GOOD NEWS: New Picture Book Deal!

IMG_3148I’ve been keeping this news to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Marketplace today, and I even spotted the book listed on the Target website, so I think I can finally spill the beans!

Here it is:

“Laura Sassi’s LOVE IS KIND, in which a little owl searches for the perfect gift for his beloved grandmother and learns about love along the way, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet, to Barbara Herndon at Zonderkidz, for publication in December 2018, by Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency for the author (World).”

And now, in celebration, have a virtual nibble from one of these adorable cookies baked by Miss A. (She sure knows how to decorate a cookie!)

Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing.  Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft. Be true to yourself and good things will come. Happy writing all!

SUBMITTING STORIES and POEMS to MAGAZINES: Six Tips for Young Writers

Sea White

My eleven-year-old decided to write her own retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  First, she went to the library to find as many versions as she could of the famous tale. She read each one, noting what characteristics they shared and what details made each unique.

She titled her version “Sea White and the Seven Starfish”.  After several weeks of writing and revising, her story sparkled like sunshine on a salty sea. “Will you publish it on your blog?” she asked. “I could,” I answered, “but it might be more fun to see if you could get it published in a magazine.”  She loved the idea. But where to start?

With my daughter in mind, here now are SIX tips for young writers (and their parents) on how to submit original kid-written work to magazines.

Select a publication destination.  Only certain magazines accept work from children. For a comprehensive list, visit the NewPages Young Author’s Guide. Maintained by editor Denise Hill, a teacher who loves to encourage young writers, this great resource also includes a list of legitimate contests for kids. Each listing has a link to the publication’s website where you can find more information.

Read several issues before submitting anything. Once you have a short list of potential publications, be sure to take time to read several back issues. Not only is this a great chance for your kids to experience reading magazines, it will also give you and them a sense of the style and content of each.  Does one magazine favor poetry while another favors prose?  Are the illustrations also done by kids?  How many pieces by kids are included in each issue? These are just a few of the questions you and your child will want to think about.

Follow the publisher’s guidelines carefully.  Once you and your child have decided which magazine to submit to, revisit the publisher’s website and print out their submission guidelines.  Make sure your child follows their protocol exactly so that she/he makes a good impression and so that the piece is eligible for review. Pay special attention to word length and format. For example, does the piece need to be typed, or is neat handwriting okay?

Send ONLY your BEST work.  This should be obvious, but it warrants special mention because, as I’ve learned from visiting young writers in schools,  kids often mistakenly think that once they’ve written something, it’s finished.  But good writing requires revision, preferably multiple times, with a nice final round of polishing.  And it’s always a good idea to proofread every sentence with care one extra time before sending.

Be patient. This is hard for kids, but waiting is the name of the game in the publishing world. Most magazines give a time frame for when to expect a reply.  A nice way to help kids wait is to colorfully mark the possible response date on the family calendar. While they wait, encourage them to work new stories and projects!

Stay positive and remember rejection is part of the process. This is also hard for kids, but the reality is only a few of the multitude of manuscripts submitted will make it into print. Still, kids can remain positive because just taking the time to hone and craft a story and send it off – no matter the ultimate response – makes them a winner in my book!  And if nothing pans out, there’s always the possibility of publishing it as an email to family members, or as a special blog post on a family member’s blog. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Happy subbing, young writers!

 

INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Lori Degman in Celebration of the Release of COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS!

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Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Lori Degman, whose brand new picture book, COCK- A-DOODLE OOPS! (Creston Books) hits shelves tomorrow! She is also the author of ONE ZANY ZOO (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010) which won the 2008 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories New Author Contest. Well, let’s get started.

LAURA: Thanks so much for joining us. I always love chatting with authors – especially authors who love playing with meter and rhyme as much as I do.

LORI: Thanks so much for having me, Laura! I feel the same way – there’s nothing like talking to another rhyme geek!

LAURA: The premise of COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! – in which Rooster takes a vacation, leaving the responsibility of waking the farmer to the other animals – is adorable. What inspired you to create this story? Did you perhaps grow up with a rooster at home?

LORI: No, I didn’t grow up with a rooster or live anywhere near a farm (though my brother used to make strange animal-like noises sometimes). I’m not sure where I got the idea for the story. Originally, I wanted to write a “boy who cried wolf” type of story and I thought it would be funny if a rooster crowed at all times of the day, out of boredom – or maybe he had insomnia – something like that. Anyway, that story somehow morphed into rooster leaving the other animals to do his job. At first he went on strike but that was a negative concept so I had him go on a vacation instead.

LAURA: Writing a picture book is hard enough, let alone adding the extra elements of rhythm and rhyme.  But as the reviews attest, you have a gift for it. The Kirkus Review, for example, describes COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! as full of “puns and foolery pitched just right for newly independent readers” and they praise you as having a “gift for rhymes and language that is clever rather than forced”. What’s your secret for great story-telling?

LORI: I’m very flattered by the comments in the Kirkus Review! I really think the secret to writing good rhyme is persistence (good writing of any kind, for that matter). I’ll admit, I have a good ear for rhythm and that helps a lot! But, I work painstakingly to make every beat work so it flows smoothly. Also, my love for puns comes in really handy when writing in rhyme and especially about animals. There’s so much material to choose from.

LAURA: I can tell from your website that you have a barn-full of great book launch events and opportunities for your readers. Tell us a little bit about what you have planned.

LORI: My first book launch will be on Saturday, May 10th at 11:00 at Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, IL. My second launch (along with Deborah Zemke) will be on Saturday, May 17th at 11:00 at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, IL. On Friday night, May 16th at 6:30 pm, Deborah and I will be at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL for a storytime. All three events will include an interactive reading of the book, animal masks for the kids to color and of course, snacks!

LAURA: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

LORI: A writer friend of mine, Marcie Colleen, created a teacher’s guide for me and it’s great! She ties the activities to different areas of the curriculum. Teachers and parents can find it on my website or they can download it for free from Teachers Pay Teachers. There are also coloring pages kids can download – they’re masks of each of the animals (created by illustrator, Deborah Zemke) to color and cut out.

LAURA: Thanks so much for joining us today, Lori.  To learn more about Lori and her books visit her website and blog.  She’s also active on Twitter and Facebook.  Her books are available at bookstores everywhere or online.

LORI: Thanks so much again, Laura! This was a lot of fun!

 

Write like a TURTLE!

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Want to survive, even thrive, as a writer?  Then take the TURTLE approach.  Enjoy!

Develop a thick shell. The business of writing is not all butterflies and daisies. It’s hard work with a steep learning curve and lots and lots of guaranteed opportunity for rejection. But if, like a turtle, you can develop a few callouses, or preferably a nice thick shell, you can let those rejections, doubting comments etc. bounce right off.

Be at peace with the slow pace of it all. The publishing world is notoriously slow.  Accept that, then use the time to bask in the sun, soaking up new story ideas and savoring the process.

Take time each day to retreat into your shell.  As writers it’s important to set aside quiet time to write each day. But if long “retreats into your shell” are hard to muster, take heart – good writing can’t be done in total isolation. It’s also important to mosey along in the outside world for that’s where you will find your inspiration!

Bury your eggs for awhile before letting them go. I’ve learned over time, that my best stories and poems are the ones I let sit for a while, so I can re-examine and improve them before sending them out for consideration to editors. My ideas, at least, improve with age.

Don’t expect every egg to be viable.  Not every idea is a winner and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep producing eggs, er stories, for in every batch there will surely be a few good eggs, or maybe more than a few.

Happy writing, all!

 

SCHOOL VISIT: Children’s Author Christine Pakkala Visits Third Grade!

IMG_2915Last week the third graders at my daughter’s school were treated to a delightful assembly and writing workshop with Christine Pakkala, author of Last-But-Not-Least Lola (Boyds Mills Press, 2013). Christine opened the assembly by asking her eager young listeners where they get their ideas, then described how she got the idea for her book and what the process from idea to publication was like. It took seven years and lots of revision until she finally got to see Last-But-Not-Least Lola in print. Her kid-friendly take-away? You, too, can your turn your ideas into stories.  Just keep writing and revising and reading all kinds of literature!

The students were brimming with thoughtful questions. As a writer I was particularly interested in this one. Is it easier to write a single book or a series?  Christine paused for a moment, before concluding that, for her, writing a series is easier because you have a list of characters you get to know, almost as if they are real friends, and you build your stories based on different things they do together. This answer pleased the the kids, especially when she revealed that Lola is the star of… a series! The second book, Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken will be published in Fall 2014 and a third book is in the works.

IMG_2923After snack-time, it was time for writing workshop. The assignment was to write a story beginning with this sentence: “I only had 10 seconds before the alarm went off.”  With imaginations in high gear, the kids got busy, filling the cafeteria with the sounds of pencils scratching on paper.  At the end, students from each table shared their stories-in-progress.  Each was unique and wonderful, which just proves that even with the same prompt, no two stories are exactly alike! That’s the wonder and joy of using our imaginations.

IMG_2920Something that made this particular school visit extra special was that Christine’s editor, Rebecca Davis, was in the room as well!  It turns out that in addition to being a terrific editor, she’s also a mom with two kids at my daughter’s school. Here’s a lovely snapshot of Christine Pakkala and Rebecca Davis, Senior Editor for Boyds Mills Press.

IMG_2914Before leaving, students who had pre-ordered them, received their signed copies of Last-But-Not-Least Lola. My daughter proudly brought hers home and we’ve been enjoying reading it together every night.

For more information about Christine Pakkala visit her website.  She’s also active on Facebook and Twitter.  You can purchase her books online or at your favorite bookstore.

FIELD TRIP: THE LITTLE PRINCE Visits the Morgan Library

IMG_2890As you can tell by the above snapshot, I love THE LITTLE PRINCE.  I read it first as a child living in Paris.  Antoine de St. Exupery’s story of a little lost prince searching for what matters in life resonated with me. Like the Little Prince, I too, felt far from home and longed for a good friend, my own rose, or fox, or sheep. Imagine my delight, then, to discover that the Morgan Library in New York City has put together a delightful exhibit of original manuscript pages, watercolor sketches, and correspondence to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this classic book.  Last week I spent a delightful morning with fellow picture book writer, Robin Newman, enjoying every nook and cranny of the exhibit.

Now, having savored the experience, I’d like to share with you three writerly principles I took away from the exhibit.

1. Write from the heart.  Now a classic, THE LITTLE PRINCE had a slow start because the publisher wasn’t sure whether to promote it for children or for adults. Thank goodness Antoine de St. Exupery didn’t worry about how to categorize it.  He just wrote the story he wanted to tell. And, as it turns out, it was the very story readers of all ages (and cultures) wanted to hear. Indeed, as I learned at the exhibit, THE LITTLE PRINCE  has been translated into more languages than any other work of fiction. So, take heart and write from the heart!

1. Revise, revise, revise!  The early manuscript of THE LITTLE PRINCE on display is more than twice as long as the final published version. The framed pages are lightly scrawled in pencil and/or ink and show clear signs of intense revision – not only at the sentence level, but at the story level too.  Big cross outs show where entire sections were deleted.  Simple lines through phrases and words show how the author’s wording evolved.  Revising can be long and painstaking, but also rewarding as you see the story emerge and transform on the page. So take out that pen and let the words overflow.  Then, like Antoine de St. Exupery revise your text to perfection.

3. Save your doodles. Antoine de St. Exupery was a doodler and for years sketched a little “bonhomme” in the margins of his notebooks. Something about that doodle, in particular, captivated his imagination and ultimately gave birth to the little fellow readers now know and love as the Little Prince.  I, too, am a doodler, but my doodles take the form of words and phrases – little bursts of inspiration.  Some of those word-doodles go nowhere, but like that little “bonhomme” some keep reappearing in my pages.  I’ve even developed some of the peskiest ones into stories and poems.  So save your doodles, for they might be just the spark you need to write your next piece.

The Morgan Library and Museum Exhibition: “The Little Prince: A New York Story” runs through April 27th, 2014. I highly recommend it, if you happen to be traveling in these parts. For more details check here.

INTERVIEW: Robin Newman Chats about her Journey into Picture Book Writing

Image 1Join me in welcoming picture book author Robin Newman. I’ve gotten to know Robin through the blogosphere and Twitter.  In addition to loving writing, I recently discovered we share something else in common.  We both spent several of our childhood years in Paris!  Today we’ll be chatting about her journey as a picture book author.

First off, congratulations! You’re really making a splash in the Kidlit world with not one, but two, debut books coming out in 2015.  Can you tell us a little bit about each book?  

Thank you!  2013 was an over-the-top, you-have-to-wake-me-from-this-dream kind of amazing year!

I have two books coming out with Creston Books.  Woo-hoo!  The first is a picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald (spring 2015), about a crabby witch whose quiet neighborhood has been turned upside down with the arrival of noisy, inconsiderate neighbors.  So Hildie hires a real estate agent to find her a new home.  But soon enough, Hildie realizes that living with blind mice and snoring baa, baa black sheep is another kind of nightmare, and that the real home of her dreams was the one she had left.

The second is an early chapter book, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (fall 2015), about two hard-nosed mouse detectives who are MFIs, Missing Food Investigators.  In their seminal case, they’re on the hunt for Miss Rabbit’s missing carrot cake.  (Please note the names of the animals have been changed to protect the innocent.)  Whatever the food, whatever the crime, MFIs make the bad guys do the time.

Creston Books is an exciting newer press with a wonderful list of recently released and upcoming titles.  Can you tell us little about Creston Books’ philosophy and what it’s like to work with them?

Creston Books’ mission is to make quality books.  Above all else, they value strong writing and illustration, and that special “magic that happens when a parent reads a picture book to a child.”  They are a small press that takes an old-fashioned, hands-on approach to nurturing and promoting all of their writers and illustrators, not just their moneymakers—something often missed at big publishing houses.  Lastly, all of their printing is done in the United States on sustainably-sourced paper.

ImageThey have wonderful list of titles coming out in spring 2014, including Mini and Moo: Hooves of Fire by Denys Cazet, Don’t Turn the Page by Rachelle Burk and illustrated by Julie Downing, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! by Lori Degman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, and Blood Diaries, Tales of a 6th-Grade Vampire by Marissa Moss.

And in fall 2014 Wheels of Change, by my friend Darlene Beck-Jacobson and illustrated by the amazing Marissa Moss, will be hitting the bookstores.  (I cannot wait to get my signed copies!!!)

Check out the cover for Wheels of Change.  Isn’t it awesome?

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Over the moon ecstatic does not even begin to describe how fortunate I am to be working with Marissa Moss.  I am thrilled beyond words to be starting my publishing career at Creston.  I look forward to working with Chris Ewald and Deborah Zemke.  I cannot wait to see their first sketches.

One of the fascinating things about children’s writers is that they come from a wide range of occupational backgrounds.  Off the top of my head, I can think of current authors who were previously dancers, skaters, and teachers.  I haven’t, however, met many kidlit writers who were previously, or are still currently, lawyers.  Tell us a little bit about your journey from the legal profession to the world of children’s literature.

I went to law school to do pro bono work.  Unfortunately when I graduated, these jobs were few and far between and I ended up in private practice doing Workers’ Compensation cases.  Saying I was beyond miserable is not an exaggeration.  Some attorneys thrive in a litigious environment, doing hearings all the time.  I was not one of them.  I was more interested in research and writing.  When a job opened up at a legal publisher editing energy and environmental titles, I jumped at the opportunity.  Subsequently, I moved onto another legal publisher as a senior developmental editor and when I got pregnant I decided to go freelance.

As an editor, I always loved the creative work, writing the blurbs and marketing materials.  But it wasn’t until I was pregnant that I truly got the writing bug.

At some point, my sister suggested I enter Symphony Space’s Stella Kupferberg’s Memorial Short Story Prize Contest. (Here’s the link, in case anyone is interested in entering: http://www.selectedshorts.org/extras/writing-contest-2/)  I lost.  Each and every year.  Again and again.  Oh!  And again!  But it got me writing.  For the holidays, I wrote stories for my nieces and nephew.  After my son was born, my husband encouraged me to take a writing class.  I signed up for a Children’s Fiction Writing Workshop at Gotham.  I was completely hooked, and I guess the rest is writing history.

What’s your writing process like?  How long does it take you to go from a writing spark to a story that’s ready to submit?

I don’t really have a process.  I wish I were that organized.  But I keep my notepad handy at all times and am constantly jotting down ideas that may or may not blossom into something.  When I think I have a strong enough idea for a story, I try sketching it out and writing the story beginning to end—or at least as much as possible.  The key is just getting it down on paper or on my laptop.  For me, this is the easy part.  Then I take it to my amazing critique group, led by the incredible Jill Davis, and the hard part begins:  rewriting.  Sometimes I get lucky and a manuscript only needs about 10 or so rewrites, but most of the time I end up rewriting everything for what feels like a gazillion times.  When Jill gives me the thumbs up, I send it out.

My Amazing Critique Group (left to right – Me, Jill Davis, Jacki Morris, Joanne French

My Amazing Critique Group (left to right – Me, Jill Davis, Jacki Morris, Joanne French

Finally, what advice would you give other aspiring lawyers, skiers, chefs, etc. who want to journey into the field of writing for kids? 

For anyone brave enough to put pen to paper, I recommend the following:

1.  Join the SCBWI.

2.  Take a writing class and/or find a critique group.

3.  Write, rewrite, and read everything and anything.

4.  Follow your dreams and never ever give up.

5.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Laura, Thanks so much for inviting me to do this interview.  All the very best and much success with Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger.

And thank YOU for stopping by to chat.  Click here to find out more about Robin Newman and Creston Books. Happy writing and reading all!

GOOD NEWS: New Picture Book Contract!

IMG_2698I’ve been keeping this news to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Marketplace today, so I can finally spill the beans!

Without further fuss here’s the official announcement:  “GOODNIGHT, MANGER, a companion to the forthcoming GOODNIGHT, ARK, a bedtime twist on the classic Christmas manger tale, with Jane Chapman illustrating, to Barbara Herndon at Zonderkidz, by Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency for the author (World).”

I don’t have any more details at this point, except to say that I am very excited!  It’s the best writerly Christmas present I could ever have asked for.

Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing.  Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft.  Be true to yourself and good things will come.  Happy writing all!

STRINGS, STORIES and SILVER LININGS: Thoughts on Disappointment

IMG_0552This fall my son set his hopes on becoming a Peer Leader at his middle school.  He filled out his application, went for his interview and couldn’t wait to be paired with a younger child in this after school mentor program. As it turned out, he was not the only 7th/8th grader with Peer Leader aspirations. A record number of kids applied for a limited number of spots and so some potential leaders had to be turned down. My son was one of them. The program coordinator softened the blow by opening up other opportunities for kids to serve, including a Peer Tutor program which my son signed up for.

Still, he was greatly disappointed, so I suggested he take the “silver lining” approach. “Think how much more time you’ll have for other things,” I reasoned.

“I guess,” my son shrugged, “but I really, really wanted to be a Peer Leader.”

So much for passing along my “silver lining” outlook. Or so I thought. A few weeks later, however, my son came home ecstatic. No, he hadn’t suddenly become a Peer Leader. Something completely different and unexpected had happened. The band teacher needed back-up for the 5th grade band. Knowing my son played the double-bass in the orchestra, he asked my son if he’d be interested in playing string bass and electric bass for the 5th graders. My son had never played an electric bass before, but the band teacher said not to worry, he’d show him how. How awesome is that?!

Now every Thursday after school, my son races to the band room for his “extra gig” as we call it.  And every evening, after supper, he practices both the string bass and the electric bass.

And here’s the best bit, right from his mouth. “You know Mom, I couldn’t have done this if I’d been a Peer Leader because the times would have conflicted. I’m glad it worked out this way.”

As writers, things don’t always work out the way we want them to either. But as my son has learned, sometimes they turn out better. So, dear writing friends, instead of being disappointed that the last agent you queried didn’t offer you representation or that yet another publisher turned down a particular manuscript, follow my son’s example. Keeping writing and honing your craft. Keep subbing and keep an open attitude. It could very well be that a better publishing offer or a better agent match is just around the bend.

Happy writing and may this be the year of your best “new gig” ever!

 

EDITOR INTERVIEW: From Sub” to “Pub” – A chat with Joelle Dujardin, Senior Editor at HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN

IMG_0340On a chilly October afternoon in 2011, I mailed a rhyming rebus entitled “Mouse House” to the Editorial Offices of Highlights for Children. A few days later that rebus arrived. I am certain it was one of many submissions to arrive that day. Writers like me may wonder what happens to those submissions after they arrive. To shed some light on the journey a submission makes from inbox to publication, here’s Joelle Dujardin, senior editor at Highlights for Children. She currently edits fiction and poetry. Welcome, Joelle. Let’s get started.

Laura:  How many submissions do you receive a month and what’s
the first thing that happens to a submission once it’s received?

Joelle: We receive several hundred submissions a month. Once a manuscript is received, it’s logged into our database, then passed along to the appropriate editor. We sometimes have an outside reader assist with fiction submissions addressed to “Manuscript Coordinator,” but if a piece of fiction has my name on the envelope, it will be passed directly to me.

Laura: Using “Mouse House” as a sample case, can you describe the selection process?  What percentage of submissions get accepted?

Joelle: We purchase approximately 3% of the submissions we receive. We wish we could purchase every good manuscript we see, but space in the magazine is limited, and it would be a disservice to writers to accept more than we could ever hope to publish. If a manuscript is exceptionally well written, feels appropriate for Highlights, and is not like anything else we have in our inventory, we often share it among the editors here. After that, we might accept the manuscript, decline it, or ask for a revision.

Laura: After acceptance, I’ve heard that all accepted pieces are filed.  How is the actual publication of a piece, such as “Mouse House”, determined? What is the lead time?

Joelle: Purchased manuscripts go into what we call an “active inventory,” which we visit repeatedly when making decisions about upcoming issues. Because we like to balance each issue so there’s a variety of content, manuscripts can sometimes wait a while before they make it into the magazine. “Mouse House” was purchased in early 2012, then took a fairly fast track into the May 2013 issue. That may seem like a while, but we actually started planning for the May issue more than a year ago. From our perspective, “Mouse House” made it into the magazine nearly immediately.

Laura:  Once the publication date is set, what happens next?

Joelle: After the publication date is set, the primary editor does an initial edit, then passes the manuscript on to a copy editor and a secondary editor for additional suggestions. The primary editor makes more changes, writes up art notes, then sends the piece to the art department. The art department lays out the copy, which is then shared with the author. (The author at that point has an opportunity to make comments.) Once the editor approves the layout, the art director chooses an illustrator. The art director and editors review sketches before the illustrator is given approval to create the final art. Then the entire piece is reviewed once more by a few editors at composite-proofs stage.

Laura: Thanks for taking us on a journey from submission to publication. Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s magazine writers?

Joelle: Research the market before sending out your stories. There are so many different magazines publishing wonderful work, and knowing where your stories fit best will give you the greatest chance of success.

Laura:  Thanks so much, Joelle, for taking time to enlighten us on what happens in the journey from submission to publication.  Writers interested in learning more about submitting work to Highlights for Children should check out their editorial guidelines and current needs.