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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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DOLL-E 1.0

Shanda (rhymes with panda) McCloskey’s #firstpicturebook was inspired by watching her inventive daughters play with their toys and was later named by her husband. Now this family-made creation comes out May 1 and today she shares the nuts and bolts of DOLL-E 1.0—“an engaging story, arguing for the marriage of technology with creativity and play” (Kirkus Reviews ) and “an enjoyable romp for readers, whether they’re plugged in or not” (Booklist).

Q. Was DOLL-E 1.0  the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Hmm. I think this was probably the 3rd or 4th picture book I spent real time on. For a few of those, I was stuck on writing about how making art was similar to cooking with ingredients. The idea sounded fun, but it wasn’t when I actually wrote it. I still remember the looks on my writer friends’ faces when I finished reading my drafts aloud… poor guys, they had to tell me how bad it was without breaking my spirit. I guess, they succeeded, because I’m still here. :)
 
Q. What inspired DOLL-E 1.0?
A. One day, I was playing dolls and stuffed animals with my two-year-old daughter who naturally liked books and movies with robots in them. While we played, she said her doll was a robot. And that idea just flew all over me! I ran to write it down, and the next few weeks I researched robot picture books to see if this idea had been played out before. To my surprise, it hadn’t. And not only that, but ALL the robot-themed books I found in that time were made with boy readers in mind. A robot book with girl-appeal was missing!
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My husband, Ben, came up with this title. I loved it from the moment he said it, and I was lucky that my editor at Little Brown, Andrea Spooner, liked it too!
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both, actually.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. This is the original image from which the story of DOLL-E 1.0 was born. Waaaaay before I had a agent or an offer, I wanted to draw tools, intense creating, plans, and mechanical parts, so I did. And aside from a few detail additions, this original image appears in the book!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. As I drew her, I thought the girl looked like a “Charlotte” and after I had called her that for so long, it stuck! I think it’s a strong, classic, yet cool and revived, female name.
 
“Blutooth” was a fun discovery! But legally we couldn’t use the trademarked spelling: Bluetooth. So, we took out the E. We also toyed with the idea of calling him “Megabyte”, but Blutooth rolled off my tongue much easier when I read my story aloud - which I will probably be doing a lot. :)
 
“Doll-E” was the first character to be named. An electronic play-on name for a dolly!
 
Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I tried both ways, but third person with some dialogue seemed the best fit.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DOLL-E 1.0 ?
A. I thought I knew most of it, but as I mention in another answer below, just about ALL of it changed once I got better acquainted with my kid/kid-like characters.
 
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Characters seem to come first, then I try to find their story, then I toggle between art and story in the dummy process. I take away, add, or rework until it feels close to right. I think I made 7 different dummies for DOLL-E 1.0 before I settled where I did.
 
Q. Did DOLL-E 1.0  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Earlier versions of DOLL-E 1.0 got rejected 6 times, but some of these rejections had valuable feedback attached that resulted in good changes!
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DOLL-E 1.0 .
A. It was so flipping exciting! DOLL-E 1.0 went to auction with 4 offers! It was like the movies where I was always near my phone waiting on an update from my agent. I may never experience excitement like this over one of my books again, but I’ll surely NEVER forget it!
 
On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I’d won the lottery either. I felt like I had worked hard for this moment, and I still had a lot of work ahead of me once I accepted one of the offers.
 
Q. How long did DOLL-E 1.0  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year and a half. I received offers in January 2017 and DOLL-E 1.0 is set to be on shelves May 1st, 2018. It was put on a “rushed” schedule because of the popular girl/tech subject. We didn’t want to be late to the party, so to speak.
 
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 started writing DOLL-E 1.0 I had some beautiful themes/messages about what technology can’t replace that I was trying to write a story around. But, as I got to know my characters better as kids, I found that my “themes” were actually very grown-up thoughts. It was tough to let go of my lovely (but didactic) ideas and remember how my mind worked when I was a kid.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture books writers?
A. Just keep plugging along ... working, reading, learning new things, trying new things, meeting people … and you WILL eventually see fruits from your labor. :)
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. 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!
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Currently, I’m working on a companion story to DOLL-E 1.0 where you’ll meet Charlotte’s neighborhood friends including Lucas and his drone named T-Bone!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
A.
Web: shandamc.com
Instagram: @shandamccloskeydraws
Twitter: @shandamccloskey
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