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

Advertisements

It’s Contest Time!

Like I said, it’s contest season!  Below you will find my contest entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th Annual Holiday Contest. Much like Halloweensie, the rules were clear and simple, but that’s where the similarities ended. For the Holiday Contest the rules were:
1. Each entry must be about a holiday surprise
2. 250-word limit
What did I tell you? Simple, right? Deceptively simple actually. The judging will be on: Kid-Appeal, Holiday Surprise, Quality of Story, Quality of Writing, Originality and Creativity. I had even more fun with this contest than Halloweensie. It definitely took work, a few rounds or revisions and a lot more feedback from a couple dear friends. The story was inspired by the ornament that you see as my featured image, except I quickly realized that in this story, she was a she, and not a he.  Her name is Ginger, and she led the story, as characters do when you give them the proper time and space.  So now, without further ado, I give you, in 249 words…

GINGER’S GIFT.
Ginger was Melody’s favorite ornament and always snagged the best spot on the tree. This year, even with all the holiday decorations, she could see that Melody’s eyes didn’t have their usual sparkle. Ginger knew this first Christmas in the new house would be tough for Melody. She wanted to help.

One day, she watched Melody gloomily flip through the pages of the toy catalog. She stopped only once, to stare at a picture of a guitar. Right then, Ginger knew what to do. She shared her idea with the other ornaments and the entire tree rustled in agreement.

That night, when Ginger gave the signal, the Nutcrackers near the fireplace tip-toed over to the catalog and dragged it to a spot under the tree. Ginger took a deep breath and pulled her hook straight. She tumbled from one branch to the next and landed under the tree with a soft THUD. Ginger quickly and quietly found the page with the guitar and laid down next to it.

The next morning, Melody’s mom saw Ginger on the ground. As she picked Ginger up, the catalog caught her eye and the corners of her mouth twitched into a knowing smile.

On Christmas Day, Ginger watched from her branch as Melody ripped the wrapping off the final present. Instantly, Melody was jumping around the living room screaming, “A guitar! It’s perfect! How did you know?” Melody’s mom gave a smile in Ginger’s direction, and said, “I had a little help.”

There it is! Best of luck to everyone who’s participating; I’ve read some of the entries already and they are fantastic.  (Susanna and her team of judges have their work cut out for them!) Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s Paper People Interview and Giveaway with Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? The Rafflecopter link for the giveaway is tucked in the interview, and will run until Friday, Dec 15.

That’s all folks!
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Jodi McKay (+ giveaway!)

Happy Holidays! As we wrap up 2017 I have my final Paper People Interview of the year. This month, Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? shares her wisdom and Words with me about her debut picture book release. She’s also offering a giveaway! Seems like a great Christmas present, don’t you think? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I hope you enjoy our visit!
Jodi, thanks so much for joining me today! I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots… “Can I get you something to drink?” Why thank you for asking! So, um, what kind of drink are we talking about? Let me go kid friendly and say a Root Beer Float, OR, a Boston Cooler. Either way, I win because, you know, ice cream.

Yes! I love any excuse to have a good chocolate malt. Great idea! Everyone at my house is a big fan of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?! I know we aren’t the only ones either because every time I try to check it out, I’m on a waiting list! It’s such a unique concept but before we jump into it, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? Wow, thanks! You just made my day! I have always found a sense of comfort and excitement when cracking open a picture book and my happy place truly is the children’s section of a bookstore so writing for kids came quite naturally. It wasn’t until after my son started school that I felt like I could really dedicate myself to learning about how to write for children and then actually write. Five years later, I am still learning and still writing, but now I have some experience under my belt and an office (in my house) where I sit and write in the company of my dog, Ralph and cat, Albi. They love my stories.
In an earlier interview with Laura Sassi, you offer some of my favorite advice ever. I’ll remind you… “Engage your senses to find that spark… Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.” I completely believe this! I try hard to find a balance of keeping my BIC (butt in chair), without being tied to my laptop. What are your favorite places to find inspiration? I’ve found that I am struck with story ideas at the oddest times so I suppose inspiration finds me. I’ve come up with concepts while resting in downward dog, watching cartoons, driving (not the safest), heck even Robin Roberts from Good Morning America said something that resulted in a story. That’s what I meant about being open- be present to whatever situation you’re in and story ideas will bubble up and out. If I’m feeling stuck, however, I usually plug in the headphones, crank up the classical, and take Ralph for a walk.
I do the same! One day (thinking positively) I’m going to have to dedicate a book to my dog because our walks are so productive. I usually listen to Kid Lit podcasts, or something energizing and inspiring to get me excited. I save the classical music for when I’m writing… then it’s all instrumental, all the time. So, what’s your favorite creative outlet, besides writing? I really enjoy taking pictures. In fact, I will be taking our Christmas card photo soon which usually ends up with lots of yelling to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time. This is not easy when the animals are trying to get out of their costumes and the kid is laughing hysterically. Yep, I said costumes and we’ve had some epic cards come out of my creative photo shoot ideas.
That’s amazing! I usually make ours from whatever decent pictures are saved on my phone, but this year I stepped up my game a little. (No costumes here, though). I have to say, in all of your interviews that I’ve read, your voice is wonderfully authentic. Sometimes I feel like that’s one of my biggest struggles, keeping my voice and following the guidelines/formulas/formats. Do you ever struggle with getting your voice into your stories? Sure do. For me, the struggle is trying to do something different to explore other forms of writing and losing my voice in that process. For example, I recently tried to write a quieter book, no humor, more poetic language and… nope. My author voice is usually quirky with a type of humor that makes you want to elbow someone and say, “Ha, get it?” When I am true to that then the story ends up working.

