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True Story 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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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.)
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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