Marcie Colleen on www.juliehedlund.com

When I first met Marcie Colleen last June at the NJ-SCBWI conference, I ran over to her, gave her a big hug and said, “I saw your hair coming!” Prior to that, I had only known her online through the 12 x 12 challenge.

Besides having notorious and epically awesome hair, Marcie’s spitfire personality has supercharged the 12 x 12 forums for almost two years now (She was one of last year’s challenge winners!). This might be a little too much information, but I believe I have yet to be in Marcie’s presence (either in person or on the phone), where I haven’t snort-laughed at least once. Plus, there’s that whole karaoke thing that happened at THIS year’s NJ-SCBWI conference…

Needless to say I am once again thrilled share a friend’s fabulous news. Here is Marcie’s story of how she got her agent, and it’s LOADED with wisdom (wrapped in her signature humor). 🙂

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

It was a dark and stormy night…

Well, it was nighttime. October 2010. Not sure if it was stormy…but seeing as it was night, I will assume it was dark.  I was nannying. I had just put the two children to bed and it hit me. Right there in the kitchen. My hand moved at lightning speed. I was out of breath as I penned my first “picture book” on a piece of scrap paper.

I put “picture book” in quotes because I had A LOT to learn of what constitutes a picture book, but at that moment I knew what I was meant to do.

Up until that point I had dreamed about being a writer, though I had no clue what I would write. But that night in October 2010 it all became clear. It felt magical.

The next day I read the manuscript to my boyfriend (now my fiancé) and he, as a loving boyfriend should, thought it was brilliant. I, too, thought it was brilliant. He asked if I minded if he shared it with a colleague at work. I remember hesitating and asking, “do you think she’ll like it?” We agreed that it couldn’t hurt.

So that next day he emailed my manuscript to Alvina Ling. That’s right. My boyfriend (turned fiancé) works at Little, Brown Young Readers and gave my little manuscript to Alvina Ling, rockstar editor for LBYR.

Of course, by this time I was slightly inflated and my mind went wild.  I envisioned Alvina calling me immediately to tell me that this story was what she has been waiting for.  I braced myself for appearances on Good Morning, America and planned what I would wear for my cover shoot for Rolling Stone. Yup. Move over, Mo Willems.

Back to reality. That’s not what happened at all. Although, I do have to say, I was pretty lucky. Alvina graciously went through two rounds of very helpful emails about my piece and also gave me some of the best advice ever…1) join a critique group, 2) start reading blogs like “Harold’s Purple Crayon” and 3) join SCBWI. I immediately did all three. And thus my true journey to becoming a PB writer really began. (Thank you, Alvina!)

What a learning curve to writing picture books! I had no idea. That first story of mine (which will probably never see the light of day) broke so many rules. Although I am proud to say that it weighed in at 400 words!

I spent all of 2011 and 2012 devoting time to learning the craft of writing picture books. I took classes (both online and in person), I started my own critique group, I joined the online writing communities of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and 12 x 12, and I attended a few SCBWI conferences/events. And although it is easy to get caught up with the crowd and start submitting to agents and editors right away, I held back—knowing that my time would come in 2013.

The end of 2012 was spent revising, so that I would have some polished pieces come the new year. In total I had 4 pieces that I was ready (read “not embarrassed”) to show.

Over two years since this crazy journey began, I felt prepared and ready and named 2013 “The Year to Get My Work Out There (and land an agent)”.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I can’t really say I did a lot of “traditional” research before submitting to agents, but I can say that I had spent lots of time with my community of writers and had listened to what was said about certain agents and agencies.

Perhaps the biggest “research” I did was checking in with myself as to what kind of agent I wanted. I think that is important.  More on that in a bit…

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

Here is the breakdown of the 11 agents that I either queried, pitched to or started a relationship with through conferences, etc.

I received two rejections (one of which was a form letter from an agent who had requested 2-3 of my manuscripts after reading a sample so I am not entirely sure that agent read my stuff). The form letter wasn’t even signed by the agent. These things happen.

I received 5 requests or interest from agents. These were agents who asked to see my work. Some of these were from conference connections and it never got far enough for me to send my work, based on the offers I had.

I had one agent never respond to a query.

I had 3 offers of representation.

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

Honestly, no.  In fact, Julie has provided the 12×12 community with 11 agents this year who are willing to take on author-only focusing solely on picture books. They are out there. And so many of my friends have landed agents in the last year…be encouraged!

A quick story on how I first heard about my agent: it was at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC (January 2013).  I paid for the roundtable critique (because remember, I was putting my work out there in the new year).  Basically, the roundtable critique is when you sit at a table (preferably a round one).  At the table are several other writers and one industry professional, sometimes an agent and sometimes an editor. The thing is, you don’t get to choose who you are seated with.

I was terribly disappointed when I saw that I was seated with Jenny Bent, owner of The Bent Agency, because her bio clearly stated she does not represent picture books. However, I fell in love with Jenny’s personality and when she showed some equal love to my story she said, “Unfortunately, I do not rep picture books.” And I boldly asked, “do you have someone at your agency who does?” And Jenny said, “Yes, Susan Hawk. Here is her email. You should send this to her.”

I then queried Susan at the end of February. By April she responded that she enjoyed my piece and asked to see more work, at which time I sent one more piece. By June, I contacted her to let her know I had received 2 offers of representation from other agents and she then asked to see even more work. By June 14th I signed with her.

So, the lesson here is to be bold and ask questions. Find out who reps your friends. Become part of the community. And take any opportunities you can to get your work seen at conferences or online. I know it’s an expense, but this your career! This is your dream. It’s going to take a little investment and that’s ok.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

Remember how I said it’s important to know what you want in an agent?  Well, I made a list.

  1. An editing agent—someone who will help take my manuscripts to the next level.
  2. An agent who has worked in the industry…preferably as an editor or in marketing (as authors are expected to do a lot of their own marketing these days and it’s something I am not totally good at).
  3. An agent who has a varied list, with no one similar to me.
  4. Someone in NYC, if possible…if only so I can occasionally say, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I have lunch with my agent.”
  5. An agent who is as excited about my work as I am…maybe more.
  6. An agent I connect with as a person.

So to answer your question…I knew she was “the one” because Susan was all of these things.

Before an offer was made, I really pushed that we meet in person, seeing as we are both in Brooklyn. So we set up a coffee date.

I’ll never forget it. She walked in and after a brief chat she said, “So, do you want to talk about your stories?” She pulled out my 4 manuscripts and proceeded to walk through each one, telling me what she loved about them and what might need to be revised. She was so excited. She loved my characters. It was amazing.

By the end of the coffee date (which lasted 3 hours), Susan offered rep. I tried to keep my composure.

It was left that I would think about it and get back to her. I also had a few agents I needed to get in contact with and decline, etc.  A few days later, June 14th, we scheduled a phone call. I said, “Susan, today is my parents’ 44th wedding anniversary and I believe it is a wonderful day to start a long term relationship. So I want to let you know I cannot imagine being represented by anyone but you.” Yeah. It was emotional.  We’re sappy like that.

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 :-))

It’s been said so many times before, but it is so true. 12 x 12 is the most amazing, encouraging, and supportive, creative and talented group of writers. Without the 12 x 12 community I am not sure I would have had the courage or the know-how to navigate my career thus far.

Not to mention, once I knew Julie had lined up Susan to be the April 12×12 Agent, I knew Susan must be top-notch. I trust Julie!

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

Own your journey. Take the time to learn your craft. It might take time. It might take longer than you wish or longer than it took another writer.  But it’s your journey. Don’t be afraid to invest financially in classes and/or conferences. Ask questions. Allow relationships within the industry to happen organically. When the time comes to query, you will know. You will be prepared and you will be ready.

In addition to writing PBs, you also create Teacher’s Guides for other authors’ books based on the Common Core Curriculum Standards. Did your knowledge of CCCS contribute to your marketability to agents? How important do you think it is for authors to familiarize themselves with the standards and/or develop activities for their books?

I know many writers struggle with the dilemma regarding an online platform. I do have a fairly active blog and my Teacher’s Guide business. Do I think it contributed to my marketability to agents? Maybe or maybe not. But any time you can offer a bit of your personality online can be beneficial. Of course, I am not talking about pictures of you dancing on the bar at your local watering hole. But if you can blog or guest post or have an active Twitter feed in which you speak about the publishing world…all of that can help someone know your personality. Agents and editors sometimes look for these things. In fact, I know Susan sometimes does this. Don’t kill yourself with it…but a few online footprints here or there.

As for authors familiarizing themselves with the CCSS and developing activities for their books—anytime you can show that your book has a place in the classroom helps you garner school visits and book sales. Do I think authors should write to accommodate the CCSS? Absolutely not! Any teacher worth their weight can create academic tie-ins from even the most basic or silly story. Write what you want. Let the teachers do the rest.

I am going to ask the question I KNOW everyone wants to ask most, which is: How key of a role did your incredible hair play in securing your agent? 🙂

LOL!  Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine learns that her bald boyfriend actually shaves his head?  She finds a picture of him with hair and says, “I could be dating this hair?”

Yeah, well I guess you’d have to ask Susan if she thought, “I could be repping this hair?”

In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!

Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com.  You can also follow her on TwitterAdditionally, Marcie is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month. She  contributes monthly, as a Blogette, to The Picture Book Academy’s blog, posting on humor in picture books.

She lives with her fiancé and their adorable sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Before we move headlong into 2013, I want to take a moment to celebrate the writers who won the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. These are folks who completed 12, or more, picture book drafts during the year. I made this short video to congratulate them on their achievement. I hope you’ll watch and extend your own congratulations in the comments. Many thanks to all of you who “reported in” with your winning numbers! 🙂

12 x 12 in 2012 Winners, in the order of their appearance in the video

That’s 375 Picture Book Drafts people! And this is only counting the winners who reported in, and does not count the hundreds of participants who wrote multiple drafts in 2012 but didn’t make it all the way to twelve. I’d call this an astonishing result! Truthfully, all participants are winners because we wrote more together than we would have going alone — LOTS more!

Thank you for joining me on this crazy journey! 🙂

Congratulations everyone! Looking forward to a fantastic challenge in 2013!

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Friendship, Goals, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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12x12 banner largeAs I mentioned, this month’s featured author post was an especially personal one, and I am simultaneously thrilled and envious of the 12 x 12 participant who was lucky enough to win a handwritten note of encouragement from the Eileen Spinelli every month in 2013. AND, I want this month’s winner to sprinkle me with whatever fairy dust she’s steeped in because she has been a lucky lady in these contests. The winner is…

Julie Rowan-Zoch!!!

THANK YOU to everyone, featured authors, fellow writers, editors, friends – everyone – who made this first year of 12 x 12 so successful. Although I will miss the synchronicity of 12 x 12 x 12, I have no doubt great things are in store for all of us in 2013. For those who will not be able to join in 2013, please know you’ll be missed, that we wish you well on your writing journey, and we hope you will keep in touch so we can applaud your successes, which are sure to come.

If you do want to join, click this link for all the information you need. There will be more featured author posts, more prizes, more opportunities, and for Little GOLDen book members, even the chance to submit to agents and editors and bypass the slush pile. The Membership Forum is already on fire, as members exchange information, give feedback on manuscripts, share upcoming events and opportunities. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by the generosity of children’s writers, but somehow it keeps getting better and better! We hope to welcome you in 12 x 12 soon!

Happy New Year!

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Friendship, Giveaway, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12x12 banner largeWhat can I say? What can I say besides CONGRATULATIONS to each and every participant of 12 x 12 in 2012? Because, regardless of whether you wrote one picture book draft or twenty (yes, some people did write that many and more!), you are all winners. You are winners because you WROTE.

YOUR 12 x 12 Winner Badge!

YOUR 12 x 12 Winner Badge!

For those of you who did complete one draft a month and are ending the year with 12 picture book drafts, this WINNER badge, created by Linda Silvestri, is for you. Wear it proudly and come back for more in 2013. Ready to write 12 more? I know I am! Luckily, registration for 2013 opens on January 2.

Here is my outcome for 12 x 12 in 2012:

January — Wrote a PB draft that has become an idea for a chapter book series.

February — Wrote a PB draft using my favorite 2011 PiBoIdMo titled Tea Rex, about a girly, vegetarian T-Rex that wants to throw a tea party for her friends. But she didn’t have any friends because the other dinosaurs were afraid she’d eat them. This book, with the exact same title and very similar press just got sold to Viking Children’s. The only problem is that it’s not my version! Lucky author X who got there first. This is why it is so important to trust your ideas, your intuition and then to get those darn things submitted!!

March — Wrote a sappy, crappy “Mommy Loves Me” kind of story that will never see the light of day.

April — I laid an egg – no draft.

May — I wrote the second in my animal groups series, A SCOOP IS A GROUP OF PELICANS. If all goes according to plan, this will be released as an interactive app in May, 2013.

June/July — No PB drafts, but I did write and publish my Template for Storybook App Proposals.

August — Wrote a PB draft from the perspective of the antagonist in one of my other PBs. Might eventually propose it as a “he said/she said” interactive storybook app, as it is also a fractured fairy tale.

September — Wrote a cumulative PB in the “House that Jack Built” style. It needs a lot of work, but I love it.

October — Wrote a PB draft that I am now completely re-writing by flipping the male/female roles.

November — No dice, no draft

December — Wrote a PB draft that is more likely to work as a magazine piece as it is very “quiet.” It’s based on a true story from my own childhood.

So I wrote eight picture book drafts this year, six of which have at least some potential, and one that will most likely be published before the end of 2013. I am ecstatic with this result — far and away better than my performance of ONE new draft in 2011. AND, what’s even more amazing is that I continued to revise existing manuscripts. So my new writing did not get in the way (too much) of revising existing work – a trend that I expect will be more difficult to maintain next year, but that I will certainly aim for.

For this final month of 12 x 12 in 2012, it was an honor to feature author and poet Eileen Spinelli. Whoever wins the monthly handwritten note of encouragement in 2013 is one lucky writer! Many thanks to Eileen for encouraging us in our onward writing journey.

How about you? If you did complete a December draft, let us know in the comments and that will get you another entry toward Eileen’s prize. YOU MUST LEAVE YOUR NAME (FIRST AND LAST) IN YOUR COMMENT IF YOU WANT IT TO BE COUNTED AS AN ENTRY. Feel free to share not only your status for December but for the year. We can all gaze in wonder at the collective number of picture books we wrote this year. 😉 You have until midnight EST January 2nd to leave a comment on this post and the December 1st post to be eligible for the drawing. I will draw a winner on January 3rd using Random.org.

Remember — Registration for 12 x 12 in 2013 opens on January 2nd. Our final 2012 winner will be drawn on the 3rd, and our FIRST Featured Author post for 2013 will go live on January 4th. So be sure to come back and join the festivities. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you all!!

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Apps, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Digital Publishing, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Publishing, Storybook Apps, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I have been woefully absent from Perfect Picture Book Friday as of late, but I will correct that today by celebrating one of my all-time favorite picture books, which was written by none other than our December featured 12 x 12 in 2012 author — Eileen Spinelli.

When Mama Comes Home Tonight

Written by Eileen Spinelli, Illustrated by Jane Dyer

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September, 1998

Suitable for: Ages 0-5

Themes/Topics: Bedtime, Motherhood, Family, Daily Routine, Love, Lullabye

Opening/Synopsis: From Publisher’s Weekly: Mother returns from her job to spend an evening of play and bath time with a sleepy, grateful toddler in this comforting picture book. Spinelli’s brief, rhythmic sentences immediately establish the mood: “When Mama comes home from work, dear child,/ when Mama comes home tonight,/ she’ll cover you with kisses,/ she’ll hug you sweet and tight.” The book works marvelously as a soporific, and will reassure anxiously waiting children as well as the parents who dash home to put them to bed.

Activities: This book just begs to be read to a child who’s curled up in your lap in a rocking chair. I honestly can’t think of a better activity than that, especially since it is geared for the youngest children. Make reading this book a bedtime ritual, as I did for years. You could also use it to talk to children about their own evening/bedtime routines. Are they the same or different from the ones in this book? Which activities do they look forward to the most and why?

Why I Like This Book: As I mentioned in my introduction to Eileen for her featured author post, When Mama Comes Home Tonight helped me survive leaving my three-month old daughter to go back to work in the banking industry. For two years, this book was my touchstone with my daughter at a time when, racing home exhausted and spent, I needed the perfect words to communicate to my daughter how much I loved her. This book gave me those words in a beautiful package. Reading it to her is one of my favorite memories of her babyhood.

For more fantastic picture books and resources please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Parenting, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books, Poetry, Rhyming · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Folks, I have come to the bittersweet moment of welcoming the last Tuesday 12 x 12 author of the year. BUT, the moment is made more sweet than bitter because today’s guest — Beth Thaler — is one of my in-person critique group partners here in Boulder. Beth pours her whole heart into her writing, and this year I’ve seen her not only grow and blossom as a writer, but also in confidence. Her confidence is well justified. I’ve read a great deal of her writing, and (you heard it here first!) she WILL be published. I’m love her writing almost as much as I love her spirit. She is a bright shining light. She once left me a voicemail of encouragement that I STILL keep and listen to whenever I’m feeling dumpy (that’s a combination of grumpy and down in the dumps). So please give a warm welcome to Beth!*

Almost a year ago I made a life-changing decision.  My family and I gathered around the kitchen table to make our New Year’s resolutions.  We shared our goals and an eggnog toast.  The challenge I chose was to participate in the 12×12 in 2012, created by a member of my picture book critique group, none other than the lovely Julie Hedlund.  Cheers!

I’ve always loved any excuse to write, but up to this point it seemed like a luxury.  For a very long time I’d put this love of mine aside, waiting for things to settle down.  I wondered how I would balance the 12×12 commitment with my already overflowing life.

I knew my first priority would always be my family.  At the beginning of this year we were dealing with some significant setbacks regarding my oldest son’s ADHD symptoms and medication.  My youngest son was going through extensive testing to determine the cause and potential solution for hearing and speech issues.  I was also determined not to let my daughter, our middle child, slip through the cracks of our attention as we invested heaps of time into the boys.

I’m also a working mom.  I was a third grade teacher in my former life (before kids).  Over the past 10 years I’ve developed a flourishing tutoring business, working with students in the afternoons and evenings.  Tutoring allows me to continue teaching while being home during the day with my own little ones. Additionally, I take care of several children throughout the week and run a kid’s camp on the professional development days in our school district.  These jobs are not only sources of income, but an opportunity for me to spend time with my favorite people in the world…children.  They are a constant source of wonder, love, and joy.  Not to mention potential picture book material.

Despite the obstacles and time constraints, the allure of 12×12 was powerful.   Quite simply, I wanted to succeed.  I knew if I worked at it, I could end the year with 12 new picture book manuscripts and a chance to make my writing dreams of come true.

The recipe for victory looked like this:

  • Begin with passion and a vision
  • Blend together:
    • Generous amounts of family support
    • A plethora of picture book experts (ahem, children)
    • A dash of dive-in mentality
    • A cup of creativity
    • Plenty of incentives
    • 4 treasured critique group members
    • 12 firm deadlines

Viola!  The result is an only slightly-frazzled, pretty-darn-proud, pre-published, celebrating author.

I began 2012 with an empty notebook, 2 mediocre picture book manuscripts, and a dream.  So much has changed for me.  I’m ringing in 2013 with 14 picture book manuscripts, a brand new blog, a Facebook author’s page, a professional critique with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and 57 ideas in my writer’s notebook.

I am also sincerely thankful for each of you and what you’ve shared with me:

  • Motivation
  • Bravery
  • Inspiration
  • Answers to at least 100 questions
  • Patience
  • Success stories
  • A heart full of hope
  • Resources I never knew were available
  • Growth
  • Encouragement
  • A better understanding of what makes a timeless, engaging, well-loved picture book

This is just the beginning, my friends.  I’m excited to continue the adventure with all of you in 2013.  I have so much more to learn!  I wish for you a new year full of magic, motivation, and manuscripts that open the doors to your dreams.

Beth loves to read, write, take pictures, bake, and hike with her family.  She attended the University of Colorado, where she earned her degree in Business-Marketing with an Elementary Education certificate.  Beth lives just outside of Boulder, CO with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 cats.  Her slight coffee and chocolate addiction allows her to burn the midnight oil more often than she should.  Beth has cultivated a passion for writing since third grade.  She is developing a new-found ability to write anywhere, anytime, with any writing utensil, even the occasional crayon or lip liner.  You can follow Beth on Facebook, twitter (@ThalerBeth), and on her new blog:  www.beththaler.com

*The Tuesday 12 x 12 pre-published author series will re-commence in February, 2013 and/or as soon as registration has calmed down enough to make it possible. Thanks!

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Friendship, Goals, Guest Blogging, Parenting, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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It’s a Blog Party!

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those parties where I wake up in the morning and think, “WHAT did I DO???”

You are about to witness epic levels of humiliation, but it is for the best cause I can think of — celebrating the end of this amazing, wonderful, fantabulous 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge with the finest writing friends around.

I promised you a music video set to my lyrics for a Beastie Boys song re-titled, “You Gotta Write!” And as Horton would say, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. A (challenge leader’s) faithful one hundred per cent!”

Never mind if I will never live this down. CONGRATULATIONS everyone for making it this far. Whether you wrote 12 picture book drafts or not, you’re all winners! Now without further adieu, here is your video:

If you are participating in the Blog Party, here are the instructions:

  1. Write and publish a post on your blog celebrating (or lamenting) the end of the 12 x 12 challenge between today (December 12) and December 15.
  2. Include the link to your post on the Linky List below. (I really, really hope it works!!!) Please make sure you link to your specific Blog Party Post.
  3. Please use the fancy-schmancy image (above – top left), originally designed by Linda Silvestri that I feebly doctored to make a Blog Party badge for us.  Please paste the fancy-schmancy badge on your blog post with this link embedded: http://www.juliehedlund.com/2012/12/11/121212-blog-party/
  4. Share with the world!

Congratulations everyone!! We made it! Make sure to visit all of the other Party Hoppers in the Linky! (Click link below to see them all. Sorry but until I can get my web guy on it, I can’t make the links display on the post)



Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Creativity, Entertaining, Friendship, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Rebecca Colby has the courage to admit on her About page that she doesn’t like writing. *gasp* But then, really, who does? As Rebecca says, it’s the “having written” part that is so enjoyable. I feel a kinship with her just because of that statement. I can also relate to the story Rebecca shares in this post, as I’m sure many of you do. Still, I’m glad this talented woman is no longer a pantyhose inspector and has joined the ranks of picture book writers. Please welcome Rebecca! 

It happened last month at a conference as I introduced myself to a fellow children’s writer. Her name was Lucy and she was lovely and easy to talk to, so I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed, but as soon as I learned that she wrote big books for big kids that are thousands and thousands of words long, I felt like I had to apologize.

“I’m just a picture book writer,” I said.

And that probably would have been the end of my story if two other published picture book writers hadn’t been in earshot.

“What do you mean you’re just a picture book writer?” said one.

“Not everyone can write a picture book,” said the other.

These two writers had every right to be upset. They both had more than one published picture book under their belts. My remark demeaned and diminished their accomplishments, not to mention my own. But this is precisely the opposite of what I believed when I first started writing for children–everyone could write a picture book. I mean honestly, the books are short. They’re less than 500 words. How difficult could it be?

Little did I know when I started out exactly how difficult it would be. I began writing picture books about the time my first child was nine months old. She was devouring them—literally—and what often started as a rescue mission, turned into a reading session. Before long, I was devouring picture books alongside her, but in a different way.

“Anyone can write a picture book,” I said to myself, often followed by, “I can do better than that.”

I quickly set out to prove it. That was six and a half years ago.

What I learned along the way is that anyone can write a picture book, but not everyone can do it well—including me. But the important thing was I believed I could. I hired a local artist to illustrate my first picture book. Not surprisingly, no one wanted it. While I’d managed to keep my text to picture book length, the illustrated book was five pages too long for industry standards. My characters weren’t overly likeable either. One was stubborn and the other was bossy. Nor did they experience any growth or change over the course of the story. By the end of the book, they were still stubborn and bossy.

While both my writing and my knowledge of the picture book market began to improve, I still couldn’t write picture books well. But self-belief is a great thing. I showed my poorly written manuscripts to anyone and everyone who would look at them. Thank goodness, anyone and everyone were polite and encouraging. Even after stumbling across a statistic (that I can’t find the origin of now, so if anyone knows, please share) that stated only 1 in every 20,000 picture book manuscripts get published, I still believed in myself.

Why? Not because I have a huge ego. Or because a psychic once told me I’d write a bestseller. Or even because I don’t like to give up. It’s because my writing friends believed in me—friends I met through the SCBWI, my fabulous critique partners in Picture Bookies, and now the wonderful support group I’ve found through the 12 X 12 in 2012 challenge. Anytime my own self-
belief waned, their belief in me and my writing bolstered me up again.

I’ve come to realize that writing picture books is not easy. I’ve completed only a third of my current work-in-progress and I started it back in July. Telling a complete story in 500 words or less is no small task. Okay, so Ernst Hemingway once did it in six words, but we’re not all Hemingway. I often compare it to dieting. It’s easy to put flab on but not so easy to take it off.

So six and a half years on and I’m still not published, but I do have some picture book credits to my name. Editors no longer avoid me at parties or slam doors in my face. Occasionally, they even invite me to send them further manuscripts. This tells me I’m getting closer. But most importantly, I’ve not given up along the way. Or turned to writing for other age groups or other media forms that don’t appeal to me as much.

Writing pictures books is what I do, and I’m proud of my ability to entertain our youngest of ‘readers’. I’m also proud of my dedication and determination to get published in one of the toughest book markets. Equally I’m proud of my ability to write concisely (this post being an obvious exception), and I’m pretty gosh-darn proud of the generous and supportive picture book writingcommunity who have fueled my dedication and determination.

Do I still believe anyone can write a picture book? Sure I do. What I don’t believe is that everyone can write a picture book well. That takes time and experience and loads of perseverance. The reprimand I received last month when I introduced myself to Lucy made me realize I need to stop apologizing for being solely a picture book writer. I’m not just a picture book writer. I am a picture book writer–and a proud one at that. I hope you are too!

(With thanks to Juliet Clare Bell and Anita Loughrey for the much-needed reprimand.)

Rebecca’s picture books have won numerous prizes including the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant and the 2012 Winchester Writers’ Conference ‘Writing for Children 4-7 years’ category. Most recently, one of her picture books won the Margaret Carey Scholarship to attend the 2012 British Isles SCBWI Conference where, she’s ashamed to say, she introduced herself to other attendees as just a picture book writer. You can learn more about Rebecca at her website: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Goals, Picture Books, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Last year at this time, I hadn't even MET Katie!

Just one more week until my 100th Gratitude Sunday post! I hope you come back because I’ve made something special, a gift for you, to celebrate.

This week, my focus is on all of the wonderful people who, though they barely knew me at this time last year, chose to come along on an amazing journey called 12 x 12 in 2012. When I think of how much my life has changed as a result of YOU and your faith in me, I can’t help but get a little emotional, even though we’re continuing next year.

My Gratitude list this week overfloweth with the ways in which I am thankful for you guys. I couldn’t possibly fit everything into a list of 10 or even 1000, but this one, though small, is dedicated to you.

Quotes on Gratitude for Friendship

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.” — Thomas Jefferson

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” — Albert Schweitzer

“The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights.”— Giotto di Bondone

12xers at NJ-SCBWI

Gratitude list for the week ending December 8

  1. To Tara Lazar, for creating PiBoIdMo, which in turn inspired 12 x 12.
  2. To Katie Davis, who gave me such a great start by hosting me on her Brain Burps About Books podcast in January. A year ago, we didn’t know each other, and now I can hardly imagine my life without her in it.
  3. All of the authors and editors who donated their time and talent for the featured author posts and generous giveaways.
  4. Every time I needed something — testimonials, recruiting assistance, volunteers, technical know-how — you guys were always there to help.
  5. To those of you (you know who you are) who lent me a shoulder to cry on when I needed one most.
  6. Getting to meet so many of you in person at conferences
  7. Getting to know so many of you so well online, even if not in person
  8. Tim, for his incredible 12 x 12 video and amazing song for TROOP.
  9. For all of your blogs, Facebook posts, and writing challenges which kept me motivated, inspired, and feeling lucky to be in such great company.
  10. The camaraderie and commiseration that comes from a community that gets it.

For as long as I’ve been a part of it, I’ve believed that the children’s writing community is the friendliest, most supportive one on earth. After this year, I know it for sure. 

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Apps, Children's Books, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Storybook Apps, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Hi everyone!

It is a supreme honor to tell you I’m guest blogging over at Tara Lazar’s today. I’m one of the post-PiBoIdMo bloggers, and I’m revealing, for the first time, what was heretofore TOP SECRET (as in locked in my own head) information about 12 x 12 in 2013! 

Tara has been such a huge inspiration in my writing career, AND an inspiration for 12 x 12. I hope you’ll all drop by the post and see why. PLUS, you’ll get a chance to win a great prize!

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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