My boys, ages 4, 5 and 33  quote your book all the time!  They look at each other (or me) and say, “Will you stop with the peanuts?” and then fall over laughing. Mission Accomplished! Was WHERE ARE THE WORDS? your first picture book manuscript? How long was it a ‘work in progress’? It was not my first, but it was the one that was different from anything I had ever written. It didn’t take me too long to write, but as usual, longer to revise so I would say that it was a work in progress for roughly 6 months before I was asked if I would be interested in sending it to an editor. I know that is not normal, but It’s such an abnormal book that I suppose this particular journey was meant to be.

Since it was a concept book, did you struggle with finding mentor texts? There’s one that comes to mind for you, but having such a unique storyline must’ve made it tricky. Full discloser- I did not use a mentor text. Phew, I said it. There’s Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue as well as other punctuation type books, but I didn’t use them to help guide me. I knew what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. Full, full disclosure- I rarely use mentor texts unless I’m really stuck or want to try something new. I read a ton and make mental notes on what works or what doesn’t work, but I don’t often run to those books when I write. This is why writing and reading programs like ReFoReMo are essential for me. They push me out of my comfort zone and make me approach writing differently.

I have my sights set squarely on ReForReMo this year. I’ve not participated before, but I’m a member of the Facebook group and have already learned a lot. So, back to your book, Exclamation Point and Parenthesis were my favorite characters! (But then again, I often overuse both of those, in case you hadn’t noticed.) Was there a character that you related to more than others? Oddly enough, I’m a bit like Period. I don’t consider myself to be an excitable person like Exclamation Point and I don’t ask a ton of questions. I am a listener, although I’ve been known to throw in an aside here and there much like Parentheses.

On December 20, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy early Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal? Wow, it’s been a year already? I hate to say it, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really thought about how I might celebrate. Any ideas? I think I’ll do a giveaway on Twitter so look for those details in the next few weeks. It does feel unreal that I have a book on store and library shelves, but I mostly feel grateful. There were a lot of people that made this happen- my family, my agent, my editor and the team at Albert Whitman, Denise Holmes who was the illustrator, and the community of children’s book writers with their endless supply of support. This was a team effort so when I celebrate, I will toast to them.

Do you remember the first time you saw WHERE ARE THE WORDS? on a bookstore shelf? Yes! I had that slow-motion running, arms wide open kind of scenario happen and when I got to the shelf I turned around and showed my son that my book was in a bookstore. That was something else. I still get a little giddy when I see it in stores.

I’ve always thought that would be a hugely significant moment, in fact every Paper People interviewee so far has been able to tell me the exact time and place. I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it on those shelves? Marketing is tough, especially when you’re not used to sales. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to promoting my work and myself, but what I did learn and applied was to start well ahead of the book release date. Set up a blog tour at least three months in advance to get exposure and to let people know who you are. Invest in promotional material a.k.a. book swag to send to reviewers or to give to folks at bookstores, conferences, book signing events, or as part of a book package giveaway. I also took time to get to know some of the independent bookstore owners in my state either by stopping by their store or by working with them at a book event. They are always so gracious and willing to host book signing events or carry books of local authors, mine included.

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I had to think about this one for a while. I wasn’t surprised by much in terms of marketing, sales, or even how hard it would be to sell another book to a publisher. I suppose what has thrown me a bit is how I still compare my journey to those of other authors. Isn’t that horrible? It makes me feel like an ungrateful jerk sometimes, but then I check myself and keep writing.

No! That’s not horrible, I think that’s one of the most honest answers you could have given. No doubt those of us on the pre-published side think that ‘so much’ changes, but the reality is that very little actually does. (I’m assuming.) Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I had known that not every book published receives the same amount of marketing or recognition by the publishing house. It took me a while to figure that out and I should have asked my editor or the marketing team where my book fell on their list. This is common for all publishing houses and had I done my research, maybe I would have found more ways or been more creative in promoting my work.

IMG_8920_2

Do you have anything coming down the pipe, awaiting publication? Where can we find and follow you on social media? I may very well have some good news, but I’ll need to wait until the time is right to make that announcement. Sorry! While I wait, I have stories in line to be submitted to editors, I have stories on my computer waiting to be sent to my agent, and I have stories in my head begging to be written so I’ll stay busy. If you want something to do while you wait, feel free to head on over to my website (check out my teacher’s guide, school visit info., or critique service!), send me an email, chat me up on Twitter or Facebook, find me on Instagram, or follow my interests on Pinterest.
Website: http://www.JodiMcKayBooks.com
Email: Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JLMcKay1
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JLMcKayBooks/
Instagram: jodimckay1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JodiMcKayBooks/

Thanks so much for letting me stop by Magnolias & Manuscripts. It’s always fun to talk with a fellow writer!

Thank you for sharing your WORDS and wisdom! Jodi has been kind enough to offer a giveaway, see below. The giveaway will run for one week; enter for your chance to win


a Rafflecopter giveaway

(I know, its my first giveaway and it doesn’t look right, but click the link-

I promise its there!)

