What’s the question?

Almost every day of the week, for the past 36 weeks I’ve helped my daughter with her homework. This week, as we started the fourth and final quarter of the school year, something on her study guide caught my eye.  Right smack dab in the middle of the page her teacher had written, just like every week prior two words: essential question?  If I had been in a movie, it would’ve been the scene where my head started spinning and it all came together. The essential question.  Ann Whitford Paul wrote about this very thing. Professional critiques have touched on the same concept and last week a critique partner of mine challenged me to dig deeper into a work in progress and build up this one element of the story… The essential question. IMG_1012

I’m a member of a wonderful group of wise pre-published picture book writers and we’re in the middle of an online book study of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.  (You remember how much I love this book, right?) Early on, in Chapter two, she challenges her readers, assuming we’re all aspiring picture book writers of course, to find their ‘Story Question’ and soon after, their ‘Story Answer.’  These two concepts, she argues, are fundamental to guiding the course of a picture book from point A to the finish line while keeping a reader actively engaged. (I’m not doing this concept any justice though, you really have to read it for yourself)

For the sake of the book study, I wrote a new story rather than slowly working through one of my many existing manuscripts.  It’s a silly little story about socks and its one of the reasons I’m so in love with my current genre.  (Where else can you write an entire story about SOCKS?) I hammered it out one afternoon and then per the book study guidelines, posted it for the other members to review and discuss.  All of our stories were very different, and Story Questions for each varied greatly.  Some were silly and shallow, others dove deep and broached the subjects of acceptance and authenticity, all of them were eye-opening and stimulated great conversation.  It was a great exercise but, for some reason, I haven’t done it again.

Why did I show this brand, new, baby manuscript enough love and attention to probe with these deep, though provoking questions, and not do the same for my older, more polished manuscripts?  It was a critique partner of mine that I should really give the lion’s share of the credit to.  I talked to her about my love of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS weeks ago, and on my recommendation, she bought and started reading her own copy. We’ve been trading manuscripts for a few months now and are starting to know each other’s style well.  This month, my submission to her was weak, rough and scattered. She honed in immediately and challenged me to ‘find my question’ and give my story more direction. So, imagine my surprise when I found these same words on my daughter’s study guide.  My eight-year-old has a better handle on this then I do! She knows the ‘essential question’ for every story she’s studied. Do I know these questions for each of my works in progress?  More importantly, if I know the question, do I know the answer?  If I don’t know the question and answer, will my reader? My daughter has read my stories more than anyone else, every draft of every story even.  Would she be able to pinpoint the essential questions of each?   Truth be told, I’m nervous to find out because even though it’s essential to the process, it’s a deceptively difficult task.

I had given myself the assignment of creating a(nother) dummy for my nearly-submission-ready manuscript, but first I have to start asking questions for all of my works in progress. 

          What if you don’t love the work you’re expected to do?

          What do you do with a broken heart?

          What will it take to change a stubborn, little, picky-eaters mind?

          What can you do if you aren’t appreciated for being you?

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

Next up, I will be making a dummy because the submission window for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant ends on 3/31! Plus, as of the end of this month, I’m determined to be ‘submission-ready’. My story has been critiqued many (many, many) times, my word count is down, my illo notes are almost non-existent, my query letter was critiqued, my ending is tighter, my opening is stronger and my mind is made up. Look out editors (and contest judges) here I come!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Paper People: Anna Forrester

Today is a special day.  One year ago, I published my first post here on Magnolias & Manuscripts and six months ago I started Paper People.  (It’s also my half birthday! Which is a little ridiculous, I know but its something hat I always celebrate for myself and the exact reason that I launched my blog on this date.) Most importantly, I had the chance to visit with Anna Forrester.  Anna has been kind and helpful to me, since I awkwardly introduced myself to her by way of her blog’s Contact Me page. If I was the gangly, over-eager high school freshman, Anna was the cool, calm and collected upper classman that helped me to find my locker.  I’ve had my sights set on this February interview since the beginning.  So, without further ado. 

Anna! I’m so excited to have you here. First, like always, can I get you something to drink?  Sure – thanks! I tend to start my day with either chai tea or green tea, so either one of those would be great!

I’m sure those are both great options but I haven’t made any progress on my attempts to drink tea. I think I’ll cut myself some slack and have a cup of coffee this time.  So, as we settle in and let our drinks cool a bit, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? After college I started teaching, and quickly decided to pursue my masters in Early Childhood Education. I landed at the amazing Bank Street College, and for my Master’s thesis I opted to research and write a children’s book. That was my first manuscript. But I put children’s writing on hold for a long time after that…until just a few years ago.

