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ANIMALS SPELL LOVE

October 16, 2017

Tags: ANIMALS SPELL LOVE, David Cundy, David R. Godine, 2017

David Cundy owns a graphic design firm, creating identities and websites for organizations such as the Brooklyn Museum, Columbia University, and the Parsons School of Design. He has also taught at Yale and Fairfield University. But today he opens his classroom to us and talks about his #firstpicturebook ANIMALS SPELL LOVE—"an impressive demonstration of text as art" (Publishers Weekly) and “very highly recommended for family, elementary school, and community library picture book collections for young readers" (Children's Bookwatch, The Midwest Book Review)

Q. Was ANIMALS SPELL LOVE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. ANIMALS SPELL LOVE is my debut children’s picture book. Its inspiration and genesis were a combination of serendipity and mindfulness, in that I had committed myself to a decade’s effort to launch my career as an author. Eight years, four adult fiction books and one non-fiction adult book proposal in, I succeeded with this lovely children’s book.

Q. What inspired ANIMALS SPELL LOVE?
A. ANIMALS SPELL LOVE was inspired by one of its illustrations – the Lovebirds, which I created to illustrate a poem. That was followed by six years’ work creating the other illustrations and text, and designing the book. And another two months connecting with my agent, and another six months securing a publisher.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My agent – whose professionalism has been impeccable – was responsible for the title of the book, which I had positioned slightly differently (and less broadly). I expect to use the outtake for merchandising.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Because ANIMALS SPELL LOVE is a non-narrative picture book whose text is dictated by its content (to show how to say “Love” and “I love you” in sixteen languages), writing requirements were technical. The computer was necessary since I employed non-Latin alphabets with which I was unfamiliar and couldn’t have easily written in any event.

As a poet, I write “ambidextrously” on both paper and the screen! As an adult-content author and culture journalist, I of course use a computer. Simple children’s books don’t require word processing until the layout stage.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send an image from the book or link to book trailer.)
A. I’m told that everyone has a favorite vignette in ANIMALS SPELL LOVE, as do I. My favorite part of Animals Spell Love is the reception it gets among kids and their family members, who are validated in their native languages, and excited to learn how others say “I love you.” And younger kids love to find the heart in every vignette, a feature of the book.

Q. Did you write the text first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. As mentioned above, ANIMALS SPELL LOVE arose from one of its illustrations – an animal word-picture of the word “Love.” Once I determined that the text would describe how to say “I love you,” completion of the book revolved around selecting the remaining animals and languages. The languages used are those most spoken around the world.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for ANIMALS SPELL LOVE?
A. Many! Because I love poetry, I wanted ANIMALS SPELL LOVE to have poetic elements. So it includes, for example, an allusion to Isaac Watts’s “How doth the little busy bee” in the English vignette, and “Late afternoon,” a beautiful poem by Du Fu, which forms the actual “shaped poetry” illustration in the Chinese vignette. And because I am an artist, I included my own versions of Albrecht Durer’s “Little Owl” and a Chinese ceramic duck from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. I also pay homage to children’s books, most obviously Dr. Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish in the Japanese vignette.

Language research was another matter. Although my language background includes French, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Spanish, dealing with Amharic (Ethiopian) and Arabic, for example, required both research and precision; Arabic, notably, has four forms for each letter. And it turns out that in some languages, one says “I love you” differently to children, parents, elders, friends and lovers.

Q. Did ANIMALS SPELL LOVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. “Rejection” is part of the process. A wise author listens to and learns from editors for whom his/her book isn’t a “fit.” Shopping a book to multiple editors enables one to gain insights into first impressions, strengths and weaknesses – things to which authors (and even agents) are too close to objectively assess. Unsurprisingly, Animals Spell Love was accepted by the publisher I had surmised would accept it. My publisher is a dream to work with.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ANIMALS SPELL LOVE.
A. As a debut author, I was of course elated – and relieved. Although I must say that the world of children’s book publishing these days can be understandably risk-averse – a challenge to the debut author.

Q. How long did ANIMALS SPELL LOVE take to be published – from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. From receipt of offer to books in hand, ANIMALS SPELL LOVE took just over a year – from September to November. We officially launched on Valentine’s Day 2017 – 17 months.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. My agent specified that I add a “climax” vignette – a symphonic crescendo that brought everything together. I am so grateful.

At my publisher’s behest, I removed my translation of the Du Fu poem, which represented an inconsistent element not found anywhere else in the text. It’s good to have a little mystery, especially when it comes to language, and I’ve learned in life to pick my battles. In exchange, I got to keep the American Sign Language (butterfly) vignette, well worth the trade-off!

