“I’ve Always Wanted to Write a Picture Book”-Getting Started

I have a lot of people ask me how I got a book published. Because . . .

They’ve always wanted to write. Or they have an idea for a picture book. Or their daughter has an idea. Or their mother always wanted them to write about the goose that lived in the shed across the street. Or they wrote a story years ago and they have a second cousin who could illustrate it.

I know other writers get asked the same thing. Many times I’ve found that the person asking is just making conversation. Because the minute I say “writing journey” they don’t seem quite so interested. I think they thought the “journey” was really just a “jaunt”. And then when I mention SCBWI (of course I say the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), their eyes glaze over. TMI! I know it’s time to stop.

There have been a few, though, that want more information. I email them links and information I think they would find helpful. Usually I don’t hear back. But, recently, I shared information with someone who has written professionally for years. Now she wants to write picture books. And she’s a member of SCBWI! She’s attended conferences. She’s serious, folks! And I had a ton of fun sharing resources and talking picture books. It reminded me that of all those who say they want to write, a few REALLY do!

It seems that most of the people who read our blog are already on their writing journey. But I imagine we have a few that visited this site who are just getting started. I know I visited this site regularly when I was new on my journey. So I thought I might address the “How did you get a book published?” question for those who are truly interested and would just like a starting point and places to gather information.

Note: There is no way to list every resource and website. These are only a few of the ones that were particularly helpful on my journey as they include challenges, etc. that inspired me to write. On top of these, I read many blogs. When you check out KidLit411 below, I will provide their link to a list of wonderful blogs.

SCBWI: Click HERE to browse their website. It is chock full of all things KidLit. I strongly advise becoming a member. My membership is invaluable. There is a forum available. To read all of the boards in forum, you have to be a member of SCBWI. You can get a taste of the valuable information on the forum without being a member.

Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo: PiBoIdMo stands for Picture Book Idea Month.This takes place in November. Each day you will be inspired by amazing posts by authors, illustrators, and other KidLit lovers. This challenge is free and if you participate you’re likely to end the month with a list of new ideas for picture books. You’ll also get a glimpse into the wonderful, sharing KidLit community. You don’t have to wait until November if you want to be inspired. Follow her blog and check out the archives for wonderful posts. You can find out more information HERE.

Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog: Susanna always has something going on over at her blog. I met her early in my writing journey and her blog has been a huge plus for me. Her Perfect Picture Book Friday series will clue you in to excellent picture books. The series features reviews by a variety of picture book lovers. Her Would You Read It Wednesday series focuses on picture book pitches which are extremely important for writers when they have manuscripts ready to pitch to agents and editors. Susanna also hosts amazing contests with amazing prizes. Click HERE to browse Susanna’s blog.

Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12: This is a challenge to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. If you’re wanting accountability, community, and resources it is well worth the fee. Registration for next year will be in January. In the meantime, follow Julie’s blog and you will benefit. Find more information HERE.

Then there is the site of all sites-KidLit411: Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu have gathered KidLit resources from all around the Internet on their website. It is AMAZING. It includes all the sites I’ve mentioned and many, many more. Many more! HERE is the link to their list of Blogs to Follow. Click HERE for their home page and prepare to spend hours immersed in all things KidLit!

And, of course, follow us here at Emus Debuts where we were all once beginners. Join us as we talk about how, with hard work, our dreams became reality.

I’m far from the first person to blog about these resources. But I hope they’ll help someone on their writing journey.


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Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHTis coming from Random House Books For Young Readers August 4, 2015. Also, coming from Random House Books For Young Readers is A COOKED-UP FAIRY TALE, Spring, 2017. You can follow Penny on on her blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Pinterest. She is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

 

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Specialty Schools We Wish Existed

MomSchool

Can you tell that Rebecca Van Slyke’s newly released MOM SCHOOL gets an A+ for Absolute Adorableness? Trust me, it does. As the story goes, the little cutie-pie kiddo imagines that her mother learned all of her wonderful mom-like skills in Mom School. There might be a few things she wished her mom didn’t learn, too. Well, it got us EMUs imagining different kinds of wacky specialty school ideas.

