Apr 30, 2013

Kids Say and Do Funny Things

Apparently, my nephew needs to read the book Being Frank, and I recommended it to my mother-in-law so they could check it out.  My nephew loves books and I think he'd enjoy that one.  He needs it because he is being a bit too honest with anyone and everyone he encounters. Ha!

At my 10 year high school reunion, several of my classmates shared stories about funny things their children had done or said.  One girl stated that her five year old was at church when this man walked in with his mobile oxygen tank (it was on wheels).  The room was silent when her daughter asked, "Mommy, why did that man bring a vacuum cleaner to church?"

Another classmate revealed that her daughter sometimes stared at people with physical disabilities.  In particular, they saw a man that only had one arm.  The other arm was absent past the elbow.  My classmate said her daughter knew she wasn't supposed to stare, but couldn't help herself.  It was as if her eyes were glued to the man's arm.

What funny things have children done or said around you?

Apr 28, 2013

Busy Week

Hey everyone!  Yes, I'm still alive here, but I've been busy entertaining out of town guests, exercising, and don't forget my 8-5 job that keeps me busy Monday-Friday.

Be sure to check back on Tuesday.  I will resume my regular daily posts and update you on more books I have read recently.  Until then...

Apr 22, 2013

Debut versus Established Authors

I will be blunt, I often read children's picture books and immediately know it's not the authors debut book.  How do I know this?  Because the book is... terrible!  Significantly terrible books are usually written by established writers.  The day I get published, I will vow to only write equally good material for the rest of my life.  No junk!

In my opinion, a writers first book is probably genuinely good.  No, great!  Then, it seems because the agent/publisher thinks they have already made a name for themselves, they can just publish anything from that day forward.

In the past few months, I have read picture books, and afterward said, "You are kidding me, right?"  As a person who loves picture books and who will one day have children to buy for, I can't help but turn down most of the books on the market today.  They are just... boring and dumb, even for children.  It's true that authors today will ALWAYS compete with old picture books like Dr. Seuss books and Curious George books.  The oldies are still some of the best books on the market.

What do you think about the changing picture book market?

Apr 19, 2013

Do Perfect Query Letters Exist?

Writing query letters are not very fun.  Why?  It's because there is no consistent advice on how to write query letters, except for the rule that you must type it. Ha!

When I became serious about getting published, I began researching how to write query letters.  I, of course, did a Web search and found site upon site with advice on how to write them.  Here's the problem with query letters:

You see, some agents post submission guidelines along with specific instructions as to what they want in the query letter.  The problem is that many do not and you must know how to write them without guidance.

In my research, I found many inconsistencies.  Some Websites state that if the writer is unpublished, they should say so specifically in the query letter.  Other Websites say not to mention being unpublished.

Another inconsistency is including personal information about the agent I query.  For example, if I query Mrs. Rogers, do I state in the query letter that I have read books by her clients, and I believe my book would interest her as well?  Duh, right?  The reason I am sending him/her a query is because I believe it will interest them.

Other random inconsistencies are that some sites say to always use Courier font, while others say you should always use a sans serif font.  Some sites say you should put your name on every page of your manuscript, while others don't even mention doing that.

Why can't there just be a universal query format that every agent MUST follow? (Ha!)

Happy Friday everyone :)

Apr 18, 2013

Characters that are Inanimate Objects

Sometimes your main character is a human, sometimes they are an animal and sometimes they are... things.

One of my current manuscripts features characters that are things. Now, when I play out the story in my head, I see it flowing smoothly with the characters doing each action gracefully.  Then, I think to myself, "If these things walk, won't they need legs?  Wait a minute!  They can't have legs, that's just weird."  I have no clue what goes on in the illustration world, so my fears might be totally unfounded.

After having these thoughts, I went to the library and checked out the book Chopsticks, which of course is about two human-like chopsticks.  In the story, many other objects have arms and legs, and this helped me see the future of my characters.  I guess objects can have arms and legs.  Reading Chopsticks also made me realize that I might like writing about objects as much as humans or animals.

What are some of your favorite books that feature main characters that are objects?

Apr 16, 2013

From Brain to Paper

Sometimes I think I have a great idea for a picture book, but it the idea doesn't successfully transition from my brain to my paper.  It's as if something happens to the awesome idea in midair.

I'm working on a manuscript right now that has been critiqued, but I haven't really made my first set of revisions yet.  It's funny how I visualize it being some amazing, ground-breaking story, but I feel like when my thoughts hit paper, they turn into a single-scoop vanilla ice cream cone.  My goal is usually for a Rocky Road type of concoction.

