GUEST POST: On Revising and Never Giving Up with Tami Charles

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Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tami Charles as my guest.  Tami and I first met at a NJSCBWI gathering at a local tea shop.  She was in the midst of revising her first novel,  LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge 2018).  This summer, again, we organized our own little writers’ retreat and  spent a lovely day on my porch (and inside, too ,because it was dreadfully hot) revising our current works-in-progess.  Disciplined, smart and funny- she knows her stuff.  Take it away, Tami!

So, you wrote a picture book. You received feedback from your critique partners. Your agent has given it her stamp of approval. She submits it to editors and you sit back and wait for the offers pour in. New York Times Bestseller list here you come!

But then, the unthinkable happens…

(Cue horror film music.) 

Radio.

Silence.

Several months pass, your hair turns grayer, and the rejections start rolling in—nice ones, albeit. The feedback from the editors is pretty much the same, and you just know what you have to do…revise.

Revisions can sometimes be painful, especially when you’ve already revised your manuscript many times over. But there’s no time for wallowing. It’s time to put a new spin on your story and here’s how to get ‘er done:

Step 1: Take your old manuscript, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Follow this cathartic moment with a beverage of your choice.  (Iced, skinny caramel latte, anyone?)

Step 2: Go back to the trash and take out your manuscript, silly goose! (Then wash your hands, please!)

Step 3: Strap on your big kid boots and get ready to freshen up your manuscript. Clearly, it was good enough to be subbed out in the first place. It just needs more work. So here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling:

  • Gobble up those mentor texts. Read as many books as possible that fit the theme of your story. Sure, you probably read comp titles when you first wrote your story, but that was a long time ago.  There are new books on the shelves waiting to be explored. Read them. Study them.
  • Rewrite your story in a different verb tense. Is your original manuscript written in past tense? Try writing it in the present. Or take a risk and write it in future tense. Don’t be afraid to experiment with verb tense until your story feels shiny and new.
  • Change the point of view. Did you write your story in third person POV? Consider switching to first person. This will give your reader insight into how all the characters are feeling—not just one.  You could also try second person POV, which if done right, can be an enjoyable reading experience. There are several books that do this well. Some of my favorites are: “Warning: Do Not Open This Book” by Adam Lehrhaupt and “How to Raise a Dinosaur” by Natasha Wing.
  • Rethink your setting. I speak from experience on this one. A few years ago, I shopped around a picture book that had only one setting. Agent feedback was basically the same. Can the characters go somewhere else besides the kitchen, so that the story doesn’t feel stagnant? Challenge accepted. After many revisions (and several lattes), I created additional settings to help move the story along. And guess what? I got an offer! Hooray! Try this tip and thank me later.

Step 4: Submit and MOVE ON! Once you’ve done the necessary revisions, go out on another round of submissions. It may take a while, but trust me, your “yes” is waiting. Use the down time to work on your next manuscript.

Here’s the hard truth: The kidlit universe is a tough industry to crack. Whatever you do, do not give up. You are full of stories and the world needs to hear them. I wish you productivity, creativity, and lots of luck as you revise.

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BIO: Recovering teacher. Amateur gardener. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She also recently sold two picture books, but can’t spill the beans just yet! For 14 years, Tami served as a public school educator but now writes full time. She is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, son, and a family of deer who take pleasure in annihilating her garden.

Connect with Tami on Facebook,  Twitter and at her website: http://www.tamiwrites.com

 

THE PHOTO SHOOT: A Day in the Life of a Picture Book (and its Author!)

 

p1060649One of the unexpected necessities (and fun bits)  of being a picture book author is the occasional photo shoot. Luckily for me, my neighbor Rick Gerrity is a photographer.  Four years ago (Sheesh, where did the time fly?) he graciously took a few book flap/publicity shots of me at home – on the porch, on the stairs and with our sweet pooch, Sophie. The front porch picture now graces the book flaps of my first two books.