So, here ya go. Specialty schools we wish existed:

 

Rebecca Van Slyke, our spotlight debut author, would choose a specialty school sure to save marriages and general sanity:             “I would so sign up for a remote control school. On our coffee table we have—no lie—SEVEN remote controls. Here’s my husband “teaching” me how to start a movie:         

                  “Okay, it’s really easy. All you do is take this one and hit ‘Power.’ Then take this one and hit ‘Power’ and ‘Display.’Then you scroll down with this button until you come to ‘ADXL’ and hit that one twice. Put the movie in her, but DON’T CLOSE THE DRAWER! Use the remote to close it with this button marked with the orange arrow. Then take this remote and hit ‘Power,’ ‘Open,’ ‘Display’ and ‘VHC6.’ Then THIS remote controls the volume, and THIS one controls the stereo. If you want surround sound, take THIS one and hit ‘Power,’ ‘Power,’ and the symbol that Prince used to use instead of his name…

Now WHY can’t you remember this?” DSC00059 If Janet Fox ever starts her own specialty school, I will arm wrestle anyone for first dibs:                           “Clone School! With course offerings like ‘How To Create Your Clone World'; ‘Control Your Clone Before It Controls You'; ‘Clones For Cleaning'; ‘Are You Your Clone?'”

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Hey, if they can clone a sheep…why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Dolittle would be a perfect teacher at Maria Gianferrari’s wished-for specialty school: “My top choice for a specialty school: creature communication school hands down! There, you’d learn to speak dog as well as elephant, ladybug, ostrich, rattlesnake or robin. Maybe even rock.”

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If we spoke dog, we might hear: “Dude, does this hat go with this handbag?”

Mylisa Larsen’s preferred specialty school would give Google, Siri, Jack Hanna, and that smart kid (you know the one) some serious competition:  “It’s less of a school and more of a service that I wish existed: Dial-a-Docent. They would have specialists of all kinds on staff to answer those pesky questions that are too specific to ever find just by searching on the internet. For example, when you accidentally touch a slug in the garden, the slug retracts its little antenna things. Like literally sucks them back into his/her/its (I’m a little unclear on how the slug world handles gender) head. So first of all, what is that about? Is it a mutual ewwwwww when slugs and humans touch? (“Dude, I was just out minding my own business eating some lettuce and I touched a human. It was like completely disgusting.”) And secondly, how do they do that? What are the actually mechanics of sucking your antennae into your head? I’m sure you’ve been wondering about this too. Um, right?”

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Tam Smith adds a more Zen-style specialty school to the list:             “I wish there was a school specifically for Yoga For Relaxation While Making Dinner WHILE the Kids are Running Around the House Yelling at the Top of Their Lungs.  (I did the on-line certificate program which consisted of learning how to open a bottle of red wine, pouring a glass and drinking, but I’d like something a little more advanced now… :-))”

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Leave it to Penny Parker Klostermann to come up with Duck Translation School-The Ins and Outs of Quacking:         “This will be the fourth spring in a row that Mr. and Mrs. Quackers have made our yard their home. Mrs. Quackers lays eggs and sets. Mr. Quackers visits every now and then. Baby ducklings arrive and then the family waddles away to live on the nearby lake. It is fascinating to watch them. I would love to know what they’re quacking. And I would love to know if the duckling’s peeps are like human baby gibberish or if they come out talking adult quack.” 

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I’m pretty sure Mr. and Ms. Quackers are saying, “Quack, quack, quack.” Or, maybe…”See, I told you a time share would pay off!”

Adam  Shaughnessy confesses to a great big problem. I’m sure glad the rest of us Never Ever struggle with this:     “I’d like a specialty school for procrastination. I’m already pretty good at it, I guess, but I still always end up having to do the stuff I’m trying to put off. Maybe if I had an official degree I could put things off indefinitely. Yes, if there was a Procrastination School, I would definitely enroll! Probably tomorrow. Or after I get a couple of other things done…”

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Click for an enlarged image

Maria Gianferrari’s specialty school should be mandatory, don’t you think?   “There should be a school for stress. Oh, wait! One already exists. It’s called LIFE and we are all enrolled. Luckily that same school also offers lessons in love, contentment, and happiness. If we’re lucky, the second set of lessons are offered in equal – or better still – greater measure.”

