Category Archives: Advice

Okay…What’s Next?

This is the big question that comes after the initial book deal. We’re eager to sign our contract, be introduced to our new editor, work on revisions and see our “baby” come to life. Bring it on, world! But the fact is, these things take time. Brace yourself: I’m still waiting to sign a contract for a deal that was made in September of 2015! So, what’s a writer to do while he or she is waiting for all the “book deal” magic to happen?

Start another story!

Many writers, myself included, work on multiple projects but occasionally I find myself in a moment where I’m between projects. It’s like that “moment between breaths” I experience doing yoga, where it feels like time stands still for just a moment. It’s then, in my writing, that I have to find some inspiration for a new story idea.

Where do you get your ideas? Every author is asked this question. Honestly, for me, some ideas strike as quick as lightning while others are as slow in coming as molasses on a December day. I’ve always believed that the best ideas for me to pursue are those that come from the heart; stories about things I connect with. But sometimes my brain needs a “little” prompting. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways I get my imagination moving and finding potential story ideas that spark my mind.

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Recycle an existing story or song: You’ve heard of “fractured fairy tales” haven’t you? This is where someone takes a fairy tale and puts a new twist on it. A contemporary example would be Tara Lazar’s Little Red Gliding Hood. Or another favorite is Mo Willems’s Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. Perhaps you could impose a clever twist on a favorite childhood fairy tale or song?

 

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Seek visual inspiration: Google “Interesting Photographs” and see what comes up. Does anything grab your attention and shake your writing brain to a heightened state of curiosity?

 

 readingstacksRead for inspiration: Pour over as many picture books as you can and see if you can find a “mentor text” that inspires you, so that you can use that story for inspiration and run with your own imagination.

 

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Pin the Tail on the Story Donkey: This is where you randomly select story elements (character/s, setting) and let your imagination run wild with possible conflicts. For example, close your eyes and randomly choose one thing from each column below to create your story premise:

MAIN CHARACTER SETTING SECONDARY CHARACTER
Dinosaur Classroom Cowboy
Monster Playground Fireman
Child Park Mailman
Unicorn Child’s bedroom Teacher
Cat Bathtub Ballerina
Dragon Mom’s office Race car driver
Puppy Pond Pirate
Gorilla Mountains Shark
Lizard Ocean Principal
Worm Cave Doctor
Parrot Circus Ghost
Squid Zoo Grandpa

 

Once you have a nugget of an idea, read these blog posts from author Tara Lazar’s Blog, where every she annually hosts PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month):

Kelly Bingham on developing an idea.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen on developing your character.

Diana Murray on creating a character-driven story with conflict.

Or better yet, sign up for Tara’s 2017 PiBoIdMo (in January!) where you have a fun challenge of thinking of one picture book story IDEA every day (that’s 31 ideas by the end of the month!!!).

Best of luck with creating your new story sparks!

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PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension. She has two books coming out in spring 2017, My Busy Green Garden (Tilbury House) and Mama Loves You So (Little Simon).

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Filed under Inspiration, Time Management, waiting, Writing

Great Gifts For Writers

It’s that time of the year again, when the holidays loom and suddenly we’re scrambling to meet deadlines, catch up on projects, and prepare for holiday festivities. I thought it might be nice to share a list of great gifts for writers – perfect for any time of the year and for any occasion from birthdays to launch parties to celebrating The Call or just because.

  • Journals and writing pads: Always a fun gift, although some writers are very particular about what journal or writing pad they use.

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  • Gift card to an office supply store:  I don’t know any writer who doesn’t love shopping for office (writing) supplies.
  • Gift card to a local indie book store

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  • Bookends: Writers have tons of books. You can probably find a bookend to match the writer’s passions on Etsy. From mermaids to steampunk, there’s a perfect bookend out there for everyone.

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  • A travel tea or coffee thermos: I have a tea thermos with infuser that I love. It keeps my tea hot for 6 hours. No need to reheat or top off.

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  • Or a travel thermos to keep things cold: My new favorite keep-cold thermos is by S’well. They claim liquid will keep cold for 24 hours! They also claim hot liquids will stay hot for 12. I once left it in my hot car for two hours and when I returned the water was still ice cold.

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  • Coffee mugs
  • Offer of babysitting if the writer has young children.
  • Book-related clothing: From socks to scarves to t-shirts, Out of Print has some fun stuff, like these library card socks.