And don’t go far! I have a long list of 2017 debut picture book authors that I hope to add to the 2018 Paper People list. Join me in January as I talk to Annie Silvestro, author of Bunny’s Book Club and then Anna Forrester, author of Bat Count in February. I’m not quite finished for the year though, I still (hope) to have another interview and a blog post or two, and my Holiday Contest entry will be posted this weekend! As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

A WYRI Tale.

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a spot on Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? Series.  For those of you who are writers, you know how important your pitch is. If you aren’t a writer, rather a reader, let me explain.  Remember the post about my first conference experience, and my less than stellar pitching experience? Well, we all need pitches for our prospective books. There are different forms, Twitter pitches written with hashtags and character counts, ‘elevator pitches’ for if you find yourself lucky enough to get 15 seconds of someone’s attention, and so on. The lengths may vary but the concept is still the same; in as few words as possible, you have to sell your book.  Susanna’s series is designed for writers to help other writers, in this case, its all PB (picture book) and MG (middle grade) stories that are pitched.  I followed her guidelines, submitted a pitch and a short bio, then patiently waited my turn. (It’s a weekly series, held on Wednesdays only). Once posted, other writers, by way of the blog’s comments, offer suggestions, feedback and pose questions to help sharpen the pitch and get it ‘ready’.  I had a wonderful experience! I struggle greatly with pitches, (as you might have heard) and I appreciate every bit of help that was sent my way. I’d like to share a little of the process with you here… (click here if you’re interested in reading the entire Would You Read It? post on Nov 8. If you do, please check out the blogs/websites of the writers who commented. There are so fantastically talented names on that list. I’m sure some you’ll be familiar with and some will be exciting discoveries of soon-to-be up & comers)

So here’s my starting pitch:

Dewey heard the rumblings, this rainfall would be a big one. As he peeked over the edge of the cloud to check the drop zone, he saw the thing he dreaded most of all. All he wanted was to make someone smile, but would he ever get the chance?

And here’s a few snippets of the feedback I received:

  • “The opening sentence is all right but if you could cut part of it out and combine part of the second sentence, it would be stronger. This brings me to the other part…who does Dewey want to make smile and what does he dread? I feel these should be included or at least one of these questions answered in the pitch to pull the pitch together.” 
  • “The first sentence contains a comma splice. Better to make it two sentences or rewrite it so that it isn’t two independent clauses. Or just add the verb “knew” – i.e., Dewey heard the rumblings and knew this rainfall would be a big one. Also, I wonder whether children would know what a “drop zone” is? Maybe find a way to shorten and combine or rephrase the last two sentences?”
  • “Currently the pitch reads as one scene from out of a whole story which leaves the reader hanging, but not in a good way. Rewrite giving a summation of the story from start to almost end – don’t give away the ending, but write so we want to know what it is. Also, remember to add a hook – preferably not in question form.”
  • “I have not done many pitches, but I am leery of ending on a question when you have such a dramatic spot in the middle. All the lines work, but I wonder if they should be reordered?”
  • The MCs name, Dewey, makes me feel this is going to be about libraries via the “Dewey” Decimal system, so I was completely throw off.”
  • “…the rumbling cloud and “drop zone” do a great job of creating tension in expectation of the action. Consider mentioning Dewey’s goal before the obstacle and giving brief specifics about both. A better sense of the plot could make reading this story irresistible to me.”

Isn’t that just fantastic feedback! I have everything from the technical ‘comma splice’ aspects, to major questions about the fundamentals of my MC. (Who IS a raindrop… though I’ve changed the spelling of his name to Dewy.  I still can’t believe I didn’t catch that!) That’s not even all of the helpful comments, either.  Here’s a little of what I did:

  1. Changed the spelling of his name
  2. Included that he is, in fact, a raindrop
  3. Rearranged the order of my sentences
  4. Included more information to thicken the plot and ‘show’ more of Dewy’s story.

So here’s how it reads now, still not ‘finished’ but hopefully closer to being so:

Dewey wasn’t sure he liked being a raindrop. Whether he showed up at recess or on a parade, it always seemed to ruin someone’s day. From the rumblings, he knew today’s rainfall would be a big one. As Dewey crept to the edge of the cloud, he peeked out and saw the very thing he dreaded most of all. There was no way he’d see a smile today.  All he could do now was hope not to land on the cake.

I was so overwhelmingly grateful for the nearly 20 different writers and readers of Susanna Hill’s blog who stopped by to offer their assistance.  If you aren’t familiar with her website, her contests and her challenges you should definitely check it out… right now.  You still have plenty of time to get ready for her Holiday Writing Contest, guidelines should be posted soon! (I received an Honorable Mention for my Halloweensie  contest entry!!)  As if this all isn’t helpful enough, each month one pitch is chosen to receive feedback from a real, live editor! The other pitches from November have been really great, so I know the competition is steep, but I already feel like a winner with my new and improved pitch! Alright, I think that’s enough exclamation points for one afternoon.

I hope everyone has a fantastically joyful and stress-free Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Sue Gallion

The second Friday of the month is quickly becoming my favorite! Today, I’m sharing Sue Gallion and I’s conversation.  I had the chance to pick her brain about not only her debut picture book (and a little about her second) but also all things SCBWI. I’m just starting to get involved and find my place within my local chapter.  I am so excited about being a card-carrying member so, I had no shortage of questions. I hope you learn as much as I did… I should warn you, there’s an awful lot of cuteness in between the lines. Proceed with caution!

Sue, thanks for joining us here! Can I get you something to drink? Coffee or a whole-milk latte would be even better.  Thanks for your hospitality!