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Donna Janell Bowman would love a school that teaches time-manipulation magic, to learn how to juggle a bazillion responsibilities, deadlines, and to-do lists without compromising anything. On second thought… if we combined all of the Emu’s Debuts specialty school ideas, our clones would be operated by uber-simple universal remote controls that also work the dial-a-docent answers doodad, which would help us communicate with creatures, including ducks, and handbag-carrying pooches. And, when we get super busy, we could procrastinate any stressful feelings and opt for yoga instead.

Rush to your nearest independent book store, or order your copy of Rebecca’s Mom School from online retailers, like those listed below. And, don’t forget to comment on this post to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the book.

Indibound

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

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Mom School Must Be AWESOME

Moms are excellent.

Seriously. They’re just amazing. And, according to Rebecca Van Slyke’s excellent debut, Mom School, there may just be a super-secret, super-effective educational system dedicated to teaching the Mom craft to dedicated students.

I’m pretty sure my mom, Sandra McFarland, went to Mom School. She must have taken the Cool Halloween Birthday Cakes class, for sure.

I am 1. The mess I am about to make of this cake is sooooo completely EPIC.

Pretty positive she had a class in Stylish Dress for One-Year-Olds (with extra credit in Teaching Babies to Love Dogs.

OMG! It’s a human snowball!

Last but not least, she definitely took Funky Christmas Bonnets for Ages 3 and Up.

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Okay, so, nobody tell my kids about this picture, please.

mom's pie platePenny Parker Klostermann, author of There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed A Knight (coming in August, 2015), tells us, “My mom must have learned all about pies at Mom School. Her pies are the absolute best ever! She taught pie making classes. The store where she taught them featured this pie plate with her yummy recipe for chocolate cream pie!”
shutterstock_261164825Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, author of Book Scavenger (coming in June, 2015), thinks her mom probably went to Mom School. “My mom must have learned Compassionate Humor in Mom School, because I can always count on her to bring a smile to my face, even in the most difficult of situations.”

Crescent Cookies“My mother definitely learned Benevolence at Mom School,” Maria Gianferrari, author of Penny and Jelly: The School Show (coming in July, 2015), says. “She’s kind, thoughtful, compassionate, supportive, giving and forgiving, as well as best baker of crescent cookies—my favorite!”

BatmanOhYeah!Adam Shaugnessy, author of The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib (coming September, 2015), thinks his Mom might have attended this wonderful educational institution. He says, “My mom must have learned Patience at Mom School, because when I convinced all my childhood friends that we would pretty much BECOME SUPERHEROES if we patrolled the neighborhood in our Underoos, she very patiently explained that it wasn’t appropriate to run around outside in just your underwear.”

 

FullSizeRender2Christine Hayes, author of Mothman’s Curse (coming June, 2015), says, “My mom must have learned Christmas Spirit at Mom School. She LOVED Christmas. She baked a ton of goodies for the neighbors, with plenty left over for us. She wrote out dozens of cards every year, by hand no less! Decorating the tree was always a cherished ritual. We had a musical program on Christmas Eve and watched every Christmas special that aired in the month of December, especially the Nutcracker (but only the one with Mikhail Baryshnikov). And there was always a Nat King Cole or Ray Conniff holiday album on the stereo. It’s no wonder that Christmas is now my favorite holiday!”

