Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Does "High Concept" Mean, Anyway?

When I first set out to write and publish children's books, I saw over and over again that publishers and agents were looking for "high concept picture books."

Great, I thought, but what does high concept mean, anyway?

I've read a lot of articles over the years in an attempt to understand exactly what it means, but my favorite is this article that explains high concept in part as anything that can be summed up in one line, or even better, in the title. That article uses the movie Snakes on a Plane as an example. Perfect. Does that movie really need more of an explanation?

That explanation, while helpful, doesn't say it all about what high concept actually means. But after years of reading and writing and research, I think I've finally nailed down the definition for myself, and hopefully this will help you too!

High concept is this: When the EVERYDAY meets the EXTREME.

Here are a few picture books that support my definition.

MARS NEEDS MOMS by Berkley Breathed

Boy who is tired of his mom making him eat veggies and take out the trash (everyday) 

mom-napping aliens from Mars (extreme).

THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz

The three little pigs (everyday) 

pig with black belt in karate defeats the wolf (extreme).

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds

A bunny with a taste for carrots (everyday) 

carrots conspiring against furry carrot-muncher (extreme).

I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll

Boy can't sleep at night (everyday) 

missing underbed monster (extreme).

These books all have titles that establish their stories' premises with attention-grabbing snazziness. They can all be summed up with one line. But most importantly, their stories blend ordinary, everyday stuff with the extraordinary or outrageous.

If your goal is to write high concept picture books, that's what your stories have to do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


MR. AND MRS. BUNNY--DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE! by Polly Horvath is a charming, clever, hilarious book. When Madeline's parents are kidnapped by conniving foxes, she accepts the help of Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, two recently self-appointed detectives, to help her solve the case and rescue her parents. And, of course, while they're at it, they will foil the foxes' plot to can rabbit products and by-products! 

This book is full of action and clever wit. It's a sweet and funny story about family, friendship, and learning to trust someone when life gets a little overwhelming.

A delightful middle-grade read. I look forward to reading the next book of Madeline and the Bunnys' adventures.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Our Latest Family Adventure

Summertime brings road trips. This year we headed south to Branson, Missouri for a few days of fun. I had never been to Branson before, but many people over the years had said how fun and family friendly it is. So it seemed like the perfect spot for us since we wanted to take a quick trip to someplace new that didn't take us more than a few hours from home.

Branson is situated in the heart of the Ozarks. The area is green and gorgeous...and humid! The city is small, but swarming with tourists. The best way for me to describe the most tourist-trappy part of the city is as a big amusement park in which almost everything costs at least $25.00 per person.

That's not to say that you can't have fun there on a budget. There are hotels for every price range, a variety of restaurants, plenty of nature to enjoy, and a few attractions that even my miserly husband was willing to spring for.

It was a bit of a whirlwind of a trip, but we had a fun time.

A sampling of what we saw and did in Branson (minus some excellent food).
We went on a super high ferris wheel, rode the ducks, swam in Table Rock Lake
and enjoyed some gorgeous nature. If you go, don't miss the fountain light
show at Branson Landing (it's free!).
We veered slightly off-course on the way home to visit the capitol in Topeka.
If you ever have the chance to visit, don't miss the dome tour (296 steps to the top!),
the cage elevator (93 years old and still functioning) and the library (full of mostly
historical books and documents, but also some Kansas Notable Books).

Have you gone on any adventures recently?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: The Girl in the Tower by Lisa Schroeder

Lisa Schroeder is one of my favorite authors. I've read several of her young adult books, many of which are written in verse form. I have known of her middle grade works, but haven't read any of them until I read THE GIRL IN THE TOWER, which released this past March.

This book is very different than the other books by Lisa Schroeder that I have read, not only because of the intended age group, but because of the genre. It's her very first fantasy novel!

You may think, as I did at first, that this story is a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. But it isn't! THE GIRL IN THE TOWER is completely original.

Violet has been trapped in the tower, along with her mother, since she was born. She is kept there by the evil Queen Bogdana, who is also a witch who has the kingdom under a spell. When Violet is given the chance to become a real princess, in exchange for her mother's freedom, she agrees to live in the castle with the evil queen. But her true desire is to see her family reunited and the spell over the kingdom broken.

I enjoyed this book, which has the feel of a classic fairy tale. Though the main character Violet might seem a little too perfect, the story is original and fresh. It's sweet without being too cutesy. Magical without being too hokey. THE GIRL IN THE TOWER is a lovely, engaging read that is sure to please fairy tale fans young and old. 

I recommend this book for anyone who likes fairy tale stories, fans of Disney princesses (especially those who save themselves), and anyone who simply wants a light, feel-good read for a lazy afternoon.

To learn more about Lisa Schroeder and her books, check out LisaSchroederBooks.com

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book-Inspired Projects: Moose-approved treehouse alternatives!

Reading WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? or some other tree house themed book may inspire your kids to build a tree house of their own. But what if building a tree house is not a possibility for you? No worries! There are plenty of alternatives that are almost as much fun!

Build a fort out of blankets and pillows.

The temporary nature of a blanket fort makes it ideal for a rainy summer day, or a day in which the temperature makes it impossible to play outside. Plus, building an indoor fort is not only fun, but it's an exercise in creativity and engineering. Just imagine the creative thinking involved in getting that blanket to stay in just the right spot!

Pitch a tent in the back yard or family room.

Blanket forts not your thing? Or maybe you're a little worried that the kids will pull that heavy lamp onto their heads? Pitch a tent instead! A small tent can be a perfect fort for indoors or out.

Grow a sunflower fort.

This takes some time and commitment, but if you have the space, the time will be well worth it! Imagine escaping into a hideout made entirely of sunflower stalks! That would be magical.

Savvy Housekeeping: Grow a Sunflower House

Construct a mini tree house for a bird or fairy.

You may not have the perfect tree house tree, but you can still build one for a bird or a tiny magical creature. Here is a good place to start for inspiration and instruction.

Make a fort out of a large cardboard box. 

Empty cardboard boxes are full of potential, and if a box is large enough for a child to crawl into, then it will make a perfect fort for indoors or out. Decorate it to look like a house or a castle--like this one that I found at Cornerstone Confessions. The only limit is your (or your child's) imagination!

Build a tree house out of Legos.

My kids and I have often stayed up late on summer nights constructing some ambitious structures out of these colorful blocks. Building a tree house out of the best toy ever invented can be a great way to spend a hot summer day!

Design a tree house in Minecraft. 

A few years ago my son got me into the video game Minecraft. Not only is it a fun video game, but it's a great way to get creative without making a mess. A quick internet search for "minecraft treehouse" will give you an idea of just how creative these houses can be!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

What I've Learned in One Year as a Published Author

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? is one year old today!

There have been many times in my life when I felt like I'd never ever be a published author, EVER! The road to getting published was so long and slow and filled with frustration and disappointment. But I kept at it. Kept writing, kept growing, kept learning. It paid off. Now, suddenly I have been a published author for an entire year!

I have learned a lot over the past year. Much of it I "knew" because of all the reading and networking and all that jazz that I did in the years before my book released. But there is no better teacher than experience, and even the things that I "knew" before were really driven home once my book hit the shelves!

So here are some of the things I've learned about publishing, about myself, and about the work it takes to actually BE an author.

What it means to take an active role in marketing my books.

Everything I read about marketing before I was published said a variation of the same thing: It is your job to market your book. Your publisher is only going to do so much. So, I knew this. But I didn't really know what it would look like or how much time it was going to take. Marketing can suck up every bit of your writing time if you're not purposeful about how you use your time.

The power of word of mouth.

If people like a book, they tell people that they know, especially if they know the author! Word of mouth has led to people asking me about my book, asking where they can buy it, and inviting me to come and visit their school or store. Also, when someone asks what I do and I say, "I write picture books," they seem genuinely interested. That's why I always keep a stash of bookmarks in my purse!

I can do things that make me (very) uncomfortable.

Before I was published, the thought of "approaching a bookseller" to tell them about my book was terrifying. But not long before WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? was released, I did just that. I went into the local independent book store, introduced myself, and told them about my book. They were enthusiastic and welcoming and kind, and I don't know what I was so afraid of! I've also managed to drive, by myself, into unfamiliar neighborhoods and enter unfamiliar schools and say, "I'm here for the author visit." This is significant, because driving in unfamiliar areas can be a huge source of anxiety for me!

A not-so-favorable review doesn't really matter.

At least, not to me. Of course, I want people to like my books. But it isn't realistic to expect everyone to love them as much as I do. And it isn't realistic to expect only raving reviews, as if those were the only opinions that matter.

If only one child shows up for a reading/signing event, it is worth it.

I did a story time event at a small, independent book store a few months ago. It was a very small crowd of one family and a teacher. I sat and read to a little girl as she colored a WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? coloring page. I think I signed only one copy of the book that day--for the teacher! But if my presence at a story time event can give a child a positive book-related experience, then my job is done!

This business really is about the stories and the kids more than about making money.

I knew that I probably wasn't going to make gobs of money as a picture book author. What I didn't know was just how much that didn't matter. I'm not saying that I don't want to make money as an author, because I do. But the reason I want my books to do well is so I can keep writing them. My writing is how I let my little light shine in the world, and the list of things that are more important than that is pretty short.

Marketing isn't what I thought it was.

Designing bookmarks and postcards, putting together a book trailer, and creating graphics for social media take a lot of time. Doing those things myself not only saves me money, but also lets me use some of my other creative skills. I've also spent a lot of time contacting schools and book stores to get the word out about me and my books. But a lot of marketing has less to do with selling my book and more to do with making connections with people.

Other authors care about my success.

The support I've seen from other authors has made me realize what a great of people the kid lit community is. They tweet and retweet and read and review, and even buy other authors' books. There are a lot of reasons for that, but ultimately, every children's author's goal is to get a variety of quality books into the hands of children. And that is cool.

Public speaking is easy cheesy when the audience is full of children.

I can barely stand and speak in front of a small group of adults at church without feeling like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. But put me in front of a group of kids and ask me to talk about books and I'm quite at ease! It truly is my favorite part of being an author.

I look forward to learning a lot more in the years to come!

Don't forget to enter the GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a signed copy of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?

Monday, June 06, 2016

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? turns ONE (and a giveaway!)

How do you celebrate the one year anniversary of the publication of your very first book? By hosting a giveaway, of course! To celebrate WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?'s big day on Thursday, June 9th, I am giving away one signed copy of the book. Fill out the rafflecopter below for a chance to win! You have until the end of this week to enter. Good luck!

UPDATE: For some reason, blog comments don't always appear when using Rafflecopter. If your comment doesn't show up, your entry will still count!

a Rafflecopter giveaway