I want to write a picture book.

It’s like a craving I can’t satisfy or an itch I can’t scratch. I want to write a new picture book manuscript and I mean I really want to write one. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for untold stories, tending my creative soil, and even invited inspiration over to stay a while. (Or at least as long as it takes to put 500 words to paper.) I have a nice guest room that doubles as my home office, the walls are covered with character studies and there’s a rose bush growing outside the window. I would be a lovely place for inspiration to stay! Bad news is, I’ve got nothing, or as my husband would say “crickets.” I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead.

Of course, I’ve written a few before. I lost count somewhere around 20, and that was before 2018 even started. Some are good, some are not, some rhyme, some don’t, a few I don’t even remember writing and others keep me up at night. Surely, it’s a unique struggle, writing picture books means quantity AND quality are equally important. If I were writing a novel, I might’ve spent the past three years living within the same story, fleshing it out and building it up. (Which is an incredible feat that keeps me amazed and in awe.) But as a picture book writer, I need new inspiration, often. New stories, fresh ideas, different main characters and unique plot twists.  Apparently, I need at least three polished manuscripts to successfully ‘woo’ an agent.  Not to mention, I once read about a successful picture book author who calculates that she’s written about 20 manuscripts for every story that’s actually been sold and made into a picture book. With odds like that, I might have 2 winners on my hands. I believe in Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory of inspiration. I believe in BIG MAGIC and I work hard on my relationship with creativity.  But let’s get real, it’s a numbers game, people, and I just want to write one little picture book to add to my collection. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!?

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because I’m hoping to trick inspiration into paying me a visit.  I’m hoping that I get extra credit for sitting at my laptop and putting words to paper, even if they’re directed at adults and I’m really just writing for myself. It’s November 25th, so far this year I’ve honored my 12×12 commitment and written a new draft each month. I have five days left of the month, and one month left in the year… I need to write a picture book.  

The good thing about being a nurse is that we are excellent self-diagnosticians; that’s where my brain headed tonight. What’s my official diagnosis, you ask? Picture book (writers) block and the really difficult pill to swallow is I don’t think I caught it randomly; I think it’s been self-inflicted.  So, there’s the new writing gig, and I’ve been working hard on those posts which have a much different target audience and theme than these Magnolia posts or my picture book manuscripts. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a lot of ‘mom’s blog’ posts, to support my fellow writers and brush up on my skills. It’s an important thing for me to be doing, but it’s taking me away from reading picture books. Also, my husband has been reading to the kids, before bed, most nights. It’s been super sweet and helpful and it’s everyone’s favorite part to the day, but it’s taken me away from reading picture books… I need to read more picture books.  

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because of THIS. I need to get down to the bottom of the problem I’m having. I know what you’re going to say, ‘try priming the creative pump, silly’. That involves my sewing machine, or some vinyl and a paintbrush. I’ve used both (relatively) recently, so the creative juices are flowing around these parts. However, there have also been quite a few extracurricular activities using my energy and keeping me away from my writing routine.  In fact, as I think back over these past few weeks, it’s no wonder inspiration hasn’t visited me! I basically invited my long-lost friend over to watch me frantically cook, clean and decorate my home for a party she wasn’t invited to… I need to make time for picture books.

I want to write a picture book, but I wrote a blog post instead.  From the very beginning of my time as a blogger, nearly 2 years ago, I said I wanted to capture the journey. This definitely isn’t the most glamorous part, nor the most exciting, but like an airport layover, it’s important and so here I am, convinced that I’m making progress even while I wait.

To sum up our visit, I’m asking for inspiration but not making time for it on my calendar. I’m hoping for a lightning-bolt idea without surrounding myself with similar stories. I’m talking the talk, but not sure I’m walking the walk. Nothing like taking a good hard look in a mirror, eh? I know this hasn’t been too exciting for you, but it sure has been eye-opening for me. At this rate, I hope I haven’t ticked off picture-book-inspiration off to the point of no return. I guess there’s only one way to find out… I know what a good starting point will be! Come back soon, I’ll review the precious book my friend Didi wrote (it finally came in!)

I hope your Thanksgiving week was full of joy, gratitude and endless amounts of your favorite pie.

I also hope you know that I’m grateful for you.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Let’s Talk, A Nest for the Savior!