FullSizeRender3“My mom must have learned Animal-Whispering from Mom School,” Donna Bowman Bratton, author of Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key (Coming Spring, 2016) tells us. “Because, seriously, most big-city-turned-rural moms don’t know to put heat lamps on abandoned ducklings and chicks; how to bottle feed a calf; how to medicate a grouchy horse; how to remove cockleburs from a collie’s hair; and how to survive teenage me”.

shutterstock_191582156Tamara Ellis Smith, author of Another Kind of Hurricane (Coming August, 2015), says, “My mom must have learned Stand-Up Comedy at Mom School. She always knows how to make us laugh, even when she doesn’t mean to!  Ever seen my mom dance to Dire Straits in the kitchen while making breakfast?  Ever seen her put underwear on the dog as she folds the laundry?  Laughing (with? at?) my mom kept our very full house happy when I was a kid…and it makes her house a favorite destination, now, for my kids.”
These are some very, very learned Moms, indeed.
Obviously, Mom School is absolutely awesome. Read about it as soon as you can!

Don’t forget, to enter the drawing for a free copy of Mom School, comment on any post this week! 

Here are some great places to buy Mom School:

 Village Books

Barnes & Noble

Liberty Bay Books

Auntie’s Bookstore

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Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Priscilla Burris, Mom School, and a Plain Cake Doughnut with Pink Icing

MomSchool

I serve on the SCBWI Western Washington Advisory Committee with Rebeca Van Slyke. At a meeting earlier this year I was thrilled when I was handed an FnG of her terrific new book MOM SCHOOL to find it was illustrated by Priscilla Burris. It was a perfect pairing of author and illustrator. Perfect, I tell ya.

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I first met Priscilla Burris 17 years ago in Los Angeles at my first SCBWI conference. She was then as she is now, a wonderful, welcoming, enthusiastic force. I’ve been a fan of her and her work since then. She is an author/illustrator and the National Illustrator Coordinator & Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (scbwi.org) as well as a member of their Board of Advisors.

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She is the illustrator for The Heidi Heckelbeck Series, Humphrey’s Tiny Tales Series, Maggi and Milo, Edgar’s Second Word, Isabelle & Isabella’s Little Book of Rules, among others.  She lives in Orange County, California. Quite a number of years ago I was honored that she had me do (I believe) the first illustrated cover of the SCBWI Bulletin back before they had full color covers.

When we were planning Rebecca’s Launch Week for MOM SCHOOL here at EMU’s Debuts I knocked people over to volunteer to interview Priscilla as part of it.  Recently I was able to pose some questions to her.

1. I know you studied fashion design and illustration; when did you decide you wanted to illustrate picture books and how do you think your fashion training has helped you?

After graduating from FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising), I went on to be a Preschool Teacher (yes, unrelated to Fashion).  While teaching, I attended East Los Angeles College for my Early Childhood Education. The final project was to “Write and Illustrate A Children’s Book”, that made the light bulb click for me and helped me focus on working towards the field of Children’s Book Illustration.

There is much I still glean from my FIDM experience and training! Colors, Color Combinations, Patterns, and How fabric folds and falls, are just a few of what comes to mind when I illustrate.  I love to share whether characters are human or animals – they need to be in whatever fashion is appropriate for the story!

2. When you first read the manuscript for Mom School did you take some time to decide if you wanted to illustrate it or did you know right away?

Oh, I knew RIGHT AWAY that this was going to be a wonderful and delightful – and hilarious journey!  Rebecca is SO clever and wise, and I am SO thankful to have been matched up with such great writing!

3. Can you go through your process in creating the illustrations for this book?

  I first draw the images onto plain white paper, with #2 pencil and my trusty – and most beloved – Pink Pearl Eraser.  Then, I do something rather childlike and fun;  I smudge each drawing. This is to enhance the texture, as well as to give me an excuse to get messy and have to wash my hands like a real Artist. (half kidding)

Truth be told, I asked the editor and art director which of my art samples they preferred, and once I knew that answer, I knew this would be my process for MOM SCHOOL.

MOM-SCHOOL-Spot-SketchMOM-SCHOOL-Spot-Final-Art

MOM-SCHOOL-Roller-Coaster-Sketch   MOM-SCHOOL-Roller-Coaster-Final-Art

MOM-SCHOOL-Bedtime-Sketch MOM-SCHOOL-Bedtime-Final-Art

4. On Facebook you post so many charming illustrations with evocative tidbits of text that I am certain there are whole stories you’re keeping from us. Are there? Hmmmmm?   

