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

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Tis the season…

For contests! Sure, you thought I was talking about the Holiday Season, and that’s nice too, but I’m talking about the wonderful variety of Kid Lit contests that are floating around in the world today! That’s one of the reasons I’m so off schedule here, (no post since 11/19!!) I’ve been polishing up my entries and trying to give all my story kids the best chance to bring home a prize. Here’s the list so far…
1. Halloweensie- That was great fun, especially the part where I received an honorable mention. It’s over, obviously, but it’s really where the snowball started…
2. Sparkhouse Contest– well this one is technically over, the deadline was in November and the winner will be announced soon (Dec 15)! I hit ‘submit’ on this contest entry the same day I found out about my Halloweensie good fortune. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a little luck on my side. I don’t have a link to share because like I said- it’s over… fingers crossed.
3. Kid Lit College 2017 Contest– there’s a small fee for this one, but it also offers some really exciting perks. You have the option to submit and continue revising your manuscript even after doing so, right up until the deadline. Also, its open to many different genres, not only picture books and the site says every entry will receive feedback! So, you’re paying a little but getting a lot. See the link for more info https://kidlitcollege.org/
4. Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Contest– well of course! With a 250-word limit, the story must be about a holiday and contain an element of ‘surprise’. Easy enough right? Wrong! My entry will be posted here, sometime this weekend. It’s not quite ready yet, but I’m really excited about my chances. Stories will be judged on the quality of story/writing, kid-appeal, originality and creativity. Have I piqued your interest? Check it out here… https://susannahill.com/2017/11/24/a-special-saturday-surprise-for-you/
5. Writing with The Stars (aka WWTS)- If you’re a frequent follower here, you may remember a comment on my Steering the Craft post from Tara Lubbe that talks about her brainchild, WWTS. My explanation probably won’t do it any justice, but I’ll try… aspiring (unpublished/unagented) writers get three chances to apply to one of a group of Picture Book Mentors who have committed their time and energy into helping the selected mentee learn the ropes of the publishing industry- for three months. The list of mentors for 2018 was just released and it’s STACKED! I’m working on my applications now! The window to apply is not until mid-January, but I know enough to know that I’d better do my homework, polish up my answers and patiently give my self the best chance for success. Here’s the link to the page and mentor list… (I can’t pick a favorite out of this list, but I sure am excited by the possibility of an opportunity like this!) http://beckytarabooks.com/wwts-contest/
6. StoryStorm– technically I think this falls into the category of a challenge instead of a contest, but prizes are given away and creative energy runs amok! The premise is that you come up with “30 story ideas in 30 days” and there are guest blog posts galore from all over the Kid Lit community. If you’ll remember, Mr. Particular, the debut picture book from my September Paper People interview was a Storystorm success! That takes place the entire month of January and I can’t wait! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/
I feel like I’m forgetting something… but surely that’s enough to keep anyone entertained! And guess what else? Friday is Paper People day! This month I had the chance to talk to Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and it was a blast. Want to know the icing on the cake? She offered a giveaway! Yep, you’ll be able to check one of your Christmas gifts off your list with a copy of this quirky, punctuated (literally) tale. To recap, Friday is Paper People and you have to come back to give yourself a chance to win. Saturday or Sunday I will post my Holiday Contest entry and there might be a few other good things that I have up my sleeve, so don’t wander off.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  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 learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii

 

Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Writing with an elephant

Contrary to popular belief, there is only one way to eat an elephant.  Though I’m sure your elephant looks vastly different than mine, whether it be in size, shape, or schedule, the fact remains.  Some days, I feel like I have a dozen elephants on my plate, but the one I’ll focus on today, you guessed it, is my writing.  The problem I struggle with being that I find myself ravenous for knowledge, education and community, is that I’m overwhelmed with options… and at the same time, feel completely out of the loop.  How do I get into the loop?!? Where do I start?!?  Where can I find more hours in my day? I’ll tell you what I’ve done so far, and I’m open to suggestions.

WEBINARS- I started out with a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and that was great for opening my eyes and introducing me to current industry standards.  I know I’ve mentioned before that I participated in and enjoyed WD webinars that were pertinent to Picture Book writers, and a couple of general webinars for aspiring authors of every variety.  I have also recently begun participating in Kid Lit College, my first webinar is in two weeks, on Picture Books & Page Turns.  I can’t wait.

BOOKS- I’m old fashioned. I love to hold an actual book in my hands and I’ve started to develop a small reference section of my home library.  Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts was the first and continues to be the most informative.  I plan to continue to fill my tool box, even if I must borrow.  What’s your favorite?

BLOGS- This is a whole other world for me, from reading to writing. Mary Kole, Tara Lazar & Vivian Kirkfield are some of the big-name bloggers that I’m following now. I’m also quietly learning from men and women who are finding their own success and still blazing their own trail.  I read every book review and author interview that comes across my radar, hoping to find nuggets of knowledge and learn about new releases.   My writing here started out as an exercise for me to push myself to use a different side of my writing brain. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am when my own site is found (and followed!) by someone in the Kid Lit world.  In one of the blogs I mentioned above, I read that “networking is like a slow dance.” So, I’ll continue my weekly posts, follow others, and reach out with comments when the opportunities arise.  I’d like to think that this site is creating blossoms for me, that will one day result in delicious fruit that resembles relationships, opportunities and real-world experiences.

BETA-READERS- A concept that I’ve remained wary of until very recently, beta-readers are a group of trusted and informed individuals, who read over a project and offer honest feedback.  It was fear that made me wary, and once I realized that I knew that I needed to pursue this opportunity.  I’ve reached out to a few women, each of whom offers a different set of experiences and expertise, and if they agree to be so generous with their time and energy, once I finish my revisions, that’s where my book goes next.

CRITIQUE GROUPS- If you’re looking for a birthday gift for me, I’d like one of these please! I’m kidding, kind of… I know that one day (hopefully soon) I’ll find my place but I’m not there yet.  If networking is a slow dance, developing the trust and rapport it takes to be a part of a critique group must be something along the lines of a crawl.

SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.  A club for people just like me! I’ve been in touch with my local chapter, and plan to get involved soon… but as I explained in a recent email to the chapter president, ‘real-life and “real”-work continue to get in the way.’ I’m going to find a way to make it happen this summer, right now I have my sights set on the June meeting.

All of the things I mentioned, and probably dozens more are wonderful opportunities providing a wealth of information and experience.  How do I fit it all in? How do I continue writing, and learning, and networking, all while working, wife-ing, and mom-ing? How can I squeeze more out of my already jam-packed schedule? Getting back to the elephant I mentioned earlier; the only way to eat it is one bite at a time. Which led me here, posting early on a Sunday and squeezing in a few informative posts before anyone wakes up.  I’m going to find a way to more seamlessly fit some part of this into each day.   It’s all a bit foreign to me though, and I imagine it will continue to be so for quite some time.  But I’ll stay the course, one bite, one post, one webinar at a time, and as always, I’m open to suggestions!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Writing from the forest

It’s a saying I’ve heard countless times, “Oh, she can’t see the forest for the trees.”  In fact, it’s one that I use often.  For example, as a young mom, I often can’t see the forest of LIFE from the saplings constantly clamoring for my attention.   As a writer, it’s something I’ve been guilty of and I’m grateful to the women who’ve now pointed it out on two occasions.  Of course, as freelance editors, they didn’t use that phrase, keeping it much more politically (and grammatically correct).  But as I read each of their respective feedbacks, first in December, and again last week, it’s the phrase that continued to surface.  I realize that I am putting my own literary spin on it here, so let me elaborate.

I spent a good part of 2016, especially the second half of the year trying to educate myself.  I read every article and blog post I could get my hands on.  I combed through Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul with a fine-toothed comb and dove into some excellent webinars.   One of the lessons, repeated in almost everyone, is ‘make sure your main character is the protagonist (hero) of his own story’.  I read it over and over and committed it to memory.  Had you asked, I would’ve checked it off my list with a satisfied ‘Got that!”.  Low and behold, when I received the critique back from the first editor I worked with, that was her most significant piece of advice.  The sweet little boy that my story is about, didn’t save his own story.  I was shocked when I realized how glaringly obvious it was too.  His mom was the hero of his story, and I never saw it coming. I had been so close to my story, that I hadn’t seen the problem that I was certain I avoided.  In the three rounds of revisions that followed, I wrote the mom completely out of the story, then back in, and out again, as I struggled to give all the credit to my sweet boy, after all… it is HIS story.

Another common theme in my Kid Lit education was the importance of the ‘Rule of Three’.   I’m very familiar with it and was something I thought I incorporated well into my WIP (work in progress).  Alas, this last editor had similar advice, from a different perspective.  Guess what she said to me, in regards to the Rule of Three in my story?  It was non-existent!  To share a line from the editorial letter I received last week, “Generally, a protagonist tries three times to get what they want before they succeed.”  To explain it simply, if a dog is trying to jump over a fence, he’ll fall short on his first try, again on his second and third, finding success on his fourth attempt.  I knew this.  Somehow, in my rewriting and revising, I lost it, though. The boy in my story has a problem, and BAM solves it on his first try. Even young children deserve for the stories they read to have enough drama to draw them in and make it exciting.  This lack of struggle translated into a lack conflict, probably creating one of the major issues with my WIP.  When I stepped back from my story, having been ‘too close to the trees again’, I discovered a fluffy story, full of warm and fuzzies… and a dragon… it was confusing, even to me.  Once again, I was blindsided.  So I’m back in revision mode, this time creating conflict.   Thanks for joining me as I unpack these great editorial lessons, rest assured, there are many more to come.  I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience to share.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

P.S- As I was wrapping up my post for today, I learned of an exciting opportunity from kidlitcollege.org.  ‘Page turns’ is another important concept in children’s literature that deserves its own conversations. It is related to my post from today, however, because conflict creates page turns, so maybe it’s a conversation I’ll have soon.  Ann Whitford Paul (mentioned above) is teaching a KidLit College course at the end of the month Picture Book First Pages and Page Turns.  Sounds like something I need in my life, and I’m sharing in case you do too.