 I don’t remember how, but I stumbled upon your website and then found my way to your blog but I’m so glad that I did! That’s actually where Paper People started…I read through Anna’s blog and realized, ‘I bet I could learn so much from authors like her.’  She and I had exchanged a couple emails already so I ran the idea of this author interview series by her and she was super supportive.  Anna put me in touch with Katey Howes, who put me in touch with Emma Bland Smith & Jason Kirschner…the rest is history folks! So, you mention on your website that you started it in order to make writing connections.  That’s the exact reason that I started my own! Has blogging been a successful experience for you? Is there anything about it that surprised you?  My goals for Hmmmmm were three-fold. First, I wanted to connect with people in the kidlit world and develop some community. Second, I wanted a forum for sorting through and sharing what I was learning as I worked: I think best when I write, and the blog gave me a format for that. And third, I thought a blog would give agent or editors a stronger sense of me: how I write and think, what I care about, and that I am a committed writer.

All that said: my energy for the blog flagged a bit last year when BAT COUNT came out and I got busy with book promotion. I’m in the process now of re-evaluating what/if I want Hmmmmm to be in the future.

 Ohhh, I can’t wait to see what direction you take it in.  I always enjoy reading your musings. Speaking of, you were one of the 2017 12×12 featured authors. Can you talk a little about your experience with 12×12 and how it helped you to grow as a writer? 2015 was the first year I joined 12×12, so this is my 4th year there. Julie Hedlund has created an amazingly solid, supportive, and resource-filled community. I find that each year (and week and month) I use the forum’s offerings differently, depending on where I am in my process – and I love that it has that flexibility.

 I joined 12×12 this year, after much back and forth and I’m already so glad that I did.  What an incredible community!  I can’t wait to sport a 12×12 button at my regional conference!! Okay, so on to BAT COUNT, because that’s really where it all started for you.  Was that your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? Aside from my Bank Street thesis way back when, it was. I wrote it pretty quickly and it logged in at 1400 words. Then I discovered that the market wanted REALLY SHORT picture book manuscripts. I didn’t think I could tell that story in so few words, so I shelved it and moved on – until I saw Arbordale’s call for math and science-themed picture books

 I love the ‘citizen science’ aspect of the story and the way it empowers children to take responsibility for their surroundings.  Do many of your other manuscripts have a similar theme?  My interests are pretty wide-ranging, but I am definitely a nature geek. I have lots of science-related projects that hover at the boundary between fiction and non-fiction: I love the challenge of trying to turn kids on to the natural world with compelling voice and story. Ideas for my fiction picture books often sprout from quirky things I see or learn about in the natural world too.

 Yes! My favorite part was that your STEM story had an equally wonderful emotional element . I find myself writing stories that straddle both worlds and I often search for books to guide me.  How did you incorporate both elements? Did one surface before the other? (STEM vs Twins!) I didn’t go into writing the story thinking ‘I want to write a STEM/bat/Citizen-science story’. The story grew from an experience my own family had. But the pitch definitely did focus on those aspects!

As for the twins: have you ever heard this idea that, as writers, we leave ourselves clues in our writing? (I wrote about this a while ago here. Those twins were one of those clues: I don’t know why I initially gave Jojo twin brothers, but I did, and when I was struggling with the story’s ending, there they were, waving their arms at me to get my attention!

I wasn’t familiar with that concept, but that is right up my alley.  I always ask my sub-conscious to help me answer questions, maybe if I just pay attention I’ll find the answers right there in my stories.  Oh, I can’t wait to learn more! Before I get too far off topic, let’s talk about your big day! On February 10 (TOMORROW) you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal?  So funny – it never occurred to me to celebrate! I am just marching on, writing. But I so appreciate your asking me to do this interview – it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the past year!

 Do you remember the first time you saw BAT COUNT on a bookstore shelf? I don’t! But I love when friends send me pictures of it ‘out in the wild’ – at libraries or bookstores where they live — and I save all those photos.

I see pictures of BAT COUNT ‘out in the wild’ quite often lately, your critique group is quite a powerhouse! I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it ‘out in the wild’? Though the human side of the story resonates beyond the bat or citizen science content, the book is pretty “niche”. Both the publisher and I did a lot of outreach to bat groups, wildlife groups, citizen science groups, nature centers, natural history museums and the like. In the summer I did a lot of events at state parks, and I LOVE doing school visits, too –with just one or two classes at a time so I can engage more directly with the kids.

 And you can wear your author and your teacher hats at the same time! I bet you shine during a school visit.  We nurses don’t know what to do with a classroom full of excited kids… I’d probably get stage fright. Thankfully, my sister is a teacher, maybe she can help me one day. What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry?  It’s really true how the goal line seems to just keep moving! But you can’t get too wrapped up in that or it eats you up. Recognizing that has helped me keep in touch with the ways that just writing feeds my soul!