Thank You! and WHAT a great question! I’d say the characters I illustrate ‘tell’ me what their names are, and their stories.  By this, I mean I may have a holiday or inspired idea in mind as a start.  It’s when I go to roughing out a sketch of the character(s) that ‘they’ begin to come to life for me. Truly, the answer is Yes and No because while I have notes for full story possibilities on some images, others I don’t.  At least, not yet.  Guess it just depends on what the characters want, after all.  Some can be quite bossy, but in a good way.

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5.      a. Sketchbook? Yes or no.

Yes.  Whether it is a real-life, hold in your hand, or grab-a-slip-of-paper-to-add-in-later Sketchbook, or digitally created, Yes!

        b. Sketching in public?

Sometimes, yes. Especially if I catch something happening that I’ll reference later for an image. Not ‘in’ public, however.  I don’t want anyone noticing me sketching.  Probably because it feels like I’m thinking out loud, and who wants to hear that?

6. What’s up next? Will we be seeing a Priscilla Burris penned picture book soon?

  What a kind question!  Yes, there is something in the works, and I am thrilled! However, at this date I cannot share more.

7. Favorite doughnut?

Plain Cake Doughnut with Pink or Orange Icing!

Thanks, Priscilla, you’re the best! And congratulations to both you and Rebecca on MOM SCHOOL. I am sure it is going to be a big hit!

If you’d like to see more of Priscilla’s work, check out her website here: http://www.priscillaburris.com. Follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/PriscillaDesign. Or like her page on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Priscilla-Burris-Illustration-Writing-Design/110784668957953

MomSchool

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A Mom Photo Gallery

It’s a book birthday for Rebecca Van Slyke’s MOM SCHOOL! Congratulations, Rebecca!!! We’re so excited to celebrate with you.

MOM SCHOOL is a charming love letter to moms everywhere, celebrating all the wonderful things they do for us. So we thought it would be a fitting tribute to post photos of our moms today.

By the way, you can find MOM SCHOOL at these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

And don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of MOM SCHOOL!!!

 

Rebecca and LaVonneHere’s darling Rebecca, pictured with her mother, LaVonne. Rececca writes, “I think we took the ferry from Seattle over to Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C. She loves flowers (you should see their backyard), and walking through beautiful gardens is still a favorite activity for her.”

 

 

 

Christine and Sandee

This is Christine at around age six or so, sporting an unfortunate Dorothy Hamill haircut. Her mom, Sandra, always went out of her way to make birthdays special.

Tam and Kathy

Like mother, like daughter. Aren’t they gorgeous? This is Tamara with her mom, Kathy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam and Marilyn

Adam, is that you? Awwww! He’s pictured here with his beautiful mom, Marilyn.

Susan and Sandra

This is Susan at age 2. LOVE the stylish red pajamas, ladies! Susan tells us she still has that book about baby animals. She treasures the time spent reading with her mother.

 

 

 

Penny and Naomi

Here is the lovely Penny, her lovely mother, Naomi, and some other lovely members of her family. We know for a fact that they are all awesome and supportive, because Penny herself is about as awesome and supportive as anyone could possibly be!

Megan and Gerry

There’s something so timeless and joyful about this photo of Megan and her mother, Gerry.

maria & Roberta

Maria and her mother, Roberta. Another beautiful portrait and a priceless moment in time (Maria’s christening).

 

 

Jennifer and Dianne

Jennifer’s mom, Dianne, is probably contemplating how amazing her daughter already is. Furthermore, she’s most likely marveling that when Jennifer grows up she will undoubtedly be EVEN MORE AMAZING.

Carole's Mom Ruth

Carole’s mother, Ruth. What a perfect photo to round out our little gallery! Carole tells us her mom taught her to live by the “Big 10″ (commandments, that is). Thanks to moms everywhere for their wisdom, love, and quiet strength.

