12 x 12 Member Kristen LarsonI would like to say my most favorite thing about Kirsten Larson is that she always has a corkscrew in case of emergencies, but that’s not true. ;-) Having had the pleasure of meeting (and wining and dining) with her on more than one occasion, I can say without a doubt the best thing about Kirsten is her enthusiasm for everything kidlit related. I’ve learned more about the opportunities in nonfiction from her than anyone else. She is single-handedly responsible for convincing me that writing nonfiction can be fun! It has been amazing to watch Kirsten grow as a writer while accumulating success after success over the past 2.5 years. I think, once you read her post, you’ll “catch” her enthusiasm too. Please welcome Kirsten!

I almost can remember the exact moment it started – August 2011. I was retired from journalism, public relations, fundraising, grant writing, and pretty much everything else but feeding and entertaining two boys, aged three and five. We had spent our days with science experiments, playgroups, field trips, and of course reading dozens of books.

During a play date, a recently-returned-to-work-mom asked me about my plans for when the youngest started preschool in the fall. I thought about how much fun it was to watch the kids learn, their eyes lighting up with discovery. I thought about our library visits, with the boys racing through the juvenile nonfiction stacks, pulling everything off the shelves. And then I thought I’d return to writing, but this time for children.Using the Scientific Method by Kristen Larson

I checked out WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR DUMMIES and the most recent edition of the WRITER’S MARKET I could find. And I started writing the most hideous article about a capybara on the loose in California. I tried to sell it to JACK & JILL, which had the good sense to reject it. I sent recipes to HIGH FIVE and science activities to HIGHLIGHTS. Reject, reject, reject. That took most of the fall.

Somehow in January, I heard about Julie’s 12 x 12 in 2012 on Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books. It was destiny. I wrote a half dozen nonfiction picture books. I joined the world’s best critique group. I submitted a few manuscripts to Rate Your Story. They got good reviews, so I subbed them … to crickets. I started writing for an online science and literacy curriculum. I joined SCBWI and went to the annual conference in Los Angeles. I was spinning my wheels.

In January 2013 I regrouped. I signed up for 12 x 12 again, but only as a bronze member. I wrote … wait for it … one picture book manuscript the whole year. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. But 2013 was THE YEAR I became a children’s writer. You see, I had a goal: to break into the children’s magazine market followed by the school and library market.

Science Fair Succes by Kristen LarsonI submitted dozens of magazine queries. Once I had a couple of acceptances, I sent clips and resumes to a bazillion school and library publishers. I networked. I got my first book contracts thanks to my contacts. I took classes and went to conferences. All that work paid off. My first magazine article appeared in December 2013. And Fall 2014 will see my first two science titles, Science Fair Success! and Using the Scientific Method, from Rourke Educational Media.

In January 2014, I joined 12 x 12 for the third time with renewed gusto. This time I was going for gold. I completely revised two nonfiction PBs from 2012 and 2013 and turned them into ficinformational picture books. To date, I’ve written three more manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. And I’ve started subbing to agents.

I am a children’s writer, thanks in large part to 12×12 and its networking opportunities. This group introduced me to:

• Julie (ok, that’s a given), everybody loves our fearless leader
• Susanna Leonard Hill and her Making Picture Book Magic Class.
Meg Miller’s ReViMo, which forced me to completely overhaul a couple of manuscripts.
• Miranda Paul and her fantastic Rate Your Story service
• Laura Salas and WRITING FOR THE EDUCATIONAL MARKET, the best book ever on breaking into the field
• My critique groups (you rock!)
WriteOnCon, which helped me connect with my mentor in the school and library market
• I’m sure I’m leaving out others, but you get the idea. Pretty much every blog I read, craft book I buy, etc. is thanks to 12x.

When it comes down to it, the ability to submit to agents outside of the slush is nice. But the best part of 12×12 is the camaraderie and the connections you’ll make. They helped me land the best job in the world.

Kirsten W. Larson is freelance children’s science writer and book author. Her work appears in Boys’ Quest, ASK, ODYSSEY and AppleSeeds. Kirsten spent six years working for NASA and frequently writes about space for kids. She has four forthcoming science titles for children in grades two through six. SCIENCE FAIR SUCCESS and USING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD are now available for presale here and here.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Recipes, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Kathleen PelleyI wanted to bring back this wonderful featured author post from our first year of 12 x 12. Kathleen Pelley is a marvel to listen to. Which is great because she speaks here about the importance of read-aloud-ability in picture books. Enjoy this #throwback thursday post. :-)

Today’s post is a special treat. The topic our February 12 x 12 featured author, Kathleen Pelley, is going to address is read-aloud-ability in picture books. It didn’t seem to make sense to use only words in a post about how to make a great read aloud, so Kathleen and I recorded a series of videos that demonstrate the qualities Kathleen believes make both adults and children want to read a story over and over again. So it only seemed appropriate that I would do a video introduction of Kathleen instead of a written one. Here it is!



And now for Kathleen… If you are able to take your laptop by the fire for this post, I highly recommend you do so. :-)

As soon as Julie suggested “read-aloud-ability” for my topic on her post, my creative juices began to flow – profusely. Of course, I’ve always loved to wax poetic about the power of stories in general, but it is the spoken word in particular, that has inspired me most of all, as a writer, a reader, a listener, and a teller of tales.

My love of language stemmed from growing up in a Scots/Irish culture, where stories were sacred. Before I could read or write, I had fallen in love with stories by listening to them on the radio with the BBC Children’s Story Hour. Later, when we acquired a television, I watched a program called, Jackanory, which featured children’s authors reading aloud from their books. So I spent many a happy afternoon with Roald Dahl reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me. Yes, really!

When I came to America in 1992, not only did I begin to write my own stories (as a way of dealing with my homesickness), but I also continued to indulge my love of storytelling by: becoming a lector at our church, recording books on tape for the blind at the CTBL (Colorado Talking Books Library), and reading fairytales and folktales at an inner city school to grades K-6. So, you could say that I have really been nurturing my storytelling roots from the tender age of 3!

What makes a great read-aloud Picture Book?

(Presupposing, of course, that all the other hallmarks of any great story, regardless of genre, are in place – i.e. excellent plot, characters to cheer for, and a satisfying ending.)

RICH, LIVELY, FRESH LANGUAGE

Many adults mistakenly assume that Picture Books should only contain words that are part of the average 4 or 5 year old’s vocabulary. But Picture Books are MEANT to be READ ALOUD by an ADULT to a child. It shouldn’t matter a whit, if the child does not understand every single word. As long as the adult knows how to read a story well with great love and vim and vigor, then the child will eventually come, quite naturally, to understand any unfamiliar words. (There is a trend nowadays, though, that defies this notion, and I have had to struggle mightily with some editors over word choice.)

What exactly is a “rich” word? Have a look at “Amos and Boris” by William Steig, and you will see these “rich” words studded on every page – words like: phosphorescent, frazzle, delicacy, radiance, grandeur. Roll them around your tongue. What do they feel like? Majestic? Full-bodied? Plump and juicy? Perhaps Frank McCourt described it best when he wrote about encountering the words of Shakespeare for the first time as having “jewels in my mouth.”

What about “lively” words? We already know that language is a living thing that constantly evolves and adapts to our ever-changing world. So, “lively” language refers to those words that enable the listener to see and hear, taste and touch and smell the world that the writer has created. It is a language that literally breathes LIFE into the story. When we talk about stories that “inspire” us, we are using a word that comes from the Latin word, “inspirare,” meaning “TO BREATHE LIFE INTO!” When we talk about a story that has a great “voice,” we mean that the writer has BREATHED HER LIFE INTO the words and made the story come alive.

FRESH – Editors love “fresh”– fresh plots, fresh ideas, fresh voices, and especially fresh language.



And of course, such rich, lively, fresh language will naturally incorporate all those rhetorical devices that children adore – onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, and maybe even some puns peppered here and there.

RHYTHM and CADENCE

The first sound we humans hear from the womb is the beat of our mother’s heart. So, no wonder that we are all naturally soothed by cadence and rhythm. That’s why we expose our little ones to lullabies, nursery rhymes, and playground chants (although, I don’t know that children use these much nowadays – all the pity)

Even if we do not write our Picture Books in verse (and if we do write in verse, it must be pitch-perfect), we still need to pay attention to our story’s rhythm, as it helps set the “mood” we want to convey. So, a jolly, whimsical tale will match well with a rollicking, rousing beat, rather like a jaunty jig. Whereas, a wiser folktale type story will be more serious and sedate, flowing slowly and gently, like a summer’s breeze or a willowy waltz.



SPACE

As picture book writers, we know already that we must leave space for the illustrator – we should not “over-describe,” or there will not be any room for the pictures.

We also need to be aware of leaving “space” as a way of pacing the story. At the end of each page, there should be some soupçon of excitement, hope, or even anxiety, that has the listeners at the edge of their seats, holding their breath, with saucer eyes and mouths agog. Literally, they are “hanging” on every word. (Suspense is from the Latin word –suspendere – to hang up)

As well as building suspense though, we also need spaces, at page turns and scattered here and there throughout the story, that give the reader/listener a moment to “pause and ponder,” -somewhat counter-cultural in our frenzied, busy world. When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, she talked about “space” as being one of the most important things for any aspiring writer, and posed the question, “Have you found a space? Into that space, which is form of listening, the ideas will come.” Surely, great picture book read-alouds are perfect “spaces” for children to begin this listening process.



Emotional/Universal Truth

Any editor will tell you that a common weakness of many picture book manuscripts is that it is “too trite.” In other words, it will not withstand multiple readings, because it is too one dimensional and lacks a universal, emotional truth.

What is an emotional truth?

It is NOT a lesson, a moral, or a message! Rather it is a simple truth, woven seamlessly throughout the story -some truth about love, hope, pain, joy, or home that a child can understand and connect with. I like to think of it as that whiff of wonder, that bolt of beauty which lingers with you, long after the last page is turned or the final word uttered.



Why should this universal truth matter so much to the read-aloud quality of a picture book?

“The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.” Doris Lessing

Truth connects us to one another, to our ancestors, and to the world around us. Good books and stories are all about connections. When we read a story aloud to a child – a story that truly touches us at the very core of our being with its beauty and its truth, then, we will naturally breathe our own life and love into those words as we read them aloud. (Notice how life and spirit, breath and voice are all connected ). And, in turn, those words will seep into the little listener’s heart, making her or him feel brave or bold, calm or kind, happy or hopeful.

“Adult books maintain lives; children’s books change lives.” Yolen

So, how do you inject a universal truth into your picture book?

Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish poet, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996, said in her acceptance speech, that “a poet if she is genuine, must begin every poem with the words, I do not know.” (rather counter-cultural in this age of “google.”) But I think the same is true, to some extent of picture book writers, for surely, this “not knowing,” is simply a kind of wonder. It has been said that “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” And E.B. White maintained, “All I want to say in books, all I ever wanted to say, is, I love the world.” So, when we write from this place of wonder and love, from this place of “not knowing,” with language that is rich and lively, full of cadence and rhythm, then that universal truth will flow quite naturally through the words we weave, and a great story will be born – a story that will make a child plead “READ IT AGAIN! READ IT AGAIN!”

WAYS TO NOURISH YOUR STORYTELLING ROOTS

READ – not just lots and lots of picture books, but lots and lots of picture books that YOU love.

READ those books ALOUD to real live people- big and little.

READ poetry every day – ALOUD.

MEMORIZE chunks of poetry and snippets from your favorite read-aloud picture book.

CHANT those chunks and snippets aloud – as you walk, drive, cook, wait in line at the post office, before you fall asleep – IMMERSE yourself in language you love. BASK in the beauty of words. Hold them like “jewels in your mouth.”

READ Mem Fox’s book, READING MAGIC, and learn (if you do not know already) how to read aloud WELL to a child.

PLAY with words- magnetic poetry kits provide an excellent way to do this, also doing “poem sketches” as described in “Writing Poetry from the inside out” by Sandford Lyne.

Here is a list of my own favorite read-alouds.

And, remember, while you are waiting for that first picture book contract (or, like me, simply, your next book contract), that living a rich storytelling life will help us to find the glimmer of hope or chink of joy that simmer beneath the sometimes sad surfaces of our lives…will help us to see, in the words of Browning, that,

“All of earth is crammed with heaven…”

Or, as Emerson said,

“In the muck and scum of things, there something always, always sings.”



In order to make this a complete lesson, Kathleen is graciously giving one lucky 12 x 12 participant a copy of Mem Fox’s Reading Magic AND signed copies of the three of her books she used in this post — Inventor McGregor, Raj the Bookstore Tiger and Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer.

Please help me give a HUGE thanks to Kathleen for putting together this outstanding lesson on how to write picture books that will get read aloud over and over again. For it is a lesson, and not just a post. Kathleen spent almost two hours with me doing these recordings, and that was in addition to writing the gorgeous post to accompany the videos. Luckily for us, Kathleen will now be an honorary 12 x 12 member, so hopefully she will pop into the Forum and participate in the community.

Kathleen Pelley was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but spent most of her childhood summers playing on her grandparents’ farm in Ireland. Her passion for stories stemmed from listening to them on the BBC radio during the children’s story hour. Later, her gentle Irish father fanned the flame even more by feeding her his tales of fairies, leprechauns, and banshees.

So much did Kathleen love stories, that off she went to Edinburgh University and earned a degree in HiSTORY. She didn’t much care for all the facts and dates and numbers, but how she loved the stories of Rasputin, Napoleon, and Bonnie Prince Charlie! One character in particular captured Kathleen’s imagination—Florence Nightingale. After completing her degree, Kathleen studied to become a children’s nurse, but it was a brief and disastrous dalliance. For much as Kathleen loved children, she did not like to see them sick and suffering. However, decades later, Kathleen now sees herself as a kind of a nurse, because she believes that stories can heal the hurts in our hearts.

As a former elementary teacher, Kathleen enjoys sharing her passion with people of all ages. She is the author of five picture books: The Giant King, 2003, Child Welfare League of America (CD narrated by author – NAPPA storytelling award), Inventor McGregor 2006, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book and Colorado Book Award Winner), Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer, 2010 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book, Colorado Book Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Anne Izard Storytelling Award), Raj the Bookstore Tiger, 2011, Charlesbridge (Colorado Authors League Award winner, Colorado Book Award finalist, Bank Street Best Book, and Cardoza Award finalist) and The Sandal Artist, 2012, Pelican Publishing.

List of Titles mentioned in this post:

 

Categories: Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Reagan ChestnutWow! To think that 12 x 12 could illuminate a path back to reading and writing is both humbling and amazing. Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Reagan Chestnut, has a unique story of struggle that I’m sure will inspire those of you with the strongest of writer’s block. Needless to say, I am so pleased Reagan found her way into our community and that we’re helping her fan the flames of creativity once more. Please welcome Reagan!

How Picture Books Taught Me to Read and Write…Again.

Up until about two years ago, I was a professional academic. I went from a BA program to a Masters program to a PhD program. During breaks, I took workshops and went to conferences. In my spare time, I read every play and every book on theatre criticism I could get my hands on. And I wrote. Boy, did I write. I wrote poems, plays, restaurant reviews, blog posts, and started novels-a-plenty.

And then I hit a wall. After hours each day of staring at computer screens and academic journals, I just didn’t want to look at words anymore. I stopped all writing that wasn’t involved with my thesis. Then I stopped all recreational reading. Then I came to a screeching halt.

I started listening to audiobooks exclusively. Even with my academic journals, I used text-to-speech on my computer to read the information to me. Finally, when I became pregnant with my son, I gave up the PhD dream and moved back to the States with my husband to be with my family. Though I bought baby books with every intention of being the best prepared mother I could be, I could never bring myself to pick one up. The thought of reading a chapter of anything filled me with anxiety and exhaustion, an idea I would have found baffling a few years ago. I promised myself, and my husband, that I would keep a pregnancy journal and update the baby book, but when the moments came to write, the anxiety and exhaustion returned, as the blank baby book on my bookshelf will atest. It wasn’t that I didn’t love story anymore – I listened to 2-3 hours of audiobooks every day. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say – I filed away thoughts, reflections, and fragments of conversations all the time. For some reason, the written word became an impossibility for me.

When I was 8 months pregnant, I went into my parents’ basement to mine through childhood boxes. As I searched, I came across childhood books that I hadn’t seen in decades: The Happy Prince, Good Families Don’t, Annie and the Animals, Blueberries for Sal. So in an unfurnished room surrounded by half-unpacked boxes, I sat down with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and read my first book in years.

I was arrested with the simple perfection of the writing. I picked up another picture book, then another. By the time I was done, I had read through a stack of old favorites. The stories immediately returned to me, like old friends, and a few days later, I found myself staring at a Word document, piecing together my first children’s book.

It has been a struggle to keep the flame growing over the past two years. I still mostly listen to audiobooks, I still have to tug at my will to get me to write anything. Heck, this blog post has been sitting in my head for months. I can say with absolute confidence that the one thing keeping me on track is the 12×12 challenge. I have a purpose, a goal, deadlines. I have connected with critique partners who ask how I’m doing, ask for revisions, and send me contests and opportunities to keep my writing going. 12×12 is slowly but surely bringing my flame to an inferno. I can feel the growth and the heat of it.

This is Reagan Chesnut’s first year as a 12×12 participant. She is an active member of SCBWI and contributes to two critique groups. She holds an M.Phil. in Theatre with an emphasis in Playwriting from Trinity College, Dublin. Her plays “Kyrie”, “Twilight in Hamburg”, and “Aqua Man” have been produced in both the United States and Ireland as part of the Connecting Creativity initiative by Dublin-based theatre company The Break Away Project. She is currently based in Michigan working.. You can find Reagan on her website http://www.reaganchesnut.com and on Twitter: @ReaganChesnut

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Finally got to meet Emma!

Finally got to meet Emma!

Wow! I’ve been so busy half the summer has gone by without a Gratitude Sunday post. So today I’ll be catching up on all the “big” things I’ve had to be grateful for the past six weeks (and there are many).

One of the events that transpired during this time was the passing of Walter Dean Myers, a national treasure in the realm of children’s literature and poetry in the U.S. In addition to authoring more than 100 books, many award-winners, most featuring people of color and the hardships they face, Myers served as the second National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Today’s quotes are all from Myers, in honor of his illustrious career and his service to the youth of this country and his unwavering commitment to literacy.

Quotes from Walter Dean Myers

“Once I began to read, I began to exist.”

“Children who don’t read are, in the main, destined for lesser lives. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to change this.”

“We need to tell young people that America was built by men and women of all colors and that the future of this country is dependent upon the participation of all our citizens.”

“We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”

“I’ll never live to write all the stories in my head.”

Gratitude List for the summer so far

  1. Our cruise to Alaska – otherwordly, beautiful, and devastating (because so much of the wilderness is at risk) all
    On Meade glacier

    On Meade glacier

    at the same time

  2. Walking on a glacier – one of the most profound experiences of my life
  3. Being able to attend the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction conference as a speaker, while I also learned a huge amount about this burgeoning area of children’s books.
  4. Meeting Emma Walton Hamilton for the first time after 2+ years of friendship. And getting to stay in their lovely guest cottage, which I have dubbed the HamiltINN.
  5. Seeing so many wonderful friends old and new throughout my 10-day sojourn through NY and NJ. Here too, I have to shout out to 12 x 12 members. Because of them, there’s nary a place in the world I could go and not find a friend. :-)
  6. Spending the 4th of July on Boulder creek with my kids, my mom, and Rocky
  7. FIREWORKS
  8. My new camera, which is so beautifully capturing all of these events I’m grateful for.
  9. Good old-fashioned summer fun. Everyone knows I love traveling. But I’ve had these past two weeks at home with the kids eating ice cream, going to outdoor concerts and swimming pools, having movie nights and staying up late. Sometimes it’s just good to be home.
  10. Planning for the launch of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN. I am so excited to release this book of my heart. P.S. There is also a Goodreads Giveaway for a signed copy right now.

What are you grateful for this week?

Firework

Categories: 12 x 12, Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Poetry, Summer, Travel · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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MLFY_coverI am so thrilled to announce that not only is MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN now available for pre-order, but we have two copies to give away on Goodreads!!

Make haste to enter to WIN a signed copy, and please share the giveaway with your Goodreads friends who you think might like the book. Here, too, is a Click to Tweet if you want to share with your tweeps.

Goodreads giveaway for beautiful #picturebook – My Love For You Is The Sun http://bit.ly/1xV5TP6 (Click to Tweet)

I am also answering questions on Goodreads as part of their “Ask an Author” program. If you have a question for me about this book or writing in general, just go to my Author Page and fire away!

Finally, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet (and I KNOW I’ve overshared this), here it is. Just in case. :-) Thanks everyone!

Categories: Childhood, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books, Poetry · Tags: , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Rebecca SheratonSo often we hear teachers say that being a teacher has made them better writers, but I love how today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Rebecca Sheraton, says that being a children’s book writer has also made her a better teacher. That would seem obvious, but it’s an insight I haven’t heard expressed before. Wonderful for the children of Brisbane Australia lucky enough to have her! We too in 12 x 12 are fortunate that Rebecca’s participation has enriched our community. Please give her a warm welcome!

I remember briefly saying a few years ago, I’d love work with children and write children’s books. It’s like a prophetic word that I spoke out into the universe. Well those very words came true. After volunteering in an orphanage project in China in 2008 for one year working with underprivileged children, it really changed my life and perspective on how blessed I am. I returned to Australia, quit my office job and enrolled at university again to become a primary school teacher. One year later I was working full-time as a registered teacher.

Then two years ago, I started thinking about writing for children again. I did some research online and attended a one day writing workshop. Well, I found my purpose on that day! I left that workshop with feedback on two picture book manuscripts, a whole lot of references and I started the online course.

Since then I have been setting writing goals. At that workshop, I decided to attend my first writing conference, which I did last year. In fact, I attended three and did manuscript pitches. I joined a children’s writing critique group, which changed my life. I met like-minded people who spurred me on and gave me invaluable feedback. Shout out to Write Links – Brisbane Children’s Writers Group. I joined writing organisations, like SCBWI and other local ones in Australia, which have provided so many networking opportunities. Now I bump into people from that first workshop all the time at writing events in my area.

Last year, I set two goals for 2014. My first goal was to do 12 x 12 and be ready to submit as a Gold member. So far this year, I have written a new picture book manuscript each month and submitted to one agent. I’m revising and editing many more. The most valuable part has been the participation in the online groups, particularly on Facebook with 12 x 12 and Sub Six. That is where I formed my online critique group and I’m getting to know writers and illustrators from all over the world. Another supportive environment all at my fingertips. I’ve learned so much on these online platforms and I’m grateful for how everyone generously shares their knowledge on children’s literature. It really is social media!

Well, my second goal came while having hot chocolate with my writing friend. We made a pact and are going to our first SCBWI conference in Sydney in July. I can’t wait to go!

Now I’m so immersed in the children’s writing community, I can’t remember what my life was like before. Imagination and hard work, but all have brought so much satisfaction and joy in my life. I have my down times, but that’s when my writing friends email or Facebook me to get behind me.

Some highlights from the last two years—sharing my published short story with my nephew before bedtime, getting my students excited about authors and their books and imparting what I’ve learned about writing with my students. Being a children’s writer has made me a better teacher.

Can’t wait to see where I am in 2015.

Rebecca Sheraton is a children’s writer and a primary school teacher. She lives in Brisbane and loves coming home to write and let her imagination overtake. Playing with her nephews lets her be a kid again, and they inspire many funny stories. Find out more on her website and Facebook page.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Volunteer/Community, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerIt’s prize time! Our June Featured Author, the amazing Miranda Paul is giving one lucky 12×12 member a choice of

A Rate Your Story PRO free membership for the rest of 2014  (= 12 anytime submissions for a free critique rating plus access to monthly editor/agent interviews and other exclusive Bonus emails)

OR one SPEEDPASS  (A rating + comments on any manuscript under 2,000 words – within 7 days or less!)

OR 1 full MS critique by Miranda, for PBs only, under 2,000 words

And the lucky winner is….

ANDREA ALLEN!!

Congrats! Please contact me at JulieFHedlund (at) gmail (dot) com with your prize choice.

It’s a brand new month and a brand new chance to win! Write those drafts and revise, revise, revise for you chance to win July’s prize.

Categories: 12 x 12, Giveaway

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12 x 12 Featured Author Sue Fliess

Our July featured author, Sue Fliess, is one heck of a busy lady! But she took time out of her unbelievably hectic summer to answer some questions I gave her focused on writing picture books for younger children (0-5), which is Sue’s specialty. 

I’m lucky enough to have met Sue in person several times at SCBWI conferences (she might be the one person more passionate about going to as many conferences as possible than I am – LOL), and I can tell you she is every bit as bubbly, energetic, and FUN as her books are! I wish you could have seen her costume for the 2013 SCBWI-LA dance party – theme 60s. :-) White patent leather go-go boots. That’s all I’m saying…

Sue is also multi-talented–excellent at promoting her books AND a great singer to boot. Check out this parody video she made of the “Cups” song for writers. Even more appropriate for picture book writers is her more recent parody of the song “Royals” by Lorde. Have fun watching, and please welcome Sue!!

Despite being so busy, Sue is graciously giving a picture book critique to one lucky 12 x 12 winner this month. Start your writing engines!

First, can you tell us a bit about how you got into writing for children?
I’ve always written as a hobby, even as a kid, but when I had a baby of my own, I started reading him tons of picture books. He was very drawn to space. So I wrote him a story about exploring outer space and our galaxy. Right at that time, a friend of mine told me about a local class on writing for children and asked if I wanted to go with her. On the day of the class, my friend got sick, but I went anyway. I left the class determined to give it a try. That was in 2005 I think.

Most of your published books are for younger children (0-3). What inspires you to write for this age group?

I think I love boiling things down to their essence, and it’s a fun way to see things through a child’s perspective. Such a small thing to a grown-up can be colossal to a kid, so capturing just one part of a moment can be enough to build a story around. My book, Tons of Trucks, is a true toddler book, geared towards 0-18 months, but my other books are ages 2-5. But all those same things apply.

I’ve been told that getting book deals for the younger set is even more challenging than for “standard” picture books. Do you think this is true?

It’s hard to say today, but I think much depends on finding the right editors—there are many that do books for the younger set. I do know that when I was seeking publication and representation, I relied heavily on conferences, talking to other authors, and meeting editors and agents to get a foot in the door. Don’t be afraid to dialogue with these people—they are human. I felt like I had to have several publishable works ready for shopping when I queried agents, and even to reference in my cover letters to editors. Editors and agents get so many submissions, they have the luxury of being picky. Agents want to know you’re not just trying to get that one story you’ve written published, but that you’re in it for the long haul.

How To Be a Pirate by Sue FliessWhat advice would you give to pre-published authors trying to break into this market?

In the 10 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve met exactly one person who wrote her first story, sent it in and the first publisher she sent it to bought it. That’s not the norm. Prepare yourself for doing the hard work and persevering. Those who do, get attention, and if your writing/illustrating is high quality, you can get a book deal. Don’t give up, but don’t expect to get there if you aren’t willing to do the homework. If you give up (or never submit) then there’s a 100% chance you’ll never get published. Whether you’re writing picture books, Middle Grade, or YA, it’s like any other industry—get to know the players and learn how to network.

How is the craft of writing books for the 0-4 set similar to and different from writing picture books for older children (4-8)?

The younger the age group, the shorter the story, more basic the concept, and even sentences, in my experience. When you creep into 4-8 year old range, you can venture into slightly deeper concepts and emotions, but still be sure to keep it to experiences a child that age would have. Since every word counts, make sure they are the right words for your character or story.

You’ve also written Little Golden Books. What is different about writing for LGB? Do they have special parameters/requirements? Can unagented authors submit to them?

Little Golden Books is an imprint of Random House, so they do require an agent. That said, I met my editor, Diane Muldrow, at an SCBWI Los Angeles conference, and approached her after her session. Even though I had my agent submit to her, I think she would have been okay if I had done so myself. Don’t be afraid to ask for an editor’s email. The worst they can say is no. Little Golden Books aim for stories on tried and true topics. They are looking for timeless. They tend to be shorter, but just pick up an LGB and look—24 page format, and usually well under 500 words. I’ve sold them stories about pirates, robots, superheroes, ballet, getting a pet, hugs…you get the idea!

Many of your books are written in rhyme, which is another tough market. Do you think rhyme is either something you have or your don’t, or do you think it can be learned?

I think rhyme is definitely something that comes naturally to some (sometimes a whole first stanza just comes to me, before I even have a story), but of course, can be practiced and learned by anyone. The best way to know if you’re forcing your rhyme or being successful at it, is to have someone read it out loud to you (you should always read your own work out loud to yourself too). When they stumble – even if it’s on one syllable, it needs to be fixed. If you’re just starting out with rhyme, my best advice is to write the story first. Then, if it truly lends itself to being told in rhyme, go for it. And for the love of Pete, start with a simple meter! Otherwise you may despise rhyme out of the gate. :-)

Let's Build by Sue FliessWhat are your favorite resources on writing in rhyme?
Some of my favorites are Sandra Boynton, Jane Yolen, Julia Donaldson, Karma Wilson, Brian Lies, Matthew Van Fleet, and so many others who rhyme brilliantly. I love experimenting with new meters, even if I end up scrapping them. It’s fun to try new things.

What’s coming up next for you? New projects? New books?
I can’t believe how busy I am right now! Personally, my family just sold and bought a house, and drove cross-country—my husband and I, our 9- and 11-year-old sons, and our 12 year old Labrador named Teddy—from Northern California to Northern Virginia. On the book front, it’s been a wonderful year. How to Be a Pirate (Little Golden Books) came out in January, Let’s Build (Two Lions/Amazon) published in May, How to Be a Superhero (Little Golden Books) comes out July 2014, as does the board book version of my LGB with Bob Staake, Robots, Robots Everywhere! Finally, The Hug Book, another Little Golden, comes out December of 2014. I have several more books slated for 2015 – please check my website! And a goal—once I get settled in—is to finish a draft of the middle grade book I wrote 2 chapters of but had to stop just before we decided to move. Phew!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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WE ARE NOW OFFICIALLY HALFWAY THROUGH 12 x 12! This happens every year (duh) and every year I’m still taken by surprise. Time to take stock and think about which drafts are burning to be written before the end of 12 x 12 in 2014…

Between the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction conference and the NJ-SCBWI conference these past couple of weeks, I saw many, many lovely, talented, and enthusiastic 12 x 12 members. So many stories of drafts being written and revised, ideas popping around in brains like popcorn, 12 x 12 manuscripts out on submission! One of our members, Ann Magee, wrote SEVEN drafts in June. SEVEN. Go Ann!!!

As for me, since I was only in my home for a total of six days in June and most of them were spent packing and/or recovering from trips, I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t write a new draft this month. I DID revise one, however. So progress has been made

How about you? Is the June sun shining on your newest manuscript and revisions? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Special thanks to our featured author Miranda Paul for showing us ways to incorporate diversity in our writing and our reading. Be sure to stop back tomorrow to meet our July author!

Miranda is offering your choice of ONE of these great prizes for anyone who checks in this month:

A Rate Your Story PRO free membership for the rest of 2014  (= 12 anytime submissions for a free critique rating plus access to monthly editor/agent interviews and other exclusive Bonus emails)

OR one SPEEDPASS  (A rating + comments on any manuscript under 2,000 words – within 7 days or less!)

OR 1 full MS critique by Miranda, for PBs only, under 2,000 words

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win ONE of these great prizes from Miranda:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “A Rate Your Story PRO Membership” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Miranda’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Miranda’s blog post. Commenting on Miranda’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in June. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in June. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in June. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on July 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on July 2nd.

Keep on writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Giveaway, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , ,

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This year 12 x 12 Little GOLDen Book members will be able to choose one of two agents to submit their manuscript to each month. Marietta Zacker from Nancy Gallt Literary Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members July 1-15. Laura Biagi from Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (JVNLA) will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members July 16-31. Marietta’s profile appears first, followed by Laura’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

 

Marietta Zacker - 12 x 12 Featured AgentMARIETTA ZACKER

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Marietta in person, but I have several friends who have submitted to her and/or met her at conferences and workshops who have spoken highly of her enthusiasm and passion. They also say Marietta is very patient and enjoys working with and finding new authors.

When I asked Marietta what she looks for (or wants to avoid) in picture books, she said she’s open to anything – she just has to fall in love with the story. :-)

A little about Marietta from the Nancy Gallt Literary website:

“Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.”

Articles and interviews featuring Marietta:

LAURA BIAGI

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Laura Biagi in person either, but her enthusiasm for picture books jumps right off the email exchanges we’ve had about her participation as a featured agent. When I asked Laura if she had particular likes or dislikes in the genre, this is what she had to say:

“I don’t really have any particular likes or dislikes; I mostly know what works when I see it! That said, these days, given editors’ preferences, it’s very difficult to work with picture books that are 1000 words or more (ideally, a manuscript will be even fewer words). Also sweet but quiet books are very difficult; the books need to have some sort of strong character readers can get behind and/or an intriguing plot, etc. That’s not to say I don’t go for the sweet and quiet books if they’re exceptional, though. It’s just that, again, given editors’ preferences these days, they are much harder.  

Types of books I am particularly interested in finding are those with stand-out humor and also high-concept picture books. I’d love to find some great author-illustrators too as I think it’s really exciting when someone can do both well–though it’s rare.”

A little bit about Laura from JVNLA’s website:

12 x 12 Featured Agent Laura Biagi “Laura Biagi joined JVNLA in 2009. She is actively building her own client list, seeking adult literary fiction and young readers books. She also handles the sale of Australian and New Zealand rights for the agency. She has worked closely with Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz on their titles, as well as Jennifer Weltz on the submission of JVNLA’s titles internationally.

Laura’s writing background has honed her editorial eye and has driven her enthusiasm for discovering and developing literary talent. She studied creative writing and anthropology at Northwestern University. As a writer, she has participated in workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. She is the recipient of a Kentucky Emerging Artist Award for fiction writing.

Laura grew up in a small town in Kentucky and maintains a fondness for Southern biscuits and unobstructed views of the stars.”

Articles and interviews featuring Laura Biagi:

Full submission guidelines for Marietta and Laura be posted in the Membership Forum. Please note Little GOLDen Book Members may only submit to ONE of these agents. Please choose the agent who is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Submissions will only be accepted for Marietta Zacker from July 1st – June 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Laura Biagi from July 16th – July 31st at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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