 This is one of the few questions I’ve asked every Paper People interviewee, and that may very well be the most honest and encouraging answer I’ve gotten. In fact, in the few days since I first read it, I’ve said it to myself a few times already.  Can I ask, because you said you’re still writing, what are you working on now? What’s next on your agenda? Where can we find and follow you on social media?  I always have a lot of projects going at once. But I have been my own worst enemy around subbing and I want to get over it! My goal for 2018 is to do five submissions per month (rather than my typical 5 or 6 a year!) Already, I can see how subbing more makes it easier and less uncomfortable. Even having only done my January five, my queries already feel less stiff and awkward!

As for social media: you can find me on twitter, and on facebook. On pinterest, I stockpile images relating to projects I’m thinking about or working on.

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Thanks for stopping by and visiting with me! I always get excited when our paths cross.

Thanks so much for having me Jennifer, and for giving me that chance to reflect on the year!

Man that was a great conversation! The kind that leaves me energized and itching to write.  Next month will be great too, Camille Andros, author of CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, agreed to join me here!  But first, I have a lot of homework to get to, I owe a feedback on a couple manuscripts to members of my critique group and I have a pitch that needs polishing.  Oh, yeah! I forgot to mention, I snagged another spot on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Would You Read It Wednesday? series.  I need to re-work and rewrite both my pitch and my manuscripts. 

If you live in my corner of the world, it’s carnival time! Hope you have a safe and happy Mardi Gras.  If you live in a place where Tuesday is just, Tuesday, I still hope its a great one!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP 

Surviving Storystorm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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

Let’s Talk, Writing Picture Books (and so much more)!

It was one of those surreal moments that will forever be embedded in my brain.  Right in my inbox, an email from the Contact Me page here on my blog. She read my recent post and thanked me for mentioning her book.  This line was the kicker, “If you ever want to interview me for your blog, I’m available… “ANN WHITFORD PAUL, Y’ALL!  I started this blog to make connections, but this was more than I dreamed of.  You see there was a time at the end of last year when I decided that it was time to invest in myself and my writing journey.  Being a one (and a half) income family with three small kids, a mortgage and a life, I had to spend wisely.  At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of the expansive Kid Lit online community, but I did come across a deeply discounted webinar package that came with a copy of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  I had been eyeing this book for months, and the price of the whole bundle was exactly what I was looking for.  As soon as the book came in, I devoured it and it has since found a permanent spot on my nightstand.  For me, this book was the beginning of my education as a writer; it’s my kid lit foundation.  In addition to her impressively informative book, my kids and I are also huge fans of her picture books and she has another coming out soon! So, I invite you to come along for my conversation with Ann as we talk about her writing career, including books for both children and adults.

Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me, Ann! This is such a wonderful treat.  Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for Children?  I was born and lived mostly in the Midwest, Chicago and Madison Wisconsin, with interludes in Philadelphia.  Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University School of Social Work.  I worked for several years in a hospital where I met my husband.  Our honeymoon was a drive across country to California where he had taken a job.  I stopped doing social work when the first of my four children were born and would have loved working part-time but Ronald Reagan was governor and cutting back on social programs.  I had to find something else and it was that lovely quiet time of reading with my children that inspired me to try writing books that other grown-ups and children could share together.

Your first picture book was published in 1985, and you have upcoming books scheduled for the next two years, how tremendous! How do you keep up with the changing industry?  How do you keep your writing skills sharp? I think I keep up with the changing industry badly.  It’s been a special challenge when editors are looking for “edgy”.  That’s not me, but I do try to add a little more humor to my writing and to think outside the box.  Still, I’m me and it’s hard for me not to write who I am.  I keep my writing skills sharp by writing every single day and I belong to a monthly kid’s lit group where we discuss a new middle-grade or YA and a picture book.  That keeps me up with the latest publishing trends.

What is the most interesting shift in the children’s book market that you notice happening now? When I started out in the business, most sales went to the school and library market.  Now on-line and independent stores are where the sales are going.  That means the books have to appeal to parents who are not necessarily savvy about what makes a good story.  Art is becoming much more important and especially what appears on the cover to attract buyers. 

In 2009, 24 years after your debut picture book was released you published Writing Picture Books.  What prompted you to put this book together?  Was there anything new about the publishing process in writing for adults? I had been teaching for over ten years at UCLA Extension and at numerous conferences.  One of my students suggested, no pushed and prodded, me to write a book.  It was certainly a challenge, but once I told myself to look at each chapter as a long picture book, I was able to fool myself into thinking I could do it.  One of the super-nice things about writing for adults is that I didn’t have to split my earnings with an illustrator.  And I hear back from so many writers about how the book has helped them.  I love getting those notes and e-mails.

