughout this whole process. I have no doubt the bonds we built this year will carry on for years to come.

Everyone that I’ve ‘met’ (electronically speaking) so far, which includes you, Anna Forrester (she’ll be here next month) and Katey Howes have been incredibly kind and generous with your time and wisdom.  Was there a person that acted as a mentor for you when you started your journey? My person is definitely Beth Ferry, the hugely talented author of STICK AND STONE, A SMALL BLUE WHALE, and many other titles. She’s my most trusted writing partner, advice-giver, and has become one of my very best friends to boot. I don’t know what I would do without her!

And you’re planning paying it forward! I mentioned earlier that you’re a 2018 WWTS Mentor.  Can you talk a little about what you hope to achieve as a mentor?  What do you envision those three months looking like for you and the writer you select? (If you hurry you can still apply- deadline is Jan 13!) I am so excited and honored to be a WWTS Mentor! I truly hope I can offer my mentee a fresh perspective on his or her manuscripts and solid advice about every aspect of publishing I’ve learned about so far.  I’d love to make a positive impact on an emerging author, and I’m sure I will learn a lot as well!

Okay, back to BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, because that’s really where it all started for you.  Was that your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? Bunny was not my first manuscript, but it’s definitely where it all started for me as it was the manuscript that helped me find my agent Liza Voges, the first story Liza sold, and then the first of my stories out in the world. It was a long road filled with many revisions both major and minor. I found some first sentences about it in my 2011 Storystorm journal!

How great that it all came full circle for you! I’m having a blast with Storystorm this year. I know that I stumble upon ideas every day, but holding myself accountable and writing them down is wonderfully energizing.  As I read BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, I was a little envious and wanted to run out and find one of my own! Have you ever been a part of a book club, like Bunny’s? What’s your favorite thing to read for pleasure?  Yes! I was in a great neighborhood book club for years. I loved it because I would end up reading books I never would have chosen on my own. I mainly read fiction and most often Middle Grade and YA – I’m a huge Maggie Stiefvater fan, and I just finished & loved THE WAR I FINALLY WON by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone, and THE INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling. In non-kidlit I laughed out loud at CLASS MOM by Laurie Gelman.

 On February 7 you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy early Book-iversary!  Thank you! It has been such a joy and a gift to have Bunny out in the world and to have gotten such a lovely response from readers. It has absolutely been surreal! And wonderful! A celebration sounds good to me.

Do you remember the first time you saw BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB? on a bookstore shelf? Definitely! I went to the B&N where my critique group meets – it was very special to see it on that store’s shelf after having originally revised it sitting in the same place. It was also awesome taking my boys to my local independent bookstore, River Road Books, and seeing it on display!

I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it on those shelves? I had an excellent partner in Penguin Random House/Doubleday and I’m so grateful for all they have done to market the book. They helped get it distributed far and wide and featured Tatjana Mai-Wyss’s adorable artwork in many places as well. I had such fun visiting lots of local bookstores, libraries, and schools. I’m a big fan of Twitter. And as we talked about earlier, Picture The Books was another awesome boost in getting the word out. Try to have some fun swag for your book, like bookmarks or buttons, but don’t break the bank.

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? Was there anything different about your experience with MICE SKATING that surprised/enlightened you? It’s fascinating to learn how things work with different publishing houses and editors every step of the way. I was more relaxed about the debut of MICE SKATING and had some relationships already established which made some of the promotion a bit easier. Getting to meet Teagan White, the incredible illustrator of MICE SKATING, and to participate in the NY Times Facebook Live where Teagan did a live drawing session, was a huge surprise and delight.

MICE+SKATING+COVER

 Like I said earlier, your third book, THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS,   is due out next fall.  Can you tell us a little about it?!?  Do you have anything else coming down the pipe, awaiting publication?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  Yes! This story is near and dear to my heart because my oldest son is such a train-lover. It’s a unique friendship story at its core, and a story about how the spirit of Christmas can last well longer than the holiday season.  I’m also excited about the sequel to BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB – BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL, out in Summer of 2019!