 

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MOM SCHOOL! Interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette

To celebrate the launch of Rebecca Van Slyke’s MOM SCHOOL, we’re starting the week off with a bang. I snagged an interview with the stellar Ammi-Joan Paquette, Rebecca’s agent extraordinaire. Here we go:

Janet: Hi Joan! Since we’re celebrating Rebecca Van Slyke‘s MOM SCHOOL release, I’d like to start with how you met Rebecca.

Joan: Many of my clients come to me via referrals from one of my existing authors, or from other author friends. Rebecca actually came referred to me by three such authors: my clients Trent Reedy and Carol Brendler, and the fabulous Cynthia Leitich Smith, who knows a thing or two about talented writers. I’m so grateful to those who sent her my way!MOM SCHOOL cover

Janet: And MOM SCHOOL isn’t the first book of Rebecca’s you’ve sold, correct?

Joan: MOM SCHOOL was the first book of Rebecca’s which sold—in a two-book deal, actually; its companion title, DAD SCHOOL, is due out this time next year. Shortly after this, another of Rebecca’s picture books got a flurry of interest, and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER ended up selling at auction (another two-book deal!) to Nancy Paulsen Books. Another picture book, WHERE DO PANTS GO? is forthcoming from Sterling as well. Busy, busy lady!

Janet: The cover is darling, and Priscilla Burris is an ideal illustrator for the book, in my opinion. Did you have much input on the art side of the sale?

Joan: Nope, this was all the terrific team at Doubleday. I absolutely adore Priscilla Burris, and couldn’t imagine anyone better to bring these wonderful characters to life!

Janet: This is such a great concept – as a kid, I imagined my mom knew everything. Of course she would have gone to school! What’s your favorite of the charming images Rebecca conjures up for “mom study”?

Joan: You really expect me to pick just one? Impossible! I am in love with every bit of this book, from start to finish. :)

Janet: There’s a rumor that Rebecca’s secret dream is to become a penguin tamer. Do you have a secret dream that you’d, ahem, like to share?

Joan: I don’t know that I have any dream quite so jazzy as Rebecca’s, but if my secret future could involve an unlimited supply of buttery pastry, chocolate, and never-ending books, I’m not sure I could want for anything else.

And neither could we, especially when those books include something as delightful as MOM SCHOOL!

Find MOM SCHOOL at these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound

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Books Waiting for Titles. Titles Waiting for Books.

I’m thinking about titles this week because I just got word that the title of one of my books is going to be changed. I know that happens but it hadn’t yet happened to me. So I’m looking at the new title out of the corner of my eye, turning it over on my tongue. Getting used to it. It’s an odd feeling. It still feels a little other.

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Insert your book title here.

Titles are important. That’s why editors and sales departments spend a lot of time thinking about them. They’re like a book’s name–how a book is known to the world. Even if you haven’t read a book, you might know its title. Does the title make you pick up a book? Or pass it over for the next one?

I’m also wondering. Why is it that in writing sometimes the title comes before the book? And other times a book arrives completely lacking a title? I have whole lists of funny titles waiting for books that I haven’t written yet. I will go to great lengths to create a story for a title that I think is particularly clever. Yet other times, I can write an entire novel (twice) with no other title in mind except “that Augusta book.”

What do you think? Are titles something you struggle with? Or are they the best part? Are there books that you loved first just for the title?

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Mylisa Larsen has been telling stories for a long time. This has caused her to get gimlet-eyed looks from her parents, her siblings and, later, her own children when they felt that certain stories had been embellished beyond acceptable limits. She now writes children’s books where her talents for hyperbole are actually rewarded.

She is the author of the picture books, Instructions for Bedtime (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.)

You can visit her online at http://mylisalarsen.com

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The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB Cover Reveal!

fib_cover

I’m thrilled to officially reveal the cover for The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, coming September 8, 2015! The artist is Gilbert Ford (www.gilbertford.com). I was thrilled beyond belief when I learned he would be providing the cover art. I’ve been a fan of his for yearsHis art is engaging and playful and I couldn’t be happier with the cover he created for my story (and you haven’t even seen the back, yet)!

