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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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Robert Broder is the Publisher and Creative Director at Ripple Grove Press where he has worked on several picture book debuts. But recently Rob published his own #firstpicturebook. “Impressively original and immensely entertaining“ (Midwest Book Review), PAUL AND HIS UKULELE is “a quiet story of a life made happy by following a passion for music” (Booklist)

Q. Was PAUL AND HIS UKULELE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. PAUL AND HIS UKULELE was not my first picture book.  It was probably a rhyming story about a weed growing next to a flower.  But that was a long time ago.

Q. What are the pros and cons of being the publisher and author of PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. The pros were being able to take a story we liked and making it a book.  The cons would be, well, during the making of the book, I didn't tell Jenn Kocsmiesky, the illustrator that I wrote the book. I didn't want that in the back of her mind because I was also the creative director on the project. 

Q. What inspired PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. I guess you can say my own life.  I traveled quite a bit, then met Amanda, started playing ukulele, started Ripple Grove Press.  So when you read the book, there are similarities.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title for the book was original "Paul" because I like simple titles. But our distributor suggested when searching (on the internet or in data bases) for just the title "Paul" a whole lot would come up.  But when searching for "Paul and His Ukulele" it narrows the search.  But I like this more.  Because the book really is about Paul and his love for his ukulele.  

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I start by hand, then type it up. Then print it out, then edit it. Then fix those edits on the computer, then print it out again. and keep doing this process. I like editing on paper.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. There's a spread where Paul is playing his ukulele on his front porch, while the other kids play freeze tag.  When I see that spread I think, that's me.  I was the kid that was indoors playing with Legos or my Matchbox cars instead of outside playing sports or physical activities. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I was looking for a very simple name for the main character.  And I have a friend named Paul, and it just stuck. Four-Finger Frank came to me because Frank is such a mechanic’s name.  And then since a ukulele has four strings, it fit.  I thought it was funny that something must have happened to his finger a long time ago being a mechanic. And Clementine came to me because I wanted a longer name than Paul. And was also fitting because the name is in a song, which is what he's searching for in the book.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Maybe because it’s similar to my own life, I wanted to remove myself from it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? 
A. I would say half.  And as I kept writing, more and more comes from it.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I wrote Paul, in my mind he was always a boy.  But when I saw Jenn's portfolio, she had these wonderful foxes.  It just fit. So when I first saw the sketches, it just shined. And Jenn and I discussed together what the cover and back cover should be.

Q. When you read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I would say when Paul meets Four-Finger Frank.  I usually do a lower voice for Frank too.  Since he's illustrated as a Pig, and he's a mechanic, I imagine him having a very rough, low sounding voice.

Q. Did you create any book swag for PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? If so, what kind?
A. My wife surprised me with pins with images from the book.  So sweet. I can't wait to give them out at my story times.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. READ PICTURE BOOKS!!! Sorry for the all caps.  I hear all the time "I want to write picture books" or "it looks so easy" but they don't read picture books. It will help guide your style and imagination.

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

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a couple more picture books. Trying to think outside the box. Building on sweet characters in unique situations.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
Saturday, Nov 3 at Phoenix Books in Rutland Vermont at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Saturday, Nov 17 at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs NY at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Here's the event calendar link: 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
Book trailer

If you have read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE, please consider writing a review:
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