Q. When you do readings of ANIMALS SPELL LOVE, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. It’s different for every audience, because in America, every audience is different. At one public library event, for example, a family of Ethiopian origin came to see the Amharic (leopard) vignette. I’m delighted to report that at every event, all kids love saying “I love you” with the American Sign Language handsign.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Have an intriguing story to tell! And remember that you can make our world a better place by educating and inspiring children.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Marketing is hard work, and you will be required to do far more of it than you might prefer. If you expect to succeed, you will need to have your own website, create a trailer, and actively promote events and library collection acquisition of your book – on an ongoing basis. Having a publicist is a valuable luxury.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m completing ANIMALS SPELL PEACE, the companion/sequel to ANIMALS SPELL LOVE. I expect that this pair will have a catalytic effect on each other, since their audiences both overlap and complement each other. Additional books are in the hopper!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Website: I set up my authorial website about six months before launch. It’s quite comprehensive, and includes event information and media resources.
Trailer: The ANIMALS SPELL LOVE trailer was Shelf-awareness.com’s “Trailer of the Day” on December 2, 2016.
Facebook
Contact: My email is david@davidcundyauthor.com.
Publicity: My publicist is Diane Kebede (djkebede@gmail.com; 515-943-3883).


FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP

October 9, 2017

Tags: FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP, Jen Campbell, Katie Harnett, Thames and Hudson, 2017

Jen Campbell is busy. She’s a bestselling author, award winning poet, and short story writer who has worked as a bookseller for 10 years. And she runs a YouTube channel! But today she takes some time to talk about creating her #firstpicturebook FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP—a Noteworthy Fall 2017 Picture Book selection from Imagination Soup. 

Q. Was FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was, yes.

Q. What inspired FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP?
A. I worked as a bookseller for ten years and children were the best part of my job. The enthusiasm and love they have for stories is fierce. I wanted to write something for them that reflected that.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I have ectrodactyly, so I type.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think the half-rhyming lists in Franklin’s Flying Bookshop were the most fun to write. “Every day Franklin reads about King Arthur and rollerskating… about electricity and baking… He reads about spiders and ballet and how to do kung fu.”

As for the illustration, I love all of them but my particular favourite is the double page spread where Luna and Franklin meet each other for the first time. I love the expression on their faces.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Luna relates to the moon, which is important to the series - though I can’t say why (spoiler!).

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I wanted it to have a fairy tale feel, and fairy tales are always told in third person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP? 
A. I knew it was going to be a book that celebrated difference and highlighted how reading can help us empathise with others. I knew the overall storyline, but of course things changed slightly as I went.

Q. Did FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. One.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP.
A. Immense joy.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I actually found Katie myself. I’d had a meeting with Thames & Hudson, who said they were keen to take Franklin on. They suggested I go away and look up illustrators and they would do the same. I discovered Katie’s work in a catalogue for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and fell in love with her illustrations. We met up, got on, and that was that.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches?
A. The first sketch Katie did was of Luna sitting on Franklin’s stomach, both of them reading, surrounded by books and fireflies. It had such a warmth to it; it was beautiful.

Q. How long did FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Eighteen months - as the illustrations hadn’t been done when we signed.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Nope.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture book writers?
A. Read everything aloud as you go.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have my debut short story collection (for adults) out this November. It’s called The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night and is published by Two Roads. It’s a collection of twelve haunting tales, many of which are inspired by fairy tale.

The sequel to Franklin’s Flying Bookshop will be published in 2018.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Youtube: www.youtube.com/jenvcampbell
Website: www.jen-campbell.com
Twitter: @jenvcampbell
Instagram: @jenvcampbell

How do you decide where to start and end a picture-book biography?

October 2, 2017

As I sit down to write another picture-book biography, I’m faced with the familiar question—where do I start? And then, where does it end? Lives are big and complicated. How will I fit this person’s story into a 32-page book? After a deep breath, a bowl of ice cream, and staring out the window for a bit, I remember that I have answers to this question! Here are some #firstpicturebook writers discussing how they selected the timeframes for their nonfiction picture books:

Audrey Vernick: “A boy and his dog story—it was clear to us that it started with his desire for a dog—one we wholly related to. And it had to end not with the death of the dog, but in the way Bark is still thought of and loved and admired because of Tim’s life as an artist.”