Now, four years older and with two more books coming out, it seemed about time to update those photos. Rick, once again, said he’d be happy to take the pictures and really went above and beyond in brainstorming new settings that would capture the picture book spirit.  He’s the one who had the idea to visit Donaldson’s Farm in Hackettstown, NJ, a beautiful fourth generation family-owned farm, and one of only five in New Jersey that grows sunflowers for the Audubon Society!

Our morning began with a tour of the farm given by the lovely Katie Donaldson. In addition to growing 40 acres of sunflowers, they also cultivate umpteen varieties of tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, lettuce, pumpkins, peaches, apples, berries and more! After the tour, it was time for the photo shoot.  =)

I hope the photos below give you a sense of the magic of the day. My daughter came along and Rick let her use one of his fancy cameras.  Thus, the shots captured below are both hers and Rick’s. Thank you Rick, Katie and Miss A. for helping make this such a special and memorable day!

The sunflower field we used was at its peak with about 22,000 sunflowers! Breathtaking! First, we took a few shots by the edge.

Then I stepped into the field… further and further!  What fun! We took shots with the hat and without.

Next, it was time for books to have their time in front of the camera.  The pumpkin patch seemed a fun setting. It was a little tricky getting the books to balance!

When the sun disappeared behind the clouds, we dashed back to the sunflower field for a few more shots.  All in all, I think Rick took about 100 pictures!  There were many good ones, but my favorite is the one I’ve saved for last.   Happy Monday, all!p1060633

 

FINDING A CRITIQUE GROUP: Four Tips for New Writers

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My wonderful in-person critique group celebrating the release of my first picture book with me!

After singing the praises of critique groups, I think it’s only fair now to offer a few tips on how to find a good critique group. After all, finding a critique group can be daunting, especially for a new writer who has been spending most of her/his time writing in isolation. At least, that was my experience as a new writer.

Here then are four tips, I’ve found helpful:

  1. Look inward.  First, decide what you want out of a critique group. Do you want an in-person group or an on-line group? Do you want a genre-specific group (i.e. picture books or poetry, YA or MG etc) or would you like a mix of genres? How much time are you willing to spend per week/month writing critiques? How often do you want to be responsible for submitting work? How big or small do you want the group to be?
  1. Network, network, network.  Once you have a sense of what you want from a critique group, you can use your social networks (on-line and in person) to see if anyone you know is part of a group. If so, is that group open to new members?  Another good strategy is to be pro-active at conferences to see if anyone is in a group that is interested in new members.  The SCBWI blue boards also have a thread devoted to critique groups seeking new members so that’s another possible venue to tap.  Finally, check your local library and book stores to see if they have groups that meet there.
  1. Do a little research.  Once you’ve discovered some potential groups, do a little research. Do the groups have both new and seasoned writers?  Have any members of the group be process? (In my experience, most of the better groups do.)
  1. Give it a try.  Once you have done all of the above, it might be time to take the leap and give it a try! If you feel it is the right step for you, apply to the group that sounds best for you.

Thanks for checking out these tips! I hope you will find, as I have, that being part of a critique group makes all the difference in your growth as a writer.  Happy writing, all!

TOP TIP FOR ASPIRING WRITERS? Join a Critique Group

img_4320Last week fellow Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist wrote an inspiring post about her top tip for aspiring authors:  attend a writing conference. I love her tip and I wholeheartedly agree that attending conferences is important. It’s a great chance to interface with editors and agents, for example, and to network with other authors. It even led to her first book offer! (Yes, you really should read her post.)

But what would my top tip be?  Hmmm… there are so many possiblities.  Writing daily, reading voraciously. Attending conferences. Yes. But I guess if I had to pick one top tip for aspiring writers, it would be to join a critique group.