I have to tell you, my critique partners and I call your book ‘The Picture Book Bible’. Writing Picture Books is filled with such invaluable information and advice.  How did you organize and compile all your thoughts for the book?  See what I mean about hearing back from writers.  Thanks so much!  The organization was actually fairly easy, because I tried to organize my classes around those chapter subjects.  Also, because I’d given many talks, I was able to adapt some of those into the book.

 It sure seems to have a life of its own. Has the book accomplished everything you hoped since its publication?   What does the future hold for Writing Picture Books?I’m so glad you asked this question, because right now I am deep into doing an updated and revised edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which will be published fall 2018.  There will be some new chapters, all new examples and all new books cited.  Also, Writer’s Digest Books (the publisher) and I are partnering to fund the SCBWI Most-Promising Picture Book Award to recognize and encourage the work of aspiring picture book writers.

Ohh, that’s very exciting!  I can only imagine the wisdom those pages will hold.  Since you’ve taught so many of us HOW to write, I’m curious, what is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?  “Write what you know.”  I’m aware that’s mundane and everyone has heard it over and over again, but I’m an insecure writer and have lived a fine and thankfully uneventful life.  I’ve never saved a child from drowning, never stopped a bank robbery and never swam the English Channel, (but my son did) so I worried, and still sometimes do, wondering what on earth I have to write about.  But years ago at an SCBWI conference, hearing those words made me think about the patchwork I loved sewing and about how the names of the patterns spoke of long ago life.  I was so inspired, I finished the manuscript for EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET IN six months.  That my hobby, my love of history and how people lived, could resonate with others (the book is still in print after twenty-five years) has made me less likely to push aside my ideas that might seem pedestrian.  I accept that my ideas might be boring to me, but exciting and fascinating to others.  Write what you know and are passionate about and your stories will touch others.

 Such great advice!  I try to remind myself often to be authentic in my writing, I can only tell my stories, not someone else’s right?  Speaking of my stories, I’ve learned from more than just your book, in your webinar for Kid Lit College, you talk about the importance of making a dummy.  That webinar is still one of my favorites. It completely reinforced what you wrote about in Writing Picture Books and totally transformed my creative process.  Why is making a dummy such a crucial step for writers? I’m glad you found making a dummy so helpful and transformative.  It was, and continues to be, the same for me.  There’s something about seeing your words cut out and pasted onto pages that you have to turn that shows you where your story weaknesses are.  Invariably when I make a dummy, I find words that can be cut.  Recently I’ve noticed in my writing that I tend to go on a bit too long after the problem has been solved.  That usually means I don’t have enough in the middle of my story or that I can delete or tighten the wrap-up at the end.  The act of reading my dummy aloud and turning the pages helps me to create stronger page turns also.  I would never submit a manuscript without making a dummy first.

Next month (October 2017) you’re scheduled to release If Animals Said I Love You.  This makes your Animals an adorable series. Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little about how the second book came about, eight years later? (If Animals Kissed Goodnight, 2009 was the first) On a trip to New York, I decided it would be a good time to meet the editor, Janine O’Malley, who had taken over for my original editor on IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and had a lot to do with making it into a board book.  I arrived at an auspicious time for that very day, FS&G had ordered a huge reprinting of the book.  The board book, much to my joy and delight, had taken off in this new format.  In that meeting, Janine had suggested writing a follow-up, which I did.  I wrote TWO!  One about animals bathing in tubs and another about animals wearing clothes.  She rejected them both and suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.  I was doubtful.  Wasn’t that very close to IF ANIMALS KISSED?  However, my son Alan and his family live in South Africa and we were headed there for a visit and I determined to at least try and write that story while there.  We went on several safaris where I made notes and wrote couplets about them.  Also we went trekking to see Gorillas.  Something I would never do again—three hours straight up to find them.  I ached for days afterwards.  To make this story a bit different, I decided not just to have parents and children express love, but grandparents and cousins and siblings.  The manuscript was completed during our three week trip.

That sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and it was productive to boot! Fabulous! I actually have a safari themed manuscript and going on safari is on top of my vacation wish list, now my wheels are turning… Hmmm… Okay, before I get carried away let’s get back to the good stuff… The rhythm and rhyme scheme of If Animals Kissed Goodnight is one of my all-time favorites.  Was writing the second book more, or less challenging than you anticipated?  It was both.  When there’s a first book, the format is already determined, so you’re kind of locked into it.  The challenge for me was to work to differentiate the two since they were both about ways of expressing love.

While I was preparing for this interview, I read a 2013 interview you did with Henry Herz and I realized we share a love of Jane Austen! Just to make sure my daughter started her little life off right, I read Pride & Prejudice to her as a newborn.  Are you reading anything now?  Who’s your favorite author? Jane Austen is definitely my favorite author.  I’m also hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series.  I belong to three different book clubs so am always in the middle of a book—one is a couples reading club, another women only (and you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that co-ed book clubs are drawn to different books than the single-sex ones.)  In addition, I belong to a book club of teachers, librarians and writers and illustrators that read one novel (middle-grade or YA) and one picture book each month.  We post our discussions here:http://bookchatthursday.blogspot.com/

Is there anything else you have coming out soon?  Where can my readers find you if they want to follow along?

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be published in the fall of 2018

IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL will be published in the fall of 2019

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS—New and Revised edition will be published in the fall of 2018.

I publish a monthly (sometimes less frequently) newsletter that you can sign up for here:

Sign up for my e-mail newsletter

Check out my web-site www.annwhitfordpaul.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, energy and wisdom with me! I had such a hard time narrowing my questions down to these 12.  Congratulations on your upcoming releases! Happy Writing! 

 Guess what? I have ANOTHER exciting interview coming next week… actually, make that TWO.  First up, is my chat with Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz, founder of The Writer’s Match.  Do you have enough critique partners? Do you have a go-to place to find and connect with more?  If you answered ‘No’ to either of those questions, stop what you’re doing and check out The Writer’s Match.  It’s a free website that creates critique partnerships and allows you to search based on genre, experience level, and more.  I’ve had great success, and I know you will too! And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Timesheet

The beauty of this whole writing life, is that it happens at my home, on my time, right?  So, despite the fact that I’m not getting paid for any of this time, otherwise, it’s a pretty sweet gig.  I couldn’t agree more, except it’s really not as easy as you think.  (Well, not YOU, because if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about… I’m talking about non-writing folk).  I realized over the course of the past couple of weeks that I hit a wall.  Not a writer’s block kind of wall, one of those little brick half walls that takes some effort to climb over but allows you to see the other side?  My day job right now is also one that I do from home.  I’m a great self-motivator.  I’m goal oriented and I love deadlines.  I’m fairly efficient and feel confident that I can be effective at whatever is in front of me.  But I struggle so much with applying those same principles to my writing.  I decided enough was enough, I needed to traverse the wall and make some adjustments. Over the course of the past few days, I had some ‘Aha’ moments, that I think will prove to be significant.  In no particular order, here they are:

  1. I account for the time I get paid for from my employer, every minute of it and I can tell you how I spent my time and what I accomplished on any given day… looking back on my time spent writing, and I have no idea how much, or when, or what I’m working on. I am not keeping track of anything when it comes to my time spent writing. In fact, though I feel like I’m writing every day, I haven’t worked on a new manuscript or revised one of my WIP in quite some time.  Which leads me to my next revelation…
  2. Social Media is sucking my productive time! I don’t get on Facebook when I’m ‘on the clock’, I’m careful not to check Twitter or Instagram while I have a project to finish, but as soon as I start ‘writing’, I do. And not only that, I waste such precious time and scrolling mindlessly through that it zaps all of my creative energy and leaves me restless and unsettled.
  3. I used ‘writing’ in quotes just earlier because I’m actually not writing! I’ve not written anything in the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking of writing… intending to, planning on it, and carrying around a notebook, but except for a weekly blog post, nothing creative or productive has made it onto paper.

Mixed up in all of this, is a self-proclaimed ‘identity crisis’; but more on that another day.  (Trust me, it’s not nearly as dramatic as it seems.) With all this new awareness came the understanding that if I continue down this writing path, I need a process.  I can’t keep shooting from the hip, that’s not how I operate.  I don’t shoot from the hip in any area of life, (except parenting, I guess, but don’t we all?) my writing life should be no different.  I’ve established new rules for myself and am trying my very best to hold myself accountable to these…

  1. Set a goal each week for time spent writing… this week I aimed for 8 hours. I finished nowhere close, but I know that because I’ve started,
  2. Keeping track of when I write and what I’m doing, generally speaking at least. And now I have an idea of what I did accomplish and what I need to work on next, not to mention I have a goal to keep aiming for. And finally, probably most importantly,
  3. Limit social media time! I gave myself a very small allotment of time (2 hours/week), and I’m keeping track of how often/how long I spend on social media. On top of that, if I’m going to spend time perusing Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I must be productive.  In some way, I must be building my network, watching a webinar, posting a critique… something productive, no mindless scrolling allowed.

So, here’s my time card for the week:

Monday, I spent 30minutes on Social media & 1-hour writing (which was actually, catching up on Storyteller Academy webinars)

Tuesday had 20 minutes of Social media time & 30 minutes writing (revisions of a manuscript, recording myself reading other manuscripts)

Wednesday looked a lot like Tuesday. (Completed my Master Studies homework for Storyteller Academy)

Thursday, unfortunately, had similar Social Media time, 30 minutes and ZERO writing minutes. (so, nothing to report here)

Friday, well I wrote this post on Friday, so that’s a good chunk of writing time, I also finished some major revisions on a delicious little manuscript I’ve been working on, and spent ZERO time on social media.  I’m giving myself 2 hours of writing credit and a pat on the back for staying on track.