Laban Carrick Hill:“This was certainly one of the biggest challenges for me. But this is the case for every book I write. I always start with big ideas and huge ambitions. The thought of trying to represent slavery and create a discussion about slavery—and the long history of terror, rape, slavery, and murder that America is built on—made for some very long drafts of the poem. It wasn’t until I decided to just let Dave’s actions as a potter be a kind of massive metonymy/synecdoche for the larger themes that the poem really began to come together. What he does and who he is—his on-the-ground life, his massive pots, his poems—told that larger message without me mediating it with my words. In fact, I think it would have diminished the book—as well as been patronizing—if I had tried to do something like that. I can’t speak for Dave. I—and anyone else for that matter—can barely interpret his life with the few, random clues that have been left behind.”

Emma Bland Smith: “It made sense to start the story with the wolf leaving his family and heading out on his own. As far as the ending, that was a little trickier. In my first version (which I just looked back at), the ending was very vague and open, sort of flowery and poetic--not what editors are really looking for! There wasn’t a very satisfying conclusion because we didn’t really know what was going to happen with Journey. Luckily for me, sometime after that first draft, it came out in the news that he had met a mate and they’d had pups. That made for a much more exciting ending!”

Nancy Churnin: “It took me a long time to realize that the heart of the story was how his difference — his Deafness in a hearing world — was his gift to baseball. Because he was Deaf, he signed. He taught those signs to the umpires so he could play the game he loved. Those signs, which we still use today, make baseball a better game for everyone. Once that came to me, I realized I need to begin with the signs (his mother giving him Deaf applause when he practiced his throws as a boy) and finally show how he was loved by the fans when they greeted him with Deaf applause as his mother had done. The connecting thread was the applause. I used it to connect from the time he was a boy to a young rookie ballplayer to a successful and popular ballplayer.”

Heather Lang: “It’s always a challenge with picture book biographies deciding whether to focus on one event or a short part of a person’s life or even an entire life. Lots of things factor into that decision, like what research is available and what I really want my book to be about. I decided I wanted the book to be about Alice’s incredible determination and tenacity in the face of so many obstacles—poverty, segregation, and gender discrimination. In order to pull that off, I needed to start with her childhood. I always knew I wanted to end the book with her winning the gold medal—such a high point.”

Shana Keller:“The more I researched him, the more it felt right to focus his story on the achievement that everyone supported during a divisive time in our history, and one he did of his own volition. It’s noted that people came from near and far to see his clock.”

Kristen Fulton:“I knew that this was going to be about one small part of history, not a biography, but about an event. So it was easy. I decided to start it and end it with the event.”

IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND

September 18, 2017

Tags: IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND, Naseem Hrab, Josh Holinaty, Owlkids Books, 2017

Former librarian and current Marketing Director at Kids Can Press, Naseem Hrab knows how long it takes to make a book. But even she felt like it took forever to publish her #firstpicturebook IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND—“A fast-moving text that speaks to the fear children have about being the new kid anywhere in life….especially welcome on the shelves for back-to-school storytimes and shared readings” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Nope, it was not the first picture book manuscript I wrote. In my early twenties, I wrote a story about a little girl who didn’t like the lunch her mom packed for her. My story was unoriginal and didn’t really have a compelling narrative—there are plenty of published books that tackle that topic better than my attempt. And I got a very kind, personalized rejection letter from the publishing company I had sent it to. Ten years later, I started taking improv classes and I finally learned how to craft a story.

Q. What inspired IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. The story is inspired by my own experiences making new friends—I was the new kid in fourth grade. Sometimes, this loud, gregarious part of my personality comes out when I’m meeting new people and it feels like it’s TOO MUCH!!! And when I was a kid, I once tried so hard to make friends with this one kid that I made her cry. Yikes!!! I think I’ve learned a lot since that time in my life.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title popped into my head when I was writing the book. I like to write drafts with a title in mind because it helps me to frame up the narrative. Later on, after the book was accepted at Owlkids, a few different title options were suggested, like “Ira Crumb: New Kid Seeks Friend,” but I always felt like IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND fit the book best because it seems to make people laugh when you say it (“He’s just a pretty good friend? Not a GREAT one?”) and because of the double meaning—Ira is a pretty good friend and he also makes a pretty good friend in Malcolm.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! Typically, when I start working on a story, I'll write by hand using a pencil or a really inky pen—something that lets me write really fast and loose. In these early stages, every idea matters, so I avoid using an eraser or crossing anything out. My notes start out so messy! As the narrative starts to reveal itself, my notes will get neater and neater and that’s a sign that things are cooking, so I move to my laptop.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Ira lets an anteater know he’s got a booger in his nose cave. It definitely wasn’t in the first draft—I came up with the line much later on.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Sometimes I choose the names of people I know and, other times, like with the name Ira Crumb, a name pops into my head and feels right. (Also, in super early drafts, Ira was a small piece of cake, so that’s how he originally got his last name.)

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I feel like the story is told in a combination of third-person narrative and first-person action and dialogue. The narrator’s descriptions and Ira’s reality are kind of at odds with each other in certain moments, and this dichotomy makes for a lot of humorous moments.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. I wanted to tell a story about an animal interviewing potential new friends, and then that turned into a story about a piece of cake trying to make friends, and then that turned into a kid who tried too hard to make friends. So, I guess I didn’t know much when I started writing the story!

Q. Did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Ira came to be published in a neat way: I had workshopped Ira in a writing club I had formed with a few publishing and librarian folks. (I’m a former librarian and I work as a marketing director for a children’s publishing company.) One of our members, Karen Li, is the editorial director of Owlkids. After reading the manuscript in our club, Karen asked me to submit it to Owlkids. The manuscript was presented to their editorial board under the pen name Abe Bishop and that was that!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND.
A. OMG. DREAMS *CAN* COME TRUE. And then I bawled.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Karen is incredibly collaborative, so we discussed what style we thought might be the best fit for the book and we were both on the same page. When she put forth Josh Holinaty’s name, I was super excited—I was familiar with his work in children’s books. I love how sophisticated, energetic and colorful his illustrations are.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Josh’s illustrations are so expressive and lively. He is so good at capturing emotion and movement. Ira has a larger-than-life personality and Josh made that personality a reality. Also, Josh and I seem to find the same types of things funny, so I was thrilled with all of the humor that he brought to the story. His illustrations make me laugh out loud!

Q. How long did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two-and-a-half years. Owlkids expressed an interest in publishing Ira in January 2015 and the book was released in August 2017. I’ve worked in book publishing for over ten years and I know it takes a long time to make a book, but this felt like FOREVER to me.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. When I first sat down with my editor to discuss the manuscript, I said, “I’ll change anything you want, but I can’t take out the ‘You’ve got a booger in your nose cave, pal!’ line. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever written.” And she said, “Hmm … I was going to ask you to consider taking that line out.” I didn’t take it out and I don’t regret it. I think it’s the line that kids will find the funniest. That said, the thing with editorial feedback is that you normally should listen! Because 1) your editor wants to make the best book possible with you, and 2) you have to trust that if she suggests you change something, it’s because what you’ve written might not be working. And it’s your job to figure out solutions to the issues your editor points out. I love that quote about “killing your darlings” that’s attributed to every great writer, so let’s quote Stephen King’s version: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Focus on capturing emotion in your story. How does your character feel about what is happening to them? If you focus on your character’s emotions, their reactions and actions will reveal themselves to you. And if I had to give a #1.5 tip, it’d be: finish every draft you start.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite writing exercise is writing a “vomit draft.” It’s important to realize that nothing is going to be perfect in your first draft (or even a second or third draft), so you need to get something, anything, down on paper to give you something to work with and build on. My favorite marketing tip is: write a great book that people will talk about. Word of mouth is the #1 best way to get your book into the hands of readers.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now, I'm working on a draft for a potential Ira Crumb 3. The second book in the Ira Crumb series is coming out in Fall 2018 and it’s tentatively titled IRA CRUMB FEELS THE FEELINGS. I also have a picture book coming out with Groundwood Books in Spring 2019—it’s called WEEKEND DAD and it’s completely different than the Ira books. It’s more serious and was inspired by my tenuous relationship with my father. I'm also working on a few other picture book ideas.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
NaseemHrab.com
Instagram: Naseemo
Twitter: @Naseemo

LOVELY

September 11, 2017

Tags: LOVELY, Jess Hong, Creston Books, October 1, 2017

Fresh out of art school, Jess Hong attended a book fair and showed her book dummy to Marissa Moss, an editor at Creston Books. The result was her #firstpicturebook which will be available October 1. Today she tells us how LOVELY—“a lively ode to being different” (The New York Times Book Review)—came to be.

Q. Was LOVELY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. LOVELY is the first picture book I ever wrote or illustrated. It’s really surreal to see this project come into fruition!