 

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  • Gift card for massage: Writers sit a lot.
  • Earbud holder: This one works great for keeping earbuds from getting into a tangled mess.

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I’d love to hear some of your ideas for perfect writer gifts. Happy shopping!


web_edit6xx8t3624Debbi Michiko Florence loves to shop. She writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her rabbit, Aki, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 11, 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of an early reader series, Dorothy & Toto (Picture Window Books/2016).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

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Filed under Advice, Gifts

The Surreal, the Sublime, and the Journey Itself

The time has come for me to leave the Emu nest, and I’d like to end my time here with three quick vignettes:

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First, the surreal. Many Emus use their introductory post to talk about getting The Call (wherein their agent tells them they have a book deal). I decided to save my story of The Call for my farewell post, not knowing that the post would appear exactly two years after that life-changing day. So here’s my story:

On December 5, 2014, I had been on submission for almost two years with three different manuscripts, and I had convinced myself that I loved writing for writing’s sake and it was okay if I was the person who always came close but never quite got a book deal. Some days I even believed this. I had taken a full time teaching job partly because I needed to feel like I was contributing again, rather than just writing stories that would likely never find readers. On that fateful Friday, I taught my last lectures of fall semester, came home, and made myself a plate of nachos as a reward. (This is literally the first time since high school that I had eaten nachos as an after-school snack.) I had just sat down when my seven-year-old daughter came running in with my phone.

“Mom,” she said. “It says it’s..Ammi-Joan Paquette?” (She would have known who was calling if it had just said “Joan.” 🙂

I had hoped for that call for so long that the hope had faded, almost entirely away. I’d dreamed that dream so long that it seemed impossible for The Call to be anything other than a dream, an oasis on the horizon that recedes with every step. It was truly surreal. And yet, there I was, crying into my nachos. It happened, folks.

The second story is of the sublime. I had many teachers who inspired and nurtured me and helped me grow, but none more than my first grade teacher, Kathryn Ipson. She helped me write and illustrate my first story, The Big Bad Pig. She sensed that I needed a challenge and got a computer in our classroom (at a time when nobody had a computer in the classroom), taught me to type, and set me free. We stayed in touch through the years, and when I visited her as a college student and told her my plans to get a PhD and become a professor, she said, “That’s wonderful. The most important thing is to find a job where you’re helping people.” That one statement lingers with me still, and although it didn’t change my professional plans, it changed my priorities.

On October 18, my first book, Like Magic, was published. I had a launch party at our local independent bookstore, and at times the line snaked to the back of the store. The most accurate (if cliched) way to describe that night is a dream come true. But perhaps the most sublime and wonderful moment of that night was when the crowd parted and there was Mrs. Ipson, standing in line with a copy of the book. I showed her her name in the acknowledgments. We hugged and cried a little. A few days later, Mrs. Ipson found me on Facebook and said that she had finished reading and she expected my book would win the Newbery. Okay, I suspect it won’t, but to have someone who has believed since I was very small that I was capable of anything–someone who continues to believe it–well, that is incredibly meaningful.

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Mrs. Ipson finds her name in the acknowledgments of Like Magic (photo by Brooke MacNaughtan)

There have been other moments that have been almost this magical–many, in fact. Signing books in the gorgeous Salt Lake City Library, where my characters spend much of the story. Receiving my first starred review. Finding out that the book had sold in Scandinavia, and that this story was about to find its way into other lands and languages. Meeting and hearing from bright and diverse readers who have connected with the story. Beautiful, unforgettable moments.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t give up, you will have these moments too–even if it feels like you will always be stuck in the spot where you are right now. But the more I think about this whole debut experience, the more moments of joy I see in the journey itself. Evenings gathered with my critique partners. Time spent in workshops when I’m taught something that sparks an idea inside me. Moments at the computer, alone with my characters, when I struggle and struggle and finally get that scene or sentence just right.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

-Jenkin Lloyd Jones

The last few years have been unforgettable and exhausting, yet I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. Thank you, thank you, to the Emus and to all who have shared this journey with me. And for all of us, no matter what stage of the expedition, may we find joy and be truly thankful for the ride.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Advice, Book Launch, Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized, waiting

When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

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FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

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Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

farrah

(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

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I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)little-terry

Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

robert-pattinson-2

 

Oh, and this:

robert-pattinson

Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

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Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

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Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

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A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Spiral Review, Emu Style

My kids’ school district has adopted a new math program, and the majority of parents seem to loathe it. Meanwhile, I sit at home, harboring my own secret feelings, which I can sum up in three words:

I love it.