Certainly! We finally have another “cool front” around here, so coffee sounds great. It had been so warm the past few days that I almost opened a lemonade stand! Oh, well. The struggles of the south.  Let’s get started, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?  My background is journalism and public relations, but I got re-hooked on children’s books when my kids were young. I took a children’s literature class about 12 years ago with the thought of becoming a reading specialist, but the assignment to write my own ABC book took me in a different direction. And here I am!

I’d like to jump right into SCBWI.  How did you become involved in the first place?  How did you find your place? What’s your favorite part of the organization? (Can you tell I’m a new member and just a little excited about it?) I found out about SCBWI from another writer’s group. One of the scarier things in this business to me (which you have to do over and over again!) is walk into a room where you know no one and start a conversation. The first SCBWI event I attended was a full-day workshop in Kansas City with Harold Underdown and several other top speakers. I mentioned to one of the volunteers helping with lunch that I was willing to help out with a future event. The next thing I knew, I was coordinating cupcake donations and stuffing packets. I became Assistant Regional Advisor in 2011 to Colleen Cook, who was the person I introduced myself to at the coffee station at that first event.

I could tell you a thousand favorite things about SCBWI. Many of the people I most respect and admire I’ve met through SCBWI. It is an extraordinary creative community with so many opportunities to learn and grow in our craft. I am certain I never would have been traditionally published without SCBWI. More importantly, I have grown as a writer, as an advocate for children’s literacy, and as a person through SCBWI and the people I’ve come to know.

I encourage people to be brave and pursue this dream by connecting with others, and then be sure to pat yourself on the back for being brave! It takes guts to share your work with others. It also takes a lot of humility and perseverance.

How serendipitous! You’re totally right, somehow as an adult, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking to be the new kid on the playground.  How long were you involved for before you sold Pug Meets Pig? About five years. The sale of the manuscript actually came directly from a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI LA conference in 2013.

Of course, it did.  You and SCBWI have quite a sweet love story. Was Pug Meets Pig your first picture book manuscript? No way! I worked on many manuscripts before it, and I revised it over several years. I do wish I had moved on from some of my first manuscripts sooner, though. I think lots of us get too caught up in that one first story and revise it over and over again, rather than move on to new ideas.  Lin Oliver of SCBWI has solid advice to think of your career and your body of work rather than just one book. We all have more than one idea in us.

That’s excellent advice. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that I needed to move on past my first manuscript and start working on others. Do you remember the first time you saw it on a bookstore shelf? You bet! It was shelved right next to Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. Also a thrill!

Ohhhh, that’s a great shelf to be on! Surely you took a picture? Then to have your second picture book follow so closely must’ve been the most delicious icing on the cake. Pug & Pig Trick or Treat is equally as adorable. Not to mention, now you have a series!  Was writing Trick or Treat more or less difficult than you anticipated?  Will we have the chance to follow this pair on more adventures? The second story was inspired by my dog’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a skeleton costume. I had no plans to write a second book, and I had no idea if Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster would ever buy it. It was a thrill when Andrea Welch acquired it right away. Stay tuned for more adventures for these two!

9781481449779 copy (2)I can’t wait to tell my kids! They’re going to be thrilled. So you must’ve done something to get your book on that incredible shelf.  Can you tell us how you approached the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you from a marketing standpoint? That’s a whole other blog, but I took every approach I could imagine, including mailing books to celebrity pugs and pigs around the country.

I’ll just have to invite you back one day and you can tell us all about marketing, pigs and pugs, debut and seasonal books.  Can you tell us about your experience working with an illustrator? The animals are so adorable… I could just reach out and pinch their cheeks! Seeing this story come to life visually was one of the most thrilling parts of this whole process. Joyce Wan is an incredible artist and visual storyteller. The team of Andrea Welch and Allyn Johnston, Beach Lane editors, and Lauren Rille, the art director, is simply brilliant. It’s been an honor to work with them and I’ve learned so much from them.

That reminds me of the quote I heard once on a podcast, ‘it takes a village to make a picture book.’  Within the words of your story, there’s a profound message about adapting to change and accepting others into ‘your space’.  With three kids, very close in age, that’s a lesson that gets lots of practice at my house!  Did that drive your story, or did the theme come along as you wrote it? The issue of change was at the heart of the story from the very beginning. Whether you’re a young child with a new sibling or an adult with a new colleague or family member, change can be hard! The themes of empathy and acceptance of others and their differences are very important to me. As I study picture books and work to improve my own writing, I look for that layer of emotion and heart, and I hope it’s part of my own books.

I appreciated the heart in this one so much and there’s an equally great message in Trick or Treat. Your one year anniversary as a published author just passed on September 26!   If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting call that your First Book-iversary! Did you celebrate the day? I did a story time for the second Pug and Pig book at a local toy store with a real pig that day, which was a wonderful way to celebrate.

 IMG_3082 (1).jpg

What’s the best thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry? The most rewarding part has been the interaction with kids and families and their responses to the book. What a joy!

Not to mention the fact that you get to hang out with the super cute pig! (Did you spot Eva the pig in the picture???)  Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I’d been more organized day by day. In addition to a good writing winter, I need to do a giant office cleanout! And I wish I had attended more story times at libraries or school visits by other authors before this year. Watching someone else do a story time and seeing how kids respond is a great learning opportunity for a writer, and it’s very good preparation for library and school visits in the future.