Q. What inspired LOVELY?
A. The idea of making a conceptual children’s book always interested me, and I wanted the message of it to be inclusive and positive. The message is simply everyone is different and that is lovely. There are all kinds of people in this world, with an ever growing spectrum of differences. I think it’s important for kids to be able to learn that at a young age. It went through many changes and fine tuning but I’m very happy with where the book has landed.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I wanted a variation of the word “beautiful”.  “Lovely” felt more descriptive and enrapturing of a person as a whole.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote most of this book on post it notes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like one of the spreads that features unique legs and feet. The idea was in the first draft, but the components and surprises in it were developed over the whole process.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Since it isn’t a traditional story and more of a concept book it felt right to me for the overall tone.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing LOVELY? 
A. I had a super clear idea but a lot of the components of the book really was a gradual process. Things were added in all the way up to the end.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I wrote a pretty loose version of the story first. I had some clear “opposite” concepts I really wanted to illustrate so I created those first and then made the story work around those. A lot of the pages were also open to interpretation illustration wise, so it was a fun journey figuring it all out.

Q. Did LOVELY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky enough to meet my editor (Marissa Moss of Creston Books) at a book fair the summer I graduated art school. I had literally just finished the dummy and it all worked out quite serendipitously.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY.
A. Joy and elation. Slight shrieking. Frantic texting to share the news.

Q. How long did LOVELY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I’m actually quite happy I didn’t have to edit out anything! I ended up adding and changing the story a lot throughout the whole process, and I had an amazing support system of my publishing team, teachers, and fellow children’s book illustrators and authors as a sounding board.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I spent a long time just immersing myself into the world of children’s books and picking up ideas and inspiration. It gave me a great starting point and helped me understand what would work for my book.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I met my editor at a book fair. My tip is to get out there and show people your work whenever you can. You never know who will be there and what kind of connections you can make.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m a full time illustrator at Papyrus. My day job and freelancing on the side is keeping me on my toes these days. 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Website: http://www.jesshong.net/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jesshongdraws/

Did your #firstpicturebook receive any rejection letters?

September 4, 2017

Tags: Emma Bland Smith, Susan Hood, Nancy Churnin, Deborah Freedman, Josh Funk, Ed Masessa, Brittany R. Jacobs, Lori Alexander, Camille Andros, Katey Howes

After three years of rejection, I finally sold my second picture book biography! (Check back in a few weeks to learn more about that project.) Honestly, I stopped keeping track of how many rejection letters it received once it reached 50. “We like it, but we don’t love it” seemed to be the running theme. But it wasn’t until one publisher sent me a long and thoughtful email with specific suggestions, that my manuscript clicked, clicked, CLICKED into place. So to celebrate acceptance after so much rejection, I’m reposting 10 Q&As with these #firstpicturebook authors:

Nancy Churnin: “The rejection letters came in three phases. The first phase was for the version of the story I wrote before I realized I needed to study this craft. There were lots of those! The second phase was after my lovely agent, Karen Grencik, took me on hours after reading the version I had written after taking multiple courses and challenges and gotten help from fabulous critique partners. Those were personalized and regretful rejections which were a big step up from the form letters I had gotten after submitting to the slush piles. The third phase came after I carefully considered a common thread in the comments in the rejections….”

Deborah Freedman: “SCRIBBLE received three rejection letters, for three different versions of the story. After each “pass”, I went back and started all over again. Two years of revisions definitely made the story much stronger, and I’m truly indebted to the two editors who took the time to give me honest feedback.”

Josh Funk: “I sent it to 36 agents. Two responded as if they read it. Ten sent me form rejections. The other 24 were black holes (I never received a response). So I gave up on agents. I sent it snail mail to 10 publishers that accepted unsolicited submissions. One sent back a rejection. 8 never responded. So that all adds up to 45 rejections and ...”

Ed Masessa: “My agent, Marcia Wernick, helped me polish the draft and sent it to a half dozen or so editors over the course of several months. They all came back with a “well done, but…” And all of the ‘buts’ hit upon a central theme – the story dragged. So I kept the bones of the story and went to work on picking up the pace and the fun factor.”

Brittany R. Jacobs: “We had one heckuva time selling the Kraken, and it was because of the artwork. About 20 houses turned us down because they didn't love my illustration style. There was even a point where I considered selling the manuscript and letting someone else do the artwork. Thankfully Pow! saved the day and offered a contract for both text and illustrations, and we ended up with a lovely book.”

Lori Alexander: “Oh, yes! Pre-agent, I sent the early versions to various publishers and ended up in their slush piles. There were a handful of non-responses and some form rejections. I nearly gave up at that point. The process was so slow and I didn’t feel like I was learning enough from the rejections. But the more I read, the more I realized rejections are all part of the business.…”

Camille Andros: “A. Yes! Of course! Probably around two dozen or so from agents and then editors. But I wasn't really shopping Charlotte around as much as I was THE DRESS AND THE GIRL which was the first book I wrote and was more focused on initially. That book got lots and lots of rejections, but each personalized rejection (they weren't all like that of course) and the feedback that came with it was so helpful in improving each manuscript.”