I am an educator and something of a math nerd, and I think overall, the new program does a fantastic job. One of my very favorite things about the homework my kids bring home (and in all honesty, I love math homework) is that on the back of every sheet, there is a section called Spiral Review.

The idea is this: We don’t learn best in a linear fashion. In math or writing or life in general, we learn best when we spiral back to the things we’ve learned before, and we approach them with a broader view of the world, a greater amount of experience, and new levels of understanding.

In this spirit, I’ve combed the Emu’s Debuts archives (with a little help from my fellow Emus) and come up with my own Spiral Review of some of the most poignant and meaningful posts from years of reading this blog.

The list could have been much longer, but here are a few favorites worth turning our attention toward again:

THE PIT OF DESPAIR by Terry Pierce

Want to Help an Author Out? It’s Pretty Easy! by Pat Zietlow Miller

Being Brave: A Challenge for Writers in General and Human Beings in Particular by Christine Hayes

Luciferadi Meeps Goodbye by Adi Rule

And So Our Story Begins . . . by Amy Finnegan

And finally, Nerve: Truth or Dare…The Videos, featuring many Emu emeriti. As Andrea Wang says, “Because who doesn’t love silly videos that make us smile? And how cool is it that former nest-mate Jeanne Ryan’s book, NERVE, which inspired all those daring EMU videos, is now a movie?! I may not be brave enough to do interpretive dance or compose an ode to a doorknob, but this post always encourages me to break out of my shell and dare to do something different.” (My personal favorite part is Tara Dairman eating the giant chocolate cake.)

What favorite posts, here or elsewhere, do you turn to for your own spiral reviews? What posts continue to teach and inspire you each time you read them?


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Advice, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Imbalance

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For anybody who’s working and alive, work-life balance is something that will require some thought. Since we’re mostly writers here, writing is the work I’m imagining on one side of the fulcrum. On the other side, everything else: family, friends, day job (if it’s not writing), exercise and health, tasks and chores, etc. If the balance tips too far one direction, we’re writing, but not living well. Too far the other and we’re not writing. And just when you think you’ve found that perfect balance, circumstances will shift, and you’ll have to adjust again.

I’ve spent the past weeks feeling terribly out of balance, for a host of minor reasons and two major reasons: a serious case of pneumonia, and moving out of the house we’ve lived in for the last ten years. (I always think I remember how emotionally and mentally and physically hard moving is, but I never do.)

I’ve been itching to write, but it hasn’t been happening. And when I don’t itch to write, I feel guilty, or like there’s something wrong. Writers gotta write, right?

Then a few days ago, a friend sent me a link to a post on Writer Unboxed that changed my perspective: Fallow Fields: An Argument for Letting Your Creativity Rest. The premise is that we actually hurt ourselves and our work if we try to harvest from the same field season after season. That periods of not writing are essential to produce our best work, and our best lives.

But not writing can be a scary thing. What happens when we a chunk of life drops on the scale? Have we sent our work flying off, never to return?

seesaw

Of course not. Our lives are the soil from which our work grows, and the more richly we live them, the richer the work will be. Those periods when fields lie fallow are not wasted. While I’ve not been writing, I’ve been listening to audiobooks as I pack (and now unpack) boxes. I’ve been writing a little in my journal. And most importantly, I’ve been truly immersed in the (fairly intense) physical and emotional experiences of this period in my life. All these things will make for better writing when I open up my manuscript next week.

Writers gotta write, friends. Except when they gotta just live. That’s okay too. 🙂

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profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Guilt, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

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or Childbirth

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Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

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Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Advice, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Editor, Faith, Illustrators, Inspiration, Patience, Picture books, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, waiting, Writing and Life

Loving Your Literary Litter

Here’s the truth of it: The manuscript you first write may not be the exact same manuscript that convinces an agent to represent you. The “I-got-an-agent” manuscript may not be precisely the same manuscript that the two of you sell to a publisher. The “I-got-a-book-deal” manuscript will likely not be the manuscript that eventually ends up as a book on a proper shelf in a proper bookstore.

These manuscripts will be similar. Oh, yes. They will be similar.  Many of the words will be the same. The narrative structure might even be the same. Of course, the living, beating heart of the story that gave it a chance in the first place will be the same. But as the manuscript evolves, what initially seemed like one beautiful and stalwart dog…

Golden

becomes more like a litter of puppies. Where-to-get-a-golden-retriever-puppy

I hereby give you permission to love them all. You may love the brand-new one, all sweetly damp with its eyes sealed shut. You may love the one that snores while it sleeps with its tummy full of milk. It might not be the liveliest, but it sure is cute! You may love the one that’s starting to show some personality, that scampers around and nips just a little too hard with its razor-sharp puppy teeth. You may and you should love them all.

But unless you’re going to be some kind of puppy hoarder—which doesn’t serve you or your plentiful puppies—

puppy attack

You get to keep only one. That’s right. One.

You’re not going to make this choice by yourself. Others will be involved. The potential puppy’s vet. The potential puppy’s trainer. They will look at all the puppies in the litter, tumbling about and tearing the place up, and they will help you decide on one.

Wait. We’re not talking about a *real* puppy. We’re talking about YOUR BOOK. The others involved will be your trusty agent and editor.

Secret Agent

But back to puppies.

Bit by bit, the right puppy will emerge. It will distinguish itself from its littermates. It will mature, develop manners, learn not to jump on guests. Its essential sense of self will be cultivated, its strengths enhanced. It will be groomed until it shines like a shiny, shiny show dog.

Groomed

(Dog geek alert: I’m pretty sure this is an English Toy Spaniel. The muzzle looks too pushed-in for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Feel free to weigh in.)

It will be ready to strut its stuff in front of the whole world and make you proud. Griffon

And your puppy-love will deepen into true love.Jenna Marbles

Remember, none of this happens by accident. Without long walks, lots of attention, some sleepless nights, and consistent discipline, your book-puppy will never become all it’s meant to be.

And it’s meant to be nothing less than a champion.

Best In Show

I look back fondly at my many versions of BABYMOON. They still have all their puppyish charm for me. The earliest is spare yet lyrical. Later ones are more developed, with complete sentences and a more varied rhythm. The final, more nuanced version is quite different from its siblings, and yet it bears a strong resemblance to all of them. I guess you could say it’s the pick of the litter.

Enjoy the day.

Hayley

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Colleagues, craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Editing and Revising, Editor, Publishers and Editors, rhythms, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

Here Comes The Pitch!

Today more than ever authors are like small business owners, needing to pitch and sell their products. I can easily talk about someone else’s book, but it’s hard for me to talk about my own. I can share my good news with friends and family, but when it comes to selling my work to strangers, I feel uncomfortable and a little shy.

Mochi Queen and book 2 of the Jasmine Toguchi series will be coming out in May of next year. It kind of feels like it’s too early to start talking about my books, so I haven’t had much practice. A few months ago, at a friend’s book launch I was caught unprepared. The friend introduced me to a family member and told him that I had a children’s book coming out. The family member kindly asked me what my book was about. I froze. Then, I babbled incoherently. Epic fail.

For years I’ve kept a reading list, writing up every book I read with a short synopsis. When I read 75 – 100 books a year, it’s hard to remember what every single book is about, especially after a year or more has passed. I’ve had good practice summarizing a book into a paragraph, but not a lot of practice winnowing book summaries down to a succinct 1 – 2 sentence pitch. So, last year, I made myself write up 1 – 2 sentence pitches of every book I read and I posted them on my reading blog. A couple of examples:

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon – Housebound teen “bubble girl” falls in love with neighbor boy.

Princess Juniper of the Hourglass by Ammi-Joan Paquette – On her 13th nameday, Princess Juniper asks her father for her own (small) kingdom of kids to rule for practice.

This was very good practice. But writing a pitch, even my own, was not too difficult. I am a writer. Talking about my book is so much harder. Plus, just reciting my written pitch to someone felt rehearsed and stiff.

The next step was practicing talking about Mochi Queen to my friends and family. The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became. But, would I be able to talk about my book to a stranger?

The test came sooner than I expected.

A few weeks ago I was at an independent bookstore. A bookseller approached me and asked if she could help me with anything. I told her I was just checking out the new chapter books. She told me she wanted to expand the section and find new and exciting chapter books to add to the shelves. I hesitated. Normally, I would just smile and nod and say nothing. But, it was as if the Universe was giving me an opportunity.

I took a deep breath for courage and told her, somewhat hesitantly, that I had a chapter book series coming out next year. She asked me what it was about. And it rolled right off my tongue – “Mochi Queen is about a third grade Japanese-American girl named Jasmine who lives in Los Angeles. She wants to take part in a Japanese tradition of making mochi.” Pause. “Do you know what mochi is?” She shook her head. “It’s a sweet Japanese dessert. Jasmine not only wants to make mochi with her family, even though she’s too young, but she wants to do the boy job instead of the one reserved for the girls in her family. And there will be three more books about Jasmine.” Whew. Right, not exactly 1 – 2 sentences, but it felt natural, like I was having a conversation, rather than trying to “sell” my work.

The bookseller reacted with enthusiasm. She told me to have my publicist contact the store when the books were closer to coming out and they would love to have an author event and arrange school visits. She was excited about a new chapter book series and said she was on the look-out for more diversity. YAY!

The lesson here? It’s never too early to practice your pitch. Even if you don’t have a book coming out soon, an editor, an agent, a colleague might ask, “What’s your book about?” And won’t you be happy when you’re able to answer? You can do it! Practice makes “perfect”!

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author

Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her dog, Trixie, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux in Spring 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books and an upcoming early reader chapter book series, Dorothy & Toto (Picture Window Books/Oct. 2016).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

 

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Practical Matters: School Visits

With my new book coming out in early spring, I’m beginning to book school visits again after a three-year lapse. In that interim I’ve learned a few practical things – beyond the fun of preparing the presentation – that I thought I’d share, and I’d like to open a “suggestion box” for everyone in this talented group to pitch in with their own ideas.

Before the visit:

  • It helps to establish a fee structure that is both realistic and fair to you and the school. I’d suggest that before you book your first visit, talk to colleagues and find out how much they charge. Remember to include expenses, especially if your visit is at a distance. Most authors do Skype visits for free or a nominal fee; a lot of authors offer free or low-cost visits to local schools.
  • I try not to book more than one visit a month unless they are back-to-back in the same region. Writing comes first!

When the visit is booked:

  • If the visit includes fees, expense reimbursements, and an understanding of technology requirements, I find it helps to send the school a contract. SCBWI has a model contract in their resource database for members that I modified for my use.

    IMG_1218

    My packet (center) with cover letter and poster – made using Word.

  • I send that contract, together with a packet I’ve created, to the school contact person. In the packet is the following:
    • A brief cover letter that directs the contact person to my website and my free downloadable study guides and cover jpegs, and expresses my excitement about the visit.
    • A complete brochure that details each of my books, with synopsis, awards, and reviews.
    • A ready-made poster with the date left blank that the contact person can fill in and post.
    • A swag packet of bookmarks, etc.
  • I’m now following the suggestion of some colleagues to supply one copy of each of my in-print books to the school. I order the books to be drop-shipped to the school as soon as the visit is booked. This accomplishes several things: I’ve found that the school doesn’t always have copies of my books on hand; students who are interested can read ahead of the visit; I get credit for the book sales; I create good will with my contact person. I’ve found that the expense is small, and I fold the cost into my fee.

    IMG_1217

    Swag and interior packet materials.

During the visit:

  • I try to bring bookmarks or other swag to hand out.
  • I try to have someone take a few photos (quality video is even better if possible) that I can post to my website or use for publicity.
  • If a bookseller is not involved with my visit, I’ve arranged with my local indie to bring a one-page order form for my books with me. Many kids won’t buy books before the visit but will be excited afterwards, and that’s when they’ll want to order. I ask the contact person at the school to collect the order forms and checks made out to my indie (I add something for shipping) and send the forms to me. My indie orders the books, I sign them, and then I send them in bulk back to the school.

After the visit:

  • I send a brief thank-you to the contact person, following up with any reimbursements and orders.

That’s what I’ve got – if you have suggestions please add!


 

IMG_8226bJanet Fox is the author of a number of books for young readers. Her debut middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, launches on March 15, 2016 from Viking.

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Filed under Advice, School Author Visits, Uncategorized