 

You can find me on Twitter and Instagram, @anniesilvestro, or on my website: http://www.anniesilvestro.com

Oh, a sequel!! That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing your time and energy with us. I can’t wait to see what else 2018 has in store for you!

Thanks so much for having me!

Stay tuned next month, I’ll be talking with Anna Forrester about her inspiring and enlightening debut picture book, BAT COUNT. I also have a few guest posts by some of my pre-published friends lined up in the coming months (not to mention I have to start blogging more consistently, myself.)  I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Hindsight & Forecasting

I’ve been wrestling with and working on this post in my head for weeks now but every line I tried to open with sounded cliché and I keep talking myself out of it. (Hence the reason I didn’t even get it posted in 2017.) Like so many others, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Here are the facts: 2017 was an interesting year for my family, one filled with opportunities, challenges and celebrations. We hit a few mini-milestones (All of our kiddos can put on their own shoes! Everyone can ride a bike! We took our first plane ride as a family!) and added one adorably enthusiastic chocolate lab to the mix. From a writing standpoint, it was a year of great success, a few rejections (5/5) and wonderful connections. Because I believe in the power the importance of celebrating success, big, small or otherwise I challenged myself to list out all of my Kid Lit accomplishments for the past year. I need this on paper, so I can refer back to it anytime I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I need it to serve as a reminder that I’m laying the foundation now, so that hopefully I can have a prolific writing career one day. I need to know exactly where I am now, where I’ve come from and where I hope to go.

So, in 2017, I…

  1. Started a blog, which was something I had been thinking of for months. Since I started on February 9, I’ve posted 61 times and found 73 followers. (I’m grateful for each and every one of you! I never dreamed I’d get more than about 10.)
  2. Participated in 5 contests, (KidLit College Board Book Contest, Sparkhouse Contest, Susanna Leonard Hill’s Hallowensie & Holiday Contests) generating 2 honorable mentions.
  3. Participated in 3 writing challenges, NaPiBoWriWee, WOW-NONFICPIC and #50PreciousWordsforKids (well, technically my daughter gets credit for that one.)
  4. Wrote 6+ manuscripts, brainstormed another 15+ ideas.
  5. Joined and have remained active in 3 critique groups, and have met an incredible group of dear friends along the way (This one holds the most weight, my friends are the greatest… It starts with a few MS swaps and before you know it you’re adding them to the Christmas card list!)
  6. Facilitated an online book study. We started working through Steering the Craft by Ursula le Guin. Sadly, the holidays interrupted our plans, but I hope to resume once we settle in to 2018… and maybe even start a new book!?!
  7. Started Paper People, a monthly debut picture book author interview series plus three lagniappe interviews (one being ANN WHITFORD PAUL!)
  8. Completed my challenge to read 100 Picture books in the course of one summer… (#100PictureBookSummer)
  9. Attended my first writing conference (Bayou Writers Group Fall Conference) P
  10. articipated on a book launch team (Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell by Randi Mrvos)
  11. Joined SCBWI

I’m proud of my list, considering how much I did not now at this time last year. And now its time to look ahead at this new year. When it comes to making resolutions, I’m like a kid in a candy store! In a wonderful podcast a few weeks back, Katie Davis (Writing for Children) gave pointers on how to set attainable goals and set yourself up for success in the 2018. My favorite nugget was something along the lines of “don’t set a goal that you have no control over.” So, in 2018 I plan to…

  1. Complete Storystorm (registered, 1 idea in the books!), ReforReMo, #50PreciousWords, NaPiBoWriWe, & (apply for) Writing with the Stars.
  2. Attend JambaLAya SCBWI Annual Conference (registered! Bonus points if I make it to another!)
  3. Continue Paper People, 12 interviews in 12 months (Stay tuned for Annie Silvestro!)
  4. Enter 6 contests
  5. Continue blogging, at least weekly, on a set schedule. I also hope to sprinkle in a few guest posts from other pre-published writers that I’ve met. (Week 1, check!)
  6. Focus submissions energy towards magazines and publishing houses.
  7. Attend local in-person SCWBI critique groups.

I hope you made your own list. I hope you’ve taken a moment to pat yourself on the back and I hope you have a very Happy New Year.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP