My #FirstPictureBook Q&A

10 Tips on Writing Picture Books

March 27, 2017

Tags: Shana Keller, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Linda Vander Hayden, Lori Alexander, Jodi McKay, Lori Richmond, Annie Silvestro, Wendy BooydeGraaf, Cheryl Keely, Susan Farrington

Shana Keller: Find a topic you love or a person you love and go with it.

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Read as many picture books as you can, especially ones which are debuts and newly released. Familiarizing yourself with what’s out there and what’s selling now is a really valuable tool to crafting your own masterpieces!

Linda Vander Hayden: I try to use active verbs and make sure I’m showing (not telling) how my characters are feeling. I’ve also learned to remember to leave room for an illustrator to work his or her magic.

Lori Alexander: Try alternating the POV of your work-in-progress. You may like what the change does for your story.

Jodi McKay: I am a big advocate for a good story arc and I try to make sure that I hit all of the elements of the arc by asking myself this: Who, Wants, But, So, Then, Sign off.

Lori Richmond: Ask yourself why you like certain books. Analyze how the book is paced. How is the conflict introduced? How is it resolved?

Annie Silvestro: My favorite and most necessary exercise is reading a story out loud so I can really hear the areas that are working and the ones that are not.

Wendy BooydeGraaff: Sit on a bench somewhere and watch the people who pass. Ask questions about them. Where are they going? What job do they do? Once you see someone that sparks your imagination, gather in as many details as possible about that person and then write.

Cheryl Keely: I set a timer (usually 15 minutes) and write whatever comes out in that time.

Susan Farrington: Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right.

LONG MAY SHE WAVE

March 20, 2017

Tags: Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation, Kristen Fulton, Holly Berry, Margaret K. McElderry Books, May 2, 2017

Kristen Fulton began writing children's books in 2013 and a year later she had sold three manuscripts! Today she shares the story behind her #firstpicturebook LONG MAY SHE WAVE—“A strong look at women who up took up needle and thread to inspire a town, a man, and ultimately a nation” (Booklist).

Q. Was LONG MAY SHE WAVE the first picture-book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, actually is was the third that I sold. Of course I had written a few that didn’t sell. My two that sold before Long May She Wave were with Chronicle and Simon and Schuster. Chronicle had a vision and kept me a close part of the publishing process. The “ideal” illustrator was booked out so we decided to wait for him. It was worth it in the end. The other story with Simon and Schuster (same as Long May She Wave) was moved to 2018 instead as it needed a little more fine editing work.

Q. What inspired LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. My husband and I travel about six months a year in our RV, aka Chalet Fulton. On one of our many travels we stopped in Washington DC and saw the Star Spangled Banner. We decided to head over to Baltimore and tour the Flag House (where the flag was made). Piece by piece the story was revealed and I knew that I wanted to sew this one together. So, we set up camp for two weeks and I went into serious research mode.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This was an easy one since it is based on the Flag.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is in the final and has been there since draft one. It is where I took words from the "Star Spangled Banner" and wove it into the story so readers could see them used in context.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. I visited the home. Pulled property records and censuses. I visited the Smithsonian. Spoke to several historians. I visited Ft. McHenry. Got primary resources from daily papers about the British marching to Washington and then on to Boston. I also got a letter from Caroline Pickergil’s daughter.

Q. How did you decide on where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. 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.

Q. Did LONG MAY SHE WAVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, except from my agent :-) She wasn’t crazy about it but Justin Chanda from Simon and Schuster had just contacted her to see all of my work so she included it and voila!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LONG MAY SHE WAVE.
A. Vindicated? I have heard over and over that I haven’t paid my dues. I am still fairly new to writing. I began my writing career in January 2013. Even the head of my regional SCBWI felt that people would not give me credit as a writer since I haven’t “paid my dues.” Selling a third story on my one-year anniversary validated this career choice for me. I work at least 40 hours a week writing, attend two to four conferences and retreats, and participate in about two classes per year.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had none on this book. Although once the illustrations were done, they did listen to my opinion about historically inaccurate items.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. OMG—That is my book!!! I think the best moment was being told it was available for preorder on Amazon. I was surrounded by friends and they got to tell me. I was happy, cried, and an emotional wreck all at once.

Q. How long did LONG MAY SHE WAVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I sold the book in January 2014. 3 years and 4 months.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Think like a kid. Ask yourself, “What will a kid find interesting?” NOT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WILL FIND INTERESTING.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I created a compass that I fill out. It is available for download on my website at http://www.kristenfulton.org/uploads/1/8/4/4/18447485/website_compass.pdf.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a few I CAN READ series books for Harper, a series for Charlesbridge, and an adult novel.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Twitter: @KristenFulton
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kristenfulton.net/?fref=ts
www.kristenfulton.com

THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ

March 13, 2017

Tags: THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, Curtis Manley, Kate Berube, Paula Wiseman Books, 2016

"Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections." But finally, one of Curtis Manley's manuscripts became his #firstpicturebook. THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ is "a marvelous debut”(Publishers Weekly starred review) that "makes a fun read-aloud, especially for cat lovers, literacy lovers, or anyone looking for a great story” (School Library Journal starred review).

Q. Was THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not the first picture book I wrote—I wrote the first one in 2000 (I still really like it and need to figure out how to revise it to make it work). Not even the first picture book I sold—that one won’t come out until April 2017 (because sometimes there are big bumps in the road!).

Q. What inspired THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. When I started working on the story in early 2009, I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world—and it was not the world in which her mother and I were asking her to get ready for dinner! So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The earliest versions of the title were always similar to the final title. It seemed a good idea to use the title to make it clear what the book was about (at least on one level). It also seemed like a title that would make people think “What? Can cats really be taught to read?” Of course, some people might worry, wondering if their cats have been reading all along, unbeknownst to them…

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like many different parts of the book, but the spread with all the drawings is one favorite. Was that in the first draft? Nope! It first appeared in the draft that got the offer—but in fact previous drafts had hinted at something under the bed (but even I—the author—had missed those hints).

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I chose “Nick” because I thought that name would work well for any boy the illustrator might draw. For the cats, I didn’t want “cute” names; I wanted distinctive names that adults would recognize from some of the classic books referenced in the story. “Verne” seemed fitting, and “Stevenson” was actually a perfect match for a cat who’s a reluctant reader…

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. 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.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. I think I had a good idea of the whole story—but, as I mentioned above, the story changed so that isn’t the one you’ll read in the published book.

Q. Did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections. But for this book, my agent’s choice of the first editor to send it to was perfect: that editor liked it right away. Not that the editor immediately yelled, “Sold!”—there were extensive revisions before that happened.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ.
A. Relief! After three rounds of revisions, one right after another, I was just glad the story had sold so that we could be finished with all those rewrites. Famous last words! Immediately after the offer there were two more rounds of revisions—and two additional rounds several months later! It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. It’s unusual for the writer to have much say in the matter. But I’m grateful I was shown the samples and sketches as the work progressed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My editor needed to be sure that any illustrator chosen had good cat-drawing abilities, so she asked the illustrator she had in mind—Kate Berube—for some samples. Kate’s sample cats had just the right dynamic and charm for the story—and behaved like the cats we ourselves have had over the years.

Q. How long did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took just a bit more than two years. That’s pretty common with picture books for which the author is not creating the illustrations.

Q. When you do readings of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids like to recite the words that are spelled out on the flash cards that Nick uses. They also love to meow and hiss along with the cats!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If you’re serious about writing for children, join SCBWI. But even more important than that is to find a critique group of like-minded children’s writers (which SCBWI can certainly help with) who can give you a wide range of feedback on your manuscripts and story ideas. A good writing group can help its members bootstrap themselves from being writers to being published authors. It’s happened for many of the folks in my group.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I’m not sure I’d call it an exercise, but (no matter where I might be) I try to always write down any story idea I have—because if I don’t, I’ll likely forget it. If I forget it, I can never work on it and turn it into something—and there’s no guarantee I’ll ever recall it again. On my computer I keep a file with all my ideas, and I look them over every so often. I never know when I’ll think of the perfect detail or situation to turn a specific idea into the core of a future book.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just sold my first nonfiction picture book manuscript, but I’ll likely be working closely with the editor for several months to get the text “just right”. And I try to have four or five new manuscripts that I’m working on—or at least thinking about—at any given time.

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

Thanks so much, Karlin, for inviting me to appear on your blog!

CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED

March 6, 2017

Tags: CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, Camille Andros, Brianne Farley, Clarion Books, March 14, 2017

E.M.T. Camille Andros is the oldest of seven kids, has six children of her own, and loves science. So it makes perfect sense that her #firstpicturebook would be CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. But exactly how did she craft a book with "loads of charm methodically delivered" (Kirkus Reviews)? Read on to find out . . .

Q. Was CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, Charlotte wasn't the first book I wrote. The first serious try at a PB manuscript is a book called THE DRESS AND THE GIRL that sold to ABRAMS about six months after Charlotte sold. It will be out in the Fall of 2018.

Q. What inspired CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. There were several inspirations for Charlotte. My husband comes from a very large family of ten children. All of those ten now have children of their own totaling over 65 grandkids. I am the oldest of seven kids and I have six children of my own, so there is always lots going on and sometimes we all feel the need to have our own space.

I also love science and want kids, especially girls, to know that science is awesome and it's ok to love it too.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It came to me while I was in the shower--like all good ideas I have;)

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread doesn't even have any words-it's the spread where Charlotte lands in outer space and is so thrilled to finally have her very own space. Having Charlotte go to space was always in the manuscript, but she wasn't Charlotte in the first draft. She was Seymour.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person?
A. I wrote the book like I was telling the story to my own kids. First person wouldn't have made sense doing that.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. I wrote the first draft in one sitting and it was only 76 words. It evolved quite a bit from that first draft and, after a great SCBWI critique at a conference, the rest of Charlotte came to me pretty quickly. There were still lots of drafts ahead but it was mostly cleaning up the manuscript and making the story more focused.

Q. Did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
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.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.
A. I had just left the dentist when my agent called to tell me we had an offer on Charlotte--it was super exciting and I couldn't believe it was happening. Then I was even more surprised when we received three more offers on top of that first one. It sounds so cliche to say I was beyond thrilled to get that kind of response for my first book. The day my agent called with all of the final offers and asked if I was "sitting down" was kind of an out-of-body experience. I loved reading the stories of authors getting their first book deals or signing with an agent and now it was happening to me. It was very surreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. In an unusual turn of events my agent and I discussed pairing my manuscript with one of the RLM (Rodeen Literary Management-the agency that represents me) illustrators since I was new. Brianne Farley's style was perfect for Charlotte and I absolutely love what she has done to bring her to life. So lucky for me I kind of got to choose which doesn't happen very often:)

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. That favorite spread I mentioned above really jumped out at me. I love the look of pure joy on Charlotte's face.

I didn't get to see the jacket cover until much later and it went through many different versions so I saw some a few before the final cover selected and loved them all. It's just so much fun to see a character that lives in your head come to life on the page.

Q. How long did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer for Charlotte was finalized in June of 2015. Charlotte will be out in the world on March 14, 2017, so just a couple months shy of two years.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up. The authors who are published are the ones who didn't give up.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Endings are hard for me. One thing I like to do to help is imagine what I want the reader to feel at the end of the book and then start writing different endings that would give that feeling.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on edits for the second Charlotte book, and the book I mentioned above, THE DRESS AND THE GIRL, to be illustrated by Julie Morstad that will be out Fall 2018. I'm also working a middle grade and a YA novel and I also have a few other projects in the works that I have my fingers crossed for.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
www.CamilleAndros.com
Twitter: @Camdros
Facebook: Camille Andros
Instagram: @camilleandros