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Are you an A.U.T.H.O.R?

Author is defined by Merriam-Webster for Kids as: a person who creates a written work. I like to share that definition with students because it is encouraging.  If you put the words on paper, you are an author.  You are a wordsmith, but you must also be brave and thick-skinned. If you want to be a published author, putting words on paper is just the first step. And there are things you can do to increase your chance of success.

Understanding the business of publishing is one key to success.  It is a business that involves many people, all of whom are hoping to make a living. I did not find success as an author until I began to study the business. The knowledge gained helped me target submissions and decreased the sting of rejection! For example, understanding how many submissions a publisher receives vs how many books they publish a year is eye opening, as is a look at resources like Publishers Weekly.  Any given week, a majority of their top 25 picture book best sellers were written decades ago.

Tenacity, according to my invaluable Flip Dictionary, is a synonym for patience and persistence.  Two of the words I wanted to use, but there’s no P in AUTHOR. However, maybe tenacity is really the right word. And writing is about finding the right word. Tenacity involves patience, persistence and determination.  To be a published author you cannot give up or be discouraged.  Despite the overnight success stories, most authors will be rejected MANY times (I have been hundreds of times) and they will have waited months for this lovely rejection news!

Hone your craft. An author is never done learning.  In the age of the internet, resources abound. There are blogs, online workshops, and online critique groups.  Join groups like the Author’s Guild or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and you’ll find abundant information and links to MORE information. A critique group, or at least readers other than family and friends, is a must.  Like the game of telephone, what you see in your head does not always make it to the paper and into your reader’s mind.

Organize your time. Most authors have other jobs and obligations.  When I have time to devote to my writing, I have to decide how to utilize my time – do I work on a new story, revise an old one, research places to send a story, catch up on industry news, read reviews of books, read books in the genre I write, do a writing workshop, read a book about the craft of writing, market the books I have published, etc.! AND, don’t forget what may be the most important:  quiet thinking time, letting the ideas come and grow in your mind!

Read, read, read! If you want to be a published author you need to read. Reading books in the genre you write will help you understand what goes into a book that makes it from manuscript to library shelf. Reading any genre exposes you to words, language and the art of storytelling. And reading does one more thing-it supports other authors, which is what you are or hope to be!

I LOVE Fall

If you’ve been reading my blog you can’t help but know that I love to bake and cook with pumpkin so, as you might imagine, I love fall. But it’s not just the pumpkin that shows up in things from coffee to ice cream that I love.

fallbannerFall commands the attention of all my senses. The crisp air that requires a jacket. The leaves in hues of orange, yellow and red capture both my eyes and my ears when the crunch underfoot. That crunching creates a leafy aroma like the grinding of spices. I hear the geese call good by as the cross the sky in perfect V formation. The Red-winged Blackbirds gather and put on a nightly show swooping as one for weeks before they too head south. As the sun moves south it sets earlier and earlier. Walking in the dusk of evening, house windows glow and I imagine the of families gathered inside. And when I return home the warmth of a fire greets me. It’s fall!

When you are writing it is important to think about your senses. What senses are awakened by  a place, season,  or activity? Including such details, not in a big paragraph as above, but slipped in here and there will enrich your story and help your reader feel like they are in the story with you!

A Recipe

Now, who wants some Pumpkin Cinnamon Pull-Apart Loaf?!

Print a copy from here & watch a video of constructing the loaf!

Story Boards, Book Dummies & Page Breaks

Last week we took a quick look at picture book construction. All editors and publishing houses have their own methods, but in my personal experience, the editors I worked with laid out the words using a book dummy. They also noted illustrations ideas on those pages to share with me and the illustrator. Laying the story out is important because page breaks are. We want the reader to keep turning the pages ! So authors should be thinking about page breaks and story layout as they revise their manuscript.

TO DO THIS authors and illustrators might make a STORY BOARDScreenshot 2021-08-16 095053

To make a story board take a long piece of paper and  fold it so you get 16 rectangles and you will divide each in two for your 32 pages (see above).   These are called thumbnails.  You can plan your illustrations by doing a sketch or writing what it would be.  You can write your text in, but if it’s a lot of words you could put first and last word.

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A book dummy can be made a couple of ways.  You could take 8 sheets of paper, fold in the middle and you’ll have 32 pages.  Or you can make a smaller one by folding a large sheet of paper in half one way and then the other.  Then cut on those folds.  Fold in half and you have a 16 page signature.  How many do we need to make  the most common number of pages in a picture book? 

Some things to think about

So how will you decide where to break your story? These are some things to consider:

Suspense:  Think about books you’ve read-picture books or chapter books.  One of the things that makes us want to turn the page or read more is wondering what is going to happen on the next page.  So suspense is important in thinking about your page breaks.

Illustrations:  You want your illustrations to be different on each page, so as you look at your text you think about how you might illustrate those words or use pictures to add to the story.

White space: In most books you don’t want so many words on a page that there’s not enough room for pictures or that it looks overwhelming to read.

Question in the text: answer on next page

Stop a sentence in the middle:  SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL, SO SHE TOOK A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE BUSHES AND ALMOST TRIPPED OVER A….  (KITTEN) on the next page

Transition words: Then, When, But, And, Until and Ellipsis SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL.  SHE LEFT ON TIME, BUT…

Rhythm: of quick page breaks, build anticipation

When an editor works on your story your page breaks might change, but thinking about them has helped you submit a better story!

Picture Book Construction??

IF YOU take the time to write a picture book, the last thing you want is for the reader to put the book down before they’ve finished it.  You want them to keep turning the pages.  So it’s important what we decide to put on each page.

WE OFTEN call any book with illustrations a picture book, but there are really 2 types of illustrated books: 

  • Story books: Where the text tells the whole story and can be read without illustrations 
  • True picture books: where the pictures and words combine to tell the story.

So you need to know which type of illustrated book you’ve written as this will determine the book’s length and how the story is laid out on the pages.

Next we need to think about how picture books are constructed.

  • Most picture books are 32 pages and there’s a reason why.
  • Picture books are made from SIGNATURES-not the kind where we write our name. In printing a signature is:  a group of pages that are printed on both sides of a sheet of paper. The paper is then folded, cut and trimmed down to the finished page size.  So pages are laid out and printed on large sheet which is cut in half (so you have 4 sides) then cut in half again (8 sides) and folded so you have 16 pages.  Most picture books have 2 of these.speechbubblebookpage

So you have 32 pages, but some of these may be used for a title page, dedication, copyright material.  So 28 pages for your story.signatures

With 28 pages it will be important to plan how the words will fit into those pages. Is there room in the story for rich illustrations that add to the experience and to the story? 

Next week let’s look at story boards and book dummies as a way to plan your story.

Sketches & Comments

Mr. Worry is an example of the advice often given to authors to “write what you know”.  Mr. Worry was the first book I had accepted for publication and it was something I knew very well. This story, about a child with OCD, is close to my heart because it came from experiences my son and our family had with OCD. Many of the moments depicted in the story were similar to moments my son had, but not all.

Because it was my first book and because of my closeness to the story I was excited to receive the first sketches for comment. I liked the illustrator’s style, palette, and the things he chose to illustrate. (This book is more of an illustrated storybook, where the illustrations aren’t necessary to understand it.)

There was one illustration that concerned me.

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In the story Kevin learns to separate himself from the OCD by giving it a name. He calls it Mr. Worry. The illustrator’s depiction of Mr. Worry looked like a scary devilish creature. Since the book’s target audience was children who worry about things, I was concerned this would not be a helpful image. When I voiced my concern, the editor asked how I pictured Mr. Worry and I described something similar to what became Mr. Worry.

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The best picture books are a true collaboration between the author, illustrator and editor. Each brings their own vision and expertise. As is true in most things working together and listening to each other, makes the final product even better.

20210629_105703It’s time for a RECIPE! As a tie-in to the book it is a super easy ice cream recipe for Brownie Batter No-Churn Ice Cream found at DELISH.COM. 

Made and eaten by yours truly!

A Rewrite for the Illustrator

This month I’m looking at how authors think about illustrations as they write. I CAN’T STOP: A STORY ABOUT TOURETTE SYNDROME leans more toward the illustrated story side of the spectrum. You could read the text and know what is happening without the pictures. But the pictures help bring a challenging subject to younger readers.

I am not an illustrator. So, I look forward to the sketches to see how an illustrator “sees” my story. For this book the illustrator, Meryl Treatner used models for her illustrations. When I received the sketches there were many things I liked, but I felt that some of the children looked older.20210615_144252 As written the final pages of the book took place during recess. The text was:

One day at recess, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. “Those kids better stop.” Josh was mad.

               “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said, getting in line for the tornado slide. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final page showed Nathan going down the slide. The text:

               Nathan sat at the top of the slide. “Look out below!” He closed his eyes and pushed off. He was a marble rolling down the slide, heading for the bowl. He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way.

               “Watch out, tics,” he thought. “You don’t stand a chance.”

The children who were making fun of Nathan looked too old to be in elementary school. The editor did not want to ask the illustrator to redo those illustrations as she would have to pay new models, so I was asked to rewrite the ending.20210615_144243

               One day on the way to the soccer field, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. Josh was mad. “Those kids better stop,” he said.

              “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final spread showed Nathan kicking a soccer ball.

During the game, Nathan took a shot and watched the ball fly into the net. As the kids cheered, he grinned.

               He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way. Watch out, tics, he thought. You’re not the only moves I can make!

At first I wasn’t happy that I was going to do a rewrite, but making a book is a collaborative effort. So  I did a minor rewrite to accommodate the illustrator, and once I did, I decided it made for a stronger ending anyway. What do you think?

Make Room for the Illustrator

This month I want to talk about the relationship between the text and illustrations in picture books. There is a distinction between a picture book and an illustrated story book. The pictures in the former should add to the story. In the later they just show something from the story.

Think about a book like Jan Brett’s THE MITTEN where lots of things are happening in the pictures that are not in the text, but without them you wouldn’t understand the story. 

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Generally, picture books are shorter.  So, an author thinks about this as they write. They don’t waste words on descriptions unless it’s necessary to the story. An author needs to “leave room” in the story for the illustrator.

yoga-poses-1The entire text of THE DAY I RAN AWAY is written in dialogue. Grace recounts her day as her dad tucks her in. The bedtime scenes on the left side of the spread and the daytime on the right.

This posed a bit of an illustrative challenge. While the things that happened during her day were varied, the bedtime scenes would be somewhat repetitive.

Enter the creative editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. She suggested that Grace do bedtime yoga. I must admit that I was skeptical at first, but I loved the ways  Isabella Ongaro depicted Grace, Dad and Charlie dog winding with the simple poses. It added to the story.

 

TDRAwithgrace2In my text the little girl is not named and there are no dialogue tags.  Shari suggested I choose a name and that would be shown in the illustrations. The reader who looks carefully at the pictures will find her name.

I loved this idea and was thankful for it later as I began to talk about my book at schools or bookstores. Much easier to talk about Grace, than the little girl or the main character.

As you study picture books look at how the pictures add to a story. Are things missing if you just look at the pictures or if you just read the words?

 

The Writer’s Notebook

notebooksAn educator friend of mine shared the idea of a Writer’s Notebook with me and I love it! I talk with students about collecting words, but I hadn’t considered all the possibilities a Writer’s Notebook could hold.

As an author I have used notebooks or word documents to keep track of ideas, names, titles that pop into my head and the evolving versions of a story.


steno

I am a list maker in my personal and writing life, and for that I love steno pads. The middle division allows me to have more than one type of list on a page.

 

 

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I have a notebook where I did exercises from books on writing. Sometimes I flip through to see if an idea for a story might emerge.

 

 


For the teachers reading this I’m probably preaching to the choir, but parents or other caregivers think about introducing the Writer’s Notebook over the summer. It will keep writing interest and skills alive!

A child (or adult) with a notebook dedicated to writing will start to see themselves as a writer. A nice writing utensil helps too! And writers will tell you they don’t just write on certain days and times. So that notebook should always be handy.

So how might a child use the notebook?

  • To write thoughts or feelings
  • React to things they see or hear or that happen to them
  • T0 play with writing and with language
  • To keep a list of words
  • To invent new words
  • To list names they like
  • To write down things that inspire them
    • song lyrics, poems,  quotes from a book, movie or TV show
  • To sketch
  • To describe things using all 5 senses

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Remember this notebook is the writers. It is not for some else to correct or question. It is a place to experiment, where mistakes can be made. Think of it as a safe. It holds beautiful things that the owner can keep for themselves or choose to share with others.

No Adults Allowed

Do you like to be told what to do or how to do it?

Nobody does! Because children are new to life, to the world they are always being told what to do, what not to do, and how to do it. Adults are often solving the problems.

Enter books!

In a book a child can experience things that they normally would not at their age or things that are just new for them. They can think what they might do, learn from what the characters do. That’s why when writing for children we like to take the adult out when possible. It’s empowering for children to see someone besides an adult solve a problem.


Beside the fact that we all love a talking-hat-wearing giraffe, animals are often used in children’s books because a child can experience adult like behavior threw the animal character. For example, in my book No More Noisy Nights the main character moves into a house alone and finds that a ghost, boogey monster and pixie already occupy the house. When I was submitting this to editors, a reaction I got was that kids don’t want to read about adults and a child can’t move into a house alone. I knew both those things. I was planning for the story to use anthropomorphism. When animals act like humans. So a reader could feel what it is like to move into a new home where things might be unknown or scary. They could see how Jackson deals with it and think, hmm maybe I could do that too.

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I wrote a lot of stories for Pockets Magazine. Each month there was a theme such as honesty, jealousy, thankfulness, etc. The goal of these stories was to show children learning about and dealing with the topics. So I might think of the lesson I wanted the story to portray. For example, honesty is important in big and little things and even adults struggle with it. Then I would think how can I show this without an adult providing the solution. In the story I wrote, the main character’s friend wouldn’t play a pirated video game. So our main character began to think about things he and his family did that weren’t honest. He challenged his family to a week of honesty in all things. So the kid characters learned from each other and had something to teach the adults.


Now there are adults in kids stories. Sometimes they are childlike and sometimes they do impart the wisdom. The goal is for them to lead to the “aha” moment, but not provide the solutions. In The Day I Ran Away, Grace tells her dad about her day as he tucks her in. In her mind it was a bad day and so she decided to run away. Mom is an integral part of the story and she does suggest the popup tent as an alternative to running away when Grace realizes she’s not allowed to cross the street. However mom still allows Grace to explore her feelings of anger and her need to run away, just in a safe way. And that also is something we want kids to see in stories. Adults that listen, try to understand and keep you safe.


So as you write or rewrite a story really exam the adults in the story. Are they necessary? Can you remove them? Can you keep their role to a minimum? Can another child help your character discover the solution? Or will your characters be talking hippos, beavers and porcupines!

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