I fully believe that so much of this publishing journey is about hard work, determination, patience and tenacity…. I also think that some things happen thanks to a stroke of luck. For example, I don’t even remember the entire chain of events that led me to my first critique group, but it was two years ago and Didi was there! I remember reading early drafts of this heartwarming story and loving it from the very beginning. In lieu of celebrating the one-year anniversary of a picture book this month, I’m thrilled to celebrate the launch of A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR.  Welcome, Didi! Take us back to the beginning, when did the idea to write picture books find you? Well, I’ve always been a writer. I used to cut covers and spines out of cardboard and glue my stories together as a kid. I studied journalism at the University of Florida and worked for a faith-based magazine after college, so picture books didn’t really come into view until my daughter was a year old. I remember I was getting them ready for bed, and an idea popped into my head that I couldn’t shake. That night, I stayed up until four in the morning writing my very first picture book, which has been put on the shelf for the time being. During that all-nighter, I also learned that the SCBWI was having a conference in just three weeks, so I signed up. And I’ve been writing picture books ever since.

Didi and I have a lot in common, we’re both moms, we both write and we are both 80-year-old women in 30something bodies! (She calls herself Antique at Heart… don’t you love that!) Tell us the MOST Antique thing about you! Want to know mine? I love big band/swing music (think Frank Sinatra), early mornings, sewing and wearing aprons while I cook. I love oldies music too! My favorite oldies crooner is a younger version of the old classics – Harry Connick Jr. (Side-note: I met him once and even got to go on his tour bus thanks to my crazy husband!) One antique thing I’m obsessed with is genealogy and finding out where we came from. One of my ancestors was Mary Barrett Dyer, the first woman martyr in the United States. I love piecing together information for the past so I can share our history with my kids.

Didi and Harry

HARRY CONNICK JR!!! He’s one of my favorites, too! (Bonus points since he’s from Louisiana!) Focus Jenny, back to the book. Do you remember where the seed of inspiration came from for A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR? Like most great ideas, it came in the middle of the night. Everyone else was asleep and I was sitting downstairs with the fake fireplace show playing on Netflix. (I live in South Florida, so that’s the only cozy fireplace I get.)

A song about the first Christmas was playing, and I thought, “What if a little animal overheard the angels tell the shepherds about Jesus and he or she tried to race them to find Him?”

A Nest for the Savior is not really about that at all, but that’s where the story started. It evolved (and was made into a better story I hope) in our critique group and through countless hours of editing.

The main character is a precious and determined sparrow, but a whole host of other animals play important roles in the story. I know (because we talked about it) that you did a lot of research on these animals, making sure they were appropriate to the day & age that the story takes place. (The Birth of Jesus!) Do you have a favorite animal? Tell us about your research process. My favorite animal other than Sadie, the sparrow, is the donkey. He brings his frayed rope as a gift for Jesus, and you find out in the activity guide that he broke free from that rope to catch a glimpse of Jesus. While writing the story, this soundbite from “O Holy Night” was playing on a loop in my mind: “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name, all oppression shall cease.” We all need the Lord to break the chains of sin in our lives, but, even more, the world needs to see a glimpse of the oppression-ending power of Jesus right now.

While writing the story, I researched which animals were considered clean and unclean to the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and which animals would be nearby. Donkeys, for instance, are actually considered unclean animals, but that’s probably why most people don’t eat donkey burgers. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible and are very symbolic of the coming of the Messiah, so I included them in the story.

One of my favorite parts is the interactive activity for families that accompanies the book.  How did you come up with that idea? As before, it was a too-late-to-be-up idea that I wrestled with for a long time. The activity guide gives kids instructions to build their own nest for the Savior using symbolic items around the house. Each item can teach them a little bit more about Jesus, the first Christmas and the Cross. Plus, it can be used as an Advent calendar. BUT … I wondered for a long time if I’d have to sell a kit with the book or if I’d need to sell a baby Jesus doll to go in the nest. At the end of the day, I decided to sell a limited number of kits and to create a paper doll for the activity. The activity guide was the main reason I decided to start my own publishing company to bring A Nest for the Savior to life. I wanted kids to have the opportunity to learn about the real reason we celebrate Christmas, and I knew the process of finding an agent and publisher could push back publication a few years.

It’s always been so inspiring to me that Instead of getting discouraged, you blazed your own path and decided to self-publish. Can you speak a little to what that discernment and decision was like? I gave myself a deadline. I decided if the story didn’t get picked up by traditional agents or publishers by January 2018, I would publish the book myself. I had been looking for an agent for my stories for years, but I ramped up my game and sent the story to contests, participated in PB Pitch (where I got a few likes) and researched agents who represented faith-based picture book authors (there weren’t many). In the end, it didn’t work out, and, although I was disappointed at first, I’m so glad things worked out the way they did. I also met an indie publisher who makes six figures selling e-books every year and that changed my whole perception of indie authors. Many of today’s self-published authors are choosing to take the road less traveled not because they’re second rate, but because they’re innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in their dreams. I was also inspired by the Indie Kidlit Podcast, Marti Dumas, Elena Paige, Darcy Pattison, Kobi Yamada, Nancy Tillman and the original indie author, Beatrix Potter.