That’s a grand total of four hours writing… 2 hours on Social Media, and the rest of it spent working, mom-ing, and wife-ing. Next week I’ll do better… I hope. It takes two weeks to create a new habit, right? Wish me luck.

*Important footnote- There is so much wonderful benefit to social media, the entire Kid Lit community resides there and we’re all just the click of a button or the touch of a screen away from each other.  I’m grateful for it!  I just need help with my own boundaries… I need more time being productive and less time perusing.  I think there will be a post expanding on this in the not too distant future.  Also, stay tuned for more on Storyteller Academy/Master Studies, my Querying Conundrum, Developing a Process and the above mentioned, Identity Crisis.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

It’s a Book Review!

I was a lucky little girl.  In our home, having a ‘good cry’ was embraced, feelings were talked about and emotions were celebrated.  I’ve always felt grateful to have been born to such emotionally aware parents.  Now with kids of my own, I am equally blessed with three emotional and articulate children.  Though it’s sometimes a struggle amidst the hustle and bustle of family life, I always try to help them stop and pay attention and talk about to how they are feeling.  As a young girl, I knew the power of my feelings and I hope to give my children the same gift.

Thankfully, we live in a world where society tries, and the Kid Lit world excels at understanding exactly how much kids are capable of and trying to speak their language.  In the newly released, Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell, Maggie struggles with both envy and disappointment, emotions familiar to kids of all walks of life.  Because her summer looked different than that of her friends, she struggles to see it for the life changing adventure that it was. In a whimsical way, with pops of color and ‘sassy red shoes,’ this charming story helps kids to understand the importance of empathy and unconditional love.  My kids delighted in reading this book and getting to know the furry friend at the heart of the story

If you want to learn more about Maggie’s path to publication you can visit www.themaggieproject.blogspot.com or read my interview with Maggie’s author, Randi Mrvos here.

Sending prayers and dry wishes for those in the path of (Hurricane) Harvey.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Emma Bland Smith

Finally, we have arrived at my very first Paper People interview.  In the spirit of learning and building community, I’ve reached out to debut picture book authors about one year after their books release. I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of us who are writers consider ourselves a ‘paper person’.  More than a common personality trait, however, the name of the series is celebratory in nature. Paper is the traditional gift for a first anniversary.  It’s my hope that I can repay these authors for the advice they’ve shared, by starting another conversation about these incredible books. (Disclaimer: this is a longer post than normal, but that’s only because it’s packed to the brim with greatness!)

This month I had the pleasure of visiting with Emma Bland Smith, author of the award-winning Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf in the West.   The book is simply captivating.  Thanks so much, Emma, for taking the time to visit with us!

Emma zoo reading

I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots: Can I get you something to drink? I’ve decided that in this imaginary meet-up, it’s about 7 pm on a Friday, so I’ll take a nice glass of red wine, please!

Ah, a woman after my own heart.  The only slight change is that I’ll take a glass of white, chilled of course… it’s the only way to survive summer in the south. For starters, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?

I’ve always gravitated toward writing, but after my kids were born, I fell in love with kids’ books and decided I wanted to be part of that world. I had already written a book for adults (a nonfiction photographic history of San Francisco), but breaking into children’s book writing turned out to be way, way harder than I had expected. (Surprise!) I continued taking classes, going to conferences, and meeting with my critique group. It took me nine years (nine!) from the time I wrote my first manuscript to the day I signed with my agent.

Nine years! Talk about tenacity! What’s even more impressive is that you continue to wear many hats.  I often daydream about being a librarian and spending my day surrounded by books.  You ARE a librarian, so I’m a little envious.  How is it that you keep yourself balanced, juggling work at the library, writing and raising a family?  Where do you find time for it all?

I tend to thrive on pressure and get depressed when I have nothing to do, so somehow, on pure adrenaline, I managed to get that my master’s degree, write, and take care of my very young kids, all at the same time. (It’s crazy how much you can accomplish during nap time or two episodes of Caillou if you move at superhero speed!)

Today, I’m a substitute librarian and tend to work only about twice a week. The rest of the time, I do all the other things that it takes to keep a household running—shopping, cooking, cleaning, schlepping, home improvement, taking care of the neighbors’ cats, despairing over my son’s middle school math homework, etc. Writing isn’t always a priority, but I love it so much that I manage to fit it in. I fully admit to being a multitasker (for better or for worse) so I frequently read emails while I wash dishes and critique friends’ manuscripts or check kidlit411 in between conversations with my kids.