Do you often struggle getting your awesome ideas to transition to text?

Apr 15, 2013

Finding Inspiration in Pet Stores

As a picture book writer, I look for inspiration everywhere.  It doesn't matter if I'm at a gas station or the grocery store.  Good stories are all around us.

While out shopping with my parents this weekend, I told them I wanted to visit Pet Smart.   Kids are always in pet stores acting... well... kid-like.

We walk over to the fish tanks, where a little boy and his mom stood, observing the various tanks of goldfish.  One tank was very full.  Lots and lots of fish!  Then, the little boy pokes the glass with his finger and the fish frantically scatter.  He finds it fascinating that he made them do that.

Standing just two feet away was his mother, I am assuming.  After he pokes the glass, she scolds him, warning him not to do that, but he can't resist.  The problem is that his mother is standing right there!  What does he do?

He pokes the glass again... with is elbow.

What funny things have you saw kids do lately?

Apr 12, 2013

The Long Road Ahead

I'm back in school now!  Well, the University de Jessica.  Ha!  What I mean is, I am studying children's picture books.  I need to know what is on the market now.

Yesterday, I finally made it to the library to get my library card.  Now, I could have skipped the library and went straight for studying at Barnes and Noble, but that gets expensive.  Not to mention I get tempted by Starbucks.

I felt thrilled to be in the library and have my multicolored library card in my hand.

Before I visited the library, I made a list of books which had caught my interest.  I tried to make a rule for myself and only study books published within the past couple of years.  This way, I can stay focused on what publishers want now.   Each of the five books I checked out was published in 2012, and here are a few notes I made while studying:

  • You can start a sentence with "And". (I'll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor.)
  • Don't use the same verb in back-to-back sentences.  If you character is searching for something, try to find different words that mean to search, and use them.  Then, your young reader will have a collection of words that all mean to look.
  • Don't stereotype.  Your female MC doesn't have to like baby dolls and pink clothes.  Go against all stereotypes, it will leave the reader wondering what other different characteristic your MC has.
As I continue to read, I know I will notice more trends.  It's not as if I'll read the books only once.

On another note, I want to talk about the two giraffes.  The image is not really mine, it was inspired by Waui Design. It represents my mom and I.

In an earlier blog post I told you that my mom wanted me to write books, but I never thought about making that my career.  Well now, here I stand, writing each and every day, looking for inspiration, so my next picture book manuscript will take me all the way.

I know getting published will be hard, really hard, but I want it.  It's something I need now and I suppose many, many writers feel this way too. I want to get published for myself, but I want to do it for my mom, too.  Not that I am the center of her world, but I think it would bring a smile to her face.

So, until then, I will keep doing what I have to do.  I'll write, revise, read aloud, revise, revise, wait, revise, query and wait... until I finally hear the "yes" I am determined to hear.

Apr 10, 2013

Picture Books Now and Then

When I was small, the hot books were Curious George, and we gobbled them up like chocolate bars (well, metaphorically).  As you know, those books typically taught similar lessons, but these days, I am told to simply write stories that are fun and enjoyable for children to listen to or read.

Let me tell you this:  I do not have children, though, I plan to one day.  When I think of the types of books I want to buy for them, I keep turning to the books I enjoyed in my childhood.  Yes, I own several copies of Curious George, because in my opinion, they are timeless.  After all, they are still being printed.  Plus, George is adorable and you can't go wrong with monkeys.

Last Christmas, my nephew received a basket full of books.  He loves for someone to read to him and it doesn't matter what it is.  Do you know which books were in the basket?  Dr. Seuss books and P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother?  None of which are current picture books.

If you are a parent, do you tend to buy the classic books, or do you let your children decide what they want to read?

What are your opinions of current picture books?

Apr 9, 2013

My Journey to Publication

Instead of my usual blog post about the technical aspect of writing and submitting to agents, this post will be a bit more personal.

When I was in elementary school I did okay in Reading class.  Why?  Because I did not like the books we read.  Looking back, I still do not like them, so it wasn't me being a lazy, I just knew what I liked and what I didn't like.  English class didn't thrill me that much either.

While learning nouns, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs were a bit dull to me, I did enjoy writing short stories.  I even wrote them in my free time at home, on one of those old typewriters with the big bulky ink ribbons.  My mom wanted me to write for a living because she saw how much I enjoyed it, but I never journeyed down that career path.

