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Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Wed, 13 Jun 2018 13:00:06 +0000
Winners!
Congratulations to… Katie Engen for winning a critique from MOUSELING’S WORDS author Shutta Crum! LeeAnn Rizzuti for winning a copy of Denise Fleming’s THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT! Sheri Radovich for winning FIRST SNOW signed by Nancy Viau! Lenora Rougeou Biemans for winning a copy of TERRIFIC TONGUES by Maria Gianferrari! Rosie Russels for winning […]

Shutta Crum wrote one of my all-time favorite Storystorm posts a few years ago about crafting an irresistible picture book opening. Her “four W” technique grounds the reader in time and place with the character, leaving just enough detail unanswered so one must turn the page to discover why. WHY????

When I learned Shutta the word whisperer released a new book celebrating words, I just knew she’d have lots of wonderful words to say about it.

Shutta, you know I’m a “wordie”—that’s a new word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year and it means “a word lover”. Words bring Mouseling great comfort and belonging in this story. Which words foster those same feelings in you?

You ask a great question that I had to ponder quite a while. I mean, there are so many wonderful words that can engender feelings of comfort and belonging, like family and chocolate. So I thought about what I’ve lost and miss the most. And that would be my parents. They both died in 2008. Anyway, I bear my father’s nickname as my legal first name, Shutta. But he never called me that. He gave me a nickname, Shud. What I wouldn’t give to hear that word in his voice again! And thinking about my mother, I think of food. Specifically, biscuits and gravy, a Southern breakfast staple. It’s real comfort food, and makes me think of home and all the wonderful smells of Mom’s cooking.

So circling back to your childhood, did words give you comfort then? Were you an avid reader and writer even as a little girl?

Was I an avid reader?—hah! I read everything I could get my hands on, especially as we did not have many books in our home. I remember Mom telling me to put my books down and go outside and play. My siblings were real outdoor lovers and I think she thought I was a bit unusual. I also remember being proud when I could finish a book in a day. Sometimes I’d hide them in my textbooks at school as I read. Words were comforting, and amazing! Whole worlds were opened to me. As an avid reader I was also an avid day-dreamer. I’d play out scenes in my head all the time. I still do. It’s made me a very visual thinker and, I believe, a better writer.

A funny story: if I found a book, I’d pick it up and start reading it. One time, when I was in high school I found a rather salacious book at a bus stop. I opened it up in geometry class when we had a few extra moments to read and my teacher just about had a stroke. He came bounding over to me and ripped The Story of O out of my hands in an apoplectic manner yelling, “Where did you get this?” I’d only read the first page, or so, but my, oh my! However, most of my reading material was adventure, mystery and science fiction.

Why is learning tough (but fun) new vocabulary words important to young readers?

Humans have been communicating since the time we could only point and grunt. There is an instinctive desire to communicate—even with our first breath we communicate—we cry when we’re birthed. It means: Hey it’s cold out here! What’s happening to me? Where am I? And, This doesn’t feel right. Communicating is like breathing; it is part of our basic nature. And miscommunication can be disastrous. Deadly, even. So finding the right word or the right way to say something is important. When we build our vocabularies we have more skill at pinpointing exactly what we mean.

This is always important to writers! But for people who love words it goes beyond meaning to the music created by the sound of words, and even the way words sound in our mouths. We use all our senses to communicate.

In MOUSELING’S WORDS, Mouseling feels the whirr of “fur” in his throat when he says it. He sees the two round vowels that look like mouse tummies in the middle of the word “float.” He tastes the word “milk.” He smells “perfume.” And he hears the loud crinkling and crackling of the word he balled up to throw at the cat. I really wanted young readers to know that when we communicate we use our whole bodies—not just vocabulary words. But it’s also handy to have a large vocabulary to choose from. It’s like having lots of pairs of snazzy socks to wear. You wouldn’t want to wear the same old white ones every day. That’s the fun of words!

Obviously, you’re a “wordie” too. Any special hints for writers about word choice?

Well, I’ve just had an article published at the RYS site about wielding the right words and using the right journals that goes into this question in detail. I can sum it up by saying that when I think about word choice I think of words like people. Words have personalities, and like any person there is always more than what meets the eye. Words have emotional baggage, a cultural upbringing, physical sensibilities and an historical demeanor. Considering all of these factors is critical when writing for young readers. I only have so many words to play with—very few in the case of my picture books. Those words have to be weighed, analyzed and found to slot perfectly into its place.

I should also mention that I keep special “word” journals. I do not just journal generally. I note words I find, or phrases I love, from my reading. I keep an onomatopoeia journal and other specific journals. These help me keep the focus on word choice. The full article with examples from great writers can be found by going to this link at my blog.

Thanks, Tara, this has been fun…keep those lovely words coming!


Shutta Crum is the author of thirteen picture books, three novels, and numerous poems and articles. Her THUNDER-BOOMER! was an American Library Association and a Smithsonian Magazine “Notable Book” of the year. MINE! was listed by New York Times as “one of the best board books of the year.” Many of her books have made the Bank Street Best Books lists and have been short-listed for state awards. Her newest picture book MOUSELING’S WORDS is garnering glowing reviews. PW says: “…a tribute to the way books can unite even the unlikeliest of friends.” Booklist says, “This earnest and encouraging title fits on the shelf of books for book-lovers…” And Kirkus Reviews sums it up as, “Encouraging, lovely words.” For more, visit Shutta.com.

Shutta is giving away a picture book critique (less than 1000 words)—what an awesome opportunity! Just leave a comment below mentioning you want the crit (in other words, use your words).

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Tue, 05 Jun 2018 14:24:33 +0000
Words & Word Choice with MOUSELING’S WORDS by Shutta Crum (plus a giveaway)
Shutta Crum wrote one of my all-time favorite Storystorm posts a few years ago about crafting an irresistible picture book opening. Her “four W” technique grounds the reader in time and place with the character, leaving just enough detail unanswered so one must turn the page to discover why. WHY???? When I learned Shutta the […]

Author-illustrator Denise Fleming gave the keynote at the NJ-SCBWI conference a few years ago and she said something that has stuck with me: “My internal age is five. So I make books for five-year-olds like me.”

I had an ah-ha moment, complete with a hovering lightbulb. I’m eight, I thought. No wonder I write what I do.

Denise’s newest book was recently released, and if you’re familiar with her work, it looks a little different. I learned that Denise has changed up her style. So, of course, I wanted to chat about it.

Denise, you are well known for your innovative illustrations created with paper pulp. THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT looks a little different—still gorgeous and unique—but I understand you decided to reinvent your style with this book. Why did you feel the need to change up your technique?

I have been illustrating my books with pulp painting for over 25 years. While I love paper making, I felt it was time for a change for several reasons. The small company where I bought my pulp had changed hands and the new pulp was causing me problems. The board I used for stencils was no longer available. I had tried substitutes but none worked as well for detail and some were difficult to cut. Then, there were the hours of standing bent over the paper vat which was affecting my health. These were all a part of my decision to experiment with new techniques.

Gelatin printing and foam printing along with collage were the techniques that really interested me. These provided more freedom and the ability to create more detail, which is difficult with paper making. I also felt I needed a bit of reinvention. I have been around for a long time, I wanted readers to take a second look at my art. I am fascinated with printmaking. Before I created books I studied printmaking, mostly etching, lithos and mono-prints. I am excited to try new styles and techniques in upcoming books.

How does this new style contribute to and enhance this story?

With the new style I am able to create more detail in the illustrations. Printing the background and collaging the foreground gives the feeling of more depth. I also am able to make papers with the textures of feathers and grasses which enhances the art and adds a feel of realism.

 

Has your new style given rise to ideas for books you would have never thought of before?

Actually, I will be experimenting with several new styles in upcoming books. And yes, these new styles will allow me to more ably illustrate several manuscripts I had put in the back of my file due to the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to illustrate them in my pulp painting technique. People are difficult to do in pulp painting. Up until this point I have illustrated people as large graphic shapes. Hands and fingers were stressful as the pulp would fill in spaces between figures. Ugh. So maybe more figures and details in upcoming books. And maybe even white space.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

As to future books, I have been on a sort of sabbatical. Working out how I want books to look. Manuscripts have not been submitted, so I would rather not reveal any of the books until they are under contract. But, I will let you know about them as soon as I send them out and am offered contracts. I agent myself, so I have to give myself a push. Unfortunately, I love experimenting, so I am slow to get back to the business of books.

If I were to edit your reply, I would delete “unfortunately”. Readers are lucky that you keep innovating and creating even more beautiful art!

THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT is available now from Beach Lane Books.

You can win a copy here by leaving a comment below. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


Thu, 31 May 2018 13:05:15 +0000
Denise Fleming: Illustrator & Innovator (plus a giveaway!)
Author-illustrator Denise Fleming gave the keynote at the NJ-SCBWI conference a few years ago and she said something that has stuck with me: “My internal age is five. So I make books for five-year-olds like me.” I had an ah-ha moment, complete with a hovering lightbulb. I’m eight, I thought. No wonder I write what […]

by Nancy Viau

Hey there, readers of this wonderful blog!

Betcha can’t wait for hot, hot summer days, right? I know I’m looking forward to lots of sunshine and NO SNOW!

WAIT.

A.

MINUTE!

I canNOT say that because I am all about snow these days. The reason? In September, my fourth picture book makes its way into the world, and it’s called FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman & Co.). So, put on your clunky boots and funky hats, think chilly thoughts … instead of OMG, it’s summer and it’s ridiculously hot, and please check out:

What does this cover reveal about the book? Simple. Snow. Is. Fun! If you’re an adult, do you remember the hours spent building igloos, having snowball fights, sledding, and that feeling of cozy warmth from a cup of hot chocolate? (Yeah, I know, dear grown-ups, you’ve gotta put aside the snow shoveling, buried cars, bad roads, etc. for a minute. I haven’t forgotten about you. When the book comes out, look at my funny dedication!)

As with my other picture books, this story is written in rhyme. Before I even thought about being a writer, I loved to read rhyming books. The words seemed to roll off my tongue, yet I never really understood why until I tried my hand at rhyme. It was much harder than I ever imagined! With rhyme, there is so much to consider—the rhyming words, internal rhyme, meter, length of phrases, length of stanzas, vocabulary, and more. Still, I love it. I love that every single word counts. It often takes me weeks to find that perfect word—the one that fits for all the right reasons. When that happens, it’s magical, trust me. If you write in rhyme, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

As far as finding a topic for a rhyming picture book, nature has always been my inspiration. I enjoy every season and the weather that comes with each one—warm, breezy, rainy, super-hot and humid, or freezing cold. While some may grumble, growl, and complain about a pending snowstorm, I’m a little kid again. There is something about the crunch of snow under my feet; its clean smell; that blanket of white; the cheery voices of children playing; and at night, the quiet peacefulness it brings.

Puffy jackets. Scarves in place.

Extra mittens, just in case.

In FIRST SNOW, you’ll see the kids scramble to see those first snowflakes, then head outside for adventure. Illustrator Talitha Shipman has done an amazing job of showing how beautiful snow is. (It’s not easy to paint white snow on white paper, right?) The colors she has chosen are varied and bright, and the expressions on the kids’ faces are priceless. Seeing how an illustrator works with my words is one of my favorite things about writing picture books.

So, next winter when meteorologists predict a big winter storm, I hope you’ll curl up with a copy of FIRST SNOW and think back to a time when snow meant serious, crazy fun. Then bundle up and go out and play!


Nancy Viau is the author of five picture books: PRUETT AND SOO (Two Lions, TBA), FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman), CITY STREET BEAT (Albert Whitman), LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! (Abrams Books), and STORM SONG (Two Lions). She also writes middle grade and has several published with more forthcoming. Look for her latest, BEAUTY AND BERNICE, at the end of August! During the summer Nancy works as a librarian assistant at a public library and is the first to check out the travel books, searching for adventures out-of-state and out of the country. It’s in nature where she finds inspiration and whether it’s navigating mountain trails or riding her bike, she’s always writing stories in her head. Visit her at NancyViau.com.

Nancy is giving away a signed copy of FIRST SNOW in September. Comment now to be entered into the random drawing. A winner will be selected…on the first day of summer…? (Oh, the irony.)

Good luck!

 

 

 

 


Thu, 24 May 2018 13:22:02 +0000
FIRST SNOW Cover Reveal & Giveaway!
by Nancy Viau Hey there, readers of this wonderful blog! Betcha can’t wait for hot, hot summer days, right? I know I’m looking forward to lots of sunshine and NO SNOW! WAIT. A. MINUTE! I canNOT say that because I am all about snow these days. The reason? In September, my fourth picture book makes […]

by Maria Gianferrari

Cat got your tongue? I hope not! It’s time to stick out your tongue and celebrate all things tongue with a TERRIFIC TONGUES book giveaway, and a trip off the tongue thanks to Tara for helping feature it here!

Tongues rule!! So does Jia Liu’s fun and vibrant art!

How cool are tongues? Take this quiz and find out!

Whose tongue is like a washcloth?
A) Giraffe
B) Okapi
C) Tiger

If you had a tongue like a whip, you might be a …..

A) Snake
B) Dog
C) Anteater

Your tongue cleans your eyes like a windshield wiper. Who are you?

A) A gecko
B) A snail
C) A sea turtle

Answer in the comments and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of the book (for US residents only—sorry!).

To check your answers, read TERRIFIC TONGUES!

Thanks again, Tara & hearty thanks to publisher Boyds Mills Press for generously donating copies!


Tue, 01 May 2018 12:00:32 +0000
A Terrific Quiz & Giveaway! (oh, what else…it’s on the tip of my tongue…)
by Maria Gianferrari Cat got your tongue? I hope not! It’s time to stick out your tongue and celebrate all things tongue with a TERRIFIC TONGUES book giveaway, and a trip off the tongue thanks to Tara for helping feature it here! Tongues rule!! So does Jia Liu’s fun and vibrant art! How cool are […]

by Lydia Lukidis

I fell in love with writing at the age of six. I scribbled poems and stories everywhere I could. But when it came time to choose a field to pursue my studies in, I opted for practicality and studied Pure and Applied Science.

It was hard work and I earned my degree. YAY!

But then, OH NO! The sinking feeling in my heart was undeniable. I realized I didn’t want a career in science.

So it was back to the drawing board. Since writing was always my first love, I decided to study English Literature at McGill University. Cut to a few decades later, I’m a published children’s author and found a way to incorporate my science background into my writing. I finally had the opportunity to use my science degree in a fun way.

It came about unexpectedly, when I began to write for the educational market several years ago. I didn’t know I would love it until I tried it. Now I have over 40 educational books and eBooks under my belt, including two really exciting contracts I landed with Kane Publishing for their Science Solves It! series. I’m happy to announce both books are now officially released: A REAL LIVE PET! and THE SPACE ROCK MYSTERY.

  

You may be wondering if the educational market is right for you. Here’s a list of common questions:

But as all writers know, you’ll need plenty of patience and perseverance. I remember my first attempt several years ago. I painstakingly crafted my cover letter and beefed up my CV as much as I could. I sent off 100 cover letters but didn’t get a single reply. Not even one! I experienced a moment of despair but decided to keep going. A year later, my body of work had grown and my writing samples improved. I sent off another batch of cover letters to the same publishers and lo and behold, I got my first break! From there, it snowballed.

While the educational market is not for everyone, it works well for authors who have a passion for writing nonfiction and want to supplement their income. For those interested in giving it a shot, I wish you luck on your journey! If you have any other specific questions, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Plus, leave a comment to enter to win a copy of A REAL LIVE PET!

A winner will be selected in a few weeks.

Good luck! 


Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with over forty books and eBooks published, along with numerous short stories, poems and plays. Her background is multi-disciplinary and spans the fields of literature, science and puppetry. Lydia writes fiction and nonfiction for children from K-6, and enjoys working with educational publishers such as Kane Publishing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Red Line Editorial. She is also passionate about spreading the love of literacy and has been facilitating writing workshops for children since 1999. Visit Lydia at lydialukidis.com or connect with her on Twitter @LydiaLukidis.


Sun, 29 Apr 2018 21:05:47 +0000
Basics of the Educational Market by Lydia Lukidis (plus a giveaway!)
by Lydia Lukidis I fell in love with writing at the age of six. I scribbled poems and stories everywhere I could. But when it came time to choose a field to pursue my studies in, I opted for practicality and studied Pure and Applied Science. It was hard work and I earned my degree. […]

Poor, sad, neglected blog!

I’ve been whisking off to school visits and conferences, but I’ve not been too busy to blog. Too lazy, perhaps. And I have an avalanche of awesome authors and illustrators waiting for me to post about their books. I need a swift kick in the pantaloons.

Remember when Twitter was introduced, “they” dubbed it a micro-blogging platform? (“They” are always busy, have you noticed?)

Well, I’ve been micro-blogging. Here are some recent tidbits of #pubtips…

Don’t follow me on Twitter?

Let’s fix that, shall we? (Does that make us a “they”?)

And now, here are “they” who won recent giveaways here:

Cate Berry’s PENGUIN & SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME
Amanda Sincavage

Tracy Marchini’s CHICKEN WANTS A NAP
Carole Calladine

Troy Cummings’ CAN I BE YOUR DOG?
Kara Newhouse

Congratulations, winners! I will email you shortly…


Mon, 16 Apr 2018 12:00:56 +0000
Tweets for a Blag (Lagging Blog!) plus Recent Winners
Poor, sad, neglected blog! I’ve been whisking off to school visits and conferences, but I’ve not been too busy to blog. Too lazy, perhaps. And I have an avalanche of awesome authors and illustrators waiting for me to post about their books. I need a swift kick in the pantaloons. Remember when Twitter was introduced, […]

by Cate Berry

Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube…

But I write books for children.

D’oh!

There’s a special time at the end of the day when grown-ups and kids come together. After the dog-and-pony-show—the getting into pajamas, the getting teeth brushed, the endless hijinks—that’s when we finally connect.

Research shows that reading bedtime books has a palpable effect on early literacy. Magic happens when a child sits on a grown-up’s lap at the end of the day listening to a story, watching the text interact with the pictures on the page. Comparing and contrasting the drawn page with the pictures in their minds helps a child develop critical thinking. And the literacy “residue” from reading aloud helps kids develop a broader vocabulary at an earlier age. As the Times article states, “… every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.”

Learning benefits aside, I also believe it’s good for people to laugh with each other. Sharing a giggle can heal the day’s bumps and bruises. My characters, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp, want to share their laughs and smiles. Ultimately, they care about spreading joy and fun—together.

Teamwork.

That’s what this book is about. My two characters work together—the buddy system!—against a common goal of falling asleep. [Don’t tell them, but much yawning will ensue, almost guaranteed.]

Does bedtime make you wiggly? Grab a buddy—a lovey, a sibling, a book! I was paired with a great “buddy” for the making of this book, illustrator Charles Santoso.

My favorite kind of picture book feels like a duet between the author and the illustrator. On one page the text might drive the story, followed by a wordless spread with just illustrations. It’s give and take. Maybe a graceful dance is a better way to put it.

Charles understood Penguin and Tiny Shrimp so authentically. In our interview for Cynsations he described to me how he listens to an author’s characters, letting them guide his illustrations, which is probably why he’s so versatile. At the same time, his signature warmth and emotion are always threaded throughout his work.

So, books. But there is one video I think you should watch: the one for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (Spoiler: look out for Charles’ stealth characters!)

And, watch it with a buddy.

BIG thanks Tara for hosting me today on her wonderful blog!

Up with books, down with bedtime!


Cate Berry is the author of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (May 8th, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive antibedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7).” She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers’ League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as “Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices” and “From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books.” Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.

Cate is giving away a copy of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! upon publication in a few weeks.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Thu, 22 Mar 2018 12:00:26 +0000
Bedtime, Booktime by Cate Berry (plus a giveaway!)
by Cate Berry Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube… But I […]

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

Character
I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Hook
Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!


Thu, 15 Mar 2018 16:06:42 +0000
Character, Hook, Word Choice: 3 Craft Elements & 8 Hats by Tracy Marchini (plus a giveaway)
by Tracy Marchini I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once. Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for […]

by Troy Cummings

Designing a picture book cover is like housetraining a puppy: it requires lots of patience, there are papers spread all over the house, and it’ll inevitably lead to fits of howling in the middle of the night.

But if you can sniff out the good ideas and clean up your happy accidents, you’ll hopefully wind up with something you’re proud to cuddle up with on the couch.

When I wrangle my picture book covers, I try to explore as many different ideas as possible. I start by sketching a few pages crazy loose brainstormy concepts, and then distill those into half a dozen thumbnail sketches.

I draw my thumbnail sketches at about 1.5″ tall. It forces me to work quickly, make big, bold shapes, and to _not_ get fussy with details. I think it’s best to work in b/w at this point; we can save the color decisions for later.

Here are the cover sketches I submitted to my editor/art director for CAN I BE YOUR DOG? It’s a story about a dog who writes letters to every house on Butternut street, in search of a home–so I knew I’d want the cover to involve DOG + MAIL.

DVD COMMENTARY TRACK ON THE ABOVE IMAGES:

1. Big letter: This would have been a pretty static/boring cover; the puppy is too small! But I kept it here in case it gave us more ideas for another direction to follow.

2. Arfy mailing: I like how this one shows us the dog actually sending a letter. It’s sort of already getting the story started—like a bonus page zero of the book!

3. Zoomed-in stamp: I was trying to show the title in a cancellation stamp, but it’s too hard to read. (I ended up stealing this idea for my ABOUT THE AUTHOR photo on the flap. (With my portrait on a 3RD CLASS STAMP.)

4. Special delivery: I liked this one, especially Arfy’s floppy ears.

5. Big puppy: We ended up using this one as flap art, too.

6. Peek: I liked the timidness of the puppy peeking around the corner; we ended up using a variant of this on the back cover.

7. Arfy’s head: This was everyone’s favorite. The scruffy mutt is prominently featured, and it was nice to work the title into the illustration.

Once we’d agreed on a direction, my art director Liz (who rocks!) was able to take my sketch and improve it like crazy. Liz zoomed in on the image, made the title bolder, suggested to bend the letter, and moved my byline out to the background space. I loved all of her suggestions, and we ended up with a jacket that reads pretty well across the room or as a tiny thumbnail image on the web.

The best part about sketching multiple ideas is that none of that work was wasted. I was able to reuse some of my sketches on the flaps/interiors of the book, or for promotional materials.


Troy Cummings is the author/illustrator of more than 30 books, including CAN I BE YOUR DOG?, THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM, and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (written by the indefatigable Tara Lazar!) You can follow him on Twitter @troycummings, follow him on Instagram @troxcummings, or follow him to the new ice cream shop that opened next door to his studio. (Shrewd move on their part!)

Troy is giving away a signed copy of CAN I BE YOUR DOG?

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be selected next week.



How to Sketch a Fetch-Worthy Picture Book Cover, by Troy Cummings (plus a giveaway)
by Troy Cummings Designing a picture book cover is like housetraining a puppy: it requires lots of patience, there are papers spread all over the house, and it’ll inevitably lead to fits of howling in the middle of the night. But if you can sniff out the good ideas and clean up your happy accidents, […]
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