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Q&A Blog

THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Lindsay Leslie adores mechanical pencils, thinking up book titles, and breaking through the fourth wall. Today she talks with us about how these loves, along with a smushed book cover, contributed to the creation of her #firstpicturebook. “A winning story about handling the unknown and asking for help” (Publisher’s Weekly), THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS “will urge readers to be brave and turn the page” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS 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, it wasn’t. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

Q. What inspired THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title picked me. One day, I walked into my youngest son’s room, and it was as if the idea pole-vaulted from the floor and into my ear. I had accidentally stepped on one of my son’s picture books, and thought, I just broke its spine. Then my mind zigged and zagged from this book has a spine to what if it were spineless to this book is spineless. I looked at my son and shouted, “This Book Is Spineless!” I couldn’t let the idea go. It kept begging me to write it. With the majority of my books, I need to have the title first before I can begin writing. It’s like knowing the name of a person. It leads me to where I need to go.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A mixture of both. I knock out my first draft on the computer and I edit on paper. I need to print it out and rip it up with my trusty mechanical pencil. I LOVE mechanical pencils.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The beginning. There is a page turn in this book that I adore, and I think it will grab the reader’s attention. And, no, it wasn’t in the first draft. The first draft of this book was a bonafide messy mess. In fact, someday I would love to share my first draft and show folks where a book can go with revision, the help of critique partners, and the golden touch of a fantastic editor!

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I told this story in first person, because I wanted the physical book, the book the reader is holding, to be the main character.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. None of it. And, again, my first draft was hideous. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but because I am a pantser (meaning, I don’t outline) I had to see where my mind would go with it. There were elements of the first draft I kept, but the manuscript changed a bunch. (Thank goodness.)

Q. Did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. For some reason, I did not traditionally query this manuscript very much. I did participate in a lot of hashtag events on Twitter, like #pitmad and #pbpitch, and did not get any favorites. I’d say I received 10 rejections on this piece. Overall, I’ve received about 35 rejections from agents on my work before I found representation.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS.
A. Oh, I loved this moment. I was at the cleaners picking up the dry cleaning. My older son, who was nine at the time, was at my side. My phone pinged, so I looked to see who sent me an email. All I had to read was the subject of the email. It read: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS Offer. I couldn’t speak. I just began to jump … and jump and jump and jump. Up and down. And then I started to point at my son and then I pointed at the lady behind the counter. All I could say was “YES! YES! YES!” My son began to jump with me and he said, “Mom, why are we jumping?” That was the most adorable thing. And then the tears started to roll. I will never forget that Jack Brown Cleaners, the look on the lady’s face behind the counter, which was somewhat of a bemused look, and the fact that my son will jump up and down with me before knowing why.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Page Street Kids is my publisher and I try to find all the words to express how wonderful and collaborative they are. I was provided with three illustrators to choose from, which worked great for me, as I was feeling more than overwhelmed. At this point, I was so focused on climbing the hill toward a book deal, my mind hadn’t worked through the scenarios of what happens once the book deal is signed. I received all the assurance from Kristen Nobles and Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids that there was no wrong choice. So, I went with the aesthetic I was drawn to most, and that was Alice Brereton’s dramatic, geometric, quirky, and colorful illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. What jumped out to me was the connection between Alice and me through my words and through her illustrations. It’s like we got each other and we had yet to meet. We were having a discussion through our preferred way to communicate. Me with words. Her with art. I trusted her implicitly and was blown away by her unique approach to the concept.

Q. How long did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer on June 27, 2017, and the book hits the shelves on Feb. 19, 2019. So, less than two years. It’s been a buckle-your-seatbelt-and-hold-on kind of ride.

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 almost had to change the title, but my editor and I worked on a compromise, so the title could remain. The title led me to the story, and I felt the title made the story and makes the book stand out. In terms of adding to the story, yes! My editor really pushed me to dig in with the voice of the character, as well as look deeper into my word choices and the impact on the overall story. A great editor, like Charlotte Wenger, will see how to make your story shine even brighter!

Q. When you read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Definitely the page turn at the beginning of the book.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS? If so, what kind?
A. I did. I have some temporary tattoos, because I think all kids should be wearing Alice Brereton’s art! I also have bookmarks and postcards, which will pull double-duty. Not only am I promoting THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, but also NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). NOVA is my second picture book, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, and will hit the shelves on May 21, 2019.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Only you can write you, so tune out the noise, focus on your craft, and enjoy the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite marketing tip is to participate and say yes. Be part of the writing community. Show up. When you show up, it shows you care and then opportunities begin to present themselves.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am diving back into a middle grade novel that I finished a draft of a year ago. It’s been speaking to me, and I’m also writing many new picture books. I can’t have just one project.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. Yes! I’m launching my book at my local indie bookstore, BookPeople. It’s on Feb. 23 from 2-3 p.m. for all you folks in Austin, Texas (https://www.bookpeople.com/event/lindsay-leslie-book-spineless). I’ll also be at TLA this year and part of the What’s New With Texas Picture Book Authors and Illustrators roundtable on April 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Find me, connect with me! I’m active on Twitter at @LLeslie, and I love to pay it forward by offering free picture book manuscript critiques there. I’m also on Facebook at @AuthorLindsayLeslie and kind of active on Instagram at LindsayLeslieWrites. And, please visit my website at lindsayleslie.com.

Thanks for having me, Karlin, and congratulations on SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER! I look forward to seeing it on the shelves in May!

If you have read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, please consider writing a review:
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21 children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts

Happy New Year! Next week I will post a new #firstpicturebook Q&A. Until then, if your 2019 resolution is to submit your unagented children’s book to publishers, check out my list of publishing companies that review unsolicited manuscripts. (Join SCBWI and you’ll receive The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children which includes a master list of children’s publishers and agents.)

Remember, you can’t control a publisher’s decision to acquire your book. But you can control meeting goals like submitting your work to publishers. So make sure your manuscript is submission-ready and start working on your resolution today!

Albert Whitman & Company

Arthur A. Levine Books

Boyd Mills Press

Cameron + Company

Charlesbridge

Chronicle Books

Creston Books

Dial Books for Young Readers

Enchanted Lion

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Flying Eye

Flashlight Press

Holiday House Books for Young People

Lantana

Lee and Low Books

Page Street Kids

Peachtree Publishers

Quarto

Ripple Grove Press

Sterling Publishing

Tilbury House

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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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#firstpicturebook flashback

“I had a dream about a chicken and an old woman. When I woke up I wrote it down, but I changed the old woman to a little girl.”—From Susan Montanari’s #firstpicturebook Q&A on MY DOG’S A CHICKEN.

In March 2016, I interviewed Susan Montanari about creating her #firstpicturebook MY DOG’S A CHICKEN—“a fun twist on the wacky new-pet story, with an enthusiastic heroine and a sassy chicken to boot” (Booklist). So what has Susan been up to since her debut? HIP HOP LOLLIPOP, THE GROSSEST OF THEM ALL, and GOLDILOCKS FOR DINNER. To read Susan’s #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about Susan’s other books, follow these links:

HIP HOP LOLLIPOP (illustrated by Brian Pinkney)—“a read-aloud treat that is sure to enhance the nighttime ritual.”—Kirkus Reviews

THE GROSSEST OF THEM ALL (illustrated by Jake Parker)—“This lesson in decorum is cleverly oblique, and its unapologetic protagonist compares favorably with those of boy-centric picks like Carolyn Beck’s cautionary Richard Was A Picker (2010) or William Joyce’s autobiographical Billy’s Booger (2015).”—Booklist 

GOLDILOCKS FOR DINNER: A FUNNY BOOK ABOUT MANNERS (illustrated by Jake Parker)—coming July 2019!

If you have read Susan’s books, please consider writing a review:
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KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG

Artist Amanda Moeckel believes in the power of dreams and daydreaming. Her #firstpicturebook appeared to her in her sleep. Now KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG is available in bookstores and listed on @MatthewWinner’s September 2018 list of “seriously outstanding books.” Read Amanda’s Q&A to learn how she turned her dream into her debut.

Q. Was KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG 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’s not. I had written a handful before this one. The first one was called Little Heart, and it’s about a girl who finds a series of posthumous signs that her grandmother is still with her. That’s still sitting on my shelf, fully illustrated, but I have been told by various people in publishing that I should wait until my third or fourth book to tackle death.

Q. What inspired KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. The idea for this story came to me in the same way the song comes to Khalida. I was half-asleep, and the story downloaded into my head, almost fully formed. I had gone to bed with a prayer every night for about three weeks, that a story would come to me in my dreams— one that was for only me to tell. I saw a few of the major scenes and the full plot, although the character was a boy.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The marketing team at Page Street Kids decided to include Khalida’s name, but it was originally called The Most Beautiful Song. Actually, the first draft was called Magnum Opus, and I really liked that, but the first draft also included Khalida touring with her beautiful song and building a career on it. Thank goodness for professional editing.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both. I usually start by hand in a sketchbook with a series of words and rough sketches, then I write a draft on the computer. Sometimes I’ll start with notes on my phone if I’m out and about when an idea comes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread is when Khalida plays in front of a crowd. I also like when she sneaks to the piano at night. Both were in the first vision I had of the story.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In that first vision I received of the story, I heard the name of the character, which sounded like “Kel-” something. When I found the name “Khalida” which is an Arabic name meaning “immortal,” it was perfect. A good song lives forever.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Third person felt most natural. I’ve also heard in writing classes that it’s the easiest to get published.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. I knew it all, but also knew a lot of extraneous information. So instead of trying to figure out where the story was going to go, it was more of an editing process.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images came first. They usually do for me.

Q. Did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, one. I am unagented, so when it was time to show this story to publishers, I had to find the opportunities myself to get it in front of them. I did this solely through SCBWI. I had an opportunity to submit to Elizabeth Bicknell at Candlewick after a conference, and she graciously rejected it with helpful feedback. The funny thing is, Kristen Nobles who eventually loved it, worked alongside Elizabeth as Art Director at Candlewick for many years, even during the time in which I submitted. It just goes to show you that two people at the same house can feel vastly different about a story. I met Kristen the following year at SCBWI, and gave her my postcard. She looked at my website, asked if I had stories to go along with some images, and the rest is history.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG.
A. Utter joy! Then stage fright. Then calm relief that I’d be finally making a published book.

Q. How long did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. My timeline was six 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. There was a spread in the end where the song was coming from all the homes in the town. It looked similar to the first spread, but instead of the ghostly song swirling toward one window, it was colorful, coming out of many windows. We moved it to the endpapers, then cut it out altogether. I was okay with editing it out, even though I loved the visual. I think the book is stronger with the current ending.

Q. Have you read KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! Good question. There seems to be an air of satisfaction in the room at the ending. Almost a sigh. It’s a quiet book, so there isn’t a lot of laughing. I am inspired to bring more humor into my next book. Not because I’m unhappy with this one, but because now I have a son and making him laugh is my new addiction. I totally get now why parents want funny books for their kids.

Q. Did you create any book swag for KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG? If so, what kind?
A. I made a coloring sheet!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read and read and read and read. Then read some more. Picture books, that is. Go to the library and take home a stack of books over and over again. My library has a request shelf, as I’m sure most do… so I research online, request the books I want to read, then go pick them up. It takes no time at all, and I LOVE coming home with a new stack of books every week.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to transcribe other published picture books. Writing the manuscript first is important. For those of us who are author-illustrators, this might not seem intuitive. It’s really hard to envision the story on one page, if you’re used to creating page turns. But publishers want manuscripts. So I go to the library, take home a stack of books, and whichever ones feel similar to my story— whether in tone, pacing, subject matter, whatever— I transcribe them. 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.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next submission!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
http://amandamoeckel.com
http://twitter.com/amandamoeckel
https://www.facebook.com/amandamoeckelillustration
https://www.instagram.com/amandamoeckel/

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ODE TO AN ONION

A writing instructor in the Bay Area, Alexandria Giardino was translating a memoir when inspiration struck. But her #firstpicturebook manuscript was rejected, again and again. Just about to give up, Alexandra then received an offer on ODE TO AN ONION—“a sweet story about the creative process” (Kirkus Reviews) and reviewed last week by the New York Times as one of the “Picture Book Biographies to Dazzle a Fact-Loving Child”.

Q. Was ODE TO AN ONION the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is officially my second picture book manuscript, which I started working on in 2013. I had the seed of an idea for my very first picture book in 1999, and that book is still evolving! The story was originally about an elderly, blind pelican and a young pelican that takes the old pelican for one last flight over a bay. The story has morphed into one about two snow monkeys. I just cannot let go of the story’s heart, which is about how a younger animal thanks an older animal for all that it has learned. Maybe one day the story will be publishable!

Q. What inspired ODE TO AN ONION?
A. I was inspired to write ODE TO AN ONION by a memoir I translated, called MY LIFE WITH PABLO NERUDA, written by the poet’s wife, Matilde. In that book, Matilde described the whimsical garden of her childhood home. It was a place where celery and garlic grew amid rose bushes. I just knew it would be a perfect place for a children’s story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is based on Pablo Neruda’s poem, “oda a la cebolla.” We only changed the article “the” to “an”!

His poem is featured in the back matter, both in the original Spanish and in my own English-language translation. Throughout the story, including in the artwork, there are many nods to the poem, such as “their stalks do look like swords.”

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of ODE TO AN ONION is when Pablo’s mind and heart explode with inspiration to write a poem for the humble onion. I wrote so many drafts of this story, but I always knew that the climax would be the moment of inspiration. Seeing Felicita Sala’s visual rendering of that scene made me so happy because she brought the moment to life in a whimsical and dramatic way.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this story?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is not precisely nonfiction because it is not a true story. Instead, it is inspired by true events. That said, it is heavily researched and documented, so I am confident that the spirit of the story honestly reflects the spirit of Pablo and Matilde’s life together, as well as his odes and their lively garden at their home in Santiago, Chile. To write the story, I drew on Matilde’s memoir, Pablo’s odes, and the time I spent living in Chile, where I visited their home multiple times.

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. I decided to focus on a single moment in the life of a poet, a moment when the writer is struggling and needs to find inspiration. Monica Brown had already written a lovely full biography of Pablo Neruda, so I wanted to offer readers a more poetic and metaphorical story about him.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. ODE TO AN ONION includes a brief biography of the poet and his wife, along with “oda a la cebolla” and my English-language translation of the poem.

We also included my favorite image of the couple, a photo that centers your attention on Matilde, who is playing guitar and singing. For me, this book is just as much about Matilde, an artist in her own right, because she inspired Pablo and so often cheered him up.

Q. Did ODE TO AN ONION receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. ODE TO AN ONION was rejected many times! Querying can be such a depressing process. I sent the manuscript to about forty agents, and I also sent it to one publisher directly. That publisher was very close to buying it, but ultimately passed.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ODE TO AN ONION.
A. I had received what I thought was my final rejection, and I was about to put the story away for good. I felt that maybe the book just wasn’t meant to be. Around that time, I had been working closely with Amy Novesky on editing the story, and much to my surprise, she pitched the book to Cameron Kids. They immediately made an offer. This all sounds like such a cliché publishing story. But this is how it really happened: just as I was about to give up, the book found the perfect publisher. Cameron Kids loved my story and has championed it all the way.

When they made an offer to me, I cried. Also, I saved the envelope that Amy sent to me with the final draft and offer. I will always cherish that envelope.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Cameron Kids gave me a big say in selecting the illustrator. I sent them many ideas, and when they found Felicita Sala and recommended her for the project, I knew she was perfect. I love her style, which felt midcentury and European in its sensibility.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I learned so much from watching Felicita’s process. I got to see the earliest color palettes and renderings of Pablo and Matilde. I also saw the first storyboards. Because I have a lot of primary-source material about Pablo and his life, I was able to share images with Felicita so that the book would be visually accurate. For example, she originally Matilde depicted her with brown hair. I told Felicita that Matilde had auburn hair, and now in the book, Matilde has the most beautiful red hair!

We had two possible jacket covers, and I loved both. We ultimately went with the one that features Pablo very prominently. The other cover art has been used as a poster and on other publicity materials.

I deeply appreciate how much Felicita co-created a book with me, by bringing her own voice and style to the project.

Q. How long did ODE TO AN ONION take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed my contract in late 2016, and the book was released in October 2018.

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. No. In fact, in the editing process, the senior editor at Cameron Kids, Nina Gruener, made an edit that I loved! She suggested the line about the tomatoes and fennel “doing a tango.” (I had written that they were “fighting like siblings”.)

Q. When you read ODE TO AN ONION to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids always laugh at the line about the tomatoes and fennel doing a tango.

Q. Did you create any book swag for ODE TO AN ONION? If so, what kind?
A. We made posters, bookmarks, and post cards for bookstore and school events.

I also made coffee mugs with the cover art on them for myself and a few family members, and I made a special gift for myself: a canvas tote bag with cover artwork on it. I use the tote bag to carry the book and my special green pen to all my events. By the way, Pablo only wrote in green ink, so I only sign my book in green ink, too!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a trustworthy and smart critique group. I have been part of a writing group since 2013. We meet on the first Friday of the month. I also have three other writer friends who swap work with me. Their feedback is vital. You just have to have other readers show you what isn’t working and why.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. In terms of marketing, I strongly suggest building community online, reaching out to writers whose work you admire. Share your work by supporting other peoples’ work. We are in this together. I really believe in that ethic.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have three picture books in the works. Two are inventive nonfiction, and one was inspired by a friend’s young son, who had a most unusual request for Santa.

Q. Was there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. This fall, we had an official launch at the best bookstore on the planet, Book Passage, in Corte Madera, California. Book Passage maintains a lively writing community and hosts hundreds of writing groups, readings, classes, and public events. I am so lucky to live near that bookstore and call the place my friend.

Since then I have visited five other wonderful, locally owned bookstores, and I will visit sixteen schools.

Photo highlights of all of these events are posted on my website.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
My website is www.alexgiardino.com.
Twitter handle is @Alex__Giardino
Instagram is alex__giardino
My direct email is alexgiardino.writes@gmail.com

Come visit me online and say hello!

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#firstpicturebook flashback

Tomorrow is Election Day! After you vote, revisit Kristen Fulton’s #firstpicturebook Q&A on LONG MAY SHE WAVE

“Fulton describes the British attack with fervor, integrating lyrics to the anthem into the narrative ... while Berry's collaged block prints with colored pencil are full of energy, action, and red, white, and blue. VERDICT A brief but stirring account of a moment in early U.S. history.”—School Library Journal

“Fulton’s rhythmically paced prose text subtly echoes lines from Key’s poem as it chronicles the real-life events”—The Horn Book magazine

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Scary Good Tips!

Happy Halloween! To celebrate, here are a few treats for writers—tips from #firstpicturebook authors Qian Shi, Natalia O’Hara, Lauren O’Hara, Nancy Vo, and Mike Petrik. Click on the links to read their complete interviews.

Qian Shi’s THE WEAVER: “First, write down all the things you imagine that could happen in the story. Don’t judge, just write them down. Then once you’ve got enough material, look through them and edit. Use the ones that make sense, put away the ones that don’t work. You can repeat this process a few times, eventually you will get a story that can even surprise you.”

Natalia and Lauren O’Hara’s HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW: “Something we've found useful is the discovery that criticism is a bullseye pointing to a problem that the critic might not have worked out. So if your agent or editor says ‘You need to introduce your antagonist on page 3’, it's possible that's not what you need to do at all, but there's almost definitely something wrong with page 3.”

Nancy Vo’s THE OUTLAW: “Lisa Cinar taught a picture book class where she showed us 10 images and we had 5 minutes to come up with a line that would begin a story. It was a really effective way to use an hour to brainstorm story ideas. You are less inhibited this way, and sometimes get good surprises.”

Mike Petrik’s SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN: “I am biased since I am an illustrator, but I don't think I would be able to write without sketching ideas along side the writing.  Maybe this is something to try if you are having a creative block?”
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CAT EYES

CAT EYES by Laura Lee (Ripple Grove Press, 2018)

Three years ago, illustrator Laura Lee was inspired by what she saw on one her neighborhood walks and wrote her #firstpicturebook about a girl who has a unique superpower. This month her creation leaps onto bookshelves! "A visually captivating read” (Kirkus Reviews), CAT EYES “is a very special picture book story for children ages 5 to 7 and will prove to be an immediately and enduringly popular addition to family, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections for young readers” (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was CAT EYES 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, I was working on a few at the time concurrently as the book progressed, but it’s the first ‘finished’ one that I made with illustrations. 

Q. What inspired CAT EYES?
A. It was a walk down my neighborhood street.  Gum Street.  It’s this little hidden residential street by the side of the highway and near the train tracks.  A bit vagabond.  There was this abandoned cherry orchard that I used to walk by on that street, where a several vagabond cats lived… a nice lady in the community looked after them.  So on one of my many walks down Gum Street, my husband pointed out that I had Cat Eyes, because I always am able to see them when no one else can or before anyone can.  So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about a girl who has this special superpower?  CAT EYES was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I always loved cat eye glasses, and Miki, the girl in the story has a distinctive pair of red ones.  A friend of mine from Turkey used to have red ones that inspired me.  And Miki has that special superpower.  So she literally has cat eyes and figuratively has cat eyes. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write on the computer. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. (Spoiler) The scene where Miki reunites with the special cat.  It was part of the first draft, but I changed the setting entirely. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Originally I had picked Greta, because I liked the way it sounded.  But the main character is Asian so Ripple Grove wanted to go with an asian-sounding name, and we settled on Miki.  Miki was the name of my one and only cat.  My Miki got her name from the single name, Miki, given to several dozens of cats that lived on a farm in Slovenia.  My friend’s grandmother would call out ‘Miki!,’ and they would come running from all directions for food. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think at some point I had a first-person version but third person made more sense to me because Miki travels through landscapes imagining all these cat characters.  You get less inside Miki’s head but focus more on what she sees through the illustrations. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CAT EYES? 
A. It’s hard to remember how it started, it was three years ago!  I think I wrote the actual story in about a day, then revised it over and over.  The story arc, which has evolved has essentially stayed true to that first draft.  I do remember going pretty quickly into visualizing the story in thumbnails.   

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I think I held the images of the locations in my head from places I’ve spent time in my life— my favorite local park in San Mateo, a street I lived on in the West Village in NY, but otherwise words came first. 

Q. Did CAT EYES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes!  Many, many, many.  Well, I first sent out to agents, and got some positive feedback which was great but no one liked both the story and the illustration style.  I sent out about 70.  Then I sent out to publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, and was lucky to find a publisher directly who loved the project.  I think I sent out about 50 of those!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CAT EYES.
A. I couldn’t believe that someone believed in me!  It was so amazing.  I was ready to put the project on the shelf, and get back to my day job.  When Ripple Grove contacted me I was so excited but also nervous because I didn’t know where it would lead.  I’m so happy they found me!

Q. How long did CAT EYES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. One 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. All the changes made were well-considered so no— working with Rob and Amanda at Ripple Grove was easy because they are such amazing creative collaborators.  As a creative professional it’s a rare thing to have that kind of collaboration.

Q. Did you create any book swag for CAT EYES? If so, what kind?
A. Not yet— except for a little trailer.  Maybe I will!  I think it would be fun to make prints of Miki’s red glasses.  I’ve considered making a 3d book.  Cat Eyes headbands with ears could be cool too.  I notice a lot of kids wear those these days!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Do it!  Get a lot of feedback, try things out.  Be open to evolving everything. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Hm.  I don’t do Twitter, but I share occasionally on Instagram.  It’s actually an amazing creative community, to get support and explore different artist styles.  I’m going to learn more about social media marketing in the future— I think everyone has to do their own social media marketing these days to gain support.  Which is good but also a lot of work!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several projects in the works! I'm working on three picture book manuscripts, one is about mommy days, another is about saying farewell to a house and hello to a new one, and the third is about a sneeze. Yup, a sneeze.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
IG:  https://www.instagram.com/worldoflauralee/
Web: www.worldoflauralee.com

If you have read CAT EYES, please consider writing a review:
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PORCUPINE’S PIE

Last week, former third-grade teacher Laura Renauld became a debut picture book author! Inspired by a post in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2014, Laura came up with a title...and then wrote a story for it. Today, she shares some key ingredients for her #firstpicturebook, PORCUPINE’S PIE—Winner of the Beaming Books Picture Book Contest.

Q. Was PORCUPINE’S PIE 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. Not even close! About twelve years ago, when I started to pursue my dream of writing books for children, I wrote a story about a childhood memory. It had a kid-friendly hook (the neighbor’s kitten met my pet rabbit and decided to try hopping), but it didn’t have: plot, conflict, heart… So I guess it wasn’t really a story! When manuscripts don’t work out, they go in the Story Grave folder on my computer.

Q. What inspired PORCUPINE’S PIE?
A. I have been an enthusiastic participant in Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now Storystorm) since 2011. I was inspired by Tammi Sauer’s post during PiBoIdMo 2014, which challenged writers to frame a story as a How-To Book. My brainstorming that day included this jot in my notebook: “How to make porcupine pie (or a pie for a porcupine)”. Even though it did not evolve into a How-To Book, that was the beginning!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before the story. I loved the alliteration of PORCUPINE’S PIE, so I brainstormed a story to fit!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I primarily use the computer, but when I’m brainstorming, I create story webs by hand. When I’m storyboarding, I use index cards or dummy books to check pacing and page turns.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the end and the collaborative Friendship Pie, especially now that I’ve seen it illustrated. The idea was in my first draft, but the wording and presentation of it have changed.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. With Porcupine as the main character, I stuck with animal names for consistency: Squirrel, Bear, and Doe.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. It just seemed a natural fit. Sometimes I will try out other points of view as I’m drafting, but I didn’t with this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PORCUPINE’S PIE? 
A. Not much! As I mentioned, I started with the title. That gave me my main character. I also knew the problem would have to involve pie. That was it!

Q. Did PORCUPINE’S PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No rejection letters, just crickets from one editor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PORCUPINE’S PIE.
A. Thanks to Sub It Club, I learned of the Beaming Books (formerly Sparkhouse Family) Picture Book Contest. So I entered. When I received the email that I had won, I was actively seeking an agent and submitting manuscripts to open publishers. Getting rejections in my inbox was a regular occurrence. I had to read the email two or three times before it sunk in that I was reading an acceptance letter. It was thrilling! I shared my good news right away with my husband, my kids, my parents, and all the people in my life who were cheering on my budding writing career.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My publisher asked what style of art I envisioned, which is more input than I was expecting. Luckily, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to illustrators I admire, so I shared that with her.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Jennie Poh breathed life into my characters. I love Porcupine’s turquoise boots and how each character has a stylish accessory.

Q. How long did PORCUPINE’S PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 1 year, 10 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. Originally, I had Porcupine cover her pail with an art note that cranberries would drop out of a hole in the pail as she moved through the forest. During the editorial process, this was changed to make the cranberries visibly fall out. I understood the choice, as it is easier for readers to notice what is happening and look for clues, but I do like the unexpected surprise of the pail being uncovered to find it empty.

Q. Have you read PORCUPINE’S PIE to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! My two boys and my niece and nephew giggled at the part when Bear almost hugs Porcupine. They also enjoyed rereading to find when the cranberries start falling out of the pail!

Q. Did you create any book swag for PORCUPINE’S PIE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes. I had bookmarks and stickers printed.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Join SCBWI and start going to conferences in your region. Join a critique group. Read everything you can get your hands on that is current in your genre. Check out the abundance of online writing resources, groups, courses, and challenges. My favorites are kidlit411.com, subitclub.com, taralazar.com, napibowriwee.com, and picturebookbuilders.com. Okay, those are several tips. But all are worth noting!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. 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.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several picture book manuscripts at various stages in the revision process. I like having more than one project going at a time. If I get stuck with one, I can move on to the next!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: laurarenauld.com
Twitter - @laura_renauld
Facebook – @kidlitlaura
Instagram - @laurarenauld

If you have read PORCUPINE’S PIE, please consider writing a review:
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