Oh man, so much of what you said is so true in my life too! My kids are still young, so naptime is my favorite.  But you aren’t here to talk about toddlers, are you? Let’s get to the good stuff… Was Journey the first picture book manuscript you wrote? 

Journey was not my first manuscript. When I signed with my agent, I probably had about eight polished manuscripts. In fact, I didn’t send my agent Journey until I had been with her for several months because it was different from my other work and I wasn’t confident about it. Luckily, she immediately saw the potential, sent it off to a few publishers, and to my surprise, it was acquired very quickly.

How wonderful that your agent could see the life-changing potential in it!  In a Will Write for Cookies Interview from 2016, you encouraged authors to start with an agent, as opposed to submitting directly to publishing houses.  How did you to land this agent with an eye for success? 

I submitted for years, to both agents and editors! Then one day in early 2015 I heard about the Twitter hashtag #MSWL (“manuscript wish list”) and was perusing it. I saw a post from an agency looking for picture books and sent a bunch of my manuscripts. She contacted me shortly after that and we clicked! My agent was fairly new, so she was building her client list and actively seeking new clients. I encourage writers to read the SCBWI magazine to find out about new agencies and agents.

I’m also curious about your experience working with an illustrator.  The illustrations in Journey are stunning.  I wanted to reach out and pet the wolf as I was reading!  What was it like watching your story come to life in color?

Thank you! Or rather, thank you on behalf of Robin James, the illustrator! I didn’t have any input on choosing the illustrator, but I’m thrilled with her work. I was curious more than nervous waiting to see the sketches because I knew my editor and illustrator were pros and would do a great job. And then the sketches came in and I was utterly charmed and delighted, the cover just blew me away; I never get tired of gazing at it.

Journey cover

Do you remember the first time you saw Journey on a bookstore shelf?

To be honest, the whole launch period is a bit of a blur now! (Sasquatch has a fabulous publicist!) I do remember when my husband found my two advance copies of Journey in the mail and brought them to me. And I remember the surreal feeling right before I read Journey and showed a slideshow, the night of my launch party. I’ll also never forget the moments when I learned that Journey had won two national awards! (And to go back in time a bit, I’ll really never forget learning that Sasquatch wanted to publish Journey. I cried.) I do surreptitiously visit my local bookstore about once a week to see if they’re still stocking the book. I always give the stack a little affectionate pat

If nothing else that sure sounds like good book karma.  It must be incredible to see the fruits of your labor so close to home.

You included a few pages of back matter which was a nice surprise.  I enjoyed learning more about OR7’s real journey and seeing the actual photos.  This book strikes a great balance of factual and fiction, did it ever feel like you were writing two stories?

Not exactly. I tried to maintain a similar tone, and it always felt like two parts of the same book to me. But yes, there are absolutely two distinct voices. The story alternates between the point of view of OR7, and a girl named Abby. (Abby, although fictional, is based on two real kids who really did, like her, submit the name Journey to a contest and win.) I wove a lot of informational material into the Abby parts. And when I wrote from the wolf’s POV, I worked hard to avoid anthropomorphism. Almost everything in the wolf’s sections is documented, including him playing with coyotes, meeting a female, and having pups.

I think you wove the wolf’s story in with Abby’s seamlessly, helping to highlight the power that kids have to make a big impact on their little world.  It made it very tangible for my kids.  As a mom, I think that’s what I appreciate most from your book.

Yay, and thank you! I do think having a child main character, as well as the wolf main character, makes the book more relatable for kids.

The children’s publishing industry is unique in that authors and illustrators have to create something that will sell to both parents and children.  To top it off, authors are often responsible for a majority of their own marketing.  How did you approach the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you?

Leading up to the release, there were a few blog posts and events. A new wolf exhibit opened at the SF Zoo one month before my book release. The zoo was able to order books early, and I did two story times there before the book even came out. I decided to have a launch party on the day my book released at my local indie bookstore. We had the party at night, and I provided wine and cookies. We sold out that night, so it was a good thing for the bookstore, too. Right after the release, I had a number of events and interviews, all arranged by my publisher’s publicist. After a little while, I started to do things on my own. I’ve arranged other bookstore and school visits, contacted a local newspaper, called a national park, etc. I’ve been on a few SCBWI panels, and of course, I try to stay active on social media. I’m not the greatest publicist or marketer, and I certainly prefer writing to pushing my book, but I’m trying to make an effort.

emma authors day

Continuing the spirit of celebration, Journey’s release date was October 11, 2016.  Your one year anniversary as a published author is quickly approaching! If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting to celebrate a book-iversary! How do you plan to celebrate in a couple of months?