About five years after I graduated from high school, I remember saying aloud that I "would write a children's book one day." Ha!  I thought it would be as easy as just saying that I'd do it, as if there were no agent opinions or publication market.  Then, years later, I glanced over at the children's book section at Barnes & Noble and wondered why I hadn't tried to move forward with my plan.

The next thing I knew, I signed up with an online critique group and I threw my manuscript out for the vultures to tear apart critique.  That's when I realized that writing picture books are as hard as writing anything else, and why?  Well, because as adults, we forget the voice and the thought process of children because it's been so long since we were children.  We write for young minds that are not yet as sophisticated as our own, and we forget that children have microscopic attention spans.  We are limited in word count and are forced to make every single, tiny word count.

So, now I spend every day writing, editing and brainstorming for new and unique plots.  It's not easy, but I know if I keep pushing, I'll eventually get what I want.

What's your story?

Apr 8, 2013

Queries: E-mail versus Turtle Mail

I can't help myself, but when I query agents, those that accept e-mail/online submissions are at the top of my list.  It's easier to submit online as opposed to turtle mail (snail mail is overused, so I changed it to turtle mail.  Turtles are slow, too.).

Luckily, the agent I desperately want accepts e-mail queries, but I have some agents I have not queried yet because they only accept turtle mail.  I'm not too busy to query by turtle mail, but I try to avoid buying stamps or using turtle mail at all cost.

Wouldn't it be easier for agents to accept e-mail queries?  Or are agencies trying to support the USPS?

How do you prioritize your queries?

Apr 4, 2013

Waiting for an Agent's Response

The biggest frustration that comes with trying to get published is the fact that some agents/publishers live by "no response means we are not interested."  It's no surprise that writers dislike this.  Face it, everyone wants an answer.  It's hard to live on the edge, especially for months, not to mention that it is slightly stressful.

This makes me wonder:  if agents use an online submission form, can't they install a button to click so when they reject the book, it automatically sends a form rejection letter to that person?  Then, maybe everyone could get some type of notification.

In my experience, most agents want you to e-mail a specific e-mail address.  A few have online submission forms, but mostly what I see is "please e-mail this address with your manuscript."  This method requires the agent to read your manuscript, then send reply to that e-mail and paste in their form rejection text in the body of the reply.  If this process could be automated, writers would be thrilled (I know, it's not the agents job to thrill the writer, but it would still be awesome).

The real question is, what do you do while you wait for a response?  Check your e-mail every five minutes?  Check your voice mail every five minutes?  Call the phone company every five minutes to make sure the phone lines are functioning correctly?

Apr 3, 2013

Happy Birthday Washington Irving

Today's post is dedicated to the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving.

Washington Irving was only seven years old when our nation received its independence.  Born on April 3, 1783, he became an exceptional writer.
To this day, I remember the first time I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Afterward, my teacher let us watch the movie, which was just as creepy as the text.  I still have a vision of Ichabod Crane being chased by the headless horseman.

I like to believe at a young age I had a good taste in literature, even if all of my favorites were a bit on the spooky side.

Who is your favorite short story writer?

Apr 2, 2013

Writing Rhyming Picture Books

Don't write rhyming picture books.

Well, okay, I guess you can make your picture book rhyme, but you better do it well.

If you are actively trying to get your picture book published, you may have noticed how many agents do not want to see rhyming text.  This fact upsets many writers because they believe their rhymes are amazing, perfect and as good as Dr. Seuss'.  Well, agents and publishers tend to disagree before they even read your rhymes.  As soon as your query letter mentions a rhyming picture book, they cringe.

When we think of rhymes, naturally Dr. Seuss comes to mind in the world of picture books.  Perhaps because his rhymes were the best.  The perfect meter, with the perfect use of words, and a wonderful story overall.

For the longest time, I have felt that Dr. Seuss ruined the rhyming market for everyone else because he was so good.  Maybe agents think that no one can compare and they don't want to try to compete with him.

So, why do agents and publishers cringe these days when people present their rhyming stories?

Apr 1, 2013

Using Instagram to Brainstorm

Introducing a new way to brainstorm for new stories!  It's called Instagramming and here's how it works (if you are not familiar with Instagram, visit the Website to read more).

First, you will need a timer of some type, like the one on the microwave. Using it, set a timer of 45 seconds.  You will also need your smart phone.

Next, open the Instagram app and use the Explore button to see random photos that others have added.  Within 45 seconds, you must find a picture that you find interesting, and you must write a picture book based on the photo that peaks your interest.  If the timer goes off, you must choose the picture you are looking at, at that moment.

Do you struggle to create unique story lines for your books, or is your imagination filled with so many of them you don't have time to write them?