Katey Howes: “Oh, yes! I received at least ten very nice rejection letters for GRANDMOTHER THORN before getting the incredibly exciting call from Rob Broder of Ripple Grove Press. Most of the rejections claimed to love the lyricism and symbolism of the story, but said that it would be a tough sell in the current market because it was “quiet.” Several agents who read GRANDMOTHER THORN asked to see other works from me.”

Emma Bland Smith: “I didn’t receive many rejections for this manuscript, but I want to state that I have received many dozens, maybe even hundreds, of rejections, in total, for all my of manuscripts, over the six or so years I’ve been submitting! And I still am. With JOURNEY, it was a case of the right story getting to the right publisher at the right time. I’m very grateful.”

Susan Hood: “My first version had the same main character and the same ending, but it was a completely different story. A more modern story. My editor thought it had possibilities, but it was rejected in Acquisitions. I was so disappointed, I stuck it in a drawer for years.”

THE TOOTH MOUSE

August 21, 2017

Tags: THE TOOTH MOUSE by Susan Hood and illustrated by Janice Nadeau (Kids Can Press, 2012)

To celebrate ‪#NationalToothFairyDay, I'm reposting Susan Hood's #firstpicturebook Q&A on THE TOOTH MOUSE—"a fresh, modern take on an itty-bitty heroine's achievement of her seemingly impossible goal" (Kirkus Reviews) with "such a unique ending that listeners and their parents will smile with the cleverness of it all" (Publishers Weekly, starred review). Click here to read full interview.

ZEBRA ON THE GO

August 14, 2017

Tags: ZEBRA ON THE GO, Jill Nogales, Lorraine Rocha, Peachtree Publishers, 2017

Magazine writer Jill Nogales always rode the carousel's zebra when she was a child. But it wasn’t until she read about a circus animal escape that her zebra took off! Today she shares the story of her #firstpicturebook ZEBRA ON THE GO —“a beautiful tapestry of art, humor, and friendship” (School Library Journal) and “a solid read-aloud that is equally entertaining for both adults and children” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Q. Was ZEBRA ON THE GO the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. I have been writing magazine stories, as well as educational and religious materials, for children for several years, but ZEBRA ON THE GO is my first serious attempt at writing a picture book.

Q. What inspired ZEBRA ON THE GO?
A. I read a brief article in the “Odds and Ends” section of the local newspaper about how a circus had come to town somewhere back east and one of the show animals had escaped during a performance causing a big ruckus in that town. That was it. No details. Which wasn’t at all fair because I wanted to know more! So I started imagining possible scenarios and that sparked the idea for ZEBRA ON THE GO.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Honestly, I never gave the title much thought. It’s a phrase that is repeated throughout the story and it seemed like the right title from the very beginning.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. The computer is my preferred method of writing, but if I’m away from my desk and I get a really fabulous idea, I’ll write it by hand. Part of ZEBRA ON THE GO came to me in the middle of the night on a family camping trip. I didn’t want to wake up my kids, so I wrote it on a napkin with a crayon in the dark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send image of this page if you can.)
A. My favorite part of the book is where Zebra is hiding on the carousel pretending to be one of the horse figurines. It’s a fond childhood memory, I suppose. When I was young, my parents took me for rides on a carousel that had a zebra. My brother always chose one of the big fancy horses. But I rode on the zebra.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. First person didn’t seem right for this story because Zebra and Lion are focused on the chase and pretty much unaware of the chaotic ruckus they are causing as the story progresses. I wanted a broader perspective on the story events and third person let me do that.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. ZEBRA ON THE GO is an action story. I felt that rhyme would make the story snap and keep the flow of energy going.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO ? 
A. When I began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO, I just had the first half in mind. Originally, the scene where Zebra is hiding on the carousel was the grand finale. But then a critique partner pointed out that Lion would not give up the chase so easily. Obviously, right? I kept writing and brought the story full-circle. 

Q. Did ZEBRA ON THE GO receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. There’s never a shortage of rejection letters in my inbox, but ZEBRA ON THE GO actually received very few. I started out by submitting it to 3 or 4 agents and they were all interested but wanted to see 2 more manuscripts which I unfortunately didn’t have. So I submitted ZEBRA ON THE GO to a few publishing houses on my own and it was snatched up pretty quickly.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ZEBRA ON THE GO.
A. Very excited! Dream come true!!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the sketches and jacket cover, I was amazed at how perfectly the illustrator, Lorraine Rocha, understood the big ruckus I had in mind when I wrote the text. She did an incredible job with ZEBRA ON THE GO. Her illustrations are so fun and delightfully detailed. 

Q. How long did ZEBRA ON THE GO take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Almost 5 years

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Not one word was changed from the original manuscript -- for which I’m grateful because it could have messed up the rhyme and that would have been complicated to rewrite!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Embrace and enjoy the process. By “process,” I mean going to bookstores and libraries to analyze the newest picture books, joining a critique group and SCBWI, and of course actually writing. Luck sometimes plays a part, but writing a picture book is mostly a lot hard work. It’s tough to conjure one up overnight. It’s a process. So embrace and enjoy it!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Get to know the owners of nearby independent bookstores. These people know how to market books, they have connections, and most often they are happy to offer advice and guidance to debut authors.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m still writing magazine stories as well as educational and religious materials. But I also have a few more picture book manuscripts in the works.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
www.jillnogales.com

Thank you for this opportunity to share about my first picture book, Karlin, and best wishes to all of your readers!

Why did you decide to write your picture book in first or third person?

August 7, 2017

Tags: First-person, third-person, first picture book

"That's just the way the story came out" was the most popular answer to this question. But these writers had specific reasons for their point-of-view choices. Clink on the answer to read more from each author's #firstpicturebook Q&A:

Hannah Barnaby, author of BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE: “For me, the point-of-view for any story comes organically from the mood and tone of the story itself. BAD GUY is a character piece with a surprise at the end, so first-person/present-tense supports that effect. GARCIA & COLETTE is a more traditional friendship story with a very clear structure, so third-person/past-tense felt just right for it.”

Miriam Glassman, author of HALLOWEENA: “Because it is based on a fairy tale, I felt it should have a fairy tale feel to it. So from the very first draft, it was in third person. Also, by not telling it all from Hepzibah’s point of view, it was much easier to show the mother-daughter struggle.”

Tara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE: “Aha! I had originally written the story in first person, in Zack’s voice, but my editor asked me to change it. That was so we could get some fun repetition with Zack speaking, as in “Zack wanted a refund. ‘I want a refund!’”

Shennen Bersani, author of ACHOO!: WHY POLLEN COUNTS: “I felt the third person drives home the science facts and importance of the subject, while allowing children to put themselves in the story more easily.”

Hrefna Bragadottir, author of BAXTER’S BOOK: “I played around with telling it in third person, but it just didn’t feel as strong. I wanted Baxter to talk directly to the reader in the present moment to get a better sense of the journey he goes on. It keeps it short and sweet.”

Cheryl Lawton Malone, author of DARIO AND THE WHALE: “I use third person to tell the story from two points of view—Dario’s and the whale’s. First person might confuse readers because of the two points of view/perspective.”

Susan Farrington, author of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU: “It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.”

Gaia Cornwall, author of JABARI JUMPS: “I did versions of it in first person and in the end I liked the rhythm of how it sounded out loud in third person. But also it let the dad be a character in his own right as opposed to seeing him through Jabari's eyes-- as you would in first person. I think this way, adults will find him relatable, just like the kids will see themselves in Jabari.”

David Litchfield, author of THE BEAR AND THE PIANO: “I didn't really think about it at the time. But now that I am thinking, maybe it's because if I had written it from the Bear’s perspective and have the bear narrate it would have broken the Magic a bit. After all, if the bear can talk and tell us the story, it's not to far to stretch our belief that the bear can play the piano. So maybe, sub consciously, that's why I wrote it in the third person.”

Hazel Mitchell, author of TOBY: “Originally I wanted it to be almost wordless. But as I worked on the story with my editor and art director, we felt more words were needed. So it's mostly conversational in graphic panels, with some short lines in first person to lead the reader from one scene to another. It's good for the parent to have something to read aloud and not just to look at the pictures and also gives the child something to linger over.”

Robin Newman, author of HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP: “I like that you can confide facts to the reader with a third person narrator.”

Brittany R. Jacobs, author of THE KRAKEN’S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS: “In the beginning I toyed around with telling the story from the Kraken's point of view, but I wanted to show why the fish don't like him. He's big and scary and has a terrible temper. Bringing the narration out to third person allowed for the reader to experience more of the characters.”

Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?: “Well, for a couple of reasons. One, I figured that if I wrote it in first person, then these unconventional characters may feel more relatable and two, I wanted this to be a simple story with a twist. I imagined children reading it and discovering that the characters speak as their roles dictate. That, to me, would be an incredible learning opportunity.”

Curtis Manley, author of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ: “The first four years of my working on it, the story was in first person. I felt that made it more immediate. But first person isn’t always the best choice for a read-aloud. My editor asked me to try it in third person; that allowed the humor to come out more, so we kept it that way.”

Jason Gallaher, author of WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE: “I thought third person served Whobert's story better because a narrator sort of gives Whobert a little credibility in his detective work. Whobert is a dunce detective, but he doesn't know it, and he really does want to do good in his community. I thought by having an omniscient narrator detailing his exploits, it would give this sort of subconscious recognition that at least somebody thinks Whobert's life is noteworthy even if he's not fully aware of his surroundings.”

Megan Wagner Lloyd, author of FINDING WILD: “It’s actually in second person, which wasn't a conscious decision for me--once I got the voice of the piece rolling, I just went with it.”

CHICKEN WANTS A NAP

July 31, 2017

Tags: CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, Tracy Marchini, Monique Felix, Creative Editions, August 2017

Even though Tracy Marchini is a literary agent and YA and middle-grade author, she didn't play it cool when she got an offer on her debut picture book. Today she tells us how she created and celebrated her #firstpicturebook CHICKEN WANTS A NAP—coming August 15! (See Goodreads giveaway link below to win a copy!)

Q. Was CHICKEN WANTS A NAP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. CHICKEN WANTS A NAP wasn’t the first (or even the second, third, fourth…) picture book I wrote. The first picture book was about a collection of animals that find a hat and while I did send it out on submission, it’s found a home on my computer hard drive where it will probably stay indefinitely!

Q. What inspired CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. At the time, I was a full time grad student who was working part time, and one of my assignments was to write about a character’s best or worst day. I was so exhausted and a nap sounded like the best thing in the world to me – so I wrote about a Chicken who also would love a nap, but was constantly interrupted.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title and the first line are the same, and they just kind of popped into my head as I was thinking about the assignment.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I like to do both. If I’m stuck on something, I’ll write it out by hand. I always feel like I am a little more creative when I’m writing by hand first. There’s something about the feel of pen on paper, and it also gives me the opportunity to do a quick line edit as I enter it into the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the end (though I’m not going to spoil the ending for you!) and it was in the first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Chicken is a chicken, and there was something about the naturally sparse text that seemed to fit with the simple name.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first/third person?
A. Because the story deals with naps, it always felt natural in third. I think first person would have been too close, and would have changed the tone considerably.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. I knew that I was tired, but the rest came to me as a wrote! I did know that I loved the structure of Remy Charlip’s Fortunately, so that was definitely something I was going for. Something about the original assignment (best or worst day) must have sparked that memory – and I think a lot of the humor comes from the back and forth of being successful… until the reader turns the page and Chicken is once more thwarted.

Q. Did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. So, this is completely unusual, but I only sent CHICKEN to one publisher that I had worked with in the past and knew would be a good fit. But most authors aren’t going to sell a book without at least one rejection for that manuscript, and I certainly have rejections from previous picture books.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.
A. There was a lot of dancing, some annoying singing (“I sold a boooooook!”) and I think even a little bit of the running man. I was not chill about it – at all!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. No input, which is common. Luckily, I love Monique’s art in general and also what she did with CHICKEN WANTS A NAP in particular!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. “That’s one good lookin’ Chicken!”

Q. How long did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About three months shy of two years from offer to publication.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. The text is only about 165 words, but my editor and I went back and forth on just the right wording for quite a bit. It wasn’t so much editing out something that I loved, but figuring out how to tighten the text so that it was even better!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write and read as many of them as you can until picture book structure becomes an innate part of your craft. (Tip #2 would be to jot down a couple of picture ideas and then ask yourself with each idea, “How can I take this idea and flip it into something new/clever/funny/etc.?”)

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If you’re stuck, change your scenery. Take a walk, go to your library, or make something with your hands (knit, sew, color – something!) Let your subconscious do some work on the problem and come back to the manuscript fresh.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now I have a couple of picture book ideas that I’m revising and one that I’m drafting. There aren’t any chickens in these manuscripts… yet. (There is a duck though!)

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. Website: www.tracymarchini.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/tracymarchini
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tracymarchinibooks
Enter to win CHICKEN WANTS A NAP at www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/241397?utm_medium=api&utm_source=giveaway_widget