When authors go the traditional route, they are hoping an agent and publisher will connect with their work so much that they will say “yes,” and invest their time and money to make their dreams a reality. I decided to tell myself “yes,” and I embarked on a thrilling, bumpy, sometimes sleepless roller coaster that was better than I could ever imagine.

I love that publishing, and in this case, children’s publishing offers different paths to success. You and I have talked about that before. In your case, you didn’t stop at self-publishing, you also started your own publishing company. What brought that idea on? Looking forward, what are your plans for Antique at Heart? If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. So, I started a little indie publishing company, where I also sell educational games (with more to come). In the future, I’d like to publish more of my picture books, add Middle-Grade books to the list and publish my friend’s stories (hint hint).

Nest, sketch

I haven’t actually held the book in my hands (yet!) but the illustrations look GORGEOUS! Where did you find your illustrator? My illustrator and I actually went to youth group together when we were teenagers. This was her first time illustrating a children’s book, so we knew we would both be learning along the way. But she made things so easy for me! Working with Deja was a dream come true! She was so attentive and produced images I could never have imagined. I literally sent her one picture I sketched, (see above) and she blew me away with her skill, craftsmanship and integrity every step of the way.

Have you been able to keep writing while ironing out the logistics of starting your own business and coming up with a marketing plan for your debut picture book? Not really. I have a few ideas that I’m wrestling with right now for future books, but this experience has really transformed how I see the books I’ve already written. Some of the books I shelved are actually more marketable than my tried-and-true favorites, so I’ll be focusing on the ones I know how to market first. I have to think like a publisher now, which is a good idea for any writer. That’s how you sell books to readers … and agents and publishers.

What a great perspective; ‘think like a publisher’. How are you approaching your book launch? What are you most excited about? What feels most daunting? I’ve never launched a book so I am learning A LOT. I am learning things about social media that really make me feel like an antique. I am working on Pinterest as well to make my book available to more readers. And I’ve found that Amazon reviews are very important whether you are traditionally or indie published. (So, if you read the book, I would LOVE a quick one-sentence review … even if it’s not your cup of tea!)

I am a mix of excited and terrified about the whole process. But I keep going … and I owe a lot of my momentum to our Kickstarter campaign. Once the campaign was fully funded, I felt like I had an entire team behind me, and I couldn’t let them down. That is incredibly humbling and weighty at the same time.

I’ve seen you posting about the prep work you and your family are doing for your book launch.  How involved are your kiddos in your writing? Do they understand what’s coming? (Isn’t this what its ALL ABOUT! Those pictures are my favorite!) My kids aren’t super involved in the writing process, because I need quiet to be creative. But they are always giving me ideas—and their feedback is so valuable. They help me in all sorts of ways though. My daughter (who is now 6) wants to illustrate my books one day, and I can totally see it happening. She colors and creates her own picture books just like I did as a kid. My almost-8-year-old helps me assemble the kits and my 3-year-old just loves to run into my office and tear things apart. Haha! But I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I hadn’t been nursing my new little guy (who was born in March). That gave me a little time away each day to focus on him and the book. I don’t think even I know what’s coming (LOL), but the kids are SO excited to sell the book at local events because they are little entrepreneurs in the making. One big reason I decided to start my own publishing company was to show them you could accomplish anything with a lot of faith and what I call “stick-to-it-tive-ness.”

Yes! One of my mom’s favorite words is ‘tenacity’ and you definitely have oodles of tenacity! Where can we order a copy?!? The book, free coloring pages and a free art class full of ideas for making your Nest for the Savior are available at ANestfortheSavior.com. The book is also available on Amazon, BN.com, and in select Barnes and Noble locations. If you make a nest, be sure to enter the #BestNestContest on Facebook or Instagram from November 7—December 15, 2018, for a chance to win fun prizes!

What’s next? Do you have more manuscripts that are ready for publication? Can we find/follow you on social media? I hope to release another book in May 2019. I will keep you posted on that! But, in the meantime, follow me and the book at Facebook.com/ANestfortheSavior and Instagram.com/ANestfortheSavior.

Thank you so much, Jenny, for all your help and encouragement! I can’t wait to celebrate your first book launch with you!

Didi and book

Awe, shucks! Thanks, Didi. I can’t wait for that day either! Stay tuned… more goodness to come. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP