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Q&A Blog

Top 10 #firstpicturebook Tips of 2018

As 2018 winds down, I just want to say how grateful I am to all the writers who have contributed to this blog. I learn something new in each interview and hope you do too. I will be back next month with new Q&As for 2019. Until then, here are my favorite #firstpicturebook tips from 2018. Click on the author’s name to read the full interview.

Happy Holidays!

“I have a folder on my laptop of transcriptions of other peoples’s stories. When I’m sitting down to write, I might read through a few of them before I begin, so I can get into the rhythm of writing a picture book on one blank page, single-spaced. That has really changed how I write.”— Amanda Moeckel

“Participate in the kidlit community. It is an incredibly generous and supportive group of people! Volunteer for your local SCBWI conference. Join an online writing challenge. Review books on your blog. Give shout-outs on social media for deal announcements, book birthdays, awards, … anything! Don’t think of other kidlit folks as competitors. Think of them as cheerleaders. When you reach out, others reach back.”—Laura Renauld

“My favorite writing exercise is going for walks and making myself think on the story. What is working, what isn't, what will make your story slightly different. The mindful walk helps shape the story.”—Robert Broder

“If you are a debut author, find a debut group! If they are full, create another.”—Jessie Oliveros

“I attended my first kidlit conference in July 2016, and booked in for manuscript assessments with a couple of editors. I just wanted to get feedback to see if I was on the right track with my writing, but happily I actually got a contract from one of the editors I saw there. ”—Kellie Byrnes

“In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here). I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.”—Sarah Jane Marsh

“when you’re stuck on what to say, sometimes it can help to imagine you are writing a book for your own 8-year-old self. What book would have helped that kid? Or delighted them?”—Elizabeth Lilly

“Every year my critique group retreats to a cabin in Alabama for a writing weekend! We follow a schedule of working, eating, walking and critiquing each day. It has proven to be really productive AND fun!”—Shanda McCloskey

“one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!”—Aura Lewis

“When I’m working on a piece, I ask questions like who, what, why, where, when and how over and over again. I always think universal — similarities and differences. Most times those questions are being answered while I pace back and forth talking out loud to myself.”— Baptiste Paul
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GLORIA’S VOICE

Aura Lewis studied psychology in college but changed paths when she earned her MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Guided by her admiration for feminist Gloria Steinem and her love of 60s-70s fashion and design, Aura created her #firstpicturebook GLORIA’S VOICE—“a subtle ode to an iconic figure of quiet “strength and enormous influence.” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was GLORIA’S VOICE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes!

Q. What inspired GLORIA’S VOICE?
A. I’ve always been interested in the women’s movement, feminism and gender studies. When I thought of writing a picture book biography, I thought of Gloria Steinem- I’ve always admired her, and in a way I also identified with her story, of someone from a small town wanting to go to New York to do something big. This was combined with my love for 60s and 70s fashion and design! I was excited to portray that era. When the idea came to me I knew I had to make it.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title was actually suggested to me by my agent at the time :)

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! I have a sketchbook where I write ideas, and then I organize them on the computer. I actually also write a lot on my phone when I'm commuting!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hmmm. I think my favorite part is the “poster” spread where Gloria and Dorothy go on the road. The idea to make it this way came to me pretty late in the process of making the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I read books, articles and interviews by Ms. Steinem and about her. I watched lots of interviews with her as well as documentaries about the time period. I loved the research part!

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Good question! At first I tried to fit in Ms. Steinem’s whole life. But, I realized after a few drafts that the story arc would be better if it ended much earlier (after the publication of Ms. Magazine.) Ending it there gave the book a better rhythm and an ending with a look to the future.


Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a really organic process—I wrote and drew and wrote and drew until everything came together. The words helped me figure out the spreads, but sometimes I changed the text and pacing of the manuscript in order to fit with the images that I thought would work best.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I have page-by-page notes, with information I wanted to include but couldn’t fit in the story itself. In the notes, I also explain some of the details in the illustrations that have a back story. We also included a biography of Gloria Steinem and a list of other children’s book titles about women’s empowerment.


Q. Did GLORIA’S VOICE  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GLORIA’S VOICE.
A. I was SO excited! I was really, really sick that day—I completely lost my voice so I couldn’t shout for joy. I did do a very happy dance though- and then collapsed on the bed:)

Q. How long did GLORIA’S VOICE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just a little over 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 feel like there’s always something I could change or add about the art or text! In all of my work, I am learning to put it out there and let it be what it is.

Q. Did you create any book swag for GLORIA’S VOICE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! The publisher made some beautiful posters and buttons to go with the book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Here are a few tips that really helped me:
1. Read a ton of picture books so that you’re really familiar with the genre.
2. Read a great book about writing for kids (there are a few excellent ones out there!)
3. Learn to make a book dummy and mock-up a story in 32 pages (even if it's just words and scribbles!) This will help so much with pacing, storytelling and structure!


Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to try different things at different times, but one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on my next book, THE ILLUSTRATED FEMINIST. It’s an illustrated handbook for adults and YA about American feminist history, coming out in 2020 with Abrams.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I’m on instagram & Twitter:  @auralewis
Website: Auralewis.com
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