I hadn’t thought of a book-iversary! What a fantastic idea! I’m going to think up something wonderful. Maybe I’ll donate some money to the Sierra Club (for their work protecting habitat), buy something at my local bookstore, then treat my husband, kids, and myself to a dinner out. Oh, and I’ll be sure to send something to my editor and agent! They are so much a part of this.

What’s been the most surprising thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry?

I thought that after I signed that first contract, more contracts would come rolling in immediately. As it happened, it took about 18 months. In the Kid Lit world, each manuscript is considered individually and must stand on its own merits, regardless of the author’s credentials. You can have ten published books out, and still, experience rejection.

Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance?

This is always such a tricky question! I think all the mistakes I made were part of my process. My biggest recommendation to pre-published authors is to immerse yourself in the Kid Lit world, even if just for a while. Take some online classes, check out kidlit411, go to conferences, pay for the critiques. It will give you context and perspective, and make you feel like this is something real you’re diving into, not just a cute hobby.

That’s wonderful advice.   I appreciate your honesty and persistence.  Journey was a story that needed to be told.  You have some upcoming books, including What Is It Like to Live on an Island (Little Big Foot April 2019).  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media?

Besides What Is It Like to Live on an Island? I have a nonfiction picture book called The Pig War, from Boyds Mill Press, hopefully for 2019, and a series of chapter books called Zadie Jacobs, CEO, from the educational publisher ABDO, coming in fall 2018. You can learn more at my website, http://www.emmabsmith.com, and follow me on Twitter (@emmablandsmith).

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me and becoming the first of the Paper People! 

This was so fun! Answering interview questions actually teaches me so much about myself! And I can’t wait to read about your future books, Jennifer!

Well, that’s a sweet way to end a wonderful conversation.  If you haven’t read Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, you should absolutely treat yourself.  It would make a wonderful addition to any public, home or classroom library. 

Join me next week as I continue down my own (hopeful) path to publication, and next month when I’ll share my conversation with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of the adorably funny Mr. Particular.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Big Finale!

Today is a great day.  Not your run of the mill great day either; I’m talking about a ‘stars have aligned, my hair isn’t frizzy and I’m having the best cup of coffee ever’ kind of great day.  On top of all that goodness, it’s the last day before school starts in our house, the official end to our #100PictureBookSummer, marks 6th months to the day that Magnolias & Manuscripts has been in existence… and it’s my birthday. See, what I mean!

Before I talk more about our day, I want to rewind a few months.  On a not so hot, not as humid, late springtime afternoon I received an unexpected package.  Feeling confused and excited, I opened it to find one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  A dear family member surprised me with the most wonderful vote of confidence and whole hearted support, in the form of an adorable monogrammed book bag you see at the top of the post and my very own stationery.  Being the sentimental type, I cried and knew that I was holding in my hand something very significant.  The book bag lit such an enthusiastic fire under me, from a writing perspective.  I’m convinced that it’ll always stand out as a turning point in my journey.  It validated that there are people who believe in me, and on those days where I’m feeling so far from the top of this picture book mountain, I look at the bag and remember that I need to believe in myself. The bag quickly became one of my most treasured possessions and has lovingly carried each and every library haul on our 100 book journey.  Here are numbers 91-100, and I’ve included the link to the full list if you’re interested… But like I said last week, this week was all kids choice.  We went ‘off-list’ and picked ones that called to us from the library shelves. Here they are, in no particular order…

  1. Super Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
  2. Hide and Sheep by Andrea Beaty & Bill Mayer
  3. Maxwell’s Mountain by Shari Becker & Nicole Wong
  4. Jack by Tomie dePaola
  5. No Dogs Allowed by Linda Ashman & Kristin Sorra
  6. Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman
  7. Doodleday by Ross Collins
  8. My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell
  9. Llama llama, Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
  10. How this Book was Made by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

In order to mark all of the goodness of today, but especially to celebrate the fact that my kids and I have eagerly devoured every part of 100 books this summer, we spend the morning at Barnes & Noble.  Being a family that is frugal and faithful library patrons the actual BUYING of books are saved for extra special occasions, and today was exactly that.  Each of our kids and their momma chose a book to add to our home library, and then we had lunch! We took our time, read a few, talked about a few more and made very careful decisions.  YC picked a favorite from week one, MC chose one that features a familiar feline, OC decided on the first of a fancy new series, and I decided to surround myself with extraordinary women. Regardless of whether you’ve been following along from number 1 or just caught the last 10, I appreciate you being here. This summer has been one for the record books, and I loved sharing our journey.  The start of school marks the end of my mid-week posts, but also the start of exciting new opportunities. h Join Emma Bland Smith and I on Sunday for a conversation about her debut picture book, Journey: Based on the story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West. As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP