Cracking the code - scene from The Imitation Game

Cracking the code – scene from The Imitation Game

A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I watched the movie, The Imitation Game. It took us four hours to watch it from start to finish. Why?

Because I had to pause the movie often in order to answer questions they were asking about events in the movie (based on a true story that takes place in the UK during WWII), such as:

  • Why were children wearing gas masks in the street?
  • Why didn’t the parents go with their children when they were evacuated to the country?
  • Why did Joan’s parents think it was inappropriate for her to go work with a group of men?
  • How could someone (the character of John Cairncross) think that spying for the Soviet Union would help the UK win the war?
  • Why did they have to keep their work on ENIGMA secret even after the war ended?
  • How could they send people to jail for being homosexual?

That’s when it hit me like a bolt of lightning–the way to get kids interested in history is to make them care about the people involved. The way to make them care is to tell them a story.

I don’t know why this revelation came as a surprise to me. As you may know, I’ve been a huge supporter of a friend and colleague’s Kickstarter campaign to bring history to life (and to relevance) for children. I suppose seeing a story create a thirst within my own children to learn more brought home the importance of teaching through story.

First TTT&T story will feature Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy. Stone Giant, Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley, Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472, (617) 926-0329, www.charlesbridge.com. All rights reserved.

First TTT&T story will feature Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy. Stone Giant, Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley, Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472, (617) 926-0329, www.charlesbridge.com. All rights reserved.

I used to be embarrassed to admit that I hated history in school because it was presented as a long string of facts, statistics, and explanations of political motivations. That information is important, but we won’t retain it without context. Knowing how many people died in WWII is just a number, but learning about the life of one family living in London during the Blitz–the scarcity of food, the constant smell of fire, the sight of crushed buildings, the rattle of bombs while sheltering–builds empathy toward all of the dead.

Much of what I have learned about history since school has come from reading historical fiction. When I read historical fiction, I become fascinated by the events of the time and place, and I am inspired then to read MORE on the subject, including nonfiction.

The Kickstarter campaign Time Traveler Tours & Tales is running aims to tell hiSTORY using both narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. What’s even more exciting (if not a little ironic), is that this storytelling will take advantage of the most modern of technologies – mobile devices and apps. In other words, the intent is to reach children where they are (on devices) and excite them into a love of history by helping them not only relate to the past, but to interact with it and make it their own.

BUT, and you knew there had to be a ‘but’, they’re running out of time. The TTT&T campaign has been endorsed by The Guardian, Neil Gaiman, and WorldReader. Authors such as Cornelia Funke (and yours truly) are backers. They’ve reached 90% of their funding goal. But all of that disappears if they don’t reach their goal within the next three days. Kickstarter is all or nothing.

I have no skin in this game, other than I would like to write a story for this imprint someday. I have written about and promoted the campaign because I’m passionate about the cause. So if you, too, want to help make history personal, relevant, real, and most importantly, FUN for kids, please consider a pledge. No amount is too small, and there are terrific rewards on offer at all levels.

Let’s Turn History On.

Screenshot 2015-06-23 12.03.14

Categories: Apps, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, Friendship, Publishing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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Sarah and I getting ready to present about apps at the Bologna Children's Book Fair

Sarah and I getting ready to present about apps at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

If you have been following my blog for any period of time, you know I am passionate about all of the following:

  • Writing stories for children
  • Sharing stories with children
  • Using ALL avenues of publishing great books for children (including apps, ebooks, transmedia, etc.)
  • Italy (especially Florence!)
  • Historical fiction (especially books written by Mary Hoffman)
  • Entrepreneurial authors paving their own paths to success
  • Supporting fellow authors

For all of these reasons, it gives me great pleasure to share an outstanding project from my friend Sarah Towle that will not only bring fabulous historical tales to children in multiple formats, but will also create brand new opportunities for authors writing narrative historical nonfiction and historical fiction. Talk about a win-win!

Introducing … Time Traveler Tours & Tales (TTT&T) – a brand new way of imagining and delivering stories to children that will bring history to life for them.

I first met Sarah at the Bologna Book Fair in 2011, when she was launching the first-ever StoryApp Tour and Tale – the critically acclaimed Beware Madame la Guillotine. I was so impressed with what she was doing, I glommed onto her continued to follow her progress and learn from her as I went on to publish my own two storybook apps. Along the way, we became great friends.

TTT&T aims to be the first publishing imprint of its kind–publishing their story-based tours and tales of history in all available formats.

  • Mobile StoryApp Tours narrated by the very people who walked the streets in that place in that time of history.
  • Interactive ebooks that bring the historical period to life.
  • Print and audio versions of each tale.
  • Free curriculum guides for each tour and tale to bring history to life inside the classroom.
Authors Mary Hoffman and Sarah Towle cooking up plans for TTT&T at Writer's Renaissance 2014

Authors Mary Hoffman and Sarah Towle cooking up plans for TTT&T at Writer’s Renaissance 2014

For their official debut, TTT&T have chosen to bring to life one of the world’s greatest artistic and genius giants – Michelangelo and his David. In the Footsteps of Giants is a story woven by one of the best historical fiction writers for children of our time, Mary Hoffman. In it, we get to walk the streets of Renaissance Florence alongside the fictional model for the statue of David (P.S. We all know what that guy looks like – wouldn’t you like to meet him??).

I know first-hand that nobody knows more about Michelangelo than Mary Hoffman. She was on faculty for both of my Writer’s Renaissance retreats, and I’ve had the amazing good fortune of standing before the David in her company. Life will never be the same for me, and now you can have the same treat by reading her book.

Many of you also know I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of one of my picture books. So I do have a special place in my heart for the power of crowdfunding. It’s the layperson’s way to support the arts and opportunities they want to see in the world. Here is your chance to do the same.

  • If you are a reader, you will enjoy a gripping story of Renaissance Florence with In the Footsteps of Giants and a whole series of historical stories that bring the locations and the events of that time period to life right before your eyes (and feet).
  • If you are a writer, TTT&T will provide opportunities for you to publish your own historical adventures for children.
  • If you are a teacher, you will have brand new ways to bring history alive for your students, using the stories themselves and the comprehensive curriculum guides.

I urge you to consider supporting TTT&T’s campaign to become one of the most exciting publishing imprints of our time. The number of backers is just as important as the total amount raised, so TRULY, no amount donated is too small. Rewards begin at $1.

If you are unable to donate, you can still help by sharing the project in your social media circles. In fact, here’s an easy tweet you can use.

New publisher plans to #turnhistoryon for kids. #writers, #teachers, check it out here: http://kck.st/1PyGzKO #kidlit (Click to Tweet this)

Me being one to put my money where my mouth is, I not only backed this project, I’m also offering a reward for others to do. Look for one of the CREATIVE COLLABORATOR rewards and you’ll see a one-hour strategy session with me on any aspect of your career as a writer, plus the first three Modules of my course, How to Make Money as a Writer. There’s only one of those, though, so if you want it, snag it soon.

There are fabulous rewards at all levels, however. Check out their campaign page to see for yourself.

As writers in the 21st Century, we have to create opportunities for ourselves whenever and however we can. What I love about what Sarah is doing with TTT&T is that she’s not only creating opportunity for herself, but extending that to children’s authors across the globe. I don’t know about you, but that turns me on. :-)

Footsteps of Giants

Stone Giant Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. 85 Main Street Watertown, MA 02472 (617) 926-0329 www.charlesbridge.com All rights reserved.

Categories: Apps, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Children's Books, Creativity, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Florence, Friendship, Italy, Publishing, Storybook Apps, Travel, Writer's Renaissance · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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My beautiful Mom

My beautiful Mom

“I embrace you with all my heart.” — Albert Camus, in a letter of gratitude to a childhood teacher.

“I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars.” — Margaret Wertheim

“…this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart   i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)” — ee cummings

WARNING: SOME MAY FIND WHAT FOLLOWS OVERLY SAPPY AND SENTIMENTAL.

This is going to be a different kind of Gratitude Sunday post. Instead of sharing the weekly list of what I am grateful for, I’m feeling the need to ruminate on gratitude’s relationship to love.

Love my kiddos!

Today, Mother’s Day, I am thinking about love. The love of a child for a mother or a mother for a child, of course. But also other, and all, kinds of love.

As I have gotten older (and yes, I do have a birthday coming up so perhaps that is where the philosophizing is coming from), I’ve come to understand that the more I let go of expectations about what love in any of its forms should look like, the more love grows and deepens, and the more I can actually feel and savor the experience of it.

The more love I experience, the more I can give. The more I give, the more that is returned to me.

What I am most grateful for today is my awareness of this simple truth.

Many times in my past, I have thought, ‘This person didn’t love me in this way, so therefore I am deprived of love and/or I love him/her more than he/she loves me.’  If the scales didn’t balance, whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or with family members, pain and resentment would often follow.

Now I realize it is entirely possible, in any relationship, to take the love and leave the disappointment.

Take the love. Leave the disappointment. (Or, for Godfather fans, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”)

Dogs love unconditionally

I believe most people are trying as hard as they can to be good and kind and loving. However, they may not present those qualities to us the way we expect or want them to. But instead of feeling shortchanged, I’ve found appreciating what they are offering is far more rewarding than being resentful about what they’re not. I do not mean we should allow ourselves to be stepped on or treated poorly by those we love – not at all. But when someone is in earnest and doing the best he or she can, accept that goodness and keep it with you.

I’ve also been sloooowly building toward another realization. Love will seldom, if ever, grow as much as you want it to if you don’t first love yourself. Now before you run away screaming, I am NOT saying I truly love myself all the time. Not by a long shot. But I am trying to, and as I try, I realize that when I deprive myself of my own love, I have less available for others.

The reason why the stakes are so high with loving others, I think, is because we’re always looking for love as it is reflected back to us from them. But what if we just gave it to ourselves, regardless of what others were doing?

So, here is a mission for you, should you choose to accept it. Although the full lyrics of this song (Bruno Mars) clearly indicate it is a man expressing his love for a woman, you can take this verse, go in front of a mirror and belt it out to yourself. To you from yourself. I’m not gonna lie, it feels strange at first. But it also feels good and powerful.

When I see your face,

There’s not a thing that I would change.

‘Cause you’re amazing

Just the way you are.

Looping back around to loving and being loved by others, this week I’m sharing a list of people who shared love and gifts with me this week and lifted my heart in the process.

  1. My Mom – she is, without fail, my best friend, the person I rely on most, and the one whose love for me is always pure, even when she’s mad. :-)
  2. Em – my sweet, gorgeous, talented, artistic girl. She sneaks up on me to give me hugs and kisses and never lets me forget she loves me.
  3. Jay – my bubbly, smart, funny, sensitive boy. His favorite place in the world is (still) cuddled up next to me, and he

    Overflowing Fountain of Joy

    expresses himself so deeply it can move me to tears.

  4. Kellie Johnson – one of my How to Make Money as a Writer students, wrote to say she had been feeling down, watched one of my course videos, and, “…within a handful of minutes, Julie’s joy for both her own writing and her overflowing fountain of joy for helping other writers had me feeling warm and fuzzy once again.” Kellie went on to send me a photo of an overflowing fountain. The beauty of this experience is that I, too, had been coming out of a recent funk, so her comment helped lift my spirit out of its own dark spot.
  5. David – company and companionship, laughter, tears, friendship, food, deep discussions, silly jokes, music, movies – all in the face of sickness.
  6. A seventh grade boy named Colby, who took his guitar onstage at the middle school music concert and belted out The House of the Rising Sun like I’ve never experienced before. Brought me to tears, the whole audience to their feet, and made me want to go home and immediately create something. Perfection in this unexpected package.
  7. Double Emmas – Emma Dryden who gave me important, insightful, and encouraging feedback on one of my manuscripts, and Emma Walton Hamilton who dropped everything on a busy night to answer some burning questions.
  8. Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple – talked about the art and craft of writing picture books for a 12 x 12 webinar. I walked with a golden glow of inspiration all day afterward.
  9. Erzsi Deak – my agent, friend, cheerleader, therapist. She always makes me feel better about my writing and more motivated to continue. Plus, this week she gave me a contract for Korean rights to My Love For You is the Sun! :-)
  10. Rocky – not human in body but definitely in heart – and a constant warm presence.

So, I guess this week I will ask you WHO you are grateful for?

Categories: Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, My Love For You Is The Sun · Tags: , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Danielle DufayetYou guys are going to love today’s installment of “How I Got My Agent.” Danielle Dufayet‘s story illustrates a point so important it bears stating in my introduction: No agent is better than the wrong agent. I’m so happy Danielle waited for “the one” that she so definitely deserves. Take note, too, if the number of queries and rejections. Keep writing, people! If you keep working and keep learning, you WILL succeed. Please welcome Danielle. 

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

I’ve been writing off and on all my life. I started submitting to publishers starting in 2004, but I made a serious commitment to my children’s writing back in 2010. I made the decision to find an agent right about the same time.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

The first thing I did was go to the website and check what kinds of books they were publishing. I would read all about the agent, including blogs, tweets, etc.

The dreaded questions: How many queries?

In total, about 150 to agents How many rejections? 149 :-) But that’s for my numerous manuscripts.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

I targeted my queries and submissions to agents who had a strong interest in picture books.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

My agent is the fabulous Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. I attended one of her talks, The Heart of Picture Books, at the Oakland SCBWI conference. She gave such a genuine, heart-felt speech that I just knew it would be a dream to have her as my agent.

I actually had another agent that offered me representation but I felt like I was left hanging. She emailed me that she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent me. I became a little hysterical (crying, hyperventilating) when I got that email. It was so out of the blue! So I responded to her email but then I wouldn’t hear anything for weeks. This went on for a good month or so. Even though I heard that that was not uncommon, I knew that I would not be happy with that kind of communication style so it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t sign a contract with her.

The very next day after the SCBWI conference I sent Ms. Grencik a pretty heart felt letter of my impression of her and included one of my manuscripts. She wrote back immediately that she loved it so we emailed back and forth a little more then scheduled a time to talk. She was not as enthusiastic about my other work, (too wordy) but I knew I could get them in tip top shape so I wasn’t worried. I really liked her personality, (super sweet and kind) her character (hard working, loyal) and her communication style (professional, good follow through) and that is the most important thing for me. When we talked I think we both felt a good connection. She asked me if I still wanted to submit to other agents, etc. I said, “No! I’d like you to be my agent” and she said “OK!” I was on cloud nine. Getting an agent is hard enough, but getting one that you love and admire? I immediately notified the other agent thanking her for her time and interest and that I had found other representation.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

12×12 was such a great support. Through 12×12, I joined a great critique group online which was invaluable. It was also a great place to critique others’ work, which I find so helpful with my own writing. I also got some positive feedback from some of the agents there which was definitely encouraging!

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Yes, I can already tell that it’s more focused and geared to the industry. When your agent tells you, “Editors want this…” it takes the guessing game out of it. Then, it’s up to me to deliver!

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Beside the tried and true: keep writing and improving your craft, read as much as you can which will help you understand the market. But I have to emphasize not to submit unless you feel in your heart that it’s really ready – it’s the best it can be. It’s not so much a “numbers game” but a timing game.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

No. I think it was my manuscript, but I think it helped I had a website of my pre-published work. I think it shows that I am a serious writer that’s in it for the long haul.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )

Going to Africa and meeting Desmond Tutu and giving him a copy of my (pre-published) book, UBUNTU which celebrates global oneness and unity consciousness.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

I have joined Toast Masters to help me get ready to do speeches. It’s scary, but a must in this industry!

Thank you!!

Reader, are you looking for a picture book agent? Grab this 7-step submission checklist to help you avoid mistakes and make your submission shine. :-)

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , ,

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Tulips After RainHappy belated Earth Day everyone! I hope you all got to take some time this week to revel in the wonder that is planet Earth. One of the things I’m grateful for this week is this lovely photo, sent to me by a friend, of tulips just after some rain. I do love spring. Today’s gratitude quotes are all in honor of the Earth.

Quotes on Gratitude

“May we all remember to share the gratitude of what we have been given with others – not only the humans, but the plants and animals as well, for without them there would be no life on Planet Earth.” — Tricia McCannon

If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots, and that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of our food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy.” — Thich Naht Hahn

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to live on this beautiful and astonishing planet Earth. In the morning, I wake up with a sense of gratitude.” — Earl Nightingale

Gratitude list for the week ending April 25

  1. My brother and his wife Ashley came to town. My mom, the kids and I got to share a fun night with them here at the house for dinner.
  2. GREAT news for some of my writing friends this week – agents, illustrators, book deals. I love watching good things happen to good people.
  3. Speaking of writing, I appreciate my in-person therapy critique group so much. Our meetings are a highlight of each month, this week being no exception.
  4. Being introduced to this song. If you are one of my English and/or tea-loving friends, you MUST LISTEN!! :-)
  5. Watching The Breakfast Club with Em. She’d never seen it and said, afterward, “That was one of the best movies EVER.”
  6. Running four miles in gorgeous spring weather
  7. I managed to meditate almost every day this week.
  8. Candles around the bathtub
  9. Em made dinner last night while I read in bed. Luxury!
  10. This video. Sure, it may be a little sappy, but I dare you to watch it and not feel your spirit lifted – even just a little.

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Gratitude Sunday, Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

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Suddenly, the trees burst into bloom.

Suddenly, the trees burst into bloom.

I am trying to be more mindful of getting the Gratitude Sunday posts out each week. I always feel more grounded when I do. Today is a gorgeous day for gratitude. I was also quite pleased to find a quote on gratitude from none other than Casanova! :-)

Quotes on Gratitude

“It’s wonderful to be grateful. To have that gratitude well out from deep within you and pour out in waves. Once you truly experience this, you will never want to give it up.” — Srikumar Rao

“I have had friends who have acted kindly towards me, and it has been my good fortune to have it in my power to give them substantial proofs of my gratitude.” — Giacomo Casanova

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude list for the week ending April 11

  1. Getting girl time with my cousin, culminating in seeing the new Cinderella movie. :-)
  2. My trainer, for helping me get back into shape (even though I am seldom grateful in the middle of the workout!)
  3. Flowering trees, tulips in bloom, green grass, spring in the air
  4. Mother-son bonding time featuring a spaghetti dinner and watching The Empire Strikes Back
  5. Phenomenal 12 x 12 webinar on Picture Book Trends with Susannah Richards!
  6. Being introduced to some new music that has moved me AND my son’s creativity in creating on GarageBand
  7. Luxurious, long conversations spanning everything from the meaning of existence, to poetry, to what’s for dinner
  8. Lovely, vivid, and energizing dreams
  9. Homemade rigatoni with sausage, tomatoes, basil, and mozzerella
  10. I started a new picture book draft this week!

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: 12 x 12, Cooking, Creativity, Family, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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reforemo2

If you write picture books, have you been over to Carrie Charley Brown’s website this month to check out her ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month) challenge?

If not, head over there NOW and learn from all of the guest educators who have been sharing picture books that inspire their own work. Reading the posts will give you ideas for how to do this type of “reading for research” to inspire and improve your own work.

I am honored to be today’s guest educator. Head on over to learn why I “Delve into the Dark Side” of picture books.

On a separate (but related to picture books) note, Emma Walton Hamilton and I put together a free 7-step checklist for picture book submissions, which you can grab here.

Categories: Authors, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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TimMcCanna_8x10_smToday I have the great pleasure of introducing someone to the How I Got My Agent series who is not only a mind-blowingly (that is totally a word) talented writer and musician, but also someone I’m fortunate to call a friend. Tim McCanna tells the story of how we first met and came to collaborate on a couple of my projects, so I won’t steal his thunder, but let’s just say that the first time you encounter Tim’s work – whether his writing, music, or blockbuster videos – the only viable response is, “Wow!” Add to that the fact that he is just about the nicest person on the planet, and Tim becomes a “quadruple threat” on his way to sure stardom in the children’s writing world. It’s been an honor in every way to work with him and to have him “in my corner” on this crazy publishing journey. Please welcome Tim! 

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

Thanks for having me, Julie! You know, I had zero strategy when I started out writing picture books in 2009. Within months I was submitting to slush piles and I have a binder full of form rejection letters to prove it. I eventually mixed in some agent submissions here and there, but I really didn’t know what I wanted or needed in an agent.

In 2010, Caryn Wiseman from Andrea Brown Literary spoke at a local SCBWI conference. I liked her right away (as everyone in the session did) and submitted to her after the event. Alas, my story didn’t resonate with her, so she kindly passed.

At some point I dialed down the submitting and focused on improving my craft and building my network. I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and 12×12, kept attending conferences, joined a critique group, and wrote lots of new stories. Three years later, I had a much more robust portfolio of polished manuscripts. Plus, I became an Assistant Regional Advisor for my local SCBWI chapter, and I even sold my picture book Teeny Tiny Trucks on my own. At that point, I felt like my work was strong enough and I understood the industry so much better that I started to think about who might be the perfect agent for me.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

In the early days, all I had was my copy of The Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. I occasionally queried agents who were spotlighted on LiteraryRambles.com. Of course, meeting folks (or at least sitting in on their sessions) at conferences to get a sense of who they are is always a good thing. I’m a total introvert at events with lots of people. But volunteering for my SCBWI chapter created great icebreakers and gave me opportunities to just talk to editors and agents without trying to wow them in sixty seconds with an elevator pitch.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?

Oh gosh. Lots of both. In the first three years before I made my first sale, I submitted around 15 manuscripts of various length and style to twenty or thirty different publishers and at least a dozen different agents. I never once got one of those personal, magical, uplifting, hand-written rejection letters of encouragement from editors you hear about. I wonder if they’re just urban legends.

For a while there, I was completely flummoxed. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t anyone other than my critique group partners like my stories!? Granted, 2009 to 2011 were especially tight years in the publishing world, but I began to slip into a resentful dark place. I pulled myself out of that self-inflicted slump by focusing on writing shorter, snappier, more commercial stories while getting out and volunteering and joining online communities. A positive attitude and persistence is key. We’re very lucky that the kidlit industry is so friendly and supportive.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

Not really. That never came up. I had an early chapter reader to show a slightly longer work, and I’m currently writing a middle grade novel that I mentioned in my follow-up emails, so perhaps having a little variety helped. All I knew was I didn’t want to beg for representation. I was going to wait for an agent who loved my work and was enthusiastic about partnering with me.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?

So, nearly four years after first seeing Caryn at that regional conference, she participated in an Agent’s Day event in San Francisco in early Fall 2014. I submitted my rhyming picture book Bitty Bot! for critique and she immediately connected with it. After a couple weeks of sharing additional pieces with her and talking some more, she officially offered and I officially accepted! That just goes to show that “no thanks” doesn’t necessarily mean “not ever.”

Caryn has a great business sense—and I really kinda don’t. She also offers editorial feedback, which I knew I wanted in an agent. And she didn’t shy away from my rhymers. That was crucial. I write both rhyme and prose, but I knew if an agent said, “Gee, rhyming books are tough to sell,” that we weren’t a good match.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 12×12 has done a lot for me. At its core, 12×12 is about writing. Getting those first drafts down. I love the simple goal-setting aspect of it. But of course, there’s much more. The community, the support, the people, the networking, the knowledge you gain from the blog and forums. It’s a great resource that became a lovely part of my journey as a children’s writer.

Teeny Tiny Trucks by Tim McCanna

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Good question. Well, first let me say that life goes on. I’m totally thrilled to have an agent. It was one of my big goals that had eluded me for what felt like a long time. And having achieved that goal certainly gives me a sense of pride and maybe a little confidence as I move forward.

But brainstorming ideas doesn’t get any easier. Finding those perfect rhymes is always a “fun” challenge. Rewrites never go away, and my discerning critique group partners still hold my work to a high standard.

I recently completed the first draft for a brand new picture book idea that I had jotted down during PiBoIdMo. I think I like it. I can visualize the illustrations and the page turns. There would be plenty of space on the cover for one of those shiny Caldecott stickers. But whether or not I ultimately show it to Caryn will remain to be seen!

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Don’t try to get an agent for the sake of having an agent. Especially if you’re just starting out. If you put the time and effort into becoming a dedicated, consistent writer who is willing, expecting, and intending to cut, slash, and rewrite your work again and again, things like landing agents and selling manuscripts will happen when they’re supposed to happen. I had to constantly remind myself of that along the way. I wrote the first draft of Bitty Bot! in 2011, rewriting and tweaking it many, many times before it finally found a home almost four years later.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

I wouldn’t say that any of my blogging or tweeting directly helped per se. But what I do think is, every bit of proactive participation in the industry counts. It all adds up and contributes to your whole package and potentially makes you a richer, more professional writer. Maybe having a voice in social media puts you on the map at least, and keeps you engaged. It did for me.

If you have a special angle that you can add to the dialogue, even better. For instance, I’m a musician, so one day I started writing silly songs for people that I liked in the industry. That led to writing a song for Katie Davis’s kidlit podcast, which led to writing a song for 12×12, which led to writing a song for Julie’s A Troop is a Group of Monkeys app, which led to my selling Teeny Tiny Trucks to the same publisher. It was a 2-year domino effect that I never planned!

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which you’ve already checked off! :-) )

Two words: Dog Dancing. It’s totally a thing.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

Well, after signing with Caryn, we sold Bitty Bot! a month or so later in a 2-book deal to Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. Woo! The first book comes out Fall 2016, and I’m tossing around ideas for a sequel right now. My working title is Bitty Bot 2: Bitty Does Something Else In a New Location, Perhaps During a Holiday, Or Not.

Tim McCanna played accordion in a punk rock band and composed very silly sci-fi musicals in New York City before he finally got a real job as a children’s book author. When he’s not daydreaming about dancing with dogs, Tim serves as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators San Francisco/South chapter. He lives in Mountain View, CA with his wife and two kids. Find Tim online at www.timmccanna.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Storybook Apps · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Piglet GratitudeI write this post to the sound of the ocean waves outside the window–quite possibly the most soothing sound on earth. Lucky me! I have much to be grateful for this week, so let’s just get started. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know my love of Rumi. All of our quotes today are his, including one that mentions the ocean. Apropos of my location.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”

“Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.”

“Love rests on no foundation. It is an endless ocean, with no beginning or end.”

 

Gratitude list for the week ending March 7

  1. I am grateful that my friend Lara France, who lives in England and who has never even met me in person, sent me the image I’ve shared on this post saying she “thought of me” when she saw it.
  2. Another friend, Carmela LaVigna Coyle, recommended me to the loveliest new children’s bookstore that’s opened in Denver called Second Star to the Right. I met with them on Tuesday. They not only booked me for a reading, but bought four copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN right out of my hands because they “couldn’t wait for their order to come in” from Baker & Taylor!
  3. Speaking of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, I got a call from a school principal in Denver who loves the book. She invited me to come for an author visit, and… they are going to buy 300+ copies of the book!!!! One for every child in the school. Grateful for my friend Marcie Colleen who created the fabulous Teacher’s Guide for the book, which helped them make the case for funding for the book purchase.
  4. Fate put me in the path of a friend I don’t see often in the form of lunch at the Atlanta airport, making for what is no doubt the most enjoyable layover I’ve ever had.
  5. Continuing on the friendship theme, I’ve had a wonderful time working with Emma Walton Hamilton on The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. Today is the last day of our product launch, and we’ve spent countless hours working together over the past few months. It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun because we were in it together.
  6. I had the honor of hosting a webinar featuring agent Jill Corcoran on Thursday. She was so generous of her time and wisdom, and it was a raging success!
  7. My kids were particularly sweet and well-behaved this week. Nuff said.
  8. Sledding with the kiddos in Carpenter Park followed by hot chocolate
  9. My stepmother treated me to this much-needed break from winter and the accumulated stress of two of the busiest months I’ve ever had. I haven’t yet walked on the beach, but that is on the agenda as soon as this post goes live.
  10. My assistant Kelli, without whom my business would unravel to the point of being unrecognizable.

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books, Travel · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Bad Query, BatmanA funny thing happened the other day (seriously, it IS funny, and it did just happen the other day). Emma Walton Hamilton and I were working on adding concept book (books where the focus is on a concept – such as ABCs or counting – rather than a narrative arc) examples to the “Hook/Pitch” Unit in The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. Since A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a concept book, I figured I’d go back and look for query letters I’d sent before it was published.

Emma convinced me to share my earliest one with you as proof that NOBODY starts as an expert on writing query letters and submitting. The query I am about to share with you contains many of the same errors we teach you how to avoid in the System. It also took THREE YEARS after first submitting with the query you see below before I got a publishing deal for TROOP. The manuscript improved some during that time, but honestly not much. My mistakes were mostly in my query and submission approach.

Read this query and see if you can guess what is wrong (BEFORE looking at the analysis)! If miss some of them, you owe it to yourself to check out The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. The main reason Emma and I created The System was to help you avoid train wrecks like this one and to shorten your time from submission to success.

Here it is. Take a look, then see the analysis of what went wrong.

TROOP Query

 

Let’s start at the beginning.

Paragraph 1

 

Things don’t improve much in the second paragraph.

Paragraph 2

 

Not bad, but not great.

Paragraph 3

 

Here’s where things start to go completely off the rails.

Paragraph 4 colors (2)

OMG – WHAT?

Paragraph 5

 

One final word of caution here. One reason for the debacle that is the last paragraph of this email is because I got some horrible, no good, very bad advice from an author who taught one of the first courses I ever took on children’s book writing. She gave me a lot of other advice I had to unlearn, too. It is SO IMPORTANT to consider the source of where you are getting your information!!

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that my story has a happy ending. Shortly after I got form TROOP Coverrejections or no responses from TEN different agents and editors (!!!), I gave myself a moratorium on submissions and focused on studying the craft and the business of publishing. That’s why it took three more years before I got a book deal, and another year before I signed with my agent. (The revised query that got me success is included in our Query Clinic Module as a “before/after” example.)

Once again, the intent behind The Complete Picture Book Submissions System is to ensure you don’t make these same mistakes or any of the MANY others we cover in The System. We want to shorten your learning curve significantly, so you can go from submissions to success in, if not a single bound, at least several bounds fewer than it took me. :-)

The System is available until 6:00 p.m. EST on March 6th. After that, we’re closing registration to the public so we can focus on our new members. If you learned ANYTHING from this post, it’s likely there are aspects of querying and submitting picture books you would learn from The System. Take a look and see if it’s for you.

Have you already purchased The Complete Picture Book Submissions System and want to leave feedback? Or do you have questions? All comments/questions are welcome!

Picture Book Submissions System

Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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