Often when I chat with newer writers, I discover they’ve been writing in isolation. And very often the manuscripts they share would benefit from several more rounds of revision. As a new writer, I, too, was guilty of writing in quiet isolation, never sharing my work in progress with anyone (except maybe my husband or mother) and consequently sending pieces to publishers far too prematurely.

It wasn’t until I started sharing my work with a handful of trusted critique partners that my writing really improved. Joining a critique group also got me connected with other writers eager to learn and grow and succeed.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that being part of various critique groups over the years has made all the difference in my love for this writerly journey.

Here then, with gratitude to my awesome, trusted critique buddies, are FOUR wonderful perks I’ve enjoyed by participating in critique groups.

1. COMMUNITY SUPPORT:  Writing can be lonely and the intricacies of the publishing world are certainly confusing. What a blessing it has been to be part of various critique groups that have included both new and seasoned authors, all eager to support and encourage each other, providing advice and insights along the way.

2. FRIENDLY ACCOUNTABILITY:  Most critique groups have rules for submitting and sharing work. Members are expected to abide by those rules and are kept accountable by the other members in the group. My current online group, for example, has seven members and we each take turns submitting one manuscript per week. My in-person group meets monthly and we all bring something to share. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to set a story aside because I’m stuck over some sticky wicket, but instead I’ve pressed on.  Why?  Because my critique group was counting on me (and cheering me on) to produce a presentable draft.

3. FRESH EYES AND FRESH PERSPECTIVE: I am grateful for the honest, thoughtful feedback I’ve received from my critique partners. Indeed, there’s nothing like fresh eyes on your story to give you much needed perspective.  I must confess, however, that I have grown as a writer, just as much, if not more, from giving feedback to others. Sometimes it’s easier to see what is and isn’t working in someone else’s writing. And if you can articulate that for your critique partner, you not only help them, but you can most likely apply that feedback , or some variation of it, to your own writing.

4. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR GENRE:  Finally, participating in a critique group offers members a chance to gain a deeper understanding of their genre. This happens quite naturally as you read and respond to each others’ work.  For example, when critiquing each others’s work, members in my groups will often suggest helpful titles to read, perhaps pieces that follow a similar structure, or that have a similar theme.  Through this process of feedback and discussion and reading suggestions, our understanding deepens and our skill improves.

Now it’s your turn. What critique group perks have I missed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading, writing, and critiquing all!

P.S. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on how to find a critique group.

 

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY: Goodnight, Manger BOARD BOOK Edition!

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I thought it would be fun to kick off fall with a GIVEAWAY!!! That’s right, to celebrate the release of GOODNIGHT, MANGER, the board book edition, Zonderkidz is offering FIVE copies of the new edition in a Goodreads Giveaway!

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s bedtime for baby Jesus. Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels singing, and three kings bearing gifts, it’s too noisy. Cuddle up as everyone works together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams.

Giveaway ends Tuesday, October 11th – which is the official release day!  Click here to get to the giveaway page.

 

And the Winner is…

10_little_ninjas_cover_loresI’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Miranda Paul’s adorable bedtime picture book 10 LITTLE NINJAS, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and illustrated by Nate Wragg, is…

JODY!!!!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Thanks again, Miranda, for giving us insight into the book’s dedication and for inspiring us with your writerly journey.  I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on this week’s post and to my daughter, once again, for lending me her snazzy hat for the drawing. IMG_2887

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “A Handful of Books” – Miranda Paul and her picture book 10 LITTLE NINJAS

 

Miranda Paul has a new picture book out with Knopf Books for Young Readers.  It’s called  10 LITTLE NINJAS and, today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Miranda!

It’s unusual to have five books release within 18 months, especially when they’re your first five, and picture books. 19 months ago, no one could walk in a store and pick up one of my titles. With the recent release of 10 Little Ninjas, there are now five—a whole handful—on the shelf. Phrased that way, I can understand why some people might try and lump me into the “overnight success” category. People mean well, and I know their intentions are good. But when I reflect on the journey to publishing children’s books—decades since working on my first literary journal—it’d be hard to phrase it such a way. Even my latest book, 10 Little Ninjas, had a meandering path.

10 Little Ninjas began as an idea when my youngest child was in his high chair (he’s now going into second grade). I finished the first solid draft of it in 2012 or 2013, and my agent promptly advised me to “hold off” on it. Big bummer. But instead of getting upset or mad (for more than a day, anyway), I went to work. I revised it over the next 18 months—with critique help from veterans such as Linda Skeers and Kelly DiPucchio—and decided to send it back to my agent. This time, it was a go.

After several rejections, we had a bite. An editor loved it. But the marketing/sales team wanted some revisions. I ended up rewriting it three times—I always, always take a stab at a revision request—and then watched it get dropped after acquisitions. In a Hail Mary pass, it went to an editor at Knopf who was so new there, she hadn’t yet acquired a single manuscript.

The manuscript (which now had three distinctly different versions) was revised a few more times, including going back to the original manuscript’s ending, which turned out to be best of all. It took a couple of months to find a great illustrator—Disney Pixar animator Nate Wragg—and then the process of developing the book began.

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It’s very easy for me to tell stories like these to kids, showing them my file folder with more than 30 drafts of a single work, or the pile of rejection slips. They understand what it’s like every single day to not get what they want, to struggle and work at something, or to have ideas turned down. They want to feel included, to be praised, and most importantly, to feel loved.

10 Little Ninjas is a fun bedtime book at its core. It’s a romp, a rhyme, and a celebration of kids’ imagination and the chaos of parenting. Nate Wragg’s illustrations capture a multi-racial family, which I am excited to see in part because it parallels my own immediate family (kids don’t always look like their parents or their siblings, and it’s nice to see more books reflect that). As writers, our career and work is so public, and yet…so personal.

Each time you publish a book, an editor will ask you for the book’s dedication. Dedications are special, so for 10 Little Ninjas I chose to include my Grandma D. She passed away eight years ago, after battling cancer on and off for a decade. If there was ever a soul who knew how to wrangle toddlers into bed (and how to love them without question), it was she—who gave birth to seven of her own kids plus took in fourteen foster babies over the years. The book is also dedicated to my parents-in-law, who raised ten of their own children—without running water or TV—and now have more than thirty five grand and great-grandchildren.

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Some people will gloss over or miss entirely a book’s dedication page. But I love reading them, along with the acknowledgements and author’s notes. These small parts of a book are a window into how much time, how many people, and how much perseverance goes into making a great book—even one that’s only a couple hundred words. Books with layers, the ones that you can read again and again and get something new each time, are my favorite. I hope others will find that layered love within books, and cherish them. Happy reading!

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Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s book author who visits schools and libraries frequently. Her June release, Trainbots (little bee books), received national buys from multiple chains, including the organic grocery giant Whole Foods. Her newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August. View the book trailer, made by her own daughter, on YouTube and be sure to visit her online at www.mirandapaul.com.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of 10 LITTLE NINJAS (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2016) leave a comment below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Sunday, 8/21/16 at 11:59 pm EST. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Press here to see the winner.

GOODNIGHT, MANGER – the BOARD BOOK Edition!

IMG_3054Look what landed my porch this afternoon. It’s an advance copy of the BOARD BOOK edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER!  With sturdy pages and a padded cover, it’s perfect for littlest readers who want to turn the pages themselves. It’s a good size too – bigger than most of the board books I read my kids when they were little. Perfect for showing off all the wonderful details in Jane’s illustrations. It still has the full text too! In fact, there is only one difference… a new window!  And every stable benefits from a new window, don’t you think?

The release date for GOODNIGHT, MANGER (board book edition) is October 11, 2016. It’s available for pre-order now at your favorite store.

Guest Post: FEELING STUCK? JUST ADD FOOD with Ariel Bernstein

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Today I am delighted to have fellow New Jersey author Ariel Bernstein as my guest. I met Ariel at the NJSCBWI Conference this past June. She is talented and articulate and joins us today with some tasty writing advice!  Take it away,  Ariel!

There are a lot of ingredients you can add to make an irresistible children’s book. A bold beginning, a charming voice, words that are fun to read aloud, and of course, a snappy twist ending. But sometimes when you are mixing all of these different parts together, you can end up feeling a bit stuck. You may have an original opening and a sensational end, but the middle is feeling lackluster. One thing I do to work out the kinks in a story is add food to it.

There are some books where food is an intricate part of the story, such as DRAGONS LOVE TACOS and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But in others, food is used more sparingly in ways that help move the story forward.

Food can be a great way to show a character’s personality. If a character serves mushy oatmeal to children, you can be pretty sure they are not to be trusted, such as Lemony Snicket’s Count Olaf. Choosing to eat some food versus others, like snozzcumbers instead of ‘human beans’ in THE BFG and eating carrots instead of bunny rabbits in WOLFIE THE BUNNY, help to explain characters’ trustworthiness and kindness.

Food can be used to convey mood and tone. Comfort food such as chocolate chip cookies are often used to create peaceful scenes of contentment and happiness. After much rousing competition between Billy and Javier in MUSTACHE BABY MEETS HIS MATCH, it’s no surprise that their eventual friendship at the end is shown in a scene of them eating stolen chocolate chip cookies together. And you could always be sure that Voldemort and his Death Eaters would never turn up in a scene to cause chaos when Harry Potter and his friends were drinking their favorite Butterbeer.

Food can even be used as red herrings. In LITTLE ELLIOT, the initial goal of Elliot’s seems to be getting a cupcake. But when Elliot meets Mouse, it turns out what he wants most of all is a friend. When Elliot and Mouse get the cupcake by working together, it ends up being the icing on the cake.

In my chapter book, WARREN AND DRAGON’S 100 FRIENDS, I thought about how to show the characters’ personalities. Dragon is a vain and sometimes selfish character, but I also wanted to add charm, so I decided to make him obsessed with marshmallows. It became a recurring joke throughout the story and whenever I wasn’t sure how to keep a scene moving, writing in a small bit about Dragon and his marshmallows provided humor and consistency.

Of course, not all books need food in them. But if you’re not sure where to go with a story, adding food can be a fun way to experiment and possibly come up with something delicious. And no matter what, doing the research will be often be its own reward.

13689753_10209437144387419_1500425181_nAriel Bernstein is a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON, illustrated by Scott Magoon, will be published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books in Fall 2017. Ariel’s chapter book series, WARREN & DRAGON’S 100 FRIENDS, will be published by Viking Children’s. Ariel can be found at http://www.arielbernsteinbooks.com and on Twitter at @ArielBBooks.

GOOD MORNING, LAKESIDE CHAUTAUQUA: A Christmas Story Time… in August!

fine print lakesideThis week I returned once again to Lakeside Chautauqua for a visit which included a “Goodnight, Manger” author story time.  Hosted by Bev and Joan, the lovely booksellers at the Fine Print Book Store, our Christmas-themed story time took place  this Monday morning at 10:00 am. I hope the pictures below capture the fun we had. Thanks to all for a great time!

Ahead of time, Bev and Joan did a terrific job of promoting the event which took place at Green Gables, the charming Victorian home of the Lakeside Women’s Club.

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The story time began with a cheerful rendition of “Jingle Bells!” with bells and all.  Next, to remind us of the real Christmas story, we enjoyed a lively pageant with children and parents playing the key roles. We even had sheep, a camel, and a cow!
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My basket served as the perfect impromptu manger for Baby Jesus.

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Then it was time to introduce Rooster, read “Goodnight, Manger”, and sing a lullaby to Baby Jesus.

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Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a simple ornament craft and coloring page. I even got to sign a few books!
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 Merry Christmas… in August to all!