I just went to my first, obviously to be supportive but mentally I was taking notes.  What’s up next for you?!?  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media? I’m looking forward to a good writing winter, with lots of coffee! Find me on Twitter (my favorite!) @SueLGallion, or on Facebook at Sue Lowell Gallion. My website is suegallion.com.

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me!

Thanks for the opportunity! And best wishes for your writing winter ahead, too!

Wasn’t she fantastic?  Next month, come back for more fun! I’ll be talking to Jodi McKay, author of Where Are the Words? and  I’m equally excited about sharing that conversation! I also had a lot of excitement this week.  I made it on to Susanna Hill’s Would You Read it Wednesday! Next week I’m going to rebuild my pitch right here, using some of the fantastic feedback I received. Until then, I hope you’re writing/building/doing something fabulous!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Create.

For most of my life, I considered myself one of the unlucky ones. I thought that if someone wasn’t artistically inclined in an obvious way then the creative bug missed them (and me) completely. It only took me 30 years to realize I was wrong. For starters, I learned to recognize and embrace my writing as a wonderful creative expression. Second, I’ve discovered that creativity begets creativity. As my writing journey has gathered steam over the past year the number of manuscripts and story ideas I have continues to rise and writing gives way to more writing. The more often I write, the more likely I am to find inspiration for a story and the more smoothly the stories flow from my brain through my fingertips and on to the page. Then I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Have you read it? You should. I’m not going to review it. I’m not going to get into any of her nitty-gritty details, I’m just going to tell you that I bought myself a copy and you probably should too. I’m not just talking about writers either. I’m talking to anyone who has any ounce of creativity and guess what, that includes you. One of the main themes of the book is that if you open yourself up to ideas and creative inspiration then they will find you. I’ve seen it with my writing, and it’s starting to manifest itself in other ways as well. I (not so) jokingly told my sister last week that I found myself so overwhelmed with ideas that I’m at a loss for where to start.

It also helped me to take stock of the people around me. When’s the last time you looked around and counted how many creative people you know? One of my neighbors is ripping pallets apart as we speak to start making holiday decorations for her extended family. Across the street from my house you’ll find a woman who can transform a few pieces of wood, a little vinyl and some paint into something you’d love to hang on the walls of your home. Two of my friends from high school, neither of whom we’re the obvious creative choices are making waves and providing for their families with monogramming machines and fondant creations. There’s an elementary school teacher who lives down the street and one bite of her Lazy Tacos will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about them, and then order a tray full. A sorority sister of mine from college/dear friend and kindred spirit just started her own photography business.  You see what I mean? Creative people are all around me, and I’d be willing to bet they’re all around you too.

In her book, Elizabeth Gilbert also encourages you to trace your creative lineage and find the connecting threads. Mine is easy; I consider myself blessed. My mom just undertook a new hobby/business venture and is overflowing with creative energy. Her mom was a whiz at so many things, and had so many creative hobbies in her lifetime I’ve lost count. I’ve talked before about my dad’s writing and the walls of his parent’s house are lined with paintings by my grandfather. Opening my eyes up to the creative energy around me, has inspired me in so many ways. For one, I find myself drawn to spend time with people who are living creatively in their spare time. To be creative is to make the world a more beautiful place, whether that’s through words, paint, pillows, quilting, cross-stitching, gardening, music, movement, home décor, or whatever your medium is. I hope you know what your creative outlet is, and I truly hope you honor it.

As I continue writing, searching, submitting and hoping, I know that the words won’t always come easy. There are days when they don’t seem to flow and inspiration runs short; but I know that I just have to keep at it. When I first started writing stories for children’s books, I was incredibly productive in the first two months and then it all came to a screeching halt (in a good way.) I spent the next few months revising, rewriting, editing, revising and rewriting those same stories over and over again. Honestly, most of those stories will never be good enough to have a chance at publication, but I have always wondered how I found so much inspiration in those first few weeks when I knew so little. Now, I get it and it has nothing to do with how much I know (or don’t know). It’s simple, inspiration feeds inspiration, writing prompts more writing, creativity begets creativity. As of today, my manuscript count is up to twelve, with another five I hope to “finish” by the end of the year. (For those of you who are wondering… I mean finish as in first draft, ready to send to a critique group. I have three, almost four that are “finished”.) It’s a tall order for sure. If you need me, just follow the smoke that’ll surely be coming from my poor, tired, overworked computer. Or, better yet, don’t come find me, go create something yourself (and at least think about reading Big Magic.)

 

Guess what, it’s almost Paper People time! Come back on Friday and read my conversation with Sue Gallion about pigs, pugs and everything SCBWI!!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Hooray for Halloweensie!

One of the most enjoyable parts of this writing community comes in the form of contests & challenges. This is my first year participating in Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie contest, but surely not my last. I’ve included a snippet from her blog, explaining the rules below. (Oh, I also borrowed the jack-o-lantern from her blog! I wanted to keep with the theme, you know?)

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people 🙂  (And yes, I know 100 words is short, but that’s part of the fun and the challenge!  We got nearly 150 fantastic entries last year, so I know you can do it!)  Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. monsters, monstrous, shadowy, shadowed, whathaveyou 🙂  NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! (And yes, you may submit more than one entry if you’re so inclined 🙂 ) https://susannahill.com/2017/10/16/bic-folks-announcing-the-7th-annual-halloweensie-writing-contest-guidelines/  

And without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…. (drumroll)

Candie’s Monster Shadows

Candie Corn was excited; it was her favorite night of the year!