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The Emotional Response

I’ve been trying to find my way through an early draft of a new piece and have been reminded why going deep into character is so difficult, and so necessary.

The third lecture of my first day at Vermont College of Fine Arts was given by Louise Hawes. She described what she called a novel’s “desire line” – the engine that drives the story, the longing for something. The desire line exactly balances the story arc in reverse, because readers want the protagonist’s desire to be satisfied at the end of the story.

Asking “what” your character wants is the first important question any writer should ask. Asking “why” they want it is one way to get to their deepest desire.Children Playing

Louise gave us all an exercise: she asked us to dig deep and speak to the kid we were at an age when we were most vulnerable. Speak to the child inside, and find her desire. Then she gave us ten minutes to write a letter to that child asking why she wanted what she did, and what it meant, and reassuring that child that she was not alone.

At first, you could have heard a pin drop in the room, a full room – I’m guessing a hundred people. Then sniffs. Then some of us (yes, I’ll confess, I was one) were openly weeping. Why? Because we were tapping the core of our own oldest dreams and desires. We were acknowledging longing and loss.

This acknowledgment for our characters (and, as we write, for ourselves) is painful but essential.

If we know our character’s deepest desires, at a time when he or she was at their most vulnerable, we tap into universal longings. And by bringing universal longings to life on the page, our readers can connect.

Effectively, we tell readers, I hear you. I get you. You are not alone.

That’s why I write. I want to express the universal longings and desires that bind us together as human, as vulnerable, as unique and yet as all the same. Boy, it’s hard.

But it’s also so important.

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Quit the Chicken Job, You Must

KFC BucketWhen I was 16 I got my first job with my first real paycheck, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I only lasted for five months. It wasn’t the low pay or the terrible hours that drove me to quit, or even the fact that I came home every night smelling like poultry.

It was the sensory overload that did me in.

More than once, when a line of hungry, impatient people snaked all the way out the door, I ended up in the back room, crying and flustered. It was just too much. Looking back, I realize I took the job way too seriously. I wanted everyone to be happy, wanted to do a good job. But it was just chicken. I wish I could go back and give 16-year-old me a hug and tell her that: “Girl, it’s just chicken.” I’d still encourage her to quit, though. To have enough confidence in herself and her skills to go find something better. Calmer. More in line with her interests and talents.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and I’m actually doing what I love! The book debut looms just three short months away. And I’m back in panic mode. Am I establishing an online presence? Am I doing enough to prepare, to network, to suddenly become outgoing and eloquent? Will any of it make any difference in the long run? It’s that queue of impatient customers all over again, all clamoring for their bucket of chicken.

I’m the first to admit that social media often sends me into a spiral of anxiety. I’m not witty or interesting or invested enough to keep up. Some days I try. Many days I don’t. Sometimes just having unanswered email feels like an unbearable source of noise and clutter. It can even dictate whether or not I have a productive writing day. I’ve read lots of articles about how much authors should be doing to promote themselves online.  They range from do everything to do only the things you feel comfortable with. Our very own Megan Morrison wrote a wonderful, sensible post along those lines here.

YodaBut what about the days when I DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH ANY OF IT?!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: that’s okay too.

You might be familiar with Yoda’s famous line from The Empire Strikes Back: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” An inspiring quote for most any situation, right? But at the risk of alienating my fellow Star Wars fans, I’d like to propose an alternate philosophy when it comes to book promotion and social media: “Do, or do not. Or try, if you want. But if it stresses you out, or interferes with your writing, then don’t worry about it.

I will say that I’m starting to get the hang of Twitter. I think I’ve been signed up for almost two years now. Needless to say, it’s very, very, verrrrrry slooooow going for me. But that’s the pace I’m comfortable with, and I have noticed my brain gradually absorbing bits and pieces—enough to keep me from giving up. So I will continue to try.

I totally think Yoda would get on board with that.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter: @christinenhayes.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Panic, Promotion, Social Media, Time Management, Writing, Writing and Life