Monday, January 31, 2011

The REAL Truth about Picture Books

Despite my A in college Calculus (yeah....I like to throw that in from time to time....even though it was probably a grade calculation error on the part of the professor.....but it makes me feel smarter if only for a moment....) I am not really a math person. However, I am about to do the impossible. I am going to attempt to numerically quantify that odd beast known as the Writing of the Picture Book.

I come up with about 4 REALLY GOOD picture book ideas a month. Really, really good ones. Ones I wish were already on the shelves so I could grab them and read them to my students over and over and over again. And again. (I mean, these are great ideas.)

Do the math: 4 ideas x 12 months = 48 ideas per year.

However, I am really only able to actually write about 1/4 of them. (Not due to lack of trying!!!) I mean, some of these ideas are just too rascally to get a grip on. The image of a greased pig comes to mind. I try and write most of them, but due to wrong voice, loss of initial excitement, inability to make it all come together and did I mention wrong voice, (for often I am not the right writer for the idea I have hatched) I come up with a fraction of manuscripts based upon my ideas.

Do the math: 48 ideas divided by 4 = 12 semi-viable manuscripts.

Not bad, you are saying. 12 manuscripts a year is not bad at all. But remember, my friends, these are picture book manuscripts. PBs. Yeah, I saw that grin slowly leave your face. Because this is where all of the laws of mathematics no longer apply.

Enter the variables. (Cue menacing music)

Timing-Timing is everything in PB publishing. Maybe you have the shiniest most perfect manuscript, but it is just the wrong time for it....or you walk into your local bookstore and see another one almost like it was just published....or it takes so long for the publishing process that by the time your idea even gets read, the idea is no longer current.

Preference- Just because I think my 12 mss are viable, doesn't mean my agent thinks they are all equally salable. (Some are more equal than others.) And it doesn't mean that she can go out and try to schlep all 12 at once. People will get tired of seeing my stuff....I mean even Mo Willems isn't coming out with 12 new books every year. You have to make some choices and prioritize.

And editors have their preferences, too. I got a rejection for Good Night, Good Knight from an editor saying that dragons had been done. But then Lucia Monfried at Dutton really, really liked the idea, and that is how my first easy reader came into being.

Luck- Nobody controls luck, and this is perhaps the mosts encouraging thing I can think to say about picture books. Luck is some wild cowboy riding an untamed stallion that shows up late, if he even shows up at all, but when he does, smiling his cowboy smile and tipping his hat, IT IS WORTH IT.

Do the math: 12 manuscripts + Timing +Preference + Luck = Maybe Something Wonderful. Sometimes.

Now, don't get discouraged!! Keep your chin up!! I am not telling you aspiring picture book writers to throw in the towel. Quite the opposite. Keep writing and write some more. If you want to stack the odds in your favor, then start stacking up some more manuscripts! The more chances you give yourself to get lucky, the luckier you will be.

Success comes to those who never give up.


P.S. These are some books I had a similar idea for, but wasn't lucky enough to get a decent draft done and well, I probably wasn't the right writer for them anyway. But loss is their gain!!

Check this out here. (Except I called mine The Adventures of Stick Boy...and I never finished but two chapters. Curses!)

And check this out here. (Except mine was called Ballerhino....but the gist was similar, giant animal takes ballet with kids.....sigh.)
I could go on, but the reality is that when a great idea comes to you and you put it on the back burner, somebody else is probably already frying it up into breakfast.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Who Do You Write For? Part #1

I write for me.

There, I said it. Truthfully, it's not that I don't care about what other people think. It's not that I don't care about other people in general or anything. For goodness sake, I am a teacher....dedicated my life to other people's kids and all that. It's just that when I write, my first audience (and my most important audience) is me.

That being said, there are different MEs that I write for. (Not that I have a split least I don't think I do....I mean, I'd know, right? Or maybe just one of my personalities knows and the other, the blogging one, is hopelessly in the dark....hmmm.) Anyway, back to the different MEs.

When I write a picture book, I am writing for teacher/StoryQueen Shelley. She wants a book that:
  • she can read billions times aloud and not get sick of.
  • she can use funny voices with (most of the time).
  • inspires kids to want to join in (especially the repetitive bits)
  • makes kids laugh.
  • makes kids have that glassy-eyed there-is-nothing-in-the-universe-but-this-story look when they listen to it.
  • makes kids laugh (did I say that already?)
  • plays with language in a way that reminds her what a fabulous thing books are.
  • has a magical combination of the simple and the complex.
  • asks kids to think, or maybe make connections with their own lives somehow.
Now, of course, I am considering my kid audience in all of these areas....but it is the Queen that calls the shots. It is her perception of how my book will measure up when she is on the front lines that guides my writing. She loves when she reads to kids and THEY love it. She loves when a book just BEGS to be read aloud.

She is not always easy to please....but she knows her stuff. (Uh-oh, I am talking about myself in 3rd person....I DO have a split personality! Crud.)

Who do you write for?


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winners and Strange Dreams

I used the Sugar Bowl of despair to help me determine the winner of SOMEWHERE TODAY: a BOOK OF PEACE. (Okay, so I just put lots of little slips of paper in the bowl and picked one out.)
The winner is:

Kelly Polark!!

So, Kelly, drop me an e-mail at storyqueen at gmail dot com with your address and I'll get your book and bag out to you asap.

And now for something completely different:

Recent Strange Dreams

1. I dreamed I was being pursued by a strange little wolf boy. He was kind of terrifying. (Understatement, in the dream I was COMPLETELY terrified of him...however when I picture him now, he looks like Max from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE but with blond hair. Meh.)
There was a moment in the dream when he was outside and suddenly he put his hand/paw against a dark window pane. I just might have the kind of noise you make in a dream when you are really hoping someone will wake you up. Not quite a scream, but.....kind of a weird breathing, snorting noise.

2. I dreamed Neil Gaiman and his wife came over for dinner but I lived in a treehouse instead of my real house. Living in a treehouse was COOL! However, I was too embarrassed to ask Neil to sign my copy of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Wha?
(If you are wondering what we ate, it was some kind of chicken with an orange-looking sauce...maybe a red curry. With rice. Neil and Amanda seemed to like it.)

3. I dreamed I was on a boat and I had to get down to San Diego, but the boat just wouldn't move. At all. (Woke up in a bad mood after that one, I can tell you.)


Strange dreams anyone?


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Love List

Last week, I was reading Natalie Whipple's blog and her guest blogger was Stephanie Perkins. The topic was Love Lists, ie: the list you make about your WIP of stuff that you LOVE...the stuff that made you write the book in the first place....the stuff that helps keep you grounded.

I just went through a very intense revision on The Seven Tales of Trinket and while I was adding the finishing touches, it really helped me to make such a list.

So, here it is:

*a quest for tales and truths

*a girl with the blood of a teller in her veins

*a pig boy

*the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter

*magical sealskins

*a ghostly child with long white hair

*a harp made of a whale bone, strung with a long, golden hair

*a coin for bargaining

*a brave hound

*a highwayman

*a man in a smoke grey cloak

*and a haunting lullaby that binds everything together

So, there's my love list. I highly recommend trying this. It really helped me focus. If you try one for your WIP, let me know. I'd love to read it!


Monday, January 17, 2011

I Have a Dream.....and a Book Giveaway

I wrote this book, SOMEWHERE TODAY: A BOOK OF PEACE, after I dreamed about a small book that showcased the small things that people do that actually make the world better.

Because really, every single day we are faced with choices that can, in the end, make our world a better place to be.

Or not.

When I woke up, I really wanted to get this book that I dreamed existed for my class. I was teaching first and second graders at the time and was that point in the year where they couldn't even look at each other and not complain. I wanted to read them a book that accentuated the positive. totally dreamed that book. It isn't real.

So, um...write it. Make it real.

And so I did.

SOMEWHERE TODAY: a BOOK OF PEACE first came out in 1998 and it is still in print (yay!). It is a recommended book by the Anti-Defamation League and is the subject of countless letters I get from teachers and librarians. When the tragedy that was 9-11 took place, I got letters from many schools telling me that my little book helped their students feel empowered again. We might not have control over what other people do in our world, and the terrible choices they might make, but we do have control over our own actions. Somewhere Today someone is choosing to be a friend instead of fighting....maybe it is you.

And it is through these small actions that our world becomes better. For everyone.

And so, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream, I am giving away a copy of my book, and also a reusable shopping bag that says PEACE.

Just leave a comment and I will enter you. The winner will be drawn at random and announced next weekend.


Thursday, January 13, 2011


1. When is U2 going to come out with a new CD?

2. My house is too cold. I live in SoCal. There is no excuse.

3. Too many good books to read, no time to crack them open. sigh.

4. How is it even possible that there are 12 books on my tiny desk? And a lamp, laptop, manuscript pages, bookmark....oh, and a Christmas card I accidentally addressed to myself and mailed. Way to go, self.

5. There is a vase with flowers on my mantle that is from before Christmas. It looks like a haunted bouquet.

6. French fries after 9:00 p.m. = bad idea.

7. One side of my nose might be getting a cold.

8. In a recent unscientific poll of 4th and 5th grade boys, the following things are funny:
Exploding ducks
Men with hairy backs
Anyone named Bob
9. I have to get ready for work so I can do a retelling of the Japanese folktale The Crane Wife to fourth graders today. There is a part when the tension builds and they just know something is going to happen (because IT IS) and, well....I like to drag it out until their eyes are all glassy and big.....then I SCARE them.

Some days, my job is better than others.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

ALA......How did I not know about this?

The ALA Midwinter Conference is in San Diego this weekend. I found out from another blogger about a month or so ago (which is a great reason to read blogs, I might add, to keep up with stuff you would otherwise have no idea was going on.)

So, since I have a new picture book coming out in June, I thought to myself, Self, you should get some bookmarks made and take them to the Penguin booth, you know, just as a Preview of Coming Attractions kind of thing.*

I mean, why not let the librarians of America know, right? How are they going to order my book for their libraries if they don't know about it?

So, I waltz in to the exhibit hall with my trusty little stack and deliver them to the nice folks at Penguin (who were very nice, by the way, and put my little bookmarks right up in front. Of course, they may have moved them later, but at least for a few moments, I was right there next to Ladybug Girl.)

The next thing I know, I am being piled up with awesome swag and ARCs! Like tons. I mean, WOW.

My arms hurt so bad after lugging those bags around, and all the way back to my far, far away car. They still kind of hurt today.

So what did I get?

Across the Universe by Beth Revis!
Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard!


The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood!

Just to name a few. (Actually, I now have seventeen ARCs. Seventeen, baby!)

I could have gotten more probably, but I felt tres greedy taking what I did. I mean, it is so weird, watching people pick up books, read the back and then put it back down in the stack. My brain is screaming, It is a FREE BOOK!! Take it, fool, take it!!

And then, of course, my own arms got so tired and achy, I found myself being a little more choosy as well. (All the more reason to have a great cover. I picked books that had great covers or that I had read something about on a blog. Yay blog power!!)

Anyway, off to read and do that which I promised not to mention.


And yes, it is too greedy to keep all of these to myself. I will be passing them on, so watch for giveaways.

*Sometimes publishers make them for you, and sometimes you get to make them yourself, if you want them. I just made my first ones and it was more fun than I expected!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Well played, Universe, well played one and only New Year's Resolution was to laugh more, right?

I thought the Universe would have a hard time twisting it into something that I'd regret.

I underestimated you, Universe. (A mistake I'll not make again.)

This is what happened:

I am kind of revising more than one piece right now (I promise to NOT mention revision at ALL in my next post) and a comment I received was that a particular part of a particular book needs to be funnier. That's right. FUNNIER. As in MORE HILARIOUS.


Not 5 days after I decide I need to laugh more, the Universe is telling me that I'm just not funny enough.

Oh, you cruel Guardian of the Giggle.

Universe, you win this round.

However, I am not defeated! I will rise up and....aaaauuuugggghhhh!! SPLAT!!! slipped on a banana peel.

(Yeah, I know. Lame-o.)


Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011: The Year of Revision (and a talisman)


It's like all I've posted about lately is revision.

That's because if I don't get my butt in gear, I won't have anytime for writing new things this year at all. I'll just be spending my time polishing up old stuff.

Well, not really old stuff...but old as in not the first draft.

I love the first draft.

But alas, first I have to finish revising The Seven Tales of Trinket for my editor. I just finished what I think is the hardest part just a few minutes ago. Yay! We'll see in the next few days if I like what I did or if it is lame-o. (I am afraid to ask Harrison Ford. You see, he'll just say something smart aleck-y like,"If you have to ask, then you know the answer already....")

Next, I have to do the first revision of Keelie of the Lake. I finished the first draft in the fall (yay!) but just as I was going to dig into revisions (so that I can see if it even makes sense) I got the editorial letter for Trinket. So I put it on the back burner until Trinket is done.

After Keelie, I need to revise Wren Faire, a story that I really loved when I wrote it last year, but I think needs some over-hauling. I had written it as a YA, but I am just not sure if I am a YA author or not. I want to play with this piece a bit...change the ages of the MCs and see what happens. I am so excited to tinker around...but not until I finish other things.

THEN I want to play with a new draft of something kind of weird, but that might require some research on my part. (Finally, a story with a chimpanzee butler, you are saying to yourself. Admit it.)

My goal is to finish Trinket by the end of the month, then get one round done with Keelie by the end of February. I am giving myself a bit more time to play with Wren, but I'd still like a revised version by the end of April. That would leave me and chimpanzee butler the spring and summer to play together!

Big goals. I thought I needed a talisman, you know, for inspiration. So I bought the tiniest glass dragon today named Onyx that came with this little biography:

Onyx the black dragon likes to do magic tricks and is intrigued by legends of powerful sorcerers. He spends his evenings studying alchemy and making potions in his kitchen. Onyx has an abundance of curiosity and likes to explore the world around him. He encourages others to think outside the box as well.

So I guess I'm all set.