She loved everything from costumes to yummy treats.

Her problem was the scary shadows.

This year will be different, she thought, putting on her costume. I’ll pretend they’re something else.

Later, when trick-or-treating was over, she headed home.

One shadow looked like a spider. “You’re just a hand,” she said, giving a wave.

The next resembled a bat, “but I’ll make you a butterfly!”

“And you’re not a monster you’re a monkey!” she giggled.

She tricked away every shadow until she was Home Treat Home.

 

I hope you’re all having fabulous fall weather! Best of luck to all the other Halloweensie participants. I can’t wait to read your fabulous posts!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

The hat.

I spent all of Monday with a baseball cap on my head.  This is strange for two reasons: First, I don’t wear hats more than a handful of times in any given year; but Monday was unusually blustery and my hair was ten kinds of dirty.  Second, the logo on the hat was for a company that had long been one of my husband’s biggest competitors but they recently purchased the company he worked for.  Now they aren’t the competition, instead, they pay the bills. If you’ve been a part of something similar, then you can imagine the stress we’ve been living with.  Thankfully, the unknown and instability of the past few months have smoothed out and the future looks promising. (No pink slips here!) Monday was a turning point for me, and I wore the hat as a concrete symbol of embracing this new chapter.  I’m going to pause here for a second, and tell you about last weekend.

Last weekend I attended my first writers’ conference. It’s a little ridiculous that I’m so far into this journey and hadn’t made my way to a conference, but that’s the truth. So, my first conference was the Bayou Writer’s Group Conference.  It was a perfect first time. I learned so many lessons that I could fill my next six weeks of blog posts. In addition to my first conference, it was my first in-person pitch session. My performance was less than stellar. You and I don’t know each other well enough yet for me to be completely candid, but truly, I did not do well.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to. I hoped to, of course, but I realize that it was uncharted waters and what I needed more than anything was just to jump in and get the first one over with. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.) I’ve affectionately named those fifteen minutes as “the first pancake”.  You get the analogy, I’ll spare you the details.

As I was unpacking and digesting the experience over lunch, a couple hours following my pitch. I had an interesting revelation, which continued through the week.  I did not pitch well, that’s a fact. More importantly, what I did not do well, was ‘talk the talk.’  I think that somewhere along the way I decided that I’ll only feel validated and confident as a writer once I have an agent/sell a book, aka once I ‘have something to show for it.’.  I’ve talked to enough authors, both debut and veteran to know that is far from the truth, but that’s still what I was trying to believe. It was during that lunch, talking to a YA author, whose debut book is due out next summer that I realized what I was so desperately lacking. She held herself with such confidence. She delivered her pitch to me perfectly, without stuttering, while holding perfect eye contact and using the right inflection and emotion. It was an inspiring performance.  As I commented to her on her confidence, she gave me the most wonderful, real-life advice, “It takes practice.”  Light bulb moment, folks. Of course, it does! Not only the pitch itself but talking the talk of a writer.  I have a ‘writers’ hat, but unlike the cap I wore Monday, I’ve been reluctant to wear it well.  My pitch did not go well because there was no confidence behind it.

I can’t sit around waiting for someone else to validate my journey. I can’t search for confidence anywhere else aside from inside of me. I’ll never land an agent, or a publishing deal if I can’t be ‘the whole package’, and that includes doing the hard work, both on paper and in person.  In all fairness, I consider my pitch an ‘ugly win.’ I accomplished what I hoped, I left with her business card and a trunk full of lessons of what to do differently.  I did it, I dove in.  Until my next conference, I can (and will) practice my pitches so that I’m ready. More importantly, I’ll walk with more confidence, at conferences and otherwise, even if it’s the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind.   I’ll find a way to wear that writer’s hat and wear it well.

I’m so excited to be participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, so stay tuned for my itty-bitty Halloween story to be posted here on Friday.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to last May for a moment… It all started with NaPiBoWriWee, and a serendipitous blog connection.  I was clicking and scrolling through comments that other participants were leaving on the daily blog posts.  I clicked on a name and felt compelled to comment on her blog… she returned the favor… and for a while, that’s how it went.  Then one day she told me about The Writers Match and how well it fit into her (relatively) social media free life.  She talked highly about the critique partnerships she’s made and I found my own way there.  Every connection I’ve made, thanks to The Writer’s Match, has been fruitful and founder Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz has been a kind and gracious host.  She agreed to join me here for a conversation about her ‘brainchild’, her projects and her place in the Kid Lit community. I’m always inspired by innovators; people who see a problem and take steps to make a change.  That’s exactly what Megan did in the creation of this website designed to create critique partnerships.  If you aren’t familiar with the website, check it out here…. but first…

Megan! Thanks for playing along, I’m so happy to have you here! I’m going to start with a question I’ve been dying to ask you… HOW in the world do you pronounce your last name? Thanks, Jennifer! As you can imagine, I get that question a LOT. We pronounce it TUH-RAS-KA-WITZ. The Polish pronunciation is more like TARA-SKEHV-ITCH. I always know the people with a Polish background because they’ll pronounce it that way and I mentally give them extra credit. Technically my last name combines my maiden and married name so my full name is Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz. Yes, my maiden name was only two letters long (It’s Hungarian) and I repeatedly asked my husband if he’d rather take my name to no avail. So now I’m Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?  It took me a LONG time to realize that I wanted to write for children. Looking back, though, the signs were always there but I ignored them. I never spent my days writing or reading but I always made up stories in my mind. After college and a brief stint as a daycare teacher, I got my graduate degree to become a media specialist. I got married, became pregnant, lost my job while we were in the midst of buying a house and my brother was dying of cancer. Life was a rollercoaster. Losing my brother in 2009 was difficult but losing my son in 2013 was devastating. My son, Owen, died after a virus triggered a rare disease called HLH that we didn’t know he had and the doctors missed. It was after Owen died that I committed myself to pursuing the joys and passions in my life. I began writing more and more and attended my first SCBWI event a few months after he passed. I felt like I finally had a purpose and direction for my life.

