Friday, January 06, 2017

You've Written a Children's Book? Read This! (part 2)

Don't read any further until you've read Part One of this two part feature.

Have you read it?


And have you followed the directions (or are you at least planning to)?

Okay, then read on!

You've Written a Children's Book? Read This! (part two)

You may not want to hear this, but you need to. After you get your manuscript polished to its most brilliant shine, your polishing work is far from over. But this time you'll be polishing a cover or query letter instead.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

Once you've polished that manuscript, you'll want to send it to agents or editors. Which will it be? Get an agent first, or send directly to publishers (or both?). There is no wrong decision; this is completely up to you. However, there a couple things you will want to keep in mind:

1. Many publishers/editors do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries from unpublished authors. So having an agent will probably mean your work will be seen by some who would not have seen it otherwise.

2. If you have an agent, your days of stressing over query and/or cover letters are done! You can focus more on writing, and isn't that what we all want?

3. If you are a hands-on kind of person, it may be a challenge for you to "let go" and let your agent do his or her job. Then again, maybe you'll find an agent that will give you plenty to do!

Once you've decided which approach to take, you need to know to whom you want to send your manuscript. And that means you will need to do research!

Don't make the mistake of sending your manuscript off to every agent or editor you've ever heard of. Agents and editors are people, and people have different tastes. Not only that, but they have RULES about how to submit.

So, here's what you do:

1. Compile a list of agents/editors who represent/publish your kind of book.

2. Look at specific titles they have worked on. Is your book similar (but not too similar) to other books on that list? I don't necessarily mean a similar story, but similar in tone or style or format.

3. Search #mswl on twitter and visit to see what people are looking for.

4. Use social media. Follow agents and editors to get a feel for their tastes. Read blogs, interviews, and articles in which they are featured. Participate in pitch parties (such as #pitmad) on Twitter.

5. Go to conferences. Can't afford it? Check out WriteOnCon, a conference you can attend from home! This conference, combined with a twitter pitch party, led me to my agent.

Once you've narrowed your list of potential agents/publishers, it's time to polish that query letter. This can be a daunting task, but there is help. Check out this article from Writer's Digest or this blog post from which deals specifically with queries for picture books.

Have a few of your fellow author friends read your query for you if you're unsure. But it's nearly impossible to feel 100% confident when clicking that send button (or sealing that envelope). Just follow a basic query letter format and don't stress too much over it.

Now that you've polished your query and are ready to send your manuscript out into the world, be sure to follow submission guidelines, which are usually easy to find on agencies' and publishers' websites. You wouldn't want your query to go unread after all that work.

Phew! Time to breathe a little. And wait. And while you're waiting, work on that next manuscript!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

I read 134 books in 2016, assuming my Goodreads count is accurate. Admittedly, at least half of those were picture books, but that's still a lot of reading. I made it a point to read as many new books (that is, books published in 2016) as I could. And there were a lot of great ones! But there were a few that stood out more than others.

So here are my favorite books from 2016.

Picture Books

THE FORGETFUL KNIGHT by Michelle Robinson is maybe my favorite picture book ever. It is so funny and clever, and it has impeccable rhyme. Those qualities combine to make the perfect picture book. This book is so much fun that I have read it aloud to myself just for laughs, and insisted that my whole family allow me to read it to them as well. If you haven't read it, you are missing out! I recommend this for anyone who enjoys rhyming picture books.

A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS by Lucy Ruth Cummins made me laugh out loud. I love it because it is clever and funny and full of twists. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys clever picture books with a bit of dark humor.

Middle Grade

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors, so I was not surprised at all when I read MOO and fell completely in love. It is such a touching story, written in verse, about the way a young girl's life gets rearranged when they move to a new town. I loved the way the character adapted to all the changes in such a natural way, and learned a lot about herself and her family in the process. Beautiful book! Recommended for those who enjoy verse novels, feel-good contemporary fiction, and quick reads.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill is as lovely inside as it is on the cover. A story about a girl who is rescued as a baby by a witch, and accidentally enmagicked, this book tells a tale of family, healing, and the power of love. And, of course, magic! It is lyrical and lovely and richly layered. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction full of vivid details and unique characters.

Young Adult

As I looked through my list of books read in 2016, I realized that I hadn't read a lot of young adult books. That is not surprising since I purposely focused on catching up on some of my middle grade reading over the past year. But it turns out, of the young adult books I did read, only one of them was published in 2016! Even so, I think that this book would still have had a good chance of making it onto this very short list of favorites.

CALAMITY, book three in THE RECKONERS series by Brandon Sanderson, was a lot of fun to read. An exciting and satisfying end to a fascinating series. Recommended for fans of action-packed sci-fi/fantasy adventures or super hero stories, and those who like books with a lot of guns and a bit of romance.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Good or Bad?

Countless people on social media are saying, "Good riddance!" to 2016. To them, it was a crappy year, and they can't wait to cross that magical threshold at midnight tonight and start fresh. 2016 was a year filled with celebrity deaths, an awful presidential election, and that terribly disappointing Independence Day sequel. Who wouldn't want to say goodbye to that?

Sure, 2016 may have brought with it a lot of not-so-great things, but does that alone make it a crappy year? Perhaps all those people who are judging the year based on what happened in the news are missing the point.

For me, 2016 was challenging. For my sister Elizabeth, it was more so. She was diagnosed with breast cancer right before Christmas 2015. I was with her when the doctor told her how advanced it was and how drastic the treatment would be. For the next several months, I went to her chemotherapy sessions, took notes at doctor appointments, sent out regular email updates to friends and loved ones, and helped her out when she was weak from treatments or recovering from surgery. I also organized a spaghetti dinner to help her with expenses.

It was a stressful time. But it was also a special time that deepened my relationship with my sister. We probably spent more time together in 2016 than we did in the five years before that. A lot of that time was spent laughing and talking about our kids, or Star Wars, or how to reorganize the crazy cluttered mess I call my storage room. Sure, there were tears and even a little anger, but Elizabeth always found her smile again. And she never lost faith. All this while keeping a job and raising four kids under the age of eight.

When it comes to challenges, cancer is a pretty big one. All the other challenges that 2016 brought with it are piddly in comparison. But was 2016 a crappy year? I say no.

What I have learned from 2016 is that a year isn't necessarily good or bad because of what it brings to you. Maybe it is more about what you bring to it.

So whatever 2017 brings your way, I hope you make it a great one.

Happy New Year!

Elizabeth and her four little ones.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Thursday, December 08, 2016

You've Written a Children's Book? Read This! (part 1)

So you've written a children's book. Congratulations! You have done what a lot of people only think or dream about. You had an idea, you pursued it, and now you have a completed manuscript. You are ready to be published!

Or maybe not.

Actually, probably not.

In truth, I would say definitely not.

Your manuscript may not be ready to be published, but it is probably ready to receive some feedback! And no, I don't mean that you should have your mom or your kids or your best friend read it (though that's certainly okay to do). I mean that you should seek objective feedback from industry professionals. Or, at the very least, other writers you trust to be completely, brutally, honestly constructive.

Once you've done that, you'll probably (definitely) need to revise. Some of this will be easy. Fixing typos and grammar, rewording lines to make them more clear--these kinds of things are simple and expected. But what if someone tells you your story doesn't work? What if the whole thing made them bored out of their minds or left them wondering what the heck was going on? Worse, what if you get CONFLICTING feedback? (the horror!)

Calm down. This is all part of growing as a writer. Chances are if someone's feedback resonates with you, it is correct. On the other hand, if it doesn't, it may mean that you aren't being objective. Or it could mean that the person giving you feedback doesn't know what the heck they're talking about. If this happens, sleep on it. Seek more feedback. Try to be objective. Give yourself and your story a little space for a few days or weeks. Then, tackle your revision and polish that manuscript.

Now you're ready to publish your book!


Probably not.

You'll want to repeat that feedback/revision process a few times. Or a few hundred. However long it takes. It may be that you end up with a completely different story by the time you're truly done. It might make you crazy. It might make you curse yourself for ever pursuing this nightmare dream in the first place! But keep going until you've done everything you possibly can to get your manuscript just right.

Only you know what that is. And only you will really know when you're ready for the next step!

What is the next step? Read about that in Part 2!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? Megaphone Craft

What child hasn't formed a sheet of paper into a cone and then used it as a megaphone? Or hollered into an empty wrapping paper tube to hear how it changes their voice?

Megaphones, microphones, and leftover cardboard tubes are fun! Except, maybe, when someone is running around a construction site shouting orders at their friends. Then again, if a child runs around with a paper megaphone pretending to be Moose shouting orders at his friends, then that is a playful and fun reading extension activity. And it's even better if they make the megaphone themselves!

Your kids can make their very own Moose-inspired megaphone using this free template. Simply print the pattern (it works best on card stock), then follow the simple instructions on the pattern to put the megaphone together.

Have fun, but remember: Don't be a bossy Moose!

*Note: the ends of the megaphone handle should be folded out, forming a T shape

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving Giveaway Winners!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who entered the Thanksgiving Giveaway! I hope that, if you didn't win, you will consider buying WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? or HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS as a gift for yourself or someone else this holiday season. Or check them out at your local library!

The winner of the signed copy of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? is Kimee C! 

The winner of the signed copy of HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS is Michele B! (Michele with one L)

Congratulations, Kimee and Michele! Your books will be on their way to you early next week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wonderful Wordless (or Nearly Wordless) Picture Books

There is something especially special about a story told solely, or primarily, through pictures. Not only are these books often stunning works of art, but the absence of text makes them accessible to a wider audience of readers. They remove barriers by opening up the world of books to pre-readers, struggling readers, and language learners, giving them a chance to enjoy books on their own.

These books also stimulate the imagination in ways that other books may not. Because there is no text (or very little text) to guide them along, readers must interpret the images and form the story in their own minds. This provides an opportunity for parents and teachers to encourage children to tell the stories in their own words. They can be used as writing prompts, or simply as a springboard for creative discussion.

Picture books of all kinds are wonderful things. But in my mind, there is nothing quite as welcoming and disarming as a picture book with few or no words.

Here are several of my favorites:

My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohman - Not completely free of text, but the bulk of the story is told in vibrant, action-packed illustrations. It's a gorgeous book!

Journey, by Aaron Becker - A stunning adventure told entirely in illustrations. The first in a series that also includes Quest and Return.

Moo!, by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka - This story is told in illustrations and one word that repeats throughout: Moo!

Red Sled and Red Hat, by Lita Judge - Both of these wintry adventures are told in illustrations as well as text that is primarily onomatopoeia. Scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch...

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney - a breathtaking "retelling" of the classic fable, all in incredibly detailed illustrations.

Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle - Adorable story of a little dancer's interactions with a flamingo, told entirely in pictures. Flora and the Penguin and Flora and the Peacocks are follow-ups to this one. 

The White Book: A Minibombo Book, by Elisabetta Pica and Lorenzo Clerici - A very simple, yet completely brilliant, wordless picture book.

Monster Book, by Alice Hoogstad - A vibrant, creative, and colorful wordless picture book!