Such a profound lesson, and beautifully poignant journey.  With it being such a deep-seated awareness, I have no doubt you’re writing from a rich and fertile place.  How would you describe your writing style? What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? I write humorous stories with lots of wordplay. I love clever and funny stories that are also short and sweet. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one of those books that I feel like is as close to perfect as possible. I was equally enthralled by it and mad that I wasn’t the one who wrote it when I first read it. I feel similar about Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry. Just so simple and yet complex at the same time. I use Bob Shea’s books as mentor texts all the time, too. Love his humor! I have a goal to write a nonfiction picture book one of these days. I have a draft done that I’d love to get out there one of these days.

Oh, I do love Bob Shea! I’ll need to put those others on my list.  I’m a new member of SCBWI, but you’re very involved with NJSCBWI.  (Which seems like a force to be reckoned with.)  When did you get involved?  How have you found your place? Well, I’m involved with NJSCBWI as a participant only. I do not organize anything with them. They are an amazing group of hardworking individuals who create awesome opportunities for the kid lit community. Their Fall Craft weekend was my first official writing event that I went to in November of 2013. Boy, have I come a LONG way since then. If anyone ever gets the chance to go to a NJSCBWI Spring Conference, it’s a must! As far as finding my place, I feel like I’m still doing that. I do have a reputation for wearing quirky dresses to events and people remember me from that. I think it helps me stand out and is also part of my “brand” as far as being an author who writes humorous stories.

Brilliant!! I mean I do love dresses, but I’m talking about your ability to set yourself apart from the crowd, in a way that’s perfectly authentic.  Bravo!  Now I’m rethinking my outfit for my conference this weekend. Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re here… The Writers Match.  Tell me all about it!  The idea for The Writers Match had been swimming my head for a while. When I went to the NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in 2016, I was lamenting about how hard it was to find good critique partners to another writer and I explained my idea for a “match.com for critique partners”.  I decided to just make it happen. I can’t remember the exact date the website went live because it was “live” for a bit while I worked on it with my web developer. I had my trusted critique partner, Nicole, sign up first and be our guinea pig in all things TWM. We have 116 members today which is great considering I have not been able to advertise the site as widely as I want yet. I am hoping to get some ads in Writers Digest soon.

I love the profiles, the message system and the ability to filter members both by genre and by experience.  (Picture Books and Unpublished for me!) What do you think the best way to use the website is? Me, too! I really wanted it to be easy for people to search for suitable critique partners based on whatever criteria they wanted. For example, if you are writing a book that takes place in Florida but you live in Alaska, you should be able to search for a critique partner in Florida to help you with your setting. Or if you are a male writer writing a female character, you can search for women to give you feedback.

I think the way to get the most out of the site is to spend some time really writing out what you want in your profile. Write down if you love romance but hate historical fiction or if you are a sci-fi expert but would like to read a contemporary middle grade. It helps other writers get a sense of who you are and if you might “click” as critique partners.

Ah, I saw what you did there! Bonus points awarded for play-on-words! What is your vision for the future of TWM? I firmly believe that having good critique partners is the key to success as a writer. I would love to have a site where thousands of writers are swapping stories daily and making connections. Ultimately, I’d love to offer in-person critique partner meet-ups or critique conferences.

That’s a wonderful, big picture idea.  Then we can all support each other in the big (conference) and little (critique) ways.  Speaking of support, I know that in addition to TWM and SCBWI, you wear a lot of hats and seem to have many irons in the fire in your community.  How do you juggle writing and the rest of your life, raising an adorable young family and all that good stuff?   Thank you. My most important hat is “MOM”. I have two young daughters that take up a lot of my time. My older daughter just entered kindergarten, which has freed up the time that my younger daughter naps so I can do some work. I also try to get up at 6am so I can work for about an hour before they get up.  Last year when my older daughter took a dance class, I went to the library and worked while she danced. I squeeze it in wherever I find the time. I love my community so I try to be as involved as possible. I work with my son’s former school and PTO to organize a race every year to raise money for his school in memory of him. It takes months to organize and plan the race. We just had the race last Saturday so in the weeks leading up to it, I got no work done and that’s okay! I try to be gentle with myself and not put too much pressure on my writing self.

Sounds like great, healthy boundaries.  Slowly but surely, I think I’m getting there. What phase of your writing journey are you in now?  I feel like I am just on the threshold of being published which has made me a bit more impatient. It’s sort of like the third trimester of pregnancy; so close but it feels like a really long time and it’s hard to get sleep-ha! When I meet with agents and editors at conferences and events and they have positive things to say about my writing and stories, it’s a great feeling. When I submit those stories and get nothing but the sound of crickets in my inbox, it becomes frustrating. I recently had a great agent say, “I love this story! It’s perfect…but I’m not representing picture book authors at this time.” In those moments, I just shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NOOOOOO!” But, like life, publishing is a rollercoaster and I’m in it for the long haul. I currently have 10 queries out to agents and I’m trying to write as much as possible while I wait

Oh, I love that analogy! I feel your pain… but only in the actual pregnancy sense, not in the publishing way. Maybe I’m close to the end of my first trimester? Hmm… Interesting.  Since you’re so close, can you share what you consider the most valuable writing tools in your toolbox?  I recently won a scholarship for the 12×12 Challenge (12x12challenge.com) and it has helped me have the most prolific year of writing possible. I’ve written at least one draft each month and a few of those have been good enough to start querying with. I want to make sure I have a deep well of drafts from which to draw from when an agent comes knocking.

The program offers webinars, online support, critique partners, and unique querying opportunities each month. Other than that, I participate in Read for Research Month or ReFoReMo and StoryStorm. I will do anything that’s offered for free and I am always reading new books. I get huge stacks from the library every week or so. My kids love all the new books and they don’t realize it’s mom’s “work” to read them.

12×12 and ReForReMo are both on top of my to-do list.  I missed both in 2017, but don’t plan to let that happen again.  Do you have anything on your Kid Lit wish list that you hope to accomplish in the next year? Well, the ultimately goal is to have an agent, right? Fingers crossed that I get one soon! I plan to do at least one conference next year. As I said before, I love the NJSCBWI one and I really enjoyed going to the NESCBWI this past year so I may try to get there again. I’d LOVE to do a retreat but it may not be in the financial cards. I’d love to organize a retreat through The Writers Match with lots of critiquing and a professional to help. I think that would be awesome! As always, though, the goal is to just keep writing and to keep growing as a writer.

That sounds like a great plan, keeping sights set on both the ‘big goals’ and day-to-day writing at the same time.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! I wish you all the best and look forward to crossing paths with you.  One day soon we’ll be celebrating your debut picture book, I can feel it! Thank YOU! I can feel it, too. I know the hard work will get me there!

And that’s not the only interview I have on-tap for this week! Come back Friday for the next installment of Paper People with Liz Wong.  Her debut picture book is the adorable Quackers and it’s a hot-ticket item right now.  Have you heard about Read for the Record? Are you signed up? Check out this video clip! You won’t want to miss our conversation! See you soon!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Search for Mentor Texts

“Read more books about this topic,” she said, “Some of the best writers read 50 comp titles.”   I’ve heard this before, probably too many times.  “But I read picture books all the time!” I thought with frustration and also, “How the heck  am I going to get my hands on that many books?”   But in the spirit of critique group etiquette, I slept on it.  I thought it over.  I did my best to detach from my manuscript and read it with the same critical eye that she did. Guess what? She was right.  (That seems to be her pattern.) I am reading LOTS of picture books, but rather than reading with intention, I’ve fallen back into the habit of quickly casting a wide net that includes some new titles, a few old favorites and a couple that my kids grab on face value alone.

The challenge that my kids and I undertook this summer was to read 100 Picture Books.  But knowing myself and my tendencies to grab-&-go, I followed a list, as closely as possible, to guide us to stellar books we hadn’t yet read.  It was a smashing success, but since the summer has ended (early August around here), we’ve slacked off on our library runs and I’ve been a lot less intentional with my selections. Now that I’m writing more and polishing up a handful of manuscripts to begin the querying process, I need to hone in on the topics that I’m writing about now.  I need mentor texts. I need comp titles.  I need help.  Just a quick Google search usually reveals a good starting point.  If I’m lucky, there will be a Goodreads list on the topic.  Just for the sake of experiment, I searched for the following lists on Goodreads and was blown away by the results: Picture Books about… Seasons, Food, Family, Friendship, School, Geography, Emotions, Holidays, I could go on and on.  (Addendum, I just listened to a podcast that talked about utilizing Amazon searches/filters to find comps, another great idea.)

I also set off to the library as soon as it opened. Low and behold, there it was, the very book that my critique group facilitator suggested, waiting for me on display.  I read it and it was brilliant.  Having comparable titles has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I understand their importance, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I could give you the laundry list of reasons why,  but  I’ll spare you the details.  They’re just excuses anyway.  Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.  In fact, that’s the very reason I need to submerge myself in mentor texts.  Thankfully there are a number of social media outlets and though I had only heard of it, I knew it was time dive into the world of ReForReMo.  Reading for Research Month Challenge, held in March, “was developed to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching picture books.” (http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo).   I’m a few months early to sign up for the challenge, but there’s a Facebook group… request to join, sent and accepted.

The most wonderful thing happened, I found exactly what I was looking for!  Taking it further than this manuscript, I posted a question looking for mentor texts for another project.  For this second one, my searches weren’t producing much fruit but the members of the ReForReMo group sure did in a hurry.  Here’s just another great example of the Kid Lit community looking out for each other.  I know this world is filled with fantastic writers, many of them who still carry the pre– in front of published.  The fact is, I I feel blessed to be writing in this day & age (cue Full House theme song). So as I sit and soak up the goodness of this latest library haul, guided by suggestions, I’m sending up grateful vibes to the kid lit universe; grateful for the chance to just sit and read picture books on a Saturday morning, grateful for this new tool in my toolbox and especially grateful for my new ReForReMo friends, and the brains behind its wonderful operation.  Happy reading and happy writing!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP